Pleasin’ for the Season III: The 2017 Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide

It was a year that felt like a decade: 2017 saw the arrival of a new president… the unsealing of long-held silences on abuse and consent, a radically new world order and a terrifying spate of natural and human-made disasters (fire, water, terror). It was also a year full of stuff.

the New York Times

Yes, it’s been quite a year. And while we might feel like our world is in the process of changing in unimaginable ways, one thing remains constant: our need for stuff. But what stuff? Just any pair of socks or tub of body butter isn’t going to cut it, not after what we’ve been through.  Our gifts need to be luxurious enough to counter the terrifying visions of privation and violence that haunt our futures, while also being oneiric enough to keep pace with the surreal affect of everyday life. Luckily, when it comes to extravagant items that fill you with a lingering sense of dread, there’s no better source than the New York Times. Even during the Obama years, when things were relatively normal, the Styles section was hysterically begging us to buy solid platinum staples and miniature yachts for dogs. Now look at them! They’re linking to e-commerce pages for Nazi armbands and warning us not to wear bathrobes because they’re associated with “grim details of sexual assault and harassment.”

Clearly, the deranged hivemind that writes this stuff is in touch with the cultural zeitgeist. It’s too late to buy anything by Christmas, but it doesn’t matter; just immerse yourself in the weirdness.

For the bereaved: DNA tattoos

Why: Tattoos are  a classic concept that’s beloved by all, but there’s a problem. Too many people are wasting valuable skin space just making an aesthetic statement in the medium of line and color, instead of creating morbid tributes to their dead loved ones that creep everyone out. All that’s about to change, thanks to “an idea [that] came tattooed on the leg of a woman kicking through the water in Key Largo, Fla., seen clear as day through Patrick Duffy’s diving goggles.” Translated from Styles-section-ese, this means Duffy saw someone with a tattoo. “It was her dedication to her late husband, a Navy SEAL killed in combat. ‘In that moment, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to turn that tattoo into a reliquary?”’” He apparently answered himself in the affirmative, despite the idea of turning a tattoo into a reliquary having had no previously accepted meaning.

He wanted to help the woman “put a piece of something she cared about, maybe even her husband, into the tattoo itself.” Given that the tattoo is of her husband, what else would the “something” have been?  What else besides a very close loved one would anyone care about enough to turn into a subcutaneous reliquary? (People who stood in line for Rick and Morty szechuan sauce, please don’t ponder this question.)

No, the husband memorial was definitely the way to go, and Duffy “has brought the idea to life with Everence,” a powder synthesized from DNA samples that you can mix into tattoo ink. He hopes it “will deepen bonds — in the most literal and physical way — between family, friends and loved ones.” If said loved ones aren’t dead, it might be a tad more literal to give them a hug, but okay. The author claims Everence “is about as biologically intimate as one can get,” a notion that worryingly suggests he is unaware of the facts of life & believes babies come from the cabbage patch.

In any case, Duffy is now part of “a winding list of biohackers, artists and technologists dabbling in the world of biogenic tattoo artistry.” A winding list? Pro tip, next time just get a rectangular piece of paper and write the names down below one another.

Duffy joins the elite list of luminaries who already had the same idea as him, but earlier: “Many have mixed ash, hair or other material with inks to include organics in tattooing for years.” But he’s put his own twist on it. “So far this has been something of a symbolic gesture, as the organic material introduced into their inks would eventually be absorbed into a subject’s body,” whereas we all know the DNA dust has to stay in the tattoo for it to be literal. “Mr. Duffy and his partners believe this creates an even more palpable, resonant bonding experience.” By operationalizing and tangibilizing the DNA, it will betterify the experience and exponentialize the emotions.

“Others write off the practice as part of the growing bodyhacking movement.” Have they thought of writing it off as fucking stupid? People are really taking the long way around when it comes to writing this off. “Customers… mail their DNA samples to Endeavor’s laboratory… where the material is milled, sterilized and enclosed in microscopic capsules of PMMA — you know it as plexiglass.” Someone is feeling very highbrow for having just learned what PMMA is. The Times has fired hundreds of editors this year; it would be worth hiring them all back at twice their salaries just so there would have been one person around to tell this writer “just say ‘plexiglass.'”

“The pitch is a curious, emotionally poignant one coming from Mr. Duffy, a gruff, plain-spoken New Yorker with a background in real estate and a degree in political science.” That’s exactly the kind of person who would think of this, though. Super mainstream people who invest in real estate are always doing stuff like starting a small-batch vodka brand to honor wounded service dogs or getting people to run an obstacle course through a swamp to raise awareness for gout.

Carry this stuff around when you really, really want someone to accidentally snort your dead husband’s ashes.

Duffy has a less conventional partner: Virginia Elwood, a tattoo artist whom he cold-pitched and who opened his email “only because she thought he was the actor who played the father on the 1990s sitcom “Step by Step.” I hate it when I think the dad from Step by Step is emailing me about injecting cremated ashes into the bodies of the living but instead it’s just some random guy!

Price: $650

For the woke woman: Designer clothes

Why: Tattoos might remind us of the past, but we also need to look toward the future. Today’s hottest designers know that, and they’re doing their best to empower us. For instance, it seems that Dior artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri has “picked up the banner of feminism… discovering its heroines and using them as muses in her shows, from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Georgia O’Keeffe and Amelia Earhart. It should have made her the perfect designer for these ‘woke women’ times.”  First a woman presidential candidate, now a woman willing to use women as muses for women’s fashion… things are really starting to come together for us women!

But apparently she’s doing a bad (?) or possibly too good (??) job incorporating her ideals into the clothes. “As consistently as she has stuck to her agenda, she has stuck to her separates: couture denim — this season in patchworks of different faded washes and weaves — and Dior-branded underthings.” Sure, sure… fine… the fact that the tattered Phish concert denim and the underwear with the big logos on it are separates makes it so I can mix and match instead of wearing the same ensemble every day.  “But what feminist, even a millennial one, wants to wear a mirrored mosaic onesie in bright pink or blue under a transparent tulle skirt open to the waist that looks like nothing so much as Madonna in her ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ years?” Is this a riddle? “These are not the clothes of revolution, even New Look revolution.” Yeah! Even those New Look revolution clowns wouldn’t have put up with this mirrored mosaic onesie shit!  (Unless the fact that it’s a mirrored mosaic onesie is good, and it’s something else about it that’s bad — just trying to follow along here.) “Ms. Chiuri is not rejecting clothes dictated by the patriarchy…. Those playsuits… sort of undermined the whole exercise.” As I was saying, I think it’s the playsuits that are the problem. They COMPLETELY undermine the exercise of dismantling the patriarchy through Dior runway shows.

It seems we’ll have to look elsewhere for woke women clothes. Fortunately, where Chiuri failed, designer Simon Porte Jacquemus seems to have succeeded — and for equally inscrutable reasons! “By knotting, draping, ruching and otherwise swathing bodies in dresses based on the concept of the beach-ready maillot and pareo (even if they came in pinstriped linen and jersey), adding mismatched geometric earrings and gigantic straw hats, he generally upped the sophistication factor.” That well known formula for upping the sophistication factor: Ruche and swathe the maillot and pareo, add mismatched geometric earrings and a gigantic straw hat, and bam!

Jacquemus isn’t the only one who’s killing it. “At Maison Margiela, John Galliano, who has in the past occasionally suffered from a surfeit of ideas [editor’s note: oh totally, me too] continued to explore the limits of the décortiqué approach he introduced a few seasons ago, which effectively means reducing garments to their bones and then layering and otherwise recombining them to challenge received convention.” I already knew that that’s what décortiqué meant… using bones of designs and layering to challenge received convention. I was just waiting to say it because I wanted to make sure the author knew what it meant.

At Saint Laurent… in the glittering shadow of the nighttime Eiffel Tower, Anthony Vaccarello offered up: shorts. Or, to be fair, sex and shorts…. Attenuated limbs emerged from explosions of ostrich feathers or perhaps a single steroid-fueled red leather or fuchsia satin ruffle…. The steam rising off the fountains of the Trocadéro in the background simply added to the effect.

I’ve noticed that it often does… when you have steam rising through the air, it tends to add to the effect of attentuated limbs emerging from an explosion of feathers and a steroid-fueled ruffle. Pretty much a truism in the industry, and I’m surprised the author bothered to mention it.

“[The clothes were] a siren call to dance in the darkness…. These women weren’t asking ‘why’ — they were asking ‘why not?’ And they sure as sparkle weren’t going back to sleep any time soon.”  And neither are today’s women. Oh wait, you just said that. Anyway, this is what you have to wear now if you’re woke.

Price: $731 for Anthony Vaccarello asymmetric shorts; $1044 for a Jacquemus ruched dress
For modest woke women: The Sequoia dress
Sex and shorts? What about celibacy and longs? The fashion world has been abuzz about
the Sequoia dress from the New York-based independent fashion label Creatures of Comfort… Dun-colored, ankle-lengthed, high-necked and voluminous-sleeved, this seemingly innocuous $450 number… a dress that evokes virginal drabness at best and cult-style patriarchal oppression at worst; a dress which, with its sacklike silhouette, looks like a cross between a 1880s homesteading smock and the so-called bankruptcy barrel archetypically worn by old-timey hobos.
And that’s just what the people who liked it had to say about it! It all just goes to show “the significant turn in fashion over the past couple of years toward almost aggressively non-provocative dressing.”
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The article says this stuff is a “defining trend of the 2010s.” Are you calling them liars?

As always, the cultural climate explains it. “Figure-obscuring clothing serves as a kind of armor, as well as a retort to a reality-TV-inured culture apparently intent on exposing… any intimate body part.” It’s a big time-saver for armor to also be a retort. In fact, that was one of the original functions of armor. In medieval times, the protective suits knights wore into battle doubled as a strong statement about the ubiquity of bawdy chansons and risqué poems about licentious millers.

Anyway, skintight jeans and skimpy skirts are fine for the Kardashians of this world, but what about those of us in active fields? Gallery owner Hanna Hoffman “says she prefers figure-enshrouding outfits… with her low heels and wide-cut pants, Hoffman told me, she can always jump up to grab an artwork or walk clients through her space.”

Besides the standing and walking factor, there are the intangible qualities of an outfit. “She told me that rather than a more conventionally feminine aura, she prefers to project a ‘rigor and intellectual thoughtfulness’ with her clothing choices.” Ladies, if we want people to take us seriously, we have got to get rid of this femininity stuff and start projecting intelligence instead!  Then guys will get the message: This person’s not feminine, she’s thoughtful. Unless sexist people retain the assumption that femininity is inherently inferior, but also view women as inherently feminine. If they were to do that, we’d be foiled, and the only way to overcome their bigotry would be to dismantle the dichotomy between femininity and intellectual rigor. But I don’t think sexist men would do something unfair like that. No, the baggy pants ought to do it.

“Commenting on the body-conscious silhouette prevalent among assistant-level gallery girls when she was starting in the art world in the mid-2000s, Hoffman noted how the power of a certain breed of male gallery owner had often seemed to her to be transacted through exactly such specters of young female sexuality, ‘and that’s not something you want to do.’” I hate when women do that thing where men treat them like an object for their amusement with no hopes, dreams or inner worth just because they can see their knees!

Cost: $450

For woke women whose feet hurt: Ugly shoes

Why: Women love shoes. But can’t we rethink our preconceptions about what a great shoe looks like? Art publicist Florie Hutchison did just that after enduring a day of sexist microaggressions, such as seeing “a children’s book that preached the importance of female politeness.” Even texting gave no respite: “When she typed the word ‘shoe’ into her phone and the red high-heel emoji appeared as a substitute, it felt like a sign. ‘It was the first time I noticed and stopped in my virtual tracks and stared at the stiletto heel that auto-populated,’ Ms. Hutchinson said. ‘It was the emoji that broke the camel’s back.’” No, not a sign that her grasp of metaphor was so unusual that she could be the next Tom Friedman; rather, that she should join the ranks of women “fighting gender discrimination with their footwear.” She “sent a proposal to the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee” telling them to change the shoe emoji to a ballet flat, “a shoe that reads as female but not seductive or sexualized.”

Look, there is nothing “sexual” about adult women, and there’s no need for a symbol of womanhood to be “seductive” when you can just slap a bow on it instead. Why allude to sex when you could reference ballet, an art form that has never had any sexist stuff associated with it? But are emojis really that crucial a battleground? “Ninety-two percent of people online use emoji every year.” Every year!  That means unless things change, a baby girl of average lifespan born today could view the sexist high heel emoji 81.2 times!

“There was a time when a pair of pumps was a marker of female adulthood… but our preferences have shifted dramatically toward athletic and comfort shoes.” That is, if objective empirical data are any indication: “Allbirds, a brand of merino wool ‘runners,’ are now part of the unofficial Silicon Valley uniform,” and “it’s not uncommon to see Danskos and Crocs….worn by white-collar professionals.” The writing is on the wall, and it’s clear that it will soon be all over for the pump.

Cursed image.

Then there’s the political climate. These anxious times are making people cautious about their feet:

On Monday night, at [a] department store … near the World Trade Center, three young Canadian tourists… were waiting for an Uber to pick them up after a long day of walking in utilitarian black boots. They had woken up to the news of a crude pipe bomb explosion at Port Authority, across the street from their hotel in Times Square. They had ignored the rows of dressy shoes with heels,

reasoning that the ideal shoe is one that “wouldn’t impede you in any way.” The real story here is that the author apparently waited for terrorists to attack New York, then rushed out to a store by the WTC site to interview people about what shoes they were thinking about buying. Naomi Fry, you’ve transcended everything the world thought it knew about footwear journalism.

 “’Why do the shoes we choose for ourselves make us less able to run away if we need to run away? …[T]here are quite a lot of times when, unfortunately, it would help to be able to run.'” Unlike the shoes pictured in this article, which are a runner’s dream come true.

Be careful wearing these…you might run too fast and accidentally win a marathon

Owning a pair of Crocs, clogs or Céline mules will put your loved one in tune with the zeitgeist. “‘If you’re a historian in 50 years [sic] time, and you start going through emoji with a fine-tooth comb, you’ll be able to say, this brick wall must have happened in 2017…. You can look at the flat shoe and say that was the year women decided to find their voice and collectively protest gender-stereotypical norms.’”

Cost: $29.99-$769

For members of the world’s social, cultural and hereditary elite: Vertex

Why: Shoe fads may come and go, but some things are eternal. Vertex is a new, yet old watch brand like no other. “It may not seem entirely rational to introduce a watch brand in today’s highly competitive market, but Don Cochrane is not a man driven by reason.” This wild man learned about the heritage watch brand his family used to own and decided to revive it. “I Googled it and started learning all this really amazing stuff. It was a bit of an epiphany.” Wow, what a story!

His Googling revealed that the watches were used by the British military, and “Mr. Cochrane said the narrative was perfect for a heritage watch brand.” Before long, Vertex watches were in production again, but how to keep them out of the hands of undesirable customers?

“He decided to build Vertex around a community, initially 60 people whom Mr. Cochrane personally invited to become Vertex owners. Forty-five accepted, and each was given five names to invite, growing the brand in turn. Sales are primarily limited to invitees, although anyone who owns one of the original W.W.W. Vertex models also can buy a new watch.”

According to Cochrane, “’Selling to retailers and customers is cool'” (I’ve always said this), but there’s just something about selling to a charmed circle of insiders, tastemakers and heirs to large fortunes that makes the design features of a watch face that little bit more aesthetically appealing.

These chosen few include “engineers, entrepreneurs, musicians, athletes, the designer behind all of Pink Floyd’s album art[,] a Victoria’s Secret model [and] the Earl of Mornington.”  Now that the surviving remnants of a syphilitic, inbred aristocracy are on board, this project is on its way to embodying cool. Yet somehow, not everyone is convinced. “A review of the M100 on the watch website Hodinkee called the sales method ‘elitist and undemocratic,’ with many of the 85 comments that followed criticizing Mr. Cochrane, calling the revival a ‘marketing trick’ and the watch’s price ‘laughable’ (vintage Vertexes sell for a few hundred dollars).” Evidently even watch collectors are becoming anti-élitist now. If things get much worse, cigar guys and horse dressage people are going to be complaining that their tobacco leaves and saddle leather are soaked in the blood of the working class.

“Mr. Cochrane said the comments made him ‘annoyed and sad,’ and he countered with examples of top-end watches that are accessible only by the ultrarich. ‘I think money is elitist,’ he said. ‘If you have lots of it, you can have whatever you want.’”

Price: $3,320, but you can’t have one.

For people trying to avoid being guillotined: The Balenciaga Arena

Why: “In April, a $2,145 Balenciaga bag briefly arrested the fashion world’s attention for its marked resemblance to a much more affordable option: the 99-cent polypropylene Frakta bag available by the bin-load at Ikea.”

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This is real…it’s all real.
“It seemed only right that Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia should be the one to bring it to the fore, who rose to notoriety designing a high-end DHL T-shirt for his Vetements label.” We have to stop letting these people rise to notoreity. They’re sitting around shoving pencils up their noses, eating rubber cement, gazing at the Italian man depicted on their takeout pizza box, murmuring “his hat… iconic” and deciding that the models at their next show should be carrying Swarovski-encrusted faux pizzas.
The oven fresh pizza guy is lowkey thicc.
“It was only the latest example of the luxury fashion industry finding inspiration in the workaday stuff of everyday life, but it crystallized the coy cross-pollination between luxury goods and basic essentials, and made clear that influence trickles up as well as down.” And unlike with other intentionally ugly stuff, if anyone asks you about it in a particularly pointed tone, you can just say it’s an Ikea bag.
Cost: $2145
For no-nonsense career gals: Wing membership

Continue reading “Pleasin’ for the Season III: The 2017 Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide”


How to Resist Trump

We’re already one twelfth of the way through Trump’s first term, and what a memorable four months it’s been! The assaults on our rights, dignity, sanity and basic survival have been unrelenting, and while left-leaning Americans have been passionate in our desire to resist, we can’t do it alone. We need an authoritative voice—a trustworthy leader to rally around, and to keep the fires of dissent burning. Over and over, the Times has promised to be that voice. In a series of ads, the paper of record positioned itself as a lone defender of truth, an entity which is “hard,” yet “more important now than ever.” And their editorial board has called on Americans to fight “a reckless, unqualified leader” through “activism.”

The truth is hard, and so am I. (Talking about my quads, folks.)

But what exactly does that involve? How would the Paper of Record have us manifest our outrage and passion for justice? Below, some suggestions culled from its pages. Continue reading “How to Resist Trump”

Pleasin’ for the Season II: The 2016 Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

With everything going on in the world, it’s easy to get behind on your holiday shopping.  But if you haven’t picked out a gift for everyone on your list, don’t despair. There’s something for everyone in the guide below — and every item is hand-picked by the world’s most culturally in-touch publication, the New York Times! Read on to find out how you can spread end-of-fiscal-year cheer. Continue reading “Pleasin’ for the Season II: The 2016 Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide”

When Things That Seem Bad Are Actually Good

It’s tough to be a columnist: You have to write articles all the time giving opinions on which things are good or bad, but you also have to say stuff that’s non-obvious enough that readers won’t wonder why you’re getting paid to think thoughts that they’ve already had a thousand times. Fulfilling both of these imperatives at once presents an obvious challenge. So many things that seem good actually are good (like sex, or socialized medicine), and so many things that seem bad actually are bad (like Donald Trump). You could just forge ahead with pointing out that bad things are bad, but your newspaper’s editorial section would look like the work of a monomaniac. 1


You could attempt to frighten people by telling them something good is actually bad, like when editorial writers refer to having sex as “hookup culture.”  Alternately, you could remind people that things that seem good are in fact good, like when the food section runs an article titled “Time to Celebrate the Timeless Appeal of Pumpkin Pie,” but that’s kind of a niche genre.  Finally, there’s a fourth option that exercises a powerful pull: finding something that seems bad, and explaining why it’s good.  Below, we examine how four writers attempt to give an image makeover to four unequivocally terrible things.

$2500 Hamilton Tickets

In “I Paid $2500 for a Hamilton Ticket. I’m Happy About It,” Harvard econ professor N. Gregory Mankiw accepts the challenge of his chosen genre. He opens with a flourish: “Consumers of goods and services do not typically wish that producers charged higher prices. But that was exactly my desire on a recent trip to New York City.” Okay, he tries to open with a flourish. There are two problems with this: His insanely boring writing style, and the fact that he’s trying to turn it into a huge paradox that sometimes you’d rather pay more for something than not have it at all.  Economists think regular people don’t understand stuff like that, which explains a lot about this article and about economists in general.

“The story begins with a basic mismatch.”  I’m positive this is not how actual stories are supposed to begin.  When you have a great cast of characters like “consumers of goods and services”  and “guy who went on a trip to New York City,” you owe it to yourself to drop them into a dramatic situation. God created “man versus man” and “man versus nature,” not “basic mismatch between entity and other unspecified entity.”  This is like the more math-y version of when David Brooks is like “I would like to tell you a story. This story I am going to tell begins with two different conceptions of the social contract in eighteenth century political thought.” If guys like this wrote the Iliad, it would start out “Sing to me, Muse, of a basic mismatch between the value of the services Achilles son of Peleus provided to the Achaean army, as perceived by Achilles and others, and the manner in which red-haired Menelaus, son of Atreus, was willing to compensate him for said services.”

As it turns out, even the incredibly dull phrase “basic mismatch” oversold the dramatic potential of this situation, which is that Mankiw is “a big fan of theater,” but only gets to see Broadway shows a few times a year. This time around he was in town to visit colleges with his son, and they had an afternoon free. “And as an economist, I have always viewed Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary, as one of the most important and intriguing founding fathers.” He just had to brag that he was into Hamilton before everyone else.  The sad thing is that it probably worked: At least one person has read this and felt a stab of jealousy at Mankiw for being a more authentic Alexander Hamilton fan than they are.

“You may have heard that ‘Hamilton’ tickets are hard to come by.” I have, but I think his intended tone for this sentence is “You MAY have HEARD that Hamilton tickets are hard to come by” [devilish wink to show he knows that the difficulty of obtaining Hamilton tickets is the talk of everyone’s social circle and all anyone has been able to speak of for weeks]. HOW POPULAR IS IT? “The show is so popular that tickets from the theater sell out quickly and far in advance.” Wow, that’s popular… so popular that the things that one would expect to transpire if it were a popular show, do in fact transpire!   “In a recent episode ofSaturday Night Live’ that Mr. Miranda was hosting, the television show’s producer, Lorne Michaels, jokingly asked him about getting ‘Hamilton’ tickets. Mr. Miranda demurred.” Can’t believe I missed that amazing joke that riffed on the popularity of Hamilton tickets by portraying a guy trying to get Hamilton tickets.

Anyway, as you’ve probably surmised, Mankiw got around the scarcity problem by going on a resale site and buying marked-up tickets. “Terms like ‘scalping’ and ‘price gouging’ are pejoratives used to demonize those who resell tickets,” so to fight back against gouge-shaming, he addresses the haters’ objections. “Most people can’t easily afford paying so much for a few hours of entertainment. That is indeed lamentable. The arts expand our horizons, and in a perfect world, everyone would have the opportunity to see a megahit like ‘Hamilton.” Really?  That was the angle he went with?  It seems like the one counterargument you shouldn’t have to take seriously, when defending scalping, is that every human should get to see a musical that’s only playing in one theater in one city in the world.

“If legal restrictions or moral sanctions had forced prices to remain close to face value, it is likely that no tickets would have been available by the time my family got around to planning its trip to the city.” This is a New York-based paper, guy; I’m not sure the core readership is going to be sympathetic to your argument of “come on, we’re TOURISTS!  Businesses have to mark things up by several hundred percent or you guys who actually live here would buy them all before we got a chance to. You don’t mind, right?  It’s just that we planned our trip at the last minute. Thanks for understanding.”  He should have followed this up by saying that New York is so confusing, he had to walk really slow and ask a bunch of people for directions on the way to the theater.

“In a free market, in which private individuals can engage in mutually advantageous gains from trade, they are inevitable until demand subsides or supply expands.”  This claim explains literally every other $2500 purchase that has ever been made on the free market except Hamilton tickets.  For $2500, you can get a really nice brick of cocaine or a really shitty used car, and both of those are good values, but the same amount of money to see an educational rap about slaveowners can only be explained by the fact that human beings are fundamentally insane.

“The comedian Jay Leno learned this lesson some years ago.” What could Jay Leno have done that was so stupid that this guy is Monday morning quarterbacking his decisions? “In 2009, while the economy was suffering through the Great Recession, Mr. Leno, a car enthusiast, generously performed two free ‘Comedy Stimulus’ shows for unemployed workers near Detroit.”  Ah. “Some of the unemployed who received free tickets tried to turn around and sell them on eBay for about $800. When Mr. Leno learned about this, he objected, and eBay agreed to take down offers to resell the tickets.” Unlike the tale of the fundamental mismatch, this story is great: Jay Leno almost did some good in the world, for the first time in his life, by indirectly giving laid-off rust-belters the means to pay a month’s rent or buy medicine for their kids, but the good deed was completely unintentional, and as soon as he found out about it he was horrified. Even Mankiw sees the irony: “Why should Mr. Leno have objected? Some unemployed workers, presumably short on cash, thought that the $800 in their pockets was more valuable than an evening of laughs.” Less valuable than 800 dollars cash is one way to describe the experience of seeing a live show by the guy who wrote If Roast Beef Could Fly.


“Similarly, the ticket buyers would voluntarily give up their $800 for a seat.   The transaction makes both buyer and seller better off. That is how free markets are supposed to work.” Ya see, folks, here’s how the invisible hand of the marketplace works. It all begins with rational free agents acting in rational ways. Let’s say you need a car to get to work, so you buy one at the market rate.  The car company pays workers to make the cars, at a rate the free market determines their skills are worth. Meanwhile, elsewhere, a bunch of bankers need to make several million dollars doing credit default swaps, but in doing so, they inadvertently screw up the economy in such a way that there’s less money around. Now fewer people can afford to buy cars, and the car workers’ skills are suddenly worth nothing, even though they’re still just as good at making cars and everyone still wants cars just as much as they did before, so they lose their jobs. (The cars are contributing to an extinction-level environmental catastrophe, but it’s also bad to stop making them, because the free market has determined that there shouldn’t be any convenient public transportation, so if people don’t have cars they won’t be able to get to work and they’ll be unemployed too.) Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, word of the workers’ plight reaches a man whose free-market skills are worth thousands of times what the car workers’ ever were, due to his ability to think up such brilliant comedic conceits as “what if Lance Ito worked at Benihana.” He decides to remedy the workers’ lack of regular currency by supplying them with nature’s currency, which is jokes.  The workers decide to turn the comedic capital back into regular capital by selling the tickets to other free-market agents. Finally, the assets are bought on the free market by people who have 800 extra dollars lying around that they earned doing credit default swaps. What an inspiring chain of events.  You’ll note that in this scenario, the only people who actually do anything that contributes to making anyone’s life better have all been laid off, yet somehow this is supposed to prove that the free market makes sense. Economists explaining the market have a real knack for not seeing the big picture. It’s like when the hoarders on Hoarders stick their arm into a horrifying pile of junk, pull out an antique music box, and go “See, this stuff is nice!  I can’t believe you want me to throw it away.”

“I was saddened by my ‘Hamilton’ transaction in one important way. About 80 percent of what I paid went to the ticket reseller, rather than to Mr. Miranda and his investors.” I’m not sure what makes the investors so deserving.  It seems like all they did was put up some money up front in the hopes of getting more money later, which is the exact same thing the scalpers did,  except the scalpers did it while wearing fingerless gloves and speaking in colorful Brooklyn accents. (Please, no one tell me if my mental image of scalpers is incorrect.)

“In the past, Mr. Miranda has objected to the automated software that quickly buys as many tickets as it can, so they can be resold at a profit.” I never thought I’d be forced to take automated ticket-buying software’s side in a debate.  This whole article is an exercise in pitting things I don’t like against each other to force me to figure out which one I hate more. Next he’s going to be like “did you know that the band Good Charlotte called Neil DeGrasse Tyson ‘annoying,’ and that people who let their dogs sniff people’s crotches without doing anything about it are statistically more likely to think that Justin Trudeau has a punchable face?

Mankiew says the theater could fix the problem by “charg[ing] higher prices to begin with.” But they don’t, because they’d feel bad. “Those who run Broadway theaters clearly feel some unease about charging so much…Yet Mr. Miranda and his investors could find better ways to give back to the community than vastly underpricing most ‘Hamilton’ tickets and enriching ticket resellers. Maybe…fill more seats with high school students.” Didn’t this guy just go on a rant against giving tickets to people who’re just going to turn around and sell them at market value?   He’s now unwilling to accept the implications of that argument, but only because it led to the apparently intolerable result of not everyone getting to see “Hamilton.”  Anything that can move the stony heart of man to pity is beautiful, but this is ridiculous.

“I can’t imagine a better way to spark interest in the study of American history.”  The best unintentional self-owns are always the weirdly specific ones.

Donald Trump Raping People

For a more topical version of the “bad is good” technique, we turn to Susan Chira’s “Thank You, Donald Trump.”  Chira seeks to defend the self-evidently paradoxical contention that “Donald J. Trump could well go down in history as a feminist hero.” Why?  Well, “this was supposed to be an election where Hillary Clinton had to convince voters that a woman had the fitness and temperament to be president,” according to editorial writers who had a bunch of great ideas for articles on why Hillary Clinton proves women have the fitness and temperament to be president.

“Yet instead of worrying whether a woman is too emotional, impulsive and unqualified for high office, voters have been weighing whether that’s true of the man running to be president.” Every four to eight years, we as an electorate have been forced to gaze upon a new batch of male candidates and wonder which of them were too horny and idiotic to run the country, but heretofore we never realized that in doing so, we were engaging in feminism.  We’re like the guy in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme who was thrilled to discover that he had been speaking prose all his life.

When Trump “was caught on tape boasting about how he could force himself on women, it prompted legions of women to go public about when they were groped.” An inspiring reminder that victims of assault can be believed, if the guy who did it was caught on tape confessing to it and also seems like the kind of guy who’d do that based on everything he’s ever done over the course of every second of his life.

“A man who prides himself on being a red-blooded embodiment of masculinity – with bodacious women there for the taking, big hands and more, political correctness be damned [did Susan Chira have a stroke in the middle of writing this?] – has unleashed a wave of revulsion about that vision of manhood…Mothers and fathers have been asking how to raise sons who do not act like this.” Ninety-nine percent of sons already do not act like Trump, without their parents doing anything special to create this result, so in a way, feminism has already won.  All this time, our movement has been so focused on trying to change things. Now, the potential for a completely new tactic opens up: not doing anything, and letting people continue to think that manifestly awful and disgusting actions are in fact awful and disgusting.  In general, when you’ve fighting for progress on a social issue, what you want to do is keep debating ever more basic and obvious versions of your position. The ideal outcome for feminism would be if we could go all the way back to arguing with Aristotle about whether women are large children and every sperm cell is a homunculus that contains a complete human being in miniature.

“The Access Hollywood tape induced a stream of defections from high-level Republicans who had not broken with him over the attack on a war hero’s family, the impugning of a judge of Mexican ancestry, or his threats to ban all Muslims from these shores.”  That’s great…for feminism…because no women are Mexican or Muslim, or affected in any way by war. Does anyone want to guess what race the author is?

Nailed it.

 “Even if their defense of women was based on outdated Victorian notions of chivalry, there was something about Mr. Trump’s unvarnished male entitlement, that droit du seigneur, that many Republican men could not stomach.” Rhetoricians say a well-constructed sentence should be balanced, and this is a perfect example: The first part of it makes a good point, the second part balances it out by make an opposite, bad point, and the phrase “droit de seigneur” ties it all together because the reader is so surprised that the author used it correctly that they forget to pay attention to whether any of it makes sense.

“Mrs. Clinton, who shied away in 2008 from the historic nature of her candidacy….is unabashedly speaking out about her commitment to families and children and her identity as a mother and grandmother.” Finally, a politician who’s not afraid to speak truth to power on the key feminist issue of whether or not she’s a mom.  Before now, this view has only been voiced by the brave iconoclasts in ads for paper towels and Ibuprofen.

The author concludes that “feminism will be in [Trump’s] debt” for getting people to vote for a woman. This really gives us ladies hope that maybe we’ll luck out and only have to compete against extremely incompetent and psychologically damaged men, giving us the edge we need to succeed.  Girl power!

Politicians Lying All the Time

In “Why Hillary Clinton Needs to Be Two-Faced,” Jonathan Rauch offers an encomium of mendacity, presenting us with such dazzling paradoxes as the claim that Clinton’s emails “show a disarming candor — including candor about lack of candor.” Clinton thinks it’s okay to lie sometimes, and Rauch agrees.  He approvingly quotes a speech where she said that “Politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be.” Huh. I didn’t know the goal of making sausage was to end up where you need to be.  Unless you are making magical teleportation sausage, where you usually end up is at the sausage factory, and the end goal is getting to eat sausage.  As meat-based metaphors go, this is even worse than Freidman’s stupid thing about Hamburger Helper from the other week. I think Hillary Clinton should have said “Politics is like sausage being made.  It is unsavory, and we usually end up being disgusted by Weiners.”  Topical!

Rauch says that Clinton isn’t an exception because “maintaining separate public and private faces is something we all do every day. We tell annoying relatives we enjoyed their visits, thank inept waiters for rotten service, and agree with bosses who we know are wrong.” I’m glad this sentence only had three examples; if it had continued, he probably would have said “We apologize to loud teenagers who knock us over on the subway, write term papers for our cool roommate so he can go to frat parties, pretend we don’t know our wife is cheating on us, and compliment the biceps of the guy our wife is cheating on us with.”

“The Japanese…have a vocabulary for socially constructive lying. ‘Honne’ (from ‘true sound’) is what we really believe. ‘Tatemae’ (from ‘facade’) is what we aver in public. Using honne when tatemae is called for is considered…rude and antisocial.”  This sounds like when a white person explains their Asian-themed tattoos.  Based on how accurate these explanations usually are, I’m going to assume that “honne” and “tatemai” actually mean “California roll.”  He says it’s good for some stuff to stay hidden because “Keeping knowledge out of the public domain can finesse all kinds of social conflicts and embarrassments. In-laws can pretend not to despise one another. Everyday life would be intolerable without public denials and mutual winks.”  One would hate to see the political landscape become intolerable.  Politics is like having relatives, because conflicts are caused by people having different goals and interests, so if you just shut your mouth and let Sharon pick the wedding venue or the politicians cancel social security or whatever, you won’t have any conflicts anymore.  Finesse!

“Behind closed doors, negotiators can float trial balloons and make tacit offers — deniably. They can say things like, ‘This isn’t an offer, mind you, but just hypothetically, what if I were to suggest we could accept a Medicare cut if you could accept a capital-gains tax increase?'”  Wow, that is really…an example of a tacit offer.  It would be terrible if Democrats were constrained in the vocabulary they had to use in offering to cut healthcare for old people. Stripped of their sophisticated techniques for giving stuff away to their opponents, they would have no choice but to try to gain enough power that they could push a capital-gains tax increase through without gradually destroying their overwhelmingly popular signature programs.

“If you show hypothetical interest in my hypothetical offer, I can go and try it out on my caucus and constituents. If you wave me off — well, no offer was ever made, so I’m not embarrassed.” This is beautiful — a vision of a world where the people who rule us don’t have to feel awkward when they fail at their attempts to accomplish even the most feeble and ineffectual legislative agenda .

“Often, the only way to get something done is to have separate private and public truths. Behind closed doors, nothing is settled until everything is settled. Until the deal is done, everyone can pretend not to have decided anything.” Hell yeah!  This guy is a member of the public, so I would say it’s pathetic that he’s arguing for the public to have even less of a say in how things turn out, but Rauch is the kind of guy for whom closed-door negotiations always seem to work out just fine without any help. It’s like, why tell the tiny cadre of elites who control our fates what you want for Christmas, when it’s more fun to be surprised on Christmas morning?

“But the moment the conversation becomes public, plausible deniability ceases. Everyone knows I’ve made an offer. Angry interest groups, adversaries in the other party, and even purists in my own party start cutting attack ads and lining up challengers to prevent a deal and defeat me.”  That sounds…like Democracy, all right.  The famous system in which outcomes aren’t all determined by a room full of oligarchs employing the same advanced  psychological techniques you use when slipping the maître d’ a 20 to get a better table. It’s worth noting that Rauch got to choose what the hypothetical example would be for this scenario, so he could have picked  something ridiculous for the hypothetical “purists in [his] party” to demand, but instead he chose to ascribe to them the abstruse and rarefied position “Don’t do stuff that makes it more likely that kindly grandparents will have to get their legs amputated from complications of diabetes.”

“In diplomacy, having two faces is similarly indispensable. Until recently, the existence of the United States’ use of drones for targeted killing was classified — not because it was a secret (everyone knew about it, especially the targets)…” Good lord.  I keep saying that New York Times writers are bad at insults, but this is an exceptionally good burn on people who have been targeted by United States drone assassinations. “…but because public acknowledgment would embarrass key allies. As long as we pretended not to tell, they pretended not to know.”  See, this is why people don’t vote…because they sense that instead of worrying about whether their constituents are eating dog food and selling plasma to make rent,  they’re worried about whether some official in Saudi Arabia is going to feel embarrassed by being exposed to excessive frankness.  It’s like we’re in a Henry James novel with 50 million subplots featuring secondary characters who can’t pay back their college loans.

“An experienced political negotiator and former chief diplomat, she understands that hypocrisy and two-facedness, when prudently harnessed to advance negotiations or avert conflicts, are a public good and a political necessity.” If this were true, you’d probably be able to find a better word to describe them than “hypocrisy” and “two-facedness.” Like, fluoride in the water is a public good, and when people defend it, they usually say normal stuff like “It’s good for your teeth,” not weird stuff like  “Illuminati mind control, when prudently harnessed to dull the wits of the public to make them obedient and complacent, is a New World Order necessity.”

Having Republican Neighbors

The “It’s good that I have Republican friends” genre is a perennial one in milquetoast editorial land, but Margaret Renkl’s “Good Neighbors, No Politics” is an especially vacuous example of the form. Renkl writes that she loves her politically mixed neighborhood. “Twenty-one years ago, my husband and I bought our house here, in what was Nashville’s answer to Levittown.” It’s a great place where “children race through the half-acre yards in half-feral packs, climbing back fences and low-branched trees as hide-and-seek gives way to flashlight tag in the failing light,” et cetera, et cetera. “Relationships continue to spread and deepen even as new families move in. That’s how friendships, not ‘friend’-ships, are formed.” Sick burn, people who “friend” each other online and didn’t think to buy a house in Nashville 20 years ago when houses in Nashville cost a third what they do today.  That would suck if you failed to form lifelong bonds with your neighbors because you were too busy posting selfies on Snapchat, and/or you had to move every few years because your landlords kept raising the rent.

If you think this chart is good because it shows how much your property has increased in value, you might be a New York Times reader.

“We talk about what all longtime friends discuss: our aging parents, books and sex and movies and bras and all the ways we’ve embarrassed our kids lately.”  I assume you’ll be talking about this article, then! “What we don’t ever talk about is politics.” Amazing that a bunch of white homeowners in an affluent, majority-white part of an affluent, majority-white city don’t find politics impinges on their daily lives urgently enough for them to feel the need to talk about it.

“But it’s not as if we don’t all know where we stand. During the last election, when canvassers from the beleaguered Tennessee Democratic Party were making the rounds, several neighbors pointed them toward our house. When one of them arrived, he said, ‘You’re the token liberals around here, I guess.’” I live in Nashville, and I would like to point out that it is a Democratic city with a Democratic mayor and congressman, and which voted for Obama by a 16-point margin, so organizing for the Democratic party isn’t really that hopeless here. This part is just red meat for readers in New York and DC who think living in flyover country is wondrously exotic, and that people like the author are super brave for keeping the liberal faith in camo-land.  People should be ashamed to engage in something so dishonest. When I want to impress coastal elites, I just send them photos of the possum that hangs out on my porch and engage them in a discussion of whether it’s pregnant or just fat.

“We aren’t actually the only liberals here” (see?) “but political leanings are beside the point on this little block. Knowing our neighbors’ party affiliations would tell you nothing about which one of them makes a killer margarita.”  I guess I just tend to take this stuff a bit more personally.  Like, if a guy votes for a pro-life candidate, it’s his fault if they repeal Roe v. Wade and I die from a back-alley abortion, so I’ll only drink his margaritas if he uses top-shelf reposado tequila.

“Our votes may cancel out, but we belong to one another.” Sure, that sounds nice and balanced, but this is the Tennessee Republican party we’re talking about; when one of them cancels out your vote, that means your  vote for a 1% increase in the public library budget is being counterbalanced by someone else’s vote to make it so Muslims have to identify themselves in public by wearing armbands made of ham.

“Divisions in this country are genuine and deep, and the consequences of this election will be huge and far-reaching, but our nation is still our neighborhood in the end, and we’re a lot better at getting along than it sometimes seems.”  Great to hear it.  That’s the end of the article, and it looks these articles have taught us a lot.  All the things we’ve been worrying about — massive wealth inequality, extremist republican ideology, the GOP nominee’s decades-long rape spree, rust belt unemployment, Democratic party corruption, America’s continuing slide into oligarchy, the inscrutable whims of global capitalism, and even educational raps for adults — they’re all just fine.  Enjoy election night!

How To Be Out of Touch

Weeks away from the election, anxiety stalks the land. Americans are broke, worried about their futures, deluged on an hourly basis with bizarre and surreal news items. How to cope with this national mood is a tricky question for a newspaper: When your mission statement calls for remaining sober and rational, how do you respond to outrage and hysteria? Can the Times interpret events in a way that connects with today’s cynical, weary readers?  Let’s find out by looking at some examples.   Below is the opening salvo from a recent op/ed attempting to articulate what it all means:

Over decades of writing about politics, I’ve crossed paths with many candidates and office holders who impressed me, but few who blew me away. Chris Christie blew me away.

Yes, that’s Frank Bruni, at one of whose columns you could throw a dart from 50 paces and hit a passage this dumb, and no, they’re not really trying.  Below, I examine two closely related lines of argument with which Times writers evade the task of coming up with substantive takes on our current historical moment: It’s Not Fair to the Nice Republicans and It’s All the Democrats’ Fault for Not Being Centrist Enough.

Continue reading “How To Be Out of Touch”

Can David Brooks Learn from History?: David Brooks Is an Idiot, Part IV

In the time since I last discussed David Brooks, a lot has changed.  Brooks’ main identifying trait as a “thinker” has always been that he maintained the same bland pretense of evenhandedness no matter what he was discussinga trait well-adapted, perhaps, to a world we could at least pretend was sane. The zeitgeist has shifted, and that world no longer exists. If we’re all going to get nuked tomorrow by a reality TV star, should we still spend most of our time hand-wringing about civility? When your personal brand is premised on being the sane guy, and all around you is going mad, do you go mad too?

Continue reading “Can David Brooks Learn from History?: David Brooks Is an Idiot, Part IV”