Archive for the ‘Pathetic excuses’ category

Thrice Before Cock Crow

July 31, 2016

Donald Trump, back when life was just tyrants and skittles:

“I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today,” Trump told Roberts, when asked about his relationship with Putin. “He’s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form. But I do have a relationship with him and I think it’s very interesting to see what’s happened…

…I mean look, he’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and what he’s representing,” Trump said. “If you look at what he’s done with Syria, if you look at so many of the different things, he has really eaten our president’s lunch, let’s not kid ourselves.”

Donald Trump this morning:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Russia. You made a lotta headlines with Russia this week. What exactly is your relationship with Vladimir Putin?

TRUMP: I have no relationship with Putin. I have no relationship with Putin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you have no relationship with Putin, then why did you say, in 2013, “I do have a relationship,” in 2014, “I spoke–”

TRUMP: Because he has said nice things about me over the years. I remember years ago, he said something, many years ago, he said something very nice about me. I said something good about him when Larry King was on. This was a long time ago. And I said, “He is a tough cookie,” or something to that effect. He said something nice about me. This has been going on. We did 60 Minutes together, by the way, not together together…

To his credit, The Clinton Guy Shocked By Blowjobs (™ Charles Pierce, but too damn good not to steal) pressed the Incompressible Jizztrumpet* just a wee bit on that bit of revisionist Trumpismo:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But– I– I just wanna clear this up. Because you did say, on three different occasions, you had a relationship with him. Now you say there’s none.

TRUMP: Well, I don’t know what it means by having a relationship…

Stephanopoulos asked Trump three times in all to square that circle, and by interview’s end, the mangled apricot hellbeast seemed to realize he had a bit of a problem, leading to this weak finish to the line begun above with “Well, I don’t know…”

I didn’t meet him. I haven’t spent time with him. I didn’t have dinner with him. I didn’t– go hiking with him. I don’t know– I– I wouldn’t know him from Adam except I see his picture, and I would know what he looks like.

rembrandt peter christ

Beyond looking on in awe at the sheer speed and volume of Trump’s lies (a strength to date, but, I’m coming to think, a growing liability in the general election phase), there’s the meat of the interview, and his attempt to have it both ways on the Ukraine and Crimea:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Then why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?

TRUMP: I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your people were.

TRUMP: Yes. I was not involved in that. I’d like to — I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you know what they did?

TRUMP: They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They took away the part of the platform calling for the provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves.

Why is that a good idea?

TRUMP: Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, OK?

Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?

You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

TRUMP: OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the meantime, he’s going where — he takes — takes Crimea, he’s sort of — I mean…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said you might recognize that.

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.

Now, that was under — just so you understand, that was done under Obama’s administration. And as far as the Ukraine is concerned, it’s a mess. And that’s under the Obama’s administration, with his strong ties to NATO.

So with all of these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess. Crimea has been taken. Don’t blame Donald Trump for that.

The key soundbite, of course, is “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

There’s more:  Stephanopoulos’s failure to press Trump on taxes (the Weasel-headed Fucknugget trotted out the audit excuse again, and Stephanopoulus let it pass); Trump’s claim he has no business ties to Russia, no debt, the claim “I’m so liquid, I don’t need debt,” and the truly bold lie, “If I need debt, if I want debt, I can get it from banks in New York City very easily.”  Err, not so much. Note also that Trump’s sole remaining big-bank lender isn’t exactly robust.)

All of which is to say that while Capt. Khan’s parents make the overarching argument against Trump the person as president, this Russia stuff, and the question of who owns Donald Trump is the drip, drip, drip tale that reminds us that Trump the policy-maker poses a clear and present danger to American and global security.

In IOW, my friends, this interview is the sound of a story with legs.

*I find as I check the source that I misquoted yesterday’s invective.  It was Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon, not as I had it:  “Cheetos-faced, ferret-topped shitgibbon.  The singular cheeto is clearly better, but I think ferret-topped scans better, so there.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, St Peter’s Denial, 1660.  It will reward you to click on the link and look at a full rez version of this painting.  Jesus being led away in chains on the right whilst Peter goes “No, no, no….” in glorious chiaroscuro.

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.

I Can’t Even…

June 3, 2015

Four relatives who cheered their children at a high school graduation  in Senatobia, Mississippi, have been served with arrest warrants for disturbing the peace.

Sassetta_-_The_blessed_Ranieri_frees_the_poors_from_a_jail_Florence_-_Louvre_-_frameless

To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, at least the two of the four facing charges who have been identified in news reports are African American.  The complainant, Senatobia school superintendent Jay Foster is white.  Mr Foster is a stickler:

Superintendent Foster said the charges were far from ridiculous.

While Foster declined an on-camera interview with WREG, he said he’s determined to have order at graduation ceremonies.

“We must have order.”

Seriously?

Seriously!

Makes one proud to be an American.

Image:  Sassetta, The Blessed Ranieri frees the poor 1437-44

Oklahoma, Jake

March 13, 2014

I have to confess.  Can’t claim I’m terribly surprised by this:*

There’s not been a lot of discussion of evolution in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos so far, and yet a very slight reference to it was so upsetting to Fox’s Oklahoma City affiliate that they just “happened” to run a promo for the nightly news over the show’s sole mention it, as you can see in the above video.

Hit the link (to the delightful io9) to see what so spooked the delicate sensibilities of the good folks at Fox25 Oklahoma City.

quot+God+is+an+ever+receding+pocket+of+scientific+ignorance+quot+_a3dcb3c771a4785a3e2fa249e2b4633e

On the one hand, I’m glad:  the competitive advantage of the science-friendly states can only grow in the face of willed ignorance elsewhere.  On the other, I’m terribly sad.  I don’t live only on my block; I’m a citizen of a commonwealth, a country and a member of  a global commons.  The more such idiocy persists, the more we all lose.

*Back when I was working w. Neil deGrasse Tyson on the NOVA series Origins, I made the film on the evolution of the universe to the chemical conditions compatible with earth-like life.  I wanted to call it “In the beginning,” for obvious reasons.  My elders and betters morphed that to “Back to the Beginning” — which manages to offend those who would be offended anyway while losing all the force of original.  So it ain’t just Fox, ya know.

Image via.

It’s A Tear Down

April 24, 2011

That would be any culture that could produce a video/mobile game like this. Before you click that link, be aware that it takes you to the beta site of an Android game called Dog Wars.  From that link (all typography in the original):

Raise your Dog to Beat the Best!

A GAME THAT WILL NEVER BE IN THE iPHONE APP STORE!!!

Feed, water, train and FIGHT your virtual dog against other player’s… action games, chatroom, many characters and dogs to choose from, virtual store, etc.

If this already has been blogged widely, my apologies.  Hell, my apologies for belonging to the same species as the presumptively sentient types who wrote the necessary code.

I know that there are all kinds of real arguments folks have over whether or not games or porn or violent kids shows or Kill Bill evoke or displace the behaviors they depict.

What’s more, I’ll concede that point, FWIW:  if I were a betting man, I’d lay cash down on the proposition that no one is going to be seduced into dog fighting by playing with digital pit bulls on a three inch screen.  But that’s not my point.

It is that our culture — all the ways we experience, interpret and express feelings and ideas about the business of living in the world — dies just a bit every time something like this slips by.  If we think that cruelty isn’t be fun, then representations of the joy of sadism can’t be passed by in silence.

Perhaps I’m just too much of an alter-kocker in saying so, but there it is.  To be clear:  I do not argue that games like these should be banned.  I think it, its makers, and anyone playing it  should be shamed.

It should be no more acceptable to play this than it is scream “kike” in Fenway’s bleachers (happened to me once; called the guy on it; did not get my head removed, to my rather surprised relief).

I would not let my son play with any kid who showed him that game, and I tell the parents so and why.  I would respond to anyone who talked of it with gusto to me (pretty unlikely, I’d say, given my DFH-ish daily round) that this kind of thing is a moral and an aesthetic cancer.  I’d write this.

It just isn’t acceptable to celebrate others’ pain.  Dogs, people, whoever.  I’m sickened, saddened and most troubled by the comments at that link that tell me to chill, because after all, it’s only a game.

Well yes it is…but if the old writer’s adage — you are what you read — has any truth to it, we need to be damn careful about what we play.  And if we care about our collective capacity to care about what happens to one another, then it seems to me both right and necessary to name and shame those who wallow in this particular swamp.

Please forgive the rant.  I’m just gobsmacked by this one — perhaps over reacting to what is, after all, just one more in a long line of stupid human tricks.  But still…

Image:  William Blake, The Stygian Lake, with the Ireful Sinners Fighting, (illustration for Dante’s Inferno, Canto VII), 1824-1827.

Annals of the Village: Mickey Edwards edition.

January 25, 2011

This is so far from being important to the state of the Republic that you can treat what follows as a kind of duty-of-care post: it won’t add anything much to what we already know about the way the Villagers play, but we have to keep pointing and smirking as much as possible.  Naming and shaming is part of how we get our politics back, IMHO.

So after that sermonizing break, here’s a little item that caught my eye a couple of days ago from Mickey Edwards.

Edwards is wired; he’s active; he’s pulled every stop on the Village organ, and no one has ever said that he’s a dummy.

But his post telling us not to “Gloat Over Lieberman’s Exit,” almost comically gives the lie to that presumption of insight.  To begin a minifisking, here’s where Edwards transcribes Lieberman’s self perception:

The truth is, Lieberman is neither fish nor fowl, which makes him the kind of member of Congress we should all hope for; one who decides issues on their merits, not party dictates, and who listens to his constituents, not party insiders.

Well, except for matters like this, in which Lieberman consistently listened to certain constituents (give Mickey one there) but not to anything remotely like a majority of his electorate.

Reality 1, Edwards 0

Then there’s this:

…an opportunistic millionaire named Ned Lamont challenged, and narrowly defeated, Lieberman in Connecticut’s Democratic primary for the Senate…

This is just Village playground taunting, of course.  Ned Lamont is the opportunist, for the outrageous act of having dared to oppose Lieberman over a fundamental disagreement on the value of the Iraq War before running when no one else would.  Yes, he could run because he was rich…but given that this was one campaign (actually two, primary and general) truly argued over a crucial matter of policy, it seems a little odd to those of us outside the Beltway to call Lamont somehow untrustworthy for his decision to run.

And of course, there is the inconvenient fact that it was Joe Lieberman who made the decision of his own free will to enter the Democratic primary, and, when it came time to accept the decision of the voters in that election, chose instead opportunistically to take advantage of Connecticut’s quite forgiving ballot process and run in the general election as an “independent.”  (AKA, Lieberman I-ElectricBoat/Hartford Insurance).

But that’s OK with Edwards, because, as a true villager, actual democracy is awkward:

…in a race that highlighted the way in which closed party primaries distort the election process.

What?  I mean this is mostly gibberish, interpretable only when you realize that Edwards is here offering his voice to the Broderesque choir that sees a parrticular group of self-styled centrists as the only true party of government.  They’re not centrists, of course.  They are bureacratic-elite centralizers, those who want to govern in a father-knows-best manner with minimal checks. But they are deeply constrained, if not, sadly, utterly ingnorable, by the fact that actual people with particular views combine to select candidates to reflect those views, and place those candidates in elections in order to propel those views onto the national stage.

Closed primaries do not distort the election process — they are the process, where they are used.  They only distort if by that word you mean, make it more plausible that actual differences of view will be represented in the general.   It’s open primaries that are much more prone to manipulation — as we’ve seen as recently (at the Presidential level) as  Rushbo’s attempt to work mischief in his “Operation Chaos” nonsense urging his listeners to vote for Clinton during the primary campaign.

Edwards knows this.  He’s too smart, too experienced not to grasp the basic idea that allowing political parties to choose their candidates by themselves is not a threat to democracy.  Or rather, if it is, we’ve been in trouble in the US since 1792.  Why, then, did he write this?

Two reasons I can think of.  The first is that he is a lying tool adding his voice to the collective Village Pravda feed — but that’s not what I believe is the right answer.

Rather, it is that Edwards is suffering from a familiar disease, that narrowing of conceptual understanding that comes from too long within an environment in which certain ideas are simply inexpressible.  He writes nonsense because, like those cave-fish who have evolved the loss of sight, he has severed his own capacity to see himself and his companions as other see them. Spend too long in such a sensory-deprived condition (especially when that’s where they keep your iron rice bowl, of course), you diminish.

Hence this kind of elegy:

Agree with him or not, when a Joe Lieberman can no longer be appreciated or welcome in our increasingly uncivil politics we have indeed lost a vital part of the deliberative process upon which a vibrant democracy depends.

Again with the prophet without honor stuff!

Dude! Remember why Lieberman announced his retirement:  the citizens of Connecticut showed every sign of tiring of his act.  Given the dangerous persistence of incumbents most of the time, I’d say this was exactly the kind of development on which a vibrant democracy depends.  Why does Edwards disagree?

Lots of reasons, probably.  I’m guessing, for example, that he doesn’t believe that Lieberman should pay a consequence for his behavior on Health Care Reform, perhaps because he agrees with Lieberman, and disagrees with a majority of Connecticut voters.  But the closest thing to a real argument Edwards advances in the post itself comes here:

I, too, have argued that our continued involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is not in the nation’s best interest, but even if I disagreed with Lieberman’s assessment, there was no doubt that he was a man who had weighed the issues carefully and was doing what he thought was right.

No doubt? I wouldn’t be so sure of that…but that’s not my point.

That would be that to the Village, it is not the consequences of your actions that matter.  Rather, it is whether or not you are the “right” kind of person.  Lieberman meant well, according to Edwards, so it doesn’t matter that he was catastrophically wrong in his judgment on waging the Iraq war.

It’s a view that prevails too often. There were lots of things that molded the outcome of the 2010 midterms, but it was striking that so many Republicans who argued for exactly the same choices that got us into such trouble so recently still managed to claw back into power.

But even so that doesn’t make the “right kind of person” trope either coherent or good for the republic.  Lieberman was nearly bounced from office four years ago because he got Iraq wrong.  Now, the disaster is even more obvious.  Even if you were to grant that Lieberman in this case exercised his judgment sincerely, disinterestedly and in the hope of coming to the best possible decision, he failed.

This ain’t a game, folks.  A lot of people have died, more will, and the US will suffer consequences that range from lives and families shattered to infrastructure un-built and kids uneducated because Lieberman and others thought it was a good idea to wage a war of choice in a place and context that they thoroughly failed to understand.

Did we lose a vital part of our democracy when we tossed Joe Lieberman?  Only in the mind of someone for whom what leaders actually do doesn’t  matter.

We have got to get these folks into a new line of work.

Images:  Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), 1503-1504.

Joseph Wright of Derby, Grotto in the Evening, 1774

Cross Posted at Balloon Juice

Isn’t This The Kind of Thing You’d Want In Writing?

October 22, 2010

So now, via The Raw Story, we learn that the Republican Christine O’Donnell, running for the Senate seat in Delaware has admitted to a clear violation of campaign finance laws by using campaign funds to pay part of her rent.  Her excuse?  She got permission:

Her attorney maintains someone with the Federal Election Commission approved the arrangement, although the commission’s rules say candidates can’t use campaign money for their mortgage or rent “even if part of the residence is being used by the campaign.”

I mean really. This goes beyond criminal (though it passes through that territory); beyond pathetic (though O’Donnell has staked a pretty damn good claim there) and on into full bore comedy.  “Someone” from the FEC approved the arrangement.

“Someone?”  “Someone!”  You mean the non-witch impersonating me (and you, and you, and you…) actually had a break lucid enough to think that she ought to get clearance before embezzling that last dime — and didn’t get someone to send her … hell, not even a note on letterhead, say, but an email.   A text? Semaphore?  Anything.

Oh my.

Long ago the great San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen faced deadline on a slow day, and pumped out a dozen or so wonderful ways to say someone lacked that little something upstairs.  You know the sort: “The elevator doesn’t stop on her top floor;” or “a brick or two shy of a load.”  But for all the filler, Caen still came up with one I hadn’t heard before, that I’ve never forgotten, and that seems to describe Candidate O’Donnell precisely:

The wheel is spinning, but man, oh, man:  that hamster’s dead.

 

Image: Walter Heubach, “Hamster,” before 1923.

Marty Peretz is a Disgrace — To Civilized Company and to the Tradition He Purports to uphold.

September 23, 2010

Warning: no science, not much politics (directly) and some religion (even Bible!) below.  Enter at your own pleasure.

Even with my prior post, I am disgracefully late in weighing in on the ugly case of Marty Peretz.  I felt, as James Fallows originally did, that the appropriate response for civilized people was obvious, had been made, and needed no further comment.

Plus, I was just saddened by Peretz’s disgusting statement that prompted this latest examination of one of the worst people in American public life.  When he writes “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to other Muslims.’ This is a statement of fact, not value.”…what more is there to say?

This is, or ought to be, unforgivable speech, by which I mean not that Peretz doesn’t have the right to dispense it, but that a healthy society would condemn it so swiftly and so thoroughly that there could be no ambiguity about what we as a culture and a polity think.

All this is by now familiar to those who have chased Peretz’s malign vision through the blogs these last couple of weeks.  What strikes me now is the complete cluelessness — and worse, moral degeneracy — of Peretz’s attempts to place that vision in the context of Jewish religious practice.

Peretz has now made, by my count, two attempts to apologize.  The first was, let us say gently, less than persuasive. Not only did Peretz there reaffirm his conviction that Muslim life is, as a matter fact, of lower value than yours or mine, but as James Fallows notes, did not even seem able to take responsibility for the sins he did acknowledge. (See the remarks at the end of the linked post.)

That was pathetic.  Peretz’s second attempt was more interesting, and in the end, more infuriating, at least to me, with its cloaking of religious unction, and a fundamental misunderstanding (to put the best possible light on the matter) of the actual demands of the Jewish tradition.

Here’s what he said:

This is the eve of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Introspection is the order of the day. The Jewish tradition divides sin into two categories, sins against God and sins against man, and insists that God can forgive the former but not the latter, because only the sinned against have the power to absolve the sin. This is why the asking of forgiveness is an act of supreme importance in this season. I myself have much to ask forgiveness for, and much of this asking will be done in private, as is appropriate. But there are sins that are committed in public, and in this past year I have publicly committed the sin of wild and wounding language, especially hurtful to our Muslim brothers and sisters. I do not console myself that many other Americans at this moment are committing the same transgressions, against others. I allowed emotion to run way ahead of reason, and feelings to trample arguments. For this I am sorry.

This sounds good, sort of, better at least than Peretz’s prior attempt.

But as he instructs his readers about the demands Jewish tradition places on its heirs, he makes a cardinal error or two. (Couldn’t resist that one.)

For one:  Peretz is correct that the asking of forgiveness is an essential act in the atonement required of Jews at this season.  But doing so, of course, requires an accurate understanding of the wrong committed.  Peretz asserts that his problem was one of language, of the words chosen out of emotion rather than reason.

It was that, of course, and more:  rating lives cheap is not simply mean; it is dangerous.  An apology for such a statement, at least as I see it, can’t confine itself to the “sticks and stones…” formula of saying one should have found better words to express oneself (or even that one should have thought better thoughts before consuming one’s Bruno Magli’s).

Rather, it has to encompass that actual jeopardy in which it puts real people.

That is:  Peretz didn’t just say he thought Muslims were hateful, bad as that would be as a blanket statement. Instead he flirted with declaring open season on a billion and half human beings.

But even had he gone to what the actual meaning is of his “wild” language (nice euphemism there, doncha think?) Peretz still failed to achieve the atonement to which he so piously aspired.

Why?

Because Judaism is a religion of works, not faith.  See, e.g. Micah.  All that is required to lead a good life is to…

…do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.  (Micah 6, v.9, in the King James translation)*

That is:  act well in the world, from within in a defined moral or ethical perspective (the justice/mercy dichotomy that recurs a lot in  Jewish writings, especially those connected with the Day of Atonement).

In that context, Peretz’s “atonement” is hollow, ineffectual, because he did not include all the required acts.  He apologized; he used a formula in words. He did not, and has not yet to my knowledge, gone the next, necessary step:  making good the damage done.

Don’t take my word for it, of course.  I am not a halachic Jew (far from it) and I am no religious scholar.  But the texts here are pretty clear.

For example  here’s one summary of Jewish traditional thought on repentence:

Repentance was the indispensable condition for all the various means of atonement. Repentance must unquestionably accompany a guilt or sin-offering (Lev. v. 5; Maimonides, “Yad,” Teshubah, i. 1). Penitent confession was a requisite for expiation through capital or corporal punishment (Sanh. vi. 2; Maimonides,ib.). “The Day of Atonement absolves from sins against God, but not from sins against a fellow man unless the pardon of the offended person be secured” (Yoma viii. 9). Hence the custom of terminating on the eve of the fastday all feuds and disputes (Yoma 87a; Maimonides,ib.ii.9et seq.)

Unpacking that:  repentence, regret, acknowledgement of the sin are all necessary. They are not sufficient.  A guilt offering (in the days of sacrifice), or, ever since the seventy first year of the common era,  the pardon of the offended persons, an acknowledgement of adequate redress, is required to make the combination of thought (repentence) and deed (the acts required to secure pardon) sufficient to secure atonement.

Peretz knows this.  Hell, if he goes to Yom Kippur services he hears it at least once a year in the most solemn of Jewish settings, when the time comes to read this passage from the Book of Isaiah:

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?  Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.  (Isiah 58, v. 5-8, King James version.)

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not remind Peretz of just a little bit of scripture that bears directly on both his recent gaffes (remembering that a gaffe in his circles is the unintended revelation of what you really think) and on the spirit of the Day of Atonoment that he invoked. Isaiah is a rich and complicated book, and for all the furor and violence in some of the prophecy, there is a very clear view of a divinity not simply concerned with being the totem of a single people.  Therefore, it seems on point to remind Peretz of this passage:

be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance. (Isiah, 19, v. 23-25.)

Trust me.  For most of Isaiah, and most of Jewish scripture and traditional memory, Egypt and Assyria are not exactly personae gratae.  But here it is:  Egypt and Assyria and Israel, linked in the prophet’s testimony by the most intimate of bonds.

Peretz seems to have missed that part in Sunday school.

Enough.  This is, in some sense, insider baseball.  In any event, I’m not a person of faith; I’m not observant, and I’m certainly no scholar of Jewish texts and practice.  But if Peretz wishes to place his acts in the context of the tradition he and I share, then it seems to me that its worth checking the sources.

And having done so, here’s the bottom line:  Peretz’s talk of the requirements of atonement is a blind.  It is a distraction, a way to suggest that after all, he’s not such a bad guy, and that he has done what is required to repair the damage he has done.

He has not.

I wish him all success in his efforts to make things right with his divine judge.  As he notes, that’s a private conversation.

Beyond the bounds of that relationship, I hope that I commit no wrong to him or anyone when I say that this world, the one in which we all live and words are weapons, would be better served if he just shut up.**

*I use the King James version and not translations from Jewish sources because, it is such a mighty instrument.  The English language is a glorious noise, and one of its greatest sources is that rolling play of words and rhythm that is the King James Bible.  I can’t help it, but I love its sound more than that of the more accurate and more modern ones.  So there.

**And, yeah, I mean getting his paws off TNR. Pace Sully and the rest, I am not among those who think the discourse or journalism would suffer if TNR got quiet.  The reverse, rather, IMHO.

Images:  Vincent Van Gogh, “A Pair of Shoes” 1887.

Benjamin West, “Isaiah’s lips annointed with fire” before 1820.

Megan McArdle is Always Wrong…Health Insurance Reform/Great Depression edition

June 7, 2010

I’m trying (and failing – ed.) to learn how to go all Daniel Goldin on my blogging stylz these days (you know, “faster, better, cheaper” and all that), so let’s see if I can keep this latest bit of outrage at Megan McArdle’s willed incompetence short and to the point.

In this post she considers a broad claim…

I’ve been pretty skeptical of the Amity Shlaes argument that regulatory uncertainty was the major culprit in prolonging the Great Depression…

And then rejects her doubts…

Over time, however, in talking to banks and business people, I’ve become more convinced that it’s at least a minor problem…

In support of a conclusion that should make you go hmmm.

About that, more in a moment.  To slice and dice — of McArdle’s first statement,  she shoulda stood in bed.

The historical record is pretty clear (a) that Shlaes is a dishonest and incorrigible hack and the (b) the signal policy that slowed recovery from the great depression in this country (leave aside the global nature of the beast), was the decision to switch from stimulus measures to premature attempts to balance the budget in 1937.  (Something you can see graphically here, with a nice additional slam at Schlaes.)

On her second claim: this is the kind of reporting that has given Ms. McArdle so much of her notoriety to this point…in that, of course, whatever this post represents, it ain’t journalism.

There are certainly actual attempts to study regulation, and that subset of the field, the issue  of uncertainty in regulatory regimes.  If you’re interested in the subject, it takes very little time to find dozens of interesting threads to pull — I’ve just been reading this one on the paradox of prudential regulation [pdf] (i.e., because the cost of regulation is obvious and individual perceived but the benefits from successful regulatory systems are broadly dispersed and individual, it becomes hard to sustain support for such systems).*

But that’s not what McArdle has done here.  There isn’t even a shred of an attempt to suggest that she actually has mustered some real data here.  Instead, she’s talked to some folks she knows and they have told her they don’t like regulation.  They especially don’t like it if they sense that they might not be effectively in charge of the regulatory agencies that purport to govern their industries — which is how I translate “uncertainty” in this instance.

So, to this point, here’s the state of play:

McArdle invokes an often debunked partisan writer to suggest that one of her routinely disproved claims might actually be true. She says this seems to be so because we should trust her when she tells us that her unidentified sources in an industry that has just disastrously failed have told her so.

But never mind, because all this is preliminary to this stirring confirmation that regulatory uncertainty right now is causing businesses to shutter.   Her evidence?  This:

And this seems like a pretty clear cut case of death by regulation:  startup health insurer forced to shut down because of uncertainty surrounding health care reform.  According to the insurer, at least, they neither have the capital to handle the new requirements, nor have any prospect of raising it from the markets, where they’ve already tried and failed to get more investment.

She’s not even trying.

It’s almost not worth the effort to sneer at this.  McArdle’s link is to an article in a local Virginia business journal that, as McArdle indicates quotes the insurer to account for why that insurer is leaving business.  This isn’t journalism, this is stenography.

The whole story boils down to a complaint that an unspecified insurance model established two years ago (hence, in the last administration) may not in the future meet requirements specified by the new health insurance law, and that this is the reason this small insurer has been unable to raise capital.

There are two things to note here, beyond the simple sloth and meaninglessness of taking a failed businessman’s account of why the enterprise went bottom up at  face value.

One is that McArdle is playing a very slippery game here.  Remember:  she began by specifically calling out regulatory uncertainty, all the bad stuff that happens when a new administration starts changing things.  But this company is complaining not simply about lack of knowledge, but of the substance of the change itself:

“…the uncertainties in the regulatory climate coupled with new demands imposed by national healthcare reforms have made it challenging to sustain the level of sales required to remain viable over the long run.” (from James Slabaugh , executive vice president of nHealth.)

New demands, eh?  I’ll leave the reader to judge whether it is the fact that the new health care rules include provisions like prohibiting revocations of policies (rescission), or the like, or whether it is unspecified “uncertainty” that weighs more heavily here.

And while McArdle is careful to fudge just a bit — she refers to “new requirements” after all — she is really trying to have it both or maybe three ways.  Regulatory uncertainty is bad; regulation is bad; and the health care reform is bad…and because she knows these truths to be self evident, she needs do no actual reporting or research to prove her case or identify the specific root causes of the one actual business failure she tries to adduce as proof for these articles of faith.

This isn’t even a parody of journalism.  As I said above:  she’s not even trying with this stuff.

And one last thing, my second point:  it remains amazing to me how gutless and pathetic the glibertarian crowd becomes in the face of actual capitalism.

This insurance company had an approach (unspecified in the linked article) to providing insurance.  It’s approach did not survive a change of administrations, a change in the landscape of health care delivery and payment, the competition within the insurance market itself, and/or the problems that are face  undercapitalized companies at any moment — and especially in a period of disruption in the financial markets.

The company and its owners/managers made bets on certain expectations about the future.  Those bets didn’t pay off.  They go out of business.  I’ve run my own small business and I don’t wish that outcome on anyone…but it is a fact of life in the marketplace: some folks don’t grab the gold ring.

Sorry.

Try again.

I’m a screaming liberal, social-safety-net, environmentalist, birkenstock-wearing**, Berkeley, California born and raised, Kremlin-on-the-Charles educated, Massachusetts-pointy-headed-university type, yellow-dog Democrat, and I got no problem with that.  What’s McArdle’s excuse?

Wimp.

* It’s relevant here because it suggests just how McArdle’s sources may have in fact connived in the regulatory relaxation that permitted the reckless behaviors that lay behind the recent near-collapse of the financial system.

**Actually, I’ve never owned or even tried on a pair of Birkenstocks.  They look ugly and uncomfortable to me … but you got to ride with the stereotype that brung ya.

Image:  Wilhelm Maria Hubertus Leibl, “The Newspaper Reader,” 1881.

Apologia Pro Vita Bloga (With apologies to Mrs. Small, who taught me better Latin.)

November 17, 2009

No blogging for more than a week!  Massive fail.

My only excuse:

November is the cruelest month, at least as far as my particular academic calendar goes.  As my students toil, so do I (the part they never tell you about when you step sideways into the Academy).

So, a couple of posts are slouching towards Publish’em…but a humble plea for indulgence in this, my untoward silence.

See you soon.

Image:  Johann Heinrich Füssli, “The Silence” 1799-1801.