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One of these photos is Dorothea Lange’s famous “Migrant Mother,” from the 1930s. And two of these photos aren’t.

In one week in September, 1991, Miles Davis and Theodor Seuss Geisel died. That Sunday night, on the radio show Idiot’s Delight, host Vin Scelsa said the thing he often said after a week like that. As I remember it, he played music for 30 minutes or so before saying anything – and it wasn’t Miles Davis he played, either, but maybe Beethoven or something – and then he opened the mic, and it was pretty quiet, and pretty reflective, and pretty sacred. Eventually he spoke, and it wasn’t heavy with oratory or morbid or overly sentimental or any of that.

“What a cool week it must be in heaven, you know?”

This is the ebullience that I like to remember when I think of all the emotion around, well, death. It’s an easier response when the person you want to celebrate was an artist, because you’ve still got something of theirs, and it’s likely vivid and even dates from a moment in their life when they were perhaps beautiful, or vibrant or anyway not decrepit with age or physically mangled by accident or addiction. It’s something I think of when Jerry Orbach or John Spencer shows up on TV — two actors whom I certainly miss. It isn’t too hard to see that both men have, by virtue of the weirdness of the re-run, probably never been as ubiquitous, so accessible for study and appreciation, as they are today. That is a true legacy.

This past week, another odd couple died. First, Farrah Fawcett, who was remembered in the New York Times in a column that was monstrous, even if it had the ring of truth. The sentiment, if you missed it, was sort of a bad-joke-epitaph: “Here Lies Farrah Fawcett, Who Wasn’t Very Bright Or Talented, But She Tried Anyway, So I Guess One Should At Least Acknowledge That Much.”

More could have been said about Fawcett. Writing for The Daily Beast, Amy Wallace shares some recent correspondence with Fawcett, in which it becomes clear that Fawcett had a pen-pal friendship with Ayn Rand, and that Rand was impressed with something she saw in the young actress. It wasn’t the first time that Rand had seen a diamond buried deep in what was already widely recognized as a diamond. She wrote an encomium for the deceased Marilyn Monroe, (this, unearthed by Brian Doherty at Reason) in which she discovers the murderer of Monroe to be the world of Salieris who begrudge beauty, genius and talent its fame:

The evil of a cultural atmosphere is made by all those who share it. Anyone who has ever felt resentment against the good for being the good and has given voice to it, is the murderer of Marilyn Monroe.

Wallace shares some of Fawcett’s thoughts on Rand (in addition to watching the film version of The Fountainhead, Fawcett did read the copy of Atlas Shrugged that Rand sent her), and the quotes that Wallace shares are decidedly not those of a bimbo. Wallace and her editors may be overstating it a little when they use the word “brainy,” to describe the actress (Fawcett: “I remember liking the movie [The Fountainhead] because it was unique in that the characters seemed to be the embodiments of ideas as opposed to real flesh and blood people with interests and lives. Now that I think about it, I think that’s why Ayn was drawn to Charlie’s Angels. Because the characters that Kate, Jaclyn and I played weren’t really characters (the audience never saw us outside of work) as much as personifications of the idea that three sexy women could do all the things that Kojak and Columbo did. Our characters existed only to serve the idea of the show (even “Charlie” was just a faceless voice on a speaker phone).”)

She’s definitely onto something there, but while Charlie’s Angels may well have been about something else — something more — than it seemed, one senses that Fawcett took her foot of the intellectual gas pedal when she settled on her alternate “three sexy women” reading of the show. She’s much closer to something interesting when she observes that Charlie was an invisible, disembodied voice, and maybe she was getting revved up to observe that in a society that objectifies women totally, the show she was on was both complicit and commenting on the Freudian complications for successful women as they try both to live up to their Goddess status and live down to the expectations of men who see them as a collection of attractive distractions.

In any event, within hours of the news of Fawcett’s death, Michael Jackson’s death kicked everything from Iranian political protests to North Korean sabre-rattling to the philanderings of the Governor of South Carolina and, yes, the death of Farrah Fawcett, completely out of the spotlight. Much, much more will be written about Jackson in the next few days and weeks, and he will always retain a critically important place in the history of the past few decades, as a truly remarkable artist, as a talented businessperson, as a thwarted, twisted and troubled personality, and an almost mythical, self-defeating, self-destroying eccentric.

But in a way, both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died of the same disease: living beyond their years. (It’s debatable, of course — Jackson was planning a comeback. One wonders if Fawcett, deep down, may also have been planning one, too.) What are we to make of this? When someone’s death is still on our minds, we wonder whether their memory will ever eclipse the news of their death. Quite by accident, I turned to Herodotus today. And here is what I found:

He that is greatly rich is not more blessed than he that has enough for the day unless fortune so attend upon him that he ends his life well, having all those fine things still with him. Moreover, many very rich men are unblessed, and many who who have a moderate competence are fortunate. Now he that is greatly rich but is unblessed has an advantage over the lucky man in two respects only; but the latter has an advantage over the rich and unblessed in many. The rich and unblessed man is better able to accomplish his every desire and to support such great visitation of evil as shall befall him. But the moderately rich and lucky man wins over the other in these ways: true, he is not equally able to support both the visitation of evil and his own desire, but his good fortune turns these aside from him; he is uncrippled and healthy, without evils to afflict him and with good children and good looks. If, in addition to all this, he shall end his life well, he is the man you seek, the one who is worthy to be called blessed; but wait till he is dead to call him so, and till them call him not blessed but lucky.

We live in a nation of laws, and it’s right that we enforce those laws. It is illegal, for example, to bomb houses of worship, and it is also illegal to shoot down airplanes, be they Air National Guard planes or other planes. Furthermore, it is illegal to purchase certain firearms or certain other weapons, and as the FBI correctly claims, albeit barely suppressing their gleeful excitement, it is also illegal to transport those illegally gotten items across state lines (“the defendants, at least one of whom traveled in and caused another to travel in interstate commerce in furtherance of the offense”). I am fortunate to live in a nation of laws, which provides institutions of justice for all. We sometimes find that one institution has taken pains to conduct an investigation, bring charges, and prosecute, whilst another institution takes equally great pains to find fault with that investigation, those charges, that prosecution, etc. This is as it should be.
The New York Times’s coverage of the alleged plot appears to cover all the angles: the arrests themselves (and the foiling of the attempted bombing!), assurances that the bombers acted alone, the impact that the attempted bombing has had in the quiet (reports stop just short of “bucolic”) Riverdale neighborhood, the role that an informant may have played in the plot, and — perhaps most importantly — a bit of personal history behind each of the alleged terrorists.
This story is rich, so perhaps it is not surprising that within two days, The Times had four stories out (and linked a fifth one on “<a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/nyregion/22nyc.html?ref=nyregion”>”Interfaith Understanding”</a> “winning” out while a bomb “plot” “loses”).
There’s no substitute for reading the articles themselves, or for checking out the actual criminal complaint (The Times <a href=”http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/nyregion/20090520-bomb-plot-arrests/complaint.pdf”>provides it</a>) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s press release (<a href=”http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/nyregion/20090520-bomb-plot-arrests/press-release.pdf”>also provided</a>).
In a May 22 article (<a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/nyregion/23informant.html?ref=nyregion”>Informer’s Role in Bombing Plot</a>), New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly is quoted as saying, “Any defense attorney worth his salt is going to argue entrapment,” but he goes on to say that, according to “the law,” one must be “otherwise not disposed to do the crime” in order to “successfully use the defense of entrapment.” And, presumably, because it will be simple to demonstrate that these suspects came up with the plan on their own before submitting to their informant-friend for his appraisal and approval, and because it will also be easy enough to demonstrate an anti-Semitic, anti-U.S.-military bent in what amounts to their guiding philosophy, at least according to Commissioner Kelly, entrapment can’t work.
There’s an unsettling aspect to the relationship between the informant and the accused, though. If it doesn’t rise to the level of entrapment, then maybe entrapment isn’t written broadly enough. Or maybe there’s something worse than entrapment.
The Times’s coverage notes that the four accused men “celebrated” once they had accumulated their weapons. They had skittishly traveled to the place their informant told them they could buy those weapons — a place in Connecticut, which necessitated crossing a state line — neatly adding one more important Federal charge to the complaint. They had feared being followed, drove around for hours, and succesfully brought their purchases safely home (back across the state border).
Of course, the warehouse they went to in Connecticut was wired, their storage facility was wired, and in all likelihood, their friend-informant was wired, so whether they were being followed in their car seems a relatively small point.
There’s a detail in this “celebration” that may be important. Why would four grown men, four serious men, with a mission of violence and hate, be celebrating such a relatively small “success” — they had no reason to believe it would be difficult to accomplish this part of the mission. The hard part, if it can even be called that, would be planting the bomb at an unsuspecting civilian target and shooting down an unsuspecting airplane. That’s the hard part, and even that seems pretty simple. So why celebrate?
I put it to you that this celebration may actually have been one of the happiest moments in these men’s lives. Especially the guy who is apparently schizophrenic and collects his own urine in jars. These men wanted to be happy. To have accomplished something — anything. Especially if it went toward a broader ideal — something noble. These are the aspirations that we all have, and that make us human. The particular aspirations of these men are ugly because they’ve been thwarted. They’re a sick bonsai tree instead of a Sycamore, and the men themselves are not entirely to blame for this condition.
All four are ex-cons, and they don’t have much else in common, except perhaps that they are Black men from poor families. Safe, then, to assume that they have not been given the same opportunities as those afforded their White peers from the suburbs. They may not feel as though they are listened to, or that their society sees in them any particular value. Their invisibility has been proven real in all systems except that of criminal justice, where they are, of course, all too visible.
So when a seemingly important member of society — a brother Muslim in a stereotype-mobile of a black Mercedes shows up at their Mosque — wants to talk to them, they might be particularly susceptible to the allure of that attention. While other members of the Mosque — members, perhaps, with families, with long-standing ties to the communities, with support systems that go beyond a handful of ex-convicts, but stretch back to an ethnic bond or a home-country — tend to ignore the flashy Mercedes man (even assuming that he is a government informant, probably because he seems to have driven straight over from central casting…), these guys listen up.
Their new friend says he has ties to terror organizations. He offers them jobs. But more importantly, as the criminal complaint details, he listens to them. They get to talk to him the way they talk to each other, but for the first time, they’re talking to someone who’s not already in their club, and he’s paying attention.
So they want him to approve. He becomes their benign authority figure – the father who, in each of their cases, they never had.
The allegation is that buying rockets and explosives was their idea. But why was it their idea? It’s carefully constructed so as not to be entrapment, at least as according to Commissioner Kelly.
But it’s worse, because it cynically plays on a deep-seated psychological need that anyone could have predicted these guys would have. And it’s worse still because a failing education system, urban decay, and a virulent underlying strain of societal racism are all behind the conditions that created that deep psychological need (the need to be listened to, to be approved of, to matter….).
So while it’s deplorable and cynical that we may be using our FBI informants to create hapless would-be terrorists out of erstwhile crackheads (instead of finding actual, pre-existing terrorists, and instead, too, of treating these crackheads to the kind of rehab and re-entry that we provide to every athlete and politician with a drug or sex addiction), and while it seems doubly wrong to be setting up these stings in places where we’re most likely to nab the weakest, most disenfranchised members of our community (as opposed to wealthy suburban high schools where we might actually find some evil lurking in broad daylight), it seems especially important to consider whether entrapment is sufficiently defined.
My cousin lives in a building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side where, because of the Jewish Sabbath, some residents will not press the buttons of the elevator because that constitutes “work.” Instead, they stand in the elevator and say, “It would be very nice if this elevator would stop on the seventh floor.” And someone else — someone who is allowed to do “work” on the Sabbath, will press the button. It’s not entrapment.
If I know you want something from me, and I want you to do something for me, I don’t always have to come right out and ask you to do it. I can simply let you know how nice it would be if the thing I want you to do could get done. Then, if you think doing that thing might help you get the thing you want from me, you’ll do it. And then you’ll be in federal prison for fifteen years.
Which, by the way, is where the informant-friend would’ve been if he hadn’t agreed to start driving a black Mercedes and pretending to be just exactly like the bad guys in 24.

We live in a nation of laws, and it’s right that we enforce those laws. It is illegal, for example, to bomb houses of worship, and it is also illegal to shoot down airplanes, be they Air National Guard planes or other planes. Furthermore, it is illegal to purchase certain firearms or certain other weapons, and as the FBI correctly claims, albeit barely suppressing their gleeful excitement, it is illegal to transport those illegally gotten items across state lines (“the defendants, at least one of whom traveled in and caused another to travel in interstate commerce in furtherance of the offense”). We are lucky to live in a nation of laws.

The New York Times’s coverage of the alleged plot appears to cover all the angles: the arrests themselves (and the foiling of the attempted bombing!), assurances that the bombers acted alone, the impact that the attempted bombing has had in the quiet (reports stop just short of “bucolic”) Riverdale neighborhood, the role that an informant may have played in the plot, and — perhaps most importantly — a bit of personal history behind each of the alleged terrorists.

This story is rich, so perhaps it is not surprising that within two days, The Times had four stories out (and linked a fifth one on “Interfaith Understanding” “winning” out while a bomb “plot” “loses”).

There’s no substitute for reading the articles themselves, or for checking out the actual criminal complaint (The Times provides it) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s press release (also provided).

In a May 22 article (Informer’s Role in Bombing Plot), New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly is quoted as saying, “Any defense attorney worth his salt is going to argue entrapment,” but he goes on to say that, according to “the law,” one must be “otherwise not disposed to do the crime” in order to “successfully use the defense of entrapment.” And, presumably, because it will be simple to demonstrate that these suspects came up with the plan on their own before submitting to their informant-friend for his appraisal and approval, and because it will also be easy enough to demonstrate an anti-Semitic, anti-U.S.-military bent in what amounts to their guiding philosophy, at least according to Commissioner Kelly, entrapment can’t work. (Why even have a trial, one wonders?)

There’s an unsettling aspect to the relationship between the informant and the accused, though. If it doesn’t rise to the level of entrapment, then maybe entrapment isn’t written broadly enough. Or maybe there’s something worse than entrapment.

The Times’s coverage notes that the four accused men “celebrated” once they had accumulated their weapons. They had skittishly traveled to the place their informant told them they could buy those weapons — a place in Connecticut, which necessitated crossing a state line — neatly adding one more important Federal charge to the complaint. They had feared being followed, drove around for hours, and succesfully brought their purchases safely home (back across the state border).

Of course, the warehouse they went to in Connecticut was wired, their storage facility was wired, and in all likelihood, their friend-informant was wired, so whether they were being followed in their car seems a relatively small point.

There’s a detail in this “celebration” that may be important. Why would four grown men, four serious men, with a mission of violence and hate, be celebrating such a relatively small “success” — they had no reason to believe it would be difficult to accomplish this part of the mission. The hard part, if it can even be called that, would be planting the bomb at an unsuspecting civilian target and shooting down an unsuspecting airplane. That’s the hard part, and even that seems pretty simple. So why celebrate?

This celebration may actually have been one of the happiest moments in these men’s lives. Especially the guy who is apparently schizophrenic and collects his own urine in jars. These men wanted to be happy, to have accomplished something — anything. Especially if it went toward a broader ideal — something noble. These are the aspirations that we all have, and that make us human. The particular aspirations of these men are ugly at least in part because they’ve been thwarted. They’re a sick, warped Bonsai instead of an upstanding Sycamore, and the men themselves are not entirely to blame for this condition. (It is a cruel twist that “aspirational” in this case also means, in terms of law enforcement, that the suspects “wanted to do something but had no weapons or explosives.”)

All four are ex-cons, and they don’t have much else in common, except perhaps that they are Black men from poor families. Safe, then, to assume that they have not been given the same opportunities as those afforded their White peers from the suburbs. They may not feel as though they are listened to, or that their society sees in them any particularly high value. Their invisibility has been proven real in many systems with the notable exception of the criminal justice system, where they are, of course, all too visible.

So when a seemingly important member of society — a brother Muslim in a stereotype-mobile of a black Mercedes shows up at their Mosque — wants to talk to them, they might be particularly susceptible to the allure of that attention. While other members of the Mosque — members, perhaps, with families, with long-standing ties to the communities, with support systems that go beyond a handful of ex-convicts, but stretch back to an ethnic bond or a home-country — tend to ignore the flashy Mercedes man (even assuming that he is a government informant, probably because he seems to have driven straight over from central casting…), these guys listen up.

Their new friend says he has ties to terror organizations. He offers them jobs. But more importantly, as the criminal complaint details, he listens to them. They get to talk to him the way they talk to each other, but for the first time, they’re talking to someone who’s not already in their club, and he’s paying attention.

So they want him to approve. He becomes their benign authority figure – the father who, in each of their cases, they never had.

The allegation is that buying rockets and explosives was their idea. But why was it their idea? It’s carefully constructed so as not to be entrapment, at least as according to Commissioner Kelly.

But it’s worse, because it cynically plays on a deep-seated psychological need that anyone could have predicted these guys would have. And it’s worse still because a failing education system, urban decay, and a virulent underlying strain of societal racism are all behind the conditions that created that deep psychological need (the need to be listened to, to be approved of, to matter….).

So while it’s deplorable and cynical that we may be using our FBI informants to create hapless would-be terrorists out of erstwhile crackheads (instead of finding actual, pre-existing terrorists, and instead, too, of treating these crackheads to the kind of rehab and re-entry that we provide to every athlete and politician with a drug or sex addiction), and while it seems doubly wrong to be setting up these stings in places where we’re most likely to nab the weakest, most disenfranchised members of our community (as opposed to wealthy suburban high schools where we might actually find some evil lurking in broad daylight), it seems especially important to consider whether entrapment is sufficiently defined.

My cousin lives in a building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side where, because of the Jewish Sabbath, some residents will not press the buttons of the elevator because that constitutes “work.” Instead, they stand in the elevator and say, “It would be very nice if this elevator would stop on the seventh floor.” And someone else — someone who is allowed to do “work” on the Sabbath, will press the button. It’s not entrapment.

If I know you want something from me, and I want you to do something for me, I don’t always have to come right out and ask you to do it. I can simply let you know how nice it would be if the thing I want you to do could get done. Then, if you think doing that thing might help you get the thing you want from me, you’ll do it. And then you’ll be in federal prison for fifteen years.

Which, by the way, is where the informant-friend would’ve been if he hadn’t agreed to start driving a black Mercedes and pretending to be just exactly like the bad guys in 24.

The world this past few weeks is too rich in material for a half-assed writer with the attention span of a person with a very short attention span to write a “weekly” omnibus post that covers current events in some cursory way for the readers of, in this case, a blog that is read primarily by robots.

The Obama White House will see a dog, finally, at long last. It’s not a mutt, it’s not really a rescue, and it’s not what any kid who’s been promised a pet in November would consider timely. But it’s not quite just-another-politician’s-broken-promise. It’s been orchestrated to be arguably the thing it purported to be — not a rescued mutt, but not exactly a brand new pure-bred, since there was one previous owner who gave it a name even. And, while it is related to royalty, it has been rejected at least once, and therefore, the WH folks seem to be saying, can’t we just move on, please? Yes. We can.

The economy continues to suck (that’s official language. More of it can be found on BeckerPosner and Reich and everywhere else you turn.), although there may be glimmers of hope. Most of those glimmers, it has been well-noted, have to do with things still sucking, but just not sucking as badly as we might have expected them to. So that’s cool. (To wit, on a personal note: I’ll get a tax refund this year, which doesn’t suck. But the reason I’ll get a refund is that I had funds withheld from January through October at a rate that supposed I would continue to have a job through December, and instead of that happening, I lost my job in October. We’ll talk about that at some point, but in the meantime, you see past the shadow of that which doesn’t suck — a refund — to the hulking thing behind it, which does most definitely suck.)

There’s a great deal to be written about some of the momentum here in San Francisco around California’s famously, horribly, inhumanely, unconscionably broken corrections system, and as I dip some toes into the issues, there are some players who are going to have a huge and positive impact from whom I’m eager to learn much, much more. But for now, we’ll skip over that (it’s a human rights issue that is literally more important than almost anything else that The State (writ large, by the way) does, because it deprives people unfairly of rights, and does so on a basis that is far and away disproportionately disadvantageous to African Americans and Latinos), but I’m leaving it for another time, so we’re moving on now to something timely but incredibly, infinitely less important to human welfare, and much, much more important to a different part of one’s brain.

On the 50th anniversary of the book Elements of Style (by strunk, and then by white, so by strunkandwhite, which is what most people say these days), there’s a bit of chatter this week. The chatter is all worth reading because it is, for once, by about and for grammar and grammarians, but it includes one notable curmudgeonly take, making a surprising assertion about Strunk and E. B. White and their puny little book.

Interestingly (or not), Geoffrey K. Pullum, who is by no means the first to attack strunkandwhite, takes the tack that neither strunknorwhite knew much about grammar. To grapple with the truth or untruth of that statement would seem a bore of the highest magnitude, but it’s of interest because the grammar part (as opposed to the “style” part, which takes up about half the small-but-apparently-potent volume. To wit, Jan Freeman in the Boston Globe) is the part that people usually ignore when they criticize the book. That’s because the “style” part has plenty to complain about, too. so, for example, here’s writer Ben Yagoda, from his totally-worth-reading “The Sound on the Page,” on the topic of strunkandwhite, and in particular on the removing-your-own-voice, less-is-more mantra that runs through not only Elements, but, according to Yagoda also through so many other prose-help books like Zinsser’s On Writing Well (Zinsser would not agree, judging by his version of why he wrote his bestselling book, which was intended in part to help writers hold the interest, and not only the respect, of the reader), Barzun’s Simple & Direct or Peter Richardson’s Style: A Pragmatic Approach:

Each time, it’s the same minimalist and impersonal doctrine. But this is a chimera based on a fallacy. Perhaps transparency is possible, or at least a useful metaphor, when one is composing an instruction manual …. But in communicating ideas, opinions, impressions — indeed, in any attempt to describe or imagine the wide world — content does not exist separate from the words in which it is expressed. Each one depends on the other. When you remove the wrapping of the language, you see that the box is empty.

Yagoda’s book is worth it for that passage alone, but it really pays you back in the next few paragraphs, when Harold Bloom manages link strunkandwhite to a kind of Puritanical, inhuman, holier-than-thou New England repressive “Gentile tradition.” Seriously, the extended quotes from Harold Bloom, along with Yagoda’s writing, which pretends to aspire to pith but actually hammers you with perfect, complex thoughts and ideas expressed beautifully, is worth reading.

But I digress (slightly). The point is, while some folks have surely taken aim at the fact that strunkandwhite seems about as anti-author as it can be while still allowing for writing to occur in some sense, critics don’t tangle much on the grammar part. (Even the great Bloom, as you’ll see when you buy the book and read it, finds no fault in the grammar bits.)

Grouch Pullum takes special aim at strunkandwhite’s failure to correctly identify the passive voice in their extended warrant for its arrest. And the irascible Pullum also blames strunkandwhite for the proliferation of their poor or flat-out wrong examples all over the Internet.

Pullum’s is a crabby, and presumably a lonely view, but it’s got more heart than it’s quarry (not hard to do, of course), and it expresses a heartening and sad devotion to a human enterprise that is, as all are, fleeting and ever changing (“English syntax is a deep and interesting subject,” writes the old grump in his conclusion. Huzzah!).

Concluding question, for Easter: Is it passive to say “He is risen”?

A diagram of an outline of a person falling into a canyon.

A diagram of an outline of a person falling into a canyon.

I’m considering, I’m considering, reviving this blog, reviving this blog. I’m considering ….

Thinking once a week isn’t too much to ask of myself. A chance to lasso up the funnest things I’ve read over the course of the week, point to the good works of friends, and basically chart my recovery from the last few years. One note, related to this dead-or-dying blog — there is a graveyard of would-be posts sitting in draft form, each of which seems to call out a different aspect of the bizarre and now-finally-over saga of the company for which I worked for the past few years. I doubt I’ll ever be able to edit those old drafts to a point where they aren’t at least prone to accusations of libel, even though, Mary McCarthy fan that I am, I’d probably relish the prospect of defending every claim. I won’t provide a link for that right now, because I’m lazy, but just know that if you search on Mary and Lillian Hellman, and throw in Dick Cavett for good measure, you’ll be in for a treat.

Anyway, we won’t be looking back at that time. We will be looking ahead. Onward, errant so-and-so!

I’m sure you read the San Francisco Chronicle daily. There’s no better way to read about Hollywood starlets’ FOVIP (frequency of vomiting in public) or the DOASFYMTA (Divorces of Aging Stars for Younger Model-Type Actors) or the daily murder wrap from Oakland or a few blocks of San Francisco.

But last week the Chronicle ran freelancer Rob Baedeker’s entertaining Money Tale, How much money do you make? It was a fun read, and in it, Baedeker teased the reader along by dangling the sweet secret of how much money such a talented freelance writer makes in a city like San Francisco. He discloses his salary only after making the point that there are tons of people out there who not only consider frank talk about income to be private, but will nevertheless share that information with anyone at all, as long as they ask.

The truth is, I read the piece when it was first published and I’m too lazy to go back and re-read it. I could therefore be mistaken when I report now that I don’t believe it was based on, or even referred to any published research on sharing personal income information. Rather, as I recall, it was based on Baedeker’s personal research walking around in the streets of San Francisco, asking people he did not know to tell him basically two things (is salary information private? would you tell me anyway?). And again, his finding was that for the most part, people fall into the sweet spot of the contradiction between these two questions. It’s an implicit comment on generational change, so I don’t think I would have been too surprised to see the NYT carry the same article or another just exactly like it.

But instead, they published Alex Williams’s Not So Personal Finance. It does some of the same tricks, hovering over the “do people consider this to be private information?” question but turning to a 2007 study in Money magazine by Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz, as well as good quotes from Bill Coleman, the chief compensation officer of Salary.com. But it doesn’t tell us what the writer earns at the New York Times, and it doesn’t take a very human angle on the admittedly awkward silences that fall when friends with wide chasms between their various incomes come to the precipice in otherwise-pleasant conversations.

Chalk one (exactly one) up for the Chronicle.

 

 

first of all, i’m surprised that clinton’s not campaigning in Vermont more seriously. i didn’t forget about VT, but i hadn’t been following any polling, and i assumed she would have a chance there. the iraq war vote thing, if that’s what’s bugging people there, was a problem for me at the time that she cast it until i heard her explanation at that time, which to my buddingly neoconservative views (sort of kidding…) made sense (at some point we have to stand behind the president and at least pretend to agree, so that his efforts will carry some weight…. that, to my recollection, was the gist of it, and i guess i bought into that too, because that was before we bombed iraq, and there was still the distant, faint glimmer of a hope that the UN resolutions and the support of countries like, i dunno, any of them, might have played a role in diffusing the situation. and the only reason anyone would want to diffuse the situation would be if they realized that the US was really gonna do it this time, and the only reason they’d think that would be if even the fairly liberal wing of the democratic party thought about signing on….. but then all this other stuff happened and now we look back at that vote and blame – i think – the wrong people. but the fact that clinton has failed to articulate that effectively enough, and failed to keep the focus of her campaign on the need to undo the damage of the bush administration will probably cost her the nomination, and my feelings about that are similar to the feelings of disappointment that i have around john edwards’ failure to convince even ME that he was serious about ending poverty in the US, and my continued frustration with the imbecilic john kerry at somehow failing to allow his actual war record to stand as a suitable defense against his made-up war record. the sad fact is that there’s only one howard dean, and even if he lacked some of the stature or experience or panache or even clarity around issues that we’re looking for today, he had something that i can only continue to describe as “electability,” and i have the serious concern that we will look back on this election from the vantage point of having lost in November and realize that by nominating a historical first — either a woman or a black man — we seriously eroded our ability to maintain focus on the primary issue, which should be rescuing the country from some weird faith-based totalitarianism.)
leave it to me to bury the lead. somewhere in that rant of a parenthetical thought lies evidence of what i’m calling — and i’ve coined this term, so far as i can tell — my “obivalence”. when obama announced on MTP more than a year ago that he was beginning to consider the possibility of thinking of planning to consider running for president, i was very excited about it. he seemed like a godsend, and i looked forward to a substantive candidate emerging…. since then, i have become increasingly unimpressed with him. he seems almost like a Democratic version of W — the kind of guy who can be portrayed as plainly and incorrectly by the far right as the far left portrays W (to call bush reactionary, a despot, a fascist — these may have some basis in reality. but to insist that he’s truly a buffoon is to inadvertently give him greater power, because while he might be a bit bumbling, he’s not stupid, and we have clearly been underestimating him for a long time, despite a TON of evidence that he’s as calculating as anyone could be, but i digress again). point is, W is a flat character, with no real depth, and that enables us to map onto him whatever we like (dems map bad things, rich fat people map good things, etc.). that’s where obama is, too. the lefty optimist in me sees jfk, rfk, carter, john lennon, etc etc in obama, because why not? he won’t say anything to dispel those long shadows, because they benefit him tremendously. but the right can overlay a similarly one-sided image-set on him — naif, pop star, teen idol, pin-up politician, etc etc. And since his strengths are the same as his weaknesses (just like W), there’s an “around and around we go” quality to this kind of dialogue, and i do not relish the idea of four or eight years of it.
that said, i’m not thrilled with clinton, and i miss edwards (or rather, my sense of what edwards could have been — in my wildest dreams, he would have actually SET UP his campaign headquarters in the upper ninth ward, where he announced his run. he would have bought a few houses to convert to HQ, he would have hired local new orleans kids to help set up shop around iowa and new hampshire, he would have held all of his policy announcements on the same front lawn down there, and would have conducted essentially a front-porch campaign. when he won — and he definitely would have won if he’d done this — he could have made new orleans his crawford, and allowed the upper ninth ward to become an international center of diplomacy, lobbying and power, generally, at least for a few weeks each summer or fall. that would have been a campaign of change and whatever, and i would have been very proud to have that kind of president, giving unprecedented access to power directly to the most disenfranchised population in this country. but oh well. at least he wasn’t derailed by something as stoopid as a directional microphone. that still hurts.)
 
i don’t like that supporters of obama have been given enough reason to detest clinton, which is my way of saying that obama supporters can’t be entirely blamed for being, sometimes, quite mean about their preference. i’m not sure this race was every truly hers to lose, but she has lost entirely the original message, which was methodical one, arguing against current administration policies. eyes on the prize was all she needed, in a way. 
 
but i can’t get fully behind obama. i’m sure he’s a great guy, and i do wish i knew him personally. but those aren’t reasons to vote for someone. this is the longest definition ever, but it is OBIVALENCE. 

If an actor dies from a drug overdose on the same day that you’re planning to trot the old guy out to say that drugs are dangerous for kids, don’t worry about looking opportunistic. It’s true that it doesn’t look good for you because of the timing. You get decorum points for giving the awkwardness some consideration. But since nobody cares what your guy says anymore, and since nobody’s listening, you may as well go ahead with the scheduled event. Go on. Prescription drugs are bad. You might even consider adding a timely comment into the remarks. Something like, “As the untimely death of actor so-and-so tragically demonstrates, …” etc etc. If you do that, opportunistic or not, people might at least notice that you did something that day.

As we know, it takes all kinds. The reason that’s a cliche is because it’s true. And in my limited-but-ever-growing experience as a human, I’m beginning to see that certain things — other cliches, mostly — that I had been aware of as cliche, but not aware of as truisms (we’ll try to split the difference, yes?) are, in fact, real. And when I say “real,” I mean “true,” to which you may add “truism” or “beautiful,” or whatever. You may, in addition, add “untrue,” “false,” “dishonest,” or “deceitful.” (Later on, after you’ve finished reading this, you may also want to add “insecure,” “cloying,” “overreaching,” “annoying” or “bullshit.”) The cliche I’m sort of surprised to be noticing as “real” is one that I have, for a long time, made light of, the way one might make fun of Batman for not really being able to fly. It’s always been fun to take pot-shots at beautiful women who can’t seem to escape the allure of homely old men. It’s funny because it’s the most physically apparent expression of dissonance you can imagine. I mean this, because the more layers you peel off of something, oftentimes, the easier it is to explain it, to get to the root of it. But in a very literal sense, if you’ve got a case where a 24-year-old woman of apparent beauty finds herself in, um, volved with some old guy, the peeling off of layers doesn’t so much alleviate as horribly fail to account for the dissonance with which you began. I should clarify that, in raising the cliche of the young woman and the old man, I am not talking about the “trophy wife” thing. That’s just a bore. Old man needs companionship, young woman needs money, etc. It’s transactional, it represents opportunity taken. In a way, the Trophy Wife Scenario represents the pinnacle of Capitalist society’s achievements. We have found a way to conquer mortality through love and money. In the Trophy Wife Scenario, there’s no need for Death, except as a punctuation mark that fairly well validates the entire exercise. “Congratulations, Old Man, you crossed the finish line! Well done, geezer.” See? A bore. I’m so much more interested now in the not-quite-at-Death’s-door man, say in his late 50’s, and the late-20’s beauty he can somehow attract. Here’s where it gets interesting: Whereas the old man of the Trophy Wife Scenario looks at himself and says, “I am a loose-fitting, saggy, pitiful Old Man, but I still have the desires of a younger man,” this 50-something man — the one I’m thinking of, at least — is completely delusional.He looks at himself and says, “I am a hip cat. I am a young man. I am not old. I will not get old. I will stay young.”And he builds Hearst Castle using the means at his disposal. Instead of a private zoo, a leather jacket. Instead of a fleet of safari vehicles, one sports car (or hybrid, or German luxury car, or fill in the goddam blank). He goes out to places where he would never be invited – places for people twenty or thirty years younger. He tries not to seem old. And it seems to be working. Especially when he sees, from across the room, the beautiful woman, not quite a girl, not quite able to mask her confusion at his wolf-like stare combined with his narrow, osteoporetic shoulders under a shiny black leather jacket. And maybe a goatee. Yes. A goatee. Why a goatee? <a href=”http://therestofus.wordpress.com/2007/07/29/the-goatee/”>Here’s why</a>. Let’s cut to the chase, avoiding a boring retelling of the completely inane conversation that must precede their inevitable hook-up. Actually, let’s at least pay tribute to the awkwardness of their need to appear willing to address the necessity of at least basic personal-information-exchange without hitting any detail that would address age or position in society. (i.e., “I got my first job the same year you were conceived, and I am older than your parents,” or “I just graduated college, so I guess that makes me the same age as your daughter.”) Cutting to the chase, then, the part that I want to dwell on is the part, referenced by the title of this post. We know there are insecure horny old men. Whooptishit. That’s not news, or interesting.But young beautiful women with father issues! That’s the cliche I’ve always poked at and never given the real, thoughtful attention it absolutely deserves. Because even while the man with sloping shoulders and a drool in his eye seems worldly in a sad, lonely, pathetic way, and might have the value-add of being the same age as your daddy (i.e. Which of them is your daddy??), your daddy, one hopes, is not an arrested adolescent with a not-so-new Porsche. But at least Mr. Old and Nasty brings you the derision of your peers. That way, you can continue to tell yourself (correctly, by the way) that nobody understands the real you. Nobody, that is, except daddy Porsche. So that’s what it takes. I always wondered what it took. 

The Goatee is the timeless affect of young men as they develop the ability to grow facial hair in a more regimented way than unexplained shadows and blotches on cheeks and upper lips. The Goatee is always in style for the adolescent, but grows and fades in popularity among slightly older men along with fashions like skinniness and the mullet. As a fashion, it has been associated with blue collar workers, country music, German intellectuals and professional athletes. In the instance of faux academics, it has achieved placement on the gaunt and striving face of no less an exemplar than Eric Alterman. And it is through Eric Alterman that The Goatee is now best examined. The lupine, but otherwise meaningless, accoutrement there bespeaks insecurity and self-loathing. Significantly, in Alterman’s case, the self-loathing is oftentimes not as intense as the just-plain-loathing that he engenders. But that’s really for another day. The Goatee is a pretense. A lie that Alterman tells himself and his probably-captive audience. The lie: “I am cool. You like me. You think I’m mature and enlightened.” What makes it a lie is that nobody — not Alterman, not the people he’s looking at, not even God — believes it to be true.

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