Culture, Economy, Education, Justice, Media, Poetry, Religion, Science, The Life of the Mind, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

The children aren’t the future; they are now.
My five-year-old, for instance, is concerned
that five-year-olds in China will have learned
integral calculus while he learns the cow
goes moo. Father, he asked, how can we allow
declines in public spending when it earns
broad wage-multipliers as returns?
Is Xi reformist, or is he a Mao?
And can we win the war on terror with
a formal legal apparatus that
constrains our agencies and binds their hands?
Do coastal elites represent a fifth
column? Is the Bible a samizdat?
Will I have to share the boys room with a trans?

The Reign of Error

Culture, Economy, Justice, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

What went through Loretta Lynch’s mind when Bill Clinton buttonholed her in that airport? I imagine her like one of those poor robots in an Asimov story, thrown into a fugue of helpless malfunction as the indelible rules etched into the very fabric of her mind looped back on themselves in unresolved contradiction. The people who arrive in these positions of appointed, administrative authority don’t arrive through some exercise of uncompromising brilliance, but through the application of the sort of subtle, anticipatory empathy—business schools like to call it “emotional intelligence”—that mark the climbers in any organization, a quality that used to mark a successful courtier before our democratic pretensions overran our good sense of what, exactly, our Secretaries and ministers really are and were.

On the one hand, her brain must have rebelled at the discordant vibrations of the appearance of impropriety; on the other, well, here is a former two-term president and Grand Poobah of the Democratic Party that appointed her, not to mention husband to that party’s current presumptive Presidential nominee—in other words, the actual archetype of the person from whom she is constitutionally, professionally inclined to curry favor. What was Clinton thinking? For all the nefarious theories out there, I suspect he just wasn’t. If there is a through-line, a plot thread to the bizarre picaresque of Clintonian scandals, it is, in the ironically apt words of G-Man James Comey, extreme carelessness. If the Clintons were once in a sense arrivistes (“He came in here and he trashed the place, and it’s not his place,” said David Broder in a moment of accidental honesty), their successful elevation to the highest order of the American aristocracy came in no small part because they so successfully affected the aristocrats’ most singular characteristic of simply not giving a shit about the consequences that should not—and would not—apply to them.

So when Comey processed before the cameras to pronounce Hillary merely a venial sinner, no one was really surprised—least of all, I suspect, Loretta Lynch, who would never have tethered her career to even a slight chance that she’d have to prosecute a potential US President. If she’d thought for one instance that the FBI might recommend an indictment, she’d have recused herself and tossed the job and the decision to some poor career prosecutor whose real intelligence and competence consigned him forever to the middle ranks. But as Comey uttered the magical incantation, “no reasonable prosecutor,” my own mind fled immediately to different moment, back in November of 2014, when St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCollough announced that a Grand Jury had “determined that no probable cause exists to file any charges against Officer Wilson and returned a ‘no true bill’ on each of the five indictments” after that same Officer Wilson, that August, had killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown.

Lynch’s decision to abrogate prosecutorial discretion and leave the question to the purportedly independent judgment of an investigatory body had the eerie echo of a DA trying to appear above the fray as he quietly works to avoid punishing a killer cop. Running the State Department out of a server closet in your basement and shooting an unarmed black youth are separated by a moral gulf as well as a difference of scale, but they are nevertheless bridged by a connection of a ubiquitous, official corruption that is both bland and deadly. It permits the murder of black men by agents of the state; it permits the un-FOIA-able (attempted, anyway) planning for mad wars and drone assassinations. Clinton defenders have seized on the data that numerous other high-ranking State and DOD officials have also conducted their business via private email; they imagine this is exculpatory, but it’s actually systemically damning. They’re all, it turns out, immune.

Our application of the law is exactly backwards; it applies with unfaltering severity to the least powerful and with increasing leniency the farther up the social and economic ladder you go. A black man can be murdered for having a broken tail-light; the official who murdered him gets “paid administrative leave.” A Private gets 35 years in prison for leaking a trove of war documents that—officials rushed to assure us—didn’t show anything we didn’t already know, while a former Secretary of State can blitz around the world with a password password and be reminded that she was a bad girl for not using 2-factor before successfully becoming the President of the United States. You can go to jail for running an online sports betting site, but Jamie Dimon…

I’m basically a pacifist and live in mortal terror of wars and revolutions, but it’s getting ever harder to look at the state of society without hearing the distant but swiftly approaching swish of the guillotines.

A Secret Memo

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

But the crucial issue is not when, but how.”

I will be with you, whatever.
But this is the moment to assess
Bluntly and boldly, whether

The danger is, as ever,
That action acts to make a mess
Which lingers with you, whatever

Plans, resources, clever
PR pitches you address
To your blunted people, whether

Or not they’re listening. Never
Forget our gaudy, tawdry press
Has stuffed them full of whatever

Trash they think is pleasure.
I hate them all. George, I confess
I can’t decide whether

Perhaps the better endeavor
Would be to self-invade. God bless
Us, be with us whatever
Chance, fate, or weather.

Peter Thiel Sues Gawker

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Economy, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

Every night, lonely and scared, a Crassus
retires to a private screening room to view
a phony gladiator in a natty do-
rag fuck a forum-screamer’s wife. He passes
a hand across his lap and wipes his glasses.
Aroused, confused, he hates and loves these few
pornographic pleasures and the voyeurs who
provided them; the fortune he amasses
endlessly cannot touch him, cannot keep
his bed warm or the plebs beyond the walls
from peering through the keyhole at the sad rich wreck
who can’t decide to masturbate or weep
when the show ends and the grim shadow falls:
death’s debit, unpayable by cash or check.

Eternal Recurring Meeting

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Justice, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Uncategorized, War and Politics

The Pentagon said Friday that it had killed ISIS’ finance minister, Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, whom many analysts consider the group’s No. 2 leader.


The inbox full. The voicemail light is blinking.
Who leaves voicemail anymore? he asks
himself. There are too many red-flagged tasks
today. The boss called off. Sick? He’s drinking
again, for sure, and the worksheet isn’t linking
to the right data set. Each day, he masks
the long-dawned sense: his office is a cask-
et; he is dead already; Death is winking
at his glass door; his new assistant waits
in the wings for the whirring warning. Success? Success-
ion. Years ago he had a home, a wife.
Now he has a list of meeting dates.
When he explodes at last they’ll slap on some fresh
paint and give the next in line his life.

Baron Scalia

Culture, Justice, Media, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Tony always believed in a certain sort
of intercessory prayer; ironically
each sainted martyr was a pharisee;
the letter was the spirit, he’d retort,
to the grace-besotted pleaders at his court;
was it wit? he was as chronically
mean as a country-club drunk, comically
self-indulgent as he’d wink and snort
that José, the barman, was a fag; he doesn’t
mean to be mean, his foursome buddies say;
that’s just Tony! He’d give you the shirt off his back,
well, anyway, he helped my kid out; he wasn’t
a ballbreaker; he made the problem go away;
good to his friends until his heart attack.

Goldman Sacks Rome

Culture, Economy, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.

-Matthew 4:8

That’s what they offered.

-Hillary Clinton

The Spirit brought her out, and the devil said
some of these rider reqs are quite obscene:
a private jet and caviar in the green
room? We usually do business class instead;
a good hotel, of course, and comfy bed,
but a whole floor and a fleet of limousines?
eunuch attendants and a host of seraphim?
payment in blood? the final triumph of the dead?
She shrugged. Look, Satan, one accrues,
when one is such an avatar of ex-
cellence and obviously deservèd fame,
some costs and expectations; retinues
aren’t cheap these days; they require sex,
feeding, jobs, and booze to treat the shame.

Paris, ailleurs

Justice, Poetry, Religion, War and Politics

Abundant peace from heaven, and life, for all
of us; but if not this, O God, if You
are real then grant us less, and if not, do
it anyway: that we will not fall
for the same false lessons as before; we will call
our mothers and email our friends; we’ll renew
our marriage vows and sex lives. We try too
hard to be more than simply good and stall
in our moral progress every time we think
we must defeat evil with will instead
of opening our doors and being kind, letting
our neighbors know our names, having a drink
with our estranged brothers, giving the dead
our Kaddish; those who killed them our forgetting.

Rare Arms

Culture, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, War and Politics

Second Amendment jurisprudence is high on the list of the great national embarrassments foisted upon us by our embarrassing federal judiciary, who continually accept the ahistorical interpretations of people who actually claim that a Constitutional government enshrines the right to armed insurrection against itself. Not even the framers, who had actually and recently fought in a revolution, imagined it meant such a thing, but here we are. America’s quasi-religious fetish for its own Constitution is in any event a strange national obsession. The Constitution is a hash of archaic bylaws whose principal strength is that it’s so vague and badly worded that it can mean whatever we need it to mean at any given time. “A well regulated…”

Well, gun advocates have done nothing if not given us a pithy slogan expressing exactly how incoherent they are: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. This is like saying cars don’t drive on roads or hammers don’t pound in nails. That a tool requires an operator to do its work begs the question. Guns were made to kill things, people chiefly among them. They’re a very good tool for this purpose. It’s possible to nail wood together without a hammer, but much easier with one; it’s possible to commute 30 miles to work without an internal combustion vehicle, but not easy; it’s possible to kill a whole lot of people all at once without a gun, but crossbows and broadswords do lack individual efficiency. Guns are machines for killing, and they kill a lot of people.

Refocusing from the implement to the actor also lends itself to our current absurd scapegoating, in which “mental illness,” never specifically defined, becomes a legitimate target for legislative intervention; Congresscreatures publicly imagine they can legislate sanity, and yet they can’t conceive regulating the purchase and ownership of an industrial product. How a nation that requires a $25 co-pay for a blood pressure and reflex test that you have to wait five months to book intends to provide universal, ongoing, robust psychological care to its 300 million souls, many millions of whom don’t have sufficient insurance and are therefore on the hook for more like $150 if they ever want to visit a regular old doctor, is unclear. Meanwhile, much of the gun violence in the country—not the mass shootings of white people that make the news, but the daily killings of one here, two there in places like Chicago—isn’t a question of mental health, not as the gun debate defines it anyway.

But. There is a kind of moral credulousness on the part of the Nice Liberal critics of our national gun culture, and there’s something intolerably amoral about a politician like Barack Obama assuming a pose of high moral dudgeon to snipe at conservative gun rights advocates while he presides over, among other atrocities, the bombing of a neutral hospital—literally, a war crime. (And the bombing of the MSF hospital is just one war crime among many; we just happen to note it because its victims are Western, professional, media-savvy, and English-fluent.) This isn’t cheap whataboutism; if you ask how we can be such a violent society and exclude sixty years of uninterrupted global warfare from your analysis, then your crass factionalism is showing.

It’s true: blaming domestic gun deaths on America’s violent, aggressive imperialism is a little like blaming it on mental illness; it identifies an approximate rather than a proximate cause and spins its wheels wildly away from a practical mechanism for mitigating the problem here and now. I do, however, wish that those who advocate for stricter gun control in this country would evince a more convincing and universal pacifism, rather than crying out in passionate horror each time some nut shoots up an elementary school but merely regretting each time their president blows one up.

Shabbos Goy

Culture, Justice, Media, Religion, War and Politics

“The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order,” Judge Bunning said. “If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”

When I was younger, I was more strident in my atheism. If I lacked the misogyny and gross prejudice—against Islam in particular—that qualify a person for the “New Atheist” label, then I nevertheless held to their practice of swashbuckling into almost any conversation, dull sword drawn, ready to declare that Holy Books hopelessly self-contradict; all those eternal truths are changeable and historically contingent; the notion of any kind of supreme and omnipotent being refutes itself under the simplest tests of logic; and oh, by the way, the Inquisition etc. were very, very bad. All of these arguments are simultaneously true and facile; faith exempts itself from these little eructations of materialism, which doesn’t make it correct but does make it in a sense immune to correctness as a category. In the last decade, my atheism has both deepened and softened. I suspect that had I encountered the right rabbi at the right time in my early twenties, when my passionate anti-religion burned hottest, then I might have been salvaged by grace. Now I tend to view religion, and at least some of the religious, with sympathy, which puts my soul beyond their reach, although it does sometimes force me to remind people that I know there are no gods and just appreciate the poetry.

This long caveat is to say that I have some sympathy for Kim Davis, though not because she’s in the right in her imagined protest. The idea that an agent of the government can nullify the law and obviate the constitutional rights of citizens due to her own private beliefs is manifestly silly. In the immortal formulation of your Catholic hero and mine, Antonin Scalia, you are entitled to your beliefs but not to your government job. Yes, even government employees, even elected officials, can engage in civil disobedience, but you don’t get to ride the First Amendment freely into your pension, especially not by violating its first clause in the delusional belief that in so doing you’re defending its second. As plenty of folks have pointed out, it was well within her small power to deputize some other row officer to sign off on these Satanic permits; that she refused to do so out of a let-us-say theologically suspect belief in the transitive property of the rendered-unto-Caesar suggests a desire to force the issue to a head. The Supreme Court is ironically responsible for this mess: its sloppy Hobby Lobby decision has convinced every minor divine in America that mere belief in whatever puts diplomatic plates on his prejudices.

But the Supreme Court is responsible, and it seems to me that any reasonably dull person, which is to say most Americans, who occasionally tunes into cable news, could easily draw this same conclusion: that “deeply held faith” abrogates temporal law. Egged on in this incorrect belief by unscrupulous legal counsel, you can just imagine how a person like Kim Davis could come to see herself as a hero and a martyr. Unlike her counsel, I don’t actually imagine that Davis holds any particular animus toward gays in particular, but rather has just a vague, foreboding sense of the inevitable decline of the familiar order of things. I grew up in a dying Appalachian coal town in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, and I knew plenty of women like Kim Davis. They went to the Church of Abundant Life and believed that Jews were going to hell, although one suggested to my mother that our family might be among the 144,000 to be bodily assumed into Heaven on the Rapture’s eve. They thought homosexuality was an abomination, but they were on perfectly good terms with the chubby homo who feathered and teased out their hair at Bangz. Democrats hadn’t done shit when the mines closed, so they drifted toward George Bush and learned to blame the unions and weren’t entirely wrong in either case. The Kim Davises of the world can’t do shit about the decline of Eastern Kentucky, but by God, this one of them can take a stand against things bein’ different. Correctness as a category does not apply.

Now, your regional sob story and hopelessly convoluted sexual ethics don’t entitle you to discriminate from your elected office, but I have the inescapable feeling that by holding her in contempt and tossing her in the clink, Judge Bunning did precisely the wrong thing. He was correct to observe that a pecuniary penalty would have had no impact; political allies of her lawyers would have made fines immaterial to her. And yes, courts do need a mechanism for enforcing compliance with their orders. But it strikes me that if Bunning could just wave his federal wand and allow others to issue the permits, then I see no reason why he couldn’t do the same without the cell. Despite her protestations to the contrary—that these certificates are somehow invalid without her signature—no one believes that the boys down at the Social Security Office are going to take her word over the order of a federal judge. I’ve seen some commentary on the convoluted authority to issue these permits in Kentucky, but state permitting statutes don’t trump the constitution, and their misapplication doesn’t invalidate gays’ right to marry.

If anything, to have simply swatted away her feckless protest and instructed someone else to marry the couples in question would have been a more fitting, biting, and deserved punishment. Let her whine impotently from behind the permits & licenses desk down at the county office while the janitor signs off under the authority of the US District Court. She will be neither hero nor martyr, and in a few months, she’ll wonder why she ever made such a fuss. Instead, I fear we’ve created another dumb saint in a country that seems to me to be drowning in dumb sanctimony. We must learn to love our enemies enough that the only punishment we desire in their defeat is their irrelevance. That would suffice.