Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Until 2020!

Haven't done a New Year concert in years. Hope you enjoy these! Warning, some lengthy ones in the middle. See you in 2020!


Listen for snatch of The Marseillaise around 4:50.


Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča (saw her Carmen 3-4 years ago) in a tidbit from Offenbach's La Périchole.

More Power to Dr. Krugman!

Pensacola, May 2014, via Washington Post.
Don't know exactly what the program is in this polemic in the Atlantic by Sebastian Mallaby disguised as a review of a new collection of Dr. Krugman's newspaper journalism, Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future. But it's kind of peculiar, a review that can't make up its mind, lurching between extravagant praise and angry blame—as in, Krugman "writes amusingly and fluently" but has a "furious and bitter voice". Serially or in parallel? He's a "dazzling academic" but also an "undiscriminating guillotine".
His combination of analytic brilliance and linguistic facility recalls Milton Friedman or John Maynard Keynes. But Krugman can also sound like a cross between a bloodthirsty Robespierre and a rebarbative GIF. Week after week, he shakes his fist righteously at Republicans and anyone who defends them: You’re shilling for the fat cats. You’re shilling for the fat cats. Over and over. Again and again.
Oh, I get it: Dr. K. is uncivil. He's ought to be a perfect member of the neutral party, the team of the scholarly, with his Nobel and his urbanity. How could he demean themselves by taking some kind of political "side" as if one were better than the other?

Unlike that charming Milton Friedman (whom Krugman always mentions with extravagant respect), whose famous 1970 New York Times Magazine article on businessmen with the gall to talk about the "social responsibility" of corporations says

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Poor Bret, Foiled Again

Drawing by Caitlin Mavilia.

My unpopular opinion: Mr. Bret Stephens is actually making a sincere and conscious effort to not be a racist in this column ("The Secrets of Jewish Genius") where he explains why the thinking of Ashkenazi Jews is so much more original than other people: because he specifically says, and none of the critics appears to have noticed, that he's not claiming that Ashkenazi Jews are smarter than other people, or that it's their (reportedly) genetically transmitted higher IQs that do the trick, or rather not interested in claiming it, because he has a more interesting reason (in his self-estimation) for claiming it, depending on how you work your way through the maze of the key paragraphs:
The common answer is that Jews are, or tend to be, smart. When it comes to Ashkenazi Jews, it’s true. “Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average I.Q. of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data,” noted one 2005 paper. “During the 20th century, they made up about 3 percent of the U.S. population but won 27 percent of the U.S. Nobel science prizes and 25 percent of the ACM Turing awards. They account for more than half of world chess champions.”
But the “Jews are smart” explanation obscures more than it illuminates. Aside from the perennial nature-or-nurture question of why so many Ashkenazi Jews have higher I.Q.s, there is the more difficult question of why that intelligence was so often matched by such bracing originality and high-minded purpose. One can apply a prodigious intellect in the service of prosaic things — formulating a war plan, for instance, or constructing a ship. One can also apply brilliance in the service of a mistake or a crime, like managing a planned economy or robbing a bank.
Let's start with the linked paper, which Stephens cites as evidence that Jews of Central and Eastern European origin really are in fact smarter than other people, but is about something quite different, a hypothetical explanation of the purported difference (as measured by IQ) claiming Jews literally bred for management, as Kiryn Haslinger explained it in Scientific American at the time:

Friday, December 27, 2019

Mess the Press: A Matter of Faith

Jordan writes in comments at NMMB:
The Jay Rosen piece keeps getting into his rejection of any possibility of Todd's "naïveté" -- contrasting that idea with Rosen's famous "Church of Savvy" (the brilliant Rosen idea that what's valued amongst Washington journalists isn't insight, or wisdom, or accuracy, or righteousness, but "savvy" -- the ability to speak from a bored, cynical, apolitical, anti-idealistic position that indicates one's membership in the inner sanctum of the Beltway, a vantage point from which one can relate what's "really" going on) -- but I wonder about this; I think it's just semantics.
Because, whether you want to call it naïveté or not, I think it's fairly obvious that Chuck Todd believes in what he's doing; he thinks he's accomplishing something by bringing Republicans and Democrats onto a television show to ask them "fair," "penetrating" questions; he accepts the same symmetrically-balanced paradigm that his audience presumably believes in -- and the built-in favoritism towards conservative ideas and elected officials, vs. the automatic, disdainful suspicion of Democrats and progressives, is just a manifestation of a basic systemic bias that Todd is utterly unaware of -- he can enact it so guilelessly because he can't see it.
I won't disagree with much of that. I was put off by the way Rosen insisted that "it's not naïveté" several times, which seemed awfully facile (and by the strangely self-serving way he suggests Todd ought to be reading Press Think, when he says "Todd did not care to listen" and then quotes himself, as if the blogpost had been addressed to Todd).

