Thursday, May 05, 2016

Home truth

A good parodist gets inside the target. And this is good parody:

Touche
And this is even better:

No respect for woodwork
As I try to wrap my brain around the horrible choices on offer this November, it's worth considering why conservative pundits are so easy to parody. Most of the Trump trolls I've encountered on the internet are just obnoxious, but this guy is telling us something we need to understand:
Think about it. If you fancy yourself a Serious Conservative Intellectual™ who writes for a Serious Conservative Periodical™  like National Review or The Federalist, your online conduct ought to be consistent with that. When your audience sees you slapfighting with @MAGA_Dude_1985 for an hour straight, it doesn’t matter how cleverly you think you roasted him, it still looks silly. It looks petty.

This is one of the reasons why the more established conservative thinkers have been so bad at controlling the conversation this election cycle. The main reason, no doubt, is Trump, who is a virtuoso at getting his opponents to chase their own tails. But down in the trenches of social media a lot of pundits are also taking heat from their right for the first time, and they’re reacting by getting down and dirty with their detractors, which makes them seem like anything but the principled, high-minded voices of reason they want to be perceived as. Trump supporters, by comparison, have no such pretensions to erudite sophistication, so we’re at an advantage in these exchanges.
And out on the trail, it plays out like this:


You have to understand the world you live in. At this point, I don't.

Progress

As seen on the internet:


Innovative.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The landscape

I'm deeply unhappy with our politics. And I can't see any circumstances in which supporting Donald Trump makes sense, at least personally.

So What Does It All Mean? Not sure, but two voices are worth considering today. Let's start with Victor Davis Hanson:
On race, Trump supporters are tired of hearing that black lives matter, while no one mentions that all lives matter. They are sick of seeing protestors wave the flag of the country they do not wish illegal aliens to be sent back to and trash the country they under no circumstances want them to leave. They don’t like getting a letter from an IRS that employs Lois Lerner — a letter that would be ignored with impunity by those who are here illegally, or who run the Clinton Foundation. They are tired of wealthy minorities claiming they are perpetual victims of ill-treatment at the hands of people who are less well off than they. They don’t like hearing from elites that huge trade deficits have little to do with loss of jobs or that cheating by our trade partners is just a passing glitch in free trade. They cannot stand lectures from those who make more money in an hour than they do in a year about their own bad habits or slothfulness. They don’t know what the on-screen savants mean by a leg-tingle or a perfectly pressed pant leg or a first-class temperament or a president as god — and they don’t care to find out. They do not hate political correctness so much as one-sided political correctness, which gives a pass to some to say things that would get others fired or ruined. They don’t want to be lectured that their own plight is part of a larger, healthy creative destruction or a leaner, meaner competitiveness or an overdue restructuring — by those who are never destroyed, rendered noncompetitive, or restructured. And they don’t like to be talked down to by the experts who ran up $10 trillion in debt, ruined the health-care system, dismantled the military, and screwed up the Secret Service, the IRS, NASA, and the VA. Trump is their megaphone, not their solution. The Trump supporters have seen plenty of politicians with important agendas, but few with the zeal to push them through; at this late date, they would apparently prefer zeal without agendas to agendas without zeal.
Emphasis mine. At the same time, I wonder if Trumpism has any meaning beyond the black swan with the combover. Take it away, Walter Russell Mead:
Many analysts have argued that Trump’s popularity shows that elite GOP orthodoxy—limited government, lower taxes, entitlement reform, hawkish foreign policy—is a dead letter, and what Republican primary voters really want is Trump-style welfare state ethnocentrism at home coupled with America First-ism abroad. There may well be some truth to this (especially the first part; the tenets of traditional Republicanism really are in desperate need of re-imagination if the party wants to address today’s problems). But are voters dead-set on Trumpism as the alternative? The absence of successful Trump-like candidates for Congress raises some doubts. After all, if there were a huge, unfulfilled demand in the Republican primary electorate for white identity politics, wouldn’t we expect enterprising candidates for state, local, and Congressional offices start supplying it? European far-right parties, like Front National, don’t just run candidates for the presidency—they compete for seats in Parliament as well.
Now that Trump is going to be the GOP nominee, he'll have to run on something other than invective. I have a difficult time believing he will be in any great congruence with the GOP platform. So what do you do with a candidate who doesn't believe what his party believes? That's one of the questions we'll be facing in the next six months.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Triumph of the horse's ass

It now appears that Donald Trump has an essentially clear path to the Republican Presidential nomination, as Ted Cruz has decided to end his campaign this evening, following thorough thrashing in the Indiana primary.

This is a disheartening result, as Trump is probably the biggest horse's ass that has ever run for president. He's right up there with George Wallace and Henry Wallace, a thoroughgoing scoundrel.

Think about it, seriously. The presumptive Republican standard bearer was on television today accusing his primary rival's father of being an accomplice to Lee Harvey Oswald. How in the hell can this man represent the Republican Party? It's utterly beyond the pale.

Ted Cruz has his faults; of this, there can be no doubt. Still, how on Earth can anyone support  someone like Donald Trump? There's nothing remotely entertaining about any of this. It's a dumpster fire of the first magnitude.

Spiritus Mundi

Ace Commenter Brian pointed us to a very long piece in New York magazine from Andrew Sullivan, concerning the rise of Trump and its larger meaning. There's more to the essay than I can tackle this morning; as is usually the case with Sullivan, it alternates between brilliance and incoherence. A pull quote to get us started:
The deeper, long-term reasons for today’s rage are not hard to find, although many of us elites have shamefully found ourselves able to ignore them. The jobs available to the working class no longer contain the kind of craftsmanship or satisfaction or meaning that can take the sting out of their low and stagnant wages. The once-familiar avenues for socialization — the church, the union hall, the VFW — have become less vibrant and social isolation more common. Global economic forces have pummeled blue-collar workers more relentlessly than almost any other segment of society, forcing them to compete against hundreds of millions of equally skilled workers throughout the planet. No one asked them in the 1990s if this was the future they wanted. And the impact has been more brutal than many economists predicted. No wonder suicide and mortality rates among the white working poor are spiking dramatically.
All true. And more:
Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in [Eric] Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”
Sullivan is getting to what Charles Murray has been writing about recently, the idea that our elites live in a bubble and have little interest in understanding the concerns of those who don't travel in the same circles. And yet, and yet...
But elites still matter in a democracy. They matter not because they are democracy’s enemy but because they provide the critical ingredient to save democracy from itself. The political Establishment may be battered and demoralized, deferential to the algorithms of the web and to the monosyllables of a gifted demagogue, but this is not the time to give up on America’s near-unique and stabilizing blend of democracy and elite responsibility. The country has endured far harsher times than the present without succumbing to rank demagoguery; it avoided the fascism that destroyed Europe; it has channeled extraordinary outpourings of democratic energy into constitutional order. It seems shocking to argue that we need elites in this democratic age — especially with vast inequalities of wealth and elite failures all around us. But we need them precisely to protect this precious democracy from its own destabilizing excesses.
How, precisely, would the elites do this? We're at a dangerous place because, I think, the elites have been dining on the seed corn. And if the economy starts to go south this year, and there is strong reason to believe it is already happening, it could be an ugly year.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

I hear the birds.

Monday, May 02, 2016

The ignorance of certainty

I remember reading a book years ago called "The Ignorance of Certainty," written by Ashley and Edward Darling Montagu. I was pretty young when I read it -- it's been at least 35 years -- and the book is not readily available anymore, but the notion behind the book was simple -- our certainty about a given topic is inversely proportional to our knowledge.

The more I've watched this campaign season, the more I'm convinced I don't understand a thing about it. I had thought (hoped, really) that the Wisconsin primary was a moment of clarity and that people had finally figured out what I was certain I knew to be true, especially where Donald Trump was concerned. Turns out the moment was an outlier -- ever since that moment of triumph for Ted Cruz, Trump's campaign has gained strength and now seems poised to roll to a decisive victory in Indiana, a state I expected was a good place for Cruz to win.

We have great unhappiness in the land. We have a orange-faced bloviator who bids fair to Make America Great Again, although without concrete suggestions concerning how one would go about the task. And we have a dismal, eat-your-spinach candidate emerging on the Left whose corruption is known but rarely acknowledged in polite society, a distaff Bob Dole wearing oddly metallic caftan pant suits. These are our choices.

How the hell did this happen?

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Credit where due

I don't hate much, but I do hate hate hate the White House Correspondent's Dinner, the annual masturbatory event in which our grandees show how cool they are by celebrating their contempt for everything that's not, well, them.

But I do have to give credit to Larry Wilmore, who I'm told is a comedian on Comedy Central*, for this line from his appearance:
But I have to say, it’s great, it looks like you’re really enjoying your last year of the presidency. Saw you hanging out with NBA players like Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors. That was cool. That was cool, yeah. You know it kinda makes sense, too, because both of you like raining down bombs on people from long distances, right? What? Am I wrong?
You can read the rest at the link. Not sure that you'd really want to, but this is a free country, at least for the moment. Meanwhile, here's our President's inspiration.

*Not so much as you could tell from the transcript, but anyway....


Friday, April 29, 2016

Draft Day One

Quickly:

  • Da Bearz drafted a speed rusher. Is he strong enough to hold the point?
  • The Lions drafted a tackle who will play for ten years.
  • The Vikings drafted a receiver who is either Dez Bryant or a step too slow and can't stretch the field.
  • The Packers drafted another UCLA guy who should be better than the last UCLA guy they drafted. Or so they hope.
Discuss.

Substitution mass confusion, clouds inside your head

Electric angel rock and roller, I hear what you're playing:
John Boehner excoriated his former Capitol Hill colleague and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz during a talk at Stanford University, labeling Cruz as “Lucifer in the flesh.”

Boehner, who retired as speaker of the House last fall, laid out his opinion on the presidential race in a talk at the university. Cruz did not fare well.

“I have Democrat friends and Republican friends,” Boehner said, according to the Stanford Daily. “I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”
As I recall, Boehner and his Republican friend Mitch McConnell are the faces of the Republican establishment. And the establishment hates Ted Cruz. But surely Boehner must really hate the true fighter of the establishment, The Donald, right?
Rival Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and John Kasich won good reviews from Boehner. Boehner said he and Trump used to play golf together, and that he “loves” Kasich, the governor of his home state of Ohio. If Trump is the Republican nominee, Boehner said, he would vote for him. However, if Cruz won the nod, he would not support him, Boehner said.
So if I understand the logic of this election, it rolls like this:

The Republican establishment (a/k/a the GOPe) deserves to die in a fire, as Ace Commenter Gino has gently suggested.
A key member of the establishment is a pal of Donald Trump and hates Ted Cruz
Therefore, the best way to ensure the GOPe dies in a fire is to support the GOPe golfing buddy, Donald Trump

It's a foolproof formulation.

You think you're so illustrious
Or maybe it's they are pals of pallor:

You call yourself intense

It's just a broken lullaby.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

It probably won't matter, but

When the Republican field of candidates began to emerge last year, my preference was for Scott Walker. I also liked Rand Paul. I did come to like Carly Fiorina as well. Ted Cruz was someone I admired more than I liked.

As the campaign has progressed, Cruz has grown on me. I don't think, in the end, he's going to make it, but his pick of Fiorina for a running mate is a smart choice. She does know how to goad Trump and with a higher profile, her jabs will get some attention. If Trump were smart, he'd ignore the shots that are coming his way, but he won't. He always has to respond to any slight. How he responds could matter quite a lot in the coming days. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Too clever by half

Bill Kristol republished a fascinating strategy memo in the Weekly Standard. The memo is the work of Rich Danker, a Republican operative working for a PAC supporting Ted Cruz. The whole thing is well worth your time, but a few insights strike me as spot-on.
 Political professionals have gotten so much power in presidential campaigns that they have diluted the candidates of a message and put up barriers to getting votes. They convince the candidates to run from most media interviews for fear of a gaffe (making them ultimately more gaffe-prone since they get rusty), stick to a boring, limited stump speech to give their talking points more resonance (even though saying something in a new way is more potent), and slice and dice the voters so that virtually everything the candidate says is geared toward an interest group rather than the electorate per se.

Why? Being stage-managed gives more power to the consultants. It makes the candidates more dependent on staff and vendors to navigate them through the torture chamber those people make the election into. The consultants become the smart people and the candidate is a commodity. This attitude is shared by the political media, whose access to the candidates is dependent on sharing a worldview about campaigns with those consultants.

It's giving Trump too much credit to say that he meant to expose the stupidity of professionalized politics, but that's what he ended up doing. And he got lucky in the sense that his final primary opponent – although in just about every other way the type voters were looking for in 2016 – was somebody who leaned on that professionalism.
In other words, Cruz followed the playbook like the good student he is. But he didn't break through to enough people because he was fighting the last war.

Cruz is a young man and will have another chance to run, likely as soon as 2020. If he learns from his experience, he'll be back. But I do think it's just about over now.

Le mot juste

I almost always avoid political discussions on Facebook, but I give my brother credit for something he wrote describing the state of the campaign, in terms of the current state of bathroom wars:
This is a false controversy that someone drummed up to keep us from focusing on important things like an asshole, a criminal, a socialist and two other goofballs trying to lead the free world. Wake up and argue over stuff that matters.
Even without explaining further, I'm guessing you don't need to figure out who is who in my brother's rather pungent description. And so, based on what we have seen the last two weeks, it's increasingly likely the general election choice on offer will be between an asshole and a criminal, although I'm willing to bet by the end of the process both candidates will reveal themselves to be criminal assholes. If you've been paying attention, it's not surprising.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Confirmation Day

Fearless Maria gets confirmed at the Cathedral of St. Paul:

Right in front of the bishop
If you've never been to the Cathedral of St. Paul, you really should visit it if you get a chance. It is a magnificent Beaux Arts structure that was completed just over a hundred years ago, mostly the product of the persistence of Archbishop John Ireland and the wallet of James J. Hill, the railroad magnate whose mansion home is down the street.

I've lived in the Twin Cities for over 23 years and I've only been to the Cathedral three times -- once for the ordination of a family friend, another as part of teaching a Boy Scout merit badge, and yesterday. As a symbol of the majesty of the Church, the Cathedral is unsurpassed, at least in the Midwest. It's a subjective judgment, but to my eye the Cathedral of St. Paul is a significantly more impressive structure than Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. It certainly has a better location -- Holy Name Cathedral sits on Wabash Avenue and is part of the grid pattern of streets in the area, while the Cathedral in St. Paul has a commanding perch on top of Cathedral Hill.

Confirmation is a hugely important sacrament in the Catholic Church, as those who are confirmed are full members of the Church. The issue for many Catholics is that they don't take that membership as seriously as they ought to. Following Jesus means putting aside your own desires and listening to something other than the sirens of the larger world. It's never easy to do. In his homily, Bishop Cozzens spoke of his own challenges as a young person and how he struggled to hear God's voice. It's possible that someone in the group pictured above could have a religious vocation some day. It's a path not often chosen, but as we've seen throughout the past year, lay people within the Church play a large role in faith formation as well. The challenge in the bishop's message is to listen more closely and find the role God plays in our lives.

I was confirmed a long time ago, back in 1979. In those days, the practice in our diocese was that Bishop would come to your parish, instead of traveling to the cathedral. I'm glad that we go to the Cathedral now; it serves as a reminder of the glories of the past, along with the challenges ahead. We don't have to rehearse the many scandals that priests and other religious have caused and the tremendous pain involved; it is an ongoing challenge and represents a stain that is impossible to remove. We build cathedrals to celebrate glories of God. We emerge from the cathedrals to find a world where God is always present, but also a world where it is often difficult to see the hand of God or the workings of the Holy Spirit. Those who were confirmed yesterday face that challenge today. Those who love and support those who were confirmed have the same challenge.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Still

Events remain in the saddle around here. Better days are ahead.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain. 

There will be children with robins and flowers
Sunshine caresses each new waking hour
Seems to me that the people keep seeing
More and more each day gotta say lead the way