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November 24, 2012

samantha peale on sam sifton

Last word on Thanksgiving: it's a couple days late, but you would do well to spend fifteen minutes reading Samantha Peale's meta-review of Sam Sifton's book, "Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well.  I'm not gonna pretend that Sam and Sam aren't my pals, or that I wasn't there for some of the meals that are remembered in the piece.  (Nostalgia!)  But Peale's piece is a very lovely examination of the 21st Century Thanksgiving, in the context of Los Angeles:
An aggregation of my own polls of native Californians, East Coast transplants, parents from my kids’ school, their soccer teams, neighbors, and an Irishman show that the first hindrance to a traditional American Thanksgiving meal in Los Angeles County is that you can’t put together a table of friends and family who will all eat turkey. You would be hard pressed to find a group willing to share table space with a platter of light and dark meat and not insult you for cooking the animal in the first place. In fact, the first guest to arrive at your house will leave his flip-flops and yoga mat inside the door, park himself at the head of your red runner, and announce that he no longer eats meat:

“It’s very recent and it’s not something I want to impose on anyone else, but it’s important for me not to take part in the industrial slaughter of animals in America. I make an exception only when it’s a special occasion and I know the provenance of the meat.”

Sifton's book in conservative, in the non-pejorative sense: he writes well and at length about the Thanksgiving dinner he has been prosecuting all his life, and it's a Thanksgiving dinner to be admired.  And Peale's piece is the perfect footnote, reminding that the point is not to recreate Sifton's Thanksgiving, but to create a Thanksgiving dinner/tradition that you believe in as fiercely as Sifton believes in his.

And my Thanksgiving?  New friends, a new venue.  There were entertainment industry types present, so the table chatter tended that way, skirted politics entirely.  There were no mashed potatoes, which was scandalous, but there were two kinds of Brussels sprouts (including the Judge's, pg. 63).  It was a fine day.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:23 AM

shopping ourselves into a hole

Let me see if I get this straight.  The strategy to keep brick and mortar retail stores alive is to create entirely groundless "holidays" the purpose of which is to pry families from the dinner table to rush out into a rugby scrum to buy big ticket items whose profit margins (for the retailers) have been cut to the quick?

As to the manufactured holiday: no one ever went broke underestimating how dumb the American people are.  I find it loathsome, everyone I know finds it loathsome, and all every newspaper/news telecast was leading with frenzied shopping throngs yesterday.  I guess tacky is not a disincentive.

And as to the loss-leader strategy, I've never gone through the numbers (and I've never come across a piece in which the numbers are examined), but I am dubious.  It may be the biggest single day of money taken in all year, but a sizable portion of those sales are "doorbuster" items that are being sold basically at cost.  Sure Walmart and Target rake in unimaginable millions on Black Friday, but how much do they actually make?

Not that I care deeply — not like anything they do make is going to trickle down to the hourly employees.  That would be the opposite of their business plan.  But retail used to be a strong and consistent employment sector, and we need strong and consistent employment sectors.

And I'm not advocating online shopping as an alternative.  At all.  It might be cheaper to the consumer — yay. — but it's just as exploitative as your big boxes (if not more).

Sorry to yammer on about retail therapy, but we're shopping ourselves into a hole.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:44 AM

November 21, 2012

black friday is a crime against irony

I would like to state in no uncertain terms my opposition to Black Friday.  It's a dumb excuse for a holiday, an orgy of fruitless shopping masquerading as a holiday event.  I get it that we're a commercial society, that the buying and selling of things determines our prosperity, and that in large ways we express ourselves through buying things.  But Black Friday is where we finally descended into parody of ourselves.

Just the name itself is slimy.  It started as a joke — the day after Thanksgiving has long been the unofficial start of the Christmas gift buying season, as it was for many a non-weekend day off.  And someone somewhere thought it would be cute to label the day Black Friday, after the day of the stock market crash that incited the Great Depression.  It was cute, a bit of snark by comparison.  But it stuck, as both shoppers and retailers checked their irony at the door, and hugged the term Black Friday like it was a little teddy bear.

The consumerism is repulsive, everyone knows that (check your social media), and the retailers that profit from this are the ones that have figured out that if they choke down employee wages and benefits to one step below subsistence, they will book profits, which should be criminal.  And the encroaching launch times are rapidly encroaching on one of the few American holidays that has actual meaning behind it, with shoppers leaving the Thanksgiving table before the Jets even have a chance to embarrass themselves.  But mostly it's a crime against irony: taking a nickname which is intended as critique, and then not only embracing it but convincing the participants to do the same.

Eff that noise.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:23 AM

November 20, 2012

the working class and the gop

There's not much to mock and deride in this morning's David Brooks, which is kind of a shame, it being the last real work day before we all become characters in a Sam Sifton book.  The column is just a taxonomy of young conservative (and moderate! oh of course) thinkers who are writing on the Internet.  This being David Brooks, it's not couched as dudes (and yes, they are dudes) you should read, but rather as "The Conservative Future," which is to be spoken in a deep voice with wicked reverb.

But in the thing Brooks brushes up against an issue that I'm keen on.  In describing the differences between the Conservative Futureheads, he cites as an example how they would appeal to the working class.  One would focus on conservative social ideas, and another would promulgate "family-friendly tax credits and other measures that reinforce middle-class dignity."

But to me, and I'm no rocket scientist, I'd say that if you wanted to better address the working class, you'd focus on unemployment, and, better yet, job security.  At the very least, I would not be spending a full half of my political capital on trying to destroy collective bargaining, as has the Republican power structure in state houses across the country.

Tax credits are cute, and who doesn't love a little misogyny thinly disguised as family values, but you can't appeal to an entire class of people when the truth is that you despise them and their wage protections and their five day work weeks.

There's not enough lipstick in the world for that pig, whether you're a fresh young conservative voice or His Beige Eminence.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:02 AM

November 19, 2012

jennifer rubin and the non-apology apology

Jennifer Rubin is the token right wing columnist for the Washington Post.  Kind of like their David Brooks, minus any pretense of moderation (or fan fic) at all.  It must be a peculiar position, being hired to flout the house style, all in the name of demonstrating equivalency.  Like, do they purposely hire someone maybe not so good at making points?

Take this piece, her kicker for the weekend, in which she proposes a path for the Republicans free of the five-ton anchor that is Mitt Romney and his knack for saying the wrong thing, in which she also says the wrong thing:

Now it is one thing to observe that President Obama expertly catered to Democratic constituent groups (hire 100,000 teachers; make an issue of contraception; a Dream Act executive order). Liberals may not like to be reminded that theirs is a party of patronage, but it is. That is far different, however, from saying, in essence, that too many Americans are lazy takers so we can’t be expected to go get them.

See what she did there in that little non-apology apology?  It's a half-scold of affirmation for the class warfare Rand-ian dingbattery that Mitt Romney was secretly soaking in the entire time — "oh sure you can't be mean to voters while communicating the undisputed truth that liberals only care about buying votes with services."

That's some bad stuff.  Like Ross Douthat bad.  Just another iteration of, "It's not what we believe, it's our presentation."  Sorry dudes but that's just not the case.  You don't believe in the social safety net.  People that believe in the social safety net voted against you.  It's really not that hard, and yet all you hear is the sound of head-scratching (even all the way up in Wyoming.)

And, to speak for liberals, to accuse us of constructing and protecting the social safety net in order to earn the grateful votes of the lazy is feckless and absolutely revealing: a projection of the sin contemplated by the accuser.  Kind of like the vote-stealing accusations.

Having said all that, watching the Republican Party elide itself to death is fun fun fun.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:52 AM