The Zimmerman trial versus haute couture week!

SUNDAY, JULY 7, 2013

The New York Times, crying for help: We’ve tried and tried and tried and tried to describe the groaning problems with New York Times upper-class culture.

To its credit, the paper itself keeps issuing cries for help. This morning, the Times pulls out all stops, doing everything it can to help readers see its great problem.

Please examine the front page of today’s Sunday Review.

As the globe writhes and burns, the New York Times runs two reports—Count em, two!—in that high-profile spot. In one report, the often peculiar James Atlas—real name?—documents a problem he calls, “Class Struggle in the Sky:”

The text which follows actually appears in this morning’s New York Times. It appears in one of the most prominent spots of the week:
ATLAS (7/7/13): Class Struggle in the Sky

The choice of “snacks” on my New York to Miami flight includes blue potato chips, a Luna bar, a packet of trail mix and—a selection I haven’t been offered before—popcorn. But it makes sense: the cabin already feels like a movie theater at the end of a showing, even though we still have an hour to go. The floor is strewn with candy-bar wrappers and broken headsets, crumpled napkins and cracked plastic glasses. There’s so little legroom that I have to push my knees against the seat in front of me as if I’m doing crunches. Welcome to economy.

Elsewhere in the plane—“on the other side of the curtain,” as the first-class and business cabins are referred to—dinners are being served on white linen tablecloths, with actual bone china. Everyone’s got their “amenities kit”—one of those little nylon bags containing slippers, an eyeshade and a toothbrush. And legroom? Tons. While our seat width contracts—on some airlines by nearly eight inches in recent years—the space up front continues to expand: Emirates Airlines now offers, as part of its “first-class private suite,” a private room with minibar, wide-screen TV and “lie-flat bed.”

This stark class division should come as no surprise: what’s happening in the clouds mirrors what’s happening on the ground. Statusization—to coin a useful term—is ubiquitous, no matter what your altitude. While you’re in your hospital bed spooning up red Jell-O, a patient in a private suite is enjoying strawberries and cream...
At this most clueless of all publications, the concept of “class struggle” and “class division” involves the insufficient snacks Atlas was served on his recent flight. To prove that he has the world’s numbest nuts, Atlas adds to these thoughts a bit later.

Please note his deeply clueless idea of what life was like in the 1960s. As a sidelight, please note his Inevitable Standard Assessment of the public schools:
ATLAS: Ah, the old days. But it’s true: there was a time when air travel—for everyone, regardless of class station—was synonymous with luxury. Bruce Handy captured the way things were in a nostalgic Vanity Fair essay about stewardesses (“stews”): “Their ‘look’ was as polished as the marble in a corporate lobby,” writes Mr. Handy. They wore lipstick and false eyelashes, white gloves and crisply folded hats. And they were young: the mandatory retirement age was 32. Flying in that long-vanished era, when Kennedy was Idlewild and the MetLife Building atop Grand Central was the Pan Am Building, felt special. I remember being presented with plastic wings on my first flight to Nassau, Bahamas, when I was 13. I was like that kid in “Catch Me if You Can” who comes up to Leonardo DiCaprio, looking spiffy in his captain’s uniform with gold stripes on the sleeve, and asks for his autograph: “Are you a real live pilot?”

The movie is set in the mid-’60s, the end of a high moment in American life, at least for the middle class. It was a time when public schools could still be counted on to provide a decent education; when it was possible for most families to live on one income—almost always Dad’s—buy a house in the suburbs and go on vacation twice a year. (We took the Super Chief from Chicago to California every winter, the porters swaying through the corridors with their dinner gongs as they summoned us to the dining room with the snowy dining cloths and the rose in a fluted vase.) The country was prosperous; if you weren’t rich, you felt rich.

Anyway, it didn’t matter. There was no caste system. You could get on a plane and be shown your seat in coach without having to mill around at the gate waiting for your “group” to be called. You weren’t a “member” of Premier, Business, Gold Circle, Executive Platinum or some other designation that indicated how often you flew and how much you put on your credit card. You were just a passenger, on your way to spend a few days with the grandparents or take the kids to Disneyland.
In the mind of this overwrought fellow, “there was a time when air travel—for everyone, regardless of class station—was synonymous with luxury.” (Our emphasis)

Later, in one fleeting moment, Atlas adds a qualifier. He seems to say that, by “everyone, regardless of class station,” he actually meant, “at least in the middle class.”

Absent that fleeting disclaimer, Atlas seems to be imagining that everyone flew off to Bermuda in those days and “took the Super Chief from Chicago to California every winter.” Even after that disclaimer, he still seems to claim that middle-class people quite routinely flew off to Disneyland.

For reasons no sane person can conjure, the New York Times put this in print, giving it highly prominent placement.

By the way: Could you “count on the public schools” at that time, as this fellow asserts, reading a Standard Script? As you may recall from our previous offerings, this is the way Jonathan Kozol described one public school of that era, the Boston school where he was a fourth-grade teacher:
KOZOL (page 1 and page 9): Stephen is eight years old. A picture of him standing in front of the bulletin board on Arab bedouins shows a little light-brown person staring with unusual concentration at a chosen spot upon the floor. Stephen is tiny, desperate, unwell. Sometimes he talks to himself. He moves his mouth as if he were talking. At other times he laughs out loud in class for no apparent reason. He is also an indescribably mild and unmalicious child. He cannot do any of his school work very well. His math and reading are poor. In Third Grade he was in a class that had substitute teachers much of the year. Most of the year before that, he had a row of substitute teachers too. He is in the Fourth Grade now but his work is barely at the level of the Second.


Many people in Boston are surprised, even to this day, to be told that children are beaten with thin bamboo whips within the cellars of our public schools and that they are whipped at times for no greater offence than for failing to show respect to the very same teachers who have been describing them as niggers.
Ah yes! Those were the days! In those days, “there was no caste system!”

Stephen was tiny, desperate, unwell; Atlas is fatuous, empty. For that reason, the New York Times can’t run fast enough to put his musings in print. Inevitably, he reinforced the Standard Story that is being used to undermine progressive interests:

Back then, our public schools were great! Today, the unions have ruined them.

Presumably, Atlas has no idea what our most reliable data say about the growth in reading and math skills from that day to this. But the New York Times isn’t there for the data. The Times exists to promulgate the fever dreams of a high class.

This morning, Atlas discusses class struggle. On the same front page of the Sunday Review, Maureen Dowd is off in Paris, sent there for haute couture week.

Is this the New York Times or The Onion? The most fatuous “journalist” of our age starts today’s musings like this:
DOWD (6/7/13): Goodbye Old World, Bonjour Tristesse

Versailles lived again at haute couture week, as designers paraded their let-them-eat-cake creations, hand-stitched with gilt embroidery and trimmed with guiltless fur—frousfrous that no real women can wear and few can afford.

On Friday night, Christian Lacroix offered his homage to Elsa Schiaparelli, but even high fashion couldn’t lift Paris from its low mood. “Liberté, égalité, morosité,” Le Monde declared.

Joie de vivre has given way to gaze de navel. The French are so busy wallowing in their existential estrangement—a state of mind Camus described as “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”—that they don’t even have the energy to be rude. And now that they’re smoking electronic cigarettes, their ennui doesn’t look as cool. It’s not that they’ve lost faith in their own superiority. They’ve lost faith that the rest of the world sees it. The whole country has, as Catherine Deneuve says of her crazy blue moods, une araignée au plafond—a spider on the ceiling.

On Place Vendome, Christian Lacroix was dispatching models in black crepe chiffon peplum basques—whatever they are—while on Avenue Hoche, Lacroix’s dentist was bemoaning the black crepe City of Lights. Holding a cigarette in a waiting room filled with Picasso-print pillows, Dr. Gérard Armandou told how his patients, always prone to pessimism, are even more filled with malheur now as they sit in his chair contemplating tous les problèmes, including “not going anymore on holiday to Egypt.”
In just her first four paragraphs, Dowd quotes Camus and Deneuve—and a famous designer’s dentist! In the process, she gives you a look at the ongoing death of your dying culture.

As with Atlas, so with Dowd—she affects concern about this upper-class world with its unwearable frousfrous. She doesn’t explain why she’s wasting her time at haute couture week to begin with.

Let us guess that Maureen Dowd may have flown to Paris first class. Not for her the pitiful snacks Atlas endured on his flight! Once in Paris, she started in with the simpering nonsense which has come to define the culture of the upper-class press corps. Once again, for the ten millionth time, we will post the anecdote which defines a failing age:
JERVEY (6/99): Among Washington columnists, there is no keener observer of Bill Clinton than Maureen Dowd...[S]he seems obsessed with his personality, always looking for the key to his character—or rather, his utter lack thereof. In the summer of 1997, for example, when President Clinton installed a hot tub at the White House, Dowd traveled to Santa Monica to visit the showroom of the manufacturer who had made the President’s new toy. She wanted to test the waters.


"Maureen is very talented," observes Joe Klein of The New Yorker. "But she is ground zero of what the press has come to be about in the nineties... I remember having a discussion with her in which I said, 'Maureen, why don't you go out and report about something significant, go out and see poor people, do something real?' And she said, 'You mean I should write about welfare reform?’”
Back then, Dowd flew out to the coast to examine a type of hot tub which had been donated to the White House. This week, she flew to Paris, then came down extremely hard on those unwearable frousfrous.

(“Frousfrous” seems to be French for the Anglicized variant, “frou-frous.” As Steve Martin once said, "Those French!”)

The New York Times is crying for help on the front page of the Sunday Review. But because of the power of the Times, you won't see this problem discussed.

Career “journalists” will avert their gaze from this undisguised breakdown. The New York Times never doesn’t do this. But no one ever says so!

As the Times sells its own frou-frous, the empty paper is trying to cover the Zimmerman trial. This produced a strange event this week, when Charles Blow’s column didn’t appear in the Saturday hard-copy paper.

“Charles Blow is off today,” the paper said, pretending to explain the column’s absence. But how strange! Blow had plainly written a column. You can see the column here, along with the 500 comments the Times was willing to post.

For some reason, someone at the New York Times felt that the column shouldn’t appear in the hard-copy edition. Instead, the column was published on-line. On Saturday morning, we the rubes were told that Blow was “off.”

All over the press corps, journalists are trying to cover that trial. In comment threads, we the people respond to the things they say.

The work of that press corps, and the work of us rubes, raise a very serious question, one we will explore all week. Given the values and competence of our press corps, can our culture expect to survive?

Concerning Jonathan Kozol: Kozol’s brilliant persuasive writing helped persuade us early in life.

We met him a decade later, in the late 1970s. In 1980, we dumbly turned down an “invitation to join a delegation put together by baby doctor Dr. Benjamin Spock and educator Jonathan Kozol” to visit Nicaragua post-revolution. (We had no money and no Spanish. Click here, see page 14.)

We don’t always agree with Kozol. But we love what he’s about.

We first quoted his book in 2010, when Rehema Ellis of NBC News recalled how much better our public schools were “forty years ago.” It’s astounding to see the ridiculous things our high-ranking journalists will say, almost always in service to Preferred Absurd Standard Group Stories.

Ellis seems like a very nice person. Does anyone know how such statements come out of such people’s mouths?


  1. If you read Blow's article, the subject of which was his fantasies about what he has decided to believe happened the night Trayvon Martin caused his own death, you'll understand why (even) the New York Times decided not to give it full exposure.

  2. When I was young, the Sunday Times included a section called "The News of the Week in Review." The first 2 pages gave brief, straight, factual summaries of the key news stories of the week. The remainder was serious op-eds and serious editorials.

    But, then, they changed it to the "Sunday Review." In its new guise, it's essentially a second magazine section. So, it includes articles of general interest or amusement about unimportant topics. It often plays down or ignores important stories. It's no longer a review of the news. It's just a Review.

    1. David in Cal's comment echoes, exactly, my thoughts on the NYTimes "Review". It is all "views" and no "news". Moreover, often I find that those views are concerned with inconsequential topics. Presumably, the Times is just continuing the "People Magazining" of the publishing industry... more writing,less information. Sad.

  3. This post should have ended after "unwearable frousfrous" -- except for the first three paragraphs of the aside on Kozol. Stick to the substance. This constant repetition of the standard set of rants has gone far beyond eye-rolling tiresome. It guarantees that TDH will have little impact, which is a pity.

    1. I disagree. Repetition of one's message is essential to persuasion. In advertising, you must expose people to your message at least 7 times before they will make a buying decision in your favor. That's why the same ads run so often on TV. In school, repetition is important to both memory and understanding. Here, Bob is applying his core concepts to the new examples that arise daily in order to illustrate his points. New readers arrive who are unfamiliar with his past posts. Those who stick around are clearly finding something of interest to read here, despite the repetition. If you extend this philosophically, we all spend our lifetimes repeating core themes important to our individual psyches. Authors repeat their themes just as endlessly, in new volumes with new characters and in new settings but always exploring the same old ideas that obsess them. If you are bored, you know where the door is -- but I don't think you speak for anyone here except yourself.

    2. There is plenty of interest, but the relentless ad hominem attacks against virtually every other liberal writer or commentator, without a hint suggesting some constructive action, is counter-productive. It shows up in the puny comment section. On a good day, one of the TDH posts gets eight comments. Drum might get 200. And where is one of his op eds, well-deserved from the quality of research and focus, to an audience of millions?

    3. What is unclear about "stop clowning around and get your facts straight"? Sounds like more than a hint to me.

  4. Quaker in a BasementJuly 7, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    Why does the punditry seem to remember a time when public schools were "so much better"?

    Maybe they're actually remembering a time when public schools were carefully segregated. Struggling, deprived students like young Stephen were simply warehoused away from the children of the middle class.

    1. I think it is a more general memory bias. We tend to be nostalgic about many things in our past that are remembered as being better than they were.

      I think the current attacks on the schools, teachers and unions are motivated by the desire to privatize them and profit from them financially. Teachers are an obstacle to this because they tend to view themselves as advocates for students, tend not to be motivated by money, and tend to be wary of the academic fads featuring unproven techniques and materials that come along periodically to take economic advantage of school districts. So, teachers need to be discredited in order to clear the way for profiteers.

    2. You're both right. Quaker has identified the fertile ground in which the propaganda you have pinpointed can grow.

      Notice how they always say it's the "unions" who are blocking these (absurd) changes -- as if the union leaders could stay in office opposing what the teachers -- the only people with direct subject matter knowledge -- believe. Teachers good (to too many people), unions bad (to enough people). That's called propaganda.

    3. I agree, ul. I always find it amusing when people wax nostalgic about the "good ole days," somehow forgetting, or simply avoiding the fact that they were terrible days indeed for vast swaths of Americans. Apparently, those Americans didn't "count."

      I don't think it's necessarily some racist viewpoint at the root, but as anon mentioned, we like to remember the good. For middle class whites in the right areas, no doubt the 50s through 80s were some sort of halcyon days.

      Of course, we should expect better from journalists; their job is to provide perspective and facts that tell the true story.

  5. Great post.
    I maintain that a lot of this has to do with self-regard. People my age want to believe they went to much, much better public schools and that's why we're SO SMART.
    One of my son's high school teachers did a great thing at parent night. She was a "government" teacher, so civics, essentially.
    She gave us a test. Three questions from a "pop quiz" she had given our kids that month.
    This is a solidly middle class district.
    Better than half the parents got 1 or more of the 3 questions wrong, and this isn't even ALL the parents, it's the parents who show up for school events!
    Just brilliant. More public school teachers should do it. They should test reporters and politicians, too.
    We have to ditch this dumb, self-congratulary nostalgia. It's killing us.

  6. What they ought to remember is a country where a public school education was ENOUGH, not "better," because that's what has really happened. Graduate high school, and you were guaranteed what we would call a middle class life, as long as you weren't a screwup. Now, graduating college doesn't even guarantee that. Blaming the schools has several motives, but one of the big ones is a refusal to face up to the fact that the world has changed, that what worked in the past, Clinton's "work hard and play by the rules" isn't enough any more, and it's becoming even more less than enough every day. The American dream is dying a slow death, and nobody wants to wake up. So pretend it's the schools, or the immigrants, or "the politicians in Washington," or "the liberals," or whatever you like, just don't say, "We taught a generation of our kids something that is turning out to be a lie."

  7. In the 1950's, we took it for granted that the USA was the best at everything. We had invented most of the important inventions. We were the richest, the smartest, etc. I don't actually know if our education and technology were the best in the world, but we sure thought they were. That's why it was such a shock when the USSR beat us into space with Sputnik.

    If USA education really was the best in the world at one time, and now we're in the middle of the pack, then we have fallen back in some sense.

    1. David, our education wasn't the best in the world at any time.

      These ideas, captured by the term "American Exceptionalism," arise from a lack of knowledge about the rest of the world.

      We didn't invent most of the important inventions. Our education and technology weren't the best in the world until refugees from the German universities came to the US as the result of WWII. The USSR beat us into space because their German scientists were slightly better than ours.

    2. The US could have beaten the USSR into space, if it wanted to:

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