Imploding culture watch: Gail Collins has a new friend!


Did someone eat lead paint: To Seamus the dog, add Willow the cat!

Today, Willow makes her second appearance in a Gail Collins column. Things were moving along quite nicely. Then, someone’s attention-span failed:
COLLINS (9/29/11): The latest stalemate in Washington has been over the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which had been running out of cash what with all the recent fires, floods, earthquakes, plagues of frogs and what have you. Republicans wanted to balance any new FEMA money with cuts elsewhere. Democrats said that when disaster strikes, the tradition is to pony up and deal with the financing issues later.

Republicans said yeah, and that’s how we wound up $14.7 trillion in the hole. And then the Democrats said no way, we got the hole from the Bush tax cuts, and then the Republicans kicked them in the groin and everybody had to go to the emergency room.

O.K., I can hear you all asking: Whatever happened to Willow the cat?

Willow, you may remember, disappeared from her home in Colorado five years ago and turned up recently in a shelter in New York City. Now that was a feel-good story. Her whole family was flown to New York to appear on the “Today” show for a reunion. Why can’t Congress ever do things like that?
To her credit, Collins has begun to admit that she’s hearing voices. Getting back to Willow the cat: If you can remember the fact that she disappeared from her home in Colorado, it may be because Collins devoted much of her column to that topic last Thursday. Here’s how she started that piece:
COLLINS (9/22/11): Right now you're probably asking yourself: What has Congress been up to since it raised the debt ceiling?

A lot! The House, for instance, recently passed an important resolution repudiating the raising of the debt ceiling.

These are the moments when it becomes clear why nobody wants to talk about politics anymore. In fact, as a public service, I would like to change the subject and point out that Willow, a cat who disappeared from its home in Colorado five years ago, has been found in New York City. How do you think she got here? By car? By foot? Let's all talk about that for the next hour or two.
Collins wasn’t hearing voices that day. That day, Collins was bored. “Let's all talk about that for the next hour or two,” she implored.

In today’s column, Collins follows the template from last week’s effort. Every so often, she simply abandons her putative topic and returns to the tale about Willow. She has no apparent point to make; by her own account, she is pretty much doing this because she’s bored out of her noggin. In this manner, Collins burns 143 words off today’s column. (We’re adding in her Ashton-and-Demi detour.)

Is Lady Collins depressed? That would be an unfortunate thing, of course. We mention this possibility because we remember a time when our own work proceeded like this. During our sophomore year in college, we hated our academic work so much that we had to go out and walk around after typing just a few sentences in one of our outstanding term papers. We didn’t stick in shit about missing cats. But our attention span functioned like Collins’.

We’ll admit that we thought of something else when we first read today’s column. We thought of the posts Kevin Drum did a few months back about the effects of lead paint. According to Drum, serious studies have tied the large drops in violent crime to the removal of lead paint from the environment. We have no way of assessing those studies, but Drum took them seriously. For that reason, we did too.

Has Lady Collins been eating lead paint? We’ll admit it: That’s the question which came to mind the first time we read today’s column. But then, it’s amazing how much work at the very top of the elite press can seem to raise genuine questions about mental health. This is the way a culture might look when it is imploding.

Collins is hearing voices today. The voices ask about Willow the cat. If Seamus the dog wasn’t strapped to that roof, we think he’d be barking.


Concerning lead paint: For a post on this topic by Drum in May, click here. For a post from 2007, just click this.