Weekly Roundup: Calling What Now? Edition

Karen Carpenter’s voice was a constant background noise in my youth, which explains why I didn’t conceive a genuine respect for her until my thirties. She had a tough life; after being shoved into the spotlight by an ambitious brother and a borderline mother, she fell into a truly bad marriage and ended up starving herself to death. The genuine pathos of Karen’s existence makes the sunny optimism of her music just that much more upsetting. I don’t think there was anyone less “cool” in the self-conscious Seventies and Eighties than Karen Carpenter. When she succumbed to anorexia, my local rock station played “We’ve Only Just Begun” with the DJ cutting in to moan “TO DIEEEEEEEE…” at the (in)appropriate time. Along with disco, the Carpenters found themselves relegated to less-than-human status in the Guns-N’-Roses-fueled rearview mirror.

Unlike disco, the Carpenters didn’t get a modern rehab. They’re just too “white” and this is an era where “whiteness” is commonly considered to be a malignant force. They were also capable of making some genuinely odd musical choices. “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft” is perhaps the oddest. It was expensive and complex to record, and as with much of the Carpenters’ output it was driven by the desires of the brother, not the sister. Yet there’s something remarkably charming in retrospect about the idea of being so optimistic that you couldn’t imagine anything but a positive outcome from First Contact. Think of this song as a musical version of Iain M. Banks’ Culture books; a love song to the ultimate Other, performed by a woman who was her own mortal enemy.

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Weekly Roundup: You Best Not Miss Edition

Twitter is ABUZZ! with people laughing at actor/controversialist/superglue victim James Woods and his HILARIOUS! attempt to DE-GHETTO-IZE! a quote from Omar Little, the Robin-Hood-esque gangster on The Wire. Regarding the Mueller Report, Woods wrote:

“If you try to kill the King, you better not miss.”

When Everybody Knows! that Omar said,

“You come at the king, you best not miss.”

How could Woods be so ILLITERATE?

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Cathedrals Burned And Built Edition

There’s a monster growing outside my hotel window here in New York City. It’s called the Central Park Tower and it will have the tallest rooftop in the Western Hemisphere. In the Middle East and in Asia, of course, they build higher; the Chinese, in particular, treat the construction of massive skyscrapers with the same seriousness that Americans reserve for making sure that all pronouns are gender-neutral.

From my window I can see the cantilevered side of the structure. The “air rights” for the cantilever were purchased from the directors of the Art Students League next door; the members of the League promptly sued the directors. A court told them to pound sand. In New York, the very air above you can be purchased. Some part of the building was once the city’s original Steinway dealership. In recognition of this, there will be Steinway pianos in the building. They will not go unplayed, as they do in Beverly Hills, because the new owners will have children with musical accomplishments.

Central Park Tower will cost three billion dollars by the time it is completed. You can roost near the top for a mere $95 million, or you can live down near the proles for a quarter of that. It’s worth noting that there are only two kinds of people in the world where these prices are concerned: those for whom such a residence is beyond even the distant reaches of possibility, and those for whom it will be a second home, a pied-a-terre for occasional visits to the city, a minor part of a diversified portfolio. It’s become common for Chinese families to buy these things as hedges against some potential chaos in the homeland. Russians, too.

In fact, the entire saga of the tower, as blandly described on Wikipedia, has a distinctively international flavor to it. The Chinese own a big part of it, the Israelis were involved somehow, various globe-spanning banks and corporations bailed each other out of potentially bad loans. None of it makes much sense until you consider that the building simply must exist. There are 179 extremely powerful and important individuals out there who wish it to exist, to say nothing of the Nordstrom corporation and the various other business tenants. It is an expression of will, of belief, of faith.

Which is to say… it’s a cathedral.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Hitting The Wall And Everything After Edition

The little white Bimmer was right ahead of me in the Saturday-morning tech line for this past weekend’s NASA race at NCM Motorsports Park. Freshly wrapped in a fascinating PopArt-ish line-and-pattern vinyl, it had laminated copies of the original Monroney sticker taped to the rear quarter window. Thirty years ago, it had been sold as a new 325i by Dayton, Ohio’s sole BMW dealer, possibly at the same time that I was working down the road at David Hobbs BMW in downtown Columbus. I chatted with the owner and his co-driver, who was either his brother or someone who just happened to look exactly like him. I’d call them “good kids”, but that’s my age and detachment speaking. In truth, they seemed to be good men, bringing this very nicely-finished car to the track after months of hard work and detail-oriented effort.

A few hours later, after Danger Girl expressed some concern about how her slicks had behaved during qualifying, I borrowed her car and hopped in the “HPDE 4” session. DG was right — the tires were an absolute nightmare, completely grained and displaying some really unpleasant grumble-slide-grip characteristics. The young fellows in their BMW were gridded right behind me. I waved them past early in the session and then spent a lap or two trying to re-surface the slicks by heating and cooling them. I rolled back up behind the 325i just in time to see their newly-built car, on which they’d spent five months’ worth of effort, hit the wall.

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Weekly Roundup: It’s Mueller Time Edition

Like it or loathe it, the “Mueller investigation” has to be considered a complete and total success.

No, The Man From B.C.C.I. didn’t “get Trump” — but did anybody besides Rachel Maddow really think that “the Russians” had a significant hand in the 2016 election? Even if they’d seriously and illegally tried to game the outcome, with Trump’s encouragement and/or participation, what chance did a bunch of ex-KGB goons with Facebook accounts have against a weaponized Google, not to mention the super-wealthy who put millions upon millions of dollars in play on both sides of the political divide? Nor does the report appear to provide any ready-made basis to impeach the President, the way that Ken Starr’s work did with Bill Clinton — but again, what were the chances that a man with forty years’ worth of experience dodging politically-motivated prosecution in New York City would be an easy target for the man who appears to have been easily manipulated by both George Bush and the Boston Mafia?

From my outsider’s perspective, however, the Mueller investigation wasn’t about keeping Russia out of our elections. It was about making it perfectly clear that any future President who hails from outside the “Swamp” or the “Deep State” will be hounded into madness and bankruptcy by that so-called Deep State. This has little to do with party loyalty; one can easily imagine Tulsi Gabbard or Rand Paul being on the receiving end of a similar battering-via-prosecution after winning an election. Even if our potential maverick politicians are not discouraged by this prospect, surely they’ll have a hard time filling their staffs prior to those elections. You’d have to be a certified moron not to notice the fact that Jeffrey Epstein did thirteen months for raping dozens of underaged girls but Paul Manafort is almost certainly going to die in prison. When it comes to selective prosecution, there really is such a thing as being on the right side of history.

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(Double) Weekly Roundup: The Desire Of The Woman Edition

And they say that writing doesn’t pay: Kristen Roupenian received $1.2 million dollars as an advance for her FIRST EVER BOOK, You Know You Want this after her story “Cat Person” went, as they say, viral. The book is, apparently, a bit of a hash and it’s not selling terribly well. You can read a rather savage review by the infamous “Delicious Tacos” here; as with Clive James’ infamous Princess Daisy evisceration, the criticism is significantly more accomplished than the source material. I could attempt a review of my own, but it would be stymied both by the excellence of Tacos’ piece and the minor, but in this case relevant, fact that I have not read the book.

Which won’t stop me from talking about “Cat Person” a bit, because I have read it and because it’s free for all of you to read. The story is trash, little better than the vampires-and-billionaires vomit you see being eagerly scarfed-up by every middle-aged woman beneath every rental umbrella on every beach during every summer, and bearing the scars of a thousand table readings at a dozen writers’ workshops — yet, as Clive James reminds us, “It takes bad art to teach us how good art gets done.” Therefore, let me flap this bug with gilded wings, &c., because there is a fascinating, and important, lesson buried right in the fetid guts of the thing.

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Weekly Roundup: Down, But Not Out, In Florida Edition

It wasn’t until after I ran down from the starting hill and down to the track’s end that I realized my son had been injured. I carried his twisted bike off the track as he stood on wobbling legs and stumbled into the darkness past fence before sitting down. Then I sat down next to him and observed the way he shielded his face with his hands, helmet still on.

“Come on, let’s stand up and walk over to the trophies,” I said, mistaking his behavior for disappointment or stubbornness.

“I can’t,” he replied, “I want to, but my head hurts so much.”

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: The Gospel Accord-ing To Jack Edition

Has it really been five years since I bought my Accord Coupe? In truth, it’s been five years and a few days. In theory, the last payment was due on the first of March. I made it twenty days early and now I have the title. This is the first time I’ve paid off a car loan since I finished my Boxster in 2010; everything since then was lease-returned, sold early, traded-in, or bent in half.

Auto loans, much like pornographic images, are often loudly derided by their most thoroughly-addicted users. I’ve paid cash for a fair number of cars and bikes over the years but I never felt like braying about it. Where and when it was appropriate, I’ve never hesitated to borrow money for a car. It’s some of the cheapest funding you can get; I think my MKT loan is five percent, which would have been lousy three years ago but seems good now.

Anyway, the Accord is now paid off. It’s now entirely my car. Every once in a while, someone asks about buying it. I’m one of those everything’s-for-sale types so here is the Riverside Green “deal”: The car has 71,000 miles, one panel dent measuring 2 x 3 inches, fresh brakes all the way around, and a back bumper that could use a re-spray. I installed a Class 1 trailer hitch for a bike rack. $16,999 takes it home, FOB Powell, Ohio. The lucky buyer gets the OEM wheels with worn-out Primacy OEM tires, one set of O.Z. Omnias mounting one-third worn Cooper “performance” tires, and one set of Tire Rack special wheels mounting Blizzak winter tires.

You could do a lot worse for the money; this is a fast, capable, and charming car. I don’t expect anyone to buy it, which would suit me just fine.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: A Linc To The Past Edition

They did it when I wasn’t looking, when my back was either turned in entirely feigned disinterest or bent to the work of surviving in the so-called gig economy: they changed what it meant to be rich. I don’t mean the numbers, although it is sobering to think that any one of the modern Illuminati can, and often do, spend in a day what a surgeon or senior attorney could make in a lifetime. I’m talking about the actual existence of the rich, the way they live.

My grandfather, the first John Baruth, was rich. Not by today’s standards, mind you. His home in Clearwater was modestly sized and I am certain he went to his grave without ever having flown private. Rather, he was rich in the way that a small-town surgeon or mid-city attorney used to be rich. He retired in his fifties, played tennis, wore and ate whatever suited him. They knew his name at his club and at his church. He was treated with universal respect. Having worked hard for much of his life, he was generous, serene, and cheerful in wealth.

Today’s rich people exhibit little of that serenity or cheerfulness. They sullenly eschew the sartorial and behavorial trappings of traditional American wealth, such as the fine dresses and elegant disposition, for an aesthetic best described as “about to go running in mildly bad weather.” The goal is to mimic the appearance of perpetual exercise, all the better to accompany the Bezos-esque bobblehead-and-pencil-neck marathoner’s build that one apparently cannot avoid picking up somewhere between open-plan-office and C-suite. The primary social message is: I am successful enough to spend my entire life in some sort of aerobic activity. They snipe at the “uniform” of three-piece Brooks Brothers suit even as they all don completely identical light-blue psuedo-exercise vests and fleeces. I suspect, but cannot confirm, that they view the replacement of American tradecraft clothing with sweatshop polyester garbage as a feature, not a bug.

And then, of course, we have their cars.

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