Pink Slips All Around — Banishment for Maureen Dowd

So it’s great that The New York Times Select wall has come down. I always told myself that if The New York Times went subscription, I would subscribe. It’s too important to do without. But instead of making such a cut-and-dry situation, they only made part of their content subscription, so I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to read Paul Krugman, but I could buy the paper off the stand for $2.00 per week, or $8.00 per month — $1.00 more than the Select subscription rate. The extra $1.00 was totally worth it to not be exposed to the rest of The New York Times’s lackluster editorial page. As much as I wanted the ease of access to Paul Krugman, I just couldn’t bring myself to pay for the rest of those dismal nobodies.

How is it that “the paper of record” ended up with such a weak stable? If I were in charge, I would keep Krugman, Brooks and Friedman and dump the rest in favor of a real feisty debate — not the thin gruel they are currently serving up. That would leave six slots to fill. I would pick maybe two real devotees each, right and left and two people rightish and leftish, but unorthodox and hard to pin down. The amazing thing is that such a bunch of mediocrits have the megaphone of The New York Times editorial page when so many amazing talents are backbenched at lesser read magazines like The Progressive, The American Conservative et cetera. Time for some promotions.

On the right I’d get someone smart — not a hack — who can occasionally refrain from reworking party talking points. Say Max Boot or David Frum. For the two on the left I would definitely go with Barbara Ehrenreich. She filled in for Thomas Friedman for a few weeks once and it was great and she would help to make up for the shameful lack of women on the page. Then maybe someone like Rick Pearlstein, Thomas Frank or Jonathan Chait. For the hard to pin down I would go with someone like Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Lind or Virginia Postrel.

Check that, I’d fire Thomas Friedman too and replace him with someone similar, but less Howdy Doody. Maybe Fareed Zakaria if he could be lured away from his already pretty sweet post at Newsweek or Andrew Bacevich — he could double as the hard to pin down as well.

More important than anything else is that is that Maureen Dowd be forced back behind some — any — kind of wall. She’s like a Ritalin sedated cross between Bertie Wooster’s aunt Dahlia and Carrie Bradshaw. Does the left really need its own Peggy Noonan? And yet has anyone ever done so much damage to the left, irregardless of which way she turns her poison pen? Her petty rages against the left are the purest breed of the once established, insurmountable standard narratives that capture media coverage and yet her juvenile sprite-bitch screeds against the right are frame-ready examples of the right-wing character of the left. And I swear, no one is working so relentlessly to undermine the feminist cause as Dowd with her preening, prissy socialite stylings. When I read her column I need to remind myself that she is a freak and that women are in fact capable of serious thought. Do you know that she actually won a Pulitzer? What can that possibly mean?

I see that her current column is already the most e-mailed article on the site. She could be ignored as a writer more suited to Entertainment Tonight were this not the ase twice a week. It’s enough to make me think that Ann Coulter is on to something with her descriptions of peevish, smug, small-minded Upper West Siders.

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Enthusiasts, Eccentrics and the Unamused

Howard, Manny, "My Empire of Dirt," New York Magazine, 17 September 2007, pp. 22-29 & 107-108

From the Hell Is Other People Files comes this great cover story from last week’s New York Magazine about a man who decided to take the eat local movement to the next step and tried to eat only out of his own back yard … in Brooklyn. On the cover, the story is billed as “Green 1/55th of an Acre,” though inside the title is “My Empire of Dirt,” (Manny Howard, 17 September 2007, pp. 22-29 & 107-108). A significant subplot of the story is just how much this little venture pissed off his wife. Mr. Howard recounts the following story:

Then came the last straw. The following afternoon, Caleb and I constructed most of a high-rise chicken coop in a few hours. We decided on a vertical design filled with ramps so that it would take up a minimum of the garden’s square footage (another concession to our urban setting). We equipped it with wheels and tracks so the poop could be removed from under it and the coop rolled back into place. The work was going well. At about 5:30 p.m., Caleb scrubbed up and got on his bike in order to get home in time to tidy up and attend his bartending class. At 6:30, I was putting the finishing touches on the rig. Inspired by the coop design in Nick Park’s animated film Chicken Run, I was using the table saw to mill eight-inch plywood into strips to make footholds for the entrance ramp when the blade of the saw tagged my right pinkie, destroying the second knuckle. Parts of my finger were left on the saw and on the ground.

I pried my cell phone out of my work pants using my left hand and, holding my right hand above my head, called Josh, a childhood friend who is now a firefighter and, more to the point, lives around the corner. He ran over immediately and field-dressed the mangled wound while I stood there scared—not so much of the wound, which I figured was not going to kill me, but of Lisa, who probably would. I expected her to come through the door with the kids at any moment. After another long day at the office, this would be quite a scene for her to stumble into.

Deciding not to take me to an emergency room, where we’d get stuck at the end of a long queue, Josh located a hand surgeon named Danny Fong on Canal Street, and he agreed to see me and my pinkie immediately. But before we could get out the door, Lisa turned up with Heath and Jake. Before even a hello, I said, as casually as I could muster, “Hon, I’ve banged my finger and I need to go to the doctor.”

“How?” she asked. “How bad?”

“Not too bad,” I lied. Then I came clean: “With the table saw.”

She screamed in anguished frustration. She couldn’t just resent me for my silly folly; now that I’d maimed myself in the process, she had to feel sympathy too.

Behind every enthusiast or eccentric stands a spouse decidedly less than amused, doing their part to reign in these outliers of spirit. In some ways we all support one another, but in demanding support in return, we all collude in deadening each other.

Transformation of Media

Dan Savage strikes a forward-looking tone in discussing some organizational changes at The Stranger (“The More Things Change,” SLOG, 19 September 2007):

You’re reading this online, so you’re probably aware that The Stranger isn’t just a newspaper anymore: In addition to our weekly print edition, we’ve got blogs, podcasts, video, tons of expanded web content, and the occasional amateur porn contest. In order to manage the growth of our editorial content — in order to keep putting out Seattle’s only newspaper while at the same time running the best alt-weekly website in the country — we’ve had to change our editorial department’s structure.

Media is changing, as inevitably it will under the pressure of technology. One can be matter-of-fact about it, or try to get out ahead of it and shape the coming new world or one can endure the slow extinction of a species whose ecological niche is dwindling. “The Stranger isn’t just a newspaper anymore.” What a breath of fresh air. And this from a man who just two years ago wrote as a guest blogger (“Who Am I? Why Am I Here?, Daily Dish, 8 August 2005),

“Savage Love” readers have been asking me to start a blog of my own for, oh, six or seven years now and I’ve resisted. I’m a Luddite, I confess, one of the ways in which my deeply conservative soul expresses itself. It was only a few years ago that I started accepting email at “Savage Love” …

This reminds me that Matthew Yglesias had a subdued blog-triumphalism mini-kick back in July-August that unlike most blog-triumphalism was really pretty interesting.

Now With Charts,” The Atlantic.com, 24 July 2007

This is a reminder, I think, of why we should look forward to the day when the op-ed column is a dead format and everyone just blogs. Brooks’ original column would, obviously, have been better if it — like Nyhan’s reply — had come with links to data and charts. What’s more, it’d be good if we could expect Brooks to reply to the sort of criticisms he’s getting from Nyhan, Dean Baker, and others. Maybe he has something fascinating to say on his own behalf. But the way the columnizing world works, there’s almost no chance he’ll address his next column to trying to rebut the critics of this one. But a back-and-forth debate on this subject with links and charts and data would be much more interesting than what we’re going to get instead where liberals decide Brooks is a liar and Brooks remains convinced that liberals are crazy.

Better Get a New Job,” The Atlantic.com, 19 August 2007

As Kevin Drum says there was no crowding out here where what Marty Lederman or Duncan Black or Andrew or I were doing somehow made it more difficult for newspapers to do investigative reporting. If anything, the reverse is true. The widespread availability of a vast sea of armchair analysis and commentary on the internet will, over time, force large, professionalized news organizations to focus on their core, hard-to-duplicate competencies — and spend less time on the sort of fact-averse punditry Skube’s doing right here.

It was easier to see the harrumphing of the recording industry as what it was: the slothful groan of the vested interest in the face of a new upstart. There was too much crass money lying around for us to not see through all their protestations about art. Journalists and writers have a more subtly wrought tale to spin.

I particularly like Mr. Yglesias’s second point. The bloggosphere and the mainstream media are like countries in the economist’s parable of comparative advantage. And like the citizenry of those countries, bloggers and journalists can’t help but see the shifts and specialization from which the advantage arises as anything but threatening. “They took our jobs.”

It’s worth noting that in the theory of comparative advantage both countries benefit from specialization even when one country is superior at all activities in question. Perhaps it won’t matter so much that bloggers are just a bunch of guys in their pajamas and that politicians have learned how to game the press.

Zombies, Guns, Manliness

My brother passes along the following story with the admonition to “Stock up on shotgun shells, everybody — the zombie outbreak is upon us”:

Officials Confirm Meteorite But Question Sickness Claims,” Associated Press, 19 September 2007.

A fiery meteorite crashed into southern Peru over the weekend, experts confirmed Wednesday. But they were still puzzling over claims that it gave off fumes that sickened 200 people.

Jose Mechare, a scientist with Peru’s Geological, Mining and Metallurgical Institute, said a geologist had confirmed that it was a “rocky meteorite,” based on the fragments analyzed.

He said water in the meteorite’s muddy crater boiled for maybe 10 minutes from the heat and could have given off a vapor that sickened people, and scientists were taking water samples.

“We are not completely certain that there was no contamination,” Mechare said.

Jorge Lopez, director of the health department in the state where the meteorite crashed, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that 200 people suffered headaches, nausea and respiratory problems caused by “toxic” fumes emanating from the crater, which is some 65 feet wide and 15 feet deep.

Undoubtedly the headaches and nausea will give way to a strange gate and an unquenchable desire to “eat brains.” So stock up folks.

