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 I was asked to alter or remove the sentence that refers to the Red Skull or the intro could not be published.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.

Why the GOP aren't winning

Author Matt Grossmann argues that the Republican Party hasn't gotten their agenda through the states because most people just don't like their agenda:

Where Republicans gained policy victories, the consequences on the ground were surprisingly limited. Abortion and gun laws changed in every state, but not enough for Republican control to produce changes in state abortion numbers or crime rates. Republicans opposed raising income taxes on the rich, but not enough to exacerbate inequality or accelerate economic growth in their states. They promoted traditional families, but not enough to reduce divorces or increase births.

Republicans did not fail for lack of an ideological agenda. Their state legislative caucuses moved steadily rightward, replacing moderates with far-right Republicans. They nationalized state policymaking, often joining forces in state efforts to counter federal initiatives. They developed cookie-cutter legislation by organizing their allied interest groups and legislators.

But they faced the same problem of conservative parties worldwide: Translating a philosophy of small government and traditionalism into major cuts to public services is quite unpopular. The public sides with protesting teachers once schools are on the chopping block. Expanding health care draws far more support than cutting programs. Republican governors would rather announce new prekindergarten efforts than shutter nursing homes. Republican legislators reconsider their most ambitious tax promises once the consequences are clear. Unlike at the federal level, politicians in the states have to avoid deficits — meaning the service consequences of tax cuts are clear to voters. Since Republicans came to power mostly in the states that already had the smallest public sectors, there was less room to cut.

Does this mean Republicans will stop trying to impose idealistic right-wing policies? Don't be silly; ideologues never listen to reason. But it does mean that maybe our policies can win elections, now that people have seen theirs.

How to combat influence operations

Bruce Schneier has an eight-step plan—though he recognizes Step 1 might not be possible:

Since the 2016 US presidential election, there have been an endless series of ideas about how countries can defend themselves. It's time to pull those together into a comprehensive approach to defending the public sphere and the institutions of democracy.

Influence operations don't come out of nowhere. They exploit a series of predictable weaknesses -- and fixing those holes should be the first step in fighting them. In cybersecurity, this is known as a "kill chain." That can work in fighting influence operations, too­ -- laying out the steps of an attack and building the taxonomy of countermeasures.

Step 1: Find the cracks in the fabric of society­ -- the social, demographic, economic, and ethnic divisions. For campaigns that just try to weaken collective trust in government's institutions, lots of cracks will do. But for influence operations that are more directly focused on a particular policy outcome, only those related to that issue will be effective.

Countermeasures: There will always be open disagreements in a democratic society, but one defense is to shore up the institutions that make that society possible. Elsewhere I have written about the "common political knowledge" necessary for democracies to function. That shared knowledge has to be strengthened, thereby making it harder to exploit the inevitable cracks. It needs to be made unacceptable -- or at least costly -- for domestic actors to use these same disinformation techniques in their own rhetoric and political maneuvering, and to highlight and encourage cooperation when politicians honestly work across party lines. The public must learn to become reflexively suspicious of information that makes them angry at fellow citizens. These cracks can't be entirely sealed, as they emerge from the diversity that makes democracies strong, but they can be made harder to exploit. Much of the work in "norms" falls here, although this is essentially an unfixable problem. This makes the countermeasures in the later steps even more important.

Also unfortunately, most of the countermeasures require informed and conscientious political leaders. Good luck with that.

Anti-daylight saving time article is early this year

Apparently the morning people haven't let up in their assault on us night people:

[S]o far, legislation to go on year-round daylight saving time has passed in at least seven states, including Delaware, Maine and Tennessee this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Oregon was the most recent, approving year-round daylight saving on June 17.

“After the 2018 time change, I don’t know what happened, but people got grouchy,” Oregon state Rep. Bill Post, a Republican who sponsored the bill, toldthe Oregon Public Broadcasting network.

The grouchiness is not just in Oregon. A month earlier, Washington legislators adopted year-round daylight saving time. California voters have approved the same, and sometime as early as next month, the California state Senate is expected to review the matter, according to state Assemblyman Kansen Chu, a Democrat and the bill’s author.

OK, let's review: clock time is completely arbitrary. It has no relation to the iron-clad astronomical motion that determines when the sun comes up and when it sets.

I think the permanent DST idea attacks the problem from the wrong side. Maybe the problem is that so much of our life requires people to get up and go to sleep when their bodies don't want to. Changing wall-clock time twice a year just shuffles the furniture.

But, hey, let's apply our energy to this anyway. It's easier than fixing real problems.

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.

Afternoon articles

Just a few for my commute home:

  • New York Times reporter James Stewart interviewed Jeffrey Epstein on background a year ago, and it was weird.
  • The Post analyzes temperature records to find which parts of the US have warmed faster than others.
  • Chemist Caitlin Cornell may have discovered an important clue about the origin of life on Earth.
  • The site of the city's first Treasure Island store, just two blocks from where I lived in Lakeview from 1994-1996, might become an ugly apartment tower unless residents can block it.
  • Seva Safris digs into the differences (for good and ill) between JSON and XML.
  • Timothy Kreider delivers a stinging rant against gun-rights advocates: "The dead in El Paso and Dayton, whether they were shopping for back-to-school backpacks or just out having beers and hoping to get laid on a Saturday night, gave their lives so that you might continue to enjoy those freedoms."

I will now return to my crash-course in matrix maths.

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.