That’s a wrap for February, eh. Longest one I’ve ever known - but that’s good. No mood for fast passage.
Above: that was a bank building. The Bank of Minneapolis, I think. I have a matchbook about it somewhere, and isn’t that a stunning piece of news. It’s not as if I have matchbooks for everything, though - believe it or not, I am coming to the end of the matchbooks scanned but not posted. When I’m done cutting up all the scans and resizing and adding the drop shadow, I will be out - and that means that unless I start buying more, the Matchbook Museum will run out of updates . . . in 2021.
The bank building might not survive the overhaul of the Midwest Federal Building, or whatever it’s called now. I still call everything by its old name. Like SEARS TOWER in Chicago. Willis? Please. Today I took Daughter through the closed-off Dayton’s Department store, which is being gutted and refit. For a long time it was Macy’s, and no one called it that. Now it’ll be Dayton’s again, which is a pay-up-or-shut-up moment for locals: okay, you bitched about the disappearance of the Dayton’s name from downtown retail. Here. It’s back. So get down here and shop. Or at least eat an expensive cheese sandwich, won’t you?
That was our goal today - she wanted to go down to a coffee shop and write, and we were going to go to the fancy grilled cheese sandwich store. I'd passed it the other day, and thought that looks tasty! And only three dollars? Let's go. I’d misread the menu while walking past. I am not paying $18 for two grilled cheese sandwiches. It's enough to make you say that hated parent phrase: we have bread and cheese at home.
Aw but it’s not the same, the kid would think. They got Grilled Mac and Cheese! Indeed they did, because Mac and Cheese is now a suitable food for adults. Or people who are adulting. What, you say, it’s not? No. It’s a guilty pleasure, but it’s juvenile mush, and while it is delicious, I get annoyed when I see it on menus, as if everything has to be infantilized. Can I have some Nestles Quick with that? I want Strawbewwy! STRAWBEWWY!
Come to think of it, I do want some Strawberry Quick now.
We walked around the skyways back to the office, going down to the lobby of the Rand Tower. The elegant staircase, the statue of Flight, the Lucky-Charms symbols in the floor - unchanged 20s beauty. Then we went outside to discover a van belching the most astonishing cloud of acrid, toxic smoke:
That's after the wind had worked on it for a while. People were walking around rubbing their eyes, coughing, swearing. Didn't spoil anything, though. An ordinary day, and one of my favorites.
I keep coming back to that phrase. Nothing makes a normal day remarkable than the knowledge it won't be normal forever. But what is.
Absolute zero in space, I suppose.
NOTE: no Diner today; I had technical issues on EP 16, so I'm giving myself a week so I can still stay ahead of the game. (Yes, there 16 eps in the can.) If you're behind, you can catch up here.
This is a Medium article that popped up on my Twitter feed. Title:
Why America is the World’s Most Uniquely Cruel Society
Okay, I'm listening.
In this essay, I want to share with you a tiny theory of what it means to be American. It is up to you to judge, as ever, whether it carries any weight. All that I will say is that when I look around, it explains, a little, what I see.
Now we have the paragraph that invalidates the entire piece:
Any theory of being American must explain one salient and striking fact: cruelty. America is the most cruel nation among its peers — even among most poor countries today. It is something like a new Rome.
Which Rome? The young Rome assembling its strength through conquest of its immediate neighbors, the Rome that built a regional empire, the confident Rome that developed resonant, intellectually defensible systems built around law and post-tribal citizenship, the corrupt and decadent Rome, the Byzantine iteration - or do you mean a movie about a city where people poked lions with swords?
It has little, if any, functioning healthcare, education, transport, media, no safety nets, no stability, security.
As they say on the internet when they are astonished by someone brash and dumb: this is a thing that he said. Okay.
It has little, if any, functioning healthcare
I saw a picture in the NYT the other day about the desperate conditions in a Syrian town; it showed a blood-spattered operating theater where the most sophisticated bandage appeared to be a roll of grey duct tape.
Compare & Contrast: My brother-in-law is a private doctor who built his own OBGYN facility, which you’d never know existed because it’s in a nondescript suburban office building, like dozens and dozens of others in his city. He has many patients who cannot afford to pay him and will never pay him. My wife works for a large university’s health care system which exists outside of the chains and the massive Hennepin County health care system, the HQ for which spans blocks downtown. And then there’s this little thing called “Mayo” we have around here. But yeah, little, if any, functioning healthcare.
It has little, if any, functioning education
My daughter goes to public school, and while it’s been a demanding four years in high school, she’s been admitted to two universities so far, one of which is a massive, reasonably affordable public college. Somehow she is not a gibbering dolt fit only for collecting night soil in buckets while a fat overlord lashes her back, but is conversant on American involvement in the Philippines in the 19th century. But yeah, little, if any, functioning education.
It has little, if any, functioning transport
We are, I admit, debating the wisdom of the extension of our light rail system, but it has to do with neighborhood objections as well as cost. Our large, subsidized bus system has instituted dedicated lanes. A streetcar line is being proposed for a commercial corridor in St. Paul to connect with the light rail. On a daily basis, people get where they need to go. But yeah, little, if any, functioning transport.
It has little, if any, functioning media
Every day, I despair! No newspaper on the stoop. The television, black. The screen in my study connects only to porn and games, with no access to news! I go to the office, expecting to see my friends and colleagues working on the daily newspaper, but there's nothing but broken furniture and hobos warming their hands over flames in trash barrels.
FFS. When I was growing up there was one (1) paper and three (3) TV stations and you got the same received wisdom from them all in the same flavor, and now you can find media that goes from stony-hard left to glacier-hard right and everything in between in a trice. But yeah, little, if any, functioning media.
It has no safety nets
Social Security, Medicaid, SNAP, WIC, Section 8, private charity. But yeah, no safety nets.
It has no stability
Oh, I don’t know. We don’t have governments regularly dissolving and reforming at irregular intervals. A remarkable absence of coups, wouldn’t you say? No warlords, no renegade provinces since the unpleasantness of the 1860s, no massive currency devaluations, no loud third parties busting up the system for a single issue, no Constituent Assemblies like Venezuela to override the already humiliated Constitution, but yeah, sure: no stability.
It has little, if any, security.
Dude really knows how to finish up with his strongest accusation, doesn’t he? Okay, here’s an idea: martial law. Damned secure. Like it? No? Why not?
The middle class is collapsing, and life expectancy is falling. Young people die for a lack of insulin they cannot crowdfund. Elderly middle-class people live and die in their cars. Kids massacre each other in schools — when they’re not self-medicating the pain of it all away. The combination of these pathologies happens nowhere else — not a single place — in the world. Not even Pakistan, Costa Rica, or Rwanda. Hence, the world is aghast daily at the depths of American cruelty — yet somehow, they seem bottomless.
And yet I suspect there are people in Pakistan, Costa Rica, or Rwanda who would like to come here. If only to drive past the old people dying in their cars to visit Disneyworld. How such a cruel place could invent such a happy place - it’s a mystery. But Disneyworld just shows the lie at the heart of the cruelty of the lying heart that is cruel, no? A sick monstrous parody of optimism that can only arise from a dystopian hell-pit like America.
Anyway, he goes on, as you might expect; that was just the warm up. But the opening remarks have the effect of invalidating everything he might possibly say, because it’s patently false and indicates the author is either a polemical simpleton or a liar. Or - possible third option - someone who lives in London and makes his living as a Talker-Type Person Who Says Important TED-talk-type things?
Yeah. Well, here’s the thing. If America is what he describes - cruel in essence and manifestation - and it has little, if any, functioning healthcare, education, transport, media, no safety nets, no stability, security, then it should be done away with entirely, no? It should be scoured down to the ground and remade along different principles, because the ones on which it was founded were obviously flawed. Anything that stands in the way of that reconstruction project should be killed. Right?
Oh, no, that’s a decaying toll bridge too far. No one’s saying we should kill anyone who objects to the abolition of a failed, cruel state. Yes yes there are those who would want to kill the objectors and kulaks, and yes we have brought them into our movement because they provide brio and enthusiasm, but they are just useful, that’s all. We will moderate them at the right time. A little bloodshed may be required down the road in isolated, scientifically-justified instances, but keep your eye on the prize, my friend! Would you really care about the death of a few if it meant paradise for all?
Mind you, we’re not talking about the deaths of government officials; that would be immoral. But if the people decide to take a private medical clinic into their own hands, and a doctor should object, well, there are other doctors, aren’t there?
Focus, friends This is the worst of all possible worlds, and once we have convinced enough people of that fact, everything is possible.
Everything will be permitted, too - a dazzling, exciting time! But it would only last for a short while. Then the wise cool heads prevail, and a better order will arise.
It will have functioning transport! A nice smooth ride, right to the gate of the camps.
We're currently having a small amout of fun with Batman.
The ol’ deadly hammer in the shoulder knocks him out as the flames consume the warehouse! Whatever will Batman do?
Those stairs look familiar. We’ve seen this set before.
Now the Wizard’s really angry, and decides - and I quote - “to demoralize all traffic.” He uses his REMOTE CONTROL to shut off everyone’s cars. And it works! But the power required overtaxes his machine, and “the diamond bearings are burned out.”
This leads to my two favorite serial headlines ever:
Commissioner Gordon, the head of local law enforcement, drops by Bruce Wayne’s house to ask why he thought the Wizard wasn’t using his remote control anymore.
“I don’t know,” Wayne replies. “Perhaps his machine is damaged.”
“Good point,” the Commissioner says. “But I’ve never discussed this matter with you. Only the Batman. I wanted my suspicions confirmed.”
“Dammit,” Bruce Wayne says. “I knew that would happen. I’m getting sloppy.”
“It’s the strain of a dual identity,” the Commissioner says. “I imagine it takes a toll on a man.”
Well, no, that didn’t happen. But he does drop b to solicit the idle rich man's advice. Meanwhile, Vicky Vale gets a call from her loser brother - the one who’d fallen in with the Wizard’s henches - and he tells her where he’s being kept prisoner.
Everything in serials always looks so cheap and stagey.
Batman follows, and as Vicki and brother are escaping, the Caped Crusader arrives on the scene with his usual smooth panache:
Hey, let’s play Donkey Kong:
Brother Jimmy tells Commissioner Gordon that the Wizard is planning to steal some diamonds. But it turns out he’s still working for the Wizard!!!! He tells the criminals where the diamonds are going to be stored!!!! Batman soon learns that Jimmy’s guard had a gun with blanks in it, which meant it was all a set-up to find the diamond location.
Uh-huh. Well, they steal the diamonds, with Batman in hot pursuit. The henches are heading for the place where they board the secret sub; they call the Wizard, who knocks out Batman’s car by remote control.
How? By using the machine whose inability to work is the reason for getting the diamonds.
Well, Batman flags down another car, and the Wizard attacks that one, giving us a cliffhanger that reminds us: we haven’t seen this trope yet.
Not in this serial, I mean. Otherwise, yeah, we've seen that before.
There you have it; see you around.