Archive

July 21st, 2016

Declaring "war" on terror misses the real problem

    Last week, another deranged young man went on a rampage, killing 84 people in the French city of Nice. A French lawyer who had earlier defended Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel in an assault case described his wife-beating, French-Tunisian client as "a classic delinquent." Intelligence officials say that if Bouhlel was radicalized by Islamist propaganda, the process took place only very recently and very rapidly.

    Nevertheless, the leader of the far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, quickly called for a war against Islamic fundamentalism. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy asserted that "nothing can be as it was" in the war against "Islamist terrorism." French President Francois Hollande, who has already declared a "pitiless war," declared that France would "reinforce our action in Syria and Iraq." French Prime Minister Manuel Valls claimed that the killer was "a terrorist probably linked to radical Islam one way or another."

    In recent years, all too many psychotic delinquents around the world have been linked to radical Islam "one way or another." But should such tenuous connections determine something as grave and unpredictable as war?

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Catch some Pokemon and glimpse the future

    One of the interesting debates over Pokemon Go, the addictive smartphone game that 9.5 million Americans play -- and probably a lot more than that now -- is whether it's truly augmented reality (AR), an up-and-coming companion technology to virtual reality (VR).

    The question may seem largely philosophical, but the philosophy of how we use electronic devices is important: The post-smartphone era is just beginning.

    Though many publications, both technical and general interest, have labeled Pokemon Go an AR game, it's probably incorrect in the strictly technical sense. A 1997 Massachusetts Institute of Technology review of AR (yes, it existed back then) described it as a technology "in which 3D virtual objects are integrated into a 3D real environment in real time." Here's an example from that 19-year-old paper -- a real desk with a virtual lamp and two virtual chairs:

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Donald Trump turns up the racially charged rhetoric with 3 simple words

    Ahead of the Republican national convention in Cleveland this week, Donald Trump is doubling down on a phrase burdened by the country's history of racial strife.

    "We have to bring law and order back to this country," the presumptive nominee said on Fox & Friends Monday morning.

    The words "law and order" recall the racially charged politics of the tumultuous civil-rights era. The phrase was frequently used by politicians in the 1960s who opposed the civil rights demonstrations, and seemed to imply that African Americans were inherently unruly and dangerous.

    Some law-and-order policies, such as the the crime legislation President Clinton signed in 1994, have had support from black voters who hoped that policing and strict punishments for criminals would control violent crime in their neighborhoods.

    Yet Trump's resurrection of the phrase, with all its connotations, could prove especially divisive at a time when crime rates are historically low and when many in both parties are calling for a less punitive criminal justice system.

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Justice Ginsburg's damage to the Supreme Court

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's admittedly "ill-advised" remarks about Donald Trump weren't only bad for the justice and her reputation. They were bad for the Supreme Court and, consequently, for the country.

    Ginsburg was correct in her scathing assessment of Trump -- and correct to express her "regret" for voicing it publicly. But the damage to the court's image and reputation is already done.

    The good news for the justices is that their institution is held in higher regard, for what that's worth, than the other two branches of government.

    The bad news is that this support is at an all-time low. According to polling last September by the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans held an unfavorable view of the court, while 50 percent viewed it favorably. By contrast, in January 1988, just 13 percent had an unfavorable view of the court, and 79 percent saw it favorably.

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Both Sides Now?

    When Donald Trump began his run for the White House, many people treated it as a joke. Nothing he has done or said since makes him look better. On the contrary, his policy ignorance has become even more striking, his positions more extreme, the flaws in his character more obvious, and he has repeatedly demonstrated a level of contempt for the truth that is unprecedented in American politics.

    Yet while most polls suggest that he’s running behind in the general election, the margin isn’t overwhelming, and there’s still a real chance that he might win. How is that possible? Part of the answer, I’d argue, is that voters don’t fully appreciate his awfulness. And the reason is that too much of the news media still can’t break with bothsidesism — the almost pathological determination to portray politicians and their programs as being equally good or equally bad, no matter how ludicrous that pretense becomes.

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Black Republican tackles police 'trust gap'

    Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina was still learning the ways of Washington, he says, when he saw a police officer following his car near Capitol Hill.

    "I took a left...," he recalled in a speech Wednesday on the Senate floor, "and as soon as I took a left, a police officer pulled in right behind me."

    That was his first left turn. His second came at a traffic signal. The patrol car was still following him. Scott took a third left onto the street that led to his apartment complex.

    It was his fourth left, turning into his apartment complex, that brought the blue lights on. "The officer approached the car," Scott recalled, "and said that I did not use my turn signal on the fourth turn. Keep in mind, as you might imagine, I was paying very close attention to the law enforcement officer who followed me on four turns. Do you really think that somehow I forget to use my turn signal on that fourth turn? Well, according to him, I did."

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W., Borne Back Ceaselessly

    During W.'s 2000 convention in Philadelphia, my sister showed up at my door.

    She was volunteering for the Republican nominee and carrying a “W. Stands for Women” sign. The hotels were sold out and she wanted to crash in my room.

    I told her that she could come in but the sign could not.

    I brought Peggy along for a meal with Johnny Apple, the Times politics and food writer who was known as a legend in his own lunchtime.

    She asked Johnny if W. would win the presidency. I was interested in his reply because he had known W. and Al Gore since they were young, having covered their dads.

    “Bush will win,” he told my sister in his booming voice, his napkin hanging from his neck like a bib. “And he will be a very popular president.”

    I always think of that moment, and how 9/11 upended everything and what could have been different, on the rare occasions when W. pops up.

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Turkey has had lots of coups. Here's why this one failed.

    By the timetable of recent history, Friday's attempted coup d'état in Turkey was roughly a decade behind schedule. For the better part of 40 years, beginning in 1960, the Turkish military overthrew governments it did not like around once a decade.

    The almost-20-year interregnum between the last military intervention in 1997 and this weekend's putsch created the impression among many in Turkey and the West that the coup era was over. During this period, the ruling Justice and Development Party, known as AKP, and its leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, used both constitutional reforms and dubious criminal prosecutions of senior officers to bring the military under control.

    This was why it was startling to so many, especially Turks, when tanks appeared on the streets of Istanbul and fighter jets streaked low across the sky. For a few hours, it seemed to those nostalgic for another era, when the military's general staff portrayed itself as the bulwark against the excesses of Turkey's civilian leaders, that the military had finally returned to its old form and was resetting Turkish politics.

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July 20th

Whither Sanders' 'revolution'?

    In his long-awaited endorsement of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders' words were adequate but the music was missing. He used the occasion of a New Hampshire rally for her -- in a primary state in which he had routed her -- to put his own spin on the Democratic presidential campaign.

    Sanders characterized it as the start of "a political revolution to transform America, and that revolution continues." But there probably is much more hope than prophecy in that declaration.

    Sanders can point to modest platform concessions he won from the Clinton camp, but they were relatively easy ones to make, starting with the call for a $15 per hour federal minimum wage. Hillary Clinton had already promised to embrace it eventually. She also went part of the way toward Sanders' call for free public-college tuition by proposing it for students in families with annual income of no more than $125,000.

    In general, Sanders' endorsement was a no-brainer assured by his avowed determination to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office.

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The Citrusy Mystery of Trump’s Hair

    Watching Donald Trump on TV early last week, I got a shock. He read from a teleprompter. He sounded like a statesman — well, sort of. He kept the boasting to a minimum. He held the taunts in check.

    But what really threw me was his hair. Its color was as muted as the rest of him. I saw flecks of pale silver where I’d grown accustomed to showy gold. For a fleetingly presidential moment, he had a fittingly presidential mane.

    The evolution of Trump’s coiffure over the decades has been widely noted and thoroughly documented. He has parted his hair on one side and then the other. He has combed it forward, swept it backward, swirled it like frozen yogurt, aerated it like cotton candy. In a brisk wind, it has been a pair of gossamer wings. During a tense debate, it has been a gargantuan sponge.

    But less frequently observed is how much its hue changes, and I don’t mean from one year to another. I mean from one day to the next, in more incremental and mesmerizing ways, to a point where no two observers can agree on what to call it.

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