Party crashers

When I started this blog, I made it a goal to post for a month.  Now, I’m going to make it a goal to take a break.  I know this will leave the rest of the world in a bit of a quandary for a while, but I think it’s for the best.  We’ll see how long I last.

Michael Flynn is currently persona non grata now that he’s been caught making shady deals with the Russians just before Trump took office and lying about it.  This is not the first quality one looks for in a National Security Advisor.  It’s so bad even the administration is distancing itself from him.  (‘Flynn?  Sounds familiar.  Could you describe him?’)  It was a weird day.  While Stephen Miller was busy not providing any evidence at all whatsoever of voter fraud, a narcissistic, attention-grabbing demagogic national leader was being antagonistic and the president (Did you check the last link?  I meant someone else.) went golfing with his new buddy, the prime minister of Japan.  Maybe the US will step up its plans to stop North Korea from firing off rockets while the president golfs.

In the end, the president seized the day (and a few bridesmaids), when he noticed a wedding taking place on his golf course, not far from where he and Abe made their historic stand of unity against the far-off forces of disorder and chaos.

“I saw them out on the lawn today,” Trump said of the bride and groom, who were standing nearby. “I said to the Prime Minister of Japan, I said, ‘C’mon Shinzo, let’s go over and say hello.’ “
“They’ve been members of this club for a long time,” Trump said of the newlyweds. “They’ve paid me a fortune.”
I love that.  Really.  I do.
caddyshack-czervik-wang
With apologies to the Prime Minister.
Advertisements

Ex post facto

I believe there are four important components of the current malaise in the United States.  I’ve already addressed two of them, namely, the celebration of incivility (mind speak) and the polarization of middle-class insecurities into ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ expressions (although this has been in development for a long time).  The other two are distinct but related, and they are (1) the legitimizing of personal values over evidence and (2) the breakdown of epistemology.  We see these manifest in the president’s belief-motivated actions such as his executive orders to investigate voter fraud and to ban Muslim terrorists.  Each of these actions spring from the president’s beliefs, but not from any empirical evidence.  Note that this does not mean that the actions are wrong (or right), just that they are belief-motivated.  Further, they play to others who share the president’s beliefs.  In a sense, they have value simply because they respond to values, and because they feel like they solve problems (just as a placebo pill works).  While all policy is motivated by feelings and values, the problem with policy that eschews evidence is that it takes the place of policy that is informed by it.  Also, it cannot be falsified–one can never prove that it didn’t work (no doubt, the administration will claim that it worked) because it was never based upon anything but intuition (and thus can only be evaluated on this basis).  It’s just feel-good policy and it’s only criteria for success is whether it made you feel good.

The final item relates to epistemology (which I always have to look up to find exactly what it means), the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.  It is rooted in the idea that there is such a thing as truth and, by trying, we can understand which knowledge is valid, useful, and universal, and which is just how you happen to feel that day.  The breakdown that concerns me is the attack on the value of truth.  The president, his press secretary, and his administration in general, are so vehemently in opposition to the concept of universal truth, it seems that we are entering an era in which one may simply believe whatever one wants.  Want to believe that all of the mainstream media reports are fake news?  Go ahead–believe that.  Want to believe that the administration is evil and incompetent?  Go ahead–believe that.  What does it matter?  Just believe what appeals to you.  What can you do about it anyway?  And, that’s the real point, I think.  The absence of truth means the absence of responsibility.  Pick a side that feels comfortable, believe what you want, say what you want, do what you want.  All truth becomes relative and the only value of ‘news’ is the extent to which it reaffirms the beliefs in which we’ve previously invested.

This, I think, is the most pernicious effect of our national polarization.  We’ve all become invested in our mindsets.  Our greatest comfort against the degradation of our collective prosperity is the conceit that some opposing group is wrong and to blame.  We’ve been divided and conquered by the entities that stand to lose by our unity and we’ve submitted to this division because the cost of unity is the acknowledgement that our conceptual nemeses are just as well-meaning as we are and that we are just as addle-minded as they are.  We’ve become the Bloods and the Crips on a national scale.

In any event, remember that Trump dossier that came out about a month ago that the president-elect said had no basis in fact?  It seems it has some basis in fact.  How much, remains (hopefully) to be seen.  In case you’re wondering what to do about it, these folks have some suggestions.

Is life a game or a party?

The next time you’re locked in a dead-end political debate with your (pick one)

  • left-wing, ding-bat, bleeding-heart, out-of-touch, welfare-loving

–or–

  • right-wing, cold-hearted, backwoods, xenophobic, gun-loving

brother-in-law, stop the conversation and ask this question:  Is life a game or a party?  In other words, is the point in life to compete and prevail, or to socialize and get along?  I believe many ‘liberal/conservative’ schisms reduce to this bifurcation.  For example, if life is a competition, what kind of fool would want immigrants coming in to siphon away limited resources?  If life is a social event, what kind of deplorable racist would try to keep people out?  I think that until we address this core division of values, it is unlikely that Americans will move beyond impugning the motives and reasoning of those we’ve been conditioned to disrespect.

From the land of fake news, it seems that the The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has an 80% reversal rate at the U.S. Supreme Court.  The implication seems to be that, in all certainty, the stay on Trump’s Muslim ban will be overturned pretty soon.  If the comments section of The Daily Caller are any indication, this is good news.  The problem is, 99.9% of circuit court rulings never go before the Supreme Court, which reduces the 80% chance that the Trump ban will be reversed to about zero or so.  Of course, the chance is even lower if the administration doesn’t appeal the decision at all.  Besides, what would they bring before the highest court?  As U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema pointed out, they begged the administration to show any evidence at all that the ban would make Americans safer and the administration could show none.  Why bother, when they can just keep signing executive orders until they produce something that doesn’t get blocked by the legal system?  Remember in the movie Jurassic Park when those dinosaurs kept testing the fence to see where it was weak?  Just a matter of time.

Finally, because I brought my family to Canada to chase the American dream, I’m leaving you with a chart and a quote from Leonard Cohen:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

the_great_gatsby_curve

The Fourth Turning

Today’s ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals against Trump’s Muslim ban is pretty boring compared to what Steve Bannon is expecting to come from the Fourth Turning.  Yes, I do have a bit of a Bannon fixation, but here’s why.  It’s interesting enough, I suppose, to know what the Golden Figurehead is interested in and keep an eye on that; but, far more interesting to me is what the power behind the throne is interested in.  And, the answer to that question is, Steve Bannon is interested in the end of the current social/economic/political order.  Not, mind you, in an ‘Oh, let’s see what happens‘ kind of way (as I am), but more in an ‘Excellent, all is in readiness‘ sort of way.  The reason is, Bannon is really into theories by William Strauss and Neil Howe, and these guys think we’re ripe for a major crisis (as they’ve described in their book, (The Fourth Turning).  Now, either it’s really scary that this is true (but a little comforting to know that the primary strategist in the White House is preparing for it) or it’s really scary that it’s false, and the primary strategist in the White House is preparing for it.  Either way, it’s really scary.

Nevertheless, #ShePersisted

Jeff Sessions has just been confirmed as the next Attorney General (along the expected party lines), but the real news today is that Mitch McConnell seems to have just launched Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 campaign by telling her to shut up.  I wonder if the confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch will be nicer.  He seems like a much nicer guy to me ever since he called the president’s attacks on the judicial system ‘demoralizing’ and ‘disheartening.’

Morning consult/POLITICO just released the results of a recent poll that they conducted.  Results of interest include the high popularity of Trump’s Muslim ban (haven’t seen much of that in the news).  Results of less interest include Democrats’ desire for their elected officials to block Trump in pretty much everything (Obama Protocol redux, but blue instead of red).  Of course, the poll asks many timely questions.  Why not have a look for yourself, and, for the super geeks, check out the crosstabulation edition?

