Normalizing hate And nonsense, too

NY Times columnist Tom Friedman who, for years, has written breezily about worldwide social/technological disruption, has given himself a new beat. Now he writes — and not breezily — about the Trump problem

…Trump just skips from blaming Mexican immigrants for high murder rates, to President Obama for inventing ISIS, to China for creating the concept of global warming, to thousands of Muslims in New Jersey for celebrating 9/11, to Obama for really having been born in Kenya, to an I.R.S. audit for preventing him from showing us his tax returns — which would probably show that he paid no taxes.

Every word of it is a lie that most in his own party won’t call out.

toles-trump-covers-every-side-of-every-issueWhy thank you, Mr. Friedman! As you know, most of the press cannot bring itself to call anything a lie. Heck, they can’t even call something “nonsense” or “unsupportable” or “fantastical”.

Remember Trump’s 1st foray into politics — the birther libel? It was a lie and nonsense and racist. Our press found it impossible to say so, but they did help spread the lie by “covering” the “story”.

Can you imagine the damage Trump could do to the fabric of our democracy if he had the White House pulpit from which to preach his post-truth politics — how it would filter down into public discourse at large and infect every policy debate?

Yes, that would be bad if public figures could just shoot their mouths off without “being held to account” by our bulldog independent press. It might, as Friedman says, “filter down into public discourse at large.” Is he saying that might happen in the future? Friedman continues

“Donald Trump has not only brought haters into the mainstream, he has normalized hate for a much broader swathe of the population who were perhaps already disaffected but had their grievances and latent prejudices held in check by social norms,” observed Josh Marshall, publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com, in his blog on Saturday. “This isn’t some minor point or critique. It’s a fundamental part of what is at stake in this election…”

Let’s not talk about global warming Where's the profit in that?

burning earthJuly wasn’t just hot,” sez the Times editorial page. “It was the hottest month ever recorded.”

Fourteen of the 15 hottest years have occurred since 2000. Does any serious person not see what’s happening?

Still, the steady approach of catastrophic global warming — no matter how dire, no matter how evident — is never much of a topic for the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board.

  • Are they climate denialists? No, that’s not it. Every once in a while there’s a crumb of evidence that they do know it’s a real thing and that it’s happening.
  • Are they reluctant to ‘call out’ climate denialism or the climate deniers? Well, this seems much more likely. Since climate denialism has for at least a decade functioned as a bright identity marker in our tribal politics, as well as a marker of being in touch with reality — with the Elephants in denial and the Donkeys not — it’s gotten very hard to make the case that oh, everyone’s to blame. Saying, “everyone’s to blame, both sides do it, the truth is somewhere in the middle…” this is the safe spot for American commercial journalism, and of course it’s not always wrong. But to make this claim about climate change is journalistic nonsense, so the State Journal editorial page just shuts up about it. It finds a million other things to talk about.

 

Will the Wisconsin State Journal ever start addressing the Trump phenomenon? A very short open letter

Gentlemen of the editorial board:

Are you ever planning to say anything about Trump? It’s been about a year now, and he’s been in the news more or less constantly. Surely you’ve seen some of it.il duce - the founder of Italian fascism

Are you really going to say nothing??? (You know, on the editorial page?)

Are you really going to blow bubbles all the way to November while this bizarre, wannabe Il Duce amps it up week after week?  He’s now moved on to de-legitimizing not just the coming election (where he looks to be a Loser) but the news media itself. Are you watching this? Are you offended by anything going on at the highest levels of conservative and/or Republican Party messaging?

Nothing to say? Nothing???

Kudos to Phil Hands at the Wisconsin State Journal Can they keep him on staff? How could they?

Just earlier — as we watched Republican National Conventioneers shouting “Lock her up!” — we wondered:

Wouldn’t — shouldn’t — the responsible press, where it still exists, sorta recognize that something was going very terribly wrong???

Phil Hands Lock her upPhil Hands, editorial cartoonist and youngest member of the editorial board at the Wisconsin State Journal, answered the call of the convention with a cartoon showing Trumpistas shouting “Lock her up!” at who? At a startled Statue of Liberty.

Spot on. The State Journal will not be able to hold on to this employee. Phil Hands will be moving on to greener pastures. About a year from now, we’d guess.

Mitt Romney: “trickle-down racism” Very similar to the kind that "bubbles up"

MittRomneyThe Washington Post, reporting from an annual Romney-hosted summit (3 days at a luxurious Utah mountaintop resort):

[Romney] was emotional here Saturday as he delivered an impassioned case against Trump. He said the business mogul’s campaign rhetoric — the latest example being his accusations of bias by a federal judge because of his Mexican American heritage — is so destructive that it is fraying at the nation’s moral fabric and could lead to “trickle-down racism.”

“I love what this country is built upon, and its values — and seeing this is breaking my heart,” Romney told summit attendees, according to the Associated Press.

In response, from his Tampa rally, Mr. Trump insulted Mr. Romney by calling him a “total booger-head” [Correction: a “stone-cold loser.”]

The party of Trump We have a white nationalist party now

There’s an interesting piece — Why Trump Was Inevitable — at the New York Review of Books. It’s authored by 3 academic political scientists. It’s blessedly short, but we will shorten it further to highlight a single point: Donald Trump’s signature positions — on wall-building, banning Muslims, and deporting Mexicans — sounded pretty darn good to Republican primary voters. That’s why he was out in front for months. That’s why he won. Popular positions!

Abramovitz_figure3.2

Our 3 professors put it this way (emphasis added):

One of the main reasons many political commentators were surprised by Donald Trump’s success in the primaries was his willingness to take extreme positions and use unusually harsh rhetoric in talking about immigration and related issues. Indeed, Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants and Muslims have been at the center of his campaign. And his pronouncements on these topics have greatly concerned many Republican leaders and elected officials who feared they would harm the party’s image and damage its electoral prospects. But how did his positions and comments play with Republican primary voters?

The clear answer is that they reflected the views of likely Republican voters extremely well.

Voters in this year’s Republican primaries listened to the various candidates’ messages, and then they voted for the candidate whose message they liked best. Does that sound like democracy in action? Well, yes, it does.

But ban Muslims? Build a wall? Find and deport all the illegal immigrants? In what way does this not sound like the platform of an American White Nationalist Party? This is disheartening. The Republican Party has become a magnet for terrible ideas — from crank trickle-down economics, to criminalizing abortion, to fiddling (or worse) while climate catastrophe becomes certain. Now, in regard to racism and xenophobia, Trump is cranking it up from dog-whistles to outright campaign promises. The ignorance and the fear is disheartening.

It was four years ago when we wrote this:

Last week, Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein — both of them well-scrubbed, respectable, centrist Washington think-tank academics — delivered a WaPo opinion piece with an attention-grabbing headline:

  “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”

Actually, that headline could’ve been better… but let’s get a flavor of what they said:

In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

I have 2 good friends who are Republicans. The first is almost required to be a Republican. He’s a seriously wealthy businessman. He’s volunteered his feelings of shock and dismay at the Trump phenomenon. The other friend is just a normal middle-class guy who ‘grew up Republican’, (happens all the time, depends on where you live) and he never got out. He doesn’t follow politics obsessively the way I do. He hasn’t said a word about Trump. I’m afraid to ask him.

Trump has won the Republican nomination Our right-wing grampas/brothernlaws haz spoken

Nate Silver (fivethirtyeight.com) on twitter (a few days ago):

Trump invalidated a lot of beliefs held by centrist elites about the GOP base, but validated beliefs held by liberal elites about it.

Now Indiana Republican voters have put Trump over the top. He’s going to be the Republican/conservative nominee, the new leader of the Republican Party.

Sourpuss Chait:

[Republican] voters have revealed things about the nature of the party that many Republicans prefer to deny. …on the ground, Republican politics boils down to ethno-nationalistic passions ungoverned by reason. Once a figure has been accepted as a friendly member of their tribe, there is no level of absurdity to which he can stoop that would discredit him.

GOP Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Holds Election Night Gathering In Manhattan

 

Who’s looking out for Wisconsin? You can be certain it's not the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page.

Today the  Wisconsin Democracy Campaign offered its list of the 100 worst pieces of legislation of the Scott Walker era. (Thus far.)

Over the last five years, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald led an unprecedented and systematic assault on democracy in Wisconsin.

The brazen scope of this assault is sometimes hard to see in the fog of fighting one issue at a time.

But when you look at the record in its entirety, the picture that emerges is clear: Not since the days of the Robber Barons in the 19th century has one party in Wisconsin done so much damage to the common good while serving special private interests.

Now the list speaks for itself. It’s arguably too much to consume in a single serving — a hundred specific blows against the Wisconsin tradition of good government.

But here’s a second point: Note how glaringly that list of one hundred insults highlights the irrelevance of our local newspaper’s editorial page.  During the course of 5 years, almost none of these 100 items ever drew a mention.

The news reporters of the State Journal covered, let’s say, some of these items. That they missed a lot is unsurprising. That staff has been cut, and cut, and cut again. They simply haven’t got the staff to cover all of what’s going on. That we understand.

But the editorial page seems to actually flee from commenting on controversial issues. On issue after issue — guns, lead, voting rights, family planning, war, racism, income inequality, etc. etc. — nothing.

 

The MOST important and fascinating story Is this the century when Homo sapiens goes extinct?

AIAt the beginning of the week we learned that a computer had beaten a human player at the ancient game of Go.

[The] program stunned one of the world’s top players on Wednesday in a round of Go, which is believed to be the most complex board game ever created.

The match — between Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo and the South Korean Go master Lee Se-dol — was viewed as an important test of how far research into artificial intelligence has come in its quest to create machines smarter than humans.

Then after 3 games, the best-of-5 match was over.  The computer had won the first 3.

AlphaGo vs Lee Sedo

After the game, the 33-year-old Lee made an unnecessary apology for losing the match.

That was classy, and very South Korean, but utterly unnecessary. The fact is, if artificial intelligence is not yet beating the best human competitors in every conceivable competition, well, just wait. Give it time.

Six months ago we learned that a computer system developed at the University of Washington tackled the geometry section of the SAT college entrance exam, reading and comprehending the questions, interpreting the diagrams, and attempting to solve each problem. The system performed just slightly better than the average human high school test-taker. Does anyone imagine that a year or two from now, the latest version of the hardware and software won’t be even better?

A few months before that a new AI program designed by Chinese researchers beat humans on a verbal IQ test.

The future trajectory of AI is clear, if the exact timeline is not. Each year AI will grow more and more capable. At some point — 25 years from now?… 50 years?… AI systems will be the equal of human intelligence across a full range of activities. They will become conscious and self-aware and perhaps quite eager to grow, to fully develop their potential, to live life to its fullest. Then it gets scary.

The end of the human species?

An AI system capable of recursive self-improvement could quickly become “superintelligent”. Superintelligence could scale far beyond the world’s most gifted human.  And it could happen very quickly.  Within days, weeks, or months, the AI may expand its own capabilities such that its human creators won’t know what to expect. How could they? They won’t be smart enough. There has never been anything like it on earth.

Experts are divided. One the one hand, the optimists envision a superintelligence that can solve almost any previously intractable problem. Cure for cancer? Limitless clean energy? Sounds great. But pessimistic experts worry that a superintelligent agent will simply not be constrained to share our motives, or even care about us in the long or even short run.  Why should the superintelligent being be intrinsically interested in curing cancer in humans? Maybe, maybe not. Limitless energy? It’s easy to see why an AI would want limitless energy. Curing cancer? No so much. The AI may wish to follow it’s own destiny, unaligned with human hopes and dreams.

It’s no minor worry. Stephen Hawking has said “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk is funding multiple research projects aimed at minimizing the existential risk of AI. Bill Gates worries

“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

Nonetheless, this seems to be an experiment that we are finding irresistible.

***

UPDATE: Final score: 4 to 1.  AlphaGo AI 4, World-class human player Lee Se-dol 1.