Sunday, June 16, 2019

Mueller: The Airport Paperback

Here's some drafting for the airport novel version. Superscript notes identify material that's exclusive to the Mueller Report. Material on Flynn in the previous sketch is not yet known to these characters, although I guess it will be. Sorry I can't seem to get rid of the links and blockquotes.

Justice League of America #1, October 1960, art by Murphy Anderson, via Wikipedia.

Sally Yates, the slender blonde with the soft Southern accent who'd become the acting attorney general three days earlier, as the new president was being inaugurated, swept her hair back with an impatient hand. "I'm really freaked out about it," [M II:30 fn 134] she told Andy McCabe, the FBI nerd, contemplating her from the other side of the desk, as Mary McCord, DOJ national security specialist, shook her head from side to side next to him.
"This" was General Mike Flynn, fired head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the previous administration and now the new chief of the National Security Council. A craggy-faced fanatic from the paranoid wing of his Republican party, he'd become indispensable to his candidate, Donald J. Trump, a pudgy, pasty hotel-keeper and television schmoozer, lending him an air of austerity and toughness, one of the men the candidate called "my generals", but he'd been turning out to have more in his past than just his enmity with the outgoing president.

Father's Day post

Before I had siblings. Aunt Nell's electric vehicle in Huntington Beach.

Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, "Can Dads Have It All?", The New York Times, 16 June 2019:
Sure it's true that fathers do more total work than mothers nowadays, when you add up paid work, housework, and childcare—a good 20 minutes in families where both parents work, according to the latest statistical manipulations by Robert VerBruggen of the Institute For Family Studies, or considerably more, depending on how you massage it, but I'm not resentful. After all, women's work is harder, but they probably like doing it better than I do, so it all works out. I will point out, though, that this dispensation, combined with the need to watch children all the time because we're not allowed to just order them outside while we play with our X-Box, leaves both parents exhausted, inevitably lowering marriage and fertility rates, which is very important.
Because, he doesn't add, it leads to the possibility of race suicide, or, worse, contraception.

VerBruggen's piece is pretty silly, but it also brings up the reasonable idea that women generally do all the managerial work in the household (according to a 1989 study by Linda Thompson and Alexis J. Walker), which I find pretty stimulating to think about. It suggests to me that by current Republican standards women's home responsibilities should be regarded as about 271 times more valuable than men's. I don't have that much respect for management, on principle, but since most women do more than their share of dogwork as well, I'd say it adds up to a lot.

In my own child-rearing experience, where that pattern holds (I was absolutely the primary caregiver but we'd have had pure anarchy if not for the Old Lady stepping in as CEO for the occasional intervention), I was largely OK with the drudgery from diapers to dinner (not that I did it very well except for the cooking part) but poisoned from time to time with resentment at the financial inequity of her having a career and me scrabbling by with part-time work—crudely, by the need to beg her for money—as she was scandalized by the uncleanliness of the house. We survived it, and our kids are wonderful human beings, but it lent a degree of suffering and can't-talk-about-it emotional withholding both of us could have done without while that phase lasted. And I think I have some insight from that into the plight of couples like my own stay-at-home mom and somewhat remote, harried father, raging when some kid had dropped a sock on the stairs and nobody but him would pick it up, in the days when they were poor (and they weren't poor forever, and the hilarious and hopeful father of my infancy came back eventually). Which Ross, raised by two generations of wealthy divorcées (thing I learned today is that his grandparents were divorced too), probably lacks.

Which is, I think, that rather than quantifying the amount of work parents do in terms of minutes clocked in, we might want to qualify it in terms of prestige and affection and adjust our models, from the traditional economically nonsensical household where Mom has all the executive responsibility but has to fight for the executive privilege of ordering Dad around, to a situation where everybody gets respect and warmth in relatively equal measure, and some down time too. Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Voters, David Brooks doesn't like the way you smell



David F. Brooks in the presence of someone who's not conversant with the liberal international order. Via Medium.

Shorter David Brooks, "Voters, Your Foreign Policy Views Stink!", The New York Times, 13 June 2019:
The problem with foreign policy in America nowadays is the voters, who have never heard of the phrase "maintaining the liberal international order" and are therefore hostile to it, or at any rate hostile to the thing that they actually have heard of that is more or less the same thing, or else it's because they have for some reason that escapes me lost faith in human nature and human possibility and become, especially among the young, distrustful, alienated, and unwilling to get involved in the strange, hostile, outside world.  Therefore we need a leader who can grapple with failures like Iraq, build a younger leadership class, and embody optimism. Probably he should also be a member of a minority, a senator from a state like Illinois, and a talented writer, with experience living in a foreign country not in Europe.
Just making up that last sentence, of course: the Obama nostalgia is completely subliminal here, and real Brooks would be startled to hear himself accused of it. He's never been able to grasp that Obama has any actual original foreign policy views, if only because he can't imagine the possibility that anybody could come up with original foreign policy views after Wolfowitz or maybe Clausewitz or thereabouts or let's say after he got his Chicago BA. But he seems to have a dim awareness that once there was a moment when somebody grappled with the failure of Iraq for a while, and there were a bunch of foreign policy experts under 50, and something more than lip service was given to optimism, while the Republicans grimly kept their eyes averted from the unpleasant spectacle.

