Discover more from The Gene Pool
Hello. This will be a slightly abbreviated Gene Pool, because I am traveling. You’ll get the ordinary garbage here, and a lot of it, but I won’t be taking questions in real time, because I am driving right now to Charlottesville, Va., a place I have not been before but one I am looking forward to dining in, because it has a restaurant called “The Fig Bistro.”
Before we begin, I need to refer you to this story about the crackpot goofball who is now the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, and second in line to the presidency of the United States. We already discussed, last week, the fact that this guy who makes $180,000 a year in salary alone claims to have no bank account or assets. But there is new information out there. Some are expressed in actual news stories, but I am linking to Jeff Tiedrich’s marvelous newsletter on Substack that calls it as he sees it. It is headlined ”Holy shit, Mike Johnson is one fucked-up weirdo.” I just want to say that within four seconds of reading this story, Rachel — a very mature woman — pointed out that Mike Johnson’s 17-year-old son and apparent nefarious masturbator is named “Jack Johnson.”
Which brings us to today’s Gene Pool Gene Poll.
Okay, on to other dysfunction. You’ve all been following the travails of Sam Bankman-Fried (also a great aptonym) and the fact that he is likely not getting out of prison until his prostate is the size of a weather balloon.
I have to admit that I’ve been kinda on his side, because of his hair. (See above.) It’s like my hair, wildly untamed, uncombed, unencumbered by any apparent sense of vanity. Also, I dress like a slob, similar to SBF, who never ties his shoelaces, leaving them balled up outside most of the holes, the way you buy them at the store.
He had his hair trimmed for his trial, but never trimmed it before, just like me. So I figured we are the same.
I’ve always regarded my tonsorial and sartorial choices as not straight-out vanity, but a form of reverse vanity. I am embarrassed by my hair and means of dress, but I would be more embarrassed if I thought of myself as the sort of guy who cared what his hair or clothes look like. I hereby apologize to all men who use “product” on their hair, or purchase more than $300 a year in clothing, and don’t wish to judge them gratuitously even if I secretly regard them to be anuses.
So, I kinda felt for the now Fried Bankman, until I read a story the other day that made it clear that his slovenly hair and clothes were carefully manufactured image-control, to establish, in the public eye, that he is a genius. You know, like Einstein, except — this is the key — Einstein was more like me. That’s because Einstein didn’t give a crap about how he looked, and still got the ladies.
So I no longer feel sympathy for SBF, who defrauded hundreds of people of millions of their dollars. I would not feel bad if he were sentenced to hang from a chandelier by the handle of a beach umbrella that had been inserted in him, and then opened up.
And lastly, we have a second Gene Pool Gene Poll on a subject I will address after you weigh in.
Okay, good. I asked this because of a poll released Monday saying that Biden continues to have low approval ratings, particularly on the economy, which is, from all indications, humming along beautifully, largely because of Biden’s steady hand at the helm. Also, he seems to be lagging behind Trump in polls of the key battleground states.
The point I want to make — you may disagree — is that he seems to be the most ridiculously undervalued president of all time. I took the poll and ranked him “near great,” if for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than that he rescued the nation from the worst president of all time. I don’t think there has been a case of unjustifiable undervaluation this extreme, ever. The closest is Harry Truman, who left office with a 22 percent approval rating, the lowest exit figure ever, largely because of the Korean War, and his dismissal of the monomaniacal but stupidly popular General Douglas MacArthur.
Today, in presidential rankings, with the distance of time and the evidence of his long-term wisdom, Truman is generally ranked seventh best president, right after Teddy Roosevelt. It turns out the Marshall Plan was a good idea that might have saved democracy in the free world. (BTW, Rachel went to George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Va. The sports team names were the wimpiest on Earth: The Statesmen and the “Lady Statesmen.” One assumes that they negotiated their victories. )
Finally, also on a sports note, I wish to observe that the New York Giants, my team of preference, is the worst team in football. And they just lost their quarterback for the season. They will likely wind up with the worst record in the NFL, meaning they get the first pick in the draft, and so I have looked ahead to the draft class and already know who they will pick. He is the quarterback of the Washington State Huskies. His name is “Michael Penix.” The Giants will do it just for me.
Send in questions and observations right here!!!
Here come the questions and observations section of The Gene Pool. Again, I won’t be taking real time questions / observations today, but please send ’em and we will hemorrhage them, with answers, on Thursday. Most today involve my call-out, this weekend, for funny battles you have had with bureaucracy.
Q: Many years ago I was waiting in line at the MVA in Gaithersburg, Md., to register a car we’d just gotten. I was next in line behind an older man who was also registering a car or renewing the license plate but the title was in both his and his wife’s names. The clerk said the man needed his wife’s signature on the form also. The man said, “But my wife is at home,” whereupon the clerk said, “Isn’t she in the car waiting for you?” The man again said no, and the clerk repeated himself with more emphasis and a nod and the man finally got it and said, oh yes my wife is outside waiting for me and I’ll be right back. What a wonderful solution. Sometimes the little people beat the bureaucracy.
A: That guy was a hero. There should be a statue erected to him: He should be sitting behind a desk with a cup of coffee, wearing a pocket protector.
Q: Twenty some years ago, when my teenage son was prescribed something for acne, the pharmacy required him to take a pregnancy test. But he’s a guy, we said. He can’t get pregnant. Nevertheless, the pharmacy insisted on a pregnancy test. Years later, I was talking with a lawyer who specializes in an aspect of Food and Drug Administration practice called REMS, which stands for Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies. She was starting to explain that, when prescription drugs have serious and preventable side effects, procedures have to be put in place to prevent those side effects. I recognized immediately what was going on and said, “I get it. You’re the reason my son had to get a pregnancy test for an acne drug.” I never got an explanation of why this particular REMS required a pregnancy check rather than a male/female check the box. If it happened today, I’d have a theory, but none of that was on the public radar screen then.
A: Indeed. Retin-A. I went through that with a kid. She was a she, but 14, and still they insisted.
Depending on the visual acuity and honesty of the perceiver, I am generally perceived to be (a) 72, (b) 63, or (c) 89. When I purchase a bottle of wine at Safeway, they always demand to see my driver’s license. I sometimes laugh out loud, and so does the clerk, and then she demands to see my driver’s license.
Q: In 1983, we built an in-ground pool at our home in Bryn Mawr, Pa. (birthplace of Jayne Mansfield). The yard was very reasonably required to be fenced. The pool company sent a fence guy, who drove a silver BMW 7 Series sedan and was as smooth as a milkshake. We ordered the top-of-the-line, beautiful, 8-foot, white, wooden stockade fence. It was soon installed and was magnificent. The day after the fence was erected, an inspector from Lower Merion Township was at our door, declaring the fence improper, must be 50% open above four feet, tear the fucker down. I quickly called the smooth fence guy who said, “You’re in Lower Merion? I thought you’re in Haverford Township. Inspector’s right, that fence is illegal. I ain’t doing anything about it. Sue me.” Click.
I went to Lower Merion Township headquarters and after several false starts found myself talking to the same deep state jerkoff who’d stopped by earlier. I asked him why the fence had to be 50% open above four feet. He said so inspectors like him could make sure that we were not running a tannery in the backyard. I said, “ There’s a bigass pool in the backyard. There’s no room for a tannery. Are we really having this conversation?”
He produced a plot map of our neighborhood and identified about ten of our closest neighbors and said that if we obtained notarized statements from each that the township might grant us a variance from the 1870 anti-tannery law. Fortunately, my ace assistant was a notary and we, after no small effort, got the necessary signatures and the township benevolently granted a waiver. Our property taxes jumped 25% the next year, due, I’m sure, to that splendid fence. — Jon K.
A: This actually hurts to read. Living through it would have been worse. The idiot humor helps.
Q: Mine has a happy ending—sort of. We were lucky to find out that our son was deaf at birth—lucky because back then newborn hearing screening wasn’t a thing in Colorado yet and the hospital happened to be testing it that month. And lucky because many deaf kids fool their hearing parents until they don’t start talking—but if you know at birth, you can start signing and/or amplifying any residual hearing, so that the kid gets language as early as possible. We opted for “and”—so we started using ASL and had an audiologist fit him for hearing aids. She warned us that insurance wouldn’t pay, and she was right. They pointed to a policy passage that said they don’t pay for hearing aids—probably because they don’t care if Grandpa can’t hear the TV. But my husband found a passage that said they covered “any congenital defect.” This hadn’t come up much before because if you don’t know until your kid is two, it’s hard to prove the deafness is congenital. You can guess how the back-and-forth went as they continued to deny the claim, despite our proof that it was congenital. But, as a former employee of an insurance trade association, my husband knew to contact the state insurance commissioner and got a letter saying they had to pay. This made him a minor celebrity among parents of deaf kids — he even got an award. Naturally, the insurance companies didn’t let that stand too long once newborn screening was mandated, and they put in specific language about how much they would cover, which wasn’t a lot, but it wasn’t nothing.
A: The good guys won. I hope your son is doing great. As an elderly fart, I can empathize with your problem here, specifically because Medicare does not cover a penny of dental care, and sometimes dental care is what people on Medicare mostly need, which is probably why Medicare doesn’t cover dental care. I currently have a missing back molar, not because I can’t afford to pay for a replacement, but because I’ll be damned if I will. I pay $600-plus a month for Medicare.
Q: I hate it when a well-meaning person far in front of me holds the door open for me, forcing me to run an unwelcome 50-yard dash.
A: It almost seems like a hostile act, doesn’t it? Dance for me, punk.
Q: In 1986 I was (legally) parked on Massachusetts Ave. in Boston. When I came out after my squash game to drive home, I discovered that my car was booted. All of the informational literature under the windshield wiper directed me to ways I could pay hundreds of dollars to ransom my car. I had never received a parking ticket or other violation, so I figured that the car had been booted in error.
Since I wanted to get home and my car had been improperly seized, I judged it to be an emergency: I dialed 911. With little fanfare I was connected to the correct department and someone came to release my car much more quickly than I had expected — about 45 minutes had elapsed. But I wanted more: I wanted an apology, as though a real person (rather than a bureaucracy) had wronged me. So I called and requested an apology from the person who had booted my car (he’d misread the license plate).
I called once a week for about six weeks, repeating my request. Then the call came without fanfare: the voice on the phone said “I’m sorry I booted your car.” I forgave him. Over the years I have gotten much more than 45 minutes of pleasure from telling this story. —Scott Finley, Towson, Md.
A: I would simply have purchased a new car.
Q: Regarding pranks: In the early 1970s, at the height of the streaking craze, some high school friends and I had the idea to publicize a fictional streaking contest. We concocted the name “American Streaking Society” (ASS) and printed up flyers announcing the First Annual National Streaking Contest. We posted them all over town, and the Nassau Herald published our letter to the editor announcing the event in “the streaking capital of the world, Cedarhurst Park, New York.” The editors noted that no event permit had been obtained at press time. On the appointed afternoon hundreds of people had shown up to enjoy the festivities. A good time was had by all, and a lone streaker even made a brief appearance. We judged it a pretty successful prank, even though we came to disagree about which of us had come up with the ASS’s name. —Scott Finley
A: This is kind of brilliant. Who wouldn’t show up for this?
Q: Living in NC, working in VA for 6 months, then moving to PA for the rest of the year. VA had no tax form for this situation. I wrote a check for what I thought I owed and a letter describing the situation. I never heard back.
A: Was the check cashed? I’m hoping not.
Q: With all the calamitous outrages afoot today, it’s almost embarrassing to bring forth these relatively petty bureaucratic entanglements. But that’s what so maddening, isn’t it? They are easily solved, unlike, say, accelerating climate change or peace in the Middle East. These could be fixed with the wave of a pen pulled from a pocket protector. So here is mine:
My son got a ticket for parking on Constitution Avenue along side the National Mall, with an expired meter. Just one problem: he had never been to that part of DC, and never parked there. Aha. But, they had a photo of the violation: a Ford with tag number whatever. But, my son did not and never had owned a Ford of any kind, and that was not his license number. Oh —and he was being charged double the fine, because he hadn't responded to the “First Notice,” which, uh, never had come. After getting nowhere with the DMV, I filed an appeal through whatever process they had. Denied, but they graciously agreed to charge the base fine rather than doubling it. I told them it was their incompetence in issuing this bogus ticket (probably to inflate the numbers for officers who had to meet a quota), and I was reporting this to the entity that reviews this sort of incompetence and misconduct. Fine. they said. Send it to a department with a, you guessed it, prototypically bureaucratic name. I got the decision from that department: issued by the very person who had originally sent out the ticket based on a car and a license number to a person who owned neither. Dead heat on a merry-go-round. — Al Larsen, Arlington
A: WHAT WAS THE DECISION? (Answer in the comments; I’m not here to print an answer you submit to me.)
Q: Since the term “bureaucracy” itself comes from the French — a combination of the French word for office and the Greek for political power or rule — it is perhaps altogether fitting and proper that my tale of dealing with governmental inscrutability occurred in its spiritual home. And nothing used to say "GFY" like le bureau de poste or a French, and Parisian, in particular, post office. Newly arrived in Paris with good French, I naively decided to stop in one to quickly check on something.
At the time, lines and the windows which presumably served them were strictly organized by function. I dutifully waited in the stamp line through what seemed to be une pause (a break) and then a shift change. Arriving at the window I inquired about the price of a stamp to send a letter to the US. First, I was asked sarcastically why I didn’t already know that — didn’t I mail anything ? Next I was told madame only sold stamps — she didn't answer questions about them. With an annoyed Gallic “bof!” she waved me toward an unseen bureau d’information. When I managed to find the unmarked bureau, I was told there were actually two bureaux, one for business and one for consumers and, “Sorry, monsieur, but I am the business ‘bureau’; the consumer ‘bureau’ should be back shortly.”
Summoning up my courage, I asked if he could answer a simple question about the price of a stamp. “Was it a business letter ?” he countered. Caught off guard, I foolishly I told the truth and said no, which set off another “bof!” and an apology, with the offer of a chair to wait for the consumer “bureau.”
The bureau showed up about 10 minutes later and then she conscientiously went through all the possible categories of letters to the US and prices, before launching into a tirade about the woman behind the stamp window, while I sat there politely nodding at what I thought were the appropriate moments — she having used a lot of slang I had yet to pick up. Finally, when she came up for air, I leaped to my feet, thanked her profusely and — deciding that leaving was the better part of valor in actually trying to buy the appropriate stamp — made my way into the gathering Paris dusk.
A: Thank you. Beautifully written.
Q: I have a serious aptonym conundrum due to the seriousness of the story, & I'm in no way minimizing the topic . . . but what does one do about the AI expert's name in the 13th paragraph? Is it OK to laugh? (spoiler, I did.)
A: Sometimes it is unavoidable, and no one is to be blamed.
Q: This happened in the town of Beaver, PA (really), which is my wife’s hometown. We were visiting her parents and had parked on the street in front of their house. I knew that the town sent street-sweeper trucks around on a regular schedule and that nearly all streets had restricted parking on certain days/hours to accommodate those trucks. In the case of her parents' street, it was from midnight on Monday until 6 AM on Tuesday, and we were visiting on Monday evening. So, at around 11:50 PM, I went outside to move the car to a place where parking would be permitted. Imagine my dismay at finding a ticket on the windshield, admonishing me for parking such that I “restricted street sweeping.” Further, imagine my irritation at noting that the issuing officer had duly recorded that he wrote the ticket at 11:45 PM — five minutes before my arrival and fifteen minutes before the deadline.
Off I went to the police station to protest. The desk sergeant informed me that he couldn’t do much about it and I’d have to talk to the chief of police. The chief was summoned by radio and arrived about ten minutes later, clearly annoyed at having to deal with a parking scofflaw at that hour. I presented my case while he studied the ticket, occasionally eyeing me up and down (I was neatly dressed in jacket and tie, which was unusual for a male at that hour in the Beaver Police Station). When I had finished, he informed me that it was their policy to “start writing the tickets half an hour early.” Straining to be polite, I asked how one might know about that policy in advance. He replied, “We put an announcement in the paper.” Sensing that my annoyance was now showing, I explained that I lived in Rockville, Md, and didn't have access to the Beaver County Times. I think he judged (rightly) from my demeanor that I was now in a state of being fully prepared to come back to Beaver as much as necessary to attend traffic court over this. He eyed me up and down some more and, after a long pause, nodded slightly and said, “We’ll take care of it.” So I guess you'd say I won.
A: You won.
Q: One day before my annual summer vacation (driving to Vermont), I decided to spend the lunch hour at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall. Due to my lifelong avoidance of porta-potties, I decided not to carry a bag, the better to speed my entrance into one of the Mall museums to use the bathroom (no bag check delay). So I left the house with just a Metro farecard, a few five and ten dollar bills, and my driver’s license for ID (in case I were run over by a bus and they needed to identify me at the hospital). I shoved these items into the tight front pocket of my jeans. Somewhere along the line --most likely when I pulled out some cash to pay for food at the festival — I accidentally pulled out my driver’s license and dropped it, unaware. When I got home and emptied my pockets, I realized I no longer had my license. I needed an immediate replacement, to have a license in hand in time for my driving trip to Vermont, set for the next day. So I checked online. I found I could get a same-day replacement license, but only if I had a police report to account for the missing license.
So I went to the Second District Police Station. I told them the story, and they said, "If you dropped your license on the Mall, that's a National Park Service matter. You need to file the police report with them." I looked into doing that and found it would take too long. “Wait,” I said, “now that I think about it, I realize I didn't drop it on the Mall. I must have dropped it while I was in the Metro, getting out my farecard.”
“Oh, then you have to get the report from the Metro Transit Police.” This time I didn’t bother to look into what it would take to get the Metro Transit Police to issue a lost drivers license report. I just switched gears and said to the police officer, “Wait, now I remember! I was walking to the Metro when I lost my license. So I must have dropped it on a city street.” That worked. I got my police report, raced to the DMV just before closing, and got my replacement driver’s license, and was able to go on a driving trip with a valid license.
A: Another hero of bureaucracy.
This is Gene. We’re done. Please send in more questions and observations for Thursday. Send them here:
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