Facing Down Facebook

I thought of writing something like this a while back and I even knocked off the above graphic, but Ms. Noonan has done such a fine job in the Wall Street Journal that I offer it here.

Overthrow the Prince of Facebook

Peggy Noonan Updated June 6, 2019 7:22 p.m. ET

In the spring of 2016, Facebook came under pressure, stemming from leaks by its workers, over charges of systemic political bias. I was not especially interested: a Silicon Valley company that employs thousands of young people to make decisions that are often ideological will tilt left, and conservatives must factor that in, as they’re used to doing. 

Soon after, I received an email from Mark Zuckerberg’s office inviting me and other “conservative activists” to attend a meeting with him to discuss the bias charges in an off-the-record conversation. I responded that I was not an activist but a columnist, for the Journal, and would be happy to attend in that capacity and on the record. That didn’t go over too well with Mr. Zuckerberg’s office! I was swiftly told that wouldn’t do. 

What I most remember is that they didn’t mention where his office is. There was an air of being summoned by the prince. You know where the prince lives. In the castle. Who doesn’t know exactly where Facebook is?

In February 2018 Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein of Wired wrote a deeply reported piece that mentioned the 2016 meeting. It was called so that the company could “make a show of apologizing for its sins.” A Facebook employee who helped plan it said part of its goal—they are clever at Facebook and knew their mark!—was to get the conservatives fighting with each other. “They made sure to have libertarians who wouldn’t want to regulate the platform and partisans who would.” Another goal was to leave attendees “bored to death” by a technical presentation after Mr. Zuckerberg spoke. 

Predictably, the conservatives “failed to unify in a way that was either threatening or coherent.” Many used the time “to try to figure out how they could get more followers for their own pages.” 

After the meeting, attendees gushed, calling Mr. Zuckerberg and his staffers humble and open. Glenn Beck praised the CEO’s “earnest desire to ‘connect the world.’ ” 

Never were pawns so happily used.

I forgot about it until last summer, when Mr. Zuckerberg’s office wrote again. His problems were mounting. I was invited now, with an unspecified group of others, to “an off the record discussion over dinner at his home in Palo Alto.” They used that greasy greaseball language Silicon Valley uses: Mr. Zuckerberg is “focused on protecting” users and thinking about “the future and how best to serve the Facebook community.” 

I ignored the invitation. They pressed. Their last note reached me at an irritated moment, so I wrote back a rocket, reminding him of the previous meeting and how it had been revealed to be a mischievous and highly political enacting of faux remorse. I suggested that though it was an honor to be asked to cross a continent for the privilege of giving him my time, thought and advice, I would not. I added that I was sorry to say he strikes me in his public, and now semiprivate, presentations as an imperious twerp. 

For a second I actually hesitated: The imperious twerp runs the algorithms, controls the traffic, has all the dark powers! But I am an American, and one with her Irish up, so I hit send. 

And I’m still here, at least at the moment, so I guess that’s OK. 

Facebook’s famous sins and failings include the abuse of private data, selling space to Russian propagandists in the 2016 presidential campaign, starving journalism of ad revenues, monopolistically acquiring or doing in possible competitors, political mischief, and turning users into the unknowing product. I once wrote the signal fact of Mr. Zuckerberg’s careeris that he is supremely gifted in one area—monetizing technical ingenuity by marrying it to a canny sense of human weakness. 

None of this is news. We just can’t manage to do anything about it. 

Now there are moves to push back. The House Judiciary Committee will hold antitrust investigations into big tech. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is warning that “unwarranted concentrated economic power in the hands of a few is dangerous to democracy.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made a splash with her pushback on big tech; Sen. Amy Klobuchar included it in her presidential announcement speech. 

The New York Times this week had a breakthrough report, from Cecilia Kang and Kenneth Vogel, on how the tech giants are fighting back. They are “amassing an army of lobbyists.” Facebook, Google, Amazon and Applespent a combined $55 million in lobbying last year, about double what they spent in 2016. They “have intensified their efforts to lure lobbyists with strong connections to the White House, the regulatory agencies, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress.” Facebook hired Mrs. Pelosi’s former chief of staff. The speaker herself has received major campaign money from employees and political-action committees of all the tech giants. Google pays lobbyists who worked on the Republican staff of House Judiciary. 

They’ve got it wired, haven’t they?

We’re Americans and we love money and success and the hallowed story of the kid in the garage who invents the beautiful product that changes the world. 

But the mood in America is anti-big-tech. Everyone knows they’re too powerful, too arrogant, loom too large in public life. 

And something else: This whole new world of new technology was born in the 1970s and ’80s. We still think it’s new and we’re figuring it out, but we’re almost half a century into it and we can see what works and what doesn’t, what’s had good effects and hasn’t. It is time to move.

And Republican officials—they can’t help it, they don’t just rightly love business; they love big business, they love titans. It’s almost romantic: Look what people can do in America! He started it in his dorm room! And now we’re at lunch!

It’s all too human, and of course greedy: Maybe these guys will start giving me money! I mean Pelosi-size money!

Here’s what they should be thinking: Break them up. Break them in two, in three; regulate them. Declare them to be what they’ve so successfully become: once a pleasure, now a utility.

It all depends on Congress, which has been too stupid to move in the past and is too stupid to move competently now. That’s what’s slowed those of us who want reform, knowing how badly they’d do it. 

Yet now I find myself thinking: I don’t care. Do it incompetently, but do something.

Why are Republicans so slow to lead? The Times quoted Republican Sen. Josh Hawley as saying “the dominance of big tech” is a “big problem.” They “may be more socially powerful than the trusts of the Roosevelt era, and yet they still operate like a black box.”

He’s right. 

But I read about lobbyists coming at Republican congressional leaders and I think, it’s going to be like Mr. Zuckerberg’s meeting with the conservatives in 2016. A tech god will give them some attention, some respect, and they’ll fold like a cheap suit.

If they are as stupid and unserious as their critics take them to be, they will go to the meeting and be used.

They should say no and hit send.

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So, says Robert Mueller, ace detective, “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

He also says, “It would be unfair to potentially— it would be unfair to potentially accusesomebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.” The repetition is Mueller’s, the emphasis is mine.

Now. it seems to me that it would be a clever trick to reconcile those remarks. In the first statement this gutless wonder, Mueller, potentiallyaccuses Donald Trump of a crime. In the second, he whines about the unfairness of it.

From May 2017, through May 2019, at cost of, at least, $35,000,000.19 (additional 19¢ mine, but they probably spent it) this is the best they can come up with? So, they indicted a few Russian spies and jailed a few minor DC players, certainly that could have been done at lower cost with more forfeiture money going into the Justice Department till.

Mueller’s fifteen minutes of fame lasted a full two years. The rancor, divisiveness and the rage that his “methodical probe” provoked will linger for a long time, even though his name will float around for a while before settling in that not so special place reserved for the names of vice-presidential candidates.

How can a man stand in front of a nation and spew double-talk and outright drivel like:

“Those were the principles under which we operated. And from them, we concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime. That is the office’s final position…”

“At one point in time, I requested that certain portions of the report be released and the attorney general preferred to make — preferred to make the entire report public all at once and we appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public. And I certainly do not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision.”

His farewell was filled with doubletalk and obfuscation. Mueller did not have the courage to say what the facts revealed: there was nothing criminal in the president’s conduct.

And his wishy-washy conclusions were built on a bedrock of criminal behavior by members of the previous administration and the intelligence community. Hopefully the indictments in those quarters will come more swiftly, more definitively and at lower cost.

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Trump Trumps Kim Jong Un



President Trump faces down a dreadful, violent, unpredictable dictator with delusional aspirations of world domination and it goes unnoticed by a hysterical, malicious press in the face of an artificial crisis created by a mindless mob fighting over a symbol of a war lost long ago.

So, what are the actual headlines? Trump Fails to Condemn Nazis and KKK by Name. The president, through tough talk, diplomacy and a show of force, has forestalled a possible nuclear conflagration and the best the press can dredge up is the suggestion (or outright accusation) that he supports Nazis and “white supremacists.”

By the way, when I last checked, the white supremacists weren’t too crazy about Jared and Ivanka, which, I suppose, according to the press, leaves President Trump in a bit of a bind. It should be clear to even the most wet-behind-the ears tyro journalist, even of the “advocacy” persuasion, that President Trump in no way sympathizes with any form of bigotry.

I’m going leave the hair-splitting of the relative merits, or demerits, of the feces throwing antifas and the head bashing white supremacists to finer minds than mine. It is abundantly clear that the president sees through the fog of youth and ignorance that envelops both groups. The utter mindlessness of the demonstrators allows for a certain amount of immoral equivalency.

The essential issue is that President Trump has accomplished something that the Obama/Clinton administrations hadn’t the fortitude, will or ability to accomplish. He has made it clear to a belligerent, murderous regime that any antagonistic overtures will be met with firm diplomacy and he has left no doubt the United States will act decisively when circumstances demand it.

A more balanced and intelligent press would recognize this and empower the president rather than place obstacles in his path. There is plenty of room for criticism. The president certainly can work on being more thoughtful and deliberate in his statements as he said he was before calling out the Nazis and the KKK by name. Remember, it was President Obama who rushed to judgment in every potentially racially motivated incident leading to more lawlessness and violence.

President Trump has done a hell of a job considering the ruthless forces arrayed against him including the Clinton/Obama/Soros “resistance” and the WaPo/NYT/CNN axis of vitriol. Let’s be grateful that we have a president who understands the difference between right and wrong and conducts himself in the way that has engendered respect for the United States throughout our history.

Just to keep my personal record straight: I’m a survivor of the ‘60s. I was a friend of Abbie Hoffman (Google him,. I deplore and grieve over the deaths of innocents, from Heather Heyer to the millions of others who, throughout history died at the hands of and through the offices of maniacs and lunatics. I am neither a liberal or a conservative. I am an American doing my best to find the truth as I sort through the debris of events.

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Kenya: Iranians workers charged with planning terror attack on Israeli embassy — Behind The News

Two Iranian nationals were indicted on terrorism charges Thursday after they were arrested filming the Israeli embassy in Nairobi, Kenya with the alleged intention of attacking it. Sayed Nasrollah Ebrahimi, Abdolhosein Ghola Safafe, both employed at the Iranian embassy in Nairobi, and their Kenyan driver Moses Keyah Mmboga “were found taking video clips of the Israeli embassy […]

via Kenya: Iranians workers charged with planning terror attack on Israeli embassy — Behind The News

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He Walks with a Giant

Dink&BarryAbout 25 years ago David Dinkins may or may not have uttered the immortal words,Let them vent their rage. Whether he actually said this to his acting police commissioner or not, the effects of his inaction were the same: three dead, hundreds injured and millions of dollars in property damage.

The occasion was the infamous Crown Heights riot of 1991 when thousands of young (and not so young) African Americans rampaged through the Chasidic neighborhood unhindered by the local cops, who, much to their chagrin, were ordered to stand down.

I was in Crown Heights and saw this incredible piece of Americana unfolding. It is well documented (Wikipedia’s a good place to start). The mayor’s inaction is described in detail in the New York State-commissioned  Girgenti report that was produced some time after the riot.

Thus the giant.

Now, I know that Barack Obama has heard of David Dinkins and as a vaunted community organizer he surely has knowledge of the Crown Heights riot, which starred other notable community organizers like Al Sharpton, Sonny Carson and many more.

So, without minimizing the evidently unacceptably lethal policing of the past few days,  it was with disbelief that I heard the president say, while visiting Spain, after the sniper-slaughter of five American cops, “I don’t think that you can hold well-meaning activists who are doing the right thing and peacefully protesting responsible for everything that is uttered at a protest site,” he continued. “This week people felt hurt and angry and so some of this is just venting, but I think that the overwhelming majority of people who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement – what they really want to see is a better relationship between the police and the community so they can feel that it’s serving them.”

What about the vast majority of well-meaning police who are trying to keep the peace despite assaults by snipers (more than one!), molotov cocktails, thrown rocks and just plain massive incivility on the part of “peaceful demonstrators (I encountered plenty of those in Crown Heights in 1991)?”

The president, himself, has been doing plenty of venting during the build-up to the present conflagration. His now predictable sprints to judgement have borne plenty of poisonous fruit and produced the divisiveness that grips the country.

When he speaks of venting he’s only drawing on a lesson of history in the skewed-left way that is the hallmark of his administration.

And if the country goes crazy-right in the next election, I guess he will blame Dave Dinkins.

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Hoppy, Come Home


It is well known that we, my wife and I, are crazy cat people (“what ‘we,’ kemosabe?” is murmured over my shoulder). 

Sticky details aside, the missus and I have assumed responsibility for the care and feeding of Hoppy, Emily, Willy, Dolly, Tiny, Cotton, Big Fluffy, Mr. Gimp, Chester, Blacky, Jumbo, a nameless wonder, Emily’s kittens and an itinerant raccoon. I have tried to include everybody and I trust that any cat that was omitted and is reading this will not feel slighted but will attribute the oversight to my faulty eyesight and failing memory. These impairments are, of course the natural result of consorting and trying to compete with creatures who can see a mouse at 500 feet in total darkness, but lack fully developed frontal lobes.

In fact, had early 20th century psychiatric practitioners paid any attention to the cats around  them, they would have known that the lobotomy is no cure for often aberrant, antisocial and immature behavior. Cats are already lobotomized and often act completely nuts

By the way, as you examine the names of the animals it becomes clear that the community is a kind of mafia and it’s easier to get in if your name ends in a “y.”

This cat community in constant flux – births, deaths, temper tantrums, resignations from the club and demands for fair treatment. The only constant is the open hostility of the neighbors. One complains of nightmares and another has just erected a 12 foot high “security fence.” The fence was erected with such speed and alacrity as would be the envy of the State of Israel or Texas and New Mexico.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a versatile support group to deal with a feline fellowship such as ours. You have your Walmarts to provide economical nutrition (we buy so much cat food the clerks suspect us of running an old age home), your regular, overpriced vets, and your 24 hour emergency, even more overpriced vets. Then you have your no-kill, non-profit pet adoption shelters (you know they are non-profit because of their massive fund-raising efforts) that absorb excess kittens for a nominal, voluntary donation in an amount not to exceed a month’s supply of cat food from Walmart. And you had better have what we used to describe as a Rolodex-full of no-kill, non-profit pet adoption shelters because they are always full and have eighteen month waiting lists.

All this is background for the good news: Hoppy, our most senior cat has returned after having been given up for… I can’t say it. His manner is subdued, as if he has seen more than he cares to relate. And his eyes, his eyes betray the coldness of one who has had to do unspeakable things in order to survive. The sight of this battle-scarred old veteran with his serrated ears after a four or five day disappearance brought tears to our eyes (yeah, “our” kemosabe). The deep emotion we felt as our house was filled again with the sound of his vaporous allergic sneezes was overwhelming. We stopped crying, however, when we found no fresh wounds that might require at trip to your 24 hour emergency, even more overpriced vet. Good old Hoppy, takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.

And now the commercial: You, too, can be a crazy cat person! But, you must act fast! We have a limited number of Emily’s kittens that will be available for adoption very soon! The genders range from male to female and the colors from understated black to unobtrusive gray. Get on the waiting list NOW! Tomorrow you’ll have to wait for Dolly’s kittens.


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A Little Drivel about Drivel

Image Many years ago a guy I knew who wrote about garbage for a trade magazine devoted to that subject introduced me to an expression that described garbage offered up in the guise of writing – “written with the wrist.” That was in the late ’50s or early ’60s, about the same time that Truman Capote characterized Jack Kerouac’s work as “…not writing. That’s typing.”

Well, what would Truman say today? Most current novels are unreadable, the bulk of nonfiction is unresearched and more often than not concocted at the behest of somebody with an agenda. You want me to name names? Just pop over to Amazon and check out the boring “bests.”

But the book guys are not my target today, I’m really excited about the topical writers in the the big, national publications, both paper and digital. Give ’em a keyboard and they’re off and running. They hand their drivel to headline writers (the real stars of the periodical world) and they whip up something titillating about Chris Christy, Syria, Kim Jong-un, Flappy Birds, bit coins or any of hundreds of other same olds.

Today we have Peggy Noonan virtually regurgitating the Blair papers in the Wall Street Journal. A week ago Tom Friedman in the Times sang the same old anti-Israel song that he always sings, but with a new pro-Kerry refrain and bass line that went bds-bds-BDS-bds. As I write Bloomberg has posted a Jeffrey Goldberg piece on, gasp, “No Chance of Success with Iran. Here’s a sample Krauthammer headline in the Washington Post: “Obamacare’s War on Jobs.” And today the great David Brooks in the Times takes first prize blathering on about te prodigal son, trying to prove who knows what.

But, hey, you know what? I think we have the answer to last week’s burning question: “what do the traveling salesmen do for a living now?”

They write newspaper columns and blogs!

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Excuse the cheap shot – couldn’t resist

Excuse the cheap shot – couldn't resist

De Blasio being arrested  at protest against a hospital closing last year.

De Blasio Called Police Over Arrest Of Transition Team Member
Published on: February 11th, 2014 at 06:17 PM

New York – A member of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inaugural committee and transition team was able skip a night in jail Monday evening after being arrested in a traffic stop when the mayor called a top official with the police.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal (http://on.wsj.com/1oh2eXO) de Blasio endorser Bishop Orlando Findlayter helped attain de Blasio’s support in the African American community and was part of the mayor’s inaugural committee and transition team.

Bishop Findlayter was pulled over by two NYPD officers at 11:21 p.m. on the corner of Clarkson Avenue and East 92nd Street in Brooklyn Monday night. The officers stated the bishop did not use his turn signal when making a left turn. When the officer’s ran the bishop’s driver’s license two warrants appeared from missed court dates in January stemming from an arrest at an immigration reform protest in October.

The pastor of New Hope Christian Church in Queens was charged Monday night with aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle in the third degree and making an illegal left turn.

Typically, if a warrant is found during an arrest, suspects are held until being taken to court.

Emails from the mayor’s office were sent to the NYPD Tuesday morning. De Blasio also called Deputy Chief Royster to ask about the arrest. Chief Royster said he did not ask for the bishop’s release.

De Blasio spokesman Phil Walzak stated that the call was to get “clarification” that there had been an arrest.

NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis said the commanding officer of 67th precinct where the bishop was taken, Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lehr, personally reviewed the arrest. As court was closing at 1 a.m., Tuesday morning, Deputy Inspector Lehr decided to let the bishop go home for the night with the stipulation that the bishop would return to court the next day.

Bishop Findlayter did not appear in court on Tuesday according to court officials.

You can view this article online at VosIzNeias.com/154979
Copyright © 1999 – 2014 VINNews.com – All rights reserved.

FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL in an article about this case today:

John Jay College professor Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and prosecutor, said he wasn’t “aware of any patrol guide provision that would allow” Deputy Inspector Lehr to release anyone wanted on a bench warrant. “Every day people get dragged through the system for technical reasons and spend time in jail, but that’s the system we live in,” he said.



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America’s Power Is Under Threat

The Metcalf incident is a reminder of our greatest vulnerability

By PEGGY NOONAN in the Wall Street Journal, Feb. 7, 2014

Welcome to my obsession. It is electricity. It makes everything run—the phone, the web, the TV, the radio, all the ways we talk to each other and receive information. The tools and lights in the operating room—electricity. All our computers in a nation run by them, all our defense structures, installations and communications. The pumps at the gas station, the factories in the food-supply chain, the ATM, the device on which you stream your music—all electricity. The premature infant’s ventilator and the sound system at the rock concert—all our essentials and most of our diversions are dependent in some way on this: You plug the device into the wall and it gets electrical power and this makes your life, and the nation’s life, work. Without it, darkness descends.

Because this is so obvious, we don’t think about it unless there’s a blackout somewhere, and then we think about it for a minute and move on. We assume it will just be there, like the sun.

But this societal and structural dependence is something new in the long history of man.

No one who wishes America ill has to blow up a bomb. That might cause severe damage and rattle us. But if you’re clever and you really wanted to half-kill America—to knock it out for a few months or longer and force every one of our material and cultural weaknesses to a crisis stage—you’d take out its electrical grid. The grid is far-flung, interconnected, interdependent, vulnerable. So you’d zap it with an electromagnetic pulse, which would scramble and fry power lines. Or you’d hack the system in a broad, sustained attack, breaking into various parts, taking them down, and watching them take other parts down.

Or you’d do what the people at the center of a riveting front-page story in this newspaper appear to have done. You’d attack it physically, with guns, in a coordinated attack.

The heretofore unknown story happened last April 16. There was an armed assault on a power station in California. Just after midnight some person or persons slipped into an underground vault near Highway 101 just outside San Jose. He or they cut telephone cables—apparently professionally, in a way that would be hard to repair. About a half hour later, surveillance cameras at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. PCG +1.16% ‘s nearby Metcalf substation picked up a streak of light, apparently a signal from a flashlight. Snipers then opened fire. The shooters appear to have been aiming at the transformer’s cooling systems, which were filled with oil. If that was their target, they hit it. The system leaked 52,000 gallons; the transformer overheated and began to crash. Then there was another flash of light, and the shooting, which had gone on almost 20 minutes, stopped.

The assault knocked out 17 giant transformers that feed electrical power to Silicon Valley. A minute before the police arrived, “the shooters disappeared into the night,” in the words of reporter Rebecca Smith, who put the story together through interviews, PG&E filings, documents and a police video.

No suspect in the case has been identified.

Jon Wellinghoff, who at the time was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told Ms. Smith the attack “was the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.” If the attack were replicated around the country, it could take down the entire electrical grid.

There was no big blackout after the attack—officials rerouted power, and power plants in Silicon Valley were asked to increase their output—but it took 27 days to get the substation fully working again.

Mr. Wellinghoff said he briefed Congress, the White House and federal agencies. But 10 months have passed since the attack, and he fears another, larger one could be in the planning stage.

Ms. Smith quotes an FBI spokesman in San Francisco saying the bureau doesn’t think a terrorist organization launched the attack. Investigators, he said, “are continuing to sort through the evidence.” PG&E, in a news release, called it the work of vandals.

If so, they were extremely sophisticated and well-armed. More than 100 shell casings were later found at the site. They were of the kind ejected by AK-47s. They were free of fingerprints.

Mr. Wellinghoff later toured the area with professionals from the U.S. Navy’s Dahlgren Surface Warfare Center in Virginia, which trains the SEALs. He said the military experts told him it looked like a professional job. They noted small piles of rocks that they said could have been left by an advance scout to alert the attackers as to where to get the best shots.

Some in the industry see it the way Mr. Wellinghoff does, including a former official of PG&E, who told an industry security conference he feared the incident could be a dress rehearsal: “This was an event that was well thought out, well planned and they targeted certain components.”

Rich Lordan, an executive at the Electric Power Research Institute, said: “The depth and breadth of the attack was unprecedented” in the United States. The motivation, he said, “appears to be preparation for an act of war.”

It’s hard to look at the facts and see the Metcalf incident as anything but a deliberate attack by a coordinated, professional group with something deeper and more dangerous on their minds than the joys of vandalism.

So, questions. Who is looking for the shooters, and how hard? On whose list of daily action items is it the top priority?

Those who worry about the grid mostly worry about hackers, and understandably: The grid is under regular hack attack. But the more immediate and larger threat may be physical attacks. In any case, as Ms. Smith suggests, the Metcalf incident appears to lift the discussion beyond the hypothetical.

Protection of the grid on all levels and from all threats should be given much more urgent priority by the federal government. If it ever goes down nationally, it will take time to get it back up and operational, and in the time it could take—months, weeks—many of our country’s problems would present themselves in new and grimmer ways. There would likely be broad unrest, much of it inevitable and some of it opportunistic. What would happen in an environment like that, with people without light, means of communication, and perhaps in time food? What would happen to public safety? To civil liberties? Those questions sound farfetched. They are not.

I end with an anecdote. In 2006 I met with some congressional aides and staffers to talk, informally, about what questions should be in the country’s hierarchy of worries. They were surprised when I told them a primary concern of mine was electricity, how dependent we are on it, how vulnerable the whole system is. I asked if there was any work being done to strengthen the grid. Blank faces, crickets. Then a bright young woman said she thought there was something about electricity in the appropriations bill a while back.

You always want to think your government is on it. You want to think they see what you see. But really, they’re never on it. They always have to be pushed.

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Willy Loman

Willy Loman

I received an email today. In it I was asked if I remembered a certain salesman who used to call on our family’s business. The fellow in question was identified only by the firm for which he worked.
I remembered neither.
For all I knew it could have have been Willy Loman working for an unnamed company, selling who knows what.
It strikes me now that many Willy Lomans called on our company. A few worked for GE, P&G, Lee Jeans and other giants, but most worked for little companies you’ve never heard of.
The country was covered by thousands of small distributors selling everything from toothpicks to toboggans as well as every type of electrical appliance, garment and everything in between. They employed tens of thousands of salesmen to call on hundreds of thousands of small retailers that served both urban neighborhoods and rural towns. Instead of city streets lined with hip looking bars, cafés and boutiques and Main Streets that look like Colonial Williamsburgh wannabes, there were stores that sold all the stuff you needed. And they needed the distributors that employed the Willies to provide them with life’s necessities, as well as an occasional impulse item. And of course large manufactures had cadres of super salesmen – Big Willies – to call on the distributors.
It was a gloriously inefficient system that employed hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in respectable jobs.
Bored yet? Well, here’s where I’m going: Where the hell are all these Willies working today, or have they just died out and their fossils litter motel parking lots? I see some of these guys in Home Depot and Lowes selling kitchen cabinets. A few are hustling appliances in the regional appliance chains. A handful actually try to beat the algorithms as they hit the headquarters of Walmart, Target and – who else? I guess some embryonic ones are the “geniuses,” “leaders,” and “team mates” in the Apple stores (by the way, where do old Apple “geniuses,” “leaders,” and “team mates” go? To call centers where their wrinkles won’t scare anybody away?).
The fact is, there really is no place for a Willy Loman to work today. These guys had thick skins; they could handle rejection and crappy bosses, but they were not doormats. They were independent, resourceful, minimally educated. They made great use of “everything they learned in kindergarten.”
Are economy hasn’t caught up with the massive displacement of the Willy Lomans. It’s pretty hard for an intelligent, honest, ordinary guy to earn a living these days. Even the used car lots are becoming “algorithmed.”
Glad I’m outside the tent. It doesn’t smell so good in there today.

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