December 16, 2018

"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!

Trump bids good riddance to The Weekly Standard.

"Pope Francis stresses the merciful God and the forgiving God... For a priest to even hint that the person might not be in heaven is grossly wrong."

Said the Rev. Charles Rubey, founder and director of Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide, quoted in "Bedford family calls for priest to be removed after funeral" (Toledo Blade).

The parents of an 18-year-old boy who committed suicide are publishing lashing out at the Rev. Don LaCuesta at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Michigan, who presided over the funeral service and spoke about suicide as a sin.

The mother, Linda Hullibarger said: "He basically called our son a sinner, instead of rejoicing in his life. It’s not OK... He needs to be held accountable."

The Catholic Church  used to deny a Christian burial to suicides. But:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in its current edition acknowledges mitigating factors that “diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.... We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”...

Here's the argument... in a nutshell.

Nostalgia cookie of the day: Devil's Food Squares.

Look at this great commercial:

That was the one cookie we always had at my house when I was a child — because these were the cookies my father liked. There were other cookies — Hydrox, Oreo, Vanilla Wafers, Pecan Sandies, Scooter Pies — but the king of all cookies was the Devil's Food Square.

And I love the outdoor ethos of the commercial. These were clearly boys' cookies. Boys and grizzly bears' cookies.

And I have to give this my "logos" tag for that Nabisco logo (which turns into a cowboy on a horse and gallops off).

"'Die Hard,' which opens today at the Baronet and Criterion Center, has more than its share of bloody moments and blasted bodies, and it has some abysmal scenes as well."

"The former ballet star Alexander Godunov is a conspicuous terrorist, jumping around the set in a basic black costume and flowing blond hair. As the brother of McClane’s first victim, he gets to say things like 'I want blood!' And when McClane realizes he has been too hard on his wife, he radios an unintentionally funny message to Al: 'Tell her that she is the best thing that ever happened to a bum like me.'"

The last paragraph of the 1988 review of "Die Hard," which the NYT just reprinted as part of a series of 10 "holiday movies we consider classics or cult favorites today" that didn't seem as though they were going to attain that status when the original review was published.

I've never seen "Die Hard," by the way. I am watching the complete 10-season series of "Friends," and I do notice the continual references to "Die Hard"...

... but I don't think there's any additional understanding of "Friends" to be gained from actually knowing "Die Hard." It's nice when you're watching a show that makes a lot of references to get the references, but it would be weird to feel that you have to watch all the movies and TV shows and read all the books the Friends mention... though I did care enough about "The One Where Chandler Crosses The Line" to read "The Velveteen Rabbit."

Okay, I just rejected something for poor taste. I do have some standards.

The news item was not in poor taste. The thing I was going to say about it was.

"As happens to so many of us, I was asked to write a sitcom for Croatian television. I’m an American ex-pat living in Slovenia..."

Wrote Noah Charney in The Atlantic — back in 2015 — in "Cracking the Sitcom Code/After signing up to write a script for Croatian television, I learned that virtually all TV comedies, from Seinfeld to South Park, follow a simple formula." I'm reading this because I'm in the middle of watching the complete 10 seasons of "Friends," and I'm writing about it episode-by-episode as I go. In the process, I've developed my understanding of the structure of sitcom writing, and this article is right in the zone for me.

Charney had written some plays, but never any television. He took the job, though, and he began by googling "How to write a sitcom." Then he watched a lot of sitcoms, looking for tips. He was looking to crack the code and discover the structure. He found "a highly-specific, minute-by-minute" formula, and he found it — the “sitcom code.” And (most helpfully?) he used a word-processing program that had a "sitcom format."
The Sitcom Code breaks down what needs to happen in each episode, by the minute. As Dan Richter of Demand Media notes, “Sitcoms, minus commercials, are typically 22 minutes long [with] a script of 25-40 pages. Every sitcom episode has a main plot (story A), as well as one or two subplots (stories B and C).” There are three main acts, divided by two commercial breaks (in most American TV), with 3-5 scenes per act. One of the distinguishing characteristics of sitcoms, as opposed to other forms of television, is that the main protagonist(s) barely change from one episode to the next... Therefore whatever happens in the episode, the situation must end largely where it began....

Each episode begins with the protagonist stating a goal or problem that must be solved, and which we understand will be solved by the end of the episode.... When writers sit around and prepare a new episode, many literally map out what will happen, minute-by-minute, in the main storyline and sub-storylines, filling in jokes later.
Charney describes one episode of one sitcom under the headings: "The Teaser (Minutes 1-3).... The Trouble (Minutes 3-8)... The Muddle (Minutes 8-13).... The Triumph/Failure (Minutes 13-18)... The Kicker (Minutes 19-21)...." I found this too boring to read, which taught me something about writing about a sitcom: A plot summary is unreadable. You've got to write interesting sentences. In my "Friends" writing, I do what I do on this blog, write about whatever interests me and only what interests me. (That's the formula for blogging. Feel free to use it!)

Back to Charney:
This deconstructionist approach to sitcoms was truly helpful when it came time to write my own, as I had minute-by-minute slots to fill and a strong idea of this endlessly successful and recycled series of plot arcs. But I still had to write the darn thing. The Croatian public were waiting.

Next time you settle in to watch a sitcom, keep this code in mind, and an eye on your stopwatch. You’ll be amazed at how tight and to-the-minute the formula is, yet marvel at the variety that TV writers conjure within this straitjacket literary form. Now, I better start Googling “what Croatians find funny…”
Charney is in a funny situation himself. But I don't get the last line. Did he write the sitcom or not? Obviously, the magic is in what you put into the structure. But structure is great. It's good to notice things that follow a tight structure. Apparently, even the sitcoms that seem powerfully innovative use this structure. I wonder if the structure has mostly to do with the placement of commericals and whether commercial-free shows stick to the formula. Maybe it's such a good formula that they do.