The Light of the Tiny Screen

Steve looked up from the paper on Sunday morning and said, “Ross Douthat is on a roll.”

In his long Sunday op-ed, “The Age of Decadence,” Ross touches on the nihilism that I wrote about last week. He writes,

The truth of the first decades of the 21st century, a truth that helped give us the Trump presidency but will still be an important truth when he is gone, is that we probably aren’t entering a 1930-style crisis for Western liberalism or hurtling forward toward transhumanism or extinction. Instead, we are aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer optimistic about the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we await some saving innovation or revelation, growing old unhappily together in the light of tiny screens.

Like me, he doesn’t see political revolution, just stagnation and corruption. He has a few lovely anecdotes — The Frye Festival, Thanos, Uber — meant to highlight the lack of new ideas and the frauds that dominate our world. I have another one.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle emerged from their Canadian igloo to give a speech at a JP Morgan event in Florida last week. According to the gossip blogs, which are always right, they made a cool million with a talk about Harry’s difficulties dealing with his mother’s death and his years in therapy. Apparently, three different countries covered the security for them.

Now, it’s a sad tale, but Harry is the hardly the only person in the world who lost a parent at a vulnerable age and now goes to a shrink. JP Morgan paid him all that money along with a private jet, because he was catnip for super, super, mega rich people, who would then invest money in their bank. Famous people want to meet famous people and then swirl all their beautiful money together and make more money.

The only people who seem to really be bothered about these sorts of events are the basement dwellers who comment on those blogs, who seem to have an unhealthy obsession with this couple. (To be fair, they also hate Prince Andrew and have some very juicy gossip about Uncle Pervy as they call him.)

I have been saddened by the post-presidential Obamas, who seem to have also cashed in on these sorts of events. They aren’t exactly Jimmy Carters quietly building houses for poor people in their spare time.

And as an army of publicists create Instagramable moments for the masses, things are getting worse. Fiddling, while Rome burns.

With a child with special needs, I go to a lot of presentations about how to navigate the system for adults with disabilities. And it’s all bad. As long as Steve and I are around, my kid will be fine, but what happens when we’re gone? What happens if his brother can’t fill the void? What happens to individuals that don’t have parents that have our resources? The lack of any sort of safety net in our country is terrifying. It keeps me up at night, which is when I read the gossip blogs.

I sort of want to delete this post. Pessimism is bad for one’s brand. Screw it. Publishing.

When People Stop Caring

For the past couple of days, we’ve had some serious health issues to contend with here at Apt. 11D. It would be in bad taste to talk publicly about those issues, beyond some notices in the comment section for regulars, but let’s just say that those problems have been all consuming.

Iowa, the State of the Union, and the impeachment verdict have gotten only cursory attention from myself. When I haven’t been busy with doctors, I’ve been anesthesizing my brain with romance novels, gossip blogs, and dark chocolate. If someone like me — an over-educated news junkie — isn’t paying attention, that’s bad news. It means that nobody else is paying attention.

Part of the hubris of any blogger or political pundit or hyper-tweeter is that they feel that they can make a difference through their words, no matter how small and insignificant their blog may be. We all think we can change the world, and that’s why we do it. If I’m feeling powerless, that’s bad news. It means that the ordinary people don’t feel like they matter.

Only 172,000 people showed up to vote in Iowa, after a year of hard work and money by over a dozen candidates. And that was before the counting fiasco. How many people will bother to vote next time?

Compared to other political moments, like the Kavanaugh hearings, the impeachment hearings didn’t attract many viewers. Maybe because the outcome was obvious. There was no drama.

Random thought: Would John McCain have made a difference?

All this is important. We have an unhinged president who is running our country like he’s at the wheel of the white SUV with OJ Simpson along an LA highway. He’s reckless, stupid, and selfish. He doesn’t obey the unwritten laws that have kept politicians in check in our country for two centuries, never mind the written laws. I fear that our nation will never recover.

The worst tragedy is what happens when people stop paying attention. When people like me get caught up in our personal lives — no matter how serious and real — and don’t turn on the television, stop tweeting, stop writing, then that’s when democracy dies. Yes, the world keeps spinning. Yes, our problems are real. But those problems will only get worse, if our political system goes to hell and stops doing the little that it already does for our most vulnerable.

So, I’m shaking myself out of my personal crisis and getting back to business.

Bernie Bros, The Moderate Vote, and A Waiter in the West Village

I don’t care about football.

I usually watch the Super Bowl every year, because of the parties, the fun munchies, and the commercials. Everything else is a big snore for me. So, last night, I skipped the whole thing and went out with a couple of girlfriends to grab drinks and dinner in the New York City.

We were ensconced in a bar in the West Village eating super salty fries and drinking pitchers of beer along with the 20-year olds, when the conversation turned to the election. Who were we going to vote for in the primary?

One friend said her vote was for Warren or Bernie. The other friend said, anybody but Bernie. I said, anybody who has the best chance of beating Trump. I said that if the polls tell me that Biden has the best chance, I’ll vote for him. I’m, in a sense, a single issue voter right.

So, we were fighting it out about who had the best chance, who would carry the youth vote, and did the youth vote matter (no), when our waiter demanded to know what we were fighting about. I said, “politics”. He said, “move over. I want to hear this.” So, I pushed our coats away and gave him a seat.

He was a 30-something, probably gay, mixed race guy. He said that he didn’t like Bernie. While he was very in favor of gay rights, he was a libertarian about a lot of things. He thought that people should be able to carry guns, as long as they followed certain rules. He also said that 70 percent of his friends weren’t going to vote at all.

When he got up, I didn’t say, “I told you so.” But I was thinking it.

At this point, I think people are either going to vote for Trump or they won’t. I can’t imagine there is a single person in the country, who hasn’t made that decision. There are a whole lot of people, who may or may not show up to vote. And that’s the real election now.

The Democrats have to put someone forward who will get their people to the polls, but won’t annoy weak Republicans so much so that they decide to show up and vote for Trump.

There is definitely a “silly season” in every primary, where the media doesn’t feel that it’s totally necessary to back the serious candidate. That’s why Trump got as far as he did. The media let him go unchecked through silly season, until it was too late.

Is the same thing happening now? Mayor Pete is really too young to be a serious candidate. Bernie may actually be a terrible candidate, as Hillary hinted last week. (I think her comment wasn’t off-the-cuff, but was a calculated attempt by Democrat leaders to take Bernie out.) Biden is doing really well with minority voters.

Then the waiter came back again and told me that I looked just like the landlady on the Kimmie Schmidt show. After a little googling on our phones, we realized that he meant Carol Kane. Apparently, I look like a crazy old lady, with big eyes and wild hair, so take this waiter’s comments with a grain of salt.

Electrician Gossip: Excerpt From the Newsletter January 30, 2020

Here’s an excerpt from the latest newsletter. Don’t forget to subscribe!

January 31, 2020

Hi all!

We’re in the midst of some minor home renovations. Two rooms that remained pretty much untouched since we moved in — our bedroom and office — are getting some love. Nothing fancy, because a bigger job is on the horizon. Just a little paint, some rearranging, and new lighting. 

The electricians were here all morning putting in overhead lights in our dimly lit office. When they were on the way out, I grilled them about business, because I’m nosy like that. I am super interested in jobs that don’t involve college, both because it’s a good topic to write about and because my kid, Ian, may or may not be able to hack traditional college, even one that has supports for kids like him. 

So, the guys told me that business is great. They were slammed by the recession in 2008 and had to cut their workforce in half, but that things have picked up again. Lots of people are doing construction on their homes and renovating their dimly lit office space, so the work is there.  

I asked them if they are hiring new workers. They said that they would, but that “kids today don’t want to do physical labor. They just want to play on their cellphones.” It’s hard for them to find workers. 

I asked them about schooling. Did they recommend a particular program or trade school? Nah, they told me. They teach people on the job how to do things. The old guy said that he went to college, but didn’t want to work in an office, so he became an electrician. He didn’t need his college education for the job. The young guy said he went straight from high school to the job. 

I asked them if the guys who came from trade school were particularly good. They told me that those programs weren’t very helpful, because the best way to learn how to do a job like theirs isn’t from a textbook, but by experience. 

I couldn’t exactly ask them if their job paid well, but the old guy mentioned that he lived locally. So, he’s making enough to afford the high home and taxes in this area. The young guy said he lived out in western Jersey, where houses in the woods are plentiful and relatively affordable. The old guy said that the good thing about being an electrician is that “you can work as much as you like.” He works for this big electric company during the day and then works for a buddy in the evening. That evening work is probably off-the-books, so that means that extra income never shows up on salary scales.

I’m going to continue my annoying questions of workers and owners of businesses. College isn’t for everyone, and parents like me are looking for answers. 

If you want more on this topic, we talked on the blog about a friend who is sending her honors student son to automotive school next year. Also, I wrote about a girl, who decided to go to a trade school, after college last year. 

Thanks for reading! Laura

If I Meant Well, It's Okay

I’ve been juggling a couple of work projects and home projects this week. As I write this, there are a couple of electricians in our office downstairs installing some lovely inset lighting. And while all that goes on, the impeachment trial is on CNN in the background.

Steve’s theory — and it’s a good one, I think — is that all these speeches are not really for the Senate or the impeachment itself. There is pretty much zero chance that Democrats will have enough votes for a conviction, barring some unforeseen bombshell. So, why all this effort? It could bite Democrats in the ass, if it pushes borderline Republicans to the voting booths in November.

Steve thinks this is all about history. These speeches are going to go down in the books in part because of the Grade A oratory skills of people like Adam Schiff. And also because this president is going to do something even worse in the future, and Democrats want to point to this record as evidence that they did their best to stop him. They’re also forcing Republicans and their henchmen to go on the record with mind-blowing, insane arguments that demonstrate their insincerity and corruption.

Case in point, Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz made the argument that quid pro quo is impeachable, if a president does it for personal gain like to build a hotel. But quid pro quo happens all the time in normal international affairs, if a president does it for the national good. But what happens when, a president does it to get reelected? Dershowitz argued that since a president considers it in the national good for himself to be reelected, as any politician believes, so therefore it is not impeachable.

The Daily had a nice rundown of his argument. More here.

So, if I rob a liquor store, because I believe the liquor store has too much money and that I would use their money to give to orphans and babies, then no crime would be committed.

Have you been watching the impeachment? What do you think?

Bypassing College

I managed to check off my entire list of work chores before 10:00am. Somedays, things go faster than others. So, what does that mean? Lots of time wasting on twitter and blogs today! Woot! First, let me tell you a story.

Steve and I went out for dinner with friends last Saturday night. Because our kids are all around the same age, we talked about colleges. One couple had decided to go the traditional route for their kids and was spending serious cash on a private college and an out-of-state college. That family will be paying back loans for thirty years.

The other couple of double lawyers was sending their Uber-smart son to the engineering program at an in-state college. The second son had decided that he didn’t want to go to college at all. The kid is also smart and in honors classes with a good GPA, but he just had no interest in higher education. He wants to go to automotive school. He just loves cars and that’s it.

So, the parents did the research, and they’re sending him to a for-profit automotive school, where he’ll commute from home. He’ll be done in two years and do what he loves most, which is to tinker with car engines.

Apparently being a car mechanic these days isn’t just lug nuts and oil changes. It’s very technical. It requires a lot of comfort with computers and high-end machinery. Car dealerships are having a hard time finding people with that sort of knowledge, so they are offering nice salaries and benefit packages.

When blue collar jobs become white collar jobs.

Middle class parents are slowly getting more savvy about these options. I expect to see more of this in the future. Are there downsides?

The Politics of Harry and Meghan

Like everybody else in this country, I have been fairly obsessed with the news that Harry and Meghan want out of the royal family. On the one hand, it’s completely insane that Americans, of all people, give two shits about anything to do with the monarchy. But on the other, it’s a really good drama, so shut up. This is better than Netflix.

Woke Twitter is firmly on Meghan’s side. They say that she’s been treated badly by the racist press and scheming royals. Buzzfeed has a viral article that contrasts the different way the British press has dealt with Meghan and Kate.

Truthfully, all royals get their share of roasting by the British tabloids. Kate got shit last year for having bandaids on her hands. Seriously. Bandaids. Or plasters, as they call them over there.

Is that situation okay? The love-hate relationship. The Brits support the monarchy, in exchange for ripping them down occasionally. I don’t know. That’s between the British people. It’s a situation that anyone who marries into the family is well aware of. They choose to make that exchange of money/status/privilege/nice clothes for life in a fish bowl. I don’t believe for a second that Meghan was surprised by all that.

Is Meghan a sympathetic figure? Well, the blind gossip websites here in the US have had tales about her for two years. She sacked three nannies in less than a year. They give the marriage five years tops. Again, I don’t care that much, except in a shallow, Friday morning sort of way.

The most interesting part of Megxit, at least for me, is the political and financial ramifications of this move.

In the US, our president is both the chief of state and the chief of government. Being the chief of state means that this person is a living symbol of the country. Countries have all sorts of symbols, from flags to buildings. But there is also a person that takes on that job.

In England, they divide up the job of chief of state and government. The queen is the living symbol of the country, while the prime minister runs the government. They like it that way, because it means the country has the continuity of the royal family that isn’t going anywhere, while prime ministers come and go. Whatever. It’s their system. I don’t have strong opinions on that.

But being the chief of state, a living emblem of a country, means that one has to always play the part. The Queen is never off duty. It’s a permanent, 24/7 job that is bound by rules and ritual. It’s a brand, but a brand that is entirely tied to the nation.

So, Harry and Meghan want to take the royal brand and make money with it. That causes problems. It’s like if Donald Trump changed the name of his hotels right now to The Oval Office or Presidential Suites or something. I mean, he’ll probably do that when he leaves office, but if he did it now, people would freak out. I suppose the Obamas are making a lot of money right as former White House residents, but they didn’t do it while they were in office. That distinction has always been important.

Harry and Meghan want to join the ranks of the new international Uber-wealthy, who don’t belong to any one country. The people who have empty penthouses in London and New York City. Russian mafia and Saudi princes. But those Russians and Saudis aren’t on the front page of the tabloids. They don’t need millions in security. Who will pay for all that?

And where will they pay taxes? In the UK or Canada or the US? Harry and Meghan are like a massive international corporation, like Apple and Amazon. Massive enterprises that cross national boarders.

These are complicated matters, as the Queen points out.