July 16, 2018

"In the entire history of our country, Americans have never seen a president of the United States support an American adversary the way President Trump has supported President Putin."

"A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House: What could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States? Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump."

Said Chuck Schumer.

"This is a disgraceful moment... The president’s party knows better. I know they do. I served with many of them. America needs them to speak out with clarity and conviction not just in this news cycle, but until there’s common sense governing America’s foreign policy."

Said John Kerry.

"It is tempting to describe the news conference as a pathetic rout — as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world."

Said John McCain.

All quoted in The New York Times, here. Full video and transcript, here, in case you want to search there for the reason for these strong condemnations.

"See ya later, suckas! - The Great Garrett Underpants."

Death notice for a 5-year-old — in his own words.
When I die: I am going to be a gorilla and throw poo at Daddy!

Burned or Buried: I want to be burned (like when Thor’s Mommy died) and made into a tree so I can live in it when I’m a gorilla

Big or Small Funeral: Funerals are sad: I want 5 bouncy houses (because I’m 5), Batman, and snow cones
Via "‘See Ya Later, Suckas!’ The Obituary of a 5-Year-Old Boy in His Own Words" (NYT).

"The perfect house will probably make me sad, and terrified... because… a house is a commitment, you know? You have to take care of it."

"It’s like any beautiful thing you have to maintain and protect. And then you also have to consider who gets it after you’re gone. And so even books and records, which I… books in particular, I have a lot of books that I really love. When I acquire one that I really love it’s difficult for me, because I think about… who does one pass this on to?... As much as I look at houses sometimes and think wow, that would be really nice, if that were my house, I know that I would be miserable. It would be… cleaning out the… the gutters, and you know, what about the pipes freezing, and if you own a home it means you have to vacation in the same place every year. I’m a renter by nature. I like the freedom to change my mind about where I want to be in six months, or a year. Because I’ve also found you might have to make that decision… you can’t always make that decision for yourself, you know… shit happens."

Said Anthony Bourdain, last February, in a long interview conducted by Maria Bustillos, which I was mostly interested in reading because she set it up with a question she wanted to ask:
I decided to ask him about the matter of luxury. Because through his television work—“Parts Unknown” especially—Bourdain showed Americans a different way of thinking not only about food, but about travel and tourism. About looking at ourselves as one part of a larger human story, in stark contrast to the conventional notion of travel: Americans casting themselves as “exceptionalist” democratic superstars in a drama, with the rest of planet Earth as their Tour Guide co-stars, and plenty of violins in the soundtrack.
I'm interested — as you may know — in the critique of travel. I couldn't find much in that interview on that subject, though, and I settled into his contemplation of the opposite of travel: home.

Travel is the negative space that defines home, even as death defines life.

"Elon Musk, insisting he helped in Thai cave rescue, calls actual rescuer a ‘pedo.'"

WaPo reports.
The Silicon Valley engineer and billionaire was briefly seen in Thailand last week, hauling a miniature submarine to the mouth of the cave just before an international dive team rescued the boys without it... ... Musk insisted that his submarine (designed in consultation with “cave experts on the Internet,” he wrote) would have worked. He bragged that he would one day pilot it through the now child-free cave system as proof.

And midway through his rant, for some inexplicable reason, he accused [Vernon] Unsworth of sex crimes. “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it,” Musk wrote, clarifying in a follow-up tweet that he meant “the Brit expat diver” was a pedophile....

“Bet ya a signed dollar it's true,” Musk wrote late Sunday morning, a few hours before he deleted his tweets — too late to avoid yet another deluge of public criticism.
BBC writes that Unsworth is considering suing. I think this is a situation where Unsworth must sue, because the defamation is so severe and so specific that failure to sue leaves a cloud.

It's strange to see this other Elon Musk story in the news at the same time: "Elon Musk draws fire for donating $38,900 to a Republican fundraising committee" (Business Insider).

Watching the Trump + Putin press conference.

Standing by.

"We found that the students who were in the non-air-conditioned buildings actually had slower reaction times: 13 percent lower performance on basic arithmetic tests..."

"... and nearly a 10 percent reduction in the number of correct responses per minute... I think it's a little bit akin to the frog in the boiling water... slow, steady — largely imperceptible — rise in temperature, and you don't realize it's having an impact on you."

Says Joe Allen, co-director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University, quoted at NPR, in "Heat Making You Lethargic? Research Shows It Can Slow Your Brain, Too."

My personal intuition is that this study gets it right. Heat does slow the brain.

But I can't believe I have to push back a Harvard scientist about that damned frog-boiling myth. Here's an old post that (eventually) deals with the subject. It's just plain wrong that a frog will allow itself to be boiled to death if the water is heated slowly! The frog notices and jumps out. And maybe that's why heat slows the brain. You notice that you are uncomfortable, and it's distracting.

Secondly, I'm amazed that a climate scientist is producing pro-air-conditioning research and that NPR is passing it along.

"What is the point of arguing with Peter Strzok for ten hours about whether he was biased against Donald Trump?"

"The texts speak for themselves, illustrating beyond cavil that he was biased. In fact, his absurd caviling to the contrary suggests he’d be an easy witness to demolish if a competent examiner had the documentary ammunition. Bias is a dumb thing for Strzok to get uppity about. In 20 years of investigating people, I can’t tell you how many of them I developed a healthy bias against. Bias is a natural human condition. It is something we tend to feel about people who do bad things. There is, and there could be, no requirement that an investigator be impartial about the people he reasonably suspects of crimes. Am I supposed to be impartial about a terrorist? An anti-American spy? A corrupt politician? Seriously? The question is not whether the investigator is biased, but whether bias leads the investigator to do illegal or abusive things. In the case of Strzok and his colleagues, the questions are whether they applied different standards of justice to the two candidates they were investigating; whether, with respect to Trump in particular, they pursued a counterintelligence probe in the stretch-run of an election, premised on the belief that he was a traitor, based on information that was flimsy and unverified. These questions cannot be answered without the documents that explain the origin of the investigation. If the committees are not willing or able to hold government officials in contempt for stonewalling, and President Trump is not willing to order that his subordinates cooperate, it would be better to shut the investigations down than to further abide a farce."

Writes Andrew McCarthy (National Review).

"The irony of being opposed by her own party must weigh on Feinstein...."

"But Feinstein didn’t keep up with the changes in California. Her opponent [Kevin] de León apparently has: He’s running on abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, promoting national health insurance, and impeaching President Trump. Feinstein seemed a little stunned as she watched her party turn on her this past weekend. Feinstein knew that she was vulnerable and shifted left by abandoning her support of the death penalty along with her opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana. But it wasn’t enough. Left-wing activists are demanding that she confront President Trump head-on and help shut down the Senate rather than allow Brett Kavanaugh to be confirmed for the Supreme Court.... Asked why her liberal stances over the course of 50 years in California politics weren’t appreciated, she shrugged: 'Well, that thought occurred to me — but I wiped it out of my mind completely.'"

From "Democrats Are Dumping Moderates" by John Fund (National Review).

Sign of the decline of Twitter?

Or is Maggie Haberman just tired?

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is noways tired...

And, of course, Trump himself is still holding strong...

July 15, 2018



"Turns out America today, in its sense of randomness and meaninglessness and indifference to consequences, is like 'The Great Gatsby.' And like 'Fight Club.' It’s also like 'No Country for Old Men.'"

"It’s even like 'True Detective,' though we don’t learn why," Carlos Lozada complains about the "scattershot in her cultural references" in Michiko Kakutani's new book, "The Death of Truth."

Lozada — in "Can truth survive this president? An honest investigation" (WaPo) — continues:
But she is more focused when exploring the left-wing pedigree of post-truth culture. Even though she laments that objectivity has declined ever since “a solar system of right-wing news sites orbiting around Fox News and Breitbart News consolidated its gravitational hold over the Republican base,” Kakutani calls out lefty academics who for decades preached postmodernism and social constructivism, which argued that truth is not universal but a reflection of relative power, structural forces and personal vantage points. In the early culture wars, centered on literary studies, postmodernists rejected Enlightenment ideals as “vestiges of old patriarchal and imperialist thinking,” Kakutani writes, paving the way for today’s violence against fact in politics and science.

“It’s safe to say that Trump has never plowed through the works of Derrida, Baudrillard, or Lyotard (if he’s even heard of them),” Kakutani sniffs. But while she argues that “postmodernists are hardly to blame for all the free-floating nihilism abroad in the land,” she concedes that “dumbed-down corollaries” of postmodernist thought have been hijacked by Trump’s defenders, who use them to explain away his lies, inconsistencies and broken promises.
Even as Kakutani plows through all that left-wing postmodernism, Lozada plows through 4 more books bemoaning the moribundity of truth.

I'm going to read the Kakutani book. I'm interested in all the cultural references! "Fight Club," "Great Gatsby" — that's right up my alley! And I'm fine with quick jumps that show the author's mind at work. It's what I do, and I'd like to read somebody else doing it.

I wouldn't use the adjective "scattershot," because I feel the references are coming at me, and I don't feel as though I'm being shot at, but as if various ideas are being thrown my way, and I'll see what I can catch, that is, what seems right to me. I know that sounds, ironically, like a reinforcement of the thesis that we're living in a post-truth world. But, no. Not really.

Trey Gowdy on the Strzok hearing: "Public hearings are a circus... I mean it's a freak show."

"I mean the private interviews are much more constructive. But I would also say this — I mean put yourself in President Trump's shoes for just a second. Jim Comey thought that impeachment was too good for you. John Brennan says you should be in the dustbin of history. Those are not insignificant people, one headed the FBI the other headed the CIA when you were under investigation. The lead FBI agent said that you would be destabilizing for the country and promise to stop your candidacy. I mean, Margaret if you were being investigated by people who had that level of bias and animus against you I think you would be concerned as well. What I would tell the president is no American has been indicted for conspiring to hack the DNC but Russia did attack us...."

On "Face the Nation" this morning.

ADDED: I chose to blog this quote because "It's a freak show" felt so close to what I thought when I watched the hearings. As I blogged on the 13th: It was "some of the most ridiculous political theater I've ever seen."

"[Sacha Baron] Cohen is still an undisputed genius at punking... But if 'Who Is America?' is worth any praise, then what are we to say about the techniques of Project Veritas..."

"... the conservative, undercover operation that has tried to infiltrate and expose liberal bias among news organizations and community organizers? What Cohen does is not all that different... To giggle at and delight in Cohen’s pranks is to believe that you can have it both ways: that you can be horrified at the collapse of truth and democracy, and then laugh at a guy who seeks to undermine whatever remains of trust. As watchably galling as Cohen’s techniques may be, America in 2018 doesn’t really seem like the right time or place for it."

From "Sacha Baron Cohen still knows how to punk America, but his new show erodes what little trust we have left" by Hank Stuever (WaPo).

I'm giving this my "Era of That's Not Funny" tag.

By the way, the commenters at WaPo are strongly resisting the comparison of this comedy show to the Project Veritas sting operations. The key argument is that Cohen presents his footage as a network comedy show. He just wants laughs. Project Veritas presents its footage as internet video, for the purpose of affecting real-world policy. But (I would add) there is a side effect of humor in some of the Project Veritas video, and Sacha Baron Cohen does have a political viewpoint and does intend to undermine the power of the politicians he targets.

No one — not Stuever or his commenters — mentions "The Daily Show." A few years ago, we continually heard the observation that Americans are getting their news from that comedy show. A satire was the primary source of factual information and opinion spin. The line between showbiz and journalism was blurred long ago. I mean, look at how the WaPo commenters are willing to call Project Veritas "journalism"! It used to be critiqued as not journalism at all, as if it really were more of a comedy show.

The line between seriousness and comedy — between journalism and entertainment — is just completely blurred now. The idea that it should be sharpened up... is that some kind of joke? I couldn't tell you, because the line between joking and sobriety is gone.

"Angela Hernandez, 23, survived by drinking water from the radiator of her wrecked jeep" which had plunged 200 feet off a cliff in Big Sur.

It took a week before some hikers noticed her car, partly submerged in the waters below the cliff. Hernandez said she'd "swerved to avoid hitting an animal on Highway 1."

BBC reports.

I wonder what animal? The common land-based mammals in Big Sur are:
Black Bear, Black-tailed Mule Deer, Bobcat, Coyote, Gray Fox, Gray Squirrel... Mountain Lion, Raccoon, Opossum... Skunk, Wild Boar
Driving on that highway, with a 200 foot fall to one side of  you, wouldn't you grip the steering wheel with steely resolve? What animals could shake your attention suddenly and severely enough to cause you to hurtle over the precipice?  I'm certain I would go right through the squirrel, raccoon, opossum, and skunk.

But we do know what kind of car — a Jeep. Hooray for the Jeep!

UPDATE: You don't survive by drinking water from the radiator, as many commenters pointed out. The text, which I cut and pasted from the BBC website, has now been changed.

Limited dance moves.

I've got to get around at long last to showing you this Yale News article, "A sports junkie who ate pasta with ketchup: Law school friends reflect on Kavanaugh’s time at YLS." My favorite part:
Kavanaugh was a “bland eater,” his roommate explained, who never ate his pasta with anything more exotic than tomato sauce or ketchup on top. At visits to Yorkside Pizza following late nights at Toad’s Place — the friends did not go often, Christmas said, as Kavanaugh had “limited dance moves” — the judge’s pizza had to be plain cheese, or sometimes just pepperoni.
A limited diet has been a mark of distinction for admired Justices: "John Stevens... was usually seen eating a plain cheese sandwich with the crusts cut off... Justice David Souter [ate] plain yogurt and the occasional apple."

But limited dance moves?! That's not good enough. Check this out:

In "Warren is Preparing for 2020. So Are Biden, Booker, Harris and Sanders," the NYT seems bent on boosting optimism for Democrats.

But it's a ghastly failure:
Ms. Warren, 69, now leads a small advance guard of Democrats who appear to be moving deliberately toward challenging President Trump. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., wielding a political network cultivated over decades, has been reasserting himself as a party leader, while Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California have emerged as fresher-faced messengers for the midterms. And Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the runner-up in the 2016 primaries, has been acting like a candidate as he considers another race.

All five have been traveling the country, raising money for Democrats and gauging the appeal of their personalities and favorite themes. As a group, they are a strikingly heterogeneous array of rivals for Mr. Trump, embodying the Democratic Party’s options for defining itself: They are distinguished by gender and race, span three decades in age and traverse the ideological and tonal spectrum between combative Democratic socialism and consensus-minded incrementalism.
I chose my adjective "ghastly" when I read the ludicrously overachieving prose "traverse the ideological and tonal spectrum between combative Democratic socialism and consensus-minded incrementalism." I picture a feeble, fading liberal reading those words and clinging to the precious remnant of belief we are the smart people.

"[T]he King of Greece... was sober and I was not and I was giving him a tour of my place, showing him old Greek photographs of my grandfather who was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and also Prime Minister."

"They are old and yellowed, but the King recognized most of the players. When one particular name came up I used the F-word and apologized immediately. 'Do you know the etymology of the word fuck?' asked the King. I did not. 'It is an acronym for Fornication Under Consent of the King,' said my King. Another pearl, but he could have been pulling my leg, which unfortunately is not a hollow one."

I'm catching up on the oeuvre of Taki Theodoracopulos, a propos of the first post of the day. That pearl is from 2014, "A Click-Happy Hell on Earth" ("I’ve been thinking of the drunken old good times while watching young people socializing online, constantly messaging in a dizzying pace, never looking around... One hears junk talk about things they like or dislike, mostly about fashion, cars, and jewels, never about how we lived and what we were like, only about the glittering dystopian world of the present").

"You were born rich and privileged and you were handsome. I was born poor, ugly, Jewish and had to fight all my life to get somewhere."

"You got lotsa girls, no girl looked at me until I made it big in Hollywood. Yes, I did offer them acting jobs in exchange for sex, but so did and still does everyone. But I never, ever forced myself on a single woman."

Said Harvey Weinstein to Taki Theodoracopulos, quoted in "Harvey Weinstein: ‘I offered acting jobs in exchange for sex, but so does everyone – they still do’/The disgraced movie producer reached out to Taki with a ‘world exclusive’ about Rose McGowan and Asia Argento" (Spectator USA).

Taki adds:
Call me naïve or stupid, but in a funny way I believe him. I’ve seen Harvey in action during my annual Christmas party, the one I throw every year in New York with Michael Mailer. He hits on every young woman but in a naïve way. “Will you give me your address and I’ll make you a star,” is the theme of the pickup. Some say yes, some say no. His reaction was always the same. Smile and laugh and hit on the next one.
This got me thinking about something the Superman actor Henry Cavill said — and got in trouble for saying — in his recent GQ interview. He was asked what he's learned from the #MeToo movement:
Have the revelations made you reflect on your own behaviour with women? “I like to think that I’ve never been like that. I think any human being alive today, if someone casts too harsh a light on anything, you could be like, ‘Well, OK, yeah, when you say it like that, maybe.’ But it’s such a delicate and careful thing to say because there’s flirting which, for example, in a social environment is in context – and is acceptable. And that has been done to me as well, in return. Stuff has to change, absolutely,” he adds, addressing men’s behaviour. “It’s important to also retain the good things, which were a quality of the past, and get rid of the bad things. There’s something wonderful about a man chasing a woman. There’s a traditional approach to that, which is nice. I think a woman should be wooed and chased, but maybe I’m old-fashioned for thinking that. It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to be called a rapist or something’. So you’re like, ‘Forget it, I’m going to call an ex-girlfriend instead, and then just go back to a relationship, which never really worked’. But it’s way safer than casting myself into the fires of hell, because I’m someone in the public eye, and if I go and flirt with someone, then who knows what’s going to happen? Now? Now you really can’t pursue someone further than, ‘No’. It’s like, ‘OK, cool’. But then there’s the, ‘Oh why’d you give up?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, because I didn’t want to go to jail?’"
By the way, Cavill is extremely good looking, and it's hard to understand what he's talking about, what elaborate conversational moves he's worried about figuring out. There's "hi." He wouldn't even have to dangle the "make you a star" prospect. Access to sex with Cavill is the end in itself.  What "chase" did he ever have to undertake? Now, Harvey Weinstein... he is and always was — as he knows and admits — ugly. Sex with Harvey would always only be a means to an end.

I like the name "Cavill." It's a verb — "cavil." It means "make petty or unnecessary objections."

July 14, 2018

At the Hold True Café...


... you can handle the truth.

This is an open thread, but the photo makes me want to link to this book excerpt I read earlier today: "The death of truth: how we gave up on facts and ended up with Trump/From post-modernism to filter bubbles, ‘truth decay’ has been spreading for decades. How can we stop alternative facts from bringing down democracy, asks Michiko Kakutani" (The Guardian).

Quora's qwazy notion of what counts as a related question.

"How did the bathhouse in Spirited Away..."

"... have electricity when they're in the Spirit Realm?" is presented as related to "Does it count as rape if you have sex with your spouse while they're asleep?"

(Click to enlarge.)

ADDED: What's genuinely eerie is that I'm in the middle reading a novel — by a Japanese writer — where there's a very important theme of whether it is a sort of rape to have sex with a person inside of your dream (≈ in the spirit world). The book is "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" by Haruki Murakami (and the next paragraph contains a major spoiler):
As he listened to the rain drum against the window, with these thoughts swirling around in his head, his room began to feel like an alien space. As if the room itself had developed its own will. Just being in there steadily drained away any ability to distinguish the real from the unreal. On one plane of reality, he’d never even touched Shiro’s hand. Yet on another, he’d brutally raped her. Which reality had he stepped into now? The more he thought about it, the less certain he became.
AND: When the Murakami book came out, in 2014, it was reviewed in the NYT by Patti Smith:
This is a book for both the new and experienced reader. It has a strange casualness, as if it unfolded as Murakami wrote it; at times, it seems like a prequel to a whole other narrative. The feel is uneven, the dialogue somewhat stilted, either by design or flawed in translation. Yet there are moments of epiphany gracefully expressed, especially in regard to how people affect one another. “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone,” Tsukuru comes to understand. “They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss.” The book reveals another side of Murakami, one not so easy to pin down. Incurably restive, ambiguous and valiantly struggling toward a new level of maturation. A shedding of Murakami skin. It is not “Blonde on Blonde,” it is “Blood on the Tracks.”