The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Getting away with it

President Trump's two biggest liars supporters made news today, one by quitting, and the other by refusing to.

First, the president announced yesterday that Press Secretary Sarah Sanders would leave at the end of the month. Though it remained unclear whether Sanders knew about this before the Tweet, she confirmed she will depart government service in two weeks, after successfully destroying the credibility of her office over the past two years:

The White House press secretary—the office, if not the person—is an outgrowth of the idea that, in a democracy, information matters, and facts matter, and while politicians and the press may tangle and tussle, they are ultimately on the same team. Sanders, who ascended to the press-secretary role in July of 2017, after the brief and peevish tenure of Sean Spicer, publicly rejected that idea. To watch a Sanders press conference, or to watch her representing the White House on cable news, was to be confronted with a vision of America that is guided by political Darwinism—an environment in which everything is a competition, with the winner determined by who can shout the loudest, who can distract the most effectively, who can get in the best insult before the time for questioning is over.

Here is some of the misinformation Sanders has spread on behalf of the White House: She has insisted that her boss never “promoted or encouraged violence,” although Donald Trump, among many other such promotions, said of a protester who’d been ejected from a 2016 rally, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” She has outright dismissed the stories of the multiple women who have accused Trump of sexual abuse as lies. She has told reporters that she’d heard from “countless” FBI agents who were happy that Trump had fired James Comey in 2017; she would later characterize that, to Robert Mueller, as a mere “slip of the tongue.”

Her broader legacy, though, is an acquiescence to the idea that facts themselves have a political bias. The agent of a president who has transformed “fake news” from an offhanded insult into a democratic anxiety, Sanders has used her powerful pulpit to promote the “Fake News Awards,” her boss’s carnivalesque attempt to institutionalize his mockery of the American media. She has accused reporters of “purposefully misleading the American people.” She has deflected; she has belittled; she has eye-rolled; she has condescended; she has obfuscated; she has misled; she has lied. And she has treated it all as a battle to be won. So many of the public interactions Sanders has conducted with reporters—whether Acosta or April Ryan or Jim Sciutto or Brian Karem or the many other members of the press who are charged with reporting on the daily doings of the White House—have been wars in miniature. And, day by day, the martial logic lurking in the way Americans talk about their politics—the campaign and the press corps, the war room—has been made ever more literal. What is true about the world we all navigate, together? That becomes a less important question than who is winning in it.

Margaret Sullivan calls Sanders "the disdainful Queen of Gaslighting."

Meanwhile, after years of obvious, repeated violations of the Hatch Act (prohibiting government employees from making public political statements), the Office of Special Counsel recommended that the White House fire Kellyanne Conway. The Trump-appointed OSC head made this recommendation. Conway's response? "Blah, blah, blah:"

It’s not that Conway is unaware of the rules. She’s openly thumbed her nose at them. In a May interview, when asked about overstepping the rules, she replied, “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work … Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

Her cavalier attitude toward the law, while galling, is also probably safe. The Hatch Act is written with the understanding that the president would not want his aides flagrantly and wantonly violating the law, and only the president can fire a senior aide for violating the law. In the Trump administration, that has been revealed as a loophole, since this particular president has no inclination to punish violations that benefit him. (One of the most outspoken critics of Trump’s disrespect for laws and regulations has been the longtime Republican lawyer George Conway, who has used his Twitter feed to criticize the president. He also happens to be married to Kellyanne Conway. As of this writing, George Conway had not yet commented.)

We need to get these people out of office as soon as legally possible. Unfortunately, they can still do a lot of damage between now and January 2021.

Incomprehensible privacy policies

Kevin Litman-Navarro, writing for the Times, analyzed dozens of privacy policies online for readability and brevity. The situation is grim:

The vast majority of these privacy policies exceed the college reading level. And according to the most recent literacy survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of Americans may struggle to comprehend dense, lengthy texts. That means a significant chunk of the data collection economy is based on consenting to complicated documents that many Americans can’t understand.

Despite efforts like the General Data Protection Regulation to make policies more accessible, there seems to be an intractable tradeoff between a policy’s readability and length. Even policies that are shorter and easier to read can be impenetrable, given the amount of background knowledge required to understand how things like cookies and IP addresses play a role in data collection.

“You’re confused into thinking these are there to inform users, as opposed to protect companies,” said Albert Gidari, the consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

As data collection practices become more sophisticated (and invasive), it’s unlikely that privacy policies will become any easier to comprehend. And if states continue to draft their own data protection laws, as California is doing with its Consumer Privacy Act, privacy policies could balloon with location-specific addendums.

Litman-Navarro called out the BBC for its readable, short policy that explains to normal people exactly how the Beeb will use their data. He also called out AirBnB for the opposite: a lawyerly document of incredible length that tells users nothing.

Here at the Daily Parker, we only collect your personal information (specifically, your email address and name) if you give it to us through the Comment form, and we don't show your email address to anyone. Sometimes we will use it to get in touch with you directly about a comment you've left. Otherwise we treat it as we treat our own private information. Clear?

A fun rant to read

Not a lot new in David Roth's takedown of the president today, but he does have a few good bits:

The spectacle of expert analysts and thought leaders parsing the actions of a man with no expertise or capacity for analysis is the purest acid satire—but less because of how badly that expert analysis has failed than because of how sincerely misplaced it is. Trump represents an extraordinary challenge to political media precisely because there is nothing here to parse, no hidden meanings or tactical elisions or slow-rolled strategic campaign. Mainstream political media and Trump’s opponents in the Democratic Party conceive of politics as chess, a matter of feints and sacrifices and moves made so as to open the way for other moves. There’s an element of romance to this vision, which is a crucial tenet in a certain type of big-D Democratic thought and also something like the reason why anyone would need to employ a political analyst. But Trump is not playing chess. The man is playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.

And here at last we are beginning to circle around Trump’s true superpower, and are closer to identifying the small and stubborn thing that defines him. It’s what binds his deliriously incoherent politics, and helps him thread together his wildly far-flung grievances—Trump never forgets a slight, and pursues ancient grudges against bygone New York showbiz figures with the same tireless vigor that he brings to his campaigns against his various Deep State persecutors—into a single rancid system of being. There is nothing artful or concealed about Donald Trump, which is one of the secrets of his strange success as a politician. His lies are preposterous and glaring and never anything but the obvious opposite of what is actually true; his unquestioned desires and deeply held, deeply unreasoning bigotries and petty fixations are all absolutely untouched from the 1988 Rich Guy factory settings; the sheer mass of his annihilating selfishness leaves no room for anything like subtext. Trump is nothing but what he appears to be, and his superpower comes from this. His superpower is getting upset.

It's comforting that the latest polls show him losing to at least five of the Democratic candidates running against him, with Biden and Sanders mopping the floor with him. But it's also a long way to the election.

Über alles

What could possibly go wrong with inviting every Über driver in Chicago to one party?

Monday evening, John Morrison saw a convoy of cars with Uber stickers taking over Lake Shore Drive near Hyde Park, all headed to the same place as him: the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Chicago resident had been invited there by a friend who drove for the ride share company, which was hosting an appreciation party for employees at the museum at 6:30 p.m.

But before Morrison could even get near, he had to fight a free-for-all of traffic in the eastern part of Hyde Park. The worst of it was at the 57th Street and Cornell Drive merge, where Morrison said cars were going the wrong way and ended up facing other cars bumper to bumper. A bus drove north in the southbound lanes to bypass the traffic. Police cars scaled sidewalks as officers tried to direct frustrated drivers.

Things didn’t get much better once he made it inside the museum, almost an hour after hitting the congestion on Lake Shore Drive near the 53rd Street exit, he said. Morrison said the museum was “jampacked to the gills” and that caterers and museum employees appeared overwhelmed by the mobs of people heading toward the dinner buffet.

After the event, Morrison Tweeted: "A massive traffic jam filled entirely with @Uber drivers trying to get into a overfilled parking garage to get free stuff is the embodiment of the late-stage capitalist nightmare that is Uber." Yes. And entirely predictable—except, and no surprise here, to Über management.

The mechanical voids that make billionaires' erections bigger

Developers have learned to game New York City's zoning laws to construct buildings far larger than the plain meaning of those laws should allow:

Now, in a Second Gilded Age with magnates looking to park their millions in Manhattan real estate, developers stop at little to deliver the high-status goods, which these days are calculated in height and views.

As a result, New York is facing the “mechanical void” problem. It may sound like an embarrassing medical condition, but the voids are actually just air above floors occupied by equipment (mainly heating, ventilating, and cooling systems). That air becomes extraordinarily valuable when it can boost apartments higher above view-blocking neighbors. Raising the ceiling of mechanical spaces (which usually need only 10- to 15-foot ceilings) to as high as 350 feet becomes not absurd but savvy.

New York City does not generally limit building heights, but instead controls bulk and density by what’s called the floor area ratio (FAR). This means that a residential developer can build nine times the square feet of the lot area in an R-9 district. Depending on how the building bulk is arranged, the usual result is a building of about 15 stories.

Ridiculously tall mechanical spaces, which are not counted toward FAR, are not the only abusive (though ostensibly legal) tactic developers use to push buildings to ever greater heights.

If you think this through, however, these developments still go through the zoning board. So yes, the legal interpretations twist the law into painful shapes for the sake of bragging rights, but also a city agency lets them do it.

This reminds me of one of Chicago's ugliest buildings, at 2314 N. Lincoln Park West, which juts out from the rest of the buildings on the block (some of them historic) and looks like someone measured wrong. I haven't confirmed this, but I think the error was measured in thousands of dollars, and involved an alderman or two.

Sod off, bra

The secular Israelis who work at a Jerusalem coffee shop got so sick of ultra-right religious nutters screaming at them that they chose a targeted counter-protest:

Bastet, a vegan and LGBT-friendly cafe whose blue tables spill across a central Jerusalem sidewalk, is a secular oasis for residents seeking Saturday refreshment in a city that largely comes to a standstill for the Jewish Sabbath.

But each week, a procession of ultra-Orthodox men, some in their finest fur hats and gold robes, invariably marches past in a show of displeasure at the cafe’s desecration of the day of rest. “Shabbos!” they chant, using the Yiddish word for the Sabbath.

On a recent Saturday, the wait staff struck back, lifting their shirts to reveal their bras in an attempt to push back the religiously conservative demonstrators.

But while the Bastet staff may have won a small reprieve, the wider battle is only expected to escalate. The ultra-Orthodox, also known as Haredim, make up only 12 percent of the population but are the fastest-growing segment of Israelis, with women giving birth to an average of 6.9 children.

In the early days of the Israeli state, many of the ultra-Orthodox were opposed to the secular Zionist movement that created it, fearing it would eradicate their form of Judaism. Now, they are increasingly using their power in Israel’s 120-member parliament, where they most recently won 16 seats, to promote and protect their interests, rather than shunning it.

Ah, religion. If you believe a supernatural, all-powerful entity has sanctioned your desire to do nothing but pray all day, every day, you might run into conflicts with the other several billion people in the world who find this behavior parasitical (or, at least, a head-slapping example of the free rider problem).

And yet this is how a significant minority of Israelis behave. Not only do they find it offensive that the majority of Israelis want them to, you know, give something back for all the privileges they receive, but also they find it offensive that the majority of Israelis don't sit around talking to the supernatural entity all day.

I'm glad to see, with the inability of Benyamin Netanyahu to get concessions from the center-right about these issues, that secular Israelis have had enough and have started pushing back in earnest.

Farmers just starting to plant in water-logged Illinois

Climate change has arrived with a splash in Illinois. Unusual rainfall combined with bad timing on this past winter's freeze-thaw cycle means we may not have much of a soybean crop this year:

The soggy conditions will likely delay planting, again. Dillon, the Machesney Park resident, lives across the river from a plot of farmland he said has been barren for the last five years due to persistent flooding.

"You used to be able to raise corn in that field," Dillon said. "In the last five years, I don’t know if he’s had a crop in there or not. It’s always flooded. It’s too wet to plant, too wet to harvest."

The torrential rainfall and runoff has been known to wash fertilizer, animal waste and other pollutants from farm fields into waterways. It can also cause sewer systems to back up.

In either scenario, the untreated water can contain an unsafe amount of nitrogen, which can render the water dangerous for consumption. Fertilizer and sewage can also stimulate algae blooms that can degrade water quality. This, in turn, raises the costs associated with treating water, the new report says.

On Wednesday, [Illinois governor J.B.] Pritzker toured flooded areas of Winnebago and Stephenson counties. While no deaths related to the flooding have been reported, state and local officials say nearly 200 people have been evacuated.

“These are some of the highest river levels this area has seen in more than three decades, and I commend local emergency managers, law enforcement, fire and the volunteer organizations that have come together to keep people safe and preserve property,” Pritzker said in a statement. “For downstream communities that will be impacted by flooding in the days and weeks to come, I know that many groups are already preparing to help their neighbors. While we know that rebuilding will take a lot of time and work, we are committed to being your partners for the future.”

The Tribune explicitly tied these events to climate change in its headline.

About that Russian ship playing chicken

On Friday (Thursday evening in the US) the Russian destroyer Vinogradov maneuvered to within 30 meters of the USS Chancellorsville in the Philippine Sea:

According to Cmdr. Clay Doss of the U.S. 7th Fleet, the Chancellorsville was recovering its helicopter while maintaining a steady course when the Russian ship came from behind and “accelerated and closed to an unsafe distance” of about 50 to 100 feet.

“This unsafe action forced Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision,” Doss said in a statement. “We consider Russia’s actions during this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional.”

The Russian statement, however, said the U.S. cruiser “suddenly changed directions and came within 50 meters [164 feet] of the Russian destroyer.” Russia, which stated that the incident took place in the East China Sea, said its ship was forced to perform an emergency maneuver and warned the American ship of inadmissible actions.

According to a senior US Navy Surface Warfare Officer with whom I spoke, the Chancellorsville was "flying limited maneuvering and Hotel," meaning they had flags on their mast signaling to other ships in the area that they were unable to maneuver freely because they were recovering a helicopter. The Russian crew had no doubt that the American ship would continue in a straight line at low speed no matter what the Russians did. (The officer declined to be identified because the Navy did not authorize our conversation.)

When I asked about the forbearance of the Chancellor's skipper, the officer replied, "I know what I would have done," adding that the rules of engagement allow any military asset to take defensive action, including using lethal force, without waiting for orders if there is an immediate threat.

"Back in the Cold War, the Soviet navy behaved very professionally, since no one wanted to destroy the world because a 19-year-old kid turned the boat the wrong direction by mistake," the officer continued. "We all kept in our lanes. But in the last few years, they've gotten reckless."

The conclusion: the Russian captain, obviously acting under orders from much higher up, deliberately provoked the US warship in a "saber-rattling" maneuver.

Fun times. I think I liked the Soviet navy better than this new Russian one.

Where are the ribs?

No, I haven't forgotten about my favorite food festival of the year. For the last 10 years, Ribfest has been the second weekend of June. This year it's the third weekend of June. I've no idea why.

Next weekend, then, I'm going to visit all three days and sample all 12 rib vendors. Already bought my ticket.

Parker, alas, will not come with me this year. He doesn't like to walk very far now that he's pushing 13. Even though Ribfest is less than 3 km away, that's about twice as far as he wants to walk under the best circumstances. But next Sunday is his birthday, so he might just get a bit of grilled meat anyway.

Today's reading list

If only it weren't another beautiful early-summer day in Chicago, I might spend some time indoors reading these articles:

Time to go outside...