January 31, 2015

"It was acceptable in those days to pass a woman on the street and say, 'Great hat.'"

Writes the New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten, speaking of a bygone era in New York City.

Is it really true that you can no longer say to a woman in a great hat "Great hat"? I think people do still do that, even in New York City. Am I delusional? Is it just something women can do to other women? Or is the real truth that women just don't wear great hats anymore?

"[T]ake what’s happening now and imagine what would happen if it kept on happening. That’s what satirists do."

"Jonathan Swift saw that the English were treating the Irish as animals; what if they took the next natural step and ate their babies? Orwell, with less humor, imagined what would happen if life in Britain remained, for forty years, at the depressed level of the BBC cafeteria as it was in 1948, and added some Stalinist accessories. Huxley, in 'Brave New World,' took the logic of a hedonistic and scientific society to its farthest outcome, a place where pleasure would be all and passion unknown...."

Writes Adam Gopnik (dealing mostly with Michel Houellebecq’s "Soumission," a satire about Muslims getting elected in France and imposing Sharia law, with the collaboration of the French élite).
Like most satirists worth reading, Houellebecq is a conservative. “I show the disasters produced by the liberalization of values,” he has said. Satire depends on comparing the crazy place we’re going to with the implicitly sane place we left behind. That’s why satirists are often nostalgists, like Tom Wolfe, who longs for the wild and crazy American past, or Evelyn Waugh, with his ascendant American vulgarians and his idealized lost Catholic aristocracy....
The next thing is just never likely to be the same thing. The fun of satire is to think what would happen if nothing happens to stop what is happening. But that’s not what happens.

"Obama administration officials and other supporters of the Affordable Care Act say they worry that the tax-filing season will generate new anger..."

"... as uninsured consumers learn that they must pay tax penalties and as many people struggle with complex forms needed to justify tax credits they received in 2014 to pay for health insurance.... The penalties, approaching 1 percent of income for some households, are supposed to be paid with income taxes due April 15. In addition, officials said, many people with subsidized coverage purchased through the new public insurance exchanges will need to repay some of the subsidies because they received more than they were entitled to. More than 6.5 million people had insurance through the exchanges at some point last year, and 85 percent of them qualified for financial assistance, in the form of tax credits, to lower their premiums. Most people chose to have the subsidies paid in advance, based on projected income for 2014. If their actual income was higher — because they got a raise or found a new job — they will be entitled to a smaller subsidy and must repay the difference, subject to certain limits."

The NYT reports.


Rating you, the customer.

"Companies are rating their customers, shunning those who do not make the grade...."
[T]he new platforms let reviews go both ways, and vary in their transparency about the process. Yelp is straightforward: Businesses can post replies to critical customers. On Lyft, the second-biggest of the new cab companies, passengers are vaguely warned that “a low star rating” means requests for rides may not be accepted. Uber does not mention passenger ratings at all in its user agreement but noted in a blog post that “an Uber trip should be a good experience for drivers too.”

It does not seem to take much to annoy some Uber drivers. On one online forum, an anonymous driver said he gave poor reviews to “people who are generally negative and would tend to bring down my mood (or anyone around them).” Another was cavalier about the process: “1 star for passengers does not do them any harm. Sensible drivers won’t pick them up, but so what?” 
Ha! I think this is great. I put effort and ethics into being a good customer, don't you? It's just a bonus to get better service long term because of something I feel bound to do anyway. Who is hurt? Only the people who were relying on the size and complexity of the modern world as camouflage for their jerkiness and lack of empathy for those who perform services for them. In a simpler, more localized economy, this kind of information would always already be known.

The culture finds one way or another to get us to behave well.

In the arb today, a spectrum...

... from white...


... to brown...


... to green...



A panorama in the arb.

Arb panorama by Meade

Click to enlarge. Photo by Meade. I am the tiny figure on the left. Note the "futuristic" vehicle dead center.

Old Pictures: Mudd Clubb/Hurrah.

Mudd Clubb Hurrah

This is the second in a series of photographs of walls from late 1980 or early 1981, right after I'd bought my first SLR camera and before my first child was born. This was somewhere in the Village/SoHo area of NYC, where I was quite taken with the overlapping and shredded posters and graffiti.

The Mudd Club was around from 1978 to 1983, and Hurrah lasted from 1976 to 1980. There's also CBGB, which began in 1973 and lasted a lot longer.

(Feel free to talk about anything in the comments, including which long-ago rock clubs you frequented.)

The tromp/tramp distinction

I don't use the word "tromp" very often, but some instinct made me say it in that post 2 posts down about shaming the upper-middle class into giving up their tax breaks. I thought guilt-tripping was "tromping about in the darker parts of our psyche."

Meade asked why I said "tromp," instead of "tramp," and I said "tromp" — which has a whiff of "stomp" — seems to suggest a heavier, clumsier stepping about in a more localized place, perhaps inside, and "tramp" seems more like a journey somewhere — maybe off into a landscape. Also, with "tramp," you might feel the leakage of slutty women and hobo men.

In the (unlinkable) OED, I discovered that "tromp" is a "variant... of tramp" that's mostly American dialect. Some notable examples make the Americanness really pop:
1895 S. Crane Red Badge of Courage x. 105 Yeh wanta go trompin' off.

1902 Dial. Notes 2 248 He tromped my toe.

1931 W. Faulkner Sanctuary vi. 54 You'll tromp on a loose boa'd and find yoself downstairs befo you know hit....

1952 E. Ferber Giant xx. 334 You want to look out, Bick, she don't get tromped the way they're milling around today....

1962 J. Steinbeck Trav. with Charlie i. 12 About that time hurricane Donna was reported tromping her way out of the Caribbean.

1974 J. Irving 158-Pound Marriage v. 117 Edith heard Frau Reiner and the Chetniks whispering and tromping about in the living room....
I like how most of those examples confirm my sense that tromping happens in a more localized space — like your brain, when the guilt-trippers get there.

"So Pee Wee had the least ridiculous suit among the contestants?"

Comment at YouTube on a 1979 episode of "The Dating Game," where Pee Wee Herman was one of the unseen, possibly datable men. And speaking of unseen, I wish I could unsee that Pam-Dawbereque lady's hot pants.

"What can we do to break the stranglehold of the upper middle class?"

"I have no idea," says Reihan Salam (writing for Slate and including himself in the category "conservative"):
Having spent so much time around upper-middle-class Americans, and having entered their ranks in my own ambivalent way, I’ve come to understand their power. The upper middle class controls the media we consume. They run our big bureaucracies, our universities, and our hospitals. Their voices drown out those of other people at almost every turn. I fear that the only way we can check the tendency of upper-middle-class people to look out for their own interests at the expense of others is to make them feel at least a little guilty about it. It’s not much, but it’s a start. 
Shaming, eh? Salam imagines guilt-tripping families that make $200,000 a year or so into sacrificing their mortgage interest and college savings tax breaks for the greater good. If we could only get the people who have gained some decent economic security to stop paying attention to their own self interest, we could avert the destruction of America — that's Salam's idea. I'm not exaggerating: the article accuses the upper-middle class of "ruining America."

Meanwhile, liberals are always fretting about the way less-than-upper-middle-class Americans are failing to pay attention to their own self interest. That's "What's the Matter with Kansas."

Exactly how selfish are we supposed to be? Promoting unselfishness is a strange business, but I don't trust the big shamers and guilt-trippers of this world. They have their own self-interests, and they're choosing to promote them by tromping about in the darker parts of our psyche.

The cruelty that is Jeb Bush.

I'm just trying to absorb the horrible details set out in The Boston Globe's game-changing expose "Jeb Bush shaped by troubled Phillips Academy years/Possible presidential candidate had tumultuous four years at Andover school."
Classmates said he...  sometimes bullied smaller students.... [Peter] Tibbetts, who was eventually forced to leave Andover in the spring of 1970 after school officials accused him of using drugs, said his one regret about his relationship with Bush is that he agreed to participate with him in the bullying of a student in the dormitory. Their target was a short classmate whom they taunted, and then sewed his pajama bottoms so that they were impossible to put on. The act was particularly embarrassing, said Tibbetts, who said he felt remorse for joining in with “kids being cruel.”...
So... there was a prank where you (presumably) sew the bottom of the leg openings together, so that when the unsuspecting target leaps into his pajama bottoms, he gets his legs almost all the way through and is surprised when his feet hit the dead end instead of popping out where he's expecting his leg momentum to end, sturdily planted on the floor. He probably topples over ridiculously, and anyone who's around to see it laughs. It's like the old short-sheeting prank.

Oh! The cruelty! What kind of person would do such a thing! Imagine the remorse Peter Tibbetts had carried with him all these years for what they did to the classmate of shortness, who, let's not forget, was also "taunted."

No taunts are quoted, so I have no way to assess the cruelty of any particular taunts that were aimed at the schoolmate whose only known characteristic is shortness. (Hey, shrimp!?) I have no way to know if this short person took his own shots or if every kid in that rich-boy academy went back and forth doing whatever it is that underlies the Globe's term taunt.

And, by the way, does Peter Tibbetts have a political affiliation? Is he supporting any candidates who are not Jeb? Or am I just supposed to accept his characterization of Bush as cruel because he claims to feel remorse?
Other students remember Bush as intimidating, if not exactly a bully. 
So... the Globe's effort to smoke out lots of reports of bullying got exactly one thing, the dumb pajama bottoms prank!
David Cuthell, who thinks well of Bush today, remembers that Bush approached him one day in the school cafeteria, angry and ready to do some damage. “He sort of lifted me up in the air and I think was going to squash a grapefruit in my face,” said Cuthell, who said he was around 115 pounds at the time. Then a friend who was even stronger than Bush came to the rescue, lifting Bush away from Cuthell.
Cuthell likes Bush, so Cuthell's quote matters, but compare the quote to the paraphrasing surrounds it. It's the Globe that made up "ready to do some damage" to sum up what Cuthell may have to read in Bush's mind. But Cuthell said "I think was going to squash a grapefruit in my face," which is patently not literally what he imagined to be Bush's intent. Cuthell is being comical... and dragging in a reference to the famous scene in the Jimmy Cagney movie "Public Enemy":

In the end, another guy lifted Bush away from Cuthell, and one can only guess what life at the prep school was like. Boys lifting up other boys. Not even tackling them. Lifting them. So what?! What I'm reading here is an absence of cruelty and a damned modest amount of rowdy fun. This is all you've got, Globe? It's just dumb.

But, now, I do want to take this part seriously. Again, the informant is Tibbets:
The first time Tibbetts smoked marijuana, he said, was with Bush and a few other classmates in the woods near Pemberton Cottage. Then, a few weeks later, Tibbetts said he smoked hashish — a cannabis product typically stronger than pot — in Jeb’s dormitory room.

“The first time I really got stoned was in Jeb’s room,” Tibbetts said. “He had a portable stereo with removable speakers. He put on Steppenwolf for me.” As the rock group’s signature song, Magic Carpet Ride, blared from the speakers, Tibbetts said he smoked hash with Bush. He said he once bought hashish from Bush but stressed, in a follow-up e-mail, “Please bear in mind that I was seeking the hash, it wasn’t as if he was a dealer; though he did suggest I take up cigarettes so that I could hold my hits better, after that 1st joint.”
Globe is really screwing up the facts here. Steppenwolf's signature song is "Born to Be Wild":

But, okay, let's throw out that "drug dealer" shit. No reason not to muddy the campaign waters, eh, Globe? But you should have dug deeper, like I did. I found some actual film footage of Jeb smoking pot:

You know, this used to be a hell of a good country. I can't understand what's going on with it....

January 30, 2015

"Walker touted a Wisconsin-centric, meat-and-potatoes, small-government conservatism garnished with a heaping portion of scorn for Washington, D.C."

Writes Joshua Green at Bloomberg, quoting Scott Walker saying:
“As much as I love coming here, I love going home even more,” Walker said, calling Washington “68 square miles surrounded by reality.”
And it's just so laughably obvious that Green doesn't know the old line about Madison, Wisconsin: 30 square miles surrounded by reality. The hometown news reports Walker's wisecrack with better grounding in... reality:
"For a lot of folks here in our nation's capital in Washington it's kind of a dome," Walker said. "In fact, I like to call it 68 square miles surrounded by reality.... What I see in the states and from people in this country outside of Washington is a craving for something new, something fresh, something dynamic, instead of the top-down, government-knows-best approach that we’ve seen in Washington,” Walker said.

The line Walker used harkens back to a now notorious quote from former Republican Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus, who declared Madison "30 square miles surrounded by reality" while running for governor in 1978. Since then, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin proposed to make the updated geographical area version, "77 square miles surrounded by reality" the city's motto, which failed to be approved by the Madison Common Council in 2013.
ADDED: "People need to get hip to the Wisconsin references," I say, and Meade says: "Yeah. Wisconsin is cool. Wisconsin is happening. Get with it."

AND: I mock Meade for using that 60s lingo. I'm all "It's what's happening, baby. Who said that? Murray the K!"

70 years ago today: 9,400 human beings perished in the sinking of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff.

"The MV Wilhelm Gustloff was a German passenger ship... sunk... by a Soviet submarine in the Baltic Sea while evacuating German civilians, officials and military personnel from Gdynia (Gotenhafen) as the Red Army advanced."

Never before or since have so many people died in the sinking of a single ship.

The novelist Günter Grass gave an interview to the NYT in 2003:
In ''Crabwalk,'' Mr. Grass addresses... the sinking by a Soviet submarine of a German ship carrying thousands of German refugees....  ''After the war, it was a taboo subject in East Germany because it was a taboo in the Soviet Union,'' Mr. Grass said. ''In West Germany, it was possible to speak of it and some documentary work was done, but not in a literary form. In general, it was the first responsibility of Germans to speak about German crimes. The question of German suffering was of secondary importance. No one really wanted to speak about it.''

No one, that is, except extreme rightist groups... ''One of the many reasons I wrote this book was to take the subject away from the extreme right,'' Mr. Grass said, lighting his ever-present pipe. ''They said the tragedy of the Gustloff was a war crime. It wasn't. It was terrible, but it was a result of war, a terrible result of war. It was not a planned act.''...

Dogs and skating on the Wingra Lagoon.

Meade texts me a video from the skating rink on the lagoon that is an offshoot of the lake where we paddleboard in the summer. You can see it's a cool skating rink. Last week, a pond hockey tournament had taken it over, and we couldn't skate. But they resurfaced it super-slick, and we got in a nice round of skating there earlier in the day. Then Meade went back out, accompanied by the dog instead of me, and kept in touch with texts, like that video... and this click-to-enlarge panorama:

"The message has already been received: If you cross the administration with perfectly accurate reporting that they don’t like, you will be attacked and punished."

"You and your sources may be subjected to the kind of surveillance devised for enemies of the state," said Sharyl Attkisson testifying yesterday before Senate Judiciary Committee about the nomination of Loretta Lynch for Attorney General.
Attkisson, who said the federal government has bullied and threatened journalists, recommended to Lynch that if confirmed she should “chart a new path and reject the damaging policies and practices that have been used by others in the past.”

"[A]n enduring, solidly constructed bridge between the Beat generation and New Age sensibilities."

That was, the NYT would have us believe, Rod McKuen, who has died at the age of 81.
“There was a time not long ago when every enlightened suburban split-level home had its share of Rod McKuen,” The San Francisco Chronicle wrote in a 2002 profile. “His mellow poetry was on the end table (‘Listen to the Warm’), his lovestruck music and spoken-word recordings were on the hi-fi and his kindly face was on the set, on ‘The Tonight Show’ and Dinah Shore’s variety hour.”
"Listen to the Warm" came out in 1967. I don't know about every enlightened suburban split-level, but the first time I ever heard about that book — and I would have been 16 at the time — it was getting sneered at as tripe. People always mocked Rod McKuen. Where does the San Francisco Chronicle get its information about "enlightened suburban" folk? Who are they talking about?!

But that's poetry. Snobsville. Let's talk about song lyrics! Here's Billboard's article "Rod McKuen's Surprising Chart History: From Frank Sinatra to Madonna":

I'm a complete sucker for "Jean":

Roses are red!

So goodbye to Rod McKuen... Goodbye, my friend, it's hard to die/When all the birds are singing in the sky/Now that the spring is in the air/Pretty girls are everywhere...

ADDED: I'm playing that song at the last link, and Meade hears the line "[we] skinned our hearts and skinned our knees," and says: "Ooh! Skinned our hearts! That really hurts when you skin your heart. I didn't even know that hearts had skin." And that reaction kind of summarizes the problem a lot of people had with Rod McKuen, which might be paraphrased: What is this bullshit? Meade continues, taking issue with the line "Goodbye to you, my trusted friend/We've known each other since we were nine or ten" — "Such a trusted friend he can't even remember what year it was." And I say: "Give him a break, he's dying" — meaning the character in the song is dying. And now the lyricist is dead. Give him a break!

IN THE COMMENTS: Joanne Jacobs writes:
Jacques Brel wrote a sardonic song about a dying man saying farewell to his adulterous wife and her lover/his best friend. Rod McKuen kitschified that into "Seasons in the Sun."
"Seasons in the Sun" is the song discussed — without saying the title — at the end of the post — the one with the skinned hearts. I went looking for the Jacques Brel song, which is called called "Le Moribond," and I found this nice, sharp performance, complete with English subtitles:

Mitt Romney announces he has "decided it is best to give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become our next nominee."

"Mr. Romney said he believed he could win the nomination, but he expressed concern about harming the party’s chances to retake the White House. "
“I did not want to make it more difficult for someone else to emerge who may have a better chance of becoming the president,” he said. He added that it was “unlikely” that he would change his mind....

In a more than four-hour meeting last week, Mr. Romney’s top staff members and trusted advisers from 2012 relayed a sobering reality — they supported Mr. Romney and thought he would be the best president, but they did not necessarily encourage a third run.
I've been more or less positive about Romney's running again, and I just put up a post earlier this morning looking at the factors he was supposedly weighing, but even though I do like him, I was concerned that he was becoming the front-runner mostly on name recognition, and that was not good for the overall competition within the GOP. I'd like to see the plausible candidates go through a process of presenting themselves to us — especially in debates — and giving us a chance to scrutinize them and maybe warm up to them, and it's appropriate for Romney to stand back and allow that to happen.

If various seemingly plausible candidates fail to get traction or crash for some reason, there's the elder statesman Romney, prepared to serve if needed. I like him there. It fits with the idea that he was going to use as his pitch: That he's a dutiful, modest man, a humble servant, who responds to a calling.

So: Don't call us, we'll call you.

"We are confident that once the investigation is completed, he will be totally exonerated."

"Looks like he drove backwards and struck the victims and drove forwards and struck them again."

"Those who have been helping Romney make up his mind say there are three factors in favor of a run, and two factors against."

Explains Mark Halperin at Bloomberg:
The main rationale on the “go” side is Mitt and Ann Romney’s strongly held conviction that no one in the current field would make a better president. 
I scoff at that view.
Critics in both parties and the press may scoff at this view, but the Romneys believe it to their core and thus feel Mitt has an obligation to his country to once again shoulder the mantle....
Well, of course, they believe it. Don't all candidates get themselves into that frame of mind — on top of the vanity and the desire for power? Oh, maybe some candidates don't look ahead to the actual presidency and only consider whether they'd be best at getting elected (and competent enough at doing the job to which they'll be elected). But I doubt they admit that's what they're doing. For example, Obama excels at running for office, and famously falls back on his candidate persona to get through rough times as he serves out his terms, but I doubt that he ever says to his confidante's: I was such a wonderful candidate, but I've got to admit that Hillary would have made a better President.

(Does one really "shoulder" a "mantle"? A "mantle" is some kind of cloak or robe. Figuratively, it's "Anything which enfolds, enwraps, or encloses as a mantle; an immaterial thing likened to or described as a covering" or "A duty or position of responsibility, authority, leadership, etc., esp. one assumed or inherited by one person from another." (OED.) Assume the mantle is a more apt expression. "Shoulder" creates the image of carrying something something heavy. Not that the candidacy isn't heavy, just that the imagery of shouldering the mantle is incoherent. End of language rant! Sorry, but I feel I have an obligation to the internet to poke at the corpses of dead metaphors.)
The second factor... is a host of emphatically encouraging poll results....
I've always heard that early polls mostly register name recognition. If Romney doesn't get out of the way, the others don't get to build their name recognition. But let me be clear: I'm not against Romney's running. I wrote about the idea of Mitt running last April, when there was a rumor that Romney would run IF Jeb Bush did not. And I was pretty encouraging: "If the donors get behind Mitt Romney, why wouldn't Mitt Romney be a creditable candidate? Why couldn't he win if he ran not because he was a sore loser and felt entitled or ambitious, but because he's a modest, dutiful man, called into service in a time of need?" Ha ha. That's the "main rationale" cited by Halperin.

Halperin says the third factor is Romney's "sense that he can perform better in 2016 than he did in 2008 and 2012" — mainly by showing "that he 'cares about people' like them" by not being so "modest about his decades of work as a lay minister in the Mormon Church."

As for those 2 negative factors: 1. It's tough on the family, and 2. The GOP candidate will have to spend money and sustain attacks through the primaries and then face Hillary Clinton, who will have been saving all her money and sitting back, getting flattered by the press and her party-mates.

The family is the ever-convenient reason for not doing whatever it is you've decided you can't do. As for bulling through the GOP field and still having what it takes to fight the well-rested and untested wife of the ex-President who only ever won an election in New York state and served a rather lackluster term as Secretary of State, I think he's up for that fight.


AND: New post here.

Did you know how alarming it is for the baby when you drive the car through a tunnel?

Via Metafilter:

The reactions are so strong and so similar. Why? Because they have no idea what is happening... or because their trip through the birth canal is so recent? Am I going to be emerging into a completely different life?