Archive for the ‘seriously’ category

I Pity The Fools (GOP ODS edition)

March 23, 2016

Well, not really.  But over and over again, President Obama does something that rises above — way higher than — ordinary political discourse. Just as Bill Clinton in the 90s was without doubt the best retail politician I’ve seen in my lifetime, Obama does an epic job of being president. He’s the Ted Williams of the job:  he’s got that quality of gracefulness, a stillness within himself, joined to an analogue to Williams’ sweet swing — the capacity to unwind, suddenly, and perform so precisely, so effectively, that the audience doesn’t have time to register what an astoundingly difficult act just happened.  He’s a virtuoso.


What I’m trying to say is that there are people — easy to identify in sports, I think — whom even opposing fans can simply admire, suspending for a moment their tribal obligation to deride and deny anyone wearing the wrong laundry.  Opposing fans could boo Williams.  But they watched, knowing that they might witness something special.  Nowadays, for a sport closer to Obama’s heart, think Steph Curry; even when he destroys your team, you can’t take your eyes off him.

But pity the poor GOP.  President Obama owns his role by this point.  With increasing confidence and skill over his time in office, he defines objectives and outplays opponents* to get what he wants.   As the occupant of the bully pulpit, henails the lay-ups and he blows away the impossible shots.  It’s been really special to watch — someone sustaining a formidably complicated role with ever increasing virtuosity.

All of which to say is that were you to find politics and public life fascinating as well as vital, you should be enjoying this presidency as a performance even if you deplored it’s content.  But the GOP, it seems, can’t allow themselves even that pleasure.

All of that is prologue to say that I don’t think Obama’s speech in Cuba yesterday has gotten enough attention — at least part, understandably enough, because of the Brussels attacks.  But it’s still worth a listen, for what it means within the process of US-Cuba reconciliation, certainly, but at least as much for its formal excellence.  The speech is simply a masterpiece, in my view, a remarkable demonstration of saying difficult things to multiple audiences while moving the rock, at least a little, on that long journey up the hill.  Here’s the transcript, and here’s the speech itself:

It really is an amazing piece of work.  I love the small touches — he clearly worked on his Spanish accent, to pretty good effect, and it was such a hoot to hear him throw a little shade on Raul Castro and his … let’s say, garrulousness.  But the speech as a whole was much more than the sum of its parts and gestures.  It’s completely worth your time, so I’m only going to quote one passage:

…before I discuss those issues, we also need to recognize how much we share. Because in many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers that have been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood. We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans.

Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa. Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave owners. We’ve welcomed both immigrants who came a great distance to start new lives in the Americas.

Over the years, our cultures have blended together. Dr. Carlos Finlay worked in Cuba, paved the way for generations of doctors, including Walter Reed, who drew on Dr. Finlay’s work to help combat yellow fever. Just as Marti wrote some of his famous words in New York, Earnest Hemingway made a home in Cuba and found inspiration in the waters of these shores.

We share a national past time, la pelotero, and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his major league debut.

And it is said that our greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali, once paid tribute to a Cuban that he could never fight, saying that he would only be able to reach a draw with the great Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson.

As I read that, it’s addressed to the Cuban people of course, just like the title of the speech says.  But it’s impossible not to notice who else Obama engages here: an America whose self-portrait is changing faster than its [dwindling white majority] perception of it has shifted.  As the president noted,

You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican party running against the legacy of a Black man who was president while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee, who will either be a woman or a democracy socialist.

Again — spoken to Cubans; addressed to those back home.

Relish what you’re seeing in this president.  Perfect he ain’t, of course; that’s no one’s inheritance short of the grave.  But he’s so damn good at this now.  We won’t see his like again soon.

*I’m not saying Garland’s appointment will go through — though the odds are better than I thought they’d be.  My point is that Obama’s handling of this on both its substance and politics has been elegant.

Image:  Edgar Degas, Ballet – l’étoile (Rosita Mauri), c. 1878.

If The Phone Don’t Ring…

November 18, 2015

Hey everyone!

I’ve got a message for you:

Pick up the damn phone.

The backstory:  I heard last night from a valued reader with connections to the Hill reminded me that there is more this crowd can do than point, sigh, and mock the GOP pants-wetters (abetted by an increasing number of feckless Dems) who so fear the widows and orphans from the latest spasm of our long decade of war in the Middle East.*


What to do about the attempt to make fear the ground state of American policy?  What to do about the spreading political meme that the proper exercise of US state power is to bar the door to Syrian refugees? How should we stand with President Obama when he says of the fear mongers “that’s not who we are”?

Pick up the damn telephone.

Call your Congressional representatives in the House and the Senate.

You know the drill:  Speak your mind, politely, respectfully, but firmly to whoever you get on the phone.

My reader emphasized, and my own distant memory of an internship on the Hill concurs, that these calls really matter.  House and Senate staffs keep notes and logs.  There are regular reports of how many calls came in, on what side, and with what passion or urgency.  \

Paradoxically, because of the ubiquity of social media, an actual human voice that has taken the trouble to pick up a phone carries a great deal of weight.  So call.

The numbers:

The Senate.

The House.

If you’re feeling extra virtuous — your governor and state legislature representatives would also be worth a call.

We can water the tree of liberty not with blood, but words.

Pick up the damn phone.

PS:  Obama gets it exactly right in this devastating take down of the chicken hawks in the other party.

*Yes, I do know that the conflict there — and “Great” Power strategerizing through its misery — extends well before 2003.  But the Syrian Civil War of the last few years is (at least to me) both a conflict with deep roots and a proximate consequence of Bush the Lesser’s attempt to remake the Middle East into an model US client region.

Image: attr. to Rembrandt van Rijn, The Flight Into Egypt 1627

Nutpicking Can Be Fun…

November 5, 2015

…until you realize that these guys, were they to be nominated would get 45% of the vote just for showing up.

But still, some mid – day recreation, first from the kiddie table:

In a fundraising email flagged by The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel on Thursday, the Republican candidate bragged about his ability to take on “radical world leaders.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 1.33.20 PM

Damn, women can be pretty terrifying, eh, Ricky my boy?

Alright.  I admit that the closest Santorum is going to get to anything oval will be if he sits on a hula hoop, but still, that’s a Republican former senator who made an actual impact, for a time, on the presidential race as recently as four years ago.  That he’s not been gently, kindly escorted off stage in a nicely padded and very secure topcoat is a measure of how batshit insane half of the American body political has become.


But not as terrifying a measure as the current status of our next contributor:

Carson also defended the idea Wednesday evening when asked by reporters about it.

“The pyramids were made in a way that they had hermetically sealed compartments. You wouldn’t need hermetically sealed compartments for a sepulcher. You would need that if you were trying to preserve grain for a long period of time,” he said, according to MSNBC.

The only consolation I can take from the fact that the current GOP frontrunner doesn’t want you to pay any attention to that stupid archaeology stuff is that it isn’t just climate expertise he disdains. He’s an equal opportunity science denialist.

OK.  That’s no consolation at all.

I’d point and laugh — but then you’d see my own terror in the trembling of my finger tip.

Seriously:  that people like Santorum and Carson matter even momentarily in a presidential race is more than just a measure of GOP pathology.  It’s a sign of its own version of endtimes.  I think I want to save the full thumbsucker for another post, but the derangement of so much of the electorate (Houston voters freak out over even the remote possibility of a penis in a women’s bathroom?!) is not just-a-once-every-four-years freak show.  It’s not even on some level political, or not entirely so.  The world is apocaplyptically misbehaving for a lot of folks, and Carson and Santorum are as much as anything the straws in the wind of that much greater dislocation.

And with that, I’m galumphing into dread pundit territory.  Run away! (and talk amongst yourselves).

Image:  Antonio Parreiras, The crazy man from Chevillat, 1920.

Pick Up The Damn Phone — The Phonening

August 25, 2015

Yup — that time again, the time when I get to nag  y’all about calling your representatives about the Iran deal.


Here’s the menu:  if they’ve already said they support the deal, thank them.  I’m just about to do that for Senator Markey.

If they’ve already declared against the deal, tell them, politely, that you disagree, and that you’ll remember this at the next relevant November.  Even if your senators and/or congressperson are utterly safe seat types, they and their staffs hate hearing from a constituent directly that they’re doing a bad job.  Think of it as a long game:  they’re on the wrong side of this one.  But it doesn’t take many calls — shockingly few — to make them just a touch gunshy, which softens them up next time.  That matters, articularly on matters that you may care deeply about, but that haven’t risen to the level of automatic partisan division.

Most important:  if they are still undeclared, tell ’em what you think and emphasize how much this means to you.  I told my peeps that everyone has a make or break issue, and this one is mine.  YMMV — but make sure your representatives know you care. Joe Kennedy is about to hear — again — from me.

Speaking of which — it’s OK to call a second time if your folks are still in play.  That shows you mean it — and that’s what your representatives need to hear.

It really does make a difference.  They keep records of these calls.  The anti-deal folks are funded, out in numbers, and very, very dangerous. This is your chance to punch back.

House of Representatives numbers.

Senate numbers.

You know what to do.

Image: Julius Kronberg, Mushrooms1908

April 5, 2015

The good news:

Anthony Ray Hinton walked out of the Jefferson County Jail at 9:30 a.m. today a free man for the first time in 30 years. “The sun does shine,” he said as he was embraced by family and friends.

The bad:

One of the longest serving death row prisoners in Alabama history and among the longest serving condemned prisoners to be freed after presenting evidence of innocence, Mr. Hinton is the 152nd person exonerated from death row since 1983.

Our justice system is neither just nor, really, a system.  It is instead capricious and often malicious all the way down the line, from cop to court to cell.  It does contain a certain strain of systemized function, of course:  an institutional inability to grasp the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty:

For more than fifteen years, EJI attorneys repeatedly have asked state officials to re-examine the evidence in this case, but former Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber, and Attorneys General from Troy King to Luther Strange, all failed to do so.


Only when the Supreme Court forced Alabama officials’  hands did the tests that failed to show a match between the gun Hinton was alleged to have used in two murders and the weapon actually involved did such testing take place.  This man lost 30 years of his life because the engine of justice was rigged that way.  Hinton’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson makes the obvious explicit:

“He was convicted because he’s poor. We have a system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent, and his case proves it. We have a system that is compromised by racial bias, and his case proves it.”

Malice has a face — several faces.  Stevenson again:

We gave the prosecutors every opportunity to do the right thing. They just would not do it.”

And one last note:  Hinton could be dead.  The state of Alabama wanted him dead.  The miscarriage of justice, huge as it is, could have been worse — to a certainty, has been worse over and over again. In that context, Hinton’s reaction to this latest turn in his life is almost unbelievably mild:

Outside the jail this morning, Mr. Hinton said he will continue to pray for the families of the murder victims, who together with him have suffered a miscarriage of justice. “I shouldn’t have (sat) on death row for 30 years,” Mr. Hinton told reporters.“All they had to do was to test the gun.” He expressed the wish that prosecutors and judges who were indifferent to his innocence be held accountable.

Punish first; ask questions later.  That’s no way to run a country.

You may consider this an Easter commentary.  Has Passover resonance too.

Image:  Devotional image from Blaindt Abbey, Christ in Chains, c. 1720

Winner Of The “I Need A (Chocolate) Cigarette After Reading That” Award

October 22, 2014

Chris Kluwe on Gamergate:

Dear #Gamergaters,

Do you know why you piss me the fuck off?

Because you’re lazy. You’re ignorant. You are a blithering collection of wannabe Wikipedia philosophers, drunk on your own buzzwords, incapable of forming an original thought. You display a lack of knowledge stunning in its scope, a fundamental disregard of history and human nature so pronounced that makes me wonder if lead paint is a key component of your diet. You think you’re making piercing arguments when, in actuality, you’re throwing a temper tantrum that would embarrass a three-year-old.


Read the whole thing.  It’s a truly righteous rant.  The man has a gift for invective.  One more brief sample:

There’s this herd of people, mainly angsty teenage caucasian men (based on an informal survey of 99 percent of the people who feel the need to defend this nonsense to me on Twitter), who feel that somehow, their identity as “gamers” is being taken away. Like they’re all little Anne Franks, hiding in their basements from the PC Nazis and Social Justice Warrior brigades, desperately protecting the last shreds of “core gaming” in their unironically horrible Liveblog journals filled with patently obvious white privilege and poorly disguised misogyny. “First they came for our Halo 2’s, and I said nothing.”

I liked his use of the term “slackjawed pickletits” too.

(PS:  I know I’ve been even more conspicuous by my absence lately than my usual absent self.  This is kind of a peace offering.  I promise something at least a little bit more substantive (and hopefully not about Ebola) in the near future.)

Image Pieter Quast Jansz, Cellar Interior, 1636.

Very Serious Person Niall Ferguson Haz A Sad

October 10, 2013

Via TPM, apparently this happened on Morning Joe today:

During a segment on “Morning Joe,” conservative historian [former intellectual]* Niall Ferguson joined Scarborough to pile on Krugman. Ferguson said that Krugman lacks “humility, honesty and civility.”

“And there’s no accountability,” Ferguson said. “No one seems to edit that blog at the New York Times. And it’s time that somebody called him out. People are afraid of him. I’m not.”

Too much to do today to go all John Foster Dulles on Harvard’s Folly, but I can’t leave this without noting that if Niall’s honestly not scared of Krugman (he is), he should be.


Cases in point here and here and here and here.  This isn’t a fair fight.  Ferguson has the debate chops and the accent, but nothing else. Krugman has both technical skill and the willingness to engage actual data to gut the Harvard Bully Boy on the actual merits of the argument.  That Ferguson plays better on TV is his reason for being, but not a recommendation.  (BTW — for a devastating synoptic view of Ferguson’s style and (lack of) substance — and his pure nastiness in the service of the 1%, check out this overview.)

The bottom line:  how you know you’re winning?  When they talk smack about you from a very, very safe distance.

PS:  I also love the Scarborough line about some unnamed editor claiming Krugman’s column is a weekly nightmare for the paper.  I suppose it could be true, in the sense that someone might have said that to our Joe.  I kinda doubt it, but that’s the thing w. anonymous quotes.

But (a) this is how bubbles seal themselves — Scarborough’s trying to persuade himself (and viewers) that Krugman is wrong because he’s difficult…which leads to you know where.  And (b) if Joe is telling the truth, then it’s reasonable to ask the question: what so terrifying Timesfolk about Krugman’s work?  Here’s one possible answer.  It may be that Krugman’s writing discomforts the comfortable in ways that the NYT might find inconvenient.  People in power don’t like being called out; Krugman does that frequently on a very big stage.  That might inconvenience fellow cast members. (Beat that metaphor to death, why don’t you? — ed.) Those colleagues might grumble…and Joe Scarborough would run after that parked car like a loping hound.

In any event, I like anyone who makes the right enemies.  Krugman does, in spades.


Image:  Auguste Delacroix, Shellfishers frightened by the tide, before 1868.