Ignoramus (in the etymological sense)


Day by day the hysteria mounts. I really don’t know how my Hillariphile friends can possibly keep this up for the next — what (*counts on fingers*) — five months. Surely there is a limit. Surely, even Chicken Little must take a break, now and then, from preaching the gospel of ruet-coelum.

No sign of it so far, however. The crescendo relentlessly crescendoes. We got past quadruple-forte sometime last week –even the elephants in Verdi’s orchestra have Trumpeted themselves hoarse, and the timpani-skins are shredded. I fear that my friends won’t have any throats left after November.

Doubtless, however, the injured tissues will have healed well enough, a year or two into Clintrump’s first term, that the choir will start tuning up again, for the next upcoming quadrennial apocalypse. They may sound a little ragged and rusty, but you’ve got to give them an ‘A’ for effort.

Something I now notice a lot: my friends are playing the ignorance card. I suppose this is a by-product of the Sanders campaign. Old Dobbin has at least exposed Hillary as the reactionary corporatist warmonger she is. Given that, what have we to fall back on?

Answer: Trump’s ignorance. Q: Can you find Zanzibar on the map, Mr Trump? A: Fuck you. I can look it up.

I don’t suppose anybody has asked Hillary to find Zanzibar on a map, and while I’m not entirely sure she could, the smart money would bet on her as a Jeopardy contestant over the small-fingered chap from Queens.

So: Trump is ignorant, and Hillary is well-informed. My friends like well-informed. They all went to college. Depressing, I know. What happened to my friends who didn’t go to college? Oh, that’s right, I only meet them on the boat, where they have saved my bacon more than once.

Time to get on the boat and turn off the radio.

The missionary position



Educational institutions are very good at keeping track of their alumni. Since my kids have passed through many such ateliers — or do I mean usines? — we get a good deal of correspondence from these worthies, all tending to demonstrate what deserving recipients they would be of our generosity, should we happen to be feeling generous, and in a position to indulge the feeling. Little do they know.

I have before me one of these productions. The cover story is about an alum who has been spending her time lately enlightening the poor heathen. Let’s call her Diotima:

Diotima played soccer in high school…. When she was working… for the Harvard Summer School in Zanzibar… she noticed that many people viewed women’s soccer as immoral due to cultural gender norms….

To abridge the tedious and cliche-ridden tale, Diotima made a documentary film about a women’s soccer team in Zanzibar, and got a grant to go screen it there —

…to show other girls that they could be Muslims and soccer players at the same time… and to offer soccer clinics for women… [H]er screenings and clinics sparked debate, changed minds, and empowered women.

(You see what I mean about the cliches, right? Believe me, it’s all like that.)

There’s a conversion story about a village ‘chief’ — this is the word they use, ‘chief’ — who ends up proclaiming that ‘Soccer is a sport, and religion is something inside you.’ Clearly a good candidate, now, for the first Rotary Club in Zanzibar — a mainstream middle-class American Protestant Muslim.

What strikes me about stories like this — and we hear them all the time, if not in alumni bulletins, then on NPR — is how identical they are with 19th-century missionary testimonials. There is the same absolute assurance that we know what’s what; that the objects of our missionary activities do not; and that we have a plain duty to drag them to enlightenment, which they really want, whether they know it or not:

From Greenland’s icy mountains,	
  From India’s coral strand,	
Where Afric’s sunny fountains	
  Roll down their golden sand,	
From many an ancient river, 
  From many a palmy plain,	
They call us to deliver	
  Their land from error’s chain!

We actually sang this hymn — a lot! — when I was a wee choirboy, back in the Pleistocene. I always liked it, not so much for the moral as the imagery. Sunny fountains! Golden sand! Ancient rivers! Bring it on!

The image up top shows an “artist’s conception” of the death of the Revd John Williams at the hands of ‘cannibals’ in the South Seas. Here is another image of the reverend gentleman, at a more propitious phase of his ministry:


Note the chap behind the padre offering trade goods — a mirror; machine-spun and -woven cloth; and of course the inevitable beads(*). You can be sure the un-enlightened will get the short end of the trade, once the padre has retired to his evangelical bed. Quite apart from the sinful self-assurance of the missionary himself, the fact that the entrepreneur is always his companion ought to give him pause.

The funny part is that the churches now get it, but the secularists don’t.

The churches that used to send missionaries out to preach the gospel of trousers and shirts to the naked heathen are now deeply embarrassed about this history. But the secularists, or perhaps I should say the soccularists, are still True Believers.

Of course they’ve reversed the sign on all their great-grandparents’ obsessions. The older missionaries were all about covering up. The new missionaries are all about uncovering.

But the underlying impulse, I think, is the same.

(*) It occurs to me that this triad might conceal an allegory: A manufactured self-image, labor time arbitrage, and of course the ample category of things that are utterly useless but bright and shiny, and therefore irresistible.

Mr Shylock, PhD


On one of my recherche mailing lists — largely though not entirely peopled by academics — a recent contribution sounded the alarm:

[Trump] apparently will propose to make it harder for those wanting to major in the liberal arts at nonelite institutions to obtain loans.

To those of you who were wavering about whom to support, this may be decisive.

I know the guy who wrote this — let’s call him Pericles — and he’s a good guy, on the side of the angels on most topics. I’m not being ironical here. He really is.

So it’s with some reluctance that I use this as an opportunity to ruminate. Forgive me, Pericles — should you ever read this — for treating you as a corpus vile.

The article linked to — more or less an interview with a provincial economics prof who is associated in some way with the Trump campaign — doesn’t really say exactly what Pericles indirectly quotes: “… make it harder for those majoring in the liberal arts at nonelite institutions to obtain loans”. This is, in fact a bit of an inferential stretch — depending on a number of assumptions — from what Professor Trumpophilus Rusticus actually says. But let’s say Pericles has got it right.

The question that immediately occurs to me is this: Isn’t anything that discourages anybody from taking out student loans a good thing — ipso facto — as far as it goes? Even if it doesn’t go far enough?

Admittedly, the Trump plan, as sketched by Rusticus, isn’t nearly sweeping enough. Trump may be more of a liberal than he, or his supporters, like to think. This tinkering at the margins is more or less the hallmark.

Surely, by this time, the student loan racket is thoroughly exposed. It depends on a mendacious sales job: forty and fifty and sixty years ago, people who got a BA did X% better in life than people who didn’t, so certainly this law holds in saecula saeculorum. Never mind that more and more people are getting BAs, or that a BA means less and less.

Pericles is a liberal-arts guy himself, and so perhaps he sees in this measure another stroke of the axe at the root of the tree in whose branches he, and his reference group, have found themselves a nest.

In fact, I think he is right about that. It gives me a pang. Some of the people I admired most in life, and learned most from, and am most grateful to, nested in those same branches.

But this is the world we will be living in for the foreseeable future. The humanities — if you have to pay retail for them — are simply too expensive, on contemporary terms, for anyone except those with money to burn. And those with money to burn will take to the humanities less and less.

So perhaps we are looking at a new Dark Age — an outcome with which our masters will surely be quite happy. They would like us to have no literacy beyond what’s needed to write a memo, using no nouns but abstract ones, and no verbs in the active voice. They certainly want us to have no knowledge of history at all. Philosophy has a deplorable tendency to encourage the asking of questions, and in particular to questioning the question — always a bad thing. Rhetoric is best left to those whose job it is — namely, speechwriters, admen, and so on. Math is a silly study, except insofar as it qualifies you to be a Wall Street ‘quant’. And as for logic — what could be more subversive?

Humanists, I suspect, will have to become hedge-priests, and find ways to impart their learning and reflection to those who seek it, without official standing or institutional support, without grading, without the ability to bestow a credential, and without compensation.

Good Lord, that sounds great. Ovid as subversion. Where do I sign up?

Experimentum Cruzis


The only thing I ever found interesting about Ted Cruz was his face. I always thought it looked like one of those Identikit reconstructions of a subway frotteur. Wanted, for inappropriate rubbing. $500 reward.

