Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP via NBC.

Looks like Mueller read Barr's four-pager the same way I read it:

Barr didn't tell any lies in the letter, but he wrote it to be misunderstood. And it looks as if he held back the summary reports after Mueller asked him to release them—
The letter made a key request: that Barr release the 448-page report’s introductions and executive summaries, and made some initial suggested redactions for doing so, according to Justice Department officials....
Barr said he did not want to put out pieces of the report, but rather issue it all at once with redactions, and didn’t want to change course now, according to officials.
—in order to make more time for the false impression to settle into popular belief. As I said when Mueller investigators first began airing their discontent, in the Times story of 4 April. Now I'm watching Chris Hayes reconstruct what I told you all a month ago.

Monday, April 29, 2019

For the Record: Planked Salman

Once you've done a sword dance with a guy, you just can't stay mad. Screenshot from video by AP/Reuters via The Guardian.

Trumpy getting applause for tough talk aimed at the Saudi monarchy:
But impunity for the murderous Crown Prince (Salman, the father, is 83 and has been developing Alzheimer's dementia for a few years now and doesn't in fact rule the kingdom) who masterminded the killing of Jamal Kashoggi, and this (via news.com.au):

Sunday, April 28, 2019

More Than Mere Anarchy

Couldn't find a decent illustration for "mere anarchy", which has been taken over by Woody Allen and Moby (in separate efforts), but here's a fabulous widening gyre, by Hiroshige.

Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, introduces his version of a take we'll be hearing a lot of, I'm sure, on the Mueller Report ("The Mueller Exposé")
Roughly four thousand, two hundred and twenty-seven Trump-era news cycles ago, there was a rather famous book called “Fire and Fury.” The author, Michael Wolff, used an interesting tactic to gain access to the Trump White House: He allowed his subjects, the president included, to believe that he was going to write a positive account of the Trump administration, and then used that access to produce an account of an administration in constant chaos, and a president who was understood by everyone around him to be unfit for the job.
One way to approach the Mueller report, if your sense of civic duty requires you to approach it, is to see it as a more rigorous, capacious version of “Fire and Fury.” Mueller's exposé was backed by subpoena power rather than just sweet talk, but ultimately it delivers the same general portrait: Donald Trump as an amoral incompetent surrounded by grifters, misfits and his own overpromoted children, who is saved from self-destruction by advisers who sometimes decline to follow orders, and saved from high crimes in part by incompetence and weakness.
Sure he's disgusting, but his quick-witted staff (as opposed to the corrupt staff that "surrounds" him, apparently he's got both) stops him from committing all the crimes he's inclined to commit, so we ought to be able to live with that for another four years. And what an "interesting" unethical slob that Michael Wolff was, allowing Trump to think he was going to tell comforting lies about the president when he was secretly planning to tell the truth the whole time. Now let's get back to the horse race!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

New York note

Dumb picture, making the seats look much more partial-view than they actually were. Metropolitan Opera waiting for the 11:00 curtain of Götterdämmerung, the final part of the Ring des Nibelungen, which I've been watching on Saturdays over a lengthy (two-month) iteration of the cycle. Overheard a gent saying "Wagner's the only opera where the line's longer for the men's room than the ladies' room", which while not actually true is meaningful in some way—I guess in it's really more lines oriented to preparing for the future (Act I of this one is two hours long, as is Act III of Meistersinger) than dealing with the present.

Anyway the fact is that it got out at five but I'm still kind of wrecked and beginning to recognize I may not put out a post before midnight, so just saying hi.

I've heard four different Brünnhildes live, believe it or not, all in New York of course and all of them very good, but this one, Christina Goerke, an American who used to be an early music specialist singing Händel before her voice went nuts in her 30s, is by far the most what-you-need with a voice of extraordinary beauty that makes it over the gigantic orchestra without straining and the deep emotional engagement you can hear and see in this little excerpt—she's a real actor—and even a real trill, something hardly any Wagner soprano achieves, kept from her Händel days for the "Hojotoho" in Walkure. I can't begin to tell you how great she sounded today, but take my word for it.

And sexy Siegfried finale! Though the tenor's voice is a little tired.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Brooks on Biden

I may be pissed off with Biden, but I'll defend him to the death against the woozy admiration of David F. Brooks, who sees the Biden candidacy as part of the battle against meritocracy ("Your Average American Joe"):
Other people may claim to be populist in their policies — and because they are “right” on those, they are allowed to be contemptuous toward those who are less enlightened. Biden is a populist in his person and makeup — where he comes from and how he relates.
Joe's just a creature of intuition, not thought—a lovely, sweet-natured beast who will never make David Brooks feel ill-educated or inferior, as some unnamed person apparently does (Warren? Is that a backhanded reference to Warren?), piping his native wood-notes wild. You might think policy kinds of things would be important to somebody who's interested in governing, but then you might just be one of those elitists; simple-minded Joe understands that governing isn't a matter of gathering a bunch of extrinsic ideas but of being the right sort of person:

Thursday, April 25, 2019


This is a pretty weird opening pitch from Biden, if you look at it:

Wait we're supposed to vote for him why? Because the stakes are high? There's a missing premise there, which would answer why Joe in particular, what is his skill set that is more appropriate to a high-stakes election than a low-stakes one, and I think I know what it is and why he's not saying it aloud but hoping we'll imagine it:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

For the Record: Lindsey

Illustration by Ben Wiseman/New York Tiimes.

I sent a message to Senator Lindsey Graham:

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Befriend your interior life!

Blackfoot nation camp ca. 1900, photo by Edward Curtis via Steven Draper's Pinterest.

When David F. Brooks says he's been doing something "recently" ("There Should Be More Rituals!")—
Recently I’ve been playing a game in my head called “There should be a ritual for. …” For example, there should be a ritual for when a felon has finished his sentence and is welcomed back whole into the community. There should be a ritual for when a family moves onto a street and the whole block throws a barbecue of welcome and membership.
There should be a ritual for the kids in modern blended families, when they move in and join their lives together. There should be a ritual for when you move out of your house and everybody shares memories from the different rooms there.
—it's a safe bet he's trying to suggest he thought independently of the thing he actually bumped into in the book he'll reference in paragraph 6, in this case Creating Rituals: A New Way to Healing for Everyday Life by Rev. Jim Clarke, Ph.D. (also the author of Soul-Centered: Spirituality for People on the Go),  2011.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Scapegoating the Collective

Update: Welcome Cowpokes from Mike's--Thanks Batocchio!

Via The Root.

Well hello, it's Chris Buskirk of the ultranationalist blog "American Greatness" (who's increasingly getting normalized on NPR's Morning Edition in the slot of representative conservative as they cast around more and more for Trump supporter journalists who sound as if they're educated) showing up on Good Friday on the New York Times op-ed page (last time was Guy Fawkes Day) with a piece denouncing the way
members of America’s ruling class, especially those in the media, the academy and government, have operated on one central, unquestioned assumption: orange man bad. This stifling orthodoxy led to a blind, counterfactual faith in the theory that Mr. Trump had somehow colluded with “the Russians” (never well defined) to win the election.
Actually it was the word "collusion" that was never well defined (which is why William Barr quoted Trump's use of it, "There was no collusion," at the press appearance Thursday morning, because it's not meaningful enough to count as an outright lie and he knew Trump would enjoy seeing it on his TV). "The Russians" is pretty simply defined as the government of federation president Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the military intelligence service GRU, the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, and a handful of supportive billionaire boyars dependent on Putin, with names like Prigozhin, Agalarov, and Deripaska, and the "faith" was that the Russian perceptions and the Trump campaign expectations, as the Mueller team would eventually summarize them—

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Literary Corner: I'm Sorry I Wasn't a Robot

Gorilla Rescue Machine Brooster robot by Kelvin/PaperCraftSquare.

From a conversation with George Stephanopoulos:

Why I Said That Countless Members of the FBI Had Lost Confidence in the Leadership of James Comey Before He Got Fired Although That Was Not True

By Sarah Huckabee-Sanders
I said the word I used, ‘countless,’ and
I also said, if you look at what’s
in quotations from me, it’s that and it’s that
it was in the heat of the moment, meaning
that it wasn’t a scripted talking point. 
I’m sorry I wasn’t a robot like the
Democrat Party that went out for two-
and-a-half years and stated time and time
again that there was definitely Russian
collusion between the president and his
campaign, that they had evidence to show
it, and that the president and his team
deserved to be in jail. That he shouldn’t be
in office, when really they were the ones
that were creating the greatest
scandal in the history of our country.
It's not lying if it's in the heat of the moment. Who among us has not, in the throes of some strong emotion, said things were countless when they were in fact eminently countable? In fact when you think about it pretty much nothing is literally countless. Just because it hasn't been counted yet doesn't mean it won't be.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Impeachment Takes Time


There's some really interesting news out of the Reuters-Ipsos poll (h/t Scott Stedman), which has found, in polling conducted Thursday through this morning, that Trump's approval rating has dropped 3 percentage points since the Mueller report was released, to its lowest level of the year to date in that poll, 37%. Although—and this is important—support for impeachment remains pretty weak.

The really startling thing is the share Republicans are taking in the result, with the total number approving Trump at 75%, down from 83% in late March. That's a lot!

And it's pretty reminiscent, once again, of what started happening to Richard Nixon in February 1973, when the Senate Select Committee began its hearings, and continued on to October, and the Saturday Night Massacre, when Nixon's approval rating somewhat stabilized at very low levels; note particularly how the Republican vote, the red line in the chart below, sinks from 90% at the beginning of the plunge to hover around 50% for the duration.

Mueller Blog: Trump's 86% Memory Loss

Trump's responses (or rather the responses issued by Giuliani, Sekulow, et al.) to Mueller's written questions in lieu of a proper interview, submitted under oath 20 November, are included somewhere in the Mueller report, and can also be seen separately in various venues, like CNN, but haven't attracted a lot of attention, presumably because they are really not very informative, about 86% "I do not recall." Seriously: as Philip Bump reported with admirable precision at the Washington Post,
They covered four primary topic areas: the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, the Russian effort to interfere with the election, the proposed development project in Moscow and contacts with Russia or Russia-related issues during the campaign and transition. In total, the Mueller team asked 38 distinct questions with 37 follow-ups.
Trump offered 22 distinct answers. In 19 of those answers, he claims not to remember or recall some particular issue. Often, those failures to remember what happened constitute the entirety of his response.
Maybe it's true. He's certainly suffering from some kind of memory problem; in a tweet yesterday he didn't even seem to remember answering the questions at all:

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Mueller Blog: The establishment

Photo by Picpedia.

From the executive summary to Volume I, in the cuttable-pastable version supplied by The New York Times:
Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.
when substantial, credible evidence enabled the Office to reach a conclusion with confidence, the report states that the investigation established that certain actions or events occurred. A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.
And a bit later
the investigation did not establish that one Campaign official's efforts to dilute a portion of the Republican Party platform on providing assistance to Ukraine were undertaken at the behest of candidate Trump or Russia. The investigation also did not establish that a meeting between Kislyak and Sessions in September 2016 at Sessions's Senate office included any more than a passing mention of the presidential campaign.
Looking more like my first thoughts on "did not establish" as it was quoted in the Barr letter in March were right—that it means "I know this happened but I can't prove it, yet." Especially obvious in the case of the platform change, which was so bizarre at the time (as I said recently, it was the first thing that started me imagining a Trump-Russia conspiracy, at a time when the idea was barely a gleam in Josh Marshall's eye). There was just no conceivable reason why that would have happened—the campaign clearly had no interest in any part of the platform other than this exotic bit of foreign policy and who on earth cared about that? Except the campaign manager Paul Manafort, who'd been working for the pro-Russia faction in Ukraine for what were soon to turn out to be many undeclared millions of dollars, and Ambassador Kislyak, attending the Republican convention in Cleveland for reasons that haven't been explained. And yet—how would you go about proving that they were doing it basically because Putin wanted them to?

Immediately after that bit the authors move on to talking in very general terms about the evidence they haven't got and why they haven't got it
The investigation did not always yield admissible information or testimony, or a complete picture of the activities undertaken by subjects of the investigation. Some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination and were not, in the Office's judgment, appropriate candidates for grants of immunity. The Office limited its pursuit of other witnesses and information — such as information known to attorneys or individuals claiming to be members of the media — in light of internal Department of Justice policies...
given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.
Mueller seems to me to be saying pretty nearly explicitly, "Please follow up on these items, Chairman Nadler."

Quick note: Barr lies

Barr certainly lied in a very material way in the press conference when he said "no evidence":
the Special Counsel’s report did not find any evidence that members of the Trump campaign or anyone associated with the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its hacking operations. In other words, there was no evidence of Trump campaign “collusion” with the Russian government’s hacking.
Rather, as I and others have been explaining since the four-page letter came out a month ago, there may not have been enough evidence, but there was definitely some. This is confirmed in the first-volume executive summary:

p. 9
Especially since the insufficiency is tied to ongoing investigations (the redacted matter, evidently related to Gates and Stone) and to false testimony (by Flynn, Papadopoulos, etc.), or evidence that was destroyed or otherwise denied to the investigators

p. 10
They might have had sufficient evidence if the report had been delayed until the investigation of Gates and Stone was finished, and/or if suspects hadn't withheld it or concealed it in one way and another. (Or I'm totally convinced they would have; it's way too much evidence to ignore.) 

Steele yourself

"“Red Card,” about corruption involving FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, contains supporting roles for the former spy Christopher Steele and a number of Russian oligarchs and government officials." Simon and Schuster.

Can't help seeing this as a sign of how people in the White House are feeling about the release of the redacted Mueller report tomorrow morning:

The story to which he's referring goes back, in fact, to last August, when NBC was reporting that the FBI had released 70-odd heavily redacted pages of its correpondence with Steele, recording his service to the FBI as a Confidential Human Source over some  unspecified period of time—every single date is among the things redacted—including the fact that they'd given him or his firm some money for his troubles but obviously not revealing what they'd been paying him for or when.

Now it's been taken up by some of the usual suspects, notably Judicial Watch, the king of rightwing FOIA requests, darkly hinting at a connection to that same Underpants Gnomes story: Bruce Ohr must have been paying Steele to provide him with evidence that would enable him to tape Carter Page's phone calls so that if Trump unexpectedly got elected they could um do whatever it is you do with Carter Page tapes when you want to impeach the president. As you can see, the passage of time is not making this plan any more coherent.

But the thing is it's not at all difficult to guess when and where Steele got most of his payments from the FBI, because it's pretty much a matter of public record, and it had nothing to do with Carter Page of the Trump campaign; it was not long after he'd retired from MI6 and set up his own shop in 2009, and

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Parvis of the cathedral in 1699, via Wikimedia Commons.

As Twitter watched the cathedral burn, I was glued to it, teary-eyed sometimes, and found myself startled every so often by a message from some big head person offering condolences to the Roman Catholic church or to French Catholics in particular, generally from a conservative standpoint:
I'm like really? That's the heartbreak?

And sometimes really offensively, as in the case of young Ben Shapiro, who had to be spoken to sharply:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


El Cenizo, TX, a town of 5300 on the Mexican border which really is a sanctuary city, officially, and kind of scared that migrants are going to get bused there because they really don't have anyplace to keep them. Via Texas Public Radio.

