THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (IS ZERO)

Posted in Rants on January 31st, 2016 by Ed

To enter into discussion with a Gun Person is to start a clock and know confidently that before it hits the ten minute mark they will state that private gun ownership is an important check on the tyranny of government. When subjected to logic this statement is roughly equivalent to a toddler playing with a toy steering wheel in the backseat and believing that he is driving the car. What will it take to convince these people that The Government manifestly, demonstrably is not afraid of your guns.

The gaggle of dipshits playing toy soldiers in Oregon right now are learning that the hard way. What The Government appears to fear is the negative public relations that result from using force against white people, which is why this situation dragged on long past a reasonable display of patience. Make no mistake, had these people been Muslims or black or college hippie environmentalists or had there simply been less patience for their stupid antics, The Government could have resolved this in an hour. Kill the power, roll armored vehicles up to the door, and circle the building with every armed Federal agent west of the Mississippi. Give them 60 seconds to come out with their hands up, then roll in and start shooting. Better yet, set the building on fire. That's exactly how this would have played out were they not all redneck white guys. And in that scenario, being armed would not have accomplished a goddamn thing for anyone inside.

Watch this, if you can. I've nicknamed this patriot GI Sloppy Joe:

YouTube comments are rarely a fountain of common sense and reason, but to quote the great philosopher of our time "Boob72", "Just send in a drone and light these cunts up FFS." I'm certainly not one to advocate for the increased use of violence by law enforcement, but given the ridiculous amount commonly used I'd at least enjoy knowing that it's applied consistently. And what this blubbering idiot does not appear to understand is that if his paranoid rantings were based on reality and The Government did in fact give enough of a shit about him to kill him, they would do it. They have a lot more ability to use force than this moron and his handful of like-minded morons. Remember how law enforcement agencies around the nation are absolutely drowning in military surplus equipment? Yeah. When they roll up on Sloppy Joe in a vehicle designed to withstand hits from rocket-propelled grenades and fly overhead with a couple of snipers in a helicopter, what exactly is that gun going to do for him? He may believe that it is protecting him; in reality the only thing keeping him alive is the color of his skin and the number of people almost as stupid and insane as him holding elected office these days.

They are not afraid of you and they're not afraid of your gun. There are more of them than you. They are far better armed. They have body armor, air assets, armored vehicles, and they're (probably) much smarter than you because they've dealt with idiots like you before. If there's one thing American law enforcement at every level have proven over and over again – Aren't these very Patriots always bringing up Waco? – it's that if they decide you're not being taken alive, you're not being taken alive. They're not exactly hesitant to apply lethal force when they see someone holding a gun, which even by a cynic's definition would be one of the few instances when a cop could say "I feared for my life" and not be full of shit.

I'm sure we could fill a warehouse with everything the man in that video fails to understand. Of all his misconceptions, though, the fact that he thinks his scoped penis extension is keeping him safe is the most egregious. The law merely has gotten sick of indulging these children and even still he can't recognize how he's being handled with kid gloves.

NPF: DELUSIONS

Posted in No Politics Friday on January 29th, 2016 by Ed

Anyone who has taken an English class at the high school level probably can respond with "Moby Dick!" when hearing Herman Melville's name. Fans or English Lit major types during college can go farther and tell you about Benito Cereno, Billy Budd, and Bartleby. Melville fans will also tell you that Moby Dick received no attention during the author's lifetime save for a few viciously negative reviews and it was not until 1920 that the literary world re-discovered it and decided it is great. But if you find someone who can name the books Melville wrote that actually were successful and popular, that's rare.

Today nobody in their right mind would read Omoo or Typee, and in fact you'd have a hard time finding someone who has heard of either. They were Melville's Hits, both in the once terribly popular "high seas adventure" genre. As the titles imply, both tales were set in the South Pacific (and were based on Melville's own experiences traveling there). These books are not good. "Dated" doesn't begin to explain how irrelevant this kind of writing feels today. In its time, though, these stories about adventures in foreign and exotic lands were popular given that most readers in the 1840s were unlikely to see much if any of the world during their lives. Today there's nothing mysterious or exotic about the South Pacific, for example, because at a moment's notice you can watch videos, see pictures, or get on a surprisingly affordable (although certainly not cheap) flight to see it for yourself. Traveling around the world doesn't impress us anymore. And it takes a lot more to titillate the imaginations of modern Americans than some "natives" speaking pidgin English in an island setting. We have movies about robots punching monsters, for christ's sake.

As a kid I was (OK, I still am) fascinated by maps and globes. I'd stare at them for hours sometimes, looking at different places with strange names and wondering if I would ever be there at some point in my life. And I'm not going to lie, well into adulthood I maintained the illusion of the Pacific islands as idyllic paradises. On more than a handful of bad days I imagined myself running away to a tiny island and living on the tropical beaches. The reality is not hard to uncover, and it isn't pleasant. Most of the Pacific islands are floating slums. They're tiny, packed with people, and largely devoid of economic activity. Oh, and the planet is going to swallow most of them soon due to rising sea levels. The Times ran a piece in December that I've read probably a dozen times about the Marshall Islands, a former US possession and now not-really but-kinda-still a US possession. Look at the videos and photos with that story. That place sucks. I don't want to dwell right now on the myriad reasons the Pacific is full of slums (hint: It's basically our fault) but it's difficult to think of a better term to describe what has become of these places. Suffice it to say that the fantasy is better than reality.

The more of the world you see, the less magical any of it seems. We can't expect that other parts of the world will be frozen in time for our enjoyment and appreciation as rich Westerners, but it strikes me as particularly sad that we've exported only the absolute worst parts of America to places that were doing fine on their own before Europeans arrived. Staggering obesity, even more staggering environmental degradation (remember the guano post?), Spam, Coke, McDonald's, shitty beer, and about 75 nuclear detonations by the US and France that leave several areas uninhabitable even 50-plus years later.

It's sad that reality and the shrinking of the world in general have burst our fantasy bubble of island paradises. It's even sadder to think of what it must be like to live there now, and the changes that a 70 year old person living there today must have seen during his lifetime.

TWO VIGNETTES ABOUT THINGS WE ALL HATE

Posted in Quick Hits on January 28th, 2016 by Ed

1. Before a brief appearance on local AM radio regarding the presidential primaries, the hosts told me a very interesting tidbit. This station has both Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (syndicated, obviously, not live in studio) and loses money on both of them. Limbaugh in particular is poison to local advertisers, who specifically ask that their ads not run during his show. I asked, quite logically I thought, why the station maintains this arrangement if it actively loses money. Turns out that it is a defensive strategy, essentially, to prevent any other competing station in the broadcasting area from getting Beck or Limbaugh and using them as an anchor to establish a presence. Advertisers don't like them but they both continue to draw an audience (with an average age of about 70, they said off the cuff) and having them in syndication is more about denying that potential audience to other stations than it is about Beck/Limbaugh raking in dough. This is anecdotal; I wonder how widespread this arrangement of spite is among the many stations that carry these turds.

2. Conspiracy theory time. Is it possible that Donald Trump is actively trying to get himself out of the GOP nomination process at this point? His ego is so massive that I can't imagine how he will spin losing, if and when he does lose. The ideal scenario for him, it seems, is to get out before much if any actual voting takes place so he can claim essentially, "They didn't fire me; I quit." He seems like the willingness of his supporters to take anything he says in stride no matter how insane surprises even him. There isn't much room left in the neo-Bircher issue spectrum that he hasn't covered. Other than embracing explicit antisemitism or shouting "niggerrrrrrrr!" during a live TV appearance I don't know what else he can do to try to offend people and actually succeed at this point. This theory is probably bunk but I see him as a petulant child with a short attention span who probably got into this race solely to draw attention to himself and now faces the challenge of finding a graceful exit given that he is losing interest and previously thought it impossible that he would do as well as he is polling given how asinine his entire persona and campaign are.

HOW TO CONVINCE YOURSELF THAT DONALD TRUMP IS OUR NEXT PRESIDENT

Posted in Rants on January 26th, 2016 by Ed

Defeatism and liberalism go hand in hand in the US. Those voters who survived disasters like the candidacies of George McGovern and Michael Dukakis are no doubt scarred by the experience, and the younger generation of voters will never again trust the American public after watching it re-elect George W. Bush in 2004 (ignoring context and the feebleness of the Kerry candidacy in favor of an endless "How could you?" aimed at the electorate). This makes sense. It is also, however, terribly counterproductive. In 2008, for example, resources that could have been put to productive use in competitive races were instead wasted on the Obama campaign in states in which it had double-digit leads in the polls. "The polls must all be wrong," they thought. "Oh god, the McGovern dreams are happening again," they said, followed by soft weeping.

Certainly overconfidence is a bad attribute to bring to an election. A balance between that and paranoia exists, though, and we're seeing considerably more of the latter from Democrats who are absolutely convinced that we are a mere 11 months away from President Trump. I have listened to an entire Carlos Mencia comedy special and yet this is still the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Like Trump's supporters must do, Chicken Liberals (gosh I'm clever) must do a handful of things to convince themselves of this possibility. And by handful I mean like a dozen, every one of which must work out in reality in Trump's favor.

1. Pretend the Electoral College isn't a thing. Lacking a basic understanding of the way the president is actually elected will greatly enable this fantasy. Just pretend it's a popular vote or, I don't know, a contest to see who can get interviewed more on CNN.

2. Ignore every previous election. "Who needs data when I've got this theory!" said every person in history who was terrible at constructing logical arguments.

3. Pretend that Trump is better and more likeable than previous Republican losers. Media darling and widely respected war hero John McCain and plastic billionaire Mitt Romney, both charming in that unpleasant, avuncular way that people who like Republicans tend to find Republicans charming, fell dramatically short of getting elected. They didn't lose – they were crushed in the Electoral College (which, for a refresher, is how presidents are elected). Despite being generally not entirely horrific human beings, they failed, and yet the most repugnant person on the planet is going to be more appealing. Somehow. But certainly…

4. Pretend that Trump is going to bring new voters out. Millions upon millions of them. It is crucial to ignore the fact that his core supporters, uneducated white people, don't vote. Half of the people at his rallies probably aren't even registered, and since his campaign is rudderless and unprofessional nobody is in charge of making sure they're registered. Also, the ones who vote aren't already voting Republican. No. They must be disaffected Democrats.

5. Insist that Trump's effect on the Republican voter is solely additive. Yep, he's just gonna bring all these new people out in droves. And of course there's no chance that he could drive anyone who would otherwise vote Republican to stay away, right? He's only the most disgusting person in the country after all. There's zero chance that, like, the GOP would lose in Hispanics what it gains (theoretically, allegedly) in white morons. And it's impossible that something like, let's lowball it and say 1 out of 20 Mitt Romney voters finds Trump too repulsive to support. Five percent isn't much, right? Wait it's actually three million people.

6. Exaggerate the flaws of the Democratic candidates. Even though the Democratic field clearly has two strong candidates similar to the dynamic it had in 2008, make up some theory about how everyone who would support them will magically turn away at some point because, I don't know, let's say "the media."

7. Imagine that the GOP candidates are going to fall in line to support this asshole, whom they all loathe. I bet the process of getting their 57 candidates to rally around this human excrement will go smoothly!

8. Live in a world in which no one from the GOP's high rollers would bankroll an independent run by a moderate, or at least what Republicans call a moderate. The Koch Brothers seem like the type to take a Trump candidacy in stride. Lying down, even.

9. Forget that Donald Trump has never succeeded at anything, ever. This, the hardest thing to do in this country, will be the first thing he succeeds at. That seems plausible. Granted we're already pretending he has the attention span necessary to see this through 11 months of hard campaigning so I guess we can take it a step further.

10. Ignore the fact that Trump hasn't even won a single primary yet, and that his "team" does not appear to understand or to be executing even the most basic fundamentals of campaigning. Just get on TV a lot, say a bunch of stupid shit, and magically everyone comes out to vote for you. Yep, that's how our nomination process works.

I could go on but I'm already bored with the stupidity of this entire scenario. When you have no choice but to speak to someone who is claiming that Donald Trump can win the election, ask them to tell you which are the states that superficially pleasant, charmingly incompetent upper class twit Mitt Romney lost in the Electoral College but Trump is going to win. Keep asking the question until you get a list of states or an admission that they don't know what the Electoral College is. Look for a convenient exit. Point at a bird or something. They distract easily.

NPF: SOLID IMPRESSION

Posted in No Politics Friday on January 22nd, 2016 by Ed

Did you know that stereotypes didn't exist before 1922?

Alright, more accurately the use of the term stereotype in the sense of an oversimplified generalization about a particular type of person or thing is less than a century old. Walter Lippmann's classic text Public Opinion – read it and you'll feel like it was written last year rather than during World War I – debuted the term to the mass public. Oddly enough, though, he drops it in the text cold without introducing or defining it, leaving open the possibility that the term may already have been circulating in literate circles at the time. Alternatively he may simply have assumed that readers could understand it from context. So the follow-up question is: Where did Lippmann get it from? He certainly was a great writer. Perhaps he just made it up?

Not exactly. Stereotype was the name of a printing process invented in 1795 by a Frenchman named Firmin Didot, the son of the man who invented the Didot typeface for those of you who are into such things. Firmin coined it, as was the style of the time, by combining two Latin terms: stereo (solid) and typos (impression). Therefore in the literal sense a stereotype is a solid impression of a group of people. "Solid" in this case has no positive connotation (e.g., "a solid victory" or "do me a solid brah") but to its firmness and lack of variation. The stereotype printing process involved a means of reproducing printing plates efficiently and then using the reproduced (stereotyped) plates to print rather than the original. This allowed extremely consistent printing at a good rate of production, and Didot was very successful. In short, he pioneered a process of churning out unvarying, nearly identical copies of a single source.

I have no idea how or why Walter Lippmann was acquainted with the technical details of antiquated French printing processes. It is inarguable that the term is uniquely suited to conveying the spirit and concept of the modern use of the word.

MY GOD, IT'S FULL OF STARS

Posted in Quick Hits on January 20th, 2016 by Ed

Putting Sarah Palin and Donald Trump together is so beautiful I can hardly stand it. It feels like a beautiful waking dream. "Now our cause is one," said the trailer trash fascist, less than 24 hours after her son was arrested for punching his girlfriend in the face. Marcel Duchamp could not script a better shitshow than a Trump-Palin campaign would inevitably be.

It's a natural fit given that both demagogues transparently hate their army of rubes and lead what is essentially America's version of Europe's far-right nationalist movement. If it isn't fascism proper it's close enough. Why not join forces to create the most cynical, meanest performance art piece the country has ever seen, elevated to near perfection by the fact that their supporters are not in on the gag? What is the limit to the amount you would pay to watch media outlets awkwardly take them seriously? Personally, I'm ready to drain my bank accounts to see the spectacle.

As an added bonus, Trump as the GOP nominee (which, again, remains an unlikely outcome but let's dream big for a second) with Palin's tongue attached to his O-ring would not only lose and lose big but they would also take the entire Republican Party down with them. They would do what the Civil War did to the Whigs and what Brian Mulroney did to the Progressive Conservatives in Canada. That we would get to watch a moron who can't talk as the potential running mate of a man who acts like he is auditioning for the lead role in a Goebbels biopic is almost too sweet. "Icing on the cake" understates how wonderful that would be, unless the icing is made of $100 bills and 90 minute massage gift certificates.

For the first time, I am a little excited about the 2016 Election. If you invited me to a demolition derby I'd have very little interest in going. If you invited me to a demolition derby where all of the vehicles had mounted rocket launchers and were driven by drunk men with neurological deficits that left them permanently without depth perception, wild horses wouldn't be enough to keep me away.

I DRIVE A DODGE STRATUS

Posted in Rants on January 18th, 2016 by Ed

It's hard to overstate what a non-event last week's "capture" of U.S. Navy personnel who were detained in Iran for all of about 15 hours after straying into Iranian territorial waters. Information released by the Navy today underscores how routine the incident was, with the exception of the sailors being taken off the ships briefly for clumsy Iranian military propaganda purposes.

That timeline and the White House response are an example of how international relations are supposed to work in a world run by adults. Since provoking war with Iran while trying to get them to accede to the terms of an agreement to limit their nuclear program presumably is not on the agenda, we can be pretty confident that, conspiracy theories aside, the detour from international waters was either a pure accident or a simple case of young officers trying to shave some time and fuel off their route with a quick shortcut. As Ben Carson and the other GOP candidates were busy trying to turn this into Iranian Hostage Crisis 2016, the non-incident was over before they could even settle on alarmist rhetoric.

The psychology of elected officials and voices in the media that demand that the U.S. "look tough" and "stand up to" Iran, suggesting that somehow what happened is a source of enduring national shame, is both obvious and sad. Why were Iranians able to board the ships? Presumably because the Navy personnel judged correctly that their minor detour was not worth starting a bullet exchange over. Why didn't Obama stand up and start beating his chest and issuing ultimatums? Presumably because we made a mistake and that's OK. It happens. We made a very, very insignificant mistake and nobody got hurt and it doesn't amount to a hill of beans. The best way to play this isn't to escalate it, but to give Iran a good, condescending, "A propaganda video? Come on dude, that's so North Korea."

There are a lot of people in this country who appear, at least in their political views, unable to admit a mistake without being struck dead by shame and humiliation. I feel really sorry for them and the people who have to interact with them. What an exhausting, pointless waste of energy it must require to keep up that facade, to choose to saber-rattle and fight over every little thing lest one Shows Weakness in Front of the Russians. It's nothing short of amazing how much the words "I'm sorry" can simplify life, even if, as is often the case in international affairs, you aren't entirely sincere. There's nothing wrong with that. Especially when dealing with an incident so insignificant that no amount of histrionics can make anyone care about it let alone look at it as a great national crisis.

GO WEST, YOUNG MAN

Posted in Rants on January 18th, 2016 by Ed

19th Century newspaper baron Horace Greeley is best known for the quote borrowed for the title of this post. As the founder and editor of the New York Tribune (which later merged with the Herald before shutting down in 1966) he was a champion of the Whig, then Republican, antislavery movement. What not as many people remember is that he donated his body to be defeated by Ulysses S. Grant in the 1872 presidential election. Many modern sources list him as a Democrat, but in truth the Democratic Party was so weak during Reconstruction that they endorsed Greeley rather than nominate their own candidate. The general election was therefore a competition between two factions within the GOP, one of which had nominal Democratic support.

That's not the interesting part, though. Greeley is the only major party presidential candidate to drop dead before Electoral votes were cast.

I won't rehash the entire Electoral College system here (here is a primer if you're lost) but its most useful contribution to modern American politics seems to be the introduction of a number of great hypotheticals. With the ages of a number of candidates in this election more than a handful of people have brought up scenarios in which a nominee dies. What happens? It depends a great deal on when they die.

For the sake of argument let's say Clinton and Warren (VP) win the Democratic nomination. Just to facilitate this example. Anything that happens before the Democratic convention would be an easy solution for either party, by the way. Running in the primaries is not strictly necessary to win the nomination if a candidate – Clinton in this example – were to win delegates in the primaries but die before the delegates cast their votes at the convention. Those delegates would become uncommitted, which is the same thing that happens to delegates won in a primary when a candidate drops out. And really, dying before the convention is nothing more than dropping out of the race. Really emphatically.

After the convention but before the election, if either nominee died they would be replaced according to the rules established by the parties. It wouldn't necessarily be the most formal process; in 1972 when Thomas Eagleton was removed from the Democratic ticket, the nominee (George McGovern) was basically told to pick someone else by the Democratic National Committee. There could be a second, smaller convention in which people in leadership positions met to choose someone in the old (pre-1968) convention style. If the VP nominee died, a new person would be chosen. If the presidential nominee died, either the VP nominee could be elevated to the position or a different person could be chosen. It would be kind of a mess.

After the election but before Electoral votes are cast – the Greeley predicament – is a bit more of a problem. Despite the fact that some states have "pledge laws" for Electors that are very likely unenforceable, Electors can vote for whomever they want. In 1872 nobody much cared because Greeley lost the election soundly, but the Electors split between voting for the deceased candidate and voting for an assortment of other politicians. Thanks to the 12th Amendment Electors cast two votes, one for president and one for VP. So, if the Clinton-Warren ticket won and then Clinton died, a plausible solution would be the Electors casting their votes for Warren as president and…it gets interesting. Could they collaborate and choose someone else to serve as VP? If you read Article II of the Constitution there would be nothing to stop them. They could also cast blank ballots for VP and then allow Congress to appoint someone to fill the position, as happened when Gerald Ford was chosen as VP upon the resignation of Spiro Agnew.

The really tricky part is the gap between the casting of Electoral votes and inauguration. It's a period of about 4 weeks, from late December to January 20. Having already received votes from the Electors, neither candidate could be replaced by the Democratic Party at this point. Alternative interpretations of the Constitution would abound, but the clear course of action would be the elevation of the VP-Elect to the position of President-Elect. Technically, I think the process would be the swearing-in of the VP-Elect and then, with the Presidency vacant upon the end of Obama's term, immediately elevated to the presidency. Then Congress would be required to fill the VP spot.

There's a contingency in place for just about any scenario. Nonetheless it should be obvious that losing a candidate at some point during the election – or especially after the election – would be a mess. The territory might not be entirely uncharted but it would be, with respect to Horace G., effectively unprecedented.

BOOKS OF NOTE

Posted in Quick Hits on January 13th, 2016 by Ed

I haven't done this in ages – it must be years, and I'm too embarrassed and lazy to look – but here are a couple of interesting books I've gotten through lately. Non-fiction, obviously. Nobody knows what kind of fiction anybody else will like.

1. Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat (Anastacia Marx De Salcedo). Hold on, hold on. It's not about the military. It's essentially a history of processed food, the technologies of which have been driven almost entirely by war and the needs (and funding) of armies. Granola bars, canned protein, preservatives, dehydrated food, freeze drying, chocolate bars…they all came about largely due to efforts to solve the logistical problems of feeding large numbers of men with high calorie needs in a variety of locations and climates. All of the "military" food technology transitions seamlessly to the consumer market. The Army wanted bread that wouldn't go stale for months on end and it got it; now it's virtually impossible to find bread that doesn't have a bizarrely long shelf life. The author is kind of annoying in more than a few passages, obviously too eager to mine the thesaurus (Anyone who uses the word "leitmotif" in a sentence describing granola bars is trying too hard to let us know she went to, let's say Columbia) and the anecdotes about herself and her family add little, but overall it's a great read. The chapters on the Edible Bars of Matter revolution and the technology behind extended food freshness are worth it.

2. 1946: The Making of the Modern World (Victor Sebesteyn). Having previously read his 1989, it made sense to see his take on the other of the two pivotal and defining years of the 20th Century. America is drowning in World War II content – books, movies, games, etc. – but they all end with V-J Day. Yet what happened in the immediate aftermath is the really interesting stuff, not who shot who at the Battle of Somesuch. The author was born behind the Iron Curtain and, for my tastes, fills both 1989 and 1946 with way too many "Communism is bad, kids" reminders (We get it, we've seen the highlight reels of the tomahawk dunks of free market capitalism's victory, Victor) but is a thorough and very straightforward writer. Of particular interest was the considerable attention he pays to the issue of mass rape (and, less sinister, the frenzy of consensual fornication that coincided with it) in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Japan and Germany. Few authors, and fewer male authors, bother to include that among the admittedly lengthy list of horrors of the war. Attention is also devoted to areas beyond Europe in quantity, with thorough chapters on the partition of India, the establishment of Israel, the Chinese civil war, post-war Japan, and other non-Western subjects. You'll understand a lot more about the world as it looks today by the time you finish this.

If you're looking for books, those are books.

I AM THE WARRIOR

Posted in Rants on January 13th, 2016 by Ed

The Supreme Court is almost certainly about to gut public employee unions, including teachers' unions. Briefly, state laws currently can compel some people to pay union dues if they benefit from the collective bargaining done by the union on behalf of all employees. Otherwise any rational person would realize that the dominant strategy is that of all Free Riders: contribute nothing, hope the contributors succeed, and then enjoy the benefits. Since a teachers' union bargains on behalf of all teachers and not just union members, the seemingly sound logic goes, all should contribute.

The complicating factor is that unions, like corporations, non-profit groups, and many other entities, donate money in elections and are active in other aspects of the political process. It was only a matter of time until someone interested in becoming a right-wing martyr filed the right lawsuit. He/she can go on tour with Kim Davis. Think of the ticket sales.

Literally the first thing I cover when teaching Intro to American Government is the concept of a collective action problem. It's the backbone of the course, and it comes up repeatedly. The textbook explanation is that rational individuals have the incentive to free ride. What I don't cover but believe to be an important part of the resistance to collective action is that people (read: conservatives) wildly overestimate what they are capable of achieving on their own. Why should we have single-payer healthcare, I will be able to pay for my own healthcare. Why donate to an environmental group, if the water is gross I'll just move. And who needs a teachers' union, I'm awesome and I'll either negotiate a sweet deal all by myself or I'll just get a higher paying job at another school. Believe me, there is not a single social, economic, or political problem you can present to 19 year olds as a hypothetical that they are not 100% confident that they will solve on their own initiative, most likely incorporating the use of Bootstraps. It's understandable at that age. Unfortunately a lot of people never seem to grow out of it.

In an entirely different course we read Anthem, selected because it is the shortest and thus least painful Ayn Rand piece and because it is one of the finest works of comedy ever penned. How can you do anything but adore a story that ends with a man drafting an ode to individualism in a house someone else built and that he broke into. Anyway, the real money scene is where the protagonist heads out into the forest and, in the space of a few hours before dinnertime, he makes a bow and arrows and shoots plenty of birds out of the sky to feed himself. He also gets a few by throwing rocks at them. This is a minor detail in the story but, in my view, is a great litmus test of a fundamental personality characteristic. The kind of person who thinks, "Yeah that seems plausible" believes that some people, namely themselves, are simply Great and therefore can solve any and every problem on their own through the force of their own Greatness. The other kind of person looks at a man running off into the woods with no supplies, food, clothing, or tools of any kind and thinks, "Well he's gonna be dead in about a week."

When someone shrinks from collective action it might be based on a rational belief that the group will succeed regardless and the benefits will be available for everyone to enjoy. It also might be the result of decades of bombardment with Rugged Individualist homilies and the belief that there simply is no problem that one cannot solve with their own (no doubt inestimable) talents. The latter goes one of two ways. For some people, a life of social privilege and unearned wealth reinforce the belief that one is Great and needs no one else. For the rest life has some real big surprises in store.