December 17, 2018

"[T]he classic 1971 confessional isn't really a Christmas song. Never mind that its opening melody is 'Jingle Bells' in a minor key..."

"... and that the lyrics begin with a seasonal scene: 'It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees/They're putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace.' Ultimately, 'River' is a bereft song about a broken romance and a woman who desperately wants to escape her heartbreak, saying repeatedly: 'I wish I had a river I could skate away on.' The despairing drama just happens to be set around the holidays. 'There were all these 18- and 19-year-olds doing traditional Christmas songs, and then, bang - they start doing "River,"... I'm thinking: Where on Earth did this come from?'... 'We needed a sad Christmas song, didn't we?' [Joni] Mitchell said with a chuckle last year... 'In the 'bah humbug' of it all.'"

From a 2015 WaPo article archived at the Joni Mitchell website. Some cover versions collected there. Here's the original.

I was thinking about that song after someone on Facebook put up this cool video...

... that reminded me of the best ice we ever had on Lake Mendota (back in January 2011)...


Yesterday, in my house, I was talking about David Duke, and later that day, I got email from him.

How did that happen?

Here's a screen shot of the email (click to enlarge and clarify):

I googled the title of the book. Screen shot:

I'm not interested in discussing that book or David Duke in general.

Well, then why were you talking about David Duke in your house yesterday?, you might ask.

Answer: We were talking about the Prada story, blogged here, which referred to "historical images of Sambo," and it led to a discussion of whether the name "Sambo" is unusable. There's a restaurant in California called "Sambo's," and it's been around a long time. If the name refers to white people, is that okay? Could you call a dog "Sambo" — and would it depend on whether or not the dog was black? What were other questionable names for a dog? There's the classic dog name "Duke," but you certainly wouldn't want anyone to think you'd named your dog after David Duke.

That was the context! I've got nothing good to say about David Duke, and I basically hate even to put his name on this blog. I've done it a few times. You can click the tag to see what has provoked me, but I hadn't mentioned him since "Why wouldn't Donald Trump 'unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that [he doesn't] want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election'?" (February 2016).

Maybe it's merely a coincidence that I got that email yesterday, but I'm concerned that one or more of my devices are listening to our speech in the house and some company is gathering information about me and using it commercially.

I don't have any of the devices like Echo or Alexa that listen to accept voice commands, and while all my devices — laptop, desktop, iPhone, iPad — have Siri,  I have all of them set not to "Listen for 'Hey Siri.'" I read "Here’s How Facebook or Any Other App Could Use Your Phone's Microphone to Gather Data" (Money) and followed the instructions to go to Settings —> Privacy —> Microphone, which got me to the page that is supposed to list all the apps "that have requested access to the microphone," and there were no apps listed — not on the iPhone and not on the iPad.


Running interference for Biden.

Ageism is different, by the way, because everyone ages. Race and sex are — if not, as we used to say, immutable — relatively fixed and not on any sort of regular pathway of one-directional change. And even though the decline that comes with age is individual, it can be hard or rude to test a person individually. At least with Nancy Pelosi, she is seen in action on a regular basis by those who will be voting on whether she becomes the Speaker of the House. With a federal judge — like "RBG" — we have someone with life tenure, whose work is done behind the scenes and with extremely able assistants who are in a position to cover up any decline. Where is the individual testing of competence?

Now, with a presidential candidate — such as Joe Biden, who, if he runs, will be offering to serve in the most difficult job up to the age of 82 — we will get a chance to see how he functions and we can vote against him if we don't think he's good enough. BUT:

1. He will have some ability to hide his deficits (as I think Hillary Clinton did, by avoiding too many appearances, by having rote answers, and by trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to be off-camera when she keeled over), and

2. He will, by his prominence, attract money and attention and thereby choke off the progress of less well-established candidates (a process I call JEB-ing).

For the annals of civility.

I had to look up whether John Podhoretz has expressed pieties about civility. I found this quote: "I think making a pretense of civility toward Eric Alterman is like making a pretense of civility to a scorpion" (from a NYT interview). So, I'm only putting the "civility bullshit" tag on this post because I'm discussing it, not because Podhoretz is doing it. I associate The Weekly Standard with the notion of elevating political discourse, but I haven't read it enough to know if they affected a tone of civility and chastised others for not keeping it. I read Podhoretz's quote about King as consistent with his "scorpion" assertion.

I assume the "scorpion" metaphor alludes to the "Scorpion and the Frog" fable:
A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so....
This seems to be the inspiration for that awful snake poem Trump likes to recite.

The origin of "The Scorpion and the Frog" is unknown, but it might have been inspired by an ancient Persian story with a scorpion and a turtle, and there is this nice 1847 illustration for that:

NPR takes a careless look at the Christian wooing guide "I Kissed Dating Goodbye."

Here's the front-page teaser. Notice anything?

I took that screenshot at 5:07, and the error — "I Killed Dating Goodbye" for "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" — is still there.

If you click through to the article — "Evangelical Writer Kisses An Old Idea Goodbye/In a new film, author Joshua Harris rethinks his seminal Christian dating book" — you'll see this:

The embarrassingly illiterate error — "tenants" for "tenets" (which appears twice, once in large print) — was there at 5:07 and is still there. How can no one notice? If I'd had a mistake like that on my blog for just a couple minutes, I'd feel bad about it, and I'm doing my own proofreading. NPR has this image of being more educated and elite. You'd think they'd take some care to preserve that image.

But maybe they're so into the substance that they don't have time to attend to form. Here the substance is that there's a documentary about the harm supposedly caused by a popular book that promoted the idea of waiting to have sex until after you're married (and only dating in a serious, marriage-oriented way).

ADDED: On the substance, NPR never compares the harm caused by following that advice to the harm caused by NOT following that advice.

UPDATE, 10:41 AM: I get results. The corrections have been made.

December 16, 2018

At the Chaos Café...


... work your charms.

(And remember the Althouse Portal to Amazon. If you want to buy what I just bought, buy "Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York" by Roz Chast.)

"Princess Margaret finally dropped [Peter] Sellers after... Sellers had already married and divorced a third wife, Miranda Quarry, and had become too volatile..."

"... to remain an acceptable royal escort; in the middle of a row with Quarry over the correct way to pass the port, he had let off steam by releasing all her pet birds from their cages and hitting them around the room with a tennis racquet."

From "Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret" by Craig Brown. I'm enjoying this book but it's disturbing my comfortable appreciation of Peter Sellers.

"There was a new society..."

I scrolled quickly through 5 of the Sunday morning talk shows.

For many years, I've DVR'd "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "State of the Union," "Fox News Sunday," and "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," and I used to watch nearly all of all of them and carefully select things to blog. I'd jot down key words so I could find things in the transcript, and I'd talk about them at length here. In the Trump years, however, I've gotten to the point where I won't watch at all, and I will leave the room if someone else even starts to watch. But I did choose to look today, because I wanted to see if Bill Kristol was on and if so, if he's finally lost his big supercilious smile (The Weekly Standard having been murdered the other day).

Answer: No, he was not on. But this did give me a chance to test my aversion. I did stop to watch Amy Klobuchar, because, as you may have noticed, 3 days ago, I wrote, "Why aren't the Democratic candidates better? I'm just going to be for Amy Klobuchar." I got about halfway through it. Here's the transcript and video, so you can check my work. But I completely lost hope that she could be the nominee. This was precisely the occasion for her to show her stuff. This was an easy showcase, at exactly the right time, with a made-to-order Democratic Party issue: A court found the what's left of Obamacare unconstitutional, and people with pre-existing conditions are threatened with losing their health insurance coverage.

Now, it was a little unfair that the interviewer — CBS News's Margaret Brennan — was wearing an neon-bright yellow jacket while Klobuchar wore a dull shade of blue, but this was a softball interview, with no challenging questions, no surprising topics. And Klobuchar was mush-mouthed and dull. I was wondering out loud, why doesn't she have that crisp Sarah Palin style of Minnesotan speech? Where's the spirit and style? She seems like a student who shows up prepared and ready to do the assignment, but with no love of the game, no interest in lighting us on fire, nothing. Now, I personally am happy with nothing and would like a boring President. I don't need lighting up. I don't like political fervor. The main reason I don't watch these news shows is I hate the fervor. But you've got to look alive. You've got to come across as a real person who seems to be saying the words that are coming out of you. There's an art to being successfully boring.

Let me quote the place in the transcript where I lost hope:
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Barrasso who was just here said that he does think there's room for legislation to protect preexisting conditions, one of the things that would get thrown out with this ruling if it's upheld. Would you--

SEN. KLOBUCHAR: But I just mentioned a number of other things that would also have to be done. So the best thing here--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But is there room for Democrats to work on those sort of issue specific things with Republicans?

SEN. KLOBUCHAR: There's always room to work on things but the best way - and what I believe will happen - is this will be stayed in court. So it continues to take effect. Then it will go up on appeal. It will be upheld.
Klobuchar has a law degree (from the University of Chicago), but she spoke so unclearly about law. Brennan had just spoken about what might happen "with this ruling if it's upheld." Then Klobuchar said "It will be upheld" when she meant that Obamacare will be upheld. When you say that a ruling goes up on appeal, the word "upheld" should mean that the court below was affirmed. Not the opposite! I could see what she meant, but I was so disappointed by the garbling when she had every reason to be absolutely prepared to nail this interview.

"In addition to being a re-gifter, the president is also reported to be a double-dipper, low talker, and master of his domain."

My son John blogs his reaction to the Bloomberg News story "Donald Trump Jr. Says His Father Is a Regifter."

(Links to all the relevant "Seinfeld" clips at the first link, which — helpfully — does not go to Facebook.)

"SNL" uses the stalest Christmas sketch idea of all and — because it's anti-Trump — gets treated as brilliant.

I'm glancing at "SNL asks ‘What if Trump were never elected?’ in a star-studded ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ spoof" (WaPo).

IN THE COMMENTS: Robert Cook said:
I saw a portion of that. Really lazy, pandering, and childish. Do they really believe things were better under Obama, or would be better under H. Clinton, or that Trump is the cause of the world of shit in which we reside? Trump is possible only because the world is in shit shape, in great part because of the actions of our rulers (the plutocrats behind the "people's representatives").
CORRECTION: There is one Christmas sketch idea that is more stale than an "It's a Wonderful Life" parody. That would be a "Christmas Carol" parody. But "SNL" doesn't get credit for avoiding that abysmal triteness because that's exactly how they went after Trump last week.

"all musicals sound like this to me."

I don't think this is good news for Biden.

From "Iowa Poll: Biden, Sanders top early look at possible Democratic hopefuls in 2020 caucuses" (DeMoines Register). The question was: "Do you think the right person to defeat Donald Trump will be more of a political newcomer, as he was, or more of a seasoned political hand?" It's so normal to say a "seasoned hand" would be better and to be wary of a "newcomer," but not even half of the respondents had the obvious reaction to the generic question. And imagine if the question had been written in a way that was more closely framed to the difference between Biden and Beto, something like, Do you think a better choice to defeat Donald Trump would be a 48-year-old who served 3 terms in the House of Representatives or a 78-year old with more than 40 years of service in the Senate and as Vice President? Or: Would you support a presidential candidate who is offering to serve until he is 82 years old? What kind of percentage do you think that last question would get?

"In yet another unnecessary attack on the first lady, CNN contributor Kate Anderson Brower, who purports to be an expert on the customs and norms of first ladies and yet has never met Melania Trump..."

"... wrote Thursday that Mrs. Trump 'proved that she doesn't understand what it means to be first lady.' This condescending opinion, apparently written in response to a single answer Mrs. Trump gave in a Fox News interview Wednesday, was published just hours after the first lady traveled to Children's National hospital in Washington to read a Christmas story, visit sick children and thank the hardworking hospital staff. CNN has a dedicated reporter who covers Mrs. Trump. But the media consistently ignores the first lady's work on behalf of the people of this country, and children in particular, in favor of more trivial matters. And my defense, here, of the first lady will certainly draw criticism and be framed as another assault on the press, but this predictable reaction won't make my observations any less true."

CNN gives Melania Trump's spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, room to respond to the Kate Anderson Brower piece (which you can read here: "Melania shows she's a Trump through and through"

"This week, Anschutz and McKibbin murdered The Weekly Standard, the conservative opinion magazine that Anschutz owned."

"They didn’t merely close it because it was losing money. They seemed to have murdered it out of greed and vengeance," writes David Brooks in "Who Killed The Weekly Standard?/The bureaucratic mind has a temporary triumph" (NYT).
John Podhoretz, one of the magazine’s founders, reports that they actively prevented potential buyers from coming in to take it over and keep it alive. They apparently wanted to hurt the employees and harvest the subscription list so they could make money off it. And Anschutz, being a professing Christian, decided to close the magazine at the height of the Christmas season, and so cause maximum pain to his former employees and their families....

I was on staff when The Standard was founded, by Bill Kristol, Podhoretz and Fred Barnes. They gathered the most concentrated collection of talent I have ever been around. The first masthead featured Charles Krauthammer, P.J. O’Rourke, Robert Kagan, David Frum, Chris Caldwell, Matt Labash, Tucker Carlson and the greatest political writer of my generation, Andrew Ferguson. Early issues featured the writings of Tom Wolfe, Gertrude Himmelfarb, James Q. Wilson and Harvey Mansfield....

It was and remains a warm, fun and convivial group....
Brooks says, "[T]his is what happens when corporate drones take over an opinion magazine, try to drag it down to their level and then grow angry and resentful when the people at the magazine try to maintain some sense of intellectual standards." And: "This is what happens when people with a populist mind-set decide that an uneducated opinion is of the same value as an educated opinion, that ignorance sells better than learning."

Let's use Brooks's phrase "This is what happens" and complete the statement: This is what happens when _________.

It's tempting to write:  This is what happens when Trump happens.

I'm also thinking: This is what happens when the elite feel too warm, fun, and convivial, and the warmth, fun, and conviviality doesn't flow through to the readers who are feeling greater warmth, fun, and conviviality coming from that horrible orange man the elite told them to eschew.

"I felt enraged. I felt flabbergasted. I felt confused... I can’t say that I’m a loyal customer of Prada. I don’t think I would have gone into the store had I not been assaulted by the images."

Said Chinyere Ezie, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, quoted in "Seriously, Prada, what were you thinking?: Why the fashion industry keeps bumbling into racist imagery" (by Robin Givhan in WaPo).
But she went in. She took pictures. And then she did “a reality check.” She showed the pictures she’d taken to her mother and her co-workers. “Am I missing something?” she asked them. No. They saw racism, too.

Ezie juxtaposed her pictures from the Prada store with historical images of Sambo and shared them on Twitter and her Facebook page. “I didn’t want to have to grieve in silence,” she says. “I didn’t want to have to swallow this bitter pill of racism alone.”

Her post made its way through the social media biosphere, stirring outrage....
Here's Ezie's photo, showing the shop window in NYC with the enlarged display figurine:

And here's Prada's photo of product that's for sale, a small charm in a set of fanciful characters that mostly seem like aliens or robots:

I can think of 3 questions:

1. Did the designer of the charm intend — sneakily and with deniability — to insert a racist depiction of a human being in this collection of characters? or...

2. Is this only a case of imagining something like a monkey from outer space and never noticing that other people could see a resemblance to old-fashioned racist cartoon images intended to demean black people and could feel offended? (That is, no one, anywhere within the company in the entire process of manufacturing this $550 gift item ever said Wait a minute, some people might think....), or...

3. Is this a case where the only racism is in the mind of the beholder who looks at a silly fanciful space monkey and decides that it looks like a black person? (Isn't that a little like Roseanne Barr looking at Valerie Jarrett and getting the idea that she looks like an ape?)

Oddly, all 3 options seem implausible. Yet something happened! I guess #2 is the least implausible, but why would a big company like Prada not be more savvy commercially? I'll break that down into 3 theories:

A. They really are dumb about things that are not strictly in the domain of fashion, or...

B. There is great deference to the designer and a culture of not expressing doubt once a design is conceived. (That is, people within the company noticed but understood their role to be to demonstrate faith in the product and not naysay), or...

C. The problem was noticed but the idea became: Let it go. If anyone — maybe some sensitive constitutional rights lawyer — gets offended, we'll say oops, sorry, and withdraw that one, but we'll get so much press for these charms, and people will look at the whole set and see that they really are delightful and buy the others and anyone who's already bought the controversial and now withdrawn monkey will have an extremely valuable item, perhaps to sell on eBay to a real racist or to one of those black people — like Henry Louis Gates Jr. — who collect racist memorabilia.

If Theory C works for you, rethink the plausibility of Theory 1 — it really was intentional.

December 15, 2018

At the Saturday Night Café...

... talk about anything you like.

(And remember to use the Althouse Portal to Amazon if you've got some shopping to do. We were talking about cookies today, so may I suggest some Stella D'Oro Angelica Goodies?)

How to eat sushi.

(Don't miss the humor that begins at 4:18.)

"What'd you call this — 'lay-dare'?"

ADDED: Maybe there's a solution... like this:


I learned a new word, new to me, so new I would have credited myself with coining it if it hadn't been in the dictionary. Why don't we use that word? We use "emasculate." One explanation is that it is "Now largely superseded by masculinize" (OED). Why should "masculinize" win out over "masculate"? "Masculate" is more masculine!