Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Fawning PR Man

I've never felt, for any Presidential candidate, as strong a revulsion as the one I feel toward Mitt Romney.  If there's any interest from readers, I can try, in a later post, to adumbrate some of what I see as his many flaws.  In the meantime, this editorial in The Economist, while too mild in its condemnation of Romney's craven pandering for my tastes, is worth a read.  Its scolding, disappointed tone is, methinks, a bad sign for a candidate whose background and ideology (if an empty suit like Romney can be said to have ideology) would seem to make him a natural ally of the eminently pro-market, anti-regulation Economist.

Sample quote:

Competence is worthless without direction and, frankly, character. Would that Candidate Romney had indeed presented himself as a solid chief executive who got things done. Instead he has appeared as a fawning PR man, apparently willing to do or say just about anything to get elected.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"I hate this so much"

My friend, ASWOBA, posted this on Facebook, but in case any of my eight readers didn't see it, I'm going to repost.  It's the account of two diners eating at a restaurant called "Dans Le Noir" in New York City.  The gimmick is that the dining room where you eat is kept completely dark.  As in, pitch black.  You eat your whole meal without seeing anything (or anyone).

And is it horrible?  Oh yes.  It is horrible.

Two samples from the article:

EaterGM: We talked about this several times during the hour and a half, but the only thing that got us through there was just blind faith that we weren't going to die.
EaterAK: I think it's funny that I was worried about making small talk with strangers before going in, because once we were in the dark room, all I could think of was getting out of there.
EaterGM: The only thing. So, the waitress comes over and explains that we'd have to pour water into glasses by sticking our fingers in the glasses.

* * * 
EaterAK: I should note that while we're eating we are sitting in this dark room, it's VERY loud and very stuffy.
EaterGM: Oh, extremely. Yes, like a subway car during rush hour.
EaterAK: And every ten minutes or so one of the waiters yells for everyone to be quiet, and then it revs up again. Our waitress explained that it's due to the fact that you don't know how close you are to people so you just yell. I noticed my throat hurt afterwards.
EaterGM: Ha yeah, we were screaming at each other the entire time. "WHAT DOES YOUR FOOD TASTE LIke?" "I HATE THIS AMANDA." "IT"S HORRIBLE." "I HATE THIS SO MUCH."

Friday, August 10, 2012

'I never thought you were.'

I excerpted the Our Mutual Friend passage in the last post not only to call attention to its own felicities but because I was struck, reading it, by an intriguing parallel between it and Patrick O'Brian's The Far Side of The World.

Here's the relevant passage from O'Brian:
'Forgive me, sir,' said Jack, rising, 'but there is still the question of hands: I am short, very far short, of my complement.  And then of course there is the chaplain.' 
'Hands?' exclaimed the Admiral, as though this were the first he had ever heard of the matter.  'What do you expect me to do about them?  I can't bring me out of the ground, you know.  I am not a goddam Cadmus.' 
'Oh no, sir,' cried Jack with the utmost sincerity, 'I never thought you were.' 
'Well,' said the Admiral, somewhat mollified, 'come and see me tomorrow.'  
...Allen and his new captain walked out into the street.  'I shall see you tomorrow, then, Mr Allen?' said Jack, pausing on the pavement.  'Let it be early, if you please.'...
Now that they were out in the open, surrounded by quantites of people and talking about subjects of reat importance to them both, such as the ship's tendency to gripe and the probable effects of doubling her, Allen's constraint wore off, and as they walked along towards the ship he said, 'Sir, may I ask what a Cadmus might be?' 
'Why, as to that, Mr Allen,' said Jack, 'it might not be quite right for me to give you a definition in such a public place, with ladies about.  Perhaps you had better look into Buchan's Domestic Medicine.'
Cadmus, sowing dragon's teeth, creates an army

It's the same joke--someone's trying to cover up their ignorance by pretending to be unwilling to say something not fix for mixed company.  I don't necessarily assert that O'Brian intended to borrow this idea from Dickens; I doubt it was a conscious theft.  But O'Brian--as erudite and learned an author as any I know--had undoubtedly read Dickens.  That idea, that set-up for a joke--if you want to call it that--had stuck in his head.  The pleasure of finding that connection, of seeing an idea passed form one hand to the next, is one of the great joys that reading, and especially _rereading_ offers.  (Only because I've read all of the O'Brian books a dozen times was I able to associate the two moments, reading Our Mutual Friend.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"...at the confounding enormities..."

This passage below is from Our Mutual Friend, which I'm rereading right now, and which is giving me immense pleasure.  It's a book I'd almost entirely forgotten.  It's fantastic.  The passage below stood out to me for reasons I will go into in an upcoming post.  First, though, it should be savored on its own terms.

There is some backstory.  Mr Boffin, having recently inherited a large fortune, has hired a street vendor, Mr Wegg, to come to his house at night and read out loud to him from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  (The image above shows them together on the street).  Mr Boffin, however, being scarcely literate, has named the book he wants to have read as "The Decline and Fall of the Russian (Rooshan) Empire."  Wegg, an angling little con man, claims to be familiar with The Decline and Fall of The Russian Empire--and in doing so he helps to earn himself the job.  The scene below occurs when Wegg, arrived at Boffin's house, realizes he's admitted to being an expert on the wrong book.
And now, Mr Wegg at length pushed away his plate and put on his spectacles, and Mr Boffin lighted his pipe and looked with beaming eyes into the opening world before him, and Mrs Boffin reclined in a fashionable manner on her sofa: as one who would be part of the audience if she found she could, and would go to sleep if she found she couldn't.
'Hem!' began Wegg, 'This, Mr Boffin and Lady, is the first chapter of the first wollume of the Decline and Fall off—' here he looked hard at the book, and stopped.
'What's the matter, Wegg?'
'Why, it comes into my mind, do you know, sir,' said Wegg with an air of insinuating frankness (having first again looked hard at the book), 'that you made a little mistake this morning, which I had meant to set you right in, only something put it out of my head. I think you said Rooshan Empire, sir?'
'It is Rooshan; ain't it, Wegg?'
'No, sir. Roman. Roman.'
'What's the difference, Wegg?'
'The difference, sir?' Mr Wegg was faltering and in danger of breaking down, when a bright thought flashed upon him. 'The difference, sir? There you place me in a difficulty, Mr Boffin. Suffice it to observe, that the difference is best postponed to some other occasion when Mrs Boffin does not honour us with her company. In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir, we had better drop it.'
Mr Wegg thus came out of his disadvantage with quite a chivalrous air, and not only that, but by dint of repeating with a manly delicacy, 'In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir, we had better drop it!' turned the disadvantage on Boffin, who felt that he had committed himself in a very painful manner.
Then, Mr Wegg, in a dry unflinching way, entered on his task; going straight across country at everything that came before him; taking all the hard words, biographical and geographical; getting rather shaken by Hadrian, Trajan, and the Antonines; stumbling at Polybius (pronounced Polly Beeious, and supposed by Mr Boffin to be a Roman virgin, and by Mrs Boffin to be responsible for that necessity of dropping it); heavily unseated by Titus Antoninus Pius; up again and galloping smoothly with Augustus; finally, getting over the ground well with Commodus: who, under the appellation of Commodious, was held by Mr Boffin to have been quite unworthy of his English origin, and 'not to have acted up to his name' in his government of the Roman people. With the death of this personage, Mr Wegg terminated his first reading; long before which consummation several total eclipses of Mrs Boffin's candle behind her black velvet disc, would have been very alarming, but for being regularly accompanied by a potent smell of burnt pens when her feathers took fire, which acted as a restorative and woke her. Mr Wegg, having read on by rote and attached as few ideas as possible to the text, came out of the encounter fresh; but, Mr Boffin, who had soon laid down his unfinished pipe, and had ever since sat intently staring with his eyes and mind at the confounding enormities of the Romans, was so severely punished that he could hardly wish his literary friend Good-night, and articulate 'Tomorrow.'
'Commodious,' gasped Mr Boffin, staring at the moon, after letting Wegg out at the gate and fastening it: 'Commodious fights in that wild-beast-show, seven hundred and thirty-five times, in one character only! As if that wasn't stunning enough, a hundred lions is turned into the same wild-beast-show all at once! As if that wasn't stunning enough, Commodious, in another character, kills 'em all off in a hundred goes! As if that wasn't stunning enough, Vittle-us (and well named too) eats six millions' worth, English money, in seven months! Wegg takes it easy, but upon-my-soul to a old bird like myself these are scarers. And even now that Commodious is strangled, I don't see a way to our bettering ourselves.' Mr Boffin added as he turned his pensive steps towards the Bower and shook his head, 'I didn't think this morning there was half so many Scarers in Print. But I'm in for it now!'