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The far left

What do these people have in common?: Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange, Jill Stein, David Sirota, Michael Flynn, Vladimir Putin.

The answer, I would say, is that we don’t really know. That’s what is so disturbing. But first, let’s review who these people are.

Glenn Greenwald is an American lawyer and journalist (though I would say propagandist) who now lives in Brazil. Some years ago, when George Bush was president and Greenwald was writing for publications such as Salon, he made sense (at least to people with politics similar to mine). It gradually became clear, though, that Greenwald had another agenda — a disguised agenda — and it wasn’t at all clear what that agenda was. Reasonable publications stopped carrying his material, and Greenwald and a couple of other people started an online news site, The Intercept, to run Greenwald’s material and other “adversarial journalism.”

Julian Assange is the editor of Wikileaks. Like Greenwald, Assange did reasonable work on government secrecy back when Bush was president. But, like Greenwald, it subsequently became clear that Assange had another agenda — a disguised agenda — and it wasn’t at all clear what that agenda was. Assange is still holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. He is under investigation in the United States for his role in Russia’s attempt to undermine the 2016 election and elect Donald Trump.

Jill Stein, a member of the Green Party, ran for president in the U.S. in 2012 and 2016. In 2016, she got 1,457,216 votes. In December 2015, she was photographed in Moscow at the head table of a dinner, with Vladimir Putin. Michael Flynn, a notorious American Republican, also was at the table.

David Sirota is an American journalist — or should I say former journalist? — who recently went to work for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Before that, he had written, in The Atlantic, the Guardian, and other publications, hit pieces against other Democratic candidates for president, including and especially Beto O’Rourke. These publications have cut him off now, and, like Greenwald, no responsible publication will ever publish him again. Having mentioned Bernie Sanders, it might be good to remind ourselves that, though Sanders (a U.S. senator from Vermont) caucuses with the Democratic Party, he considers himself a democratic socialist. His party affiliation is not clear because, in Vermont, there is no party registration.

Michael Flynn is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general. He is a Republican. Briefly, he was national security adviser to Donald Trump. Two days after the 2016 election, in a meeting in the Oval Office, President Obama expressed to Donald Trump “profound concerns” about hiring Flynn. Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI about his interactions with the Russian ambassador. During a sentencing hearing last December with Judge Emmett G. Sullivan, Sullivan told Flynn that “arguably you sold your country out.” As I mentioned above, Flynn was photographed in Moscow with Vladimir Putin and Jill Stein.

Vladimir Putin, of course, is the president of Russia. His career was in the KGB. He is an oligarch’s oligarch who takes great pains to hide his wealth and how he came by it. But some estimates are as high as $200 billion, which might make him the richest person on earth.

Now let’s return to our question: What do these people have in common? Again, there is a great deal that we don’t know. But there are some things that we can say with high confidence. They all hate and have actively worked to damage the Democratic Party. With the exception of Sirota, they all have secretive or mysterious connections to Russia. They all have worked hard to influence American presidential elections, all of them by seeking to damage Democratic candidates, intentionally or unintentionally to the benefit of Republicans.

The mystery here is what far leftists such as Jill Stein have in common with far-right actors such as Michael Flynn. Why would a leftist like Julian Assange work with Russia to elect Donald Trump and damage the Democratic Party? Why has the leftist Glenn Greenwald, who seems to like Russia better than his own country, been so busy this week saying that the investigation of Russia’s influence on the 2016 election is overblown? Why are so many right-wingers including Michael Flynn and Donald Trump so entangled with Russia? What is David Sirota’s real agenda, and is he, like Greenwald, Assange, and Stein, out to damage the United States by screwing with its politics? What does Sirota have in mind for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and why would Sanders hire him?

Where the right wing is concerned, we know what their interest in Russia is: money, and the empowerment of oligarchies over democracies.

Where the far left is concerned, I can only speculate, because their agenda is disguised. My suspicion and working theory, though, is that theirs is a politics that demonizes the United States, that believes that reform is not possible, and that believes that the United States has too much power on the international stage. I strongly suspect that, as some die-hard supporters of Bernie Sanders have told me (they voted for Stein), they believe that the U.S. can’t be fixed without first tearing it apart. They scorn what they see as “incremental” reform. They saw Hillary Clinton as being as bad as, or worse than, Donald Trump.

Having tried to remain reasonably objective up to this point, here’s what I really think. These people on the far left are damned fools, and their agenda is dangerous. Part of the danger is that the activities of the far left (and that includes Bernie Sanders) are going to make it very difficult to explain to the American people during the next year that the Democratic Party is not about far-left socialism. As in 2016, that puts us at risk of seeing an election thrown to the right with the deliberate assistance of the far left. Could Donald Trump have won the 2016 election (if he won it — I have my doubts) without the assistance of anti-American players such as Julian Assange, Jill Stein, and Vladimir Putin? It could happen again, because the far left is getting back into action, doing again what they did in 2016 — promoting a divisive politics, and trying to damage the Democratic Party while apologizing for, and actually working with, Russia.

There really are people — including a few people I know — who believe that America can’t be fixed without tearing it apart first. I can’t imagine how they’ve convinced themselves that some kind of socialist utopia would emerge from the ashes of a failed American state. The opposite would happen. A corrupt, anti-democratic, Russia-like oligarchy would arise from the ashes of a failed American state. And that, of course, is what Russia and the meddling of oligarchs are trying to bring about, with the active help of some members of the Republican Party. Post-Trump, pro-oligarch anti-democratic Republicans are in control of the Republican Party.

I am an active member of the Democratic Party. I will try to summarize my politics as a Democrat, because I think I’m pretty typical. The word “socialist” is going to be used as a bludgeon word in the 2020 election. I do not identify as a socialist. I identify as a Democrat, though I have no problem with the term “democratic socialism” if the term is properly defined and properly used. I am a socialist to the very same degree that Republican voters who love their Social Security and Medicare are socialists. But unlike Republicans, I want to extend and improve the social safety net to make the lives and health care of working people more secure. I want to accomplish that not with deficit spending but with much higher taxes on the rich, especially on income that is produced by playing with capital rather than producing anything. I am intrigued by the idea of a wealth tax, to start reversing extreme inequality in wealth and income, which is a threat not only to the social fabric but also to democracy. I want an end to the corruption that allows the rich to avoid taxes.

I want a Green New Deal. I want immediate action on climate change, coordinated globally. I want a foreign policy based on diplomacy rather than vast military power. I want a foreign policy based on fairness and human welfare rather than oil and the profits of the rich. I want nuclear disarmament. I want religion out of government, and I would tax religion when it violates the contract of not meddling in government affairs. I want serious, rational regulation of corporations. I want serious, rational regulation of social media. I want a new, revised, re-thought version of a Fairness Doctrine that will stand in the way of Fox News acting as a privatized ministry of propaganda, so powerful that its pundits actually tell a foolish president what to say and what to do.

I want corporate money out of politics. I want a criminal justice system that is fair and merciful to the little people and that doesn’t ignore the criminality of the rich. I want a politics that does not scapegoat all the people that white people and their white religion hate. I want fair elections, with no one’s vote suppressed. I want an objective system of legislative districting and an end to political and racial gerrymandering. I want new infrastructure, but with less emphasis on roads and automobiles. I want greenways and highway underpasses for animal migrations. I want more public land, public parks, public access, and nature preserves, not less. I want humane treatment of wild animals and farm animals. I want a lower-carbon agriculture aimed at reducing the consumption of meat and other unhealthy commodities and that keeps dangerous chemicals out of the food chain. I want our oceans cleaned up.

I want affordable higher education at our public universities and some kind of amnesty on student debt, because our young people have been exploited to the point of enslavement. I want not just job training, but real education, education that brings back literature, languages, history, and music, and which doesn’t neglect science. I want the Democratic Party to figure out how to explain to people that no one likes abortion, but that Democrats don’t want to go back to a coat-hanger era in which we put women and doctors in prison. I want Democrats to be able to explain to Republicans that there’s a difference between a farmer’s shotgun and some damned fool’s arsenal of AK-47’s.

To say that we can’t afford these things is a Republican lie. It’s a nation of untaxed billionaires that we can’t afford. To say that having these things makes government too big is a Republican lie. Tell that to the Finns or Danes, the happiest people on earth. My list may seem long. But public policy already addresses all these things, but badly.

So, call me a Democrat, a democratic socialist, a leftist, a liberal … I’ll answer to all of those. You can even call me an incrementalist, if incremental improvements are all we can gain in our messed-up politics. But my politics and my hopes for America have nothing in common with anyone who thinks that you have to break America before you can fix America, or who thinks that our hope lies in Russia rather than in Washington.

Michael Flynn and Jill Stein with Vladimir Putin

Rethinking cookware: Back to the Iron Age

A vintage copper saucepan, circa 1970, that I recently bought on eBay. It was originally sold by Williams Sonoma and is stamped “Made in France.” It probably was made by Mauviel. I believe the French would call it a “sauteuse evasée,” or flared sauté pan.

Last month, I wrote about buying a Lodge cast-iron wok. I have diligently seasoned the wok, and after a month of use I find that it’s hard to make things stick. For example, the wok browns tofu perfectly. The tofu remains slippery and stick-free from the moment it hits the oil until I slide the tofu out of the wok a few minutes later. I am ashamed of having forgotten — if in fact I ever knew — that our grandparents had nonstick cookware. It was called cast iron.

The trick with cast iron is the seasoning. That is a scientific process. A blogger has described this process — and the science of it — here. In a nutshell, a thin layer of oil applied to the cast iron and then heated above the oil’s smoke point will turn the oil into a polymer. Not all oils work equally well. Flaxseed oil is said to be best because it is a “drying oil.” Once I understood that flaxseed is a drying oil, I realized that I was working with the same old-fashioned principle that I applied to the abbey’s floors and woodwork. I rubbed a thin layer of boiled linseed oil on the wood, then I let it dry. Boiled linseed oil is a drying oil. Then I applied more oil, and more again. The wood absorbs the oil, and the oil dries to a hard polymer finish. Over time, the color of the wood darkens into a beautiful, organic, natural-looking finish that (at least in my opinion) cannot be matched by modern finishes. It’s a floor finish that loves paste wax.

But back to the wok. Six times, the wok went into a 550-degree oven with a thin coating of flaxseed oil. Thereafter, if you take care of the wok properly, the seasoning will continue to get better.

Having learned this old-fashionedness with the wok, I gained a new respect for my two iron skillets and my iron Dutch oven. I re-seasoned them. I am coming around to the view (which I will test over time) that I will retire most of my other cookware and work mostly with three types of cookware hereafter:

1. Cast iron, when cooking with oil

2. Corning Visions glass cookware, when cooking with water

3. A tin-lined copper saucepan when I need the superior conductivity of copper

Though clear glass cookware is new (thanks to Corning), ceramics, a close cousin of glass, have been used for cooking for thousands of years. Glass is inert. Corning Visions glassware conducts heat better than you might think. You also can see through it. As for copper, its use for cookware also goes back for thousands of years, much longer than iron. Copper conducts heat far better than any other affordable metal (silver is slightly better).

No cooking surface is perfect. Among the considerations are: How well does it conduct heat? Do foods stick? Is it toxic? Is it easy to break? Since no cooking surface is perfect, it’s up to us to choose what works best for us, or for whatever we’re cooking. During the past fifty to seventy-five years, choosing cookware has been particularly confusing because there were new options such as Teflon, aluminum, and sandwiches of layered metals.

I had been intrigued with the idea of induction ranges. They heat quickly, and it’s said that they adjust up and down as fast as gas. To test induction cooking, I bought an 1800-watt induction hot plate. I have not been impressed. I haven’t found it to be significantly faster than or more adjustable than my modest glasstop range. I will not be trading in my glasstop range for an induction range. There are two reasons, really: I don’t think that induction is that much better; and I’d have to give up using glass and copper cookware including a copper kettle. The quickness of an induction range can easily be canceled out by the poor conductivity of a stainless steel pot.

Cast iron cookware seems to be making a comeback. In the U.S., Lodge now makes most of it. Vintage cast iron cookware now fetches handsome prices on eBay. Griswold cast iron cookware, which has not been made since the 1950s, is said to be the best. Griswold’s superiority, according to collectors, is that it was machine-polished after it was cast, so that the surface is smoother. Lodge, on the other hand, is not polished, probably because polishing it would double the cost. I’ve looked at a lot of Griswold cookware on eBay, but I have not bought any. That’s because the pitting and scraping of age and use seems to make the cooking surface much rougher than new Lodge ironware. And the surface of Lodge cookware gets smoother with proper use.

As for copper cookware, here’s a nerdy article on its benefits and history. The thing about copper cookware is that it must be lined, because too much copper can be toxic. Tin, which is inert, has been traditionally used for lining copper pots. These days, stainless steel is often used. For a number of reasons, I prefer tin, though the tin lining must be treated with respect. Copper pots are very valuable and hold their value. They can be re-tinned. Here’s a link to a company that does re-tinning. Good copper pots are heirloom items.

A good cooking pot becomes a kind of pet. And a really good cooking pot becomes an heirloom.


While Republicans are having a public orgy of gloating (which we will not forget, when payback time comes), the responsible media are crying foul. Here are a few examples:

In the Washington Post, Phillip Bump, under the headline What we still don’t know about the Mueller probe, lists several questions that must be answered. The most disturbing of these questions is: Why have the people around Trump constantly lied? What are they covering up?

“Why did so many people lie about what happened? A campaign adviser, Trump’s personal attorney, his national security adviser, his former campaign manager, his former deputy campaign manager — all admitted to misleading investigators.”

Slate has several pieces this morning:

Bill Barr’s Weasel Words: All the ways the attorney general is spinning the Mueller report to protect Trump

William Barr Did What Donald Trump Hired Him to Do

William Barr Can’t Exonerate Donald Trump

At the Atlantic, Barr’s Startling and Unseemly Haste.

At the New Republic:

Yes, Trump Obstructed Justice. And William Barr Is Helping Him Cover It Up

History Will Damn Donald Trump

My view remains unchanged: Not only will history damn Donald Trump, history also will damn the Republican Party. As difficult as it is for us, now that the Trump’s attorney general has joined the cover-up, we must wait for Congress to do the job.

We didn’t learn much yesterday, except for this: The corruption of the Republican Party is bottomless. And there is a lot of stuff that they desperately don’t want us to know.

2019 Garden: Here we go

The first garden chore of the year is to clear, and then to burn, last year’s dead weeds. That got done today.

The next garden chore of the year is the first tilling. That will get done tomorrow, ahead of a light rain that is due to start about 5 p.m.

After that, the next garden chore of the year will be to till again and to plant onions and cabbages. That will be done by Friday, ahead of a rainy spell that is now in the forecast.

Some people plant by the astrological calendar. Good luck to them. I plant with the weather. I want to get my onion sets and cabbage plants in just before the next rainy spell.

The chickens, having worked the garden all winter, will be allowed into the garden until planting begins. After that, the garden gate will be closed, and they’ll be banned to the woods and orchard (which is more than enough pasture for them). They love to pick through the garden, though, looking for worms and grubs. There are plenty of worms, and they’re welcome to the grubs.

A useless detail: My Apple watch tapped me six times today while I was hacking at blackberry briars with a hoe. It asked me if I had fallen. It worries too much. Its fall detector seems to be particularly sensitive to any kind of vigorous flailing of the arms.

All’s well with the white deer

The white deer came through this morning, accompanied by four or five other does. The abbey sits in a little valley, and I’m pretty sure that the white doe and her friends and family never venture across the ridges. She is well known now in this area and is frequently seen. The photo was taken from an upstairs window.

Eat more mushrooms

A stir-fry of Quorn, green pepper, mushrooms, and broccoil

Several articles have appeared recently about the benefits of eating mushrooms at least twice a week. Something in the mushrooms apparently wards off cognitive impairment in older people.

Here are two of the articles:

Science Daily: Eating mushrooms may reduce the risk of cognitive decline

New York Times: Mushrooms may reduce the risk of memory problems

Of course you can eat them raw, but I don’t know of any better way to cook mushrooms than to stir-fry them. I’m pretty sure that I can stir-fry mushrooms in a hot wok with less oil than a skillet would need. They’re browned on the outside but succulent on the inside.

These days, “baby bella” portabella mushrooms, as opposed to the white mushrooms, seem to be available just about everywhere, nice and fresh. The price is good, too.

It appears that the beneficial substance in mushrooms is ergothioneine, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

The Beto-Warren ticket

This morning, the New York Times reports that Beto O’Rourke’s campaign raised $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after he announced for president. That’s more than any other candidate, though Bernie Sanders, at $5.9 million, came close.

This adds considerable support to my belief that Beto will win the nomination. If that’s the case, then I think it’s also obvious who would be the perfect running mate: Elizabeth Warren.

Yes, it’s early. And yes, I’m ignoring my own advice about not making up our minds too soon and giving the candidates time to speak for themselves. It’s only partly for political reasons (or the $6.1 million) that I see Beto as the frontrunner. My main reason for seeing things this way is that, like it or not, media attention will make or break a candidate. Beto already is — and I believe he will remain — the media favorite.

Just look at how the media mangled the 2016 election. I’m not convinced that Donald Trump actually won that election. We need to hear what Robert Mueller and several House committees are going to tell us about the depth of the meddling. But one thing is for sure: The media could not take their eyes off Trump. The 2016 election was a train wreck of media malpractice and manipulated media, with the largest part of it working in Trump’s favor and against Hillary Clinton. No, this isn’t fair. Our media may be slightly chastened after helping to send a crime family and traitor to the White House 2016, but they’re still going to dispatch their reporters and cameras toward whatever they think will pull in the most eyeballs.

Much of the criticism of Beto’s campaign has been valid. But it’s also fixable. It’s true that his message has been vague. In 2018, he ran his campaign against the odious Ted Cruz without a pollster or a speech writer. With that $6.1 million, Beto can now afford a speech writer, and I expect he’ll get one quick.

The more progressive wing of the Democratic Party believes that Beto is too conservative. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that, when Beto ran against Cruz, the votes were all coming from Texas. For a national campaign, Beto will have to rethink things. He clearly hasn’t done that yet. The more progressive wing of the Democratic Party (that includes me) want a Green New Deal. We want reforms of the type that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have done such a good job of defining. I expect Beto to get on board with those things. If he doesn’t, then his frontrunner status is his to lose.

But I think it’s also important for Democrats of the left to acknowledge that many of the people who will be voting for Democrats in 2020 are not San Francisco liberals (like me). Those voters will feel more comfortable with a Democrat who is “too conservative.” That’s one of the reasons why Elizabeth Warren would be so important in balancing the ticket. She is strong where Beto is weak. Democrats must win the suburbs in 2020, and what the suburbs want is hardly radical — decency, predictability, stability, prosperity, and good lives for their children. They want to fix capitalism, not throw it over (which is what Warren wants, in spite of Republican bleating about “socialism”).

There is a saying in the business world: “Hire for character, train for skills.” There is a lot of truth in that. The right-wing demonization machine is already hard at work trying to demonize Beto for things he wrote on line when he was 15, and for a DWI case when he was 26. That stuff won’t stick. During the past few days, it also has come out that Beto was a member of a hacking group, “Cult of the Dead Cow.” Republicans will find that disturbing. But who gives a rat’s tail what Republicans think. Almost half of them are such withered souls that they think that Trump was sent by God. We Democrats should stop worrying about Trump 2020. Trump will be gone, brought down by the law. Fox News will have to find someone else.

To me, Beto-as-hacker-boy, out to save a sorry world from itself, says a lot about his character. It shows a revolutionary, transgressive spirit, rather than a dull, obedient, conservative one. He majored in English literature at Columbia, and that alone may show that Beto has an Irish heart to go with his Irish name. (The president of Ireland, Michael Higgins, is a poet.) At this very moment, I would guess, “establishment” Democrats and corporate money are knocking on Beto’s door, eager to co-opt him. I hope that Beto has the character to resist. Keep waving your arms, Beto.

Policy can be learned. But a fiery spirit, charisma, and telegenic star power cannot be learned. Those things are a rare gift. No other candidate has anything like it. Wonkdom will not win the next election. Fair or not, star power will. Like Obama, Beto’s spirit of reform is inspiring rather than angry. Only Beto has the qualities that will attract the media and the affection of the American people.

Update: Politico equates “balance” with sucking up to Republicans and snarking at Democrats. But money impresses them.

Boeing: It’s even worse than we think.

Wikipedia photo

I have long been fascinated by aviation. Though I never got a pilot’s license (I chickened out), I have about 45 hours of flying time as a student pilot. On my trip to Scotland last fall, I was eager for the opportunity to fly from New York to Edinburgh and back on Boeing’s newest plane — the Boeing 737 Max. A few weeks later, one of these planes crashed in Indonesia. Last week, another one crashed. Now I have a retroactive case of the heebie-jeebies.

At the time, I felt quite safe on the plane. It’s a beautiful, reasonably comfortable plane, though maybe a bit small for trans-Atlantic flying, for which wide-body planes are the way to go. But now I will refuse to ever fly again in a Boeing 737 Max, because I doubt that Boeing will ever find a way to make the plane truly safe.

Only the nerdier articles have been explicit about what the problem really is. All of the reporting on the two crashes tells us about the onboard software that is thought to be the cause of the crashes. But that leaves the impression that, when the software is revised and updated, the plane will be safe. But I’m not sure that that’s the case, because the true flaw in the Boeing 737 Max is that the plane is inherently unstable because the new engines, which are bigger and heavier, don’t fit the old 737 airframe. The plane is inherently inclined to go nose up and stall, especially when making sharp turns at low speed (which you’ve got to do — at low altitude — getting in and out of airports). There is no way to fix that other than starting from scratch and engineering a whole new plane.

The best article I’ve seen on this problem is at Slate: Where Did Boeing Go Wrong?: How a bad business decision may have made the 737 max vulnerable to crashes.

The New York Times also did a nerdy piece: After a Lion Air 737 Max Crashed in October, Questions About the Plane Arose.

There are two serious problems here. The first serious problem is that Boeing, in trying to save money, used an engineering kludge to keep its 737 model in the air when it should have started from scratch with a new design, as its European competitor Airbus did. The second serious problem is that, in the United States, Boeing more or less regulates itself. This is because the Bush administration, in 2005, changed the rules to serve the industry rather than the public. Republicans actually believe in things like that. James E. Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, writes about this in today’s New York Times: The 737 Max Is Grounded, No Thanks to the F.A.A.: Federal aviation regulators have allowed the airline industry to have too much power.

This is yet another reason why it is essential that we throw the Republican Party out of Washington, for good. Whether it’s education, energy, communications technology, pharmaceuticals, or the environment, Republican notions about deregulation are handing the powers of government over to the greedy few, the public interest be damned.

On top of its engineering kludge, Boeing (as well as the so-called regulators) screwed up again by deciding that pilots didn’t even need to know about the instability, the kludge, and the new software system that is supposed to compensate for the kludge. Engineers and pilots would never go along with anything that appallingly stupid. But the money people would.

Hereafter, when I fly, I won’t buy tickets without being reasonably confident that the plane is either an Airbus (because Europeans still believe in regulation in the public interest), or an older American plane such as the Boeing 747, which was designed back in the days when government did its job and engineers were allowed to do theirs.

Let’s also hope that this fiasco costs Boeing billions of dollars and ends the careers of some executives. Maybe then they’ll remember that cutting corners in something as potentially dangerous as an airliner does not save money in the long run. If I were an airline that bought these planes, I’d sue Boeing’s socks off.

In the long run, good regulation saves lives and property. What Republicans refuse to learn: In the long run, good regulation probably saves money as well.

Why does this feel familiar?

One of the creepiest Zuckerberg photos of all time, which he himself cluelessly posted on Facebook

The sound of derisive laughter from the entire civilized world almost drowned out the din of the Washington circus. Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook will “pivot to privacy.” Yes, and pigs will pivot to flying.

