Friday, June 30, 2017

For the record: Ranting at Alan Dershowitz, Man of Hackery

That was six weeks ago when Trump was leaking Israeli intelligence secrets to the Russian foreign minister, which is way worse than running a criminal conspiracy to bend the entire government to your reelection effort or launch a war on the basis of doctored intelligence. But apparently Bibi said it's OK so it's all good now.

Blizzard of Indifference

Postcard ca. 1912, from

Former New York Times columnist David Brooks ("Tuners and Spinners") seems to be in Aspen this week braving the idea slopes with thoughtfluencers like Sherry Turkle, who says you should always bring your own bucket to the beach and let the other kids join you if they want, while kids who don't have a bucket risk being avoided because they're needy.

At Aspen, you're expected to have two buckets, I think, for dividing the world into two kinds of people, one for each bucket, and it looks as if Brooks forgot to pack his and had to borrow a pair from Cass Sunstein, who told him in the course of the week that people are either spinners or tuners. In the spinner bucket you put people who are fun, adventurous, and good at storytelling and hosting big parties, like Amy Schumer, Jack Nicholson, Quentin Tarantino, William Shakespeare, Albert Einstein, and Isaiah Berlin. In the tuner bucket you put those who hunger for deep connection and ask those four or five extra questions the way good listeners do, and may suddenly reveal a vulnerable part of themselves, or show up when you're down, for coffee one on one, even though they are not good at big parties, like Oprah Winfrey, Jake Gyllenhaal, Adele, Dante Alighieri, Marcel Proust, and Toni Morrison, and the fictional narrators of The Great Gatsby. All the King's Men, Brideshead Revisited, and A Separate Peace,  all of which are about spinners, which shows I guess that this is a good formula for a novel that will make it onto the high school summer lists.

You should probably marry a tuner, if you can't get hold of somebody who is simultaneously both, like Bill Clinton and Stephen Colbert, or possibly somebody who is longitudinally a spinner first and a tuner afterwards, like Oscar Wilde.

No, wait, he doesn't want to marry Bill Clinton. It turns out he just left his bucket at the hotel. Spinners and tuners are actually one kind of people, because they're outer-directed, and Brooks's new bucket is for the inner-directed, who are projectors, or heroes who project what's inside them to the surrounding environment and remain faithful to their ideal and carry on in spite of a blizzard of abuse or indifference, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Or faithful to their psychosis, like Donald Trump, because "every social typology has to have a slot for Donald Trump." Fair enough. No word on whether it's a good idea to marry Solzhenitsyn.

I think that's pretty much the whole thing. If I ever get an invite to Aspen I'm going to tell everybody that there are two kinds of people, those who come to a big dinner party or one-on-one coffee with theories that there are two kinds of people, and those who meet such theories with a blizzard, or bucket, of indifference, as the case may be.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ross Douthat, Death Eater

Witch feeding rat and toad familiars, via American Folkloric Witchcraft.
Is Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, a practicing wizard?

There's just the one positive clue, a throwaway reference to "the pseudonymous blogger Spotted Toad", who seems to have done the primary research and theorizing for yesterday's column ("The Muggle Problem"). Oh, sure, Ross, that's just some blogger? Because it sounds a lot like a familiar to me.

Ross was concerned about the "lovely, lively, but ultimately childish novels" of J.K. Rowling, of which the first, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was published just 20 years ago Tuesday, and the world in which they are set, and the political discussion to which they have given rise, especially among liberals, to which he seems to object. "Watch yourselves, libs, callow dorm-room analysis of popular literature and TV shows showing that they justify your political views is conservative business," he doesn't say.

Naturally, to commemorate the occasion, where many of us might think of celebrating the story of a single mother on the dole in Scotland who became a billionaire by the unusual means of teaching many hundreds of thousands of children to love books, the Monsignor would like us to understand that the Potter books may be "lovely and lively" but they are really not very nice under the skin, and the thing he picks on is the idea that magical folk constitute a biologically privileged elite, contemptuous of their nonmagical Muggle relatives and neighbors, in which the liberal witches and wizards who talk a kindhearted and compassionate game are really no different from the outright racist conservatives, merely more hypocritical:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Legislative Leaping

Desperados of Richardson High School in the Texas State Capitol. From The Statesman.

So Majority Leader McConnell had to abandon his bill, as I expected he would, and send the troops off to their recess, while he and his elves theoretically work to rewrite the thing into a form that can pass after Independence Day, and the pandits aren't expressing much doubt that it can be done, referring to McConnell's "slush fund" of something over $300 billion in money that the bill theoretically saves the government, according to the CBO score, which could be used to pay for the traditional Christmas tree lights and ornaments with which legislation like this is festooned to get votes from the recalcitrant legislators.

I'm not changing my mind, mainly because I think Medicaid expansion is a much bigger deal than is widely understood—according to Times reporting picked up this morning by BooMan, it wasn't those prima donna dramatically wavering Republican Senators like Heller and Collins who really stopped the vote this week, it was Republican governors working a plan they'd been devising since February to preserve Obama's new Medicaid, and there's more to it than this week's defeat; in theory, a plan for some "moderate" group to work out a bipartisan proposal. Yeah, I'll believe that when I see it, but I don't see in the meantime how McConnell comes up with anything that overcomes these obstacles. (In Kansas in April, the utterly Republican legislature almost passed Medicaid expansion over the governor's veto—they were just three votes short of the two thirds they needed.)

The other day, lawrence090469 commented on my predictions of death for the bill:

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The GOP rejects Scotsmen

Via TrulyFallacious.

Shorter David Brooks, "The G.O.P. Rejects Conservatism", New York Times, June 27 2017:
No true conservative would contemplate eliminating the Affordable Care Act without providing some alternative way of getting people health care, because many conservative intellectuals are now kind-hearted folk and believers in income redistribution, just not liberal income redistribution but a more modest and gentle type that doesn't actually redistribute the income, like allowing tax-free health savings accounts, surely people who can't afford decent health insurance would be able to put together a couple of hundred thousand for an emergency if they didn't have to pay all those bloody taxes amirite? And reducing regulations and using market incentives [ed.: Market incentives without regulations?]. Etc. Therefore, Republican Senators are no true conservatives but beastly individualists, as Prophet Tocqueville spake it in the ancient sacred book.
The No True Scotsman fallacy is when you make your point by quietly changing the definition of a primary term to exclude the case you don't like. "No true conservative would support a health plan condemning tens of millions to sickness and impoverishment, because that's what Yuval Levin and I decided the other day."
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion, but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says: "No true Scotsman would do such a thing." (Antony Flew, 1975, via Wikipedia)
"Conservative" is, in the perfectly adequate American Heritage definition,
disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
It doesn't say anything about a tendency "to have accepted the fact that American society is coming apart and that measures need to be taken to assist the working class" or "a vision for how they want American society to be in the 21st century". These are neither conservative nor non-conservative (you could use them to call for a socialist revolution, if you wanted to do that in such a dreary tone), they are simply thoughts that make Brooks feel good about himself.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dead on Arrival

From the Times reportage:

You see that second red step from 2017 to 2018 shooting up from 28 million to about 41?

Does the Republican Party really want to go into the 2018 election with 10 or 11 million people in their 50s and 60s who have just been tossed out of Medicaid or priced out of marketplace policies (older folks getting charged five times what the younger ones pay and the subsidies at the upper end of the scale being reduced) because Donald J. Trump wants to feel like a winner? And stories of people coming into the doctor's office with kidney disease and diabetes and stage IV cancer being told they can get get insurance but it won't kick in for another six months?

As a liberal, I can't of course hope it happens, because we're so wimpy we don't even want to win if it takes tens of thousands of human lives, but I'd certainly enjoy watching that movie.

Anyway I'm more certain than ever it's not going to happen. I don't know what the hell they're going to do, they've put themselves in an awful box with their "repeal and replace" ritual chanting, but this bill is already as dead as Generalísimo Franco.

Eid Mubarak

No pictures to be found of Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, but the Thomas Jefferson Foundation offers these alternative Barbary States officials, in a 19th-century engraving.

Eid Mubarak from President Donald Trump, who has decided to celebrate by not holding the traditional White House iftar celebration, for the first time since 1996. I don't think this necessarily means he's anti-Muslim in particular. After all, he refused to attend the White House Passover seder, a tradition since 2009, though it did take place. His Jewish daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren didn't go either, but apparently had their own private feast.

As Dinesh D'Souza pointed out, moreover,

So perhaps he is hostile to religion in general. He doesn't go to church much either (twice since the inauguration) and he doesn't look hella comfortable when he's there (see below).

A curious thing about the Ramadan iftar, though, is about the first White House iftar, in 1805, when President Jefferson had a dinner during Ramadan for Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, envoy of the Beylik of Tunis, and scheduled it for sunset instead of the normal 3:30 so that the ambassador would be able to eat. The State Department had a posting about this, according to the Houston Chronicle
A state department website posted about the first White House iftar, held by President Thomas Jefferson in 1805
and Wikipedia, but it seems to have been scrubbed, and yesterday the President's friends at Breitbart put up an angry denial that any such thing ever happened—it's FAKE NEWS!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

For the record: Democrats' fault, because they refuse to use magic

Orchestra conductors, of course, use all the Unforgivable curses. Via Emily Asher-Perrin.

For the record: Senator Hatch's abandoned and malignant heart

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Annals of Derp: The Map of Doom

the map

According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 47 counties in 4 states could have no online marketplace insurance provider in 2018—the red ones here. The 47 counties are underpopulated farm country, and currently have a total of 35,000 active Exchange enrollees, out of a nationwide total of some 9.2 million Exchange enrollees, or 0.038%. And 320 million or so total health insurance purchasers in the United States.

According to Republicans, this shows that the Affordable Care Act is "imploding", or in a "death spiral". To save those 35,000 folks from Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, and Washington from going without health insurance, they tell us, we need to adopt a new law that will take health insurance away from 23 million or so (mostly Medicaid patients, of course, but something close to 9 million from other places, very much including the exchanges) over the next ten years.

Not an expression I often use, but "Let that sink in."

Friday, June 23, 2017

Alien Scorn

"Remember Uncle August, the Unhappy Inventor", by Georg Grosz, 1919. Via this Michael Lewis article.

Bret Stephens betrays an interesting facet of his own urbane fascism ("Democrats and the Losing Politics of Contempt"):

Democrats may think the brand is all about diversity, inclusion and fairness. But for millions of Americans, the brand is also about contempt — intellectual contempt of the kind Nimzowitsch exuded for his opponent (the grandmaster Fritz Sämisch, who, in fairness, was no slouch); moral contempt of the sort Hillary Clinton felt for Trump (never more evident than last year when Hillary Clinton wondered, “Why aren’t I fifty points ahead?”).
I really misread this on first glance as accusing Clinton of contempt for voters, which would of course be dead wrong: a classic liberal, Clinton was assuming ordinary folk are possessed of some common wisdom. The majority may not have time to devote to the arcana of policy, but they surely have enough American goodness and plain sense not to vote for an obviously deeply ignorant and psychopathic clown for the highest office in the land. (I actually continue to believe this, as I imagine she may too, in spite of the November results, in my case because I always count the nonvoters; they were wrong in my view, whether too susceptible to the propaganda or just too cynical, but not contemptible. Those abased enough to vote for Trump, on the other hand, make up just a quarter or so of the electorate, and I do allow myself to feel a certain contempt for them.)

But on second reading I see Stephens isn't talking about that at all; he's on her disrespect for that same ignorant and psychopathic clown.

That's the Bret Stephens who wrote, in 2015,

Vapid but haunting

Gloria Swanson sadly strums the ukulele in Cecil B. De Mille's Don't Change Your Husband (1919). From Fritzi.
Two score and thirteen years ago, the social critic Paul Goodman brought forth a book titled Compulsory Miseducation, in which he argued that school was an overrated way of dealing with childhood and there was too much of it for most kids, especially in the horrible, oppressive and embarrassing, petit-bourgeois moral code within which it was conducted in those days. It was pretty thrilling at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but to be honest the whole treatment seems a little callow nowadays, in its willful ignoring of the economic realities that meant the kind of education he had in mind could be very attractive to some among the very privileged, but look like an insult to everybody else. Indeed, what's developed is a two-tier system where the wealthy have the option of a creative, flexible education and the periodic dropout period, while the non-wealthy must apply themselves to the grimmest old-style grind.

Unless you're former New York Times columnist David Brooks, who offers his own critique of contemporary schooling in a column he calls "Mis-Educating the Young" (first time that hyphen has been used in The Times, as far as I can learn, since 1933, demonstrating once again that David Brooks has no editor). To him it's the very privileged who have gotten the worst deal:

We pump them full of vapid but haunting praise about how talented they are and how their future is limitless. Then we send them (the most privileged of them) to colleges where the professors teach about what interests the professors. Then we preach a gospel of autonomy that says all the answers to the deeper questions in life are found by getting in touch with your “true self,” whatever the heck that is.
"Vapid but haunting" sounds like a self-description. I have no idea what kind of school he's talking about, let alone whether it exists, except it's clear that the future really is limitless for "the most privileged among them" who are being given an opportunity to study with intellectuals who get to do what they love instead of being shoehorned into rote teaching with PowerPoints, the kind of meaningless repetition that everybody else will have to make a career of. So that one day, even when you're a millionaire opinionator for the world's most important newspaper and writing that stupid educate-the-spirit column for the 20th time, you'll probably feel really sad. It's all the fault of your high school.

I think it's telling that he's baffled by the concept of a "true self". Brooks doesn't have one, or the one he has is vapid and ghostly, looming in the peripheral vision but too faint and shuddery to grasp. He wants an education that will give him a soul, and get him at last out of the psychic uncertainties of 8th grade:

I’d say colleges have to do much more to put certain questions on the table, to help students grapple with the coming decade of uncertainty: What does it mean to be an adult today? What are seven or 10 ways people have found purpose in life? How big should I dream or how realistic should I be? What are the criteria we should think about before shacking up? What is the cure for sadness? What do I want and what is truly worth wanting?
Please, teacher, I have a couple of questions! Give me some techniques for finding a purpose in life! Give me a pre–shacking up checklist! (Let's see, "Kids, before shacking up, ask yourself how much do I have culturally in common with my potential partner? Is she 25 years younger than me?") What is the cure for sadness? What do I want?

(The spelled-out vs. numeral "seven or 10" is, in fact, Times house style, suggesting that maybe there is an editor, but one who only enforces the paper's bad decisions.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How Not To Do It

At center, Lord Tite Barnacle of the Office of Circumlocution, from Little Dorrit, via Better Living Through Beowulf.
Credit where credit is due—this is what the kool kidz refer to as a smart take from Jennifer Steinhauer at The Times, suggesting that Senator McConnell's heart won't be broken if the Senate's version of the tax cut health care bill fails and he could even be planning it that way:
In his 2016 memoir, “The Long Game,” he noted that, as minority leader, he went out of his way to make sure that one party owned the health care issue. “I wanted a clear line of demarcation — they were for this, and we were against it,” he said. Perhaps he is not excited to let that one party now be his own.
Another thing is that everybody knows how cunning and ruthless McConnell is, and they keep talking about how he hates to bring up a bill if he's not sure he's going to win it as if winning a vote were the only thing he could possibly care about, but if you look at his history as leader of the Republican caucus, since 2007 some time, you can see he's really not that anxious to make his case for immortality by passing a load of bills. He doesn't have a lot of surface vanity, and he's a true conservative, and he devoted a lot of energy through the Obama administration to not passing bills, ever, no matter how much Jon Stewart laughed and did his sleepy-turtle voice, because he is radically opposed to any change (other than relaxing life for the very wealthy through the reactionary changes of tax cuts and deregulation, obviously), and he's been following the same pattern through the Trump administration so far.

McConnell is a black-belt master of what that great political scientist Charles Dickens referred to as the whole science of government, the secrets of HOW NOT TO DO IT. I'm sure he doesn't love the Affordable Care Act at all, but he'll choose a method of killing it that won't get his fingerprints on it, or those of the Republican Senators running for reelection in 2018 and 2020, if he can help it.

Obviously I'm saying this to some extent because I've been saying for a while that the Senate's not going to do it, whatever McConnell says, and I like being right, but it would explain a lot—why the bill is so shoddy, why there are no hearings or normal committee markups, why the scheduling is so squeezed: not because he wants to make it a law while nobody's watching, fat chance, and this is a dreadful bill whose consequences would be remembered for a very long time if it were ever implemented, but because he wants people to forgot how it failed as quickly as possible.

Third person indefinite plural imperative counterfactual

Judith with the head of Holofernes, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530, via DailyArtDaily.
Classic Friedman open ("Where Did 'We the People' Go?"):

A few days ago I was at a conference in Montreal, and a Canadian gentleman, trying to grasp what’s happening to America, asked me a simple question: “What do you fear most these days?”
I paused for a second, like a spectator waiting to see what would come out of my own mouth.
Like, thanks for asking, Canadian gentleman! Nobody knows what's under the mustache, not even the mustache himself!

Georgia off my mind

Margot and Phoebe Gerster of Chappaqua with Hillary Clinton, via Paris Match, 11/11/16.

No, I don't want to talk about Jon Ossoff and GA-06. You?

I'll say I agree with BooMan, as you knew I would, that as far as Democrats are concerned the news we need to hear is that the vote was close, as it was, could have been closer, but the general difference between that 4- or 5-point margin and the 20-odd points by which evil fascist and hater of sick people Tom Price won a few months ago is what is significant in the larger scheme of things (a commenter at The Times suggested the vote—on touchscreen machines with no paper trail—could be less well counted than we might prefer too). Also I'd be glad if Ossoff had said he'd support higher income and capital gains taxes for bloodsuckers, which would make him a better congressman if he had won and which I imagine would show the Nomenklatura, if there is one, that raising taxes on the rich isn't a controversial issue, because Ossoff would have gotten the same vote either way, and I don't see how the whole exercise was worth $25 million in mostly small donations from anxious Democrats all over the country looking for a sign.

Did Nancy Pelosi tell Ossoff to make the Grover Norquist pledge, by the way? What exactly is she alleged to have done to cause Democrats to lose the race, as if wealthy white Cobb County GA was ours to lose?

