NPF: SECOND CLASS CITIZENS

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 29th, 2013 by Ed

I couldn't decide which one of these would be more fun. In fact, I hate making decisions. You will accept both and like it.

1. Whether your experience on a college campus is as a student, faculty, or professional staff it's hard not to notice the, uh, social pecking order on campus. The business school always seems brand new. The hard sciences are often (although certainly not always) ensconced in a glimmering brand new academic megaplex that becomes the focal point of marketing materials and tours for prospective students (not to mention Mom and Dad). And then there are the humanities and social sciences, tucked away in buildings rich in "charm" and often described as "quaint." They might even be covered in ivy!

The ivy, of course, makes it harder to see all the cracks and water damage.

There's an ascetic mindset among people in fields like English, as if they're not really learning or doing justice to the intellectual tradition if their surroundings are not sufficiently dilapidated. Personally, I find this type of charm overrated. I prefer bathrooms that do not smell like a rendering plant and ceilings that don't leak to ivy and hallowed-looking halls.

The site is not very far along yet – I'm hoping it picks up steam – but Classrooms of Shame highlights user-submitted pictures of some of the dingier environs to which the Not Economically Viable subjects are confined on most campuses. I have done the three-temps-in-one-office thing, but honestly I feel fortunate that I haven't experienced anything on the scale of these photos. Sound off in the comments if you have a good story about a terrible workspace you've been given; I know of one adjunct instructor who claimed to hold office hours in his parked car. He would have used the university library…except they wouldn't even give him a parking pass on the car-unfriendly campus. So he met students in the car and fed the meter a quarter every 30 minutes.

2. It's Burning Man once again, which means that for those of us whose heads are not completely buried up our own asses it's time to make fun of people at Burning Man again. This tumblr is doing an outstanding job. The stupid pictures are what we have come to expect, but the person behind this site is killing it with the captions:

Theodore Buckingsworth, a.k.a. “Slambucha,” describes himself as “the greenest playa on the playa.” When Teddy isn’t working as an installation specialist for Time Warner Cable or “turnin’ out fair-trade hoes,” he’s most likely in his “laboratory” crafting his debut album, aptly entitled “Fig Pimpin’.” Promising “the rhythmical intensity of Insane Clown Posse mixed with the philosophical lyrical prowess of Counting Crows,” he’ll be performing some of his original material in the United Western Juggalos tent at this year’s Burning Man festival. If you need a phat beat, some whip-its, or a frumpy, yet earthy escort for your adventures in Black Rock City, Teddy is your go-to guy.

Whenever I see pictures of Burning Man I feel like Kurtz leaving a note for his killer in Apocalypse Now – "Drop the bomb; exterminate them all." The world isn't going to miss 10,000 graphic designers and an equal number of the permastoned and marginally employable white kids with dreads.

FATIGUE FACTOR

Posted in Quick Hits on August 28th, 2013 by Ed

Admittedly it has been a while, but one of the things I recall distinctly from the years of being a Republican was that it was very tiring. It was exhausting, frankly, to keep one's motives hidden. It wasn't even that bad back in the 1990s, yet I could already see the clear distinction between thoughts and words that were acceptable in private (i.e., among fellow travelers) and the public Message. I said, and heard people say, things in private that it was understood were For Republican Ears Only. I'm not even talking about anything horrifyingly offensive – it was simply the pretense of being concerned about A, B, and C when in reality we cared about X, Y, and Z. Pretending to be morally outraged at the Lewinsky affair, for example, was a tiring cover story for the fact that Republicans just kinda hated Bill Clinton. But you can't just say "Well there's no point, we just kinda hate Bill Clinton." You have to have a reason that sounds good.

That was long ago for Ed. I got out before it became necessary to pretend – for years on end – the pretense that voter ID laws are about preventing fraud. Certainly the GOP is sick of engaging in tortured explanations of how something that doesn't exist (in-person voter fraud) is a major problem that only Republican state legislatures have the courage to address. After more than half a decade of having this debate publicly, I'd almost respect them more if they'd just come out and admit that they're passing these laws because they think it will help them win elections. Just be honest. Nobody believes the horseshit cover story anyway.

Well, Phyllis Schlafly is dropping the charade. Since the Supreme Court has signed off on explicitly partisan election laws at the state level, why the hell not? Just come out and say:

The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama's ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama's national field director admitted, shortly before last year's election, that "early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election."

Well, Phyllis came out and said that. And a lot more. All of it amounts to, "We really can't win presidential elections unless we stop some of These People from voting."

There's a certain freedom wingnuts enjoy when writing in a forum like World Nut Daily – talk about preaching to the choir – but Schlafly is a visible figure and perhaps this is a signal that it's OK to start telling the truth. We all know exactly what is going on here anyway, so I welcome a world in which we no longer have to have this phony hand-wringing about voter fraud that does not exist in any way that Voter ID laws could prevent. It's tiring for everyone involved.

PUBLIC SERVANTS

Posted in Rants on August 27th, 2013 by Ed

Excuse me for going into Professor Mode today; I've covered this in every class I've ever taught, and I'll continue to do so until They won't let me in a classroom anymore.

This is the best thing The Onion has ever done. That seems like a tenuous claim given the thousands of different gags and stories they've done over the past two decades, but "Let Me Explain Why Miley Cyrus' VMA Performance Was Our Top Story This Morning" cloaks in humor a lesson that I think everyone in America – and increasingly the rest of the world – needs to get through their head.

People like to talk about media bias. Everyone thinks the media is biased, despite being unable to agree on a direction (liberals think it's too conservative, conservatives think it's all liberal claptrap). This sort of partisan political bias is a distracting sideshow from the much more prevalent and influential "commercial" bias. Commercial bias is the idea that the news is chosen, framed, and otherwise manipulated not to grind a partisan ax but to accommodate the reality that the media is a business. Like any other business, the media need to make money. They get money by getting people to read, listen, and watch. This translates to the rates they can charge their advertisers. That's why the news looks like it does today.

Even Fox News, perhaps the champions of pure political bias, is motivated by profit more than ideology. Rupert Murdoch identified a market niche and filled it with a product tailored to certain viewers. It has succeeded. Does Fox News employ people who are politically biased? Certainly. But they work there because it brings in ratings. If hardcore communism was twice as popular in the U.S. as the Fox brand of conservatism, there's a good chance that Murdoch would fill his media outlets with a product reflecting that reality.

You are, as the Onion piece states, just a pair of eyeballs. It's useful to remember that if something is "free", you're what's being sold. TV and internet news sites cost nothing to watch, and the companies that produce it have nothing to sell but your attention. This reality has far more of an influence on the news we see than anyone's political agenda. When Glenn Beck's ratings were high, Fox paid him handsomely. When they tanked, he was fired. It's just a business that operates no differently than a non-news TV network.

The internet is hailed as the most important advance in media/communication since television. In terms of news content, though, the advent of cable TV (and 24-hour news networks with the debut of CNN) was more consequential. Simply put, before CNN and cable there simply wasn't much news on TV. Each network ran a half hour of local and a half hour of national into the 1980s. More importantly, the three major networks (which were essentially all that was on TV for most Americans) ran news in the same time slot. Check out this network TV schedule from 1962. Look at how little news there is – 30 minutes total – and it's all at 7 PM. The news, in short, competed with other news.

Today the news has vastly more time to fill and it competes 24 hours per day not just with a handful of other news networks but also with 600 other channels of entertainment. It competes with football and sitcoms and shows about cute animals and reality shows and everything else on TV. Almost all of that stuff is more interesting to American viewers than news, so there is only one way for the news – being as ratings-driven as any other network on TV – to compete: it becomes entertainment.

That is why celebrities, sports, graphic crime stories, and new Apple products are headline news these days. They are simply trying to show you things that you will find interesting enough to watch. When I was a child, there was still a sense that journalists were public watchdogs with some sort of responsibility to The News and The Truth. Of course the media have never lived up to this lofty ideal, but the pretense was maintained. But the reality is that while the media perform a public service – admittedly we would be ignorant of most things happening outside of our lives without them – they decidedly are not public servants. They are part of a ratings- and profit-driven enterprise dedicated to prying you away from everything else on TV and holding your attention long enough to show you some commercials.

Cynical? Yes. Reality can be pretty harsh. The news you see on TV is a product like any other, focus-grouped and reworked to be pleasing to its intended audience. Journalists may understand their job to include a professional obligation to tell the truth and report important stories, but the environment in which they work is structured in a way that guarantees that most of the airtime is going to be devoted to sports, Hollywood, barely-disguised advertising, and the occasional twerk.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Posted in Rants on August 26th, 2013 by Ed

Recently I spent an evening with some people I just met, including one gentleman of a very conservative bent. He went on a number of fairly familiar conservative rants. I didn't engage him, as despite this I found him pretty pleasant, everyone seemed to be having a good time, and over time I've found that it's neither productive nor worth the effort to debate in these settings. It did, however, leave me puzzled the more I thought about the things he said.

While this is a forum for extreme sarcasm and general rudeness, I'm going to pose this question in earnest. If anyone can shed some light on this, I legitimately want to know. There are a few conditions, though. First, this is not a question for the small subset of libertarians who believe in the absolute abolition of government. The question presumes that for most people on the right, there is some acceptable level of government and some functions that are properly public. It might not be much, but when pressed very few conservatives actually believe there should be no government. If you happen to be of this school of thought, this question is not for you. Please go elsewhere and, I don't know, hand-load ammo or skin a deer or check the filter seals on your bunker's ventilation system or whatever it is you do for fun.

OK. Without recourse to "Government should be abolished" as an answer, consider this: How can "Less government!" be the solution to every problem if government is also, as conservatives consider fundamental to their beliefs, inefficient and incompetent?

If government cannot do anything right, then it is inefficient at allocating its resources. That would mean, logically, that there are some things to which the government is devoting far too many resources and others to which it devotes far too few. There should, in other words, be some problem to which "More government!" is the answer. An incompetent or inefficient government could not get everything wrong in the exact same way – i.e., by over-governing. There is a stochastic element to incompetence, and inefficiency in particular is a common accusation made by small government advocates.

In essence, I see this as a more sophisticated version of a problem common among the nuttier, less intelligent elements on the right – that is, the simultaneous belief that government can't do anything correctly but it somehow orchestrates massively complex conspiracies. Barack Obama secretly controls the entire government and the Fed secretly runs the world yet the government is incapable of running a lemonade stand.

I'm perplexed. Enlighten me.

NPF: PLAUSIBLE REALITIES

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 22nd, 2013 by Ed

What a perfect Friday for wasting time on the internets. Who has your back? I have it. Let me show you.

1. I've never been the biggest fan of the Dune universe, but these paintings / prints (apparently Frank Herbert-approved) are pretty excellent. It's not often that one uses the term "lifelike" to describe a painting of a giant worm bursting forth from the desert; this is one such time.

Dune1

Show the world that you control the spice.

2. Speaking of the oddly lifelike, Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag makes incredible pseudo-realist images that combine real Swedish landscapes and people with a type of mid-century futurism – robots, machines, and Space Age contraptions.

robottransport

Please do check out his body of work. It's pretty wild.

3. Lots of people seem to be obsessed with fonts these days; here's Type Hunting, an entire site dedicated to collecting photos of older typefaces. If you're into that sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you'd be into. It's also fun if you just want to look at some old stuff. You kids like "vintage" these days, right?

4. !!! A computer buying guide from 1953 !!!

5. Have kids? Or perhaps you just like things that are awesome? Make these Autobot and Decepticon pull-apart bread loaves.

6. Oh, and I have three of these sweet-ass Buzzfeed parody prints left. In all honesty, these look amazing. The colors really pop, not to mention the crazy. Buy one. Do it.

JOHN STOSSEL GETS A SPECIAL ROMAN FJM TREATMENT

Posted in Rants on August 21st, 2013 by Ed

Full disclosure: I'm doing sloppy seconds on John Stossel's stupidity. Jim Wright has already taken a whack at this column (structured around a reference to my favorite book to boot) but he made what I believe is the fatal mistake of attempting to take it seriously. Mr. Wright appears to be what is known as a "mature adult" who addressed the fundamental flaws with Stossel's woefully inaccurate rant. As I am not similarly encumbered, let's man the Pants Shitting Joke cannon and fire at will!

There's not much I need to say to introduce John Stossel. He is a stupid person who writes stupid things for a stupid audience that pays well to be told the stupid things it wants to hear. He also has a stupid mustache. He looks an awful lot like Geraldo, but wingers seem to like him a bit more because he isn't Messican. He also went to Princeton. Keep that in mind when you're reading his take on Roman history. He has written a book with the hi-larious title, No We Can't and recently wrote this piece "Are We Rome Yet?" The council of 12 year old boys that workshops titles for him might be in line for a raise!

Unfortunately, the fall of Rome is a pattern repeated by empires throughout history … including ours?

Oh, hello! I didn't expect to see you there.

That's John Stossel beginning his piece, seemingly in the middle of a thought. I'm just going to get all the Serious Things out of the way up front, if that's alright.

The Roman Republic and the Roman Empire are two very different historical entities that failed for very different reasons. Further, the Empire was divided into halves that were essentially autonomous by 100 AD. I'm no expert on ancient Rome so I'll leave deeper criticisms of this point to more capable hands, but I did want to acknowledge the bleedingly obvious: that John Stossel, Princetonian and journalist regularly featured in major media outlets, obliterates all of these distinctions.

A group of libertarians gathered in Las Vegas recently for an event called "FreedomFest." We debated whether America will soon fall, as Rome did.

In other news, NORML met to discuss whether America needs stricter laws against marijuana.

I wonder if Nevada's prostitutes get hazard pay for working during "FreedomFest." The mind reels at what they must get asked to do once the donors from FreedomWorks and Glenn Reynolds' comment section get shitty drunk on Crème de Menthe and hit the Strip on their travel expense accounts.

For any of Stossel's readers, I recommend the Cat House in Ely, NV. They're realty accommodating, so they'll write up a receipt for your four-way Albuquerque Wagon Wheel in the Latex Room as a deluxe breakfast buffet. The accounting department will never know your secret!

Historian Carl Richard said that today's America resembles Rome.

Someone found similarities between two governments? How hard is it to cherry-pick some things that make any two societies or states "resemble" one another?

But I don't know Dr. Richard, and I'll assume that his analysis goes deep enough to make some valid points. I'm certain you'll treat his academic argument with all the complexity and nuance that the subject deserves, John.

The Roman Republic had a constitution, but Roman leaders often ignored it. "Marius was elected consul six years in a row, even though under the constitution (he) was term-limited to one year."

False. The Roman Senate voided that law because the city was in imminent danger of being sacked by loosely organized tribes of vandals. John Stossel, you are a very stupid person. And can we get a fucking Pulitzer for his editors on this one, too? There's more than enough glory in this sentence for everyone to share!

Sounds like New York City's Mayor Bloomberg.

No. It does not sound like that at all, not even a tiny little bit. The only similarity is that Stossel is wrong about both of them being re-elected "illegally". Marius was a quasi-dictator, a Missing Link that connected the Republic to the Empire that it would become. Michael Bloomberg is a mayor. A mayor of a city that isn't even the capital of its state. New York City is an exceptionally important city, sure. But Michael Bloomberg has about as much political power, in the grand scheme, as Eric Garcetti. That's the mayor of LA. You have never heard of him because the mayor of some big city in which you do not live is not politically relevant.

"We have presidents of both parties legislating by executive order, saying I'm not going to enforce certain laws because I don't like them. … That open flouting of the law is dangerous because law ceases to have meaning. … I see that today. … Congress passes huge laws they haven't even read (as well as) overspending, overtaxing and devaluing the currency."

Hmm. I wonder how Dr. Richard and his quote-sampler felt back in 2002 when Congress was passing laws it didn't read. This is one of those hare-brained conservative talking points (for their harelipped voting base, appropriately enough) that turns something that has been political reality forever (i.e., teleprompters, presidents going on vacation) into a partisan crisis. Congress doesn't read the 10,000-page bills it passes? I wonder when that began? Must have been 2009, right?

The Romans were worse. I object to President Obama's $100 million dollar trip, but Nero traveled with 1,000 carriages.

It's non-sequitur time!!!!!one!!!!11!!!

I remember when George Bush made foreign visits. He went without the Secret Service on an old steamship – the SS Torpedo Magnet – because he was too austere to fly Air Force One. In fact he sold the plane and replaced it with a DC-3. He also acted as his own secretary and conserved water by never changing or washing his clothes. He shit nickels into a special cleaning tank at the U.S. Mint but truth be told, they came out so clean that you could pretty much put a warm, fresh one right in your mouth without suffering any ill effects.

Those were the days. Then this uppity negro came along and started flying everywhere First Class and probably bringing along a whole team of chefs so he could have fried chicken in every country.

Tiberius established an "office of imperial pleasures," which gathered "beautiful boys and girls from all corners of the world" so, as Tacitus put it, the emperor "could defile them."

Oh, I see where he's gonna go with this. He's going to compare this to the huge harem of kids that Obama keeps in the Rose Garden for raping. And he'll probably bring up Michelle Obama's "Open Wide, Kids!" initiative, to limber the kids up for all the raping. You know, Stossel might be right. I really see the parallels here.

Emperor Commodus held a show in the Colosseum at which he personally killed five hippos, two elephants, a rhinoceros and a giraffe.

You guys remember when Obama appeared at the Super Bowl to toss the coin and to kill five hippos, two elephants, a rhinoceros, and a giraffe? I was like, come on. Even by American standards this is a bit much.

We're so much like Rome, it's eerie.

To pay for their excesses, emperors devalued the currency. (Doesn't our Fed do that by buying $2 trillion of government debt?)

AND LIKE THAT, IT ALL COMES TOGETHER. STOSSEL LEADS YOU OVER THE RAINBOW, AND THEN SHOWERS YOU IN GOLD AT THE END.

Nero reduced the silver content of coins to 95 percent. Then Trajan reduced it to 85 percent and so on. By the year 300, wheat that once cost eight Roman dollars cost 120,000 Roman dollars.

The Stossel Proof of Inflation, ladies and gentlemen. Years from now you will remember where you are and what you were wearing when John Stossel proved that inflation is a thing.

Side note: Isn't it great to watch libertarians struggle to write anything without it turning into some sort of rant about fiat currency? Enough about the president I was talking about in the last sentence, kids. Let's get to my pet obsession.

The president of the Foundation for Economic Education, Lawrence Reed, warned that Rome, like America, had an expanding welfare state. It started with "subsidized grain. The government gave it away at half price. But the problem was that they couldn't stop there … a man named Claudius ran for Tribune on a platform of free wheat for the masses. And won. It was downhill from there."

First of all, yes. Please tell us what a hack from an obscure right-wing think tank has to say about this.

Second, this is so ahistorical that I can barely wrap my mind around how fucking stupid it is. Let's include the next part before I elaborate…

Soon, to appease angry voters, emperors gave away or subsidized olive oil, salt and pork. People lined up to get free stuff.'

OK.

The Roman government was giving this stuff away because the city and the society were on the brink of complete collapse. The supply chain through which people would ordinarily get these things – presumably in exchange for money, which is worth something before societies are beseiged by barbarian tribes and nearly destroyed – ceased to exist.

This is like complaining that the government gave free food to people in Oklahoma City after tornadoes destroyed their community, or to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Rome was an extremely advanced society for its time, but it was not exactly a modern industrial one. If the harvest failed, everyone fucking starved. If invading tribes burned the crops, ditto. It's not like Romans had the option of going to Costco and were simply too lazy to do it.

Oh why in the hell am I wasting my time trying to explain this to John Stossel. Look, this entire comparison is ludicrous. Just ludicrous. Trying to compare two governments that existed 1800 years apart, and a modern and pre-modern society, is the kind of thing that only very stupid people do to try to prove some tired, hacky ideological point.

Sure, John. Rome fell because of the nanny state creating dependency and entitlement. Maybe it was the Moors, amirite? *WINK*

As inflation increased, Rome, much like the U.S. under President Nixon, imposed wage and price controls. When people objected, Emperor Diocletian denounced their "greed," saying, "Shared humanity urges us to set a limit."

Just randomly leaping from point to point here, aren't we.

So, to be clear, he doesn't want the government to give them food. He also doesn't want the government to cap prices on food so that PEOPLE CAN BUY IT THEMSELVES. He wants a pure, libertarian market to exist. 1700 years ago. While an ancient civilization is disintegrating. Clearly that dominated the thoughts of political leaders like Diocletian. "Yes, but what about markets?"

Doesn't that sound like today's anti-capitalist politicians?

No. Not in the least little bit. Name one of Today's Policians who has proposed price controls. Name one who has proposed giving away free food to whoever gets in line for it. Name one thing Congress or this president have done that even remotely resembles or approaches either of these things.

Diocletian was worse than Nixon. Rome enforced controls with the death penalty – and forbid people to change professions. Emperor Constantine decreed that those who broke such rules "be bound with chains and reduced to servile condition."

*presses palms to mouth*

*FART NOISE AT TREMENDOUS VOLUME*

Eventually, Rome's empire was so large – and people so resentful of centralized control – that generals in outlying regions began declaring independence from Rome.

We see what you did here, John. Just don't you dare try to leave without taking Mississippi and South Carolina. That aside, don't let the door hit you in the ass. Build a great big fence on the border. We don't want your kind coming up here to go to hospitals.

At FreedomFest, Matt Kibbe, president of the tea party group FreedomWorks, also argued that America could soon collapse like Rome did.

Yes, let's hear from the president of the fucking Tea Party.

Why are we even paying attention to the Tea Party anymore? How have they been relevant in the last three years? Covering the Tea Party is like covering Tiger Woods at this point – there's no longer any reason to do it and no one in the media is entirely sure why they do it, but it's a habit at this point so they just go with it. The Tea Party's greatest contribution to American politics has been to cost the Republicans a number of winnable Senate seats. Keep up the good work, assrockets.

"The parallels are quite ominous — the debt, the expansionist foreign policy, the arrogance of executive power taking over our country," says Kibbe. "But I do think we have a chance to stop it."

LOCK AND LOAD! WOOOOOOOOOOO!

Also, please visit FreedomWorks.org and have your credit card ready to donate. The Tea Party has a plan to stop this, but they need your help! The first 500 donors will receive a tote bag with the FreedomWorks logo (two elderly people beating a Hispanic man with walkers).

That's a big difference between today's America and yesterday's Rome. We have movements like the tea party and libertarianism and events like FreedomFest that alert people to the danger in imperial Washington and try to fight it. If they can wake the public, we have hope.

Yeah, the Tea Party and this circular pud-pull of libertarian bag men in Las Vegas is a real honest-to-god freedom fighters' movement. What bold, heroic souls. The history books will tell tales of how Francis Marion crawled through the swamp on his belly to thwart the hated British Army during the American Revolution, and how John Stossel and a bunch of interns from FreedomWorks got the special Convention Rate at Circus Circus – they just love the retirment home-meets-FEMA Camp atmosphere – and watched the D-List stars of the right wing media give canned lectures to a room full of like-minded white guys.

The triumph of liberty is not inevitable, though. And empires do crumble.

And rain does make things wet. And eating too much cake gives you a stomach ache. And cutting your hair makes it shorter. And reading what John Stossel writes when he's 20 minutes out from his deadline and he clearly doesn't give a shit anymore because he knows his editor won't care and that his audience will pretty much lap up anything and applaud him by slapping their diabetic, Twizzler-sticky hands together and shouting "YOU TELL'UM, JAWN!" makes you dumber.

Rome's lasted the longest. The Ottoman Empire lasted 623 years. China's Song, Qing and Ming dynasties each lasted about 300 years. We've lasted just 237 years so far — sometimes behaving like a republic and sometimes an empire. In that time, we've accomplished amazing things, but we shouldn't take our continued success for granted.

If the Tea Party is our only hope to keep the republic together, then fuck the republic. Grab a sledgehammer and follow me to the dam. It's time to wash this all away. A republic that could only be saved by reverting to theocracy, oligarchy, and militarism is not worth saving. Sane people look at the medicine these people want to administer and think, "I'll take my chances with the disease."

Freedom and prosperity are not natural. In human history, they're rare.

Thinking of an ending is hard, isn't it, John?

Just the other day, I had a really nice apple.

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THE NEW REAL

Posted in Quick Hits on August 19th, 2013 by Ed

Since 2008 we've had the distinct pleasure of watching so many people on the right go absolutely insane. Aside from having let their deepest paranoid fantasies run amok, they've descended into using some sort of coded language that centers around repeating phrases like Solyndra, Benghazi, Fast & Furious, Pelosi, Obamacare, and Death Panels. And now someone has gone ahead and written it down to prove the point.

This is one of the most insane things I've ever seen in writing, and remember that I am a person who enjoys writing things that intentionally make the least possible sense. Somehow reality has one-upped me. A failed academic turned failed author named Sarah Hoyt has written a Teabagging screed called, I shit you not, "I Am Spartacus." Here's an excerpt, and you should treat yourself to the whole thing.

I am Spartacus because Fast and Furious.

I am Spartacus because Benghazi.

I am Spartacus because Fast and Furious.

I am Spartacus because Benghazi.

I am Spartacus because Fast and Furious.

I am Spartacus because Benghazi.

To stop the crazy train, to preserve as much as I can of the greatest nation the world has ever known, I Am Spartacus.

To this end I pledge my life, my fortune and my sacred honor.

And no, I don't think it's a joke. This has long since stopped being just a game.

The funny part is that this was widely circulated. People read this batshit nuttery and not only thought it was great but also forwarded it to others. Glenn Reynolds was moved beyond words.

Their echo chamber reminds me of grad school in a big college town, where everyone drank like a Scottish football hooligan. You go out on an average evening and have a dozen beers and you think absolutely nothing of it because everyone else around you – your entire social and professional circle – does exactly the same. It never occurs to you that, well, maybe that's too much to drink. It's not until you step out of that environment that you that it becomes apparent.

Well, the right wingers have created such an elaborate bubble that they never need to step out of it. It's a brand new reality wherein everyone is barking mad and no one gives it a second thought when you decide to smear yourself in flan and run around brandishing a mace and screaming something about IRS-gate.

NPF: THE GAME

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 16th, 2013 by Ed

I'm going to recount a tale from one of my friends on Wednesday evening. Let's call her Mary. She's in her late twenties and would be considered attractive by most observers.

Mary and one of her friends go out for the evening. They encounter a group of dudes led by, well, let's call him Tool. Tool tells the ladies that they are out drinking wildly because one of their friends (in the Dude Group) lost his job. No problem, right? Tool asks Mary to hug said friend to cheer him up. The ladies politely decline and leave. Incident over, right? Tool tried his little pickup line (creepy, albeit essentially harmless) and it didn't work; on with the evening.

Nope. Tool follows them into the bar asking them to hug his friend. They decline again. He leaves to re-join his group. Surely we're done now, right?

Not so. He comes back with his posse and Mary noticed his return when she feels Tool's hand grasping her arm. She yanks the arm away, subtly transmitting the social cue, "Do not touch me." He continues to linger and ask them to hug his friend. Mary's friend informs him that he's starting to get annoying (starting!) and he should leave. Tool then grabs Mary's forearm and tries to pull her toward him. She rips her arm away and explicitly tells him what he has failed to pick up on thus far: That's it. Leave us alone.

He tells them that he is sorry if they think hugs are rude. Her friend says, "No, you are rude. We find YOU rude," and he responds, "I think you're a bitch," as they walk away.

I have more female friends than male ones, and I hear stories like this all the time. And I never cease to be astounded at how tone deaf, clueless, and aggressive the men in these stories are. OK, granted, this is not to say women are incapable of rude behavior or that these men are representative of all men. But good god, the absolute inability to read very basic non-verbal cues, followed up by the absolute refusal to follow verbal ones, is beyond comprehension. I'm more surprised when I reflect and realize that, at age 34, I've never once been in a group of men who behaved this way. And that's not to pat myself and my friends on the back for being Great People. We're not. It's not an act of kindness and nobility to leave someone alone when they say "Please leave me alone." It's just…a basic part of human interaction? I don't even know how to state this effectively. It would be like saying "My friends are awesome because when a waiter brings us a check, we always pay it." You don't get to applaud yourself, or anyone else, for doing the bare minimum expected of you.

Granted, my friends could tell you that I am particularly easy to dissuade; if I meet a stranger at a bar, I usually break off conversation after about two minutes because I just assume that the person wants to be left alone, or I think they look bored (I'm extremely boring). If someone did something as explicit as turning their back or walking away, I…I would not hesitate to get the message. Would you? And then to think that the situation would progress (because I followed someone who was trying to avoid me) to the point that an explicit "Please go away" was necessary is beyond my experience. Again, this doesn't make me a good person. It merely makes me a person who can read basic social cues and…not act all rapey? That doesn't seem like Good. That seems like the absolute bare minimum that we can expect of the other people in the world.

I don't get it. I don't understand how some people can charge right through so many red lights. I've seen women do it too, but somehow it's just not the same – it comes off more as, I guess, "desperate" rather than scary-aggressive. Because when it happens to me I don't end up thinking "Gosh I hope I don't get raped" whereas a woman experiencing this probably thinks exactly that. I don't have to worry, "If this person grabs me, can I break their grip? How can I get out of here as quickly as possible? Can anyone here help me?" I don't feel threatened, I just feel moderately annoyed (OK, this only happened to me, like, once. But you get it.)

Clearly, social situations between single people are a sort of game, and sometimes people play games to get one another's attention. Everyone has their own little conversation starters, ice breakers, and so on. And I can't blame anyone for trying. If I'm in the mood to be left alone, or focusing on a conversation with one of my friends, it would not be reasonable to shout, "OH MY GOD, I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU FUCKING SPOKE TO ME!" if someone makes an attempt. But neither is it reasonable to refuse to give up in the attempt. Sometimes people aren't interested in talking to you. To me. To anyone. Is that so hard to accept? My self-confidence is not high, granted, but I have enough to withstand the minor rejection of someone saying "Ha. No thanks." to an effort to start a conversation. We live in a society, though, in which it would apparently be socially acceptable for me to ignore that and persist until I'm maced or escorted out of the bar.

And then, of course, I get to call the woman a bitch. For resisting my charms.

UNSOLVED MYSTERIES

Posted in Rants on August 15th, 2013 by Ed

As many veteran readers know, I enjoy distracting myself with automotive news. Cars are neat. I've only owned two in my life (one of which was purchased used) so I'm not exactly a useful consumer to the auto industry. But I do like to read about the technology and the industry itself, which is in many ways a good reflection of the larger trends in the manufacturing economy.

Over the past two years there have appeared any number of stories from auto industry analysts about how elderly buyers are starting to outnumber younger ones. Whereas the primary target for auto sales in the past was the 25-55 age group – the period in which people traditionally have growing families and their peak earning potential – it has consistently shifted higher in the past two decades. The key demographic in the U.S., if you ask any industry insider off the record, is the 60+ crowd. No one wants to admit that; in fact, name brands like Lincoln and Oldsmobile (RIP) and models like the Crown Victoria / TownCar struggle specifically because they are perceived to be the domain of Old People. But the fact remains: a 65 year old man is a lot more likely to be in the market for a new car than a 25 year old one in 2013.

Annoyingly, these reports are inevitably accompanied by some sort of sociological explanation for why younger people – say, the 21-39 crowd – are not buying cars. The same is true of stories about why college grads live at home, or why younger people are renting rather than buying homes. It's usually something about different preferences, more "flexible" lifestyles, residential patterns, or some squishy hypothesis that we love Mother Nature too much to soil her with an automobile. And they all tapdance around the bleedingly obvious fact that Baby Boomers now buy more cars than their children because they have money and their children don't. I'd wager that plenty of people in their 20s and 30s would buy a new car on occasion if the opportunity arose.

But it doesn't. The labor force has been radically restructured (by the Boomers, not insignificantly) so that we work, when we can find work at all, longer hours for less money with no job security. How does one save up for a car or mortgage down payment on the kind of salaries most people who weren't born into wealth earn in their 20s? How are young people expected to make a 5 year auto loan commitment (or 30 for a mortgage) when their employment is "at will" or when people spend years working as "permanent temps"? As I've said before, even the people in my age group I know personally who are doing well – and as someone with full-time employment and health insurance, I consider myself fortunate to be in that group – have tremendous insecurity about the future. In other words, even those of us who might be able to afford a new car now refuse to buy simply because we don't know if our job will still exist (or who will be doing it) in a couple of years.

It is amusing to see how far analysts and journalists will go to avoid grappling with the relatively obvious fact that young people aren't buying what they're "supposed to" be buying because we, as an economy, are not paying them much. Or employing them at all. Or giving them any kind of long-term security necessary to induce them to make financial commitments to homes, cars, or other expensive purchases. This kind of denial of the obvious is becoming a trademark of Boomer-led journalism and financial analysis, the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the failure of consumers to rescue the economy by buying the things they're supposed to be buying. Yet rarely do they consider the simplest solution, that younger people do not make these kinds of economic commitments because this society is now structured to make doing so impossible. God help the auto industry when this wave of retirees dies out.

TRAINED SEALS

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13th, 2013 by Ed

Recently I wasted tens of minutes of my life reading and excoriating the ramblings of some absolute nobody named Suzanne Venker, who appeared to be trying to parlay a guest column on FoxNews.com into as much attention as possible. May I quote myself?

There is ample money to be made Uncle Tomming in the conservative media; there's no quicker way to a book deal, columnist gig, or TV appearances than to be something other than a white male. Flap-jowled white guys are 90% of the intended audience, and they love nothing more than being able to feel like they are totally not sexist/racist because, look, a woman/black person just said it! Thomas Sowell says there's nothing racist about George Zimmerman! Ann Coulter says women are responsible for getting raped! See? It's totally OK for us to say it if they can say it.

The Indianapolis Star has granted a weekly column to some other contenders in Venker's arena, "Chicks on the Right." They will now have a dedicated audience (beyond the local radio show they've already snagged) to which they can serve heaps of twaddle with titles like "This Is What Real Feminism Looks Like". It will surprise you to discover that Real Feminism looks shockingly similar to right wing talking points. You'd be hard pressed to distinguish anything here from the average syndicated right wing columnist or a transcript from any call-in radio show.

One of my friends who rarely says anything political in a public forum posted the following on Facebook after a couple of friends attempted to engage the "Chicks on the Right" on some of their grosser misrepresentations of reality:

Nothing like reading a bunch of middle aged women trying to cut down your friends for making valid arguments against their grossly misinformed ideas of what feminism is. I generally shy away from confrontation because it makes me incredibly anxious and uncomfortable, and it's reading things like the Chicks on the Right's comments that make me wish I was much better at voicing myself in the face of confrontation. I saw plenty of people outraged at these two bullies' comments on their page sparked by their horrible little column in the Indy Star today, and two of my friends who were inclined to voice their opposition directly to the duo were responded with name calling and flippant dismissal of their opinions mostly due to their "liberal" viewpoints, their ages, and even discarding one well-written response just because the author was a man. It was a childish display of how ignorance will always defend itself with more ignorance.

I guess all I really wanted to say in this is that these women have their like-minded followers who are so zealously guarding their viewpoints that we will never even begin to sway their gaze. They've blinded themselves so thoroughly that it is completely futile to try and mend their seeping corneas – the scar tissue of their hateful rhetoric won't allow it. They are passionately gripping on to a form of misogyny so tightly that to them it has morphed into a bastardized ideal they are trying to label as "new" feminism. Well, ladies and gentlemen, those of you who actually and proudly represent feminism and women's rights – we're the ones that matter, not these harpies (to use a word that they have used so – excuse the pun – liberally today to label women that just happen to think differently than they do). There are plenty of conservative women who are smart and stay informed and can still be compassionate when it comes to matters of women's rights because they can see past their own front yard and realize how hard it can be for some women in America just to get by. My mother is a shining example for me – she doesn't judge me for my youth and doesn't mock me for having different viewpoints than her. The women of Chicks on the Right give my mother and every woman like her a bad name and it's not fair. Our opinions are not worth less because we are young. We are not "lazy" and "entitled" "parasites" just because we think a certain way.

There is never a point to debating or questioning people like the "Chicks" because despite how much they talk, they have nothing to say. They're not going to debate ideas because they don't have any. Their goal is simply to get attention and parlay their existence into as many paydays as possible (they'll have a Fox News show by the end of the year). They're just a gimmick (check out their blog, if you dare) looking for attention and they know how to tell angry white people what they want to hear. Everyone who makes a living playing to this audience sounds exactly the same because it is only interested in hearing one message: You are the victim, and here are the targets at which your anger should be directed.

With the product/message so clearly defined, the only competition in this Marketplace is to show the boss how "edgy" or demographically appealing you are. Engage them in an argument? These people are trained seals, and they only know one trick. As it pays pretty well, they don't intend to deviate from it.