Archive for the ‘MSM nonsense’ category

The Siberian Candidate

July 28, 2016

The Trump story of the morning appears to be a clumsy attempt to walk back yesterday’s folly/treason.  The ferret-headed Benedict Arnold now says he was just kidding.

In the reality-based universe this looks ridiculous, a twelve year old bully’s gambit to duck out of trouble when his mouth makes a promise the rest of him can’t back up.

In a political world described to the electorate but a media community that is either complicit (Fox, et al.) or cowed into ineffectuality (at best), it’s at least a solid move by Trump, and maybe more so.  He gets two main benefits out of what should be a candidacy-killing blunder.

The first is a refocusing of attention onto the Hillary email story, never mind that the actual hack — and the evil thereof –was not on Clinton’s server but was instead an attack against one of America’s two major political parties.  To all those — I spoke to one yesterday — who see Hillary as guilty, guilty, guilty, any means necessary to bring her down is just fine, and this story helps fuel that hunger while reminding everyone, yet again, that Hillary is the worst ever traitor/murderess/spy/arglebarglegabblegibberish….

The second, and even more potent benefit to Trump is the distraction his invocation of Russian spycraft offers the media.  This is classic misdirection. Focus on the more sensational, but ultimately off-the-point element of a story instead of the meat of the matter.

That would be, of course, how Trump has already, and will likely continue to pay off on Putin’s investment in his sorry ass.  Josh Marshall wrote an elegant bill of indictment a week ago, and Adam L. Silverman has gone into some detail on the extraordinary damage Trump is wreaking on more than a half a century of American geopolitics.

To do the TL:DR — Trump increasingly depends on Russian money as more and more of the major players in the western financial system have learned to their sorrow that he’s a litigious deadbeat.  That means that Trump doesn’t have to be a witting agent of the Kremlin; he’s already been bought and paid for (and, as Adam has noted, he’s long curried favor with/genuinely supported Russian authoritarians).

Giotto_di_Bondone_-_No._28_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ_-_12._Judas'_Betrayal_-_WGA09213

You can see how much vig he’s paid already:  threats to NATO and other allies, the signals he’s sending on Putin’s ambitions in the Baltic, Chamberlain-esque appeasement in his seeming willingness to accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, explicit changes the GOP position on Ukraine in an unequivocal shift towards the Kremlin line.

Does Trump believe in any of that, independently of a Russian handler? Who knows and who cares.  The threat Trump’s Russian connections poses to US and world security exist whether or not he’s a dupe, a useful idiot, a debtor, or (easily the least likely, IMHO) an actual witting asset of the FSB.  The real story lies in two strands and two only.  First:  follow the money.  What does Trump owe to whom? Where does/can he lay his hands on cash these days?

Second:  look at what Trump has done and proposes to do.  Not the conditional BS — how great it would be if Putin hacked HIllary.  The real stuff, the weakening of the western alliance, down-the-line support for Kremlin actions and arguments.

This is a test of our political media, one I’m afraid is already being flubbed.  Trump is a good — no, a great — three card monte player.  The patter conceals the real action.

This is how a Siberian Candidate gets the job done.

For our part, it’s a matter of keeping the story alive as much as we can in every venue we can: calling representatives, hitting social media, writing letters to the editor, and above all, talking to voters who need help seeing what’s at stake in this election.

Image:  Giotto di Bondone, Judas Receiving Payment For His Betrayalbetween 1304 and 1306.

Which Of These Is Not Like The Others?

July 21, 2016

Andrew Sullivan — yes, I know, and I’ll get back to that in a moment — is live blogging the RNC for New York Magazine.  His reaction on Day 2  to the Christie-led witch trial “lock her up” frenzy was as it should have been:  it was vile and the mark of a neo-fascist campaign.  That evoked a response from a reader Sullivan then posted to the blog, which argued, reasonably enough, that errors in office are not criminal offences.  For example, that reader wrote and Sullivan published:

Politicians and presidents make serious ethical mistakes. Reagan/Bush 41 on Iran-Contra, Bush 43 on WMD intelligence/torture, Bill Clinton on perjury.

Let’s review.

Iran -Contra:  trading with a reviled adversary to fund an illegal covert war that killed thousands of the most vulnerable, least powerful people in our hemisphere.

Fra_Angelico_003

WMD intelligence/torture: launch a war on false pretexts that left thousands of Americans, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, many more wounded, millions displaced, an ongoing conflict that has spawned attacks on innocents all over the world, and that has led the United States government at its highest level to countenance war crimes.

Coloured_Figures_of_English_Fungi_or_Mushrooms.djvu

Perjury:  lying about a blow job.

Elephant_and_Whale_Screens_by_Ito_Jakuchu_(Miho_Museum)L

That one could write that sentence without a hint of irony is a measure of the damage done to US politics by the Republican party made as far back as 1968 to put power at all costs before all else.  That Andrew Sullivan could disseminate it without comment reminds us of his own Clinton Derangement Syndrome, and his unreliability as any kind of moral arbiter.

Sullivan is a clever man, a fast and fluid writer, and does get some things right; certainly, for all his CDS, he’s got no illusions about Trump as anything more than a Mussolini wannabe.

But for all that, he’s a terrible thinker.  Through the live blog (I’ve gotten through day 1 and most of day 2 so far) he talks repeatedly about the GOP’s focus on feeling at the expense of facts and reason — and he’s right of course.  But when the issue strikes one or another of his standing emotional chords, he’s no better.  I hope tomorrow to have the time to write up his stuff on Black Lives Matter.  It is everything you’d expect, and the current debacle turns on his unwillingness to do the intellectual work needed to test his own assumptions.

OK — it’s over to you, and back to the problem of figuring out 17th century share prices from one end of a coffee shop to another for me.

Images:  Fra Angelico, The Massacre of the Innocents 1450.

James Sowerby, Coloured Figures of English Fungi or Mushroomsplate 43, 1798.

Ito Jakuchu, Elephant and Whale Screens, 1797.

The Love Song Of David Brooks, Or Who You Gonna Believe…

October 30, 2015

Bobo, or your own lyin’ eyes.

Amazingly enough, I’m not going all John Foster Dulles on Brooks’ latest grotesquerie:  all you need to know can be read in this brief passage:

At this stage it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans. They are all wildly unaffordable.  What matters is how a candidate signals priorities.

Umm. David.  We remember George Bush’s plans.  They signaled his priorities just fine…and he proceeded as promised to turn a robust budget surplus into the biggest upwards income redistribution in memory, along with deficits from here to Atlantis.

I had thought to fisk the whole damn column, which is full of low-hanging fruit.  But really why bother?  It’s all there in that don’t “get too worked up “by what alledged “wonks” actually say about the policies they wonkishly espouse.  Because it’s not like they mean it.

Except they do.

And once again we see:  David Brooks is a terrible public figure not because of his politics but because of his character, his willingness to be a loyal apparatchik transcribing whatever counts as pravda in that universe in which Republicans are the natural party of power.

Pieter_Brueghel_the_Elder_-_The_Dutch_Proverbs_-_Google_Art_Project

Or to put it another way: he both is and broadcasts a stupid person’s idea of what a smart conservative sounds like.

PS:  Krugthulu agrees.  What I like best about this is the absence of even a shred of collegial courtesy.

Which is as it should be.  If you’re going to opine in public, then it’s your job to do so by saying what you really think.

Image:  Pieter Breughel the Elder, Dutch Proverbs — The Topsy Turvy World. 1559.  I highly recommend checking out the image at the link.  The notes embedded in the picture explain it’s relevance here.  See, e.g. the roses before swine above.

 

Because No One Knows The Essence Of Blackness…

October 8, 2015

….like an  old, filthy-rich white guy.

Alexander_H_Stephens_circa_1875_by_Brady_&_Co

Here’s noted sociologist of race and authenticity, Rupert “Bug-Eyed Monster” Murdoch

“Ben and Candy Carson terrific. What about a real black President who can properly address the racial divide?…” [via TPM]

Ummm.

Rupert…

…Protip:

Take it from a  fellow person of the Caucasian persuasion:

You don’t get a vote.

Or, consider the shorter:

Bugger off, mate.  May all your chooks become emus and kick your dunny door down.

(PS — anyone besides me think it … let’s just say “odd” … that the new owner of National Geographic should fall in love with a stone-cold evolution denialist? Just askin’.)

Image:  Brady & Co, Cabinet card portrait of Georgia politician Alexander H. Stephens with a servant, formerly a slave c. 1875.

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

September 8, 2015

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.

Brutus_and_the_Ghost_of_Caesar_1802

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.

 

On The Unbearable Lightness Of David Brooks

April 28, 2015

I know I’ve been mostly absent, and will continue to be so.  (At least until this makes it through copy editing.)*

I know as well that there’s too much to be talked about to waste much time on the utterly predictable.

And I also know that what I’m about to point out is far less an indictment than, say, today’s column should earn.  I do plan to take a whack at that one sometime soon, unless, as I hope, Charles Pierce eviscerates, and I can just crib.

So this is just a bit of nastiness on my part, some pissed-off snark, on confronting the “look inside” excerpt now available for the divine’ BoBo’s new hacktacular, The Road to Character.  As a matter of substance, I’ll just say that I agree with Driftglass, (via the above-referenced Mr. Pierce), that for David Brooks, such an avenue remains the road not taken.

John_Constable_013

But as a matter of pure spite, let me just say that nothing I’ve read of Mr. Brooks’ new minimum opus changes my core opinion.  He’s got a gift for glib writing, the prose analogue to your easy-listening adult classics.  But in any attempt to sustain prose over the long haul…the cracks show.

Exhibit A.  The first two sentences of work:

“Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.”

I’m sorry, but what tin ear, what grudge against English prosody, allowed these clunkers to pass? That’s the barker at the door, the first words one encounters while deciding whether to commit precious hours of one’s life into David Brooks’ care!  Such blunt repetition, the rhythmic fail of the second sentence, the parody of explanation — “résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé” — forsooth!  I never would have guessed!  Even if Brooks didn’t mind such clumsiness, where in the name of all that’s pasta was his editor?

Trivial, I know, and I’m hardly a without prose sins of my own to regret.  But as I read reviews that praise Brooks depth or countercultural mastery, it’s worth remembering passages like this one.  Brooks is not a great writer, and the reason isn’t that he can’t manipulate words well when he pays attention.  He clearly can.  Rather, it’s that such hack writing hints at the hack thinker putting cursor to phosphor.  Expressing bad thoughts clearly exposes their flaws…which can and hence must be elided in a fog of mediocre prose.  As here you see.

Bonus reading, which has the added benefit of showing what happens when villagers (even genuinely capable ones) review fellow villagers.  See, for example, Pico Iyer in last Sunday’s New York Times book review:

For every blurred piety here (“We are all ultimately saved by grace”), there’s a sentence that shames everything around it (“Philosophy is likely to be a tension between competing half-truths”).

Umm. Iyer sees in that “Philosophy is likely to be…” a stunning epiphany, a sentence that puts mere piety to shame.  I see a nearly content-free assertion that undercuts itself by word three.  Seasoned Brooks’ readers will recognize the gambit:  in order to justify one of his famous and very often risible claimed dichotomies (resume virtues vs. eulogy virtues) he must impose his judgment on possible contradicting authorities.  Here, philosphy is drained of potency as it fights on the dubious ground of half-truths.  And just in case anyone calls him on it — this magisteral dictum is only “likely” — thus granting Brooks his ex cathdra authority while insulating him, just a bit, from any instance of reality failing to acknowledge his infallibility.

In other words:  this is pure Brooks, a seemingly epigrammatic heap of nonsense, structured to give him both the appearance of gnomic wisdom and plausible deniability.  And this his exceptionally friendly critic sees as masterful.

We need a new culture.

*I can make one prediction with a fair degree of confidence.  Shameless self-promotion to come much closer to the day.

Image:   John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1820-1821.

David Brooks Auditions For Graham Greene

January 30, 2015

 The Quiet American  is a marvelous book, or rather, it is one in which Greene’s utter disdain for the reckless incompetence of power gets a near perfect expression.  Take this snippet from near the end of the work:

Pyle said, “It’s awful.” He looked at the wet on his shoes and said in a sick voice, “What’s that?” “Blood,” I said. “Haven’t you ever seen it before?” He said, “I must get them cleaned before I see the Minister.” I don’t think he knew what he was saying. He was seeing a real war for the first time: he had punted down into Phat Diem in a kind of schoolboy dream, and anyway in his eyes soldiers didn’t count.

“You see what a drum of Diolacton can do,” I said, “in the wrong hands.” I forced him, with my hand on his shoulder, to look around. I said, “This is the hour when the place is always full of women and children-it’s the shopping hour. Why choose that of all hours?” He said weakly, “There was to have been a parade.” “And you hoped to catch a few colonels. But the parade was cancelled yesterday, Pyle.” “I didn’t know.”

“Didn’t know!” I pushed him into a patch of blood where a stretcher had lain. “You ought to be better informed.”

“I was out of town,” he said, looking down at his shoes. “They should have called it off.”

“And missed the fun?” I asked him. “Do you expect General The to lose his demonstration? This is better than a parade. Women and children are news, and soldiers aren’t, in a war. This will hit the world’s press. You’ve put General The on the map all right, Pyle. You’ve got the Third Force and National Democracy all over your right shoe. Go home to Phuong and tell her about your heroic deed-there are a few dozen less of her country people to worry about.”

A small fat priest scampered by, carrying something on a dish under a napkin. Pyle had been silent a long while, and I had nothing more to say. Indeed I had said too much. He looked white and beaten and ready to faint, and I thought, ‘What’s the good? he’ll always he innocent, you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. Ail you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.’

He said, “The wouldn’t have done this. I’m sure he wouldn’t. Somebody deceived him. The Communists…”

He was impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance…

Peter_Paul_Rubens_Massacre_of_the_Innocents

“Impregnable armoured by good intentions and ignorance.”  That is what will — or at least should be — engraved on David Brooks’ tombstone.  And I’m only giving him the props for his intent there out of whatever residual nil nisi bonum remains to me.

Why the vitriol, and memory of stupid wars, with the overwhelming weight of the violence reserved for far away others who don’t look like “us”?

Today’s column.

(more…)


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