The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Boris Trump

I watched PM Boris Johnson's statement to the House yesterday as it happened, and I have to say, he seemed like a more-articulate version of Donald Trump. Instead of scowling, he smirked; instead of rambling incoherently, he banged the table succinctly. But otherwise, he demonstrated his unfitness for office and, as a bonus, the Conservative Party demonstrated theirs by giving him a standing-O.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee put it well:

If his party had some notion that the mantle of office would sober up this self-intoxicated scoundrel, they were wrong. If they thought charm and wit would be his winning political weapons, they were wrong. Not a scintilla remains of that “one nation”, “healing” and “bringing the country together” guff he talked in the leadership campaign. This is two-nation politics, deliberately driving the rift ever deeper. This is calculated contempt for parliament and the judiciary, designed to stir anger among his Brexit base outside against that imagined “elite”. That’s the definition of demagoguery, turning voters into “the mob” to force his way where he finds democratic and judicial processes barring his wishes.

ohnson’s strategy, devised with his unwise adviser Dominic Cummings, is to act so savagely that he provokes Labour into calling a vote of no confidence, as time and again he goaded Corbyn for cowardice, too frit to face the voters. Neither Labour nor the other opposition parties will be so foolish: they will call an election only when the no-deal danger has been delayed with an extension to the 31 October leaving date.

To date, the PM’s every tactic has been a disaster: losing every vote, his proroguing of parliament failed, blundering into the supreme court’s damning verdict. The net effect last night was yet again to bolster Jeremy Corbyn’s standing, his calm dignity of language casting Johnson as the wild-man extremist. The prime minister bawling insults at him as “a communist” fails when in front of everyone’s eyes is a grownup refusing to be riled by this spoilt adolescent.

Those who have left look back on their old party with horror: Amber Rudd warned yesterday of Johnson’s “dishonest and dangerous” language, but they have all quit. New candidates to replace the 21 departed will be of the Johnson stamp, chosen by the same aged firebrands who foisted this unspeakable prime minister on the country. It was never more imperative that this party should be resoundingly defeated at the next election – and that will take tactical collaboration by a progressive alliance of opposition parties. Johnson last night will have helped forge that determination.

Meanwhile, this government shambles towards a devastating no-deal Brexit. But make no mistake: Johnson, as PM, can lose every single vote and still crash the UK out of the EU on October 31st.

What a morning

PM Boris Johnson is now addressing the House of Commons, capping a crazy day in the UK. And that's not even the most explosive thing in the news today:

I'll be listening to Johnson now, daring the House to call for a vote of no-confidence, daring them to have an election before October 31st.

Why does Greta Thunberg bother you?

The arrival in New York this week of climate activist Greta Thunberg has thrown the Right into their version of pearl-clutching hyperventilation. Unfortunately for civil discourse, their version involves death threats and impotent rage. So why has Thunberg's quest for a reduction in climate-changing pollution make so many people so irrational?

Possibly they're hyper-masculine climate deniers, with more than a soupçon of misogyny:

In 2014, Jonas Anshelm and Martin Hultman of Chalmers published a paper analyzing the language of a focus group of climate skeptics. The common themes in the group, they said, were striking: “for climate skeptics … it was not the environment that was threatened, it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity.”

The connection has to do with a sense of group identity under threat, Hultman told me—an identity they perceive to be under threat from all sides. Besieged, as they see it, both by developing gender equality—Hultman pointed specifically to the shock some men felt at the #MeToo movement—and now climate activism’s challenge to their way of life, male reactionaries motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism increasingly overlap, the three reactions feeding off of one another.

“There is a package of values and behaviors connected to a form of masculinity that I call ‘industrial breadwinner masculinity.’ They see the world as separated between humans and nature. They believe humans are obliged to use nature and its resources to make products out of them. And they have a risk perception that nature will tolerate all types of waste. It’s a risk perception that doesn’t think of nature as vulnerable and as something that is possible to be destroyed. For them, economic growth is more important than the environment” Hultman told Deutsche Welle last year.

