Sunday, June 25, 2017

Is the Administration about to fragment into smithereens?


The time:  August, 1963.   Trouble in Camelot.

Kennedy’s Vietnam crisis was still secret for the moment, but it seemed far more dangerous to him.  “My God!  My government’s coming apart!” Kennedy told Charlie Bartlett.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 567

~

And thus we come to the end of our little series of historiographic finger-exercises, a trip down (repressed-)memory lane.   The upshot is (in the words of the sage):

Nihil  sub sole   novum.

Is the President a randy old goat?


JFK’s sexual peccadilloes, which continued when he entered the White House, were unknown to the public at the time, but today are all too depressing common knowledge.  So there is no point to disinterring any of that.  Just one pharmacological side-point, though.

Another grave set of facts, likewise occult from the public at the time, and latterly in full exposure, were the lavish injections the President was getting.  From one doctor:

She was injecting her novocaine mixtures into the Presidents’ back  as often as five and six times a day… [And from another doctor:] corticosteroid injections and time-release capsules  implanted in his thigh.  The corticosteroids gave him a rush, a feeling  for a while  that he was ready to take on the world… He got the same surge and more from the amphetamines.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 242-3

All that came at a chilling price:

The side effects of those treatments were more dangerous:  an exaggerated sense of power and capabilities, and the debilitating symptoms of classic paranoid schizophrenia, then slow death by poisoning.
-- id, p. 243

More telling  in the present connection, is this less dramatic speculation:

Another possible side effect  was heightened sexual desire;  but there were those, many of them, who said that Kennedy, like his father before him, had that  long before he had Addison’s.
-- id.

~

Rather against our practice  hitherto in this series of retrospective parallels, we shall (obliquely and fleetingly) allude to allegations -- quite possibly overinflated -- surrounding a more contemporary figure on the public stage:  a certain New York real-estage magnate, impressario, and what-all else.   An apparently well-researched and even-handed appreciation, recently published by Messers.  Kranish & Fisher, reaches conclusions  at variance with the invidious narrative being peddled elsewhere:

He spoke publically about his relationships, as if his randy reputation  would enhance his popularity.  [Yet] his relationships with women  rarely seemed romantic or even libidinous. …  In his bestsellling books, [he] cast himself as the irresistible lust object:  never the groper, always the gropee. ...
For all [his] salacious chatter on the radio, and carefully staged appearances  with models and other beautiful women,  those who spent lots of time with him through the 1990s  described   not an overheated Casanova,  but rather a workaholic  and something of a homebody. 
op cit (2016), p. 154, 167


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Does the Administration leak like a sieve?


26 August 1963 -- a very tense day in U.S. relations with South Vietnam:

The Voice Of America practically broadcast the contents of the Top Secret  Saturday cable,  alerting anyone who was listening  that the United States was ready to abandon Diem and Nhu, and back the generals  talking of overthrowing the government.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 565

Hearing of this, our Ambassador to Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, blew his stack.

Lodge’s anger was directed at the loss of whatever element of surprise there might be in a generals’ coup.  Probably he was deluding himself on that one.  Truck drivers at the tea stalls of Saigon  usually knew more about such things  than the American ambassador.
-- id, p. 566



And in general:

The Pentagon could rip apart any Vietnam policy  with leaks,  true and not so true.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 603

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Does the President demean his aides with “You’re fired!” ?


Not that President; t’other one.
The time is August, 1963.  JFK was annoyed and disgusted with his aide.

After the meeting, Forrestal approached Kennedy  and offered to resign.
You’re not worth firing,” the President said.  “You owe me something, so stick around.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 568

Monday, June 19, 2017

Does the President harbor a petty animus against the Press?


American Media and the Kennedy Administration worked hand-in-glove to create the Society-of-the-Spectable image of glamorous Camelot.   Further, even moreso than in the case of the crippled FDR, the media scrupulously hid JFK’s health-problems from the public -- much worse, as he took office, than FDR had at the beginning of his first term:  Had the public been aware of the many physical liabilities they were electing (cf. historian Robert Dallek’s 2002 book, re just how severe these were), that squeaky-close 1960 election might well have broken the other way.
Equally indulgent and gingerly was the media approach to Kennedy’s many flagrant affairs while occupying the Oval Office.   Yet for all that,  they didn’t get a pass from POTUS:

Kennedy … was angry again … He picked up the phone and got Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.  “Did you see that goddamn thing on Huntley-Brinkley?  I thought they were supposed to be our friends.  I want you to do something about that.  You do something about that.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 300

(That final implied threat, and its prose style, incidentally recalls that of Mafia dons.)

“The fucking Herald Tribune is at it again,” Kennedy said that morning in an angry telephone call to his press secretary.  Then he canceled the twenty-two Trib subscriptions  that came to the White House each morning.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 300

(One suspects, incidentally, that that last fit of pique, meant only that some hapless aide would have to drag himself early out of bed each morning, and drive off to a newsstand, to purchase 22 copies.)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Does the President welsh on his debts?


(We continue with our march down memory lane;  as for current events, just flip on the teevee.)

While President, Kennedy attended Sunday Mass, accompanied by an aide.  When the collection plate came round, he would turn to the aide  and touch him for a tenner,  then put it in the plate.  And never pay it back.

And not in church only.  According to Richard Reeves (President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993)), JFK wore trim tailored suits, and didn’t want to spoil the lines with the vulgar bulge of a wallet  (a certain other bulge, he did indulge in).  So spontaneous minor purchases in the field  always fell to his minions, who simply had to swallow the expense.

~

To the student of psychology, the odd thing is, that these penny-ante infractions  were in no way motivated by avarice.  Remarkably (again according to Reeves), Kennedy had been donating his public-service salary to charities, ever since he was a Senator, and into his Presidency.  And this, not by way of political virtue-signaling, but sub rosa, as the Bible recommends.   Not even his wife was in on the secret.
Until, one day, Jackie learned of what was going on, and blew her top:  there were plenty of extra luxuries she could think of that she would like very much, thank-you-very-much.

Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît pas….

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Does the President lie through his teeth?


(Again, not this one; that one.)

January 1962 -- the silent escalation.

“Mr President, are American troops now in combat in Vietnam?”
“No.”
That was not true.  Vietnamese pilots sat next to the Americans so than any U.S. casualties could be announced as accidents on training missions.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 280

A thin entering wedge.  The rest is history.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Does POTUS despise those he courted during the campaign?


No no, not the current guy -- the one campaigning in 1960:

Happy farmers were not a principal Kennedy goal.  … After his agricultural speech … at the South Dakota State Fair, he had remarked to Richard Goodwin:
“Well, that’s over.  Fuck the farmers after November.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 277

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Do those who prepare the PDBs, labor in vain, to penetrate the Presidential bubble?


Some Presidents (like Obama) have been very open to detailed factual analysis from the diplomatic corps and the  IC, whereas others (like Clinton) pretty much blew them off.

As to the current situation -- I have nothing to say.  But again, a niblet of history.  The time is October, 1961:

[The US ambassador to Vietnam] concluded that Kennedy relied much more on news reports  and the impressions of intimates, than he did on the yards of cables he sent from the embassy  each day.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 240

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Does the President go slithering through Russian “back channels”?



Once more, no, no reference to current events.   Just a bit of history here.

Dark doings in October of 1961, a time of crisis:

Folded inside the day’s New York Times, Bolshakov carried a twenty-six-page letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy -- a personal letter … Khrushchev proposed that the two leaders deal one-on-one,  using private letters to bypass old bureaucracies …
Khrushchev had written that Kennedy could ignore the letter  and that would be the end of it,  no one would ever know it happened.  But Kennedy answered with ten pages of his own ….
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 238-9

And, after the crisis had been resolved:

There the negotiating stopped,  but the secret personal correspondence  between the leaders  continued,  often in pretty chummy terms.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p. 456

(In diplomatic history, “back channels” are a traditional and appropriate way of doing business, as are back rooms.)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Do we even effectively have a President?


Again no no -- no reference to current controversies.  The time is July 1961; the speaker is Dean Acheson, President Truman’s Secretary of State, and a member of JFK’s executive committee during the Berlin crisis:

Acheson reacted to mention of Kennedy’s name by saying: “Gentlemen, you might as well face it.  This nation is without leadership.
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p.  196

(This precedent is also relevant to current gossip about “sniping at the President from within his own Administration".)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Russian Meddling in the U.S. Presidential Election


No no no, not the Trump/Putin thing -- I know no more about it than you do.  Talking about historical precedents and parallels here.

At their summit on 3 June 1961,  the boss of the USSR told JFK:

“We cast the deciding vote  when you beat that son-of-a-bitch Nixon,” Khrushchev said.
“How?”
“We waited to release the spy pilots until after the election.  So Nixon could not claim he knew how to deal with the Russians.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p.  159



That account closely matches Khrushchev’s own recollections of his first meeting with JFK:

I joked with him that we had cast the deciding ballot in his election to the Presidency ovefr that son-of-a-bitch Richard Nixon.  When he asked me what I meant, I explained that, by waiting to release the U-2 pilot Gary Powers until after the American election, we kept Nixon from being able to claim that he could deal with the Russians:  our ploy made a difference of at least half a million votes, which gave Kennedy the edge he needed.
-- Khrushchev Remembers (Eng. translation 1970), p. 458


The election was indeed a squeaker.   Whether Khrushchev’s move was as helpful to Kennedy as that attributed to Chicago mayor Richard Daley, may never be determined:

Nixon, for one, always believed that Daley’s help included rounding up a few thousand crucial votes, just enough to carry Illinois, from Democrats who had died between presidential elections.
-- Reeves, op. cit., p. 110

Note that something quite similar occurred in 1980, this time  to aid the Republican candidate, when Iran waited to release the U.S. hostages until shortly after Reagan’s election, out of venom for President Carter.  Reagan just smilingly received the credit that he in no way deserved.  (And repaid the favor later, in the kowtowing to Iran and its client Lebanese Hezbollah, in the Iran-Contra affair.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Principle of Sufficient Reason


The Principle of Sufficient Reason
together with its Corollary,
that All is Right with the World

“An object has been posited:
 a cat.”
 -- W.V.O. Quine

The cat is there
to be a cat.

And we are here
to greet the cat.

Non cogito -- sed sum



(QED)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sunrise monostichs



   the poplar trees   threw shadows
   longer than themselves

[Source: Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves (1925), p. 249]

And compare:

From the crest of the Ciminian mountains
they first saw the sun.

[id., p. 331]

On patrol in Vietnam, with the Marines:

The largest sun I’ve ever seen
was beginning to rise   from the edge of the earth.
It was dark orange,
as sharply defined as the full moon   but enormously larger.

-- Daniel Ellsberg,  Secrets (2002), p. 163

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Day of Memorial


With fortuitous appropriateness, I’ve been spending part of today taking in an audiobook of the 1959 novel A Separate Peace, a high-school staple, which I read one summer at -- again appropriately -- a New England prep school (Mount Hermon, in this case).   I was about the same age (fifteen vs. sixteen) as the protagonists of that book.   And again, looming large in the background  a war was going on (Vietnam vs. WWII):  and like those young men, I was temporarily sheltered.
Since that summer I never re-read the book, nor thought about it much, though it is an ingredient in any young reader’s formative character.

The book’s main action takes place in 1942-43;  but it opens with its narrator, now twice his age of the time of the fateful events, revisiting his old campus in New Hampshire.    He returns with a sense of melancholy and dread.
Thus too I, now fully four times the age I was when I read it, return, not to the physical grounds of the tale, but to my own teen mind as it once received and grew inside it;  and with this, a sudden pang of unexpected dread as well.

The phrase of the title, “a separate peace”, would have been self-explanatory to anyone living through the second World War, and remembering the first;  it the context of the novel, it had a second resonance, in individual psychology.   The latter is now still readily available;  but young readers today, unschooled in diplomatic history, might miss the original significance.

The end of World War Two marked a sharp break in our nation’s history.  With it began a period of practical ahistory -- forgetting the recent conflict (my parents never spoke of it, never reminisced) -- while young families grew, and focused on making the world as pleasant as possible for their children.   Then the Vietnam conflict spread ever more darkly over us, affecting everyone, but draft-age young men especially.  These two factors somehow spawned what is to me still largely an enigma, even though I was a physical participant in all of the times’ events:  how a generation that had been (for the most part) very well treated indeed by their society, and by their parents in particular, came to contemptuously reject their birthright.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cat's Eye nebula



Ceiling Cat iz watching U

Fun factoid:

No field has benefited more from the computer revolution  than astronomy.
-- J. Richard Gott, The Cosmic Web (2016), p. 144


Gott’s book, handsomely produced by Princeton University Press, is at opposite poles from the usual popular “If it’s Tuesday, these must be black holes” (or even dinosaurs) breezy overview of cosmology.   He focuses on a single research interest -- the statistical distribution of stars, galaxies, supergalaxies etc. -- and gives us a lab-bench look at it (or at least, as per the above, a computer-screen view -- heavy reliance on simulations).   Despite the sexy title, “Cosmic Web”, the book is very far from “Physics porn”, since it really is about the cosmos, and the stellar distributions do indeed resemble a web -- or rather a sponge (a Sierpinski sponge, so to speak).

A view from the atrium of Sierpinski Tower

Nonetheless, he does, without fanfare  and towards the very end of the book (p. 210), finally arrive at the payoff you have all been waiting for:

The Fate of the Universe

Turns out the whole thing hangs on a little parameter dubbed w. 

W !!!!


W (artist’s rendering; not shown actual size)

This he defines as “the ratio between the pressure associated with dark energy  and the energy density of dark energy”.  

Now, given that nobody really has a clue what ‘dark energy’ may be (it is likely not reducible to any of our extant physical categories), the idea that your destiny hangs upon the ratio of two of its purported aspects  does rather bemuse.   Nevertheless, experts have been able to conclude, that one of the following three fates await you, based upon that ratio:

w > -1 :  Temperature drops as universe becomes virtually empty
:-(

w = -1 : Universe approaches a constant temperature.
Intelligent life dies out.
:-(  :-(

w < -1 :  Planets, then atoms, are torn apart.
:-(  :-(  :-(


Take your pick.
Meanwhile, shelter in place.
 ~


The pageview count on this blog has frankly been dismal of late.  In an effort to goose the stats and attract roving eyeballs, we here publish the following sensational astronomical discovery.

World of Dr JusticeTM discovers a new constellation!

The Astrophysical Squadron® of the World of Dr Justice©  (headquarters: Geneva) has announced a major new denizen of the night sky.  Already celebrated in physical circles for his discovery of the Higgs boson,  the reclusive Doctor, heading up a team of scantily-clad researchers at his mountaintop mansion, and aiming up a supersized telescope (longer than yours),  has revealed the following, slightly blurry but still impressive astral image:


The new entity has been christened
the “Aurelie Delvaux nebula”,
after the noted Belgian astronomiss

Using algorithmic filtering and in-silico techniques, the team was able to evoke, from a seemingly random distribution of bright dots, an outline that, seen from a certain angle and in a certain light, strikes some observers as vaguely resembling a human female.
(Or perhaps a camel.  Yes, very like a camel.  A Bactrian camel -- the kind with two humps.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

“Refutation” inflation


The present note is an exercise in logic and linguistic hygiene.  It is not political per se, and in particular is agnostic as to the facts and merits of the tangled case under discussion.]

One of the top stories in today’s crowded news:

The family of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich rejected Fox News reports that he had leaked work e-mails to WikiLeaks before he was fatally shot last year in the District.
The reports, which gained traction on social media, said an FBI forensics examination showed Rich transferred 44,053 DNC e-mails and 17,761 attachments to a now-deceased WikiLeaks director.
Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Ann, said Tuesday through a spokesman that they do not believe their son gave any information to WikiLeaks.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/family-of-slain-seth-rich-says-reports-he-fed-wikileaks-dnc-info-are-untrue/2017/05/16/9b32ef9c-3a46-11e7-8854-21f359183e8c_story.html?utm_term=.f0f43ca07a0f

That is admirably and neutrally stated.  However, some news sources are reporting the same facts with headlines like “Seth Rich Parents Refute New Claims On Wikileaks Contact”.   Therein lies a confusion.

To refute is (in its original, non-catachrestic sense) to disprove.  The allegations in question are perfectly precise and emprical, subject to either (partial) refutation or (partial) confirmation.
But the only party in a position to refute the allegations is someone who professionally and forensically examined the laptop in question.    Does it contain such material, or does it not?  The family is in no position to “refute” the allegation, however false it may be.  Indeed, on the Post account, they cannot really be said even to have denied the allegations;  they simply said they don’t believe them.  A perfectly rational stance; but not exactly a denial (for after all, how would they know -- if their son had been secretly betraying his employer, why would he inform his family?), and certainly not a refutation.

Increasingly, the less careful media uses refute where deny would be appropriate.  Part of this may be simple semantic weakness on the journalists’ part (to which many other technical terms, like impeach, are subject), but partly also to the fact that deny has accumulated invidious connotations, as though anyone who “denies” X  is himself shady in some way.   That is a legitimate worry;  other synonyms are available (the family discounted/pooh-poohed/scoffed at/… the allegations) which lack such connotations.  Better to use these than to induce a crucial ambiguity in the verb refute, in a way that renders it inapt for precise usage.


Part of the problem in the fluidity of use of refute  might be  not political, but cognitive and linguistic:  confusion with the paronym rebut.
 [TBC ...]


Note:  There are other ways of disposing of an allegation, other than outright refutation:  you may undermine, or infirm, or discredit it, in various ways.   Thus, if a witness presenting himself as Dr. Smith (M.D. Harvard) testifies that the deceased died of psoriasis, another doctor (or team thereof) might refute that testimony (on its own ground) by presenting evidence that the deceased had a huge malignant brain tumor but had never had a skin condition.  But anyone -- say, a lowly clerk at Harvard Medical School -- could discredit the testimony on entirely other grounds, by showing that Smith never attended Harvard Medical School, nor (with a bit of extra digging) ever so much as finished high school.  That would be devastating counter-evidence, but not a “refutation” in the technical sense.  (Logically, Smith might nonetheless have blundered upon the correct explanation of the demise.)


One can’t help suspecting that the media’s terminological laxity might be connected to an epistemological weakness:  presenting counter-allegations as evidentially telling (whether or not they are actually awarded the accolade “refutation”) although (consider the source) they are suspect or underminded at the outset, as coming from the accused's family, or attorney, or partner in crime.  Some of these are treated with great journalistic reverence, and actually pass into folklore  --“he was hoping to go to college”, “he was starting to turn his life around”,  “he didn’t have a gun” (though one was found in his possession, surrounded by spent cartridges).


~

A particularly piquant use of the term “refutation” occurs in the mathematical polylogue by Imre Lakatos, Proofs and Refutations (1976).  The title impishly echoes that of Karl Popper’s better-known Conjectures and Refutations (1962).  But whereas that title reflected the expection rough-and-tumble of normal science, Lakotos’ phrase produces a double-take:  if a “proof” gets “refuted”, it wasn’t really a proof to begin with, but only a purported proof.  But Lakatos is not referring to those (relatively rare) instances of purported proofs that turned out to be fatally flawed, and left no progeny in mathematics.  Rather, he considers mathematical demonstrations that were all right so far as they went, but which contained hidden assumptions.  These being unearthed in a “refutation”, the original proof, or something much like it, gets deepened, until further unsuspected subtleties become revealed.    He offers a dialectic analysis of the process of mathematizing.   The result does not demote mathematical truth to a mere just-so story, as among nihilists and relativists.  It rather offers a more epistemologically modest picture of the mathematical enterprise (the human excavation of a transcendental reality, a Platonist would say), in which the notions of “proof” and “refutation” both get toned down a bit, and the process becomes a bit more like developing a software package, finding and fixing bugs along the way.  The result is real progress.

For a more technical discussion of refutation and its semantic field, try


~

The flip side of the coin, by which the media use artificially strengthened language when presenting the allegations of the victim class, is artificial down-grading when the allegations come from the authorities.   As, headline from a moment ago:

South San Francisco police officers on Wednesday morning shot and killed a man who they say was allegedly armed with a shotgun.

Either “they say” or “allegedly” would be an adequate and appropriate editorial distancing from the official police statement.    Together, they are at best redundant, or, if taken literally, false:  the police did not state “He was allegedly armed with a shotgun”;  such a statement would be in place if, say, the police had not actually seen the shotgun, but a bystander reported such possession of a shotgun (which had  been abstracted from the crime scene by the time the police arrived). 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Trolley Problem: a new variant


What is currently commonly known as “the Trolley Problem” is an old chestnut in moral philosophy.  History and variants here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

In today’s superheated psychosocial climate, a new variant has arisen:

A child is lying unconscious across the trolley track.  Donald Trump is standing nearby, oblivious, thinking about his ratings.  A trolley is rapidly bearing down on the scene. You only have time to do one of two things:

(a)  Pull the child off the track to safety
(b)  Push Trump in front of the trolley

Which do you do?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Word of the Day: “Appropriation”


The latest catchphrase from the “trigger-warnings” crowd  is:  “cultural appropriation.”   Snowflakes are melting in the heat of the phrase.
The current epicenter of this kerfuffle is Canada.  Since Canada doesn't get to be the epicenter of all that much, we'll put the maple-leaf links front & center:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-lefts-misguided-obsession-with-cultural-appropriation/2017/05/12/59e518bc-3672-11e7-b4ee-434b6d506b37_story.html?utm_term=.f04e49efef68

Bad, bad  Bard !


Take an example: Logically, if an author is male, there could be no female characters in his book.  He couldn't possibly present their inner truth -- and if he did, it would be even worse:  appropriation.
Quickly running the classics through the mind, the only novel that passes the test is Moby Dick.  All others, by male authors, must be burned.



It's okay -- a male whale

 
For more about our lovable subaqueous sea-chum, try these



[Update] This just in:  PETA has demanded the censorship of Moby Dick.
HarperCollins is preparing a new P.C. edition, minus the whale.

(/ satire.  Not worth analyzing.  We have not to get down in the sandbox with the bisounours, to wrangle over such notions.  As Hegel (or someone) once wittily put it:  “When you hear the terms ‘safe space’ or ‘appropriation’ -- entsichern Sie ihren Glock.”)


~

A generation ago, a somewhat related notion was that of coöptation.   The Establishment (that was the “They”, back Then) would dangle a carrot; and if you took it, you’d been co-opted.


~

Although lists of huffy demands by aggrieved poetical Eskimos  have little resonance outside a certain milieu, there is a deeper and much more general issue hiding behind it, one discussed  over the decades  under such rubrics as “The Uses of the Past”.
An especially subtle one is offered by the historian Tony Judt, in his wide-ranging pre-post-mortem exposition Thinking the Twentieth Century.   Here he refers to the “misappropriation” of the Holocaust narrative, by a motley assortment of factions.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A side-bet for “Pascal’s Wager”


For the most part, Pascal’s Wager gets little respect these days, whether among believers or agnostics.  But it turns out you can take Pascal’s logic quite seriously, and wind up … backing a horse of another color entirely.

Such are the Yazidis:  devil-worshippers by repute;  but not, it appears, Satanists.  Let us explain.

Historically, Satanists do not form any single actual church, apart from occasional aberrations:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-satanic-temple-monument-minnesota-20170506-story.html
Rather, they are individuals of a particular bent, who, like Faust or Aleister Crowley, out of diabolical Superbia, dabble in the dark arts.  They generally (like Faust or Crowley) formed part of some ambient mainstream faith, before defecting in service of the Prince of Lies.

As for what is really going on with the Yazidis, it is difficult to know, since they themselves -- a hermetically closed sect -- are mum on the subject, and their neighbors, being all of them detractors, cannot well be relied upon.  But roughly (and since we are dealing here with theological logic, and not with Mideast anthropology, that rough cut will do): 
(Not history, but rational reconstruction):
At some point around the dawn of the sect, its elders reasoned thus:

(1)  God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, is notoriously forgiving.  -- Here they reason with Heinrich Heine, whose reported last-words, trifling with God on his death-bed, were:
Bien sûr, il me pardonnera; c'est son métier.
(2)  Satan, on the other hand, has an evil reputation:  vicious and vindictive.  You don’t want to get on his Enemies List.
(3)  Ergo:  Placate Satan (in words, at least) in this life;  and hope for forgiveness in the next.

Such a prudentially propitiatory policy  may be compared with paying protection-money to Al Capone.  Doesn’t mean you like the guy;  it’s just an expense of doing business.

Se non è vero, è ben trovato;  think of it as a Gedankenexperiment.

The pros and cons of Pascal’s Wager  are reviewed here: