August 21, 2019

"My man was afraid of dust. So we bid on an apartment that hadn’t even been built yet, and I spent the year making obsessive scrapbooks..."

"... just like my mother before me. I planned for wallpaper (my friend Payton Cosell Turner’s Flat Vernacular does the best, and I’ve had the same pattern in three bedrooms in three apartments) and bought Josef Frank pillows and Nancy’s Blushes Farrow & Ball paint for the bedroom. I had art by Rob Pruitt and Ellen Berkenblit ready to go (queer and female painters are my thing). I even had all my mother’s Melmac dishes in queasy pastels. He was on tour, so she and I set the kitchen up, stuffed the closets, and placed the tchotchkes on the mantel for the great unveiling. And he hated it. He didn’t want to hate it. He tried not to hate it. But he didn’t like living among the insides of my mind. I thought I was giving him a gift, like the time I came home from summer camp and my mother had painted my walls four different chalky colors and installed a poster, a candle shaped like a slice of honeydew melon, and an inflatable chair (all this for under $100 at Woolworth’s—RIP Woolworth’s). I wanted to give him the magic that she’d always given me by dreaming her maddening dreams. But he wanted a Restoration Hardware couch and a giant watch to hang on the wall. I felt sick every time I made a design concession or covered up pink with dove gray. Love can only survive so much."

From "Lena Dunham Finds Her Happy Place/After years of chasing (and mentally decorating) her dream space—and with a bevy of projects in the works, including the upcoming HBO series Industry—actress, director, producer, and podcast host Lena Dunham discovers home is where you make it" (Domino).

If you're like me, your first question is: What the hell is a "bevy"? Can you really have "a bevy of projects"? According to the OED, a "bevy" is "The proper term for a company of maidens or ladies, of roes, of quails, or of larks." I think a "bevy" is composed of human or animal creatures. Interestingly and as you might suspect if you stopped and thought about it, the word "bevy" is (probably) related to "beverage" and "it has been conjectured that bevy may have passed from the sense of ‘drinking-bout’ to ‘drinking-party,’ and to ‘party’ or ‘company’ generally." But is it wrong to use "bevy" for a collection of inanimate objects or abstract things (like "projects")? No. It originally referred animate creatures, but there are examples of the inanimate use going back to the 17th century.

With that out of the way, let's proceed to the second thing that jumps off the page, which is something more deep and substantive: interior decoration and intimate relationships. Is the shared home the woman's space, to be decorated according to her taste, and it's the man's role to feel grateful he is accepted into the warmth of a home and to make a separate space for himself (a den or workshop or man-cave) if he wants? If yes, is it more yes when the woman has thrown off a traditional sex roles and styles herself a feminist?

Thirdly, Dunham's relationship with the man who was afraid of dust ended. We're told that as he left, he said — "through tears" — "You can finally eat in the bed without anyone getting mad at you." Let me suggest — for your comments pleasure — the topic of what interior decoration says about the relationship that exists and that is planned. If you make a space that very aggressively says "I exclude you," won't your companion eventually take a hint? Or is there a companion — a better companion? — who can live lightly and pleasurably within his loved one's distinctive space and goes out for a walk or retreat into his den when he needs restoration and Restoration Hardware?

Finally, when a relationship has ended, does a person find solace in thinking about inanimate things? He was afraid not of me, not of intimacy, but of dust. But what is the fear of dust? The fear of death? You can have a home, you can decorate it with the most aspirational taste and personality, it's so specifically yours, but there really is no one special place for you.... All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

"The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office can’t or won’t say why, but the criminal case against the man who allegedly stole Frances McDormand’s Best Actress Oscar in 2018 is over..."

"... at least for now. Terry Bryant was up against a felony grand theft charge for lifting the Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri star’s statuette at the post-ceremony Governors Ball. But that all went away Tuesday in what seemed like a Keystone Kops move in Los Angles Superior Court. 'The District Attorney’s Office today told the court that we are unable to proceed at this time,' a spokesperson for D.A. Jackie Lacey said. 'The defense made a motion to dismiss the case, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta dismissed it,' the D.A’s office added. 'We don’t have further comment.' They don’t have further comment for an incident that was captured by photographs and put on Facebook by a tux-wearing Bryant himself, who has always insisted on his innocence in the admittedly odd incident."

Deadline reports. 

Doesn't seem anything like the Keystone Kops.

"If there is a single micro-genre of American journalism more nauseating than the 'Jay-Z and Beyonce woke discourse circa 2007-2019,' I can't think of it."

"Why exactly we settled on these two billionaire entertainers as the embodiment of progressivism is utterly beyond me. There was never anything revolutionary about 'Woke Queen Bey.' Her weird 2010s monarchist turn was the will-to-power artfully packaged for 20-something Teen Vogue editorial assistants; lyrics like 'I see it, I want it, I stunt, yellow bone it / I dream it, I work hard, I grind till I own it' are essentially Randian.... As for Jay-Z, his — gag me — 'feminism' is about as sincere as you might expect from someone who got rich mouthing along to lines like 'In the cut where I keep em / Till I need a nut.'... All of which is to say that I can't believe anyone is actually surprised, much less upset, by Jay-Z's recent partnership with the NFL on racial issues.... Nobody bats an eye when Rush Limbaugh says things like 'I think we're past kneeling.' Why should anybody be surprised when the guy who did 'Big Pimpin'' tells us the same thing? Of course he's 'the NFL's black boyfriend.' He's been upper-middle-class white frat bros' black boyfriend for two decades now."

From "Jay-Z's cardboard corporate activism" by Matthew Walther (The Week).

Interesting to call Beyonce's lyrics "Randian." I had to look up "yellow bone it." From the annotations at
“Yellow bone” refers to being black but having light-skin.... Bey’s considered “yellow-boned” opposed to “red-boned” because her complexion has more of a “honey” tone to it, and is thus “yellow.” Jay Z referred to Beyonce as a “high yellow broad” on his 2009 song “Off That.”
What does Ayn Rand say about race? From Rand's "Virtue of Selfishness":
Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage — the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.

Racism claims that the content of a man’s mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man’s convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control. This is the caveman’s version of the doctrine of innate ideas — or of inherited knowledge — which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science. Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men.

Like every form of determinism, racism invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty. Racism negates two aspects of man’s life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replacing them with chemical predestination....
I'm not going to go any further into the study of whether Beyonce lyrics accord with Randian philosophy! If my head were full of Beyonce lyrics — which maybe they would be if my last 10 years were my teenage years — I might want to sort through whether Beyonce-ism is as left-wing as left-wing commentators had been presenting her up until this football foofaraw. But my teenage years were in the 60s. My head is full of Dylan lyrics. And I've already blogged about whether Dylan is as left-wing as some people seem to think or whether he's really somehow right-wing. So that's it for me for now about the political meaning of musical artists.

August 20, 2019

A slow aerial view of Madison.

Via r/Madison, where somebody asks "Isn't it pretty dangerous to just fly a drone above traffic and people?"

"More than 11,000 waterfowl and wetland birds were killed after 'baseball-sized' chunks of hail fell on a Montana wildlife management area last weekend..."

"Ducks and shorebirds with broken wings, smashed skulls and other signs of internal bleeding were found on the shores around Big Lake Wildlife Management Area in Molt, Mont...."

NY Post.

The NYT finds a surprising "gay swagger" in President Trump's choice of music for his campaign rallies.

I'm reading "What Do Rally Playlists Say About the Candidates? Presidential campaigns have a sound. We analyzed the playlists of 10 contenders to see how the songs aligned with the messages."

Pugnacity, high drama, self-congratulation and Top 10 familiarity — preferably all at once — are clear requirements for the playlist at Mr. Trump’s rallies. They’re oldies with a swagger … including, surprisingly, gay swagger. The default sentiment is combative self-confidence; the default sound is a martial blare. — JON PARELES
Here's a graphic depiction of the "gay swagger" of Trump's songlist:
I was dubious about this depiction of the "most frequent words" in Trump's songlist:

That is just part of a bigger diagram, emphasizing the frequency of "love." The downward slant of the purple line continues (and Sanders is the one with the least "love").

But what caught my eye was "macho." How could "macho" have come in second in frequency? They only left out "filler words like 'the,' 'yeah,' and 'bam.'" But as I was thinking about that, "Macho Man" played in the background, and the word "macho" is indeed repeated in great profusion in that song. Looks like about 100 times...
Every man wants to be a macho, macho man
To have the kind of body, always in demand
Jogging in the mornings, go man go
Work outs in the health spa, muscles glow
You can best believe that, he's a macho man
Ready to get down with, anyone he can
I love the recommendation of a "health spa," because we know that when Trump mocked a man for being fat, he told him, "Go home. Start exercising." Home?! And then there's also the notion, promulgated by the press in 2017, that Trump opposes exercise (other than golf) because he believes that "a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy."

"We at the Folger revered Justice Stevens for his independent-mindedness. But his denial of Shakespeare’s authorship is founded on a conspiracy theory..."

"... that no reputable Shakespeare scholar countenances. The historical evidence of Shakespeare’s career as an actor and a playwright—including praise of his greatness by his contemporaries—is clear and undeniable. Those interested in the question should consult Shakespeare Documented, the Folger’s authoritative Web site. While we at the Folger will remember Justice Stevens fondly, we strongly disavow his wrongheaded opinions about Shakespeare."

Letter to the editor in the new issue of The New Yorker.

The letter is a reaction to "Justice Stevens’s Dissenting Shakespeare Theory/Among the late Supreme Court Justice’s controversial opinions: a belief that the Bard’s works were actually written by Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford" (where we learn that Scalia shared the same discredited belief.) Also in The New Yorker, "An Unexpected Letter from John Paul Stevens, Shakespeare Skeptic," by the author of "Contested Will," James Shapiro, who interacted with Stevens on the subject and wrote:
... I was curious about what led so wise a jurist to embrace a conspiracy theory—and that’s the only word for it, since there’s not a shred of documentary evidence linking Oxford to Shakespeare’s plays, only speculation and surmise. To look back on my exchange with Stevens is a reminder of how firmly conspiracy thinking has taken hold in America, from anti-vaxxer propaganda to the belief that the moon landing was faked....

The Bible of the Oxfordian movement was J. Thomas Looney’s “Shakespeare Identified,” published in 1920. Stevens knew from having read my book that Looney, a member of the cultish Church of Humanity, had landed upon Oxford as an alternative candidate because the Earl’s life (inventively reimagined) dovetailed with Looney’s own nationalist and reactionary views. Looney’s interest in Shakespeare was more political than literary: he despised modernity and was profoundly anti-democratic. The plays of Shakespeare, understood as the works of an aristocrat, offered Looney a guide for a wished-for restoration of a repressive feudal regime, in which everyone knew his or her place....
Through a series of letters, Stevens doggedly stuck with his arguments and Shapiro refrained from writing about what he clearly regards as nonsense until after Stevens died.

The fish tube.

I found that through "The Nihilistic Euphoria of the Fish Tube" by Rachel Riederer (in The New Yorker). Excerpt:
For a couple of days, Twitter could not stop thinking about the fish tube or imagining what the voyage must be like for the cannoned salmon. Some have cast it as a jaunty adventure, as when set to the theme song from “DuckTales,” but others have conjured it as an aquatic trauma. As the writer and editor Tyler Coates tweeted, “imagine if you were a fish and this shit happened to you.” The most compelling visions of the fish tube have a note of nihilistic euphoria, as in the rewritten Smashing Pumpkins lyric “despite all my lube / i’m still just a fish in a tube,” or as crystallized by the cartoonist and illustrator Matt Lubchansky, who tweeted, “stick my disgusting body into that fish tube and fire me into the goddamned sun!!! let’s GO”...

One imagines that the fish [feels greatly disturbed]. Yet is there not a strange peace to be found in surrendering to whatever chaos has plucked you from your personal mental river? A salmon in a tube can do nothing but relax while physics does the work.... Twitter-scrolling and life itself can sometimes feel akin to being throttled through some strange and endless pneumatic tube—would that all our journeys could resolve so gently.
How did this writer get that far and not say the internet is "a series of tubes"?! Did you know "A Series of Tubes" has its own Wikipedia page?

Joe Biden has "created a bizarre simulacrum of endless — well, not youth, but certainly a long gone upper middle age."

"The combined effect of the tan, the teeth, the hair, and maybe Botox and fillers, if not a facelift, is on the verge of unsettling. We all know Biden is old, but he seems determined to avoid reminding us. Rather than admitting his vitality is, quite naturally, on the wane, Biden is trying to prove he can keep up with rivals young enough to be his children or even grandchildren. This week, however, The Hill reports Biden allies 'have been floating the idea of altering the former vice president's schedule in an effort to reduce the gaffes he has made,' because their candidate tends "to make the blunders late in the day' when he is tired. This is a good idea, and one Biden should embrace openly. Admit he needs to relax in the evening. Acknowledge that most 76-year-olds are having dinner at 5 p.m., not rolling into their third campaign stop in eight hours. Use the schedule change to talk about what voters can realistically expect if they choose the oldest president in U.S. history. Running against the perpetually sleep deprived Trump, maybe use it to talk about how a good sleep schedule helps avoid the mental decline old age can bring. For candidates nearing 80, the best way to convince voters they're not too old is to own their oldness."

From "Joe Biden, own your age" by Bonnie Kristian (in The Week). Not act your age (the standard expression (which I attacked recently)). Own your age. "Act your age" tells you to change and be a better you. "Own your age" says you are what you and spare us the bullshit.

A woman and her simulacrum — Whitney Cummings has a sex robot/doll made in her own image.

An hour and 30 minutes have passed since the first post of the day.

It was that thing about the vasectomy cake, which might make you think I have a low standard, but in fact the vasectomy cake met a very high standard, and I have been looking ever since to find something else that meets my standard.

I really mean it when I say better than nothing is a high standard. The vasectomy cake was in fact the only thing in an hour and a half of reading that was better than nothing. I considered and rejected:

1. "The U.S. must take Greenland by force!" by Dana Milbank (WaPo). Who cares how Milbank hits a softball?

2. "Trump is melting down. Again" by Eugene Robinson (WaPo). First line: "Uh-oh. President Trump is in such a state of panic about his dimming reelection prospects that he’s getting his lies mixed up and occasionally blurting out the truth." I considered a post title like "Uh-oh, WaPo is in such a state of panic about the Democrats' dimming reelection prospects that..." and then I just felt disgusted with the me who would write like that. A computer could be programmed to write a blog that just flips the partisanship of every headline.

3. "Conservative Scholar: The Real Racists Are People Who Call Trump Racist" by Jonathan Chait (NY Magazine). So the conservative scholar flipped a liberal meme to make it anti-liberal and liberal Chait will flip it back. Am I supposed to expend my cruel neutrality on such low-effort stuff? Chait has to write a column. He's paid to do it. I don't and I'm not.

4. "A Party Room and a Prison Cell Inside the Friends writers’ room," a book excerpt by Saul Austerlitz (at NY Magazine). I'm interested in "Friends," and the article is long. I read it. But that doesn't mean it has to become a blog post. It's less interesting than the vasectomy cake. And a vasectomy cake would be a great plotline for a "Friends" episode.

5. "Neil Young’s Lonely Quest to Save Music/He says low-quality streaming is hurting our songs and our brains. Is he right?" I love Neil Young. Nice black-and-white photograph of Neil Young. The first sentence is "Neil Young is crankier than a hermit being stung by bees" and we were just talking about bees, but the article is about digital audio, a topic he's been perseverating about for a quarter century. I make a mental note to pull out "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" for the next time we get together to play records.