One of the things Rosen sees but doesn't understand is wonderfully encapsulated in the term "Church of the Savvy": that it really is a church, with articles of faith, and the members believe in it, but that doesn't exclude guile. A priesthood doesn't doubt the truth of the doctrine but its members jockey for status in cynical ways and blindside those who aren't initiated all the same. When you watch video of Trump's "spiritual adviser" Paula White prancing the stage frenetically during the service, you know she's worked into a genuine trance state and having an absolutely real spiritual experience, which doesn't stop her from being manipulative and corrupt.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

A Clickable Feast

Batocchio in the sense of door knocker, Faenza. Photo by Claudio Trapano/Flickr.
The Jon Swift Memorial Roundup of the year's best blogposts (in the partial view of their authors) is up at Batocchio's place.

Mess the Press

Meet the Press with its original host, Martha Rountree, via Eyes of a Generation.

Happy Boxing Day!

A lot of talk going on about the belated discovery of Chuck Todd, political director of NBC News and current host of Sunday morning's ancient Meet the Press, that the Trump campaign and administration are untruthful sometimes and may be doing it on purpose, as reported the other day in Rolling Stone. Chuck Todd is shocked—shocked!

It looks as if this unexpected insight arose from an earlier incident, also reported in Rolling Stone, when Todd was interviewing Senator Cruz on his show:

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Literary Corner: Bird Graveyard

Wind farm off the Aberdeenshire coastline, visible from the Trump International Golf Links in Balmedie. Photo by Nigel Mowat via BBC.
By somewhat popular demand:

Tremendous Fumes
by Donald J. Trump

We’ll have an economy based on wind. I never
understood wind. You know, I know windmills very much.
I’ve studied it better than anybody I know. It’s very expensive.
They’re made in China and Germany mostly — very few made here,
almost none. But they’ve manufactured tremendous —
if you’re into this — tremendous fumes. Gases
are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have
a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe.
So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything.
You talk about the carbon footprint — fumes are spewing into the air.
Right? Spewing. Whether it’s in China, Germany, it’s going
into the air.  It’s our air, their air, everything — right?
So they make these things and then they put them up.
And if you own a house within vision of some
of these monsters, your house is worth 50 percent
of the price. They’re noisy. They kill the birds.
You want to see a bird graveyard? You just go.
Take a look. A bird graveyard. Go under a windmill someday.
You’ll see more birds than you’ve ever seen ever in your life.
You know, in California, they were killing the bald eagle.
If you shoot a bald eagle, they want to put you in jail
for 10 years. A windmill will kill many bald eagles.
It’s true. And you know what? After a certain
number, they make you turn the windmill off.
That’s true, by the way. This is — they make you turn it off
after you — and yet, if you killed one they put you in jail.
That’s okay. But why is it okay for these windmills
to destroy the bird population? And that’s what they’re doing.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Literary Corner: Rodolfo

Extracted from Olivia Nuzzi's remarkable report on brunch with the president's personal attorney, at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurant in The Mark Hotel on Madison at 77th (he ordered an omelet with extra-crispy bacon and a Bloody Mary, which is going to run you something over 50 bucks and not what I'd be ordering at those prices, I'll tell you right now):

Song of George Soros
by Rudolph Giuliani

Don’t tell me
I’m anti-Semitic
if I oppose him.
Soros is hardly a Jew. 
I’m more of a Jew than Soros is.
I probably know more about —
he doesn’t go to church,
he doesn’t go to religion —
synagogue. He doesn’t
belong to a synagogue,
he doesn’t support Israel,
he’s an enemy of Israel. 
He’s elected eight anarchist
DA’s in the United States.
He’s a horrible human being.
It's not anti-Semitic for a Catholic to hate a Jew if he disagrees with the Jew's theology?

I was just telling somebody the other day that atheism is the most Jewish thing there is. Atheism was probably invented by Jews, given that the poet calls it out in Psalm 14 (probably composed in the early 6th century B.C.E., if I'm reading this right), calling atheists "fools", but not takfiring them as non-Jewish. One of the things Rudy knows is that "church" is the wrong word, as you see, but he doesn't know it quite fast enough.

Another one of the most Jewish things there are is not supporting Israel, especially the current government at any moment in the country's history, at which at least half the population, Jewish and Arab and Druze alike, is normally violently enraged, but general opposition to the whole Zionist idea is a Jewish thing as well across the political spectrum, from the ultra-conservative Haredim who regard it as blasphemy, since the Messiah hasn't shown up yet, to the socialists and anarchists who see fascism in the concept of a state founded exclusively for one ethnic-religious community, a "Jewish state" as if a country could have a circumcision and bar mitzvah.

Oh right, anarchism is pretty Jewish too, though Americans often think of it as primarily Italian. Soros really did spend $3 million on district attorney races in 2016—seven, not eight, but as you can imagine, they were probably not anarchists, since if you're opposed to a legal system that guarantees property rights you won't be able to do the job at all in the normal way, but
African-American and Hispanic candidates for these powerful local roles, all of whom ran on platforms sharing major goals of Soros’, like reducing racial disparities in sentencing and directing some drug offenders to diversion programs instead of to trial.
according to Politico's excellent piece by Scott Bland on the effort. Ideas that have more recently been adopted by such anarchical figures as the Texas House delegation and—oh, Donald Trump. Who's not an anarchist but a nihilist, and probably not Jewish in any sense, but you get the picture. Happy Hanukkah!

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Prime Minister Pelosi

Advising Democrats not to cheer too hard over the impeachment votes, via USA Today.

Apparently Trump held Congress and our national security hostage in the National Defense Authorization bill over his right to extort stuff from Ukraine—
Senior Trump administration officials in recent days threatened a presidential veto that could have led to a government shutdown if House Democrats refused to drop language requiring prompt release of  [a $250-million appropriation of] future military aid for Ukraine, according to five administration and congressional officials.
The language was ultimately left out of mammoth year-end spending legislation that passed the House and Senate this week ahead of a Saturday shutdown deadline.
That's just totally normal, right?

Other than that, I really think this is the week Nancy Pelosi became prime minister (as I began expecting a couple years ago), conducting an impeachment of a president, presenting him with three huge bills to sign—the $1.4 trillion appropriations bills and the revised NAFTA treaty—and commemorating the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium (the President, though he had no public events over the weekend other than the Army-Navy football game, sent Defense Secretary Mike Esper to represent him).

Friday, December 20, 2019

Literary Corner: Trump With the Toilets, Toilets

1952 GE dishwasher ad. Via.

Say what you will, while all politicians try to focus on kitchen table issues, Trump is unique in his preoccupation with the bathroom. But he really cares about all your domestic water amenities, and your fundamental right to waste water if you live in a region with adequate rainfall. In this new work from last night's Battle Creek rally, the emotionalism of his previous effort has given way to a childlike lyric quality:

Plumbing Songs
by Donald J. Trump

Song of the Recalcitrant Dish Machine
Sinks, uh, showers,
all of this stuff,
I did a lot of it.
No water comes out.

You have areas where there’s so much water
you don’t know what to do with it. 
You turn on the shower,
you’re not allowed
to have any water anymore.
I mean, we do a lot of it.

Uh, dishwashers.
You did the dishwasher,
right? You press it.
Remember the dishwasher,

you press it? Boom, there’d be like an explosion,
five minutes later, you open it, the steam pours out, the dishes. 
Now you press it 12 times.
Women tell me. Again.
You know, they give you
four drops of water.

And they’re in places where there’s so much water
they don’t know what to do with it. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

For the Record: I was into impeachment before it went mainstream

Photo via Pasta Factory, Cape Town.

A constant theme on the Republican side of the impeachment debate was the idea that "Democrats have been wanting to impeach this president since the day he took office," as if to say the particular matter of the Ukraine case was just an excuse—the spaghetti strand that clung to the wall.

Of course it's projection, as my old friend Mikey says, because it's exactly what they'd been planning themselves  (see Steve M for lots of detail):
Nevertheless there's some truth to the suggestion that we'd have taken anything that worked, some of us: the Zelenskyy bribery case being the one that somehow grabbed the attention of those 30 "moderate" congressional Democrats and the big newspapers—though not to the corollary implication that Trump's not guilty in the others, from the corrupt use of the inauguration fund and the campaign finance violations for which Michael Cohen is in jail through all the bank fraud and tax fraud that may apply and the many sexual assault charges and the foreign and domestic emoluments to the big cases of the president bending foreign and national security policy for the personal benefits he may have received or be receiving from the leaderships of countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and above all Russia.

I was worried about this problem in the "marketing" of the narrow impeachment case from the start, that it would give Republicans a chance to insinuate that the Ukraine shakedown must be the only bad thing Trump had ever done as president, since it was the only bad thing Democrats had been able to find, and cast doubt on whether it was really so bad, because they'd be portraying it in isolation, rather than the context of Trump's all-round thug style of foreign policy. Indeed that's how the Republicans have been arguing, and yesterday they did it all day long, until I was moved to emit the following thread:

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

'Twas the eve of impeachment

and all through the House
staffers stared at their screens
and continued to grouse,
when what to their skeptical
eyes should appear
but a screed of six pages,
all dripping with fear!

Trump to Speaker Pelosi:
I write to express my strongest and most powerful protest against the partisan impeachment crusade being pursued by the Democrats in the House of Representatives.
That's pure Trump. Like Putin's, or Kim Jong-un's, or Mohammed bin Salman's denials, we're supposed to accept that it's valid because it's "strong" and "powerful". And it's strong and powerful because he says so.
This impeachment represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power by Democrat Lawmakers, unequaled in nearly two and a half centuries of American legislative history.
I'd mention that impeachment is not unconstitutional or unprecedented, but you probably knew that already. I'm not sure it's part of legislative history. If it was anything like what Trump suggests it was, it was amply precedented by the young nation's first impeachment, that of the Federalist Judge Samuel Chase in an overwhelmingly Republican Congress, as described in Jill Lepore's splendid New Yorker piece in October, in 1805, managed by Rep. John Randolph, whose articles

Monday, December 16, 2019

High Crimes

Andrew Johnson's Senate trial, 13 March 1868, Library of Congress/Getty Images, via Vox.

Next time somebody tells you that the Articles of Impeachment fail to accuse our president of any crimes, refer them to the newly issued Report of the House Committee on the Judiciary (there's a notice in Politico), which argues on Article I that he's guilty of Criminal Bribery, 18 U.S.C. § 201 and Honest Services Fraud, 18 U.S.C § 1346.

The first count is laid out in terms of the federal anti-bribery statute, according to which
criminal bribery occurs when a public official (1) “demands [or] seeks” (2) “anything of value personally,” (3) “in return for being influenced in the performance of any official act.”684 Additionally, the public official must carry out these actions (4) “corruptly.”685 We address the four statutory elements in turn.
First, the solicitation, which may be indirect,
for example, where a public official with authority to award construction contracts requested that a contractor “take a look at the roof” of the official’s home.
was directly made in Trump's 25 July call to President Zelenskyy, when he asked for the "favor" of a couple of investigations, one of the theory that Ukrainians were somehow involved in the theft and publication of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, one of the theory that Vice President Biden saved his son Hunter from Ukrainian criminal prosecution for some unnamed offense by forcing the firing of the prosecutor, both pretty clearly untrue and indeed nonsensical; and also made on several occasions by Trump's "irregulars", Volker and Sondland, under the guidance of Giuliani.

The "thing of value" was the desired announcement of investigations, which was clearly valuable at least in Trump's mind:

Sunday, December 15, 2019

For the Record: My Brief to Republicans

Drawing by John Lithgow (apparently), New York Times.

I complain a lot about what we call "concern trolling", when Republicans troll Democrats with ostensibly generous advice on what we should do to win more elections, as if that's what they wanted, leaving you wondering what exactly their motivation is, and tempted to do the opposite of whatever they suggest. In what follows, I have something similar to say to Republicans, but I try to make the motivation clear:

Linguistic note: Impeached Forever

An enjoyable little grammar point on the opening of the impeachment articles which, we're told, is directly taken from the impeachments of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton:
Resolved, That Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors1 and that the following articles of impeachment be exhibited to the United States Senate...
Why is it "is impeached", rather than "be impeached", parallel to "be exhibited"?

In the first place, let's note what that "be" is; because it's not "be" in the most frequent sense of the infinitive complement with no subject or tense marking, most typically prefixed with "to" (as in "I want to be loved") but not always ("you can be anything you want"). This one, "that they be exhibited", is an English subjunctive, relic of a whole ancient verbal system that has mostly disappeared from English but is still used with "be" for referring to things that may or may not have happened, typically in an explicit or implied if-clause in the present
if this be madness, there is method in't
be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread
or that would have happened under different conditions in the imperfect

Friday, December 13, 2019

David Brooks Columns I Never Finished Reading

Maybe that's what it's about. Via Kevin A.Thompson.

I started in the middle of the Brooks of the Week ("The Politics of Exhaustion"), where this stood out on purely methodological grounds:
People in the exhausted camp are tired of having politics thrust in their face every hour. As Ryan Streeter of the American Enterprise Institute has found, young people who are “lonely at least once in a while” are more than seven times more likely to be active in politics than those who are socially active. Those who are exhausted have other things to do. They want to restore politics to its rightful place, and find meaning, attachment, entertainment and morality in something else besides Twitter wars and election campaigns.

People who are "lonely at least once in a while" are the opposite of those who are socially active? And those who are socially active are too exhausted to be active in politics and need to limit themselves to more morally significant activities, while loners are full of political energy and having a great time on Twitter? Reader, no. Brooks doesn't link the study, but it's not hard to find a reference to it, and that is not what it says:

Hi it's Stupid: Britain

Hi, it's Stupid to say the Conservative Party didn't win its election because the Labour Party was too far left, or because the Labour Party was anti-Semitic, but rather because everybody hates Jeremy Corbyn. He's just not likable.

As in Hillary Clinton was, as Obama put it, "likable enough", if just barely (the press could never tolerate her, perhaps because she couldn't hide her low expectations of them, but ordinary people mostly could, if they had a chance to judge for themselves), and he isn't.

This is why there are so many Brits who are willing to believe he's an anti-Semite: they're working under the assumption that anybody they know who's an anti-Semite is probably a pretty unpleasant person, not like that dotty prime minister Johnson, who looks like the Earl of Emsworth thinking of nothing but his prize fat pig, and who is self-evidently a jolly good fellow if not entirely reliable. They wouldn't lend Boris Johnson £50, and they're not crazy about having him for prime minister, but they can't imagine he'd be anything so reviled as an anti-Semite. Unpossible!
Boris Johnson has invoked some of the oldest and most pernicious antisemitic stereotypes in a book he wrote when he was a Conservative shadow minister. He describes “Jewish oligarchs” who run the media, and fiddle the figures to fix elections in their favour.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019



Glad to see I called it (19 November):
A lot of faithful Trumper paranoids have been looking to this report [Inspector General Horowitz's report] to prove to the world that the Trump-Russia investigation was actually a conspiracy among the "angry Democrats" who are naturally in charge of the FBI's counterintelligence activities to take down Trump's presidency (it had to wait for Trump to become president to go into real action, though you'd think it would be more efficient to just stop him from winning, but apparently the sinister cabal was expecting Hillary to win, like everybody else, and this conspiracy roping together the forces of the FBI, CIA, intelligence services of UK, Italy, and Australia, and possibly the White House, was just an "insurance policy"), and they've been waiting for this thing to come out with increasing excitement.
Not that any of this is going to happen. As with his report on Andrew McCabe, Horowitz will make an attempt to be pissy about some of the people Trump is after but nobody is going to be anywhere near locked up, because they didn't do anything wrong (Marcy Wheeler has suggested there may have been cut corners in the warrant on Dr. Page, but added that whatever they did has been done much more abusively to many, mostly Muslims, in recent years, and it's kind of ridiculous to single out this particular case of somebody who obviously needed to be watched and who had practically no remaining connection with the Trump campaign at this point anyway).
Well, almost. Actually the FBI did 17 things wrong, apparently, by the (just possibly a tad self-serving) account of former director James Comey:

Tuesday, December 10, 2019


Bongo stool and table set by LEA, no date given, via.

So I didn't get my strongest possible case. Though we maybe did get the most elegant possible case, the most beautifully stripped-down, Danish moderne case.

I woke up thinking about those freshman congresscritters whose response to the Ukraine matter was the thing that seemed to be forcing Schiff's and Pelosi's hand, with their sudden eagerness for an impeachment, and how they now seemed so anxious to get it over with, as if they were regretting the impulse. Is that what it was? Had they misread their constituents in the excitement over the whistleblower, and were they finding that the voters didn't like the idea at all?

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Strongest Possible Case

Really finding myself irked by this Democrats-in-disarray story I heard on NPR and apparently traces back to Politico, about the "moderate" freshman Democrats who unexpectedly jumped on the impeachment train in September when the Ukraine whistleblower story emerged and now want to control the narrative:
Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, one of more than three dozen Democratic candidates who flipped GOP-held seats in 2018, made clear Wednesday that she thinks Ukraine is where the impeachment probe should stay focused.
“I know that there's some people who are interested in kind of a kitchen sink approach — let's throw all kinds of things in there because we can and talk about all the things we're concerned about regarding the president,” she told reporters.
“We have been taking the country down this road on this very targeted issue of Ukraine and the issues around the president using his office for personal and political gain,” Slotkin added. “And that's what I think we should focus on.”
I don't know how many of these there are, but if they think the alternative is a "kitchen-sink" approach, they aren't paying attention. It's weird that Slotkin seems to have no idea what a broad category could be represented by "the president using his office for personal and political gain" in application to Trump—that would really be a kitchen sink, ranging from the foreign and domestic emoluments violations to having the White House Communications Director plug his and his daughter's tchotchkes on live TV, to say nothing of using Twitter to make the stock market jump up and down, from which somebody is surely making a profit.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Literary Corner: We're looking very strongly at sinks and showers

Ca. 1950, via AllThatsInteresting.

Stung at last, perhaps, at the way he's commonly treated as an ignoramus, Trump came out with a surprising virtuoso display of knowledge and passion on an unexpected subject he knows and cares a great deal about: the effects of federal regulation on hotel bathrooms.

A lot of readers, unfamiliar themselves with the issues or how seriously our emperor takes them, have reacted with confusion and even a certain bemused scorn to the piece, whose coherence escapes them, accusing him of just babbling, or even hallucinating. They're missing something pretty big, in my opinion. Of course it's true that everything he asserts is wrong, as we've come to expect from our poet, but that just contributes to the risky, giddy feel of the work, and as far as coherence goes, there's plenty of that right to the end. Or almost.

The best way to confront it is head on, just reading it for its own sake before you talk about the meaning. Enjoy the sweep and excitement of the way he walks us through it, from the first thing you see—your face in the mirror as you switch on the light—to the potential collapse of the US steel industry. Of the what? No, seriously:

Friday, December 6, 2019

Circumlocution Office

From Sir George Staunton's An historical account of the embassy to the Emperor of China, undertaken by order of the King of Great Britain, 1797, via Dumbarton Oaks.

I think I finally have a handle on what Jared Kushner's job is, with this latest news of his assignment to negotiate a China trade deal on top of the other tasks in his portfolio, alongside directing the Middle East peace process; leading the Office of American Innovation to modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs, solve the opioid crisis, and develop ideas for Trump's perpetually upcoming infrastructure proposal; running the criminal justice reform; managing US-Mexico relations; managing US-China relations; managing US relations with international Islam; and overseeing the construction of the wall at the Mexican border.

I think Jared is a one-man Circumlocution Office, as described in Dickens's novel Little Dorrit in a chapter with the title, "The Whole Science of Government":
The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office. If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered half an hour before the lighting of the match, nobody would have been justified in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence, on the part of the Circumlocution Office.
This glorious establishment had been early in the field, when the one sublime principle involving the difficult art of governing a country, was first distinctly revealed to statesmen. It had been foremost to study that bright revelation and to carry its shining influence through the whole of the official proceedings. Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving — HOW NOT TO DO IT.
That is, in particular, when Trump wants to make sure something he promised doesn't happen, Jared is his go-to guy to make sure it doesn't.

David Brooks Columns I Never Finished Reading

David Brooks reminiscing about his radical youth ("I Was Once a Socialist. Then I Saw How It Worked."):
I was a socialist in college. I read magazines like The Nation and old issues of The New Masses. I dreamed of being the next Clifford Odets, a lefty playwright who was always trying to raise proletarian class consciousness. If you go on YouTube and search “David Brooks Milton Friedman,” you can see a 22-year-old socialist me debating the great economist. I’m the one with the bushy hair and the giant 1980s glasses that were apparently on loan from the Palomar lunar observatory.
Actually there are persons with bushier hair, he's labeled not a socialist but one of the two "social democrats" in the politically diverse group which looks more like Professor Friedman's senior seminar than a debate, except for all the boys wearing suits, and he timidly suggests that government subsidies for education are a good thing because they will make students grateful and more interested than otherwise in doing good for society when they get rich, which is so exactly the future Brooks that it'll make you laugh out loud. Friedman quickly shuts him down by forcing him to agree that private institutions are better than public ones because they win more Nobel Prizes, which is not only a stupid argument but in fact false (the top 50 list is around half public institutions, including all the European ones of course, from #50 University of Washington, #47 City University of New York, #46 Copenhagen, #45 École Normale Supérieure, #44 Würzburg, #43 Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, #42 UCLA, and #41 Uppsala to #10 Sorbonne, #7 Oxford, #6 University of California at Berkeley, and #3 Cambridge), though Brooks still believes it today.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Emperor of Ice Cream Meets Baron of Beef

Engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar, 17th century, via Wikipedia.

Trump Doubles Down on Constitutional Powers, Names Son to Barony

Responding angrily to criticism by Democrats of his expansive view of presidential power, President Trump this morning announced via Twitter that he would endow his son Barron with a title of nobility, naming him The Right Honorable The Lord Trump of Trump Tower, and assigning his Upper East Side estates to the new Baron Trump (as he will be styled, as opposed to the less correct “Baron Barron Trump”), in view of his own turn to South Florida as his principal residence.
The trigger for the move was apparently remarks by legal scholar Pamela Karlan in yesterday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Committee: “Contrary to what President Trump says, Article Two does not give him the power to do anything he wants. The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son Barron, he cannot make him a baron.”
Mr. Trump bristled at the suggestion, according to two persons informed about the matter, even after Professor Karlan apologized for publicly mentioning the name of a minor. After consultation with his
Baron of beef, via Cookipedia.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

General Subterfuge

I've sketched out this story before somewhere, but buried into some other context, and I wanted to try again, because the newspapers aren't going to do it.

Via The Energy Consulting Group, illustrating how "the Turkish invasion, which started across a 300 mile front along Turkey's southeastern frontier with Syria, has been blunted and contained by swapping out US forces with Syrian and Russian forces" leaving the oil and gas fields southwest of the Kurdish-controlled area to be more or less patrolled by US. 
Have to respectfully disagree on this—not denying the importance of fossil fuel interests as a determining element in crazy bad Anglo-American policy from the 1920s in the Middle East to now in Venezuela, but in the current Syria situation it's mostly in Trump's confused head, and refers not to dominating the market but literally the US military "taking the oil" in some unclear way, maybe colonizing the wells one at a time, as Bess Levin wrote in Vanity Fair a year ago in re Iraq:
Donald Trump has long been obsessed with the idea of seizing Iraq’s oil as some kind of reimbursement for the money the U.S. has spent waging war in the Middle East. “I still can’t believe we left Iraq without the oil,” he tweeted in 2013. “It used to be, ‘To the victor belong the spoils,’” he told Matt Lauer during a campaign forum in 2016. “Now, there was no victor there, believe me. There was no victor. But I always said: take the oil.” The notion of looting Iraq’s natural resources—or as Trump explained the process to Lauer, “we would leave a certain group behind and you would take various sections where they have the oil”—was always certifiably crazy. But as with many of the ideas espoused by Trump while he was running for president, few believed he would actually try to make good on the talking point once he moved into the Oval Office. As we now know, that was some deluded wishful thinking by people who were attempting to convince themselves that Trump’s apparent insanity was part of a strategy, and not clear evidence of the real-estate developer’s mental decline.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Crime That Disappeared: Postscript

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, 20 May, not literally in the act of dissolving Parliament, as the headline suggested (that would have been done in an office), but after taking his inaugural oath. Photo by Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters via The New York Times.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a Time interview with Simon Shuster, was a lot more honest than I would have imagined he would risk being, in advance of talks between his Ukrainian delegation and a Russian delegation led by Vladimir Putin in Paris, under French and German auspices (the US is of course AWOL), next Monday. No tongue bath for Donald Trump, but an all-siderism I can get behind:
I don’t trust anyone at all. I’ll tell you honestly. Politics is not an exact science. That’s why in school I loved mathematics. Everything in mathematics was clear to me. You can solve an equation with a variable, with one variable. But here it’s only variables, including the politicians in our country. I don’t know these people. I can’t understand what dough they’re made of. That’s why I think nobody can have any trust. Everybody just has their interests.
That line about mathematics is the inversion of a shtik in episode one of the Ukrainian TV series "Servant of the People", in which the history teacher played by Zelenskyy rants about how the unimaginative people of today's corrupt society value the crass profitability of mathematics more than his ambiguous and unremunerative discipline.

His position on the "quid pro quo" is subtle, relying on the fact that nobody did in fact confront him with the deal in those schematic terms (as we understand from Sondland's testimony, even US officials had trouble figuring it out, though they all clearly did eventually), merely wearing him down by talking about the different issues, and Trump himself didn't directly mention the military aid, but he doesn't let Trump off the hook at all:

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Crime That Disappeared

One of the things that's always bothered me about the Ukraine-shaped Gestalt of the House's ongoing impeachment strategy may just have begun emerging, according to reporting from CNN (via TPM):
Ukrainian officials are discussing ways to improve their country's standing with President Donald Trump amid the continuing fallout from the impeachment inquiry, two sources told CNN.
Those sources, who recently met with Ukrainian officials, said that the Ukrainian government could still announce new investigations which could be seen as politically beneficial to the US President. However, it is unclear what exactly those potential investigations would cover or when they would be announced. One source told CNN that Ukrainian officials recognized that any potential investigations would need to look into current issues and not just those of the past.
It's that, at least over the short term, the Ukrainian government has an interest—I almost want to say a "legitimate interest"—in acting as if all this stuff is perfectly normal. Because, as I was saying, ever since the inauguration (and the awful Vogel and Stern story accusing the Poroshenko government of trying to "sabotage" the Trump campaign), the central goal of Ukraine's US policy has of necessity been don't make Donald mad.

As we saw at the UN meeting between presidents Trump and Zelenskyy after the shit hit the fan:

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Concern trolling: Toward 2020

Via KnowYourMeme.

Some pretty advanced concern trolling from Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, has him advising his conservative readers that they should pray for Senator Sanders to get the nomination ("The Case For Bernie"), finishing his column thus:
This is why, despite technically preferring a moderate like Biden or Amy Klobuchar, I keep coming back to the conservative’s case for Bernie — which rests on the perhaps-wrong but still attractive supposition that he’s the liberal most likely to spend all his time trying to tax the rich and leave cultural conservatives alone.
What is why what? Well, the idea, which he's put forward before apparently, is that Elizabeth Warren has "fully embraced the culture-war breadth of the new progressivism while Sanders remains, fundamentally, an economic-policy monomaniac" so he's a safer bet for the terrorized conservative Roman Catholic who just wants his bathroom to be safe from complicated genders and his women dead if they have an ectopic pregnancy, just in case the Democrats win.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Brooks on Gut

Maybe young Mrs. Brooks is spending Thanksgiving with her family and Mr. Brooks is on his own in Capitol Hill,  because today's column ("The Wisdom Your Body Knows"), which looks like outtakes on the book Brooks had a contract to write before he discovered humility and decided to write something different, has a ton of references to work on neuroscience and none of those helpful links that somebody's been inserting for him recently.
This has been a golden age for brain research. We now have amazing brain scans that show which networks in the brain ramp up during different activities. But this emphasis on the brain has subtly fed the illusion that thinking happens only from the neck up. It’s fed the illusion that the advanced parts of our thinking are the “rational” parts up top that try to control the more “primitive” parts down below.
So it’s interesting how many scientists are now focusing on the thinking that happens not in your brain but in your gut. You have neurons spread through your innards, and there’s increasing attention on the vagus nerve, which emerges from the brain stem and wanders across the heart, lungs, kidney and gut.
Which made me wonder if he was finally starting to discard his traditional Cartesian dualism and accept that the mind is a function of the body rather than a distinct aetherial thing. Which I can't say he doesn't do, since he doesn't use the word "mind" anywhere in the column, or "cognition/cognitive" either, though he does talk pretty freely about the brain doing or sharing the doing of the "thinking". He mainly seems to have temporarily displaced the discussion of mind-body into an alternative discussion of brain-gut and an interest in who, brain or gut, is in control here, which may amount to the same thing.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Lede, Buried

Protesters thanking the United States, via Sky News.

Speaking of gratitude, Hong Kong activists and some of their admirers have been tweeting out a lot of it to Donald Trump for signing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act authorizing sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials involved in the repression of the demonstrations and requiring the State Department to do an annual review of Hong Kong's special trade status, passed unanimously by the Senate and 417 to 1 by the House.

Those thanks may be a little misplaced. That the president signed the bill was inevitable given the majorities, though as a matter of fact he'd threatened to veto it before the votes; that isn't news. But the buried lede is that he issued it with a signing statement that the newspapers aren't running in full: I ran into it on Twitter.

That is to say, he reserves the right to not obey it if he finds it "interferes" with his "constitutional authority, just as he did with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) authorizing sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, passed by similar majorities at the end of July 2017 (including some of those Republican senators now saying "Ukraine might have done it"), which he also threatened emptily to veto before signing it into law in 2 August. And successfully avoided implementing it for almost two and a half years at present writing, as I explained last June.

In short, there aren't going to be any sanctions on China in behalf of democracy in Hong Kong as long as Trump is president, because emperors don't submit to Congress if their grand viziers can figure out ways of avoiding it and their fellow emperors don't want them to.

Embarrassment of Riches

Well, thankful the Thanksgiving I attend won't have any of the assholes who will be competing in this Biggest Asshole contest. Not that there are necessarily no Trump voters there—it's a pretty big group—but standards of human decency still apply, and nobody gets anywhere near that drunk. NPR ran a piece this morning suggesting from I don't know what research that only 4% of Americans would actually be at a celebration where this is a problem, but went on like everybody else telling us how to cope with it anyway.

I really love Thanksgiving, from the inside out, warmth and family and the simplicity and breadth of the menu, but I have to say I'm not crazy about the theology of it, the thanks part, which seems kind of obnoxiously Calvinist, dividing blessed Me from the damned dude down the street who has little to be thankful for, without the equally Calvinist recognition that I don't deserve it because I'm just as vile a sinner as he is and God chose me essentially at random. I think there should be a little more embarrassment as opposed to simple acceptance. A gratitude day would be better employed in fasting and service, and I admire those who do the latter, but I just want to be in a hot room with all those smells and a glass of red and football on the TV and noisy kids and people I love but haven't seen in a few months, laughing and talking, including talking about things other than politics. But we'll definitely gather in corners and talk about politics too.