Some mornings Twitter is a good way to catch up on the headlines. Other
days it’s like being on a packed subway full of people who got a lousy
night’s sleep and haven’t had enough coffee on their way to work at
jobs they hate.
I’ve long believed that people’s political views are more an expression of temperament than reasoned thought. We’re all a blend of liberal and conservative flavors and how liberal and how conservative we are depends on how much of each got poured into us at birth and what life has added to the mix or drained from it since. I’ve got enough conservative in me to make me worry about what I’ll be like when I’m old and cranky.
Older and crankier.
David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush speechwriter and now conservative blogger at the Daily Beast, has a good helping of liberal in him for as stanch a Republican as he insists he still is. The story goes that he let this side of himself show once too often and it got him frog-marched from the American Enterprise Institute. Frum himself denies that’s what happened. It was a simple salary dispute. He wanted one and AEI decided they did want to pay it. Whatever the case, it seems since he’s been blogging he’s felt freer to let his freak flag fly and while it’s more often the case that when I read his stuff I’m not out and out appalled, from time to time, and those times aren’t rare, I find myself nodding in agreement and even occasionally shouting out, “Yes! David! My man!”
Now, here’s the thing. Having a liberal streak doesn’t mean you necessarily endorse liberal policies. Nor does having a conservative streak mean you necessarily endorse conservative ones. It’s simply that you can see the other side’s point. But there’s more to it. It also means that you can see how a liberal policy can lead to a conservative goal or vice versa. An example of the former is same-sex marriage. Andrew Sullivan makes this argument forcefully and often. An example of the latter is Obamacare. It works like this.
The vast majority of us share two broad goals, defending the status quo and expanding opportunity, the status quo being a generally well-ordered, safe, and comfortable society, in which we’re reasonably free to shoot our mouths off, go where we want, and spend what money we have as we see fit, and expanding opportunity means giving ourselves and our fellow citizens more of stake in maintaining the status quo by letting more of us share in more of the benefits of living in this well-ordered, safe, and comfortable society, although that often requires changing the status quo.
Simply put, conservatives are more inclined to defend the status quo, even if that means denying some people some opportunity, while liberals tend to want to increase opportunity even if that means disrupting some aspect of the status quo if not the whole of it. The point is that the interests of conservatives and liberals are often the same.
So, yes, Obamacare preserves the health insurance industry and gives insurance companies a huge infusion of cash, but everybody’s insured, so everybody shares in the order, safety, comfort, and freedom provided by the status quo, which gives everybody a stake in preserving the status quo.
You can see where this is going, right? Most self-styled conservatives these days can’t. Many progressives can and they don’t like it.
The object of liberalism is to create more conservatives.
It should be obvious to conservatives that the fewer people with a stake in preserving the status quo the more people you'll have with reason to disrupt it. It is obvious to some conservatives. It just used to be obvious to most conservatives. In order to give more people a stake in defending the status quo, increase people's opportunities to enjoy the benefits of the status quo.
Conservatives used to see the good in spreading the wealth---in redistribution. Although Republicans have always been fond of their millionaires, they used to be almost as fond of the middle and working class. The object of economic progress wasn’t just to create and coddle millionaires. The object was to give more people the same stake in maintaining the status quo that millionaires have. Conservatives, generally, think---or thought---this was best done on the local level and by encouraging private enterprise. But it's why there are conservatives who support expanding civil rights, strong public schools, and even--- a shocker---progressive taxation. (That's where the 47 percent comes in, Mitt.) The point is that sometimes the best way to be a good conservative is to be liberal, and once upon a time most conservatives understood that.
Here's how liberalism and conservatism are mixed up in me. As a straight, white, middle class American male, I have always benefited from the status quo. But being a kind, decent-hearted, well-meaning, and generous guy, I want everybody to have what I have; however, being a selfish, self-protective, and greedy guy too, I figure that the more people who have what I have, the more people I'll have on my side if somebody tries to take it all away.
At the moment, the people who are trying to take it away are rich Right Wing corporatists and their political henchmen like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Seeing this doesn't make me a liberal. You don't have to be a liberal to see that Romney and Ryan are threats to the status quo.
Defending the status quo by default means defending established privilege and more and more over the course of the last several generations the conservatism of the Republican Party has degenerated into an angry defense of privilege alone. Any and all privilege. White privilege. Male privilege. The privileges that come from having been born straight, Christian, and a citizen. The privileges that come from being rich. Especially the privileges that come from being rich. The corporatist Right and the Religious Right and the Tea Party Right are united in a common defense of their privileges and don’t give a damn about expanding opportunity. In fact, they look at expanded opportunities as a form of theft. They see life as a zero-sum endeavor.
“Whenever you get something, I lose something. However your opportunity expands, mine contracts. Whatever you have, you’ve taken from me.”
The corporatists, the Christianists, and the Tea Party types have as their common goal a taking back of America, by which they mean a taking away of opportunity from those they perceive as having robbed them of their privileges.
This isn’t conservative. It’s reactionary. It’s destructive. And it’s just plain mean.
David Frum sees that and it bothers him. In fact, it infuriates him. And it’s the basis for my finding myself in agreement with him from time to time.
It’s why, from time to time, he can sound like a liberal…because he is being liberal.
(4) How do you message: I'm doing away w[ith] Medicaid over the next 10 yrs, Medicare after that, to finance a cut in the top rate of tax to 28%?
And ends with:
(10) But voters do care about the q[uestion]: what will this presidency do for me? And "dick you over" is not a winning answer
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Neither my liberalism nor Frum’s conservatism are all that adulterated, so although I often find myself nodding in agreement, it’s usually the case that I see his point not that we’re seeing eye to eye. But one thing we do see eye to eye on, it turns out, is Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times.
Couple weeks back, in my post Shake every hand, kiss every baby, I mentioned, more or less in passing, how the “self-made” entrepreneurs who paraded up on the stage at the Republican Convention to congratulate themselves on their self-reliance and go-getterism and whine about how the President doesn’t appreciate their wonderfulness reminded me of Josiah Bounderby, the mill owner and banker in Hard Times who likes to boast about how he worked his way up from rags to riches all on his own while leaving out the part of his life story in which his mother beggared herself scrimping and saving to put him through school and give him his start in business.
The quotable Ezra Klein on Romney and the 47 percent:
Still, for my money, the worst of Romney’s comments were these: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
When he said this, Romney didn’t just write off half the country behind closed doors. He also confirmed the worst suspicions about who he is: an entitled rich guy with no understanding of how people who aren’t rich actually live.
The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district…. [Romney] is a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars, and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it….
For non-Catholics who might not know, the Society is the Society of Jesus—-the Jesuits. Here’s the quotable Charlie Pierce on Paul Ryan and the Jesuits:
A long while ago, I warned Paul Ryan about screwing with the Society. The Society has been at this politics thing for close to 500 years. The Society is very good at it. They were not afraid of kings, nor of Japanese emperors, nor khans of the deserts, nor of popes back when the popes had real armies. The Society, like nuns, will fk your shit up. With incense. You think the Society’s going to shy away from a two-bit zombie-eyed granny-starver from Janesville?
Long ago I came to the conclusion that John McPhee has the best job in the world.
He gets paid to go out into the woods, take a walk around, find somebody who knows those woods like the back of their hand, ask them some questions, and come home and write about it. Sometimes the woods aren’t actual woods. They’re basketball courts or art museums or laboratories or the cargo holds and bridges of freighters or the cabs of eighteen-wheel trucks. But often, they’re woods.
I was never able to get that job for myself, not as a full-time career at any rate. But from time to time I have managed to get paid to do it, take a walk in the woods and come home and write about it. My woods have been the backstages of theaters, the broadcast booth of a baseball stadium, a recording studio, a zoo, a guitar maker’s studio. Most of the time they’ve been the inside of a lot of smart people’s heads.
One of the best things about having this blog is that I’ve been able to do it again, take a walk in the woods and come home and write about it. Again, the woods aren’t always actual woods. Sometimes they’ve been the cafe at Barnes and Noble or the counter at the hardware store or the line at the post office or the hallways of my kids’ schools. Sometimes they’re the contents of a book I’ve just read or they’re what I saw up on a screen or on a stage. Sometimes they’re actual woods. And sometimes I find the woods close to home. Sometimes they’re on Cape Cod or in New York City.
I haven’t been able to make a living at it, but still, I’m grateful I get to do it at all, take a walk in the woods and come home and write about.
Wait. I forgot to mention the most important part of the job.
I get to take a walk in the woods, come home and write about it, and people waiting who want to read what I write.
I’ve been thinking about this the last couple of days because of what’s happened to Jonah Lehrer.
Lehrer is a brilliant young science writer who’s gotten caught plagiarizing himself for his blog at the New Yorker. He’s been cutting and pasting passages from work he’s published and posted elsewhere into his posts at the New Yorker without telling his readers---or his editors---when he does it.
Not what the New Yorker is paying him for.
It’s not Lehrer himself or the self-plagiarism that’s had me thinking. I routinely quote myself but I make it clear that I’m quoting and include a link to the post I’m quoting from. And of course I’ve revisited and rehashed ideas I’ve written about before. And I regularly re-post old posts, either because they’ve become relevant again or I’m feeling lazy, but I always make it clear that’s what I’m doing. But mainly every time I sit down to write a post, I sit down to write something new or at least to say something old in a new way. That’s the challenge. That’s the fun of it. That’s the point.
Blogging, according to Salmon, is linking. Linking to things other people have written.
There’s something like writing involved. You’re out to make your readers interested in reading what you’re linking to. This means you’ve got to give them the gist in an entertaining and lively fashion and that means you have to write. But it strikes me as a particular form of writing.
Now lots of bloggers---and this includes most of the best or most popular bloggers---do this. And it’s a good thing.
But maybe Salmon didn’t intend it, but I get the feeling he thinks that anything else is a waste of the blogger’s and the reader’s time.
And that’s what I’ve been thinking about.
I don’t do this to be useful.
I don’t write to be useful.
But should I?
Is that what I should be doing?
Like I said, the best thing about being Lance Mannion is that he gets to go out into to the woods, take a look around, ask some questions, and come home and write about it.
He’s only able to do it though because all of you are willing to read what he writes.
For which he’s very grateful.
Thank you all.
We’re off to visit Old Mother and Father Blonde today. We have a wedding to go to tomorrow but I’m sure that at some point over the weekend we’ll be able to get over to Valley Forge.
Apparently David Brooks thinks the United States Constitution, a purely political how-to manual for organizing and operating a strong, centralized government is a moral and economic treatise whose main purpose was to make the riff-raff aware of what they owe to their betters. In other words, he thinks it was written by Charles Murray and not James Madison in constant consultation with Thomas Jefferson. The problem today, according to Brooks, is that the riff-raff have gotten above themselves and need a good scolding if not a stern slapping down. How dare they think they are entitled to the easy life Brooks and his rich friends have earned by virtue of being, well, rich. Charles Pierce has a few things to say about that but he finishes with this:
Does this person, with his vast spaces for entertainment, honestly believe that the people who depend on things like Medicaid and Social Security, and small-business loans and Pell grants, are emboldened by the circumstances of their lives? Does he believe that these people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck and only asking that the system be a little bit more fair are actually as smug and entitled as every syllable he's ever written proclaims Brooks to be? All over America, people are absolutely petrified that somebody in their family might get sick, thereby bankrupting them forever. All over America, people are worried that their mortgages are laden with small-print land mines. All over America, people are living in sheer abject terror that the job will disappear, or the rest of their 401K will go up in smoke, or grandma's Alzheimer's will offer them the choice of eating government cheese or letting the old girl die in her own filth in some unregulated nursing home. These are the people that David Brooks believes are destroying the country because their unreasoning hubris prevents government from making their lives even more difficult.
Lance Mannion at Fox Island, outside Fort Wayne, Indiana, a hundred years ago.
When we lived in Indiana, because, once you got out of town, there was nothing much to look at in the distance but more distance, I developed the habit of looking in close. This was when I started stocking up on guide books, learning the names of birds and trees and wildflowers, and wandering about with binoculars, which, I know, are a tool for looking into the distance, but I mostly pointed them at nearby bushes and up into trees I was standing at the base of and overhead telephone wires and the far banks of streams I could practically step across. Our apartment in Fort Wayne was at the edge of the city and it was a short walk out of the urban into the suburban and then into the country and farmland, which, in that part of Indiana, is usually just another word for cornfield. The landscape wasn’t as flat as I liked to complain it was but to eyes trained by a boyhood and youth spent in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York, with summers in the Adirondack Mountains and along the Atlantic seashore, it was…undramatic. I wouldn’t get very far in my walks before I was bored with the view and ready to turn around and head home.
There just is no here here, I thought, with apologies to Oakland and Gertrude Stein.
I don’t remember when it dawned on me that although the landscape might be featureless it was not lifeless and I might find my walks more interesting if I started looking at that life.
I said this was when I started learning the names of birds and trees and wildflowers. But what really happened is that I started to see birds and trees and wildflowers.
When you are standing on top of hill, looking out over the treetops of a woods that fills the valley below, it seems enough to know that those trees are maples. But when you are standing next to a tree you have to make adjustments in your thinking, your remembering, and your seeing, that is if you’re confronted with the fact that this tree is a maple too but it’s a silver maple and those trees you grew up taking for granted were sugar maples and there’s a difference. There are differences. The leaves aren’t quite the same shape. The bark has a different texture, a slightly different color. And if you are standing under a silver maple you are probably standing on what used to be a farm. Farmers planted them or left them standing in their fields as shade trees. Oh, and sugar maples are hardier. You don’t want a silver maple in your yard. They have a tendency to rot from within. What looks like a sturdy old tree that could stand up to a winter gale might be as hollow as a drain pipe and ready to snap in a spring breeze and come crashing down on your house.
Similarly, I learned that what I took for flocks of blackbirds---as in birds that happened to have black feathers---were flocks of red-winged blackbirds and starlings and grackles and cowbirds, which aren’t even black but brown, the females, at any rate, males are brown-headed, and that every yellow flower in the grass that wasn’t a dandelion wasn’t a buttercup either.
These discoveries were thrilling, but since regret seems to be one of my default emotions, they also had me kicking myself. Why hadn’t I seen any of this before? How could I have been so oblivious? How had I gotten so far in life without knowing that all of this was right in front of my eyes, if only I’d bothered to look?
It wasn’t Indiana that was boring, it was that I was boring myself.
Maybe I was a little harsh. What it was, likely, was that growing up where there were bends in every road and hills on the horizons, I’d learned to be on the lookout for what was around the bend or over the hill, which was usually another bend or another hill. I took it for granted that over there was very different from right here and, intrigued, was in a hurry to get over there to see. It didn’t occur to me that here might be an interesting place to explore.
In Indiana, here and there were pretty much the same place.
Roger Ebert grew up in Illinois, which has even more here and less there than Indiana, so he learned to look at here up close early, mostly while on his knees or stretched out on his stomach in the grass, peering at things---squirming things, swimming things, wriggling things, hopping things, slithering things---that would go unnoticed unless you got your nose right down next to them.
In my grandmother's back yard, I spent long periods frozen in immobility, a salt shaker clutched in my hand. My Uncle Bob had treacherously told me that if I could shake salt on the tail of a Robin Redbreast, I could catch it. This kept me out of his hair. There were robins everywhere, hopping on the grass, cocking their heads to the side, listening for the slithering sound that might betray a worm. I haven't seen a robin in a long time. I suppose there must be about as many around today, but my life isn't calibrated to see them…
On your knees or your stomach, the world revealed a hidden population. One day at Dougie Pierre's house, we climbed under the bridge over the Boneyard Creek to catch crawdaddies. We did catch a couple, using a kitchen sieve, and kept them in a Mason jar full of water, where I suppose they must still be. I had waded in the Boney a dozen times and never seen a crawdaddy. After I saw them, I waded no more. They're always up to something.
If you’re in the habit of thinking of Ebert as a movie critic, you should make a point of reading his blog where you will learn to think of him a writer who happens to write a lot about movies. This post, A natural history, is a good one to start with. But it’s about more than robins, snakes, tomato bugs, and crawdaddies, so be sure to follow the link at the end.
Marilyn Monroe, Lincoln Steffens, James Baldwin, Carl Sandberg, Abraham Lincoln…No, this is not a game of One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.
One of James Wolcott’s few weaknesses as a writer and blogger is his ability to summarize something he’s read, a book, an essay, a blog post, or something he’s watched, a movie, a TV show, a dance, in such a way that you feel you’ve read it or seen it yourself and don’t need to follow his link.
Yes, of course, I’m being a wiseguy. That’s one of his great strengths. But you should still follow the links. For instance, the link to this article in the London Review of Books, A Rumbling of Things Unknown, by Jacqueline Rose.
It’s been fairly widely accepted that Marilyn Monroe was much smarter than her onscreen persona, that in fact her onscreen persona was much smarter than her onscreen persona was taken to be by those who took it at face value. It’s also well-known---at least I think it is---that Monroe was a voracious reader and something of an aspiring intellectual and that she was both before she met Arthur Miller, who used to be given credit for “educating” her. But in her essay Rose makes the case that Monroe was better than smart and something more interesting than a would-be intellectual.
She was thoughtful.
And she was studious and not just of books, of life and people.
And one of the subjects she thought hardest about and studied most intently was the affinity between her personal unhappiness and the unhappiness of most people.
It's as if Monroe instinctively, empathetically practiced the liberalism that husband Arthur Miller grandly professed. It isn't that Miller didn't practice what he preached when it came to liberalism, but that everything with him seemed to emanate from his mountain brow; with her, injustice seemed to resound metabolically, her own inner bruising and estrangement.
Rose’s essay is a long-read but worth the time, even after you’ve read Jim’s post.
So why don’t I just send you straight to London Review of Books and skip the middle-Jim?
Because then you’d miss lines like this:
[Rose’s essay] makes a fine antidote to the candy-shop sentimentality of My Week with Marilyn, in which the best performance was given by Michelle Williams' right eye between strategically drooped blonde curls as everyone else fussed about in several coats of Masterpiece Theatre furniture polish.
Getting a lot of traffic from the American Prospect. Folks clicking through from an old post of Charles Pierce’s from 2006 about the egregious and fortunately now nearly irrelevant Ann Coulter. Mr Pierce graciously referenced a post of mine but linked to the blog and not to the post itself. So for those of you who are wondering what that was about, here’s the link:
The almost two-years gone but not about to be forgotten Al Weisel, famous in song and story and on blog rolls as the ersatz conservative blogger Modest Jon Swift was, besides being a funny man, a generous one in that he used his popularity in the blogosphere to champion the work of other bloggers and give them regular traffic boosts. One of his best gifts to us, his fellow pixel-dappled wretches, was his year end round-up of the best posts of the previous solar circuit. The posts were chosen by the bloggers themselves but the tedious and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-risking work of gathering, linking, and posting was all Al’s.
Lots of good reading there, folks, from names familiar and un-. I recommend you visit as many of the un’s as you can. You’re bound to discover somebody who’ll make you say, “I can’t believe I haven’t been reading this great blog all along! Where’s that Share on Facebook button?”
Steve Kuusisto, who was born legally blind and whose eyesight deteriorated over the course of his life to the point that he “saw” only memories of the little he had been able to see in the past, had an operation a couple of years ago that can’t be said to have restored his sight---because he had never been so sighted in his life. He can now see, a wonder he is still wondering at:
But seeing anew you are no longer wandering the planet by memory. When guide dog Vidal and I walked Mannerheim Street in Helsinki we followed the vines of memory. Here is the botanical garden; here’s the city museum with its old copper doors; a path through lilacs. Now, seeing things, I discover the sighted world is more insistent and fast than the reveries of blind dream-walking. Was the world always this fast? My skin quivers, a stray piece of paper blows across the sidewalk at my feet. I want to get down on my hands and knees and grab it. I want to hold it up to the light and read with my one eye the letters that probably signify nothing. The blind self would imagine a written plea from a far island. The sighted man sees it’s just the gibberish of our economy. Up the street he goes. A teenaged boy on a skateboard flips backwards, falls on his ass, his Ipod flies into the air, his arms and legs are busy as a hundred men. His skateboard lands in a fountain. Vision tells me there’s a world unaffected by the self. I can’t tell you how thrilling this discovery is. I feel like Ralph Waldo Emerson, though without his visionary immanence--I’m not crossing the park and seeing something cosmological, instead I’m seeing the frosted leaves in early autumn and a boy flying.
Lot of you in the Northeast were probably in the same situation we were in the last few days, without heat and electricity thanks to Saturday’s snowstorm. We lost power Saturday afternoon and it didn’t come back on until yesterday. We muddled through, suffering some inconvenience but no serious damage, and I hope you can all report the same. But no power = no internet, and that explains why no posts since Saturday. That doesn’t mean that no blogging occurred.
Our intrepid staff of ace reporters, hard-nosed editors, and crackerjack researchers remained at their posts, 24/7. Huddled under blankets in the dark, working by flashlights and candles, they scribbled away furiously in notebooks, the result being a big batch of posts waiting to be typed up and published. For example: we’ll have a couple of book reviews for you, one of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean and, for all you Terry Pratchett fans, a review of Sir Terry’s latest Discworld novel, Snuff!
There’ll be something up every day through the weekend---some days, there’ll be two somethings, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, if you’re inclined, you can catch up with posts from October you might have missed.
Ok, time to get typing. A heads up, though. As I warned back in the spring, November’s Fundraising Month. I’ll try not to be too pushy about it, but the donation button will be at the top of the page most days, so, if you enjoy what goes on here and would like to help keep the blog going strong and you can swing it, please consider making a donation. It’d be much appreciated.
Thank you for your support and thank you for reading the blog.
Those of you who’ve been regular visitors to Mannionville over the years know how much I owe to James Wolcott.
Basically I don’t exist without Jim.
I’ll bet most of you found your way here thanks to Jim and his blog at Vanity Fair. Whenever I pick up new readers, it’s almost always the case it’s because they followed a link from Jim. In short, this blog is pretty much a chapter of the James Wolcott Fan Club and Mighty Marching Society. So, if you haven’t heard it already, you''ll be happy to hear now that Jim’s memoir, Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York is in the bookstores.
I’ve got my copy but I’m looking for a whole day to put aside to read it in one sure to be happy and rewarding go. Meanwhile, Tom Watson, another blogger who owes much to Jim’s generosity---and there are many of us---has raced his way through his copy and posted a review.
Updated because the Merry Marchers keep marching along beating their drums and clanging their cymbals in praise of their guy:
What stops his writing from descending into mere Fine Writing — or, since Wolcott is too energetic a talent for silver-birch finery, the hyper-caffeinated rock-press equivalent, distracted by its own snarl in the bath-room mirror — are his sure, unfakable rhythms, frequently reserving the most delightful sealion flips for the point at which most writers would be taking a well-earned cigarette break, and the simpatico match-up between his prose and his subjects. In each case, he locks into some obstreperous vitality in his subjects — a gnarly, wriggling life force — and then proceeds to write like a man possessed.
I cherish this book. It isn't nostalgia, that tattered paper valentine that arrives sometime around St. Patrick's Day. It's a chance to visit another world with a critic supreme, who's as generous here as he's always been to struggling writers.
For a bunch of reasons, but mainly this week because it’s Banned Books Week and as he is every year Batocchio is on top of it.
In this post, he gives the overview, with useful links, deals with the banning of books by two authors in particular, Aldous Huxley and Sherman Alexie, and provides a round-up of posts by other bloggers on banned books, banning books, and Banned Books Week.
We give a condemned man a choice of last meal…because we’re better than the condemned. On the last day of his life, we’re extending the little niceties of civilization as a way of showing the man about to die what he rejected. We let him meet with a clerical representative of his choice to show we live by the values we kept and he rejected.
Not any more. Enjoy your macaroni and cheese.
I’m sorry to have to note that this change in policy was instigated by a Democrat.
Introducing a new feature or reviving an old one in a slightly new format, a month’s end round-up of posts from the past four weeks. Here are a few of the things that went on here in Mannionville in August.
I haven't had a credit card for years, because I actually live like a fiscal conservative.
We’re sure you do, Andrew. But you know what else you live like?
A man with a six-figure income and no children.
Getting a little tired of being told by the well-to-do strolling down Park Avenue that the hoi polloi need to share in some more sacrifice and tighten their belts another notch.
Sullivan also thinks we need to raise the age of retirement. Again not advice we want to hear from someone who can go on vacation for weeks at a time seemingly whenever he wants and who has a job he can do and do well until he’s 90, if his health allows.
One of the things that drives us nuts about Sullivan is that it’s all so personal with him. I don’t mean he thinks it’s all about him. I mean that sometimes---a lot of times---he doesn’t seem able to imagine that not everybody in the United States is a gay ex-pat Brit living in Washington, D.C. whose big disappointment in life recently was being turned down for a mortgage on a second home.
Yeah. Sullivan didn’t get to buy a summer house in Provincetown. The heart heart bleeds.
So why is he our favorite blog of the day? Not for statements like the above but because he routinely makes statements like it---wrong-headed, even dumb, sure, but personal. The Dish isn’t about politics, economics, foreign affairs, or even religion, which he writes about regularly and on which, as with all the other topics, he imagines he’s an expert. It’s about being Andrew Sullivan and what it’s like to think like Andrew Sullivan about a lot of things.
That’s what we like about the Dish. It’s about Sullivan thinking about a lot of things. Sullivan is interested in just about everything---although judging by his blog, he doesn’t go to movies or read many books; he does, however, read poetry.---and he blogs about it all. Politics are important to him but he sees them as part of life, not the be-all and end-all. The Mental Health Breaks and Faces of the Day and the views from readers’ windows are diversions but they aren’t his version of cat-blogging. They are diversions from what other A-list bloggers would consider diversions if they bothered to be diverting.
Sullivan knows that diversions are an important part of life, that they are what makes life worth the trouble.
Once upon a time, when liberal bloggers’ hearts were young and light and beat as one with shared fury at George W. Bush, the editors here at the Mannionville Daily Gazette pointed out that the liberal blogosphere was sorting itself out between the “wonks” and the “writers” and we made the pitch that it would be a good idea for the wonks to link to the writers more often. (The writers were already linking regularly to the wonks.) We thought and still think our ability to entertain, to divert, to write about things other than politics was a strength, an advantage we have over the Right side of the bandwidth. Over there, besides the fact that most of their A-listers can’t write, their relentless propagandizing makes them boring. Come for the movie reviews, stay for the bar graphs, was our proposed slogan.
The wonks didn’t listen and since then they’ve grown even wonkier. They’ve also become more self-referential and more of a closed circle. But when they aren’t writing about politics---or economics, which they treat as politics by other means, or history, which is only interesting to them in how it applies to the politics of the moment---all they have is whatever’s their individual version of cat-blogging.
Jon Mooallem traces the emergence of the gesture to Glenn Burke, a gay Dodgers player in 1977. Burke was abruptly traded to the Oakland A's in 1978, most likely because of his sexuality. But he found another home in San Francisco's gay community…
Unless they link to Sullivan.
The editors acknowledge that this post is a not very thinly disguised advertisement for the author’s own blog.
The editors also admit they are just as annoyed as you are by the use of the too precious New Yorker-style editorial We and promise not to let the author get away with it in any of our future posts.
Tonight, Tuesday, July 5, at 9 EDT, right here on your intertubes. Our topic is set to be What I Learned About Politics From My Father.
Long-time readers of the blog know that Pop Mannion is one of the last great New Deal Democrats. He was the first Democrat ever elected to the town board in my hometown and he served two separate stints as supervisor, the first from 1970-1980 and the second from 1990-1998. In his time he did our town a world of good. The main lesson I learned from watching him was work was that I am totally unsuited to be President of the United States.
I learned a few other more useful things too. Which Susie and I will talk about, but we’ll probably get on to other subjects as well. Paul Simon, for one.
That’s Paul Simon the singer-songwriter not Paul Simon the late, great, bow-tied, big-eared, bespectacled Liberal Senator from Illinois. But who knows? We may get around to talking about him too.
So please tune in. And call in. The number’s (646) 200-3440. Operators will be standing by.
Actually, I think it’s just one operator and I’m pretty sure she/he has a chair.
Update: Thanks very much to Susie for having me on the show. It was fun and made more so because we were joined by Claire of Espirit de l’escalier who talked about her frustrations working in local government in Ohio where the bully-boy Republican governor is telling towns they can’t do anything to fix or improve their communities if it means spending money.
If you missed the show and are curious, here you go---
It’s long. An hour and a half. A lot of time was taking up by me stammering. Once again, I’m forced to face up to the fact that I apparently learned all I know about public speaking from Jimmy Stewart.
Then I had a fling with Gore Vidal in the early 60s. Jack Kennedy seemed to enjoy Gore’s company so much that I wanted to find out what I was missing. He was fun sometimes, but I fairly quickly tired of a sex life that seemed to consist entirely of me dressing up in an army uniform while Gore wept and called me Jimmy.
That’s from a post called Friday night book post. It’s actually a review of China Mieville’s new novel, Embassytown. The part about how Sarah had a fling with Hemingway when she was working undercover in Cuba as Castro’s mistress isn’t as tangential as you might think.
Anyhow, there were just 20 of us for dinner sitting at a big table in the middle of the Pool Room. Bitsy had seated me next to her, which was fine, but bloody Ayn Rand was on the other side of me, with the usual pinched expression she always had in the company of the genuinely rich or the genuinely talented…
I’m about a paragraph away from finishing a post about Paul Ryan and the Republican Plan to end Medicare. You’ll be surprised to learn I’m against the plan and I don’t like Paul Ryan and think he and all the Republicans in Congress are a gang of dastardly villains.
But as important as I think it is that you learn that, I don’t want to blog about it.
I want to blog about my trip around the world.
Unfortunately, I’m not taking a trip around the world at the moment.
Fortunately, author, editor, and admitted grumpy old man Richard Pollack is. And he’s been blogging about it. His blog is called You’re Only Old Once and this is his how he describes it:
In Which a Homebody of Some Standing Leaves the Comforting Embrace of New York City After Almost Half a Century and Sets Forth on a Global Expedition, With No Fixed Itinerary, No Deadline to Return, a Certain Anxiety, and One Intrepid Wife.
Documentary storytelling was the Trojan horse in the age of hyper-self-consciousness, in which privacy is as antiquated as gaslight and people are the curators of their own lives on Facebook, Twitter and all those other forms of aggrandizing self-expression.
Ok, I don’t know about you, but I use Twitter and Facebook for shameless self-promotion. I’m trying to lure people into reading my blog, where I do my aggrandizing self-expressing.
It doesn’t work the way I want it to. In fact, it tends to work the other way. Most of my Facebook friends are longtime readers of the blog. Or were. Now a lot of them never leave Facebook to come read my posts. Oh well, never mind me, I’m just self-expressing aggrandizingly again. The real point is, what is going on in Stanley’s Facebook and Twitter feeds that caused that Puritanical harrumph?
Probably not much. Likely the paragraph’s nothing more than a former A-student’s reflex---Students, make sure everything you put in your essay supports your thesis. An American Family aired just shy of 40 years ago. Not exactly a fresh topic. But here’s this HBO movie starring Tim Robbins, Diane Lane, and James Gandolfini. There must be a reason to watch the movie besides the fact that it stars Tim Robbins, Diane Lane, and James Gandolfini. It must have currency! How about this? An American Family was the beginning of the end of all that was good and decent in the American character? Something like that anyway. Once upon a time we knew to keep our dull, boring, sordid, mean little lives to ourselves. Now we force Alessandra Stanley to look at pictures of our cats.
Warning to cat lovers. Cats are going to be a metaphor for the rest of this post.
Some people do tend to overshare. But that’s as true out in the analog world as it is here in Virtualland. The difference between a Facebook friend who thinks you can’t look at enough pictures of their cats and the person ahead of you in the line at the grocery store who thinks the cashier needs to hear their long story about the funny thing their cat did the other day is that you can skim over the Facebook friend’s status update without hurting their feelings. Anyway, I’d rather look at more pictures of your cat than have to watch yet another YouTube video of his favorite rock band from the 70s performing his favorite song from his freshman year when everybody else was listening to that other band but he and his friends knew what was really hip and happening.
My main gripe with Facebook and Twitter is they’re time-sinks. I enjoy looking at pictures of your cat. And your cat. And your cat, and your cat, and your cat, and yours, and yours, and yours, and…
You get the point. I’m sure you have the same problem. By the time you’re done looking at pictures of my cats, and his, and hers, and theirs, and etc., an hour’s gone by and there are still more cat pictures showing up in your feed.
Another pitfall of social networks is that they can become an alternative to actually socializing. All that time wasted staring at the computer screen could have been spent talking to live human beings.
My niece, Violet Mannion, who is finishing up her freshman year in college in Boston, was a Facebook virtuoso. She knew just what to post and when to make her feed a happy mix of news, games, fun, and information, managing to keep the aggrandizing at a minimum while making the self-expression charming, lively, and always entertaining. But she deactivated her account in January. It was bothering her that Facebook was becoming the venue for interaction with college life. Here she and her friends were, students in the greatest college town in America, and instead of meeting up nights to discuss their days and their classes over coffee or pizza in one of the thousand quirky dives and joints Boston offers, they were all retreating to their separate dorm rooms to type into the ether. She declared that she’d had all she could stand.
Gosh darnit, she said---Violet shares the Mannion family inability to curse persuasively---If we’re going to make each other look at pictures of our cats, then we’re going to do it by handing each other actual prints, or at least our cell phones, back and forth across real wooden tables damp with bar sweat and sticky with half-dried tomato sauce and the spilled foam from our lattes and we’re going to have to yell over the music from a real live band that we’re all listening to together while we do it instead of while each of us is half-distracted by whatever is shuffling through the headphones on our iPods!
I didn’t watch An American Family and I can’t say I’ve been aware of its influence on television or life in these United States. I can’t connect the dots between it and Facebook. I’m not sure Stanley can either. It’s not really her job to in her review. So, like I said, I’m not sure that paragraph isn’t just a throwaway, like her references to Modern Family and Parks and Recreation, neither of which needs for An American Family to have existed to be what they are, unless Ricky Gervais could only have created The Office because when he was twelve he accidentally caught one episode and had been mulling it over ever since.
But I can’t help suspecting that Stanley means it, at least she means the indictments of Facebook and Twitter as blots on the national character.
Stanley has a Facebook page, but she maintains it with less of the assiduity of a Sarah Palin. And she’s on Twitter, at least somebody named Alessandra Stanley claiming to work for the New York Times is on Twitter, but if it is her, she hasn’t posted a single Tweet. For all I know she’s using aliases and twittering and Facebooking like a madwoman, but unless that’s the case it looks like she hasn’t found much use for either. Maybe she’s resisting the temptation to self-express aggrandizingly. Maybe she’s just too busy expressing herself professionally in the New York Times.
The reason I think she hates Twitter and Facebook, though, is that a lot of people do.
Mainstream media types, especially, seem to have a grudge against social networking. It seems like a continuation of the grudge they had against blogs. Stanley could have written that same paragraph on the night Mark Zuckerberg was inventing Facebook, substituting blogs for Twitter and Facebook but putting the same sneering spin on the word, and her colleagues would have nodded aggressively in agreement. Lots of keyboards have been pounded without mercy as the sages and savants of the intertubes have tried to figure out the source of this animosity, with the consensus being that the olde media types are both afraid of the new media taking away their jobs and jealously protective of their own status and privileges---How dare you members of the great unwashed have opinions about the opinions we’ve decided you should hold!
But I’m not accusing Stanley of sharing either that fear or that arrogance. I’m just saying that I think for one reason or another Facebook and Twitter appall and disgust her or at least make her mildly annoyed and a lot of people who aren’t mainstream media types feel the same way.
I used the word Puritanical to describe her tone. You should know that I don’t think of the word as necessarily a pejorative.
Lots of liberals reflexively use the word Puritan to describe social and religious conservatives. But they are thinking of the humorless, hypocritical, intolerant authoritarians who inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne and not the self-improving, self-questioning, self-doubting intellectuals who inspired Ralph Waldo Emerson. There’s a strong Puritanical streak in contemporary liberalism. Forms of witch-hunting and handing out scarlet A’s are popular American traditions handed down to us by the Puritans, but so are public schools.
American liberals are relentless self-improvers. This has its good side as well as its bad, and that bad side is that it can make us judgmental and intolerant in our own way. My review of T.C. Boyle’s new novel, When the Killing’s Done, was long enough without my getting into it, but both its main characters are liberals with strong Puritanical bents. Alma Takesue and Dave LaJoy are driven self-improvers who can’t resist the temptation to improve others in the same ways they’ve improved themselves.
You can see how a contemporary Puritan---like me. I’m one, I confess.---would be wary of Twitter and Facebook. What’s the benefit here, we ask ourselves, meaning, In what way will this make me a better person? How is Twittering and Facebooking self-improving as opposed to self-indulging? It might be ok if I’m using social networking to be social, if I’m using it to connect with people, to share information (of the self-improving, non-self-indulging kind), to learn about what other people are thinking and doing and what’s going on in the world outside my own garden and get ideas on how I can help make it a better place. But what if all I’m doing is using it to show off? What if I’m just aggrandizing myself by showing off? (Puritans can make a big show of showing off their virtue, but they can also make a show of not showing off their virtues. They show off by not showing off.) What if I’m not using social networking to be social at all? What if what I’m doing is closing myself off from the world by spending all my time alone at my computer screen reading things that confirm my smug self-satisfied opinions typed by strangers I’ve decided to befriend or follow just because they happen to think like I do and believe the same things I do and like the same movies I do and vote for the same liberal politicians I do. Aren’t I limiting myself? Aren’t I being a hypocrite? Aren’t I wasting time I could and should be devoting to doing something productive? (Puritans are very bad at loafing.)
Where we Puritans get into trouble, and start causing trouble, is when we decide it’s not enough for us to refrain from something, you need to refrain from it too.
When we’re not content to say, You know, I think I’d better cut back for my own good but have to add, and you should too because it’s contributing to the decline and fall of civilization.
And we can get worse. We start to believe that anybody who doesn’t agree is a deliberate agent of that decline and fall.
Oh, I don’t own a television set.
Oh, I don’t let my children eat at McDonald’s.
Oh, I don’t follow sports.
Oh, I don’t have a Facebook account.
Implicit in all those statements is the question, And what is wrong with you that you do?
I’m pretty cool with Facebook. Twitter is my downfall. Like I said, where I get into trouble with both Facebook and Twitter is when I lose track of time. But with Twitter I have another problem or, as a good Puritan I should say, I face another temptation. Anger. Twitter makes me mad. Well, not Twitter itself. It’s the fact that almost all the people I follow are liberals obsessed with politics and I wind up spending an hour I should be devoting to self-improvement growing angrier and angrier as I read tweet after tweet and follow link after link that tell me what I already know, the world is in terrible shape and it’s all their fault. They being politicians and conservatives and any liberals who don’t agree with me about how it’s their fault or what to do about it.
It wouldn’t help if I started following some conservatives because I would still be following people who are as obsessed with politics and also believe it’s all their fault.
And on Twitter I fall into the habit---give into the temptation---of tweeting in kind, of obsessing over politics and passing along links to my followers that will reassure them that they’re right, and I’m right, it’s all their fault.
Twitter is not, for me, a social network. On Twitter I am the opposite of social. I’m anti-social.
If that’s the case, Lance, you may ask, Why do you have that Follow Me on Twitter widget in your sidebar? Why do you routinely put links to your Twitter feed in your posts here on the blog?
Mainly because I can’t resist self-expressing aggrandizingly.
But also because I do try to make use of Twitter for good Puritanical reasons, to be informative and to take part in social networking, which is to say, to be sociable.
The fault isn’t with Twitter. It’s what I do with it. Posting my notes from my visit to the American Museum of Natural History last week is sociable, especially if it helped send some of my followers over to the Musuem’s twitter feed and even more especially if it led to anyone’s deciding to go visit the Museum themselves. Being the six hundredth person to retweet a tweet about how Paul Ryan’s a big jerk? Not so much.
I need to be a better person.
Your turn. What do you like/dislike/love/hate about Twitter/Facebook?
The world as it’s covered in Blogtopia (h/t Skippy) is a world defined by television news and the editorial pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. It’s a gray, joyless world in which everything revolves around politics and politics is mixed up with a deracinated, sexless form of television celebrity, and everybody, pundits, politicians, and bloggers think, write, speak, and argue as if the next Presidential election is tomorrow, its results will decide everything, and its outcome hinges on proving that what the people you disagree with most are wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong again.
But in the world covered by my local paper Donald Trump isn’t running for President, Michelle Bachmann barely exists, the next Presidential election is still a year and a half away, and nobody’s going to see Sucker Punch or cares that anybody’s going to see Atlas Shrugged, Part I.
This isn’t to say that world covered by my local paper is a finer, braver, happier, smarter, or better world to live in. There’s plenty of sorrow, heartache, and pain, not to mention madness, stupidity, cupidity, cruelty, meanness, and plain evil. It just happens to be a world that people can and do live in. Consequently, the news from that world tends to be about how people are going about living in it as opposed to being about what a bunch of millionaire journalists and their lobbyist friends argued about at lunch yesterday.
There’s much to get angry about, but more to make you if not thankful to be living in it, then at least feeling involved. In the world according to my newspaper, individuals have some agency in their lives and don’t have to sit staring at their computer screens, wringing their hands and praying that some politician or journalist finally gets it or a fellow blogger nails it in the hopes that somebody will finally fix things in order to feel like they matter.
It doesn’t make the news stories more important or necessarily truer to life as it really is, just more varied. There are politicians in both worlds, but in Blogtopia (h/t Skippy) there aren’t many 17 year old rodeo champions:
Rachel's mother, Jae, rode horses until three weeks before giving birth to Rachel.
Two days after Rachel was born, she attended her first rodeo, in Massachusetts.
She got her first horse at age 3, competed in her first rodeo a year later. She played other sports, too, but gave them up.
Horses are better than boyfriends, she says — "they're more reliable, you can trust them more. They want to please you, they want to do their job."