Friday, February 27, 2015

I give up

A view of non-Euclidean R'yleh, via hppodcraft.
Binyamin Netanyahu was unable to schedule a meeting with President Obama, so he asked famed foreign policy expert (and self-described "Israeli parent") David Brooks to step in:
Over the past centuries, Western diplomats have continually projected pragmatism onto their ideological opponents. They have often assumed that our enemies are driven by the same sort of national interest calculations that motivate most regimes.
Spoiler alert: He's talking about the last 1.15 centuries, specifically, since the time when "Western" first meant "British and French and whoever they happen to be allied with at the moment", and it's kind of true up to here. They have indeed projected pragmatism, sort of "continually", on the people they're negotiating with, because that's the tool diplomats have; the assumption that other governments take national interest into pragmatic consideration is a working assumption without which modern diplomacy can't proceed.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ross Douthat taqiyya watch

Detail from the Seven Sacraments altarpiece of Rogier van der Weyden, 1445-50, in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp. Wikimedia Commons.

Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, explains what Wisconsin governor Scott Walker ought to have said:
The simplest approach is just a big-tent approach to whom the term “Christian” covers, but if for some reason of deep theological principle you don’t want to use the word itself then you need another way to finesse things. Maybe something like: “President Obama and I would have some big theological differences, but we share a faith in Jesus.” Or something else, artfully constructed, that acknowledges the president’s professed faith rather than acting as though that faith doesn’t matter much and what the nation’s chief executive professes is mostly irrelevant. Because that’s what Walker’s non-response pretty explicitly suggested...
Uh, well, I guess I would like to know what Walker would say if you asked him whether Pope Francis was a Christian, given that they probably have some serious doctrinal disagreements too, not only on such issues as the Immaculate Conception and the Real Presence of the Lord's flesh in the Host and the practice of infant baptism, which the governor's denomination are known to be traditionally pretty iffy about (and the president's presumed theology would be a lot closer to it than the Pope's), but also labor unions, you know, or capital punishment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The rectification of paragraph structure

Members of the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra performing at a construction site in the city's Metro, August 2014.
A cogent example of how good reporting gets mowed under by obnoxious editorial practice, in which it's not a story unless it's some kind of drama of personal conflict, from today's Times.

Lede: Who's winning?
The new Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and his leftist Syriza party were elected last month as insurgents, promising to end austerity in Greece and inspire a broader backlash across Europe. But to avoid a banking crisis and keep the loan money flowing, Mr. Tsipras discarded his confrontational stance and is now committed to pushing through structural reforms and tougher tax collections: positions long advocated by European creditors.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It's what conservatives do

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson and author Lin-Manuel Miranda as the eponymous protagonist of Hamilton.

Famed drama critic David Brooks comes out with his review of the hip-hop musical Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, at the Public Theater. I haven't seen the show and have no justification for complaining about his judgment—glad he had a good time—but I have to quibble with the way he just has to insert a little bit of conservative propaganda, portraying the contest between Federalists and anti-Federalists in Alexander Hamilton's time in a kind of Jonah Goldberg funhouse mirror as plucky lower-class Republicans vs. liberal elitist Democrats:
Hamilton’s greatest foe, Thomas Jefferson, is portrayed brilliantly by the actor Daveed Diggs as a supremely gifted aristocrat who knows exactly how gifted he is. Hamilton assaulted Jefferson because he did not believe a country dominated by oligarchs could be a country in which poor boys and girls like him would have space to rise and grow.
Hamilton on the threat of oligarchy, 1784, defending citizenship rights for the pro-British loyalists or Tories who had lost the war:

Monday, February 23, 2015

On the Road

Augustine of Hippo refuting a heretic. 13th-century manuscript in the collections of the Morgan Library. Via.
Brooksy's book is coming out after all, as you may have heard. It is called The Road to Character. I believe Character is a colorful fishing village in Rhode Island where he meets a crusty but kind-hearted old codger who helps him with the plumbing and whatnot and teaches him the true meaning of humility.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Imma let you finish, Obama...

The "21" Club on 52nd Street. Photo by Holly Northrop.
He's like the Kanye West of rightwing politics:
A person close to John Catsimatidis, the grocery store magnate who sponsored the event, said Mr. Giuliani was not originally part of the speaking program or expected to attend.
Mr. Catsimatidis, who is prominent in New York political circles, saw the former mayor at an earlier event in the city Wednesday night, and invited him to come by the Walker dinner.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Obamacare Tragedy Watch: Scotts Bluff edition

Protester on the right looks a little like Pam (don't think it's her, though). Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters, March 2013.
Haven't had one of these in a while!

Pamela Weldin, a San Diego dental hygienist who was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in 2000, subsequently moved to Minatare, Nebraska, in the Scotts Bluff region, where she acquired a catastrophic insurance policy from Humana and a "directorship" with The Pampered Chef, a multilevel marketing cookware company selling frying pans at a 200% markup over normal retail value to unwary ladies at Tupperwarish parties where wine is served, with three employees and an annual sales volume of $558,000.

Why she would have had the catastrophic coverage is pretty clear: she couldn't get a reasonable policy in those days, because she had a preexisting condition and no insurer would touch her with a normal policy, for which they'd essentially be paying out more every month than they were taking in in premiums. She must have been thrilled by Obamacare, right?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Perverted spiritual ardor

Spencer Tracy as Nationalism, with Walter Brennan tagging along in the role of Universal Democracy. From King Vidor, 1940, Northwest Passage.
Shorter David Brooks, "The Nationalist Solution", New York Times, February 20 2015:
President Obama thinks in combating terrorist extremism we should focus on the economic and political dysfunction from which it arises, like whether young people can afford to buy a Slurpee or not. This comes from his lack of historical and cultural awareness; he's obviously not listening to me. What he needs to deal with is the terrorists' perverted spiritual ardor, by giving them a dose of nationalism, as suggested by Walt Whitman. And the Muslims have to fix their theology, because it's not working right.
I'm not going to lie to you, the program Obama has been laying out this week at the 60-nation Summit on Countering Violent Extremism and summarized in a speech yesterday is not without its problematic aspects, but today's Brooksian critique isn't going to help you understand why. This is because Brooks is criticizing an imaginary speech instead, one that he feels better equipped to respond to:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cheap shot: Giuliani

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani said during the dinner at the 21 Club, a former Prohibition-era speakeasy in midtown Manhattan. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” (Politico)
Oh no, Rudy. Barack loves you. He loves you deeply. Just not that way.

Wayne Barrett on what Rudy knows about love and the way he was brought up, which was not like you and me and Barack. Though it probably had something in common with some of the guys at the dinner. (H/t BooMan.) See also His Rudeness.

Update 2/20:
“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.” (Times)
I'm sorry, you're denying you're a racist but admitting to possible socialism or even the dreaded anti-colonialism? Or you're defending Obama against charges of racism ("Some of my best parents are white")? Or you're an octogenarian Palin spitting out dogwhistle words? Alert! Alert! Impending syntax collapse!


Map by Braun & Hogenberg of Damascus, the "most noble city by the mountain of the Lebanon, metropolis of all Syria", 1575, via Sanderus,
Scott Shane at the Times is now joining in to the universal trolling of the president for refusing to say that the United States is at war with Islam, though he agrees with the president that the United States is not at war with Islam, a fairly delicate act:
But Mr. Obama’s verbal tactics have become a target for a growing chorus of critics who believe the evasive language is a sign that he is failing to look squarely at the threat from militant Islam. The vague phrasing, they say, projects uncertainty and weakness at a time when extremists claiming to fight for Islam threaten America and its interests around the world.
I cannot understand why this is a thing. Either we are Crusaders at war with Islam, and Osama bin Laden was basically right, or we aren't, and Osama was wrong, and I'd personally prefer the latter. Even Ross Douthat has climbed down from his Crusader attack of last week to offer a more reasonable position, to the effect that the bad things done by members of a particular religion or complex of religions (it seems crazy to insist that "Christianity" or "Islam" are single, coherent systems of faith, given the range of conflicting ideas both sometimes quite cheerfully accommodate) are not the collective responsibility of the entire community, relatively few Westerners are Crusaders and hardly any Muslims are terrorists, and it just doesn't require that kind of a discussion:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Adding moral insult to moral injury

Frontispiece by John Payne, from The Mirrour Which Flatters Not. Dedicated to their Maiesties of Great Britaine, by Le Sieur de la Serre, Historiographer of France. Enriched with faire Figures (1639), a collection of poems by Jean Puget de La Serre, translated into English by Thomas Carey, via The Memory Cathedral.
Shorter David Brooks, "The Moral Injury", New York Times, February 17 2015:
I have no idea what those unfortunate veterans were getting up to in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it must have been pretty awful, because a pervasive feature of PTSD is the feeling of guilt. Our decadent culture offers the morally tainted sufferers a "thank you for your service" and therapy, but what we should really be giving them is a moral reckoning (merciful, of course), rigorous philosophical autobiography, and nuanced judgment.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Drama Syriza

Image by Rainer Hachfeld via

Krugman offers a really helpful analogy for the Greek crisis from Weimar Germany, which we always remember for the hyperinflation of 1923 when we ought to be thinking of the terrible deflation brought on by the austerity policies (cutting wages and welfare payments, tightening credit, and raising taxes) of Chancellor Heinrich Brüning in 1930-32, which was a decisive factor in bringing you-know-who into power in 1933. Austerity was a really bad idea for Germany, and has been a really bad idea for Greece so far.

An earlier and deeper cause of the collapse of the Weimar Republic, he goes on to note, was the terrible burden of debt imposed on Germany after the Great War by France and England under the terms of the Versailles Treaty in 1919, and the fruitless attempts of the Powers throughout the 1920s to collect this money (which they never came close to doing, even when French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr district in 1923-25 with the idea of taking it out directly in the form of coal).

Exchange: Eggs and owls

Also if you don't care about these guys there is something very wrong with you. Via National Wildlife Federation.

This one is the fault of the folks at LGM and specifically Erik Loomis, who was mocking a somewhat confused conservative a couple of days ago:
Because of new findings deemphasizing the connection between cholesterol and eggs, all science is really politically motivated liberals undermining our freedom and therefore we should log all old-growth forests and send the spotted owl into extinction. Or something.
So I went and looked at the stupid thing and left a comment and one thing led to another. You don't have to read it, except if you've been wondering how the old spotted owls are doing and want to follow up the links. I'm depositing it here (with all the Disqus formatting removed because I don't think I can make it work right) for the record, and because the blogmaster has already deleted some of it with more, perhaps, to follow (no, he didn't).
Yastreblyansky (1 upvote): What are your sources on the Northern Spotted Owl population? The only estimate I can find for California is 1200 nesting pairs (several 2014 sources such as here ), and all sources agree the population continues to be in decline. A petition went out in December to relist it as threatened or endangered. FWS seems to think NSO are not harmed by logging burned areas, and others disagree, but no source says they thrive more on private land, what does that even mean?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Who'll let the dogs out?

Image via nogarlicnoonions, Lebanon.
Verbatim Maureen Dowd, "Call Off the Dogs", New York Times, February 15 2015:
I’LL pay for this column.

The Rottweilers will be unleashed.
When I saw the first line my first thought was, hey, you mean you're not asking the Times to pay, you're doing this one for free? No, she means she'll pay in victimhood, hounded by the ruthless enemies whose crimes she plans to unveil: she thinks she's Anna Politkovskaya, courageously fighting the diabolical menace of, um,

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Annals of Derp: A long standing disagreement

Image via Doubtful News.
As the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell seem to melt gradually away, since none of them seem to be elegible for the Obamacare programs they are protesting against being forced to join—
the lead plaintiff, David King, served in the Army during the Vietnam War, likely making him eligible for free insurance from the Department of Veterans Affairs. A second plaintiff, Doug Hurst, is also a Vietnam veteran, his wife has indicated. A third plaintiff, Rose Luck, has faced questions from the government as to whether her low income makes her liable for the tax penalty under Obamacare for failure to have insurance. The fourth plaintiff, Brenda Levy, turns 65 in June which makes her eligible for Medicare, exempting her from the mandate.
—it comes into question whether the Supreme Court will have to make a decision on the case at all. They can easily just throw it out because none of the plaintiffs have standing to sue, and leave the legal questions to be argued when some better case comes along, although it's hard for me to see how that happens. (I hope they don't dodge it this way and judge the thing quickly on its lack of merit, but still.)

Friday, February 13, 2015


Updated 2/17
St. Ilija's Macedonian Orthodox church in Melbourne. Photos by Serendipity.
David Brooks is concerned about capitalism:
Capitalism is not necessarily self-regulating, as we learned during the financial crisis.
No way, really? Who could have predicted that?

Brooksy's got an actual mission to accomplish today, putting some lipstick on the pig deposited in our nation's bookstores by Senator Rubio, a campaign book under the title American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone, which came out in January with Sentinel (Penguin's fascist imprint, publishers of the bestsellers of Donald Rumsfeld, Mike Huckabee, and Feminists Say the Darnedest Things by Mike Adams). He doesn't actually link to any way of seeing it, I assume because he'd rather you didn't look, and just take his word for it that it's a very serious piece of thoughtfulness; because it only takes a glance to see its purely promotional character:

He Vox with me and he talks with me

From the Buzzfeed video

I wonder if Politico might be on President Obama's shit list down there around Maureen Dowd level, which is I guess pretty much where they belong journalistically, their "Tiger Beat on the Potomac" being just a tad more immature or less sour than her Grudge Report, because they seem awfully put out by the fact that Obama has given two rather large exclusives, on domestic and foreign policy respectively, to those brown-nose Vox jerks Ezra and Matty (you can just imagine Mike Allen: "Policy, policy, all those dudes ever talk about, that's just so gay!").

First Politico ran this review of the interviews, by Jack Shafer, complaining that they aren't adversarial enough:

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Update: Amazingly, Yusor Abu-Salha recorded some audio for the StoryCorps project last spring, a conversation with her third grade teacher, and NPR broadcast it. It's pretty heartbreaking.

Yusor Abu-Salha at her wedding, dancing with her father, via

Is it inappropriate for me to say, as a person who does not believe in the existence of a God, that I unreservedly condemn the murders in Chapel Hill of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, apparently by a person who calls himself an atheist? To say that such an act is incompatible with the principles of nonbelief as I understand them (probably more correctly classified as secular humanism), according to which our lives, from birth to death, are the closest thing we have to something sacred, and which call for

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How much of a liar is Ross Douthat?

Sitting Bull's tobacco bag and ceremonial war club, Native American Collection, Peabody Museum. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A quirky little thing disturbed me in Susan's elegant takedown of Douthat's 2005 article about the failure of Harvard to educate him properly, "The Truth [!] about Harvard", in a passage from the article about how easy it was for him to fake his way through a difficult-sounding assignment:
One of the last papers I wrote in college was assigned in "The American West, 1780—1930." The professor handed out two journal articles on the theory and practice of "material history"—essentially, historical research based on the careful analysis of objects. We were told to go to the Peabody, Harvard's museum of archaeology and ethnology, where the professor had set out three pairs of objects from the frontier era. One object in each pair had been made by Indians, one by Europeans, and we were to write a ten-page paper that compared the objects in a given pair. Aside from the articles on material history and a general text, North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment, we were to use no sources.


Aleppo 1924, Armenian exiles from Gaziantep across the Turkish border. Via Houshamadyan.
Excerpt at The Arabist from an interview with Yassin Al-Haq Saleh, a prominent Syrian dissident who fled the country after participating in the uprising and living in hiding for several years. 
I am afraid that it is too late for the leftists in the West to express any solidarity with the Syrians in their extremely hard struggle. What I always found astonishing in this regard is that mainstream Western leftists know almost nothing about Syria, its society, its regime, its people, its political economy, its contemporary history. Rarely have I found a useful piece of information or a genuinely creative idea in their analyses. My impression about this curious situation is that they simply do not see us; it is not about us at all. Syria is only an additional occasion for their old anti-imperialist tirades, never the living subject of the debate....

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I forgive David Brooks

Rigorously. [Update: Hello fellow Frogponders! And thanks, Boo.]
Buster Keaton in The Electric House, 1922. Via SisterCelluloid.
Or rather, that's what he'd like me to do, forgive him preemptively, without waiting for him to notice he's done anything wrong:
Martin Luther King Jr. argued that forgiveness isn’t an act; it’s an attitude. We are all sinners. We expect sin, empathize with sin and are slow to think ourselves superior. The forgiving person is strong enough to display anger and resentment toward the person who has wronged her, but she is also strong enough to give away that anger and resentment.... 

In this view, the forgiving person makes the first move, even before the offender has asked. She resists the natural urge for vengeance. Instead, she creates a welcoming context in which the offender can confess.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I'll cherish that old rugged Ross, rugged Ross...

Crusaders meeting Muslims, Jerusalem 1099. I believe an Arab artist, but I can't identify.

According to Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, the history of the Crusades, to which President Obama adverted in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, is "incredibly complicated".

Obama said,

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Virtually everyone Megan McArdle knows

Update February 9: Hi to the cowpokes from Mike's Round Up!
Willem Haecht, Apelles Painting Campaspe, ca. 1630.
Apparently bloodthirsty rabble-rouser Josh Barro agrees with me that people who benefit from those 529 and Coverdell college savings programs that President Obama suggested taxing are not exactly middle class (as the Republican propaganda machine had it, forcing Obama to back down on the proposal), those who make $200,000 a year being in actual fact better off than 92 percent of the US population, and this makes Megan McArdle a tad uncomfortable, because, like,

Friday, February 6, 2015

Lovely gifts of perspective

Dear Brooksy,

Jeez, I feel awful about this. I thought you said you never read the comments?
It’s too psychologically damaging to read these comments as evaluations of my intelligence, morals or professional skill. But if I read them with the (possibly delusional) attitude that these are treasured friends bringing me lovely gifts of perspective, then my eye slides over the insults and I can usually learn something. 
If you'd been a little more truthful I might have been a little more constructive. So that's one gift of perspective I can offer; people will be more polite to you if you don't pretend you're not listening.

Monuments in Butthurt: David Brooks

Image via Polandball?
Shorter David Brooks, "Conflict and Ego", New York Times, February 6 2015:
I'm not saying there's any comparison between the people who leave comments at the Times website on my columns and the Salafi terrorists who made a video of themselves burning Lieutenant Muath al-Kaseasbeh alive—that would be insane!—but you have to admit they have a lot in common.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cheap shots: Endorsing evolution

H/t BooMan:

Enchanted by the concept of "endorsing evolution". Could the swag they give you include a pair of gills? I would so be down for that. I wouldn't even ask for cash:

The shorter Heritage Canard

Just to clarify what may have been a fairly serious case of tl;dr:

On NPR this morning some fool Republican freshman congressman invited to explain why he's voting in vote no. 50-something to repeal the Affordable Care Act (for the freshmen it's all exciting because it's their first time, they're all Obamacare Repeal Virgins), transcript is not up and I can't be bothered to listen to the thing again to get the name of the fool and his exact wording, said, among other things,

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Build a better secularist and the world will beat a--Wait, they build themselves? Really?

There are tons of secular communities; you just can't tell because they let everybody in. Sydney Cityscape by Dion Archibald, 2006.

David Brooks writes (Building Better Secularists, New York Times, February 3 2015):
In recent years, the number of unchurched, unbelieving, or unaffiliated infidels appears to have been increasing quite rapidly, in 2012 up to 20% from 15% in 2007 among U.S. adults and 32% among the 18-to-29 group, and their increasingly assertive spokespersons have been going around making the paradoxical claim that there could be something positive in all this startling negativity and that faithlessness might be regarded as a kind of faith.
I'm not sure whether I've met anybody like this—I mean, you wouldn't expect me to ask, I'm only a journalist, for Pete's sake—but I've been learning about them from the fluid and pleasurable prose of Phil Zuckerman (I haven't used the word "fluid" in months—nice to see you, old pal!), a sociology professor, in his new book "Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions", which wandered into my Kindle in January.*

Monday, February 2, 2015

White House Fool Report: The Heritage Canard

So apparently Eugene Robinson and Sam Stein were trolling Mr. Joe Scarborough the other morning on the subject of how deeply accommodating the president has been to his opposition and brought up as a case in point the Affordable Care Act: Robinson saying something along of the lines of "when he wanted to do universal health care he came up with a Republican plan out of the Heritage Foundation" etc. etc. etc., which I saw over at Crooks & Liars and and went, as I'm wont to do on this point, almost as bonkers as Mr. Joe did.

Scarborough went bonkers, of course, because it was evidence that the president really does try to cooperate with the GOP, in contradiction to his narrative of the moment, adopted from Mr. Jonah:

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Good, B.A.D., and ugly!

Image by Amnesty International France.
Oops, I almost forgot: Blogroll Amnesty Day!

Strangely Blogged (this blog kills fascists, if the new thing works, asks you to bear with her).

Big Bad Bald Bastard

Global Inequality (by Branko Milanovic: this is not actually very small in its own world, but nobody around here knows about it and it's pretty rich)

The New York Crank

Really Not Worth Archiving (by Samuel Johnson webmaster Frank Lynch)

Cheap shots: Huckabee

"This is not just a political issue. It is a biblical issue. And as a biblical issue, unless I get a new version of the scriptures, it’s really not my place to say, ‘Okay, I’m just going to evolve.’ It’s like asking somebody who’s Jewish to start serving bacon-wrapped-shrimp in their deli," he said. "We’re so sensitive to make sure we don’t offend certain religions, but then we act like Christians can’t have the convictions that they’ve had for over 2,000 years."
I know, I know, fuck Huckabee. I guess one would have to in order to make his analogy there work, assuming the deli owner was a strictly observant Jew; the only way to put Huckabee in a similar position with regard to gay marriage would to marry him off to some masterful dude and pop his tiny rectum, which I don't believe any supporters of marriage equality really want to do.