The Company He Keeps

Posted March 21, 2016 by Tom
Categories: Election 2016, Massive Fail, Republican follies, The Crash of '08, Two Parties -- Not the Same, Why Do They Hate America So?

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Look who Ted Cruz has recruited as his economic advisor:

If it’s true that a man can be judged by the company he keeps, what are we to make of the appointment of former Sen. Phil Gramm as economic advisor to the Presidential campaign of Ted Cruz?

Cruz made the appointment Friday, when he collected Gramm’s endorsement of his quest for the Presidency.

As Micheal Hiltzik points out in his coverage of this — what’s the word?– curious appointment, Gramm is exactly whom you’d choose if one global financial meltdown just wasn’t delicious enough:

Gramm left a long record as a dedicated financial deregulator on Capitol Hill, with much of his effort aimed at freeing up trading in derivatives. That’s why he’s often identified as one of the godfathers of the 2008 financial crisis, which was spurred in part by banks’ imprudent trading and investing in these extremely complex financial instruments.

JMWTurner_Sunrise_with_Sea_Monsters

Gramm himself is undeterred by his own disastrous record, and clearly Cruz is equally unbothered.  That would be why both men are ignoring Gramm’s last appearance as a campaign surrogate:

Gramm’s previous stint as a Presidential campaign advisor ended inauspiciously. That was in 2008, when he served as co-chairman of John McCain’s Presidential run.

Gramm’s most notable moment in that position came on July 10, 2008, when he dismissed the developing economic crisis as “a mental recession” in an interview–and video–released by the conservative Washington Times. “We’ve never been more dominant,” he said. “We’ve never had more natural advantages than we have today. We’ve sort of become a nation of whiners.” McCain immediately disavowed the remarks, and a few days later Gramm stepped down as his campaign co-chairman.

I’m assuming that Ted Cruz does actually hope to become president, and thus makes his choices in the belief that they will advance him to that end.  So I can only see two possible interpretations for this exhuming of one of the most egregious poster children for GOP economic failure.

One is that this is what epistemic closure looks like when it’s at home.  It takes a hermetic seal between you and reality to think the “nation of whiners” trope is a winner this year (or ever, really, but especially now).

The other is that this is just trolling, or rather yet one more instance of believing an action is simply good in itself, transcendently so, if it pisses liberals off.  Which lands Cruz — and the GOP — in exactly the same place as option one: doubling down on the crazy for reasons extremely clear only to those with the correct implants in their upper left second molar.

All of which is to say that I remain firm in my belief that the entity identifying itself as Senator Cruz is in fact one of these guys.

“Where are we going?”

“Galt’s Gulch”

“When?”

“Real soon!”

Image:  J. W. M. Turner, Sunrise With Sea Monsters, 1845

For A Good Time In Tucson…And Then Tn Charlottesville.

Posted March 11, 2016 by Tom
Categories: Afghanistan, good books, Self-aggrandizement, Uncategorized

Tags:

[Obligatory sound track]

Way late with this post, but if any of y’all happen to be in the Tucson, AZ area this weekend, I’ll be doing a bunch of stuff at the excellent Tucson Festival of Books.  It’s truly an all-in event; just an outrageous amount of book love crammed into two days.

Simon_Luttichuys_001

My own motes in this maelstrom come at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. both days.  On Saturday, I’ll be participating in a couple of panels, “Genius: Lives in Science” in the morning and “How We Got Here: Histories of Science” in the afternoon.  Sunday morning I’ll be doing a workshop/Q & A on science writing — how that will go will depend on who shows up and what they want to talk about — and in the afternoon we’ll be on to “Our Nearest Neighbors In The Solar System,” a chance to talk Planet Nine, Kuiper Belt Objects, those funky moons that orbit the Pluto-Charon system…and maybe just a bit about our should-be, could-be, never-was friend, Vulcan.

Some come by if you can.  And check out everything else going on — or rather, as that’s more than any one person could manage, check out what you like.

Also — an author’s plea.  If you happen to have read The Hunt for Vulcan (so nice I linked it twice) do tell your friends, and if you’re feeling extra generous, pop up a review on Amazon, or whatever social media venue floats your boat.

Also, also:  for anyone in the Charlottesville, VA vicinity next week, I’ll be talking at the Virginia Festival of the Book as part of a panel on “Mysteries of the Cosmos.”  That’ll be on Friday, March 18 at 4 p.m.  That’s another great celebration of writing, reading and the wondrousness of words; it too has an amazing line up of authors, with only yours-truly mucking up the joint; and a spring weekend spent in sight of the Blue Ridge is never wasted.

And just to broaden out the thread — how about talking about what you’re reading now.  For me, I just finished work in a genre I don’t usually read much: N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogywhich I enjoyed a lot, and to which I turned after being truly wowed by her The Fifth Season — a novel of geophysics, race, love and vengeance. I’m not sure what the next novel will be just yet.

My non-fiction jones is being fed by a dual read of Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature:  Alexander Humboldt’s New World and Humboldt’s own Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of Americaand a nightly, just-before-bed dip into Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson — which is just wonderful, a poet diving into another poet’s life and work in a bravura demonstration of criticism as high art.

What’s on your pile?

Image: Simon Luttichuijs, Vanitas still life with skull, books, prints and paintings by Rembrandt and Jan Lievens, with a reflection of the painter at workbetw. 1635-1640.

‘Cause We All Need A #GOP Respite…

Posted March 8, 2016 by Tom
Categories: Cool Video, MIT, random humor, Uncategorized

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This is how you deliver an admission letters:
 

What makes this even sweeter, from my point of view, is that the video was made by a current student and alum in my department.

Take this as an opportunity to ponder anything but Trump (and the rest of those luzers).

I’ll Take Journalism I Disdain For $1,000, Alex

Posted March 7, 2016 by Tom
Categories: Clinton, Election 2016, Journalism and its discontents, media, Uncategorized

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This, in today’s Grey Lady, got my goat:

While Mr. Sanders’s direct rhetoric is an enduring source of his success, Mrs. Clinton has a way of meandering legalistically through thickets of caution and temporization.

Asked whether she would fire the head of the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to remedy water problems in Flint, Mrs. Clinton gave a nearly 200-word response emphasizing the need for a full investigation to “determine who knew what, when.” Mr. Sanders’ 16-word response drew enormous applause: “President Sanders would fire anybody who knew about what was happening and did not act appropriately.”

On the one hand, fine:  as a performance critique, that’s a perfectly understandable distinction to draw (though in this case even the stated critique is patent BS, about which more in a moment).  But there’s more to political journalism than amateur theater criticism.

William_Hogarth_028

Some interest, even a glimmer of curiosity in the quality of the content of the answer would be welcome.

So, let’s take a look.  When asked if she would fire people at the EPA over the Flint crisis, here’s what Clinton actually said:

CLINTON: Well, I think that the people here in the region, who knew about this and failed to follow what you just said, rightly, the law required, have been eliminated from the EPA.

COOPER: So far, one person has resigned.

CLINTON: I don’t — well, I don’t know how high it goes. I would certainly be launching an investigation. I think there is one. I was told that — you know, some of the higher-ups were pushing to get changes that were not happening.

So I would have a full investigation, determine who knew what, when. And yes, people should be fired. How far up it went, I don’t know. But as far as it goes, they should be relieved, because they failed this city.

But let me just add this, Anderson. This is not the only place where this kind of action is needed. We have a lot of communities right now in our country where the level of toxins in the water, including lead, are way above what anybody should tolerate.

(APPLAUSE)

We have a higher rate of tested lead in people in Cleveland than in Flint. So I’m not satisfied with just doing everything we must do for Flint. I want to tackle this problem across the board. And if people know about it and they’re not acting, and they’re in the government at any level, they should be forced to resign.

So — yes, she’d fire people when and as they were found to be culpable, but such actions, she argues, are not enough.  I’d go further, and say that they’re cosmetic, unless the same duty of care that Flint deserves is applied across the board.

And I don’t know about you, but to me, the demand to take the lessons of Flint on the road is hardly a legalistic detour into “thickets of caution and temporization.”  The gap between that characterization and what was actually said (and not quoted in the offending thumb-sucker) is, shall we say, interesting.  Given the Times‘ history with Hillary, I’d even say, suggestive.

I know it’s a lot to ask (it isn’t, actually. It’s merely impossible for current practitioners to answer — ed.) but I’d like to see even a hint of acknowledgement that what Clinton said may have been less dramatic than Sander’s reply, but, just maybe, contained something worth thinking about.  Even more, some recognition that two hundred words is not too much to spend on the problem of failed infrastructure, the abandonment of governmental responsibility, and poisoned kids.

Just for perspective — the average speaker takes roughly 80 to 90 seconds, maybe a skosh more, to utter two hundred words.  I’d have thought a hero of the English language like a New York Times reporter might have the stamina to stick it out that long.

Color me grumpy.

Image:  William Hogarth, An Election Entertainment from the Humours of an Election series, c. 1755

Schvantz Truthers Unite!

Posted March 4, 2016 by Tom
Categories: Decline and Fall, Election 2016, Last resort of scoundrels, Republican follies, ridicule, Stupidity, Two Parties -- Not the Same, Who thought that was a good idea?

Tags: , ,

Not so very long ago I remember this guy, funny hair, blocky, ungainly posture, brash fantasist — a Noo Yawk equivalent of those our Texan friends describe as All Hat; No Cattle — infesting the green rooms and bloviator sets of Fox News, talking about President Obama’s birthplace and demanding the infamous “Long Form Birth Certificate.”

Well, we’ve got a new controversy now, a puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma:  can the Republican front runner boast masculine sufficiency — or is he a little leaguer, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.*

Given Donald Trump’s distinguished record as a campaigner for truth and unvarnished, unequivocal, impossible-to-falsify empirical evidence on the matter of our current president’s citizenship, there really is only one way forward.

Show us the long form!

Tizian_085

Or rather…please don’t.  Not ever.

Or to put this another way:  perhaps the most remarkable thing about the GOP race this year is the way the Republicans have figured out a new and truly innovative way to kill American jobs.  After last night’s debate, any market for political satirists is dead.  Imagine the writer’s room at The Daily Show right now:  why bother with new copy when you can just revoice that transcript?

This thread?  It despairs of our democracy.  And it is open.

Image: Titian, The Rape of Europa, 1560-1562**

*With absolutely no offense intended to those young ‘uns who actually, you know, swing small bats and run around bases.

**A local favorite — check it out at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum should you ever happen to have a moment in Our Faire Citie

Please Proceed, Governor

Posted March 3, 2016 by Tom
Categories: Election 2016, Republican follies, ridicule, Romney, Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

I admit it.

I’m only posting this so I can use that title.

Mitt Romney did his blind pig act today, speaking truth, up to a point, to the looming power that is breaking the china at what should have been the dancing-horse-rider’s-husband’s party:

“If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” Romney said in a nationally televised speech at the University of Utah…

“Dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark. He claimed that he had spoken clearly and boldly against going into Iraq. Wrong. He spoke in favor of invading Iraq. He said he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11. Wrong. He saw no such thing. He imagined it…He’s not of the temperament of the kind of stable, thoughtful person we need as leader. His imagination must not be married to real power”

“Mr. Trump has changed his positions, not just over the years, but over the course of the campaign, and on the Ku Klux Klan, daily for three days in a row. We will only know if he’s the real deal or a phony if he releases his tax returns and his tape of the interview with the New York Times. I predict there are more bomb shells in his tax returns,” Romney said. “I predict he told The New York Times that his immigration talk is just that, talk.”

[via TPM]

 

R-Money being who he is, the reason he gave for the urgency in stopping Trump was not for The Donald’s sin of describing Republican views and gut-feelings accurately, but because it would ensure a Clinton presidency — and that family is, of course, simply too gauche, too nouveau for true representatives of better-established dishonest money to accept.

But thanks anyway, [former] Governor! Plenty of good stuff there for ads in the fall.

Or, as the man said:  please proceed.

Image:  James Ward, Ferrets, undated, before 1860.

Aux Armes, Citoyenes!

Posted February 23, 2016 by Tom
Categories: Election 2016, Republican knavery, Two Parties -- Not the Same, Uncategorized

Tags: , ,

It’s just being reported that the GOP caucus in the US Senate has decided that Presidenting while Democrat and/or Black is not to be allowed to happen.

That is — the majority party in The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body™ has decided that it will not entertain any piece of President Obama’s nomination for the still dead Scalia’s Supreme Court seat.  Zip, zero, nada, nothing:  no hearing, no vote, no respect for whatever jurist Obama chooses; for Obama himself, obviously; for the office of the President, clearly; and ultimately for the Constitution so many of those prating thugs assert they hold above all else.

To which my response is:

Thanks

Thank you.

You couldn’t have done a greater service to the Democratic Party’s hopes in November, and thus to the country.

It’s hard usually, as readers of this blog know, to cut through the noise of political blather and the insistent demands of daily life.  But this is one of those moments when stakes and character become clear — enough, I deeply hope, to move the dial in November. Most simply, if there were any enthusiasm gap between the parties, it’s going, going, gone now.

We have two jobs:  for one, elect the Democrat, whoever that may be, to the Presidency.  I’m more a Hillary person than a Bernie one, but I’ll pound the hills of New Hampshire for either one this coming fall, every damn chance I get.

The other:  these embarrassments as Senators must go:  Kirk, Johnson, Toomey, Portman, Ayotte.  The Florida open seat, and as distant hopes, McCain and Burr too.  I’ll be up in New Hampshire (as I may have mentioned a sentence or two ago), pounding the hills for Governor Hassan, every damn chance I get.  If you can get to a race that’s in the balance, do so.  If you can’t, do whatever else you can.

One last thought: I didn’t think that anything the GOP could do — especially an act as predictable as this — would do more than deepen my weary sense of “they are who we thought they were.” But this feels like a last straw. I’m just done with allowing any framing of this as “just politics” or what have you. I and a majority of my fellow citizens voted President Obama into office twice. The disrespect to him is something he can handle (better than I ever would). But it’s the delegitimizing of my vote, my choice, my place in American democracy that has just gotta stop. The current Republican Party has to be destroyed, root and branch. They are blight on policy, and a boil on the body politic. Time for them to go.


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