WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE

Posted in Quick Hits on April 29th, 2015 by Ed

Hey did anyone notice – or pause to consider, as it takes very little thought to figure out – what the real Message is in that "Mother scolds and smacks her son for participating in Baltimore riots" viral video? As America's white people celebrate their mental image of what black people should do (in this case, raise children who will Know Their Place) the woman stated, "That's my only son and at the end of the day I don't want him to be a Freddie Gray."

In other words, it's not Good Parenting finally on display from Those People. It's another black American trying to teach her son the lesson that in this country the police will kill a black male in this country for looking at them funny. It's a woman trying to teach her son the lesson that you can't stick your hand in an alligator's mouth, not someone who is worried about the alligator.

PUNTING

Posted in Rants on April 27th, 2015 by Ed

Everyone loves a good Take This Job and Shove It story, and the collective catharsis we feel when reading about a flight attendant getting fed up, activating the emergency slide, and walking away with both middle fingers skyward is palpable. That could be me someday, we think. Maybe one day I will have the balls…because god knows I feel like doing this approximately every third day.

It was not difficult to get my attention, in that spirit, with the story of one Irwin Horwitz. A professor at a branch campus of Texas A&M University in Galveston, Horwitz got so fed up with a spectacularly bad class that he sent them an email informing them that he is walking away and they are all receiving an F. To wit:

"Since teaching this course, I have caught and seen cheating, been told to 'chill out,' 'get out of my space,' 'go back and teach,' [been] called a 'fucking moron' to my face, [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumors about myself and others, been caught between fights between students."

Horwitz said he would fail every single student. "None of you, in my opinion, given the behavior in this class, deserve to pass, or graduate to become an Aggie, as you do not in any way embody the honor that the university holds graduates should have within their personal character. It is thus for these reasons why I am officially walking away from this course. I am frankly and completely disgusted. You all lack the honor and maturity to live up to the standards that Texas A&M holds, and the competence and/or desire to do the quality work necessary to pass the course just on a grade level…I will no longer be teaching the course, and all are being awarded a failing grade."

This is the waking fantasy of every teacher or professor who has dealt with a miserable class, the educational equivalent of dumping a plate of food on an asshole diner and walking out of the restaurant straight to the nearest bar. Obviously the university administration will engineer some outcome other than automatic failing grades for the students enrolled in the course, and Horwitz is likely to be (and no doubt expects to be) disciplined. Even if tenured, non-performance is one of the few open-and-shut ways that a faculty member can be fired for cause. My guess is he will be punished short of that, if for no reason other than the administration's desperation to keep him from telling the world everything he knows about just how dog shit the university and its students are.

I'm sure there are some good students at the Texas A&M-Galvestons of the world, but when a university isn't even in the top 25 or 30 in the pecking order of public institutions in a state there is an outstanding chance that phrases like "feeder" and "open enrollment" and "of last resort" are applied and not without justification. This is to say that I have taught at three different four-year universities and I am extremely privileged to have taught at three universities much closer to the top of the pile than the bottom. It's not like I taught at Stanford or Oxford, but all have been good, selective (on paper) institutions that generally limited the pool of students to those who might reasonably be expected to succeed in college if they care to do so. I cannot imagine how challenging it must be to teach at a place like Dr. Horwitz teaches; I say that with both admiration and elitism. I am glad I don't teach at such a place, because it sounds horrible in every way that the job could be horrible. Yes, there are good students there. They are massively outnumbered.

Bearing in mind that I have taught exclusively at Good Schools, in some cases expensive and in all cases prestigious, it is shocking to many people to hear my tales of some of the students I have dealt with. I've had students with behavioral problems so severe that they could not live or function without assistance. I've had two students I know for a fact could not read, and several others that I've suspected. I've had students with scores like 15 on the ACT or the 25th percentile of the SAT, scores that suggest either that the exam taker filled out the answers at random or lacks the most fundamental high school level academic skills.

And here's the part of Horwitz's story that will get no attention but is truly beautiful: "The same day Horwitz sent a similar email to the senior administrators of the university telling them what he had done, and predicting (correctly) that students would protest and claim he was being unfair. The students are "your problem now," Horwitz wrote."

That is his point. This isn't about the students; it's about the administrators who decided that these were college students. On the (thankfully limited) instances that I have had to deal with students like those I described just above, my urge has not been in any way to punish the student. It has been to take the student gently by the hand, walk down to the Dean of Admissions or whichever apparatchik was responsible for admitting him, and announce, "You let him in here, you fucking deal with him." It is not about lashing out at students but about returning the problems dumped into our laps to the responsible party. Horwitz has effectively made his problem the administration's problem, and I understand that impulse completely. Because the administrative mindset is to take anyone who can pay the tuition or qualify for Federal loans/grants, even students that they know beyond any shadow of doubt cannot succeed in college. Once that financial transaction takes place, the admissions folks are happy and that millstone of a student now becomes the faculty's collective problem.

It is a very clear and persistent case of "Oh well, I won't have to deal with it!" and "You're someone else's problem now!" frosted with a nauseating layer of pap about how we're doing something noble because doesn't every student deserve a chance? Yes, educational opportunities should exist for everyone. But I am not a high school Special Education teacher. I am neither trained nor prepared to deal with students who literally cannot stop themselves from singing and throwing things throughout class. I am not prepared to teach a college course that both challenges the best students and accommodates those who can barely read. That is why universities are not one size fits all, why Harvard accepts people who have a fighting chance at succeeding at Harvard and rejects those who probably (although not definitely) do not. At a place like TAMU-Galveston, where the school by design and necessity accepts essentially anyone who submits an application, the task given to professors there is unrealistic and unethical at best, professionally negligent at worst.

So, congratulations to Dr. Horwitz. Not because this stunt will work or because he Showed Those Darn Kids. The dynamic in which clueless MBA types walled off from student contact and from reality make decisions without having to deal with the consequences needs to be dismantled. If the admissions process is going to involve no standards beyond the ability to pay, then the faculty (and the students who are actually hoping to learn something) should not bear the entire burden of dealing with what follows.

THE ICEBERG

Posted in Rants on April 26th, 2015 by Ed

I've said plenty here over the years about online education, and plummeting enrollments at for-profit (and almost entirely online-based) universities suggest that the pool of potential student/customers is starting to see through the scam. Having an online Bachelor's degree is worse than having no college degree at all on the job market, with the added bonus of saddling you with a six-figure student loan debt for all of that non-education.

One of the largest players in the industry / racket, Corinthian Colleges, officially went belly-up on Sunday. This is not a surprise; the company has been staggering along as the Sick Man of online education for years as the investigations and financial issues mounted. Frankly it's a small miracle that they lasted as long as they did. The LA Times story on the closure notes that this strands CC's currently 78,000 students and potentially makes them eligible for Federal student loan forgiveness. And my strongest reaction to this story was the realization that, holy crap, this dying mess of an institution (in an industry in overall decline) with ten solid years of horrible publicity still has 78,000 students somehow. Who in the hell are these people?

My guess is that any "real" students in that number are either people who need a degree to qualify for a higher salary level (as in civil service) and don't really care about quality, or people whose employer/etc pays for the courses and thus "Fuck it, it's free" is the dominant mindset. For the most part, though, as the California Attorney General stated:

The state’s lawsuit claims that Corinthian—which charges more than $40,000 for tuition and related fees—targets single parents who are close to the poverty level, a demographic that its internal documents describe as “composed of ‘isolated,’ ‘impatient,’ individuals with ‘low self-esteem,’ who have ‘few people in their lives who care about them’ and who are ‘stuck’ and ‘unable to see and plan well for future,’ through aggressive and persistent internet and telemarketing campaigns and through television ads on daytime shows like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich.’ ”

In other words, online degrees are marketed to the same segment of the population as payday loans and cash advances, with the most obvious difference being that a payday lender won't let you go $150,000 in the hole. Of course, the school (or "school") isn't the one fronting the cash, and that gets to the heart of what the entire business model of for-profit education is all about. It is nothing more than a conduit for shifting government money to a private business and risk and responsibility to private individuals. That's why the admissions criteria are limited to an exclusive class of potential students consisting of anyone capable of qualifying for a Federal student loan or grant. It's not difficult to see that any individual who doesn't understand that a degree from "Everest University Online" is not worth the $40,000/year Corinthian charges is, in the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, not exactly university material.

Most of these students would be better served at a community or technical college, institutions designed to offer cheap, flexibly scheduled classes to working adults and younger people for whom traditional 4-year colleges don't make sense. Online schools are simply parasites, attaching themselves to an industry and a population of students that don't need them. That the primary expense for these companies is advertising – University of Phoenix spent nearly three quarters of a billion dollars on advertising last year – underscores how much more similar to retail and service industry firms they are than to any educational institution.

This is the tip of an iceberg, a bubble poised to burst. We will be seeing more of this in the near future, not only among online schlock merchants but also among smaller brick-and-mortar colleges. With the skyrocketing cost of college tuition and the vast numbers of marginal students being enticed to sign contracts they don't fully understand, it would take a great deal of willful blindness to fail to see the similarities to the housing market of the last decade.

NPF: I'VE HEARD BETTER IDEAS

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 23rd, 2015 by Ed

The Cold War inspired a brand of apocalyptic thinking that one just doesn't find anymore. Sure, terrorism has caused more than a few people and societies to lose their minds with fear, but you lose some of the legit crazy when you remove strategic contingency planning from the battlefield and traditional State vs. State conflicts. I mean, it's not like the Pentagon is dreaming up scenarios for what we will do if we have to abandon the United States after it is taken over by ISIS.

We wouldn't do something, for example, like plan to salt the Earth with radioactivity while retreating from the onrushing Soviet armored columns.

In the 1950s the U.S. and its NATO allies (which at that time essentially meant Britain, and they were still having a rough go of things post-War) were planning for World War III under the assumption of absolute Warsaw Pact numerical superiority. They had more men, more guns, and more tanks than the Free World could ever hope to muster. This explains why Western planning so readily embraced nuclear weapons; it was assumed that it would be the only option left when faced with being overrun by the Red Hordes.

There are holes in all of this logic in hindsight, of course. It was what they believed at the time, though, based either on the information available or their ideological motivation.

The Brits, still preoccupied with rebuilding their nation and not interested in raising enough ground forces to keep Ivan from charging into West Germany, came up with a particularly efficient way of contributing to the defense of the Western World. Project Blue Peacock (also known variously as Blue Bunny, which is now a lethal ice cream, and Brown Bunny, in which we can watch Vincent Gallo get a beej) was a plan to bury nuclear mines throughout Germany so that upon retreat we could wait until the Soviets occupied the area and then give them a big, one million degree surprise. It's not the worst plan anyone ever devised, if it is a bit nihilistic even by Cold War standards. Here's where it went from sublime to ridiculous.

Burying what at the time was a relatively rudimentary device meant that the electronic and mechanical parts would get unacceptably cold and most likely fail to work when the crucial moment arrived. Some visionary in the Pentagon or Ministry of Defense came up with the bizarre if somewhat unorthodox solution of putting a couple of chickens in the bomb housing. A small amount of feed and water would keep the chickens alive for the 8-10 days for which the detonation timer would be set. Their body heat, although not great, would be sufficient to keep the electrical parts up to temperature. When the moment of truth arrived, these Service Chickens would then be the first victims (by microseconds) of the explosion.

In the pantheon of harebrained Cold War schemes, it's actually not the worst idea. Ridiculous, sure. Unorthodox, obviously. But it probably would have worked. It sounds positively dull when you compare it to things like Project Acoustic Kitty.

NARROW RANGE

Posted in Rants on April 23rd, 2015 by Ed

When you live in the Rust Belt, talk of Urban Renewal is never far away. With a few exceptions – Chicago, Pittsburgh, perhaps Indianapolis – the Third Wave of Capitalism has not been kind to this area. Pick any of the minor cities of Pennsylvania, Ohio, upstate New York, downstate Illinois, or Michigan and the story is largely the same: all the manufacturing jobs are gone, nothing has replaced them, and everyone who isn't too old or poor to leave has done so.

It's not like we're not aware of the problem. Every city has some sort of pie-in-sky plan about how they plan to attract, you know, all of the Buzzword Jobs. Hi-tech. Information. Knowledge. STEM. Etc etc. The problem is twofold: there are dozens and dozens of cities trying to do the exact same thing simultaneously, and all of them have the same strategy. They throw free tax dollars at private industry and hope that it won't notice that none of the attractive things a business would want are available. The workforce is poor and poorly skilled, the quality of life for transplants would be lousy, and the location has little logistical appeal. I mean, what the hell do the Saginaw, Michigans of the world really have to offer? There's a reason these places are sinking ships.

And the sad thing is, they still have it better than the Dakotas.

Unless you are interested in temporary work in the shale oil industry in North Dakota / Montana, what in the name of god would draw anyone to those places? Don't worry, they can't figure it out either. That is a very interesting link, a story of governments trying to figure out how to sell their states and cities when they have very little to offer that would be of interest to anyone under 60. Wide open spaces? Low cost of living? OK great, lots of places in the US can offer that. And most of them don't have Hoth-like winters that make residents regret being born. And they're not eight hour drives from a major airport.

I like to think of myself as a person who can come up with a few half-decent solutions to problems when I encounter them. And I can honestly say that I have no earthly idea what South Dakota could offer major industries or young, economically successful people to move there. Sometimes a place is perceived as a barren wasteland because it is a barren wasteland. The range of things it can do to attract residents is quite limited, and the range of things that will work is even narrower.

DISORDERED THINKING

Posted in Rants on April 21st, 2015 by Ed

Your older white male coworker Steve comes running into the office, clearly agitated. He reports breathlessly, "There's a bunch of dudes with katanas fighting in the parking lot!" This, you think, is a thing worth seeing in addition to being cause for some alarm. You rush over to the window and discover that the parking lot is empty. "Steve," you say, "where did they go?"

"What do you mean, where did they go? They're right there! Look at them!"

To reassure yourself (and hopefully Steve) that you have not somehow overlooked this scene which on its face seems unlikely to be overlooked, you check the parking lot one last time. Cars, yes. Another coworker strolling into the building, yes. The parking attendant, yes. Two pigeons, yes. But no men fighting with katanas. In fact, neither men nor katanas are anywhere to be found. "Do you mean to tell me that you can't see that there is no one in that parking lot, Steve?"

He grows angry. "THEY'RE OUT THERE, I'M TELLING YOU."

How concerned would you be about Steve's mental state at this point? You might think he's in the midst of a cardiovascular event that is limiting the flow of oxygen to his brain. You might wonder if he is drunk or high on drugs. Or you might think, and not entirely without justification, that he is having some kind of psychotic break. And if you told your boss and other coworkers what happened, they would agree with you without hesitation that he is acting nuts and you are right to be concerned. Collectively, you would probably call the hospital or his doctor, or at least have someone drive him home. I mean, you wouldn't let someone drive a car after witnessing that kind of inability to integrate the world around him into his thinking. You certainly wouldn't just ignore all of this and let everyone go about their day.

So when an older white male tells a room full of other older white males in a nationally broadcast forum that Muslims have taken over a number of cities including Dearborn, MI and established "no go zones" wherein Sharia law is practiced, why does nobody check if perhaps his collar is a bit too tight? Why doesn't anyone sit him down and offer him a nice cold glass of water while someone else calls for medical help? Insisting on the existence of something that demonstrably does not exist – and remember, this is hardly the kind of thing that could be hidden from view as most conspiracy theories can conveniently claim – is neither a fact, nor a belief, nor an opinion. It is a delusion, defined as "an erroneous belief held despite strong, indisputable evidence to the contrary." Delusions are a sign of, at best, mental fatigue or confusion. In most cases they are an indicator of something much more serious.

It is only because so many people in this country believe things that are demonstrably, incontrovertibly wrong that we do not find this more alarming. We've simply become used to it and we hardly flinch when we see True Believers, with the fires of sincerity burning in their eyes, insisting that whatever fantasy occupies the far right at the moment is true. It is odd that labeling these delusions as part of our political or religious beliefs inoculates them from the kind of reaction they would get if "Muslims" was replaced with "unicorns."

A HERO IS BORN

Posted in Rants on April 19th, 2015 by Ed

One of John Mulaney's best bits is about the New York Post, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of American journalism. In it he describes the paper's unique argot, with references to "tots" and "pervs" and "bozos" and other terminology befitting a low-brow rag best suited to lining cat litter boxes. He parodies their usage of "hero" to describe "any man who does his job."

It was hard not to think immediately of this description when I saw this video of a police officer (via body camera, by the way) with his gun drawn engaging a murder suspect dispatchers described as armed without resorting to deadly force. Google this incident and you'll find thousands of hits describing the video as "heroic" or even "inspirational", setting a "great example" of how encounters between police and suspects can end without one of the parties involved dying. Yes Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus. Even very liberal sites have covered the story using language like, "officer demonstrates how to avoid using deadly force" as though that is the natural and expected outcome, a force beyond his control against which he must do battle.

How bad have things gotten with law enforcement in this country? Bad enough that we're applauding a police officer for not killing a suspect. He saved this suspect's life! By not shooting him when the latter appeared dangerous. This is now a thing that stands out and needs to be praised so that others might follow this example. The shoot-first culture is now so thoroughly entrenched that nobody seems to remember that what you see in this video is, in the most literal sense, exactly what the police are paid to do. In most departments one might imagine that officers who aren't strictly limited to desk work end up feeling threatened or feeling like they are in danger somewhere between occasionally and constantly. The idea that "feeling threatened" is a carte blanche justification for using lethal force has become so popular that we hardly notice the body count it is racking up. It has become a classic Can vs. Should problem, the logical fallacy that the conceptual right to use lethal force somehow implies that it should or even must be used. Whenever the amateur Cop Apologists note that being a cop is a dangerous job – which it is, although nowhere near the most dangerous – I have to explain to another adult human being that part of what the police are paid to do is not take the bait from every person they encounter who acts suspiciously or aggressively toward them.

Paradoxically, the reaction to a situation that had (in the larger sense) a "happy" ending is more disturbing than watching people react to the now familiar "Cop guns down suspect" story. Cops killing people, and the social and legal framework in place to protect them when they do so, not only fails to surprise us anymore but is now the expected outcome. And we are just scratching the surface of the consequences of that change.

A CERTAIN WEARINESS

Posted in Rants on April 16th, 2015 by Ed

As soon as Trevor Noah was appointed Jon Stewart's successor, I knew it was coming. Without knowing anything about Noah beyond a very small number of appearances on Comedy Central's ratings juggernaut, I knew it was only a matter of time until someone, somewhere would uncover a reason that nobody is allowed to like him. Evidence that he is a Bad Person. He was going to be deemed racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Mennonite, or something that would remind us of the imperfections of his character. It is part of the modern "callout culture," and it is fucking exhausting.

You would think that grown men and women could recognize some sort of happy medium between condoning racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive words and actions and going to the opposite extreme and deeming nearly everyone guilty of something. But who are we kidding. We lack the subtlety to do anything other than blindly accept and endorse offensive shit as Just Fine or to wildly overreact and point fingers (and level accusations) like a bunch of self-righteous teenage straight edge kids who just discovered that the bassist in that one skatecore band smoked a cigarette.

I will make no defense of Trevor Noah's jokes – which, in addition to being somewhat offensive were, more importantly, really stupid and un-funny. If he or any other person says something offensive it is fair to hold them responsible for it. What bothers me is the fact that the second he got the job, someone sat down and went through five fucking years of his Tweets until they found something sufficiently insensitive to run breathlessly to the principal's office and tattle on him.

I've been updating this site five times per week for more than ten years. Anyone with endless time on their hands could, if I suddenly became famous, mine those millions of words to find something Unacceptable. Like any human being, I'm sure that not every word I've ever said was perfectly inoffensive to anyone and everyone. And I would submit, perhaps self-servingly, that if you were able to find something I wrote in 2003 that you (or a large number of people, even) found offensive it would not be conclusive evidence of my character and fitness for interacting with human society. It might be something that would deserve attention – Does it represent the way I feel today? Am I proud of it? Do I regret it for reasons other than dislike of the consequences? Do I understand how and why someone else found it offensive? – but in terms of my underlying character as a human being I think the fact that someone read 5,000 blog posts to find a Gotcha quote speaks more poorly of their character than the quote does of mine.

This is the one and only Gin and Tacos Thing I have ever spoken to another writer about before writing. I asked, "Is there any way to be critical of this "callout culture" without sounding like a whiny white male who is sad that he can't tell racist jokes anymore?" And she told me, "No. So just go ahead and do it." I'm sure some people will take it that way. And that is unfortunate, because I honestly think there is a balance that could be struck between making sure that closet racists, woman-haters, etc are made known and this kind of obsession with finding something Wrong with everyone. And yes, I think someone sifting through five years of tweets upon first hearing of a comedian is, if not legitimately obsessive, at least on the Obsession Spectrum.

We are addicted to the rush of being offended and we love tearing down our idols. Always have, always will. I'm not going to join the Patton Oswalt brigade of "Oh dear, You People are so sensitive that it's silencing my white male voice!" I don't feel in any way censored by having to think about the way that things I say and do might offend someone else. If Trevor Noah told antisemitic jokes, then I suppose it is fair that he answer for that. It's getting ugly, tiring, and depressingly predictable, though, this drill of mining the past until we can find The Dirt on everyone in the public eye in even the most insignificant way. Let's let this guy do the new job he's been chosen to do and judge him on the basis of what he does rather than putting him under a microscope until we find something from the past that we can use to pre-disqualify him.

JUST THIS ONCE

Posted in Rants on April 14th, 2015 by Ed

Last week in South Carolina we heard a sad story for the umpteenth time, one so familiar that we don't even need to know the details to complete it. Black male, police officer, minor infraction, "struggle", gunshots, dead body. Like school shootings or the weather, it has become part of the background of American life. It is estimated that every 28 hours a black male is killed by the police or a gun-toting vigilante; it's difficult to keep up even if one is willing to try.

A funny thing has happened with the South Carolina incident, though. Nobody has rallied to the officer's defense. His department hung him out to dry. Conservative talking heads refuse to talk about it. No one is handing over hundreds of thousands of dollars for his "legal defense." The reason, of course, is that the entire incident was videotaped and so clearly contradicts the traditional Police Story (there was a struggle, he took my gun, I was afraid for my life, etc.) that the usual parade of full time cop apologists can't even muster the energy. Oh, and it's kind of hard to generate sympathy when you're on video trying to plant a Taser near the guy you just shot. In the back. That's a level of callousness and corruption that even a Darren Wilson fan can't condone.

The distinctly American aspect of this reaction is the complete inability, or perhaps conscious unwillingness, to make the connection between this incident on video and thousands of other nearly identical incidents that happen not to be on video. This is a story that plays out time and time again across this country every year, and every time it is the officer's word versus the victim or witnesses and we are compelled to accept the official version of events. The idea that the one time the officer lied happened to coincide with the incident being clearly and completely captured on video redefines implausibility. I know that reactionary/authoritarian types are good at faking naivete when it protects them from thinking. What they no doubt tell themselves (and the rest of us) is the old Bad Apple argument – this was an unfortunate and isolated incident and all other incidents in which literally the exact same thing happens and the cop gives literally the exact same story are in no way connected.

The shooting and the callous reaction of the shooter are understandably the focus of most reactions to this depressingly predictable and familiar video, but the part that jumps out to me (and should be the most telling, at least to a sentient person) is the effort to plant the Taser near the dead body. I'll tell you what – ask someone in your circle of friends or family who is in or has worked around law enforcement what the phrase "drop knife" means to them (alternately, "drop gun"). True, I've never previously heard "drop Taser" but the officer in this video had to improvise. Work with the tools you have, right?

People are stubborn and often willfully ignorant. A person would need to have both of those qualities in spades to compartmentalize this incident in a separate reality. This cop was full of shit but all the others – the ones whose behavior isn't captured on video – are best consumed unskeptically. I refuse to believe that the hundreds of black (or otherwise inherently "dangerous") men who end up dead after what should be innocuous encounters with police are the violently resisting, weapon-grabbing, Hulked out monsters who require nothing less than a lethal response that the police always claim they are. If you think this is the first dead black male who had a weapon tossed near him by the cop who just shot him, in a just world you'd find out the hard way how these situations unfold in reality. Without the video, this would have been swept under the rug just like the hundreds of others; "Cop kills black male" isn't even news anymore without something more to make it interesting.

RAGE SUPPLY

Posted in Rants on April 12th, 2015 by Ed

I'm at the point of Internet Success (which is like Success, except it doesn't improve one's life in any way) at which random strangers send me things that are relevant to our collective interests. Recently a reader posted this picture, presumably from the office bulletin board. One of his coworkers sounds like a he has been hitting the Swanson Angry Man dinners a bit hard for…decades, presumably.

angryman

I've posted many times over the past decade about Tax Rage. I simply do not get it. There are so many things worth getting angry about and I don't understand how someone's life could be so sad that they obsess over taxes. You know those people who seem like they can talk about literally nothing else? To me they are as pitiable (but somehow more socially accepted) than a guy whose conversational abilities are limited to weird hobbies or Deep Space Nine. The idea of mustering that much anger, that much enthusiasm of any kind about something as mundane as property taxes would be impressive if it weren't so sad.

Reading the small print, the property tax increase in question is $7.92 per assessed $100,000 of property value. According to a real estate site, the median price of a single-family home in Xenia, OH (address in the upper right corner) is $105,000. The median price of homes sold recently is $129,000. Using the higher figure to give Mr. Histrionics the benefit of doubt, an owner of that median priced home would pay under this proposed tax an additional ($7.92 x 12 months x 1.29) $122.60 per year.

Now, let's get something straight. I don't enjoy paying taxes because nobody really does, and I'd rather have $122.60 than not have it. I do not believe $122.60 is an insignificant amount of money, although that means different things to different people. My rule of thumb for evaluating the relative worth of a given amount of money in your life is: If you dropped it in a gas station toilet full of liquid trucker feces, would you reach in to get it? If the answer is yes, it's a lot of money. At least to you. For someone living on the margins of the economy, $8 or $10 per month might be a big deal. To anyone else losing that amount might be unpleasant but – pay close attention to this part, Tax Rage Guy – it's not going to kill you. You'll live. $122.60 is not the difference between the guy who wrote on this flyer being able to eat or not, and I'm hard pressed to see how $122.60 could be the difference between a middle class homeowner's life bringing him happiness or misery. To someone who can afford a median priced home, I don't see how a hundred bucks could be a game-changer.

To be certain I don't want to give away $122.60 any more than the next person. My point is that if the law demanded that amount of money from me to pay for woefully underfunded public schools it wouldn't ruin my day. I don't understand how so many people can get so angry over something so comparatively insignificant – and I'm a fairly angry person. When I have to pay bills or send the IRS money once per year I react the way I imagine most half-normal people would: I write the check, I say "Fuck" a few times, and then I forget about it once it's in the mail. You might say that's just privilege talking and that if I were poorer I would feel differently, a point that would be valid if only the people who do the most bitching about taxes were poor rather than old white people losing sleep over the idea of poor people taking Their Money.