Friday, October 19, 2018

Where is the body?

The Washington Post reports:
The Saudi government acknowledged early Saturday that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, saying he died during a fist fight. ... The announcement marks the first time that Saudi officials have acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. Ever since he disappeared on Oct. 2 while visiting the mission, Saudi officials have repeatedly said that he left the consulate alive and that they had no information about his whereabouts or fate. He had gone to the consulate to obtain a document he needed for an upcoming wedding.
So by the Saudi's own admission now, they initially promulgated a completely indefensible lie about Khashoggi's fate.  He was dead, and they knew he was dead, and yet for days they insisted he left the consulate alive.

So there are two obvious questions someone needs to ask the Saudis: why should we believe you now?  And where is the body?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Yet another ominous development

federal judge has dismissed Stormy Daniels' defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump and ordered her to pay his legal fees:
The Court agrees with Mr. Trump's argument because the tweet in question constitutes 'rhetorical hyperbole' normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States. The First Amendment protects this type of rhetorical statement.  [Emphasis added.]
This ruling has not gotten a lot of attention from the press except to report it as another current event.  It is very tempting to shrug this off as a trivial matter, but I think that would be a very serious mistake. This ruling is wrong, and it has major implications for the rule of law.

The problem with this ruling is that not everything that a politician says is automatically "associated with politics and public discourse."  Stormy Daniels is not a politician, and her lawsuit against Trump has nothing to do with politics (except insofar as it stems from an attempt — almost certainly an illegal one — by Trump to silence her in advance of the 2016 election).  By ruling in Trump's favor the court has essentially said that anything a politician says is (or at least is presumed to be) "associated with politics and public discourse" and thus protected by the first amendment even if the target of the speech is a private citizen.

The implications of this are ominous.  It gives carte-blanche to politicians to defame private citizens at will.  Think about the effect this will have on people's willingness to go public with information about a politician's misconduct, even criminal misconduct.  Anyone who comes forward now will open themselves up to arbitrary slander for which they will have no recourse.  It dangerously tips the balance of power between politicians and private citizens in favor of the former.  That is a major step on the path to tyranny.

It is also worth noting that the judge who rendered this ruling, James Otero, was appointed by George W. Bush.  (What a surprise.)

I am dismayed that this isn't getting more attention.  But I guess that's the world we live in now.

Friday, September 28, 2018

This is what a precious snowflake looks like

Fred Guttenburg, father of one of the Parkland shooting victims, has done a pretty good job of dressing down Brett Kavanaugh for complaining that his family is "totally and permanently destroyed" by the sexual assault allegations leveled against him by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.  But I don't think he went nearly far enough, so I'm going to pile on:

Judge Kavanaugh, you have no clue what having your life ruined even looks like, let alone having come within artillery range of actually having it happen to you.  You are living one of the most privileged lives ever lived by a human being in the entire history of our species.  You are one of the most elite and powerful citizens of the wealthiest and strongest nation in the history of human civilization.  You have a healthy and intact family, a roof over your head, hot and cold running water that you can drink without getting sick.  You have a secure job that you will likely keep despite the credible allegations of criminal behavior that have been leveled against you.  You have not been charged or perp-walked.  You have not suffered brutality at the hands of law enforcement.  You have not been convicted and served time for a crime you did not commit.  You have not been the victim of sexual assault.  The only thing that has happened to you (so far) is that someone levied a charge against you that has (so far) delayed your confirmation to the Supreme Court.  If that is the worst thing that ever happens to you in your life then you are fortunate indeed.  It is pathetic that you would complain about it at all, let alone in the petulant tone of a spoiled and entitled adolescent.  The only disgraceful behavior here is yours and that of your supporters.

Seriously, dude, man up.  The charges levied against you are serious and credible.  If you really wanted to clear your name, you should have done it by calling for an FBI investigation, not by whining and sniveling about how unfair the process has been.  Life has not been unfair to you.  The thumb of fate has tilted the scales heavily in your favor.  Even if these charges are false (doubtful) and even if they end up derailing your nomination to the Supreme Court (also doubtful) you will hardly be the first person in history who failed to get promoted for some random reason.  These things happen in life.  Deal with it.

An open letter to Governor Jerry Brown re: net neutrality

Dear Governor Brown:

When I went to work for NASA as an AI researcher in 1988 there was no World Wide Web.  The first web browser, Netscape Navigator, was still three years in the future.  There was no Amazon, no Facebook, no Wikipedia.  If you wanted to look something up, you consulted your home encyclopedia (if you were fortunate enough to have one), or you went to the library, or you did without.  Nine years later I took a year off from my job at NASA to work for an obscure little silicon valley startup company called Google.  Since then I have co-founded three startups of my own and invested in about 20 others.

Today we take for granted an array of services beyond the wildest dreams of even science fiction writers a mere generation ago.  I have been incredibly fortunate to have had a front row seat in one of the greatest technological revolutions ever produced by human civilization, and even to have participated in some key parts of it.

One of the many factors that contributed to the success of Google and the other internet companies whose services we enjoy today was the principle of net neutrality: that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, and that telecommunications companies who provide the underlying infrastructure must not give preferential treatment to one service provider over another.  The internet is what it is today in no small measure because net neutrality made it the very definition of a level playing field.

Net neutrality did not begin as a legal principle but an economic one.  It is hard to imagine now, but in the early days there was a tremendous amount of skepticism about the commercial potential of the internet.  All of the content on the web was new because the web itself was new, and all of it was welcome because all of it contributed toward the critical mass needed to push it over the edge to commercial success.

Today the internet has become one of the pillars of the modern economy, but its future viability as a venue for continued innovation is very much in doubt.  This is because the telcoms want to undo net neutrality, one of the crucial ingredients that led to the success of the internet in the first place.

When I went to work for Google it really was a startup company.  The industry leader at the time was a company called Yahoo.  Remember Yahoo?  It twice pased up opportunities to buy Google, first in 1998 and then again in 2002, and the rest, as they say, is history.  But if net neutrality had not been in place at the time, things might have gone very differently.  Without net neutrality, the telcoms could have restricted access to Google’s servers, and one of the greatest success stories in American capitalism might never have happened.  Why would the telecoms do this?  Why, for the money, of course!  Yahoo could have afforded to pay more than Google for access back then.

Today, Google, Facebook and Amazon are in the same position that Yahoo was in the late 1990s, and the obscure startups that will challenge them some day are just that: obscure.  You haven’t heard of them yet, but I promise you they are out there.  If we want those companies to produce tomorrow’s technological revolutions it is vital that we do not allow them to be killed in their infancy by the current industry leaders and greedy telecoms.

But this is not just about the future of innovation.  It is also about who decides what internet services consumers are able to access.  Free and open access to communications infrastructure should be considered a fundamental right.  The founders even gave Congress the explicitly enumerated power to establish a post office, which was the state-of-the-art communications technology in 1788.  Even today, the internet is built on research and development that was paid for with taxpayer dollars  Quite literally the people, not the telecoms, own the internet.

The telecoms would have you believe that eliminating net neutrality would somehow benefit consumers and stimulate innovation.  This is utter hogwash.  Eliminating net neutrality would benefit no one but the telecoms, and even that is only for the short term.  It would stifle innovation, reduce consumer choice, and ultimately hinder the economy.  It is a power-and-money grab by the telecoms, pure and simple.

That’s why I’m urging you, governor Brown, to sign SB 822, the only state-level bill that would restore all the key net neutrality protections that the FCC voted to repeal in 2017.  California has the opportunity to step up where the federal government has abdicated its responsibilities.  The on-ramps to the internet must be kept open to everyone on an equal basis, or tomorrow’s technological revolutions will die in infancy.

Sincerely yours,
Ron Garret, Ph.D.
Emerald Hills, California

Monday, September 24, 2018

The last word (I hope!) on Fitch's paradox

I was really hoping to leave Fitch's paradox in the rear view mirror, but like a moth to the flame (or perhaps a better metaphor would be like an alcoholic to the bottle) I find myself compelled to make one more observation.

First a quick review for those of you who haven't been following along: Fitch's paradox is a formal proof that starts with some mostly innocuous-seeming assumptions and concludes that all truths are known.  Since this conclusion is plainly false, the game (and it really is just a game) is to find the flaw in the reasoning.

There is some low-lying fruit: one of the assumptions that goes into the proof is that it is possible to know any truth.  That is plainly false because Godel, finite universe, yada yada yada.  You can try to do an end-run around this by restricting the domain of the logic to "tractable truths".  The problem with this is that tractability inherently involves time, but Fitch's logic does not model time.  So in some sense Fitch's conclusion in this case is actually true: if something is not known in the static situation described by the logic, then it cannot be known in that static situation.  Hence, all "tractable" truths (to the extent that it is possible to give that word a coherent meaning in a world without time) are in fact known.

An advocate of the tractability approach might try to rescue it by reconstructing Fitch's proof in a logic that did model time.  I suspect that this is not possible, and I even suspect that it's possible to prove that it is not possible, but I don't care anywhere near enough to actually try to prove it myself.

What I do want to point out here is that there is actually a much deeper problem: Fitch assumes that it is possible to assign coherent meanings to the words "possible" and "know".  In fact, not only does he assume it's possible, he assumes it's *trivial* because he doesn't even *try* to actually define these words.  He just tacitly assumes that they have meanings, that these meanings are common knowledge, and that they coincide with the semantics of his modal logic.

In fact, both "know" and "possible" are highly problematic.  What does it mean to know something?  Siri can tell you the temperature in Buffalo.  Does that mean that she "knows" the temperature in Buffalo?  Planets move according to Newton's laws, does that mean that they "know" how to solve differential equations?

Even among humans it is far from clear what it means to know something.  The subjective sensation of being absolutely convinced of a false proposition is generally indistinguishable from being convinced of a true one.  So can it be said that flat-earthers "know" that the earth is flat?  Did Ptolemy "know" that the sun revolves around the earth?  This matters because Fitch's proof depends on the assumption that anything that is known must be true (KP->P).

But even being true is not necessarily enough.  In 1653, Christian Huygens calculated the distance from the earth to the sun and got very nearly the correct answer, but he got it right by pure luck.  In fact his calculation was completely bogus, relying on numerology and mysticism to guess that Venus was the same size as the earth.  That just happens to be true, but can it be said that Huygens knew it?

The "state of the art" in defining knowledge is to add the condition that a belief must not only be true but properly justified.  But that just begs the question: what does it mean to be "properly justified"?

"Possible" is no less fraught.  Consider this simple situation: you are about to flip a coin.  Can it be said that "it is possible that the coin will land heads-up, and it is possible that the coin will land tails-up"?  Most people would say yes.  But now consider the situation after you have flipped the coin but before it lands, or after it lands but before you have looked at it.  Are both heads and tails still possible?  What about after you look?  Is it possible that you see "heads" but in fact the coin is "tails" and you are suffering from a hallucination?  Is it possible that the coin is neither heads nor tails, but has disappeared or turned into two coins?  Even before you flip, are both outcomes really possible, or is your perception that they are both possible merely a product of your inability to predict the outcome?

If you believe that both outcomes are possible before the flip but not after, at what point did the situation change?  At the instant the coin landed?  Why not a microsecond before, or when it left your hand, or when your brain sent the nerve impulse to your hand to start it spinning?

Possibility can only ever be assessed relative to either ignorance or willingness to suspend disbelief and consider counterfactuals.  As I write this, I am wearing a black T-shirt.  So relative to my knowledge state, it is not possible that I am wearing a red T-shirt, but relative to your knowledge state it is possible (because I could be lying about wearing a black T-shirt).  We can also imagine (counterfactually) some alternate reality that is identical to actual reality except for the color of my T-shirt.  These are very different senses of possibility.  On the possibility-from-ignorance view, it is not possible that Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election or to solve the halting problem, but on the possibility-from-counterfactuals view, both are possible.

There is an interesting interplay between knowledge and both kinds of possibility.  The relationship with possibility-from-ignorance is obvious.  If you know P, then relative to your knowledge state, ~P is not possible.  On the other hand, your willingness to entertain counterfactuals can also be constrained by your knowledge.  Is it possible that the earth is flat?  That the square root of two is a rational number?  That Santa is real?

Since this whole mess started with a formal proof, let me offer up one of my own.  A while back I opined that free will cannot exist in a universe where there is an omniscient, infallible deity.  It turns out that you can render the argument as a formal proof.  Let KP mean God knows P, and let LP mean P is possible.  Let P be an arbitrary universally quantified proposition, and S be the particular proposition "I will choose to sin."  Then:

1.  KP ∨ K~P (For every proposition, God knows whether or not it is true, definition of omniscience)

2.  KP -> ~L~P (If God knows P, then it is not possible that P is false, definition in infallibility)

3.  LS ∧ L~S (It is possible that I will choose to sin, and it is possible that I will not choose to sin, definition of free will)

From these three premises we can conclude:

4. KS ∨ K~S (from premise 1)

4. Assume KS (set up for conditional proof)

5. ~L~S (2, 4 modus ponens)

6. KS -> ~L~S (conditional proof, discharge assumption 6)

7. K~S -> ~LS (by analogous conditional proof starting with the assumption K~S, and the logical tautology ~~P -> P)

8. ~L~S ∨ ~LS (From 4, 6 and 7 by the Constructive Dilemma)

9. L~S (from 3, by conjunction simplification)

10. ~LS (from 8 and 9 by disjunctive syllogism)

11. LS (from 3, by conjunction elimination)

12. LS ∧ ~LS (from 13 and 14) -- contradiction

Therefore, premises 1-3 cannot all be simultaneously true, QED.

The staggering hypocrisy of Brett Kavanaugh and his supporters

I stole the title of this entry from this op ed in The Washington Post, which is worth reading.  It contrasts Brett Kavanaugh's indignation at being asked questions about his personal life with his shameless willingness to ask deeply personal questions of Bill Clinton when the shoe was on the other foot.

But the hypocrisy goes well beyond Kavanaugh.  There is so much of it that it is hard to know where to begin, but we have to start somewhere.  So OK, Mitch McConnell: his response upon hearing charges of attempted rape leveled against Kavanaugh was not to say, "Whoa, we'd better get this cleared up."  Oh no.  It was to say, that Republicans are going to "plow right through" with the confirmation, facts and the possibility that their nominee might actually be a sex offender and a felon be damned.  Of course, when it was a Democrat accused of sexual impropriety (not even sexual assault, but merely lying about a consensual relationship) he sang a very different tune:
“Our nation is indeed at a crossroads. Will we pursue the search for truth or will we dodge, weave and evade the truth? I am of course referring to the investigation into serious allegations of illegal conduct by the president of the United States — that the president has engaged in a persistent pattern and practice of obstruction of justice. The allegations are grave, the investigation is legitimate and ascertaining the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the unqualified, unevasive truth is absolutely critical.”
That Mitch McConnell is nowhere to be found today.

