Thursday, April 30, 2020

Swoon--Book Review

Let’s start with this, if a man wrote this book he would be skinned alive.  

I was in either the Watertown or Newton library around Valentines day and I saw Swoon displayed with others that had a Valentine's day theme.  I thought at first glance that this would be a book about romantic love and I figured it might be interesting.  Come March when the book had to be returned and I still had not read it, the library closed down because of Covid-19.  I was looking for something to read after Redhead by the Side of the Road, another brilliant Anne Tyler book.  I saw Swoon in a stack of books on my desk that had not yet grabbed me sufficiently to open them up.  I gave it a shot.

This is not, primarily, a book about romantic love.  It is about men who have had many amorous partners.   The book is subtitled Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them.  The subtitle is accurate except for this: the book does not identify what makes men seductive. It identifies men who are or have been seductive and identifies why they were. Big difference. 

Bloke A was a good conversationalist, Bloke B was a listener. Bloke C was gorgeous; Bloke D not gorgeous at all but was enigmatic; Bloke E not enigmatic but showered a woman with gifts. Bloke F was aloof; Bloke G omnipresent. The thing is there is nothing in the book that draws a composite of why women fall for men. (Given how saucy the writer is, and how she is not at all subtle about sex, it is surprising that nothing in the book, except for one off-hand quip, discusses whether size matters).  

So there is no real take away except that these guys got laid a lot and women identified one thing or an antithetical other thing for why. Women are interviewed describing what makes a guy hot. And men, who women have identified as hot, are interviewed. 

Some men are braggarts; some self effacing. One of the former comments, "It’s not the gun, it’s the man behind it. It’s what you can do. I’ve got a long tongue with an eggbeater on the end of it.” 

Really? No woman has ever said that to me even after a good night. “Say fellow you have an eggbeater at the end of your tongue.” And besides isn’t this contradictory, if it’s not the gun, do you brag about a long tongue? (Maybe you do if you have an eggbeater at the end of it).  

One of the more intelligent comments in the book is from a man who says, “when women start preferring to have sex with men who walk on their hands, in a very short time half the human race would be upside down.”  In short, men who can appeal to what women desire have a good chance of connecting.  

The book is interesting but rambling, doesn't go anywhere, and is, well ostentatious. I have a decent vocabulary but I needed-- or would have needed if I took the time--to look at a dictionary every five pages.  Also it is, well, sexist. She includes a joke that would get a male author strung up if he had included it.  She heads one section with what she labels, an "old joke": "Women need four animals. A mink on their back, a jaguar in the garage, a tiger in the bedroom, and a jackass to pay for it all."  This "old joke" heads a section on laughter and why women are taken by men who can make them laugh.  My suggestion: don't try that joke at home as a means of foreplay.

You won't be wasting your time reading the book. It has its moments and I'm glad I read it.  But if one is looking for something conclusive about why some men have women plotzing for them, you won’t find it here. What you will find are stories about a lot of men for whom women plotz; stories about women who are so smitten that they do not mind that their lovers have other lovers and don't even discourage the infidelities as long as they can get theirs on a regular basis.  

In sum, I can't strongly recommend this book particularly if you are serious about understanding why women fall for men.  It's too superficial.  She does what many authors are now doing.  She has a section at the end for footnotes but does not note in the text where there is a footnote. So when you get to a claim that makes you say, "Come on. On what basis do you make that comment?" you can go to the Notes and try to locate a source. Sometimes what I thought had to be cited, was not. And other times the source is hardly a bona fide source, but some other author's breezy comment which might or might not have a source.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Limerick du jour

To render your body pristine
Make sure that you drink Mr. Clean
     'Cause according to Trump
      You'll get over the Hump
And it's faster than any vaccine.

from the Irish Times

Not mine. It was posted on facebook. It is sobering and accurate.

A MUST READ from The Irish Times(thanks for posting, David Spivack)!
“Donald Trump has destroyed the country he promised to make great again.

US president Donald Trump has claimed he was being sarcastic and testing the media when he raised the idea that injecting disinfectant or irradiating the body with ultraviolet light might kill coronavirus.

Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.

As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted ... like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.”

It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence.

The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American psyche dance naked on live TV. If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated. Who, other than the Trump impersonator Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, is now looking to the US as the exemplar of anything other than what not to do? How many people in Düsseldorf or Dublin are wishing they lived in Detroit or Dallas?

It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing too much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways.

Abject surrender

What used to be called mainstream conservatism has not absorbed Trump – he has absorbed it. Almost the entire right-wing half of American politics has surrendered abjectly to him. It has sacrificed on the altar of wanton stupidity the most basic ideas of responsibility, care and even safety.

Thus, even at the very end of March, 15 Republican governors had failed to order people to stay at home or to close non-essential businesses. In Alabama, for example, it was not until April 3rd that governor Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order.

In Florida, the state with the highest concentration of elderly people with underlying conditions, governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mini-me, kept the beach resorts open to students travelling from all over the US for spring break parties. Even on April 1st, when he issued restrictions, DeSantis exempted religious services and “recreational activities”.

There is, as the demonstrations in US cities show, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic.

Georgia governor Brian Kemp, when he finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, explained: “We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours.”
This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity. There is, as the demonstrations this week in US cities have shown, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic. It is fuelled by Fox News and far-right internet sites, and it reaps for these politicians millions of dollars in donations, mostly (in an ugly irony) from older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

It draws on a concoction of conspiracy theories, hatred of science, paranoia about the “deep state” and religious providentialism (God will protect the good folks) that is now very deeply infused in the mindset of the American right.

Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it. The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralysed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted.

The contradiction was made manifest in two of Trump’s statements on the pandemic: on the one hand that he has “total authority”, and on the other that “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence.

Fertile ground

But this is not just Donald Trump. The crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it. The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it.

There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection.

Usually when this kind of outlandish idiocy is displaying itself, there is the comforting thought that, if things were really serious, it would all stop. People would sober up. Instead, a large part of the US has hit the bottle even harder.

And the president, his party and their media allies keep supplying the drinks. There has been no moment of truth, no shock of realisation that the antics have to end. No one of any substance on the US right has stepped in to say: get a grip, people are dying here.

If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.

That is the mark of how deep the trouble is for the US – it is not just that Trump has treated the crisis merely as a way to feed tribal hatreds but that this behaviour has become normalised. When the freak show is live on TV every evening, and the star is boasting about his ratings, it is not really a freak show any more. For a very large and solid bloc of Americans, it is reality.

And this will get worse before it gets better. Trump has at least eight more months in power. In his inaugural address in 2017, he evoked “American carnage” and promised to make it stop. But now that the real carnage has arrived, he is revelling in it. He is in his element.

As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.

Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again."

Sunday, April 5, 2020

can't zoom a zoom.

You can't zoom a zoom.

This was a basic rule of a sophomoric drinking game I played as a college student.  It was innocent and fun, or seemed to be then.  We, in college, would gather on a Thursday night with a sorority group that had been invited to join us at a municipal golf course's bar.  How this place became "our" bar is something I would have to ask one of the more senior members of the local fraternity that I pledged. Problem is that their memories are often contradictory.  Regardless of why we wound up choosing this rotting old bar by the 18th hole of the golf course as our tavern, we would gather there.  We would meet up at "the Muni",  imbibe, tell tall tales and hope to, in the parlance of the 21st century, hook up.

One drinking game we played was called, Zoom, Schwartz, Profigliano.  As a septuagenarian it is a bit embarrassing to describe the game and that I routinely played it, but as a sophomore it was fun.  We would sit in a circle with a pitcher of beer in the middle. Each of us would have a glass and would attempt to sit next to someone whose fancy we hoped to secure.

Future lawyers, doctors, successful entrepreneurs, and college professors played the game this way: Someone pointed at another and said Zoom.  The person so zoomed, could not return the zoom, could only Schwartz or Profigliano the Zoom.  Basic rule, you can't zoom a zoom. If you wanted to Zoom you had to Zoom another player.  There were other more esoteric rules.  Point is, it was easy to goof up.   A violation resulted in a chorus of a made up word--Splivvage, I believe--that had to be uttered with elbows facing the offender.  Then the miscreant had to knock back the beer. 

Sophomoric, but we were sophomores. You had to make sure a player who was not particularly good at the game did not drink too much, but otherwise it was fun. 

Not so much fun zooming now.  I am becoming a decent zoomer though it took a while.  We had a zoom department meeting on Thursday, then I had one on Friday, two yesterday, will have one later this morning, and then on Monday am meeting my classes synchronously using Zoom.  I am glad that I am learning the technology, and the novelty has been amusing at times.  But I think that after a spell, and who knows how long the spell will be, the luster born from the novelty, will fade and reveal the inherent problems with the new technology.  I held a class last week, and it is a real challenge to engage all students and react to student reactions. Our department meeting was better than nothing, and given our new reality, good to hear how colleagues are coping.  But it had limitations. The Zaremba clan will have zoom seder on Thursday night hosted by my cousin in Philadelphia.  I think by the fourth cup of wine we may be needing a fifth or sixth just for dealing with the predictable snafus that come with new technology.

I'll not digress to discuss the limitations that come with using video communication technology from the perspective of someone who has some knowledge on the subject.  Academics tend to pontificate about what they know as if their knowledge base gives them a platform higher than those not in the know. Maybe I know more than the average bear about the communication issues, but what I have to say is not particularly profound.

You can't zoom a zoom.  Our new world is requiring social distancing which is an anathema to the natural order of things.  We need to touch, we need to hold, we need to be able to say to family members, friends, and sweethearts close up and personal how much we need them and are there for them.

Our municipality has, wisely, put locks on the tennis courts, and tied up the nets on the baskets.  Congregating is dangerous. My grocery store has put out tape so that we can't get within six feet of another.  Today, by virtue of my age, I was able to get into the store at 6 am, with others eligible for social security.  It was like the old age home with carts, except that everyone in there looked like an aging physician or bandit.  Two workers were guarding the toilet paper so that the bandits could only take one package at a time.

We need to zoom a zoom. We absolutely can't now. We must not.  But we need to and I hope our leaders compel our citizens to be responsible so that we can embrace each other sooner than later.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Scenes from the new normal

There are no customers inside the Starbucks near the Market Basket. There is a line of 17 cars at the drive in window waiting for take-out coffee.

The postal clerk at my post office is wearing a mask.  So, is every other person on the street. In the grocery store people either wear masks or kerchiefs over the face like old time bad guys wore in cowboy movies when they were going to rob a bank.

I see a man pull his cart up to his car and wipe down the plastic bags before he places the items in the trunk.

The bank is only letting two customers in at one time.

Zoom software is going viral.  I have zoom meetings all week.

There are a lot more joggers around the track at the high school.

Brandeis has put a lock on the fence openings to its track.  I find it is more difficult to climb over the fence than it was when I was 10. People have placed garbage can lids near the fence to give them a boost. There does not seem to be any reduction in the numbers of people using the track or the soccer fields despite the locks.

Moody street, a street with one restaurant after another, looks and feels eerie.

I read that in some places people are tearing up old tee shirts to use for toilet paper.

Some very clever song parodies are going viral on social media.

Some fraternity brothers met via zoom on Saturday night and had a virtual toast, from Florida, Pennsylvania, Montauk Point, Hyde Park New York, and Boston.

CNN reports are stunning in how they seem out of a Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode.

Liquor stores are deemed essential businesses.

We wonder what we would do without the internet.

We are walking and walking and walking for exercise.  Not sure if the fathers on bicycles are more careless than their children.

Gas Prices are plummeting since nobody is going anywhere and there is a surplus.

I'm enjoying the Kominsky Method.

I've cleaned out my closet.  Apparently, cleaning is either a pastime, or people are realizing that having time was never the reason why the house was not cleaned.

The Cuomo brothers are big hits.

A stable day on Wall Street occurs when the Dow Jones only goes up or down 200 points.

My hair is long and wild; others are grayer, as going to the barber or hair stylist is not an option.

I am getting a great deal of use out of my Boston Red Sox pajama bottoms and various sweat shirts.

There is no such thing as rush hour. On Tuesday I had to go into town around the time of a typical morning commute. and it was like driving at 2 in the morning.

We are all getting used to it, but we are really not getting used to it, because we don't really know how long we are going to have get used to it, and we don't know what the landscape will look like when we emerge from the tunnel.

The newspaper gets thinner and thinner.

My buddy who is single signed up for a dating service and then realized that it was foolish to have done so.  Where are you going to meet? 

It's not a dream.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Fox News

Last night I decided to watch MSNBC to hear the latest on this Rod Serling episode.  I was watching downstairs and this was a good thing since the news was so depressing and so repetitively discouraging that throwing myself out the window seemed like it might not be a bad idea.

I tried to find a movie to watch.  Flipped through the dozens of channels and could not engage in anything. 

Silvan Tomkins was a researcher who wrote about something he called Affect Theory.  It is a challenge to nutshell a theory that he described in two fat volumes, but essentially the theory suggests that we all, we humans, seek out a net positive affect.  That is we seek out experiences which will make us happier than sad.  I write about this some in describing why people like sports. Sports can provide excitement, entertainment, appreciation for others' prowess, and in general make us happy because of what it brings to our lives.  One can get a net positive affect and not have anything to do with sports.  It could be novels, pets, coins, whatever brings you joy to offset the sadnesses that we often experience.

Today in this episode of the Twilight Zone in which we live, there is precious little to bring us a net positive affect. No sports, no theatre, no good news, and most of all, the phrase of the day is social distancing. Robert Frost wrote "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."  True dat.  Social distancing might seem sweet if you've been hanging around with nogoodniks but eventually you seek out closeness.

This morning I woke and shook my head. Once again, I was reminded of our new world where there does not seem to be a light at the end of a dark tunnel and even when we get to the light, we are not quite sure what the land will look like when we emerge.  I flipped on the tv. I moved through some channels and I rested on a station I usually skip over as if I am barefoot and discovered that I am stepping where someone smashed glass.  I stopped on Fox News.

The interviewers were speaking about a drug that President Trump had referred to that had positive effects in dealing with the virus. Now last night I had watched a number of pundits ridicule this claim. It seemed that the drug had not been tested yet for this purpose and therefore could not be the balm the president implied it could be.

However, I found it comforting to listen to this fantasy.  It was a good story for a change. There would be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Of course, there was no truth to it. It was like a feel good episode of Father Knows Best.  We interrupt the Twilight Zone to bring you Robert Young in Father Knows Best.  Nevertheless, it felt good to hear this bogus story about a light at the end of the tunnel.

My dad had a great expression.  He would be arguing with my mother about something and he would bring up a fact to deflate her contention. She would wave him away.  He would say, "Oh don't confuse me with the facts, is that it?"  I think people watch their Fox "news" programs, and MSNBC can be guilty of this as well, because the narrative is comforting and they want to believe what they hear. They like that story better than the other side.

Of course, this is not the role of journalists. A journalist is supposed to be about a dispassionate presentation of truth.  In these times, though, that is not going to ratchet up the chances for positive affect.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This is Jeopardy

Dad, you would not believe what is doing.

There is a virus that has created a worldwide problem, a pandemic.  This is not the swine flu, this is a virus that has spread and can be deadly.  How bad is it?

Schools have been closed.  Restaurants are not allowed to seat patrons. People over 60 are asked to stay put and not go outside.  Every day we are encouraged to wash our hands multiple times and stay at least 6 feet away from others.

The grocery stores last week were mobbed.  It would be funny and is sort of, but there is a toilet paper shortage.  Yesterday the grocery I go to had gotten some, and I saw a man looking like he was possessed hauling out two cases. I had a sense this guy had not had a good time of it for a few days.

There are no ball games. This is March Madness time. The tournament was called off. Baseball has been postponed. Basketball and hockey seasons have been suspended.  A basketball game was stopped at halftime because of concerns. No sports, as in none. No high school, college, professional. No sports.

Planes are flying half empty because people have been discouraged to fly. Just great that a few days before the hullabaloo I flew on a packed flight.  If you want to go out of your mind you can watch the news where every story is about how we are in deep trouble and it is going to get worse.  The stock market has dropped 10,000 points in a couple of weeks. 

Gyms are closed so I get my exercise walking.  This evening I walked to the post office to mail a letter. On the way back I took the longer route and walked along Main Street. Usually this is a busy road.  It was relatively empty. There are restaurants on both sides of the road.  Every one had a sign out front either indicating they were closed or could only do take out. A bank had a sign that read that only three people are allowed to enter the bank at any one time.

I have various projects to do around the house plus am teaching my courses on line. So I am keeping myself busy.  I watch almost no tv except for Jeopardy at 730.  Last night I settled in to watch and, go figure, the mayor interrupted the show to talk about how bad the situation is and why we have to be extra cautious.  There has been talk of sheltering in.  This means that one is literally prohibited from leaving the house or wherever you are at.

I cant imagine how that would have impacted you and mom if you were still with us. Your entire community must be on edge. The high risk groups are seniors so they (and alas, the pronoun now is we) are discouraged from doing much of anything. 

It's surreal. This is Jeopardy.