Realized something hilarious about Trump's immigration policy this morning, when a White House communications flack called Adam Kennedy was on the radio defending it:
INSKEEP: I want to understand this idea of busing people to sanctuary cities. This is an idea of busing people to sanctuary cities. This is an idea - according to the reporting, which I think the White House has acknowledged - that was knocked down by staff, knocked down by Homeland Security lawyers as possibly illegal. Why did they find it to be possibly illegal?
KENNEDY: Well, first of all, I think there was a very narrow option being looked at originally. When the president heard about this idea, he was very interested. And now there is more expansive options being looked at. And I think the real question is, why should the same four cities along the border face the brunt of illegal immigration day in and day out when we have numerous cities across this country that, through their rhetoric and policies, say they want more illegal immigration?
As you can see, there's no way he's going to explain why it's possibly illegal, because it's certainly illegal (as I was saying, it would be hugely expensive, and Congress won't appropriate the funds). I think the four cities are San Diego, El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville, all of which are sort of sanctuary cities, though the mayors of Laredo and Brownsville really wish we wouldn't say so. I don't know what kind of "rhetoric and policies" he would be talking about; of course since his job is trolling, not defending any actual policies, he doesn't have to explain himself. But the thing that really made me laugh was when he was trying to claim that the president was doing something positive:

INSKEEP: And different and better visa rules? I mean, why wouldn't the president be putting his effort into actually changing some of the laws that he complains about?
KENNEDY: Steve, the president's been advocating this for two years. He's advocating for closing different loopholes that force catch and release to be the policy of this country, which he doesn't like, which he opposes; for changing credible fear standards so that we're not, over and over again, seeing 90 percent of the people rejected by asylum courts. The president's been advocating for changes to stop this catch-and-release policy, really, since the beginning. So the two things you've said - more resources and changes to our laws - are exactly what the president wants.
Actually they succeeded in ending "catch-and-release" with the "zero tolerance" policy they began implementing two years ago. I'm sure they must have told the president that he'd changed things already, though perhaps because it was Sessions's accomplishment Trump refused to listen. This was also the basic reason for the border crisis, as I've said before, since because the government was stopping the asylum seekers from joining relatives and friends (many or most living in "sanctuary cities") while they awaited their hearings, it now had to take care of them, at the same time as observing the Flores Agreement rule of not holding minors apart from parents or guardians longer than 20 days, hence the cages and the tent cities and the enormous backups (which they made worse by deliberately slowing the processing in various ways—

Actually, you know what "catch-and-release" used to do? It distributed all these people to sanctuary cities taking the pressure off San Diego and El Paso in a way that was totally legal and didn't cost taxpayers a dime! "Catch-and-release" did exactly what Trump supposedly wants to do!

Honest to God

Parable of the Mote and the Beam, print by Jan Collaert after Ambrosius Francken, 1585,  British Museum.

Here's National Review writer and conservative Catholic Ramesh Ponnuru criticizing Pete Buttigieg (not that I'm that crazy about Buttigieg, as yet) for bringing religion into his presidential campaign:

It struck me as kind of upside down. After all, most people get their religious indoctrination starting pretty early in life, and start thinking about politics later; wouldn't the former inform the latter rather than the other way around? If Buttigieg was brought up a liberal Episcopalian, wouldn't that idea of Christianity lead him to think Christianity favors liberal political principles? Indeed, Ponnuru writes,

Monday, April 15, 2019

Moar stupid Trump tricks

Via tenor.

Speaking of bestial topics, I guess it's part of the emperor's privilege to set the conversation, and we seem to be giving in more and more to his wishes, but this one about proposals to ship asylum seekers from the border to "sanctuary cities" is so ridiculous even Jonah Goldberg recognizes it as "trolling in place of public policy", in his morning chat with NPR, and yet we go on talking about it.

It's pretty clear that, riffing off what Steve says, Trumpy Republicans believe that all white people hate immigrants as much as they do and only pretend not to out of "political correctness" or just to be bloody-minded or to pick up on all those imaginary illegal-immigrant votes that keep Republicans from making it a one-party state, and the way this arose must have been some time last November, no doubt from one of his Fox friends, I'd guess Lou Dobbs (who was pretty much attributing the Republicans' loss of the House to those votes), and Trump was screaming around the West Wing why wasn't his worthless piece of shit DHS secretary just sending those shithole illegals to San Francisco since Nancy Pelosi loves them so much, and deputy policy coordinator May Davis sent out a query to DHS, in the hope of shutting him up, as The Times broke the story on 11 April:

Bestial Topics of Conversation

Relief from the Sanchi Stupa in Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, representing the three favored residences of the Buddha at Jeta's Grove, photo by Anandajoti Bhikku, Photo Dharma of Sadao, Thailand via Wikipedia.

From the Kathavatthu Sutta, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu; I landed on this text when I was looking for something else:
on one occasion the Blessed One was staying in Savatthi at Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monastery. Now at that time a large number of monks, after the meal, on returning from their alms round, had gathered at the meeting hall and were engaged in many kinds of bestial topics of conversation: conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state; armies, alarms, & battles; food & drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, & scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women & heroes; the gossip of the street & the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity, the creation of the world & of the sea; talk of whether things exist or not.
Then the Blessed One, emerging from his seclusion in the late afternoon, went to the meeting hall and, on arrival, sat down on a seat made ready. As he was sitting there, he addressed the monks: "For what topic of conversation are you gathered together here? In the midst of what topic of conversation have you been interrupted?"
Short story shorter—this is a kind of shaggy dog story which gets bulked up by repeating the list of bestial topics three or four times—the Buddha reproaches the monks for their foolish preoccupations and urges them to talk about things that are worth talking about;
"It isn't right, monks, that sons of good families, on having gone forth out of faith from home to the homeless life, should get engaged in such topics of conversation.... There are these ten topics of [proper] conversation. Which ten? Talk on modesty, on contentment, on seclusion, on non-entanglement, on arousing persistence, on virtue, on concentration, on discernment, on release, and on the knowledge & vision of release. These are the ten topics of conversation. If you were to engage repeatedly in these ten topics of conversation, you would outshine even the sun & moon, so mighty, so powerful — to say nothing of the wanderers of other sects."
It's a little disappointing that he ends up motivating them with the thought of competition with rival monks instead of just being better people and liberating themselves from the endless cycle of rebirth, but that initial list is a beautiful summary of what idle everyday talk really consists of, two and a half millennia later, and what we call punditry as well (a pandit is a Sanskrit scholar, of course, and the kind of self-satisfied thinker against whom the Buddha was originally protesting).

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Church of 9/11

One of the Reflected Absence pools at the September 11 Memorial in downtown Manhattan, photo via Concrete Decor.

The inestimable Talia Lavin asking a big question:

Which apparently drew a lot of fire from people who thought she was mounting an attack on Republicans:

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Underpants Gnomes in the Russia Investigation

Via IresPuestas.com.

Just to refresh everybody's memory, when Trump howls "They SPIED on me!!!" what he means is that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved an order of federal surveillance on a former foreign policy adviser to candidate Donald Trump called Carter Page, in October 2016, on evidence that included some raw intelligence gathered by a former MI6 Russia expert called Christopher Steele for a firm called GPS Fusion which had a contract with the Democratic-connected Perkins Coie law firm to do opposition research on Trump, which is incontrovertible proof, according to certain Republicans, that the Democratic Party and the entire leadership of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a plan (an "insurance policy") to remove Trump from office in the unlikely event he got elected, which they would accomplish by recording Carter Page's phone calls.

Let's just lay that out as an Underpants Gnomes scenario:
  1. FBI does electronic surveillance on Carter Page
  2. Trump wins the presidential election
  3. ???
This schema is what Attorney General Barr was referring to, not without a little healthy skepticism, when he was talking to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. A very little skepticism, so little a lot of people didn't even notice it, which may be what he intended, as we heard Thursday on NPR:

Friday, April 12, 2019

Non-Hot Take

Quito, via National Geographic.

One thing I think everybody needs to note about the Assange story is that at this point it's not about the United States, not about Sweden, not about WikiLeaks—not driven by the preoccupations of these people we think about when we think about Julian Assange. It's really, at the moment, an Ecuador story.

That is: the previous president, hero of free speech Rafael Correa*, left his chosen successor, the less heroic Lenín Boltaire Moreno (yes, he's named after the Bolshevik leader, as well as Voltaire, only his parents spelled the latter wrong), with a problem in the country's London embassy in the form of Assange squatting there, failing to clean the bathroom or change the kitty litter, while avoiding extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted on rape charges, and from where he claimed he would be extradited to the US and buried like the Man in the Iron Mask. Moreno has been trying to get rid of this national embarrassment since he took office almost two years ago (one of the things that has enraged his former patron Correa), and he's finally succeeded, and that is the story, and it's not even all that interesting.

*Some Ecuadoreans have an alternative view on Correa's commitment to free speech:
Correa had a poor record on free speech at home. In 2011, he closed a string of radio and television stations in a bid to silence critics. According to Human Rights Watch, five journalists were jailed for “disrespecting” the government between 2008 and 2011.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Literary Corner: The Size of Texas, the Surprise of Death

From the president's press conference, San Antonio, Wednesday, 10 April, reported by Seahorse at GardenWeb, a remarkable pair of sonnets taking a long walk through his current preoccupations, the need for a wall, the fact that Texas is larger than the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which Central Americans don't realize, and the unexpected relationship between walking and death:

Two Border Sonnets
by Donald J. Trump

I. A Vast State
If we had the wall, the good people
will not be able — you’ll see them on the other
side of the wall. Number one, they won’t
come, because they’ll see there’s no way
of getting through. Right now they think there’s a
way to get through. And the people back home
never hear about that, they start to walk.
They tell them Houston’s half a mile away,
but it’s 300 miles. It’s desert. This
is a vast state, it’s a vast area. You look
at it, the state’s tremendous. I come from
New York. You have Fifth Avenue and that connects you
to Park Avenue, it's not too far away,
but this is hundreds of miles between places.
Late 17th-century print of an etching, ca. 1520, by Daniel Hopfer of Augsburg, Death and the Devil Surprise Two Women, from the collections of the Victoria and Albert, London.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Drunk Uncle of Our Country

Siri, how come everybody has forgotten George Washington? Eliana Johnson and Daniel Lippman in Politico:
During a guided tour of Mount Vernon last April with French president Emmanuel Macron, Trump learned that Washington was one of the major real-estate speculators of his era. So, he couldn’t understand why America’s first president didn’t name his historic Virginia compound or any of the other property he acquired after himself.
“If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,” Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. “You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.”
Front parlor, Mount Vernon, as decorated by President Washington in 1787, and in his view "the best place in my House", where the household spent evenings reading, discussing political news, and playing games; photo by Gavin Ashworth.
Trump triplex, Manhattan, designed by Angelo Donghia in Louis XIV style, "the epitome of elegance and perfection" according to the iDesignArch website; photo by Sam Horine. Inconceivable that anybody has ever sat on one of those chairs.
Also, still not The Onion:
Trump asked whether Washington was "really rich," according to a second person familiar with the visit.... If Trump was impressed with Washington’s real estate instincts, he was less taken by Mount Vernon itself, which the first president personally expanded from a modest one-and-a-half story home into an 11,000 square foot mansion. The rooms, Trump said, were too small, the staircases too narrow, and he even spotted some unevenness in the floorboards, according to four sources briefed on his comments. He could have built the place better, he said, and for less money.
Vixen was also thunderstruck.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

West of Eden: Listing Terrorists

Brian Hook, a State Department Iran policy adviser,  on NPR to propagandize for Trump's (or Prime Minister Netanyahu's, or Crown Prince Mohammad's, depending who you ask) decision to list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization, offered a list of terrorist things they're said to have been responsible for, including the 1983 bombing of the US Marine Barracks in Beirut, which killed 305 people including 241 US military,  the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 including four Israeli employees and 25 Argentines, the 1994 bombing of the Associación Mutual Israelita Argentina building in Buenos Aires, a local Jewish community center, killing 85, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 US Air Force personnel and a Saudi national, and detaining US citizens—

Wait, what? Not that I approve of these cruel and unlawful imprisonments, which include four or five people still jailed at the time of writing, but is it the IRGC that did it, as opposed to other organs of the Iranian government, and is it correctly described as terrorism?
T]he term 'terrorism' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents. (US Code, via Wikipedia)
“Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based” and anyone who questions the King or the government or supports any group, party, organization other than that of the ruling elite inside or outside the Kingdom is a terrorist (Saudi Arabia, same source) 
Also, Trump's best friend Kim Jong-un runs a government that's holding US citizen Kim Dong-chul on bogus charges with a 10-year prison sentence, and Vladimir Putin's Russia has held Paul Whelan since December.

But if you leave it out, it looks like 22 years since the IRGC was involved in any terrorist acts, by the US State Department's count, which makes listing it as a terrorist organization now seem like some peculiar timing. Especially since it's election day in Israel, whose embattled prime minister (under threat of indictment for bribe-taking) jumped in to make sure voters understood it as an example of his pull in Washington, Trump's personal favor to him:
“Thank you, my dear friend, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, for having decided to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization,” he wrote in Hebrew on Twitter on Monday. “Thank you for responding to another of my important requests, which serves the interests of our countries and countries of the region.”
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan, via.

Monday, April 8, 2019

For the Record: Why not compare it to the Holocaust?

The Boy Who Cried "Invasion!"

The Los Laureles water reservoir, which supplies water to the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, except not when it doesn't have any water, as in this photo taken 10 March (by Orlando Sierra/AFP).

Cute headline from the Washington Post:
Power Up: Nielsen's ouster signals even tougher Trump border rhetoric

Rhetoric alert! We can expect severe invective storms over the next few weeks, with frequent outbreaks of junior-high sarcasm, malicious lies, and sweeping stereotypes.

One of the things about Trump's border policy that's not getting enough attention is that, while we're knee deep in rhetoric, the policy itself has been a huge fail in its own terms, in its key aim of discouraging asylum applicants from Central America, now arriving in record numbers and overwhelming the border authorities, who are driven to expedients like that El Paso encampment of the end of March:

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Ah, the 90s—People had more hair then!

C-Span, May 2018.

Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, explains why the best choice you could make in American history was to get born, like him, in 1979 ("The Best Year of Our Lives"):
The sneerers argued that the Ocasio-Cortezans exaggerate the burdens borne by twentysomethings, which is fair — this is still a rich country whose young people are relatively privileged.
But as a statement about generational experiences, [Charlotte] Alter was basically right. If you were born around 1980, you grew up in a space happily between — between eras of existential threat (Cold War/War on Terror, or Cold War/climate change), between foreign policy debacles (Vietnam/Iraq), between epidemics (crack and AIDS/opioids and suicide), and between two different periods of economic stagnation (the ’70s and early Aughts). If you were born later, you experienced slow growth followed by financial crisis followed by a recovery that’s only lately returned us to the median-income and unemployment stats of … 1999.
Given that the Cold War and the crack "epidemic" were both basically over by 1991 or 1992; and the US involvement in civil wars in Nicaragua (1978-89) El Salvador (1979-92) Guatemala (1981-93), arms sales to Iran (1981-85) and Iraq (with intelligence backing, 1982-88), invasion of Panama (1979-80), and conquest of Grenada (1983) surely added up to something debacle-like; and the federal response to AIDS started getting serious in 1993; and the bottom 50% emerged from wage stagnation between 1995 and 2002 and then stopped—

Via Washington Post.
—I guess he must mean what our friend Boswood suggested:

Or maybe it was something else. But when he says
it was the just-enough-internet era. There was just enough internet to boost economic productivity (the Facebook-Amazon era has not had a similar effect), just enough to encourage subcultural ferment, just enough to challenge cultural gatekeepers and give lonely teenagers succor
Something tells me he just misses being a teenager himself. Which is kind of cute when you think about it.