A Leader without Leading: Dayen on Pelosi

[Hello, yes, I know! It’s been two years!]

David Dayen’s great review of Molly Ball’s fawning Pelosi bio foregrounds two things I’ve been shouting about:

1. “… during the crucial months of March and April, Pelosi became a one-woman House of Representatives, unilaterally writing legislation or negotiating with Republicans, and presenting the finished product to House members, take it or leave it.”

2. She adheres to absolutely deranged and antiquated views on debt and deficits. “[J]ust two years ago, [she] made a lugubrious elegy on the House floor after the death of [private equity pioneer] Pete Peterson, who bankrolled the deficit hysteria industry for decades and relentlessly targeted Social Security for cuts. (Ball does reveal that Pelosi told Obama during his “grand bargain” talks that she would support his aims, “even if it meant agreeing to entitlement cuts.”)

Educated people in finance and politics are coming around to understand how money works via MMT. It’s absolutely tragic that the leader of the putative left-most party IN A PANDEMIC clings to what are basically superstitious ideas of what a government can and can’t do.

I’m reminded that one-quarter of the population of Ireland starved during the Great Famine because the powers-that-be saw the “potato-dependent economy as the result of Irish backwardness and self-indulgence” and didn’t want to intervene in the divine system of the market, “guided by spiritual laws.”

Nancy apparently believes in spiritual laws stipulating the size of a deficit. If lives are destroyed, and people die because of a dimwitted superstitious orthodoxy, that’s too bad. The ghost of Pete Peterson will be pleased, and that’s what counts.

Rookie mistakes

When you walk through that gate to check on the herd, don’t think Oh I won’t need to latch it after me. I’m just going out for a quick look. Because you might see that white steer has gotten out into the winter wheat, and is not grazing it, but just sunning himself, and feeling proud of finding his own space. And you might walk across the wire into the wheat, and try to get outside of him to coax him back under the wire, but instead he sees you, and gets spooked, and starts a quick trot, and then a full gallop away from you. You keep walking after him, and you’re relieved he’s keeping to the perimeter of the wire, but he goes all the way around to the road fence, and finally ducks under and back with his momma.

You, slightly dazed, make your way back to where you had entered the pasture, and realize the gate you’d walked through is now wide open, and there are four grown cows banging the mineral buckets around right in front of the gate, and all that unmown grass on the house side of the fence. You got lucky. They’re good cows. But you keep making the same mistakes.

Hero Friday: Kesha, Connaughton and Hersh


I will probably have occasion in the future to ponder the Kesha 2.0 rollout, which just appears to have begun in earnest.  She has been through some rough times, going to lawyers with her erstwhile svengali Dr Luke, and battling an eating disorder. See, the thing about it is I think her music is really good, and I wish her the best.

I have to take a moment to talk about Pat Connaughton, who helped lead the men’s basketball team for Notre Dame (my alma mater) to dizzying heights, by that program’s modest standards. Having already signed to pitch for the Orioles, he insists on pursuing his dream of making an NBA team.

Yesterday, at the poke and prod session otherwise known as the NBA Draft Combine, he recorded a 44-inch vertical jump, the best of the year, and the best since Kenny Gregory in 2001. That was surprising (but not too surprising if you’ve watched him play for four years). What was a real shocker is that he has 10 percent body fat, one of the highest figures in the Combine. (I told you it was a poke and prod deal….). CBS Sports’ Sam Vecinie said Connaughton “might be the best pure athlete at the Combine” and the Vine of his leap sparked numerous twitter references a certain hoops movie starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes.

And then there is Seymour Hersh, whose London Review of Books piece about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden caused a shitstorm of reaction, both pro and (mostly) con.

My small contribution to the kerfuffle: It seems to me to offer a textbook illustration of the snark/smarm dialectic described in Tom Scocca’s brilliant essay from 2013. It’s a meandering piece, in the best way, and hard to summarize.

[Drums fingers] OK you’re back and have read “On Smarm.” Excellent.

There is a lot of good stuff in that piece about David Denby and Dave Eggers and Joe Lieberman, but as it relate to Hersh I have in mind the passage where Scocca writes, regarding Edward Snowden:

Talk about something else, smarm says. Talk about anything else. This young man is in possession of secret official computer files that document the routine lawlessness and boundless intrusiveness of the American surveillance state. An unaccountable power is monitoring the entire global flow of information—which amounts, in contemporary practice, to monitoring thought itself. Illegally.

 Smarm says:

Edward Snowden broke the law.

