Filling the swamp with Blackwater

Remember last time a kind of goofy guy moved into the white house and didn’t seem to have too much of an agenda–but then all these weird guys that you thought were dead or something came out of the shadows and started hanging around with him?  Remember how you thought those guys were just too far off the charts to be taken seriously by anyone–and then they made all the policies?  Well, it seems that when the weirdos are out of power, they wait around until they can get back into it again.

So, it seems that Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos (the nominee for secretary of education), is back in town.  He seems to be advising Mr. Trump on security matters.  (Trump already seems to have Blackwater connections.)  It will be interesting to see how the current unorthodox security detail that Trump has selected will evolve.  Will it become the typical secret service detail or a Praetorian Guard?  The possibility of the latter option has some folks concerned.  But, like so many fears related to the incoming administration, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, I have the oral presentation of my comprehensive exams in about an hour.  I’ll discuss Sustainability Indicators, Data Visualization, and Political Implementation.  I imagine it will be riveting.

The greatest show on earth

With a winter full of arctic blasts, it’s nice to know that things are heating up somewhere.  The New York Times tells us How 2016 Became Earth’s Hottest Year on Record.  In case you’re wondering, the trend looks a bit like this (from the article):

earth-temps

Hopefully, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency won’t spoil the fun.  Although, maybe someone else will.  Then, there’s always that fringe group of 97% of all climate scientists who probably won’t go away quietly.

Also, the circus is leaving town and this time they’re not coming back.  Or, are they just changing venues?  Ok, so I’m not the only one to figure out that P.T. Barnum has come back to life and taken over the world.  Still, the timing is wonderful.  It somehow feels like some balance is kept in the universe–as if some clever magician has removed an object in front of us and replaced it with a duplicate.  We know it’s happened, but it was all so quick, we just can’t accept that we’ve been duped.

P.T. Barnum was an incredibly influential American.  In many ways, all disinformation industries, from intelligence to public relations to advertising to lobbying to campaigning to religion to the nightly news, borrow from the work of this marvelous humbug.  He is a testament to the power of persuasion and the deep-seated desire of the masses to be fooled, especially by someone who will sell simplicity, hope, and diversion for a few nickels.  The best part is, the huckster doesn’t even lose when he gets caught “exaggerating” a bit.  As Barnum biographer Irving Wallace noted, “The bogusness of (his hoaxes) did not matter. Barnum gradually came to be more admired than resented, for the people desperately needed what he had to offer.”

Anti-social media in the surveillance states

It’s been five days and still no personal insult from a current or incoming head of state.  I’m beginning to think this is folly.  I’ll give it a few more days.

Still, I’m not without hope.  What I need is a way to get attention.  Imagine my joy to find out that over 150 cities, counties, and law enforcement agencies in the United States have spent at least $10,000 on social media monitoring services.  I suppose there are agencies that spent less and fell below the radar.  You can look here to see how much your city spent, if it was over $10,000.  Boston recently put out a request for proposals and received offers from Dataminr, Uncharted (I think that’s the link) and Verint Technologies, but the city backed down when they found out how invasive the snooping would be.  Maybe I should just be posting all of this on Facebook (but not in Boston).

It starts with a dream

I remember reading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” long ago and thinking, I want to write like that someday.  I’ve been reading it to my kids at bedtime.  I won’t say it’s their favorite story.  I’m not even as impressed with the writing as I remember being long ago.  Still, I think it’s a seminal document in the history of the United States and rewards the reading.  Why don’t you take a few minutes and read it now?

I don’t like to get too sappy about this stuff.  There’s plenty of debate to be had about the American civil rights movement and the content of character of it’s leaders.  What I like to remember today, is that there was a guy who stood up for what he felt was right using the skills that he had.  He made sacrifices for what he believed in, and what he believed in seemed to be the product of selfless and thoughtful reflection.  I think what impresses me most about MLK, is that he didn’t confine his interests to advancing the cause of his race, but rather he actually fought to end poverty in general in America.  Perhaps someday someone will try that again–and live a little longer.

Meanwhile, did Donald Trump just announce America is getting universal health care?  Is he really going after Big Pharma’s price gouging?  What’s next–taking on the insurance companies?  One can always dream.

Steele, Christopher Steele

What is to be made of the news of a dossier suggesting Trump has deep and compromising ties to Russia?  Much of the discussion seems to focus on an alleged honey trap (or, “kompromat,” as the Russians refer to it) that involved Trump and call girls and could be used for blackmail.  It’s hard for me to understand how this might degrade his image, though.  He already manifests a Berlusconi-like persona, so how damaging could a sex video really be?  I think this focus simply reflects the predilection of media headlines for salacity.  Far more damning are the allegations that the “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years.  Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance” as noted in the summary opening of the original document.

Of course, Trump denies the dossier’s authenticity (what else would he do?), as does Russia.  I think the most relevent question is, Is the author credible?  He certainly seems to be.  It would be great to chat him up a bit.  Unfortunately, he’s currently in hiding.  And, that’s a pretty smart thing to be if the document is bogus.  It’s an even smarter thing to be if it’s not.

Here are various takes on the story.  What do you think?

The story breaks in Mother Jones (October 31, 2016)

Buzzfeed names Christopher Steele as the author of the dossier (Jan 10, 2016)

The Telegraph lists five main allegations of the dossier (Jan 11, 2016)

The New York Times talks about Christopher Steele (Jan 12, 2016)

The Sun talks about Christopher Steele (Jan 13, 2016)

Time talks about Christopher Steele (Jan 13, 2016)

The Los Angeles Times talks about Christopher Steele (Jan 15, 2016)

 

 

Insults in the twitterverse

 

I wanted to create a word cloud infographic that explores The Donald’s tweets.  I would like it to have a slider bar that adjusts the start and end of the date range.  It would also be nice to have a color ramp for the words so that the emotive intent could be seen easily (to know what mood he’s in over a given time range).  I’m going to ask someone at the New York Times if they might create this.  I think it would be worth doing and it’s the kind of thing they might do.  In searching for a contact, I found these articles:

I’m going to email Kevin Quealy and see if he can point me in the right direction.  It wouldn’t be very hard, but it would need some very basic programming in a program like Python and I haven’t learned it yet.  I know I’ll never really be important enough to get my own personal presidential insult, but at least I feel like I have something important in my life to which to aspire.  Next up, we really should discuss James Bond, shouldn’t we?

Second post!

This is where things get interesting.  This is where we see if the whole blog thing really works.  Anybody can make a first post.  But this is my second.  And it’s going to be wonderful.  I’m going to add files.  realdonaldtrump-tweets-2016-03-05-2017-01-13  There’s one now.  I’m going to add images.

Oh, they’re lovely, aren’t they?  realdonaldtrump-tweets-2016-03-05-2017-01-13 There goes another file.

So, what’s going on here?  I downloaded all of The Donald’s tweets from March 5, 2016 to today (January 13, 2017–Friday the 13th).  I went back to March because something about twitter limits downloads to 3200 entries.  I think it’s enough, though.  Then I ran the text of those emails through a few word cloud generators and produced the images above.

The first thing that stood out to me was the word “Thank.”  It shows up a lot.  I wasn’t expecting that.  I did some word counts in Microsoft word, based upon the word clouds, and found the following.  First of all, the most common word it actually “Trump.”  It shows up 1123 times.  But, it often shows up in twitter names, like @realDonaldTrump (270 times)  If we subtract this latter reference, that brings our total down to 853, but a lot of these may be twitter names of his children and such.  Anyway, I’m going to use the number 853.  Therefore, the top ten words in these Trump tweets are these:

  1. trump@853
  2. great@640
  3. america@585
  4. hillary@558
  5. thank@543
  6. make@380
  7. clinton@360
  8. new@341
  9. crooked@276
  10. people@212

Also, the hashtag “#MakeAmericaGreatAgain” shows up 183 times and the phrase “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” lists 87 times.  If we subtract both types of instances of this slogan (270), and if we subtract the 208 instances of the phrase “Crooked Hillary” (just to see what would happen), our list would look like this:

  1. trump@853
  2. thank@543
  3. great@370
  4. clinton@360
  5. new@341
  6. america@315
  7. hillary@288
  8. people@212
  9. make@110
  10. crooked@68

But, of course, the last two might not make the list.  What interested me is, apart from the sloganeering (“Make America Great Again” and “Crooked Hillary”), was, what was the man interested in tweeting about?  “New” seems to often refer to New York, New Jersey, or news.  Therefore, I think the things most on Trump’s tweet-mind this last year have been:

  1. himself
  2. Hillary Clinton
  3. thankfulness
  4. greatness
  5. America
  6. people

Although people are on the bottom, I am glad that they made the list.