Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Idiocy of Rural Life

Mary Pickford in Sparrows (1926), by William Beaudine. Via Fritzi.

Shorter David F. Brooks, "What Rural America Has to Teach Us", New York Times, 22 March 2019:
What rural America has to teach us is that we should all live in a county with under 1,000 residents, or so few people that everybody has to double up on official functions in government and civil society and amateur sports as well as being bank presidents or owners of a Michelin-star bakery, which fortunately takes up no more than half your time, which will go along with an insane work ethic and "intentionality", which means having a pervasive civic mind-set. Then everybody will be just about perfect, leaving their doors permanently unlocked and going to meetings all evening, except the kids who get good grades and have to leave town to find something to do, and the local immigrants who dismember our hogs, who won't go on Facebook for fear of what they might find out about our political views.
Honest. I made up the Michelin star (in the column it's a James Beard Award), and the town he's visiting has 7,700 people, it's a bunch of other Nebraska counties that have fewer than a thousand, and the hogs are an educated guess, but other than that it's pretty much all in there: even unto

Friday, March 22, 2019

Mueller Lite? Or Mueller Heavy?

Drawing via English Update.

Took a personal day to attend to some business, leaving a quarter-finished post on some boring topic or other, and spent a few hours not looking particularly at any news, and this thing happens in the most unsatisfying way it could, of course, with a notice that there are no further sealed or forthcoming indictments from the special counsel's office, which doesn't mean nobody else is going to get indicted—ongoing investigations by the various US attorneys' offices and state attorneys general will certainly yield something—but does mean that The Report or the Principal Conclusions we might be invited to look at this weekend probably don't include any statements of culpability on the part of Junior, Kushner, and the Emperor in particular; as Rosenstein has written,
"Punishing wrongdoers through judicial proceedings is only one part of the Department's mission.... We also have a duty to prevent the disclosure of information that would unfairly tarnish people who are not charged with crimes."
If they aren't charged, we won't learn about the stuff they aren't charged with.

On the other hand, attorney general William Barr notes, the report is specifically supposed to be a report "explaining the prosecution and declination decisions", meaning that it's supposed to explain why they decided not to prosecute some cases, and a confidential report, that is one that may disclose such matters on the understanding that they aren't intended for the public, and Ari Melber (I'm live-blogging TV at this point) suggests that what actually gets released is negotiable: Mueller's gig is over, but Barr will consult him (and Rosenstein, who seems to have put off his widely reported plans to leave DOJ for at least some weeks) as to what confidential information can be revealed, with a preference, at least that's what they're saying, for revealing more rather than less.

And the congressional chairs, most notably Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee and Jerry Nadler of Judiciary, are very determined.

There's this long list of questions that look like they aren't being resolved at this point, anyhow, starting with Trump's long series of lies about his Russian business interests—the Papadopoulos behaviors, the Manafort attempts to cash in on his relation to Trump, Junior and the 9 June meeting, the inexplicable anti-Ukraine Republican platform change, Kushner and the Erik Prince matter, Manafort and the Tony Fabrizio matter, Kushner and Trump and the Mike Flynn matter, the lies of so many Trump staffers about their Russian connections, Trump's in-plain-sight secret meetings with Kislyak and Lavrov and so many times Putin himself, the endless Trump efforts to defy Congress over Russia sanctions, and so on. Are we seriously not going to learn anything about these? Just not ready to believe that. But we're not learning it today.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Well, Ari lied, anyhow

Baghdad, 2003. via a valuable article at Strategic Culture.

It's the 16th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, and Ari Fleischer, the artist formerly known as the most dishonest presidential press secretary in American history (until Sarah Huckabee Sanders ran away with the title), couldn't restrain himself from weighing in:
Immediately I'm suffused with the same old helpless rage and can't think about anything else. Ari goes on, of course, for a dozen and more tweets, explaining that when "the intelligence services of Egypt, France, Israel and others concluded that Saddam had WMD" they all made a mistake, but that's not the same as lying—not mentioning, naturally, that the intelligence services of Egypt and France certainly didn't convince their governments from there that a war was necessary:

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: