The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

This might be what someone used to attack us in Cuba

In late 2016, someone apparently attacked American diplomats in Cuba and China with a device that caused people to hear loud sounds and experience concussion-like brain damage. Now, doctors working with the attack victims may have figured out what it was:

The medical team that examined 21 affected diplomats from Cuba made no mention of microwaves in its detailed report published in JAMA in March. But Douglas H. Smith, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a recent interview that microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury.

“Everybody was relatively skeptical at first,” he said, “and everyone now agrees there’s something there.” Dr. Smith remarked that the diplomats and doctors jokingly refer to the trauma as the immaculate concussion.

Strikes with microwaves, some experts now argue, more plausibly explain reports of painful sounds, ills and traumas than do other possible culprits — sonic attacks, viral infections and contagious anxiety.

In particular, a growing number of analysts cite an eerie phenomenon known as the Frey effect, named after Allan H. Frey, an American scientist. Long ago, he found that microwaves can trick the brain into perceiving what seem to be ordinary sounds.

Military strategists have talked about various nonlethal weapons for a long time. I don't remember reading about microwave weapons until now, since sound on its own seemed to be a pretty good way of disabling troops. But this is interesting, and disturbing.

Another win for the Vogons

Two weeks after a local artist completed a mural commissioned by the local chamber of commerce, Chicago's Streets and Sanitation department destroyed it:

Chicago-based artist JC Rivera’s signature bright yellow “bear champ” went up earlier this month at the CTA Paulina Brown Line stop. But the mural, commissioned by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and paid for out of a special taxpayer fund, wasn’t long for this world: In fact, it was on display for a shorter time than it took Rivera to paint the piece.

Late last week, someone notified the city’s 311 nonemergency center and reported the mural as graffiti, triggering a request for its removal, said Marjani Williams, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation. The city did not detail the 311 request.

It’s the latest instance of Streets and Sanitation workers wiping out something considered public art. In March, the work of French street artist Blek le Rat was blasted away from the side of Cards Against Humanity’s headquarters as the city stepped up graffiti cleanup near proposed sites for Amazon’s second headquarters.

Sigh.

It doesn't seem like Streets & San is doing this on purpose. They just don't care. Fortunately, one of our aldermen has proposed a city-wide mural registry to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

When you think it can't get stupider...

President Trump, after hearing a report on Fox News that Google search results on his name aren't totally flattering, now believes that Google is part of the conspiracy against him:

The Trump administration is “taking a look” at whether Google and its search engine should be regulated by the government, Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s economic adviser, said Tuesday outside the White House.

“We’ll let you know,” Kudlow said. “We’re taking a look at it.”

The announcement puts the search giant squarely in the White House’s crosshairs amid wider allegations against the tech industry that it systematically discriminates against conservatives on social media and other platforms.

Greg Sargent sees this as Trump once again, by instinct or design, trying to inflame his rump supporters:

Trump’s claim is, of course, absurd: As Daniel Dale explains, this is based on a bogus right wing media claim, and all it really means is that when you google about Trump, you are likely to initially see stories from major news organizations that are legitimately reporting aggressively on Trump, rather than from conservative opinion sites that are putting out propaganda on his behalf.

But while this might seem like typical Trumpian buffoonery, at its core is some deadly serious business. These attacks on the media — which are now spreading to extensive conspiracy-mongering about social media’s role in spreading information — form one part of an interlocking, two-piece Trumpian strategy (whether by instinct or design is unclear) that serves to underscore the urgency of this fall’s elections.

Trump is unleashing endless lies and attacks directed at the mechanisms of accountability that actually are functioning right now — the media, law enforcement and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation — to persuade his supporters not only that they shouldn’t believe anything they hear from these sources, but also to energize them and get them to vote, to protect him from those institutions’ alleged conspiracy against him.

At the same time, that campaign of lies is designed to get Republican voters out for the purpose of keeping in place the mechanism of accountability that is not functioning right now — the GOP-led Congress — preventing a Democratic takeover of the House, which would impose genuine accountability.

At the same time, Republicans in Congress have circulated a list of all the scandals Democrats want to hold hearings on as soon as they win a majority in either legislative house:

The list hints at the overflowing sewer of Trumpian corruption and incompetence, and the refusal of congressional Republicans to investigate any of it. Oddly enough, this list is being circulated by Republicans in Congress. The list, composed of Democratic requests for hearings that Republicans have blocked, is meant to warn of what Congress would look into if Democrats win the midterms. Axios reports that Republican “stomachs are churning” at the mere thought that any of the items on the list could receive a public hearing.

The list includes the kinds of policies a normally functioning Congress would probe, including “Election security and hacking attempts,” “White House security clearances,” and “Hurricane response in Puerto Rico.” (Congress held bipartisan hearings on the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, but has not done so for the response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, where hundreds of Americans died.) But most of the cases listed focus on corruption: “President Trump’s tax returns,” “Trump family businesses — and whether they comply with the Constitution’s emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization,” “Trump’s dealings with Russia, including the president’s preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin,” and on and on.

Probably the most picayune item on the list would be “White House staff’s personal email use,” though of course it might be difficult for Republicans to dismiss this issue given that they based their entire campaign on the premise that the use of personal email constitutes a grave criminal defense and continue to demand the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton for this very offense.

The most predominant theme of the list is corruption.

In other words, the Republican Party has completely abandoned its previously-held beliefs in the rule of law, and are now openly running on a platform of supporting the rule of Donald Trump.

We have 70 days until the Mid-Terms. Can't wait to see how bad it will get before then.

The next war

Via Bruce Schneier, retired USMC Colonel Mark Canclan has authored a report outlining what threats we're likely to face in the next few years, and how to cope with them. He includes some chilling strategic possibilities:

The cyber attacks varied. Sailors stationed at the 7th Fleet' s homeport in Japan awoke one day to find their financial accounts, and those of their dependents, empty. Checking, savings, retirement funds: simply gone. The Marines based on Okinawa were under virtual siege by the populace, whose simmering resentment at their presence had boiled over after a YouTube video posted under the account of a Marine stationed there had gone viral. The video featured a dozen Marines drunkenly gang-raping two teenaged Okinawan girls. The video was vivid, the girls' cries heart-wrenching the cheers of Marines sickening And all of it fake. The National Security Agency's initial analysis of the video had uncovered digital fingerprints showing that it was a computer-assisted lie, and could prove that the Marine's account under which it had been posted was hacked. But the damage had been done.

There was the commanding officer of Edwards Air Force Base whose Internet browser history had been posted on the squadron's Facebook page. His command turned on him as a pervert; his weak protestations that he had not visited most of the posted links could not counter his admission that he had, in fact, trafficked some of them. Lies mixed with the truth. Soldiers at Fort Sill were at each other's throats thanks to a series of text messages that allegedly unearthed an adultery ring on base.

The report is fascinating, and the vignettes that Canclan describes should be keeping US military and defense personnel up at night.

The Great Lakes Compact in a drying world

After watching the Aral Sea disaster unfold in the second half of the last century, governors of the states and provinces around the Great Lakes formed a compact to prevent a similar problem in North America. Crain's looks at how well it's done for the past 10 years:

Hammered out over five years, the Compact, aimed at keeping Great Lakes water in the Great Lakes, was approved by the legislatures of all eight states bordering the Great Lakes, Congress and the Canadian provinces and signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 3, 2008.

The Great Lakes Compact prohibits new or increased diversions outside the Great Lakes Basin with limited exceptions for communities and counties that straddle the basin boundary and meet rigorous standards. It asks states to develop water conservation plans, collect water use data, and produce annual water use reports. Great Lakes states as well as Ontario and Quebec are to keep track of impacts of water use in the basin.

Certainly, the future of water on the planet seems fraught enough to make one wonder how the Great Lake Compact will fare as the years pass. The most ardent supporters of the Compact say that challenges abound. These include a changing climate that is expected to bring drought as well as heightened political pressure to open up what some view as an invaluable public resource now off limits to the rest of the world.

So it is easy to see why the Great Lakes loom large in the eyes of those who seek to solve their water woes. The lakes are the largest system of fresh surface water on Earth. They hold 84 percent of North America's surface fresh water and about 21 percent of the world's supply, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This will be one to watch. Being adjacent to Lake Michigan is one of the biggest reasons I'm optimistic about Chicago; but what if the shoreline were 20 kilometers away? It could happen.

The President's no-good, very bad day

Yesterday, President Trump's longtime fixer Michael Cohen plead guilty to 8 crimes at almost the exact moment a jury convicted his former campaign manager of another 8. The Atlantic explains what the first part means:

The most important takeaway Tuesday is that the president’s own former personal attorney pleaded guilty to breaking campaign-finance laws at his alleged direction.

While the bank- and tax-fraud charges do not involve the president, the campaign-finance charges indisputably do. Cohen made the payments—$130,000 to Daniels and $150,000 to McDougal—through shell companies. He said Tuesday that the payments were intended to influence the election, making them a violation of campaign-finance laws, and that he had done so at the direction of the candidate.

That exposes several lies that the president made about the hush money. The White House initially denied that Trump had any knowledge of the payments. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” the president said in April.

David Frum just comes out and says "the president is a crook."

Over at WaPo, Paul Waldman decries the institutions that failed to get us to this point, while Isaac Stanley-Baker reports that right-wing media carried on like every other day.

For his part, the president Tweeted how proudly he felt about Manafort "not break[ing]," which, when you think about it, means that Manafort really does have the goods and the president just admitted it.

I'm happy some of these criminals are facing justice. But just imagine how quickly we'd be rid of this guy if we had a functioning Congress.

More sad but true news about politicians

Shocking, I know, but politicians seem comically unaware of how technology works:

We’re now a dozen years past the infamous “series of tubes” speech. Yet our political leaders still don’t seem to have learned much about those “tubes” or the cyber-sewage that frequently flows through them.

Consider a recent, noncomprehensive history.

These days Trump lashes out at private companies that suspend nut jobs and neo-Nazis, decrying that “censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to police.” But in what feels like a million years of crazy ago, then-candidate Trump said he planned to hobble recruiting by the terrorist Islamic State by asking Bill Gates to “clos[e] that Internet up in some way.”

This was a baffling proposal, not only because Chinese-style, government-enforced Internet censorship would run afoul of the First Amendment. The other problem was that the Microsoft founder-turned-philanthropist does not, uh, “control” the Internet.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some politicians out there who seem to know their way around the information superhighway. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who represents part of Silicon Valley but has called for stronger privacy rights, is among them. Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), as Senate Intelligence Committee chair and vice chair, respectively, have shown an inclination to ask tougher questions of tech companies on Russian interference.

But the problems infecting the tech sector go well beyond those limited areas, alas. And, generally speaking, our policymakers are ill prepared to protect the public from those who wish us harm — or even from companies willing to profit off that harm.

None of this is really new. Politicians typically know less than most people about the daily lives of the people they represent. What's different, at least as far as the governing party in the U.S. goes, is that they're proud of their ignorance. That is what we should be afraid of.

Don't be fooled; Sessions is reactionary and dangerous

Despite President Trump's Tweets deriding the man, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has done much of what he set out to do in office. He's partying like it's 1959:

Since taking office, Sessions has installed a punitive agenda based on the “Massive Resistance” strategy followed by attorneys general throughout the Deep South during the segregation era to use the law to thwart justice. The aim then was to hobble the civil rights movement, limit the number of black elected officials and impose sentencing guidelines that fell most harshly on black lawbreakers and white citizens guilty of lifestyle “crimes” like recreational drug use and “deviant” sexual behavior. This, of course, is the same legal agenda now being pursued ferociously by Sessions. Far from being “missing in action” as Trump claims, the much-ridiculed Sessions is bent on a root-and-branch revision of federal law enforcement.

Sessions’ connection to this living tradition of punitive law enforcement is well documented. As an U.S. attorney, he selectively prosecuted black elected officials in the Alabama Black Belt for voter fraud. Later, as Alabama attorney general, he opposed the funding of gay and lesbian student associations as a threat to his state’s sodomy laws. While his alma mater, the University of Alabama Law School, did produce some white civil rights champions like federal Judge Frank M. Johnson and former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley, it mainly schooled the lawyer-politicians who ordered poll taxes and phony literacy tests to keep blacks from voting. This latter tradition seems to have shaped Sessions’ thinking; witness his abolition earlier this year of the Justice Department's Office for Access to Justice, devoted to equal justice for persons in need. The once energetic Civil Rights Division now labors under what the Atlantic magazine calls the Sessions Doctrine, which aims to “erase many of the legal gains of modern America's defining movement.”

This is the Jeff Sessions story writ short. He has made Alabama’s tradition of weaponizing the legal system against minorities, immigrants and political opponents into the official policy of the United States Justice Department and its legal and prosecutorial agencies. And a nation transfixed by presidential misdirection seems hardly to have noticed.

It's not just the authoritarian and reactionary disaster in the White House from which we will take a generation to recover; Sessions' work will make it harder to get started.

Policies are changing work, not technologies

Economic historian Louis Hyman describes how the choices people in government and business make actually lead technological change, for some pretty obvious reasons:

The history of labor shows that technology does not usually drive social change. On the contrary, social change is typically driven by decisions we make about how to organize our world. Only later does technology swoop in, accelerating and consolidating those changes.

This insight is crucial for anyone concerned about the insecurity and other shortcomings of the gig economy. For it reminds us that far from being an unavoidable consequence of technological progress, the nature of work always remains a matter of social choice. It is not a result of an algorithm; it is a collection of decisions by corporations and policymakers.

In the last 10 years, 94 percent of net new jobs have appeared outside of traditional employment. Already approximately one-third of workers, and half of young workers, participate in this alternative world of work, either as a primary or a supplementary source of income.

Internet technologies have certainly intensified this development (even though most freelancers remain offline). But services like Uber and online freelance markets like TaskRabbit were created to take advantage of an already independent work force; they are not creating it. Their technology is solving the business and consumer problems of an already insecure work world. Uber is a symptom, not a cause.

Policies, of course, can be changed.