Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Conqueror Worm

Via Fritzi, Mae Busch in Rupert Hughes's Souls For Sale, 1923.

Shorter David F. Brooks, "Cory Booker Finds His Moment", 18 March 2019:
If you're tired of violent, angry demagogues like Donald Trump and Kamala Harris, you should be glad that Cory Booker is in the race, because although he's another socialist, so I couldn't actually vote for him myself, he is patriotic, religious, and grateful, which is what I need on my TV in this unpleasant moment. 
Comically, he doesn't provide any evidence that Booker is grateful, only that he should be, because his "family story" is a "success story", unlike Donald Trump or Kamala Harris I guess:

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Reprehensible and the Comprehensible

Two separate warnings this morning, from former US attorney Preet Bharara on NPR (doing a book promotion) and Georgetown Law professor and former OLC staffer Martin Lederman in Washington Post (cited in Raw Story): Mueller's report, to the extent there is one, is not going to contain a nicely wrapped case for the indictment of Donald Trump for crimes committed in the collaboration with Russian agents in the 2016 election.

For more than one reason, but the main thing is that it isn't in their remit to do such a thing, given the Justice Department ruling that a sitting president isn't supposed to be indicted, as Lederman concludes:
it would be surprising if it included any express conclusions about whether Trump’s conduct did or did not satisfy the elements of any particular criminal offenses. As long as Trump is in office, it will be up to the committees themselves — and Congress as a whole — to (in the words of the Jaworski road map) “determine what action may be warranted . . . by [the] evidence” presented in Barr’s notification.
That's probably too categorical; they could signal an opinion on his chargeability in indictments of other people, as an unindicted co-conspirator, as they've already done in regard to Michael Cohen and the Paramour Payoffs (can't decide whether that's the first novel in my detective series featuring a troubled metropolitan lawyer or a band name). But that will be ancillary to what I do hope will be an indictment of Donald Junior, if anything. I still believe he would be indicted in a case where his guilt was transparently unarguable—if he really killed that guy on Fifth Avenue—but this isn't one of those cases. The language in which he agreed to the basic bargain of Russia's assistance with the Moscow hotel and US election projects, if Mueller has it (and we know what he has from Cohen, not too damn much, and we know Manafort and Junior have said little and nothing respectively) will be couched in code, like all those mobster communications, and the way he tried to live up to his end by removing sanctions obscured inside a web of plausible deniability, opinions from foreign policy advisers and lawyers that he's entitled to do what he wants so he can argue he was just doing what he was told.

I guess I'm beginning to understand how unlikely it is that our story is going to have any kind of clean ending, where the public gasps, "OMG he did that?" and the president just has to leave.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

For the Record: The End of Omar

Under pressure of extreme irritation from some Twitter guy I assembled a lengthier set of thoughts starting with Representative Ilhan Omar and carrying it somewhere I haven't entirely been before. It probably duplicates some stuff I've said before, especially in the earlier bits, but I'd like to keep it here for the record in this format.

I probably should have realized at this point that I wasn't going to be able to make him understand what I was talking about.

The End of Meritocracy

Architects' rendering of plans for a parking lot in Harvard Yard. Just kidding: prank picture from the Harvard Satyrical Press, March 2009, attributed to the Committee For Endowment Preservation by Any Means Necessary.

Looks like the competition for which New York Times opinionist will be first to come out in defense of the millionaires who bribed their kids into Stanford and USC has a winner, and it's not David Brooks, as I was predicting—

—or Bari Weiss, but Harvard's finest, Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street ("The Scandals of Meritocracy"). Oh, he doesn't quite come out and say it, and he adds a trollish recommendation for racial quotas just to keep you confused as to whether he's joking or not, but I think that's what it is:
The “more meritocracy” argument against both legacies and racial quotas implicitly assumes that aptitude — some elixir of I.Q. and work ethic — is what our elite primarily lacks.
But is that really our upper class’s problem? What if our elite is already diligent and how-do-you-like-them-apples smaht — the average SAT score for the Harvard class of 2022 is a robust 1512 — and deficient primarily in memory and obligation, wisdom and service and patriotism?
In that case continuity and representation, as embodied by legacy admissions and racial quotas, might actually be better legitimizers for elite universities to cultivate than the spirit of talent-über-alles. It might be better if more Ivy League students thought of themselves as representatives of groups and heirs of family obligation than as Promethean Talents elevated by their own amazing native gifts.
That's extremely interesting, the view of what problem "meritocracy" is supposed to solve, the problem of practical improvement, or building an elite of higher quality.

I mean interesting to me, at least, because I've literally never thought of it before, not that it doesn't make some kind of chilly sense.

Literary Corner: Area Man Bites Reality

Willem De Kooning, Inerchange, 1955, via Wikipedia.

In the press availability with the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Thursday morning, our poet branched into a strange and dark new territory in which reality really begins to dissolve:

Songs of Zero Tolerance
by Donald J. Trump

I. Are Your Immigration Policies Cruel?
No, I don’t think they’re cruel,
I think they’re the opposite of cruel.
They become cruel because they’re so
ridiculous and it hurts people. It actually
does the reverse of what they’re supposed
to be doing. But no, they’re actually meant
to be the opposite. And they’re hurting people,
they’re really hurting people. A lot of people.

Friday, March 15, 2019


Dinesh D'Souza's response to the terror attacks on Muslim Friday prayers in Christchurch: Even though it's true and his story is imaginary, it's of the family of "fake news" because he feels it has the wrong emotional resonance. In this way he's the real victim, because now everybody's missing the point he would like to have made.

I sent him a question and he replied, in fact, after googling an example of a church that got attacked as proof that the media don't care:

Thursday, March 14, 2019


Caucus Race. Emily Carew Woodard, 2015, via Classic FM.


A little literally breaking news on BBC News Hour, reporting on ongoing debates in the House of Commons: what the government is proposing to do after they lose the next vote they're going to lose, which will be to seek a longer extension (beyond 29 March) to the Brexit process than the one they were seeking before, and to use "the first two weeks" of that extension to try to "find a majority" either for her deal (which will be trotted out as a zombie, I guess, since it's pretty clear there will never be a majority for that) or for some unnamed cross-party alternative, as if the parties themselves were going to stand down from the debate and the MPs take over as individuals.

As if it were starting to sink in for them what we've all been seeing from the outside, that the deepest problem is the political incompetence of all the UK political parties as currently constituted, but who knows what's really going on. May herself has evidently understood that just asking for more time isn't a solution, so that's progress.


Also in semi-breaking news from Washington, the return of the rumor that the Mueller investigation is about to end, this time more convincing than usual, as the top money-laundering prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, leaves the team:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Just Deserts

A kind of poignant thing about this college admissions scandal is the way the kids themselves were protected, in many or most cases, from knowing that they were involved in a fraud:
Sitting very still and wearing a dark suit, [master criminal William Singer] described how he arranged for students’ SAT and ACT results to be falsified by sending them to take the exams in Houston or Los Angeles, where he had bribed test administrators. He described the students as believing they were taking the tests legitimately, but said that his test proctor would correct their answers afterward. Mr. Singer said he would tell the proctor the score he wanted the student to get, and he would achieve that score exactly....
Mr. McGlashan’s son was unaware of the scheme, according to court documents....
Mr. Singer told Mr. Caplan that his daughter would not know that her standardized test scores had been faked.
“Nobody knows what happens,” Mr. Singer said, according to the transcript of the call. “She feels great about herself.”
Some students may have been directly slipped test answers, but more of them just were given to understand that they'd succeeded in the test on their own, whether a confederate was changing their answers or simply retaking the test to replace their original scores; some participated in photo sessions where they were posed as star athletes, but they didn't necessarily know what the purpose of it was, and others were just entirely in the dark while their parents photoshopped their faces onto stock pictures of high school sports, but neither they nor the college administrations were aware that they were supposed to be star athletes, and nobody questioned why they didn't sign up for the soccer team or crew.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A little horse-race pablum for the junkies

Colonel John C. Frémont, Republican candidate for the presidency in 1856, in a campaign lithograph, via.

So Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, is back on the theory that Donald Trump is Jimmy Carter.

No, really, this has been going on for a couple of years. Just around the time of the inauguration, Julia Azari, Scott Lemieux, and Corey Robin wrote pieces suggesting that the Trump presidency was likely to be what Steven Skowronek called a "disjunctive" presidency, that is one that takes place at the time when an old order or "regime", the long-term ordering of the ideologies and interests on which the politics depends, is falling apart and a new one is not yet clearly emergent; like Buchanan's, before the cataclysms of the Civil War and Reconstruction, or Hoover's, before the New Deal, or Carter's, before the beginning of what you might call the Era of Miniature Government.

Ross, with an authoritarian's inability to grasp a discussion of systemic factors, took this to mean that Trump must be personally like Carter in some respect, as in this from his contribution to the Times inauguration coverage, committed to the proposition that Trump is as smart as Carter was, with a "vision" that is similarly "new", though unlikely to succeed:
One such president was Jimmy Carter, who tried to maintain the creaking New Deal coalition while also grasping at a new vision for liberal governance. He failed because his party simply couldn’t accommodate the tension, and he himself couldn’t effectively blend the old and new.
Right now Trump looks like he might be similarly disjunctive. Like Mr. Carter with the ’70s-era Democrats, he has grasped — correctly — that Republican politics desperately needs to be reinvented. But his populist-nationalist vision has seemed too racially and culturally exclusive to win him majority support, and it’s layered atop a party that still mostly believes in the “populism” of cutting the estate tax.
Combine those brute political facts with Trump’s implausibly expansive promises, and a Carter scenario — gridlock, disappointment, collapse — seems like the most plausible way to bet. 
Which is pretty amusing in retrospect: whatever we may think about Trump's intelligence and vision, he's turned out to have an amazingly firm hold on his party, in spite of the claims to independence of a few crabby pundits. Today, anyway, Ross isn't going for retrospection, but instead prefers to look ahead, toward the question of who's going to play the "reconstructive" Reagan in this remake ("Bernie Sanders, Socialism's Reagan?"):