Retro is in! The fun of nostalgia is that we can romanticize the aspects we liked (e.g. Downton Abbey’s fabulous costumes and Maggie Smith’s great lines) while ignoring those we wouldn’t really want to resume (servants with no lives of their own, no antibiotics or disposable diapers, etc.). So it was only fitting that the controversy around Bill O’Reilly’s exaggerations erupted the week before Downton Abbey’s Season 5 finale. Here’s my tribute to the 1920s/commentary on O’Reilly’s reaction (which was, shall we say, just a tad different from Brian Williams’), and it’s up to you if you want to consider it as also being a commentary on the age of O’Reilly’s target audience.
By Lauren Mayer, on Wed Feb 25, 2015 at 8:30 AM ET
One of a mom’s primary roles in life is to embarrass her children, and my sons would be the first to tell you I’ve done a great job in that capacity. And while I don’t think I fit the cliche of the overbearing Jewish mother, I have been known to nag them about eating, and of course like any good Jewish mother, I secretly yearn for a gay son (because he’d never leave me for another woman . . . cue rim shot), although both my boys have had to tell me, “Sorry to disappoint you mom, but I’m straight!”
When I started doing these weekly videos, my younger son was 16 and pretty plugged into social media (for example, he saw the “Gangnam Style” video before it passed 100,000 views!) He cautioned me against expecting too much, because as he put it, “Mom, anything over 100 views is viral for old people.” And of course he threatened to disown me if I ever attempted to do anything as daring as a rap.
However, last week’s MSNBC interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a great reminder that not only is she incredibly smart and well-spoken, she’s also become a hip cultural phenomenon. So if an 81-year-old Jewish mother can be re-invented as a meme, this middle-aged Jewish mother can become a rap star to salute her.
By Lauren Mayer, on Wed Feb 18, 2015 at 8:30 AM ET
Not only is E.L. James’ fan-fiction’ trilogy a runaway success, the movie version is also setting box office records. Meanwhile, critics, literary analysts, BDSM experts, and all of us with any basic sense of logic and writing are scratching our heads. How on earth could so many people embrace soft-core porn that expects us to believe a beautiful 21-year-old English major has never been kissed, has never thought about sex, and has never decided to use her supposed experience reading Thomas Hardy novels to update her vocabulary from “jeez” and “triple crap”?
Since women are the bulk of the audience (including those of us who read a book or two ‘just to see what all the fuss was about’, honest!), it’s easy to dismiss the whole phenomenon as an illustration of suburban sexual frustration, of lonely moms yearning for some kink in their lives. But I’m firmly convinced it’s really because the books tapped into the suburban mother’s deepest fantasy – of having someone ELSE take charge for a few hours.
For that we’d put up with awful writing, a hero who is more abusive-stalker than charming, and a lousy representation of consensual sexual experimentation. Just think how successful we’d make any example of ‘mommy porn’ that skipped the contract delibrations and references to “my inner goddess”?
By Lauren Mayer, on Wed Feb 11, 2015 at 8:30 AM ET
Even though I am an unabashedly liberal political satirist, I have immense respect for any efforts at bipartisanship. (I was a competitive debater in high school and college, where we had to argue both sides of any given topic, and it was great training not just for politics but for marriage . . . . but I digress.) Which is why I’ve always been proud to contribute to this site whose whole foundation is to encourage bipartisan discourse.
However, my admiration for seeing both sides of an issue has largely been theoretical. On the issues that matter to me, from women’s reproductive choice to marriage equality to the environment to income inequality, I have had a very hard time seeing any validity to the arguments on the opposing side. And when that opposing side is based on a wholesale denial of facts, evidence, and science, it’s even harder to remain balanced.
However, an issue has recently come up where science denial originated on the left – the ant-vaccination movement. And while a few right-wingers have made idiotic, pandering remarks about parental choice, or a ‘temporal link’ between vaccines and autism, just as many diehard conservatives have come down squarely on the side of science. Who knew we’d find a subject on which Hillary Clinton and Ben Carson express the same point of view?
So for a change, the sarcasm and disdain in my political satire song is aimed equally at Democrats and Republicans who persist in willful ignorance:
By John Y. Brown III, on Tue Feb 10, 2015 at 12:00 PM ET
A few weeks ago I was joking with a friend about my shirt sleeves always swallowing my hands unless I rolled them up. He suggested a website called “The Modest Man” which I checked out and it turns out that “Modest man” is really a euphemism for, well, “Miniature man” The website features clothing suggestions for short (or “short-er ” as they put it) men, i.e. men 5 ‘8 and under.
Welll, I was ticked! Offended and hurt. Was he suggesting I was a “short man” who needed special sized clothing? Why not just tell me to shop in the “Little Boys” section?
5 ‘8 and under! What was my friend thinking? After all, I stand a full 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall! (And if you want to be really precise, I am actually 5 feet and 9/16th inches tall, which rounds-up easily to 5 ‘9.) So, yeah, I’m actually much taller than the 5 ‘8 cut-off for men’s clothing lines for the smaller man.
But as the week wore on I kept going back to the website. When no one could see what I was looking at on my computer. And there were a lot of links to men’s clothing lines for these slighter, more diminutive or “modest men.” Unlike me.
Then I began comparing my reaction — the umbrage I was taking to my friend’s suggestion — to a similar incident last year when a different friend suggested I drop some weight and I defensively reassured myself he was way out of line since the BMI level for “Obesity” starts at 30 and I was checking in with a mere 29.5 BMI. (He turned out to be right. And I took his advice despite my initial denial.)
I kept going back to the website and finally — and very secretly — bought a shirt. Just to see (mostly out of intellectual curiousity) what the shirt would be like. Would it make me feel even shorter? Self -conscious? Ashamed? Like my feet may not touch the ground when I sat in a chair?
Actually, something very different happened. The “modestly” (or “acurately,” as I prefer) tailored shirt made me feel none of the things I feared. I just — for the first time in my life -was wearing a casual shirt with sleeves that didn’t swallow my hands without me rolling them up.
And, frankly, it made me feel pretty good. In fact, it even made me feel about an inch taller, too. Not that I needed it, mind you!
After all, I am already too tall for this kind of specialized clothing. But I’m glad I didn’t let my copping a negative attitude initially keep me from eventually having an open mind –and shirt sleeves that actually fit me.
Even though I am not going to tell anybody, I am probably going to buy another shirt at some point. Maybe a sweater, too.
And may recommend the website to a friend who is 5 ‘8 3/4 –which is even taller than me.
By Jonathan Miller, on Mon Feb 9, 2015 at 12:00 PM ET
Yesterday morning I found myself at Goodwill looking for a sports jacket to purchase that I had donated last week thinking it was a different — and much older– sports jacket that no longer fit me rather than the new sports jacket I bought as a present for myself over Christmas.
I was even willing to “buy back” my sports jacket –but still was going to be shrewd about it. After all, it was Goodwill and I did make the mistake of donating the wrong sports jacket but I was not willing to pay full price and was going to explain to the manager what happened and ask for a discount under the circumstances. I was even going to point out, if I needed to, that I didn’t take a “Donation Receipt” last week to declare a tax deduction when I donated the wrong sports jacket.
This is called “pre- planning” and “postioning” in negotiation strategy and is always important to do in every kind of negotiation. I figured it would probably be on sale for between $60 and $75 dollars but I had decided beforehand that my starting offer to buy back my sportsjacket would be $20 and the absolute most I was willing to pay for it was $40. In negotiating tactics this is called your “anchor price” for beginning a negotiation and your “walk away price” or your “best and final offer” (or BAFO).
I was really pleased with myself that I was remembering all of these important negotiating strategies from a course titled “Negotiations” that I took over a decade ago while pursuing my MBA. And I was grateful I had such a great professor for that class, Dr Tom Byrd at Bellarmine University.
Unfortunately, Dr Byrd never told us to avoid putting ourselves into really stupid negotiating situations like the one I had gotten myself into. That would have been really helpful to me now–even more helpful than all the great negotiating tactics he taught us. I think I’ll suggest Dr Byrd include this pointer about avoiding dumb negotiating situations for his future classes.
As it turned out Goodwill no longer had my sports jacket. But I would have been ready to negotiate adroitly for it if they had. And apparently someone got a really good deal on a nice new sports jacket before I could buy it back at a discounted price applying what I had learned in my Negotiations MBA class.
But to tell you the truth, I now wish I had taken the course in “Bargain Shopping” instead of that silly negotiations course.
By Jonathan Miller, on Fri Feb 6, 2015 at 12:00 PM ET
I think we may have a new scapegoat for our economic woes: Slacker Pre K’s.
When I read this headline last week my first thought was, “For what?” What are the challenges our Pre-K’s aren’t ready for that they will be facing in Kindergarten? Finger painting?
Maybe it has been too long since I was in kindergarten and they are now including Algebra and chemistry and a foreign language along with the standard fare I took.
But I talked to my sister who has taught kindergarten in the public schools for over 20 years (and who last year was nominated by our President as one of our nation’s best kindergarten teachers) and she explained to me that although things have changed and much more is expected of kindergarteners these days, they do not take algebra, chemistry or a foreign language.
Maybe I am wrong but it seems like the headline last week should have read “Parents of kindergarteners ‘Not Ready.'” I think it is wonderful –and vitally important –how parents are so involved and concerned these days about their children being “ready” for pre-school, middle school, high school and college but I also think that we as a society have gone overboard.
I recently joked with a young couple who are expecting that I had heard of a new Lamaze class that included instruction tapes played in the background for “In vitro SAT and ACT prep.” They didn’t know whether to laugh or ask how to enroll. And that is unfortunate, in my opinion.
So, no, I am not calling our 4 and 5 year olds as the new national scapegoat we can use to blame for “American decline.” In fact, just the opposite. I think our 4 and 5 year olds, if left to learn and do everything important in life for 4 and 5 year olds to learn and do (like making friends,making up games, listening to and telling stories, running during recess, building a fort in the den, learning basic language and math skills and how to say “please” and “thank you” during “Juice and Cookie” time (and all the other “Everythings We Need to Know in Life” that we learn in kindergartern — then I think our country will be in great hands 30 ot 40 years from now.
And hands, by the way, that will also know how to fingerpaint. Which matters a lot more than grown-ups these days seem to understand.
Footnote: I want to clarify that this post is a riff on what I “assumed” the headline pictured was referring to. The actual story is not about hyper-parening and instead discusses the many real challenges our kindergartners face. I don’t mean to diminish those concerns in any way. I was just using the headline as a vehicle/excuse to commenting on hyper parenting not the actual story.
By John Y. Brown III, on Thu Feb 5, 2015 at 12:00 PM ET
I hate to admit this but sometimes when I am sitting alone at Panera Bread waiting for someone who is late meeting me for a business meeting, I don’t want to just sit there and look like I don’t have anything important to do –especially when everyone around me is talking to someone or working on their computer.
So while I am waiting for the person I’m meeting with to arrive I open my laptop and post things on Facebook But while posting something trivial on Facebook (like this post) I have a serious and thoughtful –even strained — look on my face so others will assume that whatever I’m doing is just as important as whatever it is that they are doing. And possibly even more important.
By John Y. Brown III, on Wed Feb 4, 2015 at 12:00 PM ET
I am not a doctor but am impressed with my doctor’s voice mail message and am going to start using part of it for my new voice mail message.
“Hi. This is John Brown. I’m not in right now but if you will please leave your name and number I will get back to you as quickly as possible. If this is a true emergency then hang up and immediately go to the nearest emergency room. Thank you.”
Pundits and comics alike have posited all sorts of theories as to why there is a more robust culture of political humor on the liberal side. Is it that liberals take themselves less seriously so are less open for ridicule? Or is the media quicker to pounce on right-wing mistakes? Are liberals more educated and wittier? Or is it that the entertainment establishment is run by liberals who won’t give a platform to more conservative viewpoints? Do liberals see more nuances in issues? Or is the culture of ‘political correctness’ stifling outrageousness on the left?
In this site’s spirit of bipartisanship, I’d like to suggest a more random theory that is nonjudgmental and assigns no blame or evil to either side – Liberals simply haven’t yet come up with anyone to compete with the most colorful rightwing figures.
Face it, it takes no particular wit, or media bias, to have immense fun with characters like Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann. Who can compete with that? Elizabeth Warren is newsworthy but she’s just not that funny, and it’s been years since we had a comedy candidate like Kinky Friedman (who ran for governor of Texas in between gigs with his band, “The Texas Jew-Boys”).
And when it comes to comedically inspiring figures, no one can top Sarah Palin, and in fact she topped her own very colorful record at the recent Iowa Freedom Summit. Her oratory was almost a song in itself – so here’s a musical setting of mostly verbatim quotations.