Annotation — August 29, 2017, 1:24 pm

Trumpeter Storm

Donald and Melania Trump go to Texas. 

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images.

1: Hurricane Harvey, technically an active tropical cyclone, hit southeastern Texas late Friday night, in a deluge never before seen on that shore. The water came with 130 mile-per-hour winds that swept Houston and its surrounding towns—uprooting trees, collapsing road signs, smashing walls, and forcing more than 30,000 people from their homes. Some 450,000 are expected to apply for federal assistance; at least ten people are dead. Brock Long, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that, as rainfall continues to pour on rivers and bayous that are already teeming, Harvey has the “highest potential to kill the most amount of people and cause the most amount of damage” of any storm yet seen. Long told reporters that FEMA will be there for years. Greg Abbott, the Governor of Texas, announced that this is “one of the largest disasters America has ever faced.” As 12,000 members of the National Guard rushed to the scene and hundreds more volunteers joined the relief efforts, President Trump tweeted: “Thanks!”

2: Trump proceeded to continue with Twitter as usual; his next message was a retweet observing that The Washington Post “breaks down & admits the truth” about a “Black-clad antifa” attacking “peaceful right wing demonstrators in Berkeley.” By Sunday, however, his attention was back on the flood—perhaps noting its Biblical or at least primetime-worthy proportions. Or maybe the phrase “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” began to ring in his ears. In any case, by Tuesday morning, he announced to followers, “Leaving now for Texas!” His bags packed and his cap in hand, he flew off to where the cameras are.

3: In moments of crisis, presidents have been said to take on the role of “Comforter-in-Chief,” lending a shoulder to those afflicted by a harm that supersedes politics. (Harris County, of which Houston is the seat, went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.) One imagines that few of the townsfolk being pummeled by water would flick away a rescuing hand and offer a pamphlet on climate change. In desperate times, we accept help where it comes. And so, in full comforter mode, Trump decided to wear his most duvet-like jacket, with the seal of the president and, of course, a hood.

4: Trump’s water-resistance goes all the way down to his toes. He pulled on a pair of fine-looking Cat brand boots, possibly borrowed from his son Donald Junior, who has become known for his grippy footwear and overall outdoorsmanship. Junior, who was raised in a Trump Tower penthouse, knows what it means to commune with nature: he is a member of the National Rifle Association, and The New York Times reported that among his dozens of firearms is a Benelli Super Black Eagle II, used for hunting waterfowl. Waterfowl, or Anseriformes, as Papa Trump might like to know, comprise some 180 species; dozens are native to Texas, including the Ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis); the Cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii); and, likely of greatest interest, the Redhead (Aythya americana).

5: Speaking of hair, Melania’s looks perfectly coiffed. As she boards Air Force One, it’s difficult not to feel a little sad—for casualties of the tempest, of course, but also for what is surely to happen when Blow-Out Harvey blasts too strong. Yet the First Lady seems ever the optimist, ready for a change in the weather with her aviator sunglasses already on. Who knows what delightful change of fate might arrive if she just keeps thinking, “Sun!”

6: Now we come to an important message for readers of women’s magazines: the versatility of the black stiletto. It projects poise, balance, and better-than-you-ness, even in times of despair. But, wait, hold on a minute—a brief consultation with Vogue reveals that, slip factor aside, stilettos are out! “Why a Weird Heel Is the Shoe of the Season,” a June story reports. If only an aide had told Melania, a patternmaker’s daughter, she might have avoided some embarrassment. Perhaps she will put aside this misfortune and wade over to meet the women, as old as her husband, who until yesterday were sitting waist-deep in murky pools that filled the La Vita Bella assisted living center, in Dickinson. And Melania, taking the wrinkly hand of a person who has never worn Gabbana, will look deep into her eyes and say the same thing she told Harper’s Bazaar last year: “Of course, I always loved fashion—and I was always the tallest one and the skinniest one, so that helped.”

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About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

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America’s Constitution was once celebrated as a radical and successful blueprint for democratic governance, a model for fledgling republics across the world. But decades of political gridlock, electoral corruption, and dysfunction in our system of government have forced scholars, activists, and citizens to question the document’s ability to address the thorniest issues of modern ­political life.

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For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

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In a Walmart parking lot in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2015, a white police officer named Stephen Rankin shot and killed an unarmed, eighteen-­year-­old black man named William Chapman. “This is my second one,” he told a bystander seconds after firing the fatal shots, seemingly in reference to an incident four years earlier, when he had shot and killed another unarmed man, an immigrant from Kazakhstan. Rankin, a Navy veteran, had been arresting Chapman for shoplifting when, he claimed, Chapman charged him in a manner so threatening that he feared for his life, leaving him no option but to shoot to kill—­the standard and almost invariably successful defense for officers when called to account for shooting civilians. Rankin had faced no charges for his earlier killing, but this time, something unexpected happened: Rankin was indicted on a charge of first-­degree murder by Portsmouth’s newly elected chief prosecutor, thirty-­one-year-­old Stephanie Morales. Furthermore, she announced that she would try the case herself, the first time she had ever prosecuted a homicide. “No one could remember us having an actual prosecution for the killing of an unarmed person by the police,” Morales told me. “I got a lot of feedback, a lot of people saying, ‘You shouldn’t try this case. If you don’t win, it may affect your reelection. Let someone else do it.’ ”

Secrets and Lies·

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In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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