The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Mini Me

I mentioned yesterday I got a new toy. Finally, after years of thinking about it (and also watching prices come down), I bought a small drone. The Mavic Mini weighs 249 grams (which has legal significance), flies for half an hour, and takes decent video.

For my first test flights, I put the propeller guards on and did some slow flying around my house. Parker could not have cared less. Encounter number one:

Encounter number two:

So I not only have the best dog on the planet, but I may also have the chillest dog on the planet.

Quick personal notes

Note #1: After 108 days—a record, I think—I finally got a haircut.

Note #2: After thinking about it for years, literally years, I got a new toy. It's a lot of fun. And it combines two of my favorite topics: aviation and photography. Watch this space later this week.

Day 84 of the Year Without a Year

First, some good news: New Zealand has not had a new Covid-19 case in 14 days, making it officially coronavirus-free. Given it's an archipelago of 3 million people more than 2,000 km from its nearest neighbor, they may have had some natural defenses against reinfection.

In other news:

An oddly quiet day, it seems. Probably because it's Monday.

Welp. There goes the neighborhood

A 10-hectare section of Alta, Norway, slipped into the sea on Wednesday, destroying 8 vacation homes and temporarily inconveniencing a dog:

The landslide, which ran 2,133 feet along the shore and went nearly 500 feet inland, was the largest the area has ever seen, according to Anders Bjordal, a Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate senior engineer who was involved in the rescue operation.

“In this municipality, a landslide has not happened in 50 or 60 years, and there has never been one this size,” Mr. Bjordal said on Friday.

Jan Egil Bakkeby, who owned one of the cabins, scrambled out of the building when he heard the landslide begin. “I had just made two slices of bread when I heard it crack in the cabin,” he told the Norwegian newspaper Altaposten. “At first I thought there was someone in the loft, but then I saw out of the window that the power cord was smoking.”

As he moved to higher ground, he filmed the scene as a swath of land under his and others’ properties inched into the water and was soon submerged.

Only one rescue took place: A dog was swept away when the land began to slip, and the animal was carried out to sea, officials said. The dog was able to swim ashore and was rescued by a helicopter that was checking the area for missing people.

The video is surreal:

Big names with big warnings

The Washington Post this morning has two pieces with impressive bylines, both warning about the path the United States is walking right now. First, Salman Rushdie:

In my life, I have seen several dictators rise and fall. Today, I’m remembering those earlier incarnations of this unlovely breed.

In India in 1975, Indira Gandhi, found guilty of electoral malpractice, declared a state of emergency that granted her despotic powers. The “emergency,” as it became known, ended only when she called an election, believing she would win, and was annihilated at the polls. Her arrogance was her downfall. This cautionary tale formed a part of my novel “Midnight’s Children.”

In Pakistan in 1977, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq staged a coup against Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and executed him in 1979. This dark story was the inspiration for my novel “Shame.” The circumstances of my life have given me some understanding of the dictatorial cast of mind.

Extreme narcissism, detachment from reality, a fondness for sycophants and a distrust of truth-tellers, an obsession with how one is publicly portrayed, a hatred of journalists and the temperament of an out-of-control bulldozer: These are some of the characteristics.

President Trump is, temperamentally, a tinpot despot of this type. But he finds himself in charge of a country that has historically thought of itself — by no means always correctly — as being on the side of liberty. So far, with the collusion of the Republican Party, he has ruled more or less unchecked. Now an election looms, and he is unpopular, and flails about looking for a winning strategy. And if that means trampling over American freedoms, then so be it.

Second, a coterie of 89 former defense and military officials demonstrate all-party condemnation of the president's use of the military:

President Trump has given governors a stark choice: either end the protests that continue to demand equal justice under our laws, or expect that he will send active-duty military units into their states. While the Insurrection Act gives the president the legal authority to do so, this authority has been invoked only in the most extreme conditions when state or local authorities were overwhelmed and were unable to safeguard the rule of law. Historically, as Secretary Esper has pointed out, it has rightly been seen as a tool of last resort.

Beyond being unnecessary, using our military to quell protests across the country would also be unwise. This is not the mission our armed forces signed up for: They signed up to fight our nation’s enemies and to secure — not infringe upon — the rights and freedoms of their fellow Americans. In addition, putting our servicemen and women in the middle of politically charged domestic unrest risks undermining the apolitical nature of the military that is so essential to our democracy. It also risks diminishing Americans’ trust in our military — and thus America’s security — for years to come.

The members of our military are always ready to serve in our nation’s defense. But they must never be used to violate the rights of those they are sworn to protect.

Know hope.

Strange turns of IP law

First, four publishers have sued the Internet Archive for "mass copyright infringement" following IA temporarily suspending waiting lists on borrowing e-books:

The plaintiffs — John Wiley & Sons and three of the big five U.S. publishers, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House — are trying to block the nonprofit group's operations and recover damages for scores of allegedly infringed works.

"Its goal of creating digital copies of books and providing them to whomever wants to download them reflects a profound misunderstanding of the costs of creating books, a profound lack of respect for the many contributors involved in the publication process, and a profound disregard of the boundaries and balance of core copyright principles," the publishers argued.

The Internet Archive didn't respond immediately to NPR's request for comment on Wednesday. But in a statement issued Monday, Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive expressed the group's disappointment with the lawsuit.

"As a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done. This supports publishing, authors and readers. Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone's interest," Kahle said. "We hope this can be resolved quickly."

Second, Netflix has defended a worldwide trademark on "Space Force," to the chagrin of the United States Space Force:

When Donald Trump has discussed the newest branch of the U.S. armed services, he struck a bellicose tone. "Space is a war-fighting domain just like the land, air and sea," the president told an audience of Marines in March 2018. Two years later, after Congress appropriated money for his vision for a Space Force, and Trump held an Oval Office ceremony to unveil the official flag of the unit, he added that it was high time the country moved to protect strategic American space infrastructure. "As you know, China, Russia, perhaps others, started off a lot sooner than us," Trump said.

But his administration has proven dovish when it comes to protecting the "Space Force" name itself. On May 29, Netflix premiered its comedy series Space Force, from The Office showrunner Greg Daniels and star Steve Carell. The U.S. military has done nothing to stop the streamer’s satirical take, nor could it thanks to the First Amendment. But less noticed is how around the globe, the streaming giant has outmaneuvered the U.S. government to secure trademark rights to "Space Force" in Europe, Australia, Mexico and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Air Force merely owns a pending application for registration inside the United States based on an intent to use. Meaning that the feds have gotten a place in line but no confirmed trademark rights thus far.

That's not necessarily a problem. Netflix can produce a television series without confusing consumers, just as the military can train fighting astronauts without anyone mistakenly thinking the streamer is sponsoring such an academy.

Conflict potentially arises when trademark users begin trafficking in similar products. Imagine for a moment that a “Space Force” jumper begins appearing in retail stores. Who’s selling? The U.S. military or Netflix? Trademarks help clarify the source of goods and services.

I'll just stick with US Navy-branded goods—or just call them both "Bruce"—to avoid confusion.

Good (and surprising) news on jobs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its May jobs report this morning, showing that despite 2.7 million people losing their jobs in May, 2.5 million got back in work, and the unemployment rate dropped 2.4% to 13.3%:

The surprising data comes amid the phased reopening of businesses across the country after months of economic pain from the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed up unemployment to Great Depression-era levels and obliterated all job gains since the Great Recession.

Congress is currently considering another $3 trillion infusion into the economy that would extend various federal aid programs, including the $600 additional unemployment benefit that expires next month.

"The prospect of unemployment benefit enhancements ending may encourage more individuals to return to work," Moody's wrote in an investor note on Friday. "There is a risk, however, that as the PPP stimulus measures run their course, unless they are renewed or economic momentum has gained significant steam, the pace of rehiring will slow or could even reverse."

Still, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt for a decade and wipe almost $8 trillion off the nation's economic growth, the Congressional Budget Office said on Monday. The agency also projected that economic output would plunge by almost $16 trillion over the 2020–2030 period.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman was surprised as well, and made it clear he believes the BLS figures:

This is good news. It means we're coming out of the storm, though slowly. Of course, states opening up businesses and restaurants prematurely may have caused the change in direction for new Covid-19 infection numbers...and the protests may not have helped either...

A busy day

Last weekend's tsunami continues to ripple:

Just another quiet week in 2020...

Observers see big stumble in American democracy

President Trump's ham-fisted photo-op in front of St John's Episcopal Church on Monday rattled friendly intelligence officers and emboldened our adversaries. Former CIA officer Gail Helt saw a familiar pattern emerging:

“This is what autocrats do. This is what happens in countries before a collapse. It really does unnerve me.”

Helt, now a professor at King University in Tennessee, said the images of unrest in U.S. cities, combined with President Trump’s incendiary statements, echo clashes she covered over a dozen years at the CIA tracking developments in China, Malaysia and elsewhere.

The impression Trump created was only reinforced by others in the administration. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper urged governors to “dominate the battlespace” surrounding protesters, as if describing U.S. cities as a foreign war zone. Later, as military helicopters hovered menacingly over protesters, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, toured the streets of the nation’s capital in his battle fatigue uniform.

Former intelligence officials said the unrest and the administration’s militaristic response are among many measures of decay they would flag if writing assessments about the United States for another country’s intelligence service.

Josh Marshall noted that the military, at least, rapidly distanced themselves from the event, which he views with some optimism:

Because, as I noted last night, it seems clear this was so crude and transparent and overplayed that they now appear to be in what we might call the political equivalent of an exposed salient. And most of those how had a hand in it are now claiming they were out of the loop.

We also need to keep in mind that the administration's attempts to justify a military presence in American cities relies on fabricated claims about civil unrest. Cities have experienced two kinds of violence over the past week: looting by criminals not connected with the peaceful protests that took place, and police using exactly the excessive force that people were protesting against. Federalizing the response to the protests would be a political, authoritarian act, not a public-safety measure. And people all across the political spectrum seem to understand that.

Re-reading the ur-text

Italian author Umberto Eco lived through the last half of Mussolini's reign, and through the fall of Communism in Europe. In 1995 he wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books entitled "Ur-Fascism," which seems like a timely read as cities around the country (but not Chicago, I'm pleased to report) looked a lot like police states this past weekend. It's worth a re-read:

I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, "the combination of different forms of belief or practice"; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. ... In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism...

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

He lists a total of 14 characteristics. In the Trump-dominated Republican Party I count...hmm...14. Well, that's comforting.

Some other points he makes:

[B]y a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

...

Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

...

We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares." Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.

In this vein, Matt Ford says American police forces "have become the standing armies that the Founders feared."