Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ross is Right

Arturo Reque Meruvia, Alegoría de Franco y la Cruzada (1948), via.
Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, evidently a little miffed at all the attention the new reactionary troll is getting, tries upping his own superior troll game ("Is There a Case for Le Pen?"). Shorter:
Say what you will, Marine Le Pen is probably better than Trump.
Yes, and I'd probably be better off drinking gasoline than prussic acid. I mean with the gasoline I won't get lead poisoning, right? Actually I have no idea.

Or I guess I could say there are at least two cases for Le Pen:

  • the "publishing violent images" case, for the tweeting of graphic images of ISIS terror, over which the European Parliament has stripped her of her parliamentary immunity, and which could at least theoretically land her with three years and a €75,000 fine; and 
  • the criminal fraud case, in misuse of European Parliament funds, €339,000 she took to pay a couple of Front National cadres for non-Parliamentary work (underlings have been indicted, but she still has EP immunity on this for the time being).

Don't know if there is any chance of legal action relating to the party's default on a €9 million loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank, now defunct—in January the Russian Bank Deposit Insurance Agency was trying to collect on the debt on behalf of the dead bank's cheated depositors, but that case seems to have gone away since she visited Putin in late March. Like Trump and even more so, thanks to the French constitution, she'll be in a better legal situation if she wins the presidency, with five years of total immunity.

But mostly I'd just like to say that I think Ross may well be right, in his own terms at any rate: if you're a reactionary Roman Catholic franquista who hates being called a fascist but loves the scent of heliotrope and veiled racism ("What's that perfume, darling? Where do you get it?" "I'll never tell!"), then Le Pen is better than Trump.

For the rest of us, meh. It's not a very interesting question. 

Bret and Butter: Update

Also, Stephens has a truly nasty private-school bully's smirk. Photo via Daily Wire.

Finally got around to reading Steve's terrific take on the Bret Stephens premiere performance, and found something I could have used for a unifying close to my own piece:
He's still telling readers that they're wrong if they accept the scientific consensus on global warming. He's still arguing that advocates for a strong response are tyrants drunk with power. But he's trying to sell this argument to people who believe the science, so he's conceding some of their points. 
That's it in the terms of Vincenz's parable of the Hasidic cart driver: as Stephens distracts us with this elaborate painting of the environmental movement as totalitarian, the 100% hooligans who will never acknowledge any merit on the part of the freedom-loving opposition, what he's actually accomplishing is billing himself as 55% right, the pleasant antagonist we'll be happy to surrender to. Not me! #NeverBret!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bret and Butter

Update: Now with a newly improved paragraph somewhere near the bottom!

The "butter" in the headline refers to the oleaginous tone with which Stephens tries to lull or perhaps lubricate the reader into acquiescence in his revolting project.

Klezmer band from Munkács, Hungary, in the Subcarpathian Rus' region, between the wars. From the World Holocaust Remembrance Center at Yad Vashem.
Rectification Central welcomes Bret Stephens, late of the Wall Street Journal, to the pages of The New York Times, and his maiden effort, "Climate of Complete Certainty", which showed up online Friday afternoon. Shorter:
Hillary Clinton thought she was 100% right or thereabouts in the presidential election last November, and yet she didn't win. In the same way, global warming crusaders think they're 100% right, but there's a chance they could be wrong. Even the liberal Andrew Revkin agrees people would take it more seriously if you'd admit it might be trivial.
Yes, it's pretty dispiriting. It seems a lot longer than it really is, too, perhaps because it wanders so widely, and starts off with a rather lengthy epigraph:

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Jesus Bug Columnist

Photo by An-Drake/Deviant Art.
"Jesus bug" is an alternative name for gerrids or water striders, the splayed-legged insects you see darting across ponds and pools looking for airborne bugs that have fallen into the water; so called, obviously, because of their ability to "walk on water" like you-know-who in Matthew 14:25, floating on the surface tension, with their hydrophobic feet. We called them water bugs or water skippers (a name that doesn't even appear in the University of Wisconsin dialect survey), and former New York Times columnist David Brooks calls them pond skaters (also missing from the Wisconsin list), as in "The Pond-Skater Presidency", in which he compares our Emperor to one:

a man who is a political pond skater — one of those little creatures that flit across the surface, sort of fascinating to watch, but have little effect as they go.
The problem with Trump being, as it turns out, that he's just so superficial. Not that he's corrupt on a Berlusconi scale, openly asking government to devote itself to his personal business interests foreign and domestic, and pretty much inviting his cabinet officers to do the same, and not that foreign powers seem to have a secret hold on him (people like Brooks presumably think he proved he wasn't Putin's puppet by sending that single irrelevant bombing mission to Syria). And not that he bears all the distinguishing marks of the fascist except for maintaining his own private army (except to the extent, you know, that he does that too). To Brooks, Trump has left all that behind, made his pivot, and turned into a garden-variety Republican:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Franks on Drugs

Border fence between Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona, a few years ago. "Arizona Governor Janice... Brewer’s office had received complaints from Nogales residents that illegal activity is happening everyday at the border in plain view of both Americans and Mexicans. Initial investigation by the agents confirmed that Americans and Mexicans on either side of the border have been playing volleyball using the fence as their net. The activity has gained popularity in recent weeks and agents fear that it might spread to the rest of the entire Arizona–Mexico border. Agents dispatched to the scene are now on a 24-hour watch over the border to ensure that at the end of each game, the Mexican ball does not end up on U.S. soil, which would violate customs regulations." (The Adobo Chronicles, October 8 2013)

Via Josh Marshall—Trent Franks, the Arizona Congressman from the Metro Phoenix region (180 miles or so north of the border and some 79% white, which is coincidentally not much more than what Franks scored in the 2014 election, though he's fallen off a bit since then) with the comic porn star name, explaining what terrorists would do if they wanted to smuggle a nuclear weapon across the Mexican border (because it would be easy to get it from their weapons factory in Lebanon or wherever he thinks it might originate to Mexico):

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I watched him interviewed

Image via EurWeb.
There's a new spareness in Donald Trump's poetic diction, a sheer terrifying verticality, dispensing with the merely pretty or ornamental, a new aim at the bare sublime of alp or iceberg. The critics seem a little baffled by it: they're calling it "incoherent", as if it hadn't been incoherent before, but I think we may see in the end that it's mostly spinier. The repetition is more and more an architectonic device: where syntactical incompleteness conveys the fragmentary character of experience, repetition binds it together.

Lament on Unexpected Treachery
by Donald J. Trump

well he said you’ll be the greatest
president in the history of

but you know what
I’ll take that also
but that you could be

but he said will be the greatest
president but I would
also accept the other

in other words
if you do your job
but I accept that


then I watched him interviewed
and it was like he
never even was here

it’s incredible

I watched him interviewed
a week later and it’s like he
was never in my office
and you can even say that

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Jane Addams Precept

Jane Addams, 1915, via Wikipedia.
Former New York Times columnist David Brooks has been thinking about the Progressive-era Chicago activist Jane Addams ("The Jane Addams Model"):
These days everything puts me in mind of Jane Addams.
Everything, David?
Many of the social problems we face today — the fraying social fabric, widening inequality, anxieties over immigration, concentrated poverty, the return of cartoonish hyper-masculinity — are the same problems she faced 130 years ago. And in many ways her responses were more sophisticated than ours.
Oh, that. We're back on the Road to Character and those individuals who radiate something or other through their lives, etc., etc., though I would question whether the Addams model of conducting one's life is a suitable model for those of us who are challenged in the aspect of being born rich, and able to take time out traveling through Europe looking for good ways of spending it all.

Which is not intended to diminish the accomplishments of Jane Addams in founding and running the Hull House settlement in Chicago, because she was a truly extraordinary woman—and Brooks doesn't even mention her work as philosopher, social researcher, and public intellectual, hmm, wonder why that is.

Monday, April 24, 2017


Pictures from Saturday, where I had the opportunity to meet up with our friend the Big Bad Bald Bastard, an actual scientist by training, and help defend our community against the plague of ignorance and vicious profit-seeking.

Central Park.
People really were chanting, "What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!" I'm so glad I'm a nerd.

"Shame! Shame!" outside the Trump International at Columbus Circle.
"Science doesn't care what you believe, Carol!"
We felt good about it.

Sure you want us to look at that poll, Donald?

Watchmen's Ozymandias, via Comic Vine

Popularity-obsessed Trump bragging on the results of the latest survey from ABC-Washington Post:

If they blew it so badly five months ago what makes him trust them now? As you know, they didn't blow it; their finding, that Hillary Clinton would have won a national election if the US had national elections, by a handy 2 or 3 million votes, was correct. The forecasters who were wrong (and not big but very narrowly), were those who studied the 50 separate state elections and missed the results in three, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, where a hundred thousand or so votes gave Trump an unexpected 46 electoral votes and the presidency.

In any case, is he sure he wants us to look at that poll? Because 53% called him a strong leader? Sorry, all sorts of politicians are strong leaders, including Mussolini and, um...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Puffed Tweet

Photo by Libération. Looks like Macron 23.7% and Le Pen 21.9% to the second round, with Fillon and Mélenchon in the 19s, third and fourth respectively, and the ci-devant Socialist pretty much dead for the moment.
Not the worst result you can imagine, by any means, especially since the polls for the deuxième tour favor Macron very strongly, as if Obama's intervention for Macron and Trump's for Le Pen may have made a difference (Trump's in the opposite direction from the one intended).

Most enjoyable Schadenfreude point is the way rightwing Twitter is unable to understand that the first-round numbers—not an exit poll but a statistically valid sample of real votes—are real, and keeps reporting partial numbers from the officials as if they were going to last:

Hope to post something more funny or profound later, but in the meantime have some more Puffed Tweet and useful links:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Annals of Derp: The Normalizing

Image via Steamspy.
So one of the twitterers I follow is a horrible hasbarist called Omri Ceren, who keeps you up to the minute on the propaganda messaging of the Netanyahu government. I don't usually address him directly, because he's very deep into the ugly, and there are usually about ten presuppositions you'd need to shoot down before getting to his point, but he's been wallowing into the Trumpery lately, naturally, and this particular slur, against former ambassador Michael McFaul, got my goat. It's also a case of The Normalizing, where the author indignantly rejects evidence of the Trump incompetence as if they were just making stuff up out of spite. Happily, Ceren turned out to be just as wrong as you might have hoped.

Civilization and its Malcontents

This dude in the illustration run at the top of yesterday's David Brooks column ("The Crisis of Western Civ") is a Giant—extremely strong, in the ancient Greek cosmology, and maybe violent, but not huge in stature like Germanic giants—getting roughed up by a goddess, Doris, the consort of the sea god Nereus, in the colossal mythological battle of the Giants against the Olympian gods, the Gigantomachy, depicted in the frieze from the altar of Zeus of the Anatolian city of Pergamon, 2nd c. B.C.E., now at the Pergamon-Museum in Berlin, which was closed down when I was there a couple of years ago—I really wanted to go not so much because I knew what was there as because I love the sound of the name, and its hum of German classicalism. It's a huge moment in art history, though, of the transition between the calm majesty of the high Athenian moment and the violence and spectacularity of later Hellenism, like that from Mannerism to the Baroque in the 16h century.

The context in which the face is set can be seen below, from a somewhat different angle, where you can recognize the extent to which Doris (whose head has been lost over the millennia) is not simply pulling the unnamed Giant's hair, but has yanked his head back hard enough, maybe, to break his neck, and you can see the intensity of his pain in the way his eyes are rolled back into his skull as he tries desperately to pull her hand away:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Friday

Via L'avenir en commun, website of the Jean-Luc Mélenchon campaign.
I've felt pretty dispirited about the French election, and was heartened by this Mélenchon campaign cheer by one key supporter, Olivier Tonneau, in The Guardian, which may help talk you out of any fears inspired by reportage from the bothsiderist mafia that the only plausible leftist candidate is where Left meets Right around the back of the circle if you believe in that particular myth, or that Mélenchon is a Putinist or that he wants to destroy Europe:
we don’t plan to leave the EU: we aim to force the renegotiation of its treaties by means of unilateral disobedience. From the moment we come to power, we will implement a massive, environmentally focused Keynesian stimulus funded via a public bank, thus kickstarting the French economy and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
We will not apply privatisation directives. We will opt out of the posted workers programme, but we will not reduce freedom of movement. We will implement a salary scale: the highest salary will never be more than 20 times the lowest. We will cap revenues at €400,000 a year. We will regularise the situation of all working illegal immigrants, and we will not implement quotas for refugees.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tales of The Normalizing: The many moods of Thomas L. Friedman

Image by Apolonis at DeviantArt.

Cynicism (last week, "Why is Trump Fighting ISIS in Syria?", when he was arguing that the Assad regime ought to be left to destroy ISIS on its own, as if Assad hadn't been cheerfully supporting ISIS all along with his purchase of their petroleum products) :
I don’t get it. President Trump is offering to defeat ISIS in Syria for free — and then pivot to strengthening the moderate anti-Assad rebels. Why? When was the last time Trump did anything for free? When was the last real estate deal Trump did where he volunteered to clean up a toxic waste dump — for free — before he negotiated with the owner on the price of the golf course next door?
Tom, Tom, when will you learn? He does things for free all the time, when he's doing it with other people's money. That was the whole principle of the Trump Foundation, enabling him to give to charity without going to his own bank account.

Optimism (yesterday, "Coal Museum Sees the Future; Trump Doesn't", recommending that Trump should emulate the The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, owned by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, and go for solar power because it's more practical):
Since Trump seems to be pivoting from some of his campaign nonsense, one can only hope he will do the same on these issues. If Trump is looking for a blueprint, he could not do better than to read a smart new book, “Climate of Hope,” by a most unlikely duo: former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope and billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
I can just see the president: "For fuck's sake I ask you to bring me a blueprint, you bring me a blueprint! Not a fucking book!"

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Aesthetic autism

Straussian or Douthatian? You be the judge.
Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, "A Requiem for 'Girls'":
I knew it all along, that show was conservative.
Really, going back to the origins in 2012:

I.e., if Douthat (the addressee of the tweet) is a Straussian? Or if the Douthat observer is a Straussian? Or in the sense in which Tyler Cowen in particular is a forensic Straussian dedicated to sussing out Straussianism where it occurs, as when he demonstrates that Star Wars or Taylor Swift is particularly Straussian (but not Douthatian)? Or if the Girls watcher trying to decide whether the show is Douthatian or not is a Straussian—the Straussian Girls audience finds that it is a Douthatian episode, whereas the libertarians, Burkeans, Oakeshottians, neoconservatives, and left-deviationist Buchananites following the show may feel it reflects the views of Charles Krauthammer or Erick W. Erickson or some other author of columns? The possibilities, dizzying though they are, did not tempt Douthat to any self-examination, but yes, he was anxious to stake the claim that the show was conservative, and that's why he liked it:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

For the record

Sleepy San Salvador street. Why did Reagan send thousands of prison-hardened Los Angeles gangbangers to destroy this peace? Photo by Jan van Oosthuizen.

Unless he's thinking in retroactionary terms that the malign influence of the Obama presidency stretches backwards, into the past. The virulence of the MS-13 organization in particular has to with the way it was nourished by US criminal justice policy, which was to deal with the problem by outsourcing it, deporting members in huge numbers to their home countries, especially El Salvador and Honduras, where they overwhelmed weak local governments, taking over the streets and recruiting new members and systematizing the smuggling of people back to the US, and participating alongside the Sinaloa Cartel in the Mexican drug war. A Trump-like policy over most of the past 30 years has made them ever stronger.

Monday, April 17, 2017

I guess it does have missiles in it, and it's sure slow...

Sergey Nikitich Khrushschev and his father around 1962, not sleeping. Via BBC. No special meaning.

Stupid Analogies department, from David Sanger:
What is playing out, said Robert Litwak of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who tracks this potentially deadly interplay, is “the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.” But the slow-motion part appears to be speeding up, as President Trump and his aides have made it clear that the United States will no longer tolerate the incremental advances that have moved Mr. Kim so close to his goals.
Our Soviet antagonist in 1962, in response to US deployment of more than 100 nuclear-armed Jupiter missiles in Italy and Turkey and the possibility of a renewed US effort to overthrow the Cuban government, secretly deployed a like number of nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba, creating a terrifying standoff when U-2 spyplanes discovered their existence.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Blogging Past Theocracy

St. Conilius of Bologna, Briish Library Medieval, Add. 49622., via.  Just kidding. But the manuscript shelfmark is real.
The tradition of the Easter egg commemorates a miracle in the vita of the martyred Saint Conilius, deacon in a congregation of 5th-century Bononia, who found his family at the end of one Lent too poor for meat with which to break the fast, except a little bacon. He saw a fat hare in his garden, nibbling at the new ramps, and lunged for it—but as he was readying himself to break its neck he saw its eyes filling with tears, and bethought himself of the Blessed Virgin's suffering through the death of her Son on the Cross, and let the animal go. It scampered away, but not without pausing here and there in the bushes, where it miraculously laid a sequence of eggs about the size of duck's eggs and equally rich, in a rainbow of different colors. Conilius gathered up a dozen or so and brought them home, where he invented spaghetti alla carbonara.
Wrote this back in 2013, and reprinted the original post that contained it in 2015, and always felt it has not been sufficiently praised, possibly because it came at the end of the o.p. and nobody ever read that far, so here I go again.

Of course it is an alternative fact, not true, or #fakenews, depending on your political opinions. It did not happen, nor has anybody other than me ever said it did. It is an inauthentic myth, as is the story circulating on Twitter:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Dense networks

Guido Georgio Lombardi and friend, from his North Atlantic League website.
A truly bizarre profile in Saturday's Times by Jason Horowitz of a Trump friend, fellow resident of Trump Tower and Palm Beach, George Guido Lombardi, aka Guido George Lombardi, aka Count of Canevaro (he's got that one wrong—the Canevaro nobility was awarded to Giuseppe Canevaro, a 19th-century guano king, I'm not making this up, who was ennobled by King Victor Emmanuel II—conte di Zoagli e duca dei Castelvari—for his part in transporting Napoleon III's army to Genoa helping the Risorgimentisti conquer Lombardy from Austria), interviewed at Mar-a-Lago

as he sat next to a whirring Boca Freeze soft ice cream machine in the Mar-a-Lago beach house as Secret Service agents lounged outside, looking out over the Atlantic.
That's poetry!

Somebody's going to have to stop me from quoting the entire thing, which treats this guy as a sort of ambassador to all the rightwing nativist mobs of Europe, the Lega Nord and the Beppe Grillo movement, Viktor Orbán, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen (“I told her right away, ‘Marine, dump your dad. He is just a dead weight. And anyway you have to make a choice. You are either with the Jews or you are with the Muslims. You can’t be with both.’” He's fond of Jews, “‘our curly friends,’ he said referring to the orthodox party that had rented Mar-a-Lago out that afternoon”). And the husband of the former Gianna Lahainer, who when her first husband died in 1993 at the outset of the Palm Beach social season had his body put into cold storage at the local funeral home instead of shipping it back to Italy so she wouldn't be compelled to miss any of the parties.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Brooks goes to college

Harold Lloyd in The Freshman (1925) via Renegade Cinema.
Shorter former New York Times columnist David Brooks, "The Cuomo College Fiasco", April 14 2017:
The "free college" program of New York governor Andrew Cuomo for SUNY and CUNY is regressive, helping only with tuition and not housing, textbooks, or other expenses, and targeted to benefit only full-time students, who must maintain a decent grade point and graduate on schedule in four years, that is not the ones who need it the most, while threatening the existence of the many small colleges around the state that can't afford to give more tuition aid than they're already giving. Therefore free college is a bad idea, since students won't value it if they don't have to pay for it and besides the tuition-free universities of Germany are no good. 
Or as Yogi Berra said, nobody ever goes to German universities any more, they're too crowded:
Even in Germany, where a generous welfare state is valued, per-pupil spending has dropped by 10 percent since universities became free. Germany is an extremely successful country, but lecture classes are huge and the country’s universities are not generally ranked among the world’s best.
Keep in mind that the only time they ever charged tuition was during the Merkel government, from 2005 to 2014—it's her budget problem if they've cut spending since 2014, and one reason her party is going to lose the upcoming general election. They have nine universities in the top 100 at MastersPortal, by the way, and 21 in the top 200, and nine in the top 100 of the Times Higher Education Supplement, and Germany is the most popular non-anglophone venue for international students, or third most popular overall (after US, of course, and UK, where tuition is capped at £9,250 per year, which  comes to almost twice what CUNY charges, but still makes Oxford much cheaper than Yale).

I don't know where he plagiarized the progressive argument against the Cuomo program from—it's pretty solid, though maybe somewhat unfair (as Mayor de Blasio is saying, it's just a start). But it's funny how he lurches from there into the conservative argument he's been using since Bernie Sanders first brought up the tuition-free idea to the national stage: Cuomo's plan isn't progressive enough, so you'd better not have free college at all!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I'm so old I remember when NATO was obsolete

Must have been way back on Saturday.

Ivamka's been using the time machine too, selling bags and accessories to the ancient Mesopotamians and Mayans. Image from the Daily Express.

I mean it's really pretty astonishing, when you think about it. How did he even do that with NATO?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


T-Type Nemesis from the Resident Evil world, I believe. Image via Monster Wiki.

Dr. Krugman on Bret Stephens, January 2014, in response to Stephens's outrageously bad attempt to demonstrate to the world that income inequality hadn't gotten any worse in the US since the 1990s:
In his piece Stephens trashes Obama, accusing him of making a factual error when he did no such thing; then proceeds to commit just about every statistical sin you can imagine in an attempt to minimize the rise in inequality. In the process he leaves his readers more ignorant than they were before. When this is what passes for argument, how can we have any kind of rational discussion?
Oh, and just FYI: this is the kind of journalism that the great and the good deem worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.
Now Stephens is joining the New York Times as a columnist, presumably replacing the terminally fatigued David F. Brooks (whose imminent departure was scooped at Rectification Central a month ago, kiddies). I hope he holds the Friday spot so he can feel Krugman's cold glare across the page whenever he issues a fact-challenged denial of global warming or announces that Barack Obama "just isn't very bright."

He seems twice as arrogant as Brooks, more than twice as willing to lie for the cause (Brooks's lies are mostly sheer laziness nowadays), and thinks he's got a literary style. I'm looking forward to it.

The Four Clarifications


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Public intellectuals, thought leaders, and um what?

Today's book report from former New York Times columnist David Brooks ("This Age of Wonkery") is on Daniel Drezner's The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas, which just popped out of the lab and into the ideas market on Friday:

In his book, The Ideas Industry,” Daniel W. Drezner says we’ve shifted from a landscape dominated by public intellectuals to a world dominated by thought leaders. A public intellectual is someone like Isaiah Berlin, who is trained to comment on a wide array of public concerns from a specific moral stance. A thought leader champions one big idea to improve the world — think Al Gore’s work on global warming.
Which I think is sidestepping the point Drezner really wants to make: that the traditional "marketplace of ideas" has been transformed in the 21st century into an "ideas industry"—so that the old intellectual village, I guess, where we always used to get together to haggle over the price of the dry goods before repairing to the local for some spiritual liquid refreshment has given way to a Satanic intellectual mill, powered by some previously unavailable energy source, where we must toil in smoke and darkness, whipped into submission.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Lyublyu? I hardly even know you!

Paul Manafort's little place in Palm Beach Gardens, a few minutes away from Mar-a-Lago, or "Mar a Largo" as he called it in his job application memo, purchased in 2007 for just $1.5 million. Image via Virtual Globetrotting.
Oddest example yet of the New York Times "nothing to see here" genre of Trump associate story came out yesterday, by Glenn Thrush, with reporting from Maggie Haberman, to explain in simple terms how one ("former") Trump associate got his short-lived job with the campaign in March 2016:

To Charm Trump, Paul Manafort Sold Himself as an Affordable Outsider

The scoop is a trove of documents—letters and memos—"made available by a former Trump associate" who is, of course, unnamed, set up to show how Manafort totally came out of nowhere to end up running the thing, partly because, as the headline writer emphasizes, he wasn't asking for any salary. That really does sound like Trump, who rarely turns down anything that comes for free, but the rest of it is peculiar.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Douthat: What's wrong with having the military take over foreign policy, anyway?

Superman: Escape from Krypton, at Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia CA. Via.
Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street ("All the President's Generals"), is looking on the bright side for a change:
The Trump administration, though, doesn’t really have many normal foreign policy experts among its civilian officials. Rex Tillerson may have a realist streak and Nikki Haley a moralistic style, but neither one has been part of these debates before. Mike Pence has nothing like the experience of a Dick Cheney or a Joe Biden. If Bannon’s vision is getting sidelined, it’s not like Jared Kushner is ready with a deeply thought-out alternative.
What Trump has instead are generals — James Mattis and H. R. McMaster and the other military men in his cabinet, plus, of course, the actual professional military itself. And it’s this team of generals, not any of the usual foreign policy schools, that seems increasingly likely to steer his statecraft going forward.
And where's the bright side to this replacement of the ancient American principle of civilian control of the military with a new doctrine of military control of foreign affairs all round? Well, heck, why not?

After all, those military guys are so sensible, and restrained. Unlikely to be pulled in one direction or another by any kind of ideological mesmerism—

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Not freaking out yet

USS Porter, somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, launches a Tomahawk missile toward Syria. AP photo via Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
It's pretty cute of Trump, I was thinking Thursday night, to have taken what looks like the first steps of a Hillary Clinton approach to dealing with the Assad regime—aim at the air force installations, toward the aim of interdicting the air war, which is their primary method of mass murder, with the chlorine barrel bombs rained down on densely populated urban areas and now the return of sarin gas. Clinton was going to ground the Syrian air force with this kind of raid, killing planes instead of people, at least theoretically, and creating "safe zones" (there was a little bit of Underpants Gnomes logic at work here, I'm not trying to hide that—I'm mindful, too, that Iraqi Kurdistan may have been able to construct a very functional society under a "no-fly zone" in the 1990s, but Syrian Sunni Arabs are living with their own internal civil wars, with Qa'eda and ISIS forces among the warring parties, so it's a little more complicated for them).

Only it doesn't now look as if that's what they have in mind, or as if they have anything in mind at all. Nobody can say what plans they have, or what objectives, military or diplomatic, The Guardian reports. Spicer and Tillerson make statements in which each seems unaware of what the other is saying. The runways at Shayrat Airfield haven't even been damaged enough to stop Syrian planes from taking off there on Friday, apparently to bomb the same town, Khan Sheikhun, that they were attacking with sarin three days ago. They're not interdicted at all, or even slowed down. Just going back to the more "conventional" weapons.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Truth to power when power doesn't do truth

Image via iDesignArch.

Minor note from the Times interview:

TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”
TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”
TRUMP: But I said, and I liked him, but I said that was really nice. He said, in a group of people, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.” And then I watched him on television and I said, “Is that the same man that said that to me?”
Baltimore Sun asked Cummings:
"During my meeting with the president and on several occasions since then, I have said repeatedly that he could be a great president if -- if -- he takes steps to truly represent all Americans rather than continuing on the divisive and harmful path he is currently on," Cummings said in a statement.
That is, "You will not go down as a great president, unless you do something totally different from what you're doing right now." In other news, I told Trump he could be a great interior decorator if he stopped having such bad taste.

This is what happens when you try to speak truth to power politely. You give them a positive out, the way you do with a teenager—"You could be the best if you made better choices, like studying for that test instead of smoking dope with your criminal friends"—and that's all they hear: "You said I'm the best!"

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Mask of Sanity

"Any Rand Paul supporters out there in the audience? Please step over to the information desk after the show so the Deep State can take those masks off and mercilessly mock you on TV."
Harvey Cleckley's book The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality described the psychopath as
outwardly a perfect mimic of a normally functioning person, able to mask or disguise the fundamental lack of internal personality structure, an internal chaos that results in repeatedly purposeful destructive behavior, often more self-destructive than destructive to others. Despite the seemingly sincere, intelligent, even charming external presentation, internally the psychopathic person does not have the ability to experience genuine emotions. Cleckley questions whether this mask of sanity is voluntarily assumed to intentionally hide the lack of internal structure, but concludes it hides a serious, but yet imprecisely unidentified, semantic neuropsychiatric defect.
"Semantic neuropsychiatric defect" sounds like a plausible characterization of the logic used by the paranoid conservative trying to assemble a workable conspiracy story.

Chuck Ross in the Daily Caller a month or so ago:
According to Mensch, who has been criticized for spreading unfounded conspiracy theories about Trump on social media, the warrant was for communications from two Russian banks, Alfa Bank and SVB. While a warrant for the banks would not directly target American citizens, including any Trump associates, some have speculated that the FBI could have used a technique called “reverse targeting” in which a warrant is obtained for a foreign entity even though the goal is to surveil Americans.
There's that idea that since Louise Mensch has spread unfounded conspiracy theories about Trump, she'd be a really great person for Daily Caller to cite. "See, if we think everything she says about our Leader is a vicious fabrication, then if she says something we like it must be true!"

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Photo by EPA via Time.
There's something I have to say about this horrible gas attack in Syria that I wish somebody else would say instead, but nobody else seems to be noticing this one detail, when the Trump administration denounces the Obama administration as responsible for the horror, as Spicer, reported in this piece by Anne Barnard and Michael Gordon:

 “these heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the last administration’s weakness and irresolution.”
“President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘a red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing,” Mr. Spicer said.
It's that Obama did do something—it's not a secret, and I've written about it from the start—at least after it became clear that Congress wasn't going to give him an authorization for a military assault on Syria in August-September 2013: the US and Russian administrations, working together, created a plan through which the Assad regime would destroy its chemical weapons stores, and stop, at least, this especially upsetting method of murdering Syrian people at bulk rates, so that Obama's Red Line would not have been crossed for nothing.

This is your Brooks on drugs

Reweaving. Via Houston Culture Map.
Former New York Times columnist David Brooks tries his hand at Trump whispering ("Let's Go for a Win on Opioids"):
If we lived in a normal country our president would use the current moment to try to get a win — to try to pass something that would help people, demonstrate that Washington can function and rebuild his brand.
No no no, if we lived in a normal country we wouldn't be in the current moment, with a president exclusively interested in scoring wins and building his brand. As a matter of fact that is what he's doing, as far as anybody can tell, in between bouts of hanging out with his role models—

Monday, April 3, 2017

International Fact-Checking Day

Mt. Gulugud Baboy, Batangas, Philippines. Via Carving That Niche.

Yesterday was International Fact Checking Day. We were all out there with our teaspoons, but this morning it looks like the mountain is still there.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Strange Persistence of Empathy

The great painter Salvador Dalì was capable of feeling empathy with inanimate objects such as pocket watches; this did not impede his success as an artist, but sometimes made him a difficult person to be around.

In a brilliant essay in the Boston Review, the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom once argued that the benefits of empathy were greatly exaggerated.  After all, women are commonly said to experience empathy more readily than men, and yet they are also twice as likely as men to experience depression. As Barbara Oakley writes, “It's surprising how many diseases and syndromes commonly seen in women seem to be related to women's generally stronger empathy with and focus on others.”

Some degree of empathy is probably built in to the brain. Babies feel uncomfortable when they see people suffering, and often try to help those in distress, patting them and making soothing gestures, as do chimpanzees. Even the economist Adam Smith found that the sight of a beggar's sores and ulcers made him feel itchy or queasy in the corresponding part of his own body, and novelist John Updike reported a similar experience.