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Yo, Mitt! Maybe you’re not so goddamn reasonable after all! Woo Hoo!

A week or two ago I noted sadly that rumors of Mitt Romney making another try for the presidency in 2016 were unlikely to pan out. Mitt himself said so! But now, the rumors are flyin’ fiercer than ever, thanks to Republican man about town Byron York, who gave the story new life. According to Ann Romney, Mitt won’t go if Jeb Bush does, but if Jeb stays out, Mitt goes in.

Both Mitt and Jeb would make terrible primary candidates and terrible candidates in the actual campaign as well. They’re poisonous to the base and unexciting to moderates. The idea that anyone could think that Jeb could win suggests that the Wall Street gang is still refusing to admit that the Republican Party base simply loathes the kind of immigration “reform” that Jeb is pushing. As far as the base is concerned, there are too many damn furriners in the country already! Stop trying to bring in more! If Jeb does stay out and Mitt does go in, Mitt will bear the double burden of being both the old Mitt Romney and the new Jeb Bush.

The fact that either of these two establishment dogs is still in the running convinces me that the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party thinks New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is still toast. I don’t think Big Chris agrees with this, at all, which should make for a fun primary. If 2016 looks like a Republican year, and I think it will, I think Chris will be in it to win it, come hell or high water.

Also left out in the cold is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose fair-haired boy status has dropped immensely over the past two years. Mark might be willing to settle for vice president, which, I think, is how a lot of people see him.

Hovering satanically in the wings is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. No one pumps the base like Ted. He’s got the hate like no one else. So what if he tried to blow up the country’s credit rating. He wouldn’t do that if he were president, would he?

Afterwords/Update
More good news! Rick Santorum is tanned, rested, and ready for 2016! Anna Palmer lays it all out for us in Politico. Now, the Return o’ Rick may be Politico’s gift to itself, because, for reporters, a presidential primary can’t have too many candidates, but Santorum definitely sounds like he’s for real. And, to paraphrase La Rochefoucauld on women, it is easier to find a politician who has never run for president than to find one who has run only once.

The Obama Administration’s “bad dude” theory: If you’re dead, you’re guilty

The AP summons up some “nuance” on the latest U.S. hit on someone, somewhere in the Middle East, taking out “the Khorasan Group,” who were, it seems, fairly likely to be planning to take out someone, somewhere in the U.S., or maybe somewhere else. Who knows and who cares? Explained Rear Adm. John Kirby, “I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.” Because who needs evidence when you’ve got killer drones!

President Obama: Bush Lite or Bush Heavy?

What has Harvard done to us? I know it’s not surprising that a graduate of Harvard Law School would think like a grad of Harvard Business School, but do they have to be an exact match?

That’s what “everyone’ has to be thinking after President Obama’s UN address last week. If George W. Bush didn’t leap up and exclaim “he’s stealin’ my stuff” it was because he was watching the NFL instead.

Granted, calling ISIS the “network of death” isn’t quite as bad as labeling Iraq, Iran, and North Korea—three nations who had given us plenty of attitude but little palpable harm—the “axis of evil.”1 But puff-chested lines like “There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force” are deeply disappointing. After al Qaeda murdered 2,300 Americans in New York and Washington, DC, we spent thirteen years, thousands of lives, and more than a trillion dollars re-arranging Iraq and Afghanistan, subjecting millions to hardship and misery for very little purpose at all. Is the spectacular cruelty of two beheadings going to summon a similar display of extended folly?

There is no doubt at all that President Obama had a very bad summer. His hopes of doing something dramatic in the area of immigration faded into a humiliating retreat in the face of the niño invasion earlier this year. As for the environment, well, he still can’t work up the nerve to either approve or disapprove the Keystone Pipeline. As for fracking, well, he won’t say nuthin’ but clearly he loves it.2

So, like so many presidents confronted with tough choices at home and a fractious Congress, overseas adventures start to look a lot more fun. This morning’s “AOL News” showed some bad-ass U.S. jets “pounding” enemy positions. Hey, that’s the kind of news a president likes to see.

Afterwords
The president also went out of his way to characterize the issues raised by the conflict in Ukraine entirely in terms of “U.S. Good/Russia Bad!”, despite the fact that the U.S. is, obviously, going to acquiesce in Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its expanded role in east Ukraine. The liberal internationalists, who now seem to control both sides of Obama’s brain, insist on conducting our policy vis-à-vis Russia and Eastern Europe as payback for the crimes of Stalin (or at least pretending to do so) and Putin, though a wooden-headed authoritarian nationalist, is simply no Stalin, and it’s folly to attempt to make him pay penance for crimes he didn’t commit.


  1. Is it rude to point out that North Korea, the only officially evil country that actually possesses nuclear weapons, has more or less fallen off the threat radar screen these days? Is it possible that these “rogue nations” seem more threatening before they get the bomb than after? Just sayin’. 

  2. And why shouldn’t he? It’s creating jobs and keeping oil prices low. What’s not to like? 

James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide, Part 27


INTRODUCTION

This is the 27th episode of “James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide,” a rambling consideration of Thurber’s works, examining his life and work in some detail. Generally, these appear every Friday. The links to the first part and the most recent part are given below. Part 27 contains discussion of Thurber Country, Thurber’s collection of reminiscences, and the bitter short story “Teacher’s Pet.”

PART 1

PART 26

Life was made even more unpleasant for Thurber by the Great Red Scare that was taking shape in the U.S. after World War II. American fear of communism had been building ever since the end of the war left the USSR dominant in Eastern Europe, but it exploded in 1949, when the Soviets successfully tested their first atomic bomb. In addition to the loss of the U.S. atomic monopoly, Americans had to face the communist triumph in China and the revelations of espionage of highly placed New Dealers like Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White.

Thurber was very far indeed from a communist, but he had always detested the Ed Kellers of the world and he was fiercely loyal to his left-wing friends. The fact that they had implicitly and often explicitly endorsed Soviet tyranny and romanticized bloodthirsty terrorists meant nothing to Thurber. They were his friends, and that was the only thing that counted.

To a large extent he retreated from the current day to write memoirs of his youth in Columbus, writing about his relatives and other people he had known and admired as a young man, before he had moved to the big city, pieces that were collected in The Thurber Album, published in 1952. Perhaps the most important is “Daguerreotype of a Lady,” a portrait of his Aunt Margery, whom he had written about before, using different names, as both “Aunt Ida” and “Mrs. Willoughby.” Aunt Margery ran a boarding house with her daughter, and Thurber was sent there when he didn’t seem to be fitting in with the rest of the family, in particular when the Thurbers were staying with Mrs. Thurber’s parents because Mr. Thurber didn’t seem to have much interest in getting a job.

In this memoir, Thurber remembers the house as “a wonderful place”—it was here that he sat on the floor watching the lightning and the snow—but to his friends he would sometimes claim that he was exiled to Aunt Margery’s because his parents didn’t love him. Yet in one late letter Thurber claims that, when ill, he ran from his parent’s house to be with Aunt Margery, to be in the one place where he knew he would be safe. Was the boarding house a haven or a humiliation? Thurber seemed to remember it both ways.

In many of the other memoirs, the richness of the detail that Thurber gives us seems too rich. Was everything really that cozy in Columbus? If so, how did Thurber manage to store up enough bitterness and gall to last him several lifetimes?

In addition to writing about his family, Thurber discussed two of his major influences, including Robert O. Ryder, a famous Ohio journalist noted for his “paragraphing,” which produced such gems as this: “A woman is either hearing burglars or smelling something burning.” According to Burton Bernstein, “it was a line that could have been written by the adult Thurber.” In fact, the adult Thurber pilfered it. “A Preface to Dogs” (appearing in The Middle-Aged Man) begins “As soon as a woman presents her husband with a child, her capacity for worry becomes acuter; she hears more burglars; she smells more things burning ….”

Thurber also had high praise for Billy Ireland, cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch. Thurber recalled a drawing Ireland did commemorating the destruction of the 680-foot airship USS Shenandoah, which was torn apart in a storm over Ohio in 1925. Ireland drew a tiny airship hiding in its hanger like a mouse while a malevolent cloud (“Mother Nature”) glowered at it from above. Anyone who has seen Thurber’s famous cartoon of the little man returning home to a house whose rear has been transformed into a large, menacing woman can guess the source.

Judging from Thurber’s portraits of Ryder and Ireland, one could not guess that either ever drew an unquiet breath. Much the same could be said of Thurber’s portraits of his parents. Though he knew that life in pre-war (pre World War I) Columbus was not the Eden his was painting, Thurber chose to stick with the sort of “Reader’s Digest” glow that the New Yorker supposedly disdained.

The bile that Thurber kept out of The Thurber Album appeared in several stories that appeared in his next book, Thurber Country (1953). In “Teacher’s Pet,” all the ressentiment and fury that was left out of The Male Animal comes boiling to the surface. Thurber sets forth a Thurber man, Willber Kelby—remarkably, not that much of a drinker this time—trapped at a cocktail party and wishing he could go home to read “du Noüy”1. Kelby is a shy scholar who has been unmanned by a magazine article claiming that men over fifty are essentially kaput and Kelby of course finds himself at that age.

Kelby is watching with great disapproval as his wife drink her second martini and, more or less to spite her, he has his second as well, which proves to be his downfall. As he drinks, he recalls the great humiliation of his life, from which he has never recovered—a taunting and a beating he took as a thirteen-year-old boy for being the teacher’s pet. His teacher, Mss Lemmert, addressed him as “Willber, dear,” for which he was hideously ridiculed. Kelby stares bitterly at his wife, whom he thinks is drinking too much, as usual, when a woman asks him what he is thinking about. The article and the alcohol goad him into telling the truth: he is thinking about the time he was beaten up and humiliated by a bully when he was thirteen years old. Unfortunately, the woman has a son Elbert who is a teacher’s pet as well and who in fact is bullied by their host’s son. The son, Bob Stevenson, soon presents himself, and Kelby is confronted by his nemesis reborn, a swaggering thirteen-year-old who is utterly a stranger to fear and doubt, the healthy animal that Kelby never was and always longed to be.

Kelby manages to escape from the party without making an obvious scene, though his wife can scent his distress without understanding it. A few days later, however, he comes across Bob bullying Elbert. He forces Bob to back off, but then, confronted by an Elbert who, even when “saved,” can do nothing but whine and blubber, loses his self control entirely, beating the pathetic Elbert for holding up the mirror of his own weakness. “You goddamn little coward!”


  1. Probably Pierre Lecomte du Noüy, a French scientist who wrote philosophical works that appear to have been similar to those of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who is definitely not one of my favorites. Possibly, Thurber is referring to du Noüy’s mother, who was a popular novelist in France. 

Ross Douthat, out on a limb

I have made rather a cottage industry out of ridiculing NYTimes columnist Ross Douthat, descending, to my shame, more than once to the level of referring to him as “Ross Dumb Fuck,” but, well, those times are past. In the past two weeks Ross has turned in columns that place him firmly, even shamelessly, in the category of “conservative dove,” something that you don’t often see in the “big media” these days.

In “Grand Illusion in Syria,” Ross explains politely but firmly just why President Obama’s excellent Syrian adventure is going to go precisely nowhere. “The Middle East’s Friendless Christians” picks up on an issue unknown to anyone but Beltway baseball buffs, Sen. Ted Cruz’s recent appearance before a conference on the plight of Middle Eastern Christianity. Relations between the various Christian communities in the Middle East and Israel range from amicable to, well, terrible, but Ted took the occasion to lecture the assembled Christians on their sacred duty to follow the AIPAC line wherever it took them, whereupon he was booed off the stage, and rightly so.

Ross points out that Cruz displayed precisely zero knowledge and zero sensitivity to the issues at hand, and infinite sensitivity to the fact that the road to the Republican presidential nomination runs through Sheldon Adelson’s1 backyard:

“If Cruz felt that he couldn’t in good conscience address an audience of persecuted Arab Christians without including a florid, “no greater ally” preamble about Israel, he could have withdrawn from the event. The fact that he preferred to do it this way instead says a lot — none of it good — about his priorities and instincts.

“The fact that he was widely lauded [on the right] says a lot about why, if 2,000 years of Christian history in the Middle East ends in blood and ash and exile, the American right no less than the left and center will deserve a share of responsibility for that fate.”

Afterwords
Ross can perhaps be labeled a neo-paleo-con at this point, meaning that he is explicitly rather than implicitly rejecting the muscular Americanism peddled by the National Review. the Wall Street Journal, and the Weekly Standard, not to mention the mainstream Republican Party. Among the paleos both old and new, it is the fashion to accuse “the left” of outright hostility to the cause of Christianity in the Middle East. Perhaps there is, somewhere, a leftist of some stripe who has ridiculed those unfortunate people, but I’ve never seen the evidence. To the extent that the “left” de-emphasizes American support for an all-powerful Israel, it helps Middle Eastern Christians, because the current linkage between evangelical Christian America and Israel only increases Muslim hostility towards the Christians in the Middle East. The left’s indifference to religious issues is in this case salutary. The only danger comes from the anti-Zionist left, largely in Europe, who effectively support Muslim extremism as a way of getting back at the U.S. by attacking Israel.

Well, let’s take a break from all of that and point out something that I think Ross neglected regarding Syria—the extent to which the president’s decision to extend his anti-ISIS crusade to Syria is intended to cover his ass not with the general public but with the generals, who are busily telling everyone “I warned the president about this last year!” We’re in Syria not really because of ISIS but because a lot of people in the military-intelligence-foreign policy complex, which most definitely includes Hillary Clinton, want to be in Syria. Because we just have to be invading someone. Eventually, we’re going to run out of Middle Eastern countries to fuck up, but, well, we can worry about that when the time comes.


  1. Actually, Ross didn’t mention Sheldon. This is my spin. 

Ow! Ow! Ow!

Once, back in the day, well, I was unemployed a lot. I tried to make a living as a free-lance writer, and while I can’t say that I am the worst free-lance writer who ever lived, I can say that I am the worst free-lance writer who is still alive, because Brad and Harry both starved to death, leaving me with basically no competition.

I mention this because, in those days, there were two kinds of writers in Washington, DC—those who worked for the Washington Post and those who did not. Those of us who did not work for the Post hated those who did with basically an insane level of jealousy, which meant that, even on those rare occasions when we did have food, we could scarcely digest it.

Well, how the worm has turned. Post writers have just learned what life is going to be like in the Bezos universe—basically, hell in a nutshell. Postie Steven Mufson explains:

“The Washington Post announced large cuts in retirement benefits on Tuesday, declaring that it would eliminate future retirement medical benefits and freeze defined-benefit pensions for nonunion employees.

“The company also said that in negotiations that started Tuesday, it will seek to impose the same conditions on employees covered by the union — one of the first indications of how The Post’s new owner, Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, will manage relations with the staff of the news organization.

“The changes will hit hardest at employees hired before 2009 who could plan on receiving pension payments based on their income and years of service. Each of those employees could see scores — or hundreds — of thousands of dollars less over the course of a retirement. More recent hires do not have traditional pension plans.”

“[O]ne of the first indications of how The Post’s new owner, Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, will manage relations with the staff”? Ow! Ow! Ow!

Afterwords
Adding injury to injury, Steve tells us that the Post is also cutting its maximum contribution to an employee’s 401k from 5 percent to 1 percent. One percent! Yeah, cause that’s how billionaires roll!

Can a retirement home be too Jewy? Kathi and Joan discuss


Getting in bed with Joan Rivers and Kathi Griffin leads to a lot of what you might expect—a fairly amusing encounter with the usual suspects—Ryan Seacrest, cocksuckers, and Barbara Walters. But somewhere around the 20-minute mark, Kathi mentions that she recently put her 93-year-old mother in a retirement home and mom finds the place “too Jewy.” The problem is, Kathi’s mom is Irish, and they’re all about the booze, but the Jews, they’re all about the food, and mom just can’t get used to her Jewish friends’ relentless pursuit of culinary perfection: “How many times can they send back a tuna melt?” Joan thinks this is funny. Posted by inbedwithjoan

Jazz at the Philharmonic, circa 1967


Clark Terry, James Moody, Zoot Sims, and Dizzy Gillespie lead off a full-length BBC presentation of JATP, back in the day when jazz musicians still wore tuxes to a gig. The first 40 minutes are the best. Then R&B vocalist T-bone Walker shows up, which was not really a good idea. Pianist Teddy Wilson is then featured for two numbers, both of which run long, to my impatient ears. Then we hear from sax legends Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. Benny’s great from the get go, but Hawk sounds a bit tired for the first two numbers before catching fire on the third. Drummer Louie Bellson has a very long solo, after which the closer, “The Real BBC Blues,” is unfortunately truncated. A young Bob Cranshaw handles the bass. Posted by jomojojazz

Pseudo New Yorker


Legal humor here. All cartoons here. and here

“I don’t know. Lately, I’ve just been in a pre-Cambrian state of mind.”

“Watch out for the damn minnows!”

“My doctor says it’s evolution, but I have my doubts.”

“My acceleration has improved, but I’m always hungry.”

“Yeah, it looks terrible in the direct light, but after six I’m seriously svelte.”

“Downstream we’ve been getting a whole lot of silt, and this is how I cope.”

“Because you’re the tenth damn fish to feed me that ‘Look what the cat dragged in’ line today, that’s why I look pissed!”

“Let’s just say that it was a thorough audit, and let it go at that.”

“Because I’m an evolutionary dead end, that’s why you should buy me a drink. How can it hurt?”

“Something made me think ‘herringbone,’ and I guess I just went wild.”

James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide, Part 26


INTRODUCTION

This is the 26th episode of “James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide,” a rambling consideration of Thurber’s works, examining his life and work in some detail. Generally, these appear every Friday. The links to the first part and the most recent part are given below. Part 26 continues discussion of Thurber’s five-part series on radio soap operas, “Soapland”.

PART 1

PART 25

In “Soapland,” Thurber chronicles with obvious though restrained fascination the lives of entrepreneurial writers who start out writing five scripts a day for nothing and continue that pace for years while their salaries mount to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. He describes in some detail how the oppressed writers of radio eventually organized, in approved thirties fashion, to obtain better working conditions, better pay, and more control over their own work. The unspoken subtext—which Thurber finally discussed a decade later in his The Years With Ross—is that this did not happen at the New Yorker. By the time Thurber was writing the “Soapland” pieces, it was clear that the New Yorker was 1) quite prosperous, and 2) that it had been that way ever since the early or mid-thirties, when Ross was telling its writers and cartoonists that he was sorry but he just couldn’t afford to pay them as much as he wanted to.

What frustrated Thurber, and most if not all of those who worked with Ross back in the day, is that Ross could get away with stiffing them because they wanted to publish in the New Yorker, wanted to write for the smart set in Manhattan rather than the old lady in Dubuque, and were willing to put up with Ross’s high-handed editing and miserly pay because he made them feel important in ways that other, more mainstream publications did not.1 The New Yorker had cachet, and Ross knew it, and he exploited it.

“Soapland” has some of the flavor of George Orwell’s essays on popular culture, but Thurber lacked both Orwell’s political awareness (which was not always valid) and Orwell’s sympathetic fascination with the topics he discussed. Thurber does note the amusing slow pace of the radio soaps—a haircut could last a week2—and the basic “small town good/big city bad” morality of most of the shows, but he doesn’t quite throw himself into the content with quite the vigor that one would like. But he definitely leaves you wishing for more, and regretting that he didn’t do similar studies in the fifties.3

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” finally made it to the screen in 1947, but Thurber found little pleasure in it. He had worked conscientiously to help make the film a success, dutifully supplying new fantasies for Mr. Mitty, none of which could provide what Hollywood, and Sam Goldwyn, really wanted: a happy ending. The film, as it finally emerged, turned Mr. Mitty from a pathetic little middle-aged man into Danny Kaye, a wide-eyed innocent trembling on the verge of manhood and requiring the strong arm of Virginia Mayo to pull him over the threshold after an elaborate series of real-life adventures. Thurber got into a public dispute over the film with Goldwyn, Goldwyn playing the Hollywood vulgarian, and Thurber the classy writer, to perfection.4

In his private life Thurber was not so classy. Illness and impending blindness, combined with old age, made him increasingly likely to take out his frustrations on those around him, particularly women. E.B. White stopped seeing him socially because of Thurber’s constant habit of baiting his wife Katherine. Thurber had a compulsive need for company, but also a compulsive need to offend. In the late forties, while having a conversation with Mark Van Doren, Thurber suddenly burst into tears, saying that he was a horrible person, that he was always tearing people down instead of being kind to them.

Unfortunately, insight never led to repentance. All of his life Thurber had a streak of frat boy malice in his soul. He loved playing the same phone joke on his friends, calling them up and pretending to be a black laundress who had previously worked for the friend and now had fallen on hard times. A great many black women supported themselves as laundresses in the twenties, thirties, and forties, and Thurber was a remarkably gifted mimic. He would ply his friends with hard-luck stories replete with racist clichés—crap games, straight razors, cheating boyfriends, etc.—and his friends, hamstrung by liberal guilt, would let him ramble on and on until he finally collapsed with laughter. His behavior at parties was similar—goading people with outrageous behavior, knowing that they would be reluctant to be “rude” and spoil things, and particularly reluctant to talk back to the great James Thurber.


  1. Ross was unsurprisingly eccentric about money, both his and other people’s. He liked money, and had plenty of it, not to mention the extensive freebies that come to influential people in Manhattan, but he could have had a lot more if he had paid attention to it. He was casual about money, and expected other people to be too, even though most people didn’t have his resources. 

  2. One of the most popular soaps was the entirely forgotten “Just Plain Bill,” about a lovable small-town barber. 

  3. The soaps were perhaps best handled by radio satirists Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding, who transformed “Mary Noble, Backstage Wife” (Mary was the wife of a Broadway star Larry Noble) into “Mary Backstage, Noble Wife” and turned “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy” into “Jack Strongarm, All-Boy American.” 

  4. Along with the happy ending, Thurber objected to the “git-gat-gittle” songs written for Danny by his wife Sylvia Fine. As in the case of The Male Animal, Thurber’s name did not appear on the movie posters for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty