Saturday, June 23, 2018

Getting Old


Kind of like the old bowling league. In these days of crumbling social institutions, emptying churches, declining volunteer fire departments and reading groups, when things start to fall quiet among the breakfast crowd at the Sweet Pie 'n' Bye, you can sense the 2016 nostalgia, and somebody's bound to say, "Say, why don't we call up the New York Times and tell them we're still Republicans? Maybe they'll send down that nice young Jeremy Peters!"

Brooklets Babbling

Rafaello Sanzio, "The Disputà over the Blessed Sacrament" (so called after the scholars around the center altar, debating the mystery of Transubstantiation), west wall of the Stanza della Signatura, Vatican, via Wikipedia.
Oh, Brooksie (The Fourth Great Awakening)!
There are certain melodies that waft through history.
It's Bad Poetry Day?

by Norris Clarion Sprigg, 1907.
I didn't bring my cymbols, though, or cymbals, or symbols. Just kidding, I've always got a symbol or two at hand. What else you got?
There are certain melodies that waft through history. One is the cultural contrast between Athens and Jerusalem. This contrast has many meanings, but the most germane one for our day is the contrast between the competitive virtues and the compassionate virtues.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is the cultural contrast between Athens and Jerusalem a melody that wafts through history?

Surrounded by the Pale

Via American Civil Liberties Association.

I'm obsessed with this map (h/t emptywheel), which is being promoted by the ACLU, to make an important point: There are parts of the United States where the Fourth Amendment doesn't fully apply, where the Customs and Border Patrol is authorized to establish checkpoints where they can stop and search anybody without a warrant, on "reasonable suspicion" of an immigration violation or crime, and of course in practice
Border Patrol agents routinely ignore or misunderstand the limits of their legal authority in the course of individual stops, resulting in violations of the constitutional rights of innocent people. These problems are compounded by inadequate training for Border Patrol agents, a lack of oversight by CBP and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the consistent failure of CBP to hold agents accountable for abuse.
It's just what sounds like a very small part of our enormous country, everyplace that's less than 100 miles from an external border, but it turns out that, as the map illustrates, that covers almost two thirds of the population. Thus the Constitution fails to protect most Americans, a pretty large majority, from these kinds of abuse.

But the map also dramatically corroborates all your suspicions about the craziness of American political geography, as you recognize what's in that 100-mile band: all of Michigan, New England (except a fragment of Vermont), New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, Florida, and nearly all of Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, California, and Washington; and how little there is in the vast interior. That "Flyover Country" they tell us about really is flyover country, in that nobody wants to go there, or has any reason to go there, with the exception of a dozen or so urban areas (themselves probably mostly in a 250-mile band, like Phoenix, Atlanta, Raleigh, Pittsburgh, I think Minneapolis, though not Denver or Dallas or Kansas City). Otherwise it's truly a kind of nowhere, dotted with tiny white-people shtetls, surrounded by the pale of settlement.

You could feel sorry for them, as the judicious newspapers are always begging us to do, with their isolation and lack of economic opportunity and increasing sense of representing a community in decay, but the thing is, the states with, say,  more than 1.75 representatives in Congress for every million people wield ridiculous amounts of political power! Maybe that's what's the matter with Kansas.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Zen and the Art of the Deal

Does a deal have the Buddha-nature?

Image via Food & Wine.

Peter Baker
in the New York Times:
His 17 months in office have in fact been an exercise in futility for the art-of-the-deal president. No deal on immigration. No deal on health care. No deal on gun control. No deal on spending cuts. No deal on Nafta. No deal on China trade. No deal on steel and aluminum imports. No deal on Middle East peace. No deal on the Qatar blockade. No deal on Syria. No deal on Russia. No deal on Iran. No deal on climate change. No deal on Pacific trade.
Even routine deals sometimes elude Mr. Trump, or he chooses to blow them up. After a Group of 7 summit meeting this month with the world’s leading economic powers, Mr. Trump, expressing pique at Canada’s prime minister, refused to sign the carefully negotiated communiqué that his own team had agreed to. It was the sort of boilerplate agreement that every previous president had made over four decades.

It's really remarkable when you think about it. He's literally in negative territory (having left the Paris climate accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Iran nuclear agreement, with the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA likely to topple next). We'd have gotten more of those precious deals, mathematically speaking, if we'd elected a can of Spam instead.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Lenny and the Wolfe

While you all were starting to attach the monstrous comment thread to yesterday's post, I found myself watching a video I'd never seen, or I think even heard of, a documentary thing, from 1967, extraordinarily awkward and even painful for me, starting off kind of randomly with what looks like outtakes of the composer, conductor, teacher, and all-round showman Leonard Bernstein of the New York Philharmonic trying to have something like an interview with the composer, producer, and singer Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (I'm pretty sure, but I could be wrong, he's not identified), scowling at each other. Brian, of course, never could talk even before his famous breakdown, and Lenny couldn't stop talking, no matter how awkward it got, to the point where it seriously interfered with his work.

The Wilson episode breaks off and the show proper begins with the thing I was looking for, the spectacle of Bernstein sitting at the piano explaining in terms appropriate to an audience of people his own age, roughly my parents' age, a public TV audience, why he loves the Beatles, in the context of a broader discussion of why rock music at that Summer-of-Love moment is important, artistically and politically, addressed to people who think it's disgusting and frightening. It's everything I remember about Bernstein, the fluency in an academic language making him sound as if he isn't very familiar with colloquial English, the fluency at the piano illustrating his points effortlessly, the ridiculous barking conductor's singing voice, and the way he brings his immense technical understanding into the explanation with a deep trust that the listeners will be able to understand stuff they don't know, refusal to imagine they aren't after all just as smart as he is, the generous and democratic certainty that we'll get what he's saying even if we don't know all the words, and we do get it, precisely because he trusts us so much.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Literary Corner: Trump is Right!

Four Corinthians, the whole New Testament only has two. TV-room/mancave in the Trump Tower 63rd-story penthouse, not as good as Trump's own place upstairs because where's the gold, via

On the Elite
by Donald J. Trump

You ever notice they always call
the other side ‘the elite’? The elite!
Why are they elite? I have a
much better apartment than they do.
I’m smarter than they are.
I’m richer than they are.
I became president and they didn’t.
(From the Duluth rally, 20 June 2018)

He's absolutely right. This needs to be understood. People who use "elite" to refer to people who don't have money and power are using the word incorrectly. Who does that, anyway?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

We don't have to prosecute them/but then we're not prosecuting them

Francisco de Goya, St. Peter Repentant, 1823-25. Via Wikipedia.

The truest Trump is perhaps the one who's spare and blank and at the same time musically repetitive, like the Eliot of "Ash Wednesday" ("Because I know that time is always time/ And place is always and only place/And what is actual is actual only for one time/ And only for one place...")—in this case literally true, because, speaking to the National Federation of Independent Businesses on their 75th anniversary, uncharacteristically using fairly elaborate notes but no prepared text, he found himself hovering around, if not quite landing on, a helipad of contrition:

by Donald J. Trump

We have one chance
to get it right.
We might as well
get it right or let's
just keep it going but
let’s do it right.
We have a chance. We want to solve
this problem. We want to solve
family separation. I don’t want
children taken away from parents
and when you prosecute the parents
for coming in illegally, which should happen,
you have to take the children away.
Now, we don’t have to prosecute them
but then we’re not prosecuting them
for coming in illegally. That’s not good.

It's the acknowledgment that this crisis of concentration camps for children is of his own making: he did it, personally, voluntarily, in some kind of knowledge of what the consequences were going to be. "We don't have to" but it "should happen" (dodging the responsibility with the impersonal verb).

And then what do you know? After contrition comes atonement, and lo and behold!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

No True Conservative Would Ever Tear a Family Apart

In Tijuana, from the April "caravan", via CNN.

Now that Anthony Scaramucci and Franklin Graham are on board, Brooks ("The Rise of the Amnesty Thugs") is venturing out to say he doesn't think much of the Sessions-Miller-Trump family separation party either, and it's not so bad in parts, especially since he points out that it's not just the CPB at the border that's violently separating immigrant families, but also ICE in the heartland, with links:
Sontag and Russakoff capture the fabric of immigration enforcement today: a van-load of men coming back from an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering detained by a state trooper after a routine traffic stop; a magisterial district judge in Camp Hill, Pa., pre-empting a Tajik wedding by calling ICE on the groom and best man, who were led away in handcuffs; work sites raided, with the Latinos separated from everybody else and lined up face to the wall; police officers who ticket Hispanics at a rate of twice or even five times their share of the population.
But of course there's always a razor blade in that apple, as our friends Driftglass and Boswood likes to say, which is that what he wants to say about it isn't so much that it's bad, or that it has to be stopped, or that Republican Senators need to do something about it, which would be terribly commonplace, as to produce his own smoking hot take, which is to clarify that it's not conservative! Though it is anti-liberal, where "liberal" means, as is becoming usual in the movement, "conservative looking for liberal approval", or trying to lull liberals into argumentative cease-fire, or into uniting against the common enemy of Imaginary Collectivism—Black Lives Matter secretly planning to turn into the Great Leap Forward and enslave us all!

That is, what's wrong with the Trump policy is its relentless statism:

Monday, June 18, 2018

Literary Corner: Particular Vernacular

George Rose as Major-General Stanley in the Joseph Papp production of Pirates of Penzance at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, 1980 (if you watch the video you'll get a glimpse of the stars, Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline).

Particular Vernacular (To the tune of "I Am the Very Model")

"He says things that are not true all the time," Karl said.
"I don't believe that," Bannon said. "I think
he speaks in a particular vernacular that connects
to people in this country." (ABC News)
Our president has mastered a particular vernacular
By turns appealing, angry, cheery, solemn, and spectacular,
A sort of synthesis comprising every kind of orat'ry
Like some concoction out of a rhetorical laborat'ry.
He calls down angry curses on the evils of society,
And feels the sorrow of our economical anxiety,
And praises his own genes and brains and beauty and tenacity,
But you must never, ever think to question his veracity!
[But we must never, ever think to question his veracity,
No, we must never, ever think to question his veracity,
No, we must never, ever think to question his veraci-racity!]
So if in certain circumstances pleasant or unpleasant, you
Should just occasionally hear him say a thing that isn't true,
Do not deny the substance of his utterance oracular—
It's only Donald doing his particular vernacular.
[We won't deny the substance of his utterance oracular—
It's only Donald doing his particular vernacular!]

Sunday, June 17, 2018


Gray-green Eminence: Stephen Bannon as depicted on the cover of Time. 2 February 2017, via Flickr.

Actually why is Stephen Bannon important again?

I started noticing something like a Bannon comeback around a week ago, when he turned up in back-to-back articles in the Times as a crucial window into the Trumpian mind, that hilarious Mark Landler piece on Trump's deep study of the North Korea issue—
“To the president, ‘duck and cover’ and the Cuban missile crisis were formative experiences,” said Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist. “He knows the Korean War hasn’t ended, and he can accomplish what destroyed his idol, General MacArthur.”
And the next day in the latest iteration of the "Trump feels emboldened and is taking over now" theme, by Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers: