Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Pious Fraud

Bearded dragon, via Big Al's Pets.
Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, "The Abortion Mysticism of Pete Buttigieg", New York Times, 17 September 2019:
According to Buttigieg, there are passages in the Bible claiming that human life begins with the baby's first breath. This proves that the pro-abortion position is the most mystical, least scientifically defensible of possible positions, and anti-abortion absolutism is the simplest and most scientifically coherent one. Indeed, the reason most people reject my view is that it leans too heavily on scientific definitions and biological-philosophical rigor, in contrast to ordinary people's muddle of moral intuitions on the status of the embryo and the requirements of female equality. So in fact I'm much smarter than Mayor Pete and he's much more fogged by medieval theology.
No. I'm not sure Buttigieg understands this quite as clearly as he might, either. And I may have worked through this argument before somewhere, but here's a pretty new approach:

The Monsignor's position isn't in fact scientifically rigorous at all. It's merely the kind of half-educated scientism that makes conservatives insist that gender fluidity isn't real, arguing that you can reduce a fundamentally social question to biology and not even aware of what the biological facts are or have become since St. Thomas Aquinas learned them from reading Aristotle—which in the case of sex is pretty baroque:

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Another reason to impeach

T-shirt (apparently no longer available) by The Beehive

Now that the impeachment proceeding in House Judiciary has really taken off its mask at last—although there are people outside the committee (*cough* Steny Hoyer *cough*) continuing to deny it, and others (78-year-old freshman Donna Shalala) complaining that it's distracting from all the great work the House has done passing bills that Mitch McConnell will never allow the Senate to consider (you know, I'm a bit of a Shalala fan from 25 or so years ago when she was HHS secretary, but somebody needs to intervene to explain to her that your constituents don't get all that excited by bills that don't become law)—another possibility for how it could game itself out is occurring to me with more urgency, related to the fact that it's going on during a presidential election campaign, which has bothered me from the start.

What has bothered me being not so much that I object to it as that I don't know what it means: for example, how exactly does an incumbent president campaign during the impeachment process? This has never happened before, in the very short history of presidential impeachments.

There's a partly obvious answer, in that Trump will love telling the rallies about the victimization he's enduring from the Judiciary Committee, and they'll surely respond with perfervid passion, but is that really a good idea? Or will it attract more attention from the normal and not fully engaged to notice that he's accused of quite a lot of crimes, some of which he clearly committed?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

This is not the way to bring an end to class

This is not the way to bring an end to the class system.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Meritocracy Is Ripping America Apart: How Savage Exclusion Tears the Social Fabric", New York Times, 13 September 2019:
Hey, guys, it turns out inequality is really bad! Not only for you and me and the rest of the great mediocre majority who never get a chance to rule the world, but even for the brilliant Ivy-trained wizards who do rule it! They have to work too hard, and it's ruining their lives! Meanwhile, I've learned that there are these things called state universities! They have one in Arizona! I got to visit it last spring and it knocked my socks off. Instead of doing all they can to keep people out, they keep trying to get more people in, and instead of getting worse from letting all those mediocre people in, it gets better. This could be a game-changer!
He's come to some clarity on the subject of what it is he hates about meritocracy, thanks to the book Brooksy has read the first 20 pages of for Friday's column, The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite, by Daniel Markovits, a Yale law professor who is, according to the publisher blurb, "well placed to expose the sham of meritocracy. Having spent his life at elite universities, he knows from the inside the corrosive system we are trapped within." Well, speak for yourself, pal. If the rest of us peasants only know if from the outside, then we're not trapped within it. And if we're all trapped within it, then his experience isn't that special.

As a matter of fact it sounds like a pretty fierce indictment of something. As Thomas Frank writes, reviewing the book for The Times,

Thursday, September 12, 2019

There wasn't a process

Another example of Trump "joking", from April 2018:
“And by the way, John Bolton is here and we’ve just had a very big successful hit,” Trump said.
As Trump attempted to go on with his talk he was cut off by continued applause and a standing ovation.
“Hey John, that’s pretty good. I didn’t expect that. I’m a little jealous. Are you giving him all the credit?” Trump asked the audience. “You know that means the end of his job."
Unsurprisingly, John Bolton didn't do his job as National Security Adviser, or even seem to know what the job was, according to Brett McGurk, a veteran of the Bush, Obama, and Trump national security teams who resigned in protest last December ("In response, Trump wrote that he did not know McGurk and questioned if McGurk was a 'grandstander'," says Wikipedia) on NPR yesterday morning:
I think two problems with John Bolton's leadership in this job - there is both a process problem - he didn't really run much of a process. He didn't really try to facilitate the Cabinet secretaries to give the president options and advice. But then he had a policy problem because he has a very maximalist view of America's role in the world with a very minimalist president. So you just had all these contradictions from the start. And they really came to a head yesterday....
And I really can't speak to the, you know, the internal dynamics of what it was like between them day to day. But I do know there just - there wasn't a process. And without a process in which the national security adviser is harnessing all the incredible expertise around U.S. government to give fair warning, to give options to the president and to protect our country - that's really what this is about. So protecting our country - most important job in the world. And this chaos is just - it's extremely serious and puts our country at risk.
He seems to have thought he was supposed to be the president's personal opinionist and could safely ignore everybody else's opinions, and since the president found his opinions disagreeable, that wasn't going to get anybody anywhere. Bolton's incomprehension of everything beyond scrambling for personal advantage and calling for one country or another to be bombed is what makes me doubt very strongly that his book will be worth reading. He's an officious, self-serving, bloody-minded fool.

Which doesn't make Trump a good person simply by contrast. Tiresome as it is for people like Lawrence O'Donnell (see Steve M's post) to lionize Bolton just because Bolton is having a fight with Trump, it's even worse when everybody from Glenn Greenwald to NPR's Rachel Martin tries to force the formulation of the Bolton-Trump disagreement in terms of "hawk" vs. "dove" putatively instantiating "right" vs. "left". While Bolton has always been a hawk in the cliché sense to the point of parody, no doubt, his opposition to Trump is better expressed in the terms McGurk used:
MCGURK: Well, I mean, in some - the president is a, at heart - and this is what I talked about, a maximalist foreign policy with a minimalist president. In part, the president doesn't want to be involved in these things. He doesn't want to be much involved around the world.
MARTIN: Doesn't want to be involved in U.S. endeavors around the world or he personally doesn't want to think about them or both?
MCGURK: Well, both.
Trump's opposition to war is that you don't always get what you want (he'd be fine with the Iraq War if we'd "gotten the oil") and it's "tough", involving imagery that makes him uncomfortable. He admires Putin for seizing Crimea, but when he thinks about acquiring Greenland he'd rather just write a  check. Plus the problem of having allies, and working with them, which he really can't stand at any price. He loves what he thinks of as diplomacy, but that's just celebrity playdates, from the opening handshake competition to reading his beautiful thank-you note in the afterglow and telling the press that his relationships are very good. Anything like work, and the risk of the other guys thinking he's dumb, just makes him crabby.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Piketty Redux

Shirelock strip by TricksyWizard/DeviantArt.

Thomas Piketty has written a new book, The Guardian reports, under the title Capitale et Idéologie, as long as War and Peace, appearing tomorrow in French, with an English version scheduled to arrive in March. I doubt I'll be making any attempt to read it before then, but I want to put a heads up at the beginning of the presidential campaign for something in the Guardian's coverage that has really captured my imagination.

One of the things that was lacking from Capital in the Twenty-First Century, you may remember, was any very clear idea of what could be done about the increasing concentration of wealth around the world in the hands of an increasingly small group of aristocrats other than the thought that it would have to involve taxing rich people. Apparently he's got something much more specific this time, and it really warmed my heart:
Among the proposals in the book are that employees should have 50% of the seats on company boards; that the voting power of even the largest shareholders should be capped at 10%; much higher taxes on property, rising to 90% for the largest estates; a lump sum capital allocation of €120,000 (just over £107,000) to everyone when they reach 25; and an individualised carbon tax calculated by a personalised card that would track each person’s contribution to global heating.
In an interview with the French weekly news magazine L’Obs, Piketty made no apologies for the impact his ideas would have on the stock market. He said: “[Yes], it will also affect the price of real estate that is crazy in Paris, and it will allow new social groups to become owners and shareholders.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Trump Failing Another Turing Test

Exchange in the comments on yesterday's post:
Me: He doesn't think he can get out of it with a Sharpie, he thinks he can get out of it by denying it "very powerfully", like Putin or MBS. The Sharpie is pro forma, because it's the custom to offer evidence and because the problem is, for a change, so simple that he can do it himself. It's true he was surprised and annoyed that it wasn't good enough for people—that's because he doesn't understand the relationship between evidence and conclusion whereas your approach seems bent on insisting that he does.
Jordan: But at a certain point, he picked up the Sharpie and drew that curve onto the map. In that moment, what was he thinking? Are you saying he wasn't dealing with evidence and conclusion?
(I'm not picking a fight -- I'm genuinely interested and confused.)
I'm not very happy with the post, not just because I haven't succeeded in communicating my idea to the community but even more because I haven't succeeded in communicating it to myself. If we write to find out what our idea is, and that's a huge part of it for me, then I failed. I liked a part of the post nobody's interested in, the first paragraph, and Jordan's stuck on a point I think is obvious.

So I'm not picking a fight either, but I want to try coming at that point from a different direction, if I may, that I've written up a bit before on the Twitter, which is the subject of Trump "joking"—the pattern where he says some abominable thing

Monday, September 9, 2019

Trump Demands Staffers Lie: SADE!

The emperor knows he has no clothes on. In fact he likes the way he looks naked, though it is not conventionally attractive, and he wants everybody to see it, shocked and awed by the monumentality of his flesh. But it's not what he wants them to talk about. That wouldn't be humiliating enough. He wants them to abjectly accept that he's wearing clothes when they can see plainly that he isn't. That's the deal.

Jonathan Chait writes that Trump has "figured out how to corrupt the entire government":
Donald Trump came to the presidency a complete novice to government and often found his corrupt, authoritarian impulses frustrated by its bureaucracy. But he is slowly learning how to control the machine that has stymied him. This is the story of 2019, as Trump has replaced institutionalists attempting to curtail his grossest instincts with loyalists happy to indulge them. It is playing out across multiple dimensions. This is the through-line between several seemingly disconnected episodes from the last several days.
And adduces the Sharpie embellishment of the hurricane map, where he demonstrateed that Dorian might have hit Alabama by tampering with a weather map to include a bit of the state, but what strikes me is how little effort Trump bothers to make to convince anybody, with that extraneous black outline of a bulb that could not possibly have any relationship to the weather system of the cone. Not only does he not care if we can see it's a fake, it's almost as if he wants us to see it's a fake and then keep it quiet.

And even when he gets hold of some better-looking evidence he's not really trying, or expecting his henchmen to try: