SHIRT BLOWOUT II!

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

All the Clurb shirts are gone! Same deal now with the remaining Everything is Terrible All the Time shirts and None of This is OK shirts. I have a handful of Men's Small in each. That is the only available size. $10 until they're gone!


Sizes



CLURB BLOWOUT!

Posted in Quick Hits on August 18th, 2017 by Ed

Having the odds and ends of the Clurb Shirt second print run sitting around my room for most of the year, I've decided to do a super blowout $10 offer until the remaining shirts (about 15 total) are gone. Now's a great chance to grab one of these Hot Stunts for next to nothing!

Only some sizes are available. Women's sizes smaller than XL are sold out, and the popular Men's XL size is also gone. Everything else has at least one shirt available.


Sizes



TREAT. YO. SELF.

BALBO'S THEME

Posted in Rants on August 17th, 2017 by Ed

I was waiting to see which one they would pick.

With Confederate monuments being taken down all around the South, northern cities are on the sidelines watching. There are no Confederate monuments here for obvious reasons. But since pulling down statues is obviously very Hot right now, I knew someone would pore over the list of Chicago monuments until we found one to pull down so we can be part of the fun too.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean that a monument must be Confederate to be inappropriate. Plenty of monuments celebrating American military victories in Indian conflicts, for example, are prime candidates for removal. Columbus statues too. But it certainly feels like a bit of a reach for Chicago aldermen and activists to target a really obscure monument dedicated to Italo Balbo.

Yeah.

Balbo is a very minor figure in the history of aviation. When aviation was a subject of intense public fascination in the 1920s, Balbo was briefly a recognized figure in the US When Chicago hosted the World's Fair in 1933, almost every nation on the planet left the city with some kind of gift (a convenient way to avoid having to ship home part of its exhibition). Italy, which was of course led by Mussolini at the time, left a 2000 year-old Roman column atop a small pedestal, a combination historical artifact and monument. It was named after Balbo, probably because he was one of the few Italian "celebrities" known in the US at the time who was not on the outs with the Italian regime.

It's just a gift. "Thanks for the World's Fair hosting, brah." The city did nothing special to acquire or install it. It didn't ask for it or sponsor it. And most importantly, I'm pretty goddamn sure that literally no one has walked past it and thought "Oh my god why is that offensive monstrosity here." 99% of this city couldn't even tell you who Mussolini or Balbo are.

I have a feeling the monument will end up coming down, which honestly is fine with me as long as the 2000 year-old artifact is not destroyed as part of the process. Go ahead and put it in a museum. Fine. It does feel an awful lot like this is a solution in search of a problem, though. Balbo Drive being renamed makes sense, only because changing the name of streets to honor different people happens all the time. The street has no connection of any kind to Balbo, so it might as well or might as well not be named for him. The monument, though, was a gift from a country and until now it has entirely avoided any kind of notoriety.

If it makes people feel better it should be removed. The odd part about this is that for 80 years it hasn't made anyone feel anything, and suddenly it's a beacon radiating offense and the support of fascism. Confederate monuments exalt a very specific part of American history that is deeply horrible for a large part of the population. I suppose if America received a gift from Hitler it would have been taken down by now, and an argument can be made that Mussolini should be treated similarly. That's why ultimately I don't care if this comes down or is moved. It doesn't feel like a general community push for change, though, since it's only coming up now. It feels a lot like trying to hop on board with a trend that we as a city aren't really involved with. If this monument is actually offending people with its presence, why didn't we pull it down ten years ago? Go ahead and do it, but let's not kid ourselves about the motive and the timing.

PRESIDENT TARTUFFE

Posted in Rants on August 16th, 2017 by Ed

Satire, sarcasm, and (at least attempts at) social commentary in art are so familiar to us today that it is difficult to remember that there is a time at which it was new and unfamiliar. This is one reason why really old attempts at comedy and satire seem startlingly unfunny to modern audiences. The legendary British architect Sir John Vanbrugh, for example, rose to fame not by drawing buildings but by writing the comedy play The Relapse. It featured characters with names like "Sir John Brute" and "Lord Foppington," in addition to a lecherous character named, I shit you not, "Fondlewife." It feels like being hit over the head with a blunt instrument to read it today. But in 1696, when audiences would have very little exposure to any attempts at satire or social criticism, it came across as not only the peak of cleverness but also as a breath of fresh air.

Molière's Tartuffe (1664) is among the more popular examples of this generation of totally ham-fisted satires today, and at least people who consider themselves kinda fans of theater or the classics have probably seen or read it. Tartuffe is a hypocrite, a faux-pious, thieving, wife-stealing fraud whose charms, long story short, lead to an important and successful but dim-witted gentleman named Orgon falling under his spell. No amount of evidence from his children or friends (who see through Tartuffe easily) can convince Orgon that not only is Tartuffe a piece of crap but that, specifically, he is trying very hard to bone Orgon's wife Elmire. In what feels like it might be a climactic scene, Orgon's son tricks Tartuffe into confessing his love ("love") for Elmire. Yet instead of casting Tartuffe, who pitifully and quite insincerely weeps over his own sinfulness, out of the house, Orgon responds by disowning his son and making Tartuffe the beneficiary of his will. You know. Because it is easier to believe that his son and the evidence right before his eyes are lying than to admit that he was wrong all along about Tartuffe.

It isn't until later, when Orgon is hiding under a table upon which Tartuffe mounts and nearly penetrates his wife, that Orgon finally sees the light. And for brevity I won't even get into the second half "box of blackmail letters about traitors" subplot, but let's just say there's an angle that works there too.

We have been playing a very tiresome and disingenuous game for over a year now with the "moderates" in the Republican Party about Trump. They have stuck their head in the sands and plugged their ears and averted their eyes as every obvious red flag was presented for their consideration repeatedly. Hey, this guy is a sociopath. Hey, this guy is a white supremacist. Hey, I know you and I don't agree about a lot of policy things but I would like to think we at least agree that a president who openly wants to be a dictator and who wants nothing more than constant adulation is a bad thing. Hey, I know you really want that 4% tax cut but maybe electing this lunatic is too high a price to pay. Look at all these things he says. Look at all the evidence. Please, just think about this for a moment.

What we got was every excuse on Earth in repetitious quantity. He doesn't mean what he says, he's just trying to get attention. He only says that to shock you. He's a smart man, look at how rich he is. This is just the campaign, he'll behave differently once he's president. Congress will control him. He's not really like that. It'll be fine. It'll be fine. It'll be fine.

The one positive to come out of the last five deeply alarming days for this country is that there is no longer any cover left for conservatives who want to insist that they are Republicans but you know, reasonable ones, not one of those loony Trump people. As we have transitioned from "It's not fair to smear the alt-right as Nazis" to "OK I guess they are actually Nazis after all" so too have we transitioned from pretending that Trump is somehow unserious or ambivalent about his statements of support for them. As hard as it is to believe that adult human beings saw him retweet white supremacists during the campaign convinced themselves that this did not mean he was a white supremacist, those people exist. Maybe they're dumb, maybe they're intelligent people who fooled themselves. I don't know. But we're done with that now. The president says and tweets white supremacist stuff because he believes white supremacist stuff. He calls torch-waving Nazis wearing swastikas and chanting "Jews will not replace us" "fine people" because he doesn't see anything wrong with their viewpoint. It's what he thinks. Period. It isn't a game or an act or a publicity stunt. This is who he is.

The question is, what now? Conservatives who have spent all this time defending and making excuses for him have a choice. You can pull a Bill Kristol and try to salvage some shred of dignity by throwing in the towel and going the "This Nazi is destroying the party I love" route. Or you can continue to support and provide cover for an actual white supremacist, a course of action that does not prove but at least really really strongly suggests that you are, if not a white supremacist yourself, more than willing to let a white supremacist run the country if you think it will benefit you somehow. But the third option of sticking your head in the sand and pretending he's not really a racist or there is no PROOF he's a racist is no longer available to you. This weekend took that away. Unlike what happened in Charlottesville, this really is an issue with two sides now, and the side you choose is going to say a lot about you.

MIRACLE DIET 2017

Posted in Quick Hits on August 15th, 2017 by Ed

Do you want to lose 10 pounds in five days? Ask me how! No special diet or exercises! Requires 1 drop of Ecuadorian tap water. Not approved by FDA.

I have lots to say about today's trainwreck but zero energy with which to say it. But I'm back in my native land and will resume the normal schedule shortly and oh my god how is it even possible that every day of this shitshow is worse than the one prior.

THAT ARMY-NAVY SURPLUS VEST CARRIES NO LEGAL AUTHORITY

Posted in Rants on August 13th, 2017 by Ed

Easily the most disturbing part of a disturbing Saturday for this country was watching the tame police response to white men marching around as a heavily armed "militia." You have the Governor of a large state explicitly admitting to reporters that the police stood on the sidelines while people were beaten and killed – which I'm pretty sure falls under any definition of a riot – because they claimed they were outgunned by fat white losers in eBay tactical gear.

Really? Because in Ferguson the police were able to summon up almost out of thin air armored vehicles from Operation Iraqi Freedom, snipers, military-caliber rifles, and more body armor than anyone thought the Kevlar industry was capable of producing. Police militarization is nationwide and totally out of control. Yet here the police responsible for handling a literal Nazi rally claimed they just couldn't stand up to someone's unemployed biker uncle.

When black people riot, "We heard they might have guns" is all the justification needed for any level of violence short of air strikes. Gas, skull-cracking riot police, armored vehicles, you name it…all because someone torched the payday loan place in a strip mall. In Charlottesville a person was actually killed by one of the marchers, yet the police did what they always do when white guys decide that they want to play GI Joe while avoiding all that pesky exercise that the military requires: They let their silence and inaction serve as a tacit endorsement.

Are all of the cops who were present simpatico with Nazis? Of course not. But they're more than willing to let them do anything they want in stark contrast to how public gatherings of anything other than right-wingers are treated. If you're a white guy, dressing up like Army Man is enough, in the eyes of law enforcement, to make you some kind of legitimate Citizen Enforcer. Don't tell me there's no issue with policing when black men without guns are routinely shot by police while white men openly carrying loaded rifles in the middle of a civil disturbance walk away without a scratch.

It's almost as if "not sufficiently well armed" is an excuse to justify behavior that functionally endorses what white supremacists are doing. Why did they go lightly armed to a multi-state Nazi rally despite the history of violence from those groups? Whether they do it intentionally or not, police respond to these things markedly differently because hey, it's white boys, they're good boys, we know they don't mean no harm. Maybe some of the weak response is out of support for white supremacy, but I bet 99% of it is the institutionalized racial biases that police in this country simply refuse to look at: a gathering of white people is Not Dangerous, a gathering of black people is.

Stop making excuses. Yeah, Richard Spencer got arrested for 30 whole minutes. Big fucking deal. Yeah, there were police present (standing there watching for the most part). Compare it to the number of people arrested and injured by police at any other public gathering of similar size in this country and the problem will become clear. And once again, remember, one of the mob *literally killed someone* who was there to protest their presence.

Just imagine all the same facts – the guns, the torches, the mob mentality, the murder – if 5,000 black guys took the place of the people who showed up. Tell me how many would have gotten out of there alive, and tell me that the police would have lightly armed themselves and then used that as an excuse to stand around with thumbs in asses.

The National Guard might not even have sufficed for Trump in that case. The regular army would have been called out to kill every last one of the Thugs. And unless you just heard of the United States for the first time today, any part of you eager to deny that is just a voice in your head encouraging you to fool yourself.

NPF: THE SLOG

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 12th, 2017 by Ed

The posting frequency over the past 10 days reinforces that I am on vacation. Whenever I go to a foreign country, I encounter (surprisingly!) a lot of people from countries other than the US. Casual vacation conversation, of the type you have with people you end up seated next to on a tour, is one of my favorite things.

Yesterday two European mother-and-daughter combos sat for lunch on a tour boat with us. Holland and Spain. Their English was workable and, combined with half-passable Spanish on my part, we covered the basics: Where else are you going on this trip, what have you enjoyed seeing, and so on. As is almost always the case, the Europeans were on trips of six or more weeks duration. When we said 13 days, they gave us a look I've gotten used to from a limited amount of foreign travel. It's the "God, you Americans are so sad" look. The older Dutch woman said, "That is nice, most Americans only do one week." By way of commending us, I think.

Mind you, taking a 13 day vacation is only possible because of extraordinary circumstances aligning. I work the academic schedule, which means that I have (as most people understand it) "summers off." I don't really, of course, but it is true that I do not have to show up to an office daily from mid-May until late August. Cathy has the good fortune to work at an enlightened (by American standards) workplace that gives the now-rare two full weeks of paid vacation annually. How sad is it to look at a person who gets TEN WHOLE DAYS each year that they don't have to work and think, golly, what a lucky person. She must be one of the Rockefellers or something.

We've all seen the charts a million times about how much more Americans work, how much less we earn per hour, how many fewer days of sick and personal leave we get, and how many more public holidays there are elsewhere. What's confusing is why nobody in the world of politics even mentions this as an issue. Like, it isn't even on the radar. It simply doesn't come up. Although the blowback from the hard right would be predictable, part of me thinks a candidate for higher office could get some real traction pushing "How about we double the number of Federal holidays and legally guarantee every full time employee 2 weeks of paid vacation to be pro-rated for part time employees."

The biggest obstacle would not be the obvious pushback from the Chamber of Commerce types but the fact that I really think there are a ton of people in the suburbs who are terrified by the prospect of having time off. They don't enjoy any aspect of their lives except shopping so I think there's a non-trivial part of our population who wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they didn't have their daily work routine to rely on. But hey, no one's saying you would be forced to take the vacation days. If you want to keep wasting away in a cubicle every single day, knock yourself out. The rest of us would like to attempt to enjoy some part of being alive while you hold down the fort.

BOX CHECKING

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 7th, 2017 by Ed

For someone who likes travel as much as I do, it is difficult for me to convey how much I hate talking to other travelers.

They end up falling into one of two categories: the people who have unlimited money and want you to know how many Exotic Trips they've made and the people who want you to know that they may or may not have lots of money but they do all their travel out of a backpack without a dollar in their pocket.

When I get roped into conversations or find myself in enclosed spaces in which I have to overhear them I always choke back the urge to yell questions at people when they're regaling their audience with tales of the absolute BEST time to go to Montserrat or how this may be nice but you just HAVE to see Angkor Wat or the time they were backpacking through Uzbekistan and a roving band of nomads gave them a lift on horseback.

What was it that you liked about it? Why did you pick that place to travel to? What did you do there that you couldn't have done somewhere else?

Yeah, I know, we all have the Tourist Gaze and there's nothing you can do to avoid being a traveler while you're being a traveler. It's amazing, though, how predictable are the lists of destinations people rattle off when they start playing this game of tourism oneupsmanship. Tell me about someplace you've been that isn't straight out of the condensed list of Vacation Bucket Lists by Conde Nast and I promise I'll be a rapt audience for as long as you want. Yeah, we all know that Prague is awesome, that's why everybody and their goddamn brother has been to Prague a dozen times because they Google "hip vacation destinations" and Prague comes up on every list (full disclosure: Some day I would like to go to Prague).

But I really like interacting with people and their experiences more if they're telling me something I can't find in every magazine on the rack and can say something more interesting than "Man, it's SO awesome" to describe the experience. Tell me about the Museum of Bunions, if for no reason other than to prove that you have some interests and aren't simply trying to check a bunch of popular Travel Things off a list without any real motivation beyond being able to afford it and wanting to tell people you did it.

tl;dr: people are boring and an old man is cranky.

BETTER, BUT NEVER GOOD

Posted in Rants on August 3rd, 2017 by Ed

You know how I love metaphors.

From the mid-1990s until the beginning of the recession in 2008 the academic job market was great. I can't speak for every field, but in mine a Ph.D. holder from a reasonably good institution would, if applying broadly, get a tenure-track academic job in a year or two of trying. This is not to say everyone got a great job, but as long as one was not terribly picky it appeared that a job could be found with time and effort.

Then state budgets collapsed and there was a severe retraction. The market went from Great to barely extant for the last few years of the previous decade. We're talking a dozen jobs for hundreds of job searchers. That kind of Bad. Everyone urged calm and predicted that it would recover. "Calm" is a hard thing to come by when you're unemployed. But I landed a temporary job, as some of you may recall, and then after four full years of applying for everything I got a tenure-track job.

The job market has of course gotten better. But here's the thing – it's still bad. It is dawning on people in this profession that the job market may never be Good again. It can only be considered good in comparison to the year(s) in which it was at rock bottom. By the standard of the years in which it was actually good, it remains solidly crap.

That same sinking feeling is creeping into the way I feel about the state of American politics at present. There's little doubt that this is the nadir; it can't get much worse without the system collapsing and being replaced with an entirely new framework. And someday Trump will be gone and things will be Better. Literally anyone, even the other GOP candidates from 2016, would be an improvement over this guy because at the very least they might manage not to get us all killed with their damn Twitter account.

But there's a distinct possibility that this, like the current job market across professions, is just a new normal. We've re-set the bar at an abysmally low level and we can expect politics to be Less Bad in the future, but it is time to face the fact that it will never be Good again. We've normalized some very abnormal things recently and even without Donald Trump there will be a Trumpist candidate in every election for the foreseeable future because nothing successful will avoid endless imitation. He won the nomination and the election, so why wouldn't someone try the same playbook?

Power will continue to flip back and forth between the parties, and if Democrats control some part of Congress in the future that will make things Less Bad. But all of the forces that made Trump possible, especially in the media and in the way Americans self-select twisted versions of reality to suit their own biases, will continue to exist. They'll continue to make following politics unpleasant and continue to keep dumb, spiteful candidates alive and active.

Liberals talk about the New Deal era a lot, almost as much as old white conservatives talk about the "good old days" of the 1950s. We don't even need to look that far in the past to find an era in which some consensus politics could be achieved (Nixon, for instance). As sad as it is, it might be time to face the reality that those days are gone for good, and any future politics can improve marginally upon what we have today without ever getting us close to Good again. Malaise is what a population feels when it sinks in that Better is still pretty bad – and the best they're likely to get.