Or perhaps it's because she's a teenager:

Thunberg and a handful of other young climate activists were receiving the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in Washington, D.C., last Monday. In the past 17 years, Amnesty has given the award to other icons: Nelson Mandela, Colin Kaepernick, and Ai Weiwei. Backstage, grizzled men in their 40s exchanged boisterous handclasps. Interns and assistants buzzed around: anxious, helpful, and attuned to hierarchy. Somewhere Maggie Gyllenhaal was in a dressing room.

Yet when I saw Thunberg—in jeans, sneakers, and a pink tank top—she seemed small, quiet, and somewhat overwhelmed. Thunberg has Asperger’s, which she calls her “superpower,” and which she says allows her to be more direct and straightforward about climate change.

Her answers were direct but earnest. She sometimes searched for an English word. Unlike politicians and book-touring authors who have been brain-poisoned by media training, she answered the questions posed. When I asked whether there was a climate fact that caused her particular worry, she frowned and first said she could not think of any one fact in particular. Then she added that she was worried about what she’d heard would be in the upcoming UN Intergovernmental Panel report on sea-level rise. Same, Greta.

She is strikingly nonradical, at least in tactics. Unlike other young climate activists—such as members of the Sunrise Movement in the United States, which is led by college students and early 20-somethings—she rejects specific policy proposals such as the Green New Deal, instructing politicians instead to “listen to the science.” She has even declined to endorse a specific platform in the European Union, where her “Fridays for Future” movement has taken hold. When I asked how other teenagers should fight climate change, she said, “They can do everything. There are so many ways to make a difference.” Then she gave, as examples, joining an activist movement and “also to, if you can, vote.”

Thunberg epitomizes, in a person, the unique moral position of being a teenager. She can see the world through an “adult” moral lens, and so she knows that the world is a heartbreakingly flawed place. But unlike an actual adult, she bears almost no conscious blame for this dismal state. Thunberg seems to gesture at this when referring to herself as a “child,” which she does often in speeches.

But if you just read what Thunberg says, ignoring her age, gender, and national origin--not to mention every other irrelevancy--then she makes a lot of sense. So attacking Thunberg really just exemplifies the old adage, "If the facts are against you, hammer the law. If the law is against you, hammer the facts. If the fact and the law are against you, hammer opposing counsel."

The Right are, as always, hammering opposing counsel.

The institutions held; but at what cost?

In an unprecedented decision, the UK Supreme Court ruled today that PM Boris Johnson misled the Queen when asking her to prorogue Parliament, rendering the prorogation unlawful and void:

The unanimous judgment from 11 justices on the UK’s highest court followed an emergency three-day hearing last week that exposed fundamental legal differences over interpreting the country’s unwritten constitution.

“It is for parliament, and in particular the Speaker and the Lord Speaker, to decide what to do next. Unless there is some parliamentary rule of which we are unaware, they can take immediate steps to enable each house to meet as soon as possible. It is not clear to us that any step is needed from the prime minister, but if it is, the court is pleased that his counsel have told the court that he will take all necessary steps to comply with the terms of any declaration made by this court," [said Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court].

The court stopped short of declaring that the advice given by Johnson to the Queen was improper. It was a question. they said, they did not need to address since they had already found the effect of the prorogation was itself unlawful.

Speculation before the ruling was that the court would find against the prime minister; that they were unanimous came as a surprise.

Speaker John Bercow, in consultation with his counterpart in the Other Place and with party leaders across the House, said the House of Commons would sit tomorrow at 11am. According to the Parliamentary Calendar as of this writing (15:40 BST), nothing has been calendared, but it seems likely that things will be lively.

Guardian editor Martin Kettle hails the ruling as a triumph of Parliament:

The power to prorogue parliament has now followed, in effect, the power to make war and to make treaties. All were once prerogative powers exercised in the past by ministers on behalf of the crown, but without parliamentary scrutiny. That is no longer possible. The process that began in the court of appeal in the 1960s under Lord Reid – the development of judicial review of public law – reached its ultimate and triumphant goal this morning.

Constitutionally, this is a magisterial landmark in the assertion of parliamentary sovereignty against the residual power of the crown and ministers. But it also bolsters parliament against all the other forces that claim to have higher authority too – from referendums to the tabloid press to the crowds in the streets.

If he's correct, Parliament has the power (but not necessarily the political capital) to ignore the Brexit referendum, or call a new one, or hold an election where that's the principal question.

Seven times Johnson has challenged the institutions of the UK since becoming Prime Minister, and seven times he's lost. Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn suggested Johnson "consider his position," which is English for "resign now."

Of course, Johnson won't do that he believes he can win the next election, which will without doubt take place before the end of November. He may be right. This Parliament could win every battle and lose the war, but only because the next Parliament lets it happen.

False equivalence again, because of course

James Fallows calls out the press for, once again, treating two different scandals as the same:

Under normal circumstances, the press’s strong preference is for procedural balance. The program’s supporters say this, its critics say that, so we’ll quote both sides of it to you, the public, to decide who is right.

This approach has the obvious virtue of seeming fair, as a judge is fair in letting the prosecution and defense each make its case. It has a less obvious but very important advantage for news organizations, that of sparing reporters the burden of having to say, “Actually, we think this particular side is right.” By definition, most reporters most of the time are covering subjects in which we’re not expert. Is the latest prime-rate move by the Fed a good idea? Or a bad one? I personally couldn’t tell you. So if I am covering the story, especially on a deadline, I’ll want to give you quotes from people “on both sides,” and leave it there.

As an Atlantic colleague puts it: Journalism is hard; criticizing journalism is easy. In this business we’re all doing our best, and we all make mistakes in real time. But the very difficulty of these calls is why it’s worth noting a similar, as-if-we’d-learned-nothing-from-2016 case of false equivalence, which is unfolding before our eyes. This is “the Ukraine problem.”

Patient Zero of the next false-equivalence epidemic has appeared this weekend. No one can be sure of the cure, but the time to recognize the symptoms, and their source, is now.

The "scandal" of whatever Hunter Biden might have done in Ukraine a few years ago is nothing compared to the illegality of having the president's personal lawyer demand of a foreign government that Biden be investigated.

Feminist thought on smart-phone use

Via Bruce Schneier, Irish writer Maria Farrell explains how a feminist perspective leads to some creepy realizations about smart phones:

Here are some of the ways our unequal relationship with our smartphones is like an abusive relationship:

  • They isolate us from deeper, competing relationships in favour of superficial contact – ‘user engagement’ – that keeps their hold on us strong. Working with social media, they insidiously curate our social lives, manipulating us emotionally with dark patterns to keep us scrolling.
  • They tell us the onus is on us to manage their behavior. It’s our job to tiptoe around them and limit their harms. Spending too much time on a literally-designed-to-be-behaviorally-addictive phone? They send company-approved messages about our online time, but ban from their stores the apps that would really cut our use. We just need to use willpower. We just need to be good enough to deserve them.
  • They betray us, leaking data / spreading secrets. What we shared privately with them is suddenly public. Sometimes this destroys lives, but hey, we only have ourselves to blame. They fight nasty and under-handed, and are so, so sorry when they get caught that we’re meant to feel bad for them. But they never truly change, and each time we take them back, we grow weaker.

Feminists are often the canary in the coalmine, warning us years in advance of coming threats. Feminist analysis of Gamergate first exposed the online radicalization of legions of angry young men for whom misogyny was a gateway drug to far-right politics. More practically, when the US military finally realised the enemy could use running app, Strava, to track the habits and route-maps of soldiers based in hostile environments, domestic violence activists collectively sighed. They’d been pointing out for years that the app is used by stalkers and aggrieved exes to track women. I’m not the first person to notice that in cyber-security, feminism is a secret super-power. Checking every app, data-set and shiny new use-case for how men will use it to endanger women and girls is a great way to expose novel flaws and vulnerabilities the designers almost certainly missed. So, while looking at our relationship with our phones through a feminist lens may be disconcerting, it’s incredibly useful, and in a deliciously counter-intuitive way.

I'll be mulling her thoughts over for a while.

Trudeau might be toast

Yesterday, a photograph of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in brownface makeup prompted a quick apology and an excellent reply from New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh. Today, the New York Times reported that Trudeau appears in three—count 'em, three—photos showing him racially-insensitive outfits:

A Liberal Party spokesman confirmed that the young man in blackface in the video published Thursday morning by Global News was Trudeau, and said it was “from the early 1990s." Trudeau turned 20 in 1991.

The succession of revelations Wednesday evening and Thursday morning has rocked Trudeau’s campaign as he faces a tough battle for a second term. Trudeau, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Thursday, canceled his morning events.

This all happened a week into a general election campaign. Canada votes on October 12th.

A friend of mine who lives (and votes) in Montreal suggested that the Liberals may be about to ditch Trudeau in favor of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. She writes, "Would she have enough time though? It could be a strong move on the party's part, though I don't know if they have it in them. the Liberals are pretty wishy-washy establishment in my opinion. I guess that's what they are discussing this morning during the cancelled appointments."

Canadians are generally more sensitive to racism than Americans. It'll be very interesting to see what happens.

This bird has flown

A new paper in Science today reports that North America has lost 27% of its bird population since 1970, with the biggest declines in grasslands and forests. The authors of the report, ornithologists John Fitzpatrick and Peter Marra, sound the alarm:

As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent.

Much of the loss is among common species. The red-winged blackbird population has declined by 92 million. A quarter of all blue jays have disappeared, along with almost half of all Baltimore orioles. These are the birds we know and love, part of the bird life that makes North America lively, colorful and filled with song every spring. While it remains vital to save the most endangered of these birds, the loss of abundance among our most common species represents a different and frankly more ominous crisis.

What we need most is a societal shift in the values we place on living side-by-side with healthy and functioning natural systems. Natural habitat must not be viewed as an expendable luxury but as a crucial system that fosters human health and supports all life on the planet. The loss of nearly three billion birds signals a looming crisis that we have the power to stop. We call on all our lawmakers, political candidates and voters across the continent to place renewed value on protecting our common home—the great tapestry of natural systems we share with other species and must protect for future generations.

Unfortunately, with our current government, that seems unlikely.

Lunchtime must-reads

Just a few today:

That's all for this afternoon. Check back tomorrow to see if Israel has a government, if Saudi Arabia decides to take its $67 bn defense budget out for a spin, or if President Trump succeeds in putting homeless people in concentration camps.

Why two 737-MAX airplanes crashed a year ago

Pilot and journalist William Langewische, well known to Daily Parker readers, has a long essay in the New York Times Magazine this week examining the problems with Boeing's 737-MAX airplane—and the pilots who crashed them:

From 2003 to 2007, the Indonesian accident rate as measured by fatal flights per million departures had grown to be 15 times as high as the global average. The United States Embassy in Jakarta advised Americans to avoid travel on Indonesian airlines, though within Indonesia that was practically impossible to do.

In 2007, the European Union and the United States permanently banned all Indonesian airlines from their national territories. This was done for reasons of safety. The ban was largely symbolic, because the Indonesians were focused on their expanding regional markets and had no immediate plans to open such long-distance routes, but it signaled official disapproval of Indonesia’s regulatory capabilities and served as a public critique of a group of airlines, some of which were out of control.

Lion Air had been contributing to the casualties almost since its inception. By the time of the signing ceremony in Bali, it was responsible for 25 deaths, a larger number of injuries, five total hull losses and an unreported number of damaged airplanes. An old truth in aviation is that no pilot crashes an airplane who has not previously dinged an airplane somehow. Scratches and scrapes count. They are signs of a mind-set, and Lion Air had plenty of them, generally caused by rushed pushbacks from the gates in the company’s hurry to slap airplanes into the air.

He doesn't exonerate Boeing, and he makes it clear that Airbus's automation brings problems of its own. He makes it clear, however, that the lack of pilot training, lack of pilot experience, and lack of an innate safety culture, made the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes much more likely. (His description of pilot training at Indonesia's Lion Air is terrifying.)