Sunday, January 24, 2021

For the Record: Why I Hate The New York Times

Photo by Money Sharma/Getty Images via Wired.

But first, Pompeo's farewell. Only a few short years ago I thought it would be safe to say there would never be a worse secretary of state than Rex Tillerson, and I was wrong. But in his departure, he really transcended himself:

Literary Corner: Everything on the Field

Piet Mondrian, Dune Landscape, 1909, via Piet-Mondrian.org.

By unpopular demand, the versification of some of President Trump's valedictory address at Joint Base Andrews on 20 January:

The History of Sitting Presidents

by Donald J. Trump

I

You're going to see, you're going
to see incredible numbers start
coming in, if everything is sort of
left alone. Be careful, very complex,
be careful, but you're going to see
some incredible things happening.
II

And remember us when you see these
things happening, if you would,
remember us because I'm looking at--
I'm looking at elements of our economy
that are said to be a rocket ship up.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Literary Corner: Noir

Photo by Mark Coggins/flickr.


Do not underestimate how many congressional Republicans would like to send checks to their people. Recently, I was on a call with the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus and a similar group of senators. I was struck by how passionately these Republicans and Democrats are committed to one another across party lines, how deftly they used the evenly divided Congress to restart the Covid-19 relief effort in December, how fervently they want to break the partisan logjam.

If this doesn’t work and Republicans go into full obstruction mode, Democrats should absolutely kill the filibuster. (David F. Brooks, "The Case For Biden Optimism", 21 January 2021)


The phone rang, a familiar number. I let it ring, long enough to take a shluk from the bottle of Waldweben Peach Schnapps and shove it back in the upper left desk drawer, then picked up. "Brooks here."

"Hello, David. How's married life?"

"Suits me. What can I do for you, outside of something I can't do for you?"

"You can do us a favor."

"Where have I heard that line before?"

"It's just a little thing."

I sighed, probably audibly, and tried to gather my wits. "I'm out of the game, pal. I don't do it any more. I just have to do one column a week, I have a gig at Aspen. I have a nice new wife, she doesn't like politics, she likes religion, go figure. I like religion too. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside."

Friday, January 22, 2021

Radio Yerevan on Blue-Collar Ted

 


Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that today's Democratic party represents rich, angry Hollywood celebrities like Seth Rogen better than it does blue-collar union workers in the energy and manufacturing sectors like Senator Ted Cruz?

Answer: Yes, but...

First of all, Rogen is a union member (Screen Actors Guild) in an industry that is arguably a kind of manufacturing in structure, and certainly supports 2.6 million jobs including 927,000 in direct production and distribution and consists of 93,000 businesses in all 50 states, 87% of which employ fewer than ten workers, and generates $17.2 billion in exports with a trade surplus of $10.3 billion, four percent of the total U.S. trade surplus in services; and three other unions, according to him, which I have no reason to doubt. Which Cruz is not, having spent his entire working life, after a couple of years at a private law firm (1997-98) and a stint with George W. Bush's successful first presidential campaign (1999-2000), in government jobs. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Inaugural

 

Candle stand, 1830s, from the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing ("Shakers") of Mount Lebanon, New York, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I take the same general feeling from the inauguration festivities, watching TV all day, as so many of us, of immense relief and consolation, of reassurance that we have a working government again, with kind and caring and reasonably truthful people at its head, which doesn't mean they're going to fix everything but that we're back in a place from which it's possible to navigate. We all found ourselves in unexpected tears at one point or another, and for me one of the oddest points was that first normal press briefing in four years from Jen Psaki, State Department spox under Obama and now Biden's press secretary.

There's a concept from the British ordinary language philosopher Paul Grice of the four "conversational maxims" that make discourse possible: you must assume that your interlocutor will try to be informative, truthful, pertinent, and clear. These are things that you don't get from arguing with Gish-galloping conservative trolls, and we didn't get them from the communications of Trump or his official representatives, of course, and the freshness of Psaki, just being well-prepared, level-headed, on point, freely admitting to not knowing what she didn't know, and having no reason to lie about anything, seemed miraculous and somehow out of the nowhere, and it really did fill my eyes with tears. I think it's a kind of PTSD: like Londoners in the Blitz, we've been living disoriented and fearful from the constant bombardment of gaslighting language, and as welcome as the silence is it's filled with our own emotions, the ones we haven't been able to listen to for such a long time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Literary Corner: My Favorite Crimes


To the tune by Rodgers and Hammerstein:

Bribing, extortion, insurance and bank fraud,
Jobs for your family down to your Aunt Maud,
Skim from your charity, multiple times,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Scheming with foreigners for your election,
Paying off chicks who have seen your erection,
Propping your business on taxpayers' dimes,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Bribe for pardon!
Wrecked Rose Garden!
When he's feeling low,
Trump pardons some crook
Who reminds him of him,
And then he is gooooood to go!

Cheating at golf and delinquent in taxes,
Fooling the people with alternate factses,
Pelting your betters with slanderous slimes,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Claiming a right to whatever he pleases,
Caging up kids and ignoring diseases,
Pumping his shares as the stock market climbs,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Constant lying!
People dying!
When it gets him down,
Trump pardons some crook
Who reminds him of him,
And then he gets ouuuuuuuut of town!

The kid is Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander (b. 2003), in a recording from 2015.



Monday, January 18, 2021

For the Record: The Arc of Impeachment is Long

Edmund Burke in the House of Commons. Photo12/Universal Images Group, via New York Times (and a Bret Stephens column of last August, "Why Edmund Burke Still Matters").

Why, yes. Yes, you are totally wrong.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Pardons Я Us

 

Brother Johann Tetzel on the ass, right, dispensing indulgences to the wealthy in a German broadside poster, $32.83 from Amazon (the poster, not the indulgence). 

In the couple of months after the 2000 election, some scandal emerged over the flurry of last-minute pardons issued by outgoing president Bill Clinton, starting with the news that Democratic superdonor and Friend of Bill Ron Burkle had been agitating for a pardon for the junk-bond fraudster Mike Milken, and climaxing with the one given to the tax cheat and sanctions-violating commodities trader Marc Rich, who'd been evading justice living in Switzerland for the previous 17 years, in which the deputy attorney general—a guy you may have heard of called Eric Holder—and the president himself had shown extremely poor judgment at best (Rich's ex-wife Denise was a big-time donor to the Clinton Presidential Library, for one thing, and there's a 200-year-old rule that it's improper to pardon fugitives), allowing themselves to be manipulated by the lobbying of Rich's lawyers including Jack Quinn, who, having been White House counsel from 1995 to 1997, wasn't allowed to lobby for anybody at all until 2002. Also, Clinton issued some 31 pardons and commutations that hadn't gone through the normal processing, because the applications had arrived so late, and First Brothers Hugh Rodham and Roger Clinton had been taking some serious money to lobby the president themselves. Nevertheless Milken didn't get his pardon, and the applications the First Brothers had worked on weren't successful either, and Clinton went on to a very successful post-presidency, Holder eventually became attorney general, and even Quinn (whose Wikipedia bio doesn't even mention Rich) is now a legal analyst at CNN.

All of which seems extremely different from today's news reported by Michael Schmidt and Kenneth Vogel in The Times that there's a regular pardons market in the outgoing Trump administration:

Literary Cornyn

 

So I wrote a poem


Paul Klee, Error on Green, 1930, via paulklee.net.

Friday, January 15, 2021

For the Record: Biden's Proposal

You wouldn't fuss about moving the Overton window if it was a big enough window. You wouldn't even want to. Photo via.


Incredibly impressed with myself over this tribute from my favorite moderately famous economics professor.


