The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Active voice, passive voice, weasel voice

The Economist's Johnson column last week (which I just got around to reading tonight) took on verb conjugations in journalism:

On May 14th, as Palestinians massed at the Gaza Strip’s border, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing around 60 people. Shortly afterwards, the New York Times tweeted: “Dozens of Palestinians have died in protests as the US prepares to open its Jerusalem embassy.” Social media went ballistic. “From old age?” was one incredulous reply. #HaveDied quickly became a hashtag campaign.

English and most other European languages have both an active voice (Steve kicked John) and a passive (John was kicked by Steve). Style manuals, including The Economist’s, generally deprecate the passive voice. It is longer, for one thing. For another, it is often found in heavy academic and bureaucratic prose. Inexperienced writers tend to over-use it.

But critics of the passive often confuse two different things: syntax and semantics. Syntax has to do with the mechanics of putting a sentence together. In Steve kicked John, Steve is the subject and John is the direct object. But in John was kicked by Steve, John is now the subject, even though he is still the kickee, and Steve is still the kicker.

So what the critics really meant is that the Times erred in using an intransitive verb.

I analyzed this not as an argument for a particular kind of prose, but as an argument for learning the vocabulary of the thing you want to criticize. Critics of the Times' headline aren't wrong; they're just arguing the wrong point. One can understand viscerally why the Times' headline got under the skin. But as in so much of life, people on one side argued feelings and people on the other argued correctness.

Until people hear what the opposition really wants to say—until people make an effort to hear it, I mean—we're going to keep talking past each other. That said, I want everyone to read Orwell right now.

Today's batch

I've had a lot of things going on at work the past couple of weeks, and not many free evenings, leading to these link round-up posts that add nothing to the conversation.

But there should be a conversation, and here are some topics:

Finally, on Monday Parker will have his final check-out by his surgeon, which should clear him to go back to day camp on Tuesday. The poor fuzzy dude has spent way too much time home alone since his injury. I'm looking forward to him getting back into his pack.

Lunchtime reading

Not all of this is as depressing as yesterday's batch:

I'm sure there will be more later.

Amphiboly, or how to define crimes down

Aaron Blake explains how President Trump's legal team have seized on the ambiguous term "collusion" to set up their ultimate strategy for getting him off the hook for criminal activity:

Rudolph W. Giuliani went on TV and blurted out the Trump team's Russia investigation strategy this weekend.

It is for public opinion,” Giuliani said on CNN, “because, eventually, the decision here is going to be impeach/not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So, our jury is the American — as it should be — is the American people.”

Basically, the word “collusion” isn't in the applicable criminal code; that's technically true. But the Justice Department has used the term in its own filings in Robert S. Mueller III's probe, and it's something of a blanket term that encompasses several potential crimes such as conspiracy, public corruption and coercion. Assisting a foreign power in influencing a U.S. election may not typically be called “collusion,” but it's almost certainly illegal. The media have used a somewhat generic, umbrella term in the absence of a specific, known and provable offense, and Trump and Co. have (rather smartly, I would argue) seized upon its vagueness to set the goal posts at “collusion.”

If Mueller does use the term “collusion” in his report, the argument will be: “But it's not even a crime!” Conversely, if he doesn't charge people with “collusion” but instead one of those other crimes, the argument will be: “They couldn't prove collusion, so they picked another crime!”

However it turns out, the defense will be built-in, and there will be plenty for GOP voters and lawmakers who use it to argue that the whole thing is a “witch hunt” — regardless of whether real crimes are involved.

Blake also cites a report that Trump supporters already believe the investigation is bogus, notwithstanding (a) actual convictions for actual crimes, and (b) that finding out whether the President of the United States shared information with a hostile foreign power is in everyone's interest.

We really, really need to take back the House in November, even if all we can do with the majority is get all this administration's malfeasance out into the open.

Depressing lunchtime reading

I've queued up a few articles to read while eating lunch. I just hope I don't lose said lunch after reading them:

Le sigh.

The whole truth

Former DNI James Clapper, now a private citizen (though one who knows a lot more about these things than almost everyone else), believes Russia threw our 2016 presidential election:

Clapper noted that the intelligence community’s formal 2017 assessment of Russian interference was not charged with assessing its impact. But this is exactly the point. It wasn’t the place of the intel community to place its imprimatur on this debate one way or the other. But now that Clapper is free to offer his own view, he believes Russia did swing the election — and he knows a lot more about the specifics of what Russia did than we do.

We probably will never know whether Russia’s interference — whose tip we only glimpsed in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals for their sabotage plot — was sufficient to swing the election. The result had many causes. But allow me to point out that journalists regularly suggest, on an even flimsier basis, that this or that Hillary Clinton failing caused the outcome. Yet even asking whether Russian interference — or, say, James B. Comey’s 11th-hour intervention — might have been sufficient to swing a relative handful of votes is regularly greeted with knee-slapping ridicule, even though, as Brian Beutler has noted, every journalist knows that it is absolutely plausible.

But this Clapper claim has relevance well beyond whether Russian interference was decisive. It places the ongoing efforts by Trump and his allies to frustrate an accounting of what happened in a whole new light.

The key point is this. Even if you put aside whatever the Trump campaign did or didn’t do to conspire with Russian sabotage, what’s left is this obvious fact: Trump and his GOP allies don’t want to know the full story of what Russia’s operation entailed in and of itself, because it doesn’t concern them in the least, and indeed they are engaged in an active effort to keep that story suppressed.

Why might they not want the truth to come out? I mean, if I believed I were innocent of something someone accused me of, I'd want all the evidence of my innocence possible. (Remember the dialogue in Shawshank Redemption: "Since I am innocent of this crime, I find it decidedly inconvenient that the gun was never found.")

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall is tired of equivocation about what the President and his team are actually up to:

“Norms” aren’t laws for a reason. They are like bumpers on the roads of our civic and political life which are there to keep people of basically good faith from crossing lines they shouldn’t cross. They can also be warning posts so others can see when someone is either going down a bad path or needs to be brought back into line.

One reason that “norms” aren’t laws is that sometimes new or unique sets of facts create situations in which they do not or cannot or should not apply. But the problem with almost everything President Trump is doing today is not that he’s violating norms. The problem is that he is abusing his presidential powers to cover up his crimes and his associates’ crimes. Full stop.

Don't even get him started on "conflicts of interest:"

What we’re seeing now are not conflicts of interest. They’re straight-up corruption. It’s like “norms”. Defining “conflicts of interest” is meant to keep relatively honest people on the straight and narrow or create tripwires that allow others to see when people in power cross the line. Nothing like that is happening here. We have an increasingly open effort to make vast sums of money with the presidency. It’s happening in front of our eyes, albeit not quite as visibly as the coverup.

Future historians won't have any trouble coming to these conclusions. So why are people ignoring these things right now?

What sort of fish are you?

When reading Josh Marshall, one has to let any phrase starting with "big" go through several levels of filters before investing a lot of emotion into it. Many things, according to Marshall, are "big deals" and "big problems" for the President. Perhaps in a normal world, they would be; but here on Bizzaro World, so many things that would have ended another politician's career bounce off Trump's hair like clichés off a hack's keyboard.

Tonight, however, he may have chosen the right adjective phrase:

[A Michael] Cohen business partner...has agreed to cooperate [with prosecutors]. Bad news for Cohen. But here’s where it gets more interesting and complicated. These are not federal charges. They’re state charges. But the agreement obligates [Evgeny "Gene"] Freidman to cooperate with state and federal prosecutors, basically on an as-needed basis.

Freidman also got a very good deal. The charges he was looking at carried, in theory, as much as a hundred years of prison time. The deal he made will allow him to avoid any jail time. He’s literally getting a get-out-of-jail-free card. ... The state is basically walking away from a very big case and it’s not clear what kind of cooperation on other state prosecutions would merit such a generous deal. Freidman is also cooperating with the feds. You don’t do that unless you have a clear understanding that the the feds won’t come at your with further indictments based on your cooperation. Finally, note that this is a prosecution out of the office of the now-disgraced ex-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who we know was working assiduously to backstop Mueller’s probe with potential state charges.

[M]y sense is that federal prosecutors probably have more than enough to indict Cohen on various bank fraud- and financial fraud-type crimes. It’s always great to have more evidence, more pressure. But the kind of deal Friedman got seems like one that assumes something more than just adding to the evidence against Cohen on those sorts of crimes.

Don't get me wrong; I've read Marshall's blog since it started in the winter of 2000. He's usually absolutely correct about the facts but never quite right about the outcomes. In this case, he might be right about both.

Kim plays chess while Trump plays Chutes and Ladders

What happens when an id-driven man-child with no curiosity who loathes nuance and knowledge tries to negotiate a complex geopolitical deal with the most secretive regime in the world? One of them gets punked, bigly:

The North Koreans appear to have waited until Trump announced a date and a venue to shift gears and make clear that giving up their nuclear weapons was definitely not on the agenda. In the lead-up President Trump was veritably giddy. In late April Trump praised Kim as “very honorable” for his good faith negotiations in preparation for the summit and then later effused over his “excellent” treatment of US prisoners and how “nice” he had been to free them early. (22 year old Otto Warmbier received an unexplained fatal brain injury in North Korean custody last year.)

After all this it was just five days later when the North Koreans canceled a planning meeting and began signaling that “denuclearization” was not up for debate. It’s all pretty clear (and this was widely predicted by area experts). Kim waited and waited and waited, fluffed and fluffed and fluffed until Trump had locked himself into a time and a place before threatening to cancel and saying publicly North Korea would not give up its nuclear weapons. This way Trump is either faced with attending the summit in which the two men will meet as equals and with nuclearization not up for discussion or canceling a meeting upon which Trump has banked so much both domestically and internationally.

This might have something to do with President Trump not caring about the actual contents of the deal. He just wants a deal. Any deal. Whereas Kim really only wants legitimacy, which any photo showing him standing next to Trump will give him.

The Economist points out that this is, in fact, an old script:

South Korea’s unification ministry said the North’s about-face was “regrettable”. [South Korean president] Moon’s office did not even go that far, claiming the move was “just part of the process”. The White House said it had received no indication that the Singapore summit would not go ahead.

North Korea says the summit can proceed only if America is “sincere” about improving relations. But it is the North’s sincerity that has always been in question. At the very least, the kerfuffle is a reminder that until a few months ago, Mr Kim was seen as untrustworthy and belligerent. There is little reason to imagine he has changed.

If all it takes is for Kim to act like a reasonable negotiator for a few weeks for him to get literally everything he wants from the Trump administration, why would he behave differently?

And if Kim has even one percent more patience than Trump—not hard, given that Parker has at least ten—how difficult will this be, really?

Will we be able to undo the damage?

TPM's Zachary Roth thinks the latest developments in the Justice Department portend the end of its independence:

DOJ essentially taking orders from the president on this represents a level of political interference in the U.S. justice system that may go further even than anything else we’ve seen under Trump. It’s true that DOJ’s announcement back in March that it would probe the FISA issue came after weeks of agitation by Trump and his allies own Congress. But even that sequence of events felt less direct in terms of cause and effect than what played out on Sunday.

This isn’t to criticize Rosenstein. He may well have concluded that, given a set of bad options, the least bad was to hand the issue off to the IG, with the hope of defusing it. Trump allies are already calling it a “Potemkin investigation.”

But it’s worth recognizing what’s happened. Until Trump, it was basically thought that the appropriate response from DOJ to a demand by the president that it launch an investigation, especially on an issue of such political sensitivity, was to say: We’ll consider that on the merits like any other matter, but the president doesn’t dictate the department’s priorities.

I'm not sure things have gotten as bad as TPM thinks. (I almost never do.) But President Trump has done tremendous damage to the country's institutions already, and has two and a half years to do more. How will we fix the damage once he's finally out of office?

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, craft beer edition

Ballast Point, a former craft brewery that sold out to Constellation Brands for $1 billion in 2015, hasn't given the buyers everything they had hoped for:

Ballast Point has plummeted back to earth after its meteoric rise, though, a sales decline that reflects early missteps after the merger and the slowing growth of craft beer in general, according to industry experts and Constellation executives. The San Diego-based brewer of Sculpin IPA faces numerous challenges in its quest to grow as national craft brand, but perhaps none more significant than this: There are almost 6,500 breweries in the U.S. today — at least 2,000 more than when Constellation bought Ballast Point.

“We have a great high-end Mexican portfolio and wanted to get into craft. We entered in a big way with Ballast Point. … This is really an example of where we’re headed right here in terms of executing our strategy,” said Marty Birkel, Ballast Point president, in an interview at the new Chicago brewpub.

Michigan-based Founders Brewing Co., best known for its lower-priced, lower-alcohol All Day IPA, was roughly the same size as Ballast Point in 2015, but could end up shipping twice as much beer to wholesalers this year. Founders CEO Mike Stevens called the Ballast Point decline a “perfect storm” of high price point — a six-pack of Sculpin regularly sold for $15 — and what he believes to be a fading trend in fruit-flavored IPAs.

“They were obviously just screaming to the top of the peak, riding that price point, riding their fruit IPAs. … Right when that (deal) went down, we kind of all knew that they were going to have to fix the price points because the consumers were going to lose interest,” Stevens said.

Given that "small" and "craft" are two of the things people who drink beers from small, craft breweries want, and that these things go away when a conglomerate buys them, none of this should surprise anyone. And yet, the culture at large companies almost compels this kind of behavior.

At least Constellation isn't trying to kill its acquisitions, as InBev and MillerCoors have been accused. And craft breweries continue to flourish, both here and abroad. So all is not lost...just Ballast Point.