Courtesy of Senor Frog's

The New York Times’s restaurant critic loves Señor Frog’s.

If you’re still looking for New Year’s Eve plans, you might want to go to the new Times Square outpost of the infamous chain better known as the place where college kids go to get sloshed on spring break in Cancun. It just got a rave review from New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells

“I had more fun at Señor Frog’s than at almost any other restaurant that has opened in the last few years,” Wells wrote, after downing his fair share of Frogasms, apparently in an attempt to make up for the fact that he spent his own spring break years ago reading The Sorrows of Young Werther in German.

Somewhere, Guy Fieri’s head is exploding.

February 21, 2017

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Donald Trump is taking anti-vaxxers mainstream.

Trump’s ascension to the presidency after years of suggesting vaccinations are unsafe, as well as his associations with the likes of Andrew Wakefield and Robert Kennedy Jr., have helped to bring a truly dangerous conspiracy theory into real influence. And this ideology is spreading to the states, too.

The Washington Post reports on a growing movement of anti-vaxxers in Texas, and an increase in personal exemptions in recent years. Jackie Schlegel, executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, told the Post: “We have 30 champions in that statehouse. Last session, we had two.”

As The Hill reports today, a bipartisan group of senators and House members are circulating a “Dear Colleagues” letter on the importance of vaccination. And they lay out some of the actual consequences of modern denialism:

Yet, already this year, states and communities around the country have reported outbreaks of measles, mumps, and whooping cough. The reasons for each outbreak vary, but we know that there are increasing trends around the country that have led to lower vaccination rates in some communities, allowing outbreaks of infectious diseases to take hold with increasing frequency.

While anti-vaxxers exist on both the hippie left and the black-helicopter right, the key difference is that liberals have never put an anti-vaxxer into a position of power. Conservatives have now done it—and many children and other vulnerable people will have to pay a price for that.

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Dear President Trump: condemning antisemitism shouldn’t be a Sister Souljah moment. Yours, Captain Obvious.

Trump and his administration have a curiously hard time treating discrimination against Jewish people as a significant matter of historical fact. So it was notable when on Tuesday—after Jewish Community Centers around the country had faced bomb threats for weeks, and a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was vandalized—Trump finally condemned antisemitism, and managed to do so without referencing or exaggerating his electoral college victory margin.

But he still failed this most basic test of western democratic leadership.

“Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop,” he told MSNBC, before issuing a better-prepared statement from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. “This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

Absent from either condemnation was any suggestion that federal law enforcement resources will be used to investigate these crimes. And when he spoke extemporaneously about the issue, he did so with the same “I alone can fix it” monomania that defined his campaign. His authority and power are in his mind the key agents of every human drama, even those whose main antagonists going back centuries have been authoritarians.

Obama’s environmental legacy is toast.

If President Donald Trump’s first month has taught us anything, it’s this: Take his promises seriously. Sure, he may have broken 34 campaign promises on his first day in office. But the biggest, most controversial ones—banning Muslims, increasing deportations, repealing Obamacare—are already becoming reality. And this week, he’s expected to tackle another hefty campaign pledge: tearing up Obama-era environmental regulations.

Trump took a few steps toward fulfilling that promise last week, repealing a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams and confirming EPA antagonist Scott Pruitt to lead that very agency. Now, The Washington Post reports Trump is preparing executive orders intended to weaken two of Obama’s most aggressive and controversial environmental regulations: the Clean Power Plan, which was created to fight climate change, and the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which was created to protect 60 percent of America’s waterways from pollution. Trump will also lift a ban on mining coal on public lands.

The policies Trump is seeking to undo here are the centerpieces of former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy. Along with the Paris Climate Agreement—which Trump also wants to do away with—the Clean Power Plan was the biggest thing a president has ever done to reduce carbon emissions. What’s more, it represented a national strategy to prioritize climate action and renewable energy development over the revitalization of the coal industry.

Unraveling Obama’s entire environmental legacy won’t be as simple as signing a few pieces of paper. Completely undoing and rewriting regulations takes time. There will be legal battles and protests. But Trump is sending a message that these are campaign promises he intends to keep. Environmentalists should believe him.

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A newly discovered Walt Whitman novel shows why he became a poet instead.

Zachary Turpin is becoming an expert in uncovering previously unidentified Walt Whitman writings. The University of Houston graduate student had previously discovered that Whitman was the pseudonymous author of Manly Health and Training, a self-help guide penned by “Mose Velsor” in 1858. Now Turpin has proven that Whitman was the anonymous author Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, a short novel that was serialized in the pages The Sunday Dispatch, a New York newspaper, in 1852.

The New York Times describes the novel as a “quasi-Dickensian tale of an orphan’s adventures, it features a villainous lawyer, virtuous Quakers, glad-handing politicians, a sultry Spanish dancer and more than a few unlikely plot twists and jarring narrative shifts.” The novel is available online, and while it deserves reading from Whitman aficionados, few will think this is a recovered masterpiece on par with Leaves of Grass.

Whitman wasn’t proud of his works of fiction, and he opposed plans to reprint them. “My serious wish were to have all those crude and boyish pieces quietly dropp’d in oblivion,” he wrote in 1882. Still, as the Whitman-loving James Joyce once noted, the errors of a genius are “portals of discovery.” Life and Adventures of Jack Engle is a window into who Whitman was before he discovered his mature voice as a bard, a marker of his path to his vocation.

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Here are the best panel titles from CPAC.

On Wednesday, CPAC’s annual conference will kick off, now sans one Milo Yiannapoulos. But judging by some of the panels, the conference will still be ... dangerous. (Sorry.)

A few of the panels are NSFW.

  • “50 Shades of Property ... Or at Least 3”
  • “Prosecutors Gone Wild”

Some of the panels will really make you [thinking face emoji].

  • “If Heaven Has a Gate, A Wall, and Extreme Vetting, Why Can’t America?”
  • “FREE stuff vs FREE-dom: Millenials’ Love Affair with Bernie Sanders?”
  • “Black Lives Matter, so why does the Left not support Law Enforcement?”
  • “Banning Poor People from Jobs”

CPAC panel or Miss Congeniality sequel?

  • “Armed and Fabulous: The New Normal”

And then others are just tackling the impossible.

  • “How Not to Be a Hack During the Trump Administration: An Inside Industry Perspective on Media Coverage in a New Political Paradigm”

See the whole agenda here.

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Uber is bringing in Eric Holder after a former employee’s complaints about sexism went viral.

In a staff memo Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced that, along with Arianna Huffington and new human resources head Liane Hornsey, former Attorney General Holder will investigate recent allegations of the company’s sexist culture.

Two days ago, a former Uber engineer, Susan J. Fowler, posted a harrowing blog post detailing her experiences at Uber. Fowler wrote about tensions with HR after reporting instances of blatant sexual harassment. She also described a chaotic, Game of Thrones-like atmosphere in which women were often stymied or passed over. At one point, an HR representative suggested that Fowler herself might be to blame for her struggles at the company.

The HR rep began the meeting by asking me if I had noticed that *I* was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem. I pointed out that everything I had reported came with extensive documentation and I clearly wasn’t the instigator (or even a main character) in the majority of them—she countered by saying that there was absolutely no record in HR of any of the incidents I was claiming I had reported (which, of course, was a lie, and I reminded her I had email and chat records to prove it was a lie).

Immediately after the post went viral, Kalanick ordered HR to begin an urgent “independent” investigation of the claims. Bringing on Holder makes some sense. During the Obama administration, he led investigations of mishandled sexual assault allegations on college campuses and took part in the White House interagency task force on sexual assault response at universities.

Whether it will be enough to repair Uber’s tarnished image is another question. Just recently, the ride-sharing service faced a #deleteUber campaign after its drivers broke a strike of New York City taxi drivers protesting Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. Last week, David Plouffe, another Obama White House veteran, was fined $90,000 for illegally lobbying Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, also a former Obama administration member, on behalf of Uber.

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Donald Trump’s proposed immigration crackdown is sweeping, inhumane, and dangerous.

According to The Washington Post, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly signed a pair of memos Friday that outline the Trump administration’s new plan to begin the arrest and deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. The agency wants to mobilize local law enforcement in the rounding up of undocumented immigrants, hire thousands of new officers, expedite deportation hearings, and vastly expand the criteria for who will be fast-tracked for deportation.

But not to worry. The memos come with provisos that seem intended to assuage the public’s fears that this mass deportation plan would be inhumane, expensive, and completely unnecessary. Trump says he only wants to get the “bad hombres,” or, in the words of the memo, people who, “in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.” Ok, so what exactly does that mean? This description is sufficiently vague that virtually any justification could be drummed up to deport anyone who doesn’t have papers.

Trump has already made clear his belief that illegal immigration, in and of itself, poses a risk to public safety and national security, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But it’s that phrase “in the judgment of an immigration officer” that is particularly scary. This invests agents on the ground with a huge amount of power. If an immigration officer feels like it, you get the boot.

As for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which protects undocumented people who were brought here illegally as children, it remains untouched by the new plan. But Trump once called DACA “illegal amnesty,” and expressed a desire on the campaign trail to get rid of the 2012 law via executive order. In the past four years more than 750,000 children and young people have been protected by the law.

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This Republican wants to institute affirmative action—just for other Republicans.

Conservatives often complain about being excluded from college campuses, citing the overwhelming majority of Democrats employed at institutions of higher learning. A lawmaker in Iowa is now proposing to do something about it, in the form of a bill that would require “balance” in the hiring of faculty in the state university system. The bill would prohibit the hiring of a professor or instructor until the party registrations of Democrats and Republicans are within ten percentage points of each other.

“I’m under the understanding that right now they can hire people because of diversity,” the bill’s author, state Sen. Mark Chelgren (R), told The Des Moines Register. “They want to have people of different thinking, different processes, different expertise. So this would fall right into category with what existing hiring practices are.”

The bill is almost certainly unconstitutional, since it would be viewpoint-based discrimination. If actually carried out, it would likely result in a brain drain of qualified professors. But it’s actually very amusing to consider the ramifications of such a proposal even being made in the first place. First off, the language of diversity and affirmative action is being appropriated to benefit the political class that is literally running the country (and the state of Iowa) right now. And second, in this one man’s misguided effort to get what he sees as a fair shake, he wants to literally carry out the sin that conservatives have accused colleges of committing: shutting out deserving applicants.

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Why are conservatives drawing the line at Milo Yiannopoulos?

Milo, a rising star of the alt-right, has been disinvited from CPAC and lost his book deal with Simon & Schuster after a clip emerged of him endorsing sex between adult men and young teenage boys. His fall has a lot of people wondering just how conservatism reached such a low point that racist misogynists like Milo have become celebrities.

Matt Lewis writes in The Daily Beast of seeing young activists walk right past the legendary Phyllis Schlafly at CPAC years ago, apparently unaware of who she was, in order to check out the latest shocking personalities. He concludes:

It’s a long way from speakers like William F. Buckley, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and Phyllis Schlafly to Milo Yiannopoulos, but who thinks that just because he was disinvited in 2017, the trend will end here? Will next year’s invite include Julian Assange, Richard Spencer, Piers Morgan, and Alex Jones? They may not be conservative, but it’ll make for a hell of a show. The conservative movement is a very big tent—a tent that now houses the greatest freak show on earth.

The real question, though, is when the freak show actually began. The late Phyllis Schlafly, as a key example, built her own political movement as a right-wing conspiracy monger railing against “the secret kingmakers” of the old Eastern establishment. In terms of the modern gender politics in which Milo has excelled in creating controversy, she was notable for opposing the very idea of marital rape as a legal concept: “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.” These are comments that would not be out of place on Breitbart today—and yet Schlafly is held up as some kind of grande dame of conservatism.

Buckley, of course, was a longtime champion of white identity politics. He endorsed segregation and black disenfranchisement in 1957; called for police to suppress the Selma marchers in 1965; and staunchly championed Apartheid-era South Africa in 1985.

So what new line, exactly, are the likes of Milo, Spencer, or Jones actually crossing?

February 19, 2017

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Please, New York Times, don’t compare supporting Trump with being gay.

National correspondent Sabrina Tavernise, in a “news analysis” in the Sunday edition, asks the question: “Are Liberals Helping Trump?” The “momentum” of the resistance to President Donald Trump, she argues, “is provoking an equal and opposite reaction on the right. In recent interviews, conservative voters said they felt assaulted by what they said was a kind of moral Bolshevism—the belief that the liberal vision for the country was the only right one. Disagreeing meant being publicly shamed.” Tavernise acknowledges that “[c]onservatives have gotten vicious, too, sometimes with Mr. Trump’s encouragement,” but the overall impression is that liberals ought to be more politically expedient by building bridges to centrist Trump supporters.

But here’s the most insulting passage in the article (emphasis mine):

“The name calling from the left is crazy,” said Bryce Youngquist, 34, who works in sales for a tech start-up in Mountain View, Calif., a liberal enclave where admitting you voted for Mr. Trump is a little like saying in the 1950s that you were gay....

Mr. Youngquist stayed in the closet for months about his support for Mr. Trump. He did not put a bumper sticker on his car, for fear it would be keyed. The only place he felt comfortable wearing his Make America Great Again hat was on a vacation in China. Even dating became difficult....

He came out a few days before the election.

It’s astounding that this reckless analogy survived the Times’ famously tortured editorial process. Supporting a political candidate of any stripe is nothing like being gay. The former is a political belief, subject to change on a whim, while the latter is an elemental part of one’s human identity. But supporting a bigoted political candidate today could not be more different than being gay in the United States during McCarthyism. The government, in what’s known as “The Lavender Scare,” was hunting down and firing federal workers suspected of being homosexual. “Popular magazines, including Time, LOOK, and Life, ran articles about gay men (women were often completely ignored) depicting them as poorly adjusted individuals who were lonely, isolated, and interested in seducing innocent others into their ‘lifestyle,’” Deana F. Morrow, a professor of social work at Winthrop University, wrote in 2001:

[T]he Pre-Stonewall era was an oppressive time to be gay or lesbian in America. Gays and lesbians were portrayed only in negative terms by mainstream media. Medical authorities depicted homosexuality as an illness to be cured, and religious authorities viewed it as a lapse of moral conviction. Furthermore, the legal system provided no options for the protection of the civil liberties of gays and lesbians. In fact, being gay or lesbian meant living with the risk of being arrested or institutionalized because of one’s sexual orientation.

As Bonnie J. Morris wrote at the American Psychological Association’s website, “[I]t would not be until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as an ‘illness’ classification in its diagnostic manuals. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, gay men and lesbians continued to be at risk for psychiatric lockup and jail and for losing jobs or child custody when courts and clinics defined gay love as sick, criminal, or immoral.”

This is to say nothing of the violence committed against LGBT people, then as now. I’m not aware of any mass discrimination against Trump supporters that is threatening their livelihood, their civil rights, or their right to exist at all.