Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

All You Need To Know About Paul Ryan

October 11, 2016


…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.


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…


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

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.


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.

Floor Polish or Dessert Topping: Media Edition.

September 7, 2016

I think it’s always a serious risk to disagree with Adam; he’s basically always right.  But I do find myself differing from him on one question: is The New York Times actively trying to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency, or are their actions better explained by a less evil, more dangerous tendency?

Adam’s on the overt evil side: they’re trying to shiv her side. I’m thinking that what we’re seeing is an unconscious process, which is actually a much more difficult problem to tackle within elite political journalism.

My view:  I communicate with some NYTimes people, and I’ve known some there for a long time, though I’m not in close touch with that cohort these days.  I don’t have any contact with the Sulzberger/Baquet level, but below that I’m quite confident that there’s no conspiracy going on.  If you could ask just about anybody at the Times, I’m sure they recognize that Trump is a shit show and all that.

But that doesn’t alter the problem there, the way the deck is nonetheless stacked at the Times and other top-echelon outlets.

A big part of the reason, ISTM, is that within a lot of journalism there is a very particular definition of what a story is, and the concept of accuracy is narrowly defined.  A story need not be about facts, but about claims of alledged facts — Clinton’s emails raise pay-for-play concerns; and to be accurate such a story need only rise to the level of “some see in the new email release more indications of a pay-to-play connection to the Clinton Foundation.”   That is — the fact that someone is willing to say such a dreadful deed took place makes the statement and the story “accurate” even if no reasonable reading of the underlying material suggest such nefariousness actually took place.


That paradigm leads The New York Times and the rest of them to make the same mistakes over and over again — and to get played in the same way seemingly every week. The right wing media activist camp — think Judicial Watch and the email farrago — is very good at pushing the story buttons, and you have a circumstance where the Times bites, over and over again, and finds itself once again dipping into  the Clinton well.

What makes that so wretched is that if The New York Times were anti-Clinton in the way, say, Fox News is, there’d be an obvious counter:  consider the source. But because this is done within a framework that the top practitioners believe is the right way to do journalism, pushback often serves to confirm their judgment in their own eyes. If partisans complain, they must be doing something right.  And given that the elite media basically talks to itself, it’s hard to insert a corrective, though I and many others are trying to do so on and off social media.

 It’s also important to note that the Times  did engage the Trump-Attorneys General bribery story today, placing it prominently on the website.  There are some oddities in the story — not uncommon for a publication playing catch-up.  And the test will be the follow up: how deeply the Times chooses to pursue each of the elements of the story in the days ahead.  If they do give it the full effort, then (a) that will be good and (b) it will suggest that much of the crap coverage of Clinton we’ve seen is the product of pre-existing bias (Clintons are yucky) combined with the story dynamics and incentives discussed here.

There’s an interview with Bob Woodward that the Harvard’s press office published today that to me expresses the problem of a Village, an epistemically closed community of practice that can’t easily interrogate the ways its own methods undermine the mission that they do in fact, sincerly, believe they’re pursuing. Woodward says:

Bob Costa, a reporter at the Post, and I interviewed Trump and we published the transcript and there are all kinds of things in there. For instance, he says, “I bring out rage in people,” and he’s proud of it. He forecast a giant recession, he was very pessimistic about the economy, and since then it’s only done better. He was asked, because he was running in the primaries in the Republican Party, a party that contained Lincoln and Nixon, “Why did Lincoln succeed?” And Trump’s answer was, “He did some things that needed to be done.” [We then asked,] “Why did Nixon fail?” “Because of his personality.” And we had to say, “Yeah, but his criminality was part of it.” And Trump said, “Oh, yeah.” It tells you who he is. 

The same with Hillary Clinton. There were just voluminous stories on her. Let me give you an example from The New York Times, Feb. 20, 2016, a two-part series they did on Hillary’s role in Libya. It explains her role, exactly what she wanted to do. At one point, after [Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi’s death, it quotes her saying to some of her staff, “We came, we saw, he died.’ There was a series of spectacular Post stories about the Clinton Foundation, about her time at the State Department, and so forth. 

The Trump interview is a story, sure.  It was accurate, in the sense that I’m sure Trump said what Woodward and Costa said he said.  It’s not revealing of very much — like what Trump has done and what his actions in the various enterprises he’s undertaken would tell us about a potential Trump presidency.  But its accurate.

More important for the discussion of Clinton and whether press treatment of her reflects conscious or unconscious bias is the comparison between the kind of material Woodward celebrates as journalism about Trump vs. what he recognized in the Clinton Coverage.  The Libya story he cites is a perfectly reasonable one one, exactly what you’d expect a newspaper to do.  The Clinton Foundation stories…not so much, and so on.

The point’s obvious, I think.  All of the stories listed above are “news” in some way.  They meet (mostly) the narrowest criterion of accuracy.  But they add up to a very different body of work, and evidence of very different approaches to the two candidates, born, I think, of the construct of the “sweet story” much more than of a planned journalistic campaign to derail Hillary.

TL:DR?  You don’t need to invoke malice.  An intellectual laziness* born of bad craft habits and professional norms fully explains what we see — which is bad news, as that’s harder to fix than explicit enmity.

*I don’t mean to suggest that Times journalists and their peers elsewhere are lazy in the sense that they don’t work hard.  They work constantly for (in almost all cases in the print world) relatively short money.  I’m just saying that they don’t sufficiently train the traditional journalist’s skepticism on their own endeavor, and so find it very hard to credit outside criticism, or to recognize what it is in fact they’re doing, not just day by day, but summed over the life of a campaign.

Image: Francisco de Goya, Fool’s Folly, 1815-1819

That Didn’t Take Long

August 9, 2016

So, the Incompressible Jizztrumpet reboot lasted…well, I’m not saying you need femtosecond-accuracy here, but not long, brothers and sisters. Not long.


Yesterday it’s all, “Hey — his economic plan is warmed over ZEGS-gruel, seasoned with some pants on fire, but at least there was no visible froth on his grubby mien.”

Today, having struggled free of the Manafort manacles strapping him to the teleprompter, the Hamster Heedit Bampot went away and boiled his nappy:

“If she gets to pick her judges,” Trump said, “nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is.”

To put that into the plainest of terms:  the nominee of one of the two major parties  in the United States just said that if his opponent were to win, then she could — and by context, should — face armed rebellion. (ETA:  this could as easily be read as a call for assassination.)

That, my friends, is John Calhoun’s dumber younger brother, up on his hind legs, urging his supporters to follow General Pickett’s division up the ridge, (ETA: or, perhaps, to attempt a little John Wilkes Booth action) in pursuit of the same end as the party of treason sought 150 years ago: the destruction of the American Republic.

It would make me yet more furious, except that it does appear that Trump knows, or embodies his Karl Marx:  first time tragedy, second time (tragic) farce.

In any event, we now have yet further proof of the obvious:  there is no “presidential” Trump.  There is only the same Cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon we’ve come to know and loathe.

Image:  Anthony Palamades, An Officer Blowing a Trumpetfirst half of the seventeenth century.

A Guy Can (Day) Dream…

July 30, 2016

I know that the general in question was hardly what you’d call a political liberal, but I’ve just spent a happy while in a reverie on what would have happened if George Patton had ever gotten ten minutes with Donald Trump into a windowless, sound proofed room.

I get that the real Patton might have been a Flynn analogue, but after the McCain POW diss, the “I know more than the generals” declaration, and above all, today’s “I’ve sacrificed” bathos, I’m going to stick with the notion that he would have left the Cheetos-faced ferret-topped shitgibbon* breathing through his colon.

In which happy imagining, I give you this, perhaps the most comprehensive scenery mastication in the history of film:

*Just the most satisfying phrase to say out loud.  Enunciate “shitgibbon” with exquisite clarity to get the full effect.

Because Some Asshattery Needs Its Own Snark

July 28, 2016

I can’t help but love this story:

The [North Carolina] state GOP sent out a tweet Wednesday night saying it was “shameful” for Kaine to wear the flag of Honduras during his speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Kaine was, of course, wearing a Blue Star Service pin, which people wear to signal they’ve a family member on active duty during a war or a conflict.

Here’s a typical version:


To the wingnut mind, which is to say the Twitter account of the North Caroline GOP, this subtle and simple acknowledgement of pride and moment in a son’s service was the Honduran flag, and Kaine’s brazen display of that unAmerican allegiance was, and I quote, “shameful.”

To which I reply: Morans!

One additional note:  the Military Times article linked above contains an error.  It states that “North Carolina Republicans have apologized to Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine…”

Maybe so, but the only acknowledgement of their feckless, incompetent asshattery I’ve been able to find is a thank you to the person who pointed out what Kaine was actually wearing.  No contrition aimed at the nominee, his son, or the Democratic Party.

Which is to say that the NC GOP is not merely incompetent, feckless and having trouble peering through its own colon; they’re a bunch of ill-mannered boors whose parents should have (and maybe tried to) raise them better.

ETA:  as pointed out by valued commenters Hoodie, Omnes Omnibus, and in a prior thread Raven, the executive director of the state GOP did issue a clear apology to Tim Kaine and his family this afternoon.  So my dudgeon was accurate at the time I first read this story, and was superceded by the time I wrote my snark.  I regret that error — and exactly none of my disdain for the impulse that produced the initial last-refuge-of-scoundrelism.

TL:DR?  “Bless their hearts.”

Image:  from this catalogue.