The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

Democratic Party strategy?

Adam Eichen bemoans the left's obtuseness in creating, sustaining, and funding a long-term strategy to regain power, the way the radical right has done for 50 years:

Republicans and their donors, on the other hand, got the message. In fact, not long after the memo was written, a handful of billionaires—including John Olin, who made his money in chemical and munitions manufacturing, newspaper publisher Richard Scaife, heir to Mellon fortune, and petrochemical scions David and Charles Koch—began to create an apparatus to shift politics rightward in much the way Powell outlined.

The realization of [Justice Lewis] Powell’s vision and America’s rightward shift did not happen overnight⁠—as Jane Mayer of The New Yorker exposed in her book Dark Money, the road to power took decades, with many disappointments along the way. But, from the formation of think tanks to legitimize radical economic viewpoints to the funding of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to create corporate-friendly, right-wing bill templates for state legislators; from corporate lobbying and targeted political campaign contributions to Astroturf political mobilizations; from the bolstering of the Federalist Society to reclaim the federal judiciary to the attacks on unions and education, the Kochs and their billionaire allies ultimately succeeded. And once power was obtained, they began rigging the system, via voter suppression and gerrymandering, to prevent Democrats from contesting elections on an even playing field.

What would such an electoral strategy look like?

Daily Kos election expert Stephen Wolf told TNR that, for maximum results, the Democrats should target the Texas State House, Florida State Senate, and both legislative chambers in Pennsylvania in 2020. Each of these chambers only require a handful of seats to flip to win Democratic control. Doing so, in the case of Texas and Florida, would block some of the worst and most devastating partisan gerrymanders of the next decade. Creating a Democratic trifecta in Pennsylvania, on the other hand, would open the door to a major voting rights expansion in a key swing state.

Similarly, Wolf suggests Ohio’s two Supreme Court races should be a priority, as a dual victory would give liberals a majority on the bench, providing the only vehicle moving forward to striking down GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression in the Buckeye State.

On the other hand, there may be a deeper problem. Our side wants to govern, not to rule. Our side believe in the back-and-forth of politics, the need for other voices to be heard, etc., etc. We always have. The fundamental difference between the right and left in the U.S. is the difference between closed and open. And those of us with open minds spend our energy thinking of how to solve real problems, not take power from the opposition. I'm not sure if that can change.

Europe goes to hell

As I mentioned this morning, the UK Met predicts that tomorrow—Boris Johnson's first full day as UK PM—will be the hottest day in recorded history for the country. Today, however, is already the hottest day in recorded history for the Netherlands and Belgium:

The Dutch meteorological service, KNMI, said the temperature reached 39.1°C at Gilze-Rijen airbase near the southern city of Tilburg on Wednesday afternoon, exceeding the previous high of 38.6°C set in August 1944.

In Belgium, the temperature in Kleine-Brogel hit 38.9°C, fractionally higher than the previous record of 38.8°C set in June 1947. Forecasters said temperatures could climb further on Wednesday and again on Thursday.

After several cities in France broke previous temperature records on Tuesday, including Bordeaux, which hit 41.2°C, the national weather service, Météo France, said Paris was likely to beat its all-time high of 40.4°C, set in July 1947, with 42°C on Thursday.

City records in Amsterdam and Brussels are also expected to fall. Cities are particularly vulnerable in heatwaves because of a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect, in which concrete buildings and asphalt roads absorb heat during the day and emit it again at night, preventing the city from cooling.

Scientists have said such heatwaves are closely linked to the climate emergency and will be many times more likely over the coming decades.

Last month, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said Europe’s five hottest summers since 1500 had all occurred in the 21st century – in 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016 and 2002.

And the band played on.

Sic transit gloria Brittania

Unelected former Prime Minister Theresa May tendered her resignation to the Queen a few minutes ago. Unelected incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson is, at this moment, meeting with Her Majesty in hopes that she will invite him to form a new government.

May's last Prime Ministers Questions were at noon BST today:

I recommend just a few opinion pieces on Johnson out this morning:

Meanwhile, to underscore that the UK may have gone to hell today, the Met Office predicts that tomorrow may be the hottest day ever in the country. Ever.