The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Happy birthday, Gene

Eugene Wesley Roddenberry would have been 100 years old todayStar Trek and NASA have a livestream today to celebrate.

In other news:

Finally, sometime today I hope to finish reading Joe Pinsker's interview with author Oliver Burkeman about how not to get sucked into things that waste your time, like the Internet.

Journalism error on NPR

Yesterday, Boston University clinical journalism instructor and WGBH-Boston reporter Jenifer McKim presented a story on NPR's Morning Edition about Grindr, the gay dating app. NPR's Steve Inskeep introduced the story by saying "the dating app Grindr is a popular site for men seeking other men. It's also used by underage boys, which can put them at risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking."

Between that introduction and the body of the story, I got pretty steamed. This morning I sent the following comment to NPR:

I have serious problems with the way Jenifer McKim presented this story. Principally, despite the quote from Jack Turban that "gay people aren't more likely to be sexual predators than straight people," the story heavily implies the opposite. McKim's bookending the story with quotes from assault victim German Chavez sets it up as a story about abused children, strongly implying that gay dating app Grindr is to blame (and also implying that gay men are to blame). Yet Chavez admitted that he lied about his age to circumvent Grindr's age policy, and Kathryn Macpagal even says "there aren't a lot of spaces for LGBT teens online to make friends." It seems that the problem is a lack of safe spaces for gay teens, not an app explicitly marketed to adults with strictly enforced age policies.

Further, in the graf immediately following that quote from Macpagal, McKim blows all the homophobic dog whistles, saying "over 100 men...includ[ing] police officers, priests and teachers" have "faced charges...related to sexually assaulting or attempting to meet minors for sex on Grindr." This is exactly the language that conservative groups use to vilify gays and dating apps in general.

Of course I am not downplaying the harms of sexual assault and predation on minors. But I think McKim had an obligation to put the incidence of those harms in proper context. Start with the proportion of one hundred men out of millions of Grindr users. Of the 100, how many were "police officers, priests and teachers?" How many were journalists or BU professors? How many were convicted? In how many cases was it determined that the minors in question lied about their ages? Did Grindr cooperate with the investigations? What proportion of the cases were assaults, and what proportion were "attempt[s] to meet minors?" And what proportion of Tinder users, or OKCupid users, or FarmersD users for that matter, were police, priests, or teachers (assuming McKim meant "or" and meant to include the Oxford comma) accused of crimes against children directly related to their use of the app?

I applaud McKim's ongoing efforts to protect children. But the structure, presentation, and tone of her story yesterday did not live up to the standards for accuracy and against sensationalism that I expect from NPR or WGBH-Boston.

I'll post any reply from NPR, WGBH, or McKim that I receive.

Thought-provoking analysis of our "four countries"

The Atlantic's current issue adapts veteran writer George Packer's latest book, in which he argues that the US has fractured into four distinct world views:

National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.

The 1970s ended postwar, bipartisan, middle-class America, and with it the two relatively stable narratives of getting ahead and the fair shake. In their place, four rival narratives have emerged, four accounts of America’s moral identity. They have roots in history, but they are shaped by new ways of thinking and living. They reflect schisms on both sides of the divide that has made us two countries, extending and deepening the lines of fracture. Over the past four decades, the four narratives have taken turns exercising influence. They overlap, morph into one another, attract and repel one another. None can be understood apart from the others, because all four emerge from the same whole.

All four of the narratives I’ve described emerged from America’s failure to sustain and enlarge the middle-class democracy of the postwar years. They all respond to real problems. Each offers a value that the others need and lacks ones that the others have. Free America celebrates the energy of the unencumbered individual. Smart America respects intelligence and welcomes change. Real America commits itself to a place and has a sense of limits. Just America demands a confrontation with what the others want to avoid. They rise from a single society, and even in one as polarized as ours they continually shape, absorb, and morph into one another. But their tendency is also to divide us, pitting tribe against tribe. These divisions impoverish each narrative into a cramped and ever more extreme version of itself.

All four narratives are also driven by a competition for status that generates fierce anxiety and resentment. They all anoint winners and losers.

The essay really has me thinking about our country, and how to get it back on track. I'm tempted to buy the book. Of course, it'll be about 80th in line with my current reading stack...but what's summer for?

On this day...

May 5th has some history, and not just about a relatively minor battle in Mexico that most Mexicans don't even remember.

For example, two hundred years ago today, Napoleon died and The Guardian was born. I never knew about that coincidence. TIL.

And this morning, Facebook's Oversight Board upheld the social-media company's ban on the XPOTUS, at least for the next six months.

Also TIL that my main programming language, C#, commands 7% of the Internet's mind-share, making it the 4th most-popular programming language. Python, at 30%, is the most popular, because its ease of use (and ease of writing the most godawful spaghetti code imaginable) makes it the preferred language of non-programmers.

I'm glad to see that one of my most-hated languages, Scala, continues its plummet, now even less popular than Visual Basic and and VBA, two languages that should have died during the GWB presidency.

Happy birthday, NPR!

The American news and information radio network turns 50 today:

It's been a turbulent time, with a deadly pandemic and a chaotic — sometimes violent — political climate. In the midst of all this, NPR is marking a milestone; on May 3, 2021, the network turns 50 years old.

On the same day, in 1971, we started holding up our microphone to America. Just outside our doors, on the streets of Washington, DC, one of the biggest antiwar protests in American history was taking place. NPR's story is that of a ragtag network — born in the era of the Vietnam War and Watergate — one that came of age during the explosion of the 24/7 news cycle.

They've made their first-ever broadcast available for streaming, too.

And that's the way it is

It was 40 years ago today that Walter Cronkite signed off for the last time:

Over the previous 19 years, Cronkite had established himself not only as the nation's leading newsman but as "the most trusted man in America," a steady presence during two decades of social and political upheaval.

Cronkite had reported from the European front in World War II and anchored CBS' coverage of the 1952 and 1956 elections, as well as the 1960 Olympics. He took over as the network's premier news anchor in April of 1962, just in time to cover the most dramatic events of the 1960s. The Cuban Missile Crisis came six months into his tenure, and a year later Cronkite would break the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. The footage of Cronkite removing his glasses and composing himself as he read the official AP report of Kennedy's death, which he did 38 minutes after the president was pronounced dead in Dallas, is one of the most enduring images of one of the most traumatic days in American history. Cronkite would cover the other assassinations that rocked the country over the coming years, including those of Martin Luther King, Jr.Robert F. Kennedy and John Lennon. He also reported on some of the most uplifting moments of the era, most famously the Moon Landing in 1969.

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Amy Grant's album Heart in Motion, which matters a lot less in the scheme of things but makes me feel a lot older.

"Just F this guy"

So says Josh Marshall who, after five years of being obligated by his job to listen to the XPOTUS's speeches, finally turned him off this week:

Part of this may be fatigue. I want to be done with this guy. But I don’t think it was mainly that. I’ve wanted to be done with him for years. The centrality of Trump, what’s held so many of our attentions for years is the inescapable reality that he was President. He controls the FBI, the DOJ, the military, what other countries sometimes call the ‘power ministries’. He’s got the nukes. However terrible and absurd he may be what he says and what he thinks and even his mood really matters because of the awful powers he had acquired by being elected President.

Many times I’ve analogized the Trump presidency to living in a household with an abuser. Part of that experience is hyper-vigilance and attention to the actions and moods of the abuser. That person has the power. That person controls the violence. Absent that power, though, Trump’s lies and general crap don’t really matter to me as much. Absent that power, he’s just another entitled jerk who wants space in my head.

Josh, I turned him off years ago. But it's nice that no one has to listen to him any more.

About time we learned something

As the night follows the day, now that Republicans have lost power they're once again all a-flutter about deficits. This time, Democrats aren't having it:

Twelve years ago, Barack Obama entered the White House amid somewhat similar circumstances: The economy was in a tailspin; stimulus and relief were desperately needed. His administration spent weeks watering down a bill that was more aimed at winning Republican support than adequately filling the yawning hole in the economy: The bill’s bottom-line figure was kept below $1 trillion so as not to spook the deficit hawks, and much of the relief it did include was engineered to flow into the gap with such subtlety that it was destined to be barely felt at all.

For all of Obama’s entreaties to his political opponents, Republicans rejected it anyway. They were rewarded for all that intransigence first with a big opinion swing against the stimulus and then by a wave election that took back control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

Despite all that has happened between January 2009 and February 2021, Republicans are running the same plays: fighting against economic relief in the hopes that they can use the immiseration that would follow for their political benefit.

But this is not 2009. The situation may be vaguely similar—an economic crash following catastrophic Republican governance—but the world has changed a great deal. The Black-Eyed Peas have faded toward irrelevance; most people now acknowledge that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was bad. And the attacks on Democratic spending have lost some of their spicy tang after another deficit-busting GOP administration.

The media also seems to have learned some lessons from the radicalization of the GOP. Once, a lack of opposition votes was a scandal in miniature. In 2009, McConnell was able to weaponize that idea, pushing the Obama administration to downgrade its asks without ever having to give anything up in return. McConnell got cover from media luminaries such as David Broder, who approvingly cited Obama’s bipartisan yearnings: “The president has told visitors that he would rather have 70 votes in the Senate for a bill that gives him 85 percent of what he wants rather than a 100 percent satisfactory bill that passes 52 to 48.” It’s taken a while—and a deadly pandemic—but many in the often fabulously naïve Beltway press have gotten smarter. Now the narrative is increasingly centered on McConnell’s intransigence, rather than some failure on the part of Democrats to persuade Republicans to vote for legislation that would have been bipartisan not that long ago.

Right. It only took a Republican administration's incompetence allowing mass death from a pandemic to finally—finally!—get people understand they have no interest in governing.

Might we soon enter a truly progressive era in American politics? It's about damn time if we do.

All the pretty press secretaries

Fox News has a habit of hiring the XPOTUS's press secretaries (even when no one else will), for a very simple reason:

The appeal of all four to a network like Fox News is that, more than any cluster of unprofessionals in former president Donald Trump’s orbit, his former press secretaries have the most experience in covering up, promoting and articulating lies. Fox News hired [Sarah] Sanders, for instance, just months after the Mueller report showed she lied about alleged support within the FBI for the May 2017 firing of then-FBI Director James B. Comey. [Kayliegh] McEnany carried forward the tradition of disinformation stemming from the Trump White House, most egregiously in the final two months of her tenure, as she pushed specious report after specious report in service of the lie that the election had been stolen from her boss.

Meanwhile, current White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will appear on tomorrow's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! on NPR, after giving almost a dozen mercifully boring and accurate press briefings. It's so delightful I could cry.

30,573 lies

In just four years, the XPOTUS lied over 30,000 times:

“We also built the greatest economy in the history of the world…Powered by these policies, we built the greatest economy in the history of the world.”

FACT CHECK:
This is Trump’s favorite false claim, so there should be no surprise he said it twice in his farewell address. (In this database, we only count a falsehood once per venue.) By just about any key measure in the modern era, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton presided over stronger economic growth than Trump. The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in 2019, slipping from 2.9 percent in 2018 and 2.4 percent in 2017. But in 1997, 1998 and 1999, GDP grew 4.5 percent, 4.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. Yet even that period paled in comparison with the postwar boom in the 1950s or the 1960s. Growth between 1962 and 1966 ranged from 4.4 percent to 6.6 percent. In 1950 and 1951, it was 8.7 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate reached a low of 3.5 percent under Trump, but it dipped as low as 2.5 percent in 1953. (After the novel coronavirus tanked the economy, Trump jacked up his claim even more, falsely saying it had been the greatest economy in the history of the world.) This marks the 493rd time that Trump used a variation of this line, meaning he said it on average every other day.

REPEATED 493 TIMES

You have to check out the graph, especially for the nearly vertical rise from September to November of this year.