Notes
First thoughts, running arguments, stories in progress
Kellyanne Conway, on Donald Trump’s “blowout” win

As I mentioned in this post in late November, and in this followup, and also in a discussion with Diane Rehm on her new podcast series yesterday, Donald Trump’s lies differ from those we have encountered from other national figures, even Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton during their respective impeachments. The difference is that Trump seemingly does not care that evidence is immediately at hand to disprove what he says. If he believes what he’s saying, at least in that moment, why shouldn’t we?

For the record, the latest entry of this sort is the repeated insistence by Trump and his associates that he won a “landslide” or “major” victory. For instance, this was his transition team’s response to reports of Russian attempts to swing the election in his favor:

“Now time to move on.”

Translation: “A long time ago” is actually one month, and “one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history” is actually one of the least impressive. Here are the facts:

  • In terms of his Electoral College margin, which will probably end up at 306 to 232, Trump will rank #46 among the 58 presidential elections that have been held.
  • In terms of his popular vote margin, Trump will probably end up with the third-worst popular vote result, or if you prefer 56th ranked of the 58 winning candidates in history. (Obviously the 58 elections have produced 45 presidents, some of them winning two terms and FDR winning four.) This ranking is based on his losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by a little more than 2 percent, or a little less than 3 million votes. John Quincy Adams lost the popular vote by 10 percent in 1824 to Andrew Jackson, and also came in second in the electoral vote—but became president when the race went to the House, since none of the four candidates had an Electoral College majority. He is #58 out of 58, in terms of popular-vote mandate for winners. Rutherford B. Hayes, who won the electoral college while losing the popular vote by 3 percent to Samuel Tilden in 1876, is #57. Donald Trump, losing by 2 percent, is #56. Every president except J.Q. Adams and Hayes came to office with a stronger popular-vote mandate than Trump.

None of this changes the fact that Trump ended up ahead in this year’s electoral vote. But the next time you hear Trump, his campaign managers, his transition team, or anyone else call this a “landslide” or “one of the biggest victories ever,” remember the numbers. This is 46th out of 58 in electoral college terms, and 56th out of 58 in the popular vote.

***

Here is the embed for my discussion yesterday with Diane Rehm:

All notes on "Trump Nation" >

A reader recommends “a rather obscure track”:

David Safran is somewhat known in Chicago as both a singer-songwriter and essayist, but he never really caught on beyond our city. Neither did his song—“Adult Things” was self-released in 2009 to not much buzz. However, it feels like a right suggestion since it wasn’t just inspired by Eugene Field, the children’s poet, but written directly at Field’s graveside. Safran wrote an essay in 2011 about “Adult Things.” He mentioned,

The 19th century writer, Eugene Field, is buried—reinterred—in a small, shoddy cloister garden at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Kenilworth, Illinois. Once or twice a month, I would travel to Holy Comforter. The parish secretary informed me I was the first Eugene Field visitor in 17 years. I admired his writing, I wasn’t overenthusiastic, but we were both locked away on the North Shore, and I needed a dead literary neighbor.

While there’s an October 2016 Track of the Day based on a Field poem, Safran’s song doesn’t emphasize Field’s poetry but his failures as a local artist—a failure Safran seems to connect with. Though “Adult Things” deals specifically, and explicitly, with relationships (one bold couplet: “Nothing like sex to ruin / a sense of intimacy”), the song ends with its singer staring down at Field’s snow-covered grave, a “work that won’t endure,” realizing he’s aging fast and needs to find, or steal, some lyrics.

Like his song, Safran ended his “Adult Things” essay with this bit about posterity:

Time bowdlerizes everyone, especially Chicago artists. … Yet this gaunt, top-hatted, largely forgotten writer cannot fully disappear into oblivion while parks and elementary schools are still being named after him; while you can still find Love-Songs of Childhood at your library’s book sale; while youngish singer-songwriters still visit his grave: a soft, narrow spot wherein one can stand, or collapse, placidly.

Chicago artists, by the way, were the inspiration for this series—our first literary song was David Nagler’s interpretation of the Carl Sandburg poem “Chicago.” But if you’re looking (listening?) for music about a specific place—a beloved city, say, or a poet’s graveside—we’ve collected some reader recommendations here.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

All notes on "Literary Songs" >
Katie Martin / The Atlantic

In this week’s Atlantic coverage, our writers explored TV shows’ new favorite setting, the Oscar contenders of 2016, the revelations of ancient eclipse records, the man behind the Big Mac, the science of sleeping, and more.

Can you remember the key facts? Find the answers to this week’s questions in the articles linked above—or go ahead and test your memory now:

For more tricky questions and surprising facts, try last week’s quiz, and subscribe to our daily newsletter.

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Adam Feiges

Adam Feiges sends a stunning, lambent view of Chicago’s grid system at night on his approach to O’Hare from the east:

The Interstate 90/94 split is visible in the bottom of the frame with the Kennedy Expressway curving to the left as it heads “inbound” towards the Loop. (Chicagoans have adopted the inbound/outbound dichotomy due to the fact that both interstates are East/West routes that are actually oriented north/south as they cross the metro area.) The grid system imposed by the Northwest Ordinance is on full display here.  The brighter roads follow the old section lines which divided the land up into square miles of 640 acres. These units were further subdivided into ¼ sections of 160 acres apiece. This was deemed to be a reasonable size that an individual family could farm and make a living.  The super bright road in the middle of the frame is Cicero Ave, which extends 35 miles to the south before it reaches open farmland.

All notes on "Aerial Views of America" >

“Here I was on a ship in the Persian Gulf, with very little connection to the outside world, and someone was running wild with my money back stateside.” That reader continues his long story below—but first, here are a few shorter anecdotes from readers. Stephanie writes:

Have I ever been hacked? Sure, lots of times. I had my identity stolen several times when I lived in California, even before the internet was a thing. One of those thieves opened credit accounts and went bankrupt, which made for a real mess when I tried to get my first credit card. About once a year, I have to close a credit account because of fraud. Usually, I am notified by the issuing card company of suspicious activity.

My father lost his life savings in several accounts when thieves stole his debit card and checks. One of my email accounts has been hacked. My Facebook page has been hacked. So yeah, I’ve had experience with this.

So has this reader:

Who hasn’t been hacked? I’ve had my checking account compromised in a major way six times in eight years and many smaller breaches, but I’ll just tell you about nos. 2 and 3.

All notes on "Hacked Stories" >

A reader has some recommendations and anti-recommendations:

I really enjoy The Atlantic. I read it online and at the public library. Some covers I really enjoy: Dianne Reeves’ version of “River” (Joni Mitchell) and Stefon Harris’ cover of “Summertime” (George Gershwin).

If you are interested in bad covers, here are two: I did not care for any part of Tierney Sutton Band “The Sting Variations,” especially the songs from albums like Dream of the Blue Turtles. They were a perfect mix of pop and jazz already. Jessy J’s cover of “Feel Like Making Love” (Roberta Flack) is awful because she has such a weak voice, although the instrumentals are OK. But she does something nice with “In a Sentimental Mood” (Duke Ellington).

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

All notes on "Cover Songs" >

That quote comes from an Atlantic reader referring to the blistering roast that President Obama gave Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner in response to The Donald’s deplorable Birther campaign deployed a few months earlier. That devastating mockery of the reality TV host was wholly satisfying to watch (and just as skilled as Colbert’s professional takedown of Bush in 2006), but was it wise? Did Obama’s public humiliation of a vengeful narcissist set the ball in motion for Trump’s presidential campaign—a campaign less about the presidency and more about proving Obama and the laughing media elites wrong?

That’s the premise of The Choice 2016, Frontline’s superb documentary. The key portion:

With that in mind, here are three reader emails that Fallows forwarded me to post in his stead. (Accordingly I’ve changed them from second-person to third-person.) The first reader writes:

I’m a huge fan of Fallows, but I disagree with his latest note, pushing President Obama to denounce President-elect Trump. Fallows wrote, “What the hell does [Obama] have to lose?” I think the answer is clear.

As many commentators have noted, Donald Trump’s principal principle is to listen to people who flatter him and reject people who offend him. Barack Obama, it seems clear, has decided that his best influence on the next four years is to stay on Donald’s good side—to convince him, as Obama apparently did in their Oval Office meeting, that Obamacare needs reform, not repeal; and perhaps to convince Trump to maintain other positive aspects of the Obama legacy.

Obama attacking Trump at this point will cause Trump to attack Obama and the policies of the Obama administration. It would feel good for liberals (including me!), but the real-world consequences could be terrible. All of the attacks on Trump from mainstream media and politicians did not keep him from the presidency. Now that Trump will be president, Obama is trying to maintain a relationship and thereby some sway in Trump’s decision-making.

So what does Obama have to lose? His policies, his legacy, and his chance at influencing the next president.

This next reader is on the same page:

I have to disagree with the notion that Obama should do more and be more visible right now.

All notes on "Trump Nation" >

I asked in a previous note, “Has your mental or physical health been a factor in deciding whether to have kids?” A reader responds with a resounding “YES”:

I was raised by an extremely anxious mother who never had the self-awareness to realize her anxiety levels weren’t normal, so she never had the will to seek therapy or other self-care—beyond expecting everyone around her to help soothe her irrational fears. As an only child, it was very difficult to deal with her helicopter parenting and need for constant contact because “otherwise I worry.”

As an adult, I realize that I inherited her same level of anxiety—but I have spent a lifetime developing strategies and practices (with the help of therapy) to manage it in a healthy way and reduce the burden on my partner and others around me. Nevertheless, I am fairly certain, just based on how much I worry about our dogs, that having children would exacerbate my anxiety in ways I would probably not be able to control, and in a way that is likely to burden my children—just the way my mom burdened me.

Another reader, Liz, also feared that her mental health issues would burden a child:

I’m 48, and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 21, when I went through my first psychiatric hospitalization. The following years brought more hospitalizations and medications and electroconvulsive therapy (shock treatments). This all happened during a time when I knew I was supposed to be thinking about family and children.

All notes on "Having Kids" >
The Atlantic

Suffering a data breach is like discovering that someone rummaged through your bag when you weren’t looking. It’s a jarring invasion of privacy, whether the information stolen is as impersonal as a Social Security number or as intimate as years of emails, texts, and pics. For years, The Atlantic has been covering cyberattacks that target individuals, companies, and even the U.S. government—and the ways those intrusions affect personal, financial, and national security. We’ve compiled some of our best coverage in a new landing page, “The Atlantic Revisited: Navigating the End of Privacy,” and below are brief descriptions of those 18 pieces from our archives.

Everything Is Hackable ...

  • The U.S. presidential election captured the interest of leaders the world over—even inspiring some to try and influence the outcome. The U.S. Intelligence Community accused Russia of trying to manipulate the outcome of the election, but experts are divided on whether the digital interference is just a 21st-century version of politics as usual, or if it represents an unprecedented level of meddling in U.S. domestic affairs. (“What the DNC Hack Could Mean for Democracy,” Uri Friedman, August 2016)
  • For millions of people in the U.S., the internet went down for hours one Friday in October. The culprit: A botnet made up of poorly secured DVRs and webcams. Someone had commandeered hundreds of thousands of the internet-connected devices, turning them into pawns in a coordinated attack against a critical piece of the internet’s infrastructure. (“How a Bunch of Hacked DVR Machines Took Down Twitter and Reddit,” Robinson Meyer, October 2016)
  • When the Office of Personnel Management was hacked last year, more than 22 million people had their sensitive personal information—including Social Security numbers, addresses, and, in some cases, even fingerprints—stolen. When the victims got letters in the mail saying their information was taken, they had to reckon with the new risk of identity theft, and take action to protect themselves. (“Your Data Is Compromised. (Yes, Yours.) What Now?,” Kaveh Waddell, July 2015)
  • An online tool offered by the Internal Revenue Service allows taxpayers to easily check their tax history, but for a while, it didn’t do a good job of verifying users’ identities. Hackers used personal information gleaned from other data breaches to trick the tool into divulging people’s tax documents, which helped them file around $50 million in fraudulent tax returns. The breach was initially estimated to affect about 115,000 people, but after further investigations, the government realized that the victims numbered nearly 725,000. (“The IRS Hack Was Twice as Bad as We Thought,” Kaveh Waddell, February 2016)
  • Executives and employees at Sony Pictures woke up one day in 2014 to find their dirty laundry posted online—and indexed for easy searching—after a group calling itself the “Guardians of Peace” stole a trove of emails, salary information, and other sensitive data from the entertainment company. The FBI pointed fingers at North Korea, but security experts questioned whether it was possible to know exactly who was behind the cyberattack. (“We Still Don’t Know Who Hacked Sony,” Bruce Schneier, January 2015)
  • When Ashley Madison, a website that helps adults find extramarital affairs, was hacked, it was more than just mortifying for the millions of outed users. It was an introduction to “organizational doxing,” the practice of stealing enormous amounts of data from a company or government agency and publishing it online, heedless of the collateral damage it will cause. (“The Meanest Email You Ever Wrote, Searchable on the Internet,” Bruce Schneier, September 2015)
  • A hospital in Los Angeles switched to paper records and started turning patients away after its computer systems were infected with a virus that locked up vital data—and demanded a $3.6 million ransom to return it. (“A Hospital Paralyzed by Hackers,” Kaveh Waddell, February 2016)
  • Nude photos of female celebrities ricocheted across the internet after they were stolen from the celebs’ iCloud accounts and released online. But despite years of attempts to pass legislation that would slap special penalties on people distributing explicit images of people without their consent—a practice also known as “revenge porn”—only a few states actually have such laws on the books. (“Why Congress Won’t Help Jennifer Lawrence,” Lucia Graves, September 2014)
  • When Deb Fallows found her Gmail account acting funny one day, it wasn’t just a temporary bug: A hacker had gotten into her account and sent fake distress calls to all her closest email contacts, asking for money. In the following days, Deb and her husband, Jim, went on a hunt to regain control of the account, recover years of lost emails, and figure out just what had happened. (“Hacked!,” James Fallows, November 2011)
  • How long would it take a fake smart toaster, sitting alone in the massive sea of internet-connected devices, to get hacked? Andrew McGill dressed up a rented server to act like a web-connected toaster to see if any hackers would bite—and  watched as the next 12 hours brought more than 300 attempts to take over the fake toaster. (“The Inevitability of Being Hacked,” Andrew McGill, October 2016)
  • Use a wireless keyboard at work or at home? Security researchers have found that many low-end models don’t use industry-standard security practices, instead transmitting between keyboard and computer with weak encryption—or no encryption at all. With the right tools, a hacker can spy on every email, password, and credit-card number being typed on a vulnerable keyboard nearby. (“Hackers Can Spy on Wireless Keyboards From Hundreds of Feet Away,” Kaveh Waddell, July 2016)

Have you ever been hacked? Were you, for example, one of the 22 million people caught up in the OPM breach? Have you had your email account compromised like Deb’s? Have your photos or other sensitive files been stolen? We would like to hear from you. Please send us a note about the experience to hello@theatlantic.com and we will aim to post it here in Notes (anonymously, if you prefer).

… So, How Do We Defend Ourselves From the Hacker Onslaught? Here are several pieces that approach that question:

  • A team of 600 Homeland Security Department employees (and 400 contractors) works with private companies to secure infrastructure and public utilities around the country, from major-league ballparks to water plants to banks. They prepare for attacks that might be delivered by a suicide bomber driving a truck—or quietly over the internet. (“Meet the People Who Protect America’s Critical Infrastructure, Steven Brill, August 2016)
  • China’s cyber army is one of the top two or three online threats to the U.S., experts say. But the best way to contain the danger may be to work with, rather than isolate, China’s leaders. (“Cyber Warriors,” James Fallows, March 2010)
  • The two groups most dedicated to keeping the internet safe are sequestered on opposite coasts: the government’s suited and military-uniformed policy wonks in Washington, and hoodie-clad hackers up and down the West Coast. Getting them to work together is crucial, but it isn’t always easy. (“Suits and Hoodies: The Two Cybersecurity Cultures,” Justin Lynch, February 2015)
  • One afternoon in late October, teams of college-age hackers assembled in a room in Washington, D.C., and assailed a model water-treatment plant with cyberattacks, quickly bringing it to a screeching halt. Recruiters from Uber, Northrop Grumman, and the federal government flitted from table to table, eager to snap up young talent to help secure their own systems against attacks. (“Inside a Hacking Competition to Take Down a Water-Treatment Plant,” Kaveh Waddell, October 2016)
  • Skilled “white-hat” hackers—security researchers who use their computer skills to protect organizations from online threats—are always in short supply. But to keep them from being lured into illegal hacking, companies may have to be willing to pay out bigger salaries and “bounties.” (“When Ethical Hacking Can’t Compete,” Donna Lu, December 2015)
  • Apple’s standoff with the FBI over a locked smartphone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters showed off the quality of the iPhone’s security safeguards. Most phones on the market wouldn’t have stood up to the federal government’s attempts to hack them. (“Encryption Is a Luxury,” Kaveh Waddell, March 2016)
  • Trump does little to hide his disdain for journalists—or his desire to sue them when he disagrees with what they write. It’s more important than ever for reporters and activists to protect their data and communication from prying eyes, but these tips—which touch on encrypted messaging, managing passwords, and browsing the internet anonymously—are just as relevant for our average reader. (“How Can Journalists Protect Themselves During a Trump Administration?,” Kaveh Waddell, November 2016)

In that last piece, I sketched out some ways you can protect yourself and your data from the prying eyes of hackers:

Signal, a smartphone app, is the medium of choice for privacy-conscious communicators, and is probably the easiest way to call or text securely. Encrypting email using PGP is also an option, but it’s far more cumbersome.

It’s also important to make up complex passwords—and never to reuse a username and password combination for more than one site. Password managers like 1Password, LastPass, and Dashlane can create a different randomized password for every website, and remember them all so that you don’t have to.

Turning on two-factor authentication on every service that supports it—Google, Slack, Dropbox, Amazon, etc.—makes it much harder for hackers to get into your accounts, by requiring you to approve every login with a mobile device. And for those who need to browse the internet securely, a properly configured Tor browser allows users to poke around the web anonymously.

Do you have any additional tips for how to keep your data safe? Please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

All notes on "Hacked Stories" >

A new reader stumbles upon Notes:

Just saw your post on Lizz Wright … I actually do tour press for her, so it came up in a Google alert. Thanks for the love.  

Meanwhile, here is one of my favorite covers: Alana Davis doing Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”...

Sadly no cowbell, but a really enjoyable version nonetheless.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

All notes on "Cover Songs" >
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks on the phone with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at her office in Taipei, Taiwan, in this handout photo made available on December 3, 2016. Reuters

Joseph Gualtieri in Hong Kong—the same Atlantic reader we featured in our earlier note about Trump’s phone call with the Taiwanese president—pushes back on my interview with Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai:

I’ve just finished reading your engaging interview. I am now wondering why you didn’t feel the need to address or at least mark out some of Shen Dingli’s more outlandish claims.

For example, the comparison of Taiwan to Hawaii and Texas is patently ridiculous; both states voted to join the United States, were incorporated through a legal process, and, despite some grumbling, an overwhelming majority of their citizens acknowledge and accept that their states belong to the United States. I don’t think you can say the same about Taiwan, which has never—not for one day—been a part of the [People’s Republic of China] and whose people overwhelmingly choose not to become a part of China. Shen might have cited the expansionist impulses behind the U.S. acquisition of Texas and Hawaii, but then it might be pointed out that in the eyes of most people and contemporary legal understandings, this kind of behavior is no longer acceptable.

After letting his assertion that “Taiwan is a part of China” go unquestioned, you similarly leave unchallenged the assertion that Trump and America are causing all of the chaos (never mind China’s building artificial islands [in the South China Sea], [considering] unilaterally declaring an [Air Defense Identification Zone in the South China Sea], rejecting the findings of international tribunals, and on and on). You allow his outrageous erasure of all of the ambiguity inherent to the One-China Policy (and you allow him to treat it like an immutable fact rather than a political workaround). And you allow him to paint a neat little history of Taiwan that excludes thousands of years of aboriginal inhabitation, short-lived colonization projects by Spain and the Netherlands, centuries of disconnect from the authorities on Mainland China, 50 years of Japanese rule, and invasion and decades of subjugation by the violent [Kuomintang] dictatorship [after the Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek fled from mainland China to Taiwan and reconstituted the Republic of China on the island following Mao Zedong’s revolution in 1949].

My goal with the interview was to offer readers a sense of what Trump’s Taiwan call, along with his campaign and post-campaign rhetoric about China, look like from China and particularly among Chinese who spend their time thinking about how to manage the country’s high-stakes relationship with the United States. As an expert on Chinese foreign policy who can speak more openly than, say, the Chinese foreign minister can, Shen Dingli is well-positioned to provide this perspective. You can argue, as Joseph does, that the narrative he presents about Taiwan is ideological or misleading, but his nationalistic views are nevertheless widespread in China. Such views could shape the Chinese government’s response if Trump, as president, pursues changes to U.S. policy on Taiwan. Shen—like many people in China, I suspect—is also in the process of recalibrating his views of Trump after initially applauding his victory.

All notes on "China and Trump" >

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