Friday, July 29, 2022

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

At Amazon, Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition).

Serotonin Boost (Nah, Testosterone Boost)

From Ms. Aubrey, on Twitter:

Definition of a Recession

From Douglas Murray, at the New York Post, "Undocumented, underhoused chestfed kids are not in a recession, say Dems":

“We should avoid a semantic battle” said Janet Yellen yesterday. “A what?” In short it seems what the Treasury Secretary means is that we should not use the word “recession.”

That is a shame, because people, including Yellen’s boss, used to like to use the word a lot. In October 2020, when he was running for office, Joe Biden said “President Obama and I left Donald Trump a booming economy – and he caused a recession. He squandered it just like he has everything else he’s inherited in his life.” He said the same thing in September 2020, claiming that American was in a “recession created by Donald Trump’s negligence.”

Fast forward a couple of years and The White House is now reframing the meaning of the word and warning us all not to use it. It is true that until yesterday it was generally agreed that two straight quarters of negative GDP growth was the common definition of a recession. But yesterday President Biden said, “That doesn’t sound like a recession to me.” This fact should surprise no one.

Because re-naming things is one of the left’s favorite pastimes. If you cannot change the facts then you can at least change the language around the facts. By doing so you can massage the facts, make them less concerning and in the process wish reality away. For a time, at least...

Keep reading.

They Can't Let Him Back In

From Michael Anton, at the Compact:

The people who really run the United States of America have made it clear that they can’t, and won’t, if they can help it, allow Donald Trump to be president again. In fact, they made this clear in 2020, in a series of public statements. Simply for quoting their words in an essay for The American Mind, I was mercilessly mocked and attacked. But they were quite clear. Trump won’t be president at noon, Jan. 20, 2021, even if we have to use the military to drag him out of there.

If the regime felt that strongly back then, imagine how they feel now. But you don’t have to imagine. They tell you every day. Liz Cheney, Trump’s personal Javert, has said that the 45th president is literally the greatest threat facing America today—greater than China, than our crashing economy, than our unraveling civil society.

That’s rhetoric, of course, but it isn’t merely that. It’s safer, and generally more accurate, to assume that your adversaries mean what they say. If you doubt this, ask yourself: When was the last time they acted more moderately than they talk?

Even if it is just rhetoric, the words nonetheless portend turbulence. “He who says A must say B.” The logic of statement A inevitably leads to action B, even if the speaker of A didn’t really mean it, or did mean it, but still didn’t want B. Her followers won’t get the irony and, enthused by A, will insist on B.

Take some time to listen to the mainstream media. It doesn’t have to be long; five minutes should do. Then spend another five or so reading the statements of prominent politicians other than Trump. To round it out, sacrifice another five on leading intellectuals. It should become abundantly clear: They all have said A and so must say—and do—B.

Take some time to listen to the mainstream media. It doesn’t have to be long; five minutes should do. Then spend another five or so reading the statements of prominent politicians other than Trump. To round it out, sacrifice another five on leading intellectuals. It should become abundantly clear: They all have said A and so must say—and do—B.

And B is that Trump absolutely must not be allowed to take office on Jan. 20, 2025.

Why? They say Jan. 6. But their determination began much earlier.

And just what is so terrible about Trump anyway? I get many of his critics’ points, I really do. I hear them all the time from my mother. But even if we were to stipulate them all, do Trump’s faults really warrant tearing the country apart by shutting out half of it from the political process?

Love him or hate him, during Trump’s presidency, the economy was strong, markets were up, inflation was under control, gas prices were low, illegal border crossings were down, crime was lower, trade deals were renegotiated, ISIS was defeated, NATO allies were stepping up, and China was stepping back (a little). Deny all that if you want to. The point here is that something like 100 million Americans believe it, strongly, and are bewildered and angered by elite hatred for the man they think delivered it.

Nor was Trump’s record all that radical—much less so than that of Joe Biden, who is using school-lunch funding to push gender ideology on poor kids, to cite but one example. Trump’s core agenda—border protection, trade balance, foreign restraint—was quite moderate, both intrinsically and in comparison to past Republican and Democratic precedent. And that’s before we even get to the fact that Trump neglected much of his own agenda in favor of the old Chamber of Commerce, fusionist, Reaganite, Conservatism, Inc., agenda. Corporate tax cuts, deregulation, and bombing Syria: These are all things Trump’s base doesn’t want, but the oligarchs desperately do, which Trump gave them. And still they try to destroy him....

Anti-Trump hysteria is in the final analysis not about Trump. The regime can’t allow Trump to be president not because of who he is (although that grates), but because of who his followers are. That class—Angelo Codevilla’s “country class”—must not be allowed representation by candidates who might implement their preferences, which also, and above all, must not be allowed. The rubes have no legitimate standing to affect the outcome of any political process, because of who they are, but mostly because of what they want. Complaints about the nature of Trump are just proxies for objections to the nature of his base. It doesn’t help stabilize our already twitchy situation that those who bleat the loudest about democracy are also audibly and visibly determined to deny a real choice to half the country. “No matter how you vote, you will not get X”—whether X is a candidate or a policy—is guaranteed to increase discontent with the present regime. People I have known for 30 years, many of whom still claim the label “conservative,” will no longer speak to me—because I supported Trump, yes, but also because I disagree on trade, war, and the border. They call not just my positions, but me personally, unadulterated evil. I am not an isolated case. There are, as they say, “many such cases.” How are we supposed to have “democracy” when the policies and candidates my side wants and votes for are anathema and can’t be allowed? How are we supposed to live together with the constant demonization from one side against the other blaring 24/7 from the ruling class’s every propaganda organ? Why would we want to?

Keep reading.


Kayla Sweetie

On Twitter.

Escape From C.A.? Los Angeles and San Francisco Lead the Way (VIDEO)

I love my state but Democrats have destroyed it. It's tragic.

I can't leave. I'm locked down career-wise at my college, teaching until I retire. In a decade or so I'll be able to, though. I'll have plenty of time to consider my options. Nevada or Wyoming? Idaho or Tennessee? Florida or Texas?

Who knows? 

Maybe California will be red state by then, with California's plurality Hispanic population following South Texas's lead? Never say never. Stranger things have happened. 

But as you can see, people who are free to flee, leave. It's a thing and getting bigger.

At the Los Angeles Times, "California exodus continues, with L.A., San Francisco leading the way: ‘Why are we here?’":

After living in the Bay Area for nearly seven years, Hari Raghavan and his wife decided to leave for the East Coast late last year.

They were both working remotely and wanted to leave California because of the high cost of living and urban crime. So they made a list of potential relocation cities before choosing Miami for its sunny weather and what they perceived was a better sense of safety.

Raghavan said that their Oakland house had been broken into four times and that prior to the pandemic, his wife called him every day during her seven-minute walk home from the BART station because she felt safer with someone on the phone. After moving to Miami, Raghavan said they accidentally left their garage door open one day and were floored when they returned home and found nothing had been stolen.

“We moved to the Bay Area because we had to be there if you want to work in tech and start-ups, and now that that’s no longer a tether, we took a long hard look and said, ‘Wait, why are we here again?’ ” Raghavan said.

He said there wasn’t much draw in California’s quality of life, local or social policies, or cost of living. “That forced us to question where we actually wanted to live,” he said.

An acceleration of people leaving coastal California began during the first year of the pandemic. But new data show it continued even after lockdowns and other COVID restrictions eased.

California ranks second in the country for outbound moves — a phenomenon that has snowballed during the pandemic, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which tracked data from moving company United Van Lines. Between 2018 and 2019, California had an outbound move rate of 56%. That rate rose to nearly 60% in 2020-21.

Citing changes in work-life balance, opportunities for remote work and more people deciding to quit their jobs, the report found that droves of Californians are leaving for states like Texas, Virginia, Washington and Florida. California lost more than 352,000 residents between April 2020 and January 2022, according to California Department of Finance statistics.

San Francisco and Los Angeles rank first and second in the country, respectively, for outbound moves as the cost of living and housing prices continue to balloon and homeowners flee to less expensive cities, according to a report from Redfin released this month.

Angelenos, in particular, are flocking to places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Antonio and Dallas. The number of Los Angeles residents leaving the city jumped from around 33,000 in the second quarter of 2021 to nearly 41,000 in the same span of 2022, according to the report.

California has grappled with extremely high housing prices compared with other states, according to USC economics professor Matthew Kahn. Combined with the pandemic and the rise in remote work, privileged households relocated when they had the opportunity.

“People want to live here, but an unintended consequence of the state’s environmentalism is we’re not building enough housing in desirable downtown areas,” Kahn said. “That prices out middle-class people to the suburbs [and creates] long commutes. We don’t have road pricing to help the traffic congestion, and these headaches add up. So when you create the possibility of work from home, many of these people ... they say ‘enough’ and they move to a cheaper metropolitan area.”

Kahn also pointed out that urban crime, a growing unhoused population, public school quality and overall quality of life are driving out residents.

“In New York City, but also in San Francisco, there are all these fights about which kids get into which elite public schools,” he said. “The rich are always able to hide in their bubble, but if the middle class looks at this quality of life declining, that’s a push factor to leave.”

Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather cited a June report that tracked the change in spending power of a homebuyer on a $2,500 monthly budget. While 11.2% of homes in Los Angeles were affordable on that budget, using a 3% interest rate, that amount swelled to about 72% in Houston and about 50% in Phoenix.

“It’s really an affordability problem,” Fairweather said. “California for the longest time has prioritized single-family zoning, which makes it so people stay in their homes longer because their property taxes don’t reflect the true value. California is the epicenter of where the housing shortage is so people have no choice but to move elsewhere.”

While California experienced a major population boom in the late 20th century — reaching 37 million people by 2000 — it’s been losing residents since, with new growth lagging behind the rest of the country, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The state’s population increased by 5.8% from 2010 to 2020, below the national growth rate of 6.8%, and resulting in the loss of a congressional seat in 2021 for the first time in the state’s history.

Although California has relied on immigration to offset its population decline for the past two decades, that flow has also shrunk, according to UCLA economics professor Lee Ohanian.

Delays in processing migration requests to the U.S. were compounded during the pandemic, resulting in the lowest levels of immigration in decades, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Estimates showed a net increase of 244,000 new immigrants between 2020 and 2021 — roughly half the 477,000 new immigrant residents recorded between 2019 and 2020 and a drastic reduction from more than 1 million reported from 2015 to 2016.

The state is also seeing a dwindling middle class...

The "middle class"? Ha! 

How about the Medieval class? The so-called middle class in California is now our postmodern neo-feudal peerage for the metaversal-future.

See Joel Kotkin, at City Journal (interview), "California’s Neo-Feudal Future."

The Frictionless Politics of the Social Technocracy

From Sultan Knish, at FrontPage Magazine, "The war between messy realities and smooth illusions may determine our future":

Pass a Tesla on the street or pick up an Apple Magic Mouse and you encounter the sleek simplified aesthetics that underlie the mindset of the new technocracy. Apple used Picasso's Bull, a set of drawings that reduce the animal to a stylized cubist abstraction, as the basis for its own minimalist aesthetic reductionism. It’s an aesthetic that meshes with Big Tech’s love of frictionless experiences that make complex processes appear deceptively simple.

Eliminating the extrusions on a car or a computer peripheral doesn’t actually make them any simpler to construct or to operate. It’s a marketing strategy that also shapes how people think of technology. Early computer kits were messy assemblies of wire and circuit boards. The early internet was a sprawling assortment of unregulated content. That was around the time that science fiction author William Gibson, a foremost promoter of Cyberpunk, coined the term "cyberspace". A generation later, Gibson even more radically envisioned the internet disappearing and being reduced to a few apps on the phone. And that is what happened.

A sizable percentage of the population now experiences the internet by flicking through platform apps like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Google, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Amazon. People flocked to frictionless experiences that simplified the internet from a bewildering jungle to a few apps whose algorithms offered customized push content to provide a distraction for a few minutes or hours. And those platforms ended up in charge of our society and our culture.

Free speech was the first casualty of the simplified internet. Most people give it away for convenience. And they never missed it until suddenly they realized that they wanted to say or hear things that the new platforms no longer allowed. Big Tech wanted people to keep on clicking, but not in a way that disrupted their business model, their politics or culture.

The problem wasn’t just censorship. The nature of how people experienced the internet had been fundamentally altered from open to closed, from pull to push and from independent distribution to a few centralized hubs. Senate hearings and threats of Section 230 intervention wouldn’t turn back the clock on not just how the internet was run, but how people used the internet.

And how people used the internet was also how speech, culture, and politics now worked.

The frictionless internet was both a model and a microcosm of a frictionless society, one in which the complex processes of the political system were ‘simplified’ and people did what they were told without realizing that is what they were doing. Cass Sunstein's 'Nudge’ suggested using sensible “choice architecture" to "nudge" people to make the right decisions. The book by the future and former Obama official came out a few years after Time Magazine declared "You", as embodied by the social web, to be its "Person of the Year"

“You” turned out to be “Them”. Personalized recommendations were omnipresent nudges. Web 2.0 wasn’t empowering, it was profoundly disempowering. Moving from ‘pull’ to ‘push’ content turned netizens into passive feed consumers who were being distracted from their lack of agency with a bombardment of fake controversies and social media spawned nonsense. The two defining modes of Web 2.0, narcissism and trolling, were responses to the medium that also defined our society and our culture which is now one long battle between narcissists and trolls.

Early algorithms like Google’s PageRank that were bottom-up instead became top-down. The only true way to simplify everything was to rig it. And as the internet became everyday life, the difference between rigging the feed and rigging political systems became meaningless.

American elites envied the “frictionless democracies” of Europe where committees and stakeholders determined outcomes while allowing the public the illusion of participation. European elites appeared to synergistically merge media, political and corporate leadership into a smoothly running machine that amplified the right ideas and suppressed the wrong ones.

American politics was an old gas-guzzler with tail fins, fuzzy dice and smoke coming out of the hood while the elites wanted a sleek simplified electric car where all the dirty stuff happened out of sight and the public showed up on cue to vote the way that they were told.

Obama began the technocratic simplification of American politics. His brand was Picasso’s Bull applied to politics, a modernistic sketch, an abstraction, a set of delineations that simplified much, but offered nothing. Elites were impressed with how Obama simplified complicated issues with hollow aspirational platitudes. The more he spoke, the less he had to say, but the more moved the elites were by all the unspoken depths that they were sure lurked underneath.

“We are the ones we have been waiting for” was the embodiment of Web 2.0. Much like the “You” in YouTube, Obama and Big Tech were seizing power, not turning it over. The illusion of social participation was that power was being transferred to those who showed up instead of those running the system. And public frustration with the glass ceiling of the technocratic betrayal led to cultural backlashes on the internet and everything from Trump to Brexit.

Politics is meant to be ugly and messy by design. A too tidy politics has been rigged.

Frictionless politics eliminated debate and dissent. Or as Obama recently argued, "If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work."

Democracy is based on a behind the scenes consensus, as he put it, "what to do about climate change" that has no room for someone who says, "This is a hoax that the liberals have cooked up." Political debate can’t extend to questioning premises, only pathways to outcomes. In a frictionless democracy, captive conservatives can offer “free market solutions” to global warming or racial inequality, but they can’t question whether these should be on the agenda.

The manufactured consensus in which people are allowed to differ on tactics not agenda items is the simplification of electoral politics that has taken hold in many first world countries. It is what leads people to think of different parties as flavors or variations on a theme. The illusion of choice fools many, but not all, especially as real problems take hold and cannot be addressed because they do not fall within the ideological premise of the artificial consensus.

Democracy that is all sleek lines, a mere hint of form, seeks to rid itself of the messy disagreements under the illusion that the elemental truth of a civilized society lies in eliminating the mess rather than embracing it. Europeans used to think this way, but Americans knew better. The Founding Fathers embraced the mess and made it the epicenter of our political experience. Radicals think that they are discrediting the Constitution when they delve into its messy history. To simplifiers who think like teenagers, the messy cannot be ideal and true.

Simplification suggests that life is simple. And that technology simplifies problems rather than complicates them. Thinking this way makes it all too easy to believe in preposterous abstractions like Modern Monetary Theory or Zero COVID. To simplify is to believe that following experts and relying on simple answers will create a natural unity like Obama’s right side of history. When political philosophies replaced religion, they outsourced Divinity to experts and to the invisible hands of whatever guiding force they believed governed all human affairs.

To deny it is political heresy or misinformation. The categorization of classes of speech as “misinformation” or “disinformation” merges politics and technocracy, reducing political dissent to a computer problem. Ideas become binary, either true or false, sorted based on expert opinion. Technology did not originate this familiar tyranny. but its aesthetics make it seem logical and rational. Riefenstahl and Eisenstein made the Nazis and Communists seem heroic figures struggling for the soul of man. Technosimplification is even more pernicious in the way that it suggests that the problems have been solved and all it takes is clearing away the excess.

Simplicity can be more dangerous than totalitarian grandiosity because the cult lies within. Its invisibility makes it more seductive. Totalitarians wanted to overwhelm society while the simplifiers underwhelm it. Less is more, society could stand to lose pounds, conveniences, and complexities. Individualism isn’t a political crime, it’s an inconvenience. Morality is a trend and the conscience surrenders to the algorithm. You will own nothing and be happy.

The minimalism that makes anti-aspirationalism seem aspirational also made anti-capitalism into capitalism. It tapped into eastern philosophy to envision a seamless future that would replace the industrial revolution with a unity of art, technology and culture. That way of looking at the world remains central to key Big Tech giants like Apple, Netflix, and Facebook. Its hodgepodge of zen and business jargon is often mocked, but still defines the machine.

The internet, like the rest of our society, is at war between its messy truths of human nature and the technology underneath and the sleek simple aesthetics that make abstract socioeconomic theories seem realizable with a smooth technocracy and better AI. Progress comes from embracing the messiness of human nature and technology, repression comes from smoothing it away. That war between messy realities and smooth illusions may determine our future.


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Anthony Esolen, No Apologies

Anthony Esolen, No Apologies: Why Civilization Depends on the Strength of Men.

White House Braces for Grim News on Economy (VIDEO)

Yes, the White House is "bracing" being attempting to redefine what a recession is. 

At Politico, "White House braces for grim news on economy":

Senior administration officials are hitting the airwaves and arm-twisting reporters in private, imploring anyone who will listen that the economy is still healthy.

The White House is scrambling behind the scenes and in public to get ahead of a potentially brutal economic punch to the face that could give Republicans the chance to declare that the “Biden recession” is under way.

Wall Street analysts, economists and even some in the Biden administration itself expect a report on Thursday to show the economy shrank for a second straight quarter, meeting a classic — though by no means the only — definition of a recession.

Senior administration officials are hitting the airwaves and arm-twisting reporters in private, imploring anyone who will listen that the economy — despised by majorities of both Republicans and Democrats fed up with inflation — is still healthy.

But White House officials admit that changing people’s minds is a daunting task as the highest inflation in four decades severely cuts into wages even as the economy continues to churn out jobs and Americans keep spending.

Economic Advisers and one of Biden’s longest-serving aides, said in an interview. “What we are trying to do is explain things in a much more nuanced way than most people are getting from the daily news flow.”

Bernstein’s CEA and the Treasury Department are cranking out blog posts and studies arguing that the current post-pandemic moment — while strange and disconcerting to many Americans — is nowhere close to a recession.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen showed up on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday and declared, “This is not an economy that is in recession.” On Monday, senior Biden aide Gene Sperling ventured into hostile territory on Fox News. The next day, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese joined the White House briefing to make the case.

Aides are even quietly praising occasional White House nemesis Larry Summers, the voluble former Treasury secretary who on Monday said on CNN that anyone who says we are in a recession now is “either ignorant” or “looking to make political points.” Summers still believes a recession is likely in the relatively near term.

Biden on Friday afternoon received a briefing from Yellen, Deese, Sperling, CEA Chair Cecilia Rouse, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Budget Director Shalanda Young and Amos Hochstein, coordinator of international energy policy at the State Department.

The lengthy, remote session focused on just how much gas prices are dropping (a White House fixation), the impact of that decline on consumers and continuing geopolitical issues — mainly the war in Ukraine — that could still send oil and gas prices soaring again.

White House press staff are also regularly convening background briefings with economics reporters and senior administration officials to talk up the economy’s strengths, no matter what the GDP numbers say this week.

For their part, Republican leaders sense an opportunity to leverage their already big advantage on the economy as a midterm election issue and ride it to even larger gains in November than polls predict...


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Joanne Samuel Goldblum and Colleen Shaddox, Broke in America

At Amazon, Joanne Samuel Goldblum and Colleen Shaddox, Broke in America: Seeing, Understanding, and Ending US Poverty.

Joni Mitchell Reclaims Her Voice at Newport (VIDEO)


At the New York Times, "The singer-songwriter’s surprise return to the stage at the folk festival she first played in 1967 was an act of bravery, joy and reinterpretation":

This summer, quite unexpectedly, two of music’s brightest stars haven’t been fresh young upstarts, but a pair of semi-reclusive female elders whose brilliance is being reaffirmed by a new generation of fans.

The 63-year-old pop legend Kate Bush’s 1985 anthem “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” is a legitimate contender for Song of the Summer — it currently sits at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, nestled between recent smashes from Harry Styles and Jack Harlow — thanks to its prominent use in the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things.” And on Sunday night, Joni Mitchell, 78, stunned attendees of the Newport Folk Festival (and the countless people who have since watched viral cellphone videos of the event) when she performed in public for the first time since her 2015 brain aneurysm, playing her first full-length live set since 2000.

Acting as an ecstatic master of ceremonies, the 41-year-old musician Brandi Carlile asked the crowd to welcome her friend Mitchell “back to the Newport stage for the first time since 1969” — which was 12 years before Carlile was born.

“Joni hasn’t always felt the appreciation that exists amongst humanity for her,” Carlile said in a CBS News interview, explaining her idea for a performance that would mimic the laid-back “Joni Jams” that Mitchell has for the past few years been hosting with peers and younger musicians in her Los Angeles living room. “But I wanted her to feel that.”

Carlile has done plenty to help her friend and idol feel that love, and to assert Mitchell’s rightful place in the canon. “We didn’t live in the time of Shakespeare, Rembrandt or Beethoven,” Carlile said during one of the several recent concerts she’s given in which she’s performed Mitchell’s 1971 album “Blue” in its entirety. “But we live in the time of Joni Mitchell.”

Especially since surviving that near-fatal aneurysm in 2015, Mitchell’s work has been enjoying a widespread critical reappraisal. (“Having a brush with death kind of softens people towards me,” she told CBS News with a chuckle.) In the past year, she has received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors and was named the Recording Academy’s MusiCares Person of the Year, as well as begun an ongoing project called the Joni Mitchell Archives, which will see her releasing rich collections of previously unheard music.

Even though these recent accolades have brought Mitchell back into the public eye, the performance videos from Newport have had a rare and profound power. In some sense, they are simply reminders of the euphoric potential of live music, an experience that was all but silenced for many months during the pandemic.

Beyond that, though, the past two-plus years of seemingly unending illness, sacrifice and loss have left so many people hungry for stories of resilience, hard-won strength and new beginnings. After the aneurysm, just as she did when she contracted polio at age 9, Mitchell had to teach herself to walk again. This time, though, she also had to rediscover her singing voice and relearn how to play the guitar — which she did, triumphantly, onstage at Newport during an instrumental performance of “Just Like This Train,” from her 1974 album “Court and Spark.”

Before Mitchell picked up her guitar, Carlile prepped the audience, announcing, “She’s doing something very, very brave right now for you guys,” adding, “This is a trust fall, and she picked the right people to do this with.” Carlile was talking to the Newport crowd, but she might as well have been saying it to the other musicians onstage — including herself. Even when she was singing lead, tackling these complex songs with a soulful ease, Carlile’s gaze was attentively fixed on Mitchell, ready to catch her in case she stumbled but more often just letting Mitchell guide the way.

There was an intergenerational tenderness to the performance, the way that some of the younger musicians (Marcus Mumford, Blake Mills, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius) appeared to be in palpable awe of what was happening even as they kept time and in tune. The whole thing had a loose, communal spirit about it, too, reminiscent of the coffeehouses in which Mitchell got her start performing folk songs in the mid-1960s. The spotlight was shared (the singer and guitarist Celisse Henderson had a particular star turn when she sang lead on “Help Me”) but, as Mitchell sat regally in her high-backed, gilded chair positioned in the center of the stage, it was always apparent who was the one holding court.

When Mitchell first came out onstage, she seemed a tad overwhelmed, clinging to her cane and backing up Carlile, who took the lead on a breezy, celebratory “Carey.” But over the course of that song, a visible change came over Mitchell. Her shoulders loosened. She began to shimmy. And all at once she seemed to regain her voice — her voice, sonorous and light, seeming to dance over those balletic melodies at a jazzy tempo all her own. She eventually relaxed enough to sing lead on several numbers, including a sumptuous version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” that allowed her to luxuriate in her velvety lower register.

The highlight of the set, though, was “Both Sides Now,” a song that a 23-year-old Mitchell wrote in 1967, the same year she played Newport for the first time. Back then, some critics scoffed at the lyrics’ presumptive wisdom: What could a 23-year-old girl possibly know about both sides of life? But over the years, the song has revealed itself to contain fathomless depths that have only been audible in later interpretations...

Keep reading.


Charles Clover, Black Wind, White Snow

At the outset of the Russia-Ukraine war, this book was literally too hot. Impossible to obtain.

Now Clover's out with a new edition, at Amazon, Black Wind, White Snow: Russia's New Nationalism.

Beautiful Katie

Beautiful and rugged Katie. What a woman.

The Problem With Being Hot

 From Kat Rosenfield, at UnHerd, "Should everyone be beautiful?":

The late Rush Limbaugh once said that feminism was created to “allow ugly women access to society” — a comment all the crueller because it was true. A central tenet of feminism is that a woman’s social value should be predicated on her humanity, not her beauty. The only legitimate response to being called ugly, then, is surely a shrug: yes, and? So what? But Limbaugh’s comments were met with outrage, for the most obvious, human reason: even feminists want to be beautiful.

These competing forces — a resentment of punishing beauty standards on one hand, and on the other the yearning to be beautiful oneself, with all the privileges that entails — have long been a source of tension, one that the movement keeps trying to resolve by treating beauty not as an objective quality, but a resource to which all women are entitled. Hence the endless campaigns telling women that they’re beautiful no matter what they look like, that they deserve to feel beautiful, that beauty is something every woman possesses in her own way.

The latest iteration of this phenomenon is a howler of a trend piece, which was published at the weekend by the New York Times — and subsequently went off-the-charts viral. “A social media movement inspired by the rapper Megan Thee Stallion strikes back at the gatekeepers of beauty,” announces the subhead. This movement sees being “hot” not as the condition of being physically attractive or sexually desirable, but as a state of mind, a vibe. Gone are the days when being hot required that another person bestow the label upon you. If you identify as hot, then you are.

The NYT piece goes on to enumerate all the ways in which young women “are expanding the definition of hotness, taking it beyond its former association with old notions of attractiveness”. You can be hot by doing things like eating spaghetti, cleaning grout, graduating from law school, and taking walks. In fact, the hotness of a given endeavour seems defined less by the activity itself than by the fact that the woman doing it is a) conventionally attractive, and b) under the age of 30. (Meet the new hotness, same as the old one.)

There is nothing original here. It is a truth universally acknowledged that young people like to mess around with language, walling themselves off with vernacular from the generations that came before them. Before the vibe shift there were trends, or the zeitgeist; before the hot girl there was the cool girl; the feminists of the Seventies trashed their sisters while their granddaughters cancel each other.

But the idea that hotness could have nothing whatsoever to do with beauty, or the male gaze, or even the most nebulous idea of being hot to another person… well, this is also not new. We — that is, women — have tried this before.

It’s 1945 in the fictional village of Bedford Falls, New York: a young woman named Violet Beck responds to a compliment on her dress with a scoff, “What? This old thing?”

It’s 2017: Karlie Kloss is just having a casual cup of tea in her bathrobe, not trying to look nice or anything.

It’s 2022: a TikTok influencer named Mia Lind is taking a “hot girl walk”, the tenets of which are self-affirmation, self-reflection, and goal-oriented thinking. (“You may not”, Lind says, “think of boys or boy drama”, a great new riff on that old gag where you tell someone not to think of an elephant. Of course I’m thinking about boy drama now.) The hot girl walk is a four-mile exercise in cultivating confidence. It has nothing to do with looking good, as you can tell by the photos Lind posts of herself on her walks, in which she looks absolutely hideous.

Here, oddly enough, both contemporary feminism and the patriarchy seem to be in agreement: the opposite of “hot” is trying too hard. A truly beautiful woman is not like other girls. She’s effortless, unassuming, even unaware of how alluring she is — because she’s either too modest to acknowledge it, or too liberated to care...


Entering Sixth Month of War, Ukraine Faces Thorny Dilemmas (VIDEO)

At the Los Angeles Times, "Entering a sixth month of war, Ukraine faces thorny dilemmas":

KYIV, Ukraine — The explosion is invariably spectacular: a gigantic spewing fireball, often followed by a slow-motion airborne cascade of secondary blasts. As soon as such footage finds its way online, exultant Ukrainian commentary erupts: “It’s HIMARS o’clock!” As its war with Russia enters a sixth month, Ukraine has been celebrating recent battlefield successes generated by sophisticated launchers known as High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS. The Pentagon has provided or promised a dozen of the advanced systems, capable of hitting targets up to 50 miles away.

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of its smaller neighbor on Feb. 24, the conflict has veered from Moscow’s initial failed effort to capture the capital, Kyiv, to substantial Ukrainian territorial losses this summer in the country’s eastern industrial heartland.

Now the combat calculus appears to be shifting yet again, with Ukrainian forces, assisted by their new weaponry, striking dozens of sites, including Russian ammunition dumps, troop concentrations and bridges. That is seen as likely preparation for an offensive to regain Russian-held territory in the country’s south, near the Black Sea coast.

“Ukrainian forces are now using long-range rocket systems to great effect,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said last week during a virtual meeting of 50 countries that are donating equipment to Ukraine. “I think that everyone here understands the difference that they’ve made on the ground.”

That battlefield effect, however, leaves Ukrainian officials treading a fine line.

President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top officials continue to issue forceful pleas for more Western weaponry, declaring bluntly that Ukraine cannot seize the military initiative without far more donated armaments. Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, made an unusual personal appearance Wednesday before Congress, where she graphically invoked civilian suffering at Russian hands while also appealing for additional military materiel.

But at the same time, Zelensky and his lieutenants seek to depict a landscape in which their armed forces already may be poised to gain the upper hand — implicitly promising that the country’s sacrifice of lives, together with Western allies’ growing economic and energy strains stemming from the war, will ultimately prove worthwhile.

“We have a significant potential for the advance of our forces on the front, and for the infliction of significant new losses on the occupiers,” Zelensky said late Thursday in his nightly address to the country.

The two messages aren’t necessarily contradictory. Calibrating them, however, is a difficult task.

Too much triumphalism, while boosting domestic morale, can undercut the urgency of appeals for more Western weaponry. By contrast, any appearance of defeatism could accelerate outside calls for Zelensky to agree to territorial concessions to Moscow and perhaps end the fighting before winter sets in.

The advent of cold weather will mean Ukraine’s European allies face a far more intense Kremlin-inflicted energy crunch. Austin acknowledged as much, citing the challenges in keeping up the pressure on Russia.

“We’re pushing hard to maintain and intensify the momentum of donations,” he said. “There’s no question that this will always be hard work, making sure that we maintain unity.”

On the world stage, Ukraine consistently portrays Russia as a perfidious power that cannot be trusted to honor international agreements — and Moscow’s actions often make that characterization compelling.

On Saturday, Russian missiles struck Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa, the Ukrainian military said, only one day after the sealing of a U.N.- and Turkish-brokered deal to allow grain exports from Black Sea ports meant to ease global food shortfalls caused by the war.

“That’s all you should know about Russians and agreements,” tweeted Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry. He argued that the episode bolstered the case for more and better Western weapons for Ukraine.

With the advent of a sixth month of fighting — a psychological crossing into long-war territory — the Kremlin is saying it will ramp up its military aims, brushing aside an earlier stated focus on the industrial eastern heartland, much of which it has seized...

Frontpage Editorial: Defund UCLA


From Sultan Knish, at FrontPage Magazine, "'No one wants to openly admit [we all] hope Clarence Thomas dies'":

Earlier this month, Joseph H. Manson, a respected anthropologist and the former winner of a Leakey Foundation Research Grant, announced that he was walking away from his tenured position at the university after what he described as the “woke capture” of the institution.

After writing about the ruthless political persecution of P. Jeffrey Brantingham, a fellow anthropology department academic who was canceled for studying crime patterns, he also listed other purged UCLA faculty.

"Emeritus Professor Val Rust (Graduate School of Education) was banned from campus after incurring the wrath of graduate student adherents of Critical Race Theory. Researcher James Enstrom (Environmental Health Sciences) and lecturer Keith Fink (Communication Studies) were fired from dissenting from the woke orthodoxy. Gordon Klein, after being suspended by UCLA’s business school in Spring 2020 for refusing to use race-based grading criteria, mobilized mass support and legal assistance, was reinstated, and is now suing the university."

Klein came under such sustained attack that he had to be placed under armed guard.

The academic documented campus antisemitism including a talk by bigoted antisemite Rabab Abdulhadi, who had falsely accused a Jewish student of "white supremacy" for supporting Israel resulting in a complaint filed with the Department of Education. UCLA has been the subject of complaints over antisemitism by StandWithUs, the Zachor Legal Institute and others.

UCLA anti-Israel activists, as documented by the civil rights group Canary Mission, have boasted that they're members of terrorist groups, supported terrorism and called for the murder of Jews without any action being taken by the university.

Leftist hate and violence at UCLA has not only been directed at Jews and pro-Israel students. Manson’s principled resignation comes after Johnathan Perkins, the director for Race and Equity at the University of California-Los Angeles, recently tweeted, "No one wants to openly admit [we all] hope Clarence Thomas dies."

Unlike the academics targeted by leftist campus lynch mobs, Perkins faced no consequences.

Despite UCLA's growing extremism, its core budget in past years was funded at as much as a third by California taxpayers. In 2015, UCLA received $440 million from the state. And the nation's taxpayers, through the federal government, provide a majority of its research grants amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars more in money flowing through the system.

As a public university, UCLA is a non-profit under 501(c)(3) even though it has long ceased to function as a non-partisan institution and has become an aggressive leftist political machine.

UCLA spends over $1 million on political lobbyists.

Its personnel rank as 47 out of 25,950 in political funding and have provided almost $1 million to the DNC, $400,947 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $181,468 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $151,650 to the House Majority PAC in the 2022 cycle alone. Even though Senator Raphael Warnock, a racist Georgia politician, is on the other side of the country, UCLA's leftists still poured $124,881 into his campaign.

In 2020, UCLA personnel funded Biden to the tune of almost $4 million and nearly another million to Bernie Sanders, along with millions more to various leftist election PACs.

UCLA is no longer a serious academic institution. Its “woke” faculty are purging credible academic figures like Joseph H. Manson and others, while cultivating an atmosphere of hatred on campus and using a taxpayer-funded institution for political and anti-American activity.

It’s time for the IRS to pull UCLA’s non-profit status.

With a $5.1 billion endowment, there’s no reason for taxpayers to fund UCLA either directly or indirectly. If UCLA wants to drive out serious academics while promoting radical discourse, it should do this with its own money and if it wants to function as an arm of the Democrats, it should not enjoy non-profit status while interfering in and subverting our political system.

While the IRS has targeted conservative non-profits, it has continued to allow leftist non-profits, including UCLA to operate without oversight or accountability. Department of Education investigations have failed to clean up UCLA, lifting its non-profit status is the nuclear option.

California and this country deserve great public universities. UCLA and its institutions can no longer claim to be serving any such function. By lifting UCLA’s non-profit status, donors may be redirected to contribute to emerging institutions like the University of Austin that are dedicated to serious academic inquiry and honor free speech: values that UCLA no longer believes in.


The Anatomy of Germany's Reliance on Russian Natural Gas

Just announced, Putin's cutting natural gas deliveries to Europe by 20 percent. At WSJ, "Russia to Cut Europe’s Gas Flow via Nord Stream to 20%."

And earlier, at Der Spiegel, "The Anatomy of Germany's Reliance on Russian Natural Gas":

The Americans warned Germany, as did the Eastern Europeans. But Germany just continued buying more and more natural gas from Russia. The addiction stretches back several decades, and it is full of misjudgments and errors.

Matthias Warnig. If you don’t know the name, he is a German natural gas executive. And a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin's. The czar's loyal courier. Or the dark Rasputin of German gas policy. Whichever you like.

Warnig, CEO of Nord Stream AG, the company behind the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline that leads from Russia to Germany, is sitting in the lobby of a Berlin hotel in early May. He has the self-confidence of a man who has his own initials stitched onto his shirts. Or, should we say, Warnig had that self-confidence? Was a friend of Putin’s? Thought that he knew Russia?

It almost certainly isn't good for your self-confidence when you end up on an American sanctions list and can no longer withdraw money from the cash machine as a result – and even the online shop where you used to order your coffee capsules has cut ties with you. But even more than self-confidence, say those close to him, Warnig has lost his self-conviction.

Just a week prior to Putin's invasion of Ukraine, Warnig was in Moscow. Even at that late date, he still thought that Putin wouldn’t simply throw away all that Warnig had been working toward for half his life: The Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2. Investments adding up to over 9.5 billion euros. The German-Russian energy partnership that also played a significant role in Germany's reunification – at least in Warnig's view. Now, he is faced with digesting his radical misjudgment of his friend Vladimir.

Peter Altmaier is also intimately familiar with Germany's natural gas imports and the reliance on Russia that expanded year after year. The mutual dependence – money for gas. Altmaier, sitting in a Berlin beer garden on a recent afternoon, approaches it with the sobriety of the historian he always wanted to be. But instead of pursuing his academic inclinations, he became former Chancellor Angela Merkel's environment minister, her chief of staff and, in his last cabinet position, economics minister, a post he held until the end of 2021.

No, Altmaier says, he wasn't wrong about Putin, insisting he had long suspected the Russian president might be dangerous. He says that when Putin marched into Georgia in 2008, he jettisoned any illusions that he might still have held about what the Russian president was capable of: pure brute force. But Altmaier erred nonetheless, not believing that it would ever be possible for Germany to come up with the idea of withdrawing from Russian gas on its own accord. He wasn't prepared for it, and neither was the country he helped lead. In a sense, he is the personification of the German-Russian schizophrenia – political opponents but natural gas allies – which was to guarantee cheap natural gas as a bridge to a new era. Gas was seen as the buffer for Germany's shift to renewable energies, a shift that only made halting progress during Altmaier's tenure as economics minister. Today, he finds himself forced to admit that he miscalculated regarding the time Germany had at its disposal to make the shift.

J├╝rgen Hambrecht also knows plenty about natural gas, in the way a junkie knows all about the drug he yearns for and knows precisely how to obtain it. Hambrecht was a natural gas addict. Or rather, the company that he led for many years was addicted: BASF, the multinational chemicals conglomerate based in Ludwigshafen, one of the largest consumers of natural gas and energy in the republic. Hambrecht receives his guest in the BASF restaurant, where the pairing of a glass of Riesling with the fish is no mistake – just as Hambrecht fails to see where his company might otherwise have committed errors. BASF was a main driver of Germany's gas romance with Russia, and actively helped bring the gas into the country through its subsidiary Wintershall. Good, cheap tonic, mainlined through a pipeline and transformed into chemicals by BASF and used as energy for the country.

It's just that Germany's political leaders, Hambrecht believes, went down the wrong path. First, the phaseout of nuclear energy, and then the phaseout of coal, amounting to an overreliance on natural gas from Russia. What should be done now? Hambrecht doesn't see liquefied natural gas and green hydrogen, both of which won't really be available within the decade, as real alternatives. "We can't just turn off the gas," Hambrecht warns, and he is also opposed to a natural gas embargo. At BASF alone, the jobs of some 40,000 people depend on reliable natural gas inflows. What Hambrecht has trouble understanding, though, is how Germany could have made such huge mistakes in its energy policy...

Keep reading.


GOP 'Tsunami' Will Be 5-6 Senate Seats, 40-70 House Seats (VIDEO)

I'm leaning toward this kind of outcome myself, at least for the Senate, though 5-6 Senates seats sounds optimistic. All the news reports this last couple of months have claimed Democrats are competitive and could likely pick up some seats to create a solid majority in the upper chamber.

Here's Newt Gingrich with Bret Baier at Fox News, "Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich weighs in on the upcoming 2022 midterm election on the "FOX News Sunday" panel."

On the House side, Dave "I've Seen Enough" Wasserman is significantly less bullish, for the Cook Report, "Is the 'red wave' ebbing? Probably not much."

We'll see. 

Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis Jockey for Position Ahead of Potential 2024 Showdown

I hope DeSantis wins the nomination.

At WSJ, "Former president paying close attention to Florida governor’s polling and fundraising; ‘Only Ron matters’":

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.—The current front-runners for the Republican presidential nod are both in Florida. Whether Palm Beach or Tallahassee is more likely to produce the eventual winner might depend on if GOP voters here and around the country want an encore from the party’s most dominant voice or prefer to hand the stage to its fast-climbing star.

Former President Donald Trump is very likely to run again in 2024, aides say, and he has said publicly that he is weighing whether he should announce before or after this November’s midterm elections. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has developed his own devout following and is one of the few potential 2024 contenders who hasn’t said he would defer to Mr. Trump, though there are several other high-profile candidates who could end up challenging one or both men.

Once close allies—Mr. Trump’s endorsement helped fuel Mr. DeSantis’s rise, and Mr. DeSantis lavished praise on him in return—the two Republicans have jabbed at each other across the state, particularly over each man’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr. DeSantis is capturing the interest of some Trump voters, as well as party officials and donors.

Here in Hollywood, among 1,500 GOP activists at a guitar-shaped resort on Saturday evening, many said Mr. DeSantis should run for president because they like his brand of defiant conservatism.

“I haven’t backed down one inch and we are not going to back down,” Mr. DeSantis said at a political summit he hosted at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

That same night, Mr. Trump gave a speech to young conservatives in Tampa, Fla., and again teased a return, claiming falsely—to wild applause—that he had already won two presidential elections. “And now we may just have to do it again,” he said. The 45th president returns to Washington Tuesday afternoon for a speech before a policy group made up of members of his administration.

Their budding rivalry is top of mind for Florida GOP insiders—and in other key states—many of whom are torn over having to pick sides and would rather not see a clash arrive, though they expect one. Some hope Mr. Trump, 76, won’t run and some want Mr. DeSantis, 43, to wait his turn. Others fantasize about a Trump-DeSantis ticket.

Recent surveys have shown that Mr. Trump retains the backing of most GOP voters. But polling and interviews with voters in many states have shown signs the former president’s support has ebbed, and congressional hearings into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have reminded Republicans of the controversies around Mr. Trump. A Quinnipiac poll this month found 69% of Republicans wanted Mr. Trump to run again, down from 78% last October, and a recent New Hampshire survey showed Messrs. Trump and DeSantis statistically tied in the state, leaving Mr. Trump fuming, advisers to the former president say.

Mr. DeSantis, who declined an interview request, is favored to win re-election in November, and he hasn’t joined the parade of candidates in other races around the country wooing Mr. Trump for his endorsement. The former president has asked friends about how Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist is performing in his bid to take on Mr. DeSantis in November—implying, according to people familiar with the discussions, he wants his understudy to sweat a little.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Monday, Mr. Trump said he would vote for Mr. DeSantis’s re-election in November but quickly turned to his role in helping Mr. DeSantis four years ago. “If I didn’t endorse him, he wouldn’t have won,” Mr. Trump said. “I get along with Ron very well,” he added, before mentioning “a very good poll this weekend”—an unscientific straw poll of young conservatives at the Tampa conference that showed him beating Mr. DeSantis by a wide margin.

A person close to Mr. Trump said he wasn’t concerned about other would-be 2024 candidates, including former Vice PresidentMike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and several conservative senators.

“Only Ron matters,” the person said.

Another Republican who talks to the former president said, “Trump wants to find something harder to say but really can’t because DeSantis has played it well.”

While President Biden’s advisers see an upside in a rematch with Mr. Trump, some are concerned over the prospect of the nation’s oldest-ever president facing the younger, more-disciplined governor, according to people familiar with the discussions. Messrs. Biden and DeSantis have often criticized each other’s policies in their public remarks.

Mr. DeSantis acknowledges Mr. Trump’s role in his rise, thanks to an endorsement over a better-known Republican in the 2018 governor race, and the two differ more on personality than substance. Mr. DeSantis, then a congressman from near Jacksonville, Fla., caught Mr. Trump’s eye through Fox News appearances attacking the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

After narrowly winning that contest, Mr. DeSantis, a Florida native who played baseball at Yale and has a Harvard law degree, has become one of the state’s most powerful executives ever. He has frequently won turf fights with the GOP-controlled Legislature while building a national profile for eschewing Covid-19 restrictions, battling the social advocacy of Walt Disney Co. and banning the instruction of critical-race theory from schools.

Mr. DeSantis has also won bipartisan support for his environmental record, including money for conservation and Everglades restoration. He has raised teacher pay and given bonuses to first responders. And he has frustrated Democrats by touting projects in the state funded by the Biden administration’s Covid-19 aid and infrastructure bills that he criticized.

In December, Mr. Trump was booed by supporters after saying he received a booster shot. The governor—who publicized his first vaccine shot—had refused to say whether he had received a second shot, prompting Mr. Trump to say politicians who wouldn’t disclose their status were “gutless.”

A few days later, Mr. DeSantis said on a conservative podcast that he wished he had spoken out “much louder” against the Trump administration’s calls for a nationwide shutdown at the start of the pandemic...


Sunday, July 24, 2022

Conor Dougherty, Golden Gates

At Amazon, Conor Dougherty, Golden Gates: The Housing Crisis and a Reckoning for the American Dream.

Aubrey Again

On Twitter.

And previously here.

January 6th Hearings Succeeded Not Just through Good Intentions but With Teasers, Previews, Recaps, and Diagrams to Turn Congressional Inquest Into Great Television (VIDEO)

Well, I thought Cassidy Hutchinson was great. I couldn't take my eyes off of her.

Here's from this week.

At the New York Times, "The Jan. 6 Hearings Did a Great Service, by Making Great TV":

Investigating a threat to democracy was always going to be important. But this time, it also managed to be buzzworthy.

Every new summer TV series has to fight to get attention. The Jan. 6 hearings had more challenges than most.

There was public exhaustion and media jadedness over a story that’s been in the news for a year and a half. There was the MAGA echo chamber that has primed a huge chunk of America to reject, sight unseen, any accusation against former President Donald J. Trump.

Above all, the hearings, which aired a capstone prime-time session on Thursday night — a midseason finale, if you will — had to compete with our expectations of what constitutes a “successful” TV hearing. Not every congressional inquest can be the Army-McCarthy hearings, in which the lawyer Joseph Welch asked the Red Scare-monger Senator Joseph McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

These hearings, in an era of social-media cacophony, cable-news argument and fixed political camps, were never likely to build to a cinematic climax that would unite the public in outrage. Yet by the standards of today, they have achieved some remarkable things.

They drew an audience for public-affairs TV in the dead of summer. They reportedly prompted further witnesses to come forward. Polling suggests they even moved opinion on Mr. Trump and Jan. 6 among Republicans and independents. They created riveting — and dare I say, watchable — water cooler TV that legitimately mattered.

And make no mistake: The hearings, produced by James Goldston, the former president of ABC News, succeeded not just through good intentions but also by being well-made, well-promoted TV. They may have been a most unusual eight-episode summer series (with more promised in September). But they had elements in common with any good drama.

Visual storytelling

When you think of congressional hearings, you think talk, talk, talk. Hours of witnesses leaning into microphones. Countless round-robins of representatives grandstanding. The Jan. 6 hearings, on the other hand, recognized that TV is a visual medium, and that images — like the footage of the assault on the Capitol — can say more than speechifying.

The editing and graphics were more the stuff of a high-gloss streaming documentary than anything we’re used to seeing from the U.S. Congress. Diagrams of the Capitol showed how close we came to catastrophe, metaphorically and physically. Using mostly interview snippets, deftly cut together, the July 12 hearing brought to life a White House meeting in which Trump loyalists floated “unhinged” gambits for seizing the election apparatus — the oral history of a cabal.

Thursday, in a meta device befitting a president who was made and swayed by TV, the committee showed onscreen what the president saw in real time in the over two and a half hours he spent watching Fox News and letting the violence play out. A graphic dropped us into the executive dining room, from the point of view of the president in his customary spot facing the tube.

Later, we saw outtakes of a sullen Mr. Trump the day after the attack, shooting a cleanup video meant to deplore the violence. He rejected the line “The election is over,” stumbled over words, smacked the lectern in frustration. For decades, Mr. Trump thrived through media appearances and flattering editing on “The Apprentice.” Now the TV president was exposed by his own blooper reel.

High stakes Every TV series needs to tell viewers why they should care. The Jan. 6 committee had a ready answer: Americans should care about our free, democratic elections. And they should care when the losing party tries to toss out the outcome in an extra-constitutional bonus round.

But the hearings also repeatedly made clear that this was not about an abstract principle or a bad thing that happened in the past. This was an active threat. The conservative legal scholar J. Michael Luttig warned in a June hearing that Mr. Trump or a like-minded successor could “attempt to overturn the 2024 election in the same way.”

And the vice chairwoman, Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, used her remarks to underscore the immediacy. When she reported at end of the July 12 hearing that Mr. Trump had recently tried to contact a potential witness, her remarks were a warning to the former president, but they also had the feel of a cliffhanger: The target was still at large and still at work.

Story structure

Beginning the first hearing with footage of the mayhem at the Capitol was an unusual choice by congressional standards. But it was familiar to anyone who watches TV mini-series — the in medias res opening, dropping you at the scene of the crime and then doubling back to trace, step by step, episode by episode, the actions that brought us to this pass.

Each hearing, like the installments of a streaming thriller, focused on a discrete aspect of the attack on the election — the pressure on state governments, the incitement of the mob, the involvement of right-wing hate groups — each building on the last and drawing connections. Thursday night, the narrative came full circle, returning us to the climactic day, this time from the heart of the White House.

Like the graphics, the hearings’ structure gave viewers a map, making sure they knew where they were, where they’d been and where they were going...

Keep reading.


Saturday, July 23, 2022

Olivier Guez, The Disappearance of Josef Mengele

At Amazon, Olivier Guez, The Disappearance of Josef Mengele: A Novel.


So physically fit.

On Twitter.

And watch the video.

He Built a Home to Survive a Civil War. Tragedy Found Him Anyway

Mind-boggling and depressingly sad. 

At NYT, "C. Wesley Morgan once believed that the place he built, which included a 2,000-square-foot bunker, was the safest house in Kentucky":

RICHMOND, Ky. — The doorbell rang in the night, waking C. Wesley Morgan. He rolled out of bed and walked into the foyer, looking through the arched glass entryway into the dark. Nobody. These phantom rings had been happening lately; most likely there was a short somewhere in the system. The rain didn’t help. He went back to bed.

Minutes later, he awoke to the sound of a crash, then the rattle of gunfire. It was coming from upstairs, where his daughter Jordan was sleeping. Mr. Morgan rushed to the French doors leading out of his bedroom, opening them to see a man in a mask and carrying an AR-15 walking down the stairway.

The man looked blankly at Mr. Morgan, who had time to shout one word: “Why?”

What could drive a man to try to kill a family he had never met? The explanation Mr. Morgan had been given for the attack on that early February morning — mental illness — he found almost insultingly weak. He was certain that it had to have been a deliberate part of some larger plot. For more than a decade, he had been vigilant about such dangers, convinced that the country was hurtling toward civil war. He put millions of dollars behind his fears, building a fortress in the countryside. He knew that some thought he was paranoid.

A dozen years later, a sense of impending breakdown has spread beyond the fringes, taking hold across a country that can at times feel dangerously unhinged. Pandemic, lockdowns, fire and flood, ubiquitous rage and shocking violence: A deadly rampage can suddenly break out in the big-city suburbs or in a remote little town, at work, at the grocery store, at school or even at home. Mr. Morgan thought he had prepared for whatever catastrophes might come, diligently constructing a place that could guarantee his family’s safety. Now he wonders if he had invited the catastrophe that followed.

On a warm evening at a public campground in central Kentucky, Mr. Morgan, 71, sat in a folding chair, watching his wife, Lindsey, and 14-year-old daughter, Sydney, take a walk among the campers and R.V.s. He was spending his nights in agony over Jordan’s death, he said. She had been shot at least 11 times in her bed. Just thinking about it, he said, was like being strangled.

His days were spent overseeing repairs to his bullet-riddled house and talking to potential buyers.

He had built the house in the Obama years, when he was convinced society was on the verge of collapse. Here his family could live in secluded comfort, and if the social fabric truly tore apart, as he expected it would, they could wait out the chaos in an abundantly stocked underground bunker. Now he couldn’t wait to be rid of it.

A $6.5 million estate was a far cry from Mr. Morgan’s childhood. He grew up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, where his father drove a small-town taxi and where, he said, he spent his early years without indoor plumbing.

He left the state as a young man to work as a federal investigator, uncovering illicit gun markets and underground gambling rings. But his father pressed him to come back home and put down roots.

So in 1982, he took out a loan to buy a liquor store in Richmond, a small city about a half-hour southeast of Lexington. Southern Kentucky in the 1980s and 1990s was still a desert of dry counties, and Richmond was the closest oasis for miles. Mr. Morgan eventually opened Liquor World, a giant alcohol emporium in Richmond, where, he said, “we were doing over a million a month.” He married and had a daughter, Jordan. He divorced, married again, and Sydney was born. He went to Ireland to watch horse races, took the family to Paris, bought a boat. And in 2009, he got to work on the house.

“My vision was that I was building a place I was going to die in,” he said. “The finest everything. I spared no expense.”

On 200 acres of Kentucky meadow just outside of Richmond, his vision became a 14,300-square-foot reality. Nine bedrooms, three kitchens, a six-car garage, a steam room, a saltwater pool — the front entryway alone cost $75,000.

“My feelings were that we were going to have civil unrest because there was so much going on with Obama,” Mr. Morgan said. He believed that people were going to rise up against the attempts to overhaul health care and restrict guns, and that societal collapse would soon follow. He envisioned “roving bands of gangs” hunting for food and necessities in the aftermath. He bought riot gear, bulletproof vests and a small arsenal of firearms, so that “if you had to engage a band of marauders, you would have a chance to save your family.”

The keystone of his survival plan was what lay underneath: a shelter 26 feet underground, beneath a 39-inch solid ceiling. It contains 2,000 square feet of bedrooms and common space along with a stocked food pantry, an air filtration system and two escape tunnels, one of them 100 feet long. The company that installed the shelter suggested that Mr. Morgan keep quiet about it, because “if anything ever happened, there’d be people that try to take the bunker.”

But even as he built his fortified sanctuary, politics in Kentucky were shifting, becoming more favorable for those with the kind of hard-right convictions that Mr. Morgan held. Jordan, who had become an ambitious and outspoken conservative herself, landed a job out of law school in the new gubernatorial administration of Matt Bevin, the firebrand Republican. Mr. Morgan decided to run for the Kentucky House of Representatives and in 2016 became the first Republican in decades to win his district.

Within days of taking office, he had become a lightning rod for criticism and derision. Good government groups expressed shock when Mr. Morgan proposed a slew of bills that would help the retail liquor business. Democratic lawmakers lambasted his measures allowing teachers to carry guns and granting immunity to motorists who unintentionally hit protesters blocking traffic.

But Mr. Morgan’s bitterest ire from his time in politics was reserved for his fellow Republicans. He blamed them for his negative press coverage, complained that the party did little to support his legislative proposals and publicly blasted Republican leaders who were implicated in scandal. When Mr. Morgan ran for re-election, another Republican challenged him in the primary, and won.

The whole experience convinced Mr. Morgan that he was the target of a corrupt power structure. Lauding the “patriots” of QAnon in Facebook posts, he mounted a quixotic primary campaign against Senator Mitch McConnell, whom he condemned as a “deep-state traitor.” When the primary was over, Mr. Morgan was done with Kentucky.

He listed his house on Zillow — “perfect for grand scale entertaining and family living,” the listing read, with “the highlight of the property” being “a $3 Million, 2,000 sq. ft. Nuclear/Biological/Chemical Fallout Shelter.” He assumed the listing would be seen only by buyers interested in a $6.5 million property. But it went viral.

“A cult compound,” one commenter wrote online; “getting mole people vibes,” added another. Strangers drove out to the house to gawk, and articles were written about it on real estate websites and in the state papers.

Jordan, 32, told her father she had come to feel unsafe at the house. In February of this year, she was hired by a law firm in Lexington and planned to move as soon as possible to an apartment in the city. “She must have sensed that she was being watched,” he said.

Someone had been watching, marking the house’s entry points and taking detailed notes on the family’s movements. Early on the morning of Feb. 22, prosecutors say, the watcher, Shannon V. Gilday, a 23-year-old former soldier who lived in the Cincinnati suburbs, climbed up to a second-floor balcony and began his attack.

“He stood and looked at me without any emotions, like he was programmed,” Mr. Morgan said of the moment he first encountered Mr. Gilday in the foyer. At that point, Jordan was dead.

Now Mr. Morgan was the target.

Bleeding from his arms, Mr. Morgan crawled across the bedroom carpet, dragging himself around to the other side of his bed. His wife was gone, having rushed into Sydney’s bedroom next door. Mr. Morgan took a loaded pistol out the drawer of his nightstand. When the French doors opened, he emptied the gun.

“I shot 12 times,” he said. “I was out of bullets. But that did something to him. He turned and shot twice through Sydney’s door, and then he went into the bathroom.”

Mr. Morgan quickly considered his other guns — another pistol in the drawer, the 12-gauge shotgun in the closet, the AR-15 in the guest bedroom — but saw his cellphone on the nightstand. He grabbed it and called the police. “See, that’s another thing I hate myself for,” he said. If he had just gotten another gun, he could have killed the intruder there and then.

Instead the attacker hurried out into the night. The authorities arrived soon after and Mr. Morgan found himself in an ambulance unaware of what had happened to Jordan, Sydney, Lindsey or the man who had tried to kill them all...

Keep reading.


Thursday, July 21, 2022

Emily Bazelon, Charged

At Amazon, Emily Bazelon, Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration.

Members of Pence's Secret Service Detail Feared for Their Lives

For realz.

At NYT, "Five takeaways from the eighth hearing of the Jan. 6 committee":

Testimony from a White House security official, who had access to what Secret Service agents in the Capitol protecting Vice President Mike Pence were saying to each other over their radios, showed how agents feared for their lives as protesters drew near. The committee declined to identify the official and masked the official’s voice.

“There was a lot of yelling,” the official told the committee. “A lot of very personal calls over the radio, so it was disturbing. I don’t like talking about it, but there were calls to say goodbye to family members, so on and so forth. It was getting — for whatever the reason was on the ground the V.P. detail thought that this was about to get very ugly.”

The official said Secret Service agents were “running out of options and they’re getting nervous” and that is sounded like “we came very close to either Service having to use lethal options or worse.”




On Instagram.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, His Name Is George Floyd

At Amazon, Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, His Name Is George Floyd: One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice


 A lovely Only Fans star, on Twitter.

Democrats' Far-Left Climate Agenda Costing Americans More and More (VIDEO)

Here's Sean Hannity from earlier tonight:

The DeSantis Dilemma

From Andrew Sullivan, at the Weekly Dish, "Is he the only politician who can save us from a second Trump term?":

“I would say my big decision will be whether I go before or after. You understand what that means?” Donald Trump told New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi this week. He likes to tease. But we know what’s coming. The deranged, delusional liar who tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power is going to again. He still commands a huge lead in the GOP primary polls; he shows few signs of flagging energy; and the president who succeeded him is imploding in front of our eyes.

The preeminent question in politics right now is therefore, to my mind, a simple one: how to stop Trump — and the spiraling violent, civil conflict and constitutional chaos a second term would bring. To re-elect a man who attempted a coup is to embrace the definitive end of the American idea.

