The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

In the news today

As the House Judiciary Committee goes through the unfortunately necessary step of having expert witnesses state the obvious, other things caught my attention over the course of the morning:

Finally, two CTA employees were fired after one of them discovered an exploitable security hole in bus-tracking software, and the other tested it. The one who discovered it has sued under a Federal whistle-blower statute. Firing someone for discovering a potentially-catastrophic software design error is really dumb, people.

Let the good times be gin!

This week's New Yorker has a long ode to my second-favorite spirit:

Gin is on the rise and on the loose. It has gone forth and multiplied. Forget rising sea levels; given the sudden ascendancy of gin, the polar gin caps must be melting fast. Torn between a Tommyrotter and a Cathouse Pink? Can’t tell the difference between a Spirit Hound and an Ugly Dog? No problem. There are now gins of every shade, for every social occasion, and from every time zone. The contagion is global, and I have stumbled across gins from Japan, Australia, Italy, and Colombia. Finland brings us the uncompromising Bog Gin. I have yet to taste Dragash, which emanates from a mountainous region of Kosovo, but, if it proves to be anything but wolfish, I shall be disappointed. Visitors to Thailand, or lovers of ginseng, will surely enjoy a nip of Iron Balls.

By any reckoning, the spread of gin has been a freakish phenomenon. (I have seen it described as a “Ginaissance.” Anybody heard using this word should, of course, be banned from public bars in perpetuity.) When, where, and why it began is hard to pinpoint; Federico, at the Savoy, puts the cart before the horse and contends that the founding of Fever-Tree tonic, in 2004, drove the headlong return of gin to the market. What’s inarguable is that the outbreak has occurred since the turn of the millennium. One devout Web site, theginisin.com, which lists three hundred and eight American gins, refers to Death’s Door, a fine Wisconsin brand, as “an old kid on the block,” since it harks all the way back to the mists of 2006.

The article goes on at some length on the history and future of gin, as well as where to go to make your own. Next London trip, I'll stop in to the 58 Gin Distillery and make my own for 99 quid.

Confirming expectations

Yesterday, the President of the United States mused aloud why we haven't celebrated the centennial of the 19th Amendment's passage in 1920 sooner:

After working his way through the prepared remarks, Trump interjected with his own riff. “They’ve been working on this for years and years,” he said, suddenly wondering, “And I’m curious, why wasn’t it done a long time ago, and also — well, I guess the answer to that is because now I’m president, and we get things done. We get a lot of things done that nobody else got done.”

The task of explaining to Trump that “centennial” means “100th anniversary” fell to Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn. Blackburn gently recounted that the bill worked its way through both chambers of Congress. ... She proceeded to note that “August 18th, 1920 is when the 19th Amendment was ratified.”

Mystery solved! They’re observing the women’s suffrage centennial now because next year is the centennial. That is how time works.

Even after this clear accounting, Trump nonetheless was still confused.

Dementia? Alzheimer's? The Omnibus Explanation? Probably the last one, as it would explain how he doesn't grasp that people who look at his financial disclosures easily spot the endemic fraud, such as what ProPublica reported today.

The election is in 342 days. Angels and ministers of grace, defend us.

Mid-day link roundup

As I try to understand why a 3rd-party API accepts one JSON document but not another, nearly-identical one, who could fault me for taking a short break?

Back to JSON and my miserable cold.

Looking good for 7,000

National Geographic describes a reconstruction of a woman who lived 7,000 years ago on the Swedish Coast:

The woman was buried upright, seated cross-legged on a bed of antlers. A belt fashioned from more than 100 animal teeth hung from her waist and a large slate pendant from her neck. A short cape of feathers covered her shoulders.

From her bones, archaeologists were able to determine that she stood a bit under five feet tall and was between 30 and 40 years old when she died. DNA extracted from other individuals in the burial ground where she was found confirmed what we know about Mesolithic peoples in Europe—that they were dark skinned and pale eyed.

Ingela Jacobsson, director of the Trelleborg Museum, agrees. “She had some sort of special position in society considering everything that she was buried with, but beyond that we cannot make any sort of determinations.”

The reconstruction doesn't look like a modern Swede for many reasons, not least of which that pale skin didn't sweep through northern Europe until about 3,500 years ago.

Thirty years ago

I remember the early evening of 9 November 1989. A bunch of us were hanging out on our floor in my college dorm when my roommate told us to come in and watch what was on TV. We saw Germans atop the Berlin Wall waving the Federal (West German) flag, and not getting shot.

Today's Times has a good set of photos from the wall's construction in 1961 to its destruction in 1989. as does CNNBerliner Zeitung has an interview with Andrei Gratchev, Mikhail Gorbachev's spokesman from then, about the relationship between East Germany and the USSR. The Beeb explains how illegal raves brought the younger generation together and helped precipitate the East's collapse.

Germany reunified less than a year later.

Forty years ago today

On 4 November 1979, "students" stormed the American Embassy in Tehran:

After a three-hour struggle, the students took hostages, including 62 Americans, and demanded the extradition of the deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was receiving medical treatment in the United States for the cancer that ultimately would kill him. Some hostages would later be released amid the crisis, but it would take over a year for all to be freed.

It would take 444 days—until the last day of President Jimmy Carter's term—for Iran to release the hostages.

NPR this morning had an interview with Ambassador John Limbert, one of the hostages.

Kicking the can down the road

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal points out that while PG&E has some responsibility for California's wildfires, the real culprits are the voters and elected officials who have ignored routine maintenance for two generations:

A kind of toxic debt is embedded in much of the infrastructure that America built during the 20th century. For decades, corporate executives, as well as city, county, state, and federal officials, not to mention voters, have decided against doing the routine maintenance and deeper upgrades to ensure that electrical systems, roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure can function properly under a range of conditions. Kicking the can down the road like this is often seen as the profit-maximizing or politically expedient option. But it’s really borrowing against the future, without putting that debt on the books.

In software development, engineers have long noted that taking the easy way out of coding problems builds up what they call “technical debt,” as the tech journalist Quinn Norton has written.

Like other kinds of debt, this debt compounds if you don’t deal with it, and it can distort the true cost of decisions. If you ignore it, the status quo looks cheaper than it is. At least until the off-the-books debt comes to light.

In the same vein—or, perhaps, in a root-cause analysis—Vox recently interviewed author Bruce Gibney about his 2017 book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America:

[T]he damage done to the social fabric is pretty self-evident. Just look around and notice what’s been done. On the economic front, the damage is equally obvious, and it trickles down to all sorts of other social phenomena. I don’t want to get bogged down in an ocean of numbers and data here (that’s in the book), but think of it this way: I’m 41, and when I was born, the gross debt-to-GDP ratio was about 35 percent. It’s roughly 103 percent now — and it keeps rising.

The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it. They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children.

We used to have the finest infrastructure in the world. The American Society of Civil Engineers thinks there’s something like a $4 trillion deficit in infrastructure in deferred maintenance. It’s crumbling, and the boomers have allowed it to crumble. Our public education system has steadily degraded as well, forcing middle-class students to bury themselves in debt in order to get a college education.

Then of course there’s the issue of climate change, which they’ve done almost nothing to solve. But even if we want to be market-oriented about this, we can think of the climate as an asset, which has degraded over time thanks to the inaction and cowardice of the boomer generation. Now they didn’t start burning fossil fuels, but by the 1990s the science was undeniable. And what did they do? Nothing.

There's a reason the latest meme sweeping Gen Z is "ok, boomer."

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.