Friday, December 28, 2018

Commentariat Central: Obituary Edition

I wrote three New York Times comments this week: two of them to mark the deaths of a couple of long-time fellow commenters, and the third to critique yet another beating of a dead horse by dismal economics pundit Paul Krugman. To give Krugman credit, he boldly buried his fellow dishonest economists without mentioning even one of them by his or her actual name. How can I put this delicately? Krugman himself has been moribund for quite some time now, vacillating in his biweekly columns between easy-peasy GOP-bashing and defending Obamacare to the death.

But back to the true obits.

Larry Eisenberg, legendary resident poet and limericist of the Times commentariat, died on Christmas night at the age of 99. He was such an institution that he rated a prominently displayed full obituary written by another of the Paper of Record's institutions, chief necrologist Margalit Fox. (Since Fox actually left the Times earlier this year, she did not, as some readers surmised, physically return to the building to write Eisenberg's obit. Such things are kept in the can for years, if not decades, before a famous person actually dies.)

It was a classic of the form, with the appropriate blackly humorous headline: Larry Eisenberg, 99, Is Dead; His Limericks Were Very Well Read. Fox writes:
 His first ( of 13,000 Times comments), from July 14, 2008, was in response to an Op-Ed article by Barack Obama, then a United States senator from Illinois and the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency.
 In the article, which outlined his proposal for the Iraq campaign, Mr. Obama called for the gradual withdrawal of United States combat troops there, a plan that would leave only “a residual force” to “perform limited missions.”
Dr. Eisenberg, a self-described ardent liberal, was having none of this. As he wrote in reply:
A “residual force,” Mr. O.?
With “limited missions,” ah, so,
Precipitous? Nay!
It’s a sure way to stay.
Your plan sounds like “in statu quo”!
In the years that followed, limericks burst forth from Dr. Eisenberg on a welter of subjects.
A couple of years ago, I noticed that Larry's comments had disappeared. A couple of us wondered if perhaps he'd become incapacitated or even died. Another frequent contributor, Rima Regas, tracked him down. He wrote me back a very nice personal email, thanking me for my concern, and explained that he had quit making submissions because the Times moderators had started rejecting them. (Rima kept up an email correspondence with him until just a few days before his death in hospice.) Larry complained to former editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal (an Eisenberg fan) and got reinstated. It just goes to show you that even famous unpaid resident poets who rate full obituaries can get censored by the Gray Lady if their thoughts are deemed to be too "edgy."

So anyway, here's my published comment on Larry's obit:
 There once was a poet named Larry
 Whose comments made Times readers merry
 In spite of Trump news
 In spite of Trump's views
 His wit made the world seem less scary.

 So though sad that Limerick Larry
 Bows out in a Times obituary,
 His verses live on.
 The memories so fond
 As he journeys on Charon's old ferry.


 My deepest condolences to Larry's children. Your dad was a true mensch!

Do check out the other comments from his fans. Some of the limericks and poems and other essays written in his honor are well worth a read.

Now on to the second Times commenter death, that of right-wing gadfly Richard Luettgen. He rated a somewhat less prominent tribute from a Times censor moderator, mainly on the basis of his having published a whopping 30,000 comments over the years. His demise was not noticed until several weeks after the fact, although the Times apparently "wondered" whatever had become of him. News came in the form of another reader comment on a Bret Stephens column trashing Elizabeth Warren.

"He (Luettgen) was not known for holding back," diplomatically wrote moderator Nancy Wartik.
The Times’s comment moderators are a tight-knit group, affectionately familiar with our frequent commenters and appreciative of those who contribute thoughtfully, like Mr. Luettgen. Commenters, too, have developed virtual relationships within our community....

“That’s tragic,” “rtj” of Massachusetts responded to the news of Mr. Luettgen’s death. “He had a sense of humor that’s rare around these parts.”
Another reader, “Nick,” wrote: “I almost never agreed with him, but appreciated his contribution to the discussion. He provided a lot of grist for the mill.”
Others have been offering their condolences to his family.
The ripples also spread through our department.
 One of the things I really respected about Richard,” said Bassey Etim, our Community Editor, “is that he would email me when we took down some rude replies to his comments and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing, put that back up.’ He was not afraid of mixing it up.”
I personally never chose to "mix it up" with Luettgen, despite his best efforts to troll me (in that funny erudite way of his, of course.) 

 The final - and I believe the only - remarks I ever wrote to or about Richard Luettgen, whose comments, frankly, I had stopped reading:
 I was sorry to learn of Richard's death in spite of the fact that he once responded to one of my comments by suggesting that my doctor up my dose of Valium. As others have noted, he was something of an imp. To be fair, he also once complimented me on my writing ability, which was nice coming from such a verbally gifted contributor as Richard L. 

It was also pretty shocking to learn he had penned some 30,000 comments during his career at the Times. It leads me to wonder whether his constant defense of Trump had caused a rise in blood pressure, leading to the stroke that apparently was the cause of his death. Myself, I comment more sparingly these days and only when I find something new and different to say, other than that Trump is horrible. My heart pounds and my head throbs whenever I see or hear him. He is the main reason I cancelled cable TV. This man indeed endangers the health of both his defenders and his detractors, not to mention collaterally damaging global humanity as a whole.

 Condolences to Richard's family.

 And for those who miss erudite commentary from the right, do check out the "American Conservative" website if you haven't already done so. I find myself agreeing with maybe a third to a half of their articles, especially the anti-war and anti-surveillance ones by Andrew Bacevich and others.

 Here's to a peaceful and healthy New Year to moderating staff and commenters.

Last and least, on to the only paid pundit in this mix: Paul Krugman.

Ironic that his subhead reads "On professionals who sold their integrity and got nothing in return," in light of the fact that he sold out to the corporate Dems when he peevishly trashed Bernie Sanders and Medicare For All during the 2016  primary season. Of course, he and we got saddled with Donald Trump in return. But that's not "nothing", because Krugman is still employed by the Times as one of America's most respected public intellectuals. The rest of us are just purists and whiners.

An excerpt from his latest effort:
 The bad faith that dominates conservative politics at every level is infecting right-leaning economists, too.
This is sad, but it’s also pathetic. For even as once-respected economists abase themselves in the face of Trumpism, the G.O.P. is making it ever clearer that their services aren’t wanted, that only hacks need apply.
What you need to know when talking about economics and politics is that there are three kinds of economist in modern America: liberal professional economists, conservative professional economists and professional conservative economists.
He doesn't mention the fourth kind of economist in America: the Marxist variety, most prominently exemplified by the extremely well-credentialed and informative Richard Wolff and Michael Hudson. (See Wolff's website, Democracy At Work for a cogent, and quite entertaining, series of his posts and video lectures, along with Hudson's site, also on the list.)

Krugman, as I mentioned above, is either too polite or too cowardly to mention the actual names of any of his colleagues in the Club You Ain't In, least of all that of dead fellow Nobel Bank Prize winner Milton Friedman, founder of the Mont Pelerin Society and the acknowledged granddaddy of neoliberalism.

So I did in my published response:
Milton Friedman and his zombie descendants wouldn't know a good faith economic argument if it hit them in the face. Their neoliberal ideology - that the market can solve all problems, and that cutthroat competition trumps cooperation - has been internalized in the hive-mind of most of global humanity over the past half-century.
  It's so ingrained that even when the financial system crashed in 2008, it not only survived, it's grown stronger. The miscreants got pay hikes and bonuses and bailouts. This has only inspired them to flaunt their corruption for all to see.
 It's the plutonomy, stupid. As Sen. Dick Durbin ruefully observed a decade ago, after the smirking Wall Street culprits were hauled before Congress for their slap on the wrist: "They frankly own the place."
In 1995, Citigroup wrote a secret memo for their ultra-rich clients laying out this de facto plutonomy, claiming that obscene wealth inequality is not a matter of morality, but of cold hard math. They cynically quipped that "a rising tide lifts all yachts."

 "Perhaps one reason that societies allow plutonomy, is because enough of the electorate believe they have a chance of becoming a Pluto-participant. Why kill it off, if you can join it? In a sense this is the embodiment of the 'American dream'”. 
 To paraphrase George Carlin, you have to be asleep to believe in the American Dream. And it looks like a lot of people are finally beginning to wake up, thanks to the human alarm clock named Donald Trump.


Elizabeth -- Marysville said...

There was a man from New York City
Who made the elites look quite shitty
He did the same stuff
But with bluster and bluff
Our imperial state now ain't pretty

Erik Roth said...

Many years ago, during Reagan's right-wing reign when trickle down economics began to rule unabashedly, Jeff MacNelly's "Shoe" comic once applied this "rising tide" metaphor to say satirically to the poor masses in the punchline frame:

"That's your problem right there: not enough of you own boats."

That may well be crucial with oceans rising from ice caps melting due to global warming.

Regarding the obituary theme befitting for year's end and Earth’s looming ecological demise, two more quotes.

“… although there is plenty of space on a gravestone to contain, bound in moss, the abridged version of a man's life, detail is always welcome."
~ Vladimir Nabokov, "Laughter in the Dark"

Following his son Jed's death, in an open letter sent to his old writing buddies, Wendell Berry, Larry McMurtry, Ed McLanahan, Bob Stone, and Gurney Norman, in the creative-writing program that Wallace Stegner ran at Stanford University in the early sixties, Ken Kesey notes:

"I sincerely hope that I do not — as Richard II worries — 'play the wanton with our woes,' by this display of my family's private grief and publication of my personal correspondence. I mean it only to suggest a path for others wandering in similar pain. We've all got a lot of dying ahead of us. We might as well learn how to go about it."