December 22, 2018

The figurative and literal rabbit hole.

Inside the wonderful apartment of Amy Sedaris:

"You couldn’t create a creepier Yuletide scene if you tried" — says The Guardian about Trump and Melania's Christmas portrait.

Here's the photograph:

This, from Jonathan Jones seems ludicrously subjective. He just hates Trump. I get that.
Multiple Christmas trees are currently a status symbol for the wealthy, but this picture shows the risks. Instead of a homely symbol of midwinter cheer, these disciplined arboreal ranks with their uniform decorations are arrayed like massed soldiers or colossal columns designed by Albert Speer.... Everything here communicates cold, empty magnificence. Tree lights that are as frigid as icicles are mirrored in a cold polished floor.
The reflections of light on the floor are bothering him? Having more than one tree is a Nazi-ish thing? Aren't there always multiple trees in the White House at Christmas?
Equally frosty illuminations are projected on the ceiling. Instead of twinkling fairy magic, this lifeless lighting creates a sterile, inhuman atmosphere.... It suggests the micromanaged, corporate Christmas of a Citizen Kane who has long since lost touch with the ordinary, warm pleasures of real life.

In the centre of this disturbing piece of conceptual art stand Donald and Melania Trump. He’s in a tuxedo, she’s wearing white – and not a woolly hat in sight. Their formal smartness adds to the emotional numbness of the scene.

Trump’s shark-like grin has nothing generous or friendly about it. He seems to want to show off his beautiful wife and his fantastic home rather than any of the cuddly holiday spirit a conventional politician might strive to share at this time....
Are we to believe Jones would be calmed and cheered by Trump as "a conventional politician" in a woolly hat striving for cuddliness and using colored rather than white lights on the trees and projecting "twinkling fairy magic" on the ceiling?

"Unlike my colleagues, I’ve been a bemused spectator during this week’s Syria follies."

Writes Andrew C. McCarthy at The National Review.
When ISIS arose and gobbled up territory, beheading some inhabitants and enslaving the rest, Obama began sending in small increments of troops to help our “moderate” allies fend them off. But the moderates are mostly impotent; they need the jihadists, whether they are fighting rival jihadists or Assad. Syria remains a multi-front conflict in which one “axis” of America’s enemies, Assad-Iran-Russia, is pitted against another cabal of America’s enemies, the Brotherhood and al-Qaeda factions; both sides flit between fighting against and attempting to co-opt ISIS, another U.S. enemy. The fighting may go on for years; the prize the winner gets is . . . Syria (if it’s the Russians, they’ll wish they were back in Afghanistan)....

If we stayed out of the way, America’s enemies would continue killing each other. That’s fine by me. I am not indifferent to collateral human suffering, but it is a staple of sharia-supremacist societies.... We should hit terrorist sanctuaries wherever we find them, but it is not necessary to have thousands of American troops on the ground everyplace such sanctuaries might take root....

When we look a little deeper, though, we see why Americans will no longer support Washington’s incoherent Middle East adventurism. When we made our arrangements with the Kurds, we knew the backbone of their fighting forces was the PKK, which the U.S. government has designated a terrorist organization....

I hold no brief for Trump on Syria... But I find it remarkable that... congressional critics never paused, ever so slightly, over the fact that the troops they want the president to keep in Syria were never authorized by Congress to be in Syria....  Obama did not seek congressional authorization for combat operations in Syria because Congress would have refused. And Congress does not want any president to ask for authorization because members do not want to be accountable — they want to go on cable TV and whine that whoever is president has been heedless, whether for going in or for pulling out....
ADDED: Here's "Good Riddance to America’s Syria Policy/As usual, Donald Trump has done the right thing in the wrong way" by Harvard international relations professor Stephen M. Walt (in Foreign Policy).
Instead of obsessing about who is supposedly “winning” and who is supposedly “losing,” the United States should start by identifying its core strategic interests....

What if the remnants of the Islamic State manage to reconstitute themselves, regain some territory, and sponsor new terrorist attacks abroad? Such a development is obviously undesirable, but the danger does not justify keeping U.S. troops in Syria for another one, two, or five years. The ideology of a group like the Islamic State is not eradicated by bombs, drones, artillery shells, or bullets, and the idea of violent resistance can live on even if every member alive today is killed or captured. The ultimate protection against such groups is not an open-ended American commitment but rather the creation of effective local governments and institutions. Legitimate and effective local authority is not something the United States can provide, however; its presence in such places may even be counterproductive. After all, the Islamic State’s ideological message rests in part on opposition to foreign interference, and it has long used the U.S. presence in the region as a recruiting tool. Getting out of Syria won’t neutralize that message right away, but it could make the group less persuasive over time.

Moreover, despite its fearsome image and the hype its brutal tactics have received, the Islamic State was never an existential threat to the United States....

Living off the grid in northern Wyoming.

A charmingly practical view of what it takes:

"If estrogen modulates psychosis, it might explain why schizophrenic symptoms in menstruating women were less severe than those in men..."

"... and why these women needed lower doses of antipsychotics to control them. It might even be protective enough to delay onset for a number of years. Sudden, dramatic fluctuations in estrogen during perimenopause, the months or years before a woman stops menstruating, might explain why a woman with no previous history of mental illness might suddenly come down with a bad case of psychosis. And the absence of estrogen after menopause might explain why a woman’s psychotic symptoms could suddenly resemble those of a very young man.... Researchers around the world began to explore the connections between psychosis and estrogen at every phase of a woman’s life.... In 2013, premenstrual dysphoric disorder became an official diagnosis in the new revision of the DSM, an acknowledgment that for 5.5 percent of women, the phase usually known as PMS can be debilitating, contributing to severe depression, lost days of work, dangerous ruptures in relationships, and even suicide. Older feminists opposed the classification, arguing that it made a pathology of being female, but younger feminists disagreed...."

From "Listening to Estrogen Hormones have always been a third rail in female mental health. They may also be a skeleton key" (New York Magazine).

"Not one cent of our taxpayer money should be wasted on this absurd monument to Trump's racism and ignorance. It's revolting..."

"... to think that House Republicans can pull $5 billion out of thin air for this hateful vanity project, but immediately turn into hard-nosed misers should we dare to spend our money on something that actually matters and helps Americans, such as healthcare, education, or infrastructure. Go ahead, Donald, shut it down. You own it."

Writes a commenter with over 3,000 up-votes on the NYT article "Government Shuts Down as Talks Fail to Break Impasse."

From the article:
While the president has been unwilling to consider dropping his demand to fund his signature campaign promise, Mr. Pence and other White House officials were discussing a number of potential compromises that would force him to do just that, omitting spending on a wall and instead adding money for other security measures at the border, according to several officials with knowledge of the talks.

Late Friday, as his budget director ordered the carrying out of shutdown plans, President Trump told the country in a video on Twitter that “we’re going to have a shutdown.”
Here's that video:

"The risky white male hypothesis!" — I say out loud as I'm writing the last post.

"Did you see the video I just sent you?" is Meade's response.

Women are generally more liberal than men, so why is there a "reverse gender gap" on marijuana legalization?

2 polisci profs — Laurel Elder and Steven Greene — analyze (at WaPo) why only 49% of women support legalization when 59% percent of men do.
One factor that didn’t matter was parenthood... But neither mothers nor fathers were more likely to oppose marijuana legalization than people without children.

One factor that did matter was women’s greater religiosity... Because religious people are more opposed to marijuana legalization, factoring in religiosity narrows but does not eliminate the reverse gender gap.....

A second factor is what’s known as the “risky white men hypothesis.” Researchers have shown that men, and white men in particular, tend to accept risk more than others. This helps explain the gender gap on a number of environmental, health, science, and technology-related issues. For example, white women and men and women of color worry more about the consequences of global warming and nuclear power...Still, taking account of race and gender did not eliminate the reverse gender gap, either.
The risky white men hypothesis!
Ultimately, what best explains the gender gap in marijuana attitudes is the gender gap in marijuana use. Men (all men, not just white men) report using marijuana more often than women. Once marijuana use is taken into account, there is no gender gap in attitudes toward gender gap in marijuana legalization.
So it's good old self-interest. But what is it about being male that makes you more likely to use marijuana? I would have connected this to willingness to take risk: Is the male/female gap in marijuana use greater in places where it is illegal? Elder and Greene say:
Research in sociology and psychology has found that men are more likely to engage in deviant and risk-taking behavior, although scholars debate why this is — whether biology, peer influence, different conceptions of morality, or something else.
This might be a reason for women to support legalization. We risk-averse women might avoid using marijuana because we won't commit crimes. That would make legalization more important to us if we also want to use marijuana. Also we may worry about people we care about getting into trouble.

Elder and Green predict that the gender gap will close as marijuana become legal in more states, because when it's legal, it seems "less risky or deviant and also less immoral" and because "as Democratic elites increasingly favor more liberal marijuana policies, this will help push Democrats in the electorate, who are disproportionately women, toward greater support as well." That is, women will follow along once the "Democratic elite" position becomes clear.

I've observed over the years that researchers tend to explain any gender difference in a way that makes whatever is true of women good. This is an interesting example of that. You can see that they're presenting the independence and courage of men as "risk taking," "deviance," and insensitivity to "morality." I'm intrigued by the presentation of women as pushed by the Democratic elite. Is being a follower regarded as a positive quality (when you follow the Democratic elite)?

IN THE COMMENTS: Kevin says:
Women are smart enough to know this isn’t going to put more smart, hard-working, marriage and family-focused men into the dating pool.

December 21, 2018

At the Solstice...

... shine your light here.

Speaking of points...

There's your answer to ladders.

Trump the Impaler?

Is that "beautiful"?

ADDED: When people get skewered will they just leave them up there as an example?

AND: Protesters should catapult effigies up there and try to get them stuck.

Kisses are missing their point.

A candy mystery.

"The Supreme Court says Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery to remove two malignant growths from her left lung."

"The court says doctors found 'no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body.'"

ADDED: Ginsburg was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009 and was treated successfully. She is 85 years old.

Glenn Greenwald calls Rachel Maddow on her hypocrisy.

"It’s lonely to be reminded a thousand times every winter that the dominant American cultural event occurs without me."


That's Julia Ioffe, providing seasonal fodder for The Washington Post, in "Please don’t wish me ‘Merry Christmas’/It’s impolite and alienating to assume I follow your religion."

My initial reaction was oh, jeez, must we do this every year?, but it meets my standard of bloggable because of the word "lonely" and because I wanted to let you know that the WaPo commenters are heavily against her. Here's the highest rated comment:
Oh, for heaven's sake! I can understand a Jewish person being sensitive in the current climate, but this sort of "everyone stop what they're doing because it's all about me" wears people out. This is why people hate the left, and I'm a leftie! As an atheist, Ms Ioffe, I typically wish people Happy Holidays, but if they wish me a Merry Christmas, I respond with the same with a warm heart. Not for the holiday, which I dislike more for its retail nature than its religious nature, but for the warm wishes they are extending me. Did your parents never teach you "When in Rome..."? If I were in Israel, I'd do my best to revel in the holidays celebrated there, or at least to tolerate them with a smile. Same thing if I were in Pakistan (and don't get me started on my views of Islam - I'm a feminist for crying out loud and no fan of any religion). I want to sympathize, I really do, but you are not winning friends or influencing people here. Would you have all the world be drab, with no one celebrating anything because, well, someone somewhere won't be into that? Focus on taking tax breaks away from churches to make the separation of church and State more meaningful. But being wished a Merry Christmas? (and really, you had to bring this up just as the right was starting to realize their war on Christmas stuff was nonsense?) Being wished a Merry Christmas is a mind over matter problem - if you don't mind, it don't matter. Get over yourself!
As for "lonely" — how can you ask other people not to do the things that make you feel lonely? No one would ever hold hands or kiss on the street. We'd all need to shut up about it if our adult children ever visited us or called us on the telephone. There could be no mention of parties and dates.

Out of empathy for the lonely, if anyone loves you, you'd better keep it to yourself.

"Turkey will delay a planned offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria's northeast, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday, citing talks with the U.S. president and other officials."

WaPo reports this morning.
“We decided last week to launch a military incursion into the east of the Euphrates River and shared that information with the public,” Erdogan said at a meeting of the Turkish Exporters Assembly in Istanbul.

“Our phone call with President Trump, along with contacts between our diplomats and security officials and statements by the United States, have led us to wait a little longer,” he said, referring to a phone call between the two leaders last Friday.

Still, he said, Turkey's military is planning to launch the offensive in several months, with the aim of “eliminating” both the Kurdish YPG, or People's Protection Units, and Islamic State remnants.

"New research is helping Alexa mimic human banter and talk about almost anything she finds on the internet."

"However, ensuring she does not offend users has been a challenge for the world’s largest online retailer.... Amazon customers can participate by saying 'let’s chat' to their devices. Alexa then tells users that one of the bots will take over, unshackling the voice aide’s normal constraints.... Amazon has been willing to accept the risk of public blunders to stress-test the technology in real life and move Alexa faster up the learning curve, the person said.... But Alexa’s gaffes are alienating others, and Bezos on occasion has ordered staff to shut down a bot, three people familiar with the matter said. The user who was told to whack his foster parents wrote a harsh review on Amazon’s website, calling the situation 'a whole new level of creepy.' A probe into the incident found the bot had quoted a post without context from Reddit.... The privacy implications may be even messier. Consumers might not realize that some of their most sensitive conversations are being recorded by Amazon’s devices.... The next challenge for social bots is figuring out how to respond appropriately to their human chat buddies.... One bot described sexual intercourse using words such as 'deeper,' which on its own is not offensive, but was vulgar in this particular context...."

From "'Kill your foster parents': Amazon's Alexa talks murder, sex in AI experiment" (Reuters).

I'm trying to read "Pre-Christmas Trump: Rebuked, rampaging"...

... which went up 3 hours ago at Axios.
The bottom line: Unlike most others, who pretended to leave on fine terms, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis bailed with a sharp, specific, stinging rebuke of Trump and his America-first worldview....

It was a historic letter and a historic moment capping a historic day, one you could easily see filling a full chapter of future books on the Trump presidency. The wheels felt like they were coming off the White House before Mattis quit.
The spiral began Wednesday when Trump saw conservative media turn on him when he appeared to be caving on funding for the border wall in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Trump then announced he was keeping a different campaign promise: withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria. And yesterday, word leaked that he had ordered a drawdown from Afghanistan.

"[T]he president was super pissed and [conservatives] have him all whipped up ... [H]e is seething at the media reports of him retreating," a Republican lobbyist emailed.

An outside adviser added: "What triggered Trump on Syria was giving up on the wall."

By midday, the wall was back and Trump was telling congressional leaders he was prepared to allow a partial government shutdown.
In this telling, Trump really gave up on the wall, then saw himself criticized, so he made waves on Syria, got criticized for that, and then revived his interest in the wall. This conception of Trump has him doing one thing and not having any view forward to how it will be received or what other moves he will make later. That might be true, but how can you know Trump isn't seeing whole sets of moves — with reactions and subsequent actions already in mind?

Are they just assuming that Trump is an idiot? They portray him as running on pure emotion — "rebuked, rampaging." He's "super pissed" and "all whipped up" and "seething."

"The wheels felt like they were coming off" — a particularly silly phrase. Just grammatically, it's stupid, because it puts the wheels in the position of having feelings. And you can guess why the writers stumbled into that silly image: They didn't want to identify themselves as the ones experiencing the feelings. They want to look like neutral observers.

Trump was "triggered" — he's a gun. And he's also something with wheels. His mind is a landslide — a tsunami — of metaphors.

"Still, as a readerly translation of the Bible, the King James is imperfect. Its archaisms aren’t always grand..."

"... sometimes they’re just dead weight. Its Christian bias, in theologically freighted words like 'soul,' can be a distraction. And some of its translations are simply incorrect, as we’ve learned thanks to advances in Near East philology and archaeology since the 19th century. The translators of the King James, though they were masters of English style, showed little interest or ability to represent the characteristic forms of ancient Hebrew, especially, as Alter has argued, in the poetic sections. If the King James demonstrates that the Hebrew Bible can be made an English masterpiece, it also proves that even a masterpiece of translation is never the final word."

From "After More Than Two Decades of Work, a New Hebrew Bible to Rival the King James/The pre-eminent scholar Robert Alter has finally finished his own translation" (NYT).

On the subject of rejecting the English word "soul" (to translate the Hebrew word "nefesh"):

Trump is pushing for the "nuclear option" to get his border wall.

This morning's tweet storm (click to enlarge and clarify). The top one says: "Thank you @SteveDaines for being willing to go with the so-called nuclear option in order to win on DESPERATELY NEEDED Border Security! Have my total support."

"With the prospect of upward of 20 Democrats running for president in 2020..."

"... Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez announced on Thursday that the party would split up candidates by random selection and host debates on consecutive nights if there were too many candidates.... Perez said he didn’t want any voters to feel that the party was toying with the debate or debate schedule to help out certain candidates. 'The critical imperative is making sure everyone feels their candidate got a fair shot,' Perez said... Perez is taking a different approach from what the Republican Party did during the 2016 primary when it faced a similar surge of candidates. Faced with 17 primary candidates, the GOP decided to have one prime-time debate with the highest polling candidates and another debate on the same night with the lower polling candidates, often referred to as the 'undercard debate.' Those debates attracted fewer viewers and some campaigns felt that the secondary status of their debates was the party tagging them with a loser label."

Reports Politico in "Perez nixes 'undercard' debates for 2020 primary."

"A loser label"? Everyone's starting to sound like Trump.

ADDED: There has to be some cut-off mechanism before that random business, otherwise vanity candidates and various celebrities would have the power to bump the most prominent Senators.

"[A]longside the statuesque Mrs. Obama in her head-to-toe gilding, [Sarah Jessica Parker] looked like an elfin wallflower in an eggplant-colored sequined dress."

Writes Robin Givhan, in "Michelle Obama can wear whatever she wants now. What she wants is sparkly thigh-high boots" (WaPo).

Is it really okay to use one woman's looks to put down the other woman standing right next to her? Because there are lots of other ways to play that humor-writing game:

Let me make a neutral, moderate, non-humorous observation. This is a very striking case of comparative size. It's sort of mind boggling. Which one is making the other look much smaller/bigger than we remember her? Or are they both doing it to the other.

And those are some strange never-ending boots Michelle is wearing. I think the women coordinated their outfits and had an idea of dousing themselves in glitter for the holidays.
Obama’s dress is from the brand’s spring 2019 collection. The boots are from spring 2018. Both are very, very expensive. Together, they represent the transformation of Balenciaga, a storied Paris-based fashion house....
Very, very expensive? I guess I have to look it up myself, but with the 2 "very"s, I'm expecting something like $50,000. Oh, they're only $4,000. Cheap! They're just some metallic stretch-fabric, right? It's flashy, but a less expensive material and easier to sew and fit than leather. And $4,000 is only slightly more than the highest-priced ticket to her show ($3,000).
Was the ensemble appropriate? Sure. Obama’s book tour is the equivalent of a literary rock concert....
I'm trying to think what kind of rock star would wear boots like that. I thought of KISS.
Whether the ensemble is flattering is beside the point. Taste is subjective, and what might be one person’s glamazon coup is another’s ostentatious faux pas....
And that's how you say something without saying it and really, really say it. I used 2 "really"s so you'll feel what I'm saying.

Remember when we talked about Hillary's shoes? That was in April 2017:

Was she like an elfin wallflower in an eggplant-colored sequined dress?

ADDED: I thought Tom and Lorenzo (my favorite fashion bloggers) would track Robin Givhan and say Michelle Obama can do anything she wants, but I was wrong:
[T]he boots are fierce.... But that horrible choir robe is quite frankly one of the worst things she has ever worn. The color is harsh and unflattering, the satin is unforgiving, and the shape and design of it completely distorts her body... Just look at her body language. Any time a non-pregnant woman spends that much time and energy touching and covering her mid-section, it’s a dead giveaway that she’s not feeling comfortable in her garment....
They love SJP's look.

December 20, 2018

At the Friday Night Cafe...

... go ahead and say what you like.

"Don't steal, because you could be stealing someone's dream."

(If only thoughts like that were persuasive! But it is kind of sweet.)

"Our readers are intelligent and discerning. We trust them to sift through something that someone says in an interview, whether it’s the president or a musician or a person accused of sexual harassment, and to judge for themselves: Do I agree with this person?"

Says Lara Takenaga, quoted in "A Q. and A. With Alice Walker Stoked Outrage. Our Book Review Editor Responds/In The Times’s latest By the Book column, the author Alice Walker lauded a writer who has been accused of anti-Semitism. Our Book Review editor explains why we featured her" (NYT).

We were talking about this issue 2 days ago in "New York Times assailed for Alice Walker interview endorsing ‘anti-Semitic’ conspiracy theorist." My position was:
I'm looking at the NYT piece now and see that it's a spare, easy-to-read Q&A about what books are "on your nightstand." These are the books Alice Walker is reading, with her own words about why. It's not the format of this style of interview to quarrel with the interviewee's book choices. It's raw material, and we the readers are challenged to read critically. The NYT archive is full of these "By the Book" interviews, and the interviewees are given the room to explain their own choices and that's that. If you take that to be the NYT endorsing the books, you're an idiot.
So I'm happy with the position expressed by Takenaga. I wish more of the NYT reflected the same confidence in the reader's intelligence and ability to sift and discern.

"Jim Mattis, the four-star Marine general turned defense secretary, resigned on Thursday..."

"... in protest of President Trump’s decision to withdraw 2,000 American troops from Syria, where they have been fighting the Islamic State," the NYT reports.
Officials said Mr. Mattis went to the White House on Thursday afternoon in a last attempt to convince Mr. Trump to keep American troops in Syria. He was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result....

“One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships,” Mr. Mattis wrote. “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position."...

The president’s tweets announcing the departure of his defense secretary shocked officials at the Pentagon, who as recently as Thursday afternoon were insisting that Mr. Mattis had no intention of resigning his post....

"House Republican caucus was thrown into chaos Thursday as conservatives revolted against a funding bill that includes no new money for President Donald Trump’s border wall."

"On the brink of a Christmastime shutdown, House Speaker Paul Ryan is confronting resistance from rank-and-file Republicans, who have begun personally egging on Trump to force a shutdown over the wall."

Politico reports.

"On gun control, criminal justice reform and now Syria, President Donald Trump is advancing policies this week that could appeal to voters far outside his much-talked-about political base."

Jonathan Allen observes (at NBC News):
[And] Trump appears to be backing down from his threat to shut down parts of the federal government over Congress' refusal to give him $5 billion for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The domestic and foreign policy maneuvers are converging partly on Trump's own timetable and partly as a result of the calendar...

... Trump is signaling something bigger to the American public — that he is "starting to bring Americans home from some of these wars and interventions that we’ve been involved in for years and years....
I'm interested in what this repositioning suggests — that Trump has a strategy to affect how the  Democratic candidates frame their issues and what happens in the primaries. I suspect that it's a 2-step strategy, and later on, after the Democrats have committed to issues and narrowed the field of candidates, Trump can give more attention to his base. It seems that what Trump is doing now is designed — if it is a design — to make it harder for moderate Democrats to gain traction and to boost the more left-wing people who he may think will be easier to defeat in the general election.

ADDED: If my reading of what Trump is doing is correct, he's flipping the usual strategy, which is to get the base activated and then, as the general election gets closer, move toward the center. In this new strategy, the idea would be to get the other party to make an extreme choice that they'll be stuck with and won't be able to defend.

Ironically, this is what some Democrats thought was a good idea in 2016: Get the GOP to nominate Trump, and then he'll be easily defeated.

"Tesla’s Elon Musk, definitely a visionary brain genius and not at all a manic idiot spaz and brazen fraud, has invented the future of mass transit for which we so desperately clamored."

"A narrow, jagged death-tunnel through which, uh, one Tesla-brand car at a time can, ah, drive ... the person who owns it, plus maybe two or three other people ... from one place to another ... at 49 miles per hour."

Mocks Albert Burneko at Deadspin.

Didn't we all agree back in 2006 that the word "spaz" isn't acceptable? That was when Tiger Woods called himself "a spaz," and the British press reacted very negatively. Here's what Language Log wrote at the time:
So how did the word spaz become innocuous playground slang in the U.S. but a grave insult in the U.K.? There's no question that spaz is a shortened and altered form of spastic, a term historically used to describe people with spastic paralysis, a condition... now commonly known as cerebral palsy.......

Here is the earliest cite [for the derogatory use] in the OED, from film critic Pauline Kael in 1965, along with another cite I found from that year in a New York Times column by Russell Baker:
1965 P. KAEL I lost it at Movies III. 259The term that American teen-agers now use as the opposite of 'tough' is 'spaz'. A spaz is a person who is courteous to teachers, plans for a career..and believes in official values. A spaz is something like what adults still call a square.

"Observer: America's New Class System," New York Times, Apr. 11, 1965, p. E14 Your teen-age daughter asks what you think of her "shades," which you are canny enough to know are her sunglasses, and you say, "Cool," and she says, "Oh, Dad, what a spaz!" (Translation: "You're strictly from 23-skidoo.")
So by the time Kael and Baker noticed teenagers using spaz, the sense had already shifted to 'uncool person,' without reference to lack of motor coordination.... [T]he clumsy or inept meaning of spaz remained mostly on the playground until the late 1970s, when it began seeping into American popular culture. In 1978, Saturday Night Live started running occasional sketches starring "The Nerds," with... Steve Martin... playing the character Charles Knerlman, or "Chaz the Spaz"...

For someone like Tiger Woods who came of age in the '80s... the American usage of spaz had long lost any resonance it might have had with the epithet spastic. This is not the case in Great Britain, however, where both spastic and spaz evidently remain in active usage as derogatory terms for people with cerebral palsy or other disabilities affecting motor coordination. A BBC survey ranked spastic as the second-most offensive term for disabled people, just below retard....
And then in 2014, Weird Al Yankovic had to apologize for this song lyric:
Saw your blog post
It's really fantastic
That was sarcastic
'Cause you write like a spastic
Anyway, I wouldn't use "spaz." It makes an insult out of comparing somebody to a disabled person. You shouldn't want to cause that collateral damage.

That said, Musk's Tesla tunnel is absurd.

"As Russia’s online election machinations came to light last year, a group of Democratic tech experts decided to try out similarly deceptive tactics..."

"... in the fiercely contested Alabama Senate race, according to people familiar with the effort and a report on its results," report Scott Shane and Alan Blinder in the NYT. This was the election where the Democrat, Doug Jones, narrowly defeated the Republican Roy S. Moore.

Though the margin of victory was only about 20,000 votes (with a decisive turnout of black voters), we're told the project was "likely too small to have a significant effect on the race...".
One participant in the Alabama project, Jonathon Morgan, is the chief executive of New Knowledge, a small cyber security firm that wrote a scathing account of Russia’s social media operations in the 2016 election that was released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The project’s operators created a Facebook page on which they posed as conservative Alabamians, using it to try to divide Republicans and even to endorse a write-in candidate to draw votes from Mr. Moore. It involved a scheme to link the Moore campaign to thousands of Russian accounts that suddenly began following the Republican candidate on Twitter, a development that drew national media attention.

“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the report says....

There is no evidence that Mr. Jones sanctioned or was even aware of the social media project. Joe Trippi, a seasoned Democratic operative who served as a top adviser to the Jones campaign, said he had noticed the Russian bot swarm suddenly following Mr. Moore on Twitter. But he said it was impossible that a $100,000 operation had an impact on the race.
I hope he'll also say that it's impossible that what the Russians did in the 2016 presidential election could have had an impact on the race — but somehow the nation has been roiled by that impossibility for 2 years.
The funding [for the Alabama false flag project] came from Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who has sought to help Democrats catch up with Republicans in their use of online technology.
The money passed through American Engagement Technologies, run by Mikey Dickerson, the founding director of the United States Digital Service, which was created during the Obama administration to try to upgrade the federal government’s use of technology....
So, our tax money got these people up and running?
Mr. Morgan reached out at the time to Renée DiResta, who would later join New Knowledge and was lead author of the report on Russian social media operations released this week.

“I know there were people who believed the Democrats needed to fight fire with fire,” Ms. DiResta said, adding that she disagreed. “It was absolutely chatter going around the party.”...

The report does not say whether the project purchased the Russian bot Twitter accounts that suddenly began to follow Mr. Moore. But it takes credit for “radicalizing Democrats with a Russian bot scandal” and points to stories on the phenomenon in the mainstream media. “Roy Moore flooded with fake Russian Twitter followers,” reported The New York Post.

The front-page of the NYT right now shows the development of the framing of Trump's withdrawal from Syria.

You can click to make everything larger and clearer. This is the upper left side of the home page. I've blotted out the lower right corner of the image because it's not about Syria:

Notice that the oldest story is, "A Strategy of Retreat in Syria, With Echoes of Obama." Trump is like Obama. This isn't necessarily pro-Trump, since it suggests that Trump is betraying his own supporters and going back on some position he's emphasized in the past, but for pro-Obama readers, the feeling may be that Obama is vindicated — and perhaps a little relief that the Obama position was right and Trump is endorsing it, not doing anything disturbing, just seeing the best answer and going to the same place. Excerpt:
[E]ven Mr. Trump’s biggest critics, the Democrats, will have a hard time going after him on this decision. Mr. Trump’s view that American forces cannot alter the strategic balance in the Middle East, and should not be there, was fundamentally shared by his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama. It was Mr. Obama who, at almost the exact same moment in his presidency, announced the removal of America’s last troops in Iraq — fulfilling a campaign promise.

Mr. Obama’s strategy — rely on local partners on the ground, use American air power when necessary to defend American interests and celebrate a return of American troops for the holidays — sounds a lot like discussions inside Mr. Trump’s White House over the past several days. Which is exactly what grates on some of the more hawkish Republicans in Congress.
The other story at the bottom and the story over to the left went up 10 hours ago. These get much rougher on Trump: "U.S. Exit Seen as a Betrayal of the Kurds, and a Boon for ISIS" and — from the Board of Editors and with a crude illustration — "Trump’s Decision to Withdraw From Syria Is Alarming. Just Ask His Advisers/This isn’t the first time the president and his administration have sent mixed messages." The similarity between Trump's judgment and Obama's is out of the picture, the stress is on the better judgment of Trump's military advisers, and the Editors waft the most sinister motivation:
It’s hard not to wonder whether Mr. Trump is once again announcing a dramatic step as a way of deflecting attention from bad news, in this case a torrent of legal judgments that are tightening the legal noose around him. That would be the worst rationale for a commander in chief sworn to protect the nation and to honor the men and women who serve in uniform.
Well, not the most sinister motivation. The most sinister motivation would be that Trump is Putin's puppet, that he's acting for the benefit our enemy, the Russians.

And look at the newest story, which went up 10 minutes ago. In the upper left corner, "Vladimir Putin Welcomes U.S. Withdrawal From Syria." It's quite short, but it's the top story at the NYT right now:
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday welcomed President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of American troops from Syria, calling it “the right decision.”... Speaking at his annual news conference, which typically runs for several hours, Mr. Putin said he broadly agreed that the Islamic State had been defeated in Syria. “Donald’s right, and I agree with him,” Mr. Putin said....
From the comments already collecting on that article: "Hey Trump: you're the puppet"/"Of course Mr. Putin welcomes it. He probably told Donald to do it"/"Of course he did...."

The photograph at the center of all this shows Putin — on stage and, vastly enlarged, on 2 video screens. It looks creepy and ominous, and the captions is "'Donald’s right, and I agree with him,' President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said of President Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria."

December 19, 2018

At the Wednesday Night Cafe...

... you can talk all night.

"The outburst was too much even for the lawyers for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who had to tell the judge that Mr. Flynn did not represent any foreign entity while at the White House."

"Judge Sullivan later apologized, sort of, telling the courtroom not 'to read too much into' his outburst about 'treason.' But that came after the falsehood made global headlines."

"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency."

Tweets Trump.

Planning is underway for a "full" and "rapid" withdrawal of US troops from Syria, a US defense official told CNN Wednesday. The decision, which would be a reversal from previously stated US policy, was made by President Donald Trump, who has long signaled his desire to get out of Syria, the official added....

Even though the US will continue to maintain troops in Iraq with the capability of launching strikes into Syria, a US withdrawal of ground forces would fulfill a major goal of Syria, Iran and Russia and risks diminishing US influence in the region.

"My husband and I are not energetic human beings. Not only that, but we have trouble locating a good 'reason' for doing most things."

"We can talk ourselves out of any activity. We associate a lot of worthwhile pursuits with 'hassles' and associate living like hermits with comfort and safety. These are the baked-in traits of anxious, emotional people, though. Doing new things makes us nervous, so we try to avoid that. Encountering unforeseen hassles makes us anxious, so we try to anticipate roadblocks ahead of time. We are also very self-pitying. We often talk to each other about how difficult very basic, easy things are for us, as a means of admitting just how pathetic we can be sometimes. We make fun of ourselves. We like to say, 'I don’t want to do anything, ever,' in whiny voices, as we lie face down on the carpet. This feels good, for some reason. But honestly, a lot of people are like us. Sometimes you have to be really, really loved by another person to admit just what a tired, anxious sack of shit you are at heart.... Consider giving up. My husband and I do this all of the time now, as a means of understanding exactly what we want from our lives.... Most humans are tired and overwhelmed and dream of quitting their jobs regularly. The ones who are happiest are the ones who honor these feelings and take them seriously instead of telling an elaborate story about how these feelings mean that they suck...."

Writes Heather Havrilesky (in an advice column answering a woman who feels that what she can do is never enough).

The idea that a person who popularizes a dance move owns it.

"A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Russell Horning, aka the Backpack Kid, against a video game company, alleging they breached his copyright for including his signature dance move 'flossing' in their wildly popular game Fortnite," The Guardian reports. "Horning, 16, is credited with popularising 'The Floss', and became famous when he did the dance on Saturday Night Live during a performance by Katy Perry in 2016."

I don't know the copyright cases about dancing, but shouldn't the choreographer own whatever copyright there might be — not the performer?

"You go not just where it’s comfortable but where it’s uncomfortable. And to me that means being there."

Being There! I saw that movie.

The quote in the post title is from Amy Klobuchar, interviewed by The New Yorker about "How Democrats Can Defeat Trump in 2020."

I'm the person who once said, "Why aren't the Democratic candidates better? I'm just going to be for Amy Klobuchar," so I guess I have to read this, even though I expect it to be boring. (I've often said I like elected officials to be boring, but that doesn't mean I want to consume their boring words, and I'm also wary that a boring candidate will not make it to the position of elected official.)

Let me put the quote in context. Unboringly enough, the context is Insect Inferno.

Klobuchar was asked how she (in getting reelected Senator) was able to speak to Trump voters. She says "you have to show up," and she visits all 87 counties in Minnesota every year:
One time I found myself in a business called Insect Inferno because we had run out of places to visit. It was near the Canadian border, a Trump county, and I was in this truck, and it said, on the outside of it, “Insect Inferno: we kill bedbugs with heat,” and the whole concept was they would drive around and you put mattresses in them and then they’d put the temperature up to three hundred degrees. So when I was in there they put it up to only a hundred. But, again, I thought to myself, You go not just where it’s comfortable but where it’s uncomfortable. And to me that means being there....
Insect Inferno?! Have you ever heard of insect politics?

Later in the interview (after some grilling — mild grilling — about the Kavanaugh hearings), Klobuchar is asked , "On a scale of one to ten, where are you in terms of running for 2020?" Her answer:
Well, as I have said before, I am considering it, but I never rate, scale things. So I’m not going there, but I have been talking to people in my state and people around the country about it. I think that there are a lot of good people considering this, but I do think you want voices from the Midwest....
The interviewer (Susan B. Glasser) observes that the 2016 election was determined by the voters of the Midwest, and Klobuchar — quite unboringly — comes out with an anecdote and a metaphor:
But I do think, on the Midwestern front, my husband is the third of six kids, and his mom, they grew up in a trailer home and... they would go out on vacation. And oftentimes when they came out of the gas station she would have them each count off to make sure they were all in the car, because my husband was always the sweet, quiet one, and she was afraid he would be left at the gas station. And the Midwest was left at the gas station, and we’re not going to let that happen again. And I think that is more than a metaphor just for the Midwest. It was a lot of middle-class voters, it was a lot of citizens that felt that they weren’t getting a fair shake in the system, that they were, like, having to ration their insulin, like a kid that died, a Minnesota restaurant manager recently was doing, they weren’t feeling like they were treated right. And I think our party and whoever is our nominee has to be able to respond to those people in a way that we weren’t doing in that last election.

"As shown by the arc of my relationship with Jamie—and the many other Jamies who populate the New York writing scene—Trump is as much a symptom as a cause."

"His appearance in American politics coincides with a larger trend on the left that now serves to elevate every form of personal disappointment into a symptom of 'systemic' abuse. The result hasn’t just been that my erstwhile friends are afflicted with debilitating persecution complexes: It also has destroyed their ability to exercise independent thought. For free thought requires the free use of language, which is impossible when smart people like Jamie or Daniel are required to push the round peg of art and creation into the square hole of political sloganeering.... Is this process of submission—and the resulting discordance between ideology and one’s own authentic stream of thought—what drove my friends to states of miserable, anti-social agitation? I don’t know, because I am no longer in touch with either of the two men. I also have parted ways with my long-time girlfriend, who got swept up in these same currents, and who once literally wept in my presence because I had made a flattering reference to Camille Paglia."

From "Confessions of a ‘Soulless Troglodyte’: How My Brooklyn Literary Friendships Fell Apart in the Age of Trump" written under the pseudonym Lester Berg (Quillette).

Frightening the boycotters with "milquetoast both-sidesism with a pro-corporate bent."

It's not easy to get activated aggressors who are fixed on a target to stand down out of concern for a general goal like avoiding milquetoast both-sidesism. Ironically, avoiding milquetoast both-sidesism is a milquetoast both-sidesist goal.

I mean, I get it —We want more extreme speech to survive, to have different sides presented forcefully. But the call for a boycott is a type of extreme speech, and it's milquetoast to want to quiet that down.

By the way, I'm milquetoast enough to wonder if "milquetoast" is homophobic.

And Merry Christmas, everybody — if I may dare say something so extreme.

The Wence.

"America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes."

"This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. I look forward to signing this into law!"

Tweets President Trump as the Senate passes the criminal justice reform bill, voting 87-12, AP reports:
The bill gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts. It also reduces the life sentence for some drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” to 25 years. The changes would only apply to federal prisoners.

The Senate vote is the culmination of years of negotiations aimed at addressing concerns that the nation’s war on drugs has exploded the prison population without helping people prepare for their return to society.
Obviously, 87-12 is bipartisan. So who were the 12 nay votes? All Republican:
Barrasso (R-WY)
Cotton (R-AR)
Enzi (R-WY)
Kennedy (R-LA)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Risch (R-ID)
Rounds (R-SD)
Rubio (R-FL)
Sasse (R-NE)
Shelby (R-AL)
Sullivan (R-AK)
Not voting was Lindsey Graham.

Let's just focus on Marco Rubio. I'm picking him because he's the most prominent person on that list — I thought he was going to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2016 — and it so happens that he was on a Fox News radio show yesterday morning and addressed the bill:
Let me just tell you that I think everyone is in favor of the first part of that bill which I've long supported as a separate bill and that is the idea that if someone is going to get out of jail anyway, they're scheduled to be out of jail in 10 years, 5 years or 15 years it behooves us, it's in our interest, to make sure that those people have training and those people have skills acquisition and the kinds of things that you need in order to be successful so you don't go back to jail. The second part of it is what's troubling and that is the incentive that they want to use to get these people to take these services is a reduction on the back end, a credit time, credit for the back end where they're able to serve part of the sentence in a halfway house or even in non-detention home probation. Whatever it might be. And then on the front end also reducing some mandatory sentences for certain cases. That's the part that I get nervous about because ultimately you're talking about some very bad people that have done some horrible things. We have to be very careful when we start walking in that direction. I think mandatory minimum sentences can sometimes have impacts that you look at it and say aren't fair, but we also have to recognize mandatory and minimum sentences have taken really terrible human beings off the streets for long periods of time. The best way to prevent a criminal from committing another crime is to not let them get out there... I'm not sure given the Amendments that are out there that they could ever get to the point where I'm 100% confident. I don't understand why we didn't just do this for a small select group of crimes and start from there and build it up as oppose to the reverse, but they've decided to take a huge bite of the apple. If I'm uncomfortable in the end I'm going to air [sic] on the side of public safety and vote against it. 

Somewhere in Hungary...

Aerial view:

December 18, 2018

At the Tuesday Night Cafe...

... you can talk about whatever you want.

The beautifully over-engineered device to catch those jerks who steal packages from doorsteps.

Goodbye to Penny Marshall.

The great sitcom star was 75.
Penny's first recurring role was playing Myrna Turner on "The Odd Couple," which was directed by her brother [Garry Marshall]. She also appeared on "Happy Days" with Cindy Williams, and they became famous from their spin-off sitcom, "Laverne & Shirley."...

She directed Tom Hanks in "Big" in 1988. She was the first woman in history to direct a film that grossed more than $100 million. Penny also directed "A League of Their Own," and "Awakenings" starring Robin Williams.

"A federal judge on Tuesday postponed the sentencing for Michael Flynn after he lambasted President Trump’s former national security adviser for trying to undermine his own country..."

"... and said he could not guarantee he would spare Flynn from prison. The stunning development means that Flynn will have to be sentenced at a later date, when he can possibly convince a judge more thoroughly of how his cooperation has benefited law enforcement.... After reviewing some of the allegations against Flynn, including that he worked to advance the interests of the Turkish government in the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign, [U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan] pointed to an American flag behind him in the courtroom and said heatedly, 'Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for. Arguably you sold your country out. The court’s going to consider that... I cannot assure you, if you proceed today, you will not receive a sentence of incarceration.' Sullivan also asked a prosecutor with the special counsel’s office whether Flynn could be charged with 'treason.'"

WaPo reports.

"So, then, how much suffering and death of nonhuman life would we be willing to countenance to save Shakespeare, our sciences and so forth?"

"Unless we believe there is such a profound moral gap between the status of human and nonhuman animals, whatever reasonable answer we come up with will be well surpassed by the harm and suffering we inflict upon animals. There is just too much torment wreaked upon too many animals and too certain a prospect that this is going to continue and probably increase; it would overwhelm anything we might place on the other side of the ledger.... One might ask here whether, given this view, it would also be a good thing for those of us who are currently here to end our lives in order to prevent further animal suffering. Although I do not have a final answer to this question, we should recognize that the case of future humans is very different from the case of currently existing humans. To demand of currently existing humans that they should end their lives would introduce significant suffering among those who have much to lose by dying...."

Writes philosophy professor Todd May in "Would Human Extinction Be a Tragedy?/Our species possesses inherent value, but we are devastating the earth and causing unimaginable animal suffering" in a NYT op-ed.

I know he's just playing with ideas and going to one of those "Modest Proposal" extremes, so I just want to call him out on one thing: Animals are cruel to each other. I'm willing to concede that humans are the worst and that our kind of cruelty is different because we can understand what we are doing and because we use our powers to amplify and extend cruelty. But without us, what would the other animals do to each other? There would be no humans around to perceive and bemoan it as cruelty, but it's already the case that the animals don't know we're feeling compassion for them.

"Most of those surveyed, 53 percent, say they have a lot or some trust in Mueller; just 38 percent have little or no trust in the former FBI director and his investigation to be fair and accurate."

"In contrast, 59 percent express little or no trust in the president's denials; just 35 percent say they have some or a lot of trust in him to be speaking the truth."

A new USA Today poll.

"President Donald Trump is planning to roll out an unprecedented structure for his 2020 reelection, a streamlined organization that incorporates the Republican National Committee and the president’s campaign into a single entity."

"It’s a stark expression of Trump’s stranglehold over the Republican Party: Traditionally, a presidential reelection committee has worked in tandem with the national party committee, not subsumed it" (Politico).

"Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is appointing Republican Rep. Martha McSally to the Senate,

"McSally narrowly lost a race this year to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema for Arizona's other Senate seat, which opened after Sen. Jeff Flake opted against seeking re-election" (CNN).

"The Madison School Board on Monday backed a proposed contract that would keep police officers at Madison's four main high schools."

The Wisconsin State Journal reports.

We've been following the protests disrupting school board meetings where this issue was discussed. Last June I showed you video of David Blaska's shouted-down attempt to speak in favor of the police, and 4 days ago I showed you that Blaska had announced his candidacy for the school board.

Yesterday, before the school board's vote, Blaska blogged this:
Don’t let tonight’s expect action take the issue off the April 2 school board election campaign. Except for Blaska, none of the challengers have spoken word one on the issue. Talking Ali Muldrow (my opponent), Ananda Mirilli (T.J. Mertz’ opponent), Cristiana Carusi, and yes, you, Kaleem Caire (both running for the Loumos seat)....

What a great editorial in Sunday’s WI State Journal! East high school’s [Educational Resource Officers] “most definitely belongs in Madison’s schools.” They could have written equally compelling stories about the other three [high schools], as well....
What a contrast to the fawning story in the weekly Isthmus where editor Judith Davidoff couldn’t be bothered to commit some journalism by asking Mirilli and Muldrow how stand on the EROs.... Muldrow and Mirilli say “don’t blame the parents. Don’t blame the students.” Who DO they blame? The teachers? Maybe we’ll find out what is a “racial justice advocate” and whether the other candidates think Madison public school teachers are racists.
That last sentence refers to something in the linked Isthmus article, "Both Muldrow and Mirilli have worked in education for years and are racial justice advocates." I don't see "don’t blame the parents. Don’t blame the students" as a quote. I'd like to see the precise quote (and no quotation marks where there isn't a quote). This subject is troubling, and I wish I had more depth to provide, but I don't.

"We have other ways to get to that $5 billion... At the end of the day, we don’t want to shut down the government, we want to shut down the border."

"There’s certainly a number of different funding sources that we’ve identified that we can use that we can couple with the money that would be given through congressional appropriations that would help us get to that $5 billion that the president needs in order to protect our borders."

Said Sarah Huckabee Sanders this morning.

And now for a much-needed, cleansing winter swim....

"New York Times assailed for Alice Walker interview endorsing ‘anti-Semitic’ conspiracy theorist."

Explained by Isaac Stanley-Becker at WaPo.

There are so many layers to this story, which I saw yesterday and decided not to blog because I'd done enough blogging for the day and it looked complicated. Now, I'm seeing this WaPo piece and thinking I can use it to organize the layers to present it to you, but I'm wearied by the first paragraph, which brings in a layer I hadn't noticed before. Look how complicated this is. This is — I must stress — the first paragraph of the article. Look how it uses the word "it" without an antecedent:
Critics call it anti-Semitic, saying it places Holocaust revisionism at the center of an odious and addled worldview. Its title has been borrowed by followers of QAnon, a conspiracy movement that favors President Trump and peddles baseless theories about government secrets and cabals.
The layer I had not noticed before is QAnon! I thought QAnon was had faded from currency. The layers I knew were: 1. A supposedly anti-Semitic writer I'd never heard of, 2. The famous writer Alice Walker, who used that other writer's work in some way, 3. The NYT who did some sort of puff piece about #2, 4. People who are criticizing #3 for not attending to #1.

Okay. I don't know if I want to do this. But let me try:

"It" in paragraph 1 of the Stanley-Becker piece is “And the Truth Shall Set You Free,” a book by David Icke, who is the writer in layer #1 of my incomplete understanding.

In the NYT piece, Alice Walker said "In Icke’s books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about." She called him a "curious person's dream come true."

And now the debate is whether the NYT had a "gate-keeping" responsibility to help readers discount Walker's recommendation of Icke.

Stanley-Becker provides the filter, telling us that Icke "disseminates conspiracy theories in self-published books and on YouTube" and "promote[s] the idea that a race of reptilian humanoids, widely viewed as a stand-in for Jews, is secretly running the world," and, to that end, has relied on "the infamous anti-Semitic forgery 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.'" Icke  has written that the Holocaust was "coldly calculated by the ‘Jewish’ elite."

The NYT has not caved to criticism. It stands by its original article and refuses to tack on any detail about Icke.

I'm looking at the NYT piece now and see that it's a spare, easy-to-read Q&A about what books are "on your nightstand." These are the books Alice Walker is reading, with her own words about why. It's not the format of this style of interview to quarrel with the interviewee's book choices . It's raw material, and we the readers are challenged to read critically. The NYT archive is full of these "By the Book" interviews, and the interviewees are given the room to explain their own choices and that's that. If you take that to be the NYT endorsing the books, you're an idiot.

Stanley-Becker never gets back to the subject of QAnon! What is the QAnon connection? I reread what S-B wrote: "Its title has been borrowed by followers of QAnon..." Its title, you mean "And the Truth Shall Set You Free"?!!

Does Stanley-Becker think Icke originated the phrase "and the truth will set you free"? I literally feel nauseated at the thought that I'm reading a long column, seeking enlightenment, and the person who wrote it does not know the Biblical verse, "and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Is the only connection between QAnon and Icke that both used that phrase?!

I need a rest.

BACK FROM MY REST: I think Stanley-Becker — eager to drag Trump into some newly available mud — gratuitously complicated an already confusing story by throwing QAnon into the first paragraph. The connection to QAnon was never explained, and as far as I can tell, is based on Stanley-Becker's ignorance of one of the most famous quotes in the Bible!

A lesson in how to keep activists from winning: Don't let acceding to their demands be the path of least resistance.

There are 2 murals at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown, which is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District:

There's this one, by Beau Stanton, which is attacked because the rays emanating from the head remind some people of the Japanese imperial battle flag, and which the L.A. school district plans to paint over.

And this one, by Shepard Fairey (who's famous for those Obama "Hope" posters) which depicts Robert F. Kennedy.

Now, Shepard Fairey is using "the only leverage I have" and saying that if Stanton's mural is painted over, he demands that his own RFK mural be painted over.

The Stanton mural is not on the theme of Japan or Korea. It's a painting of Ava Gardner!
Fairey said it’s important for the school district to understand that it made a poor decision in succumbing to what it apparently considered to be the path of least resistance. The artist said he wants to create and encourage some counter-resistance.

His Kennedy mural is arguably one of the school’s defining visual elements. It is on an outside wall of the entrance to the library, which is built on the footprint of the Ambassador Hotel ballroom where Kennedy gave his last speech, in 1968. Moments later, an assassin fatally shot the presidential candidate in a pantry area next to the kitchen....

“I have talked to a teacher from RFK about where the students stand, and they overwhelmingly want the mural to stay,” Fairey wrote to [school board President Monica Garcia, who represents Koreatown]. “If Beau’s mural is removed I will reach out to students to have them take part in my mural being painted over as a symbol of the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary to stand up for important principles."... 
“What [Stanton] has in his mural is nothing close to the battle flag. It’s not the same color scheme. It’s not the same focal element. It’s stupid to me. I thought that cooler heads would prevail because this is absurd.”
The school district's senior regional administrator, Roberto Martinez, has compared the Stanton mural to Confederate statues and argued that, in both cases, the value of the art doesn't outweigh the offense to people. Fairey says:
“I’m from the South,” Fairey said. “I know that loving the Confederacy is at best a nostalgia for some sort of rebellious identity that probably never existed except as fantasy, or at worst it’s coded racism. The comparison of the mural to Confederate statues is asinine.”...
Confederate statues do display respect for the Confederacy, but I don't think anyone believes that the sun rays in the Ava Gardner mural were intended to display respect for the WWII Japanese.
Sun rays are a common element in Stanton’s work, and Fairey has used them, too. Critics of the decision have pointed out that it could be an aesthetic, ethical and logistical quagmire to begin purging representations of sun rays from all or parts of Los Angeles.
They want to get rid of the sun!

"New battery-free, easily implantable weight-loss devices developed by engineers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison..."

"... helped rats shed almost 40 percent of their body weight... Measuring less than 1 centimeter across... the tiny devices — which are safe for use in the body and implantable via a minimally invasive procedure — generate gentle electric pulses from the stomach’s natural churning motions and deliver them to the vagus nerve, which links the brain and the stomach. That gentle stimulation dupes the brain into thinking that the stomach is full after only a few nibbles of food.... Unlike gastric bypass, which permanently alters the capacity of the stomach, the effects of the new devices also are reversible. When [UW professor Xudong Wang] and his collaborators removed the devices after 12 weeks, the study’s rats resumed their normal eating patterns and weight bounced right back on. Wang’s device has several advantages over an existing unit that stimulates the vagus nerve for weight loss. That existing unit, 'Maestro,' approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2015, administers high-frequency zaps to the vagus nerve to shut down all communication between the brain and stomach. It requires a complicated control unit and bulky batteries which frequently must be recharged. That ongoing maintenance can be a big barrier to use, says Dr. Luke Funk, a surgery professor in UW–Madison’s Division of Minimally Invasive, Foregut and Bariatric Surgery...."

UW press release.

A piddling elitism obscures a greater elitism.

Things not read this morning (click to enlarge and clarify):

December 17, 2018

At the Monday Night Café...

... you can talk about whatever you like.

(And please allow me to remind you that it might be a good time to use the Althouse Portal to do your Amazon shopping. The link is always there in the banner and in the sidebar, for your convenience.)

"I was pretty enough, I was smart enough, I was nonconfrontational, I was non-judgmental, I was discreet, and nothing shocks me...."

"I was a pleaser, agreeable... Knowing he was a director, I didn't argue. I was coming from a place of devotion."

From "Woody Allen's Secret Teen Lover Speaks: Sex, Power and a Conflicted Muse Who Inspired 'Manhattan'" (Hollywood Reporter).

"Some of the strongest advocates for the bill and conservative reform seem to be those with personal connections to the criminal-justice system."

"Much of the public and private heavy lifting in building support for the bill has been done by Jared Kushner, who made a rare appearance on Sean Hannity’s show to promote it and is reportedly responsible for securing an endorsement of the bill from Fox News. Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, spent over a year in federal prison after being convicted for white-collar crimes, in 2005."

From "The Improbable Success of a Criminal-Justice-Reform Bill Under Trump" (The New Yorker).

"Yeah, they’ve been fighting and killing each other. They have mole-rat wars to determine who’s going to be the queen..."

".. or who’s going to breed with the queen. We’re hoping things will calm down a little bit now."

"[T]he classic 1971 confessional isn't really a Christmas song. Never mind that its opening melody is 'Jingle Bells' in a minor key..."

"... and that the lyrics begin with a seasonal scene: 'It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees/They're putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace.' Ultimately, 'River' is a bereft song about a broken romance and a woman who desperately wants to escape her heartbreak, saying repeatedly: 'I wish I had a river I could skate away on.' The despairing drama just happens to be set around the holidays. 'There were all these 18- and 19-year-olds doing traditional Christmas songs, and then, bang - they start doing "River,"... I'm thinking: Where on Earth did this come from?'... 'We needed a sad Christmas song, didn't we?' [Joni] Mitchell said with a chuckle last year... 'In the 'bah humbug' of it all.'"

From a 2015 WaPo article archived at the Joni Mitchell website. Some cover versions collected there. Here's the original.

I was thinking about that song after someone on Facebook put up this cool video...

... that reminded me of the best ice we ever had on Lake Mendota (back in January 2011)...


Yesterday, in my house, I was talking about David Duke, and later that day, I got email from him.

How did that happen?

Here's a screen shot of the email (click to enlarge and clarify):

I googled the title of the book. Screen shot:

I'm not interested in discussing that book or David Duke in general.

Well, then why were you talking about David Duke in your house yesterday?, you might ask.

Answer: We were talking about the Prada story, blogged here, which referred to "historical images of Sambo," and it led to a discussion of whether the name "Sambo" is unusable. There's a restaurant in California called "Sambo's," and it's been around a long time. If the name refers to white people, is that okay? Could you call a dog "Sambo" — and would it depend on whether or not the dog was black? What were other questionable names for a dog? There's the classic dog name "Duke," but you certainly wouldn't want anyone to think you'd named your dog after David Duke.

That was the context! I've got nothing good to say about David Duke, and I basically hate even to put his name on this blog. I've done it a few times. You can click the tag to see what has provoked me, but I hadn't mentioned him since "Why wouldn't Donald Trump 'unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that [he doesn't] want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election'?" (February 2016).

Maybe it's merely a coincidence that I got that email yesterday, but I'm concerned that one or more of my devices are listening to our speech in the house and some company is gathering information about me and using it commercially.

I don't have any of the devices like Echo or Alexa that listen to accept voice commands, and while all my devices — laptop, desktop, iPhone, iPad — have Siri,  I have all of them set not to "Listen for 'Hey Siri.'" I read "Here’s How Facebook or Any Other App Could Use Your Phone's Microphone to Gather Data" (Money) and followed the instructions to go to Settings —> Privacy —> Microphone, which got me to the page that is supposed to list all the apps "that have requested access to the microphone," and there were no apps listed — not on the iPhone and not on the iPad.


Running interference for Biden.

Ageism is different, by the way, because everyone ages. Race and sex are — if not, as we used to say, immutable — relatively fixed and not on any sort of regular pathway of one-directional change. And even though the decline that comes with age is individual, it can be hard or rude to test a person individually. At least with Nancy Pelosi, she is seen in action on a regular basis by those who will be voting on whether she becomes the Speaker of the House. With a federal judge — like "RBG" — we have someone with life tenure, whose work is done behind the scenes and with extremely able assistants who are in a position to cover up any decline. Where is the individual testing of competence?

Now, with a presidential candidate — such as Joe Biden, who, if he runs, will be offering to serve in the most difficult job up to the age of 82 — we will get a chance to see how he functions and we can vote against him if we don't think he's good enough. BUT:

1. He will have some ability to hide his deficits (as I think Hillary Clinton did, by avoiding too many appearances, by having rote answers, and by trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to be off-camera when she keeled over), and

2. He will, by his prominence, attract money and attention and thereby choke off the progress of less well-established candidates (a process I call JEB-ing).

For the annals of civility.

I had to look up whether John Podhoretz has expressed pieties about civility. I found this quote: "I think making a pretense of civility toward Eric Alterman is like making a pretense of civility to a scorpion" (from a NYT interview). So, I'm only putting the "civility bullshit" tag on this post because I'm discussing it, not because Podhoretz is doing it. I associate The Weekly Standard with the notion of elevating political discourse, but I haven't read it enough to know if they affected a tone of civility and chastised others for not keeping it. I read Podhoretz's quote about King as consistent with his "scorpion" assertion.

I assume the "scorpion" metaphor alludes to the "Scorpion and the Frog" fable:
A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so....
This seems to be the inspiration for that awful snake poem Trump likes to recite.

The origin of "The Scorpion and the Frog" is unknown, but it might have been inspired by an ancient Persian story with a scorpion and a turtle, and there is this nice 1847 illustration for that: