Mailbag: David Brooks' Genetic Theory of Wealth; Jay Cutler, Quitter; and More

Politico.com (Krauthammer), Warner Bros. Pictures (Voldemort)
Charles Krauthammer (top) and Lord Voldemort.

Plus: the lastest on the coming Supreme Court of Assholedom

First of all, I want to thank all those people who sent in their resumes and letters in application for my new Supreme Court of Assholedom. I was actually a little dismayed in the first few days after that posted last week, because it immediately became clear that I’m going to have to make some very tough choices and bump some outstanding applicants. I already feel like a dick, so to those of you who don’t make the cut, please accept my apology in advance.

As far as that goes, by the way, I haven’t made all my decisions yet. I think I’m going to announce the composition of the new court in the upcoming days, most likely Thursday. I’m going to need photos from all the judges, and each justice is going to need to fill out a brief capsule bio that includes a 150-word writeup of a recent encounter with an asshole. I can tell readers right now that I have seven of the spaces already filled, including me, which means there are still two open slots – there will be at least one and probably two spots filled by readers, and I’m looking hard at three applicants in particular from last week.

A key role is going to be played by the person or persons who decide which cases the new court is going to hear. In real life this role is filled by clerks to the judges who pore over the thousands of requests for cases to be heard (called “writs of certiorari”) and then write “cert memos,” explaining why the judges should take this or that case. We’re going to need people to fill that role, and I’m wondering if any or all of the applicants for judgeship who don’t make the cut would be interested in that particular job.

That role is going to be crucial, because I want for the cases to be interesting. For instance, it’s not going to be of much use to America if the judges are asked to rule on whether or not someone like Kim Jong-Il, or Satan, or Mel Gibson, is an asshole. We know they’re assholes. We want the cases to be difficult to decide, and subtle. I want nuanced precedents to be set: I believe Charles Krauthammer is generally an asshole, but what is the specific offense? Is it the fact that he’s a psychiatrist repeatedly offering, in print, clinical psychiatric diagnoses of people he doesn’t know (and almost always after a phrase like,” I'm a psychiatrist. I don't usually practice on camera, but…”)? Is it the whole “pampered upper-middle-class white conservative continually wallowing in cultural victimhood” schtick? Or is it just that lipless Beltway-Voldemort face of his?

We’re going to need for people to come up with interesting cases for our consideration, so let me know if you’re up for that job as well. It will come with a title and a uniform, probably one with a wig.

Anyway, more on the court to come. In the meantime, this week’s mailbag:


Matt,
Jay Cutler -- quitter?
Kevin

Kevin,
If someone like Cullen Jenkins or B.J. Raji hit me even once, I’d fall to the ground bawling for like a minimum of five days straight, so I feel weird about calling anybody who does that shit for a living a quitter. But, man, that didn’t look good. He should have at least sat down and made it a point to wince and rub his kneecap every ten minutes or so. Is there a more cursed position in sports than the Chicago Bears quarterback?

Matt,
I happened to see the David Brooks essay Social Animal on the New Yorker site, about the Composure Class and "brain science." Aside from the obvious jokiness, I honestly thought this was a brilliant and vicious intentional parody of the Gladwell-style approach of breezily applying science factoids to social issues. Turns out it's an excerpt from a forthcoming book and people are taking it seriously. Brooks seems to have achieved a career-best The World Is Flat level of inanity which might warrant a patented Taibbi takedown.
Sincerely,
John

John,
I read the Brooks essay and I am eagerly awaiting the release of the book. This whole genetic/class superiority thesis … it’s almost like Brooks is peddling straight-up Nazi race science, but he’s straining desperately to find a polite upper-middle-class Yuppie way to couch his theories. Which is hilarious. This “Composure Class” invention of his is classic. I especially love the bit about how the rich snobs he’s fawning over got their money not because, say, they stole it, or are lawyers for a foreclosure mill or something, but because “wealth settled down upon them gradually, like a gentle snow.” Brooks is like a stalker who isn’t ashamed to be caught wearing just a t-shirt and stroking his dong outside some starlet’s window, only the starlet in this case is the whole class of rich Wall Street douchebags he’s spent his whole life worshipping.

Matt,
My name is [NAME DELETED].  I am a big fan of your articles, books and blog.  I read in your "Mailbag" from January 3, 2011 that you once tried to do an expose on Scientology while you were a correspondent for the Buffalo Beast but that you were eventually foiled by the private investigators of the Church of Scientology.  It took me a few days, but then I had an epiphany.  I realized that I am unemployed, looking for a creative way to spend my time, and I thought, "What if I did the undercover investigative work and then passed along the information to Matt Taibbi for an expose in Rolling Stone? I've been unemployed since July and even finding a part-time job has been a difficult task.  In short, I've kind of given up on going the conventional route to spending my days, so I figured this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I should say now that in no way am I looking for money; I would be a total volunteer out on an adventure. I have never said anything negative (publicly) about Scientology or Scientologists.  All the information I have about them came from the episode of South Park, "Trapped in the Closet." This is just a random thought I had that could possibly work to both our advantages.  I also understand that you have much bigger fish to fry with the financial, foreclosure and public-budgeting crises going on.  Let me know what you think.  Either way, thanks for all the writing and informing you do.
Very respectfully,
[NAME DELETED]


Dear Soon-to-be-Disappeared,
I’m all for it, even if this feels like a Law and Order episode where the self-involved fat cat journo casually encourages the eager acolyte to infiltrate a deadly cult, and eager acolyte’s skull turns up two weeks later lapping up against the docks on the Hudson River. “What a way to get ahead,” quips Jerry Orbach; cue the criminally negligent homicide charges!

I’m not sure about infiltrating the Scientologists – that’s a group that I wouldn’t feel comfortable encouraging another person to mess with, because I’m not entirely sure it’s, er, a risk-free activity (at the very least, they have armies of lawyers who would know exactly how to deal with any legal mistake you might make pursuing that sort of story).

I will say that, in general – and I get a lot of young journalists asking about this – when you’re young and unknown and have a clean record, that’s when you can do undercover assignments. Being unemployed sucks, but it can also be an advantage; it just means you have the time more established journalists don’t have to do that kind of work. Years ago I wanted to infiltrate one of those Christian retreats where they “convert” gay men to straight-dom, and I found a highly ridiculous place in the rural Midwest that would have been perfect, but it turned out I didn’t have the time and moreover in the internet age it was too hard for me to conceal who I really was.

That kind of job is exactly what unemployed twenty-somethings are for. If I had been 22 a few years back and had nothing else to do, I might have tried to go to work for a place like Countrywide or New Century – imagine the first-person account of being a mortgage broker in an office where everyone is ripping off old black ladies in refi deals and using white-out to falsify loan applications and so on. Anyway, to answer your question, not sure about that particular idea, but doing something like that is great – and don’t gather the information for me, do it for yourself. The whole value of stories like that is hearing the writer’s own viewpoint and experience (think Liar’s Poker).


Hey Matt -
I've been trying to figure out Darrell Issa for a while now.  Reading the recent feature in the New Yorker about him just raised more questions, personally and professionally.  I mean, I've seen him on Bill Maher and he comes off like a reasonable person.  His profile on opensecrets.org only reveals one really pernicious financial connection to Koch Industries that, I think we can infer, has influenced his position of "skepticism" on "the science of climate change."  He's obviously pro-business and anti-regulation, but maybe not totally Randian? 
Do you have any insight into this guy?
Thanks for your time,
Kyle

Kyle,
I met Issa once after the Bill Maher show, but I can’t say that I really know him at all, although he seemed nice enough. It’s interesting that you ask this question because his name has come up in the story I’m currently working on, which involves the question of why no one from Wall Street is going to jail, and if there is an arrangement between the Justice Department and the SEC to let criminal offenders off with fines and “no admission of wrongdoing statements.” There is a possibility that owing to his new committee position Issa may actually take up this question and pursue it via hearings or something of the sort, or at least some of my sources think he might. Which would be interesting and a bit of a surprise. He has already shown some inclination to ask questions of people like SEC chair Mary Schapiro, but overall, it’s too early to tell.

Matt,
Why was Lloyd Blankfein at the White House state dinner for Chinese president Hu Jintao? The NY Times had an article about how competitive it was to get seats at this state dinner.  And there is the head of Goldman Sachs - taking a break from doing God's work, of course - at the dinner. I guess I know why he was there.  Because he's corrupt and our government is corrupt.  But it's still galling.
Marilee

Marilee,
I think the short answer to that question is that the entire U.S. delegation that was there – from the president to Lloyd – was there to make sure that China will continue to be a good partner when it comes to the removal of the American manufacturing job market to a slave-labor state. Check out this Bloomberg story that talks about Goldman et al being there to talk about “expanding U.S. business interests in China.” All the banks are heavily invested in outsourcing jobs to places like China – I know Bernie Sanders, every time I’ve talked to him, he has mentioned that the reason he’s particularly averse to bailing out these companies is that they refuse to promise to stop moving jobs to China. Why are we subsidizing that effort? Why is Obama there helping these companies move jobs overseas? The whole thing stinks.

Last Week's Mailbag: Mainstream Punditry, the Financial Crisis and the Tea Party

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