Althouse | category: metaphor



a blog by Ann Althouse

"Mr. Musk bought Twitter because he’s a Twitter addict and, more specifically, an extremely online attention addict."

"On his first day at Twitter he hauled around a bathroom sink to make an obscure, very online joke likely poking fun at a certain earnest kind of Twitter user (usually a liberal) who posts something appalling but also banal and says, 'Let that sink in.' The graph of Mr. Musk’s Twitter posts over his time on the platform looks like the hockey stick graph of global temperature. He can’t stop himself. This is someone with millions of followers who is deep in the bowels of his own replies and mentions, clearly spending inordinate amounts of time looking at what people are saying about him. I can tell you from experience that this is a path to madness...."

Writes Chris Hayes, in "Why I Want Twitter to Live" (NYT).

1. Thanks to Hayes for explaining the "Let that sink in" joke so clearly. I nearly lost my mind trying to listen to Scott Adams explain it as a reference to the expression "Everything but the kitchen sink." And it wasn't even a kitchen sink, Scott. It was a bathroom sink. 

2. I nearly lost my mind, but, unlike Chris Hayes, I do not know the path to madness from experience. I wonder what's happened to poor Chris over the years.

3. The hockey stick graph of global warming pops up. Isn't it great that Nature isn't an "attention addict"? I mean, it's bad enough — or good enough — as it is, with the storms and the heat waves and lightning and so forth. But as long as I'm talking about Chris Haye's metaphors...

4. "Deep in the bowels" — somehow Hayes sounds jealous. The fact is Elon Musk is great at doing quick tweets that interact with other users, and it isn't clear that this consumes "inordinate" time. Seeing how Twitter is flowing along is something he needs to do, and not a distraction. While in there — in the bowels?! — he may easily dash off replies. Some people write fast. Reading/thinking/writing — it's all one flash.

5. Hayes goes on to express dismay that one man is "reigning" over what was once a "collective" in keeping with the "utopian vision of its earliest builders and users" of the internet. "Because we’ve had it before," he says, it's possible to somehow return to "a collective digital life." But before Musk took over, Twitter had declined into suppression and heavily skewed censorship. He's demonstrated an intent to restore freedom and inclusivity. Is that what Hayes is really worried about — the loss of the assistance of the faceless censors who ruled in the pre-Musk era?

WaPo columnist Dana Milbank "recently bought a property in the Virginia Piedmont, with the pandemic-inspired idea of finding peace in nature."

"On paper, the parcel is three-quarters wooded, one-quarter pasture. In practice, the place is about 95 percent brush... an entire civilization of invasive vines and weeds.... Asiatic bittersweet and porcelain berry, kudzu and Japanese honeysuckle, invasive wineberry and aggressive Canada goldenrod had devoured the place, turning forest and field alike into tangled masses of vines and thorns, and murdering defenseless native trees by strangulation and theft of sunlight... [A]ny attempt to remove the invaders by mechanical means alone (or by planting more native species — which will be the topic of a future column) is doomed; the interlopers would grow back faster than I could cut them out or replace them. The only chance of victory... is with a laborious, multiyear course of herbicides applied to each invasive plant.... Clearly, I won’t be defeating these invaders. At best, I’ll battle them... holding them at bay until I lose the will to fight them...."

From "I’m losing the battle against the brush. I’m not alone." 

He tells us the place is 95% brush but not how big it is. Why did he buy land that had problems he didn't understand at all and that make the place entirely unsuitable for its intended purpose (finding peace)? And more importantly, why does a person with this level of practical sense and good judgment have a column in The Washington Post expounding on politics? Can we take his inane real estate venture as a metaphor?

"Seriously, you are the first person who seems to have noticed the sexual framework from intromission to last spasm," wrote Stanley Kubrick...

... to LeGrace Benson, a Cornell art history professor, who had written him a letter in 1964 detailing her observations about "Dr. Strangelove."

Now, Benson, who is 92, is interviewed in "My Coffee With Stanley Kubrick" (NY Magazine).

I sat through it three times before I wrote that letter. That was a time when there was a tremendous interest in the difference between the sexuality of real, ordinary people — real life — and the prudery of Hollywood. I don’t think prudery is a good idea ever. So I forced myself to go even to pornographic films. I couldn’t stand them, but I did it... But that was the background from which I wrote that letter.
If I were to write a letter about Strangelove today, I would want to talk about the sexuality in the movie and its connection to politics. I see it around us all the time right now — it’s seamless. You can’t take them apart. They feed on each other, and I believe I see that in the far right....

Yes, people are not talking enough these days — not deeply, anyway — about sexuality and politics. Somehow, there's more of a sexual quality to the right wing. According to Benson!

While we were walking together before coffee, he said, “I’m making a film about outer space and aliens. What do you think aliens look like?” I have never forgotten that question, because I had never thought about what aliens look like. The question just sat in my mind, and recently I thought, Now I know the answer to the question. Too bad Stanley Kubrick’s not here to hear it.

Here's that letter she wrote:

"There are various theories purporting to explain Musk’s hard right turn: a childhood in apartheid South Africa, his connection with Peter Thiel, disappointments in his personal life."

"Whatever the truth of the matter, whatever right-leaning tendencies he may have had before a couple years ago appear to have been latent or unformed. Now the transformation is almost complete. He’s done with general 'free speech' grievance and springing for alternative viewpoints. He’s routinely pushing all the far right storylines from woke groomers to great replacement. One particularly notable hint about the future came in a fractious interaction on Wednesday when Musk rolled out his own antic Dolchstoßlegende manque. In exchange about advertiser departures and alleged media bias, Musk claimed that he had cut a with [sic] civil rights groups to create a 'moderation council' but that they had broken the deal. Perhaps needless to say, this did not happen. The reference is to a chaotic meeting Musk held with a group of leaders of prominent civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the ADL, on November 2nd. Musk actually announced the 'moderation council' days earlier. We’re hardly four weeks into the Elon era on Twitter and he’s already cueing up a storyline in which he tried to placate the Blacks and the Jews and the gays but they betrayed him and set out to 'kill Twitter.' Not pretty...."

Writes Josh Marshall in "Elon Musk and the Narcissism/Radicalization Maelstrom" (TPM).

I'm not vouching for any of that, and it doesn't reflect my opinion of what Musk is doing with Twitter. I just think it's an important viewpoint that ought to be out in the sunlight.

By the way, who first said "Sunlight is the best disinfectant"? Was it Justice Brandeis?

Here's Quote Investigator:

In 1860 the well-known transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson... wrote:

As gas-light is found to be the best nocturnal police, so the universe protects itself by pitiless publicity.

That's gaslight, not sunlight, but Emerson has the analogy that works in the free-speech context.

In 1879 the journal “The Laws of Health” edited by Robert Walter published a short article without a byline about “Disinfectants” which included the following excerpt:
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Malaria, for instance, which is one of the most difficult things to contend against, is dissipated when the sun shines, and exerts its pernicious influence at night.

But that wasn't an analogy. It was literally about germs. Other journals in the late 1800s made similar statements. It seems to have become common wisdom, in the non-metaphorical sense, before Brandeis connected it back to Emerson's metaphor:

In 1913 “Harper’s Weekly” published “What Publicity Can Do” by Louis D. Brandeis which began with the following words: 

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman. And publicity has already played an important part in the struggle against the Money Trust....

So, when you're talking about wanting to get bad ideas out in the open so we can destroy them, you can say you got "Sunlight is the best disinfectant" from Justice Brandeis. But if you're, say, recommending hanging laundry outside on a clothesline, there's zero need to complicate matters by crediting a Supreme Court Justice.

"The social media network known as Mastodon is sort of an anti-Twitter: quiet, calm, and refreshingly free of Nazis."

"People have been flocking to it lately, only to get confused by the way it’s set up—which is a shame, because it’s not that hard to get started. Here’s how."

I'm reading "How to Move From Twitter to Mastodon/There are many similarities between the two—except that Mastodon feels like a nice place to be" (lifehacker). 

I'm reading that because I wanted to take a look at something I've heard about a lot lately, but — as it says above — I got confused. I had to find an article explaining it.

I'm confused by this article too. How can a speech forum have a mood as specific as quiet and calm? And what kind of dolt feels "refreshed" by a feeling that a place is "free of Nazis"? I would expect Nazis — especially dangerous Nazis — to lull people into "not see"ing them (until it's too late). You know those old movies where somebody would say "It's quiet. Too quiet." It's like that, I would think. If you're saying "It's refreshingly free of Nazis," you ought to go on to say "Too refreshingly free of Nazis." 

And what's this "Mastodon feels like a nice place to be"? Yeah, feels like.

Lifehacker proceeds to help us with our confusion by trying — trying — to talk to us as though we are easily triggered by anything that sounds disconnected from a simple, off-screen life:

Whereas Twitter is a single huge corporate entity, Mastodon is more like a bunch of local mom-and-pop shops. That means you need to choose an “instance”—a server you’ll call home.

You're trying to soothe me into absorbing a technical description, and you're telling me I need to call something "home" that you're calling an "instance." Just tell me there's something called an "instance" and what it is. And don't drag in mom-and-pop shops. Are we going shopping or going home? Neither. We're having an "instance." Look, I was attracted by the "mastodon," which is a cute extinct animal. There are no Ice Ace behemoths in this Bedford Falls you've got me imagining. And I am more and more alienated from this nice, quiet, Nazi-free place.

