Sunday, August 20, 2017

Strzok by surprise (October Surprise, that is)

October Surprise. Uncredited image from Merriam Webster.
You may have heard Thursday or Friday about a weird little detail in the Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign—Rachel Maddow featured it on her show Friday night: the departure from the team of Peter Strzok, former head of FBI counterintelligence, who has now returned to the FBI, but not to counterintelligence: he's working in the human relations department.

The what? He's in personnel?
Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and associate dean at Yale Law School, said that she had "never heard of an agent being moved to the human resources department."...
"I have seen instances where if some issue comes up, the agent might be moved to another investigation or to the operations center, where you essentially field calls all day," Rangappa said. "But why he would be moved to HR is just bizarre."  (Natasha Bertrand for Business Insider)
There are a lot of ideas floating around as to what might be going on here, but I think I bumped into the real thing at Narativ, the Trump-Russia blog of the news producer Zev Shalev, and it's a blockbuster, as Rachel would say.

Shalev introduces the idea of a connection between this event and James Comey's strange behavior two weeks before the election, allegations from the Steele dossier, and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and his statement to Fox News of October 26:

Saturday, August 19, 2017

For the record: Declining and falling

Marble bust of Emperor Gaius Caligula, with original color restored, via Wikipedia. Paul Krugman made a pretty good case yesterday that he was a better emperor than Trump.

I really have such a bad feeling on this aspect, that Republicans will emerged unscathed from the cataclysm, shaking with indignation when anybody suggests they had anything to do with the rise of this ill-bred person.

Friday, August 18, 2017

For the record: I get my Bernie on

Men harvesting wheat with reaping-hooks, on a calendar page for August. Queen Mary's Psalter (Ms. Royal 2. B. VII), ca. 1310, via Wikimedia Commons.
Our good friend Bethesda1971 published a diary at Kos suggesting that
Dems Must Seize the Tax Cut Issue: Demand Working/Middle Class Cuts; Ignore the Deficit
and I was a little bit like wait a minute, really? A middle-class tax cut? Isn't that kind of small ball? And found myself banging out a response on my phone in the subway in which I seem to have chased myself out to the left of Bernie Sanders (well, people have been saying he's not a real socialist for years),  and I thought I might as well memorialize that.

But as you say people don't even notice it.* And people below median income are hardly paying income tax as it is. You need a program that people can picture making a difference in their lives, and this sounds like (Bill) Clintonism, competing with Republicans on their turf.** Worst, the tax cut doesn't make more than a tiny dent in inequality.
I agree on taking focus away from deficit, but I would prefer to see increase in thresholds for earned income benefits for us, and for the rich equalizing tax treatment of capital income and inheritance to tax at same rate as wages.*** And then massive efforts to make capital accessible to people with lower incomes, like post office banking or more credit unions. And forcing Fed to met inflation targets before it raises interest rates. If there's something Democrats need to "seize" it's the inequality argument.****

* I mean, that as tax rates continued to fall for middle class payers throughout the Obama administration, polls never stopped showing people believing their tax rates were going up.

** And it's not as if we had a real chance of passing a serious program any time in the next three years. Even in the unimaginably best impeachment luck, President Pelosi and the Republican Senate would have their hands completely full with ethics legislation repairing the legal holes that allow Trump more or less unlimited corruption. Budgeting will be by continuing resolution until 2021. And there's no point in making your compromises ahead of the negotiation, unless you're as cunning as Obama. Might as well think big while we have the time!

*** Bernie insisted on the deficit-hawk gesture of a middle-class tax hike. Of course my health insurance program (starting from the ACA and more or less Germanizing it) is a lot less expensive than "single payer".

**** Why are so many of us forgetting this? More and more Americans have no pensions or property and face literal destitution in old age, while people like Trump can gratify every whim without even thinking about it. Marx and Piketty were both right, this isn't sustainable. If we don't move forward we'll be going back to feudalism.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Turnout troofing

Yesterday the Times Upshot ran a piece by Nate Cohn analyzing the 2016 presidential election in terms of what looks to me like another take in the Legendary White Working Class family of takes, identifying the crucial factor in Trump's victory as that particular set of white-no-college voters who voted for Obama in 2008 and/or 2012 but for Trump in 2016, and who are said to have made this remarkable switch mostly out of racial resentment (I actually don't think that's as bizarre as it sounds, but the obvious question it raises, of why a white person who voted for Obama one year would turn around against Clinton out of racial resentment the next time, is one Cohn doesn't even discuss) and then out of disappointment with Obama and then lastly because they agree with Trump's policy prescriptions as they understand them.

Which Cohn does not take to mean that Democrats need to appeal more to racists, even though that's what his data makes it sound like, but that we should take positions more like those of imaginary Trump, in favor of lots of infrastructure spending, and trade protectionism, and relatively relaxed sexual views. The great Zandar of Kentucky, though, hears Cohn thinking it, and he doesn't like it:

What that means is that Cohn is strongly suggesting that in order to be competitive, Democrats have to make a sea change to attract voters that harbor no small amount of racial resentment. Trump was able to leverage that resentment into massive distrust of the Obama administration and Democrats in general.
The problem is that this will come at a cost, and the cost will be borne by black, Latinx, and Asian voters and candidates [and female candidates too, I'd add].  I've said before that this path is suicidal for the Dems and so far Trump is making it incredibly easy to make the Democrats be the party of inclusiveness in comparison by simple dint of Trump's overwhelmingly awful racism, if not open support of white supremacists.

Nor do I.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What part of anti-fascist didn't you understand?

Image via New York Times.

Not long after retweeting (and then untweetting) an image of the Trump train evidently emulating the automobile of that murdering Nazi in Charlottesville to mow down the CNN mascot, Emperor Trump
showed up at Trump Tower to inform the press of a new executive order:
“I’ve just signed a new executive order to reform the nation’s badly broken infrastructure permitting process,” Trump announced, suggesting that his directive would streamline the process of approving constructions on highways.
But according to my source (the Mic Network), it was actually just rear-ending an order of 2015 from the Obama White House, revising the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard

Flailing to Byzantium

Albrecht Dürer, 1514, St. Jerome in his Studio, via Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Verbatim David Brooks, "How to Roll Back Fanaticism", New York Times, August 15 2017:

Donald Trump is the perfect snake oil salesman for this moment. He lacks inwardness and therefore is terrified by the possibility of anxiety. He has been escaping self-scrutiny his whole life and has become a genius at the self-exculpating rationalization. He took a nation beset by uncertainty and he gave it a series of “explanations” that were simple, crude, affirming and wrong.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that Donald Trump's lack of inwardness causes him to be terrified by the possibility of anxiety? Or putting it another way, if you have more inwardness, does that make you less anxious that you might get anxious? Or does inwardness make you more anxious so that you realize anxiety isn't that frightening? I can see how an embrace of self-scrutiny can lead you to inculpate yourself if you have stuff to feel guilty about, but I don't quite get how fleeing from self-scrutiny would make you "become a genius" at explaining why you're not guilty and in any case Trump doesn't really do self-exculpation—he just denies. If he's a genius, it's at gratuitous lying. You could say he started off as a genius in avoiding self-scrutiny, which enables him to be unaware whether he has or hasn't done anything at all, and just assume that if anything is nice he's responsible for it and if anything's not nice it's somebody else's fault, or they're lying about it. David F. Brooks may have "become a genius" in avoiding self-scrutiny in the columns he wrote in summer 2014 on the subject of how it's narcissistic to examine oneself, at the same time as Brooks himself was publicly pretending he hadn't just smashed up his 30-year marriage by having an affair with his 25-years-younger research assistant, but let that pass. Another and much more important classic example, involving Iraq, comes from Driftglass, vintage 2010.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jack Kennedy was a (distant) friend of mine, and you, sir...

From Joseph Simms, 1873, Nature's Revelations of Character, Or, The Mental, Moral and Volitive Dispositions of Mankind, as Manifested in the Human Form and Countenance.
Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street ("The Missiles of August"):
No reason to worry, Trump is basically John Fitzgerald Kennedy: disgusting, but not really dangerous.
a reckless, lecherous U.S. president obsessed with his own vigor and out of his depth on foreign policy faced off against a thirtysomething dictator armed with nukes. If we survived the Cuban missile crisis without a thermonuclear war, there’s probably a way to get through this one, too.
I don't think it's quite right to describe Trump as "lecherous", though he'd probably like that himself. My sense, especially from the famous Billy Bush tape, is that he's less interested in having lots of intercourse with many different women than in assault, peeping, and especially getting his presumed exploits talked about. It's hard to imagine JFK calling the New York Post under an assumed identity to get them to write about how much sex he was having.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Annals of Derp: The Paul Popenoe Story

The early ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved?’ columns have an unpleasant chiding tone. Popenoe, along with his organisation’s marriage counsellors, thought of female clients as unrealistic babies: immature, and expecting too much glitz from their marriages. There was a strong element of intergenerational critique in their counsel – a sense that young women were seduced by popular culture, and hopelessly unable to ‘keep house’ and make sacrifices. ‘Don’t expect too much romance,’ Popenoe’s counsellors said over and over again. In treating ‘Ralph’ and ‘Alice’ (February 1953), a young couple who had four children in the space of five years, the counsellor wrote that Alice needed to be convinced to stop ‘nagging’ her husband for affection: ‘Ralph’s way of pronouncing his love was not in extravagant speech but in coming home to her and the children, and displaying his willingness – indeed, his determination – to support them.’ The happy ending was for her to provide: ‘When Alice recognised this fact and acknowledged that the language of courtship and juvenile dreams is seldom the language of marriage, she started keeping household accounts and padlocking her tongue.’ (via Aeon, illustration from Redbook.)
I was kind of thinking I'd take a bye on Dinesh D'Souza's newly emitted project, The Big Lie (from Regnery, already getting remaindered at $4.95 five days after publication!), aimed at persuading us that Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism was too mild, because Jonah left out the important bit about how liberals are also Nazis, which isn't how I remembered it, but this tweet kind of called out to me to find out what it was about.

Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that the progressive eugenicist Paul Popenoe, an associate of the birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, gave the German Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei the idea of "lethal chambers" for killing the disabled and unwanted?

Answer: It's incredible how much wrong D'Souza can pack into 21 words.

Friday, August 11, 2017

I'd say: The Damore Memo

Image via Phawker.

David Brooks ("Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google's C.E.O.") picking villains:

There are many actors in the whole Google/diversity drama, but I’d say the one who’s behaved the worst is the C.E.O., Sundar Pichai.
Am I alone in thinking there's something weird about conducting an examination of this case around the question "who has behaved the worst?" There are many actors in Shakespeare's Hamlet, but I'd say the one who behaved the worst was Polonius. What a dick that guy is. I'm glad he's dead.

No, I'd say the job is to understand what happened and what, if anything, it means. I'm fond of worrying through the argument of who was the worst person in the George W. Bush administration (on the whole, I go for Wolfowitz, who was better intellectually equipped than Cheney or Rumsfeld to know what they were doing and thus has a greater responsibility than those two simple-minded sociopaths), but only in the context of a broader analysis of the story.

What happened at Google was that sometime in July a software engineer called James Damore attended a mandatory company diversity training session that made him really mad (he said it was "secretive" and "shaming"), so on a flight to China, to while the time away and assuage his hurt feelings, he wrote a lengthy note under the title "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber"

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Kim Jong-don

Image by @DannyDutch.

Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that President Trump's first order was to renovate and modernize the US nuclear arsenal, so that it's now far stronger and more powerful than ever before?

Answer: In principle, yes, but:
  • first of all, the order (Memorandum of January 27, on "Rebuilding the U.S. Armed Forces") was actually asking the Secretary of Defense and OMB manager to produce not a renovated nuclear arsenal but a number of documents, including an overall Readiness Review of the armed forces, a National Defense Strategy, a Ballistic Missile Review, and a Nuclear Posture Review to assess how far "United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies";
  • second of all, you'd probably have to wait until after the last review is issued—it's supposed to come out at the end of this year—to get a sense of whether or not it's going to lead to a renovation and modernization beyond the 30-year trillion-dollar modernization program laid down by the Obama administration;
  • third of all, because the Trump review hasn't been completed, it's really hard to see how it could have done anything already to make the US nuclear arsenal stronger and more powerful than previously, unless they're planning to install time travel to build a better past; and
  • fourth of all, it wasn't the first order (that was an executive order of January 20 directing the IRS not to enforce the requirement that tax filers show they have health insurance so that the government won't be able to collect the tax penalties from those who don't, and begging Congress to repeal and replace the PPACA—on the first, nobody was sure by April 18 what they were required to do, and tax preparers were advising everybody to comply with the Obama law as written; on the second, his congressional appeal has of course crashed) but the eighth memorandum, and overall 12th or 13th (15th according to the Rude One).

A Man and His Brain

Former New York Times columnist David Brooks  ("Getting Trump Out of My Brain") introduces an interesting psychological theory you might call neo-Cartesian, in which he sees the human self as a disembodied thing lurking in the ether but the brain as a sort of self in its own right, and a difficult personality making for conflicts between the two of them:

Last week The Washington Post published transcripts of Donald Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders. A dear friend sent me an email suggesting I read them because they reveal how Trump’s mind works. But as I tried to click the link a Bartleby-like voice in my head said, “I would prefer not to.” I tried to click again and the voice said: “No thanks. I’m full.”
So poor Brooksy can't cognize anything because his brain's on strike. Here's a howdy-do!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Elevating the art

Computers and fabrication: 3-D printing at the 2006 Maker Faire, via Edutopia.

Trump's hard at work during his working vacation, nine tweets before breakfast, which is a lot, apparently kicked off by this morning's New York Times, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg's well-made piece

Many Politicians Lie. But Trump Has Elevated the Art of Fabrication.

"Inept" is a pretty cute word choice. The Times did not apologize for anything in its letter to subscribers of November 13, and it's bizarre that he keeps claiming they did, though of course a good example of the phenomenon Stolberg writes about. It's funny how he takes the media failure to predict his victory as a personal insult to himself instead of an unpredictable weirdness in the results (that his share of the vote should distribute itself into just the right counties in those four states to add up to a win, even though he was three million votes behind). It was not a big win. Peter Baker at The Times doesn't speculate on what predictions are meant by "every wrong prediction",  and I'm not going to try.

Looks as if Kelly can't stop people from dumping clippings on the emperor's desk when he's in Jersey.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Cosmopolitan bias

Hedgehog in vampire costume, via wideopenpets.

Can't stop thinking about that exchange between White House political advisor Stephen Miller (or "David Duke's favorite Jew" as The Forward has called him) and CNN's Jim Acosta, with reference to the awful immigrattion bill submitted by Senators Cotton and Perdue aiming at cutting legal immigration to the US by 50% and restructuring the rules to bring fewer unskilled workers and relatives of citizens and more "high-value" entrepreneurs and professionals to our shores:
Q.... Yes, people who immigrate to this country can eventually -- people who immigrate to this country not through Ellis Island, as your family may have, but in other ways, do obtain a Green Card at some point. They do it through a lot of hard work. And, yes, they may learn English as a second language later on in life. But this whole notion of “well, they have to learn English before they get to the United States,” are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?
MR. MILLER: Jim, it’s actually -- I have to honestly say I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It’s actually -- it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree that in your mind --
Q Sir, it’s not a cosmopolitan --
Acosta, who is of Cuban origin—his father came to the US as a refugee in September 1962, weeks before the Cuban missile crisis erupted—obviously isn't thinking about the many Caribbeans and upper-middle–class Africans and South and Southeast Asians who could find access to green cards through the Cotton-Perdue immigration proposals, but about the many people who could be shut out by this system. especially from Latin America, including, let's say, qualified engineers and doctors and the like. But he puts it very artlessly, giving Miller his opportunity to start browbeating.

Tough Enough

National Review's Kevin D. Williamson, continuing his discussion of the David Mamet fake toughness of Donald J. Trump, works himself into a funny rhetorical pickle on the subject of the genuinely tough, where he nominates the military heroes, Senator McCain and former president George H.W. Bush:
The fact that McCain has been something of a disappointment as a senator and a presidential candidate invites reflection upon the actual political value of personal toughness. George H. W. Bush finished flying a World War II combat mission while bleeding from a head wound in an airplane that was on fire before parachuting into the Pacific, where he evaded vengeful Japanese soldiers who were just then engaged in torturing and eating their prisoners. He was somehow lampooned as a “wimp” by the same media that had earlier accused him of being a bloodthirsty killer (it was alleged that he had strafed a Japanese lifeboat), and some conservatives joined in that, Pat Buchanan among them. The wimp flew 58 combat missions, whereas tough-guy Trump might play 58 holes of golf in an unusually active fortnight. But George H. W. Bush’s genuine toughness and courage was nearly irrelevant to his performance in office.
Given that Trump has visited a golf course 43 times in the first 14 fortnights/28 weeks of his presidency, or almost exactly 3 times per fortnight, I'd suggest he plays at least 54 holes in a normal fortnight. (Reporters aren't generally allowed to know when he's playing, and he's known to have claimed he was doing a meeting when he was actually on the course; more details and possibly different calculations here.) The 58 holes of an unusually active fortnight would be when he's interrupted on the fifth hole of a fourth round because he's required to do something presidential. That would indeed be unusual. He's so lazy he's been known to drive his cart across a putting green, something even an ignoramus like me can recognize as disgusting. Perhaps that is one reason he is reluctant to play on courses he doesn't own.

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Wank Supreme

Thanks for the shoutout, Professor Liberman!

The strongest Supreme.

Brooks ("Can People Change After Middle Age?") sounds as if he's wondering about himself again, or maybe Trump:

I sometimes read that people don’t change much after middle age.
He doesn't tell us where he reads it (is it always in the same place or does it pop up in different contexts?), so I'm not sure how seriously I want to take this. According to old William James, as I learn from the blog of Melissa Dahl, it was worse than that; personalities stop changing around 30, well before traditional middle age begins, according to his 1890 Principles of Psychology:
“In most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.”
On the other hand, that picture has itself begun to soften in the nearly 130 years since it was formed. Many psychologists feel there's a genetic component to one's Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) that leaves you with a kind of fixed endowment that really won't change much beyond softening us around the edges, but a large study at UC Berkeley conducted by Sanjay Srivastava and published in 2003 found reasons to question that and, pleasantly enough, that we all tend to get better. We get more conscientious through our 20s, and more agreeable starting in the 30s; and although younger women are more neurotic and extraverted than younger men, that difference begins to erase itself with time. So isn't that nice! Was there anything else you wanted to know?

But everyday experience contradicts this on a weekly basis.
I mean of course everyday experience actually takes place seven times as much as weekly experience does. Are you suggesting that people change after middle age just 14% of the time? It's probably too stressful to do more of it.

Acts of Defiance

Colombian Amazon, via Lugares Colombianos.

Funny detail about the extent to which General Kelly is moving to take control over the president:

(Should have been "told".)

The official explanation is that Kelly wants to control the quality of the information the president gets—less Breitbart and more Daily Briefing, which sounds like an absolutely good enough idea in its own right, but it also seems like a serious power play in more ways than one. First, it's an effort to stop Trump from making screaming phone calls, or presumably at least some of the tweets—an effort to control him, in respect to behaviors other minders haven't been able to temper. Then, it's a way of limiting the influence of certain staffers, like Bannon, who have long gotten attention from Trump in this way, with the inflammatory clipping (I took a detailed look at one case, the time Trump "found out" that Obama had had his "wires tapped" in Trump Tower, in March). And lastly it's a way of taking charge of the president's own inclinations, like putting him on a diet, infantilizing him, or treating him as an invalid (as Mrs. Wilson did to Woodrow after his 1919 stroke—he really was an invalid, of course, but Trump really is infantile in important respects).

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Scout's Dishonor

Image from Outside Online, and an article by Wes Siler on the ways Donald Trump violated the Scout Law in his jamboree speech (all of 'em, Katie). 

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, President Donald Trump said the Boy Scouts called him after his highly criticized speech at the National Jamboree and told him it was “the greatest speech that was ever made to them.”...
During The Wall Street Journal interview, the President claimed the Scouts called him after the speech thanking him for his address. He said the crowd “loved” his speech and there was a “standing ovation” from the time he walked on the stage to the time he left, according to the interview transcript which Politico obtained and released Tuesday.

But it didn't happen, according to the Boy Scouts. The organization's only response was Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh apologizing to the attending Scouts for the “political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree.”
“...There was no mix,” Trump said, responding to the reporter’s assertions that there were mixed reactions to his speech. He also claimed it was the “biggest crowd they’ve ever had” at a National Jamboree.
The Boy Scouts told BuzzFeed that the largest crowd ever at a National Jamboree was in 1960, when 56,000 attended and there was an address by President Eisenhower. Eisenhower also did not boast about his Electoral College margin over Adlai Stevenson, retail stories of meeting elderly real estate developers at cocktail parties, or promise Scouts that "You'll be saying 'Merry Christmas' again when you go shopping." There were altogether 40,000 at last week's jamboree (not 45,000, as Trump claimed).

And then on Monday Trump was introducing his new chief of staff, General Kelly, to his cabinet, with an enthusiastic review of Kelly's performance as secretary of homeland security, as reported by CBS News:

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Sessions of sweet silent thought

Image via.

Some small encouragement in the story on the Sessions Justice Department push to get rid of affirmative action in college admissions once for all, in Charlie Savage's report:

The announcement suggests that the project will be run out of the division’s front office, where the Trump administration’s political appointees work, rather than its Educational Opportunities Section, which is run by career civil servants and normally handles work involving schools and universities.
In the first place, the obvious suggestion, that Sessions can't trust the career personnel to do what he wants; not necessarily because they're left, but just because they're professional; Sessions hasn't managed to bleed all the honesty out of DOJ, the way Tillerson seems to have blown the expertise out of State.

Smoking hot headline

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Trump Can’t Save American Christianity

Ya think?
Totila, King of the Goths, pays his respects to St. Benedict. Painting by Spinello Aretino at San Miniato del Monte, Florence, dated 1400, via Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

More Danes than Antique Romans

Thumb on pretzel, from AOL Lifestyle.

Former New York Times columnist David Brooks ("Before Manliness Lost its Virtue") has noticed that a lot of figures in the Trump administration have a thing about being manly in one way or another:
There is the slovenly “I don’t care what you think” manliness of Steve Bannon. There’s the look-at-me-I-can-curse manliness that Anthony Scaramucci learned from “Glengarry Glen Ross.” There is the affirmation-hungry “I long to be the man my father was” parody of manliness performed by Donald Trump. There are all those authentically manly Marine generals Trump hires to supplement his own.
The David Mamet reference is stolen from Kevin D. Williamson's admired National Review piece on the unlamented jerk Scaramucci (it really was pretty well done, though of course the subtext was that the White House's vulgarity proves that it's really a leftwing operation, because conservatives never say "fuck" when ladies are within hearing). I don't know why Brooks uses the hyphen construction in the second sentence instead of the quotation marks of the first and third.

As far as I know Trump only has one two authentically manly Marine generals to work with, John Kelly, who had to vacate Homeland Security so he could be Marine-in-charge in the West Wing (Flynn and McMaster, and Keith Kellogg of the National Security Council are all Army, and it's Admiral Mike Rogers who runs the NSA). The idea of "generals Trump hires to supplement his own" suggests that he also has some secret private generals as well, which is very weird, although it would explain that bizarre episode last week when he claimed that "his" generals had advised him to ban transsexual people from military service, though none of the generals in the administration knew anything about it:

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Does Ross Douthat read this page?

Used in publicity for a performance ("An Evening of S.I. Witkiewicz") by the Theatre of the Two-Headed Calf, New York City, November 2004.
Just wondering, after noticing an odd metaphor creeping into today's column ("The Empty Majority"):

It has the tics of an opposition party, the raw wounds of a beaten coalition, the dated ideas of a bankrupt force. Its attempts to pass a health care bill aren’t just painful to watch; they have the same unheimlich quality as a calf born with two heads, the feeling of watching something that the laws of politics or nature should not permit to exist.
Not quite English yet, Monsignor: "they" (the attempts to pass a health care bill) do not have the feeling of watching anything. Attempts don't have any feelings at all. You're the one with the feelings. But anyway, I wrote, two days ago,
McCain's vote should be regarded as a kind of mercy killing of a freakish creature that just was not viable, a two-headed calf with a blocked intestine.
What are the odds he got that calf from me?

Of course I take the pro-choice position that it's kinder to put the monster out of its misery than force it to live, helpless and in pain, for another few weeks, and Ross takes the anti-choice position that nothing is to be done. He sees the whole episode, with some justice, as a synecdoche for the current state of the Republican party as misbegotten and impotent, elected but unable to govern, but not his problem. He seems to wish the Democrats would come and kill the GOP for him (the way Thailand has Muslim butchers who absorb the karma of killing lambs and cows and chickens so that Buddhists can eat meat without feeling very sinful):

For the record: Arguing with Tomi Lahren

The young woman who denounces the Affordable Care Act while enjoying the fact that it gets her free coverage on her parents' policy was weighing in on the topic of transgender troops.

SMBC-Comics, via Language Log.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

For the record: Cons and Fusion

Well, no, not exactly. Or at all, come to think of it. Bill Browder's testimony to the Senate provided no information we didn't already have, and had no bearing one way or another on who Russia supported in the 2016 election, probably, but Trump might do better to avoid the question (which is one of those things the press can't talk straight about, because it involves some unreported speculation, but I can).

Friday, July 28, 2017

Congratulations, America

TrumpCare is dead!
Goldwater would never vilify ethnic minorities. unless, you know, in order to get votes.

With all respect—well, some respect, I'm only human—to Senator McCain for his agonizing decision to vote for once the way he thinks instead of the way Mitch McConnell wants him to (Steve M thinks only the specter of possibly approaching death could have gotten him to do the ethical thing—funny to imagine the old reprobate is the only actual Christian, fearing God and Judgment, in the whole GOP), and some more respect to Senators Murkowski and Collins for doing it on a more regular basis as if they really believe that's what Senators are supposed to do, I think the momentousness of McConnell's defeat on Skinny Trumpcare is getting a little exaggerated.

I mean, because it really was inevitable that Trumpcare would be defeated, as I'd been hoping. As has been widely pointed out, the floor managers could only get as many votes for it as they did by promising the Senators that it would never become law, and billing the vote as merely a necessary first step to convening a conference committee to effectively write yet another new bill, but by now we've seen the full range of what they can come up with in the way of repealing the Affordable Care Act (which precludes doing it with any Democratic votes and thus requires 50 Republican ones). There just aren't any approaches that can get enough Republicans to vote for it, because the party doesn't have a coherent position on health care, and can't, really, as long as it seeks to bring together the wealthy libertarian and the poor nativist. Whatever came out of the conference wasn't going to be any different.

McCain's vote should be regarded as a kind of mercy killing of a freakish creature that just was not viable, a two-headed calf with a blocked intestine.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Brooks Gets Woke

Pre-woke David Brooks contemplated unpatriotic Colin Kaepernick back in the old days, last September. Image credit Getty/Thearon W. Henderson/Bryan Bedder/Salon.

Verbatim David Brooks, "How Cool Works in America Today", July 25 2017:
The modern concept of woke began, as far as anybody can tell, with a 2008 song by Erykah Badu. The woke mentality became prominent in 2012 and 2013 with the Trayvon Martin case and the rise of Black Lives Matter. Embrace it or not, B.L.M. is the most complete social movement in America today, as a communal, intellectual, moral and political force.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that, as far as anybody can tell, the modern concept of woke began with a 2008 song by Erykah Badu?

Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all, when Badu uses the phrase "I stay woke" throughout the 2008 song "The Master Teachers", according to Wikipedia, it "does not yet have any connection to justice issues", which does not sound precisely like the modern concept (as opposed to 2012, when she began using it along with others in connection with social and racial justice as well as to demand freedom for the then jailed Russian singing group Pussy Riot); second of all, also according to Wikipedia,

Monday, July 24, 2017

Scaramouche the Douche. I

Stewart Granger as Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche in the 1952 film by George Sidney.

So this is about the Twitter evidence that Trump's new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, used to hold some un-Trumpish views, like favoring marriage equality or opposing global warming, or thinking Trump lacks judgment, and
“Walls don’t work,” the Wall Streeter tweeted in late 2015. “Never have never will. The Berlin Wall 1961-1989 don’t fall for it.”
Where he showed the same peculiar misunderstanding as Fox's Monica Crowley, of thinking the Mauer was somehow analogous to Trump's wall, as if the East Germans had built it to keep out job-stealing West Berliner migrants. Walls do work if the object is to keep people in, see under "Prison", and he's even wronger than Crowley, in that the Berlin one worked pretty effectively, for 28 years.

I'd like to say, on the other hand, people are really being unfair to Scaramucci with all this accusing him of having "beliefs". They should be considered more along the lines of fashion accessories.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

For the Record: Out of His Own Mouth

Looking for something else, bumped into this 2012 story from Politico about the Trump response to Willard Mitt Romney's defeat in the presidential election, in another case of his seeming ability to prophesy the future without realizing he's doing it:

And most interestingly these, apparently deleted the same day (after it became clear even to Trump that Obama had a solid majority of the popular vote, and perhaps noticing the spelling issues in the second one, or second "won"):

Saturday, July 22, 2017

It's National Review time!

From an intern called Jeff Cimmino kvetching about a podcast by a couple of Harvard Divinity School graduates and their "weekly church-like service for the secular focusing on on a Potter text's meaning" who is worried about the Death of God and links to Nietzsche to make it clear how upset he is. (Little imagining, I suppose, how much of the books is devoted to a serious and ultimately consoling meditation on death, the deaths of those we love and then our own. But missing Jesus, of course, so WTAF, amirite?)

Drawing by David Hughes for Esquire, October 2007.
And then from the other, libertine side of the Movement, this:

Friday, July 21, 2017

Flavors of Freedom

What David Brooks meant to say ("Republicans Can't Pass Bills"):
Freedom is like ice cream: it comes in many different flavors. For example, you can have freedom in the future or you can have it right now.
Freedom in the future is what philosophers whose names escape me refer to as "freedom as capacity". Thus you should encourage your friend to practice the piano hard, which will increase his piano-playing capacity. In the same way you should feed your kid nutritious meals, make her do her homework, and see that she plays sports and performs volunteer work, so that she will have the capacity of getting into the college she likes. 
I have no idea how philosophers refer to freedom in the present, so I'll call it "freedom as detachment", which sounds kind of Buddhist but is not. This is when you let people alone to do what they want, based on the belief that people are freer when they are unimpeded. It is defined as a kind of absence—the absence of obstacles, stumbling blocks, speed bumps, and things that get in the way.
Back in the day, when the Republican Party used to be interested in running the government, it embraced both flavors of freedom, but its congressional priorities were all about freedom of capacity. When you consider the party's major legislative accomplishments since 1988, you can see it working to provide people with more capacities.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Nothing Changes, by Donald J. Trump

Giorgio de Chirico, "Le Muse Inquietanti" (The Disturbing Muses), 1945. Via.

Donald J. Trump

I. Song of the Pre-Existing Condition
Nothing changes.
Nothing changes.
Once you get something
for pre-existing conditions, etc., etc.

Once you get something, it’s awfully tough
to take it away. But what it does, Maggie,
it means it gets tougher and tougher.
As they get something, it gets tougher.
Because politically, you can’t give it away.

So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal.
Because you are basically saying
from the moment the insurance,
you’re 21 years old, you start working
and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance,
and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan.
Here’s something where you walk up
and say, “I want my insurance.”

It’s a very tough deal, but it is something
that we’re doing a good job of.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pierre Bourdieu, bitchez

Pierre Bourdieu could. Or at least he could explain it.
Shorter David Brooks, "Getting Radical About Inequality", New York Times, July 18 2017:
Recently I took a friend with no more than a high school diploma to her name to listen to some music. Insensitively, I brought her to a well-known conservatory, where one of the faculty members was presenting all of the first book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier on the harpsichord. Suddenly I saw her face go dark and panicky as she looked at the program and its unfamiliar words like "prelude", "fugue", and "C major". Quickly, I asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and with a fearful gesture she assented and we went to the Pops, where they played Strauss's Beautiful Blue Danube
Well, not really. He doesn't refer directly to last week's "How We Are Ruining America With Our Filthy Elitist Capicollo Sandwiches" at all, in fact; but it's carrying on the same argument, about how people like him use a set of cultural signifiers to shut out the mob from their councils and amusements and he feels bad about it, I guess, but at least that proves there's no need to redistribute the money, we just have to redistribute the Italian delis.

Only in a different key, you see, appealing to the late, (sort of) cultural-Marxian sociologist Pierre Bourdieu ("I’m not in the habit of recommending left-wing French intellectuals, but..."), who, believe it or not, kids, turns out to think exactly like Brooks! I mean, except for the Marxian part: