December 31, 2020

Hey! I stayed up ‘til 9!

 Happy new year, everybody... and good night!

The tundra swans are back on Lake Mendota.

This morning at sunrise: 

"In Scottish custom, Unspoken Water was water believed to have healing properties when collected 'from under a bridge, over which the living pass and the dead are carried...'"

"'... brought in the dawn or twilight to the house of a sick person, without the bearer’s speaking, either in going or returning.'... The custom is long obsolete. The 1901 The Book of Saint Fittick by Thomas White Ogilvie contains an elderly woman's account of being 'the last wife in Torry to cure a bairn wi' unspoken water ... comin' or gaun I spak' tae naebody — for that's what mak's unspoken water.'"

From "Unspoken Water," Wikipedia, clicked on from "Religion and Water," Wikipedia, which I was reading to pursue some ideas that occurred to me as I was listening to the song "Drifting Too Far From the Shore," which Meade has been playing — in various versions — all morning. (The Dylan song with virtually the same title is different, but influenced by this old song.)

The Scottish meaning of "unspoken" is "Without having spoken" — according to the OED, which quotes an 1825 Scottish dictionary: "Unspoken water, the house of a sick person, without the bearer's speaking either in going or returning."

Orgasms and sandwiches.

From a post at Reddit about the 1973 book "Understanding the Female Orgasm" by Dr. Seymour Fisher:
something I found googling his name.... "Part of the early research leading to that book found that women who enjoyed food were likely to enjoy sex as well, and that put a twist into the Fishers' social life, Rhoda Fisher said. 'When we got to somebody's house for dinner,' she said, 'no women wanted to sit near him. They thought he'd analyze their food.'"
If I had to choose between an orgasm and like a really good sandwich, I'd pick the sandwich. I don't know what that says about me. 
Absolutely. If I had to live without orgasming for the rest of my life, I'd feel a bit sad and frustrated, but if I had to live without really good sandwiches, I would be undone...
Just yesterday, I complained on another post my orgasms are pretty meh so it was such an easy choice. Give me a fricken sandwich with everything on it!!

IN THE COMMENTS: Meade says, "And remember— you can’t fake a sandwich."

I google "marcel marceau eats a sandwich"... 


 ALSO: "Once I ate a hamster sandwich...."

AND: We all remember when Warren Zevon said "Enjoy every sandwich and you know what I mean by sandwich."

Precise opportunity seized.

Last midnight: "2020, 24 hours to go..." (my son John, at Facebook, embedding "I Wanna Be Sedated").

"Mr. Hawley’s challenge is not unprecedented... Democrats in both the House and Senate challenged certification of the 2004 election results..."

"... and House Democrats tried on their own to challenge the 2016 and 2000 outcomes, though without Senate support. ... Senator Barbara Boxer of California... briefly delayed the certification of George W. Bush’s victory... cit[ing] claims that Ohio election officials had improperly purged voter rolls... which Mr. Bush carried by fewer than 120,000 votes. Nancy Pelosi, then the House Democratic leader, supported the challenge.... The House voted 267 to 31 against the challenge and the Senate rejected it 74 to 1...  After the 2016 election, several House Democrats tried again, rising during the joint session to register challenges against Mr. Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in various states. The Democrats cited reasons ranging from long lines at polling sites to the Kremlin’s election influence operation."

So... in the last three decades, every time a Republican won, Congressional Democrats challenged the certification of the election, and every time a Democrat won, Congressional Republicans did not challenge the certification.

That certainly puts a different light on what Josh Hawley is doing!

Either challenging the certification is the norm or it is not. It can't be the norm for Democrats and abnormal when a Republican does the same thing. Either Congress has a role in looking into the workings of the state elections or it does not. It can't be that the role is to question Republican victories and rubber-stamp Democratic victories.

I can see — in the NYT write up — the basis for arguing that there actually should be a lopsided role. To fill out something I elided above: "In challenging those results Democrats cited claims that Ohio election officials had improperly purged voter rolls and otherwise disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters in the state...." 

The argument that's hinted at is that there should be heightened scrutiny where the challenge has to do with discrimination against a traditionally discriminated against group. 

December 30, 2020

At the Overnight Cafe...

 ... you can write about whatever you want.

"Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley said Wednesday he will object when Congress counts the Electoral College votes next week, which will force lawmakers in both the House and Senate to vote..."

"... on whether to accept the results of President-elect Joe Biden's victory.... The objection will not change the outcome of the election, only delaying the inevitable affirmation of Biden's victory in November over President Donald Trump. Democrats will reject any objections in the House, and multiple Republican senators have argued against an objection that will provide a platform for Trump's baseless conspiracy theories claiming the election was stolen from him. Hawley's objection, which other senators may still join, will also put many of his Senate Republican colleagues in a difficult political position, forcing them to vote on whether to side with Trump or with the popular will of the voters."

"A pack of young bicyclists attacked a BMW in broad daylight in Manhattan, terrorizing the man and woman inside in a terrifying ambush caught on video."

"Several assailants surrounded the luxury ride at Fifth Avenue and 21st Street around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, with some pounding the vehicle with their fists and feet, and another smashing a bike down on top of it...  One attacker got a running start, vaulted up on the hood of the BMW and jumped on top of the windshield, causing it to partly cave in... The same group similarly attacked a cab a short time later...."

Big overnight snow storm.

How it looked from our window at 6:58 a.m.: IMG_1963

"Russian riot police stormed into a monastery Tuesday to detain a rebel monk who has castigated the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church leadership and denied the existence of the coronavirus...."

"Authorities charged [Father Sergiy] with inciting suicidal actions through sermons in which he urged believers to 'die for Russia.'...  When the virus arrived in Russia early this year, the 65-year-old monk denied its existence and denounced government efforts to stem the pandemic as 'Satan’s electronic camp.' He has described the vaccines being developed against COVID-19 as part of a global plot to control the masses via chips.... The monk chastised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a 'traitor to the Motherland' who was serving a Satanic 'world government.'...  In his fiery sermons, he... glorified Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II."

Andrew Sullivan detects anti-gay bigotry: "So you agree not wanting to have sex with someone because they have a vagina is a form of bigotry, right?"

I had trouble understanding whether Molly — DFW was (at any point) joking. Until she says, she's free to say (at any point) that she was joking. (Cf. "Schrödinger's Douchebag " (Urban Dictionary "Word of the Day," December 24, 2020.)

Does genitalia matter? I can see thinking that a person's inner being matters far more than what's on the outside, and that "gender identification" is part of what's on the inside, but when it comes to sexual attraction, we're not required to go solely by what's on the inside, and indeed, if only the inside — the mind — counts, why are we having sexual intercourse at all? How can you say genitalia is irrelevant when what you're talking about is something you do with your genitalia?

ADDED: We shouldn't conflate rejecting somebody socially with rejecting somebody sexually. It's one thing to be respectful and friendly to all sorts of people, quite another to be open to having sex with them. 

This is all very ordinary. We all have our standards. Any given heterosexual person might think: I don't want to have sex with anyone who's overweight or not good looking. You'd be awful to behave disrespectfully to such a person socially, but there's nothing wrong with not wanting to have sex with them. 

But these 2 kinds of rejection merge when you start speaking openly about your sexual preferences. It's one thing to think to yourself there's no way I'd have sex with a fat/ugly man/woman, but you would be thought ill of if you said that out loud. If Sullivan makes a big deal about the penis as the sine qua non of gay sex, he's a bit like the heterosexual man who says "No fatties." Your speech is in the social realm. You can refrain from stating what is, in fact, your strict policy. 

But speaking publicly about sexual preference has been a big part of the gay rights movement:

"I’ve been against the space program.... After all, we knew there were no resources we could economically bring back from [the moon], and we knew there was no atmosphere."

"Even if the whole thing were paved with diamonds, that wouldn’t help us much. So it seems like a vaudeville stunt. A lot of scientists felt it was money that might be spent in other areas of research. What it was was money spent on engineering. It might as well have been an enormous skyscraper or a huge bridge or something like that. It was publicity and show business, not science. John F. Kennedy was largely responsible for it. He was competitive. He was a tough, joyful athlete and he loved to win. And it wasn’t a bad guess, really, that this might cheer Americans up and make us more energetic. It didn’t quite work out that way, but Kennedy, in his enthusiasm for this thing, was really wishing the best for the American people. He thought it might excite us tremendously.... It seemed childish. It seemed childish even to children. My children simply weren’t interested. There was nothing they wanted on the moon. A third grader knows there’s no atmosphere there. There’s nothing to eat or drink, nobody to talk to. They already know that. There’s more that they want in the Sahara or on the polar icecap.... They picked colorless men to make the trip, because colorless men were the only sort who could stand to make it. In science-fiction stories, people on spaceships are arguing all the time. Well, people who are going to argue shouldn’t go on spaceships in the first place."

Said Kurt Vonnegut in a 1973 interview with Playboy.
Playboy: You said it was sexual. 

Just so we're clear...

Backstory: "Dick Cheney hunting accident" (Wikipedia).

"In what is probably the definitive word on how little exercise we can get away with, a new study finds that a mere four seconds of intense intervals, repeated until they amount to about a minute of total exertion..."

"... lead to rapid and meaningful improvements in strength, fitness and general physical performance among middle-aged and older adults.... Ed Coyle, an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas in Austin, and his graduate assistant Jakob Allen suspected that even 20-second spurts, performed intensely, might exceed some exercisers’ tolerance. So, he decided to start looking for the shortest possible interval that was still effective.... [Volunteers aged 50 to 68] sprinted for four seconds, with Dr. Allen calling out a second-by-second countdown, followed by 56 seconds of rest, repeating that sequence 15 times, for a total of 60 seconds of intervals. Over two months, though, the riders’ rest periods declined to 26 seconds and they increased their total number of sprints to 30 per session. At the end of eight weeks, the scientists retested everyone and found substantial differences. On average, riders had increased their fitness by about 10 percent, gained considerable muscle mass and strength in their legs, reduced the stiffness of their arteries and outperformed their previous selves in activities of daily living, all from about three to six minutes a week of actual exercise."

"The statue by Thomas Ball depicts a Black man, shirtless and on his knees, in front of a clothed and standing Abraham Lincoln."

"In one hand, Lincoln holds a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, while the other is stretched out over the Black man. Ball intended it to look as though the man were rising to freedom, but to many, it looks like he is bowing down or supplicating to Lincoln. Boston artist Tory Bullock, who started the petition, described it this way: 'I’ve been watching this man on his knees since I was a kid. It’s supposed to represent freedom but instead represents us still beneath someone else. I would always ask myself, "If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?"'"

From "Controversial Lincoln statue is removed in Boston, but remains in D.C." (WaP). There are 2 identical statues, the original in Washington and a replica that was in Boston. 

The original statue "was commissioned and paid for by a group of Black Americans, many of whom were formerly enslaved," but they "did not have a say in the design of the statue; that distinction went to an all-White committee and the artist, Ball, who was White." 

Frederick Douglass was present at the unveiling in 1876, and he criticized the statue in writing a few days later: "What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man." 

The question "If he’s free, why is he still on his knees?" is interesting. Whenever stationary art depicts an action, we see a stage of the action. We're in the middle of things. How do you make a statue of a person rising up? If you show him already fully standing, you might lose the expression of the action...

... you don't need to show this figure that close to the ground. And Lincoln looks still and lordly. It is a strange artifact. It's artwork from the past, never the greatest art, but carrying the weight of history, history that includes Frederick Douglass wanting to see a better image of a black man before he died.


I looked to see what year Douglass died. It was 1895. I clicked through on the name of his first wife, Anna Murray Douglass:

December 29, 2020

At the Sunrise Cafe

IMG_1946 ... you can talk about whatever you want.

"I loathe domestic life.... I don’t want anyone in my house that I don’t know when they are leaving, so I don’t want there to be anyone else in the house."

"So you’ve never had a live-in relationship?"/"Never! That’s what I’m saying, never! Never. I never did it. I never would do it. I don’t want to do it. I have no interest in it. I don’t like domestic life like that. I am not that share-y a person; I’m not accommodating in that way, in any real way. I have zero ability or desire — the only monogamous relationship I have had in my life is with my car. That is my monogamous relationship; I still have that car, the same car, yes, and the reason that I still have this car is because, unlike humans, I am not tired of the car."

