Idiot’s Delight

“Idiot’s Delight” is that odd 1939 MGM comedy – or drama, or musical, or something, with a screenplay adapted by Robert E. Sherwood from his 1936 Pulitzer-Prize-winning play. The movie stars Clark Gable, in the same year that he played Rhett Butler for MGM on a different soundstage down in Culver City – and a fading Norma Shearer. No one knew what to make of it. This is the only film where Gable sings and dances, performing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” of all things – but this is an earnest antiwar film about Russians and Germans and evil arms dealers and all sorts of things – and quite a mess. “The Wizard of Oz” was in simultaneous production that same year on a third set of MGM soundstages down there and made more sense than this. But the movie had a good title.

The remake was reported by the Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz, not a Clark Gable movie, but a congressional hearing:

In an effort to understand how Google search algorithms work, a Democratic congresswoman asked the tech company’s chief executive a simple question: “If you Google the word ‘idiot’ under images, a picture of Donald Trump comes up. How would that happen? How does search work so that that would occur?”

The answer is that this is idiot’s delight:

In the middle of a congressional hearing ostensibly about privacy and data collection, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) seemed to perform that search from the dais. As it turns out, the image results for “idiot” does reveal a page of mostly Trump photos.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, who was testifying Tuesday morning before the House Judiciary Committee, tried to explain to the roomful of mostly tech novices how the algorithms take into account some 200 factors – such as relevance, popularity, how others are using the search term – to determine how to best match a query with results.

“So it’s not some little man sitting behind the curtain figuring out what we’re going to show the user. It’s basically a compilation of what users are generating, and trying to sort through that information?” Lofgren asked, facetiously.

Lofgren was reacting to Republicans’ allegations that Google employees manipulate results for political reasons.

But that doesn’t happen:

In one exchange, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) asked Pichai whether he had ever directed an employee to manipulate search results. Pichai explained that it’s not possible for one person, or even a group of people, to do that because there are so many steps in the process.

But Smith did not accept that explanation, telling Pichai: “Let me just say that I disagree. I think humans can manipulate the process. It is a human process at its base.”

It’s not, even at its base, but this was going nowhere:

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) complained that when he googled the Republican health-care bill or the GOP tax cuts the first several pages listed negative articles. “How do you explain this apparent bias on Google’s part against conservative points of view, against conservative policies? Is it just the algorithm, or is there more happening there?” Chabot asked.

There is more happening. Trump actually is an idiot and there was no Republican health-care bill and their tax cuts made everything worse, but one must be polite:

“Congressman, I understand the frustration of seeing negative news, and, you know, I see it on me,” Pichai offered. “What is important here is we use the robust methodology to reflect what is being said about any given topic at any particular time. And we try to do it objectively, using a set of rubrics. It is in our interest to make sure we reflect what’s happening out there in the best objective manner possible. I can commit to you, and I can assure you, we do it without regards to political ideology. Our algorithms have no notion of political sentiment in it.”

In short, this is what people are saying, and asking, so it’s you, not us:

One Democratic lawmaker had a blunt message for his Republicans complaining about Google searches.

“If you want positive search results, do positive things. If you don’t want negative search results, don’t do negative things,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (Cali.). “And to some of my colleagues across the aisle, if you’re getting bad press articles and bad search results, don’t blame Google or Facebook or Twitter, consider blaming yourself.”

That’s simple enough. This can be fixed. Don’t be an idiot.

Someone didn’t get the memo, as the Washington Post’s team of Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa report here:

In his first two years in office, President Trump operated without a clear check on his power. With his party controlling both houses of Congress, he issued demands from his bedroom in the form of early-morning tweets, and legislative leaders got in line. He rarely was personally confronted about his untruths and misstatements. And he mostly ignored congressional Democrats, choosing to spar instead with journalists.

That came to a crashing halt on Tuesday. In an extraordinarily heated public fight with the nation’s top two Democratic leaders, the combustible president confronted for the first time the enormity of the challenge he will face over the next two years: divided government.

Trump was being a bit of an idiot:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the likely next speaker, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called out Trump’s falsehoods. They exposed him as malleable about his promised border wall. They lectured him about the legislative process and reiterated to him that he lacked the votes to secure the $5 billion he seeks for the wall.

The Democrats also needled him for his party winning Senate contests last month only in reliably red states. They provoked him by highlighting the softening of the economy and the gyrations in the stock market. And they extracted from him a claim of personal responsibility for the current budget brinkmanship.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump said. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”

Jennifer Rubin sees the mistake here:

The first rule of shutdown fights is never say you are for a shutdown. Voters invariably oppose this kind of stunt and see it as evidence of incompetence and unnecessary rancor by the governing party. In short, since Republicans control everything and are likely to be blamed for shuttering the government, the last thing President Trump wants to do is say he is for a shutdown. And that’s exactly what he said Tuesday, no doubt to the joy of Democrats who are trying to convince Americans the GOP is unfit to govern…

It was an extraordinary moment when Trump not only lost the high ground as president but made Democrats look like the grown-ups.

And as Rucker and Dawsey and Costa note, Nancy Pelosi was Mom:

During 17 extraordinary minutes of raised voices, pointed fingers and boorish interruptions in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Pelosi and Schumer introduced Trump to Washington’s new dynamic.

And no apparent progress was made – perhaps a harbinger for what lies ahead.

“Unfortunately, this has spiraled downward,” Pelosi interjected midway through the televised meeting.

She was less circumspect after the meeting:

Once she returned to the Capitol, the speaker-in-waiting told some of her Democratic colleagues that she felt like she had been in “a tinkle contest with a skunk” – and even questioned the president’s manhood, according to a Democratic aide in the room.

“It’s like a manhood thing for him,” Pelosi said in reference to the wall, according to the aide. “As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

Ouch! And there were the details:

The stunning public spat, during which Schumer accused the president of throwing a “temper tantrum,” ended with Trump declaring he’d be proud to shut down the government to get the money he wants for his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall. If the president follows through on the threat, about 25 percent of the federal government would begin to run out of money on Dec. 21, putting hundreds of thousands of federal workers at risk of getting furloughed without pay just before Christmas.

The two sides remain billions apart on border security – the president is demanding $5 billion for a wall, and Democrats will offer no more than $1.3 billion for fencing – and Tuesday’s talks brought them no closer to a resolution.

That sort of thing does happen when you’re dealing with an idiot:

Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer (D-N.Y.) had not expected the session to be televised and repeatedly asked Trump to take the discussions off-camera. But the president allowed the acrimonious encounter to continue for nearly 20 minutes before kicking the media out of the Oval Office.

As the argument dragged on, Schumer lectured Trump that “Elections have consequences, Mr. President.”

Rucker and Dawsey and Costa see that:

“When you feed yourself a diet of adoration and echo chambers, you aren’t well prepared to handle actual pushback,” said Stu Loeser, a New York-based Democratic strategist and former aide to Schumer. “The president came into office bragging that he was the world’s greatest dealmaker, but he is yet to show that to the American people.”

Several White House advisers and GOP congressional aides said they believed Trump damaged himself by agreeing to own a possible shutdown and so vividly saying he would not blame it on Schumer, as he did an earlier shutdown. By doing that, these people said, the president took away his main leverage, that the House could pass a $5 billion bill, and Republicans could come along in the Senate.

Still, some Trump allies believed the Tuesday clash with Pelosi and Schumer was a successful contrast for the president. They argued that he directly and repeatedly conveyed his core message that building a wall is essential to securing the nation’s border with Mexico.

That was the disagreement:

For months, Trump’s aides have told him he is unlikely to get $5 billion for the border wall in December, but he wants to show his supporters that he is fighting for the funding, according to two White House officials.

Pelosi tried to set the tone for Tuesday’s Oval Office confab. She told reporters later that she began by leading a prayer about King Solomon. She and Schumer sat on couches, with Trump and Vice President Pence seated in twin armchairs in front of a fireplace. Pence did not say a word, not even after Schumer mocked Trump for winning a Senate seat in the vice president’s home state of Indiana. Pence sat expressionless as he observed the fireworks.

The vice president was not the only observer, of course. The meeting was intended to be closed to the press, but White House staffers soon ushered in a pool of journalists to capture the exchanges. Although aides often urge him to keep such meetings closed to the media, Trump likes the visual of him at the center of a room leading a meeting with lawmakers because he looks like he is “in charge,” according to a former White House official.

That’s not what people saw:

Pelosi twice suggested they transition into a private discussion. “I don’t think we should have a debate in front of the press on this,” she said.

Critics accused her of trying to hide from the public, but Pelosi later told reporters that she did not want to embarrass the president by contradicting him “when he was putting forth figures that had no reality to them, no basis in fact.”

“I didn’t want to, in front of those people, say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,'” Pelosi added.

There were a few issues:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday cited the recent apprehension of ten suspected terrorists to bolster his case for building a wall along the southern border, implying that a porous border with Mexico is leaving the country vulnerable to national security threats.

But the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees security and law enforcement at U.S. borders and ports of entry, was unable to provide data to directly substantiate that claim.

He made it all up, and Colby Itkowitz adds this:

Over 10 minutes of a surreal public sparring match in the Oval Office, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tried mightily to rise above the bluster and ego that erupted between the men in the room.

But Pelosi (D-Calif.) instead had to listen as President Trump mansplained to her the legislative process and her role in the debate, while Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer talked over her to trade barbs mano a mano with Trump.

But she won this one:

Pelosi emerged from the meeting not some wilted flower, but a symbol of a woman who doesn’t have time for male posturing. A photo of her departing the White House dressed in a red coat and putting on her sunglasses instantly became a meme.

She did win:

Pelosi has argued the importance of having a woman at the “decision-making table” in Trump’s Washington. And Tuesday’s show helped make her point.

Trump invited “Chuck and Nancy” to the White House to discuss their disagreements over funding for Trump’s long-promised border wall. The Democrats arrived expecting a private meeting with the president but were surprised by an audience of White House press poolers when they were seated in the Oval Office. The event quickly turned into must-see reality television rather than a serious debate about avoiding a government shutdown.

As the Fix’s Aaron Blake points out, the Democrats, particularly Schumer, seemed uncharacteristically primed for a spat. Pelosi landed a blow designed to anger the president with a reference to a “Trump shutdown” early in the exchange. “There is precisely zero chance Pelosi inserted that talking point without knowing what it would do,” Blake writes.

She wasn’t the idiot here:

Pelosi kept her composure throughout the charade, continually trying to bring the conversation back to a place where actual dialogue could occur. But it was clear from the press presence that Trump had very little interest in finding a compromise and primarily wanted to show off his bravado for the cameras.

Then he said for the cameras, as if Pelosi wasn’t even in the room, “Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now, and I understand, and I fully understand that,” referring to the votes she still needs to win the speakership in January.

Pelosi’s response indicated she was prepared to go toe-to-toe with Trump.

“Please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting,” she told him, firmly.

Ouch! Again! And this matters:

President Donald Trump just made it nearly impossible for Republicans to blame Democrats for an increasingly likely partial government shutdown…

Coming off a remarkable exchange between Trump, Schumer and Pelosi, congressional Republicans were reeling as they tried to adjust to the president’s stunning willingness to own an impending partial shutdown over his wall demands. For weeks, the GOP had been attacking Democrats for their unwillingness to help Trump shore up the border.

And with just a few words directed at Schumer, Trump laid all those plans to waste: “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.” Later in the day, Trump dug in even further, declaring: “I don’t mind owning that issue. We’re closing it down for border security and I think I win that every single time.”

Maybe or maybe not:

It’s the latest surprise from a president who has routinely upended the way Washington works. But Trump’s confidence, and his partnership with the congressional GOP, will be tested if roughly a quarter of the government ends up closing after next week without a bipartisan agreement.

And no Democrats will be needed:

At the White House, Schumer probed Trump about his end game during the private portion of their meeting. He noted that if the government shuts down, Pelosi will pass a bill restarting the government on Jan. 3, putting the onus on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to buckle or stick with Trump’s border fight.

“What do you think Mitch will do? Keep it shut down another month, another week?” Schumer asked Trump, according to a person briefed on the meeting. Trump did not reply, the person said, and did not rule out potentially passing stopgap bills to avoid a shutdown.

And that’s that:

Democrats say they aren’t feeling arrogant, but that they’ve already won the debate.

Pelosi crowed after the meeting to her Democratic members that they’d gotten Trump to own the shutdown and Schumer told reporters it was now up to McConnell to “persuade” Trump not to enter into an intractable impasse.

And most Republicans were reluctant to join Trump in his “proud” stand to own a shutdown.

“I’ve never said that myself,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who has met repeatedly with Trump about the wall.

That’s because he’s not an idiot. Someone else is. Look it up. Type the word “idiot” into Google Image Search. There’s relevance, popularity, how others are using the search term – what people are saying and what people are asking, and Trump’s face pops up. It’s Idiot’s delight, without Clark Gable. The next two years will be rough.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Idiot’s Delight

  1. L.D. Dewees says:

    Good stuff. Let’e not pretend even for a moment, though, that the Republicans in the Senate don’t know a thing or two about how Google Search works. The purpose of the hearing wasn’t education or investigation, it was propaganda. They KNOW Google isn’t biased, but they are not ABOUT to let their constituents know it.

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