Weird wonder #43, update

14 03 2018

Alas, the last of the Oldman Cats has died.

I reprinted one of the the dialogues here, but you can find more old-cat wisdom scattered across his writings for Lawyers, Guns & Money, including this bit:

OLDMAN MUND: I SO FUCKING BUFF I DO CROSSFOOT

SEK: You mean CrossFit?

OLDMAN MUND: CROSSFOOT MAKE ME SO FUCKING BUFF

SEK: You don’t do CrossFit — but you’re annoying as people who do, so there’s that.

OLDMAN MUND: FUCK YEAH I DO CROSSFOOT I DO IT RIGHT NOW

SEK: That’s not CrossFit — that’s you crossing your feet.

OLDMAN MUND: FUCK YEAH I CROSSFOOT

SEK: Why do you even —

OLDMAN MUND: I SO FUCKING BUFF

SEK: No, you’re old and feeble, so you cross your feet when you walk and —

OLDMAN MUND: CROSSFOOT MOTHERFUCKER SO FUCKING BUFF

SEK: I’m gonna let you have this.

OLDMAN MUND: LIKE YOU HAVE CHOICE I WILL CROSSFUCK YOU UP

SEK: That’s not even a —

OLDMAN MUND: YOU SHUT UP NOW I GO BE FUCKING BUFF OVER HERE

SEK was Scott Eric Kaufman, and it is in the past tense that another, bigger, Alas lies: Scott died in the fall of 2016 from a chronic medical problem that turned acute.

I never met him, never interacted with him, but even now, writing this, I’m tearing up, because he was young, and smart, and funny, and kind, and he brought his whole human self to his writing. Check out the encomiums to him.

I don’t quite believe in an afterlife, but if there is one, it’d be nice to think Oldman cats Virgil and Sigmund are hassling SEK about mofungo and sideways hopping at all of the strange noises in the great beyond.

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Leave it to memory me

21 02 2018

My Aunt Charlotte died today.

She was up and about in her assisted-living apartment, had a chat with her youngest daughter, was a bit winded so took a seat just before or while getting a nebulizer treatment, and when the nurse returned, she was gone.

Just like that, she was gone.

Not “just like that”, really. She’d been in and out of the hospital for the past 6 months, year, and she was in her eighties. Still, I thought I’d see her again.

I saw her at my niece’s wedding this past June, but didn’t get a pic of her; here’s one from 10 years ago, probably at that same niece’s graduation:

She was a funny lady, always crabbing about something but always with good humor. She could dish it out, take it, then dish out some more. Her kids, my three cousins, were terrible with her, which is to say, wonderful. They loved her and she loved them.

I worked for her when I was in high school. She ran a janitorial service, so a few nights a week during the summer I’d head down to her place and we’d (sometimes one of her kids, sometimes my brother) head to some business in Sheboygan—a bank, say, or a law office—and empty trash cans and wash windows and vacuum and clean the bathroom. It didn’t pay much, and she expected good work, but she didn’t didn’t exactly crack the whip with us. Once I went off to college, that was the end of my employment with her, but my brother spent a few years during and after high school cleaning.

Char always had something going on. She worked long after she probably needed to, but she like to get out, liked her independence. She lived in the house where she grew up, one of the oldest ones in Falls, and she was a common sight at the local coffee shops and diners. And she’d always show up to her grandkids’ games and plays and whatnot, griping about the cold or the hard benches—but never about the grandkids. They loved her and she loved them.

I always liked to see her when I was back in Falls. We’d sit down and she’d have a story and pretty soon we were laughing and teasing each other. When I was little I’d sometimes stay over at her house, and I have the vaguest memory of her dog, Schnappsie. Schnappsie was a dachshund, and I liked to sit on her couch with my back slightly out, so that Schnappsie could snuggle in behind me, his head off one hip with his tail off the other.

One more story: her house, as I mentioned, was old, with the requisite gloomy basement. But one year, at a party of some sort or another, the tornado siren went off, so we all crowded down into it with our plates of cake and sodas, folding chairs spread out next to the caved-in cistern. I don’t know if or where that tornado touched down, but we kept on going.

I feel bad for my cousins, losing their mom, but I feel even worse for my mom. Her oldest (half-) sister, Mickey (née Thelma), died years ago, but the age distance was so great that they didn’t have much of a relationship. Charlotte was next, and then Janet (who is ailing), and then my mom. My mom and Charlotte talked regularly; they were close, they loved each other.

Here’s a shot of all of them with their parents and some cousins:

That’s my Aunt Mickey, on the far left, with her son, Ted, my grandpa behind her. Charlotte’s next to Mickey, with my mom right in front of her and Janet next to my mom; that’s my grandma (who died before I was born) behind Janet, and the cousins, Kay and Violet, on the right.

That was almost 72 years ago.

My mom’s the youngest, as I’m the youngest not just of our immediate family, but of that generation of McCues. There are children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these McCues, scattered across the country. I won’t be able to make it back to Wisconsin for the funeral, but many of us will.

Because she was Charlotte, and she was loved.





Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016

10 11 2016

And now this.

Goddammit, 2016.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: I break down in the middle and lose my thread

10 11 2016

I forced myself to listen to the radio yesterday morning, but last night I couldn’t do it, and today, still, radio silence.

Twitter, however, is still a go, with so, so many people saying THIS ONE THING is why Clinton lost/Trump won.

This gent, however, digs into the data to warn us “waitaminute”:

Read through the entire thread, as he really digs into and compares data across a number of states.

As he helpfully notes, there is no, one reason, and no reason that holds across all states. The “US electorate”, after all, is actually 50 states electorates, plus the D of C. What mattered a lot in one state may have mattered very little in another. Mistakes might either have tipped that electorate or were of no consequence whatsoever.

I don’t know that anyone has AN ANSWER to what happened on Tuesday, and if they do, I won’t believe ’em. I do think, however, that we can identify the possible pieces (or threads, if you will), that resulted in the overall electoral map, recognizing that the “thickness” of those threads varied across the states.

The parties: Republicans generally voted for Republicans and Democrats generally voted for Democrats, with some (varying) amount of crossover.  That’s been the general trend in American politics and there’s little evidence of deviation from it. The roles of the RNC and DNC were secondary to those of the campaigns.

The candidates: Each was flawed, each in his or her own way. Trump deviated a great deal from the standard Republican candidate, while Clinton was pretty much a standard Democratic one. What horrified Clinton supporters about Trump—his lack of political experience and unstable temperament—delighted his supporters: he was an outsider who spoke his mind. Similarly, his supporters derided her as a corrupt (emails! Clinton Foundation!) insider, with her experience a strike against her.

Some have argued that Sanders would have performed better than Clinton, but that’s awfully hard to conclude. He might have done better with some white voters, but not as well with black voters. That Feingold lost to the demonstrably terrible Johnson in Wisconsin leads me to doubt the “Sanders coulda. . !” advocates, but it’s also possible that Sanders at the top of the ticket might have helped Feingold. I doubt Sanders could have outperformed Clinton, but it is possible.

The campaigns: Given the candidates, did campaign strategies make sense? Arguably, Clinton erred in not spending time in Wisconsin, a decision driven in no small part by polling. Was there too much reliance on what turned out to be flawed state polls? What about ad strategy: too much on Trump’s flawed character and not enough on empathy for those attracted to him? Not enough reachout generally?

Turnout: This is of a piece with the campaigns itself. I had thought infrastructure and organization mattered a great deal in turning voters out, but Trump was able to do so with apparently relatively little staff. Does this mean that organization doesn’t matter generally, or that he was an outlier, able to pull people in via other means?

Racism/white nationalism: One of those possible other means, of course, was the implicit and explicit appeal to white nationalist grievances.

On the one hand, this is obvious, insofar as his support was overwhelming white, while Clinton’s was more ethnically mixed. On the other hand, there are also certainly plenty of Trump supporters who while tolerating the racism also seek to distance themselves from it, as well as to downplay the racism of the candidate himself. Those who revel in racism and those who tolerate racism collaborated to elect Trump, which matters a whole lot; but that they are also distinct may (or may not) matter as well.

(Add: class) As for those who suggest (often while touting Sanders) Clinton should have paid more attention to the “white working class”, well, if the key motivator is “whiteness” as opposed to “class”, then what? Is it possible to peel away an attachment to whiteness such that white workers consider themselves as part of a larger, multi-ethnic working class? Finally, initial data (subject to change) that I’ve seen suggests that Trump pulled the bulk of his support from the solidly-middle and upper-middle classes.

Actually, class deserves more than a parenthetical aside, not just for this campaign but for those going forward. It’s just that disentangling it from race is damnably difficult.

Sexism: How  and how much did it matter, one way or the other, that Clinton is, yes indeedy, a woman? How did that affect campaign strategy and tactics? How did it effect how the press covered her? How did it affect willingness to vote for her?

Voter suppression: Some states (WI) had tough voter i.d. laws such that some citizens couldn’t register to vote; some states (WI, NC) reduced the number of polling places and polling hours or relocated polls to locations less convenient for Democrats. Did this effect turnout? If turnout was down, as it was across many locales, could this be tied to suppression or simply to lack of enthusiasm?

The press: There have been a number of analyses of the amount of media attention given to policy versus everything else (emails emails emails), as well as a sense that few took Trump seriously enough to consider what his administration would actually look like.

They complained about her lack of press conferences, but said little about his similar lack. They (media organizations, not necessarily individual reporters) consented to having their reporters penned up. And Trump rather easily slid away from demands for his tax returns. Was she covered too much, too unfairly? Was he not covered enough? How did the coverage affect voting behavior, if at all?

The role of the press is highly contentious and will likely see the greatest play, not least because one of the media’s favorite activities is to talk about itself.

James Comey’s letter: This might be a sub-variable of the press, given how the press shouted about SHADOW OVER CLINTON WON’T GO AWAY. Still, should be considered on its own terms, especially given apparent widespread agency animus to Clinton. And, again, don’t know if or how it mattered at all.

Wikileaks: Again, another sub- of the press. Did the press give adequate context to the emails, especially in terms of ordinary operating procedures to campaigns? What of any (alleged) connections between Wikileaks and Russia? And even if there is a connection, does it matter?

Polls: They got it wrong. Why?

Voters: This would seem to be an output rather than input variable, but insofar as candidates will configure their campaigns around what they think will appeal to those voters, how voters respond to those campaigns will in turn affect the campaigns. What motivates and de-motivates voters? What do voters know, and what do they know that just ain’t so? What is the mix of rationality and irrationality among the voting public? And what of those who’ve voted before, but didn’t this time?

None of these variables is independent, of course. Some of these pieces reinforce and magnify others, while some minimize; and the relative size and  position of those pieces vary from state to state.

And this is crucial: Clinton won the popular vote (final tally t.d. unknown) and lost the Electoral College vote, so any wholly national focus will be wrong. What worked for her in one state could have worked against her in another, but given that the majority of voters did, in fact, vote for her suggests that she didn’t do everything wrong.

Finally, I’m trying to see a way to put together a rational understanding of what happened, but, as Carl Schmitt reminded-warned us, there’s a great deal to politics which is decidedly irrational.

Which means, of course, that you could do everything “right” and still lose.





This is ourselves

12 01 2016

I was never a huge fan of David Bowie’s.

I mean, I liked his music, had a few records, and generally enjoyed his work, but I was never a super-fan, and never had a full-on Bowie fever.

So why am I so sad today? And why can’t I stop reading about him?

~~~

David Bowie is actually associated with one of my worst memories from high school.

I wanted to be the yearbook editor my senior year. I’d started working on the yearbook staff when I was a freshman (which frosh usually didn’t do), was generally acknowledged to be ‘the writer’ in my class (not that hard, really, in a class of 150), and fully expected that the adviser, Ms. G., would appoint me.

She did not.*

L. and T. were appointed instead, and I’d be pissed about it to this today had they not a) put together a kick-ass yearbook; and b) treated me really, really well, allowing me to contribute in all kinds of way. They were champs.

Anyway, my idea was to create a yearbook around the lyrics to “Changes”—which is how Bowie gets dragged into this bad memory.

I have no idea whether or not this would have worked: it could have been amazing, it could have sucked, it could have been Eh.

Woulda liked the chance to have found out.

(*She had her reasons, which were legit. Still. . . .)

~~~

I’ve said “Under Pressure” is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, but today I’ve read all kinds of pieces holding that song out as some kind of genius.

I don’t think it’s genius, but yeah, it is a good pop song, undeserving of the guilty-pleasure label.

~~~

One good thing that’s come from all this reading today is that I found, courtesy of the Huffington Post, a couple of videos of Bowie playing with Arcade Fire.

First I saw this one, one of Bowie’s songs:

Then one of Arcade Fire’s:

I like Arcade Fire’s cds just fine, but watching them live, man, I realllly want to see them live.

What it would have been like to see them live with Bowie.

~~~

I think the main reason I considered “Under Pressure” a guilty pleasure is that every time I hear it I tear up.

I cannot handle my own tears, cannot handle that I am moved to tears.

~~~

It’s kind of astonishing how amazing a singer Bowie was, given that he didn’t have much of a voice.

He’s not like Leonard Cohen, who can’t sing at all, but if I were asked for the best straight-up voices in pop, I wouldn’t name Bowie.

But oh, could he sing, so many different types of songs, with so many different types of singers. Some of these collaborations (Arcade Fire) work better than others (Mick Jagger), it wasn’t down to him.

Something about that thin reed, stretched across the universe.

~~~

“Space Oddity” reminds me of John Lennon. I don’t know why. Maybe I heard it while thinking about Lennon’s death.

Or maybe it just reminds me of high school.

It’s not every time I hear the song I’m reeled back, but sometimes, sometimes I’m in the parking lot at Sheboygan Falls High School, Bowie on the car radio, singing And I’m sitting in my tin can. . . .

~~~

“Under Pressure” is about love, after all.

And love, I don’t know what to do with love.

Thus my chagrin over my tears, my chagrin over love.

~~~

And all of the work he’s done, all of the chances he took, all he gave and all he withheld, all he hid and all he revealed.

David Bowie, 1947-2016, was a Starman, a man who fell to earth, an alien, an artist, but most of all, most of all, David Bowie was a human being.





Jean Béliveau, 1931-2014

3 12 2014

The most fair-weather of hockey fans (of which I am, sadly, one) and the most ardent fans of Montréal (of which I am, gladly, one) knows of the great Jean Béliveau.

Does it matter that I was introduced to him through a Jane Siberry song?

M. Béliveau, who sounds like he was in every way a great and good man, likely would not have minded.

He was 83.





Lauren Bacall, 1924-2014

13 08 2014

I think I was in high school when I became enamored of Lauren Bacall. I have no idea why.

It might have been that she was starring on Broadway then, and I was into all things theater; it might have been. . . geez, really, that’s all I got.

I mean, I hadn’t seen any of her movies at that point—didn’t for years—and was hardly a film aficionado. The only other thing I can think of is that I read the book Real Women Bring Flowers, and there were a number of choice Bacall (or, perhaps, screenwriter) quotes sprinkled throughout the text.

In any case, I read her first autobiography, By Myself, and promptly decided she was a dame worth admiring. I knew she was called Betty by friends, that she held her chin low in that first scene with Bogart to keep it from quivering, almost married Sinatra, and didn’t see the physical resemblance so often pointed out to her between her first (Bogart) and second (Jason Robards) husbands.

What was admirable about any of that, or anything else that she wrote or said or did? I honestly can’t say. Maybe because she did seem honest, forthright, that she was beautiful and strong and smart and never hid any of it. She was who she was.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

To a teenager who wasn’t at all sure of herself or her place anywhere, that you could simply be seemed astonishing.

And worth admiring, then and now.