Posted at the suggestion of Oliver Mannion, Wolverine fan, Star Trek fan, but not a Watchman fan because, he says, "It's not age appropriate," although he seems to know a lot about it "from various sources."
Numb3rs is online. Two other shows I got hooked on recently are also online. Leverage and Psych. I haven’t been getting much sleep the last few nights. I was better off when you could only watch network TV at set times and HBO and Showtime if you had HBO and Showtime. If a show wasn’t on when I was home to watch it, too bad for me—or lucky for me. I missed all of The Larry Sanders Show and NYPD Blue, Buffy and Firefly. But Felicity passed me right by too. Now I’m up at two in the morning, watching Psych.
Psych’s fun. It’s mostly about its own goofiness. I don’t know if it started out that way. I’ve been watching shows from the second half of the third season. But even if it took itself seriously at first, there’s no way that could have lasted. Why does a brilliant, natural-born detective, with observational and deductive powers that rival Sherlock Holmes’ have to pretend to be a psychic? Why are the cops he works for as a consultant apparently the only people who fall for his act? The goofiness and constant stream of allusions to movies and other television shows hide the fact that there isn’t any real reason for Shawn’s fake psychic charade as the not particularly original or complicated plots roll along and the not all that mysterious mysteries get solved.
I probably wouldn’t have stuck with the show very long, in any case. It’s definitely a seen three or four episodes you’ve seen them all kind of show. But there’s something developing that I’m pretty sure’s going to drive me back to late night viewings of another show I probably never would have watched if it wasn’t online, Saving Grace. Save me. Maybe I’ll finally get around to starting The Closer instead. At any rate, the disturbing development on Psych is that Detective Juliet O’Hara is finally beginning to admit she has feelings for Shawn.
It’s completely understandable why Shawn would have feelings for O’Hara. She’s pretty, she’s smart, she’s very good at her job, and like all women cops on TV these days, except for Dexter’s sister Deb, she dresses for police work in inappropriately tight tops with deep necklines in order to show perps and victims that spectacular cleavage is not incompatible with effective law enforcement.
But why on earth O’Hara would be attracted to a fake, a flake, and a fraud like Shawn is incomprehensible. Maybe she suspects that he’s conning everybody and is attracted by his brilliance, despite the fact that’s he’s, well, a con man. Maybe she has a thing for smart-mouthed arrested adolescents in their mid-thirties with serious issues about being a grown-up who dress, act, and flirt by showing off and teasing exactly as if they were still sophomores in college.
By the way, who told James Roday he was charming? I mean it. Whoever did probably ruined him. I have no doubt that once upon a time, before somebody pointed it out, he was charming, but now that he knows it, he is “charming,” the way a little girl who’s been told she’s pretty is suddenly “pretty” or another one who’s been told she’s smart is suddenly “smart.”
At any rate, unless O’Hara has plumbed hidden depths the writers of the episodes I’ve watched so far haven’t bothered to plumb themselves, there’s no reason for a bright, responsible, professional grown-up like O’Hara to fall for Shawn except that she has to obey the rule.
The rule is that on just about any TV series these days, whatever the genre, no matter if it's a comedy or a drama, every unattached main character must at some point become attached. There must be a love interest.
If that love interest can be another member of the cast, so much the better. It saves on salaries. You don't have to hire two new actors. The writers are spared the trouble thinking up two new characters who must be likable, a requirement that makes it highly probable that they won't be in the least---they'll be "likable."
Don't worry if the characters pairing up are unsuited for each other. Don't worry if there's no chemistry between the actors playing the newly coupled couple. Don't even worry if there's another character one of the lovers would be a better match for. Apparently audiences need to be assured that their favorites aren't sleeping alone.
Love is always a good thing. Hence, the rule.
Both Leverage and Numb3rs respect the rule, although so far Leverage isn't adhering to it. But the potential is built into its premise. Nathan and Sophie have a past, like Batman and Catwoman have a past, and Hardison is carrying a torch for Parker and according to the rule every good-hearted character who carries a torch must be given his or her heart's desire eventually. I sure hope the writers disregard the rule in this case. Part of what makes Parker such a great character is that she is pathologically anti-social. She is so completely alienated from normal human company that she might as well be an alien from another planet. She doesn't have ordinary feelings and she doesn't even begin to understand them in other people. Romantic and sexual encounters aren't at all appealing to her, at least not as appealing as extreme physical danger and reckless disregard for her personal safety in the pursuit of the ultimate turn on, a bit of very grand larceny. An erotic encounter between her and some poor, unprepared guest star could be funny, at least up until the point where she got him hospitalized or killed. But a love affair between her and Hardison would turn the series into Splash, with Hardison trying to teach the mermaid, who in this case is more shark than dolphin, how to be a real live human girl.
On Numb3rs, Charlie and Amita make sense as a couple, although it would have been nice if Navi Rawat had been allowed to look as much like the geek she plays as David Krumholtz is allowed to look like the one he stars as. And so far as I know---I haven't watched every episode yet---Don's love life is confined to reunions with ex-girlfriends who don't stick around. But it was the rule and only the rule that brought sensible, and gorgeous, FBI Agent Megan Reeves and goofy, and goofy-looking, physicist Larry Fleinhardt together, a match made only in the imaginations of nerdy male writers.
Speaking of Agent Reeves, or actually the actress who plays her, Diane Farr, who also played Firefighter Laura Miles on Rescue Me. One of the things I like about Rescue Me is the many ways the writers find to pervert the rule. It was easy to understand why Farr's character and Daniel Sunjata's Franco Rivera wound up in bed together, despite their initial resistance. But they never liked liking each other that way and their romance didn't make either of them particularly happy. Which is about how you'd expect things to go between an arrogant borderline narcissist who enjoys the company of other human beings only up to the point where actual feelings become an issue and a level-headed young careerist struggling to be taken seriously in a very male-dominated profession who's insecure enough about her own ability to handle the job without having to deal with the men's doubt and contempt. Franco hates it that he's allowed himself to become vulnerable. Laura feels sheepish and guilty because she can't help suspecting that by sleeping with Franco she's using sex as a way into the fraternity.
Most of the other characters are even unhappier in love than Laura and Franco. On most shows, love is a reward or a comfort or a happy adventure. On Rescue Me it's practically a punishment from God. Tommy and Sheila's relationship is an emotional demolition derby and whatever it is he has with his ex-wife Janet is only marginally less destructive, if only because the two of them enjoy the torture they inflict on each other.
Psych is too lighthearted and emotionally shallow a show for a developing romance between Shawn and O'Hara to turn into the disaster it could only turn into if anything like real life were to be written into the scripts.
When did this rule kick in anyway? It wasn't in effect when I was a kid. There was no rule that regular characters had to pair off like swans and turtle doves. None of my favorite shows had a love interest. Captain Kirk didn't have a love interest. Jim Rockford didn't have a love interest. Hawkeye Pierce didn't have a love interest. They had love interests, plural. Even into the 'Eighties, main characters on TV shows were unabashedly and cheerfully serially monagomous. MacGyver didn't have a love interest. Magnum didn't have one.
When the writers felt like writing a mushy story they invented a character that a guest star was brought in to play for one or at most two episodes before she or he got killed, betrayed the hero or heroine, or decided for the hero or heroine's own good that they had to part forever.
That's how they handled in on the Ponderosa. How many wives did the Cartwright boys go through. Little Joe alone filled whole cemeteries with the women he loved and lost to illness, bullets, or an Indian's arrow. That was the Bonanza Way and if it was good enough for Ben, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe, it's good enough for Shawn Spencer...
Although I hope Maggie Lawson's agent got a No Cartwright Wife clause written into her contract.
I think I'm entirely too comfortable inside Numb3rs.
I mean I shouldn't feel at home among fictional characters, should I?
But I do. I don't care about the plots. I don't care about the math and the science, even though that's why I started watching the show. I don't even care that Diane Farr isn't part of the cast any more. In fact, I'm kind of glad she's gone. She was distracting. Whenever she was around I didn't feel quite as comfortable. I still felt at home but I couldn't relax. It was as if I had to keep checking that she was enjoying herself. She was a guest I felt I had to impress. Her leaving the show has taken a lot of the pressure off.
She had the same effect on me when she was on Rescue Me. She makes me feel like I have to be on my best behavior. Which is odd, because she comes across as pretty cool and easy going.
I think it's Judd Hirsch's presence that makes me feel this way, at home, comfortable, comforted.
My favorite scenes ought to be the ones in which Charlie and Larry work out whatever algorithm or theory's going to move Don's investigation along another step, and I enjoy those. But my favorite scenes are the ones in which everyone's gathered at the house, working out a problem, watching TV, sharing a meal, playing video games, being taken care of by each other.
My favorite moment in the series so far was when Judd Hirsch persuaded Larry to give up his experiment in homelessness and come live at the house. I felt like I'd been invited to move in too.
If there are any psychologists out there reading this, please don't write in to tell me what this all means.
Didn't expect I would be. Why would I be? Eric's premise---and I feel comfortable calling him Eric because we're like that. We follow each other on Twitter.---is that the rise of the progressive blogosphere---the netoots---profoundly influenced both the last two national elections and the way the national media covered them, and I'm not part of the netroots. Not in any active way. I don't use the blog to organize or raise funds or get out the vote. I don't mind making it clear who's got my vote but I've never done it in the form of an endorsement, because who cares? My rants against Republicans, conservatives, quisling Democrats, and the journalists who love them are just me blowing off steam. I'm not leading or trying to lead in the attack. I don't have an issue or a theme. As much as I write about politics, I don't consider myself a political blogger at all or even a liberal one. I write about what's on my mind at the moment and that works against my influencing the debate---when other bloggers are tackling the big issues with fire and passion, if you click over here you're likely to find a review of Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
And I'm not sure that very many people with political clout even know I exist. Peter Daou has been a fan of the blog from way back and he's been very generous in arranging invitations to events that have brought me into contact with some seriously important people---I ever tell you about the time I made Hillary laugh?---and Austin Guest has kindly done a decent job of keeping me up to date on what's being done by the Progressive States Network. But when I attend their shindigs and to-dos I have a tendency to drift into a shadowy corner and gawk from there. It's not that I'm shy. It's just more fun to eavesdrop and spy than to schmooze. I'm there because I'm interested in them. Schmoozing is about making them interested in you, and that's work.
I did shake Ned Lamont's hand once though.
My sense, anyway, is that thanks to Jim Wolcott most of my readership lives and breathes outside the political world and that, for some reason, my readers include more scientists than politicians and journalists, and I'm proud of that.
But even if I was plugged in, and involved, and important, there's another good reason for Eric to have left me out of his book, despite the fact that we're like that---Did I mention we follow each other on Twitter?---Bloggers on the Bus isn't just about the rise and triumph of the netroots, Eric also tells the story of how the Progressive blogosphere almost tore itself apart during the Democratic primaries last year, and I stayed well out of that narrative.
Regular readers might remember that was rooting for Clinton in the primaries, but perceptive readers noticed that I really didn't care who won the nomination, Clinton or Obama. I didn't see they were all that different on the issues, I liked and respected the both of them, and I was pretty confident that either one would beat John McCain. Hillary would have done it differently, that's all.
I also thought and still think the prolonged primary campaign was good for the Party and ultimately good for Obama. That opinion, more specifically the irritation it seemed to cause my Obama-supporting readers and fellow bloggers, was the first clue I had that something odd and unpleasant was going on. But I sort of shrugged it off philosophically, figuring that once one or the other had the nomination in hand, the other's supporters would climb aboard the bandwagon. After all, it wasn't about us.
I guess I was sort of aware that bloggers on both sides were not distinguishing themselves, because I stopped reading a bunch of blogs I'd been in the habit of visiting regularly, pro-Clinton and pro-Obama. At any rate, I knew there was disagreement, but I didn't know the depth of bitterness and anger and resentment it caused. I still baffles me when I come across residual signs of that bitterness, anger, and resentment, when I read a post by a progressive blogger who seems to want an apology that Barack Obama has turned out to be what he always appeared to be or a one time Hillary-backer who seems to think Obama-supporters should be ashamed of the fact that President Obama is governing pretty much as President Clinton would have and even relying on the same set of advisers.
I'm not telling you this to impress you with my Olympian detachment and my ability to coolly rise above the fray---basically I'm admitting to be way out of the loop. Something weird happened and I missed it.
So I'm telling you this to let you know that a great chunk of the story Eric's telling in Bloggers on the Bus is new to me. Despite all the years I've put into this blogging biz, I'm learning things from the book. Frankly, a lot of what I'm learning isn't very heartening or inspiring. The netroots isn't a gathering of saints and heroes, and I never thought it was. But it's not fun finding out how unsaintly and unheroic some of us have been. On the other hand, few of us rise (or sink) to the level of villains and monsters either. Eric has unabashedly modeled his book on Timothy Crouse's great expose of the national press corps and the 1972 Presidential campaign, The Boys on the Bus , but the fact is that bloggers aren't great fodder for gossip, because basically what we do is stay home and read and type. Not a lot of drama or comedy in that, and very little sex, and what sex there is is virtual and that doesn't make for many steamy sex scenes. Maybe Eric should have waited until after the next election to write his book, when more of us have actually been on the bus and had the same opportunities to misbehave and make fools of ourselves the way the regular press corps does every four years.
On the other hand, it's good to see in print and in one place the story of how the Progressive blogosphere made itself what it is while its Conservative counterpart turned into Bizzaro World.
Hoosier feminists might be a rare breed, but McEwan became one. Raised in the Indiana blue-collar town of Portage by her stay-at-home mom and history-teaching dad, McEwan from a very early age was the kid asking uncomfortable questions and announcing that the answers were wholly insufficient. For instance, why could women at her Lutheran church teach Sunday school classes but not become ordained as ministers? That didn't make sense to her.
She'd been interested in politics from a young age. She remembered sitting in a circle in elementary school at the beginning of the year and kids taking turns telling what their dad did for a living. The most frequent answer was "My dad is laid off." McEwan asked her parents what that meant and they gave her an early primer in Reaganomics. With insight into how government and the choices made by politicians can affect everyday people in Portage, McEwan got hooked. "Growing up in Laid Offville was really got me interested," she told me.
Not bad. But I think I still prefer reading Wev's own work to reading about her.
Here, then, is the conservative view laid bare: Empathy and reason are mutually exclusive concepts. It is thus never reasonable to be empathetic.
And, truly, if one's worldview is structured principally of self-interest, empathy isn't reasonable, but is, in fact, a catastrophic risk to the privileged beneficiaries of an ideology built upon their informed lack of compassion and their rank-and-file's ignorant lack of compassion.
Empathy is what happens when racist white parents discover their child's best friend at school is black, and they begin to revisit their prejudices. Empathy is what happens when a homophobic woman finds out that male coworker she really likes is gay, and she begins to reconsider all those biases she's held for so long. Empathy is what happens when real life, real people, prove obviously, demonstrably wrong all those conservative bedtime stories about gays and immigrants and castrating feminazis that go bump in the night.
It makes them have to engage their precious brains for .03 milliseconds when pronouncing ethnic names of national figures—and soon all those .03 milliseconds will add up to one second, and that one second will add up to twelve seconds a year, and we can't be wasting precious white male brains for twelve seconds a year when they need to be focused on important things like discussing their favorite scene in Superbad.
We might not be saints and heroes, but some of us sure know how to turn a phrase.
ELLENVILLE — Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
Ladislas Biro created the first ballpoint pen.
And now the hall of great thinkers might have a local member if taste buds tingle over the Bodacious Banana doughnut.
The doughnut was created by Christine Roman of Ellenville, whose imagination and love of pastries drove her to the finals of a national competition. If her doughnut is chosen from the 12 finalists, it will land on Dunkin' Donuts' shelves this year.
The Bodacious Banana — a catchy name invented by Roman's 14-year-old daughter, Amanda — is something of an homage to banana cream pie. It's a doughnut filled with banana cream, slathered in chocolate icing and topped with coconut sprinkles.
"Dunkin' Donuts doesn't have a banana doughnut," Roman points out. "It will stand out and it's a very marketable name that tells you what's in the doughnut."
On Wednesday, a car delivered Roman from Middletown to Boston, where she'll bake the doughnut for a panel of judges. The competition is stiff and sweet — a dozen doughnut entries fraught with chocolate, crunchy decorations and flavorful fillings. They were chosen from 130,000 contestants.
WARWICK — Every borough of New York City has its own rules for stickball. In Warwick Grove, they have a few of their own. Nobody runs bases, everyone avoids injuries, and no one is too old to feel like a kid for an afternoon.
Take Gene Maloney. He was the league's MVP the first year out. He's 83.
Warwick Grove is a 55-and-up community, where Ron Genovese, 69, moved almost four years ago. As the neighborhood grew, he got to thinking. Then he got to talking with his friend Ted Kastanis, 71.
"He came from Brooklyn. I came from Manhattan," Genovese said. "I says, 'How did you play?' He says, 'How did you play?' Then I went and bought three stickball bats."
Genovese never would have bought a stickball bat as a kid. He would have stolen one or nabbed an old broomstick and sliced it down to size.
GOSHEN — State police say a construction company owner shot his only employee on two different days this month with a BB gun and now faces felony assault and other charges.
Nicholas Revella Jr., 29, a self-employed contractor, was charged with second-degree assault, criminal possession of a weapon and reckless endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child.
Police say on May 14, around 8:30 p.m., Revella shot the man outside his home on Jessup Switch Road in the town of Goshen, where Revella runs his business out of a garage. On that day, the victim’s 15-year-old daughter was present, police say.
The next afternoon at around 4 p.m., Revella shot the victim in the calf and thigh, police say. The two apparently were arguing over the victim’s drinking and work issues.
This will be pled down, most likely, no trial, which is too bad, because I wanted to hear Ravella explain on the record what he thought he was going to gain by shooting the guy. Was he late for work and this was the boss's way of reminding him of the time? Had he asked for a raise? Whatever it was, it didn't do the trick the first time or maybe it did---maybe that's why he came back and shot him again.
I'm at the dojo, up in the gallery overlooking the fifteen year old's karate class. There's plenty of room up here, lots of seats, and just one other person up here with me. He came in after I was here and sat down about as close to me as he could have without making it look like we're on a date. And guess what he's doing.
They don't care about the meaning of a word. They are only interested in its uses.
And those uses are tied up in their politics and like their politics are aggressive and manipulative and aimed at one end, power.
To the extent that conservatives understand the words they use, they understand them as sounds that express their feelings. They know they've found the right word if it sounds like how they feel at the moment they say it. As far as they're concerned, there's no difference between lightning and lightning bug if both can be made to sound like, Oh my God the black guy in the White House wants to put a Spanish chick on the Supreme Court!
Their favorite words are words that can said with a sneer, but they enjoy words that bark, growl, whine, wheedle, and spit with rage too.
Empathy is a perfect word for them because it can be said with an implied flounce and limpness of wrist.
Empathy sounds like weakness, emotionalism, and an effeminate and hysterical over-concern for other people's feelings, not a good quality when the other people whose feelings are being taken into account are criminals. Empathy sounds like the fear of making the hard choices in case you hurt someone's feelings.
Of course, to conservatives, it's no endorsement that the word was used by that wimp George Herbert Walker Bush. But even if it had been used by George W. Bush about Sam Alito it wouldn't matter to them, because to them it's not the same word.
"Different when we say it, isn't it?"
We can't trip them up on their own words, even when they use words that contradict each other as if they mean the same thing, even when they use words that they affect to despise when liberals use them.
Because the words have no meaning, only sounds and uses. For them, words are defined by their sounds and uses.
Trying to throw their own words back in their face only allows them to make the same sounds all over again or use different words that they give those old sounds.
This is connected with their idea of morality---their feeling about morality. Moral behavior is what they do. Immoral behavior is what anybody who gets in their way does. The correct use of a word is their use of it at the moment, however they're using it, no matter how they've used it in the past.
We can't argue with their choice of words. We're better off competing with it with our own sounds.
And by the way, the sound of a word is part of its meaning. Using a word as if it only has the meaning the dictionary gives it is using only a piece of the word. Actually, it's often as big a mistake as using the wrong word. Often, it is the wrong word.
The sound of a word and the sounds of the words around it help convey its meaning.
We're not going to convince anyone that empathy is a good quality in a judge, unless we can make empathy sound like a good quality.
I have to admit, I don't think we can do that.
I'm no fan of the word empathy.
Goes back to grade school.
I learned what it meant in conjunction with learning what apathy meant, and I learned both through comparisons with the word sympathy.
This was probably in fifth or sixth grade. I already knew what sympathy meant and that it was a good trait to have. A virtue even. But the effect of that was that instead of learning what apathy and empathy meant by learning what they were, I learned what they meant by learning what they weren't---they weren't sympathy.
I doubt Sister Mary Anthony, who taught us grammar and usage, intended it, but I saw the three words on a continuum, starting with apathy and proceeding to empathy. But not progressing towards empathy. There was sympathy, which was a good thing, it meant you cared about what other people felt, and on the one side of it was apathy, which meant that you didn't care, and on the other side was empathy, which meant---well, which I took to mean, you cared too much.
Sympathy was a virtue. Apathy wasn't a vice as much as it was a failure to practice the virtue. Empathy was an indulgence. And indulgences are hard to distinguish from vices.
In short, empathy is not a quality I want in Supreme Court justice. Frankly, I think John Roberts is entirely too empathetic---to rich and powerful white guys. Empathy is as empathy is directed, and that's what conservatives intend when they use empathy as a sneer word. It doesn't matter what the dictionary says it means and that that meaning makes it a good quality. It sounds like liberal who will let terrorists out of Gitmo and buy them houses in your neighborhood.
The more effective way to fight this is to use our own words, words that sound like what they mean, and which have the virtue of actually describing Sonia Sotomayor. Tough, smart, hard-working,disciplined, concerned, compassionate, fair.
There's no point in trying to save her from the word empathetic by trying to make people understand that it doesn't mean what it sounds like it means. And at any rate, she's not empathetic.
Dahlia Lithwick boils down the argument about "empathy" (her quotation marks, too) to this: Conservatives want to make the case that Sotomayor feels too much, and that's code for too ethnic and too female and it gets them into a demographic battle they can't win. Lithwick concludes:
The angry screeching from the right that Judge Sotomayor is too emotional to fairly apply the law is already starting to sound, well, hysterical. And the fun is only just beginning.
Screeching. Hysterical. I like the sound of those words, and they have the virtue of actually applying to the Right.
The use of confidential informants to bust alleged homegrown terror rings is part of a campaign intended more to promote the war on terror than to protect citizens, say lawyers who have defended the accused in such cases.
"This is the law enforcement equivalent of an exhibition game," Albany lawyer Terence Kindlon said. "They're creating a crime and then solving it."
Kindlon represented Yassin Aref, an imam sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2007 in a scheme to launder money for an informant who claimed he was part of a plot to assassinate a Pakistini government official in New York.
The informant — Aref knew him as Malik — is named Shahed Hussain, who has worked for federal agents since 2003, when he was convicted in a fraud scheme involving motor vehicle documents in Albany, according to court records.
Based on the criminal complaint against James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, Kindlon says the informant in the Albany case is the same one involved in the case of the four Newburgh men.
"These were four very vulnerable dimwits who were susceptible to a very sophisticated, extremely devious, extraordinarily clever and dishonest snake in the grass," he said. "So crooked is this Malik character I don't trust him as far as I can throw my car."
NEWBURGH — Federal agents were going to spring their trap in Newburgh, but four aspiring jihadists didn't want to commit terrorism on an empty stomach.
The four accused conspirators — James Cromitie, 44; Laguerre Payen, 27; David Williams, 28; and Onta Williams, 32 — didn't rush their plot Wednesday to blow up two Bronx synagogues and military aircraft at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, according to an investigator familiar with the case.
Instead, the men ate an early afternoon meal at one of their Newburgh apartments, spent some time praying and then paused to eat again at the Thruway's Ramapo rest stop.
Only then did they head to the Bronx to plant what they believed to be explosives outside two synagogues, where they were arrested about 9:30 p.m.
TOWN OF WALLKILL — Kenneth Knapp was at the Town of Wallkill Memorial Park Monday morning, a short walk from his home on Rockwell Avenue.
He listened to the speeches of fellow veterans. And along with former U.S. Rep. Ben Gilman, he laid a wrea th at the brand-new World War II veterans memorial.
These are the easy things to do on Memorial Day. Remembering why he does them is not.
"After you get out, you try to forget," Knapp said. "But you can't."
He was born in Livingston Manor in 1917 and moved to Middletown in 1929 when his father got a job working on the O&W Railroad. He was drafted in 1942 and sent to Europe as part of the 28th Infantry Division.
He turned 27 on Dec. 17, 1944. Two days later, the Germans captured him in the Battle of the Bulge. They marched him 454 miles between prisoner-of-war camps over the next six months — the number is on his car's license plate. When he was liberated by British soldiers in May 1945, he was so weak that he could only eat baby food.
I'd agree, if Douthat means that it's no fun working as a cashier at Wal-mart or cleaning toilets at the local convenience mart. But he doesn't. Like many elitists, of the right and the left, in whose thinking about gender and work working class women often seem not to figure, Douthat means any sort of job, but is thinking really about the kinds of jobs held by smart, ambitious, competent women of his own class and educational background, because those are the women who from the point of view of men like Douthat need putting back in their proper place lest they make men like Douthat feel less smart and competent themselves.
The world needs its toilets cleaned. It does not need doctors, lawyers, scientists, and journalists who may be smarter than Ross Douthat, make more money, and show no deference or desire to give over their lives to bearing and raising his children.
Douthat forgot to mention it, but having a career makes a woman act like a man, too. So those of you ladies who want to be feminine and therefore attractive to men like Douthat need to march right out of that cubicle and back into the kitchen before you start sprouting mustaches and following UFC.
Ok, let's forget that these polls and surveys are usually of questionable provenance and doubtful methodology. Let's just consider a fact about women that I think Douthat would agree is true.
Women are under a lot of pressure to be happy.
I don't mean that the feel compelled to attain some higher level of bliss on their way to self-enlightenment and fulfillment.
I mean that generally, at work, at home, around friends and family, just walking down the street or sitting on a park bench alone with their thoughts, they are expected to be happy in the same way they are expected to be busy. It's in their job description.
Or to put it another way. A man in a grumpy mood is a man in a grumpy mood. A woman in a grumpy mood is being a bitch.
Most of us know to steer clear of the man in the grumpy mood. With the bitch, not so much. Plenty of her friends, coworkers, and family, female as well as male, will make it a point to tell her to snap out of it.
Women are the peacemakers and the comfort-bearers. They are the happy homemakers---it usually falls to them to make the home a happy place to be. This is the traditional wife and mother's first duty.
Which means, of course, that for a woman, admitting to being unhappy is tantamount to admitting to being a failure.
It's worse for the traditional types Douthat wishes all women within his dating range would emulate.
In short, when asked to participate in these surveys and polls, these women have a strong incentive to lie, if only to fool or flatter themselves or, more likely, keep up their morale.
"Liberated" women of the type who apparently shatter Douthat's fragile sense of male superiority and whose senses of self-worth and success are not as strongly defined by how good a job they do at making other people happy don't have the same incentive, and they can flat out say what is in fact true, life usually sucks and happiness is fleeting if not an illusion altogether so there's not much gain in making it the point of one's existence or the measure of one's...um...happiness.
Boy, there's a post in that one---happiness is not itself a necessary ingredient of happiness.
Of course, one of the first complaints men had against women becoming liberated was that they would feel liberated to speak their minds because they were afraid it would turn out as it has turned out that a lot of what was on women's minds was not flattering or comforting to men.
Now, let's add this. Happiness---being happy---is an American virtue.
We're a nation of bucker-uppers. This is one of the great things we do for each other. We cheer each other up. We're constantly telling each other and ourselves to buck up, cheer up, suck it up, live it up, look for the silver lining, put a shine on our shoes and a melody in our hearts, gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, start all over again, and shut up, stop your whining, nobody wants to hear it, and I like this about us.
It can be overdone, and it's nice to take a vacation from it now and then, either by sinking into your own private slough of despond or by finding a bar full of kindred dour spirits and share complaints or by visiting New York City or by just kicking a mime.
But on the whole I'd rather be stuck on a stopped elevator or on a broken down train or in a long line at the supermarket with people who think it's their job to find the situation at least mildly amusing. And I think it is everybody's job in a family to try to make things pleasant for everybody else. I don't mean by burying feelings, by living in denial, by enabling, or by living a lie. I mean by doing whatever little things we can do and saying what little things we can think of to make home, and home is where the heart is, so that can include work and school, bearable.
And it's important to remember that there are ways of doing that besides prancing around the house singing and telling jokes---which, in fact, can be a good way to make the place a living hell---or even without smiling all the damn time.
Sundays too my father got up early And put his clothes on in the blueback cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he'd call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love's austere and lonely offices?
There's an ambiguity in the poem that's troublesome when you start to think about the many images in it that allude to pain and bruising and that line about "fearing the chronic angers of that house" tells you that the boy's indifference to his father's favors isn't just the usual case of a child taking his parents for granted. But I love the last line, "love's austere and lonely offices," and it still makes the point---there's a lot of pain and suffering, sacrifice and hard work that goes into being happy. And to get back to Douthat's rather childish notion that mothers and housewives are the happier women, who knows better how lonely and austere love's offices can be? When these women respond to nosy poll takers, it's very likely that they are taking rather small comfort in being happy and what they are doing instead is keeping themselves going.
Back when I was in grad school I taught a correspondence course in creative writing. Really. It was offered by the university. I was a pioneer in distance learning although it was all done through the mail and not over the internet, that's how old I am. My students included all sorts and conditions, but I'd bet that the great majority of them were stay at home wives and mothers---this being Iowa, staying at home for a lot of them meant working at home on the farm. I didn't get know my students well, naturally, and in fact knew very little about them, just what they chose to reveal about themselves in their stories and poems. But since their work was usually autobiographical the main thing I learned was that people who enroll in creative writing courses by mail have a lot more sadness in their lives than the twenty-something wiseguy presuming to be their teacher would have suspected or was prepared to deal with before taking on the job of grading the expressions of that sadness.
I remember one poem in particular. It was by a woman living on the far western side of the state, which I imagined to be all bleak and desolate prairieland. Her poem was a litany of personal and familial disaster. Cancer, job loss, divorce, estrangements between parents and children and brothers and sisters, financial ruin, fatigue, stress, loneliness, and not one but two tornados. I was devastated while reading the poem but I was utterly dumbfounded by its last verse which was very close to being, "But God's in His heaven and all's right with the world."
Being young and arrogant and naturally self-centered, not to mention fashionably cynical and world-weary, I was impressed, or convinced myself I was impressed, by the poet's naivete. And I went around for weeks afterwards telling everybody who would listen about it and spouting theories about what the poem proved about Iowans or Midwesterners or Christians in general---I used to blog before there were blogs by shooting my mouth off a lot---and otherwise proving my own spiritual and intellectual superiority.
Just in case you're worried that about how big an asshole I was capable of being, I kept these theories from the poet herself and limited my jerkiness to suggesting, tactfully, that her poem would be better if she left the last verse out. Which from a purely critical point of view was actually true. It wasn't a bad poem at all. But what did I know about love's austere and lonely offices? That last verse was her point in writing the poem, and she wrote back to tell me that, tactfully, speaking as a grown-up to an arrested adolescent.
And I'll tell you, I'll bet if you'd asked that woman if she was happy, she'd have said yes.
One of my great-grandfathers was a cop. Another ran a small grocery store. The cop's son who became my mother's father was an accountant. The grocery store's son who became my father's father was a lab technician. My father was a scientist, a teacher, and a politician. These days he's very active in community affairs and is president of one of the many service organizations he belongs to.
I don't believe that any of these men could have done their jobs without these temperamental attributes---patience, a pleasant demeanor...the ability to empathize and connect--- that Margaret Wente describes as in a column in the Globe & Mail as "stereotypically feminine" and which she calls "emotional labour" and which say she says, "women, even unskilled women, are much better at than men."
This is bunk. Women aren't better at this stuff than men are, they just have more practice at it, because of the kind of stereotyping that Wente identifies as such but then seems to accept without question.
By the way, a type of emotional labor lists (it goes where I put the ellipses in the quote above) is "deference to customers" which my father, who worked after school in his grandfather's store as a soda jerk excelled in and taught my father who no doubt remembered those lessons when it came time for him to show deference to voters and taxpayers. And good beat cop is without being able to show deference to the upstanding citizens on his beat.
To be fair, Wente, and Richard Florida, who riffs on her column in his post at the Daily Dish, aren't talking about men and male values versus female values, they are talking about working class men who have lost their factory jobs forever and now have to compete for service industry jobs, mainly in retail, with women who are "better" at the emotional labor those jobs require and therefore much more likely to get hired.
This is probably true, as long as both would-be employers and male applicants accept the stereotypes.
Re-training these men for the only kinds of jobs Wente and Florida think won't be beyond their reach will be more difficult because the men will be asked to give up their ideas about what it means to be a man.
This will be hard, but it shouldn't be. Men have worked as essentially shop keepers and store clerks for a lot longer than they have worked on assembly lines. There have been waiters forever. Lawyers are the world's second oldest profession. Teaching was a male-only profession for centuries. The idea that men are and ought to be unreflective, grunting, two-fisted louts good with their hands but not so much with their hearts and their heads is a class thing not a gender thing and it is imposed upon working class men by a system that needs them to be beasts of burden.
Men who reject certain values and behaviors as "sissy" or "girlie" are rejecting success, and don't think their bosses aren't grateful.
But the flip-side of the stereotype, that women are better at emotional labor, is also useful to bosses, because it often works out in practice to mean that women are more deferential generally, not just to customers but to their bosses. They don't speak up, they don't question, they don't assert themselves, and they don't fight back, not if they are real women in the way that men who accept and live by their stereotypes are real men.
As long as men think that successful behavior is feminine behavior, they won't be able to succeed in a world that requires emotional labor. But as long as employers insist that feminine behavior is obedient and deferential behavior, workers of both genders will get the shaft.
You might have guessed, though, that I don't actually believe that working class men can't do the kind of "emotional labor" Wente says they need to be able to do to get those service economy jobs that are all they have to look forward to. (In the comments, CathiefromCanada says that Wente out to come out West and look around the rest of Canada before writing off the idea that there's still high-paying manly man work still left to do.) Who's selling the washing machines at Sears? Who are those guys mixing the paint and stocking the shelves at Home Depot?
I do think workers, men and women, would be better off if they shrugged aside some stereotypes about how men think with their fists and backs and women don't think, they sympathize. But if men are going to move back into the service economy, then other people, male and female, need to shrug off stereotypes too. Potential employers and customers need to know that men are indeed capable of "emotional labor," but they may practice it differently, with more bluffness, more teasing, more...noise. I suspect that there are plenty of manager-types who react to anything other than simpering deference as insubordination and customers who recoil from gestures intended as helpfulness as if they were attempts at bullying.
It may be that Wente has the problem backwards. It's not that men aren't capable of working in the service economy. It may be that bosses and customers have gotten used to thinking of the people who provide the service as servants.
Update: Richard Florida responds with a nice and telling anecdote about his father. It's funny though that the word "barber" didn't occur to Florida's dad. Now there's a line of work that requires lots of emotional labor.
NoHo Star. A year ago tonight. May 23, 2008. Went here for dinner after a show at the Theatres at 45 Bleeker Street. We were seated by a young blonde hostess whose smile was a work of art. I think that's her in the black dress, between the two pillars, by the windows, under the blue star.
Anybody recognize the church? I forgot to make a note of it. It's in Brooklyn Heights, not far up from Atlantic, maybe on Clinton, maybe State---right around there. At any rate, we parked nearby on our way to a book party at Last Exit, one year ago tonight. May 22, 2008.