Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Mosaic, Villa Romana del Casale. via Historia Magazine

Weird from Marc Thiessen at Wapo in defense of Ronny Jackson's nomination as head of the Veterans Admimistration, starting off with a headline that really sounds like something that might mean something—
VA doesn’t need a manager. It needs a leader.
Until you ask yourself, well,  this guy certainly doesn't seem to be a manager, but, um, wait maybe it does need a manager.

Of course Thiessen seems to have been writing when this story was at a fairly early stage in its evolution,
Jackson’s nomination hearing has been postponed because of last-minute allegations that he created a “hostile work environment.”
before we started hearing about the misbehavior on overseas trips with President Obama, and the passing out of Percosets and writing prescriptions for himself, and the hostile working atmosphere turning out to be on the Game of Thrones model,
‘flat-out unethical,’ ‘explosive,’ ‘100 percent bad temper,’ ‘toxic,’ ‘abusive,’ ‘volatile,’ ‘incapable of not losing his temper,’ ‘the worst officer I have ever served with,’ ‘despicable,’ ‘dishonest,’ as having ‘screaming tantrums’ and “screaming fits,’ as someone who would ‘lose his mind over small things,’ ‘vindictive,’ ‘belittling,’ ‘the worse [sic] leader I’ve ever worked for.’
or he might at least have devoted some time to suggesting the stories might be fictional.

But I think he goes wrong in a somewhat less silly way here:

Cheap shots

I got nothing but this junk going on. There's a slightly new Dinesh angle at the bottom.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


From the I Naibi Tarot deck of Giovanni Vecchetta, 1893.
Here's another big idea about what's going on since the 2016 election, and how it ends, from Dylan Matthews at Vox: that it doesn't end, or not in any satisfying way: maybe we get rid of Trump relatively soon, that is, and maybe we don't, but the dysfunctionality of our poor old model of government, the lameness of it, isn't going away any time soon. There's not a happy ending, or a cathartic ending, or a redemptive ending. The lovers' misunderstanding won't be resolved, the wicked will mostly remain unpunished, no new king will show up out of exile.

There's no reason to think Adam Davidson is wrong, particularly, in contending that the Trumpery itself has come to the top of the wheel of Fortune and has begun its inevitable trajectory to death. There's no special reason, in Matthews's view, to think he's right, either, or, at least, to think it's such a crucial question:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Jew know what I mean?

12th-century German painting of two Jews for which I'm not finding a helpful source. Is the one on the right a little on the sleepy-eyed side?

I don't know if everybody's heard about the theory that Trump calling an NBC newscaster "Sleepy-Eyed Chuck Todd" is an anti-Semitic slur. Like a lot of people, I'd never heard of such a thing, but this thread from Stonekettle (who had also never heard of such a thing) made me take it seriously:

Dinesh D'Souza, of course, didn't believe a word of it. Show me some evidence! I couldn't resist the challenge and gave it about five minutes of Dr. Google:

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Literary Corner: Ring Around the Comeys

Kurt Schwitters, Blauer Vogel (Blue Bird), ca.1922, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Murray A. Gribin, Beverly Hills, CA, via Arftchive.

Donald Trump is really a spoken word artist, with the flash and spontaneity that implies, and one almost always feels in his written work a certain stylistic cramping, an inhibition, an overworked quality (you even see this in the time stamps, which allow you to calculate the time he's taken to compose his 280 characters, often 30 or 40 minutes apiece even when they're in a tight sequence, even, as in the first piece below, broken in the middle of an adjective phrase), but once in a while, as we've seen before, a fresh emotion lifts his tweet into lyricality, and this seems to have happened last week with the arrival in bookstores of James Comey's A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, with its narrative of Trump attempting to get the FBI director to halt investigations of Trump's friends, divulge the secret of whether Trump himself was under investigation, or simply swear personal fealty to the president, and Comey's presence all over the television ably defending his motivations (though not so able when it came to explaining why he had twice, at critical moments of the campaign, divulged secret information about the Bureau's pointless ongoing investigation of Hillary Clinton).

Or maybe it was just spring in the air. These new songs have a peculiar lightness, skippy, almost like children's rhymes, except for not rhyming. Below the fold:

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Act of Contrition

Courtesan Confessional by Aurora Maryte/Deviant Art.

Amy Chozick of The New York Times promoting her about-to-appear memoir of life on the Hillary Clinton beat since 2008 (WSJ, and the Times from 2013), Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling, with a book excerpt that includes an unexpected confession:

The Bernie Bros and Mr. Trump’s Twitter trolls had called me a donkey-faced whore and a Hillary shill, but nothing hurt worse than my own colleagues calling me a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence. The worst part was, they were right.
Note the trivial inaccuracy (it was "donkey-faced cunt") and slipped-in bothsiderism (suggesting her reporting must have been fair, since Hillary had some opponents who hated it as much as her supporters did). Still and all, she seems to be the first reporter from the big show to acknowledge playing a role in electing Donald Trump to the presidency through a series of journalistic failures, and that's pretty brave, right?

Nah. The only thing she pleads guilty to is spending too much time writing stories about pirated emails in the Trump-Clinton campaign, in which, as she carefully points out, she was not alone: "Every publication," she says, quoting Eric Lipton, David Sanger, and Scott Shane in the December postmortem, "including The Times, published multiple stories citing the D.N.C. and Podesta emails posted by WikiLeaks, becoming a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence." Though her own contribution (six stories and a blog post) to the stampede was not exactly small.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Pompey the Great

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnius, by Tom Rutjens/Deviant Art.

Noah Rothman of Commentary yesterday morning, explaining to NPR why Mike Pompeo is qualified to be secretary of state, makes some very peculiar arguments:
ROTHMAN: Well, among them being that he was just in North Korea conducting a very high-level diplomatic mission. To the extent that he has been acting as a diplomatic ambassador now - and this was apparently leaked to convey to the press and to Democrats that he is essentially functioning as a diplomat...
GREENE: You're saying leaked to the - you're saying the White House wanted this out there so - to try and convince Democrats about his credentials.
ROTHMAN: Oh, we've learned yesterday that that was apparently the case. And it was a very smart move. It established his...
GREENE: But isn't that just one trip? Isn't that just one trip?
ROTHMAN: Well, yeah, but it's one very effective trip, apparently.
It is just one trip and we have no way of judging how effective it was, other than what the White House says, which is what this White House always says, that everything they do is totally great and making America great again only they can't tell you in just what respect.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Male chimps grooming (da da da da) on a Sunday afternoon, Via Cooler Insights.

David Brooks ("The Blindness of Social Wealth") begins with a story from Robert E. Hall's This Land of Strangers: The Relationship Crisis That Imperils Home, Work, Politics, and Faith (2012) illustrating how you can you take a concept of "social wealth", understood here as a kind of capital of human relationships, as literal wealth, money in the bank, that you may be able to draw on in a tight financial spot, a share in a company you thought went bankrupt long ago and that turns out to be thriving:
Bob Hall was a rancher. In 1936, in the midst of the Depression, he was suffering from a cancer that was eating the flesh on the side of his face. His ranch had dwindled to nearly nothing, and weeks after bankers took the last of his livestock, Hall died, leaving his family deeply in debt.
His sons pleaded with anybody they could find to make a loan and save the family ranch. No one would do it. Finally, in desperation, they went to their neighbor, Buzz Newton, who was known for his miserliness, and asked him to co-sign a loan. “I always thought so much of your dad; he was the most generous man I have known,” Newton answered. “Yes, I’ll co-sign the note.”
Bob Hall’s grandson, also named Robert Hall, drew out the lesson in his book “This Land of Strangers,” noting: “The truth is, relationships are the most valuable and value-creating resource of any society. They are our lifelines to survive, grow and thrive.”
Which seems like a dubious moral to me; old Bob Hall had saved the ranch for his children not by the strategic investment in relationships but by heedlessly befriending anybody at all—all the decent people he'd been friends with turned the kids down. It was the least likely friend who came through, like the little man in the forest in the old fairy tales who gives the simple-minded third brother woodcutter a treasure in exchange for a charitably offered sandwich. Old Bob Hall wasn't a capitalist of friendship, he was a nice guy.

Guess who just found out the Korean War isn't over yet?

In the Demilitarized Zone,via CNN; can't find a name for the bird.

