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Opinion: Darkness in daytime — how to spend those few minutes

Opinion by Richard Galant, CNN

(CNN) — The 20th century American humorist Robert Benchley is remembered for saying that there are “two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not.” Less well known is the telegram he sent when he arrived in Venice on holiday: “STREETS FLOODED. PLEASE ADVISE.”

Benchley was a regular member of the Algonquin Round Table, the daily lunch gathering at a Manhattan hotel of such talents as writer Dorothy Parker and Harold Ross, editor of the New Yorker.

Nearly 100 years ago, as people prepared for the solar eclipse of January 24, 1925, Benchley wrote a piece titled, “Plans for Eclipse Day: What To Do When It Gets Dark.” He urged readers to take advantage of the celestial moment: “It isn’t often that right in the middle of the day you get complete darkness…”

While everyone else is looking at the sky, “you will have the run of the town.” Benchley’s whimsical suggestions for the few minutes of totality included violating the law against smoking in an art museum and hiring accomplices to change all the street signs. His own plan, he wrote, was to conduct “a more harmless experiment” — to walk around town wearing an outfit he had been advised against — “a silk hat, a batwing collar, and a spotted bow tie.”

On Monday at 1:07 pm ET, what actually will happen was summed up by Rivka Galchen in the New Yorker: “the temperature quickly drops, the colors of shadows become tinny, day flips to darkness, stars precipitously appear, birds stop chirping, bees head back to their hives, hippos come out for their nightly grazing, and humans shout or hide or study or pray or take measurements until, seconds or minutes later, sunlight, and the familiar world, abruptly returns.”

Thousands of Americans are piling into cars and onto planes to get to the 115-mile wide path of totality, which includes cities such as Mazatlán, Mexico, Austin, Cleveland and Buffalo. Millions more are preparing to view a partial eclipse, and people in both groups are scooping up special glasses to protect their eyes.

Eclipses have baffled and fascinated us from time immemorial. Even though we know it’s coming, the moon blotting out the sun feels more elemental than other natural phenomena, including the 4.8 magnitude earthquake that shocked the northeast Friday.

“Around the ancient world, solar eclipses sparked fear because they seemed to happen at random, and their cause was not fully understood, prompting anxiety about whether the sun would reappear,” wrote Jason Colavito.

“Where knowledge failed, myth filled the gaps. Many cultures imagined a solar eclipse occurred when a mythological being ate the sun. In Vietnam, it was a frog. In the Andes, a puma. Among the native peoples of North America, animals from squirrels to bears did the job. In ancient China, a dragon was responsible. In other cultures, eclipse myths revolved around a meeting or marriage between the sun and the moon.”

Today, eclipses are predictable and the path of totality is well plotted, though it’s much harder to know in advance where and when clouds will obscure the sight.

“Thanks to education and the media, nearly everyone knows what an eclipse is and how to view one safely. This triumph of scientific education gives us a ray of hope that even in an age of fake news, misinformation and alternative facts, scientific knowledge eventually wins out. It just might take a few thousand years,” Colavito observed.


The IDF fired two senior officers and acknowledged their “grave mistake” after Israeli strikes on a Gaza aid convoy killed seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) workers. Among them was Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, an Australian national who was a senior manager at WCK.

“Zomi was fierce and loyal and loving and funny,” wrote her friend Teresa Gray, a 2022 CNN Hero and executive director of Mobile Medics International. “She had this amazing smile that was ever-present and she was the best hugger I’ve ever known. She was constantly forgetting something when she packed for her trips abroad. I would get a Whatsapp message in the middle of the night or a call, where she’d ask, ‘Hey, when you get here would you bring me socks?’ or ‘Hey my friend, I forgot to pack shampoo, you’re coming to the earthquake, right? Bring me some.’”

“We also had a standing joke that she was to always bring me European chocolate and I was to bring her Alaskan salmon. Neither of us ever did, but when we saw each other, we would always ask, ‘Where’s my chocolate?’ or ‘Where’s my salmon?’ We’d then agree to bring those items and meet in Transylvania — the most far-flung place we could think of.”

“I am sure some people are wondering, ‘Why were they even in Gaza?’ I’ll tell you why — because people needed to be helped. That’s always why we are wherever we are — to help people. All humanitarian aid missions are dangerous. All of them. The danger is assessed in degrees, but anytime there is a crisis that disrupts people’s lives, when food is short, when babies are sick, when people’s lives have been turned upside down, there are risks.”

Sunday marks six months since the October 7 attack by Hamas sparked a war with no sign of ending — and with no winners.

“Six months after Hamas launched that deadly rampage, knowing that Israel’s response would be ferocious, there are only losers in this terrible war,” noted Frida Ghitis. “In the immediate aftermath, world leaders expressed support for Israel. But when the death toll in Gaza starting climbing, as Hamas knew it would, international support for Israel turned to withering criticism. In the most painful irony of all, Israel — the country that became home to Holocaust survivors, under attack by a group whose original charter outlined a genocidal ideology and a vow to destroy Israel — was itself perversely accused of genocide.”

“As always, the greatest suffering, the biggest losers, have been civilians on both sides. Palestinians in Gaza are enduring a living nightmare,” Ghitis wrote.

“The fact that (Benjamin) Netanyahu is heading the government during one of the most dangerous, most damaging times in Israel’s history only adds to the disturbing nature of this conflict. Israel is not in good hands.”

“Would another leader, a different government, have been able to conduct the war with fewer civilian deaths, with less damage to Israel’s global standing, without eroding the vital relationship between Israel and the United States? I suspect the answer is yes.”

For more:

Sheikh Khalil al-Baz: Preaching spiritual coexistence during Ramadan as a Palestinian-Israeli imam

Dean Obeidallah: Two little words that made Ramy Youssef’s ‘SNL’ monologue historic

Dr. Zaher Sahloul: Half measures won’t work. What Gaza needs is a Marshall Plan

DeSantis is right

A growing number of experts believe social media is harming the mental health of young Americans, particularly girls, Kara Alaimo noted.

“As a progressive, I never thought I’d write this sentence: A law just signed by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is brilliant — and should be a model for the nation.”

“The law I’m referring to precludes kids under age 14 from having social media accounts and requires parental permission for 14- and 15-year-olds to have them. It also requires age verifications on sexually explicit websites. It’s unclear whether this measure can survive a constitutional challenge — and vulnerable kids also need additional protections beyond its scope. What is clear is that keeping younger kids off social networks is unquestionably what’s best for them.”

What do you think? CNN Opinion is looking for stories of people coping with the challenges smartphones and social media pose for kids. Please fill out the form here.

Trump trial, Trump airport, Trump Wall Street

Judge Juan Merchan last week rejected former President Donald Trump’s claim to immunity from the hush money charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. That clears the way for jury selection to begin in the criminal trial Monday, April 15. As law professor David Orentlicher wrote, the Constitution explicitly says ex-presidents removed from office are “subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to law.”

He added, “even if there is some degree of immunity from criminal prosecution for former presidents, the immunity would extend only to official acts taken while in office. … But Trump is being prosecuted for conduct about a private matter that took place before he became president — the alleged hush money payments to Stormy Daniels so she would not disclose their intimate relationship. Even a very broad definition of an official act would not reach Trump’s pre-presidential personal activities.”

None of the criminal prosecutions is shaking Trump’s hold on his faithful supporters. Trump’s money-losing social media company, while declining on the stock market, is still worth billions, much of which could eventually flow to Trump.

As Jill Filipovic noted, “The company, experts say, remains wildly over-valued. And that’s largely because Trump’s conservative fans are buying stocks because they like the man and believe his claims, not because the company is any sort of objectively good buy.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is threatening to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson if he pursues an aid plan for Ukraine in opposition to Trump’s “America First” foreign policy leanings.

“This is a political battle that could result in the rapid erosion of international alliances we have depended on for decades to limit the odds of war and push back against despotic foreign leaders eager to expand their dangerous regimes,” wrote Julian Zelizer.

“If Greene and her colleagues win now, or even in the next faceoff over Ukraine, we will be entering a new, uncertain, and even more dangerous era.”

Seven House Republicans introduced a bill to rename Washington Dulles International Airport after Donald J. Trump.

“It never fails to shock me how GOP officials seem endlessly willing to grovel at the feet of their master, hoping to curry favor with a man whose ego is beyond satiation,” wrote author Jay Parini.

“Trump must be laughing at them. I certainly am.”

The airport, named after former US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, is “a nightmarish hub, with a tram system that feels wildly outmoded and slow: Walking often seems faster than riding from gate to gate. I often fly out of Dulles rather late in the day, and there isn’t a place to get a sandwich or cup of coffee after about 9 p.m. Going through customs and passport control at Dulles is arduously slow. The customer reviews of this airport are not heartening.” But renaming it for Trump “is beyond ridiculous.”

For more:

SE Cupp: The lesson Hillary Clinton still hasn’t learned

Norman Eisen, E. Danya Perry and Joshua Kolb: Why Judge Aileen Cannon is on thin ice in Mar-a-Lago case

Steven E. Barkan and Michael Rocque: 5 reasons why immigrants don’t commit more crimes, as Trump claims

The case for a 4-day week

Americans work too hard, says Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.Despite massive growth in technology and skyrocketing worker productivity,” he wrote for CNN Opinion, “millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages. In fact, nearly 40% of employees in the United States are working at least 50 hours a week, and 18% are working at least 60 hours.”

“What this means is that the American people now have the dubious distinction of working far more hours per year as the people of most other wealthy nations.” In the US, people work 470 more hours than in Germany and 300 more than France. Even our next-door neighbors in Canada work 125 hours fewer.

Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the workplace, Sanders noted. “The question is: Who will benefit from this transformation? Will it be the billionaire class, or workers? In my view, the choice is obvious.”

“Eighty-six years after Roosevelt signed a 40-hour work week into law, it’s time for us to move to a 32-hour work week at no loss of pay.

Abortion on the ballot

Florida’s Supreme Court has put abortion on the ballot in that state. In November, voters will decide whether to ensure the right to abortion in the state’s constitution. In the meantime, the court has allowed the state’s six-week abortion ban to stand.

“To win in November, Biden and other Democrats must seize upon and never let up on abortion rights as their most important policy focus,” wrote Ana Marie Cox. “Democrats’ historical reticence to give a full-throated and explicit defense of abortion rights or to take advantage of congressional majorities to enshrine those rights into law kept the door open for Republicans to find a way to overturn Roe v Wade.”

“The painful irony is that because of this policy mismanagement, Democrats have transmuted the hardship and suffering of hundreds of thousands of would-be abortion-seekers into a wave of ballot-box endorsements for reproductive choice. And in no place is this alchemy more vital to President Joe Biden’s chances of sealing a second term than in the Sunshine State.

The US Supreme Court seems dubious about the effort to ban the most common form of abortion in America — pills that can terminate a pregnancy safely. But how did the issue wind up before the court? Law professor Steve Vladeck wrote that it is part of a trend in which conservatives ensure that their culture-war cases go beyond a sympathetic federal district judge.

“Right-wing litigants have regularly taken advantage of their ability to handpick ideologically sympathetic judges by filing a disproportionate percentage of lawsuits challenging the Biden administration in geographically remote district courts within the Fifth Circuit.” At least one conservative justice on the US Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, isn’t happy about the effects of the judge-shopping trend, Vladeck noted.

“For once, the Supreme Court is the victim of right-wing litigation behavior, not the culprit. But the longer the court goes without pushing back against it, the more it can expect its docket to be filled with these kinds of cases going forward.”

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Tax deadline looms

Tax returns are due for most Americans on April 15.

The US tax code, which was 27 pages long when the income tax was adopted in 1913, now encompasses more than 17,000 pages. Our fiendishly complicated tax system chews up endless hours of work — 13 hours for the average American.

Bill Harris, who was the former CEO of PayPal and Intuit, the parent company of TurboTax, says changes have to be made. “The IRS must rebuild its internal systems to process tax forms, which rely on software that is decades old,” Harris wrote. “Both the IRS and the states must build online portals to make the filing of very simple tax forms easier, cheaper and faster.”

“It is a shame that this urgent issue has devolved into a partisan political debate. Budget cuts would delay modernization efforts by many years, if not indefinitely. Let Congress debate about how to simplify the tax code and let the non-partisan staffers at the IRS get on with the onerous process of updating their technology.”

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