The remarkably childish headline is for real. What he's depressed about today is a new survey study:

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Intolerable



Everybody's talking about this Stephanopoulos interview:
PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: By the way, not only wasn’t he [Donald Junior] charged, if you read it, with all of the horrible fake news- I mean, I was reading that my son was going to go to jail — this is a good young man — that he was going to go to jail. And then the report comes out, and they didn’t even say, they hardly even talked about him.
OK, so I read it. He's cited on 44 pages of the Report (the same, as it happens, as "Russian sanctions"). Mueller doesn't call him a good young man. Mueller explains that he committed a crime in accepting the offer of help in the form of "dirt" on Clinton from a foreign government, but he felt it would be too hard to convince a jury that he knew what he was doing, or that the thing on offer was a "thing of value", given that as far as anybody knows it turned out to be not valuable (as you know, I think there's more to be said on that and new evidence in the Mueller Report bearing me out), so he decided not to prosecute:
taking into account the high burden to establish a culpable mental state in a campaign-finance prosecution and the difficulty in establishing the required valuation, the Office decided not to pursue criminal campaign-finance charges against Trump Jr.
Or as Marcy's explained, he'd have a hard time showing Junior was smart enough to understand that he was risking jail. It was nevertheless a crime, and it still is one. Hold that thought.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Conservative Case Against Witches, and Other Arcana

And don't even get me started on those bloody Tarot readers! Tower, by Vera Petruk.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Age of Aquarius, All Over Again!" The New York Times, 10 June 2019:
These young people today with their belief in astrology, witchcraft, and (shudder!) mindfulness, take it to a point where I can't even laugh at it, in spite of my normally wry and urbane disposition. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez allowed her birth chart to be done! Thirteen thousand witches got together to put a curse on Brett Kavanaugh! Plus they are all woke! In fact the ones I talk to don't literally believe in astrology and are ironical while the witches are surprisingly normal, giving standard self-help advice, but I won't let that stop me from flying into a panic. The worst is that in their hodgepodge spirituality each person borrows practices from, say, Native American, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and SoulCycle traditions and blends them in a way he or she finds moving. There is no grand narrative, no specific way one is expected to live, no set of laws you have to obey or even a specific cult leader! This must not stand!
Unlike David F. Brooks, who in his recent well-publicized divorce from any mainstream religion (The Second Mountain:The Quest For a Moral Life, Random House 2019) has adopted a hodgepodge spirituality borrowing notions from Catholic, Jewish, Prosperity Gospel, Civic Americana, and self-help psychology traditions and binds them in a way he finds moving with no grand narrative (well, except Lincoln existed at one time, that was undeniably grand), no specific way he is expected to live, no set of laws he must obey, and not even a cult leader, though he's clearly available for the job if anybody's interested, but don't expect him to give you a set of laws to live by, or even a repertoire of spiritual practices even as doctrinally attenuated and indisputably good for you as mindfulness, because he can't be bothered by any of this pettiness. His interest is in actualizing himself on the climb up that second mountain on his own, taking an occasional breather to scream at the beastly individualists in the lower altitudes, because there's nothing worse than beastly individualists with their self-actualization and hodgy-podgy list of spiritual practices and lack of cult leaders.

Fucking hippies! Why can't these low-life dillettantes learn to be serious, like David F. Brooks?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Dramatic Readings: Priebus

Screenshot from CNN broadcast of 20 February 2017

Another sketch in my project of dramatizing the Mueller Report, this one dealing with less boring characters than Mueller himself, and forcing me to invent the dialogue myself, since Mueller reports only the content, not in general the words.

As before, the aim is to clarify what the Report is and is not saying by letting the witnesses speak directly, like the participants' reminiscences in a TV documentary, mediated by some kind of voice-over (VO) narration where I'm allowed to speak a bit for myself, mostly through congressional-style pointed questioning. It also involves scrambling the Report's time sequence a bit, to bring together the individual threads that get stranded in Mueller's cop-report style.

I'm seriously trying to find a way of communicating the story somewhat concealed in the Report, to a broad public, ideally in a real documentary film or stage performance, but at any rate in readable form, at this point where the public doesn't seem to be catching on and the House committees are prevented by Trump's and Barr's continuing obstruction from doing it in the way Sam Dash and Sam Ervin did it in 1973. I have no idea if this approach works, I'm blinded in one of those trees-vs.-forest situations, and would appreciate being told one way or another.

