Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Archive for November, 2016

Burning the Trumpstag

Pretty high up on the list of things I’ve been worried about for the next four years (ordered by importance, not alphabetically) is a Reichstag scenario. Trump gets himself elected by promising a solution to the world in chaos that doesn’t actually exist, and then once in power creates exactly that chaos as a means of justifying and extending his power. This is what the Nazis did with the Reichstag fire one month after they came into power. (Despite the claims of conspiracy theorists, the consensus of historians is that the Dutch Communist van der Lubbe acted alone. The Nazis simply stoked the outrage and took advantage of it after the fact.)

A major symbolically significant terror attack would be just the ticket. And what could be more symbolically powerful than a direct attack on the prestige of the new thin-skinned president? Several people have been pointing out, what I hadn’t thought about before, but now terrifies me: All over the world there are defenceless towers that have the Trump name in big letters, often in countries with active terror movements and significant popular hostility to Trump and/or the US, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and India. (I don’t particularly mean to include Chicago among these, though Trump Tower residents there have been worrying about this problem for the past year.) These are now de facto US embassies from the point of view of aggrieved  There’s no way to protect them all. Most of these are only renting the Trump name, so the owners could perhaps protect themselves by renaming the buildings.

Good scandals

The US is just getting used to the idea of a president who will be running an international business marketing his name out of the Oval Office. Political journalists are fooling themselves in supposing that they’re going to have an easy time publicising scandals in the Trump administration. What’s a scandal, when the rulers are shameless? What could you find that would be worse than what has already come out during the campaign? And the mainstream will be pushing their carefully researched and reported evidence of malfeasance at the highest levels against social-network-distributed scandals on the other side, scandals about left-wing figures manufactured by Kremlin operatives or Macedonian teenagers. Of course, the made-up stories will be more piquant than the real ones. They are socially engineered to push every hot button, and so raise the public’s general shock threshold.

It seemed like a good time to repeat a post I wrote last year, about the importance for a healthy democracy to maintain its ability to be shocked: (more…)

Post-existing climate conditions

According to the NY Times, insurers have been taking advantage of climate-change fears to raise prices for flood insurance. Now that the presidential election has conclusively proved that the greenhouse effect is a Chinese hoax to make Americans look stupid less productive, I think the Congress needs to move beyond minor defensive measures like abandoning the Paris accord, and move instead to aggressively defend Americans’ God-given right to build decadent structures in flood zones: Just as health insurers are now prohibited from inquiring about or taking account of “pre-existing conditions”, flood insurers need to be prohibited from taking account of (hoax) research about “post-existing” (future) climate conditions in determining flood insurance prices. Prices may be based only on past flood records.

This can be combined into a single consumer-rights bill with Mike Pence’s initiative to ban life insurance premiums that discriminate against tobacco users. As Pence wrote in 2000,

Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill… Nine out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.

What’s all this hysteria for? Smoking is even safer than Russian Roulette. (Five out of six players don’t get shot!)

Paradoxical times

I remember in my childhood, maybe when I was ten or so, talking with my brother about the weird counterfactual possibility that someone could be elected president without winning a majority of votes. Of course, we imagined the most extreme possibility, a candidate winning by one vote in a minimum collection of states, and getting not a single vote in the rest, so that he could attain the presidency with (we worked out) only about one quarter of the votes.

This was discussed in the same kinds of spooky tones that we used to discuss uncanny notions like that someone could be his own grandfather or God could make a stone so heavy that he couldn’t lift it. When grownups on television tried to defend the Electoral College it was generally in terms of turning small vote majorities into decisive Electoral College majorities, thus enhancing the popular credibility of the vote. Now we’ve gotten used to the Electoral College being used to entrench Republican government against Democratic majorities. Given that it was originally designed to enhance the power of slave states, we can say it’s working as planned.

All the president’s businesses

Trump is behaving like a central Asian autocrat, blending his family business with national politics, alternatively threatening and pardoning the opposition according to his whim. One tends to think that it can’t go well for him, but then, we thought that a year ago. Who can call him to account?

My usual baseline emotional reaction to Republican presidents’ scandals and abuses is: Bring ’em on. The more the better, since in the long run they mainly serve to embarrass and distract the administration from carrying out policies that I generally oppose.

My reaction to Trump is very different, which just shows how genuinely different he is from a “normal” Republican. Part of this is his shamelessness and limited attention span. One typically reasons about a leader, “He can’t possibly do X, because the consequences would be Y, and that would be hugely unpopular.” That doesn’t work for Trump. Partly it’s his unshakeable bond to his core supporters — the I-could-shoot-someone-on-Fifth-Avenue phenomenon. But mainly it’s the impression that he is literally incapable of understanding or anticipating any consequences over a time horizon measured in minutes. Maybe this impression is inaccurate, maybe it’s just a bluff. If so, it’s effective, and he’s won this game of Chicken. No rational person would challenge him now under the assumption that he would be dissuaded by the prospect of long-term damage, to himself, to the country, or to the world. This gives him a madman’s freedom, whether or not he is actually mad.

I am existentially frightened of the effect of his administration, which means that I am hoping, not for his success, but for limits to his failure. I am hoping that someone will get his gritting under control before he comes into office, because I worry about him systemically corrupting the US federal government. I am hoping that some sensible people — even extreme right-wingers — will take control of his administration’s foreign policy because I worry that his impulsive leadership will lead to nuclear war or the collapse of peaceful order in Europe.

It’s been two weeks since the election, and the shock has worn off. The fear has, if anything, grown. Before the election, I eagerly awaited the puncturing of the vast Trump ego balloon. (I kind of assumed he was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, being propped up by foreign banks and individuals who would lose interest after the election.) Now, I’d gladly accept him and his family looting hundreds of billions from the US treasury if he’ll leave us in peace.

At least we don’t get ID cards

… because that would be fascism! Instead, we’re likely to get the NHS checking people’s passports and utility bills (for proof of address) before they can get medical treatment.

As I’ve commented before, the British seem obsessed with not having national ID cards — when they came into power one of the first things the Conservatives did was to cancel a Labour programme that had been in the works for about five years to provide ID cards — because carrying an ID card is inimical to Anglo-Saxon freedom. They don’t object to round-the-clock video surveillance, police stopping foreign-looking people on the Tube to ask for proof of right to be in the country, or now checking nationality documents at the hospital.

They just object to providing people with the documents they need to meet the authorities’ demand (given that one in six Britons has no passport, and they cost about £80). Instead, they leave it up to easily falsifiable electric bills to attest their address.

Thumbs up from the emperor

The Trumpkins have announced that his Majesty does not actually intend to have Hillary Clinton prosecuted for bad email management. Implicit in this announcement is the belief that the president should have the right to decide who to prosecute and who not. In other words, it is an implicit threat.

Is global warming a hoax or not, Mr Sarkozy?

A few weeks ago former and possibly future French president Nicolas Sarkozy proclaimed his allegiance to international right-wing loonidom by ridiculing the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change:

Cela fait 4 milliards d’années que le climat change. Le Sahara est devenu un désert, ce n’est pas à cause de l’industrie. Il faut être arrogant comme l’Homme pour penser que c’est nous qui avons changé le climat…

[The climate has been changing for four billion years. The Sahara turned into a desert, and that wasn’t caused by industry. It takes a uniquely human arrogance to believe that we have changed the climate…]

But now, perhaps because Le Pen seems to have the loony right wing anti-science vote locked up, he is threatening to punish the US if it tries to scuttle the Paris accord:

Donald Trump has said – we’ll see if he keeps this promise – that he won’t respect the conclusions of the Paris climate agreement.

Well, I will demand that Europe put in place a carbon tax at its border, a tax of 1-3 per cent, for all products coming from the United States, if the United States doesn’t apply environmental rules that we are imposing on our companies.

The man who can’t stand to lose anything

After settling his Trump University fraud case for $25 million, the president elect reported on Twitter

I settled the Trump University lawsuit for a small fraction of the potential award because as President I have to focus on our country.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016

Not to seem ungrateful, but why would he say this? It would have been in keeping with the aggrieved self-sacrificing tone of the rest of the message for him to have written that he had settled the lawsuit for more than what he could have lost at trial, just because he loves America THAT MUCH that he couldn’t bare to be distracted from his transition duties.

Instead, since he can’t stand to suggest that he lost, even for a moment, even in the context of an unimaginably larger victory, he implies that he got off easy, that the real amount of the fraud was much larger than what they got out of him in the settlement.

Are we living in a David Mamet film?

I just had a frightening thought: Has the entire Trump campaign been scripted by conservative neozealot David Mamet? It’s House of Games, with politics and racism.

Before even being sworn in as president, Donald Trump has assured himself a place as probably the greatest con man of all times. And one of the most important skills of the really masterful con man (one learns from Mamet) is to know how to take advantage of people thinking they’ve seen through your con. A double con. There’s no one more gullible than someone who thinks he’s seen through you. (more…)

Tag Cloud