Political theater: Summoning an ambassador

When one government does something that displeases another, the latter government usually publicly signals its displeasure by announcing that it had ‘summoned for consultation the ambassador’ of the former country. This is a staple of reporting of international relations and gives the impression that the ambassador is given a stern talking to and is sent away with their tail between their legs.

But this article says that the whole thing is political theater.

In August 2015, three journalists from the al-Jazeera network were sentenced to jail in Egypt for “spreading false news”. Outside court, [UK ambassador John] Casson spoke on Egyptian television in Arabic to condemn the sentence.

Soon after, Egypt’s foreign ministry said it had summoned him to attend its offices. In doing so, it used one of the few diplomatic tools a host country has when it wants to make its anger felt to another country.

“I was called by the foreign ministry and was told ‘We need to see you immediately,'” Mr Casson tells the BBC. “The first thing they said was, ‘We are not summoning you, but we are going to tell the press we are summoning you. If it had been a summoning, we would have sent a formal diplomatic note summoning you.'”

This is the way things normally work in a summoning – a formal, polite, diplomatic note is sent to the relevant country’s embassy asking – but not really demanding – its representative to attend a meeting at the foreign ministry, or its equivalent. The medium of the summoning is the message, Mr Casson says.

“The main thing is that it is a piece of diplomatic theatre and everybody understands their role, and acts their role,” Mr Casson, who was in Cairo between 2014 and 2018, says. In London, the drama can involve being made to wait in the grand surroundings of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to understand the seriousness of the occasion.

Strange are the ways of diplomacy.

No-deal Brexit will not be simple

As the UK prime minister Boris Johnson pushes for a no-deal Brexit will lying about making progress at arriving at a deal with the EU, he has one thing going for him. Given how hellishly complicated the Brexit negotiations have been, the public may have the belief that the no-deal option is at least simple. You just walk away and wash your hands of the whole business.

But that is not true. No-deal does not mean no complications after the split.

Johnson’s latest rhetorical fancy – that, like the Incredible Hulk, the UK would break out of its “manacles” on 31 October – has further fuelled EU scepticism about his sincerity.

Describing the language as “not very surprising”, the EU source said: “It all makes it look like it’s a bit of a joke. We are talking about something extremely serious. The consequences of no deal will be extremely serious and it looks like this is being treated as a game in which you are the hero sort of story rather than [dealing] with real lives.”

Juncker said a no-deal Brexit would be a mess and take years to resolve. Speaking to Deutschlandfunk, he said patriots in the UK “would not wish your country such a fate”.

In fact, the government official who was closely involved with Brexit planning says things are going to take a long time to sort out.
[Read more…]

How to con scientists and skeptics

When I was in graduate school, magician James Randi gave a performance for the university and then he gave another performance to just the physics department and I attended both. They were both fun to watch, especially the second since I was able to see him in action up close. At the end of his physics department show and after he had pulled off a lot of tricks to the amazement of the audience, he said that scientists were the easiest people to fool because they thought they were so smart that they easily fell prey to the most basic of misdirection techniques. There was some embarrassed laughter from the audience of physicists.
[Read more…]

Hasan Minhaj speaks to Congress about college debt

In testifying before Congress. he comedian who is the host of the informative show Patriot Act clearly had done his homework to show why college debt is a much bigger issue now than when members of Congress and the parents of the current generation went to college.

While testifying before the House Financial Services Committee, comedian Hasan Minhaj called out members of Congress for the student loan crisis by comparing current tuition costs to what they originally paid for the same school, which showed a 110 percent increase in overall tuition costs.

Introducing ‘the Blob’

In an article by Kerry Howley that looks into Tulsi Gabbard’s background, I came across this passage.

The most obvious obstacle between any noninterventionist candidate and mainstream success is D.C.’s foreign-policy Establishment — the think-tankers and politicians and media personalities and intelligence professionals and defense-company contractors and, very often, intelligence professionals turned defense-company contractors who determine the bounds of acceptable thinking on war and peace. In parts of D.C., this Establishment is called “the Blob,” and to stray beyond its edges is to risk being deemed “unserious,” which as a woman candidate one must be very careful not to be. The Blob may in 2019 acknowledge that past American wars of regime change for which it enthusiastically advocated have been disastrous, but it somehow maintains faith in the tantalizing possibilities presented by new ones. The Blob loves to “stand for” things, especially “leadership” and “democracy.” The Blob loves to assign moral blame, loves signaling virtue while failing to follow up on civilian deaths, and definitely needs you to be clear on “who the enemy is” — a kind of obsessive deontological approach in which naming things is more important than cataloguing the effects of any particular policy.

That is a devastatingly accurate characterization of the US foreign policy establishment. I had not heard this term ‘the blob’ used to describe them before but will use it in future because it covers all that I have said in the past about what is wrong about the foreign policy establishment, and is consistent with what what Leslie Gelb said.

The MIT-Epstein scandal gets even worse

The scandal over the effort by MIT to keep secret that they were getting money from Jeffrey Epstein even after his conviction and being branded a sexual predator keeps getting worse. It has already seen the resignation of Joi Ito who was the head of the much-acclaimed Media Lab and now an internal investigation reveals that the president of MIT also knew of the donations and the scheme to keep it on the down-low.

The president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is admitting that not only did the school hide donations from Jeffrey Epstein—he wrote the accused sex trafficker a thank-you letter.

“It is now clear that senior members of the administration were aware of gifts the Media Lab received between 2013 and 2017 from Jeffrey Epstein’s foundations,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

“Because the members of my team involved believed it was important that Epstein not use gifts to MIT for publicity or to enhance his own reputation, they asked [MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito] to agree to make clear to Epstein that he could not put his name on them publicly.”

Reif said he also was present at a meeting of his senior team where attendees discussed Epstein’s crimes and donations.

The Epstein and Sackler cases had better put college administrators everywhere on notice that they had damn well better make sure that their donors have clean hands. Of course, since many of these wealthy mega-donors do not have clean hands, the money they get will go down. But the rot of nefarious actors whitewashing their actions by giving ‘charitable’ donations has to stop.

What took you so long, Gregory?

Donald Trump’s special black friend has left the Republican party because of Trump’s and the party’s racism. In response to this news Trump does his usual routine, first saying that he has never heard of the guy and then when immediately confronted with the facts, blathers on about how popular he is with black voters.

Gregory Cheadle, the black man President Donald Trump once described at a rally as “my African American,” is fed up.

Cheadle became widely known in June 2016 when Trump, then a presidential candidate, pointed to him at a rally in Redding, Calif. and said, “Look at my African American over here. Look at him. Are you the greatest?”

Now, the 62-year-old real estate broker, who supported the Republican approach to the economy, said he sees the party as pursuing a “pro-white” agenda and using black people like him as “political pawns.”

“President Trump is a rich guy who is mired in white privilege to the extreme,” said Cheadle, of Redding, Calif., who switched from being an independent to a Republican in 2001. “Republicans are too sheepish to call him out on anything and they are afraid of losing their positions and losing any power themselves.”

Thursday afternoon, when asked by NewsHour on the White House lawn about Cheadle leaving the Republican party, President Trump said he believed he has a lot of support from African American voters.

“We have tremendous African American support,” Trump told NewsHour. “I would say I’m at my all-time high. I don’t think I’ve ever had the support that I’ve had now. I think I’m going to do very well with African Americans. African American support has been the best we’ve had,” Trump claimed in the exchange.

When pressed about whether he thought Cheadle was wrong to say Trump was pursuing a “pro-white” agenda, Trump said he didn’t know who Cheadle was. After NewsHour recalled the 2016 moment to Trump, the president continued to tout his popularity among African American voters.

You have to give Trump credit for his consistency when it comes to brazen lying. It has truly reached sociopathic levels. But you have to wonder why it took Cheadle so long to see what was staring him the face. Just being called ‘my African American’ should have told him that he was being treated with deep condescension, as a token to be used.

Here is the clip where Trump praises Cheadle

Brief impressions of the Democratic debate

I watched most of the nearly three hours of the debate involving the ten remaining Democratic primary candidates who qualified for the third round. In watching and listening to them, one is struck by how far superior everyone of them is to Donald Trump merely in terms of the coherence of their thoughts and words. Trump’s policies of course are utterly execrable.

All of them were supporters of increasing healthcare coverage for everyone in some form of single-payer such as Medicare for All, differing only in details. All of them lambasted Trump for being a white supremacist and that we need to address systemic racism in the US.
[Read more…]

Ohio State University loses trademark claim for the word ‘The’

Remember that strange claim by Ohio State University, excuse me, The Ohio State University, to trademark the word ‘The’ that I posted about a month ago?

Well, word is out today that their claim was denied.

Ohio State University has lost its fight to trademark the word “The.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office turned down the university’s request to trademark “The” when used as part of the school’s name on university merchandise.

OSU submitted the trademark application last month.

The patent office cited the trademark appears to be used for “merely decorative manner” and as an “ornamental feature” that doesn’t appear to function as a trademark that would differentiate the items from others.

Phew! That was a close shave for all lovers of the word ‘the’ who were worried that they might have to pay OSU royalties for using it.