Friday, May 31, 2019

David Brooks Plagiarism Watch: On Trolls

Troll by Nicola Robinson, 2014, seen as a personification of change in midlife,

Not a lot of obviously objectionable material in today's David Brooks ("When Trolls and Crybullies Rule the Earth"), bringing together the ghost of a pretty interesting idea on the cultural consequences of the shift from privately consumed print media to group-absorbed online media with the observation that there are a lot of unnecessarily mean guys on the Internet, which is true.

The interesting idea is from a theologian called L.M. Sacasas writing at an online journal called The New Atlantis riffing off a famous idea from the late Walter Ong, S.J., in his 1982 book Orality and Literacy, about the Renaissance-era universalizing shift from oral to print culture:
In oral cultures, communication happens almost exclusively in the presence of others. The speaker’s audience is always before the speaker; indeed, it is literally an audience, a gathering of those near enough to hear. This physical presence means, as Ong noted, that oral cultures were more agonistic than literate cultures. Mutual understanding and the search for knowledge are labors of face-to-face interaction, and labors that may arouse the passions. “By keeping knowledge embedded in the human lifeworld, orality situates knowledge within a context of struggle.”
Writing, on the other hand, “fosters abstractions that disengage knowledge from the arena where human beings struggle with one another.” Writing also abstracts the speaker from the audience, which therefore ceases to be literally an audience. The two are no longer present before one another. Communication tends to lose the heat of the moment.
The Internet, Sacasas suggests, restores something like the ancient presentness to communication:
When we type out our statuses, link to articles, post memes or images, we do so as if we were members of literate but pre-digital societies, for we are not present before all those who will encounter our messages. Yet, given the immediacy with which the messages arrive, we are in an important way now much closer to one another. We might say that we have an “audience” whose immediate presence is constituted in time rather than space.
Brooks, of course, begins by pretending to have gotten the Ong material out of his own reading, in paragraphs 1-3—

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Literary Corner: Powers That You Wouldn't Believe

Kurt Schwitters, Merzbild Kijkduin, 1923, from Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

(Text via Aaron Rupar from this morning's White House lawn apparition.)

A Thing Called Article 2
by Donald J. Trump
Some day you ought to read
a thing called Article 2. 
Read Article 2.
Which gives
the president powers
that you wouldn't believe. 
But I
don't even have to rely
on Article 2.
There was no crime.
This is extraordinarily precious as a document of how he works; he's heard somebody mentioning the Article 2 powers of the presidency, maybe some legal hack telling him (wrongly) that he doesn't have to turn over his tax returns, and he has no idea what it is, of course—"Article 2?"—but he doesn't want to let on, by asking some dumb-sounding question. At the same time it sounds magical—"My Article 2 powers!"—and thrilling, and he's pretty sure most ordinary people, including all those damned journalists on the lawn, don't know any more about it than he does, so he can't resist bringing it up.

And then pulls back, as much as to say, "Don't worry, I would only use my omnipotence if I was in real danger." As long as we don't start talking about how guilty he is, he'll spare us.

For the record: Trump acknowledges Russian help put him in the White House

I heard it from the great Benjamin Dreyer:

Wednesday, May 29, 2019


Racine County Logic Puzzle Museum.

Mueller's statement is a logic puzzle; as a matter of fact, so is the whole 450-page Report, but this morning's presentation was more succinct, and it went, in proper puzzle form, pretty much like this:

Based on the following statements,
  1. If I thought Trump was not guilty, I would say so
  2. If I thought Trump was guilty, it would be improper for me to say so (since he's president), so I wouldn't
  3. If I had a case I couldn't prove, I might say so (as I did in the conspiracy case, but without directly naming the suspects)
  4. I'm not going to say what I think
what does Mueller think?

It's not very difficult, but the answer isn't simple either.

Uneasy Lies

The idea that a Conservative government was going to celebrate Brexit by adding £350 million/week to the budget of the National Health Service was an even worse lie, but let that pass. Image via The Guardian, which calculated that if you accept the premises of the argument the most you could say UK "sent" to Brussels was £136 million per week, or less than 40% of the alleged amount, which of course leaves out the enormous indirect benefits of EU membership, sustaining 3.1 million jobs in UK and subsidizing 476,000 farm workers, not to mention the consumer protections which are, trust me, the things Conservatives are really aiming at, because they hate people.

