Friday, December 09, 2005

"The Cold Fusion Yo-Yo"

"The Cold Fusion Yo-Yo"

"by Duncan, a high-tech precision 62g aircraft aluminum yo-yo with steel ballbearigs. World record 7 minute spins. Red and black special edition limited to 1600 pieces. $90 plus $6.00 S&H."
"Infinite Illusions"

This page did not go looking for the above. As with "Dead Sparrow Overshadows Domino World" it simply appeared in perusal of mainstream pubs.

(ASIDE: perusal has to be the only word in the English language with two opposite meanings. The first, preferred, usage is to read thoroughly. The second, discouraged, but much more common, is to skim.)

"Cold Fusion Yo-Yo" was encountered in a quick thumbing of a recent issue of The New Yorker magazine.

Even moreso than with "Dead Sparrow" the mind cracked when stumbling across "Cold Fusion Yo-Yo."

"Cold Fusion" is as synonymous with scientific quackery as perpetual motion machines. When conjoined with "Yo-Yo," itself a substitute for daft-ness, the implication is of something with the gravitas of the pet rock, or a spoof in the spirit of Orson Welles.

Perhaps it is, since the undersigned will not be paying $90 + S&H to find out.

Perhaps it is a goof on the middle-brow readership of The New Yorker, or a hermeneutic for that ethnological subgroup.

It says here though that it is not a goof. However, there is cultural meaning.

The undersigned believes that if you send the money to "Yo-Yo guy" at "Infinite Illusions" you will get the objet d'art pictured in the ad. I believe that the object is truly manufactured by Duncan, which is to the manufacture of Yo-Yo's what Apple is to the manufacture of personal computers.

In the undersigned's (childhood) experience, a Yo-Yo by other than Duncan was the equivalent of wearing "sneakers" by other than Converse, that is, an irrebuttable presumption that you ate paste made of nose dirt and still slept with your mommy.

It is inconceivable to the undersigned that Duncan would lend itself to a goof like this here.

Too, the specs of this object, "62 g aircraft aluminum," and "steel ball-bearings" has the ring of validity, as appealing to those of normal I.Q. but super-normal bank balances and super-super-normal social ambition,; to those who want "the best," who get their gifts and their gift-giving ideas from The Sharper Image, who pay super-normal prices to buy their normal I.Q.'d children admission to The Dalton School and like that.

In short, this object seems to have been marketed to it's perfect target audience.

All of this still seems to leave unexplained the object's description. A "cold fusion yo-yo" would seem to raise red flags with even non-Mensa members but even the undersigned (who is NOT eligible for Mensa membership) knows of the snake-oil reputation of cold fusion.

The description is alerting enough that the undersigned can imagine questions of the type, "Geoff dear, what is cold fusion?," but the undersigned cannot imagine even know-it-all men like Geoff replying with, "Why, it's the newest advance in Yo-Yo's Heather, you dumb-ass. I read about it last month in Men's Health."

But it must be so because Duncan is the manufacturer and a journal with the social standing and ambition of The New Yorker would not allow itself to be so hood-winked.

The undersigned has to believe that there is such a critical mass of dumb-asses out there, and that they read The New Yorker in such numbers, as to make the cold-fusion yo-yo the perfect holiday gift for the likes of Geoff and Heather.

Which is why the undersigned is reconsidering his opposition to the death penalty, nay to mass murder.

-The Undersigned

Monday, December 05, 2005

Books and Covers

Books and Covers

During the transition from the Carter to the Reagan administration William F. Buckley, Jr. said that he anticipated that there would be less hugging and cheek-kissing between the new American president and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union than there had been previously.

Buckley went on to wonder aloud about the psychology behind this literal embrace of the dictator of a hostile superpower by the leader of the Free World.

Jimmy Carter's insouciance was part of the reason for his desire for a personal bonding with Leonid Brezhnev but there has always been the belief in diplomacy that a personal connection can lead to greater understanding and hence to conflict resolution.

The opposite is also felt to be true, personal animus makes dealing with the issues that are really at stake more difficult.

The perils of following these truisms need no itemization. As a conscious act of diplomacy personal friendliness as a means to the strategic end of conflict resolution is a proven failure.

It is not a rational act, or at least not just a rational act. It is purely an emotional human thing.

People want to like other people and to be liked by them. When we meet political figures whose views we share we want to have that political commonality conjoined with personal warmth. When we meet those with whom we disagree politically we often experience dissonant feelings if they have pleasant personalities.

I met William Kristol and Maureen Dowd at a bookfair recently.

One's political leanings--as opposed sometimes to one's views on a particular issue--are more instinctive than studied. Genes, upbringing, family, friends, teachers--and some facts--produce an inclination that is perhaps dignified by the term "world-view" but is something like that.

In me those factors have formed an opinionated, confrontational, angry, yelling, right-leaning, curious, reasonably bright, pretty well-read, pretty standard-issue, know-it-all American male.

My world-view is approximate to that of William Kristol. Kristol's avuncular TV persona is reinforcing to this political commonality.

I cannot ever remember a political issue on which I have identified with Maureen Dowd and her op-ed persona grates on me, as it does on many, especially on men. She was at the bookfair promoting her book "Are Men Necessary?"

My girlfriend holds dual French and American citizenship. She moved to the U.S. at 13, and is strong, intelligent, highly analytical, empathetic and modest in stating her political opinions on specific issues.

Her world view is that of a left-leaning Democrat.

When my girlfriend and I went over the book fair agenda I had enthusiastically circled Kristol's talk, to which she assented (by silence). She is still personally fond enough of me to sit peaceably with me through a talk by William Kristol.

Dowd and Kristol spoke on the same day in the same lecture room. Dowd's talk was before Kristol's.

Dowd was bright, witty, personable, generous with her questioners, modest. In an admittedly gender-engendered reaction she was also attractive. She has a beautiful face and gorgeous Irish red hair but I had seen pictures of her before. It was her personality that added so much to her attractiveness.

Curiously I didn't take any note of her figure until Lorna and I got to the front of the book-signing line. I leaned over the table behind which she was seated to ask her if she had heard about the domino-toppling Dutch sparrow and noted that she was wearing a pretty low-cut top that highlighted a full bosom.

During her thirty minute talk Dowd mentioned her mother, who died over the summer, three times. The references were appropriately placed in her talk but after two it was clear that she was still deeply affected by it. At the third mention her voice almost cracked.

The reserved, almost shy, way in which she looked at my girlfriend and me was so natural and unaffected. She responded to my sparrow news alert with nothing in particular, something like "No I hadn't heard of that. I'll have to check that out when I get done here," but it was not dismissive. It was not delighted but it was responsive.

The tone of her reply, the way she looked at us and the tone and content of her talk all suggested to me, correctly or incorrectly, that she was feeling vulnerable, maybe even clinically depressed. She was just so human.

I ran into Kristol as he was entering the lecture hall. He is short of stature which I hadn't expected.

"Mr. Kristol it's a pleasure to meet you," I said.

"Bill Kristol," he replied distractedly as if he was introducing himself to me and hadn't heard that I had just used his name so as to make it unnecessary for him to repeat it. He made only the briefest, most flitting eye contact.

Before Kristol spoke I gave Lorna a brief bio of him which was self-satisfyingly echoed by the man who introduced Kristol. "Bill Kristol is the editor of the most influential, most read magazine in Washington..."

The editor of the most influential magazine in Washington then gave a thirty minute talk exclusively promoting a book which was a compendium of essays from his magazine's first ten years; a Greatest Hits of The Weekly Standard. It was a bit crass.

There was nothing about "the state of the world" or even of current Washington, D.C. in his talk. No insight from one so influential with the Bushies. The smiles that he sprinkles about frequently when he speaks, which are so effective a part of his TV package, appeared more like facial tics in person. They were displayed randomly, often non sequiters to the subject.

I grew restless, impatient and then embarrassed. My girlfriend, with her world view, not wanting to rub it in, sat beside me respectfully in silence but this time it was not a silence of assent. Finally I voiced the frustration that we both felt at this disappointing presentation.

After his talk was over I attempted to speak to him.

"Mr. Kristol, do you have time for a question or do you have to go?"

"Well, I think I have to go to the book-signing," he said with the same distraction and disinterest.

My political leanings didn't change from approximate to Kristol to approximate to Dowd as a result of meeting these two cognoscenti but I'd sure rather my girlfriend and I have Maureen Dowd over for dinner than William Kristol.

-Benjamin Harris