July 26th, 2016

The DNC in disarray

I don’t watch the DNC, but if you’d like to read other people’s impressions of what’s going on there, see these articles.

Far from a love fest.

The two parties right now are very different, as are the issues ripping them apart—although populism is part of the division in each party. But in terms of discord and internal civil war brewing, they resemble each other more than they have at any time in my memory.

July 26th, 2016

At war with ISIS: at least Hollande says it

The latest atrocity committed by ISIS followers/admirers/members in France had an overtly religious target:

Francois Hollande says France is at war with ISIS after two Islamist knifemen butchered a French priest and left a nun fighting for her life before they were both shot dead by police in Normandy.

One of the men who stormed into the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen during mass was a local man, who was being monitored by electronic tag after being jailed for trying to join fanatics in Syria.

The 84-year-old priest, named as Jacques Hamel, had his throats cut while a nun is critically injured in hospital following the raid which saw five people held hostage by ISIS assailants shouting Allahu Akbar.

That attack was unequivocal as Islamist terrorism. It contains ISIS’s signature method of killing. The perpetrators explicitly claimed ISIS affiliation and declared their faith. And one perpetrator was a “local man” who was not only “known” to police—as are so many perpetrators of Islamist terrorism and general mayhem—but had already declared an intense interest in “joining fanatics in Syria.” Most people with any judgment and decency whatsoever are trying to get out of Syria, not into it.

I wonder what electronic monitoring is supposed to do in a case like that, if it didn’t stop this attack or warn authorities. The article says the following: “His bail terms allowed him to be unsupervised between 8.30am and 12.30pm – the attack happened between 9am and 11am. ” I guess the French police thought you can’t commit a murder between those hours? Because if they didn’t think this guy was a terrorism risk, they weren’t thinking.

Here’s how it occurred:

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Paris had earlier said that the men had crept into the church via a back entrance during a morning service, soon after 9am. The two men seized the priest, two sisters from a local order, and two parishioners.

‘A third nun escaped and raised the alarm, and anti-terrorists officers were on the scene within minutes,’ said a source who lives locally. ‘It appears that the priest who was celebrating the service was attacked first, and had his throat cut.

That brings back the olden days, doesn’t it? “Medieval” is too kind a word for such an attack. Civilization must defend and protect itself, but civilization may have become too civilized to do that effectively.

July 25th, 2016

Two Syrian asylum seekers on separate rampages in Germany

In separate and seemingly unrelated attacks in Germany, two Syrian “asylum seekers” commit heinous acts of violence that are probably some mixture of terrorism and just plain craziness or psychopathy or vicious rage. This seems to be the new pattern, where young men from various Arab/Muslim countries wreak havoc on people in their new European residences.

Germany seems to be the focus at the moment, either through plan or contagion or both.

July 25th, 2016

When is a Democrat not a Democrat?

When they want him to be a Republican.

Revisionist history, brought to you by Democratic Representative Keith Ellison:

Note that George Stephanopoulos—whom I presume knows better—does not trouble himself to correct Ellison because it suits George’s purposes to let the mistake slide. It’s only when Representative Tom Cole (R), who was sharp enough to pick up Ellison’s error, corrects Ellison, that Stephanopoulos gives a little knowing chuckle and smile of acknowledgement that Cole is correct.

Not that it matters to most of American anymore. The “Republicans are the racists” narrative is firmly ensconced.

July 25th, 2016

One begins to think it’s time to go back to sending notes by carrier pigeon and then swallowing them (not the pigeons; the notes)

Emails are probably not the best way to conduct clandestine business, as Hillary Clinton, David Petraeus, and now Debbie Wasserman Schultz have learned:

The Florida congresswoman’s resignation — under heavy pressure from top Democrats — comes amid the release of thousand of leaked emails showing DNC staffers favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the party’s 2016 primary contest.

Her announcement that she was leaving had pro-Sanders supporters cheering during a demonstration in Philadelphia and Donald Trump and other Republicans crowing about the disarray among the Democrats.

I never did quite understand exactly what Wasserman Schultz was so good at, although it was clear she was a loyal party apparatchik who never met a line of propaganda she couldn’t sling with a shamelessly straight face. And I would have thought that damping down Bernie Sanders and favoring Hillary Clinton would have been exactly what the party wanted, although being careless enough to have the emails published on Wikileaks was most definitely a no-no.

The disunity in the GOP is enormous, gargantuan. But once again (just as with the two candidates’ unfavorability ratings) the disunity in the Democratic Party is starting to rival it. And the Trump campaign has wasted no time tying the Wasserman Schultz email problem to the Hillary Clinton email problem, with Trump himself emphasizing the “rigged system” that elevated “Crooked Hillary,” and campaign manager Manafort chiming in:

“Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned over her failure to secure the DNC’s email servers and the rigged system she set up with the Clinton campaign,” he said in a statement. “Now Hillary Clinton should follow Wasserman Schultz’s lead and drop out over her failure to safeguard top secret, classified information both on her unauthorized home server and while traveling abroad.”

Well, that happens to be correct, even if Manafort is the one who said it. But of course I wouldn’t suggest you sit on a hot stove until it happens.

Covering this campaign is like swimming through mud. And “mud” is a euphemism.

July 23rd, 2016

Actor pairs: separated at birth

At first this seems extremely weird. What are the chances two celebrity actors or actresses would look so very much like each other? But when you think about it, the chances are actually rather good—they have regular features of a certain type that appeal greatly to people. So it’s not so surprising there are quite a few celebrity look-alikes:

July 23rd, 2016

Why Trump hates Ted Cruz

The day after his address at the close of the RNC, Trump decided to tear into Ted Cruz and to repeat some of his most scurrilous and over-the-top accusations (some couched in the form of “questions”) against Cruz and his family. In addition, there’s a report (perhaps true, perhaps not) that Trump has vowed to spend tons of his own money on a super PAC to destroy the careers of both Cruz and Kasich. Even if the latter threat is one he actually made, I would bet he’s not going to actually do it. But it’s the typical Trumpian threat (remember when he said he would go to court to find out if Cruz was a natural-born citizen, for example?).

So, why would Trump be dissing Cruz (and perhaps Kasich) the day after his triumphant acceptance of the GOP nomination? It wouldn’t be because they’re too conservative or too liberal—Kasich was the most liberal of all the people running against Trump, Cruz probably the most conservative. It wouldn’t be because they haven’t endorsed him; several others haven’t endorsed him, either (although they don’t hold office: Fiorina and Jeb Bush come to mind). It wouldn’t be because they did or didn’t come to the convention; Cruz did and Kasich didn’t.

It may be in part because they were both the last men standing towards the primary season’s end. It’s also clear that Cruz is Trump’s main target rather than Kasich, probably because Cruz is the strongest and most potentially powerful of Trump’s primary rivals who wouldn’t kiss his butt in the end (sorry for the crassness of the language, but with Trump it’s apropos).

Trump hates anyone who doesn’t ultimately kiss his butt, and that makes him want to make them kiss his butt or at least to humiliate them greatly. This is not some new behavior of Trump’s since he’s become a candidate; it’s a trait he’s had for decades: he is tremendously vindictive, as you can discover from his Twitter history, his litigation history, and any biography of the man.

Trump tried to humiliate and even destroy every single one of his major opponents in turn during campaign 2016. But not one of them has he tried to slander as much or for as long a time as he’s attacked Cruz (of course, some have now joined his campaign, such as Carson). For the most part, he attacked them until they fell in the polls, and then he moved on to the next contender.

But Cruz’s head is bloody but unbowed. It’s not enough for Trump to have defeated him, he is out to destroy him politically and personally for the future, too, if he can accomplish that. Call Trump an “alpha male” if you wish, but real alpha men don’t need to do this, although narcissistic bullies do (I wrote previously on the subject of whether Trump is an alpha male here). And I don’t care how many times Trump’s kids say what a nice guy he is. He may be nice to them, and he may be nice to those who show him the proper obeisance, but to anyone who crosses him he is not only out to criticize but to humiliate and destroy them, if possible.

Now, many politicians are vindictive or fond of showing subordinates that they’re the boss. LBJ was famously the latter, for example (as well as coarse), sometimes liking to receive people while sitting on the toilet in order to demonstrate his dominance over them. But he did this to aides rather than enemies, it certainly wasn’t done in public, and it didn’t involve vicious slurs on their wives or fathers. Here’s the way it went:

LBJ was well-known (although the stories only came out publicly some time after his presidency was over) for insisting that aides accompany him to the toilet, where he continued to talk to them. It was a sort of test:

Johnson also upset aides with his habit of adjourning a conversation to the bathroom when the need arose. Those who were reluctant to follow him to the toilet were a source of great amusement to him. He frequently recounted a story about “one of the delicate Kennedyites who came into the bathroom with me and then found it utterly impossible to look at me while I sat there on the toilet. You’d think he had never seen those parts of the body before. For there he was, standing as far away from me as he possibly could, keeping his back toward me the whole time, trying to carry on a conversation. I could barely hear a word he said. I kept straining my ears and then finally I asked him to come a little closer to me. Then began the most ludicrous scene I had ever witnessed. Instead of simply turning around and walking over to me, he kept his face away from me and walked backward, one rickety step at a time. For a moment there I thought he was going to run right into me. It certainly made me wonder how that man had made it so far in the world.”

Trump doesn’t invite aides into the toilet, as far as I can see. What he does instead is public and libelous. It seems he cannot resist grinding into the dirt those people he thinks have consistently opposed him, and he doesn’t care how dirty he becomes in the process. Yes, “he fights,” and that’s something the GOP has needed for a long, long time. But there are ways to fight and targets to choose, and this just makes him look bad, petty, and even crazy—solidifying the perception (right or wrong) among many people that he’s a loose cannon with poor impulse control. That’s not what’s wanted in a president.

Cruz is gambling that taking the high road and also keeping away from an endorsement of Trump will hold him in good stead, four years from now.

[NOTE: See also this.]

July 23rd, 2016

Munich: terrorists targeting children

So, was the Munich gunman an Islamist terrorist, or a crazy guy who wanted to imitate school shootings, or a “German” who hated foreigners (despite his Iranian origins)? It’s pretty clear to me that the German authorities really don’t know yet, if in fact they’ll ever know (the gunman committed suicide). Plus, I wouldn’t necessarily trust them to tell us if they did know.

In fact, right now I’m going to assume that it was some hybrid of at least two of those things, probably Islamic terrorist-inspired crazy person who imitated other shooting sprees. So far they’re saying the shooter, a 18-year old Iranian-German (whatever that means), was named Ali Sonboly, that he had once been treated for depression, that he had read a book about school shootings, that he may have yelled the usual Muslim profession of faith during the shooting spree, and that he may have set up some victims by luring them to MacDonalds with a Facebook post about free food there.

Authorities say they not know his motives, and it also seems very unclear which reports of his behavior are true and which are unsubstantiated rumors. And if Sonboly was a homicidal maniac or psychopathic school shooter a la Adam Lanza at Newtown, for example, why then did he not target a school? Plus, although two of his victims were 13 years old, the rest were older.

German-Iranians can be homicidal maniacs, too, I suppose, without being political. It is also the case that overt ties with Islamist terrorist groups (or other terrorist groups, for that matter) are not necessary for a person to be motivated by admiration for them and unofficial affiliation with them. In the case of Sonboly’s attack, the police are analyzing “a video in which the gunman is seen and heard exchanging racial slurs and profanities with another man. ‘We are trying to determine who said what,’ a police spokesman said.” One thing you can say about the ubiquity of cell phones these days—they certainly offer a lot of forensic evidence to analyze.

In case Sonboly really did purposely target young people, either as an Islamic terrorist or anti-foreign terrorist or as a rampage murderer, or as some combination of several, I’m going to repeat a portion of a post I wrote on the occasion of the Newtown shootings, on the subject of the targeting of children:

As for the question of, “why did the Newtown shooter [Lanza] choose very young children as his targets?”, my answer would be that in many such cases it’s in order to maximize the evil and the resultant horror and revulsion…

As time goes on and more information is revealed, I may change my mind about this, but until then my leading theory is what I’ve come to think of as the Pied Piper Impulse…[I]f a person is filled with inchoate rage at almost everything and everyone in the town around him, what better way to exact revenge then to kill the town’s youngest, sweetest, cutest, most beloved, and most vulnerable residents—its…children? And what better way to impress on the world what a cold-blooded and to-be-feared killer he is/(was)?

Child-killers, even serial child-killers, usually operate from very different motives than a mass killer such as Lanza. They are often pedophilic kidnapper-rapists who then murder their victims. Other single or multiple child-killers are harshly punitive parents and/or parents gone mad. But mass murderers of children often have a political agenda which we define as terrorist (for example, the Beslan horror, in which terrorists caused the death of over 300 people, many of them children of similar age as the victims in Newtown; and the shootings in Norway in which Breivik killed 77 people, most of them teenagers). Terrorists seem to operate under the Pied Piper Impulse of “get them where it hurts” in order to maximize both their leverage and the fear and grief their acts engender.

July 22nd, 2016

Between 6 and 15 people reported to have been shot and killed in Munich shopping center

[See UPDATES below]

Details still emerging, but here’s what we know so far. The reports seem to indicate there were probably three gunman. Unfortunately (very unfortunately), they are at large:

Tonight, Munich police tweeted: “We currently do not know where to find the perpetrators. Watch yourself and avoid to be the public.”

Obviously a bad translation, but you get the idea.

I haven’t seen a word that reflects on whether this is Islamic terrorism or not, but it’s an excellent excellent bet.

In addition, there’s this:

The shopping centre is next to the Munich Olympic Stadium, where the Palestinian militant group Black September took 11 Israeli athletes hostage and eventually killed them during the 1972 Olympic Games.

They weren’t taken hostage in the stadium, it was in their living quarters, but I’m not even sure that building remains intact; it might have been temporary. Nor do I know whether this proximity is meant to be symbolic, or whether it’s a coincidence.

In a personal note, yesterday I went into a medical office and noticed a sign on the door that said no firearms were allowed. It startled me, as these signs (once so innocuous-seeming) have done now for many years. The sign might just as well read: killers, let it be known that there are a bunch of vulnerable defenseless people in here. Sitting ducks.

UPDATE 5:25 PM

The police are calling it “terrorism,” but it’s unclear what variety of terrorist might be involved. Reports differ widely, some indicating right-wing anti-immigrant terrorism and some indicating Islamic terrorism.

Fog of war quite heavy right now.

UPDATE 5:45 PM

I don’t know whether this is correct or not—so many different stories are coming out—but the latest report indicates Islamic terrorism and the targeting of children:

A gunman shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ opened fire at children in McDonald’s before rampaging through a shopping mall, killing at least eight people.

Munich is in lockdown tonight, as a major police operation is ongoing around the city’s Olympic Park, with the force warning people to stay in their homes and avoid public spaces.

A ninth body has been found tonight and investigators are looking into the possibility of it being the attacker.

Terrified shoppers were seen running for their lives from the Munich Olympia Shopping Centre, in the district of Moosach, after hearing gunshots.

Witnesses said that the gunman screamed ‘I’m German’ and ‘Allahu Akbar’ before shooting at children.

July 22nd, 2016

Will Hillary’s Veep be Kaine?

Is Kaine, the Democratic senator from Virginia, going to be Hillary’s VP pick? Signs point to it:

After an extensive, months-long process during which the campaign considered a host of different options — even vetting a serious candidate from outside the political arena — the squeaky-clean Virginia senator, whose biggest liability to emerge was that he was boring, is emerging as Clinton’s top choice. Kaine has been urged along by two men familiar with the demands of the job: President Barack Obama and former president Bill Clinton, those close to the process say.

And after Donald Trump’s somewhat more polished performance Thursday night, even Democrats who had been pushing for a flashier choice like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker were sobered by the challenging four months ahead. “After last night, she needs to make the safest choice possible,” said a former senior White House aide.

“Safe” seems to be Kaine’s middle name.

This does not appear to be a charismatic person. I think Hillary needs a charismatic person, but then again, she may not want the contrast to be too great.

There’s already a Kaine Mutiny brewing, though:

A liberal group is urging Hillary Clinton not to select Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as her running mate because of his positions on trade and banking regulation.

“Making Senator Tim Kaine our vice presidential candidate could be potentially disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump this fall,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America. The group had endorsed Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary…

Chamberlain criticized Kaine for voting for fast-track authority for the “job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership.” He also argued that Kaine has participated in a “push for bank deregulation.”

I don’t see this choice as mattering either way for Clinton. People have very firmly set ideas about her already.

July 22nd, 2016

Snowball Earth

I have no idea whether this theory known as “Snowball Earth” has any validity at all, but it’s fascinating to contemplate it:

The Snowball Earth hypothesis proposes that the Earth’s surface became entirely or nearly entirely frozen at least once, sometime earlier than 650 Mya (million years ago). Proponents of the hypothesis argue that it best explains sedimentary deposits generally regarded as of glacial origin at tropical paleolatitudes, and other otherwise enigmatic features in the geological record. Opponents of the hypothesis contest the implications of the geological evidence for global glaciation, the geophysical feasibility of an ice- or slush-covered ocean, and the difficulty of escaping an all-frozen condition. A number of unanswered questions exist…

Oh, I bet they do. I bet they do.

And here’s an entire website devoted to it.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Of course, with Snowball Earth, the completely-frozen state would not be the end of the world, because obviously it was reversible.

July 22nd, 2016

Political speeches in general, and Donald Trump’s speech last night in particular

There are four main things to say about any political speech.

The first is whether you liked it. The second is whether you agreed with it. The third is whether you thought it was effective in political terms. And the fourth is whether you thought it could hurt the speaker.

For me, these four things are quite separate, in part because (as I’ve probably said too many times already) I really don’t like to listen to speeches at all, and consider political speeches “the worst of the worst.”

So it takes a lot to get me to like a speech, and it’s very rare that I do. Donald Trump’s speech last night didn’t even begin to come close to what I look for in a speech—as Paul Mirengoff writes, it was a “sledgehammer” of a speech, loud and long and pounding away.

So let’s just stipulate that I didn’t like it, and go on to whether I agree with it. I certainly agree with a great deal of it, just as I agree with a great deal of the stated Trump platform, although hardly all. I certainly agree with the need to metaphorically hit Hillary with that sledgehammer, reminding people constantly of her myriad and deep flaws.

Now we get to the heart of the matter—because really, except for the purposes of this blog and you readers, whether I like the speech or not is hardly of importance. But was it effective? The answer is yes.

I have no idea how many people watch these speeches, but it’s a lot, and it matters. Just recall what happened to Obama in 2004, when he gave a speech at the DNC—not as the nominee, but the keynote speaker. He hadn’t even been elected to national office at the time—he’d been an Illinois state senator prior to that, and had just won the Democratic primary for the US Senate for the state of Illinois. But the Democrats knew a rising star when they saw one, and they gave him a platform to rise some more. His speech was apparently electrifying (I didn’t watch it) and brought him national fame. People remembered it a few short years later when he ran for the presidency despite his inexperience, and they liked him in great part because of the message of togetherness expressed in the speech—a message that turned out to be completely bogus.

Now, that’s an effective speech.

But back to Trump. People have called the speech “red meat,” and I think that’s an apt description. My definition of “red meat” is something that satisfies hunger but is a bit raw and bloody, and in speech terms it means it touches most of the bases and rouses whatever emotion needs to be roused. In Trump’s case the emotion is anger and outrage at the mess that has been made of the country and the world during the Obama administration and the resultant pickle we’re in, and anger and outrage at Hillary Clinton’s manifold errors and deceitful (perhaps even criminal) ways. Trump also reached out to the non-conservatives and non-Republicans he thinks can be enticed into his populist camp, and he did it in his own style: no eloquence and no finesse, just give it to ’em straight and hard.

With Trump, the fourth question—did he hurt himself?—is always especially important. Usually it’s difficult to say, because what would be harmful in another candidate seems only to have enhanced his appeal, at least in the primaries. But last night it wasn’t difficult to say that he did not hurt himself. The teleprompter helped in that endeavor (although there were some ad-libs, which is a Trump signature). That’s why some of his opponents on the left say the speech scared them—they are smart enough to see its general appeal, and it made them believe he just might win.

I agree that the speech might help him win, and that it won’t hurt him one iota. Whether speeches should have much influence is another question. But the fact that I think they should be largely irrelevant in assessing what you yourself think about a candidate (unless they’re the only thing you know about that candidate) is in itself somewhat irrelevant, because people are influenced by them, and sometimes a very great deal.

The fact that I tend not to be influenced by any speeches (except Churchill’s and Lincoln’s, but in that case it’s not just their speeches that influence me, and I already know how things turned out with them) isn’t just due to my problem with auditory processing. And it’s not just about Trump, either. Political speeches almost always sound to me like con artists talking, or snake oil salesmen: “This will cure rheumatism, gout, lumbago, indigestion, female troubles, hangnails…all for one low low price…”

Trump may sound more like that than most, but the tendency is nearly universal. There are exceptions, of course, but they are rare and getting rarer.

Which brings us to something that commenter “Beverly” wrote last night:

Well, if Trump says the right things and you still don’t believe him, there’s nothing, literally, he can do to persuade you: that sounds emotional to me.

No; not emotional. Rational. If a person doesn’t believe Trump at this point, it is almost certainly because Trump has lied consistently throughout the campaign and throughout his life—on big things, on small things, on medium-sized things. I’ve written about that so many times in so many ways and with so many examples that it’s tedious to have to mention it again. He has also changed position on big things and small things, both long ago and relatively recently (last few years, anyway). He also says frightening and irresponsible things on a regular basis in the realm of foreign policy. He insults people in the most vicious and personal of ways, and he lies about them in extreme and abusive ways, over and over and over.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

One of the things I’m angry about in this Year of the Trump is that I just might have to vote for someone as despicable as that, and I resent deeply being placed in that position. But that’s the position I’m in. I’ve known for almost a year it might be the position I (and many of you) would be in, and I’ve known since about March or April that it almost certainly would be the position I’d be in. I been wrestling with it all that time, and I think I know what I must do, but don’t ask me to like it, because I hate it with every fiber of my being.

After all, why on earth what anyone trust what a liar promises in a political speech, particularly if the liar is saying the things that he or she thinks that voters wants to hear, and particularly when that person has proven his or her views to be mutable and has no track record of political actions (other than contributing money to both sides, including a lot to the opposition) because he or she has never held public office?

We also get a gut sense of character, but we can be wrong about that. We evaluate all people when we first meet them, and then we continue to evaluate them over time, using a combination of their behavior and their words, with behavior far more important than words if the two conflict. Trump—or any other politician—is no different.

So no, there’s nothing he can say in a speech right now to persuade me to believe him, and that’s because there is so much else he has done and said till now, and I’ve been paying close attention. What would persuade me is if he were to become president and starts following through on what he’s promised, with success and with respect for the Constitution, actually accomplishing much of what he has set out to accomplish. In that event, I will be happy to say I underestimated him on his ability to keep his political promises and to do the right thing for America. But a speech he makes is just as irrelevant in persuading me what kind of president he will be, good or bad, as the speech Obama made in 2004 was—which is to say, not at all.

We may even get to find out what kind of president Trump would be. God bless—and help—America.

[NOTE: I want to add that what sort of children Trump has, good or bad, is almost entirely irrelevant to me, and that’s true of all politicians as far as I’m concerned. But that’s another post for another time.]

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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