Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Required Reading

Rafflesia in Sabah, East Malaysia.

Why I Hate the New York Times, the Rafflesia of media-criticism blogging as I call it, after the Southeast Asian jungle flower that produces its huge and spectacular single bloom once every ten years or so, has just shown up with four months of material, and just as the Rafflesia smells like a corpse, the piece is as funny as hell, if you read it with attention: "How to Resist Trump" as the writers of the Times conceive it.

For instance, by not marching too much, the way the women did at the beginning of the regime:
Those ladies meant well, but they didn’t know what they were doing. “This movement focuses on the wrong issues…. Marchers…were marching under the conventional structure in which the central issues were clear.” That was their first mistake, according to known marching tactics expert David Brooks: Never march in a framework in which the central issues are clear. 
Or by being civil:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alienation of affectations


Of course four-star sheriff Clarke, with his Soviet-style chestful of fake medals and  murderous record as a jail manager, is literally a worse person than Brooks in most ways. Image via Wonkette.

BREAKING: We have a David Brooks Plagiarism Watch situation ("The Alienated Mind"), where former New York Times columnist David Brooks appears, not for the first time, to be committing the same infraction Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke just got busted for.

Paragraph 4:
Alienation, the sociologist Robert Nisbet wrote, is a “state of mind that can find a social order remote, incomprehensible or fraudulent; beyond real hope or desire; inviting apathy, boredom, or even hostility.”
Paragraph 6:
As Yuval Levin argues in a brilliant essay in Modern Age, “Alienation can sometimes make for a powerful organizing principle for an electoral coalition. … But it does not make for a natural organizing principle for a governing coalition.”
Yuval Levin, "Conservatism in an Age of Alienation"
“Alienated” need not be a putrid, Marxist designation. The great twentieth-century sociologist Robert Nisbet defined ­alienation as “the state of mind that can find a social order remote, incomprehensible, or fraudulent; beyond real hope or desire; inviting apathy, boredom, or even hostility.” This is precisely how Trump and many of his most vocal supporters frequently spoke about America over the past year.
What Clarke was busted for being, as you'll recall, that he'd lifted 47 passages from other writers without crediting them (in his 2013 master's thesis for the Naval Postgraduate School), even though he did credit the authors for other passages cited elsewhere in the thesis, which he seemed to think made it all OK: "only someone with a political agenda would say this is plagiarism," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but it seems unlikely that the Naval Postgraduate School ethics guidelines were composed with a political agenda). This is precisely what Brooks does when he presents the Nisbet quote early in the column as if he'd picked it up directly out of Nisbet's 1953 The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Freedom and then, a bit later, cites the source he actually got it from, as if turning spontaneously from the Nisbet book to Levin's article. We've seen Brooks doing this before.

Twenty-one Years

Photo by Manchester Evening News, June 1996.

Just 21 years ago, on June 15 1996, the city of Manchester (which has, like most big cities in the north of England, a very large Irish Catholic population) was rocked by the explosion of an enormous bomb, 1500 kg and the largest bomb ever detonated in Great Britain in peacetime, in a truck parked on Corporation Street. The perpetrators, the Provisional IRA, had sent a warning an hour and a half in advance, allowing the police to evacuate some 75,000 people from the area, and nobody was killed, but 212 people were injured, and you can imagine the chaos and distress in the city as friends and parents and lovers tried to assure themselves of each others' safety, and emergency medical workers sought out the victims—it's a whole story that they were confused by mannequins lying in the street after the blast blew them out of their shopwindows.

In the horrible business of deciding which terrorist attacks are worse than others, you'd have to say this bombing wasn't nearly as bad as last night's attack on the Ariana Grande concert audience at the Manchester Arena, which gave no warnings, aimed specifically at an event where most of the participants were children, and has killed at least 22 people, but it was horrible all the same.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Deep Donald

(New Google Translate poems at bottom)

Doughnuts by vegan chef Sam Melbourne, via Lost at E Minor.
In contemplating the science-fiction Singularity, we always picture the machines learning to think, and becoming more and more like people; not the possibility that the alienated humans will become more mechanical, but a cool idea from the neuroscientist Robert A. Burton in the Times's philosophy department suggests thinking this way about our Emperor Trump could account not only for his deep strangeness but also for his incomprehensible success:
If conventional psychology isn’t up to the task, perhaps we should step back and consider a tantalizing sci-fi alternative — that Trump doesn’t operate within conventional human cognitive constraints, but rather is a new life form, a rudimentary artificial intelligence-based learning machine. When we strip away all moral, ethical and ideological considerations from his decisions and see them strictly in the light of machine learning, his behavior makes perfect sense.
A "deep learning" program like Google's Deep Mind or IBM's Deep Blue, programmed to accomplish a specific task (like winning a chess game, or an election) by mapping the data of previous efforts onto the background of the current situation, the same kind of heuristic that is used by the Google Translate algorithm we've been having fun with.

Burton can suggest a startlingly persuasive account of how a Deep Donald could have won the election, by having the single objective of winning and undisturbed by any other motivations or calculations of consequence after the election:

Serious


Arab-owned olive grove on West Bank, surrounded by 30-foot wall and fences on all sides. Via Lighthearted Locavore.
As Trump Arrives in Israel, His Deal-Making Skills Face a Test
Says the Times headline writer. A "serious test" says the teaser headline on the online front page, but I can't imagine what they think is serious about it. They're talking about the deal between Israel and the Palestinians, which has eluded generations for almost 70 years, and which he himself has called "the ultimate deal" but also insists is "frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years."

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has shown what he thinks the prospects are in the friendly gestures he's chosen to build confidence: for the Palestinians, at Trump's request, some permits to build houses on land they own in Area C of the West Bank and a temporary easing of border crossing restrictrions at the Allenby Bridge, and for the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, a three-year program to legalize unauthorized settlements and hilltop outposts. Saying to the Palestinians, in effect, this is what you'll get if you make a deal, and to the settlers, don't worry, there won't be a deal.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Annals of Derp: Believing Mensch

"Will-'o-the-Wisp", by ~robjenx/DeviantArt.

From Louise Mensch's Patribotics (can't decide whether that's a company that supplies orphans with android surrogate parents or a maker of red-blooded American yogurt) blog yesterday:
Multiple sources close to the intelligence, justice and law enforcement communities say that the House Judiciary Committee is considering Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States.
That's seems like a kind of portentous way of describing a tweet from Ted Lieu, cheering as that might be—Lieu's one of the very best Congressional tweeters, and he certainly always gives me a lift.

But wait, there's more!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Take care of the Pence and the hounds will take care of themselves

Governor Mike Pence in deep conversation with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, in a photo I haven't been able to date, via Daily Kos.

Kyle Smith writes at National Review Online:
Should Mike Pence become president, the Left will surely lead us in a national chorus of “Whew! Back to normal.” Correct? After all, our friends in the Democratic party have been saying for many months that President Trump is not normal, that he is uniquely unfit for office, that his brand of mendaciousness, volatility, poor character, and immaturity have no precedent in the Oval Office, that he is a Nazi sympathizer and even a fascist, that he is an extremist who exists outside the bounds of ordinary political disagreement.
Mike Pence, on the other hand, is so normal that one of the things that the late-night comics mock him for is being too normal.
Well, if it's normal for a man in his late 50s to be afraid of being alone in a room with a woman he isn't married to, or to be in a room where alcohol is being served unless Mrs. Pence, who he calls "Mother", is there with him to preserve him from committing who knows what kind of desperate depravities, then sure, late-night comics mock him for that. Surely we can agree that he's as abnormal as Trump, only in a different and generally quieter way.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Barn Burning

Take a gander. Any gander! Via TodayIFoundOut.

From the deputy Washington editor of the Times, via Roy. A "barn burner" in the parlance of American journalism, I'm told, is a tremendously exciting event such as a closely fought sports competition, "in allusion to the story of an old Dutchman who relieved himself of rats by burning his barns which they infested" (per John Russell Bartlett's 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms), meaning perhaps that it was a form of popular evening entertainment in the Hudson Valley to go watch old Klaas burn his barn down?

What barn-burning thrills we're supposed to be getting from Stephens's column, "The 'Flight 93 Election' Crashes Again", is unclear to me. Maybe the sport is the hammer throw competition among Brooks, Douthat, and the new guy to see who can toss Trump farthest outside the Republican pale. Brooks was good on Tuesday calling him a child, and the Monsignor going with unfit and "egregious" and calling for Article 25. I'm wondering if the plan now, focusing on Trump's incompetence instead of his presumptive liberalism, is to demand the Article 25 solution as the only way of avoiding impeachment and the consequent exposure of not just Trumpian but Republican dirt (starting with the unspeakable Pence and Ryan).

Stephens points out that even the most Trumpian of the conservatives seem to be having doubts about their man:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wingnut Annals: The Persecution and Assassination of Robert Spencer, as Performed by...

Well, Robert Spencer, mostly, because he fortunately survived this despicable and cowardly attack long enough to write it up. You can see his byline at lower left:


It seems Spencer was innocently minding his own business, which is spreading hatred and fear of persons of the Muslim faith (he's the editor of the JihadWatch blog, as I learn from Paul Fontaine at the Reykjavík Grapevine, listed by the SPLC as a purveyor of hate and racism, and has been barred from Britain, in 2013, on the grounds that his presence would be "not conducive to the public good"), in the Grand Hótel of Reykjavík, having wound up his lecture on the threat of jihad, adjourning to a local hostelry with some fellow hatemongers to celebrate his success, when he was accosted by a young man of apparently harmless demeanor, who smiled, claimed to be a huge fan of Spencer and his work, and effusively took his hand and shook it, after which another young man of apparently harmless demeanor approached, looked Spencer directly in the eye, still smiling, and said, "Fuck you."