THE SHIFTING MENACE OF CONSCIENCE

Posted in Rants on June 30th, 2014 by Ed

In 1885 the Protestant clergyman and popular author Josiah Strong wrote his most widely read book, Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis. His treatise was popular largely because it was awash in the kind of nativist sentiments that found a receptive audience during the immigrant boom that began after the Civil War and intensified throughout the Industrial Revolution. Strong identified the Seven Perils to American society, most of which are easily predictable and align with the most common prejudices of the era: Catholicism, Mormonism, Socialism, Intemperance, Wealth, Urbanization, and Immigration. In the era of scientific racism, social Darwinism, and Robber Baron capitalism it is not hard to see why the moneyed classes and the anti-immigrant working classes alike applauded Strong.

I'm going somewhere with this, I promise.

In his warning about the menace of Catholicism, Strong wrote:

…the Roman Catholic is not at liberty to weigh the Pope's judgment, to try his commands by his own conscience and the Word of God – to do this would be to become a Protestant. Worse, (the Catholic) stands not alone, but with many millions more, who are bound by the most dreadful penalties to act as one man in obedience to the will of a foreign potentate and in disregard to the laws of the land. This, I claim, is a very possible menace to the peace of society. (Emphasis original)

Throughout the book, Strong repeats the warning ("Again, our Constitution requires obedience to the laws of the United States and loyalty to the Government. The Pope also demands of every subject obedience and loyalty to himself.") For this exact reason, Catholics were for many decades – as they are more than happy to remind anyone within earshot – discriminated against in American politics. Today, of course, Catholicism has mainstreamed along with the people – Irish, Polish, Italian, etc – who brought it to the United States. Catholics are no longer discriminated against outside of their own imaginations. Instead, they have become part of a new bloc that argues that far from being a menace to civil society, the right to disregard the law when one's religious beliefs – even those curated by a Foreign Potentate – conflict with it.

Of course 19th Century Protestant leaders feared Catholic conscientious objections only inasmuch as they were perceived to conflict with laws that were already crafted in accordance with the beliefs and desires of the dominant Protestant orthodoxy in the United States. There is no conflict between the law and one's religion, in other words, if one's religion is the de facto faith of the civil institutions that create the law. Now the Papist Menace has exercised enough political power and influence over the law to have their wants and beliefs taken into account from the outset – try to find a remotely relevant law in the last thirty years that doesn't have some sort of abortion caveat written into it. I'll wait.

Allowing personal religious beliefs to trump the law was perceived as a threat to the future of our nation and of civil society when it was wielded by a religious minority. In the hands of the now-majority, it has been rebranded as the last bulwark against that same civil society. What the white Protestant male majority once treated as a combination of treason and heresy is now an act infused with nobility and, as of Monday, sanctioned by the highest Court of the land. While the practical impact of Monday's decision likely will be minimal, the endorsement by the Court of this once-dangerous principle has introduced a dangerous precedent and we will be bathed in its radioactive fallout for some time to come.

ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION

Posted in Quick Hits on June 29th, 2014 by Ed

Here is a fun game to play when reading news items about Ammosexuals. Read about or watch them marching around in public with semi-automatic rifles slung over their shoulders and imagine how the police (and public, for that matter) would react if the proud Second Amendment Patriots were black males. Laugh yourself silly as the police, if they bother to show up at all, treat the gun-toting white people with kid gloves and picture the same scene if a bunch of heavily tattooed black guys with sleeveless shirts and high powered rifles decided to congregate in the main shopping district.

Here's a hilarious video of a somewhat-deranged Patriot exercising his Second Amendment rights as he imagines them:

OK, clearly he's not All There in the head or perhaps this was some sort of stunt designed to get arrested. But watch the police indulge this asshole for almost ten full minutes as he waves around a loaded rifle. A black male with a Fantasy Gun (the type that holds money or makes phone calls) gets about two seconds of benefit-of-doubt from the average cop white a middle aged white male with an Actual Gun (the type that fires bullets) will be talked to until he is good and ready to let the police arrest him. Or in the case of Cliven Bundy and his merry militimen, the police just agree to leave them alone altogether. That works out well for everyone!

The next time you snort dismissively at the idea of white privilege, ask yourself how long the police would hold on to their tasers and pepper spray and live ammo if the 9-1-1 calls started pouring in about a group of angry looking black men with rifles congregating at the Burger King.

NPF: AMATEUR DIAGNOSIS

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 27th, 2014 by Ed

As I get older I go on fewer rants in interactions with other humans. I figure "That's what the blog is for, Ed" and don't expose often well-meaning strangers, acquaintances, and friends to my extended ramblings on every conceivable topic of interest. One thing that still gets the full treatment, though, is when people say they have "food poisoning" and then identify the meal that caused it.

It's not an angry rant. I simply point out that A) actual Food Poisoning is a condition that puts people in the hospital where they must be pumped full of IV antibiotics and B) to the extent that food may have caused you gastric distress, you have no idea which food item or meal was responsible. People assume that whatever they ate most recently (or, failing that, whatever the last "ethnic"/foreign food they ate) was the cause. There is zero medical evidence to support that assumption.

Lots of things you eat can inspire an upset stomach or a case of what medical professionals call Thunder Shits. Perhaps something you ate was a little too spicy, a little too oily, a little too teeming with the bacteria with which all food is teeming by the time it enters your mouth. I just returned from Mexico and I haven't taken a solid dump since the first day I arrived in the country. I proceeded to eat every appetizing looking offering from street vendors and outdoor food stalls where refrigeration and food safety procedures could be described as suspect at best. I ate a lot of food prepared in local water full of microscopic landmines waiting to waylay the unconditioned tourist. All of this was done willingly; the deal is, I eat something amazing and later I will defile a bathroom. It's a trade off and it's worth it. I don't have "food poisoning."

Eating all but the worst, blandest food involves some risk. Take that bucket of oysters or mussels, for example. The odds that at least one of those fuckers isn't "off" or "bad" are exceptionally small. You're going to eat it, it's going to be amazing, and maybe later on you will pay the price by shitting like a mink. So be it. If someone offers you seafood that was pulled from the ocean within the previous hour, you eat it and accept the risk. Or maybe you push the envelope at the local restaurant and ask for "Thai spicy" or "Indian hot" and your stomach and intestines end up somewhat irritated at your decision. Or maybe you try unpasteurized dairy products for the first time with predictable results. Oh well. It was worth it.

You may have a transient stomach virus. You may have eaten something too spicy or oily for your delicate constitution. You may have plain ol' overeaten. You may have eaten something that was a little bit beyond its "Best By" date. You may have eaten something at a big stupid chain restaurant wherein one of the stoned teen kitchen workers practiced unsafe food handling procedures. But you don't have Food Poisoning and your precise identification of the meal and item that caused it makes you sound only slightly less silly than someone declaring that they know when the cold viruses entered their body.

CONSENT

Posted in Quick Hits on June 26th, 2014 by Ed

I have a ton to say about this but it's going to have to wait until I have enough time to do it justice; for now, you should read this Pandagon post about "affirmative consent," rape, and the law. It is very good and very important.

If "She never said no, so it can't be rape" is an argument, how is the converse ("She never said yes, so it was rape") not also a valid argument?

I've always argued, and will continue to argue without apologizing, that not all communication needs to be verbal. There are clear and obvious ways to say yes – initiating sexual activity or being receptive to initiation by someone else – and no – pulling back, pushing away, clamming up, etc – without using words. Sexual activity does not and should not require on person saying "WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE SEXUAL INTERCOURSE? IF YES, PLEASE SIGN HERE" nor the other saying "I CONSENT TO SEXUAL INTERCOURSE, INCLUDING THREE TO FIVE MINUTES OF MANUAL STIMULATION AND NO MORE THAN FOUR (4) SLAPS ON THE ASS." But to claim that this is the "feminist" argument is to create a Straw Man.

It baffles me that so many men appear to find this concept so difficult. If you are not sure, you have two options: ask ("So…do you want to do it?") or – and this is the one that blows minds – don't have sex. I've heard every hypothetical what-if situation in which the poor male is victimized somehow by the rules of consent and yet I have never heard a single one that could not have been resolved by one of those two options. Not one. Ever. Those two choices that all men have work 100% of the time.

AN OPEN LETTER TO AMERICAN AIRLINES

Posted in Rants on June 23rd, 2014 by Ed

Dear American “Airlines,”

So that you may not duck this formal complaint with the cheap excuse that it is profane and uncivil I will endeavor to keep my swearing to a minimum. I suspect, however, that I will be as successful as your airline is at getting flights off the ground on time. What say we forgive one another in advance for coming up short?

Simply put, American Airlines, you are a very bad airline. The following tale of woe is true in every detail, as I am certain that other customers who have been bent over and cornholed by your sad excuse for a going transportation concern will be able to attest. Through repeated mergers and acquisitions you have managed the incredible feat of becoming the world’s largest airline while retaining all of the charm, efficiency, and customer service of the third largest taxi company in Lagos. Future generations will look back on this accomplishment with awe and wonder.

On Thursday, June 19 my flight out of Peoria, IL (where hopes and dreams go to die) was canceled for “weather.” I was helpfully rebooked on a flight Friday, June 20. As this cut into an already brief vacation to Mexico, the ticket agent was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to fly out of Bloomington, IL, located 45 minutes away, on the same day. Thus I drove at breakneck speed to Bloomington to make the outbound flight. Figuring that a canceled outbound flight would be lonely if not paired with a canceled return flight, I arrived at O’Hare to find my 9:05 flight to Peoria on Monday, June 23 was also canceled. For “weather.” Suspiciously, the 9:05 flight was canceled before 7 PM yet a separate flight to nearby Bloomington on which your agents refused to book me took off (after sundry delays) at 9:15. If the 9:05 flight could not fly through the “weather”, I can only assume that the 9:15 flight was torn asunder with the loss of all on board since PIA and BMI are merely 30 miles apart.

Realizing that a gaggle of upset customers was waiting at the gate to be accommodated, the AA gate agent helpfully walked away. Like, she just left. This employee – let's call her Eva Braun, to choose a random name – did not return for a full hour, time that I strongly suspect* she used to fortify herself with prescription cough syrup and Jeppson’s Malort.** Upon her return I waited a considerable amount of time to advance in this line at a pace best described as that of a pre-holiday queue outside the last open butcher shop in Riga, Latvia prior to the fall of Communism. When my turn came, Eva informed me that she was “busy” and I should, I quote directly, “go find someone else to help (me).” As a different flight was preparing to depart from this gate, my issue was “not (her) problem.”

American Airlines, I could get better customer service from the Kansas City Mafia. That’s not even one of the good ones.

After trying several people in AA uniforms standing behind desks at AA gates, I finally found a young lady who was able to reschedule me for a flight on Tuesday, June 24. As this strands me overnight in Chicago, I asked which hotel I would be boarded in for the evening. She informed me that I could get a “discounted rate” at area hotels but that I would bear the cost of the room. Confused, I asked slowly if I heard correctly – my hearing has been a bit out of whack since I stood too close to a loudspeaker at a Motorhead show in 1996. She replied, with no small amount of embarrassment, that since the cancellation was due to “weather” and thus "beyond the control of the airline," I would not be compensated with a hotel. Or even a lousy meal voucher. Given that AA cannot seem to control its own scheduled flights it comes as no surprise that the company has not yet mastered control of the weather.

At this point I would like to reiterate that you, American Airlines, are a very shitty airline and I wonder if perhaps you would not be better suited in another line of business. I’d have had better luck getting home by slathering my naked, hirsute body with expired Soviet postage stamps and taking a running dive into a Post Office.

Here I lie on the linoleum of O’Hare Terminal 3, pondering how a company that only does one thing could be so terrible at the thing. In the future it is my fervent hope that AA is purchased by a company that is competent at what it does – say, the makers of Jimmy Dean’s breakfast meat cylinders – and this will instill some managerial and organizational competence in your alleged airline. Their product may be a horror unequaled in the Western world, but at least they don’t fuck up the one thing they do. And I am fairly confident that Jimmy Dean’s would not make me sleep on an airport floor or make me buy my own shitty airport dinner.

In closing, American Airlines is a ball-gargling clusterfuck of an airline. How your one-lung shitshow manages to limp from quarter to quarter in solvency is a mystery. I lie here certain that your long term plan to fly the idea of customer service into the ground at high speed has been foretold by prophecy and cannot be stopped.

You are worse than Delta. How is that even possible. Don't worry though, they plan to one-up you by instituting a new policy under which one passenger on each flight is chosen at random and shot.

In spite,
Ed

*Libelous, likely untrue
**Look it up

Tags:

AMERICAN CRAPCEPTIONALISM

Posted in Rants on June 22nd, 2014 by Ed

The key to maintaining the illusion that America and everything in it are WOOO #1 THE BEST IN THE WORLD is never leaving the United States.

I don't present myself as a Great World Traveler, but having been in two "Second World" countries recently (or at present, in the case of Mexico) I can't shake that "Why is everything here much nicer than where I live" feeling. Now, contrary to popular opinion I am not an idiot. Obviously both Mexico and Brazil have areas serious social problems along the lines of inequality, crime, and poverty. Obviously these are not paradises. But they also have things like functional, cheap public transportation and highways that do not look like they were bombed by the Luftwaffe five decades ago and the damage was never fixed. Short of going the full chauvinist Asshole Tourist route ("I hate this place because everything is foreign! Everyone talks funny! Why aren't there more Burger Kings?") it would be extraordinarily difficult for an honest person to look at an unexceptional city in Brazil and argue that St. Louis or some random mid-major city in the U.S. is superior.

Cities with huge areas that are off limits due to violent crime? Throw a dartboard at the U.S. and you'll hit one. Crushing, third world-style poverty? Stroll through housing projects, half-abandoned rural towns, or an Indian reservation and see it stateside. Staggering wealth and embarrassing poverty coexisting side by side? We practically invented it.

The inevitable endgame of thirty years of neoliberal right-wing economics has been to convert the U.S. into a pseudo-third world nation. The only thing we're good at anymore is Cheap. Our workforce will take wages they can't live on and are encouraged to be happy that they have a job at all. Our infrastructure is falling apart. Hundreds of our cities are ugly, polluted, half-empty museums of a time when blue collar work could support a family. To think that Americans living in Terre Haute or Montgomery or the Florida panhandle have the greatest and bestest standard of living on Earth is pretty laughable if you visit…well, essentially any country in Asia, Europe, or South America.

This is a bit unfair because admittedly I live in one of the worst, most troubled cities in the country, but other than having cheaper gas, lower national income taxes, and more Wal-Marts I honestly can't figure out how living in Peoria, Illinois is "better" than living in a supposedly poor country. Maybe this is somewhat naive – I've never lived in a different country and perhaps the downsides to other places would become more apparent if I did. Regardless, the physical isolation of the United States combined with the "Why go anywhere else when everything here is THE BEST!!" attitude ensures that we don't travel internationally nearly as much as our foreign counterparts…and that really helps to fuel the mindset that cities and our society have to be broken because nothing can be done to provide effective basic public services, nor is there any reason for wanting to do so.

LEFT BEHIND

Posted in Quick Hits on June 17th, 2014 by Ed

Every article you read about manufacturing in the U.S. focuses on what used to be and no longer is – tales of woe about communities that have gone down the toilet and companies that now do business in Mexico, Bangladesh, or worse, Mississippi. When was the last time you saw a story about a company that not only continues to manufacture in the U.S. but isn't constantly threatening to leave?

This story about the Airstream company, maker of those shiny jellybean-shaped trailers, is an interesting commentary on the differences between the companies that stay and those that fled across the border as soon as NAFTA allowed it.

It has been several years, but I used to watch on occasion the John Ratzenberger-hosted TV series Made in America on sleepless nights and I was always struck by the bizarre juxtaposition of the host's Extreme Teabag politics and the countless examples in every show that put the lie to all of the right-wing whining about our government failing to be Business Friendly. It takes a weird person to host a show that profiles three or four successful American businesses per episode while also believing that taxes and wages are so high that it's impossible to make a go of a business in the U.S.

So what enables some companies to make it here while so many argue that they can't? The Airstream piece suggests that one useful ingredient is being run by a person or a family rather than a faceless Board of Directors or a CEO in another state. I'm sure plenty of small business owners or family businesses are assholes, of course. And I'm sure that even the "good ones" like the owner profiled here work hard to push down wages, costs, and so on. That's business. Yet having a person who actually feels some connection to the company and its employees would increase the odds of staying put.

The other thing that jumps out is the cost of the final product from a company like Airstream. The days of making disposable ballpoint pens in the U.S. are probably gone for good, but it makes it easier for a company to justify (in the strict "bottom line" MBA-speak sense) paying decent wages in the U.S. when the end result retails for six figures. I do think it's naive, though, for the article to suggest that the workers in Middle of Nowhere, OH are uniquely skilled and the company could not replicate that elsewhere. If Mexican factories can churn out $50,000 luxury cars, they can figure out how to make a trailer that won't fall apart.

While there are people who have studied this issue much more extensively and systematically than I ever will, this is an interesting case study in what happens when people make decisions instead of corporate institutions.

PEAK FOX

Posted in Quick Hits on June 17th, 2014 by Ed

I love everything about this image: burying the Mass Shooting #10174 story, the giant ad targeted at Fox News' primary demographic, the "Is this the Onion?" sub-headline. This will hang in a museum someday so future generations can try to understand the early 21st century and the collapse of the American empire.

Capture

PLAYTIME

Posted in Rants on June 15th, 2014 by Ed

Does anyone make a living as a journalist anymore? Once you get past the top tier of media personalities, I'm starting to doubt it. Sure, the few Old Media outlets left standing are probably paying their writers something that approaches a livable salary for the incredibly expensive cities in which they are located, but the vast majority of the New Media is getting the millions of words it needs to Generate Hits every day for nothing or close to it.

Despite being a staggering failure myself, I happen to know a lot of people who are successful. Some of these people are Writers. And through these friendships I've kept abreast of what one is paid to write for Big New Media sites. Major sites that you have heard of and might even visit regularly. The figures are not inspiring. They border on insulting. Of course as we talked about in Friday's post using a record low amount of subtlety, payment in "experience" and "exposure" is common. As best I can tell this simply leads to opportunities to write without compensation for more media outlets.

I'm at the point where the phrase "I'm a writer!" immediately is filter-translated to "I live in San Francisco / NYC / DC / etc and play writer into my thirties because my parents are still supporting me or I haven't burned through the trust fund yet." There's just no way people are actually making a living – especially the kind of lifestyle that most New York "writers" live – writing for Slate and Rolling Stone and Politico and all these other content mills.

Part of the problem, as Thomas Frank and the original Baffler people used to talk about extensively, is that the realities of journalism as an industry during the dying days of the Old Media era virtually eliminated all but the children of the rich from contention. Working a beat for a newspaper used to be a blue collar profession, but when newspapers started bleeding money in the late 90s and early 00s, the barrier to entry to the profession was raised to multiple years of (unpaid, exploitative) "internships" before finally being granted a low-paying entry level staff position. When you require two or three years of living in the most expensive cities in the country without compensation – hell, even a few months in NYC would financially drain most normal 22 year olds – you're effectively guaranteeing that journalism, even when it pays, is not a profession but a pastime for people who don't need to worry about earning a living.

Of course this has all sorts of consequences for the content and tone of media coverage – Doris Graber is among a number of media scholars who have shown that upper-middle class issues are overemphasized in the media because, not surprisingly, most reporters are upper-middle class either by professional success or by birth. Today, there are so many Writers out there trying to earn a living and so few media outlets paying enough to support them that whatever remnants of the working or true middle classes remain in journalism will probably go extinct in the next decade or two.

Not being a Professional Writer, and in fact never having been compensated to write anything, I may need to stand corrected here. Maybe there are gobs of money being made out there in ways that remain a mystery to amateurs. From this perspective, however, it looks like the media is inventing new ways to generate content a lot faster than it is inventing new ways to pay for it.

NPF: PAID IN FULL

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 12th, 2014 by Ed

Yesterday I went to an electronics store to purchase a big, shiny new TV.

The clerk dutifully informed me that it cost $1299.00 plus tax, to which I responded, "Actually, I'd like you to give it to me for free."

He seemed unpersuaded.

"I can't pay you for the TV right now," I explained, "but if you think about it, it's better for your business if you give it to me for free." Again, he failed to grasp my logic. Carefully but forcefully I pointed out that I like inviting people over to my house to watch movies and sports, so a lot of people – potential customers, one and all – would get to see the TV. "If the TVs you sell are any good, people will be really impressed and come here to buy one of their own!"

He regretted to inform me that I must pay for it.

"I am paying for it, just not in money. I'm paying you in exposure, which is worth more than money." To sweeten the pot, I offered to throw in a couple of beers for the store clerk and promised him that I would order pizza when the TV was delivered and if there was any left over, the delivery people could have it.

Still nothing. I grew frustrated.

"Don't you see???" He did not see. "$1300 right now is only worth $1300. If you give me the TV for free you won't make anything today, but you'll make $1300 many times over once everyone sees this TV." I admitted, in the interest of full disclosure, that I do charge people a $5 cover to watch sports and movies at my house. But that's beside the point, it's unfair to say I'm "profiting" off the TV just because it does all the work and I charge people money to see it, of which I pocket 100%.

He asked me if it wouldn't be fair, hypothetically, to share that cover money with the store. But don't I have a right to make a few bucks for the overhead costs – those lights aren't free! – while the TV is getting all that really valuable exposure? "I'm doing you a favor here, man!"

Suppose my logic was valid, he asked, making sense for the first time that day. Let's say ten of my friends come into the store to buy a TV of their own after seeing the magnificent beast in action at my house. What's stopping those ten friends from also expecting the store to give them the TV for "exposure"? When in this chain of Being Exposed does the store actually start to receive money for its products?

"If you're worried about making money, dude, you're in the wrong business. You should be doing this for the love of selling TVs."

As security escorted me off the premises, I could not help but wonder why a business model that is so successful at compensating the products of creative work – writing, comedy, music, art – could not also be applied to retail. I guess I just don't understand the Free Market.