The captain is always right

When I was a kid, wandering around San Francisco, and old enough to make it to Fisherman’s Wharf on my own, I remember seeing a brass plaque for sale in a souvenir shop. It said something like:

Rules on this Boat

  1. The captain is always right.
  2. If the captain is wrong, see rule no. 1.


eusgm-2019-09-03-20
Hurricane Dorian moved excrutiatingly slowly over the northwestern Bahama Islands. This is a 72-hour gif, composed of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite images taken two hours apart, as of September 3, 2019, at 8:00 pm Eastern. The image in the heading for this post was the latest as of September 6, 2019, at 8:00 am, about the time that Dorian made landfall over North Carolina’s Outer Bank. The following image was the latest as of the time I was composing this post.
2019-09-08-08
As a weather event, Dorian has disappeared. As a firestorm over Donald Trump’s repeated assertion that Dorian posed a risk to Alabama, it only seems to have gotten worse.[1] Both the Associated Press[2] and Washington Post[3] stories are damning of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sycophancy, but I think the latter got the better quotes:

Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society, said in a statement that “the criticism of the Birmingham forecast office is unwarranted; rather they should have been commended for their quick action based on science in clearly communicating the lack of threat to the citizens of Alabama.” . . .

“The tweet from NWS Birmingham was spot on and accurate,” James Spann [a popular television broadcast meteorologist in Birmingham] tweeted. “If they are coming after them, they might as well come after me. How in the world has it come to this?”[4]

And anybody who’s ever worked for anybody will recognize this kind of wording:

On Saturday, the National Weather Service leadership seemingly tried to address the outcry in an all-hands letter to its employees to thank them for their hard work during the hurricane. The letter, obtained by The Washington Post, assured employees they were valued.

“We want to assure you that we stand behind our entire workforce and the integrity of the forecast process, including the incredible scientific, technical and engineering skill you demonstrated for this event,” the NWS leadership wrote. “We saw first hand that our integrated forecast process works, and we continue to embrace and uphold the essential integrity of the entire forecast process as it was applied by ALL NWS offices to ensure public safety first and foremost.”[5]

This is as vapid as it gets. Folks working at the National Weather Service will be right to worry. And of course the rest of us should, too.

But it also illustrates something about Trump’s epistemology. It’s very simple: He is right. It doesn’t matter how he gets his information (I suspect he reads his own used toilet paper). Anyone who dares to contradict him is wrong and at risk.

I’m pretty sure that plaque I saw in the Fisherman’s Wharf souvenir shop was intended as a joke. Trump does not appear to be laughing.

  1. [1]Matthew Cappucci and Andrew Freedman, “President Trump showed a doctored hurricane chart. Was it to cover up for ‘Alabama’ Twitter flub?” Washington Post, September 5, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/09/04/president-trump-shows-doctored-hurricane-chart-was-it-cover-up-alabama-twitter-flub/; Jamie Pietruska, “Why President Trump’s Sharpied weather map was likely a crime — and should be,” Washington Post, September 6, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/09/06/why-president-trumps-sharpied-weather-map-was-likely-crime-should-be/
  2. [2]Associated Press, “NOAA assailed for defending Trump’s Hurricane Dorian claim,” Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2019-09-07/noaa-assailed-defending-trump-hurricane-dorian-claim
  3. [3]Andrew Freedman, Colby Itkowitz, and Jason Samenow, “NOAA staff warned in Sept. 1 directive against contradicting Trump,” Washington Post, September 7, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/noaa-staff-warned-in-sept-1-directive-against-contradicting-trump/2019/09/07/12a52d1a-d18f-11e9-87fa-8501a456c003_story.html” target=”_blank”>source
  4. [4]Andrew Freedman, Colby Itkowitz, and Jason Samenow, “NOAA staff warned in Sept. 1 directive against contradicting Trump,” Washington Post, September 7, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/noaa-staff-warned-in-sept-1-directive-against-contradicting-trump/2019/09/07/12a52d1a-d18f-11e9-87fa-8501a456c003_story.html
  5. [5]Andrew Freedman, Colby Itkowitz, and Jason Samenow, “NOAA staff warned in Sept. 1 directive against contradicting Trump,” Washington Post, September 7, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/noaa-staff-warned-in-sept-1-directive-against-contradicting-trump/2019/09/07/12a52d1a-d18f-11e9-87fa-8501a456c003_story.html

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