The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The hospice of history

Writing in the Guardian, journalist and historian Neal Ascherson says that the long Brexit fight has deepened divisions within the UK that have always been there, but now may have passed the point of no return:

It’s commonly said that the Brexit years have made the English more xenophobic, less tolerant, more angrily divided among themselves. 

[T]he deepest change since 2016 is the weakening of the United Kingdom’s inner bonds.

The “great rest of England” seem to have felt for many years that if the Scots want to leave, “it seems a pity but it’s their right”. Few southerners would feel diminished. Many believe, incorrectly, that England subsidises Scotland. Since 2016, Scotland’s heavy vote to stay in the EU, and the SNP’s incessant campaigning against any sort of Brexit, have become a severe irritant to “British” politics. Devolution is working more scratchily month by month, and the common English assumption for the past few years has been that Scottish independence is inevitable. Curiously, this is not how it looks in Scotland, where minds change slowly and where it’s far from certain that the next independence referendum will drag the yes vote over the line.

In the union of four nations, one – England – has 85% of the population. What the past three years have shown is that the big partner is no longer concerned to put its own interests behind those of the others. A poll this year showed that Tory voters would be ready to “lose Scotland” (revealing words) if that ensured Brexit. In turn, devolution only made sense when all four nations were inside the European Union. If England in 2019 can no longer remember why the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland once made sense, Brexit has delivered the United Kingdom to the hospice of history.

Meanwhile, a deal in the works between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats may end the fixed-terms parliament act and send the UK to the polls on December 9th, instead of December 12th as the Government have previously asked. The EU have voted to postpone Brexit until January 31st, further complicating things for the Labour party (even though Labour demanded the extension).

I expect an earful at the Southampton Arms in two weeks.

Defending the indefensible

Benjamin Wittes, writing for Lawfare, points out that Alexander Hamilton predicted exactly how an impeachment would bring partisan differences into even sharper relief than ordinary politics. So Republicans in Congress have to change the subject:

Yes, Trump’s approval numbers show there are cracks in the wall, as every pundit is busily pointing out. But the larger point, it seems to me, is that there is still a wall. And as Hamilton argued, it is the comparative strength of that wall, not any demonstration of Trump’s innocence or guilt, that will regulate the decision as to the president’s fate. The president’s defense, in other words, has been reduced to raw political power; it is not a genuine examination of facts but rather a numbers game to assemble enough elected officials aligned with the president’s faction to refuse to look reality in the eye and thus to ensure Trump’s acquittal.

Of course, no senators or members of the House of Representatives can say this outright. Despite this era of shredded norms and broken taboos, it is still verboten to state what is so obviously true: “I refuse to support Trump’s impeachment because, however merited it may be, I am a Republican and he is a Republican and the advantage of my party would be ill-served by his removal—which might also threaten my own prospects of reelection, which depend on voters who like the president more than they like me.”

There just isn’t any good argument for Trump at this stage. So what is a poor Republican member of Congress or senator, animated by Federalist 65 but unable to admit it, to do?

Their answer is to make noise.

In other words, get ready for a lot more sound and fury, signifying nothing, from the Republican caucus.

Three quick links

First, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who appears entirely too deeply integrated in the President's impeachable offenses to get out without an indictment, and who also owns what he calls a "security consulting service," butt-dialed an NBC reporter. Twice. And the resulting voicemails were...interesting.

Second, how exactly did Justice Brett Kavanaugh pay for his house in 2006? He seems to have gotten almost $250,000 from some undisclosed source.

Finally, the City of Chicago will raise taxes on ride-shares because they cost the city a lot of money. A new report shows that Uber and Lyft have significantly raised traffic levels and delayed buses since their arrival in 2014.

Happy Friday!

Five years with Fitbit

Yesterday was my fifth anniversary using Fitbit products. Since 24 October 2014, I've walked 24,814,427 steps over 21,129.14 km and climbed 32,002 floors. In those 1,828 days I've hit 5,000 steps 1,825 times and 10,000 steps 1,631 times (and 193 days in a row as of yesterday).

So, barring injury, I should hit 25 million steps in about 11 days. Cool.

Best description yet for the UK's current politics

“I’m just saying if I narrowly decided to order fish at a restaurant that was known for chicken, but said it was happy to offer fish, and so far I’ve been waiting three hours, and two chefs who promised to cook the fish had quit, and the third one is promising to deliver the fish in the next five minutes whether it’s cooked or not, or indeed still alive, and all the waiting staff have spent the last few hours arguing about whether I wanted battered cod, grilled salmon, jellied eels or dolphin kebabs, and if large parts of the restaurant appeared to be on fire but no one was paying attention to it because they were all arguing about fish, I would quite like, just once, to be asked if I definitely still wanted fish.”

Originally quoted in Roger Cohen's column in today's New York Times.

Things to think about while running a 31-minute calculation

While my work computer chews through slightly more than a million calculations in a unit test (which I don't run in CI, in case you (a) were wondering and (b) know what that means), I have a moment to catch up:

The first 30-minute calculation is done, and now I'm on to the second one. Then I can resume writing software instead of testing it.

Even I wouldn't want to do this

First, it turns out, my Surface didn't die; only its power supply shuffled off its lithium coil. I got a new power supply and all is well.

Which means I can take a moment to note a proposed flight on QANTAS* that even I would struggle to take. Starting in 2022, the Australian airline proposes a 16,000 km non-stop flight from New York to Sydney that will take 20 hours:

Qantas wants to begin flying the time-saving route commercially as soon as 2022, so the airline used this test trip to explore ways to reduce its inevitable downside: Soul-crushing, body-buckling jet lag. Here’s how my journey unfolded in real time.

It’s shortly after 9 p.m. in New York, our plane has just left JFK International Airport and it’s already become a flying laboratory. Since the goal is to adapt to our destination’s time zone as fast as possible, we click into the Sydney clock right off the bat. That means no snoozing. The lights stay up and we’re under instructions to stay awake for at least six hours — until it’s evening in Australia.

This immediately causes trouble for some passengers.

Down one side of the business-class section, six Qantas frequent flyers are following a pre-planned schedule for eating and drinking (including limiting alcohol), exercise and sleep. They wear movement and light readers on their wrists and have been asked to log their activities; they’ve already been under observation for a few days and will be monitored for 21 days in total. Most of them are bingeing on movies or reading books, but one of them is dozing within minutes. To be fair, I feel his pain. It may be the middle of the day in Sydney, but my body is telling me it’s pushing midnight back in New York.

Obviously the reporter, Bloomberg's Angus Whitely, survived. He said he would take the flight again, but that it took its toll on him. And he traveled westbound; I can only imagine the eastbound return trip. Assuming a 9am take-off from Sydney (2pm in New York), it would arrive in New York the around 10am next day--and this is after crossing the International Date Line and spending almost 16 hours in darkness.

When I go to ANZAC in a year or two, I think I'll lay over in Hawaii. And fly business class.

Dead Surface

My 5-year-old Microsoft Surface, which I use at work to keep personal and client concerns physically separated, has died. I thought it was the power supply, but it seems there is something even more wrong with it. Otherwise I would have posted earlier.

This means I have to make an expensive field trip tonight. Regular posting should resume tomorrow.

The real divide

As someone who's had an online presence since 1983, I have learned a thing or two about online discourse. Principally, it's mostly crap. Most people know this.

But the dangerous thing is, in the last few years, people have forgotten it's crap. Everyone gets so worked up about the specific meaningless thing someone else posts they forget that there is a clear pattern of discourse going back to the beginning of politics.

The basic goal of the right is to consolidate wealth. The basic goal of the left is to live in an egalitarian utopia. And the basic goal of probably 90% of the world is just to live peacefully.

Notice the asymmetry. Living in an egalitarian utopia will never happen, for the simple reason that no one can agree on what that looks like. So the left's ultimate goal will forever be out of reach. We reform one thing, and discover inequality in another. So we try to fix that, and it turns out there's more inequality. It's Whack-a-Mole, for eternity. But the point is, we're trying. We will never live in a utopia, but we can make lives better anyway.

The right, on the other hand, has a long track record of achieving its goal, because it's easy to understand and easy to implement. They get your money; you lose your money; they win.

Now, most people don't vote to hand their money over to people who just want to get rich. So the challenge on the right has always been how to get people to give them money. And because their end goal is easy to understand, and tends to be popular with the people who achieve it, they've developed a few strategies to get your money and huge money-making enterprises to promote these strategies.

Right now, their main strategies are these: sell you things you want on easy terms and strangle you with interest, scare you into handing over your money, borrow from you to give you things you want and then make the other side explain how you were screwed (and not pay you back), make you borrow money to survive, or just steal it outright.

This post is really only about how the Right uses fear. Because everything else they do is just commerce.

As much as we may believe that the Right-wing parties care about jobs, the working class, traditional values, immigration, or whatever they claim to be for in any particular election, they really don't. Again, they care only about consolidating wealth. Because of that, they hate the free press, hate the poor, hate the middle-class, and hate anyone else who gets in their way.

It doesn't help that the center and the left have math, history, and numbers on their side. The right has a powerful message that appeals to a huge swath of people: give us your money and we'll protect you from everything you fear.

Only, they won't. They never have. One has only to look at every dictatorship ever, starting with the kleptocracy in Venezuela (or Russia or Zimbabwe or Hungary or Turkey...) right now to see how simple the whole problem is.

Since about the mid-1960s—not coincidentally, after a Democratic president passed the Civil Rights Act against the wishes of six states' worth of racist Democrats—left and right in this country have increasingly aligned by party, by geography, and by religion. Not just in the US: Canada just had an election yesterday in which a flawed center-left candidate almost lost to a frightening far-right candidate. And don't even get me started on Brexit.

The solution is equally simple: financial transparency. Demand to know where the money is going. Who voted to spend it; who voted to take it; what the actual effect of a government budget will be on you and your people. Then pay attention to what politicians actually say.

An honest person doesn't fear the truth.

Let's take Attorney General Bill Barr's speech at Notre Dame University this week as an example. He said a lot of controversial things, many of them just to rile up his base or piss off his opposition. Mainly, he said that people of faith are under attack from people who have read the First Amendment. (That's not exactly what he said, but given the miniscule portion of irreligious people in the US vs. the 70% who identify as Christian, it seems the top law-enforcement officer of this country fails to understand the Establishment Clause.)

But if you read how he concluded the speech, you see his primary  and clearly-articulated goal: he wants to send American tax dollars to religious private schools. Private schools owned by large corporations. Large corporations owned by the Secretary of Education.

Does Bill Barr care about giving every child in America the word of Jesus? Maybe. Who knows. Probably not. But he and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos care a lot about funneling public money to themselves. That bit is obvious.

I'm never going to have an abortion; you're never going to get fired for praying in your office. The vitriol ginned up about that sort of thing just distracts from the real issue of the early 21st century: Rich people are stealing from you, and you're letting them.

So do this. Vote your conscience on abortion, if your candidate discloses where he got all his money. Vote to protect your job, if your candidate doesn't get paid by your employer. Vote to protect your kids against bad medical research, if your candidate doesn't work for big drug company. Or better yet: run for office yourself.

And for fuck's sake, vote in local elections on local issues. Your alderman can't change foreign policy, but she can decide whether your alley gets paved this year, which might be more relevant to you.

To sum up: The "right" doesn't actually oppose the center or the left on philosophical or policy grounds. They oppose everyone on avaricious grounds. The religion and morality are just camouflage, meant to get votes from the very people they're stealing the most from.

A vote for the modern, movement-conservative Republican Party, or the Brexit-addled UK Conservative Party, or the Canadian Conservative Party (seeing a pattern?), is a vote for aristocracy and against your retirement account. (And hey, for everyone who isn't a trader on Wall Street, how did your private 401(k) accounts work out for you? Yeah, me neither.) It's really that simple.

If you really can only manage to vote on a single issue, then vote against thieves. We can find common ground on policy. We can't find common ground if someone else steals the land.

The sack of Kurdistan

Could President Trump be not only a very stable genius, but a strategic one as well, for pulling American troops out of Syria ? I mean, given the obvious consequences of our pull-out (i.e., Russia and Turkey carving up Kurdistan), the alternative explanation is that the Situation Room this week looked a lot like Sir Bedevere explaining to King Arthur how the wooden rabbit trick would work.

Maybe his 71-minute oration at his cabinet meeting yesterday could give us more information about his state of mind and battlefield thinking:

“We have a good relationship with the Kurds. But we never agreed to, you know, protect the Kurds. We fought with them for 3½ to four years. We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.”

Trump misleadingly frames the agreement as the “rest of their lives.” But the United States had certainly made a deal with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which lost 11,000 soldiers in defeating the Islamic State, after being trained and equipped by the United States. (Turkey considers elements of this force to be a terrorist threat.) To prevent a Turkish invasion, the United States persuaded the SDF to pull back up to nine miles from the Turkish border. In August, the SDF destroyed its own military posts after assurances the United States would not let thousands of Turkish troops invade. But then Trump tossed that aside.

“I don’t think you people, with this phony emoluments clause — and by the way, I would say that it’s cost me anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion to be president — and that’s okay — between what I lose and what I could have made.”

The emoluments clause is not phony; it’s right in the Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8): “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

Trump’s net worth is valued at $3 billion, so it’s difficult to see how being president could cost him even more than his net worth. Bloomberg News recently estimated that his net worth grew 5 percent in 2018, following two years of declines, bringing it back to the level calculated in 2016. Forbes calculated that as of September, his net worth is $3.1 billion.

So, my conclusion, based on this tiny bit of evidence (and the years of evidence that came before) is that the president is a narcissistic idiot. Why are we still talking about impeachment when the 25th Amendment makes more sense? Oh, right. The Republican Party.