Jailbirds

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The Incredible Mr. Putin

The first True Bill in the big collusion extravaganza has finally been handed down. Early Monday morning, in a showbiz fail, Paul Manafort, former chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign, made a strangely unattended perp-walk with his lawyer into the FBI’s Washington D.C. field office. Manafort, who was clearly the first chair in a sloppy money-laundering symphony, was joined in the indictment by Rick Gates, a former deputy campaign chair, accomplished Moscow-mingler, and convention delegate-wrangler.

In this column’s opinion the charges we have all been waiting for are remarkably uninteresting, uninspiring, and weak for the purpose of climbing the collusion ladder. The indictment itself is heavy on evidence of laundering and tax fraud, solid on evidence of failing to register as a foreign agent, and laughable on any evidence at all of collusion with Russians to influence the election.

Anyone hoping for slam-dunk evidence of collusion with the Rooskies is certainly disappointed by the text of the indictment, and if Mueller is hanging the success of his case on flipping Manafort he’s chosen a particularly flimsy spatula for the job.

Manafort has likely known he was headed to prison for months—his whole scheme as described in the indictment is amateurish, not up to the laundering expertise of even mid-level narcotics traffickers—and so one wonders what he has to gain by cooperation—a tact which presupposes he knows anything at all about collusion. I’ll hazard a guess: not much, even with the exposure for his alleged crimes as serious as it is.

Strangely enough, Gates appears to be the far more interesting piece in this opening gambit, and one wonders what tales he might tell about his Moscow dalliances. There might be a songbird in Gates’ coat-pocket, and time will tell us how loud it sings.

The heart of former Director Mueller’s effort against Manafort is summarized nicely on page 2 of the indictment: “In furtherance of the (laundering) scheme, MANAFORT used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income. MANAFORT, without reporting the income to his tax preparer or the United States, spent millions of dollars on luxury goods and services for himself and his extended family through payments wired from offshore nominee accounts to United States vendors. MANAFORT also used these offshore accounts to purchase multi million dollar properties in the United States. MANAFORT then borrowed millions of dollars in loans using these properties as collateral, thereby obtaining cash in the United States without reporting and paying taxes on the income.”

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Manafort’s Long Walk

There is solid information about Manafort and Gates acting as unregistered agents of the Ukranian government—unsurprising–but precious little in the way of concrete allegations of direct, or even indirect, collusion with Russians. True believers in the collusion angle will use every ounce of circumstantial evidence to cry foul, but what’s in the indictment doesn’t boost their case. Which isn’t to say it didn’t happen, or that Manafort and Gates won’t ultimately spill some goods, only that the crimes they are formally accused of are essentially tax fraud and money laundering charges—comparatively lightweight stuff–and if the government is pinning its hopes on leveraging these two mopes to find hard evidence of Russians in the White House pantry it doesn’t look promising.

If I were Manafort, or Gates, or their respective attorneys, I would negotiate with the government—but really only about what color of jumpsuit I get to wear in Martha Stewart Federal Penitentiary.

How much money are we talking about here? According to the indictment, a cool $75 million flowed through banks in such garden spots as Cyprus and the Grenadines, which Manafort must have thought was safe enough from the prying eyes of FinCen, which is why he violated the FBAR (foreign bank account reporting) requirements so boldly.

FinCen—The Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network–is an authority you should probably know about. FinCen is essentially the assassin squad of financial crimes enforcement, used often in major dope cases to conduct clandestine audits—which is generally the best, and sometimes the only–way to prove that someone’s lifestyle doesn’t match their declared means, particularly when that investigation must remain invisible. If you are structuring deposits, stuffing cash into hidey-holes, or buying a fleet of helicopters with sleeze money, FinCen can figure out how you are doing it.

One wonders, by the way, where Manafort might have learned to execute such handsome real estate schemes. It’s almost as if he knows people who are big in real estate.

But that is a far cry from collusion with foreign agents to sway an election. In the comfort of our modest homes we might all form circumstantial conclusions about what, if any, influence the Russians had, directly or indirectly on the Trump campaign, and what Trump knew or didn’t know about Manafort’s financial highwire act, but that isn’t the same thing as hard evidence of what—committed knowingly and with intent–amounts to treason. And hard evidence is still the best evidence in our courts of law.

Thus far, after months of backfiring and scorched earth scrambling, we aren’t seeing much beyond the suggestion of Russians in the smoke—though the true tale behind the Steele Dossier and its employment by the RNC, the DNC, and Comey’s FBI is yet to be unraveled.

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Cold Steele

This column believes that if there is an intelligence effort led by Russians to influence our election, it’s to be found in the sordid tale of that document and how it was ultimately used by extremely powerful people–across the full spectrum of the American government. If the Steele Dossier was essentially created by Russian agents, which is the allegation, then THAT is the real story, and it’s much, much bigger than any single political party, or Paul Manafort buying a condo in SoHo with slush money.

Wherever this ends up going, and whoever ends up going to prison, rest assured that Putin has his feet up on the furniture of his billion dollar Sochi compound, and is grinning from ear to ear because he’s already won—by deeply undermining our remaining faith in American institutions.

More true bills are coming. Mueller has hit a long single into the gap with Manafort and Gates, but if the effort here is to find hard, prosecutable evidence of Russian collusion to influence an American election—potentially treasonous acts by anyone who committed them–it’s time to start swinging for the fences.

Et tu, General Flynn?

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The Red Rover Blues

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Walt Kowalski from Gran Torino

Trigger Warning: I am about to make light, where making light is due, of some of the more sensitive topics currently sucking up so much of our collective bandwidth. But before you remember, suddenly, that time I called you “sweetheart”, or brushed your bosom, or inappropriately sang the old schoolyard chanty “Chinese, Japanese, Dirty Knees, Look at These!” while grabbing my junk and flipping you the bird, please know that where it is merited I condemn utterly, and forever, actual incidents of sexual assault, or actual racism, or any of those other interminable human ills that now light the flame of hashtag crusades. Disclaimer concluded.

Also, I don’t care about the NFL, so leave me out of all that.

What has my attention is, in particular, the #metoo, phenomenon, where suddenly hundreds of otherwise dyed-in-the-wool feminists, most of them actresses, or models, or women in the entertainment industry, who have been barking at mostly ambulatory white male adults for the last 60 years about how ambulatory white males are the root cause of all things wrong on the planet, have suddenly revealed that in the interest of—well, what, exactly—they have been ignoring actual crimes in private while lecturing us all in public. For years.

Weinstein I get. The guy is a troglodyte. One photograph is enough to know that if he didn’t do half of what he’s accused of, he’s definitely good for something, somewhere, that is equally repugnant or worse. He’s precisely the mugshot of some loser on the nightly news that finally got wrapped up, even if what he did isn’t what he’s currently in the can for. He’s exactly that guy.

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The Groper In Chief, A Dangerous Man

But George Bush? Really? A 93 year old man with Parkinson’s disease confined to a wheelchair? This guy patted your butt, made a dirty joke, and you can’t get over it? I get it, there is some temptation to jump on this #metoo crusade—if only for the free attention it gives to flagging careers—but George Bush? This guy should probably just make you laugh and remember that time when we had a category for Dirty Old Men, and everyone knew Dirty Old Men eventually get parked in the corner, facing the wall, in their wheelchair. The Dirty Old Man is a typecast feature of human existence, sad as that may be, but it is hard to imagine old George Herbert Walker as a John F Kennedy or a Roman Polanski, which is to say a serial womanizer or a rapist—two guys who incidentally remain strangely adored by many of the same people we are now hearing from as #metooers.

And now it’s apparent that baseball players haven’t read the memo either. Making “Asian face” has been unacceptable since at least the conclusion of World War 2, when American propaganda hit its creative zenith of offensive caricature. Posters and pamphlets of that era invariably depicted the Japanese as buck-toothed, slant-eyed demons wielding the emperor’s gleaming bayonets. The Greatest Generation, those fine people–including George Bush—who temporarily saved us all from fascist doom, also had no truck with political correctness.

But Yuri Gurriel of the Houston Astros, who is Cuban, and therefore probably can’t be expected to enforce the American cultural embargo against offensive gesturing, and who went yard on pitcher Yu Darvish—who is Japanese–in the second inning of Game 3 of the World Series, offered this explanation to the carnivorous press (also guilty, it turns out, see: Mark Halperin, MSNBC) after his dugout pantomime: “I did not mean it to be offensive at any point,” Gurriel said. “Quite the opposite. I have always had a lot of respect [for Japanese people]. … I’ve never had anything against Darvish. For me, he’s always been one of the best pitchers. I never had any luck against him. If I offended him, I apologize. It was not my intention.”

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A Moment Which Will Live in Baseball Infamy…Gurriel Making “Asian Face” 

Under the Big Book of Offenses rubric, which is a fluid chart—author unknown—which explains how to punish this variation of given and received offense–based on an exponentially growing number of factors including collective bargaining agreements–Gurriel has been given five days off at the beginning of next season. But one suspects that is only because they couldn’t find—after an exhaustive search no doubt–an ambulatory white male American to pin up against the bricks, except maybe Abner Doubleday, whose statue in Cooperstown was immediately shrouded by tight-lipped officials from the Hall of Fame.

No word yet on when it gets removed to a warehouse in Pawtucket and eventually sold for scrap, and rumors on the street suggest that Dianne Feinstein has introduced legislation to have all baseball statues removed, everywhere. Except Jackie Robinson, of course, who was pure as the driven snow.

At some point, an awful lot of this begins to remind me of recess shenanigans during the long ago, in elementary school, where we were unleashed each day at intervals to touch each other inappropriately, get in fistfights behind the monkey bars, rat-pack a bully in the sandbox, and ruthlessly gang-tackle the unsuspecting and entirely too happy math whiz on his dash across no-man’s land during the intermural brutality of Red Rover, Red Rover. When the whistle blew, we all got up out of the dirt, wiped away our tears, went back to class and ate paste and boogers.

Halcyon days, one thinks.

The only real question, back then, was when the worm was going to turn and it was going to be your day in the barrel. And when that day came, complete with road rash and a thorough bruising of one’s eggshell ego, so too came the bigger lessons about steeling one’s self for the big playgrounds of adulthood. And just in case we forgot what happened on our day in the barrel, we carried the lesson home on a teacher’s note, safety-pinned to our chests, a kind of explanatory poem penned by a teacher who was buoyed by a sense of humor and the knowledge that parents of that era expected their kid to take a few lessons in the school of hard knocks.

The three R’s were important, but there were other, unscripted lessons that also mattered.

Not so much, anymore. Not for the kids, certainly, and not for the so-called adults, either. I haven’t seen an elementary school recess lately, but in my imagination the kids are all just standing in the wet grass in a kind of fugue state, wrapped up in straight-jackets and staring at their toes with an air of severe constipation, doped up and dumbed down like amorphous Teletubbies, under threat of arrest for so much as thinking about beaning a fat kid in the face with a red rubber ball.

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Dr Suess, Doing His Part 

I’m not certain that state of affairs is so desirable. It seems to have created adults made out of cotton candy, who aren’t sure what actually constitutes an offense, and when, or how to deal with it when the real thing actually happens.

I realize, sitting here this morning, that #Itoo am in danger of becoming Walt Kowalski–hero of the film “Gran Torino”–in a number of different ways. Perhaps that’s just the way of things. I am also aware that my Ambulatory White Maleness is becoming a problem, and that there is a hashtag warrior waiting around every corner to pounce on my violations, real or imagined, and to find some way to line me up against the social media wall. Here’s the rub: on those vicious schoolyards of the long ago, I learned how to punch somebody straight in the face and let the chips fall where they may.  It’s no fun to prey on a hard target.

That sort of thing works, by the way.  Imagine if the first woman Weinstein proffered just hauled off and cracked him in the balls.  They don’t teach that sort of tough at Teletubby U, I guess.

But these days one wonders if all of this real outrage against real offenses might somehow drift inexorably downstream until it becomes unreal outrage against imagined offenses, and if, in the hands of the wrong people, the supposed cures might only serve to preserve the disease.

A Bronx Cheer

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Over 60 Million Tons of Produce Are Wasted Annually in the United States

          A few days ago I happened to be in the grocery store, buying some stuff to nibble on during the American League Championship Series, when I noticed a young man—I’m in a post-season mood so I’m going to call him Billy Martin–re-stocking the older fruits and vegetables. He was doing a tidy, efficient, job of it, and I was intrigued.

        The old stuff went into a box on the bottom of his cart, and with admirable speed and finesse the new stuff was shuttled into the display. Billy Martin is a man who knows his trade. And, in full disclosure, I’ve done good business with Billy in the past. Once, we needed fresh dill for pickling cucumbers, and Billy delivered: the very next day.

          I was suddenly curious to know where all of that old food eventually wound up, so I walked over and asked Billy Martin what the story was. “We throw it all out,” he said, which was surprising, and struck me as both tragic and revealing on many fronts. So I asked Billy—stupidly, it turns out–if I could take some of the old food, or all of it even, off his hands. I was thinking that our chickens would make short work of the stuff, and that the horses would love to tear into a few mildly bruised and perfectly edible apples, but I had forgotten what century we live in.

        “We can’t,” Billy told me, shaking his head, and then went on to explain that they had done just such a thing, in the long ago, until someone, somewhere, fed cast-off apples to her horse and the horse died. We have no definitive word on whether or not the apples were actually to blame—and one is suspicious of the claim–but the lawsuit for damages that followed put the eternal brakes on doing something useful with older food.

        Grocery stores around the country, getting a strong whiff of liability in the wind, shut down the practice.

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What Makes The World Go Round

         Let’s review: a woman asked a grocery store for free, or greatly reduced, apples that were going in the trash. She took them home and fed them to her horse. The horse died. She sued the store. The store likely paid off—whether the claim was legitimate or not it’s generally cheaper than fighting the lawsuit (see Modern Police Work for further explanation)—and outlawed the practice.

          Billy described to me a particularly sad scene, which I had no trouble envisioning, wherein a long-time customer, an elderly gentleman who had been taking old produce off the store’s hands for years, came in expecting to pick some up, when Billy had been forced to explain the new policy. It was as if, and this is my own imaginative reconstruction, the kindly old man had been brutally struck by the fungo bat of modern litigious reality.

      This episode of the Old Produce Conundrum got me thinking about how much produce gets thrown out in America. It’s probably impossible to quantify with terrific accuracy, but one conservative estimate places the number at around 60 million tons per year. That’s 120,000,000,000 pounds of food every year. I think that number is Gazillion–wasted. An estimate on the worldwide waste of otherwise usable produce puts it at around 1.6 billion tons per year.

       In many cases, there is nothing wrong with the food at all, except that it has a blemish of some sort, which reduces the ability of stores to even sell it, so it either rots in the field or is abandoned in warehouses and eventually tossed. That is what is known as the “downstream problem,” in case you were wondering.

        We probably shouldn’t be too shocked by all of this waste, given that in the US we consume nearly 20 million barrels of oil each and every day. A barrel of oil is considered to be 42 gallons, so that means we are consuming 840,000,000 gallons of oil PER DAY.

       One is left to wonder exactly how long that kind of consumption and waste can actually go on before the trap door opens up and we all fall through it.

     We are not a country that lives lightly or even, apparently, with any notion whatsoever that we are heartily taxing the planet’s ability to sustain the 7.6 billion people who live on it. And that number, by the way, is expected to reach 11.2 billion by the year 2100.

             If you think it’s hard to make a left turn in Sisters now, just you wait.

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The Reliever is Relieved…Again

            Anyway, it’s October, playoff time, and I am a fan of the notoriously evil New York Yankees. I can be that because I was raised in what my friends and siblings fondly referred to as the BFE, which is shorthand for saying a long way from anywhere, and we could choose whatever teams we wanted. The point is that Yankees fans have perfected what is known as The Bronx Cheer. This is an utterly sarcastic round of applause aimed at Yankees players who are not performing well. Dellin Betances, who in the playoffs has been suddenly unable to find the strike zone, earned his first Bronx Cheer Monday night by walking two batters in the top of the 9th–with an 8 run lead.

        So in that spirit, after my visit to the grocery store and an inspired study of our American wastefulness, I’m offering up a hearty Bronx Cheer to that nameless woman—condolences to the horse–who sued a store over the free apples she wanted, and ruined the game for everybody else.

Unzipped in the Land of Oz

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Hillary and Harvey, Yucking It Up

           In the wake of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s spectacular mid-air explosion, the unholy relationship between Hollywood money and obsequious political ambition has never been more transparent. Sure, a few months ago we were all treated to the infamous “Grab’em by the pussy” bus tape, which was a window into President Trump’s narcissism, but Weinstein & Co. have gone Trump one further. What’s mostly apparent, and despicable, is that it appears these large-style abusers, the Trumps, Clintons, Weiners and Weinsteins of the world, are able to skate for years because they have political power, and more importantly, a lot of money.

           That, by itself, is no revelation—it’s the way of the world. What rubs is that these men, and women, campaign—and raise fabulous sums—by presenting themselves as paragons of virtue. There is no lie that they won’t tell. They ask us to vote for them, or watch their movies, and people do because they loudly champion causes such as women’s rights, or gun control, or whatever the algorithms suggest will curry votes in the swing states. But when the curtains are peeled back, and we are able to take a long look inside the land of Oz, all of that moralizing and grandstanding is exposed for what it actually is: utter bullshit.

            They are frauds, all of them, and they have made—and here is the scariest part—a willing mark out of the average American. They make millions upon millions selling the lie, and people keep lining up to see their horrible movies and worse—to vote them into public office.

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The Autistic Hitman and the “Gun Hater”

            An audio-tape published by The New Yorker—recorded by a young model named Ambra Battilana Gutierrez—in which Weinstein’s abuse is so utterly vile that any real man in America would enjoy beating his fat ass to a bloody stump, sparked a flood of fresh accusations from actresses and models from New York to LA. Most recently, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow have joined the list of accusers, and Weinstein’s wife has packed her bags for, who knows, let’s just say Jackson Hole.

            Where have they been all of these years? One must tread carefully here, because blaming the victim—or even appearing to blame the victim–is a horrendous enterprise, but any cop can tell you that “victims” are not always standing on a firm foundation either. They are no less victims because of that fact, but if there is strength in numbers today then there was strength in numbers five years ago and, in the end, they all got the parts they wanted. One marvels at the power of ambition and wealth to silence victims of abuse.

            Paltrow, whose bizarre website Goop peddles something known as a “Vaginal Egg” which is meant to “improve the pelvic floor”, and who champions walking barefoot—known as “earthing”– as a cure for insomnia, was allegedly groped by Weinstein in the Beverly Hills Hotel. Jolie, Rosanna Arquette—and the list goes on—describe similar abuses by Weinstein.

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Good for the Pelvic Floor

It took a while—and one can only speculate as to why–but Hillary Clinton, it turns out, was “shocked and appalled,” by Weinstein’s cavorting, which is as arid a condemnation as one can imagine. Weinstein, the world now knows, was a notorious and serial cretin, known far and wide in entertainment circles for his boorish and brutal behavior. But given her cozy relationship with Hollywood types, who overwhelmingly support her, the notion that Hillary Clinton was unaware of Weinstein’s bent is a new frontier in the realms of absurdity—even for her. This is a woman, remember, whose personal assistant was married to the now prison-bound Anthony Weiner—Carlos Danger, you might remember–and whose own husband is a prominent abuser of women, a man whose escapades reached their famous zenith when he decided to bang a star-struck intern in the Oval Office. One might reasonably expect Hillary Clinton to be especially sensitive to this kind of behavior.

            In fairness, Bill has told the world that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Okay, Bill, whatever.

But what mattered most—what always matters most to these loons–was the money. In 2016, Weinstein had maxed out on the individual contribution–$5400, but then donated an additional $68,000 dollars to the “Hillary Victory Fund” in two separate contributions. Hillary’s VP nominee, Tim Kaine—and I admit that I had completely forgotten he was an actual person—had this to say about those contributions, in an October 10 interview with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota:

Camerota: He gave I think $39,000 to yours and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election effort. Should that money be given back?

Kaine: Well, the campaign is over. So here is what’s happening. You got to call out bad behavior. Anybody who sexually harasses somebody or anybody who uses their position of power, especially, to coerce or intimidate somebody, that’s low-life behavior and it’s unacceptable.

And whether it’s in government or media or business, it’s unacceptable. And you’ve got to call it out. I think a number of folks who he has given money to in this campaign cycle are returning those funds. I haven’t asked him for anything. He hadn’t given me anything. But —

Camerota: You’re saying that the money for your campaign —

Kaine: It’s over.

Camerota: It can’t be given back.

Kaine: Yes, it’s over.

            Kaine, whose own son “Woody” was cracked by Minnesota cops for a bout of adolescent douchebaggery at a Republican campaign rally, is factually wrong in this case—and he knows that. But my sincerest appreciation is reserved for his masterful political dodge. Weinstein may be a tithead, says Kaine, but his money is still good. And therein lies the lesson for all of us mere citizens.

           Weinstein’s contributions are paltry, in the big picture, but what isn’t paltry is Weinstein & Co.’s ability to raise millions more for the candidates. To wit: I once served on a security detail for Vice President Joe Biden, who landed in Air Force 2 at the airport in Goleta California, drove to Montecito for a fundraiser, stayed fifteen minutes, then returned to the airport and flew away. Montecito, if you don’t know, is a rookery for Hollywood Big Birds.

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I’m Running for President..How Much Is Your Dog Worth To You?

            And this morning there is Ben Affleck, whose smarmy contributions to culture—wrap your head around this–include a cynical turn as an uber-modern autistic hitman, who has now been exposed as a boob-grabber in the crater of Weinstein’s crash. Even as I write there is a developing Twitter skirmish between Hilarie Burton—whoever that is—and the Affleck militia, over who grabbed which boob and when, and more importantly, who remembers it.

            Alas, if you are still looking toward the flying monkeys from either major political party, or any of the witch’s henchmen in Hollywood, for examples of virtue–or at the very least conviction without irony–you might be better off grabbing one of Paltrow’s jade eggs and stapling your eyebrows to the ceiling.

The Petrified Man

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Calcified in Mockery

In 1782 Ben Franklin published a fake edition of an otherwise real newspaper. It was meant to curry sympathy for American resistance to the British, by claiming that natives allied with the British were on the warpath, slaughtering settlers by the hundreds. Complete with phony ads and other articles, it was all fake news.

Fake news becomes fake news when it is published, or broadcast, by an otherwise reliable source. Conversely, when fake newspapers publish real news the whole centrifuge is thrown out of balance, so maybe they shouldn’t do that, either. But even when real newspapers stick to real news, and fake newspapers stick to publishing fake stories, the results can be confusing.

For instance, it may be impossible to disprove the Weekly World News’ claims that a redneck vampire attacked a trailer park in Kentucky, that a mermaid cemetery was discovered in the Atlantic, or that a woman in British Columbia was Bigfoot’s love slave. In front of a modern jury, which is essentially a collection of licensed drivers, those claims might be much easier to defend than to prosecute as taradiddles.

And in an alarming twist, “real news” headlines are often more difficult to swallow than tabloid fantasies. “Scientists Breed Glow in the Dark Rabbits,” we are told—which is both bizarre and true—or this gem, from the revered BBC: “Stoned wallabies make crop circles”.

At any rate, we seem to love a good “fake news” villain, and a plank-holder in that realm is–beyond any reasonable doubt–Mark Twain. Twain didn’t invent fake news–but he most certainly grasped the possibilities and flogged them with all of the zest and vigor befitting the energies of a Wild West boomtown.

Twain arrived in Virginia City, Nevada Territory, in 1861. After two years of cynical efforts to strike it rich on the Comstock Lode, he fell into newspapering and began writing for The Territorial Enterprise. He went on to write stories—published as fact—that he made up entirely.

Perhaps his most famous fake news piece was “The Petrified Man”, in which he wrote convincingly about the discovery of a man, said to have been dead 100 years, who had turned to stone during his long nap.

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Fake News Heavyweight, Mark Twain

Twain wrote: “The people of the neighborhood volunteered to bury the poor unfortunate, and were even anxious to do so; but it was discovered, when they attempted to remove him, that the water which had dripped upon him for ages from the crag above, had coursed down his back and deposited a limestone sediment under him which had glued him to the bed rock upon which he sat, as with a cement of adamant, and Judge S. refused to allow the charitable citizens to blast him from his position.”

There had been, at the time, a general mania surrounding the alleged discoveries of “petrified” men, and his real purpose was to make fun of it. And Twain, who seemed to live on the frontier in a state of perpetual bemusement, left clues that careful readers of the piece might have noted, had they attempted to imitate the supposed placement of the mummy’s hands, a position which can only be described as the “nanner, nanner” configuration.

A decade after, in a speech given to the Monday Evening Club in Hartford, Connecticut, Twain warned about the perils of news in general: “…the trouble is that stupid people—who constitute the grand overwhelming majority of this and all other nations—do believe and are molded and convinced by what they get out of a newspaper, and there is where the harm lies.”

Instead of quashing the ridiculous, Twain’s piece helped carry the petrified man sensation to even greater peaks of absurdity.

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…And Dirty Bird Wins by a Beak!  Virginia City, Nevada

The Territorial Enterprise was, in retrospect, a kind of fake news academy. James W. Townsend, a colleague of Twain’s, went on to found The Union newspaper in Grass Valley, California. He was known as “Lying Jim” and described by his former Enterprise editor as: “a unique specimen, by all odds the most original writer and versatile liar that the west coast, or any other coast, ever produced.”

Townsend, while trying to build an audience for his newspaper, allowed himself to invent an entire town, populated with a mayor and city council, with killings and robberies, law suits, railroad accidents, and a buzzing townfolk; “Every last one of which he coined out of his own brain.”

Almost exactly 100 years after Twain wrote about petrified men and Townsend was inventing an alternative world, the Enterprise struck again when editor Bob Richards published a fake story that camel races would be held in Virginia City. To everyone’s surprise, a rival newspaper arrived on the day of the fake race with actual camels, unraveling the story, but also sparking a tradition that carries on to this day, and which now includes ostrich and zebra races, complete with jockeys.

In 1835 the otherwise respectable New York Sun published a story claiming that an English astronomer had found life on the moon. Readers were told that the moon, seen through a powerful telescope, was a kind of garden party for unicorns, man-bats, and two-legged beavers. And the undisputed champion of fake news must be Orson Welles, for his 1938 radio show War of the Worlds, which terrified tens of thousands into believing that Martians were rampaging around with heat rays and poisonous gas.

Fake news is as old as storytelling. Plato warned about it. But in the bait and switch tempest of modern information exchange, and in an era when almost any bizarre claim might seem somehow plausible, it can be nearly impossible to finally discern the difference.

 

 

 

 

Grunt

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“Take Charge of Your Platoon and Carry Out the Plan of the Day…”  Marines in Fallujah

The graduation of a female from the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course has left many of my fellow veterans conflicted. To be clear, there is no short-shrifting her accomplishment thus far—IOC is the most difficult infantry school anywhere in the world–but we are conflicted because we are, most of us, raised with no small pride in the notion that the infantry is the last place left exclusively to men.  It is perhaps the last place where men can be left alone to just be men.

We like it that way, us grunts–a lot–but we are conflicted because we hold the simultaneous notion that women are as capable, if not more capable, than men when it comes to many of life’s challenges.  We were raised that way, too.

But this, we say, is the infantry—Marine Corps infantry–which is undoubtedly an entirely different universe. It isn’t driving a truck, holding down a radio, or pulling an artillery lanyard. Anecdotes about Russian or Israeli female soldiers aside—knowing what we know about the life it might be reasonable for us to harbor questions about the wisdom of injecting females into Marine Corps infantry battalions.

The life of a Marine Corps infantryman is defined by friction, which is a nice way of saying it requires the willing embrace of total misery, which is an even nicer way of saying that it means living for long periods of time in conditions of utter filth, injury, disease and, most often, severe physical and mental discomfort.

And that’s when no one is shooting at you.

 

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Sleep Number:  Grunt

It means frequent 20-40 mile conditioning hikes in full combat gear, which means carrying all of the mortar tubes, 60 lb. base plates, heavy machine guns, gigantic radios, spare barrels, spare batteries, ammunition, water, and anything else needed to sustain a marginal existence in hostile places for very long periods of time.

It means never sleeping more than an hour at a time, and rarely eating anything not covered in dirt, lead, blood, and gun oil. It means frequent fights with hypothermia, heatstroke, ringworm, a host of other horrific infections, bizarre injuries—no one is more creative in ways to get hurt than an infantryman–and feet so badly blistered they are held together with benzoin—which is essentially leather glue that a Corpsman can inject into your flesh with a needle.

Most importantly, it means leading a group of 40 men who carry bottomless hatred and discontent under their helmets—and who are experiencing some or all of this misery at the same time–into the dark night to locate an objective many miles away and then to kill the people standing on it while they are trying to kill you.

It’s not for everybody.

Having said all of that, I hope this young woman succeeds. I also think it was wise for the Corps to keep her identity under wraps—at least for now. She is already a distraction, a newsy sensation, and the last thing any branch of the military needs—in a time when our armed forces are stretched farther and thinner than ever before–is more distractions.

I hope this young butter-bar lieutenant arrives in the fleet—she’s been assigned to the First Marine Division—strides across the parade deck, takes command, and earns the respect of those salty Marines—about half of whom will be combat veterans–standing in formation to greet her. I hope she can look her platoon in the eyes and earn their respect because of who she is, not what she is.

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Fine living on Guadalcanal

That won’t be easy—it isn’t for men either–and it shouldn’t be. It isn’t her platoon sergeant’s job to make her job more comfortable because she is a woman—and that’s the deeper fear that so many of my fellow infantry veterans are mulling. Not that females are incapable of leading infantry Marines, but that females will instantly be treated as something other than equals because of their gender. They fear that standards they have long been held to will crater and the Corps will get weaker instead of stronger. And if it turns out any other way than completely equal, she will not succeed because she will not have earned the respect of her Marines.

And if it turns out she doesn’t belong, I hope they get rid of her as fast as they took her in. The young Marines who will deploy into combat under her command deserve that kind of honesty, because the Marine Corps is not some candyland where they pass out lollipops to non-hackers, revel in excuses for failure, or have an “empathy tent” where softer souls and weak bodies can go play with crayons.

The Corps exists solely—and trains every day of the week–to “locate, close with, and destroy the enemy, and to repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat.”

That’s it, and that’s all.

For this veteran turned observer, the only important part of the equation, at the end of the day, is whether or not this officer—any officer–is a good leader of her Marines. That means she leads by example, never asks others to do something she isn’t willing to do herself, doesn’t break in the field when people are counting on her, is fair and just with her discipline, and succeeds as a force multiplier when rounds are coming down range.

If she can do all of that, and there is no reason to believe she can’t, then she will earn the respect of the very hard and inflexible world of combat infantrymen she is now stepping into. We should all want that.

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A Balmy Retreat from the Chosin Reservoir, Korea

I can admit my own skepticism. I’ve labored over it for a long time. Call it sexism, some kind of lingering chauvinism, whatever the PC flavor of the day might be. I don’t care what you call it, because I am being honest based on my own formative experiences, and honesty makes a far more interesting conversation.

And I have a stake in all of this. My own daughter will become a Marine Corps officer in the near future, and the only thing that I would ever ask for her is that she be granted the opportunity to prove herself at the highest level, to demonstrate her intellect, her iron commitment, and her physical capabilities in a level arena—not one designed to see her succeed. Given that opportunity, I know she will succeed, and hope she learns to lead with judgment, justice, integrity, and honor in the decidedly inelastic world of the Corps, where many hard and accomplished males have failed.

I hope for that because, in the final analysis, that’s precisely the kind of country my Marine Corps has been fighting—from the Barbary Coast to Belleau Wood, from Guadalcanal to Fallujah—to build, honor, and to protect for future generations.

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The Sacred Blue Diamond and Southern Cross