Yesterday's story in The Times:

But analysts said South Korea was aiming for a comprehensive deal, in which the North agreed to give up its weapons in return for a security guarantee, including a peace treaty. Mr. Trump’s comments suggested he backed that effort.
“They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war,” he said. “People don’t realize that the Korean War has not ended. It’s going on right now. And they are discussing an end to war. Subject to a deal, they have my blessing.”
You know what he means when he says, "People don't realize". That's what he always says when he's gobsmacked by some revelation, like Lincoln having been a Republican

I'm not going to lie, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself for prognostications since at least January as to what was going on from the "my button is bigger than your button" tweet through the Winter Olympics, which is that the South Korean government has realized that Trump's ignorance and mercuriality mean it can take over the 64-year-old peace process from the AWOL United States. Which may not be the way it looks to you, with these crazy events in which somebody with no more official status than Dennis Rodman, in between jobs as Director of Central Intelligence and Secretary of State (if he can get confirmed by the Senate, which has been looking very iffy), travels to negotiate with the Cute Leader or whatever they're calling him to arrange a meeting for him with Emperor Bigbutton. You may think that the US is not merely actively engaged but hyperactively engaged.

But that's my point, really: hyperactivity isn't coherently directed at anything. Trump doesn't know whether he wants a war or wants peace, or care, as long as he's acclaimed the winner of whatever it turns out to be. He's not in charge, and President Moon Jae-in is.

The news today that DPRK and ROK truly are talking about a peace treaty is just astonishing, though, and I'm not even sure what to think. The upshot may not turn out exactly the way Pompeo expects, but it sounds like progress from here for the moment.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

End Stage Addendum: But How?

Game Plan Template.

Because not everybody agrees with Adam Davidson (as I am inclined to do), for example, Jim Newell protesting at Slate:
Please Stop Predicting the End of Trump’s Presidency (Unless you can explain exactly how he gets impeached or why he resigns).
First, the meaning of "end stage": It doesn't mean it ends before cockcrow or in a few weeks or in less than a year or any particular time frame, at least not directly; as Davidson says,
We don’t know when. We don’t know the precise path the next few months will take. There will be resistance and denial and counterattacks. But it seems likely that, when we look back on this week, we will see it as a turning point.
It means, like the end stage of a disease, that there is no longer any doubt of the outcome, though our guess as to when exactly it ends could be way off the mark. Some stage 4 cancer patients, given six months by the doctors, go on for years, others collapse and expire before they've even absorbed the prognosis. The presidency will not die of natural causes unless the president does, from too much ice cream, but it can now be called terminal, and it will not survive to November 2020. How long it lasts is dependent on a number of factors, but I think the main thing is how long it takes the Republicans to realize it has to happen, presumably by summer 2019, before the presidential campaigning gets seriously under way.

End Stage

Drawing by Mike Luckovitch, New Yorker, 3 November 2008, via

So which is it? Have we entered at last, with the FBI raid on Michael Cohen's various document stashes, on the "End Stage" of the Trump presidency already, as Adam Davidson has just proclaimed in The New Yorker? Or is this just another illusory moment, as Steve M suggests, where we're thinking, surely the conservatives are going to realize now what kind of schmuck they've elected to the presidency while the voters themselves are going to say, with Greg Gutfield,
when America hears Comey whine that Trump is like a Mafia boss, they go, "No shit, Sherlock. That's why we like him." ... He may be a Mafia boss, but he's our Mafia boss.
I think—for one thing—I think they're writing about different things.

Davidson's piece is really interesting, backed up with some reporting memories, of the Iraq War, when the American masses eventually began to realize what an imposture the whole project was, and shortly thereafter the mortgage crisis, when it turned out that

Monday, April 16, 2018

Hurry Spring

Anne-Sophie Mutter, Beethoven sonata no. 5 op. 24, "Spring", with Lambert Orkis, piano.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

West of Eden: Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished banner, Arrested Development, via Arrested Development Wiki.
Screenshot just in case somebody tells Trump what he just did and the thing gets deleted. 
George W, in an undisclosed location, chuckles, remembering he's not the worst president in US history any more.

Meanwhile, special thanks from most of the world to Defense Secretary James Mattis and, I think, President Emmanuel Macron for satisfying our emperor's need to display his manly firmness and compassion at so little cost, taking no lives (apparently no casualties at all among Syrian troops or civilians, though hardly anybody seems to be asking, thanks BBC), and not making the Syrian situation markedly worse than it was before. Maybe even making it a little better, if it's true that facilities for making chemical weapons have really been damaged or destroyed.

I really do think there's something brilliant about Macron and the ability he's shown to mediate the behavior of the two emperors, Putin and Trump, with whom he's cultivated something like friendship, and I'm sure he deserves some credit for talking Trump down from demanding more war.

It was a scary moment last night when Trump (or the text written for him) suggested this might be the start of something big—

Friday, April 13, 2018

Intellectual Bubble

Grouchy old Tom Hobbes and smooth-talking John Locke in a quiet, conservative moment. Horse Feathers.

Le tout-Washington is talking about a new book, James Comey's memoir of the events leading up to his firing as FBI director (A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership), so David F. Brooks is talking literature as well, seeing "A Renaissance on the Right": "all the political turmoil is creating a burst of intellectual creativity on the right" in which "Young, fresh writers are bursting on the scene" (getting stuck using the word "burst" twice in a space of 13 words gives you an idea of how fresh David Brooks is) such as Charles C.W. ("Cromulent Whiskers") Cooke, Mollie Hemingway, and James Poulos among other even younger and fresher names I'm not so familiar with, but the youngest and freshest of all is our old friend Jonah Goldberg, entering the field with his own immensely subtitled new book, Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy, which might sound better in the original German (Selbstmord des Abendlandes).

Which I'm not likely to be reading any time soon, after the disclaimer with which it begins—

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Are you there, God? It's me, Ross.

Via St. Thomas More Catholic Church and Parish School, Houston, a St. Thomas that actually looks a little like Ross Douthat.

Or maybe the Blessed Virgin, but definitely requesting a miracle ("Why Not Mike Pence?"):
DOUTHAT: Ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae, amen. And soften the hearts of the Republican caucus in the House, and let them impeach the Trump, for that is seriously a good idea to make Pence president before the midterms, if you can swing it. If they'd managed to convict Bill Clinton in 1998, see, and Gore had been president going into the 2000 election, he would have won, and...
B.V.M.: He did win. St. Thomas More intervened to stop the recount. I told him to leave it alone, but that man never listens to anybody.
DOUTHAT: Oh, yeah, well... Pence probably needs a bigger miracle than Bush did, because he has to get nominated in the first place.
So that's the general idea: there's old Pence, the exact sort of guy all those white evangelical men of virtue think of themselves as being, bland as a boiled potato and as fanatical under the blandness as his talk radio background could make him, positioned to become president without even having to go to the trouble of getting elected, if only the Republicans could make up their minds to do it.

The interesting part is that Douthat, the smartest of our rightwing columnists, as I've always said, though not the least dishonest, seems to have become the first to broach the possibility that the orange asshat could be guilty of something; putting it with the most extreme delicacy—

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Billie Burke in George Cukor's Dinner At Eight (1933).

David F. Brooks feels that "we" have failed ("The Failures of Anti-Trumpism"):
WACO, Tex. — Over the past year, those of us in the anti-Trump camp have churned out billions of words critiquing the president. The point of this work is to expose the harm President Trump is doing, weaken his support and prevent him from doing worse. And by that standard, the anti-Trump movement is a failure.
We have persuaded no one. Trump’s approval rating is around 40 percent, which is basically unchanged from where it’s been all along.
Not for the first time, I find myself wondering, "What do you mean 'we', white man?" In the sense, I mean, that nobody toiling in my vineyard is hoping to "weaken Trump's support" and persuade his approval ratings down. Especially not by exposing the harm he's doing. Exposing the harm he's doing just gets them mad. The only thing that's going to get them to stop supporting him—and it will come, I believe, sooner or later, as it came with George W. Bush—will be when he's exposed as not tough. And only circumstance will persuade them of that, not anything I can say.

No, the job from our point of view is to strengthen those who oppose the president, who have been an absolute majority of the population in the poll aggregates I look at without a break since 15 March 2017 (and rising most of this month with disapproval currently at 54.1%), and make sure those suckers vote this year.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

For the Record: That's Settled

That's a cruel Photoshop; the original is below:

And this was fun:

And below the fold, some more Dinesh fail.

For the Record: Trump's Very Bad Day

And in case you didn't get a chance to notice,
I didn't realize that was still pending in any way. "Your so-called lawyer got his office, apartment, and the hotel room he was staying in while his apartment was getting renoavated all raided by FBI agents looking for evidence of crimes of illegal campaign finance contributions, wire fraud, bank fraud, and by the way you need to write a check for $25 million to pay off all those people you defrauded back in 2010. Have another cheeseburger!"

Then there was this explosion quoted at TPM indicating that he's heard how the soybean and hog farmers feel about his trade war plans:

Sunday, April 8, 2018


First issue, 1857, via Wikipedia.

OK, so one last moment of engagement with the saga of Kevin D. Williamson, because as it turns out the whole thing really was about one tweet, apparently, or Williamson's inability to give a satisfactory explanation of it to the Atlantic's editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg:
Specifically, the subject of one of Kevin’s most controversial tweets was also a centerpiece of a [2014] podcast discussion in which Kevin explained his views on the subject of the death penalty and abortion. The language he used in this podcast—and in my conversations with him in recent days—made it clear that the original tweet did, in fact, represent his carefully considered views. The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post, as Kevin had explained it. Furthermore, the language used in the podcast was callous and violent. This runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.
Kevin is a gifted writer, and he has been nothing but professional in all of our interactions. But I have come to the conclusion that The Atlantic is not the best fit for his talents, and so we are parting ways.
Which was the one issue I hadn't really given a lot of attention to, interested as I was in Williamson's general tendency to dehumanize whoever he doesn't like, from African American children in East St. Louis, Illinois to the Trump voters of Hardscrabble, New York and Childwhelp, Kentucky, and the success with which he masquerades (like William F. Buckley, Jr., or Mr. Bret Stephens) as the kind of writer somebody like Jeffrey Goldberg might refer to as "gifted".

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Power Down

Adults-only event at Legoland, Tempe, AZ, via TempeTourism.

Shorter David Brooks, "The New Power Structure", New York Times. 5 April 2018:

Shorter in the first place because it's missing the obligatory opening four paragraphs in which Brooks pretends that he is writing an opinion column rather than a publisher blurb for New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World—And How To Make It Work For You, which was released on Tuesday, and tries to suggest that he's seen some other inferior "windows into this new world" to compare this one to:

Friday, April 6, 2018

Literary Corner: A lot of people don't understand what that means

Cy Twombly, Second Voyage to Italy (Second Version), 1962, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
by Donald J. Trump
We can’t continue to have —
I spoke with Jim just coming in
and — Jim is a great businessman — and he said,
“You’re right.” Because we can’t continue
to allow this to happen, where hundreds
of billions of dollars is taken out
of our country and our system; where
if they make a car, they sell it here,
it’s 2.5 percent tax. If we make a car
and try and get it into China, number one,
they won’t take it. But if they did,
it’s 25 percent tax. So they pay 2.5;
we pay 25. They don’t even want to
take it. That doesn’t sound so good.
But it’s all like that. And we have
our intellectual property, and a lot
of people don’t understand what that means.
And it doesn’t matter if you understand
it or not. You understand the concept of
being taken advantage of, and we
can’t be taken advantage of any longer.
So we’re at a point where we had to
do this. Our economy is strong. Our jobs
are great. We’re going to come out with
numbers on Friday that, hopefully,
are going to be fantastic numbers.
Companies are doing really well, and
you have to go after the people
that aren’t treating you right.
Text from the president's Tax Reform Roundtable in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia yesterday.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

President Trump is Not Authorized to Speak for Himself

National Guard troops outside Hidalgo, TX, in 2011. AP photo via MPR.

Yesterday, in the wake of Trump's announcing to a press availability on Tuesday that he was pulling all the US troops out of Syria and "The White House" clarifying a few hours later that no, that was not in fact the case ("President Trump," they did not add, "is not authorized to speak for the Trump administration"), BooMan wrote,
He may be crazy and flat wrong on many details, but he is the president and if he wants to end our commitment to the region, you’d think that he could force a change in policy. But he can’t. Obama found himself handcuffed in some respects, too. If there is such a thing as the “deep state,” this is how it manifests itself. Even presidents have to bow to them on occasion.
I thought that was exaggerating both the existence of a "deep state" and this president's involvement in the government:

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

New York note

Hick's Orchard, Middle Granville.

In somewhat pleasant news from Albany, the the eight members of the "Independent Democratic Caucus" in the State Senate have abruptly decided to abandon their unholy coalition with the Republican majority, dissolve themselves, and rejoin the Democratic Party; Andrea Stewart-Cousins will continue as minority leader and IDC chief Jeff Klein will serve as her deputy. If the indications are correct and the Democrats win the two special elections in the Bronx and Westchester on April 24, she will be the majority leader, and the first woman ever to be one of the "three (or four) men in a room" who make all the real policy decisions in this traditionally not very small-d democratic state.

They were going to do it anyway, in theory, after the special elections, but this move, in addition to making it much harder for Klein to renege on the deal (as he might want to do, House of Cards character that he is), shows a political climate that is changing pretty fast. Most or all of the IDC members were going to be primaried this year by loyal Democrats, with the support of the Working Families partioid organization, and this move shows that they're scared; anxious to start proclaiming that just because they've been voting with Republicans doesn't mean they actually are Republicans, and take some of the wind out of the challengers' sails, suggesting to me that there's a lot more wind than I expected.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is also being primaried, as you've probably heard, by the actress Cynthia Nixon (with the endorsement of my candidate of four years ago, law professor Zephyr Teachout), and seemingly scared as well. He hasn't been as terrible a governor all round as some people will tell you (his defense of environmental regulation and work on economic development in Buffalo have had real results, and his response to Trump taxation terrorism this year has been creative and good), but he's never been good enough, he's never been able to free his management from the smell of corruption, hasn't even really tried, and his pointless war against Mayor Bill de Blasio over the past four years has been particularly bad for New York City, for our terrible transportation and housing issues. He's also held responsible by many (including me) for the Republican control of the Senate—it's said he prefers it divided. The swiftness with which he has achieved the breakup of the IDC—over dinner at a Manhattan steakhouse last night, we're told—reinforces the belief, showing that he could have done it all along.

But he has done it now, and I think I know why: because we-the-people are getting better at our job, of putting the pressure on.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Who Shall Deliver Us?

From one of the Peter Jackson films, I guess, in somebody's Tumblr.

Shorter David Brooks, "Vladimir Putin, the Most Influential Man in the World", New York Times, 3 April 2018:
Vladimir Putin is the most influential human being on the planet today. He has established himself as one pole in the great global debate of the era, the debate between authoritarianism and democracy. And who's the opposite pole, the single leader of the global liberal democratic camp? I can't think of a name.
I don't know, maybe if you're lamenting the lack of a single man we can look up to as the commanding embodiment of our aspirations toward "faith in the capacities of individual citizens" and "loyalty to a constitution, a creed, and a set of democratic norms" rather than to "a person.... [t]he man himself", you could be doing it wrong.

It's time for a little Lord of the Rings reference, I think, because the trilogy really does illustrate in a precise way how a war of "liberalism" against authoritarianism is conducted, not by setting up a rival authority figure, but by mobilizing everybody in our amazing diversity, humans and hobbits, Elves and Dwarves, wizards, and ambulatory trees. Heroes are needed, and even a king, but not the king of everybody, just of the Dúnedain or Elf-Friends of Arnor and Gondor (who themselves represent a kind of anciently pluralist tradition, the men who are friends with Elves, which Aragorn doubles down on when he marries Arwen). And intellectuals too, of course, but not like Saruman, succumbing himself to the simplicity of authoritarianism. That's something David Brooks should watch out for. Longing for a Real Leader is going to the other side.

One of the great things about Gandalf, incidentally, is his appreciation of the requirements of identity politics: his understanding that groups have interests that can conflict—Elves vs. Dwarves have real issues with an ecological foundation—, and patience in allowing them to talk it out, even though the ancient history can get very annoying and sound pointless. That's another thing David Brooks needs to learn. Nationhood politics, the insistence that we all have the same interest inside our borders and constant demands for internal unity, leads to war, or at the least Putinism. Ethnic-cultural-moral politics, transcending and overlapping borders, leads to negotiation and balance. In information theory, difference is what yields meaning, and in political and religious life the suppression of difference is what leads to the loss of meaning that Brooks is always upset about.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

And Something, You Know

The Trumpster Bunny.

What Easter Means to Me
by Donald J. Trump
Well, it really means something very special.
I'm going to church in an hour from now
and it's going to be—it's a beautiful church.
I'm in Florida. And it's just a very special—
time for me. And it really represents family
and get-together and—and something, you know,
if you're a—a Christian, it's just a very important day.


Boy representing the month of June in a Roman mosaic calendar, 3rd century, posted by user Saliko at Wikmedia Commons.

By unpopular demand, I feel obliged to say a few words about the Indiana journalist Adam Wren and his Politico Magazine piece "My 72-Hour Safari in Clinton Country", which has roused a lot of comment around the neighborhood, and about which I already expressed an unpopular view (over at Steve's place), which is that when Wren says his piece is "satire", he is being sincere, though probably wrong in the sense that he doesn't have a very clear idea what satire is like.

But he did have an idea of a target, apparently, when he was pitching the piece to Politico (or, in his version, they were pitching him):

My editors had given me this assignment as something of a lark. The idea: Just as reporters from New York and D.C. trek into Trump Country to visit greasy spoons and other corners of Real America™ to measure support for the candidate, I’d venture from Trump Country to the most stereotypical bastions of coastal liberal elitism, and ask the people I met whether they still support Hillary Clinton. An innocent abroad, I would leave Hamilton County, Indiana, a deep-red suburb north of Indianapolis that Trump won by nearly 20 points, the kind of place where the Koch brothers are presently carpet-bombing Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly with $2 million in television and digital ads for his vote against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Once on the decadent East Coast, I would luxuriate in its undiluted upscale liberal consensus at bookstores, wine bars, cafes and other Blue State institutions peopled by NPR tote-bagging sophisticates. Perhaps I’d drop in on something activist-y, a meeting of Resistance types.
When a hoo-ha erupted about the assumptions of the piece, that Clinton voters are all decadent, undilutedly upscale sophisticates who spend all their time consuming high-end products like books and booze except when they're whipping up the Molotov cocktails at their Resistance meetings (in spite of the fact that there are three million more of us than there are of them), and its procedure of looking only for evidence that confirms it, Wren explained that what he was producing was "satire":

Brooks is Risen

The Cruelest Month

April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.

First, winter kept us warm. It covered earth in forgetful snow. It fed a little life with dried tubers. Second, summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee with a shower of rain. We stopped in the colonnade and went on in sunlight into the Hofgarten. Third, we drank coffee and talked for an hour.

The other day, a woman I'll call Marie told me, “I'm not Russian at all. My family is from Lithuania, authentic German, and when we were children, staying at the archduke's place, he took me out on a sled. The archduke is my cousin. I was frightened. He said, ‘Marie, Marie, hold on tight.’ ”

In the mountains, there you feel free. I read much of the night, and go south in the winter. What are the roots that clutch? What branches grow out of this stony rubbish? I can't speak for everybody, but I suspect it will be something higher and more lovely, reminding me of Abraham Lincoln, as things usually do.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

More Rhetorical Excess


More Stephens on Williamson:
Dear Kevin, 
I’m sorry to have to write you, for two reasons. Sorry, first, that you have to endure having your character assailed and assassinated by people who rarely if ever read you and likely never met you. Sorry also that your hiring as a writer for The Atlantic has set off another censorious furor in media circles when surely there are more important subjects on this earth.
(1) "I'm sorry to have to write you" is the form of an apology, when you're going to give somebody pain but your position obliges you do to it, as in "As Tiffany's teacher, I'm sorry to have to inform you that she is a very unpleasant little girl." Since this is not your plan, why are you doing that? (2) You don't have to write Kevin D. Williamson in any way, as a matter of fact. If you did, publishing your letter in The Times isn't the best way to get to him. I'm sure you could just pop him an email. Moreover, it's clear that you're not writing him. You're writing me, as a subscriber to the paper. And I didn't ask you. (3) I don't think anybody is in fact assailing, still less assassinating, Williamson's character. I think they're complaining about the shit he writes for public consumption, which is his job, which, to be sure, makes him look as if he had a pretty bad character (it's unlikely somebody would try to hide his true character by saying he believes women who have abortions deserve the same punishment as criminal homicides). I must say I love the idea that people can't judge your writing unless they've met you. (4) So this column is to quiet the censorious furor in media circles by publishing a column on the subject, in a censorious tone, in The Times? Or is that what you meant in the first place? "I'm sorry my censoriousness obliges me to contribute another 800 words to the furor when I'm sure you and everybody else would prefer me to be writing about something important."

