Two vignettes from American political discourse, Summer 2011:

1. Warren Buffet, patriarch of the "celebrity CEO"/Kindly Market Oracle phenomenon, took to the nation's op-ed pages to state, "My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice" and raise taxes on millionaire households, including capital gains and dividend taxes. He discussed the 400 highest-earning households, the "Super Rich", with authority; he is not only one of them, but he knows the majority of them personally. I choose not to participate in the kind of idolization we are urged to direct toward men of great wealth like Buffet, but it is clear that in this instance he is making a reasonable, obvious, and economically sound argument. This is what the kids might call a no-brainer.

2. Chuck Asay of the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, a syndicated columnist described as, "one of the few quality conservative cartoonists working in the industry today," offers this take on the same situation (click to embiggen):

It matters little how cogent an argument Buffet can make – this much more accurately reflects the way we see the plight of our social betters. The heroic Job Creators (and their friend Free Market) are being asked to carry the weight of the rest of us, be we the elderly, Unions, or god forbid College.

While the cartoon is easy to interpret, it is at the same time baffling. The scenario implies that Job Creators actually want someone to take over the oars or would allow that to happen if Entitlement Nation offered to help. And of course Entitlement Nation doesn't want to take the oars; it only wants to stare and say "Oh, help me, Popeye!"

Moreover, what exactly is Entitlement Nation supposed to do on a boat with two sets of oars? Perhaps the Job Creator and Free Market could bear the blame of using such little foresight when designing that product. Most importantly, though, is this Entitlement Nation-to-Job Producer ratio representative? If so, this only highlights what a small share of the population our political system, as Buffet points out, is catering to.

Job Creator and Free Market love this situation. They wouldn't have it any other way; they want control of the oars and great masses who are docile, worshipful, and compliant. Just look at the numbers and you'll see why. If everyone finally wakes up and realizes that the boat is going over the edge, guess who's getting thrown overboard or getting brained with an oar first. This is, in short, a very stupid metaphor that depends on the patently silly pretense that we all want nothing more than for our Job Creators to save us. Something tells me that everyone would chip in if the opportunity to do so existed, but since the Job Creators and Free Market only made oars for themselves I guess we're all going over the damn edge.


The media love elections. They are already in full saturation campaign coverage mode more than 14 months prior to the general election. In theory this should be a positive. After all, people like me are constantly complaining about the lack of political coverage and general substance in the news. And here it is: months and months of unrelenting attention paid to the presidential election. Great!

Unfortunately the media love elections because they are good for ratings, and they are good for ratings because the media have turned elections into a sporting event. Instead of Marv Albert telling us which team is leading and trailing throughout the basketball game, we have blow-dried anchors constantly reporting poll results to let us know "Who's ahead?" even though the answer is almost always "no one" once margin of error is taken into account. Instead of broken down, concussed ex-NFL players giving color commentary while scribbling on the Telestrator, we have washed up campaign consultants (Paul Begala, Bill Bennett, Alex Castellanos, etc.) letting us know What It All Means and What Voters Want. Academics call the excessive emphasis on day-to-day poll results "Horse Race coverage", a phenomenon that eliminates issues and reduces most coverage to reporting how various groups or individuals reacted to a campaign event. The latter – the instant big-picture analysis phenomenon – is just a lazy, stupid way of boiling the election down to a 25 word explanation for lazy, stupid viewers.

These phenomena have been affecting the way elections are covered for years. They are beginning to affect the election itself.

The Ames (aka Iowa) Straw Poll is the dumbest event in politics by a country mile, even compared to legendary shitshows like CNN/YouTube debates, the Thanksgiving sparing of a turkey, and the national conventions. Nothing says Scientific Poll quite like a $30 fee to participate. And nothing says Representative Sample quite like 15,000 non-randomly selected Iowans. This thing is so stupid that a candidate could dramatically alter the results by investing a pittance (in the context of modern campaigns) in a bunch of tour buses and admission tickets for the straw poll gathering. About $50,000 could easily bring 1000-1200 ringers to boost a candidate's showing, which is amazing when we realize how little distance in raw vote totals separates the candidates.

1. Michele Bachmann: 4,823
2. Ron Paul: 4,671
3. Tim Pawlenty: 2,293
4. Rick Santorum: 1,657
5. Herman Cain: 1,456
6. Rick Perry: 718
7. Mitt Romney: 567
8. Newt Gingrich: 385
9. Jon Huntsman: 69
10. Thad McCotter: 35

Yep, for a minimal investment, Herman Cain or Rick Santorum could have finished a strong third. Instead, the real third place finisher – Tim Pawlenty – quit. He quit the race because he finished third in this utterly ridiculous non-event. High school student council elections are more rigorous than this thing. The organizers auction off floor space to the highest-bidding campaign and candidates bribe attendees with barbecues and whatever else they feel like giving away.

I try not to watch much cable news these days, but what I have seen since the end of the debt ceiling "drama" has relentlessly hyped the Straw Poll. Tbe media have managed to turn this non-event – previously won by the likes of Pat Robertson – into a crucial barometer of candidate viability. Despite the silly rules that make this neither a real election nor a real poll. Despite the fact that Rick Perry was not on the ballot and Romney, who won the Poll in 2008, basically sat it out.

It is possible that there are behind-the-scenes issues that prompted T-Paw to quit the race. I'd like to think so, because the idea that hype could turn this organized silliness into a meaningful component of the selection process for the president of the United States is too depressing. If he had money trouble or simply didn't see himself being able to compete in the crowded field, why wait until the day after the Straw Poll to withdraw? Would another 1000 votes in this farce have made a difference?

The media have an agenda in our elections, and it is to fill airtime profitably. Election fever drives ratings and ad rates. The more mini-elections or "big events" they can create, the more they benefit. Something like the Straw Poll feeds into the pathology of 24-hour election coverage, providing a story that can be breathlessly anticipated, endlessly hyped, reported with numbers and rankings despite the fact that it is ultimately meaningless.

But hey, Bachmann's #1! How could 4,800 Iowans be wrong?


I have a sense of impending dread about the "Super Congress/Committee" stronger than any I have felt in quite some time. This is not because I fear the outcome of its decisions, which are essentially preordained (There hasn't been this much suspense since we wondered what the Simpson-Bowles commission would recommend!). It is because I fear the three months of total idiocy and saturation, blow-by-blow media coverage that will precede its utterly foregone conclusions. The Great Negotiator has been his usual brilliant self, admitting before the process even begins that, ha ha ha, of course we won't be cutting the Pentagon budget OR raising taxes, so I'm not exactly on the edge of my seat here as the media breathlessly announce the draft picks starting lineup members of Congress who will make up the 12 person committee.

Look. It's pretty clear at this point that we can't win. Obama, sadly enough, is probably the most liberal candidate America could tolerate enough to elect at this point in its political evolution. Our choices are limited to the psychotic teabagger and the fake progressive "bipartisan" who will do whatever the psychotic teabagger would have done minus one or two of the craziest bits. Face it: we are going to pursue a protect-the-Job-Producers, tax cutting, government dismantling, Hayek-worshipping, quasi-supply side economic policy until it brings us to our utter ruin. There will be no change in direction until we hit bottom, until the economy and state of the nation literally cannot get any worse. This is no different than the Gilded Age, and it will end the same way. There is no point at which common sense or the Democratic Party or the American public or the media are going to turn back from the post-1980 Beltway elite consensus politics of Government is the Problem, free market worship, and tax cuts piled upon tax cuts. This is it. If the most liberal candidate who could plausibly be elected is an Eisenhower Republican trying to outflank the GOP on austerity, things aren't going to improve until we are indisputably and comprehensively screwed.

People like Harry Reid, Obama, Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic "leadership" are serving no purpose except to make the process of decline as long, laborious, and excruciating as possible. We are putting off the inevitable. The worse the news gets and the deeper the depression (psychologically and economically) we are suffering becomes, the more I wish we could fast forward to the end. Let's just get this the hell over with. Tea Party 2012. Let's go ahead and elect Michelle Bachmann. Crown Paul Ryan. Get Scott Walker to Washington as quickly as possible. Put two or three more Scalia clones on the Supreme Court. Make Ron Paul the Fed chairman. Bring on the floods and the plagues of locusts. Let the Earth open up and swallow our country whole.

We're in a tailspin and the only thing our political system is capable of doing is to take the failed ideas of the past and do them again, only harder. If ten rounds of tax cuts didn't work, try ten more (but larger). If a war didn't help, start a couple more. If the Job Creators aren't creating jobs, cater to more of their whims. If slashing the safety net didn't help, slash it twice as much. There is no FDR or third party or Good Democrats or Sane Republicans coming to save us. If hitting bottom is our destiny, grease up the rails and let's get it over with. From rock bottom there might be some glimmer of hope that things could improve, which seems preferable to our current dilemma of sitting around watching Rome burn and waiting for things to get worse.


(Newer readers may need to brush up on one of my favorite posts from back in the day, one that produced a wide range of responses)

Dear people between the ages of 20 and 40,

I hear things aren't going so well for you these days. The last time we talked – remember, when you asked if you could borrow $250 to get the alternator on your 1996 Nissan Pulsar fixed? – it was already clear that you are going through a rough patch. It looks like that "patch" might last for a long time, something like ten years. Five if we're lucky. Look, I know that some of this is our fault. Maybe a lot of it. That's why I gave you the $250 for your car, and why I keep offering to take you on vacation with me and Dad, and paid for you to get those two teeth fixed by Dr. Morimoto when you were in town over Christmas. I know it embarrasses you when I do things like that. Maybe "humiliates" is a better word. But here's the thing: we love you, and we know that you'd be financially independent now if the opportunities were available. They aren't, and it's sad to see. OK, maybe we have a little case of the guilts too.

All of that said, there are a few things we want to say. We're not trying to start a fight. Honest. Just hear your folks out for a minute or two.

Yes, we took advantage of a number of things that aren't available to you anymore. Strong economic growth. High wages. Taken-for-granted health benefits. Cheap higher education with cheap student loans (which in turn were almost wiped out by inflation over time). Pensions. Paid vacations. Cheap housing with subsidized mortgages. You get the point. We get the point too – we had it, you don't, and you're somewhat envious. That makes sense. Here's the thing, though: it wasn't all sunshine and roses. There were trade-offs.

Maybe it's something that happened in the schools or maybe it's TV or maybe it's my fault, but at some point your generation got the impression that work is supposed to be fun and rewarding. It isn't. It's just fucking work, if I may. You're jealous of the level of job security and benefits we had coming out of high school or college in the 60s, right? Your Uncle Joe retired at 60 with a nice pension. Do you know how he got it? He stood at a kick press for 8 hours per day, every day, for 40 years. Honey, if you had that job your head would explode from boredom and lack of stimulation in about a week. We'd never hear the end of how you feel unfulfilled and you'd probably quit to go "find yourself" or something before the pension vested.

Your Dad has one of those civil servant jobs that are disappearing these days. Twenty years at the Clerk's office and another 20 behind a desk at Streets and Sanitation. How long would you be happy if you switched places with him? My point, kids, is not that you're bad people or that you have no work ethic. My point is that we weren't just handed good money and a pension. In most cases we had to spend the great majority of our lives doing incredibly mundane, repetitive, mindless, soul-crushing crap to get it. We did it because that's where the money was. You know that silly show about the Office that you're always watching on Netflix? Picture yourself as Stanley or one of the old people who sells paper over the phone. Imagine yourself on a phone all day, every day asking people to buy paper. For years. Decades. Those jobs don't exist anymore. If they did, would you and your two Anthropology degrees do them?

Right now you'll say "Yes, I'd do any job" because you don't have one. That's understandable. I don't think you mean it, though. Maybe you should work on saying it until you believe it. I can imagine how annoying it is to be lectured on hard times by people who didn't have to live through a lot of them, at least in the economic sense. Think of it this way, though: we're right there with you for the most part. Yes, we're doing better now because we've been working for longer and we managed to get on the boat before it started sinking. But now? Now we spend most days trying not to get fired for being over 50, and most nights wondering how we're going to work until we're 70 or whenever the hell people are allowed to retire. You know those pension plans don't really guarantee anything, right? Ask my sister Nancy who worked for the airlines.

We know this is harder for you than for us – we're getting disillusioned and shafted at the tail end of our working lives while your working lives aren't even getting started. By the time the economy recovers in a decade or whatever you're going to be so old that…well, never mind. Let's not even talk about it.

The Boomers


If anyone offers you the opportunity to close out a comedy show before an audience of humorless feminists, accept the challenge. When the people whose mission in life it is to be offended start yelling shit at the stage – because you told a Sarah Palin joke – aggressively lecture them about how comedy works and why their bizarre, provincial worldview ensures that they'll never be able to enjoy it. It's exhilarating.



You know how I hate Link Salad, the laziest form of blogging, but these three items are insufficiently complex to serve as fuel for a full post. Enjoy.

1. As an avid reader of Autoblog – I like cars, as you can clearly see when I hit the streets in my 1999 Nissan Sentra with 160,000 miles – I've noted with interest that the sales of high-end luxury brands have been doing very well lately. Mercedes, Audi, and BMW, for example, all saw strong sales growth in 2011 despite not selling any vehicles under $35,000 (with most offerings well over $50,000 and some as high as $200,000). I kept meaning to turn this into a "So I guess it isn't a recession for everyone" post, but the NYT beat me to it by noting the strong demand for ultra high-end consumer goods ($2000 designer shoes, etc.) while Wal-Mart has had to introduce smaller packs of toilet paper for shoppers who lack the cash to buy the big 12-roll pack. The Brazilification of the American economy and society couldn't be more succinctly explained.

2. Anyone else notice that the U.S. is averaging a mass shooting (something like 7-15 victims) every week or two and it isn't even headline news anymore? A guy caps 8 people in the crown in Ohio and it's like Page E10 news these days. It's nice that we're so used to workplace rampages and general spree killings that they fade into the background of the news cycle, reported like the weather – and treated to the same degree of retrospective analysis.

3. David Gergen lays bare the pointless nostalgia and flimsy reasoning behind his peculiar brand of milquetoast Beltway elite consensus politics with this ridiculous column about how America needs a Winston Churchill. It's actually too stupid to be FJMed. Let's all close our eyes, have a glass of warm milk, listen to Paul Harvey, and pretend that any Leader, no matter how Great, could achieve consensus in the current political environment. Jesus Christ himself could be elected president and if he was a Democrat, the Tea Party would be hellbent on destroying him. We could resurrect Thomas Jefferson and our TVs would be full of shameless attack ads slandering him. It's amazing that Gergen can breathe with his head that far up his own ass.


The over-the-top sycophancy with which ESPN covered Derek Jeter's quest for 3000 hits almost irritated baseball fans enough (check out Jeter Filter, the Chrome app that removes Derek Jeter from your internet) to obscure what a remarkable feat #2 accomplished. While in practical terms the milestone represents an arbitrary act repeated an arbitrary number of times, from a baseball perspective the 3K Hit Club is among the more difficult to join. It almost inevitably requires a player to break into the majors full-time at an early age (preferably no later than 23), play more than 18 seasons without losing any significant time to injury, and remain productive into ages (40+) at which most men injure themselves getting out of bed.

Put it this way: 200 hits is considered a remarkable season, a feat managed by only a handful of players annually. If a player played 15 seasons, say from ages 23 to 38, he would need to average 200 hits per season to total 3000. For reference, only two players (Ichiro and Pete Rose) have ever gotten 200 hits ten times in a career. So yes, we saw something rare when Jeter crossed 3000.**

The question is, when might we see it again? A brief overview of the active leaderboard suggests that we may be waiting for some time. Some players who appear close have reached the dead end of their careers, while the number of promising young players is small.

Before we take a look, I consider 2000 hits by age 35 to be a useful cutoff point. If a player has not reached that, his odds of reaching 3000 are essentially nil unless he A) can rack up an improbable 200 hits per year from 36-40 or B) plays productively to 42-45. It's not impossible, but the odds are very long.

The closest active players are Ivan Rodriguez (2842, Age 39) and Omar Vizquel (2835, 44). I-Rod has tried valiantly to be the first catcher to join the club, but he is now hitting a feeble .210 in part-time duty with the Nationals. His next stop is the glue factory. Vizquel is already well beyond a reasonable playing age and is riding the bench for the White Sox. He has 36 hits this season, so he would probably need to play four more years, i.e. to 48 or 49, at his current rate to reach 3000. Nope.

The next two players are more likely, Alex Rodriguez (2762, 35) and Johnny Damon (2678, 37). A-Rod's challenge is to stay healthy at this point. He's declining but still productive. 250 hits in 3 or 4 more seasons should be a snap, but he's also regularly missing months at a time with various ailments. Odds of success: 80%. Damon, conversely, is healthy but no longer the player he once was. He has averaged over 150 hits annually since 2006, so his challenge will be to find a team that will let him play full time for two more seasons – while hitting about .270 without power, defense, or speed. His odds are about 50/50.

Vladimir Guerrero (2526, 36) seemed like a good candidate for most of his career, but he is the kind of player who ages terribly. And he has. With his body falling apart and his swing-at-everything approach suffering at the hands of Father Time, I don't see a team offering him full-time DH duty for 3 or 4 more seasons while OPSing .720. 20% chance. Chipper Jones (2567, 39) has better odds of impregnating another Hooter's waitress.

No other active players have 2500 hits. In the 2000-2500 club, most contenders are too old and/or clearly shot. Miguel Tejada (2357, 37) is embarrassing himself at this point, OPSing .600 as a utility man. Bobby Abreu (2353, 37) and Todd Helton (2338, 37) are still decent hitters but too far away for their age. Magglio Ordonez (2127, 37) is broken down and even farther away. Jim Thome (2255, 40) is on his last legs. Edgar Renteria (2297, 34) started strong, playing full time at age 20 and reaching 2000 hits before 30, but just fell apart when he turned 30. No way. Carlos Lee, Orlando Cabrera, and Scott Rolen (all < 2100 and Age 36) are all in serious decline; only Lee is a full time player anymore. So if A-Rod and Damon fail, who will be next? The odds are in favor of the youngest members of the 2000 hit club: Albert Pujols (2005, 31) and Adrian Beltre (1996, 32). Pujols seems like a lock, but we will need to see where he is in 3-4 years to get a better idea of how his production changes as age takes hold. 80% chance. Beltre is in the Guerrero class – swings at everything, never takes a walk, and won't age well. I'd put his odds lower, around 20%. Juan Pierre (1959, 33) seemed like a good bet throughout his 20s (four 200 hit seasons!) but now is such a liability in the field and at the plate that he won't be a full time player for much longer.

Of players still in their twenties, the current hit leaders are: Carl Crawford (1559, 29), Miguel Cabrera (1521, 28), Jose Reyes (1261, 28), David Wright (1202, 28), and Robinson Cano (1201, 28). Crawford is on a good pace, but is he having a fluke bad year or is 2011 a sign of bad things to come? Of this group, who are all too far away to project, the best odds would seem to belong to Crawford and Cano, who is entering his prime and shows durability. Cabrera may make it if alcohol and weight don't do a number on his body.

The short answer, then, appears to be that if A-Rod or Damon do not make it in the next 2 or 3 seasons, we will probably be waiting a decade or more to see another player reach 3000 hits. That Jeter fellow may be overrated and overexposed (not to mention the worst defensive player in baseball) but what he has accomplished at the plate is indeed historic.

**The same could be said for Craig Biggio, but I don't recall ESPN caring much about that one.


An old Soviet-era joke:

Svetlana works at a factory that makes the finest beds in the Soviet Union, more comfortable than any bed in the world. But neither she nor any of the workers have a bed. At the end of a long shift they return home and sleep on the floor. The correct application of socialist principles dictates that the beds first go to the hospitals, then to the army, then to the universities, then to the collective farms, and so on. The workers understand that they must wait their turn and none are bitter.

One day Svetlana's sister Olga visits and is stunned to see that she sleeps on the floor. "Svetlana," she said, "you work in a bed factory! How can it be that you have no bed?" After hearing the explanation, Olga says, "But you are missing the obvious answer. You're strong and good with your hands. Steal one small part from the factory every day and smuggle it home. In a few weeks, assemble them and you will have a bed."

"We tried that several times," Svetlana said, "and every time when we finish we find that instead of a bed we have an AK-47."

I don't expect much out of a guy like Joe Lieberman. Watching him take the Senate floor to tout his legislation (cosponsored by Tom Coburn) proposing to reallocate money from Social Security and Medicare to prevent the Pentagon budget from seeing any cuts, the ignorance of history is a little stunning even for him. When a nation is at the point of liquidating its domestic infrastructure to maintain its grotesque, bloated war machine, some historical parallels should be apparent.

When the USSR was doddering through its twilight years, it poured money and resources into a pointless war because saber-rattling and military hubris were futile efforts to stay the irreversible decline of an unsustainable system. The Roman Empire rotted from the inside and collapsed under the weight of the barbarian horde it paid to enforce Pax Romana long after it ceased to be able to afford it. That the U.S. could be in the terminal stages of empire, blindly shoveling money into an outsized military to combat boogeymen both real and imagined, seems impossible for our political class to comprehend let alone consider. Sure, analogies are fun. But people like Lieberman understand that there's a difference here: Muslims are scary and America is goddamn awesome.


A recent Huffington Post article on the phenomenon – although it is not at all clear if this is anecdotal or widespread – of college graduate women resorting to "sugar daddy" relationships to pay off student debt is making the rounds. I can't be certain of the author's intent, but the final product is offensive in ways she probably never intended.

Briefly, the article covers websites that connect older, wealthy individuals with young women (note: it mentions young men in passing as well) who are willing to provide "companionship" in exchange for "being taken care of" financially. If this sounds an awful lot like prostitution, I agree. And let me clarify one thing before everyone jumps all over me: I have no moral, legal, or ethical qualms with whatever consenting adults agree to do. If a young person is willing to provide an older person with "companionship" in exchange for money without either force or coercion being involved, then in my mind everyone is fully informed and participating willingly. Fine. If men or women, young or old, are comfortable entering into such an arrangement then that is their right and my feelings about it are irrelevant.

But here is the aspect of this story that bothers me. A lot.

"I'm honestly surprised there aren't more college students doing this," says Jennifer, not blinking. She's a 23-year-old recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College.

Fed up with young, unemployed men her own age, Jennifer recently began trawling for a sugar daddy to pay down about $20,000 in student loan debt. She also wouldn't mind a clothing allowance or rent money for her studio apartment in New York's East Village.

A week ago, she boarded a plane to Florida to spend the weekend with a 30-something banker she met on SugarDaddie.com. He told her his house was undergoing a renovation and instead drove her to a nearby hotel, where they spent the night together…At the end of the weekend, the man handed her 10 crisp $100 bills. They next plan to rendezvous in Orlando in August.

Jennifer doesn't label what she's doing as prostitution. "I'm not a whore. Whores are paid by the hour, can have a high volume of clients in a given day, and it's based on money, not on who the individual actually is. There's no feeling involved and the entire interaction revolves around a sexual act," says Jennifer, who wears a $300 strapless dress purchased with money from her most recent conquest. The rest of the money, she says, went towards paying down her student loans.

"My situation is different in a number of different ways. First of all, I don't engage with a high volume of people, instead choosing one or two men I actually like spending time with and have decided to develop a friendship with them. And while sex is involved, the focus is on providing friendship. It's not only about getting paid."

To most of today's undergraduates, this is the biggest benefit of a liberal arts education: learning how to intellectualize their own life choices in a way that belittles others and enforces class barriers. Again, in my mind there is nothing wrong with "Jennifer" or her choices. These are willing adults. But I subscribe to the Call a Spade a Spade school of logic. Jennifer, you are fucking someone in exchange for money. That is called prostitution. Deal with it.

Instead of looking into the mirror and saying "OK, this is the choice I made," we see the wheels of a six-figure private school education turning in her head. People who go to Sarah Lawrence and meet rich men on websites aren't whores – whores are poor people! Brown people! Whores are people who live in ghettos and bang guys for $20 or some rock. I'm certainly not one of them! Look at my expensive lifestyle. Look at how effectively I can segregate us into clearly defined groups. I am a good person. They are not.

If the only way you can defend or feel good about what you're doing with your life is to demean or denigrate people of a lower social class in order to elevate yourself, there is an excellent chance that you're trying to placate yourself as much as you are trying to convince others. Oh, and as a general rule, much like the phrase "I'm not a racist, but…" is used exclusively by racists, anyone who feels compelled to explain why "I'm not a whore" is probably exactly that. Lobbyists, take note.


Let's say you have a child. We'll call him Billy. Because of your schedule, you and your working spouse/partner decide that it's time to hire a nanny to help with childcare.

You hire someone who seems very nice. She promises to do a lot of things that you think will be good for your child – no TV allowed, an hour of reading time every day, outdoor activities, healthy snacks, and so on. This sounds promising, so much so that you don't even feel as guilty about leaving Billy in the care of a virtual stranger.

After a few months you realize that not everything has gone as well as you hoped. The nanny isn't bad per se, but she's not following through on some of the promises. She gives him more snacks than you would like. She arranges playdates with the children of adults you don't know. Billy seems to have picked up a few four-letter words from her. It's a lot of small things, not one big thing. But Billy bonded with the nanny and you don't want to fire her.

So you hire another person to help care for your child – a 47 year old schizophrenic convicted sex offender named Rich Crenshaw who keeps three knives on his person at all times. He promises to straighten that nanny right out.

Almost immediately you realize that things are not quite right. Billy seems to have a lot of unexplained cuts and bruises. He reverts to sucking his thumb and gently sobbing himself to sleep. The nanny has stopped doing the things you disliked, but it seems like she stopped doing the things you liked as well. She's sort of a non-entity.

You have a little sit down with Rich and the nanny, letting them know that you don't want Billy to be given snacks but you don't want him to be starved. You don't want him playing with strangers, but that doesn't mean he should be locked in the closet. You want him to behave, but you don't want him threatened with a knife. In your mind these are reasonable demands.

Rich pulls out his knife, grabs your child, and runs into the attic. He holds the knife to Billy's throat and insists that he'll ventilate the little SOB unless you let him do whatever he wants. After a tense standoff you figure that it's better for Billy to be messed up than dead, so you negotiate.

Clearly the right thing for Billy lies somewhere between the two approaches. Neither the nanny nor Mr. Crenshaw did the right thing, so you realize that both are at fault. You work out a compromise: your child will get healthy snacks and outdoor playtime in the morning, and then in the afternoon Rich will beat him with a broken table leg, slash at him with a broken Night Train bottle, and dangle him from the roof.

Deep down you're not happy. You know that this isn't exactly "good" for your child. You feel indirectly responsible for this situation but you can't quite figure out what you did wrong. Isn't moderation good? Splitting the difference between opposing viewpoints? Finding balance? But try as you might, you just cannot understand how things went so wrong. When you hired that knife-wielding 47 year old schizophrenic convicted sex offender, you trusted that he would do the right thing. Instead he turned out to be crap-eating crazy, precipitated a hostage crisis, and acted like some kind of violent sociopath.

It truly is an outcome that could not be foreseen.