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JSON Feed

I updated this blog to support JSON Feed, by Manton Reece and Brent Simmons.

You can find the new feed here.

If I had done this from scratch, it probably would have taken about an hour, including a quick test and deployment. Since I’m using Jekyll, I found a good example from Hafnia Times on github and shamelessly copied and customized it.

I created feedjson.html in the _layouts folder:

---
layout: none
---

{
    "version": "https://jsonfeed.org/version/1",
    "title": {{ site.name | smartify | jsonify }},
    {% if site.description %}"description": {{ site.description | smartify | jsonify }},{% endif %}
    "home_page_url": "{{ site.url }}/",
    "feed_url": "{{ site.url }}{{ site.feed_json }}",
    "expired": false,
    "items": [
{% for post in site.posts %}
        {
            "id": "{{ post.id }}",
            "title": {{ post.title | smartify | jsonify }},
            "content_html": {{ post.content | jsonify }},
            "url": "{{ site.url }}{{ post.url }}",
        {% if post.excerpt %}
            "summary": {{ post.excerpt | smartify | jsonify }},
        {% else %}
            "summary": {{ t.frontpage[page_language].description | smartify | jsonify }},
        {% endif %}
            "date_published": "{{ post.date }}"
        }{% unless forloop.last == true %},{% endunless %}
{% endfor %}
    ]
}

Then I created a feeds folder and put this feed.json file there:

---
layout: feedjson
---  

The whole thing took about ten minutes.

I like JSON Feed for the reasons outlined here. It’s easier to create and consume than an XML feed like RSS or Atom. This is especially true if you’re embedding HTML within the feed. Doing this in XML is pain. In fact, XML in general is a pain. JSON Feed is a long-overdue evolution of blog feeds.

Where does this go from here? Don’t know yet.

Update: In addition to the Hafnia Times project mentioned above, here are some other implementations of JSON Feed for Jekyll (I have only looked at these briefly):

Draining the Swamp... Or Not (@EricLiptonNYT, @benprotess, @lehrennyt)

Update: 31-May-2017 From the New York Times, “White House Details Ethics Waivers for Ex-Lobbyists and Corporate Lawyers”

The details on these so-called ethics waivers — more than five times the number granted in the first four months of the Obama administration — were made public after an intense dispute between the White House and the Office of Government Ethics, which had been pushing the Trump administration to stop granting such waivers in secret.

From Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew W. Lehren at The New York Times, “With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and ‘No Transparency’”:

President Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.

In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.

And:

The White House also announced on Friday that it would keep its visitors’ logs secret…

And:

Mr. Trump’s own ethics executive order in late January eliminated a requirement, first adopted by President Barack Obama, that executive branch appointees not accept jobs in agencies they recently lobbied. That weakened standards applying to approximately 4,000 executive branch hires.

Mr. Trump also made it easier for former lobbyists in the government to get waivers that would let them take up matters that could benefit former clients.

And:

[I]n several cases, officials in the Trump administration now hold the exact jobs they targeted as lobbyists or lawyers in the past two years.

The article goes on and on, loaded with specific examples. It’s all pretty startling.

Say what you want about the Obama administration, but regarding ethics, it should be a model for subsequent presidents. Trump is taking a different approach: actively encouraging corruption.

UK Seeks Access to Encrypted Messages (@AndrewSparrow)

Andrew Sparrow at The Guardian:

Amber Rudd has called for the police and intelligence agencies to be given access to WhatsApp and other encrypted messaging services to thwart future terror attacks, prompting opposition politicians and civil liberties groups to say her demand was unrealistic and disproportionate.

“It is completely unacceptable. There should be no place for terrorists to hide. We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.”

It is interesting to read some of the well-reasoned pushback from UK politicians, such as this:

“These terrorists want to destroy our freedoms and undermine our democratic society,” [Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman and a former deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan police] said. “By implementing draconian laws that limit our civil liberties, we would be playing into their hands.”

Replace the word terrorists with everyone in Rudd’s statement above, and you get the whole picture. And the big problem, which I’ve mentioned quite a bit, including here, here, here, here, etc. Nothing has changed.

The GOP Wants Healthcare to Crash and Burn (@mattfleg, @thomaskaplan)

Matt Flegenheimer and Thomas Kaplan, in the New York Times:

Mr. Ryan was quick to adopt Mr. Trump’s favored rationale during the health fight, arguing that Republicans had been doing Democrats a grand favor by dismantling President Barack Obama’s health law in the first place and that Democrats would eventually suffer the consequences.

“I’m sure they may be pleased right now,” Mr. Ryan said, but when they see “how bad” things get, “I don’t think they’re going to like that, either.”

So, we who rely on the Affordable Care Act to get fair-to-mediocre health insurance are among the most vulnerable pawns in this political sniping and battle of wills. Trump and Ryan are not going to lift a finger to help shore up the problems with the ACA, and if more insurers leave the marketplace and things get worse, they are going to sit back and laugh in order to score political points with their base rather than try to actually fix the problems with the ACA. Then, maybe they will offer us a replacement plan, one that is truly awful, like the one they just tried to pass. Great.

To Mr. Ryan and Mr. Trump, and all the conservatives who think this is OK, I have one thing to say. In 2018 and 2020, you will be judged.

And I guess I actually have one more thing to say, to members of the GOP if they are content to let the public suffer the effects of their stubborn healthcare politics…

Go fuck yourselves.

Kakistocracy

We are living with a kakistocracy in the U.S. right now:

A kakistocracy is a state or country run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. The word was coined by English author Thomas Love Peacock in 1829.

Despite what some liberal pundits have written (such as Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker and Stephen Wolf in The Daily Kos), while its roots are Greek (kakistos, meaning ‘worst’), kakistocracy itself is not a Greek term. I suppose describing it as such would lend it more gravitas, but that’s unnecessary.

The important point: it is the appropriate word.

The Next Blue-Collar Job Is Coding (@Pomeranian99)

From Clive Thompson at Wired, “The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding,” on how programming as a profession is more approachable than many realize:

Now, to be sure, society does need some superstars! Serious innovators, at companies and in academia, are the ones who create new fields like machine learning. But that doesn’t preclude a new mainstream vision of what most programming work actually is. For decades, pop culture (and, frankly, writers like me) have overpromoted the “lone genius” coder. We’ve cooed over the billionaire programmers of The Social Network and the Anonymized, emo, leather-clad hackers of Mr. Robot. But the real heroes are people who go to work every day and turn out good stuff—whether it’s cars, coal, or code.

I’ve been saying this for a long time. Most programming is a lot of common problem solving, attention to detail, tenacity, and a fair bit of drudgery. In other words, it’s like most jobs.

People have this notion that programmers have to be superhuman geniuses, and I think the industry has happily promoted this myth. For example, if you’re a programmer, you’ve no doubt seen technology recruiters seeking “rock star developers.” It’s ridiculous. This widespread perception is probably a big part of why people shy away from considering coding as a profession. A lot more people could do this for a living if they realized what it actually requires. Organizations mentioned in the article, like Dev Boot Camp, Bit Source, and CodeTN, are helping to destroy these stereotypes.

And there is a real future for this kind of work:

The national average salary for IT jobs is about $81,000 (more than double the national average for all jobs), and the field is set to expand by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than most other occupations.

Our economy has been shifting away from traditional blue-collar jobs in industries like coal, steel, and manufacturing for decades. Those types of jobs are also being wiped out by automation, and that trend is not going to stop. It would make more sense for our government to help workers transition into sectors that actually have a future, like programming, rather than making empty promises of bringing back jobs that are likely lost forever.

Trump, Truth, Trouble

Trump’s strategy is all about defining who the enemies are: critics, globalists, ISIS (of course), and the media and its version of reality.

There have to be well-defined enemies. Causes require this. Without clear enemies, there is no cause. Populism requires this. Supporters of a populist figure need to be impassioned. Bad press, believed, dents that enthusiasm.

Trump’s media war is part of his strategy to control perception and maintain a lock on political support. In his view, one authoritative and very popular figure must be in charge of the truth. That figure, of course, is him.

That the press is very prominently the first target is a telling sign of the tactics Trump will employ throughout his term. The media will not be trusted, and he alone will be the trustworthy source of information. He alone will define reality. Some are already leaping to curry favor:

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas: Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.

Millions on the Mall for his inauguration? Millions of illegal votes against him in the election? The intelligence community says torture works? He’s won many environmental awards? And on and on… all these things are easily debunked, and have been. It does not matter. His narcissistic approach requires him to control everything that is reported, everything the public thinks they know to be true. Any fact that does not fit his narrative will be thoroughly, consistently, and ruthlessly questioned by his team. By God, he will tell us what to think, not the media!

The Trump administration is creating a baseline expectation among its loyalists that they can’t trust anything said by the media. The spat over crowd size is a low-stakes, semi-comic dispute, but the groundwork is being laid for much more consequential debates over what is, and isn’t, true.

Delegitimizing the institutions that might report inconvenient or damaging facts about the president is strategic for an administration that has made a slew of impossible promises and takes office amid a cloud of ethics concerns and potential scandals.

It also gives the new administration a convenient scapegoat for their continued struggles with public opinion, and their potential future struggles with reality… It’s not difficult to imagine the Trump administration disputing bad jobs numbers in the future, or claiming their Obamacare replacement covers everyone when it actually throws millions off insurance.

The public will give him attention. His supporters will loyally cheer. Those who do not succumb will still serve his purpose – to further galvanize those who do (and add the GOP and many Republicans in Congress to Trump’s list of enemies… it’s coming).

Leaders always employ this strategy to some degree. Spin is not an on/off switch. It’s a continuum. CEOs do it. Generals do it. Oligarchs do it. Presidents do it. Dictators do it. Fascists do it – too strong a term? Have a long think about that before you set your opinion.

At which end of this spectrum will we land? That is up to us, the people. We the people determine all of this, not Trump. Will we succumb and make him the broker of information? What will we decide for our society? For our civilization?

For the world?

Debunking Bullshit: Trump's 2017 Inauguration Crowd Size Claims

Technology can be a great thing, unless you are trying to hide something.

The Trump administration has claimed, with absurd certainty and in conflict with widespread reports to the contrary, that the 2017 Presidential Inauguration was, as White House press secretary Sean Spicer angrily put it, “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” Thankfully, none of us needs to be misled, willingly or otherwise. Some pretty simple technology allows everyone to get a sense of how many people attended the inauguration. If you have the curiosity and small amount of drive to chase down the facts, you certainly can do that for yourself and see how the Trump administration is wrong (I’ll speculate why this issue seems so important to them at the end of this post).

Let’s start with the Washington Metro system ridership numbers, which come from mechanical turnstiles with electronic counters. The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) put out the data from the Metro system (DC’s subway) for the last four inaugurations as of 11:00 am on each of those days:

  • 2017 (Trump): 193,000 trips
  • 2013 (Obama): 317,000 trips
  • 2009 (Obama): 513,000 trips
  • 2005 (Bush): 197,000 trips

On Saturday, Spicer made the case to reporters from a quickly arranged briefing, took no questions, and then walked out. I watched it on TV. It was bizarre. Among the specifics Spicer cited was the following false claim, (possibly) comparing the 2017 daily ridership number with the 2013 11:00 am number:

We know that 420,000 people used D.C. Metro public transit yesterday, which compares to 317,000 that used it for President Obama’s last inaugural…

Spicer either got mixed up, or he was deliberately misleading us. The 11:00 am number of 193,000 trips for this inauguration was 60% of the similar 2013 inauguration figure, and only 37% of the 2009 figure. That’s one indication of the crowd size.

In addition to the real Metro ridership figures, there are photos and videos posted, from the many cameras in people’s pockets and in locations around the city. Look at the photos from Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 and this year’s:

The analysis by Keith Still, a professor at Manchester Metropolitan University in England, estimates that the crowd on the National Mall on Friday was about one-third the size of Mr. Obama’s. Professor Still was a crowd safety consultant for the 2011 royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and has advised the Saudi government on crowds for the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

PBS has a great time-lapse video of the inauguration crowd on the Mall, starting at sunrise, which shows the Mall was not at capacity at any time before or during the ceremony.

Katy Tur from NBC posted a video, which shows empty stands along the parade route.

Some analysis from The Atlantic:

Steve Doig, a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, has provided estimates of crowds at past inaugurals, and is well-versed in the challenges they present. “There’s no turnstiles; you didn’t have to buy tickets … so the standard metrics for measuring a contained crowd are not available,” he said. “The fallback is overhead imagery.” That allows experts to estimate the density of the crowd, and divide it by the area it covers, to produce “a reality-based estimate of the crowd.” Based on the photographs available in the media showing the part of the crowd that was on the mall, he said, “the claim that this is the largest ever is ludicrous on its face.”

And from Fox News:

THE FACTS: Trump is wrong. Photos of the National Mall from his inauguration make clear that the crowd did not extend to the Washington Monument. Large swaths of empty space are visible on the Mall.

Thin crowds and partially empty bleachers also dotted the inaugural parade route. Hotels across the District of Columbia reported vacancies, a rarity for an event as large as a presidential inauguration.

And ridership on the Washington’s Metro system didn’t match that of recent inaugurations. As of 11 a.m. that day, there were 193,000 trips taken, according to the transit service’s Twitter account. At the same hour eight years ago, there had been 513,000 trips. Four years later, there were 317,000 for Obama’s second inauguration.

All the evidence shows that this inauguration was not as well attended as either of the previous two inaugurations. But leaving aside the actual WMATA numbers and photos used to get crowd size estimates – which are important, because they are the only data-based indications we have – the more pertinent issue seems to be how crucial the Trump team believes it is to push back on the facts about his apparent popularity. Of course, Trump was the impetus for this, taking time before Spicer’s briefing on Saturday in his remarks at the CIA Memorial Wall to criticize the reported crowd estimates as false.

After the comments from Trump and Spicer, the administration’s assault continued Sunday morning with Kellyanne Conway on NBC’s Meet the Press, in which she described Spicer’s comments as “alternative facts”, which sounds like a derogatory term but apparently is not:

Asked on “Meet the Press” why Spicer used his first appearance before the press to dispute a minimal issue like the inauguration crowd size, and why he used falsehoods to do so, Conway pushed back. “You’re saying it’s a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that,” she told NBC’s Chuck Todd.

She claimed – correctly – that one cannot prove the crowd size number, though that ignores how experts actually can make good estimates about it. Then, she intimated what the Trump administration might do when the press calls him out in ways Trump may not like:

Conway also suggested that Todd’s insistence on asking why Spicer delivered a demonstrably false statement could affect the White House’s treatment of the media. “If we’re going to keep referring to the press secretary in those types of terms I think we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here,” she said.

Chris Wallace at Fox News even got into it with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus:

“I think this is a ridiculous conversation,” Wallace shot back. “There were huge areas, he [Trump] said there were crowds all the way to the Washington Monument.”

“There was,” Priebus insisted.

“There wasn’t,” Wallace shot back. “You know what? Let’s put up the picture again.”

At best, the pushback by the Trump team to discount inauguration crowd size reports and disparage the press comes off as impetuous. It’s not statesmanship. It reflects quite a bit of insecurity. It’s petty. And it’s easy to fact-check and show that they are lying. Even Fox News did that. None of this inspires confidence.

At worst, what Trump is doing is an attempt to convince the public that his propagandist narrative of events is typically true, and that the press is typically lying.

Let’s consider the best case of all this first, that Trump’s pushback against the press this weekend shows the amateur political tactics of his rookie team. If they hadn’t disputed the crowd size story, we probably would not have seen the press go to even greater lengths to follow-up and analyze the crowd size in more depth, and keep reporting it. Personally, I was not even thinking about the crowd size much even after the initial estimates were reported – I just did not really care about it. The story would likely have faded quickly on its own. Since the Trump team now has more ability than anyone in the world to generate headlines, they could have unleashed some other news items and effectively replaced this story with coverage of other things. Instead, they chose to prolong this. Some might say that was intentional and shrewd (see below), since it fires up his base. While that might be a benefit, the cost is some serious negative coverage that is firing up everyone else as well, and during a time when Trump’s approval ratings as he enters office are near all-time lows for incoming presidents (that is another Fox News link for those of you who think anything else would be “fake news,” and it confirms the other major polls). It just does not seem smart. And if they fumble simple things like this, how are they going to handle truly tough political problems, like dealing with other countries on issues such as international trade, terrorism, and military aggression?

But maybe Trump’s tactics are in fact intentional rather than a blunder, an effort to energize his supporters. Trump’s reliance on populism may compel him to demonstrate how much support he appears to have. If this is what is behind the crowd size dust-up with the press, then not only will this continue, it could be the start of something much more disturbing, something I will get to in a follow-up blog post.