Then there is this panel of Republican women assembled by CNN.  All of them support Kavanaugh, asking rhetorically “How can we believe the word of a woman of something that happened 36 years ago?" and then almost with the same breath, "What boy hasn't done this in high school?"

Think about that for a moment: on the one hand they don't believe the accuser, and on the other hand they are trying to defend Kavanaugh on the grounds that all boys try to rape girls in high school!  Sorry, ladies, you can't have it both ways.  Either all boys try to rape girls in high school, in which case Kavanaugh probably did too, or they didn't, in which case you can't use that as an excuse.  (As someone who used to be a boy in high school I can tell you categorically that it is not the case that all boys try to rape girls, tempting though the prospect may be at times.)

Then, of course, we have the hypocrite-in-chief saying that he is "with [Kavanaugh] all the way", an eerie reflection of his own supporters who will follow him "no matter what."  The irony here is that Trump launched his campaign for president by saying that Mexicans needed to be kept out of the country altogether because they were rapists (a claim on which he recently doubled-down), but he has no qualms about putting someone who has been credibly accused of attempted rape on the supreme court.  He doesn't even think the charges merit an investigation.  Hardly surprising from a man who celebrates sexual assault.

So on Donald Trump's view, if you tried to rape a woman in high school, that is perfectly OK.  But if, say, your birth certificate was not issued by a hospital, well, that is a serious problem.  No supreme court nomination for you.  In fact, no U.S. citizenship for you.  The fact that you've lived your entire life as a productive law-abiding tax-paying U.S. citizen doesn't matter.  The only thing that matters is that your papers are not in order.  (Oh, and that you have brown skin, of course.)

And let us not forget too what is the prize for which the Republicans are selling their souls and selling out their fellow citizens: it is all so they can overturn Roe v. Wade and deny women the right to reproductive freedom.  If there is any doubt in your mind that this is all about oppressing women and not "protecting babies" then you need to read this.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Pardon me while I take a small victory lap

Back in March I made a prediction:

Today I feel vindicated.
Reading the 76 pages of charges against Manafort is like reading an international sequel to “The Godfather.” Money laundering, illegal lobbying, tax evasion, perjury, conspiracy to get others to commit perjury, movement of tens of millions of dollars through offshore bank accounts in Cyprus and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Involved with Manafort were his partner and deputy, Rick Gates, and one Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Russian intelligence agent also charged in the conspiracy and currently on the lam in Moscow under the protection of none other than the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.  [Emphasis added, naturally.]
It's true that nothing in the public record implicates the president directly -- yet.  However, the circumstantial evidence is pretty damning, and Mueller isn't done.

For anyone keeping score, that five close associates of the president either convicted of or pleading guilty to felonies, thirteen Russian nationals indicted for interfering in our election, and I've lost count of how many ancillary indictments and convictions there have been along the way.  For a witch hunt, Mueller sure seems to be catching himself an awful lot of witches.

And can you imagine if that was Hillary or Obama instead of Trump?

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

This isn't resistance, it's treason

Much as I want to see Donald Trump thwarted from advancing his xenophobic, misogynistic and downright dangerous agenda, this is not the way.  An anonymous "senior official" in the administration announced in the New York Times today that he (or she) is part of "the resistance inside the Trump Administration."  I am about as sympathetic an audience for that message as you are likely to find, but I don't buy it.  Love him or loathe him (and make no mistake, I do not love him) Donald Trump is still at the moment the duly elected president of the United States.  There are Constitutional mechanisms to remove him from office: impeachment.  The 25th Amendment.  Or Congress could, you know, start to exercise some oversight.  But a passive-aggressive undermining from inside his own administration is not on that list.  That isn't resistance, it's treason.

If you're going to oppose the President, you need to stand up and be counted.  Show your face.  Resign, or force them to fire you.  But don't subvert the law, and for God's sake don't announce from the cover of journalistic anonymity that you're subverting the law.  That sets a terrible precedent.  The next president to have a "resistance" inside his or her own administration might be someone that you agree with.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Trump strips more citizenships

Last month I wrote about how the Trump administration is moving to rescind the citizenship of naturalized U.S. citizens.  Now it is doing the same thing to natural-born citizens (but, of course, only to natural-born citizens with poor parents and brown skin).

I'm not sure what is more disturbing, that this is happening, or that it hasn't gotten more attention.  Because once you start to strip people of their citizenship, you have gone full-fascist.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Farewell to a great American

Donald Trump and I have one thing in common: neither of us ever served in the U.S. military.

I like to think that there was a time when that fact alone would have disqualified both of us from passing judgement on a man like John McCain.  If there was ever such a time, it was definitely over by the time then-candidate Donald Trump pronounced McCain "not a hero" because he was captured by the enemy.  At the risk of belaboring what should be obvious to everyone (but obviously isn't), being captured is not what made John McCain a hero.  What made John McCain a hero is that he stepped up to the plate in a way that neither I nor Donald Trump nor the vast majority of people will ever do.  He sacrificed what could have been an easy, comfortable life and volunteered to put himself at risk, again and again, both physically and politically, to defend the country he loved from enemies foreign and domestic.  For that alone he deserves every American's undying respect.

Although I am personally grateful that I was born too late to ever have to myself face being drafted into the military, I sometimes think that the elimination of compulsory service has had a corrosive effect on our society.  It allows rich people to live their entire lives without ever having to sully themselves by interacting with members of the less privileged classes.  The result is a warped and twisted view of patriotism and heroism, one that equates both of these with that ultimately perverted quality metric dictated by American capitalism: success.  The only thing that matters is winning by whatever means necessary.  You are either a winner or a loser.  There are no other virtues.

John McCain showed us that there are other virtues.  Civility.  Bravery.  The willingness to take risks and make personal sacrifices, to stand up and say, "This is wrong," even when those committing the sin are members of your own party.

Let us hope these lessons last longer than he did, otherwise we are lost.

Rest in peace, John Sidney McCain.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

I was wrong. Whew!

Contrary to my predictionPaul Manafort was convicted today of 8 of the 18 counts against him.  This is one case where I'm very happy to have been wrong.  Perhaps there is hope for the U.S. after all.

[UPDATE:] I was less wrong than I thought.  Turns out a single hold-out juror prevented conviction on all counts.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is mulling over a pardon.  The Manafort story isn't over yet.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Ron prognosticates: Manafort jury will hang

God, I hope I'm wrong about this.  If ever there was a slam-dunk case, the one against Paul Manafort is it.  Multiple witnesses whose testimony is supported by miles of paper trail.  So why do I think the jury will hang?  Because math, and the cult of personality that has formed around Donald Trump.  The sad fact of the matter is that there are people lining up to lick Donald Trump's anus because they believe (along with Trump himself, apparently) that he shits chocolate.  These people will follow Trump "no matter what".  To these people, Paul Manafort is a hero, a person willing to courageously stand up to the Mueller witch hunt, even to go down with the ship to protect His Donaldness.  If even one of these people is on Manafort's jury, no amount of evidence will move that person to convict.

What are the odds?  Well, as far as I can tell, the ranks of Trump's die-hard loyalists are well into double-digit percentages, perhaps well into the 30s, which is a number that should terrify anyone who cares about freedom, democracy, and basic sanity.  But let's be conservative and assume that only 10% of the citizenry has truly jumped the Trump shark.  What are the odds that one such person has infiltrated the Manafort jury?  Well, it's 1-(odds that no Trump loyalist is on the jury) which is 1-(0.9)^12, which is about 70%.  And that's a conservative (no pun intended) calculation.

Still, that's a 30% chance of conviction.  Those are not insurmountable odds.  But that number assumed that only 10% of the jury pool consists of hard-core Trumpeteers.  If the number is, as polls indicate, closer to 30% then the odds of conviction drop to around 1%.

That is the reason the poll numbers are so scary.  If you have 30% of the population willing to follow you into the gates of hell, then quite literally no jury will ever convict you.

It is, if you think about it, a bit of a puzzle why Paul Manafort decided to go to trial and not even bother to put up a defense.  But one plausible theory is that, stupid though he may be, he's done the math and decided he likes the odds.  I certainly would if I were in his shoes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Republican tells brazen lie while "apologizing" for telling brazen lies

Lying has apparently become endemic in the Republican party.  Florida congressional candidate Melissa Howard dropped out of the race today after being caught lying about her academic credentials:
A day after saying she planned to continue running for a state House seat despite revelations that she lied about having a degree from Miami University and went to great lengths to deceive people, Melissa Howard reversed course Tuesday and dropped out of a contest that has received national attention.
That's not so remarkable.  Politicians get caught telling lies all the time, and having to drop out of a race as a result is not so unusual.  What struck me about this episode is that Howard kept right on telling brazen lies even while apologizing for telling her brazen lies!
“It was not my intent to deceive or mislead anyone,” Howard said Monday.
Is that so?  Then why did you go to such lengths to double down on your initial lie, even going so far as to produce a falsified diploma?
Howard's troubles began when a conservative news website published a report questioning whether she had graduated from Miami University, as she claimed. 
Howard pushed back hard. She flew to Ohio to obtain her college transcripts and what she said is her diploma, displaying pictures of both online
But the story unraveled when Miami University general counsel Robin Parker sent an email to the Herald-Tribune and other media outlets saying Howard never graduated and the diploma “does not appear to be an accurate Miami University diploma.” 
Howard first responded to reports about Parker's email with a statement from her campaign manager Saturday calling it “fake news.”
If it was not her intent to deceive or mislead, what was her intent?  Of course her intent was to deceive and mislead!  Unless Howard is mentally ill, there is no other possible explanation.

Worse, despite being exposed as a liar and then piling more lies on top of her original lies, the Republican party leaders still support her:
“Honorable and smart move by Melissa Howard,” tweeted prominent GOP consultant Brett Doster...
Smart, maybe.  But honorable?  There is nothing about Howard's behavior that comes within hailing distance of honorable.

But piling lies on top of lies and calling them "honorable" is just another normal day in a party led by a pathological liar.  Lies have become the Republican party's stock in trade.  Republicans lie, and when they are caught lying they lie about the lying, and when that's not enough and they are forced to finally slink away with their lying tails between their lying legs they lie about that.

But at least they are all honourable men.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Trump fiddles while the West burns

Fire officials in California first started keeping records in 1932, when the Matilija fire burned 220,000 acres.  It would be 71 years before that record was broken by the Cedar fire (273,000 acres) in 2003.  That record was very nearly broken 9 years later, by the Rush fire (272,000 acres) in 2012, then it was broken 5 years later by the Thomas fire in 2017 (282,000 acres).  Now, less than one year after that, the record has been definitively shattered by the Mendocino complex fire, currently at 290,000 acres and still burning.  Of the top ten largest fires in California, eight of them have been in the last 15 years.

Meanwhile, looking at the TFR (temporary flight restriction) map, the Western U.S. looks like it has broken out in a case of the measles:

Almost every one of those red areas is a wild fire burning sufficiently out of control to require air support (there are a few exceptions where the TFR has been issued for other reasons).

Donald Trump, of course, blames all this on environmentalism run amok.  Because climate change is a hoax.  Fake news.  Nothing to see here.  It's all being obscured by the smoke.

More from the Republican hypocrisy files

Republicans are oddly selective about which parts of the Constitution they pay attention to.  A new poll shows that 43% of Republicans approve of giving the president the power to shut down the media, a clear violation of the First Amendment.

So... Republicans go absolutely apoplectic when the government threatens to take their guns, but have absolutely no problem with the government taking away their printing presses.  Apparently they think ideas are more dangerous than bullets.

Maybe they're right.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Trump digs in deeper

Today's tweet from the Trumpster fire is essentially a confession to violating federal law:
This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere
It's true that meetings to get information on opponents are common and routine, but not when the counterparty is a foreign agent.  Then it's a crime.
It is illegal for a federal campaign to accept something of value from a foreign agent — and, according to Lawrence Noble, former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, so is soliciting such a contribution.
It doesn't matter if "it went nowhere":
Noble said of that meeting: If members of the Trump campaign “were soliciting something of value, it may well have been illegal. If they were told, ‘You go to this meeting, and Russia will give you $2,700 for the campaign,’ and you went to that? It would be illegal — even if you didn’t get it.”
It begs credulity that Donald Trump does not know this.  If he sincerely believes that there was nothing wrong with meeting with Russians to get dirt on Hillary, why did he try to cover it up?

Pause for a moment to reflect on what we now know for certain simply because Donald Trump has publicly admitted it:

1.  There was in fact collusion between the campaign and the Russians (this is what he admitted today).

2.  Donald Trump actively tried to cover it up.

3.  Donald Trump has been continually and systematically lying about (1) and (2) for over a year.

Then on top of that there is the rather damning circumstantial evidence that Trump not only knew about the meeting, but approved it, and was gleefully anticipating the results he thought it would produce.  If it can be definitively established that Trump did in fact approve the meeting (and, come on folks, can there really be any serious doubt of that?) then that would be the smoking gun.  That is called conspiracy, and it is a crime.  This is why Michael Cohen's testimony matters.

At this point anyone who tries to defend Donald Trump is deep in tin-foil-hat territory.  All sane people know that the earth is round, humans really have walked on the moon, and O.J. did it.

And so did Trump.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Fitch's paradox

A while back I had a private exchange with @Luke about Fitch's paradox of knowability, which I think of more as a puzzle than a paradox.  The "paradox" is that if you accept the following four innocuous-seeming assumptions:

1.  If a proposition P is known, then P is true

2.  If the conjunction P&Q is known, then P is known and Q is known

3.  If P is true then it is possible to know P

4.  If ~P is a logical tautology, then P is false not possible (and, it follows logically, also false)

Then you can prove:

5.  If P is true, then P is known

In other words, if 1-4 are true, then all truths are known.

You can digest this result in at least two different ways:

1.  It's formal proof of the existence of an omniscient being, i.e. God

2.  The conclusion is clearly false, and so at least one of the premises must be false.

If, like me, you choose to cast your lot with option 2 then it makes a fun little puzzle to try to figure out which of the premises is (or are) false.  You can read up on all of the different ways that philosophers have tried to resolve Fitch here (with some extra food for thought here).  Personally, I think the answer is obvious and simple, and a good example of why modern philosophy needs to take computability and complexity theory more seriously than it does.

If you want to try to work it out for yourself, stop reading now.  Spoiler alert.


It seems pretty clear to me that the problematic assumption is #3.  There are a lot of ways to argue this, but the one that I find most convincing is simply to observe that the universe is finite while there are an infinite number of potentially knowable truths.  Hence, there must exist truths which cannot even be represented (let alone known) in this universe because their representation requires more bits of information than this universe contains.  QED.

But the problem actually runs much deeper than that.  Notice how I had to sort of twist myself into linguistic knots to cast the premises in the passive voice.  I started out writing premise #1 as, "If you know P, then P is true."  But that raises the question: who is "you"?  The modal logic in which Fitch's proof is conducted is supposed to be a model of knowledge, but it makes no reference to any knowing entities.  KP is supposed to mean "P is known" but it says nothing about the knower.  So in the formalism it is not even possible formulate the statement, "I know P but you don't."  The formalism is also timeless.  If KP is true, then it is true for all time.  So it is not possible to say, "I learned P yesterday."  If you start with an agent-free and time-free model of knowledge then it's hardly surprising that you end up with some weird results because what you're reasoning about is some mathematical construct that bears no resemblance at all to the real world.

Real knowledge is a state of an agent at a particular time, which is to say, it is a statement about physics.  If I say, "I know that 1+1=2", that is a statement about the state of my brain, a physical thing, and more to the point, a computational device.  Hence the theory of computation applies, as does complexity theory, and my knowledge is constrained by both.  So premise 3 is not only false, but it is provably false, at least in this physical universe.

That would be the end of it except for two things: First, it is actually possible to carry out the proof with a weaker version of the third premise.  Instead of "all truths are knowable" you can instead use:
3a: There is an unknown, but knowable truth, and it is knowable that there is an unknown, but knowable truth
and still get the same result that all truths are known.  That formulation seems much more difficult to dismiss on physical grounds.  I'll leave that one as an exercise, but here's a hint: think about what 3a implies in terms of whether the state of knowledge in the universe is static or not.  (If you really want to go down this rabbit hole you can also read up on possible-world semantics of modal logics.)

Second, there is this objection raised by Luke in our original exchange:
But one can just restrict the domain to those truths we think are knowable and re-state the entire paradox. When restricted to knowable truths, the axioms lead to the conclusion that all knowable truths are already known. Surely you don't wish to accept this conclusion?
I'm going to re-state that with a little more precision:
One can just restrict the domain of the model of your modal logic to those truths that are tractably computable.  Because the proof itself is formal, it is still logically valid under a change of model domain.  When restricted to tractably computable truths, the axioms lead to the conclusion that all tractably computable truths are already known.
Again, I'll leave figuring out why this is wrong as an exercise.  Hint: look at the axioms of the modal logic of knowledge and think about whether or not the domain of tractably computable truths really is a valid model for them.

Monday, July 30, 2018

I didn't do it... but if I'd done it...

Team Trump's rhetoric is starting to sound like the Cell Block Tango.
They had it coming, they had it coming!
They had it coming all along!
I didn't do it, but if I done it
How could you tell me that I was wrong?
Seriously, go through the ten iterations (at least) of Trump's story and tell me that it doesn't remind you of those lyrics, particularly Rudi Giuliani saying, "The President wasn't in the meeting, and oh by the way, collusion is not a crime."  (So even if he had been in the meeting, what would be the big deal?)

The "they" who "had it coming", of course, are the Democrats, who are the greatest threat this country has ever faced.  Seriously, that's what Hugh Hewitt says.
Electing Democrats to a majority in the House or the Senate ... would be a disaster: Impeachment, demands for massive income tax hikes and the effort to abolish ICE would follow, while also throwing the military rebuild into reverse and the economy into paralysis because of the inability of business to predict the future with anything like certainty.
In other words: simply ignore the fact that the president of the United States conspired with a foreign power to interfere in our democratic process, that this interference very likely tipped the scales in his favor... just ignore all that.  Because the Democrats will raise taxes.

Oh, the horror.  Surely it is worth risking the legitimacy of our entire democratic process, our world-wide reputation for being the good guys, for being a nation where the rule of law applies, to keep taxes low.

Of course, the ultimate irony is that Hewitt would surely have made the exact same argument if Democrats had been the ones who lowered taxes, except that then the boogeyman would be the deficit.  Remember the deficit?  Of course you don't remember the deficit.  What deficit?  There was never a deficit.  Witch hunt.  Fake news.  Oh, look, a kitten!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

For at least one Trump voter, heaven is about new appliances

The Washington Post has a really great in-depth profile of evangelical Christian Trump voters in one small Alabama town, and Daily Kos did a terrific analysis.    There's not much I can add, except to say that I think both pieces are worth reading in their entirety, especially the original Post piece.

The part of that piece that really struck me was this:
She rubbed her sore knee, which was caked with an analgesic. 
“In heaven, I won’t have any pain,” Sheila said. 
“No tears,” said Linda. 
“I think it’ll be beautiful — I love plants, and I think it’ll be like walking in a beautiful garden,” said Sheila.  ... “I’m going to be in my kitchen,” Sheila said, imagining heaven would have one. “I think it’s going to be beautiful to see all the appliances.”
I find it soul-crushingly sad to see a human being whose world is so small that the greatest thing she can think of to aspire to even in the afterlife is new kitchen appliances.  I don't really want to judge a person's desires, but I have a hard time believing that Sheila's yearning for a new Frigidaire comes entirely of her own free will.

[UPDATE] Maybe there is a God after all, and he has a dark sense of humor.  We have a range hood which we hardly ever use.  The control panel consists of half a dozen membrane type-buttons all in one monolithic unit mounted inside a slot cut into the hood's a stainless steel housing.  This evening I was making dinner and the lights in the range hood started to flutter on, like a scene out of a B-horror movie.  I went to push the button on the panel to try to turn the lights off (they were already off, at least as far as I knew) and the whole panel popped off and vanished inside the unit (it was apparently attached with epoxy) with the lights now on full bright.  I had to pop the circuit breaker to turn the lights off.  So maybe heaven is a kitchen full of new appliances with life-time warranties.  In an eternal afterlife, that would be a helluva deal.

Fire TFR update: from bad to worse

A week ago I reported on an unprecedented number of fire-related temporary flight restrictions in southern Oregon.  This is what the situation looked like this morning:

As you can see, what used to be half a dozen separate TFRs (temporary flight restrictions) have merged into one monster TFR (though they are still officially listed separately).  And it's still only July.  It will likely be at least 2-3 months before it rains.  Welcome to the new normal.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Republican's three-step plan

Republicans have a three-step plan to try to protect Donald Trump from facing the consequences of collaborating with the Russians.

Step 1: Deny that it happened (c.f. "Witch hunt")

Step 2: When there is evidence that it happened deny the evidence (c.f. "Fake news")

Step 3: When the evidence becomes undeniable, deny that it was ever a big deal.

To those currently implementing step 3, I pose the following question: if it was never a big deal, why bother with steps 1 and 2?  Why not just come right out and admit it from the beginning rather than attempt to cover it up?  Enquiring minds want to know.

The wheels on the bus go round and round

I don't know if the wheels are actually coming off the Trump bus yet, but at least a few of the lug nuts might be starting to loosen up a bit.  It has been pretty clear from the outset that Donnie pater not only knew about the Trump Tower meeting before it happened, but was eagerly anticipating its results.  The Trumps have been digging themselves into a pretty deep hole by insisting otherwise, and that hole has now gotten a lot deeper now that Michael Cohen has flipped because the evidence of Trump's malfeasance is no longer purely circumstantial.  At the very least, at some point Trump is going to have to answer the question: what exactly were the circumstances that led you to say this on June 7, 2016:
“I am going to give a major speech on — probably Monday of next week [June 13] — and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” Trump said. “I think you’re going to find it very informative, and very, very interesting.”
And also, what were the circumstances that led you not to follow through on that promise?  Was it purely coincidence that that the June 9 meeting, which produced no results, just happened to take place between when you promised a "major speech" about the Clintons and when you failed to follow through on that promise?  If it wasn't the Tower meeting that led to all that, what was it?

I can't help but marvel at the irony that Trump, the supposed master negotiator, may be brought down by the incredibly stupid mistake of promising something before he was sure he could deliver it.  If he hadn't done that, he might have been able to maintain plausible deniability.  Sometimes you have to take risks, but the Second Rule of Business is that you should only take risks when you have to. Trump didn't have to.  He could have waited two days until he knew if the meeting was going to be fruitful or not.  But Trump has the patience of a six-year-old, and so he took this risk gratuitously and recklessly simply because he felt like it, and thus gave up plausible deniability.  What a maroon.

In other news, some Republicans are starting to call for Trump's impeachment.

Friday, July 20, 2018

I've never seen anything like this before

Speaking of ominous developments, have you noticed how much  more often you hear the phrase, "I've never seen anything like this before" in reference to the weather nowadays?  Well, now it's my turn.  For those of you who don't know, I'm a private pilot.  I got my license in 1996 so I've been flying for over 22 years.  This is a map of south-western Oregon as it showed up on my flight planning software this morning:

(This is not what I would actually look at to plan a flight.  I've turned off all the aviation-y things that would normally show up, like airports.)

See those red circles?  Those are Temporary Flight Restrictions, commonly known as TFRs.  They are places you can't fly for various reasons, like if the President is in town.  But those are not presidential TFRs, they are fire-fighting TFRs.  Those are not uncommon this time of year, but usually there are only one or two of them in any given area.  Today in this part of Oregon alone there are ten.

I've never seen anything even remotely like this before.

Three ominous developments

Ominous development #1: Bank of America (and, apparently, only BofA) has started asking its customers whether or not they hold a dual citizenship.

Ominous development #2: The Trump administration is moving aggressively to strip U.S. citizenship from anyone who lied on their application, even if the lie was immaterial or inadvertent.  The last time anything like that happened was during the McCarthy era.

Ominous development #3: The Washington Post published an op-ed by a former Trump administration official arguing that birthright citizenship is a "historical and Constitutional absurdity" and should be abolished.  To defend this position he has to argue, of course, that the Fourteenth Amendment doesn't actually mean what it plainly says, what the people who wrote it said it says, and what everyone has agreed for 150 years that it says.  But we've known for a long time that those who travel in Trump's circle have no qualms about rewriting history.

I think there's a quietly hatched plot somewhere deep inside the vast right wing conspiracy to eviscerate the fourteenth amendment and expand the government's power to strip people of their citizenship beyond all historical precedent.  It is, of course, all based on lies, but that is just a standard part of the right's play book.  They have used this strategy very effectively to move the needle on gun rights and abortion, so there's no reason to believe it won't succeed on citizenship.

Anyone who has any kind of paper trail linking them to another country should be very afraid.  You may have a dual citizenship and not even know it.  You may not even be able to renounce it once you find out.

My grandfather had no idea he was a Jew until the Gestapo knocked on the door one day and told him.  This is how these things begin.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Republican voters are completely insane

If you were hoping that Helsinki might be Donald Trump's Joseph-Welch moment, think again.  Donald Trump will not suffer any negative consequences from his disastrous and treasonous remarks.  This is why:
A new tracking poll from Reuters/ Ipsos on Tuesday showed that rank-and-file Republicans not only continue to support President Trump but refuse to believe he’s doing anything wrong. The most galling number from the survey is: 71 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s handling of Russia... 
Overall, more than half of those polled (55 percent) disapproved of Trump’s handling of Russia and agree (59 percent) with U.S. intelligence findings about Russian attempts to tamper with the 2016 election. But, also worrying, is the fact that only 32 percent of Republicans believe that Russia attempted to intervene in the election.
This is really getting scary.  I used to think that Trump's claim that he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it was hyperbole.  I'm not so sure any more.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

I don't even know what to say here

Oh my.  Sharp-eyed CNBC reporter Christina Wilkie noticed that in a photo of the written prepared remarks of Trump's lame rollback of his catastrophic Helsinki news conference, there was a line that was crossed out.  But it wasn't crossed out all the way, you could still see what it said in the image.

Here's a close-up (flipped 180 degrees so the text is right-side-up):

It says, "Anyone involved in that meddling to justice."  (Obviously, the words "should be brought to" can be interpolated there.)  So now we know that Trump specifically does not want to see the people who attacked the U.S. brought to justice.  Gee, I wonder why.

On a not-wholly-unrelated note, former CIA director John Brennan pointed out that having a private meeting with Putin on his home turf with no one else in the room might not have been the brightest thing Donald Trump has ever done because Putin may have recorded the private conversation (gee, ya think?) and Trump may have said something stupid (gee, ya think?) that Putin can now use as leverage against him.

(This just occurred to me: Trump's lawyers are fighting tooth and nail to keep him from having to talk to Robert Mueller because they just know that if he does Trump will say something stupid.  But they were on board with having him give two hours to Vladimir Putin behind closed doors?  What were they thinking?)

A worst-case scenario is starting to look frighteningly plausible.

But what about the witch hunt?

Donald Trump is frantically backpedalling on his treasonous remarks at yesterday's Helsinki news conference.
“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative,” Trump told reporters. “So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”
In other words, Donald Trump wants you to believe that what he meant to say was the exact opposite of what he actually said.

OK, let's give the man the benefit of the doubt.  It's a high-pressure situation.  He's old and has no stamina.  The difference between "would" and "wouldn't" isn't all that big (except for, like, being antonyms, but why split hairs?)

So now he accepts that Russia might have interfered with the 2016 election.

So, um, what about the witch hunt?

Remember the witch hunt?  Donald Trump has been tirelessly flogging two mantras since the day Robert Mueller was appointed in the wake of Trump's firing of James Comey: 1) there was no collusion between the campaign and the Russians, in no small measure because 2) the whole investigation was a witch hunt.  There is nothing for Mueller to find, no wrong doing of any sort by any party.  The whole investigation should be shut down with all deliberate speed.

But now:
I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.
That is a major concession.  That is an acknowledgement that the investigation was not a "witch hunt", that we really were attacked by a foreign power.   So does that mean that Trump is contrite for having made such an egregious mistake?  Does that mean that he is now going to take the Russians to task for attacking us?  Hell no.
"Could be other people also. A lot of people out there,” Trump said, reading mostly off a sheet of paper, before a meeting with Republican members of Congress at the White House.
And of course, there is still Mantra #1:
“There was no collusion at all,” he added, dismissing the notion that his campaign coordinated with Moscow in 2016.
 So let's take stock.  The President of the United States has now acknowledged that:

1.  We were in fact attacked by Russia, and that therefore...

2.  He was wrong when he repeatedly called the Mueller investigation a witch hunt.  However...

3.  He has not yet explicitly acknowledged #2.  In fact, to the contrary, he is still trying to deflect attention away from Russia by suggesting on no evidence whatsoever that it "could be other people."

And yet, he still expects us to take him at his word that there was "no collusion" between the campaign and Russia.  You know what?  It's a moot point.  There is open collaboration between the Trump administration and Russia!

Imagine if Hillary or Obama had done what Trump is doing.

Remember this day

If you remember nothing else about this extraordinary time in American history, remember this day, and remember this quote: “Dan Coats came to me and said they think it's Russia.  I have, uh, president Putin, uh, who just said it's not Russia.  I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be."

Let that sink in.  "I don't see any reason why it would be."

So... president Trump does not accept Russian interference in the 2016 election even as a hypothetical possibility, let alone as a by now excruciatingly well-documented fact.  He can't think of any reason why Russia might want to interfere with our election, never mind that Putin admitted in that very same news conference that he wanted Trump to be president.  And then there is the fact that his own intelligence agencies say that Russia interfered, members of his own party say Russia interfered.  Russia's innocence is less tenable than O.J. Simpson's.

The Constitution defines treason as "adhering to [the] enemies [of the United States and] giving them aid and comfort."  If this isn't treason, I don't know what is.

There are clearly only two possible outcomes now: either Donald Trump will go down in screaming flames, or the United States of America will.  There are no other options left at this point.  Trump's supporters need to think long and hard about which option they prefer as they decide what to do next.  This is about to get seriously ugly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Roe is a distraction. The real problem is much, much worse.

The United States of America has always had a somewhat tenuous relationship with its own ideals.  The disconnect between "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" on the one hand, and chattel slavery on the other, cannot result in anything other than some pretty severe cognitive dissonance.  But despite being deeply rooted in contradictions, the history of this country has nonetheless been one of steady (albeit all too often agonizingly slow) progress towards greater personal freedom and empowerment for all of its people, indeed for all of the people of the world.

All of this social progress has been built on a foundation of material prosperity driven by industriousness and technological advancement, which, in turn, was built on a bedrock of respect for objective truth.  We were able to invent the airplane and the transistor and put men on the moon not because "We're America, bitch", but because we had people who understood physics (and political science!), an understanding which once commanded respect.

No more.

Liberals should not delude themselves: Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court, whereupon 242 years of social progress will begin to be methodically and deliberately unmade.  It has already begun, with the recent evisceration of the power of labor unions.  Roe v. Wade will probably be next to go; even if the court doesn't reverse it outright, they will twist the meaning of "undue burden" beyond the recognition of native English speakers.  And conservatives will celebrate, blissfully unaware that they have been the victims of an elaborate con.

You see, the fact of the matter is that opposition to Roe has nothing to do with a principled stance of defending a "right to life."  It is perfectly evident to anyone who looks at conservative policies today that they don't really care about life, they only care about birth.  If they really cared about life, they would care about health care and early childhood development and public education, and not ripping children from their parents.  But they don't.  After a woman has given birth, both she and her baby can go to hell for all that modern conservatives seem to care.

What is less evident is that even the semi-plausible concern for the "rights of the unborn" is a recent invention.  Modern conservatives would have you believe that Roe was a fringe decision that was immediately controversial.  It wasn't.  It was a 7-2 decision, and it was years before anyone thought to try to get it overturned.  And even then it was not a principled stance fighting for the "rights of the unborn" (what's next, fighting for the rights of the unconceived?), it was a cynical ploy to try to unite Protestants and Catholics to get them to vote for political candidates who would support segregation and be friendly to business.

All this is academic, though, because the abortion debate has been successfully and irredeemably (and, let is be ever-mindful, falsely) framed by conservatives to advance a wholly different agenda.  But the loss of personal reproductive freedom is just the tip of the iceberg.  In order to achieve this victory, conservatives have made a deal with the devil.  In exchange for lower taxes and less regulation and less government constraints on racial gerrymandering, they abandoned the truth.  They have allowed all manner of crackpottery -- birtherism, misogyny, and a dizzying variety of denialisms, from climate change to the Holocaust -- to don the mantle of respectability.  And that will ultimately cost us much, much more than our freedom.

To cite but one example which is not, as far as I can tell, on anyone's radar screen, having been totally eclipsed by all the hysteria over abortion (which is exactly what conservative strategists intended, by the way): Brett Kavanaugh has expressed the view that internet service providers have a first-amendment right to exercise editorial control over the content they deliver, and so it is not only wrong as a matter of policy for the government to impose net-neutrality rules, it is unconstitutional.

The utter absurdity (to say nothing of the extreme danger) of this position should be immediately obvious, and it would be immediately obvious if we still lived in a society that valued truth and education, but we don't.  Kavanaugh's argument is that the Internet is like cable TV: because a cable operator can decide what channels to offer, and ISP should be equally free to decide what web sites its users should be allowed to access.

That might be a valid argument if the internet had been privately developed, but it wasn't.  The internet was developed by the government with taxpayer dollars, which is to say, by the People.  There are other fundamental structural differences between cable TV and the Internet too: cable TV providers typically have to pay for content.  ISPs don't.  Furthermore, cable TV providers are subject to government regulations on what content they carry, and have been since their inception.

Brett Kavanaugh would throw all that precedent out the window and put both cable TV and the internet forever out of the reach of public regulation by declaring both to be morally equivalent to printing presses.  Except that they aren't.  The internet in particular is not a printing press.  Web servers are (the modern equivalent of) printing presses.  The internet is not the means of producing content, it's the means of delivering it.  It is the modern equivalent of the postal service, access to which is enshrined in the Constitution as a public right.  (Originalists insist that the Constitution keeps pace with technology when it comes to weapons, but not when it comes to communications.  Originalists are hypocrites.  What else is new?)

I am able to write this blog and you are able to read it only because of net neutrality.  Yes, this blog is hosted by Google, but if Google tried to shut it down I could move it somewhere else.  That is the beauty of the internet.  It enables free speech like nothing else before it in human history, not even the printing press.  But if your ISP decides to block access to then there is nothing you or I could do about it.  That would be the very antithesis of free speech.  Editorial control is something that should be practiced by content producers, not distributors.  Editorial control practiced by content producers is free speech.  Editorial control practiced by distributors is censorship.

Brett Kavanaugh either does not understand this, or he does and is willing to intentionally disregard this truth to promote the business interests of large telecommunications companies.  Either way, it should disqualify him from a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.  But I haven't heard any politician or advocacy group advance this argument.  Everyone is acting like deer in the headlights of Roe v. Wade.

The abortion debate was never anything more than a cynical ploy by conservatives to get people who care about freedom, social progress, and truth to take their eye off the ball.  And you know what?  It worked.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Trump is a personality cult

If you want proof that Donald Trump has become a cult of personality look no further than this story in the LA Times:

Workers in this town may become victims of Trump's trade war, but they're behind him 'no matter what'

Jimmie Coffer, a machine programmer at the nation’s largest nail-making plant, voted for Donald Trump partly because he was confident he would bring manufacturing jobs back to America. 
So the 39-year-old factory worker was shocked last month when 60 of his co-workers were laid off after the Trump administration imposed a 25% tariff on the steel his company imports from Mexico. Now, as his bosses cut back hours and warn they may have to let 200 more workers go in the coming weeks, he worries he may lose his job as a result of the president’s policies. 
But Coffer is still gung-ho about Trump. 
“I support him 100%,” he said last week. “In fact, I’d like to shake his hand. He’s doing a great job.”
So... Donald Trump is enacting policies that have the exact opposite effect of what they were supposed to have; instead of promoting manufacturing in the U.S., Trump's tariffs are actually pounding the last nail into its coffin.  And yet, the victims of this economic destruction still support Trump "no matter what".  Simply because he's Trump and not Obama.  That is the very definition of a personality cult.

I try to be respectful of other people's point of view, but I am having a really hard time marshaling any sympathy for people like Coffer.  Anyone who follows a person "no matter what", even to their own manifest financial ruin, deserves what they get.

I wonder... when Coffer and all of his friends and neighbors are out of work and have depleted their life savings and are living on the street (because, you know, the social safety net is an evil liberal conspiracy), will they still be following Trump "no matter what"?  Is there really no price too high to pay to have a white guy in the oval office?

[UPDATE]: Just now stumbled across this:
Conservative radio show host Joe Walsh said Thursday that he’s “pretty damn sad” some of his callers dismiss President Trump’s “lying” because he’s “their guy.” 
“On my radio show earlier this [week], I asked Trump supporters if they were ok with Trump lying so much,” Walsh said in a tweet. “I told them that I wasn't.”  
“The consensus? The vast majority of callers said they're ok with all Trump's lying because he's ‘their guy,’ ” Walsh continued. “Their response left me pretty damn sad.”
To which I say:  I'm pretty damn sad about it too, Joe.  Now, how about taking some personal responsibility for the world you and your fellow conservative talk show hosts have helped to create?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Damn straight there's a moral equivalence here

Germany, 1945:

The United States of America, 2018:

It's true, the kid in the second picture is not being sent to the gas chambers (yet).  But here's the thing: she doesn't know that!  This kid is two years old.  All she knows is that her mother is being taken away, and she may or may not ever see her again.

The government of the United States of America has run completely off the rails, and it has done so at the behest of its president, Donald J. Trump.  There is no law requiring children to be separated from their parents.  Donald Trump says there is, and he says that this non-existent law has something to do with Democrats, but as with nearly everything that comes out of his mouth, these are lies.  Children are being treated inhumanely because Donald Trump wants it that way.  He's using them as a kind of sick bargaining chip.

Donald Trump is able to do this because Republican members of Congress fear losing their jobs if they stand up to him, and not without cause.  Ultimately, Trump's power is rooted in tens of millions of American citizens who support him, whether tacitly or overtly.  If you are one of them, remember: this kid is two years old.  She may be here illegally (or maybe not -- a lot of these immigrants are legally seeking asylum) but she doesn't know that.  What is being done to her is monstrous, and it is ultimately possible only because of you.  If you vote Republican this November, the damage to these innocent kids' psyches, and the blood that is shed when they are shipped back to the gang-infested countries they fled from, will be on your hands.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Suffer the little children

Nothing illustrates the complete moral and intellectual bankruptcy of Donald Trump's supporters, apologists, and enablers better than Jeff Sessions's Biblical justification for separating children from their families:
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said during a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”
Perhaps Sessions has forgotten that the Holocaust was conducted entirely in accordance with German law?  Or that American slavery was likewise according to law (and Biblically justified by the very same passage that Sessions invoked)?  Or that Otto Warmbier was tortured to death in strict accordance with North Korean law?  Or is he seriously suggesting that it is the Will of God that we meekly accept these atrocities?

I'm frankly surprised that Sessions decided to invoke Romans rather than Mark.  After all, Jesus himself says that the little children should suffer.  If you're going to pervert the message of the Bible why not go all-in?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Trump makes it look easy

One has to wonder, after Donald Trump's tidy wrapping-up of the North Korea situation (he did everything short of come right out and say "peace for our time!"), what all the fuss was ever about.  It took only a few months (or forty minutes, depending on how you count) to go from the the brink of nuclear war to BFFs.  Today the U.S. seems to be getting along better with North Korea than with Canada (or, frankly, any western nation).  If dealing with North Korea was that easy, why hadn't anyone done it before?  Maybe Donald Trump really is the master negotiator he portrays himself to be?

Um, no.  The outcome of the Singapore summit is just another Trump flim-flam, and not just because the only tangible result it produced was a major unforced error by the U.S.  Imagine if Barack Obama had done what Trump just did.  The exact same words spoken, the exact same outcomes.  What would be the Republican's response?

Happily, we don't have to imagine it.  We know exactly what their response would be, because we know what their response was when Obama produced an actual verifiable deal for Iran to give up its nuclear weapons.  They were absolutely apoplectic about that.  It was a terrible deal!  So bad that it had to be unilaterally torn up and re-started from scratch.

But the North Korea non-deal?  The unilateral cessation of war games with no corresponding concessions from the North Koreans?  The Orwellian re-writing of North Korea's atrocious human rights record?  That is masterful statecraft.  Because that was done by Trump and not Obama!

There was a time when politicians put country before party.  In the 1970s, Congress overrode Richard Nixon's veto to pass the Clean Water Act.  (Imagine that happening today!)  Then a few years later, the Senate voted 77-0 to establish a select committee to investigate the Watergate scandal.  (Ditto!)  Donald Sanders, the man who discovered the existence of the Watergate tapes and arranged for that knowledge to become public, without whom we would never have known that Richard Nixon was, in fact, a crook, was a Republican.

Those days are long-gone.  Today's Republicans stand for party loyalty over country, over the truthueber alles.  Everything Obama did is bad.  Everything Trump does is good.  Never mind the actual merits, what matters is that Trump "succeeded" where all of his predecessors failed.  Especially Obama.  Oh yes, especially that illegitimate un-American Muslim-loving Barack Husssssssein Obama!  Thank God that nightmare is finally over!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

If the shoe fits

Fox-and-Friends host Abby Huntsman, in a rare moment of lucidity, today referred to the upcoming summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un as "a meeting between two dictators".

The best part is that nobody on the show seemed to notice, perhaps because there is such a thick pile of lies and self-deceptions that Trump apologists have to keep track of that sometimes the truth can slip through the cracks.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

PSA: Blogger comment notifications appear to be kerfliggered

I normally get an email notification whenever anyone posts comment here, but I just noticed that this feature doesn't seem to be working any more.  I hope this is temporary, but I wouldn't bet my life savings on it.  I don't think the Blogger platform is a top priority for Google.  So until I can figure out what to do about it just be aware that I might not be as responsive to comments as I usually am.  It's not because I don't love you any more.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

SCOTUS got the Masterpiece Cake Shop decision badly wrong

The Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated decision in the gay wedding cake case yesterday.  It hasn't made as much of a splash as expected because the justices tried to split the baby and sidestep making what might otherwise have been a contentious decision.  But I think they failed and got it wrong anyway.

The gist of the ruling was that Jack Phillips, the cake shop owner, wins the case because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission exhibited "hostility" towards Jack Phillips religion when its members failed to contest the following statement made by one of its members:
I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.
About which the Court's opinion says:
To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion...
But the statement does not describe Jack Phillips faith as  "one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use."  What is despicable is not Phillips's faith, it is the use of that faith to hurt others which is being said to be despicable.  (And it is.)

The opinion goes on:
The commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ [sic] invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti- discrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.
Again, it is very important to distinguish between two very different things.  It would indeed be inappropriate to compare Phillips's specific claim to slavery or the holocaust.  There is absolutely no moral equivalence there.  But again, that is emphatically not what the CCRC commissioner's statement says.  That statement is making the general observation that, historically, atrocities have been justified on religious grounds.  And that is simply a fact.

Ultimately this opinion is a reflection of Christian Persecution Complex, the unfounded belief held by many Christians in the U.S. that the mere existence of public critiques of Christianity is an attack and potentially an existential threat.  To say that Christianity was overtly used as a justification for slavery in the U.S. is disparagement and conclusively indicative of covert and nefarious bias, never mind that this is in fact demonstrably true.  The First Amendment apparently protects people from hearing anything unpleasant said about their religion by a government agent, even if those things are factually correct.

I do respect the Court's attempt to thread the needle here and come up with an inclusive ruling that would leave neither gays nor Christians out in the cold.  Unfortunately, it's simply not possible in this case.  The sad fact of the matter is that Jack Phillips and his ilk are simply on the wrong side of both history and morality, just as the defenders of slavery and segregation were in their day.  There is nothing wrong with being gay, just as there is nothing wrong with being black.  Discriminating against gay people is every bit as wrong as discriminating against dark-skinned people, notwithstanding anything you may believe, however sincerely, about what God has to say about it.