That started with a quick Twitter version of an argument I feel like I've been making forever, attached in this case to the Biden Covid relief proposal-package, which is pretty amazing:

Well, sort of. Lovestoneite measures and Whiggish men and women, more like, in my case, but it's the same principle, where you might talk about widening the Overton window instead of moving it.

But I do feel tremendously justified by the radical character of this Biden package, with its demands for

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Perfect

 

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty, via Center for American Progress, December 1980.

A year or so ago Rectification Central was exercised about the meaning of the word "perfect" as in 

“It was a warm, friendly conversation,” he said, referring to his conversation with Zelensky. “There was no quid pro quo. There was nothing. It was a perfect conversation.”

In what sense was it "perfect"? Without fault or flaw? Is a quid pro quo an "imperfection" that you should avoid, if conversational perfection is your aim? If you're an artist of conversation, would perfection be the standard you aim at? Perfection in some particular aspect, or overall? Who says something like that, about a phone call, and what do they have in mind?

Anyway this morning somebody on NPR—I think it was my girl Nina Totenberg—gave me the clue to what Trump actually meant, by comparing it with the incitement speech Trump gave to the Capitol rioters before their rampage on 6 January, as he described it 

So if you read my speech --
and many people have done it,
and I've seen it both in the papers
and in the media, on television --
it's been analyzed, and people thought
that what I said was totally appropriate.
And if you look at what other people have said --
politicians at a high level -- about the riots
during the summer, the horrible riots in
Portland and Seattle, in various other --
other places, that was a real problem --
what they said. But they've analyzed
my speech and words and my final
paragraph, final sentence and everybody,
to the T, thought it was totally appropriate.

(The theme in the middle section there is the official bothsides line with which the Republicans have approached the achievement, according to which the looting that took place on the edges of the Black Lives Matter marches in Minneapolis and New York in the first days after the murder of George Floyd and the occasional trash fires around the federal courthouse in Portland. were exactly the same as the murderous assault on the Capitol building—"you got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and BLM," said Louie Gohmert on 1 January—though if you don't recall Governor Kate Brown advising anti-fascist agitators to march down to the courthouse, telling them "if you don't fight like hell you don't have a country any more," I think your memory is accurate.)

Whoever it was said it was "a perfect speech", the way the Zelenskyy call was "a perfect conversation", and I realized he meant he thought it was unindictable—that he'd delivered his illicit message with such perfect subtlety that the cops would never be able to finger him for it, with the majesty of Don Vito and his perfect quid pro quo message

That he'd committed the perfect crime. He hoped.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Bad Mood

 

Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, Ballroom, American Hotel, Detroit. Via failedarchitecture.com.

Not to excuse them, but they're stupid, and they're psychopaths. They're bad children.

These are the people who beat up so many cops and broke such a lot of furniture and came so close to murdering the speaker of the House and the vice president and who knows who else. Overprivileged white toddlers who can't imagine being in trouble, some of whom were apparently shocked at the way it seemed to get out of hand. And then there was Jake:

Sunday, January 10, 2021

For the Record: Unite the Country

 

Not really sure it's sunk in for anybody else that Pence could be in a legitimately tetchy mood about this:

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Confidence

Unidentified Nigerian bank. Photo via WEE Tracker.


REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE-STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL

Dear Mr David Yastreblyansky

I am Dr. Omatayo Barron, the Nigerian cousin of John Barron, who has served as a communications assistant, ghostwriter, and speechwriter for the American billionaire Donald Trump since 1979. Because of the confidential nature of his work, it has never been publicly acknowledged and, in order to avoid inconvenient questions, his compensation has always been paid through a Nigerian subsidiary, Trump Tower Lagos LLC, for direct deposit in the Lagos National Savings and Trust Association, where he has over the years accumulated a small fortune of some $20,000,000, meanwhile in the course of the Trump presidency his existence has necessarily become a closely guarded official secret, the breaching of which is subject to legal sanction under the Espionage Act.

Now Mr Trump's unexpected loss in the 2020 election has placed John in a serious dilemma; as the appointment of his (fictional) identity comes to an abrupt end, so does the identity itself! This has raised almost insuperable difficulties in his ability to access his Nigerian bank account. But curiously enough you, Sir, are in a position to help, because by an almost incredible coincidence the name under which his cheques have been deposited is identical to yours, Mr David Yastreblyansky. All my cousin needs is to process an electronic transfer of the funds in the Lagos bank to your chequing account, and the money is repatriated! In gratitude, he would be prepared to offer you a transfer fee amounting to 25 percent of the total, or approximately $5,000,000.

If agreeable to this simple plan, please transmit to me your Social Security number, bank routing number, and chequing account number. And permit me to say on John Barron's behalf how impressed we both are by your kindness, unparalleled discretion, and sophisticated financial savvy.

Yours most faithfully

Dr Omatayo Barron

Friday, January 8, 2021

So We'll Walk Up the Avenue

<

The Feast of the Epiphany started off with a bang just a little while after midnight when it became inescapably evident that not just Reverend Raphael Warnock but also Jon Ossoff were going to be elected to the Senate, though the networks weren't calling it yet, and I went to bed in a fog of sleepy triumph, only to wake up around 3:30 with an appalled sense of how high the stakes had just gotten: in the sense that we—I mean Democrats, speaking for myself—have just lost our biggest excuse for not getting our agenda done, but it hasn't gotten practically easier almost at all.

I'll get back to that eventually, but it got completely overshadowed by the other big epiphany of the day, that afternoon, with the two thousand participants or so in the Million-MAGA March, after Trump gave them the signal they were waiting for:

Monday, January 4, 2021

Literary Corner: And They're Going to See What Happened

Francis Picabia, Ideal, 1915, via Khan Academy.


Give Me a Break
by Donald J. Trump

So what are we going to do here, folks?
I only need eleven thousand votes. Fellas,
I need eleven thousand votes. Give me a break.
You know, we have that in spades already. Or
we can keep it going, but that’s not fair to the
voters of Georgia because they’re going to see what
happened, and they’re going to see what happened.

Some Republican operative was telling BBC that Trump wasn't asking the Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote, but he certainly was advising Raffensperger to say he'd recalculated and doing whatever it was Trump was asking him to do in the Saturday call:
there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated. Because the 2,236 in absentee ballots. I mean, they’re all exact numbers that were done by accounting firms, law firms, etc. And even if you cut ’em in half, cut ’em in half and cut ’em in half again, it’s more votes than we need.
Why would he want them to recalculate? Every time they do that it just nets more votes for Biden. 

He wants them to invent a number larger than 11,779 and then claim to have recalculated. For instance, they could choose any or all of 2,236 absentee ballots, 4,502 voters who were not registered, 4,925 voters from out of state, 5,000 dead voters, 18,325 "vacant address voters", between 250 and 300,000 ballots "dropped mysteriously into the rolls", and "at least a couple of hundred thousand of forged signatures of people who have been forged", and between 300 pounds and 3,000 pounds of shredded ballots, and then, as he says, divide the total by two, divide it by two again, and divide it by two a third time, and if that's more than 11,779, as it probably is, tell the world "I recalculated" and we're cool. Or if that's too much math, make it easy on yourselves, boys: "All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state." 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Hi, It's Stupid: Weekend Sedition

Hi, it's Stupid to say you should stop calling it "sedition".

Because what other word would you use to describe what does appear to be an attempt, on the part of a lot of Republicans, to subvert the Constitutional order, overturn our two-and-a-third-century tradition of building electoral democracy, and install some kind of emergency dictatorship, half-assed and certain to fail, but ominous in the lesson it seems to be drawing for that very big minority of discontented white people who are unhappy about the way the presidential vote turned out in November, the ones who "feel disenfranchised", that they don't have to put up with electoral democracy—that they can demand minority rule if they feel like it and, if they get enough shady lawyers and thugbois on the case, maybe one day succeed? How is that not sedition?

Dr. Google's first suggestion, credited to Oxford Language.

Well, in the first place because it's not, in those simple terms. It's not "against the authority of a state or monarch". It's on behalf of it, in favor of the desires of the pseudo-monarch who is in power and his party, currently in control of half the legislature, against a regime or administration that doesn't exist yet, to stop it from being born, and only secondarily against the constitutional authority that guarantees this regular succession.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

David Brooks is Right

Image from Shutterstock via.


No, I'm not even kidding ("2020 Taught Us How to Fix This'): he goes (superficially, of course) through the evidence on techniques for overcoming racial bias (diversity training videos and the like) and finds that they mostly don't do much of anything good and sometimes do harm, putting up the backs of the biased and making them want to resist. The only thing that's effective, he concludes, is the idea that used to be pretty popular around 1963:

The superficial way to change minds and behavior doesn’t seem to work, to bridge either racial, partisan or class lines. Real change seems to involve putting bodies from different groups in the same room, on the same team and in the same neighborhood. That’s national service programs. That’s residential integration programs across all lines of difference. That’s workplace diversity, equity and inclusion — permanent physical integration, not training.

That's demanding integration. That's mandating affirmative action that's not afraid to name people by their races. That's saying, "We need some black folks in this school" or apartment building or suburban tract or law firm or architectural firm or factory floor or police force or boardroom. And South Asians and East Asians and Caribbean Islanders and Pacific Islanders and of course many people from the vast and hugely diverse land of Hispanophonia. And even then it will be iffy because there will be white people who can't get with the program, and moving them out or firing them will certainly make those individuals worse, and sending them out for diversity training won't make them better, so there will continue to be conflict. In a way it means giving up on much of a generation of white people—the Generation X-ers who formed the backbone of Trump support in the recent election, as Monsignor Douthat was predicting in September—as a bad job rather than continuing to hover anxiously over them and their whining about "reverse discrimination" or "identity politics" and treating them, as David Brooks has been doing for the past four years. as precious but terribly vulnerable flowers whose delicate emotions need to be protected at all costs:
Really? As opposed to the people who actually are disenfranchised? I thought facts didn't care about your feelings. Maybe those whose votes are suppressed and residences redlined and job prospects hemmed in by invisible walls and ceilings could teach them some coping strategies. 

Or, as Brooks doesn't quite manage to put it, you need to stop trying to fix racists and start trying to fix systemic racism. (He does recognize the existence of the latter, which puts him several thousand miles ahead of most of his old friends: "Part of the problem is that a lot of discrimination is structural; not in people’s attitudes but in organizational practices and the way society is set up.") Though he can't bring himself, in the course of the column, to use the words "black" or "African American" or "race" itself. That's part of the problem too.

Too bad Republican politicians and Supreme Court judges and opinionists like David Brooks over the past 60 years have worked so hard to make that illegal.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Lift a Finger

 


Had an interesting kind of New Year's Eve colloquy, or maybe I should call it an obloquy (he was nice enough to respond to me on several points, but I was mostly just bouncing off him) with the writer Noah Berlatsky, who posted a fun list of 99 unpopular opinions on the Twitter, on all sorts of subjects, one of which was this:

Coincidentally, it turns out this morning that this is a less unpopular opinion than you might think, in part because of some terrific reporting by the New York Times White House gossip department on Trump's handling of the pandemic and his inability to understand that it involved the needs of anybody other than himself:

Throughout late summer and fall, in the heat of a re-election campaign that he would go on to lose, and in the face of mounting evidence of a surge in infections and deaths far worse than in the spring, Mr. Trump’s management of the crisis — unsteady, unscientific and colored by politics all year — was in effect reduced to a single question: What would it mean for him?