The news that the CEO of Cambridge Analytica was fired today seems a bit confusing and uninteresting at first. CEOs get fired all the time and I suppose they’re all up to some mischief. Hard to feel sorry for them. But this one is a particularly interesting fellow. I don’t understand all of the connections yet, but they seem to involve Brexit, the election of the Donald, the Mueller investigation, the breach of 50 million Facebook users’ data, the psychological profiling of 230 million Americans, Steve Bannon, the Mercers, and a new era of domestic psy-ops. I can’t wait to see how all of this is trending on Facebook. (The Guardian, The Guardian, The Guardian, WP, The Atlantic, NPR, recode, NYT,
While the Take is no longer Daily, it has been around long enough to be able to report again on annual happenings–happenings such as the annual World Happiness report (see last year’s brilliant reporting here). This year’s Happiness report (NYT, original report, pdf version, data) finds Finland to be the happiest country in which to live. I find this rather amazing. I’ve been to Finland. Somehow, the things that come to my mind when I think of Finland include bleak landscapes, dreary weather, depression, alcoholism, and suicide. Please believe that I have nothing against the Fins. I’m just impressed at how distorted my view of Finland has been. Sorry Finland. Oh, they don’t care what I think, the happy bastards.
Speaking of happiness, it’s a bit sad that Stephen Hawking died, but it’s kind of a happy thing that he lived as long as he did. Also, today was pi day (3/14), and I had some pretty good pie–and I’m pretty happy about that.
In the opinion section of the New York Times, you’ll find an article that cites a recent survey that ranks all of the presidents of the United States for “greatness” (WT, Fox). If there’s anything that the current president would like to be remembered for, I think this would likely be it. But, how much of a break could he expect to get from the ‘fake news’ New York Times? Probably not much. But, more importantly, who did the survey survey? As it happens, the survey respondents were, according to the report, “current and recent members of the Presidents & Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association, which is the foremost organization of social science experts in presidential politics.” Sounds like an august bunch. According to them, they are “the premier association of scholars devoted to the study of the presidency and executives.” So, there may be some rounding errors and differences of opinion involved, but, even accounting for differences in ideology, they do seem to form a general consensus as to where the current president falls in the whole presidential greatness spectrum. They seem to agree that he is not at the top of the list.
Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, an unflattering portrait of the current U.S. president, was released today and is already a #1 Amazon best seller. The book’s success seems to have benefited from pre-release hype (New York Magazine, The New Yorker, NYT, Reuters, the Gaurdian, Breitbart) and the president’s criticism of the author (WP, Fox (the article seems to switch to a different subject half way through) and a primary contributor to the book, former strategist, Steve Bannon (Breitbart, The New Yorker). If coverage of the pre-released highlights is any indication, the contents of the book will likely reinforce the suspicions of those already critical of the president, and of those critical of those critical of the president. In other words, I doubt we will see any converts.
For those nostalgic for the more ‘normal’ indiscretions of the Bush-Obama years, it’s sobering to remember that the NYT has not always been the useful foil to the administration it portrays itself as now. In an article released this week, James Risen recalls his efforts to expose domestic surveillance in the U.S. and how the Bush and Obama administrations sought to send him to jail for it (The Intercept, DN!) while the Times did little to stand in their way. While Trump tried to ban Wolff’s book, it was only a feeble effort at censorship and no one took it seriously. How odd to think that democracy in America may be marked by the nation’s right to elect a narcissistic idiot to the highest office in the land, the press’s right to mock him, and the president’s right to respond only with fire and fury, signifying nothing.
According the the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, President Trump is sending astronauts back to the moon. There was even a new Space Policy Directive (the first one of its kind) to make it all official. To hear Vice-president Pence tell it, “under President Trump’s leadership, America will lead in space once again on all fronts.” That sounds exciting, and might actually be exciting, were it not for a couple of details, noted in Secrecy News. It turns out that Trump simply reused a 14-page document put out by the Obama administration and only changed one paragraph of it (that’s the part about the moon). Also, that there is no funding for this grand adventure. So, I’m not sure how the astronauts will get back there. Maybe it’s just as well–I think if they do find some cash, they should give some new astronauts a turn. It has to be a hard field to break in to. Right now, it seems as if all the new ones get sent to Kazakhstan (Spaceflight Now, NPR). Even if the US doesn’t lead everyone in space, you’d think they could beat out Kazakhstan.
And, speaking of U.S. national agencies doing spacey things, POLITICO and the New York Times just reported that the Department of Defense recently had (and perhaps still has) an Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program to investigate Unidentified Flying Objects. A highlight in the coverage (repeated in the Chicago Tribune, NPR, and covered further in the NYT) was a 2004 incident, caught on video, of two pilots in F/A-18F Super Hornets following a UFO. It’s not that this is the first report, or even video, of this kind, but it seems to be a first to come vetted through an official agency and given credibility in mainstream media sources. But reports of unexplained somethings flying with military aircraft are not new. In fact, they are probably as old as aviation. WWII pilots from several countries reported such phenomena, which American pilots termed “foo fighters.” These were orange balls of light that would fly with the planes for while before speeding away. Where did they go? Maybe the astronauts will find out when they go back to the moon.
Daniel Ellsberg really knows how to plug a book. Remember Ellsberg? He stole some 15,000 secret documents from the U.S. government. He used half of them to show that the war in Vietnam was a sham and he use the other half for…well, nothing. He sat on them. Until now. His book is called The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner and it references the other secret documents that talk about the United States’ plans to end life on the planet, in the event that that ever seemed like the right thing to do. Now, I understand that the guy wants to plug his book and it’s all very well to make the talk shows, but it’s a bit much to come out with a movie to match. And, I’m sure the threat of nuclear war is going to be good for sales, but did he have to get the U.S. to perform war drills in South Korea so that North Korea would all but declare war? I think that’s going too far. Now the U.S. has to go talk to North Korea, and they clearly don’t want to but they don’t have any better options. The alternative would be fairly unimaginable if we hadn’t seen it before.
Weird stuff is coming out of Bob Mueller’s little investigation. It seems that Russia mounted an extensive psy-op against the American public leading up to the last presidential election. Donald Trump says it’s a fake-news hoax, but the investigative panel seems to differ (NYT, WP, AdAge, AdAge, VOA, SF Gate). Media companies, such as Facebook, appear to be very sorry about all of this, even as their ad revenues soar. What’s interesting about this is not that Russia meddled in the U.S. election. Why wouldn’t they? What I find interesting are two things. First, while they obviously wanted Trump to win, the main thing they were interested in was splitting the country ideologically. (Did they really think America couldn’t do that on its own?). Second, they didn’t care if they got caught. It’s almost as if they thought they could get away with it. Silly Russians! Don’t they realize that the U.S. Congress will now put a stop to such shenanigans and the country will put aside its senseless bickering?
Speaking of weird stuff coming out, why did the CIA just release a bunch of files on Osama bin Laden (CNN)? That seems a very un-CIA-like thing to do. They say they did this “in an effort to further enhance public understanding of al-Qa’ida.” There seems to be about 600 gigs of data available for download. I’d better get started. I can feel the public understanding enhancing already.