Political Animal


July 22, 2012 11:55 AM Recommended reading

By Kathleen Geier

Here are some recent blog posts and articles you might find interesting:

— Michael Tomasky has a nice reminiscence of his boss, and later colleague, Andrew Cockburn.

— Wow, Penn State has removed the statue of Joe Paterno; I really did not think they would do that. Meanwhile, the NCAA is reportedly about to announce what is being characterized as “unprecedented” penalties against both the football program and the school.

— The New York Times reports that “mastering tools and working with one’s hands” is fast becoming a thing of the past. The piece is cast as a lament, but I don’t know that this is some big tragedy; it’s simply an adaptation to different economic circumstances. Nevertheless, I’m sure that we will all be told that it is a Very Bad Thing, and that feminism, as always, is to blame.

— My friend, the eminent jazz critic John Litweiler (he wrote this biography of Ornette Coleman) on “Why I Am a Republican” (hint: he’s really not!).

— A Bronx car wash owner who committed wage theft by depriving his employees of their rightful earnings has been sentenced to jail for his crimes. Awesome! (H/T: Working In These Times).

— And finally, I’m with Tracy Clark-Flory concerning Fred Willard. Willard, the beloved character actor who was so memorable all in those Christopher Guest movies and the classic 70s TV show Fernwood Tonight, among other things, was arrested last week for masturbating in an adult theater. Clark-Flory writes, “What else do people do in adult theaters?” To which I add, exactly! I always assumed that was what they were for. Because of this unfortunate event, poor Fred was canned by PBS from a voiceover gig he’d landed. The whole thing is just ridiculous. The man is 76 years old and was harming no one. As my bf said when I mentioned this story to him (and be advised that, considering the tragic events of this weekend, what you are about to hear is in extremely poor taste, so consider yourself warned), “Hey, at least the only thing he shot in that theater was his wad!”

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • MBunge on July 22, 2012 12:49 PM:

    "itís simply an adaptation to different economic circumstances."

    And what happens when circumstances change? One doesn't have to be some kind of "peak oil" freak to be a little concerned about a civilization where everybody knows how to make snarky blog posts but no one knows how to, you know, do actually stuff.


  • schtick on July 22, 2012 12:57 PM:

    I like your bf. Can I borrow him?

  • DAY on July 22, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Kudos to Fred Willard, who- at 76- still CAN masturbate!

    As to the NYT piece on 'working with one's hands' (attaboy, Fred!), I'm a mostly self taught, 71 year old, "Jack of all trades". I turned an abandoned barn into a house and studio 30 years ago, and have been a professional ceramic artist since then. I can weld, farm, do plumbing, electrical, roofing, yadda yadda yadda. All stuff you can learn from a book. Or, today Youtube.

    While it is true that "craftsmanship" is now largely practiced by geezers, you can still find GenXers enrolled at Alfred, Southern Highlands,and Archie Bray Foundation.

    To see the kind of work they are doing, take a peek at http://www.artfulhome.com/

  • Phoebe on July 22, 2012 1:23 PM:

    I haven't seen the Times piece yet, but if it's true that mastering tools and working with one's hands is becoming a thing of the past, I'd call that a significant loss. So much so that I have a hard time believing that it will ever really be true -- that is, that people will not find some way to weave such work and mastery into their lives, even when it isn't needed for pure economic survival.

    The thing is, it's deeply and viscerally satisfying, in a mode that's different from the satisfaction of intellectual work. Whether it's carpentry, the simple installation of a new hard drive into your computer, or taking a chunk of metal and a shiny rock and turning it into a sapphire ring, the knowledge of the materials and tools, and the use of one's hands to do it, feels right in practically the same way that eating a good dinner after some physically demanding work feels right. There's something in our bodies and minds that's fed by this sort of thing, and it's a shame to think of a world where almost no one ever gets to fill that hunger. Even if that world is more economically efficient.

  • Countme-In on July 22, 2012 1:27 PM:

    And at Willard's age, it wasn't fast and furious.

    And, the weapon wasn't concealed.

    If Wayne LaPierre would stick to encouraging wanking among the population, as if they need the encouragement, instead of carrying, George Zimmerman would be in misdemeanor trouble trouble and Treyvon Martin would be alive.

    Unfortunately, LaPierre doesn't suffer from wankus interruptus of the mouthus.

    If John Wilkes Booth had followed Willard's superior example in the theater, Mrs Lincoln could have answered "Not bad, but I thought "Gone With The Wind" was better," to the question: "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play, the movie, the play?"

  • mmm on July 22, 2012 1:47 PM:

    Phoebe has said it beautifully... learning to master certain craft forms is so enlightening. We don't need to accept "sloppy copies" from third world countries just because some corporation wants to import quantity at dirt cheap prices. We're talking about art forms that need to be preserved.

  • Anonymous on July 22, 2012 1:51 PM:

    Cluelessness appears to be Kathleen's raison d'etre. She states that she cannot fathom why it is so bad that we cannot work with our hands. MOTHER OF GOD!!

    Things that are made is the KEY to prosperity. We now have a service-based economy, and it sucks. No one makes money except 1%. In a manufacturing economy, workers succeed.

    I taught my children that they must know how to do something with their hands. I have always owned tools and have made furniture. I also do drywall, paint, electrical, and so forth. I have installed floors and refinished floors. I can do stuff. I am not simply a consumer.

    The key to innovation in a society is the ability to do things yourself. If you cannot do things yourself, you are just a consumer.

  • Bob on July 22, 2012 1:56 PM:

    RE: NY Times - "A Nation Thatís Losing Its Toolbox"

    "Nevertheless, Iím sure that we will all be told that it is a Very Bad Thing, and that feminism, as always, is to blame."

    Why throw in unnecessary, ignorant and - frankly - insulting anti-male comment? The Uchitelle piece was well-written and was not gender biased. Why then bring up gender at all? Did you even read the article?

    There's a real question as to how long the US can retain its position as a leader in innovation and design if our engineers and designers have limited interaction with the more "hands-on" manufacturing function that occurs on the shop floor. The trend away from working with one's hands as a pastime may be a canary in the coalmine. While the article does not mention that particular issue - you might have in your blog post if you weren't so blinded by your own ideology.

    Not all men are misogynists and some women are misandrists. Maybe you should consider that before insulting half the population.

  • bluewave on July 22, 2012 2:00 PM:

    Don't kid yourself-- tools and craftsmanship are becoming a thing of the past, and yes, it is a problem, for the reasons named in the Times article, and others. Our focus on "college for all" does a great disservice to many intelligent people who end up unhappy, in careers for which they're not suited, at a time when trades are crying for good help. It's not just because it's fashionable that Wall Streeters quit to become bakers.

    There's an implied (and actual) lack of respect in our culture for trades, and for work involving a physical product (growing things, making things, building things). The focus on business and riches overpowers other considerations. Building wealth through making, growing and manufacturing is typically a long, slow, process, not a quick internet fortune.

    And the less visible work is, the more it happens by "magic", the more we become a nation of magical thinkers, with no understanding of where anything comes from or how it's created. We're like the Hogwarts students, who found out that a lot of the "magic" was really hard, grubby work by poorly treated elves.

  • Daryl McCullough on July 22, 2012 2:01 PM:

    Maybe I'm just being a sentimentalist, but I do believe that we as a society are losing something when we lose skilled jobs. More and more, the jobs that are available to those without a college degree are ones where the worker is basically a mindless cog in a machine. The loss of skilled jobs also means the loss of high-paying jobs.

    I also think that there are psychological benefits to knowing how to do something, knowing how things work, how they are put together.

  • kahner on July 22, 2012 2:26 PM:

    As you said, your "joke" about the theater shooting is in extremely poor taste. One would think you'd have the decency and common sense to keep your boyfriend's crude humor out of the pages of The Washington Monthly. The post is an embarrassment for you and the Monthly.

  • Rabbler on July 22, 2012 2:37 PM:

    The ability to work with your hands could very well be a lifesaver in not too many years. It amazes me how people who know about GCC, the energy crisis, the water crisis, etc. can put blinders on at times and act as if things can only change for the better.

  • Kathryn on July 22, 2012 2:51 PM:

    I love me some Eric Schniederman for going after the small business owners who are exploiting their workers and making them pay back the money stolen from them. The cynic in me fears the turd will declare bankruptcy or use some other maneuver to avoid returning stolen wages. At least the cheat is doing some jail time. He's probably the tip of the iceberg with this type of scam.

    P.S. Hesitate to mention this, but extremely grateful for the demise of inkblot captcha, don't bring it back, thanks.

  • ComradeAnon on July 22, 2012 3:12 PM:

    Good grief Fred. Internet, my man, Internet.

  • liam foote on July 22, 2012 3:17 PM:

    I fully agree with poster Kahner that including your boyfriend's insensitive, crude and moronic comment on events in Aurora is most unfortunate. But as you apparently must deal with such sophomoric and cynical drivel on a daily basis, perhaps you have suffered enough and need repent no further.

  • Quaker in a Basement on July 22, 2012 4:29 PM:

    You recognized that the remark was "in extremely poor taste," then went ahead and published it anyway?

  • exlibra on July 22, 2012 4:51 PM:

    Are you even old enough to *have* a boyfriend, Kathleen? Your "take" on the NYTimes article on the loss of craft skills is so infantile and wrong-headed (but so absolutely self-assured), it makes me wonder. And, as Bob, @1:56 PM pointed out, your gender snark was totally gratuitous, and not prompted by anything within the article (have you *read* the whole article? Or just the headline and the first paragraph, where the word "lament" is mentioned?).

    Not being "handy" around tools is a way to waste your money, among other things. It's often cheaper to fix something than to throw it away and buy a new item. It's easier to "repurpose" -- one of the three re's (reuse, repurpose, recycle) your generation seems to think is a new discovery -- if you know your tools and your materials.


  • Crissa on July 22, 2012 5:39 PM:

    Where do we get the idea that college education makes it impossible to do manual labor? Most of the craftsman I know have some college education. Make Fair isn't populated by hardy, vocational upstarts that never had a day in college. Colleges here in California are just as likely to teach classes on steel work as they are computers. And it's hard to find a time when replacing isn't cheaper in time and money - spare parts often cost more than the original, like a battery that costs $5 each while flashlights with two or three in them are $1. Can't change that reality. Ugh. And it doesn't matter how the article was worded for trolls to grab it and blame it upon feminism or liberalism - or like you, college. It's stupid.


    Of course the Paterno statue had to come down - it lets the college pretend it never happened. I'm not sure what the NCAA thinks it's doing; penalizing them now certainly doesn't help anyone.

  • burro on July 22, 2012 7:37 PM:

    One more on the craftsmanship thing.

    I am a tech savvy enough person who works in a very tech oriented environment, with people who are more skilled and well versed in that area than I am.

    I also work closely with the folks who keep the buildings functioning and who regularly build really significant stuff that in many ways keeps the tech environment functioning with no one taking any notice. Though I straddle both groups, I definitely lean towards the folks who keep the lights on and who know what to do with a wide variety of tools, both simple and complex.

    I have thought many times that were the poo to hit the fan, the people I would seek out would be the building maintenance folks first, because they know how to fix stuff and make stuff happen, while the tech folks would be waiting for the electricity to come back on because without their computers, they are rather helpless. I have seen this exact situation during an extended power outage. There are exceptions to this, but overall I believe that the more folks who lose basic knowledge and skills of how to make things and make things work, the more screwed we are.

    It sounds like you, Ms. Geier, are so far removed from the functional aspects of your own world that you don't appreciate what is needed to make the things you use daily or understand the systems that that surround you and which make your life easier and far more pleasant than those of the vast majority of people on this planet.

  • Jose Hipants on July 22, 2012 7:42 PM:

    There's no shortage of craftsmanship, just a shortage of customers willing/able to pay for it.

  • Steve P on July 22, 2012 7:50 PM:

    People complain about crime in the streets--I say thank God that some communities are so peaceful that cops can spend their days patrolling the skin houses to prevent masturbators from offending the other masturbators.

    Someone call Tom Lennon; I smell a series: "JO911!"

  • castanea on July 22, 2012 9:51 PM:

    I mourn for every Homo habilis who picked up two stones and smacked them against each other to make a useful instrument, helping lay the foundation of what would become H. erectus and eventually H. sapiens.

    To echo burro, let's see how much tech-savvy people can contribute if the world, for whatever reason, becomes one big desert island and no one can power up their blackberries or tablets every morning as they sip their mochas.

  • eukabeuk on July 22, 2012 10:37 PM:

    Why would feminism be to blame for the loss of manual craft skills, when certain major strains of feminism are all about self-care, economic autonomy, traditional forms of knowledge, and, precisely, DIY and craft? Supremely stupid comment that manages to do a disservice to non-feminists, feminists, and the future of human life in America all in one fell swoop.

  • mudwall jackson on July 23, 2012 7:42 AM:

    "ó The New York Times reports that ďmastering tools and working with oneís handsĒ is fast becoming a thing of the past. The piece is cast as a lament, but I donít know that this is some big tragedy; itís simply an adaptation to different economic circumstances. Nevertheless, Iím sure that we will all be told that it is a Very Bad Thing, and that feminism, as always, is to blame."

    do you have a clue how much a trained plumber or electrician makes? the economic opportunity these jobs provide for bright kids who are not necessarily college material? or how much money can be saved by a consumer armed with some basic skills and knowledge? and the throwaway line about feminism is truly bizarre.

  • bluestatedon on July 23, 2012 8:05 AM:

    "but I donít know that this is some big tragedy; itís simply an adaptation to different economic circumstances."

    So Kathleen, the next time you've got a soup of fecal material backing up into your basement because of a clogged drain, or you want to add a bedroom and bathroom for your aging mother in the early stages of dementia, or need a mechanic to replace the fuel pump that has gone kablooey in your Lexus when you're driving out to your cottage on Martha's Vineyard, you can sneeringly dismiss the advantage of having people here in this country who can help and you can call customer service in Mumbai or Djakarta instead.


  • Mr DeBakey on July 23, 2012 4:45 PM:

    Worst comments section I've ever read on Political Animal.

    I'm reminded of an old Dave Barry column for the Humor Impaired.

    Maybe some should try doubling down on the Green Pill.

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