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ANOTHER ROUND of light rain is moving across the region this morning and tapering off in the afternoon, with heaviest rainfall totals expected in Del Norte and Humboldt Counties. Southerly winds will switch to the northwest through the day. Dry weather is expected Thursday before more rain on Friday. The heaviest amounts expected in Humboldt and Del Norte counties with lesser amounts farther south and east. Total amounts remain uncertain at this point. (NWS)
STEPHEN DUNLAP (Fort Bragg): Some approaching high clouds & 51F this Wednesday morning on the coast. Clear & breezy the next few days & now we have a chance for a shower on Friday. We'll see, I'm not buying it yet.
FATHER DIES WHILE KAYAKING WITH SON in Mendocino County
The son, who had been separated from his father, tried for about 15 minutes to rescue his dad from the water and eventually pulled him to the shoreline.
A Fort Bragg man died Sunday after a tandem kayak carrying him and his son capsized in a cove south of Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino County, officials said.
The two were in the 53-degree water for about 40 minutes before a state parks lifeguard and a bystander helped them onto a rock outcropping, Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department officials said.
The lifeguard and other medical personnel performed CPR on the father, later identified as 70-year-old Gordon Bruce Spence, but were unable to revive him.
Spence and his son took off in the kayak around 9:30 a.m. Sunday from Russian Gulch State Park Beach, about a mile and a half north of Mendocino.
SECOND POINT ARENA MURDER SUSPECT IDENTIFIED, Still at Large
Ten Mile Cut Off Road in Point Arena, CA
Victim: Jesus Joel Romero, 32-year-old male from Point Arena.
Arrested: Antonio Coria Garcia, 23-year-old male from Gualala
Wanted: Edgar Arteaga Coria, 44-year-old male from Gualala.
Updated Press Release (09-26-23 @ 1:45PM):
On Tuesday, September 26, 23 Sheriff's Detectives identified the second suspect in this homicide investigation as being Edgar Arteaga Coria who is a 44-year-old male from Gualala.
Coria is described as being 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing 160-170 pounds, having brown eyes and black hair.
Coria has a tattoo on the left side of his neck and the name “Arteaga” tattooed on the back of his neck. Images of the tattoos and a recent photograph of Coria are attached to this press release.
Coria should be considered as being armed and dangerous and Sheriff's Detectives have determined that he has fled Mendocino County.
Sheriff's Detectives are continuing investigations into Coria's current whereabouts.
Coria should be considered armed and dangerous.
Any sighting of Coria should be reported to the local law enforcement having jurisdiction in association with the location of the sighting.
Anyone with information that may assist Sheriff's Detectives with this investigation are urged to contact the Sheriff's Office Dispatch Center at 707-463-4086, the Sheriff's Office Tip-Line at 707-234-2100 or the WeTip Anonymous Crime Reporting Hotline at 800-782-7463.
HEALTH UPDATE FOR RESPIRATORY VIRUS SEASON
Now that we have made it through the summer heat, it is time to think of this fall’s seasonal respiratory diseases. We used to call it the Flu Season, and it still is. But we know many other germs cause respiratory symptoms. Most are mild. But some may be more severe and, for some, even life-threatening.
What is happening now?
Many people are reporting increased COVID-19 cases in the last few weeks. There have been more COVID-19 related hospitalizations. Wastewater surveillance shows an increase in COVID-19 detections around the state. This increase was predicted and is now confirmed. This is not an emergency because of the increase in immunity from vaccines and prior illness. We have the tools to care for ourselves with vaccines and medicines.
Some uncertainty about the future still exists. New variants are circulating. We have not seen any significant spikes in cases or hospitalizations in the U.S. or global communities where these variants were found. The current and upcoming monovalent vaccines and treatments should be very effective.
How do we prepare?
Influenza season usually starts in October, and RSV peaks in the fall/winter. Last year, we saw COVID-19 surge at the same time as Influenza and RSV seasonal surges, which threatened our healthcare system.
- Get the Influenza vaccine at the Department of Public Health Clinics or your healthcare provider’s office. Covid Vaccinations have been updated and should be available in the next week or so. These are recommended for everyone over 6 months old. RSV (Respiratory Syncitial Virus) is another respiratory virus that is most severe in older adults and infants. The CDC has approved and recommended the new RSV for those over 60 years old. The FDA has approved a vaccine for women from 32 through 36 week of pregnancy that will protect newborns for the first 6 months. These should be available at your pharmacy.
- Increase ventilation by staying outside (unless there is a lot of smoke or other pollution.) When inside, keep windows and doors open when you can, or use an air conditioner, filter, or fan. Wear a mask (preferably an N95 type) indoors if you or someone you live or work with may be immune compromised. It is not 100% effective but helps. Wash your hands and utensils with soap and water to prevent spreading germs.
- If you are sick, stay home, and get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible. Over-the-counter tests are advised. If you test negative but have symptoms or were a close contact, re-test in 48 hours to be sure. Wear a mask to protect others until you are sure, or 10 days have passed.
- If a COVID-19 test is positive and you are moderately sick, ask your provider for a very effective treatment to decrease the duration, severity, contagion, and risk of long Covid.
- Earaches or sinus headaches that continue or progress may indicate an infection that may benefit from an antibiotic. Aches can be treated with acetaminophen or anti-inflammatories. Stay hydrated. Drink clear liquids if nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea occur.
- Call your health care provider if your symptoms are severe, worsen or persist for more than 7 days.
(Mendocino County Public Health)
XANAX, COCAINE, CASH: Fort Bragg Brothers Arrested After Allegedly Using Social Media to Sell Narcotics
Ivan Gaeta and Esteban Gaeta, brothers from Fort Bragg, were arrested on September 23, 2023 after the Fort Bragg Police got intel they were using social media to sell drugs.…
JOHN REDDING: Yes, the County is in rather poor shape. But the SEIU bears some of the responsibility because they reflexively endorse candidates only on their end of the political spectrum. They seem shocked that they get the same outcome year in and year out.
The BOS is in theory a non-partisan seat but in reality it is hyper-partisan. It's up to the voters to change that. The SEIU could even lead the way.
ED REPLY: Yup and double yup. And here we go again, with the cold, dead hand of the local, active Democrats who are attempting to shove Trevor Mockel into the 2nd District supervisor's seat. Mockel's bona fides consist of one fide; he worked for State Senator McGuire, who seems to have contacted supervisor Williams to support Mockel and his single fide. Williams dutifully persuaded his inattentive colleagues, all of them active Democrats, to endorse Mockel prior to Mockel's even becoming an official candidate! I asked Williams why he did that. His answer? He didn’t answer. If Mockel, with his see-through resume, actually becomes supervisor, we can thank the Democrats who call all the political shots on the Northcoast.
THERE was a third o-dee at last weekend's Boonville Fair, and another narcan save. Anderson Valley's emergency responders were kept hopping all weekend with three o-dees, one of them fatal, and a bunch of minor calls. Deputies broke up a fight that might have developed into a melee except for their quick intervention.
BY FAR, the most popular animal was those odd mini-ducks. Every little kid, and a bunch of big kids of the adult type, wants one.
MARIE TOBIAS: What ‘The Moms For Liberty’ produces, is a vast sea of frothing batshit anchored to microscopic bits of truth, like one thing justifies the other. And when they demonize, attack, harangue, and pave over others in the name of their warm and fuzzy lord (Rupert Murdoch), they prove themselves motivated by the absolute worst propaganda, and political whack nuttery populating the media these days. These aren't advocates for rational choice, they're QAnon washouts.
Anyone pointing to this lot, as an example of anything but the harm caused by political propaganda on weak minds in the US these days, is simply not grounded in physical reality. A great big bag of seriously rotten oranges...
RECOMMENDED READING: ‘Crazy for Rivers’ by Bill Barich. You know you're with a good writer when he or she can hold your interest on a subject you have no interest in. I don't fish, but I zipped through ‘Crazy For Rivers,’ which is about a lot more than simply snagging trout and, as an additional bonus, is mostly about fishing the NorCal streams most of us are familiar with. Barich is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker who lives in Sonoma County. His novel Carson Valley, based on life in Alexander Valley, is the best fiction I know of about what it's really like to grow wine grapes.
I DON'T GET those bumperstickers that say, “This vehicle protected by Smith & Wesson.” Isn't that an incitement for a bad guy to shoot you first? And another sign I see in public restrooms these days: “Common decency requires that you wash your hands after using the bathroom.” Common decency? Isn't that a moral construct applied to basic hygiene?
THE WELL-KNOWN socialist writer, Barbara Ehrenreich, went to work as a waitress then wrote up her experiences for Harper's. Her story inspired a lot of mail, including this letter from Hannah Feldman of Baltimore: “As a waitress, I can back up Barbara Ehrenreich's conclusion that foreigners and ‘visible Christians’ often tip horribly. But I and my colleagues would add another category to that list: left-wing liberals. A ‘Power to the People’ button means you're about to get stiffed; a graying ponytail and a Greenpeace credit card mean getting run around like crazy for an insultingly low tip. Ehrenreich's own group of ‘faded ex-hippie types in shorts with long hair pulled back in braids’ triggers inward groans from the foot soldiers of the service industry. And socialists, for some reason, never tip at all. So, in reflection, I am happy to see anyone mention Ehrenreich's excellent account of the lifestyles of the poor and unknown. Perhaps some of your readers will realize that it is not enough to sympathize with the working poor; they actually must respect us when they see us in person and literally put their money where their mouths are.”
THE LETTER from real waitress, Hannah Feldman, confirmed my experience with deadbeats, a suspiciously large number of whom wear their hair in those little groovy guy pony tails, a grooming seeming to indicate the highly evolved status of the gent thus coifed. Ms. Feldman said the identifiable liberal types and Christian fundamentalists were not only the worst tippers, they had no sympathy for the person serving them, making all kinds of monarchical demands on already sorely put upon food service workers. Whenever I have to do business with a tidy little man wearing a pony tail, or a woman deliberately togged out in purple, I know at a glance I’m in for an interlude of spiritual desertification. I agree that the great divide is usually job experience. People who have lived with the wolf at the door tend to be more understanding and generally sympathetic.
THINKING BACK about the superintendents of the Boonville schools, a true adventure in memory, we have survived the guy who pounded down a fifth of whiskey a day behind the locked door of his office, the guy who was just straight up nuts (Phil Crawford, aka Wobbling Eagle), Mel Boom-Boom Baker was my favorite. Every time I saw the guy, he’d lay a whopper on me, once regaling me with one about how he’d fought Carmen Basilio to a draw. If his stories weren’t so implausibly amusing I’d have been insulted by his assumption that I believed them.
DAN LURIE, at last a strong candidate for mayor of San Francisco:
“There is a hunger for change. There is a hunger for someone from outside this entrenched system to go in and hold people accountable,” Lurie told the Chronicle. “There is a sense of lawlessness and disorder in this city. … I do not believe that anyone so far in this race has the ability to stare down these very real problems, because they are part of this entrenched system. Full stop. Everything I have done has been about taking on the big challenges that San Franciscans care about.”
by Mazie Malone
What if the solution to our Homelessness, Mental Illness, Addiction Crisis was right there in our face and we just do not see because we are stuck in a place of what was, what existed before that now hinders our ability to move forward with direct action. Yes, the horrors of institutionalization were real, and people were subject to many atrocities that I cannot even fathom. I would assume that is indicative of having no accountability, oversight or advocacy and the fact that people went into those places often never coming out or letting the family in! The family to this day is still pushed out and ignored!
Have you heard the story of the amazing Nellie Bly? She was born in Pennsylvania in 1864 and died in New York in 1922. With very little formal education in 1885 Nellie began her Journalism career by complete accident, she was angry at an article written in the Pittsburgh Dispatch titled "What Girls Are Good For" which was only one of a series of Erasmus Wilsons writings that were ramblings about women entering the workforce. Nellie was offended and mad and wrote her own letter to the editor explaining there was a complete lack of understanding about the plight of poor women trying to find work. The editor of the Dispatch was impressed by her direct and honest approach, so they hired her! She is a fabulously interesting woman who literally had the fortitude and courage to feign mental illness and get herself committed to the Asylum on Blackwell's Island New York. Nellie made herself a front row seat to understand & expose the horrifying conditions the mentally ill were subjected too! That amount of sacrifice and determination is amazing and was the beginning of a Grand Jury Investigation that led to improvements of patient care and the deplorable conditions for mentally ill people committed in the Asylum. Although in those years you literally could just look different and be institutionalized, maybe someone was missing a hand, or your husband got angry that you were not fertile any longer and he wanted a younger wife! Not really mental illness by today's standards. We probably all have ancestors who were subjected to this tyranny and abuse. For me, currently, I have no clue who in my ancestral line has been committed to an insane asylum, I definitely hope to find out one day.
In contrast we now have swung so far in the opposite direction that people who are actually Seriously Mentally Ill and decompensating rapidly are left to their own demise, while we sit back and watch. I do not view ignorance and irresponsibility as a virtue of goodwill and freedom while we continue to ignore those in most desperate need of intervention and support! When will we learn to do what is right and necessary instead of following false narratives and beliefs? Soon, I hope!
Birth Day #74
September 28th 1949 born East Cleveland
September 28th 2023 residing Building Bridges Homeless Resource Center Ukiah, CA
Nota Bene: What happened?
— Craig Louis Stehr
SHAKESPEARE AT POINT CABRILLO
Gloriana Theatre is very excited to announce our next production! "Much Ado about Nothing", directed by local Anna Leach, will take place at Point Cabrillo Lighthouse on Saturday, September 30 and Sunday, October 1 at 2:00. People are encouraged to bring picnic blankets or low portable seats.
Order your tickets today at Gloriana.org/tickets.
If you have questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org
FULL MOON BOOGIE
Full Moon Drum Circle this Friday evening at Pudding Creek Beach
via Sandy Turner, Transition Town Mendo Coast
Transition Town Mendo Coast is hosting another Full Moon Drum Circle this Friday, Sept. 29. At Pudding Creek Beach from 6pm to about 7:30pm. Everyone Welcome. Bienvenidos. Bring drums, tambourines, pots and pans, bells, shakers, etc. Everyone will have a chance to lead some beats. Bring a friend and you may want to bring a chair. Lately, about 20 to 25 people have been participating. We meet west of the Pudding Creek (funky) parking lot and east of the trestle.
The sun will set and the moon will rise at about 7 PM.
For more information, call or text 707 235-9080 or email to <email@example.com>
We are working on some activities for October and November but don't have anything set yet. If you are interested in helping plan activities and projects, then get in touch. One likely plan is a family-friendly bike ride in October.
MENDO NATIONAL FOREST SEEKS PUBLIC INPUT on proposed Invasive Plant Treatment Project
Mendocino National Forest officials are seeking public input on a proposed forest-wide Invasive Plant Treatment Project. The purpose of the proposed project is to reduce the extent and spread of invasive plant infestations in a timely and cost-effective manner. Non-native invasive plant species are among the most significant environmental and economic threats facing land managers. Invasive plants compromise the ability to manage public lands for a healthy native ecosystem.
There are approximately 1,900 known infestations of non-native invasive plant species across more than 10,000 acres within the Mendocino National Forest. Of these known infestations, over 1,100 were documented during post-fire surveys after the 2018 Ranch Fire and 2020 August Complex. Some of these sites were likely spread by disturbances associated with fire and suppression, while others may have existed prior to the fires.
Much of the forest remains unsurveyed, and new invasive infestations can appear at any time. The Invasive Plant Treatment Project would improve the forest’s ability to rapidly detect and treat current and future infestations of non-native invasive species using an integrated pest management approach. This approach could include manual, mechanical, herbicide, grazing, prescribed fire and biological control methods. One objective of the project is to improve treatment effectiveness by providing a broader suite of methods land managers can use to remove targeted species while minimizing risks to human health and the environment.
Another objective is to eradicate invasive species infestations when they are small, thereby reducing costs, difficulty and impact to forest resources. Forest Supervisor Wade McMaster encourages all interested parties, organizations, agencies, tribes and state and local governments to share their thoughts or concerns regarding the project.
Public questions and comments are an integral part of the environmental analysis process and are used to identify issues and develop alternatives to proposed actions. A public meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, October 4, 2023, at the Mendocino National Forest headquarters in Willows, CA (825 N Humboldt Ave, Willows CA 95988). The meeting and presentations will begin at 4pm. Forest personnel will be available for discussion and questions until 6pm. For those who are not able to attend in person, the meeting can be attended virtually through Microsoft Teams using this link: Public Meeting (https://bit.ly/InvasiveWeedsMeeting), or by calling 323-886-7051, phone conference ID 35789948#. Comments should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org in one of the following formats: Microsoft Word, rich text format (rtf) or Adobe Portable Document Format (pdf) and include “Invasive Treatment” in the subject line.
Comments can also be mailed in to Mendocino National Forest, ATTN: Invasive Plant Treatment Project, 825 N. Humboldt Ave., Willows, CA 95988.
The public will be able to review and comment on the project through Oct. 25, 2023. Project documents will be available online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/mendocino/?project=64906.
Questions about the project can directed to the project lead Japhia Huhndorf, Upper Lake Ranger District Botanist, Japhia.email@example.com or 530-473-9015. # # #
The Mendocino National Forest consists of approximately 927,650 acres along northern California’s coastal range. The forest includes the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, four designated wilderness areas, two designated wild and scenic rivers, Red Bluff Recreation Area, and the Chico Seed Orchard. Headquartered in Willows, the forest maintains district offices in the communities of Covelo and Upper Lake. USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.
by Skip Van Lentin
I have an old friend who lives in Navarro, California. I haven't seen her for a long time now, but she is a writer, an artist, and a gardener at heart, and she put me up in her house in 1979, when I worked as a short-order breakfast cook at the Philo Café. Her name is Anna Taylor.
Navarro is located along Route 128, in Mendocino County, about 15 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The road winds through the Navarro River Redwoods State Park, before connecting to Route 1 along the coast. It is a very quiet place, with a general store, and no tourist attractions other than the park and the campground. Anna’s house sits back off the road, surrounded by woods, and behind it is the neatly tended garden where she grows her own vegetables and flowering plants.
I left California in 1982, and settled in northwestern Connecticut, but in the summer of '84, I was presented with a unique opportunity: another friend, Chris, wanted to take a cross-country road trip to California and back, and asked me to come along. I didn't have to think twice, and in a matter of days, we had her car, a small Chevy Cavalier, loaded with sleeping bags, blankets, a tent, cooler, dry food, and all the utensils and equipment we would need to camp out in many of the state and national parks along the way. We covered 14,000 miles, from Caribou, Maine, to Riviere-du-Loup, Canada, across to Toronto, down into the states, out to California, and up to British Columbia and back to Connecticut in two months. We had camped in Kanab, Utah, so we could see the Grand Canyon, lived out of our tent in Yellowstone, the Redwood Forest, Crater Lake, the rain forest in Washington State, and a lot of smaller parks in remote areas not normally visited by tourists, and at one site, we had an encounter with a group of campers I will never forget.
When we got to northern California, I made it a point to stop in Navarro, so Chris could meet Anna before we continued on to Mendocino, and north on Route 1. We spent the morning laughing and talking about old times, and after our visit, Anna gave us a bushel of large zucchini and squash plants to take with us. She had picked them from her garden, knowing we would be cooking that night at a campground along the coast known as Westport Union Landing, and wished us well as we loaded them in the car.
It was early in the afternoon when we left Navarro and took 128 through the redwoods. The trees were so tall and majestic that they nearly blocked the sun, but when we emerged from the darkness of the forest, we were met with clear blue skies, and breathtaking views of the ocean. We followed Route 1 north, and stopped often to walk along the beach, and explore the sand dunes, arriving in Westport just in time to set up camp before the sun set.
When I had lived in California before moving back east, I spent a lot of time at the landing, so I was familiar with the area, and wanted to take a few days to show Chris my favorite spots. Westport Union Landing is not a typical campsite. It is a flat strip of grass the size of a football field, open to anyone with a tent or an RV, and sits on top of a bluff overlooking the Pacific, with just the basic facilities. The Usal Mountains rise north and east, blocking the morning sun, and there is a small community of Native Americans who live in the area and occasionally seine for fish in the surf below the campground. There are no formal sites for camping, just patches of hard earth, so we decided to set up our tent about 20 feet from the edge of the bluff, where previous campers had built a small fire pit out of rocks. We had a full view of the ocean as far as the eye could see. Before nightfall, about a dozen other campers had arrived, some with tents, and a few with RV’s and trailers, but we were too busy unloading the car, and building a fire with the few pieces of wood we had, to notice that the three men who were our nearest neighbors were Native Americans. I knew that Chris and I would never be able to eat all of the zucchini and squash that Anna had given us, so I set aside a few for ourselves and offered the rest to them. I didn’t expect anything in return, but they smiled and nodded to each other, and after we walked back to our site, they came over carrying armfuls of firewood, and stacked it next to our pit. It allowed us to keep a fire going for the next three nights, and before we left, we had eaten all the fried zucchini and squash we could stand.
When it was time to pack up our tent and load the car, I thought about our experience at the landing, and the stories we had read in school about the early settlers in America. We were told that they had "traded with the Indians," and although the term is not often used these days, it seemed to me that our exchange of vegetables for firewood connected us to a time in history when the settlers and the Indians enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship that has long been forgotten. I may not have been the only one who felt that way. Judging from the smiles on their faces as they handed us the firewood, the Native Americans we met at Westport Union Landing may have thought the same thing long before I did.
Remembering the good old days, here we are into Mendocino County fair and Apple show, bringing back memories of many years ago, when you'd know your neighbor and you could be sure he would be there, with an abundant family, but no more mostly apple orchards have gone away given way to grapes in huge amounts, and the farm labor people work the fields barely speak English, even though there are sheepdog trials, there's no more sheep ranches, most of the livestock businesses have faded away, and given up their land to the big corporations to raise grapes for wine, even the timber industry has virtually disappeared from the landscape, due to the fact that the newcomers, love the red wood porch, but they don't want to see the trees cut down in the neighborhood, and when the only real watering hole decent bar for working people burned out a few years ago, nobody rebuilt it, no longer a big Friday nights at the Boonville bar we called the bucket of blood, no longer can you walk in and see all the people you know, a lifetime, you go to the fair today, and you might run into four people you knew back in the old days, the judges give away nice ribbons and thank you's to people, it create exhibits as a hobby, no longer is the business influence at the Boonville fair, a few make-believe cowboys come out for the rodeo, but is no longer the cattle ranchers, people who raise crops, or livestock for a living, in years past I used to go to the parade, with a high-stepping horse, those days are gone forever, most of the horses, as riden by Mexicans migrated into the valley, and work in the vineyards, few locals true creators of the Valley in time gone past will be there, no more is the log trucks with big loads of redwood logs, all of those good old days of faded off into the distance past along with the memories of many of the people that made it happen, what is so sad in our County most of our boards and commissions are made up of people that were not born here, not from the area, we've been inundated and taken over, by strangers, that do not like the timber industry, or the ranchers, they brought their vile weed, and expanded drug influence within the county, leaving our young people away and down the road, crime is gone up from the gangs moved in from the city, even the dope growers are more vulnerable, from people who would rob them for their money, rip off their drugs, the industry wrapped around the marijuana bush has brought shame on good business in the County, no longer are the kids young adults satisfied with drinking a little beer on Saturday night, or sneaking a little whiskey from some corner of the house, except marijuana, and then went to mushrooms, and harder drugs yet, the last time I went to the fair about five years ago, you could smell of marijuana cigarettes in the air, I ran into five people I knew, and knew because of their age it would not be there the next time, that I would come to the fair, so I stopped going to rely the memories of yesterday, and remembering the last time I went, it practically searched me going over me with a wand to make sure I didn't have a knife, or anything would hurt anybody, it's no fun going to the fair, when they search you like a criminal, the good old days of God, I fear though never come back but what's even sadder it is countywide, the only big parade in the county is the Fourth of July parade in Mendocino, the rest of them are former shadow of what used to be.
CATCH OF THE DAY, Tuesday, September 26, 2023
ANTONIO CORIA-GARCIA, Gualala. Murder, use of firearm in commission of serious felony.
MCKENNA JOHNSON-HARDIN, Fortuna/Ukiah. Bad check, controlled substance, conspiracy.
BRIAN KLOVSKI, Ukiah. Contempt of court.
EVERETT LASTER, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, failure to appear.
LISA MCKINNEY, Ukiah. DUI-alcohol&drugs.
CLAYTON STERNICK, Willits. DUI-alcohol&drugs, leaving scene of accident with property damage, suspended license.
NEIL WALDRON, Ukiah. Parole violation.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
Just walking through a Walmart. The number of staggeringly obese people is alarming. Massive people. People so fat they can’t even walk and have to use the little scooters. The scooters barely moving under the stress of their incredible mass. Thin people are a minority now.
Even worse is the fat people, fat women especially, seem to believe they are still thin. They wear “daisy dukes” cut-off denim shorts showing off their flabby, cellulose ridden cottage cheese legs. They also wear tank tops and midriff shirts where their massively tattooed love handles flop over their “daisy dukes.”
At some point that woman put on those tiny shorts and short tank top, looked in the mirror and thought to themselves “Damn, I look good!”
Or, as my wife often says, “they just stopped caring a long time ago.”
Either way, I have seen things that my mind cannot unsee and I didn’t go looking for it.
It’s really bizarre. To be fat is becoming cool.
‘HE WAS LIKE A ZOMBIE’: These hikers were struck by lightning on Yosemite’s Half Dome
by Clare Fonstein
The day started off clear, Jordan Dean said. He and his friends typically check the weather before they set out for a hike, and he remembers seeing a low probability of rain Thursday morning as they set out to summit Half Dome.
By the time their group arrived at the subdome, a destination before the final push up Half Dome, it was slightly foggy, but there was still no rain. They climbed holding onto the cables and while it was sunny when they began the ascent, a storm was coming in as they arrived at the top.
A terrifying experience lay ahead, though they did not realize it.
To reach the top of Half Dome, hikers must climb the side of the giant rock, about 400 feet, maintaining balance using metal cables on either side of them.
One of Dean’s friends, Josh Van Dyke, said their group arrived at the summit of Half Dome around 12:30 p.m.
Dean said that as fog kept rolling in at the summit and the weather started to turn, people began descending the cables — including two of Dean’s friends.
Within about 15 minutes Dean said the skies went from overcast to rain and sleet.
Dean’s friends, who were descending, told him via a two-way radio that the cables were so congested there wasn’t a lot of movement, so Dean along with Van Dyke and others decided to stay at the top and wait it out.
As Dean’s two friends headed down the cables, they heard a scream. The pair could not see what was going on, but learned a woman had fallen, Dean said. The woman fell down the north side of the mountain, hitting a rock ledge, which stopped her, other hikers told Dean. Emergency services were called and a helicopter crew came to rescue her.
Dean’s two friends told him rain was running down the side of the mountain as they were descending, and it was hailing. One friend slipped but caught himself on one of the poles that anchor the cables. Both made it down, but the man who slipped cut his knee badly.
Dean was still at the summit with his friends and they decided to take shelter from the rain in a rock cave, with a stranger joining to make a group of five.
A group of friends was trapped atop Half Dome when a storm moved in. Video: Courtesy / Jordan Dean
Others who were at the summit when the storm came in took shelter in similar spots.
As the group hid in the cave, lightning struck the rocks they used as shelter. The lightning went from one of the rocks to Dean’s knee.
“It felt like maybe a house voltage or like somebody punched me in the knee,” Dean said.
Another one of his friends in the cave was also struck — the lightning went from one of the rocks to the back of his head.
“It was like thunder and lightning instantly at the same time split (ting) your ears,” he said.
Lightning struck again.
“The second time it struck was worse. It was way worse,” Dean said. “We saw the flashes, it was just like everywhere all at once.”
After the second set of flashes, the stranger who was in the cave with them went unconscious.
“He hunched over, then his body went limp and he fell to the side,” Dean said. “We were yelling for him to wake up and (one of my friends) was trying to shake him and then checked for a pulse.”
Dean’s friend began to hit the chest of the unconscious man, trying to get his heart started.
The man was unconscious for about a minute but eventually came to.
Van Dyke was struck at the same time as the stranger and was left dazed.
“We didn’t remember where we were or how we got there,” Van Dyke said of himself and the stranger.
About 10 minutes passed before Van Dyke began regaining his memory, Dean said.
“He was like a zombie, he was just a shell of a person,” Dean said.
Van Dyke’s hair was singed, where the lightning entered, and he later discovered it burned a hole in his sock, leaving a mark on the bottom of his foot, presumably where the lightning exited, Van Dyke said.
The man who lost consciousness regained his sense of what was going on within about 20 minutes, Dean said.
“It was scary not knowing if lightning was going to strike again or how bad. There was nowhere to go and nothing we could do about it. That was terrifying,” Dean said.
After about 30 minutes in the cave, the rain subsided and the group ventured out and joined others who had been stuck at the summit during the storm. It was drizzling and the rocks were still wet, but all of them decided to head down. Dean said his group came across a group of women who had stopped on the cables mid-descent during the storm.
“They were so scared and they hadn’t been moving,” Dean said.
The women were struggling and their shoes did not seem to have a lot of grip, Dean said. He told the women to stay where they were and wait for a rescue team to help.
“One of the girls said she felt like her shoes were more grippy and she was going to go for it,” Dean said. “…We were just slowly going down and we heard a scream and looked as she kind of lost her grip and hit this pole and bounced out to the side and slid.”
She slipped down about 20 or 30 feet, said Van Dyke, who also witnessed the fall. The woman slid down the south side of the cables, until she hit a rock ledge, saving her from falling all the way down Half Dome, Dean said.
“She (was) sliding fast and she hit it really hard and her body didn’t move for a minute,” Dean said.
Dean said everyone on the cables was screaming helplessly as the woman fell.
A rescue worker who had been there to save the other woman who fell attended to the second woman, Van Dyke said. Dean said by the time he reached the bottom of the cables he could see the second woman was sitting up, though she was shaking and it appeared the rescue worker put a brace on her.
“Seeing the second girl fall right in front of us, we all saw her slide down, it really goes to show how serious the situations are, how big and dangerous these mountains can be if you’re not prepared,” Dean said.
(It was not immediately clear what organization provided the rescue. Contacted on Monday, Yosemite and the California Highway Patrol, which often helps with rescues, did not have further information.)
While Dean felt confident ascending Half Dome, he said that during his descent he put extra thought into every step.
“It’s shocking to me how different — how much grip I felt like I had going up versus when it was wet on the way down,” Dean said.
Van Dyke said he lost his footing a few times on the way down but was able to catch his feet on the poles to avoid falling.
Storms often come up in the Sierra, especially in the afternoon, and Yosemite warns hikers not to attempt the cables if storm clouds are visible — even if they seem to be far away. People on top of the mountain should descend as quickly and as far down as possible.
In summer 1985, two people died and three others were injured by a lightning strike on Half Dome. Another person died in 1972 from a lightning strike and in July 2011, a woman died during a lightning storm after a slip and fall from the cables, according to a 2018 paper in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine summarizing deaths on Half Dome.
As a last resort, the park says, “make yourself a small target by crouching on your toes with your hands covering your ears. Touch the ground as little as possible; the ground conducts electricity. Do not lie flat.”
WHAT’S THE POINT OF DRESSING UP?
by Jeffrey Tucker
Events in the U.S. Senate have raised fundamental questions we otherwise have long taken for granted. The question is: why do we wear what we wear and what should or should not inform that decision?
The old dress code has been removed—for Senators but not for anyone else—making way for Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman to wear a hoodie, shorts, and sneakers on the Senate floor. He probably thinks that this habit of his puts him more in touch with the workers he claims to represent.
Because anyone can now wear anything, other strange attire are likely to follow. The decision could very well open up the floodgates to slovenliness all around. The Senate will look just like the rest of America these days.
What a striking symbol of decay, decline, and official decadence. Now they don’t even have to dress the part.
Ironically, the new permission follows some two years in which the Senators were absolutely forced to wear a mask on their faces whether they wanted to or not. So we quickly went from a preposterous clothing rule, strictly enforced, with no historical precedent or scientific basis, to repealing a code of dress with long and deep historical roots, one that reflected the dignity associated with the office and institution.
Perhaps with the dignity of the institution in precipitous decline, the sense is that it no longer matters what people wear. They can rob the people and misrule the country in any garb they want. So perhaps you could say that this brings a bit of aesthetic honesty to the affairs of government. They can look like the muggers they are.
Still, this does not bode well for the future of the country. I’m sincerely hoping that many Senators will keep up the old codes regardless. Perhaps the Republicans can consider adopting their own dress codes. Regardless, as bad as politics is in this country, it can only get worse with clothing that shows contempt for U.S. tradition and institutions.
The objection might be that the old dress codes infringe on the freedom of individual expression and that what one wears is far less important than what one does, as if there is really no relationship between looking one’s best and doing one’s best.
This is absolutely not true. Dress does influence behavior in huge ways. People tend to act the part they play. Just today, for example, I was at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, and a reenactor was inhabiting the role of Rev. Joseph Twichell, a congregationalist minister who was (Samuel) Clemens’s friend for 40 years. The nice man was dressed perfectly according to the period and behaved as such.
I was dressed as I always am when out and about. He treated me as a visiting dignitary which I was not but I admit that I enjoyed it. The banter was high-level, erudite, and edifying. After the tour, I saw him again but this time without the garb. He was in street clothes and sneakers. The magic of our relationship evaporated in an instant. It’s not that I was judging him; it’s that the whole basis of our previous relationship just collapsed, on his part and mine.
What changed? Nothing other than clothing.
Let’s ask the fundamental question: why should we dress up? Contrary to prevailing opinion, it is not to attract attention to oneself, show off one’s wardrobe, show off wealth, or preen and peacock in front of others. Many people are deeply confused on this point.
For years, I’ve known young entrepreneurs, under the influence of Mark Zuckerberg and others, who say that they have every right to dress down since they are not there to show off their own personal looks. They should be judged by their deeds, not their clothes.
Of course you could say the same about any codes that govern life. Why not dispense with table manners and just grab food with your hands and wipe them off on your clothing? Why not blow your nose into your shirt? One can think of a million awful habits, any of which you are welcome to practice in private.
But come to a dinner party and do these things, and what happens? Everyone around you will be mortified. You will never be invited back. They will judge you harshly no matter what. And why? It’s only because of how you behave. It’s also because how you behave reflects your own attitude toward others.
And that is the critical thing. We aspire to have good manners not for ourselves, and not to show off to others, but rather out of deference to other people, the hosts, and the occasion that brings people together. Behaving well and following protocols, even when you might not entirely agree with them and even when they strain rational credulity, is a way of putting aside personal interests in favor of respect shown for others.
This is the critical point, and it applies whether it involves talking with your mouth full of food or wearing a hoodie on the Senate floor. It is quite simply rude to others. It shows that you are a selfish slob who cares not for things outside your own self-interest narrowly conceived.
Dressing terribly shows that you have a low regard for others in the relevant space. It doesn’t matter where you are. In public spaces there are people who work there daily, entrepreneurs who fund its existence, other customers, and owners who have great pride in the place. When you show up there dressed up, you are honoring their own position and status.
I completely get why people travel in sweat clothes and sneakers. I get that everyone wants to be as comfortable as possible in the hell of today’s airports and train stations. The more miserable the experience, the more people dress the part. But here is a secret. If you resist this impulse and instead dress up in your nicest clothing, the staff will ALWAYS treat you better. And why? Because your dressing up they take to be a show of honor toward them. That’s why the flight attendant gives you a better seat, a sneaky free drink, or is quick to help you get to your connecting flight.
You never know when you are going to need the help of others. You should always dress up to honor them just in case.
Here is where we get to the central point. The reason for dressing up is to honor others, pay homage to the formality of the occasion, show respect for the venue in question, or defer to the dignity of the institution. It also conveys the signal to others: I’m a good citizen of this occasion and deeply appreciate being included.
The quick history of clothing is that it was once very much tied to social status: the Roman Empire, Louis XIV’s France, and even Colonial America. There were laws that prevented the lower classes and merchants from dressing like the aristocracy. Dressing well was an economic and political privilege.
The sumptuary laws of New England in the Colonial period imposed harsh penalties for peasants who wore buckles on their shoes, for example, since that suggested social aspiration in the midst of a deeply hierarchical society.
But with modernity and the rise of mass prosperity, these laws went away. Capitalism made it possible for everyone to dress like anyone and the difference between the garb of the rich and the poor began to fade. This is one of the greatest achievements of the capitalist marketplace, and everyone too, gained advantage of it.
Look at pictures of New York City in the 1930s, even in the midst of the Great Depression, and you see absolutely every man dressing higher than even bankers and CEOs today. To dress up was a luxury for everyone. No one with means would ever pass up the chance to do so. Why would anyone decline the opportunity to be as awesome as possible and hence honor others in the best feasible way?
We are long past such times, but now we see the logic flipping on itself. Now the powerful and rich are dedicated to degrading all standards of decency, decorum, and aesthetic beauty. They are daring us to look askance at this deconstructed foppery and demand to know from us what is wrong with it.
Here is what we should say. Your dress is an insult to yourself, others, your office, the occasion, and the institution of which you are part. You do not deserve respect. You deserve nothing but scorn. In general, we all need to get better at that, else we are going to see standards slip further and further, until the whole of our world and everyone in it appears ghastly and no one aspires to anything beautiful or dignified anymore.
Every aspect of our lives has a uniform. That is not injurious to your freedom. It is an opportunity for you to perform at your best. The people who are determined to perform at their worst are the most likely to object.
In a world without standards, a society that is decaying in its ethics and moral stability, one thing we can all do is fight back in ways we can actually control. What we wear is one way.
Don’t give in to the rabble, the nihilistics, the Jokers among us, who say that decorum and decency are an artifice. We should all dress like the world in which we desire to inhabit. Even the eight strings that played as the Titanic sank into the ocean still wore black tie and evening jackets.
MAUREEN CALLAHAN: Why is Taylor Swift stuck on repeat? In every other aspect of her life and career, the 33-year-old is a marvel of artistry, image control, and work ethic. Her blockbuster 'Eras' tour dominated the summer and is on track to gross over $2 billion. She is the most famous pop star on Earth - and cheers to her! She's a marketing genius who has made herself culturally relevant - dominant - for half her young life. So why is she playing out what looks like yet another cynical faux-mance? One whose choreography seems clunky, overly staged and sadly juvenile? Not since the summer of 2017, when Swift was photographed awkwardly hugging new beau Tom Hiddleston - himself in a deeply embarrassing, sodden, skin-clutching tank top reading, 'I Heart TS' - has one of her high-profile romances seemed so… pained. Stiff. Un-electric.
UKRAINE, TUESDAY, 26 SEPTEMBER
After Ukraine claimed to have killed the commander of Moscow's Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Viktor Sokolov, Russia's defense ministry published video Tuesday that appeared to show him participating in a meeting. Ukraine said it is "clarifying" information it received about Sokolov.
Russian drones hit a Danube River port in the Odesa region overnight, injuring two drivers and damaging warehouses, a Ukrainian official said Tuesday. A ferry crossing between Ukraine and Romania was closed following the strike.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday hailed the arrival of the first batch of US Abrams tanks in Ukraine, as the delivery is expected to add a powerful ground component to Kyiv's forces. Moscow said the tanks "will burn" and won't affect the outcome of the war.
RUSSELL BRAND’S TRIAL BY MEDIA
by Matt Taibbi & Walter Kirn
Walter and Matt on the insta-punishment system unveiled in the Russell Brand case, Britain's increasing role as a testing ground for speech-suppression techques, and Alexander Pushkin's "The Shot."
Lots to discuss this week, as Walter and I took on the Russell Brand debacle, an unsettling investigation into a DoD social media contract, and Alexander Pushkin’s “The Shot”:
On the Russell Brand brouhaha:
Matt Taibbi: Interesting week in news, jumbled, confused, and full of moral manias as usual. We should probably just get to the one that’s dominating the headlines, which is the Russell Brand phenomenon. We knew about this at the end of last week because Russell released something on X or Twitter saying that there were pieces coming out that were going to make extremely serious allegations and, indeed, they did. And now the news landscape is overpopulated with Russell Brand stories. And there’s a number of things to discuss here. We’re probably going to get to everything except the actual case, but what were your first impressions of this?
Walter Kirn: Well, I wasn’t surprised, given his positions and his newfound celebrity as a gadfly and anti-establishment. He’s no longer a comedian, really. He’s a kind of high satirist who combines his skills for witty expression with pretty resolute anti-orthodox ideas. And so he was in the crosshairs, and he was especially in the crosshairs having come from Hollywood, which I don’t think brooks much difference with the normal line. He was doing something that was very high risk, in other words. And here came this story, and I not only don’t want to talk about the specific charges, I refuse to, because none of them have been proved, none of them have resulted in legal action, none of them are particularly traceable to a source. And as much as I might be bothered if they were true as a person, I find myself having to stick by my principles. They picked someone and they picked a situation in which many of us might find it hard to stick by a person, but-
Matt Taibbi: Right. Well, that’s the nature of these things.
Walter Kirn: Exactly. And that’s not lost on me. Here’s a guy who’s rich, good looking, famous, and now accused of a serial insensitivity at the least or some form of assault at the most, but it all comes through the newspapers.
Matt Taibbi: Beyond that, flat out rape. That’s the word that’s been used.
Walter Kirn: Right. It all comes through the newspapers, not the legal system. And he, though difficult to sympathize for, if these are issues that concern you and these are stories that you find credible, is being made an example of, and that’s clear.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah. Well, there’s a lot to get to here. Obviously, I should say upfront, I’ve been through something, not nearly on this scale, but I went through a mini-#MeToo episode years ago, obviously. So I have some particular thoughts about this. Mine was different. I didn’t have any accusers. It was purely based on something somebody had written once and there were settlements, but in the moment, it’s paralyzing. It’s designed to be socially isolating. Your friends will not answer your phone calls. And things come at you from all different directions, but what I went through was a trifle even a generation ago, compared to the sophistication of how these things work now.
When somebody who’s that much more famous goes through something like this now, there’s instantaneously a slew of consequences that ensue before anyone could have even theoretically reviewed enough evidence to know anything. In Russell’s case, his tour was canceled. That might’ve been partly his decision. I don’t know for a fact there what happened. But he was dropped by his publisher, he lost his agency, YouTube demonetized his show, and there were a number of other financial consequences that came right away.
Headline from “The Verge.” Pre-conviction consequences in trial-by-media cases are regularly framed as removal of privileges.
Matt Taibbi: And for me, this is the really concerning part, which is they’ve institutionalized this idea that, before there’s any kind of investigation, before a person’s charged with a crime, we don’t have to wait for any kind of review or response, anything of that nature. We just go ahead and do the punishment. And that’s partly a reflection of a new mentality about these issues, but it’s also, I think, a withering of the whole idea of the presumption of innocence. We’re supposed to actually believe that a person’s innocent until the jury comes in. That’s the way this thing works. I think we’re supposed to at least remind ourselves that that’s true. And the idea of there not being consequences until that’s been proven, it’s supposed to be important, or at least I thought it was, but not anymore, apparently. I don’t know. What’s your take on that?
Walter Kirn: You ride the tiger as a celebrity in this culture and the public giveth and taketh away. Not that it’s just, but that’s just the way it worked. He decided, he made a decision at some point in his life, to become a public figure of a different kind. Rather than a comedian or a sex symbol or a wacky movie star, he wanted to address serious issues. And he might’ve known, I think, that put a target on him almost instantly. Now, a year from an election, when so many people who go against the flow are, I think, being selected for cancellation, nullification, demonization, the bullet came for him. As I say, I can’t adjudicate the claims in the story. I don’t think it’s a great story, personally. The anonymity of the accusers makes it very difficult to assess, but-
Matt Taibbi: Especially when it’s done through the media.
Walter Kirn: Especially when it’s done through the media. The common sense side of me is, oh, give me a break. Of all the sex fiends in Hollywood, and he is confessedly one, at least formerly, they picked this guy. It’s like 500 cars go past a cop car and he pulls over the one of the guy who has been making eyes at his wife. We know about the principle of selective accusation here because we have had presidents who’ve been charged with many of the same things, and yet continue to have a-
Matt Taibbi: That’s true.
Walter Kirn: And not anonymously, in fact, and they run global foundations and they jet around the world. So we know what’s going on. We know why he got the treatment. And then we get to, what are the punishments in this case? He was demonetized from YouTube. Does YouTube have any duty to let anyone monetize their content? Well, perhaps not. It should have a policy that’s coherent. This one isn’t. Some vague sense of harm, I think, was attached to his case as the justification for demonetization. It’s too bad that we have these near monopolies on social media or video distribution. They’ve got a competitor in Rumble, I guess, but ... One would think, though, that the laws of celebrity, if people don’t like you anymore, they stop listening to you, should be sufficient in this case, and you don’t need corporate interference at the same time.
Matt Taibbi: The fact that the interference came so quickly and from all directions has a bit of a smell to it. And it’s amazing how quickly a story like this comes out and, instantly, all sorts of other inferences are drawn. Not only is he guilty of being what one ... I saw one headline describe him as a sex pest in a headline, which I personally would’ve been afraid to use that term before there was a judgment in a court case, but apparently not anymore. So throw these words around in ways we never did before, but we also say, well, in addition to his bad behavior that we didn’t know about, it turns out that all the things that he’s been saying all along have been exposed as a con or a grift of some kind, and there are perhaps other things about him that now warrant further investigation.
So there was a story that blew my mind that was in Buzzfeed, and the headline is, “After the BBC Remove Shows Featuring Russell Brand Amid Rape and Sexual Abuse Allegations, More Troubling Content from the Comic Has Come to Light.” And if you go down and read what this story says, it digs up an old show that he did where he was on, I guess it’s something called Leicester Square, it’s a podcast filmed in front of a live audience in 2013. He’s doing a gag about Greek theoreticians and about how they had sex with kids. And he says of the kids, “They didn’t mind it. They were clever, weren’t they?” And then he starts doing an impersonation of a Greek person saying, “I’ve done another triangle. I’m fucking a little kid. This is great. Fuck the kid with a triangle!”
Then they ask a spokesperson for the BBC if they’re going to ban him, or that show, as a result. They talked to Channel Four, making sure that they’re going to take off every piece of content involving Russell Brand in the past. Now, that joke about the Greeks having sex with kids, what comic hasn’t gone towards that kind of material before? I seem to remember Louis CK doing jokes like that many times. Remember, he did that whole thing where he was looking at a couple walking down the street and imagining what their lives were like, and then speculating if they had children, and then he starts imagining, “Well, what if I had sex with the kid?” and the audience groans and he says, “Okay, I wouldn’t do that. Maybe if he was dead, I would do it.” It goes on, and on, and on.
And the whole idea is, he actually says, “I’m just doing this to be terrible, to make you laugh.” It’s a joke, but now they’re going to raise the specter that maybe there are other real things like this in his closet. CNN put out a piece where the headline was, “The Mythology of Russell Brand is finally exposed.”
Walter Kirn: What was the mythology? That he was one of the great thought leaders of our time? I don’t know that anybody was in doubt about who Russell Brand used to be.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah, what they’re saying is that he has used his accessibility and his apparent determination to tell on himself as a means of deflecting criticism. It’s his openness that won the admiration of his viewers and that’s the reason for his popularity. And now that we’ve pierced the veil of that that’s their openness and candor that he had with his audience, the rest of his shtick is going to collapse, as well.
Walter Kirn: Okay. Matt, when I get in my truck there and turn on SiriusXM radio, there are, what, three channels devoted to Howard Stern? And then there’s something called Raw Dog Comedy, in which every other bit is far darker, stranger, and weirder than that one. I remember when a movie called The Aristocrats—
Matt Taibbi: Oh, my god. Right?
Walter Kirn: It was an art house special. The idea was that comedians share this joke among themselves in an oral tradition, that there’s a kind of private competition to gross each other out with this joke. And it’s an open source joke in which you just funnel in as much disgusting and morally stained content as possible. And this thing was celebrated, this movie. Oh, my god. So outrageous, and comic after comic competing to be more revolting than the other. And then suddenly, we get this turn up the Puritan dial whenever we want and shoot this beam at people, and then we go back.
This is going through England, too. It’s interesting. Hollywood would, I think, be a little more careful in this campaign against him. It has a lot to lose, but coming from the stuffy British and the BBC, home of Jimmy Seville, famous pedophile ... But anyway, yeah, whenever I see a witch hunt like this, I wonder if they’re going to be suddenly across the board with their revulsion, and they never are. It’s always to take one out and then return to business as usual.
Matt Taibbi: And obviously, the story itself gets some play, but every single one of these stories, there are a couple of required elements in every one of these stories. The words conspiracy theory are almost inevitably in every one of these stories.
Walter Kirn: You mean as applies to his views, as applies to his views, not in application to the charges against him?
Matt Taibbi: Right.
Walter Kirn: They’ve already proceeded in the equation, Russell Brand is a scumbag, he thinks this, therefore what he thinks and says is scurrilous, baseless, conspiratorial, and so on. They pretend to care about the original charges. Are they investigating those? No, they use those as a launchpad and they’re already into phase two.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah. It really doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with the actual people involved in the case. And it’s funny, I heard Glenn Greenwald talking about this and he said that he had heard that the story was in the works for a year and a half or even two years, which is interesting for a variety of reasons. That’s quite a project to go through and try to contact everybody that a famous Libertine has ever gone to bed with. And why would you do that exactly? Well, I guess we’re finding out why.
For instance, the Guardian had an incredible headline just a couple of days ago, and this is from Chief Reporter Daniel Boffey. I’ve actually never heard of that person. Maybe I should have. But the headline is, “Russell Brand’s Wonderland: The Online Soapbox Where the Star Pushes his ‘Free Speech,’” and free speech is in quotes:
And it does an intro talking about one of his episodes and then it says, “The subject of the daily episode was not the usual diet of conspiracy theories, critiques of the mainstream media, and whimsical football chat, but instead the US libel trial involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.”
He goes on to talk about something he said about Johnny Depp, but a constant refrain of all of these stories is he’s either abusing the concept of free speech to transmit disinformation and conspiracy theories or what he’s doing is actually more sinister than that. It’s a con, it has been a con the whole time, and now it’s been unmasked. And thankfully, we can move past the Russell Brand episode. His career’s over. There’s a lot of that, too. “His star has fallen, never to come back again…” Which, of course, is not true. I feel pretty confident that he’s going to be back relatively quickly.
Walter Kirn: Let me stop you. Once again, it’s important to point out that this is happening in England, in the United Kingdom, where free speech is already in quotes. They don’t have the constitutional guarantees that we do here. But now, my passion, my intellectual solidarity with the First Amendment has to be held hostage to some guy’s sex life? That’s what they’re trying to do. They want to muddle and muddy the waters, as we phrase from last week, because apparently winning on the merits in their case against free speech isn’t working. So let’s go make a scumbag out of somebody and say, “He practices free speech,” quote unquote, “Therefore ...” It’s like trying to smear hockey because Jeffrey Epstein liked to watch it or something.
So nobody’s fooled by this. I’m sure it’s gaining a lot of readers. It’s a very clickable story. It’s probably going to go on forever now without much ... on the side that believes in it because it’s got a kind of pornographic allure, and actually pornographic allure in some ways. You get to be high-minded and read about sex, or talk about sex, or think about it. It’s like one of those viruses that rides another virus. Here we have a governmental state censorship issue hooked onto a sex issue so that it can get past the immune system.
Matt Taibbi: So there was an episode that was, I thought, crazy. You sent me the link for this and I looked it up. You had an MP reaching out to Rumble, essentially asking, “How come you haven’t also demonetized Russell Brand?”
Walter Kirn: And TikTok. And TikTok, I believe.
Matt Taibbi: And TikTok, right. Yeah.
Walter Kirn: And was it a single MP or was the heading-
Matt Taibbi: It was a committee.
Walter Kirn: ... that of a committee? Yes.
Matt Taibbi: Yes. So the Guardian story, it begins like this, “Rumble, a video sharing platform used by Russell Brand, has accused a parliamentary committee of deeply inappropriate behavior after it asked whether the site would suspend payments to the comedian. Caroline Dinenage,” or I don’t know how you pronounce that, “the conservative chair of the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, wrote this week to Rumble’s Chief Executive Chris Pavlovski, to express concern that Brand may be able to profit from his content on the platform.”
And you have this letter, I’m just stunned by this, that any government committee would get involved with trying to convince a private company to remove somebody’s source of income in the middle of something that has nothing to do with the government. There’s no investigation that I know of. So what’s the justification for this kind of behavior? We accept it because we know they do this kind of thing now, but legally, how does that happen happen, and why is it happening, and why are people okay with that?
Walter Kirn: Well, once again, they’re laundering the whole operation through Britain. If that letter had come from an American congressional committee, it would be immediately appalling, but I think Americans are a little baffled by the British and so less likely to rise up against something like this. But yeah, to actually question the right to individuals to have a livelihood based on newspaper stories using anonymous sources, and to do it under the flag of the Crown or the British Government, is the worst precedent you could set, short of it being the American Government, which concerns me more.
But it’s all the building of a model. How far can we take this? And I don’t think, for the people who are all exercised about Russell Brand’s character, they’ve taken it far enough that they’re revolted yet. They are firmly now, and have been for a long time, of the belief that people making other people feel unsafe or whatever, having some conspiratorial glaze to their identity should be taken up by whatever means possible. Are journalists in America crossing sides, so to speak, to defend or to condemn this onslaught? I haven’t seen it yet.
Matt Taibbi: I haven’t seen one. And listening to the letter that this committee sent to Rumble:
“The Culture, Media, and Sport Committee is raising questions with the broadcasters and production companies who previously employed Mr. Brand to examine both the culture of the industry in the past and whether that culture still prevails today. However, we are also looking at his use of social media, including on Rumble, where he issued his preemptive response to the accusations made against him by the Sunday Times and Channel Four’s dispatches. While we recognize that Rumble is not the creator of the content published by Mr. Brand, we are concerned that he may be able to profit from his content on the platform. We would be grateful if you could confirm whether Mr. Brand is able to monetize his content, including his videos related to the serious accusations against him.”
So they specifically want to make sure that Rumble does not afford him the opportunity to protest his own innocence in public, to offer a defense, to offer an explanation.
Walter Kirn: We’re seeing that mode with Trump, an attempt to gag him from speaking about his case, and there isn’t even a case here yet. There isn’t a case.
Matt Taibbi: Right, there’s not.
Walter Kirn: It’s madness. It’s riding in on the back of a celebrity gossip story, and yet the highest authorities are willing to ride that horse now. It’s not just the US Senate, which has relaxed dress codes and codes of comportment. Apparently, the British Parliament is now in the job of tabloid investigation. Rumble shouldn’t answer that letter. I wouldn’t answer any such letter. I’d throw it in the trash. Have they?
Matt Taibbi: Well, they told them to go F themselves, which was great, but-
Walter Kirn: But YouTube didn’t even need the letter, right?
Matt Taibbi: Right. They just went ahead and ... yeah. And I don’t know about you, but I have begun to lose the distinction between where YouTube ends and various government committees, or the BBC, or Channel four, it feels like one big organism to me. And part of that is from looking at Twitter files and seeing sequences where institutional actors that were once clearly separate all talking in the same cooperative spirit ... So you might have the FBI passing on an analysis by the Clemson Media Forensics Hub about certain accounts they think are Russian. That will go to the Washington Post, all three of them will then petition Twitter together, and then they’ll have a conversation all at once about what to do about these accounts, even though all of those actors, they shouldn’t be partners in this kind of endeavor.
But with this kind of thing, whether it comes from some culture and sport committee in the House of Common or or whether it comes from the BBC or the British office of YouTube, it does feel like it’s coming from the same place. But again, it’s so striking that they’re going after the idea of speaking in your own defense because this is also a consistent theme of that era. As you point out, the gag order on Trump, no matter what you think of Trump, there was an incredible op-ed in the Washington Post this week about ... Yes, you should do that, we should gag Trump, but it’s in line with freezing the GoFundMe fundraisers for January 6th defendants or any kind of defendants. You should never do that. The government should never be involved with that. No NGO should be involved with that. A person really hasn’t been fairly and truly convicted of a crime if they’re not really afforded a real defense. You want them to have a good defense if you want the case to stick and to have public impact. I don’t understand that unless this is just people who they’re applauding this new bureaucratic form of government.
Walter Kirn: Matt, once they defined information as a battle space, everything became inevitable. They hire intelligence people. They hire law enforcement people at these companies. They get quite high in the companies. Everybody’s linked up socially and career-wise. They’ve built an ideological structure around the metaphor of informational warfare that allows them to use the rhetoric of security and so on. They’ve built everything perfectly.
Last week, we talked about the press finally coming out as somewhat state-sponsored in the sense that they now reprint virtually verbatim press releases from the White House. Well, here we see another instance of something similar, more state-sponsored social media, and we have a case down in Missouri, of course, prohibiting the Biden administration from issuing edicts to social media. But we’re seeing workarounds galore. The administration may lose that case in the Supreme Court, but by that time and already are so many triangular ways to do the same thing, including now letters from the British government to American companies.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah, or British organizations that ... Well, we’ll be able to get into this in a couple of weeks. But groups like the Center for Countering Digital Hate that are based in England or the GDI, the disinformation index. I forget what the G stands for. But they’re funded by the Global Engagement Center. They rate news outlets according to trustworthiness using this very amorphous standard, and that up- and down-ranks companies and massively affects their financial viability.
Again, it’s in this gray area between official censorship and market forces. It’s neither the traditional method of just boycotting somebody and letting them have their voice. It’s basically a free speech battle. That’s the marketplace of ideas concept of how this is supposed to play out. Instead, it’s this sub rosa bureaucratic structure where they build these relationships. Some of them are financial. If you’re Twitter or Facebook and you don’t want to have a problem with widespread advertiser boycotts and you get a letter from one of these outlets saying, “Yeah, we’d like you to pull these nine accounts,” you’re likely to do it. You’re suddenly presented with this very serious financial conundrum, and none of this really involves the public. It’s all done quietly.
In Russell Brand’s case, we’re finding out about all this, but that doesn’t make it look any better. This stuff, I find really frightening. Again, it’s so counter to the idea of what’s supposed to happen when somebody is accused of a serious offense.
Walter Kirn: What’s interesting is that YouTube isn’t banning Russell Brand. They just demonetized him. I read a letter this morning saying that they don’t see that anything about his content would justify actually taking it off. So it’s all about his person. They’re being explicit about that.
Now, it’s disingenuous. It’s probably all about his content and very little about his person when it really comes down to it. The targeting is, I’m sure, aggravated by his content, and I seriously doubt this would be happening if he had other views.
But to stop a second, once again, I’m going to bang this drum. The Anglo-American special relationship seems to have been re-cemented or more deeply cemented over this censorship issue and this disinformation issue. Remember, this disinformation word and concept goes back to Russiagate, really, doesn’t it? The idea that Trump somehow colluded, conspired with Putin to fill the American mind with misleading propaganda to influence the election. Well, that was all through this Christopher Steele, British spy cutout type. I’m starting to see a method here where ... It’s funny. Back in the old days, I remember the Clintons accusing the right of having this pipeline in which charges against Bill Clinton would first appear in British tabloids, and then they would be taken up here.
Matt Taibbi: That’s interesting.
Walter Kirn: Yeah, yeah. They were very specific about it, and that’s what’s happening again. I think the special opportunity here with Russell Brand was that he’s British and that they can run the operation from over there and do things that maybe the American government or the American establishment might hesitate to do, like send out letters from committees and so on.
Matt Taibbi: Right, and you might remember years ago, before we started tinkering with the Broadcasting Board of Governor’s rules and they started repealing parts of the Smith-Mundt Act, which prohibited intelligence agencies from playing around in the domestic sandbox. We never had either the Department of Defense or the CIA or any of the law enforcement agencies. They weren’t propagandizing locally. There was actually a story at Rolling Stone when I was there by ... I think it was James Bamford involving an Iraqi scientist named Adnan al-Haideri, who had been given a lie detector test by the CIA and flunked it. But they didn’t want to waste the story that he told, which is that Saddam had all these chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. They didn’t want to waste that opportunity, so they shopped it to Australian television and then to some local news outlets in the Middle East.
The story then got to Judith Miller, who flew out and interviewed this person, and through that circuitous route, they were able to get around the prohibition of messing directly with the American news landscape. Now, Britain has clearly been acting as a proxy for ... As you say, it’s a workaround certain restrictions. Are we allowed to send confidential informants into an American political campaign, a presidential campaign? Well, that would be pretty fraught to do in the territory of the United States, but they did do it, as you say, with that Oxford group.
But you’re right. Yeah, it looks like the UK has now become the launching pad for this kind of stuff, which then filters its way back to the US. Informally, just from looking in the last few years at these cases, it looks like they test out a lot of the methods for using British NGOs and British organizations. The anti-disinformation technologies come out there first or they’re introduced there first. We’ve been told that a lot of these folks want to see British-style or European-style prohibitions introduced here in the US, which is why episodes like this are really nerve-wracking because it shows how this is going to work in the future here.
I don’t know. You mentioned, by the way, YouTube. Their statement on this was amazing. “We have suspended monetization on Russell Brand’s channel for violating our creator responsibility policy. If a creator’s off-platform behavior harms our users, employees, or ecosystem, we take action to protect the community.” What does that mean, Walter?
Walter Kirn: That means, “We’ll do whatever the hell we want whenever we want to, especially under pressure from authorities, and we have this sticker we’ll put on it that is a warning label with absolutely no meaning.” Their ecosystem I’m sure extends to the deepest recesses of our minds, across the United States and the globe, and once again-
Matt Taibbi: To our unborn children.
Walter Kirn: They’re begging the question, what proof do they have of anything about his behavior? If they’re going to be in the business of policing behavior, shouldn’t they have an investigatory body that can do due diligence on whether someone has behaved one way or another, or have they outsourced that to the Times of London? Apparently, they have.
Matt Taibbi: I don’t know how much you want to get into this. This is a fraught, dangerous issue, especially for men to talk about, but I actually do believe in the believe women idea. I believe that when women come forward, if they take the extremely serious step of coming forward and telling a story, knowing all that comes with that, that at the very least, anybody who works in law enforcement should take that accusation seriously enough to investigate it. To me, that’s what believe women means. You should be able to walk in to a police station to the FBI or whatever, tell your story, and have it taken seriously and looked at.
Walter Kirn: I think anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault should be able to do that, male, female or whatever, and if we’re going to get personal about it, there’s no doubt that it is difficult to go after a powerful man if you feel that you have been sexually harmed by them. But that’s still not what we’re talking about, really. We’re talking about allegations, and as much as I want to defend myself as a moral person and so on, I’ve got to let that issue go. There are other bodies in society that can judge Russell Brand.
Matt Taibbi: But is the media the right place to do it? That’s what I worry about. So if you remember, the Rolling Stone UVA story, there were a lot of journalistic ethics questions that got bandied around in that one. I remember I got blindsided a couple of times in interviews, asked about that, and one of the things that I remember trying to argue was that, well, if the issue here is campus sexual assault, reporters can very easily go through the many adjudicated cases of this and use those as the illustrative examples to talk about this problem, which is demonstrably X big. You can definitely say that.
Where it gets fuzzy is when you have situations like this, where there may not be an official investigation yet, and now we’re into this territory, especially with these new automatic punishments that kick in. It’s the situation that Thomas Jefferson worried about, where mere suspicions may become evidence. The media, it’s always in an awkward place when it’s in that role. Sometimes it does that out of necessity because authorities won’t investigate something because they’re corrupt or they won’t pay attention to it. But is that what’s going on here? It doesn’t feel like that, so I don’t know.
Walter Kirn: Well, not to be boring and repeat something you’ll hear on Talk Radio 100 times this afternoon if you listen to it, but YouTube and these other things aren’t what we traditionally thought of as media, as broadcasters. They are platforms, and they have special protection as platforms. By that, it’s meant that they are supposedly even-handed places that allow people to use their product without editorial interference. They have this Section 230 protection, which for some bizarre reason, Congress refuses to reconsider in any serious way.
Matt Taibbi: Well, they do like to hold it over the head of the companies every time they refuse to censor something.
Walter Kirn: Right. Right, right, right. So we have to go through this song and dance where these places that are supposedly not publishers and not broadcasters make editorial decisions, but cover them in morality clauses or whatever this thing could be construed as. It’s an old-fashioned Hollywood morality clause dressed up for the age of disinformation, but those were studios. Those were Hollywood studios. This is something that pretends to be something almost approaching a utility, but not quite.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s scary. Obviously, I know Russell. Well, actually, let’s talk about just briefly what his role has been in the last four or five years, or even the last three years as a media figure. Why is he particularly important, or is he, in this landscape?
Walter Kirn: Well, first of all, he’s gifted. He’s hellaciously gifted. The guy can talk for a living like almost no one else. He’s informed. He’s persuasive. He’s entertaining. He’s interesting to look at, and he has taken certain stands, particularly about COVID policy and free speech, censorship, and so on that aren’t all that different from the ones that I hold, frankly. He has attracted a huge audience, probably appeals to younger people or at least young, middle-aged people in a way that a lot of other figures don’t. He has this Transatlantic audience, which is also unique. Anybody in America with a British accent, that kind of eloquence, good looks, and real panache is going to be an incredibly exotic and influential figure. So he’s unique. People who wouldn’t maybe listen to Tucker Carlson or watch Glenn Greenwald or whatever probably share Russell Brand’s podcast.
Matt Taibbi: He also frames his broadcasts in this brotherly peace and love hippie-ish exterior. He does it with a smile. There’s a sense of joy and enthusiasm and optimism that permeates his show, which is really interesting, I think, because we’ve now had decades of anger merchants, people who have made enormous sums of money on essentially broadcasting about the corruption of either the news media or the political establishment, but very few of them have been able to pull off this thing that he does where he always greets the audience with this sense of community at the beginning, and implores them to love and respect each other. It’s a very unique way of coming at politics.
When he does talk about very thorny issues, sometimes he can be quite pointed. As you say, he’s got what the British would call a rapier wit. He’s an old-school aesthete in the Oscar Wilde tradition. He’s able to string together almost perfect sentences extemporaneously. Just from a performance standpoint, it’s really captivating to watch. It also presents a very striking contrast with the aggressively fake demeanor of the most hyped corporate news figures. Here he is. He’s laid back. He’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt with long, flowing hair, and he makes mistakes. He picks on himself. He talks about peace and love. He’ll say, “I got things wrong,” and all of this is very endearing. He’s reaching a lot of the same audience that Joe Rogan did for a lot of the same reasons.
Walter Kirn: But he’s also reaching women. Let me use anecdotal evidence. I know a lot of women who love Russell Brand, who like watching him, who would listen to him, where they would turn off Glenn Greenwald in five seconds. So that makes him particularly dangerous in an election year. The Democratic Party, for example, has made no secret of its desire to capture the suburban woman as a permanent voting block. There’s a lot of conflict over that vote in America, and here’s a guy, I think, who probably does a better job than anyone else on this dissident side of getting women to listen.
Matt Taibbi: Well, it’s entirely possible that that’s part of the thinking in going after him. It could also be that there’s something to this case. We have to find that out, but I think it’s worth reminding folks that we have to suspend judgment. Again, the speed with which all of these punishments are delivered now, it’s advanced to a point where it’s scary how quickly this all kicks in.
Walter Kirn: It perfectly exposes the architecture of these kind of attacks, these kind of operations. Let’s put it that way. But what would be its practical effect? Unless a trial or real charges result, it will make people who listen to Russell Brand with other people in the room maybe a little shyer about doing it, but I doubt it will put a real dent in his audience.
Will he retire from the scene defeated? I doubt that. Will he moderate his views? I doubt that. They need to realize that unless they’re going to back up these operations with something more than social media and press assaults, they’re not working. They’re just not working. I don’t think Russell Brand was known by a lot of people who were older maybe until now, because in the same way that he appealed to a new audience, I think the old audience wasn’t aware of him. They probably rallied a lot of middle-aged Middle Americans to his side that didn’t even know who the guy was or when they saw him didn’t like his looks.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah. Well, in Hollywood, he always played a cad in his onscreen. He’s done some voice work too, which is also great. There’s a movie he did called Hop where he plays the son of the Easter Bunny in an animated movie, and it’s hilarious. He is just an incredibly gifted guy who has a lot to say.
Walter Kirn: Matt, I’ve lived in England. I went to university there for a couple of years. Seeing them set themselves up as punishers in the sex zone is the funniest thing in the world. Let’s remind Americans they have actual newspapers over there where the second page is a woman in a bikini. Okay?
Matt Taibbi: Right, right. Yeah.
Walter Kirn: We have the New York Post. They have almost naked women in their newspapers. Number two, there used to be something called the lad magazine, which traded on a British stereotype, which is exactly the one that Brand incarnates, the lad, the sport who is of dicey morals, loves the ladies. I didn’t know all the bad words for women until I got over to England. They call them birds, trollops, tarts, everything. All of a sudden, they’re the frigging, I don’t know, grand inquisitors of sexual hygiene? Give me a break. The third in line or now the second in line for the crown was Jeffrey Epstein’s pal, Prince Andrew. Jesus, not me, said those who throw stones or whatever.
Matt Taibbi: Without sin should not ... Yeah.
Walter Kirn: Take the beam out of your own eye. Boy, they have a beam in their eye on this subject like even we don’t. Hollywood is modest in some ways compared to the Soho Fleet Street British underground view of male sexuality.
Matt Taibbi: It’s a given that certainly all performers and politicians are pansexual in the truest sense of the word. You’re surprised when a member of Parliament does not have a story in the closet about being caught buggering a farm animal or in an assignation with 19 different people at the same time. They’re always very creative, their sex scandals over there, which is one of the reasons why Fleet Street has really struggled to find scandals that sell repeatedly because they’ve seen it all already. So you’re right. That’s really funny. Setting themselves up as the Parents Music Resource Center or Jerry Falwell doesn’t quite fly. Thank you for flying Church of England, as Eddie Izzard would say.
On a Department of the Army Investigation:
Walter, a story that got out this week, didn’t make a whole lot of headlines, but for those of us who pay attention to these issues, it was definitely an eyebrow-raising incident. There was news that the Department of the Army, the Inspector General’s Office for the Department of the Army has referred for inspection or for an investigation an examination reportedly ... Again, it doesn’t say that in the correspondence, but according to the people involved, a couple of whom I talked to, a company called Accrete, which has a product called Argus AI, which it’s an artificial intelligence social media surveillance system, which very recently got a massive defense contract.
The allegation in this case, according to some of the people who complained about this, are claiming that there are social media bots on Twitter right now that are being generated by the Department of Defense in violation of at least the posse comitatus Act, and it’s very creepy. This looks like just the latest incarnation of a series of governmental social media surveillance programs that have just crept into the domestic sphere, but now they’re adding this AI component that may be just actually talking to you on social media. What was your reaction initially to this story?
Walter Kirn: So everyone, as you use social media today, tomorrow, there’s a chance you may be interacting with a Department of Defense-sponsored pseudo being who will berate you for your views. I’ve seen some of the examples of the entities that are generated by this Argus, and they harass people. That’s what they do. They accuse you of all kinds of things. They’re sarcastic. They sound a little bit more human than most AI-generated things, and they go on. They could really ruin your day.
So the idea that there is a domestic weaponized trolling campaign against the American people, basically ... This Argus does other things, but it does that, too, is a freaky Philip K. Dick story that I couldn’t have even imagined two years ago. It’s funny. You may today have had your day ruined by one person who you thought was an impassioned internet debater, but was really a computer run by a defense contractor.
Matt Taibbi: We already knew that the Pentagon was in the business of creating fake news accounts. It came out in an underreported story, I guess, in 2018, that the Central Command or CENTCOM was creating bots mainly in Arabic to chill out the local populations after things like drone attacks or to achieve other ends. Sometimes they did things strategically to try to draw out certain people so that they could be located and/or captured or attacked, but we’ve never heard any indication that these systems were operating domestically, and we don’t know exactly what they do. Now, they have announced in this case, in the case of this company, they had a press release announcing that they have a significant Department of Defense contract to counter disinformation. This was in American Military News. There was a story about the same company in Defense News not long ago, but it says US Special Operations Command, US SOCOM recently awarded a new contract to Accrete.AI to use artificial intelligence software to detect disinformation threats on social media.
According to Accrete, the new contract will allow US SOCOM special operators and intelligence analysts to predict disinformation threats on social media in, quote, real time. Quote, synthetic media, including AI-generated viral narratives, deepfakes and other harmful social media-based applications of AI pose a serious threat to national security and civil society, the CEO said. He noted that social media is perceived as an unregulated environment that allows US adversaries to routinely exploit reasoning vulnerabilities and manipulate... “Reasoning vulnerabilities.” What a strange phrase that is. And manipulate behavior by sharing disinformation online. US SOCOM is at the tip of the spear in recognizing the critical need to identify and analytically predict social media narratives at an embryonic stage before they evolve and gain traction.
Walter Kirn: Well, it sounds like the entire product is designed for domestic use, doesn’t it? It doesn’t sound like it’s for leveraging instability abroad. And you look at the videos and all the examples being used are in English and look like... There’s one with a tweet in it, something about Nancy Pelosi’s plane, and I think the implication is that there’s a Chinese actor behind this tweet because they show Chinese characters at times. But yeah, this is all aimed at the domestic market, supposedly to counter, I guess, what foreign enemies are doing, but that fig leaf has been off for a while. We saw in the Twitter Files that they can construe almost any social media post as having somehow been influenced by in some third order way, a foreign actor. And so yeah, this isn’t what you’ve been told in the past either, though. It’s not just about suppression, it’s about countering the narratives, right?
Matt Taibbi: Right.
Walter Kirn: It’s an offensive weapon in some ways, not just a defensive one. When it finds the enemy, or the enemy maybe being you, if you retweeted something or post posted it with approval, it comes after you. It actually tweets at you or gets into your replies and things like that. It’s a little different than censorship.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah. Yeah, and you’re right. Just by going through their public statements, their videos, and by the way, similar products by other companies that we know have gotten contracts to do similar work, they’re not saying, “We’re concerned about the recruitment of young Muslim men in Yemen who are going to go join ISIS or the Caliphate or whatever it is,” they’re talking about very specifically here, the threat to US national security and civil society by operations that are going to exploit reasoning vulnerabilities and manipulate behavior, our behavior. And they have a-
Walter Kirn: Do they mean stupid people by reasoning vulnerabilities? Is that what they’re talking about?
Matt Taibbi: I guess that’s what it is, or lack of media literacy. And this is what... When you talk about the offensive nature of what they’re trying to do, not that long ago, a lot of these, especially the military ones, but these programs that were designed, they came into being, the funding originally appeared for programs like this because they were concerned mainly about suburban kids who watch terror videos and ended up like the Tsarnaevs or... What was that other case number? The kids in Buffalo who may be looking at recruitment videos and being persuaded by them.
They did counter disinformation, which in the primitive stages of all this was just people who got on and in Arabic tweeted criticisms of some of these accounts. Well, they’ve gone far beyond that now, so the DHS and CISA have a whole program designed to build what they call resilience. And this is from the Homeland Security page, resilience. DHS works with all levels of government, the private and nonprofit sectors and individual citizens to make our nation more resilient to acts of terrorism, cyber attacks, pandemics and catastrophic natural disasters, but they also mean resilience to disinformation and-
Walter Kirn: And of course we now know that elections are part of infrastructure and so on.
Matt Taibbi: Well, your brain is.
Walter Kirn: Yeah, and there’s cognitive infrastructure. This thing is AI-driven, which means they’ve shuffled off responsibility to a machine. When we find out what it really does, we’ll be appalled, but hey, it was the AI. In this world, I don’t think the answer to this, this is a rhetorical question, do they have to tell the truth when they counter disinformation?
Matt Taibbi: No, I don’t think they do at all. Not that I know of.
Walter Kirn: Or do they just use anti-matter disinformation? We counter lies with other lies to somehow create a neutral charge. In other words, this is propaganda, right? It’s not just censorship, it’s not just surveillance. First they surveil, then they censor, and then they affirmatively try to change you, propagandize you, correct your reasoning vulnerabilities, whatever they are and so on. But are they required to tell the truth in that? And how did they know it? Once again, I’m shocked. What was the big threat? What was the big disaster in America that happened that they needed to come up with these weapons? People talking online didn’t cause COVID.
Matt Taibbi: And the biggest sources of misinformation about COVID turned out to be the government itself in the end, but-
Walter Kirn: And listen, people need to be, I feel they don’t have to do all the research and all the talking that I’ve done about this subject, but if I was going to lay down a rule for them, and I think it’s important, I’m really willing to editorialize endlessly on this, the minute they see these terms, they have to run. They have been introduced in order to let into American life a set of instruments of control that are not just vulnerable to abuse, but cry out for abuse. Anybody who gets their hands on Argus with political intentions or an agenda has a tool that’s invisible. Argus advertises itself as invisible. Right there on the website it says, “The great thing about our product is nobody can tell it’s there.”
Matt Taibbi: Right. Yeah, exactly. Operates without much of a footprint. And interestingly, this is just yet another one of these companies that grew out of the old war on terror world, and we persist in thinking about these things as two different operations, but they’re not. Accrete, one of the key figures at this company is Stanley McChrystal, who’s also had a hand in a number of previous counter disinfo operations. This is just a big blossoming sub-industry within the Pentagon now, and I just feel like there isn’t a major investigation into is SOCOM, STRATCOM, CENTCOM, are they using some of their awesome amounts of money that they get every year, some percentage of it to surveil the American public and play around with our own belief systems? Why is nobody investigating that? That seems like something that somebody in government has to get to pretty quickly before it’s too late.
Walter Kirn: Well, like I say, it was the development of an offensive weapon on a defensive pretext. But what’s funny is that all the attacks on us that have supposedly warranted this turn out to be false. There was no proof of a substantial Russian influence over the 2016 election. They repeated it enough times and they got enough play, and they had their Mueller investigation to convince America that there might’ve been, but when it comes down to it, there wasn’t. Not that we can discern so far. When was the Pearl Harbor that caused us to have to arm up in this war? It never happened. There hasn’t been one. Does it go back to 9/11?
Matt Taibbi: I think for most people it’s Trump. I think for most people, it’s the idea that Trump got elected somehow,, ipso facto, he must have gotten elected by lies.
Walter Kirn: Right. Right. Well, so nobody believes at this point that if Donald Trump vanished from the earth right now they wouldn’t find surrogates to use all these weapons on, whether they be Russell Brand, Elon Musk, whoever. But what’s happening now is it’s not just our thoughts that are being influenced, because I looked at what this product does, it’s your emotions. They’re meant to scare you. This thing is meant to scare you. The posts and responses that it generates are aggressive, and if you haven’t-
Matt Taibbi: And create doubt...
Walter Kirn: Yeah, create doubt and upset you. It’s weird that the social media companies are allowing their platform to become battlegrounds in which these kind of techniques are used. I want to know, did YouTube, Facebook, et cetera, know Argus was stalking their network?
Matt Taibbi: Yeah. Well, one wonders. It looks like some of the bots that, at least the ones that are being accused of being bots, they have check marks, so that’s odd. I guess that’s a revenue source for them if they’ve got AI-generated non-humans who are out there blathering and picking people like Michael Shellenberger to tweet at. And Emerald Robinson. That’s pretty strange. I have a hard time believing that they don’t know that that’s going on, but I think this is definitely something to keep an eye on because the more we find out, the more... It’s not just a handful of these groups, it’s not just GEC and CISA and a couple of idiots at the White House who call Facebook.
There’s a substantial number of bodies within the government, and that doesn’t include the companies, the NGOs and civil society organizations with which they work hand in hand. Sometimes there’s an additional tradition that has been passed down where you had human rights workers during the war on terror period who would help intelligence agencies and counter-terrorism officials develop sources of information, and that relationship, I think, is now continuing. Some of those same NGOs that had those relationships previously have begun to work with some of these governments on counter disinformation issues, on social media messaging issues, and that’s concerning too, because we have to worry about are these really civil society organizations, or are they just defacto extensions of the security state that are-
Walter Kirn: Well, one last point. They referred to Argus or whatever as the tip of the spear. What do spears do? Okay, they go through people’s bodies and kill them. They’re offensive weapons. They are, by definition, not defensive weapons. They’re thrown into the air and they land in your heart. I also know as a journalist who’s covered social media and Facebook’s psychological social psychology research, that it’s not even arguable that they have the ability now to do things like cause depression in a certain cohort of people who are subjected to a certain kind of Facebook posts. They’ve done studies. They contract out to universities and do these studies all the time.
There used to be these people on the internet who I thought were crazy, who called themselves targeted individuals, and they would say... It would be somebody who you can’t imagine being targeted by the government who claimed that for the whole last five years of their life they’ve been followed around and spied on and had their life fucked with and their mail opened, but I would imagine that some of these Argus-like AIs do have the ability to focus on a person. If they’re the tip of the spear and it’s really a war, then why shouldn’t they be able to take out, to some extent, individuals? I think we have to imagine ahead, I think it’s our duty. We can barely stay ahead of their real schemes, and who is going to be the first kill for Argus AI? The first person who they harassed, surrounded and got angry, who was already on the edge, and just we find out later after that last Argus AI post they jumped off a cliff?
Matt Taibbi: At some point some company is going to drive somebody crazy doing this kind of thing. It’s probably already happened, I would imagine.
Walter Kirn: I’m sure it has. It’s kind of a cyber droning, and it happens invisibly. And I’m sure there are some kills on the chalkboard at some of these companies. And so once again, my paranoia failed me, and Argus to me is the name of a small town newspaper, but that they’re naming these things in this ominous way suggests they’re really thirsty. They’re really thirsty for some action.
Matt Taibbi: Otherwise what’s the point of funding the organization? That’s something to keep an eye on for sure. I know the IG investigation, there’s at least somebody who’s got a way of telling what’s going to happen with that down the road, so we should have some answers about what actually happened there at some point, so that’s good.
On Alexander Pushkin’s “The Shot”:
With the story we decided to do something different. A listener, @rocktaster tweeted to us. “Walter, Matt, time for more Russian literature reviews at the end of ATW before it’s erased or burned.” Then retweeted a picture of a plaque of Pushkin being taken down in Kiev. And so we’re reading a story by Pushkin, Alexander Pushkin today, The Shot.
And this is a story from a collection that most Russians read when they’re very young. It’s called the Tales of Belkin:
It’s got a lot of themes that are very pertinent to his life. Pushkin obviously was... Well, actually, not obviously, a lot of Americans don’t... I didn’t know him before I went to study over there. He had a very short, turbulent, interesting, and then tragic life. He was in exile, he got in trouble with the government, he had a duel, and he died at a very young age, but in Russia, and really most of Slavic culture, he’s kind of their Shakespeare. He’s really not known very well in the United States, and so we thought we would... Not to take any kind of political position because this is not about that, in fact, it’s the opposite of that, I think he belongs to all Slavic people, and he was actually part African, so he had an interesting relationship to Russian culture. But this is, I think, a beautiful story. Walter, what did you think of The Shot?
Walter Kirn: Okay, so I’m going to confess ignorance around the work of Alexander Pushkin. He is a name I’ve heard all my life, but aside from probably reading some short stories at gunpoint in academic institutions, I don’t remember reading him, and that’s shameful.
Matt Taibbi: Well, it’s not shameful. We just don’t teach him here.
Walter Kirn: Well, yeah, they don’t, and the argument was never made. And I was a student of English literature, and I don’t know that... He was also a playwright, I’ve never seen any of his plays performed. I don’t know how often they are in the United States, but in any case, I thought the story was great. They classify him as a romantic writer when you read about him, but this was a very deft, very clean social satire on the theme of honor, personal honor. And it involved incidents that as Americans are kind of hard to imagine. The story is about a narrator who meets a... He’s an army guy who’s positioned in some small town, and sometimes he and the guys go over and play cards at the house of this local gentleman named Savio. Is that how it-
Matt Taibbi: Silvio.
Walter Kirn: Silvio. Yeah. Excuse me. And one night they get to talking... Or no, one night this fight breaks out at the card table and an officer insults and almost attacks their host, and it’s the kind of thing that would give the host the right to have a duel with this person, with this officer, but Silvio... Right? Am I pronouncing it right?
Matt Taibbi: Yeah, Silvio. Yeah.
Walter Kirn: Yeah. Declines to have such a duel. And for the young soldier narrator, this is a stain on Silvio’s reputation. It’s expected that everyone should duel for their honor at the least provocation at this stage in Russian history and society, and if this guy won’t have a duel when he’s in the right marks him as a coward. But then the narrator finds out from another source that there’s a backstory to Silvio’s reluctance to duel, and you can take it from there. It’s sort of complex.
Matt Taibbi: It’s a very typical theme seen from the military outpost life of this period in Russian history, like the early 1800. They’re fighting God knows who, probably in the caucuses and they’re bored to tears when they’re not fighting. All they do is drink and gamble and chase women, and they don’t have anything serious to worry about except honor and romance. And the scene you described, Silvio is... He’s sort of this mysterious figure, he’s got a great coat, he’s very tough, obviously hardened in battle, and everybody thought he was the sort of leader of their group. And in the middle of a card game, some young idiot lieutenant gets drunk and basically tries to cheat in the game. He changes the score, and instead of immediately doing pistols at dawn and demanding satisfaction and having the guy dead by morning, which is what they were all hoping and expecting would happen, which is bizarre to begin with, he plunges into the story about... He disappears.
Well, he waits for a while, does nothing, which causes him to fall in their estimation, and then one day he gets a letter and he’s giddy and he leaves. And we don’t find out until much later that he had been in a duel previously where he got so angry that he was unable to control himself, and the way they described the duel is really interesting. The first duel that he was in, this Silvio character is fighting somebody who is laughing and giggling and tossing epigrams at him as the duel is happening, and he gets furious.
Walter Kirn: And the opponent is a rich aristocrat.
Matt Taibbi: Right, a rich handsome aristocrat.
Walter Kirn: Right, of whom Silvio is jealous.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah. And he decides you don’t take life seriously enough yet for me to take it from you, so he decides not to kill him or not to fire the shot that he’s allowed to take at that moment and just walks away and leaves the shot hanging over the head of his opponent. And what the letter he gets in the mail is word that his former opponent is getting married, and he’s excited because now he’s going to find this person in a moment where life suddenly means quite a lot to him, and he’s going to show up and deliver the fatal shot at the moment when he suddenly realizes how thoughtlessly he was playing with honor when he didn’t value life that much. And it’s kind of a brilliant thing, and it shows you the mentality and how seriously these people took this kind of stuff back then. And he goes, and he ends up at the house... Should we do spoilers? I guess we should. We have to.
Walter Kirn: Yeah.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah, so he announces what he’s going to do, he shows up at the house, they’ve already been... The opponent and his young, beautiful wife have been married already, he announces that he is going to take the shot. The other man does his duty, backs up 12 paces and prepares to die. The wife is weeping in the room and he pulls his gun up, and basically it’s like to teach him a lesson, to make him realize exactly what happened. And before that happened, by the way, the opponent had shot a hole in a picture in the wall and-
Walter Kirn: Right. Right, because Silvio didn’t just come back with the right to fire the shot that he refrained from earlier. Well, he did have that right, but in a sporting way-
Matt Taibbi: He did, but he gave him him...
Walter Kirn: In a sporting way he said, “We’ll have a whole new duel.” And then they drew lots again as to who would go first, and the aristocrat got the first shot and missed, so-
Matt Taibbi: And it hits a painting.
Walter Kirn: Right. And it hits a painting. In terms of the honor game, everything’s on Silvio’s side at this... He’s been forbearing twice. First he let the guy go the first time, and then he returns and doesn’t exercise his right to just shoot him, but instead calls for another duel. And then when the wife comes running in scared, seeing that her husband is about to be shot, Silvio refrains again from shooting him to spare her feelings so she doesn’t have to see her husband die. And the narrator who’s now gotten the whole story accidentally, because he no longer knows Silvio, he’s getting it from the aristocrat, is kind of stand in for the audience. And what does he conclude about this Silvio character? By now, Silvio has died, by the way. Has he not, or he does?
Matt Taibbi: I think so, yeah. Yeah.
Walter Kirn: He dies off at the front. And this narrator who didn’t think much of him at first, thought he was a coward, has now heard the story of how he desisted three times from blowing this aristocrat away, and he hears it from the aristocrat. What does this all mean to a culture now in America that doesn’t duel and never really dueled at this level and didn’t have all these aristocratic codes around honor and so on? What universal lesson comes from this, if any, or what Russia-specific one?
Matt Taibbi: Well, first of all, I think we should just talk about the storytelling skill of Pushkin. He was a poet by trade. He’s famous really kind of in the same way that Shakespeare is for sonnets. He composed quite a lot of verse, some of which every Russian knows by heart. He also wrote a novel in verse that opera fans probably know called Eugene Onegin, or Yevgeniy Onegin, which also has this same duel theme in it. There’s a very dramatic duel scene in it. He’s not primarily known as a short storyteller, but I always thought this was a very powerful, vivid, compact story and almost in the way that somebody like Ernest Hemingway would’ve loved to have written. It’s beautiful, spare, powerful, and it has grand themes, and it’s only a handful of pages, but yeah, it does... It clearly satirizes the kind of lunatic notions of life and death, and the way these bored upper class people played around with murder the same way they played cards. And they invented these rules that are completely ridiculous for themselves. But you get into it. I don’t know. As a reader, I very much sympathize with Silvio, and especially at the end when he turns around after the guy, his opponent is completely humiliated, and without even looking, turns around and fires a bullet directly into the same hole in the painting that his opponent made. It’s just this beautiful stylistic touch.
Walter Kirn: So, I like to look at very weird societies and pose them against our society, which isn’t weird supposedly, and find out indeed how weird we are. So in relation to what we were just talking about earlier, the Russell Brand case, if this was Russia in the early 19th century, Brand would challenge somebody to a dual in this, right? But there’s no one to challenge in our society. Who does he challenge?
Matt Taibbi: That’s a good point.
Walter Kirn: The Times of London? A dual versus a building and a corporation? Does he challenge the reporter?
Now, these women who may have had a real reason to besmirch his reputation, they want their honor defended, it seems, but they can only do it in this roundabout way. So, we have offended honor all over the place in our current culture and no way to redress it, it seems. Nothing that makes any sense. And the mano a mano style of Russia, which looks crazy at first, in a weird way, was a mechanism for-
Matt Taibbi: It’s a regulatory mechanism.
Walter Kirn: ... discharging tensions and conflicts that go exotic to our modern eye, add a kind of logic because we now are in some kind of terrible free for all, where everybody wants their honor defended or everybody wants to take a vengeance on those who may have hurt them unfairly. But it’s all processed through politics and institutions and accusations, and nothing is upfront.
And I got to say, reading this story, I kind of admired that old Russian mind for coming up with such a sort of direct and dramatic system for settling these problems.
Matt Taibbi: Mm-hmm. Yeah, the dual was the mechanism by which all sorts of horrible tendencies might’ve been restrained.
If you sexually assaulted a woman in Russia, the relative, or the husband, or whoever it was, was basically obligated to bring you out and probably kill you. I mean, he’d be risking his own life too, but that was the unwritten rule of the society back then.
Cheating was another thing that you weren’t allowed to do, mistreating a servant. But more frequently, it was something like having a love affair. That’s how they resolved these issues. That’s actually how Pushkin died in the end. I mean, his own duel centered on his suspicion that this other figure was having an affair with his wife. But it was a moral mechanism for keeping people online. And to a degree, it worked, and you do kind of admire it.
In his other book, Eugene Onegin, the storyline is very simple. It’s about a caddish nobleman who’s in a small town, who spies a pretty girl, romances her, completely captivates her. She falls in love with him and writes him a breathless love letter. But he’s playing with her affections in the end. He just wants to kind of love her and leave her, and he does so. In the code of the society at that time, even though men did that constantly, it was considered an offense that demanded satisfaction. And so, the hero, Onegin, has to fight a dual against somebody who tries to protect her, but Onegin wins the duel. And this is what drives the story, is that he eventually becomes overcome with remorse, not only for having mistreated the woman, but for having killed the person who tried to protect her.
It’s beautiful in a way. It’s horrible, but beautiful and pure. And I guess, you’re right. In our current society, there’s something about it that’s very striking.
Walter Kirn: Well, yeah, because we’re still dealing with issues of shame, honor, insult, accusation, unjust accusation, but we don’t have any simple or even legible way to process them.
Honor now has become the play thing of media, politics, entertainment, social media, and so on. But the aggrieved parties never get down to business. I mean, our substitute, I suppose, would be the legal system, but we don’t use it anymore. I mean, not in these cases. Maybe it will end up being used in this case, I have no idea.
But I also would note that in The Shot no one gets hurt, no one gets killed, and no one tries to kill anyone. The only person, in fact, who takes a shot with the intent to kill the other is the aristocrat Silvio. He misses. But in every case-
Matt Taibbi: He used his hat.
Walter Kirn: Yes. But in every case, Silvio, who’s reputed to be a dead eye shot, desists. And it turns out that the best man died. Silvio goes off and dies in war somewhere, obscurely, we’re told. But it’s revealed that he was consistently the good guy. And this aristocrat is kind of confessing in a way to being a lesser being, I think, because he didn’t have any compunction about trying to take out the guy who had spared him and given him a chance all over again to have a fresh dual. So the narrator’s allegiance, I think, which is originally... He’s originally dubious of Silvio, but then when this aristocrat tells the story, I think he must see him as the more dubious of the two.
Matt Taibbi: Oh, for sure. Yeah. But it’s interesting because he doesn’t say so. But in the beginning of the story, the narrators, he’s a young man, he’s a young soldier who’s hot for action, hot for intrigue, and has all of the conventional beliefs about duals and everything. And he’s sort of deeply disappointed when he finds out that Silvio has been in a dual but hasn’t killed anyone. And also, that Silvio doesn’t kill this cheater at cards right away.
And the story unveils as this lesson in, when death is on the line, there is actually a way to make this thing teach an even deeper lesson, to drive home what the point of all of this is without killing somebody. And the narrator, even though he doesn’t say it, you can see him experiencing that and understanding it.
And yeah, it’s interesting because we don’t have anything like that in our system or in our society where the proof of your medal or your character, you’re allowed to show it by risking death. That’s actually where everybody gets to see what your character really is, these stories about what happens. That’s why one of the reasons that they have seconds to make sure nobody cheats. And also, so that the stories get told later. And maybe there’s something-
Walter Kirn: And also-
Matt Taibbi: ... to the... Mm-hmm?
Walter Kirn: Also in this dueling framework of defending your honor, or avenging your honor, you also have the ability to show mercy. A quality completely lacking in the mayhem that we’re experiencing. Does anybody ever say, “Listen, controversial, famous person, you harmed me and I have every right to come after you, but I’m not going to. Go on ahead, acknowledge that something happened and let me forgive you in public?” No. Now, everybody’s off in their little cubicles, behind their devices, warring on each other through complex spiderweb networks of attack and showing no mercy whatsoever.
And so, these energies never get discharged. They just build and build and build. The aggrieved feel more aggrieved. The dishonored feel more dishonored. The people who feel unjustly attacked feel more unjustly attacked, and then their partisans rallied forever to their side. And everybody just is pressurized further and further. And so, if it’s not going to be the legal system that discharges the tension, what will it be?
And one of the reasons not to get into these situations is that there’s no exit from them. There’s an exit from a trial, there’s a verdict. There’s an exit from a dual, either somebody gets killed or maybe one of the dualists says, “No, I will spare you, you worm, because I’m great and merciful.” But there’s no exit from these conflicts as we’ve set them up nowadays. And if you start them without, it’s like wars where there’s no exit plan. We start these wars with each other and across these cultural and political lines, and the energy just gets recycled and increased and never discharged.
Matt Taibbi: And these stories are how reputations are decided. It will be endlessly talked about over who was right, the person who demanded satisfaction or the person who actually, who gave offense initially. If you do it to gratuitously, people will look with disfavor upon the person who called for the dual. There’s kind of a recurring character in Russian literature of the person who’s a good shot and kills a whole bunch of people, that seems to like dueling more than worrying about the reasons for it.
Walter Kirn: Well, which reminds me of the Western. Now, that I come to think of it, this isn’t as peculiar a custom as all that because at least in pop culture, if not in reality, the Wild West was full of duels too, and defenses of honor and so on. This seems to be at least in myth how you administer justice when there isn’t a justice system, or a formal one.
And sometimes, the interesting thing about duals is the wrong person win, right?
Matt Taibbi: Right.
Walter Kirn: What’s interesting is that both parties decide to sort of leave to fate the settlement of the issue. So, there’s a modesty or a submission to fate, to circumstance, to God really, that comes with agreeing to be part of a dual. A dual doesn’t necessarily meet out justice.
Matt Taibbi: No.
Walter Kirn: But it ends the matter, maybe unjustly.
Matt Taibbi: Right. But the crucial thing is that death is on the line. It’s no longer a joking matter. And this is something that hangs over everybody’s head. It’s what keeps the person who’s drunk and playing cards, you can’t get so drunk that you might say that one thing that will have you five hours later in the woods trying to load a pistol. And the threat of that at least kept some of these characters in line to a degree. And it’s interesting.
And who knows, maybe that’s a feature of cultures that are kind of in semi-collapse, or if you’re at the edge of the world, like these soldiers, although this happened in the capitols too. And we did have a few of these in our history, right? Aaron Burr was in a dual I guess around the same time period. But yeah, it’s a little bit Magnificent Seven too.