Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Facts are stubborn things. But you could try flattering them.

Poster print, 1900, via Wikimedia Commons.
Verbatim press secretary Sean Spicer, as reported in the LA Times:
“It's not about one tweet. It's not about one picture. It's about a constant theme,” Spicer said in a lengthy monologue. “It's about sitting here every time and being told, ‘No. Well, we don't think he can do that. He'll never accomplish that. He can't win that. It won't be the biggest. It's not gonna be that good. The crowds aren't that big. He's not that successful.’" 
Spicer spent more time on the subject than on any other issue during a briefing of more than an hour in which he was asked about such weighty topics as the U.S. Embassy in Israel, immigration and tax reform....
“It's an amazing view,” Spicer said. “And then to hear, ‘Well, look at this shot,’ and ... ‘It wasn't that big.’ It's a little demoralizing because when you're sitting there and you're looking out and you're in awe of just how awesome that view is and how many people are there and you go back and you turn on the television and you see shots of comparing this and that.”
I mean right, can you imagine how Obama would have whined if they'd treated him like that, belittling his every accomplishment by comparing him to somebody who did it three times better and by coldly and cruelly examining the evidence?

Monday, January 23, 2017

No puppet! No puppet! You're the puppet!

Image by REBRN.

I realize that there used to be a thing called postmodernism in which extremely learned French people like Michel Foucault debated whether truth was a relevant concept in the discourse of power or whether the logical rule of modus ponens was an imposition of patriarchy, but for those who weren't hanging around in colleges at the time, in fact you weren't allowed to introduce lies into your term papers and theses. If I were to say, "A hundred thousand people came to my dissertation proposal defense and demanded that I be awarded the degree outright with no further discussion," that would be regarded as untrue, in spite of the efforts of Deleuze and Guattari, and while even Steven Hawking has advocated "model-dependent realism" I believe he would reject the position that you can say it stopped raining the moment you began to speak and started to pour again when you finished if it in fact it kept raining all the way through your speech.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Don't call him a populist

Apparently they knew I was coming.

This is the Women's March in New York, to which some accommodating women (daughter and friend) brought me. Somebody said 200,000, together with 500,000 in Washington and some really humongous number in LA. The helpmeet had to go to work, but one of my sisters was at the Washington one, and another in a larger party in New York but much further uptown from where we were, so that we never managed to connect.

In fact there were tons of men, of course, some (not me!) managing to look very cool in pink pussy hats. We dutifully chanted, "Her body, her choice" in the responsory. For a while we marched behind a bit of an activist brass band, a wonderful phenomenon I remember from the leadup to the Iraq war, not necessarily very sophisticated from a musical point of view—only the sousaphone player had a clear sense of harmonic improvisation, and there was some weird repertoire choice, in which "Bei mir bist du shein" was the oddest. But in "You are my sunshine", heedless of its origin as a composition by Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis (1944-48, 1960-64), the crowd sang "You'll never know, dear/How much I love you/Please don't take/My health care away."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

News in American carnage

H/t McLean's Magazine, which has found out that American Carnage was a national tour by Megadeth and Slayer. Since it was ended successfully in 2010, the president may find he has some unexpected free time.

Donald Trump's Great Leap Forward
pending... repeal, it is imperative for the executive branch to ensure that the law is being efficiently implemented, take all actions consistent with law to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the Act, and prepare to afford the States more flexibility and control to create a more free and open healthcare market.
To the maximum extent permitted by law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) and the heads of all other executive departments and agencies (agencies) with authorities and responsibilities under the Act shall exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications...
"The Trump administration declined," comments Margaret Hartmann dryly at New York Magazine, "to explain what that means..." but it sounds like an invitation to all the department and agency heads to to whatever the hell they want, as long as they're fairly confident it's legal, in regard to regulation under the ACA. "Surprise me!" suggests the president. If he doesn't like it, maybe he'll fire them in a subsequent episode.

Or maybe it's OK if they do nothing at all. There's not even anybody there at the moment (of 675 positions that have to be nominated by the president and voted on by the Senate, 30 names have thus far been submitted to the Senate and none voted on, Tom Levenson informs us). Perhaps his aim here is simply to say he did something, on "Day One", as promised, though not quite the thing he promised (to "ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare"), which may have seemed a little less relevant now that Congress seems to have decided not to do that, without waiting for him to ask, and made its own equally vague move last week (setting it up so that whatever it is they decide to do can be done as budget reconciliation and the Senate Democrats can't filibuster it, just as the ACA itself was passed by the Democratic majority in 2010), and he's delayed his own submission of a health plan until after his nominee for HHS secretary, Tom Price, is confirmed.

But I like the idea that he's inviting them all to go out and write regulations on their own initiative, leaving him free to focus on stopping this American carnage. Right now.

Update: Margot Sanger-Katz in the Times's Upshot section seems to agree that the order is largely bluff, and lays out some of the steps Trump might have taken if he really wanted to accomplish some major destruction. Of course for that purpose he would also have needed to know something about how the ACA works and its current legal status, or have someone on staff who did.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Oh, Bama! Can this really be the end?

Forget Caligula and Commodus; the best model for the Emperor Trump reign would be Alfred Jarry's fictional Ubu, as suggested here in a poster for a 2013 production of the play by Colorado's Tin Roof Productions (which I think never actually took place, wheels within wheels, poster via Cargo Collective)
Now the senator came down here
Showing ev’ryone his gun
Handing out free tickets
To the wedding of his son
An’ me, I nearly got busted
An’ wouldn’t it be my luck
To get caught without a ticket
And be discovered beneath a truck
I thought months ago I'd be using this headline today, just for fun, without imagining we'd be living in the anxiety-dream dread of "Memphis Blues Again". Now here we are, the day after the president-elect signaled his intention to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and cut the budgets of the Transportation, Justice, and State departments, Commerce and Energy, The Hill reports, in the aim of reducing federal spending by $10.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

Wait, really? Given that those five departments spent something $69.7 billion, $35 billion, $27.7 billion, $9.4 billion, and $24.5 billion in 2016 respectively (the NEA at $148 million and NEH $147.9 million are practically invisible in this breakdown, less than 0.02% of the budget as a whole), cutting them out completely wouldn't get close to savings like that—more like $1.6 trillion over the ten years. And they're not getting cut to anywhere near that extent, so any savings there are going to be basically trivial. Of course the plan doesn't touch the big-spending agencies (Defense, Medicare, and Medicaid). Meanwhile the tax plan adds $7 trillion to the 10-year accumulation of debt (according to that leftist organ Forbes Magazine). This is not going to work, folks.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Image via Snark Amendment.

Verbatim Rick Perry:
“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” he says in his prepared remarks, adding, “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
Shorter: "After I accepted the job I found out it's actually kind of important, so I'm totally pumped!"

Who knew?

Via Shiachat.com.
Turns out running a business isn't exactly applicable experience to running the government (Charles Duhigg):
“Running an agency is very, very different from running a company,” said Carlos M. Gutierrez, who was commerce secretary under George W. Bush after serving as chief executive of Kellogg’s. “Some of the skills do transfer, but you have to be careful figuring out which ones. In government, you can’t fire anyone. Your board of directors is 535 people in Congress, and half of them want to see you fail.”
And that's just for starters. Also, since the object isn't to generate profits for shareholders but, you know, promote the general welfare and provide for the common defense, shit like that, the whole metric for whether you are succeeding or not is different; it would be a good idea if you started from thinking about what your department is supposed to do for a living, something today's professional CEOs rarely consider about the companies they run for a couple of years before moving on, attention fixed on the bottom line. And cutting down labor costs is not automatically a good thing.

And in government being a psychopath is almost never a plus, beyond the very short run, which is not true for CEOs at all. Just saying.

Obviously true, you'll say, but wouldn't it be nice if the media had known about this a few months ago, or any time since the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, and told the public about it? 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bad writing from VDH

Googled "Fresno irrigator truck" but didn't find anybody with yellow false teeth. Photo from California Agricultural Technology Institute where they evidently lack a proper sense of tradition.
BooMan sets a take-home exam question:
Compare and contrast Victor David Hanson and Corey Robin.
Do they agree more than they disagree?
I thought, after looking at the essays (Hanson's in City Journal, Robin's in the groovier n+1) it was a pretty dumb question and drafted the following as a comment, then thought it might look like trolling and I'd better just put it here.
I can't see the relationship between the two pieces at all. 
VDH, a semi-retired historian of Classical Greece whose serious work is decades old, is doing a cliché-driven "analysis" of Trump's victory in November, featuring his usual shtik on the moral superiority of the deeply hierarchalized, conservative rural society, down to the fictional cartoon pictures of gnarled Mexican-American Trump voters and smooth-faced white Clintonites, to conclude that Trump was the True Conservative all along, and that's why he won. Like all Hanson's writing on political subjects it's not worth reading at all except for the fun of fisking and demonstrating what idiots the National Review staff writers are.
Robin, an important political scientist working now, is trying to say something original about what kind of president Trump is going to be operationally, based on an important concept that keeps getting neglected, the fact that the presidency is held by a committee, not a person (so that whether you think the person is excessively "left" or "right" or whether you "like" her or not is less important than the constellation of power around her), to conclude that Trump is not going to have a lot of institutional power to effect the change he's promised (which refreshingly doesn't assume he even knows what he's promised; too many people think he has some kind of coherent plan that he came up with himself to accomplish some particular goal other than "winning winning winning"). Robin could be totally wrong (I found myself furious with him during much of the campaign), or he could be getting to a plausible end by a poorly constructed route, but whatever he writes is absolutely worth reading.
Hanson's cartoons went like this: