Tuesday, December 10, 2019


Bongo stool and table set by LEA, no date given, via.

So I didn't get my strongest possible case. Though we maybe did get the most elegant possible case, the most beautifully stripped-down, Danish moderne case.

I woke up thinking about those freshman congresscritters whose response to the Ukraine matter was the thing that seemed to be forcing Schiff's and Pelosi's hand, with their sudden eagerness for an impeachment, and how they now seemed so anxious to get it over with, as if they were regretting the impulse. Is that what it was? Had they misread their constituents in the excitement over the whistleblower, and were they finding that the voters didn't like the idea at all?

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Strongest Possible Case

Really finding myself irked by this Democrats-in-disarray story I heard on NPR and apparently traces back to Politico, about the "moderate" freshman Democrats who unexpectedly jumped on the impeachment train in September when the Ukraine whistleblower story emerged and now want to control the narrative:
Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, one of more than three dozen Democratic candidates who flipped GOP-held seats in 2018, made clear Wednesday that she thinks Ukraine is where the impeachment probe should stay focused.
“I know that there's some people who are interested in kind of a kitchen sink approach — let's throw all kinds of things in there because we can and talk about all the things we're concerned about regarding the president,” she told reporters.
“We have been taking the country down this road on this very targeted issue of Ukraine and the issues around the president using his office for personal and political gain,” Slotkin added. “And that's what I think we should focus on.”
I don't know how many of these there are, but if they think the alternative is a "kitchen-sink" approach, they aren't paying attention. It's weird that Slotkin seems to have no idea what a broad category could be represented by "the president using his office for personal and political gain" in application to Trump—that would really be a kitchen sink, ranging from the foreign and domestic emoluments violations to having the White House Communications Director plug his and his daughter's tchotchkes on live TV, to say nothing of using Twitter to make the stock market jump up and down, from which somebody is surely making a profit.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Literary Corner: We're looking very strongly at sinks and showers

Ca. 1950, via AllThatsInteresting.

Stung at last, perhaps, at the way he's commonly treated as an ignoramus, Trump came out with a surprising virtuoso display of knowledge and passion on an unexpected subject he knows and cares a great deal about: the effects of federal regulation on hotel bathrooms.

A lot of readers, unfamiliar themselves with the issues or how seriously our emperor takes them, have reacted with confusion and even a certain bemused scorn to the piece, whose coherence escapes them, accusing him of just babbling, or even hallucinating. They're missing something pretty big, in my opinion. Of course it's true that everything he asserts is wrong, as we've come to expect from our poet, but that just contributes to the risky, giddy feel of the work, and as far as coherence goes, there's plenty of that right to the end. Or almost.

The best way to confront it is head on, just reading it for its own sake before you talk about the meaning. Enjoy the sweep and excitement of the way he walks us through it, from the first thing you see—your face in the mirror as you switch on the light—to the potential collapse of the US steel industry. Of the what? No, seriously:

Friday, December 6, 2019

Circumlocution Office

From Sir George Staunton's An historical account of the embassy to the Emperor of China, undertaken by order of the King of Great Britain, 1797, via Dumbarton Oaks.

I think I finally have a handle on what Jared Kushner's job is, with this latest news of his assignment to negotiate a China trade deal on top of the other tasks in his portfolio, alongside directing the Middle East peace process; leading the Office of American Innovation to modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs, solve the opioid crisis, and develop ideas for Trump's perpetually upcoming infrastructure proposal; running the criminal justice reform; managing US-Mexico relations; managing US-China relations; managing US relations with international Islam; and overseeing the construction of the wall at the Mexican border.

I think Jared is a one-man Circumlocution Office, as described in Dickens's novel Little Dorrit in a chapter with the title, "The Whole Science of Government":
The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office. If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered half an hour before the lighting of the match, nobody would have been justified in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence, on the part of the Circumlocution Office.
This glorious establishment had been early in the field, when the one sublime principle involving the difficult art of governing a country, was first distinctly revealed to statesmen. It had been foremost to study that bright revelation and to carry its shining influence through the whole of the official proceedings. Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving — HOW NOT TO DO IT.
That is, in particular, when Trump wants to make sure something he promised doesn't happen, Jared is his go-to guy to make sure it doesn't.

David Brooks Columns I Never Finished Reading

David Brooks reminiscing about his radical youth ("I Was Once a Socialist. Then I Saw How It Worked."):
I was a socialist in college. I read magazines like The Nation and old issues of The New Masses. I dreamed of being the next Clifford Odets, a lefty playwright who was always trying to raise proletarian class consciousness. If you go on YouTube and search “David Brooks Milton Friedman,” you can see a 22-year-old socialist me debating the great economist. I’m the one with the bushy hair and the giant 1980s glasses that were apparently on loan from the Palomar lunar observatory.
Actually there are persons with bushier hair, he's labeled not a socialist but one of the two "social democrats" in the politically diverse group which looks more like Professor Friedman's senior seminar than a debate, except for all the boys wearing suits, and he timidly suggests that government subsidies for education are a good thing because they will make students grateful and more interested than otherwise in doing good for society when they get rich, which is so exactly the future Brooks that it'll make you laugh out loud. Friedman quickly shuts him down by forcing him to agree that private institutions are better than public ones because they win more Nobel Prizes, which is not only a stupid argument but in fact false (the top 50 list is around half public institutions, including all the European ones of course, from #50 University of Washington, #47 City University of New York, #46 Copenhagen, #45 École Normale Supérieure, #44 Würzburg, #43 Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, #42 UCLA, and #41 Uppsala to #10 Sorbonne, #7 Oxford, #6 University of California at Berkeley, and #3 Cambridge), though Brooks still believes it today.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Emperor of Ice Cream Meets Baron of Beef

Engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar, 17th century, via Wikipedia.

Trump Doubles Down on Constitutional Powers, Names Son to Barony

Responding angrily to criticism by Democrats of his expansive view of presidential power, President Trump this morning announced via Twitter that he would endow his son Barron with a title of nobility, naming him The Right Honorable The Lord Trump of Trump Tower, and assigning his Upper East Side estates to the new Baron Trump (as he will be styled, as opposed to the less correct “Baron Barron Trump”), in view of his own turn to South Florida as his principal residence.
The trigger for the move was apparently remarks by legal scholar Pamela Karlan in yesterday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Committee: “Contrary to what President Trump says, Article Two does not give him the power to do anything he wants. The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son Barron, he cannot make him a baron.”
Mr. Trump bristled at the suggestion, according to two persons informed about the matter, even after Professor Karlan apologized for publicly mentioning the name of a minor. After consultation with his
Baron of beef, via Cookipedia.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

General Subterfuge

I've sketched out this story before somewhere, but buried into some other context, and I wanted to try again, because the newspapers aren't going to do it.

Via The Energy Consulting Group, illustrating how "the Turkish invasion, which started across a 300 mile front along Turkey's southeastern frontier with Syria, has been blunted and contained by swapping out US forces with Syrian and Russian forces" leaving the oil and gas fields southwest of the Kurdish-controlled area to be more or less patrolled by US. 
Have to respectfully disagree on this—not denying the importance of fossil fuel interests as a determining element in crazy bad Anglo-American policy from the 1920s in the Middle East to now in Venezuela, but in the current Syria situation it's mostly in Trump's confused head, and refers not to dominating the market but literally the US military "taking the oil" in some unclear way, maybe colonizing the wells one at a time, as Bess Levin wrote in Vanity Fair a year ago in re Iraq:
Donald Trump has long been obsessed with the idea of seizing Iraq’s oil as some kind of reimbursement for the money the U.S. has spent waging war in the Middle East. “I still can’t believe we left Iraq without the oil,” he tweeted in 2013. “It used to be, ‘To the victor belong the spoils,’” he told Matt Lauer during a campaign forum in 2016. “Now, there was no victor there, believe me. There was no victor. But I always said: take the oil.” The notion of looting Iraq’s natural resources—or as Trump explained the process to Lauer, “we would leave a certain group behind and you would take various sections where they have the oil”—was always certifiably crazy. But as with many of the ideas espoused by Trump while he was running for president, few believed he would actually try to make good on the talking point once he moved into the Oval Office. As we now know, that was some deluded wishful thinking by people who were attempting to convince themselves that Trump’s apparent insanity was part of a strategy, and not clear evidence of the real-estate developer’s mental decline.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Crime That Disappeared: Postscript

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, 20 May, not literally in the act of dissolving Parliament, as the headline suggested (that would have been done in an office), but after taking his inaugural oath. Photo by Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters via The New York Times.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a Time interview with Simon Shuster, was a lot more honest than I would have imagined he would risk being, in advance of talks between his Ukrainian delegation and a Russian delegation led by Vladimir Putin in Paris, under French and German auspices (the US is of course AWOL), next Monday. No tongue bath for Donald Trump, but an all-siderism I can get behind:
I don’t trust anyone at all. I’ll tell you honestly. Politics is not an exact science. That’s why in school I loved mathematics. Everything in mathematics was clear to me. You can solve an equation with a variable, with one variable. But here it’s only variables, including the politicians in our country. I don’t know these people. I can’t understand what dough they’re made of. That’s why I think nobody can have any trust. Everybody just has their interests.
That line about mathematics is the inversion of a shtik in episode one of the Ukrainian TV series "Servant of the People", in which the history teacher played by Zelenskyy rants about how the unimaginative people of today's corrupt society value the crass profitability of mathematics more than his ambiguous and unremunerative discipline.

His position on the "quid pro quo" is subtle, relying on the fact that nobody did in fact confront him with the deal in those schematic terms (as we understand from Sondland's testimony, even US officials had trouble figuring it out, though they all clearly did eventually), merely wearing him down by talking about the different issues, and Trump himself didn't directly mention the military aid, but he doesn't let Trump off the hook at all:

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Crime That Disappeared

One of the things that's always bothered me about the Ukraine-shaped Gestalt of the House's ongoing impeachment strategy may just have begun emerging, according to reporting from CNN (via TPM):
Ukrainian officials are discussing ways to improve their country's standing with President Donald Trump amid the continuing fallout from the impeachment inquiry, two sources told CNN.
Those sources, who recently met with Ukrainian officials, said that the Ukrainian government could still announce new investigations which could be seen as politically beneficial to the US President. However, it is unclear what exactly those potential investigations would cover or when they would be announced. One source told CNN that Ukrainian officials recognized that any potential investigations would need to look into current issues and not just those of the past.
It's that, at least over the short term, the Ukrainian government has an interest—I almost want to say a "legitimate interest"—in acting as if all this stuff is perfectly normal. Because, as I was saying, ever since the inauguration (and the awful Vogel and Stern story accusing the Poroshenko government of trying to "sabotage" the Trump campaign), the central goal of Ukraine's US policy has of necessity been don't make Donald mad.

As we saw at the UN meeting between presidents Trump and Zelenskyy after the shit hit the fan: