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Wendi Deng dating Vladimir Putin makes so much sense.

Us Weekly is reporting an “exclusive” that Deng, whose marriage to Rupert Murdoch collapsed amid rumors that she was having an affair with ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is dating the Russian strongman.

Today is, it’s worth pointing out, March 31, aka the day before April Fool’s Day, and I am still not entirely convinced this is real because holy shit, what? It’s also worth pointing out that Us Weekly’s story is a bit thin, quoting an unnamed source close to Putin that the relationship is “serious” and offering as evidence that she was seen “boarding her pal Roman Abramovich’s yacht in St. Bart’s” on Monday. Abramovich is also friends with Putin, so surely they must be dating! I, for one, have only ever gotten on the yachts of people who are friends with the people I am dating. Also, holy shit, what? 

But despite the possibility that this is an early April Fool’s joke (which would be the worst, because today is March 31 and this would violate the sacred trust that is April Fool’s Day), this does make a perverse amount of sense. For one, Gary Shteyngart predicted the couple back in 2013: 

And it’s not hard to imagine Putin watching the video of Deng socking the absolute crap out of some guy who was trying to throw a pie at her then-man Rupert Murdoch and saying, “Yes, this is the woman for me.” 

And where could Deng go after Blair and Murdoch? With Kanye West happily married, there was only one man left for her: Vladmir Putin. 

June 20, 2018

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Stanley Cavell was a philosopher with style.

It’s no insult to the late Stanley Cavell, whose death at age 91 was announced on Tuesday, that he was the rare philosopher who was read as much for his prose as for his ideas. Although Cavell had all the right academic credentials -- he taught at Harvard for many years and was a distinguished advocate for the “ordinary language philosophy” of J.L. Austin -- his books were written with an eccentric, sometimes maddening, elan. Cavell’s sentences were alive with allusions in hectic smart-alecky self-mocking prose that seem closer in spirit to a Marx Brothers movie than a philosophic tome.

Cavell, as it happens, loved the Marx Brothers, as he generally did Golden Age Hollywood, particular in its screwball mode. In one of his most accessible books, Pursuit of Happiness (1981), Cavell analyzed the ditzy rom-coms of the 1930s and 1940s as “comedies of remarriage” that showed that love isn’t just a one time starburst moment but a matter of learning to live with other people over time.

Writing in 1994 in the London Review of Books, Cavell made the case for the philosophical resonance of the Marx Brothers:

Intention, or the desperate demand for interpretation, is gaudily acknowledged in such turns as Chico’s selling Groucho a tip on a horse by selling him a code book, then a master code book to explain the code book, then a guide required by the master code, then a sub-guide supplementary to the guide – a scrupulous union, or onion, of semantic and monetary exchanges and deferrals to warm the coldest contemporary theorist of signs; or as acted out in Chico’s chain of guesses when Harpo, with mounting urgency, charades his message that a woman is going to frame Groucho (both turns in A Day at the Races)

The strange echo-y effect of “union, or onion” is a characteristic Cavell touch.

Cavell once defended Ludwig Wittgenstein’s stylistic eccentricity in terms that easily be used for Cavell himself. “So some of Wittgenstein’s readers are made impatient, as though the fluctuating humility and arrogance of his prose were a matter of style, and style were a matter of pose, so these poses repudiate, not to say undermine, each other,” Cavell wrote in The Claim of Reason (1989). “To me this fluctuation reads as a continuous effort at balance, or longing for it, as to leave a tightrope; it seems an expression of that struggle of despair and hope that I can understand as a motivation to philosophical writing.”

Style, in other words, is the very grunting and groaning of the philosopher wrestling with his or her own thoughts and therefore inseparable from the philosophical act: style is the mind.

In a wonderfully lucid 1989 New Republic review of Cavell’s In Quest of the Ordinary, Richard Rorty paid tribute to Cavell’s as an oddball who had the courage of his eccentricty: “Cavell is among professors of philosophy what Harold Bloom is among the professors of English: the least defended, the gutsiest, the most vulnerable. He sticks his neck out farther than any of the rest of us. Who touches this book touches a fleshly, ambitious, anxious, self-involved, self-doubting mortal.”

Cavell’s voice, now stilled, will live on his books, which will continue to be read not just by philosophers but anyone who hungers for a human voice. In time, he might be remembered not just as the heir to Ludwig Wittgenstein and J.L. Austin, but part of the American tradition of daring misfits, the line of Thoreau, Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, and Wallace Stevens.

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“That’s like the old Soviet Union used to do.”

Immigrant children at the Shiloh Treatment Center in Texas have been “held down and injected” with drugs that have left them incapacitated, dizzy, drowsy, and afraid, according to a report in Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. “Trump’s zero tolerance policy is creating a zombie army of children forcibly injected with medications,” the authors write.

In legal filings obtained by the investigative team, numerous psychotropic medications were allegedly given to children while in U.S. custody. Four of the six medications given to one young boy were “antipsychotics with very limited FDA-approved uses in children and adolescents.” According to court documents, children were told they would not be discharged or allowed to see their parents if they didn’t take their medications.

In the affidavits, filed in California’s District Court on April 23, children accused staff of calling them names like “son of a whore” or using violence. One teacher apparently twisted a child’s arm behind their back, which was followed by medical staff administering a shot to tranquilize the child. “I would start to feel sleepy and heavy, and like I didn’t have any strength,” the child said. “I would sleep for three or four hours and then wake up and slowly feel my strength return.”

Forensic psychiatrist Mark J. Mills, who was hired by Reveal to analyze the 420 pages of medical records and statements in the lawsuits, explained, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist here; it looks like they’re trying to control agitation and aggressive behavior with antipsychotic drugs.” He added, “The facility should not use these drugs to control behavior. That’s not what antipsychotics should be used for. That’s like the old Soviet Union used to do.”

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Will Atul Gawande bring the “Cheesecake Factory model” to Amazon’s new health care company?

Five months ago, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase announced a new health care partnership aimed at reducing costs and innovating the field without “profit-making incentives and constraints.” On Wednesday, they made their biggest, most public move yet, announcing that surgeon and New Yorker writer Atul Gawande would be heading the company. The author of four books about medicine and ethics, Gawande is an interesting choice to lead an effort overseen by Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Jamie Dimon—a thinker, rather than a businessman. And in Gawande’s writings—particularly a 2012 New Yorker article that argued that hospitals should look to The Cheesecake Factory for inspiration—there are signs about how this new company will operate.

Gawande argued that the best way for medicine to advance—to lower costs and provide better services—would be to mimic The Cheesecake Factory, which overhauls its menu every six months. The way it works is that change is distributed quickly and evenly throughout the chain; that there is a manager responsible for overseeing every meal prepared under his watch; and that the menu is standardized, with guidelines for each and every item ordered. Gawande said that doctors should similarly embrace “chains and mass production” and largely abandon customization in favor of standardization; that there should be someone at a hospital who is responsible for administering care; and that there should be processes for quickly disseminating advancements, particularly in technology, across hospitals.

This is not, as anyone who has spent time in a hospital knows, how things are done in most places. But it’s not exactly novel either. Hospitals, like the Cleveland Clinic, have already embraced many of Gawande’s Cheesecake Factory items, and have made fixed price deals with corporations like Lowe’s and Walmart, standardizing certain procedures. Still, his choice as CEO gives us a glimpse, at last, of what the Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan health care initiative will look like.

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Trump’s immigration retreat is a victory for popular resistance.

The New York Times reports that the president has come up with a make-shift solution that will end the family separation policy he created but not end the fundamental issues, which will likely be taken up by the courts. “President Trump is preparing to issue an executive order as soon as Wednesday that ends the separation of families at the border by indefinitely detaining parents and children together,” the Times writes. “Mr. Trump’s executive order would seek to get around an existing 1997 consent decree, known as the Flores settlement, that prohibits the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention — even if they are with their parents — for more than 20 days.”

The keeping of families indefinitely creates a new problem, since it will almost certainly be challenged in courts. Still, whatever problems there are with indefinite detention, Trump is surrendering on the hostage taking situation he created. Prior to this executive order, the White House was using separated children as leverage to force Democrats to sign a Trump-friendly immigration deal. Jailed children will no longer be leverage in the negotiations. 

Trump’s surrender on this point is a significant victory for popular resistance to his policies. The  family separation policy excited massive opposition, fuelled by shocking photographs of caged children and an audio recording of crying kids. On Tuesday night, Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, was hounded out of a Mexican restaurant by protesters shouting “shame!” 

Cato Institute fellow Julian Sanchez had some important caveats about the pending executive order:

The immigration battle is far from over, but it’s moving on to terrain that is far less dangerous than the whims of Trump and his advisors. 


Pope Francis blames family separation on...populism?

In an interview with Reuters released Wednesday morning, Pope Francis criticized Donald Trump’s policy of separating migrant families, blaming it on populism. The Pope supported the criticisms of Trump made by U.S. Catholic bishops who denounced the policy as “immoral.” He also urged nations to work towards the acceptance and integration of immigrants. 

“It’s not easy, but populism is not the solution,” Francis said. He accused populists of “creating psychosis” and said that “populism does not resolve things. What resolves things is acceptance, study, prudence.”

This is not the first time the Pope has targeted populism. In a January interview he decried “populism in the European sense of the word,” which he claimed was embodied by Adolf Hitler who was “elected by his people and then he destroyed his people.”

It is important to keep in mind the Pope’s qualifying  phrase “in the European sense of the word.” In the Western hemisphere, populism has often referred to social movements seeking economic justice such the 19th century Populist Party (whose platform was mainstreamed by William Jennings Bryan), Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition or more recently the Bernie Sanders campaign. This usage is also often found in Argentina, Pope’s native country. 

Francis himself is often described as a populist, given his frequent calls for economic justice and greater lay participation in the church. But the Pope only uses the word populist in a narrow connotation, to refer to right-wing movements that exalt ethnic nationalism while portraying immigrants and elites as hostile alien forces. As Catholic World notes, the Pope is a paradoxically figure, an “anti-populist populist.”

But by adopting the stance of “anti-populist populism” the Pope is ceding an awful lot of ground to reactionary political forces. After all, why should we grant figures like Donald Trump (who received a minority of the vote) their own claim to speak for the people? As I’ve previously argued, Trump and his like-minded xenophobes are more properly seen as the voice of aggrieved privilege, not popular discontent

Migrant children are shuffled into a recently-built "tent city" in Texas. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The mind-boggling cost of breaking up migrant families.

How much will President Donald Trump’s child separations cost taxpayers? The answer is most definitely hundreds of millions, and potentially billions. And whatever the final cost is, it will be leaps and bounds more than the price of keeping migrant families together.

A Wednesday report from NBC News found that it costs the government $775 per night for a migrant child to stay in one of the newly created tent cities for minors—about the same per-night price for a suite at the Trump Hotel in D.C. In comparison, it would cost about $298 per child per night to stay with their parents in detention centers run by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, NBC reported.

With more than 2,000 kids already separated from their families at the border, that per-night cost starts to add up. The average amount of time migrant children spend in temporary shelters is 51 days, according to government data. At $775 per night, an average stay for 2,000 would cost taxpayers about $79 million. Some officials expect the number of seized migrant children to reach 18,500 by the end of August. If that happens and NBC’s cost analysis holds true, the taxpayer bill would be about $731 million.

The Trump administration has already dedicated more than $458 million in contracts to one Texas non-profit, Southwest Key Programs Inc., to care for immigrant children. And it will likely spend much more. According to the Daily Beast, defense contractors have “advertised a flurry of jobs in recent weeks to support the infrastructure surrounding undocumented children.” Those contracts don’t just include housing and caring for children; one contractor has already earned $43 million for transporting them around, the Beast reported. In addition, thousands of separated migrant children are expected to eventually enter the foster care system, which is funded by both state and federal governments.

In April, Trump also signed a memo ordering the end of “catch and release”—a policy under which migrants are strapped with GPS-monitored ankle bracelets and released from detention while they await their court hearing. Those bracelets cost far less per day than keeping migrants in detention centers, and they’re effective; most people wearing them show up to their court date. Cost-effectiveness, however, does not appear to be the Trump administration’s priority at the moment.

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The Trump administration is jailing babies.

On Tuesday, new evidence emerged that the migrant children being separated from their parents at the border could be as young as three months old. “Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three ‘tender age’ shelters in South Texas,” The Associated Press reported. “Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.”

Aside from “tender age” shelters, the other euphemism used by government officials to describe these holding pens is “permanent unaccompanied alien children program facilities.”

The Associated Press reporting was reinforced by a statement from Agustin V. Arbulu, Executive Director of Michigan Department of Civil Rights, that very young children ensnared in the policy were being sent to Michigan. “This week, I have been in touch with various agencies and organizations working with these vulnerable children,” Arbulu wrote. “We have received reports and are very concerned that the children arriving here are much younger than those who have been transported here in the past. Some of the children are infants as young as three months of age and are completely unable to advocate for themselves.”

The two reports reinforce the fact that the Trump administration is creating a situation that is causing unfathomable and far-reaching harm.


Corey Lewandowski’s “womp womp” moment distills Trumpian cruelty.

On Tuesday, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray told the press that a ten-year-old girl with Down syndrome was separated from her mother at the border as a result of President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. Democratic Party strategist Zac Petkanas raised the case on Fox News in a debate with Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager to Donald Trump.

Lewandowski responded by going “womp, womp” and rolling his eyes.

“Did you just say ‘womp, womp’ to a 10-year-old with Down syndrome separated from her mother?” Petkanas asked. The conversation quickly devolved into chaos a the two men furiously talking over each other.

In his obdurate cruelty in sticking to the party line of the moment as well as his childish reliance on sound effects, Lewandowski became the perfect emblem of Trump’s immigration policy.

Lewandowski was fired from the Trump campaign after manhandling a reporter in 2016. But he remains a hanger on in the Trump circle, one of the cronies the president calls and relies on as a advocates on cable news. Lewandowski is also, as William Kristol of the Weekly Standard notes, a well-connected GOP consultant:

Lewandowski can’t be dismissed as a fringe figure. Rather, as in the “womp womp” moment, he’s a representative figure of the presidency and its driving impulses of gratuitous meanness.

June 19, 2018

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The New Yorker offers up a sex-drenched Incredibles 2 review.

The legendary film critic Pauline Kael once wanted to review the porn movie Deep Throat for The New Yorker. Her prudish editor William Shawn nixed the idea. The New Yorker has become a less uptight magazine now, so Kael’s successor Anthony Lane is not afraid to let readers know that the children’s cartoon Incredibles 2 is arousing:

Take your seat at any early-evening screening of “Incredibles 2” in the coming days, listen carefully, and you may just hear a shifty sound, as of parents squirming awkwardly beside their enraptured offspring. And why, kids? Because Mommy just leaned over to Daddy and whispered, “Is it just me, or does Mrs. Incredible kind of look like Anastasia in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’? You know, the girl in the Red Room, with the whips and all?” And Daddy just rested his cooling soda firmly in his lap and, like Mr. Incredible, tried very hard to think of algebra. As for how Daddy will react later on, during the scene in which Helen and the husky-voiced Evelyn unwind and simply talk, woman to woman, I hate to think, but watch out for flying popcorn.

To be fair, Lane is trying, however ineptly, to make a decent point. Comic book art has gotten porn-y in the last two decades, something reflected in the impossible fantasy anatomy given to the women in Incredibles 2.

Still, Twitter had a field day with Lane’s comments:

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How much credit should we give Trump for not annexing Austria?

On Monday night, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the comparisons some lawmakers were drawing between the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the border and Nazi Germany’s treatment of minorities. “It’s a real exaggeration,” Sessions responded. “In Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country but this is a serious matter.” Sessions was wrong on his own terms, as Ezra Klein of Vox noted.

“In October 1938, before the Nazis had developed the plan for the Holocaust, the German government expelled roughly 17,000 Jews with Polish citizenship living in Germany,” Klein wrote. “At this point, the Nazis hadn’t yet figured out what they wanted to do to their Jewish population and were exploring mass expulsions as an option.” Nazi deportation policy involved breaking up families.

But beyond the historical error, the striking thing about Sessions’s defense was how narrowly it was cast. Whether they are appropriate or not, Nazi analogies rest on broad similarities of motive (racism) and practice (cruelty) rather than detailed concerns about specific tactics.

But Sessions is far from alone in basing the defense of President Donald Trump’s actions on a niggling argument about specific details. “President Trump is not gassing children!” radio host Todd Starnes argued on Tuesday. “President Trump is not loading up train cars with illegal alien children and sending them to the death camps.”

The implicit argument here is that if Trump doesn’t mirror Nazi Germany in every detail, there is no analogy to be made. The next step is to give Trump credit for not invading Poland or trying to commit full-scale genocide against Jews and Roma in Eastern Europe.