Friday, June 23, 2017

Alien Scorn

"Remember Uncle August, the Unhappy Inventor", by Georg Grosz, 1919. Via this Michael Lewis article.

Bret Stephens betrays an interesting facet of his own urbane fascism ("Democrats and the Losing Politics of Contempt"):

Democrats may think the brand is all about diversity, inclusion and fairness. But for millions of Americans, the brand is also about contempt — intellectual contempt of the kind Nimzowitsch exuded for his opponent (the grandmaster Fritz Sämisch, who, in fairness, was no slouch); moral contempt of the sort Hillary Clinton felt for Trump (never more evident than last year when Hillary Clinton wondered, “Why aren’t I fifty points ahead?”).
I really misread this on first glance as accusing Clinton of contempt for voters, which would of course be dead wrong: a classic liberal, Clinton was assuming ordinary folk are possessed of some common wisdom. The majority may not have time to devote to the arcana of policy, but they surely have enough American goodness and plain sense not to vote for an obviously deeply ignorant and psychopathic clown for the highest office in the land. (I actually continue to believe this, as I imagine she may too, in spite of the November results, in my case because I always count the nonvoters; they were wrong in my view, whether too susceptible to the propaganda or just too cynical, but not contemptible. Those abased enough to vote for Trump, on the other hand, make up just a quarter or so of the electorate, and I do allow myself to feel a certain contempt for them.)

But on second reading I see Stephens isn't talking about that at all; he's on her disrespect for that same ignorant and psychopathic clown.

That's the Bret Stephens who wrote, in 2015,

Vapid but haunting

Gloria Swanson sadly strums the ukulele in Cecil B. De Mille's Don't Change Your Husband (1919). From Fritzi.
Two score and thirteen years ago, the social critic Paul Goodman brought forth a book titled Compulsory Miseducation, in which he argued that school was an overrated way of dealing with childhood and there was too much of it for most kids, especially in the horrible, oppressive and embarrassing, petit-bourgeois moral code within which it was conducted in those days. It was pretty thrilling at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but to be honest the whole treatment seems a little callow nowadays, in its willful ignoring of the economic realities that meant the kind of education he had in mind could be very attractive to some among the very privileged, but look like an insult to everybody else. Indeed, what's developed is a two-tier system where the wealthy have the option of a creative, flexible education and the periodic dropout period, while the non-wealthy must apply themselves to the grimmest old-style grind.

Unless you're former New York Times columnist David Brooks, who offers his own critique of contemporary schooling in a column he calls "Mis-Educating the Young" (first time that hyphen has been used in The Times, as far as I can learn, since 1933, demonstrating once again that David Brooks has no editor). To him it's the very privileged who have gotten the worst deal:

We pump them full of vapid but haunting praise about how talented they are and how their future is limitless. Then we send them (the most privileged of them) to colleges where the professors teach about what interests the professors. Then we preach a gospel of autonomy that says all the answers to the deeper questions in life are found by getting in touch with your “true self,” whatever the heck that is.
"Vapid but haunting" sounds like a self-description. I have no idea what kind of school he's talking about, let alone whether it exists, except it's clear that the future really is limitless for "the most privileged among them" who are being given an opportunity to study with intellectuals who get to do what they love instead of being shoehorned into rote teaching with PowerPoints, the kind of meaningless repetition that everybody else will have to make a career of. So that one day, even when you're a millionaire opinionator for the world's most important newspaper and writing that stupid educate-the-spirit column for the 20th time, you'll probably feel really sad. It's all the fault of your high school.

I think it's telling that he's baffled by the concept of a "true self". Brooks doesn't have one, or the one he has is vapid and ghostly, looming in the peripheral vision but too faint and shuddery to grasp. He wants an education that will give him a soul, and get him at last out of the psychic uncertainties of 8th grade:

I’d say colleges have to do much more to put certain questions on the table, to help students grapple with the coming decade of uncertainty: What does it mean to be an adult today? What are seven or 10 ways people have found purpose in life? How big should I dream or how realistic should I be? What are the criteria we should think about before shacking up? What is the cure for sadness? What do I want and what is truly worth wanting?
Please, teacher, I have a couple of questions! Give me some techniques for finding a purpose in life! Give me a pre–shacking up checklist! (Let's see, "Kids, before shacking up, ask yourself how much do I have culturally in common with my potential partner? Is she 25 years younger than me?") What is the cure for sadness? What do I want?

(The spelled-out vs. numeral "seven or 10" is, in fact, Times house style, suggesting that maybe there is an editor, but one who only enforces the paper's bad decisions.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How Not To Do It

At center, Lord Tite Barnacle of the Office of Circumlocution, from Little Dorrit, via Better Living Through Beowulf.
Credit where credit is due—this is what the kool kidz refer to as a smart take from Jennifer Steinhauer at The Times, suggesting that Senator McConnell's heart won't be broken if the Senate's version of the tax cut health care bill fails and he could even be planning it that way:
In his 2016 memoir, “The Long Game,” he noted that, as minority leader, he went out of his way to make sure that one party owned the health care issue. “I wanted a clear line of demarcation — they were for this, and we were against it,” he said. Perhaps he is not excited to let that one party now be his own.
Another thing is that everybody knows how cunning and ruthless McConnell is, and they keep talking about how he hates to bring up a bill if he's not sure he's going to win it as if winning a vote were the only thing he could possibly care about, but if you look at his history as leader of the Republican caucus, since 2007 some time, you can see he's really not that anxious to make his case for immortality by passing a load of bills. He doesn't have a lot of surface vanity, and he's a true conservative, and he devoted a lot of energy through the Obama administration to not passing bills, ever, no matter how much Jon Stewart laughed and did his sleepy-turtle voice, because he is radically opposed to any change (other than relaxing life for the very wealthy through the reactionary changes of tax cuts and deregulation, obviously), and he's been following the same pattern through the Trump administration so far.

McConnell is a black-belt master of what that great political scientist Charles Dickens referred to as the whole science of government, the secrets of HOW NOT TO DO IT. I'm sure he doesn't love the Affordable Care Act at all, but he'll choose a method of killing it that won't get his fingerprints on it, or those of the Republican Senators running for reelection in 2018 and 2020, if he can help it.

Obviously I'm saying this to some extent because I've been saying for a while that the Senate's not going to do it, whatever McConnell says, and I like being right, but it would explain a lot—why the bill is so shoddy, why there are no hearings or normal committee markups, why the scheduling is so squeezed: not because he wants to make it a law while nobody's watching, fat chance, and this is a dreadful bill whose consequences would be remembered for a very long time if it were ever implemented, but because he wants people to forgot how it failed as quickly as possible.

Third person indefinite plural imperative counterfactual

Judith with the head of Holofernes, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530, via DailyArtDaily.
Classic Friedman open ("Where Did 'We the People' Go?"):

A few days ago I was at a conference in Montreal, and a Canadian gentleman, trying to grasp what’s happening to America, asked me a simple question: “What do you fear most these days?”
I paused for a second, like a spectator waiting to see what would come out of my own mouth.
Like, thanks for asking, Canadian gentleman! Nobody knows what's under the mustache, not even the mustache himself!

Georgia off my mind

Margot and Phoebe Gerster of Chappaqua with Hillary Clinton, via Paris Match, 11/11/16.

No, I don't want to talk about Jon Ossoff and GA-06. You?

I'll say I agree with BooMan, as you knew I would, that as far as Democrats are concerned the news we need to hear is that the vote was close, as it was, could have been closer, but the general difference between that 4- or 5-point margin and the 20-odd points by which evil fascist and hater of sick people Tom Price won a few months ago is what is significant in the larger scheme of things (a commenter at The Times suggested the vote—on touchscreen machines with no paper trail—could be less well counted than we might prefer too). Also I'd be glad if Ossoff had said he'd support higher income and capital gains taxes for bloodsuckers, which would make him a better congressman if he had won and which I imagine would show the Nomenklatura, if there is one, that raising taxes on the rich isn't a controversial issue, because Ossoff would have gotten the same vote either way, and I don't see how the whole exercise was worth $25 million in mostly small donations from anxious Democrats all over the country looking for a sign.

Did Nancy Pelosi tell Ossoff to make the Grover Norquist pledge, by the way? What exactly is she alleged to have done to cause Democrats to lose the race, as if wealthy white Cobb County GA was ours to lose?

This weird singling out of Pelosi—certainly the best Speaker of the House in at least 30 years (since Thomas P. O'Neil bowed out), and I'd say more than that, though Newton Leroy Gingrich was pretty skillful until he flamed out—by the way, reminds me of some kind of pattern, where there's this person the right wing uses to symbolize everything that is evil in progressive thinking, and the self-denominated progressive movement jumps on that same person as the embodiment of wicked compromise, and the person in question happens to be a woman—have I seen that pattern before somewhere, maybe very recently indeed?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Six jungles deep in the weeds: Brooks gets into The Normalizing

Still from Tom Huckabee, Carried Away (2009) via.
Shorter David Brooks, "Let's Not Get Carried Away", New York Times, June 20 2017:
Back in the day when I was editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal for several months in 1994-95 was the height of the Whitewater scandal, and as the Journal ran numerous "investigative pieces" about the awful things Bill and Hillary Clinton were supposed to have done back in Dogpatch, I found that I couldn't understand anything about what was actually being alleged, like what was this story anyway? Fortunately at WSJ the editorial page editor isn't required to understand any of the pieces he signs off on, in fact not understanding them can be an advantage, which is how Paul Gigot has managed to hold on to the job for 16 years. But anyway it turned out in the end that the Clintons hadn't done anything wrong at all, which nobody could have predicted! So since I also can't understand any of the things they're saying about Trump and collusion with Russian attempts to manipulate the 2016 presidential election, it's pretty obvious Trump hasn't done anything wrong either. People should focus instead on the perfectly legal ways in which he is unfit for the presidency.
In fact,
at least so far, the Whitewater scandal was far more substantive than the Russia-collusion scandal now gripping Washington.
In what respect, David? What did you find "substantive" about it?

Monday, June 19, 2017

President Trumplin is Watching the Tube

"Old Man Watching TV". Bronze by Richard Matzkin, via Reiné Gadellaa.

Poem below the fold:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quantum Trump: In Sekulow Saeculorum

I had to use that before somebody else did.

T-Shirt by Northbound Christian Apparel.

The generally accepted interpretation being, I believe, that it's a complaint against deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who wrote that memo in an all-nighter from May 8 to 9 after (according to Rosenstein) Trump informed him that he was planning to fire the FBI director James Comey and asked Rosenstein for "advice and input". That is, he didn't tell Trump to fire the FBI director ("I accepted their recommendation"), unless of course he did ("I was going to fire regardless of recommendation"). Thus, if Rosenstein were to be investigating Trump now (which he isn't, he is at most responsible for greenlighting special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, if there is one) for firing Comey (which would be a less important fact in the question of Trump's possible obstruction of justice than his repeated requests to Comey to go easy on Flynn, to make a public announcement that he wasn't investigating Trump, and to make the "cloud" go away), that would be pretty ironic, huh?

To which Jay Sekulow, a new member of the Trump personal legal team, now explains on Fox News, no, that wasn't what the Tweet was about:
That tweet, Chris, was in response to The Washington Post story that alleged that five unnamed sources, anonymous sources, leaked to The Washington Post that the president was, in fact, under investigation. So that tweet was in response to that. There’s been no notification of an investigation. Nothing’s changed since James Comey said the president was not a target or subject of investigation. Nothing’s changed.
So Trump was being sarcastic maybe? "Sure, Washington Post, pull the other one!" He was simply producing an inaccurate summary of the Post story to show how inaccurate it would have been if that had indeed been the story they ran, which it wasn't?

Is there going to be a Senate health bill?

Who says there's no diversity among the 13 white men on the Senate's Health Care Working Group? More at Yahoo! News.
I'm sure Steve and other good people are right in warning us to stay vigilant on the threat of TrumpCare, whatever that turns out to be (certainly including an end to the employer mandate requiring companies to buy health insurance for their workers, an end to the Ten Essential Benefits every health insurance policy is now required to cover without a copay and the community rating system that allows people with preexisting conditions to pay the same premiums as everybody else, and the transformation of Medicaid into a block-granted state-run boondoggle that will end up in red states in the general revenue, like TANF in the Gingrich "welfare reform" of 1998, reluctantly signed after two vetoes by Bill Clinton, covering none of the needs of the poor; and of course cutting some $660 billion off the taxes of very wealthy individuals and insurance and drug companies). And yet I have a harder and harder time believing that it really exists.

I mean the Senate bill in particular, said to be getting cooked up in absolute secrecy for a vote without hearings, public scrutiny, or CBO score, maybe next week, or whenever they're confident they have the 51 votes according to ThinkProgress,

They can hide, but they can't run. Sooner or later it's got to be unveiled and voted on, and then go to conference with the House. The Senate Republicans have the same kind of tension as the House ones do, too, between those who would like to pretend the bill does some good to the needy (Murkowski, Gardner, Portman, Moore Capito, and Collins) and those for whom total defeat over Obama is the prime directive (Paul, Lee, and Cruz), which means the drama of March through May, where the House leadership had to withdraw one bill without a vote before passing a bill for the Senate to ignore, will be repeated. The public approval of the bill as people understand it is now down to 29% nationwide (as opposed to 49% for Obamacare); there isn't a single state where it's above 35%.

Public approval of the AHCA by state, as of June 15, from New York Times.
And Donald Trump's own initial love for the House bill seems to have changed over the past five or six weeks to loathing...

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Witch hunts

Indeed. Although I think the deplorable Posobiec has more of an idea than he realizes there.

The updated staging thing with an open metahistorical reference—Richard Wagner's Ring, say, where the god Wotan is dressed as Wagner himself—is an iffy proposition (as opposed to the general update as when you stage Macbeth in World War I costume to underline the pointlessness of the conflicts) and I personally think the Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar in which Caesar is made to look like Donald Trump was a terrible, incoherent idea, Shakespeare's Caesar being as unlike Trump as a historical character could well be—profoundly educated, physically brave, deeply attached to his friends (you see him losing the will to live when he realizes Brutus has betrayed him), and really a minor character after all, dying before the play is halfway over—Brutus and Cassius and Antony are the principals.

What's the value to the play of making Caesar a Trump figure? Really, it just ennobles Trump in an absurd way. I don't see that it does anything for the play at all.

But I can definitely see parts for Hillary Clinton in a revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. She could be Martha Corey, for instance, who was basically hanged for refusing to believe in witchcraft—isn't that parallel to the way Clinton's insistence on calm rationality and wonkery led to her defeat in an atmosphere that preferred to reduce everything to a pure emotive shout of "It's a disaster! They're killing us!" Or 71-year-old Rebecca Nurse, accused of "tempting and torturing" children, hanged in spite of being found innocent by the jury—there was no evidence against her—when the child accusers went hysterical in the courtroom, claiming she was attacking them there and then, and the jury decided to re-deliberate; doesn't that remind you of the Pizzagate "scandal"—the story of Hillary Clinton and John Podesta running a child sex ring/Satanic coven out of a D.C. pizzeria—breaking out the week before the election?

Hi, Jack Posobiec, there's a part for you there! You could be one of the screaming fit-throwing girls who gets the jury to change their minds!

Or she could be the protagonist of the play's central tragedy, Elizabeth Proctor, whose husband John once had an affair with a servant girl. The affair is long over, but its memory and the couple's unresolved conflict over it brings on the plot twists that lead to the dénouement, in which she doesn't die in the end, but he does, and the two of them come off as the most decent people in the wretched town. That was a true witch hunt.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Happy Bloomsday!

The 113th anniversary of the day Leopold Bloom bumped into Stephen Dedalus.

Rally round the bridges, boys!

Via Pinterest.

Shorter David Brooks, "Why Fathers Leave their Children", New York Times, June 16 2017:
According to the latest research, they don't leave their children, they leave their children's mothers. This makes it difficult for them to take care of the kids as much as they would wish to do. The solution to this is to encourage people to have intercourse only with people they are in love with, and work out a budget before they have children. Also, mayors should have poems in praise of fatherhood read at their inaugurations, and some kind of government program could help but I'm all out of space again, curious how that keeps happening.
And happy Fathers' Day to you too. Got anything special planned?

No, I'm not going there. He didn't abandon the previous Mrs. Brooks until the kids were old enough to live on their own, anyway, as far as I can figure (I believe the oldest is just a year or two younger than her new stepmother), and I'm sure he's never done anything in his life without working out a budget first. Still and all, it's pretty astonishing that he doesn't know he's a character in this story, or that many readers won't be able to read it without thinking of him.

The research in question ("amazing," Brooks calls it, in his magic 150th career use of the adjective in a Times column) is "Doing the Best I Can": Fatherhood in the Inner City, a 2013 book by two Johns Hopkins sociologists, Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson, who found through ethnographic-type thick interaction with young absentee fathers in Camden and Philadelphia that there's something wrong with the stereotype of heedless and selfish men spreading their seed around town with no interest in the consequences: a pretty large majority of the men they interviewed were, to the contrary, really excited about fatherhood and anxious to do the right thing.

 Comically, Brooks blames the stereotype on the kids themselves, "when you ask them":