DIVERSIONS

Posted in Quick Hits on September 3rd, 2015 by Ed

I intended to write a good old fashioned chest-clutcher about the European immigration "crisis" but unfortunately yesterday I was far too busy winning the internet on the social medias. As a bonus feature I get called a lot of names in the comment sections. But even though I have fun with it, not all of this stuff is funny. In fact some of it is downright sad.

Previously I considered social media accounts no more than a diversion. Now I feel like they're taking on a life of their own, and that I'm getting not-bad at the format.

UPPER CRUST FANTASIES

Posted in Rants on September 1st, 2015 by Ed

This weekend I did something I rarely do – something most Americans rarely do. I interacted with human beings above my social status. I am bad at it. Look surprised.

Every so often I end up in such situations and although you could accuse me with justification of being hyper-sensitive to it, I am always struck by the differences in the narratives people of different backgrounds unfold in conversation. It's a useful reminder, on the off chance that you need one, about how class and privilege still dominate every aspect of our society. Maybe it's just me – I'm a storyteller in social situations, and maybe that encourages others to respond in kind. But they're hardly the same stories.

When you hang around Ivy League people, it is immediately apparent that they interact almost exclusively with other Ivy League people (and why wouldn't they?) in their professional, if not personal, lives. You can listen to a Harvard person talk about their entire family and every person they've ever considered a friend without hearing about 1) anyone who isn't almost cartoonishly well off financially, although since it is normal to Them they would not consider it as such, or 2) anyone in a profession that isn't some variation of the all-encompassing Business. Nobody is a middle school teacher. Nobody is a dentist. Nobody is in Human Resources. It may be called a variety of nebulous things – Consulting, Marketing, Business, Development, etc. – but inevitably it entails making vast amounts of money to jet around the world doing nothing anyone can identify as work based on qualifications divorced from any skill set. Everybody lives in New York or San Francisco or LA or, if they're really slumming it, maybe Boston before they move to France or London or Hong Kong because Business and do any other parts of the world even exist? If so, why?

You know what we could really use? More think pieces about how wealthy elites inside the exclusionary circle of expensive prep schools, Ivy League universities, and Mystery Business are so f'n bored with being rich and successful.

After you listen to them talk about their lives and their friends for a while you won't be able to stop thinking about how they clearly don't know anyone like you and you clearly don't know anyone like them. My friends went to cheap public universities and do the kind of things that rich people deem useful enough to keep around – mainly babysitting their children for 18 years, providing them with healthcare, and incarcerating one another until they feel safe. Their friends do Business and apparently hopscotch from expensive city to expensive city around the globe, which doesn't count as vacation but don't worry they take plenty of those too and apparently vacations last several months? Who can say, really. It's all a mystery.

There are exceptions. Magazine pieces can always tout a handful of college dropouts who became Big Successes. Every hayseed university has its list of Famous Alumni who got rich in some appropriately salt of the earth manner. But that merely encourages the delusion of class mobility that Americans cling to like a life raft. For 99% of us, what we think of as "success" would probably make actually successful people double over in laughter. It sucks, but you might as well try to stop the tides. All you need to know is that yes, there is a club. And you're not in it. You just happen to meet a few of its members here and there. If sociologically analyzing their conversation doesn't interest you, just make a game out of counting how many boats are referenced per anecdote.

REASONABLE DOUBT

Posted in Rants on August 30th, 2015 by Ed

Longtime readers know how much I love me some hockey and the Blackhawks in particular. So earlier in August you can imagine how disappointed and grossed out I was to hear that mega-star Patrick Kane was accused of sexual assault in his Buffalo home. It is, sadly, the latest in a long line of incidents involving Kane, although the previous problems fell under categories like "immaturity" or "poor judgment." Apparently he has graduated from being a jackass to being a criminal.

Not that I expect the legal system to reach that conclusion.

One of my family members was a public prosecutor for about 30 years and he has noted on several occasions that sexual assault cases are among the hardest to prosecute successfully. Of course most instances of rape never result in so much as a police report let alone prosecution, but among those that do the nature of our justice system (and culture) favors defendants more than usual. It's one of a few instances in which judges and juries must not only consider whether the defendant is guilty of a crime but whether a crime was committed at all. If both parties agree that sex took place but disagree about whether it was consensual, it's not exactly like dealing with a burglary case.

In the Kane case the accuser did every one of the "Well if she was really raped, why didn't she ____?" things that the Men's Rights crowd inevitably brings up. She called the police and reported it. She went directly to the hospital. The "story" is uncomplicated and consistent. Unfortunately the police are spending a great deal of time investigating things that ultimately are irrelevant. How drunk was Kane at the club? Did the woman flirt with him there? Nothing anybody saw in public at a bar matters. If the woman was climbing all over him and said "LET'S GO HOME AND HAVE SEX" in the presence of a dozen witnesses, it doesn't matter. If she got to his house and decided "Nah, I changed my mind" then that's that. People have a right to do that. Women (or men) aren't contractually bound to deliver sex at Point B because they had agreed to it at Point A. This isn't selling a car.

The much-publicized fact that Kane left a bite mark on the woman is also going to be of limited value to the prosecutor. I mean. Let's be real for a minute here. Raise your hand if you've never given, nor received, a bite mark from another human being during an intimate encounter. So it wouldn't be terribly difficult for Kane's (no doubt extremely expensive) attorneys to argue that such evidence was merely part of a sexual encounter that both parties participated in willingly.

Do I believe that? No. Does it look like he did commit rape? Seems more likely than not to me. But "Seems more likely than not" is not a useful concept in a criminal case (civil trials are another matter). There were no witnesses to the actual sex/assault. No videos and pictures, at least not that the public has been told about. She will tell a jury what happened and his lawyers will say "It happened but she agreed to all of it." And the odds that the jury will overlook that alternative explanation to drop the hammer on the rich NHL superstar and local hero are vanishingly small.

The justice system gets a lot of things wrong. Sometimes that's because it isn't working. In other cases it's because it works exactly as intended. With some crimes, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is an impossibly high bar.

IT'S OK, THEY DON'T MATTER

Posted in Quick Hits on August 25th, 2015 by Ed

I am a small and petty man, and that is why I am just about ready to drop to my knees, rediscover religion, and pray to an assortment of deities for the nomination of Donald Trump. Lindsey Graham – Lindsey fucking Graham! – is right: if Trump wins, "That's the end of the Republican Party." That is not hyperbole. If he is the nominee, the presidential race will turn into the kind of one-sided ass kicking that we haven't properly seen since 1984, 1972, and and the FDR years. In modern elections there are groups of states that Republicans and Democrats simply can't lose. Anyone running with the "D" after their name is going to win California, and any Republican who isn't literally frothing at the mouth will win the Deep South. Trump is so bad he could lose states Republicans never lose. States Republicans would practically have to try to lose. Hell, Texas will be in play.

Gallup released some startling numbers recently about Hispanics' views on the GOP clown car of candidates. Turns out Hispanics don't like Donald Trump. Hispanics really, really, really hate Donald Trump.

trump hisp

Translation: "We're pretty meh on most of these people, except for this guy. Fuck this guy." Not like it matters though. There aren't a lot of Hispanic voters in the U.S. anyway, right?

Bonus amusement comes from the fact that Ted Cruz appears to be the least popular of the non-Donald candidates, along with fellow Texan Rick Perry. Perry's stillborn campaign may be the first one to commit seppuku, if the whispers are to be believed. We'll, uh, miss him. He was really…present. For some of this.

Everyone pray with me on this one. I haven't wanted something to happen this much since I wanted someone to tackle James Harrison.

AND IN THE END

Posted in Rants on August 24th, 2015 by Ed

It can't be easy for anyone to hear a cancer diagnosis. It must be especially difficult to hear when you are 90 years old. Being 90 is a pretty lethal condition on its own; pairing it with one of the leading causes of death in the industrialized world must make the end feel very, very near. It's not an irrational feeling either. The end is getting near.

When I heard that 90 year old ex-president Jimmy Carter had signs that his cancer had spread to both his liver and his brain I was saddened. I like Jimmy Carter, and the news was as close to a straight death sentence that I could imagine for a man of his age. Which is why I was somewhat surprised to hear that he is choosing to undergo radiation treatments. Obviously he is the patient and it's his choice entirely; if he wants to pursue that course, he should. I'm curious, though, to know what endgame he foresees. Does he expect to "beat" cancer in his brain and liver? I've heard that radiation therapy doesn't make one feel terribly well, if I may engage in wild understatements. Does he hope that this will extend his life briefly, trading quality for quantity? Frankly he doesn't seem like the type of person so fearful of death that he would pursue that. Again, it's none of our business what he wants to do, but it's a good example of one of the hundreds of flaws with the system of healthcare in this country.

I am privileged to call some medical professionals friends, and they anecdotally confirm what repeated studies of American hospitals show: a great deal of the money and resources expended by our healthcare system are expended futilely. In some cases doctors and nurses know that it is futile; in others they are responding to patients' desire to exhaust treatment options when the potential benefits are minuscule and highly unlikely. Has any end-stage terminal cancer or cardiovascular patient ever benefited for more than a fleeting moment from being put on a mechanical ventilator? I suppose the medical literature could be scoured to find one.

As people so often do, I remember clearly being in the hospital when the only one of my grandparents I had any sort of relationship with died. According to what must have been hospital protocol, they prepared to use an injection of (adrenaline? something that re-starts hearts?) and a defibrillator on her. She was a massively overweight woman who had been confined to a hospital bed for months, slowly dying of congestive heart failure while hooked to various machines. The idea of trying to resuscitate her struck me, even at 15, as a ludicrous farce. My father asked, "Doctor, is my mother dead?" Yes. "Then what the fuck are you doing? She's dead." I mean, what was the best case scenario there? She lives another eight hours and then they do it again?

That is a question that seems to be asked infrequently in our medical culture. By all means, patients should have access to whatever treatment they and their doctors decide to pursue. And I know doctors are deeply frustrated by the insistence of patients (or families) to do things that are obviously futile. I envision every conversation with or about a terminal patient like Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber; the doctor says "The odds of recovery are one in a million," followed by, "So you're saying there's a chance!"

Nobody knows how they will react to being in such a jarring dilemma until it happens. It's easy to say "No way, I'd just pull the plug!" when you've never had to make that choice outside of hypotheticals. I also recognize that I'm not the best person to opine on this matter, given that I'm ready to call Dignitas during the average chest cold. And who knows, perhaps Jimmy Carter will experience a remarkable remission and go on to live many more years. I don't have a practical solution; I wish we could create some kind of system that would allow medical professionals to be as honest as possible (rather than erring on the side of avoiding a lawsuit) to patients who were capable of understanding the futility of spending gobs of money on the lightning strike odds that some treatment will buy them a few more days alive in the ICU.

PAR FOR THE (TERRIBLE) COURSE

Posted in Rants on August 23rd, 2015 by Ed

There's something about the interaction between Bernie Sanders campaign (and/or his mostly white supporters) and Black Lives Matter activists that hasn't been talked about but is awkward in an instructive way. Bear with me for a moment.

One of the primary criticisms leveled at Sanders' supporters is their reliance on the logic that while he might not be giving black activists much of what they want, there is no other candidate who comes as close to addressing these issues. In other words, Sanders is the best of what's available so black voters should support him even if he doesn't actually do much for them. He's a "friend" to that portion of the electorate.

I understand reflexively why black activists find this response patronizing and unsatisfactory. What I don't understand is how it differs fundamentally from what all of us – black, white, young, old, gluten intolerant – are told every time we suffer an election. Have you never been party to, either as the speaker or the recipient of wisdom, the "Well he's better than Bush/McCain/Romney/Beelzebub" conversation? I've seen it here every time in the past decade that I've written something critical of the Democratic Party or its candidates. Yes, they're milquetoasty and disappointing but you have to support them because what else are you gonna do? If you stay home the Republicans win and then we're really boned.

In that sense, the message Sanders and other Democrats have so relied upon over the past several decades is condescending and defeatist, but it isn't uniquely condescending and defeatist to black voters. It's a shit stew of which every voter with a more than casual interest in any issue that isn't pre-approved by the Moneyed Interests must chow down every couple years. The activists and Sanders campaign critics are correct to point out that the issues in question were being ignored. But unless you're in the NRA or fighting to increase the wealth of the oligarchy, everybody's issues get ignored. That's precisely why so many people think the system sucks and disengage from it. Lip service is standard operating procedure.

It is fair to say that since these issues are in a literal sense life and death issues for some people of color in this country that an extraordinary response should be forthcoming from Democratic candidates (Republicans can safely be presumed to make no response or an utterly terrible one). That is valid; I hope the leading Democratic candidates do take these issues seriously because that's what serious issues deserve. But it certainly isn't the first time, nor will it be the last, that candidates have half-assed an issue and fallen back on the "Well, who else are you gonna vote for, this is the best you'll do" argument. When those activists said "We're being ignored!" part of me thought, well, who isn't? They're correct to say that the system isn't responsive to their interests because the system isn't responsive to the vast majority of the electorate's interests. That's where the apathy and cynicism come from. Our candidates and officeholders can't do much effectively beyond carrying water for well funded interest groups. It is disappointing, but not shocking in the slightest, that they would do so little in response to the angry voices of black people who have the audacity to ask that the police stop killing them.

NPF: BURIED AT SEA

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 20th, 2015 by Ed

Mysteries don't have to be grand in scope in order to be compelling. Consider this story, true in every detail, as evidence.

On February 11, 1979 an ex-hippie named Scott Moorman, who had given up life in the mainland U.S. to live as a fisherman in Hawaii, boarded a boat christened the Sarah Jo with four of his friends. Their plan was simply to spend the day fishing as they often did. A few hours after they departed Hana, HI the day's perfect weather took a rapid turn for the worse. A near-hurricane passed through the island chain, causing a great deal of damage on land as well as to ocean vessels. The Sarah Jo did not return that evening or the next day. One of Moorman's companions was one Peter Hanchett, which is important because Hana resident John Hanchett – Peter's father – was the only person who realized that the five men were out on their comparatively tiny boat during the storm. Being free spirited Beach Bum types none of the men had thought to inform anyone of their itinerary or specific destination, if one even existed.

The elder Hanchett and a neighbor went out to sea but quickly threw in the towel on account of the weather. The next day Hanchett resumed the search with the help of a local marine biologist named John Naughton. The day after that the U.S. Coast Guard got involved, eventually searching over 73,000 square miles of open ocean. No trace of the Sarah Jo or its passengers was found. Eventually the men were presumed dead.

"Ed, this story isn't very interesting so far." You're not wrong. But.

In 1988 a marine biologist doing research in the Marshall Islands came upon the wreckage of a boat on a remarkably isolated atoll called Bokak. If Bokak is not the actual middle of nowhere, that point certainly must be visible from it. Bokak (Population: 0) is so remote that it is 450 miles from Majuro, the main atoll of the famously remote Marshalls. It is the remote corner of a remote country. It is also 2,200 miles from Hana, HI.

Analysis of the wreckage proved definitively that it was the Sarah Jo. No trace of Scott Moorman's four companions was found, but under a neatly stacked pile of stones not unlike a burial marker the researcher found an intact human jawbone. Dental records matched it to Scott Moorman. The researcher, by the way, was John Naughton. He had set out looking for Moorman the day after his disappearance and found him nine years later entirely by accident. Oh, and there was something buried with the skeletal remains:

"It was a sheaf of paper, and I’d say a book, except it was not bound. Probably three inches by three inches by maybe 3/4 of an inch thick. But between each one of these pieces of paper, there was a very small square piece of tin foil material. We have not been able to determine who placed that there or, what purpose it serves."

Huh.

It is hardly surprising that Moorman and his friends died after becoming lost at sea. It is not hard to imagine a scenario in which the boat broke apart and the other four men disappeared into the waves. But who buried Scott Moorman – on a deserted atoll hundreds of miles from…anything, really – and why? Why would anyone go through the effort to do that, and in the middle of nowhere at that? What explains the seemingly random but intricate papers buried with him? The most likely scenario in my mind is that someone buried him because they feared that by informing the Coast Guard they would somehow become suspects in Moorman's death. This is patently silly, though, as the fact that Moorman and the others died from exposure after drifting out to sea seems obvious.

It's not exactly the gunman on the grassy knoll or the disappearance of Lord Lucan, but it would be interesting to know who performed this rather strange ritual with Moorman's remains, why they did it, and why they chose such an odd location. It would have made approximately as much sense if his body had been discovered, partially buried, on the Moon.

WE JUST WORK TOGETHER

Posted in Rants on August 19th, 2015 by Ed

As Caitlyn Jenner hysteria fades into the background, I have to ask once more why it matters so much to so many adult human beings what another adult human being wants to be called. If I know you as Steve the Human Resources Guy and you ask me one day to start calling you Chip, or Donald, or Marilyn, or Xerxes, or Puff the Magic Dragon, then we have a very simple social transaction to complete. Recognizing that I've called you "Steve" for a while – possibly a very long time – you will agree to cut me a tiny bit of slack if I forget and call you "Steve" in the next few weeks. In return, I'll call you whatever you want to be called. The odds are pretty good if you're in HR that I haven't been calling you "Steve" much anyway.

This is a simple issue because you and I are not life partners or family members or passionate lovers or close friends or even casual friends. We just work together. That's it. You don't give me input on my life decisions and I don't give you input on yours, absent of course one of us asking for it. We're people who have been brought together by coincidence to share a workplace. We will pass each other in the hall, exchange perfunctory greetings, and perhaps have some small talk. That is the extent of our interactions. Accordingly it doesn't much matter to me whether I say "Hi Steve" or "Hi Donna" as I shuffle past you toward the bathroom for my Post-Chipotle Constitutional. Some people you know will find your choice weird. Some won't. Some people will be supportive. Some won't. That's life and none of it matters in the slightest because we just work together.

My university just had its first transgender faculty member make the change (or whatever you'd call it) in the past few months and there has been no shortage of commentary from the workforce here. Most of it has been supportive. Supportive or otherwise, though, I can't figure out why anyone has an opinion on it at all. Ditto Jenner. The decisions of people like celebrities or co-workers are about as relevant to your life as the weather on Venus. It matters as much to me whether Former Olympian Bruce Jenner decides to don a dress and be Caitlyn as it does if instead he decided to remain Bruce and dye his hair purple. You want to be a woman now? Cool. Knock yourself out. You and I are never going to meet, so who gives a shit what I think? Why would I waste time thinking anything at all?

I don't mean to come off as unsupportive. My point is merely that unless the decision affects me directly somehow – for example, if I was married to a woman and she decided she was going to become a man I'd be justified in having an opinion on that, despite not having any control over what happened – I don't even want to waste my time formulating opinions about it. It accomplishes nothing. It's just fodder for people to sit around and gossip and say "Oh did you hear about ____? What do you think?" If that conversation was about someone's choice of hairstyle we would all recognize it as petty and unproductive. Yet when the change is something "bigger" and less familiar to us, suddenly everyone is forthcoming with their two cents. Why? If we're all going to sit around and pontificate on things we find Weird about our professional colleagues I hope the guy with the "More Guns = Less Crime!" bumper sticker and the secretary who thinks angels are real get a comfortable seat because this is going to take a while.

SAFETY SCHOOL

Posted in Rants on August 18th, 2015 by Ed

Back in high school there was a boy you figured you would end up going to the prom with. He didn't really excite you, and in fact there were some pretty obvious flaws in his makeup. Despite that, you really wanted to go to the prom and he was a good, safe bet. You could go with him and be guaranteed of having a decent time. It wouldn't be great, but he wouldn't show up in a Pantera t-shirt or take you to McDonald's or get loaded and vomit on your nice dress. He wasn't the richest or best looking or most popular or most interesting guy available but you knew what you were getting. So of course your dominant strategy, not being in a committed relationship, was to make a vague promise short of agreeing to go with him while you waited for someone better to ask you out. Don't feel bad. You were young and immature. It's what high school kids do.

This pretty much sums up Hillary Clinton and the Democratic voter.

Maybe it's just a means of generating content during a lull in the pre-election hullabaloo, but over the weekend a burst of "What if Joe Biden runs? Joe Biden should run, shouldn't he?" pieces flooded the internet. Look. I like Joe Biden. Joe Biden has had a long political career of which he can and should be proud. Joe Biden would be a terrible presidential candidate. His lack of a brain-mouth filter would be like pouring gas on the right wing noise machine's fire. Think of the field day they would have quoting him out of context and exploiting his endless "gaffes." The idea of a Joe Biden candidacy being greeted with enthusiasm or even interest is the surest sign that the Democratic electorate (or possibly just the media, it's hard to tell the difference with Trend Pieces) is absolutely, positively going to kick the tires on every candidate in the country before settling for Hillary Clinton.

There is a lot to like about Clinton as a candidate. She could probably destroy any of the jackasses running for the Republican nomination with little drama. She'd be a more tolerable president than any of them, certainly, although likely an uninspiring one. She has experience. She's not stupid. She would appoint people to positions of power who believe in something other than wrecking the public sector to make privatization look more appealing to lowbrow puds. If she remained in office for two terms she might even get the chance to appoint Scalia's replacement, God willing. So the world is not going to be a dark and depressing place if the Democratic Party nominates Hillary and she wins.

There is also a lot not to like. Everything about her 2008 campaign, especially the race baiting. The Ahab-like lust for the Oval Office and the fact that her reason for running for president appears to be that she really, really f-ing wants to be president. The classic New Democrat vacillating – the refusal to take a stand on anything until public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of it. The foreign policy hawkishness stemming from the misguided belief that conservatives will respect Democrats if they too show a willingness to bomb the hell out of some brown people. The constant appeals to moderation and bipartisanship, code words for letting Republicans do whatever they want even if they're not in power. Like Biden and Sanders, she's very old and, according to some accounts, not in the finest health. She is, to say the least, not without her unpleasant aspects.

That's why the Party is likely to exhaust every conceivable option before turning to her, much as the Republicans did in 2012 before finally giving up and telling Mitt Romney, "Alright, fine. You can do it." That any aspect of her candidacy can be compared to Mitt Romney's should be enough to explain why someone who appears so well situated to win is greeted with so little enthusiasm.

THE SHARING ECONOMY

Posted in Quick Hits on August 12th, 2015 by Ed

Academics are used to watching this profession change for the worse, which is to say we are watching it keep up with the rest of the job market in the New Economy. Full-time work becomes part-time work, benefits are replaced with pep talks, and what was once a good career becomes piecemeal work at a subsistence wage. Most of us have done or will do the illustrious sounding "visiting assistant professor" gig, which in reality means a nine-month contract with more teaching and 1/4 the salary of a "real" professor at the same institution.

Hold onto your hats Doctors and Doctresses…things are about to get even better. Introducing a new kind of VAP – the "volunteer assistant professor." Yes, that's right. You now have the opportunity to do the full-time job of a professor for free at Southern Virginia University. You won't get paid any, you know, money, but don't say no until you've taken a look at what this position has to offer!

"In exchange for their service, the university provides volunteers with complimentary apartment-style housing and five meals a week." So, a dorm room and about 1/5 of your weekly nutritional needs. That's pretty cool.

"In addition, volunteers are welcome to participate in the full life of the university attending concerts, recitals, plays, athletic competitions, and student life events. They are also welcome to use the library and recreational facilities." Oh you're welcome to use the library? In exchange for working full time for no money? That's nice of them. Is the right to walk around the campus also included? Or does that come with Volunteer Tenure?

"At least once a month volunteers gather for a Family Home Evening or pot-luck dinner." Volunteers are also welcome at nightly potlucks at the downtown Chesapeake men's shelter.

Note how they had to get the Provost to write the ad, no doubt because they couldn't find anyone in an academic department sufficiently devoid of dignity and shame to put their name on a request of this kind.

The future is here, and it blows.

Tags: