Sunday, January 24, 2021

For the Record: Why I Hate The New York Times

Photo by Money Sharma/Getty Images via Wired.

But first, Pompeo's farewell. Only a few short years ago I thought it would be safe to say there would never be a worse secretary of state than Rex Tillerson, and I was wrong. But in his departure, he really transcended himself:

Literary Corner: Everything on the Field

Piet Mondrian, Dune Landscape, 1909, via

By unpopular demand, the versification of some of President Trump's valedictory address at Joint Base Andrews on 20 January:

The History of Sitting Presidents

by Donald J. Trump


You're going to see, you're going
to see incredible numbers start
coming in, if everything is sort of
left alone. Be careful, very complex,
be careful, but you're going to see
some incredible things happening.

And remember us when you see these
things happening, if you would,
remember us because I'm looking at--
I'm looking at elements of our economy
that are said to be a rocket ship up.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Literary Corner: Noir

Photo by Mark Coggins/flickr.

Do not underestimate how many congressional Republicans would like to send checks to their people. Recently, I was on a call with the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus and a similar group of senators. I was struck by how passionately these Republicans and Democrats are committed to one another across party lines, how deftly they used the evenly divided Congress to restart the Covid-19 relief effort in December, how fervently they want to break the partisan logjam.

If this doesn’t work and Republicans go into full obstruction mode, Democrats should absolutely kill the filibuster. (David F. Brooks, "The Case For Biden Optimism", 21 January 2021)

The phone rang, a familiar number. I let it ring, long enough to take a shluk from the bottle of Waldweben Peach Schnapps and shove it back in the upper left desk drawer, then picked up. "Brooks here."

"Hello, David. How's married life?"

"Suits me. What can I do for you, outside of something I can't do for you?"

"You can do us a favor."

"Where have I heard that line before?"

"It's just a little thing."

I sighed, probably audibly, and tried to gather my wits. "I'm out of the game, pal. I don't do it any more. I just have to do one column a week, I have a gig at Aspen. I have a nice new wife, she doesn't like politics, she likes religion, go figure. I like religion too. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside."

Friday, January 22, 2021

Radio Yerevan on Blue-Collar Ted


Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that today's Democratic party represents rich, angry Hollywood celebrities like Seth Rogen better than it does blue-collar union workers in the energy and manufacturing sectors like Senator Ted Cruz?

Answer: Yes, but...

First of all, Rogen is a union member (Screen Actors Guild) in an industry that is arguably a kind of manufacturing in structure, and certainly supports 2.6 million jobs including 927,000 in direct production and distribution and consists of 93,000 businesses in all 50 states, 87% of which employ fewer than ten workers, and generates $17.2 billion in exports with a trade surplus of $10.3 billion, four percent of the total U.S. trade surplus in services; and three other unions, according to him, which I have no reason to doubt. Which Cruz is not, having spent his entire working life, after a couple of years at a private law firm (1997-98) and a stint with George W. Bush's successful first presidential campaign (1999-2000), in government jobs. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021



Candle stand, 1830s, from the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing ("Shakers") of Mount Lebanon, New York, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I take the same general feeling from the inauguration festivities, watching TV all day, as so many of us, of immense relief and consolation, of reassurance that we have a working government again, with kind and caring and reasonably truthful people at its head, which doesn't mean they're going to fix everything but that we're back in a place from which it's possible to navigate. We all found ourselves in unexpected tears at one point or another, and for me one of the oddest points was that first normal press briefing in four years from Jen Psaki, State Department spox under Obama and now Biden's press secretary.

There's a concept from the British ordinary language philosopher Paul Grice of the four "conversational maxims" that make discourse possible: you must assume that your interlocutor will try to be informative, truthful, pertinent, and clear. These are things that you don't get from arguing with Gish-galloping conservative trolls, and we didn't get them from the communications of Trump or his official representatives, of course, and the freshness of Psaki, just being well-prepared, level-headed, on point, freely admitting to not knowing what she didn't know, and having no reason to lie about anything, seemed miraculous and somehow out of the nowhere, and it really did fill my eyes with tears. I think it's a kind of PTSD: like Londoners in the Blitz, we've been living disoriented and fearful from the constant bombardment of gaslighting language, and as welcome as the silence is it's filled with our own emotions, the ones we haven't been able to listen to for such a long time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Literary Corner: My Favorite Crimes

To the tune by Rodgers and Hammerstein:

Bribing, extortion, insurance and bank fraud,
Jobs for your family down to your Aunt Maud,
Skim from your charity, multiple times,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Scheming with foreigners for your election,
Paying off chicks who have seen your erection,
Propping your business on taxpayers' dimes,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Bribe for pardon!
Wrecked Rose Garden!
When he's feeling low,
Trump pardons some crook
Who reminds him of him,
And then he is gooooood to go!

Cheating at golf and delinquent in taxes,
Fooling the people with alternate factses,
Pelting your betters with slanderous slimes,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Claiming a right to whatever he pleases,
Caging up kids and ignoring diseases,
Pumping his shares as the stock market climbs,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Constant lying!
People dying!
When it gets him down,
Trump pardons some crook
Who reminds him of him,
And then he gets ouuuuuuuut of town!

The kid is Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander (b. 2003), in a recording from 2015.

Monday, January 18, 2021

For the Record: The Arc of Impeachment is Long

Edmund Burke in the House of Commons. Photo12/Universal Images Group, via New York Times (and a Bret Stephens column of last August, "Why Edmund Burke Still Matters").

Why, yes. Yes, you are totally wrong.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Pardons Я Us


Brother Johann Tetzel on the ass, right, dispensing indulgences to the wealthy in a German broadside poster, $32.83 from Amazon (the poster, not the indulgence). 

In the couple of months after the 2000 election, some scandal emerged over the flurry of last-minute pardons issued by outgoing president Bill Clinton, starting with the news that Democratic superdonor and Friend of Bill Ron Burkle had been agitating for a pardon for the junk-bond fraudster Mike Milken, and climaxing with the one given to the tax cheat and sanctions-violating commodities trader Marc Rich, who'd been evading justice living in Switzerland for the previous 17 years, in which the deputy attorney general—a guy you may have heard of called Eric Holder—and the president himself had shown extremely poor judgment at best (Rich's ex-wife Denise was a big-time donor to the Clinton Presidential Library, for one thing, and there's a 200-year-old rule that it's improper to pardon fugitives), allowing themselves to be manipulated by the lobbying of Rich's lawyers including Jack Quinn, who, having been White House counsel from 1995 to 1997, wasn't allowed to lobby for anybody at all until 2002. Also, Clinton issued some 31 pardons and commutations that hadn't gone through the normal processing, because the applications had arrived so late, and First Brothers Hugh Rodham and Roger Clinton had been taking some serious money to lobby the president themselves. Nevertheless Milken didn't get his pardon, and the applications the First Brothers had worked on weren't successful either, and Clinton went on to a very successful post-presidency, Holder eventually became attorney general, and even Quinn (whose Wikipedia bio doesn't even mention Rich) is now a legal analyst at CNN.

All of which seems extremely different from today's news reported by Michael Schmidt and Kenneth Vogel in The Times that there's a regular pardons market in the outgoing Trump administration:

Literary Cornyn


So I wrote a poem

Paul Klee, Error on Green, 1930, via