The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

So much corruption! We're going to do corruption like you've never seen it

President Trump's list of felons to whom he granted clemency yesterday seems to have a common element. First, Rod Blagojevich, possibly the most corrupt governor Illinois has ever had, which is saying something in a state that sent 4 of its last 8 to prison, and who seems less than contrite about his crimes:

“I had a unique opportunity to represent Congress and be (Illinois’) governor for six years and fight for things I truly believe is good for people,” he said, adding “the fight” now was against the “people that did this to me” and to regain the public’s trust.

“That if I were to give in to the pressure and give in to the shakedown that was done to me, that I would be violating my oath of office to fight for the Constitution and fight for the rule of law and keep my promises to (the public),” he said. “ ’Cause I didn’t do the things they said I did. And they lied on me.”

And the president also pardoned Michael Milken, who has his own glorious history of malfeasance:

Lest history be entirely rewritten, it’s worth considering what Judge Kimba M. Wood told Mr. Milken at his sentencing on Nov. 21, 1990, on charges including conspiracy and fraud:

“When a man of your power in the financial world, at the head of the most important department of one of the most important investment banking houses in this country, repeatedly conspires to violate, and violates, securities and tax laws in order to achieve more power and wealth for himself and his wealthy clients, and commits financial crimes that are particularly hard to detect, a significant prison term is required in order to deter others.”

[I]t’s not hard to fathom why Mr. Milken’s saga would resonate with Mr. Trump.

Like the president, Mr. Milken studied business at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania but was largely shunned by New York’s elite.

Mr. Milken’s early clients were corporate raiders who, like Mr. Trump, were disdained by establishment firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Mr. Milken and his junk-bond-fueled takeovers were seen as disruptive forces, threats to a complacent status quo on Wall Street and in corporate America, just as Mr. Trump has upended Washington.

And of course Mr. Milken underwent years of distracting investigations and related bad publicity.

NPR interviewed NYU law professor Rachel Barkow this morning, who summed it up nicely. (I'll edit this post later today to add her comments when the transcript comes out.)

I really hope whoever gets the Democratic nomination hammers the president on this stuff. The corruption! Such corruption! It's the one thing Donald Trump does best.

Madam, I'm February 2nd

Today is 2020-02-02, which is 02/02/2020 in the U.S. and 02.02.2020 in Europe. There's a thing going around the Internet today that this is the first time in 909 years that both ways of representing dates have been palindromes on the same date. They put the previous instance as 01/01/1010.

Unfortunately that's not true. This has never happened before, for a few reasons:

  • Representing dates as a string of numbers only started, as far as I can tell, in the mid-19th century.
  • As recently as the middle of the 20th Century much of Europe would have written the month as a Roman number, e.g. 2.II.2020.
  • In the year 1010, the year began sometime in the spring (possibly March 25th under the Julian calendar). So the entire concept of numbering months would have made no sense.
  • The United States didn't exist in 1010.

So this is an example of someone noticing a numeric pattern that only makes sense in the modern world and extrapolating that ad absurdam.

If you like palindromes and absolutes that actually do have the same meaning when representing dates in the 11th century as today, you should look at 27 February 2019, which was Julian day number 2458542.

Britain leaves the EU

At midnight Central European Time about five hours from now (23:00 UTC), the United Kingdom will no longer be a European Union member state.

It will take years to learn whether the bare-majority of voters in the UK who wanted this were right or wrong. My guess: a bit of both, but more wrong than right.

It will also take years to fully understand why the developed world collectively decided to throw out the institutions that brought us the longest period of peace and economic growth in the history of the planet.

It might be like how an airplane actually flies. Until recently, people understood the Bernoulli effect as the mechanism for lift. New research (sub. req.) suggests that lift actually has four different components that work together to keep 200-tonne airplanes airborne.

Increasing wealth inequality, the apex of political power for the Baby Boomer generation (possibly the most selfish and whiny generation in American history), psychological warfare of unprecedented sophistication designed specifically to fracture Western politics...they all go together. And those of us who believe that democratic, liberal government is the best force for making the world a better place despair a little more every day.

