June 10th, 2024
Nice writing.

Resentment of elites is a powerful motive in democratic politics, and so is the feeling … that the economy was better under Trump. But that disregards the moral and psychological cesspool himself: a bully, a liar, a bigot, a sexual assaulter, a cheat; crude, cruel, disloyal, vengeful, dictatorial, and so selfish that he tried to shatter American democracy rather than accept defeat. His supporters have to ignore all of this, explain it away, or revel in displays of character that few of them would tolerate for a minute in their own children. Now they are trying to put him back in power. Beyond the reach of reason and even empathy, nearly half of my fellow citizens are unfathomable, including a few I personally like. The mystery of the good Trump voter troubled me.


The essay is a sincere effort to understand Trump voters/enthusiasts.

The tragedy [of Kurtis Bay’s wife’s death in the hospital] fed his skepticism toward what he called the “managerial class”—the power elite in government bureaucracy, business, finance, and the media. The managerial class was necessary—the country couldn’t function without it—but it accumulated power by sowing conflict and chaos. Like the hospital’s doctors, members of the class weren’t individually vicious. “Yes, they are corrupt, but they’re more like AI,” Bay said. “It’s morphing all by itself. It’s incestuous—it breeds and breeds and breeds.” As for politicians, “I don’t think either political party gives a shit about the people”—a dictum I heard as often as the one about whiskey and water.

Bay saw Trump as the only president who tried to disrupt the managerial class and empower ordinary citizens. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would do it too, but voting for him would be throwing his vote away. If Trump loses this year, the managerial class will acquire more power and get into more wars, make the border more porous, hurt the economy by installing DEI algorithms in more corporations. “I’ll vote for Trump,” Bay said, “but that’s, like, the last thing I think about in terms of how I’m going to impact my neighbor, my friend, my society.” Everyone wanted clean air, clean water, opportunity for all to make money and raise a family. If the extremes would stop demonizing each other and fighting over trivia, then the country could come together and solve its immense problems—poverty, homelessness …

I listened, half-agreeing about the managerial class, still wondering how a man who dearly loved his multiracial family and cared about young people on the margins and called his late wife “the face of God on this Earth” could embrace Trump. So I asked. Bay replied that good people had done bad things on January 6 but not at Trump’s bidding, and he might have gone himself if the timing had been different; that he didn’t look to the president for moral guidance in raising children or running a business; that he’d easily take “grab her by the whatever” from a president who would end the border problem and stop funding wars.

May 3rd, 2024
‘Kristi Noem’s damage control tour is in full swing. It appears destined for the same fate as her late dog Cricket: dead in a gravel pit somewhere near Pierre.’

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: Good writing!

December 3rd, 2023
Great book titles.

There is … a workbook called I’m Dead, Now What? in which people set out their wishes to help relatives, friends and executors navigate funerals and finances after they’ve gone.

October 5th, 2023
Norway’s Nobelist: Beckett without the comedy; Pinter without the violence.

Think of Jon Fosse as more like Simone Weil and Flannery O’Connor than the literary precursors in my headline (Fosse, when asked about influences, cites these two, Beckett and Pinter): His work, across all literary genres, is a longing for an end to the self and an equal longing for its replacement by God.

“To write what I myself have experienced doesn’t interest me at all. I write more to get rid of myself than to express myself,” he tells one interviewer. “Writing is all about transformation. I listen to a universe that is different from mine, and writing is a way to escape into this universe. That’s the great thing about it. I want to get away from myself, not to express myself,” he tells another.

An almost-fatal alcoholic (he doesn’t drink anymore), a depressive, Fosse understands with painful clarity the unbearable lightness/heaviness of human being, and he also understands that the process of aesthetic creation suspends the hated self (just as alcohol does). “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion,” wrote T S Eliot; “it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”  Remember the title of Catholic novelist Graham Greene’s memoirs: Ways of Escape. Remember that the one book left behind on his bedside table after Anthony Bourdain’s suicide was Ways of Escape — in which Greene writes: “Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition.”

Not sayin it’s fair, but if you don’t happen to be an artistic genius, you might indeed have to deal with your self-hatred (UD thinks the capacity to hate oneself is one of humanity’s more endearing traits) via drink or drugs… I mean, you also remember the Randy Newman song, right?

You know how it is with me baby
You know, I just can’t stand myself
It takes a whole lot of medicine
For me to pretend that I’m somebody else

And a whole WHOLE lot of medicine for me to pretend that I’m nobody else…


Worse, for many creative geniuses, it’s not either/or: You drink AND you write The Great Gatsby… or you drink and write a novel that had a huge impact on Fosse: The Sound and the Fury… So think of Jon Fosse as a particularly desperate escape artist, unwilling to inhabit permanently the tormenting nothingness of being and the occasional suspension of nothingness via writing/alcohol, and really longing to move to a higher plane. “[E]veryone has a deep longing inside them,” he writes; “we always always long for something and we believe that what we long for is this or that, this person or that person, this thing or that thing, but actually we’re longing for God, because the human being is a continuous prayer, a person is a prayer through his or her longing…”

Consider Fosse’s poem, “Night Psalm.”

There is an earth that opens wide
its night of black abyss
and soul and body will it hide
until there’s none to miss

There is a night that meets with you
receives you nice and soft
and lets you rest with honour due
hand, foot and soul aloft

For God he is in all on earth
in teeming night above
your soul is His, you are His worth
you shine His heaven’s love


So in the first stanza it all comes down, as Tracy Nelson reminds us, to Mother Earth; just under your bright life black death awaits your capture, Midnight Skater

But! (Stanza Two) There’s a softer night all around us that doesn’t simply gobble us up; it is gentle and wafts you to an honored place, and if you follow God you will find it. For, as Fosse says in his final stanza, God is here with us on earth. He is everywhere, above and below; and you must learn, if you are not to fall forgotten into the abyss, that you belong to him and he awaits your acceptance of his gift of eternal life. Remember Simone Weil’s favorite poem, the poem which propelled her into the Catholic faith:

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
            Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
            If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
            Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
            I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
            ‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
            Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
            ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
            So I did sit and eat.


You must accept this divine gift of eternal life; if you do not, you will fall into the abyss.

And no, there’s no bitter Blakeian irony behind the simple language of Fosse’s last stanza. The lines honestly state the convictions of a Catholic convert.

As with Flannery O’Connor, most of Fosse’s writing locates itself in the agonizing daily void which is life prior to faith; but in this poem he sets forth the way out of ways of escape.


July 19th, 2023
Bravo, Stanford Daily.

They’ve been hammering away at the research misconduct at some of the president’s neuroscience labs, and he has been as high-handed and obnoxious with the little buggers as you’d imagine. But the school journalists were right on the money. They persisted, and they brought the dude down. The school’s investigation found “repeated instances of manipulation of research data and/or subpar scientific practices from different people and in labs run by Dr. Tessier-Lavigne at different institutions.”

[Stanford’s] investigation [of Marc Tessier-Lavigne] took eight months, with one member stepping off after The Daily revealed that he maintained an $18 million investment in a biotech company Tessier-Lavigne cofounded. Reporting by The Daily this week shows that some witnesses to an alleged incident of fraud during Tessier-Lavigne’s time at the biotechnology company Genentech refused to cooperate because investigators would not guarantee them anonymity, even though they were bound by nondisclosure agreements.

Of course some sleuthing would turn up a financial conflict of interest on the committee: that’s SOOOO Stanford. And as to the skeeziness on protecting the identity of sources — why wouldn’t the committee guarantee anonymity, given the Genentech people’s legal vulnerability?

Much of the writing and reporting for the Daily has come from the genetically overdetermined Theo Baker.

This page has links to Baker’s reporting on Tessier-Lavigne.


A comment in response to an article in the NYT:

In three successive labs headed by this man, data was manipulated (ie, fraudulent). The connecting link is Lavigne, who apparently rewarded post-docs who produced findings that advanced his career, and penalized those who couldn’t do so. The obvious conclusion is that he consistently cut corners and closed his eyes to what his behavior led underlings to do. And when the misconduct began to surface, he simply refused to issue the necessary corrections. He is not a victim or some innocent party here. His research was shabby and he has now got what he deserves: loss of his primary job and his reputation.

May 31st, 2023
‘President Biden’s cognitive decline is so severe that to hear the Freedom Caucus tell it, he completely rolled GOP leadership into agreeing to a debt ceiling deal that represents a complete capitulation for Republicans. Just think what he could accomplish if he wasn’t so …


May 28th, 2023
Nice writing about the grotesquely corrupt Texas legislature.

Believe me when I say that I, like many people who have been burned by the Texas GOP’s seemingly endless appetite for cruelty, ignorance, and hypocrisy, felt a certain satisfaction as I watched yesterday’s coverage of it setting itself on fire. Top moment? When the first group to appear outside the Capitol in Austin in response to [corrupt, impeached AG Ken] Paxton’s call for supporters to turn out was around 100 people preparing for the “Trot for Trans Lives,” a 5K run held in support of transgender Americans affected by the waves of anti-trans rights legislation passed in recent years, including by Texas lawmakers. 

May 4th, 2023
‘DeSantis was supposed to offer Republicans what has become fashionable to call “Trumpism without Trump” — the same noxious politics without the grotesque personal behavior or the potential criminality. The limits of that vision are now on full display, as we watch a legal dispute unfold that is just as pointless, self-inflicted, and unhelpful to ordinary Americans as anything we witnessed during the Trump years — when we saw firsthand what it means to elect a power-hungry egomaniac to the presidency.’

Nice writing, by Ankush Khardori.

October 18th, 2022
Some nice writing here.

Sarah Longwell, The Bulwark.

For a while, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was supposed to be the Good Republican: a fusion candidate and progenitor of the post-Trump future. Now it turns out that he is a despicable human being, a performative culture warrior who uses the levers of government against companies who engage in speech he doesn’t like and treats refugees as pawns in his political troll game. He keeps a keyboard-warrior press secretary who screams “groomer” at anyone who disagrees with her boss. Oh, and he’s campaigning for Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a committed election denier who not only attended January 6th, but bussed others there as well...

[Virtually every once-sane Republican governor] is campaigning either for or with an election-denying lunatic. Ducey, along with the Republican Governors Association, has thrown in with Kari Lake. Sununu has embraced election conspiracist Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. Kemp is campaigning with the pro-coup GOP nominee for lieutenant governor and supporting the supremely unqualified and scandal-ridden Herschel Walker...

 Glenn Youngkin? Holy crap. He’s the term-limited governor of Virginia. There’s zero reason for him to be in Arizona stumping for the BDE candidate who wants to jail her political opponents.

Except that there’s a very good reason: Glenn Youngkin isn’t campaigning to help Kari Lake. It’s the opposite. He’s trying to hug Lake in the hopes that her radioactive Trump energy will contaminate him. Youngkin is trying to make up for having been a Good Republican. Because he realizes that’s a dead end…

Normal GOP politicians who don’t want to swim in the right-wing infotainment cesspool are deemed traitors for throwing in with the “corporate media” and so lose credibility with GOP audiences…


Strong words, well-deployed.

June 30th, 2022
‘My favourite section of the mitigation statement makes the point that later in life, Ghislaine [Maxwell] set up a charity to save the oceans. It’s great to know she really cared about fish. Sadly, the oceans will not have the benefit of her altruism during her 20 years in jail. I think we can live with that.’

Nice writing from Dorothy Byrne on Maxwell’s long sentence.

March 12th, 2022
More about the oligarch who thought he’d get off scot-free by giving millions of shekels to …

Yad Vashem.

Claims of Roman [Abramovich’s] pivotal strategic role in potentially ending the [Ukraine] war felt so fantastical that they might as well have cast him as some peacemaking chameleon, a very Zelig of international diplomacy. He was there at Westphalia in 1648, where he played some of his best treatying, and at Versailles in 1919, where he had an absolute shitter. And yet, many accepted and repeated the claims – performing ever more unpaid service in the reputation laundromat. Abramovich had bought himself yet another day of grace to add to the thousands and thousands of days of grace he has enjoyed in the UK since buying Chelsea [soccer club] in 2003…

Tomorrow Chelsea will host Newcastle, who are now owned by a group led by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia – but remember, those guys are the good autocrats, because they buy our weapons. And use them in a war in Yemen that has thus far gone on for seven years, killing or starving hundreds of thousands, the vast majority believed to be children under five. But of course, the sovereign wealth fund isn’t the same as the Riyadh government. They just have a good relationship with it, same as Roman Abramovich just has a good relationship with Putin. “Which owner knows the guy who’s killed more babies?” is a question you won’t be seeing on any banners at Chelsea-Newcastle.

Marina Hyde, The Guardian

February 24th, 2022
Go for it.

Andrew Bates, White House Deputy Press Secretary, on Trubu and Putain:

Two nauseating, fearful pigs who hate what America stands for and whose every action is driven by their own weakness and insecurity, rubbing their snouts together and celebrating as innocent people lose their lives.”

February 15th, 2022
The essays in this …

book, especially the one about driving in foreign countries, made UD laugh hugely.

An excerpt.

P.J. O’Rourke has died.

December 31st, 2021
‘Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist’ has long been UD’s favorite book title…

… with its lyrical meter and meld of sentiment and science. Not that she’s ever read it – she only now, googling it, discovered it’s a novel, and not a long personal essay as she had all this time (pub. 1982) assumed. She had all this time assumed it was an end of life – or deepest night – dirge on the deepest themes: For creaturely beings, we know a lot, but we really know nothing; or, anyway, our cosmic knowledge, full of violent immensities, mainly frightens us.

In the other direction, the microworld pulses with pandemics; or, as merrily we roll along, masses against our hearts.


As in this brief night thoughts essay by a neuroscientist recently diagnosed with heart cancer.

I was absolutely white-hot angry at the universe. Heart cancer? Who the hell gets heart cancer?! Is this some kind of horrible metaphor? This is what’s going to take me away from my beloved family, my cherished friends and colleagues? I simply couldn’t accept it. I was so mad, I could barely see.

David Linden spins his anger, puzzlement, and despair into an intriguing riff on the permanent propensity of humanity to project eternal life. No real night thoughts, no real December 31.

I cannot imagine the totality of my death, or the world without me in it, in any deep or meaningful way. My mind skitters across the surface of my impending death without truly engaging. I don’t think this is a personal failing. Rather, it’s a simple result of having a human brain…

[B]ecause our brains are organized to predict the near future, it presupposes that there will, in fact, be a near future. In this way, our brains are hardwired to prevent us from imagining the totality of death.

… I would contend that this basic cognitive limitation is not reserved for those of us who are preparing for imminent death, but rather is a widespread glitch that has profound implications for the cross-cultural practice of religious thought. Nearly every religion has the concept of an afterlife (or its cognitive cousin, reincarnation). Why are afterlife/reincarnation stories found all over the world? For the same reason we can’t truly imagine our own deaths: because our brains are built on the faulty premise that there will always be that next moment to predict. We cannot help but imagine that our own consciousness endures.

Or, as a much earlier (1745) night thoughts thing (“The Complaint: or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality”) has it:

As on a rock of adamant we build
Our mountain hopes; spin out eternal schemes,
As we the fatal sisters would outspin,
And, big with life’s futurities, expire.

August 19th, 2021
Good writing is often very, very brief.

For instance, here’s a letter to the New York Times in response to a column urging secular Americans to try turning or returning to religious faith, because “religious ideas … provide an explanation for the most important features of reality… [T]he progress of science and the experience of modernity have strengthened the reasons to entertain the idea of God… [Our world] presents considerable evidence of an originating intelligence presiding over a law-bound world well made for our minds to understand, and at the same time a panoply of spiritual forces that seem to intervene unpredictably in our existence.”

In response, one reader, David Bonowitz, writes:

On a weekend when fundamentalist Muslims were winning a war against the United States, and as fundamentalist Christians demand the right to cause their fellow Americans to suffer and die from a preventable disease, Ross Douthat had the gall to tell me that I ought to accept the same primitive explanations that led directly to their fundamentalism. Hard pass.

Now, you can make the obvious point that Douthat wasn’t talking about fundamentalism, but on the contrary about a very tentative effort to move closer to religious faith generally; but put that aside. In response to Douthat’s rather long-winded and rather vague account of the possibility of faith, Bonowitz hits hard with a “hard pass,” pointing out in one beautifully structured sentence that the actual world – not the world of yearning, souls, and NDEs Douthat evokes, but the world of the present, the world of human history – suffers inordinately from the implications of quite a few forms of religious faith. Grounded and rational, Bonowitz’s brief brief against Douthat derives its power from the packed concision of his argument, coupled with his refusal to hide the anger (“has the gall”) that underlies his position.

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