May 1, 2020
Sunday Bloody NYT Sunday: Special Maureen Dowd Goes Dancing Edition
There is probably no better way to start your NYT Sunday (and no better way to gird your loins against reading Ross Douthat later) than checking out the big piece on how North Carolina Republicans are eating themselves alive as moderately awful candidates battle severely awful candidates in the Republican primary for Senate so that one of them can fling themselves messily against incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan.
Ine one corner, there’s old-school Republican Thom Tillis, who is sort of a North Carolina Mittens: his main qualification is that he has a pile of money, which, apparently, speaks for itself. In this corner, Mark Harris, godbotherer and Mike Huckabee fellow traveler. In this corner (what? it’s three corners, like the beloved Tea Party symbol, the tri-corner hat) is Greg Brannon, who has the backing of Rand Paul and looks to be the most genuinely terrible person running.
[Brannon] was recently found guilty of misleading two investors in a failed start-up company and has been ordered to pay them back more than $450,000, a verdict he is appealing. He also has a history of remarks that even some in his own party consider provocative: He has praised Jesse Helms, the longtime Republican senator from North Carolina who never renounced racial segregation, as a “modern hero,” and during the 2012 election said a vote for Mr. Romney would “advance tyranny.”
BRANNON! BRANNON! BRANNON!
You will not feel any glee when you read the lengthy piece on Missoula, Montana’s county attorney, Fred Van Valkenburg. We told you all about Van Valkenburg a couple months ago — he’s the guy that doesn’t really believe in prosecuting rape cases and is pretty mad that the DOJ pointed that out. Now he’s just stone cold refusing to turn any records over to the DOJ about the whole thing because federal overreach and Eric Holder is a bad guy. Sorry to make your blood boil so early in the day.
Keep that blood on simmer, because it’s time to turn to the New York Times’s rich coverage of rich people. First, did you know that if you have a pile of money and you use that money to buy art, you could then dodge some taxes on the whole transaction just by sending your art on a little trip first? It’s true!
Collectors who buy art in one state but live in another can owe thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of dollars in state “use taxes”: taxes often incurred when someone ships an out-of-state purchase home. But if they lend the recently purchased work first to museums like the Schnitzer, located in a handful of tax-friendly states, the transaction is often tax-free.
The Times has a handy little graphic on how to use this process to save $68,000 in taxes. Please join the rest of us in the corner, where we will be weeping over the fact that we don’t even MAKE $68K, much less need to dodge that amount in taxes.
You know who does need to dodge that amount in taxes? CEOs of large companies, who basically now have all the money in the world, period.
The current system of executive compensation, with its emphasis on performance, can theoretically constrain pay, but in practice it has not stopped companies from paying their top executives more and more. The median compensation of a chief executive in 2013 was $13.9 million, up 9 percent from 2012, according the Equilar 100 C.E.O. Pay Study, conducted for The New York Times. The 100 C.E.O.s in the survey took home a combined $1.5 billion last year, a slight rise from 2012.
We have no words.
Of course, when you are this rich and you have all that art, you need a fancy place in New York to stash it all, so why not throw $30 million at a little place in the city?
The apartment, No. 60A, has four-and-a-half marble baths and the ultimate view magnet, 60 feet of park frontage in the living/dining/entertaining area. The master suite has his-and-hers baths and bird’s-eye views of the city and the Hudson River. The custom eat-in kitchen by Smallbone of Devizes has hand-painted white cabinetry (although buyers at One57 do have the option of choosing a Macassar ebony color scheme). By this summer, buyers will also have the option of room service and other in-house amenities from the Park Hyatt hotel at the base of One57.
You would hope for $30 million you would indeed get a choice of kitchen color schemes.
Let’s do some nice time so we can stop thinking about this, shall we? In this week’s Weddings/Celebrations/Vows/Whatever the Times calls it now, there’s a lovely little story of a lesbian couple, Margie Ellen Ashley and Susan Barbara Levin (hang tight, the lesbian part is important here), who met after Ms. Levin’s house burned to the ground in a wildfire and she had to order all new everything, and Ms. Ashley was the FedEx lady who brought all the packages to her door. Ladies and gentlemen, just as much hetero fantasy/porn is based on the lonely housewife/hot stud UPS guy, there is an equally thriving genre of hot hot lesbian on lesbian action that involves the FedEx lady, so we applaud these women for living the dream. (Also, it’s a really sweet story of recovering from loss and finding love, so there.)
We often mock the Times when they try to go all new media synergy, but they knock it out of the park this week with a media-rich piece (music! pictures! words!) on trying to track down more info on two pre-war musicians, Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley.
There are musicians as obscure as Wiley and Thomas, and musicians as great, but in none does the Venn diagram of greatness and lostness reveal such vast and bewildering co-extent. In the spring of 1930, in a damp and dimly lit studio, in a small Wisconsin village on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the duo recorded a batch of songs that for more than half a century have been numbered among the masterpieces of prewar American music, in particular two, Elvie’s “Motherless Child Blues” and Geeshie’s “Last Kind Words Blues,” twin Alps of their tiny oeuvre, inspiring essays and novels and films and cover versions, a classical arrangement.
Go read that now. We’ll be right here when you’re done, and we’ll be reading the social etiquette column, like you do. Best/worst letter this week comes from a letter-writer we agree with 1000% percent.
We received a mass email from the parents of a 5-year-old girl, whose birthday party my daughter attended and to which she brought a gift. It said: “Janie had a wonderful time at her birthday party. In lieu of thank-you notes for your gifts, we are making a charitable donation in the name of Janie’s preschool class.” What?!
We’ll sum up social etiquette guy’s response for you: hahahahaha NOPE. He sagely points out that it is the goddamn JOB of five-year-olds to draw or write thank you notes post-birthday party. Kids these days. PARENTS these days.
Oh hello, Thomas Friedman, what are you nattering on about today? What’s that? You think it would be totally cool if Europe has no fuel sources because that hastens the arrival of clean energy? That’s bold. And dumb.
SO the latest news is that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has threatened to turn off gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev doesn’t pay its overdue bill, and, by the way, Ukraine’s pipelines are the transit route for 15 percent of gas consumption for Europe. If I’m actually rooting for Putin to go ahead and shut off the gas, does that make me a bad guy?
Yes, yes it does, Tom. But do go on, please. The hole you’ve dug isn’t quite deep enough.
Because that is what I’m rooting for, and I’d be happy to subsidize Ukraine through the pain. Because such an oil shock, though disruptive in the short run, could have the same long-term impact as the 1973 Arab oil embargo — only more so. That 1973 embargo led to the first auto mileage standards in America and propelled the solar, wind and energy efficiency industries. A Putin embargo today would be even more valuable because it would happen at a time when the solar, wind, natural gas and energy efficiency industries are all poised to take off and scale. So Vladimir, do us all a favor, get crazy, shut off the oil and gas to Ukraine and, even better, to all of Europe. Embargo! You’ll have a great day, and the rest of the planet will have a great century.
This might be the most Thomas Friedman thing ever written by Thomas Friedman. Why not ignore that having no oil in a huge chunk of Europe hurts actual people in a way that you can’t just subsidize or shake off in favor of pivoting to talk about how global change will magically happen? Why not offer blithely to let Europe — a place Thomas Friedman does not live — take the hit so that we can make an energy leap forward? Side note: do not spend the comments yelling at us about how necessary clean energy is. We agree, and we even agree that squeezing the supply of oil can create shocks that propel conservation methods forward, but we stand firm in our stance that Friedman is a dick for being so cool with Europe taking the hit.
If you keep reading the Friedman column after that, you should really get your critical level of self-loathing looked into, because then you’ll run into Friedman fellating Harrison Ford, who is being the change he wants to be or see in the world (whatever, we don’t really know what the phrase is) by making a documentary about the environment. You’ve been warned.
Maureen Dowd has a piece on Stephen Colbert that would actually be interesting (we did not know he has 10 siblings! we did not know he loves the band Neutral Milk Hotel!) except that to get there you have to read Maureen Dowd writing about what it was like when she went on Colbert’s show.
I DON’T remember much about being on Stephen Colbert’s show. It all passed in a blur of fear.
I remember him coming into the makeup room to remind me that he was going to be in character as a jerk. I remember that he held up my book about gender and asked if it was “soft-core porn.” I remember he asked me if I wanted to hold his Peabody and I told him I did, so he jumped up to grab the TV award from the mantel.
The experience reminded me of a 1937 musical called “A Damsel in Distress,” where Fred Astaire guided Joan Fontaine, clearly not a dancer, around a lawn, soaring for both of them.
She goes on to explain how Stephen Colbert is like Fred Astaire and she was dancing with him and why god why.
Let’s wrap up, as we always do, with Ross Douthat, who is still brooding over Brendan Eich stepping down from Mozilla because Mozilla figured out that having a an anti-gay marriage dude at the helm was probably not the best idea ever. First, we get the spectacle of Ross twisting himself into little neckbeard knots over how he is too totally cool with what happened.
I am (or try to be) a partisan of pluralism, which requires respecting Mozilla’s right to have a C.E.O. whose politics fit the climate of Silicon Valley, and Brandeis’s right to rescind degrees as it sees fit, and Harvard’s freedom to be essentially a two-worldview community, with a campus shared uneasily by progressives and corporate neoliberals, and a small corner reserved for token reactionary cranks.
Never have we seen a sentence start with a premise that is so quickly and completely and accidentally destroyed by the remainder of the sentence. Ross, real champions of pluralism do not need to throw a snit about Harvard by characterizing it in an overly broad, overly stupid way. Perhaps you’re not sure what the words you are writing mean? If you read Ross at all, or you even just read us talking about Ross at all, you know what’s coming next. Yes, it’s the patented “progressives are the REAL narrow-minded oppressors” bit.
[W]e have the pretense of universality — the insistence that the post-Eich Mozilla is open to all ideas […] And with the pretense, increasingly, comes a dismissive attitude toward those institutions — mostly religious — that do acknowledge their own dogmas and commitments, and ask for the freedom to embody them and live them out. […]
I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic.
Ross, your entire career, your entire raison d’etre, is whining about progressives. So yes, you can “live with” progressivism in the sense that you are paid an outsized amount of money to wahhhh about it each Sunday, but that is not synonymous with tolerating it. Everyone, please send Ross a dictionary and a thesaurus as an Easter present, please.