The Democrats, meanwhile, appear to have run out of fake “moderate” candidates, are doubling down on every woke mantra, presiding over levels of inflation that are devastating real incomes, launching a protracted war that may tip us into stagflation, and opening the borders to millions more illegal immigrants. They are hemorrhaging Latino support, and intensifying their identity as upper-class white woke scolds. And a Biden campaign in 2024 would be, let’s be honest, “Weekend At Bernie’s II.”

So get real: If you really believe that Trump remains a unique threat to constitutional democracy in America, you need to consider the possibility that, at this point, a Republican is probably your best bet.

One stands out, and it’s Ron DeSantis, the popular governor of Florida. And yet so many Never Trumpers, right and left, have instantly become Never DeSanters, calling him a terrifyingly competent clone of the thug with the bad hair. He’s “Trump 2.0” but even “more dangerous than Trump,” says Dean Obeidallah. “He’s dangerous because he is equally repressive, but doesn’t have the baggage of Trump,” argues a fascism scholar.

“DeSantis has decided to try to outflank Trump, to out-Trump Trump,” worries Michael Tomasky. He’s a clone of Viktor Orb├ín, says Vox, and on some issues, “DeSantis has actually outstripped Orb├ín.” Then there’s Max Boot: “Just because DeSantis is smarter than Trump doesn’t mean that he is any less dangerous. In fact, he might be an even bigger threat for that very reason.”

Jon Chait frames the case: “Just imagine what a Trumpified party no longer led by an erratic, deeply unpopular cable-news binge-watcher would be capable of.” Chait’s critique focuses at first on the fact that DeSantis is an anti-redistributionist conservative, and believes that pure democracy is something the Founders wanted to curtail. Sorry — but, whatever your view on that, it’s light years away from Trump’s belief in one-man rule.

On this, in fact, Chait acknowledges that DeSantis once wrote that the Founders “worried about the emergence of popular leaders who utilized demagoguery to obtain public support in service of their personal ambitions.” He meant Obama — not Trump. Unfair to Obama, of course. But the same worldview as Trump’s? Nah.

Chait then argues that DeSantis is an anti-vaxxer, or has at least toyed with anti-vaxxers, and out-Trumped Trump on Covid denialism. But like many criticisms of DeSantis, this is overblown. Dexter Filkins reports that DeSantis, after his lockdowns during the panic of April 2020, studied the science himself, became a skeptic of lingering lockdowns and mask mandates, and, for a while, risked looking like a crazy outlier.

But from the vantage point of today, not so much: Florida’s kids have not been shut out of schools for two whole years; the state’s economy beat out the other big ones except Texas; Covid infection and death rates were not much higher than the national average; and compared with California, which instituted a draconian approach, it’s a viral wash.

As David Frum put it in a typically perceptive piece:

The DeSantis message for 2024: I kept adults at work and kids at school without the catastrophic effects predicted by my critics. Because I didn’t panic, Florida emerged from the pandemic in stronger economic shape than many other states — and a generation of Florida schoolchildren continued their education because of me. Pretty powerful, no?

Very powerful in retrospect. And again: not Trump.

And this is a pattern: DeSantis says or does something that arouses the Trumpian erogenous zones, is assailed by the media/left, and then the details turn out to be underwhelming. His voter suppression law provoked howls; but in reality, as Ramesh Ponnuru notes,

the law includes new restrictions, such as requiring that county employees oversee ballot drop-boxes. But it’s also true that the law leaves Floridians with greater ballot access, in key respects, than a lot of states run by Democrats. Florida has no-excuse absentee voting, unlike Delaware and New York.

DeSantis wins both ways: he gets cred from the base by riling up the media, but isn’t so extreme as to alienate normie voters.

Ditto his allegedly anti-gay bigotry. Vox’s Beauchamp says DeSantis is another Orb├ín. But Orb├ín’s policies are a ban on all teaching about gays in high schools, a ban on anything on television before 10 pm that could positively show gay or trans people, and a constitutional ban on marriage rights. DeSantis’ policy is to stop instruction in critical gender and queer theory in public schools for kids under 8, and keep it neutral and age-appropriate thereafter. In other words: what we used to have ten minutes ago before the woke takeover.

And who but a few fanatics and TQIA++ nutters really oppose this? I know plenty of gay people who agree with DeSantis — and a majority of Floridians support the law as it is written. The fact that his opponents had to lie about it — with the “Don’t Say Gay” gimmick — and then resorted to emotional blackmail — “This will kill kids” — tells you how unpopular their actual position is.

Some more contrasts: Trump famously wanted to torture captured prisoners, steal the oil in occupied Iraq, and desecrate Islam to break down Muslim detainees. DeSantis, on the other hand,

was responsible for helping ensure that the missions of Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets [in parts of Iraq] … were planned according to the rule of law and that captured detainees were humanely treated. “He did a phenomenal job,” Navy Capt. Dane Thorleifson, 55, said of DeSantis … [describing him] as “one of my very close counsels that as we developed a mission concept of operations, he made sure it was legal. I respected him a lot as a JAG. He was super smart, articulate, resourceful and a positive part of the staff.”

Imagine Trump taking care to make sure anything is legal!

Trump ripped children from illegal immigrant parents. DeSantis opposed the policy. Trump launched his real estate empire with a “small loan of a million dollars” from his mega-wealthy dad. DeSantis grew up in a working-class neighborhood, scored in the 99th percentile on his SAT, and worked several jobs to help pay his tuition at Yale.

Trump is a teetotaler, and while in office “his administration made a number of hostile anti-marijuana actions — rescinding Obama-era guidance on cannabis prosecutions to implementing policies making immigrants ineligible for citizenship if they consume marijuana.” DeSantis ensured that Florida’s overwhelming vote in favor of legal medical marijuana was passed into law, and he even suggested that the drug be decriminalized — despite his distaste for the smell of weed in public.

Trump wings everything, and almost never delivers. He couldn’t even build a fraction of his wall. DeSantis is disciplined, studies issues closely, and follows through. On a good day, Trump is fun. DeSantis, to be kind, isn’t. He has a Nixonian edge.

Trump believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, and, given the chance, would cover our national parks with condos and oil rigs. DeSantis is a governor in a state where rising sea levels and floods are real, so Trumpian insanity is a non-starter. “I will fulfill promises from the campaign trail,” DeSantis said shortly after taking office:

“That means prioritizing environmental issues, like water quality and cleaning the environmental mess that has resulted in toxic blue-green algae and exacerbated red tide around the state. We will put Everglades restoration into high gear and make it the reality that Floridians have been promised for three decades.”

This year he followed through — with more than $400 million in funds for containing rising sea levels. And last year, Filkins noted,

DeSantis signed into law a remarkable piece of environmental legislation that could become a model for the rest of the country. The project will establish the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a blueprint for the state to connect all of its large national and state parks with tracts of open land.

The corridor, once complete, would create an unbroken swath of preserved land from the Alabama state line all the way to the Florida Keys, nearly eight hundred miles away. It would insure that a population of wildlife — whether it be black bears or panthers or gopher tortoises — would not be cut off from other groups of its species, which is one of the main drivers of extinction.

So far, DeSantis is not that far from the “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist” he claimed to be. Yes, he’s mainly focused on responding to, rather than preventing, climate change — “Resilient Florida” is the slogan. And he’s allergic to green uplift or catastrophism. But another Trump? Nope.

His authoritarianism? He certainly gives off vibes. He picked a fight with Disney, for example, over their belated opposition to his parental rights bill — and punished them even after the law had passed. Using executive power to target companies for their free expression is not conservatism. (It’s worth noting, however, that in this case, the “punishment” was ending very special state treatment for the company.)

There is also disturbingly vague wording and vigilante enforcement in his parental rights bill — which is why I opposed it. He has tried to curtail free speech in colleges in ways that will almost certainly be struck down by the courts. Three state university professors were prevented from testifying against state policies (DeSantis denies any involvement). His comments on tenure are chilling. He said something dangerous about the role of child protective services in punishing parents for taking their kids to raunchy drag shows. Parental rights for conservatives, but not for liberals?

His spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, is Trumpian in her provocations, reviving the ugly trope that gays are pedophilic “groomers” until proven otherwise. DeSantis wages the power of government in the culture war — and with alacrity. There’s a pugilism to his style that comes off as bullying at times, so he can, quite clearly, be a charm-free prick. He’s been a coward over January 6 and Trump’s Big Lie. And as Tim Miller notes, he hasn’t exactly declared he would not be another Trump in his contempt for constitutional democracy (although such a stance now would effectively sink his bid to replace Trump). He’s said nary a word on abortion; and has ducked real questions about guns in the wake of Uvalde. Who knows what his position on Ukraine is?

I’m deeply uncomfortable with much of this...