The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

How the Great Gatsby explains Trump

Brilliant essay in The Atlantic by Rosa Inocencio Smith:

There’s an eerie symmetry between Donald Trump and The Great Gatsby’s Tom Buchanan, as if the villain of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel had been brought to life in a louder, gaudier guise for the 21st century. It’s not just their infamous carelessness, the smashing-up of things and creatures that propels Tom’s denouement and has seemed to many a Twitter user to be the animating force behind Trump’s policy and personnel decisions. The two men, real and fictional, mirror each other in superficial but telling ways. Tom moves like Trump, aggressive and restless, and talks like him, with ponderous pride. He picks personal fights in public, “as though … it would be a privilege to partake vicariously of [his] emotions.” Tom surprises his dinner guests with disjointed political speeches, warning insistently that “civilization’s going to pieces.” His patrician mannerisms are shot through with flashes of anxiety, “as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more.” 

Tom—the Yale man, the football star, the spender of old money, the scion of what he calls the Nordic race—embodies the peak of social status in his century. Trump—the former Playboy-cover subject, the billionaire celebrity, the most powerful man in America—does the same for his. And their shared personality traits are the product of their shared relationship to power—the casual unreflective certainty that comes from inheritance, and enables its holders to wield its blunt force as both a weapon and a shield. Such power has its own logic; it responds not to social or moral rules, but to what it perceives as danger. It’s for these reasons that in 2018, The Great Gatsbyreads like a warning. For as much as it is a story about the American Dream, it is also a story about power under threat, and of how that power, lashing out, can render truth irrelevant.

History rhymes, and literature provides insights.

Damning with no praise at all

The two most prominent Republican women who write for left-leaning major newspapers are not happy with the Brett Kavanaugh saga. First, Michelle Goldberg says the current GOP elite are "pigs all the way down:"

Let’s start with Kavanaugh’s high school, Georgetown Prep, also the alma mater of Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court pick. There’s now a wealth of reporting painting the private school as a bastion of heedless male entitlement. Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge — who Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s first accuser, says was in the room when Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her — has written extensively of his drunken teenage debauchery.

There’s no equivalent culture in which girls reap social capital for misbehaving. You rarely see women in politics or law who flaunt college reputations as party girls; the women who make it are expected to show steely self-control. In the rarefied social world that produces so many of our putative leaders, a young man who frequently gets blackout drunk, as Kavanaugh reportedly did, is a fun guy. A young woman who does so is a mess.

Watching all this unfold is radicalizing for reasons far beyond Republican mistreatment of Kavanaugh’s accusers. His story shows, in lurid microcosm, how a certain class of men guard and perpetuate their privileges. Women who struggle ceaselessly to be smart enough, attractive enough, ambitious enough and likable enough have been playing a rigged game. As they realize that, their incandescent fury is remaking our politics. We’ll know things have changed when palling around with sexual abusers carries more stigma than being abused does.

Over at the Post, Jennifer Rubin says, if Kavanaugh is a partisan hack, he should be questioned like one:

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh shed any hint of judicial temperament on Monday night. He went right to the most partisan outlet, Fox News, which has been likened to “state TV.” He seemed a bit ill at ease in his role as victim during the softball interview. He teared up. He said he wouldn’t be chased out of the confirmation process. In doing so, he debased himself and the highest court.

By going to Fox News before appearing again before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he sank to the level of political partisan. As he claimed his growing list of accusers were . . . were what? — All loons? All partisans? — he made clear that he is not acting like an innocent man nor a judge. An innocent man and one of fine judicial temperament would demand an investigation to clear his name. An innocent man and a man steeped in due process and fair play would denounce reprehensible stunts such as trying to blame a completely innocent person using nothing but an old yearbook and Zillow. Such a man would not make a mawkish plea for sympathy, but rather, insist on a rigorous investigation of the facts.

Democrats should make clear that, in his hunger to sit on the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh has further politicized an already broken confirmation system and has done damage to the court. His indifference to transparency and fact-finding in favor of hardball political theatrics alone should be grounds for rejecting his nomination.

Because it turns out, making blatant partisanship part of the nominating process for a lifetime appointment makes the body itself blatantly partisan. We have the Republicans to thank for that, more than the Democrats, whose partisanship extended to bouncing Robert Bork because—wait for it—he was too partisan to sit on the Court.

The Republican Party can barely get through a morning without demonstrating their disdain for the voters who put them in office. And in their desperation to stay in power, they're destroying the system they're sworn to "protect and defend." Which may be part of their plan.

Personal update

For the first time since April 2000, none of my property is real.

(That's a little lawyer humor.)

The last transaction of the month will be Friday, when I close on Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters 5.0. Meanwhile, I own nothing, and I owe nothing. It's an odd feeling.

Thank you for de-linting my blog

This week, I got an email from the SEO coordinator at Alaska Airlines:

My name is Shawn with Alaska Airlines. I'm reaching out concerning a specific link on blog.braverman.org. As you may have heard, Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America last year. We are in the process of updating all Virgin America links to go directly to our website, https://www.alaskaair.com.

We want to make sure your readers are being sent to the correct place!

We would really appreciate it if you could update the link and anchor text, Virgin America, on this page: http://blog.braverman.org/2009/09/default to:https://www.alaskaair.com and Alaska Airlines. 

Please let me know if you have any questions.

If you're not the appropriate person to contact about this, can you put me in contact with the right person?

(The actual post he meant me to change is here.)

See, Alaska took over Virgin America, and now they want to scrub the Internet of all references to the old airline. I politely told Shawn that, no, I was not about to change a 9-year-old blog post to send Virgin down the memory hole.

He replied that he understood, but could I just change the URL to point to Alaska Air at least?

No, Shawn. I'm not editing the post, full stop. It reflects the state of the world in 2009, and to me, it's a document that needs to remain unaltered.

I'm sure the SEO coordinator of an airline believes that it's a doubleplusgood thing to help people who may inadvertently discover a blog post from 2009 not get misdirected. But the whole thing really creeped me out. Alaska or one of its vendors had to go through every one of the over 6,500 posts I've written looking for references to Virgin America, and then Shawn had to field my response to his (no doubt automated) email request. That's a lot of effort to pretend Virgin America never existed.

Did I mention Virgin America Airlines? Just making sure.

Chicago's race for Mayor is unprecedented in modern times

We have not had a mayoral race like this in a century or more:

The contest is as crowded as could be and for a reason: All of the old rules and factions have been weakened. Patronage is a shell of its former self. Departing Mayor Rahm Emanuel depended on money and not bodies to win office. Whites no longer are a majority, but neither are African-Americans; the city is split pretty much in thirds among those two groups and Latinos. Add in the fact that Emanuel groomed absolutely no one as a successor, and you have what on balance is the most wide-open, no-real-favorite contest for mayor since at least the day when Richard J. Daley was Cook County Clerk.

Of all the people [running], only two can make the April runoff election—assuming no one gets 50 percent in February—and in this big of a field, 20 percent or so of the vote could be enough to make it. With that kind of fractionalized electorate, almost anything is possible. It still could change, but this looks like a mayoral election unlike any in memory.

I don't remember a race with more than 3 major candidates...ever. Even when a Daley wasn't running, the choices were binary: Bilandic/Byrne; Washington/Byrne; Emanuel/Chico. This is going to be interesting.

The primary election will be February 26th.

Much needed switch to Autumn

Yesterday we set a record-high temperature: 34°C at O'Hare. Even with the lake-side cooling we had downtown, it still sucked. Today, however, a cold front is slowly marching across the prairie and the temperature is forecast to fall to 13°C overnight.

Good timing. The September equinox is tomorrow night. So even though meteorological autumn began on the 1st, it's nice that astronomical autumn will begin right on time.

The scariest book I've read in years

Yesterday I finished Dr. Jeffrey Lewis's speculative novel, The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States. Why scary? Because Lewis lays out, clearly and without hyperbole, a plausible scenario for what could be the most destructive conflict in human history.

In conjunction with Bob Woodward's Fear and the soon-to-be released The Apprentice, it's even scarier—and no less plausible.

Spend $15 and read this book.

The Economist's Manifesto

Last week, The Economist celebrated its 175th anniversary with a call for renewing liberalism:

Liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it. Europe and America are in the throes of a popular rebellion against liberal elites, who are seen as self-serving and unable, or unwilling, to solve the problems of ordinary people. Elsewhere a 25-year shift towards freedom and open markets has gone into reverse, even as China, soon to be the world’s largest economy, shows that dictatorships can thrive.

For The Economist this is profoundly worrying. We were created 175 years ago to campaign for liberalism—not the leftish “progressivism” of American university campuses or the rightish “ultraliberalism” conjured up by the French commentariat, but a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.

Liberals have forgotten that their founding idea is civic respect for all. Our centenary editorial, written in 1943 as the war against fascism raged, set this out in two complementary principles. The first is freedom: that it is “not only just and wise but also profitable…to let people do what they want.” The second is the common interest: that “human society…can be an association for the welfare of all.”

Today’s liberal meritocracy sits uncomfortably with that inclusive definition of freedom. The ruling class live in a bubble. They go to the same colleges, marry each other, live in the same streets and work in the same offices. Remote from power, most people are expected to be content with growing material prosperity instead. Yet, amid stagnating productivity and the fiscal austerity that followed the financial crisis of 2008, even this promise has often been broken.

It's hard to read this leader and its accompanying essay without cheering. I only hope it can gain some traction.

Failing Amber Wyatt

The Washington Post has a must-read feature today about the sexual assault of 16-year-old Amber Wyatt in 2006—and how her Texas high school turned against her:

The rumor — at least initially, and certainly in the soccer player’s initial account to Aven — wasn’t that Wyatt consented to sex with the two boys, but that they never had sex at all. Yet the tone of murmurs around the school indicated that students believed the exact opposite: that Wyatt, perhaps intoxicated, had agreed to sex and then regretted it, and that, in accusing the boys of rape, caused trouble not only for herself but also for her classmates at Martin. Aven, in his statement to police, said he thought, despite the soccer player’s denials, that some consensual sexual encounter took place in the shed that night. Meanwhile, at the school, an internal investigation quickly began into students’ alcohol use, which resulted in athletes from four different sports being removed from their extracurricular activities for six weeks.

Wyatt became the bull’s eye of an angry backlash. As Liz Gebhardt, a close friend of Wyatt’s who remained by her side throughout the tumultuous period that followed, recalled: “Everyone started blaming [Wyatt] because she said something, and if she would have kept her mouth shut then nothing would have ever happened.” With 3,350 students, it was hard to contain the spread of malicious recrimination and even harder to maintain a sense of proportion.

Kids hurled insults at Wyatt in the halls and casually chatted about the news in class. Many of her former friends would no longer associate with her. Wyatt says she received threats and slurs by text messages, people telling her to kill herself, saying she got what was coming to her. Wyatt’s friendships with her former cheerleading pals grew brittle and strained. “Maybe it was me,” she speculated in 2015. “I mean, I totally changed.”

One night in September, text and MySpace messages began circulating among Martin teens who wanted to show support for the accused by writing “FAITH” on their cars. The lurid acronym — “f--- Amber in the head” — began appearing on rear windows the following morning, metastasizing as quickly as the rumors had. Even Arthur Aven wrote “FAITH” on his car.

It's as much an indictment of her town's justice system as much as her classmates. Wyatt has recovered, but it took a decade to get her life on track. The people she alleged had raped her had no consequences.

Lunchtime reading

Lots of stuff crossed my inbox this morning:

Back to my wonderful, happy software debugging adventure.