January 30, 2021

At the Ice Fish Café...


... good for you, getting out there on the ice the way you did. Tell us about your adventures on real or metaphorical ice. Are you well-defended against the snows that are descending upon us tonight — real or metaphorical? What sounds are your housemates inflicting on your erstwhile quiet evening? I'm being subjected to the Joan Baez version of "The House of the Rising Sun." Is that fair?

Another version of ice fishing below...

"According to John Steel, Bob Dylan told him that when he first heard the Animals' version [of 'The House of the Rising Sun'] on his car radio, he stopped to listen, 'jumped out of his car' and 'banged on the bonnet' (the hood of the car), inspiring him to go electric.…"

From "The Animals' guitarist, Hilton Valentine, has died" (at my son John's blog, quoting Wikipedia). 

First, goodbye to Hilton Valentine. 

Second. I don't know about that Bob Dylan story. Who, on hearing something on the car radio, gets out of the car to bang on the "bonnet"? I'm assuming Steel was paraphrasing and will not get into the silliness of Dylan saying "bonnet." And I won't question that there really is somebody named John Steel who told this story, even though "John Steel" sounds like the #1 fictional name of all time. Look for it in romance novels and action movies. 

Ah, I see, John Steel was the drummer for The Animals. I can believe that Dylan told Steel that story, but not that Dylan really did pull over the car just to jump out of it to bang on the hood. I mean, in movies when things like that happen, the character pulls over the car and bangs on the steering wheel. In real life, I think you tend to keep driving, maybe gesticulate. With one hand waving free. 

But did Dylan get the idea to go electric from The Animals? The Animals are not even mentioned in Dylan's memoir, "Chronicles: Volume One." The Byrds are mentioned. The closest thing to "animals" in the book is:
Suddenly... my mind sprang back to... the time I’d seen the Leopard Girl.... The Leopard Girl. A carnie barker had explained about her, how her mother who was pregnant with her in North Carolina saw a leopard on a dark road at night and the animal had marked her unborn child. Then I saw the Leopard Girl and when I did, my emotions got weak. 
I wondered, now, whether all of us... had been inscribed and marked before birth, given a sticker, some secret sign. If that’s true, then none of us could change anything. We’re all running a wild race. We play the game the way it’s set up or we don’t play. If the secret sign thing is true, then it wouldn’t be fair to judge anybody….

"'From a friend (who is very shy, so I can't attribute): "Pretty sure Brett about to enter the lexicon as the male equivalent of Karen,"' [Brett] Alder tweeted."

"He then started to try to get the term trending by saying a coffee shop Jo's Coffee was being a Brett after an image surfaced of the store with writing on its wall reading: 'I love you so much *except for Brett Alder.' 'Don't know why @JosCoffee is being such a Brett about all this...' he wrote." 

My main problem with Austin is not even on the list: The traffic and the drivers. I wrote about it back in 2014:
My most harrowing driving experience was yesterday, just trying to get downtown in Austin. The highways there are evil, and there are local fuckers doubling down on the evil, making it a nightmare. I will never drive in Austin again. Whatever good there is in Austin is severely diluted by the hell of its roads.
Ha ha. How often have I called people "fuckers" in print? 

I think there's only one other example, NBCUniversal killed Television Without Pity: "You bought it, it was what it was, so perfectly what it was that you couldn't change it, so you killed it, you fuckers." 

I did also imagine Bill Clinton's thoughts, when he appeared at the 2008 Democratic Convention: "Bill Clinton is doing a fabulous job tonight. His superiority to everyone else who has spoken is painfully obvious. 'America will always be a place called hope.' Brilliant. He's the greatest! And, now what is going through his mind? And that's how it's done you losers. Screw you for rejecting Hillary. Enjoy your doom, fuckers."

Anyway, I felt awfully aggressed upon in Austin in 2014. And, by the way, I am still outraged by the killing of Television Without Pity. 

"I was a little bit like, how we’re going to get 800 people to show up at, you know, at 10 or 11 o’clock at night? But that proved to be no problem at all, because, you know, word kind of spread like wildfire."

Said Jenny Brackett, an assistant administrator at UW Medicine, quoted in "A failed freezer forced an overnight dash to give out more than 1,600 doses of the coronavirus vaccine" (WaPo). 
“URGENT: We have 588 DOSE 1 MODERNA appointments available Jan. 28 11 p.m. to Jan. 29 2 a.m.,” Swedish Hospital tweeted at 10:59 p.m. Pacific time with a link to book slots, limiting sign-ups to those in high-priority groups already cleared to receive the vaccine. 
At UW Medical Center-Northwest, people like Brackett called out for people 65 and over, walking up and down a queue of hundreds that snaked through hallways and then spilled outside. 
“I was a little worried that the line maybe would not be too thrilled,” she said. “You know, that I am letting others go first. But that wasn’t the response I had at all. Actually, the crowd kind of cheered.”

"'History,' E. M. Cioran once wrote, 'is irony on the move.' Bearing out this maxim, cultural revolutions have now erupted right in the heart of Western democracies...."

"The appeal of Maoism for many Western activists in the nineteen-sixties and seventies came from its promise of spontaneous direct democracy—political engagement outside the conventional framework of elections and parties. This seemed a way out of a crisis caused by calcified party bureaucracies, self-serving élites.... Tony Judt warned, not long before his death, that the traditional way of doing politics in the West—through 'mass movements, communities organized around an ideology, even religious or political ideas, trade unions and political parties'—had become dangerously extinct. There were, Judt wrote, 'no external inputs, no new kinds of people, only the political class breeding itself.' Trump emerged six years later, channelling an iconoclastic fury at this inbred ruling class and its cherished monuments. Trump failed to purge all the old élites, largely because he was forced to depend on them, and the Proud Boys never came close to matching the ferocity and reach of the Red Guards. Nevertheless, Trump’s most devoted followers, whether assaulting his opponents or bombarding the headquarters in Washington, D.C., took their society to the brink of civil war while their chairman openly delighted in chaos under heaven. Order appears to have been temporarily restored (in part by Big Tech, one of Trump’s enablers). But the problem of political representation in a polarized, unequal, and now economically debilitated society remains treacherously unresolved. Four traumatic years of Trump are passing into history, but the United States seems to have completed only the first phase of its own cultural revolution."

"There is no authority granted to Congress to impeach and convict persons who are not 'civil officers of the United States.' It’s as simple as that."

"But simplicity doesn’t mean unimportance. Limiting Congress to its specified powers is a crucial element in the central idea of the U.S. Constitution: putting the state under law.... The interpretation that persons are subject to impeachment and conviction even if they are not civil officers would greatly expand the Senate’s ability to prevent future office-holding.... [If] removal is irrelevant, any person who was once a civil officer might be impeached and convicted and by this means disqualified from any future office. Is it really compatible with the system of democratic representation...?... [P]runing the disqualification penalty away from its basis in removal creates a bill of attainder, a punishment levied by a legislative body without a criminal trial. An impeachable offense, it is well established, does not have to be a statutory crime. Thus disqualification standing alone and not as appurtenant to removal is precisely the sort of attainder envisaged by the Framers. Is it consistent with the American system of laws, to say nothing of the prohibition on attainders in Article I, Section 9, to allow Congress to impose such draconian penalties without a jury trial—in the absence of the removal of the officer by the Senate...?"

Writes lawprof Philip Bobbitt in "Why the Senate Shouldn’t Hold a Late Impeachment Trial" (Lawfare).

"In an email to thousands of students, faculty, graduates and parents earlier this month, Virginia Military Institute’s interim superintendent defended its one-strike-and-you’re out honor code... But in private conversations....

"... with faculty and alumni, retired Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins is raising questions about VMI’s student-run Honor Court, which The Washington Post revealed in December expels Black students at a disproportionately high rate. Wins, who was appointed VMI’s first Black leader amid a state-ordered investigation into racism at the country’s oldest state-supported military college, discussed the Honor Court during a recent virtual listening session with more than a dozen faculty members. He asked whether the honor code — backed by a single-sanction system that expels and publicly shames cadets convicted of violations — had 'value or lack of value' and whether they had 'concerns' about the way the Honor Court operates.... Elected by the student body, VMI’s Honor Court operates in secrecy, investigating and prosecuting anyone suspected of an honor code violation. It has the power to enlist cadets to spy on classmates, who can be convicted by non-unanimous juries and then shamed with middle-of-the-night 
'drum-out' ceremonies announcing their names to the entire 1,700-member corps of cadets." 

January 29, 2021

At the Friday Night Cafe...

 ... it’s another cold night out here on the internet. So settle in for some cozy conversation.

"Smell can never truly be understood through science, Muchembled argues, because it is always vulnerable to the whims of popular taste."

"In sixteenth-century France, amid religious moralizing and the pervasive fear of witchcraft, the scent of a woman’s undercarriage, once considered an ambrosial ideal, became synonymous with the occult. The stigma was worse for aging women, who became seen as olfactory ogres; Muchembled quotes the poet Joachim du Bellay’s disgust at an 'old woman older than the world / older yet than squalid filth.' Our own experience confirms that smells are subject not just to major cultural changes but also to minor shifts in context: the same smell that greets you at the door of a cheesemonger has a very different effect when confronted at the door of a porta-potty."

Biden's Judicial Reform Commission is unlikely to recommend Court-packing.

According to Ilya Somin (at Reason). 
But it would be wrong to think that the court-packing issue will simply go away. Over the last few years, the once-unthinkable proposal has clearly become part of mainstream political discourse on the political left. Thanks in part to the bad-faith behavior of Republicans (where the party first claimed it was wrong to vote on a Supreme Court nominee in an election year in 2016, and then took the completely opposite stance when it became convenient in 2020) the "Overton Window" on this issue has moved. 

"Nearly a year of being disheartened by the online garishness and promotional smarm of digitized images has set me up to rediscover the pungency of direct aesthetic experience."

"There can be no meaningful discourse about art divorced from that. Intellectual appreciation starves for want of it. The less you see, the dumber you get." 

Writes Peter Schjeldahl in "The Revelations of an Unlikely Pairing/In a show at Zwirner, the soft cosmos of Giorgio Morandi’s domestic tableaux is relieved and refreshed by the architectonics of Josef Albers’s squares" (The New Yorker). 

How awful is it not to be looking directly at paintings? Schjeldahl takes a strong position.

"The Conservative Case Against the Boomers/For bleakness, scope, and entropic finality, the progressive critique of the generation has nothing on the social-conservative one."

A column by Benjamin Wallace-Wells (in The New Yorker). 
In the view of an increasingly prominent cohort of Catholic intellectuals, Americans have, in the long span of the boomer generation, gone from public-spirited to narcotized, porn-addicted, and profoundly narcissistic, incapable not only of the headline acts of idealism to which boomers once aspired, such as changing the relations between the races or the sexes, but also of the mundane ones, such as raising children with discipline and care.... 
[Conservative writer Helen] Andrews... sums up the boomer legacy: “Drugged up, divorced, ignorant, and indebted, but at least they did it out of idealism.” This story, at least the way Andrews tells it, is about the establishment of a new aristocracy, and she structures it through six stories of prominent boomers: Steve Jobs, Aaron Sorkin, Jeffrey Sachs, Camille Paglia, Al Sharpton, and Sonia Sotomayor. 

"Two boats are sinking and you can save only one. One holds two dogs, the other a person. Which do you save? If you’re not sure, you can say, 'I can’t decide.'"

"When I put this to my 11-year-old, his response was immediate: “Save the dogs!” In his defence, he has grown up with a pet dog, which he adores — and, according to a new study in Psychological Science, most other kids would say the same thing.... Indeed, when the team put similar questions (varying the numbers of dogs, pigs and people) to adult participants, 61% opted to save one human over 100 dogs... and 85% of people prioritised one human over one dog, while 93% opted to save a human rather than a single pig.... When the team asked 249 kids aged between five and nine about what they thought, though, they found that just over 70% opted to let a person die to save 100 dogs. When it came to one human vs one dog, only about a third of the children opted to save the person, 28% were clear on going for the dog, and the rest couldn’t decide. When pigs, rather than dogs, were pitted against people... only 57% prioritised one human over one pig, and 18% reported that they’d save the pig. The child’s age had no impact — the 9-year-olds made the same judgements as the 5-year-olds." 

IN THE COMMENTS: Leland said:
Dumb survey. Try thinking just a little bit like a child. You, a 5 to 9 (maybe 11) age kid, small, unsure around people, comfortable around pets that are typically your size or smaller; have to save a person (in their head one of those bigger people like a parent or teacher) or a dog (something your used to handling) in dangerous water. Simple self-preservation says they'll pick the object they can handle.

Yes, and you might think the human being might have a chance of figuring out on his own what to do, and, after all, he did, in all likelihood, choose to go out on a boat. The dog didn't take the boat out on its own, but has been put in a confusing situation by a human being and may therefore seem to deserve human intervention. 

Hello, my "today name" is Addison.

In the comments to the previous post — which is about naming schools — I was just wondering: "Hey, what about all the little girls who've been named Madison in the last couple decades when it's been one of the most popular names? It's like calling your baby Slaveowner? What were you thinking?!!" 

Here's a place where you can type in your name and year of birth and find out what your name you would have today if you were given the name that is as popular now as your name was the year you were born. I get to be Addison. Not Madison. Screw that guy, lop off the M, and there you have it: Addison. There once was a girl named Addison/Who happened to live in Madison....

Actually, Madison seems to have become a girl's name as a consequence of a joke in the 1984 movie "Splash!" The mermaid-turned-human character suddenly needs a name for herself, looks up at the nearest street sign — this is in NYC — and says "Madison." Check the name calculator I linked to and you'll see. It's not a girl's name at all in 1983, appears for the first time in in 1984, and climbs year by year after that. 

Bonus fact: Mitch McConnell's full name is Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr.

"Until the San Francisco Unified School District board stripped Dianne Feinstein’s name from one of its public schools, we were unaware of the Senator’s service to the Confederacy."

"While the city’s mayor, she had replaced a vandalized Confederate flag that was part of a historical display outside City Hall. So now it’s goodbye to Dianne Feinstein Elementary School. The Feinstein purge is among the banishments the board took Tuesday night when it voted 6-1 to rename 44 schools. The most absurd target is Abraham Lincoln, who waged the war that ended slavery...." 

From "Cancelling Dianne Feinstein In San Francisco, the Senator now ranks with Confederate generals" by The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal. 

"Also canceled were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Webster and Paul Revere. The criteria used to come up with the list of villains is whether they had promoted slavery, genocide, the oppression of women or 'otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"  

Maybe stop naming schools after human beings. These folks are flawed, and it's going to come around and bite you in the ass sooner or later. Here in Madison, where we live on the west side of town, my kids went to a high school called West High School. Keep it geographical. Although if I had to argue that "West" was a politically incorrect name, I could do it. In defense of West, I note that over on the east side of town, the high school is called East High School. 

It was especially bad to name a school after Dianne Feinstein, a living politician. You never know what these creatures who still walk the face of the earth might do to complicate your effort at honor. If you must name schools after human beings, choose dead ones who've proven their status as heroes. But that's a bad idea too. Schools should teach critical thinking and a deep understanding of history, and that's inconsistent with having one person's name hanging over the kids' head all the time. 

And what's absurd about pursuing inquiry into the shortcomings of Abraham Lincoln? It's a great idea, if it involves teaching the kids to learn the methodologies of history. It's supposed to be education, not religion.

January 28, 2021

At the Thursday Night Café...

 ... it's another bitterly cold night, so snuggle in.

"When she wakes up, if she has slept at all, she tells me about the giants carrying trees and bushes on what she calls zip lines..."

"... which I am able to identify as telephone wires. Beneath the busy giants, she explains, there is a marching band playing familiar tunes by John Philip Sousa. She is not especially impressed by either of these things, and the various children playing games in the bedroom annoy her. 'Out you go,' she says to them. Then she describes the man with no legs who spent the night lying beside her in bed. He had been mumbling in pain, but nobody would come to help him. She remembers her own pain, too. 'I could hardly move,' she says. And she can hardly move now. Her legs are stiff, her back is cracking as I lift her out of bed.... She asks me if I saw the opera. I’m not sure which opera she means; we’ve seen many over the fifty years that we’ve been married. She means the one last night in our back yard. She describes it in detail—the stage set, the costumes, the 'really amazing' lighting, the beautiful voices.... " 

From "Living with a Visionary/For more than fifty years, my wife and I shared a world. Then, as Diana’s health declined, her hallucinations became her own reality," by John Matthias in The New Yorker — a fascinating account. The woman's health problem is Parkinson's disease, and the man tries to deal with these intense hallucinations by going along with much of it, but he develops problems of his own. 

"As he entered his first week in office, President Joe Biden was handed a priceless gift: the blissful sound of former President Donald Trump’s Twitter silence...."

"While Trump's absence from Twitter has been a gift to Biden early on, it also may end up benefiting the GOP.... 'Be careful what you wish for,' said Sam Nunberg, who served as a 2016 consultant on Trump’s campaign before being fired. Nunberg said of Biden and the crises facing the nation: 'All the focus is now on him and it hasn’t been on him. … He owns it now.'"

"But Trump must never have an official presidential library, and Congress should move quickly to make sure he doesn’t."

Writes WaPo art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott. 
The case of Trump is exceptional by any standard, and he should be afforded no discretion over his records or any privilege to extend the amount of time before the public can see them. Trump’s 2017 requirement that the National Archives withhold access to his materials until 2033 should be abrogated, and Congress should begin an extraordinary effort to recover as much of his communications legacy as possible, even material that wasn’t deemed “presidential.” 

"Facebook's Oversight Board on Thursday issued its first round of decisions, overturning several decisions by the company to remove posts for violating policies on hate speech, violence and other issues."

NBC News reports.
Thursday's decisions offer a sign that the social media giant's newly formed "Supreme Court" intends to err on the side of free speech. 
"For all board members, you start with the supremacy of free speech," Alan Rusbridger, one of the 20 board members and the former editor-in-chief of The Guardian, said in an interview before the decisions were made public. "Then you look at each case and say, what's the cause in this particular case why free speech should be curtailed?" 
Monika Bickert, Facebook's vice president of content policy, said Thursday that the company “will implement these binding decisions in accordance with the bylaws and have already restored the content in three of the cases as mandated by the Oversight Board.”... 
[I]n four out of the five cases reviewed, the board voted to overturn Facebook's original decisions. The board also called on Facebook to give users greater clarity over its policies and how it intends to enforce them....

You can read the description of the five cases at the link. The one case where the Board upheld Facebook's decision involved the use of a dehumanizing slur against Azerbaijanis.

I like the good start for the board. There's a Donald Trump case coming up, which you can read about in "Facebook's suspension of Trump will get a second look from oversight body/Trump will get a chance to submit a statement to the Oversight Board, which has 90 days to decide whether to restore his ability to post."

Facebook suspended Trump on Jan. 7, a day after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a riot that left five people dead....

Psaki's "circle back" tic is funny, but just her way of saying "get back."


"I'll have to circle back to you" is really no different from "I'll have to get back to you," a common thing for a press secretary to say. But it does stick out and seem goofy. And the connotation is evasive, because of the idea of circling around a subject or being circuitous. 

I think her "circle back" is like Jeb Bush's "garner," which I've been making fun of for years. Jeb said the word "garner" way too much. The first time I blogged about that, I wrote:
He simpers and nods to the point where Meade and I just laugh at him. It's an in-joke for us that he keeps saying the word "garner."... The only reason to say "garner" is if you think there's something wrong with a very common word that normal people just go ahead and say all the time without thinking they need to rise above it. The word is: "get."

I believe the same thing is going on with Psaki. She thinks there's something wrong with the word "get." That's why she's not just saying "I'll have to get back to you" like most English-speaking Americans. 

"I understand perfectly why people who have treated the markets as an enormous casino for decades are terribly upset when people other than themselves treat the markets like an enormous casino."

That's the top-rated comment on "‘Dumb Money’ Is on GameStop, and It’s Beating Wall Street at Its Own Game/GameStop shares have soared 1,700 percent as millions of small investors, egged on by social media, employ a classic Wall Street tactic to put the squeeze — on Wall Street" (NYT). 

Finance is my least favorite subject, but I can't completely ignore something that feels expressive of my reasons for not engaging. I'm not even going to attempt to vaguely gesture at the briefest summary of what happened. Go read the article... or any article on the subject.

But I will quote the second highest-rated comment.
If the hedge fund managers are concerned, perhaps they should simply drink fewer cups of Starbucks. Eat less avocado toast. Do a better job at saving. Or, get a side hustle. Drive an Uber? Learn to code? Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, fellas. 

We're just going to be boring until you stop looking.

 That's what I said out loud after reading the passage that begins "Biden embraces order and routine in his first week. How will that fit this moment of crisis?" (WaPo):

Almost every day of his young tenure, President Biden has entered the State Dining Room, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln looking down and wood burning in the fireplace. He speaks on the planned topic of the day. He sits at an undersized desk and searches for a pen to sign his latest stack of executive orders. Within 30 minutes of entering the camera’s frame, he has left it.

It is all plotted and planned. Little room is left for the unscripted or the unusual. 

Biden’s first full week in office has showcased an almost jarring departure from his predecessor’s chaotic style, providing the first window into a tenure whose mission is not only to remake the White House in Biden’s image but also to return the presidency itself to what he sees as its rightful path.

The result so far is a 9-to-5 presidency — a tightly scripted burst of activity that was charted over the past few months, as Biden seeks to avoid heated conflict and stick to his plan of lowering the political temperature to a level that many Americans can tune out.

So it's a plan, eh? What else is in the plan? What will you do after we tune out? Or is this all quite beneficent — a plan to give us rest and relief, respite from the frenetic, attention-seeking Trump?

By the way, I found many things to laugh at in those paragraphs. Just to flag things that amused me: "young tenure," "wood burning in the fireplace," searching for a pen on "an undersized desk," "Dining Room... little room," a "departure... providing" a "window" (or is it a "chaotic style, providing" a "window"), a "tenure" with a "mission.".

This post gets my "I'm for boring" tag, and I am for boring. I would like government to operate in a boring, reliable way. I envision hard-working experts, solving problems, serving the public interest. But I do see the downside of making it look boring. If you were really up to no good, you'd try to create a nothing-to-see-here atmosphere.

Naturally, I think of George Carlin's "It's The Quiet Ones You Gotta Watch." Of course, it's absurd to think that whenever nothing looks out of the ordinary, that's exactly when you should be most alarmed.

Let's say you're multitasking, reading the news on screen, eating strawberry yogurt, and sticking a gold earring into your pierced ear.

You drop the little gold piece that goes on in back — the push back. You don't hear it hit the desk, but maybe it fell on the carpeted floor. But it's most likely in the yogurt. You don't see it on top of the yogurt, but is it down in the yogurt? Do you get a flashlight and carefully search the desk and floor area first or do you proceed to eat the yogurt? If you eat the yogurt in the hope of finding the push back, carefully mashing the goo in your mouth to make sure that's not the mouthful with the little gold thing in it, do you think Surely, it's near the top? 

That's going to interfere with the enjoyment of the yogurt, you know. You could get up and find a sieve and run the bowlful of yogurt into a second bowl from which you could savor your breakfast, undistracted by intra-mouth straining. But you don't want the metallic, sieved version of strawberry yogurt. And you're lazy. Not lazy enough to have skipped the step of getting the flashlight and searching the floor and the desk. Just lazy enough not to sieve the yogurt.

As you eat mouthful after mouthful, do you maintain a uniform carefulness or do you get to thinking it's not in the yogurt? When you arrive at the last spoonful, do you have any hope that the little thingie sank all the way to the bottom? If you're trying to imagine the viscosity of the substance, this is not Greek yogurt — that pasty stuff — but old-time yogurt, and it had been spooned out into a bowl and stirred up. 

It was in the last spoonful! And I had become a bit lackadaisical. And yet, I did not swallow it. I reacted with alarm as if I'd come close to swallowing it, but I hadn't. I got it. How did it sink to the bottom of the yogurt in the bowl?

But I know gold is heavy. I've remembered that gold is heavier than lead ever since I read this passage almost 20 years ago:

That's from "Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood" by Oliver Sacks.

January 27, 2021

At the Thursday Night Cafe...

... you can talk about whatever you want. 

"Telling Didion that 'having a pretty place to work is important to a man,' Nancy Reagan fills an apothecary jar with hard candies for his desk..."

"... carpets the floors of the State Capitol 'in a pleasing shade of green,' Didion writes. (What green carpet, Didion’s deadpan delivery invites us to ask, has ever been 'pleasing'?) Didion’s understated tone registers the nuances obscured by the quotidian: the stiff neutrality between mother and son ('The Skipper’s arrival is, I have been told, the pivotal point of Nancy Reagan’s day'), Nancy’s preference for little choreographies... As [Didion] puts it in her 1976 essay 'Why I Write': 'I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. … What is going on in these pictures in my mind?'"

From "Joan Didion Revisits the Past Once More" by Durga Chew-Bose (NYT)(reviewing Joan Didion's new collection of essays, "Let Me Tell You What I Mean").

"A lack of distancing irony is, generally, an element of cringe, whether it’s imagining Trump nailed to a cross or picturing Michelle Obama as a Jedi master."

"Sometimes the cringe is so earnest and so personal — as when one Twitter user declared that, in her fantasies, 'Pete & Chasten will have Kamala & Dougie over for weekly potlucks that Michele O. will crash with a bottle of wine & gossip' — that the offending individual literally deletes her entire account. Either way, the earnest invocation of an idealized politician being either a stacked savior or a wine-sipping bestie makes a mockery of the idea that politicians are nothing more than fellow citizens chosen for a short time to serve the public good. Cringe reaches its apotheosis in a particular genre of bizarre video that mashes up politicians with action heroes. Consider this gem, which pastes the heads of Democrats pasted onto the bodies of the Avengers in their last-ditch effort to defeat supervillain Thanos — reimagined, of course, as Trump. Soak in the unironic iconography of it all, the transmutation of mere politicians into godlike warriors from one of the three franchises the general public recognizes.... If imagining Trump as a world-historical defender of the Constitution is bizarre and anti-democratic, so is turning the vice president and secretary of transportation into cozy sitcom characters rather than people who have been given great power and need to be held accountable for how they use it."

From "We live in a golden age of cringe" by Sonny Bunch (WaPo).

Yes, we need to rediscover embarrassment. 

"You know what, I was a big Trump supporter, I was really pulling for Donald Trump, but he lost fair and square."

Said... Mitt Romney. [See update below.]

Quoted in, "Mitt Romney to Republicans: Stop perpetuating ‘big lie’ that Biden stole election from Trump" (Deseret News).
“You have many of the Trump supporters in elected office, senators, congresspeople, governors, continuing to say the same thing, that the election was stolen,” Romney said. But, he said, what they should tell people is that the Trump campaign “had a chance to take their message to the courts, the courts laughed them out of court. I’ve seen no evidence that suggests that there was widespread voter fraud.”

I'm not seeing the whole transcript, but to really lean into the demonstration of honesty, Romney should acknowledge the dismissals that were for a lack of standing. I'd like to see him engage with what Rand Paul said last Sunday

Most of the cases were thrown out for lack of standing, which is a procedural way of not actually hearing the question. There were several states in which the law was changed by the secretary of state and not the state legislature. To me, those are clearly unconstitutional and I think there’s still a chance that those actually do finally work their way up to the Supreme Court. Courts traditionally and historically don’t like to hear election questions. 

I agree that the time for contesting the election has passed, but I don't think the way Romney is speaking will convince Trump supporters to give up their belief that something went wrong. Telling them the courts found it laughable, and they should give up and move on is going to make true believers more suspicious. And I'm sure they don't buy the assertion that Romney was ever "a big Trump supporter."

ADDED: A reader points out that I probably misinterpreted the quote in what I now can see is an ambiguously written line in the news article:

Romney said elected Republicans need to go on Fox News and say, “You know what, I was a big Trump supporter, I was really pulling for Donald Trump, but he lost fair and square.”

He's telling other people what they ought to say, not using the word "I" to refer himself. 

Biden says: "The fact is systemic racism touches every facet of American life, and everyone — no matter your race or ethnicity — benefits when we build a more equitable America."

That's a tweet.

I think it's unlikely that Biden wrote this himself. Has he internalized critical race theory ideology? I wonder if he even read this, and, if he read it, if he understood it. 

If he understood it, did he understand what it says about his own ascendancy in American political life? I don't see how he could possibly believe what he's tweeting and not feel certain that his presidency is a consequence of systemic racism. He did choose Kamala Harris as his Vice President, so maybe he's got it all figured out, and I will win my bet that Biden will oust himself from the presidency by March 1st.

ADDED: Here's the transcript of the racial equity speech Biden gave yesterday. Video here. Let's read:

"What’s fascinating is that Fox is shifting harder right to recapture the audience it lost to OAN/Newsmax during the Stop The Steal era but they’re not actually booking Trump..."

"... to appear on their air. The conservative movement has deplatformed Trump, but it’s more convenient for them to pretend that Twitter did it and it would somehow be impossible for him to communicate through other media." 

Missing piece of info: How do you know the Fox hasn't tried to book him? Since Trump hasn't done any interviews since leaving office — correct me if I'm wrong — the most rational inference is that Trump is declining to do interviews. 

Peel away the assertions about Fox, and Yglesias is saying something about Trump: He's not completely deplatformed. He can't do Twitter, but he could submit to interviews. You're not that censored if you can still go on somebody else's show to try to get your message our.

But Trump has lost his preferred mode of communication, a form that allowed him to speak directly to everyone who chose to open the channel. That's a tremendous loss of freedom of expression for him and for all of us who wanted to hear whatever it was he saw fit to type out. But Yglesias seems to think complaints about that loss are exaggerated, because some news outlet could or should give him a slot of their time and structure him with their questions, interruptions, and framing.

Which reminds me: When in the last year has any news media outlet subjected Joe Biden to a rigorous interview? 

Do you believe that Donald Trump intended to incite an insurrection?

That's the question I'd like to see polled. 

I think that the "yes" answer needs to be quite high — at least above 50% — for the impeachment trial to make sense.

But the question has 2 words in it that I think most people could not define accurately. Maybe the pollsters could insert a definition. Something like this:

1. An insurrection is "a violent uprising against an authority or government." Do you believe what happened at the Capitol on January 6th was an insurrection? 

2. "To incite" is to "encourage or stir up." Do you believe that Donald Trump intended to incite an insurrection?

Do you think there would be big "yes" answer on question 2?

Why is this gymnastics routine controversial?

I watched this based on a Slate headline — "The Absurd Backlash to Nia Dennis’ Viral Floor Exercise" — but without reading anything about why the routine is viral and what the backlash is:


All I thought was she's running out the clock with lots of dance moves and not doing enough gymnastics. I see at YouTube, this is "UCLA gymnast Nia Dennis clinch[ing] the win for the Bruins with a 9.95 on floor exercise against Arizona State on Jan. 23, 2021." I've only watched Olympic-level gymnastics, so I'm assuming 9.95 has to do with college-level scoring.  

I go back to the article and notice the subheadline, "It’s long past time the gymnastics world reckoned with its racism." Racism? It certainly can't be that we aren't used to black female gymnasts. What's the "backlash"?
[T]his routine has everything. Dennis pays tribute to Colin Kaepernick (she kneels!), Tommie Smith and John Carlos (she raises a fist!), and Kamala Harris (like a soror, she strolls and she steps!)....
That relates to my perception that there's too much dance, not enough gymnastics, but I did not notice the paying of "tribute" or any political protest.
Dennis’ routine was, as the savvy UCLA athletics media team tweeted—and ’grammed, and Facebooked—an exemplar of #blackexcellence: a senior sociology major at one of the best public institutions in the country performing what one fan termed an electrifying “Blackity Black Black” floor routine for the second year in a row....
One fan. It's not a term.


And if it were a standard term, I would recommend not using it (unless you are black and comedically talented). 

[A]s happens every year when a UCLA routine goes viral, casual viewers slid into the comments with Things to Say. Why does it have to be BLACK excellence? What does her SKIN COLOR have to do with it? What if a white gymnast did this amazing routine? Leave race out of the gym please. 

Oh! The "absurd backlash" isn't to the routine! That headline faked me out. The backlash is to the racialized praise of the routine. The backlash to that backlash is the predictable reaction to anyone who ever invokes the principle of colorblindness. There's nothing absurd here. Just predicatable right/left back-and-forth. 

The Slate writer, Rebecca Schuman, flies into a fluffy huff:

The astounding sensitivity among so many observers to the mere mention of the word Black in the context of praise for a stellar athlete who just debuted an entire exercise celebrating Black culture is a reflection of life in a country where it’s still somehow controversial to opine that Black lives matter. 

Who's astoundingly sensitive? Oh, I don't think anyone is really that sensitive. It's the theater of sensitivity, not anything arising from a deeply feeling human soul. And none of it is at all astounding. It's crushingly, thuddingly dull. Exactly what you would expect. 

Schuman's article does go on to document some actual problems within the recent history of gymnastics competition. Some of this is about discrimination against black gymnasts, which proponents of colorblindness do not support. Some of it is about feminist issues — sexual molestation and pressure to display a traditional feminine look — problems that are not race-specific.

January 26, 2021

At the Tuesday Night Cafe...

... you can talk about whatever you want.

"My Democratic colleagues would have rightfully objected to Republicans – when they controlled Congress – using the impeachment power to disqualify former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from running for president in 2016 because of her email controversy."

Said Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), voting against tabling a motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment. 

Here's the full statement — a press release, which I received as email:
On January 6, I said voting to reject the states’ electors was a dangerous precedent we should not set. Likewise, impeaching a former President who is now a private citizen would be equally unwise. The impeachment power can be turned into a political weapon, especially if it is primarily used to disqualify an individual citizen from running for public office. My Democratic colleagues would have rightfully objected to Republicans – when they controlled Congress – using the impeachment power to disqualify former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from running for president in 2016 because of her email controversy. The great hallmark of our Democratic Republic is self-government, and I have faith in the American people to assess the qualifications of presidential candidates and make an informed decision themselves, just as they have done every four years since George Washington was elected as our first president. Congress should not dictate to the American people who they can and cannot vote for.

In support of that argument, it's extremely important to remember that there is a "fundamental principle of our representative democracy . . . 'that the people should choose whom they please to govern them.'" I'm quoting the Supreme Court case rejecting term limits for members of Congress, which was quoting a case about Congress's power to exclude someone the people have elected. The internal quote — "the people should choose whom they please to govern them" — comes from Alexander Hamilton, arguing in favor of ratifying the Constitution:

45 Senators just voted that the impeachment trial is unconstitutional, so it seems that acquittal is inevitable.

Rand Paul’s motion was defeated 55 to 45, but a 2/3 vote is needed to convict, so it seems the outcome is preordained and the substantive merits of the case don’t matter. The 45 who believe it’s unconstitutional shouldn’t change their mind based on anything to be presented at trial.

ADDED: A TV commentator said that only 34 votes were expected on Paul’s motion. 45 is a much stronger showing. McConnell voted with Paul. Only 5 Republicans voted with the Democrats: Romney, Collins, Murkowski, Toomey, and Sasse. It will be difficult to generate any momentum for this dismal trial.

"10 Classic Recordings that are Actually Cover Versions."

AND: Here's the country version.

How to write a book.


Photographed by me, just now, from a book that appears in my earliest childhood memories. I've never read the book, but I saw it and played with it before I could read, and when I could read, I read and puzzled over the title. I knew my parents loved the author, a radio comedian who died, too young, in 1956. The book is ©1956. 

I kept the book for my own library after my parents were gone, and I knew exactly where to find it in my disorganized shelves when the author's name came up in conversation here at Meadhouse. The conversation began with a report of something funny that had happened outside in the snow, and a confession of mine about being too concerned about embarrassment when I was a child, which led Meade to engage in a type of transgressive humor that I associated with Louis CK, whom Meade contrasted to Red Skelton, a sweet, gentle comedian we both remember loving back in 1950s TV. 

I guessed — for no reason other than his on-screen niceness — that Red Skelton might have been a terrible person in real life. I went looking for dirt on his Wikipedia page. I didn't read every word, and I didn't find any dirt, but I got interested in the subject, so timely today, of censorship:
On April 22, 1947, Skelton was censored by NBC two minutes into his radio show. When he and his announcer Rod O'Connor began talking about Fred Allen being censored the previous week, they were silenced for 15 seconds; comedian Bob Hope was given the same treatment once he began referring to the censoring of Allen. 
[FOOTNOTE] Fred Allen was censored when he referred to an imaginary NBC vice-president who was "in charge of program ends". He went on to explain to his audience that this vice-president saved these hours, minutes and seconds that radio programs ran over their allotted time until he had two weeks' worth of them and then used the time for a two-week vacation.

And then I was reading the Wikipedia article on Fred Allen, whose book I played with when I was a child and have kept all these years but never read:

"After years of smuggling his obsessions into reviews or radio programmes, he was finally able to publish whatever was on his mind..."

"... from racism, propaganda and freedom of speech to make-up, birdwatching and the price of clocks. The most sombre topics rubbed up against brainteasers, jokes and nuggets of trivia. Orwell had opinions about everything under the sun and they were all worth reading even if you disagreed with them, which many Tribune readers did, loudly and often." 

George Orwell wrote an essay about makeup?! I like the way his Tribune column sounds like a blog, but what I really want is to find that essay about makeup. I've looked, but so far, no success.

IN THE COMMENTS: Leland said: "I think you are referring to 'As I Please'" — yes, I am — "so perhaps his column on American Fashion Magazines?" MaybeHere's that full essay, from 1946. It mentions lipstick and nail polish, but though it's heavily opinionated, he doesn't really opine on makeup. It's more about the natural physical attributes of the models, the clothing, the style of writing, and the absence of men :

"We’re glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand. We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people."

Said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer, quoted in "McConnell Relents in First Filibuster Skirmish, but the War Rages On/Senator Mitch McConnell dropped his demand that Democrats promise to preserve the procedural weapon that can grind the Senate to a halt, but with President Biden’s agenda in the balance, the fight is not over" (NYT).
Senator Mitch McConnell... had refused to agree to a plan for organizing the chamber without a pledge from Democrats to protect the filibuster, a condition that Mr. Schumer had rejected. But late Monday, as the stalemate persisted, Mr. McConnell found a way out by pointing to statements by two centrist Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, that said they opposed getting rid of the procedural tool — a position they had held for months — as enough of a guarantee to move forward without a formal promise from Mr. Schumer.... 
As they press forward on Mr. Biden’s agenda, Democrats will come under mounting pressure from activists to jettison the rule....  “I feel pretty damn strongly, but I will also tell you this: I am here to get things done,” said Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana. “If all that happens is filibuster after filibuster, roadblock after roadblock, then my opinion may change.”...

We were just talking about Tester. Remember? He's the Senator who brings his own meat to Washington and wants to "get shit done."

Democrats say they must retain at least the threat that they could one day end the filibuster, arguing that bowing to Mr. McConnell’s demand now would only have emboldened Republicans to deploy it constantly, without fear of retaliation. “Well that’s a nonstarter because if we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day,” Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press."  

Ah! That makes the most sense of it all. Democrats want the threat of abolishing the filibuster, and Republicans are moderated by the threat alone. Notice that actually to change the rule would require every single Democratic Senator to agree and a tiebreaker vote from Kamala Harris would still be needed. That's a lot of cohesion. 

Kyrsten Sinema is up for reelection in 2024, and she took over a seat that had been held by a Republican. The other Democratic Senator who faces reelection in 2024 and who beat a Republican incumbent in 2018 is Jacky Rosen. We don't hear much from her. As for Manchin, he's been in the Senate longer — since 2011, after the seat was vacated by the death of the Democrat/Klansman Robert Byrd (a historic filibusterer) — but Manchin too is up for reelection in 2024, and I think McConnell knows he can count on Manchin not to vote against the filibuster. 

"Each of the 119 counts is punishable by a $200 fine... Most of the counts pertain to children dressed for parts in the ballet and are described by what part they’re playing, such as 'Mouse #3'..."

From "Dane County health department files 119-count complaint against studio over 'Nutcracker' performance" (Wisconsin State Journal)(typo — "ballot" for "ballet" — corrected). [ADDED: The alleged violations have to do with coronavirus restrictions. There seems to have been confusion about whether a dance studio fell in the category of “gyms, fitness centers and similar facilities.”]

You know what's sad? Other than forbidding children to dance? I did an image search for "Mouse #3" — I thought maybe it's a standard "Nutcracker" role and I'd find a cute picture of a costumed kid — and the page was just picture after picture of a computer mouse. 

Here's a little film clip from South Carolina in 2012:


And here's something else, something YouTube found related, and it is related, on the subject of the need of young people to be with others:

"If the Chief Justice is required, then what Leahy is about to do is not a duty. Taking on a role that is not yours under the Constitution is an abuse of power."

I wrote, in my post yesterday, "Did Chief Justice John Roberts decline to preside over the Senate trial of the Trump impeachment?" 

In the comments, Meade wrote: "Will Leahy be costumed in his horned animal skin shaman outfit?" 

I said, "Can someone do a photoshop of this? I'd like to put it on the front page." 

Asked. Received:

I'll credit the Photoshopper by name if he emails to say he wants to be named.

ADDED: We really ought to learn Photoshop here at Meadhouse. I can't do it at all, and Meade's effort was at a level that I call "South Park" (and find rather charming, especially coming from Meade):

I like that this image shows the Shaman/Leahy on the Senate dais, because that is where the Chief Justice belongs, if this is an impeachment trial that requires the Chief Justice.

ADDED: Laslo Spatula sends this:

And I do see that Senator Leahy was taken to the hospital after today's session. I wish him well. These jokes are just a way of saying if the Chief Justice should be presiding over this trial, then Leahy, like the QAnon Shaman, does not belong in that seat.

January 25, 2021

At the Monday Night Cafe...

 ... you can talk about whatever you want.

Did Chief Justice John Roberts decline to preside over the Senate trial of the Trump impeachment?

I'm trying to understand "John Roberts ducks the spotlight by skipping the second Trump impeachment trial" by Joan Biskupic (CNN). 

Ducks by skipping?!! That's a daffy way to put it. I think it means John Roberts arrived at the view that there was no occasion for the Chief Justice to preside, and therefore he has a duty to refrain from participating. That's not ducking and it's not skipping. When he presides, it's because he must, and when he refrains, it's because he must. It's based on an interpretation of law. 

But I can't tell, reading this article, if he was asked to preside and communicated a refusal, or if Senate Democrats decided that the Constitution, Article I, Section 3, does not provide for a role for the Chief Justice. 

The article says "Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the president pro tempore of the chamber, will preside for Trump's second impeachment trial." So, it seems a decision has been made, but did Roberts participate? Did the Senate Democrats want him, or are they, on their own, taking the opportunity to exclude him?

Biskupic writes that the constitutional text is, "When the President of the United States is impeached, the Chief Justice shall preside," which obscures the argument Roberts-excluders must make. The actual text is "When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside." The argument must be that Trump is no longer the President of the United States, therefore there's no role for the Chief Justice. That also provides a foundation for an argument that there is now no occasion for a trial of impeachment — impeachment is a procedure for removing the President — and it is an abuse of power for the Senate to try the former President, deprived of the safeguard of the Chief Justice as a neutral arbiter. 

It would be interesting to know what Roberts thinks about these things, but I can't even tell if Roberts was involved in the decision to leave it to Leahy. Biskupic writes:
Since the US House of Representatives impeached Trump on January 13, Roberts has declined multiple requests for comment on his responsibility, if any, for a trial after Trump left office on January 20.

Has he declined to communicate with the Senators? 

Leahy had earlier said that "the first choice" for presiding officer would be the chief justice...

So that must mean that Leahy did not interpret Article I, Section 3 to exclude the Chief Justice, and I would argue that must mean that there cannot be a trial. If the Chief Justice is permitted, then he is required

... and [Leahy] would not reveal on Monday when it became clear that the duty would fall to him...

If the Chief Justice is required, then what Leahy is about to do is not a duty. Taking on a role that is not yours under the Constitution is an abuse of power. 

... telling reporters only that he was "up to the responsibility."

Whether he's up to it or not is irrelevant, but it's not a "responsibility" unless the Constitution assigns him that role. If he sought Roberts's participation, then he thought it was Roberts's role. You can't have it both ways! 

Roberts had no comment on Monday on Leahy's announcement of his role or dealings with senators....

That's not surprising, but it leaves us to puzzle out the meaning. I wonder what the anti-Trump Senators really want? It seems so unfair to have Leahy presiding, and it's going to look hyper-partisan to people, especially to the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump. The easy out is to say the impeachment is moot, because Trump is out of office. I understand why Trump opponents want to proceed against him anyway, but I don't think it will go very well for them. Trump is out of office. Leave him alone.

UPDATE: The Biskupic article now has a correction of the error I wrote about. The disclosure of the correction says:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referenced the Constitution's terms about the Senate trial. The passage reads, "When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside."

"All that has happened is there was a peaceful transition of power from Trump to a career politician, in Joe Biden, who has done far more violence than Trump has..."

"... because he’s been … a politician for decades. We didn’t topple anything. All we did was replace one figurehead with another, we’ve done nothing about the institution. It’s not about the leader, it’s about the institutions and the structures and the systems of capitalism and white supremacy that we reside under that are the main forces of domination here."

NBC also copies this quote from an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates: "Trumpism did not begin with Trump. ... To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but it is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular." NBC goes on to summarize what Coates wrote next: "He added that presidents before Trump 'carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman.'" 

I clicked through to Coates's January 21st article (it's in the Atlantic), and I can see why NBC shied away from quoting the full sentence. It's: "But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies."

"Eldritch" is a Scottish word that means — according to the OED — "Weird, ghostly, unnatural, frightful, hideous." I had to look it up, though it sounds familiar, because of the book title, "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch."
On Mars, the harsh climate could make any colonist turn to drugs to escape a dead-end existence. Especially when the drug is Can-D, which translates its users into the idyllic world of a Barbie-esque character named Perky Pat. When the mysterious Palmer Eldritch arrives with a new drug called Chew-Z, he offers a more addictive experience, one that might bring the user closer to God. But in a world where everyone is tripping, no promises can be taken at face value.

That world where everyone is tripping might make more sense than Coates's notion of Trump's cracked-open glowing amulet. But Briond's position is easy to understand, and I give it my "Biden attacked from the left" tag.

“On menswear, she says she would sooner see a man approach her with a grenade than wearing a pair of shorts.”

From "'Come for the quips but stay for the coats': the enduring style of Fran Lebowitz/Pretend It’s a City, the Netflix series about the writer and socialite, is a love letter to her sartorial triumphs" (The Guardian).

"Sightings of some of Britain’s best-loved garden birds have fallen, a report suggests, blaming the reduction on fewer hedges and overly 'tidy' gardening."

 The London Times reports on a side-effect of the lockdown. People are tidying up too much.

The editor of BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine says: "More hedges are coming down...  the sorts of habitats we’ve provided . . . are being ripped out... [Birds] need a slightly messy space... They need leaf litter, a bit of rotting wood at the back of a hedge. If you haven’t got a caterpillar, the blue tit has nothing to feed on."

Riots protesting coronavirus restrictions: police attacked, cars and bikes set on fire, fireworks thrown, supermarkets looted, shop windows smashed.

"This has nothing to do with protest, this is criminal violence and we will treat it as such," the Dutch prime minister said, quoted in "Covid: Dutch PM Mark Rutte condemns curfew riots as 'criminal violence" (BBC).

In Eindhoven, golf balls and fireworks were hurled at police in full riot gear, who eventually used tear gas to clear the crowds. Burning bikes were built into barricades. In the eastern city of Enschede, rioters threw rocks at the windows of a hospital. A Covid-19 testing centre was also set alight on Saturday evening in the northern village of Urk, local authorities said.

The government imposed a nighttime curfew, the first since WWII. 

"When I say that Joe Biden is basic, by which I mean 100 percent medium grade, I don’t intend it as an insult."

"I mean it as an honest description of everything he seems to want to assure us he is: ordinary, relatable, comforting in the lack of intellectual, ideological, or political threat he poses. Biden looks and talks like presidents have looked and talked—before the election of Barack Obama and his bilious cartoon inversion, Trump—since forever.... Biden had a long and largely unremarkable political career as a senator from Delaware.... Prior to 2020, he had made two unsuccessful tries at the presidency, in 1988 and again in 2008, when he lost the Iowa caucuses well behind two historical firsts, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. During his primary contest against Obama, Biden had made gently racist comments about his opponent, noting the 'storybook' qualities of 'the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.' With this paternalistic appraisal, and its lightly resentful affirmative-action framing of Obama’s success, Biden had projected attitudes so familiarly American that they perhaps sealed his deal as Obama’s running mate—the strain of average white masculinity he radiated would calm the nerves of some who might be discomfited by the meteoric rise of a Black man.... And now [Biden] is received as a balm. For what injury? The one caused by the spasm of violent revulsion and resentment millions of voters and politicians felt after having elected a single Black man to, and considered a single white woman for, the American presidency. Of course, neither of those people—Obama or Clinton—fully challenged the system of white capitalist patriarchy that Biden is a neater symbol for. Had they presented more substantive rebukes to that system, they never would have made it as far as they did."

From "America Is Back, Indeed With Biden we’ve restored our country’s favorite tradition: basic, middling, white patriarchy" by Rebecca Traister (NY Magazine). This gets my tag "Biden attacked from the left." Like the article, the photograph is hostile:

"You got vaccine priority over my octogenarian mother and my father. For what?"

"It wasn't my decision."

"I like Ivanka... look, anybody can decide to run if they want to. I mean I'm not entitled to anything and so forth. I've got to earn my way forward."

Said Marco Rubio, on Fox News Sunday, when Chris Wallace asked him about the possibility that Ivanka Trump will primary him when he runs for reelection Florida in 2022. 

Wallace wanted to know "How seriously do you take Ivanka Trump as a potential opponent?" But Rubio ignored the opportunity to slight Ivanka and say that somehow she's not serious.

Anyway, Rubio is up for reelection in 2022. Six years before that, he had to do his reelection campaign while also running for the Republican nomination for President. Remember how Jeb Bush — in a last-ditch effort to make something of his own badly failing presidential campaign — criticized Rubio for not staying in Washington and doing his senatorial work? That happened in October 2015, when it was clear that Rubio was the best hope to get a moderate Republican candidate instead of Trump. Here's my blog post about that. I thought Jeb should have withdrawn and endorsed Rubio instead of attacking him on a very fake issue.

"[I]t was clear that he was getting input from people who were calling him up, I don’t know who, people he knew from business, saying, 'Hey, I heard about this drug, isn’t it great?' or..."

"... 'Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal.' And I would try to, you know, calmly explain that you find out if something works by doing an appropriate clinical trial; you get the information, you give it a peer review. And he’d say, 'Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, this stuff really works.' He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important. It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches. It was always, 'A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.' That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.... There was one time — we were in the Oval Office sitting in the chairs around the Resolute Desk. We had this interesting relationship, kind of a New York City camaraderie thing where we kind of liked each other in the sense of 'Hey, two guys from New York.' And he was holding forth on some particular intervention, and saying something that clearly was not based on any data or evidence. There were a bunch of people there, and he turned to me and said, 'Well, Tony, what do you think?' And I said, you know, I think that’s not true at all because I don’t see any evidence to make you think that that’s the case. And he said, 'Oh, well,' and then went on to something else. Then I heard through the grapevine that there were people in the White House who got really surprised, if not offended, that I would dare contradict what the president said in front of everybody. And I was, 'Well, he asked me my opinion. What do you want me to say?' [Interviewer: But no confrontation?] No, he was fine. To his credit, he didn’t get upset at all."

January 24, 2021

At the Diagonal Café...


... you can talk all night.

Rand Paul versus George Stephanopoulos. A great confrontation, and I do not agree with the title on this video, that Rand Paul "melts down."


Here's the transcript.  
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Paul, let me begin with a threshold question for you. This election was not stolen, do you accept that fact? 
SENATOR RAND PAUL, (R-KY): Well, what I would say is that the debate over whether or not there was fraud should occur, we never had any presentation in court where we actually looked at the evidence.

"No one took the hearings seriously at first, but they soon would."

"Mr. Bernstein was considered untouchable both in Hollywood and in the fledgling television industry in New York once his name appeared in 'Red Channels,' an anti-Communist tract published in 1950 by the right-wing journal Counterattack. 'I was listed right after Lenny Bernstein,' Mr. Bernstein recalled. 'There were about eight listings for me, and they were all true.' He had indeed written for the leftist New Masses, been a member of the Communist Party and supported Soviet relief, the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War and civil rights."

Thanks for not breaking our heart.

I set out in the snow to do my sunrise run, and I made it to my vantage point, which looked like this:


No sun to see. 100% overcast. And the snow wasn't stuck to the trees, so no "winter wonderland" effect. Just deep snow on the ground, making the run something of a trudge. But as I approached my vantage point, down along the shore, I saw a man and woman up ahead, and they'd slowed down their walk and begun stamping about. 

I had to overtake them, and my normal method is to get as far to one side of the path as I can, but I took an even wider path around them because I saw that they had stamped out a big heart that stretched the whole way across the path. That's what they'd been doing up there, making a heart the size of a queen-size bed out of footprints in the snow. I was, of course, super-glad that I saw it was a heart and circumvented it. 

We exchanged a smiles and the man said something, maybe "Thanks for not breaking our heart!"

I didn't hear what he said because I had my earbuds in. 

I was listening to the audiobook "The Ministry of Truth/The Biography of George Orwell's 1984," and the passage was, coincidently, on the subject of coupled-up love. It was about the dystopian novel "We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin:
The novel he started writing in Petrograd in 1920, at the age of thirty-six, is set hundreds of years in the future, in the ultra-rational despotism of the One State, a hyperbolic expression of the author’s belief that urban life “robs people of individuality, makes them the same, machinelike.” Zamyatin hones and develops ideas from Wells and Dostoevsky into a sturdy template for numerous tales of individualism versus homogeneity. In the shape of the Benefactor, Zamyatin gives us the mysterious, nameless dictator who poses as a protector. He gives us uniformed “ciphers” with numbers instead of names, and a state which represents “the victory of the many over the one.” He abolishes privacy by installing his ciphers in glass houses, constantly monitored by the secret police (“the Guardians”), except during the state-mandated “sex hour,” which, in a world without love, is organised via a ticketing system.

Ion beam on cancer cell.

A Cancer Cell Slashed Open By an Ion Beam. from r/nextfuckinglevel

Orange man good?

Completely unretouched photo, straight out of my iPhone:

Did Trump forget to pack up all his makeup? 

There's something about orange. As I was searching my archive to figure out if my tag is "orange" or "orangeness," I ran across this post from the first year of my blog, from September 2004:
So John Kerry seems to have gotten one of those dark spray-on tans.... 'All the big Hollywood celebrities, especially the female celebrities, are getting an orange tan.'... Whenever presidential debate season comes around, the one thing you can count on pundits to talk about is the 1960 debate when Kennedy looked tanned and rested and Nixon looked pasty white. ... Why don't Kerry's people remember how Al Gore was ridiculed for looking way too orange in the first debate in 2000?... 'Gore looked positively repellent with his... garish orange makeup....'"

They all do orange. Orange is the happy vibrant color of love and warmth. It always was and it always will be, except for that little time when it wasn't — the time when it was Orange Man Bad in the Oval Office.  

"Surge of Student Suicides Pushes Las Vegas Schools to Reopen/Firmly linking teen suicides to school closings is difficult, but..."

"... rising mental health emergencies and suicide rates point to the toll the pandemic lockdown is taking" — NYT headline. 
Even in normal circumstances, suicides are impulsive, unpredictable and difficult to ascribe to specific causes. The pandemic has created conditions unlike anything mental health professionals have seen before, making causation that much more difficult to determine. But Greta Massetti, who studies the effects of violence and trauma on children at the C.D.C., said there was “definitely reason to be concerned because it makes conceptual sense.”... 
In Clark County, 18 suicides over nine months of closure is double the nine the district had the entire previous year, [said Jesus Jara, the Clark County superintendent]. One student left a note saying he had nothing to look forward to. The youngest student he has lost to suicide was 9. “I feel responsible.” Dr. Jara said. “They’re all my kids.”... 
Over the summer, as President Donald J. Trump was trying to strong-arm schools into reopening, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, then the C.D.C. director, warned that a rise in adolescent suicides would be one of the “substantial public health negative consequences” of school closings.... 
A video that Brad Hunstable made in April, two days after he buried his 12-year-old son, Hayden, in their hometown Aledo, Texas, went viral after he proclaimed, “My son died from the coronavirus.” But, he added, “not in the way you think.” 

"Iowa's decades-long lock on the nominating process has been under threat since last year's disastrous caucus..."

"... when results were delayed for days due in part to a faulty smartphone app that was supposed to make things easier for precinct captains when they reported results. Ultimately, The Associated Press never declared a winner in the contest because of problems with the vote count, which was administered by the Iowa Democratic Party. Iowa's voters are also older, more rural and more white than many other states so it's seen as increasingly out of step with the Democratic mainstream, which increasingly relies on voters of color and young people for its support. President Biden's newly-installed pick to lead the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison of South Carolina, will get a chance to shake up the calendar by appointing members to the party's rules and bylaws committee. Unlike past presidents, Biden didn't win in Iowa (he came in fourth, after former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) and owes no political debt to the complex caucus process."

1. "The Associated Press never declared a winner in the contest..." — why is it up to the Associated Press?

2. "Iowa's voters are also older, more rural and more white than many other states" — isn't that why Iowa is used as the beginning of the contest? It's not just that Iowa became "increasingly out of step" — the idea all along was to be out of step in precisely that way. But maybe they feel more awkward about it in these days of saying "systemic racism."

3. Biden came in fourth in Iowa. Buttigieg and Sanders were first/second. Interesting how Biden got processed up to the nomination. Too complicated to remember, isn't it? And now Biden is in a position to rejigger the game, so that what didn't work for him won't be the way it's done, going forward. And so the 77-year-old man who by some odd sequence of events ended up President will be able to do something NPR sees as bringing the party up to date. The approach that allowed Pete Buttigieg to vault to the front will, apparently, be characterized as prejudiced and old.

I'm reading Megan McArdle's Twitter feed, and I'll tell you why. But first...

... there's this...

... which I offer for discussion, not because I support radical immigration ideas. And she retweeted this, which I find fascinating: A new character is born into the political world. It's a costume, easily patched together, humorous and scary. We'll see how widespread that becomes. I remember some Wisconsin characters — in the 2011 Wisconsin protests — who tried something similar. Here's a photograph I took back then:


The reason I'm checking out McArdle's Twitter feed is that I'm reading her WaPo column, "It’s time for major institutions to make their employees get off of Twitter." She's reacting to the Will Wilkinson story. We talked about it yesterday — here. He got fired from his job at a left-liberal think tank because he tweeted "If Biden really wanted unity, he’d lynch Mike Pence." 

McArdle is friends with Wilkinson and she "admires" the Niskanen Center. She writes: