October 8, 2016

Trump Apologizes

Readers no doubt know that The Washington Post released a blockbuster video yesterday that shows GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging about his harassment of and disrespect for women. (See first video below.) When I first saw this disgusting video, I was unsurprised. It has been clear to every decent American that Trump is a lying, male chauvinist pig, in addition to being an insensitive and ignorant son-of-a-bitch. Apparently, however, this latest revelation went too far for Republican Party leaders. The video made it all-too-clear that Donald J. Trump is the General of the Army of the Republican War on Women. That revelation is simply too blatant and too dangerous to paper over. Party leaders are contemplating their next move. Some have suggested that Trump should step aside; some have even suggested that, to protect his own reputation, Pence should step aside.

Trump initially issued one of those familiar non-apology apologies—if anyone was offended, etc. It quickly became apparent that this insincere statement would not do, and that that Trump had offended a large fraction of the electorate. To save his scalp, Trump later issued the following video statement:

In his statement, Trump is clearly and carefully reading from a teleprompter, a skill he is notoriously bad at. Someone suggested that his “apology” seems like a hostage video. His style of delivery does not suggest sincerity or engender confidence.

“Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. (An AP story earlier in the week suggests otherwise.) Trump tries to minimize the significance of the offending video by calling it “more than a decade old.” He continues, “I said it; I was wrong; and I apologize.” Notice that he doesn’t apologize to anyone in particular—not to women in general, not to particular women, and not to the American people. Moreover, he apologizes only for what he said, not for the treatment of women that he admitted to in the initial video.

After 21 seconds of the 91-second video, Trump’s contrition is over. He lapses into a campaign ad, repeating his dystopian view of the country. His travels have changed him, we are told, and he pledges to be a “better man”—not a high standard. “I will never, ever let you down,” a not very compelling promise under the circumstances.

He cannot resist attacking “Hillary Clinton and her kind,” who “have run our country into the ground.” This is typical Trumpian misdirection. (Think of his one-sentence dismissal of his years-long birther campaign, which was preceded by an interminable plug for his new Washington hotel at a recent press conference.) The video controversy is “nothing more than a distraction”—one he desperately wants to go away—from more important issues. Issues like Bill Clinton’s infidelities and Hillary’s having “attacked, shamed, and intimidated his victims.”

I cannot understand why Bill Clinton’s infidelities are blameworthy, but Donald Trump’s are not. In any case, Bill Clinton is not running for president, and his failings, whatever they might be, have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Moreover, Hillary’s verbal barbs directed at her husband’s “victims” are exactly what we would expect for any self-respecting wife who truly loves her husband. They are not evidence, as are Trump’s statements and behavior, of a hostility toward women generally.

In short, Trump’s attempted apology is a disaster. He should have admitted that the video was legitimate, taken responsibility for what he said and for the behavior he described, and pleaded for forgiveness. Any attempt to justify himself or to blame others for “greater” sins (any sins, for that matter) should have been omitted from his statement. The apology should not have morphed into a campaign ad.

What should the GOP do? I think the answer is clear. It should disavow its ticket, cease all political activity in favor of that ticket, and admit that Hillary Clinton will be (and should be) the next President of the United States. The GOP should instruct electors pledged to Trump/Pence to instead vote for Clinton/ Kaine in the Electoral College. Nothing less is honorable.

I am not holding my breath.

September 19, 2016

Truth and the Presidential Debates

Participants on The Diane Rehm Show discussed the upcoming presidential debate today. Longtime journalist Frank Sesno was asked  if it is the job of the moderator to challenge a candidate who has made a statement that is undeniably false. Sesno was emphatic in saying that it is not. Instead, that job should fall to the other candidate, though the moderator may make time available for a rebuttal by that other candidate.

The question was especially relevant after Matt Lauer failed to challenge Donald Trump when he asserted on NBC/MSNBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum that he had always opposed the second Iraq War. It had widely been reported that Trump was for the war before he was against it.

If American presidential debates were real debates, of course, the moderator(s) would primarily be a timekeeper, and the candidates would be responsible for answering one another. Our debates are not real debates, though, and the moderator plays a more active role.

That said, if moderators challenged every falsehood put forward by candidates, they would probably consume more air time than the candidates themselves. Frank Sensno’s position is probably a good rule-of-thumb for normal presidential debates.

Alas, the 2016 debates are not going to be normal, To begin with, very little of what Donal Trump says is true. (See PoliticusUSA story here.) If the moderator were to try to keep the Republican candidate honest, the debate would become a dialogue between Trump and the moderator. Perhaps egregious lies—those undeniably identified as such beforehand—should be pointed out by the moderator. Let me suggest why.

A major feature that makes this presidential campaign abnormal is the fact that both major candidates are widely disliked and distrusted. It doesn’t matter if this state of affairs is justified; it is the way it is. If Trump tells an outright lie—odds are that this will happen one or more times in next week’s debate—having Hillary Clinton point out the untruthfulness is unlikely to be helpful because she herself is seen as untrustworthy. Trump can simply say something like “there you go again being negative” and largely get away with his mendacity.

If, on the other hand, the moderator, who is largely seen as neutral—this is perhaps not the case for regular Fox News viewers, but what are you going to do?—challenges a falsehood, doing so will have more credibility than if the task were left to the other candidate. Moderator intervention is likely to be particularly cogent for undecided voters who view both candidates negatively. I think such intervention is indicated in extreme cases.

Finally, it is important to point out that the Commander-in-Chief Forum was not a debate, even as they have developed in American presidential races. Hillary Clinton was not available to challenge Trump on his oft-repeated lie about his opposition to the Iraq War. Matt Lauer indeed failed to do his job, at least as I see it.

September 8, 2016

On Answering Debate Questions

Last night’s Commander-in-Chief Forum reminded me of my frustration in listening to answers given by candidates to questions asked by journalists. Candidates, of course, want to deflect criticism, attack the opponent, and push their own message, whether or not that message is related directly to the question asked. I doubt that candidates are going to change their behavior during the present campaign. Nevertheless, I want to offer my wish list of how I would like candidates to answer questions:
  1. Answer the question asked, not a variation of it or a related (or unrelated) question.
  2. If the question states or implies an assumption you think wrong, don’t answer the question. Explain why the assumption is wrong. Never try to answer “Have you stopped beating your wife/husband?”
  3. Except as noted above, don’t offer an opinion about the question.
  4. Give succinct answers. “Yes” or “no” is a fine answer to a yes-or-no question. Let the questioner ask for elaboration rather than offering it gratuitously.
  5. Don’t prattle on in hopes of consuming time or avoiding the next question.
  6. Unless it’s classified, tell the truth or refuse to answer the question. That a truthful answer will be embarrassing is not an excuse for not giving it. Think twice about becoming defensive, but a brief exculpatory statement is acceptable.
  7. It’s fair game to contrast yourself or your position to the opponent or the opponent’s position. Such an attack must be relevant to the question, however. Avoid gratuitous claims of competence or (especially) virtue.
  8. Avoid humor unless it is genuinely funny, relevant, and devastating. Usually, this means a line must have been devised in advance.
  9. Don’t start to answer a question in a way that you don’t know where you are going. If necessary, pause and think before beginning to answer.
  10. Respond to the opponent only if absolutely necessary. Lies, but not differences of opinion, need to be countered.

Am I missing any important rules?

August 18, 2016

You Can’t Handle the Truth

I find the NBC coverage of the long jump at the Rio Olympics frustrating. The landing area is clearly marked off in meters, but the announcers report distances in feet and inches. I can estimate the length of a jump in meters by simply watching, but I have to engage in mental gymnastics to make sense of a reported jump of, say, 23 feet, 5½ inches. Reporting 7.15 meters would make more sense and make the results more intelligible.

Does NBC really believe that Americans as so wedded to the English system of measurement that they can’t be trusted with lengths measured in meters, which, after all, are so much easier to compare with one another?
Olympic Rings

August 17, 2016

Another PPDI

Yesterday, I updated my list of base-12 pluperfect digital invariants (PPDIs) on my Web site. An order-9 PPDI had been omitted from the original list:


which is 5,145,662,993 in decimal notation.

I had corrected this omission earlier, but, as any programmer knows, correcting one error often introduces another, and it did so in this case. In the unlikely chance that someone reading this blog post is relying on my list, please be sure that you have examined the revised list for order-9 and order-10 base-12 PPDIs.

I apologize for the error(s).

I am compiling a list of base-13 PPDIs, but this project will take a long time.

August 15, 2016

The Greatest Man in the World

Originality can be an elusive thing. I had been planning to write an essay about the candidacy of Donald Trump and the James Thurber short story “The Greatest Man in the World.” A preliminary Google search, however, uncovered an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times along the lines of what I had planned to write. The Patt Morrison essay, titled “Donald Trump and ‘The Greatest Man in the World’”—imagine that—was published nearly a year ago, on September 16, 2015.

James Thurber
James Grover Thurber
The Thurber story appeared in the February 21, 1931, issue of The New Yorker, nearly four years after Charles Lindbergh’s famous solo flight across the Atlantic. (The story was reprinted in The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze and The Thurber Carnival.) It concerns a boorish loudmouth pilot, Jacky Smurch, who flies around the world nonstop. When Smurch lands, he is whisked away by what we might today call members of the Establishment, who proceed to cajole the loutish pilot into acting the part of a gentleman hero. Finding this project untenable, the secretary to the Mayor of New York City, with the tacit approval of the President of the United States, pushes Smurch out the window, resulting in his untimely death. Smurch is given an elaborate funeral and buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
“Why is this story about Trump?” Morrison asks. “Because for the Republican establishment, Trump is a better-class Jacky Smurch.” Not much better, I would argue. The question posed in the L.A. Times is whether the GOP establishment will figuratively (I assume) throw Trump out the window or whether Trump will do the same to the GOP establishment.

