Thursday, June 17, 2021

Boys From Brazil, Now From China and More Obnoxious Than Ever

New York Post, December 2020, denouncing teh way "The Middle Kingdom is launching 'unethical' military experiments that sound fit for the superhero flick 'Captain America,' John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed." And FRANCE TOO! which "gave the go-ahead for augmented soldiers, and some fear the super troopers could be the new norm in the recent future", with "drugs to keep troops awake for long periods of time and combat stress, and even surgery to improve hearing." “There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power,” Ratcliffe proclaims, citing US intelligence. “People’s Republic of China poses the greatest threat to America today.”

I could understand, conceivably even subscribe to efforts to set up a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 over human rights issues, but the General Jack D. Ripper batshittery of Senator Tom Cotton's issue is another matter:

The senator wrote that "the CCP... considers DNA collection a vital intelligence-gathering objective" and that the Chinese government "has reportedly conducted tests to develop biologically-enhanced soldiers and intends to use DNA data to catapult Chinese biotechnology companies to global market dominance."

"In 2022, thousands of world-class athletes will gather to compete in China. Their DNA will present an irresistible target for the CCP," he warned. "Thus, we should expect that the Chinese government will attempt to collect genetic samples of Olympians at the Games, perhaps disguised as testing for illegal drugs or COVID-19."

There are actually a couple of facts embedded in there. One is that a Chinese company, the Beijing Genomics Institute, now just called BGI, is the world's the biggest genome sequence provider, after the US-based Illumina. Like others in the business, they grew up in basic research with the Human Genome Project, doing bulk sequencing and the construction of a representative genome for everybody, but sequencing individual human genomes has become more significant in recent years in a number of different ways, for medical research, patient diagnosis and care, and now also consumer use, as the price goes radically lower, with companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, which don't do the sequencing themselves but send saliva samples to companies like Illumina and BGI for processing.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

New York Note


Maya Wiley, via Gothamist.

Early voting started over the week for the local primary elections in New York City, selecting candidates for mayor, city council, and so on in the November general election, but given the overwhelmingly Democratic character of the electorate, the party primary's winners are all more than likely to win then, so this is probably the more significant contest. I'm waiting for Election Day, personally—I've always liked the celebratory aspect (though I understand it's not convenient for everybody and won't be unless unless and until they make it a holiday) and feeling it this year in particular because it's another mark of the conquest of the pandemic that we're going to feel safe (masked, of course). 

And of another kind of renewal: New York, for all its progressive reputation, long had some of the most restrictive voting regulations in the country, thanks to Republican domination of the State Senate (in which, in recent years, Governor Andrew Cuomo collaborated), but the Democratic waves of 2018 and 2020 have given them not only control but a supermajority, which they have used for election reform among other things, including the early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots (not officially in effect yet but Covid-19, including not wanting to catch it, serves as a temporary universal excuse), and a good deal more to come.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Leaker Seeker


Fanciful depiction of Washington composing his Farewell Address, Via Doug Fabrizio, RadioWest, Salt Lake City.

On 26 January 2018, Charlie Savage reported in the New York Times that he'd learned something startling from anonymous "colleagues" of White House counsel Don McGahn: That President Donald J.Trump had decided to fire special. counsel Robert Mueller, and McGahn had stopped him with a threat to resign—

Mr. McGahn has been interviewed at length by Mr. Mueller’s team as it has sought to understand the president’s motivations and thinking. The investigators have also obtained memos, notes and emails about how Mr. McGahn tried to carry out Mr. Trump’s decisions in legally appropriate ways — such as objecting to a first draft of Mr. Trump’s letter firing Mr. Comey that mentioned the Russia investigation.

Mr. McGahn’s threat to resign is an example of how he has tried to both help and constrain an idiosyncratic client who hates to be managed and defies the norms of the presidency. Not everyone believes he has been successful.

Trump reacted that very day, as we know from the Mueller Report, but was unable to move McGahn to deny Savage's report:

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Literary Corner: You Can't Depend on Anybody


Watermelon Eater and Man Writing. Pablo Picasso, 1965, via Rabih Alameddine.

The Book of All Books
by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America

I turned down two book deals, from
the most unlikely of publishers, in that
I do not want to do such a deal
right now.
I’m writing like crazy anyway, however,
and when the time comes, you’ll see
the book of all books. Actually, I’ve been
working on a much more important project
right now!

Statement from yesterday, in its entirety.

Of course he's been trying to get a book deal, I can't believe that hadn't occurred to me, or two book deals, one for himself and one for the former First Lady (which he regards as also his, inevitably), mindful of the $65 million in advances the Obamas got from Random House in the spring of 2017. I wouldn't have imagined he couldn't get one, either, but that's apparently the case, judging from the concentrated confusion of this dense little message (I'm refusing to do a book at the moment, I'm doing a book at the moment, I'm doing something more important than a book). Or not from a sufficiently dignified publisher, or not one that's offering Obama-scale money, at any rate: he must be asking at least $120 million plus they pay the ghost who'd better not be one of those traitors like Tony Schwartz who will turn on him and try to take all the credit and badmouth him on TV to boot. The much more important project must be his "platform", which will make him richer than Zuckerberg if those parasites who supposedly work for him ever get off their asses for a change and do it, but you can't depend on anybody nowadays, look what's happening to our country, it's a tragedy.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Dance of the Squares


Square dance, Skyline Farms, Alabama. 1937. Ben Shahn, photographer. FSA/OWI, Library of Congress, via Johns Hopkins University Press.

Revealed in paragraph 11 of the New York Times version on this new Senate infrastructure proposal:

The five Republicans are Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. The Democrats are key moderates: Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Mark Warner of Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Jon Tester of Montana.

I'd been kind of wondering why MSNBC, CNN, and NPR didn't seem to be mentioning any of their names except Romney's and Sinema's, and also just who they were. The inclusion of Casssidy is a bit of a clue: he's not known the way the others are as a "moderate", but he was the big surprise among the Republicans who who voted to convict Trump in the second impeachment, as did Romney, Murkowski, and Collins, while Portman (who's leaving the Senate because he can't get along with the Trumpers), said Trump's conduct on 6 January was "inexcusable" and represented a violation of his oath of office but claimed the impeachment itself was illegal. In other words, they represent the anti-Trump faction, which is kind of interesting, but probably can't put together the ten Republican votes that would be needed to pass the plan in regular order (they might get to eight with Toomey and Burr, who are also retiring, and conceivably Sasse, who isn't).

Which suggests the proposal, such as it is

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

I just happen to have Senator Byrd right here with me, and...


Byrd never managed to finish college until he was an actual United States senator, but he did by God (as in "West By God Virginia") do it, and law school before he earned the B.A., but he did work as a professional musician, and if you think I don't respect him you can fight me.

Hi Senator Manchin, we've been hearing a lot about how much you rightly revere your great predecessor, Robert Byrd, and I thought you might appreciate some of the beautiful tribute given by then Rules Committee Chair Schumer as Byrd's body lay in repose on the Lincoln Catafalque in the Senate chamber, 1 July 2010, when you were still governor of West Virginia, a few weeks before you entered the race to replace him, as Majority Leader Reid had asked you to do for the party's sake, where he spoke about what was probably Byrd's last major service to the Senate, when, 92 years old and rapidly failing, he testified on the need to reform the filibuster, at a time, not long after the successful passage of the Affordable Care Act on a reconciliation basis, when a violently partisan Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, was doing whatever he could to stop the Democratic majority from doing its work, and in essence holding the country hostage:

at a hearing of the Rules Committee where we are now having a series of hearings under the suggestion of the Presiding Officer and leadership to decide whether we should reform the filibuster rule and what we should do about it. Senator Byrd, frail at that point, about a month ago, came to our hearing room. He sat next to me and then gave one of the best orations I have heard in a committee. He was 92. He turned the pages of his speech himself. That wasn't so easy for him. It was clearly--knowing the way he thought and his way of speaking--written completely by him. It was an amazing statement. It was impassioned, erudite, balanced, and, as the Presiding Officer remembers, it electrified the room. It was an amazing tour de force. The man cared so much about the Senate. Despite the fact he was ailing, there he was because he loved the Senate. His remarks, if my colleagues read them, were balanced. He understood the problems, but he understood the traditions, and he tried, as usual, to weave the two together.

Byrd's opening statement to the Rules Committee, published 5/19/10 in The Hill, seems kind of relevant today:

Unconcern Troll

Tattoo design by Nolan-Huff/DeviantArt.

Monsignor Douthat's new number is pretty original—surfacing as, I don't know, maybe you could call it an unconcern troll, with some friendly Joker-style advice for Democrats: "Why so serious?" ("Are We Destined for a Trump Coup in 2024?")

I wrote my weekend column about three ways that Donald Trump might be prevented from plunging the country into crisis in 2024, should he reproduce both his 2020 defeat and his quest to overturn the outcome: first, through the dramatic electoral overhauls favored by progressives; second, through a Bidenist politics of normalcy that prevents the G.O.P. from capturing the House or Senate; or third, through the actions of Republican officials who keep their heads down and don’t break with Trump but, as in 2020, refuse to go along if he turns another loss into an attempted putsch.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Literary Corner: Unpleasant

Ryan and Bill Owens, via NBC News.

The Endless Wars, So Bad

By Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America

These were the endless wars, so bad, so bad. I’d visit soldiers
at Walter Reed Hospital, where the doctors are truly fantastic
what they can do, but I’d see these young people that were just
blown to pieces, and it’s so sad. I’d be at Dover where these
magnificent machines would come in, the big cargo planes,
and that door would open up and there’d be a coffin in the back.
And the military, the soldiers, would take that coffin and walk it
off the plane. And I’d be with the parents an hour before and we’d
be talking, and I’d say to the general in-charge, “General,
the parents seemed to be okay,” and he’d say, “No, they’re not, sir.
They’re not okay.” I said, “General, I’m having a great conversation.”
And the mothers oftentimes would say, “Oh, my son was such a great
football player. Sir, he had an arm that was so powerful. He was
so strong and he could throw a ball so far. He was such a good player,”
or other things. They’d tell me these stories. They just were so in love
with telling the stories about their son or their daughter, in some cases,
their daughter. And then, I’d look at the general. I’d say, “Well,
it’s amazing the way they can handle it.” And then, the plane
would come in and the general would say, “Sir, it’s not going to
be good.” And that door would open up, that big back door, right,
would open up from this incredible, powerful machine that can lift up
Army tanks like it’s nothing. And it would open up, and there’d be one
or two or three or four coffins, and I’d see the same people that were
talking to me so jubilant about their child, how great the child was,
would start screaming, screaming. Screams like I’ve never heard before.

It was the most terrible thing to watch. And the general in charge would say,
“Sir, you’re going to see things that you maybe will not have seen.”
“Like what, General?” He said, “Mothers and wives, and even fathers sometimes,
breaking through the military ranks and jumping on top of the coffin.” And
I got to see that one time where a mother, she was devastated. She jumped
on, and these incredible, extremely fit soldiers are taking that coffin, 
and would jump onto the coffin, and they wouldn’t do a thing, they would
just keep walking. And the mother was on the coffin, and this is
for Afghanistan and for Iraq, and for these other places, where so
many mistakes were made, where we shouldn’t be, and we can’t do that.

Shocked-shocked there is partisanship going on in this legislature

Strip by Brian McFadden/Kos.

Senator Joe Manchin, "Why I'm Voting Against the For The People Act", Charleston Gazette-Mail, 6 June 2021:

The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics. Least of all, protecting this right, which is a value I share, should never be done in a partisan manner.

His grammar kind of fell off the back of the truck there—he was starting to write "Least of all should it be done in a partisan manner", but as he was clarifying that he is in theory for protecting the right to vote (as if to say "I just said it was fundamental to democracy but I want you to know I'm in favor of it anyhow"), he lost track of the structure and turned it into logical roadkill ("least of all should it never be done the way I'm telling you not to do it").

But we know what he means, and that, after all, is bad enough: this is a supremely important thing to do and therefore we shouldn't do it. Or we should only protect the right to vote in a way that's compatible with our opponents' desire to take it away. Or voting rights are sacred, so you shouldn't spoil them by fighting for them. The more important a thing is, the more important it is not to be too eager about it. Nutrition is vital to human life, so you shouldn't be eating stuff when your thinking is all distorted by hunger. 

But healthcare isn't fundamental, so it's OK to pass that in a partisan manner?

Bad writing can be a technique of hiding from one's own thoughts, as we've seen over the years with David Brooks. Joe Manchin actually doesn't care at all about protecting the right to vote, or thinks West Virginians are generally against it, which comes down to the same thing, I suppose. They care about affordable health care (suggesting they may actually be smarter than people in a lot of Southern and Midwestern states, or maybe it's just that they're historically so deprived that they're aware of it), and they care about infrastructure (which is why I still expect Manchin to vote for the huge reconciliation package later this year). His donors care about keeping the minimum wage at rock bottom, and truly low-income people don't vote much. But the right to vote? Not even their own, perhaps (at 57.6% of the voting-eligible population, the state's voter turnout in last year's record high election statistics came in at 48th of the 50 states plus DC).

Lot more from Steve, on the same subject.