NPF: THE NUCLEAR FAMILY

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 16th, 2010 by Ed

Today is the 65th anniversary of Trinity.

We all remember J. Robert Oppenheimer's reaction ("Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" from the Bhagavad Gita) but I think the lesser known words of the lesser known Kenneth Bainbridge do the job a little bit better: "Now we are all sons of bitches."

Humans have a tendency to overuse superlatives when it comes to history. Browse the non-fiction section of your bookstore and you will find dozens, perhaps hundreds, of accounts of things that "changed the world" or were "turning points in history." This is almost always bunk, but the events of July 16, 1945 at White Sands are among the few that can accurately be described that way. I could talk for hours and maybe days about this subject but I will be as brief as I can: the moment "The Gadget" detonated, the world changed. What happened at 5:29 AM Mountain Time on that day became the dominant topic of conversation and thought for the next forty years and forever altered the way the nations of the world interact. It made World War III unthinkable and, as a result, introduced proxy wars and Marx Brothers-like misadventures of industrialized nations in isolated and unpronounceable places.

Not being a historian by trade, I can only think of a few analogous events. The invention of electricity. The printing press. The Protestant Reformation – Treaty of Westphalia combo. The conversion of Constantine I of Rome to Christianity. Marco Polo shaking hands with Kublai Kahn.

What else? I'm sure I've only scratched the surface of the list of events that legitimately altered the course of human history. There must be more, such as the historic and planet-changing election of Barack Obama.

MY EXCUSE, LET ME SHOW YOU IT

Posted in Quick Hits on July 15th, 2010 by Ed

I'm very pressed for time today, so bear with me.

You have probably already seen this story from a week or two ago about David Jungerman, the brilliant Missouri farmer who put up a billboard on his property stating "Are you a Producer or Parasite? Democrats – Party of the Parasites." Thirty seconds of public records searching later, it was revealed that Mr. Jungerman has received well over $1,000,000 in farm subsidy checks since 1995. Cue the sad trombone.

Crop subsidies are different, he said. When crop prices dip below a certain point, the federal government makes up the difference with a subsidy payment.

“That’s just my money coming back to me,” Jungerman, 72, said Monday. “I pay a lot in taxes. I’m not a parasite."

Ah. Well now it is clear that you are not a hypocrite.

Assuming you've heard this story already, your assignment for today is to read the comments from the KC Star (the nearest major media outlet, and thus the one giving this story the most time).

It's obvious that this story has snark value on its face – Ha ha, here's another totally hypocritical old teabagger – but just look at the number of people defending him and the intense intellectual contortions in which they must engage to do so (unsuccessfully). Yes, the number of people criticizing him outnumbers those defending him. But the idea that anyone would fail to understand why this person is an idiot is troubling, let alone 30 to 40 percent of the comments.

This, to use an overused phrase, is what is wrong with America. The country, not to mention Congress, is just riddled with people like this. Anything the government does that benefits me is necessary and right. Anything the government does that does not benefit me is pork, waste, unconstitutional, and/or cause to hoard firearms and threaten armed revolution. The logic really is that simple, which is to say it really is that stupid. That, in 25 words or one picture of an idiot from Missouri, is what ails us. There is no way for our politics to make sense if any non-negligible portion of the voting public holds beliefs this contradictory and flat-out stupid.

(BONUS: "He’s a staunch believer in personal responsibility. In 1990, he and his daughter confronted four teens they caught fishing in a pond on their Raytown land. The boys called them names and threatened them, Jungerman said, and one spit on Jungerman’s daughter. Jungerman pulled a snub-nosed .38-caliber and held them until police arrived." Awesome!)

GALL

Posted in Rants on July 14th, 2010 by Ed

Chris Matthews is barely tolerable, but if your stomach feels strong today this six minute Hardball clip is interesting viewing. Matthews sits between a Heritage Foundation drone (appropriately named, as you will see, James Sherk) and an absolutely incoherent liberal d-bag as they debate unemployment.

Having already insulted him, I have to give Mr. Sherk a little bit of credit. He did as well as possible with an argument that inspires absolutely no sympathy. He refers to published studies and evidence more than the typical right-wing talking head, keeps his temper, and comes off as something better than Satan's butt boy. That's more than most of the Heritage/Cato/PNAC bobbleheads manage. In particular I think one aspect of his argument has merit: unemployed people may – although do not necessarily – limit their job search to jobs they consider "good enough" for them.

There is some truth to this, although there's no reasonable way to measure it. If I became unemployed, I would not start sending out applications to Burger King. I'd likely say "I have a goddamn Ph.D., and in light of the 20 f'n years it took me to obtain it I am going to hold out for a job that puts it to use." In other words, Sherk is correct in one respect. The availability of unemployment benefits (assuming I qualified by being laid off) would keep me from taking "any old job." If I had six months of benefits, I would look for an academic job for six months. When it ran out and the next step was eviction, then I'd swallow pride and see if Wal-Mart needs a cart wrangler. I don't think I'm exceptional in this regard. The world's lawyers and MBAs and accountants aren't likely to start delivering pizzas the moment they lose their jobs.

Where the wheels fall off (circa minute 4 in the video) the argument is the proposed solution. It's so ridiculous that Matthews' laughter obscures about 30 seconds of the exchange. If you can't watch the video, Sherk brings back Ronald Reagan's favorite remedy: telling out-of-work people that they need to move where the jobs are. Let's briefly overlook the bleedingly obvious impracticality of such advice (as if unemployed people can afford a cross country move) and look at the more troubling implication.

Sherk makes a big mistake by combining this remedy with the argument he's presenting here. Note that he is not saying people should move to Nebraska (his example) to get equivalent jobs – teachers getting laid off in Ohio and finding teaching jobs in Omaha. He is arguing both that people should take whatever job is available AND they should be willing to move to do it. So, as Matthews guffaws, when an Applebee's opens up in Denton, Texas unemployed people in New York City should be willing to move there for the job.

And this is why he ends up looking like such an ass. Not only is it depressing to think that we've come to this as a nation, but how does anyone work up the gumption to tell people, either in person, on TV, or in Heritage Foundation white papers, that this is the course of action they need to follow? How can a six-figure foundation fellow in the Beltway say with a straight face that people need to start moving across the country for minimum wage jobs?

I guess it's pretty easy to do this, apparently, given how common it is becoming. I generally do not subscribe to the empathy fallacy, the argument that a person needs to experience someone else's life to intelligently comment on it. In my field, for example, it's not well-received when white people do research on black or Latino politics. Even among people smart enough to know better there is a "What can you really know about black voting behavior?" attitude. This is patently ridiculous. My point with this example is that I don't believe that the media or politicians need to be minimum wage peasants in order to understand us little people. Any reasonably thoughtful person, even the millionaires in the Senate, can understand the problems that unemployed and/or low-income people face if he or she is willing to sit down and think about it.

The problem, I suppose, is that part about being thoughtful and willing to think because the Beltway elites are getting unreasonably comfortable giving edicts to those of us in the lower castes, edicts that belie their privileged status and ignorance of what life is like for the bottom 99%. Whether it's Mika Brzezinski (born into the political elite, and I can only assume embarrassing the hell out of her father) telling the little people that they need to "get used to" having Social Security cut or Congressmen turned gubernatorial candidates claiming that government needs to tighten the screws on food service income because waiters are making $100,000, haughty politicos and pundits with six- (or seven-) figure incomes really shouldn't be telling us what kinds of sacrifices we should be happy to make.

Mika Brzezinski doesn't give a shit if SS is cut because she can fund her own retirement 10 times over. Tom Emmer has no idea what a waiter makes (in Minnesota, apparently the average for full timers is under $19,000) because he hasn't had a real job in 20+ years. These facts being true of almost every elected official and media celebrity, why can none of them draw the conclusion that discretion is the better part of valor? "Maybe I shouldn't lecture people who depend on SS about why they should get used to cuts so that my income bracket doesn't have to pay more in taxes." "Maybe someone who makes $200,000 per year on the books as a Congressman shouldn't go after people who serve coffee to stoners at Denny's for minimum wage." "Maybe as a 'fellow' who makes six figures to sit on my ass at a wingnut welfare foundation and occasionally to babble on TV shouldn't be telling unemployed professionals that they need to suck it up and work at Chik-fil-A."

These are all entirely reasonable thoughts that, with a minimum of introspection, a reasonable person might conclude. Unfortunately the wealthy, the elite, and the conservative – and often the three overlap – lack shame and believe that it is their god-given right to lecture people who aren't as wonderful as them, dispensing advice that they would never follow. "My advice is for the little people – I'm different" used to be the kind of argument that would force a public figure to start keeping the company of bodyguards. Now we've relabeled it "common sense" and it is one of the many weapons wielded by the half of the working class who think they will benefit if they kill the other half as ordered.

NORMALIZING DEVIANCE

Posted in Rants on July 13th, 2010 by Ed

On Monday, CNN.com posted one of those magazine-generated "100 Best Places to Live in America" lists. This, even in the context of a fluff piece, floored me:

Certainly there is more to being a great place to live than economic conditions, but please note that the alleged 5th best place to live in America has a 7.8% unemployment rate. You know McKinney, TX is doing well because that's a full two percent below the national average. Way to go, McKinney!

It is remarkable how efficiently our economic betters – including the worker ants in the media conglomerates – have normalized the 10% unemployment rate. That is, the 10% "official" (U3) rate. Nevermind the U6 rate currently over 16%, which still probably understates reality. But I digress. Arguing that 7.8% is good because it is less than 10% is like…well, let's do Katrina metaphors two days in a row. It would be like leaving New Orleans flooded rather than draining it and then selling real estate with an argument like, "Our competitors' houses are under 10 feet of water. Ours are only under seven!"

I don't like putting on the Art Bell-esque Official Crazy Guy Hattm very much, but there certainly is a concerted effort being made by the political and economic elite of the U.S. and western Europe to take advantage of the current conditions to do what they have been trying to do since the Great Depression. Lower the standard of living for the little people. Make the labor force more compliant, riddled with fear bordering on desperation, and with (even) less bargaining power. And above all else, dismantle what remains of the social safety net.

As our Bi-Partisan Pud Pulling Deficit Reduction Committee nears the end of several months of wasting time and money before earnestly telling us we need to cut Social Security and Medicare – what an unexpected outcome! – the Senate refuses to extend additional "funemployment" benefits to Americans out of work. It's like the anti-New Dealers of the 1930s are finally getting to see all of their wet dreams come true. More unemployment! Lower taxes! (Wait, I forgot – tax cuts create jobs! Except when they don't!) No more handouts! Deregulation! Huzzah! Let's all go over to Henry Clay Frick's house and beat servants to death for sport!

I knew we had it in us as a society to wearily accept 10% as the new benchmark for unemployment. After all, it's not like we can do anything about it, right?!? I have to admit that I am a little surprised how quickly the transition took place, though. The collapse of our economy is not yet 24 months old and already we're back to tax cuts being the answer, regulation being the problem, and the unemployed being Welfare Queens. We knew we would get back to this rhetoric eventually, but logically it would happen after the recovery. You know, wait for the crisis to pass before reinstating the conditions that created it. I guess I am an optimist at heart, because I didn't think the top 10% were brazen enough to double down on this rhetoric as we continue sinking. Looks like that was naive of me.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT LIE IS HARD

Posted in Rants on July 12th, 2010 by Ed

In his post-presidential memoirs, Dwight Eisenhower recounted the day in 1945 on which he saw his first Nazi extermination camp. Never accused of being a brilliant man, even by his supporters, Ike was nevertheless eerily prescient:

(When) I saw my first horror camp…I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that "the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda". Some members of the visiting party were unable to go through with the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton's headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and the British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.

Shortly thereafter, in a letter to Douglas MacArthur he elaborated:

The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they (sic) were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to "propaganda."

In case the credibility of his own testimony was called into question, the General ordered thousands of photographs and films to be made. Additionally, he forced ordinary German citizens to parade through the camps to look at the corpses. It appears that he understood with unusual clarity that the Holocaust would eventually be questioned by members of future generations who either sympathized with its goals or those who simply could not believe that such outlandish tales of cruelty could be true.

Like everything else, the gap between events and unscrupulous efforts to historically revise them has been shrunk by technology. Now that the news cycle is measured in minutes rather than days or weeks, current events become history faster than ever before. And despite the mountains of documentation of how events play out in the modern era, the efforts to re-write history are as enthusiastic enough to win the admiration of the most fervent Holocaust denier.

The latest GOP talking point (as evidenced by Mike "Baghdad is like a summer market in Indiana!" Pence, Dick Morris, and Jim "Holy balls am I retarded" Inhofe) regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is that it is "Obama's Katrina" or, as Inhofe eloquently states like the troglodyte he is, this is far worse than the Federal response to Katrina. I find this fascinating for several reasons.

First, in the present tense this disaster illustrates quite a challenge for the Republicans in Washington. They are torn between two contradictory political needs: the need to blame everything that happens on Obama and the need to fellate the oil industry enthusiastically at every opportunity. Their attacks are more confusing than effective. Is this the greatest ecological disaster since the dawn of time or is much ado about nothing, an effort by Greenpeace and other imaginary 1960s caricatures to slander their hated oil villains? So it's fun watching the Pences and Inhofes of the world pinball back and forth between those objectives.

Second, and more to the point of today's post, the conservative effort to exonerate Bush on Katrina is only going to get louder in the coming years. I've argued, and the data clearly underscore this point, that Katrina, not Iraq, ended Bush. His approval rating plummeted below 40 for the first time immediately after Katrina – and it remained in the 30s (and even 20s) for the next three-plus years. So there is clearly a need to re-imagine Katrina if Bush is to be redeemed. Why wait 30 or 40 years to start accusing the media and The Liberals of making up all of the destruction, ineptitude, and human suffering? Let's get that ball rolling now.

The great unanswered question with Obama and the oil spill is what exactly these armchair quarterbacks would like to see the president to do. Any and all technological remedies available are being tried or have been tried. The problem here is that nobody knows how to stop the goddamn thing. Not being a deep-sea geologist, I hardly see what the President has to contribute to solving the problem. In the long-term the Federal government will have a role to play, compensating people whose livelihoods have been ruined, cleaning up the oil slicks, and so on. But just as George Bush could not stop the hurricane, Obama can't stop an oil spill. The difference, however, is that Bush could have helped matters with an immediate and concerted response. There simply isn't a lot for Obama to do at the moment. What he did do that was useful – arm twisting BP into ponying up to pay for the mess – brought howls of condemnation from the right. It was a "shakedown" or "extortion."

In reality, the only way to make this "Obama's Katrina" is to radically redefine Katrina. Most people don't realize that Bush's last press conference as President – this is 2009, four full years after the storm – was about his response to Katrina. He persuaded no one, of course, as outgoing Presidents with 20% approval ratings tend to be unpersuasive. So clearly the job of revising his response to the hurricane will have to be done by others. The public has the attention span of a fruit fly, and it won't be long before they'll be receptive to tales about how Bush leaped into action after a storm that really wasn't that bad anyway (despite, of course, the fact that we can watch all of the disaster unfold on YouTube and in well-researched narratives). The only question is who will write the first book exonerating Bush of the biggest disaster of his presidency. Maybe Ann Coulter will attempt a redux of her embarrassing effort to re-imagine Joe McCarthy. One thing is for certain, though. The oil spill can't be made any worse than it already is, so to make it the "worst" leaves only one course of action: making Katrina, and by extension Bush, a figment of the hysterical liberal media's fertile imagination and twisted agenda.

NPF: NAPTIME

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 9th, 2010 by Ed

Two things happened today.

First, after hardly sleeping last night I was having a hard time writing at the office today. I gave up at about 4 PM and came home earlier than usual. It was exactly 100 degrees here today, with a heat index of 103. It was, in scientific terms, balls hot. When I got home I found my male rats completely inert. Rats are crepuscular and tend to be prodigious nappers during high afternoon heat. So today was exceptional only inasmuch as they were completely unresponsive. Like, I had to startle them awake to verify that they were not dead. Here is a reference photo of napping boys. Imagine how it would break your heart to disturb them.

The second incident occurred on an errand run to Target. The store, like many in this area, was in full-blown "Back to School" mode (in July?? Is this normal?). It was well organized, with a college section (dorm-in-a-box packages, Ramen, 55-gallon drums of Valtrex), generic K-12 school supplies, and a section for kindergarten/preschool needs. This final area had a large end display offering "Napping Mats." I assume the local school district(s) have these on the required supplies list.

These two disparate events got me thinking: Why are humans the only mammal, or close to it, that doesn't rest during the hottest part of the day? More importantly, how much better would life be if we didn't abandon the idea of afternoon naptime when kids leave kindergarten? Just imagine your crappy daily routine with the cubicle hours between 1:00 and 3:30 replaced by a nice, quiet nap? We could all roll out our Dora the Explorer nap mats and just…let nature take its course.

None of us sleep enough. Mammals are not active during the hottest part of the day. Naps are awesome. I just presented three unassailable facts in support national (global?) naptime. We nap until we're 6 and then we're expected to stop. Why? We don't become a different species when we enter 1st Grade. The only thing that changes are the expectations and the schedule to which we are forced to conform.

Nuts to that. I'm tired.

TERRY SAVAGE GETS A FREE FJM TREATMENT

Posted in Rants on July 8th, 2010 by Ed

Picture this: a grown woman is driving around the Chicago suburbs and encounters three little girls with a lemonade stand. Upon learning that they are giving away the lemonade for free, the aforementioned grown woman goes after them like she just found the fucking Taliban making VX in a garage in Palatine. At the end of this psychotic episode, she writes about it with the intention of publishing it because she is proud of what she just did.

Did you picture all of that? Good. Now do it. Do it and you too can be a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can be the next Terry Savage. It is not often that I read a simple opinion column and conclude that the author is quite lucky to have avoided ending up in police custody as a result of it. This ("There is No 'Free' Lemonade") is one such occasion. In fact it is the only such occasion I can recall aside from Doug Giles' ill-advised 2001 column "A List of Problems I Have Solved By Raping Things."

I ask if you are ready only rhetorically today, because having read this column I know for a fact that you are not.

This column is a true story — every word of it.

Well there goes the insanity defense or the ol' "It was satire / artistic license!" argument.

And I think it very appropriate to consider around the Fourth of July, Independence Day spirit.

Please keep this line in mind as she explains what she did. This is what she likes to do in celebration of major holidays. Check back in November for her column about beheading a vagrant in the Thanksgiving spirit.

Last week, I was in a car with my brother and his fiancee, driving through their upscale neighborhood on a hot summer day. At the corner, we all noticed three little girls sitting at a homemade lemonade stand.

Why, this just sounds like a Norman Rockwell painting. How sweet. How all-American. How totally not a reason to lose your shit and go after three little girls like you are a starving dog and they are wearing dresses made of honey baked ham.

We follow the same rules in our family, and one of them is: Always stop to buy lemonade from kids who are entrepreneurial enough to open up a little business.

Aside from wondering why your family feels the need to have such an esoteric rule, I find it regrettable that the Savage clan does not have rules about the basic tenets of human interaction. They might have come in handy here.

My brother immediately pulled over to the side of the road and asked about the choices. The three young girls — under the watchful eye of a nanny, sitting on the grass with them — explained that they had regular lemonade, raspberry lemonade, and small chocolate candy bars.

I see nothing out of the ordinary here. Then again, I am not Terry Savage.

Then my brother asked how much each item cost. "Oh, no," they replied in unison, "they're all free!"

OH SHIT. OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT.

RUN.

I know you still can't see how this could be a precursor to a rage-filled outburst for any normal person but RUN. THERE ISN'T TIME. I WILL EXPLAIN LATER.

I sat in the back seat in shock. Free? My brother questioned them again: "But you have to charge something? What should I pay for a lemonade? I'm really thirsty!"

Note that 99.999 percent of…well, actually, everyone on the goddamn planet except for Terry Savage and Brother Savage…would have said "Aw, how cute! Thank you so much!" and enjoyed a cold Dixie cup of Country Time Imitation Lemonade Substitute at this point. That, I daresay, would be a normal response.

His fiancee smiled and commented, "Isn't that cute. They have the spirit of giving."

Well, one person in the car was relatively normal.

That really set me off, as my regular readers can imagine.

OK, from this point forward this reads like a police report.

No, Terry, we can't imagine. Even your most devoted readers cannot figure out why you are about to start yelling at three little girls for offering you free lemonade. Your motives are as comprehensible as a Japanese game show.

"No!" I exclaimed from the back seat. "That's not the spirit of giving. You can only really give when you give something you own. They're giving away their parents' things — the lemonade, cups, candy. It's not theirs to give."

Well, presumably this stuff became theirs to own when THEIR PARENTS FUCKING GAVE IT TO THEM. Wait a minute. Why am I debating you on the minutiae of your "argument" when the real question here is broader: What in the hell is wrong with you?

I bet the fiancee was profoundly thankful for this lecture. And she certainly did not turn the car ride home from their visit with you into a "If we have to see her more than once a year, we're getting divorced. In fact I have the divorce paperwork prepared. It needs only a signature." conversation for your brother.

I pushed the button to roll down the window and stuck my head out to set them straight.

Oh good.

Adults should always pick fights with kids in furtherance of "setting them straight." It's not only smart, it's socially acceptable and indicative of a healthy personality.

"You must charge something for the lemonade," I explained. "That's the whole point of a lemonade stand. You figure out your costs — how much the lemonade costs, and the cups — and then you charge a little more than what it costs you, so you can make money. Then you can buy more stuff, and make more lemonade, and sell it and make more money."

"You must charge something for the lemonade," I explained…TO A GROUP OF SEVEN YEAR-OLD STRANGERS. Kids, if you're reading this, take Mr. Ed's advice on something: if an adult stranger ever says any of this to you, one member of your group should run to ask an adult to call the police and the remaining two should attempt to make a lot of noise and stand together to create the impression that they are a large animal.

True, that is actually how one should respond to brown bear attacks. But it will also work on Terry Savage. Trust me. And don't get between her and her cubs.

I was confident I had explained it clearly. Until my brother, breaking the tension, ordered a raspberry lemonade. As they handed it to him, he again asked: "So how much is it?" And the girls once again replied: "It's free!" And the nanny looked on contentedly.

I would like to hear this story from the girls' perspective. Or perhaps the nanny's. This part would be something like "So after this bitch started lecturing us on classical economics, they asked us how much it cost. We wanted to see if we could make their heads explode, so we told them it was still free. The driver man swore at us and the old lady in the backseat pulled a stiletto knife out of her purse. Then they saw Officer Harry's car at the end of the block and they ran away."

No wonder America is getting it all wrong when it comes to government, and taxes, and policy. We all act as if the "lemonade" or benefits we're "giving away" is free. And so the voters demand more — more subsidies for mortgages, more bailouts, more loan modification and longer periods of unemployment benefits.

Wait. Did you have some lemonade or not? I need closure on this anecdote, not a segue into the worst metaphor in recorded history. "Some nice kids tried to give me lemonade for free, and I decided that the lemonade represents everything that is wrong with society. Because I am psychotic. I pick corn from my own crap and glue it back on the cob. Then I eat it again. And again."

They're all very nice. But these things aren't free.

You know what was nice as well as free? THE DAMN LEMONADE.

The government only gets the money to pay these benefits by raising taxes, meaning taxpayers pay for the "free lemonade." Or by printing money — which is essentially a tax on savings, since printing more money devalues the wealth we hold in dollars.

She is now explaining that when we give the government some of our earnings, we often demand benefits in return for giving them said money.

Slow down, T-Bone. We're not all economists here. Is there any scientific effort to study and explain this bizarre behavior? Personally I am surprised that people want the government to provide things other than the Joint Strike Fighter in exchange for keeping a quarter of our paychecks.

If we can't teach our kids the basics of running a lemonade stand, how can we ever teach Congress the basics of economics?

Reach further, Terry! Reach higher! Reach! This lemonade transaction (or was it a non-transaction? I NEED TO KNOW.) represents everything that is wrong with America. It also explains why Congress doesn't understand "the basics of economics (but I bet Terry does!) The lemonade also represents AIDS in the developing world, the problem with the music industry today, and 19th Century institutionalized racism.

The other day I was shopping and I saw that wax paper was on sale. Of course my first thought was, "This is why we won the space race."

Or maybe it's the other way around: The kids are learning from the society around them. No one has ever taught them there's no free lunch — and all they see is "free," not the result of hard work, and saving, and scrimping.

I think it is valid to conclude that "no one" has ever given American students the hackneyed wisdom that "there's no free lunch."

Maybe the lesson the parents hoped to teach was that sometimes, especially when you are a person of considerable wealth, it is nice to do things for your fellow man without expecting to be paid. That it's OK to give someone 1 cent worth of powdered lemonade just to be friendly. That parents don't want their kids to grow up to be asocial assholes like Terry Savage.

If that's what America's children think

"And based on my random, double-blind study of these three girls, it is fair to conclude that they do,"

— that there's a free lunch waiting — then our country has larger problems ahead. The Declaration of Independence promised "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It didn't promise anything free.

Right. It promised us a government that would allocate the resources we grant to it in ways that are to our benefit. Who ever said we expected the government to do all this stuff for us "for free"? We work. We contribute. Oh wait, I forgot how the Metaphor of the Lemonade explains how we all want things for free. Good point.

Something to think about this July 4th holiday weekend.

Or, you know, fireworks and barbecues.

And that's the Savage Truth!

This is the most embarrassingly bad catchphrase I have ever seen. I recommend something like:

– I Am Completely Fucking Insane!tm
– I Can't Be Trusted with Your Children!tm
– Fluids! My Precious Fluids!tm

Despite the fact that I've trademarked that, Terry, you are free to use it. You've more than earned the right. What's that? No, it doesn't cost you anything. You can use it for free. I don't care. No. I don't want anything for it.

Oh jesus. She's advancing on me with that murderous glare again. You all slip out the back while I distract her. This may take a while.

Tags:

DREAD

Posted in Rants on July 7th, 2010 by Ed

The older I get, the less long term planning I do. Since the early Aughts, when it became apparent that the nation was heading down an unsustainable economic path, I've given up on saving for retirement and other sensible things that I used to take very seriously. This has accelerated since the economic collapse of 2008 and my foray into the post-Ph.D. job market. My employment pays just enough to keep me living in lower-middle class comfort (which is oxymoronic, given that the defining feature of this class stratum is uncertainty) and is both literally and figuratively a year-to-year arrangement.

In the back of my head I still understand that retirement savings and personal financial planning are necessary, but every time I try to wrap my head around the future I'm filled with something much more powerful than uncertainty: cold dread. With this economic downturn and our political leaders' pathetic response, I feel like the potential exists for really, really bad times ahead. Krugman has started talking about a Depression and it's a healthy sign that we are in deep trouble when one reads such an opinion and thinks, "Yep, that makes perfect sense." How can I talk myself into retirement saving when the return on traditionally safe investments (MMAs, CDs, bonds, etc) are in the 1% range? And how can I roll all of my money into the stock market when there exists a very real possibility of it collapsing when all of the short-term profit maximizing tricks have been exhausted?

Our problem is very simple, as this shockingly insightful but thin-on-solutions article from Intel big shot Andy Grove explains: we are not creating jobs. And the only political solution we are willing to accept since the canonization of St. Ronnie is to cut taxes, as if there is some magical tax break that will offset the fact that Chinese workers make a buck per day. There is already nothing made in the U.S. that can't be made more cheaply in Asia. Soon there will be nothing done in the U.S. – including the professions that the 1980s zeitgeist assured us were American for all time like accounting, engineering, and business – for which the same cannot be said. We will become an economy that consumes everything and produces nothing. What remains of this house of cards will collapse.

It is conceivable that The Worst is Yet to Come because we have absolutely no industrial policy, no economic policy, and no political solutions other than to keep cutting taxes. This is not to say that we have a bad economic policy; we simply do not have one. We have one of the most stunningly effective propaganda machines in the history of the mass media convincing the same people getting ground up in the gears of Progress that there is no solution but to double down on the policies that brought us here. We are, in short, fucked. The idea that if only our taxes were a little lower or if only our schools produced smarter graduates we would suddenly be able to compete with Chinese and Indian wages is ludicrous. We pushed the boulder of free trade and globalization down the hill in the 1980s and now there is no stopping it.

I am not thrilled to count myself among the Sky Is Falling crowd, but the disturbing speed with which elected leaders from around the world clasped hands and agreed that Austerity is their new god among economic buzzwords has drained me of any kind of hope for the future. At best we are about to enjoy a protracted ten or twenty year Japan-style deflation / recession combo. At worst we're going to re-live the 1930s. It is not that the time for decisive action has passed. It is just completely obvious that the only remedies any of our elected leaders will consider are the worst possible ones, guided by an ideology that needs no actual results to sustain itself.

IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW

Posted in Rants on July 6th, 2010 by Ed

Believe it or not, I am not a danger to the public when I leave my house. I know that readers who have never met me might logically conclude that I frequently scream at complete strangers for having bad taste or doing things improperly, or that I dissolve into torrents of profanity at the slightest provocation. Certainly there are people in this world who have better social skills and who enjoy the company of their fellow Americans far more than I do, but it has been a solid couple of weeks since I punched someone for saying hello to me.

That last part is a joke, of course. I could never make it more than a week. *rimshot*

One thing that does make me a little less pleasant is large crowds of strangers. I'm not agoraphobic or afraid of germs or anything like that; it's just that seeing the people who make up this country face-to-face, especially since my move to the Deep South, is a little more than I can process sometimes. Think of it this way: you're on a plane at 35,000 feet. The pilot is absolutely piss drunk. Would you prefer to have the cockpit door pop open accidentally so that you could see the drunken pilot or would you prefer that the door remain closed? I am 100% in favor of the latter. You're in midair. There's nothing that can be done about the situation. The pilot is the only one who can fly the plane and if he's drunk, he's drunk. If I, the passenger, learn that he is drunk it's just going to make me panic for hours until we land. If he's going to drunkenly kill us all I would rather enjoy a peaceful, carefree flight until we plow into the ground in a ball of flame.

This is how I feel about the American public, and specifically the American voter. I don't want to see them because doing so will serve no purpose other than to make me nervous. I don't want to see their Confederate flag bumper stickers, Palin 2012 t-shirts, Left Behind books, and Insane Clown Posse tattoos. I don't want to hear them regurgitating Glenn Beck monologues, talking about what Jesus told them the other day, or punctuating their speech with "done gonna" and "nuh-uhh." In short, I do not enjoy seeing the level of ignorance that we all understand is pervasive in our society. Before you conclude that I am a terrible and misanthropic person, this is no different than the reason that you don't read YouTube comments and the message boards on Free Republic.

I spend most of my time, as do most Americans, segregated by class. I spend all day around people who have high levels of education and undergraduates who, even at their worst, are far more engaged and capable than the Average American. At night, rather than going out I tend to stay at home reading what other reasonably intelligent people have to say about the world. I shop at the middle class white liberal grocery store and eat at the appropriately bourgeois restaurants, reviews of which prominently feature the word "ethnic." The people who shop at Wal-Mart and eat at KFC do not cross my path, nor I theirs. Likewise I don't rub shoulders with the haute cuisine and vacation home crowd. We all live in a bubble for the most part.

Alas, people with means travel to celebrate the 4th, going to so-and-so's lake cottage or vacation rental on Hilton Head Island or whatever. I have no means, so I did what all of the other broke-ass people do – I went to the free fireworks in the park. As we enjoyed some fireworks with thousands of my fellow Georgians, I could not help but see our nation's current problems in clearer focus. As much as the good liberal inside all of us wants to sing a Fanfare for the Common Man while lecturing ourselves on the nobility and wisdom of the salt-of-the-earth types who populate this country, seeing them usually just makes me sad. If that means I am a terrible person, I am a terrible person. Toothless hillbillies in pro wrestling t-shirts. A pack of juggalo teenagers. Morbidly obese women in halter tops and jorts. Eighteen year old girls and their three children. Sullen, sunburned yokels slapping their children as other sullen, sunburned yokels look on, understanding the impulse and approving of the act. Baggy-panted black kids getting in fistfights. Twitchy, meth-addled white kids picking at their scabs. Mustachioed policemen harassing the former and ignoring the latter.

Accuse me of being a snob or joyously condescending people I think are beneath me if you must. It's not a question of "better" – it's simply that we have nothing in common (Whoops, now I do sound like Patrick Bateman). OK, we don't have any money. And people in the top 1% are actively trying to fuck us. We have that much in common. But sadly, and to my own detriment, I just look at it like a human zoo. It is sad to look at so many people – their infantile beliefs, their complete disinterest in understanding the world around them, their incomprehensible interests – without being able to see any common ground.

So what will we do after crossing paths on July 4th, the day on which we're all supposed to come together based on our shared American-ness? They'll go back to their daytime TV, WWE / UFC videos, Top 40 radio, and storefront churches. I'll retreat to my organic grocery co-op, $5-per-cup coffee shops, neo-Asian fusion restaurants, and independent film series. We will spend another year separated, understanding nothing about one another, until we baffle one another again next July.

BREAD AND CIRCUSES

Posted in Quick Hits on July 5th, 2010 by Ed

I don't relish being That Guy who throws a wet blanket over delightful holiday traditions, but as I sat through the fireworks at the local park on Sunday night I could not help but wonder why in the hell any town or city in America was having fireworks this year. Aren't we all broke? Like, laying people off and closing schools broke?

My current city of about 100,000 is as broke as any other similarly sized urban area in the country, if not moreso. The average fireworks show for a place of this size costs anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 depending on the level of extravagance. For governments preaching fiscal austerity, belt tightening, and "tough decisions" this seems like a frivolous expense. Chicago raised a lot of ire by canceling its massive Grant Park fireworks show in 2010. While I've attended that event many times and gotten quite a bit of enjoyment out of it, it is the right thing to do in one of the most fiscally strapped cities in the country. How can $1.5 million be justified for fireworks when they can barely keep the schools open?

The political rhetoric of "tough choices" is very different from the reality. Cutting pensions, benefits, and salaries of government employees or slashing budgets for education is easy. Most people don't notice the effects of those cuts in their daily lives. The real tough choices are the ones people will notice – tax hikes and canceled services. And even though fireworks shows are hardly on the same level as things like policing, street repair, or garbage collection, they all have one thing in common: people will notice that they are gone. So it appears that here in Georgia, as in most of America, the elected officials would rather blow money on something totally unnecessary than risk canceling the circuses and having to explain to the half-conscious herd what "We are completely broke" means. Better to just make up the difference by cutting something Cletus the Teabagger won't notice. You know, something like the public library.