From "Fran Lebowitz vs. the World Talking (on a landline) with the star of Martin Scorsese’s cranky, necessary love letter to New York, Pretend It’s a City" (New York Magazine). I'm quite sure it's not necessary, but it's on Netflix, so I will check it out.

"Like Nietzsche’s Socrates, Trump was 'the buffoon who got himself taken seriously.' Unlike a Socratic buffoon, however..."

"... Trump never overcame himself. Bereft of the wider critique that once confounded political elites, his personality cult is no longer compelling even as a vessel for ressentiment. Its chief acolytes today are the legacy media operations whose fortunes his nonstop controversies helped revive, opportunistic scribblers hoping to cash in on one more #Maga or #Resistance potboiler, and those who prefer that the media focus on anything except the substantive issues raised in 2016. They will happily ride the Trump gravy train as far as it goes, but it’s already running out of steam." 

Here's the context of "the buffoon who got himself taken seriously," from Nietzsche’s "Twilight of the Idols":
With Socrates, Greek taste changes in favor of dialectics. What really happened there? Above all, a noble taste is thus vanquished; with dialectics the plebs come to the top. Before Socrates, dialectic manners were repudiated in good society: they were considered bad manners, they were compromising. The young were warned against them. Furthermore, all such presentations of one's reasons were distrusted. Honest things, like honest men, do not carry their reasons in their hands like that. It is indecent to show all five fingers. What must first be proved is worth little. Wherever authority still forms part of good bearing, where one does not give reasons but commands, the dialectician is a kind of buffoon: one laughs at him, one does not take him seriously. Socrates was the buffoon who got himself taken seriously: what really happened there?

William Gibson — deploying the old "grocer's apostrophe" — says something inscrutable about Nazis and the Space Force.

"One of the more unexpected character arcs of the Trump era is the emergence of 'Dilbert' creator Scott Adams as a pro-Trump political commentator."

"Adams, a 'trained hypnotist' with a self-proclaimed expertise in the rhetorical dark arts, has made any number of dazzlingly confident predictions over the last four years. But few are quite as grim as his March 12 tweet predicting that before November 3, Sanders, Biden and Trump would all contract Covid-19 — and one of them would die from it. It’s December, the election is over, and all three men are still alive. Though Trump did contract coronavirus before Election Day, after a hospitalization and VIP treatment, he quickly recovered."

From "The Worst Predictions of 2020/This year was impossible to predict. But that doesn’t mean people didn’t try" (Politico). Lots more predictions at the link. Unfortunately, they're all about either coronavirus or the elections. 

Our wild year.

"This is the best gift idea I've ever had."

"We're told Biden doesn't have a 'vision.' He doesn't. We’re told he doesn’t have an ideology. He doesn’t. But he has a public image..."

"... which is that he’s a middle-class guy in the center who knows what he doesn't like — and he doesn’t like departures from common sense. In this initial, breath-gathering post-Trump moment, that might do as a Vision Substitute. It’s not asking not what your country can do for you or having a dream or a shining city on a hill or 'as Americans that is not enough we must be equal in the eyes of each other.' It’s just 'C'mon man.' Like Biden, it might do." 

December 28, 2020

Sunrise with snow.

IMG_1914 IMG_1901

"Successfully making art requires accepting yourself, in Mr. Koons’s philosophy, so that you can pursue your interests without shame."

"'Everything about your past is perfect,' he says. 'Everything up to this moment about you is spectacular.' ... I found myself mindlessly nodding along, as he compares an ashtray that he remembers loving as a child, with a reclining woman holding her legs aloft, to Michelangelo’s 'Pietà.' 'How can that be any less than this masterpiece by Michelangelo?' he says. 'It’s equal.'... He asks himself, 'What have I been pulled to? What have the interests been lately?' He believes this will work for you, too.... "

I subscribed to MasterClass a while ago. I think I watched 3 courses. Really enjoyed David Sedaris and David Mamet. Both Davids taught about writing. The only other one I watched was Bobbie Brown teaching about makeup. That was sort of okay. I think the overall experience is one of encouragement: You can do it too. 

But are you really encouraged? Do you go on to do the things that are supposedly being taught, or are you only feeling something called encouragement, admiring somebody whose work you like, and nothing more?

"Oakland’s Ceramic Bust Of Breonna Taylor Smashed In Brazen Act Of Vandalism."

CBS Local reports.

Who would do such a thing?

If you've been having trouble with the "Dr. Jill" nomenclature, just see it as a stage name... a sobriquet... a nom de guerre...

This is a solution I'd been thinking about ever since the controversy broke a couple weeks ago (or whenever that was), but I felt pushed over the edge to blog about it when I was driving in my car, listening to the "Bridge" channel on the satellite radio, and this came on:


Dr. Hook. That's a stage name. 
The "Hook" name was inspired by Sawyer's eyepatch and a reference to Captain Hook of the Peter Pan fairy tale, although, humorously, Captain Hook was neither a doctor nor wore an eyepatch. Ray Sawyer had lost his right eye in a near-fatal car crash in Oregon in 1967, and thereafter always wore an eyepatch. The eyepatch led some to believe that Sawyer was 'Dr. Hook'....
You can help me fill out the list of pop culture figures who use the honorific "Dr.," but I'll just note Dr. John...



.. and Dr. Demento...

There are a lot of nicknames and pseudonyms in American culture, and "Dr." is a popular component. No need to act like it's sacrosanct and not available for appropriation at whim. 

ADDED: Dr. Fink! ("Fink joined Prince’s band in 1978, which later became The Revolution.... In 1987, Fink opened his own studio facility in Minneapolis, now called 'The Operating Room'"). Nice view of the doctor — mask and all — at 0:28:

I feel lured into talking about Hilaria Baldwin, but what do I want to say? What did I say about Rachel Dolezal... and is this the same... or worse... or better?

I thought I could get away with dropping this one seemingly juicy sentence from The Washington Examiner....
But while, say, the New York Times decided that Hilaria's cosplaying as a Latina stereotype was off-limits — even as they wrote growing profiles of her as well, including uncritically her "slight Spanish accent" — the paper of record has celebrated children having their college admissions revoked for a video of them singing the N-word along to a song when they were 15 as a "reckoning." 
I found that because it has Rachel Dolezal in the headline ("Alec Baldwin's wife became Hollywood's Rachel Dolezal because of our sniveling, bootlicking press"). 

But come on — "they wrote growing profiles." Presumably, that should be "glowing profiles," Hilaria Baldwin has posted many selfies where she's standing sideways to display her pregnant belly. But no, that's not something the NYT can write. Here's the glowing profile in the Times, from back in 2014: "Hilaria Baldwin Holds Her Center" ("Her voice betrays a slight Spanish accent, remains of a childhood split between Boston and Spain").

I wonder how many people are faking accents... and why (and when) we feel a person acquires a pleasing air about them because of that. Oh! Just by chance, last night I watched an episode of "Friends" where the Friends were extremely irritated by a woman who'd acquired a fake English accent:


Interestingly enough, that's the episode with blackface...

That episode — "The One With Ross's Tan" — has more thematic unity than I originally thought!

Well, clearly, blackface is a very specific problem that has been isolated, and everyone has been warned about it, so violations are harshly judged. The same is true of the "n-word," though the presence of lots of recorded music with the word creates confusion for young people who might not understand that this is the ONE thing you don't sing along with. 

But accents... accents are different. You can do fake accents... can't you? I've seen people pick up a New York accent or a Southern accent... to try to fit in or to be thought well of. Many actors do accents and get special acclaim. Meryl Streep, etc. etc.

So must Hilaria Baldwin be denounced because she's doing what she's doing while being a highly privileged person? Or are accents different from skin darkening? 

ADDED: As for the article where the NYT "celebrated children having their college admissions revoked for a video of them singing the N-word along to a song when they were 15 as a 'reckoning,'" here it is: "A Racial Slur, a Viral Video, and a Reckoning/A white high school student withdrew from her chosen college after a three-second video caused an uproar online. The classmate who shared it publicly has no regrets." Excerpt:

It's not the strict adherence to a plan... it's also the strict avoidance of trying to do it very well — 4 decades of rigorous anti-perfectionism.

ADDED: Here's the New Yorker article. Excerpt: "Her strain of snapshot conceptualism, profoundly personal and eminently personable, could have been overwhelmed with minutiae or weighed down by retrospective insight. Instead, with its light touch and searching, unsmiling star, the book breathes with open-ended nuance."

"Trump reverses on coronavirus stimulus deal, signs package he called a 'disgrace.'"

 USA Today headline.

Is that a "reversal"? 

After weeks of negotiation and bipartisan votes of approval in the House and Senate, Trump on Tuesday unexpectedly slammed the COVID stimulus legislation but stopped short of saying he would veto it. The message upended Washington, drew bipartisan condemnation and threatened to end a chaotic year with a government shutdown. 


But after a growing number of Republicans pushed back on Trump's reticence – and Democrats quickly embraced Trump's idea of larger direct payments and used it as a cudgel against GOP lawmakers – Trump relented. The president, who has been spending the holidays at his Florida resort, hinted he had won concessions from lawmakers but it was not clear if that was actually the case.

December 27, 2020

At the Sunday Night Café...


... you can talk about whatever you want.

When you're alone and 5G is making you paranoid, you can always go... downtown....

The Daily Mail reports: 
Speculation is growing that the AT&T building was intentionally targeted in the Nashville Christmas Day bombing as the FBI probes rumors that the main suspect in the attack harbored deep paranoia about 5G technology. 
Police on Sunday confirmed that Anthony Quinn Warner, 63, is a person of interest in the investigation launched when an RV exploded outside Nashville's AT&T building on Friday morning, leaving three people injured and dozens of structures damaged. 
At a press conference police officers described how the RV, which was covered in cameras, played an ominous warning about the impending explosion and the song 'Downtown' by Petula Clark in the minutes before the blast went off.

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city/Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty/How can you lose?

How can you lose?

"Although Westerners date the origins of restaurants (those independent of inns) to post-revolutionary France, when chefs were suddenly freed..."

"... from the kitchens of the aristocracy, in Japan restaurants began more than one hundred and seventy years earlier, after the Tokugawa Shogunate instituted the system of alternate attendance (sankin kotai) to prevent its feudal lords (daimyo) from overthrowing it. Because after 1615 daimyo were required to divide their time between their fiefs and Edo, leaving their wives and children in the capital as hostages, a vast economic system grew up to support not only their travels but their substantial, non-productive retinues in the capital. Not only restaurants but all kinds of commerce, including shipping, banking, department stores, theaters, fine arts and crafts, have their roots in Tokugawa Period Edo, which by 1700 was one of the largest cities in the world. As the merchant class grew and prospered, its money and desires created something new and original: nightlife. Those familiar with the woodblock prints and paintings known as ukiyoe–the 'Floating World'–have seen the denizens of Edo’s vibrant nighttime culture: the geisha..., kabuki actors, singers, dancers, storytellers, wrestlers, merchants, prostitutes, masterless samurai and revelers who flocked to the entertainment district of Yoshiwara.... That world lives today in mizushobai, 'the water trade,' the wonderful Japanese term that denotes all the nightlife businesses.... In contemporary Tokyo, mizushobai is centered in the Kabuki-cho section of Shinjuku, where 'Midnight Diner' is located...."

I'd resisted Netflix for a long time but recently subscribed because I'd watched "The Crown" during our short stay in an Airbnb in Nashville, Indiana last month. I've settled in to a style of watching TV, with a few series mixed in with all those old episodes of "The Crown." The one that has established itself as our favorite is "Midnight Diner."

"It is with a heavy heart we say goodbye to one of the most iconic voices and musicians in bluegrass. David Anthony ‘Tony’ Rice passed away yesterday, Dec. 25, at his home in Reidsville, NC. Few will ever match his skill and influence."

Said the International Bluegrass Association, quoted in Variety
Rice was “the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last 50 years,” said Ricky Skaggs, who played alongside Rice in the group the New South in the 1970s and later rejoined him for a classic duets album, “Skaggs/Rice.”... 
“Sometime during Christmas morning while making his coffee, our dear friend and guitar hero Tony Rice passed from this life and made his swift journey to his heavenly home,” Skaggs wrote. “

"You have, then, the calm conservatism of George H. W. Bush and the fevered conservatism of Patrick Buchanan; the balm of Jeb Bush and..."

"... the bluntness of Donald Trump; the moderation of Theresa May and the flamboyance of Boris Johnson; of Angela Merkel, perhaps the most properly conservative of our contemporary leaders, against the radical outliers of reactionary German nationalism. Fawcett sees this as the core conflict within the right, always present, forever waxing or waning, and central to the future of Western democracy."

Writes Andrew Sullivan, in a NYT review of "CONSERVATISM/The Fight for a Tradition" by Edmund Fawcett. Fawcett calls himself "a left-wing liberal."

The quote I cherry-picked has Sullivan contrasting the conservatism of Edmund Burke — who "believed in pluralism, modest but necessary reform and the dispersal of power" — with the conservatism of Joseph de Maistre — "who found adaptation to modernity to be indistinguishable from surrender" and "saw decline everywhere and always, enemies within and without."

I'm struck by the silliness of the phrase "the balm of Jeb Bush." 

Sullivan makes the contrast between moderates and radicals sound like a matter of physical heat. And the best people are the ones whose nature is to remain cool. This distaste for "flamboyance," "bluntness," and "fever" is openly elitist — as we see in the last paragraph:
Moderate conservatism is a vital counterbalance to liberalism, as the Trump years have shown. For it to disappear into a populist cult, hostile to democratic norms, contemptuous of all elites, captured by delusions and sustained by hatred and ressentiment, would not be completely unprecedented. But, unchallenged by moderate conservatism, populist or “hard right” conservatism will be deeply destructive. In that sense, the battle for moderate conservatism is now inextricable from a battle for liberal democracy itself. 

IN THE COMMENTS: hawkeyedjb says:

Liberals pretend to respect Moderate Conservatism, but when a moderate conservative like Mitt Romney comes along, they turn him into an evil, money-grubbing, cancer-giving Hitler youth. Just one example out of many that comes down to the same thing: all Republicans, of any stripe, are Hitler in the end. So why not be Trump?
That's a different perspective on what — to use Sullivan's phrase — "the Trump years have shown."

"Ms. Petro said she and her husband still make time for sex, even if it’s just, say, every third Sunday. 'I shove thoughts of chores undone out of my mind...'"

"'... and just try to relax into my body and be present for my partner,' she said.... 'People get very wrapped up in the idea of spontaneously desiring sex,' Dr. Nagoski said, but, especially in women, it’s fairly rare. Based on a wide body of research on gender and sexual desire, Dr. Nagoski estimates that roughly 15 percent of women experience spontaneous desire, whereas most experience responsive desire — wanting sex when something erotic is happening."

December 26, 2020

Wild ice morning.


"As retro as a shelf of books might seem in an era of flat-panel screens, Books by the Foot has thrived through Democratic and Republican administrations..."

"... including that of the book-averse Donald Trump. And this year, the company has seen a twist: When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Books by the Foot had to adapt to a downturn in office- and hotel-decor business—and an uptick in home-office Zoom backdrops for the talking-head class.... If an order were to come in for, say, 12 feet of books about politics, specifically with a progressive or liberal tilt... one of [the] more politics-savvy staffers to the enormous box labeled 'Politically Incorrect' (the name of Books by the Foot’s politics package) to select about 120 books by authors like Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Al Franken and Bob Woodward. The books would then be 'staged,' or arranged with the same care a florist might extend to a bouquet of flowers, on a library cart; double-checked by a second staffer; and then shipped off to the residence or commercial space where they would eventually be shelved and displayed (or shelved and taken down to read).... A lover of books who professes to never want to see them destroyed, [Wonder Book President Chuck Roberts said] 'Pretty much every book you see on Books by the Foot [is a book] whose only other option would be oblivion'...."

All those political books — you see that they are published, and you see that they are calling cards for their authors to go on talk shows, but are they ever read? At least they have one more purpose, sitting on a shelf, a shelf that will be seen, a constituent of an extra-thick wall. How much bigger would rooms be without these for-show books? One more foot wide for every bookcase you can scuttle. But here are people shipping books in, books they have no intention of reading.

Meanwhile, a lot of people are trying to declutter, and books are a whole category for "tidying up" within the Marie Kondo system (which only has 5 categories). That system requires you to pile all your books on the floor and one one by one subject them to a test that has a strong presumption against keeping any given book:
The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. Remember, I said when you touch it. Make sure you don’t start reading it. Reading clouds your judgment. Instead of asking yourself what you feel, you’ll start asking whether you need that book or not. Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding?...  [F]orget about whether you think you’ll read it again or whether you’ve mastered what’s inside. Instead, take each book in your hand and decide whether it moves you or not. Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love.... There’s no need to finish reading books that you only got halfway through. Their purpose was to be read halfway. So get rid of all those unread books....

Imagine touching a book "by authors like Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Al Franken and Bob Woodward" and feeling "a thrill of pleasure." I don't have to touch these books to know I would not be thrilled! I can't even imagine another person who could be thrilled. It's a difficult feat of imagination, and I cannot do it. 

"All of a sudden, Ms. Duke, a vocal critic of 'mommy wine culture' and a member of the Sober Mom Squad, a virtual community created during the pandemic, was fielding questions..."

"... about alcohol from friends and acquaintances. Was two bottles of wine a night a bit over the top? How much was too much?... 'No one is talking about glasses of wine anymore,' said Ms. Duke, who works for a dog grooming app and lives in Manhattan with her two teenage sons. 'People are measuring by the bottle,' she continued. 'That scares me. I know too many women who went from one or two glasses to two bottles of wine to vodka in your coffee cup.'...  'Being inside all these months was extremely confining,' said [Natalie Silverstein, a marketing manager in media who lives in the East Village]. 'I needed something to relax. I looked forward to drinking because it broke the barrier.' For her, a glass of wine signaled the end of the day. Anxious, tired and stressed, it helped her sleep. It also helped her socialize and connect. 'In New York, drinking was an activity. In isolation it helped us gather,' she said. 'My team would do Zoom happy hours, and everyone had wine or a cocktail. That became habitual. It felt like drinking was the one thing holding us up.'"

