January 19, 2017

"I simply can't understand people who are driven to work harder than necessary. I admire them. They tend to do great things."

"But I'm in my 30s now and never once has my mind suggested 'You know what sounds fun — working harder!' I've never found myself without some sort of leisure that would be more personally fulfilling."

Another comment in the same discussion:
In one of my last college classes before graduation, I had a professor ask us what we would do if money was no object. We went around the room. Everyone had these answers like 'I would still use my degree" or "I would still work". I was one of the last. I told everyone I would find a beach somewhere and do nothing but be a beach bum and learn to surf. Then when I got sick of that beach, I would go to another beach. And just keep going places but doing mostly nothing except what makes my soul happy. Being a beach bum makes my soul happy. Everyone in the class did not understand that. I would, however, probably volunteer some time to somehow help people and animals. Man, I would start every morning with some mango, paddle out in the water, smoke a joint, and surf. Then beach bum stuff or volleyball. Some sushi, another joint and a fire. Then repeat. Mix in some volunteer work and some hikes. I would be perfectly content being that guy and leaving the world mostly behind except for a dog.

WaPo's Fact Checker looks back on "Obama’s biggest whoppers."

"The Fact Checker started during the 2008 campaign and then went on hiatus for the first two years of President Obama’s presidency before becoming a permanent Washington Post feature in 2011..."

Was the hiatus because you didn't want to fact-check Obama?

We get to see 10 4-Pinocchio statements by Obama, in chronological order, but only beginning after the first 2 years.

The most-remembered one is: "If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it."

The one that relates to the tricking of Mitt Romney was: "The day after Benghazi happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism." What Obama had said the day after "Benghazi happened" was: "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."

That vague "no acts of terror" must have been carefully chosen, because he said it again, twice, the next day (with "act" instead of "acts"),  "No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world," and "no act of terror will go unpunished." That states a general proposition without saying that Benghazi was an act of terror. And there is a distinction between "terror" and "terrorism" that Glenn Kessler (the Fact Checker) finds important. 

Trump thought of the line "Make America Great Again" the day after Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election.

"Five days later, Trump signed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office..."
... in which he asked for exclusive rights to use “Make America Great Again” for “political action committee services, namely, promoting public awareness of political issues and fundraising in the field of politics.” He enclosed a $325 registration fee....

The slogan itself was not entirely original. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had used “Let’s Make America Great Again” in their 1980 campaign — a fact that Trump maintained he did not know until about a year ago.

“But he didn’t trademark it,” Trump said of Reagan.

His decision to claim legal ownership reflected a businessman’s mind-set. “I think I’m somebody that understands marketing,” Trump said....

The trademark became effective on July 14, 2015, a month after Trump formally announced his campaign and met the legal requirement that he was actually using it for the purposes spelled out in his application.

"Even the chance position of a bird perched on a lamppost has been reproduced, the man who took the photograph was astonished to discover."

Bob's copying again.

What's worse — that Bob painted from somebody else's photograph or that Bob called it America when it was actually England?

Now that we're talking about magazines, and it's the last full day of Obama the President...

... let's look back to Inauguration Week 2009. Here are the shrines to Obama I observed in the (now defunct) Borders Bookstore:

Bookstore shrine to Obama

Bookstore shrine to Obama

Bookstore shrine to Obama

That title "What Obama Means" provoked me at the time: "Spare me. Whatever is in that book can — I will bet you — be skimmed and understood in less than one minute."

That reconfirmed my practice of reading on line to get my political news and analysis. In our era of fake news, these are fake books* and fake magazines. You don't want to get sucked into the passive experience that awaits you inside these rectangular objects. You've got to keep it digital so you can cut and paste and blog as you read. Save yourself.

I won't go to a bookstore this week, but if I did, I wonder how the front tables and racks would look. I'm sure there are no comparable shrines to Donald Trump. Maybe there are, once again, shrines to Obama: What Did Obama Mean?

* My use (coinage?) of this term is interfered with by the common reference to Facebook as Fakebook and by those wonderful music books that help musicians play 100s of songs.

Just got totally distracted into the subject of songs about magazines.

In the comments to the first post of the day, we were talking about the line "We can try to understand/The New York Times' effect on man" which appears in a NYT video about people doing an exercise routine in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I said:
Here's a discussion of the line...  [in the] book "Hot Stuff: Disco and The Remaking of American Culture"... "Presumably [the Bee Gees] were trying to fit in a reference to the city and convey something about upward mobility. But these are such inelegant, head-shaking lines that for years critic Dave Marsh, eager for more class-conscious lyrics, misheard them as 'We can try to understand / The New York Times don't make a man.'"

The author of the book observes that the movies shows the NYT delivered each morning to the female character. I would add — based on decades-old memory of ["Saturday Night Fever"] — that the NYT represented the NYC that the characters — who lived in seedy 70s Brooklyn — dreamed of reaching some day and the characters do make it to Manhattan in the end.

The movie was based on a New York Magazine article "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night." Maybe the NYT is mentioned in the song because "Times" scans better than "Magazine."
But is the word "magazine" hard to work with? Magazine is kind of a great set of syllables. And magazines stir up so many aspirations and desires. Why wouldn't you write a song with the word "magazine"?

2 songs that had popped into my head were not on the list: "Bennie and the Jets" ("She's got electric boots a mohair suit/You know I read it in a magazine"). And "Darling Nikki" — the song that upset Tipper Gore — rhymes "magazine" with "a sex fiend":

Then I found this Guardian article that for no apparent reason had already fixated on the topic and put together a playlist of 55 songs.

It has one song that should have popped into my head, one of my all time favorite songs, "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone":

You're reading all those high fashion magazines/The clothes you're wearin' girl are causing public scenes...

I love the contrast between the "public scenes" in those 2 videos.

"I’m looking forward to being an active consumer of your work rather than always the subject of it."

Said Barack Obama to the White House press corps* on his second-to-last full day as President of the United States. But he's not promising to withdraw and leave the presidential stage to his successor, which is what George W. Bush did for him.

But there's this meme that the new President is not normal, adverted to by Obama:
There’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake.
Bush, like his father, adhered to an absolute principle. Obama respects the principle by cushioning it with a malleable escape clause: where core** values may be at stake. And what a wide door that is! Not only is the concept "core values" subject to infinite debate, but — whatever these values are — they don't have to be severely threatened, only "at stake." And they don't even need to be at stake. It's enough that they "may" be at stake. Well, then there's really no one-President-at-a-time principle of withdrawal at all.

Obama gives 4 examples of what would override the principle of withdrawal:

1. "Systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion."

2. "Explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote, to exercise their franchise."

3. "Institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press."

4. "Efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids, and send them someplace else, when they love this country."

Is #4 restricted to "kids"? Younger than 18? Is he serious about the condition "when they love this country?" When has Obama shown an interest in limiting immigration to those who actually love America? That sounds like a condition Trump would set.

The 4 examples of what Obama will consider not to be the "normal functioning of politics" suggests that he's ready to exert his influence whenever he wants. We'll see what he wants. The threat that he can drop back in might work as a check on President Trump: Don't stir the sleeping Obama. But we all know Trump has figured out how to leverage opposition. A reactivated Obama would offer a springboard for Trump's antic attacks on Obama. Any deviation from the principle of presidential withdrawal would put at stake the core value of the Dignity of the American Ex-President. And, frankly, it would threaten the the core value of the dignity of the current President.


* Pronounced corpse?

Some of those press corpsmen must feel they are dying, with the withdrawal of life-giving presence of the President We Loved and the arrival of President who tells them to their face they are garbage.

** Pronounced corps.

"And there's no judgment"... oh, but there will be judgment, as the NYT pushes working out inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The video shows the nature of the movement — vigorous walking through fabulous museum rooms with stops for jumping and stretching movement at the feet of grand statues. It's pre-opening, so no one stand in the way of this exercise-focused, seemingly art-oblivious group:

But the video does not include the voice that the museum-goers are hearing. Maira Kalman — who is an interesting author/illustrator — is saying lord knows what. I can only guess from the hints given in the article:
Her narration proffers personal thoughts about art and unexpected aphorisms on mortality. 
Tell me one!

And the video plays only one song, "Stayin' Alive." That has some "aphorisms about mortality" in it: "Life goin' nowhere/Somebody help me, yeah." More importantly, "Stayin' Alive" mentions the New York Times: "We can try to understand/The New York Times' effect on man."

And woman, it's only fair to say, as this marchin'-through-the-museum bunch is overwhelmingly female.

You know, you can also get an early-morning NYC workout by walking briskly outdoors...

To work on the upper body, carry a paint can.

Paint, ah... Back to the museum.

I'm saying that the video of the museum workout is unlike the real experience described in the text because it lacks the voiceover narration and because it plays only one song. It does appear that "Stayin' Alive" is the kind of song that is played: Elton John is cited in the text.

I don't know which Elton John. One of the peppier ones, I bet.

Maybe: "Crocodile Rock." Maybe "Crocodile Rock" as they are passing one of the museum's many representations of crocodiles, though the article never suggests that the music lyrics are keyed to the visual experience.

Quite the opposite:
The workout, with its pop-rock playlist and jazzercise-y moves, successfully removes any pretense or affected erudition. For one, talking is prohibited. (Kalman, at one point, narrates, “I really hate talking about art.”) And the constant disorientation disallows for higher cognitive thought to occur. 
So the one quote from Kalman — "I really hate talking about art" — undercuts the promise of "unexpected aphorisms."

I don't really mind people walking briskly through the vast spaces of the Metropolitan Museum. It's good to get the message out that it's one of the best places in the world to take a long indoor walk.

You don't have to look at the art, except in passing, the way you glance into shop windows when you power down the sidewalks. Big museums get very tedious if you think you need to pause and gaze reverently at every piece of art.

I don't mind if the museum lets some people for special off-hours activities. It needs to build its audience and to remind us to come back and relive its grand spaces.

You could make the Metropolitan Museum of Art your regular "workout." A long, brisk walk is good whether you're in some special organized group or not.

Just don't bump into people. Don't annoy people.

And don't knock into the art. When I saw this article, that was my main concern. You shouldn't be thinking I'm getting a workout! while barging around and swinging your arms in the vicinity of artworks.

Since we didn't get any aphorisms on mortality and you've stayed alive until the end of this post, I will give you a photograph I took in the Metropolitan Museum a while back:

In the Greek and Roman gallery

Quite a lively sarcophagus, no?

And here — your final reward — an unexpected aphorism:
Yes, man is mortal, but that would be only half the trouble. The worst of it is that he's sometimes unexpectedly mortal—there's the trick!

January 18, 2017

"Women are not a footnote to history.... We value women who allege they have been the victims of injustice."

"It takes a great deal of courage to sue the most powerful man on the planet."

"Look, I don’t like tweeting. I have other things I could be doing."

"But I get very dishonest media, very dishonest press. And it’s my only way that I can counteract. When people make misstatements about me, I’m able to say it and call it out."

Said Trump. People like to portray him as tweeting out of an irrepressible urge to blurt out random thoughts. It fits the hopeless-narcissist template. Of course, he rejects that template, and that serves his interests. He might be lying.
“Now if the press were honest, which it’s not, I would absolutely not use Twitter,” he told host Ainsley Earhardt on “Fox & Friends," adding, "I wouldn’t have to.”
If that's a bluff, it's impossible to call.

50 years ago today: The U.S. gets its first spaghetti Western, "A Fistful of Dollars."

"'A Fistful of Dollars' was filmed on a low budget (reported to be $200,000), and Eastwood was paid $15,000 for his role."

You see, I understand you men were just playin' around, but the mule, he just doesn't get it. Course, if you were to all apologize... I don't think it's nice, you laughin'. You see, my mule don't like people laughing. He gets the crazy idea you're laughin' at him. Now if you apologize, like I know you're going to, I might convince him that you really didn't mean it....

"President Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentence of a man convicted for his role in a Puerto Rican nationalist group linked to more than 100 bombings in New York and other cities in the 1970s and 1980s."

The NYT reports:
The man, Oscar Lopez Rivera, was serving a 70-year sentence after being convicted of numerous charges, including seditious conspiracy, a charge used for those plotting to overthrow the United States government.

He was linked to the radical group known as the F.A.L.N., the Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation, and was one of more than a dozen group members convicted in the 1980s....

Levi Dylan, Bob Dylan's grandson, is a model.

Very cute.

More here, from last summer:
“I gave up on music,” he told the Cut at the Cinema Society’s post-screening party for Southside With You on Wednesday, standing in a courtyard outside Harold’s Meat + Three. “I still love to play, but it’s too hard to make a living. And I think that was a mature decision to make.”
His girlfriend got him into modeling: “She kind of set me up, and from there it was sort of like dominoes.”

He's got "DYLAN" tattooed on his forearm.

A cap is more of a hat than a cape is a hate.

Let's frontpage a debate that broke out in the comments. I had said, in the previous post:
Trump the billionaire has successfully bonded with millions of working-class Americans. He's convincingly worn a trucker hat and spoken like a tough guy. Trump's wealth is built on branding, and he made his grand political success out of branding: He's a man of the people.
jacksonjay said...
The Professor can be so dumb. The headwear is OBVIOUSLY a cap not a hat.
I responded (links added):
The standard term for that item of clothing is "trucker hat." I agree that the term for the baseball item is "baseball cap," but I believe the thing Trump wears is not a baseball cap but a trucker hat.

On the standard distinction between the words "hat" and "cap" in English, I'll start the debate with the statement: Not all hats are caps, but all caps are hats... except perhaps a skullcap.
I found a discussion of the hat/cap distinction at the blog of Mary Robinette Kowal, who, I see, is a Hugo-award winning author and professional puppeteer. Kowal writes:

At Donald Trump's big pre-inauguration dinner — Melania isn't there, and neither is Ivanka.

Lots of photographs at The Daily Mail, which puts special emphasis on Kellyanne Conway:
The president-elect was seen stepping off his Trump jet at Reagan National Airport with Conway in tow at about 8pm. She was wearing a white gown and appeared to be carrying a fur coat.
The Daily Mail can be so dumb. In the photograph, the garment is obviously a stole, not a coat. Whether it's real or fake fur is unknown. It doesn't look very nice, so I'm going to assume it's fake fur and Conway is baiting anti-Trumpists to lambaste her for wearing fur.

The article says, "Melania Trump did not appear to have made the trip with her husband," and a commenter says: "Don't think we'll be seeing much more of her. Ivanka has taken on the role of first lady." But there's no sign of Ivanka at this event either.

Whether Ivanka or Melania will step into the made-up "First Lady" role, neither Melania nor Ivanka attended the big gala dinner, as far as I can tell, and the glammed up lady at Trump's side was Kellyanne Conway. Conway has a spouse too, but I don't see him there either. Here's why I think all of this is perfectly okay:

1. Trump was tending to donors. There were about "150 diplomats and 300 or so of Trump's biggest donors and VIPs." He flew down from NY to do the political theater, then got back on his plane and returned to NY. It was a quick business trip. Trump graciously and efficiently cranked through it.

2. Conway is Trump's female partner in this political business. She's up for the political talk and comfortable with the exposure, and she deserves the spotlight for all that she has done.

3. Melania and Ivanka are reserved for other occasions, perhaps more exclusive groups than the 300 top donors. Maybe these women are "reserved" in the other sense: private.

4. Melania and Ivanka may have minds of their own and a distaste for being shown off, especially to big donors, people who have bought access to power. If it is possible to buy access to these women, it's not as easy as being 300th on the list of top donors to a presidential campaign.

5. When they appear at inaugural events, Melania and Ivanka's looks will be subjected to extreme attention. Fashion designers have balked at dressing them, and while I'm sure they can overcome that trifling obstacle, they may want their first entrance on the presidential stage to be more beautiful and grand.

6. Melania and Ivanka may love Kellyanne Conway performing this part of the feminine role.

7. The Obamas have — or so it seems — loved parties. Some of that love may be because they have been loved. It's been relatively simple to show up in nice clothes and get perceived as fabulous by everyone in the press and the political establishment. The experience for the Trumps is completely different. Not only have they already had plenty of fancy parties in their lives — it's no big new thrill — but they don't have the hope the Obamas had of inspiring Americans to enjoy the parties vicariously. With the Obamas, many Americans could feel that the first African-American President and First Lady embodied our dream of progress. If they danced together in fancy clothes, they danced in our hearts: How good we are! Not in all hearts, of course, but in many hearts, and the Obamas knew this, and performed in the Theater of Racial Harmony with enthusiasm and grace.

8. The Trumps must follow the Obamas, and they must know very well that their political show is very different. They step into the roles as very rich people. They've already had plenty of parties — fancier parties — for decades. If they party in the public spotlight, they are rich people, enjoying their riches, excluding us. And there's probably little intrinsic pleasure for them. It's just another party, and, really, an inferior party, humoring donors and diplomats.

9. Upgrading Kellyanne Conway like this dilutes the perception that Ivanka is — in some weird, creepy way — the real First Lady. There are 3 important women, and they appear in different settings. It increases the perception that Melania is the First Lady. She's automatically the First Lady by being the President's wife, so what is the argument that she's lost that status? If Kellyanne and Ivanka both do appearances at Trump's side, Ivanka isn't special enough to oust Melania.

10. Trump the billionaire has successfully bonded with millions of working-class Americans. He's convincingly worn a trucker hat and spoken like a tough guy. Trump's wealth is built on branding, and he made his grand political success out of branding: He's a man of the people. He's told us that he had a great life, and he didn't need to do this, but he saw our need, and the left the pleasures and comforts of his billionaire life to do service for us, to make America great again. To preserve that message, he should not be seen to care about big parties. He's coming to Washington to work — for us — and not to enjoy himself.

11. The message described in #10 is consistent with what we will be seeing from Melania: She's staying in NYC to do her work, which is to care for her son and to support him as he finishes the school year. She's not a rich, self-centered lady eager to show off her beauty and her clothes in the public spotlight. She's modest and circumspect and, like so many of the Americans who voted for her husband, focused on doing a good job at the task in front of her — rearing a child.

January 17, 2017

Obama frees Chelsea Manning!

The NYT reports:
President Obama on Tuesday largely commuted the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the army intelligence analyst convicted of an enormous 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world, disrupted the administration, and made WikiLeaks, the recipient of those disclosures, famous.

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to commit suicide last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the male military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.
Manning gets out this May, instead of in 2045.

We were just talking yesterday about the NYT's sympathetic highlighting of Manning's plight. And we were just talking today — it's one post down — about the NYT editorial "Mr. Obama, Pick Up Your Pardon Pen."

ADDED: Obama has also pardoned James Cartwright:
Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, pleaded guilty in October to a single charge of making false statements to federal investigators in 2012 when he was questioned about leaking top secret information on US efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program to two journalists. 

"The clemency process is run out of the Justice Department, where career prosecutors have little interest in reversing the work of their colleagues."

"It’s a recipe for intransigence, dysfunction and injustice on a mass scale. Mr. Obama understands the problem, even if he didn’t fix it. As he wrote in an article published in this month’s issue of The Harvard Law Review, the process operates like a lottery, making it hard to tell what distinguishes the few lucky applicants who get clemency from the many deserving ones who don’t."

So write the editors of the NYT in an editorial titled "Mr. Obama, Pick Up Your Pardon Pen." The headline is misleading. Yes, Obama does have a few days left, and he could issue a bunch of pardons. But the point is that the system is bad, Obama obviously knows it, he could have done something to restructure the process, and he did not.

The final sentence is extraordinary for the NYT: "Perhaps President-elect Donald Trump will learn from Mr. Obama’s failure to heed that wisdom."

1. The word "failure," attached to Obama?!

2. Hope expressed that Donald Trump will fix something.

3. Wisdom attributed to — you have to read the preceding sentence — George W. Bush.

"Did Trump really come and meet with Moscow prostitutes?"

Putin asks and answers:
Firstly he is an adult, and secondly he is a person who for many years has organized a beauty pageant, socialized with the most beautiful women in the world. It is hard to believe that he ran to a hotel to meet with our girls of a low social class, although they are the best in the world. But finally, you know, what I want to say, prostitution is a serious, ugly, social phenomenon, young women do this connected to the fact that they cannot survive any other way and that is a problem of society but people who order false information and spread this information against the elected President, who fabricate it and use it in a political fight, they are worse than prostitutes.
Ah! This pithy statement proceeds in stages:

1. Defense of Trump: He's got so much access to the most beautiful women that it makes no sense to think he'd consort with low women.

2. Defense of prostitutes: Our prostitutes are great prostitutes!

3. Feminist/left-wing critique: Don't speak of prostitution in terms of low women choosing a degraded way of life. Society forces them into it, and society deserves the blame, and we must improve it.

4. Attack on the purveyors of fake news: Worse than prostitutes!

IN THE COMMENTS: Lyssa quoted "It is hard to believe that he ran to a hotel to meet with our girls of a low social class, although they are the best in the world" and asks: "Did Trump craft this statement? It sounds so much like something that he would say. Maybe he'll fire back at the perceived slights to America's prostitutes."

Freeman Hunt scripts tweets for Trump:
"Even prostitutes are poor in Russia. Sad! American prostitutes at all income levels. Bad work but more money in US!"

"Poor women forced to hook in Russia! Sad! Americans prostitutes by choice. Some big $$$! Against law though. Don't do it! Gross!"

"Americans richer than Russians. No need to be prostitutes! Russian prostitutes better because American prostitutes lazy. Just guessing!"

"Putin wrong. American prostitutes best in world! Have heard. No experience. Always gotten from classy women free. Not prostitutes!"

Here we are.

ADDED: Here's an older video of jack rabbits fighting.

It's interesting, I think — if you want to understand the art of film — that the first video feels immediately and continuously hilarious and the second video — much longer and with insistent music — may not even make you laugh at all.

My first stab at analysis is that the darkness and absence of context in the first video makes it feel abstract and allegorical, causing you to instantly visualize the rabbits as stand-ins for human beings: I know people like that. Silly people are like that. Hey, we're all kind of like that.

You go hurtling through important thoughts quickly. It's not a nature film of curious animal behavior. It's a horror flick shocking us with a harsh look at how stupid we are.

"So Yahoo's now called Altaba - not to be confused with Alt-Abba, the crypto-white nationalist Swedish pop group with hits like #DanzigQueen."

Mocking the Yahoo name change.

That's from a week ago, when the news hit that Yahoo — with one of the all-time great company names — was changing its name to Altaba.

I'm not positive this incredibly stupid change is really happening. There's also this:
Yahoo announced last week that it would be changing its name to Altaba (upon completion of Verizon acquiring core Yahoo) seemingly to reflect the investment in Chinese giant Alibaba.

However, the name change will only take effect if and only if Verizon goes through with the planned acquisition of core Yahoo....
By the way, I'm a little sensitive to all this mockery around the prefix "Alt-." I don't like this late-developing impression that Althouse is a crypto-white nationalist edifice of some kind. The "Alt-" in Althouse means "old" not "alternative" or "high," though "alternative" and "high" are at least as positive as "old." This idea of "Alt-" meaning "crypto-white nationalist" is not only inaccurate, but it's unfair to all of the persons, places, and things that have already constructed our identity with the very positive prefix "Alt-."