Tuesday, July 25, 2017

¡Basta Ya! (Translation: Enough is Enough!) — Traitor-Trump Pursues The Destruction Of The United States Of America

Salon's Washington correspondent gets lost in the midst of the clamor of all of the pots and kettles in DC. If he walks like a Traitor, acts like a Traitor, and speaks like a Traitor: Get a rope! If this is the (fair & balanced) indictment of a perp committing treason, so be it.

[x Salon]
Why Not Call It Treason?
By Jefferson Morley


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When treason became a Washington buzzword, the pushback came fast and furious.

Donald Trump’s meeting with a Russian government attorney, a Russian government lobbyist and others to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton does not qualify as treason, the -Washington Post- Huffington Post explained, because of the language of the Constitution.

“Treason is a little extreme for this,” said law professor Richard Briffault. “[Russia] may not be our friend, but it is not clear they are our enemy. We are not at war.”

The very allegation is a sign of the “licentiousness of the press,” sniffed the Washington Times.

Team Trump has possibly violated 52 US Code Section 30121, said the experts at Slate. And even on that petty charge, scholars dispute whether a foreign government’s opposition research constitutes a “thing of value.”

Such are the pedantic ways of commentators stuck in the pre-post-modern world where (they believe) their facts are inherently superior to “alternative facts” and legalisms will (one day) prevail over right-wing rhetoric, if only liberals play nice. It’s an attractive sentiment refuted only by reality.

Common sense

The dismissal of the treason charge, wittingly or unwittingly, abets the White House strategy of improvising a new legal defense as law enforcement closes in on the perpetrators.

The claim that the Trump campaign had no contact with the Russians and that the charge of collusion was “disgusting” has morphed into the claim that collusion with a foreign power is just “politics,” and doesn’t meet the legal definition of tradition.

The goal of this strategy is to exculpate Team Trump from criminal charges as new facts emerge. There’s no reason why Trump’s critics need to play along.

The commonsense definition of treason is “betrayal of country,” the standard that Team Trump has interpreted broadly for its own purposes.

In 2016, New Hampshire State Representative. Al Baldasaro [R-Londonderry] said Hillary Clinton “should be shot for treason.” Last month Baldasaro was invited to the White House.

Team Trump has no grounds for criticizing anyone for a loose definition of treason. For the White House, “treason” is a useful stick to bludgeon its opposition.

“Effecting by force”

Trump’s critics have a higher standard: treason is a plausible, if not yet proven, interpretation of the acknowledged facts.

Contrary to Professor Briffault, treason as defined in the US Constitution and the law does not require that the enemy be “at war” with the United States. Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution states, “treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”

The legal meaning of “levying war” is not synonymous with “at war,” nor does it require a formal declaration of war.

The definition of levying war is:

“the assembling of a body of men for the purpose of effecting by force a treasonable object, and all who perform any part however minute, or however remote from the scene of action, and who are leagued in the general conspiracy, are considered as engaged in levying war, within the meaning of the Constitution.”

The question is: Did Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort assemble with assorted Russian government representatives on June 9, 2016, for the “purpose of effecting by force a treasonable object?”

The question cannot be answered because we have not yet heard Kushner and Manafort’s account of the meeting. We don’t know what they hoped to effect. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is making inquiries.

What we do know is that the Trump White House’s account of the meeting is fraudulent (no, it wasn’t about adoption as the Trumps originally claimed) and that fraud can be a form of force.

In other words, the assertion of treason may be premature, but the accusation is not. The possibility of treason cannot be excluded based on the available evidence, as Senator Tim Kaine noted.

“Nothing is proven yet,” Kaine told CNN. “But we’re now beyond obstruction of justice in terms of what’s being investigated. This is moving into perjury, false statements and even into potentially treason.”

The available evidence shows that the actions of Team Trump are potentially treasonous. The buzzword, properly modified, is precise, if not prescient. # # #

[Jefferson Morley is a staff writer for Salon in Washington and author of Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA (2008) and Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (2012). Morley received a BA (history) from Yale University.]

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Today's Secret Message: Follow The -Money- Gold

Along with yesterday's e-mail bringing today's TMW 'toon, Tom/Dan wrote:

Hey all,

So this is the week that I am traveling to Ireland, to speak at the Galway Arts Festival. I was a guest there in 2003, during the early years of the Bush administration, and now that we have an even more terrible president, I guess they decided it was time to check in with the political satirist again. It was a great experience last time and I’m looking forward to going back; I hope they let me back in the US afterwards though.

Anyway I’m posting this before I leave, and hoping that this cartoon is generic enough to get me through the week. As I wrote last week, it’s a challenge getting even slightly ahead on my work in the era of Trump, when things can change dramatically in the course of a few hours.

More next week, including a report from the Emerald Isle!

Until then,

Dan (aka Tom)

And so, the intrepid 'toonist is away to Ireland (Eire) while the rest of us suffer through more dismal days. In any event, the 'toonist focused on Traitor Trump's affinity for all things golden — from showers to statuary — and bizarre relationships. In today's "This Modern World," Traitor Trump turns from the Russian Mob to visitor/alien contacts with the White House. The parallel is clear, Traitor Trump will betray this country in the blink of an eye to gain access to the gold that is Russian Mob money to be laundered through the Traitor's real estate holdings. In the 'toon, Traitor Trump betrays the US by turning every man, woman, and child over to the cannibalistic alien in return for more golden statues than Traitor Trump can count. If this is a (fair & balanced) allegory of total treason, so be it.

[x TMW]
Aliens Contact Trump
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow." His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]


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Sunday, July 23, 2017

From The Better-Late-Than-Never Department: Happy [Belated] National Hot Dog Day 2017

First, this post should have appeared in this blog midweek past on July 19, 2017. Somehow, this addled blogger was positive that he had read (somewhere) that Sunday, July 23, 2017 was National Hot Dog Day. Duh! Not even close. This blogger likes mustard on his dogs, but he is not a foodie making the distinction between yellow and brown mustard. In fact the blogger has been in Texas long enough to pursue chili (without beans — con carne) as a hot dog topping. Hold the mustard or (yuck) relish. This blogger had a choice of two hot-dog-only restaurants, but one (Man Bites Dog) has gone OOB (out of business) and the other (Frank!) is located downtown and if the traffic don't get you, the lack of parking will. Man Bites Dog offered a choice of hot dogs: the Buffalo Hottie, the Beer Brat, the Abe Froman (Chicago-style), the Greek dog (lamb sausage), the Cuban hot dog, the Reuben dog, yada yada yada. Frank! offers a more cosmopolitan menu: a Chicago dog, a Sonoran dog, yada yada yada. Or, closer to this blogger is one of the ubiquitous Sonic outlets: Chicago dog, New York dog, Chili Cheese Coney Dog (both footlong and regular), and a corn dog. Now, chew a handful of anti-acid tabs. If this is a (fair & balanced) tour of regional cooked sausage cuisine, so be it.

[x Esquire]
There Is Only One Way To Eat A Hot Dog
By Sarah Rense


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There is one acceptable way to eat a hot dog: with brown mustard.

You can get in the weeds with a lot of hot dog content. Is a hot dog a sandwich? (No.) What's the best way to prepare a hot dog? (Roasted over a bonfire, if you've got one.) Should you be okay with the amount of intestine in your hot dog? (Eh, your call.) But to do something as destructive as cover a perfectly cooked hot dog—toughened on the outside, streaked with char, oozying with juicy goodness—with yellow mustard or ketchup is to poop all over the sanctity of flame-kissed meat. Because a hot dog's savory, salty flavor shouldn't be sugar-coated, literally, with watery tomato sauce. It shouldn't be doused with yellow mustard, which is basically a pitcher of vinegar, a cup of Splenda, and a pinch of mustard seed mixed together. Relish is fine, but also looks like snot and again, is too sweet.

Just resist the ultra-American urge of: If it is available for me to eat, and especially if it comes from an easy-to-squeeze container, I'm gonna eat it, and keep it simple.

They do this thing in Chicago where they dump yellow mustard, relish, tomato, onion, pickles, and peppers onto a hot dog before shoving it into a bun, as if to hide the hot dog taste in a shameful array of acidic vegetables. I tried it. Not once, but twice, was I loaded into a car in the North Chicago suburbs and driven to a Portillo's, a family-friendly chain known for its dogs and chocolate cake milk shakes, fed a hot dog, and then forced to concede that yes, a Chicago-style hot dog with all the fixins is good, if you're in the mood for a salad. You know what I was in the mood for? A hot dog.

"It's definitely about the toppings. There's a saying here in Chicago that is: You run the hot dog through the garden," Portillo's marketing manager Marc Trevino says, successfully not marketing his product to me. Here's another saying: No.

So, mustard. Brown mustard (sometimes known as deli mustard) is a sinfully spiced pairing of tang and bite. It is the grown-ass condiment. It doesn't double as an ice cream topping.

David Dwoskin, president of Davis Food, makes Cleveland's Authentic Stadium Mustard (not to be confused with Bertman's Original Ball Park Mustard), also known as the best brown mustard that'll ever zig-zag across the top of your hot dog. (How good is Stadium Mustard? NASA took it on two different missions. IN SPACE.) For 48 years, Dwoskin has tasted every batch of mustard brewed up in his factory before it gets packed, ensuring each heavenly concoction tastes as it should, which is good. "Put my mustard on most anything and it will taste great," he says, and then offers two examples: a baked potato and an orange marmalade sauce over chicken, both of which I will have to take his word on. For now, I just want the hot dog, grilled, with brown mustard.

Anyway, happy [Belated] National Hot Dog Day. # # #

[Sarah Rense is Assistant Editor at Esquire magazine. She began as a digital journalist at Esquire in 2015 before assuming an editorial position in 2016. Rense received a BS (journalism) from Northwestern University.]

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

If You Think It's Fishy To Have The Current Texas Comptroller Of Public Accounts In Change Of Protecting Endangered Species Of Marine Life, Get Ready For The Former Texas Comptroller As The New Assistant Secretary For Policy Management And Budget At The US Department Of The Interior

Yesterday, this blog featured an exposé of environmental skulduggery in northwest Montana and today, we turn our lonely eyes to Texas and on to Washington, DC. The Traitors are sparing no effort to destroy environmental protection of our natural resources. (Full disclosure: This blogger has nothing but contempt for Susan Combs, former Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in Texas who would assume a high-level position in the Department of the Interior, thanks to Traitor-Trump. Susan Combs is a bumbling hack who allowed a database containing names, addresses, and Social Security numbers of retirees receiving annuities from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to remain exposed on a public-access cloud account while the Comptroller's crack IT department was taking its sweet time about acquiring new equipment with adequate memory for the records. This blogger was uncompromised, no thanks to Susan Combs, as far as the blogger could tell.) The fitting solution would have been publication of all of Susan Combs' financial info — including passwords — in the media. In the meantime, we have hacks in Texas and hacks in Washington, DC: lucky us. If this is a (fair & balanced) rejection of environmental treason, so be it.

[x TO]
Endangered Science
By Naveena Sadasivam


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From the looks of them, it’s hard to imagine that the smooth pimpleback, the Texas fawnsfoot or the Texas fatmucket could threaten the Texas economy. Found at the bottom of rivers, these inconspicuous bivalves measure only a few inches in length, at most. Despite their fanciful Harry Potteresque names, they lack the charisma of other rare species. The spotted owl, the bald eagle or even the golden-cheeked warbler, they are not. Still, the prospect of listing up to six freshwater mussel species found in Texas as endangered has become a preoccupation of the Texas comptroller, the state office better known for collecting taxes and maintaining a registry of unclaimed property.

To researchers and conservationists, freshwater mussels are the late-night custodial crew of rivers: They play a quiet but critical role in filtering dirty water, which improves water clarity and the health of the ecosystem for fish and wildlife. Some research indicates that mussels and clams are even capable of removing human contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals and flame retardants, from waterways. But mussels are on the decline nationwide. In Texas, six species found in rivers as diverse as the Rio Grande, the Guadalupe and the [Lower] Colorado are thought to be potentially endangered.

To powerful interests that depend on tapping Texas rivers, the mussels are a potential threat. If even one of the six species is found to be endangered in any of the state’s rivers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will require that the species be protected across the state. That could force water managers to change how water rights are divvied up for cities, power plants, agriculture and industry. Ultimately, it could constrain water supplies for large petrochemical companies on the Gulf Coast, such as Dow Chemical, which draws billions of gallons of water from the Brazos River to operate its vast complex in Freeport; or rice farmers who rely on water from the Colorado; or the cities of New Braunfels and Seguin, which depend on the Guadalupe. Billions of dollars are at stake.

For the last six years, business interests frustrated with the Endangered Species Act have had an ally in an unlikely place: the Texas comptroller’s office. In 2011, then-Comptroller Susan Combs, a sharp-tongued West Texan, convinced the Texas Legislature to wrest control over endangered species conservation from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and give it to her. With the stroke of a pen, the state’s head bean-counter was put in charge of the dunes sagebrush lizard, the lesser prairie chicken and the Western chicken turtle. In 2013, she convinced the Legislature to put up $5 million for a research program run by the comptroller. Combs was clear about her mission: to guard the Texas economy against the scourge of the federal government and the Endangered Species Act.

Combs was brazen. She likened listings to “incoming Scud missiles” that threatened to blow up the Texas Miracle economy. She put the oil and gas industry in charge of a habitat conservation plan for the dunes sagebrush lizard, which makes its home in the Permian Basin. In 2015, she convinced a military official at Fort Hood to reverse his position that the protections for the golden-cheeked warbler hadn’t interfered with military readiness.

When Glenn Hegar, a Republican [R-Katy] who served three terms in the Texas Senate, became comptroller in 2015, he took a more diplomatic approach, promising to clean up the endangered species program. Unlike Combs, he’s never explicitly said that his goal is to fight the feds over the Endangered Species Act. “We can protect our economy and our environment better than the federal government or any single interest group,” the comptroller’s website states.

The Legislature tried to bring more credibility to the program in 2013 by directing the comptroller’s office to contract only with Texas public university researchers — not private firms or industry groups. But an Observer investigation has found that the Legislature’s strategy to avoid controversy hasn’t gone as planned.

Academic researchers at Texas A&M claim that Hegar and his subordinates tried to pressure them to use a favored private firm, Bio-West, to conduct scientific research into freshwater mussels.

When the A&M scientists, wanting to maintain independent control over the research, backed out of working with the comptroller, the agency instead expanded the project and gave a $2.2 million contract to a researcher at Texas State University with no mussels experience. About a third of the funding is being passed through to Bio-West, a private environmental consulting firm with ties to Robert Gulley, the head of the endangered species program at the comptroller’s office. The company is also now in charge of a conservation program for the dunes sagebrush lizard.

In total, the Observer spoke to 13 Texas researchers at universities, environmental consulting groups and state agencies about the comptroller’s endangered species program. Most asked for anonymity, fearing retaliation from the comptroller, but they all said they worry that the process is rigged to favor biased science aimed at keeping species off the endangered species list.

“What’s particularly troubling is the increased reliance on Bio-West,” said one Texas university biologist, who requested anonymity. “Bio-West is not a recognized expert on the taxa they are receiving funding for, and their close ties to industry raise serious questions about why they are involved, their objectivity and the quality of science they will produce. The way the program is currently managed seems outside the spirit of the enabling legislation.”

Hegar and Gulley vehemently deny allegations that they strong-armed Texas A&M. They said they simply want to produce good research. “We’re not about whether [a species] does or doesn’t get listing,” said Hegar. “It’s not about making this issue political, because it’s about research. It’s about facts and science. It’s about having the best information possible for people to make decisions.”

In 2010,the Obama administration announced that it was considering the dunes sagebrush lizard — a skittish, 3-inch reptile found in the West Texas oil patch — for the endangered species list. At the time, the Permian Basin was in the early days of a bonanza unleashed by high oil prices and fracking. The shy little lizard was seen as a potential party-pooper. The next year the Midland Reporter-Telegram announced its “Newsmaker of the Year”: “It’s that d*** sagebrush lizard!” Then-state Representative Warren Chisum, a gregarious creationist from the Panhandle, warned that the listing would “inflict severe economic damage.” Combs wrote to the US Fish and Wildlife Service that listing the lizard could have “significant and even disastrous economic impacts.”

With the backing of the oil and gas industry, Chisum inserted an amendment into the massive state budget bill in 2011. That little-noticed maneuver abruptly shifted the oversight of endangered species from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to Combs’ office. Combs wasted no time engineering a program to attack the Endangered Species Act. Her first move was to put the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the Texas Oil and Gas Association, in charge of an effort to prevent the dunes sagebrush lizard from being listed. The foundation was funded by oil and gas producers who wanted to drill near lizard habitats. The money was then given to landowners — most of them royalty owners — in the area to conserve their land for the species.

After Chisum retired from the Legislature in 2012, he went to work as an oil and gas lobbyist and in 2013 joined the foundation’s board. Wildlife groups criticized the arrangement as an outrageous case of putting the fox in the henhouse — or, more accurately, the hawk in the lizard den.

Though the US Fish and Wildlife Service heralded the arrangement as an innovative example of state and federal cooperation, some state lawmakers and environmental groups said it was impossible to verify whether the conservation efforts were working. Information about where the lizard was found, which landowners were participating and how they would preserve habitat was all secret. The foundation insisted that the lizard’s habitat hadn’t been disturbed, but Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit conservation group, published satellite imagery that showed roads, well pads and other infrastructure in the protected area. Two Fish and Wildlife Service biologists told the Austin American-Statesman in 2015 that they were forced out of Texas after they vocally objected to the comptroller’s attempts to derail an objective process. In 2015, Hegar ordered an audit of the lizard conservation program and discovered that the foundation had done very little of the restoration and preservation it had promised.

Regardless of the controversy, the scheme worked. It kept the lizard off the endangered species list. It also got Combs thinking: Could her office prevent other species from being listed?

In 2013, Combs nearly lost control of her pet project. Outraged by the secrecy around the dunes sagebrush lizard, state Senator Kel Seliger [R-Amarillo] convinced the Legislature to pass legislation moving endangered species oversight to a task force with board members from Texas A&M, Texas Parks and Wildlife and other state agencies. But in June, Governor Rick Perry vetoed the bill, saying the comptroller’s office had “efficiently overseen” the program. That same session, the Legislature allocated $5 million to fund research into any species the federal government was considering listing. Though the money ended up in the comptroller’s hands, lawmakers were clear who was supposed to do the research: “state public universities with demonstrated experience in species or habitat research, evaluation, and analysis.” [PDF]

When Glenn Hegar took office in 2015, many environmental advocates and researchers hoped he would professionalize the endangered species program and shed the controversies the agency had picked up under Combs. Soon after taking office, Hegar said he wanted to take the program in a “different direction” and hired Robert Gulley, a well- known figure in the conservation world, in part to show the new tack the agency would take. Gulley had worked as a senior trial attorney for the Department of Justice under Obama, fighting endangered species lawsuits. He holds a doctoral degree in anatomy.

From 2007 to 2013 he worked for the Edwards Aquifer Authority overseeing conservation of rare species found in Hill Country streams, such as the fountain darter and Texas wild rice. There, Gulley had relied on Bio-West to study the water quality and quantity in the rivers and its effect on rare species. From 2002 to 2011, the firm produced at least 28 reports for the Edwards Aquifer Authority on the effects of river flows. Those studies helped Gulley broker a deal [PDF] between river authorities and cities to protect rare species found in the river systems while ensuring that the cities and business interests along the river were guaranteed water. The plan was lauded by environmentalists and helped protect eight rare species, including the Texas blind salamander and Texas wild rice.

But almost immediately after Gulley was hired by the comptroller’s office, researchers in Texas noticed a marked shift in how the comptroller was doing business. For one, bids for research proposals are now very rarely posted publicly. Under Combs, 19 bids were posted in the Texas Register and other government-contracting websites, and 11 contracts were signed for about $2.3 million. Under Hegar, the agency has inked 10 contracts for about $3.6 million, but only four were posted for competitive bids.

Under Combs, “Theoretically, at least, there was transparency,” said Benjamin Schwartz, a biology professor at Texas State University. “That system has been apparently eliminated and many funds are now being distributed without [requests for proposals].”

Lauren Willis, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office, told the Observer that those figures were accurate, but that the agency had issued fewer contracts with larger sums of money. She also said that since there are very few experts on a particular species in the state, the agency reached out to those researchers and eliminated the need for bids.

Gulley’s first scuffle with Texas A&M took place a few months after he joined the comptroller’s office. Since 2012 the university had been working with the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation, the group funded by the oil and gas industry, to implement a conservation program to protect the dunes sagebrush lizard from drilling activity. But after Glenn Hegar took office, he terminated the contracts with A&M and put Bio-West in charge. Later, he would dismiss the foundation, too.

While conservationists cheered moving control of the program away from the oil and gas industry, the changes were also a boon to Bio-West. Gulley put Bio-West in charge of the lizard program, inking two contracts for close to $900,000 with the company.

Hiring Bio-West was “one of Gulley’s requirements,” said Joe Maley, who was chairman of the foundation’s board at the time. “He made it very clear that he wanted Bio-West.”

Willis told the Observer that Gulley required the foundation to hire a “compliance firm” and suggested they use Bio-West or SWCA, another environmental consulting group. Because Bio-West had an office in Midland, Gulley felt Bio-West was a better option, Willis said.

Freshwater mussel research isn’t the sexiest field of study, but Texas A&M can lay claim to some of the best researchers in the state. Charles Randklev, A&M’s lead mussel biologist, is a well-recognized figure in the community. In 2011, his team found remains of the false spike, a species previously thought extinct, in the San Saba River in Central Texas.

Under a $600,000 grant from Combs, Randklev had gathered data on the Texas fatmucket, false spike and other mussels that could be endangered. A&M would seem to be a natural fit for the kind of unbiased academic research the Legislature had ordered.

In early 2016, the comptroller’s office was eager to get a deal signed for mussel research. The Fish and Wildlife Service seemed likely to list the Texas hornshell, a dirty brown species of mussel found in the Rio Grande, which raised concerns that the feds would do the same with the other five species.

Gulley wanted research done quickly so he could influence Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing decisions. In early 2016, Randklev, Gulley and Roel Lopez, the head of A&M’s Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, met at the comptroller’s office in downtown Austin to discuss working together. Lopez said that Gulley suggested he hire Bio-West. According to Lopez, Gulley said Texas A&M would still be the lead investigator, but some of the survey work required to establish the abundance of the species could be done by Bio-West. Initially, Lopez was game. It was a $1.1 million contract and Bio-West would receive about $250,000. It was still a win for the university.

But Lopez quickly ran into trouble as he began negotiating the contract with Bio-West. Ed Oborny, Bio-West’s fisheries section leader, proposed revisions to the contract that gave Bio-West more control over the research, and a bigger cut of the funding.

An early draft of the contract listed Lopez and Oborny as project managers who would take the “lead role.” In later versions, Oborny suggested that Bio-West would visit the Texas A&M lab to monitor progress and have final say on the research progress reports, signaling that Bio-West — not Lopez — would really be in charge. Those provisions bear resemblance to a clause in earlier contracts that gave the comptroller veto power over any research universities produced.

“What you are proposing above makes me nervous,” Lopez wrote to Oborny in March 2016. “I will have to justify [to superiors] why Bio-West is being sole sourced here as a private subcontractor. They are going to ask what does Bio-West bring that some other contractor can’t? There are other contractors with equal skill sets.”

Finally, in October, Lopez gave up. In an email, he told Gulley he was pulling the plug on the proposal because there “were questions in how/why Bio-West was selected as preferred vendor, especially given nearly half of the budget goes to Bio-West.”

“If you’ve got a subcontractor that’s getting more [money] than the prime [contractor], it’s more of a pass-through,” Lopez told the Observer. “It raises the question, ‘Why are we involved?’”

A few days after Lopez pulled out of the contract, he and Randklev began looking for other places to apply for funding. They came upon the Brazos River Authority’s call for mussel research. The river is home to the Texas fawnsfoot and smooth pimpleback, and the river authority wanted to study the prevalence and distribution of the mussels. But before Texas A&M could submit a proposal, Hegar caught wind of it.

One October morning, on his way to give a talk at the University of Texas at Austin, Hegar called Phil Ford, the river authority’s general manager. Hegar wanted to know if Ford was in fact trying to fund freshwater mussel research. Did he know that the comptroller was also trying to do similar research?

Hegar told the Observer there was nothing untoward about his intervention with the Brazos River Authority and that he had a fiduciary duty to uphold. If the river authority funded research his office was already planning to do, it would ultimately be a waste of taxpayer money, he said. “We’re trying to do a duty at a very low cost and perform high-quality research, as the Legislature told us to do,” he said.

Hours after Hegar’s call, the Brazos River Authority withdrew the request for proposals from its website.

After negotiations with Texas A&M fell through, the comptroller awarded the mussel research contract to Timothy Bonner, an aquatic biologist at Texas State University. Though Texas State is the primary contractor on the $2.2 million contract, only about $350,000 stays with Texas State; about $740,000 is being subcontracted to Bio-West, and the rest is going to Auburn University in Alabama and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ya-Wei Li, an endangered species attorney at the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, said that the arrangement is problematic.

“Unlike universities, where there is a bit more of a wall between the interest of those who hired them and the research because of tenureship, consulting companies are much more tied to that funding,” he said. Li questioned whether contractors “can be objective and unbiased as opposed to being ‘hired guns.’”

Bio-West did not respond to specific questions about the mussel project, but Oborny said the firm “takes very seriously our objectivity, scientific integrity and reputation we as a company have established with over 40 years in the industry.”

Bonner has little experience with mussel research [PDF]. In 2015, he applied to the comptroller for a grant to study the golden orb mussel. He was rejected after a biologist at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department pointed out that Bonner was proposing to do work that had “already been done” and was suggesting doing more advanced work while “many aspects of the basic biology of golden orb... are unknown.”

“People think if [Bonner’s] done fish research, he can do mussels, but it is very different,” said one researcher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to speak to the press. “For example, if you knew anything about mussels and the current research, you wouldn’t have proposed a giant project on the golden orb. If you know what’s going on in the mussel world, that’s not a focus of research; it’s not a rare animal. If you’re out doing surveys, that animal is one of the easiest ones to find.”

Bonner told the Observer that mussel science was “a natural extension” of his work on fish species. “Of course, that’s my perspective, coming from someone who doesn’t have a publication on mussels,” he said. Bonner also said the decision to subcontract with Bio-West was his alone and that he had picked Bio-West because he’d worked with the company before. He admitted that he hadn’t reached out to other Texas university researchers before deciding to work with Bio-West.

“I’m not looking for superiority [compared to other researchers],” Bonner said. “I’m just looking for confidence that... they can do the work with quality and within the timeframe we needed.”

At a February meeting announcing the mussel project, Bonner took a backseat in explaining the research. He spoke for about a minute, then let Oborny and his colleague present for more than 20 minutes. Hegar commended Gulley for putting together a great team. And Gulley tipped his hat to Hegar for wanting to “develop good science.”

Whether the comptroller funding will result in sound science remains to be seen. For Li, it’s “a good thing” that Texas is spending money to survey endangered species, but he said there’s a fundamental problem with the system Texas has created: The comptroller, an elected partisan position that collects campaign contributions, has no business overseeing scientific research.

“The comptroller’s office does not have a single biologist,” he said. “They’re basically accountants.” # # #

[Naveena Sadasivam is a staff writer covering energy and the environment at The Texas Observer. She received a BS (chemical engineering) from the American University of Sharjah (UAE) and an MA (environmental and science reporting) from New York University.]

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Friday, July 21, 2017

In Northwest Montana, There's A Little-Known Bar Called "The Dirty Shame" & That Soon Will Become Our National Motto

Today, this blogger was moved by the graceful (and profound) writing of Eags (Timothy Egan) in a tribute to a vast wilderness area in northwest Montana: the Kootenai National Forest. Traitor Trump has commissioned his Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke (a fifth-generation Montanan) to tour the national forests, parks, and monuments and recommend areas for "Development." That is code language for exploiting the wilderness areas for profit. Cut down the trees, over-graze the grasslands, and clear the natural wildlife habitats for commercial endeavors. If this is the (fair & balanced) exposure of environmental treason, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
The Last Best Empty Place In America
By Eags (Timothy Egan)


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At dawn the woodpeckers start in, hammering heads against tree trunks, and you wonder if there’s a better way for a bird to make a living. Oh, the avian migraines. Twilight lingers till nearly 11 p.m.; if there’s a decent moon, you can fish in the silver light of Montana’s longest days.

When the sun is high, you swing from a rope tied to a cedar tree and drop into the great grip of the Kootenai River current, then swim back to the raft, to float and cast a fly line and look at ospreys and take in the grandeur of this land — your land, my land, an immense national forest.

Teddy Roosevelt left his initials on the outside wall of the community hall of Troy, a little shrug of a town along the river. But he left much more than that here in the far corner of northwest Montana and all over the West: an endowment to every American, rich and poor alike, their inheritance of public land.

Unlike the beaches in Chris Christie’s New Jersey, you can’t just “close” the 2.2 million acres of the Kootenai National Forest. The grizzly bears, the elk, the bobcats, the wolves, the swift predators and the stealthy ones, they prowl and sniff as always, far outnumbering humans in a place where a cellphone signal is a distant rumor.

But for a time, the Kootenai National Forest fell into the wrong hands. The barbarians nearly destroyed a land that was meant to remain a place of wonder for our children’s children’s children.

The mountainsides were skinned in industrial clear-cuts, the end result of public servants colluding with corporate plunderers. After the forests of larch, cedar, fir and pine were leveled for timber, the hillsides could no longer hold the ground during times of heavy rain and snowmelt. Tons of sediment slid into the Yaak River, which flows into the Kootenai.

For trout in the Yaak, it was a catastrophe. A healthy river bottom is layered with polished rocks of rainbow striations, and gravel crushed during another geologic age. But a river bottom thick with sediment is just a graveyard.

So you wonder, between hikes to nearly unknown waterfalls that would be national park centerpieces in any other state, how this place could have been so abused. It’s a public trust, not unlike the White House. No one person, no one interest group, owns it.

People come here for Tom Sawyer summers, for sleep induced by the white noise of that same Yaak River, for perspective. A city person like myself has very little in common with someone who lives off the grid, eating what they kill, drying what they forage, warming themselves through the interminable winter with wood downed in a storm.

In the Yaak Valley, there are two bars and three preachers, or maybe three bars and two preachers, depending on how much misery there is in the tank. One of the bars is the Dirty Shame. It’s not unusual to hear somebody start a conversation thus: “I was getting hammered at the Shame two nights ago when …”

The forest is the one thing those on opposite sides of the cultural divide hold in common. My nephew Riley [Egan] is a Western Tarzan. He hunts for deer, elk, grouse, catches rainbows and cutthroat, hikes into the wildest pockets of Montana, jumps from cliffs into icy river pools. He guides people who pay a lot of money to do what he does naturally. He gives me crap because I can’t hold the rifle perfectly steady when we shoot at targets, and I couldn’t tell the two major deer species of the Kootenai forest apart. Hey, when you stare at the headlights, no one knows if you’re a white-tail or a mule deer.

He wears a T-shirt emblazoned with words that every American should live by: Public Land Owner.

That land is always under threat. The current White House occupant has never been in the Mountain time zone, nor the Pacific, since he’s been president. His habitat is a golf course under heavy guard. And yet he’s ordered up a survey to see if he can take away from all of us some of the lands that were protected under powers created by that president who left his initials on the side of the Troy town hall.

The good news is that the Kootenai forest is on the mend. Trout, mostly small, rise for caddis flies on the Yaak River. There are almost enough new-growth trees to keep the sediment load down. This special place, this empty place, is healing, and feels ever more wild with every passing summer.

“We need wilderness to protect us from ourselves,” wrote Rick Bass, who was born in Texas, and found his voice after moving to the Yaak Valley some years ago. That sounds like the kind of thing somebody might say around a late-night campfire. But it’s true in the morning. The enemy of this last best place is us. We are also its savior. # # #

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero (2016). See all other books by Eags here.]

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Roll Over, Thomas Hobbes — Now We Live In A Time Of Continual Fear... And The Lives Of Citizens Become "Nasty, Brutish, And Short" With The Squeeze Of A Trigger

The other dispiriting element in these trying days is the occasion of police violence upon civilians that stems for the militarizing of the police in the era of the "war" on terror since 9/11. (Why not a "war" on air or a "war" on shadows while we are making "war" on good sense?) Houston-based journalist Mimi Swartz examines the grand jury system that will indict a ham sandwich but refuse to indict a police officer for shooting and killing a civilian in the most extreme abuse of police-power. If this is a (fair & balanced) diagnosis of "shoot first because there will be no consequences," so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
A Trying Time On A Grand Jury
By Mimi Swartz


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After the Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter in the shooting death of Philando Castile last month, Michael Harriot reported in The Root that 99 percent of cops who caused the death of a civilian in the last 10 years were never charged with a crime. Even when seemingly damning video evidence existed, grand juries refused to indict.

If you’ve ever sat on a grand jury, this may not be a surprise. The grand jury’s job, according to prosecutors, is simply to decide whether there is reason enough to bring an indictment. Jurors generally agree there is. As the saying goes, most grand juries will indict a ham sandwich.

Unless a law enforcement officer is involved. Then an interesting conflict of interest comes into play, because prosecutors work day in, day out, with cops to bring criminals to justice.

“Police charged with crimes get the ultimate presumption of innocence,” explained Josh Schaffer, a Houston criminal lawyer, who invited me to serve on a grand jury in Harris County in 2013. (Until 2015, grand jurors in Texas were selected by judge-appointed commissioners like Mr. Schaffer; now, as in most states, they are picked at random from the jury pool.)

One reason for this strong presumption is that cops put their lives on the line for the public every day. Just last month, a San Antonio police officer died, and a second was wounded, in a shootout. Although the aggregate number of officers killed in the line of duty is lower than in past years, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reports 65 killed this year through June, an increase of 30 percent over the same period last year.

The dangers cops face didn’t need to be drummed in to my 11 fellow jurors. People in Harris County are generally very pro law and order.

Though a handpicked group, we were mixed: five women and seven men, five white and seven black or Latino. While mostly middle-aged, we spanned the economic spectrum — from fixed-income retirees to a successful pediatrician. Most, I believe, started out with an intrinsic respect for the police and prosecutors.

Last year, Harris County led the state in the number of police shootings of civilians. Of the more than 200 officer-involved shootings brought before grand juries here between 2012 and 2016, only one was indicted — and that was just for official oppression. No case involving a possible indictment of an officer came before us.

Instead, we were treated to some cool field trips: a demonstration of a canine unit, a simulated shoot/don’t shoot course to test our reflexes, and a tour of the county jail. I was so fascinated that I didn’t at first think of it as an exercise in indoctrination.

We duly became rubber-stamp artists. And I might have continued to indict away on autopilot if it hadn’t been for two fellow jurors: a young black lawyer and a white former judge. As cases came and went, I couldn’t help noticing that their questions seemed to annoy the prosecutors: They were gumming up the works.

But they were raising legitimate issues. Was it right to indict someone for carrying an almost microscopic quantity of marijuana after he had been stopped and arrested for “walking on the street when a sidewalk was provided”?

“It’s used as a tool for an officer to search and detain an individual who has done nothing,” Alphonso Anderson, the lawyer, told me.

When we asked to interview additional witnesses in a complicated child sexual abuse case, we met resistance. At one point, a young prosecutor accused by the former judge of withholding evidence burst into tears.

Why was it seen as troublesome that our jury asked searching questions or sought more time to study thick case files of serious crimes? Maybe it was a coincidence, but after a while, the tough cases seemed to go to other grand juries. Suddenly, shoplifting came up a lot.

“I wondered, by the end of our time, how Walmart ever made a profit,” Murry Cohen, the former judge, said dryly.

Harris County is changing. The election in 2016 of a progressive district attorney, sheriff and police chief raised hopes of better police oversight. The district attorney, Kim Ogg, sees criminal justice reform and public safety as linked. The grand jury recently indicted two law enforcement officers in separate violent incidents involving civilians. Granted, one cop quickly retired and the other was off duty, but the indictments stand in contrast to past practice.

“If people don’t trust the system, they won’t participate,” Ms. Ogg told me.

I hope she can do something about other, more subtle abuses. I still wake up at night thinking about the people I helped to indict, the ones who were rousted for walking on the street instead of the sidewalk. # # #

[Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly, also is a NYT contributing Op-Ed writer. Swartz received a BA (English) from Hampshire College. She is the co-author (with Sherron Watkins) of Power Failure, The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron (2003).]

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Today: The Back-Story Of The Box Office Hit Of Summer 2017

Before getting to the post for today, this blogger had a flash when he heard the current occupant of the Oval Office whine after the latest Traitor-fail on national health-care: "My plan now is to allow Obamacare to fail." The flash was that given the idiot's penchant for insulting sobriquets — Crooked Hillary, Pocahontas, Lyin' Ted ad nauseum — the current occupant of the Oval Office shall be forever known in this blog as ... Traitor Trump !! The stupid sumbitch wants to destroy this country and that is treasonous behavior.

Now, to more pleasant things to read and think upon. Back in June 2017, this blogger went to his neighborhood indy movie theater which was one of 10 venues in the country to show "The Big Sick." This blogger gave the flick two-thumbs-up, but was astounded to see in the local fishwrap on July 17, 2017, that among the Top Ten films, in terms of box office receipts, was #5: "The Big Sick." The film was made on a shoestring budget and stood at 5th in box office receipts. If that is a (fair & balanced) BFD, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
The Best Medicine
By Andrew Marantz


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In 2009, on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” the comedian Kumail Nanjiani walked onstage, wearing a boxy black suit and a cordless mike, to do a standup set. The band played a few bars of “Born in the USA,” an allusion, presumably, to the fact that he wasn’t. The first anecdote of Nanjiani’s set fell flat. He stood stiffly, swallowing hard, his hands clasped tightly in front of his chest. Then he told a joke about theme-park attractions with excessively convoluted backstories. “It’s like a story line to a porn movie,” he said. “I really don’t care what all your professions are. I’m just here for the ride.” It wasn’t the cleverest punch line in Nanjiani’s act, but it received a big laugh and a ten-second applause break. He exhaled audibly, relaxing his hands. His next bit was about the Cyclone, the rickety roller coaster on Coney Island. “The Cyclone was made in the year 1927! Let that sink in. They should change the name of that ride to 1927, ’cause that fact is way scarier than any cyclone,” he said. “And the whole thing is made of wood . . . you know, that indestructible substance that NASA uses for its space shuttles.” The bit could have been delivered in the nineteen-sixties, by Woody Allen or Mort Sahl, with one exception: Nanjiani said the ride was “the scariest experience of my life—and I grew up in Pakistan.”

Nanjiani spent his childhood in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city. In 1997, when he was nineteen, he left to attend Grinnell College, a small liberal-arts school in the middle of Iowa. “I thought, from watching TV and stuff, that America was one place,” he told me. “They only show you L.A. and New York. They don’t warn you about Iowa.” When he got to college, he says, “I was super shy, but I learned that my friends thought I was funny.” His senior year, there was an open mike on campus, and his friends urged him to try standup. He performed for thirty-five minutes. “I don’t think I’ve ever done better than that crowd, reaction-wise,” he said. “Of course, it was full of people who knew me. But it gave me an irrational amount of confidence.” After school, he moved to Chicago and started performing. Michael Showalter, a comedian and director who has admired Nanjiani from the beginning, told me, “Anyone who saw him saw how smart and fresh his voice was. The question wasn’t whether he’d be successful, only which direction he’d choose to go in.”

The year of the Letterman set, Nanjiani landed a recurring role on “The Colbert Report,” as a Guantánamo detainee who lives under Stephen Colbert’s desk. Many of Nanjiani’s earliest film and TV credits were, he says, “more or less what you’d expect”: “Delivery Guy,” “Cable Guy,” “Pakistani Chef.” But he quickly started getting more substantial roles, and in the past few years he has appeared on almost every show beloved by comedy snobs, including “Portlandia,” “Broad City,” “Community,” “Key & Peele,” and “Inside Amy Schumer.” He now has a lead part on “Silicon Valley,” an ensemble comedy on HBO, playing a coder who, despite his good looks, remains hopelessly unlucky with women. “It’s a version of me in high school, when I was at my least confident,” he said.

As a child, Nanjiani spoke Urdu at home; he learned English at school, and picked up colloquialisms from TV. “I grew up watching ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Knight Rider’ and Hot Wheels commercials,” he said. “When I got to college, having never set foot in America, I knew more American pop-culture references than my friends did.” As a standup, he said, “I was so eager to avoid being known as an immigrant comedian, or as a Muslim comedian, that I would just come out wearing a T-shirt and start talking about video games. I wasn’t judgmental about other comedians using their backgrounds to their advantage—joining the Spicy Masala Comedy Tour, or whatever—but I could never bring myself to do it, even though I could have used the work.”

Then came 9/11. “Suddenly, Islam was the elephant in the room,” he continued. “I just thought, OK, I’m brown, I speak with an accent—I have to at least bring it up.” He began opening his sets by saying, “Don’t worry, I’m one of the good ones,” which put some audiences at ease. Other times, he was interrupted by someone shouting “Go home!” or “Go back to the Taliban!” Recalling one heckler, at a club in Milwaukee, Nanjiani said, “The room got so quiet and awkward. I fumbled around with words and tried to ignore it. It made the audience pity me, which is not a good look for comedy. After that, I came up with something to say—I realized it doesn’t have to be a perfect line, just something to show the audience that you’re still in control.” The next time he was heckled, he responded, “That guy’s right. I am a terrorist. I just do standup comedy on the side, to keep a low profile.”

A similar exchange, with “Taliban” updated to “ISIS,” appears in Nanjiani’s movie “The Big Sick.” It premièred earlier this year, at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was a favorite among both audiences and critics. The movie was directed by Showalter, whose film career has included slapstick cult classics (“Wet Hot American Summer”) as well as offbeat romantic comedies (“Hello, My Name Is Doris”), and produced by Judd Apatow, who has specialized, recently, in helping almost famous comedians adapt their formative experiences into memoiristic meta-comedies. Apatow’s producing partner, Barry Mendel, described “The Big Sick” to me as “part comedy about comedy, part drama about families, part medical mystery, and also, incidentally, a Muslim American rom-com.”

Nanjiani co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, and he plays its protagonist, a standup comic named Kumail. It’s the first feature either of them has written, and it’s Nanjiani’s first starring role. The fictional Kumail works as an Uber [sic, Über] driver, a day job that didn’t exist when the real Kumail still had day jobs. Aside from that, and a few other departures to help a joke land or a plotline cohere, the movie doesn’t stray too far from a dramatically rich series of events that befell Gordon and Nanjiani a decade ago, shortly before they turned thirty.

Nanjiani didn’t conceive of the film as at all political. “It was just supposed to be a heartwarming little movie that, if we did it right, would be funny and maybe a bit poignant,” he said. But it was filmed last summer, when much of the conversation between takes was, inevitably, about the Presidential campaign; the Sundance première was on January 20th, the day Donald Trump was sworn in. “That coincidence is so weird and terrible that I don’t even know what to make of it,” Nanjiani told me. (On Twitter, where he has more than a million followers, he makes no secret of his political opinions: “I’m thankful our new President-elect is anti-Muslim so now my parents & I agree on politics”; “Silver lining: one day the ocean will take us.”)

Apatow said, “We never talked about it in terms of ‘What does it mean to represent a secular Muslim onscreen?’ We talked about telling Kumail’s story, and that led us, naturally, to questions about family and culture and religion.” The movie, which will be released in June, appears at a time when an individual action can seem unusually freighted with political meaning—when a football player taking a knee during the national anthem or a passenger being dragged from a plane can be transformed, by TV pundits and tweeting politicians, into a national Rorschach test. “I still don’t look at it as a political movie, but I guess now everything is political, whether we like it or not,” Nanjiani told me. “Like that heckling scene, for instance. When we wrote it, the clear assumption was: That guy in the crowd is an asshole, an outlier, and the viewer of the movie is automatically on my side. Now that assholes like that guy have taken over the country, I’m not sure how funny it plays.”

Early in his career, Nanjiani built his act around subjects he thought his American audiences would find relatable. While Louis C.K. and other comedians had success with an expansive, confessional style, he stuck to terse observational jokes about vintage horror movies, the nature of memory, and the pluralization of the word “octopus.” An introvert, he was scared of performing, and he incorporated his fear into a pensive onstage persona. “He would wear loose hoodies, and he was sort of a mumbler,” Pete Holmes, a comedian who started at the same time as Nanjiani and became one of his closest friends, told me. “He was really good, but wordy, subtle—you had to pay attention.”

What Nanjiani avoided mentioning onstage was that he was brought up a strict Shiite Muslim. He was taught that a lustful glance or a sip of wine would result in perpetual torment, and that the Quran was the literal and inerrant word of God; because the Quran didn’t mention dinosaurs, dinosaurs had never existed. When Nanjiani was eight, his mother set aside a cache of jewelry that she planned to give his future wife on their wedding day. It went without saying that Nanjiani’s parents would select this future wife, and that she would be a Pakistani Shiite, possibly a family friend or a cousin. When Nanjiani left for college, his mother made him promise that he would never succumb to Western secularism. A few days later, during Grinnell’s freshman-orientation week, he shook a woman’s hand for the first time.

How could he make this upbringing funny to the tipsy patrons of Joe’s Bar on Weed Street? There would be too many terms to define, too much cultural context to establish in a ten-minute set. Besides, a successful joke requires a clear point of view, and his views were ambivalent and constantly shifting. He associated Karachi with poetry and architecture, violence and misogyny, delicious food, unnerving squalor, and every relative he’d ever loved. Part of him assumed that he would soon move back to Pakistan, and part of him knew that he never would. He couldn’t fully articulate these thoughts to himself, much less to strangers.

By 2006, Nanjiani had been doing standup for five years. He lived with a friend on the North Side of Chicago and worked a day job as an IT specialist. “A really cliché job for a South Asian guy to have, I realize,” he said. “On the other hand, I take some pride in how bad I was at it.” He performed three or four nights a week, around town and on the road. Many comedians, at this point, might have moved to New York or Los Angeles, where they could audition for TV jobs and get noticed by agents. Nanjiani, out of comfort and inertia, stayed in Chicago.

With time, he grew more assured onstage. He trained himself to take the microphone out of the stand and move around—“It sounds like a tiny thing, but it was transformative,” he said—and he changed his hair style from a floppy middle part, à la nineteen-nineties Hugh Grant, to an Elvis pompadour. “He started getting muscly and wearing tight T-shirts,” Holmes said. “He plucked his unibrow. He started getting loud, controlling the room, high energy. It was like watching a car suddenly shift into a higher gear. Instead of calling him Kumail, I started calling him Newmail.”

At one show, in a bar on the North Side, Nanjiani asked, facetiously, “Is Karachi in the house?” Someone in the audience, also facetiously, let out a “Whoo!” Nanjiani could see that she was a white woman, a pretty brunette with a streak of purple in her hair. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I would have noticed you.” Two nights later, they ran into each other again, and she introduced herself as Emily Gordon. She was from North Carolina, and although she was a couples and family therapist, she knew as much about comedy—and video games, and comic books, and horror movies—as he did.

Soon they were texting almost every day. There was an obvious mutual attraction, but neither was interested in a relationship: Gordon, who was twenty-seven, had already been married and divorced; Nanjiani, then twenty-eight, wasn’t supposed to be dating anyone, much less a non-Muslim. “We’d hang out, hook up, and then be, like, ‘We can’t do this anymore. But let’s hang out again,’ ” Nanjiani said. “Once, before she came over to watch a movie, I threw a bunch of dirty laundry on my bed, to insure that nothing would happen. It didn’t work.”

Meanwhile, Nanjiani’s parents, who had moved from Karachi to New Jersey, were sending him information about eligible Shiite bachelorettes in the Chicago area. He avoided meeting the women. “My American friends would be, like, ‘Dude, just tell your parents you’re not interested,’ ” he said. “But that’s a misunderstanding of the culture. Arranged marriage is marriage. Anything else is unthinkable.” He felt American enough to want to choose his romantic partners, but Pakistani enough that he dreaded flouting his family’s expectations. “I couldn’t imagine a universe where I ended up accepting an arranged marriage, but I also couldn’t imagine telling my parents that,” he said. “So I just deflected and delayed.”

One day, after Nanjiani and Gordon had been dating for a few months, she texted him to say that she was going to the doctor. Nanjiani didn’t hear from her for several hours. Around midnight, he got a call: Gordon was in the emergency room, and she was having trouble breathing. He rushed to the hospital and spent the night. By the next morning, Gordon was heavily sedated and was drifting in and out of wakefulness. Her lung was infected, and the infection was spreading fast. In order to treat it, the doctors told Nanjiani, they needed to put her into a medically induced coma. They asked if he was her husband. He said no—he wasn’t even sure that he was her boyfriend. They asked again, pressing him to sign a release form. Finally, at the doctors’ insistence, he signed it. The doctors tied Gordon down and injected her with an anesthetic. She thrashed against the restraints, then fell into a coma.

Nanjiani was supposed to go on the road to open for Zach Galifianakis, but he stayed in Chicago and visited Gordon in the ICU every day. She remained in the coma for more than a week while the doctors ruled out several possibilities, including HIV and leukemia. Even a decade later, after having recounted the experience dozens of times, Nanjiani still chokes up whenever he talks about it. “I was sitting by her bed,” he said. “She was unconscious, and she was hooked up to all these beeping machines, and I very clearly remember thinking, If she makes it out of this, I’m gonna marry her.” His voice caught. “I know that sounds cliché, and it’s actually kind of creepy and nonconsensual if you think about it too hard. But that was the thought I had.”

“Spoiler alert—I made it,” Gordon said, last May, flashing me a thumbs-up and a goofy smile. On the eighth day of her coma, she received a diagnosis of adult-onset Still’s disease, a rare inflammatory syndrome that is manageable once it’s identified and treated. “I have to sleep the right amount and exercise the right amount, and I still occasionally get flare-ups and have to stay in bed for a few days,” she told me. “But no more ICUs, which is pretty fucking sweet. Now I only have to go to the hospital when we’re filming a movie in one.”

As a co-writer of “The Big Sick,” Gordon was on set every day of the shoot, which took place in New York, last spring. She and Nanjiani now own a house in Los Angeles, but during the shoot they rented an Airbnb in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The first time I met Gordon, she was sitting in a canvas director’s chair in front of a video monitor, a pair of headphones slung around her neck. Next to her were Mendel, the producer, and Showalter, the director. We were in an art space in Williamsburg that had been decorated to look like the fictional Kumail’s bachelor apartment in Chicago: an Xbox, an inflatable mattress, a family-sized box of Cheerios. Between shots, Zoe Kazan, who played the fictional Emily, sat next to the real Emily, and they chatted about which books they were reading. At one point, Kazan turned to me and said, “You know the first grader who has this cool third-grade cousin, and she just thinks her big cousin hung the moon? That’s how I feel about her, essentially.”

Kazan swung her feet in the air and squinted at shoes the costume designer had selected, a pair of gray ballet flats. “Are these shoes you would actually wear?” she asked Gordon.

Without speaking, Gordon gestured toward her own feet: gray ballet flats.

“Fair enough,” Kazan said.

When the crew was ready, Showalter called for quiet, and those of us sitting in front of the monitors put on headphones. Kazan went into an adjacent room, and she and Nanjiani started filming the next scene: the couple’s first fight. At this point in the movie, their relationship seems promising, but Kumail has been avoiding some traditional landmarks of commitment, such as introducing Emily to his parents. In the scene, Emily, rummaging in Kumail’s bedroom, finds a cigar box full of photos—the Pakistani bachelorettes his mother has been attempting to set him up with. Emily starts to ask questions, including, “Can you imagine a world in which we end up together?” The emotional climax of the scene is Kumail’s inadequate response.

“Finding a literal box of photos—that’s cinematic license,” Gordon told me. “That said, the themes are obviously drawn from reality. And it’s extremely accurate to our actual conflict styles, to the point where it’s almost eerie to watch. His body responds to conflict by basically shutting down and going to sleep. Which, of course, makes me fly into a fucking rage.” When I took off my headphones, Kazan’s voice pierced through the walls, whereas Nanjiani’s was, for much of the scene, an inaudible murmur; in the video monitor, Kazan paced and gesticulated while Nanjiani leaned wearily against a doorpost, his eyes Stygian pools. In Nanjiani’s comic performances, on “Silicon Valley” and elsewhere, he has demonstrated onscreen magnetism and authenticity. Here, he showed that he could anchor a tense scene, full of long pauses and light on comic relief.

They filmed the argument several more times, improvising variations on the written dialogue. (Kazan: “Are you judging ‘Pakistan’s Next Top Model’ or something?” Nanjiani: “You know that’s not an actual franchise.”) Before each take, Showalter urged Nanjiani to speak more directly, sounding out the line between candor and cruelty. At the end of one take, Nanjiani said, in a near-whisper, “We’ve only been dating for five months, Emily. I think you’re overreacting.”

“Harsh,” Mendel, at the video monitors, said.

“Fuck you, Kumail,” Gordon said. “Character Kumail, I mean.”

Because shooting had begun in the late morning and would end around midnight, they broke for “lunch” at 5 p.m. Nanjiani, Gordon, and Kazan decided to walk to a vegan Asian-fusion restaurant nearby. On the way, they passed a trailer where the props department was preparing for an upcoming dinner scene; they had ordered from a Pakistani kebab house in Queens, and were deciding which foods would look best on camera. Kumail tasted the biryani and the haleem, a thick wheat stew. “This is the real deal,” he said. “You guys might also want to get some barfi. It’s a milk-and-sugar thing, a dessert.”

Barfi?” a production designer asked, writing down the word.

“ ‘Barf,’ with an ‘i,’ ” Nanjiani said.

They continued walking to the restaurant. “The prop guys have been great on this,” Kazan said. “Even the books in my apartment are on point.”

Nanjiani nodded. “On other stuff I’ve done, there were always monkeys and elephants and Buddhas and Arabic script—just every possible brown-person thing.”

The next scene on the shooting schedule was one that took place earlier in the movie—a makeout scene. After lunch, Kazan and Nanjiani, preparing to simulate a Chicago winter, put on bulky sweaters, which would come off in the course of the action. “I think your stubble looks awesome, but you are going to scratch the shit out of my face,” Kazan said.

In a discussion the previous night, Kumail and the two Emilys had decided that, during the filming of this scene, Gordon would leave the set. “Zoe doesn’t think it’s weird if I’m here, and I don’t think it’s weird if I’m here, but Kumail does,” Gordon said.

“I’m sorry,” Nanjiani said.

“Dude, whatever makes it easier for you is fine with me,” Gordon said, gathering her things. “Now I get to go home, nap, maybe play some video games. I wish my husband would make out with other women every day!”

When Gordon was in the coma in Chicago, Nanjiani spent the first few days evading his parents’ calls. One night, he picked up the phone and admitted that he had a girlfriend, that she was an American and a non-Muslim, and that she was very ill. “I was too exhausted to keep lying,” he said. He assumed that his mother would be furious, “but she kept it together. Every day, she’d go, ‘Is Emily OK?’ Then, one day, the answer was yes, and she immediately switched to ‘How could you do this to us?’ ”

Gordon left the hospital in May of 2007. She and Nanjiani were married that July, at Chicago’s City Hall, with six friends as witnesses. Two weeks later, his parents hosted a Muslim wedding in New Jersey. The cleric, in a reverse-xenophobic gesture, refused to perform the ceremony for anyone with a non-Muslim name, so Gordon went by Iman for the day. “I think that the ceremony was my mom’s way of saying to Emily, Even though you’re not the bride I imagined, I’m trying my best to include you in the family,” Nanjiani said. Shabana, Nanjiani’s mother, told me that when she first learned about Emily, “I was a bit disappointed, I admit. But later I came to love her like a daughter.” On the day of the Muslim wedding, Shabana gave Gordon the cache of jewelry she had been saving for the occasion.

Nanjiani, having crossed one boundary by marrying Gordon, started to cross others. In the spring and summer of 2007, he wrote a ninety-minute one-man show about his personal relationship to Islam. He performed it at the Lakeshore Theatre, an august venue in Chicago that has since closed. In the only extant recording of the show, a low-resolution video of the opening-night performance, the theatre’s artistic director introduces Nanjiani by saying, “We’ve had a lot of great shows over the past few months, since we set out to become a Mecca of comedy as art—we’ve had Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, Maria Bamford, Louis C.K. None of them have been as exciting to me as what you’re about to see tonight.” The Mecca pun seemed to be unintentional.

The show was called “Unpronounceable,” after Nanjiani’s first conversation on American soil, with the customs agent who took his passport. (“He said, ‘Welcome to America, Mr. . . . this is unpronounceable.’ Not ‘I can’t pronounce that’ or ‘How do you pronounce that?’ Unpronounceable.”) These days, Nanjiani describes the show in self-deprecating terms, and “The Big Sick” includes a cringe-inducing sendup of a cheesy one-man show. If a few moments in “Unpronounceable” smacked of juvenilia—an overwrought description of a falling snowflake, for example—the writing, on the whole, was heartfelt and trenchant, even when tackling such difficult topics as crises of faith and the tradition of public self-flagellation. The show was a hit, and it allowed Nanjiani to sign with a prominent agent and quit his IT job. That October, five months after Gordon left the hospital, she and Nanjiani moved to New York. “It’s not like we ever turned to each other and said, ‘Life is fleeting, let’s take our shot,’ ” Nanjiani said. “But, in hindsight, Emily getting sick was clearly a big event that spurred us to examine our priorities.”

Gordon eventually stopped practicing therapy, and she and Nanjiani moved to Los Angeles and started to collaborate. They co-hosted “The Indoor Kids,” a podcast about video games, and, with the comedian Jonah Ray, founded a weekly standup showcase called “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail,” which featured a rotating stable of performers curated by Gordon. From 2010 to 2016, the show took place every Wednesday, in a small black-box theatre in the back of a comic-book store on Sunset Boulevard—the heart of the heart of cool-nerd culture. During a trip to LA last year, I happened to catch the last-ever night of “The Meltdown,” which featured standup by Apatow and a performance by a satirical pro-Trump reggae band. After the show, Nanjiani and Gordon stayed for nearly an hour, greeting and hugging several members of the audience.

Gordon has written personal essays, advice columns, and a cheeky self-help book, Super You: Release Your Inner Superhero (2015). She also spends much of her free time dispensing advice. Most of her friends in LA are comedians, and comedians tend to be, as she puts it, “wonderful, kindhearted individuals who sometimes have no fucking clue how to live like grownups.” A few of her friends have compared her to Wendy among the Lost Boys.

In 2013, Nanjiani filmed an hour-long standup special in Austin, Texas. This time, he chose his own walk-on music: a rap song built around a Bollywood sample. In the special, “Beta Male,” he strides across the stage, projecting swagger even as he jokes about being a coward or a creep. The act is inflected with anecdotes about his upbringing. Once, when he was twelve, he was watching a forbidden videotape, and, during one of his neighborhood’s frequent power outages, it got stuck in the VCR. He imagines running away in shame and having to fend for himself: “Any work needs doing? I can beat Mario and draw a Ninja Turtle.”

At one point during the performance, it became clear that a woman in the audience was from Karachi.
“How’s Karachi doing?” Nanjiani asked her, from the stage. (He has not been back to Pakistan since college.)

“Same as ever,” she said.

“Mostly on fire?” he asked, not without affection.

In 2012, Nanjiani performed at South by Southwest, where he met Apatow. “He started telling me about that time in his life, in Chicago,” Apatow said. “I went, ‘That should be a movie.’ ” This led to a series of meetings, which led to a series of e-mails, which led to drafts of a screenplay, which, four years later, became “The Big Sick.”

The scenes in Kumail’s parents’ house were shot in Douglaston, Long Island. One day last summer, as the crew dusted the front lawn with fake snow, Nanjiani, Gordon, and Showalter sat in the living room, alternating between nimble banter and earnest discussions of gun-control policy. Mendel, the producer, sat in front of a video monitor in the back yard; the house’s owners had cats, and Mendel was severely allergic.

“For Emily’s parents, we went through a normal casting process,” Nanjiani said. The roles went to Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. “When we were going to cast my parents, I called my dad and asked, ‘Who should play you?’ and he answered right away: Anupam Kher.” Kher has been a Bollywood star for decades; “The Big Sick” was, by his count, his five-hundredth film. While Kher was filming in Douglaston, Nanjiani’s parents insisted on visiting the set, a prospect that made Nanjiani palpably nervous. “The real world and the world of the movie are not supposed to be this close together,” he said, stepping outside and pacing around the back yard. “There are things that come up in the script that my parents and I haven’t talked about yet.” Earlier that day, they’d filmed a scene in which Kumail’s mother asks him to go into another room and pray before lunch. Kumail unfurls a prayer rug and sets a timer on his phone; five minutes later, after watching a video and playing with a cricket bat, he rolls up the rug and leaves the room.

Nanjiani’s parents arrived on set and made small talk with Kher. “Doesn’t he look like my separated-at-birth twin brother?” Nanjiani’s father, Aijaz, joked. They posed for photos, and Nanjiani’s parents left after about ten minutes. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” a crew member asked Nanjiani.

Later, I asked him how his relationship with his parents had progressed in the years since the wedding. “It’s a process,” he said. “I think it’s good. They love Emily. We see them a lot. It’s complicated.” He gathered his thoughts. “In the movie, the Kumail character and his parents are on step one of figuring all that stuff out. In real life, we’re on step four or five. I don’t know how many steps there are.”

When the fictional Emily falls into a coma, the fictional Kumail doesn’t know how to contact her parents. To find their phone number, he has to gain access to Emily’s iPhone. He sits next to her hospital bed and whispers, “Sorry”; then he places her inert thumb on the phone’s touch pad, unlocking the screen. Reading that moment in the screenplay, I worried that it might seem inauthentic, like something that would happen in a movie but not in real life. When I saw it at Sundance, sitting among eleven hundred people in a sold-out auditorium, the moment landed. From the opening credits onward, the audience was in the film’s thrall. After Kumail is interrupted by the racist heckler, Emily’s mother shuts the heckler down; her monologue received a spontaneous mid-scene round of applause. Emily’s father, eating lunch with Kumail for the first time, leads with an offensive icebreaker: “9/11 . . . What’s your stance?” Kumail’s acerbic response—“It was a tragedy. I mean, we lost nineteen of our best guys”—resulted in waves of cathartic laughter.

After the Sundance première, Gordon posted on Instagram, “We just showed our movie for the first time. 1000 emotions.” The next day, standing on the snowy main drag of Park City, Utah, I asked her to describe a couple of them. “Euphoric?” she said. “Shell-shocked? Is nausea an emotion? When the end credits rolled and people started clapping, I had tears in my eyes, and I literally reached down as if to unbuckle my seat belt. Like, my brain was taking the roller-coaster metaphor too literally.” She elbowed Nanjiani. “He was stoic, as usual.”

“I was overwhelmed!” he said. “That’s how I process emotions.”

Within a day, Amazon had bought the movie for twelve million dollars, one of the most lucrative deals in Sundance history. (At the previous year’s festival, Amazon spent ten million dollars on “Manchester by the Sea.”) From then on, walking around Park City with Nanjiani was like trailing a groom at his wedding reception. Heads turned when he entered a room; people he’d never met greeted him with handshakes and hugs. His parents had been texting him, thrilled by his success. “They haven’t seen the movie yet,” he said, tentatively. “They’re gonna like it, though. I think they’re gonna like it.” When I spoke with his parents, in April, they still hadn’t seen it. “But we have kept up with the reviews and everything,” Nanjiani’s father said. “Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter—I have not seen a single negative review!”

At Sundance, Nanjiani arrived at the Filmmaker Lodge, a venue with rustic wood panelling and moose heads mounted on the walls, to speak on a two-person panel with the actor John Cho. The interviewer noted that both men were born abroad (Cho is from South Korea), and asked whether they’d felt the burden of “being the representative of an entire group of people.”

“First, I wanna say that when I started doing standup comedy people were racist to me, and they would call me Kumar, so I’m sure this is very confusing,” Nanjiani said. He was referring to the 2004 comedy “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” about an Indian-American and a Korean-American embarking on a series of stoned adventures, which was one of the highest-grossing Hollywood movies without a white actor in a lead role. Although Nanjiani didn’t appear in the movie, strangers called him “Kumar” so often that he wrote a joke about it. In Nanjiani’s 2013 standup special, he said, “I want to be so famous that I’m the pop-culture reference that people would make to try and be racist to me. So I’d be walking down the street and someone would be, like, ‘Hey, look at this Kumail Nanjiani. Oh, fuck, that is Kumail Nanjiani!’ ”

Cho actually did appear in “Harold and Kumar”—he played Harold. The audience laughed, and then Nanjiani addressed the question sincerely. “I don’t go, ‘It is now time to change Americans’ perception of Muslims. It’s going to be a long day,’ ” he said. “I think you just try to be unique and try to be yourself, and if something good comes of that then great.” On “Silicon Valley,” for example, Nanjiani’s character fulfills some stereotypes and subverts others. He is unfashionable but insists on wearing a gold chain, for which he is roundly mocked; he’s a naturalized American citizen whose nemesis, a white coder from Canada, is an undocumented immigrant. “That chain idea came directly from Kumail’s life,” Alec Berg, a co-showrunner of “Silicon Valley,” told me. “So did the details of what it’s like to apply for an American visa. It’s such a luxury, when you’re trying to write a character that feels grounded in reality, to be able to avoid drawing on stereotypes and instead just take Kumail out to lunch and say, ‘Tell me about your life.’ ”

After the panel, in the greenroom, Nanjiani expanded on his thoughts about representation. “People use these words so much that they can start to sound meaningless,” he said. “But I believe it matters. The stories you see as a kid show you what’s possible. I mean, I’m almost forty, and when I saw a brown guy kicking ass in the new ‘Star Wars’ movie I started crying in the movie theatre.”

He went on, “Everyone knows what a secular Jew looks like. Everyone knows what a lapsed Catholic looks like. That’s all over pop culture. But there are very few Muslim characters who aren’t terrorists, who aren’t even going to a mosque, who are just people with complicated backstories who do normal things. Obviously, terrorism is an important subject to tackle. But we also need Muslim characters who, like, go to Six Flags and eat ice cream.” # # #

[Andrew Marantz is a Writer/Editor at The New Yorker. In addition to The New Yorker, his articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Journal and Harper's magazine. Marantz was a Royce Fellow at Brown University where he received a BA (religious studies and literary arts) and he received an MA (journalism) from New York University.]

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