Thursday, August 31, 2017

For the Record: Leif 'Em Laughing




Why does he assume they didn't make a decision to stay on the west side of the Atlantic? Things seemed pretty good in North America back in the day, when there weren't any Europeans mucking it up.

Update: Smut points out in the comments that this is not quite true, and I can't believe I didn't even look it up. No enslavement, but the Norsemen and the native inhabitants of Vinland did not in fact get along perfectly. It's not possible to quantify from the sagas (written down from oral tradition 250 years after the events), but it seems clear that at least six natives and one Greenlander (Leif's brother Thorvald) were killed over the four or five years of the colony in a series of fights. It is likely that they killed more of each other, when Leif's sister Freydis led the Greenlanders in the party to slaughter all the Icelanders, including five women, in their sleep, for unexplained reasons—were the Greenlanders Odin-worshipers like Eirik the Red and the Icelanders all Christians like Mrs. Eirik? Eirik's Saga, in any case, says that "after several years away from Greenland, they chose to turn back to their homes when they realized that they would otherwise face an indefinite conflict with the natives," which proves my main point that they were morally superior to their Spanish, Portuguese, and English successors who chose genocide instead of retreat.

Leif Eiríksson, in Boston by Anne Whitney, 1887 (Amateur archaeologists were looking for Norse sites in Massachusetts at the time, in vain). Photo via Medieval Karl. It does not carry the motto, "Just because you're white doesn't mean you have to kill everybody," but it could. Nice work, Leif.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Paradise Paved

Bison hunters bringing hides to market, Taylor County, TX, sometime around maybe 1870, via TexasBeyondHistory.
A huge landmark moment in media coverage of climate science occurred yesterday, but nobody seems to have noticed it, including the writer who did it, David Leonhardt ("Harvey, the Storm that Humans Helped Cause"), in The New York Times:

The daily surface temperature of the Gulf of Mexico last winter never dropped below 73 degrees. You can probably guess how many previous times that had happened: Zero.
This sort of heat has a specific effect on storms: Warmer weather causes heavier rainfall. Why? When the seas warm, more moisture evaporates into the air, and when the air warms — which has also been happening in Texas — it can carry more moisture.
The severity of Harvey, in other words, is almost certainly related to climate change.
Yes, I know the sober warning that’s issued whenever an extreme weather disaster occurs: No individual storm can be definitively blamed on climate change. It’s true, too. Some version of Harvey probably would have happened without climate change, and we’ll never know the hypothetical truth.
Not sure what the "hypothetical truth" is doing in that sentence, actually. I'd say the hypothetical truth is what we do know, and what we'll never know is whether it's wrong.

But that sober warning is no longer regarded as quite true, is the thing. I can't remember where I first saw it, sometime in the last few months, but the science is now there; the new scientific consensus is that, while you can't blame a particular extreme weather event on human-caused global warming, you can blame that for the extremity, within certain probability limits.

Annals of Derp: Feihu

Photo via Wikipedia.

Mr. Erik Prince, patriot, writes ("Contractors, Not Troops, Will Save Afghanistan"), for some unknowable reason published in the New York Times though even General Mattis knows he's full of shit:
In 1941, shortly after Pearl Harbor pulled the United States into World War II, a group of volunteer American aviators led by Gen. Claire Chennault known as the Flying Tigers fought Japanese aggression in China. They were so successful that many people believe they were decisive in holding back Japan, eventually leading to its defeat.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that many people believe Colonel Chennault's American Volunteer Group  (later known as the Feihu飞虎 or Flying Tigers) was decisive in holding back Japan in China shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, leading to the Allied victory?

Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all the 87 pilots and 300 ground personnel arrived in Burma before the war began, and spent half their tour there, not in China; and second of all, in spite of truly heroic performance, they did not exactly hold Japan back but retreated from Rangoon in February 1942 and from Burma altogether in March, and although they definitely played a crucial role in preventing Japanese forces from moving from the west on Kunming and Chongqing over the next couple of months, they were disbanded in July and so their influence was pretty limited, given that the war lasted a lot longer than the seven months of their deployment. Third of all, only if by "many people" you mean General Chennault, because you don't find anybody else making the claim. At least he's the only one Wikipedia can find:

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Compelled to Choose.

