As 2011 rolls to a close, Gin and Tacos celebrates eight (!!!!) years of providing commentary, useful information, intriguing facts, lively discussion, and dick jokes every weekday with few exceptions. Even though traffic has increased consistently over the years, the site remains and will remain free of advertisements. If you have to ask why, you must be new.

Sticking to that policy based on principle has a downside that becomes apparent in late December when the annual hosting bill arrives. So here is where I give you a number of options.

1. You can do nothing and continue to enjoy the site for free. This is called "free riding", and it's an entirely rational behavior. Follow me on Facebook if you'd like an extra daily dose of absurd humor and penetrating insight.

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2. You can use this tip jar / donation link to contribute an amount of your choosing to defray the costs of this site. If you happen to be saddled with extra cash and feel like donating fifty bucks, I will be extremely grateful. However, if donating fifty cents is more in line with your current budget, my gratitude will be no less. If every reader chipped in a buck it would cover the site costs for years. And if the Queen had a dick, she'd be the king.

Anyway, your tips and contributions are (obviously) voluntary but greatly appreciated.

3. If Mancur Olson was right about providing selective benefits, perhaps you could be encouraged to part with a small sum of money in return for something tangible. So there are stickers. They are perfect for your laptop, bumper, guitar case, locker, bike helmet, front door (keep the missionaries away), bong, or forehead. In the absence of clothing, one or more stickers can be placed hastily over your genitals.

3" x 5" stickers on heavy white vinyl – $3.50 (shipping included, unless it's outside of the U.S.)

Thanks in advance for any help you choose to offer. Regardless of whether you contribute, I sincerely thank you for supporting the site by continuing to read. You are the wind beneath my wings.


I'm not the world's biggest college football fan. Not only does the NCAA steadfastly refuse to institute a simple playoff system, but they even managed to butcher the nonsensical Bowl game system that they use in its place. The Bowls all used to be on New Years Eve or New Years Day, which made them an annual tradition for hungover Americans. Now they're scattered all the hell over the place between Thanksgiving and January 10, with hardly any games of significance held on the traditional date. This scheduling change is due in part to the fact that there are now dozens of Bowls – 35, to be exact, meaning that a whopping 70 of the 119 FBS (I-A) teams go to a Bowl. How else will the nation be treated to epic tilts like 6-6 Illinois vs. 6-7 UCLA? How else will the timeless rivalry between San Diego State and Louisiana-Lafayette be resolved?

Colleges love going to Bowl games; it's a nice payday. Big time, major games like the Rose or Orange Bowls have payouts well into eight figures. It's also a mark of prestige for the program. In theory. I mean, it's pretty cool to describe your team with the phrase "Sugar Bowl champions." Unfortunately some of the "bowls" to which we are now subjected make that difficult. It's pretty hard to get excited about going to, or even winning, a game with a ridiculous name. Here's a quick breakdown of the least-bragworthy Bowl games of this year and years past:

1. Bowls named after depressing geographic locations: Admit it, you were all jazzed to see Temple clash with Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl, right? How about the Mobile Alabama Bowl, the Fort Worth Bowl, the St. Petersburg Bowl, or the ever-popular Seattle Bowl?

2. Bowls named after bizarre, obscure corporate sponsors: This category brings us classics like the BBVA Compass Bowl (formerly the equally lame Birmingham Bowl), the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl, the Bowl, the TicketCity Bowl (new for 2011!), the EagleBank Bowl, or the Bowl.

3. Bowls with just plain stupid names: There exists a game called the "Beef O'Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg." This not only fails the most basic naming convention – ending in "Bowl" – but it names the game after a seriously disgusting regional fast food chain that is unknown to most of the country. Is the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (formerly the MPC Computers Bowl) a real thing? Honorable mention: the defunct "Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl Presented by Bridgestone."

4. Established Bowls we still laugh at: Even though it has a long history, does anyone say San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl without laughing? The Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (formerly the Houston Bowl) seems like it has been around for a while, only if one confuses it with the former Meineke Car Care Bowl, which is now the Belk Bowl (after the Southern department store where old people pass the time waiting to die). Does a team even accept the trophy from something called the "Meineke Car Care Bowl" or is it best to forget the whole thing happened? What university wouldn't be proud to say it won the Bowl (formerly the housing crisis-inducing "GMAC Bowl")?

5. Honorable Mention, Wussy-Sounding Names Division: It's hard to tell if the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl or the Roady's Truck Stops Humanitarian Bowl are charity events, 5k fun-runs, or football games. And just wait until you see the shitstorm of pink that will be the forthcoming (2012-13) Susan G. Komen For the Cure Bowl, hopefully featuring a halftime show by a Cure cover band made up of breast cancer survivors. Let's not forget the defunct Charity Bowl, Bluebonnet Bowl, Mercy Bowl, and the eminently fragile Glass Bowl.

Seriously, NCAA: enough. Knock it off. An eight team playoff will take all of three weeks. For the love of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, stop all of this insanity.


You know how little I like the "Here, I'm gonna copy someone else's writing rather than generating original content" posts, but I've been trying to improve upon this ("A Tale of Two Systems") for the past week and I don't think I have much to add to it.

American autoworkers are constantly told that high-wage work is an unsustainable relic in the face of a hyper-competitive, globalized marketplace. Apostles of neo-liberal economic theory — both in the public and private sectors — have stressed the message that worker adaptation is necessary to survive. Indeed, Steven Rattner, President Obama’s “car czar” during the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler in early 2009, spoke last week of his regret that the federal government had not required the United Auto workers to take a wage cut at that time to enhance the competitiveness of those companies, comments similar to those he made in a recently published book (after the outcry created by last week’s remarks, Rattner yesterday backed away from them, though reiterating his view that more “shared sacrifice” would have bolstered American competitiveness).

Governments, too, the globalists have contended, should not think that markets can or should be controlled. As Remapping Debate reported earlier this year in an article about the role of large consulting firms in the promotion of the notion that national policy can and must allow global capital a free hand, McKinsey & Co. was already arguing back in 1994 that “a national government has no choice but to move forward to embrace the global capital market unless it wants to harm its own citizens, its economy and its own purposes.”

But the case of German automakers — BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen — tells a different story. Each company produces vehicles not only in Germany, but also in “transplant” factories in the U.S. The former are characterized by high wages and high union membership; the U.S. plants pay lower wages and are located in so-called “right-to-work” (anti-union) states.

It turns out that “inevitability” has nothing to do with the differing conditions; the salient difference is that, in Germany, the automakers operate within an environment that precludes a race to the bottom; in the U.S., they operate within an environment that encourages such a race.

OK, two things.

First, "Car Czar" Rattner is a jagoff, despite the fact that I greatly enjoyed his book Overhaul. He apparently believes that the UAW should have taken bigger wage cuts so…so what, so that the bondholders could take a smaller haircut? The GM bondholders got more than half, when in any other bankruptcy they'd be entitled to (and receive) exactly jack shit. Convenient fact to omit with all the sweet talk of "shared sacrifice".

Second, as always the elephant in the room is the cost of private health insurance and health care overall. American neoliberals and assorted other Heritage-affiliated pud pullers love to whip out the "total compensation" canard to make wages look equal across borders. Of course Americans make a fraction of their European counterparts in terms of actual, you know, money. But I guess we should feel well compensated because the few employers that still provide insurance have to pay out the ass to do it. Awesome.

Gotta love the moral of the story, though: German auto manufacturers can obviously afford to pay workers in their American factories $30+ hourly…but why bother when people in Alabama and South Carolina are stupid enough to do it for half that? They know a rube when they see one, wrapped in a XXL-sized "These Colors Don't Run" t-shirt and clutching a Bible.


Prior to the Moon landing itself (Apollo 11), the most watched event in the history of television was the Christmas Eve broadcast from Apollo 8 in 1968. That crew was the first to actually leave the gravitational pull of Earth and visit the Moon, orbiting it several times but obviously not landing.

The video shows a very low-resolution but clearly desolate image of the lunar surface out of a tiny window on the command module, which put the three astronauts – Lovell, Borman, and Anders – in a reflective state of mind. Lovell, later of Apollo 13 fame, said: "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth."

Borman: "And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth."

Couldn't have said it better, Frank.


Two vignettes.

1. Barack Obama – Democrat, man of color, and frequent recipient of the title "most liberal Senator" before his run for the White House – signs a law explicitly permitting indefinite detention of American citizens. For those of you who believe that criticism of the National Defense Authorization Act is overstated, read this thorough explanation of the provisions in the bill that make this possible. Proponents will argue that detention without due process can be applied only to suspected terrorists (According to whom? Based on what standard of evidence? Aren't these quite literally the exact same questions we had to ask under Bush?) and hey, trust us! We'd never use it for anything else.

Many down-in-the-bunker type Obama defenders cling to the 11th-degree chess theory of his presidency, that his seeming preferences for neoliberalism, neoconservative foreign policy, and Unitary Executive Theory are actually a series of strategic decisions – so complex and layered that our pedestrian minds could never understand it – engineered to produce liberal policy outcomes. The only way his decision to sign the NDAA could fit that explanation is that he and his Justice Dept. realize that this is so patently unconstitutional that the Supreme Court will reject it summarily while Obama scores some political points for being Tough on Terror.

Do you trust the Supreme Court? Does anyone? Can someone remind me one more time why I should care which moderate Republican wins in the titanic struggle between Romney and Obama?

2. Campaign Mode Obamatm announces that each state can choose which parts of his health care reform legislation they will enforce. While some types of coverage are mandatory, states are able to define and set limits during the implementation – for example, pharmacy benefits are mandatory but states get to decide what level of benefits will be offered. Let's all guess what Mississippi's going to provide its residents. Under this "mandate".

Essentially, then, due to pressure from Republican governors and attorneys general he has backed down…on his signature legislation, and possibly his only substantial accomplishment during his first term.

Hey, at least the Iraq War is over! As long as replacing troops with tens of thousands of unaccountable, legally immune private contractors meets one's definition of "over".


Two recent New York Times pieces have drawn attention to a pair of positively staggering statistics. First, a national survey of over 7,300 young Americans found that by age 23, more than 30% had been arrested. This excludes traffic violations, open container tickets, and the like. Three out of ten Americans have been arrested by the time an average person is finishing college. Second, the NYPD recorded over 600,000 pedestrian searches (the "stop and frisk" variety) in 2010. The subject of 87% of these was either black or Latino.

As this editorial by a 23 year old black New Yorker points out, this is not without long term consequences:

When I was young I thought cops were cool. They had a respectable and honorable job to keep people safe and fight crime. Now, I think their tactics are unfair and they abuse their authority. The police should consider the consequences of a generation of young people who want nothing to do with them — distrust, alienation and more crime.

He's being more diplomatic than I would be (which I suppose is why he's in the New York Times and I write a blog full of dick jokes). The fruit of the War on Drugs has been several generational cohorts of Americans who think cops are A) assholes, and/or B) the enemy. They have every reason to think that, and law enforcement seems eager to give them more every day.

This is anecdotal to the places I've lived and I can't find any statistics on it, but when was the last time you saw a cop "Walking the beat"? Like, on foot? Not actively pursuing anyone, not sitting in a squad car, not conducting a roadblock or investigation…just walking around and, you know, interacting with people. Hell, I'm not sure I've ever seen that. An older friend of mine tells stories about growing up in Philadelphia in the 1950s and passing Officer Bob every morning on his way to school – not frisking kids or running a metal detector over them. Just standing around saying "Hi kids! Be good!" Does that actually happen anywhere these days, even in small towns?

The militarization of law enforcement and thirty years of Zero Tolerance, tough-on-crime politics have created an America in which law enforcement has become, perhaps unwillingly, the Other, the Ministry of State Security types used as anonymous, menacing stock characters in dystopian fiction. And the frightening end result is that most Americans my age or younger – anyone born after Carter, I guess – have never had an interaction with the police except being arrested or being given a ticket. For non-white people in particular, many of us reach middle age now having never had a positive interaction with police. It has all been negative. Seeing the police does not make us feel safer. It makes us want to get the hell away from the police, because we believe that nothing good can come of interacting with them.

The statistics that opened this post point to deep problems with law enforcement in this country. Americans, especially younger ones, see police as callous, mean, prejudiced, and arrogant. We don't think of cops as Officer Leroy who was hung out on Main Street and told us to stay out of trouble. When we see cops, we think of that square-headed guy from high school who everyone laughed at so he decided to get a badge and take his insecurities out on society. We don't think of them as people who help us – we think of ourselves getting pepper sprayed, smacked over the head, or held face down on the pavement at gunpoint for no reason whatsoever.

I'm a law abiding 33 year old white male with a Ph.D. and an aspiring middle class lifestyle…and I've never dealt with a cop who wasn't an asshole toward me. Not once. If that's how they treat someone who practically shits white male privilege, I feel safe assuming that they're not being much friendlier or more helpful to anyone else. The police officer is supposed to be someone we can trust implicitly, and instead the policies of the past three decades have transformed the citizen-police relationship to one of deep, mutual suspicion. They see us as drug holding, law breaking felons-in-waiting, and we see them as an opponent to be avoided at all costs.


Many Americans below the age of thirty would probably be shocked to learn that the federal government used to control the entire airline industry. And when I say "control" I don't mean in the abstract; an agency called the Civil Aeronautics Board, which in 1967 was integrated into the Department of Transportation, determined which airlines would service each route/destination and set passenger ticket prices that were standardized across the industry. Consequently the industry was dominated by a small number of very large operations – Pan Am, TWA, Delta, and so on. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 changed all of that, of course, and set the stage for the bankruptcy-riddled, shambolic industry we have today.

One thing that Congress realized when passing the ADA was that major airlines would quickly drop unprofitable routes. In order to receive highly profitable routes under regulation – New York to Chicago, or whatever – the CAB would require airlines to provide service to Joplin, MO or Saginaw, MI or some other such isolated red ink route. Absent the government mandate, Delta and United would find it in their interest to abandon such routes immediately. To prevent that from happening, and recognizing the value of having a national network of scheduled air service, Congress created the Essential Air Service (EAS). That sounds like some kind of team of highly trained covert operatives and would be a fantastic band name to boot. The reality is more mundane, though. The EAS program simply subsidized service to populous but remote locations that would not otherwise get scheduled service from airlines. This is the sole reason that passengers can fly to places like Muscle Shoals, AL and Bismarck, ND. The program is not large in the context of the federal budget, but it clocks in at a not-insignificant $100-120 million annually. (Curious to know if your airport is one of 110 in the Lower 48 that receives EAS money? Look here.)

Raise your hand if you know where this is heading.

The Essential Air Service program began in 1978 as a temporary way to help small airports survive federal deregulation. Rep. Tom Petri, chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, says the program is obsolete.

"Why should the government have to pay for all this?" asks Petri, a Wisconsin Republican.

What comes next is stupid even by the standards of modern House Republicans from rural Wisconsin:

Being from a big state, Petri is very aware that small airports are important to rural voters. What does he tell them when they complain about his plan to cut subsidies?

"Up in northern Wisconsin, a number of people weren't happy about this sort of thing," he admits. "I say well … my part of the state, Appleton, had air service and it was canceled numerous times and each time it was canceled people got together and started a new airline themselves. It's not that hard. You just need a pilot and a small plane."

Let that sink in for a moment. OK? Good.

It's important to move past the prima facie stupidity of that statement and explore its very deep ignorance of the history of the industry since deregulation. Airline startups boomed in the 1980s; I remember names like Midwest Air, Air Illinois, Midway Airlines, Chicago Air, Ozark Airlines, and ATA in my neck of the woods as a kid. A funny thing happened to these airlines, as you might have guessed already looking at that list: every goddamn one of them failed. Some of the larger ones were purchased by major carriers to serve as feeders once they could no longer survive on their own. Most of them just went belly-up and disappeared. This happens because providers that serve small markets inevitably discover that A) providing the level of service people expect from major airlines is too expensive and B) to make money you have to cut costs, well, everywhere. Cheap planes, cheap maintenance, cheap wages, cheap safety procedures…that's how you make money flying from Helena to Denver. But the funny thing about "cheap" and "airline" is that when you try to combine the two, planes have a tendency to fall out of the sky. Turns out that the deicing equipment couldn't last three months beyond its spec replacement date, and those 100 hours in the simulator didn't really prepare Captain Bob (who was working an office job six months ago) to fly an ATR at night in the snow.

But perhaps the problem is that people who don't have the decency and good sense to live near an airport that major carriers can profitably serve just expect too much. Maybe "a pilot and a small plane" is all they need. Remember, It's not that hard. To start an airline. Would-be passengers can just show up at the airport and say "Hey, can someone fly me to Minneapolis today?" Then they can clamber on board some guy's Piper Cub for a no-instrument adventure flight to the big city.

Sounds like the kind of transportation experience we should have here in this industrialized country that touts itself as the greatest, most advanced, and most economically powerful in the world.


I'm going to ask that contrary to the usual NPF-about-sports rules, you do NOT skip this one just because you hate sports.

So. TebowManiatm has taken America by storm. Tebow, a highly successful college athlete, is now having a run of success with the Denver Broncos and the media are absolutely enamored with him. Among the general public he's a more polarizing figure though. Many people see him as too much of a goody-goody to root for. Imagine Ned Flanders playing quarterback, constantly reminding everyone about his celibacy and teetotaling and abiding love for Christ. There's something off-putting, at least to some portion of the population, about a guy who starts out every single interview he's ever done with "First I would like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." But at the same time this is decidedly NOT off-putting to a lot of people as well. They think he's the bee's knees: clean cut, patriotic, religious, and good at football. That's like the perfect person to a lot of Americans.

Anyway, in the spirit of that wonderful "What if the Tea Party was black?" piece from a few months ago I was planning on doing a "What if Tebow was a Muslim?" thing. Of course Americans would still love him if he was celibate, clean cut, patriotic, good at football, and began every interview with "First I would like to thank Allah and his one true prophet, Mohammed." Right? Yeah, of course they would. In any case, someone beat me to it (and did a great job with it).

But let's take it in another direction. Would we even be having this conversation if Tebow was black? Football fans out there, answer me a question: What becomes of college quarterbacks who arrive in the NFL wearing adjectives like "athletic" and "physical"? Who are known for their running skills and strong arm but lack sufficient accuracy to hit the broad side of a barn from 20 yards? Who have big physiques usually associated with positions like wide receiver or running back? I think you get my drift. If Tebow was Black Tebow, would the world have accommodated his demand to keep playing QB rather than change positions?

In my mind this is another tire to throw on the fire if you hate Tebow. If his overbearing Ned Flanders-ness and mediocre passing ability aren't enough, you can fixate on how he represents the racial double standards that permeate American sports. If only someone had moved Tebow to RB, so we could laud him as a "throwback" or "a real gamer" with "a lot of heart" and all the other stock plaudits for white skill position players. Maybe we could even compare him to Mike Alstott! That would be novel.

(I guess this was Sorta Politics Friday. But Tebow! Also Tebow.)


I usually don't let the day-to-day aspects of my job get me down. Academia, yes. That gets me down sometimes. But it's rare that I walk out of the classroom feeling bad about what I do for a living. Yet this semester (we are currently in finals), grading research papers has kinda broken me. Not completely, of course – I'm not out on the ledge or typing up my resignation letter – but I'm second guessing myself even more than usual and not feeling particularly good about it right now. Perhaps my fellow educators out there can appreciate reaching the end of a semester or year and dealing with the nagging feeling that your students did not actually learn a damn thing.

These papers, nearly 90 in all, are among the worst things I've ever graded. A few are outstanding. Some are pretty good. Some are decent. But most of them are terrible. I feel bad about this for two different reasons. First, I tend to blame myself first and foremost when things vaguely within my control are not successful. Of the students who approached me for help in advance of the due date – you know, the good students who were responsible enough to take some initiative and put a little effort into it – I feel like I did not do a good enough job of helping them. If they're working with me and the final product has flaws, that is at least partly my fault. I failed them and I failed myself, but I can live with it because I know that I'm not a perfect teacher and it's a useful reminder that I need to continue improving. It knocks me down a peg. That's a good thing.

Second, I feel bad because sometimes these end-of-semester assignments have a way of making me feel like I was wasting my time. You know that one student who asks when the final exam is even though you mentioned it in class 15 times and the date/time are on the syllabus? He makes you feel like you're wasting your time talking because he's not paying the slightest bit of attention to you. Now imagine that he's half of your class. Maybe even more than half. I must have gone over the basics of this assignment a dozen times. I walked through example after example. And it's really obvious that some of these people did not hear a single word of it. They might be in class, but they're staring at their laptops and I'm ultimately background noise. Consequently I can't help but question the value of what I do. It feels like there is none, bluntly. We could stick a board with a painted-on smiley face at the front of the room and play audio recordings of the Oliver North hearings and it would not change the amount that many of these students learn in their classes. I feel about as useful as a travel agent sometimes.

It's hard to feel good when I am forced to realize that A) there are things I didn't do well enough, B) an appreciable portion of these students lack even adequate high school-level writing skills, and C) not many of them are putting effort into their classes, paying any attention to me when I teach, or both. Oh, and it's even harder to feel good when you read "charter schools and home schooling are more effective because the pace of instruction is not slowed because of minority and disabled students" in a paper.

That's not the kind of thing one overcomes to have a good day.

Usually I have a half-decent and not-too-cheesy answer to the "Why do we do this?" question that educators so often ask themselves and one another. Today I don't. Today I'm unsure what, if anything, that 17 weeks of hard work accomplished.


In keeping with yesterday's post about the Establishment Republican view of what ails us economically, here's Ron "Can you believe I beat Feingold? Me neither!" Johnson explaining why the minimum wage is just fine where it is:

JOHNSON: Bottom line: when you’re a good worker you don’t stay at minimum wage for long. Trust me on that. (Crowd laughs)

It’s not universal. It’s not universal, but trust me as an employer, as an employer I certainly didn’t want to lose good employees. And so you actually have a better marketplace. And so if your employer is not paying you good wages and you’re a good worker, you go look for other places. Now that’s hard to do, that’s hard to do when we have such high levels of unemployment. But again I would get back to we don’t have a very attractive place for business investment.

To summarize, being a "good worker" means that you'll make more money. If you are stuck at a low paying job, by implication you are a Bad Worker. Bad! We do that outside, mister.

When I hear logic such as this I always wonder…do people like Gingrich and Johnson actually believe that this is the way the world (or at least the economy) works? That the job market and wages are as described in Chapter 3 of a junior high economics textbook? Or do they realize that the worldview they're promoting is ludicrous but do it anyway because it's politically expedient? If it's the former, from where did this understanding of the economy arise? In Johnson's case it certainly isn't from personal experience; he married into a rich family that put him at the top of the family business. I guess that was his reward for being a Good Worker.

I reference Horatio Alger often on here – he of the classic 19th Century juvenile literature exemplified by Ragged Dick, wherein plucky, bootstrap-pulling protagonists rise from vagrant or shoe shine boy to powerful socioeconomic status using nothing but their own "luck, pluck, and diligence." The reason I so often reference him here is that his oversimplified worldview, packaged and aimed at children (today we'd call him a Young Adult author, although that genre is now known as Teen Paranormal Romance) as it was, perfectly summarizes the modern conservative understanding of social class, labor markets, economics, and the state. Everyone who works hard makes it! The world is a fundamentally Good place and it will reward the deserving! A magnanimous rich or powerful person will notice your outstanding qualities and pull you up the social ladder!

Alger is widely scorned today, much as we can assume that modern authors aiming at tweens will be scorned by future generations. However, America during the Industrial Revolution was a ready market for his literature – simple, inspirational stories intended to make young people feel like life might hold something other than misery for them. But his books were stories, not empirical studies. Even Alger himself, ever the chipper fellow, understood that his fiction for kids was not an accurate representation of how the world really worked. Yet here we are more than a century later and the gospel of wealth and social mobility in a classless society has become a rare trope in fiction…but a disturbingly prominent one in real life, if the attitudes of our ruling class are any indication.