Grace In Extremis, And Its Reward

Posted September 29, 2015 by Tom
Categories: rare sincerity

Tags: ,

I’m not going to get in the way. This story speaks for itself:

I’ll only add that I found Francine Christoph’s story to be both a reminder of the evil of which human individuals and societies are capable, and a glorious rebuke to those then and now who would urge us to heed our yetzer hara.

Easy Money

Posted September 21, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Massive Fail, Republican follies, ridicule, Schadenfreude, Stupidity

Tags: ,

Bill Kristol, on August 18, 2015:

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 7.51.15 PM

Me, the next day:

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 7.51.26 PM

I should have had a broader view of course.  Any encomium from Bill Kristol is like a touch from Jesus’s dumber younger brother.*  Maybe not the kid’s college fund, but sweet FSM I should have bet the holiday gift money on the under for Walker’s candidacy, fer shure.

Bill Kristol, as reliable as a wrong way weathervane as we can ever hope to see.  Long may he influence the GOP.

Thought we needed more thread.  Beyond schadenfreude, what’s on the agenda tonight?

*The one who made the blind man deaf.

Apropos Of Not Much

Posted September 19, 2015 by Tom
Categories: good books, Writing


Picked up a Terry Pratchett off my paperback shelf today pretty much at random — The Nightwatch, one of the Vimes strand.  It’s one of my less-read ones, meaning maybe twice, possibly even three times, but not more.  I just idly flipped it open and looked over the first couple of pages,,,and came to this little digression:

The plain old Sam Vimes had fought back. He got rid of most of the plumes and the stupid tights, and ended up with a dress niform that at least looked as thought its owner was male.  But the helmet had gold decoration, and the bespoke armorers had made a new gleaming breastplate with useless gold ornamentation on it.


Sam Vimes felt like a class traitor every time he wore it.  He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armor.  It was gilt by association.

There’s my Terry! — and why I miss him so.  His brain bubbles were the best, and he had  absolutely no shame — none at all — when it came to transcribing whatever floated to the surface.  I tell my son more often than he cares to hear that words are toys.  Pratchett had more fun with the English language than anyone else I can think of.  I take him as a role model (as my students — and family — know, to their sorrow).

As I warned — apropos of not much at all.

Image:  Titian, Philip II of Spain, 1551.

Bows In The Hood

Posted September 17, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Music, Race

Tags: ,

Here’s something to wash away the taste of last night’s DerpFest extraordinaire.

From the NPR story on Black Violin:

Kevin Sylvester says that when most people see a 6-foot-2-inch, 260-pound black man, they don’t expect him to also be a classically trained violinist. A recent exchange with a woman in an elevator, when he happened to have his instrument with him in its case, drove that point home.

“She’s like, ‘What do you play?’ ” he recalls. “I’m like, ‘I’m a violinist.’ And she was like, ‘Well, obviously you don’t play classical, so what kind of style do you play?’ ”

Sylvester says he explained that while he does have a degree in classical music, he plays all kinds of styles. “She didn’t mean it maliciously,” he says, “but I hope she gets to see us in concert and we can change her perception.”

A not altogether non sequitur.  As I watched this video, I was reminded why I’m a member of the Democratic party.  It’s got a lot of problems, lot of positions espoused by leaders at every level of government at which I wince.  But the party that nominated and elected Barack Hussein Obama is one that can envision an America that looks like the country Sylvester and his co-conspirator in gut and horsehair, Wilner Baptiste, want to help create.  I’ll leave the “and the other party….” half of the duology unmentioned…its would-be leaders said all that was necessary last night.

Plus, and for your early evening pleasure — these guys can play.

I’m Glad We’ve Got That Straightened Out

Posted September 17, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Republican follies, Who needs science?


America is a lot of things, the greatest country in the world, absolutely,” Rubio said, talking about climate change. “But America is not a planet.”


Pluto for Science Advisor!

Seriously — I can’t even…

Potential presidents? I’m not sure these people can be trusted around metal cutlery.

That is all. (Open thread)

Image: Adam and Charles Black, The Solar System and the Theory of the Seasons1873.

Everything Old Is New Again — John Rogers Is Always Right Edition

Posted September 15, 2015 by Tom
Categories: political follies, Republican follies, Stupidity, Two Parties -- Not the Same

Tags: ,

Top line from today’s New York Times/CBS poll of the Republican presidential primary:

The proportion of Republican voters favoring Mr. Carson rose to 23 percent from 6 percent in the previous CBS News poll, which was taken just before the first televised Republican debate in early August. Over that same period, Mr. Trump made modest gains, to 27 percent from 24 percent.

In case any of our MSM friends are truly arithmetically challenged, that means that Donald Trump and Ben Carson — two men who have less capacity to fill the office they seek than I do to perform neurosurgery or figure out how to lose money owning a casino — combine to grab half of Republican electorate.


One out of every two polled.



The key number, of course, is Trump’s total, that “modest” step to precisely the level that John Rogers identified, so long ago, as the crazification factor:

John: Hey, Bush is now at 37% approval. I feel much less like Kevin McCarthy screaming in traffic. But I wonder what his base is —

Tyrone: 27%.

John: … you said that immmediately, and with some authority.

Tyrone: Obama vs. Alan Keyes. Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.

John: Objectively crazy or crazy vis-a-vis my own inertial reference frame for rational behaviour? I mean, are you creating the Theory of Special Crazification or General Crazification?

Tyrone: Hadn’t thought about it. Let’s split the difference. Half just have worldviews which lead them to disagree with what you consider rationality even though they arrive at their positions through rational means, and the other half are the core of the Crazification — either genuinely crazy; or so woefully misinformed about how the world works, the bases for their decision making is so flawed they may as well be crazy.

John: You realize this leads to there being over 30 million crazy people in the US?

Tyrone: Does that seem wrong?

John: … a bit low, actually.

Of course, based on the recent polling gains recorded by our favorite lunatic neurosurgeon, we may be in a situation even the great Kung Fu Monkey has not yet encountered.  It’s entirely possible that we could soon see a survey that has both Trump and Carson at 27%.  Do we have non-overlapping magisteria of crazy working now in Not-Your-Grandparents’-GOP™?

Run away! Run away!

Open Thread, my friends.

PS:  Bonus link to Charles Pierce on the special snowflake that is Our Donald.  When Pierce nails an image, that image stays nailed:

Trump is so thin-skinned that, if he swallowed a flashlight, he’d glow like a Japanese lantern.

Hieronymous Bosch, Ship of Fools (detail), betw. 1488-1510. (Unsure on the color correction on this one, folks.  Been decades since I saw it in the flesh).

In Which David Brooks Sets A World Record For Long Jump Over A Shark*

Posted September 8, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Journalism and its discontents, MSM nonsense


David Brooks is an embarrassment — not news, I know.  But while he’s always been glib, his intellectual sloth has only deepened as over and over again, reality has refused to accord his views the respect he believes they deserve.

Case in point:  today’s column, titled “The Anti-Party Men: Trump, Carson, Sanders and Corbyn”.

The entire thing is a dog’s breakfast — centered on a cynically ahistorical description of political parties, an argument that, in effect, the Republican Party’s inability to rein in its crazies is caused by a rise in “assertive individualism.” That, of course, omits all that uncomfortable record of explicit radicalization built into the fabric of Nixon’s southern strategy and its sequels.

But that’s Brooks’ problem:  he aims to dismiss Trump, and to a lesser extent Carson, as betrayers of an imagined American ideal, and he doesn’t want to confront what their current success says about the Republican Party as a whole.  So, enter Bernie Sanders.

The problem Brooks has there is that Sanders is not the same type of candidate as the GOP’s id-sters: he’s running a conventional Democratic campaign, drawing on a conventional subset of the Democratic base, and he’s advancing ideas that are, for the most part, absolutely within the Democratic party mainstream.  Brooks entire anti-party indictment of Sanders is that he is an independent who merely caucuses with the Democrats.

