Monthly Archives: June 2021

Even though Donald Trump no longer dominates every minute of every media day, we are  all too aware that he still aspires to.  Our corporate/cooperative media loves to play up the “Emperor in Exile” angle, as if Trump were Napoleon and Mar-a-Lago were his Elba.

If I may remind, Napoleon escaped from the island of Elba in March of 1815, then gathered a new army and “reinstated” himself as Emperor of the French.  In June of that year, his army would be crushed at Waterloo, leading to Napoleon’s second and final exile, on the isle of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. Plagued by boredom and loneliness, he died there in 1821, claiming his captors had poisoned him.

Trump is like Napoleon was, not only in his delusions of grandeur but also in terms of his popular appeal.  Consider this “Great Courses” profile of Napoleon, written of him in 2017:

Napoleon would become a great champion of the self-made man. He would become the idol of a great many people, commoners who saw in Napoleon the possibilities of what a man of talent, what a man blessed with ability, with ambition, could do if he were unfettered by the structures of the old regime.

Substitute Trump for Napoleon in that paragraph and ask yourself, was that not exactly how Trump marketed himself to America, boisterously and incessantly, on his way to becoming President and while he was President?

But such comparisons miss the mark in an important way.  Napoleon Bonaparte gained his fame and power by military conquest; Donald Trump did so through demagoguery, drawing strength from the basest instincts of his base.  Whereas Napoleon needed wars, Trump demanded audiences.

Trump found that the best way to draw the largest crowds was to expect nothing of them but instead entertain and pander to them.  These were the messages Trump sent to them:

  • It’s OK to be bigoted — but don’t let anyone call you one.
  • It’s OK to say whatever you want, even if it isn’t accurate or well-reasoned, and even if it offends someone.  In fact, offending people is kind of fun.
  • It’s OK to be selfish, but you’re not selfish if you’re nice to your friends.
  • Everyone else is trying to steal your hard-earned money.
  • And it’s their fault if your life isn’t what you want it to be.

“I’m a narcissist, a racist and a bully, and goddammit, people like me.”

These messages resonated with millions of Americans who, at heart, do not want to bear any moral or societal obligation.  Donald Trump became a kind of Bizarro Stuart Smalley for such “individualists”. He didn’t want them to be better people.  He didn’t expect them to serve any cause except themselves.  In fact, Trump rarely asked anything of his followers except to show loyalty to Trump.  His message of affirmation for them was: follow me and you’ll feel good about feeling angry.

The MAGA mob knew it was OK to storm the Capitol if they did it in Trump’s name. They felt no obligation to the institution, the building, the authorities protecting it, or the lawmakers inside.  Their savagery had no good or great purpose, but Trump would step forward to validate the angry marauders, using words that the “real” Stuart Smalley might say: “We love you, you’re very special.

Trump was and is popular — he received 74 million votes! — because he asks nothing from people who want nothing to be demanded of them, most of all the need for them to be any better people than they are.  That is the real source of Trump’s power.  Trump may one day fade away — the permanence of his exile is still in doubt — but his “affirmations” to his self-regarding followers, his letting Americans off the hook from giving a damn about their fellow man, will, like Napoleon’s legacy, long and notoriously outlive him.

It may take a generation to restore what society has lost.  I doubt that I will see those tens of millions of Trump’s followers re-enlist in the cause of mankind in my lifetime.

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Karsten's Driveway Signature

Or, how to turn 20 sticks of chalk into 43 pieces in less than 10 minutes.

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You  probably never expected to see an article here with a title like this.  Sure, it is a little provocative… like attending a meteorology class taught by “Stormy” Daniels.  But anyway, it’s hurricane season again, and time for a timely rant.

So what’s the bee in my bonnet now?  It is how our National Hurricane Center (NHC) chooses to depict the forecasted paths of tropical storms, and by this I mean their stupid hurricane cone (click to zoom).  Before we go on, please take a look at the top of the figure and read the disclaimer that the NHC feels obliged to attach to their diagrams:

Note: The cone contains the probable path of the storm center but does not show the size of the storm.  Hazardous conditions can occur outside of the cone.

It’s a bad sign when the NHC (or any other arm of the government) has to warn you not to believe what you see.  Because, disclaimer or no, even the most savvy of us cannot help but view that white cone-shaped area as depicting how the storm will spread as it progresses.  After all, our experience is that storms do dissipate as they move overland.  But the NHC tech-nerds have sowed this confusion themselves, by trying to present statistical data on a geographic background using ambiguous design elements.

Here is what the NHC intends to present: (1) the expected path and arrival times of the center of the storm; and (2) the range of possible paths and arrival times of the center of the storm.  The NHC does not intend to depict the breadth of the storm — but that’s the unintended effect of its failure to properly use the elements of point, line and area.

In the NHC diagrams, black dots mark the most likely day-to-day path of a storm’s center; whereas the white cone is meant to encompass other possible paths and timelines.  I find that the semicircular end of the cone, and the fact that the area inside the cone is white on a gray background, is largely responsible for the diagram’s ambiguity.  NHC may want you to interpret the head of the cone as showing the uncertainty in the storm’s arrival time, but your eyes and mine see it as the geographic extent of the storm front, being that hurricanes are, by their nature, circular.

This, plainly stated, is a meteorological graphics fail.

As one who doesn’t need much coaxing to put my mouth where my mind is, I here offer my ideas — to anyone listening at the NHC — on how to depict the time/space predictions and uncertainties of hurricane path forecasts, with far fewer ambiguities.  Please refer to my easy-to-read diagram, below:

The first thing to note in my diagram is that color is permitted.  The NHC seems to live in a black-and-white world — they use color to show coastal storm-surge levels and that’s it.  In my diagram, the expected path of a storm having hurricane-force winds (75+ mph) is shown in RED.  The color changes to ORANGE when the winds fall to tropical-storm force (39-74 mph) and then BLACK for lower-strength winds.  This use of color provides an immediate idea how the storm is expected to weaken, something the NHC diagram lacks.

The expected arrival of the storm center is shown by solid black dots and day/time labels, just as the NHC uses.  But my diagram differs in how arrival time uncertainty is depicted; instead of cones and circles, I display “time bars” along the expected storm track to mark the 90% probability window.

Finally, to show geographic uncertainty in the predicted storm path, my diagram replaces the white cone with dashed lines.  Each of the dashed lines is clearly labeled 5% to indicate the chance that the storm center could track past that line.  I also place a solid gray dot on each dashed line to reinforce the notion that the dashed lines are alternate possible paths for the storm’s center, rather than representing the outer reaches of the storm.

So I say, NHC, save the disclaimers for Big Pharma TV ads and the cones for Dairy Queen.  If you want to more clearly communicate big-wind warnings, you need to take off your 60s nerd specs and put on your Elton Johns.

[Editor’s Note: Readers who just can’t get enough of articles that call out bad design may enjoy this one, Bad Signs, published here last year.]

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