I can't seem to get away from Britain, but this is too delicious:

The case is launched by Marcus Ball, a 29-year-old businessman who has raised over £400,000 to prosecute the case. Judge Margot Coleman made no finding of fact but

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Welfare Island

John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, and Ronnie Corbett in The Class Sketch. Via BBC.

Book Report Day for David F. Brooks ("The Welfare State is Broken. Here's How to Fix It") and a book by the British "social entrepreneur" Hilary Cottam, Radical Help: How We Can Remake the Relationships Between Us and Revolutionise the Welfare State. I suppose I'll have to get to him eventually, but I'd like to start with Melissa Benn's review in The New Statesman, which appeared when the book came out in June 2018:
In the last years of Gordon Brown’s premiership, Swindon council embarked on a bold experiment. It asked Hilary Cottam, a celebrated young social entrepreneur, to find a new way of dealing with what the state was then calling “chaotic families” (later to be repackaged as “troubled families” under the coalition). What could Cottam do for those such as struggling mother Ella and her family, who lived in “roiling turmoil” in one of the large postwar estates on the edge of the town, with up to 73 professionals involved in their lives at an estimated annual cost to the state of £250,000?

Monday, May 27, 2019

Dunning-Kruger by Proxy

I don't generally go around citing a lot of biz-school research except when it goes along with making fun of David Brooks, but there's some very interesting stuff going on in the conceptual orbit around the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect—the way incompetent people lack the skill to recognize their incompetence and tend to believe they're particularly good at the stuff they can't do, in spite of the obvious evidence. And there's an elephant in the room where the discussion is taking place, or shall we say a 400-pound guy on a sofa, that nobody in the research world wants to talk about, but I of course do.

The main findings of the paper I'm looking at, "The Social Advantage of Miscalibrated Individuals: The Relationship Between Social Class and Overconfidence and Its Implications for Class-Based Inequality" by Peter Belmi, Margaret A. Neale, David Reiff, and Rosemary Ulfe, which arrived last week in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes (May 20, 2019), are two:
  • that Dunning-Kruger overconfidence actually confers an advantage in interpersonal relations on the subject, because self-confidence is charismatic, and interlocutors commonly misinterpret it as competence and give the subject the nod, or the trust, or the job; and
  • that relatively high social class reinforces overconfidence in those who have it
which offers a quick explanation for why social immobility can remain so pervasive (enough members of the upper class are brought up confident that they deserve the job and that confidence convinces the interviewer that they do), and why the worst bosses you've ever had, almost always men, have all believed they knew how to do the job better than you did, even though they were totally and often catastrophically wrong.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Anti-Fascist Roundup: Europe

I'm so glad Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, wrote his column about the death of Liberalism ("How Liberalism Loses")—
In Australia a week ago, the party of the left lost an election it was supposed to win, to a conservative government headed by an evangelical Christian who won working-class votes by opposing liberal climate policies. In India last week, the Hindu-nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, won an overwhelming electoral victory. And as of this writing, Europeans are electing a Parliament that promises to have more populist representation than before.
—just in time to anticipate the European results, in which the Liberals in the strict sense were by far the biggest gainers, alongside the Greens, or in general those on the more-or-less left with a strong commitment to European integration, as opposed to the more-or-less left that couldn't make up its mind about Europe in Britain and France in particular, and the pro-Europe Merkel conservatives, who endured the biggest losses.

Via The Guardian.
Anti-European reactionaries and nationalists did indeed increase their seat numbers, but in a clearly divided way between the proper hard right "Nationalists" in the chart) of Matteo Salvini's Lega in Italy and Marine Le Pen's Ralliement Nationale in France and the silly right "Freedom and Direct Democracy") of Nigel Farage's Brexit party, sadly the top vote-getter in the UK, and the Movimento Cinque Stelle in Italy which isn't really "right" at all; and plainly at the expense of the less Liberal.

Catastrophic, I'm sorry to say, for the SPD in Germany, which finished third behind the brilliantly performing Greens

Dramatic Readings: Mueller

Jerome Powell confirmation hearing, November 2017; Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images via Marketplace

It struck me, as we learned last week that Mueller wasn't going to be testifying publicly before the Judiciary committee, or at any rate wouldn't be taking questions on camera, that this was going to be a narratological loss, a loss to our sense of the story as story. It's the secret of the courtroom drama that the rhythm of question and response structures our experience of what might otherwise seem like a disjointed congeries of sentences, and I don't mean in a deceptive way: even a tendentious and irresponsible line of questioning by a hack like Trey Gowdy or Gym Jordan gives a story shape in which the truth of a given witness, like Glenn Simpson or Peter Strzok, can really shine forth in spite of the dishonesty of the interrogation (Pilate's interrogation of Jesus in John 18 is maybe the first truly great courtroom drama, with its ironic "What is truth?" climax, before Pilate goes out to the crowd like Jim Comey to announce that Jesus hasn't committed any crime but can be executed anyway if that's what folks want).

What I really wanted, for masses who aren't going to read the Mueller Report or even look at it, was a TV drama version, heightening the material like diamonds in a necklace and pointing it so you see where it's going. The questioning committee members could be represented by an Interviewer-General (IG),  and the atmospherics by a Color Commentator (CC), but the rest of the material would be taken directly from the Report, verbatim in the case of Mueller, understood to have more or less written the thing, but rearranged by the fictional questioner trying to pull the story out (the sequencing in the Report, following bureaucratic imperatives and struggling to avoid conclusions, is pretty rickety from a dramaturgical standpoint), because I'd want an audience to understand that this is really what the Report says, but less strict for the other characters (the ones the FBI interviewed or who testified in some other venue), who need to display their characters a bit more vividly than Mueller shows them.

Below the fold is a fragment of draft of a first appearance for Mueller, taken from Vol 1, pp. 1-2 and 9-10, and I'm not sure how well it works; Mueller's own style is pretty clunky, and the resequencing I've found myself impelled to do may seem pretty radical. I'd be glad to get comments on whether it does the job at all.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Literary Corner: Enough to Make a Cat Laugh

Via The Niall Boylan Show, late night Irish talk radio.

But Not Me
by Donald J. Trump

North Korea
fired off some
small weapons, which
disturbed some of my people,
and others, but not me.
I have confidence
that Chairman Kim
will keep his promise to me,
& also smiled when he called
Swampman Joe Bidan a low
IQ individual, & worse.
Perhaps that’s sending
me a signal?

Unleashed Kraken

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in George Cukor's Gaslight, 1944, via Vox.

If you were startled to hear Big Donald tossing out dark hints of an unusually vast international conspiracy against him—
“So what I’ve done is I’ve declassified everything,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday before leaving on a trip to Japan.
“[Attorney General Barr] can look and I hope he looks at the UK and I hope he looks at Australia and I hope he looks at Ukraine.
“I hope he looks at everything, because there was a hoax that was perpetrated on our country.”
—I may be able to help. We're actually contemplating two different and equally idiotic conspiracy theories, one for UK and Australia and one for Ukraine.

The latter is Rudolph Giuliani's developing hypothesis that Ukrainian authorities after the Euromaidan revolution didn't have any reason to investigate how Paul Manafort got himself a $66-million cut of the pillaging of Ukraine by the pro-Russia Yanukovych regime—why on earth would they want to know anything about that?—but only did it because the sneaky Democratic National Committee tricked them into it, to harm the Trump campaign (as we briefly noted a couple of weeks ago).

Friday, May 24, 2019

Paper Music

Updated with moar conspiracy theory

1996 composition Paper II by Josef Anton Riedl.

That question of what documents Natalya Veselnitskaya brought to the Trump Tower meeting of June 9 2016 just got quite a bit tighter in my mind, thanks to a closer reading of the relevant bit of the Mueller Report, describing the lunch Veselnitskaya had before the meeting with Rinat Akhmetshin, Ike Kaveladze, and the translator Anatoly Samochornov. It's likely nobody but Ten Bears is prepared to put up with this yet again, but Bear with me, because I think it changes the perspective quite a bit.

As you'll recall, Akhmetshin told AP in July 2017 that
Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats...
Printouts that I've speculated could have been from the DNC emails stolen by Russia, which included a host of Finance Contribution Status reports and Donor Vet Committee reports that did indeed detail the flow of money to the DNC during the period from January 2015 through May 2016 (though it was my impression that practically everything in the WikiLeaks publication was from the last two months), and that could have served Manafort (as opposed to the stupid and inexperienced Kushner . and Junior) as proof that the Russians had really managed to hack this stuff.

What Akhmetshin told Mueller's investigators (in an interview on 11/14/17) about the lunch, on the other hand, which I haven't noticed before, focuses this in a remarkable way:

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Anti-Fascist Roundup

Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl, not a member of the Freedom Party, dances at her wedding last year with—ooh, that's Vladimir Vladimirovich! Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/AFP via the Financial Times coverage of this week's events.

Last year there was an inspiring democratic revolution in Armenia, an extraordinary democratic election in Malaysia, a distressing fascist backslide in Italy (a fascistoid party, the "Lega", was able to attach itself in coalition to the unfortunate actual winner, the Movimento Cinque Stelle, one of those new-fangled Howard Beale parties of irritable but poorly informed comedian populists, unable to wield power itself so that the minority League is basically able to run the government), and who knows what else, and we didn't cover any of it here because at this point we're basically all Trump all the time and I didn't feel like doing the work to come up with some hot take on the subject.

But it occurs to me that I should at least try to keep up some kind of running tab on the advances and retreats of democracy around the world...

Proponents of liberal democracy may be forgiven a measure of glee in the fall of Austria’s far-right vice chancellor, which has thrown the government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz into chaos and forced early elections. Heinz-Christian Strache, the vice chancellor and head of the far-right Freedom Party, had long projected himself as the scourge of dirty politics, and here he was on a secretly filmed video making all sorts of shady offers to a woman posing as the relative of a Russian oligarch.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Infrastructure Week

"We'll always have Infrastructure Week!"

Politico suggested the principals were still hung over from the last Infrastructure Week at the end of April and the current one already was dead, hours before it officially got started (in the Cabinet Room, at 11:15):
WELL, THIS [the three-weeks-ago one] WENT ABOUT AS WELL as any other infrastructure week. The White House is not going to present any plan to pay for rebuilding the nation’s roads and highways.
INSTEAD, the administration will ask DEMOCRATS to make the case for a $2 trillion package. The White House has identified roughly $1 trillion in spending cuts to pay for legislation -- about as realistic a plan as saying this newsletter will fly you to the moon if you say abracadabra.
TO REALLY DRIVE THE NAIL IN THE COFFIN, Trump sent a letter to PELOSI and Senate Minority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER on Tuesday saying they should pass the USMCA before turning to infrastructure. The letter
Heh. Apparently in the end it was more explosive than that, per Peter Baker and Katie Rogers:

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Goldstone Postscript

And some hours later, Rob (update: not Rob, but Oui2Entertainment's David Wilson) has a second thought about one of this morning's tweets:

Hmm, so it is. You don't suppose I've made a convert?

For the Record: My Conversation With Rob Goldstone

Update 5/24/19: Correction—It wasn't in fact Rob I was talking to, I am informed via Twitter by Oui2Entertainment, but the company's co-founder David Wilson; I'm confident at the same time that it doesn't contradict anything Rob would wish to say.

I had no idea I was talking to Rob Goldstone, who used to be the music publicist for the Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov and served as the email intermediary between Emin's father Aras Agalarov and Donald Trump, Jr., arranging the famous Trump Tower meeting of 9 June 2016, until after it was over, and I looked for the first time at the book page screenshots he sent, and it turned out that they were all from Pop Stars, Pageants & Presidents: How an Email Trumped My Life by Rob Goldstone, 2018, from a publisher called Oui2Entertainment.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Paranoid Style, 2019

Experiment in trying to imagine the workings of the minds of the Republican conspiratorialists, now led by Attorney General Barr, with a scene from the FBI investigation as Fox News might imagine it, if they tried to imagine it in any detail, and the consequences of trying to believe simultaneously that (a) FBI agents worked to prepare an "insurance policy" to make sure they could depose Trump in the unlikely event he was elected; (b) everything in Christopher Steele's "dossier" is fake; (c) the FBI conspirators were completely dependent on Steele's work to commence their investigation (though it had already begun); and (d) everybody agreed that the best way to get started was by putting a FISA order on Carter Page, Ph.D.

US Embassy, Rome, photo by DPA.

Early August 2016. Tracking shot follows two men with briefcases and upscale water bottles, Gaeta and Steele, down a corridor in the US Embassy in Rome, Gaeta, FBI’s man in the post, in a rumpled American suit, Steele British, ex-MI6 and now a freelancer, rather more expensively dressed; they enter a small meeting room where two Washington-based agents, McCabe and Strzok, and an FBI lawyer, Page, are concentrated around the middle of a long table, and Gaeta performs the introductions:

Andy, Pete, Lisa, this is Chris Steele, who I met in London early July. As I was saying, he’s heard you’re looking for an insurance policy.

Just in case our candidate doesn’t work out and that guy wins the election and we need to overthrow him, like the FBI usually does in these situations, as you know.

STEELE (shaking hands)
Of course, understood. Delighted to meet you.

You’ve been doing some research, we understand?

Yes, on behalf of your candidate, I’m told, for Mr. Simpson, who kindly asked me to help out with the Russian government angle.

And you’ve discovered something useful?

Heavens no, I just make stuff up. What do you take me for, a spy?

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Notes from the Gawker spawn

So Mr. Bret Stephens ("Dear Millennials: The Feeling Is Mutual") has taken offense at @anarchopriapism, a 20-year-old from Northern Ireland with 258 followers in her Twitter account (that's up from 64 since Mr. Bret's column came out), and her suggestion that it would be a good thing for the leader of the most powerful nation in the world to able to experience empathy
My own reactionary reaction was different. O.K., I thought, I could definitely vote for Joe — provided he has the mettle to stand his ground.
Though Mr. Bret doesn't actually come out and explain what's wrong with empathy, or empathy for the younger generation, or empathy for

Weave Got to Try

Not that there's anything wrong with it. Mayan weaver in San Jorge, Guatemala, via TES Blendspace.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Big Story You Don't Read About", New York Times, 16 May 2019:
I can't understand why news media keep focusing on stories about awful things that just make people feel anxious and depressed when they could be writing about the conference I did last week for my Aspen Institute gig which got 275 people to DC to talk about weaving. And I don't mean basket weaving, buster, I mean my metaphor I'm personally in charge of, are the news media even aware of my metaphor sweeping the nation?
Or in his own words,

Friday, May 17, 2019

Lowering the Barr

From Mary Ellen, our attorney general:

Designed Failure

Uncredited installation art illustrating "Zero Tolerance", from 7 May, AP Photo/Susan Walsh.

More on Wonder Boy Jared Kushner and his fabulous immigration plan, from Politico:
Kushner has been talking up his immigration plan with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation, which detractors have derided as laughably simplistic. In the version he debuted to lawmakers on Tuesday, the slides showed circles placed next to each other representing different potential immigration reforms and flags denoting “peer nations” that have adopted merit-based immigration systems such as Canada, Australia and Japan, according to two Republicans who have viewed the presentation.
The Washington Post coverage notes who the people were who stepped in when he couldn't answer questions: Stephen Miller—
At times, Miller jumped in to assist Kushner, especially on questions about how the plan would deal with low-skilled workers. “Miller interrupted him a lot,” the individual said.
The same problems plague the Middle East peace plan, the Politico report says,

Second Time as Farce department

The Emperor is Displeased. From Warhammer 40,00, by Games Workshop, via.

Jordan asks, in comments:
Hey, anyone remember the days when the United States couldn't go to war without a congressional declaration?
My reply:

As far as I can tell they aren't exactly any more over than they were in 1964, and this should have been made a lot clearer in the news coverage. The issuing of "plans" doesn't mean anybody is expecting to do anything; just that the military is prepared to do this stupid thing should the "need" arise. The aircraft carrier was going there anyway.

What Bolton-Pompeo would really like is to ratchet up tension to the point where Iran forces will make some kind of actual attack on US interests which would allow US to start up some kind of "emergency" operation, and Congress would find it very hard to deny permission to the ongoing action. This won't in fact happen, I think, because Iran understands the danger very well and will continue to resist temptation. Except for the danger of an accident of some kind, which is certainly real (or of a fake attack, which would be a crazy risk for the fakers).

Thursday, May 16, 2019

For the Record: Clown Car

Image by Daria Nabok/Coub.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

This tail has too many dogs

Update: Now furnished with a last paragraph!

Iranian interior, via DesignSponge.

If you've been having these unpleasant little Gulf of Tonkin flashbacks, or even Remembering the Maine, over the ongoing harshness involving a couple of damaged ships and the float of a war proposal, you're not the only one, and some of our fellow sufferers are in high places, I'm glad to say, according to Helene Cooper and Edward Wong at The Times:
WASHINGTON — As the Trump administration draws up war plans against Iran over what it says are threats to American troops and interests, a senior British military official told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that he saw no increased risk from Iran or allied militias in Iraq or Syria.
A few hours later, the United States Central Command issued an unusual rebuke: The remarks from the British official — Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, who is also the deputy commander of the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State — run “counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian-backed forces in the region.”
More ominously still,
One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential internal planning, said the new intelligence of an increased Iranian threat was “small stuff” and did not merit the military planning being driven by Mr. Bolton. The official also said the ultimate goal of the yearlong economic sanctions campaign by the Trump administration was to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the United States.
It doesn't get any more explicit than that. "Yeah, we're trying to get a little war going, so the boss decided to make up some shit."

Or you could look at these signs as welcome signs of Bolton's incompetence, that the British command feels the need to take public issue with him and some White House resister is impelled to speak about it this bluntly. He's like the bad kid in the marshmallow experiment, unable to delay gratification, and he's unable to conceal his designs, unable to manage alliances, unable to command loyalty in his own shop. And his enemies are taking command of Trump, starting with one of Mad Dog Mattis's close confederates, on Fox (which is where the Emperor goes when he needs to find out what he thinks):

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

For the record: Semiotics of Outrage Calumny

So Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), of Palestinian origin, was telling some podcast listeners about how she finds her Palestinian anger dissipating when she contemplates the horror of the Holocaust: her ancestral lands may have been lost and her people driven into exile, but it was incalculable suffering, not hers but the suffering of Jews, that "started it", and people whose only thought was really reparation of that:

TLAIB: “There’s, you know, there’s a kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence, in many ways, had been wiped out. . . . I mean, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time."
It goes into the noise machine to get its meaning turned upside down, and Dinesh D'Souza picks it up to offer new evidence for his contention that Democrats are Nazis but not really but yes really:

Monday, May 13, 2019

For the Record: Has Brooks Become Too Easy?

Art by Zachary Eastwood-Bloom (no relation as far as I know, which means no, he's British) from 2011, via Caroline Banks. 

Driftglass was promoting his response to Friday's Brooks column, and I was anticipating tomorrow's, to what turned out to be comic effect:

Make that an open thread. Is it too easy? Should I at least have a looksy at Brooksy's text?

Another Villanelle

Speaking of villanelles, I went on a Google quest to get a clearer idea of what their evolution was, and found a 19th-century (post-Romantic or "Parnassian") poem by Théophile Gautier that has exactly zero in common with the villanelle (three eight-line stanzas, no refrains) but I happened to recognize it as the text of one of the best songs ever written, which I know as music instead of poetry, the first number of Berlioz's Nuits d'Été. I had no idea it was entitled "Villanelle" but it is and I had to post it because I love it so much, plus it's pretty short and seasonally appropriate (weather in New York is chilly and rainy and so awful I'm cooking chicken soup for the old lady, but we know spring is here). The soprano is the pretty famous Véronique Gens, and she sings the whole wonderful cycle (about half an hour) here.

"When the new season arrives, and the cold has vanished, the two of us will go, my beauty, to pick the lilies of the valley in the woods, breaking the morning pearls of dew like grapes under our feet, and hearing the blackbirds—


Spring is here, my beauty, the month that lovers bless, and the bird, smoothing its wing to silk, recites poetry on the edge of the nest. Oh come sit with me on this mossy bank and talk about our lovely love and tell me with your sweet voice—


Going far, so far, letting our path wander, we'll frighten the hidden rabbit, and the stag, bending to admire his big antlers in the mirror of the spring, until, happy and at ease, fingers entwined, we get back with a basket of strawberries—

From the woods!"

(my translation, French text here)

Literary Corner: Trade Wars

The Battle of Nájera, 1367, illumination likely by Loiset Lyédet from a Flemish manuscript of Froissart's Chronicles, 1470s, in the Bibliothèque Nationale Française, via Wikimedia Commons.

Villanelle of the Trade War
Fasten your seat belts and brace for the spin
Nobody needs to get hurt in the fray
Trade wars are good and easy to win
We're raising the tariffs on cotton and tin
They're raising the tariffs on copper and hay
Fasten your seat belts and brace for the spin
The president waits for the cash to roll in
He's feeling annoyed and someone must pay
Trade wars are good and easy to win
The public looks ruefully on with a grin
Somebody's tanking the market today
Fasten your seat belts and brace for the spin
The bartender's pouring out fingers of gin
The brokers are shoving you out of the way
Trade wars are good and easy to win
The president's kicking his foes in the shin
The press watches rapt at the awesome display
Fasten your seat belts and brace for the spin
Trade wars are good and easy to win

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Literary Corner: Trump on Bannon

Sonnet: On Whether the Poet Talks to Stephen Bannon
by Donald J. Trump

Well, I always liked Steve
and I mean the last seven
months or eight months, I mean,
you can't have nicer statements
stated about yourself than
the things he's been saying about me,
as you know. ‘The greatest of
all time,’ you know, etc., etc.
But I haven't. You've seen what
he’s said on the various shows
and you've seen what he’s written.
And that’s very nice, and I appreciate it.
But I haven’t spoken to Steve in a while.
Haven’t spoken to Steve in a while.
I'm not going to try to explain what moves me in this piece (from a Politico interview on Friday).


I wanted to say something on the subject of "electability", but wasn't quite sure what; then there's this by Alex Pareene in The New Republic:
“Electability” is a crock of shit. It is defined, like political “moderation,” only in terms of opposition to things people want, but are told they can’t have, ranging from antiwar politics to left-wing economic populism to even the “cultural liberalism” that is seemingly the cornerstone of the modern Democratic Party. (Back in 2004, supporting civil unions, not even marriage, for same-sex couples was a threat to a Democrat’s perceived “electability.”) While the impulse to vote according to how you think a candidate would appeal to people who don’t share your priorities might make sense in theory, practice has revealed time and time again that no one involved in electoral politics—from the pundits down to the caucus-goers—has a clue who or what Americans will actually vote for. That was supposed to be, as the political scientist [Seth] Masket says, the main lesson of Trump’s election.
Which only goes partway to where I want to go, and gets a little locked into the self-denominated "progressive" cliché—I mean what made Trump seem unelectable wasn't his antiwar politics or his economic populism, it was his being a cartoon character, like Daffy Duck or Yosemite Sam, a buffoon completely ignorant of all the subject matter a president is expected to be conversant with, a person whose only genuine interest seemed to be in his own magnificence. And the way he didn't seem to really be in the money primary, too, which is an immensely important part of the electability calculus to the people who calculate it, and his personal unpopularity, which was always even worse than Hillary's, bad as that was.

And yet Trump won. And from there we know that he really was electable, contrary to what practically every political scientist would have told you. Or that the concept is meaningless, which is certainly a possibility.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Tawdry postscript

Lolololololol Then again maybe there is a constitutional crisis:

Brooksy just meant to beg Nadler to be careful not to misidentify it. "I'm not saying there's no constitutional crisis, for goodness' sake! I am very savvy, I'll have you know! I was merely saying there isn't this constitutional crisis! When I want to write about the constitutional crisis that actually exists, which does somewhat resemble the one that doesn't exist in the sense that it has the same people in it, I'll let you know! It could happen at any time!"

And yes, if you were wondering, Nadler's problem is indeed over Trump's blanket refusal, as he explained in his letter yesterday to attorney general Barr:


Uncredited tawdriness from a blog called Sententiae Antiquae that I'll be looking at later on.

Hot take on our Constitution from David F. Brooks ("The Tawdry Trump-Nadler War"):
Our system of checks and balances requires that political leaders hold two opposing ideas in their heads simultaneously. If you’re a political leader, the first is that your political opponents are wrong about many things and should be defeated in elections. The second is that you still need them. You need them to check your excesses, compensate for your blind spots and correct your mistakes.
Political opponents are actually not part of the system of checks and balances "between the different departments of government", as somebody should have taught Brooks around 8th grade. The founders would have been happy not to have any, President Washington in particular really hoping to avoid any parties at all.

Please tell Mitch McConnell, though, that he needs somebody to check his excesses, compensate for his blind spots, and correct his mistakes. My guess is he'll cooperate better if you tell him he gets to check somebody else. To be honest, that would also work better on me, and it probably worked better on James Madison too; Madison himself, in Federalist 51, seems to have been focused on giving departments the ability to resist:

Scooby Dooby Doo Where Are You

"Meddling Kids", by Wes and Tony at Amazing Superpowers, 2009.

So celebrity attorney Rodolfo Giuliani is flying to Kiyiv to see if he can do some open-air colluding with the Ukrainian president-elect Volodymyr Zelensky on behalf of his famous legal client, Donald J. Trump. He may think Zelensky, a professional comedian and political novice, has something in common with his famous legal client Donald J. Trump, who is also a TV star with no knowledge of public policy or foreign affairs, though I expect Zelensky is a more serious human being. Per Kenneth Vogel in The New York Times,
“We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview on Thursday when asked about the parallel to the special counsel’s inquiry [on the possibility that the 2016 Trump campaign may have conspired with a foreign power to help them win the election].
“There’s nothing illegal about it,” he said. “Somebody could say it’s improper. And this isn’t foreign policy — I’m asking them to do an investigation that they’re doing already and that other people are telling them to stop. And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”
And I'd have gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling celebrity attorneys!

The investigation he's encouraging Ukrainian authorities to do, or to keep doing and not stop, depending on which part of the sentence you land in, is to benefit his client by getting some—you guessed it—dirt on Hillary Clinton. I love it, especially in the summer.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

For the Record: Southern Strategy

Drawing by Tony Auth, June 2008.

Another one of those Twitter lectures, presented not to display how I defeated the choad I was responding to (I didn't, really, he's impenetrable) but as a reference guide to how the evidence goes in a format I thought was pretty concise and well-pointed:

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Chick singers

This from soprano Diana Damrau is perfect. Note how the flawless singing, emphasizing the nature-character of those bird-call sounds, doesn't prettify the fact that this woman (the star-flaming Queen demanding that her daughter murder a guy) is nuts. The singer is willing to give this everything, even if it entails looking ugly.

The craziness is also signaled by Mozart's upside-down form, which begins with an aria and ends with a recitative finishing in the wrong key. Compare the Queen's Act I aria, when she's a "good" character, with the normal recitative-cavatina-cabaletta form: she's still extremely disturbing, but you don't know who to blame.

Here's a singer I love more, Natalie Dessay, giving us the act I queen in a less ambivalent portrayal, as just a nice lady who sounds like a bird sometimes when her suffering overcomes her.

In her act II return Dessay is so nuts you feel sorry for her, and at the same time deeply tender. which isn't as coherent in the show as a whole as Damrau is, but gives you a moment of singular beauty,

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Reality Spills Outside

It's double-recycling season for David Brooks, with a new book out and commencement addresses to deliver (he was at Arizona State yesterday), so he can work a bit of book into an address and then cull columns out of the addresses ("The Difference Between Happiness and Joy") in full lyrical effusion:

Joy and Happiness 
by David F. Brooks 
There is a different emotion up in the stands among
the families and friends. That emotion is joy.
They are not thinking about themselves. Their delight
is seeing the glow on the graduate’s face, the laughter
in her voice, the progress of his journey, the blooming
of a whole person. Happiness usually involves
a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve
the transcendence of self. Happiness comes
from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart
is in another. Joy comes after years
of changing diapers, driving to practice,
worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen,
playing in the yard and just sitting quietly
together watching TV. Joy is the present
that life gives you as you give away your gifts.
Remember how David F. Brooks used to dance in the kitchen before his kids went to college? And how he changed diapers? Those were the days, my friends!