The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Maybe I was too harsh on Dan Coats

Everything I'm learning about John Ratcliffe, the president's likely nominee for Director of National Intelligence, suggests he's orders of magnitude worse than the guy he's replacing:

The intelligence community will fight hard against a threat to its culture of avoiding open partisanship, former senior CIA operations officer John Sipher told NBC News. "It's all about professionalism and taking the world as it is. There is no such thing as Democratic or Republican intelligence. It is what it is, no matter how inconvenient."

Dan Coats, the former Indiana senator whose departure as DNI paved the way for Trump to pick Ratcliffe, appeared to live by that code. He discussed intelligence assessments in public that were at odds with Trump's worldview, and he focused on the issue of Russian election interference, an issue Trump appears to view as a threat to his legitimacy. As NBC News has previously reported, that candor contributed to a strain between Coats and Trump that led to the former's departure.

Ratcliffe, by contrast, has focused on what he believes was misconduct at the heart of the Russia investigation and has spent little time talking about Russia's interference in the American political system.

Ratcliffe, 53, has little experience in national security or intelligence. He was elected in 2014 with the support of the Tea Party, ousting 91-year-old incumbent Republican Ralph Hall. Ratcliffe had been the mayor of Heath, Texas — population 7,000 — from 2004 to 2012.

Reactions from Republicans to Trump's selection of Ratcliffe were tepid. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, which will hold Ratcliffe's confirmation hearing, waited a day before congratulating Ratcliffe in a statement that did not quite endorse him.

The basic point I made Sunday stands: both Coats and Ratcliffe are party hacks, but Coats at least has experience and a surprising pattern of not just telling the president what he wants to hear. Ratcliffe doesn't seem to have that temperament. So in one more department, all we can do is hope that the career professionals will do their jobs well, and resist the partisan hackery from their political bosses.

Kentucky and Tennessee aren't worried yet

The Show-Me State recently passed a law creating the specifications for Missouri Bourbon:

According to House Bill 266, signed on Thursday, July 11, any whiskey labeled as Missouri bourbon must not only meet the federal standards for bourbon, but also be mashed, fermented, distilled, aged and bottled in the state; aged in oak barrels manufactured in the state; and—beginning January 1, 2020—made with corn exclusively grown in the state. The law goes into effect on August 28.

The Missouri Craft Distillers Guild, which formed in 2018 and now has 35 members, pushed the measure heavily. “The whole point of the bill was to tie agriculture and tourism together in Missouri,” says Don Gosen, owner of Copper Mule Distillery and a member of the Guild. “Being able to make a high-class bourbon and make it truly a Missouri product—not just made in Missouri, but made from Missouri raw materials.” The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Porter of Montgomery City and signed by Gov. Mike Parson, was originally authored by Gosen with later modifications and input provided by the Craft Distillers Guild and other stakeholders.

Well, OK, when the first examples come out in a couple of years, I'll try it.

Shooting at Gilroy Garlic Festival

I want Wayne LaPierre to apologize, in person, to Alberto Romero:

The shooting left three people dead — including a 6-year-old boy — and 12 injured, local officials said. Authorities initially reported that 15 people had been hurt but amended the count early Monday morning. One gunman was killed by officers at the scene, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said.

In an interview with NBC Bay Area, Alberto Romero confirmed that his 6-year-old son, Stephen, had died. The boy’s mother and grandmother were also shot and injured, the news station reported.

“I lost my son,” Alberto Romero told the news station. “There’s nothing I really can do besides try to be with him until I can put him in his resting spot.”

Romero later added: “My son had his whole life to live and he was only 6.”

Decades of the National Rifle Association trying to sell as many guns as possible have led to this. And to every other mass shooting in the last 30 years. There have been 196 mass shootings in 2019 so far, or about one every day. And the fact that the United States is the only OECD country where this happens means that we can stop them from happening simply by adopting gun controls similar to every other country in the world.

Wayne LaPierre and his entire septic organization should be held liable for each and every one of these murders until he and the NRA are insolvent. And then they should be held liable some more.

If I were President

Tonight I'm looking at the resignation of Dan Coats and the likely appointment of John Ratcliffe for the office of director of national intelligence (DNI), and struggling to understand how narcissism survives.

I don't really give two cents about either Coats or Ratcliffe, other than to say they're both well-established toadies and lickspittles. Ordinarily I would make an obscene gesture at either's appointment and move on with my life because, after all, Republicans are always going to prefer toadies and lickspittles to competent people, and we have a Republican president.

And yet, my objection to Coats' demonstrated performance as DNI and Ratcliffe's likely performance as DNI hinges entirely on the fact that they're both toadies and lickspittles. Because they're not the outgoing and incoming undersecretaries of agriculture for soybean producition, they're the outgoing and income directors of national fucking intelligence. You can appoint Mickey Mouse to handle our caribou migration efforts, but for DNI? Are you stupid?

Political executives, be they elected presidents or unelected dictators, need clear and unbiased intelligence about the world to function effectively*. I look at Francis Walsingham, the first modern DNI the world has ever seen, and (I believe, though I may be wrong) the model for Varys in Game of Thrones. Walsingham never spared Elizabeth's feelings, and taught her how to rule a country in the process.

But think about what that requires from the executive: maturity, patience, trust, a long view. Think about President Obama sitting back in the situation room while his subordinates carried out a military operation that but for luck and timing would have ended his presidency, trusting them, letting them work, knowing that they were all on the same team, and taking responsibility for the outcome no matter what that was.

Contrast that with this guy, who fired Dan Coats in favor of John Ratcliffe, and will consequently get only the intelligence that is safe to convey to the ruler.

On a related note, someone has finally clarified the meaning of the entirety of Ecclesiastes 10:16. I've often quoted the first bit of it, but I've also felt like that's kind of like only quoting only half of the second amendment. It's not; and here's why.

The entire verse is translated thus, in the three most popular English versions:

KJV: Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!

NIV: Woe to the land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning.

GNV: A country is in trouble when its king is a youth and its leaders feast all night long.

(O holy dog, do I hate the Good News version, however accurate enough it is in its banality. What a capitulation to illiteracy. But I digress.)

I quoted these translations because the original Hebrew has, shall we say, some ambiguity.

So I asked a Rabbinical student to chase down the full meaning of the passage, and got a good answer. The bit about having a child as king works on the plain language. And in fact I used the verse as the introduction to my senior thesis at university about the machinations between two men to rule as Edward VI's regent that kept England in a cold civil war from Henry VIII's death until after Jane Grey tried to usurp Mary.

I digress again.

According to a lot of Talmudic discussion, the bit about "eating in the morning" means the princes, who would have an expectation of piety and propriety attached to their offices, choose to eat breakfast before morning prayers, thus elevating their carnal needs above their worship of God.

Even as allegory, I can see the wisdom of it. Also I can see how it fits with our current situation. Those guys 3,000 years ago faced the same idiocy we face today, and tried to warn us about it. Good thing the people who read the Bible every day know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, the most explicit, and least poetic, translation I can offer is this: "When your ruler lacks the capacity to judge right and wrong, and the ministers of state care only for themselves, you are bloody right fucked."

Yes we are.

La di da, la di da...

* "Effective" is not an endorsement. It's just a reading of history.

More fallacies

Yesterday, this nitwit described a couple of logical fallacies that everyone raved about. For day two of my series on "how not to argue," I present two more of the most common fallacies of irrelevant conclusions. I'd feel bad for you if you got taken in by either of these.

Argumentum ad ignoratiam

An "argument to ignorance" relies on a lack of evidence against your proposition, and hoping your opponent doesn't have any.

For quite some time, the President used essentially this fallacious line of argument when he shouted "no collusion!" almost every day. In the absence of evidence supporting charges that he accepted the help of the Russian government to suborn the election of 2016 and undermine our democracy, him arguing that he didn't do exactly that could be seen as an ad ignoratiam argument.

More insidiously, a prosecutor might argue to ignorance when she says that a defendant has no alibi for the time when someone committed the crime being tried. However, under our system of criminal justice (which we designed understanding this exact fallacy), the defendant doesn't have to have an alibi. Rather, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant committed the crime. Whether the defendant has an alibi or not is irrelevant, unless some other evidence puts the defendant at the scene at the right time.

Argumentum ad misericordiam

Pity and pathos come from our connections to every human being and the general desire to prevent suffering. But an "argument to pity," however well-crafted, is not an argument to evidence.

A commercial that entreats you to send money to a charity so that these children won't suffer is exactly that. The commercial provides evidence that children are suffering; it doesn't provide evidence of a connection between you sending them money and the children suffering less. Now, if they said "here is a link to documents that show we spend 90% of our income on programs to alleviate suffering," that would be actual evidence.

Next time, find out who endorses my blog, or you'll be left out of the conversation.

Requiem for a glacier

Researchers from Rice University and residents of Iceland have put up a memorial to a glacier that disappeared in 2014:

The memorial is “a letter to the future.” It describes what we lost: the Okjokull glacier — and how we lost it: human-caused climate change. And yet it is hopeful, acknowledging “what is happening and what needs to be done.”

“Only you,” future visitor, “know if we did it.”

It’s a reminder of geologic times gone by, like a Mount Rushmore but for the natural landmarks we’ve lost. The plaque, dedicated to Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change, will be installed next month in Borgarfjordur.

[A]ll of Iceland’s glaciers are projected to melt in the next two centuries. The Rice University researchers say they hope this small memorial helps create a path forward for thinking about climate change and its impact.

It was an ice thing to do as well.

The man's talking about logic at a time like this

Yes I am.

In this first post of a new series, I'm going to explain in brief the most common logical fallacies that we hear (and sometimes use) all the time.

Fallacies come in a few basic flavors: irrelevance, formality, ambiguity, and materiality. I'll begin with irrelevance, since blogs traditionally start there.

Argumentum ad hominem

An "argument to the person" focuses on the opponent as a person, rather than the opponent's argument. The President excels at these: think about all the nicknames he uses to taunt people he doesn't like.

Other statements he makes about his opponents, like "low-energy" or "a total lightweight," are also arguments to the person. He isn't providing evidence one way or another about the matter in question; he merely provides evidence about his opinions of his opponents, which is irrelevant.

Argumentum ad populum

An "argument to the people" uses a group's opinion as evidence, rather than the opinions of qualified people. When the President says "everybody agrees" or "nobody knew" something, he doesn't provide evidence that anyone can use; he only provides evidence that, in his opinion, an undefined group of people believe something.

Advertisers do this all the time. Think of "4 out of 5 dentists agree" (who are the dentists? were more than 5 polled?) or "biggest box-office for its opening weekend" (many people bought tickets, but did they like the movie?).

Parents may hear this one, too: "Aw, mom! Peter gets to stay up until ten, so why can't I?" (The child provides evidence only that her sibling can stay up until 10, not that her doing the same would benefit either her or her parents.)

That's it for today. I'll post two or three of these daily until I run out. (There are quite a few.)

A frustrating time to be alive

Or, as Tom Lehrer once remarked, "I'm beginning to feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis."

The latest exhibit: how the press reacted to Robert Mueller's testimony on Wednesday. Adam Serwer:

In any other administration, in any other time, a special prosecutor, former FBI director, and decorated Marine testifying that the president of the United States was an unprosecuted felon who encouraged and then benefited from an attack on American democracy in pursuit of personal and political gain would bring the country to a grinding halt. But the American political press found Mueller insufficiently dazzling.

All of this, of course, was in Mueller’s report, which most members of Congress still have not read. The press, for its part, first accepted a false summary put forth by Attorney General William Barr, and then largely persisted in repeating his mischaracterizations, even after the bulk of the report was released.

On Wednesday, media outlets had the chance to get the story right. Instead, they largely chose to focus on Mueller’s performance instead of on his findings.

Andrew Sullivan saw in this, and in the Democratic leadership's refusal to hold President Trump accountable for his crimes, as fresh evidence that "the American constitutional system is failing on every level":

The system, it turns out, is not even strong enough to withstand one Trump term, let alone two. Trump intuited this in 2016, and if he wins reelection, as he now has a good chance of doing, what’s left of liberal democracy will be under acute duress.

The “extinction-level event” that I feared in the spring of 2016 is already here. Look around you. And it wasn’t even a fight.

Now, Sullivan has been a pessimist on almost every level for years. But both he and Serwer have a point that it looks like our side don't know how to fight this insanity.

Who needs agents?

In their ongoing battle with large Hollywood agencies, the members of the Writers Guild of America fired all their agents. Subsequently, they went through the usual May cycle of getting new jobs with hardly any difficulty. And this week, the Guild released an online platform to connect writers with jobs.

In a note to the membership, the Guild explained the platform:

Today the WGA is launching our Staffing & Development Platform, which provides valuable new tools to help connect writers with job opportunities in features and TV development. Over 600 producers, PODs, and companies have already registered and set up their profiles. Now, they’re ready to hear from writers like you.

With this new Platform, writers will be able to contact producers, PODs, and companies directly to apply for Open Writing Assignments (OWAs) and to request general meetings. At present, Current members will be able to submit for up to 3 OWAs and 10 general meetings each month. On the first of each month, these counts will be reset to 3 and 10, respectively, whether the previous month’s submissions were used or not.

The dispute revolves around "packaging deals" in which agencies sell studios a "package" of talent for a show or film. The studios pay the agencies a package fee, which the writers never get. In other words, instead of representing the interests of writers, these package deals profit the agencies at the expense of writers, because the agencies have an incentive to reduce writers' fees and increase the package fees.

Agencies still think they're going to come out on top, because of hubris and greed. But the WGA has shown in the past three months, and continues to show with the new platform, that they don't need agents as much as agents need them. In fact, they never have. But as Upton Sinclair said, "it is difficult to get someone to understand a thing when his salary depends on him not understanding it."

Yes, the climate has changed before...just not like this

As our planet warms to global average temperatures not seen in over 125,000 years, a pair of long-range studies has concluded the unique way or climate is changing right now, as opposed to the rest of history:

“The familiar maxim that the climate is always changing is certainly true,” Scott St. George, a physical geographer at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said in a written commentary about the studies. “But even when we push our perspective to the earliest days of the Roman Empire, we cannot discern any event that is remotely equivalent — either in degree or extent — to the warming over the last few decades.”

One of the studies, published in the journal Nature, shows that the Little Ice Age and other natural fluctuations affected only limited regions of the planet at a time, making modern warming the first and only planetwide warm period in the past two millennia. The other study, published in Nature Geoscience, shows that the rate of modern warming has far outpaced changes that occurred before the rise of the industrial era.

For the Nature Geoscience study, the researchers charted global temperature averages over time, and then compared the data to a set of climate simulations to figure out what might have driven the changes. Neukom and his colleagues found that the fastest warming in the last two millennia occurred during the second half of the 20th century.

The researchers also found that the main cause of temperature fluctuations changed over time. Prior to 1850, fluctuations were mainly linked to volcanic eruptions, which cooled the planet by spewing sun-blocking ash into the stratosphere; after 1850, greenhouse gas emissions took the wheel.

As if to underscore that, today London saw temperatures over 37°C while France and other parts of Europe set new all-time heat records, with a reading of 42.6°C in Paris today.