That’s weak tea, which Brooks seems to sense, which may account for this, the straw of nonsense that breaks this column’s back:

These four anti-party men have little experience in the profession of governing.

These sudden stars are not really about governing. They are tools for their supporters’ self-expression. They allow supporters to make a statement, demand respect or express anger or resentment. Sarah Palin was a pioneer in seeing politics not as a path to governance but as an expression of her followers’ id.

Let’s review:  Carson and Trump:  no experience in any elected office.

Sanders:  four terms (eight years) as mayor of Burlington, VT.  Member of the United States House of Representatives for sixteen years.  Currently a second term United States Senator with almost nine years on the job.  Among other roles, he serves now as the ranking member of the Budget Committee — one of the big three committees that have jurisdiction over taxes, appropriations and budget policy.**  The ranking member, of course, is the senior member of the minority party on a given panel, which is to say that Bernie Sanders is currently serving as the Democratic party’s lead force on the committee that articulates the large scale policy structure of federal spending.

But David Brooks has said that Bernie Sanders has little experience in the profession of governing, and Brooks is wants to appear to be an honorable man.


Seriously:  Sanders has managed departments that plow snow and fill potholes; he’s handled constituent services for the state of Vermont for more than two decades.  He’s caucused with Democrats and carries a full portfolio of the bread-and-butter of legislative work, the committee duties where so much of the legislative process really happens.  Whatever you think about his politics, his self-identification, his campaign, one thing is simply a fact:  Bernie Sanders has spent most of his adult life immersed in the daily practice of governing.  (And his supporters, pace Our David, include among their number those who are less interested in self-expression than in Sanders’ emphasis on the need to reform the US economy.)

Put it another way:  Sanders has a deep history of explicit policy experience behind him, a set of views and arguments that inform an extensive body of proposals in his presidential campaign.  Trump and Carson?  Not so much.***

Which is to say:  Brooks is not just wrong here, he’s guilty of one of two sins here:  either he’s utterly, contemptuously, slothfully ignorant, or he knows Sanders’ record, and he’s chosen to hide that knowledge from his readers.

I could go on (you know I could) — but there’s no point.  When a piece of work is based on a false premise, that’s pretty much it.  An interesting question would be why the challenges to perceived front-runners in our two parties are so different in kind and quality.  But actually engaging that mystery (not!) would require explicit acknowledgement that the Democrats remain the kind of civic institution, a coalition across a range of interests, backgrounds and views that Brooks extols, while the Republican party, increasingly, does not.  And if the two parties are not the same, what’s a faux-centrist water carrier for the GOP elite to do?

I gotta confess to an journeyman’s complaint here.  I disdain Brooks’ argument and the view he’s attempting to advance, but there’s nothing new (or terribly wrong) in that — what’s political writing for if not to dispute public life?  What really gets me here is the sheer contempt the basic craft, the job of any writer making a case.  Brooks’ attempt to lump Sanders into a category in which he manifestly does not belong is purely lazy.

And obvious!

And unnecessary!

Brooks could have written the entire column on Trump and Carson as case studies in the rise of iconoclasm in politics and the piece would have read fine. He wouldn’t perhaps, have been able to write the same jeremiad about “solipsistic bubbles”**** in which his adopted countrymen choose to ignore the reasoned advise of the wise men Brooks has chosen for them.  Too high a price, I suppose.

*An homage to my grandfather Tom, as it happens, who once held the world record for long jump on horse. Truly. An insight into his horsemanship — and perhaps his post-dinner judgment — can be found here.

**It’s the weakest of the three committees involved in managing the federal budget; Appropriations and Finance have more direct power.  But Budget is where the large scale policy agenda for federal spending gets its day.

***You could make the case that Carson has lots of positions, and you’d be more or less right.  That said, a slogan and a paragraph do not a policy position make.

****That the phrase better describes the media village in which Brooks resides than it does most of America is a case of projection we can pass over in silence.

Image: Edward Scriven, engraving from an original by Richard Westall, “Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar,” 1802.



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