NPF: HOW TO CAST YOUR OWN SEASON OF PROJECT RUNWAY

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 30th, 2010 by Ed

Remember last week when I said I watched as much Project Runway as hockey? Yeah, it's time to throw down.

Like most viewers, I watch PR more out of habit and obligation than genuine interest at this point. It hasn't actually been all that interesting since Season 4. When Johnny Neck Tats won Season 3, it officially started the show on its gradual decline although it's still moderately entertaining. My complaints are two, and I imagine they are fairly common. First, the "judging" on the show is little more than a way for the producers to get rid of the cast members who aren't focus-grouping well enough. Actual talent seems to be about 4th on the list of priorities. I know, I know, it's TV. But the competition seems to be less about fashion and more about who can make the "edgiest" audition video, who has the most memorably idiotic haircut, and who has the potential to come up with the most irritating catchphrases. Second, the cast is essentially the same every year. Only the names change. There is a formula and the network(s) stick to it. It's like a Mad Lib. With hipsters.

It's so easy, any viewer can do it. Who needs Lifetime (and its desperate, futile efforts to get PR viewers to watch anything else on Lifetime) when you can plug your own characters into the various roles, find someone who can do a good Tim Gunn impression (I can, by the way), and make your own season right at home. I'll prove it. To make your own season, you'll need:

1. THE REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEALLY GAY GUY
Yes, something like 90% of the male contestants are gay. But each season there must be at least one gay guy who embodies every stereotype – at quadruple strength – that comes to mind when I say "gay fashion designer." Most of the cast are just regular dudes, but the Alpha Gay Dude goes the extra mile. Viewers, no matter how tactful, look at this guy and wonder "Holy balls, where did they find someone that gay?" The answer is that he was manufactured in a laboratory, assembled from parts taken from guys who were not quite as gay. I'm not sure if it's appropriate for us straights to use the term "flaming", but…what I'm saying is, flaming. Gay like a french horn solo in a Mardi Gras parade.


Seriously.

Examples: Austin Scarlett (Season 1), Jerell (Season 5), Kayne (Season 3)

2. THE COMEDIAN
This designer has average talent at best but gets strung along all season – usually one of the last people to get cut before Bryant Park – because he is funny. He makes good B-roll, great soundbites, and keeps the other cast members from murdering each other. The audience loves them, as their humor is not the polarizing type. Flat-out funny.


Where's Andre?

Examples: Santino (Season 2), Chris March (Season 4), Anthony (Season 7)

3. THE CLINICALLY INSANE ONE
Each cast needs one member who is absolutely fucking bonkers. Like "I drink your milkshake" crazy. The ideal candidate talks often about auras and fairies and assorted other pieces of New Age horseshit while engaging in bizarre behaviors that leave the other cast members genuinely fearful. Or it could just be weird, like incomprehensible Elisa who liked to spit on things.


My chi is covered in spit.

Examples: Elisa (Season 4), Stella (Season 5), Malvin (Season 6)

4. THE ONE STRAIGHT GUY
100% guaranteed to bring up the fact that he is straight early, often in the introductory episode, and very often thereafter. They often look like rejected extras from Jersey Shore.


DUDE, KNOW WHAT I LOVE? TITTIES!

Examples: Jeffrey (Season 3), Kevin (Season 4), Johnny Sakalis (Season 6)

5. HOT GIRL
The producers understand that many a boyfriend/husband/etc. are forced to watch this show against their will. So there is one extra-hot female contestant in an attempt to placate them. Their design talents are often considerable, enabling the producers to keep them around to the bitter end. They are always nice, too, so that male viewers can think they are the ideal girlfriend. The kind who would never make them watch PR.


"Althea, Nina wants you in a tighter shirt."

Examples: Alison (Season 3), Emily Brandle (Season 5), Althea (Season 6)

6. MIDDLE AGED WOMAN
Bravo knows its audience, but Lifetime reeeeeeally knows its audience. There has to be at least one contestant upon whom the middle-aged female viewers can project themselves. These contestants range from highly talented (Laura, Season 3) to "Why is she there?" bad (Marla, Season 2; also, hot), although we all know the answer to that.


My kids don't call me either. Let's go out for appletinis.

Examples: Laura Bennett (Season 3), Marla (Season 2), Peach (Season 8)

7. THE ASSHOLE
Every season of every reality show ever made has the one asshole everyone wants to choke. The other contestants (and most viewers) spend a lot of time hoping he or she will trip and be impaled on a pair of scissors or Nina Garcia's jagged, angular face. The assholes are often very good and may even end up winning, making them increasingly unbearable until a friend or family member has them euthanized.


God, you are so beneath me.

Examples: Irina (Season 6), Kenley (Season 5), Wendy Pepper (Season 1)

8. THE CARTOON CHARACTER
These are the pure self-promoters, trying as hard as possible to be "quirky" and constantly throwing out ridiculous catchphrases. Like a sitcom character, they fight for more camera time for reasons that have nothing to do with talent. Usually very young and immature. They often go by one name (a la Brazilian soccer players) or some ridiculous moniker befitting their gimmicky appearance.


I refer to myself in 3rd person. Seriously.

Examples: Christian (Season 4), "Suede" (Season 5), "Epperson" (Season 6)

Fill out the rest of the cast with people who are quiet, bland, unremarkable, and pretty good at making clothes. Et voila. You're now a producer.

THE POWERS OF DEDUCTION

Posted in Rants on July 29th, 2010 by Ed

Deep underneath 1 Murdoch Place, the council of stroke victims who conduct quantitative analysis for Fox News celebrated yesterday when they discovered a way to rationalize how SB 1070 is actually helping Arizona tourism. Oh, it doesn't make any sense, but it's more than good enough for the parade of the lame, the halt, and the ugly who make up the network's viewers.

In "Arizona Hotels Thriving Despite Boycotts Over Immigration Law," Fox peddles its usual special brand of decontextualized statistics and disastrously poor logic. They want their readers to be unduly impressed with the statistic that, "hotel occupancy was up 5.7 percent in May and up 8.3 percent in June compared with the same time a year ago. That sounds great! Almost 10%! Take that, you stupid Messicuns! It seems impressive until you realize that last year was the worst year for tourism in Arizona since the 1970s. In the depths of the recession, no one traveled last summer. That seems logical enough. This year things are still lousy but there is a little bit of a rebound. Makes sense too. 8%. Good for you, Arizona tourism industry.

Let's say a baseball player reliably hits about 35 home runs every season for 15 years. The next year, being old and broken down, he hits only 12. He insists on playing one more season and manages to hit 20. Would you look at that and say:

A) "His home run total increased 40%!!! He's immune to the effects of age!"
B) "That season where he hit 12 was so lousy he couldn't help but do better this year, albeit still considerably below his career average."

If you chose A, congratulations! You are a Fox News SuperViewer. Go back to reading Glenn Beck's Common Sense and buying the criminally overpriced gold he's paid to tell you to buy. If you chose B, stick around for the next part. Congratulations on figuring out that a small rebound from a historically low number means exactly nothing.

With some Arizona tourism professionals offering anecdotal evidence that the Governor's scare tactics are convincing tourists that the state is Beyond Thunderdome, it is plausible that the hotel business would be up much more than 8% without the law, the boycotts, and the posturing of ignorant elected officials. (By the way, is there a more selfish politician in America than Jan Brewer? Her state survives on tourism and she's on TV telling A) Latinos to fuck themselves, which is odd because I think Latinos go on vacations and B) everyone else that "headless corpses" are turning up in the state courtesy of the armies of violent drug mules invading the state? Who cares, right, as long as Jan scares enough white retirees into re-electing her!)

The second problem, one that would be apparent to anyone who…I don't know, thinks about stuff, is that the tourism industry runs in long cycles. The law wouldn't be expected to result in canceled conventions this year because that's simply not how the convention industry works. My professional association, the American Political Science Association, schedules its massive 10,000 attendee conferences six years in advance. APSA 2016 is already confirmed for Philadelphia. The blow to Arizona's convention and tourism industry will come when the convention business it is losing today comes to pass. How many groups and trade associations are making plans right now and concluding that Arizona just isn't worth the headache? No one can answer that question, of course, but those of us outside the Fox News audience are at least sentient enough to ask it. Kinda puts that 8% increase and the relationship between SB 1070 and tourism in a new light, though.

WIKILEAKS, PART II: L'ETAT C'EST MOI

Posted in Rants on July 28th, 2010 by Ed

The titular quote is attributed to Louis XIV, although it is probably apocryphal. "I am the state." Regardless of who first said it, it's the shortest complete description of how a dictatorship works. Anything that undermines the dictator – revealing, for example, that he is incompetent or a philanderer or wets the bed or is barely literate – must be brutally suppressed. The interests of the individual and of the state are the same because there is no difference between the two.

When the entire apparatus of the state is geared toward exalting one person, there's no doubt about who is in control. While we can't say this about one individual in the United States, it is fair to ask if we treat our military this way. Certain segments of our population – I'll let you guess their ideological affiliation – appear to believe that a state secret is defined as anything that makes the military look stupid. Information revealing that they are serially full of shit must be classified as a matter of national security.

This appears to be the crux of the argument from those currently soiling themselves over the release of the Wikileaks information. Now, there is a legitimate argument to be made about revelations that limit the ability to wage war. But does revealing that the Pentagon is aggressively lying about the reliability of its allies and civilian casualties do that? Pakistan knows, and the DoD knows, that we can't trust it any farther than we can throw it. And fudging the civilian casualty numbers is a pure public relations move. Chances are excellent that the people of Afghanistan are already well aware of the excessive civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

The other casualty here is the credibility of American foreign policy more broadly, seeing as how we are giving Pakistan billions of dollars that it is funneling to the Taliban and our enemies. There's no reason to keep that information secret except to continue that policy – which is, to put it mildly, idiotic. Is a strategic alliance with Pakistan so valuable that the military and civilian leadership are willing to brush the whole let's-fund-the-Taliban thing under the rug to maintain it?

The answer might be much simpler: an updated version of the "Bomber Gap" myth from the 1950s. The military, like any bureaucracy, is self-interested and more than willing to perpetuate false or misleading information if doing so is to their benefit. In the Cold War this meant suppressing what we really knew about the Soviet military – namely that it was nowhere near as formidable as the DoD public statements claimed – to boost defense spending. There is a lot less intrigue today, with the military simply afraid that the public will lose patience with the war if exposed to the reality of how poorly it's going. That's it. There are no national secrets being betrayed here. The information merely kicks the legs out from under the carefully orchestrated effort to put a positive face on a military operation that is going nowhere and accomplishing nothing.

It is in our national interest to conduct successful military operations, not to make it look like we are conducting successful military operations. Until someone can show that the information release makes the former more difficult, I'm unimpressed with any and all appeals to the national interest.

WIKILEAKS, PART I: WHERE'S THE SHAH WHEN YOU NEED HIM?

Posted in Rants on July 27th, 2010 by Ed

Rather than constructing the longest post in ginandtacos history to cover both the content and the controversy of the Wikileaks release of Afghan War documents, I'm going to split this up into two days.

Despite the sensation, we have not learned much from the much-publicized release via Wikileaks of a treasure trove of DoD documents on Operation Enduring Freedom. The war isn't going particularly well (duh) and U.S. military operations are killing a lot more civilians than the press releases indicate (shocking). What is surprising is the extent to which the DoD is well aware of the prominent role of the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) in supporting and even carrying out Taliban attacks. Since India exposed the role of the ISI in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks it has been clear to even the most casual observer that the goals of the U.S. and Pakistan are not aligned and that Pakistan should be considered a dubious ally at best, an enemy hiding in plain sight at worst.

In the Cold War era the U.S. had a bountiful roster of right-wing strongmen who ruled their nations with an iron fist, and such allies were always available to help the U.S. further its anti-communist foreign policy goals. Does America now have so few useful allies in the region that Pakistan – a corrupt, borderline-failed state with security and military agencies that support Islamic terrorist groups – is our best choice for an ally? Its strategic position bordering Afghanistan makes it a desirable ally, but how much bad behavior should one overlook to further the fantasy that we'll someday surround Afghanistan with stable, democratic neighbors?

The fundamental issue underlying the behavior of the ISI and the Pakistani military is the lack of effective control over all aspect of the state apparatus by the central government. Musharaff and his successor Asif Ali Zardari say the right things and, hell, might even mean them. But it is clear that whatever their intentions they lack meaningful control over the military and intelligence functions of the state. The left hand isn't sure what the right hand is doing. So Lesson One is that you can't negotiate foreign policy with a country that can't control rogue portions of its military infrastructure. Oh, and did we mention that it's a nuclear power? Of all the convoluted fantasies on the right about how al-Qaeda was going to build or steal nuclear weapons, these documents suggest that the most plausible scenario for a terrorist armed with a nuke is the ISI handing him one.

Aside from the role of Pakistan the only thing we're learning from these documents is that Enduring Freedom is going poorly. Really poorly. Like, even more poorly than we already assumed. Afghanistan was a curious issue in the wake of 9/11. The rationale for invading Afghanistan was far superior to that of Iraq later in 2003, yet it would not be possible to pick a country in which the odds of success – defining our goal as establishing a stable democratic state – would be lower. As the USSR learned in its ill conceived and disastrous Afghanistan misadventure from 1979 to 1989, Afghanistan is one of those countries that isn't really a country. On western (and Soviet) maps, yes, it is a country. But the effective power of the national government doesn't extend much beyond the borders of the capital city. This is extremely common in Third World countries. And make no mistake, this is a Third World country.

Despite the complete lack of any valid reason supported by evidence to invade Iraq, at least Iraq offered some sliver of hope for long-term success. It was a Second World country, having a particularly shitty government but a government nonetheless. A government that had effective authority over all (or nearly all) of the land within its borders. A government with infrastructure – utilities, schools, roads, etc. – and public resignation to its authority. Everyone within and outside of Iraq knew who was in charge. This is not true in Afghanistan and it never has been. It is a desolate, impoverished amalgam of tribal groups and regions cobbled together by European colonialist cartography. Outside of Kabul, and particularly in Balochistan, Sindh, and the "Federally Administered Tribal Territory", the nominal government has almost no authority. In some tribal areas it has none at all, and whatever organized government exists is local, regional, or tribal.

The rationale for deposing the Taliban was defensible, but the expectation that it could be replaced with a stable, effective central government was and is not. The country can't be pacified because it was never a country, let alone a pacified one, to begin with. And the Wikileaks documents draw in high relief the futility of playing Terrorist Whack-a-Mole in the vast, remote, and lawless Afghan countryside. The U.S. wants, and has been used to finding in the past, a strongman who can assert authority over Afghanistan and do so in a way that suits American interests. But there is no Shah, no Pinochet, and no Trujillo on the horizon. The U.S. will remain an unwanted presence among the population and the country will remain a nation in name only.

In short, these documents only reinforce what we already knew or deeply suspected. Pakistan sounds like an ally and acts like an enemy and OEF is a war the U.S. cannot possibly win if it defines winning as establishing an Afghan government friendly to American interests and hostile to Islamic terrorism. We'll see a National Hockey League team in Kabul before we see a government that can impose order and is willing to take marching orders from Washington. As Lincoln once quipped about South Carolina, it appears that Afghanistan is too weak to be considered a nation but too large to commit to an insane asylum.

THE JOB DESCRIPTION

Posted in Rants on July 26th, 2010 by Ed

A few years ago there was a brief spike of interest in "conscience clauses" for pharmacists whose deep, meaningful belief in the scientific opinions of Jerry Falwell led them to conclude that birth control pills are a form of abortion. They argued that they should not be legally required to help a customer perform an abortion, and thus they could refuse to fill prescriptions for oral contraception. Several states adopted relatively meaningless Conscience Clause laws for healthcare providers, meaningless in that A) the accommodations an employer must make for an employee's religious beliefs are limited to a reasonable effort and B) the employee must comply with company policy about objections based on conscience – for example, Wal-Mart and Target require pharmacists to refer the customer to a co-worker who will fill the prescription. The issue rapidly disappeared.

The underlying and more serious problem, however, is that the idea of refusing to perform the most basic – and from the perspective of the public, only – duty of one's job based on moral qualms is an unworkable model. Pharmacy is a profession with a creed and a set of principles, the most basic being that patients are autonomous (i.e., the pharmacist will respect the informed wishes of the patient) and the doctor-patient relationship is inviolable. See, people don't go to the pharmacy to get moral advice or a lecture or a second opinion on medical decisions. We go to get our goddamn prescriptions filled, a job, in an age of pre-filled and factory sealed bottles of pills, that could reasonably be done by a vending machine. If you're not prepared to fill prescriptions, maybe pharmacy ain't for you. I'm not prepared to kill animals all day, so I don't apply for many slaughterhouse jobs. And there's a good chance that if I took one and refused to kill animals they would fire me. For cause. This idea that we will structure the world to accommodate the personal objections of individuals that take jobs with legal responsibilities and professional codes of conduct is as dangerous as it is stupid.

Let's play the slippery slope game for a second. What if my religion is Christian Identity and I don't want to teach any Jews or minorities? If we apply the pharmacy example, the University would have to offer all students fitting that description a separate class and pay me to teach only to Aryan students. Of course in reality they would simply fire me, pointing out that I took the job understanding that it requires me to treat all students equally and carry out all duties under my job description. No one would coddle me. But let's say I was something tamer than a neo-Nazi Christian fringe believer. Let's say I don't believe in evolution. If I taught biology, could I just skip any mention of evolution? No, I'd be asked to do what the job requires: to present the scientific consensus on evolution. That's what the students are paying for.

This brings me, albeit very indirectly, to the case of a Georgia student seeking an MA in Counseling who refuses to accept the scientific consensus in her field as part of her job requirement. Jennifer Keaton is suing Augusta State University because she claims the school is attempting to "force (her) to change (her) beliefs" that homosexuality is a deviant condition that should be cured. ASU is, well, a terrible school (US News labels it "4th Tier"). It is about the 8th best school in Georgia, and Georgia isn't exactly California when it comes to the university system. So with all due respect to their students, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Ms. Keaton isn't exactly the cream of the academic crop. She may even be a complete idiot, which is ad hominem on my part but also explanatory of the basic problem with her position.

You can believe whatever you want to believe, dear. You can believe that the world is ruled by alien lizard people, the moon landing was a hoax, or that 9/11 was an inside job. You can believe that down is up. It really doesn't matter. What the profession you seek to enter demands, however, is that you do your job as legal and professional rules dictate. No one gives a shit if you think Teh Gays need to be cured. A psychologist's job is not to impose personal beliefs on a client/patient. There is no scientific evidence for the beliefs in question – being gay is a choice, gays are sick, etc. – and thus you are entitled to believe them but forbidden to use your position of influence to impose them on people who come to you for treatment. A patient seeing a psychologist expects to be treated according to an understanding of recognized medical disorders, not according to what some name they got out of the Yellow Pages thinks. If you cannot understand the problem inherent in letting psychologists ignore the DSM and substitute their personal beliefs at their own discretion, I think I might be able to explain why you are on the verge of getting kicked out of a 4th-rate school.

The University should make it clear that Keaton will receive her degree when she understands the job description of the field she is attempting to enter. I won't hold my breath. There are some reasonable solutions here – seek a degree from Bob Jones University or someplace that will reinforce her worldview and/or get a job at a private school, preferably run by fundamentalists, that will accept her conception of the job as a pulpit for preaching one's own beliefs. What won't fly is to expect ASU and the profession as a whole to let each member write his or her own set of rules, standards, and job descriptions.

NPF: ALL-TIME WORST LOGOS, HOCKEY EDITION

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 23rd, 2010 by Ed

I watch a lot of hockey and almost as much Project Runway. There is something to be said for style, for being on the cutting edge, and for pushing the boundaries. On the other hand, style has to be appropriate to its intended context, and in the testosterone-fueled world of contact sports that means design choices should adhere to some loose guidelines. Simple, classic, easily identifiable, appealing, and preferably a little bit tough. There is a reason there is no hockey team named the Silly Bunnies. It's all "Rangers" and "Flyers" for a reason. One should…you know…look like a group of professional athletes to be taken seriously. Even if, as is the case with the Rangers, you aren't.

Assuming that most of you don't care about hockey, let me assure you that you can still enjoy this post as long as you enjoy one of the five pillars of the Ginandtacos experience: posting pictures of things and proceeding to make fun of them a lot. So, in no particular order, here is Epic Fail: the Logo Edition.

1. 1996-1998 New York Islanders

Are you intimidated by the Gorton's fish sticks logo?

If so, you will shit your pants at the thought of playing the late '90s Islanders. You will find their logo positively terrifying. Ahoy, matey! Thar she blows. And by "she" I mean the New York Islanders.

2. New Haven Beast

The minor leagues are a great place to find both the best and worst of logo design. Can you guess which one this is?

This looks like they had a contest to let fans design the logo, but with some important caveats. The contest was open only to children aged 6 to 10 with profound emotional disabilities. And the prize money was only $4, so even most of the disturbed kids didn't bother entering a drawing.

3. Kelowna Rockets

Not pictured: A FUCKING ROCKET. This is like a t-shirt bearing the image of the British flag with "SPAIN" written underneath it.

4. Louisville River Frogs

There is so much wrong with this.

Start with the frog squatting as though it is trying to use a particularly filthy gas station toilet without making contact with the seat (I call this "Hover Modetm"). Then add Comic Tard font. Then have the anthropomorphic frog tonguing the puck, which, if not a 2-minute minor penalty, is at least frowned upon for sanitary reasons. This all overlooks the more obvious question of why anyone would name a hockey team the "River Frogs." Don't frogs live in ponds?

5. California Golden Seals

The NHL's first attempt at planting a flag in California was the California/Oakland Golden Seals (also the California Seals for a while) produced an artistic palette that practically shouted "It is 1973 and I do tambourines full of coke every night." The regrettable color scheme (check out the full uni – holy shit!), the Art Deco seal, and the inescapable fact that the seal is nature's comedian doom this logo from the outset. Fortunately the idea of having a shapeless blob for a logo died here…

6. Buffalo Sabres, current

Goddammit. Were you not listening, Buffalo? This is popularly known as the "Buffaslug", a horned invertebrate native to upstate New York. They went from one of the most bad-assed (if overly literal) logos in sports to this monstrosity, the love child of a flaccid hot dog and the American bison. For shame.

7. New York Raiders (WHA)

Ahem.

First of all, the team appears to have gotten a stock logo, perhaps from clip art, that has absolutely nothing to do with the team name. Second, the logo appears to have been copied from a competitive men's figure skating team. The Raiders were horrible, but at least they looked faaaaaaaaaaaaabulous.

8. Anaheim Mighty Ducks, "Wild Wing."

Can you believe professional athletes – adults, not children – walked out of a locker room with this on their chests? On purple and teal uniforms, no less? The indignity of playing for a team named after a Disney kids' movie wasn't soul-crushing enough, I suppose, so the owners (shockingly, Disney) piled it on. Unanswered, of course, is the question of how Wild Wing was able to breathe under the ice.

9. Boston Bruins alternate/historic logo

Hey look everyone! It's Gentle Ben!

Look at the look on that bear's face. He looks bemused. Puzzled. Perhaps interested in having a tasty treat from a picnic basket. Apparently back in the day when this logo was devised they figured any ol' bear would do. "The team is called the Bruins. Just draw a bear and let's go to a vaudeville show!" Most people would still be afraid if confronted by this bear, but it looks far more likely to lick you than to tear you limb from limb. These jerseys make me want to scratch Poopsie the Bear (or whatever the hell his name is) behind the ear and ask him if he is a good boy.

SIN OF PRIDE

Posted in Uncategorized on July 22nd, 2010 by Ed

It was foolish of me to think I could post something coherent on the night of the bachelor party of one of my best friends.

COMING SOON TO A PANT NEAR YOU

Posted in Rants on July 21st, 2010 by Ed

(Caveat: I am in a wedding this week, one that requires interstate travel. First of all, congratulations to commenter Scott – who would have thought that purchasing a Chechen mail order bride would work out this well? Second, I don't anticipate any interruption in posting but I might be a little…curt.)

Oh boy. Call your stockbroker and see if you can go short on pants, because there is about to be a whole new torrent of right wing pant-soiling and race-driven hysteria.

The DOJ is prosecuting post-Katrina vigilante shootings, apparently believing the craaaaazy idea that heavily armed white southerners with itchy trigger fingers operating on no sleep in a lawless environment might just start plugging every black guy they saw, with or without cause. I mean, that would never happen, would it?

Spike Lee's excellent When the Levees Broke films surprisingly skirted this issue, although Douglas Brinkley's even more excellent book The Great Deluge discussed it in some depth: many survivors told of experiences with vigilante/survivalist types who were really excited to shoot someone. Like, "Finally law and order have collapsed. I've always wanted to shoot a black guy!" excited. That attitude, combined with the degradation of judgment that accompanies a few hungry and sleepless days in a disaster zone, no doubt produced a number of shootings of…dubious legality.

As disturbing as citizen-on-citizen violence is – whether it's one person looting or another person shooting everyone he thinks is about to loot him – the mindset bothers me even more. We are all justifiably disgusted when someone looks at a natural disaster as an opportunity to burglarize a liquor store. We didn't hear nearly as much indignation at the number of Louisiana and Mississippi residents who looked at the same disaster as the long-awaited chance to enact their Mad Max fantasies. The media vent tons of hot air about thieves stealing Plasma TVs and none whatsoever over home- or business owners who think it gives them carte blanche to use their hoarded weapons however they please. Especially when what they please is to plug "anyone darker than a paper bag" to quote one of the charming indicted Louisianans.

IN SOVIET RUSSIA, SCANDAL FABRICATES YOU

Posted in Rants on July 20th, 2010 by Ed

I once spent four days at a conference in Branson, Missouri. It is far from the worst place on Earth – being safe and having indoor plumbing puts it ahead of a lot of the globe – but it most definitely earns its status as a punchline. It looks like a giant dragon that craps chain restaurants rampaged through the town, narrowly missing the countless ex-celebrity entertainers whose careers have gone to Missouri to die. Among the latter, famously, is 1980s comic sensation Yakov Smirnoff. He doesn't simply have regular gigs there. He has his own theater.

Yakov, for those who don't remember him, made a career out of a single running gag: he was That Soviet Comedian. Nearly every joke followed the now-infamous pattern of "In America you have _____, but in Soviet Russia we had ______!" The only deviation was for the purpose of reinforcing American stereotypes about the USSR, i.e. "First time I went to Disneyland I saw Space Mountain. Big building with no windows, everyone inside screaming. I said 'Hey, we have one of those in Moscow!'" Moderately amusing, until you hear the next 50 jokes and realize that they're identical. But I digress.

Obviously he camps out in Branson because kids who are 20 and under today were born after 1990 and thus the Soviet Union means about as much to them as the Holy Roman Empire. They can't tell you what "communism" is aside from its status as the Bad Guys in action or war movies. Stalin, Brezhnev, perestroika, SALT, the Domino Theory…these terms mean nothing to them. Since Smirnoff's comedy depends entirely on stuff like this, his career can only survive if he finds audiences that remember it. Enter Branson, where the average age of vacationers is in the high sixties. All of them are old enough to remember the Cold War, and some of them are senile enough to think it's still going on.

Fox News has been taking notes of Yakov's success and has adopted its own Branson Strategy with its latest balls-out effort to fabricate a scandal: the "New Black Panthers" voter intimidation "story." I mean, how the hell old do one's viewers have to be before the Black Panthers are a relevant cultural reference? Even the USSR was relevant until 1991. The Black Panthers haven't fueled the paranoid fears of white people since the early 70s at best. When even the commenters at well-known conservative websites don't buy this pathetic effort to make something where there is nothing – OMG, two black guys were standing outside a polling place! Why, no, we can't produce a voter who claims to have been "intimidated" out of voting by said Colored Men! – you know the goal isn't to convince viewers on the merits of the case. It's an unsophisticated attempt to remind viewers for whom that group is relevant, i.e. your grandparents and anyone else over 70, that intimidating, heavily armed, and hostile black people are coming to take away Our Way of Life.

Even by Fox's standards, this "story" is ridiculous. Apparently they feel that enough old white people are watching to make an appeal to 1968 nostalgia worthwhile. I can't wait to see what throwback they dredge up next to connect with their demographic. Baader-Meinhoff? The Symbionese Liberation Army?** Sacco and Vanzetti? The Sans-Culottes? Among its many other assets as a media outlet, it appears that News Corp is making a much appreciated effort take viewers on a trip down memory lane in its comical attempt to engineer public opinion.

**(Keep an eye out for my SLA musical, "From Tania to Cinque", which should be in theaters near you soon)

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REWARD AND PUNISHMENT

Posted in Rants on July 19th, 2010 by Ed

A former student with whom I have kept in contact asked me a while ago what the post-college years – the twenties, in essence – are like. I thought about this a lot when I hit 30, and it boils down to this. First, everyone you know moves away. Then everyone you know gets married. Then everyone you know has kids. Then you never hear from anyone you know anymore.

This piece – "All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting," forwarded to me by my sister with three children – is all over the interwebs for the last few days. One of the few inviolable taboos in modern society is that no one may admit how much they hate having children or express any regret after having made the decision to do so. You hear this every once in a while, usually followed by outward expressions of horror from the listeners or a strong rebuke. But all of us, whether we have children or not, struggle with the same unavoidable question: if having kids is so amazing and rewarding, why does it look like it's so awful?

Being a non-parent the question is more important to me. And I do think about it quite a bit. If kids are wonderful, why does everyone who has them look like they would murder someone for an uninterrupted night of sleep? Why do Mom and Dad always look so unhappy wrangling their multiple children who have no interest at all in obeying basic requests? Why does the joyous addition of a child to the family drive the parents apart, up to and including divorce? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure parenting has its benefits too, but think back to before you had kids. From the outside looking it, it looks like a lifetime commitment that takes up all of one's time and money, straining all other relationships and necessarily forcing one to give up most if not all of one's independence.

Everybody understands this before having kids. Yet most of us will do it anyway. Why?

The sad truth, and the article only tapdances around this, is that a lot of people do it because they expect it to make them happy. Depending on someone else, be it a child or a spouse or a friend, to make you happy is of course a very poor strategy. The best answer to the "Why?" question, however, is the difference between happiness and joy. Long- and short-term rewards. Yes, the day-to-day of parenting sucks. Having kids changes everything about your life. But in retrospect people (mostly) say they would do it again and/or that it was the most rewarding part of their lives. Like anything else, it seems like we're more likely to regret not having kids than having them. So I suppose having kids sucks, until it doesn't. It's hard and miserable, but we don't regret doing it.

That conclusion makes a lot of sense, and I think it explains why so many people are reading and recommending the article. Joy vs. pleasure. Gratification vs. satisfaction. My question is why we, and by that I mean Americans, think we have to pick one.

The article touches on this so briefly that it's easy to miss, but a major contributor to the short-term misery of parenting in this country is directly or indirectly related to politics. It makes little sense to me when I read public opinion research explaining that having kids tends to make people a little more conservative, because there is no better way to get a first-hand look at how badly our welfare state has deteriorated. And it hasn't happened by accident.

Parenting is miserable in part because we make it miserable. Other countries have a year of paid maternity leave; Clinton had to fight tooth-and-nail to get the FMLA passed, granting a generous 6 months of unpaid leave. Parents also have to panic about how they are going to pay for their child's health care, because family plans are pricey and are getting more pricey in a hurry. Then they fret about affording college, because while college is free in most of the western world even the public schools are expensive here. Then they panic about paying for private K-12, because of course no one can send their kids to public school given the systematic dismantling of public education in this country since the seventies. Then they have to find affordable child care, because Mommy (or Daddy, depending on who takes the unpaid leave) needs to get that ass back to the office and start bringing home a paycheck ASAP to afford all of this stuff. And of course because of our idiotic urban planning and absence of workers' rights we have long commutes and 9+ hour workdays that guarantee we'll spend precious little time with our kids before we collapse in bed at an embarrassingly early hour.

Throughout the article the author emphasizes the point that parents can't seem to think or talk about anything but parenting. "I swear I feel like I’m surrounded by women who were once smart & interesting but have become zombies who only talk about soccer and coupons." It it amazing, then, that in a country in which so many adults have kids and elections in which working- and middle-class parents are far more likely to vote than singles we don't insist on policies that encourage family life and child rearing. On the one hand, we realize that the bare basics found in other democracies would alleviate many of the worst, most taxing aspects of parenting. But on the other hand, SOCIALISM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's a very persuasive counterargument.