December 8, 2016

Goodbye to John Glenn.

The astronaut hero was 95. 

I remember the TV dragged into the classroom in 1962 and the announcement that we were to witness "history in the making"....

How would you like to be the one person photographed to appear under the headline "Political Divide on Campuses Hardens After Trump’s Victory"?

I had to laugh at this grim-faced young woman in her shadowy Ann Arbor bedroom, embodying post-election trauma for the NYT.

Oddly enough, this person was pro-Trump. She started out "ecstatic"....
But her mood of celebration quickly faded when students held an evening vigil on campus — to mourn the results — and her biology teacher suspended class on the assumption, Ms. Delekta said, that students would be too upset to focus.

She was outraged. “Nobody has died,” Ms. Delekta said. “The United States has not died. Democracy is more alive than ever. Simply put, the American people voted and Trump won.”

"He wanted to 'shine some light on it'... he felt his 'heart breaking over the thought of innocent people suffering.'"

"The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent," but he had the "impression something nefarious was happening."

He "just wanted to do some good and went about it the wrong way."

"This is when I knew he’s a true Republican."

Said Shirley MacLaine about Clint Eastwood:
"Quite brilliant, and funny… because he’s so laconic and doesn’t know it. I adore him… I remember when we were doing Two Mules for Sister Sara, his horse was acting up. This is when I knew he’s a true Republican: He got off the horse, looked at the horse, and socked him."
I ran into that today because — as noted earlier — we just watched "Being There." I was looking for more material about the character MacLaine played in that movie. Did "Eve" really love Chance the gardener? Not only is the answer yes, but Chance loved her, I think, because MacLaine says: 
"Two years [after I made 'Being There'], I’m at a restaurant and [producer] Dick Zanuck walks up to me and says, ‘What’s it like to have a love affair with Peter Sellers?’ I said, ‘He’s not my type, and I didn’t. What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘I would go into Peter’s dressing room, and he would be on the phone with you doing sex talk.’ I tried to put all this together… It was Dick who figured out, ‘Listen, he became Chauncey Gardner, he was in love with the character you played, and if he had interrupted it with a lunch or dinner, the whole illusion had been shattered.’”

"All of us fundamentally believe that those are students. Those are also people that want to join the Armed Forces."

"They gave their name, their address, their phone number where they are. They’re trying to achieve the American dream. No fault of their own, their parents came here. They are something we should hold up and embrace. We are clear, as mayors, that these are DREAMers who are seeking the American dream, and we should embrace them rather than do a bait and switch."

Said Rahm Emanuel, explaining what he'd talked about in his private meeting with Donald Trump.

I teach my last class today.

I look forward to never having to require anyone to read something or to force them to listen to me. It's not just about freedom for me. It's about freedom from me.

UPDATE: Done! Still exams to write and grade and loose ends to tie up. The official end of the semester is January 12th — my birthday.

"One of the benefits and concerns about high protein intake, especially animal protein, is that it tends to make cells multiply faster."

"That’s good in early life, when you’re a growing child. But in later life, this is one of the fundamental processes that increase the risk of cancer."

Said Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, quoted in "Can You Get Too Much Protein?" (NYT).

Interviewing for a job with Trump, compared to interviewing for a job with Obama.

An interesting contrast slips out in this NYT article "What It’s Like to Apply for a Job in Donald Trump’s White House"
Mr. Trump’s interview style... is direct but conversational, according to people who have sat opposite him. He did not take notes or appear to refer to a set list of questions, but he did have dossiers on his visitors and often displayed intricate knowledge of their backgrounds and experience...

“If you filibuster, he’ll cut you off,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who was initially in the running to be Mr. Trump’s secretary of state but has since said he is not interested in a cabinet post. “He wants to know what you can do for him.”...

President Obama... interviewed a single finalist for each post in most cases, usually in a one-on-one discussion meant to confirm an already well-established conclusion that the candidate would be right for the job, said Dan Pfeiffer, a senior transition official in 2008.

“In some cases, he knew who he wanted and it was a question of convincing them to do it,” Mr. Pfeiffer said, citing examples like Hillary Clinton, who became Mr. Obama’s secretary of state, and Robert M. Gates, whom he persuaded to stay on as defense secretary....
Trump interviews multiple candidates for the same job and presses them on what they will do to solve problems. Obama only saw people after they'd been selected and only for the purpose of getting them to accept him. As if he were the interviewee! So the question is: Who chose those people that were brought in to work with Obama? 

"Policy wonks like me have wondered why more lower-skilled men aren’t adapting" by taking up "girly jobs."

Writes Bloomberg View columnist Betsey Stevenson. (She's also a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan and has been on the Council of Economic Advisers and in the U.S. Department of Labor during the Obama administration.)
A wealthier, better-educated and older population has allowed professional and business services to flourish, and boosted demand for various kinds of care and help. Over the last 20 years, the education and health services sector have added 9 million jobs, while the manufacturing sector has shrunk by 5 million.... 
Lower-skilled men don’t seem to want service jobs. As the goods sector has declined, so has the labor-force participation of men without a college degree. Today only 83 percent of prime-age men with a high school degree or less are employed or actively seeking work. In 1964, 97 percent were.

Why don’t [lower-skilled men] take care of their children when they are out of work? Why don’t they take jobs as home health aides? Or sign up for degrees in nursing? One problem is that these occupations conflict with traditional notions of masculinity....
Stevenson thinks Trump got support from people attached to these traditional notions: "He won in part because he promised to return us to a time when men are strong and work in manly jobs." But since these jobs are not coming back — Stevenson assures us — Trump ought to help by "chang[ing] the culture" to "make girly jobs appeal to manly men."

The Bloomberg column is obviously not intended to be read by the poorly educated.

Those who will change the culture and affect those men's minds might be amused and enthused by phrases like "girly jobs" and "manly men," but you don't oust the traditional notions by using the words that heighten the desire to cling to the ideas they represent. You don't tell a man who likes his masculinity that he ought to do something "girly." Words like that only work behind the scenes, among the well-educated, talking about the poorly educated.

Interestingly enough, Barack Obama originally wanted to bring manly jobs to working class men. His economic advisers — perhaps including Stevenson — were telling him in 2007 that the new economy had health care jobs for lower-skilled male workers:
But Obama shook his head.

“Look, these are guys,” he said. “A lot of them see health care, being nurse’s aides, as women’s work. They need to do something that fits with how they define themselves as men.” ...

As the room chewed over the non-PC phrase “women’s work,” trying to square the senator’s point with their analytical models, [Alan] Krueger—who was chief economist at the Department of Labor in the mid-1990s at the tender age of thirty-four—sat there silently, thinking that in all his years of studying men and muscle, he had never used that term. But Obama was right. Krueger wondered how his latest research on happiness and well-being might take into account what Obama had put his finger on: that work is identity, that men like to build, to have something to show for their sweat and toil.

“Infrastructure,” he blurted out. “Rebuilding infrastructure.”

Obama nodded and smiled, seeing it instantly. “Now we’re talking. . . . Okay, let’s think about how that would work as a real centerpiece.... Don’t even get me started about potholed highways and collapsing bridges,” Obama said....
Somehow he got talked out of that, and now here's Betsey Stephenson trying to talk Trump out of it.

"As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden."

We just re-watched "Being There":

Did we watch "Being There" now, because of Trump? Did "Being There" amaze and distress us with its continued relevance because of Trump?

Actually, not at all. Peter Sellers's character — Chance/Chauncey Gardiner — was just about the complete opposite of Donald Trump. Chance was a man who seemed to come out of nowhere and to make statements about gardens that other people perceived as brilliant political metaphor — "the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time." His lack of any known background counted as a plus to the rich insiders who got the idea of advancing him to the presidency: "A man's past cripples him. His background turns into a swamp and invites scrutiny."

That's much closer to the story of Barack Obama than Donald Trump.

Trump has been so well known for so long. He had a huge weight of past baggage, and it didn't cripple him. He had that "swamp" of a background that invited scrutiny, but he made it anyway. He didn't make it because rich insiders chose him to serve their interests. He was the rich insider himself, and the other rich insiders were the opposite of delighted by his communication style. Trump didn't make simple abstract statements that worked because voters projected their own hopes onto him. He blabbed endlessly about all sorts of concrete problems and played upon our fears and our sense of loss at least as much as optimism.

(You can buy "Being There" at Amazon.)

The NYT wanted "Hairspray Live!" to "amaze and distress us with its continued relevance in 2016."

The Broadway musical was the latest show to get the live-TV treatment (previously seen in "The Sound of Music" and "Peter Pan" and — I'm losing track — "Grease"?).

The musical, which came out in 2002, was based on a film that came out in 1988, and it told a story of a fictional dance show that was on TV in 1962. So TV in 1962 became film in 1988 and musical theater in 2002 and got back to TV in 2016.

But the hope of the NYT was that it would be relevant in 2016.
Based on the 1988 John Waters film, the musical’s story of social outcasts and racial barriers is set in 1962, and it should amaze and distress us with its continued relevance in 2016. The broadcast, though, didn’t generate as much power it could have because of all the shots of the cast members golf-carting from one set to another, of viewing parties in various cities and so on.
What are we talking about? Who watches of a bunch of singing actors on TV knocking themselves out to produce a big live show? Might these viewers get a kick out of the backstage stuff, golf carts and all? The NYT wants "us" to be amazed and distressed. Distressed?! By the continued relevance?

Yes, the show is about racial prejudice — overcoming it with song and dance and teenage enthusiasm. The elite-media hope is that we'll watch this theater-on-TV antic and think — not Wow, Maddie Baillio is a star and I love Jennifer Hudson — but: America still struggles to overcome its shameful history of racial oppression. Or even: How tragic, the innocent dreams of these teenagers, who could not have imagined that half a century later racist America would elect Donald J. Trump!

I must give the NYT credit for not mentioning Trump. I felt I was being nudged to think about Trump, and that caused me to Google and see all the news outlets that covered "Hairspray Live!" in terms of Donald Trump. (And "Hairspray" is not actually about hairspray, which does call Donald Trump to mind.)

I'll just cherry pick one Trump-focused review of last night's big show. This is from A.V. Club:
Hairspray ... arrives as America is still grappling with the notion of having Donald Trump as a president...

[A]s Trump was busy attacking private citizens on Twitter, Hairspray Live! was celebrating the idea that we’re stronger together than we are apart. That’s just the kind of jubilant, cathartic message a lot of people need to hear right now....

Favorite celebrity cameo: It’s a tossup between Sean Hayes as plus-sized clothing storeowner Mr. Pinky, and Rose O’Donnell as the high school gym teacher (a piece of casting that feels like an explicit ‘fuck you’ to Trump).
Somehow the show's message of love and happiness is supposed to feel like an expression of hatred toward the man who just got himself elected. There are a whole lot of Americans who voted for Donald Trump. A new poll has his favorability rating at 50%. Something tells me the TV audience for a live Broadway musical is even more Trump-friendly then the American electorate in general.

The idea of "Hairspray Live!" working as anti-Trumpiana feels as out of touch as the assurance that Hillary Clinton's campaign was a celebration of the idea that we’re stronger together than we are apart.

December 7, 2016

Not sure what's more important: Stephen King criticizing people complaining about Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize or Fiona Apple's anti-Donald-Trump Christmas song.

1. Stephen King says: "People complaining about his Nobel either don't understand or it's just a plain old case of sour grapes. I've seen several literary writers who have turned their noses up at the Dylan thing, like Gary Shteyngart. Well, I've got news for you, Gary: There are a lot of deserving writers who have never gotten the Nobel Prize. And Gary Shteyngart will probably be one of them. That's no reflection on his work. You have to rise to the level of a Faulkner if you're an American."

2. Here's Fiona Apple with "Trump’s nuts roasting on an open fire" etc. etc.

"In the autopsy of the doomed Clinton campaign, there is no shortage of fatal causes."

"Expectations certainly missed their target: the race between the first plausible female presidential candidate and a man who bragged about grabbing women 'by the pussy' did not boil down to gender. In interviews across the country in the year leading up to the election, many voters suggested that shattering the glass ceiling wasn’t an urgent priority for them. Some took it as a given that a woman will be President one day, and it wasn’t worth electing someone they believed was the wrong woman just to show it could be done."

From Time's Person-of-the-Year "Short List" article about Hillary Clinton.

"What amazes a lot of people is that I’m sitting in an apartment the likes of which nobody’s ever seen. And yet I represent the workers of the world."

Said Donald Trump, quoted in TIME's "2016 Person of the Year Donald Trump."

This is not the article linked in the earlier post, about the process of picking Trump for Person of the Year. This is the article about him. It's written in a fancy style (by Michael Scherer) with sentences like — referring to Trump's apartment — "It’s gilded and gaudy, a dreamscape of faded tapestry, antique clocks and fresco-style ceiling murals of gym-rat Greek gods."

And if you can wade through enough heavy prose, you'll find the dark side of journalism:
By seeking to condemn the dark side of politics, Clinton’s campaign may have accidently [sic] validated it. By believing in the myth that Obama’s election represented a permanent shift for the nation, they proved it was ephemeral. In the end, Trump reveled in these denunciations, which helped him market to his core supporters his determination to smash the existing elite. After the election, Trump’s campaign CEO Stephen Bannon—the former head of a website known for stirring racial animus and provoking liberal outrage—explained it simply. “Darkness is good,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.

This is the method of a demagogue. The more the elites denounced his transgressions, the more his growing movement felt validated....
In the space between those 2 paragraphs is a black-and-dark-gray photo of Steve Bannon, brooding. Keep scrolling for similar dark pictures of Kellyanne Conway and (unrecognizable) Reince Priebus.

"Trump’s unpredictable style unnerves corporate America."

That's the WaPo headline for the story reporting: 1. Trump's tweet decrying the cost of Boeing's Air Force One project, 2. the announcement that Softbank would invest $50 billion in the United States, 3. the news that Trump sold his entire stock portfolio months ago.

Those 3 things are all very interesting, but why is the headline that the vague entity called "corporate America" is having a particular emotional reaction — being unnerved.

Is that what we call fake news?
It was a day of big pronouncements and few details, leaving many wondering whether this would be the unusual and unpredictable way that Trump will govern when he takes office next month.
Many! The famous Many! Well, WaPo, what did Many say that revealed the internal mental state of wonderment?

There was just no way to weasel out of it.

TIME picked Donald Trump as Person of the Year.
This is the 90th time we have named the person who had the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year. So which is it this year: Better or worse? The challenge for Donald Trump is how profoundly the country disagrees about the answer....
Points for resisting mentioning Hitler as a former Man of the Year as you remind us that it's not necessarily positive.
It’s hard to measure the scale of his disruption. This real estate baron and casino owner turned reality-TV star and provocateur—never a day spent in public office, never a debt owed to any interest besides his own—now surveys the smoking ruin of a vast political edifice that once housed parties, pundits, donors, pollsters, all those who did not see him coming or take him seriously. Out of this reckoning, Trump is poised to preside, for better or worse....
Again with the "for better or worse."

Smoking ruin.... how about the smoking ruin of mainstream media?

"Black Lives Matter — really! In my hometown, Chicago, they are being extirpated at an alarming rate."

"The discourse about race, violence, and the value of human life has been held hostage to partisanship — Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter. We can do better than that. The election is over. And, the body count mounts. I'm interested now in SOLUTIONS and, frankly, I don't give a damn where they come from. Obama ignored this catastrophe unfolding in his adopted home town for nearly a decade. At the moment, I'm inclined to #GiveTrumpAChance to 'fix it.' Anybody with a better idea? Speak now."

Writes Glenn Loury, linking to "Chicago tops 700 homicides — with a month to go in violent 2016."

"Former Senator Bob Dole, acting as a foreign agent for the government of Taiwan..."

"... worked behind the scenes over the past six months to establish high-level contact between Taiwanese officials and President-elect Donald J. Trump’s staff, an outreach effort that culminated last week in an unorthodox telephone call between Mr. Trump and Taiwan’s president."

First sentence of NYT article "Bob Dole Worked Behind the Scenes on Trump-Taiwan Call."

December 6, 2016

"I agree WaPo's comments policy is capricious and arbitrary. I suddenly hate this paper more than usual."

"Can someone please explain why comments are actually open for this article? It seems to meet the criteria that has, up to now, been consistently applied by the WaPo to disable comments for incidents involving tragedies. If this doesn't qualify then I don't know what would."

From the comments section of the WaPo article, "'All we could do was stand there': She watched Oakland’s inferno consume the one she loved the most."

"And... I see the climate science skeptics within the scientific community as being similar to Shy Trump Supporters."

"The fact that a majority of scientists agree with climate science either means the evidence is one-sided or the social/economic pressures are high. And as we can plainly see, the cost of disagreeing with climate science is unreasonably high if you are a scientist. While it is true that a scientist can become famous and make a big difference by bucking conventional wisdom and proving a new theory, anything short of total certainty would make that a suicide mission. And climate science doesn’t provide the option of total certainty.To put it another way, it would be easy for a physicist to buck the majority by showing that her math worked. Math is math. But if your science depends on human judgement to decide which measurements to include and which ones to 'tune,' you don’t have that option. Being a rebel theoretical physicist is relatively easy if your numbers add up. But being a rebel climate scientist is just plain stupid. So don’t expect to see many of the latter. Scientists can often be wrong, but rarely are they stupid."

From "The Non-Expert Problem and Climate Change Science" by Scott Adams, who has surprised me by reopening his comments section. (I'd believed his notice that his comments were "temporarily" closed was a funny way to say they were permanently closed. (In the manner of "Is never good for you?"))

And while we're on the subject of climate change, here's an article on what Al Gore said about his meeting with Ivanka Trump.
"I appreciate the fact that she is very concerned about this." Gore... called it a "very intelligent exchange."

Ivanka Trump has singled out environmental regulation as her primary policy focus as an incoming first daughter, despite her father's past claims that climate change is a hoax propagated by China. Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, in recent days said Trump's "default position" on the topic was that “most of it is a bunch of bunk.”
Gore also met with Trump:
“It was a sincere search for areas of common ground.... I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued, and I'm just going to leave it at that.”
Gore was sent to Ivanka first, and then to Trump. Interesting theater. Gore must be tempted to make himself relevant again, and the Trumps must see a use for him. It's political theater, and Gore is a big ham, no? How can he resist the charm of the Ivanka-and-Donald routine?