Saturday, December 31, 2016

Team Optimist

Image via
I'm once again on the holiday relief squad for Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog, and seeing as how Steve is a world-class pessimist, one of the things I try to bring there is a touch of sunny idiocy, as contrast, especially appropriate for the season of fresh starts and resolutions. And pretty challenging this time around, if we're talking politics, as we lurch into what seems certain to be the worst US presidential administration at least since Buchanan's, probably ever, led by a walking personality disorder in an impasto of pumpkin-colored pancake makeup.

And that's just for starters.

Is it possible that anything good can happen in 2017, or anything bad be forestalled? Not, surely, by the conscious intention of our president-elect or his Cabinet of Deplorables or the dreadful Republican leadership of the Congress. Maybe in states like California, where Governor Jerry Brown has already announced his determination to fight any Trumpian assault on environmental research and regulation:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Don't seduce my clicks, bro!

Charlie Chaplin in City Lights (1931). Via
Oh, Brooksy stopped into the office to deposit part I of his New Year's survey of magazine articles so good he almost decided to read them, and part 2 is out today:

Every December I read hundreds of long-form essays to select the Sidney Awards, and every year I regret that I spend so much of the other 11 months reading online trivia. Then, every January, I revert to Twitter.
David, David! Twitter is on the Internet, you know. We can easily find out what you do with Twitter in January, which is essentially nothing.

Your personal account, opened in June 2011, is still an egg (yes, I'm sure it's you because of the followees we have in common—Ana Marie Cox and Jake Tapper—not to mention a number of other familiar names including that of Anne Snyder) and you've only sent seven Tweets in the five and a half years. On only eleven occasions have you been interested enough in somebody else's tweet to "like" it, four of them in the past year, most recently on November 28 (a link to Benjamin Wittes's possibly premature judgment that there was nothing partisan about James Comey's letter to the Gang of Eight intelligence congresscritters which Chaffetz leaked as soon as he got it for unquestionably partisan purposes). You have committed one single retweet.

Your personal Facebook page is a little livelier than that—seven updates in 2016 out of a total of 13 since May 2012, of which the top two, November 22, are about incorporating Ms. Snyder into the profile picture, and a total of 58 likes since signing up—but I just want to stipulate that it's hard to imagine spending 11 months per year reading online trivia at such an exceedingly low level of interactivity. If you are that passive even as the amount of time you are spending on social media is enough to prevent you from reading long-form essays, you are seriously doing it wrong. There's a reason for calling them "social". Or else, of course, this picture is pure fiction.

It's certainly fiction when he claims he reads "hundreds of essays" in December. I'd be surprised if it was 20, counting the shoutouts to people he knows, like the poet Christian Wiman in Tuesday's column, whose essay "The Bright Abyss" has inspired three Brooks columns in the past two years, or Andrew Sullivan today, for an essay he already wrote about back in October, so I guess that's one essay he managed to look at before December. "Looks at" because to say he legit reads them is also fiction,

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dog paddling in the Rubicon

Image via tenor.
Thomas P. Friedman, better known as Thomas L. Friedman, Mystax Cabalisticus, is so adorable sometimes. He really is the reasonable, kind-hearted liberal Zionist he'd like everybody else to be, as when he generously characterizes the Israeli prime minister:
Netanyahu is a leader who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never ready to cross it. He is unwilling to make any big, hard decision to advance or preserve a two-state solution if that decision in any way risks his leadership of Israel’s right-wing coalition or forces him to confront the Jewish settlers, who relentlessly push Israel deeper and deeper into the West Bank.
Oh, please, Tom. Netanyahu is forever sending you selfies where he's posing on a diving board on the opposite bank and you're thinking, "Well, he must have jumped in by now." He hasn't. He never will. He has no interest in your two-state solution, and he never has had. He used to make these vague gestures toward it, to gratify his American patrons, but now he hardly bothers, because he knows the money will never stop flowing no matter what he does. He is stonewalling for the moment when the two-state solution will no longer be possible, some think that moment came quite a while ago, and the Americans will leave him alone, except for the cash.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Seriously, literally, and bullshit

Welcome MBRU, thanks Tengrain!

Image from an article of last June in Pulpit&Pen, "NAR Prophet, Steve Cioccolanti: Donald Trump is the 'Last Trump' Before The Rapture".
Something in that Salena Zito article, from back in late September, kept sticking in my craw:
The best way [to prevent inner-city "explosions", says Trump], is to provide good education and good jobs in these areas. “Fifty-eight percent of black youth cannot get a job, cannot work,” he says. “Fifty-eight percent. If you are not going to bring jobs back, it is just going to continue to get worse and worse.”
That's pretty insightful there; if it doesn't get better, it's likely to get worse, whatever it is.
It’s a claim that drives fact-checkers to distraction. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the unemployment rate for blacks between the ages of 16 and 24 at 20.6 percent. Trump prefers to use its employment-population ratio, a figure that shows only 41.5 percent of blacks in that age bracket are working. But that means he includes full time high-school and college students among the jobless.
My bold.
It’s a familiar split. When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
But you just took him seriously and literally, identifying the statistic you think he was using as if it could be completely appropriate, although it's apparently not, since it's unreasonable to expect full-time students to take jobs if they can avoid it.
When I presented that thought to him, he paused again, “Now that’s interesting.”
I'll bet he did. It takes a bullshit artist to recognize superior bullshit.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Jon Swift Memorial

Tom Ellar as Harlequin with his wooden batocchio or slapstick, early 19th century. Via Museum of London.
The 2016 edition of the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup, the Salon des Indépendents of online political writing, an annual tribute to the late and great blogger Jon Swift/Al Weisel in which some dozens of mostly small bloggers select a favorite post of the past year for the delectation of a wider public, is up at Batocchio's Vagabond Scholar site. You'll see some familiar names and a lot of less familiar ones you might want to know better. It's one of the sweetest institutions of the year, and I hope you'll check it out.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Monday, December 26, 2016

I saw Mommy kissing the continuing resolution

Drawing by Thomas Nast, 1881, via Wikipedia.
Blogfriend Steve M, on holiday, surfaced on the Twitter to react to a piece of sublime idiocy from the tax crusader Grover Norquist:

It struck me that there's actually something to that; not, I mean, that government is a bishop from Anatolia who's been dead for 16 centuries so we're foolish to believe it exists. Or that we should leave a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for the OSHA inspector because he's our dad. What Grover said, as opposed to what The Hill reported, is a little more sophisticated.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


The Divine Mothers, via Wikipedia.
On the blog's first Christmas Eve, in 2011, I offered the following paragraph—
Yuletide is the period around the winter solstice when the Germanic peoples practiced their winter festival with animal sacrifices--blood for the gods and goddesses, sprinkled with twigs used as aspergilla around the idols and on the temple walls, and boiled meats for the humans--and copious amounts of ale, with its most sacred moment over the night from 24 to 25 December, on what the Catholic Encyclopedia refers to as "the extraordinary and obscene Modranicht", the feast of the Divine Mothers, a triple-goddess cult of Gaul and Germania.
—followed by a lengthy and eclectic program of YouTube music for a winter night, most of which no longer exisis at the URLs where I found it.

This month is pretty much the fifth anniversary of Rectfication, and coincidentally last night some time it had its millionth page view (as Blogger counts these things, which I think includes anybody who ever saw a thumbnail of a picture I used in an array of 30 on a Google Images search; a more realistic number, from Google Analytics, makes it somewhat less than half of that, but what the heck). Anyway congrats to me and good Yule to all!
Some music below the fold.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Outmatch them at every pass: Postscript

By the way, I'd like to make just one protest against the meme going around according to which President Obama himself is actively working to beef up the US nuclear deterrent force even as he keeps talking about bringing it down:
Contrary to Mr. Obama’s own conciliatory nuclear posture, and concrete steps in that direction, his administration has also embarked on a sweeping modernization of the American nuclear arsenal that may cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. It features new factories, refurbished nuclear arms and a new generation of weapon carriers, including bombers, missiles and submarines. The bombers are to carry a new super-stealthy cruise missile meant to slip through enemy air defenses.
It's not a great idea, but it doesn't really affect the MAD balance of power (the way George W. Bush's dreadful decision to abrogate the ABM treaty in 2001 did, maybe the single most damaging US action in US-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War).

More importantly, this story skips a really important step. It wasn't the administration that did the embarking, in 2010, but Congress, and specifically 13 Republican Senators, who forced the modernization on Obama as their bribe for providing the necessary two thirds majority for ratifying the New START Treaty, the most significant step in US nuclear weapons policy in 30 years:

Outmatch them at every pass

It's just amazing, really, how willing people are to try to make an interpretation of the daily Trumpism, as if it were an oracle from the lips of the Pythoness high on laurel fumes or the Cumaean Sibyl, how they keep guessing how you could translate his gnomic utterance into their own technical language, looking for a clue as to what he might have in mind to do as president:

Friday, December 23, 2016

Miscellany: Me and my Google

The Donald's money-saving design, via

On the Air Firce One pseudo-scandal:

Thursday, December 22, 2016

With friends like these, who needs anti-Semites? Er, that is...

Bibi in the Dark Tower, via The Forward (and another take on how somebody could be an anti-Semite and a Zionist at the same time).
Great piece in Tuesday's Times by Omri Boehm ("Liberal Zionism in the age of Trump"), in the philosophical opinions rubric, dealing with the current strangeness in the American Jewish community, with regard to US and Israeli politics, where most vote Democrat here and feel increasingly alienated with the far-right government there and illegal settlers in the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem, while much of the traditional leadership continues to treat the Israeli right as sacrosanct and beyond criticism and finds itself increasingly accommodating to the incoming Trump administration, even to its anti-Semitic associations in the person of Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, who has consorted with Nazi-inspired denizens of the so-called "alt-right" in his professional life as chairman of Breitbart News and has been reported (including in a sworn deposition) to have made vicious remarks about Jews in his private life. And who was invited to the Zionist Association of America annual gala in late November, to meet Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett and ambassador to US Danny Danon.
Alan Dershowitz, the outspoken Harvard emeritus professor of law who regularly denounces non-Zionists as anti-Semitic, preferred in this case to turn not against Bannon, but against his critics. “It is not legitimate to call somebody an anti-Semite because you might disagree with their politics,” he pointed out.
In the end Bannon skipped the party, showing that he may indeed be uncomfortable socializing with Jews in quantity, just as he told his ex-wife (apologists claim he was afraid of the protesters out in front of the Grand Hyatt, but Phil Weiss is pretty sure he was just blowing the Jews off).

It's funny how Dershowitz seems to have misspoken there; surely he meant "unless you disagree with their politics". Or Israeli politics in particular, since that is what he habitually does, throwing the term freely at those who oppose Likud policy, and refusing to use it on anti-Semites like Bannon who agree with Likud.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Emperor Trump: Generals may get a little tired of this

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Proclaiming Claudius Emperor, 1867. Wikimedia Commons.
Foreign Policy reports on new insights into the views of the Trump transition, as seen at the department of Defense:
A Pentagon memo outlining the incoming Trump administration’s top “defense priorities” identifies defeating the Islamic State, eliminating budget caps, developing a new cybersecurity strategy, and finding greater efficiencies as the president-elect’s primary concerns. But the memo, obtained by Foreign Policy, does not include any mention of Russia, which has been identified by senior military officials as the No. 1 threat to the United States.
It doesn't mention Iran either, for whatever that's worth; the only named countries in the memo are North Korea and China (plus ISIS or ISIL—both stylings are used, irritatingly).

This isn't equivalent to Obama's view in 2012, in opposition to candidate Willard Mitt Romney, that Russia was not the most serious military threat to US interests, if only because the DoD agreed with Obama, and it was a moment (near the end of the presidency of Dmitri Medvedev) of really warming Russian-US relations, important cooperation on the Syria and Iran issues, and no signs of Russian designs on foreign territory since the Georgian war of 2008, for which the Georgian government seemed (to the USG) to be to blame.

Drinking ironically

Stylish drinks menu in the New Era where they'll sell you a Colt '45 in its traditional front-stoop presentation, lightly chilled dans son brown bag, just fifteen bucks. You too can participate in this authentic native cultural phenomenon in a safe and relaxed environment, rich, detached, and woke af.

Image via the brilliant and beautiful daughter.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Let's not have this fight

Kitty Dewall and Harry Liedtke in Ernst Lubitsch's Das Fidele Gefängnis (The Merry Jail, 1917).
David Atkins at the Political Animal informs us that
a war of words and ideas still rages on the left between the Sanders-leaning economic populists and the more establishment defenders of the Clinton campaign. Broadly speaking, the contours of the argument center around whether Clinton could have done more from a populist messaging standpoint to appeal to white working class Rust Belt voters and to disaffected voters who stayed home, or whether Clinton’s overall approach was good, but that she was overwhelmed by the prejudices of white voters and stabbed in the back by Comey, Russia, and various parts of the progressive left.
You know, no.

For one thing, if by "various parts of the progressive left" he means the tiny knot of irredentists who refused to follow Bernie into the Democratic embrace and the construction of the most "economic populist" campaign platform in American history, I can't believe anyone really thinks they played a significant role with their retweets of Breitbart and otherwise Russian/Republican talking points. They were extremely annoying, especially with their insistence on kidnaping the term "progressive" for their own stupid purposes,  but they were not in any way an important part of what happened on November 8. Those who actually are progressive in orientation (like Atkins himself) voted for Clinton and urged their friends and admirers to do the same. Unfortunately there aren't that many of them either, as we learned during the Democratic primary, when Bernie's political revolution turned out not to exist.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Pathology of Trump Voting

Animated GIF by Bill Domonkos (2014).

"What's the matter with Kansas?"  wondered Thomas Frank in his celebrated 2004 book, meaning the political problem of what makes middle-class Kansans such self-defeating voters, continually giving themselves government by a Republican party that seems determined to make their lives worse in more or less every respect, impoverishing them materially (with an unbending insistence on freedom for the employer class, from taxes and regulation) and spiritually and intellectually (with an intolerance for heterodox views in education and religion).

But I'm wondering whether we should start thinking of it as a medical problem, following Shannon Monnat's research finding powerful correlations between the Trump vote and death rates from drugs, alcohol, and suicide in Rust Belt counties, what she refers to as "deaths of despair", or Kathleen Frydl's work focusing on opioid overdoses in Ohio and Pennsylvania in particular, or the study done by The Economist, which got comparable results without considering any drugs other than alcohol:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rant: Party like it's not 1984

Agent Oliver, aka Tirade, from Team Demonicus.
So "moderate" Republican journalist Josh Barro, now ex-Republican, driven by the awfulness of Trump into the arms of that adult-run party, is already participating in the traditional Democratic pastime of complaining how hopelessly wrongheaded the party is about whatever one's own pet issue may be—welcome aboard, Josh!—in a piece for his regular gig at Business Insider on how we need to stop griping about, and delegitimizing, the election:
This reaction is bad, for two reasons. One is that baseless challenges to the election result (including by obliquely lobbying the Electoral College to nullify the result) undermine the very electoral institutions that Democrats were correctly saying we need to honor before they knew they would lose the election.
The other problem is that the obsessive focus on what was so unfair about this year's election — the Electoral College, the FBI, Russia's interference, sexism, and more have all been mentioned — allows Democrats to avoid focusing on how their own errors to contributed to the loss.
Instead we need to concentrate on four years from now, nominating a nice old white dude and throwing poor people under the bus. I'm not going to fisk the post, which you might as well just read and argue with at your leisure, though I would like to point out the bothsiderist idiocy of his suggestion that all these activities are basically equivalent to Trump screaming without any empirical basis that "This election is rigged, people!" (We really need to not talk about reforming the Electoral College or preventing hostile governments from screwing around with our politics?)

There's just one broad point I made in a Twitter tirade I want to reproduce below:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Maybe he wasn't committing treason: Reprise

Image by Brian Watt via Ricochet.

Flagging memory jerked up by a tweet from the billiant Joan Walsh

That confusion between the emails on Clinton's private server and the Democrats' burgled emails, exemplfied today in some insane remarks by RNC communications director Sean Spicer, made me recall something I'd totally forgotten, which is that I myself noticed it back in July, with evidence that
  1.  Donald Trump himself confused the Hillary emails with the DNC emails;
  2. The confusion was being directly promoted by Russia's English-language propaganda press and its rightwing acolytes (ZeroHedge, Ingraham, Joe Hoft brother of Jim, and the like); and thus
  3. The whole brouhaha was a kind of evidence of the Russian government trying to influence the US elections against Hillary Clinton and in Grump's presumptive favor.
I'm just going to rerun the whole thing below the fold so you-all can judge for yourselves. because in the light of Trump's "election" it turns out to be a lot more relevant than I ever imagined it could be.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Cheap Shots and House Salad: Emperor pops off

"The Ivanka’s Salad, a chopped approximation of a Greek salad, smothered in melting goat cheese and dressing and missing the promised olives, that seemed unlikely to appetize a SoulCycle-obsessed, smoothie-guzzling heiress. (Instead, it looked like a salad made by someone who believes that rich women only eat vegetables.)" But photographed on a day they remembered the olives, evidently by the house food stylists, who seem as poorly prepared judging from this image (via foodspotting) as the chefs sound judging from the review.
If you wanted to know what prompted this:

you might be satisfied, like Mr. Pierce, in recalling that Graydon Carter was the elegant phrase-maker who years ago coined the near-Homeric epithet "short-fingered vulgarian" to refer to our president-elect. But Mr. Trump rarely rakes over old grievances when there are so many new ones he needs to respond to, on a daily basis, and this case is no exception, and there is more to the story than that.


Sock puppets by Darice.
There's this piece of trolling, cited by Steve
And the liberal-hating left is also skeptical -- see, for instance, Jeremy Scahill and Jon Schwarz at the Intercept:
The current discourse on this issue is plagued by partisan gibberish -- there is a disturbing trend emerging that dictates that if you don’t believe Russia hacked the election or if you simply demand evidence for this tremendously significant allegation, you must be a Trump apologist or a Soviet agent.
And half an hour of idiocy from Professor Stephen Cohen on my radio this morning not only rejecting the Russia hacking hypothesis but also praising Trump for his sophisticated understanding of Russia and clever nomination of Exxon/Rosneft CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state (even as he announces that he is no supporter of Trump and regards supercapitalist Tillerson with horror) and arguing that he too, like Trump, can't possibly know what country the DNC's electronic burglars were working for, and this crap from some Greenwaldian or Grindelwaldian sock puppet pretending to be a supporter of Keith Ellison:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Kellyanne Jazz

Also an extraordinary actor, as in this face, where she manages to convey with that lift of the head and the ghost of her murdered smile that she's deeply pained by Bill Maher's discourtesy, but too brave to let it show, even as she's in fact letting it show. Screenshot via.
Kellyanne Conway, then:
he says he's for the little guy, but he's actually built a lot of his businesses on the backs of the little guy and he's—a lot of little guys through eminent domain, or through not paying contractors after you’ve built something. The little guys have suffered.
That's of course when she was working for a Cruz superPAC. Now she's working for the president-elect. Not worried whether she'll get paid or not. I guess she's not one of the little guys.

Or in the weird little montage (you can see it here) of her bullshitting even when she's speaking the truth, with which Stephanopoulos confronted her after she switched jobs in August:

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Civilians fleeing toward rebel-held territory, Aleppo, by an anonymous AFP stringer, via Wired, and better you should read their searing article, tweets from the powerless at the front, than these, if you had to choose one.
I spent way too much time with the Twitter today to do a proper post, and more contemplating the horror of Aleppo being destroyed by mostly Syrian government and Russian forces and their enemies of the Nusra Front, whose new name I still can't make myself learn, and just nothing I can say at all, except this one faint ray of hopefulness from a pretty unexpected quarter:

In more trivial news, former George W. Bush spokesperson Dana Perino was upset by the bad attitude shown by climate scientists in response to a series of Trump moves that frankly sounded fairly scary to me:

Monday, December 12, 2016

Breaking. Or broke already.

Harold Lloyd in The Freshman (1925).
And away we go!
President-elect Donald Trump has canceled plans to hold a press conference this week to discuss how intends to handle his businesses when taking over the White House, Bloomberg News reported Monday. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks confirmed to CNN that the "announcement" was being rescheduled for next month.
Unnamed Trump transition team officials told Bloomberg the press conference, originally scheduled for Thursday, was being nixed because Trump needed more time due to the attention he has had to give to filling his cabinet. They said that some sort of announcement would still be made before Inauguration Day January 20, according to Bloomberg.
So it won't be this week, it'll be well after the Electoral College vote, it won't be a press conference (he hasn't held one since the amazing event on July 27 when he invited Russian intelligence to search for Hillary Clinton's missing emails, remember that?) but "some sort of announcement", and I'll bet you any money the way he proposes to "turn over operational responsibility" over his businesses is a meaningless minuet, if they come up with anything at all, and he never gives an unscripted presser again.

And MSNBC is reporting as a done deal that Rex Tillerson of Exxon/Rosneft is to be nominated for secretary of state.

Deep in the weeds with John Bolton

James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd in Henry Koster's Harvey (1950). Via.

Uh, OK, let's see...
BOLTON: It's not at all clear to me just viewing this from the outside that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag operation.
Quite right in the first place, it's not the case that he accused anybody of mounting a false flag operation (stealing the parties' emails to make it look as if Russians had been stealing the emails, apparently, with no theories on why they would want to do that). He merely didn't not accuse them. It isn't clear to him that they didn't do it, but he isn't saying they did, he's just sayin. The Douthat technique of making you think a potentially slanderous thought without taking responsibility for it.

And then,
Are you actually accusing someone here in this administration of trying -- in the intelligence community of trying to throw something?
BOLTON: We just don't know, but I believe that intelligence has been politicized in the Obama administration to a very significant degree.
Quite right in the second place. He couldn't be accusing anybody of doing something when he couldn't say whether it had been done or not, but he fingers the guilty party just in case. Can't say if there was any false flag operation but knows who did it.

And thus Frum is absolutely right: Bolton did not say that the administration had carried out a false flag maneuver, but he made sure that's what we heard all the same. He didn't say it with the most exquisite care you could well apply to not saying something, the insinuating scum.

The other really weird thing Bolton did that hasn't caught so much attention was his explanation of why he thinks it might have been a false flag operation, which is worth looking at in some analytic detail.

Repairable regression

Said to be a scene in Norway, storm wind blowing pedestrians backwards.

Professor Corey Robin has come back to blogging first time since the election, with a stirring rant against "the politics of fear" as practiced by some on the left:
Once again, we have that sense those of us who insist that the horribles of the world should not and cannot have the last word, are somehow naifs, with our silly faith in the Enlightenment, in politics, in the possibility that we can change these things, that politics can be about something else, something better. I find that sensibility deeply conservative (not in my sense of the word but in the more conventional sense), and I resist it with every fiber of my being.
This corresponds to something I've been complaining about for a couple of years, though I don't think I'd characterize it in quite the same way, not a question of fear as much as of declinism, of the sense that it's all getting inexorably worse (unless the Revolution comes, as it plainly won't), on the part of what I like to call the Eeyore Caucus, as I wrote in January 2015, not coincidentally name-checking Robin:

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Apprentice update

I think Trump should carry on hosting Miss Universe as well. He could marry the winner, as one of the prizes! Ivan the Terrible choosing a bride, by Konstantin Makovsky, 1886.

OK, that Variety article may have sounded to an outsider as if it meant more than it actually did. In particular, it's likely that the "work" as executive producer on the eighth season of Celebrity Apprentice for which Donald J. Trump is being paid however much it is will not be exactly work by the standard applied to you and me, and he may well have finished doing it more than a year ago, for all we can know. It's certainly not as if he will be ducking out of national security briefings to be in Silicon Beach for any filming, though I don't want to suggest that's impossible either.

There's no doubt, for one thing, that he must have played some significant role in the conceptual development for the original Apprentice beginning 2004, where Trump was credited as a "co-producer" in addition to being "host" (Mark Burnett is the "creator"). What exactly that means—whether he micromanaged the project from start to finish or merely sent the production team an annoyed note on a Post-It from time to time—we can't say. But really, that's just Hollywood. Like Hillary's $225,000 speeches or the ones for which Donald J. Trump charged a cool million or million and a half, which somehow didn't get discussed so much during the campaign.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Swamp Draining for Dummies

Goldman Sachs president is expected to lead Trump economic council.

Mr. Cohn, president of Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, is expected to be named director of Mr. Trump’s National Economic Council, joining the Treasury secretary pick Steven Mnuchin as Goldman voices on the economic team.
11-foot giant squid caught off Japanese coast, January 2014, via Mirror.
"How do you drain a swamp?" asked Trump.
I said, "Most people use a pump."
"But then I'd get my trousers wet!"
Cried Trump. "I think I'll use a net."
But Hillary...

Artisanal Legal Documents, continued

Udo J. Keppler, May 1901, caricature of J. Pierpont Morgan as a bubble-blowing bull, via
It's really coming to a head, you know. Now Donald J. Trump has decided to hold on to his day job, just in case the golf clubs and the celebrity licensing and the presidenting don't pan out, presumably; he's staying on as an executive producer at NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice", which is going back on the air January 2, that's less than a month away, with former California governor and Austrian body-building celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger as host. According to Variety,
It’s unclear what his per-episode fee is, but it is likely to be in the low five-figures, at minimum. NBC has ordered eight episodes of “The New Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump’s fees will be paid through MGM, the production entity on the show, not NBC.... Trump is also a profit participant on the “Apprentice” franchise, which has been sold as a format in various markets around the world since it first became a hit on NBC in 2004.
Between that startling news, and the recently reported tale that he sold all his stock holdings six months ago, as much as $38 million worth (if he actually did, which can't of course be verified), and the fact that he seems determined not to divest himself of his businesses, Josh Marshall has come up with the compelling hypothesis that he can't divest himself of his businesses

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Artisanal Legal Documents

The Times story, which showed up on their website at 8:00 or so last night, was a report on the ongoing planning for how the president-elect is going to put himself beyond suspicion of self-dealing to the benefit of his far-flung business holdings when he's running the country, which is, surprise surprise, not at all. He and Grand Duchess Ivanka will simply go on leave of absence from their respective positions in the Trump Organization, leaving Grand Dukes Donald and Eric to mind the store.

This will make it self-evidently unpossible for anybody to bribe the president by, I don't know, feeding money into one of his hotels, because why exactly?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kristol hops on that Normalizing train

Fearless #NeverTrumper Dr. William Kristol warns us not to judge the Trump presidency too early, because he may start discovering here's something to like about the autocrat pumpkinhead:
Donald Trump's victory might seem to confirm Machiavelli's judgment of the omnipresence of the vulgar. But it's increasingly clear that it will be important, going forward, not to judge by mere appearance or short-term outcome. 
After all, you never know what he might do, as you can easily prove by contemplating all the hypothetical things that might have been done by people who didn't get elected:
America might have been better off, at least in terms of Cold War policy, if the loser rather than the winner had prevailed in most of the recent presidential elections. [Professor Adam Ulam] then went on (as I recall) to entertain us with a somewhat lighthearted and of course speculative account of how a Dewey administration might have deterred the Korean war, a Stevenson administration might not have broken with Britain over Suez, a Nixon administration might not have tempted Khrushchev to provoke the Cuban missile crisis, and a Goldwater administration might have kept us out of Vietnam.
Brilliant! Though in my counterfactual world it's just as easy to argue that Truman could have prevented the Korean War, or Johnson the Vietnam disgrace, if he'd only listened to a slightly different mix of advisers, as he later wished he had (not to mention Kennedy, who wins the 1964 election in all sorts of possible worlds):

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Today in Trump whispering

Leila Aliyeva, editor-in-chief of the glossy Baku and daughter of Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev, via (I thought it would be ghoulish to run a picture of poor Karimova).
Steve M thinks he knows why Grand Duchess Ivanka took a meeting with former vice president Gore yesterday; a matter of branding, in which she needs to distinguish herself from her father.

Much, I'd say, the way Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the late dictator of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, who may herself have been murdered by poison last month, nobody really knows, used to work to distance herself from her fusty, conservative father, with her lively tweeting and society-lady AIDS activism. Gugusha, as she liked to be called, was another handsomely leggy blonde and a "designer" of jewelry, a clothing line (making extensive use of the cotton picked under slavery-like conditions by Uzbek children), and fragrances (Victorious for men and Mysterious for women), and it was good for business for her to have a distinct, cooler identity, which ultimately got her in trouble as she lost successively her freedom of movement, Twitter account, father, and now possibly her life.

Ivanka, similarly, is finding her fashion interests threatened by the association with racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and  misogyny, which the young women who constitute her market find to be a bit of a turnoff, and looking for some brand independence. Hence the remarkable spectacle of her promising a Republican convention that a Trump presidency would bring pay equity for women and affordable daycare for all, with no evidence that Donald Trump knew about it in advance, forcing his team to scramble to come up with a plan worthless enough to placate the worried party base.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Crony Baloney

The Fairy Market: Bartering with the Apple of Time, by Penney Hughes aka Wylde Iris, 2013.
Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, still working the angle of trying to demonstrate that the Trump is really a Democrat, as in his response ("A Great Deal for the Many") to this week's pre-presidential rescue of the Carrier Air Conditioning Indiana workers whose jobs are being moved to Mexico, or at least the two fifths of them who will be getting to keep their jobs, at least for a few months:
Unfortunately this is not an optimal approach to economic policy. It ignores deep Hayekian insights about the problems inherent in picking winners and punishing losers from on high. It expands an economy of favors and phone calls in which insiders will inevitably profit more than innovators. It embodies the crony capitalism that only yesterday Republicans opposed.
Deep Hayekian insights my ass, if I may say so. Douthat doesn't know any more about Friedrich von Hayek and the Austrian School of economics than I do, and indeed I venture to say that what he knows is the same thing, that picking out winners and losers in the market is the job of that Invisible Hand, in its whirlwind of creative destruction, and government involvement in the process is thus kind of sacrilegious and likely to lead to earthquakes and floods, no doubt, or at least some similarly uncreative type of destruction.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Little trick

19h-century carved glove puppet theater at Lin Liu Hsin Puppet Theatre Museum in Kaohsiung, via The Star (Malaysia).
I thought the official Chinese response to the President-Elect's little Taiwan phone escapade was pretty sophisticated, combining the expected formal protest from the foreign ministry ("solemn representations") with a display of fairly competent snark from the foreign minister, Wang Yi:
This is only a little trick put up by Taiwan, and it’s impossible to change the ‘One China’ pattern that has formed in the international community. I don’t think the US government will change the ‘One China’ policy it has insisted for years, which is the cornerstone of the healthy development of the Sino-US relations. (Quartz)
Or a "petty trick" in the translation offered by the South China Morning Post. Managing to disrespect President Tsai Ing-wen as a kind of spitballer, making trouble to no serious purpose, and Trump as a helpless simpleton for being gulled by her so easily.

And if you didn't get that last, China's English-language papers were happy to fill it in for you:
“Taiwan made a petty gesture before Trump is sworn in, and Trump responded to it,” state tabloid Global Times wrote, adding he is “not familiar with foreign relations.”
And the ministry got into the act as well, with the same tone of regretful surprise at finding itself involved socially with people who are really not of the better sort:

Meanwhile in Italy

Orecchiette con cime di rape and ample pancia. Screenshot via YouTube.
So stop me if you've heard this: there's this popular comedian taking an anti-government pose, and saying we ought to stop relying too much on our brains:
We're not brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We're not members of the factinista. We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say "I did look it up, and that's not true." That's 'cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works.
Only in the case I'm thinking about the comedian is speaking Italian, and he's not joking. It's Beppe Grillo, more a former comedian than a working one, the leader of the MoVimento Cinque Stelle or M5S, a party that says it's not a party but a Five-Star "movement" and something of a personality cult (for the first six years of its existence, 2009 to 2015, its Web address was, and the official party program is still there instead of the party's own website, which is pretty weird), discussing Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's referendum to reform the mechanisms of Italian government, in particular the ability of the Senate to stop government from going on altogether:

Friday, December 2, 2016

Annals of Derp: The Art of the Deal

Via ImageSource.

Uh, Eric, my man. Indiana is not gaining 1,100 jobs. It is not even gaining the 800 jobs that is the more accurate number. Indiana is losing 1,200 jobs, which is sort of a good thing but more of a better-than-terrible thing because they were expecting to lose 2,000. Trump has persuaded Carrier not to take it all. Indiana taxpayers are forking out $700,000 a year in order to cut their losses.

By your math, at $70,700 per job, Indiana is losing $84,840,000 a year instead of the $141,400,000 it feared to lose in economic activity and associated tax revenues. A bully is stealing their lunch, and under Trump's advice they're giving him a cash bribe to leave them two fifths of a sandwich.

(P.S., guess who owns corporate bonds from Carrier's parent company United Technologies? Donald J. Trump. Earned him $2501 to $5000 in interest in 2014. Not that he'd even know, it's a tiny dot in the vast fog of his holdings.)


Charles Laughton as Emperor Nero in Cecil B. DeMille's The Sign of the Cross (1932), via Peplum, a website entirely devoted to the sword-and-sandal film genre.
Commenter Ohsopolite had a useful thought after everybody was identifying Emperor Trump with Caligula this morning:
Maybe he'll go the Nero route and take up the violin.
Of course Nero did not actually have access to a fiddle, or a lute either—that only happened for Italy a thousand years later, when all the hipster crusaders picked up rababs and ouds in the Middle Eastern bazaars as souvenirs to bring home and took to writing troubadour poetry, and it was another 500-odd years before the violin itself was invented, but that's another story.

Nero's performance art wasn't so much the instrumental music as the declamation of Greek and Latin poetry, accompanying himself on the tortoiseshell lyre, and focusing on his own big Latin epic, apparently (per Juvenal) one of the worst poems of all times, the Troica—what he would have been out there chanting during the great fire of 64 C.E., if he was (there's no real evidence) would have been his own description of the burning of Troy, illuminated by the flames of Rome, what an incredible dramatic effect! He might have had the fire set himself, just to find out how cool it was (no, there's no evidence he did that either).

And you know what other famous dictator of history fancied himself an especially gifted artist? (It's OK, Mike Godwin himself says we can start doing this if we want, as long as we make an effort to know what we're talking about.) Not those watercolors, either, I'm talking about movies. I got this idea from one of the greatest movies I've ever seen, as a matter of fact, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's Unser Hitler: Ein Film aus Deutschland (1977), which I saw twice, believe it or not (it's 442 minutes long), in which a major thesis or thesis-like theme is that Hitler increasingly saw himself as a filmmaker, in particularly from the war onwards, what we'd later call an auteur, literally having the war filmed, as we know, and watching the takes in his redoubt like a studio director going over the rushes. A Wagnerian film, obviously, with a Götterdämmerung at the end. Like the emperor Nero, Hitler felt the destruction of the world around him was interesting and deep, and a credit to his deep artistic sensitivity. Hitler was the Dramaturg of the end of the world.

And then, you know, there's Trump, who does "reality" shows, of which our experience in the last couple of years is certainly an example, and who is, as we know, similarly psychotic. I will doubtlessly be coming back to this thought, but I want to let it sink in a little. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ontological insecurity

You don't need to have it on the couch in a psychiatrist's office to identify this animal, and diagnosing Donald Trump's narcissism is the same kind of thing.
The great psychological thinker and writer Alfie Kohn (you may recall the time we caught David Brooks not only plagiarizing him but pretending the material he stole meant the opposite of what Kohn intended) has offered some important remarks from the liberal psychologist's point of view on the Trumpian narcissism, not bothering with the false humility of saying you can't diagnose illness at a distance (you can when it's on that scale), which I recommend everybody read in full:
Even if you set out to consider different sorts of deficits, you’re pulled back to the psychological issues. It’s not just that he’s ignorant or even incurious; it’s that he seems incapable of acknowledging that there’s something he doesn’t know. It’s not just that he lacks the cognitive wherewithal to view himself as others view him (or to reflect on his failings) but that his psychological makeup is such that he can’t bear to stop and think about who he is; he’s like a shark, a blind eating machine that must always move forward or die. Similarly, while his speech rarely ventures beyond elementary-school vocabulary or grammar, what’s more alarming than his cognitive limitations is his egocentrism. One careful analysis found that he inclines not only to the monosyllabic but to the megalomaniacal: The single word he uses more than any other is “I” — and his fourth-favorite word is his own name.
Donald Trump seems to me a textbook illustration of how a lifelong campaign of self-congratulation and self-aggrandizement (acquiring as much as possible and then pasting his name on everything he owns) represents an attempt to compensate for deeply rooted insecurity. He fears being insignificant, worthless. In fact, his quest to humiliate and conquer, to possess and flaunt, may be strategies to prove to himself that he really exists, reflecting a condition that R.D. Laing called “ontological insecurity” (in a chapter of that name in his classic book The Divided Self). He doesn’t even bother — or maybe just lacks the sophistication — to conceal how desperate is his craving for attention and approval, how precarious is his mental state....

The implications going forward are nothing short of chilling. It’s not just how little he knows but how little that fact bothers him — the overweening arrogance that leads him to believe he has nothing to learn, that he knows “more about ISIS than the generals do.” It’s not just that he’s an extreme risk-taker, but that he takes those risks purely in the service of his own wealth and glory. It’s not clear that he has any principles, as such; what he has is an overwhelming need to be the center of attention, to be liked, feared, admired. Apart from considerations of personal profit, his foreign policy is likely to be determined at least in part by which individuals on the world stage stroke his ego and which ones criticize him — never mind that despicable leaders may do the former and reasonable leaders the latter (which is actually more likely than the reverse, if you think about it).
His hunger for approval means he’s likely to keep surrounding himself with those who tell him what he wants to hear and flatter him — the engine of Shakespearean tragedies. His belligerence and volatility, that hair-trigger temper, are the last qualities you want to see in someone holding a position of power, particularly when they’re coupled with a childish us-versus-them view of the world: xenophobic nationalism and compulsive competitiveness. His disorder leaves no room for consensus and collaboration. How can one not tremble at the thought that someone like this will command the military and have access to nuclear weapons?
There's a lot more, with attention to the issues we're going to be facing and some to the terrifying question whether we'll be able to do anything about it.