The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

When did this become a thing?

Writing for the Washington Post, Michele Norris has had enough of white dudes toting firearms at "peaceful" protests:

We’ve gotten far too accustomed to the image of white protesters carrying paramilitary-level firearms in public spaces. The presence of guns — often really large guns — at protests has become alarmingly normalized. It is time to take stock of what that means.

Accepting and even expecting to see firearms at protest rallies means that we somehow embrace the threat of chaos and violence. While those who carry say they have no intention of using their weapons, the firepower alone creates a wordless threat, and something far more calamitous if even just one person discharges a round.

Is this brazen display of force about the right to own firearms or the right to make armed threats for political purposes? Just asking, because the latter is not a “right” that can be equally asserted. The protests are purportedly about reopening America. A parallel goal is realignment — using the Second Amendment to conduct regular and routine shows of force to intimidate elected officials into enacting a political agenda.

Polls show that most Americans prefer a go-slow approach to reopening most businesses. The armed protesters in places such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina represent a tiny minority. Some surveys put the most insistent open-now crowd at less than 10 percent. But the weapons make their influence seem larger — and they know that. We see protests punctuated by guns almost every day. It has become routine. We have normalized something that should be shocking.

This sort of thing has happened before, in other times and places, and it hasn't ended well.

A little light reading

Yesterday I started Federico Finchelstein's new book A Brief History of Fascist Lies, and it may have kept me awake longer than I wanted last night. Finchelstein's central thesis is that for fascists, truth was a matter of faith, not of empirical fact, and this truth was made incarnate in the fascist leader:

Fascism defended a divine, messianic, and charismatic form of leadership that conceived of the leader as organically linked to the people and the nation. It considered popular sovereignty to be fully delegated to the dictator, who acted in the name of the community of the people and knew better than they what they truly wanted. Fascists replaced history and empirically based notions of truth with political myth. ... Fascism aimed to create a new and epochal world order through an incremental continuum of extreme political violence and war.

At root, fascists believed fantasy, and disbelieved reality that didn't fit their myths:

In their search for a truth that did not coincide with the experienced world, fascists resorted to making metaphors reality. There was nothing true about ideological falsehoods, but their adherents nonetheless wanted to make these lies real enough. They conceived what they saw and did not like as untruth. [Emphasis in original.] ...

For Mussolini, reality had to follow mythical imperatives. Too bad if people were not initially convinced; their disbelief also needed to be challenged. The mythical framework of fascism was rooted in the fascist myth of the nation.

In other words, arguing facts with a fascist had no effect because facts didn't matter to them. Only their beliefs mattered. A psychologist might call this "malignant narcissism."

I'm only a quarter the way in, but I'll probably finish it tonight. Finchelstein has given me a missing piece in my understanding of the creeping authoritarian nationalism plaguing the world right now. As he says in his introduction, "Populism is fascism adapted to democracy;" however, "populists merely want to diminish the power of representative democracy, whereas fascists wanted to end democracy."

Even the first couple of chapters has given me a lot to think about. I'll write more as I think about it more.

The US is now a joke to the rest of the world

Thanks, Obama!

No, really. The countries that don't pity us are laughing their asses off. This video from a Chinese satire program sums it up nicely:

Josh Marshall is outraged—at the Trump Administration:

[The video] is certainly self-serving from the Chinese perspective. But big picture, good lord, pretty much completely guilty as charged. China initially bobbled the outbreak, had a major crisis. They mobilized. They shared information with the world. They mounted a massive, historic containment effort, built whole hospitals in a matter of days. The US hung back and did a mix of ignoring it or talking down to the Chinese. Look how they wear masks! Haha. Masks don’t work. Whether poo-pooing or derision the big message was that this didn’t have anything to do with us. Or it was a hoax. Until we had our own catastrophic outbreak and then suddenly you didn’t tell us! You hid the truth from us! You will pay the price! Also please send us masks! We really need masks! Please!

On COVID19 we are not only suffering horribly. We are also a joke. “We” is doing a lot of work here. “We” is really our national government, the Trump administration. But for the moment it’s the only national government we have and it’s calling the shots. As the closing puts it “Gosh!! Just listen to yourself.” Perhaps most tellingly, with perhaps the greatest longterm repercussions, the Trump administration has failed so badly, so accurately modeled the behavior of five year olds that we’ve gone a decent way toward discrediting the model of civic democracy and the rule of law we should be supporting at home and around the world. We’ve done about as good a job as one could imagine telling the story that maybe the authoritarians just handle things better.

It’s embarrassing. We’re an embarrassment.

I know it won't make anyone change his or her mind about why (or even whether) Russia interfered in our 2016 election, but this outcome is glorious for Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinpeng, and every other authoritarian and totalitarian out there.

Elections matter.

Only so many ways to state the obvious

James Fallows:

Reporters from the Washington Post quoted Dara Kass, of Columbia University Medical Center, on the difference between this and Trump’s previous, now-discredited advice that people start taking a certain kind of pill:

“The difference between this and the chloroquine [pills] is that somebody could go right away to their pantry and start swallowing bleach. They could go to their medicine cabinet and swallow isopropyl alcohol,” Kass said. “A lot of people have that in their homes. There’s an immediate opportunity to react.”

Kass explained to the Post that people who ingest such chemicals often die, and those “who survive usually end up with feeding tubes because their mouth and esophagus were eroded by the cleaning agents.”

“It’s horrific,” she said.

Jack Holmes, politics editor of Esquire:

There is a need among some, particularly in Washington, to believe the president is not completely batty. The prospect that he has no idea what he's doing, and in fact may not be all there, is psychologically difficult for some to grapple with. It's also scary for some folks to think about just saying what's in front of them and feeling the backlash from his supporters. So evening-news programs and newspapers spend a lot of time cleaning up what the president says, pruning the overgrown hedges into something vaguely coherent in their reports.

But he's not going to get better. He's not going to grow into the job or become more "presidential". How many words, realistically, do you really believe he's read about COVID-19? How many pages of briefings? When are we going to demand more than a circus from the people in whom we now have so much of our futures invested, willingly or not? We should be calling for this guy to resign on a daily basis.

Michelle Goldberg, in the New York Times today:

As the coronavirus crisis has unfolded in America, [author Adam] Higginbotham has noticed other parallels. “The response that I see has followed a very similar trajectory: initial public denials or reluctance to publicly admit that anything was wrong, then attempts to minimize the severity of what was happening, rooted in an institutional inability to acknowledge failure,” he said. “The initial response was hampered by a lack of equipment and a breakdown in communication that revealed that despite years of planning, the state was hopelessly ill prepared for such a catastrophe.”

Yet one crucial difference also stands out to him. Soviet officials lied about Chernobyl and tried to shift blame but accepted that remediation was the state’s responsibility. “There was a lot of disinformation and cover-up, but as far as I know nobody in the Politburo was on the phone to the party leaders in Kyiv and Minsk saying, ‘You’re on your own — sort it out yourselves,’ ” said Higginbotham.

Chernobyl is now widely seen as a signal event on the road to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Coronavirus may someday be seen as a similar inflection point in the story of American decline. A country that could be brought to its knees this quickly was sick well before the virus arrived.

Dana Milbank, yesterday:

I can add clinical evidence, derived from searching the Mayo Clinic’s website for side effects of azithromycinhydroxychloroquine and its cousin, chloroquine. Among them, I found: “change in hair color” (Trump has recently faded from orange to gray), “discoloration of the skin” (originally and mistakenly attributed to tanning beds), “trouble sleeping” (see his overnight tweets), “noisy breathing” (that gasping during his Oval Office address), “difficulty with speaking” (whenever using a teleprompter), “runny nose,” (the sniffing!) and “unusual facial expressions” (‘nuff said).

Also, consider the mental side effects the drugs can cause: Irritability. Confusion. Aggression. Anger. Hostility. Quickness to react or overreact emotionally. Unusual behavior. Unsteadiness. Severe mood or mental changes. Restlessness. Paranoia. Depersonalization (an emotional “numbness”). Feeling that others are watching you or controlling your behavior. Feeling that others can hear your thoughts. Feeling, seeing or hearing things that are not there.

Marina Hyde in The Guardian, also yesterday:

Another interesting thing to check would be the precise theoretical point at which deciding to ingest bleach becomes the tragically rational response to the fact that a sitting president is suggesting Americans ingest bleach. For now, though, let’s just include the presidential caveat. Pointing to his head, Trump went on: “I’m not a doctor. But I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what.”

Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis was always predictable pathologically. You’re asking a man who got to the Oval Office by going viral to disavow a virus. It’s not very surprising that Trump can’t bring himself to. You have to think he recognises something of a kindred spirit in the disease, which is indifferent to all human suffering, impacts disproportionately on ethnic minorities and is horrifyingly resistant to therapy.

And on April 11th, Der Spiegel had a long-for explanation of how the US has fallen from world dominance, in large part because of the president:

Again and again, Trump’s advisers have had to bring him to his senses, but even that often doesn’t work. When the president announced a week ago Friday that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was going to recommend people wear masks in public, he immediately added that he wasn’t even considering wearing one himself. "I don’t see it for myself, I just don’t.” His comments certainly didn’t clear up any confusion.

We will get through this. But whether "we" means you and me or "we" means some remnant of the human species cannot be predicted at this time.

And you thought things were getting better

The number of new Covid-19 cases per day may have peaked in Illinois, but that still means we have new cases every day. We have over 10,000 infected in the state, with the doubling period now at 12 days (from 2 days back mid-March). This coincides with unpleasant news from around the world:

  • Covid-19 has become the second-leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 12,400 deaths per week, just behind heart disease which kills about 12,600.
  • More than 5 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total unemployed to 22 million, the highest percentage of Americans out of work since 1933. April unemployment figures come out May 8th, when we will likely have confirmation of a 13-15% unemployment rate. Note that the unemployment rate was the lowest in history just two months ago.
  • Consumer spending on nearly everything except groceries has fallen, in some places catastrophically. Chicago's heavy-rail authority, Metra, has seen ridership fall 97% system-wide and predicts a $500 million budget deficit this year. (For my own part, since my March 31st post on the subject, my spending on dining out, lunch, and groceries combined has fallen 70% month-over-month.)
  • UK Foreign Secretary (and acting Prime Minister) Dominic Raab announced today that lockdown measures would continue in the UK "for at least the next three weeks," reasoning that premature relaxation would lead to a resurgence of the virus as seen worldwide in 1918.
  • FiveThirtyEight explains why Covid-19 has caused so much more disruption than Ebola, SARS-1, and swine flu.
  • Talking Points Memo takes a deeper look at the hidden mortality of Covid-19.
  • Brian Dennehy has died at 81.
  • Chicago could get 75 mm of snow tonight. In April. The middle of Spring. FFS.

But we also got some neutral-to-good news today:

I pitched the Goat-2-Meeting to my chorus board for our next meeting, and unfortunately got told we don't donate to other NPCs. I guess we're not a bleating-heart organization.

Stop letting him distract you

I mentioned this morning that the President has ordered a halt to payments to the WHO to shift the blame from his own failures. That explains part of the story; Graeme Wood explains the rest:

Defunding the WHO (or at least threatening to do so) is yet another instance of Trump’s signature move, one that I described just weeks ago, when he insisted on calling SARS-CoV-2 “the Chinese virus,” and for a few days journalists and social-media scolds obediently modified their criticisms to fit his latest outrage. The move is simple. When Trump is ensnared in controversy, when he is being asked straightforward, damning questions and his inquisitors do not stop asking them, he says or does something outrageous to change the subject. It works every time. It is working now.

The trick, as with the “Chinese virus,” is to choose a plausible enemy, one whose misdeeds are not only undeniable but vital to acknowledge. It is, of course, true that COVID-19 originated in China, and anyone who suggests otherwise should not be trusted. As for the WHO, its errors were serious and unforced. Its delegation to Wuhan helped China underplay the severity of the outbreak, costing the rest of the world precious weeks. It denied that COVID-19 was contagious among humans as late as January 14, in an infamous tweet.

These are all good reasons to criticize the WHO.

But to weigh these reasons, good and bad—the WHO’s sins against its virtues—is to go back to playing the sucker’s game, and to have an excellent view of Abdul-Jabbar’s armpit as the basketball hurtles overhead toward the hoop. Cutting off money to the WHO is not about policy. It is misdirection: Look here, not there, because you are calling attention to something you are not welcome to see.

The tactic he is using is one that has fooled too many people, too many times. We should hope, along with the WHO, that we won’t get fooled again.

And if you'd like to watch a drowning man who thinks he's an Olympic swimmer, just watch:

Day 21 of working from home

As we go into the fourth week of mandatory working from home, Chicago may have its warmest weather since October 1st, and I'm on course to finish a two-week sprint at work with a really boring deployment. So what's new and maddening in the world?

And finally, two big gyros manufacturers, Kronos and Grecian Delight, are merging. Kind of like all the lamb and stuff that merges to form gyros.

Enjoy the weather, Chicago. The cold returns Thursday.

How the right-wing rulers of the world's largest democracy screwed their country but good

Man Booker-prize-winning author Arundhati Roy ("The God of Small Things") slowly immolates the Indian government for its unconscionable mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic:

On March 24, at 8pm, [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi appeared on TV again to announce that, from midnight onwards, all of India would be under lockdown. Markets would be closed. All transport, public as well as private, would be disallowed.

He said he was taking this decision not just as a prime minister, but as our family elder. Who else can decide, without consulting the state governments that would have to deal with the fallout of this decision, that a nation of 1.38bn people should be locked down with zero preparation and with four hours’ notice? His methods definitely give the impression that India’s prime minister thinks of citizens as a hostile force that needs to be ambushed, taken by surprise, but never trusted.

As an appalled world watched, India revealed herself in all her shame — her brutal, structural, social and economic inequality, her callous indifference to suffering.

The lockdown worked like a chemical experiment that suddenly illuminated hidden things. As shops, restaurants, factories and the construction industry shut down, as the wealthy and the middle classes enclosed themselves in gated colonies, our towns and megacities began to extrude their working-class citizens — their migrant workers — like so much unwanted accrual.

They knew they were going home potentially to slow starvation. Perhaps they even knew they could be carrying the virus with them, and would infect their families, their parents and grandparents back home, but they desperately needed a shred of familiarity, shelter and dignity, as well as food, if not love.

As they walked, some were beaten brutally and humiliated by the police, who were charged with strictly enforcing the curfew. Young men were made to crouch and frog jump down the highway. Outside the town of Bareilly, one group was herded together and hosed down with chemical spray.

She also has a few choice words for Modi's rally for Donald Trump just as the crisis exploded on India's northern border. The whole thing is worth reading.

Your apocalypse today

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker extended the state's stay-at-home order through April 30th, which came as absolutely no surprise, as the state nears 6,000 total COVID-19 cases. Rush Hospitals predict 19,000 total cases in Illinois a week from now—far less than the 147,000 they predict would have shown up without the stay-at-home order.

In other news:

Oh, and the stock market suffered its worst first quarter. Ever.