The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

If I were President

Tonight I'm looking at the resignation of Dan Coats and the likely appointment of John Ratcliffe for the office of director of national intelligence (DNI), and struggling to understand how narcissism survives.

I don't really give two cents about either Coats or Ratcliffe, other than to say they're both well-established toadies and lickspittles. Ordinarily I would make an obscene gesture at either's appointment and move on with my life because, after all, Republicans are always going to prefer toadies and lickspittles to competent people, and we have a Republican president.

And yet, my objection to Coats' demonstrated performance as DNI and Ratcliffe's likely performance as DNI hinges entirely on the fact that they're both toadies and lickspittles. Because they're not the outgoing and incoming undersecretaries of agriculture for soybean producition, they're the outgoing and income directors of national fucking intelligence. You can appoint Mickey Mouse to handle our caribou migration efforts, but for DNI? Are you stupid?

Political executives, be they elected presidents or unelected dictators, need clear and unbiased intelligence about the world to function effectively*. I look at Francis Walsingham, the first modern DNI the world has ever seen, and (I believe, though I may be wrong) the model for Varys in Game of Thrones. Walsingham never spared Elizabeth's feelings, and taught her how to rule a country in the process.

But think about what that requires from the executive: maturity, patience, trust, a long view. Think about President Obama sitting back in the situation room while his subordinates carried out a military operation that but for luck and timing would have ended his presidency, trusting them, letting them work, knowing that they were all on the same team, and taking responsibility for the outcome no matter what that was.

Contrast that with this guy, who fired Dan Coats in favor of John Ratcliffe, and will consequently get only the intelligence that is safe to convey to the ruler.

On a related note, someone has finally clarified the meaning of the entirety of Ecclesiastes 10:16. I've often quoted the first bit of it, but I've also felt like that's kind of like only quoting only half of the second amendment. It's not; and here's why.

The entire verse is translated thus, in the three most popular English versions:

KJV: Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!

NIV: Woe to the land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning.

GNV: A country is in trouble when its king is a youth and its leaders feast all night long.

(O holy dog, do I hate the Good News version, however accurate enough it is in its banality. What a capitulation to illiteracy. But I digress.)

I quoted these translations because the original Hebrew has, shall we say, some ambiguity.

So I asked a Rabbinical student to chase down the full meaning of the passage, and got a good answer. The bit about having a child as king works on the plain language. And in fact I used the verse as the introduction to my senior thesis at university about the machinations between two men to rule as Edward VI's regent that kept England in a cold civil war from Henry VIII's death until after Jane Grey tried to usurp Mary.

I digress again.

According to a lot of Talmudic discussion, the bit about "eating in the morning" means the princes, who would have an expectation of piety and propriety attached to their offices, choose to eat breakfast before morning prayers, thus elevating their carnal needs above their worship of God.

Even as allegory, I can see the wisdom of it. Also I can see how it fits with our current situation. Those guys 3,000 years ago faced the same idiocy we face today, and tried to warn us about it. Good thing the people who read the Bible every day know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, the most explicit, and least poetic, translation I can offer is this: "When your ruler lacks the capacity to judge right and wrong, and the ministers of state care only for themselves, you are bloody right fucked."

Yes we are.

La di da, la di da...

* "Effective" is not an endorsement. It's just a reading of history.

Things I don't have time to read right now

But I will take the time as soon as I get it:

Now, I need more tea, and more coding.

Fundamental self-parody

A religious group has petitioned Netflix to cancel Amazon Prime's miniseries Good Omens:

The six-part series was released last month, starring David Tennant as the demon Crowley and Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale, who collaborate to prevent the coming of the antichrist and an imminent apocalypse. Pratchett’s last request to Gaiman before he died was that he adapt the novel they wrote together; Gaiman wrote the screenplay andworked as showrunner on the BBC/Amazon co-production, which the Radio Times called “a devilishly funny love letter to the book”.

But Christians marshalled by the Return to Order campaign, an offshoot of the US Foundation for a Christian Civilisation, disagree. More than 20,000 supporters have signed a petition in which they say that Good Omens is “another step to make satanism appear normal, light and acceptable”, and “mocks God’s wisdom”. God, they complain, is “voiced by a woman” – Frances McDormand – the antichrist is a “normal kid” and, most importantly, “this type of video makes light of Truth, Error, Good and Evil, and destroys the barriers of horror that society still has for the devil”. They are calling on Netflix to cancel the show.

Actually, McDormand is technically not God but the voice of God, otherwise known as the Metatron. Pity Alan Rickman wasn't around to reprise his role from Dogma.

Also a pity none of the religious nutters involved watched the show. On Amazon. Because it's a much better adaptation than I thought possible, probably because the novel's co-author Neil Gaiman wrote the screenplay and is one of the executive producers.

But the crazies will crazy, even if they haven't figured out how to stream video online.

Sod off, bra

The secular Israelis who work at a Jerusalem coffee shop got so sick of ultra-right religious nutters screaming at them that they chose a targeted counter-protest:

Bastet, a vegan and LGBT-friendly cafe whose blue tables spill across a central Jerusalem sidewalk, is a secular oasis for residents seeking Saturday refreshment in a city that largely comes to a standstill for the Jewish Sabbath.

But each week, a procession of ultra-Orthodox men, some in their finest fur hats and gold robes, invariably marches past in a show of displeasure at the cafe’s desecration of the day of rest. “Shabbos!” they chant, using the Yiddish word for the Sabbath.

On a recent Saturday, the wait staff struck back, lifting their shirts to reveal their bras in an attempt to push back the religiously conservative demonstrators.

But while the Bastet staff may have won a small reprieve, the wider battle is only expected to escalate. The ultra-Orthodox, also known as Haredim, make up only 12 percent of the population but are the fastest-growing segment of Israelis, with women giving birth to an average of 6.9 children.

In the early days of the Israeli state, many of the ultra-Orthodox were opposed to the secular Zionist movement that created it, fearing it would eradicate their form of Judaism. Now, they are increasingly using their power in Israel’s 120-member parliament, where they most recently won 16 seats, to promote and protect their interests, rather than shunning it.

Ah, religion. If you believe a supernatural, all-powerful entity has sanctioned your desire to do nothing but pray all day, every day, you might run into conflicts with the other several billion people in the world who find this behavior parasitical (or, at least, a head-slapping example of the free rider problem).

And yet this is how a significant minority of Israelis behave. Not only do they find it offensive that the majority of Israelis want them to, you know, give something back for all the privileges they receive, but also they find it offensive that the majority of Israelis don't sit around talking to the supernatural entity all day.

I'm glad to see, with the inability of Benyamin Netanyahu to get concessions from the center-right about these issues, that secular Israelis have had enough and have started pushing back in earnest.

How to get rid of religious nutters

Short answer: use their medieval beliefs against them:

Ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel have held protests against the scheduling of the Eurovision Song Contest on the Jewish Sabbath.

At one point, a small number of women held a counter protest, showing their bras.

You see, Jewish crazies believe in modesty to the point where women can't even show their real hair in public (they wear wigs). Their rules also prohibit them from touching members of the opposite sex not related to them, leaving open the option of a small group of women approaching them Romero-style with their arms out threatening to touch the zealots. I expect that's the next counter-protest.

Closer to home, production companies have started to flee the previously-burgeoning film industry in Georgia after the state passed a 19th-century anti-abortion law, and Missouri's new law has forced me to reconsider my planned trip to Busch Stadium in September.

More than €700m pledged to rebuild Notre-Dame

Yesterday's devastating fire in the Cathédral de Notre-Dame de Paris fortunately left the walls and bell towers intact. But the destruction of the fire and roof could take 10-15 years to fix, according to Le Monde. So far, corporations and other European governments have pledged over €700m ($790m, £605m) towards rebuilding it:

  • La famille Arnault a la première annoncé un "don" de 200 millions d'euros par le groupe de luxe LVMH et a proposé que l'entreprise mette à disposition ses "équipes créatives, architecturales, financières" pour aider au travail de reconstruction et de collecte de fonds ;
  • La famille Bettencourt a annoncé deux dons de 100 millions d'euros, l'un via L'Oréal et l'autre via sa fondation ;
  • La famille d'industriels Pinault, qui possède le groupe Kering, a annoncé débloquer 100 millions d'euros via sa société d'investissement Artemis ;
  • Le PDG du groupe Total, Patrick Pouyanné, a annoncé sur son compte Twitter, que le groupe, qui se présente comme le "premier mécène de la Fondation du patrimoine", allait faire un "don spécial" de 100 millions d'euros.

In the past few weeks, 9 churches in France have burned; however, the Paris Police have opened an accident investigation, suggesting they don't believe it's related. Also, firefighters appear to have saved not only the bell towers but also the grand organ:

The culture minister, Franck Riester, said religious relics saved from the cathedral, including the Crown of Thorns and Saint Louis’s tunic, were being securely held at the Hôtel de Ville, and works of art that sustained smoke damage were being taken to the Louvre where they would be dried out, restored and stored.

He said three stained-glass “rose” windows did not appear to be damaged but would be examined more closely when the cathedral was made safe. Photos from inside the monument suggest Notre Dame’s grand organ, built in the 1730s and boasting 8,000 pipes, was spared from the flames.

Sixteen copper statues that decorated the spire, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, had been removed for restoration only a few days before the fire. Relics at the top of the spire are believed lost as the spire was destroyed.

Still, the damage is appalling. I join with the people of France in hoping that they will be able to rebuild, even if it takes until the 2030s.

This should not be a difficult position to take

Apparently Josef Ratzinger, who resigned from being Pope, seems not to understand how resignations actually work:

Ever since Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff in six centuries to abdicate the papacy, transitioning to a life of near seclusion in a Vatican City monastery, there have been questions about how the notion of two living popes would impact the Roman Catholic Church.

The events of last week offer something of an answer.

Although many people hoped to hear from Benedict amid new allegations that a cover-up of sexual misconduct reached the highest levels of the church, he has established that an ex-pope should maintain a vow of silence about church matters — even during crises and even though he is particularly well positioned to affirm or knock down the accusations.

Some historians say that, for all of Benedict’s theological work, it is his resignation that will most come to define his legacy. Before his abdication, no pope since Gregory XII in 1415 had been willing to step down. Pope Paul VI had at least considered it, according to a book collecting his letters and documents. But Paul VI, who died in 1978, feared that doing so could open future popes to factional fighting, according to an essay by Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest. Pope John Paul II reportedly prepared a letter of resignation to submit in the event of a debilitating condition; he never used it. Instead, his physical faculties declined painfully and publicly as he dealt with Parkinson’s disease.

Yes, because it's hard to answer a simple question about whether raping children is acceptable to the organization you used to head. I can totally understand, from a PR perspective, why the organization wouldn't want its previous leader to stand on the balcony of St Peters Square and shout at the top of his lungs, "Thou shalt not rape children!"

Look, my only interest in Catholic Church politics is as far as they don't affect United States politics. Unfortunately that ship sailed when it came out that this particular religious institution, with tens of millions of American followers, was trying to avoid secular laws abut raping children to such an extent that the secular authorities (in the U.S. and Ireland at least) brought the hammer down so hard the organization is about to avail itself of secular bankruptcy laws.

And writing from some basic ignorance of Catholicism, it just seems stupid to me that there is a living ex-Pope who anyone listens to. I'm not even getting into the specifics of that guy. It just seems clear from the theology that the Catholic Church has promulgated in my lifetime that God appoints the Pope, and God calls the Pope home when God has moved on from that relationship.

I mean, if you get into it literally, God should be the ultimate polyamorist, since He literally loves everyone; but still, how do you get to papal infallibility with a papal resignation? It's almost as if the office of Pope were political and not ordained by a supernatural entity. Dear me, doesn't that call into question the entire basis of the Catholic Church's authority?

But again, I'm just an outsider trying to make sense of a news story that only makes sense if you believe that any secular government on earth should care one whit what an obsolete, morally corrupt, and entirely political organization believes. As soon as American Catholics get any distance from believing that the Catholic Church has any influence over their relationships with the Christian God or Jesus, then I think we can start addressing the horrors that the institution has afflicted on Americans for the last century. Just look at Ireland: it is possible.

One more thing. This has nothing to do with people who believe in Jesus or the Christian God. This is entirely about men taking advantage of that belief and using it to cover up gruesome crimes. I don't personally care whether someone believes in God or Jesus; but when they say that the men who wear the big hats can't be brought to justice because they are men of God, I say, render unto Caesar. We have laws in the U.S. (and just about everywhere else) against covering up crimes, which is just the legalistic entree into the basic fact that using a power relationship to take advantage of someone sexually is a crime everywhere in the Christian world.

If ex-Pope Ratzinger has any difficulty understanding that raping children is wrong, or if current Pope Bergoglio doesn't believe that purging the organization he heads of people who rape children is perhaps a win for everyone, then the Catholic Church has no moral authority whatsoever, and should be treated so.

No human being can speak for God; this seems axiom, regardless of your religion. But certainly, no one can claim that God approves of raping children or burying the babies of unwed girls in a field while they're still alive with a straight face that all of us wouldn't line up to punch.

As an outsider, with some respect for the political power of the Catholic Church, and the willingness of that organization to quit themselves of someone like Ratzinger, I had hope for this Pope. But they just can't do it, even with overwhelming evidence that so many of their people are committing crimes against children. Unfortunately for Pope Francis, this is his responsibility. Either God commanded it or he signed up for it; that's a distinction without difference in this case.

Pope Francis has an opportunity for perhaps another few days to make this right, and take an unequivocal position against raping children. If he doesn't, the world will have all the evidence it needs to evaluate the Catholic Church as an institution. That is, to the extent that it doesn't already. But as an outsider, looking at this organization that claims to speak for the creator of the universe, I just. Can't. Even. And neither can my Catholic friends.

U is for UUID

Blogging A to ZFor day 21 of the Blogging A-to-Z challenge I'm going to wade into a religious debate: UUIDs vs. integers for database primary keys.

First, let's define UUID, which stands for Universally Unique Identifier. A UUID comprises 32 hexadecimal digits typically displayed in 5 groups separated by dashes. The actual identifier is 128 bits long, meaning the chance of a collision between any two of them is slightly lower than the chance of finding a specific grain of dust somewhere in the solar system.

An integer, on the other hand, has just 32 or 64 bits, depending on the system you're using. Not only do integers collide frequently, but given that incrementing integer keys typically start at 1, they collide all the time. Also, using an incrementing integer, you don't know what ID your database will give you before you insert a given row, unless you create some gnarly SQL that hits the database a minimum of twice.

Many people have weighed in on whether to use UUIDs or auto-incrementing integers for database keys. People argue about the physical alignment of rows, debugging and friendly URLs, stable IDs vs deterministic IDs, non-uniqueness across tables, inadvertent data disclosure...lots of reasons to use one or the other.

The bottom line? It doesn't really matter. What matters is that you have sensible, non-religious reasons for your choice.

Both UUIDs and serial integers have their place, depending on the context. If you have a lookup table that users will never see, use serial IDs; who cares? If you use an ORM extensively, you might prefer UUIDs.

If you're new to programming, all of this seems like angels on the head of a pin. So read up on it, listen to the arguments on both sides, and then decide what works to solve your problem. Which is basically what you should do all the time as a professional programmer.

How a fundamentalist sect may be wiped out by polygyny

A fundamentalist Mormon sect living along the Nevada-Arizona border has a serious problem with a rare genetic disorder, because everyone is closely related to everyone else:

“With polygyny you’re decreasing the overall genetic diversity because a few men are having a disproportionate impact on the next generation,” says Mark Stoneking, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany. “Random genetic mutations become more important.”

In isolated communities, the problem is compounded by basic arithmetic: if some men take multiple wives, others can’t have any. In the FLDS, a large proportion of men must be kicked out as teenagers, shrinking the gene pool even further.

Which brings us to the good news. Since inbreeding tends to uncover “recessive” mutations that would normally remain in hiding, studying these communities has helped scientists to identify many disease-causing genes. That’s because genetic information is useless on its own. To be meaningful to medical research, it must be linked to information about disease. In fact, more human disease genes have been discovered in Utah – with its Mormon history – than any other place in the world.

It’s not the legacy Brigham Young expected, but in the end, it’s possible that the controversial practice might have some unintended positives.

Religion, man. Religion.