Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Cold on a Sunday

with 6 comments

Not ridiculously cold, mind you.  And today, I’ve got to get my grades up and running, and some paperwork filled out, and then tomorrow I have one last session to get through.  It’s very early in the morning, but it’s already caused a mess up where I had to ask a friend to retrieve my older son from the train station. 

Oh, and I have to find a way to deal with a student who has just e-mail to say that he absolutely needs to get an A- so that he doesn’t end up flunking out, or something.   This from a kid who did not attend any classes at all for the last half of the term.  None.  Zilch. 

At least it answers a question, though–sometimes I think I’m the only one out here insisting that there has to be some kind of bottom line. 

Apparently not.

At any rate, it’s cold, and I’ve got Handel on again, and unto us a child is born and a son is given.  And I wish I could sing like that.  My mother had some kind of enormous range.  She was a coloratura soprano good enough to be professional, and she probably would have been professional if she’d been a different kind of person.

If you asked my mother why she didn’t do the things she longed to do, she would alway say, “my parents were against it.  I couldn’t go against my parents.”

I could have.  And my father knew it, too.

But in the meantime I have been reading things, and every once in a while collapsing in front of the television at night, and from that I have a few notes.

1) One of the things I have read is a little book of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s talks to British and American audiences, including an interview with the BBC. 

I once spent a year living in Hanover, New Hampshire, while Solzhenitsyn was living in Canterbury.  Hanover is the home of Dartmouth College, which has (had?) a large and well-stocked college bookstore–stocked with books other than what was needed for courses, I mean–and Solzhenitsyn would come into town to shop there and then have lunch at this place where I was waiting tables and sometimes tending bar.   He always looked enormously tired and a little depressed,

Salinger used to come into the same place and flirt with one of the other bartenders.  If I was on break and sitting at the bar, he would tell me what was wrong with all the books I was reading.  I was mostly reading Lit Crit, so I think he had a vested interest. 

But he never looked tired or depressed.  Sprightly, I think, would probably be the word.

And, of course, they’re both dead now.

It’s getting positively depressing to think of just how many people I can say that about these days.

Anyway, the Solzhenitsyn book didn’t have the Harvard lecture, which was too bad–but the impression was that these were the kinds of things he was saying that got everybody upset and mad at him.  It boggles the mind, really. 

It all seems to be so commonplace these days.  He wasn’t even really pushing the Christianity.

The other thing has to do with a silly television program.  It’s called Kitchen Nightmares or Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, depending on when in the show’s run you  catch it.  Once he got famous, he got billing, which is not unusual.

There are a few shows out there like this–Tabitha’s Salon Takeover is another one–where somebody good at a business comes in and reorganizes other businesses are failing.

I find these shows interesting at least in part because they reveal how businesses are run and what can go wrong with them.  I would have thought, before I saw the first of them, that most of this stuff would be obious and self-evident, but it isn’t.

The more I watch them, though, the more obvious it is to me that a lot is not self-evident, and a lot more goes into running a business than I have ever understood.

But what brings me to Gordon Ramsey and his projects, at the moment, is something else.

Ramsey rescues restaurants in both the UK and the US, and in the US ones, it is more and more the case that when he points out to the owner that his restaurant will not be successful if there is rotting food in the kitchen or the chef sends orders out raw, the owner goes, “I’m not going to listen to you.  All you’re doing is tearing me down.  You should have some words of encouragement, to keep my hopes up.”


It’s like we’ve all suddenly been transported back to Kindergarten–it’s not even adult.

And these people mostly won’t see 40 again.

It’s the same impression I got from a movie that was on television the other week called Shattered Glass, about Stephen Glass’s massive con job at The New Republic. 

Glass was a staff writer there–in the 90s, I think.  The Clinton administration.  He wrote dozens of highly acclaimed short articles for that magazine and for half a dozen more (George, Vanity Fair, biggies). 

Unfortunately, they were as good as they were mostly because he’d made them up. 

And when he got caught making them up, he did really remarkable things–having his brother pose as the CEO of a California software company to provide back-up–and then did those things badly.

It was a huge scandal for a while, and then, you know, it wasn’t.

But what struck me about the movie was this:  when it was announced, the teasers kept talking about how this was the story of a sociopath.

The movie, on the other hand, was the story of a child–mentally and emotionally and morally a child. 

Glass’s first question when he would get caught was “are you mad at me?”  When people were indeed mad at him, he’d complain “But I said I was sorry!”

I do not know enough about Stephen Glass to know how accurate any of this is, but I do know that what I saw on the screen was the portrait of a man who had never actually grown up.  Hell, he’d never really reached adolescence.

We talk a lot here about what does and does not make us despair for the fate of Western Civilization, but it occurs to me that this–this sort of rampant, basic childishness–is a worse sign than any outbreak of OWS or the Tea Party.

Off to do stuff.

Written by janeh

December 18th, 2011 at 10:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Cold on a Sunday'

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  1. The Glass thing first. You’re right, of course: “But I said I was sorry!” is a child trying to wipe out the past–normal at three, happens at five or six, and really worrisome at 12. It’s not an adult.

    I don’t know whether he said it, though, and that’s why I try to avoid that sort of “dramatization,” as opposed to a documentary, or the old “White Papers.” We know some part of a dramatization is false, but I’d have to already know the subject thoroughly to know what they’ve invented–in which case, why watch? Also the subjects are seldom worth that sort of effort.

    But what we DO know of Glass–the fact of his long-successful falsifications–puts him in a growing and troublesome category. The New Republic got taken again a few years later, which tells you exactly how seriously they took Glass. The New York Times had its own case which they covered up until other papers threatened to expose them, Bellesiles’ ARMING AMERICA remains in print, last I heard, and the retraction rate in “scientific” peer-reviewed journals is approaching 50%. You can’t legitimately denounce people for “not paying attention to the science” or ignoring the reporting when the editors clearly aren’t concerned with the accuracy of their own product.

    As you wrote in relation to the restaurants, this is not the advanced course. You shouldn’t need to tell people in the non-fiction business to check that what they publish is in fact true, and if at all possible verifiable and verified.

    Which takes us back to Solzhenitsyn, who tended to get into trouble on both sides of the Iron Curtain for saying clearly true things that the powers that be really didn’t want to hear. No one likes being told to act like a responsible adult, and that’s most true of wealthy and powerful people who insist on acting like children.

    Oh, and that’s precisely why I like what I hear of the Tea Party much more than I like what I hear of the “OWS” crowd. The worst I seriously hear the Tea Party accused of is getting the math wrong–that the tax levels they want will not support the government services they expect. That is, if you will, an adult error. Most of their most bitter critics have underestimated the costs of things they wanted the government to pay for. The worst I hear of the “occupiers” is out of their own mouths–the desire to wipe out the student debt they’ve contracted. It’s Glass’s alleged “But I said I was sorry!” institutionalized. You can’t get to any future you’d want to live in from there.


    18 Dec 11 at 2:14 pm

  2. We’ve had a 5-year old living with us for the past 12 months. We’d forgotten all about the “sorry” tactic as used by kids (and their parents) until he arrived on the scene. But we’ve been living with the adult version for quite a few years now with demands from the activists for our state and federal governments to “say sorry” for every conceivable sin of omission or commission since the First Fleet landed in Botany Bay in 1788. The rationale (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) of the latter seems to be identical with the former. Kiss it and it will be all better. Tragically, our populist politicians almost invariably go along with this farce.

    How can we expect our kids to grow into adults when there are perilously few adult role models to be seen?


    18 Dec 11 at 7:10 pm

  3. Mique, our politicians do the same thing. But I notice they only apologize for things done by previous politicians, never for their own actions–and never anything they might be called on to actually do something about. I’d say making a speech to say “my predecessor did you wrong, but I’M certainly not going to do anything about it” might even be a grade below kids, who are at least expected to own up to their own wrongdoing.

    I think we can add politicians to entertainers and athletes as a bad source of role models, but the three types do seem to dominate the news.


    18 Dec 11 at 8:00 pm

  4. This sort of fake apology infuriates me even more than the kind that’s worded something like ‘Well, IF your’re offended, I apologize’. And I really don’t see the point. If someone killed or robbed my dead grandfather, I don’t see why I should want an apology on his behalf from the grandchild of the killer or robber. And maybe I’ve been wronged (or think I have!) once or twice, and ‘sorry’ from anyone but the offender is meaningless and ‘sorry’ from the offender is pretty meaningless without, say, restitution or a complete avoidence of robbery in the future or something similar. But I suppose the whole process is a kind of ritual, only without any meaning, which at least provides politicians with an opportunity to appear concerned.

    The kind of fake apology Jane is talking about is worse yet again. It’s from people who simply missed out the whole idea that along with the apology you need to provide some kind of reparations, if at all possible. Since it hardly seems possible to restore the good name of a journal that you tricked into publishing lies, some symbolic action is called for. To borrow from religious traditions, a nice long pilgrimage and retreat, preferably to somewhere it isn’t possible to earn a living by re-offending, working at minimum wage for a year or so while meditating on one’s failings might do.

    But apologies are easier.


    18 Dec 11 at 8:38 pm

  5. This reminds me of what I’ve always seen as the Irish Catholic syndrome (or perhaps I should say “sindrome”).
    It always used to amuse me in the days when I attended Sunday Mass in my home town. The communion rail was always packed with known rogues from the Irish community who had probably just come in from a drunken Saturday night to celebrate the truck load of fat lambs they’d just stolen from some farmer’s paddock the previous night. None of them ever seemed able to assimilate the Catholic doctrine that “absolution” given by the priest at confession was conditional on genuine repentence and a genuine resolution to sin no more.

    As for those who “apologise if you’re offended”, my contempt and disgust is bottomless.


    19 Dec 11 at 2:28 am

  6. I’ve encountered that practice!

    It always suprises me that so many people (including myself) raised in a particular religion and often provided with education in the beliefs of said religion know so little about what such beliefs actually are.

    I’ve developed an interest and, through some rather eclectic reading, am picking up some information about the subject, but if I’d been depending on what I learned as a child, I’d have thought Christian theology consisted entirely of a few Bible stories re-told in simplified form for children plus the hymns and chant, and some rather odd rituals and rules.

    Not moral rules, exactly, more rules about how and when to stand and sit and wearing a hat even when it wasn’t cold and taking off your gloves before taking Communion.


    19 Dec 11 at 8:59 am

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