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.