The thick, cinderblock cranium — he might have borrowed it from Mr Netanyahu — but then the curiously soft features, and the sad, pained, wincing expression. Those curved and recurved sigmoid eyebrows, as if he were undergoing a perennial colonoscopy, without anaesthesia. Then the crazy crinkled nose, borrowed from Richard Nixon and much improved upon.

One suspects — as with Nixon — a very tortured soul behind this Mannerist grillework.


Primaries and secondaries


Of course elections in New York State are deeply corrupt and compromised, and always have been. So what difference do we think that made in today’s primary results? Some, I’m sure; but I daresay not much. Maybe the real result was 42/58 rather than 60/40, or whatever. The Clintons don’t spend their money without getting some value for it.

More to the point is the general screwiness of the primary system, even without corruption. I went trolling for figures about turnout, and all I could find was anecdotal burbling from poll-watchers and such vermin about how huge the turnout was. No real comparative numbers.

I expect it was in fact bigger than usual, for a primary. 12% of eligible voters rather than the usual 10%, maybe?

And then, of course, who were these people wo turned out? Curiously, old Bernie actually edged Hillary out almost everywhere except a few highly metropolitan counties — including, of course, my own home town of New York City, and Nassau and Suffolk, and Westchester, and a few others. Lots of factors here: Zionism, grizzled 70s-vintage female nationalists, professional party hangers-on, and of course that notorious thing with black voters (or rather, with eligible black primary voters, a fascinating study in itself).

The interesting phenomenon, I’d suggest, is that even in this deeply corrupt state, and even with the demographic skew of primary voters, Old Dobbin — hardly a charismatic figure — did as well as he did. Of course this doesn’t mean he has any hope of being President, or even of being the nominee. We all knew that, all along.

But it does suggest that there are a lot of people out there so fed up that they are willing to undergo the futile humiliations of a New York State democratic party primary in order to make some kind of statement — a statement, of course, bound to go unheard as long as it confines itself to the aptly so-called electoral ‘system’.

In fact, placing the statement in that context guarantees that it will go unheard. Those are the terms of trade. You played the game, you lost, the system has spoken, now STFU and hold your nose and come out in November for the ogress. I suspect that not a few Bernie voters will actually be relieved by this transaction — and its result. They did their bit, they uttered their little bleat of protest, and now they can vote for Baba Yaga with a clear conscience.


Asymmetric warfare


Hillary is an OK Goliath, but Sanders a very improbable David. Still, there’s a reason why these old stories come repeatedly to mind.

As one who has remained pretty much on the sidelines during this dogfight — though I admit to a sneaking hope that Sanders will put a serious monkeywrench into the gears of Hillary’s triumphal Juggernaut — one has the luxury of examining the rhetoric on both sides dispassionately. A thing which has struck me very forcefully: Clinton backers are extraordinarily abusive and insulting toward Sanders’ folks, as persons, in a personal way. But the converse is not the case.

Locutions like “Bernie bros” and “Bern victims” and “Bernbots” drop thick and fast from the lips of Hillary’s remaining admirers, along with the usual baloney about ‘purism’ versus ‘realism’.

As far as I can tell, Bernie fans don’t operate this way. They don’t abuse Hillary’s backers. Naturally, they do abuse Hillary. But that’s fair. Slinging brickbats at the other candidate is quite in order. Pissing on his or her supporters is another matter.

Of course this is a larger pattern, and one of long standing. I think it may be a specifically liberal vice. Anyone to the left of a given liberal is by definition a wild-eyed loon, probably mentally defective, certainly a menace to the Republic. This tendency, as we all know, took very concrete form in the US during the postwar witch hunts, when liberals busied themselves putting their former Popular Front comrades in jail.

The stakes aren’t so high now, of course — sadly, it’s more a matter of the narcissism of minor differences. So it seems unlikely that Hillary, once she scrapes into the White House, widely loathed and nowhere really liked, will start rounding up Bernie Bros on terrorism charges. Although, frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past a Clinton.

Do right-wingers do this? One really knows very little about that weird world and its inner life. Do ‘moderate’ Republicans raise their tails and spray the same kind of skunk-oil at Teabaggers that Hillarites do at Bernites? (Or Gorites did — and still do! — at Naderites, or pick your own example.)

Onesie Day


Had to spend some time in the car today, but fortunately didn’t have to drive. There was a copy of the the NY Times in the car, and one thing led to another…

So I read this piece, anyway, and it actually isn’t bad; certainly much better than the usual Times thinkpiece these days:

Imagine a frat house mixed with a kindergarten mixed with Scientology, and you have an idea of what it’s like.

That’s good, isn’t it? And on the right track, but there is so much more to be said.

It’s hard to capture the feel of the contemporary tech workplace. A sweatshop, sure, but a groovy sweatshop, with artisan coffee and so on, and the inevitable ping-pong table and Foosball apparatus.

The superhero theme is indeed much invoked, and there is a great deal else that tends to the attempted infantilization of millennials.

One invariant is breakfast cereal laid on for free in the refectory. Captain Crunch and the like.

A place where I worked for a while had a pajama/onesie day. A surprising number of the kids complied. Of course they all looked very fetching. A fit and shapely twentysomething in a onesie evokes in a dirty old man like me a clenching sensation of erotic vertigo, as if one had the hots for a strangely sexy Teletubby.

I got an unspoken dispensation by virtue of age. I would have looked like Bad Santa, and seriously impaired the overall effect. In any case — though this may be TMI — I do not own a pair of pajamas, and haven’t since I was about eleven years old. As for a onesie…. I’m not even tempted.

Where the Times piece erred a bit, I think, was the Scientology note. I don’t think the kids are buying it.

Of course I hope ‘The kids are all right’ will be my last words. One may be — certainly is — an old fart, but one doesn’t want to be that old fart, the guy who’s always kvetching about these kids today.

So maybe I’m reading too much in. But I think that sense of irony that the kids so notoriously exhibit is serving them well. The kids eat the breakfast cereal, but they eat it ironically, and on a deeper metaphorical level, I don’t think they’re drinking the Kool-Ade. They understand the game too well.

The Donald, and The Hill

PALM BEACH, FL:  Newlyweds Donald Trump Sr. and Melania Trump with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton at their reception held at The Mar-a-Lago Club in January 22, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Maring Photography/Getty Images/Contour by Getty Images)

PALM BEACH, FL: Newlyweds Donald Trump Sr. and Melania Trump with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton at their reception held at The Mar-a-Lago Club in January 22, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Maring Photography/Getty Images/Contour by Getty Images)

This is a fun picture, don’t you think? The Donald and The Hill are the two wearing what you could call shit-eating grins, but Bill quite conspicuously has his horndog hand clamped firmly about the bimbo-du-jour’s waist. Rather glaring, really. He looks a bit abstracted. Is he thinking about Trump’s small hands? Is he telling himself, Y’know, this could actually happen? She did call me Mr President. That’s always a good sign.

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words; and they are right, as they nearly always are. Trump and Hillary come from the same world, and they aren’t so very different. Leverage artists, who have done pretty well by parlaying one corrupt deal into another.

People keep asking me, what would you do, if it were Hillary against Trump?

I always say, I’d take a nap.

But they persist. Thought experiment: suppose you had to vote? Suppose they held a gun to your head?

Oh, easy, I say. Trump in a heartbeat. There’s no telling what he would do, but we know exactly what we can expect of Hillary.

Nader upon Sanders


My poor old Lefty mailing lists are sad shadows of their former selves, Facebook and Twitter having devoured all, but one thing is clear: that to the last syllable of recorded time they will never be able to ignore a US presidential campaign, as they ought, no matter how tedious and inconsequential it may be; in fact, they will never be able to avoid being swamped by speculations, groundless assertions, labored Marxological comparisons with social democracy in the Weimar Republic, and so on.

Recently some mook on one of these lists passed along a link to a piece by Ralph Nader in the Washington Post. This was greeted by the chap who contributed it as an admission on Nader’s part that he, Nader, had been wrong to run a third-party campaign, and that Bernie was right not to.

Of course the piece says nothing of the kind, but people read what they want to read into what they read, as we all know.

Now I have always rather liked Nader, being convinced that he contributed a lot to the defeat of Vile Al Gore in, what was it, the Y2K election? Admittedly, we got Bush II instead, which was disagreeable. But still, it does one’s heart good to see justice done, however imperfectly, and whatever the cost. Fiat iustitia, ruat coelum! This response, I do believe, arises from our better nature, and though instrumentalists and pragmatists and lesser-evillists scorn it as ‘purist’ and ‘unrealistic’, I think we should cling to it. Chivalric, even Quixotic, feelings like this are what elevate us above the beasts that perish.

Or no, perhaps they don’t. Who knows anything about the inner life of the beasts that perish? The whales, as far as we are aware, don’t have primary elections. So they’re one up on us, to that extent. Scratch that about the beasts. Let’s say instead that an impulse to see justice done, a desire to do the Samson thing and pull down the foul reeking temple of Dagon around our ears even if we perish in the cataclysm, might conceivably elevate us to moral level of the beasts, and deliver us from our cowed, over-socialized human nature. Or, less misanthropically, elevate us to the status of human beings rather than mere citizens, programmed stooges moved here and there on the board by the skeletal dead hands of the Founding Fathers and their oligarchic Constitution.

Nader’s piece, linked to above, is actually worth a read. (When was the last time anybody could truthfully say this about anything in the Washington Post?) It’s all about the dirty ways in which the party duopoly maintains itself, and though we all knew about this, in a sense, a broad-brush sense, there are some interesting details which take one rather by surprise.

The shush

DEM 2016 Debate

This depressing excuse for an election campaigns daily sinks to new depths of triviality and inconsequence. The latest kerfuffle seems to be about Sanders telling Clinton not to interrupt him. A very serious sin, apparently. According to the Washington Post this shows what a deeply-dyed sexist old Bernie is.

A friend of mine who actually had sufficient stones to watch the debate tweeted that talking to his mom like Sanders talked to Clinton used to get him grounded. This seemed like an interesting take on the matter. Sanders and Clinton, surely, are much of an age, but apparently Hillary has some claim to be our collective mom. Perhaps not without reason?


Of course you will say, Oh, the Washington Post, and you will be right. That poor Ichabod of a former newspaper is so balls to the wall for Clinton that it’s embarrassing, and they play the gender card relentlessly.

At least the Times is less obvious about it. This is one of the many reasons why New York is a better place to live than Washington. We’re all equally unscrupulous and underhanded, but New York is more hypocritical; and hypocrisy, of course, is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. Washington is shameless. Dog-faced, as Homer says somewhere.

I occasionally interrupt people. But I know it’s bad, and when I’m called on it, I apologize, shut up, and wait my turn. Not always with the best grace, but still. Isn’t this what most of us do?

Most people also hate to be interrupted, and few react well to it. So even a non-fan of Bernie’s might have felt sympathetic to him on this occasion. From a few YouTube clips viewed for ten minutes just now, it appeared me that Clinton was badgering the alter-kaker — a form of elder abuse, perhaps?

His response seemed fairly moderate, on the whole; the response of one equal combatant to another. But there is, of course, a counter-narrative, to the effect that Clinton, in spite of her immense and ill-gotten wealth, her innumerable markers corruptly obtained from people whose hands you or I would never consent to shake, her media and Hollywood clout, and of course her unquestioned blood lust and wolfish competence — that she is the underdog, compared to some poor old Jew from Brooklyn, simply by virtue of her gender.

Maybe Bernie should play the anti-Semitism card in response. I’m a Jew. This is our body language. This is how we talk. Abraham taught us this. Check your privilege, shicksah!

Alas, Bernie is too aboveboard for that. Hillary, however, is not.