In September of last year, of course, the threat of Trump’s actually becoming the Republican nominee was only theoretical. The need for the party to act is now even more urgent. I don’t expect Reince Priebus literally to defenestrate Donald Trump, but the RNC could withdraw its support in the hope of saving the hides of down-ticket GOP candidates. At this point, however, it is really unclear whether pretending that Trump is a reasonable candidate or admitting that he isn’t will do the party more good.

Morrison suggested that the country may no longer prefer civilized—my word, not hers—candidates. I sincerely hope that this isn’t the case. We cannot afford a Jacky Smurch President of the United States.

August 13, 2016

How Would Jesus Vote?

The 2016 presidential race is certainly unusual. Both major candidates are widely disliked. One is distrusted by many, though the other seems to be a pathological liar, a fact that would seem to discourage trust. One has a strong résumé, but the other has no obviously relevant experience. One fails to excite voters; the other excites voters rather too much.

For good or ill, many Democrats will vote for the Democrat, and many Republicans will vote for the Republican. But more voters than usual seem to be conflicted this year. No doubt, many votes will be cast against one of the candidates rather than for the other. Some people will be tempted to vote for a third-party candidate.

A relatively small number of people will vote for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party candidates out of true sympathy for what those parties stand for. A much larger number will likely vote for a third-party candidate as a “protest.” I can respect the former view, though I am not in sympathy with their political philosophy. The protest voters, on the other hand, need to realize that their candidate will not win and their and similar votes could have an unpredictable (and perhaps disastrous) effect on who, of the serious candidates, will actually win. Delivering a protest vote is simply an abdication of one’s civic responsibility.

I am pleased that a woman is running for president, though I am not completely happy that that woman is Hillary Clinton. Nonetheless, Clinton is certainly qualified and is a compassionate and sane human being. The same cannot be said of her Republican opponent. Voting for Hillary Clinton is, I think, the only responsible action a citizen can take on November 8.

It is distressing that so many people who call themselves Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians, are supporting Donald Trump. To these people I ask, “How would Jesus vote?” Can any Christian honestly answer “Donald Trump,” the man Senator Elizabeth Warren rightly described as caring only about himself, “a small, insecure money-grubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt, so long as he makes some money off it”? Does The Donald exemplify any of the virtues Jesus extols in the Gospels? Clinton, on the other hand, has led a life of public service with a particular emphasis on child welfare. She is not a saint, but she seems to be a sincere Methodist, whereas Donald Trump appears to be a Presbyterian (and, indeed, Christian) in name only. For whom do you think Jesus would vote were he a U.S. citizen today? It wouldn’t be Trump, and it wouldn’t be a third-party candidate. The Kingdom of God would not be advanced by any of those votes.

Because I believe that “How Would Jesus Vote?” is a devastating question, I have had buttons made with that legend. I plan to wear one of the buttons every day from now until November 8. If you would like to buy one or more buttons, send me a message to that effect. I’ll need to order more, and, since this is not a profit-making enterprise, I don’t want to order more than I need to. I invite you to wear one of these buttons proudly (well, perhaps modestly).

“How Would Jesus Vote” buttons

First in Freedom

“First in Flight” license plate
While driving around town today, I found myself behind a car with a North Carolina license plate. For many years, North Carolina plates have carried the legend “First in Flight,” a reference to the Wright brothers flight experiments near Kitty Hawk. (Whether the Wrights were the first inventors to fly a heavier-than-air vehicle is an issue I don’t want to get into.)

“First in Freedom” license plate
The license plate on the North Carolina car I saw did not carry the “First in Flight” logo. Instead, it proclaimed “First in Freedom.” What was less visible while driving in traffic were two dates at the top edge of the plate. The dates were May 20, 1775, and April 20, 1776. The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles explains that these are the dates the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the Halifax Resolves, respectively, were signed.

I have to admit that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the Halifax Resolves were not the first things that popped into my mind when I saw “First in Freedom.” What I thought of was the gerrymandering by the North Carolina General Assembly and the various laws it has passed recently to make it harder for people (especially people would don’t look like the white folks in the North Carolina General Assembly) to vote or to use the most logical public restroom.

North Carolina may have been first in freedom chronologically, but it is at the back of the pack when it comes to actually delivering freedom to its citizens. Apparently, the irony was lost of the state’s legislators. Now, North Carolina should have a “First in Discrimination” license plate. Or a new General Assembly.