December 25, 2021

A Christmas morning panorama.


An 7:23 a.m. — 5 minutes before the official sunrise time.

Arsenic and old wallpaper.

"For years my mother bought me perfectly nice sweaters of a kind that I never wear: sweaters with patterns, 'Cosby Show' sweaters, suburban dad sweaters."

"I felt she was attempting to dress me as a big sexless teddy bear rather than a man living in New York City and still hoping, in middle age, to attract a mate. The most memorable of these was bright red, with a gold crest on its breast, like the sigil of the kind of hoity-toity prep school I did not attend, and drooped so hugely on me I looked like a small boy dressed in his father’s clothes. My girlfriend charitably suggested that I 'loomed large' in my mother’s mind.... My friend Boyd and I have an aphorism: All mothers live in palaces built of lies. When Mom gave me a gray-and-white snowflake-pattern sweater one Christmas, I took it across the country with me to Seattle, where I staged photographs of myself wearing it with friends.... Later that afternoon, we returned the sweater to Macy’s.... A few years ago, I finally wore a sweater that Mom gave me 10 years earlier to visit her in the memory care unit at her retirement home. Although she no longer remembered the sweater, she did go out of her way to admire it, and I got to tell her that it was from her...."

1. "All mothers live in palaces built of lies" — Ironically, that's a lie that the son is telling himself. The mother in his mind lives in a palace made of lies he's telling himself about what must be in her mind. 

2. He doesn't even have his lie-palace built straight. He won't commit to whether his mother wanted him to look unlovable ("sexless") or lovable ("hoping... to attract a mate") or go too deeply into whether he's thinking of the interior of his mother's mind or his own. 

3. Maybe his mother was playfully participating in the Ugly Christmas Sweater meme and waiting for him to overcome his politeness and call her out. He's a humorist. Did he not get some/any of his humor from her? 

4. Do sons stereotype their mothers as Mothers? I won't say all sons stereotype their mothers as Mothers, but the ones who begin sentences with "All mothers..." certainly do — unless they're just kidding.

5. I learned a new word: "sigil."

"How must it feel to have your name airbrushed from the $8 billion film franchise born of your scribbling in a coffee shop, penniless, while your baby napped?"

"Or to watch the trio of child actors you chose and nurtured 20 years ago recall the stories which made them many times richer and more celebrated than their ho-hum talents deserve, yet not once uttering your name? Or have fools who run around with broomsticks up their backsides in college leagues change the name of quidditch, the sport you invented for wizards?... Just as Galileo refused to bow to the Inquisition and affirm the Earth is the centre of the universe, many women just don’t, won’t, can’t believe gender is real but sex is not...."

"In one of her first moves, Ms. Mirabella had the red walls of Vreeland’s office repainted in shades of beige — her favorite color."

"She jettisoned Elizabeth Taylor and Cher from the cover of Vogue in favor of models such as Lauren Hutton, Patti Hansen and Lisa Taylor, who wore little makeup and had natural, unfussy hairstyles. Hutton’s gaptoothed smile replaced the closemouthed gaze and white eyeliner of Vogue models of the 1960s. 'It was make-believe, the wilder shores of love,' Ms. Mirabella said of the magazine she inherited from Vreeland. 'I was a great fan of hers, and I followed her around like a bird dog. But when I took over, that wasn’t wanted anymore.' Ms. Mirabella occupied a front-row seat at the fashion shows in Paris and New York, but her sense of couture leaned more toward outfits that women could wear at work or at parties. She had little interest in passing trends. Rather than looking to Europe for fashion cues, she preferred the straightforward approach of American designers such as Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan.... 'She’s a very practical woman in her point of view, and she thinks of women in their clothes and how they’re wearing them,' Beene once said of Ms. Mirabella. 'She’s been sort of a martyr for modern women.'"

From the WaPo obituary for Grace Mirabella, who edited Vogue from 1971 to 1988. She replaced Diana Vreeland, when Vreeland was abruptly ousted, and she herself was ousted, replaced by Anna Wintour. 

It was during the Mirabella years that I read Vogue — read it because it was one of the scores of magazines that I read every month (for a job I had back then). It seemed as though fashion had come to rest in that natural, human place occupied by Lauren Hutton and Patti Hansen — the models who laughed and seemed freewheeling, not pissed off or haunted or abused and in bondage. 

In retrospect, this is too plain and ordinary to last as a fashion magazine concept:

That's Patti Hansen, who absolutely exemplified the look of that time — "pretty!" She's still pretty, at the age of 65, living with her husband, Keith Richards, in Connecticut.

"Biden says ‘I agree’ when dad drops ‘Let’s Go, Brandon’ on NORAD Santa call."

The NY Post reports: 
President Biden got a visit from a Christmas troll Friday when a father participating in the annual White House NORAD Santa-tracking call used the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon,” the slangy stand-in for “F— Joe Biden.” 
The dad, identified only as Jared from Oregon, wished the president and first lady Jill Biden a merry Christmas before adding the anti-Biden phrase at the end of his family’s portion of the call. “Merry Christmas and let’s go Brandon,” the father said as he signed off. 
“Let’s go Brandon, I agree,” Biden said without missing a beat.

Video below. Maybe Presidents shouldn't be doing these sentimental holiday shows, and obviously they're straining for good press, so they're kind of inviting trolls. You'd think the call screeners would ensure that nothing hateful or humiliating gets through. I suppose some of you roared with laughter when you saw this or cynically muttered that Biden deserved it because of whatever bad things you think he's done, but it just made me feel sorry for Biden.

If your question is whether Biden even knows what "Let’s Go Brandon" means, maybe you're the one who needs to get tested for dementia.

Are you home for Christmas? Is home where you usually live, or did you need to go home?

If you're not home for Christmas, is it because you got deprived of your way to get home — perhaps at the last minute, as thousands of flights got cancelled? There are all the people who go somewhere other than home for Christmas, perhaps to some vacation spot or maybe just to someone else's home? And then, what is home? Maybe you feel that the place where you live is not a home — in which case, a special Christmas wish to you. And maybe you feel that wherever you hang your Santa Claus hat is home — lucky you!

December 24, 2021

Christmas "Eve" sunrise at 7:17.


A silent, misty morning.

Ah! It's finally here: "Yelp Reviews of Xmas" by David Sedaris.

I heard this story read aloud when Sedaris did his show here in Madison 2 weeks ago. He said it would be in The New Yorker "next week," so I've been looking and looking. Finally! I love the whole thing, but the part I've been wanting to quote is beyond humor and startlingly dark.

Oh! The part I've been waiting to tell you about is not in the short bit that The New Yorker published. It was about abortion. It's hard to explain how a harsh view of abortion could have fit into the comical idea of Yelp reviews of Christmas, but let me try. 

The fictional Yelp reviewer criticized Christmas for causing the abortion clinic to be closed and, from there, manifested her outrageously self-centered character. She wanted the abortion for Christmas so she could — am I remembering this correctly?! — give it as a present to her ex. 

It was way over the top, to the point where it would upset pro-abortion readers, because it wasn't just the usual refraining from discussing what is happening to the child as murder. The woman reveled in murdering the child. I thought: I need to see this in print. 

From the version of the story that made it into The New Yorker, there's a 1-star review: "I like Christmas, except it has too many nuts in it and I’m allergic. There are nuts in the cookies—not all, but some—and even in the songs! I don’t think this is fair to people such as myself. Christmas needs to be more inclusive." 

"I’m glad we have Biden. I’m really, really glad. That’s because I haven’t forgotten whom and what he replaced. It’s because I remember how we started the year..."

"... with an amoral, would-be autocrat in the White House — versus how we’re finishing it. It’s because I don’t measure my presidents solely by the price of gas, the firmness of their grip on their political party or their odds of re-election. There is more to life, and to leadership, than that. Is Biden’s performance in the presidency superior to what another Democrat’s would be? I can’t say. It’s indisputably flawed.... But that doesn’t change the fact that what our country needed a little over a year ago was an end to President Donald Trump, and what Biden provided was just that.... To go by polls, Americans are judging Biden harshly, and many have soured on him.... But that doesn’t erase Biden’s fundamental decency. That doesn’t eliminate his capacity for empathy. Did his predecessor possess either? Not that I could tell. And as I try, in the spirit of the holiday season, to point you away from gloom and toward something, well, merrier...."

Frank Bruni dispenses wan Christmas cheer (in the NYT).

Readjust your expectations for Biden, and he's just fine. I note that it's a readjustment back to what he purported to be when he was running for President. I'm glad to see the bigger ideas shelved. Settle down and appreciate the good-enough.

The NYT publishes an essay by JK Rowling, "J.K. Rowling on the Magic of 'Things.'"

And here I thought she was canceled. 

I do note that there are no comments allowed over there, and I suspect that's because readers would harp on the cause for cancellation and fail to discuss the essay itself.

Which, now that I think about it, is exactly what I'm doing.

I own a cuddly tortoise sewn by my mother, which she gave me when I was 7. It has a floral shell, a red underbelly and black felt eyes. Even though I’m notoriously prone to losing things, I’ve managed to keep hold of that tortoise through sundry house moves and even changes of country. My mother died over 30 years ago, so I’ve now lived more of my life without her than with her. I find more comfort in that tortoise than I do in photographs of her, which are now so faded and dated, and emphasize how long she’s been gone. What consoles me is the permanence of the object she made — its unchanging nature, its stolid three-dimensional reality. I’d give up many of my possessions to keep that tortoise, the few exceptions being things that have their own allusive power, like my wedding ring....

She has a new book, we learn,  "The Christmas Pig" — "a story of objects lost and found, of things beloved and things unregretted."

It's the day before Christmas. Are you thinking about things — things to give and receive, to want and not want?

How powerfully do you imbue things with magic — or do you have anything going amongst your possessions that you could even vaguely term "magic"?

"A few months after Didion’s review [of Woody Allen's 'Manhattan'] appeared, the NYRB published a selection of responses from readers. These readers were not pleased."

"Randolph D. Pope of Dartmouth College, no stranger to sarcasm, congratulated Didion on providing 'a perfect example of how a mind too full with culture is unable to understand humor.' Roger Hurwitz (MIT) advised that she would 'do better to be alarmed by than morally superior to the attitudes, concerns and mores Mr. Allen’s characters reflect.' John Romano (Columbia) spent 647 words chastising her for — among other offenses — treating Allen’s characters’ brand of self-absorption as tiresome and distinctly contemporary, rather than placing them in an intellectual lineage that stretched back centuries. The NYRB also published Didion’s response to these letters. It reads, in its entirety, 'Oh, wow.'"

From "Joan Didion’s Greatest Two-Word Sentence/The power of an ice-cold, unflinching gaze" by Molly Fischer (The Cut).


The first official video of the old song — from Joni Mitchell, released yesterday.

December 23, 2021

Sunrise — 7:22, 7:35, 7:36.




Write about whatever you like.

And please think of supporting this blog by doing your shopping through the Althouse portal to Amazon, which is always right there in the sidebar. Thanks!

Goodbye to Joan Didion.

This was a writer I truly admired, so I will give you my “Joan Didion” tag and go back and read what I’ve said about her over the years.

"Fonda kept insisting on telling people that he knew what it was like to actually be dead, in a misguided attempt to reassure George Harrison, who he wrongly believed was scared of dying..."

"... and insisted on showing them his self-inflicted bullet wounds. This did not go down well with John Lennon and George Harrison, both of whom were on acid at the time. As Lennon later said, 'We didn’t want to hear about that! We were on an acid trip and the sun was shining and the girls were dancing and the whole thing was beautiful and Sixties, and this guy – who I really didn’t know; he hadn’t made Easy Rider or anything – kept coming over, wearing shades, saying, "I know what it’s like to be dead," and we kept leaving him because he was so boring! … It was scary. You know … when you’re flying high and [whispers] "I know what it’s like to be dead, man."' Eventually they asked Fonda to get out, and the experience later inspired Lennon to write ['She Said, She Said']. Incidentally, like all the Beatles songs of that period, that was adapted for the cartoon TV series based on the group, in this case as a follow-the-bouncing-ball animation. There are few things which sum up the oddness of mid-sixties culture more vividly than the fact that there was a massively popular kids’ cartoon with a cheery singalong version of a song about a bad acid trip and knowing what it’s like to be dead."

From "Episode 139: 'Eight Miles High' by the Byrds" (on the podcast "A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs"). I excerpted something about The Beatles, but the episode is ostensibly about The Byrds. That said, there's also plenty about John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar. And Sonny and Cher.

"During his COVID blather, Biden went on to claim that if he had said in November it would spread as rapidly as it has, people would have replied, 'Biden, have you been drinking?'"

"While that would be one explanation for why he slurred every third word in the speech, in fact, no one would have thought he was drinking had he said this — since that’s what everybody was saying would happen. The truth is that he and his people didn’t do anything about testing then because — well, who knows why he didn’t? We need a Bob Woodward book to explain it to us in a year’s time. For now, it’s enough to say Biden didn’t act — and right now, nationally, you cannot get your hands on a home antigen test to save your life. Go ahead. Give it a try. Go to every website in America. Here’s what you’ll see. 'Out of stock.' 'Sold out.' 'Delivery by Jan. 10.' Trust me. I spent an hour at it Monday and two hours at it Tuesday. They’re all gone. Poof. And guess what the television COVID-hysteric doctors are all blathering about? They’re all saying, 'Look, if you want to hang out with your family on Christmas, you’d better get tested first!' Oh, really? Where the hell are you supposed to get tested? I got tested Sunday. In Times Square. In the cold rain. I got there at 8:45 a.m. I was done by 10:45 a.m. When I left, the line was probably 300 people long. My two hours were going to be six hours for them. Judging from what I saw on New York streets Tuesday morning, testing lines are beginning to approach gas lines during the oil embargoes in 1973 and 1979."

Podhoretz is raving. Why can't people face what Omicron is? It's very contagious (but apparently relatively mild). Deal with it people. It's always the President's miserable fault when the President is in the party that's not your party. For Podhoretz, a Republican, Biden is an outrageous idiot. Democrats support their President, so, needing to blame people, they blame Republicans — all those Republicans who won't get vaccines and won't follow the rules. 

But it's a virus, which has no party affiliation and no capacity for good and evil. Just deal with it. Adapt to changing circumstances. One thing that would solve the problem of all these line-waiters in New York City would be to just give up your travel plans. But Christmas!!! Are you all a bunch of babies? Unfortunately, the President doesn't have the nerve to tell people to stop traveling. He's reduced to "blather" — and "total bull" — because he can't steal Christmas from the adult kiddies of America.

The tests seem like the magic answer. Free tests! The office of the President came up with the idea of a present: 500 million tests! Coming soon, in the mail! No sacrifice for you. Beneficence from above. Up on the rooftop, Santa's coming. No he's not. But you still want to believe he will, so our frail President told you he will. And now, you're so mad at him, you have a tantrum in the New York Post. Ridiculous!

"Under the cover of darkness early Thursday, authorities in Hong Kong tore down a public sculpture dedicated to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre..."

"... accelerating a campaign to erase the crackdown from public recollection and stamp out dissent in a city that until recently was one of Asia’s freest. The 26-foot-tall artwork, known as the 'Pillar of Shame,' had stood at the University of Hong Kong for nearly a quarter-century and honored the hundreds, if not thousands, of students and others killed on June 4, 1989, when the Chinese military crushed pro-democracy protests. The sculpture, depicting naked bodies twisted together, some in mid-scream, was created by Danish artist Jens Galschiot and was one of the last remaining Tiananmen commemorations on Chinese soil. Each year on the anniversary of the massacre, students would scrub and clean the memorial.... 'The decision on the aged statue was based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the university,' [the university] said in a statement, adding that... the institution could be in violation of colonial-era laws if the sculpture remained."

"For two years now, Aline, a 30-something graduate student in Ohio, has diligently — desperately, even — protected herself against the coronavirus."

"Vaccinated and boosted, she took a test last week ahead of holiday travel to Atlanta. She was stunned when it came back positive.... 'I feel very embarrassed and dumb,' she says, and upset that she’s causing her family stress. 'It’s eye-opening that I feel so much shame from it. I’m realizing how much judgment I was secretly harboring against people who got it before.'"

The headline seems to misstate why Aline feels shame! It's not shame over getting the disease despite following the rules. It's shame for having been so judgmental toward other people. 

Here's how I imagine her mindset. I'm not claiming accuracy, just sketching out a possible thought pattern: Because she trusted in the precautions she devotedly took, she developed the idea that those who got the disease must not have done their part to avoid it. They were the disgusting others — the deplorables. Looking down on those people was part of believing in the worth of her efforts and the safety she was acquiring for herself, but now that she's one of the people she used to find disgusting, her options are to find herself disgusting or to realize she was wrong when she thought they were disgusting. 

There's shame involved either way. Shame over being ill or shame over having thought ill of her fellow human beings. 

Like the headline, the article — which begins with the Aline anecdote — assumes the shame is the first kind, shame about being ill. Don't be embarrassed if you catch the disease! Read the article if you want to hear expert advice on dealing with that kind of shame. "Practice self-compassion," etc.

But what about feeling shame for the way you thought about other people who were ill? Maybe you should feel ashamed! There's no advice in the article about that kind of shame, which Aline says she feels. I'll just say: Practice compassion toward others. You can start before you get the disease.

December 22, 2021

“With COVID-19 cases surging across the country, the Supreme Court fast-tracked two disputes over the Biden administration’s efforts to expand vaccinations.”

"In an unusual move, the justices announced on Wednesday night that they will hear oral arguments on Jan. 7 on two federal policies: a vaccine-or-test mandate for workers at large employers, and a vaccine mandate for health care workers at facilities that receive federal funding. The cases came to the court last week on an emergency basis, and the formal question in both disputes is whether the government should be allowed to enforce the policies while litigation challenging them continues. But the justices’ views on whether to grant emergency relief will likely be influenced by their views on the merits of the underlying challenges themselves."

SCOTUSblog reports.

"A Madagascan minister swam 12 hours to the shore of the island after a helicopter that was taking him to the site of a shipwreck off the island’s northeast coast crashed..."

ADDED: Perhaps there are many examples of human beings swimming that long and longer — even much longer — but never finding land. We never learn of their heroic effort. If you are stranded miles out at sea, and you don't drown, all you can do is stay in one place or move. You might swim until you die of thirst. You can rest and even sleep while floating, but why wouldn't you continue swimming whenever you could, especially if you knew the direction to find land? I think the main answer depends on whether you believe people know that you are stranded and are searching. 

ALSO: If you found yourself stranded at sea and you didn't know which way to swim, what could you do to choose a direction?
Look at the water around you and as far as you can see, if there is lighter colored water that indicates shallow water and land is usually right by shallow water. Wave patterns can also be observed, waves refract as they approach land. Lastly, birds! If you see many birds together flying towards a certain direction, then that can be your key back to land!

How far away can you see? When you are at sea level, you can see other things at sea level only up to a distance of 2.9 miles (because of the curvature of the earth). So the answer would depend on the elevation of the land.

"Quidditch has the same problem Rowling has, which is that the arbitrary combinations of sounds and syllables that we call words only mean something in relation to the world they describe..."

"... and more than that, the way they’re understood. You can tweak a reference all you like, but the referent will stay just the same. The author herself should know this better than anyone; after all, she claims the name 'quidditch' doesn’t come from any etymological root but was the result of pouring random nonsense sounds starting with the letter Q into five empty pages of a notebook. The leaders of the quidditch leagues can make a statement by disavowing J.K. Rowling, but they can’t make quidditch stop being, well, quidditch. Perhaps they will accidentally teach her the same lesson: that refusing to acknowledge transgender people for who they are will not magick them into something else, either."

The boldfaced sentence is the last line of the column, and it's awfully hard to understand. Or it's very easy to read as the complete opposite of what Roberts is — I think — trying to say. Roberts seems to be making a strong — and questionable assertion — that the words we use to refer to things or to people don't change what they are. But many — most? — transgender people seem to care deeply about the words used to refer to them. And I find it hard to believe that the sport of quidditch would have become anything at all if people weren't calling it quidditch.

But the worst thing about that last sentence is that Roberts is accusing Rowling of trying to change transgender people into non-transgender people, but she has not done that! How can Roberts be so ill-informed?! Rowling has expressed support for transgender people but has worried that some of the people who identify as transgender are making a mistake — going along with a social trend and misidentifying the reasons why they feel troubled by puberty. 

ADDED: Let me be more explicit about why I said it's very easy to read what Roberts wrote as the complete opposite of what she intended. If "refusing to acknowledge transgender people for who they are will not magick them into something else," then we may rightly ask who are they? It wouldn't be enough to say they are transgender because they say they are transgender. "Transgender" is just a word, and whether we use it or not, people are whatever they actually are. But I would expect Roberts to respond to my challenge by insisting that any person's invocation of the word makes the phenomenon true — and you're a hateful transphobe if you even entertain the notion that this person is mistaken.

"Sir, you need to go to prison."

 Said the Madison judge, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

Circuit Judge Ellen Berz said the sentence [8 years] for Treveon Thurman was the first time outside a homicide or child sexual assault case that she had ever sentenced someone to prison for their first adult convictions....

Thurman, 20, pleaded guilty... to charges in eight of the 26 felony cases... four counts of operating a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent, two counts of taking and driving a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent and two counts of second-degree reckless endangerment....

Thurman would sometimes broadcast live video of himself while speeding around the Madison area in stolen cars, sometimes showing the speedometer at speeds over 100 mph. In one instance he broadcast himself going about 140 mph in a stolen car.

The audacity of that live broadcasting — at 140 miles per hour! — says something about the low value Madison has placed on keeping order. This person ought to have been stopped much sooner. We, as a community, have nurtured this outrageous danger.

"Manchin is especially vulnerable to accusations of imperial remove. Photos that circulated online show him chatting over the rail of his houseboat in Washington with angry constituents, who had arrived by kayak."

Writes Evan Osnos in "West Virginians Ask Joe Manchin: Which Side Are You On? The senator’s blockade against programs that have helped his constituents escape poverty makes some question 'who matters to Joe'" (The New Yorker).

Is it "imperial" to live in a houseboat — a houseboat accessible by angry kayakers?

Eh. Everyone has to write a lot of sentences about Joe Manchin right now. It's tedious but you can find some gems in there.

The Manchins are machers; Joe’s grandfather ran Farmington’s grocery store and served, over the years, as its fire chief, constable, justice of the peace, and mayor. His father had a similar stature in local politics, while also expanding the family business from groceries into furniture and carpets....

Machers... I had to look it up. It's a Yiddish word, I learned, reading "What Makes a Macher" (Forward):

"A long time ago, I munched on a few handfuls of fetid mushrooms and brought on personal crises of my own design."

"There weren’t many bright colors, but some theretofore unnoticed textural quirks—on clothes, on faces—went wild with deep, scrutinizing, photographic detail. For many hours after those visual effects had faded, I haunted the hallways of my mind, regretting how many memories I’d retained and neuroses I’d cultivated. Mostly, I regretted eating the things at all. Nothing happened that I’d want to put onstage; certainly, nobody sang.... The closest 'Flying Over Sunset' gets to true surreality is when Cary [Grant], a guy with mommy issues who is consumed with masculinity and its meanings, dons a body stocking and a cap and flails around, having become a facsimile of the phallus that possesses so much of his thought and his posture.... The play is based on a groovy idea, but it indulges in the myth that... drugs alone... make for interest."

Writes Vinson Cunningham in "The Bad Trip of 'Flying Over Sunset'/James Lapine’s new musical, at the Vivian Beaumont, sets the LSD hallucinations of three nineteen-fifties celebrities to song" (The New Yorker).

"The history of personal fitness is strewn with objects that once gleamed with promise and now seem redundant, even ridiculous."

"Take the Peloton — please! (As so many are imploring on Craigslist.) And while you’re at it, the step aerobic bench and its modular risers that lurk under the bed, ascended only by dust bunnies. As a bonus we’ll throw in those aptly named 'resistance bands' lying idle in the junk drawer. Are we mocking them or are they mocking us?"

From "ThighMasters, Jazzercise, Yoga and Other Chapters in the History of Women and Exercise" (NYT)(reviewing "Let’s Get Physical/How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World").

Remember Bonnie Prudden? This daytime TV fare from the 1960s is so drearily depressing it's surreal:

"This article was written by a semi-rational leftist using traditional rhetoric to persuade his perceived comrades."

"He has grossly misjudged his intended audience. The modern, hard left will conveniently ignore him and probably classify him as a conservative fellow-traveler."

 Writes Richard Dillman, commenting on this post yesterday.

I'm making a new post about this because it's so provocative, and it rings true to me — not just about the specific article he's talking about but about public discourse generally.

"Do Zoomers make good colleagues?"

Somehow I find that the most interesting question on the NYT's list of "The Year in 47 Debates" ("From the urgent conversations we had as a nation to the minor controversies that fascinated us, these are the things that got people talking, and talking, and talking...") 

Each debate is briefly explicated. Here's the discussion of Zoomers:

As Gen Z’s advance guard enters the work force, such as it is, their denim preferences, Slack etiquette and penchant for self-care are inspiring angst among older colleagues. Even the Zoomers’ immediate forebears — the millennials once at the white-hot center of youth culture — describe feeling fear and foreboding at the prospect of committing an emoji faux pas, fielding a request for a mental health day or staking out a companywide activist position. Some of these concerns reflect predictable anxieties about losing touch with the latest fashions; ominous “kids these days” tales have most likely circulated since our foraging ancestors were scandalized by Generation Agriculture. But others betray a sense of unease among managers who are dealing with a resurgence of worker power and a labor movement revival. The spotlight on generational trends may be obscuring a broader change in employee expectations for more humane hours, safer conditions and fairer treatment. A revolt, it would seem, is underway against a broken and oppressive corporate culture, but it’s coming from workers of all ages.

"In New York City, the slightest runny nose has people canceling holiday gatherings and lining up for hours outside coronavirus testing centers."

The NYT reports. 

In New York City, the slightest sniffle has people canceling holiday plans and packing coronavirus testing centers, where in recent days lines have stretched for blocks....

Despite receiving negative tests, some people keep burning through at-home coronavirus swabs just to stay calm....

There is a distinction between reasonable fear and anxiety that becomes disproportionate and all-consuming, said Dr. Itai Danovitch, the chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. A meta-analysis of dozens of community-based studies on mental health and the coronavirus showed that anxiety among the general population has increased threefold during the pandemic.

But in such tumultuous times, a certain level of anxiety is understandable, he said. “It is important to normalize how people are feeling: Anxiety and fear are common, it’s OK to feel anxiety, it’s OK to feel low, it’s OK to feel some distress,” Dr. Danovitch said....

There's a great photograph at the link of a woman wearing a T-shirt that says:  

My body is a temple
Ancient & crumbled
Probably cursed.
Harboring an 
Unspeakable horror

The caption quotes her saying: "I have thought so much about this disease for the past two years, that any potential brush with it feels a bit monumental."

Is it "important to normalize" that? How much fear and anxiety should a person simply accept as just the way it feels to be human? The psychiatrist tells us our bad feels are "OK." Fine. But how should we live? How can we flourish?

I've heard from my NYC informants that the lining up for testing is quite extreme. Why aren't people afraid they'll catch the disease from standing around in line? I know that people maintain distance between other people in the line, but they are still hanging around, not isolated, crowding the streets for hours. And what good is another test? It could be a false negative. At some point all the checking and rechecking is a mental disorder. But if the whole city is doing it, it's the new normal.

December 21, 2021

Sunrise — 7:10.



Talk about anything you want in the comments.

"The year since I wrote the original essay on the Five Deadly Sins of the Left has not resulted in a sea change in the left’s attitudes embodied in these five sins."

"Instead, they seem just as or more entrenched than they were. This augurs a future where working class voters continue to drift away from the Left, while highly educated elites increasingly define the left’s profile. The economist Thomas Piketty has referred to this development as the rise of the 'Brahmin Left.' For the Brahmin Left, the five deadly sins are virtues, since this is what the enlightened among them believe. But for the working class, as well as less ideological upscale voters, these ideas make the left less attractive. There is still an opening for a left that promotes universal values, a better model of capitalism, practical problem-solving on climate change, and an economy that delivers abundance for all. But the hour may be getting late...."

Writes Ruy Teixeira, in "The Five Deadly Sins of the Left/Time to Repent!" (Substack).

The sins are identity politics, retro-socialism, catastrophism, growthophobia, and technophobia — described in some detail at the link.

"Brigitte Macron is to sue over an 'outlandish' conspiracy theory being spread by extreme rightwingers that she was born a man before undergoing a sex change...."

"The lie is being spread by French extremists close to QAnon, the American movement that claims the US is in the grip of Satan-worshipping paedophiles. Although the rumours were begun by radicals so marginal that even the best-known French far-right website has dismissed them as 'grotesque,' they have started to circulate more widely on the internet in recent days." 

From the comments over there: "Mme Macron's daughter is so similar to her mother, It is a ludicrous suggestion that Mme Macron is not female. A more feminine woman is hard to find. What a ludicrous way to try to cause problems for the Macrons."

ADDED: Why sue over this? Doesn't it make her look transphobic? The rumors just seem like random internet bullshit, so you need a good motivation to elevate them. If the motivation is just to crush idiots who horse around and taunt people, that's mostly repressive and punching down. 

And that commenter I quoted also has unnecessary transphobia, because why would "A more feminine woman is hard to find" work as proof that Brigitte Macron is not transgender? The unspoken foundation of that remark is that transgender women are not feminine. Isn't that impolite?

The moon hangs on a tree...


 ... at 7:22 a.m. on the first day of winter.

"You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."

Said the writer Anne Lamott.

Quoted in the top-rated comment at "She wrote a novel with her cheating ex as a villain. Is he stuck in this role?" (WaPo)(a man cheated on his wife, left her when the girlfriend got pregnant, and regrets it while explaining that he "needed to feel something other than grief and sadness" after the first wife had a late-term miscarriage). 

The commenter continues: 
So suck it up, LW. You did what you did. Instead of letting it destroy her she took her pain and turned it into a survival guide that is helping others feel less alone. Yes, some folks probably know it's about you. You'll have to suck that up too. I'm pretty sure that's what you're mostly worried about, or you would have been around with your apologies a long time ago.

I don't completely agree with Anne Lamott, though if I had something I truly wanted to write and publish, I would rely on her statement to give me courage. But the truth is that no one can behave well enough to save them from the fate of looking bad in someone's novel! The novelist might be a victim, but I think most novelists are not victims. They are observers, often highly judgmental, and they're inclined to develop their raw material into the most interesting and amusing and agonizing form, not to treat everyone fairly. Yes, you "own" the raw material you gathered from others, and no one can stop you from applying the brutal force of your creativity to what you've got there, but don't imagine that these people deserve it all because they weren't good enough!

That said, the letter writer in that WaPo column sounds perfectly awful, and I'm willing to believe that he deserved it. You know, he owns what happened to him, including the fate of becoming somebody else's fictional character. He's free to justify himself to the hilt and destroy the first wife by whipping up his own novel. Maybe she should have "behaved better." But I'm thinking it would probably be a better novel if he dragged himself through the mud. 

ADDED: I hope WaPo made sure the letter was really from the ex-husband of the novelist. It makes him look so bad that I'm imagining one of his enemies sending that letter in as a way to draw attention to the book and lock him into the interpretation that the character in the book is really him.

"What blows my mind is that it was all organic. It just happened. There was no planning. It just grew out of everybody’s desire for beauty and joy and connection."

Says one of the participants in a Christmas-decorating style described in "A man strung Christmas lights from his home to his neighbor’s to support her. The whole community followed" (WaPo).

Don't get any ideas about stringing lights across the street — from house to house — in your neighborhood. With ideas, it won't be organic, it won't have just happened, there will be planning. It does look nice... but what if I don't want to be connected by lights to my neighbor? Suddenly, I'm the Scrooge?

"Should a journalist — particularly one as distinguished and influential as [Thomas] Friedman — disclose his direct financial support of those he’s writing about?"

"The question is an unlikely twist on an issue that has occasionally ensnared other journalists. News organizations typically prohibit reporters and columnists from taking anything of value from those they write about, lest it corrupt or compromise what they write and report. The rules usually make no distinction between news reporters and opinion columnists, such as Friedman, the latter of whom are allowed to advocate for a cause or a point of view. But giving money, particularly without notifying readers, is rarely addressed."

 From "Thomas Friedman’s columns prompt a different kind of ethical question for the New York Times" (WaPo). Friedman has written favorably about Conservation International in many of his columns in the NYT, and his family foundation has donated $5.9 million to it over the years. 

Is this a problem, and what is the agenda of the people who are pushing the notion that this is problem? WaPo cites a "San Francisco community organizer named Michael Petrelis" who brought up this issue about Friedman at a NYT shareholder meeting:

When all else fails... get a puppy!

Imagine if Trump got a German shepherd and called it Commander! What a Nazi he is!

"I'm from West Virginia. I'm not where they're from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive."


ADDED: Whatever they say publicly I will test against the hypothesis that making it all about Manchin is political theater, designed to concentrate the blame where it will not hurt other Democrats, moderate Democrats, while they gain the opportunity to edit the excessively left-wing material out of the bill.

AND: Here's how WaPo is following the unfolding events this morning: "Liberal lawmakers don’t want to talk about scaling back their ambitions to revive some of what Joe Manchin killed." Oh, really?
The intense frustration emanating from the most liberal members of Congress adds an extra layer of complication for the White House and Democratic leaders who are scrambling to find a path forward to save some of the roughly $2 trillion domestic policy bill Manchin torpedoed over the weekend.

Torpoedoes and emanations! What will happen next?! All these layers.... layers of complication. It's a long story but it's rather boring and obvious.

December 20, 2021

The last day of fall is a beautiful day for a sunrise...



... and for a waning gibbous moon...


"I worried that giving my time over so fully to crosswords would somehow prove symptomatic of relapse."

"But I uncrossed the wires—puzzles ≠ disembodiment ≠ anorexia ≠ relapse—and took the job. Four days a week, I rode the Metro-North train from the city to Pleasantville, New York, to join [NYT crossword editor Will] Shortz at his home office.... Shortz is known for editing up to ninety per cent of the clues in a crossword submission, tailoring its references to suit a desired level of difficulty and an imagined audience—one that could be as broad or as narrow as Shortz wanted it to be.... We had markedly different frames of reference—he was a sixty-two-year-old who had grown up on a horse farm in Indiana, and I was a twenty-three-year-old who grew up in Tribeca—and the collision of our backgrounds made for good conversation and better crosswords. One of my proudest moments was getting him to rewrite the clue for bro (traditionally, 'Sister’s sib' or 'Sibling for sis') as 'Preppy, party-loving, egotistical male, in modern lingo.' But, when I constructed a puzzle that prominently featured the term male gaze in the grid, he insisted that the phrase wouldn’t be in the average Times solver’s lexicon; it wasn’t 'puzzle-worthy.' (Although I lost that battle in 2014, the term appeared three years later, under his editorship.)"

"I’m asexual (yes, you can be asexual and have a boyfriend), and what that means for me is my penis was just for me."

"So what was even the point of having a lot of it? Was I greedy? Crazy? Weeks before my procedure, I got a block of clay and sat meditating and molding by feel, letting my body answer. The resulting phallus was the exact size I’d been requesting. For days, I lay on the floor on and off in the sunlight coming into my living room, asking my ancestors and transcestors for guidance. Some people might kill for this kind of access and choice. Certainly many, many, many, many people have died in the fight for it. One night, I woke up from a dead sleep, and all I heard was: Take the big dick. So I did. And it was perfect.... One of my surgeons asked me at some point if I’d want to follow up later with surgical girth reduction in case this here wondrous member we had conjured from fucking nothing into warm, space-displacing reality wasn’t yet the fit that would stop the deafening five-alarm bereavement scream that had ricocheted around my insides incessantly since birth. But the screaming had stopped...."

"'She was seen as too sexy and too lightweight to be serious,' her longtime agent... said... Ms. Babitz was a precocious child of Hollywood, born on May 13, 1943, stopping traffic at 13."

"(A soon-to-be famous actor, spying her on her front lawn in a leopard print bathing suit, cruised her in his convertible before realizing her age and speeding away, she recalled in 'Eve’s Hollywood.').... She clocked the popular girls.... 'When they reach 15.... and their beauty arrives, it’s very exciting — like coming into an inheritance and as with inheritances, it’s fun to be around when they first come into the money and how they spend it and on what.'  Eve’s inheritance was her appetite, her curiosity and her zaftig beauty, like Brigitte Bardot with a shag haircut and hip huggers. She was a hedonist with a notebook. Eve hung out at the Troubadour, the West Hollywood club that nurtured Jackson Browne, the band Buffalo Springfield, for whom she made album covers, and Steve Martin, whom she made over by showing him a book of Jacques Henri Lartigue’s photographs featuring crisply dressed men in white suits on the beach in France at the turn of the century. In 1963, she wrote to Joseph Heller, the author of 'Catch-22,' angling to find a publisher for a nascent novel that never materialized: 'I am a stacked 18-year-old blonde on Sunset Boulevard. I am also a writer.'... Then in 1997, trying to light a cherry-flavored Tiparillo while driving her Volkswagen Beetle, her clothing caught fire, searing most of her body.... Holed up with her cat in her West Hollywood apartment, Ms. Babitz became a recluse — and a pugnacious conservative, converted by the talk radio that became the backbeat to her new life...."

A strange obituary. And I've elided Frank Zappa, Salvador Dalí, and Marcel Duchamp. 

Creepy, really. You'd think "Me Too" had never happened. She died of Huntington's disease, so maybe this obituary was composed years ago. 

The scene on the front lawn in a leopard print bathing suit seems like the scene in the Kubrick movie where Humbert Humbert first lays eyes on Lolita. The Times sounds Humbertish referring to Babitz as "a precocious child." The editors left in "stopping traffic at 13." Maybe that's the tone of Babitz's writing. She wrote "When they reach 15.... and their beauty arrives, it’s very exciting" and "I am a stacked 18-year-old blonde on Sunset Boulevard." And all this is added up to the role of "hedonist." It's as though the New York Times has devolved into Harvey Weinstein. Ah, but she turned into a conservative — "a pugnacious conservative" — so no holds barred. 

"Appears"? You mean to you?

I balk at this headline in The Guardian: "Why Trump appears deeply unnerved as Capitol attack investigation closes in."

They have to use the word "appears," because they obviously don't know how Trump feels — deeply or shallowly — inside. Then the word throws off the whole idea, so it seems to be only what it is: How it looks to the Guardian writer (Hugo Lowell). I haven't read the piece, not yet anyway, but the easy answer to "Why Trump appears deeply unnerved" is that the author is seeing what he wants to see — which is Trump deeply unnerved. The brief headline also contains a second element of wishful perception: the Capitol attack investigation is closing in on Trump. Is it? We're expect to believe that it is, but that's not what I think. And I don't think Trump is deeply unnerved. I'm not convinced he's deeply anything.

"Gone were her signature black turtlenecks and black slacks; gone the bright red lipstick and blond hair ironed straight as a board or pulled into a chignon."

"Gone, in other words, was the look immortalized on magazine covers of Fortune, Forbes and Glamour (and, yes, T: The New York Times Style Magazine). The look that inspired a host of ironic imitators at the beginning of her trial. The look that famously referenced both Steve Jobs (but glamorous!) and Audrey Hepburn.... Instead there was … sartorial neutrality, in the form of a light gray pantsuit and light blue button-down shirt, worn untucked, with baby pink lipstick.... The net effect of Ms. Holmes’s makeover was middle manager or backup secretarial character in a streaming series about masters of the universe (but not her! uh-uh).... If in her previous incarnation Ms. Holmes’s image was crafted to suggest confidence, control and single-minded, maybe ruthless, pursuit of a goal — and it clearly worked, part of the case made for investors — she is now conveying softness and dependency, so unassertive that, as her defense argued, she would make a perfect target for a man to Svengali her.... In this, her makeover is like a version 2.0 of the techniques employed by Winona Ryder in her 2002 shoplifting trial, when she wore a Marc Jacobs outfit that made her look like a polite schoolgirl, complete with a Peter Pan collar, as well as assorted discreet knee-length hemlines and headbands; or Anna Sorokin, the society grifter who, in the final days of her 2019 trial, wore sweet baby-doll dresses that practically blared 'innocent.'"

Writes Vanessa Friedman in "The Verdict on the Elizabeth Holmes Trial Makeover/As the fraud trial of the Theranos founder draws to a close, could her new courtroom image affect the decision?" (NYT).

Of course, when you're on trial, you dress innocent. But if you overdo it, you look like the con artist they're saying you are. And yet, how easily she conned sophisticated older men with a dumb black turtleneck and red lipstick! Who knows what you can do — what the right person can do — with fashion?

"The breakdown comes at an especially difficult moment for Biden, whose struggle to fight the pandemic, rising inflation and supply chain problems were already gathering into a year-end maelstrom."

"Now he also faces an uproar once again in his own party. Democratic infighting was on full display on Sunday, undercutting efforts to project unity ahead of what many in the party privately believe will be an electoral wipeout. And liberal leaders who hoped to realize their longtime policy goals and campaign on the initiatives in the social spending plan were furious.... Rather than seeking to defuse hostilities as some Democrats had hoped, the White House lashed out at Manchin... [saying] that if he walks away from the talks, he would be breaking his word to Biden.... Democrats on Sunday began contemplating the far-reaching consequences. The social spending bill would make historic investments in curtailing global warming, expanding Medicare benefits and offering access to prekindergarten for all American children, among other things. Now there are new questions about how or even if Biden will be able to deliver on any of those fronts, all at a moment when the president and his party had initially hoped to reflect on a productive year and gear up for the midterms. In particular, the possibility of no legislative action on climate change sent a shudder through a party...."

From "From charm offensive to scorched earth: How Biden’s fragile alliance with Manchin unraveled" (WaPo).

Why did they hope for so much when they had a 50-50 Senate? Why did they think they'd won the support "to realize [the liberal leaders'] longtime policy goals"? 

December 19, 2021

Another dull sunrise — photo taken at 7:15 a.m. on the second to the last day before the solistice.


I knew before I set out that there was 100% cloud cover, so this dullness was no surprise. I centered the lit-up state capitol dome in the frame as a stand-in for the sun. 

"Baby boxes have a history that goes back to 'foundling wheels'—revolving barrels that were installed in the sides of churches and convents during the Middle Ages..."

"... where people could leave their offspring without being seen. (In the twelfth century, Pope Innocent III mandated that the contraption be installed in Rome, after he became alarmed at the number of dead babies washing up in the Tiber River.) In recent years, they’ve made a comeback in many countries, notably in Germany, where they are called Babyklappen, or baby hatches... A mother who leaves her infant in the Babyklappe has eight weeks to return for the baby.... In the U.S., the first safe-haven law—also known as the 'Baby Moses' law—was passed in Texas, in 1999, in response to a spate of abandoned infants. By 2008, similar laws had been implemented in all fifty states... 'That’s important symbolically for pro-life groups, because they always love to emphasize how similar abortion is to infanticide,' [Mary Ziegler, a legal historian who studies abortion said]. 'Like, if you’re horrified by the idea of surrendering a newborn baby, or putting a baby in a box, why are you not horrified by killing a baby in the womb at fifteen weeks?' .... 'This isn’t an abortion debate,' [said Monica Kelsey, the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes]. 'The women that we deal with on a daily basis have already chosen life for their children.'... Kelsey... grew up in Ohio, raised by adoptive parents who... 'said my birth parents were young and in love, and they had to give me up because they couldn’t care for me.'... But at age thirty-seven, married and a mother herself, she managed to track down her biological mother, who revealed [that a]t the age of seventeen, Kelsey’s mother had been attacked and violently raped.... Two hours after Kelsey was born, her biological mother and grandmother abandoned her at a hospital.... 'I was actually whisked into this world by violence.'"

"I don't wanna minimize — denigrate — Mike's talent, but I had a money machine rolling."


The quote in the headline appears at 17:00. "Mike" is the late Mike Nesmith.

This is a really interesting documentary presentation of The Monkees story. They were so troubled by the line between real and fake. It may be a little hard for people of today even to grasp how truth was at stake. They were real actors, doing a real comedy show, and they really sang. Why the angst?!

ADDED: At 18:05: "And I walked in with a song I really believed in, called 'Sugar, Sugar.'"

"Professor Put Clues to a Cash Prize in His Syllabus.... Tucked into the second page of the syllabus was information about a locker number and its combination. Inside was a $50 bill, which went unclaimed."

The NYT reports.
“Free to the first who claims; locker one hundred forty-seven; combination fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five,” read the passage in the syllabus. But when the semester ended on Dec. 8, students went home and the cash was unclaimed.

“My semester-long experiment has come to an end,” [Kenyon Wilson, a professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga]  wrote on Facebook, adding: “Today I retrieved the unclaimed treasure.”...
Tanner Swoyer, a senior studying instrumental music education, said that he felt “pretty dumb, pretty stupid” when he saw the professor’s post... Mr. Swoyer immediately texted his classmates, who also felt “bamboozled,” mostly because, he said, this was something Professor Wilson would do....

I see no bamboozling here. I've already blogged about the word "bamboozle" — complete with a quote from "The Life of Pi" — here. But, briefly, to "bamboozle" is to trick. There's no trick here. The students didn't lose or risk losing their own money. It was the professor's money, and he put it where anyone could easily take it, if they were sharp enough to see. 

Let this be a lesson to everyone: What fine benefits are right there for you to take that you do not see? Jesus said:

[T]heir ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart.... But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

"A growing body of preliminary research suggests the Covid vaccines used in most of the world offer almost no defense against becoming infected by the highly contagious Omicron variant...."

"[O]nly the Pfizer and Moderna shots, when reinforced by a booster, appear to have success at stopping infections, and these vaccines are unavailable in most of the world. The other shots — including those from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and vaccines manufactured in China and Russia — do little to nothing to stop the spread of Omicron, early research shows.... The Pfizer and Moderna shots use the new mRNA technology, which has consistently offered the best protection against infection with every variant. All of the other vaccines are based on older methods of triggering an immune response.... 'High vaccination coverage combined with early reports that Omicron does not cause serious illness is leading to a false sense of security in the country.... We have to get people to understand that it doesn’t work like that: If you get high transmissibility you’re going to have the health system saturated because the number of people getting ill will be higher'..."

"I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there. This is a no."

Said Joe Manchin, quoted in "Manchin Pulls Support From Biden’s Social Policy Bill, Imperiling Its Passage/'I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,' Mr. Manchin said on ‘Fox News Sunday,’ citing concerns about adding to the national debt" (NYT).
For months, Mr. Manchin had huddled privately with Mr. Biden and his top officials in an attempt to secure a compromise. His objections forced the White House to substantially curtail the scope of the package and remove certain programs, including the creation of a clean electricity program and a plan to ban new oil drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

As early as last week, even as Mr. Biden confirmed that efforts to pass the legislation had stalled, he waxed optimistic, saying that talks with Mr. Manchin would continue and that he believed that “we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan.”...

“They’re just trying to make the adjustment for the time to fit the money or the money to fit the time,” Mr. Manchin said. “Not changing our approach, not targeting things we should be doing.”

UPDATE:  Statement from Press Secretary Jen Psaki:

Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on FOX are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances.... Senator Manchin pledged repeatedly to negotiate on finalizing that framework “in good faith.”... If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate....

Watch Wisconsin win.