Sunday Bloody NYT Sunday: Special Thomas Friedman Almost Writes A Tolerable Column Edition
You know without having us here to explain the New York Times at you that today’s edition is pretty much wall-to-wall where is the missing plane and the seething slow menace that is Russia’s machinations in Ukraine, complete with some old-school Stalinist hoping and gloating that could have been written 50 years ago.
As Russia and the United States drift toward a rupture over Crimea, the Stalinist writer Aleksandr A. Prokhanov feels that his moment has finally arrived.
“I am afraid that I am interested in a cold war with the West,” said Mr. Prokhanov, 76, in a lull between interviews on state-controlled television and radio. “I was very patient. I waited for 20 years. I did everything I could so that this war would begin. I worked day and night.”
It’s good to have goals, isn’t it? Most of us haven’t made it our life’s work to drag the world back into the quiet yet inexorable awful that was the nuclear standoff era, but hey! To each his own. OK, not really.
Here are our nuanced and deeply thought out positions on both of these issues: (1) We hope the plane is found safely, because jesus what the families of the passengers may be going through. We realize this is perfectly unlikely, but there you go. (2) We are not much on geopolitics, but damn we would prefer not to return to the cold war, thank you. It was pointlessly terrible enough the first time.
Moving on. The Times had a piece up online a couple days ago that is highlighted in today’s Sunday edition about a steampunk cruise. Yes, it is exactly as weird as you think it will be.
If you are not familiar with steampunk (we’re going to assume you know what a cruise is), let us briefly explain. Grown people pretend that they are living in some alternate retro-future hodgepodge Victorian era, which means they can pretend to be inventors or some such and also, too, they wear a lot of things like pieces of watchworks made into earrings, or glued on to brooches, or some other horrorshow. Here, let the poor NYT guy they sent on this trip explain what it was like.
Like several other Steampunks I encountered, Mr. Gowin initially introduced himself in the guise of a Victorian alter ego, which in his case, according to the business card he freely passed around, was a “Tinker, Taylor and Time Traveler” named Dr. Nosmo King. By the end of the evening, a dozen such cards were poking from my pockets. I’d gotten one from Professor R. W. Supernius, “A Maker of Wondrous Artifacts,” who in real life was Todd W. Spencer, a Hollywood special effects man. Then there was another from “The Travelin’ Smiths,” or Dan and Linda Smith, a Canadian couple in their 50s who had custom-built a cover — with a control board that seemed to have been stolen from Captain Nemo’s Nautilus — designed to fit over Ms. Smith’s motorized wheelchair.
Gradually, I came to understand that many of the Steampunks had arrived at their fixation with the period after earlier explorations of other costumed eras — the Middle Ages seemed particularly popular. The Smiths, for instance, were not alone in having first attempted dress-up at 14th-century swain-and-lady Renaissance events, although Mr. Smith suggested that the festivals could get a little “rigid.”
Oh dear god we would have lit ourselves on fire before taking that assignment. Not even the promise of being able to churn out something like David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece of cruise life dystopia, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,would make us put up with joining a passel of steampunks sailing the ocean blue.
You should probably read the Times’s obituary for comedian David Brenner, who passed away yesterday at 78. If you are of a certain age, you remember Brenner for his remarkably large number of guest performances on the “Tonight Show.” He did 158 performances, but our youthful selves were convinced he was on there literally every time. Brenner was also weirdly ageless. His lined, loose face seemed old way back in the 1970s, but then he just seemed to stay that way, frozen in amber. Brenner even exited the world with a corny joke.
His family said in a statement on Saturday, “In David’s final request he asked that one hundred dollars in small bills be placed in his left sock ‘just in case tipping is recommended where I’m going.’ ”
We do not speak ill of the dead here at yr Happy, but we will note that is a really bad joke.
We have no such reservations about speaking ill of the living, so let’s talk about Rupert Murdoch, shall we? Murdoch, who is the very living embodiment of mean-spirited and avaricious, has recently parted ways with the last woman foolish enough to marry Rupert Murdoch, the half his age Wendi Deng. Murdoch is apparently feeling his 83-year-old oats and has bought an enormously large bachelor pad that is as disgustingly excessive as you might imagine.
The five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath triplex, which has a 568-square-foot wraparound terrace on its north and east sides, fulfilled Mr. Murdoch’s enthusiastic appetite for panoramic views and demand for total privacy, but it lacked the abundance of square footage — 10,000 square feet — he deemed appropriate to house himself and his extensive art collection. To remedy that, in an accompanying and not-yet-closed transaction, he has also bought the entire 57th floor, just below, to combine with his penthouse — in aggregate an impressive $57.25 million commitment to his accustomed master-of-the-universe lifestyle. The reason the three-bedroom, 3,318-square-foot downstairs unit has not closed in city records is that unlike the triplex, it is being delivered to its new owner fully finished and is not quite done.
Oh god we hate everything. We especially hate this person from this week’s social etiquette thingy column, who writes in to ask how to best insult someone in the guise of pretending to help them.
I have a co-worker who is 38 and discouraged by his inability to find a mate in our town. I am sure that he would make a wonderful husband and father, and I think the main obstacle keeping him from meeting the right woman is his nose. While some potential partners may overlook this, he hasn’t met them. How do I politely suggest that he is a man who would benefit from a nose job? Such minor surgery could change his life.
Once again, the miserable wretch stuck answering this person does not simply say WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH YOU??? — which is, of course, our answer. He does, however, suggest this person review a list of Famous People With Big Noses and come to a different conclusion about his or her coworker.
What’s more, if Andy Samberg, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman are all able to thrive in love, as well as in the vainest profession in the world, your pal’s nose is probably not what’s holding him back. Stop projecting. (And don’t forget about Dustin Hoffman.)
You guys we made it through much of Thomas Friedman’s column today without hating him, which is an achievement for both Mr. Friedman and us. He notes that people are accusing Obama of every possible failing on Russia, and that is nonsensical. He’s too hard! He’s too soft! He’s just right, but evil!
Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s land grab in Crimea, conservatives have denounced President Obama as a man who doesn’t appreciate what a merciless, Hobbesian world this really is. He’s a Pollyanna — always looking for people’s good side. Meanwhile, liberals have been hammering Obama for what they say is his trigger-happy drone habit, having ordered the targeted killing by air of hundreds of individuals; he’s John Wayne, seeking vigilante justice against those who have harmed, or might be planning to harm, the United States. And, just to round things out, Obama has been accused by critics on the left and right of being a Kissingerian hyperrealist who is content to watch the Syrian regime crush its people, because, as tragic as that is, American interests there are minimal.
It can’t be easy being Pollyanna, John Wayne and Henry Kissinger all at once. So who is Obama — really — on foreign policy?
See? You do not hate that, do you? It is some news analysis! It is not earth-shatteringly astute, but at least it does not rely upon imaginary conversations with cab drivers or Thomas Friedman writing a book report about a friend of Thomas Friedman. But then Friedman has to go and wreck it all.
So I have no problem with Obama as John Wayne or Henry Kissinger. If you want to criticize or praise him on foreign policy, the real tests fall into two categories: 1) How good is he at leading from behind on Ukraine? And 2) How good is he at leading from in front on Russia, Iran and China?
“Leading from behind” is up there with “synergistic dynamic leveraging” as one of the most content-free phrases one can utter. We should have known better than to believe Thomas Friedman could make it a whole column without some nonsense like that.
Thomas Friedman’s column is a shining exemplar of deep thought and excellent writing compared to Maureen Dowd, who this week has written many words about how the Democrats are very very scared of Scott Brown.
This is what’s really freaking out Democrats: They know that Brown, after making some real money working for Fox News since his loss to Elizabeth Warren two years ago, wouldn’t even be getting into the race if the political environment weren’t so toxic for Democrats.
Republicans have been white-hot for Brown to get in, and he finally pulled the trigger Friday, establishing an exploratory committee and asserting that “the Obamacare Democrats are on the wrong side” of a big political wave.
Dowd goes all in on this theory even though she admits there’s no way Brown can get elected, but the GOP knows Dems think he could get elected or something, so they’ve put him up so we will pour all our money into New Hampshire and voila! Republicans sneak in and steal the Senate somehow. She then goes on for many sad panda words about how the Democrats are also dismayed by Florida, President Obama, the CIA, Obamacare, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg not liking Obama enough.
Listen. We are super scared of Scott Brown if by “scared of” you mean “laughing our balls off at the prospect Scott Brown getting schooled as hard in New Hampshire as he did by our favorite schoolmarm Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.” Bring it on.
We notice that we always end with Ross Douthat, because he is so reliably wrongheaded and appalling that we know we will need to do something — anything — else after reading him, just to wash the ceaseless anger away. Today is no exception.
Ross is sneering at everyone this week about how they just want to be individuals with their own thoughts and feels, and what a hollow sadness that must be, to not join a church or the GOP or something that will tell you how to feel and also too tell you that gay marriage is real real bad. But individualism cannot last, warns our dear Ross, because eventually we will all turn into fascists because we crave the sweet sweet embrace of authoritarianism telling us what to think.
[One can] argue that the human desire for community and authority cannot be permanently buried — in which case the most important question in an era of individualism might be what form of submission it presages.
This was the point raised in 1953 by Robert Nisbet’s “Quest for Community,” arguably the 20th century’s most important work of conservative sociology. (I wrote the introduction when it was reissued.) Trying to explain modern totalitarianism’s dark allure, Nisbet argued that it was precisely the emancipation of the individual in modernity — from clan, church and guild — that had enabled the rise of fascism and Communism.
In the increasing absence of local, personal forms of fellowship and solidarity, he suggested, people were naturally drawn to mass movements, cults of personality, nationalistic fantasias. The advance of individualism thus eventually produced its own antithesis — conformism, submission and control.
Hey everybody did you know that Ross wrote an introduction for arguably the 20th century’s most important work of conservative sociology? You did not, but you do now!! Impressed? Probably not, because we have not ranked our fave conservative sociology books and aren’t sure we believe this one tops the list. But what we’re really interested in here is the incoherence of this argument. You are an individual, so you do not like the communitarianism of a town or the church or whatevs telling you how to think and with whom you should affiliate yourself. But deep down you really need community, so instead of seeking it out where it is right in front of your face, you go listen to Mussolini.
Thank god we have the rest of the day off to research what authoritarian collective we’re going to go join next. We’re thinking something more kitten- and cupcake-loving than death-culty. We’ll keep you posted on what we’ll be blindly following soon.