In 1997, at the end of my first year of college, someone gave me a copy of Baffler #10, noted Matt Roth's still-outstanding article on the cult of Amway ("Dreams Incorporated") and said, "Read this."

I had previously read as a one-off – what male in the 1990s did not read it with So Cool glee – Steve Albini's "The Problem with Music" from Baffler #3. But the publication didn't register with me at the time. It was just a photocopied article by a guy who made it seem very appealing to be a dick.

I was 14-15 or thereabouts. It wasn't a time where anything stuck.

But with that copy of Baffler #10, which I still have, I became an addict. I've been a subscriber (including their long hiatus period) since then, which it pains me to realize is 20 years. The day they re-emerged from hibernation in the wake of the financial crisis was one of the happiest of that time period for me.

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They're back! It's all gonna be ok!

I know a lot of people have strong and usually valid criticisms of the operation, especially in the Thomas Frank years. It is the journal of criticism without proposing solutions. It is, as a friend put it recently, the guy sitting in the corner pointing and laughing and feeling superior. It borders dangerously on Comic Book Guy territory on occasion. Some of you who have followed Gin and Tacos since 2002 or whatever might notice that these are the same criticisms one can (with justification) make about my writing. The influence on my approach to writing has not been subtle.

One thing that always kind of broke my heart, though, was that I could never get them to tell me I was good enough to be anything but a fanboy. I think the first time I submitted something was around 1999-2000. In the past year I've pitched 3 or 4 ideas they didn't take, some of which became very successful hits in other outlets. Part of me was never going to be satisfied until I got in there.

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On Thursday, they published my piece on the long tradition of the Pentagon and White House trying to convince Americans that nuclear war really isn't so bad – it's survivable, we swear! – at times that coincide with American presidents who want to engage in belligerent, dick-waving foreign policy.

Fallout shelters, for example, are a thing the White House only talks about when there's a president eager to ratchet up the arms race. The newest incarnation is missile defense – It's cool, we'll just shoot 'em down! – which explains why the piece is entitled, "It's a THAAD, THAAD, THAAD World", although that's a little inside baseball for most readers.

To anyone on the internet I know this is just another piece of Content, another thing flashing past on the social media feed that may or may not provide an interested reader with a few minutes of enjoyment. To me, though, this is a goal that I've had on simmer for two decades and I can't tell you what a great capstone to what turned out, ironically, to be a great year for me individually even though the country and the world are going solidly to shit.

I don't want to preempt my sappy end-of-year post too much, but I'm really thankful to all of you who have supported me whether for a day or a decade.

It really would not be possible for me to achieve some of these writing-related goals without you. I'm a lucky sonofabitch.


  • I've kind of loved watching the rest of the world catching up with how great your writing is, Ed. As good as some of the bigger names are, I've always felt like you deserved a much larger audience than you have had here on this site. Branching out into other kinds of social media seems to have been a Good Thing, plus the whole "get one big publication and it's much easier to get others" phenomenon. Here's to that lucrative book deal in 2018.

  • You deserve to gloat a bit. It is an excellent piece. On a personal note, I had never heard of Roth's Amway piece until you brought it up a couple of days ago and I had to read it right away. For years I had a gig doing technical/audio work for the people who stage those gigantic Amway rallies and sell recordings of the wack job "motivational presentations". It was a shit job in a lot of ways, but it was fascinating to watch the cult like weirdness unfold in front of me. Plus, by bosses were so naive and stupid that I got away with all kinds of mischief. That Roth article was spot on.

  • I could kinda get used to alternate universe Ed who is wallowing in success and has positive things to report every so often. Not every day, mind you. Just once in a while. Ongoing congratulations! :)

  • Inconstant Reader says:

    I have an on-and-off relationship with The Baffler, but I'm delighted they published your piece — you deserve commercial success. I guess I'll be reading them until the next time they piss me off.

  • mark hamilton says:

    Found you on FB, been following for about 6 months. Irreverent, sorta anti-social, skewering the usual jerks, all stuff I enjoy. Thank you. Hope you continue to prosper. I am now retired, but I can tell you that I always thought somebody would have "pushed the button" by now, I never believed any of the 1950s/1960s CD propaganda. I decided very early that I would probably be murdered by "my government" (Vietnam, atom bomb, police, environmental poison, lack of health care), so the latest go-round is no surprise. Still disheartening. The good news is I never had kids, so i am aging out of caring! "Beware of men in white suits".

  • ThisMilkTastesNotNew says:

    The Burghers are pleased. As a follower and now Patreon-er (I think I came here by way of Felix Salmon seven years ago), you're writing has been bright sunshine through some hard years. Keep it up and continued success to you.

  • As a long-time reader, I am personally gratified. It makes me extremely happy to see everything going in a positive direction for you (personally, and professionally), after following you through so much of the ups, downs. To the extent it is a meaningful statement rather than an empty platitude, you deserve it. You truly deserve it.

  • "On the one hand, as a customer I’d be awesomely empowered—whole industries would rise and fall according to the butterfly effect generated by tiny shifts in consumer taste. But as a worker I’d be downgraded to “enabled.” I would have to eschew “third party” union representation, sacrifice guaranteed benefits, dispense with government protections, and forgo lifelong employment; instead, I’d accumulate “human capital” to sell in an open labor market. Of course, “change” would repeatedly render that arduously amassed human capital obsolete in the space of a nanosecond, after which I was to uncomplainingly set about accumulating more. This was called “being adaptable.”"

    Summarizes where we are now better than anything else I've seen. Thanks for sharing the link, Ed, and you keep going with your writing. It's damn fine stuff . I wondered if you'd encountered Poverty Safari by Darren ("Loki") McGarvey. I think you might find it interesting.

  • I know this is going to be a dumb question. Why is ABM orders of magnitude harder than what an AMRAAM already does? And I'm talking about just a few targets. What North Korea might try. Obviously US-Russia-China is different because of so many targets and MIRVs and decoys and all that.

  • "I'm a lucky sonofabitch."

    Who works his ass off, from what I can tell.

    As for The Baffler, yeah, I was psyched to see 'em back, too. Frank ripping on the "we're all gonna be rich!" '90s cyber-bullshit, and what looks in retrospect to have been a pretty good call on the 2000 Tech Crash made me feel a little less nuts at the time. Not that i wasn't reading Wired, too.

    But I guess my personal favorite would have to be his (Frank's) skewering of (very) late 20th century Babbitism of Tom Peters and others with their "disruption" and general co-optation of '60s "rebelliousness" in service of Mammon. Fave hit? "Why Johnny Can't Dissent". Very sincere congrats, Ed. YOU MADE IT BRO : )

  • t was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….

  • You rang?

    Back when I was going through nuclear certification in the late 1980s, I was shown the projected effects of a full-scale nuclear exchange between the US and Soviets (with the arsenals of the time).

    Nothing east of the Mississippi would have survived and very little to the west of it.

    Mind you that was just from the initial exchange, not counting nuclear winter or any of the other secondary effects.

    As bad as you think it would be – it would be worse.

  • John M. from Ct. says:

    Anyone who's been paying attention knows that even a single nuclear exchange (one city for one city) would make 9/11, Katrina, Bhopal, Pearl Harbor, etc. look like an unreported fender bender on a normal traffic day.

    As your article notes, none of those past attempts to rationalize or normalize the possibility of nuclear war made sense, and the American people more or less ignored them (e.g. "Very few homeowners did" build the requisite shelters).

    The only thing we have going for us is that, as Major Kong notes, most Americans in the national security biz have, in fact, been paying attention – unlike the president, who remains characteristically clueless about this stuff – and seem to be already figuring out how to ignore any order he might give to provoke, launch, encourage, laugh about, or try just for kicks a nuclear strike of any kind.

    Not that I am hopeful. But I remember the Reagan 'Cold War II' and somehow that did not fall down the nuclear rabbit hole. Maybe this one won't either.

  • @ John M; from your lips to whoever's ears. One thing that's always amused me about prepper is this: so, you survived a year in your bunker, but now you've run out of food and water…and what's outside is toxic. Now what?

    @Ed; we're all cheering your success, and are glad to share you with the larger world. Congrats on making one of your goals!

  • I do have to give Amway props for innoculating me against all MLM (pyramid) scams. In high school I babysat for people who were going to be their own bosses through Amway (yeah…never worked out for them). In college, one of my roommates tried to get the rest of us to fall in under her family as Amway sellers. As one of my roommates informed her, "Nobody we know can afford this shit, so we're not selling it for you."

    After Amway came all the other MLM schemes; overpriced fruit juice and vitamins and oils that can cure cancer (not really!) and those stupid ugly made-in-China leggings and etc. etc.

    A lot of military folks are sucked into the MLM world that promises a stay-at-home mom can make millions in her spare time. A lot of struggling entry-level workers hitch their hopes of being their own boss (as if). All of it follows the Amway blueprint.

    Know whose family started Amway? Betsy DeVos (failing education Dear Leader) and her brother, Eric Prince (of Blackwater fame).

  • I had an Amway cultist try to recruit me years ago.

    From what I can tell, selling the product is secondary. You make money by selling "motivational" materials to your downline (people under you).

    Most Amway sellers end up with a bunch of debt and a garage full of unsold product.

  • At one point in the ‘80s I worked for an ad agency that got an assignment from Amway, and off we went to Grand Rapids to meet and greet.

    We met their people in a rotunda/entrance with statues of DeVos family members, called The Center of Free Enterprise. Note carefully the “of” — not center FOR free enterprise — center OF.

    So we toured. At one point I asked what turned out to be The Awkward Question that more or less doomed our future with them: “What percentage of your sales are starter kits?” Looooooooong pause while the temperature dropped.

  • The MLMs prey on gullible people, desperate people, people who aren't good at math. Right now Lularoe is in the news because they oversaturated the market with salespeople who are now desperately trying to unload the $10k worth of merchandise they were required to buy to get started. I'm not surprised they cloak themselves in Capitallist JEBUS and evangelical fervor; that's their target suckers because they turned off their critical thinking and evaluation skills.

  • Creating ABM systems is, in many ways, an ideal business.

    It is something that nobody has done before so missteps and dead-ends are to be expected and offer limitless opportunity to excuse failure and gross inefficiency. It involves rockets, space, complex computer systems, and energy weapons involving physics, so lots of potential technobabble to baffle anyone asking questions and, again, lots of ways to excuse failure.

    It resembles nuclear fusion as an energy source in that "it is ten years away, and always will be'.

    It is also a untestable system. Before it is needed it simply has to look/sound credible. After it is needed there won't be enough left for anyone to be worrying about why it failed. While it is possible to do real work there is also the temptation to produce window dressing and pocket the profits. It seems to me a whole lot of executives for defense contractors have built bomb shelters, some of them quite elaborate, for their families. A coincidence, I'm sure.

    Keep in mind what happened with the Patriot system. At the time the claim was that it was quite effective. Later analysis showed the elaborate and expensive deployment was a defense technology Potemkin village. A billion dollar propaganda effort designed to convince Saddam his weapons were being blocked so he wouldn't waste them and persuade other people that we could protect them.

    On the up side there is a significant amount of evidence that nuclear weapons are also, at least in part, a ruse. When the explosive jackets for warheads on the retired Redstone rockets were tested almost all were recoded as having 'fizzled like a wet firecracker'. Then again, making things go boom is far easier than shooting down missiles. I hope we aren't so stupid as to try to call all those potential bluffs. Either way, I get the sinking feeling, not unlike the feeling you get when you slip on stairs and know its going to hurt but there is nothing you can do to change it, that far from failure not being 'an option' it increasingly seems inevitable.

    Happy thoughts for Christmas.

  • @ Major Kong through Katydid, re: scAmway:

    I'm somewhat surprised that they haven't merged with/acquired the most acquisitive faiths. I won't be surprised when I see XeXenuities (merging capitalism, mercantilism, sheepleism and snakeoilsm) looking to grift teh roobz out of their SS payments* or MAmwaymormonism revealing that Joe Smith's "lost tablet" on Pyramid Markets to Salvation had just been translated…

    * For however many months those might continue

  • @ Art:

    You restore some hope! I thought that my spirit had sunk to the lowest depth possible–sortalike the Marianas Trench of depressive pessimism where it was crushed into the size and shape of a crumpled package of Job Momwraps* by Year 1 Trumpligulamygdalan.

    It's good to know, in this season of fauxjoy and sad tithings that there is a level of cynicism, heretofore undreamed of by me, that I might someday plumb!

    * Them extra wide rolling paperz are like a "Participation Award" for smoking pot–if you can't roll a doobie the diamerr of a pencil with a single, old fashioned paper–it's got WAAAAAAAAY too much non-THC content in the form of stems'n'seeds that you don't need**–your parents didn't train you up right!

    ** Acapulco Gold is bad-asssssssssssssss weeeeeeeeeed!

    Thank you to Cheech & Chong.

  • I know at least a few people who quit solid but shitty jobs for MLM schemes. They're far less happy these days. Capitalism is mostly fraud.

  • from the "THAAD, THAAD" article:

    "farce perpetrated by two bald men fighting over a comb."

    Gadzooks, whqt a great image! Is it original with Ed? or borrowed from Samuel Beckett or someone comparable?

    Why I keep coming back here.

  • @anotherbozo

    "Two bald men fighting over a comb" was how Jose Luis Borges described the conflict between Argentina and Britain over the Falklands.

  • @jcdenton; one of the biggest problems with the MLM blueprint is that the average person only has so big of a social circle. Once you've got all your friends and family either working for you as downline (best case) or buying from you (much less desirable), there's nowhere to grow. If all your downline is your social circle, odds are they aren't selling much.

    I'm a fan of local craft fairs, especially the fall-winter ones. It's a fun weekend activity to spend a morning looking at the creativity of your neighbors. The past couple of years, for every table selling homemade dog biscuits, goats' milk soaps, fudge, and woodworking of all types…there were 3 tables selling MLM crap.

  • @Katydid

    "one of the biggest problems with the MLM blueprint is that the average person only has so big of a social circle."

    Well, no. The biggest problems are that at its core, MLM is:
    a) Basically fraud. Reselling garbage at markup without added value isn't technically fraud (although straight pyramid schemes are), but it doesn't even qualify for "the value of the free market" status. It's emotional manipulation as a mechanism for gain.
    b) Completely unsustainable. The pyramid scheme runs out of people to sell to on the planet earth in about a dozen levels of resellers.

  • Spiffy McBang says:

    I would just point out that while Seoul has ten million people, the immediate surroundings (that would almost certainly take fire as well) brings the population of the affected area up to 25 million. So it's as bad as Ed says times 2.5.

    Really good read.

  • Spiffy McBang says:

    I would just point out that while Seoul has ten million people, the immediate surroundings that would certainly take fire in the event of an attack brings the affected area up to twenty-five million people. So basically it's as bad as Ed says, times 2.5.

    Really good read.

  • @jcdenton; what you said was true, but before those issues become apparently, most MLM victims quit because after the first couple of months where their friends and friends-of-friends might have a pity-buy, they run out of people who feel sorry enough for them to buy something out of pity.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    I became a fan of this site around the time you moved to Georgia, during the recession. I guess things had to get even more shitty for you to get the readership you deserve, but at least it's happening. Bring back the FJM.

  • Congrats Ed, however comma I will revise my earlier statement; If I run in to you in a pub I will potentially allow you to buy a round or two. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    Pity Buy. That is what we did to some friends of ours who were struggling financially and wanted to help.

    But after close to three hundred dollars, we finally said no.

    That was the end of the mutual friendship, and not because we wanted it, but because they felt betrayed.

    My lesson learned here: say no to them immediately. Any money spent on them on delays the inevitable. And the bitterness grows with time. And one just throws money down the drain.

  • @Katydid

    I agree. I think we're just looking at this from somewhat different perspectives. You're implying that the business model collapses because most people have a relatively small circle of victims to fleece. I'm saying that the basic problem is that the fleecing of victims via emotional blackmail is the entire basis of the operation.

  • @jcdenton; I absolutely agree with you that the business model is for the "entrepreneurs" to fleece their victims any way they can. Actually, the top levels of most MLMs don't care what happens so long as that sweet, sweet money rolls in.

    When I worked for the start-up, the owner was huge on "making connections"…which in his case meant expecting his employees to buy all the MLM crap the wives and kids of his contacts were selling. That was one of the reasons I left–I have zero interest in peel-off stickers to go on the fingernails, trashy-looking "jewelry", or made-in-China leggings in either Disney or nausea-inducing prints. If I never hear a self-righteous "I'm a MOMPRENEUR!" again, it will be too soon. Likewise, "I'm running a SMALL BUSINESS!" No, you're not–you're just another income stream that only flows to the top.

    Larger point; there's a definite mindset that buys into the brainwashing, particularly the Jesusy, 'Murkikuh-first! tone. People with no critical-thinking skills don't notice there are hundreds of other people selling the exact same product in the exact same social circles.

  • Hey Ed: Congrats on fulfilling one of your long held ambitions and we wish you an even more successful 2018. Try to top this one. I read in Haaretz this morning that Israel is going to name a train station for Trump.

    Can't wait for the podcast.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    "I read in Haaretz this morning that Israel is going to name a train station for Trump. "

    If this does indeed happen, be sure that the "fair and balanced" news will be talking about it for weeks as Trumps greatest foreign policy achievement.

  • "If this does indeed happen, be sure that the "fair and balanced" news will be talking about it for weeks as Trumps greatest foreign policy achievement."

    Unless he manages to jumpstart the world economy by starting a war with North KKKrazzeerea!

  • We are all victims of our past. I didn't understand Watergate when it happened. I NEVER understood Vietnam. I still felt an innate desire to fight and with this my life went from there to here. I will not give up to the forces that rule us today. This is my nature.

  • Ed, many blessings on your camels for 2018. May you have enough money to never live in a tent and may your enemies' ears wither and fall into their shirt pockets (it's not like they're using them to listen anyway).


    Starting a war with North Krazea would only serve create (at least) the Seoul, Pyongyang and Tokyo Decontamination and Reconstruction Zones, if not more. (And yes, I am aware of the snark you did there.)

  • @democommie

    This may be an unpopular opinion, but mostly NK just wants to not be toppled. After WWII, most smaller nations developed nuclear weapons as a deterrent to larger imperial states (US, USSR, PRC) and regional powers (Pakistan, India, etc). One of the worst things that the US did for Ukraine, for example, was force it to give up its nuclear armaments when it broke off from the former USSR.

    Over the last two decades, the US has either been directly toppling governments or aiding in color revolutions all across the ME and elsewhere (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Honduras, Ukraine). Pretty much any nation with half a brain has had to consider this scenario as a possibility for themselves (a few people have reported that Putin obsessively studies the US overthrow of Saddam in Iraq).

    So, in this context, given that it was declared a part of the Axis of Evil by W, NK is mostly worried about whether its on the chopping block next. NK generally does a lot of sabre rattling, but that's usually a means of getting people back to the negotiating table. NK isn't actually "kkkrazy" or suicidal (no more than the USSR was).

    Please note that this post isn't attempting to justify or defend NK's shitty form of government, its simply pointing out that most of NK's actions are strictly focused on deterrent and it is in no way less "rational" in the context of geopolitics. The real issue is actually someone like Trump misinterpreting NK's sabre-rattling as a personal slight. Then we're all fucked.

  • @jcdenton:

    While I appreciate your take on the situation re: PRNK–they've never NOT wanted to take over the entire peninsula. Invading South Korea in 1950 was the beginning of 67 years of attempts by Kim Il Sung and his heirs to take over the nation that he considered part of his domain.

    That is not to say that the South Koreans are not just as intent on making the peninsula one country but they understand that doing that would require killing basically the entire population of North Korea–something that they don't see as possible for all sorts of reasons.

    The Kims are all completely fucking insane, imo.

  • @jcdenton; I agree with you on the topic of the USSR and can see the point with North Korea. Russia suffered catastrophically and lost a huge portion of their population to war–a lot of the belligerence later was just saber-rattling to keep others away, like a junk-yard dog growling.

  • On CBS This Morning right now; a story on Lularoe, featuring a sobbing stay-at-home mom who was promised by a recruiter that she would make fulltime pay for very minimal work. That should have been a red flag right there, no? So she sunk $11k into purchasing the clothes, worked more-than-fulltime hours, and a year later is still $6k in debt (meaning she hasn't even broken even after a year). Now they're talking to two high-ups in the organization who insist they never tell people it'll be easy to sell the clothes (really? I doubt they tell people it'll be hard…) but it's easy *for them*. Uh-huh. My interpretation: So people who aren't rich from the scheme are just losers.

    I wonder how many of these people voted for Trump because he was 'such a good businessman'?

  • North Korea saw Saddam give up his nuclear program – and get invaded. They saw Gaddafi give up his nuclear program – and get killed.

    They view their nuclear program as vital to the continued existence of the regime.

    Not saying they're nice guys (they most definitely aren't) but they are a "rational actor" and not "crazy".

    It's very dangerous to describe your opponent as "insane", since that assumes they will not act rationally and limits your options.

  • @MK; the only insane person in the US/NK equation is Trump. My non-American friends are terrified of what he'll do next. For that matter, so am I.

  • @ Major Kong:

    I don't doubt that there is some "rational thinking" going on in PRNK but the Kims are batshit. They're starving their countrymen to death, as they've been doing forever, in order to have whatever it is that starving those poor people makes possible. If that's not insane, I'm not sure what is.

  • @Mothra; just another one in a long line of MLM schemes. In this case, it's waaaaaay overpriced, made-in-China clothing. Unlike the overpriced (but basically well-made) kitchen gadget MLM, or the overpriced juice MLM, or overpriced vitamin MLM…this one is meant to be seen by other people, out in public. If you're a woman, even if you don't do Facebook or other social media sites, you know someone who's trying to make you buy this stuff.

    Bottom line; a lot of people are rooked into MLMs with the promise that they'll be their own boss and make lots and lots of money for very little work. It virtually never works out this way.

    Going back to Amway, it was started by the parents of Betsy DeVos, who's now head of education thanks to Donald Trump. Interesting factoid I heard on the radio over the holiday; one of the presents handed out to the wealthy is the expansion of the 529 Plan* to include private schools for minor children. Thank DeVos for that.

    *For those not familiar, a 529 plan is a way for parents to put aside tax-free money for their kids to go to college (subject to a range of rules and regulations). Factoid I learned is that the typical household that takes advantage of the 529 Plan is making 3x the average family income. In other words, a family that could be expected to afford private school for their kids is being given a way to put aside the money tax-free.

  • I enjoyed reading your Baffler article but I wish it included an important point about missile “defense” that I basically never see in print in modern times but was discussed in policy circles when the original ABM treaty was negotiated with the Soviets. Except for certain special cases the main purpose of missile defense is not defensive. It’s to enable a retaliation-free first strike on another nuclear power.

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