Sunday, February 05, 2017

How Donald Trump Could Build an Autocracy in the U.S.

David Frum in the Atlantic has a long-form piece describing a frighteningly plausible scenario of how Donald Trump can lead the U.S. into an autocracy.  The TL;DR is that it won't be obvious that it's happening.  It's a splendidly written piece, worth reading all the way through despite its length.  I can't even find an excerpt that does it justice.  Just set aside some time and read it.  I don't assign homework that often.

Also, this cartoon came through on my feed today, noteworthy not just for its content but also for its (historical) context.


Thursday, February 02, 2017

Autocracy: Rules for Survival by Masha Gessen

Commenter Tony pointed me to this piece by Masha Gessen.  I'm not entire certain yet whether Trump is actually planning a Machtergreifung or if it just seems that way, but the warnings and portents are all looking quite ominous to me.  Worth reading.

I'll just leave this here


To which I would add:

Countries where Donald Trump does business: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Lebanon.  (Oh, and Turkey, which is also excluded from the ban.)

Filling in the Countries where Donald Trump does not do business is left as an exercise.

A vicarious deep dive into climate change

I've had an item on my todo list for months to take a deep dive into the question of anthropogenic climate change.  Alas, with everything going on right now I just don't have the time.  Happily, it turns out that a Berkeley physics professor named Richard Muller has done it for me.  Muller was a climate-change skeptic who did an exhaustive study of the literature in 2012 and changed his mind.  He now runs an organization dedicated to sober, objective, open, and reproducible analysis of climate data.  It's a model of how science ought to be done.  They've done a much, much better and more thorough job of cutting through the gordian knot than I could ever hope to.  So thanks, Prof. Muller!

Welcome to your new theocracy

Donald Trump vowed today to 'totally destroy' the wall of separation between church and state.

Of course, in Trump's America, not all religions are created equal.
We've seen unimaginable violence carried out in the name of religion. Acts of wanton slaughter against religious minorities. Terrorism is a fundamental threat to religious freedom.
I'm pretty sure he was not referring to Christian terrorists, of which there have been many.  (So many, in fact, that I ran out of words before I ran out of links.)

Let's hope this doesn't become a self-fulfilling prophecy

Donald Trump's closest advisor Steve Bannon thinks there will be war with China in the next few years.  And he probably has the power to make it happen.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

So many scandals, so little time

The Trump administration is mass-producing outrages on such an industrial scale I can barely keep up.

Yesterday Trump fired the acting attorney general who refused to defend his unconstitutional travel ban.  The last time something like that happened was in the Nixon administration.  Less than a year later, Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace.

Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate has some useful perspective on the theory that the immigration order was a trial balloon for a coup.  (For the record, despite linking to this story yesterday, I never endorsed the use of the word "coup".  To me, the events of the last few days have "merely" been chipping away at the rule of law, the foundations of which have been crumbling for some time now.  Not that anyone should take much comfort in that.

My wife, Nancy, turned me on to two interesting pieces at The Week (a really excellent publication, by the way.  Everyone should subscribe.)  The first, by Ryan Cooper, soberly describes how Trump is imperiling the Constitution.
Donald Trump's executive branch is defying the judiciary, even with the personal, in-person assistance of national legislators. He is attempting, in part at least, to overturn constitutional government in the United States. 
This is not an exaggeration. In a republic, a professional legal corps gets to interpret the law as written by the elected representatives of the people, and the agents of state violence must obey their commands. In a tyranny, the leader does whatever he wants. That is what Trump, with the close counsel of his advisers Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller, is trying to create.

The second explains the obvious truth (often the most difficult to describe without getting hyperbolic, because, geez, how can anyone with even half a brain not see this?) that the reason Trump's immigration order is outrageous has nothing to do with discrimination or the rule of law and everything to do with the fact that not a single terrorist has ever come into the U.S. from the countries from which immigration is being blocked.  Of course, this is far from the first time that Trump has made policy based on falsehoods, nor, sadly, is it likely to be the last.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly in the long run, there is a first-person account from Kieryn Darkwater about what it's like to be indoctrinated as a right-wing culture warrior as a home-schooled child.  This should be required reading for every aspiring liberal leader.  It describes exactly how the right won (and continues to win) the culture war, in short, by breeding, blocking out opposing views, and taking over the government from the bottom up, starting with local school boards.  It is a terrifyingly effective strategy, and if the left doesn't wake up to the realization that we are in fact at war and that the enemy is both amongst us and formidable, we are probably doomed.  One symptom of the fact that the left has not woken up is that we're all focused on how horrible Trump is and fantasizing over getting him impeached (or otherwise removed from office), apparently oblivious to the fact that Mike Pence is actually much, much worse.
I watched the Tea Party takeover and was surprised no one saw it coming. After all, this was part of the plan. Trump being elected is also part of the plan, although not Trump specifically; the true goal is Pence. 
Christofascists have been wanting someone like Pence in the White House and, until now, didn’t have a way to get one in. They know Trump is easily manipulated and will change his mind with the wind if it makes him feel more powerful and famous. Trump couldn’t care less about policy, a fact he’s made quite obvious. The Right has given a tyrant power and fame; he will do whatever they want him to do in order to keep it. This way they can sneak Pence in on a piggyback while filling Congress with even more evangelical conservative Republicans. Compared to Trump’s abrasive and terrifying behavior, Pence seems much less threatening. This is not the case. Pence has a proven track record of legalizing discrimination and acting against women and marginalized people. Those of us who didn’t leave the far Right are being elected to federal positions or are taking over states and cities. With Pence in office, even the reasonable-seeming incumbents – who have been and are still at the mercy of the Tea Party – are growing more bold in their attempts to further the Christofascist agenda: To Take Back The Country For Christ.
We need to wake up and smell the theocracy.  ISIS is not the imminent threat.  Quiverfull and the Promise Keepers are.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Getting really scary really fast

I had a truly frightening realization today.  I have been wrong about Donald Trump nearly every step of the way.  At first I thought there was no way he could win the nomination.  Then I thought there was no way he could win the general election.  Then I thought there's no way he can keep from imploding because he's an incompetent entitled narcissistic con man.

But what if he's not.  What if all of this success is not accidental.  What if he actually knows what he's doing, and all of this chaos is actually part of his plan.  Yonatan Zunger, a principal engineer (and former theoretical physicist) at Google, has written a thorough, sober and well-researched essay exploring that question, and the conclusion he reaches is really scary.
I see a few key patterns here. First, the decision to first block, and then allow, green card holders was meant to create chaos and pull out opposition; they never intended to hold it for too long. It wouldn’t surprise me if the goal is to create “resistance fatigue,” to get Americans to the point where they’re more likely to say “Oh, another protest? Don’t you guys ever stop?” relatively quickly.
... 
Note also the most frightening escalation last night was that the DHS made it fairly clear that they did not feel bound to obey any court orders. CBP continued to deny all access to counsel, detain people, and deport them in direct contravention to the court’s order, citing “upper management,” and the DHS made a formal (but confusing) statement that they would continue to follow the President’s orders. (See my updates from yesterday, and the various links there, for details) Significant in today’s updates is any lack of suggestion that the courts’ authority played a role in the decision.
That is to say, the administration is testing the extent to which the DHS (and other executive agencies) can act and ignore orders from the other branches of government. This is as serious as it can possibly get: all of the arguments about whether order X or Y is unconstitutional mean nothing if elements of the government are executing them and the courts are being ignored. 
Worth reading the whole thing.

There are at least two more ominous developments today.  The first is the deliberate failure to mention Jews or anti-semitism in Trump's statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, defended the language in a Sunday interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” telling the host, Chuck Todd, “I don’t regret the words.” 
Mr. Priebus continued, “I mean, everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust including obviously, all of the Jewish people affected and the miserable genocide that occurred — it’s something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad.”
This is the same ploy that the right used to defuse the Black Lives Matter movement by deploying the aphorism, "All lives matter."  Yes, that's true, but it misses the point rather badly.

The second ominous development was Trump's unprecedented appointment of far-right-wing (and well-known anti-semite) Steve Bannon to head the national security council.
President Donald Trump has reorganized the National Security Council—elevating his chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, and demoting the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 
Bannon will join the NSC’s principals committee, the top inter-agency group advising the president on national security. 
Meanwhile, the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will now attend meetings only when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed,” according to the presidential memorandum issued Saturday.
If you were pinning your hopes on the possibility that cooler heads would prevail, you should be very afraid now.  All of the cooler heads are being systematically and expeditiously dispatched.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Chaos

Donald Trump has been in office less than two weeks and already he has managed to plunge the United States of America into utter chaos.  I knew Trump was going to be a terrible president, but even in my most pessimistic moments did I ever imagine that things would get this bad this fast.

Let us survey today's headlines:

Mitch McConnell says we have no religious tests in the U.S. while at the same time supporting Trump, who says that the U.S. will prefer Christian immigrants over non-Christian immigrants, a position widely denounced by Christian leaders around the world.  Giving preference to Christians sure sounds like a religious test to me, but in the era of alternative facts I guess a religious test can be whatever you say it is as long as you're the person in power.

Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus said that the executive order barring entry into the U.S. from seven Muslim countries does not apply to green card holders.  While he was saying this, green card holders were being denied entry into the U.S. all over the world contrary to court orders.

A twelve year old girl who is one plane trip away from being a U.S. citizen is stuck in Djibouti:
The 12-year-old is now in the worst possible limbo. That immigrant visa grants her lawful permanent resident status the instant she’s admitted to the U.S. by Customs and Border Protection. And once she reaches the United States, Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act stipulates that, as a minor living with her U.S. citizen parents, she automatically becomes a U.S. citizen. But on Saturday, hours after Trump signed that executive order, Ali and his daughter were pulled out of line by airline personnel and prevented from boarding their Ethiopian Airlines flight. Until she’s admitted to the United States, she will not have green card status. The girl and her father are trapped in East Africa, where they have no friends or family, as they wait for a resolution to an ordeal they had thought was over
At least two people were actually forced to surrender their green cards:
The Aziz brothers’ story is particularly stunning because, says Sandoval-Moshenberg, not only were they handcuffed while they were detained by CBP at Dulles, and not only were they turned away and sent to Ethiopia, but they were also made to sign a form, known as the I-407. In doing so, they surrendered their green cards, under the threat of being barred from the U.S. for the next five years if they did not. 
This is particularly chilling.  If people can be forced to surrender their green cards, what is to stop Trump from forcing Muslim American citizens from surrendering their passports?  Think it can't happen?  It already has.  If Barak Obama can revoke Ed Snowden's passport, you'd better believe that Donald Trump can revoke yours.

It goes on and on  and on and on and on and on.

Oh, this might be a good time to remind everyone that Steve Job's father was an immigrant from Syria.  If Donald Trump's immigration policy had been in place in the 1950s there would be no Apple Computer today.

If there is any doubt in your mind about the human toll of Donald Trump's reckless executive order, you should read this:
Hamid Kargaran ... is a U.S. citizen, and a successful one at that. He owns a Bay-area marketing company that works with Google, another that consults with medical practices and teaches at two local universities. His wife of two years, Elaheh Iranfard, 28, is a painter studying at the San Francisco Academy of Art. They both embrace California and U.S. culture with gusto. 
... 
She had been back home for a short visit with her family, a trip she’d planned after her parents were unable to get a visa for the United States. But in the hours after President Trump signed the executive order banning entrants from seven Muslim countries, including Iran, the door slammed shut. Agents at multiple airlines told her she couldn’t board, legal U.S. resident or not. 
For two sleepless days, he has desperately tried to get information from airlines, government officials, friends and family. At one point, he staked out a part of San Francisco International Airport where Customs and Border Protection officers take their break. Three of them gave him different answers to the same questions; one of them told him: “Iranians are not our friends.” 
It’s been a shock to a man who joined pro-American demonstrations in Tehran after terrorists struck the United States on September 11, 2001. What he was hearing now, as friends advised him to scrub from his phone any social media posts that suggested he disagreed with Trump, reminded him of the Iranian repression that drove him from the country
“I never thought when I moved here and made this country my home that this would happen,” he said. “I employ people, I pay taxes. We love this country. But I feel like the hard work has been meaningless. We’re second-class citizens.” 
Now he was waiting, and he knew there would be no relief until his wife actually walked into the sun in San Francisco. In three hours, she would find out if Lufthansa agents in Tehran would let her on the plane. In Germany, she would learn if officials there would let transit on to California. At home, she still had to pass through U.S. passport control. 
“I don’t know,” Kargaran said. “We’ve tried to do everything right. Doesn’t that matter?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Texas mosque destroyed in early-morning blaze, cause unknown

A mosque in Victoria, Texas was destroyed by fire this morning.  The cause is being reported as "unknown" but I'll give you long odds against it being an accident.

What did Donald say to Melania?

When he crushed her soul?



It's not just the change in Melania's expression that is striking; the smug self-satisfied look on Donald's face is downright chilling.  It's clear that he intended to say something to devastate her, and that he knew he had succeeded, and that he was happy about it.  That is one of the marks of a psychopath.


So much for playing by the rules

It's easy to miss just how far off the deep end Trump has gone with his  executive order to bar entry into the U.S. from seven Muslim countries.  Many people seem to think the order applies only to refugees and migrants, but it doesn't.  It applies to everyone, including legal immigrants, even permanent residents with green cards.  If you happened to be out of the country when the order was issued, you now can't get back in without a waiver from DHS.  And if you are in the country, now you can't leave because you might not be able to get back in.

With this order Donald Trump reveals beyond any doubt that he cannot be trusted.  His rhetoric all during the campaign was that he wanted to exclude and deport illegal immigrants.  But this executive order draws no such distinctions.  Legal or not, if you're from one of the Muslim countries targeted by the whims of the dear leader (Saudi Arabia, tellingly, is not on the list) you are no longer free to cross the border.

The litany of outrage here is so long it's hard to know where to begin.  Let's start with the obvious: banning people because of their religion or ethnicity is shameful at best, unconstitutional and un-American at worst.  The U.S. turned away Jewish refugees and interned Japanese residents (including U.S. citizens) during WWII, to our everlasting ignominy.  That this policy is being supported by a vice president who (rightfully) called it "offensive" during the campaign is hypocrisy of the highest order.  And of course there's the fact that two of the countries most likely to actually send terrorists to the U.S. -- Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- are not on the list.

But the worst part of this is the fact that no exception was made for legal residents.  That is not only so far beyond stupid that you can't even see stupid from there, it's bad business.  We made a deal with those people: work hard, pay your taxes, don't blow shit up, and we'll let you stay.  They held up their end of the bargain, but we have now reneged on ours.

Of course, reneging on commitments is nothing new to Donald Trump.  It is, sadly, nothing new to the United States of America either.  But that doesn't make it right.

[UPDATE] I urge you to read Scott Aaronson's excellent post on this topic.

Friday, January 27, 2017

GOP Quietly Admits There Will Be No Obamacare Replacement

What should come as no surprise to anyone, the GOP Quietly Admits There Will Be No Obamacare Replacement:
The history of the development of the Republican alternative to Obamacare since the beginning of the health-care debate, in 2009, has been an endless loop of loud promises that a full plan will be announced soon, followed by quiet admissions that it will not. Seventeen days ago, Donald Trump promised a vote to repeal the law “probably some time next week” with a vote for a replacement “very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.” At a meeting in Philadelphia yesterday, Trump and his House Republican allies produced no agreement on a plan. If there is a consensus, it is that there will be no replacement plan at all.
You can't defy the laws of physics or economics.  The free market does not lead to good outcomes when it comes to health care.  If Johnny gets hit by a bus we want him taken to a hospital whether or not he's able to pay the bill.  Letting him bleed out on the sidewalk is not an option anyone is willing to accept.  So the government has to do something, at which point things get complicated and thought is required, something which the Republicans seem to be incapable of.  So much easier to bury your head in the sand and blame everything on the democrats.  Except even that won't work this time around.

The pro-life movement should be taken seriously

Tens of thousands marched for life on the national mall today.  The crowd was large and diverse enough that the pro-life movement cannot be dismissed as a radical fringe movement, notwithstanding its shadowy and ignominious roots.  It must be taken seriously.  Unlike the anti-gay-marriage movement, which is driven entirely by bigotry and the desire to impose religious beliefs on others, the pro-life movement actually advocates some defensible positions.  In particular, they ask the very reasonable question: where do you draw the line between embryo-hood and person-hood?  There are only a few bright lines: conception.  First heartbeat.  Birth.  The pro-choice side rejects the first two, and no one argues for the third one (see below), so what we are left with is the arbitrary trimester lines plucked from a hat by Harry Blackmun in Roe v. Wade.

On the other hand, having a defensible position is not enough.  It is incumbent on the pro-life side to start advancing some serious policy proposals that align with reality.  It doesn't work simply to state as a principle that life begins at conception, and therefore abortion is murder.  It is, alas, much more complex than that.

For example: excess human embryos are routinely produced and frozen during fertility treatments.  Reliable figures of how many such embryos are currently on ice are not available, but estimates put the count at about half a million.  If you are pro-life, what exactly do you propose to do with those?  Are you going to start conscripting women to carry these "innocent babies" to term?

Even without modern technology, the thesis that life begins at conception is deeply at odds with reality: miscarriages in the first trimester are common.  15-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and many more surely go unreported and possibly even unnoticed.  Even God seems to be OK with killing babies as long as it's early enough.  Then there's the fact that there are certain behaviors that increase the risk of miscarriage.  Are you really going to start investigating every miscarriage as a possible homicide?

Abortion appears to be a clash of absolutes but it's not.  There is quite a lot of common ground between the two sides.  For example, everyone agrees that an hour or a day or a week or even a month before a baby is born that it's a baby, a person, and it's not OK to kill it.  The debate is only over whether to draw the line between embryo-hood and person-hood at conception or somewhere else.  And as I've noted above, drawing the line at conception leads to a lot of difficulties for which the advocates of this position seem to have no answers.

It is for this reason that I believe that being pro-choice is at the moment the only principled stand.   Until those who argue that life begins at conception come up with acceptable answers to these and other questions (What about rape and incest?  What about pregnancies that endanger the life and health of the mother?  What about encephalitic fetuses?) the only principled position is to err on the side of the interests of the party whose personhood is not in doubt: the mother, and let her decide based on the totality of her circumstances.

Note that being pro-choice is absolutely not the same as being pro-abortion.  No one is pro-abortion.  To be pro abortion would mean that you advocate abortion as a good thing in its own right, and no one believes that.  Everyone agrees that all else being equal the world would be a better place if there were fewer abortions.

Unfortunately, there are vested interests on both sides who benefit from the on-going conflict and so refuse to allow the fact that there is agreement to be acknowledged, because this would cost them power.  The path forward is clear: ditch the extreme rhetoric on both sides, acknowledge the the issues are complex, but that there is a consensus that, all else being equal, reducing or even eliminating abortions would be a Good Thing.  Then we can start to talk about how best to achieve that goal rather than vilifying each other as baby-killers or enslavers of women.  It seems pretty clear to me (and I think it's clear to most people) that throwing women and doctors in prison for murder is probably not the most effective strategy.  Providing them with better education and alternatives (like easy access to birth control) would probably work better.

Despite the fact that there exists a path to reconciliation, I prophecize that this war will continue for a good long while.  Sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness.

(Interesting side note: as I went looking for links for the above I found this story all over today's news: scientists have successfully implanted human stem cells into pig embryos which were then allowed to develop for up to 28 days.  What would be the status of these human-pig chimeras if abortion were made illegal, I wonder.)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Miami-Dade Is the First Sanctuary Domino to Fall

The nazification of the United States has begun.  Miami-Dade is going to start jailing suspected illegal immigrants without a warrant.

Here's the problem: if I get picked up by the police and they suspect me of being in the country illegally, how am I supposed to prove them wrong?  I'm a citizen, so I don't have a green card.  I happen to have a passport because I do a lot of international travel, but I don't carry it around with me; it's too bulky.  And not all citizens have passports.  The only identification I carry with me regularly is a drivers license, and because I'm from California that does not prove I'm in the country legally.

Of course, I'm pretty sure no one is going to suspect me of being an illegal immigrant, because I'm a white guy and I drive a nice car and I don't go to the disreputable parts of town.  But my civil liberties should not depend on such things.  I should be just as confident of not being deprived of life or liberty without due process of law even if my skin is brown and I speak with an accent and I drive a ratty truck and my name is Juan.  But you can be pretty sure that the detention cells are not going to be full of white people, they're going to be full of brown people.  That is the problem.

Locking people up simply because they can't prove they're in the country legally whenever a cop demands it is a clear violation of the fourteenth amendment, which says in part, "... nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."  Note well that is says, "person", not "citizen."

Look, I get the frustration that people have with illegal immigration.  It sucks when you follow the rules and you see people cutting in line.  But locking people up without warrants is not the right answer.  A lot of things are easier in a police state.  But the United States is not supposed to be about what is easy, it's supposed to be about what is right.  And this ain't right.

Pondering the pedagogy of the projective plane

[Another geeky break from Trump bashing]

I had an "aha" moment about the project plane that I thought I would share.  For those who don't know, the projective plane is a mathematical construct that arises in algebraic geometry which has a lot of uses, but the one that drew my attention to it has to do with elliptic curves, which are used in cryptography.  An elliptic curve is a curve with an equation of the form y^2 = x^3 + [some other stuff that doesn't matter for this discussion].  The graph of this equation looks like this:



Elliptic curves have this interesting property that a line through any two points on the curve is guaranteed to intersect the curve at a third point.  This property allows you to define an operation called point addition which generates a group which lets you do cryptography.  None of this matters for this post.  I mention it only for context.

What this post is about is the claim that I just made, that a line through any two points on the curve will intersect the curve at a third point, because it looks like there is an obvious counter-example: two points that have the same X coordinate will produce a vertical line, which looks like it cannot possibly intersect the curve again.  In fact, we can easily prove that this is true, because we can take the square root of both sides of the elliptic curve equation and get y=sqrt(x^3 + [other stuff]).  So for a given value of X, Y will only have two solutions.

What you will find if you dig into the elliptic curve literature is that the third point of intersection is something called the "point at infinity", and that this point can be mathematically justified (i.e. it's not just a random hack thrown in to make things work out) using something called the projective plane.  But then if you try to find out what the projective plane is and how it works you end up in a horrible mathematical mess, none of which seems to have anything to do with elliptic curves, or how we can possibly justify the point at infinity.  In particular you will learn that the projective plane involves mapping every point of the plane onto a line, but very few explanations about why mapping points to lines is a good idea.

Here is what finally made it click for me:

There are two ways you can imagine looking at an infinite plane.  The first is to take a “God’s eye view” where you are looking straight down at the plane as though from an infinite distance through an infinitely powerful telescope.  Like this:


From this point of view, grid lines (lines parallel to the x and y axes) always appear to intersect at right angles. Parallel lines always appear to be separated by the same distance.  And you can’t see the line at infinity because, even though your telescope is infinitely powerful, it only has a finite field of view.  You can look at any point by positioning yourself over that point, but you can’t go out an infinite distance.

The second way to look at an infinite plane is the “mortal’s-eye view”, where you are standing on the plane at some particular point looking at it from some finite distance (your own height), like so:



The only point you can look straight down on is the point you are standing on.  To see other locations you have to tilt your head, so you are looking at all other points from some oblique angle.  Like this:



From this point of view, grid lines generally do not appear to intersect at right angles.  The distance between parallel lines does not appear constant, and indeed parallel lines will appear to meet at the horizon.  The point on the horizon where parallel lines meet is determined entirely by the slope of the lines, completely independent of the distance between them.  And, most importantly, you can see the horizon, which looks like a circle surrounding you.  But this "circle" is infinitely far away.  A circle with infinite radius has zero curvature, so this “circle” is in fact a line: the line at infinity.

The reason that the projective plane is constructed by mapping points in 2-space to lines in 3-space is that from the mortal’s-eye view you can’t actually tell how far away a point is (we’re assuming no stereoscopic vision here).  All you can tell is the azimuth and elevation relative to your vantage point.  So all of the points along a given line of sight form an equivalence class from the mortal’s-eye view.

In the figure above, if we imagine that we are looking "up" along the Y axis, all vertical lines meet at the point O, which is a point at infinity.  Lines going up and to the left at 45 degrees to the vertical meet at Z, and lines going up to the right at 45 degrees meet at N.  Z, O and N are all points at infinity.

The reason vertical lines and elliptic curves meet is because as X increases, the slope of the curve also increases, approaching infinity as X approaches infinity.  (As a little elementary calculus will reveal, the slope of the curve is proportional to the square root of X.)  So "at infinity" the curve is vertical, and so intersects the horizon (the "line at infinity") at O, which is the same point where all vertical lines intersect the line at infinity.  So the point O is "the point at infinity" for any elliptic curve.

The projective plane is cool because it unifies a lot of things that would otherwise have to be treated as special cases.  For example, on the projective plane there is no distinction between circles, parabolas, and hyperbolas.  All conic sections are the same.

Vulgar, vile and evil

The utter cluelessness of Donald Trump's supporters is beyond mind-boggling.  In Franklin, Tennessee, the owner of a knitting store put up a Facebook post saying:
With the recent women's march on Washington, I ask that you if you want yarn for any project for the women's movement that you please shop for yarn elsewhere. The vulgarity, vile and evilness of this movement is absolutely despicable. That kind of behavior is unacceptable and is not welcomed at The Joy of Knitting. I will never need that kind of business to remain open. Two wrongs will never ever make it right. 
As the owner of this business and a Christian, I have a duty to my customers and my community to promote values of mutual respect, love, compassion, understanding, and integrity. The women's movement is counterproductive to unity of family, friends, community, and nation. 
I do pray for these women. May the God work out His love in their hearts and continue to heal and unite Americans.
Say what??? "Vulgarity, vile [sic], and evilness?"  What exactly is it that is vulgar, vile and evil about the Women's movement?  To the contrary, the marches last week were 100% peaceful.  No violence, no arrests.  What could possibly be wrong with that?

Well, the Washington Post has a clue:
“This is starting to undermine their efforts,” Poe said. “I think if you want to get your point across you need to do it the right way and I just think that walking around dressed as a vulva is gross. Hatred is not acceptable speech.”  [Emphasis added]
Say what???  I presume that she is referring to the so-called "pussy hats", but seriously, has this woman ever even seen a vulva?  Pussy hats look nothing like vulvas, they look like cat ears, which is what they are intended to look like.  They are called "pussy hats" to rhyme with "pussy cat", not the kind of pussy that Donald Trump like to brag he grabs women by.

Here, let me show you:


Pussy Hat


Pussy Cat

I was tempted to post a picture of a vulva for comparison but ultimately decided that I want to keep this blog family-friendly.  If you don't know what a vulva looks like, enlightenment is just a Google search away.

Even if these women were dressed as vulvas (which they weren't) where in the world do you get from there to hatred?  Dressing up like a pussy (of either sort) isn't hatred.  This is hatred.

[UPDATE] Apparently there were a few people actually dressed up in vulva costumes at some of the marches, though I didn't see any at the one I attended, and I didn't see any coverage of this in any of the news reports I saw.  I had to go looking to find them.  You know what?  I actually agree that these costumes are vulgar (though I wouldn't go as far as "vile" and they certainly aren't "evil").  I guess the Trump camp does not have a monopoly on cluelessness.  Honestly, people, how on earth do you imagine that dressing up like genitalia is going to move the needle in a positive direction?

But I still don't understand how refusing to sell yarn to women's movement members is supposed to help.  None of the vulva costumes I was able to find pictures of looked like they were made out of yarn.  Elizabeth Poe's facebook post didn't ask for people to not buy construction materials for vulva costumes, it specifically asks for women's movement members to shop elsewhere for yarn:
I ask that you if you want yarn for any project for the women's movement that you please shop for yarn elsewhere.  [Emphasis added -- obviously.]
The most charitable interpretation I can come up with is that because there were a few tasteless apples out of millions who attended the marches, Elizabeth Poe wants to refuse to sell yarn to anyone if they want to use it for making "any project for the women's movement."  Seriously, can there be any doubt that she had pussy hats in mind when she wrote that?

The irony here (it has been a long, long time since I have been able to make any observation about the political right without using the word "irony") is that but for the advances made by people like the ones Elizabeth Poe wants to exclude from her business she wouldn't even have a business to exclude them from.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Already the wheels seem to be coming off the Trump bus

Heh. this is interesting.  The ostensible headline on this New York Magazine story is, "Trump Aides Keep Leaking Embarrassing Stories About How He Can’t Handle Embarrassment", but when I used my blogger bookmarklet to link to it, the title came up as Trump Aides Can’t Stop Blabbing About How He’s a Madman:
The president is a 70-year-old child whose TV time must be closely monitored — because any news story that upsets his ego will trigger a temper tantrum followed by irrational demands that his indulgent, overwhelmed guardians will be helpless to refuse. 
Or so Donald Trump’s aides keep confiding to the nearest available reporter. 
On Sunday, one of the president’s confidantes told Politico that his staffers have to “control information that may infuriate him,” a task made difficult by the fact that the leader of the free world “gets bored and likes to watch TV.”
Worth reading the whole thing, and following the link to this story, which is about how Trump is like a character from a Twilight Zone episode, a petulant six-year-old boy with superpowers who terrorizes a small midwestern town.  I watched the episode.  It really is a chillingly apt metaphor.

Nightmare scenario

Today's headlines are like the scene in the horror movie where, after a short quiet period accompanied by dramatic music, the zombies start to come out of the ground en masse.  Today:

Trump has called for a 'major investigation' into (non-existent) voter fraud.

Six journalists have been arrested and charged with felonies after covering the protests at Trump's inauguration.

The administration has imposed a freeze on new grants and contracts for the EPA.
The Trump administration has imposed a freeze on grants and contracts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a move that could affect a significant part of the agency’s budget allocations and even threaten to disrupt core operations ranging from toxic cleanups to water quality testing, according to records and interviews.  [Emphasis added.]
I really feel sorry for the people in Flint, Michigan where, despite significant progress, "it could be a year or more before it is safe for residents to drink from their faucets, because lead-tainted pipes need to be replaced."

More details are emerging from yesterday's story about Trump banning social media posts.  It's not just the EPA, it's the park service too.  This is truly chilling:
The National Park Service said on Saturday it regretted having retweeted two Twitter posts, including one comparing the size of crowds at President Trump’s inauguration on Friday with President Obama’s in 2009. 
After retweeting the posts at issue, both of which originated from nongovernment accounts, the agency stopped its Twitter activity for several hours on Friday and Saturday. 
“Out of an abundance of caution, while we investigated the situation involving these tweets, the Department of Interior’s communications team determined that it was important to stand down Twitter activity,” Tom Crosson, a National Park Service spokesman, said in a statement. The Park Service is part of the Interior Department. 
According to CNN, the Interior Department circulated an email to employees on Friday saying that representatives of the Trump administration had ordered the shutdown.
Keep in mind that the information that was distributed by the park service was true.  The only reason they were shut down is because Donald Trump personally didn't like it.  That is not supposed to happen in the democracy.  (Raw Story covers the story in more detail with the more appropriate headline, "Trump bans government scientists from sharing their work with the taxpayers who funded it".)

Not directly connected to the Trump administration but undoubtedly aided and abetted by the Trumpian zeitgeist, the Texas Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case about whether or not municipal governments can deny benefits to gay married couples.  (Hint: no, they can't.  But in today's bizarro-world that is no guarantee that the court will rule that way.  Supreme court justices in Texas are elected.)

There was one tiny spark of optimism in today's news feed: people are starting to talk about article 4 of the 25th amendment:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
But...
Of course it’s an extreme long shot that Trump’s Cabinet or the Republican leadership in Congress would ever take such a drastic step. (Although it’s not at all hard to imagine that in their hearts many of them would prefer President Mike Pence.) This would only happen if  Trump really started to behave in a unhinged fashion. After all the bizarre behavior he has exhibited over the past 18 months, one cannot help but wonder: What could possibly count as going too far? It’s almost too terrifying to imagine.
I knew there were dark days ahead, but I wasn't expecting them to come quite this fast.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Trump bans EPA employees from giving social media updates

Oh, the irony:

President Trump has banned employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from giving social media updates and speaking with reporters, according to The Associated Press.
I wonder if it has ever crossed Trump's little mind that he too is a government employee now.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Credit where it's due

Just for the record, I think Trump got it right on the TPP.  I'm generally a fan of free trade, but the TPP gave way too much power to corporations, and the way it was negotiated in secret left a really bad taste in my mouth.  Trump was right to reject it.

Of course, then he eliminated federal funding for Planned Parenthood, snuffing out the little spark of hope that maybe he would not end up being a complete disaster.  Oh well.

We interrupt this political rant to geek out about airplanes

I figure if I want to maintain the moral high ground with respect to my slogan, "Where nothing is off topic," I figure I should write about something other than politics now and again.  So here's an interesting bit o trivia about Air Force One.

You may have read in the news that Barack Obama's last flight aboard Air Force 1 had to divert from Palm Springs to March Air Force Base because of bad weather.  Actually, it wasn't Air Force One -- it's only called that if the president is on board, and at that point Obama was no longer president.  So the flight was called SAM44: Special Air Mission (or something like that) for the 44th president.  But it was the same aircraft that is used to transport the president.

But that's not the interesting part.

The interesting part is that PSP was reporting ceilings of 900 feet at the time SAM44 had to divert.  They had to divert because they were flying the VOR/GPS-B approach which has minimum around 2000 feet, not even close to being able to make it in with a 900 foot ceiling.  But there are two other approaches, the RNAV (RNP) Y RWY 31L approach and the RNAV (RNP) Z RWY 13R approach (which has one of the funkiest approach paths I have ever seen).  Both of these have minimums of 734 feet, well below the reported 900 foot ceiling.  Furthermore, the RNAV Z 13R approach would have aligned them with the prevailing winds at the time and allowed them to land straight in instead of circling.

So why didn't they fly that approach?

It's because the aircraft doesn't have the right kind of GPS.

Think about that: the airplane that carries the president of the United States is supposed to be chock-full of the latest super-secret military technology.  It's supposed to be able to survive a nuclear attack with enough capability remaining to issue the order for a counterattack.  But it can't land at Palm Springs if the ceiling is below 2000 feet because it lacks a GPS unit that you can put in a civilian plane for about $5000.

That's kind of mind boggling, but it turns out it's actually not so uncommon.  Retrofitting older airplanes with newer avionics is really hard, sometimes impossible.  Still, you'd think that for the president's plane they'd get it figured out somehow.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

With executive order, Trump tosses a ‘bomb’ into fragile health insurance markets

The Washington Post has an excellent analysis of Trump's executive order.  TL;DR: it's going to cause chaos:
Robert Laszewski, president of the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates, called the executive order a “bomb” lobbed into the law’s “already shaky” insurance market. Given the time it will take Republicans to fashion a replacement, he expects that federal and state insurance exchanges will continue to operate at least through 2018. 
“Instead of sending a signal that there’s going to be an orderly transition, they’ve sent a signal that it’s going to be a disorderly transition,” said Laszewski, a longtime critic of the law, which is also known as Obamacare. “How does the Trump administration think this is not going to make the situation worse?”
Teresa Miller, Pennsylvania’s insurance commissioner, said Saturday that several insurers on her state’s exchange “seriously considered leaving the market last year” and that Trump’s action could propel them to indeed abandon it in 2018. In fact, she added, some have raised the possibility of withdrawing from the ACA’s exchanges during 2017, which would mean consumers could keep their plans but no longer receive federal subsidies to help them afford the coverage. 
“That would create a nightmare scenario,” Miller said. 
As of this year, nearly a third of all counties nationwide have just one insurer in the federal marketplace, and almost two-thirds have two or fewer insurers.
And then there's this:
The White House did not return requests for comment over the weekend.
Imagine that.

New Wyoming bill forbids utilities from using renewables

From the Christian Science Monitor:
Republican legislators recently introduced a bill that would essentially ban large-scale renewable energy in the state.  The new Wyoming bill would forbid utilities from using solar or wind sources for their electricity by 2019... 
Remind me again which party is the one that opposes government regulations and interference in free markets?

A commenter on Hacker News posted a hypothesis:
Republicans are not at all in any way pro free market, that's just a propaganda ploy, a Jedi mind trick for the weak. They are, have always been, classist. They believe in retaining class distinctions. Everything they do is a preservation of differentiation of the American version of the caste system. And it's why some people seem to vote against their economic interests, like coal workers. They voted Republican to preserve their class, not actually get ahead, and to preserve the class of their company's owners, rich landed elite.
That seems to me to be consistent with all the available data.

No tax returns for you!

Turns out that the audit was an excuse and Trump is never releasing his tax returns.

If that surprises you, then you really haven't been paying attention.


There are no lies in Trump's America, just "alternative facts"

From The Washington Post, on an exchange between NBC news reporter Chuck Todd and Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, regarding White House press secretary Sean Spicer telling lies about the size of Trump's (ahem) inauguration crowds:
“Why put him out there for the very first time, in front of that podium, to utter a provable falsehood?” Chuck Todd asked Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president. “It's a small thing, but the first time he confronts the public, it's a falsehood?” 
After some tense back and forth, Conway offered this: 
"Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You're saying it's a falsehood, and they're giving — our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that. But the point really is —"
At this point, a visibly exasperated Todd cut in. “Wait a minute. Alternative facts? Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he uttered . . . were just not true. Alternative facts are not facts; they're falsehoods.”
OMG, here's an interview with Spicer on Jan 4 where he was asked if he would lie for Trump:
The one thing that [sic] whether you're a Republican [or] a Democrat [is] that you have your integrity.  I may tell a reporter I can't comment on something or I'm not able to discuss it but I'd never lie.  ...  if you lose the respect and trust of the press corps you've got nothing.
I am not at all surprised that Spicer reneged on that, but I'm a little surprised that he did it so blatantly on the very first day of the new administration.

I really feel sorry for anyone trying to raise kids in this environment.

Individual health insurance without a mandate is a scam

Reader Publius writes:
Given President Trump's selection of Sen. Tom Price for HHS Secretary, one should expect the replacement plan to be similar to the Emp[o]wering Patients First Act.
He's probably right, and that scares the hell out of me, for a very simple reason: individual health insurance without a mandate cannot possibly work.  Yes, you will be able to buy something that looks like an insurance policy.  The insurance companies will happily take your money as long as you are healthy.  But the instant you get sick they will drop you like a hot rock.  An individual health policy without a government mandate is necessarily a scam.  No free market mechanisms can possibly change this.  If you have cancer, no one is going to insure you if they don't have to.

Health insurance only has value if an insurance company has some reason to keep you on board after you get sick.  In the case of group plans, that reason is that they can't drop you individually.  The only way they can drop you is to drop the whole group.  The reason employer-based insurance works even in the absence of government mandates is that employers do two things: they aggregate people into groups that are large enough that you can use statistics to manage the risk.  And they filter out the sickest and most expensive people.  If you're over 65, or if you already have cancer, you're less likely to be applying for a job than if you're in your 20s and healthy.  But if you are by yourself, in the absence of a government mandate like the one provided by the ACA, they can drop you individually.  And they surely will.  What makes it a scam is that most people don't get sick, and so most people will think they have insurance (or at least access to insurance) even though in reality they don't.

In California, it doesn't take much to make a group: you only need two people.  So my wife and I started a company, and for the last ten years that has qualified us for group insurance.  But with the advent of the ACA, California changed the rules.  You still only need two people, but now they can't be related to each other.  So I'm now on an ACA individual plan.  If the ACA is repealed I, and about 20 millions other Americans, will be totally hosed.  The only way I can get back on a group rate is to shutter my company and go back to work as an employee, or get divorced.  It is no small irony that I will be faced with this choice because of the party that ostensibly wants to support entrepreneurship and family values.

This is what happens when you deny reality.  You can choose to ignore the laws of physics and the laws of economics, but they will not ignore you.  Sooner or later, if the Republicans are not stopped somehow, sea levels will rise and people will die.

And this is by design.  Read the text of Donald Trump's executive order:
To the maximum extent permitted by law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) and the heads of all other executive departments and agencies (agencies) with authorities and responsibilities under the Act shall exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.  [Emphasis added]
Note the complete absence of any mention of impact on the overall sustainability of the system, or the actual health and well-being of patients.  Trump's quality metric is purely financial.  Fiscal burdens are bad, and so they need to be eliminated, period, end of story.  There are no other considerations.  If a few more people die, who cares.

Donald Trump is a legitimate president

Something I was going to mention in my previous post but forgot, and it's important enough that I thought I'd make a separate post: today's Women's march was positive and inspiring, but there was one bit of rhetoric floating around that I don't agree with, and which I think is actually counterproductive: Much as it pains me to say it (and part of me is still trying to remain in denial about it) Donald Trump is the legitimate president of the United States.  He won a majority of the electoral college.  The results were certified by Congress.  That's all that matters.  Yes, the Russians may have tried to influence the election.  They may even have succeeded.  But so did James Comey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  There are very few clean hands in American politics.

The Republicans spent eight years arguing that Barack Obama was illegitimate because he wasn't born in the U.S.  The Russian-meddling argument sounds to me every bit as petty as that.  Donald Trump would not be in the White House if tens of millions of Americans hadn't voted for him.  The Russians (or Comey or Schultz) may have moved the needle a little.  They may have even changed the outcome (we can never know).  But at the end of the day the American people voted without anyone putting guns to their heads and the votes were counted fairly (which is not the case everywhere).  Trump won.  Deal with it.  Complaining about Trump's illegitimacy is pathetic and it won't do any good.  So stop it.  There is too much important work to be done to waste time on that kind of bullshit.

P.S.  In no way do I mean to denigrate John Lewis, who is definitely a man of action contrary to Donald Trump's petulant attacks.  But I respectfully disagree with his position that Trump is illegitimate, both on the merits, and as a political tactic.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Good news, bad news

I went to the local Women's march today.  It was the first political protest I've ever attended.  (The Viet Nam war ended when I was in elementary school, and after that protesting kind of went out of style.)  It was quite inspiring.  There was a huge (yuuuuge!) turnout.  Joan Baez was there, so it was a little like going back to the 60s.



There were a lot of very clever signs.

 

 



But the best part of the day was watching the news and seeing how big the crowds were around the country and even around the world.  And I confess to indulging in a bit of schadenfreude when I saw Trump's inauguration crowds compared to Obamas:

 

That's Trump on the left, Obama on the right.  And just for comparison, here's today's Women's march crowd:


Of course, The Donald was not pleased when the press reported on this.  He doesn't like it when anyone suggests anything associated with him is small.  If it's Trump, it's gotta be yuuuuge!

So this is how President Trump choose to spend his first full day in office: leveling false charges at the press because they has the temerity to report (correctly) that his inauguration crowds were smaller than his predecessor's.  Pathetic.  It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Oh, and there is one other thing that His Donaldness did today: he signed an executive order to begin the process of repealing Obamacare, making good on half of a campaign promise.  The other half, the purported replacement that is supposed to fix the problems and provide "insurance for everybody", is nowhere in sight.

I am currently on an ACA individual plan.  But I'm probably going to lose it after this year.  I will probably have to give up my startup and go back to a regular salaried job as a result.  This is what making America great again looks like.

Friday, January 20, 2017

One thing Trump got right


They're real.  Here's the original.

Amerika uber alles

Trump’s inaugural address was terrifying.
"The bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America..." 
No mention of the Constitution. No mention of democracy. No mention of freedom or equality. Only "total allegiance" to the U.S.A.  Dissent will not be tolerated.

Oh, and apparently your total allegiance will be required whether or not you are a citizen.

Be afraid

Especially if you're black:
The new White House website went live following Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday, and it contained a bracing message implicitly directed to supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement: Your kind is not welcome in Trump's America. 
“The Trump Administration will be a law and order administration,” reads a page on the website titled "Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement Community." It continues: “President Trump will honor our men and women in uniform and will support their mission of protecting the public. The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it.” 
In case it wasn’t clear who and what the Trump administration blames for this “anti-police atmosphere,” the website clarified: “Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.”
In other words: dissent will not be tolerated in Trump's America.  Putin must be proud of his protege.

The great information purge has begun

At exactly noon eastern time, all references to climate change were deleted from the White House website.

This is eerily reminiscent of an earlier episode in history.  That one didn't end well.  I don't expect this one will either.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dead nation walking

I had a very vivid dream last night.  I was a passenger in the back seat of a small four-seat airplane that was careening wildly out of control and diving towards the ground.  I kept yelling at the pilot to pull up, pull up, but he wasn't paying attention.  I don't think it's a coincidence that I had this dream a day before Donald Trump is going to be inaugurated as president.

Like I said in my last post, I really want to believe.  I want to believe that president Obama is right when he says that "We're going to be OK."  I want to believe that Donald Trump will end up surprising all the naysayers (including me) and turn out to be a great president who will lead the country to continued peace and prosperity.  (I can't say "back to peace and prosperity" because we're already relatively peaceful and prosperous.)  I want to believe in a merciful God who delivers cosmic justice too, and that there is life after death.  But I can't believe in any of these things because the evidence is overwhelming that none of them are true.

I thought I saw a tiny glimmer of hope a couple of weeks ago when Congress tried to abolish the ethics office and Trump helped shut them down.  But then I went back and actually looked at his tweet.  He didn't actually disapprove of shutting down the ethics office at all, he just disapproved of doing that first.  To the contrary, he actually endorsed shutting down the ethics office eventually:
"With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it ... may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS,"
And that snuffed out the very last glimmer of any realistic hope that Trump will anything but a complete disaster.  And it's not just Trump.  But himself he would be bad enough, but with Congress under Republican control there is nothing standing in the way of total calamity.  The potential problems of this toxic combination are too numerous to enumerate, but it can be summed up simply by observing that the war between corporate interests and the interests of individuals is almost certainly lost for a generation.  Environmental regulations, protections for minorities and individuals, fair labor laws, respect for scientific truth, consumer protections -- all at very serious risk.

As scary as all that is, it pales in comparison to the brazen disrespect that Trump and the Republicans have for ethics.  The disbanding of the Congressional ethics office has not been stopped, it has merely been delayed.  Trump and the Republicans really believe that they don't need to be bound by ethics rules.  They have the power to eliminate those pesky rules.  There is nothing standing in their way.

One of the things that has always distinguished the United States and helped make it free and prosperous is our relative lack of corruption.  You could in the past, at least since WWII, mostly count on government officials to do their jobs more or less fairly, and that you could expect to be treated fairly without having to pay bribes.  That may soon change.  Trump and the Republicans (I'm going to have to come up with an abbreviation for that -- how about TATR?) really believe that there is nothing wrong with using positions of public trust to enrich themselves at the expense of others, and that ethics rules are merely "unfair annoyances" standing in the way of this perfectly legitimate enterprise.

There are so many dangers, so many existential threats from TATR, that it is easy to lose sight of this one in the morass.  Making a few bucks off an insider stock trade seems to innocuous.  Who actually gets hurt?  If politicians still vote their conscience (stop laughing, this is a hypothetical) where is the harm if they make a few bucks on the side to augment their meager government salaries?

Well, the harm is that it will ultimately turn the U.S. into the same kind of banana republic that we like to look down our noses at.  In the long run it will undermine public trust in the nation and its institutions.  In the past Americans have been willing to work hard and take risks because they believed that the playing field was level and they had a fair shot at the brass ring.  If that faith is undermined, the entire foundation of the American dream will crumble to dust.  As countries like Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela demonstrate, that kind of loss of public trust can be very hard to recover from.

To reiterate: I fervently hope I'm wrong about all this.  I really want to believe.  But I can't.  TATR are not even trying to hide the fact that they want to enable government corruption.  That is one thing I will say for Donald Trump: he doesn't dissemble, which is somewhat refreshing in today's political climate.  One of the reasons people voted for him is because he speaks his mind.  But sometimes I really wonder if his supporters pay more attention to his candor than to the things he actually says.

Monday, January 16, 2017

I'm still waiting to wake up and find it was all just a bad dream

Regular Ramblings readers (how's that for some alliteration?) may have noticed that I have not been posting much lately.  That's partly because I've been on the road, but to a greater degree because I am still feeling shell-shocked from the election.  Part of my brain just refuses to accept that Donald Trump is actually about to be sworn in as president of the United States of America.  Worse, both houses of Congress are controlled by the Republicans!  I'm still losing sleep over it.

For the fourteen years I have been writing this blog I have tried (though not always succeeded) to avoid political and ideological bias.  I have tried to live up to the ideals of Science (with a capital S) and pursue Truth through evidence, experiment and reason rather than faith or ideology.  I've tried to attract an audience that is diverse in all respects, but particularly in terms of religion and politics.  I'm proud of the fact that I have a number of regular readers who often disagree with me (thanks Publius!)

But I find I just can't bring myself to be detached and objective about this situation.  I believe with every fiber of my being that Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States of America, the country that has been my home for nearly all of my life.  He is an existential threat to everything I love and value in this world: Freedom.  Democracy [1].  Peace.  Tolerance.  Science.  Facts.  Truth.  Complete sentences.

I don't know how many Trump supporters I have among my readership.  I suspect not many, but I don't want to presume.  If you're out there, then to you I will say the same thing that I've often said to the many Christians that I've met over the years: I want to believe.  I really do.  But I just can't.  Not in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The evidence that I see is overwhelming that Donald Trump is not qualified to be president.  He is a petty, vindictive man with delusions of grandeur and no clue about the art of statecraft or governance.    Vladimir Putin is going to have him over a log bleating like a pig [WARNING!  NSFW link!], and Trump won't even realize that he is being played.  If I were living in Estonia or Latvia I'd be very, very worried.  (Heck, I'm living in California and I'm very, very worried.)

If you are a Trump fan, by all means tell me where I'm wrong.  Give me a glimmer of hope.  I want to believe.  Write it up in the comments, or if you want to respond more extensively email me and let's talk about writing a guest post.  But at the moment I see dark days ahead, and objectivity may turn into a luxury that I choose not to afford.  My grandparents fled Hitler because people realized too late the danger he posed.  Trump isn't Hitler (he's nowhere near as smart as Hitler was) but Hitler didn't have nukes.

On the other hand, if you are not a Trump fan I hope you will join me in opposing him by whatever means necessary.  Let's start by pledging to never watch a Trump event on TV, starting with the inauguration.  Trump thrives on ratings.  Let's not feed the beast.

If you are with me on this, I would really appreciate it if you would let me know, either by leaving a comment, or clicking on the "Right on" reaction button below.  (Likewise, if you support Trump, please click the "Bogus" button.  I really do want to know.  But if you do, I'd also appreciate it if you would explain why.)  It has taken me two months to screw my courage to the sticking place enough to write this.  Like I said, I see dark days ahead.  It doesn't take a lot of encouragement to keep me writing, but it does take some.  I need to know I'm not alone.

---
[1]  Yes, I know that I said that I lost faith in democracy after the Brexit vote.  And I have.  But I still cling to the ideal of liberal democracy as something that we humans should strive for, even if at the moment democracy does not seem to be living up to its full potential.