Sunday, July 30, 2017

Summer Review of Unreadable Books: My Vineyard House. Not yours, mine

Editors' Note:  It's summer, and what could be better than lying on a hammock on the deck of your Vineyard beach house enjoying the view of Chilmark Pond and a good book?  Don't have either one? We can help you with the former, and as for the latter, we can at least steer you away from a few unreadable turkeys from a genre we never never knew existed: memoirs of my wonderful Vineyard house.

To the New Owners: A Martha's Vineyard Memoir
by Madeline Blais
Atlantic Monthly Press
$26, already marked down to $17.10

Would Everyone Please Stop?
by Jenny Allen
Sarah Crichton Books [Didn't she once have a Vineyard house, too? – Ed.]
$25, already marked down to $15.13

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a nice summer house on Martha's Vineyard? Spoiler alert: it's pretty nice. We've now saved you time and money, as you no longer have to read the unreadable memoirs of a middle-aged woman who once had a nice summer house on the Vineyard (Blais) or still lives in a slightly-less nice one (Allen).  If this doesn't sound to you like a compelling basis for a memoir, you're not alone!

Our two writers earned their Vineyard retreats the old-fashioned way: boning.  Just kidding!  That might get you a weekend at the Vineyard but to ensure a lifetime of summer bliss, you've actually got to reel in the rich guy or his son.  Sadly for Ms. Blais, her idyll was interrupted by the decision of her husband's siblings to unload the old homestead for a big wad of cash.  Better get out your hankies if you want to read further.

Apparently she moans at great length about how the Vineyard used to be an affordable, off-the-beaten-track retreat for non-rich folks who for example worked in government, like her father-in-law Nick Katzenbach.  We remember years ago there was a guy with that same name who bought a big house on the Vineyard from the modest rewards he garnered from his humble toil as General Counsel of the IBM Corporation, but maybe that was a different Nick Katzenbach.

Now she's mad at the new owner, who, like most people writing multi-million dollar checks for Vineyard property, is rich as s***.  This is certainly a terrible turn of events, although maybe not as bad as tens of millions losing health insurance or the millions imperiled by global warming.

This Vineyard paradise could be yours for $2.1 million.
Perfect for future memoirs.
By the way, if you are rich as s*** and you'd like a priceless family heirloom with a private beach and unparalleled water views, we've got a house for you! (See pic).

Jenny Allen, having married a wealthy older guy and his Vineyard house, enjoyed several decades of swanning around with the Vineyard glitterati.  When she was kicked to the curb for a younger model (and how could she foresee that, having married her 52-year-old husband when she was 25?), she had to leave her big beautiful Vineyard house and move into somewhat more humble accommodation in West Tisbury.  She also had cancer.  Mix together and serve as memoir.

As noted, we have a Vineyard house for sale.  We had cancer.  We knew rich people at the Vineyard and elsewhere.  Are you waiting breathlessly for our memoir?  Somehow we doubt it.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Op-ed from Zontar: Why won't the President focus on real Americans like me?

Editors' Note:  From time to time the Spy receives dispatches at its Deep Space Desk from the alien planet of Zontar, located in the Remulac galaxy millions of light-years away.  While these strange creatures live in a world totally unlike our own (except for the 29-minute hyperloop commutes), sometimes the dispatches we receive from their bizarre world bear an eerie resemblance to events happening – [They get the drift – Ed.]

By Maureen Zowd
Op-Ed Columnist
The New Zork Times

Devoted readers of my column, who number in the millions I am sure, will recall that I sometimes turn it over to my immensely clever and authentic working-class brother, Kevin, a turd welder who still lives in Zannandale, Virginia – quelle horreur!

Last fall, after the election of President Drumpf, he expressed the view that those effete liberals got what they deserved because they were more interested in letting trans people use whatever bathroom fit their sexual identity than alleviating the plight of oppressed white men.  As I'm off to the Vineyard for a few weeks, I'm letting Kevin take over.  Let it rip!  Also where is my beach umbrella?

My brother Kevin still isn't happy
What the f*** does President Donald Z. Drumpf think he's doing?  Enough with the flirty interviews with my sister.  This guy has turned out to be an even worse elitist than those Chablis-chugging liberals who sold us down the river in favor of the great-great-grandchildren of the slaves that the good Jesuits of Georgetown sold down the river 150 years earlier.

This guy said that he was going to protect the American worker from imported goods from China and imported assassins from Mexico.  Instead of helping hard-working turd welders he's spending his time on crap like trying to kick trans troops out of the military.  What good is that going to do for us struggling white men fighting to save Western Civilization?  I mean, who gives a f*** about the sexual identity of troops?  As long as they can launch missiles at ragheads for the next twenty years to give me a thrill, that's all anyone should care about.

And this Russia thing?  If you ask me, and you should because as a white man I'm the authentic voice of America, we're spending a lot of time on Vladimir Putin and not enough on competition from cheap imported welded turds from Slobbovia.  How am I supposed to pay child support if I don't have a job?  Of course, I'm not paying that bitch a f***in' dime anyway, but you catch my drift.

Drumpf has got every single white man fighting with every other white man in Washington.  We didn't elect him to do that.  We elected him to take health care away from Negroes as long as my mother can stay in her Medicaid nursing home bed.  And he can't even get that much done.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Drumpf could f*** up a one-care funeral.  You go to the Boy Scout Jamboree and you tell them about some orgy you went to on some rich guy's yacht?  That's just great. Meanwhile, do you know how much it costs to insure my Harley just because of a few random DUI's?  I was just a little buzzed for f***'s sake.  And the cop seemed kinda dyke-y to me too.  OK, maybe I shouldn't have told her that, but still!

And remember how much fun it was to rag on Obama for going golfing every weekend instead of creating more demand for welded turds?  So now we have Drumpf spending millions flying each weekend to his own golf courses doing the exact same thing he was criticizing Obama for.  I'm beginning to think maybe something isn't on the level with this guy.

Instead of apologizing for America, like Obama and that crooked bitch Hillary always did, now we have a President that the rest of us have to apologize for.  Even a dumb putz like me can tell we have become the laughingstock of the world for letting this guy loose, not to mention turning over the United States Government to his mouth-breathing children and in-laws.  And speaking of loose, will someone add some Metamucil to his fried chicken so he won't spend an hour every morning Tweeting from the throne?  I hate to sound like Michelle Obama, but would it kill this guy to have a salad?

It's enough to drive a man to fentanyl.  Speaking of which, I gotta see a guy about a thing.  Will this do, Maureen?

[Sure.  Louise, please send to desk and get me a reservation at State Road Cafe for 8.  Thx. – M.Z.]

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Who should be Harvard's next President? The Spy knows!

Editors' Note:  Our hearts sank when we got the email from the Harvard Presidential Search Committee, which informed Ma Harvard's extended family thusly: “As those of us on the presidential search committee pursue that consequential effort, we would be pleased to hear from you.”

Our first thought was: sure they would. Our second was: didn't we just do this bit? [Actually, it was 11 years ago – Louise Mensch, Intern]. Nonetheless, The College needs our help again and we have no choice but to oblige. We propose the following outstanding nominees. The extremely careful reader may notice a common thread connecting these fine individuals from which said reader may infer our categorical preference for the next President.

Barack or Michelle Obama

  • It's Barack/Michelle Obama!
  • Each has a Harvard degree, and at least plausible Ivy League B.A.'s.
  • Brilliant, devoted to education and inclusiveness
  • It's Barack/Michelle Obama!
  • With Michelle in charge of Harvard Dining Services, undergrads likely to starve
  • Probably not going to be putty in the hands of the Faculty and the Corporation
  • Would need to commute until Sasha graduates
  • Malia can probably kiss that fireplace single in Adams House good-bye

David Ortiz  

  • Proven record of success in turning around underperforming Boston-area institutions
  • Inspiring
  • Team player
  • No one is going to f*** with his University
  • No Harvard degree
  • Probably not going to have much luck raising big bucks in Area Code 212.  Or 718.
  • May not be happy to learn that at Harvard, President bats eighth.
  • Harvard will eventually have to rename a dorm “Big Papi House” [Why isn't this a pro? – Ed.]

Dr. Ben Carson 

  • Old joke from 1971: We don't want to stick Harvard with this guy but imagine how much better off the nation would be.
  • Has advanced degrees from fancy institutions
  • Likes rich people
  • Not likely to interrupt faculty meetings, or as he calls them, nap time

  • Running a great university ain't brain surgery, which means this guy will f*** it up
  • If I were a Harvard dean, I'd wear a big belt buckle.
  • Don't think Harvard will cotton to idea that lack of money is a state of mind.
  • Even fewer social skills than Derek Bok

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

I'll have the genoa, cappicola, mortadella, and provolone. Hold the bullshit.

By A.J. Liebling
Meta-Content Generator

Any half-assed hack columnist can, especially in the dog days of summer and democracy, hit the b.s. trifecta.  But it takes a true overachiever like Professor David Brooks of The New York Times to spend 20 minutes churning out 750 words and in so doing hit the hack quadrafecta: lazy, mendacious, wrong, and reactionary!  Want to know how he did it?  Let's wade in.

His topic for today is an old favorite: how the suffering of the American working classes is due not to the rapacious 1% which has spent the last half-century working tirelessly to immiserate them, but to those overeducated liberals who do things like take them out to a sub shop for lunch.

I know that summary makes no sense whatsoever, but check out his effort for yourself.

Here's the proof (well, to be fair, he's got a couple of other equally lame data points we'll get to):
Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.
Now Italian subs are a topic on which we know a thing or two.  For that reason we feel that our views on the subject are entitled to a great deal of validity.  We spent a lot of years at the late Giuseppe's in Nonantum and then at Salem Foods in Waltham ordering the sandwich specified in the title of this post.  Incredibly enough, we also went an elite Ivy League university located not far from those well-loved institutions.  We never got the two confused.  It's possible that the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard Univerity would head over to Salem Foods for a large prosciutto and provalone with everything, including hots, but we never saw him.  We saw a bunch of people of diverse backgrounds and incomes enjoying subs.  If you don't believe me, check out Antonia's on High Street in Waltham any weekday and ask the patrons if they are Fellows of Harvard College. 

Perhaps if Brooks lived in a city where whole-wheat bread was not regarded as an exemplar of an exotic food (unlike Washington), he might not associate Italian subs with (his own) insufferable elitism.  Perhaps his little anecdote would more properly be understood as the gaucherie of a man who didn't bother to ask his lunch guest what she'd like to eat before marching her into where he wanted to dine.

Umm, just taste the elitism!
But there's more.  First, he or his clerk read a book!  Good for him.  Too bad it wasn't Dark Money by Jane Mayer, because then he would have understood the real reason for the progressive decline and oppression of the working class.  Hint: it's not the group that has fought to ensure health care for all.  Instead he read a book that agreed with him.

The argument, such as it is, seems to run along the lines that the top 20% (that's code for upper middle class liberal Democrats, in case you just swam across the Rio Grande to escape gang violence in El Salvador, in which case you're probably not that worried about this crisis) monopolizes places in fancy universities to the detriment of the worthies below them.

The argument is utterly convincing except for two problems: 1) it's falsified by the facts and 2) it makes no sense on its own terms.

Not only did we attend a fancy Ivy League college, but, despite our protestations, our son went to the same college.   His parents paid his way.  Of his large circle of friends, exactly one fell into that category.  The remainder were on financial aid and in lots of cases it was a free ride because the little overachievers didn't have a pot to p*** in.  One of them grew up dirt poor, went to a fancy women's day school in Manhattan and then met her husband in college, a physicist who turned out to be a scion of a wealthy real estate family in New York.  If that doesn't prove the value of an Ivy League education, we don't know what does.

We perseverate on this because it fatally undercuts Prof. Brooks's lazy assertion that all Harvard undergraduates bribed their way in, like Jared Kushner.  In fact, the lush financial aid packages that elite colleges hand out represent an engine of social advancement, not an expression of liberal exclusion.  Further, he seems to believe that only the most elite colleges provide a path to economic security.  But believing something doesn't make it so; millions attend state colleges and universities in search of economic advancement.  Who advocated for building and financing those schools and raising the tax revenues to do so?  Hint: rhymes with "wiberals." Who doesn't give a toss if state colleges are adequately funded or if students have adequate access to fair low-interest student loans and grants?  No hints; you have to suss this one out yourself.

Let's see, we've dealt with two of Brooks's data points: Italian subs and colleges.  He's a got a third, and as usual he makes a hash of it.  According to Brooks, the economic decline of working class America is due not to the destruction of union rights at the hands of reactionary plutocrats or the pro-rich tax and anti-social welfare policies that have left ex-union workers with nothing to fall back on but a meth lab in the shed.  No, it's because those pesky liberals won't let real estate developers pave over every green field from Boston to San Francisco.

Here, he almost has a point.  We live in a pinko elite suburb of Boston where we have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of granola chomping ex-hippies resolutely opposing any new housing development on the grounds that such buildings would destroy the sylvan feel of a city that has two expressways, commuter rail, and a subway line running through it.  Some transit-smart buildings are getting permitted though so there's some progress.

Funnily enough, Prof. Brooks was never troubled by the lack of affordable housing enough to support public housing, a liberal dream since at least the New Deal (you could look it up under Housing Act of 1937).  Why is that?  Could it be he doesn't really give a toss about housing the poor unless he can blame his neighbors in Chevy Chase?

He cites work by two economists claiming that land-use regulation has cost the United States 50% of potential economic growth.  That seems like a lot.  Of course, like our star hack, I'm no economist, but I'd sure be interested in the views of other economists.  Here's one, who judging by his resume, is not affiliated with the Communist Party:
Every model has assumptions. To calculate a counterfactual -- how much would people earn and businesses make if they could move to San Francisco -- you have to do that. It takes a better model to beat a model.
By the way, have you been to San Francisco lately?  Does it look underdeveloped to you?  Does New York?  Maybe one obstacle to denser urban development is a lack of investment in public transit that for example is causing New York to approach gridlock.  What do you call people who advocate for more public funding for mass transit to allow for denser, more energy-efficient urban development?

You probably by now get our drift.  Also probably, without even having to contemplate the role of racism, sexism, and plutocratic government in fostering pervasive economic inequality, you get Brooks's, too.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Fourth of July report card. Maybe the last one.

By Isaiah Thomas

Independence Day is traditionally a day on which Americans ponder the issues most important to them, like is my back getting burned or will Kelly be grossed out if I put raw onion on my cheeseburger.  This year, though, the questions, while still vital, are different.

How so?  Let's ask the prophetic Sarah Kendzior, a St. Louis journalist and scholar who has chronicled the unfolding catastrophe with more accuracy than the parade of gasbags who congratulate themselves for defending Mika Brzezinski.  Here's what she wrote in The Correspondent many eons ago:
My fellow Americans, I have a favor to ask you.
Today is November 18, 2016. I want you to write about who you are, what you have experienced, and what you have endured.
Write down what you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others. Write about your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children. Write about the struggle of your ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person you are today.
Write your biography, write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget.
Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.
Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.
It is increasingly clear, as Donald Trump appoints his cabinet of white supremacists and war-mongers, as hate crimes rise, as the institutions that are supposed to protect us cower, as international norms are shattered, that his ascendency to power is not normal.
This is an American authoritarian kleptocracy, backed by millionaire white nationalists both in the United States and abroad, meant to strip our country down for parts, often using ethnic violence to do so.
This is not a win for anyone except them. This is a moral loss and a dangerous threat for everyone in the United States, and by extension, everyone abroad.
I have been studying authoritarian states for over a decade, and I would never exaggerate the severity of this threat. Others who study or have lived in authoritarian states have come to the same conclusion as me.
And the plight is beyond party politics: it is not a matter of having a president-elect whom many dislike, but having a president-elect whose explicit goal is to destroy the nation.

We like our Fascism with cool architecture . . .
In fact she pretty much predicted everything that has come to pass, with the exception of the feud between Kanye and Jay-Z.  Notice that Ms. Kendzior was careful not to term this style of government Fascist, although there are any number of relevant comparisons between the Grifter-in-Chief and the vainglorious, incompetent sex criminal Benito Mussolini.  To il Duce's credit, though, he had much better taste in architecture.

To be fair, the Grifter-in-Chief's assault on democracy and our constitutional order has not gone unopposed.  We thought that while we still have a few scraps of our independence left to celebrate, we'd take a look at how the institutions that were supposed to protect us from tyranny have performed.  We'll start with the highest grades first.

The judiciary:  Lower federal courts, A; Supreme Court, inc.  To the extent there have been any happy surprises during the first six months of the Grifter Regime, they have occurred in the lower federal courts, which made surprisingly quick work of the Grifter-in-Chief's half-assed Muslim ban, not once but twice.  Not only did courts around the country block both versions, they did so on the basis of thorough, principled opinions churned out with the speed the occasion demanded.  The opinions were so tightly reasoned that white men were reduced to sputtering about obscure aspects of First Amendment standing law (which the courts got right).  A particularly sad version of white man grumbling was served up earlier in the Spy.

As for the Supreme Court, packed to perfection in the aftermath of the principle-free blockade of Judge Garland and the subsequent railroading of ruggedly handsome extremist Neil Gorsuch, the verdict has yet to be returned.  Gorsuch is turning out to be as reactionary as promised, lining up somewhere to the right of Long-Dong Thomas.  But our old classmate John “the Bongmaster” Roberts '76 seems to be thinking about attending a reunion someday without being tarred and feathered, if the tortured split-the-difference stay order in the Muslim-ban case is any indication.

The Burger Court surprised a lot of cynics in 1974 when it told Tricky Dick he was not in fact above the law.  That decision was 8-0; we doubt greatly whether this bunch will line up against tyranny with the same unanimity but 5-4 would be OK with us.

The mediaB+. After making a dog's breakfast of the campaign, by stressing equally on the one hand the Grifter-in-Chief's criminality and incompetence and on the other hand Hillary Clinton's decision to maintain a private e-mail server, the media has we confess to a large extent redeemed itself with aggressively reporting the subsequent depredations of the Grifter-in-Chief's burning clown car of cutthroats.

Unlike Watergate, when the poor sad New York Times was played off the stage by The Washington Post, this time around both papers are in the thick of it, aided to be sure by the propensity of the gang that couldn't grift straight to leak to anyone with a cellphone.   Also a shout-out to CBS News which is willing to describe a Presidential lie as – a lie.  Finally, here's to the reporters who risk insults, catcalls, and worse just to cover this den of thieves.

Now demonizing the press is a great Republican tradition.  Anyone else here old enough to remember “nattering nabobs of negativism?”  But Spiro T. Agnew was too busy stuffing cash-filled envelopes into his pockets to incite actual violence against the press.  Our multitasking Grifter-in-Chief can do both!  Where will it end?  Maybe ask Lara Logan.

The electorate: C-.  Could all the people of color leave the room for one minute?  We need to talk to the white folks for a minute.  We'll invite you back shortly.

OK, are we alone here?


What the fuck is wrong with you people?  According to recent polling, half of all white voters still support the Grifter-in-Chief, despite the evidence of the last six months.  We understand you, like 53% of white women, might have been gullible enough to swallow the WWE scripts of the Grifter's campaign, but now you see the devastation spread before you and you're still screaming.

We know that you are horrible ignorant sexist bigots willing to sacrifice American democracy for the fun of tormenting immigrants, people of color, and those whose sexual preferences and/or identifies are different from yours.  But are you really willing to die for it?  What do you think happens to you without health insurance?  Do you really think that a diet of fentanyl, crystal meth, assault weapons, and Mountain Dew is good for you?

Enjoy the show.  If Mitchcare gets 50 votes, it will be your last.

As for people of color, it's true that you understand the threat posted by the Grifter-in-Chief.  But your failure to turn out to vote in 2016 at the same rate you did 2012 (60% vs. 67%) helped usher in the current Age of Insanity.  And that's not going to look good on your permanent record.

The Congress: F.  Before he took up his new career in musical theater, our old friend Alexander Hamilton, together with his buddies Jimmy Madison and John “J-J” Jay, scribbled off a few words about the government they were creating.  They were worried about tyranny, having just thrown off one, and created a number of devices intended to avoid a rerun.  Chief among them was the idea of separating governmental powers among branches.  A powerful Congress (and the Article I Congress was powerful indeed) would serve as a check against any effort by the Executive to arrogate power and subvert the Constitutional order.

. . . so we'd have to go with Benito over
the Grifter-in-Chief on that score
But any system of government works only as well as the white men who dominate it, and the current version of the Founders' cherished check on tyranny would no doubt send the authors of The Federalist into the nearest tavern to drown their sorrows in rum.  It's not that the Republican powers in Congress don't know what they're doing.  They know damn well: they know that government is designed to offer tax cuts for the rich and early death to the poor.  That's what the people who paid to install them in power expect and that's what they're going to get.

So this Congress has responded limply if at all to each new impeachable offense and uncategorized outrage perpetuated by the Grifter-in-Chief, when it is not in fact furthering the subversion of our Constitutional system.  If they had to face an electorate whose vote was not suppressed by patently fraudulent voter ID and felon disenfranchisement laws, they would be sent packing.  But with the electoral system rigged in their favor, and an electorate large portions of which are still ensorcelled by the remake of Idiocracy, we're not optimistic.

Happy Fourth of July.