This weird singling out of Pelosi—certainly the best Speaker of the House in at least 30 years (since Thomas P. O'Neil bowed out), and I'd say more than that, though Newton Leroy Gingrich was pretty skillful until he flamed out—by the way, reminds me of some kind of pattern, where there's this person the right wing uses to symbolize everything that is evil in progressive thinking, and the self-denominated progressive movement jumps on that same person as the embodiment of wicked compromise, and the person in question happens to be a woman—have I seen that pattern before somewhere, maybe very recently indeed?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Six jungles deep in the weeds: Brooks gets into The Normalizing

Still from Tom Huckabee, Carried Away (2009) via.
Shorter David Brooks, "Let's Not Get Carried Away", New York Times, June 20 2017:
Back in the day when I was editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal for several months in 1994-95 was the height of the Whitewater scandal, and as the Journal ran numerous "investigative pieces" about the awful things Bill and Hillary Clinton were supposed to have done back in Dogpatch, I found that I couldn't understand anything about what was actually being alleged, like what was this story anyway? Fortunately at WSJ the editorial page editor isn't required to understand any of the pieces he signs off on, in fact not understanding them can be an advantage, which is how Paul Gigot has managed to hold on to the job for 16 years. But anyway it turned out in the end that the Clintons hadn't done anything wrong at all, which nobody could have predicted! So since I also can't understand any of the things they're saying about Trump and collusion with Russian attempts to manipulate the 2016 presidential election, it's pretty obvious Trump hasn't done anything wrong either. People should focus instead on the perfectly legal ways in which he is unfit for the presidency.
In fact,
at least so far, the Whitewater scandal was far more substantive than the Russia-collusion scandal now gripping Washington.
In what respect, David? What did you find "substantive" about it?

Monday, June 19, 2017

President Trumplin is Watching the Tube

"Old Man Watching TV". Bronze by Richard Matzkin, via Reiné Gadellaa.

Poem below the fold:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quantum Trump: In Sekulow Saeculorum

I had to use that before somebody else did.

T-Shirt by Northbound Christian Apparel.

The generally accepted interpretation being, I believe, that it's a complaint against deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who wrote that memo in an all-nighter from May 8 to 9 after (according to Rosenstein) Trump informed him that he was planning to fire the FBI director James Comey and asked Rosenstein for "advice and input". That is, he didn't tell Trump to fire the FBI director ("I accepted their recommendation"), unless of course he did ("I was going to fire regardless of recommendation"). Thus, if Rosenstein were to be investigating Trump now (which he isn't, he is at most responsible for greenlighting special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, if there is one) for firing Comey (which would be a less important fact in the question of Trump's possible obstruction of justice than his repeated requests to Comey to go easy on Flynn, to make a public announcement that he wasn't investigating Trump, and to make the "cloud" go away), that would be pretty ironic, huh?

To which Jay Sekulow, a new member of the Trump personal legal team, now explains on Fox News, no, that wasn't what the Tweet was about:
That tweet, Chris, was in response to The Washington Post story that alleged that five unnamed sources, anonymous sources, leaked to The Washington Post that the president was, in fact, under investigation. So that tweet was in response to that. There’s been no notification of an investigation. Nothing’s changed since James Comey said the president was not a target or subject of investigation. Nothing’s changed.
So Trump was being sarcastic maybe? "Sure, Washington Post, pull the other one!" He was simply producing an inaccurate summary of the Post story to show how inaccurate it would have been if that had indeed been the story they ran, which it wasn't?

Is there going to be a Senate health bill?

Who says there's no diversity among the 13 white men on the Senate's Health Care Working Group? More at Yahoo! News.
I'm sure Steve and other good people are right in warning us to stay vigilant on the threat of TrumpCare, whatever that turns out to be (certainly including an end to the employer mandate requiring companies to buy health insurance for their workers, an end to the Ten Essential Benefits every health insurance policy is now required to cover without a copay and the community rating system that allows people with preexisting conditions to pay the same premiums as everybody else, and the transformation of Medicaid into a block-granted state-run boondoggle that will end up in red states in the general revenue, like TANF in the Gingrich "welfare reform" of 1998, reluctantly signed after two vetoes by Bill Clinton, covering none of the needs of the poor; and of course cutting some $660 billion off the taxes of very wealthy individuals and insurance and drug companies). And yet I have a harder and harder time believing that it really exists.

I mean the Senate bill in particular, said to be getting cooked up in absolute secrecy for a vote without hearings, public scrutiny, or CBO score, maybe next week, or whenever they're confident they have the 51 votes according to ThinkProgress,

They can hide, but they can't run. Sooner or later it's got to be unveiled and voted on, and then go to conference with the House. The Senate Republicans have the same kind of tension as the House ones do, too, between those who would like to pretend the bill does some good to the needy (Murkowski, Gardner, Portman, Moore Capito, and Collins) and those for whom total defeat over Obama is the prime directive (Paul, Lee, and Cruz), which means the drama of March through May, where the House leadership had to withdraw one bill without a vote before passing a bill for the Senate to ignore, will be repeated. The public approval of the bill as people understand it is now down to 29% nationwide (as opposed to 49% for Obamacare); there isn't a single state where it's above 35%.

Public approval of the AHCA by state, as of June 15, from New York Times.
And Donald Trump's own initial love for the House bill seems to have changed over the past five or six weeks to loathing...

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Witch hunts

Indeed. Although I think the deplorable Posobiec has more of an idea than he realizes there.

The updated staging thing with an open metahistorical reference—Richard Wagner's Ring, say, where the god Wotan is dressed as Wagner himself—is an iffy proposition (as opposed to the general update as when you stage Macbeth in World War I costume to underline the pointlessness of the conflicts) and I personally think the Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar in which Caesar is made to look like Donald Trump was a terrible, incoherent idea, Shakespeare's Caesar being as unlike Trump as a historical character could well be—profoundly educated, physically brave, deeply attached to his friends (you see him losing the will to live when he realizes Brutus has betrayed him), and really a minor character after all, dying before the play is halfway over—Brutus and Cassius and Antony are the principals.

What's the value to the play of making Caesar a Trump figure? Really, it just ennobles Trump in an absurd way. I don't see that it does anything for the play at all.

But I can definitely see parts for Hillary Clinton in a revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. She could be Martha Corey, for instance, who was basically hanged for refusing to believe in witchcraft—isn't that parallel to the way Clinton's insistence on calm rationality and wonkery led to her defeat in an atmosphere that preferred to reduce everything to a pure emotive shout of "It's a disaster! They're killing us!" Or 71-year-old Rebecca Nurse, accused of "tempting and torturing" children, hanged in spite of being found innocent by the jury—there was no evidence against her—when the child accusers went hysterical in the courtroom, claiming she was attacking them there and then, and the jury decided to re-deliberate; doesn't that remind you of the Pizzagate "scandal"—the story of Hillary Clinton and John Podesta running a child sex ring/Satanic coven out of a D.C. pizzeria—breaking out the week before the election?

Hi, Jack Posobiec, there's a part for you there! You could be one of the screaming fit-throwing girls who gets the jury to change their minds!

Or she could be the protagonist of the play's central tragedy, Elizabeth Proctor, whose husband John once had an affair with a servant girl. The affair is long over, but its memory and the couple's unresolved conflict over it brings on the plot twists that lead to the dénouement, in which she doesn't die in the end, but he does, and the two of them come off as the most decent people in the wretched town. That was a true witch hunt.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Happy Bloomsday!

The 113th anniversary of the day Leopold Bloom bumped into Stephen Dedalus.

Rally round the bridges, boys!

Via Pinterest.

Shorter David Brooks, "Why Fathers Leave their Children", New York Times, June 16 2017:
According to the latest research, they don't leave their children, they leave their children's mothers. This makes it difficult for them to take care of the kids as much as they would wish to do. The solution to this is to encourage people to have intercourse only with people they are in love with, and work out a budget before they have children. Also, mayors should have poems in praise of fatherhood read at their inaugurations, and some kind of government program could help but I'm all out of space again, curious how that keeps happening.
And happy Fathers' Day to you too. Got anything special planned?

No, I'm not going there. He didn't abandon the previous Mrs. Brooks until the kids were old enough to live on their own, anyway, as far as I can figure (I believe the oldest is just a year or two younger than her new stepmother), and I'm sure he's never done anything in his life without working out a budget first. Still and all, it's pretty astonishing that he doesn't know he's a character in this story, or that many readers won't be able to read it without thinking of him.

The research in question ("amazing," Brooks calls it, in his magic 150th career use of the adjective in a Times column) is "Doing the Best I Can": Fatherhood in the Inner City, a 2013 book by two Johns Hopkins sociologists, Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson, who found through ethnographic-type thick interaction with young absentee fathers in Camden and Philadelphia that there's something wrong with the stereotype of heedless and selfish men spreading their seed around town with no interest in the consequences: a pretty large majority of the men they interviewed were, to the contrary, really excited about fatherhood and anxious to do the right thing.

 Comically, Brooks blames the stereotype on the kids themselves, "when you ask them":

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Don't panic, Tom!

Breakfast in Korea. To the surprise of one Vice reporter, it's what's for dinner!

Seems like a long time since he's hit one out of the Friedmanian lunacy park like this:
Solving the Korea Crisis by Teaching a Horse to Sing
And the exotic (not that exotic) dateline:

SEOUL, South Korea — Some stories have to be experienced to fully grasp — the Korea crisis is one of them. I arrived in Seoul on the evening of May 28. As I was dressing for breakfast the next morning, I was jarred by a news alert ringing on my phone: North Korea had just fired a short-range ballistic missile that had landed in the sea off its east coast.
Grammar salad in the first clause ("stories" is the subject of passive "be experienced" but not the active "grasp" that follows it, and when you're trying to parse it you start wondering if stories have to be experienced like Jimi Hendrix—"Has this story ever been experienced, well I have"—and you're in a state of collapse before you get to the first dash), and the implication, because we do know what he means, that he doesn't expect us to understand the story he's about to tell.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Somebody else who should have voted for Clinton

Strip mine, plant, and waste ponds, Colstrip, 1984. Photo by David T. Hanson.

This NPR story about Colstrip, Montana, home of the second-largest coal-fired power plant in the West, and a town now dying because they know it's not going to last much longer: real estate values have plunged and everybody's mortgage is underwater:

[REPORTER NATHAN] ROTT: The irony, though, here is there was a plan for people...
REX ROGERS: That's the Clean Power Plan.
ROTT: ...President Obama's plan to reduce carbon emissions. Rex Rogers keeps a copy of it, all 1,560-some pages, at the union hall. Rogers represents about 250 workers at the power plant here. He's a business manager for the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW. And as such, he fought against the Clean Power Plan because it likely would have meant closures here. Fast forward to now. The Clean Power Plan is stopped. The Trump administration is working on a repeal.
ROGERS: But yet we see coal plants shutting down. Well, the concern with that is, built into the Clean Power Plan...
ROTT: In some of those 1,500 pages was a section.
ROGERS: ...About transitioning, taking care of the workers in those parts of it.
ROTT: It was the Obama administration's way of saying, yes, we know this will close down plants; here is our plan to cushion the fall. Now Rogers says that cushion is gone, and there's nothing being proffered by the new administration to replace it.
ROGERS: Even though we won the war on coal, it doesn't appear that there was anything in that for the workers.
The Republican plan was never to "save jobs". Just to squeeze out the last bit of rent and then abandon them.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Brooks's Young Radicals of 1917

Image via SJWiki.

Former New York Times columnist David Brooks ("Is Radicalism Possible Today?") is off on the spoor of an intellectual ancestor again, this time the Progressive-era antiwar activist Randolph Bourne, one the five protagonists of a new book, Young Radicals in the War for American Ideals, by Jeremy McCarter, a former cultural critic for Newsweek and New York Magazine and a former administrator at the Public Theater, Lin-Manuel Miranda's collaborator on last year's best-selling Hamilton: The Revolution on the smash Broadway musical that had its initial run at that same Public Theater, and I hope that all doesn't sound too dismissive, because I'll bet it's a terrific book that we could all benefit from reading (though I learn from the Kindle preview that McCarter writes in a narrative present tense that he's always having to break, which gets irritating at times). Only Brooks doesn't seem to be inviting us to read it as much as telling us we don't have to, since we can get everything we need from his 800-word takeaway.

Which is that of McCarter's five subjects, Greenwich Village journalist-activists of the period around World War I—the Fabian socialist Walter Lippman, the revolutionary socialists John Reed and Max Eastman, the feminist Alice Paul, and Bourne—Bourne represents David Brooks's mild, sunny, and modest Burkean standpoint, a peculiar kind of radicalism that seems to aim at social transformation a hundred and fifty years or so down the line through pervasive individual niceness:

Monday, June 12, 2017

Remarks on Democracy

Philipp Folz (ca. 1877), Pericles's Funeral Oration. Via Eidolon Publishing.

Thornton writes:
1. Democracy = people consciously choosing candidates based on policy preferences.
2. I can't go on if we don't live in a democracy.
3. People consciously choose candidates based on policy preferences.
I wholeheartedly agree with point 2. The reasoning behind point 2 is why I believe in free will.
Nonetheless, I disagree with your conclusion. I reject point one.
An ecosystem can (and does) capture carbon without believing in global warming.
The idea that voting behavior leads to human flourishing because voters consciously choose political representatives who promise and deliver pro-human flourishing policies is a hypothesis. It is a hypothesis that deeply and obviously reflects theories of human behavior dreamt up by elites centuries ago. Based on provenance alone we can judge it likely false. Empirical observation confirms this.
When Vox goes into the Achen and Bartels Democracy for Realists theory they come to the despair you reject. But what they actually conclude is not intrinsically bad: the way we frame politics has enormous power over how politics functions. The reason they think this is depressing is because they are media (Vox) and academics (Achen and Bartels) and framing is the result of institutions that they are desperate to have remain unchanged: the media and the academy.
I deny being a victim of your premise 1: that's a straw man. As I said, I'm aware that Bill Clinton and Obama didn't win based on policy ideas but because they were the best-looking and smoothest performers, just as much as Reagan over Carter or Bush over Gore. To me the idea is no more than aspirational; ideally, that's how we'd try to choose, and in the real world, it's how we like to think of ourselves, not too truthfully, but not so bad.

What inclines me to despair in this is the post-Trump reflection that things are as bad as we thought when Reagan was elected and even a lot worse. And I think the same applies to Matty and Achen and Bartels—I'm not saying there's no connection between this situation and the doom of the media and the academy, but I don't think they're entirely conscious of that, except in the general sense that Matty's well aware he's working for clicks.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Hot Takes from the Times

Via xmrsdanifilth.
So let's see, just in the past week:
  • Trump repeatedly said that his travel ban, which his staff has been carefully explaining is not a travel ban, is in fact a travel ban, though more politically correct than the travel ban he really wanted, which has been thrown out by several federal courts; 
  • cut the obligatory reference to Article 5 from the NATO charter out of his NATO speech without warning McMaster, Mattis, and Tillerson that he was going to do it; 
  • revealed that he doesn't know that Qatar, home of the largest US military base in the Middle East, is not an enemy of the US; 
  • got caught billing the Eric Trump Foundation for $1.2 million for what was supposed to be an in-kind donation to young Trump's charity for children with cancer; 
  • discussed firing attorney general Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, apparently for not understanding that the attorney general's job is to be the president's full-time defense attorney, at least unless the president is black; 
  • was condemned by North Korea for being "shortsighted and silly" in pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, for an international first in which the entire world agrees that North Korea is right and the United States is wrong
  • picked a new FBI director on Twitter without telling his staff in advance, and made it Chris Christie's personal lawyer and secret phone-keeper and partner in a firm that represents Gazprom and Rosneft; 
  • was called a liar several times by the previous FBI director, James Comey, in sworn public testimony that also said Comey had to ask the attorney general not to be left alone with the president, provided evidence of Trump's multiple efforts to obstruct FBI investigations that he regarded as a "cloud" over his administration, though Comey wouldn't exactly describe it that way, and made it clear that Trump had fired him for refusing to abandon his oath of office and offer his undivided loyalty to Trump; 
  • saw his Quinnipiac approval rating descend to 34%; 
  • was defended by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on the grounds that he was new to the job and thus didn't realize that it's not proper for the president to try to shake down the FBI director for favorable treatment and then fire him when it doesn't work ("Really?" Trump is not reported as saying, "We do that in business all the time!");
  • Got his personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, to sue Comey for violation of Trump's executive privilege, although he had already announced before Comey's testimony that he did not intend to raise the issue, and though special counsel Robert Mueller had greenlighted Comey's move;
  • decided not to visit Britain unless they could guarantee that he wouldn't be hounded by demonstrators, before going to spend the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, NJ—hey, he's also unable to visit his own apartment in New York City for the same reason!
So what time is, it, New York Times?

Saturday, June 10, 2017


BooMan was saying the other day,
I think the election of Donald Trump proves that substance is overrated as a political tool.
How depressing is that, if you believe in "liberal democracy" and the whole idea that the members of a community ought to choose its government on the basis of what they think the government should do?

In terms of presidential elections especially, where we always make fun of the people who voted for TV presidents like Reagan, W. Bush, and Trump, do we want to acknowledge that the same thing happened with Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Obama? That they may have been smarter, kinder, and more skillful than their opponents, but the reason they kept winning was just their camera work?

And how can liberalism survive if we start believing that voters are stupid?

I have that same question with regard to the White Working Class theory of how the Democratic Party needs to cater to the idea of a discrete set of disappointed, ill-educated white dudes, whose prejudices and misconceptions mustn't be mocked, and hope our brothers and sisters of color don't take it too ill. That's a very elitist assumption, indeed, that there's a majority out there that is none too bright and needs to be deceived into supporting a progressive agenda, or simply a charismatic Progressive Guy, because they're not prepared to even deal with something as complex as an agenda, some Howard Beale figure who will directly express their inarticulate irritation as Trump does but in favor of the policy ideas we like.

If that's true, it's not just insulting the voters we're looking for, as the conservatives always do, it's a rejection of the whole idea of American liberalism as I understand it, which is that everybody, no matter how low in status and wealth, has a voice and a valuable role to play in the polity, and that the broadest of political goals is that of bringing all of them into the process and a share of the power. So anyway I have this alternative idea, that we need to start thinking of ourselves as going after, in addition to the rest of the traditional Democratic family, the smart white people.

Friday, June 9, 2017

It's the crime

Updated a couple of hours after original posting, with somewhat more of an ending.

Descriptive Zoopraxography: Elephants Ambling. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Shorter former New York Times columnist David Brooks, "It's Not the Crime, it's the Culture" (aka "Trump Presidency" [the url] or "A Slow Death March" [the homepage listing]):
James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee proves that Trump and his people might not have committed any crimes. Which makes them pretty much the same as the Clinton administration, only still more vulgar and self-destructive of course. Thus there is no reason to impeach the president, though there will obviously be an interminable investigation that will destroy many lives, which is terribly regrettable, but that's just how these people are. I'm not at liberty to explain in an open setting why I'm telling you these things, but if you were to infer that a certain political party that uses an elephant as its symbol had nothing to do with this awful situation you might be getting warm.
Or, as usual, that's not exactly what he says, but what we're supposed to hear. It's interesting to work out the rhetorical methods by which he pulls that trick, anyway, and fisking through it is also a useful way of approaching what we learned, and didn't learn, from the testimony itself.