GHOSTS

Posted in Quick Hits on July 22nd, 2014 by Ed

On a long drive to the Gulf Coast a few weeks ago I happened to drive right past Leakesville, Mississippi. This would be of no interest to me or anyone else ordinarily, but Leakesville is the final resting place of Bill Hicks. Now, Mr. Hicks was an important figure in my life even though I never met him. My respect for him goes a bit beyond Fandom or "He's a comedian I really like." So I considered it obvious that I should stop to pay my respects.

Briefly, Leakesville, MS is a goddamn dump.

In my travels through 49 of the 50 states (I'll get you, Alaska) I've been through hundreds of Leakesvilles and so have you. The rusted-out farm implements / hardware store announces the beginning of the town and its end is marked by the combination gas station / Subway. Between those navigational aids you find a handful of churches, one or two dilapidated bars, and mostly deserted houses of the pre-WWII vintage. Despite having only a few hundred or thousand residents there are three or four pharmacies in town to tend to the elderly and a not-incidental number of prescription opiate addicts. If anything else is open for business – and that is a big If – it is a rehabilitation center to help old people move their withered limbs and wheeze through their Winston-stained lungs for another year or two. The only thing in the town that looks like it could withstand a stiff breeze is the Post Office (or on the Plains, the USDA office). The population consists of people under 18 waiting to escape and old people waiting to die.

Census after census we see that small towns are dying all over the country. Very few Americans live in them anymore. Once the current cohort of elderly stragglers dies, they will be abandoned for all intents and purposes. From that perspective I can never figure out why we venerate these places. They are, by nearly any criteria, terrible. And more importantly, they're already shells of their former selves. It is as if we have some kind of collective hysteria in which we pretend that Small Town America is a thing even though it is about as real as the Wild West at this point.

Even in so-called rural states, the majority of the population now lives in urban settings (including suburbs). The election year pandering to "hard working Americans" and good ol' salt of the Earth types (read: white and white, respectively) is indicative of nothing more than lazy, Beltway-centric media coverage that relies on tired tropes and is aimed at an intended audience with an average age of about 70. Even those elderly news viewers are increasingly urbanized, unless anyone out there considers southern retirement meccas to be small towns.

Every election year – and more accurately, every time I take a long drive through the back roads – I am baffled by our obsession with the idea of small towns. We might as well be holding tight to the idea of Conestoga wagons. If it's anything other than a yearning for the idealized version of the 1950s Norman Rockwell America that never was and actually kinda sucked if you weren't white and male, I don't know what it could be.

EXPERTS

Posted in Quick Hits on July 17th, 2014 by Ed

In the early stages of any foreign policy crisis – long before anyone knows what actually happened – only one thing can be certain: Noted Foreign Policy Expert John McCain will be on TV talking about it, and by "talking about it" I mean waving his dick around.

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) declared on Thursday there would be "incredible repercussions" if Russian forces or pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine shot down the Malaysian flight that crashed earlier in the day.

In an appearance on MSNBC shortly after news of the crash broke, McCain stressed it was too early to come to definite conclusions. However, he pointed out Ukrainian aircraft have previously been shot down in recent days and "mistaken identification" of the Malaysian plane could be "part of a pattern" that demands a powerful reaction from the United States.

"This was an airliner headed towards Russian airspace and it has the earmarks — and I'm not concluding — but it has the earmarks of a mistaken identification of an aircraft that they may have believed was Ukrainian. If that's true, this is a horrible tragic event which was certainly unanticipated by anybody no matter who they are. And there will be incredible repercussions if this is the case," he said. "If it is the result of either separatist or Russian actions mistakenly believing that this is a Ukrainian warplane, I think there's going to be hell to pay and there should be."

I wonder if he knows he's not the president.

MERCHANDISING EMPIRE

Posted in Quick Hits on July 15th, 2014 by Ed

It's time to tiptoe into the world of merchandising (posters and stickers aside) with some super-hip t-shirts like all the kids wear these days. Zazzle runs a tad pricey, but there are sales weekly. Any clothing purchase by midnight today (Tuesday) is 30% off with the lamentable code "SUMMERSTYLEZ".

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Here's a direct link to customize and order your very own Gin and Tacos shirt, available in a range of colors and t-shirt styles (prices vary) if this bleak gray doesn't do it for you.

IN THE SHADOWS

Posted in Quick Hits on July 13th, 2014 by Ed

If asked to name some of America's oldest old money families you would no doubt throw out names like Rockefeller, Morgan, du Pont, Ford, Cabot, and the like. The extended members of these clans still show up in the society pages today just as they did during the Gilded Age (fun fact: Did you know Anderson Cooper is a Vanderbilt?) Most of you, I assume, are unfamiliar with the Rosenwald family. Like the McDonald's empire had little to do with the MacDonald Brothers (who sold out to Ray Kroc and were long gone when he turned the company into a global behemoth) Julius Rosenwald took over the Sears & Roebuck Company just two years after it was founded and turned it into the retail hegemon it was until the closing decades of the 20th Century (Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck contributed little more than their names). Rosenwald was one of the richest men of his time, yet he avoided the kind of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" publicity of many of his plutocratic colleagues.

During the Depression he founded the United Jewish Appeal and underwrote Tuskegee Institute, whose board he sat on until his death. While I can't speak to the ethics of what he did to amass his fortune, he did have his heart in the right place when it came to disbursing it in his later years. Of course there was plenty left over for future generations of the Rosenwald family too. And that brings us to his granddaughter and heiress, Nina Rosenwald. You have never heard of her either. But I bet you've seen her money at work.

Whenever the bombs and bullets start flying in the Middle East – lamentably, it is always just a matter of time before Israel and Palestine get back to brawlin' – and the American Pro-Israel Industry launches another media blitz, you're seeing Rosenwald's handiwork. She has been called, and has rightly earned the title of, "The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate." People like Daniel Pipes, Geert Wilders, David Horowitz, and other right-wing Islamophobes have been living off of her money for two decades now. She is to the universe of Islamophobes what Sheldon Adelson (another one of their prominent funders, by the way) was to the Gingrich campaign or what the Koch Brothers are to the Tea Party. Rosenwald has even directly underwritten settlements in the West Bank and Gaza (although she is widely considered something of a rube, an ideologue with a huge bank account and little going on upstairs) along with Adelson.

The noise machine is more active in Europe at the moment. Turns out that most of Western Europe is no better than the U.S. when it comes to assimilating brown-skinned, Arabic- or Turkish-speaking immigrants into their societies. But every time the Israel-Palestine conflict flares up, groups like AIPAC and people like Daniel Pipes start to show up on the talk shows and editorial pages again. Follow the link to learn more about how an heiress you've never heard of has underwritten the entire movement from the shadows.

FRESH NEW IDEAS

Posted in Quick Hits on July 7th, 2014 by Ed

Do yourself a favor and read this summary of the Texas Republican Party platform if you want to see what modern Republican party activists believe in their heart of hearts (or, as the linked piece says, what they say when they are essentially talking to themselves.) I don't want to spoil it for you but let me say this: they're big fans of some really novel ideas. Like nullification.

UNFORESEEABLE

Posted in Quick Hits on July 3rd, 2014 by Ed

Shockingly, the Hobby Lobby decision was followed almost immediately by other organizations lining up to seek "conscience" based exemptions from laws they happen to dislike. I for one never saw that coming. Who could have imagined that setting a dangerous precedent would create a mindset among religiously motivated groups that they are now free to pick and choose which laws they will exempt themselves from.

Oh, and in response to all of the claims that the ruling was "narrow", the Court on Tuesday "ordered lower courts to rehear any cases where companies had sought to deny coverage for any type of contraception, not just the specific types Hobby Lobby was opposed to." Thank god. I was worried for a second there.

ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION

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

Here is a fun game to play when reading news items about Ammosexuals. Read about or watch them marching around in public with semi-automatic rifles slung over their shoulders and imagine how the police (and public, for that matter) would react if the proud Second Amendment Patriots were black males. Laugh yourself silly as the police, if they bother to show up at all, treat the gun-toting white people with kid gloves and picture the same scene if a bunch of heavily tattooed black guys with sleeveless shirts and high powered rifles decided to congregate in the main shopping district.

Here's a hilarious video of a somewhat-deranged Patriot exercising his Second Amendment rights as he imagines them:

OK, clearly he's not All There in the head or perhaps this was some sort of stunt designed to get arrested. But watch the police indulge this asshole for almost ten full minutes as he waves around a loaded rifle. A black male with a Fantasy Gun (the type that holds money or makes phone calls) gets about two seconds of benefit-of-doubt from the average cop white a middle aged white male with an Actual Gun (the type that fires bullets) will be talked to until he is good and ready to let the police arrest him. Or in the case of Cliven Bundy and his merry militimen, the police just agree to leave them alone altogether. That works out well for everyone!

The next time you snort dismissively at the idea of white privilege, ask yourself how long the police would hold on to their tasers and pepper spray and live ammo if the 9-1-1 calls started pouring in about a group of angry looking black men with rifles congregating at the Burger King.

CONSENT

Posted in Quick Hits on June 26th, 2014 by Ed

I have a ton to say about this but it's going to have to wait until I have enough time to do it justice; for now, you should read this Pandagon post about "affirmative consent," rape, and the law. It is very good and very important.

If "She never said no, so it can't be rape" is an argument, how is the converse ("She never said yes, so it was rape") not also a valid argument?

I've always argued, and will continue to argue without apologizing, that not all communication needs to be verbal. There are clear and obvious ways to say yes – initiating sexual activity or being receptive to initiation by someone else – and no – pulling back, pushing away, clamming up, etc – without using words. Sexual activity does not and should not require on person saying "WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE SEXUAL INTERCOURSE? IF YES, PLEASE SIGN HERE" nor the other saying "I CONSENT TO SEXUAL INTERCOURSE, INCLUDING THREE TO FIVE MINUTES OF MANUAL STIMULATION AND NO MORE THAN FOUR (4) SLAPS ON THE ASS." But to claim that this is the "feminist" argument is to create a Straw Man.

It baffles me that so many men appear to find this concept so difficult. If you are not sure, you have two options: ask ("So…do you want to do it?") or – and this is the one that blows minds – don't have sex. I've heard every hypothetical what-if situation in which the poor male is victimized somehow by the rules of consent and yet I have never heard a single one that could not have been resolved by one of those two options. Not one. Ever. Those two choices that all men have work 100% of the time.

LEFT BEHIND

Posted in Quick Hits on June 17th, 2014 by Ed

Every article you read about manufacturing in the U.S. focuses on what used to be and no longer is – tales of woe about communities that have gone down the toilet and companies that now do business in Mexico, Bangladesh, or worse, Mississippi. When was the last time you saw a story about a company that not only continues to manufacture in the U.S. but isn't constantly threatening to leave?

This story about the Airstream company, maker of those shiny jellybean-shaped trailers, is an interesting commentary on the differences between the companies that stay and those that fled across the border as soon as NAFTA allowed it.

It has been several years, but I used to watch on occasion the John Ratzenberger-hosted TV series Made in America on sleepless nights and I was always struck by the bizarre juxtaposition of the host's Extreme Teabag politics and the countless examples in every show that put the lie to all of the right-wing whining about our government failing to be Business Friendly. It takes a weird person to host a show that profiles three or four successful American businesses per episode while also believing that taxes and wages are so high that it's impossible to make a go of a business in the U.S.

So what enables some companies to make it here while so many argue that they can't? The Airstream piece suggests that one useful ingredient is being run by a person or a family rather than a faceless Board of Directors or a CEO in another state. I'm sure plenty of small business owners or family businesses are assholes, of course. And I'm sure that even the "good ones" like the owner profiled here work hard to push down wages, costs, and so on. That's business. Yet having a person who actually feels some connection to the company and its employees would increase the odds of staying put.

The other thing that jumps out is the cost of the final product from a company like Airstream. The days of making disposable ballpoint pens in the U.S. are probably gone for good, but it makes it easier for a company to justify (in the strict "bottom line" MBA-speak sense) paying decent wages in the U.S. when the end result retails for six figures. I do think it's naive, though, for the article to suggest that the workers in Middle of Nowhere, OH are uniquely skilled and the company could not replicate that elsewhere. If Mexican factories can churn out $50,000 luxury cars, they can figure out how to make a trailer that won't fall apart.

While there are people who have studied this issue much more extensively and systematically than I ever will, this is an interesting case study in what happens when people make decisions instead of corporate institutions.

PEAK FOX

Posted in Quick Hits on June 17th, 2014 by Ed

I love everything about this image: burying the Mass Shooting #10174 story, the giant ad targeted at Fox News' primary demographic, the "Is this the Onion?" sub-headline. This will hang in a museum someday so future generations can try to understand the early 21st century and the collapse of the American empire.

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