It was 20 years ago today

...that I finally passed my private pilot checkride and got my certificate.

I finished all the requirements for the checkride except for two cross-country flights for practice on 18 July 1999. Unfortunately, the weather in New Jersey sucked on almost every weekend for the next six months.

I finally took a day off from work in early December, took my checkride...and failed a landing. (I was too far off centerline to pass, but otherwise it was a perfectly safe landing.) It then took another six weeks to take that one part of my checkride over, on 15 January 2000.

Someday soon, I hope to get back in the air. Probably this spring. But as any private pilot can tell you, life sometimes interferes.

Spot the theme

A few articles to read at lunchtime today:

  • Will Peischel, writing for Mother Jones, warns that the wildfires in Australia aren't the new normal. They're something worse. (Hint: fires create their own weather, causing feedback loops no one predicted.)
  • A new analysis finds that ocean temperatures not only hit record highs in 2019, but also that the rate of increase is accelerating.
  • First Nations communities living on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron—the largest freshwater island in the world—warn that human activity is disrupting millennia-old ecosystems in the Great Lakes.

Fortunately, those aren't the only depressing stories in the news today:

Now that I'm thoroughly depressed, I'll continue working on this API over here...

Get them while they're young, Evita, get them while they're young

The New York Times analyzed eight social-studies textbooks published in both California and Texas. Both states have state-wide standards for education, which textbook makers have to honor given the number of students in each state. You can guess some of the results:

The books have the same publisher. They credit the same authors. But they are customized for students in different states, and their contents sometimes diverge in ways that reflect the nation’s deepest partisan divides.

Hundreds of differences — some subtle, others extensive — emerged in a New York Times analysis of eight commonly used American history textbooks in California and Texas, two of the nation’s largest markets.

The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts.

Requests from textbook review panels, submitted in painstaking detail to publishers, show the sometimes granular ways that ideology can influence the writing of history.

Context: I have a Bachelor's in history, and a law degree, which means I have read a lot of social studies texts (not just textbooks) in my life. I have Howard Zinn next to Paul Johnson in my bookshelf, for example. So I favor the California method of teaching kids about the warts. I also believe that knowing how we screwed up in the past helps us become a better nation.

I'm glad the Times did this analysis. It helps show one more way in which we live in two Americas, and how politicians try to keep it that way.

But I think George Washington's farewell address might guide us even today: "One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection."

(The title of this post refers to this bit from Evita.)

Two big 20th anniversaries today (and a centennial)

We typically think of January 1st as the day things happen. But December 31st is often the day things end.

On 31 December 1999, two things ended at nearly the same time: the presidency in Russia of Boris Yeltsin, and the American control of the Panama Canal Zone.

Also twenty years ago, my company gave me a $1,200 bonus ($1,893 in 2019 dollars) and a $600 suite for two nights in midtown Manhattan because I volunteered to spend four hours at our data center on Park Avenue, just so that Management could say someone was at the data center on Park Avenue continuously from 6am on New Year's Eve until 6pm on New Year's Day. Since all of the applications I wrote or had responsibility for were less than two years old, literally nothing happened. Does this count as an anniversary? I suppose not.

And one hundred years ago, 31 December 1919 was the last day anyone could legally buy alcohol in the United States for 13 years, as the Volstead Act took effect at midnight on 1 January 1920.

I'm DD tonight, but I will still raise a glass of Champagne to toast these three events.

Photo by Harris & Ewing - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Link

Four stories, more related than they seem

Article the first: Stocks have continued going up relentlessly even though producer prices are also up, exports are way down, and wages have stagnated. This means, essentially, our economy is rent-seeking and not producing.

Article the second: President Trump's tariffs have hurt agriculture and commodities, caused job losses, and hit the most vulnerable people in Trump Country. They haven't helped the economy at all. Question: bugs or features?

Article the third: Michiko Katutani draws direct parallels between the "end of normal" of the 2010s and Richard Hofstadter's "paranoid style."

Article the fourth: The 2010s also had good-looking celebrities pushing (almost literal) snake oil on us, and people bought it up wholesale. Actors and other Dunning-Krueger sufferers made billions on imaginary health and wellness products that helped neither health nor wellness.

So as we go into the bottom of the 10s, this is America today. Can't wait to see the '20s on Wednesday when it's all better.

End of the decade? Yes, dammit

Nineteen years ago, I banged the drum pretty hard that 2000 was not the first year of the 21st Century, because the Christian calendar has no year zero. But yesterday, I disagreed entirely with Sandi Duncan, managing editor of the Farmers' Almanac, during her interview on NPR:

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: I mean, it feels like a big deal, 2019 to 2020. Why is there such a debate about whether or not this is the end of the decade?

SANDI DUNCAN: You know, it's really interesting. But I hate to tell you it's not.

MARTIN: It's not?

DUNCAN: Actually, no. We ran a story several years ago. In fact, you know, remember the big celebration in 1999. People thought that the new millennial was going to start the next year. But really, a decade begins actually with the year ending in the numeral one. There was never a year zero. So when we started counting time way back when, it goes one through 10. So a decade is 10 years. So in actuality, the next decade won't start until January 1, 2021.

That's such a narrow technical point—I should know, I made the same point in 1999—but it isn't what Martin asked.

Duncan concluded, "I mean, what do you call the decades of the '20s? I guess it's the '20s, but is that the 1920s or the 2020s? So it's one of those fun things that you can argue about until next - the new decade, which starts on January 1, 2021."

We'll call it "the '20s" because, you know, the numbers all have 20 in them.

So, let's clarify. 2000 was the first year of the 2000s but the last year of the 20th century. The 21st century began on 1 January 2001. So 2020 will be the first year of the '20s (duh!) but technically, just technically, it will be the last year of the 202nd decade of the Common Era.

Got that?

Johnson, Clinton, Trump

Yesterday, the House of Representatives impeached the president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress:

After 11 hours of fierce argument on the House floor between Democrats and Republicans over Trump’s conduct with Ukraine, lawmakers voted almost entirely along party lines to impeach him. Trump becomes the third president in U.S. history to face trial in the Senate — a proceeding that will determine whether he is removed from office less than one year before he stands for reelection.

The Democratic-controlled House passed two articles of impeachment against Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — related to the president’s attempts to withhold military aid to Ukraine and pressure its government to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 Democratic opponent.

The House voted 230 to 197 to approve the article charging abuse of power, with the gavel falling about 8:30 p.m. On the obstruction of Congress vote, which followed soon after, the tally was 229 to 198.

All Republicans voted against both articles. Among Democrats, two voted no on the first article and three on the second, with one — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — voting “present” both times.

George Conway says the president's malignant narcissism made impeachment inevitable:

It was inevitable because of Trump himself, his very character, whose essential nature many who now support him have long understood.

In essence, Trump thinks everything should be about him, for him, for his benefit and glorification—and he can’t comprehend, and doesn’t care about, anything that isn’t. The American diplomat David Holmes testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland explained to him that “the president only cares about ‘big stuff’”—clarifying, according to Holmes, that this meant “big stuff that benefits the president.”

And that’s why Trump can’t comply with his duties to the nation, and why he now stands as the third president ever to have been impeached. His own stated view of his constitutional authority can only be described as narcissistic: “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president.” But as the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report rightly explains, “Impeachment is aimed at Presidents who believe they are above the law, and who believe their own interests transcend those of the country and Constitution.” Or, as then-Representative Mike Pence put it in 2008: “This business of high crimes and misdemeanors goes to the question of whether the person serving as President of the United States put their own interests, their personal interests, ahead of public service.” It was inevitable that, given his boundlessly self-centered bent, this president would do precisely that.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has put the Articles of Impeachment in a drawer, ostensibly to get cooperation from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on trial procedures, but also, as Josh Marshall points out, to keep the initiative and keep the focus on Republican intransigence.

And so, as we go into the last two weeks of the decade, things keep getting more interesting. To that end, I'll have a bit about this morning's Queen's Speech once I've read it.