Archive for October 2016

You’re The Puppet

October 31, 2016

Franklin Foer is up with an almost-incendiary new piece at Slate on Trump’s secret email link to a Russian bank. And here’s what Foer has found:

The irregular pattern of server lookups actually resembled the pattern of human conversation—conversations that began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow. It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank.

russian-puppet

Alfa Bank deep and old ties to Vladimir Putin in an admittedly complicated history described in part (as Foer cites)in this work.

Yesterday, when Senator Harry Reid posted his letter suggesting that FBI Director Comey was sitting on “explosive” information about Trump’s ties to Russia, some serious people suggested that was just Reid blowing smoke — the way he provoked Romney with his claim that the 2012 GOP nominee hadn’t paid taxes in a decade (which wasn’t true, at least for the two years the RomBot deigned to release his partial returns.)  I got into a twitter fight about that with Tom Nichols, who many (including me) see as a smart and honest-broker conservative.  Reid’s tactics pissed him (and many others) waaaaay off, and the default was to assume that this latest was more of the same.

Well, perhaps, not so much.

One of the interesting aspects of Foer’s stories is that the New York Times is on it too.  Foer writes:

Around the same time [September], the New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers began chasing the story. (They are still pursuing it.)

I have been (today! on Twitter) extremely critical of the Times‘ coverage of this election, particularly its disastrous refusal to accept the sunk cost of their dry-hole Clinton email investigation. This would be a good moment to redeem, in part, the institutional failure there to follow up on Trump stories with the kind of in-depth reporting that the Post’s David Fahrenthold and Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald, among some others, have produced.

But leave aside the press wars for a moment, and contemplate what Foer has uncovered, partial and circumstantial as it is.  For months, with communication peaking at politcally significant moments, Donald Trump maintained a secret communication link with the highest levels of the Russian kleptocracy.

Throughout this election one of the core unanswered questions has been “Who owns Donald Trump.” The single real failure of journalism in this campaign has been the lack of a sustained effort to crack that query.  Now we have a partial answer, circumstantial, inferential, but more solid than all the months-long Trump denials of connections between his organization and Russian institutions.

Absent any better information, the prudent response is that the possibility that Putin owns Trump is non-trivially real — and hence makes it waaaaaay too risky to allow him and his associates anywhere near power.

And, of course, we are within days of the choice that could make him President of the United States.

Mind boggling.

Image: Big Philanthropic Puppet Bazaar Saint Petersburg, 1899

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Donald Trump: Fascist

October 27, 2016

I can’t think of another way to describe him after this* [Politico link]:

Donald Trump suggested canceling the election Thursday and granting himself the presidency.

“What a difference. You know, what a difference this is,” Trump said during a rally in Toledo, Ohio, after comparing his tax plan with Hillary Clinton’s.

“And just thinking to myself right now, we should just cancel the election and just give it to Trump, right? What are we even having it for? What are we having it for?” he asked. “Her policies are so bad. Boy, do we have a big difference.”

Because that’s how he rolls, and how the party that nominated him would, if they could.

I got nuthin’ beyond that.

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Except perhaps this:  the Republican party is a wholly owned Trump subsidiary now. It must be destroyed, its walls pulled down, its proud towers cast down, its fields sown with salt.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est

*Actually, I’ve been using that label for the Cheeto-faced Ferret-heedit Shitgibbon for some time.  But that’s neither here nor there.

Image: J. W. M. Turner, The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire1817.

There’s Never Just One…

October 27, 2016

This, via TPM

A 41-year-old lawyer has accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of groping her in 1999 when she was a young foundation fellow in Washington, D.C., National Law Journal reported Thursday.

The lawyer, Moira Smith, said that Thomas repeatedly touched her rear multiple times as he pleaded for her to sit next to him at a dinner party hosted by the head of her scholarship program. The alleged incident occurred, Smith said, when just the two of them were alone near the table she was setting for the party.

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It’s been clear since her testimony (at least to me) that Anita Hill was a truthful and courageous witness to Clarence Thomas’s craptastitude, and hence his unfitness to be a Supreme Court justice.  There were rumors at the time that there were more women, with more stories.  But they never testified.  So Thomas survived on the “he-said; she-said; who knows?” defense.

But if there’s anything the intervening decades have taught us, it’s that powerful men who use their positions to impose their sexual demands on women don’t stop at just one.  See, of course, Mr. Donald Trump.

And now this.  Thomas is blanket denying, of course:

“This claim is preposterous and it never happened,” Thomas said in a statement to National Law Journal.

That’ll keep him securely in place, until and unless the next woman comes forward, and the next, and the next…

My bet?

Well, there’s never just one.  But keeping Thomas in his seat is so important to so many of the worst people in the country that I would be utterly unsurprised to see (a) Moira Smith get hit by a world of hurt and (b) anyone else who might have knowledge of any misdeeds by Trump getting that message.

We’ll see.

Image: Artemisia Gentileschi, Corisca and the Satyr, betw. 1630 and 1635.

All You Need To Know About Paul Ryan

October 11, 2016

This:

…the speaker is torn between his personal feelings about the tape showing Donald Trump discussing grabbing women by the genitals and his desire to preserve the historic GOP majority in the House of Representatives.

My reaction:

A) Profile in Courage.

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B) Put his picture in the dictionary next to “Party Before Country”

I have many dreams about this election. One that is very unlikely — but less so than a week ago — is that the GOP loses the House, and Ryan loses his seat.

A boy can dream, can’t he?

Image:Éduoard Manet, The Rabbit 1866.

For a Good Time In Radioland (Short Notice Self Aggrandizement)

October 6, 2016

ETA: So, we lost the connection to Blog Talk radio.  Jay and I continued the conversation to tape; he’s editing it now and will post the audio as a podcast tomorrow.  I’ll let y’all know when it’s up.  Sorry…

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Don’t know if anyone reading this has had their fill of The Hunt For Vulcan, but just in case you haven’t, I’ll be talking soon about that book, missing planets, error in science (and life, perhaps) and more with Jay Ackroyd on his internet radio program, Virtually Speaking.

Time: 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 Pacific (one hour from now!)

Here’s the link.

Tune in, if you’re not absorbed in more down-to-earth matters. (I.e….Go Sox!)

Image:  Gerrit Dou, Astronomer by candlelight1665

Two Things That Happened And One That Didn’t

October 5, 2016

I’m going to keep this short (you’ve heard that before from me) because my disdain for punditry extends to my own attempts.

Still, it seems to me that there is one real measure of success or failure (“winning” or “losing”) for any political event: did what just occurred move votes to one side or the other.  Everything else is just noise, or, as our elite bloviators perform it, theater criticism.

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By that criterion there were only two moments that mattered last night, and both did real damage to Team Trump.

The first was obvious from the moment the words left Mike Pence’s mouth: “You whipped out that Mexican thing again.”

I’m sure I’m not alone in my instant reaction:  “He just said WHHHAAAATTTTT!” Latino Twitter was unamused, certainly — and this is key.  There are some constituencies in which Trump cannot fall any further.  The number of Black Trump supporters is hovering around the margin of error — he’s polling between two and six percent nationally.

But there are still Latino votes to lose.  A Univision battleground state poll found Hillary lagging about eight points behind Obama’s numbers in each state, with Florida’s 24 percent gap between the two the narrowest of the lot.  Did Mike Pence help Trump with those voters last night?

The question answers itself.

The other meaningful moment was equally apparent as it happened.  That would be this exchange:

Governor, why don’t you trust women to make this choice for themselves? We can encourage people to support life. Of course we can. But why don’t you trust women? Why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?

That’s what we ought to be doing in public life. Living our lives of faith or motivation with enthusiasm and excitement, convincing other, dialoguing with each other about important moral issues of the day…

PENCE: Because there are…

KAINE: … but on fundamental issues of morality, we should let women make their own decisions.

PENCE: Because there is — a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn. I believe it with all my heart. And I couldn’t be more proud to be standing with a pro-life candidate in Donald Trump.

One man said that American women are the agents of their own lives.  The other said that they cannot be, that his personal religious commitment pre-empts any decision a woman might choose to make.  All the squid-ink of piety Pence spewed did not obscure the painfully clear: Mike Pence would use the force of law to ensure no woman had more authority over their bodies than the state would.

While abortion remains an issue on which the American electorate is divided, and there are certainly plenty of women who are committed to the anti-abortion cause — and plan to vote accordingly — plenty more voters recoil at the idea of the Trump-Pence punitive approach.  Given the significance (we are told) of the suburban woman and millenials in this year’s swing states, there’s no joy for the Trump crowd here either; shoring up the base that’s already enthusiastically committed to you is less important than giving those who might be persuadable to pull the lever for your side.

To me, everything else that occurred in the debate takes second place to those two brief passages.  Kaine did well, I think, to get Pence on record denying his savior thrice before cock-crow — that helps drive the second day narrative, which is certainly useful.  But in terms of actually grabbing votes?

Further alienating the Latino/a vote and making it ever harder for women to cast a GOP ballot — and not just women, but any man who sees women as actual people —  ain’t exactly a royal road to victory.

And as for the moment that never happened?

We’ve had 180 minutes of debates so far.  180 minutest to go.

As I write this, after the hottest half year on record; after devastating drought; after horrific fires; after record floods; with a Category 4/3 hurricane bearing down on Florida, having already wrecked Haiti — with all this, there have been exactly zero questions on climate change.  Tim Kaine managed to slip in a mention in a national security answer, praising Clinton for forging “strong alliances to battle terrorism and climate change.” Clinton did get Trump to deny saying climate change was a Chinese hoax — as he did.  But that’s it.

This is simply disgraceful.  One more piece of evidence that our elite political media if f**king hopeless.

That is all. [Flips Pundit-Mode to “off”]

Image:  J. M. W. Turner, Shade and Darkness — The Evening of the Deluge, 1843.

Some Stray Reading For When You’ve Finished Your Luke Cage Binge

October 1, 2016

Hey all,

I’ve got a couple of pieces out in what we might call the mainstream media that might reward your attention.

The first closes the loop on that lovely Royal Society award shortlist we talked about a while back.  The winner was announced a couple of Mondays ago and, alas, it didn’t go to The Hunt for Vulcan (which you should still totally read).

Instead the prize went to Andrea Wulf for her intellectual biography of Alexander von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature.  It’s a very strong book, as were each of the others on the shortlist.  I commend all of them to you.

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The event itself was great, and the organizers made sure that each of the titles in the finals had a chance to shine, and while I was certainly disappointed, I was also greatly chuffed — and why not?  My work had been recognized as among the class of the year, I got to rub shoulders with some wonderful writers, (including a personal hero, the head judge Bill Bryson), and hey — London! What could be bad.

Nothing — until, as I was getting ready to leave that green and sceptered isle, I came across a piece at The Guardian in which the writer argued that there was something dodgy about Wulf’s win — that she had garnered a feminized prize, one that sought to reward a woman’s interest in people instead of a man’s pursuit of “problem, a mystery or an underexplored scientific field.”

I couldn’t let such arrant nonsense fly unanswered, so I wrote up a response for The Atlantic.  In it I drew both on my experience as one of the competitors in the contest Wulf won, and my prior encounter with prize judging as a Pulitzer juror in 2012.  Check it out, if you’ve a mind.

The other article you might find fun is a book review that I wrote a little while ago that went live yesterday at The Boston Globe — my take on James Gleick’s new book, Time Travel.  The shorter is that the book is great, really fine work, and I commend it to you all.  Here’s a sample:

Mostly, though, Gleick leads us on a thrilling journey of ideas. Augustine talks to Robert Heinlein who talks to Kurt Gödel, all the while someone is trying to connect a call between Marcel Proust and the ever patient Sam Beckett. Alongside the big ideas come the odd facts too delicious to leave out, as when we learn that among the audio selections placed on the Voyager spacecraft is the Bulgarian folk song “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin’’ or “Delyo the Hajduk Has Gone Outside.” Pity the alien trying to decipher that code!

So, yeah. I’ve been delinquent in my blogging here.  Think of these as peace offerings.

Have a great weekend, all.  I’m going to continue nursing my dread catarrh; nothing like a full 747 to offer a smörgåsbord of viral delights.  Honey-lemon tea (possibly helped by some bourbon) in my future.

Image: William Harnett, Job Lot Cheap, 1878.