THE SHORT CON

Posted in Rants on September 8th, 2015 by Ed

In my 36 years I have seen some ridiculous things. I've seen Battlefield:Earth. I've seen adult human beings dump ice on their heads in honor of a motor-neuron disorder. I've seen Carrot Top live (I was 16, come on). I've seen three black lesbians karaoke "Dam That River" by Alice in Chains. I've seen a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver freestyle-A cappella a song about a woman who broke his heart in a bar. I've seen people wait in a three hour queue to eat at Olive Garden. And I deal regularly with 19 year old American college students. So I've seen some shit that left me scratching my head.

This Kim Davis / Hitlerjugend rally, though, might take the cake.

If this wasn't intended to be self-parody, they've accidentally discovered the art form and perfected it the way Henning Brand discovered phosphorus in 1669 while trying to distill gold from his urine by boiling it. They played "Eye of the Tiger." They really did. At least Survivor gets a royalty check out of this. Did I mention I saw Survivor play "Taste of Oak Lawn" in 1995, presumably for beer instead of money? It was dignified compared to this.

The thing that bothers me is that it's so painfully obvious what she's doing here. It's a pattern and she's merely the latest one. Take some kind of nonsensical stand against The Homos. Wave the Bible around a lot. Say incoherent things about the First Amendment. Become a national pariah to most but a martyr-hero to a select group off of whom you will live like a well-hidden parasite for the rest of your days. Book deals. The right wing lecture circuit. Paid appearances at every Christian Right event from here until the end of time. And of course, the inevitable GoFundMe. That worked out pretty well for the no-gays pizza parlor in Indiana. How long do you think it would have taken them to make $844,000 selling shitty pizza in the middle of a cornfield? Took about three days to raise that amount on social media.

This is the new white trash, pearl clutching version of winning the lottery. Sometimes I wonder if I should just announce some day that I refuse to teach gay students, wait about a week for the publicity to build, throw up a GoFundMe, and then tell everyone I was trolling all along after I get the first quarter-million bucks. Why not? This is a cynical, crass game. There is nothing principled about this, no more so than faking a slip-and-fall injury in a Walmart and trying to cash in on the lawsuit. Rather than being disgusted or, god help you, impressed by this spectacle I wish everyone could see it for exactly what it is: an audition.

ACHILLES HEEL

Posted in Rants on September 7th, 2015 by Ed

Veteran readers will find this first part familiar, but it is not without a certain irony that Americans bear the insults of our cousins in Europe. God knows there is plenty to insult and plenty of valid reasons to look at the United States with a mixture of disgust and condescension. Our society is violent beyond what Europeans can imagine outside of a civil war, and we have ridiculous levels of poverty despite our extensive wealth. Our social problems regarding race are embarrassing and heartbreaking. It's remarkably easy for a European to look at us and say, "There go the ignorant Americans again, shooting each other because they're afraid of anyone who's different." It's a fair point.

The irony, as I see it, comes from Europeans' overestimation of how well they deal with these same issues. Sure, income inequality is less severe and gun violence is only a fraction of what Americans live with. But when it comes to looking down their noses at us because of the way we fumble issues like race and immigration…maybe look in the mirror, friends. When the chips are down, there is a lot of evidence that Europeans really, really don't like immigrants. Especially immigrants who may be different than white Christian Europe's modal citizen. Especially if they're dark skinned and look as though they might worship a different god.

In reality the nations of the EU have handled the Syrian refugee flows pretty well, certainly compared to the pitiful response of the wealthier nations of the Middle East who have done nearly nothing. At the same time we see plenty of evidence that the old nationalist / xenophobic fears are not far beneath the surface. A shocking new poll shows that more than half of UK voters now favor leaving the EU solely over fears of immigration – and we're not talking about Polish Plumbers here. Further, while every EU nation has extended a welcome helping hand to the migrants initially, after only a trickle (and a few days) have been admitted there are already familiar hints that humanitarianism goes only so far. Well-placed leaks suggest that, "Austria and Germany warned they can't keep up with the influx of refugees and said (border agencies) must begin to slow the pace." That translates to, "When the media attention fades, close the gate."

America deals with a porous border that is crossed by hundreds of thousands of migrants each year. In most cases the migration is economic in nature: Mexicans and Central Americans want to come here to earn more in exchange for working like horses. Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis are fleeing for their actual lives (although in the areas of Mexico most badly affected by the drug war, the same could likely be said). Contrary to what Republicans claim, our society chugs along just fine with our large amount of immigration; I would argue it actually makes us stronger. Would 200,000 immigrants, mostly families with children, really bring continental Europe to a grinding halt? I'm no expert but that seems highly unlikely. What seems far more likely is that they would melt into the 10-15 countries into which they could be admitted, joining the same underclass that people like them occupy throughout the western world.

NPF: DUCKLINGS

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 4th, 2015 by Ed

Bonus NPF!

Several months ago a friend sent me this picture of a nearly perfect, impeccably maintained and restored vehicle from the automotive past.

1979-plymouth-arrow-sport

In case you didn't recognize it – and honestly I'm a bit worried about you if you did – that's a 1979 Plymouth Arrow Truck. It's something of a punchline, the only truck produced by now-defunct Plymouth and a perfect example of the compact pickup boom of the El Camino era. In no real sense is it a Plymouth (it's a rebadged Mitsubishi Forte, predecessor of the Mighty Max) and in no real sense is it famous, highly regarded, valuable, or sought-after. 36 years have failed to make it collectible.

Why do I like this picture so much? Because we see crap on the road every day. Only very, very rarely does one see perfect, mint condition crap. A restored, flawless car from 1979 is not in and of itself a rare thing. But the vintage auto market and "Trailer Queens" (cars of perfect appearance that are never actually driven) on the Concours circuit are universally high end. Lots of people restore 1970s cars – Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Corvettes, Rolls-Royces, and so on. When lower end cars are restored they inevitably come from the American Muscle Car genre – Mustangs, Camaros, Roadrunners, Challengers, Barracudas, and their ilk. What you see in this picture is the equivalent of seeing a perfect, factory condition 2001 Chevy Cavalier on the road in 2040.

It's so unusual that all I can do is stare at it and think, "Who would do this? Why that car?" And then I want to meet whoever did it and shake the magnificent bastard's hand. Like I wanted to do to the guy who spent $55,000 absolutely flawlessly restoring an AMC Pacer a few years ago.

It doesn't take much taste to appreciate a high priced Italian sports car from the past. Any nouveau riche hedge fund grunt can go to an auction and drop $250,000 on a 1970 Mustang that someone else restored to perfection. That's why I hate the auction/collector car market. It would be far more interesting, at least to me, if more people did things like this. There is nothing interesting about seeing an old Cadillac someone dumped six figures into because he remembers the first time he got a handjob in one back in the Eisenhower years. There's something compelling – if also ridiculous – about having a perfect Matching Numbers 1989 Dodge Shadow, Dodge Shadow Registry No. 0000001. Automotive history isn't just about the highlights. It's about the cars people actually bought and drove. That turquoise Taurus says more about the early 90s than your mint condition ZR-1.

Good on you, Mr. 1979 Plymouth Arrow Truck. If you're going to have an obsession, why have the same one everyone else has?

NPF: MAN OF CHARACTER

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 3rd, 2015 by Ed

Ever have an idea so ridiculous that you think it might actually be brilliant? For the past few months I've been haunted by the phrase "Ed Lauter Film Festival." That would be, as the name implies, an event organized around the most notable works of career character actor Ed Lauter. You might recognize him as That Guy who's in That Movie you like. Or that TV series. Ed Lauter was like an electron, simultaneously everywhere and nowhere at once.

Wait. Hear me out.

An academic friend and I are more than a bit unnaturally obsessed with Mr. Lauter, but the more I thought about our comedic suggestion that he be honored with a film festival the more I thought that it's just stupid enough to work. How could our irony-saturated society fail to love the idea of a festival held in middle America to honor the workhorses of Hollywood…people who form the backbone of your favorite movies and shows, adding layers beneath the leading men and women who get all the attention? Isn't that, like, almost poetic? In addition to being bullshit?

The fact is that I have no idea how one goes about organizing a film festival is an impediment. So is the obvious potential for it to be a disaster with nobody showing up. But if that is the worst thing that can happen, I'm pretty sure that's survivable. I happen to know a number of fairly successful people who might be talked into performing to add more entertainment to wrap around the Lauter films. I know a lot of people who write about movies and movie stuff to a substantial audience. And I can be pretty tenacious once I get obsessed with something.

Good idea, or the best idea? Or is it actually neither of those because it's a terrible idea? Maybe a Friday-Saturday event that wouldn't cost much ($20?) and could offer movies, live music at night, comedy, panel discussions and lectures on Ed Lauter, and more? Sure, it wouldn't exactly be Coachella, but with luck we could pack a whole lot of entertainment for not much money into a weekend. Aside from the potential that nobody would go because it's clearly a nutty idea, what are the most obvious roadblocks I should think about as I move from the "Hmm" phase to actual brainstorming? Do you think anyone (not necessarily you) would come to such a thing?

Moving was a great idea. I feel like doing things again. Even if they are Ed Lauter related and kind of illogical.

DIVERSIONS

Posted in Quick Hits on September 3rd, 2015 by Ed

I intended to write a good old fashioned chest-clutcher about the European immigration "crisis" but unfortunately yesterday I was far too busy winning the internet on the social medias. As a bonus feature I get called a lot of names in the comment sections. But even though I have fun with it, not all of this stuff is funny. In fact some of it is downright sad.

Previously I considered social media accounts no more than a diversion. Now I feel like they're taking on a life of their own, and that I'm getting not-bad at the format.

UPPER CRUST FANTASIES

Posted in Rants on September 1st, 2015 by Ed

This weekend I did something I rarely do – something most Americans rarely do. I interacted with human beings above my social status. I am bad at it. Look surprised.

Every so often I end up in such situations and although you could accuse me with justification of being hyper-sensitive to it, I am always struck by the differences in the narratives people of different backgrounds unfold in conversation. It's a useful reminder, on the off chance that you need one, about how class and privilege still dominate every aspect of our society. Maybe it's just me – I'm a storyteller in social situations, and maybe that encourages others to respond in kind. But they're hardly the same stories.

When you hang around Ivy League people, it is immediately apparent that they interact almost exclusively with other Ivy League people (and why wouldn't they?) in their professional, if not personal, lives. You can listen to a Harvard person talk about their entire family and every person they've ever considered a friend without hearing about 1) anyone who isn't almost cartoonishly well off financially, although since it is normal to Them they would not consider it as such, or 2) anyone in a profession that isn't some variation of the all-encompassing Business. Nobody is a middle school teacher. Nobody is a dentist. Nobody is in Human Resources. It may be called a variety of nebulous things – Consulting, Marketing, Business, Development, etc. – but inevitably it entails making vast amounts of money to jet around the world doing nothing anyone can identify as work based on qualifications divorced from any skill set. Everybody lives in New York or San Francisco or LA or, if they're really slumming it, maybe Boston before they move to France or London or Hong Kong because Business and do any other parts of the world even exist? If so, why?

You know what we could really use? More think pieces about how wealthy elites inside the exclusionary circle of expensive prep schools, Ivy League universities, and Mystery Business are so f'n bored with being rich and successful.

After you listen to them talk about their lives and their friends for a while you won't be able to stop thinking about how they clearly don't know anyone like you and you clearly don't know anyone like them. My friends went to cheap public universities and do the kind of things that rich people deem useful enough to keep around – mainly babysitting their children for 18 years, providing them with healthcare, and incarcerating one another until they feel safe. Their friends do Business and apparently hopscotch from expensive city to expensive city around the globe, which doesn't count as vacation but don't worry they take plenty of those too and apparently vacations last several months? Who can say, really. It's all a mystery.

There are exceptions. Magazine pieces can always tout a handful of college dropouts who became Big Successes. Every hayseed university has its list of Famous Alumni who got rich in some appropriately salt of the earth manner. But that merely encourages the delusion of class mobility that Americans cling to like a life raft. For 99% of us, what we think of as "success" would probably make actually successful people double over in laughter. It sucks, but you might as well try to stop the tides. All you need to know is that yes, there is a club. And you're not in it. You just happen to meet a few of its members here and there. If sociologically analyzing their conversation doesn't interest you, just make a game out of counting how many boats are referenced per anecdote.