Heroic Colonel Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West, flanked by his trusty shirtless abject minority attendants, American Indian at his right and African at his left. Photo by The Researching Librarian.
Shorter David Brooks, "How Trump Kills the G.O.P.", August 29 2017:
There was a notable absence of racism in the Republican party in the period from 1984 through 2003, when I worked for Republican journalistic organs and most of my friends were Republicans. It arrived sometime after 2005, when the party became the vehicle for white identity politics, which is not the same thing as simple racism but overlaps with it. White identity politics is probably worse than identity politics on the left, though I can't be sure. It is certainly wrong to make a parallel between Black Lives Matter and White Lives Matter, because claiming these are comparable ignores history and current realities. Nevertheless I just compared them. The worst thing about white identity politics is that it forces Republicans to choose whether they embrace it or not, which could lead to the party's dissolution.
I don't know, I'd say it's an even bigger problem for members of minority groups facing employment and housing discrimination, shut out of opportunity networks, casually harassed by police and sometimes murdered by them, imprisoned for crimes that members of the majority aren't imprisoned for, and deprived of voting rights, than it is for Republicans, on the whole, maybe that's just my opinion. Members of minority groups are remarkably missing from today's column, though. Indeed, all sorts of people were missing during the period when there was no racism in the Republican party, since it consisted only of the pleasant and urbane people in Brooks's social circle:

In that time, I never heard blatantly racist comments at dinner parties, and there were probably fewer than a dozen times I heard some veiled comment that could have suggested racism. To be honest, I heard more racial condescension in progressive circles than in conservative ones.
Oh, by all means, do be honest. "To be honest, I think my opponents are more evil than my comrades, though they insidiously claim they aren't." Speaking of identity politics. That's political identity identity politics. It's practically the oldest kind of identity politics there is, but you don't see me whining about it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

For the record: Is Trump a 19th-century president?

There's something genuinely Trumpish in pictures of Millard Fillmore, here in an 1849 daguerrotype by Matthew Brady, via Wikipedia, in his pouchiness, peculiar hair, and attempt to display a flinty manly firmness. I'm not the first to notice; it was noted a couple of years ago by Michael Beatrice.
Somebody else was thinking about 19th-century American history:

The idea that for most of the 19th century, between A. Jackson and T. Roosevelt or from Van Buren through McKinley presidents really weren't very important, with the giant exception of Lincoln; small staffs and restricted functions, not that much to do, which is somewhat true, and Trump with his lack of interest in policy and failure to offer moral leadership is not so different from John Tyler or Benjamin Harrison. If I look at that graphic without really looking, I see Trump in a nightcap with a tassel.

I think Azari's idea is a mistake, and I left a thread. It gets a little apocalyptic toward the end...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Engaged

Image by 731/Bloomberg.


"In a simple ceremony at Camp David, attended only by a few close friends, President Donald Trump asked the Gulf of Mexico to marry him, and the well-known North American body of water, dressed in a gauzy wrap dotted with clouds and a very large hurricane in its northwest, agreed, pending completion of the pre-nuptial agreement by their attorneys..."

No, not that kind of engagement. But there's something that did strike my funnybone about Landler's story:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Weekend long read: Party of Lincoln

Image via C.K. Coleman.
I've  been paying a ridiculous amount of attention lately to rightwing academic fraud Dinesh D'Souza and his new booklike object, The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left, an extended argument that the party of Nancy Pelosi, Tom Perez, and Keith Ellison is objectively pro-slavery, since it was founded 190 years ago by slaveholders, and therefore Nazi, because Hitler's Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei was directly inspired by those leftists John C. Calhoun, James Buchanan, Jefferson Davis, and the Ku Klux Klan and Senator Theodore Bilbo, and Al Smith and Franklin Delano Roosevelt too, who were all essentially the same person, as you can tell by the presence of the word "sozialistisch" in Hitler's party name. And the progressive birth control advocate Margaret Sanger is in there because tying the tubes of intellectually disabled women without asking them for permission, which she thought was a good idea, seems wrong to us, and gassing Jews seems wrong to most of us as well, so that proves gassing Jews is a progressive program*, though only in a Democratic, Woodrow Wilson sense of "progressive", not a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt** sense.

I know it's so stupid it's not worth thinking about in serious times like these, but the thing is D'Souza's thesis is a reductio of a kind of thinking that can be found all over the place, for example in a piece in yesterday's Washington Post by somebody who seems like the opposite of D'Souza in almost every respect, the calm and dignified, indisputably honorable and honest, eminently moderate, compromise-loving, Episcopal priest and former Republican Senator from Missouri John Danforth, an unwavering Trump opponent (in theory at least; I can't find him publicly mentioning Trump's name between December 2015, when he found Trump revolting, and now, when he still does), who writes:

Friday, August 25, 2017

Constantly asking me



I'll bet you any money Corker has never once asked Trump if he should run in 2018. This is a key to one particular form of Trump falsehood (as when he claimed that at his dinner in Hamburg with Shinzo Abe and Moon Jae-in "everybody was talking about John Podesta"). In reality he does all the talking and doesn't realize that everybody else is silent. He has nothing to talk about with Corker (chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a key supporter of Trump's idiotic proposal to repeal the PPACA without replacing it) except lecturing him about whether he should run in 2018 or not, so that's what he does every time they meet, and then he comes away with the improbable belief that Corker wanted to know what he thought.

Happier times. Image via CNBC.
Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

David Brooks is stardust. David Brooks is golden. David Brooks is billion-year-old carbon.

Photo by Julie Larsen Maher © WCS, via National Geographic. Talking about preserving it when our EPA is run by a tool of the agents of pollution and greenhouse gas production is dreary policy and politics, isn't it? Let's make it into a deep-sounding allegory instead!

Verbatim David Brooks, "This American Land":

These days I often ask people what percentage of our nation’s problems can be solved through policy and politics. Most people say that most of America’s problems are pre-political. What’s needed is a revival of values, fraternity and a binding American story.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that David Brooks often asks people what percentage of our nation's problems can be solved through politics and most of the respondents say that most of America's problems are pre-political?

Answer: David Brooks refuses to release his visitor logs, so we can't ascertain for sure.

Today we have some entirely original thinking from David Brooks as 1950s New York intellectual, armed with quotes from Thoreau and Whitman and aiming at the Great American Summary Statement. I'm trying to imagine how stressful it is to have a conversation with him:
BROOKS: Say, Yas, just offhand, what percentage of our nation's problems can be solved through policy and politics, would you say?
YAS: Uh.
BROOKS: I mean, I'd say not that many.
YAS: Well, um, sure. I mean the question would be, what other means are you talking about? What's your no-policy, no-politics approach to national problem solving? Who's in charge?
BROOKS: I don’t know all the ways that revival of spirit can come about, but even in the age of the driverless car and Reddit, I suspect some of the answers are to be found in reconnecting with our ancient ideals and reconnecting with the land.
YAS: Oh. Ah. Reconnecting with the land. To be sure.
BROOKS: So I can chalk you up for revival of spirit, and fraternity, and a binding American story?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Afghanistan speech

Kabul record shop, late 50s or early 60s, via Daily Star.

"On Afghanistan," writes Mr. Bret Stephens, "There's No Way Out." And he goes through everything, I mean everything, light footprint, big footprint, nation building, focus on terrorists, using Pakistan, using diplomacy, using a troop surge, nothing works. The best thing is the thing Trump came up with, he decides, which is the light footprint but with a little more heft, and a long-term, possibly unending, not getting out at all:
With relatively modest troop increases, we can provide the elected Afghan government with sufficient military support to reverse some of the Taliban’s recent gains and ensure that it cannot seize Afghan cities or control entire provinces. With relatively modest troop numbers, we can also try to keep U.S. casualties relatively low over time, avoiding the political race to the exits when combat fatalities rise.... Trump, incredibly, may have alighted on the best of a bad set of Afghan options.
It's magnificent that the single thing he picks out of Trump's speech is the thing Trump not only didn't say, but announced as a really important point that he wasn't going to say:

We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.
I know everybody else says he wants to send 4,000 additional troops, but the speech doesn't say it, and specifically says he doesn't want anybody to know whether he does or not. And he does say lots of other stuff, about punishing our nuclear-armed Pakistani allies if they don't shape up, I think that was option 5, and rewarding India if they spend more money on Afghanistan's infrastructure, by not starting a trade war, I think, which is one of the options Stephens completely missed:

For the record: The last of Sanger

Still from Margaret Sanger's lost 1917 film Birth Control. dramatizing her arrest and jailing for violation of the Comstock Act by providing contraception to patients at her Brownsville Clinic in Brooklyn, 1916. Via Margaret Sanger Papers.

A kind of last word on the subject of Margaret Sanger and her support for sterilization of the "feeble-minded" popped into my head, right out of real life.

That cliché demurrer at the end won me a like from my interlocutor, but I didn't really feel good about it.


We say girls—young women beneath the age of statutory consent—can't "make a choice" to have sex. This is why we prosecute their seducers for rape. Similarly lots of states have statutory rape laws dealing with sexual abuse of women with intellectual disabilities. The legal standard focuses on when such women have the "capacity of consent". We can have a discussion of whether they can consent to sex but we can't discuss whether they can consent to having a child?

They didn't have hormonal birth control in Margaret Sanger's time, or IUDs, just condoms and cervical caps, and using those was against federal law after the 1873 Comstock Act, which was being rigorously enforced by the beginning of the 20th century. Sanger's great cause was to change that, and give women of all classes the ability to make their own choice as to whether to have a child or not, positive and negative.

The "feeble-minded, the insane and syphilitic" were a pretty peripheral part of her quest, and I don't know whether she thought it was a good thing for them to have sex, as I do, but she knew that they would, and she didn't contemplate trying to stop them. At the same time she didn't believe they should have to "make that choice", so she thought it was a good idea to give them tubal ligations or vasectomies and didn't think it was necessary to ask their consent (keep in mind that the concept of informed medical consent didn't exist, either—it only dates back to 1957). Even if she did use the language of "racial betterment", she absolutely rejected the concept of racial or religious identity as grounds for sterilization, unlike Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill and Calvin Coolidge and the rest of the eugenics movement. I really can't see any more how her thinking has anything to do with Nazis and their plans for Jewish and Roma genocide. It has to do more with my nephew.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Extremism in the defense of moderation is no...

...oxymoron,  I guess.

I just remembered Brooks wrote most of yesterday's column five years ago, during the Obama-Romney contest, down to the reference to the Romanian-named political scientist who is at the current forefront of Moderation Studies. It seemed funnier then, and I thought I'd rerun the parody I did, just for fun.

Dim sum from China Max, San Diego.
David Brooks writes (27 October 2012):
Ever since the debate season began, Mitt Romney has been running hard after those moderate voters, lining out a new area of agreement with Obama at every turn. Obama, in contrast, has been disagreeing with Romney—but I took a look at the interview he inadvertently gave the Des Moines Register, which I thought was supposed to be scandalous, and found to my amazement that for the white and elderly-trending population of the Quad Cities he was peddling a fairly moderate agenda for the second term there. Evidently he's trying to keep his moderation quiet on the coasts, where it might cost him votes. And I figured that meant I would be able to hack together a column explaining what moderates are with only two tabs open on the browser, so here goes.

In the first place, moderation is not attained by establishing two extreme points on an opinion scale and then situating yourself at the midpoint between them. Anybody who thinks that is a helpless fool who should probably be enjoined from using a fork, really, if only for their own protection.

Nor is moderation some kind of abstract philosophical position, such as a person might learn about from reading Aristotle and committing herself to an abstract ideal of not being excessive in either direction. Only an idiot would say that. To understand moderation, in fact, you have to read history, and understand that America is a nation of immigrants whose parents worked hard and played by the rules so their children could go to college and graduate into a decent job; and a reverence for this country and the Founders who planned it that way.

Stuck in the Muddle with You

Image via 2Cats&Chloe.

David Brooks ("What Moderates Believe") identifies the great questions:

Donald Trump is not the answer to this nation’s problems, so the great questions of the moment are: If not Trump, what? What does the reaction to Trump look like?
"If not Trump, what?" is a question that can be asked only by those who thought it was likely that Trump was the answer to this nation's problems and have since become uncertain about it. I think the great question is what the fuck was wrong with those people?

"What does the reaction to Trump look like?" Well, it looks like a red, red rose that's newly sprung in June. Or maybe it creeps in on little cat feet.

For some people, the warriors of the populist right must be replaced by warriors of the populist left. For these people, Trump has revealed an ugly authoritarian tendency in American society that has to be fought with relentless fervor and moral clarity.
Gods forbid we should have any moral clarity. That's just so obnoxious.

I don't know why recognizing the ugly authoritarianism Trump exemplifies (not "reveals", you should have known about it long before) entails demanding "warriors of the populist left". I'd think it would entail looking for less authoritarian ways of going on.

For others, it’s Trump’s warrior mentality itself that must be replaced. Warriors on one side inevitably call forth warriors on the other, and that just means more culture war, more barbarism, more dishonesty and more dysfunction. The people in this camp we will call moderates.
Ah, there we go. It's the good old there-are-two-kind-of-people template. There are two kinds of reactions to Trump: those who are bothered by the authoritarianism, who are bad, and those who are bothered by the "warrior mentality", who are Brooks.

Unlike us commoners, they have the good taste to be against culture war, barbarism, dishonesty, and dysfunction. The Brooks are very different from you and me, who would never make such classy objections.

So you know where he's going. Nothing can be changed anyway (if there are warriors on one side there are "inevitably" warriors on the other, and all the bad things that result from that—note by the way that that's the exact bothsiderism for which Trump was so roundly condemned last week). So we can adopt the let's-do-nothing modesty of Burkean conservatism, the smiling, humble, morally muddled authoritarianism aimed at preserving the authority of our traditional religious and class institutions, and call it "centrist".

It's "centrist" because Brooks just built a nice bothsides framework around it, but it's conservatism 101.

I'd like to think about whether there are any political means to the construction of a less authoritarian society, but it wouldn't involve cutting a large number of people out of the discourse because they choose sides and that makes them "immoderate", especially when the self-glorifying "moderates" are covertly choosing the soft-authoritarian side themselves, even as they claim they're not taking sides at all. We don't need to read any more of this. Check Driftglass by all means. And Drew's uncharacteristically brief preview from last week.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

I was shocked by the sheriff




From the Times report:

Mr. Trump also implied that he planned to pardon Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., who became a national symbol of the crackdown on undocumented immigrants with round-’em-up searches that landed him in legal trouble. “Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” Mr. Trump asked to wild whoops and cheers.
“I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine.”
Translation: "I won't do it tonight because my minders won't let me. But I'll cause all the controversy I can anyway."

No, incidentally, Arpaio wasn't convicted for doing his job. He was convicted for doing it wrong, so wrong that it amounted to criminal misconduct:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

For the Record: More D'Souza Lies

Tivadar Soros, 1894-1968, bon vivant and combatant against fascism. One of the reasons I can't leave Dinesh D'Souza alone.




And some George Soros below the fold:

Timing is everything, isn't it?

Image via IN.



That was on MSNBC, before Trump's speech even began.

New York Times came out shortly after it ended, trying to get out ahead of the narrative by not only calling the pivot in the speech ("his best speech" apparently meaning "the one with the fewest words composed by Donald J. Trump") and the counterpivot we should be expecting sometime today.

But the most scorching hot take of all, I think, came from Chris Cillizza at CNN: the speech was great because it was only "ostensibly" about Afghanistan, it was really about Charlottesville:
He just wasn't telling us how many troops he was sending to Virginia. I guess it depends on how much cooperation we get from North Carolina and Maryland.

Best thing is, that explains what happened last week in the Charlottesville speech: he was talking about Afghanistan!
"It's been going on for a long time... Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, it's been going on for a long time.... Egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides."
Like poor old Robert Mugabe, he just got the speeches switched.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Major Speech or General Speech

Bala Hissar Fortress, Kabul, at the time of the 1842 war, via British Battles.

I imagine Trump's address on Afghanistan tonight is going to be on the sober side, sticking fairly resolutely to the script that's been prepared for him in the hope of getting the broadcast media to call it "presidential", and since the actual policy change is supposed to be pretty modest, just adding another 4,000 troops to the 8,000 that are there, in contrast to the 100,000 US troops at the height of the Obama "surge" in 2011-12, the media discussion is mostly going to be about him, and whether he does or doesn't "demonstrate the stability and competence he needs to be successful", as old Senator Corker complained last week; as Corey Robin says:
Social media will focus entirely on the rhetoric. The theme of the commentary will be something like: Trump consolidating his shaky presidency with imperial violence abroad! Media falls for new Trump presidency grounded in imperial violence abroad! And then by Wednesday, it’ll all be forgotten. The discussion will have moved on to Trump’s latest tweet, whatever surge in the polls Trump got from his announcement will be countermanded by whatever barbarity he utters in his tweet.
But while everyone will be talking about the “insanity” of this presidency and this moment, there’ll be almost no discussion of the real insanity of this moment: that yet another US president continues, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, the longest war in US history—a war that shows no sign of being winnable—simply because no US president wants to be the one who lost Afghanistan.
I think it might even be a bit worse than that, on a couple of counts.

Annals of Derp: The Wikipedia Debate







Facepalm from King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Strzok by surprise (October Surprise, that is)

October Surprise. Uncredited image from Merriam Webster.
You may have heard Thursday or Friday about a weird little detail in the Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign—Rachel Maddow featured it on her show Friday night: the departure from the team of Peter Strzok, former head of FBI counterintelligence, who has now returned to the FBI, but not to counterintelligence: he's working in the human relations department.

The what? He's in personnel?
Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and associate dean at Yale Law School, said that she had "never heard of an agent being moved to the human resources department."...
"I have seen instances where if some issue comes up, the agent might be moved to another investigation or to the operations center, where you essentially field calls all day," Rangappa said. "But why he would be moved to HR is just bizarre."  (Natasha Bertrand for Business Insider)
There are a lot of ideas floating around as to what might be going on here, but I think I bumped into the real thing at Narativ, the Trump-Russia blog of the news producer Zev Shalev, and it's a blockbuster, as Rachel would say.

Shalev introduces the idea of a connection between this event and James Comey's strange behavior two weeks before the election, allegations from the Steele dossier, and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and his statement to Fox News of October 26:

Saturday, August 19, 2017

For the record: Declining and falling

Marble bust of Emperor Gaius Caligula, with original color restored, via Wikipedia. Paul Krugman made a pretty good case yesterday that he was a better emperor than Trump.


I really have such a bad feeling on this aspect, that Republicans will emerged unscathed from the cataclysm, shaking with indignation when anybody suggests they had anything to do with the rise of this ill-bred person.

Friday, August 18, 2017

For the record: I get my Bernie on

Men harvesting wheat with reaping-hooks, on a calendar page for August. Queen Mary's Psalter (Ms. Royal 2. B. VII), ca. 1310, via Wikimedia Commons.
Our good friend Bethesda1971 published a diary at Kos suggesting that
Dems Must Seize the Tax Cut Issue: Demand Working/Middle Class Cuts; Ignore the Deficit
and I was a little bit like wait a minute, really? A middle-class tax cut? Isn't that kind of small ball? And found myself banging out a response on my phone in the subway in which I seem to have chased myself out to the left of Bernie Sanders (well, people have been saying he's not a real socialist for years),  and I thought I might as well memorialize that.

But as you say people don't even notice it.* And people below median income are hardly paying income tax as it is. You need a program that people can picture making a difference in their lives, and this sounds like (Bill) Clintonism, competing with Republicans on their turf.** Worst, the tax cut doesn't make more than a tiny dent in inequality.
I agree on taking focus away from deficit, but I would prefer to see increase in thresholds for earned income benefits for us, and for the rich equalizing tax treatment of capital income and inheritance to tax at same rate as wages.*** And then massive efforts to make capital accessible to people with lower incomes, like post office banking or more credit unions. And forcing Fed to met inflation targets before it raises interest rates. If there's something Democrats need to "seize" it's the inequality argument.****

* I mean, that as tax rates continued to fall for middle class payers throughout the Obama administration, polls never stopped showing people believing their tax rates were going up.

** And it's not as if we had a real chance of passing a serious program any time in the next three years. Even in the unimaginably best impeachment luck, President Pelosi and the Republican Senate would have their hands completely full with ethics legislation repairing the legal holes that allow Trump more or less unlimited corruption. Budgeting will be by continuing resolution until 2021. And there's no point in making your compromises ahead of the negotiation, unless you're as cunning as Obama. Might as well think big while we have the time!

*** Bernie insisted on the deficit-hawk gesture of a middle-class tax hike. Of course my health insurance program (starting from the ACA and more or less Germanizing it) is a lot less expensive than "single payer".

**** Why are so many of us forgetting this? More and more Americans have no pensions or property and face literal destitution in old age, while people like Trump can gratify every whim without even thinking about it. Marx and Piketty were both right, this isn't sustainable. If we don't move forward we'll be going back to feudalism.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Turnout troofing

Yesterday the Times Upshot ran a piece by Nate Cohn analyzing the 2016 presidential election in terms of what looks to me like another take in the Legendary White Working Class family of takes, identifying the crucial factor in Trump's victory as that particular set of white-no-college voters who voted for Obama in 2008 and/or 2012 but for Trump in 2016, and who are said to have made this remarkable switch mostly out of racial resentment (I actually don't think that's as bizarre as it sounds, but the obvious question it raises, of why a white person who voted for Obama one year would turn around against Clinton out of racial resentment the next time, is one Cohn doesn't even discuss) and then out of disappointment with Obama and then lastly because they agree with Trump's policy prescriptions as they understand them.

Which Cohn does not take to mean that Democrats need to appeal more to racists, even though that's what his data makes it sound like, but that we should take positions more like those of imaginary Trump, in favor of lots of infrastructure spending, and trade protectionism, and relatively relaxed sexual views. The great Zandar of Kentucky, though, hears Cohn thinking it, and he doesn't like it:

What that means is that Cohn is strongly suggesting that in order to be competitive, Democrats have to make a sea change to attract voters that harbor no small amount of racial resentment. Trump was able to leverage that resentment into massive distrust of the Obama administration and Democrats in general.
The problem is that this will come at a cost, and the cost will be borne by black, Latinx, and Asian voters and candidates [and female candidates too, I'd add].  I've said before that this path is suicidal for the Dems and so far Trump is making it incredibly easy to make the Democrats be the party of inclusiveness in comparison by simple dint of Trump's overwhelmingly awful racism, if not open support of white supremacists.

Nor do I.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What part of anti-fascist didn't you understand?

Image via New York Times.


Not long after retweeting (and then untweetting) an image of the Trump train evidently emulating the automobile of that murdering Nazi in Charlottesville to mow down the CNN mascot, Emperor Trump showed up at Trump Tower to inform the press of a new executive order:
“I’ve just signed a new executive order to reform the nation’s badly broken infrastructure permitting process,” Trump announced, suggesting that his directive would streamline the process of approving constructions on highways.
But according to my source (the Mic Network), it was actually just rear-ending an order of 2015 from the Obama White House, revising the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard

Flailing to Byzantium

Albrecht Dürer, 1514, St. Jerome in his Studio, via Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Verbatim David Brooks, "How to Roll Back Fanaticism", New York Times, August 15 2017:

Donald Trump is the perfect snake oil salesman for this moment. He lacks inwardness and therefore is terrified by the possibility of anxiety. He has been escaping self-scrutiny his whole life and has become a genius at the self-exculpating rationalization. He took a nation beset by uncertainty and he gave it a series of “explanations” that were simple, crude, affirming and wrong.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that Donald Trump's lack of inwardness causes him to be terrified by the possibility of anxiety? Or putting it another way, if you have more inwardness, does that make you less anxious that you might get anxious? Or does inwardness make you more anxious so that you realize anxiety isn't that frightening? I can see how an embrace of self-scrutiny can lead you to inculpate yourself if you have stuff to feel guilty about, but I don't quite get how fleeing from self-scrutiny would make you "become a genius" at explaining why you're not guilty and in any case Trump doesn't really do self-exculpation—he just denies. If he's a genius, it's at gratuitous lying. You could say he started off as a genius in avoiding self-scrutiny, which enables him to be unaware whether he has or hasn't done anything at all, and just assume that if anything is nice he's responsible for it and if anything's not nice it's somebody else's fault, or they're lying about it. David F. Brooks may have "become a genius" in avoiding self-scrutiny in the columns he wrote in summer 2014 on the subject of how it's narcissistic to examine oneself, at the same time as Brooks himself was publicly pretending he hadn't just smashed up his 30-year marriage by having an affair with his 25-years-younger research assistant, but let that pass. Another and much more important classic example, involving Iraq, comes from Driftglass, vintage 2010.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jack Kennedy was a (distant) friend of mine, and you, sir...


From Joseph Simms, 1873, Nature's Revelations of Character, Or, The Mental, Moral and Volitive Dispositions of Mankind, as Manifested in the Human Form and Countenance.
Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street ("The Missiles of August"):
No reason to worry, Trump is basically John Fitzgerald Kennedy: disgusting, but not really dangerous.
Yes,
a reckless, lecherous U.S. president obsessed with his own vigor and out of his depth on foreign policy faced off against a thirtysomething dictator armed with nukes. If we survived the Cuban missile crisis without a thermonuclear war, there’s probably a way to get through this one, too.
I don't think it's quite right to describe Trump as "lecherous", though he'd probably like that himself. My sense, especially from the famous Billy Bush tape, is that he's less interested in having lots of intercourse with many different women than in assault, peeping, and especially getting his presumed exploits talked about. It's hard to imagine JFK calling the New York Post under an assumed identity to get them to write about how much sex he was having.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Annals of Derp: The Paul Popenoe Story

The early ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved?’ columns have an unpleasant chiding tone. Popenoe, along with his organisation’s marriage counsellors, thought of female clients as unrealistic babies: immature, and expecting too much glitz from their marriages. There was a strong element of intergenerational critique in their counsel – a sense that young women were seduced by popular culture, and hopelessly unable to ‘keep house’ and make sacrifices. ‘Don’t expect too much romance,’ Popenoe’s counsellors said over and over again. In treating ‘Ralph’ and ‘Alice’ (February 1953), a young couple who had four children in the space of five years, the counsellor wrote that Alice needed to be convinced to stop ‘nagging’ her husband for affection: ‘Ralph’s way of pronouncing his love was not in extravagant speech but in coming home to her and the children, and displaying his willingness – indeed, his determination – to support them.’ The happy ending was for her to provide: ‘When Alice recognised this fact and acknowledged that the language of courtship and juvenile dreams is seldom the language of marriage, she started keeping household accounts and padlocking her tongue.’ (via Aeon, illustration from Redbook.)
I was kind of thinking I'd take a bye on Dinesh D'Souza's newly emitted project, The Big Lie (from Regnery, already getting remaindered at $4.95 five days after publication!), aimed at persuading us that Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism was too mild, because Jonah left out the important bit about how liberals are also Nazis, which isn't how I remembered it, but this tweet kind of called out to me to find out what it was about.

Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that the progressive eugenicist Paul Popenoe, an associate of the birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, gave the German Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei the idea of "lethal chambers" for killing the disabled and unwanted?

Answer: It's incredible how much wrong D'Souza can pack into 21 words.

Friday, August 11, 2017

I'd say: The Damore Memo

Image via Phawker.


David Brooks ("Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google's C.E.O.") picking villains:

There are many actors in the whole Google/diversity drama, but I’d say the one who’s behaved the worst is the C.E.O., Sundar Pichai.
Am I alone in thinking there's something weird about conducting an examination of this case around the question "who has behaved the worst?" There are many actors in Shakespeare's Hamlet, but I'd say the one who behaved the worst was Polonius. What a dick that guy is. I'm glad he's dead.

No, I'd say the job is to understand what happened and what, if anything, it means. I'm fond of worrying through the argument of who was the worst person in the George W. Bush administration (on the whole, I go for Wolfowitz, who was better intellectually equipped than Cheney or Rumsfeld to know what they were doing and thus has a greater responsibility than those two simple-minded sociopaths), but only in the context of a broader analysis of the story.

What happened at Google was that sometime in July a software engineer called James Damore attended a mandatory company diversity training session that made him really mad (he said it was "secretive" and "shaming"), so on a flight to China, to while the time away and assuage his hurt feelings, he wrote a lengthy note under the title "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber"

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Kim Jong-don


Image by @DannyDutch.



Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that President Trump's first order was to renovate and modernize the US nuclear arsenal, so that it's now far stronger and more powerful than ever before?

Answer: In principle, yes, but:
  • first of all, the order (Memorandum of January 27, on "Rebuilding the U.S. Armed Forces") was actually asking the Secretary of Defense and OMB manager to produce not a renovated nuclear arsenal but a number of documents, including an overall Readiness Review of the armed forces, a National Defense Strategy, a Ballistic Missile Review, and a Nuclear Posture Review to assess how far "United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies";
  • second of all, you'd probably have to wait until after the last review is issued—it's supposed to come out at the end of this year—to get a sense of whether or not it's going to lead to a renovation and modernization beyond the 30-year trillion-dollar modernization program laid down by the Obama administration;
  • third of all, because the Trump review hasn't been completed, it's really hard to see how it could have done anything already to make the US nuclear arsenal stronger and more powerful than previously, unless they're planning to install time travel to build a better past; and
  • fourth of all, it wasn't the first order (that was an executive order of January 20 directing the IRS not to enforce the requirement that tax filers show they have health insurance so that the government won't be able to collect the tax penalties from those who don't, and begging Congress to repeal and replace the PPACA—on the first, nobody was sure by April 18 what they were required to do, and tax preparers were advising everybody to comply with the Obama law as written; on the second, his congressional appeal has of course crashed) but the eighth memorandum, and overall 12th or 13th (15th according to the Rude One).

A Man and His Brain



Former New York Times columnist David Brooks  ("Getting Trump Out of My Brain") introduces an interesting psychological theory you might call neo-Cartesian, in which he sees the human self as a disembodied thing lurking in the ether but the brain as a sort of self in its own right, and a difficult personality making for conflicts between the two of them:

Last week The Washington Post published transcripts of Donald Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders. A dear friend sent me an email suggesting I read them because they reveal how Trump’s mind works. But as I tried to click the link a Bartleby-like voice in my head said, “I would prefer not to.” I tried to click again and the voice said: “No thanks. I’m full.”
So poor Brooksy can't cognize anything because his brain's on strike. Here's a howdy-do!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Elevating the art

Computers and fabrication: 3-D printing at the 2006 Maker Faire, via Edutopia.

Trump's hard at work during his working vacation, nine tweets before breakfast, which is a lot, apparently kicked off by this morning's New York Times, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg's well-made piece

Many Politicians Lie. But Trump Has Elevated the Art of Fabrication.


"Inept" is a pretty cute word choice. The Times did not apologize for anything in its letter to subscribers of November 13, and it's bizarre that he keeps claiming they did, though of course a good example of the phenomenon Stolberg writes about. It's funny how he takes the media failure to predict his victory as a personal insult to himself instead of an unpredictable weirdness in the results (that his share of the vote should distribute itself into just the right counties in those four states to add up to a win, even though he was three million votes behind). It was not a big win. Peter Baker at The Times doesn't speculate on what predictions are meant by "every wrong prediction",  and I'm not going to try.

Looks as if Kelly can't stop people from dumping clippings on the emperor's desk when he's in Jersey.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Cosmopolitan bias

Hedgehog in vampire costume, via wideopenpets.


Can't stop thinking about that exchange between White House political advisor Stephen Miller (or "David Duke's favorite Jew" as The Forward has called him) and CNN's Jim Acosta, with reference to the awful immigrattion bill submitted by Senators Cotton and Perdue aiming at cutting legal immigration to the US by 50% and restructuring the rules to bring fewer unskilled workers and relatives of citizens and more "high-value" entrepreneurs and professionals to our shores:
Q.... Yes, people who immigrate to this country can eventually -- people who immigrate to this country not through Ellis Island, as your family may have, but in other ways, do obtain a Green Card at some point. They do it through a lot of hard work. And, yes, they may learn English as a second language later on in life. But this whole notion of “well, they have to learn English before they get to the United States,” are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?
MR. MILLER: Jim, it’s actually -- I have to honestly say I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It’s actually -- it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree that in your mind --
Q Sir, it’s not a cosmopolitan --
Acosta, who is of Cuban origin—his father came to the US as a refugee in September 1962, weeks before the Cuban missile crisis erupted—obviously isn't thinking about the many Caribbeans and upper-middle–class Africans and South and Southeast Asians who could find access to green cards through the Cotton-Perdue immigration proposals, but about the many people who could be shut out by this system. especially from Latin America, including, let's say, qualified engineers and doctors and the like. But he puts it very artlessly, giving Miller his opportunity to start browbeating.