Trump is the resistance within his own Administration

I’ve thought this ever since finishing Bob Woodward’s book. But now Jack Shafer has reached the same conclusion.

I’ve figured it out: Donald Trump is the leader of the resistance inside his own administration.

The 45th president exudes more defiance from one of his short, little fingers than all the liberal yodelers of the Democratic Party and entire armies of pink pussy-hat-wearing protesters put together. When not contravening the libs, Trump opposes the traditional Republican establishment that he is supposed to command. They demand additional sanctions on the Russians; he schemes to lighten them. They want free trade; he imposes punitive tariffs. They dig NATO; he calls it obsolete and works to weaken it. They desire immigration “reform”; he insists on deportation, fewer refugees, no Muslims and the building of a wall. They want to stay in Afghanistan and Syria; he wants out. On almost a daily basis Trump fights to prove that he—and not his appointees—runs his administration.

This rings true to me. What Trump cannot bear is the idea that he is the tool of, or subordinate to, anyone else. Shafer brings up the celebrated ‘anonymous’ NYT OpEd which claimed that “There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first.” Anonymous is right about the “quiet resistance,” says Shafer,

but he got it backward: He and his co-conspirators represent the Republican status quo and the foreign policy establishment that has gone largely unchallenged for more than a half-century. Meanwhile, Trump opposes the political status quo and establishment, compares U.S. intelligence agencies to “Nazis” and calls his own Department of Justice and FBI “completely out to lunch.” Working in the shadows against his staff to get his way, he is the genuine voice of resistance.

Kavanaugh: a lawyer writes…

From a startling piece by Benjamin Wittes, editor of Lawfare, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and someone who knows Kavanaugh:

If I were a senator, I would vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. I would do it both because of Ford’s testimony and because of Kavanaugh’s. For reasons I will describe, I find her account more believable than his. I would also do it because whatever the truth of what happened in the summer of 1982, Thursday’s hearing left Kavanaugh nonviable as a justice.

A few days before the hearing, I detailed on this site the advice I would give to Kavanaugh if he asked me. He should, I argued, withdraw from consideration for elevation unless able to defend himself to a high degree of factual certainty without attacking Ford. He should remain a nominee, I argued, only if his defense would be sufficiently convincing that it would meet what we might term the “no asterisks” standard—that is, that it would plausibly convince even people who vociferously disagree with his jurisprudential views that he could serve credibly as a justice. His defense needed to make it possible for a reasonable pro-choice woman to find it a legitimate and acceptable prospect, if not an attractive or appealing one, that he might sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade.

Kavanaugh, needless to say, did not take my advice. He stayed in, and he delivered on Thursday, by way of defense, a howl of rage. He went on the attack not against Ford—for that we can be grateful—but against Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and beyond. His opening statement was an unprecedentedly partisan outburst of emotion from a would-be justice. I do not begrudge him the emotion, even the anger. He has been through a kind of hell that would leave any person gasping for air. But I cannot condone the partisanship—which was raw, undisguised, naked, and conspiratorial—from someone who asks for public faith as a dispassionate and impartial judicial actor. His performance was wholly inconsistent with the conduct we should expect from a member of the judiciary.

ps See also “What Kavanaugh’s drinking tells us about his credibility”.

Boring talks are indeed longer

Lovely piece of informal research reported in Nature:

I investigated this idea at a meeting where speakers were given 12-minute slots. I sat in on 50 talks for which I recorded the start and end time. I decided whether the talk was boring after 4 minutes, long before it became apparent whether the speaker would run overtime. The 34 interesting talks lasted, on average, a punctual 11 minutes and 42 seconds. The 16 boring ones dragged on for 13 minutes and 12 seconds (thereby wasting a statistically significant 1.5 min; t-test, t = 2.91, P = 0.007). For every 70 seconds that a speaker droned on, the odds that their talk had been boring doubled. For the audience, this is exciting news. Boring talks that seem interminable actually do go on for longer.

That figures. As Alex Tabbarok commented,

the fundamental explanation is that a boring speaker doesn’t think about their audience. A speaker who cares puts herself in the audience’s shoes, thinks in advance about what is important, how much an audience can absorb in one sitting, where a graphic would be helpful and so forth. A good speaker plans and practices and thus ends up being interesting and ending on time.

Ireland’s need for a new narrative

Last Friday’s Irish Times carried a piece by Charlie Taylor based on an an interview I gave in which I argued that a country that had built its identity (and prosperity) largely on a policy of being nice to big multi-national companies might need a new narrative now that some of its more welcome guests turn out to be toxic.

Tories in La-la-land

The current Tory Party conference is a surreal event. Robert Shrimsley is there for the Financial Times and he finds the collected faithful unable to talk about anything other than… Brexit. “Yet”, he writes,

the need to start talking about something else is obvious. Last week’s Labour gathering caught their attention. Suddenly, they see Jeremy Corbyn’s party developing a socialist economic agenda with potential popular appeal, which terrifies them. So now the talk is of getting back to “real” issues, of tackling society’s perceived injustices, of proving capitalism works for voters.

With six months until Brexit this talk as an air of unreality, as if the stewardess suddenly tasked with landing a plane because the flight crew have all coppapsed switches to discussing the dinner plans for the next night.

Yep.

Now with added Blockchain, er… database

I get dozens of emails a week from PR firms breathlessly announcing the latest addition of “blockchain technology” to the toolsets of their clients. Most of these puffs are idiotic, but every so often they involve a large and ostensibly serious company.

Like Walmart. Today I find this report in the New York Times:

When dozens of people across the country got sick from eating contaminated romaine lettuce this spring, Walmart did what many grocers would do: It cleared every shred off its shelves, just to be safe.

Walmart says it now has a better system for pinpointing which batches of leafy green vegetables might be contaminated. After a two-year pilot project, the retailer announced on Monday that it would be using a blockchain, the type of database technology behind Bitcoin, to keep track of every bag of spinach and head of lettuce.

Impressive, eh? By this time next year, more than 100 farms that supply Walmart with leafy green vegetables will be required to input detailed information about their food into a blockchain. But… said blockchain will be run and — one presumes — hosted on IBM servers. Since the essence of a blockchain is that it’s a public ledger (so that control and oversight is decentralised) one wonders how a blockchain run on IBM servers is anything other than a fancy ol’ database?

LATER: From the you-couldn’t-make-it-up department, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister), when asked (at the Tory Conference) how the government planned to avoid having a hard border in Northern Ireland, replied: “There is technology becoming available (…) I don’t claim to be an expert on it but the most obvious technology is blockchain.”

Feeding the crocodile

This morning’s Observer column:

Last week, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the co-founders of Instagram, announced that they were leaving Facebook, where they had worked since Mark Zuckerberg bought their company six years ago. “We’re planning on taking some time off to explore our curiosity and creativity again,” Systrom wrote in a statement on the Instagram blog. “Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that’s what we plan to do.”

Quite so. It’s always refreshing when young millionaires decide to spend more time with their money. (Facebook paid $715m for their little outfit when it acquired it; Instagram had 13 employees at the time.) But to those of us who have an unhealthy interest in what goes on at Facebook, the real question about Systrom’s and Krieger’s departure was: what took them so long?

Read on

The benefits of having an honest business model

Interesting column by Farhad Manjoo:

Because Apple makes money by selling phones rather than advertising, it has been able to hold itself up as a guardian against a variety of digital plagues: a defender of your privacy, an agitator against misinformation and propaganda, and even a plausible warrior against tech addiction, a problem enabled by the very irresistibility of its own devices.

Though it is already more profitable than any of its rivals, Apple appears likely to emerge even stronger from tech’s season of crisis. In the long run, its growing strength could profoundly alter the industry.

For years, start-ups aiming for consumer audiences modeled themselves on Google and Facebook, offering innovations to the masses at rock-bottom prices, if not for free. But there are limits to the free-lunch model.

If Apple’s more deliberate business becomes the widely followed norm, we could see an industry that is more careful about tech’s dangers and excesses. It could also be one that is more exclusive, where the wealthy get the best innovations and the poor bear more of the risks.

Yep. They wind up as feedstock for surveillance capitalism. The moral of the story: honest business models — in which you pay for what you get — are better. Or, as Manjoo puts it:

The thrust of Apple’s message is simple: Paying directly for technology is the best way to ensure your digital safety, and every fresh danger uncovered online is another reason to invest in the Apple way of life.

The problem is that that particular ‘way of life’ is expensive.

You’re never extreme enough for YouTube’s recommendation algorithm

This morning’s Observer column:

Early one Sunday morning a month ago, a German carpenter was fatally stabbed in a street fight in Chemnitz in eastern Germany. Little is known about how the brawl started, but rumours rapidly circulated online that the man was defending a woman from sexual assault. Within hours of his death, rumours that his killers were two refugees triggered a violent reaction. For two nights running, thousands of rightwing extremists and sympathisers took to the streets of the city. Shocking videos of demonstrators openly using the Nazi salute (a criminal offence in Germany) and chasing and attacking people of foreign appearance rapidly appeared online.

The reverberations of the riots continue to roil German politics and society. They appear to have given a massive boost to the right-wing AfD party, for example, which according to some opinion polls is now in second place in Germany. And last week, Angela Merkel removed the head of the domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maaßen, from his post after he faced criticism for his reaction to anti-immigrant protests in the city of Chemnitz. He had cast doubt on the authenticity of the videos showing dark-skinned people being chased and attacked.

What’s going on? How did many Germans become so worked up about a street brawl?

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