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Pseudo New Yorker

Legal humor here.

All cartoons here. and here

“This is the perfect car for New York! To the pedestrians who say ‘I’m walking here!’ this car says ‘No, you aren’t!’”

“You’ll never need to buy tires, but regularly scheduled manicures are strongly recommended.”

“Just keep it away from SmartCars and Mini-Coopers. I mean, that would solve your fuel problem, but it might create some legal issues.”

“This car is pure id. Once you sit behind the wheel, you can kiss your superego goodbye.”

“Aggressive, yes, but extremely loyal.”

“Face it, you’ve always wanted to bite people. This car does it for you.”

“It does have a tendency to chase other cars, but you can break that habit very easily.”

“Oh, its very affectionate around small children, if they’re properly behaved.”

“I use hi-test or hamburger, whichever is cheaper.”

“Of course, you’ll want to give it its own garage.”

Liar, Liar, Hair’s On Fire

OK, this is not what I signed up for. Andrew Sullivan accurately diagnoses President Obama’s stance on torture as “hate the torture, love the torturer,” linking to this story by Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor in the newsobserver, which tells me far more than I would like to know about the Obama Administration’s past and continuing whitewash of the Bush Administration’s numerous crimes. I can’t say that the coverup is worse than the crime, but it comes awfully fucking close. Sullivan recaps as follows:

“We are still, of course, waiting for the Senate Intelligence Committee Report to be released to the public. It’s been forever since it was finished, and forever since the CIA managed to respond, and the endless process goes on and on – even after John Brennan’s attempt to spy on the very committee supposed to oversee his out-of-control agency, and then lie about it. The very fact that Brennan is still in his job – after displaying utter contempt for the Constitution and the American people – tells you all you really need to know about where Obama really stands on this question. He stands for protecting the CIA – and Denis McDonough, his chief-of-staff, has become the CIA’s indispensable ally in enabling not only its immunity from any prosecution for war crimes, but from even basic democratic accountability.”

As Landay, Watkins, and Taylor report, the Administration is working feverishly, and, it appears, successfully, to ensure that the report that finally emerges will say as little as possible about what happened. But the president, it also appears, is pissed that the damn investigation even happened at all. They report that when the CIA first agreed to allow the Senate committee access to its files, then CIA Director Leon “Douchebag” Panetta, definitely not my favorite rave, got a screaming phone call from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel: “The president wants to know who the f—- authorized this release to the committees. I have a president with his hair on fire and I want to know what the f—- you did to f—- this up so bad!”

Paybacks are hell, Barack.

Afterwords
Sullivan speculates—accurately, no doubt—that Obama is terrified of “losing the agency”—pissing off the CIA and setting himself up for two solid years of political kneecapping, if not an actual garrotte.

James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide, Part 30


INTRODUCTION

This is the 30th 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 30 discusses Thurber’s book-length reminiscence The Years With Ross.

PART 1

PART 29

Thurber might have continued to write more stories with sympathetic female characters throughout the fifties but much of his energy became absorbed in what proved to be the biggest project of his life, The Years With Ross, his book-length memoir of the New Yorker’s founder. In a classic case of poetic injustice, the project prompted some of Thurber’s best work but angered and alienated many of his close friends. In the years following Ross’s death in 1951, Thurber first struggled to write a play about Ross and himself, casting Ross as the man of action and Thurber as the man of refinement and thought, which sounds a great deal like The Male Animal.

Thurber struggled fruitlessly with the play for several years, seemingly defeated by the long form once more, but did write several “casuals” recounting his early days with Ross, holding them back from publication until the Atlantic Monthly talked him into letting them start the series in their centennial issue. The initial reaction of Thurber’s New Yorker friends was very positive, and Thurber developed the plan to write at least six pieces for the Atlantic, which would be published in a collection of essays contributed by other leading New Yorker writers, including E.B. White and A.J. Liebling. But Thurber found that he enjoyed writing about the good old days so much that he didn’t want to stop and he ended up writing an entire book all by himself, leaving the other writers out in the cold. The long form that had always eluded him dropped unbidden into his lap, the effortless Godzilla of all casuals.

While the first pieces Thurber published in the Atlantic received near-universal praise, reactions changed when he reached the ever-touchy topics of sex and, especially, money. Through his research, Thurber learned that the New Yorker started making money in 1928, and stayed comfortably in the black throughout the thirties. Thurber knew that he had Ross’s affection and respect as a unique talent both as a writer and a cartoonist and he felt betrayed to realize that, despite all that, Ross dealt with him coolly and at arm’s length when it came to “business”—that Thurber was the wooly-headed dreamer and Ross the shrewd, unemotional man of affairs.

Katherine White was infuriated by the book, in large part, one suspects, because she always felt that she was the real secret for the New Yorker’s success and importance as a publication. Naturally, she lacked the self-confidence to put forth that claim herself, but she would have liked to have someone else do it for her. Instead, Thurber wrote about all the funny things he said to Ross.

It certainly didn’t help that The Years With Ross was Thurber’s biggest success. It was as though Thurber had taken a patent out on Ross and was cashing in, and the rest of the New Yorker gang could only stand and stare helplessly while the kid from Columbus defined them and their world for all of America and pocketed all the profits as well.

Fifteen years after The Years With Ross appeared, Brendan Gill came forth with Here at the New Yorker, written more or less as the anti-The Years With Ross, “exposing” both Thurber and Ross.1 Yet Gill’s Ross is recognizably Thurber’s Ross, and more recent works have done little if anything to change Thurber’s picture,2 fixing forever the image of the Broadway bad boy who bedded actresses half his age, gambled compulsively for high stakes, agonized over grammar and obsessed over good writing but tried to improve it by randomly sprinkling others’ prose with “elegant” turns of phrase (“and such like”), who seemingly without knowing what he was doing created one of the most prestigious magazines in America.

Thurber also got a little of his own back in writing about Ross’s relationship with his mother. He observed that he and Ross were both “largely raised by women”—“women” rather than “our mothers” because, one suspects, of the importance of Aunt Margery to him. Both Thurber and Ross took immense pains in arranging “perfect” visits for their moms when they came to call in the Big Apple, though Thurber surely goes overboard in describing the elaborate deceptions that Ross would engage in to prevent his mother from discovering the high cost of living in New York. In private correspondence, Thurber speculated wildly on Ross’s supposed fixations and compulsions arising from his mother’s controlling influence, no doubt as a form of therapy for his own.


  1. Gill had a deep-seated grudge against Thurber in particular. Thurber biographer Harrison Kenney demonstrates, believably enough, that, despite all of Thurber’s faults, the basis for Gill’s complaint against Thurber was entirely false. 

  2. The only serious criticism of Thurber’s Ross came from Jane Grant, Ross’s first wife. Grant said that if Ross had been the untutored boor that Thurber portrayed, she never would have married him. But everyone agreed that Ross had no interest in literature and was in fact quite unread, exactly the sort of man who would ask “Is Moby Dick the man or the whale?” But lots of people would like to ask that question. Ross just had the nerve to do it. 

What Hath Obama Wrought?

In 2012 President Obama became the first president to win two terms by a majority of votes cast since Ronald Reagan, back in 1984, and the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Roosevelt, back in 1936, and, yeah, you read that right. Yet now his administration drifts towards the 2014 mid-terms like a rudderless ship headed for the rocks borne on an irresistible tide. How did things go so downhill so fast?

Domestically, Obama’s record is pretty good, particularly considering that for his entire six years in office the Republican Party has done nothing except attempt to destroy him. But the president has been repeatedly sandbagged by his excessive faith in the power of rational analysis to solve any issue.

The Administration never really recovered from its failure to realize how deep and disorienting the recession would be. Never in living memory had so many things gone so wrong—not in the U.S., at least—and Obama was semi-crippled by the impact of collapsing housing prices, soaring unemployment, and soaring national debt. That was more than bad enough, but the Administration’s rosy predictions made it a lot worse.

The president also believed that it was possible to create a national health system that would require a measure of sacrifice for millions but would be accepted by everyone as “fair.” Wrong! None of the people who developed ObamaCare know what it’s like to depend on it, and that’s a big problem. People who aren’t millionaires just seem to have a funny perspective on things, and the Administration never really caught on to that.1

An even bigger problem, of course, was the president’s belief that the federal bureaucracy could set up such a massive program that would operate like Facebook, or iTunes, or one of those other really cool Internet things—forgetting that those hip new programs did not go global overnight, but were preceded by years of invisible fumbling. The Affordable Care Act was the president’s ultimate legacy, and with all that riding on its success, he couldn’t prevent its debut from turning into a complete disaster. The VA scandal—hundreds of federal bureaucrats gaming the system instead of taking care of America’s vets—didn’t help much.

I’ll pass over my own complaints about the president—his near-total lack of interest in civil liberties, his constant preference for arbitrary power, his contempt for the very idea of judicial oversight—because it’s clear that 99% of the electorate simply doesn’t give a damn. And if they don’t, you can bet the president doesn’t either.

But, of course, what has really sandbagged the president has been the developments in Ukraine and Iraq, events over which he has no real control and events which are of far less significance to the U.S. than most Americans believe. Even though the president’s one real foreign policy disaster—our quasi-invasion of Libya—was the clear result of a needlessly aggressive policy, he is now being pilloried by virtually every foreign policy wise man and wise woman for not having been aggressive enough. If only the president had backed the Syrian moderates like I told him to! And surely Obama wishes he had, though not because it would have made things better. It almost surely would have made things worse. But if the president had pitched himself into the Syrian mudhole, he’d have Hillary and Leon and Bob Gates and 90% of the other Beltway talking heads in there along with him. The mudhole he’s in now—the sissy mudhole—he’s in all alone. And the moral the next Democratic president will draw from this, I’m very much afraid, is this: “Don’t be smart. Be stupid. Because then you’ll never lack for company.”

Update
I’m not at all surprised to learn that there were very good reasons at the time for not trying to assist the Syrian “moderates,” arguments and reasons that were simply ignored by Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, et al., for the simple reason that they contradicted their blind hunger for “action.” The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti fills us in here.


  1. Tom Daschle, the man Obama originally wanted to head up the development of the ACA, saw nothing wrong with accepting a car and driver as a “gift” from one of his K Street buddies. Conflict of interest? No way! It wasn’t even a Rolls! 

Jimmy Carter, aging gracelessly

What is it about aging former office holders that compels them to get in front of TV cameras and berate President Obama for failing to activate America’s fleet of death ray satellites that ceaselessly circle the globe to wipe out ISIS, along with all other non-“moderate” Syrian rebels, or perhaps for not slipping over to the Middle East in person and taking out the lot of them with the Vulcan nerve pinch?

I expect assholiness from Leon Panetta, because that’s his stock in trade, but since when did Jimbo turn into a neocon talking head programmed by William Kristol? Jimmy’s latest rant seems to make a fetish of hitting every single neocon lie talking point squarely on the head.

Of course, President Obama can only blame himself for the depth of the hole in which he now finds himself, because he and his administration, led by Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, did nine tenths of the digging. But why is Jimmy Carter so eager to start shoveling dirt in on top of them?

Afterwords
In Politico, Justin Logan explains why the Middle East is largely irrelevant to U.S. security. If Logan’s words of common sense convert more than three people in DC, it will be a major victory.

Pseudo New Yorker


Legal humor here. All cartoons here. and here

“Now, I know you all have a lot of questions about a lot of things, but first let me assure that retractable and non-retractable will be treated alike by me.”

“And, when it comes to butt-sniffing, well, we’re all adults here. No need to be squeamish, but no need to be fawning either. In other words, decorum yes, false modesty no.”

“As far as expense accounts go, rhinestone collars are out, out, out. I know the Fifis love ‘em, but the accountants don’t.”

“For all company picnics, the traditional 10 K run will be retained, but it will alternate with a new tradition, the 2-meter pounce.”

“And, remember, positive reinforcement is not a dirty word with me. I’ve got a great big bag of dog yummies and I’d love to have a reason to use them.”

“I simply can’t overemphasize the importance of designer flea and tick collars. Nothing spooks a client faster than something from Sergeant’s. I can spot ‘em from a mile away and the clients can too.”

“When you’re out with a client stay focused at all times. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to see ending up on YouTube.”

“God bless Kibbles and Bits and God bless Tender Vittles. But we don’t want to be a pet food ghetto. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at anything human.”

“I know it’s hard for you guys to go after cars, but would I like to see a Mercedes Benz, or even a Mazda, walk in here? Yes I would.”

“Look I can be Hello Kitty and I can be Hello Leo. That’s entirely up to you. Just remember one thing: cats don’t beg.”

James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide, Part 29


INTRODUCTION

This is the 29th 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 29 continues the discussion of stories in the 1953 collection Thurber Country.

PART 1

PART 28

Thurber Country offers another “drunken writer” story, “The Case of Dimity Ann,” slightly less depressing and perhaps even more intriguing. The story depicts the aftermath of a typical Thurber evening, the host “Ridgeway” in an endless seethe over the departed guest “Bennett,” who remarkably enough escaped killing despite devoting the entire evening to “fascinating” anecdotes about his marvelous cats—surely Thurber’s own idea of the ninth, or perhaps the tenth, circle of Hell.

It is the final cat anecdote of the evening, about Alex, who could tell time and had a fancy for imported Chianti, that pushes Ridgeway over the edge, provoking him into relating a cat anecdote of his own—“I was just reminded of a cat my first wife had, which I used to tie up.”

It’s a little surprising, given Bennett’s devotion to felines, the evening didn’t end in fisticuffs, but as a cat man, perhaps he just wasn’t up to it. I don’t have to spell it out for you, do I?

For Alice, Ridgeway’s wife, with the guests gone, the evening is just beginning, because she didn’t know about the cat tying, and, for a second wife, any revelation, particularly a public one, about the first wife creates an issue that demands resolution.

Alice, like many though not all Thurber wives, is immensely aware of her husband’s moods,1 and she quickly senses that he is unresolved as well, though he seeks to disguise it through the aimless, passive-aggressive pugnacity that is also the cunning Thurber man’s stock in trade.

Ridgeway kicks off the “after party” by mixing his wife, and himself, of course, a nightcap and launching into the first of several parodies we’ll hear as the evening progresses: “I’ll never forget Percy, one of my tomcats. He was smarter than a human being. He could whistle between his teeth, often winked, as God is my judge, and once, if my memory serves, killed a meter reader.”

Alice isn’t fooled by this riff. “Knowing the significance of his various gaits, as well as the implications of his gestures and inflections late at night, Alice figured that if he had two more drinks he would be up till dawn.”

When a Thurber man is angry, as Ridgeway is, it is always his aim to force whoever is with him to stay up all night, or at least until everyone is so drunk that whatever is festering will make itself known, usually leaving a decent amount of blood on the floor. In real life, whatever was festering was usually Thurber’s compulsive ill temper, and all he wanted was to provoke people into provoking him into a fusillade of brutal insults. And if they didn’t provoke him he would provoke himself.

Alice, however, proves more than a match for Ridgeway, She watches as he “tugged at a lock of his hair with his left hand, and ran his lower lip over his upper one. This usually meant that he was about to attack her old beaux, particularly one with the aggravating name of Rupert Llewellyn.” But Alice doesn’t flinch at the prospect, because she needs to know something, and you have to give some to get some: “What was it you did to Lydia’s cat?”

Ridgeway of course is delighted by the question. Alice wants something from him, which gives him a hold over her. She’ll have to listen his self-indulgent parodies of Bennett’s feline obsession, not to mention enduring a whole collection of sneers at poor Rupert’s expense, all of which she already knows by heart. The fact that Ridgeway knows that she knows them all makes it all the more satisfying to him. What could be better than boring people and insulting them at the same time?

What follows is a remarkable tale of, um, cat and mouse, husband and wife reversing roles several times, Alice ultimately maintaining the upper hand by her infallible sense of knowing when he is lying and when he isn’t, and, not so incidentally, convincing her husband that she is right. “She watched the left corner of his mouth turn up, the way it did when he was about to tell a daring story in mixed company or an inconsequential lie to her in private.”

Alice applies a particular goad to her husband by diagnosing his behavior—his insistence that tying up your wife’s cat (and timing its escapes) is trivial and reveals nothing “deep-seated” is a defense mechanism that in fact confirms that which it attempts to deny. Ridgeway naturally wishes to reveal nothing “deep-seated” about himself at all and of course loathes being defined by anyone about anything, much less by his second wife about anything involving his first.

Ridgeway attempts to one-up his wife by parodying her claims that his behavior was obsessive, only to be one-upped himself:

“I hid in a closet until Lydia had left, and then I came creeping out on all fours, calling ‘Kitty, Kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty—’”

“Scat!” she cried loudly, as much to her surprise as to his. Then she walked slowly out into the hall, and waited at the foot of the stairs for his last word. On nights like this, he always had the last word. She could see his right hand groping for his missing glass, and she could sense his mind and tongue searching for something final to say. She realized, after several long moments of silence, that he couldn’t find the last word, for the simple reason that she had said it herself. She ran up the stairs lightly and swiftly as a girl, restraining a new and unexpected impulse to clasp her hands above her head and wave them, in triumphant greeting to the invisible wives of all the writers of the world.

I confess that I don’t quite see “Scat!” as the sword to cut the Gordian knot of Ridgeway’s malignant cunning and glibness—he seems quite capable of whispering “kitty, kitty, kitty” in increasingly coy and exasperating tones until six in the morning—but even if Alice doesn’t shut him up Thurber does. It’s also “interesting” that “Ridgeway” is not given a first name but Alice is,2 a reversal of the pattern in the “Mr. and Mrs. Monroe” stories. Denying a character a first name—except in those “the man” and “the woman” stories—always strikes me as a highly conscious decision of an author, a sort of revenge or punishment of the character. Huckleberry Finn’s father has no name. Huck always refers to him as “pap,” and others refer to him as “your father” or “your pap,” except in the episode early in the book when Huck is disguised as a girl, and the woman whom he is seeking to fool, and whom he does not fool, makes a reference to “old Finn.” As for the cat-tying—yes, Thurber used to tie up Althea’s cat and time its escapes.


  1. Thurber wives tend to be either immensely sensitive, like Alice, or crushingly insensitive, like Mrs. Mitty. 

  2. It is also “interesting” that Alice is named “Alice,” Alice being an important name for anyone as devoted to the works of Lewis Carroll as Thurber was. In an earlier, overly cute story, “Here Come the Tigers,” the nameless narrator is married to “Alice.” 

Romney 2016: The Dream That Will Not Die

In glittering prose, Mark Halperin tells of a glittering evening, a gathering of GOP moneybags who listen as 2016 hopefuls Chris Christie, Rand Paul, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Kelly Ayotte all sing for their supper, with official noncandidate Mitt Romney serving as cohost, along with NY Jets owner Woody Johnson. Each of the hopefuls got five minutes to impress, sort of like Miss America without all the swimsuits. And it was, you know, “nice”—nice, but not, you know, fabulous. What did turn heads? “[T]he most intriguing moment of the evening came when Romney, in full view of onlookers, had a private pull aside with Rupert Murdoch.” “In full view of onlookers,” eh? In full view? Talk about “in flagrante delectable”! Be still, my heart!

I’ve previously snickered over the prospect of a Romney rerun here and here. Because it’s funny!

Afterwords
According to Halperin, topics from the Chris, Rand, and Kasich included such room emptiers as sentencing reform, substance abuse treatment, and programs for the mentally ill, while Rubio told him that he’s, you know, Cuban. Excuse me, but when do we get to the cool shit, like eliminating the “death tax” and cutting Social Security?

Leon Panetta, backstabbing asshole

If the U.S. spends the next 30 years wallowing aimlessly, and profitlessly, in an endless succession of Middle Eastern wars, one of the people you can blame is former CIA Director former SecDef Leon “The Sky is falling and it’s all Obama’s fault” Panetta. I bitched about Leon in the past for a long time under the name of “Leon Douchebag Panetta,” but now I’m revising my nomenclature because it turns out that he’s an even bigger prick out of office than in.

In a recent interview Panetta basically blamed everything that’s going wrong in the Middle East on President Obama, claiming that the president should have muscled the Iraqi government into allowing U.S. troops to remain in the country subject to a status of forces agreement that would have exempted them from Iraqi jurisdiction, something that George Bush failed to do and something that former SecDef Robert Gates said was impossible to do because the Iraqis wanted us gone. Of course, Panetta didn’t explain how the presence of large numbers of U.S. troops would enhance the stability of the regime of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, when, in all likelihood, such an arrangement would have served only to further discredit both Maliki and the U.S.

Panetta also complained, as he had before, of Obama’s failure to intervene in Syria, damaging U.S. credibility, said credibility presented by Panetta as a sort of magic elixir that causes evil-doers all around the world to do whatever it is the U.S. wants them to do. And, oh, yes, Panetta didn’t forget the biggest cliché of all, that Obama isn’t a “leader”. Oy vey, oy vey, oy vey.

In his first term, Obama basically gave the military-intelligence complex 90 percent of what they asked for. After his re-election, he probably cut that to 80 percent. Well, today’s it’s up to 98 percent, and after Panetta’s through, it will probably have to be set at 101 percent. And so, thanks to super schmucks like Leon Panetta, useless Middle Eastern wars, which have dogged us for the past 25 years, will be visited on generations yet unborn. Thanks a lot, douchebag.

Afterwords
Peter Beinert points out that Panetta’s effusions on credibility lack all credibility, while Danny Vinik notes that Leon’s prime example of Obama’s lack of leadership—the failure to exempt the Pentagon’s budget from the ravages of sequestration—is, surprisingly enough, total bullshit.