Are you drinking more because of the pandemic? free polls

ADDED: The linked article was published yesterday, Christmas, in the New York Times. On the same day, in the same newspaper, there is also this: "8 Things We Hated About New York Until 2020 Happened/New Yorkers are world-famous kvetchers. But when we got something real to complain about, we changed our tune." The 8th thing is "Drinking at 5 p.m":  
Hard-driving New Yorkers do not drink at an hour many consider the afternoon. Cocktails at 5 o’clock is for Cheever stories. In New York, the custom was to knock back later. If you were drinking at 5, it was probably at 5 in the morning, when you finished your shift. But the pandemic changed our sense of time, especially in the early days of winter and again now when the light fades so early.
AND: Here are the poll results:

How the word "how" has become the most deceptive word in the history of headlines.

I'm sure some "how" headlines sit atop articles that really explain how to do something, but I must cry out against the infestation of "how" in headlines. 

I'm seeing headline after headline that would be more accurate if you just crossed out the "how," because the article isn't really going to tell you how X happened. It's only going to tell you that X happened.

I've been meaning to rail about this for quite some time. What pushed me over the edge this morning was this, in Rolling Stone: "How Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ Brilliantly Mingled Sex, Religion." No, you don't know how he did it! You only know that he did it. Or, at best, the manner in which he did — i.e., "brilliantly." 

Just keep an eye out for "how" headlines. That's all I'm saying. Sometimes they are good, and I'm guilty of deploying "how" to lure readers, but as a reader, I am among the potential victims, and I'm trying to heighten my distaste for bait.

"At French Resorts, Skiing Has Become an Uphill Sport/The government closed ski lifts, fearing they might spread the coronavirus. The skiers came anyway."

The NYT reports. 
“When you go out skiing in the cold, the first thing that happens is your nose starts to run,” said Miles Bright, an English mountain guide based in Chamonix. “And what do you do? You wipe your nose. So your gloves are covered in snot, you join in the lift queue, you touch things.” 

“I just can’t see how it can be hygienic, getting in and out of the ski lifts,” he added. “But for the nation’s health, I think it’s absolutely essential.” 
Bright, like the rest of skiers on the mountain, was ski touring — ascending the mountain using skins attached to his skis, then detaching them to descend normally. He estimated it would take him four times as long to go up than to ski down.

Will you ever think about a ski lift the same way again? 

"Every day these people would wake us up. At first, I was polite and asked them to please be quiet. Then after a few days I was shouting, and my husband was like: 'Stop it! You can’t do that.'"

Said Kyle Luker, whose window — on Manhattan's Upper West Side — is just above where people line up for an hours-long wait to get into Trader Joe’s. He's quoted in "Anything You Say in This Trader Joe’s Line May Be Used Against You/These neighbors’ signs respond to loud shoppers: 'We are so sorry your wife is leaving you,' one read. 'And we are SURE the "Everything but the Bagel" Seasoning will help.'" (NYT).

I think Trader Joe's opens at 8 a.m., so what time were people talking right under his window? 6? 5? One solution is to become an early riser. You'd be better off anyway. Another is to get some noise-cancellation earbuds or extra-strong earplugs. But obviously, telling person after person to be quiet isn't going to work. You have to be awake already to do it, and there are new people arriving into your zone continually.

The adaptation Luker — close to "lurker" — used is to lean into the eavesdropping that life had imposed upon him and to make signs transcribing what he hears. The NYT calls it "a Covid-19 version of 'Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies,' the beloved 1970s and ’80s column in the Village Voice." Oh! "Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies" — I loved that. I am one of the sources of love that made that a beloved comic (or "column," as the NYT puts it). 

Anyway, Luker hangs his signs from his first-floor brownstone window, and he also photographs the signs and posts the photos on Instagram. Go to that link to read them all. I'll just cherry-pick one:

ADDED: I like the gender stereotype reversal with that couple in the cherry-picked sign. He's got the feeling — for produce — and she's got the thinking skill — checking the meat facts. He prioritizes the relationship — staying together — and she's coolly efficient — saving time, division of labor. And he cheerfully subordinates his preference and accepts the leadership she offers. He requests/expects a material reward for his deference.

"It would be nice if the wall-to-wall marathon showings of A Christmas Story on TBS and TNT led to a rediscovery of Jean Shepherd's other work..."

"... and even to a revival of the radio arts, but given that people have so many other things to occupy themselves nowadays, that it's unlikely." 

I've never seen "A Christmas Story," though I am one of Jean Shepherd's biggest fans. For years, in the 1960s, I used to get in bed in time to hear the "Call to Post" — which, today, sounds like something about blogging — on my radio tuned to WOR. And then...


Listening to those Jean Shepherd radio shows in the dark, night after night, was the pop culture highlight of lifetime. Of course, I heard him read "A Christmas Story" ever year. That was a tradition. But better than that was any random show on whatever he decided to talk about that night — another story of his childhood (back in Indiana) or some odd trail of musings.

From Wikipedia
Shepherd's oral narrative style was a precursor to that used by Spalding Gray and Garrison Keillor. Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media wrote that Shepherd "regards radio as a new medium for a new kind of novel that he writes nightly." In the Seinfeld season-six DVD set, commenting on the episode titled "The Gymnast", Jerry Seinfeld said, "He really formed my entire comedic sensibility—I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd."... 
Shepherd was an influence on Bill Griffith's Zippy comic strip, as Griffith noted in his strip for January 9, 2000. Griffith explained, "The inspiration—just plucking random memories from my childhood, as I'm wont to do in my Sunday strip (also a way to expand beyond Zippy)—and Shep was a big part of them." 
In an interview with New York magazine, Steely Dan's Donald Fagen says that the eponymous figure from his solo album The Nightfly was based on Jean Shepherd. 
Though he primarily spent his radio career playing music, New York Top-40 DJ Dan Ingram has acknowledged Shepherd's style as an influence. An article he wrote for the March–April 1957 issue of MAD, "The Night People vs Creeping Meatballism", described the differences between what he considered to be "day people" (conformists) and "night people" (nonconformists).

A few days ago, in conversation on Facebook, I reconsidered my lifelong policy of averting my eyes from the film version of "A Christmas Story." Just to present my own comments: 

I've never seen "A Christmas Story" because I am too devoted to Jean Shepherd and the original story as told over the radio....

I know [you hear Shepherd's voice-over narration in the film], but I don't want to see the ideal replaced by a literal acting-out of the story by human actors. The adult's voice creates the kid feeling. I don't want to see a real boy acting out the emotions for the camera. It's radio, the ultimate in radio, and not film...

I think I need to change my position. "A Christmas Story" is a deviation from Shepherd's usual show, because he was reading a story — not riffing in real time — that had been published in a book and a magazine (Playboy). So it wasn't the pure radio ideal that I'm so staunch about. It is not one of his stories about his own youth, because he says before reading the story that the boy is *not* him. 

So did I finally watch the movie? No. Not yet, anyway. But I was motivated to listen to a random old show — something about midwestern drug stores. Nothing to do with Christmas, but I was listening on Christmas. 

I don't think of Shepherd as Christmas-y, and it annoys me a bit that so many people do. The radio show should be much more important that that one film version of a story he used to read on the radio. Should be, and perhaps is, as its influence is deeply woven into many things we actively enjoy today. It's baked into this blog.

Factoid: "Shepherd's friend Shel Silverstein likely wrote the Johnny Cash song 'A Boy Named Sue' because of him...."

Here's the podcast where I found my random old show yesterday. Here's a webpage with a lot of the old shows.

December 25, 2020

At the Christmas Café...

Hand-sewn Christmas stockings

 ... you can write about whatever you want. And I hope you got whatever you wanted.

Hand-sewn bear 

ADDED: These are photographs that I originally blogged in 2006, in "Things made by children for Christmas long ago." The objects, which I still have, were made more than 60 years ago. 

I see that in the comments here and back in 2006, someone asks if my name is really Jo Ann. No. Jo Ann was a doll's name — and I still remember which doll. The stockings — which are about the size of the image in the photograph — are doll's stockings. We made Christmas stockings and gifts for a family of dolls.

"Our vaunted capacity for abstract thought often gets us (or others) into trouble. We may be the only species to pursue scientific inquiry..."

"... but we’re also the only species that has consciously perpetrated genocides. Cats, unlike humans, don’t trick themselves into believing they are saviors, wreaking havoc in the process. 'When cats are not hunting or mating, eating or playing, they sleep,' Gray writes. 'There is no inner anguish that forces them into constant activity.'...We are human supremacists whose vanity and moralism and tortured ambivalence make us uniquely unhappy and destructive. 'While cats have nothing to learn from us,' he writes, 'we can learn from them how to lighten the load that comes with being human.'...  Liberals like to think that empathy is a great virtue, he says, and that progress is not only possible but morally necessary, but people would be better off cultivating a catlike indifference.... He marvels that cats are 'arch-realists' who know when not to bother: 'Faced with human folly, they simply walk away.'"

The neutrality of cats. I'll call it mewtrality. And, no, it's not cruel mewtrality. From the book:

Christmas TV.

ADDED: Speaking of British TV: My answer is always when it's British TV.

Except most of those things we can't do right now, Bob....

Happy Christmas!

ADDED: From Craig Brown's "150 Glimpses of the Beatles":
Alone of all the Beatles, Ringo possessed no talent for composing. But one day, in a sudden flash of inspiration, the germs of a song entered his head, as if from nowhere. He worked on the song for three hours, and presented it to the other three the next day. After an awkward silence, they felt obliged to point out that it had already been written and recorded by Bob Dylan.

Brown doesn't say what Dylan song this was. But what song could it have been? It would have to have been something simple. But what? I try to think of a simple Bob Dylan song from the 1960s, and I think "I Want You," because that's a simple sentiment: "I want you/I want you/I want you/So bad." 

I have somewhere else I want to go with this post, but writing out the chorus like that, I'm smacked in the head with the realization that a non-Ringo Beatle did in fact write — and record — that very song originally written by Bob Dylan, same title and all: "I Want You." Lyrics: "I want you, I want you so bad." 

Did no one feel obliged to tell John Lennon that Bob Dylan had already written and recorded that song? No, obviously not. And it's not as if Lennon fleshed out the song. His "I Want You" hardly has any lyrics. It's just "I want you so bad/It's driving me mad" repeated.

Originally, I was going to say that Ringo couldn't possibly have believed he'd written "I Want You" because it has complicated Dylanesque lyrics: The guilty undertaker sighs/The lonesome organ grinder cries/The silver saxophones say I should refuse you... But Lennon's "I Want You" shows how Ringo might have done it. Just use the chorus. The chorus is perfectly simple.

December 24, 2020

At the Christmas Eve Café...

Christmas Eve

... you can talk about anything you want.

"Now Ann has baited me into promiscuously spiking my anxiety stew with carnalized onions..."

Ha ha ha. My favorite kind of comment — taking an ingredient from an old post and adding it to the material in the post under discussion. It's fusion commenting, like fusion cooking... and the metaphor in the comment is cooking.

And I love that I've got a tag for "onions," though I see various posts with onions that did not get the tag, including posts with the tag "onion rings," onion rings being a special, niche topic here on the blog. Remember these carnalized onion rings? And of course, these ("I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my assertion that, coming from Bill Clinton, the 'O' of an onion ring is a vagina symbol").

Speaking of comments, I can see some of you are saying I'm not giving you the kind of post you like anymore. There are at least 4 reasons for that:

1. The world is locked down, so things don't just happen anymore, not the kind of things that delight and intrigue. The usual places still have their articles, but they're filling space. They're doing what they have to do, and I can smell the fakeness, the ennui. I have my standard, and I'll read until something crosses the line for me. 

2. The standard on this blog is not big over small. I'm not here to repeat headlines about what the President just did. In fact, if the headline is big, I'd rather go small.

3. I'm not interested in throwing my weight onto one side or the other, and if I have nothing to add, there's no reason to write about these things. With Trump, I have distanced myself from the relentless haters, but I'm in no mood to encourage him either. I'm waiting for the next few weeks to pass, hunkering down. I could spring out and denounce him, but I don't join mobs. 

"I’ve honestly started wondering if this is just how men’s minds actually work in real life and now instead of being uncomfortable about passages like these, I’m uncomfortable about life."

 A comment at the subreddit menwritingwomen.

The commenter is reacting in general to snippets of writing that have been posted in that group and specifically to this one:

Of course, the NYT "loves" this... if love includes loving the virality of something so clickable and sharable.

Click and reclick the image to read the full comment that begins "It all depends on your attitude."

Now, Joe Gabriel Simonson withholds a link to the NYT, so he's onto their game and refusing to play... and he himself is using a woman's sex tale about her daughter to get links for himself... including this one from me. Reading the comments on his tweet, I see that no one believes the story, but they sure do find it hilarious. 

I don't mind giving the NYT the link they deserve. Here's "The Joys of Frivolous Sex/The pandemic has brought out a nasty puritanism" by Megan Nolan. 

Looking through the NYT-selected comments, I don't see the story that's in Simonson's screenshot. Maybe the woman — who used what might be her real name — took her comment down. If she really has a daughter, did she realize it was wrong — even if hilarious — to appropriate her daughter's identity for her own purposes?

The third-highest comment over there is "Read the whole thing again pretending it's written by a man." I'll be reading the column for the first time, and I don't need that prod. I always do the gender switcheroo when I read sex things. 

Let's read:
In early lockdown, I spent most evenings in the front room of my mother’s house, drunk, staring at a computer, reeling at the prospect of my body being deprived indefinitely of touch.... Only weeks earlier, I was in New York for an extended visit, recently single and pleasantly crazy with the desire to date far and wide. My romantic and sexual value seemed higher then and there than it had ever been anywhere else.... [One man] looked fondly down at me in a hotel room and inexplicably exclaimed, “I love New York!” at the sight of my body.


And then in March came the shutdown. ... I was urgently trying to recast the concept of pleasure as something that could occur without other people.... I made the mistake in this period of suggesting in a Facebook post that single people, especially those living alone, could not be expected to go an unlimited amount of time without socializing or close contact. Some people reacted to this as though I had proposed an orgy on every street corner, pandemic be damned, but that wasn’t what I meant. What I meant was that human beings can’t be expected to endure the sudden and total loss of social comfort.... 
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out a nasty puritanism in some people.... One doesn’t even need to actually break a rule to earn their disgust, only to express dismay over things they consider unimportant or, worse, hedonistic. To even complain about what it feels like to live alone and not be able to date right now is regarded as unseemly, dismissed as trivial.... 
Most of society does not really believe that casual, nonmonogamous encounters can actually hold meaning, rather than simply serve as crude ways to blow off steam. I know that they can. Living as a purposefully single and promiscuous person was one way to know others, one way to find joy in the world, and it’s gone for now. Single people have lost something important, and should be allowed to bemoan it.

This is a very well-written and impressive statement of a point of view that should be part of the discussion! She's not saying her desire for physical love is more important than children going to school and elderly people staying alive. She's saying the interest in living real life is important too. 

Now, Nolan invites attacks by calling other people names. Her antagonists are puritans — and nasty ones at that. And she makes their argument easier by using the word "promiscuous" to describe the interest she wants us to take seriously. 

Back to the comments. I see this from Low-Notes-Liberate, who says he's a musician and thus "supposed to be wildly frivolous in general." But he prefers "long-term intimacy."

After the initial hide and seek of bodies is, for me, when the real adventure begins. Who is this person, who am I, who are we together. It is perhaps more a journey into the mind through the body. Not to say that love simmering like carnalized onions in an iron skillet, animal nature is incredibly sexy.

Carnalized onions! 

But I like the journey taken over time. That said, I can easily relate to the horrifying ten months of deserted island sexuality many of us have endured. I was happy to see this article because it needs to be discussed and out in the open. What is a life of masturbation? Videos? Amazon brown boxes arriving with the hopes of a new variation on the same old theme?

December 23, 2020

At the Sunrise Café...


... you can write about whatever you want.

"The combination of half-listening and overdramatization of the facts by the media creates an anxiety-driven stew."

Said Gale Ridge, an entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, quoted in "Rumors of a ‘murder hornet’ apocalypse may have been exaggerated" (ScienceNews).

"Suddenly, overlooked local wasp and hornet species… hanging around in corners of people’s backyards for millennia become the subjects of panic-driven calls," she said. The solution, she says, is: "One creates a fresh storybook of information on which callers can relax, feel comfortable and thrive." 

I was just wondering, whatever happened to the murder hornets. I was pleased to get an answer and even more pleased to encounter Gale Ridge, who has a way with words: 

half-listening and overdramatization... anxiety-driven stew... a fresh storybook of information... 

Such helpful phrases! I must remember to use them. Have you been half asleep? Have you been half-listening? Someday you'll create a fresh storybook! But for God's sake stop slurping the anxiety stew!

"Rough Old-Time Mountain Folk Make The Best Music."

"I was 12 years old in the 9th grade - younger than my classmates, and (as you may possibly be able to imagine) pretty awkward, shy and nerdy.

"And I had a crush on Patrice Y., the girl who sat directly in front of me in math class (because the seats were all arranged in alphabetical order for some arbitrary reason)...."

John McWhorter calls bullshit on civility.

A perfect storm of gender privilege + celebrity privilege.

1. Celebrity privilege — Sorvino openly states the belief that she is different from other ladies: If only Pete knew she was Mira Sorvino, a famous person, he would get how sweet and kooky and funny it was for her to "stalk" and "sidle" up to him in a car.

2. Gender privilege — Switch the gender around. It's easy to see how terrible it would be for 2 males in a car to "stalk" and "sidle" up to a female in a car and yell "We love you" and say her name. What male would tweet that he'd done this and think that it was cute? If a famous man did this to a famous woman, it's more likely that the woman would call him out with accusations that could wreck his life.

By the way:

1. Pete Davidson has a very serious mental health condition — borderline personality disorder — so doing something that confuses and intimidates him when he's out in public alone is particularly bad.

2. Mira Sorvino — though she often plays a ditsy character (see "Might Aphrodite" and "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion") — is one of the most intelligent, educated actors in the U.S. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard.