Combat! blog returns to ancestral home, isn’t useful


As you may have gathered, there is no Combat! blog today. I am in Iowa with my wonderful girlfriend, visiting my parents. It’s not scary at all. Every time I think about the natural gravity of such a situation, the gentle constant sound of the wind whispering through the cornfields dead, gray trees reminds me of my carefree midwestern girlhood, and I am soothed. What I am not is blogging. I would instruct you to call me Mister Leisure, but that is already the name of a fugitive sea lion I also find soothing. How about you read about him, and I’ll be back with a real blog on Wednesday? I know, it’s a long way away. In the meantime, you can just keep clicking on the random posts in the left-hand sidebar. Did you know there’s a sidebar on this blog? Some browsers don’t show it, but if you click on the little hash marks in the upper left-hand corner, it will appear. Do that and read weird, probably embarrassing posts from 2010 and whatnot. I’ll see you again soon. I promise.

Trump fires acting AG; sources report it still January

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates, whom Trump fired last night

There is very little Combat! blog today, because I have an enormous editing project to finish on short notice. Did you know that you can send me enormous editing projects, and I will turn them around on short notice? It’ll cost you, but nobody does it better. While I omit unnecessary words, how about you catch up on our looming constitutional crisis? Last night President Trump fired Sally Yates, acting attorney general of the United States, after she instructed her department not to defend Trump’s executive order on immigration. The new acting attorney general is Dana J. Boente, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. He will remain in office until the Senate confirms Jeff Sessions or President Trump orders all dogs to wear pants made of little American flags—whichever comes first. We’ll be back tomorrow with money in our pockets and something a little more substantial on our blog.




Remember how I told you to read Sarah Aswell?

Sarah Aswell

Remember a few weeks ago when I told you to look at Sarah Aswell’s website? You probably did it, because we have that trust. But maybe you are one of the millions of casual readers who primarily view Combat! blog as a website they haven’t visited, and you slept on her. If that’s the case I pity you, because the New Yorker just made all such people look like assholes. Yesterday, Daily Shouts published “Jeremy, the Last Man on Earth” by one Sarah Aswell. It is hilarious. The very premise assures you: “Before all of this started, I said that I wouldn’t date Jeremy if he were the last man on Earth. Now that he is, I question the hyperbole.” Those are the first two sentences, and they already deliver a funny joke. Not only that, but they also cleanly establish what’s happening and who the speaker is, along with a substantial portion of her personality. I cannot say enough good things about this piece, which is among the funniest things I’ve seen from Sarah in a dozen years of watching her be funny. Read it! What’s wrong with you? Do you not like to laugh? Are you some kind of empty robot, clanking around and making money and wasting time that a human with interiority would use for laughing? Well, prove it.

Awful poem will not, in fact, be read at Trump’s inauguration

Lyric poet Joseph Charles McKenzie

When I first read “Pibroch of the Domhnall,” a lyric poem celebrating the presidency of Donald Trump, it was in the context of an Independent story that made it sound like the poem would be read at Trump’s inauguration. It won’t. Although “Pibroch of the Domhnall” is an occasional poem Joseph Charles McKenzie wrote for Trump’s inauguration, it is not his inaugural poem. Snopes makes that clear, and in so doing throws a little shade at the Independent for sharing the story on social media with the tagline “Donald Trump to pay tribute to British heritage at inauguration with poem about Scotland.”

That formulation crosses the line between misleading and untrue. Instead of calling “Pibroch of the Domhnall” a Trump inauguration poem and letting the reader conclude it’s the inauguration poem, this version explicitly says the poem will happen at the inauguration. But it’s not the headline; it’s a social media post. Should the Independent apply to its Facebook posts the same standards of fact it applies to news stories?

The knee-jerk answer is yes. The newspaper relies on its reputation for accuracy, and that reputation attaches to its name on Facebook as readily as it does in print. But do we therefore expect them to fact-check every tweet? Must they respond to every @ with the same ethics that guide the sports page? Or do we kind of expect from social media a modicum of just sayin’ stuff?

We probably agree the social-media portrayal of how this poem relates to Trump’s inauguration is dishonest and therefore bad. But I suspect we also agree that it’s not as bad as if they did it in the newspaper. If this is true, and we expect more scrupulous accuracy in the news, then it follows that we expect the amount of dishonesty on social media to be greater than zero.

Finally, society has developed a system of mass communication less trustworthy than the newspaper. That we would not only welcome this advancement but also hold it to a lower standard of truth than other media—even as we panic over “fake news”—suggests that truth is not our number-one priority when it comes to information.

We want to know the truth, of course. But we want to know the truth already; we want the truth to support our existing views. The “truth” that Trump’s inaugural poem is rhyming doggerel about how Barack Obama was a tyrant confirms our view of the new president as a classless boor. It matters that it’s not his official inauguration poem, but it doesn’t really matter. The theme of that untrue story is true.

My favorite stanza is the one that celebrates the defeat of academia:

Academe now lies dead, the old order rots,
No longer policing our words and our thoughts;
Its ignorant hirelings pretending to teach
Are backward in vision, sophomoric in speech.

I’m so sick of college policing my thoughts. This poem really captures something about the marriage between smug populism and conservative opportunism that gave us President Trump. They really ought to read it at his inauguration. But we ought not to spread that untrue story on social media, even though it’s what we want to do. Perhaps some of that old, thought-policing order is good for us.