COGNITIVE DEFICIT

Posted in Quick Hits on February 17th, 2015 by Ed

The primary reason I do not "Twitter" is an aversion to the limitations of the format. Most things I think are worth saying occupy more than 140 character spaces, and I have zero interest in chopping words down to infant babble to squeeze something into those confines. A secondary and practical issue is that it's worthless. Demonstrably worthless. Though it is supposedly a driver of "traffic", few if any of the techno-utopians who heralded it as yet another social media Innovation that would spread knowledge and power and information and fresh breath throughout the world can demonstrate that it is ever useful as anything other than empty textual calories.

A new Atlantic piece demonstrates that under 1% of people who view a tweet click the embedded link. "That's not traffic. That is a rounding error." Couldn't have said it better. An annoying, blinking sidebar ad has a higher pass-through rate, if even by accident. Of the 1% who click through, what percentage of them actually read the story (in the rare instances in which an article, rather than a stupid picture or video, is linked)?

Years ago I was skeptical of the "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" argument. Today it seems more plausible to me. The Atlantic piece really identifies the fundamental, if not 100% literally true, problem: Nobody reads anything anymore. We scan, we scroll, we occasionally click, we perhaps take 0.7 seconds to comprehend the headline. But we don't read. Social media has made it possible to throw enormous gobs of content at everyone on the planet, and nobody's reading a goddamn word of it.

Often I feel like after ten-plus years of doing this I've really failed by having an audience of only 3,000-5,000 readers per day. In fact, since the vast majority of that audience is capable of (and generally interested in) reading a whole 500-700 words, I'm probably getting "read" as much as people who write for sites with six-figure traffic. Everything else is just gawking at pictures and headlines.

PICK YOUR PARADOX

Posted in Quick Hits on February 15th, 2015 by Ed

Why is it that a large number of Americans cling to the belief that lowering taxes will increase government revenue while simultaneously dismissing out of hand the possibility that global warming could manifest not only warmer summers but also colder winters?

There may be no succinct answer to that question, but I strongly suspect it has something to do with the relatively recent spread in popularity of the mindset that The Market must be the sole arbiter of all human interaction – both with one another and with the world around us – and thus anything that does not permit us to travel down the path of least resistance can be motivated-reasoned out of existence.

ROOTS

Posted in Quick Hits on February 5th, 2015 by Ed

On Wednesday the Croatian government announced a plan to eliminate the debts of about 60,000 of its poorest citizens. The announcement garnered a lot of attention even if the relief being offered is more modest than the headlines would suggest (maximum debt relief is capped at around $5000 US). The idea of debt cancellation used to be confined to the political fringes; now it is an acceptable idea to advance in polite society among Serious People. David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years strongly advocates a universal debt cancellation policy. With his argument in the back of my mind I wondered a few weeks ago if we couldn't apply a similar idea to non-violent inmates in our prison system.

Ideas like debt cancellation or amnesty for incarcerated people are often dismissed out of hand despite being no more or less ridiculous than many of the things regularly taken seriously as public policy. On its own merits, Croatia's plan isn't hard to justify. The inherent problem with this kind of plan, though, is that these are superficial solutions to institutionalized problems. What good does it do to offer debt relief to a few people when all of the social, legal, and economic structures that bury people in debt remain in place? Why bother letting everyone out of prison if the institutions that keep the prisons overflowing with inmates aren't going to function any differently?

If 60,000 Croats get debt relief and nothing else changes, many of them will end up back in debt in time when they confront the same lousy job market, the same parasitic lending practices aimed at the poor and desperate, and the same maze of punitive fees that turn modest debts into large ones over time. If Americans emptied out the prisons, does anyone doubt that our law enforcement and justice systems would have them full again within a year or two?

It's nice to offer debt relief. It's much more useful to offer relief from the institutions designed to bury people in debt.

ON INCOME

Posted in Quick Hits on February 2nd, 2015 by Ed

Here's a map of how much money one would need to earn per year in every state to be part of "The 1%". Frankly most of the figures are a little lower than I expected; I'd have guessed that seven-figure incomes were necessary to reach the top of the economic heap. That the real amount is lower probably speaks more to how little most of us earn than how much the elite earn.

I'm not a person who spends a lot of time thinking about money. Were I, I would not have chosen a profession in which the income ceiling is not only relatively low but also well understood to be low by everyone who gets into the field. Nobody becomes an educator and is then shocked to discover that he or she is not earning a quarter-million dollars per year to teach middle schoolers or college freshmen. I don't earn a ton of money but I already feel like I have more than enough. I'm sure I would feel differently if I had a spouse, children, starving orphans, or pets to support or if I didn't live in an area where cost of living is about as low as it can go in this country.

It's a strange thought exercise, then, to imagine myself earning the kind of numbers you see on this map. If I was earning $450,000 per year, what the hell would I even do with it? There really isn't much one can spend "going out" here. I suppose I would go on three vacations per year instead of one or two. Other than that, I'd be spending money just to spend it. A bigger house that I don't really have any use for and an even more ridiculous car. Maybe some new clothes I probably wouldn't wear anyway. Pay off the rest of my student loans and commercial debt, neither of which are enormous. Other than that, I'd just end up hoarding money that I might not live long enough to spend in retirement.

Research on perceptions of wealth indicate that people think of "rich" as anyone who makes about 50% more than they do. Maybe without realizing it I've mastered the art of feeling rich on my existing income, or maybe I'm a particularly cheap date. Now taking suggestions for expensive and wasteful habits I can develop.

POWER PLAY

Posted in Quick Hits on January 28th, 2015 by Ed

As a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (BA, Political Science, 1999) I continue to take an interest in the affairs of the school even though I left Wisconsin many years ago. Students, faculty, staff, and administrators throughout the UW system may feel powerless to fight back against their illiterate prick of a Governor's latest plan to close the $2 billion hole he created in the state budget by slashing taxes for the wealthy (Supply Side Economics: it works!) by gutting one of the only things the state has going for it economically to the tune of $300 million. Wisconsin, it seems, is in a race with Michigan to become the Alabama of the North.

So, unsolicited advice from an alum. The chancellor of UW-Madison and the Board of Regents for the state system should call a press conference tomorrow morning to announce that, effective immediately, all college athletic programs in the state have been disbanded due to budget cuts.

Walker-loving hillbillies sure do get a kick out of sticking it to them librul professors with their lattes and Volvos and fancy book learnin', but they like Badger football, hockey, and (perennial Sweet Sixteen or better) men's basketball even more. Not to mention the dozen other schools in the state with locally popular athletic programs. I've said this a million times, but if universities have to make "tough decisions" due to financial constraints they should start with the most popular but least important part of the budget.

Feel free to end the one-sentence announcement with, "Your move, asshole."

PAUSED

Posted in Quick Hits on January 9th, 2015 by Ed

I apologize for the limited content this week, but out of respect for the awful news that all of us are trying to process from Paris today and the past few days it didn't seem appropriate to run what is a rather lighthearted No Politics Friday.

A lot of left-wing people around the internet have suggested that their reaction to these events is split among 1. Defense of free expression, 2. Abhorrence of violence, and 3. Finding the cartoons in question something ranging from insensitive to racist. I don't consider that an untenable position; if I paint a giant-lipped Obama eating a watermelon and someone murders me, it is possible to believe that I did something offensive but that doesn't give another person the right to shoot me. Personally, though, I don't see the cartoons as racist or offensive so much as they appear puerile and silly. Like most Americans I'd never previously heard of this French magazine, and frankly the art (and the level of humor/satire involved) looks like junior high students drew it. Minus the shock value of depicting something some Muslims find insulting, what is the real value of this?

These journalists strike me as a European sort of Bill Maher/Howard Stern hybrid, getting more mileage out of being provocateurs than anything else. Rather than cheapening their deaths, I think the general silliness and MAD Magazine-esque tone of the publication they worked for makes the idea of anyone being willing to kill them over these cartoons even less comprehensible.

In short, I've decided that I can feel like these guys were a bunch of ass clowns without believing that they deserved to die or that I don't care that they did. I don't think anyone deserves to die a violent death for making jokes, good or bad. Although I waver sometimes on Jeff Dunham.

UPON SECOND THOUGHT

Posted in Quick Hits on January 6th, 2015 by Ed

Leave it to the New York Daily News (motto: We Make the Post Look Serious) to provide the ideal example of everything wrong with the way the media lionizes cops while demonizing literally anyone else.

Recently someone assaulted an MTA worker in the middle of the night and as the tabloid media are wont to do, they ran some rather sensational stories to the effect of, to quote the headline, "Thug attacks female MTA employee at Bronx train station."

A hulking brute grabbed a 28-year-old MTA employee up in a bear hug at a Bronx train station, shoved her onto the platform and began choking her in an unprovoked attack – then ran away smiling, authorities said Wednesday.

Then it turned out that the Thug Brute was – wait for it – an NYPD officer. Magically, the tone changed when this crucial fact was discovered. The headline now refers to an NYPD cop who heroically turned himself in after being "accused" of possibly attacking someone.

Police Officer Mirjan Lolja, 37, was suspended after the assault in which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker — who was on-duty and in her uniform — was allegedly put into a bear hug, thrown to the floor and choked, cops said.

Not as much of a Thug as we originally thought, despite the fact that he does look vaguely possibly Hispanic or something.

THE SPECTACULAR 2014 GIN AND TACOS ANNUAL WHEEDLE PRESENTED BY GIN AND TACOS

Posted in Quick Hits on December 29th, 2014 by Ed

Reader,

I make an effort to limit this kind of request or reminder, because nobody wants to read a hundred pleas per year for the kinds of things a dude with a website is supposed to request. I appreciate your patience with the following paragraphs.

1. If you haven't already, follow G&T on the ol' Facebox. There's more to it than a bunch of links to posts. It's a little heavier on humor and lighter on politics compared to this site. And I'm supposed to, like, try to boost traffic and build a base of readers and all that shit. So do it.

Gin and Tacos | Promote Your Page Too

2. Speaking of, even though traffic has increased consistently over the years the site remains and will remain free of advertisements. If you have to ask why, you must be new. In lieu of advertisements you have to put up with the following few paragraphs once per year.

You can do nothing and continue to enjoy the site for free. This is called "free riding", and it's an entirely rational behavior. I have done (for eleven years!!) and will continue to do this every day whether I make a million bucks, nothing at all, or I have to pay out of pocket for the privilege.

You can use this tip jar / donation link to contribute an amount of your choosing to defray the costs of this site. If you happen to be saddled with extra cash and feel like donating fifty bucks, I will be extremely grateful. However, if donating fifty cents is more in line with your current budget, my gratitude will be no less. If zero cents is your preferred option, that's A-OK too. Your tips and contributions are (obviously) voluntary but greatly appreciated. Either way I'm glad you're here and I appreciate you.






3. "Ed you lazy grifter, when I hand over money I expect to get something in return!" you say. Well, there are things to buy if that's your thing. The "Buy Stuff" link on your right has a couple kinds of stickers. There are also a few remaining SOUNDS OF REAL AMERICA prints (here's the first batch, and then we added two more) and a single Buzzfeed dadaism print that I unearthed while cleaning out my office.

4. Oh, 2014 was the year Ed finally got around to getting coffee mugs like everyone always requested. Customize your own here (Zazzle isn't shy about big discounts). There is also the not quite as popular but equally spectacular Gin and Tacos t-shirt with the lovable slogan, "Dopamine's Only Natural Predator", on the reverse. If you're so inclined, knock yourself out.

5. Thank you all for making the site more interesting than it would be otherwise with your comments and contributions. Even though I've progressed from zero to one to fifty-plus comments per post, I still read every single one. If you can take the time to say something, I can make the time to read it.

I don't maintain this site for financial reward, and I hate creating the impression that you're expected to pay for the privilege. You certainly are not. Not even a little. But if you happen to feel the urge to be generous, here are some options. As always, thanks for being here and man did this year blow.

THESE DAMN GUNS

Posted in Quick Hits on December 11th, 2014 by Ed

Recently several media outlets noted the anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. This is an annual blip in the news, and every year when reminded of it I want to make the entire world watch this video of longtime, legendary Detroit local TV newsman Bill Bonds offering commentary on it. His commentary beginning at 1:50 may be, without exaggeration, the finest moment of American television journalism. Since I have always been disappointed that a transcript of his commentary is not available anywhere on the internet, I invested the ten minutes necessary to do it myself.

I suppose like you I am depressed and saddened by this mad, senseless act. I don’t think John Lennon ever hurt anyone; he wrote and he sang songs. He brought pleasure and he brought entertainment to hundreds of millions of people all over the world. And at 40 when a man’s or a woman’s life really begins to "Come Together," he is gone forever. Murdered by some insignificant nobody with insanity and a pistol for his companions. It is not fair and it is certainly not right.

I wonder when America will finally control its guns, how many of us will have to be murdered before that will happen. John Kennedy. Bob Kennedy. Martin Luther King Jr. All murdered, all gone. Vernon Jordan, gunned down earlier this year. George Wallace, paralyzed, his life and career ruined. People, critics, newspapers all over the world today are looking at America and Americans and saying, "That is a brutal, barbaric place."

As I say control the guns and ban them, collect them all and melt them down, I know we are not going to do that. We are again left with painful, senseless trauma and the responsibility of feeding and clothing the Sirhan Sirhans, the Charles Mansons, the David Berkowitzes, and now the Mark David Chapmans of the world. How much better the world might be with Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy, John Kennedy, John Lennon, still alive, still with us.

But…no, Americans must have their guns. We know there is no shortage of good, strong, sensitive, talented men and women; we can afford to kill them. Our guns are signs of our freedom. Someday maybe all 220 million of us will own a weapon. Perhaps then we will appear as barbaric to ourselves as we must appear to the rest of the world.

We have so much. Why do we Americans need these damn guns.

Bonds, an alcoholic who once tried to physically assault Detroit mayor Coleman Young during an interview, is a throwback to a time – one long since passed – when one could be a "Man's Man" or a Tough Guy without waving around a gun like a surrogate dick. Such comments would never make it on the air today – especially not on the wasteland local TV news has become – despite the fact that they are as true right now as they were when first spoken.

THE CONVERSATION

Posted in Quick Hits on December 10th, 2014 by Ed

Evening. A nondescript conference room in an equally nondescript office tower somewhere in Real America where right-wing internet memes are created. A WILY VETERAN sits at one end of the cheap, laminate-topped table across from NEW GUY.

WV: "I don't care if we're here all night, we need to come up with some sort of pro-police meme. Something that everyone's friends from grade school will repost. Something that will seem brilliant to people who don't like thinking."

NG: "Should it be hackneyed?"

WV: "Oh good lord yes. Of course. Don't ask me silly questions, kid."

NG: "I'm sorry. Can we do something to imply that police are killed as often – or even more often – than police kill suspects or innocent bystanders?"

WV: "I knew there was a reason we hired you, kid. Whattaya have in mind?"

NG: "Definitely a photo collage so that everyone can see that they're Good People."

WV: "White?"

NG: "Yeah I mean white. Although maybe throw in a "clean" looking Mexican."

WV and NG, simultaneously: "So no one can say they're all white!" (laughter, the slapping of backs)

NG: "It turns out, though, that there aren't that many cops killed by suspects relative to the enormous number of people killed by police every year in the US."

WV: "Well that's a pickle. Ooh, that reminds me: I need to bring home pickles. How about we include cops who die of heart attacks while on duty, or in car accidents that have nothing to do with a suspect?"

NB: "I like where your head is, sir, but we can't just flat out lie and say a black person killed them."

WV: "We could, but let's see if we can't come up with something better." (grimaces in deep thought) "I've got it! Let's label it as officers killed 'In the Line of Duty'! Which is technically true! No matter how or why they die, we can count them as long as they're on the clock!"

NB, beaming: "You're an inspiration, sir. A goddamn inspiration."

WV: "If I wanted my ass kissed I'd be at home with a shelter dog, a jar of Smuckers, and a long-handled spatula. Now make sure to do it in Microsoft Paint so it looks real shitty."

NB: "Come on, sir. I know the drill." (laughter and mutual respect)

FIN