Thursday, March 31, 2016

West of Eden: Green Zone

Tent in the background. Photo by Karim Kadim/AP via Salt Lake Tribune.

Meanwhile, as Tom Friedman was moping in Sulaimaniya waiting for the lithium to kick in, something was, believe it or not, happening in Baghdad, though generally unreported as far as Dr. Google noticed by my usual sources at the New York Times and the Guardian and NPR (I heard about it on BBC), getting going in a big way last Friday, when
Thousands of supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held what they billed as a “joint” Sunni-Shi'ite prayer service Friday outside the main entrances to the government-controlled “Green Zone.”  Sadr has given Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi a Saturday deadline to carry out governmental “reform” and install a new Cabinet composed of technocrats instead of political loyalists. (Voice of America)
Yes, it's the Orson Welles–resembling "renegade cleric", in the Homeric (Simpson?) epithet beloved of the US press of ten or twelve years ago, and the mass Sunni-Shi'a cooperation without which there will be no change for the better in Iraq (as I've been saying for a while now), in a huge effort to force the Abadi government to purge itself. When Abadi failed to meet his deadline on Saturday, Muqtada made his way into the Green Zone, with the assistance of the security forces, to begin a sit-in, ensconced in a tent:

Friedmanic Depression

Image via YouPouch.
Just days, it seems, after thrilling the world with his conviction that the Obama administration could make a crucial difference in the Middle East by funding, um, tertiary education and whatnot in Iraqi Kurdistan (devastated by the collapse of oil prices), land of advanced democracy and place where Thomas P. Friedman, better known as Thomas L. Friedman, Archmustache of Dreamland, is quite often invited to share his wisdom, Tom himself, filing another column from Iraq, suddenly seems deeply down in the dumps, in part, apparently, because he's just learned how complicated the Kurds are:
If you think there is a simple answer to this problem, you ought to come out here for a week. Just trying to figure out the differences among the Kurdish parties and militias in Syria and Iraq — the Y.P.G., P.Y.D., P.U.K., K.D.P. and P.K.K. — took me a day.
Did he really only find out about that this week? Oh dear.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The misogyny. Used to be so much better quality back in the day.


Uncredited image found at A Daring Adventure.
Did you ever see a laddie go this way and that? David Brooks did:
[The Civil War colonel Robert McAllister] lobbied and preached against profanity, drinking, prostitution and gambling. Some of the line officers in the regiment, from less genteel backgrounds, rebelled. They formed an organization called the Independent Order of Trumps. In sort of a mischievous, laddie way, the Trumps championed boozing and whoring, cursing and card-playing.
But he's unable to communicate what a laddie way is. (One of my first and most splendid views of what an unspeakably awful writer Brooks is when he's making an effort to be a good writer was when he described Shakespeare's Prince Hal as belonging to "a lewd and unsupervised laddie culture".)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Unpacking Brooks: An exercise

This is a brief exercise in what you might call Brooksological hermeneutics. I'm afraid if I try to explain it it will wilt, so I'm just throwing it out here.

Conradt Veidt in Paul Leni's 1928 The Man who Laughs. Image via some Tumblr where I can't find it.
Verbatim David Brooks, "The Sexual Politics of 2016", March 29 2016:
I’ve grappled
with determining
how much to blame
Trump’s supporters
for his rise.
Many of them are victims
of economic dislocation
and it is hard to fault them
for seeking a change, of course,
even if it is simplistic and ignorant.
"I'm having such a tough time," Brooks remarked.

"About what?" asked Father Phil.

"How much I should blame Trump's supporters. I can't seem to determine it. I'm really grappling."

"Blame them for what?"

"For Trump's rise. I'd like to blame them a lot, but it's hard."

"Hard?"

"A lot of them are victims, you know? Economic dislocation. They're just seeking a change. So I'm finding it hard to fault them."

"It's simplistic and ignorant to fault them, too."

"I know right. That's the worst part. It should be easy. I can't understand what's wrong with me."

Is Dr. Krugman evolving? It's probably bad politics to talk about it

The views at the Albanian site this comes from, at www.civitas.al, probably do not correspond to my own, but the idea of "Marxism-Sorosism" is pretty cute.
It's another curious case of a dog not barking, and even the same presumptive intruder the dog is not barking at as in that Taibbi piece the other day, this time in Dr. Krugman's column on the unexpected way international trade has become an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Namely, like Taibbi, Krugman doesn't mention President Obama; and he specifically doesn't mention the Obama-linked object that has made international trade an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement or TPP (which now seems most likely to be voted on in Congress in the lame-duck session after the November election, if at all). Without Obama pushing the TPP for most of his time in office, forcing the candidates to take positions on the thing, nobody would be discussing this intensely boring subject in the campaign.

But I think the reason for his not mentioning them is very Krugman-particular: it's that if he did, in the course of the argument he's making today, he'd be forced to endorse the damned thing, and he's not ready to do that. I'm really suspecting that he is "evolving" in his position on the TPP in a way analogous to how Obama "evolved" toward support of marriage equality, by which I definitely don't mean it's a bad thing, and beginning to prepare us for the shift.

He starts off with an apparent paradox:

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Guardian has a new columnist

Cheaply manipulative image via ReelGirl. Not! Every word there is true too, including the scare quotes.
Jill Abramson, former executive editor of the New York Times, in what I think is the debut of a regular column in the Guardian, has something to tell you:
I would be “dead rich”, to adapt an infamous Clinton phrase, if I could bill for all the hours I’ve spent covering just about every “scandal” that has enveloped the Clintons. As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising.
Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.
Every word in the first paragraph is certainly true, and that does give some kind of credence to the rest. It's worth a read. It's not going to convince you if you're not ready to be convinced, but it might help you understand that the people who believe this aren't all idiots and tools.

More death

Funeral in Iskandariyah on Saturday. Photo by Haidar Hamdani for AFP/Getty Images, via New York Magazine.
Between the horror last week in Brussels, in Europe, and this week in Lahore, among Christian kids in a public playground (which struck me too as very poignantly awful though I don't like the implicit message that the Christianity of the victims makes it somehow worse; because it's not just an attack on Christians but on the ethnic-religious pluralism that has somehow survived in Pakistan, the "Land of the Pure", over the 70 years since Partition), most of us missed out on yet another thing, in Iraq of all places, where at least 41 non-Christian non-Europeans were killed, 17 of them boys aged 10 to 16, at an amateur soccer match in the mixed Sunni-Shi'a town of Iskanderiyah south of Baghdad, and 105 wounded, by another teenage boy killing himself on behalf of the Da'esh, another blow against integration and against even the most uncomplicated and inoffensive forms of happiness.

Chas Danner at New York Magazine (see the picture credit above) adds:
The Associated Press notes that analysts and members of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition believe attacks of this type may proliferate, both inside Iraq and abroad, as the militant group continues to lose ground to Iraqi forces in the country’s North and West.
These awful incidents really are the consequence of the defeat of the Da'esh, its gradual devolution from ideas of statehood to elementary nihilist gangsterism, and I can't say the government forces and its Western backers should stop defeating them, so I don't know quite what to say.

Something just made me Google the Wannsee Conference, detailing the steps of a "final solution" to the "Jewish question" for the assembled ministers of the Reich, held in January 1942 just after a decisive turnaround moment in the progress of the war, when the Soviet forces finally began to counterattack the Wehrmacht outside Moscow and the US joined the allies following Pearl Harbor, and a bad harvest had left Germany short of food; as if the Holocaust were a direct consequence of those events that would assure Germany's defeat, which would obviously be a ridiculous oversimplification of what happened, and no sane person would make it a parallel to what's going on in Iraq and Syria anyway.

Maybe the point of remembering it is just to remember that it's always important, and to remember thereby that attention, as we say, must be paid. If it's the only thing we have to bring to the situation, then we have to bring it.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

My president went to Latin America, and all I got was this lousy figure of speech

Gaeta. From the Italian blog "La Solitudine Verticale—'Stay hungry, stay foolish'"
Dowd apparently got to travel with the entourage to Havana and Buenos Aires, and she must have had a fairly good time, because she's in a fairly benign mood toward Obama, and lays off the presidential candidates altogether, and doesn't have a truly harsh word for anybody but George W. Bush—even Raúl Castro comes off more as cute—and I don't feel like fisking through the whole thing, because what for, but I was very startled for literary reasons by her opening:

WASHINGTON — BARACK OBAMA is tangoing into history, and there’s something perfect about that.
The tango has been described as vertical solitude. And this president is all about vertical solitude.
Really? It doesn't take two? And where did you pick up this cliché-destroying observation?

Cheap shots: Gunga Dinesh's razor-sharp logic

Image via Gawker.

Gosh, Professor D'Souza, I guess you stumped me there! If an enlarged prostate is the cause of health problems, do women ever get sick? If the Great Leap Forward caused the deaths of millions of Chinese, were all Chinese people immortal up till then? If pork is meat are Jews and Muslims vegetarians? If everything you say fills me with helpless screaming rage, was everybody better off before you were born?

Well, of course yes on that last one, but only in a specific and limited way.

Good News for Barabbas

Rerun from April 2012:

ANCHOR: Reporting here on the arrest of unorthodox rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, who was picked up by legionnaires after a brief struggle outside Jerusalem in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he and his followers were sleeping off the effects of yesterday's Passover seder, very early this morning. With me is our Caesarea bureau chief Rex Tremenda, and legal correspondent Gloria Tibi, and Rex? Can you fill us in on the latest developments?
Gethsemane. From Israel Travel & Tours.

REX: Well, Steve, we have a report on the one soldier who was injured—he lost part of
an ear—and he's going to be fine. None of the followers were taken into custody, the authorities are not regarding them as dangerous—one official who asked us not to use his name said they were quote a bunch of tax collectors and prostitutes unquote. If you'll pardon my Vulgar Latin.

ANCHOR: Heh-heh! And the rabbi himself?

REX: Rabbi Jesus is at the headquarters of the Hebrews' high priest, Caiaphas, as we speak.

ANCHOR: Now, Gloria, we understand he's being put on trial there, for blasphemy. What does he need to do this morning?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Did I just endorse Clinton?

Age becomes her, too. The face of somebody who doesn't stop learning. Via US News.
BooMan and Steve M are both calling our attention to Matt Taibbi's piece in Rolling Stone bemoaning his boss's decision to endorse Hillary Clinton's candidacy for the presidency, in disregard, Taibbi thinks, of the magazine's usual commitment to "championing the 'youth vote'" (Taibbi's interior scare quotes there). BooMan is all
I'd rather walk on glass than write a point-by-point rebuttal.... But that's exactly what's required. It's required not because Taibbi's argument isn't mostly supportable and well made. It's just that his telling of the history is so consistently one-sided that it cumulatively amounts to a bad distortion of the facts. It's a lawyer's case rather than the synthesis of both the prosecution and the defense. A jury really should hear both.
I don't even think it's that well made. It's certainly propaganda, though.

I can't blame Boo for not trying, really. It's horribly dispiriting work. That's partly in the nature of the brief for the defense, that it's intrinsically defensive. You're not making the positive statement ,"My client, ladies and gentlemen, is awesome!" but the negative statement, "However bad it looks, she didn't do it," and there's no way to feel really good about that. And then Boo just hasn't ever really learned to like her much.

Which is not exactly my problem. I've liked her a lot, off and on, over the years, especially when Republicans were attacking her, which was of course ceaselessly. I liked the cookie-baking comment and the health care plan and the Suha Arafat embrace. As a New Yorker, I very much liked her "listening campaign" in the 2000 senatorial campaign (she's doing some of that again this season but the media are refusing to know about it), and the way she set about learning how to be a good senator after the election, with such quiet, keep-your-head-down diligence. I've never confused her with Bill Clinton (they're only related by marriage, you know), who has strengths and weaknesses of his own. I'd have voted for her over Obama in the 2008 contest if she'd only apologized for that AUMF vote (as she now has), because I thought she was generally more progressive than he was, as well as being more progressive than Bill from the start of her Senate career, and less beholden to the bankers than either of them.

Friday, March 25, 2016

GÖPperdämmerung*

*Sure, others may give you the same old pun, such as the genial Doctor Cleveland, but will they throw in the essential umlauts? WILL THEY BOGROLL, as Smut would say.

Betty Amann in Gustav Fröhlich's Asphalt (1929). Via Fritzi.
What David Brooks meant to say ("The Post-Trump Era", New York Times, March 25 2016):
This is a thrilling moment to be a conservative!
For an entire generation, the Republican party has vegetated, stuck with the sclerotic ideology of Reaganism, which used to be conservative back in the day but is now liberal. Reaganism was based on the idea that voodoo economics, by creating more wealth for the wealthy than the wealthy could comfortably accommodate, would force them to let some of it out, and the resulting trickle would turn into a mighty tide upon which the dinghies of the lowly would float as high as the yachts of the great, but that's not true any more, though of course it was in the 1980s.
What happened? How did Morning in America turn into the Twilight of the GOP? When did the Lifting of the Boats become the Disintegration of the Drydock? How did these fresh and cheery metaphors turn anxious and bitter?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dancing in the hurricane

Image via.

That's Thomas P. Friedman, better known as Thomas L. Friedman, the Archmustache of Cloudberry, taking a new provisional book title out for a test drive, perhaps.

He was in Sulaimaniya, Iraqi Kurdistan, guest-of-honoring the annual Sulaimani Forum at the American University of Iraq (he doesn't mention it, but it's not hidden, and Dr. Google and I got there in under a minute), and offering them some Friedmaniacal gnomic advice:
he pointed out how the world is changing ever faster, mainly as a result of the dominance of The Internet in all aspects of life, comparing this rapid change to a hurricane. “You can dance in a hurricane when you stand in the eye,” he told his audience, “but then you need an anchor of good governance and good communities” -- then wishing his “good friend Barham Salih [MP and former prime minister in the Kurdistan regional government, founder of the American University of Iraq in 2006] good luck in building an eye to the hurricane.” (via rudaw.net)
I think part of the problem is that if the hurricane is Internet-driven socioeconomic change, then the eye is either where you can't get online or change isn't occurring or both, so if you focus on dancing in it, you're going to be missing a lot. Also, you need to be aware that the eye of a hurricane is moving, and if you just stand there dancing, you'll be back in the wind in a couple of hours.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

West of Eden: Brussels doubts

Syrian family in Istanbul. Photo by Jonny Hogg/Reuters (?) on Flickr.
Trump doubled down on his torture advocacy yesterday, naturally:
The billionaire businessman said authorities "should be able to do whatever they have to do" to gain information in an effort to thwart future attacks.
"Waterboarding would be fine. If they can expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding," Trump said on NBC's "Today" program, adding he believed torture could produce useful leads. "You have to get the information from these people."
That would almost be funny, if it wasn't so horrible, coming at the time it does. On Monday, as Belgian police were talking about the fantastic cooperation they were getting from Salah Abdeslam, without the benefit of torture ("worth his weight in gold," said his lawyer), they happened to mention one of the leads they'd acquired, the false name Soufiane Kayal being used by Najim Laachraoui, a suspect in November's Paris attacks; on Tuesday, the Brussels bombings took place, and today we are learning that that same Laachraoui is a member of the team that did yesterday's slaughter, probably the bomb-maker. The Belgian authorities might well have been able to capture Laachraoui and prevent the attack, thanks to their humane and effective interrogation practice,  if they had been a little luckier.

Cheap shots: Everybody's a(n art) critic

David Brooks, Adjustable Sculpture with Sailfish, 2011. Aluminum ladder, wood, clamps, altered sailfish mount, enamel paint; 96 x 108 x 84 inches. David Brooks is represented by American Contemporary, New York. Image via art21.org.
David Brooks, conceptual?
No, that's the Brooklyn installation artist David Brooks. The newspaper columnist @nytdavidbrooks is more abstract expressionist.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I'm not having a midlife crisis, I'm having a midlife opportunity

The World Naked Bike Ride, London, June 2010. Photo by Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images, via The Guardian.
David Brooks, reporting fearlessly ("The Middle Age Surge") from Generation X, has some great news for you all: the Baby Boomers lied to you. You know that moment in your fifties where your marriage breaks up and you move into a townhouse apartment and begin exploring the possibility of joining a religious cult and try to transition out of the political hack journalism you've been doing for twenty-odd years into some more adventurous line like being a public purveyor of Philosophy for Life?

Turns out it's not a crisis at all! That's one of those awful things they used to have back in the 20th century, but nowadays it's just an occasion for spiritual growth.

This according to the new book by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife (Random House, 2016), apparently aspiring to a post-midlife career as the Gail Sheehy of smarmy Christianity.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Cheap shots: Old Man Trump

"Blue-Collar Billionaires" in contemporary romance by Minx Malone.

And have we possibly at last reached peak Halperin?
Yes, yes, great line.

Uh, meaning what?

I guess meaning very different from young Don:

Don, lending his prestige to the Glennfiddich. The glass of fashion and the mold of form.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Equinoxious




Monsieur Bouffant has posted the last bit of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring performed on a computer as an offering for the season, but complained, "Where are the virgins?" So I found some.

Not the usual attempt to present the work as some kind of almost conventional ballet, this is the lost original choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky as reconstructed from documentary evidence and staged by Nicholas Roerich, and it doesn't look like anything else ever. I saw it in New York sometime in the early 90s and I have to say I thought it was too weird, though I really love the music. Cheap seats a mile from the stage, of course, in what is now the (ew!) David Koch Theater, so it was pretty hard to tell what was going on. It looked like a Russian primitive aerobics class where one of the students dies at the end.

Do at least watch through the credits. If you want for contrast something more contemporary looking, there's a complete version of the Pina Bausch, but I've only watched a (stunning) extract.

Now I think the 1913 choreography is exceptionally cool. I love YouTube!

Cheap shots: We know where you work, Maureen. No, wait, we don't.

One of the special tics that make Maureen Dowd so unique as a bad writer is the way she sprinkles her prose with hints of her savviness, rich with things that are too scandalous and privileged to tell us about so she just alludes to them. It's that the purpose of the column isn't to argue an opinion, or inform readers on some issue of public significance, or even make the reader laugh, but just to clue the reader in, with subtle indirection, into what an extraordinarily sly and with-it person she is. But these random allusions keep raising questions that are so much more interesting than anything she intends to write, and then her failure to answer or even address them leaves you just puzzled and annoyed.

For example today, in yet another Trump interview, where her main anxiety is to slip the "little hands" allegation past his attention, she drops a remarkably strange assertion about the place she's working in:
All over town, even in the building where I’m writing this column, freaked-out Republicans are plotting how to rip the nomination from Trump’s hot little hands.
But doesn't follow it up.

Jesus, Maureen, I know you'll just tell me it's irrelevant, but what building are you talking about?

Photo by Declan McCullach of the New York Times Washington bureau, February 2003. Do you suppose freaked-out Ross Douthat and the Brooks Brothers, David and Arthur (no relation), took advantage of the intense privacy for a secret confabulation coordinating their #NeverTrump efforts and by pure bad luck Maureen happened to be there churning out a column at the same time?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Revolving Discredit, redux

Update: Welcome MBRU Cowpokes—thanks as ever, Tengrain!

Revolving doors by Boon Edam.
According to Andrew Cockburn's Letter from Washington in the current Harper's, the good news is that spending billions of dollars on TV ads and direct mail campaigns can't win elections; the techniques simply aren't effective, especially not in comparison to the much cheaper method of having volunteers go door to door and talk to voters. The whole "election-industrial complex" is a scam run by political consultants and the broadcast media to enrich themselves.

The bad news is that politicians don't believe it (though some, notably Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz, are making good use of the effective techniques this year), and continue to maintain this monumentally wasteful system. I don't know whether the most depressing aspect is that they'll remain as they have been for decades, openly for sale and spending the bulk of their time on fund-raising instead of the people's business, or just that they're so dumb.

It's a great long read, in any case. I would add only that I was saying the same thing myself nearly four years ago, if without the benefit of all the relevant facts Cockburn has gathered, but taking the argument an important step further, in a post of June 2012, reproduced below:

Brooks's feet were almost gone; his steps had well nigh slipped.

Folly holding court, after Hans Holbein, from an 1876 English edition of Erasmus In Praise of Folly.
Today's Brooks ("No, Not Trump, Not Ever") joins in the chorus of concern over the spectre of Trumpism and those under-educated, middle-aged, white voters, not in Williamsonian rage but in dignified regret:
Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.
 Is he interested in doing something about restoring jobs or wages or dreams? No, he's interested in deciding whether they're morally right or wrong:
Should we bow down to the judgment of these voters?
No prize for getting the answer to that one.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Cheap shot: Some Republicans lie, some Republicans *really* lie

Image via NoShootFoot.
From David F. Brooks's passionate denunciation of Donald J. Trump, a detail I thought was pretty cute:
This week, the Politico reporters Daniel Lippman, Darren Samuelsohn and Isaac Arnsdorf fact-checked 4.6 hours of Trump speeches and press conferences. They found more than five dozen untrue statements, or one every five minutes.
Then again, Willard Mitt Romney scored a rate of 27 lies in 38 minutes in the debate of October 3 2012, for a rate of a lie every 1.4 minutes, so Trump has a long way to go before he approaches the record. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Ochone!

Mr. Trump Potato Head, by Hannah Rothstein. Via Time.
Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review, a day or two ago, telling us how he really feels about those white working class Trump voters (rearranging slightly):
If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization.... Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America.... nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.
You seem nice, Kevin.

And now he can't believe everybody's so pissed off with him! Well, I guess he remembers it a little differently, because he doesn't wonder if he was wrong to compare people to dysfunctional, negligent, incomprehensibly malicious stray dogs who are 100% to blame for whatever suffering they may endure. What? No, he thinks it's about the advice he gave them; he's

Cheap shot: Cerebral

And you know what else is cerebral? Diseased rat brains.
Dr. Carson:
"There are two different Donald Trumps: there's the one you see on the stage and there's the one who's very cerebral, sits there and considers things very carefully," Ben Carson said Friday as he became the second former Republican candidate to back Trump in the White House race.
Though you might want to ask why Mr. Trump is taking such pains to hide that side. Of course Dr. Carson, as a brain surgeon, knows what he's talking about when he says "cerebral".

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

It's Awash

Three kabuki actors, by Toyohara Kunichika, 1868, via Wikimedia Commons.
David Brooks writes ("The Shame Culture", New York Times, March 15 2016) [PARODY ALERT]:
In 1987, the University of Chicago professor Allan Bloom published The Closing of the American Mind, which argued that American campuses were awash—awash, I tell you—with moral relativism, or the decadent new idea that one should not judge lest one be judged, closing their minds, as his title suggested, to the rich traditions of intolerance and self-righteousness, and dogmatically insisting that everybody ought to be morally open-minded.
"If it feels good, do it," they proclaimed, unmooring people from their traditional ideas of right and wrong and thereby depriving them of those fascinatingly varied peaks and valleys of wickedness and virtue and making life flatter and emptier.
He was right, of course, but now he's wrong, because everything is totally different. Campuses today are still awash, but they're awash in judgmentalism.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

West of Eden: Twilight at the end of the tunnel?

That was my first reaction, really excited. On the eve of the serious talks on Syria in Geneva starting today, enabled by the UN cessation of hostilities three weeks ago, Vladimir Vladimirovich has found the moment for a face-saving exit before the "quagmire" begins. Or, as the experts were saying at BBC this morning, the territorial division has got to some kind of point where the situation can be stabilized into some kind of confederal arrangement. They're not moving out all their stuff, but operations have ceased, and pilots are showing up in Russia.

Either way, I believe this move and the talks are connected, and it's really possible that some part of the war is starting to come to an end.

Professor Cole notes that Hezbollah troops are withdrawing too, heading home to Beirut.

Tombs of the Caliphs, Baghdad, 19th century. Via Eon Images.

In a phone call with Putin,
President Obama welcomed the much-needed reduction in violence since the beginning of the cessation, but stressed that continuing offensive actions by Syrian regime forces risk undermining both the Cessation of Hostilities and the UN-led political process.  The President also noted some progress on humanitarian assistance efforts in Syria but emphasized the need for regime forces to allow unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance delivery to the agreed-upon locations, notably Daraya.  The President underscored that a political transition is required to end the violence in Syria.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Ballade of Monsignor Douthat

D.D. Eisenhower and R.A. Taft at the 1952 Republican convention. Can't find a decent credit.
I'm not confident this poem is good enough to run without a lot of commentary, but just in case, I'm giving you a chance to read it straight and leaving the commentary for below. It's a standard ballade, with three stanzas and an envoi and pretty strict rhyme scheme, and the bolded bits are taken more or less verbatim from Ross Douthat's weekend column,  "The Party Still Decides", from which the piece is built, the way a paleontologist might reconstruct a dinosaur from a few random bones.

The Ballade of Monsignor Douthat
When men aspire to awesome power,
   An excess of democracy
Can turn their sweetest projects sour
   With a disastrous nominee;
   And this is why we all agree
The yahoos in their double-wides
   Must yield to high authority:
The Grand Old Party still decides.

R.I.P. Peter Maxwell Davies

The great English composer Peter Maxwell Davies died at his home in Orkney today. He was 81.



This theatrical piece of 1969 is probably his best-known work here in the US, and it's wonderful video.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Annals of derp: Chaotic sea of short-term trivialities



Arthur Brooks for the American Enterprise Institute sends me a note every once in a while, which you can't read if you're not on his exclusive mailing list, inviting me to come over—
If it’s been a while since you browsed our home page[paracom.paramountcommunication.com], take a look[paracom.paramountcommunication.com]. You’ll find an island of thoughtful, substantive takes on a host of issues that stands apart from the chaotic sea of short-term trivialities.
I'm not sure why he thinks he needs to put the name of his email marketing service provider in the links, or maybe he had the marketing service provider put in the links for him and they were anxious to get credit for their work, but there it is.

Anyway, for those of us who are actually in it for the short-term trivialities, he appends a "newsletter", and as you'd expect it's all about the Trump, and some ways of looking at the news and feeling a little less panicky, for those who happen to be Republicans.

First, if it makes you anxious to hear that the polls are all predicting outsize victories for Trump, you'll be glad to know that the polls are all wrong:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

West of Eden: The Washington Playbook

Recess at an Aleppo elementary school, 19th century. Halep'de Bir Sıbyan Mektebi, Oyun Saati, Ottoman Archives.
Early on in the big Jeffrey Goldberg piece in the Atlantic on the "Obama doctrine" (as I said, it's got a lot more than David Brooks thinks it does):
Power sometimes argued with Obama in front of other National Security Council officials, to the point where he could no longer conceal his frustration. “Samantha, enough, I’ve already read your book,” he once snapped.
Mr. President, thanks!

I also loved learning that the phrase "stupid shit caucus", which I thought I invented in October 2014, was actually common currency in the White House around the same time, after the newly departed ex–Secretary of State Clinton gave Goldberg that interview in the August 2014 Atlantic complaining about Obama's failure to build up a "credible fighting force" out of the students and professionals who had led the peaceful protests against Assad in the beginning of the Arab Spring:

Friday, March 11, 2016

Does anybody remember Clintons and AIDS?

Bill and Hillary Clinton visiting the AIDS Quilt when it was on display in the National Mall, 1996. The president later told a PBS interviewerI remember when Hillary and I walked on the Mall [in Washington, D.C.] to see the AIDS Quilt. We walked back and forth to see all the squares, and we were looking for people that we knew. We had several people that we'd known and cared about who had had HIV, and it had grown into AIDS, and they had not survived it, including someone that Hillary worked with very closely in Legal Services back in the '70s. It was a personally emotional thing, seeing the love and devotion that those sections of the quilt represented for all those people who died prematurely, and knowing that now, with medicine, they didn't have to die anymore, if we did the right things. It was a very emotional day.
Well, so, the existence of a horrible and deadly new disease that seemed to be attacking primarily gay men became evident in 1981, and all sorts of things happened from there, as many of you will no doubt remember, but there was one thing that didn't happen, for about 12 years: no president of the United States, or his wife, would touch the thing with a ten-foot pole, even when, as was the case with the Reagans, a close personal friend, the great movie star Rock Hudson, was dying in inexplicable torment, and they refused to lift a finger to help. No attempt was made in the White House to set policy on the crisis, whose occupants seemed mainly to be hoping that AIDS, and the HIV virus that caused it, didn't really exist at all, or that it would blow over in some way, until something finally changed that pattern.

Which was, as it happens, Bill Clinton campaigning on HIV/AIDS, March 1992 (New York Times):

Stupid Pet Tricks



Shorter David Brooks, "Dogs, Cats, and Leadership", March 11 2016:
One of the things you can learn from Jeffrey Goldberg's new Atlantic essay on the Obama foreign policy is that politicians are like animals, for instance Obama is a cool, disdainful cat, and Reagan was a bouncy charge-ahead dog. This is also relevant to our current situation, as Trump and Sanders are very naughty doggies, I'm afraid.
Goldberg does not say that (I wish I could add, "needless to say", but I can't quite do that), and his piece is extremely remarkable in its fair and even eloquent exposition of how Obama thinks on foreign policy issues even as Goldberg presumably continues to disagree with him. I was writing about it myself last night before I was rudely interrupted by those Republicans, and I should get my own piece out some time before midnight, but I didn't want to let Brooks go entirely.

Although when a man is reduced to lifting his uncredited ideas from Maureen Dowd, you really don't need to give him much time.

One does see so much evil in a village

Margaret Rutherford as Miss Jane Marple in the village of St. Mary Mead senses the presence of evil. Via SilverScenesBlog.
Redhand asks in comments:
Whenever I think of "the Village" as a term applied to the mainstream press and punditry,The Village of The Prisoner comes to mind. It is a pleasant place on the surface that has the trappings of democracy and freedom of expression, but these conceal a rigid orthodoxy, and a dictatorship controlled by unidentified forces. One cannot leave, but life can be "OK" if you sell your soul.... Any idea what the etymology of the modern day "Village" is? Do its roots go back here?
That is (for younger readers too busy to check the links) the 17-episode British TV series of 1967-68 cowritten by and starring Patrick McGoohan that mystified a worldwide audience somewhat the way "Lost" did many decades later but much more enigmatically and economically, and it's a really interesting idea, but no, it doesn't check out.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Cheap shot: Mark Halperin is the Edge

Image by Bravo/Getty Images via HuffPost.

From the Times:

Who Won the Debate? Bernie Sanders Gets the Edge


...While they both parried effectively, many commentators and critics thought Mr. Sanders delivered his most confident performance of the campaign, even as Mrs. Clinton had her moments.
Followed by ten quotes from the commentators and critics: one from Mark Halperin giving Mr. Sanders the edge for his most confident performance of the campaign, two calling it a draw (Josh Marshall and Joy-Ann Reid), three suggesting Clinton stood out for her performance (Patricia Mazzei, Elizabeth Plank) or the difficulty of the questions she was asked (Jerry Seib), one awarding to to the Republicans (Stuart Stevens), and Ann Coulter complaining that Spanish was being spoken in Florida. Oh, Michael Moore complaining that nobody was talking about the poisoned water in Flint (I guess that cheap foreign worker Jorge Ramos won, for his cunning and insidious refusal to ask, "So, candidates, could you just forget about the announced subject of tonight's debate, immigration, which I and the audience are supposedly here to hear about and repeat a bunch of the stuff you said on Sunday? Because that was some really great stuff"). In other words, all the many commentators and critics referred to in Rappeport's intro copy are Mark Halperin.

I do not mean to suggest, and do not even imagine for one minute, that the Times or their reporter or their headline writer or Mark Halperin are jointly or individually spinning this thing for Bernie. Halperin certainly isn't! (Nor do I wish to argue that Sanders did not win the debate or that Clinton did. I would like to argue, if anything, that it was not a school competition, thanks very much. I think it was a pretty good debate in which I learned a lot of useful things about the candidates' views, which is not always the case.)

I think they're unconsciously, or consciously in Halperin's case, spinning for Halperin, because Halperin is the Real Leader of the Village. Halperin won the debate! By saying the thing that Halperin thought was the most interesting-sounding! It's Halperins all the way down!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Michigan meshugas

Googling "turnout". Photo by dyingtobeadyingswan.
So, well. All the newspapers have been awfully coy about discussing the significance of the Democratic turnout in Michigan yesterday, which was apparently around 1.2 million voters (the Detroit News reports 1.3 million Republican votes out of 2.5 million total). Which is a subject I'm always particularly interested in, and especially now in the context of the Sanders campaign and the "people's revolution" (as he called it twice last night before correcting it to "political revolution"—he was clearly very tired): are the voters he calls to, the young and the ripped-off casualties of economic stagnation, unable to find decent jobs or pay off their school loans or in so many cases finish school at all—are they showing up for the revolution?

As you might think they are, from the hugely unexpected character of these results. As opposed to all the previous contests, where the Democratic turnout seems really weak while the Republican turnout is really scarily strong, this one seems like an enormous upset in Sanders's favor, and a fulfillment of his prophecy, that the normal nonvoters, people usually too cynical or alienated to do their citizen duty, are going to come out this time because the revolution is on offer.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Help him make it through the night

Man walks into a... Drawing by Garrad at DrawCeption.

World-famous cornpone philosopher David Brooks works out a homespun fable ("It's not too late!", New York Times, March 8 2016):
It’s 2 a.m. The bar is closing. Republicans have had a series of strong and nasty Trump cocktails. 
Wait, in this analogy Trump is something you drink? And probably shouldn't, like very cheap tequila?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Shocked—shocked to find that there is authoritarianism going on in this party

Authoritarian Republican idol John Wayne directing himself and correcting Maureen O'Hara in McClintock (1963). Image via.
David Brooks on Meet the Press:
If we're going to get Trump, we might as well get the Nuremberg rallies to go with it. No, I mean, the number-one trait that associates or correlates with Trump support is authoritarianism, a belief in authoritarian leadership style.
We live in a democracy where we recognize other people, and we make messy deals and we're always sort of disappointed. That's what politics is. And there are two ways to run a country like that. You can either run it with democracy and compromise, or through authoritarianism. And for some reason, there's something in the electorate right now, people feel they're losing out on things, that they want a strong leader who will show me the way. And that's what they're doing.
(H/t Driftglass, who watches it, as they say, so I don't have to.)

You shouldn't quote the finding that authoritarianism is the best predictor for support of the Trump candidacy without noting: it was also the best predictor for support of George W. Bush.

That is, in the research of Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler studying the relationship between authoritarianism (as measured by views on parenting style) and political affiliation, which provided the theoretical basis for the Matthew MacWilliams research an authoritarianism and Trump support recently reported at Vox, they found

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Highbrow nihilism

Image via bmxmuseum.
"Highbrow nihilism" is subtype B of the fourth type of contributors to Trumpism, in the Trumpological taxonomy espoused by Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, who spends today implicitly walking back last Sunday's theory that Trumpism is caused by Obama in favor of a new theory, that it's caused as it were by all of us sinners, himself not excluded, since he seems to be one of the highbrow nihilists.

At least a "little bit". You see, type 4 in the taxonomy are the "inevitabilists", who did not support Trump but enabled him
by acting and talking as if the support of 35 percent of the primary electorate means Trump Cannot Be Stopped.
Of these, subtype 4A are the intoxicated:

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Cheap shots: The Detroit debate

No offense to gorillas meant. I really, really love gorillas. I just don't think their behavior is appropriate for humans to emulate. Image via Gorillas344.
Hard as it may be to believe, it wasn't all Trump's penis, big as that is, or may conceivably be. Some of my favorite big lies of the evening follow.

Trump math
TRUMP: Let me explain something. Because of the fact that the pharmaceutical companies — because of the fact that the pharmaceutical companies are not mandated to bid properly, they have hundreds of billions of dollars in waste.

We don’t bid properly. We don’t have proper bidding procedures. The reason we don’t is because they take care of all of the senators, all of the congressman, and they don’t bid. They don’t go out to bid. WALLACE: Mr. Trump...

TRUMP: Take a look — excuse me. You are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars...

WALLACE: No, you are not.

TRUMP: ... if we went out to the proper bid. Of course you are.

WALLACE: No, you’re not, sir. Let’s put up full screen number 2.

You say that Medicare could save $300 billion a year negotiating lower drug prices. But Medicare total only spends $78 billion a year on drugs. Sir, that’s the facts. You are talking about saving more money on Medicare prescription drugs...