Monday, July 11, 2016

Apple #733: Zika Bites

There's been so much going on in the news lately -- a lot of it distressing.  I've been trying to come up with a way to respond to that in the context of the Daily Apple, and I have obviously failed.  I'm not sure how I can give some sort of positive message in response to all these people being shot for various reasons, without sounding all Polyanna-ish, and without saying something you haven't already seen 9,000 times elsewhere.  Just know that your Apple Lady is cogitating on all these events and looking for some way to be helpful.

In the meantime, I know one thing I can do that is useful, and that is to find out about Zika mosquito bites.  (I am cringing even as I type this, knowing that people are dying from horrific gunshot wounds and here I am talking about mosquito bites.  But it's all I've got at the moment, and I have to remind myself that it is more important to contribute something than to do nothing.)

So, my question is, when you've been bitten by a mosquito, can you tell if you've gotten a Zika bite?

The Aedes aegypti is the primary vector -- thing that transmits -- the Zika virus.  Only the females sting, so it seems that we're safe from over half the total population of mosquitoes. The trouble is, the Aedes aegypti are extremely common in all sorts of places around the world.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons via The Verge)

  • No.  Bites from a mosquito infected with the Zika virus look and act the same as bites from any other mosquito.
  • You might suspect you've got the Zika if you've got a mosquito bite and you also have
    • a low fever, less than 102 degrees
    • itchy pink rash
    • bloodshot eyes resembling pink eye
    • sensitivity to light
    • headaches
    • joint pains 

This is what the rash from Zika looks like.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

  • But those symptoms can seem like something else, or there may be only a few present, or you may have been bitten by a Zika mosquito and you could have no symptoms of the virus at all.  In fact, 4 of 5 people who've been bitten by a Zika mosquito do not show any symptoms.
  • The only way to know for sure if you've gotten a Zika bite is to have a blood or urine sample tested within two weeks.  But if you have no symptoms, you have no reason to think you'd need a test done, so you may never know if you've gotten a Zika bite.


  • You may be thinking, if all the thing does to me is make me feel like I have the flu for a week or so, or maybe I feel nothing at all, then what's the big deal?  Who cares whether I get the Zika or not?
  • Because fetuses as young as 19 weeks old whose mothers become infected with the Zika can suffer a very rare type of brain damage that is so severe, their brains stop growing and so do their skulls.  Not only are they born with very small heads, but often the nerves that connect with the eyes and ears do not work properly, they may experience frequent or constant seizures, and they may be unable to move their arms and legs properly.
  • This condition is called microcephaly (very small head). There is no cure. 
  • If a pregnant woman gets the Zika, how likely is it that her unborn child will get the microcephaly?  Experts aren't sure.  Right now, their guesses are anywhere from 1 to 5 percent of pregnancies with Zika resulting in microcephaly. 

This is Sophia. She is 2 weeks old and she has microcephaly. She's having a nap before her physical therapy session at a hospital in Brazil.
(Photo by Felipe Dana from the AP, sourced from Stat)

  • Sometimes the babies of Zika-infected mothers are born with other types of brain defects including Guillain-Barre syndrome. In this lovely scenario, a baby's immune system will attack its nerves that control muscle movement, pain, temperature, and touch. Results can range from persistent tingling to loss of movement to paralysis and difficulty breathing.  It is possible to recover from this syndrome, but it is not fun and for babies it can be very dangerous.
  • If you're a man, you should care because it's possible you could transmit the virus sexually.  More often, the virus is transmitted by mosquito bites, but somewhere around 10% of cases have been transmitted through sexual contact.  Vaginal and anal sex are more likely sources of transmission than oral, but transmission by oral sex is still possible.
  • There is no vaccine for the virus, no way to stop its activity once its infected someone.  If you've got the Zika, the only thing to do is let it run its course.
  • The good news is that if a woman has had the Zika and recovered, and the virus has left her bloodstream, and then she gets pregnant, the baby will not be affected.  She will have developed an immunity to the virus.


  • Even though it is beneficial to be immune to the Zika virus, researchers and medical professionals certainly do not want people going around trying to infect themselves so they become immune.  There have been too few cases for researchers to be certain you might not be exposing yourself to some as-yet-unknown risk. Making yourself sick on purpose is just asking for trouble.
  • The best way to protect yourself against the Zika is to
    • try to avoid getting it in the first place
    • try to avoid passing it on if you've got it
  • Avoiding getting the Zika means
    • Controlling mosquito populations outside your house.
    • Don't give them a place to breed. Since mosquitoes lay eggs in or near shallow water, make sure you don't have places where standing water can develop and be accessible to mosquitoes.  This means
      • Get rid of or cover things like birdbaths, flowerpots, old buckets or trash cans, etc.
      • Tightly cover water barrels
      • If a container cannot have a lid, cover it with wire mesh with holes smaller than a mosquito. 

This is just the sort of environment mosquitoes love. Standing water, a perfect place to lay their eggs.
(Photo by Sam Hames on Flickr)

    • They also tend to hang out in dark, humid places. Spray outdoor insect spray in likely areas, such as under patio furniture, under a deck, behind the garage, etc. 
    • Controlling mosquito activity inside your home
    • Install or repair screens on windows
    • Use air conditioning if possible
    • Drape a mosquito net over your bed 
    • Protecting your person from mosquito bites
    • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
    • The above ingredients are listed in order of effectiveness (DEET is the most effective).   
    • * = don't use on children younger than 3 years old
    • Don't use insect repellent at all on babies younger than 2 months old. For them, make sure their clothing covers all exposed skin and keep their cribs and strollers covered with mosquito netting.
  • Avoiding transmitting the Zika means
    • For 3 weeks after having been in an area where the Zika virus has been identified,
    • Practicing safe sex by using condoms.
    • Or don't have sex at all. 
    • Following the steps listed above to control mosquitoes and to try to keep from being bitten and thus infecting a mosquito who could pass the virus on to someone else.
  • Where have Zika cases been identified?
    • This information changes frequently.  As of this writing, areas range from Mexico and Central and South America, to Egypt and several countries in Africa, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia, and several countries in Southeast Asia.
    • It has recently also been identified in most states in the US.  Utah is the first state to have seen a fatality from Zika.



  • The Zika virus has been known to exist since the 1940s when it was first isolated from a rhesus monkey in the Zika Forest in Uganda -- hence the name. 
    • (Originally it was spelled Ziika. The word means "overgrown.")
  • The virus was first identified in a human in the 1950s.
  • It is in the same family of viruses as dengue fever and West Nile and some 60 or so other viruses.
  • Incidence was restricted mainly to Africa and tropical parts of Asia.  But in recent years, the virus has spread rapidly.
  • Reasons for the virus's rapid transmission may include
    • increased global travel
    • urbanization (more people moving into mosquito-rich areas)
    • climate change (more areas becoming warmer and friendlier to mosquitoes)
  • It seems that the number of microcephaly cases have risen because the number of Zika cases have risen to a correspondingly increased extent. 

(Image from the New England Journal of Medicine, sourced from Vox)

As the Wesley twins said, much to their own surprise, "Safety first."

Or as one infectious disease specialist who's been studying the virus said, "It's not a verbal exercise. It's people's lives. Babies' lives and welfare are at stake."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika Virus -- a multitude of resources here
The New York Times, Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus, June 24, 2016
Alana Romain, Romper, Does a Zika Mosquito Bite Look Different than Normal Mosquito Bites? [No] March 16, 2016
PBS Newshour, How many Zika-infected infants will develop microcephaly and other FAQs, May 20, 2016
World Health Organization (WHO), The history of Zika virus
The Verge, Climate change and urbanization are spurring outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, February 10, 2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

Apple #732: Title IX History and Overview

I love Title IX.  Thanks to this law, there was a girls' softball team at my high school for which I could play.  We weren't very good because our school didn't put much money into softball as compared to, say, football or swimming, so our coaches were pretty much deer-in-the-headlights and so we sucked.  But at least I got to play.  Prior to Title IX, there wouldn't have been any such team.

Photo of a rally in support of Title IX held in 1979.  For a long time, the only context in which people talked about Title IX was women's sports. But it has affected way more than just athletics.
(Photo sourced from Women's Sports Foundation)

Title IX has emerged in the news over the past few years as the basis from which groups of college women are demanding that their schools get better at handling allegations of sexual assault on campus.  I say, more power to 'em, literally. When I was an undergrad, the prevailing attitude was, hey, you put a bunch of late-teens, early-twenties kids together and give them alcohol, of course women are going to get raped. What are you gonna do?  That attitude, in my opinion, is a reprehensible abdication of responsibility, and it has got to change.  Title IXers, for working to change this culture to make college campuses safer for everyone, I applaud you.

More recently still, Title IX is the policy behind which various governmental institutions are requiring that public bathrooms accommodate transgender people.  There's been a lot of outcry against this, and as far as I can tell, the primary argument is that pedophiles and perverts will use this license to wreak havoc on our innocent ones when they are perhaps most vulnerable and defenseless.   To this I say, if the problem is the pedophiles and the perverts, maybe we should be doing something about them, as opposed to discriminating against the transgender among us?

In short, there have been a lot of references to and invocations of Title IX in a variety of contexts.  Hearing it so often has made me wonder, Title 9 of what?  What's Title 8?  Where did this thing come from, and whom should I thank for making it a rule in this country that people have to abide by?

  • The person to thank, apparently, is Richard M. Nixon.
  • Title IX is one part of Public Law 92-318, which was signed into law by President Nixon on June 23, 1972.

Richard Nixon, signing something into law
(Photo sourced from Pinterest, which is not so reliable at providing provenance)

  • Another person to thank is Patsy Mink. She was Japanese-American, and a Congressional Representative from Hawaii, and she helped draft the language that would become Title IX, and she pushed for its passage.

At center: Patsy Mink, first Asian American and woman of color to serve in the US Congress, was a key force in the passage of what we now call Title IX.
(Photo sourced from the Women's Sports Foundation)

  • The law is broken up into parts-- well, Titles, then Parts, then Sections.  So if you wanted to refer to some major part of the bill, you might refer to it by the Title under which it is organized. 
  • The general purpose of the law was to amend various existing laws having to do with education, from elementary schools all the way through higher education, and including vocational education.  The goal was to expand opportunities to education to people of all backgrounds across the country.
  • More specifically, Public Law 92-318 set aside hundreds of millions of dollars -- literally -- in the form of grants or loans that could be applied for by all sorts of people.  In many cases provisions for these grants were already in place but this law expanded the range of people who could apply, or re-upped the funding, or increased the amount of funding.  

 TITLES I through VII

  • Most of the titles within the law dealt with this funding in support of new or increased educational opportunities.
  • Grants or loans were funded or expanded upon for all sorts of educational purposes, including
    • nurses who wanted to go to college
    • veterans of Vietnam (the law says "Indochina") and Korea who wanted to go to college
    • students in vocational education schools
    • people who wanted to study the causes of environmental pollution
    • training for people who want to become librarians, or resources to be purchased by libraries
    • fellowships and internships for people who want to teach at the higher education level
    • students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who want to go to college
    • tutors of educationally disadvantaged children
    • training of teachers, teachers' aides, and teachers of migrant children
    • schools that serve Native American (the law says "American Indian") children, particularly those with special education needs, and also schools that provide education to adult Native Americans 
    • the study and teaching of the ethnic heritages of all sorts of ethnic groups in the country, along with bilingual assistance where appropriate
    • the development of educational TV programs for children (Sesame Street started in 1969, but this funding certainly would have supported its continuation)
    • people who want to go to school to pursue a career in public service 
    • work-study and community service programs
    • undergraduates who want to study a foreign language or travel to a foreign country for educational purposes
    • new or financially struggling undergraduate or community colleges that are trying to improve or expand their teaching staff
    • the construction of new undergraduate, community, and technical colleges 
    • the construction or rebuilding of schools in major disaster areas 
  • It also established the Student Loan Marketing Association, a private corporation funded with an initial $5M in government start-up money, that would serve as the marketplace for student loans insured by the government. This made loans to would-be college students much easier to come by because before this Association -- what we now call Sallie Mae, and what many people curse up and down and left and right -- it was really difficult to get a loan to pay for college because banks saw it as a bad risk. 
  • It encouraged the reform of postsecondary education so the schools would be run in a more cost-effective manner, the retention of more members of faculty, and expansion into new areas of study such as communications.
  • It directed the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to conduct a full and complete investigation of youth camps around the country to determine to what extent any injuries that happen to children there are preventable, and how could local laws be modified to improve safety. (Investigations of sexual abuse were not spelled out but in retrospect, one wishes it had been.)
  • So the law covered a boatload of expansions aimed at improving educational opportunities all over the place. 

TITLE VIII - No Money for Busing (almost there)

  • Title VIII seems out of keeping with the nature of the rest of the law.  This title specifically and categorically states that no funding whatsoever could be used to pay for busing students to another district in support of desegregation.  
    • It's pretty remarkable how the language of the law in this title changes to No all over the place, where before it had been a lot of "shall".

The debate about whether children should be bused to different schools to counteract segregation was hotly contested across the country. Here is one protest against forced busing in Boston.  Looks familiar, doesn't it?
(Photo sourced from U.S. History in Context)

  • We don't normally think of Nixon as a champion of the rights of the disadvantaged, but he was royally ticked off about this part of the law.  When he signed the bill into law, he didn't talk about all the great things the law was doing; instead, he listed all the stuff he'd asked Congress to do but they hadn't.  He said, 
  • In the amendments dealing with the busing of public school children, however, this measure is most obviously deficient. Had these disappointing measures alone come to this office--detached from the higher education reforms--they would have been the subject of an immediate veto.  
  • We asked the Congress to draw up new uniform national desegregation standards for all school districts--South, North, East, and West. The Congress determined to allow the existing inequities and injustices to remain.
  • We asked the Congress to provide uniform guidance to Federal judges so that court-ordered busing to integrate public school systems would be used only as a last--never a first--resort. The Congress apparently declines to provide such guidance. 
  • He went on like this, with more "We asked the Congress"es followed by statements saying, They didn't do it.  He finished his remarks with this:
  • Confronted with one of the burning social issues of the past decade, and an unequivocal call for action from the vast majority of the American people, the 92d Congress has apparently determined that the better part of valor is to dump the matter into the lap of the 93d. Not in the course of this Administration has there been a more manifest Congressional retreat from an urgent call for responsibility.
  • End of remarks. He might as well have done a mic drop.

TITLE IX - Here we are

  • In the midst of all this stuff about what shall be funded and how much should this program get and how shall it be administered is the part you've all been waiting for, "TITLE IX -- Prohibition of Sex Discrimination," and it begins
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
  • That's it.
  • Among page after page of language about how much money should go to this group and that group, and how it should be awarded, and how it should be insured, and what administrative bodies should be created to carry out this and that provision -- then appears this one sentence that may have changed more lives for more generations than all the rest of it put together.
  • There are some exceptions (schools with a religious affiliation, schools with longstanding single-sex admissions) and there have been some amendments that add a few more exceptions (fraternities and sororities, father-son or mother-daughter activities).
  • There's also a bit that says the same thing about the blind -- no discrimination by schools that receive federal money. Why and how this provision got put under a provision having to do with sex discrimination, I cannot explain.
  • But out of that one sentence, here are just some of the things that have come about:
  • Athletics -- girls in high school varsity athletics
      • 1971: 295,000
      • 2001: 2.8 million, or 41.5% of all varsity athletes
  • Athletics -- women in college athletics
      • 1966: 16,000
      • 2001: 150,000, or 43% of all college athletes
  • Academics -- women earning law degrees
      • 1972: 7% women
      • 1997: 44% women
  • Academics -- women earning medical degrees
      • 1972: 9% women
      • 1997: 41% women
  • Academics -- pregnant girls and women
      • 1972: usually expelled from school
      • post-Title IX: schools are not allowed to expel pregnant girls and women, and if they do provide separate classes for expecting mothers, participation must be voluntary and the programs must provide comparable education
  • Academics -- programs of study
      • 1972: girls encouraged to become wives, mothers, secretaries, nurses, or teachers, while boys were encouraged to study math and science and "harder" subjects
      • post-Title IX: significant gender disparity still exists, but the number of girls taking upper-level math and science classes is on the rise, and schools are launching concerted efforts to attract girls and women to STEM courses and programs of study.
  • Academics -- standardized testing
      • 1972: girls consistently scored lower than boys
      • post-Title IX: gender disparity still exists, but if a standardized test results in consistently lower scores for members of one sex, it can be challenged as unlawful.
  • Sexual harassment in schools
      • 1972: for those women who did go to college, if they were harassed (or perhaps I should say when they were harassed) they could expect little or no redress from the authorities at their school
      • post-Title IX: the Supreme Court ruled that schools and colleges are required to prevent and respond to harassment against girls and women, regardless of whether that objectionable behavior is done by peers, teachers, or administrators. It is also under this aegis that women are seeking to compel colleges and universities to curtail and punish campus rape.
  • Also springing from Title IX is the debate about which bathrooms transgender people should be allowed to use. 
      • (For one discussion of some of the complexities of this issue, see Jeannie Suk's opinion piece from The New Yorker; there are some elements that I for one had not considered. I do think it is worth underscoring this comment: "The common denominator in all of these scenarios is fear of attacks and harassment carried out by males—not fear of transgender people.")
      • It is too early to say how this debate will be resolved, but I think the fact that we are having this debate at all is a hopeful sign.
  • Girls and women still face gender disparity in all sorts of areas -- in the classroom, in hiring, in compensation, in what men say to women online or in person, in how politicians respond to their questions, and on and on.  
  • But we have made great progress thanks to Title IX.  Without Title IX, I probably wouldn't have an undergraduate and two graduate degrees. I might have had just as much curiosity, but not much of a venue where I could exercise it. I probably wouldn't be typing this right now.  Your Apple Lady probably would not exist.
  • And thanks to Title IX, we can continue to make more progress, to chip away at the institutional norms that bolster sexism and allow it to persist not just in education but throughout the entire lives of girls and women.
  • Thanks, Richard Nixon and Patsy Mink.

US Department of Education, Title IX and Sex Discrimination
The US Department of Justice, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
Cornell Legal Information Institute, 20 US Code § 1681 - Sex
US GPO, Public Law 92-318 as enacted June 23, 1972
UC Santa Barbara, The American Presidency Project, Richard Nixon - Statement on Signing the Education Amendments of 1972, June 23, 1972
Title IX Info, History of Title IX
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, The Impact of Title IX
Athletic, Bridging the Gender Gap: The Positive Effects of Title IX
Title IX Info, Ten Key Areas of Title IX
Jeannie Suk, The Transgender Bathroom Debate and the Looming Title IX Crisis, The New Yorker, May 24, 2016

Monday, April 25, 2016

Apple #731: Prince and His Entourage

Like so many people, I've been rather stunned by the news of Prince's untimely death. I was never a huge fan, but the man had some serious songwriting skills, and he seemed about to embark on a new realm of creativity, and his music and style and persona were a huge part of the cultural landscape in my formative years.  People who are so famous, whose work and image and music and everything else are everywhere, you forget that they can do something so human as to die. It's kind of a shock.

(Photo from this Finnish news page)

Like so many people, I am remembering personal experiences when this man's music was the soundtrack. Dancing to "Purple Rain" with a crush-object who was on the track team. Recording "When Doves Cry" off the radio onto my tape recorder in my bedroom and trying to match his falsetto "Ooh-hoo"s and failing completely. A girl on my softball team listening to "Darling Nikki" on her headphones as we rode the van to an away game and cracking up and passing the headphones around because of how dirty the lyrics were. But my most vivid and complete Prince-related memory does not even involve him, but someone who impersonated him.

The real Prince and his band in 1982, from 1999
(Photo sourced from The Left Call)

My freshman year, our high school had a cover-band dance. You could get your friends together, dress up like some famous band, and then at the dance, pretend to be them and lip sync to a recording. One bunch of guys wore taped-up trash bags and they were Devo. A few stoner dudes were a rather disorganized Van Halen. A gaggle of popular girls was The Go-Gos. It was funny to see this person or that person you knew from your math class or wherever, all dressed up and acting the part, but kind of missing the mark and still obviously them.

But then the lights went out in the gym entirely, except for spotlights playing around the door, as if frantically searching for who might enter next.  A buzz of excitement swept through the crowd as everyone speculated about who it might be.  A hum of music picked up over the loudspeaker, and you could feel it thrumming through your body, and the anticipation built. The doors opened, and the spotlights picked out a crew of people, it was hard to make out who they were, there was lace and the flash of necklaces, there was a guy wearing scrubs -- was that David H from my Latin class? -- and he was holding out his hands to keep the crowd from pressing too close.  Excited murmurs went through the crowd. "It's Prince, that's Prince. I can't believe it, it's Prince."

Among the entourage was this skinny dark-haired guy wearing an improbable get-up of a long black shiny coat, white gloves, his hair in some kind of curly pompadour, and a black satin mask over his eyes. It wasn't really Prince, was it?  It sure as hell looked like him.  His crew were leading him to the stage, and it made no sense at all that he was masked and couldn't see a thing, but everyone was going NUTS.  People were screaming and losing their minds and this guy hadn't even reached the stage yet.  But when he did, wearing tight black pants and a white shirt with a huge collar unbuttoned to his navel, people went INSANE. His posse in that motley collection of lace, necklaces, underwear, and scrubs took up their posts at the keyboards and guitars, and they started to play. "Let's Go Crazy," I think it was, and that was exactly what everybody did.

Part of the real Prince's entourage/performance group always included several women who were either musicians, back-up singers, or dancers, or a combination thereof. Often they wore lacy or super-revealing or skin-tight outfits. Here they are performing in Syracuse in 1985.
(Photo from The Dawn Experience)

The guy at the center of all this was not, in fact, Prince.  It was Fran Fazzina, another guy from my Latin class who was of indeterminate race.  In my blindingly white high school, being anything other than white meant you were on the outside looking in.  He wasn't a stand-out in my Latin class in any way.  He didn't say much, didn't do especially well or poorly on our weekly tests, just showed up, did what he had to do, and left.

But after he was Prince, his world changed.  People high-fived him in the hall, they wanted to talk to him, they wanted to be around him.  I talked to him in Latin class and discovered he had a whiplash sense of humor lurking under there, and I couldn't keep up with his ironic wit.  I developed a crush on him.  I still remember the scent of his cologne.  He got invited to parties. There were rumors about parties at his house. People said his house, which was a two-story colonial, had an elevator going up the middle.

Google Fran's name now and what comes up is a poker player living in Los Angeles.  I have no idea if he's the same guy or not.  Interestingly, there are no photos of him.  Just as real-life Prince was very protective of his privacy, real-life Fran seems to be that way too.

But this guy only PRETENDING to be Prince got that kind of reaction.  Imagine what it must have been like for the actual, real and true Prince.

One of the best tributes I've read is from Paul Westerberg, of Replacements fame, whose career grew up alongside Prince's in Minneapolis. When a guy whose talent you admire says of a fellow musician the first time he saw him perform,

I was next to another musician, a couple other guys that were up-and-comers and that thought they were hot shit, and we were watching Prince. The guy turned to me and said, "I'm fucking embarrassed to be alive." And that's how I felt. He was so good. It was like, "What are we doing? This guy is, like, on a different planet than we are." It was showmanship, it was rock & roll, it was fun, it was great. (from Rolling Stone)
I've spent more time with Bob Dylan, and I've got to say that I was more in awe of Prince. (from Rolling Stone)

you know he was the real thing.

People were in awe of his talent, of his presence, of him.  They wanted to be around him, to get close to him and whatever magic he had.

I know that all celebrities have "people" but that seemed to be especially the case with Prince. Pretty much every news article about him mentions his "entourage."  "His people told TMZ he was battling the flu." "Prince's entourage will be questioned in investigation of his death." "In his final years his entourage was smaller than it had been at the height of his stardom. He had a couple of assistants, a manager and, of course, bodyguards. There wasn't a huge entourage of friends hanging around."

I think what made Fran-as-Prince's performance so successful was the presence of that entourage. When he was surrounded by a group of people (by the way, that's what entourage means, etymologically speaking, "surrounded by"), everyone wondered, who is that guy, that he either needs that many people to protect him, or that so many people just want to be around him?

I was going to do a whole thing about entourages, about other famous people and their entourages (Oprah Winfrey, Frank Sinatra, President Obama, Jesus), but I don't want to wander that far from the main subject, which is Prince himself.  One of the things I've been thinking about is what's it like to be a member of an entourage? Do you still feel like you have a personality of your own, or how much of yourself do you give over to this person whom you've dedicated yourself to surrounding?

It was like being around the biggest boss and icon all at the same time. Everyone who worked for him knew him and respected him; they all believed in him and worshipped him. He was just so capable, he was always right, and he really was. (anonymous assistant of Prince's, quoted in ENews)
[H]e had this smile, it's the smile that your dad or your teacher would give you. It was all you needed to say that you've done a good job. That would be enough. (Michael Kronick, Prince's memorabilia manager, quoted in ENews

But of course the corollary to that is, what's it like to be the focal-point of that entourage?  Are you able to retain your own personality, or how much of your true self becomes subsumed in this version of yourself that you've created and that other people are maintaining for you?  How exhausting is it to try to meet those expectations all day every day, even when you're supposed to be relaxing and out of the limelight?  How are you then able to pull it together and summon the enormous magic that works like mad in front of thousands of people?

The more famous he became, the further and further it would take him away from the person he was before he became famous. I am not sure if anyone really knew the real Prince, we all loved him, but I don't know how much we really knew him. (anonymous friend, quoted in ENews)

I was just watching this video, talking about the rainstorm the night of Superbowl 2007 when Prince performed, and how incredible it was that he was able not just to pull it off but to make it look like the whole thing was planned, part of his show, to be the consummate professional and entertain the hell out of everybody. If you missed the performance in 2007, or even if you did see it at the time, check this out. It's really quite impressive.

They're saying now that Prince was taking painkillers for years, as a way to help him deal with stage fright and crowds. Some people are saying this destroys their vision of him, or how could have been on drugs, he was a Jehovah's Witness.  I say, no one is immune to addiction.  And I say, however talented he may have been, the man was still human.  I say, God bless him for wanting to keep bringing it full-bore to people, even though it cost him more than most of us ever will ever know.

(Signed album owned by Corrie Stone-Fielder, sourced from Las Cruces Sun-News)

P.S. to David Bowie fans, "Heroes" was on his encore set-list at performances he gave this month.

If you want to read about other entourages & such
ENews, Inside Prince's Private World: The Man Behind the Legend from Those Who Knew Him
The Bert Show, What It's Like Working With Prince: A Former Member Of Prince's Entourage Calls In
Nozo, What is it like to be part of a famous person's entourage? [blue on black, really hard to read]
The Richest, Ridiculous Jobs of Celebrity Entourage Members
Mental Floss, 7 Entourages That Changed the World 
Online Etymology Dictionary, entourage
Celebuzz, Top 10 Worst Celebrity Entourages of the Decade
Wonderwall, Celebrity Cliques: The Stars' Real-Life Entourages
Daily Mirror, This massive entourage is what it takes to bring Barack Obama to Britain

Monday, March 21, 2016

Apple #730: White Rose Resistance

You may have seen the news recently that the hacker group calling itself Anonymous said they were going to hack Donald Trump. They released some basic personal information -- his cell phone number, Social Security number, and some other easy-to-find stuff -- and invited anyone who wanted to take a crack at hacking him or his businesses to do so.

In one part of their message, they said, "Many of you have said to yourself that if you were alive in Nazi Germany, then you would have done something, you would have resisted, like the White Rose Society resisted. Now is the time to prove that. The White Rose Society has risen again in the United States."

I never heard of the White Rose Society, so I was curious to know what it was.  I Googled it and, wow, quite the story.

The original White Rose group did not have a logo or an insignia; they were not that sophisticated. They called themselves "White Rose" for reasons that remain obscure.
(Photo from HD Wallpapers Fit)

  • It's been referred to as the White Rose Society, or the White Rose Resistance, or more accurately, simply as "White Rose." It was a small group of German medical students in their early 20s who got together in 1942 and 1943 and printed 6 pamphlets speaking against Hitler and Nazism and urging others to resist what had become a totalitarian regime.
  • This might not sound like such a big deal, but it was. Let me break down the details.
Hans Scholl (left) was 24, his sister Sophie was 21, and Christoph Probst, a mutual friend of both, was 22. Photo was taken in 1942 when the White Rose began.
(photo from the US Holocaust Museum Archives, sourced from the Jewish Virtual Library)
  • First, this happened in 1942. By this time, the Nazi regime was operating at full strength within Germany, as was the Gestapo (secret police).  They had clamped down on any kind of speech that was against the government in any way, shutting down newspapers, and rounding up and killing or sending off to concentration camps anyone who spoke out against the government.
  • People couldn't speak freely among friends or neighbors because if you spoke against the government in any way, the person you thought was your neighbor and trustworthy would rat you out to the Gestapo, and there you were getting beaten or jailed or sent away, etc.
  • Telephone calls could be listened in on at any time, mail could be opened and inspected, and your person could be searched at any time for any reason.
  • The Gestapo was keeping track of even the sale of stamps.  If anyone bought a whole bunch of stamps, that person got investigated by the Gestapo and depending on what they learned about how the stamps were used, that person got beat up or thrown in jail or sent off to a concentration camp or killed.  The same was true about purchases of a lot of paper.  And Envelopes. And printing presses, of course.
  • It was in the midst of this thoroughly repressive situation that this group of students started meeting and talking together.  There were only about 4 or 5 of them, all medical students at the University of Munich, and at first they talked about music, or literature, and philosophy -- especially philosophy.  Soon they ventured into discussing politics with each other, which would have been a rare treat to be able to do such a thing and feel safe.
  • In the early years of the war, the students were like many of their fellow Germans, supportive of their government, willing to participate and do what they could for the cause of their country. Some of these young medical students had even been members the Hitler Youth. The leaders of this small group were:
    • Hans Scholl, 24
    • Alex Schmorell, 25
    • Jürgen Wittenstein, 23
    • Sophie Scholl - Hans' sister, 21

Alex Schmorell, one of the leaders and founding members of the White Rose, was 25.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

Jürgen Wittenstein had been about to leave Germany in 1939 but instead drove two stranded Jewish teenagers to Berlin in the hope that, from there, they could leave the country safely.
(Photo from Spartacus Educational)

  • After having lived through four years of the government's increasingly repressive and brutal tactics, these medical students were justifiably disturbed. Schmorell and Wittenstein attended the very popular lectures of their university's philosophy teacher, Kurt Huber, and they took his teachings very much to heart.  So they decided to do something to resist.
  • In June of 1942, Hans and Alex wrote a leaflet, which they planned to be the first of many, and which they called "Leaflet [or leaves] of the White Rose."  
  • They went to their philosophy teacher, Kurt Huber, for advice in writing the pamphlet. At first he thought it would do no good except to risk their necks, but in the end he decided to help.  He advised them on the wording of the leaflets and talked with them at length about what they wanted to accomplish, challenging them and making sure they were aware of the risks they were taking.

Kurt Huber had had diphtheria when he was young and emergency surgery had cut his throat and left him with difficulty in speaking, a limp, and a tremor in his hands that only subsided when he played the piano. His students said they did not notice his impairments at all when he lectured, his speeches were so learned and absorbing.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

Another photo of Huber, this from 1941.  He was 48 when this photo was taken.
(Photo from Spartacus Educational)
  • Some websites suggest Huber was consulted very early on in the group's formation, while others say he did not get involved until later. Either way, it seems clear that though he was involved, the group was not his idea but that of his students'.
  • The first leaflet was a few paragraphs long, invoking the ideas of philosophers such as Goethe and Schiller and Aristotle, and encouraging readers of the pamphlet to resist.
  • Excerpts from this first pamphlet will give a sense of the atmosphere of the time:
If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, . . . if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

[. . . ] every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance - resistance - wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late. . . .

Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure. [. . . ]

Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.
This is what the leaflet looked like, page 1 of 2. Just a piece of paper with a bunch of words typed on it. Nothing fancy. But those words are highly charged and dangerous. Across the top it reads, "Leaflet of the White Rose I."
(Photo sourced from Flashbak)

  • Hans and Alex made only about 100 copies of the leaflet, typing each one on a typewriter. They left them in telephone boxes, mailed them to students and professors across Germany, and carried them by train to other towns in the country and left them there.
  • I'm not sure who said this, but it was apparently one of the members of the White Rose:
"Some of us traveled in civilian clothing, hoping for the best, some with forged travel orders, I myself used false identification papers (my cousin's with whom I shared a certain resemblance). We left the briefcases which contained the leaflets in a different compartment, for luggage was routinely searched. Mostly, however, leaflets were taken by female students who were not subject to such scrutiny."

  • 35 of the first set of pamphlets wound up in the hands of the Gestapo.  But the rest reached their intended recipients, some as far away as Austria.  And though the Gestapo knew about the leaflets, they could not figure out who was producing them.
  • Hans' sister Sophie enrolled in the University of Munich, also as a medical student, shortly after the first pamphlet was distributed.  She found out about the White Rose group and wanted to join.  At first her brother wouldn't allow her to because of the danger, but she persisted. Another friend of theirs, Christoph Probst, also joined at this time.
  • They wrote and distributed three more leaflets.  Sophie and other young women helped distribute them, since the Gestapo tended not to search women as often as they did men.
  • Here are more excerpts. 
  • Leaflet Two: 

By this time the group had got hold of a duplicating machine -- this one, to be exact.  It had to be cranked by hand, which they did at night when people were sleeping.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

If at the start, this cancerous growth in the nation was not particularly noticeable, it was only because there were still enough forces at work that operated for the good, so that it was kept under control. As it grew larger, however, and finally in an ultimate spurt of growth attained ruling power, the tumor broke open, as it were, and infected the whole body.

[. . . ] Now the end is at hand. Now it is our task to find one another again, to spread information from person to person, to keep a steady purpose, and to allow ourselves no rest until the last man in persuaded of the urgent need of his struggle against this system.

[. . . ] only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings.

  • Leaflet Three:

The top of it says it's a Leaflet of the White Rose, III, followed by "Salus publica suprema lex" -- the public good is the supreme law.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

our present "state" is the dictatorship of evil. "Oh, we've known that for a long time," I hear you object, "and it isn't necessary to bring that to our attention again." But, I ask you, if you know that, why do you not bestir yourselves, why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another?
[. . . ] And now every convinced opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can fight against the present "state" in the most effective way:

Sabotage in armament plants and war industries, sabotage at all gatherings, rallies, public ceremonies, and organizations of the National Socialist Party. Sabotage in all the areas of science and scholarship which further the continuation of the war - whether in universities, technical schools, laboratories, research institutions, or technical bureaus. Sabotage in all publications, all newspapers, that are in the pay of the "government" and that defend its ideology and aid in disseminating the brown lie.

  •  Leaflet Four:
Every word that comes from Hitler's mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed.
[. . . ] We wish expressly to point out that the White Rose is not in the pay of any foreign power. Though we know that National Socialist power must be broken by military means, we are trying to achieve a renewal from within of the severely wounded German spirit.
[. . . ] To set you at rest, we add that the addresses of the readers of the White Rose are not recorded in writing. They were picked at random from directories.
We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!

  • After they wrote and distributed these 4 pamphlets, the students reached the end of the school term. The university decided to send its medical/military students to the Russian front to give them experience with treating patients in field hospitals.
  • While at the Russian front, the medical students witnessed the fighting conditions, saw the Warsaw Ghetto, saw a group of naked Jews being shot in an open pit, saw Ukrainian soldiers being "hired" to shoot whoever was pointed at for the price of a pack of cigarettes, and you know, just the basic horror show that is war, and this war in particular.
  •  Also, another medical student, Willi Graf, met the Scholls and became their friend and, once back at school, joined the White Rose.

Willi Graf, another member of the White Rose, was 25.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

  • When they got back to school in Munich in the fall, they distributed more pamphlets, now with the goal to find more students at more universities to join their cause. Graf was particularly involved in trying to recruit more members from beyond Munich.
  • In addition to writing and distributing more leaflets, Hans, Alex, and Will also painted graffiti on buildings throughout Munich, which shouted things like 
    • Freedom! 
    • Down with Hitler!
    • Hitler is a Mass Murderer!
    • and they painted Swastikas with great big cross-outs
  • Again, these things might seem tame to us now, but again, it was extremely dangerous.  To paint these things on the walls, one had to do this in public, with the possibility that anyone looking could see and report the matter. The buildings they chose were along a very busy street in the middle of Munich, where the graffiti would be sure to be seen -- and where they might very easily have been seen putting it there.  

The Sixth Leaflet. The title is translated, "A German leaflet." It was much fancier, and they had managed to make somewhere between 1500 and 1800 copies of it.
(Sourced from Canadians in Afghanistan)

  • The sixth leaflet was the last one written. Hans and Sophie took copies of it to the university in a big suitcase, and they left stacks of them in the hallways for students to find when they came out of class. They still had some left, so Sophie went up to the top floor and, looking down the stairwell atrium, flung them into the air.
  • The custodian, Jakob Schmid, saw this and called the police. Hans and Sophie were arrested by the Gestapo, and so were the other members of the group.
  • The members of the White Rose were tried -- if you can call it a trial.  A special court, of the kind called "the People's Court" -- I am not kidding -- was convened to hear this case.  It was run by Berlin judge Roland Freiser, who was not so much a judge as a screaming prosecutor.

"Judge" Roland Freiser, center, at the People's Court in Germany
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

  • Freiser shouted abuse at the accused, and said he was baffled how young people from such good families could turn out so bad, how could their minds have gotten so warped, etc.  Their defense attorney was useless, saying only "Let justice be done."
  • Sophie stood up and said, "Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare to express themselves as we did."

The Gestapo's photos of Sophie Scholl, taken February 18, 1943, upon her arrest.
(Photo sourced from Flashbak)

  • After 4 hours, the leaders of the group were convicted and sentenced to death.  Sophie was led to the guillotine first.  (Ladies first? WTH?)
  • "A witness described Sophie as unflinching as she walked to her death. The executioner also remarked that he had never seen someone meet the end of life as courageously as she did."
  • Christoph Probst, closest friend of Hans and Sophie, with a wife and three children, and who had helped edit and distribute the leaflets, was next.  He shouted, "We will see each other in a few minutes!" before he was executed.
  • Hans' last words before he was executed were "Long live freedom!"
  • Later trials ended with more convictions and executions.  Alex Schmorell was turned in by an ex-girlfriend, convicted, and executed.  Willi Graf and the Kurt Huber philosophy teacher were also convicted and executed.  
  • One student who had tried to collect money to support Huber's widow was also arrested and convicted. 
  • Of the primary members of the White Rose, only one survived: Jürgen Wittenstein.

Jürgen (George) Wittenstein in 1943, taken when he expected to be arrested and executed.
(Photo by Wittenstein, sourced from the Santa Barbara Independent)

  • Wittenstein was arrested and questioned by the Gestapo. The only reason they let him go was because his army commander who knew him from his compulsory military service intervened on his behalf.
  • Wittenstein had been the one to alert Hans and Sophie's parents to their arrest, and managed to get them into the prison so they could see their children one last time.  Had it not been for Wittenstein, Hans and Sophie's parents would have learned of their children's deaths only after the fact.
  • Wittenstein later emigrated to the United States, where he attended Harvard and became a practicing and research surgeon, performing complex heart operations, and helping to establish new cardiac facilities at other hospitals.

Jürgen Wittenstein, in 2010 at age 91, at a reunion held with the two teenagers he helped in 1939. They had left Germany and settled in New York.
(Photo from the Santa Barbara Independent)

US News & World Report, Anonymous Launches Offensive Against Trump, March 17, 2016
Time Magazine, Secret Service Investigating Claims That Anonymous Hacked Donald Trump, March 18, 2016
Global Nonviolent Action Database, White Rose Resistance to Hitler's Regime, 1942-1943
Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, The White Rose
Jewish Virtual Library, Holocaust Resistance: The White Rose - A Lesson in Dissent
Spartacus Educational, Jürgen Wittenstein and Kurt Huber
The United States Holocaust Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia, White Rose
History Is a Weapon, The Six Pamphlets of the White Rose Society
Flashbak, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Rebellion, February 22, 2016, Feb 18, This Day in History: Nazis arrest White Rose resistance leaders
The History Learning Site, The White Rose Movement
Santa Barbara Independent, George (Jürgen) Wittenstein: 1919-2015: A Member of WWII’s White Rose, July 9, 2015

Monday, March 14, 2016

Apple #729: Political Terminology

Your Apple Lady has been flummoxed.  I've been hard-pressed to find something to talk about that isn't the Presidential primaries.  I have some pretty strong opinions about one of the candidates who is running, but I haven't wanted to turn this blog into my personal soapbox. Much as I want to rail against this particular candidate who I think is an anathema who threatens our entire political system to its very core, I think we've heard enough rants for the time being.  I also think a little information could be a useful thing.

[EDIT:]  Well, I had some more high-falutin' statements here saying that I would try to be even-handed in my choice of terms and how I handled their definitions.  But my biases show through, hard as I tried not to do that.  I didn't want to be accused of being just another member of the liberal left-wing media (see "dog whistle" below), but I guess that's just how it's going to be.

And now, in alphabetical order, I give you the buzzwords of Primaries 2016.


Very clear depiction of what happens in an ad hominem response
(Diagram from Hebrew for Christians)

Actually, this term itself has gone largely unspoken this campaign season.  But we have seen a plethora of examples of it, and more often, a multitude of statements that go beyond ad hominem.  The Latin phrase literally means "concerning the man."  Once considered a hallmark of a weak debater and the sign of a poorly constructed argument, an ad hominem is a tactic in debate which shifts the focus from the matter at hand and instead attacks the character of the person who has presented the argument.
An ad hominem falls just shy of name-calling.  Instead of saying, "I'm not going to bother addressing your point because you're a liar," an ad hominem suggests that the other person is a liar: "You want to know how I would fix our trade agreements? Well, why should I bother answering that, when you said you were going to vote one way on trade but then you later voted another."

The person has given no answer to the question, which was about trade agreements, but instead turned the topic to be about the trustworthiness of the person who asked the question.

This tactic can be effective in derailing a question, but it is actually a weak defense.  Putting this technique in schoolyard terms, it boils down to, "Oh yeah? Your mother!"

The kinds of things we've heard in debates over recent months blow right past ad hominem and go straight to the schoolyard insult.


How actual debates probably should be conducted. As opposed to what's been happening more often in presidential primary debates.
(Image by André de Loba at the New York Times)

There are lots of different kinds of debates.

First, is the classical debate, in which two people or two teams of people take opposing positions on one subject, such as "the right to bear arms is more important than individuals' safety," or "ice cream is a better dessert than cookies." Each side presents their position in a series of timed Q&A and speeches.

In the first round, the affirmative position  (e.g., "yes, the right to bear arms is more important than individuals' safety") delivers a prepared speech outlining the reasons for that position.  Then the negative position (e.g., "no, the right to bear arms is more important than individuals' safety") gets to ask questions of the positive position in an attempt to expose flaws of reasoning in the opponent.

Then they switch and negative is allowed to give its speech, after which affirmative asks questions of negative. Then they each get the opportunity to rebut (argue specifically against) the other side's position.

The judge or judges decide the winner based on the strength of the arguments presented, the method of delivery, and in some cases, the ethical position taken by one side over the other.

Clearly, very different than Presidential debates.

There is also the debate which takes place in the Senate and the House. When members of Congress are considering whether or not to pass a bill, one of the things they do to determine how to vote is to debate the bill's merits or drawbacks. They debate according to all sorts of rules, including:
  • No Senator is allowed to interrupt another Senator without consent.
  • No Senator may speak more than twice upon any one question in the same legislative day without permission from the Senate.
  • All debate has to be germane and confined to the specific question at hand. (Stick to the point; no diversionary tactics.)
  • No Senator may suggest, directly or indirectly, that another Senator engaged in conduct unbecoming of a Senator. (No insults or name-calling allowed.)
  • When a Senator is called to order, he or she must sit down and not talk again until recognized by the Chair. (If you're out of line, you'll be told to sit down & shut up.)
  • No Senator will call attention to any occupant in the galleries (You can't point out anyone in the audience.)
Again, very different than the Presidential debates.
Presidential "debates" -- I'm not sure they should even be called debates, but rather question and answer sessions -- don't adhere to a fixed set of rules.  The rules are established by the moderator or the organization hosting the event, and they may change from one event to the next. The amount of time each person is allowed to speak may vary, and whether someone else is called upon to respond to an assassination on his or her character may vary, and how well the moderator is able to control the proceedings may also vary.  
But all sorts of low-blow tactics and discourtesies are allowed and, judging by audience reactions, even encouraged.  Interrupting, ad hominems and name-calling, expressions of disgust, and so on, which would never be allowed in actual debates are now common practice. Emphasis on "common."  Way to respect the highest office in the land.


(Sourced from Prometheus Unbound)

"A leader who gains popularity by appealing to prejudice and basic instincts. Considered manipulative and dangerous" (from the Australian Glossary of Political Terms)

"a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people" or as a verb, "to obscure or distort with emotionalism, prejudice, etc." (from

"the key thing about demagogues, historically, is that they have been people who, by way of their very popularity, threaten the populace. They undermine the stability of a 'by the people' form of government particularly by turning 'the people' against each other. They represent a danger not just to electoral outcomes or political parties, but to democracy itself." (from The Atlantic)

Bad news, in other words.


This particular dog whistle is available from Pet Mountain for $3.20.  But this is not the kind of dog whistle we're talking about here.

Slang. An actual dog whistle, when blown into, emits a sound so high-pitched that people can't hear it, but dogs can. The idea behind the slang is that some trick of language or short-hand buzzword has a particular, often highly-charged, meaning for a sub-group within the larger population, and the intent is that the subgroup will react to the highly-charged unstated meaning.
For example, instead of saying, "You need to be really afraid of black people so we'd better put them in jail," politicians will say instead "We've got to clean up our inner cities."  People who are also afraid of black people will not think, oh, that politician means more street-sweepers and trash pick-up and filling in of potholes, but will understand that putting more black people in jail is what is meant.

Or instead of saying, "I'm scared to death of the legalization of gay marriage, and we have to reverse that at all costs," politicians will say, "We must defend religious freedom."  People who are opposed to gay rights will interpret "religious freedom" to mean not actual freedom for all people regardless of what religion they practice, but rather laws that will uphold the cultural adherence against homosexuality held by Christian conservatives.

Or instead of saying, "I feel really threatened by all these brown-skinned people who are showing up here," politicians will say, "We've got to stop all this illegal immigration." People will read between the lines and assume that the illegal immigrants in question are not coming from Canada or Europe but from Mexico, and that they're all criminals and bad people and terrorists and rapists, and so it's perfectly acceptable and even preferable that we treat them as though they have no rights whatsoever.

Or instead of saying, "The newspaper is publishing some really terrible things about me, and I want you to discount all that, so I'm just going to call the reporters a bunch of liars," politicians and would-be-media bedazzlers will say, "That's just more claptrap from the mainstream media."  People in the know have heard "mainstream media" slammed so many times as being left-wing, biased, and therefore untrustworthy, when they hear "mainstream media" they automatically equate that to "liars."

Certain candidates who proclaim proudly that they are not politicians don't even bother with the dog whistle but rather come right out with the prejudicial, egregious, and inflammatory statement.


A course on Latin American History has posted this photo of the crowd supporting Juan Perón in Argentina as an example of populism in action. Elected in response to an oppressive economic situation, Perón did improve his country's economic and political situation for a while. But the Depression happened, Argentina owed boatloads of war debt, and then Perón started firing and having arrested all sorts of people who disagreed with him -- professors, union leaders, and political figures. Things didn't end well.
(Photo sourced from Hist140 Wiki)

Probably the best definition of this term comes from -- where else? -- the Encyclopedia Britannica.  I have sampled what seem to be the most cogent bits from its definition.

"The term populism can designate either democratic or authoritarian movements. It is a political program or movement that champions the common person, usually by favourable contrast with an elite. Populism usually combines elements of the left and the right, opposing large business and financial interests but also frequently being hostile to established socialist and labour parties.

"Populism is typically critical of political representation and anything that mediates the relation between the people and their leader or government. In its most democratic form, populism seeks to defend the interest and maximize the power of ordinary citizens, through reform rather than revolution.

"In its contemporary understanding, however, populism is most often associated with an authoritarian form of politics. Populist politics, following this definition, revolves around a charismatic leader who appeals to and claims to embody the will of the people in order to consolidate his own power."

The definition goes on to refer to Populist politicians who rose to power in Latin America -- Juan Perón and Hugo Chávez, for example -- and who used that power not to be a champion for their people as promised, but rather to line their own pockets, solidify their power, and strangle the voice and the will of the people who elected them.


That donkey could also be an elephant, if you know what I mean.
(Cartoon sourced from St. John's School AP Government Study Guide Website)

This term gets used almost exclusively in reference to the Democratic Party, though the Republican Party also has these.  But before we talk about superdelegates, let's talk about delegates in general.
In Presidential primary elections, states hold either a caucus or a primary.  In a caucus, people physically gather at a meeting-place (a gym, for example), and they physically group together to show their support for a particular candidate.  People can try to persuade each other to leave one group and join another. When time is called, whoever has the most bodies grouped together wins. If you don't have a proportionally high enough number in your group, your candidate is out of the race.

In a primary, people go to the polls to vote.  In a closed primary, you must be a member of the Party to choose with candidate you want to go forward.  In an open primary, you don't have to be a member of the Party to vote.  More states are using primaries rather than caucuses because the vote-counting process is more accurate and verifiable.

In either a caucus or a primary, though people have voted for a candidate, what happens more immediately is that delegates get assigned.  Delegates are party officials who go to the party convention where the party's final candidate for the Presidency is announced.  These delegates are acting on behalf of the regular joes who voted in the primaries.  So how the delegates get assigned is a bit crucial.

Democrats assign delegates proportionally.  Let's say the state of Alafornowa gets 20 delegates to go to the Democratic convention, and there are 3 candidates for the Democratic nominee.
  • Candidate 1 got 50% of the vote
  • Candidate 2 got 30% of the vote
  • Candidate 3 got 20% of the vote 
Delegates would be assigned proportionally: 
  • Candidate 1 gets 50% of the delegates or 10 people
  • Candidate 2 gets 30% of the delegates or 6 people
  • Candidate 3 gets 20% of the delegates  or 4 people

The Republican Party allows states to choose how they will assign their delegates.  Some states are winner-take-all, meaning whichever candidate wins the majority of the popular vote gets all the delegates from that state.  Other states assign delegates proportionally.

Now to this picture we add superdelegates.  Superdelegates were created in 1982 when the Democratic National Committee decided that a new group of experienced Party members would go to the 1984 convention "uncommitted" -- that is, not having announced their decision to vote for any particular Party candidate.  These Superdelegates would represent about 14% of the Party vote at the convention.  The thinking was that these more experienced Democrats would be more moderate and would keep the more passionate, swing-like members from putting forth a candidate that might have a harder time winning the general election.  In 1984, what this meant was that the party nominated Walter Mondale as opposed to Jesse Jackson or Gary Hart.

The superdelegates go to the convention in addition to the delegates that have already been assigned proportionally based on the votes that were cast in the primaries or caucuses.  The number of superdelegates today is equal to 20% of the number of delegates that will attend the convention.

While the Republican Party does not have superdelegates (or at least, they don't use that term), it does send delegates to the convention in addition to those that were assigned based on primaries and caucuses.
  • A few are "complete free agents" as the NYT puts it, and are chosen RNC officials or leaders -- very like the DNC's superdelegates.  But some will announce their preference before the convention. 
  • Some delegates are selected by the RNC, unconnected with the popular vote.  They are officially not assigned to a particular candidate, but they have been chosen to be a delegate probably because the Party expects them to vote for one candidate in particular.  
  • Some caucuses also choose delegates in addition to and separate from the presidential candidates.  These people are also allowed to vote however they like, but in practice they are chosen by the caucus-goers for a known preference for one candidate.  
  • Some primary states, including Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, conduct "loophole primaries" in which voters choose the Presidential candidate and also a group of delegates who are known to support one of those candidates.  Same as the caucus-voted-delegates, the loophole primary delegates are chosen by popular vote and are often similar to the way the popular vote goes.  These delegates are also not required to vote a certain way, but they tend to vote according to what they've telegraphed before the primary.
I'm not too clear on how many Republican extra delegates there are.  In 2012, the RNC had 2,286 total delegates.  Of those, 680 were officially unassigned -- about 30% of the total --  and the rest were assigned based on popular votes for candidates. I don't know if the numbers will be exactly the same in 2016, but it's likely they will be. 

If all 30% actually voted any mysterious way they wanted, the RNC could have more superdelegates in play than the Democrats. But it's likely that, since most of the unassigned delegates indicate how they will vote before the convention, there won't be as many delegates whose votes will be unknown beforehand.

For both the Democratic and Republican Parties, these superdelegates or candidate-unasssigned delegates may play a crucial role in the conventions of both parties.  The Republican National Convention is July 18-21 in Cleveland, and the Democratic National Convention is July 25-28 in Philadelphia.  I think it's going to be crazy times until then, and probably after then too.

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Nate Silver, The G.O.P.'s Fuzzy Delegate Math, The New York Times, February 25, 2012