The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The President reaches the limits of his eloquence

Responding to the horrible bombing of Ariana Grande's concert in Manchester, England, last night, this morning President Trump had this to say:

We stand in absolute solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom. So many young beautiful, innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name. I will call them, from now on, losers, because that’s what they are. They are losers. And we will have more of them. But they are losers, just remember that.

I'm going to guess two things: first, that only the first sentence of that paragraph was scripted (which is more obvious when you hear it), and second, that he had no idea (nor would he have cared anyway) how much his off-script remarks would grate on just about everyone whose view of the world has changed since junior high school.

Speaking of grating, Trump apologist Scott Adams thought the president totally nailed a presidential tone and communicated the gravity of the situation appropriately, saying the "losers" epithet "is – literally – weapons-grade persuasion from the most powerful Master Persuader of our time."

Next, our Master Persuader in Chief will call them "stupid-heads" and take his ball home.

Because that's exactly how we want our head of state to memorialize the killers of children.

Why it's called Royal Dutch Airlines

It turns out, the King of the Netherlands has an air transport pilot certificate:

King Willem-Alexander, reigning monarch of the Netherlands, revealed in an interview with Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that he'd regularly flown flights for a subsidiary of the Dutch flag carrier for over two decades.

Calling the part-time role a "hobby," the King says that he'd taken to the cockpit as a co-pilot of KLM Cityhopper -- the airline's short-haul carrier -- flights for over 21 years.

Being the co-pilot also allowed him to retain his anonymity, even while addressing the passengers, he said.

"The advantage is that I can always say that I wish everyone a heartfelt welcome in the name of the captain and the crew," he told De Telegraaf. "So I don't have to say my own name. But most of the (passengers) don't listen anyway."

That's kind of cool.

A cautionary tale

The New York Times yesterday published a chilling description of how Venezuela's democracy sputtered and died:

Venezuela, by the numbers, resembles a country hit by civil war.

Its economy, once Latin America’s richest, is estimated to have shrunk by 10 percent in 2016, more than Syria’s. Its inflation that year has been estimated as high as 720 percent, nearly double that of second-ranked South Sudan, rendering its currency nearly worthless.

In a country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves, food has grown so scarce that three in four citizens reported involuntary weight loss, averaging 19 pounds in a year.

Venezuela’s crisis came through a series of steps whose progression is clear in retrospect, and some of which initially proved popular.

The entire article is worth reading. Not that it could happen here, right? No, of course not.

This fake news is from Donbass, dumbass

Laura Reston at New Republic has a good piece on how the Soviets Russian government is doubling down on its disinformation campaign against Western democracies:

One of the most recent battles in the propaganda war took place on January 4, less than a week after President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. election. The Donbass International News Agency, a small wire service in Eastern Ukraine, published a short article online headlined “MASSIVE NATO DEPLOYMENT UNDERWAY.” Some 2,000 American tanks were assembling on the Russian border, the agency reported. The United States was preparing to invade.

The story was a blatant fabrication.

Such tactics were pioneered during the Cold War, as the Soviet Union worked covertly to influence political dialogue in the West. From KGB rezidenturas scattered around the world, a small division called Service A planted false stories in newspapers, spread rumors, and worked to stir up racial tensions. In 1964, a KGB front group helped Joachim Joesten, a former Newsweek reporter, publish a sprawling conspiracy theory about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which later became the basis for Oliver Stone’s JFK. In 1983, Russian operatives planted a story in a small Indian newspaper claiming that the U.S. government had manufactured the AIDS virus at a military facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland—and Soviet wire services then trumpeted the story all over the world. As U.S. officials later explained in a report to Congress, “This allows the Soviets to claim that they are just repeating stories that have appeared in the foreign press.”

The internet has enabled the Kremlin to weaponize such tactics, making propaganda easier to manufacture and quicker to disseminate than any guided missile or act of espionage. Russian operations like the Internet Research Agency have employed hundreds of bloggers to mass-produce disinformation in the form of misleading tweets, Facebook posts, and comments on web sites ranging from The Huffington Post to Fox News. “Since at least 2008,” Peter Pomerantsev, a Russian media expert, observes, “Kremlin military and intelligence thinkers have been talking about information not in the familiar terms of ‘persuasion,’ ‘public diplomacy,’ or even ‘propaganda,’ but in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert, and paralyze.”

Meanwhile, our deranged President this morning openly threatened private citizen James Comey on Twitter, which should give everyone pause.

Conventional wisdom vs. evidence

Nate Silver has compared pundit analyses of poll data to actual voting results and determined that the pundits get things consistently wrong and in the wrong direction:

This French election was part of a pattern that I began to notice two years ago in elections in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Take the 2012 U.S. presidential election as an example. Most of the mainstream media concluded that the race was too close to call, despite a modest but fairly robust Electoral College lead for then-President Barack Obama. But on Election Day, it was Obama who beat his polls and not Mitt Romney.2

Forecasters are overconfident more often than they might realize — and there’s a lot to be said for media outlets erring on the side of caution until a vote has taken place. But France was the wrong hill for anything-can-happen-because-Trump! punditry to die upon. Whereas Clinton led Trump by just 3 to 4 percentage points in national polls (and by less than that in the average swing state), and “Remain” led “Leave” by only a point or so, Le Pen had consistently trailed Macron by 20 to 25 points.

Despite their vastly different polling, however, Trump, Brexit and Le Pen had all been given a 10 to 20 percent chance by betting markets — a good proxy for the conventional wisdom — on the eve of their respective elections. Experts and bettors were irrationally confident about a Clinton victory and a “Remain” victory — and irrationally worried about a Macron loss. In each case, the polls erred in the opposite direction of what the markets expected.

Pollsters have a difficult and essential job, but they’re under a lot of pressure from media outlets that don’t understand all that much about polling or statistics and who often judge the polls’ performance incorrectly.5 They’re also under scrutiny from voters, pundits and political parties looking for reassurance about their preferred candidates. Social media can encourage conformity and groupthink and reinforce everyone’s prior beliefs, leading them to believe there’s a surfeit of evidence for a flimsy conclusion. Under these conditions, it’s easy for polls to be contaminated by the conventional wisdom instead of being a check on elites’ views — and to be the worse for it.

Can't wait to see the polls on the 2018 U.S. elections.

The power in Europe

In a note in the New Yorker on Friday, conservative writer Andrew Sullivan points out that the two most powerful countries in Europe have women leading them, and no one cares:

Angela Merkel and Theresa May currently run their respective countries and Marine Le Pen is only the second woman in the final round of a French presidential campaign. And here’s the refreshing thing: No one seems to care much about their gender. Neither Le Pen nor May is appealing to women as some kind of gesture toward gender solidarity. And their opponents almost never mention May’s or Le Pen’s gender, either.

Perhaps the first female president of the U.S. will have to come from the right, as May, Merkel, and Le Pen do. That position scrambles the gender war in such a way that conservative women may be more likely to succeed in politics than liberal women — at least at first. (The pioneer in this, of course, was Margaret Thatcher, who was subjected to sexist criticism entirely from the left.) It’s also true that feminism in Europe is still, at the political-elite level, interested in getting past gender, rather than obsessing about it. When Le Pen loses the vote next Sunday (as seems likely), the one thing you can count on is that she won’t blame misogyny. It seems as if those who actually succeed in breaking the glass ceiling don’t actually campaign on breaking the glass ceiling. I wonder if the Democrats will one day realize that.

I wonder if we will. Because I would prefer that the first female president be one of ours. But right now, I'd say Nikki Haley is the front-runner.

How to explain the president's empty sack?

Just a quick observation, which I hope to expand upon later. Critics and supporters of President Trump alike have noticed that not only has he failed to achieve anything important on his own in the 102 days he's been in office, but the failures more resemble "a bullshit artist who caves easily and is best either ignored" than one would expect from a self-professed master of the art of the deal. (On the other hand, he has successfully enriched himself and his family through corruption, and will continue to do so until someone stops him, so he hasn't failed in all his objectives.)

But his biggest failure might be not understanding the intense scrutiny of his office and how that affects his deal-making skills. If his entire fortune is based on bluster and bullshit, then having to do all of that in public all the time seriously undermines the strategy. Take Mexico, for example: after gearing up for an intense diplomatic battle with the administration, Mexicans have essentially realized Trump is a paper tiger, and have started ignoring him entirely. That will make it hard for Trump to get any kind of a deal from them.

In short: his success in private, one-on-one deals doesn't translate to public, multi-lateral, diplomatic and political dealing. And he was too ignorant or stupid to see that.

Still think he's a business genius?

The merry month of May

April seems to have gone quickly this year, but that could just be my advancing age. I'm hoping to have a little more inspiration this month to return to 40+ blog entries a month—i.e., the running average since November 2005. For the 12 months ending yesterday, my average (mean) has been 34.4 with a median of 35, just barely holding above 1.0 entries per day.

Of course, the total number of entries doesn't really matter if they're good. Deeply Trivial took part in last month's A-to-Z blogging challenge, and did a fantastic series on basic statistics that's worth reading. Her 26 entries (plus 5 bonus posts) provide almost a complete intro course in statistics. Start with X and then bounce back to A.

I'm also glad to see center-right commentator Andrew Sullivan back on the Internet, even if only once a week. His column from yesterday, "The Reactionary Temptation," is a must-read.

And, of course, Josh Marshall's frequent posts from the center-left will be vital in keeping tabs on the sub-surface wrigglings of the current administration.

May should see more activity on The Daily Parker for reasons I will get to later in the month. It's time to get writing again.