PRIEBUS: Reince Priebus, sir, serving at the time as chairman of the Republican National Committee, and incoming chief of staff to President Trump, so I was spending a lot of time working with Trump headquarters in those first weeks of January, getting the system set up.
VO: And you got a call from the president, on January 12?
PRIEBUS: I did. He was upset.
VO: He was upset, on January 12? About what?

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Art of the Shakedown

Image via.


Jonathan Chait, making fun of Donald Trump's Art this morning:
I’ve been working up a brilliant moneymaking scheme. My plan is to throw a bunch of wild accusations at my neighbors. I’ll comb city regulations to find rules they’re breaking, and if I can’t come up with anything, I’ll just make stuff up. After I’ve bombarded them with accusations of unfair treatment, I can threaten them with lawsuits. Eventually they’ll give me some money, maybe a few hundred dollars, to drop the matter.
The plan I’m describing would probably work. But as you’re probably intuiting, it’s an extremely stupid plan. It only seems like a way to extract concessions. In reality, I’d be paying a heavy cost. The goodwill of my neighbors is a valuable long-term asset. It’s pleasant to get along with them, but also practical. We rely on each other for all sorts of arrangements, from borrowing that ingredient you suddenly realize you’re missing in the middle of cooking dinner to calling 911 if there’s an emergency. Whatever payoff I could jack out of them with crazy threats would simply be a short-term monetization with long-term costs.
Donald Trump on CNBC this morning (via Raw Story), confirming that Chait has his number:

“I’ll tell you this: The European Union, which is a fantastic group of negotiators, they actually, a very, very prominent person who you know well, who’s on your show a lot, said the person at the European Union that is in charge of taxation hates the United States more than any person anywhere in the world,” Trump began. “But I really believe that’s true! Every week you see them going after Facebook and Apple and all of these companies that are great companies. There’s something going on.”
“When they give European Union $7 billion and $5 billion and $2 billion, you know, Apple gets sued for $10 billion, and you know, right now it’s going on and they’ll end up settling, they get all this money,” he said. “Well, we should be doing that! They’re our companies, so they’re actually attacking our companies. But we should be doing what they’re doing! They think there’s a monopoly, but I’m not sure that they think that, they just figure this is easy money, we’ll sue Apple for $7 billion and we’ll either settle or win the case. So I think it’s a bad situation but obviously there is something going on in terms of monopoly.”
What's going on in terms of monopoly being, apparently, that European companies unfairly don't want US companies to have one?

But it's clear that when Trump said he was going to bring his business skills to the White House what he meant was The Art of the Shakedown.

Literary Corner: Telling It Slant

Joely Richardson in William Luce's The Belle of Amherst, off-Broadway 2014, photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN. Charles Isherwood at The Times didn't think the concept had a chance of working: "Although the posthumous publication of her extraordinary poetry made Dickinson a celebrated literary figure, during her lifetime, she was known in her hometown primarily for a reclusiveness bordering on pathology. The notion that she would confide her life story and her most deeply felt poems — or even her recipes for cake and gingerbread — to a couple of hundred strangers a night renders Mr. Luce’s play almost nonsensical from the get-go."


If President Obama Made the Deals
by Donald J. Trump
If President Obama made
the deals that I have made -
both - at the Border - and
for the Economy -
the Corrupt Media would be hailing
them as Incredible -
& a National Holiday would be
immediately declared - 
With me - despite our record
setting Economy -
and all that I have done -
no credit!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Don Tzu's Art of War


Drawing of the late 16th-century Azuchi Castle near Kyoto, from the collection of the Osaka Castle Museum, via Wikipedia.

Don Tzu said, It is better not to go to war. But if you must go to war, go to war against your friends rather than your enemies, for your friends have an interest in letting you look good afterwards.

This can be seen especially in the Emperor's conduct of economic war, in which he hasn't followed his own advice but waged it against practically everybody, as The Times was saying,
Over a few weeks, Mr. Trump has declared European and Japanese cars, Chinese telecom equipment and Mexican immigrants national security threats. Those declarations have given the president authority to use Cold War powers to inflict economic pain on countries through tariffs, government blacklists and other restrictions.
(with the odd little exception of Russia, neither a friend nor a foe), and found when he does it to the people he hates, like Iran and China, they just end up laughing at him, whereas the European Union or Japan or Australia always make the effort to avoid hurting his feelings.

So, Mexico, against which he declared economic war on 30 May:
It seems this was provoked not by a Fox News person but some talk-radio rant, I don't know from whom, in the absence of some key adults, Pence and Kudlow and maybe Lighthizer, per CNBC:

Friday, June 7, 2019

Who Knew?

Civic Saturday.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Racial Reckoning Comes", New York Times, 6 June 2019:
I just learned that throughout American history some people haven't had the same chance as others to achieve the American dream! Like the Native Americans from whom the land was stolen and the African Americans held for centuries in brutal chattel slavery. I learned this from a book by an Aspen Institute guy who's one of those multiculturalists, which sounds pretty scary, but he has a reconciling, loving temperament, and likes Abraham Lincoln. And he claims Trump is not a historic aberration but the embodiment of white supremacy that has always been near the core of the American experience and a lot of liberals think the same way and they could be right! Can you believe that? I'm gobsmacked, this could be really important!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Sanctions. II

Photo by Alexei Klimentiev, AFP/Getty Images, via Time.
Continued from a previous installment

After Trump had finally surrendered to 14 months of demands by Congress that he should punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 US presidential election, by putting sanctions on 19 individuals and 5 entities mostly among the ones named in Mueller's 16 February indictments around the Internet Research Agency and its social media contributions to the Trump campaign, widely regarded as an inadequate gesture

Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, one of those indicted by Mueller and hit with sanctions on Thursday, said in comments cited by RIA news agency that he already had been hit with U.S. sanctions “maybe three or four times - I’m tired of counting.”
“I’m not worried by this,” Prigozhin was quoted as saying. “Except that now I will stop going to McDonald’s.”
—his first big thought seems to have been devoted to getting together with Vladimir Putin, as soon as possible, perhaps with an invitation for a White House summit; he arranged for a phone call, five days later, on 20 March, two days after Putin's victory in the Russian presidential election, to his second consecutive and fourth total term in office (more than 16 years, since the length of the term had been changed to six years in 2012). Briefing materials from Trump's aides warned him in all caps, "DO NOT CONGRATULATE", we're told, but Trump congratulated Putin anyway.

My statement on Donald Trump's proposed address to the American People from the Lincoln Memorial on July 4



I mean every word of that. If it's not clear I'm talking about his refusal to cooperate with the House committees investigating him, withholding documents and stopping all witnesses from testifying; and the emergencies include the one that allows the administration to sell arms to Saudi Arabia for pursuing their war on the people of Yemen, in spite of a Congressional resolution commanding him not to; the one that may (if sustained in federal court) allow the administration to steal money from our armed forces and use it for the wall Congress has repeatedly refused to fund; and the one that seems to permit him to levy lunatic import taxes on goods from any country he's having a snit with, which increasingly seems to be pretty much all of them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

For the Record: Impeachment is another Great Pumpkin



Lengthy exchange with some no doubt good-hearted young person that I should probably forget about but it rankles:


What legal experts all agree? What transformation does the word "impeachment" work? I looked up an authoritative source for what are all these fabulous powers House Judiciary will get by changing the name of its hearing, and I have to say I wasn't too impressed:

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

For the Record: June 4

Image by vienman.com via Taiwan News and an excellent discussion of George H.W. Bush's failure to respond to the Tiananmen killings.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, I got embroiled in an idiotic Twitter war discussing the Chinese president with a transatlantic mob of conservatives who have recently found that they object to the treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang province being forcibly "re-educated" into Xi Jinping Thought and the decisions of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, after being completely indifferent to it for years, and my tweet went a little viral:


An awful lot of people decided I was trying to say that Xi Jinping was a nicer person than Trump, and haughtily informed me that Xi is in fact a bad man.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Sanctions. I



Note: This piece is overwhelmingly indebted to the timeline published by justsecurity.org in July 2018; in places it's little more than an abridgment of that, fosusing on the single issue of sanctions.

The first time Donald Trump had a conversation with Vladimir Putin, as far as we know, was on 14 November 2016, following up on Putin's congratulatory telegram immediately after the election, and I don't mean to say I have any sinister suspicions there was an earlier talk, I only mean to say we probably wouldn't know if there was, and we really only know about this one because the Kremlin issued a statement on it, on which The New York Times wrote a report:
The two agreed “on the absolutely unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations,” said the statement, and they both endorsed the idea of undertaking joint efforts “to normalize relations and pursue constructive cooperation on the broadest possible range of issues”
and Putin
hoped that Moscow could build a “collaborative dialogue” with Washington on the bases of “equality, mutual respect and noninterference in the other’s internal affairs,” the release said.
The statement didn't mention the economic and diplomatic sanctions the US had been imposing on Russia since 18 individual Russians were sanctioned in 2013 under the provisions of the Magnitsky Act, and in conjunction with the European Union, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea and the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in 2014, "so-called sectoral sanctions were imposed against major Russian energy firms, financial institutions, parastatal organizations, and state-owned corporations [including] restricted access to global capital markets, which had served as a major funding source until that point." But it would hardly have been a surprise if Putin had wanted to talk about them, as a part of what made the situation "absolutely unsatisfactory", and I don't think it would have aroused a lot of critical comment, even. The Times mentioned sanctions in its story, in a quirky little paragraph of early Trumpology:

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Literary Corner: Shapiro


Why I'm Not Worried About Global Warming

so let's say
let's say
for the sake of argument
that all of the water levels
around the world rise
let's say
by five feet
over the next hundred years
say ten feet
by the next hundred years
and put all the low-lying areas
on the coast under water
which let's say all that happens
you think the people aren't
just going to sell their homes
and move?
"Whaddaya mean, trouble finding a buyer? What about all the subscribers to my newsletter?" Image via.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

For the Record

Had to share this, for the record. It may be, from the literary standpoint, the best tweet ever composed:



One Loopy Piehole; and Prolegomena to a Discussion of Russia Sanctions


To the tune of a song by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser:


One Loopy Piehole

here we are
out of Adderall
are there drugstores open?
can't somebody call?
one loopy piehole
that whines on and on
and waits for the copter
on the lawn

here we are
wasted all the time
if he won't shut up he'll be
confessing to a crime
one loopy piehole
with nothing to say
how long before he
goes away?

do you remember the way we fought
throughout the whole campaign?
Russia didn't help me at all
do you remember the way I won
thanks to my big big brain?
there isn't time to stall
we have to build that wall

and here we are
hectoring the press
free associating
what a freaking mess
one loopy piehole
that whines on and on
waiting for the copter
on the lawn

Photo by Evan Vucci, via IowaPoliticsNow.

Friday, May 31, 2019

David Brooks Plagiarism Watch: On Trolls


Troll by Nicola Robinson, 2014, seen as a personification of change in midlife,

Not a lot of obviously objectionable material in today's David Brooks ("When Trolls and Crybullies Rule the Earth"), bringing together the ghost of a pretty interesting idea on the cultural consequences of the shift from privately consumed print media to group-absorbed online media with the observation that there are a lot of unnecessarily mean guys on the Internet, which is true.

The interesting idea is from a theologian called L.M. Sacasas writing at an online journal called The New Atlantis riffing off a famous idea from the late Walter Ong, S.J., in his 1982 book Orality and Literacy, about the Renaissance-era universalizing shift from oral to print culture:
In oral cultures, communication happens almost exclusively in the presence of others. The speaker’s audience is always before the speaker; indeed, it is literally an audience, a gathering of those near enough to hear. This physical presence means, as Ong noted, that oral cultures were more agonistic than literate cultures. Mutual understanding and the search for knowledge are labors of face-to-face interaction, and labors that may arouse the passions. “By keeping knowledge embedded in the human lifeworld, orality situates knowledge within a context of struggle.”
Writing, on the other hand, “fosters abstractions that disengage knowledge from the arena where human beings struggle with one another.” Writing also abstracts the speaker from the audience, which therefore ceases to be literally an audience. The two are no longer present before one another. Communication tends to lose the heat of the moment.
The Internet, Sacasas suggests, restores something like the ancient presentness to communication:
When we type out our statuses, link to articles, post memes or images, we do so as if we were members of literate but pre-digital societies, for we are not present before all those who will encounter our messages. Yet, given the immediacy with which the messages arrive, we are in an important way now much closer to one another. We might say that we have an “audience” whose immediate presence is constituted in time rather than space.
Brooks, of course, begins by pretending to have gotten the Ong material out of his own reading, in paragraphs 1-3—

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Literary Corner: Powers That You Wouldn't Believe

Kurt Schwitters, Merzbild Kijkduin, 1923, from Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

(Text via Aaron Rupar from this morning's White House lawn apparition.)


A Thing Called Article 2
by Donald J. Trump
Some day you ought to read
a thing called Article 2. 
Read Article 2.
Which gives
the president powers
that you wouldn't believe. 
But I
don't even have to rely
on Article 2.
There was no crime.
This is extraordinarily precious as a document of how he works; he's heard somebody mentioning the Article 2 powers of the presidency, maybe some legal hack telling him (wrongly) that he doesn't have to turn over his tax returns, and he has no idea what it is, of course—"Article 2?"—but he doesn't want to let on, by asking some dumb-sounding question. At the same time it sounds magical—"My Article 2 powers!"—and thrilling, and he's pretty sure most ordinary people, including all those damned journalists on the lawn, don't know any more about it than he does, so he can't resist bringing it up.

And then pulls back, as much as to say, "Don't worry, I would only use my omnipotence if I was in real danger." As long as we don't start talking about how guilty he is, he'll spare us.

For the record: Trump acknowledges Russian help put him in the White House


I heard it from the great Benjamin Dreyer:



Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Puzzle

Racine County Logic Puzzle Museum.


Mueller's statement is a logic puzzle; as a matter of fact, so is the whole 450-page Report, but this morning's presentation was more succinct, and it went, in proper puzzle form, pretty much like this:

Based on the following statements,
  1. If I thought Trump was not guilty, I would say so
  2. If I thought Trump was guilty, it would be improper for me to say so (since he's president), so I wouldn't
  3. If I had a case I couldn't prove, I might say so (as I did in the conspiracy case, but without directly naming the suspects)
  4. I'm not going to say what I think
what does Mueller think?

It's not very difficult, but the answer isn't simple either.

Uneasy Lies

The idea that a Conservative government was going to celebrate Brexit by adding £350 million/week to the budget of the National Health Service was an even worse lie, but let that pass. Image via The Guardian, which calculated that if you accept the premises of the argument the most you could say UK "sent" to Brussels was £136 million per week, or less than 40% of the alleged amount, which of course leaves out the enormous indirect benefits of EU membership, sustaining 3.1 million jobs in UK and subsidizing 476,000 farm workers, not to mention the consumer protections which are, trust me, the things Conservatives are really aiming at, because they hate people.

I can't seem to get away from Britain, but this is too delicious:

The case is launched by Marcus Ball, a 29-year-old businessman who has raised over £400,000 to prosecute the case. Judge Margot Coleman made no finding of fact but

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Welfare Island

John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, and Ronnie Corbett in The Class Sketch. Via BBC.

Book Report Day for David F. Brooks ("The Welfare State is Broken. Here's How to Fix It") and a book by the British "social entrepreneur" Hilary Cottam, Radical Help: How We Can Remake the Relationships Between Us and Revolutionise the Welfare State. I suppose I'll have to get to him eventually, but I'd like to start with Melissa Benn's review in The New Statesman, which appeared when the book came out in June 2018:
In the last years of Gordon Brown’s premiership, Swindon council embarked on a bold experiment. It asked Hilary Cottam, a celebrated young social entrepreneur, to find a new way of dealing with what the state was then calling “chaotic families” (later to be repackaged as “troubled families” under the coalition). What could Cottam do for those such as struggling mother Ella and her family, who lived in “roiling turmoil” in one of the large postwar estates on the edge of the town, with up to 73 professionals involved in their lives at an estimated annual cost to the state of £250,000?

Monday, May 27, 2019

Dunning-Kruger by Proxy




I don't generally go around citing a lot of biz-school research except when it goes along with making fun of David Brooks, but there's some very interesting stuff going on in the conceptual orbit around the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect—the way incompetent people lack the skill to recognize their incompetence and tend to believe they're particularly good at the stuff they can't do, in spite of the obvious evidence. And there's an elephant in the room where the discussion is taking place, or shall we say a 400-pound guy on a sofa, that nobody in the research world wants to talk about, but I of course do.

The main findings of the paper I'm looking at, "The Social Advantage of Miscalibrated Individuals: The Relationship Between Social Class and Overconfidence and Its Implications for Class-Based Inequality" by Peter Belmi, Margaret A. Neale, David Reiff, and Rosemary Ulfe, which arrived last week in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes (May 20, 2019), are two:
  • that Dunning-Kruger overconfidence actually confers an advantage in interpersonal relations on the subject, because self-confidence is charismatic, and interlocutors commonly misinterpret it as competence and give the subject the nod, or the trust, or the job; and
  • that relatively high social class reinforces overconfidence in those who have it
which offers a quick explanation for why social immobility can remain so pervasive (enough members of the upper class are brought up confident that they deserve the job and that confidence convinces the interviewer that they do), and why the worst bosses you've ever had, almost always men, have all believed they knew how to do the job better than you did, even though they were totally and often catastrophically wrong.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Anti-Fascist Roundup: Europe

I'm so glad Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, wrote his column about the death of Liberalism ("How Liberalism Loses")—
In Australia a week ago, the party of the left lost an election it was supposed to win, to a conservative government headed by an evangelical Christian who won working-class votes by opposing liberal climate policies. In India last week, the Hindu-nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, won an overwhelming electoral victory. And as of this writing, Europeans are electing a Parliament that promises to have more populist representation than before.
—just in time to anticipate the European results, in which the Liberals in the strict sense were by far the biggest gainers, alongside the Greens, or in general those on the more-or-less left with a strong commitment to European integration, as opposed to the more-or-less left that couldn't make up its mind about Europe in Britain and France in particular, and the pro-Europe Merkel conservatives, who endured the biggest losses.

Via The Guardian.
Anti-European reactionaries and nationalists did indeed increase their seat numbers, but in a clearly divided way between the proper hard right "Nationalists" in the chart) of Matteo Salvini's Lega in Italy and Marine Le Pen's Ralliement Nationale in France and the silly right "Freedom and Direct Democracy") of Nigel Farage's Brexit party, sadly the top vote-getter in the UK, and the Movimento Cinque Stelle in Italy which isn't really "right" at all; and plainly at the expense of the less Liberal.

Catastrophic, I'm sorry to say, for the SPD in Germany, which finished third behind the brilliantly performing Greens

Dramatic Readings: Mueller

Jerome Powell confirmation hearing, November 2017; Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images via Marketplace

It struck me, as we learned last week that Mueller wasn't going to be testifying publicly before the Judiciary committee, or at any rate wouldn't be taking questions on camera, that this was going to be a narratological loss, a loss to our sense of the story as story. It's the secret of the courtroom drama that the rhythm of question and response structures our experience of what might otherwise seem like a disjointed congeries of sentences, and I don't mean in a deceptive way: even a tendentious and irresponsible line of questioning by a hack like Trey Gowdy or Gym Jordan gives a story shape in which the truth of a given witness, like Glenn Simpson or Peter Strzok, can really shine forth in spite of the dishonesty of the interrogation (Pilate's interrogation of Jesus in John 18 is maybe the first truly great courtroom drama, with its ironic "What is truth?" climax, before Pilate goes out to the crowd like Jim Comey to announce that Jesus hasn't committed any crime but can be executed anyway if that's what folks want).

What I really wanted, for masses who aren't going to read the Mueller Report or even look at it, was a TV drama version, heightening the material like diamonds in a necklace and pointing it so you see where it's going. The questioning committee members could be represented by an Interviewer-General (IG),  and the atmospherics by a Color Commentator (CC), but the rest of the material would be taken directly from the Report, verbatim in the case of Mueller, understood to have more or less written the thing, but rearranged by the fictional questioner trying to pull the story out (the sequencing in the Report, following bureaucratic imperatives and struggling to avoid conclusions, is pretty rickety from a dramaturgical standpoint), because I'd want an audience to understand that this is really what the Report says, but less strict for the other characters (the ones the FBI interviewed or who testified in some other venue), who need to display their characters a bit more vividly than Mueller shows them.

Below the fold is a fragment of draft of a first appearance for Mueller, taken from Vol 1, pp. 1-2 and 9-10, and I'm not sure how well it works; Mueller's own style is pretty clunky, and the resequencing I've found myself impelled to do may seem pretty radical. I'd be glad to get comments on whether it does the job at all.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Literary Corner: Enough to Make a Cat Laugh

Via The Niall Boylan Show, late night Irish talk radio.


But Not Me
by Donald J. Trump

North Korea
fired off some
small weapons, which
disturbed some of my people,
and others, but not me.
I have confidence
that Chairman Kim
will keep his promise to me,
& also smiled when he called
Swampman Joe Bidan a low
IQ individual, & worse.
Perhaps that’s sending
me a signal?



Unleashed Kraken

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in George Cukor's Gaslight, 1944, via Vox.

If you were startled to hear Big Donald tossing out dark hints of an unusually vast international conspiracy against him—
“So what I’ve done is I’ve declassified everything,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday before leaving on a trip to Japan.
“[Attorney General Barr] can look and I hope he looks at the UK and I hope he looks at Australia and I hope he looks at Ukraine.
“I hope he looks at everything, because there was a hoax that was perpetrated on our country.”
—I may be able to help. We're actually contemplating two different and equally idiotic conspiracy theories, one for UK and Australia and one for Ukraine.

The latter is Rudolph Giuliani's developing hypothesis that Ukrainian authorities after the Euromaidan revolution didn't have any reason to investigate how Paul Manafort got himself a $66-million cut of the pillaging of Ukraine by the pro-Russia Yanukovych regime—why on earth would they want to know anything about that?—but only did it because the sneaky Democratic National Committee tricked them into it, to harm the Trump campaign (as we briefly noted a couple of weeks ago).

Friday, May 24, 2019

Paper Music

Updated with moar conspiracy theory



1996 composition Paper II by Josef Anton Riedl.

That question of what documents Natalya Veselnitskaya brought to the Trump Tower meeting of June 9 2016 just got quite a bit tighter in my mind, thanks to a closer reading of the relevant bit of the Mueller Report, describing the lunch Veselnitskaya had before the meeting with Rinat Akhmetshin, Ike Kaveladze, and the translator Anatoly Samochornov. It's likely nobody but Ten Bears is prepared to put up with this yet again, but Bear with me, because I think it changes the perspective quite a bit.

As you'll recall, Akhmetshin told AP in July 2017 that
Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats...
Printouts that I've speculated could have been from the DNC emails stolen by Russia, which included a host of Finance Contribution Status reports and Donor Vet Committee reports that did indeed detail the flow of money to the DNC during the period from January 2015 through May 2016 (though it was my impression that practically everything in the WikiLeaks publication was from the last two months), and that could have served Manafort (as opposed to the stupid and inexperienced Kushner . and Junior) as proof that the Russians had really managed to hack this stuff.

What Akhmetshin told Mueller's investigators (in an interview on 11/14/17) about the lunch, on the other hand, which I haven't noticed before, focuses this in a remarkable way:

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Anti-Fascist Roundup

Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl, not a member of the Freedom Party, dances at her wedding last year with—ooh, that's Vladimir Vladimirovich! Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/AFP via the Financial Times coverage of this week's events.

Last year there was an inspiring democratic revolution in Armenia, an extraordinary democratic election in Malaysia, a distressing fascist backslide in Italy (a fascistoid party, the "Lega", was able to attach itself in coalition to the unfortunate actual winner, the Movimento Cinque Stelle, one of those new-fangled Howard Beale parties of irritable but poorly informed comedian populists, unable to wield power itself so that the minority League is basically able to run the government), and who knows what else, and we didn't cover any of it here because at this point we're basically all Trump all the time and I didn't feel like doing the work to come up with some hot take on the subject.

But it occurs to me that I should at least try to keep up some kind of running tab on the advances and retreats of democracy around the world...

Austria:
Proponents of liberal democracy may be forgiven a measure of glee in the fall of Austria’s far-right vice chancellor, which has thrown the government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz into chaos and forced early elections. Heinz-Christian Strache, the vice chancellor and head of the far-right Freedom Party, had long projected himself as the scourge of dirty politics, and here he was on a secretly filmed video making all sorts of shady offers to a woman posing as the relative of a Russian oligarch.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Infrastructure Week

"We'll always have Infrastructure Week!"

Politico suggested the principals were still hung over from the last Infrastructure Week at the end of April and the current one already was dead, hours before it officially got started (in the Cabinet Room, at 11:15):
WELL, THIS [the three-weeks-ago one] WENT ABOUT AS WELL as any other infrastructure week. The White House is not going to present any plan to pay for rebuilding the nation’s roads and highways.
INSTEAD, the administration will ask DEMOCRATS to make the case for a $2 trillion package. The White House has identified roughly $1 trillion in spending cuts to pay for legislation -- about as realistic a plan as saying this newsletter will fly you to the moon if you say abracadabra.
TO REALLY DRIVE THE NAIL IN THE COFFIN, Trump sent a letter to PELOSI and Senate Minority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER on Tuesday saying they should pass the USMCA before turning to infrastructure. The letter
Heh. Apparently in the end it was more explosive than that, per Peter Baker and Katie Rogers:

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Goldstone Postscript


And some hours later, Rob (update: not Rob, but Oui2Entertainment's David Wilson) has a second thought about one of this morning's tweets:

Hmm, so it is. You don't suppose I've made a convert?

For the Record: My Conversation With Rob Goldstone

Update 5/24/19: Correction—It wasn't in fact Rob I was talking to, I am informed via Twitter by Oui2Entertainment, but the company's co-founder David Wilson; I'm confident at the same time that it doesn't contradict anything Rob would wish to say.

I had no idea I was talking to Rob Goldstone, who used to be the music publicist for the Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov and served as the email intermediary between Emin's father Aras Agalarov and Donald Trump, Jr., arranging the famous Trump Tower meeting of 9 June 2016, until after it was over, and I looked for the first time at the book page screenshots he sent, and it turned out that they were all from Pop Stars, Pageants & Presidents: How an Email Trumped My Life by Rob Goldstone, 2018, from a publisher called Oui2Entertainment.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Paranoid Style, 2019

Experiment in trying to imagine the workings of the minds of the Republican conspiratorialists, now led by Attorney General Barr, with a scene from the FBI investigation as Fox News might imagine it, if they tried to imagine it in any detail, and the consequences of trying to believe simultaneously that (a) FBI agents worked to prepare an "insurance policy" to make sure they could depose Trump in the unlikely event he was elected; (b) everything in Christopher Steele's "dossier" is fake; (c) the FBI conspirators were completely dependent on Steele's work to commence their investigation (though it had already begun); and (d) everybody agreed that the best way to get started was by putting a FISA order on Carter Page, Ph.D.

US Embassy, Rome, photo by DPA.

Early August 2016. Tracking shot follows two men with briefcases and upscale water bottles, Gaeta and Steele, down a corridor in the US Embassy in Rome, Gaeta, FBI’s man in the post, in a rumpled American suit, Steele British, ex-MI6 and now a freelancer, rather more expensively dressed; they enter a small meeting room where two Washington-based agents, McCabe and Strzok, and an FBI lawyer, Page, are concentrated around the middle of a long table, and Gaeta performs the introductions:

GAETA
Andy, Pete, Lisa, this is Chris Steele, who I met in London early July. As I was saying, he’s heard you’re looking for an insurance policy.

STRZOK
Just in case our candidate doesn’t work out and that guy wins the election and we need to overthrow him, like the FBI usually does in these situations, as you know.

STEELE (shaking hands)
Of course, understood. Delighted to meet you.

MCCABE
You’ve been doing some research, we understand?

STEELE
Yes, on behalf of your candidate, I’m told, for Mr. Simpson, who kindly asked me to help out with the Russian government angle.

MCCABE
And you’ve discovered something useful?

STEELE
Heavens no, I just make stuff up. What do you take me for, a spy?

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Notes from the Gawker spawn


So Mr. Bret Stephens ("Dear Millennials: The Feeling Is Mutual") has taken offense at @anarchopriapism, a 20-year-old from Northern Ireland with 258 followers in her Twitter account (that's up from 64 since Mr. Bret's column came out), and her suggestion that it would be a good thing for the leader of the most powerful nation in the world to able to experience empathy
My own reactionary reaction was different. O.K., I thought, I could definitely vote for Joe — provided he has the mettle to stand his ground.
Though Mr. Bret doesn't actually come out and explain what's wrong with empathy, or empathy for the younger generation, or empathy for