NOTES ON A DICTATOR

Posted in Quick Hits on June 29th, 2017 by Ed

In 1961, Esquire asked Saul Bellow to comment on Nikita Khrushchev's antics during his second visit to the United States. The Russian's first trip in 1959 was a source of merriment for everyone involved, a two-week carnival with Nikita K as its grinning, mugging star. His second visit was limited to New York City and was spent mostly in the headquarters of the UN, highlighted by K's infamous shoe-banging incident. Bellow wrote of the chaotic man in control of a massive nuclear arsenal with global reach (original article behind paywall):

Masked in smiles and peasant charm, or exploding in anger, the Russian premier releases his inner feelings and if we are not shaken by them it is because we are not in close touch with reality.

That seems relevant today for some reason.

A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR CONGRESSIONAL HOUSING

Posted in Rants on June 28th, 2017 by Ed

Many are the tribulations of serving the one's fellow man in that most august of legislatures, that which convenes under the opulent dome of the Capitol of the United States in Washington, D.C. The endless toil one undertakes in pursuit of the Common Good is well enough known that we need not recount those tales of hell here. But reader, being in session for up to six fortnights annually is just the tip of the iceberg of Congressional lamentations. I prithee be seated and have ready a strong drink as I take the reader through horrors as yet unimagined.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah showed exceptional bravery in calling attention to a problem that legislators have suffered heretofore in silence. Despite being paid the paltry sum of $174,000 per annum, members of Congress must contend with the high costs of housing in our kingdom's capital. Dear reader, your heart would break to hear some of the tales of what these poor, gallant men have suffered in private. Orrin Hatch was found recently living in the L'Enfant Plaza bus station, earning cold bits of oatcake and treacle from a cruel blacksmith for whom he rendered the most back-breaking service. Mitch McConnell wishes fortune would smile on him as much; he is taken to wandering the streets of his evenings, lighting his way through the mazes of tenements with a short length of rope dipped in embalming fluid and set ablaze. Where he finds his meals we dare not ask.

Can this be acceptable in a society that fancies itself civilized? I think not. Reo. Chaffetz has requested in the spirit of humility and Christian charity a $2,500 monthly allowance for housing these wretches of public service, the amount reflecting not avarice but the rapacious cost of housing in our capital. Only his imminent retirement to gentlemanly life with what remains of his shattered health enables him to make such a bold proposal, one so necessary to the spirit of democracy yet so incomprehensible to the common man.

The prejudice and simpleness of the ordinary American dooms this proposal to a stillbirth. He who is happy to live in a shack and eat whichever child is least likely to survive cholera cannot but marvel at the thought of $2,500 – every month, at that! Nay, then, we cannot renumerate our humble servants. Fortunately there is another way. I daresay, a better way.

How, your author was brought to wonder, has the government of this great nation dealt with the lack of affordable lodgings in our cities in the past? Surely elected officials are not the first citizens to fall victim to these horrors, First Citizens though they may be. And I am pleased to report, reader, that a solution presented itself upon diligent research.

Pray Congress appropriate the funds to build one large edifice – a tower in the mold of the greatest tall buildings of our greatest cities – with 535 units of individual residence! Within this single building every member may find succor and comfort without privation without burdening the nation with annual payments of rapacious rents. Thus with a single building project of reasonable scope (the erection of such a structure is well within the means of the most pedestrian of the men of trades) can the state provide for the needs of the many burdened by a poverty of available lodgings!

Such a concept is likely foreign to the reader; thus an illustrationist has undertaken to provide this rendition of the spirit of the work:

Thus has the state provided for the needs of the unhoused in the past; thus shall it be again in the future! Failing this, let us eat them.

Submitted humbly for your consideration,
G. Tacos

YES, THE COLIN KAEPERNICK THING IS ABOUT POLITICS

Posted in Rants on June 27th, 2017 by Ed

If you're an NFL fan you can skip ahead a bit. If not, grab a drink and gird yourself: I have to explain a football thing. Without it, the institutionalized racism and "It's OK to be opinionated so long as your opinion is virulently jingoistic and fetishizes the military!" culture won't make sense.

Briefly, at any given moment there are maybe 12 human beings on the planet capable of playing Quarterback in the NFL well enough for a team to reach and win the Super Bowl. For reasons you are not interested in, it's the hardest athletic role to fill in team sports. This explains, if you were curious, why the same few famous names end up in the Super Bowl year after year: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers. Because their teams are lucky enough to have one of the small number of humans who is good enough to get them to the championship. There are probably 10-15 more "OK" quarterbacks who can lead their teams to the playoffs, but only a few truly elite ones.

I mention this to preface the point that anyone – ANY ONE – with the merest glimmer of talent at the QB position is given dozens of opportunities to play until he has failed so many times that there is absolutely, conclusively no doubt that he doesn't Have It. The shortage of QB talent is so acute that even a hint that a guy can play is worth a look. Played well in college? Bring him in! Had a couple good games as someone's backup? Bring him in! Led the Biloxi Deer Ticks to the Mississippi Semi-Pro Football Conference title last year? Bring him in!

A football fan friend and have a running joke about a forgettable player named Jason Campbell. Because he started for a team once (and was not good), he attracted the label "Former starter" or "capable of starting" and parlayed it into a long career with many teams. He was never good, yet team after team would bring "former starter Jason Campbell" in and give him his 37th chance to prove himself a good QB. He wasn't.

OK. Now. In context, Colin Kaepernick took a team to the Super Bowl. Not "showed potential to." Not "Played in the Super Bowl of the Norwegian Summer League." The actual Super Bowl. And. AND. His team came within one iffy referee's call of winning that game. His game has shortcomings and he has played less spectacularly since that Super Bowl – again, not worth going into – but he took a team to within one play of a championship in a league that will give literally any bum whose arm hasn't fallen off multiple shots. Now, he can't find a job and more than a few of the bolder voices in the sport are starting to wonder.

Is his style on the field unconventional? Yes. But you cannot and will not convince me that in a league where winning is everything, coaches get fired if they don't produce, and teams spend billions shooting for Super Bowls that no team would look at his body of work and think "Let's have him in for a look-see. You remember him, he's that fella who almost won the Super Bowl that one time."

You will not convince me – football reference joke ahead – that a league in which Josh McCown is on his TENTH team and is being handed a starting job yet again despite never having done so much as sniff a winning record has no use for Colin Kaepernick on the field. Teams routinely sign guys proven beyond any shred of a doubt to be mediocre or worse with no room for improvement. No league in which a coach can convince himself that he's going to ride Mike Fucking Glennon to a championship is one in which a coach cannot look at Kaepernick and think, "I'll recapture the magic!"

So when players grumble that Kaepernick has been blackballed for his outspokenness, what they are really saying is, "We have a guy playing QB who can't hit his ass with both hands in his back pockets, and you're telling me Colin can't find a job?" They know. They know better than anyone how rare a QB is, how terrible some of the QBs in the league are, and how many times a player with the tiniest shred of talent is given second, third, eighth, tenth chances to start. But when a guy kneels for the National Anthem or says "Hey it might be nice if cops stopped shooting black people," suddenly his phone won't ring.

It's not hard to figure out. All the excuses in the world can be made and have been made. The NFL has no policy against players voicing their opinions when those opinions are similar to the content of a Fox News comment section. That's just fine. Anything spicier than that, though, and the league can't handle it.

There's no conspiracy. It's a case of the biases being ingrained in the system so thoroughly that nobody even needs to tell teams not to sign him. They wouldn't dream of it.

THE JEFFERSONS, BUT SUPER WHITE

Posted in Quick Hits on June 27th, 2017 by Ed

Movin' on up (Moooovin' on Up!)
To the East Side

For the first time I received money in exchange for writing a thing and I put my real name on it. Check out this thing on Rolling Stone about paying less attention to Trump and more to state legislative elections in 2018, since state capitols are the source of the real nightmare legislation in recent years.

More exciting (for me anyway) developments are a-brewin'. Stick around.

OH FOR TWO

Posted in Rants on June 25th, 2017 by Ed

A curious pair of totally unconnected articles made the rounds last week.

Bruce Bartlett, a Republican and former Reagan White House hand, wrote a well-reasoned piece for Politico with the says-it-all title, "Trump is What Happens when a Political Party Abandons Ideas." The argument is one that most of us already knew (although there is something refreshing about hearing it stated explicitly) – that in the pursuit of power, the GOP has engaged in so much hypocrisy that it no longer really stands for anything. If everything is OK as long as a Republican does it – and oh my god is it ever OK to the post-Reagan GOP – then there really is nothing that defines the party except the quest to remain in power. Bartlett's argument is not flawless. For example, most people would recognize at least some core policies associated with the GOP; cutting taxes (albeit with no real strategy or goal other than to cut them and keep cutting them) and making the government not work are two things all GOPers seem to embrace. In the larger sense, though, he is right. There are no white papers supporting their policy goals. Hell, in eight years they didn't even bother to assign some junior staffer to grab two interns and bang out some kind of "alternative" to the ACA.

A few days before Bartlett went to press, the usually unbearable Matthew Yglesias noted in response to the Georgia special election, "Jon Ossoff’s Georgia special election loss shows Democrats could use a substantive agenda." The original title of this piece was much spicier, and toning it down is the Vox-iest thing Vox ever Voxed. But in the resplendently logical argument, the author makes the important point that the Democratic Party has nailed "Trump is bad" and "Republicans are bad people, and we are the alternative to Republicans," but have essentially no coherent policy agenda that a normal voter could name. I argued last week that all special election analysis is over-analysis and that these attempts to divine meaning from a House race here or there are ridiculous. That remains true. However, Yglesias is correct that the Democrats have run these races in heavily red districts like some sort of weird referendum on Democrats being Different from Republicans without making it clear exactly how other than being hipper, more charismatic, and Not Republicans.

Some of you can see where I'm going with this.

If both of these authors are correct, then we have two political parties that aren't really about anything. They're competing fiercely and inarguably offering Americans some kind of choice – only someone truly out on a limb would argue that there is no difference at all between having Trump or Hillary in the White House – but they're more like two sports teams than opposing political parties at this point. How can you have two groups locked in fierce competition when neither one of them really stands for or is about anything coherent? Easy: you frame things as the politics of identity. Republicans present themselves as Real America – the red-blooded, gun- and Bible-waving tough guys who like big bombs and shitty gas mileage and women and minorities who Know their Place. Democrats present themselves as the educated elite that lives in big cities and looks down its nose at people who shop at Wal-Mart, think the Earth is 6000 years old, and drive big stupid trucks.

Granted, defining the political process around a cultural or identity based divide is viable. It has been and is done around the world. Sure, it usually results in people trying to purge society of the Other, but besides that I can't think of any drawbacks.

The obvious imperative is to get back to having a political system based on opposing views about the appropriate policy direction of the government. But given that most of the country isn't even interested in learning if the Kremlin altered our election results, let's not hold our breath.

PROGRAMMING NOTE, 6/2017

Posted in Quick Hits on June 25th, 2017 by Ed

I've noticed the post frequency trailing off a bit, but for once I have a half-decent excuse. Without getting into any premature details, I've been doing a great deal of writing lately. Sometimes after a full day spent writing, the last thing one feels motivated to do in the evening leisure hours is more writing. Plus, the quality of writing one produces at the tail end of a long session often is quite poor, like the 9th inning pitches of a guy who has already thrown eight innings on a hot day.

The situation has been noted, and the management is working to improve it. Please remain patient. There is a payoff.

THE BEEF O'BRADY'S BOWL OF POLITICS

Posted in Rants on June 21st, 2017 by Ed

Every sport has an off-season and dead periods in which a fan will lower his or her standards considerably to be entertained. College football, for instance, has a dead month between the end of the season (around Thanksgiving) and its Bowl games (centered around Jan. 1). Some of the more piddling Bowl games try to take advantage of this by scheduling themselves on dates with no other sporting competition. Say you run the Hot Dogs Bowl, which matches up teams like Southwestern Tech vs. Wyoming A&M – not exactly clash of the titans. You can play on the same day as most of the Bowls and nobody will watch. Why would they, when the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl are on? Or you can schedule your game on something like Dec. 17 and be the only game on TV for a span of several days.

As a fan of the sport, if you are sitting at home with nothing else to do or out at the bar with your friends and the game is on the big screen, you are likely to watch. But there is always a moment in which you look at the fourth-rate action and ask yourself, "What in the hell am I watching this garbage for?" And you answer yourself immediately: Because there is nothing else on. This is it. And since you're a fan, it scratches your itch a little even if it's basically crap.

(The Beef O'Brady's Bowl is a real thing, incidentally.)

This is a Special Election in a nutshell. Everyone who is interested in politics focuses on it, and the forces of money and enthusiasm within the system are brought to bear upon it for the simple reason that there is nothing else for them to do at the moment. The 2018 Elections won't begin in earnest until next spring. Everyone is sick to death of hearing and talking about 2016. The day-to-day of DC politics is grinding along, but people (read: clickers, viewers, and readers) find elections more interesting than procedure. So if there is an election – any election, anywhere – CNN and the like start beating the drum hard.

We just got a week of saturation coverage of a goddamn special House race in Montana. Montana. And not one but two non-consecutive weeks of wall-to-wall coverage on an R+20 suburban district in Georgia. Like any election, the media are desperate to have these isolated races Mean Something. In reality they do not. Yes, the GOP probably should take it as a not-stellar sign that Democrats were able to get anywhere close to either of these seats. But what these races "mean" in the larger sense is nothing. They mean that when held singly, a House race gets thousands of times the attention it would get if held simultaneously with the other 434.

In ordinary circumstances, GA-06 would not even be a blip on the radar. You would not have it on any list of "races to watch" and you certainly would not be able to name either candidate or put any stock in the outcome. That's worth bearing in mind when the tidal wave of Hot Takes washes over us this week.

STRATOSPHERE

Posted in Rants on June 19th, 2017 by Ed

Of all the things I've figured out about life – by no means an extensive list – the lesson that took the longest to sink in is that wealthy people or people in the social "elite" however you choose define it do not have advantages for the reasons the rest of us usually think. People assume that Old Money or social status allow one to play The Game with any number of advantages like better preparation, more knowledge, or better connections. This is true for people playing The Game, to be sure. But the elites are not competing like the rest of us, with varying degrees of advantage over one another. They are playing an entirely separate game. They live, for all intents and purposes, in a different world.

It's certainly not an important news item given all that is going on in the world, but earlier this year Marc Mezvinsky's hedge fund shut down earlier this year. If that name seems familiar, it's Chelsea Clinton's husband. Bill and Hillary's son in law. But beyond the status he gained in marriage, his own mother was a Member of Congress (she of the infamous "Bye Bye Marjorie" vote to pass Bill's budget in 1994) and his father was a millionaire financier in addition to, obviously, also being a Congressman. Incidentally, he spent some time in the pokey for his financial dealings, but hey, nobody's perfect. So, to say Marc has and has had it all would be an understatement.

He garnered some attention during the Greek debt crisis by using about $25 million to buy Greek sovereign debt for pennies on the dollar despite the fact that the government was clearly indicating that it would default. Now, as far as investment ideas go this is not strictly an awful idea; he made a gamble that someone – the IMF, Germany, the EU, China, private banks – would bail Greece out at the last second. Had that happened, the notes he bought at something like $0.04 on the dollar would have paid off with a gain of thousands of percent. Seriously, it's not a strictly terrible idea. It was not totally implausible that someone would bail Greece out.

The problem was that this isn't really "hedging" anything in the sense of what a hedge fund is actually supposed to do. This is more like betting on a three legged horse with 10,000:1 odds to win the Kentucky Derby. This was buying junk bonds and losing, essentially. The other problem is that Greece did in fact default and he was totally exposed. He lost $25 million overnight.

It is arguable that in the world of banking and finance, $25 million is like 25 cents to the rest of us. But it represented a good portion of his fund's assets, and with their closure in February it is obvious that this fit into a pattern of big losses. The financial aspect of this story is uninteresting unless you happen to be very excited by financial wheeling and dealing. What strikes me about this single example is that this guy pissed away $25,000,000 and nothing happened to him. Nothing. He's not in legal trouble. The fund's investors aren't wielding torches and howling for his blood. He hasn't been ostracized by Wall Street. In his reality, this is maybe, at worst, cause for some good-natured ribbing from the fraternity of his fellow untouchables. He might get some grief after a couple drinks at exclusive charity events. Hey Marc, wanna buy some Greek magic beans? Hi-larious.

Think about that. He threw $25 million down the drain and nothing happened to him in a world in which a woman who is 10 minutes late for her minimum wage retail shift because the school bus didn't show up to get her kid not only gets fired but is confidently told that she deserves nothing better. This is a society where teachers get fired if parents complain about them, where people who do their jobs well and work hard are laid off or fired anyway because of *shrug* "Progress" But if you're one of the chosen, you cannot fail unless failing up counts. Flushed $100 million of venture capital down the drain at your startup? LOL bro, it's cool, here's more money to play with. Your last company fired you after you took over as CEO and ran them into the ground? Don't worry, another CEO gig awaits. There is no end to the number of mulligans these people give and receive within their exclusive circle of Old Money and Ivy Leaguers deemed worthy of admittance. The poor (or merely Not Super Wealthy) need discipline and punishment – one mistake and it's all over. The wealthy, though, need coddling and endless do-overs; how else will we encourage them to Create and Innovate, amirite?

The only profession in which a person can be demonstrably terrible yet continue to get rewarded over and over again is being a left-handed starting pitcher. And that's just a supply problem. There is no shortage of cocky Stanford-minted scions of the Old Money willing to play with, manipulate, and gamble other people's money, yet the same guarantees of lifetime job security and lavish compensation apply.

That's the different between the oligarchs and everyone else. It would be nice to live in a world with a gentlemen's agreement that no one can be permitted to truly fail, but I guess most of us would settle for one in which any job was available and maybe a few of them even had paid vacation days.

PRETEND WE HAVE A JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

Posted in Quick Hits on June 19th, 2017 by Ed

One silver lining to the increased attention given to police using lethal force is that some of the creepier aspects of the cop subculture are being exposed to the public. Turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that a lot of contractors who market themselves to police departments under the guise of "training" are absolute lunatics.

The officer recently found not guilty of manslaughter in the Philando Castile shooting, for example, attended a training session for something called "Bulletproof Warrior," an odd name for a program aimed at police officers who are neither bulletproof nor "warriors." The gist of the program is that every suspect is waiting to kill you, it will happen in the blink of an eye, and the Bulletproof Warrior must silence that nagging voice in his head that says not to kill people. Kill or be killed, so you better hurry up and shoot the suspect before he shoots you.

I mean, what could go wrong.

Also take a look at this guy named Dave Grossmann (who was featured in the 2016 documentary Do Not Resist) who promises trainees that they will have the best sex of their lives on the day they finally kill someone.

For all of the "Not all cops are bad!" talk that takes place, where are the people in the police departments that use this sort of "training" who should be standing up and saying, "Hold on, this is completely insane"? Maybe they exist and get silenced. Or maybe they don't exist. What would be nice is if we had a real Justice Department that did the job of overseeing law enforcement in this country, one that would use every tool at its disposal to take Federal control over any police department whose leadership looks at what these "trainers" have to offer and decides that this is how street cops should be interacting with the public. It would be nice not to have to tiptoe around reality whenever the topic is law enforcement; a real political leader would say unequivocally, "Anyone who thinks the problem with law enforcement in this country is that police do not shoot enough people is not fit to have a badge and a gun, period."

It would be nice. Too bad we can't have anything nice.

NONE OF THIS IS OK

Posted in Quick Hits on June 13th, 2017 by Ed

Not cool with the slow rise of fascism? Don't think it's normal to have a white supremacist blogger on the National Security Council? Then it's time to let everyone know where you stand.

What: The all-new Gin and Tacos "None of this is OK" shirt. Canvas brand, screenprinted (no print on demand BS) front and back, Navy Blue, women's v-neck and men's/unisex crew neck available. Canvas sizing guides for unisex and women's v-neck shirts.

When: This is a pre-order for shirts I will have in my hands in three to four weeks. That means they will likely ship to you the week of July 4. If I can get them earlier, so will you. I appreciate your patience. I am not an Amazon warehouse. I am a dude in an apartment with some mailing labels and envelopes.

Cost: $20 for either style (unisex or women's). PayPal only please.

Shipping: $4 is added to each US order for shipping + packaging. For international orders, I'm sorry to say shipping is $10. While I am not looking to become a titan of commerce here, I do have to avoid selling these at a loss and Int'l shipping costs $12-15 from the US.

Ordering: Please use the correct order button, Domestic or International. Anything outside of the U.S., even Canada, must use the International button.


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