We veterans of the Apple-Microsoft wars, which went on for years, have been there before. Apple is still in the game, but Facebook is the new Microsoft. Facebook’s evil-empire strategy really is the same as Microsoft’s. The strategy is not about giving people what they want and treating customers with respect. Rather, it’s about domination and control, trapping one’s customers rather than delighting them.

As Slate and other publications have pointed out, what Zuckerberg’s “pivot to privacy” is really about is domination. Apple owns that high ground at present, with its smooth-as-silk iMessage ecosystem. And as Consumer Reports points out, encrypted messaging is already here and has been for a long time. Apple’s iMessage has had encryption all along. And even old-fashioned SMS phone-to-phone texting is secure, as long as the cellular carriers keep their promises not to snoop.

I sometimes wonder if Apple’s messaging system didn’t lead — or at least feed — the trend away from actually talking on our phones versus using our phones for texting. Millennials, and the coasts, have led the way. According to Forbes, some companies are eliminating voice mail, because so many employees don’t want it and don’t use it.

I am right on the edge of changing the answer message on both my phone lines to say that I never answer the phone, but that if it’s really important and you leave a message, I might call you back someday. More than half the time when my phone rings, it’s a spam call. The rest of the time it’s somebody that I don’t want to talk to, because my friends (as well as most of my political associates) text me or email me.

So Zuckerberg has accurately noticed that texting is now the future and that people are disgusted with Facebook (and with social media in general). It took about 10 years for people to realize that social media, despite its early thrill, would inevitably rot because of the drag and corruption exerted by the lowest common denominator. There is even a precedent for this rot, though latecomers to the Internet would not be aware of it. It was called Usenet. Usenet started around 1979. All the early Internet computers had it. During the 1980s, Usenet was a marvel of elite communication. All the universities had it. But after Usenet reached a certain size, it became useless because of the spam, the trolls, too many people, and those who tried to bilk it for promotion and advertising. This is now happening to Facebook. Consequently Zuckerberg is desperate for new terrain to dominate and control.

I predict that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, like Microsoft and Bill Gates before him, will fail. That’s because Facebook will continue to build traps. Apple will compete by building better and better stuff.

Improvising Asian sauces

That’s miso broth in the cup, and fermented black beans in the jar.

I have encountered two big challenges in trying to improve my competence with Chinese cuisine: wok cooking and the sauces.

Recipes for Chinese dishes may call for one or more of an array of Chinese sauces that some of us have never even heard of. It’s then tempting just to give up on Asian cuisine and not even try a recipe, because of the sauce mystery. For example, here is a list of sauces gleaned from Wikipedia: Douban sauce, hoisin sauce, mala sauce, mee pok sauce, oyster sauce, peach sauce, plum sauce, soy sauce, and shacha sauce.

Part of what’s sophisticated about Chinese cooking, though, is what I call the sense of sauce. A sense of sauce is one of the things that makes French (and Irish) cooking so good. Of course, the Irish also have Kerry butter.

With Chinese sauces, I find that some are essential and must be store bought (soy sauce, for example). But many can be made at home. If you lack an ingredient, just improvise. You probably already have what you need to make hoisin sauce. Oyster sauce can be improvised, even a vegan version.

I improvise shamelessly. I’m not ashamed to use ingredients that are traditionally Japanese, or even African, in Chinese food. Pepper paste, for example, is pretty much pepper paste. That which isn’t entirely authentic can at least be good. It’s all about umami. All sorts of things that you already have in your kitchen are useful for improvisation: blackstrap molasses, many types of vinegar, raisins (whizzed in a food processor), and any type of pepper sauce (I use harissa sauce). One of my inauthentic secret weapons is Better Than Bouillon, which will add a lot of oomph and color to a sauce that calls for water, allowing you to reduce the amount of soy sauce.

With black bean sauce, there is no improvisation. You’ve got to have the real thing. The black beans are not the same as what we call black beans here. They’re actually a type of soybean. They’re fermented, and it’s the fermentation that gives the beans their sassy taste. I couldn’t find fermented black beans even at Whole Foods, but Amazon has them.

So if a Chinese recipe calls for a sauce, and you don’t have it, Google for a recipe. Then improvise. As for wok cooking, it’s like breadmaking and getting to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.

The tofu and vegetables here ended up in a black bean sauce.