Rhetorical Excess

Mr. Bret Stephens writes a letter to his pal Kevin D. Williamson, newly appointed columnist for The Atlantic, commiserating with him over the sad fate of being criticized ("The Outrage Over Kevin Williamson"):
The case against you, as best as I can tell, rests on three charges. You think abortion is murder and tweeted — appallingly in my view — that doctors and women should perhaps be hanged for it. You believe “sex is a biological reality” and that gender should not be a choice. And you once boorishly described an African-American boy in East St. Louis, Ill., “raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge.”
My view is that there are more important charges than these: he is a bad writer and dishonest. For example, he falsely accused Jonathan Chait of using a strawman argument in a piece in which he himself used an idiotic strawman argument, an awful ad hominem argument, and two serious falsehoods, followed by a second post in which he falsely accused Chait of dishonesty, and falsely claimed that the great socialist writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., agreed with him (Williamson) that human inequality is genetically determined (of course the basic criticism there applies to Stephens too). I wrote it up in 2015:

Friday, March 30, 2018

Trepidation Now, Trepidation Forever

I think it's Hindi. From somebody's tumblr.

David Brooks's headline, "Integration Now, Integration Forever" (which I'm pretty sure he wrote himself, as marked by the fact that it's in the url), composed by palimpsest over George Wallace's famous cry of defiance of 1963, sounds like a pretty stirring call to action that I wouldn't want to be arguing with, but what he came up with is more ambivalent, on more than one dimension, indeed so ambivalent that it doesn't make any sense at all:

The prospect of racial integration in the United States, which seemed so promising in the 1960s as the integration of the school system began, has clearly failed, gone the way of the gramophone and the nylon stocking, as people failed to create intimate bonds across racial lines, as Tamar Jacoby observed 20 years ago. This depressing outcome is probably because integrating schools was the wrong way to go. The authorities should have begun by integrating neighborhoods instead. This is proven by the fact that neighborhoods have become more integrated over time, and people have created intimated bonds across racial lines, as intermarriage rates have climbed and churches have become multiracial. Therefore we need to integrate neighborhoods by building public housing in low-poverty areas, eliminating exclusionary zoning, and more gentrification, and schools will integrate themselves. Also everybody should join an organization where they meet once a week with people who are different from themselves.
Terrifyingly, this glass is half-empty! Fortunately, it's half-full! We must do something to rectify this situation by making it more the way it already is, I think!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

For the Record: Ben Shapiro's Working Class

I didn't watch Roseanne back when she was still alive, so to speak, s so I can't imagine why I'd be watching her now, but I've still managed to acquire enough opinions to take issue with young Ben Shapiro, who's pissed off because Roseanne and Dan voted for Trump but are not in his opinion authentic Trump voters, who are all, in his view, identical:
I started out trollishly agreeing with him:

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Smash-Mouth Liberalism

Apparently Smash Mouth was the name of the first band to give Trump permission to use their music at his rallies. Not sure how that relates to the way Douthat's using the expression, but it must be relevant.
Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, does not love the kids; he is deeply distressed by them, in particular their chillingly violent calls for the destruction of Senator Rubio ("Marco Rubio Must Be Destroyed"):
Since the Parkland shootings in Florida, Senator Marco Rubio has done many of the things liberals say they are desperate, desperate for decent Republicans to do. He has changed his position on gun control, expressing support for new restrictions: age limits on gun purchases, new background check rules, possibly magazine restrictions. He has co-sponsored legislation encouraging states to issue restraining orders that temporarily would strip people deemed dangerous of their guns. Some of these measures have conservative support, but in other cases the Florida Republican has effectively bucked the N.R.A.
When he showed up for the CNN town hall he met boos and heckles; one of the shooting survivors told him that just looking at him was like staring down the barrel of an assault rifle. Notwithstanding his subsequent policy concessions, at the March for Our Lives the students wore price tags around their neck, $1.05 each — the amount of money Rubio’s campaigns have received from the N.R.A. divided by the number of students in Florida schools. David Hogg, one of their leaders, began his speech with the price tag line, and told a CNN interviewer that if anything he feels that their attacks on the Florida senator haven’t been provocative enough.
I'm not having any luck finding cases of liberals saying "I am desperate, desperate for decent Republicans to" do anything. It's certainly not something I would say. I suspect Ross is making this up.