Friday, March 27, 2015

Death as an Abstraction

Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks

News of the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 creates a familiar refrain: Another person has chosen to end life with the destruction of those in his or her proximity.
Death is an abstraction to these individuals.  It might incorporate an element of fantasy, in that death allows that individual to achieve a higher state of being.  However, it is not something associated with grief, despair, or the more humanist emotions.  Abstract death is devoid of emotion.
We don’t yet know if the Germanwings co-pilot exhibited a penchant for the Hate, but shouldn’t be surprised if it surfaces.  Death and hatred share an embrace.  Abstract death reflects the highest form of the Hate.
I bring this up because our news organizations carefully avoid associating the teaching of hate with its ultimate expression.  Our culture won’t go there.
A recent example is the efforts of Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, in promoting the Race Together initiative.  He tells us that “the promise of the American Dream should be available to every person in the country, not just a select few.”
Mr. Schultz knows that racism exists only with Republicans.  He sees himself as an altruist, working to remove the scourge of White Male Privilege from Republicans.  There is no need to change the wealth and personal makeup of people such as George Clooney or himself.  They are above it all.  It is Republicans who must pay reparation.
People inherently feel uncomfortable (especially Republicans!) when they are being taught to hate under a guise of altruism.  That’s natural.  What’s surprising is that recognition of the technique cannot be addressed in our culture.
Luckily, a free market will drive home reality for Mr. Schultz.  While sales of Starbucks beverages might soar in locations such as Seattle or San Francisco, I would imagine the “Race Together” initiative created significant sales declines in Utah and North Dakota.
Death and the Hate are fascinating topics for discussion, yet our culture fixates on racism.  Dan Henninger, Deputy Editor of the Editorial Page for The Wall Street Journal posted his “Wonder Land” column yesterday.  (Text copied at the bottom of this post.)
Mr. Henninger tells us that it takes some ability to use race in promoting the anti-Republican political message.  He shows how president Obama and Eric Holder are skilled at it.  Howard Schultz is not.
Race, Hate, Death:  Two of these are timeless issues to address in our culture and in human affairs.  One of them is used for political advantage by the Democratic Party.
That’s the one that gets attention in our American culture.

Race After Obama

Redefining the issue to make solutions possible.

Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz took it in the neck from all sides for asking his baristas to chat up half-awake customers about race in America. Mr. Schultz, however, is merely one voice in the conversation on race, which since the Ferguson shooting and Selma’s 50th anniversary has settled on American politics like winter in the East, harsh and unending.
While much of it is predictable or discouraging, others are trying something really new—a positive point of view. We start with the discouraging words.
The nomination of Loretta Lynch, the black federal prosecutor from the Brooklyn district, has elicited comments about her delayed confirmation vote in the Senate.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said, “Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar.”
North Carolina’s Rep. G.K. Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus: “I think race certainly can be considered a major factor in the delay.”
These two members of Congress are saying some Senate Republicans, five decades after a bipartisan vote passed the Civil Rights Act, are opposed to Loretta Lynch because she is black.
When the president of the United States was asked if race was playing a role in the delayed nomination, Mr. Obama replied, “I don’t know about that.”
Eric Holder said, “My guess is that there is probably not a huge racial component to this.” He added that “this is really just D.C. politics.”
A fair parsing of these comments by the president and attorney general also suggests the possibility of racism among Senate Republicans.
Mr. Obama could have said, “No. I do not believe race is an issue in the Lynch nomination.” Instead he said, “I don’t know about that.”
Mr. Holder could have said it was all about Washington politics. Instead he said the racial component “probably” isn’t “huge.”
Others, whose work doesn’t require them to look at all of American life through the keyhole of politics, have different ideas.
Appearing on “The Daily Show” a few weeks ago, the hip-hop singer and actor Common discussed race relations with Jon Stewart. Common had just won the Academy Award, with John Legend, for the title song to the movie “Selma.”
“We all know racism exists,” he said. Then he said, “Let’s forget about the past as much as we can and let’s move from where we are now. How can we help each other? Can you try to help us because we are going to try to help ourselves, too.”
The popular rapper ASAP Ferg said something along these lines in an interview with National Public Radio last week. Rephrasing ASAP Ferg’s words is a tricky proposition, so the interview itself remains the best source for his thinking on race. He did say he thinks the charge of racism has become a cult: “I think it’s a cult-like thing . . . Because whoever is pushing this agenda of people being racist, they like, ‘Yo. Keep doing it. Keep doing it. Yeah. Yeah.’”
In an interview with Oprah last April, music producer Pharrell Williams talked about a “New Black” movement, which he says “doesn’t blame other races for our issues.”
At Vanderbilt University last week, ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith said every black person in America should vote Republican in one election: “You [black voters] have labeled yourself ‘disenfranchised’ because one party knows they’ve got you under their thumb. The other party knows they’ll never get you and nobody comes to address your interest.”
As the Obama presidency ends, the status quo on race is in a bad place.
If media coverage reflects reality (a limitless “if”), the country’s racial polarization is as bad as most people can remember. Ferguson, Staten Island, the Brooklyn cop killings, the Oklahoma fraternity—a visitor from Mars might conclude next to nothing good has happened since Selma. On the surface of politics, the left browbeats the right in a bleak, zero-sum standoff.
In some conservative circles, a school of reduction holds that the black vote is gone and the Hispanic vote is a waste of time. The future lies in reanimating the 1980s voting bloc of Reagan Democrats that Ted Cruz identified his campaign with this week.
But just as there is black opinion talking now about getting past the Sharpton race cult and extending a hand, some of the Republican Party’s presidential candidates are doing the same thing.
Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, in words or with policies (such as Gov. Bush’s early school-choice program), have sought minority support. Gov. Christie has done a lot of town halls in black neighborhoods across New Jersey, and in 2013 got 21% of the state’s black vote. Shaquille O’Neal did commercials for Mr. Christie.
The race issue will remain after the Obama years. Emerging now is a desire to redefine this subject in ways that make it available to solution.
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Friday, February 27, 2015

White Male Privilege

Patricia Arquette, Best Supporting Actress, at the Oscars on 2/22/2015 (AP photo)
White male privilege has come under fire recently.  On February 12th, during a Smithsonian Associates event held at George Washington University, Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended the idea of a “living Constitution.”  The Supreme Court Justice said the Constitution must expand to cover more than the “white, property-owning men” who were “We the People” at the time of the founding.
Ten days later, at the 87th Academy Awards ceremony, Patricia Arquette accepted her award for Best Supporting Actress.  She closed with this comment:
"To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

Both of these remarks address the burden that a certain gender and skin tone places on our culture.  If we could somehow restrict white males in America, our country would be a better place.  America needs to discriminate based on race and gender!

It’s a concept that is met with exuberant enthusiasm by actress Meryl Streep.  Ms. Streep was immediately on her feet and applauding when Ms. Arquette delivered her remarks.
Maybe now is a good time to bring justice to this malignant state of affairs.  What would be the best way to start?
My thought is that we could use the Social Security Administration to get things going.  How about cutting the benefit checks for white males?  There are several positive outcomes:
--These are the people who were around during America’s civil rights movement in the ‘60s.  They deserve to pay reparations for being alive during this unsettling period of American history.
--A 50% cut seems appropriate.  People of the male gender tend to die earlier than their female counterparts, so they must pay more up front to keep things fair.
--If the disadvantage accrues too strongly to Democratic Party voters, a Lois Lerner protégé at Treasury could “inadvertently” avoid applying the cuts to those white males affiliated with the Democratic Party.
This action could be done legislatively or by Executive Order.  If done legislatively, it could be introduced by Democrats similar in mindset to the late Fritz Hollings, who along with Charlie Rangel would submit bills to reinstate the military draft, with a provision to draft women.  The bills never passed, but they showcased the dissimilar treatment afforded gender in our culture.
Similar actions could be taken now, to demonstrate the need to force equality in our society.
I don’t think Patricia Arquette would necessarily promote the idea.  Her job is not to bring justice to the social fabric of America.  Her job is to teach the Hate.
(Ruth Bader Ginsburg must be smiling.)

UPDATE 3/7/2015:
The Wall Street Journal has an article in its Opinion section that points out gender equality is best served by free markets, rather than governmental control.  The article is behind the WSJ paywall, so I'll copy it below.  The title of the article is,"For Gender Equality, You Can't Beat Capitalism."

By Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan,

International Women’s Day, commemorated annually on March 8, has become a celebration of women’s achievements in politics, business and the arts. This year, events are scheduled in at least 86 countries, with nearly 180 in the United States alone. These ceremonies, speeches and workshops will examine nearly every aspect of women’s lives, but few, if any, will note International Women’s Day’s origins in American socialism and Eastern European communism.

The day was first declared by the American Socialist Party in 1909 and, in 1917, it set into motion a sequence of events that would become Russia’s February Revolution. Female workers went on strike that day to achieve “bread and peace” in the face of World War I. Leon Trotsky later concluded that this event inaugurated the revolution.

Socialist leaders used International Women’s Day ostensibly to highlight their commitment to gender equity. Yet contrary to its socialist origins, more than 100 years of evidence since the first International Women’s Day suggests that free markets are the single best solution to inequity, gender or otherwise.

On this the data are unmistakable. And the Fraser Institute and the United Nations Development Program have more than enough from which to draw clear conclusions.

In its annual Economic Freedom of the World Report, the Fraser Institute, a Canadian free-market think tank, assesses degrees of economic freedom within countries. The United Nations Development Program, in its Human Development Reports, evaluates countries’ degrees of gender equality. Fraser does not consider equality when ranking economies according to economic freedom, and the U.N. does not consider economic freedom when ranking economies according to equality. But when the two reports are combined, a fascinating pattern emerges.

In countries that are (according to Fraser) more economically free, such as Switzerland and Finland, women have achieved (according to the U.N.) greater outcome equality. In the half of countries that are less economically free, such as India and Algeria, the U.N. measure shows that women experience significantly more inequality (almost 75% more according to the inequality index).
What is the implication? As compared with men, women in economically freer countries hold more elected seats in government, have longer life expectancies, achieve higher education levels, and earn higher incomes than do women in less economically free countries. In short, in freer economies, women’s lives are longer, more prosperous and more self-directed.

This result might not come as a surprise. Rich countries tend to be more economically free, and people in rich countries tend to have more time and energy to be concerned with outcome equality. So perhaps gender equality isn’t a function of economic freedom so much as wealth.

Except that it is. If we restrict our vision to the poorest countries, the same pattern emerges. Comparing the Fraser and U.N. data sets, we find that, of the poorest 25% of countries (as measured by per-capita GDP), the half that are more economically free achieve more gender equality than do the half that are less economically free. According to the U.N.’s own numbers, women suffer less inequality in poor, economically free countries than they do in poor, economically unfree countries. Women in poor but economically free countries hold more elected seats in government (relative to men), are better educated (relative to men), and live longer (relative to men) than do women in poor but economically unfree countries.

Since the advent of International Women’ Day, many, from the common people to presidents and popes, have looked to government control of markets as the solution to the problems of poverty and inequality. A landslide of evidence over the past century shows that, regardless of our good intentions, the more we allow governments to control markets, the more poverty and inequality we experience.

There is no better time to note these facts than on International Women’s Day. A celebration that was once simple Communist propaganda can, and should, be repurposed to celebrate the forces that actually lift people out of poverty and inequality. The evidence suggests that equality doesn’t come at the end of the government’s gun, but at the end of the free market’s handshake.

Mr. Davies is associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. Mr. Harrigan is director of academic programs at Strata, a free-market think tank in Logan, Utah.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Eschew the Hate

Let's start a conversation on Hate.
Our world is beset with people engaged in beheadings, suicide bombings and other forms of mayhem.  World leaders strive to wipe groups “off the map.”  What is it that attracts these people to Hate?
Authoritarians automatically gravitate toward it.  It mobilizes people.  It gets results!
The rest of us need some guidance.  What is Hate?  How does one teach Hate?  What are the specifics?
I’ll provide a quick primer.  Hate has two specific qualities:
            --It must involve intensely negative characterizations.
            --It must be directed at an identity group.
That means a person who says, “You are a racist!” is using an intensely negative characterization, but it is directed at an individual, not an identity group.  It is not Hate.
A person who says, “I don’t appreciate how Fundamentalists view the right to life!” is taking a specific stance.  It is not a characterization, even though the remark is directed at an identity group.
To be Hate, both of these elements – an identity group and a negative characterization – must be in place.
That means a person who says, “Christians deserve to die!” is expressing Hate.
A group chanting, “Power to the killers of cops!” is expressing Hate.
But if we understand the examples of Hate, what do we do about it?
There were a couple of techniques used during the recent elections of 2014 that can shed some light on this.  Here in Colorado, the campaign of Senator Mark Udall spent a significant amount of time running ads depicting Cory Gardner as a threat to women.  In Iowa, Joni Ernst was subject to a “war on women” accusation.
The Gardner and Ernst campaigns give us examples of two anti-Hate techniques:
            --Elevated Associations
Joni Ernst used the “Trivialization” technique to deflect the characterizations.  Her response was, “I am a woman, and I have been to war.  This is not war.”  She called upon her personal experience to trivialize the accusation.
Cory Gardner used the “Elevated Associations” technique.  He ran ads counter to the “threat on women” accusation, indicating he supported making birth control pills available over-the-counter rather than by prescription.  When voters saw Mark Udall characterizing Cory Gardner as a threat to women, they were reminded of the ad making birth control an over-the-counter product.  The negative characterization was elevated to a positive association for Congressman Gardner.
If you see the characterization of Republicans as a threat to women being a component of Hate, you aren’t far off the mark.  The characterization is “negative,” if not “intensely negative.”  The application of the characterization only to Republicans makes it against an identity group.  It might be considered “politics as usual,” but the elements of Hate are there.
That brings us to the Teachers of Hate.  As noted above, Authoritarians are drawn to Hate because it is an extremely effective way to influence people.  If you can teach people to hate, you are able to control them.  When people believe all their problems are caused by a particular identity group, they will endure unbelievable hardship for a given cause.
Who are the Teachers of Hate?  There are a multitude of candidates from around the world, but I will highlight a few from American politics.  Herewith, the Teachers of Hate:

Arquette, Patricia - Film and television actress.

            02/22/2015 - Republicans are a threat to women.
Cohen, Steve – U. S. Representative from Tennessee’s CD-9.
            01/19/2010 – Republicans are liars.
DeGette, Diana – U. S. Representative from Colorado’s CD-1.
            03/21/2010 – Republicans are killers.
Olbermann, Keith – Sports and political commentator.
            02/24/2010 – Republicans are sub-human.
Sanchez, Loretta – U. S. Representative from California’s CD-46.
            01/13/2015 – Republicans want to separate mothers from their children.

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Friday, January 30, 2015


Mason, from the movie “Boyhood,” played by Ellar Coltrane
Cinéma vérité is a film style that unveils “truth.”
The movie “Boyhood” is a 2014 release that has Oscar nominations for best picture and best director.  It is written and directed by Richard Linklater, and tells the story of a young man growing up in Texas from 2002 to 2013.  Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, is seven years old at the start of the film and 19 at the end.
The movie is distinctive because it uses 45 days of filming over the course of twelve years to cover Mason’s life.  IMDb has more about this extraordinary experience in its Trivia section on the movie.
While the movie portrays Mason with intimacy and sensitivity, it throws in a political message.  Mason’s father (played by Ethan Hawke) takes his son along to distribute Obama/Biden yard signs during the 2008 presidential campaign.  Young Mason meets homeowners who approve of what he is doing and who don’t.
Mr. Linklater showcases a caring, welcoming, female supporter of the Obama campaign.  This homeowner is all smiles when Mason asks permission to install the sign in her yard.
In contrast, Mr. Linklater has Mason encounter a Republican.  The Republican is an angry, menacing, older white male who tells Mason to get off his property.
How do political stereotypes wind up in cinéma vérité?
It’s our American culture, and it’s expected.
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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Knowledge and Power turns to Idealism and Hate


The execution of the staff at Paris’ Charlie-Hebdo office is creating a stir.  The issue is whether offensive speech should be allowed in polite society.

It’s a debate that has been going on for centuries, and America is unique in defending free speech.  Our right to free speech is enshrined in the Constitution.  The problem is that if only inoffensive speech is allowed, only the offended are protected.  Our constitutional “equal protection” provisions end up being not so equally applied.

While I can’t settle the free speech argument, it is important to look at the other side of the Charlie-Hebdo violence.  That has to do with the twin pillars of idealism and hate.  Those forces were on display in Paris on January 7, 2015.
When we are born, we are totally dependent human beings.  We need someone to tend to us in every way.
When we face death, that dependency returns.
Mitch Albom wrote a book about Professor Morris S. Schwartz, titled “Tuesdays with Morrie.”  It covers the art of dying.  One of the quotes that sticks with me is this:

"You know the biggest thing I dread?" he whispered. "When I can't wipe my own rear end. For some reason, that really bothers me."

Professor Schwartz was lamenting the loss of power that comes late in life.

The same thing pertains to knowledge.  When we are born, we begin our quest for knowledge. That search is portrayed in the film WALL-E where the animated character is in “input mode,” absorbing everything available in new surroundings.
Unfortunately, late in life we tend to reach “knowledge satiation.”  We no longer want to learn new things.  We are comfortable with what we already know.  (There is something to that expression: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”)
Thus we see a continuum in knowledge and in power.  Humans start with none of each and end with none of either.  What happens in the middle of the continuum is what is interesting.
Humans come to realize that life has limitations.  Our individual knowledge is not boundless, and neither is our power.  How do we cope?
We frequently become attracted to political-religious movements.  (Stay with me on this.  It ties with the massacre in Paris.)
On the religious side, humans find it attractive to subordinate themselves to a higher being.  We can’t know everything, so we accept that “infinite knowledge” must reside in a spiritual being.
On the political side of things, we find it attractive to use displacement to accommodate our lack of power.  We can’t control everything, so we displace our feelings.  All of our problems can be replaced with hate toward a particular identity group.
Examples of both of these phenomena are plentiful in our culture. Political organizations from sports teams to cults are happy to influence our feelings about entities that we don’t support.  We learn to “hate” the Cowboys or the Rams (football teams).  It provides intensity to our sporting experience.
All of this is right and natural.
What’s disheartening is when a political-religious movement takes our normal human tendencies and subverts them.  Our desire to limit the search for knowledge gets replaced with dogmatic idealism.  The Movement tells us we can end our search for truth.  We join the Movement and “the truth” is revealed to us.
The same can be said of power.  A political-religious movement replaces our acceptance of powerlessness with a sense of moral authority.  Our powerlessness becomes displaced by hate.
We see these effects day-in and day-out, but somehow miss the connection until something like the Charlie Hebdo killings occur, or we see police officers gunned down in New York.
Those organizations that teach us to hate rarely have our best interests in mind.

UPDATE 1/8/2015:
Claire Berlinski has a first-hand account of the aftermath of the attack.

UPDATE 1/9/2015:
Peggy Noonan has an article in The Wall Street Journal (unfortunately behind the paywall) that goes over the free speech issues associated with the attack.  Her conclusion:
A singular feature of extremist Islamists is that they are not at all interested in persuasion. They don’t care about winning you over, only about making you submit. They want to menace and threaten. They want to frighten. They enjoy posing with the severed head.
"The elephant in the room" is that extremist Islamists TEACH PEOPLE TO HATE and  Ms. Noonan avoids making that point.  Those who eschew the hate need to be heard.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Democratic Party Primacy

Danny Reise photo of a burning police car in Ferguson, Missouri
This past week brought stories and photos of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.  The rioting took place after a grand jury decision was announced by St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch on the evening of November 24, 2014.

The action by the grand jury was characterized as Raaaaacism in America.  Here’s another way to look at it:
The Democratic Party objectifies African Americans.  If you have dark skin tone, you are assumed to be associated with the Democratic Party.  In fact if you are a black voter, the odds are ten-to-one that you are a Democrat.
What does this tell us about Ferguson?  With very few exceptions, all those individuals participating in the violence last week were Democrats!
Of course, we don’t actually know that, because nobody is sampling riot participants for their political affiliation.  But it is a conclusion that can be drawn using inference.
The Democratic Party has the power and resources to create protests across the country, and it did so the week of November 24, 2014.  But why the intensity of feeling at Ferguson?
Here comes another “we don’t actually know” response, but (again using inference) we can conclude that it has to do with control of a governmental institution.
The Democratic Party exerts great power and authority over our nation’s police.  That power extends from the federal domain of the Department of Justice down to local jurisdictions such as the Ferguson Police Department.  When a police cruiser displays the logo “To Serve and Protect,” there is an expectation by the Democratic Party that the prime recipient of that service and protection is in fact the Democratic Party.
This explains the harsh response to Officer Darren Wilson’s actions.  As a police officer, Officer Wilson made the mistake of promoting the general welfare in Ferguson.
He had received notification of a petty theft, and had a description of the individual involved.  When he encountered an individual matching that description, he had two choices: He could protect the neighborhood from the behaviors associated with the reported theft, or he could carry out his duty to “serve and protect” the Democratic Party.
The latter course of action would involve noting that the individual had dark skin tone, and was therefore likely to be (or become) a lifelong Democrat.  The proper reaction would then have been to move on and avoid confrontation with that individual.
Instead, Officer Wilson embarked on a course of action intended to curtail neighborhood thuggery.  It was a decision that has now become a public accounting of the power of the Democratic Party.  Those who fail to show proper deference are at risk of personal destruction.
Our culture does not yet focus on the human costs associated with the Democratic Party transition into a political-religious movement.  We watch as a sporting event becomes theater with Tavon Austin (11), Stedman Bailey (12), Chris Givens (13), Kenny Britt (81), and Jared Cook (89) of the St. Louis Rams showing their solidarity for the Democratic Party.
Although there was talk of sanctioning the players, their desire to demonstrate allegiance to the Democratic Party at a football game is properly recognized as free speech.  Just as an athlete may use a sporting event to exhibit devotion to a religion, players may emphasize their dedication to a political-religious movement.
Ferguson, Missouri may be the moment when Americans begin to see the Democratic Party as a political-religious movement.  That would be remarkable!

UPDATE 12/18/2014:
The Democratic Party control over America's police force results in a New York kerfuffle!  The New York Post has a story on the contention between New York's Mayor, Bill de Blasio, and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.  Either way, the Democratic Party is the power player.

UPDATE 12/22/2014:
The rift in the Democratic Party is becoming more obvious.  The idea that you "own" law enforcement and yet accept declarations calling for the death of cops is becoming more difficult to sell to Americans.

UPDATE 12/29/2014:
The rank and file take matters into their own hands as the rift in the Democratic Party continues.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Iconoclast

Sharyl Attkisson has written a book about her experiences in the journalism profession.  She characterizes her work as “fearless reporting” on “untouchable subjects.”
Ms. Attkisson is an iconoclast.  She is also courageous, in that she has the political power of the Department of Justice arrayed against her.
While that may not seem like a formidable proposition, when the DOJ sanctions operations against an individual, that person is in grave danger.  Ms. Attkisson deserves our respect and support.
We’ve also got Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Elbert Guillory in the news of late.  These are two individuals who cast off the constraints of their identity groups to “speak truth to power.”
They represent the best of our consummate American ideal by displaying the “Give me liberty, or give me death!” mindset we have treasured in our past.
Our current culture does not celebrate these behaviors.  They are “swept under the rug” by our media organizations.

That’s unfortunate.

UPDATE 12/5/2014:
James O'Keefe provides an example of our justice system being manipulated in a political fashion.  I don't think my description of Sharyl Attkisson being in "grave danger" is an overstatement: