Category Archives: Popular Culture

On-The-Job Training

Over half a year in, the Trump administration is learning that running the US of A is not like running a business (particularly like a business in New York or New Jersey, rife with graft):

…unfortunately, there are so many bills that have piled up and commitments we have made that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling that it’s not fulfilling obligations the United States has offered. I would welcome an opportunity to see a debt-ceiling package that included spending cuts as well. I think there’s some that advocate for that, but I think more likely what we will see is a clean debt ceiling for right now, so that’s probably an issue that will be addressed in the future,” he added.

Actual budget cuts, or even the fake ones that merely reduce the increase in the rate of growth, are the projects of the future, and they always will be. At least until we run out of other peoples’ money, as Venezuela just did.

And in the Department of Duhhhh…

“I think one of the lessons learned from the healthcare debate is that did not happen, and so therefore a lot of conservative groups were splintered as the bill came out of the House, which I think left us at a deficit trying to earn back their support over time. And I don’t mean to deflect responsibility for that because that was on all of us, but that bill was moving long before we were ever inaugurated,” he said.

“I think our relationship with the Hill is shared as well, that one of the lessons learned is to make sure we are doing that sort of outreach before we launch a project…”

If only we’d elected someone who actually understood how government works, and who’d at least read the Constitution and respected the rule of law.

And in this, of course, we have another parallel with Barack Obama.

Risk-Averse Millennials

In response to a young woman who (almost literally) poo-poos being an astronaut, Ben Domenech says that they need to seize their own destiny:

Space is the next frontier. Throughout the history of America, we have been a nation driven by the idea of the frontier—a place where law was slim and liberty was enormous, where you could make your way in the world based on your own ambition and abilities, not fenced in by the limitations of society. The idea of the frontier is a stand-in for the idea of liberty. The danger for the millennial generation today is that even as they inhabit an era providing utopian degrees of choices, they have become too fearful to actually make those choices and seize the future liberty allows. In so doing, they deny their inheritance as Americans.

We have an abundance of evidence on this front. Millennials are extremely reluctant to invest or risk their capital. UBS found that in the wake of the financial crisis, millennials appear more risk-averse than any generation since the Great Depression. Brookings has analyzed the sense of displacement driven by technology, seeing Spike Jonze’s “Her” as a prediction of the world as it will be when millennial values drive society. And Megan McArdle has written eloquently about the fear of failure of any sort, even in the smallest ways, that animates young Americans.

“The other day, after one of my talks, a 10th-grade girl came up and shyly asked if I had a minute. I always have a minute to talk to shy high school sophomores, having been one myself. And this is what she asked me: “I understand what you’re saying about trying new things, and hard things, but I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?”

Consider the experience of millennials today as illustrated by Aziz Ansari in “Master of None,” quoting Sylvia Path’s “Bell Jar,” on the impossibility of making choices when overwhelmed by the options before you.

If there is a novelist who predicted the risk aversion at the heart of the millennial generation, it is the man who wrote that “You can get all A’s and still flunk life.” Walker Percy’s work spoke with the voice of the displaced Southerner wrestling with the inheritance of tradition and the modern age. His understanding of dislocation and despair and regional displacement speak to a different sort of placelessness which animates this generation. His protagonists prefigure the rise of hipsters—the love of irony and pop culture and memes as insulation from seriousness, a tranquilizer for despair. Fear of failure runs through his work, and the crippling fear of making a choice in a world full of choices that could lead down the wrong path.

Read the whole thing, but there’s another point to be made here: Much of West’s perception of what it is to be an astronaut is dated, largely influenced by the Apollo mythology (and yes, I know this is an attempt to be comedic). The vast majority of space travelers of her generation are unlikely to be NASA astronauts. For many, yes, there will be math, but for many others there will not, but the real point is that there will be many, and few of them will be overtrained civil servants. Like the storm-tost’ immigrants of Lazarus’s (non-legally binding) poem discussed so much this past week, they will likely be more akin to the people who set of first from Europe for a New World, and then headed west. And many those who headed west, or their descendants, will decide that the direction of the next frontier is up from there, and then out. And regardless of the generalizations of the nature of her generation (or any), there are many members of it who will know doubt take Domenech’s advice and seize their own moment. It’s not your grandfather’s space program.

As an aside, I’d note that Nolan’s quote was likely influenced by Wilde’s aphorism that we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.

[Update a couple minutes later]

As usual, the comments are figuratively pedestrian when it comes to our future in space.

The Value Of Trump

George Will finds a silver lining:

Executive power expanded, with only occasional pauses (thank you, Presidents Taft and Coolidge, of blessed memory), throughout the 20th century and has surged in the 21st. After 2001, “The Decider” decided to start a preventive war and to countenance torture prohibited by treaty and statute. His successor had “a pen and a phone,” an indifference to the Constitution’s take care clause (the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed”) and disdain for the separation of powers, for which he was repeatedly rebuked by the Supreme Court.

Fortunately, today’s president is so innocent of information that Congress cannot continue deferring to executive policymaking. And because this president has neither a history of party identification nor an understanding of reciprocal loyalty, congressional Republicans are reacquiring a constitutional — a Madisonian — ethic. It mandates a prickly defense of institutional interests, placing those interests above devotion to parties that allow themselves to be defined episodically by their presidents.

Furthermore, today’s president is doing invaluable damage to Americans’ infantilizing assumption that the presidency magically envelops its occupant with a nimbus of seriousness. After the president went to West Virginia to harangue some (probably mystified) Boy Scouts about his magnificence and persecutions, he confessed to Ohioans that Lincoln, but only Lincoln, was more “presidential” than he. So much for the austere and reticent first president who, when the office was soft wax, tried to fashion a style of dignity compatible with republican simplicity.

Fastidious people who worry that the president’s West Virginia and Ohio performances — the alpha male as crybaby — diminished the presidency are missing the point, which is: For now, worse is better. Diminution drains this office of the sacerdotal pomposities that have encrusted it. There will be 42 more months of this president’s increasingly hilarious-beyond-satire apotheosis of himself, leavened by his incessant whining about his tribulations (“What dunce saddled me with this silly attorney general who takes my policy expostulations seriously?”). This protracted learning experience, which the public chose to have and which should not be truncated, might whet the public’s appetite for an adult president confident enough to wince at, and disdain, the adoration of his most comically groveling hirelings.

Anything we can do to reduce the power and overreach of the presidency, and restores Congress’s sense of its own prerogatives and diminishes party, is to be lauded, even if it results from the behavior of an ignorant narcissistic lout.

Why Everyone Hates The Press

Mary Katherine Ham explains:

The article ends as if to purposely reiterate how little the industry is interested in learning: “In a recent exchange with the White House press corps, then deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made hay over the retraction of a Trump-related story by CNN—an example of a news organization owning up to a mistake, as it should—and urged reporters to focus instead on a video by James O’Keefe, a right-wing provocateur whose work has been widely discredited.”

This paragraph embodies the problem. How is it that the media doesn’t realize it, too, has credibility to lose? It, too, has been repeatedly discredited—not just for one story, and not just in the eyes of angry Trump supporters. It should want to rectify that. But Warren ignores these mistakes just as the press itself often does. He gives them a giant pass on the job of understanding America in 2016 and a glancing mention of fabulist Jayson Blair. He congratulates them for doing the basics to correct a mistake, and then expects all Americans to laud the Redfords and Hoffmans while condemning the O’Keefes of the world.

The press is constantly saying this president is losing credibility without recognizing it is in the exact same predicament. New York Times editor Dean Baquet sits in his office adorned with “mock front pages…parting gifts from colleagues at the many papers where he has worked” while Trump roams his golf course properties admiring his mock Time magazine covers. These guys, and the institutions they head, have much more in common than they’d like to think. Stop admiring yourselves and deal with your problems.

I would also note that Donald Trump and Barack Obama also have a lot more in common than their admirers (and particularly the admirers of the latter) would like to admit.

The Fashion Industry

Megan Fox discusses what I’ve been ranting about for years: Why do women let gay men dictate what an attractive woman looks like?

Today’s definition of “fat” is what’s abnormal. The modern idea of feminine beauty is what is abnormal. Have you ever been to an art museum? For our entire human history men have been painting and sculpting women they found beautiful. Renoir sure liked his bigger models.

Absolutely none of them look like Kate Moss. All of them look like the normal, average woman that Hookstead doesn’t want to see in his magazines. Just admit already that your ideas of feminine beauty have been manipulated for decades by gay dudes who run fashion houses. Uncomfortable thought, isn’t it? But how else do you explain that men used to find this attractive and desirable and now it’s “fat”? Could it be that the gay kings of the fashion world remolded women into what they themselves find attractive, i.e. wide shoulders, small hips, long muscular arms — or in other words…young men?

I wonder if this is also why womens’ clothes don’t have pockets?

Robert Heinlein

Sarah Hoyt has some thoughts on the man who loved women:

While I didn’t read Heinlein for his female characters – unlike toddlers and some of my colleagues, I can identify with and enjoy the adventures of characters not exactly like me – it was freeing, mind-expanding that Heinlein had women as space explorers, making their home on the final frontier, facing down danger with his male characters, and often being the voice of reason, the voice of sanity or the voice of daring.

His women lived lives they chose and were as competent as men when they needed to be while being still, undeniably female, and not giving up any of their own unique abilities and characteristics. They were space pilots, and secret agents (and yes, they used female razzle dazzle, because in jobs you use all that you are. No, that didn’t make them inferior) homesteaders on Mars, women who could and did fight against alien invaders.

Heinlein’s women were an integral part of the human race, capable of contributing to the survival of the species by all means necessary. Sure, they wanted to have children, because a species without children doesn’t survive, but they also stood ready to fight for and protect those children, and carry humanity into the future.

I was reminded of this, recently, while listening to the Moon landing day interviews with Robert A. Heinlein, where he makes the case for having women astronauts, (just as capable as men, weigh less, etc.) but in the next breath says that all of humanity needs to go to space: men, women, and children.

It is clear he doesn’t think women should be held back, either because they’re thought inferior or out of some misguided notion they need to be protected.

But at the same time, it is equally clear that his vision of humanity — the two halves of humanity, unequal but complementary, different but equal in rights and in abilities – is one of a species that goes to the stars, both sexes, all ages.

So to my colleagues, offended by aprons and parturition, I say, that’s fine. You play on Earth and pretend there’s no difference between men and women, and try to convince us that women deserve to rule by virtue of being victims.

I too, love, love, love women. They are my favorite people. They (or at least the best ones) have always been my best friends. And, I should add, I think that Naomi in The Expanse is a classic Heinleinian woman.


We hardly knew ye:

Jonah had a righteous rant about this on Friday:

…the cursing is not the issue, it’s the context. I recall some conservatives defending Donald Trump’s tweets at Mika Brzezinski on the grounds that Andrew Jackson had a filthy mouth too. Okay, but he kept the blue talk out of his official statements.

The reason why the Scaramucci brouhaha is so dismaying isn’t the less-than-shocking revelation that a guy who refers to himself in the third person as “The Mooch” curses. Nor is it the suggestion that Steve Bannon is one of only a handful of men to master the art of autofellatio (there’s a Wikipedia entry on this topic that I will refrain from linking to, for the children). That bit of rhetorical excess seems the single best illustration to date of the imperative in the Age of Trump to take some statements seriously, but not literally.

No, there are two main reasons the unfolding Scaramucci clown show should arouse concern. The first is that he has no idea what he’s doing and he might just be nuts. This is the White House communications director. But he apparently doesn’t know how off-the-record interviews work. Now, for roughly 99 percent of the American public, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. But, again, he is the White House communications director. I am not ashamed of my ignorance about how to do all manner of things, from how to remove a gallbladder to how to fly a plane. But I expect these skills from surgeons and pilots.

The Mooch also doesn’t seem to grok that a public financial-disclosure form is . . . public. Nor does he know that it’s wrong for him to reach out to his FBI “buddies” in an effort to sic them on fellow members of the White House staff. Oh, and most communications professionals know that it’s probably a bad idea to explain away your stream-of-consciousness character assassinations with the fact that you didn’t appreciate the fact that journalists are scum.

Professionals? Trump don’t need no stinkin’ professionals.

[Update a few minutes later]

Call the burn unit, stat!

[Update a while later]

From what I’m hearing, Kelly canned him after he refused to accept that he wouldn’t report direct to Trump. Sounds like the new Chief of Staff is putting the hammer down. Not sure how he’ll be able to deal with the daughter and son-in-law, though.

[Update a while longer later]