The Scrapbook’s attention was drawn the other day to a photograph in the New York Times. It accompanied the obituary of Sidney H. Asch, a New York politician and judge who was famous for his scholarly opinions. The photograph, seen here, depicts Judge Asch as he swears in Robert Morgenthau as Manhattan district attorney in January 1975. (Mr. Morgenthau, now 92, retired just two years ago.)
The Scrapbook examined the photograph very carefully and concluded that, with the possible exception of the design of the eyeglasses, and the size of the knot in Mr. Morgenthau’s necktie, this picture might have been taken yesterday. That is, if you exclude the figure standing roughly in the middle: The young man dressed in the jacket with wide lapels, wearing aviator glasses, and sporting an exuberant ’fro and unkempt beard, is Mr. Morgenthau’s son, Robert P. Morgenthau.
Almost instantly, The Scrapbook was transported back to that halcyon era of bell bottom trousers, generation gaps, long sideburns, psychedelic drugs and graphic design, burnt draft cards, early disco, and men’s collar points that seemed to end at their navels. Richard Nixon had just been driven from the White House, and Olivia Newton-John was about to release “Have You Never Been Mellow.” Indeed, without any particular knowledge of the Morgenthau family, The Scrapbook imagined some heated discussions around the dinner table about the relevance of higher education, the role of the military in American life, and the Whole Earth Catalogue.
But of course, since The Scrapbook is first and foremost a journalistic enterprise, we immediately set to work to find out what became of Robert P. Morgenthau; that is to say, we typed his name into the Google search engine. All sorts of possibilities came to mind—school board president in Vermont, organic farmer in Oregon, professor of sociology at the University of Colorado—and we were relieved to discover that Robert Morgenthau, fils, is now a successful money manager in Manhattan and pillar of New York civic life, as well as (involuntarily) devoid of that afro and, altogether, a trimmer, handsomer, slightly more austere version of Judge Asch (see accompanying photograph).
Which proves, as The Scrapbook occasionally suggests, that the spirit of youth is, unfortunately, eternal; but things tend to sort themselves out in the end. The Scrapbook is no more enchanted than anybody else by the vogue for polychrome tattoos, gangsta rap, and the Real Housewives of Orange County. But today’s annoyances are tomorrow’s nostalgia, as former New York representative Anthony Weiner recently demonstrated.
Just Your Typical Rocket Scientist
The Washington Post, like many major metropolitan newspapers, employs a handful of “local” columnists whose work appears on the front page of the Post’s Metro section. Their quality is immensely variable, of course, but they all have one thing in common: They write, almost exclusively, about local affairs and concerns and are supposed to be a little closer in spirit to the average Post subscriber than the average reporter is.
Who the Post employs for this delicate task tells us considerably more about the Post than about the average Post subscriber. The Scrapbook’s favorite Metro columnist is an ex-reporter in early middle age named Petula Dvorak who, all things considered, is as close to an infallible barometer of conventional newsroom wisdom as it is possible to be. Last week, for example, she assembled an assortment of nine “working moms” to attend a screening of a movie called I Don’t Know How She Does It, a Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle based on a novel of the same name about the trials and tribulations of a career woman with husband and children. The group watched the movie and then (for Dvorak’s journalistic purposes) discussed it afterwards.
According to her own description, here are the nine working moms who joined Petula Dvorak at the cinema after she “cast a wide net” for her impromptu focus group: a statistician, an international lawyer, a psychology professor, a banker, an editor, a hotel general manager, a public policy advocate, “an energy lawyer and—I swear—a rocket scientist.”
Now, The Scrapbook confesses that it would be more than happy to discuss I Don’t Know How She Does It with the neighborhood rocket scientist or banker or public policy advocate. As who wouldn’t? But does Petula Dvorak—or more important, do her editors at the Post—genuinely believe that this random assortment of upper-middle-class professionals (who happen to be best buds with a Washington Post columnist) is in any way representative of “working moms”? Surely, somewhere within a few blocks of the Post building, they might have found a waitress or two, or a retail clerk or security guard or teller or secretary-receptionist at some federal agency.
There was a time, not so long ago, when a city columnist in an American newspaper would have hesitated to include herself in the professional company of international lawyers, bankers, and psychology professors. But those days are gone—and so is the appeal of large metropolitan newspapers to growing masses of subscribers.
A Kelo Apology
Scrapbook readers and eminent domain obsessives may recall the sad dénouement of Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court case which constitutionally expanded the power of government to seize private land to include, basically, any justification it cared to put forward. As we recounted on this page not long ago, after the High Court found in favor of New London, upholding a decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court, the town took Susette Kelo’s land (along with several other private properties) and prepared to develop it into a pulsing, urban mixed-use utopia. Except that the developer was never able to get financing, the project fell through, and seven years later, the once nicely middle-class neighborhood is now a barren wasteland. In the wake of Hurricane Irene, the city was reduced to encouraging residents to dump trash from the storm at the dead site.
Well last week, there was another development, courtesy of Hartford Courant reporter Jeff Benedict. Benedict wrote the book on Kelo (literally, it’s called Little Pink House and it’s the definitive account of the case), and in May last year he gave a speech at the New Haven Lawn Club about eminent domain. In attendance was Susette Kelo and also, uncomfortably enough, Justice Richard Palmer, who was the swing vote in the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision against her. As the dinner was breaking up, something astounding happened. Here’s Benedict’s account:
Afterward, Susette and I were talking in a small circle of people when we were approached by Justice Richard N. Palmer. Tall and imposing, he is one of the four justices who voted with the 4-3 majority against Susette and her neighbors. Facing me, he said: “Had I known all of what you just told us, I would have voted differently.” . . .
Then Justice Palmer turned to Susette, took her hand and offered a heartfelt apology. Tears trickled downher red cheeks. It was the first timein the 12-year saga that anyone had uttered the words “I’m sorry.”
It was all she could do to whisper the words: “Thank you.”
Then Justice Palmer let go of her hand and walked off.
When contacted by Benedict about publishing this exchange, Justice Palmer asked only that he include the following clarification: “Those comments were predicated on certain facts that we did not know (and could not have known) at the time of our decision and of which I was not fully aware until your talk—namely, that the city’s development plan had never materialized and, as a result, years later, the land at issue remains barren and wholly undeveloped.” Palmer noted that the reason he could not have known of these facts at the time of the hearing is “because they were not yet in existence.”
And it’s not clear that if Palmer had changed his vote and the Connecticut supremes had found for Kelo it would have changed the ultimate verdict in the case. As it was argued before the state court, Kelo was fought on constitutional grounds, which means that the city would have been able to appeal the verdict, and the U.S. Supreme Court would have heard virtually the same case.
Even so, it’s incredibly rare to hear one of our robed masters, both privately and publicly, acknowledge regret. And heartening, too.
We were so drowsy last week after one of our typical lunches of delicious crate-raised veal that we nearly missed the news that PETA, the pro-hunger group determined to keep human beings from enjoying what we like to call creature comforts (namely, red meat and fur coats), has decided to enter the pornography business.
According to an AP report, “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is planning to launch a pornographic website to promote its animal rights and vegan diet message.” As PETA spokeshumanimal Lindsey Rajt explains, “the site will feature ‘tantalizing’ videos and photographs, which will lead viewers into animal rights messages.” While PETA may believe the site will broaden their appeal, The Scrapbook, a confirmed carnivore, is inclined to believe that injecting pictures of Bessie the Future Hamburger into erotica will do less to save Bessie than it will to steer people away from pornography.
PETA’s founder famously declared, “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” But not, apparently, a woman. You might think that a group that routinely harasses people on their way into circus tents and throws paint on their (expensive) private property simply because it used to say “Moo” would be disturbed at the idea of paying our sisters and daughters to do whatever it is they will be paying them to do.
But then we remembered: PETA may claim, “Whether it’s based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or species, prejudice is morally unacceptable,” but the organization has always been somewhat selective about protecting victims of exploitation. After all, they have been exploiting people—well, celebrities—for years, asking them to disrobe in ads to help liberate the world’s Mr. Eds and Rin Tin Tins. Even more telling, they have had nearly three years to voice support for the Swiss government’s historic declaration of plants’ rights, yet there is no evidence anywhere that they have done so. In fact, quite the opposite: Their website is littered with gleeful articles about the pleasures of the plant holocaust that has continued unabated since herbivores first came on the scene.
So while you may be outraged about PETA’s forthcoming venture, we suggest you save your energy. No use wasting it on a plant-hate group with a half-hearted commitment to ending species-based prejudice. Just have a steak and a smile, and watch some cat videos on YouTube. They’re hilarious.