Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Trump war on science is the Republican War on Science

Drawing by Gary Larson.

Something else to be paranoid about from the Trump White House, as if you didn't have enough already, in yesterday's Guardian:
US statisticians are concerned that Donald Trump’s administration might suppress or manipulate public statistics that don’t fit his narrative of the truththe Guardian has learned. In a series of interviews, individuals who have recently left high-level positions at federal statistical agencies expressed worry that the administration may stop collecting and publishing data on subjects such as abortion, racial inequality and poverty.
“We should all be starting from the same numbers. I think that’s a fear that many of us have at this point – it’s that picking and choosing your numbers to suit your politics is not the way that we ought to be doing it,” said Katherine Wallman, chief statistician of the United States from 1992 to 3 January this year.
Trump himself doesn't really need statistics, as Sean Spicer explained:
“The president, he’s not focused on statistics as much as he is on whether or not the American people are doing better as a whole.”
I mean, how would a bunch of numbers help him understand something like that? (He probably suffers from math anxiety too, like David F. Brooks, which in turn threatens his masculinity because dudes are supposed to be good at that, and if there's anything that Donald J. Trump can really not get with, it's having his masculinity threatened.)

Or as Steve M puts it,
To conservatives, anecdotes are the news. At right-wing sites, it's impossible to escape the impression that statistics on crime by the undocumented or violence by Muslims are somehow elitist -- the real truth is in the anecdotes, and only effete bubble-dwelling liberals object that these anecdotes may be unrepresentative.
I just want to remind everybody that this is another one of these dreadful savage-Trump stories that turns out, if you think about it for 14 seconds, to be a story about the Republican party, as it is and as it has been for decades, since Ronald Reagan and his killer trees, the Congressional prohibition against research on gun violence (which I have written about fairly often), and much much more.

Enough for a book chiefly about the G.W. Bush administration entitled, The Republican War on Science, which you probably heard about at the time. Repeat after me:


I don't care if Reagan passed an amnesty for immigrants or Trump suggested (briefly) closing the carried-interest loophole or negotiating drug prices with Big Pharma (he's given that up too, after a chummy meeting with Pharma lobbyists). Trump and House Speaker Ryan are in perfect agreement about the handful of issues Ryan gives a shit about, which amount to making America safe for rent-seekers and sticking it to the rest of us. I know this makes David Brooks sad, but it can't be helped.

Faust hoch!

Dr. Faustus dragged to Hell by demons in a production of Marlowe's play at the Oak Park Festival Theater, June 1981; photo by Chris Harris (who designed the set).
Shorter David Brooks, "The Republican Fausts", New York Times, January 31 2017:
Congressional Republicans need to back out of their Faustian bargain with the Mephistophelean Donald Trump before they lose their souls!
Alas, it's not that easy to back out of a Faustian bargain. You give up your soul when you sign, pal. Unless the Virgin Mary intercedes, but frankly that's a revisionist version of the story, and it lacks credibility.

Sunday, January 29, 2017


Of course I would, if I felt like having some Skittles. Why on earth would I believe anything that silly, especially coming from an idiot like you? You don't even go to the daily briefing.

Trump statement in defense of the indefensible, via PoliticusUSA:
“America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue1 to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens2 and border. America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave.3 We will keep it free and keep it safe, as the media knows,4 but refuses to say. My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.5 The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.6 To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting.7 This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected8 by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days. I have tremendous feeling9 for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”
1 Not to be too nitpicky, what compassion-demonstrating activities do you intend to "continue"? If these fleeing oppression are refugees, all you've done as president so far is yesterday's action slamming the door in their faces. Not to mention remorselessly destroying the careers of students, medical professionals, scientists, teachers, and entrepreneurs and violently separating families among the non-refugees as well. You can't "continue" doing something you haven't started yet.

One-percent solutions

You know who else was a fanatic about border protection?

Kellyanne Conway (via Tengrain, and credit for the headline):

You’re talking about 325,000 people from overseas came into this country just yesterday through our airports... You’re talking about three hundred and some who have been detained or are prevented from gaining access to an aircraft in their home countries and must stay for now.”
“That’s 1 percent,” she pointed out. “And I think in terms of the upside being greater protection of our borders, of our people, it’s a small price to pay.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center:
By 1933, German Jews were largely urban, middle class, prosperous in business, and well represented in the professions (especially medicine and law). They were culturally integrated but represented less than 1 percent of the total population.
Conway's math is wrong, of course; if you accept her numbers, it's a tenth of one percent. But just sayin.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


JFK International Airport, photo by Kelly Lunde/Al Jazeera.
Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Trump seems to have decided to celebrate by issuing this edict reminding us of the American shame and failure to respond to the European refugee crisis in 1939, and emulating it. Many of those who opposed doing anything to rescue Germany's Jews had a slogan: America First!

The White House is an Imperial Bunker now, where Bannon and his freaks are writing up crazy orders, not executive orders of the sort Barack Obama and other presidents have issued, but edicts or ukazes, some with no real world foundation at all like the one for the "great rebuilding of the military" (Hey, military! Would you go rebuild yourself, bigleague?), or just completely mysterious, like the command for the Wall. Trump is like the Catherine the Great of the myth (not the real one, who was a smart cookie and an excellent sovereign, but the imaginary one invented by Russians who couldn't stand being ruled competently, by a woman, and a German to boot): His trusted henchmen draft these demands, and the rest of the government scrambles to figure out what he wants and try to deliver it, or wait out the storm hoping he doesn't get too angry.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hyperion to a satyr, etc.

At least thanks to Reagan the Japanese aren't dumping their cathode ray tubes on us any more. Oh wait, really? Via.

Brooks ("The Politics of Cowardice") is too funny to pass up this morning:

This is a column directed at high school and college students. I’m going to try to convey to you how astoundingly different the Republican Party felt when I was your age.
That's because if you were born any earlier than around 1993 you might have some memories of your own, or from your parents, of what it was really like: the same uneasy coalition it is today, between the huge-money tax cheats and union-haters who supply the funding and the small-town neo-Confederates who supply the votes with their terrorized wives and children.

The big guy then was Ronald Reagan. Temperamentally, though not politically, Reagan was heir to the two Roosevelts. He inherited a love of audacity from T.R. and optimism and charm from F.D.R.
But he has his mom's eyes. That is some startling metaphor, isn't it?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Guess who doesn't know what's in his job description?

Even though they made him read it aloud!

Something's upset! Stomach cramp or involuntary tears? Photo via Ars Technica.

Impotent on immigration--for now

Image via Gizmodo Australia.

Listening to Brandon Judd, head of the National Border Patrol Council, which is the Trump-endorsing agents' union, on NPR this morning, I found myself more and more convinced that the Trumpian immigration policy, like everything else coming out of this White House, is more bullshit, from the governmental standpoint.

That is, yesterday's snowstorm of executive orders aren't going to execute anything. There's not going to be a wall, though there could be a good bit of reinforced fencing and bits of wall on the California and Arizona borders; Judd was pretty clear on that, and unapologetic. And of course Mexico is not going to pay for it. It'll be $15 billion of US taxpayer dollars wasted on a half-assed effort to achieve the "most expensive and least effective way to do border security" (Rep. Will Hurd, R-TX), and it won't achieve even that.

Today in The Normalizing

Eliot Ness, by an unknown photographer. Via Fine Art America.
Monsignor Douthat doesn't think Trump should necessarily "send in" the feds to Chicago, just sayin', but he hates it when we talk like that would be a bad thing:

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Repeal and punt

Image via Dodgers Way.
Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd St. ("Repeal and Compete"), is publicizing a cunning variation on the "repeal and rename" strategy for keeping Trump's promise to get rid of Obamacare without alienating the hundreds of thousands of Trump voters who depend on it to get healthy, proposed by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA):

