Dear Reader (and the Mentat Thufir Hawat who deduced the contents of this email after an overdose of sapho juice),
Sorry, this is going to be a light G-File today. I’m here at a Veterinary Orthopedic and Sports Medicine facility, waiting for Cosmo the increasingly bionic wonderdog. He has what appears to be a bad Achilles tendon injury and I’m getting a second opinion on his options. Cosmo is sort of a canine version of Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty these days, or maybe Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler; beaten and bruised, but his heart is as willing as ever. We’re hoping to avoid more surgery, in no small part because it would be cheaper merely to hire someone to carry Cosmo around on a velvet pillow like a canine pasha. The problem is that’s not what Cosmo wants to do. He wants to investigate crimes, check the credentials and bonafides of neighborhood intruders, ensure that squeaky toys never, ever come to life, and guarantee that bat-wolverine hybrids never plague northwest Washington.
It’s all terribly dispiriting. He’s very blue these days over his patrolling being severely curtailed. And, for good reason, he considers every vet’s office to be nothing less than an abattoir. He’s almost as miserable as he was at my daughter’s first birthday party a few years back.
But he’s still the best dog I know.
But enough of all that. On the drive here I listened to a story on the local NPR station about the legalization of gay marriage in D.C. I don’t have much energy to argue the pros and cons of the issue, but I did find NPR’s interview with a lesbian woman pretty hilarious. She and her partner (wife?) moved from New Jersey to D.C. so they could be legally married to one another. Fine, fine. If I were gay, I might do something like that, I guess. But what struck me as funny was the woman’s statement (quoting from memory) that she and her partner cared so much about getting married that “we were willing to sacrifice congressional representation.”
I hear these sorts of things all the time on local radio and TV, and, as someone who thinks D.C. statehood is one of America’s dumbest “major” issues, I always find it hilarious. I remember Jamie Raskin – then an American University law professor – explaining how he moved out of the district just so he could vote for federal legislators. He made it sound like this was a grave matter of conscience. (He’s now a state legislator himself, so my hunch at the time has been borne out: He wanted to get into politics, and D.C. wasn’t the place to do it.)
And then there was Jesse Jackson – back when he wanted to be a U.S. Senator on the cheap – who used to insist that D.C. statehood was America’s most pressing civil rights issue. As I’ve written before, this always struck me as a wonderful admission that America’s civil rights problems have been solved. It’s like a Secretary of Defense insisting that our most pressing national security problem is the threat posed by a potential Lithuanian invasion. If such are our most pressing problems, then we’ve got no problems to speak of. It’s like Warren Buffet saying his biggest financial problem is the lack of safes big enough for all his gold bars and diamonds.
Now, I admit I may be the odd one here. I’ve never had a congressman I liked, or even the opportunity to vote for anyone I liked who had the slightest chance of winning, although I guess Daniel Patrick Moynihan was pretty cool as my senator in my youth. But when I hear someone say that they love someone so much and are so desperate to get married that they’re willing to “sacrifice” their ability to vote for their congressional representatives (from New Jersey!), I don’t see it as a heart-wrenching expression of true love. Quitting your job, leaving your family, donating a kidney: that’s the stuff of true love. Giving up your ability to send Rodney Frelinghuysen back to Congress, meh, not so much. It reminds me more of Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club, explaining that he got a fake I.D. so he could vote.
Friedman Self-Parody Watch
Here’s the opening paragraph from his latest column:
I was traveling via Los Angeles International Airport – LAX – last week. Walking through its faded, cramped domestic terminal, I got the feeling of a place that once thought of itself as modern but has had one too many face-lifts and simply can’t hide the wrinkles anymore. In some ways, LAX is us. We are the United States of Deferred Maintenance. China is the People’s Republic of Deferred Gratification. They save, invest and build. We spend, borrow and patch.
This, of course, is pure Friedmanism. Here’s an excerpt from my mag piece on Friedman:
It’s telling that the beat Friedman covers most adroitly in his column is his own brain. The datelines are often from Shanghai or Cairo, but they should really be from his frontal lobe. As with the Nilekani story, Friedman thinks the real news is how he came up with his latest idea, his next burning insight on the world. These “eureka moments” – as he likes to call them – usually come in conversations with rich CEOs and high-ranking international cookie-pushers in places like Davos. For instance, in his January 31 column, Friedman writes: “‘Political instability’ was a phrase normally reserved for countries like Russia or Iran or Honduras. But now, an American businessman here remarked to me, ‘people ask me about “political instability” in the U.S. We’ve become unpredictable to the world.’“ And from there Friedman is back on autopilot, visiting the same argument he makes in just about every other column: China is beating America because China isn’t hobbled by a broken-down, outdated, inefficient political system known to its fans as “democracy.”
Friedman told The New Yorker that his analogizing instinct, which allows him to compare everything to anything and vice versa, is like a “pinball game going on in my head. Balls bouncing around.” The more apt metaphor would be a furnace. Every distinction, every objection to his vision for the world, every bit of countervailing evidence inconveniently popping up in reality simply melts away. He honestly believes that the year 2000 will be known as the first year of the Energy Climate Era: Jan. 1, 2000, really began 1 e.c.e. His panic that America can’t get important things done while the mandarins of Red China fiat utopia intensifies as Obama’s New Progressive Era retreats into a sad and strange historical parenthesis.
Anyway, the funny thing is that I was recently in LAX, too, and I had a somewhat similar epiphany. I started a column on the topic, but then thought better of it. Here’s the draft first paragraph:
I was traveling via Los Angeles International Airport – LAX – last week. Walking through its faded, cramped domestic terminal, I got the feeling of a place that once thought of itself as modern but has had one too many face-lifts and simply can’t hide the wrinkles anymore. In some ways, LAX is Tom Friedman. He is the columnist of recycled dross. His faded insights, dulled by constantly traversing the same territory, have left his prose like the worn-out carpeting at an airport departure gate. Ross Douthat is the New York Times columnist of deferred self-indulgence. He reads, reports and thinks. Friedman’s brain farts and he thinks it’s enlightenment. His mental toot is nearly always moot.
Probably for the best I never ran with it.