The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Long weekend; just catching up

Saturday and Sunday, the Apollo Chorus sang Verdi's "Requiem" three times in its entirety (one dress rehearsal, two performances), not including going back over specific passages before Sunday's performance to clean up some bits. So I'm a little tired.

Here are some of the things I haven't had time to read yet:

Other stuff is going on, which I'll report when I have confirmation.

A lie wrapped in a fabrication, lacquered over with a falsehood

In a powerful June, 2016, column for Slate, Dahlia Lithwick laid out the NRA's (and the right's) second-amendment hoax. It's worth revisiting:

The Supreme Court ... most famously in a 1939 case called U.S. v. Miller [ruled] that since the possession or use of a “shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length” had no reasonable relationship to the “preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia,” the court simply could not find that the Second Amendment guaranteed “the right to keep and bear such an instrument.” Period, full stop. And that was the viewpoint adopted by the courts for years.

What changed? As Cass Sunstein and others have explained, what changed things was a decades-long effort by exceptionally well-organized, well-funded interest groups that included the National Rifle Association—all of whom “embarked on an extraordinary campaign to convince the public, and eventually the courts, to understand the Second Amendment in their preferred way.”

The larger fabrication is the idea that the Second Amendment—unlike other provisions of the Constitution—cannot be subject to any reasonable restriction.

Hoax number three: Obama, Clinton, Democrats, liberals, the media, whomeverare coming for your guns. They are Coming. For your Guns!!! This is the crunchy candy shell that makes the other two lies seem almost reasonable.

Meanwhile, as Lithwick and others keep saying, we're the only country in the OECD where you're more likely to get shot than get hit by lightning. (Seriously, in every other country the incidence of gun death is less than 0.5 per 100,000—about the incidence of being injured or killed by lightning. In the U.S., the incidence of gun murder, not just getting shot, is around 3.6 per 100,000.)

And to think, this is all driven by a trade association. Imagine if the National Association of Dental Hygienists had that much power.

And kudos to Lyft, who announced they'll give free rides to anti-gun rallies. This is one more reason I use them and not the other guys.

On the radar today

I'm actually coughing up a lung at home today, which you'd think gives me more time to read, but actually it doesn't. Really I just want a nap.

Now I have to decide whether to debug some notoriously slow code of mine, or...nap.

The consequences of Parkland

The shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week have galvanized students across the country. Here are three of the more thoughtful reactions.

First, David Kurtz at TPM Prime (sub.req.) thinks these murders might finally, and suddenly, break the NRA's choke-hold on the Republican Party:

The NRA’s power lies in having made anything other than maximal support for gun rights a nearly impossible position for Republican officeholders to sustain. The very definition of Republican is to be lockstep in opposition to gun control. That wasn’t always true. The politicization of the GOP that saw the winnowing of moderate Republicans, especially in the Northeast, accelerated the process of making absolutism on guns a defining feature of the modern GOP, more so even than opposition to abortion.

The challenge for the NRA has been to continue to raise the price of apostasy on guns for Republican officeholders high enough and fast enough that it outpaces the cost of holding the line through the carnage of the last decade. It’s a breathtaking political calculation all the way around. Again, I go back to Newtown. For GOP elected officials, it’s safer to cluck and shake your head over Newtown and do nothing than to break with the NRA and the party. Until that calculation changes, nothing else will.

But when it does change, it will change everything.

WaPo's Paul Waldman explains why the Parkland students have made the pro-gun right wing so angry:

The plainer reason is that as people who were personally touched by gun violence and as young people — old enough to be informed and articulate but still children — the students make extremely sympathetic advocates, garnering attention and a respectful hearing for their views. The less obvious reason is that because of that status, the students take away the most critical tool conservatives use to win political arguments: the personal vilification of those who disagree with them.

So right now, conservatives are engaged in a two-pronged attempt to take it back. On the more extreme side, you have the social media trolls, the conspiracy theorists, the more repugnant media figures, who are offering insane claims that the students are paid agents of dark forces, and can therefore be ignored. On the more allegedly mainstream side, you have radio and television hosts who are saying that the students are naive and foolish, and should not by virtue of their victimhood be granted any special status — and can therefore be ignored.

Meanwhile, writing for the New York Times, Michael Ian Black argues that part of the problem is how too many boys are "trapped in an outdated model of masculinity"

...where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.

And so the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage. We’ve seen what withdrawal and rage have the potential to do. School shootings are only the most public of tragedies. Others, on a smaller scale, take place across the country daily; another commonality among shooters is a history of abuse toward women.

To be clear, most men will never turn violent. Most men will turn out fine. Most will learn to navigate the deep waters of their feelings without ever engaging in any form of destruction. Most will grow up to be kind. But many will not.

Are we finally at a point where we can prevent gun murders without adding more guns to the mix? Do we all have to live in fear of angry men with military-grade weapons?

And let's remember one of the best public service announcements on the topic:

"Told you so."—George Washington, 1796

Thomas Pickering and James Stoutenberg, writing for the New York Times, point out that George Washington warned us about someone like the modern Republican Party or Donald Trump taking power in the U.S.:

In elaborate and thoughtful prose, Washington raised red flags about disunity, false patriotism, special interests, extreme partisanship, fake news, the national debt, foreign alliances and foreign hatreds. With uncanny foresight, he warned that the most serious threat to our democracy might come from disunity within the country rather than interference from outside. And he foresaw the possibility of foreign influence over our political system and the rise of a president whose ego and avarice would transcend the national interest, raising the threat of despotism.

He wrote that should one group, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge,” gain domination over another, the result could be “a more formal and permanent despotism.” The despot’s rise would be fueled by “disorders and miseries” that would gradually push citizens “to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.”

“Sooner or later,” he concluded, “the chief of some prevailing faction, more able and more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purpose of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”

And then he arrived at one of his greatest concerns: The ways in which hyperpartisanship could open the door “to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

As someone with a degree in history, all I can do is watch the train wreck and hope to survive it.

Laughing their asses off in the Kremlin

As Jennifer Rubin points out, President Trump's unhinged tweets over the weekend have some truth to them—but not in the way Trump meant:

Trump lashed out: “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!” Actually, they succeeded and are laughing, very likely, because they helped elect an unhinged, erratic president who will not protect the United States against Russian meddling. The discord comes from Trump smearing the FBI and making up lies (e.g., accusing President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower).

It was a new low, hiding behind the bodies of dead children and teachers to shield himself from accountability.

He blamed Democrats for not passing gun control when it was Republicans who torpedoed a compromise bill after the Sandy Hook massacre. David Hogg, a 17-year-old survivor of the massacre at his high school, spoke for many when he responded on “Face the Nation”: “President Trump, you control the House of Representatives. You control the Senate and you control the executive. You haven’t taken a single bill for mental health care or gun control and passed it. And that’s pathetic."

Aside from the blizzard of lies, one is struck by how frantic Trump sounds. The number and looniness of the tweets arguably exceed anything he has previously done. His conduct reaffirms the basic outline of an obstruction charge: Desperate to disable a Russia probe that would be personally embarrassing to him, he has tried in many ways to interfere with and end the investigation. In doing so, he, at the very least, has abused his office.

How is this man our President? Because one of the major parties in our country have descended into winner-takes-all, scorched-earth politics, and will hold onto power until the voters finally pry it from the party's cold, dead fingers.

Plain old paper can make our elections more secure

Via Bruce Schneier, Michael Chertoff and Grover Norquist (of all people) explain in the Washington Post how we can make our elections more secure:

It should also be no surprise that hackers have U.S. voting systems in their sights. They’re a relatively easy target. Researchers have studied a range of electronic voting infrastructure — including touch screens, optical scanner systems and registration databases — and found serious vulnerabilities that could allow even moderately sophisticated attackers to pose threats to voting integrity. This year, about 40 states are set to use electronic voting or tabulation systems that are more than a decade old — many of which run on software that’s too old to be serviced with vendor security patches. A survey of nearly 300 election officials in 28 states found that a clear majority report needing new voting systems.

We believe there is a framework to secure our elections that can win bipartisan support, minimize costs to taxpayers and respect the constitutional balance between state and federal authorities in managing elections. In September, Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, introduced legislation that would help solve the problem with an elegantly simple fix: paper ballots. Meadows’s Paper Act would authorize cost-sharing with states for the replacement of insecure electronic systems with those that produce a voter-verified physical record. The bill also lays the groundwork for states to regularly implement risk-limiting audits — procedures that check a small random sample of paper records to quickly and affordably provide high assurance that an election outcome was correct.

Of course, the Trump administration has no interest in returning people's faith in the elections process. Like authoritarians everywhere, they benefit from FUD. So it's interesting seeing Chertoff and Norquist taking a position I completely agree with.

Anti-liberalism on the left

Andrew Sullivan cautions the American left against turning into the very thing it hates about the far-right:

The idea of individual merit — as opposed to various forms of unearned “privilege” — is increasingly suspect. The Enlightenment principles that formed the bedrock of the American experiment — untrammeled free speech, due process, individual (rather than group) rights — are now routinely understood as mere masks for “white male” power, code words for the oppression of women and nonwhites. Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of “hate,” rather than a function of nature or choice or freedom or individual agency. And anyone who questions these assertions is obviously a white supremacist himself.

Polarization has made this worse — because on the left, moderation now seems like a surrender to white nationalism, and because on the right, white identity politics has overwhelmed moderate conservatism. And Trump plays a critical role. His crude, bigoted version of identity politics seems to require an equal and opposite reaction. And I completely understand this impulse. Living in this period is to experience a daily, even hourly, psychological hazing from the bigot-in-chief. And when this white straight man revels in his torment of those unlike him — and does so with utter impunity among his supporters — there’s a huge temptation to respond in kind. A president who has long treated women, in his words, “like shit,” and bragged about it, is enough to provoke rage in any decent person. But anger is rarely a good frame of mind to pursue the imperatives of reason, let alone to defend the norms of liberal democracy.

Look: I don’t doubt the good intentions of the new identity politics — to expand the opportunities for people previously excluded. I favor a politics that never discriminates against someone for immutable characteristics — and tries to make sure that as many people as possible feel they have access to our liberal democracy. But what we have now is far more than the liberal project of integrating minorities. It comes close to an attack on the liberal project itself. Marxism with a patina of liberalism on top is still Marxism — and it’s as hostile to the idea of a free society as white nationalism is. So if you wonder why our discourse is now so freighted with fear, why so many choose silence as the path of least resistance, or why the core concepts of a liberal society — the individual’s uniqueness, the primacy of reason, the protection of due process, an objective truth — are so besieged, this is one of the reasons.

The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke.

I'm not sure I completely agree with him, but I see some signs that he may be more right than wrong.

The answer to the right-wing's ascendance in American politics through obnoxious bigotry and inflaming feelings of identity-based resentment cannot be obnoxious bigotry and inflaming feelings of identity-based resentment. That's insane.

Setting up lunchtime reading

Over the weekend I made a couple of minor updates to Weather Now, and today I'm going to spend some time taking it off its Azure Web Role and moving it to an Azure Website. That will (a) save me money and (b) make deployments a lot easier.

Meanwhile, a number of articles bubbled up overnight that I'll try to read at lunchtime:

Back to Azure deployment strategies.

The peasants have no bread

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan tweeted early yesterday the great news about the tax breaks ordinary people are experiencing:

Never mind all the Democrats who call the GOP’s tax bill a deficit-busting giveaway to the rich; House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has been enthusiastically promoting it as a middle-class tax windfall.

He’s been coaching other Republican lawmakers to sell the $1.5 trillion tax cut to voters, and telling people on Twitter to check their paychecks for wage hikes. The bill — which was deeply unpopular when it passed along party lines in December — is now breaking even in a new opinion poll.

So Saturday morning, by way of good news, Ryan’s Twitter account shared a story about a secretary taking home a cool $6 a month in tax savings.

Wow. An extra $1.50 a week will make a huge difference to that taxpayer. That might even let her eat cake.