Edward Snowden is a naif, who has already foolishly betrayed his nation’s most vital secrets.

Edward Snowden is an unstable, sensation-seeking narcissist.

Edward Snowden isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know.

Edward Snowden is a traitor.

So what if Snowden is telling the truth? Just look at the way he’s telling it.

I see a similar dynamic being played out by mainstream journalists with regard to Seymour Hersh.

Um, that interview in Slate with Isaac Chotiner…. Yowsa. He really doesn’t want to be there, and yet Hersh deflects and mocks his young inquisitor’s earnest (and dishonest, nay, smarmy) efforts to corner him into the same old traps (anonymous sources, the New Yorker rejected your story…) so many other “respectable” journalists have been trying to paint him into. It’s impossible to summarize the interview, so I will paste in a couple of representative chunks….

Hersh: I sent it approvingly because it crossed my desk and it does say there were walk-ins. [Laughs] You can read it any way you want. The White House has been very clever about this. They have gone after me personally. They don’t like me boo hoo hoo. But they have been very careful to hedge everything, they quote Peter Bergen. Bergen or Berger, is that his name?

Chotiner: Bergen.

Hersh: They quote him. He views himself as the trustee of all things Bin Laden.

Chotiner: I just want to talk to you about your piece and journalism.

Hersh: What difference does it make what the fuck I think about journalism? I don’t think much of the journalism that I see. If you think I write stories where it is all right to just be good enough, are you kidding? You think I have a cavalier attitude on throwing stuff out? Are you kidding? I am not cavalier about what I do for a living.

Chotiner: I don’t think you are cavalier. That was not my question.

Hersh: Whatever it is, it’s an impossible question. It’s almost like you are asking me to say that there are flaws in everybody. Yes. Do I acknowledge that not everybody can be perfect? But I am not backing off anything I said.


Hersh: So, all that happens is I tell [New Yorker editor David Remnick] about the story, and his initial approach was to say do a blog item. Go fuck yourself! A blog? I have done a couple blogs when it is 1,000 words but this is worth more. At that point it was very early. So I was on contract for a book and said fuck it … You want to make a lot out of it? David always says he welcomes another view. I am the guy who said fuck it, I will do what I want to do. [Editor’s note: Other news sources have reported that the New Yorker declined to publish a version of the story.] [Hersh picks up other phone]: Yeah. Yeah. Oh no, fuck no … I don’t want to do it there! Go fuck—

Hersh: You there?

Chotiner: Yes.

Hersh: Fucking TV interview sets up in the hall of my office building. It’s a lawyer’s building.

Chotiner: I was just asking—

Hersh: You want to write about this totally tedious shit? Yes, I am a huge pain in the ass. I am the one that decided to publish it wherever the hell I please. That’s the story. You want to listen to hall gossip about me? Go ahead. [Sarcastic voice] It is so immensely important to so many people to know where I published. I can’t believe it.


Anger is upsetting to smarm—real anger, not umbrage. But so is humor and confidence. Smarm, with its fixation on respect and respectability, has trouble handling it when the snarkers start clowning around.


Smarm in l’affaire Hersh is the “respectable” media saying “old Sy has finally gone off the rails….” It’s being intensely skeptical about the challenging narrative, isolating/attacking the messenger, and circling the wagons around the Obama/Schmindle/Zero Dark Thirty accounts, which are far more absurd and unlikely.

We know what we know about My Lai and Abu Ghraib and the CIA’s domestic spying because of Sy Hersh.

Until we can find out exactly what really happened in the bin Laden raid, which is probably never, because SECRETS, giving Hersh the benefit of the doubt seems the least we can do.

UPDATE: Trevor Timm’s The media’s reaction to Seymour Hersh’s bin Laden scoop has been disgraceful which I saw just now, is simply fantastic on the highly selective skepticism of the press.


Besides one piece by Huffington Post’s Ali Watkins, the press has barely made a peep about the fact that the CIA’s argument about bin Laden and torture—one that Hollywood made a movie about!—is a lie. Meanwhile, Slate ran five hit jobs on Hersh within 36 hours. Perhaps that’s why Hersh treated their reporter with contempt during this already-legendary interview.

We know that the administration made many assertions about the bin Laden raid in its aftermath that turned out to be false. The purported details, many given to reporters “anonymously,” were downright fantastical—yet reporters dutifully printed them just the same. We also know that the government ordered the photos of bin Laden’s body destroyed—possibly in violation of federal law—and, in an unprecedented move, had all information about the raid transferred to the CIA, where it can’t be accessed through Freedom of Information Act requests. John Kerry told reporters directly to “shut up and move on.” How Hersh himself deserves more scrutiny than these disturbing moves by the government is beyond comprehension.

Sentimentality and mean tweets

Wanted to share this snippet from Chris Hedges’ Killing Ragheads for Jesus, mainly because of the counterintuitive but brilliant James Baldwin definition of sentimentality:

Kyle was able to cling to childish myth rather than examine the darkness of his own soul and his contribution to the war crimes we carried out in Iraq. He justified his killing with a cloying sentimentality about his family, his Christian faith, his fellow SEALs and his nation. But sentimentality is not love. It is not empathy. It is, at its core, about self-pity and self-adulation. That the film, like the book, swings between cruelty and sentimentality is not accidental.

“Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel,” James Baldwin reminded us. “The wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.”


Trying to crank out a post every day, but can’t get a handle on the news today. My twitter feed is still full of ruminations on the Super Bowl and anti-vaxxers. I got nothin’ really, but this Jimmy Kimmel bit with celebs reading mean tweets about themselves is actually really good….

Today’s links: Higher learning

One more good thing to read about Jonathan Chait’s hissy from Belle Waring. It’s substantive, but the funnest part is this:

Or, perhaps, that Jonathan Chait has a skin so thin that he cries when someone gets the butter knife out of the drawer anywhere within six blocks of his apartment, and is also so allergic to his own tears that he then needs to use his EpiPen and ARE YOU HAPPY NOW BLACK FEMINISTS

Also, a perceptive commenter mentioned  that Phil Och’s “Love Me I’m a Liberal” is relevant to this discussion, and so it is….


Hamilton Nolan at Gawker reports Inside Higher Ed’s finding that “the richest universities in America had a great year last year.”

This is not all that surprising, considering the fact that prestigious universities play a key role in the creation and perpetuation of America’s ever-more-entrenched class system. It is only right that those catapulted to great wealth and power by elite universities would give something back, so that their own children might also be able to achieve outsize wealth and power one day. Last year was a record one for donations to colleges: a total of $37.5 billion, up nearly 11% from the year before. Of course, most of that was not going to your local community college. Inside Higher Ed notes that “The top 20 colleges in fund-raising brought in more than $10 billion. That means that 28.6 percent of the total was given to fewer than 2 percent” of schools.

… Not much to say about all this except to point out that if all that money had been donated to real charities, tens or hundreds of thousands of human lives could have been saved, but instead we have the Stanford Alumni Association.

Commentor Lord Burleigh notes helpfully

that all that money is not going to faculty, who are increasingly adjuncts and other types of part-time staff frequently making very small amounts of money (like me, at one of these top 5 universities). Instead, it’s going to pay the salaries of a cancerous administration that metastasizes almost daily, to fund unnecessary (and some necessary) building projects, and to secure outside consultants, PR firms, and other contractors to ensure that the billions keep on coming.

I might add that the donors get a nice deduction from their generosity to institutions that largely serve their ilk, and this is $37.5 billion that will not find its way into any federal institutions that, theoretically at least, could direct it to needier people and projects.


Full disclosure, I am to some extent a product of one of those institutions of higher learning, though my experience was no doubt quite different from today’s students’. Were I 18 today, and not 30-some years ago, I would probably not even have been able to entertain the thought of going to Notre Dame. It’s true that part of my scholarship back then was funded by a private donor to the University.  But kids, there was also something called the NDSL….

I have not been back on campus in some time, but would like to some day. To judge by the elegant appointments of the posh fortress that is the local tony private college, attending such a place has more in common with staying in a high-end resort that it does with my memories of Salisbury Steak in the dining hall and trying to hear lectures over the banging of the radiators in O’Shaugnessy Hall.

Speaking of the hallowed halls of Our Mother, I’m kind of in love with what has been happening with their men’s basketball program, which has gone from unrated to a possible ACC championship and a high seed in the NCAA tournament come March. I am probably one of the few people in the U.S. to have watched every miserable game of ND’s 2013-14 season, a year marred by the suspension of one Jerian Grant….

Grant is back, and has been performing some mighty heroics on the court, and I could go on and on about what he did last night to Duke. There were the wicked pullup jumpers, one easily from 35-plus feet, the slashing drives and precise assists, including the dime to Vasturia to win the game. You can watch the highlights on ESPN, if you have any interest.

But this, this was the coolest thing he did last night





Football, parasites, Chait, etc.

They are about to play a big game on Sunday, apparently.

This was pretty funny.

Embedded image permalink

But don’t forget that

That there is a very descriptive link, and a good piece. Don’t enjoy the Super Bowl! I grew up a Vikings fan so was always pretty sour about the game.

Mike Ditka and the tragic Dave Duerson:

Ditka expressed concern about his former charges, whose bodies and minds have been ravaged by the game, including the late Dave Duerson, who took his own life in 2011, leaving behind a brain deformed by chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Ditka then went a step further. He admitted that he wouldn’t let his own sons play football. “That’s sad. I wouldn’t. And my whole life was football,” he told host Bryant Gumbel. “I think the risk is worse than the reward.”

Also this:

Lost amid all the scapegoating was a far more shocking story: the NFL’s admission in federal court documents that it expects up to 30 percent of its former players to suffer chronic brain injuries. To put this in the reductive language favored by tabloids: nearly a third of the employees in America’s most famous workplace will wind up brain damaged.


I tried to hide from chatter about that Chait piece in New York, but today Alex Pareene has a funny and substantive response, and I feel better about it all.

I especially liked the conclusion:

In Chait’s narrative, left-wing political correctness threatened American democracy once before, in the 1980s. But it was vanquished by a brave man from a place called Hope:

Bill Clinton’s campaign frontally attacked left-wing racial politics, famously using inflammatory comments by Sister Souljah to distance him from Jesse Jackson.

That Chait, in 2015, is still praising Clinton’s “Sister Souljah moment” as a heroic victory in the war against political correctness is telling. What was that moment but the drawing of a party line against expression deemed offensive? Bill Clinton attacked Souljah for her speech. He performed outrage for the sake of identity politics. The attack on a rapper most Americans had no familiarity with was simply part of Clinton’s cynical scheme to signal to aggrieved whites that he was not beholden to the black community. The culmination of that scheme was the execution of mentally impaired black man named Rickey Ray Rector. If that’s the variety of American liberalism that political correctness threatens, please direct me to the local thought police recruitment center.

I have a feeling this is the first salvo in the 2016 election war between “leftists” and the “shut up and vote for whichever Clinton is running” liberals….


I got a “promoted” tweet from someone named Josh Block warning about Iran and the bomb and terror. I am still happy Iran does not have a nuclear weapon and is not trying to make one. Israel having numerous nukes keeps me awake at night however. And there’s still only one country that has “deployed” nuclear weapons on a civilian population, twice. So there’s that.

In other, related news from the twitter:


Would also like to recommend this piece by the BBC’s Lucy Jones, What would happen if all the parasites disappeared?

The changes could be particularly dramatic in the oceans, says Luis Zaman of the University of Washington in Seattle. The seas are filled with algae and other microorganisms that get their energy from sunlight. Directly or indirectly, they feed all the animals in the sea. But they are “constantly battling viruses,” says Zaman, and that keeps their numbers down.
“Without these viruses, it is hard to say what exactly would happen,” says Zaman. “One possibility is that the oceans would turn into thick green mats, like the ones you see on small ponds by the road.”
This would be bad news for everything else in the ocean. “Take out all of the parasites across the ecosystem, and it probably will collapse,” says Zaman. “It might take a while, and it might oscillate wildly between states of lush vegetation and barren desert, but it almost certainly wouldn’t end well.”

I also really enjoyed this from a scientist Jones quoted: “There is so much to be gained from being a parasite.”

Reflections on one’s team getting screwed by the refs

The talking about the penultimate play of the Notre Dame-Florida State game Saturday night will go on for years, decades. Like arguments about JFK assassination conspiracy theories, or about how the towers fell in 2001, pretty much nothing will be achieved by the endless back and forth, but that never stops the obsessed. Check any comments section in articles about this game. Occasional substantive points do come up, but the comments invariably devolve into your basic trolling abusiveness. The guy who painstakingly makes his case in one post, tells another poster to suck his dick down the page.

I’ve had a couple of days to think about it. For what it’s worth, in my personal Zapruder film of the game, this grainy screen cap tells the whole story. PJ Williams, FSU’s #26, is the man on the grassy knoll, or the guy with the umbrella. (Were they the same guy???) Williams appears to be responsible for Corey Robinson (#88)* and for reasons known only to him, he chose to move to the middle on the snap. I don’t think he was on the same page as his teammates (#3 and #8). His move inside left two defenders to cover three ND receivers on the right side of the field. LOOK WHERE WILLIAMS IS RELATIVE TO HIS MAN ROBINSON. (ALL CAPS–another indicator I’ve become one of the crazies)….

Prosise and Fuller, the two ND receivers “engaging with” FSU’s defenders, could have stepped back off the line, bowed, and waved Williams through, and Williams would never have come near Robinson. This contact everyone is yammering about, which to me looks pretty clearly initiated (and sustained) by FSU’s backs, is irrelevant. Williams lost his man, who was wide open and walked into the end zone. All the TV talking heads in the world saying The Refs Got It Right won’t nullify that.

So there. I’ve spoken my piece. FSU won. They played great. Both teams did. It’s over.  A big setback for Notre Dame, no doubt. If they are to have a chance of making the four-team playoff, the Irish will have to win out, which they would have had to do that even if they got the W in Tallahassee. With Arizona State and USC road games looming (and believe me, they could still stumble against Navy), that looks like a pretty tall order. But not an impossible one.

College football is one of the great grotesque and excessive but infinitely appealing spectacles of the western world, like rock ‘n’ roll or the World Cup or Paris Fashion Week or the Academy Awards. All that training, all that extreme body modification, all that money. ND’s program looks pretty pristine compared to FSU’s, but that’s a long way from saying it’s clean, or even a remotely rational use of resources.

My senior year at ND, back from a Year Abroad, which turned me into an intolerably affected pseudo-European, I sold my football season ticket booklet for something like $49, face value. I used to think I was above it all. But the older I get, the more I realize I’m not.

And see, I haven’t even mentioned THIS!!!!


UPDATE: Today (Monday) I just came upon a pretty good video analysis of The Play from South Bend sports talk host Darin Pritchett, that describes the FSU defensive assignments differently. He may well be right. Doesn’t change my point much, but just wanted to mention it.

“Breeze blows leaves of a musty colored yellow”

Fall Break! Heather and the kids have gone south, to Pine Mountain, for a couple of days, and I am on my own.

I shock myself by how I take advantage of this opportunity–by doing pretty much what I would do otherwise.

I did cook a massive ribeye, for myself, smoking up the entire house. It was of course delicious, and I probably made little snorting noises while wolfing it down, but I could not even finish it! I pretty much fell asleep in front of the teevee while watching the replay of Alabama vs. Ole Miss on ESPN, and then felt compelled to rewatch Stanford vs. ND on DVR.

College football is still an evil enterprise, a gross misuse of tax dollars, particularly in poor states (like Alabama and Mississippi) that could otherwise go to improving the living conditions of tens of thousands. But this weekend I brushed all that aside. College football was a massively entertaining spectacle. (“I like my football, on a Saturday”)…. And Katy Perry surfaced, bizarrely, in Oxford on Saturday to make it even more so.

Is that great, or what? I should add that my liberty, such as it is, is constrained by the mixed blessing of having a young puppy in the house to entertain, to feed, to keep out of mischief, and to clean up after. What kind of freedom prohibits one from sleeping in? Or to get any serious reading done…


Puppies are inherently anti-intellectual

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The colors have been gorgeous in the pasture and I have taken some nice shots, if I do say so myself….

Today, Sept. 19, 2014

Today is simply glorious weather-wise. 75 and sunny. The cows are in the field closest to the house, so I’m always aware of them munching away in the background.

I had a go at the wood pile for a couple of hours. Preparing it so that the kids can stack it neatly, their big chore for the week. I have a feeling it won’t go well the first time, but I’m determined to get them involved in the process. I’ve got a fair bit put up, but a lot of it is fairly green.

Threw a bunch of stuff away. Came upon an old commonplace book from the early 80s, where, among other things, I noted every word I didn’t know in Ulysses, wrote down the definition, and used it in a sentence. Hierophantic. Entelechy. Archon. Parturiate. The attention span is not what it once was….

A few years ago I went Goodwill-crazy and bought lots of clothes items I had no need for (but they were SO CHEAP!) Today I put about two dozen dress shirts into a big contractor bag.

This cardinal has been banging into the same window every day for over a week now. I imagine it is misinterpreting its own reflection.

Out there in the world, Scotland voted “No!” Air strikes in Iraq. People on twitter are talking about Adrian Peterson’s beating two of his children.

Ted Rall has written a piece called A Hillary Clinton Candidacy is an Incredibly Depressing Thought.

I’ve had the tab open all day. Have a feeling I’ll close it before getting around to reading it.

My jam today is Funky Kingston, by Toots and the Maytals.

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