No Predictions

We’re getting close to that time of the year. Some of us resolve to lose weight, find love, change jobs. Some pundits tell us how best to do all that; others tell us it is futile. Others just advise us on what recipes will make people happy – or unhappy.

I was amused to read that lifestyle diva Martha Stewart and aspiring lifestyle diva Gwyneth Paltrow were feuding through recipe columns. Stewart poked at Paltrow’s recent breakup with a “consciously coupled” dish. Paltrow retaliated with a “jailbird” cake – calling to mind Stewart’s time in the slammer. Classy stuff.

For a few years I could count on doomers of various stripes – curmudgeon Jim Kunstler, Dr Doom Nouriel Roubini, ArchDruid John Michael Greer, Kollapsnik Dmitry Orlov, retired CIA analyst Tom Whipple and even farmer/mother Sharon Astyk – posting their predictions for energy depletion for the coming year. I occasionally read Ilargi and Stoneleigh at The Automatic Earth and various folk at The Oil Drum as well. I was not a reader of the embattled Mike Ruppert – who took his own life last Spring – or Carolyn Baker or Guy MacPherson, the three of whom were even more certain of our demise.

Kunstler is still predicting imminent chaos next week, as are Raul and Nicole at TAE. Former Oil Drum editor Gail Tverberg at Our Finite World seems to have a slightly longer horizon. Tom Whipple still dutifully reports on international crises, though he hopes for the hail mary pass of cold fusion to score a touchdown against a low energy future for our grandchildren. I’m still not conversant with Baker or MacPherson, but the rest have drifted into a general feeling that we are now living through the early stages of a post-peak collapse with increasingly severe climate emergencies. Greer posts at length about how we should adapt as tinpot warlords duke it out over the next few centuries. Orlov sees America’s attempt to use Ukraine against the Russians as a sign of imperial decline and urges us to be more like Roma gypsies. Astyk seems too busy with her adopted foster children to bother with the rest of us. And good on her.

I don’t have any predictions except that things will keep getting a little worse – particularly the climate. Some of us are still insulated from the effects of a contracting economy, but many of us know people who have fallen out. Some of them are still trying to follow the American Dream; others are living with parents or friends; the most desperate have turned to dealing meth. We read about people going bankrupt from going to the wrong damn hospital. The ubiquity of phone cameras has revealed that our police are nothing like the stolid or lovable actors on television. Cameras also reveal that rich people laugh to each other at exploiting poorer people. Last night even 60 Minutes noticed that our infrastructure isn’t being maintained. We’re too busy building weapons and casinos to fix our bridges.

Unhappy Valley

On its Opinion page, the New York Times posted a snippet from the new documentary film, Happy Valley. Standing next to the statue of Joe Paterno, a former PSU math professor displays a small sign accusing Paterno of lying, covering up and enabling a pedophile. That annoys some much bigger JoePa fans who physically intimidate him.

There were almost two hundred comments, which I read through. Many of them condemned Paterno and the football culture at PSU. Others defended Paterno and condemned the Freeh report. One person linked to a Sports Illustrated piece that accuses Freeh of working in concert with the NCAA instead of being independent. I decided to add a comment, but it never appeared. I’ve added comments before, and they did appear, so it may be that the editors simply didn’t like my comments. So I’ll post what I remember of them here.

I attended CMU, in Pittsburgh, but when I moved to Central Pennsylvania, I encountered a lot of people who either worked at, or had studied at PSU. When I met my ex-wife, she was teaching at a satellite campus. She was later forced out by a jealous superior with tenure. My stepkids’ late grandfather – a really good guy – had served on State College committees with Paterno, considered him a close friend and raved about what a great man he was. Many of my coworkers, choirmates and theater friends had connections to PSU.

In time, my work brought me into contact with the 500 lb gorilla that is Penn State in Central PA. I worked on some projects in State College, which were reviewed by both PSU and city officials. Meanwhile it seemed to me that Paterno was trying to arrange that his son would inherit the head coaching position.

Several of my current in-laws attended PSU. A lot of them refuse to believe anything bad about their JoePa. My wife believes that Corbett lost the governor’s race – partially – because of the way he handled the PSU scandal.

I think it is too simplistic to blame this scandal heavily on Paterno, or on football culture. Paterno was not the hero we were looking for, and American football is almost literally brain-dead, but like all state schools, PSU was clearly a very large, byzantine bureaucracy. All the usual rules for surviving and prospering in such places have been deftly parodied and skewered in the Dilbert comics, and one could probably populate a Dilbert strip or a Game of Thrones episode with the characters in this scandal.

Sandusky was clearly able to exploit the culture of power as ably as he groomed his victims and their parents. From today’s news, a lot of frat boys seem to count on being protected by risk-averse administrators after raping freshmen women. Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and many others counted on the assumption that no one who wants to keep their job in the entertainment business sees anything or says anything.

What does it say when you can as safely operate as a sexual predator on campus as in Hollywood?

Willfully Blind Wallflowers

In the last few years, famous guys Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, less famous guy Terry Richardson and non-famous executives like Dov Charney have all been accused of rape, and the response has been tepid. Some executives have been let go, and Charney lost his job, but only after running American Apparel into the red. Even then he was kept on as a consultant.

Discussing comedian Hannibal Buress’ accusations against Cosby at The Young Turks, Ana Kasparian and Cenk Uygur just shrugged and said it may be true, but it is an easy accusation to make, so it may be false. They urged us not to make assumptions either way. Then they talked about politics and started making assumptions.

In the Washington Post, Barbara Bowman observes that it wasn’t until Buress called Bill Cosby a rapist on stage that people began to pay attention, but also points out that influential men understood that no one would say anything :

Bill Cosby raped me. Why did it take 30 years for people to believe my story?

For Cosby to commit these assaults against multiple victims over several years, there had to be a network of willfully blind wallflowers at best, or people willing to aid him in committing these sexual crimes at worst. As I told the Daily Mail, when I was a teenager, his assistants transported me to hotels and events to meet him. When I blacked out at Cosby’s home, there were several staffers with us. My agent, who introduced me to Cosby, had me take a pregnancy test when I returned from my last trip with him. Talent agents, hotel staff, personal assistants and others who knowingly made arrangements for Cosby’s criminal acts or overlooked them should be held equally accountable.

Compare this with the prospects of Molly Shattuck, who is accused of grooming, seducing and performing oral sex on a 15 year old boy, a friend and prep school classmate of her son. At that time she was the second, but separated, wife of Mayo Shattuck, the Executive Chairman of Exelon and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. They were divorced on Nov 3rd, 2014.

In 2005 Mrs Shattuck was celebrated as the oldest cheerleader for the Baltimore Ravens, which fits into local opinions of her being desperate for the spotlight. One of my coworkers remembers seeing her win a dance contest over Dorothy Hamill.

Down at the swim club, the local rumor mill has it that Mr Shattuck once impregnated a friend of his daughters, but bought off the parents. The rumor continues that Mrs Shattuck’s lawyers similarly tried to buy off the boy’s parents but were rebuffed – as in told to go to hell. So she’s probably going to jail.

Update 20141118: Now that another woman has come forward, Ana and Cenk are taking it a bit more seriously. I am very disappointed to hear this about one of the comedy heroes of my youth, but there it is.

Update 20141120: Good piece in The Atlantic by TaNehisi Coates.

Poor Barack Obama

1 – The prevailing media narrative since the 2014 midterm elections has been that the Democrats got hammered.

2a – One opinion has been that the Republicans ran against Obama, and his unpopularity dragged down the members of his party. Even though many of them did all they could to distance themselves from the Prez, they were irrevocably tarnished by Obamacare, immigration, the Islamic State and of course, Benghazi. If I was the US Chamber of Commerce I’d be trying to convince Johnson & Johnson to change their product name from BenGay to BenGhazi. Much like the assertion that Al Gore claimed to invent the internet, the idea that Obama failed the staff at Benghazi has become an article of faith among red-staters.

2b – Another opinion is that Republicans outspent the Democrats. Citizens United. And everything.

2c – Another is that Republicans learned Obama’s ground game and got out the vote.

2d – Another is that after six years of Obama not delivering the progressive agenda he promised, the youth vote stayed home. He did ram through the ACA – but it is far more industry friendly than the single payer system that progressives wanted. He did stem the financial disaster – but he and Eric Holder also let the financial banksters off scot-free, and the Fed flooded the system with QE cash to keep them busy. He did preside over a slight economic recovery – but only if you ignore the unemployed that don’t show up in Labor statistics.  Obama has expanded the security state, expanded drone warfare and hemmed and hawwed over the Keystone Pipeline. He makes noises about liberal issues, but has essentially been a moderate.

2e – A countervailing opinion has been that the Prez had many accomplishments that Democrats could have trumpeted, but that they shot themselves in the foot by running away from him. One proof of concept is new Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich) who did stay close to Obama and won. Of course he was also endorsed by the retiring Sen Carl Levin.

3 – A countervailing narrative to #1 is that there is nothing historic or surprising about this election. The President’s party usually loses House of Representatives seats in the midterm, and they didn’t lose that many compared to other midterm races. Also, as usual, only one-third of Senate seats were in play. Based on presidential election results, those races happened to be in the one-third of states that averaged out as least Obama-friendly. Not by a lot – maybe only five percent – but by enough that it was no surprise that the Democrats lost seats. But don’t expect to hear that in the mainstream media.

4 – An interesting opinion is that Congress no longer matters much because of gridlock. All the important legislation is taking place at the state and local level. So we see legalized cannabis in a few more states, anti-fracking bills here and there and, unfortunately, ALEC-derived bills elsewhere.

Poor Roger Federer

With only the ATP Finals left, an exciting season of men’s tennis is winding down. Anything can happen, but Novak Djokovic just defended all his points at the Paris Masters, leaving a small chance of Roger Federer regaining the number one ranking. Stan Wawrinka won the Australian Open and Marin Cilic won the US Open this year, so the stranglehold on majors by Federer, Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray seems to be over. Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov and a host of others are poised to become major winners. Dominic Thiem and Borna Coric are being touted as future stars.

On the women’s side, Serena Williams played just well enough to make the semifinals of the WTA Championships, where she came back against Caroline Wozniacki. Simona Halep had bageled Serena Williams 6-0, 6-2 in round-robin play, and Williams returned the favor, 6-3, 6-0, in the final. The gritty indoor courts played slow, which seemed to help Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska and Wozniacki, and probably hurt Eugenie Bouchard, Ana Ivanovic, Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova. Wozniacki later put in a very respectable 3:26 in the New York Marathon, and was greeted at the finish by bestie Serena Williams. Their friendship has done much to humanize each other to the public.

I can’t remember when the women’s game had so many interesting, capable players, but London Times columnist Matthew Syed argued against equal pay for all women athletes in, When equal rights and equal pay don’t mix. To actually read the article one must pay a fee, but in rebuttal, Hadley Freeman wrote Female athletes stealing from men? I call it equal pay, in the Guardian:

Here is a fun little paradox to get you in the mood for the weekend: when is equal pay “sexist”? When it’s for female athletes. Boom! Am I right, lads?

… a BBC Sport survey that found male athletes are awarded more prize money than their female counterparts in 30% of sports. Now, some might feel that 30% is sufficiently unequal, but this commentator feels it is not unequal enough. Not only should men win more money than women, he wrote, but more of them should win a lot more: “To deprive Federer of income by handing it to female players is not far from daylight robbery,” he spluttered.

In response there are now three Twitter hashtags, #FeedRoger, #SaveRoger and #HouseRoger, so at least Federer’s four children won’t have to sell pencils in the streets to Serena Williams.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

We went to see The Beauty Queen of Leenane last weekend. Things Unseen Theatre put it on at The Church in the Middle of the Block, and will perform it again next weekend. Several of my theatre friends are involved at Things Unseen. I lost my program, but Russell Stiles directed, Tom Liszka probably built the set, and Valerie Stratton played Mag Folan – a tiresome old woman. I don’t know the rest of the cast personally, but Alyssa Baker played Mag’s spinster daughter Maureen, Bill Benson played Maureen’s love interest Pato Dooley, and Luke Archey played Pato’s younger brother Ray.

I found out afterwards that Martin McDonagh released this play in 1996. During the play it was hard to place Leenane in time. We didn’t pick up on clues about Australian soap operas and popular songs that would have meant something to Irish audiences. The kitchen appliances in the dingy rural cottage could have dated from the seventies, but the single lever faucet and compact telly seemed much more recent.

I was tempted to interpret Mag as a symbol of the old Ireland (A Terrible Beauty) and Maureen a symbol of some newer, but still flawed Republic. Expat Pato was visiting from England on his way to taking a job in the US. He had to work elsewhere, so the setting was likely before the economic boom of the Celtic Tiger years (1995 – 2000). The pre-Tiger Ireland would have discarded old traditions and mores (like Maureen), and would have been struggling to modernize (like Maureen), but would have still been hoping for something better to happen (like Maureen).

I toured Ireland in 1983, and a local bragged, “We have poor in Ireland, but we have no poverty.” He meant that a lot of people without steady jobs nevertheless had nice houses thanks to government assistance. From the vantage of the early nineties it may well have seemed that the current Ireland was just as bleak and confused as the older rural one had been, and certain parallels between Mag and Maureen are made very clear by the end of the play.

We watched a youtube clip of a few scenes from an Irish production afterwards, and could hardly understand a word of dialogue. At Things Unseen, the cast sounded Irish enough that I had to listen carefully and my non-Irish wife was flummoxed at first. Valerie’s Mag veered between needy and despicable. Ms Baker’s Maureen was very attractive, much younger than forty, and wasn’t aged by makeup, but she managed to be the frustrated spinster anyway. Mr Benson’s Pato was the well-meaning, lonely guy and you could believe him wanting Maureen despite her history. Mr Archey’s Ray was responsible for making us notice several key props and kept us in suspense with the second one admirably.

This is no convoluted mystery. The writing of the play usually makes it Waterford clear what is going to happen next and who is going to do it. We just watch aghast while the characters actually do those things to each other … and themselves. There is one big twist, though. So go see it if you get a chance. And bring your mother.

Ass Trays

I knew that too much sitting was bad for office dwellers, but I just heard the saying:

Sitting is the new Smoking

So it occurs to me that we should now refer to chairs as Ass Trays.

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