Saturday, March 25, 2017

Prove it to me, Problem Solvers!

Authentic criticism via deathandtaxes.

Then there was Congressman Tom Reed, Republican from Western New York, known from Horseheads to Ithaca as Problem-Solvin' Tom (see below), and one of those guys who was talked into backing the awful Ryan bill by the special upstate New York provision or Is There Any Way We Can Get Upstate New York Reps to Vote for This Turkey Amendment in which they proposed to put Medicaid, which is funded in New York by county property taxes, on the state government instead, except for New York City, whose residents would thus continue to pay the highest property taxes (by far) in the state while financing Medicaid for the rural areas (where they'd be getting enormous property tax cuts) through income tax, of which city residents also pay far more, to the tune of some $2.3 billion (even as the state government would keep refusing to pay the city the $4.3 billion it has owed us for more than a decade since the Campaign for Fiscal Equity judgment holding that Albany was violating city residents' constitutional rights by their unequal funding of education).

Friday, March 24, 2017

To th' crack of doom

Image via

Former New York Times columnist David Brooks ("The Trump Elite. Like the Old Elite, But Worse!") provides an interesting deconstruction of the concept of legislative verticality:

Legislation can be crafted bottom up or top down. In bottom up you ask, What problems do voters have and how can they be addressed. In top down, you ask, What problems do elite politicians have and how can they be addressed?
The "you" there being not the you and I who are reading the column—we're just eavesdroppers—but the legislation-crafters; it's "bottom up" when they see themselves as the elite deciding what the voters need, and "top down" when they regard themselves as the servants of the elite trying to figure out what their masters need. Where in the conventional picture we think of the elite as the "top" of a social pyramid and the masses as its support, Brooks has turned this picture upside down, with the elite at the bottom holding the structure up like Atlas supporting the sky, and the masses idling cheerfully above, which is a decent analogy for the classically conservative view, when you think about it.

And the legislators scurrying around the lower floors, depending on whether they themselves identify as elite or not, which is a Brooksian novelty, and one he might like to rethink—seems to me he'd be compelled to say liberal legislators regard themselves as the elite at the very bottom earnestly caring for the whole population, and conservative ones as the gentlemen-in-waiting on the ground floor keeping the true elite or 0.01% secure, as it sleeps like Smaug in the cellar, with its subterranean treasure.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fish in the Ocean of Story

Julia Zanes, Fish in the Ocean of Story II, 2008.
The way things have been going this week, anything anybody says is likely to be outdated about five minutes after you hit "publish", but I have a couple of things that might work out, riffing off Marcy Wheeler/Emptywheel—first, a post on Rep. Adam Schiff's remarkable narrative which impressed me so much on Monday—maybe I'll get to Rep. Devin Nunes later on.

On Schiff, she's skeptical about what she calls a "temporal feint" in the story, or "fudging the timeline". Respectfully—I think she's the smartest person over there on the edges of the Forest of Greenwald, and she certainly knows many things I don't, but this is narratology—she's poking at holes that really aren't there in the
passage which — if it were accurate — would be a tight little presentation of quid pro quo tied to the change of platform at the July 18-21, 2016 RNC. But it’s not.
This is the central sequence of July:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Old Trump pops off

Wunschmädchen: Iréne Theorin as Kellyanne Conway and Thomas Mayer as President Trump in Andreas Kriegenburg's July 2012 staging of Die Walküre for the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, via Likely Impossibilities.
Poor old Rex, patiently bearing the cross God and Mrs. Tillerson gave him, as reported with tons of literary color commentary by Erin McBride for Independent Journal Review, whose editors apparently don't believe in cutting, or possibly don't exist, but innocently revealing, as has been widely noted this morning, that he doesn't really want his new job:
So why, then, did he want the gig?
“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job.” He paused to let that sink in.
A beat or two passed before an aide piped up to ask him why he said yes.
“My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Passover without Jews

The Four Sons. From An Amsterdam Haggadah, 1695, via University of Chicago.
Just three years ago, former New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a Passover column in which he managed not to mention the story of the first 18 chapters of Exodus, the biblical narrative of the Hebrews' escape from slavery in Egypt that is central to this key Jewish holiday—instead he made it about the rest of the book, in which God gives Moses the Law, which is celebrated on a completely different holiday later in the year, Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks.

Today he makes up for it with a Passover column (a couple of weeks early, it begins April 10) in which he manages to discusss Exodus without mentioning Passover ("The Unifying American Story"), or Jews at all, let alone Egyptians, like the Trump administration celebrating the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 without mentioning Jews. It's a very remarkable performance:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Note on the Narratology

From Dino Felluga, "Introduction to Narratology"
The conventional wisdom on our side seems to be that the climax of today's House Intelligence Committee hearing was FBI director James Comey acknowledging, as he has seemed so unwilling to do for such a long time, that the FBI and other agencies are indeed conducting an investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, including with reference to the question whether anybody from the Trump campaign was personally involved in it.

But to me it came before that, in the opening statement by Rep. Schiff, laying out with such clarity what the public evidence consists of, and why the committee investigation has to take place: especially where he shows how documents from the Steele dossier compiled last summer essentially prophesied the events that would take place in the fall:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sonnet: On Reading. By President Donald J. Trump

Photo by Steve Round, via RSPB.

What do we mean when we say the words of President Donald Trump should be taken seriously, but not literally? I mean, I don't actually say it, but if I did, would I mean anything?

I'd like to stipulate one possibility, that we have a word for language that is to be understood seriously but not literally, and that word is "poetry". When Shelley addresses a skylark with the words, "Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert!" we don't assume that Shelley is too stupid to realize that a skylark is not a bird, or that he's lying about it.

We see that we're reading a poem, and we look for the words to be doing something other than merely meaning what they say; in this case, that there's something uncannily unphysical about the bird singing, so high up in the air he'd practically be in Heaven, if Shelley believed in Heaven; so high he can't be seen, as if he weren't a bird, hot little bundle of muscle tissue and feathers, but truly disembodied:
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
    Bird thou never wert,
   That from Heaven, or near it,
    Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
And speaking of profuse strains of unpremeditated art...