The essence of Cassidy-Collins, and the reason that many Republicans don’t like it, is that it isn’t actually a full Obamacare replacement. Instead, it’s a federalist compromise. It lets individual state governments decide whether they want to stick with Obamacare or not, which would mean that the law would remain intact in most blue states for the time being, while redder states would have the opportunity to turn roughly the same amount of money (95 percent) to a different end.
That end would look like one of the more plausible conservative alternatives to Obamacare: a subsidy to cover the cost of a catastrophic health insurance plan, plus a directly funded health savings account to cover primary care.
Not exactly plausible; the health savings account won't work for the half of the population living paycheck to paycheck, assuming that the federal pay-in is as stingy as these proposals usually are (from their private school vouchers that won't pay a tenth of what private school costs onwards; there's a reason why Collins doesn't offer any numbers on this one)—just like Ivanka's scheme for giving a tax break to people who can afford to spend $10,000 a year on day care and other such typical Republican programs geared to the needs of the decent, god-fearing folks in the top income quintile who literally have never tried to imagine what it's like to live on less than $120,000 a year. (Of course to them being unable to save money is a moral failing, so when the plan doesn't work it will be our fault, not the Republicans'.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dear women, Ur doing it wrong. Yours affectionately, David Brooks

Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely in One Week (1920), via.

Shorter David Brooks, "After the Women's March", January 24 2017:
The Women's Marches on Saturday in protest against the incoming Trump administration were a phenomenal success that left their participants feeling energized and hopeful, but unfortunately they failed to aim at uneducated white men, so they weren't successful after all. Too bad!
In the first place, they shouldn't have been focused on issues such as reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, and action on climate change, because while these are all important issues, this is 2017, and ethnic populism is rising around the world:

Facts are stubborn things. But you could try flattering them.

Poster print, 1900, via Wikimedia Commons.
Verbatim press secretary Sean Spicer, as reported in the LA Times:
“It's not about one tweet. It's not about one picture. It's about a constant theme,” Spicer said in a lengthy monologue. “It's about sitting here every time and being told, ‘No. Well, we don't think he can do that. He'll never accomplish that. He can't win that. It won't be the biggest. It's not gonna be that good. The crowds aren't that big. He's not that successful.’" 
Spicer spent more time on the subject than on any other issue during a briefing of more than an hour in which he was asked about such weighty topics as the U.S. Embassy in Israel, immigration and tax reform....
“It's an amazing view,” Spicer said. “And then to hear, ‘Well, look at this shot,’ and ... ‘It wasn't that big.’ It's a little demoralizing because when you're sitting there and you're looking out and you're in awe of just how awesome that view is and how many people are there and you go back and you turn on the television and you see shots of comparing this and that.”
I mean right, can you imagine how Obama would have whined if they'd treated him like that, belittling his every accomplishment by comparing him to somebody who did it three times better and by coldly and cruelly examining the evidence?

Monday, January 23, 2017

No puppet! No puppet! You're the puppet!

Image by REBRN.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Don't call him a populist

Apparently they knew I was coming.

This is the Women's March in New York, to which some accommodating women (daughter and friend) brought me. Somebody said 200,000, together with 500,000 in Washington and some really humongous number in LA. The helpmeet had to go to work, but one of my sisters was at the Washington one, and another in a larger party in New York but much further uptown from where we were, so that we never managed to connect.

In fact there were tons of men, of course, some (not me!) managing to look very cool in pink pussy hats. We dutifully chanted, "Her body, her choice" in the responsory. For a while we marched behind a bit of an activist brass band, a wonderful phenomenon I remember from the leadup to the Iraq war, not necessarily very sophisticated from a musical point of view—only the sousaphone player had a clear sense of harmonic improvisation, and there was some weird repertoire choice, in which "Bei mir bist du shein" was the oddest. But in "You are my sunshine", heedless of its origin as a composition by Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis (1944-48, 1960-64), the crowd sang "You'll never know, dear/How much I love you/Please don't take/My health care away."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

News in American carnage

H/t McLean's Magazine, which has found out that American Carnage was a national tour by Megadeth and Slayer. Since it was ended successfully in 2010, the president may find he has some unexpected free time.

Donald Trump's Great Leap Forward
pending... repeal, it is imperative for the executive branch to ensure that the law is being efficiently implemented, take all actions consistent with law to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the Act, and prepare to afford the States more flexibility and control to create a more free and open healthcare market.
To the maximum extent permitted by law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) and the heads of all other executive departments and agencies (agencies) with authorities and responsibilities under the Act shall exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications...
"The Trump administration declined," comments Margaret Hartmann dryly at New York Magazine, "to explain what that means..." but it sounds like an invitation to all the department and agency heads to to whatever the hell they want, as long as they're fairly confident it's legal, in regard to regulation under the ACA. "Surprise me!" suggests the president. If he doesn't like it, maybe he'll fire them in a subsequent episode.

Or maybe it's OK if they do nothing at all. There's not even anybody there at the moment (of 675 positions that have to be nominated by the president and voted on by the Senate, 30 names have thus far been submitted to the Senate and none voted on, Tom Levenson informs us). Perhaps his aim here is simply to say he did something, on "Day One", as promised, though not quite the thing he promised (to "ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare"), which may have seemed a little less relevant now that Congress seems to have decided not to do that, without waiting for him to ask, and made its own equally vague move last week (setting it up so that whatever it is they decide to do can be done as budget reconciliation and the Senate Democrats can't filibuster it, just as the ACA itself was passed by the Democratic majority in 2010), and he's delayed his own submission of a health plan until after his nominee for HHS secretary, Tom Price, is confirmed.

But I like the idea that he's inviting them all to go out and write regulations on their own initiative, leaving him free to focus on stopping this American carnage. Right now.

Update: Margot Sanger-Katz in the Times's Upshot section seems to agree that the order is largely bluff, and lays out some of the steps Trump might have taken if he really wanted to accomplish some major destruction. Of course for that purpose he would also have needed to know something about how the ACA works and its current legal status, or have someone on staff who did.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Oh, Bama! Can this really be the end?

Forget Caligula and Commodus; the best model for the Emperor Trump reign would be Alfred Jarry's fictional Ubu, as suggested here in a poster for a 2013 production of the play by Colorado's Tin Roof Productions (which I think never actually took place, wheels within wheels, poster via Cargo Collective)
Now the senator came down here
Showing ev’ryone his gun
Handing out free tickets
To the wedding of his son
An’ me, I nearly got busted
An’ wouldn’t it be my luck
To get caught without a ticket
And be discovered beneath a truck
I thought months ago I'd be using this headline today, just for fun, without imagining we'd be living in the anxiety-dream dread of "Memphis Blues Again". Now here we are, the day after the president-elect signaled his intention to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and cut the budgets of the Transportation, Justice, and State departments, Commerce and Energy, The Hill reports, in the aim of reducing federal spending by $10.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

Wait, really? Given that those five departments spent something $69.7 billion, $35 billion, $27.7 billion, $9.4 billion, and $24.5 billion in 2016 respectively (the NEA at $148 million and NEH $147.9 million are practically invisible in this breakdown, less than 0.02% of the budget as a whole), cutting them out completely wouldn't get close to savings like that—more like $1.6 trillion over the ten years. And they're not getting cut to anywhere near that extent, so any savings there are going to be basically trivial. Of course the plan doesn't touch the big-spending agencies (Defense, Medicare, and Medicaid). Meanwhile the tax plan adds $7 trillion to the 10-year accumulation of debt (according to that leftist organ Forbes Magazine). This is not going to work, folks.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Image via Snark Amendment.

Verbatim Rick Perry:
“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” he says in his prepared remarks, adding, “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
Shorter: "After I accepted the job I found out it's actually kind of important, so I'm totally pumped!"

Who knew?

Via Shiachat.com.
Turns out running a business isn't exactly applicable experience to running the government (Charles Duhigg):
“Running an agency is very, very different from running a company,” said Carlos M. Gutierrez, who was commerce secretary under George W. Bush after serving as chief executive of Kellogg’s. “Some of the skills do transfer, but you have to be careful figuring out which ones. In government, you can’t fire anyone. Your board of directors is 535 people in Congress, and half of them want to see you fail.”
And that's just for starters. Also, since the object isn't to generate profits for shareholders but, you know, promote the general welfare and provide for the common defense, shit like that, the whole metric for whether you are succeeding or not is different; it would be a good idea if you started from thinking about what your department is supposed to do for a living, something today's professional CEOs rarely consider about the companies they run for a couple of years before moving on, attention fixed on the bottom line. And cutting down labor costs is not automatically a good thing.

And in government being a psychopath is almost never a plus, beyond the very short run, which is not true for CEOs at all. Just saying.

Obviously true, you'll say, but wouldn't it be nice if the media had known about this a few months ago, or any time since the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, and told the public about it? 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bad writing from VDH

Googled "Fresno irrigator truck" but didn't find anybody with yellow false teeth. Photo from California Agricultural Technology Institute where they evidently lack a proper sense of tradition.
BooMan sets a take-home exam question:
Compare and contrast Victor David Hanson and Corey Robin.
Do they agree more than they disagree?
I thought, after looking at the essays (Hanson's in City Journal, Robin's in the groovier n+1) it was a pretty dumb question and drafted the following as a comment, then thought it might look like trolling and I'd better just put it here.
I can't see the relationship between the two pieces at all. 
VDH, a semi-retired historian of Classical Greece whose serious work is decades old, is doing a cliché-driven "analysis" of Trump's victory in November, featuring his usual shtik on the moral superiority of the deeply hierarchalized, conservative rural society, down to the fictional cartoon pictures of gnarled Mexican-American Trump voters and smooth-faced white Clintonites, to conclude that Trump was the True Conservative all along, and that's why he won. Like all Hanson's writing on political subjects it's not worth reading at all except for the fun of fisking and demonstrating what idiots the National Review staff writers are.
Robin, an important political scientist working now, is trying to say something original about what kind of president Trump is going to be operationally, based on an important concept that keeps getting neglected, the fact that the presidency is held by a committee, not a person (so that whether you think the person is excessively "left" or "right" or whether you "like" her or not is less important than the constellation of power around her), to conclude that Trump is not going to have a lot of institutional power to effect the change he's promised (which refreshingly doesn't assume he even knows what he's promised; too many people think he has some kind of coherent plan that he came up with himself to accomplish some particular goal other than "winning winning winning"). Robin could be totally wrong (I found myself furious with him during much of the campaign), or he could be getting to a plausible end by a poorly constructed route, but whatever he writes is absolutely worth reading.
Hanson's cartoons went like this:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dr. King: Strange old books, including Amos and the Epistle of James

Learned from Alicublog that they're still pushing that line about how all us filthy leftists forget that Dr. King was a man of God, so I'm re-running last year's King Day post as well, on the subject of what kind of God he was a man of, because King's religion, while profound and real, was not the Christianity of Franklin Graham or Donald Trump:

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Panama, in keeping with our annual custom of running a picture of Dr. King in a hat. Via Relaford Club.
Let's not leave the long Martin Luther King Day weekend without our annual tribute visit to the Bizarro Dr. King who usually surfaces in the rightwing media around this time of the year, who if he had been alive would certainly have disapproved of the #BlackLivesMatter movement because they are the "sons and daughters of Stokely Carmichael and, to some extent, even Huey P. Newton" (former moderately good detective novelist Roger L. Simon, via Shakezula), and of the ongoing imaginary War on Police (Fox & Friends, via David at C&L); and Donald Trump, at the Dr. King tributes at Liberty University in the appropriately named Lynchburg, VA., praised the size of the crowd that came to see him as
an honor in terms of Martin Luther King," Trump said. "We're dedicating the record to the late, great Martin Luther King." Trump made no other mention of the civil rights leader.
In my usual stomping grounds at the National Review they haven't been able to come up with anything new this year, but they reran a piece by Lee Habeeb from January 2013:

Nasi lemak

Best breakfast there is: nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk and served with a bit of egg, cucumber, tiny fried anchovies and peanuts, and a generous dollop of sweet-hot sambal goreng, wrapped in a banana leaf). Photo via Afiqqqq, whose blog, in English, was entirely devoted to nasi lemak for the few days it lasted in July 2015.
Ever since we got to Singapore, Blogger has been bothering me with this unexpected question:

Well, I guess it's mainly because all I'd be able to post would be food orders (and coffee) and "Happy Id al-Fitr!" It would not sparkle. I'm afraid that large readership would get bored.

A more pertinent question might be, "Why not blog about food?" Politics doesn't make anybody happy.

Dr. King: Honor bestowed on he

It's the day when conservatives who vilified Dr. King as a communist for 40-odd years nowadays come out to tell us he was really a conservative, and "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" somehow turns out to mean that he was against affirmative action. Including Sarah Palin reporting Alveda King's (false) testimony to King's (imaginary) anti-abortion views, with some very stirring prose:
Today, it is uplifting to see honor bestowed on he who will forever be seen as the face of the movement to ensure equal opportunity for all....
As powerful, the movement led by King caused long-overdue cultural change resulting in equal treatment regardless of skin color. It would be the norm. It would be unfathomable to think otherwise.
Unfathomable indeed!

All the troops on our side are out nowadays explaining that this is wrong, so I thought I'd rerun an old piece (January 2013) suggesting King—a real radical in praxis, not a hipster radical with a purist theory—might not have been an opponent from "the left" of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party as it is today either.

Getting stoned before it was mainstream. Sorry, that's pretty cheap. Uncredited image (20th-c. Greek?) from some larcenous Christian's blog.
On Saturday [January 26 2013] came the stately March On or About Washington, the first of two commemorations of the 1963 March On Washington, an often moving ceremony, and a bizarre Internet storm around a series of Tweets from David Sirota, who wanted to tell us how Dr. Martin Luther King would have felt if he had been able, like Tom Sawyer, to attend the service, which quickly degenerated from dumb to dreadful as he stumbled into lecturing black people on the subject of what black people think.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Tirade on blame

Buster Keaton in The Playhouse (1921), I think, via.
As far as recriminations go over what happened in November, I liked Thers's idea (welcome back to Cyberspace, Andrew!) a lot:
As to who on the Democratic side, or the Left, is to blame, I'm only going to say this once, and then we're going to just let it go.
It was your fault.
You fucker.
It was my fault.
Me fucker.
FUCK ME. This was our job, and whatever it is we tried to do, we fucked it up, even if most Americans broadly agree with us.
Nevertheless there's something about BooMan's non-apology FUCK ME that I can't let go of:
One thing I know I really didn’t do in this campaign was to defend Clinton. It was difficult for me to accept that she would be our party’s nominee, although I accepted it fully even though I didn’t vote for her. Spending my energy defending her was generally just too much for me, however. I thought she could pull off a victory because I gave the public too much credit for being able to see through Trump. Nonetheless, I saw the main threat as the possibility that they wouldn’t. Trump was getting a lot of press coverage, and I thought it was most important to counter the positive attributes and narratives he was receiving.
The last thing I felt like doing was writing about Benghazi or her email server or (especially) the Clinton Foundation. That appears to have been a mistake on my part. The real threat was that Clinton would be brought down to Trump’s level and seen as equally unacceptable.
Speaking as one who did try to make the positive case for Clinton, ad nauseam (52 posts from March through November under the label "Is Hillary Clinton the Worst Human Being in the Universe?" and I'm sure there were many more without the label), including on the damn emails and Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation (and its ruthlessly corrupt acceptance of money from Norway, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and, yes, Algeria and Saudi Arabia and some other excessively foreign countries), I'd take it back a step and argue that you didn't try to find out whether there was a possible defense of Clinton. You swallowed a bunch of idées reçues from the self-denominated left (including such notable social democrats as Glenn Greenwald and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin) and never asked yourself whether they were even true.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ferociously fragmented, frenetic chaos

Buster Keaton in The Navigator (1924).
Well, Brooks has been looking at problems that are several different kinds of problem at once, like house-hunting, which is emotionally, psychologically, cognitively, and even morally difficult, or Trump advisor Stephen Bannon's neo-fascist (Brooks coyly calls the philosophy "populist ethno-nationalist") critique of the post–World War II order, which is simultaneously moral, religious, economic, political and racial.

Now he's looking at the problem of devising a Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act, and specifically the question whether market incentives "work" in health care, which is both economic and psychological:

This is really two questions. The economic one: Would market mechanisms improve quality and reduce costs? The psychological one: Do people want the extra cognitive burden of shopping for health care, or would they rather offload those decisions to someone else?
Really, it isn't two questions, in the sense that the incentives will only function if the consumers are incentivized: improvements in quality and cost won't happen unless shoppers are willing to shop.

I think the weak point here is the implication that the Affordable Care Act doesn't use market incentives, which shows that he still, six years after its passage, hasn't found out what's in it. The ACA is an overhaul of the health care system that is entirely based on market incentives!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Zeus visiting Danae in the form of a shower of gold, by the Russian artist Aleksandr Sigov (1980).
That's my proposed pet name for the scandal in which "golden showers" of micturation—the pleasures of urolagnia—play such a prominent role.
If golden showers
Should come your way
You'll linger hours
In fragrant spray
No, stop that. I have no difficulty believing the Trump could be into such things, which goes along with my sense of his sexual infantilism, as in that desire, discussed in the Billy Bush tape, to assault women with showers of kisses:
 I just start kissing them, it's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait.
He has a baby's desires and preoccupations, as I was saying back then,  and your excretory functions are a central part of that, and so is the interest in humiliation and being humiliated. When he says, to prove the story can't be true, "I'm a germophobe!"—well, of course! And yet the peeing parts of the body are central to sex. Fear of and fascination with urine heighten his excitement.

Sorry about this. And sorry to get all Freudian on you, but sometimes that stuff just works.

An argument from The Guardian suggesting something wrong with the Russia dossier:

Monday, January 9, 2017

Public Art

Taipei Main Station, not by Jeff Koons but Tsai-chin Ni, who is not a knockoff artist (perhaps this piece is meant as a satire of Koons).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Expensive shots: Shanghai


Muskcat Coffee, in the park across the river from the Bund, where they sell a wide range of exotic coffees including, at least in theory, the famous Sumatran civet cat coffee roasted, they tell us, from beans extracted from the scat of the civet, 228 RMB per cup. This young woman has ordered a very sweet-looking parfait drink and enormous dessert of eight wedges of something caky surrounding a mountain of whipped cream, all by herself, and appears to be Instagramming it to her circle of friends.

I'm back!

It was raining the whole time we were in Shanghai., until the last morning...
Hi folks,

Just spent a couple of days in Shanghai, first visit to the People's Republic, in spite of a long engagement with things (and persons) Chinese. Which is why the website has been dark, because in the People's Republic there is no Google, and no Google products: no Gmail, no Chrome, no Google Maps and Google apps, and not leastly no Blogger with which to create a post. Also no New York Times, Washington Post, Frankfurter Allgemeine, and I don't know what-all else. Yahoo is fine.

Funnily enough, Yahoo is also a vehicle of rebellion against this state of affairs; when you open it up, it hits you with display ads inviting you to join a VPN (Virtual Private Network) from which, for a price of course, you can go wherever you want. As ever, the restrictions aren't meant to apply to those with the wherewithal to evade them. I imagine members of the full-time Chinese elite and foreign residents of a certain status do all the Googling they want in this simple and appealing way. (Our friend in Shanghai, an extremely low-level member of the academic elite, certainly does.)

I was able to get the Guardian and the Twitter on my phone eventually, I think because they send me notifications independent of the Google world (so does the Times normally once a day, but they don't seem to be doing it at the moment, perhaps because the dead-tree subscription is suspended). I was frankly a little unwilling to use the Twitter, not wishing to make it too easy to figure out that Yastreblyansky is the same person as the the alter egotist whose phone Y uses, for anybody who happened to be Watching, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow we're in Google-embracing Taiwan now, attending to the primary purpose of the voyage, which is to pick up our baby boy from his semester abroad, so it's time to get back. But I need to catch up on the news first. Did anything happen?

...because as long as it's raining the air's pretty clean, and otherwise it can be pretty scary.

Thursday, January 5, 2017


Shanghai theater company, late 19th century, photographed by William Saunders, via BBC.

I'm afraid I kind of like David Brooks's column ("The Snapchat Presidency"). Though that central image—the Snapchat—isn't really right, in that Trump's midnight utterance doesn't in fact disappear 24 hours later, even if Trump sometimes seems to think it does, but it does have a kind of strange evanescence, like a sudden flower that wilts and browns before your eyes. Indeed, I thought for a moment that someone might have ghosted it for him.

Brooks is good on the way they originate, though the flabbiness of his own prose spoils it a little:
He’s tweeted out policy gestures in recent weeks, say about the future of America’s nuclear arsenal. But these gestures aren’t attached to anything. They emerged from no analytic process and point to no implemental effects. Trump’s statements seem to spring spontaneously from his middle-of-night feelings. They are astoundingly ambiguous and defy interpretation.
But he doesn't really get how the sense that they mean something is part of that efflorescence, when everybody starts analyzing the tweet and trying to guess what its policy implications might be. The evidence of it remains online, but the meaningfulness decays and dies. It's more as if the Snapchat picture didn't disappear but merely blurred slightly, so that it became hard to identify who's in it.

Anyway, the shorter—
Donald Trump being president is not normal.
—suggests a topic more for Driftglass than me, offering multiple instances of how Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did the same sort of thing as the Trump is doing it now, maybe less in your face.

I'm off on an Asian trip, and the blog is going to be quiet for a couple of days at least, I think. Here are some links to old, mostly silly stuff, to tide you all over: Keats and Chapman stories on Hemingway and cricket, a Blast from the Future: How David Brooks will welcome Trump's wall (from April 2016), a Sarah Palin poem that never got a wide readership, and the Green Eggs and Ham parody. Catch you later!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Trump's plan to increase immigration

Not that I necessarily have a problem with that—I like immigrants! Still, it's going to be ironic.
I can't remember where I read this, but one of the more secret purposes of the NAFTA agreement among the US, Canada, and Mexico, was supposed to be decreasing immigration, including undocumented immigration, from Mexico into the United States, by enabling Mexico to provide good jobs for its citizens at home. In fact it wasn't exactly a secret, as The Times reported at the time,
The Clinton Administration contends the pact would also discourage illegal immigration from Mexico by creating jobs there; critics say that the pact would fuel illegal immigration by throwing thousands of Mexicans out of work in uncompetitive industries like corn farming.
And the Clinton administration was right on that: it has definitely succeeded in the long run. The effective thing being that the corn farming jobs didn't pay enough to keep people alive anyway and the maquiladora jobs did. After five or so years when the most alarmist predictions seemed to be coming true, the rate started to decline, ending up pretty near net zero (as many people now emigrate from US to Mexico as make the trip the other way).

Annals of derp: Profito ergo es

Image by Joe Russell, 2013.
Thomas L. Friedman, "From Hands to Heads to Hearts", January 4 2017:
Once scientific methods became enshrined, we used science and reason to navigate our way forward, he added, so much so that “the French philosopher René Descartes crystallized this age of reason in one phrase: ‘I think, therefore I am.’” Descartes’s point, said [organizational culture thinkfluencer Dov] Seidman, “was that it was our ability to ‘think’ that most distinguished humans from all other animals on earth.”
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that René Descartes's point in the cogito ergo sum line was that it was our ability to "think" that most distinguished humans from other animals?

Answer: In principle, yes. But
  • first of all, it's not a phrase but two clauses, or a sentence;
  • second of all, while Descartes did hold that non-human animals should be regarded as complex machines whose actions could be explained without any reference to thinking, he thought that most human behavior could be explained in the same way; 
  • third of all, he thought what was most different was the humans' immaterial soul, which animals lacked, and that this was demonstrated not by the evidence of human thought but by the human possession and use of language; and 
  • fourth of all, that wasn't the point of the cogito, which had nothing whatever to do with explaining the difference between humans and animals, but was rather about the question of whether we can be certain or not that anything in the universe really exists: the first thing Descartes thought he could be sure of was that he really did exist—the fact that he was thinking at the time proved it, because there had to be a thing there doing the thinking, and that thing was him.
Also, that did not crystallize the Age of Reason, though it certainly did illustrate it, and I doubt that Descartes would have put "think" in scare quotes. What's that about, anyway?

Seidman says we now need to distinguish ourselves from complex machines, which he apparently believes are capable of thinking (and we now understand many animals really are capable of thinking in various degrees), by the fact that the machines don't have a heart, by which he means that aspect of humanity that experiences emotions like love, compassion, and hope, which is in fact pretty much the same thing as Descartes's immaterial soul, which he described as the seat of the "passions" in his late writings. To a remarkable extent, in this way, Seidman, and Friedman, are stuck philosophically in the 17th century.
No wonder one of the fastest-growing U.S. franchises today is Paint Nite, which runs paint-while-drinking classes for adults. Bloomberg Businessweek explained in a 2015 story that Paint Nite “throws after-work parties for patrons who are largely lawyers, teachers and tech workers eager for a creative hobby.” The artist-teachers who work five nights a week can make $50,000 a year connecting people to their hearts.
There's an argument Descartes wouldn't have thought of—"I can earn $50K part-time helping you experience passions, with the help of some alcohol, therefore your passions are philosophically important." I profit, therefore thou art.