The Funny Times, October 2009

funny times october 2009Two items in this one I wanted to note.  The first is from John Walsh, a column about his former sister-in-law Jo.  When Jo divorced Walsh’s brother, she wanted to drop the name Walsh, but did not want to go back to her maiden name.  So she sat down with her teenaged sons and thought up a new name.  What she settled on was “Jo Sohneronne,” pronounced “Jo’s on her own.”  When Jo went to get new ID forms, each clerk she approached told her she’d have to change her name legally before they could issue her identification.  When she asked to see the regulation that said she could not put the name “Jo Sohneronne” on her bank account, Social Security card, or driver’s license without a court order, the clerks were unable to produce any such regulation.  So, she made the change successfully. 

I wish I’d read Walsh’s piece several months ago.  When Mrs Acilius and I got married this spring, she was excited about adding my last name to her name.  She was going to keep the three names her parents gave her, but use my last name as her new last name and her old middle and last names as two middle names.  So, if her given name had been Michelle LaVaughan Robinson, she would have become  Michelle LaVaughan Robinson Acilius, and would have signed herself Michelle L. R. Acilius.  The clerk at the Social Security office told her she couldn’t do that.  She could hyphenate, the clerk said, but she couldn’t  have two middle names.  Why not, asked the missus.  “A lot of brides weren’t using their names the way they were supposed to,” the clerk replied.  Mrs Acilius asked me what she should do.  I said what I always say, which is that I don’t tell her what to do.  She decided to keep her middle name and drop her maiden name.  That satisfied the clerk, but Mrs Acilius has been regretting it bitterly ever since. 

The second item was from the 26 July edition of Chuck Shepherd’s “News of the Weird.”

Until Mayor Sharon McShurley changed the protocol this year, fire stations in Muncie, Ind., had been delivering reports to department headquarters downtown by dropping them off in fire engines. McShurley ordered the department to learn how to send reports by e-mail. [Star Press (Muncie), 6-25-09]

I called someone I know who lives in Muncie, Indiana and mentioned this item to him.  He was not only unsurprised that his hometown featured something called “News of the Weird,” but was surprised that a digest under that title could appear week after week and mention Muncie only occasionally.   The town has come up since then; the digest for the week of 2 August reported on a Muncie brawler who started his fights by stealing his opponent’s false teeth out of their mouths.

The Atlantic Monthly, October 2009

atlantic october 2009Mark Bowden starts his piece, “The Story Behind the Story,”  by recounting TV coverage of the announcement that President Obama had nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court.  Within minutes of the announcement, Bowden turned on Faux News and was impressed by the depth of their reporting.  He then turned to MSNBC, which was airing precisely the same report, using precisely the same quotes from Judge Sotomayor.  Flipping through the channels, he found that every station was airing the same report.  Curious, he looked into the matter.  The report apparently originated as a post on a conservative blog called verumserum, which not only did the TV channels’ work for them, but even did a better job of trying to be fair to the judge, giving far more of the context in which she made her remarks than did any of the broadcasters. 

Andrew Sullivan asks George W Bush to apologize for promoting torture.  Sullivan is oh-so-sure that Bush didn’t know what was being done in his name.  It reminded me of something about Cuba I read in Reader’s Digest when I was a teenager.  The reporter described ordinary Cubans’ habit of looking at injustices and sighing “If only Fidel knew.”  I had the reaction I was supposed to have, which was to feel sorry for those poor benighted victims of tyranny and certain that Americans would never delude themselves into letting a leader off the hook that way.  Whether there was any truth to Reader’s Digest‘s  description of Cuba I don’t know, but I do now know that we in the USA are not immune from the delusion it attributed to the people of that island. 

Benjamin Schwarz’ review of some new books about the economic slump of the 1930s contains an intriguing sentence, “The defining characteristic of the middle classes has always been their orientation toward the future.”  That sounds like the summary of some sociological theory.  Mrs Acilius is a sociologist; I should ask her if she recognizes the summary and can identify the school of thought in which such a claim might have arisen.  The backbone of his piece is a discussion of Robert Stoughton Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd’s 1937 study of life in Muncie, Indiana, Middletown in Transition:

The seminal book—really the starting point for the others—is Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd’s Middletown in Transition (1937). The Lynds, husband-and-wife sociologists, had first descended on “Middletown”—the then-prosperous if stratified city of Muncie, Indiana—with their team of researchers in 1924, during the boom years. For the next 18 months, they dissected the everyday lives, habits, and attitudes of its inhabitants, concentrating on the middle classes. The book that resulted, Middletown (1929), remains a classic of immersive sociology and the most incisive and complete portrait of American bourgeois life in the 1920s. Having taken this minute snapshot, Robert Lynd and a smaller team returned to Muncie 10 years later to see what had changed in the intervening period, which included the darkest years of the Depression. They interviewed the city’s industrial barons, plant workers, and prostitutes; chatted up its teachers, prosecutors, and real-estate agents (although all sources were anonymous, this much of their identities can be gleaned); and pored over its newspaper files and tax rolls. Mostly, they seem to have gossiped, lingered over dinners, and played bridge with the members of a stratum that ran from the “less-secure business class” to the engineers and middle managers, the young married set, and the well-established doctors, lawyers, and executives in the lower-upper class. The fruit of their sojourn, Middletown in Transition, reveals, fact by fact, detail by detail, anecdote by anecdote, the “staggering, traumatic effect” of “the great knife of the depression,” which “cut down impartially through the entire population, cleaving open the lives and hopes of rich as well as poor.”