The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The White House Correspondents Dinner

This year the WHCA won't have a comedian or the president at its annual dinner. Instead, historian Ron Chernow will speak. Can't think why:

Go back a few minutes to hear the whole thing. I'm highlighting that passage because, don't forget, two days later Osama bin Laden was dead—because two hours earlier, President Obama gave the final order to have him killed.

Leadership.

But where are the elephants?

Journalist Kelly Weill, writing for the Daily Beast, went to a flat-earth convention:

Thousands of years after ancient Greeks began referencing Earth as a sphere in mathematical proofs, people who believe in a flat Earth have become a movement. They’ve found their voice in the disinformation age, fueled by YouTube videos. For true believers, it’s more than just a conspiracy theory. It’s whole world view, a level plane onto which hucksters, trolls, and Christian fundamentalists can insert their own ideologies.

In an age of rising conspiracy theories—voter fraudQAnonanti-vaxxerschemtrails—Flat Earth might be the most foundational conspiracy theory of them all.

Religious conspiracy (some people I speak to at the conference accuse the Freemasons, not the Jews of covering up Flat Earth) and political uncertainty go hand in hand. Embittered by Germany’s loss in World War I, fascists falsely accused the country’s Jews of “stabbing Germany in the back” during the war. The conspiracy theory contributed to the Holocaust under Nazi rule. The ongoing genocide of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, during a period of political strife has been fueled by a dramatic increase in anti-Rohingya hate speech and conspiracy on Facebook. In a period of political unrest in America, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and subsequent murders of Jews are on the rise.

When the entire world feels uncertain, it’s no wonder people look for an easy culprit. Flat Earthers say the planet is a stationary disk that does not rotate or orbit the sun. But I speak to enough to suspect they still feel off-balance in the world.

I probably don't have to convince any regular readers of this blog of the (mostly) spherical shape of our home. But I have seen proof with my own eyes, and posted it here previously:

That is the shadow of the earth stretching straight out into space as the earth itself curves away under it. You, too, can see this any time you fly across the terminator, as thousands of people do daily.

Meanwhile, with a modern-day Know-Nothing party in control of our government, it seems almost natural that so many people would reject the only possible explanation for so many readily-observable phenomena in favor of something so insane it took a fantasy writer to describe it comprehensively. All hail the Great A'Tuin!

In defense of puns

Longtime (and I mean, longtime) reader DB sent me James Geary's eloquent essay on the value of puns:

There is no sharp boundary splitting the wit of the scientist, inventor, or improviser from that of the artist, the sage, or the jester. The creative experience moves seamlessly from the “Aha!” of scientific discovery to the “Ah” of aesthetic insight to the “Haha” of the pun and the punch line. “Comic discovery is paradox stated—scientific discovery is paradox resolved,” [novelist and cultural critic Arthur] Koestler wrote.

Bisociation is central to creative thought, Koestler believed, because “the conscious and unconscious processes underlying creativity are essentially combinatorial activities—the bringing together of previously separate areas of knowledge and experience.”

This is precisely how wit was understood in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the word was used to describe innovative thinking—something more akin to intellect or consciousness than to glibness or flippancy, a state of mind rather than just a sense of humor.

Lately, though, wit’s been whittled down to a sliver of what it really is. Witty has come to mean merely funny, and a wit is just someone with a knack for snappy comebacks.

True wit is richer, cannier, more riddling.

Aren't you glad I came upun this article?

Where are the feminists for May?

Why is a white, gay, male, naturalized American the only journalist I have come across saying Theresa May deserves a lot more credit for persisting in the face of unrelenting male hostility? Sullivan:

I don’t know how else to describe Theresa May’s grueling slog toward the least worst Brexit possible.

The awkward prime minister is still standing upright, though maybe not for much longer. In this respect, I’m surprised more feminists haven’t come to May’s defense. May’s bourgeois Toryism, like Margaret Thatcher’s, doubtless disqualifies her from any respect from the left. But her tenacity in the midst of male obloquy is emblematic of many themes American feminists focus on.

May, after all, is taking responsibility while her male colleagues posture and preen and complain or resign; she gets almost no credit for negotiating one of the more complex international deals in British history for two demoralizing years; she works harder than anyone else in her government; and the deal she has struck is almost certainly the only one the E.U. will ever accept. A woman, in other words, got the toughest job in government in decades, did the best that could be done, has been pilloried for it, but still plowed on, and even now, won’t surrender. Her pragmatism and resilience — along with remarkably good cheer in public — are a wonder to behold. I guess May’s feminism, like Thatcher’s, requires no labeling.

Yes. Brexit is pathologically stupid; yet May has to make it work. She'll probably be out of office by March, of course, leaving the hard work up to someone who hasn't got the tools to get it done. Oh, England.

So how did I do?

In this past election cycle, I gave money to eight candidates and two committees. Here's my record:

Candidate Race Result
Cindy Axne IA-3 Won
Sean Casten IL-6 Won
Brendan Kelly IL-12 Lost
Claire McCaskill Senate - MO Lost
Bill Nelson Senate - FL Lost
Beto O'Rourke Senate - TX Lost
Jacky Rosen Senate - NV Won
Harley Rouda CA-48 Won
DCCC US House Won
DSCC US Senate Lost

(Bold text means the parties flipped.)

So, not bad. Half won, four half lost, and one is still being recounted. But really, five of seven flipped the way I hoped. And thanks to three of my candidates (and 35 others), we took the House back.

And we'll see what happens in Florida.

Update, November 19th to reflect that Bill Nelson conceded. Boo.

Au revoir au Grand K

The International Bureau of Weights and Measures voted earlier today to ditch the platinum-iridium prototype kilogram in favor of a value of mass based on Planck's constant. The Post explains:

Since the 19th century, scientists have based their definition of the fundamental unit of mass on a physical object — a shining platinum iridium cylinder stored in a locked vault in the bowels of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Sevres, France. A kilogram was equal to the heft of this aging hunk of metal, and this cylinder, by definition, weighed exactly a kilogram. If the cylinder changed, even a little bit, then the entire global system of measurement had to change, too.

With Friday’s vote, scientists redefined the kilogram for the 21st century by tying it to a fundamental feature of the universe — a small, strange figure from quantum physics known as Planck’s constant, which describes the smallest possible unit of energy.

In 1875, the signing of the Treaty of the Metre made the system official. Two platinum and iridium prototypes — a meter-length bar and a kilogram-mass cylinder — were forged to serve as the standard units for the whole world. The BIPM distributed copies of each prototype to the signatory nations; the century-old U.S. national kilogram still sits in a glass case in a locked room down the hall from Pratt’s lab.

But the kilogram prototype, known as “Le Grand K,” was made by humans and is subject to all our limitations. It is inaccessible — the safe containing the cylinder can be opened only by three custodians carrying three separate keys, an event that has happened fewer than a dozen times in the object’s 139-year history. And it is inconsistent — when Le Grand K was examined in the 1980s, it weighed several micrograms less than it was supposed to. This meant that anyone who made products based on the standards had to reissue their weights. Manufacturers were furious. Lawmakers were called. Metrologists, people who study measurements, were accused of incompetence.

The article doesn't say what the Bureau will do with the kilogram prototype.

Where to cry in an open-plan office

Another problem with open-plan office spaces, according to comedian JiJi Lee: it's hard to find a place to sob. She suggests some:

By your C.E.O.’s work station: Flatten hierarchies by sobbing in front of your company leader. Open offices were made to foster communication, so introduce yourself and say, “Hi, I'll never make as much money as you!”

The center of the office: The company doesn’t believe in walls, so why build one around your emotions? Let it go and play the “Frozen” soundtrack while you’re at it. Do a cartwheel that turns into a split and then cry onto Colleen’s emotional support dog. You have the space for it! After all, the company wanted to increase productivity and you’ve never been more efficient with your crying in your life.

The restroom: This is where everyone goes to cry. Anticipate long lines.

At least my office has a coat closet. But it's very small.

Trying something new

With my old dog apparently in permanent maintenance mode, we're trying something a little more comfortable for him:

That's a Comfy Cone, which he seemed to understand immediately would be more comfy for him. He did seem to sleep better last night.

We're going to the vet again today, to see if drugs alone can evict whatever has taken up residence in his knee. If not, he'll have to have the hardware out. Soon. The infection seems to have gone down a little in the last day or two but new oozing over the weekend did not make me feel optimistic.

At least he (and I) can sleep better with the new cone.

Sex!

Both The Atlantic and the New York Times have penetrating articles on the subject today. First, Kate Julian examines why young people are having less sex, despite the relaxation of taboos around it:

many other experts, attributes the sex decline to a decline in couplehood among young people. For a quarter century, fewer people have been marrying, and those who do have been marrying later. At first, many observers figured that the decline in marriage was explained by an increase in unmarried cohabitation—yet the share of people living together hasn’t risen enough to offset the decline in marriage: About 60 percent of adults under age 35 now live without a spouse or a partner. One in three adults in this age range live with their parents, making that the most common living arrangement for the cohort. People who live with a romantic partner tend to have sex more than those who don’t—and living with your parents is obviously bad for your sex life. But this doesn’t explain why young people are partnering up less to begin with.

Over the course of many conversations with sex researchers, psychologists, economists, sociologists, therapists, sex educators, and young adults, I heard many other theories about what I have come to think of as the sex recession. I was told it might be a consequence of the hookup culture, of crushing economic pressures, of surging anxiety rates, of psychological frailty, of widespread antidepressant use, of streaming television, of environmental estrogens leaked by plastics, of dropping testosterone levels, of digital porn, of the vibrator’s golden age, of dating apps, of option paralysis, of helicopter parents, of careerism, of smartphones, of the news cycle, of information overload generally, of sleep deprivation, of obesity. Name a modern blight, and someone, somewhere, is ready to blame it for messing with the modern libido.

Some experts I spoke with offered more hopeful explanations for the decline in sex. For example, rates of childhood sexual abuse have decreased in recent decades, and abuse can lead to both precocious and promiscuous sexual behavior. And some people today may feel less pressured into sex they don’t want to have, thanks to changing gender mores and growing awareness of diverse sexual orientations, including asexuality. Maybe more people are prioritizing school or work over love and sex, at least for a time, or maybe they’re simply being extra deliberate in choosing a life partner—and if so, good for them.

Of course, the best solution for a recession is a stimulus package that encourages growth. I am in favor of this policy.

Ross Douthat, commenting on Julian's article, attributes the decline of civilization sex to porn and masturbation as Aldous Huxley predicted:

Conservatives didn’t expect it because they believed that sexual liberation would inevitably lead to social chaos — that if you declared consent the only standard of sexual morality and encouraged young people to define fulfillment libidinally, you would get not only promiscuity but also a host of dire secondary consequences: Teen pregnancy rates and abortion rates rising together, a pornography-abetted spike in rape and sexual violence, higher crime rates among fatherless young men … basically everything that seemed to be happening in the 1970s and 1980s, when the anti-porn crusade Alberta describes was strongest.

But many of those grim social trends stabilized or turned around in the 1990s, and instead of turning teenage boys into rapists, the internet-enabled victory of pornographic culture had, perhaps, the opposite effect.

But liberal optimists were wrong as well — wrong to expect that the new order would bring about a clear increase in sexual fulfillment, wrong to anticipate a healthy integration of sexual desire and romantic attachment, wrong to assume that a happily egalitarian relationship between the sexes awaited once puritanism was rejected and repression cast aside.

Instead we’ve achieved social stability through, in part, the substitution of self-abuse for intercourse, the crowding-out of real-world interactions by virtual entertainment, and the growing alienation of the sexes from one another.

Again, I see an opportunity here for a solution that benefits, if not everyone, at least the participants in the solution.

I can't wait for the comments...

Lunchtime reading

I didn't have a moment to write any code from 9am until now, so my lunch will include doing the stuff I didn't do in all those meetings. At some point I'll get to these:

Now, back to writing code, as soon as I make yet another vet appointment for my bête noir.