It’s like how you can choose to keep your money at your local bank or credit union, but your money is still good everywhere....

Another analogy! Now it's about money. My eyes glaze over. I don't want to understand it. I just want to do it. I'll skip ahead to what I'd see if I did get on this thing:

[Y]our instance also has two special timelines: The local timeline is a stream of everybody tweeting from that instance. So if I click there, I see everything that’s going on on It’s like listening in on everybody in your neighborhood.

It's like Mr. Rogers is explaining this... but he's not helping. And in real life, "listening in on everybody in your neighborhood" is not nice. It's quite wrong. But I know they don't mean "listening in." They just mean reading things people have written and posted.

The federated timeline...

Federated! I don't get niceness vibes from "federated." Is this for people with warm feelings toward the federal government?

... is everything on the local timeline, plus everybody who is followed by someone on your instance. So if I follow Nick, his toots (yep, they’re called toots) will show up in’s federated timeline.

They're only called "toots" if people call them "toots," and I doubt that people will do that. The writer of this article already wrote about "a stream of everybody tweeting from that instance."

A few terms to help ease your transition from Twitter: It’s not a tweet, it’s a toot. It’s not a retweet, it’s a boost. There is no such thing as a quote-tweet, you just either boost or you don’t. Twitter itself is referred to as “the birdsite.” Do not bring birdsite drama onto Mastodon....

Who is telling use what we can do or not do and what words we need to use? Is my question dramatic and birdsite-y? I feel unwanted at Mastodon. It feels inclusive and exclusive simultaneously. How will this rule of niceness be enforced? With niceness? 

First, this is not Twitter. Each instance has its own administrator and its own code of conduct, so make sure you read up before you toot.

So I have to pick an "instance" to start, but each instance has a different code. How many codes should I read before I pick? But reading the code wouldn't be enough, because I wouldn't know how the code is interpreted and enforced. I see that one instance has a code that says (in part):

The following types of content will be removed from the public timeline, and may result in account suspension and revocation of access to the service: Racism or advocation of racism/Sexism or advocation of sexism/Discrimination against gender and sexual minorities, or advocation thereof/Xenophobic and/or violent nationalism....

I'm required to understand a word that isn't even a word: "advocation." Plus, of course, I don't know what will count as "racism" or "sexism." It could be quite broad or idiosyncratic. One person's feminism is another person's sexism. And, for some people, racism is structured into everything and operates covertly, like those clever Nazis I was just talking about.

I quit. I quoot.

Too many Republicans "is precisely why he is moving out of what Rick Perry once described as the 'blueberry in the tomato soup,' a predominantly Democratic city full of liberal expats..."

"... like himself seeking progressive politics and an urban lifestyle at a red-state cost-of-living discount. 'It was easy to just be in Never Neverland, floating with a bunch of other transplants having a good time,' said [somebody named John] Stettin, who relocated from Dallas to Austin five years ago.... [He's moving to] Massachusetts.... What was once seen as an affordable, creative haven is now a runaway boomtown, pricing out most of whatever was left of Austin’s proclaimed weirdness.... In the past year, rent soared more than 20 percent, and the median home price rose almost as much over the same period (before home prices dropped thanks to interest-rate hikes). The airport has new direct flights to Vail, Colorado, and Texas’s first Soho House opened there last year. Elon Musk has built a $1.1 billion 'gigafactory' nearby, turning 'Tesla' into shorthand among some to describe the city’s bougification. 'There’s nothing weird about Austin,' said one Soho House patron, who recently flew home to California for an abortion...."

From "Austin Has Been Invaded by Texas/The progressive paradise is over for some, and they’re fleeing to bluer pastures" (Intelligencer).

"At the point of 'Pump It Up,' he obviously had been listening to Springsteen too much. But he also had a heavy dose of 'Subterranean Homesick Blues.'"

"'Pump It Up' is a quasi-stop-time tune with powerful rhetoric, and with all this, Elvis [Costello] exuded nothing but high-level belligerence.... With tender hooks and dirty looks, heaven-sent propaganda and slander that you wouldn’t understand. Torture her and talk to her, bought for her, temperature, was a rhyming scheme long before Biggie Smalls or Jay Z. Submission and transmission, pressure pin and other sin, just rattled through this song. It’s relentless, as all of his songs from this period are. Trouble is, he exhausted people. Too much in his songs for anybody to actually land on. Too many thoughts, way too wordy. Too many ideas that just bang up against themselves. Here, however, it’s all compacted into one long song."

Writes Bob Dylan in "The Philosophy of Modern Song" (published today).

Here's the song — with a very cool video (I want to stand on my feet like that):


I was listening to the audiobook as I went on my sunrise run, and as soon as I heard the title of the song Bob was about to discuss, I called on Siri to play it for me. Listening, I thought, this is so much like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" — if Bob praises it, is he praising himself?

I went back to the audiobook and enjoyed Bob saluting himself — and reinforcing me — when he said Elvis "also had a heavy dose of 'Subterranean Homesick Blues.'" Yes, he also had the good stuff, though he "obviously had been listening to Springsteen too much." 

By the way — "tender hooks" — do you think Bob was mixing up "tenterhooks" and "tender hooks" like an ordinary ill-informed person? Or was he somewhere else entirely, where songs have hooks and of course the hooks can be tender?

AMPLIFICATION: It's a pun. The first line of "Pump It Up" is "I've been on tenterhooks, ending in dirty looks." I shouldn't have missed that when I had just listened to the song, but Elvis's articulation falls far short of Bob's. With Bob, you always hear the words. On the records.

ADDED: If Bob praised himself there, didn't he also criticize himself? All of his songs from a certain period were relentless....

... he exhausted people. Too much in his songs for anybody to actually land on. Too many thoughts, way too wordy. Too many ideas that just bang up against themselves.

Isn't he telling us that he knows that was the case with him, beginning with that "Subterranean Homesick Blues" album and extending for the next 15 months?

AND: How disrespectful was Bob's sideswipe of Springsteen? There's only one other mention of Springsteen in the book. He's talking about Dion and says he was "a template for his fellow Italo-rocker Bruce Springsteen." "Italo-rocker" — is that how you think about Springsteen?

"Rather than Warnock trying to make Walker answer for his alliance with the former president, Walker insisted that Warnock defend his with the current one..."

"... a dynamic that doesn’t exactly track with media coverage of the midterms. We keep wondering how much Trump will wound Republican candidates. Warnock seemed plenty worried about how much Biden would wound him. So when he was asked whether Biden should run again in 2024, Warnock conspicuously dodged the question. 'I think that part of the problem with our politics right now is that it’s become too much about the politicians,' he said. 'You’re asking me who’s going to run in ’24? The people of Georgia get to decide who’s going to be their senator in three days — Monday.'"

Writes Frank Bruni in "Why Herschel Walker May Win" (NYT).

It's funny that Bruni expects the "dynamic" to "track with media coverage of the midterms." The media don't have that kind of control anymore. But they try so hard. 

Walker’s out-of-wedlock children, Mehmet Oz’s minimal ties to Pennsylvania, J.D. Vance’s ambient ickiness — they’re marvelous grist for opposition ads.

Ambient ickiness. The ambient ickiness is coming from inside the column.

They’re priceless fodder for political journalists.

"Fodder" is dried hay for livestock and in extended use it's something you consume that's widely available and low quality. But somehow it's "priceless."

And they’re surely why Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, issued his now-famous lament about “candidate quality,” sounding like a disgruntled carnivore who’d ordered a Wagyu rib-eye and was served cold Salisbury steak.

More food. Hmm.

You know, I really do think that in the future, when AI is writing the columns, there will be material like this — ambient ickiness... marvelous grist... priceless fodder... disgruntled carnivore... Wagyu rib-eye... cold Salisbury steak.... 

Okay! If you say so. I know you're set on grossing people out about how disgusting Republicans are. You consider them lowly, but your approach feels lowly.

"Years ago, a great friend, the poet Galway Kinnell, caused a brief crisis in her life when he denounced similes in favor of metaphors."

"Nothing, he insisted, is really like anything else. 'Oh, my God, he’s right!' Olds thought. 'He’s so smart! I’m so dumb! Oh, my God!' But then she realized something: The two friends just had different brains. A little space existed between the two of them.... That’s exactly how a simile works. Olds has never been comfortable saying definitively, as metaphors do, that something is something else. She ascribes this to her terrifying childhood experience of religion, the idea that blood was wine, that body was bread. To this day, she clings to the comforting distance of that 'like.' Blood is like wine, yes; body is like bread, sure — in the same way that a poem is like a real experience but not the thing itself.... [N]othing stands alone, nothing is ever only itself. And yet everything, in that vast network of mutual meanings, is allowed to remain exactly itself."

Writes Sam Anderson in "Sex, Death, Family: Sharon Olds Is Still Shockingly Intimate/'No one should read more than one poem at a time from this book'" (NYT).

"Seriously, you are the first person who seems to have noticed the sexual framework from intromission to last spasm," wrote Stanley Kubrick...These 2 overinflated characters — Trump and Musk — are going down simultaneously.  "At the point of 'Pump It Up,' he obviously had been listening to Springsteen too much. But he also had a heavy dose of 'Subterranean Homesick Blues.'"

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