Saturday, June 25, 2016

An Uncharitable Comment on Brexit

If you’re not English, you mustn’t disparage
true Brits, who bravely stood inside
boundaries sealed by their Nigel-guide,
to Leaven their Brussel-sprouts with Farage.

More bluntly put, they quit a marriage.
How dare outsiders sneer and cavil
to see Beethoven’s brotherhood unravel
beneath Echt Briton Nigel’s fearsome barrage?

Brits need no longer cast their fates
with Swedes, Sicilians, and Scots,
Syrians and sub-Saharan polyglots
flooding through their open gates!

As an onlooking Yank, I freely admit
I wanted to shovel out the persiflage
fouling England’s stable, now a garage
flushed to make more room for shit!

All that remains is to join the chorus–
jeers and catcalls meant to damage
Johnson’s Johnson’s new menage:
Limp Albion henceforth will bore us!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Trump’s ex-Republican Future

For various reasons, political journalists have become hyper-speculative lately. They see and report the growing disenchantment of Republican politicians who must share the hustings with an ungovernable megalomaniac. Pundits wonder tediously whether the inevitable break or divorce will occur before, during, or after the GOP convenes in Cleveland next month. Who will initiate it? How low must the blowhard’s polls sink before decisive measures are taken? Will Ryan or McConnell take the lead? etc, etc, ad nauseam.

Parthian’s infallible shaman admits that the situation is confused, but one thing should be clear even to those whose view of the near future is occluded by the news cycle and its bottomless demand for gossip: the Republicans will not “dump Trump” before he recognizes that he can expect little or no support (and substantial opposition) from “his” party.  At that point, Trump will dump Priebus, Ryan & Co., and proceed with his own fund-raising and grassroots campaign, stoutly maintaining that the Trump Republicans are not the rump Republicans, but vice versa. Trump is hot-headed, hasty, and combative, as everyone knows by now. He will land the first punch. 

This electoral litigation season will not feature a replay of Bush v. Gore, but legal and PR contests over rights to the brand name Republican, probably initiated by the outcast member of the True Republican club. Our shaman suspects that the resulting internecine Republican civil war will begin with a skirmish, like Lexington. Trump will deny access to his many golf courses to the faction that refuses to take his orders to shut up, or show up where and when they are told to do so. He will mock the people he calls (at best) renegades, while the cable channels marvel at the fury of the (same) people, whom they will choose to designate as the establishment. 

The salient question for now is whether the post-secession GOP will nominate anyone for the Presidency, and whether they can successfully frame their case as a Trump “resignation” rather than a coup, or expulsion. Currently, and weakly,  the effort is to liberate delegate “consciences”, as if those chancers had such a thing. They have already tried the allied gambit of exacting a loyalty oath, which is candy to a psychopath. Neither tactic is likely to force the impulsive break so fervently desired in the private counsels of the privileged. The remaining option is to announce a “disendorsement” du jour, together with tweets and pressers repudiating the Trompiste outrage du jour. Nor would a kind word for Senator Warren go amiss in this struggle.

In the Parthian Arrow’s magic circle the odds are 3-2 that the break will occur before the GOP convention, or during its preliminaries at latest. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Elon Musk's Reality

Citing the speed with which video games are improving, [Musk] suggested that the development of simulations “indistinguishable from reality” was inevitable. The likelihood that we are living in “base reality,” he concluded, was just “one in billions.”

What raptor stalks and feeds on digits?
Why make a robot that’s able to scream?
Why use flesh to realize your feeble scheme—
a wet computer, with worries and fidgets

floating through time’s eternal stream
to fuck and forage, ending at last in sand?
Silica codes, more reliable, albeit bland,
flash fresher, scale faster, than mortals dream.

Romance allows a misplaced ampersand
in flesh to resonate, sometimes to multiply
(although error’s normal fate must be to die)—
Happenstance bypasses all we understand;

Odds and chances baffle us. They mystify
the rules by which the game of life
plays out in ever-escalating strife:
today’s truth is trumpery, tomorrow’s lie!

Through flesh we find we’re moral midgets;
reality, a mere infinity of seem;
 turtles upon turtles backs still stand
upwards ’til they touch the sky—
beneath, an algorithm’s all that’s left of life!

Prompted by Joshua Rothman, New Yorker blog, June 9, 2016

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Parthian Shaman's Vision


The Prima Donna
The Primal Donald

After he posted his last update, the Arrow was approached by one of his tribe's eldest and most accurate prophets. The shaman had stoked his hookah with a printout of the Arrow's post, adding a transcript from a recent Bill Maher show and a copy of an armchair psychoanalyst's report. The resulting fumes brought him to see that Trump's public persona reflects a fierce struggle between his inward feminine side and his outward bullying ways. To the Arrow's surprise, the shaman reports that Trump's short-list for the Vice-Presidential nomination includes Caitlin Jenner (at the leader's insistence) as well as the expected cast of power-seeking politicians, military brass, and high-rolling speculators. 

Off the record, a disaffected former member of the Donald's campaign team has also confided that Trump's favorite escape is to don an evening gown, jump into his golden shower stall and perform sing-along karaoke to the strains of the melodious diva Florence Foster Jenkins.

Be that as it may, Parthian feels duty bound to report the conclusion reached by his infallible prophetic source:

The Trump and Sanders campaigns have been secretly negotiating the terms of a coalition ticket. The campaigns are very close to agreement. The deal retains Donald as the Presidential nominee, with Bernie as V-P. As a condition for his agreement, Bernie insisted that Donald pledge all of his worldly assets to be held in trust by Vladimir Putin until Donald performs his side of the bargain, to wit–

Item: Donald agrees to fire Reince Priebus no later than August 20, 2016, and no more than ten days thereafter, to repudiate the Republican Party and run as an independent, citing disloyalty of the Republican establishment and secret rejection of Donald's platform.

Item: Donald will announce that his constituents demand sweeping reforms which require 100% of his political attention and available time (apart from priority demands of his extensive business interests). He will therefore Preside as President, for Annual State of the Union Addresses, for state dinners, and a still-to-be-agreed quota of other ceremonial functions, leaving all other details of governing to his Vice-President. The precise timing of this announcement will depend on the vicissitudes of the campaign.

Secret item: Donald will confirm within thirty days after his inauguration that he has initiated hormone therapy and other parts of the protocol for his transition to Donna.

The remaining negotiations concern the medical risks and political triggers that may dictate Donna's resignation if a secret panel of arbitrators agree that her health or other commitments so require. Needless to add, Bernie will have sole decision-making authority over budgets, the administration's legislative agenda, staffing of the Executive, and Presidential nominations to all offices except Ambassadorships, where the auction process essential to fund the campaign is already well under way.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Trump the Heel

The French call it Trompe l’oeil– a muralist’s illusion that fools the eye until the viewer looks at the painted surface from an angle sufficiently oblique to overcome the painter’s perspective tricks.  Trump the heel works his distracting provocations adroitly as any vagabond muralist. All attention is upon him, the performer juggling road apples, when we should be scrutinizing his audience. Their pain is noted, but not the catharsis they achieve from watching an endless revue of disparagement and parody, mocking the sober but equally delusional claims and programs of scripted professional politicians.

Never mind Trump! A remarkably broad bipartisan consensus formed early in the primary season: the Presumptive Candidate is a cad, a fraud, a demagogue, an ignoramus, a bigot, a narcissist, and a boor– and to most observers by now, also a bore. The record of his character and intellectual deficits provides abundant and constantly renewed evidence establishing beyond cavil how supremely unfit he is for the office he seeks. We also have a well-focused profile of the demographics that form Trump's ‘core’. Both his technique and his materials are simple and familiar. It is high time to clear the stage and bring on new performers to deconstruct Trump the Heel while exposing the foreign and domestic dangers of violence inherent in Trump's rhetoric. 

The issue of 2016 is this: what grounds do we have to doubt Roy Blount Jr’s claim that his pet parakeet could be elected President? The requisite resources are few:  the tedious length of the campaign; limitless funds for propaganda and focus groups; unplumbed depths of fear; frustration and insecurity rampaging through a population convinced they live in a Hobbesian world of radical and ruthless struggle– a zero-sum scramble for a shrinking pie.The incubus loaded on HRC’s back by decades of 24/7 talk radio and Faux News fables supplies additional leverage to a campaign for Change (a word of no concrete meaning beyond “anything but this”). The slogan Anyone but Hillary (the Duly Demonized Decoy du Jour) might suffice in an election about attitudes, anger, and blowback. 

Neither the defining issue of the 2016 Presidential Campaign, nor the forces that will determine its outcome are mysterious, or unknown. They follow a pattern. They conform to a cycle with a much longer period than news (regarded as the first draft of history). Nevertheless this is a time when significant political news demands our attention almost daily. The success of Trump made “news” worth at least a tenth of the attention given to it; the splintering of the Republican Party, from place to place, office to office, constituency to constituency makes a fascinating story, and an important one if we are indeed witnessing a reprise of the death of the Whigs. 

Even if we do not find contemporary partisan upheavals quite that earth-shaking, we can find edification in the tragic agonies of so many officials, incumbents, friends and colleagues whose sense of self is so interwoven with party affiliation that they must struggle to rationalize acceptance of a dangerous villain no matter how alarmed they are by his failings. 

The usual way to resolve such ethical dissonance is to hyper-demonize the Other.  Better the buffoon than the officious grandma who leads the opposing team. Hillary is not so manifestly insane that the strategy will work at a scale needed to move political needles. She is flawed. Like most politicians, she is manipulative, power-hungry, mealy-mouthed, devoid of candor, always ‘on the record’– but she is a familiar type in all of those respects. Her most flagrant disqualification in Parthian’s eye is her lack of imagination, her acceptance (as ‘natural’ and incorrigible) of our ill-fitting and unhealthy ‘ways of the world.’ 

Update: A field agent in the Parthian tribe objected to my claim that we know all we need to know about the persona, personality, and aims of Donald Trump. He had a close encounter with the Presumptive Candidate, during which he deployed his secret id-penetrating trans-cranial soul-sniffer.

He thinks I should share his key finding. If we really knew the intimate truth behind the bluster, we would extend our understanding and forgiveness to the thwarted Donna, who is really a shy, bashful, fastidious and proper maiden inside. 

She washes her dainty hands before and after meals. She uses sterile wipes after shaking with a stranger on the rope line. She even bought a pageant business so that she could socialize in the changing room with other nubile nymphets, despite her curse of being born with a male body type. She loves to mingle with the other girls, where they can freely snark and snub each other until they agree who is hottest. She remains one of the best judges of relative voluptuousness, scoring her sisters on a system derived from the Westminster Dog Show. And she beats all of her rivals, hands down, with her way of drawling “Eeeew!” in the presence of anything she finds gross or offensive, like questions from professional reporters.

Donna's shame is she has been unable to summon the self-esteem and courage she needs to come out, and to initiate her transition. Look for that to commence in the first 100 days.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Playbill Squib

A correspondent across the river collects Playbills. Knowing Parthian's penchant for Clerihews, he thought he could smuggle an occasional limerick into this post. Nice try but the Arrow wouldn't allow this:

A celebrated thespian, Mark Rylance
delights in episodes of vylance.
His deadpan, steadfast stage demeanor
limns character both edgier and keener:
Observe him play in reverential sylance!

 The anonymous playgoer deserves a slight nod, perhaps, but nothing so strong as a hat tip. Far worse, the writer appended a rhyme in Crimson ink that he swore he overheard from the playground of a popular nursery school. That item was too scurrilous to disgrace any part of the blogosphere, as the reader can see for herself—

Donald J. Trump
Preening and Proud
Assembled a crowd
Then mounted a stump,
bowed to the South,
opened his mouth,
And took a huge Dump!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Election Law, Disenfranchisement Division

Legal scholarship constantly erects new specialties and sub-specialties. Physicists discover ever tinier sub-atomic particles and they tend to come paired with anti-particles. Law’s concern with particulars opens opportunities for anti-rules, loopholes, and safe avenues for subverting the norms implemented imperfectly by legislation. 

Thus, we see eminent scholars in the field of Election Law– Richard Hasen, Heather Gerkin, Nate Persily, et al, training experts in what can only be described as Disenfranchisement Law.  An outstanding contributor to his chosen field is the Kansan, K__ch. He has developed a model for selective exclusion of riff-raff from the body politic that commands insider admiration for its success in confusing the public and the press.

The K__h Plan begins with the raw material of public opinion. It is ridiculously easy to gather public support for laws requiring every voter to present a valid ID at the polling place on election day.  Quibbles about the bother are refuted by offering a free state-approved ID card to non-drivers. Nearly everyone who is polled on the merits of Voter ID shrugs. The casual citizen assumes all voters carry a Driver’s License or some other readily available photo ID that can be used to satisfy an ID requirement. 

Once enacted, voter ID laws provide powerful leverage for the  K__ch Police to inflate the Hassle Price (HP) paid by the poor, the convicted, and the itinerant. On slow news days, the press runs stories of decorated veterans, faithful grannies, and other sympathetic victims of the red-tape hurdles that must be cleared to satisfy registrars that the person standing before them is qualified to receive an ID in order to vote. The lines, hours, and venues for getting one’s papers in order amount to a pre-franchise franchise that is easily  manipulated to raise the HP for voting to a level well above the expense of a poll tax. Supporters of Voter ID are so confident of the validity of their measures that many of them openly admit that Voter ID’s ostensible rationale– prevention of impersonation fraud, and reinforcement of the sanctity of the ballot– is pretextual. These Republican laws are passed to impose high HP barriers around identifiable populations who vote Democratic.

The Democrats, the Press and some of the Judiciary think that they win when they demonstrate bad faith and self-dealing by legislatures who pass Voter ID laws.  Prove that the law is based on a pretext, that it solves a “problem” that doesn’t exist, and that it violates bedrock constitutional principles, and you have gained the day! Ko__ch however has a more cunning purpose in his campaign for Voter ID.  The beauty of the ID labyrinth is that it generates a cycle of non-compliance and escalating stringency. Misunderstandings of obscure and badly phrased regulations, under-staffing and under-funding of the electoral process, and all the other arts of bureaucratic sabotage provide a rich payoff in opportunities for undetected Selective Enforcement, from the get-go. Together, the elements of HP + SE guarantee low political participation by the poor and minorities. But wait! – there’s more! Voter ID has the bonus value of supplying actual instances of Voting “fraud”, at no extra cost. Thus, the fragile foundation of the scheme is overcome by its self-reinforcing feature. 

Officials who supervise elections, (call them the K__chs) can use post-election idle time to discover and publicize cases of “fraud” which they can use to “prove” a case for further “safeguards” of the “integrity” of the holy ritual of voting. The higher the HP,  the easier it becomes to defend Voter ID barriers against claims of constitutional misfeasance and partisan bad faith. 

Exam question:  A resident of KS registers to vote. On election day, she discovers she has mislaid her purse with all her ID cards inside. Remembering her “nostalgia file” from student days, she retrieves forged ID cards bearing her true name and address, but a false Date of Birth. She is not questioned when she presents her credentials at the polls, and her ballot is duly cast. Months later, she confides her adventure to a friend, who gossips about it to an aspiring young lawyer in the K__ch office. 

May K__ch, should K__ch, must K__ch initiate criminal proceedings for election fraud? May he count this as an(other) instance in support of sterner criminal measures? How should the jury be instructed? If you were a juror, could you in good conscience nullify the Voter ID law? 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Parsing Toward Catastrophe

The deadlock between the Senate and President Obama over Judge Garland’s status contains the ingredients of a Grand Opera, or at least a splendid melodrama transcending previous Constitutional Law hypotheticals. This potential story won’t play out in real life, because characteristics that fit algorithms that comprise dossiers never identify persons with character. Instead we get role players–– prudent artisans, with proven ‘skill-sets’ practicing ancient crafts. Mitch McConnell (“the canny pol”) is one such, President Obama another, and Judge Garland yet another. Together they neatly represent the Trivia of Divided Powers so dear to our constitutional tradition.

Obama is always three or more moves ahead of his adversaries in the separated powers game. Mitch is always first off the mark, first to escalate, and the most intransigent. Garland is a competent listener who gets along in his contentious job without being contentious himself. Here is how high drama could result from plausible behaviors we might ascribe to more Carlylian figures in their circumstances.

Start with an Original Interpretation of the Script. Our text is Article II of the Constitution, more specifically its words, with the advice and consent…[of the Senate]. How can the Senate render anything properly termed “advice”, or withhold anything our founders or ourselves would deem “consent”, without first considering the person or proposition in question? If the Senate refuses to consider Judge Garland, we conclude that his nomination cannot ripen into an appointment, for lack of an explicit Constitutional Stipulation (or condition precedent): formal and express approval by the Senate. 

Our uncritical logic in this case may be faulty.Legal tradition defines consent as a verbal gesture affirmatively departing from a default state of objection, or non-consent. The analogy is to surgical procedures. Conscious and legally competent agents must be informed (= nomination) and then signify their acceptance of proposed violations of their bodily integrity, else tort liability will ensue. But if a patient is unconscious and in mortal danger, consent may be imputed. We can characterize the Garland stand-off as a case of awareness on the part of the Senate, together with a chosen condition of paralysis (unconscientiousness?) regarding unconsidered merits of the nominee. 

If we read the constitutional design (and the text) to assign responsibility for approval of a Supreme Court nominee to the Senate, then refusal to consider a nominee’s merits signifies unconsciousness (induced by toxic politics).That circumstance justifies ascription of  “consent” to the Senate. However, for such a serious matter, we must take precautions to assure that the intoxication precludes rational discharge of the Senate’s responsibilities. Obama should announce a reasonable deadline of say, 60 days, after which ‘consent’ will be imputed if the Senate remains legislatively mute. 

Act I of our opera opens with The Presidential Announcement. At the same time, vigorous political campaigns, in chorus, pursue the suggestion of Kar and Mazzone, that Senatorial intoxication results from a delusion: a belief on faith that democracy requires perpetual postponement. The People’s next vicar must always nominate, instead of their current curate, Obama. Unconstitutional delegation of a constitutional duty to an indeterminate future political outcome ends with an unresolved discord. The duty to advise and consent is non-delegable, according to the Original Intended Meaning of the scriptural text. Suppose Obama and the Democratic Presidential Nominee concur with this analysis, but Nominee Truze does not.  Act 2 features A Word to the Wise, from the Supreme Court to Mitch.

Through back channels, under cover of deepest deniability and utmost trust, John Roberts lets Mitch know that the Judicial branch agrees (for both practical and doctrinal reasons) that the 4-4 deadlock must end, now. Specifically, the Court threatens to seat Judge Garland on the basis of a Presidential warrant, duly engrossed by the Secretary of State. If challenged, they will find that the Senate consented through inaction. Incumbent Justices, grown weary of their impasse (and as personal friends of Judge Garland) might consider offering such unrecorded back-channel advice. Doing so might even be A Good Idea.  After all, Senatorial inaction put them to a hard choice. Each branch is sworn to understand and comply with the Constitution, so seating Justice Garland might be the soundest legal understanding of his status, were it not for the discomfort (or impropriety) of appearing to be a tribunal deciding its own cause. 

Act 3 centers on an aria sung by Garland, Do I Dare a Seat Impeach, in which he soliloquizes over whether his acceptance by the eight incumbents will trigger an impeachment trial, and whether he wants to go down in history as the Justice with an asterisk* beside his name, following Clarence Thomas. Will he be a swing vote? Will his presence cost the Court more political capital (legitimacy) than it has lost already through decisions like Citizens United and Shelby County v. Holder? How will it affect the Democratic Nominee? Our notional Justice Garland ends up leading a Parade to the Court, his Presidential Commission in hand, flanked by an entourage of senior members of the Senate, and the Vice-President of Untied States, with media coverage galore. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Parthian Oracle

The Arrow recently found himself in a swoon, overcome by the mephitic fumes that emanated from his television screen as its pixels resolved to form the ghostly, sulfur-haired image of a demonic demagogue. Before he regained his balance, Parthian was inspired to prophesy the next move in the demon's brilliant strategy to become President Obama's successor. The Oracle trumpeted as follows: "Ere his thousandth delegate be won, the Leader will endorse Justice, yea, and reprove them that would Refuse the Garland to the Anointed."

This could be construed in plain English to mean, "the Donald will signify his approval of the Garland appointment as a gesture aimed at the Moderate voter, and a warning to Mitch."

Parthian has now exhaled, returned to sobriety, and forsworn his oracular vision.But the season of madness generates such Goyesco nightmares in many fearful citizens.