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The Young and the Old Self

From The Scrapbook

Oct 3, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 03 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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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.)

Photos of the younger Morgenthau then and now

Morgenthau the younger, then and now

TOP left, Meyer LiebowitZ, The New York Times / Redux; top right, Amanda Gordon, Bloomberg

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.”

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