The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Channeling Chavez

In a move reminiscent of the authoritarian dictators he adores, President Trump yesterday had protesters forcibly cleared from the streets in front of St John's Episcopal Church in Washington so he could pose for a photo-op holding a Bible:

Moments before President Donald Trump vowed to use military might to stop rioting, police backed by the National Guard stormed into a peaceful protest outside the White House and scattered a large group of people protesting unprovoked police violence against African Americans.

At the time, none of the protesters or nearby journalists knew the reason for clearing the street. But the purpose became clear as soon as Trump finished his speech in the Rose Garden.

Trump left the podium and walked through Lafayette Square with staff in tow, crossed H Street NW, where the protesters had been assembled, and came to a stop at St. John's Episcopal Church, a congregation known as the Church of the Presidents, which was damaged by fire during an uprising Sunday.

Outside the church, Trump posed for photos with a Bible. And then he walked back.

It was a show of force for demonstration purposes, and it injected danger into what had been a calm protest as those in the street fled mounted police to avoid being trampled, struck by projectiles or gassed. It also came as a surprise to the protesters, who were flanked by police after National Guard and federal agents acted as decoys by advancing from the front in full riot gear.

The Episcopal Bishop of Washington was incensed:

“I am outraged,” [Bishop Marianne] Budde said in a telephone interview a short time later, pausing between words to emphasize her anger as her voice slightly trembled.

“I ... was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop,” Budde said.

“Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde [said] of the president. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”

In a written statement, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, head of the Episcopal denomination, accused Trump of using “a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.”

“This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us,” Curry wrote.

Even Republicans disapproved:

“We long ago lost sight of normal, but this was a singularly immoral act,” said Brendan Buck, a longtime former Hill aide who is now a Republican operative. “The president used force against American citizens, not to protect property, but to soothe his own insecurities. We will all move on to the next outrage, but this was a true abuse of power and should not be forgotten.”

“It was just to win the news cycle,” one Trump adviser said. “I’m not sure that things are any better for us tomorrow.”

But Trump’s campaign team viewed the visit as a success. By late Monday, campaign officials were already tweeting a black-and-white photo of him walking to the church with a coterie of aides in his wake. Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s top spokesman, posted the picture without a caption.

As the president drives his poll own numbers down to bedrock with this crap, he will become more deranged and violent. He thrives on chaos, and doesn't care who gets hurt as long as he "wins." It's going to be a very long 22 weeks until election day.

Saturday morning news clearance

I rode the El yesterday for the first time since March 15th, because I had to take my car in for service. (It's 100% fine.) This divided up my day so I had to scramble in the afternoon to finish a work task, while all these news stories piled up:

Finally, author and Ohio resident John Scalzi sums up why he won't rush back to restaurants when they reopen in his state next week:

My plan is to stay home for most of June and let other people run around and see how that works out for them. The best-case scenario is that I’m being overly paranoid for an extra month, in which case we can all laugh about it afterward. The worst case scenario, of course, is death and pain and a lot of people with confused about why ventilator tubes are stuck down their throats, or the throats of their loved ones, when they were assured this was all a liberal hoax, and then all of us back in our houses until September. Once again, I would be delighted to be proved overly paranoid.

I have sympathy for the people who are all, the hell with this, I’ll risk getting sick, just let me out of my fucking apartment. I get where you’re coming from. You probably don’t actually know what you’re asking for. I hope that you never have to learn.

Note to Mr Scalzi: I hope to start The Last Emperox this week. I really do.

Back to your regularly-scheduled horror movie

Congratulations! You've made it to the end of April. This month has felt like one of the longest years of my life, and probably yours.

So as we head into May, here's what the last few hours of April have wrought:

Well, the only cops I've seen out in force recently were the guys who responded to a shooting and captured the two suspects a block from my home. (Yeah, that happened, and it didn't even make the paper.)

Flat Earther died trying to prove it

Daredevil "Mad" Mike Hughes, who either believed the world is flat or merely played the role of a Flat Earther, died Saturday trying to launch a home-made rocket in an effort to "prove" the belief:

In December, buttressed by his conviction and advances in homemade rocketry, “Mad” Mike Hughes flipped on a camera and fantasized about the moment when he shows mankind that it lives on a verdant disk.

The plan: Float dozens of miles high in a balloon, then fly a rocket to the Karman line, the 62-mile-high barrier that separates the atmosphere and the cold vacuum of space, filming the entire way. “For three hours, the world stops,” Hughes said during a live stream, imagining the reaction.

Justin Chapman, a freelance reporter, witnessed the launch while reporting a longer story on Hughes. The rocket’s green parachute tore away moments after takeoff, sending the crowd of 50 or so people into a panic, he said.

Hughes’s support team went to inspect the crash site about a half mile away, Chapman said, and returned with the harrowing news: Hughes was dead, the rocket had pancaked, and the other three parachutes never deployed.

I believe this fits the Greek definition of "tragedy" perfectly.

By the way, here is proof the Earth is a spheroid:

Someone call lunch

Today in Chicago we have seen more sun than in the past several weeks, and yet here I toil in my cube. But a lot is going on outside it:

And we now return to our regular JSON debugging session, already in progress.

Mid-day link roundup

As I try to understand why a 3rd-party API accepts one JSON document but not another, nearly-identical one, who could fault me for taking a short break?

Back to JSON and my miserable cold.

Lunchtime link roundup

Of note or interest:

And now, back to work.

Another anniversary

Monty Python's Life of Brian turned 40 on August 17th. The BBC has a retrospective:

The Pythons’ satire wouldn’t target Jesus or his teachings, instead caricaturing political militants, credulous crowds, the appeal of throwing stones at people, the complexities of Latin grammar, and the difficulties of being a tyrant when you’ve got a speech impediment. “I thought we’d been quite good,” said Idle in Robert Sellers’ behind-the-scenes book, Very Naughty Boys. “We’d avoided being specifically rude to specific groups.”

It seemed, though, that they hadn’t been quite good enough. Terry Jones was about to start directing the film in Tunisia when the Chief Executive of EMI, Bernard Delfont, finally got around to reading the script, and declared that there was no way his company could fund such an atrocity. The project’s unlikely saviour was George Harrison, the ex-Beatle. A friend of Idle’s and a fan of the Pythons, he volunteered to remortgage his house and chip in the £2 million ($4.1 million) the team needed – a bail-out which has become known as ‘the most expensive cinema ticket’ ever issued.

Once Life of Brian was completed, not everyone was so calm. Some countries, such as Ireland and Norway, banned it outright. (In Sweden it was advertised as being ‘so funny it was banned in Norway’.)  In the US, Rabbi Abraham Hecht, President of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, told Variety magazine: “Never have we come across such a foul, disgusting, blasphemous film before.”

Shortly after the film came out in the UK, John Cleese and Michael Palin were on Tim Rice's show "Friday Night...Saturday Morning" with the Bishop of Southwark. It's quite a show.

Funny things

First, something legitimately funny, especially if you're Jewish:

And some things that are funny, as in, "the President is a little funny, isn't he?"

OK, that's too much funny for this morning.

If I were President

Tonight I'm looking at the resignation of Dan Coats and the likely appointment of John Ratcliffe for the office of director of national intelligence (DNI), and struggling to understand how narcissism survives.

I don't really give two cents about either Coats or Ratcliffe, other than to say they're both well-established toadies and lickspittles. Ordinarily I would make an obscene gesture at either's appointment and move on with my life because, after all, Republicans are always going to prefer toadies and lickspittles to competent people, and we have a Republican president.

And yet, my objection to Coats' demonstrated performance as DNI and Ratcliffe's likely performance as DNI hinges entirely on the fact that they're both toadies and lickspittles. Because they're not the outgoing and incoming undersecretaries of agriculture for soybean producition, they're the outgoing and income directors of national fucking intelligence. You can appoint Mickey Mouse to handle our caribou migration efforts, but for DNI? Are you stupid?

Political executives, be they elected presidents or unelected dictators, need clear and unbiased intelligence about the world to function effectively*. I look at Francis Walsingham, the first modern DNI the world has ever seen, and (I believe, though I may be wrong) the model for Varys in Game of Thrones. Walsingham never spared Elizabeth's feelings, and taught her how to rule a country in the process.

But think about what that requires from the executive: maturity, patience, trust, a long view. Think about President Obama sitting back in the situation room while his subordinates carried out a military operation that but for luck and timing would have ended his presidency, trusting them, letting them work, knowing that they were all on the same team, and taking responsibility for the outcome no matter what that was.

Contrast that with this guy, who fired Dan Coats in favor of John Ratcliffe, and will consequently get only the intelligence that is safe to convey to the ruler.

On a related note, someone has finally clarified the meaning of the entirety of Ecclesiastes 10:16. I've often quoted the first bit of it, but I've also felt like that's kind of like only quoting only half of the second amendment. It's not; and here's why.

The entire verse is translated thus, in the three most popular English versions:

KJV: Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!

NIV: Woe to the land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning.

GNV: A country is in trouble when its king is a youth and its leaders feast all night long.

(O holy dog, do I hate the Good News version, however accurate enough it is in its banality. What a capitulation to illiteracy. But I digress.)

I quoted these translations because the original Hebrew has, shall we say, some ambiguity.

So I asked a Rabbinical student to chase down the full meaning of the passage, and got a good answer. The bit about having a child as king works on the plain language. And in fact I used the verse as the introduction to my senior thesis at university about the machinations between two men to rule as Edward VI's regent that kept England in a cold civil war from Henry VIII's death until after Jane Grey tried to usurp Mary.

I digress again.

According to a lot of Talmudic discussion, the bit about "eating in the morning" means the princes, who would have an expectation of piety and propriety attached to their offices, choose to eat breakfast before morning prayers, thus elevating their carnal needs above their worship of God.

Even as allegory, I can see the wisdom of it. Also I can see how it fits with our current situation. Those guys 3,000 years ago faced the same idiocy we face today, and tried to warn us about it. Good thing the people who read the Bible every day know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, the most explicit, and least poetic, translation I can offer is this: "When your ruler lacks the capacity to judge right and wrong, and the ministers of state care only for themselves, you are bloody right fucked."

Yes we are.

La di da, la di da...

* "Effective" is not an endorsement. It's just a reading of history.