February 19, 2018

"Fergie has officially stolen the title of the most controversial national anthem performance from sitcom queen Roseanne Barr."

Fox News Reports.

Roseanne's tweet: "Who saw Fergie's national anthem performance at the NBA All Star Game? I think mine was better lowkey." As she explained in 2015:
“I started too high. I knew about six notes in that I couldn’t hit the big note," she admitted. "So I just tried to get through it, but I couldn’t hear anything with 50,000 drunk a--- booing, screaming ‘you fat f---,’ giving me the finger and throwing bottles at me during the song they ‘respect’ so much.”
At TMZ, Fergie explains:
"I've always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA. I'm a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn't strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best."
ADDED: Fox News links often don't work. Here are the 2 videos:

The 3 candidates in the supposedly "nonpartisan" race for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice.

The primary is tomorrow, NPR reports, and one candidate, Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock, avoids talking about politics:
"I know the dangers of a court legislating from the bench," Screnock said. "Judges are not legislators. Nor are we executives. The role of the court is to interpret and apply the letter of the law as it is written based not on our personal beliefs or political preferences, but based on the statutes and the Constitution."
The other 2 candidates, Madison attorney Tim Burns and Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet, have broken with tradition and presented themselves in a political light — especially Burns:
During a recent debate hosted by the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society, [Burns] introduced himself as an "unshakeable champion of liberal, Democratic and progressive values," before turning his attention to the conservative lawyers and judges in the crowd. "But enough about me, I want to talk about you," Burns said. "You have weakened our democracy to the point that we elected a perverse show dog named Trump to lead our great nation."...

"I am the first candidate on the left in this state for this position who has said 'Enough is enough' with this nonsense that judges don't make political decisions," Burns said... "Most people think the key issue of the day is we have a megalomaniac in Washington... If I don't speak to that, what use am I to voters in the sense of telling them what my values are? They want to know."
Dallet is more restrained:
But what stood out in Dallet's spot was the beginning, which featured grainy black and white footage of Trump. "He's attacked our civil rights and our values," the narrator said. "She'll protect them."...

But like Burns, she spoke at the 2017 Democratic State Convention, and she also criticizes Trump, though not in such explicit terms. "I do think we are living in a time where we all should be concerned about our president," Dallet said. "We should be concerned about what he tweets out every day. It's an attack and an affront on all of our rights."...

"There's a distinction between sharing one's values and taking political positions on issues that are potentially going to come before the court," Dallet said. "And I think that's a big distinction between myself and Mr. Burns."
This is a primary, so 2 of these 3 will go on to the April 3rd general election. I haven't seen any polls, and turnout is expected to be low, but I believe Wisconsinites expect their Supreme Court candidates to behave like Screnock, and Screnock will have an easy time of it in April if his adversary is Burns, who is so vulnerable after speaking the way he has. I know a lot of people think we're in crazy, dire times and that justifies a whole new way of speaking, but I think they're making a big mistake.

At the Blue Ink Café...


... you can share all the colors of your thoughts.

That's Tsuyu-Kusa — Dayflower Blue — ink I bought for my beautiful Pelikan pen. Those are Amazon Associates links, which empower you to support this blog while buying things that you want for yourself. If you don't like that ink (or the many other colors at that link) and don't want that pen, please consider using the Althouse Portal to Amazon whenever you're buying something that you do want.

"Younger Than Springtime."

This was the first song that popped into my head when I needed a Rodgers and Hammerstein song for a footnote earlier today. I came up with something else for that post, but the song "Younger Than Springtime" has stuck with me all morning. I rewatched this version — from the movie "South Pacific" — even though I don't like the singer's voice and I find it absurd the way the man has to hold up the woman the entire time he's singing...

Now, the actor you see there — in his shirtless glory — is John Kerr, but the voice belongs to Bill Lee. I mean, I don't particularly like the voice, but they could have had anybody. They didn't need the singer to look great shirtless and nonridiculous with that woman swooning in his arms for 3 minutes. But I guess the people of the time (1958) liked that voice. Bill Lee was also the singing voice of Prince Charming in "Snow White and the Three Stooges" and the singing voice of Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music."

I much prefer this version of "Younger Than Springtime" by Frank Sinatra. I love everything about this, including when he waves with his tie at Nancy Sinatra:

By the way the character in the story, Marine Lieutenant Joe Cable, loves the woman, who is Tonkinese, but — spoiler alert — rejects her because of racism and, out of dramatic necessity, dies in battle.

A NYT op-ed: "How Does Trump Stack Up Against the Best — and Worst — Presidents?"

Ha ha. What do you think the answer is? The piece is by University of Houston polysci prof Brandon Rottinghaus and Boise State University polysci prof Justin S. Vaughn.

Did you guess? Trump is dead last!

Obama is up 10 since their last survey of "presidential politics experts" in 2014. He's now the 8th greatest President. Why would that be? Obama laid the groundwork for the Trump election and failed to fend off the Russians who were, apparently, bent on keeping Hillary Clinton out of office, but he's made the biggest leap in the whole survey.

Amusingly, George W. Bush has the third biggest jump, up 5 and out of the ignominious bottom 10 all the way up at #30 now.

The other big leaper was Ulysses S. Grant, up 7 to #21. Why? Ron Chernow wrote a biography of Grant. You just need the right PR.

One nice thing about this study is that it also provides separate rankings by "Democratic scholars," "Independents/other," and "Republican scholars." The Republicans don't put Trump dead last, but at #40. They put Obama at #16. Rottinghaus and Vaughn say "Trump doesn't get much of a lift from Republican-only vote: Even in their eyes, he’s a bottom-five president."

But who are the "Republican" presidential politics experts? Are they not the "Establishment"-type Republicans who deplore Trump and the people who responded to him?

A great kiss!

There are lots of news stories about this.

Flaunting unserious journalism: What I hate about the NYT headline "Trump’s Delight Over Russia Indictment Hardens to Fury."

That's the headline on the NYT website front page. When you click through, it's a little less bad "Trump’s Evolution From Relief to Fury Over the Russia Indictment."

Isn't this fake news? The authors — Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman — do not know how Trump really felt on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They only know what he chose to say publicly, how he spun it, first when the indictment was announced, and later, after other people had taken their turn spinning it. He could have been happy or angry the whole time or anxious and later coolly amused. You cannot know! Yet Rogers and Haberman* themselves are spinning the story, and at best they are making up what they believe Trump must have felt but more likely, I think, they are bolstering the interpretation of the indictment propounded by Trump's antagonists:
President Trump began the weekend believing that something good had just happened to him... But ... watching TV... [t]he president’s mood began to darken as it became clearer to him that some commentators were portraying the indictment as nothing for him to celebrate, according to three people with knowledge of his reaction.....
I see that there are sources, but even assuming these were good sources, all they seem to have known is that Trump became aware — I can't believe this could have been a surprise — that his antagonists had a way to spin the indictments against him and they were getting a lot of TV time.
What followed was a two-day Twitter tirade that was unusually angry and defiant even by Mr. Trump’s standards. 
We can all read Trump's Twitter feed. I read it over the weekend, and it never crossed my mind that Trump had become "unusually angry" or beset with "fury." He put out some great tweets that pushed back his antagonists and restated his interpretation of the indictments. One tweet struck me as his best ever:
If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!
That's totally on point and completely intelligent. In very few words, he's saying the damage done to America has been mainly the work of Americans doing the chaos the Russians could only have hoped to see. They're laughing at us, and we need to stop doing what must be so damned funny to them.**

I don't know what emotion he felt as he wrote those words, and assertions about his emotions are a bizarre distraction. When someone makes a great point in a debate and your response is "Ooh, you sound so angry!," what are you doing? First, you are trying to make the person angry (or angrier). Second, you're stepping away from the substance of the argument, perhaps because you have no good response. Third, you might really believe that the substance of arguments isn't what really matters. It really is emotion that draws you to one position or another. If X sets forth an interpretation and Y writes an article saying "Ooh, X is so angry!," Y is speaking to the readers and, I assume, hoping they will feel their emotions — fear or hatred of the angry, angry man.


* Those names... seems like they should write a Broadway musical together....

** Trump is only guessing at how the Russians feel. He can't really know. Maybe they fear American chaos.

"Tribalism is humans’ default mode. De-tribalizing requires effort."

"Americans’ atavistic impulses got the better of us because we grew complacent. Progressives failed to imagine that identity-mongering and victim-worshiping would not only take over the academy but could help elect Trump to the presidency. Now they know. Conservatives failed to imagine that rage-mongering and conspiracy-theorizing would not only take over conservative media but could help elect Trump to the presidency. Now they know. Those who hold with what Chua calls group-transcending values were caught flatfooted and are only beginning to gather their forces and find their voices. But they are assembling, and the tribalists have lost the advantage of surprise."

So ends "Have our tribes become more important than our country?" by Jonathan Rauch, in a WaPo review of the new book by Amy Chua "Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations".

Chua is the Yale lawprof who wrote the "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," which got us talking about hardcore — and specifically ethnic — parenting styles 7 years ago. That book sure started a conversation, especially since many of us thought she was wrong and even abusive toward her own children. Rauch refers to conversation-starting in his review, in this masterpiece of namby-pamby cruelty:
Her short book relies on a handful of case studies and examples to draw broad conclusions, so scholars will want to be cautious with it; but her accessible and provocative treatment sets up just the right public conversation.
... short book... handful of case studies and examples... broad  conclusions... Scholars won't find anything but it's suitably "accessible and provocative" for the general public, so why don't you little people go off somewhere and talk amongst yourselves? Like you did with "Tiger Mother," mm-kay?

Rauch informs us of his "involvement" with something called "the Better Angels project, a grass-roots depolarization movement":
Last summer, at a Better Angels workshop in Virginia, I watched as eight Trump supporters and eight Hillary Clinton supporters participated in a day of structured interactions. Under rules that encouraged listening without challenging or proselytizing, they explained their values and examined their stereotypes. No one’s political opinions changed (or were expected to), but everyone left the room feeling less animus and believing that ordinary people can fight back against polarization.
Fight back? It's still a fight. Hey hey ho ho/Polarization has got to go.

Rauch has a new book coming out: "The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50." I have no idea if that's any good. I can't remember what I've written about Jonathan Rauch over the years — I'll have to publish this post and click on the "Jonathan Rauch" tag to find out — but I will never forget his great essay "Caring for Your Introvert/The habits and needs of a little-understood group."

ADDED: "... everyone left the room feeling less animus and believing that ordinary people can fight back against polarization" — How can he possibly know that?!

February 18, 2018

Signs that no one gives a damn about the Olympics anymore.

From the front page of New York Magazine:

Elsewhere on that front page is:
NBC Declared Wrong Olympic Winner in Women’s Super-G
And gold medalist Ester Ledecka pulled off a massive upset.
If NBC can't even bother to get it right...

I myself am watching quite a bit of the Olympics. I use the DVR to skip over most of it, but I like zeroing in on the best skaters and snowboarders. I wish NBC would do what I seem to remember the Olympics broadcasters doing decades ago: Focus on the individuals, not the countries, and stress that this is a place where what matters is the individual and the only question is who is the best in the world. Ironically, that's the best propaganda for America, not this continual enthusiasm for whoever comes from America.

I approve of this satire:

This is sweet:

I'm sorry. I don't care enough to read the article.

"Do Trump’s alleged affairs even matter?" by Callum Borchers (at WaPo).

I did take a look at the top-rated comment: "If President Obama had had an affair, it would have mattered a lot to these same people. Hypocrites without honor, all of them."

If President Obama had an affair, it would matter because we have an opinion of him as a man who has been an excellent husband. It would have mattered to people who love him more than those who hate him.

Trump's affairs don't conflict with much of anything anybody thinks of him. You can't use them because those who want to use them are not those who are genuinely upset about the affairs but people who are looking for ways to attack the man they already hate. And anyone who likes Trump can easily see that about them and moves on. That's not hypocrisy, that's competence — resistance to trolling.

Trump's tweet this morning is reading my mind.

Yes, yes, yes, exactly.

Aptest Trump tweet ever.

"Everything seems to go to seed along the Gulf: walls stain, windows rust. Curtains mildew. Wood warps. Air conditioners cease to function."

"In our room at the Edgewater Gulf Hotel, where the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention was taking place, the air conditioner in the window violently shook and rattled every time it was turned on. The Edgewater Gulf is an enormous white hotel which looks like a giant laundry, and has the appearance of being on the verge of condemnation. The swimming pool is large and unkempt, and the water smells of fish. Behind the hotel is a new shopping center built around an air-conditioned mall, and I kept escaping there, back into midstream America."

A passage from a book I'm reading that came back to me as we were talking about the South in the middle of the night. The book is "South and West: From a Notebook" by Joan Didion. A new reprint came out last month, but it tells the story of a road trip through the Gulf South that she made in 1970 (and a second trip in the west in 1976).

Here's another passage:
In New Orleans in June the air is heavy with sex and death, not violent death but death by decay, overripeness, rotting, death by drowning, suffocation, fever of unknown etiology. The place is physically dark, dark like the negative of a photograph, dark like an X-ray: the atmosphere absorbs its own light, never reflects light but sucks it in until random objects glow with a morbid luminescence. The crypts above ground dominate certain vistas. In the hypnotic liquidity of the atmosphere all motion slows into choreography, all people on the street move as if suspended in a precarious emulsion, and there seems only a technical distinction between the quick and the dead. 

Taking the Russian troll test: "I first had to write something about, 'What do you think about vegetarians?' or something like that."

"Then it was, 'What do you think of Hillary Clinton? What chances does she have to win in the U.S. election?' You had to write at great length about this. … The main thing was showing that you are able to show that you can represent yourself as an American. … I failed the test because you had to know English perfectly."

Said Marat Mindiyarov, interviewed by the Washington Post in "A former Russian troll speaks: 'It was like being in Orwell’s world.'"

The quote is confusing with that headline. Mindiyarov was not a troll who trolled Americans. He wanted to be one of those trolls. He "would see them on smoking breaks. … They were totally modern-looking young people, like hipsters, wearing fashionable clothes with stylish haircuts and modern devices. They were so modern that you wouldn’t think they could do something like this."

He didn't get the job because he he didn't "know English perfectly," though if you read the other article WaPo published about Mindiyarov — "The 21st-century Russian sleeper agent is a troll with an American accent" — he didn't pass the test because "it wasn’t clear if his shortcoming was imperfect English or failing to bash Clinton."

WaPo makes 2 articles out of this one guy who didn't even get the job, and on the face of the clear text of 2 articles published on the same day, it contradicts itself. Fail!

Anyway, the Orwellian environment Mindiyarov encountered was as a troll writing in Russian on Russian news articles to fool Russians. He — this propagandist whose job was lying — tells the Washington Post that he quit that job — "for moral reasons. I was ashamed to work there."

And we're supposed to believe him.... why? Is he trolling the Washington Post and its readers now? They're so damned gullible! Me, I question everybody. The sad troll who longs to be a young, modern-looking hipster. (He's 43.) The Washington Post, cranking out articles about the "sophistication and ambition" of the Russian troll operation.

The Russian trolls who supposedly could imitate Americans couldn't even really do it. Look at this one:

That's just a mess! Americans don't say "a Satan." Satan is one specific character. And "her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is" should be "her crimes and lies have proved just how evil she is." And it doesn't make sense to have Satan say "If I win, Clinton wins." It should be "If Clinton wins, I win." I think! It's stupidly confusing. And that graphic! Jesus looks like Derek Zoolander. I guess somebody decided he needed to look white, but I've never seen an "American" Jesus that white (or with that much contrast between skin and hair color). Also Jesus looks tentative and Satan looks like a superhero or wrestler. And "Press 'Like' to Help Jesus Win" seems satirical.

I think there are plenty of Americans using social media taking shots at our candidates and they're doing it on their own or for pay and with much more skill and in greater numbers. These people dilute the Russians, and it's just a lot of free speech about politics. If anything, the Russians help us all become more skeptical, because they get little things wrong and you become uneasy and therefore more aware that we're swimming in propaganda.

And I suspect the Washington Post loathes social media — whether it's full of trolls or sincere Americans (and sincere foreigners!) having our say. It competes with the Washington Post's business model. I presume the Washington Post would prefer to be your go-to source for information and opinion and to be venerated as an oracle of truth. All of social media interferes with the interests of the Washington Post. And it serves WaPo's interests to scare us all about Russian trolls in social media.

And this is where, I think, the Russian trolls have some chance of success — as a tool of mainstream media in a plot against free speech in social media.

February 17, 2018

At the Demand-Superior-Walls Café...

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 2.26.40 PM

... you can talk about whatever you want. These walls have ears. No one says that anymore. All the trite phrases that have gone away. Occasionally you notice one. Remember when people said Let's run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes?

Anyway, that image is a screenshot from Meade's computer the other day. I don't know if some algorithm picked up his interest in Trump's wall or what. It was last Tuesday, the day of the Fat Tuesday Café — pictured in the screen grab. You may remember that, in the comments, FIDO said:
I hadn't noticed it before, but the blog has an Ashley Madison ad on it. It is that google has determined that I am a pig, a random placement, or has Ms. Althouse become open minded on infidelity?
And I said:
Yeah, it's a sophisticated algorithm. If you're getting Ashley Madison ads, it says something about what Google knows about you.

Me, I'm getting an ad for a $1900 Chloe handbag.
And Meade said:
The only ad I'm seeing now is for something called "Superior Walls." No, I'm not a white supremacist. Yes, I want Trump to build the wall. Waiting for my head to spin.
You may remember that Trump said "That wall will go up so fast, your head will spin."

Talk about anything though. This is a café.

That means I need to add a reminder to use the Althouse Portal to Amazon. I couldn't find the $1900 Chloe handbag there. But you can buy the movie "The Wall" ("A deadly psychological thriller that follows two soldiers pinned down by an Iraqi sniper, with nothing but a crumbling wall between them"), Wall Control 30-P-3232GV Galvanized Steel Pegboard Pack, an iRobot Virtual Wall Barrier (to control your Roomba), and Pink Floyd's "The Wall."

"Is There an Obstruction Case against President Trump?"

If anyone can analyze the hell out of that question, it's Andrew McCarthy. Let me express my awe and thanks.

And let me point also to this column of his from a couple days ago, "What Did Comey Tell President Trump about the Steele Dossier?," which he links to in the new column with this mind-bending summary:
In a column on Thursday, I argued that the Obama administration saw the Russia probe as an opportunity to paralyze President Trump. As I noted in the column, the motivation for this could have been sinister or public-spirited — how you see it probably depends on what you think of Obama and Trump. President Trump’s political opponents would have seen the Russia probe as a chance to strangle his capacity to govern and pursue his agenda; some investigators who suspected that the disturbing allegations in the Steele dossier were true, even if they had not and probably could not be proved, may have harbored good-faith concern that Trump could be blackmailed by Russia.

Regardless of the motivation, the scheme to sustain the Russia investigation even after Obama left office and Trump was in a position to end it had three parts: (1) important information about the investigation needed to be withheld from the new president; (2) Trump had to be led to believe he was not under investigation (even though he was central to the investigation) so that he would not feel threatened by the investigation; and (3) Trump had to be admonished about respecting the independence of law-enforcement, to instill the fear that if he invoked his constitutional authority to shut down the investigation, he would be accused of obstruction.

This audacious strategy worked for four months, but it was done in by its core contradiction: It called for informing the president that he was not a suspect when he clearly was....
Keep reading.

"In that 25th hour, I’m pretty sure I heard certain words — 'god,' 'money,' 'demons,''warships' — but I’m entirely confident that I was hearing an unknowable prayer..."

"... the kind that makes the forward-march of time go greasy and slack, the kind that lifts us out of the real world and plunges us into a place we’ve never been, together. 'Y’all know what I’m saying?' [Sir] E.U asked near the end, and even if you didn’t, you absolutely did."

From "This D.C. rapper just performed a 25-hour concert. Near the finish, things got surreal" (WaPo). We're told "Sir E.U was filibustering in the subbasement of his own brain," and I would like to point out that he went on more than 3 times as long as Nancy Pelosi did the other day when she set the record for longest speech in the House of Representatives, though to give Nancy her due, it must be said that she never went to the bathroom. E.U., we're told, did go to the bathroom and just wore his wireless microphone right in there.

But was Nancy filibustering in the subbasement of her own brain? Did Nancy devolve into unknowable prayer and make the forward-march of time go greasy and slack and lift us out of the real world and plunge us into a place we’ve never been?

Moderation woes.

We've been having trouble with moderating comments for a few days. As you may know, if you comment on a post more than 2 days old, it doesn't go up until we approve it. But we haven't been able to get to the moderation page, so whatever is there is just helplessly waiting. Sorry, but I can't do anything about that, at least for now. If this continues, it will mean that on older posts, comments are essentially closed.

We're also unable to get to the spam page, so that means that we can't liberate comments that don't belong there. I know there is at least one regular commenter who has been singled out by the spam filter, and I'm especially sorry about that problem. It's not that we don't care and are not trying to get proper comments out of the spam filter. It's that we can't.

"There were very drawn out versions of songs where Manson mostly rambled on about our lack of love and other bizarre things. After an hour and fifteen minutes of this, he threw his microphone and left the stage."

From "Marilyn Manson Cuts Concert Short After Meltdown Onstage/The rocker rambled a freestyle jam and repeated demands for applause, while performing at the Paramount in New York on Thursday night."

I'm fascinated by that phrase "our lack of love and other bizarre things."

"In the past, Mr. Trump said, when dealing with a dishonest rival 'there was nothing you can do other than sue. Which I’ve done... But it’s a long process.'"

"Now, he simply tweets. Caustically, colorfully and repeatedly. Suddenly, he said of his foes, 'I have more power than they do. I can let people know that they were a fraud... I can let people know that they have no talent, that they didn’t know what they’re doing. You have a voice.'... Mr. Trump... is an improbable virtuoso of the tweet...."

From "Pithy, Mean and Powerful: How Donald Trump Mastered Twitter for 2016" in — of all places — the New York Times. Back in October 2015.
... Mr. Trump has mastered Twitter in a way no candidate for president ever has, unleashing and redefining its power as a tool of political promotion, distraction, score-settling and attack — and turning a 140-character task that other candidates farm out to young staff members into a centerpiece of his campaign.
"Farm out" to their troll farm.
In the process, he has managed to fulfill a vision, long predicted but slow to materialize, sketched out a decade ago by a handful of digital campaign strategists: a White House candidacy that forgoes costly, conventional methods of political communication and relies instead on the free, urgent and visceral platforms of social media.
The writer is Michael Barbaro, whom you might know from "The Daily" podcast (at the NYT), which I listen to every weekday. It's great, and I am enjoying happening upon this old article of his, which has special resonance today as we're called upon to fear the national security threat posed by the Russian troll farm. Not only did (and does) Trump do his own tweets, he understands Americans enough to say things that reach us in places Russians don't know about.

What got me to that old article? I clicked on a tag on the previous post, which took me to my old posts containing the name Robert Barnes, including an October '15 post linking to "Pithy, Mean and Powerful...."

"Mueller’s unprecedented prosecution raises three novel arguments: first, that speaking out about American politics requires a foreign citizen to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act..."

"... second, that speaking out about American politics requires a foreign citizen list their source and expenditure of funding to the Federal Election Commission; and third, that mistakes on visa applications constitute 'fraud' on the State Department. All appear to borrow from the now-discredited 'honest services' theories Mueller’s team previously used in corporate and bribery cases, cases the Supreme Court overturned for their unconstitutional vagueness. The indictment raises serious issues under the free speech clause of the First Amendment and due process rights under the Fifth Amendment."

From "Does Mueller Indictment Mean Clinton Campaign Can Be Indicted for Chris Steele?" by Robert Barnes, who observes that Mueller chose targets who will never be brought to trial and therefore knew he was using a legal theory that would not be tested in court.