The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Mid-morning link roundup

So much to read, so much eye strain from the fluorescent lights:

And finally, this year's Punderdome competition took on food; the audience ate it up.

The Golden Age of Comics

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman (Maus) submitted an essay for a Marvel Comics compendium to be published this fall, but withdrew it when Marvel asked him to delete a reference to the "Orange Skull." The Guardian published it instead:

Auschwitz and Hiroshima make more sense as dark comic book cataclysms than as events in our real world. In today’s all too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America. International fascism again looms large (how quickly we humans forget – study these golden age comics hard, boys and girls!) and the dislocations that have followed the global economic meltdown of 2008 helped bring us to a point where the planet itself seems likely to melt down. Armageddon seems somehow plausible and we’re all turned into helpless children scared of forces grander than we can imagine, looking for respite and answers in superheroes flying across screens in our chapel of dreams.

I turned the essay in at the end of June, substantially the same as what appears here. A regretful Folio Society editor told me that Marvel Comics (evidently the co-publisher of the book) is trying to now stay “apolitical”, and is not allowing its publications to take a political stance. I was asked to alter or remove the sentence that refers to the Red Skull or the intro could not be published. I didn’t think of myself as especially political compared with some of my fellow travellers, but when asked to kill a relatively anodyne reference to an Orange Skull I realised that perhaps it had been irresponsible to be playful about the dire existential threat we now live with, and I withdrew my introduction.

A revealing story serendipitously showed up in my news feed this week. I learned that the billionaire chairman and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, is a longtime friend of Donald Trump’s, an unofficial and influential adviser and a member of the president’s elite Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. And Perlmutter and his wife have each recently donated $360,000 (the maximum allowed) to the Orange Skull’s “Trump Victory Joint Fundraising Committee” for 2020. I’ve also had to learn, yet again, that everything is political... just like Captain America socking Hitler on the jaw.

Apolitical indeed.

Chaotic mind, chaotic world

In another example of how President Trump's incompetence and disordered thinking has real-world consequences, Michelle Goldberg lays out the connection between the president's lies to one leader have caused another country to take a frightening rightward turn:

n July, during a White House visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump offered to mediate India and Pakistan’s long-running conflict over Kashmir, even suggesting that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to do so. Modi’s government quickly denied this, and Trump’s words reportedly alarmed India, which has long resisted outside involvement in Kashmir. Two weeks later, India sent troops to lock Kashmir down, then stripped it of its autonomy.

Americans have grown used to ignoring Trump’s casual lies and verbal incontinence, but people in other countries have not. Thornton thinks the president’s comments were a “precipitating factor” in Modi’s decision to annex Kashmir. By blundering into the conflict, she suggested, Trump put the Indian prime minister on the defensive before his Hindu nationalist constituency. “He might not have had to do that,” she said of Modi’s Kashmir takeover, “but he would have had to do something. And this was the thing he was looking to do anyway.”

At the same time, Modi can be confident that Trump, unlike previous American presidents, won’t even pretend to care about democratic backsliding or human rights abuses, particularly against Muslims. “There’s a cost-benefit analysis that any political leader makes,” said Ben Rhodes, a former top Obama national security aide. “If the leader of India felt like he was going to face public criticism, potential scrutiny at the United Nations,” or damage to the bilateral relationship with the United States, “that might affect his cost-benefit analysis.” Trump’s instinctive sympathy for authoritarian leaders empowers them diplomatically.

We have, at minimum, 522 more days of this clown. What more damage can he do? I'm not looking forward to finding out.

Why do we have to take this seriously?

When your stupid, racist, age-befuddled uncle says something dumb at Thanksgiving dinner, the best course of action might be to ignore him. Unfortunately, when your stupid, racist, age-befuddled president says something dumb, you have to respond in some way. Which is how the U.S. has now ended up in a diplomatic tiff with, of all places, Denmark:

President Trump faced a fierce European backlash to his reported interest in acquiring Greenland from Denmark, as some lawmakers compared the idea to colonialism on Friday while officials on the island said they welcome investment but not a new owner.

“Of course, Greenland is not for sale,” Greenland’s government said in a statement, echoing earlier remarks by Greenland’s Foreign Minister Ane Lone Bagger.

In its statement, the government said it viewed the reports “as an expression of greater interest in investing in our country and the possibilities we offer.”

The news of Trump’s interest in purchasing Greenland comes ahead of a planned visit to the Danish capital of Copenhagen next month. Danes are worried this will derail the agenda of Trump’s trip.

“It will suck the oxygen out of the room and it will take over everything,” said Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, a professor at the Institute for Military Operations at the Royal Danish Defence College.

Meanwhile, a Fox News (!) poll shows the four Democratic front-runners easily trouncing the president in 2020. Let's hope so.

If only I had a flight coming up this week

...I might have time to read all of these:

And now, back to work.

Sunday afternoon link round-up

Including sitting with a lost dog for 45 minutes this morning, I've had a pretty lazy Sunday. Here are some of the articles I might read if I decide to do anything productive today:

Finally, in part because of the proportion of depressing things listed above, I want to post a photo of this dog:

Why? Because she's just that adorable. And not at all troubled by the newspapers.

Lunchtime reading

A diverse flock this afternoon:

Your coder will now resume coding his previously-coded code.

Scott Adams demonstrates bad-faith arguments

As I continue my series on logical fallacies, I'd like to note cartoonist Scott Adams' latest blog post.

For years, Adams has talked about how people see what they want to see in the president's speech and actions, but only he and other Trump supporters deal with reality. He claims that people who believe the president is a racist are hallucinating, and that the media perpetuate this hoax.

The post contains extensive demonstrations of many, perhaps all, of the fallacies the complete series will discuss. He also lies. I would actually call the post as a whole "gaslighting," from its main premise on down to the details he cites. (He concludes by saying, "Given the subjectivity of reality, [critics] won’t be able to read this blog post without being triggered into cognitive dissonance," which, if you has experience with abusive relationships, should make your skin crawl.)

Adams has a good command of English and propaganda. He knows what he's doing. So I'm going to use Adams' post from today as a final exam of sorts for the entire series on fallacies. Should be fun.

Maybe I was too harsh on Dan Coats

Everything I'm learning about John Ratcliffe, the president's likely nominee for Director of National Intelligence, suggests he's orders of magnitude worse than the guy he's replacing:

The intelligence community will fight hard against a threat to its culture of avoiding open partisanship, former senior CIA operations officer John Sipher told NBC News. "It's all about professionalism and taking the world as it is. There is no such thing as Democratic or Republican intelligence. It is what it is, no matter how inconvenient."

Dan Coats, the former Indiana senator whose departure as DNI paved the way for Trump to pick Ratcliffe, appeared to live by that code. He discussed intelligence assessments in public that were at odds with Trump's worldview, and he focused on the issue of Russian election interference, an issue Trump appears to view as a threat to his legitimacy. As NBC News has previously reported, that candor contributed to a strain between Coats and Trump that led to the former's departure.

Ratcliffe, by contrast, has focused on what he believes was misconduct at the heart of the Russia investigation and has spent little time talking about Russia's interference in the American political system.

Ratcliffe, 53, has little experience in national security or intelligence. He was elected in 2014 with the support of the Tea Party, ousting 91-year-old incumbent Republican Ralph Hall. Ratcliffe had been the mayor of Heath, Texas — population 7,000 — from 2004 to 2012.

Reactions from Republicans to Trump's selection of Ratcliffe were tepid. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, which will hold Ratcliffe's confirmation hearing, waited a day before congratulating Ratcliffe in a statement that did not quite endorse him.

The basic point I made Sunday stands: both Coats and Ratcliffe are party hacks, but Coats at least has experience and a surprising pattern of not just telling the president what he wants to hear. Ratcliffe doesn't seem to have that temperament. So in one more department, all we can do is hope that the career professionals will do their jobs well, and resist the partisan hackery from their political bosses.

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.