Finally, because I just can’t take my eyes off this guy, why not learn a little more about #PresidentBannon and his views of the world, including this quote:

“Darkness is good.  Dick Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan–that’s power. It only helps us when (outsiders) get it wrong–when they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”–Steve Bannon (as quoted by Michael Wolff)

Why wasn’t there a confirmation hearing for that guy?  Spooky dude.

Fukushima robots, wild bison, and seized assets

It had to be clear that, at some point, we would hit a slow news day.  That point has come.  I started this activity with the goal of posting every day for a week.  Then, I figured I’d try for a month and take a break.  Unfortunately, I’ve run out of news before I’ve run out of month.  Worse, I’ve not run out of enthusiasm.  So, here we go.

Tepco analysts (the ones motivated to paint the conditions at the former Fukushima nuclear reactors a bit on the rosy side) have recently measured the radiation inside reactor #2 at 530 sieverts of radiation per hour.  For reference, exposure to 10 sieverts will kill you within about a month, and 530 sieverts per hour will kill the robots used to scoot around inside the reactors (to do all the cool robot stuff they do) in about two hours (because they can only absorb 1000 sieverts before they die).  Yes, Fukushima is still so toxic, it even kills robots.  Go nuclear power!

In happier news, the bison are back!  As part of its 150-year anniversary, Canada has decided to bring wild bison (really wild, as in they’re all pregnant with little anchor bison) back to Banff National Park.  And, there they go!  Now, don’t tell me the Canadians don’t know how to party.

Did someone say party?  There’s a new sheriff in town and he invited all his little sheriff buddies to his place to hang out.  So, what do sheriffs talk about when they’re alone and someone is taking a transcript of their conversation?  Seized assets!  See, when cops arrest people, sometimes they take their stuff.  Then, they keep it–even if the people were innocent.  It helps with bonuses.  Anyway, that’s the back story to this exchange that got the media riled up:

PARTICIPANT: Mr. President, on asset forfeiture, we got a state senator in Texas who was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive their forfeiture.

THE PRESIDENT: Can you believe that?

PARTICIPANT: And I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation.

THE PRESIDENT: Who is the state senator? Want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career. (Laughter.) Okay, thank you.

Ok, that’s good, but is it anything he wouldn’t say about Rosie O’Donnell?  I read through the transcript, and I want to leave you with this jewel, which I think is even better:

THE PRESIDENT:  So what do you do?  So in other words, they have a huge stash of drugs.  So in the old days, you take it.  Now we’re criticized if we take it.  So who gets it?  What happens to it?  Tell them to keep it?

MR. BOENTE:  Well, we have what is called equitable sharing, where we usually share it with the local police departments for whatever portion that they worked on the case.  And it was a very successful program, very popular with the law enforcement community.

Has anybody checked to see if El Chapo has escaped again?  I think he might be wearing a Trump mask.

#PresidentBannon and Zaphod Beeblebrox

Zaphod Beeblebrox is a character from the Douglas Adams story, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  He was the president of the galaxy and a hedonistic, irresponsible narcissist whose only role was to create confusion and distract attention away from those who were actually in power.  And this is our cue for Steve Bannon.  He’s an interesting guy, who’s recently getting a lot of attention for his behind-the-scenes maneuvering and controversial views.  It does seem that Mr. Bannon has been quite busy lately and Mr. Trump is not at all amused at hints that Bannon is the real power behind the throne.  Still, if one were looking for a narcissistic, controversial figure–one who could attract attention to himself by claiming that the worldwide news media is purposely not reporting terrorist attacks for some undisclosed nefarious purpose (they actually do report these) or that the federal government will stop funding California–it would be hard to find a better Zaphod for President Bannon than our own Mr. Donald.