Thursday, June 27, 2013


Friday Fragments

If you haven’t yet read The Unwinding, by George Packer, I really can’t recommend it enough.  It’s an account of the dissolution of the American middle class over the last forty or so years, told almost entirely through biographies.  (It’s pretty clearly modeled on John Dos Passos’ USA trilogy.)  

Packer is a thoughtful and subtle writer who has enough craft to let the various biographies circle his thesis, rather than just using them as illustrations.  Yes, you can figure out his politics, but he rarely violates the three-dimensionality of his characters in the service of a point.  The sympathetic people make mistakes, and the unsympathetic ones have real strengths.  It’s not a quick read, but it’s an elegant and provocative one.


I hope my colleagues on campus don’t take this personally, but the occasional day when most other people are on vacation can be remarkably productive.  The major downside is that scheduling meetings requires a sort of hopscotch.


A tip o’the cap to state senator Wendy Davis of Texas.  Anyone who can get me to watch a livestream of the Texas legislature at ten o’clock at night has to be on to something.  I know the law she blocked will probably be enacted anyway, and sooner rather than later, but Senator Davis did something remarkable.  She broke the monopoly on political discussion -- ironic, for a filibuster -- and made obvious to all just how far the ruling party would go to get what it wants.  (Literally turning back the clock?  Wow.)  She gave liberals a much needed heroine, and reminded many of us that the phrase “Democrat from Texas” isn’t an oxymoron.  Well done.


Along similar lines, I was heartened to see the Supreme Court strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.  As with the Texas senate, the value in it goes beyond the immediate issue of equal recognition of same-sex marriage, as important as that is.  It also made clear that Justice Scalia has crossed over from an intimidating extremist to a vaguely embarrassing joke.  “Argle bargle” sounds like something that Schnitzel would say on Chowder, but Schnitzel is a cartoon character.  Scalia is starting to become cartoonish, too.  He’s like a Scooby Doo villain -- “I would have gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling gays.”  He’s not even a worthy opponent anymore; his tenure has gone from tragedy to farce.   A man once feared is now either pitied or, more commonly, laughed at.

The world changes, whether you give it permission or not.  Justice Scalia rages against it for its presumption.  My money is on the world.


Over the past week, I’ve been in several meetings in which decisions were put in parentheses, not to be fully resolved until we know whether the House or Senate version of the state budget would pass.  That kind of suspended animation is a deadweight cost, no matter which budget wins.  Here’s hoping for a resolution as quick as it is thoughtful...


The kids finished school this week, The Boy completing sixth grade and The Girl completing third.  They brought home some of their work from the year.  The Girl -- all of 8 years old -- wrote a story that made me laugh out loud.  With her permission, here’s the opening:

A long time ago in a land not too far away, there once lived a handsome prince.  Now, you might immediately think that this story is going to go like any other fairy-tale.  The prince and the princess fall in love and the prince saves her for whatever reason.  But this story isn’t like that.  Not at all.  Positively not at all.  Absolutely, positively not at all.  Definitely, absolutely, positively, not at all.  I’ll stop now.  But I hope you got my point.

‘Cause anyway, princesses should be able to save themselves.  They don’t need a prince to do everything for them.  But that’s sadly something they’re yet to learn.  So anyway, here’s the story.  (I don’t know if there’s a moral or not, but keep your eyes open for one.)

Once upon about 11:00 yesterday...

Write on, TG.  

Wow you all get out late in the year, in Oklahoma schools have been out for a month already.
It’s not a quick read, but it’s an elegant and provocative one.

That sounds like his recent piece on Silicon Valley, which was partially true but also ignored a lot of important ideas in a way that seems close to ideological blindness.

I don't know if TG has a blog, but dang, the opening makes me really want to read the rest of the story.

I'd like to read the rest of the story, if she's willing to share…
Sounds like it's time for the Enchanted Forest chronicles!
That kind of suspended animation is a deadweight cost, no matter which budget wins.

Imagine getting your budget in January for a fiscal year that started the previous July. CA did that several years running when I was at a college there.
DD, you ought to hate Scalia for the right reasons. Here's an insightful item on him by Cass Sunstein:

Your scorn is unbecoming, illiberal and, in the end, uninformed.
Awesome story!

Did you have an extreme number of weather days this year? Late June is ridiculous.
Scalia is just a variant on Pat Robertson; he's a smart guy, but he desperately wants to believe that his status as a white male SHOULD mean something, instead of meaning something by historical accident.

Why anyone who has achieved what Scalia has achieved retains that level of insecurity is a fascinating question. Why would you need to beat women down so harshly when you've got lifetime tenure as one of the most powerful persons on Earth? What total hatred drives you?

The important thing is that no human growth is possible any more. Any increase in compassion or knowledge that threatens his preconceived need to harm women will be thrown away. This happens to a lot of privileged people around age 60 -- by then, they have enough life experience to understand what privilege is and why it is so luck-based, and they have to decide either to (mostly) let it go, or to wither into a pointless skin husk.

You can tell what Uncle Pat and Scalia did. Heck, you can tell what Fidel Castro did. Same thing. Their lives called for growth, and they just weren't able to give up the thing that had defined them. In Scalia's case, it's misogyny and a hatred for ordinary people who don't want to impose their will on others.

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