How can you tell when it’s time to stop paging through an architecture forum’s endless list of interesting buildings? Simple. Say you’re redoing the Nwestern Bell building site – and it would be nice if you were, because I don’t know why the job of cataloguing every major building downtown complete with postcards and archival photos and google maps and the like has fallen my shoulders, although I suppose I volunteered in the early days of the internet and there’s naught I can do about it now, except quit, which is hardly an option – and you’re looking for clues about the decoration style. For some reason you think of an unusually exuberant Detroit skyscraper, and you google it, ending up on a skyscraper forums thread – no luck, but you get sidetracked by another thread about ugly buildings, and somewhere around page 20 someone posts an ugly phone building. To which someone posts, in response, a pretty phone building.
Not only is it the building I’m working on, but the guy used a photo from my site
Well, that’s the internet’s way of saying “get back to work.”
Well, there’s this to finish and then a book to read. A light night. Later, Mad Men – I do hope the show ends around 1963 or so, and hangs it up, because the thought of the characters changing into guys with turtlenecks and big sideburns is depressing; you know Don Draper would probably go full Hugh O’Brian in his own compressed fashion. As a meditation on Manlihood of the olden times, it’s as good as advertised; the eighth episode, which involves wife-groping by the boss, drunk driving, gun ownership and competitive stair-climbing was perfect from start to stop. I mentioned on the Twitter feed that it had briefly turned into Carnevale – it reminds you that the guys who were Mad Av canyon-wolves at the end of the 50s could have grown up as shoeless kids in the Depression. The gap between ’34 and ’59 seems an entire century, not just a quarter of one.
Had fun on buzz.mn today posting old pictures of the Aquatennial parade in the 40s – same pictures I used last year, but who remembers? Well, I do; I have a record of everything I wrote, but I dasn’t look it at lest A) my previous comments are really sharp compared to my current comments, which suggests a fatal diminution of ability, or B) my current comments are better, which suggests I embarrassed myself last year. You can’t win. Rather I can’t. Living as a writer sometimes meaning you walk into a great howling wind that says YOU JUST SUCK and it’s all you can do to keep from letting the wind pick you up and put you where it wishes. Which is usually in the not-too-distant county of SO YOU ADMIT YOU DO SUCK. It’s a corruption of an Indian name.
Welllll, I wish had some funny photos or odd scans to give you now, but I don’t. I have this: the Minneapolis update, with many photos of the severely gorgeous Telephone company building. And I have a reminder that you might wish to take the QOR survey, if you haven’t done so yet:
If not, there’s only the following heedless descent into screediness.
Thus warned, you are.
Odd as it seems, the only thing that tweaks my pique these days is Garrison Keillor’s horrible syndicated column. Having written many simplistic columns in my own time, I should be sympathetic, but I just can’t bring myself to measure out the requisite nine yards of slack. Obligatory disclaimer: Keillor is a tremendously talented writer, but his newspaper columns are usually devoid of logic, wit, argument, surprise, or, commas, and generally sound like a prematurely elderly fellow seething over the fact that someone dared run against FDR in ’40. The only reason to read the column is to see what reminded him this week how much he doesn’t like George Bush. Because he doesn’t like Bush. And it’s very important that people know this. There are hundreds of thousands of people across the country wondering whether Keillor’s grudging admiration of a slightly lumpy tapioca pudding in a Maine coffee shop has led him to moderate his hatred of George Bush. Be assured: no. The man is steadfast and true.
This week he’s in Pasadena, sitting on a porch with other fellow “American optimists.” A curious definition of optimism, this:
“We grew up with cheapo gasoline and our children won’t and anything you hear about rolling back prices at the pump is just election-year blather.”
I’m convinced right there, but he presses the point home with inexorable logic:
“Supply is not rising to meet demand, what with China and India booming, and that drives the price up: you learned about this in the seventh grade.”
We also learned that Pluto was a planet, but nevermind. Yes, that “supply and demand” thing is part of the problem, now that he mentions it, and I think I speak for many readers who put down the paper at that point, called over the spouse, and said “look here. That Keillor fellow really spelled it out.” But the two sentences share only their interminability; they don’t constitute an argument. If supply is not rising to meet demand, perhaps we should endeavor to increase the supply? Nope: don’t bother:
“So our kids will have to deal with new realities, which they can manage better than we can, and when gas goes to seven and eight and 10 dollars a gallon, they’ll roll with it.”
Yes, in rickshaws. The effect of 10-dollar-a-gallon gas on the economy, even years hence, is blithely dismissed by the American Optimist, because the kids will deal with a new reality, and they will be better at it. So forget about puncturing the speculative bubble, or increasing the supply so increased demand from China and India doesn’t give us ten-dollar gas before our wise, nimble children figure out how best to ride bikes in the winter, or leasing new lands for shale-oil exploration.
(That last one is particularly important and high on the list of things WE CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT AND MUST NOT DO. Oh, this 07/22/08 Dept. of the Interior press release says the Bureau of Land Management “published proposed regulations to establish a commercial oil shale program that could result in the addition of up to 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from lands in the western United States.” You think: That’s quite a bit of oil. That would give us a nice cushion while we invent and perfect all the alternatives, no?
No. It's empty theatrics and a favor for the oil companies. Also, a key legislator opposes the idea. As he writes in the Post: “Since the 19th century, we in the West have been trying to extract oil from the vast oil shale riches that lie under our feet. It is no easy task, and past efforts have failed miserably.” Well, then, never mind. Stop doing those things! People failed in the past! If that doesn't keep us from trying again, what will?
Really, it's as if we learn nothing from history.
Having informed the reading public that this particular millionaire is nonchalant about expensive gas, he moves on to bygone foreign policy in Guatemala (bad), the New Yorker Obama cover (dumb), McCain talking about Viagra (funny! He’s old), the rescue of Freddie Mac and Freddie Mae. The usual saints and villains are trotted out. (Keillor makes a Manichean look like an agnostic Unitarian.) It all leads nowhere, but usually the fifth paragraph is where Keillor blames Bush for the aforementioned items, be they dandelions or black holes or the heartbreak of psoriasis, and here it is, re: Freddie Mac:
“A whiner might wonder where was the Current Occupant? Does the gentleman still come to the office on a regular basis? Does anybody tell him what’s going on or is he still looking at picture books?”
If you’re done slapping your knee red, you might wonder how this is topped, and if you’re a regular reader of the Old Scout, you know how: the rote condemnation of the Current Occupant is now followed up with Obama Hosannas. Keillor, adept and deft at burnishing his moderate credentials, takes the hard left to school, and it’s snap-city:
“Same with the growling and grumbling on the left about Barack tacking to the center, adjusting positions, giving tough-love speeches to African-American audiences – what some people decry as cynical politics some of us welcome as a sign of seriousness.”
He’s welcome to think that, of course, but this suggests that the previous non-centrist positions were evidence of intellectual frivolity. Or pandering. Not that these would be unique in a politician, of course, and as we all know, it’s what candidates do after they’ve sewn it up. We have come to expect the gavotte, and some think it reveals the bones of a man to show how well he swaps one suit for another. This isn’t always bad - aside from a few standard-issue banalities he used to identify his ideological self-conception, President Clinton had few core principles beyond his own ego, and was thus able to adopt centrist positions with admirable, nimble skill. Whether it’s the same for Obama, I can’t say yet – I have my suspicions - but Clinton was a far better extemporaneous speaker, and wonkier at internalizing the issues and manipulating the rhetoric of the debate. Bill Clinton seemed to relish combat, and loved not just debate but winning one on points; Obama seems to prefer limiting the terms of the debate before it begins, and seems uncomfortable with details both ancillary and specific.
In any case, “seriousness” can be a facile attribute; I had a serious turtle as a kid.
Anyway. Here are the serious positions of which the Old Scout approves:
“Barack making overtures to evangelicals? It’s about time! Barack expressing his support of the Second Amendment? Bravo.”
When Obama says it, it’s good, I guess. When the other guys do it – well, let’s not forget Keilor’s famous characterization of his ideological opponents in 2004:
“hairy-backed swamp developers, corporate shills, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, hobby cops, misanthropic frat boys, lizardskin cigar monkeys, jerktown romeos, ninja dittoheads.” In 1994 he called them “dim figures emerged from the mist; lo and behold, the same old gang of frat boys, geezers in golf pants, cheese merchants, cat stranglers, corporate shills, Bible beaters, swamp developers."
You’re so entranced by his fascination with frat-boy swamp developers that you forget the swipe at the cheese merchants. I never quite understood what he meant by that. The fellow who gets your cheese at the Lunds deli counter is a young Polish immigrant, and I don’t think he strangles cats. It’s almost as if the word processor was set on automatic. Enabling Keillor mode:
“Fat shapes emerged from the fog; hail and fare-thee-well, the same ancient mob of sorority sisters, Masons of the moment, backwater frog-heads, spumoni disciples, swamp-cheese franchise experts, Cartesians in LaCrosse socks, ferret-ticklers, and Rosicrutian tract-whappers.”
I’d be opposed to those people too. Whoever the hell they are.
Anyway, that’s just something to keep in mind when the Scout starts praising a candidate who tries to appeal to evangelicals and gun-right advocates. At least it’s good to know he approves of evangelicals and gun-rights advocates now. If Obama made a speech praising ANWAR drilling, you suspect it would be seen as a frank pragmatic assertion that our children need help rolling with the future. Keillor continues:
“Bravo. I want to see my man excited by the prospect of victory and not shrink from it as so many Democrats do. They’ve read too many books about heroic dissenters and it makes them nervous about being in too big a crowd.”
I have no idea what he’s talking about. Seriously. Perhaps in Pasedena there’s some alternate-universe Barnes and Noble where the shelves are stacked high with books praising the administration and shouting the myriad & infinite glories of America the Perfect, but I was at B&L today and there was a table six feet long heaped with books about how we’re screwed and broke and lied to and misled and all the other merry sentiments that abound in the land these days. I don’t think any of the authors are worried about selling too many books, and ending up in too big a crowd. If he’s saying that the Modern Brave Soul automatically questions his principles if they’re accepted by the masses – the loutish, stupid, cat-strangling masses – then he seems to have missed that portion of the internet that practices Heroic Dissent on a daily basis. Or maybe he spends all day reading the Daily Kos and wonders why these people are so timid and gunshy.
Let’s keep going with that crowd idea:
“The huge crowds that Barack draws are stunned by the fact that someone like him, with that interesting name, is – hang on now – a mainstream candidate for President of the United States, and that he is, on close examination, One of Us.”
That’s the line that pinged out at me, and made me file away the column for future fiskery. One of us. Never mind the gabba-gabba-hey connotations, or the “mainstream” line – I’d love to hear a Woebegon ep in which Rev. Wright brings his race-based rhetoric to a small Lutheran church. ("Think twice about who you put your arm around, Senator McCain," the Scout cautioned in another column, back in the olden times when associations were relevant..) No, by “one of us” Keillor, I suspect, means the “us” of the smart set, the people who read the New Yorker even if one out 52 covers offends, the people who went to college for real instead of floating by with frat-boy grins, the people who protested the war instead of fighting it, the people who grapple, you know, with issues, seriously, and express a certain soulful anguish at the complexity of it all, and file away the details about zoning disputes with neighbors to be worked into a novel six years hence, when the whole incident has ripened into a metaphor.
I might be wrong, but I don’t think a fellow who works at a gas station in the Midwest whose wife works as a nurse and commutes 27 miles a day and complains more about the cost of gas than the cost of dance lessons regards Obama as One of Us. They may like his views on this issue or that, and they may well vote for him in the name of Change or a serious belief in Obama’s positions, but if you grew up in a community that was already pretty well organized on its own, you might look at a Harvard grad “community organizer” who had the time and luxury to write an autobiography before he was 50 as something other than One of Us in the "second-shift / Costco" sense. You want to be one of us, come down here and do something that requires five minutes of Gojo scrubbing come five PM.
Keillor concludes that Obama is “much more One of Us” than the Current Occupant - although I suspect that if Obama was deeply religious and a reformed alcoholic this would be a sign of his ability to understand how human nature can be both transcendent and imperfect. Obama’s National Guard service would also be terribly illustrative, and old photos of the fellow in a flight suit would be regarded as proof of an essential, indelible, illustrative bond with the men and women who serve today. (In the absence of such photos, or the service that would have produced such photos, such experience is irrelevant.) Keillor ends by noting that Obama is more One of Us than Rush Limbaugh, whose Florida home has cherubs painted on the ceiling – “just like Versailles” – and has a life-sized portrait of himself on the premises.
True that may be, but I suspect Mr. Limbaugh paid for the portrait himself. And Mr. Limbaugh works in the private sector, which is where Most of Us work. The city of S., Paul helped pay for the renovation of the Fitzgerald Theater, the lovely palace from which Mr. Keillor broadcasts. I imagine there will be a portrait of the theater’s most famous resident some day, and if the St. Paul city council decides to use tax money to pay for it, who could complain? He’s one of us. And if people can’t afford to drive downtown for the unveiling ceremony because gas is 10 dollars a gallon? Well, their children should have figured that out.
If they didn’t, they must be cheese merchants.