Disparaging Comparisons Between Washington, D.C. and New York

16 September 2007, the Financial District from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

Every visit I make to New York is a painful reminder what a grim and slender existence one leads living in Washington, D.C. For some time now two large comparisons have been part of my usual refrain.

  • The people in New York are so much more interesting and varied than in D.C. In Washington, D.C. it seems as if there is one perfect model and everyone is judged according to how closely they can approximate that one right way to be. To be fashionable in D.C. is about conformity. In New York everyone is struggling to differentiate themselves and people are judged by how unique they are. Every aspect of personae and identity is part of the pallet (though beyond one’s creative control, most unusual or inscrutable combination of ethnic background is in play).

  • People talk about a New York minute: everything in New York is so fast paced. But when I’m in New York I feel like I may as well be in Paris. New Yorkers understand joie de vivre. They do it in enough ways that it would be difficult to catalog. People take time to enjoy themselves. Everywhere you go there are little cafés where people are having a leisurely meal and talking with a friend or watching the crowds pass. Kitchens are small so food is most commonly very basic, focusing on quality of ingredients rather than labor in preparation. People lavish a lot of attention on their animals and are almost universally excited about the pets of others. The city may be gigantic, but the neighborhoods are small and everywhere you go there are meetings, planned and accidental and people talking. Everyone has an avocation to which they are very devoted.

A few other observations about New York and D.C.:

  • New York is a city with a staggering number of restaurants. On Saturday night S. and I were out wandering and decided that we wanted some Italian food. We simply wandered, confident that in a short time we would stumble upon exactly what we wanted. And in a few blocks we came to a tiny Italian place with tile floors, dark walls, little tables, a cramped bar half-way back surrounded by about a dozen older male waiters in white shirts and black ties running in every direction. The food was unpretentious, but quality. There are probably so many restaurants like that in New York than one couldn’t locate them all without the aid of technology. In Washington, D.C. there are maybe three or four such restaurants and they may be a dying breed (I’m thinking Giovanni’s Trattu on Jefferson Place or Trattoria Italiano in Woodly Park). Probably just the number of new restaurants that open and old restaurants that go out of business in New York exceeds the total number or restaurants in the entire District of Columbia.

  • While I was away for the weekend, Matthew Yglesias made an exuberant post about a new place in town serving late night breakfast (“Late Night Late Night Breakfast Blogging,” 16 September 2007). This is indeed a very big deal in D.C. To date, just about the only place in the city where breakfast was available at any time other than breakfast time was The Dinner. In fact, just about the only place that anything was available late — or at least later than the post-last-call places on bar rows — was again, The Dinner. This is unbelievable in a major city. In New York, as is well known, the opening or closing of such a place is a nonevent, so common are such places. And in New York they all deliver with a $5.00 minimum order. In D.C. the standard minimum for delivery is $20.00.

  • Both New York and Washington, D.C. are noisy cities. I find that increasingly I like the noise of New York. It is the noise of life and work: delivery trucks dropping things off, garbage trucks taking things away, crowds of people. In Washington, D.C. the noise is that of the delusions of the national security state: police sirens, emergency vehicles rushing around from one nonevent to the next, convoys for VIPs.

  • It’s amusing the degree to which New Yorkers match their city. New York is crumbling and second hand. So are a surprising number of its residents.

  • For months now I have been wanting to get to Mark Israel’s Doughnut Plant. Their signature, the Tres Leche, is indeed one dope-ass doughnut! When I walked up, there was a “back in five minutes” sign up in the window and a small crowd gathered around outside waiting. The store is completely inauspicious, consisting of just a little counter and a window back to the kitchen and some storage overflow, but if you find yourself in the Lower East Side it is definitely worth a jaunt.

Starry Night

The Reigning Queen of Everything, Starry Night, 13 September 2007, 216 Franklin Street, Greenpoint, New York

I probably won’t be making any posts over the weekend as I will be up in New York for the opening of a friend’s burlesque / variety show.

In case any New Yorkers stumble across this page, the show is on Thursday, 13 September 2007 at 9:00 PM at the East Coast Aliens’ Studio at 216 Franklin Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Tickets are $12.00 at the door. After the first show, there will be a new lineup every month for the next six months.

September 11th

In the days after 11 September 2001, as the disbelief and shock began to subside in favor of a sense of what had happened and what came next, CNN uncovered an old documentary, Building the World Trade Center, made by the New York Port Authority and aired it’s entire twenty minutes. I was lucky to catch it and it has since become a favorite piece of film for me. The first ten minutes of the video are an interesting, if stylistically dated, discussion of some of the features of the site and novel construction techniques and design features employed in the building. What makes me return to the film again and again is that at about time 10:05 — on the factual tidbit that after the foundational structures were in place construction proceeded according to a formula at the rate of about three floors every ten days — the film switches from informative documentary to whimsical art film. Set to Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Vianna Blood is an uninterrupted five minute dance of building rising. Watch a crane operator rotate a huge section of sheet metal at 12:25-12:36, the pan around the partly completed towers at 13:44-14:00 or the documentary makers themselves at 14:20-14:25 — it could be Stanly Kubrick. It’s a wonderful little paean to labor and ingenuity and capitalism.