MARKET EFFICIENCY

Posted in Rants on March 3rd, 2015 by Ed

Hard to believe it has been more than a decade since Chechen rebels took hundreds of Russians hostage in a Moscow theater. Displaying their legendary penchant for tact and patience, Russian special forces pumped the theater full of a gas, the contents of which remain mysterious to this day, developed by the FSB as a "knockout gas." It allowed Russian police to storm the theater and, uh, eliminate the terrorists with traditional Russian ruthlessness, but it happened to kill more than 130 hostages as well. Whoops.

What nobody knew that day – because Russian officials refused to offer any description of the contents of the secret gas for years – was that a major ingredient was fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate. High inhaled doses of such a strong drug were fatal for about 15% of the hostages. This was important because if medics and doctors had been told that the hostages had been incapacitated by an opiate drug, they could have saved lives by injecting them with something called an opioid antagonist. When this was finally reported it was the first time I heard of Naloxone.

Apparently Naloxone has become considerably more well known in the intervening years because many states have passed laws recently to relax rules about its administration. This is a result of increased pressure from the public, police, activists, and medical professionals to make Naloxone available for response to opioid overdoses. Briefly leaving aside the inconvenient reality that nobody cared about heroin addicts but now that white kids (and their parents) in the suburbs are ODing on prescription painkillers, it's hard to argue that this is not a good idea.

The problem, as usual, stems from the many glories of the free market and its infinite justice. The sole company in the United States that makes Naloxone noticed around 2008 that demand, driven by government purchases, was starting to soar. So of course they…oh, come on. Do I even need to finish the sentence? Suffice it to say that the drug, the price of which hovered around $3 per dose, became more expensive. By several hundred dollars.

As a generic, technically any manufacturer can start producing it. The problem is that every other drug company knows that at the drug's true price – somewhere closer to $5 per dose – it isn't worth it to invest in starting production. And they are unwilling to take the risk based on the hope that the current attempt at price gouging is sustainable. So the current company, Amphaster Pharmaceuticals, has a de facto monopoly. And oh boy, do they intend to milk it.

The idea of a single payer sends the average American into paroxysms of stroke-inducing rage. The idea of a single supplier, oddly enough, doesn't do the same even when accompanied by a healthy dose of price gouging. With state and local governments essentially at the mercy of the demands of one company for a drug it could hardly give away ten years ago, you'd think someone would be pointing out that the free market is not working as intended. Then you realize that this is in fact exactly how it is intended to work and any confusion disappears.

SOPHISTRY

Posted in Rants on March 1st, 2015 by Ed

Beyond any doubt the most irritating type of person to have in a classroom – not only as a teacher but also as a fellow student – is the one who turns everything he is wrong about into a philosophical question about the nature of truth. This is one of the oldest and lamest rhetorical tactics in the book. "It may seem like I'm demonstrably wrong, but who can really know anything? What is truth?" That kind of crap. It is, to paraphrase my favorite description of Newt Gingrich, the kind of thing that really stupid people think sounds smart. And one of the reasons you hear this kind of thing in a classroom is that young people tend to be overconfident and think that they are more charming, intelligent, and persuasive than they are.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that most people grow out of that around the time they start to drive, it looks like this is going to be Scott Walker's go-to strategy for dealing with criticism throughout his kamikaze run at the White House that we are just now beginning to endure with no end in sight. Does Barack Obama love America? How can anyone really know? How can anyone really know anything? I couldn't possibly say one way or the other without having spoken to Barack Obama about this directly.

Scott Walker: epistemological skeptic.

This kind of logic has always been the backbone of lowest common denominator populism (What do scientists really know? Isn't everything just a theory? Can't I be right even if everything I say is wrong?) and it has quickly become integral to the grand GOP strategy. Having gone all-in on anti-intellectualism and willful disregard for facts in the early W Bush years, they're certainly not going to start telling the rube army that ideology may not always trump facts at this point. The Republican Party is a coalition of smart people trying to sound dumb and dumb people trying to sound smart; Walker is a tool of the former and the archetype of the latter.

Personally I'd love to see Walker win the nomination from a practical perspective – he'd do about as well in a general election as Rick Santorum, in all likelihood. But from the more important perspective of my own mental well-being, I don't know if I can listen to this guy for 617 more days. I'd gladly risk a more electable Republican winning the nomination for the easy to digest, pallid blandness of a Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush. If not, anyone who wondered what it would happen if a hack local politician got thrust into a presidential election is going to get the chance to find out. We will watch the putative greatest nation on Earth ask itself if a guy who looks like, sounds like, and has the intellectual capacity of a career liquor commissioner in Racine should become so-called the leader of the free world. I don't worry about him winning; I worry about having to live through it.

This must be what it felt like to live through the Harding-Coolidge years.

OH, I DIDN'T SEE YOU THERE

Posted in Rants on February 26th, 2015 by Ed

Well hello. I didn't mean to keep you waiting. Welcome back. For those that do not follow Gin and Tacos on the facebox, allow me to explain. No, the outage was not intentional.

The host of this domain name, Network Solutions, started bombarding me (and I presume other customers as well) with spam-like emails at the beginning of the year, making a concerted effort to sell various add-ons, "upgrades," and expensive marketing and promotion gimmicks. As any normal human being would do, I ignored it. Approximately two weeks ago they send an actual email along with the daily burst of spam and I had the random luck to notice and read it before it went to trash. This email stated that some part of WHOIS information was inaccurate (as is the case with approximately 99% of the registered domain names on the internet) and ICANN was going to enforce the shutdown of the domain name if I did not rectify the problem by Thursday, Feb. 19 by calling Web.com (Network Solutions' parent company) salespeople immediately.

I saw this for what it was – an effort to extort customers into calling so that we could have every superfluous marketing scheme and add-on service on Earth pitched to us. And they did this under the guise of the situation being beyond their control. It's not us! It's ICANN! We'd love to keep your site running but in order to make that possible you MUST update your WHOIS by calling Sean in the Web.com Sales Department immediately! Finding this tactic both insulting and silly, I simply went online and updated my WHOIS information. By Feb. 17 it was completely up to date and 100% accurate.

Well, they shut the domain name down on the evening of Feb. 19 anyway. I'm starting to suspect that despite their intense apparent concern, this really wasn't about ICANN or maintaining the integrity of WHOIS at all. It's almost as if they shut it down – and yes, I am completely paid up in advance for domain name registration with this company – because I didn't call to take their pitch about paying them to run sidebar ads on Facebook for me.

I called and navigated the most Byzantine web of automated menus to date before finally reaching a call center and being put on hold. Since this no doubt affected many other customers, I waited on hold for 53 minutes on Friday morning Feb. 20 before I had to give up due to, you know, having to do the job I get paid to do. Trying again on Friday night and wasting another ridiculous amount of my finite existence, I finally got through to a gentleman named Steve who, judging by his heavy to the point of obfuscation Bengali accent, might not really be named Steve.

Bengali Steve promised to "escalate" the problem and reactivate within 24 to 48 hours. When that did not happen, I called again on Sunday evening and went through the Sphinx's riddles again. This gentleman – Dylan or something equally implausible – regretted to inform me that Bengali Steve had meant 24 to 48 business hours. Meaning that this Time of Healing could not begin until Monday morning.

I got very busy as the week kicked into gear and when I checked in on Wednesday afternoon to realize that service had not been restored I did not have time to call immediately. But I did on Wednesday evening, spoke to yet another gentleman of the Subcontinent, and was told – go ahead and guess – 24 to 48 hours.

Beginning Thursday morning, however, I decided to go Full Retard on Network Solutions, emailing every email address I could find, sending Facebook messages to their account, posting repeatedly on their Facebook timeline, and calling as many numbers for Web.com's Atlanta-based office as I could find. I didn't care if I got a secretary, an IT professional, or the goddamn janitor. I spoke to several people, making various promises to wow them by demonstrating what could fit up their anal aperture with the application of sufficient force, and got transferred around like a furious potato. Finally some young man who clearly had to deal with hundreds of other angry customers over the past few days stayed on the phone with me until the problem was resolved. His explanation was that while I thought I had updated my WHOIS information, I had not included a fax number so ICANN forced Network Solutions to shut me down.

He said this in a tone that indicated that he he was under an obligation to pretend that he believed it. He was far too tired and irritated, though, to try to sell the farce. The upshot is that sometime Thursday afternoon, service returned.

I am going to rest and count my blessings tonight. Then tomorrow morning I will transfer my DNS to another company and begin the multi-day process of shitting repeatedly in a brown paper sack that ultimately will be mailed to Network Solutions. So, that is Gin and Tacos' tale of woe. Welcome back. If you use NS, please cancel your services with them immediately; swear at them creatively and profusely for good measure.

NEGATIONISM

Posted in Rants on February 19th, 2015 by Ed

Look, we all know that conservatives aren't funny. The question of why they aren't funny, however, is considered only rarely. Here is the shortest answer, which has the added benefit of also being the most correct: they are not funny because they don't understand irony. Irony, misdirection, and the unexpected injury (pratfalls, objects striking someone on the cranium, etc) are the three foundations of comedy. The inability to comprehend irony is the reason that all satire written by modern conservatives is beyond awful, reading like something written by a council of 12 year old boys. Irony does not come naturally to a mind that endorses principles like constitutional literalism, biblical fundamentalism, and a cornucopia of economic theories that are demonstrably untrue.

When we see news items like the Oklahoma Legislature banning AP History courses, we are horrified but we also think it is funny. It is not funny like a whoopee cushion or a pie to the face, of course. It is funny in the sense that right-wingers are too stupid to see the irony in their own actions or how much they resemble the groups and ideologies they identify as enemies. Evangelical Christian fundamentalists do not grasp how similar they are, for example, to Islamic extremists. And right-wing culture warriors and historical revisionists will never be able to see how closely their mission to create their own version of reality mimics Stalinist communism. In an effort to ward off the evils of things like socialism, these dipshits are reaching into the bag of tactics employed by the ultimate in socialist boogeymen.

Isn't that what we always accused the Soviet system of doing – and not without some justification? They censored their media, altered history to suit their ideological preferences, and generally created an alternate version of reality that fit their worldview. I've written before about the Soviet concept of "New Socialist Man," the creation of which required:

A total re-imagining of the world – its history, its culture, its religions, its conflicts, and its societies – was to take place in the framework of a radically ideological system of education with the goal of producing the New Socialist Man. He would understand politics, art, economics, and every other subject from the Correct (i.e. Socialist) perspective. As is the case with every revolution, the Soviets and Mao's China understood that a new culture can only be instituted by destroying the old, and destroying the old can only be accomplished through dictating a new historical reality through re-education.

It was the kind of system that would – to throw out a random hypothetical – ban history textbooks that contained any information contradictory to the official party line. It created "unpersons" who literally ceased to exist, erased from photos and the collective cultural consciousness. It relied on the valid belief that one's conception of reality outside of direct experience is limited by the information available.

Of course, the average Oklahoman is too ignorant of history and reality to understand any of this. To grasp the irony of a situation requires a basic level of awareness that is absent here.

LOYAL OPPOSITION

Posted in Rants on February 11th, 2015 by Ed

After nearly seven years of getting brownie points with their base by opposing literally everything that Barack Obama supports it is hardly worth mentioning the GOP strategy of obstructionism anymore. Oh, Obama proposed something. I wonder if Republicans will come out against it. The drama.

Nonetheless, I am getting a real kick out of seeing right-wingers jump on the anti-vaccine bandwagon. Because if Barack Obama is for something, being against it is automatically a brilliant political strategy. Whereas the vast majority of the electorate stopped paying attention to this shit sometime during Obama's first year, this one might come back to bite the GOP in the ass. Not only is there some theoretical limit to how much stupidity the voting public will endorse, but Republicans appear to be miscalculating both the size and the nature of the anti-vaccine "movement." Badly.

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Pictured above: The dumbest shit you will ever see.

Try as they might to make this some kind of individual liberty vs. Big Gub'mint issue, the vast majority of the American population is not wild about the idea of their kid getting whooping cough. And some voters are old enough to remember seeing some of their schoolmates hobbling around in clunky braces and with canes after polio waylaid them. The anti-vaccine position's popularity has been inflated by the strength of the reaction against it. This isn't climate change, an issue on which 40% of the public can oppose it based on motivated reasoning alone. This is not a popular belief.

pew

Some Republicans seem to realize this, which is why they are hiding behind contorted arguments like "I think everyone should get vaccinated but I don't think the government should be able to force you" which, when one considers that the second clause in that statement negates the first, is the kind of thing that a high school aged libertarian might think is clever.

"The opposite of whatever the black guy said" has been a pretty successful strategy for the Republicans thus far, at least among their core supporters. This time, however, their knee-jerk opposition is going to blow up in their faces. If this becomes even a minor issue in 2016 the candidates are going to rue the day they said the word "vaccine."

PAUL BLART, RAPE COUNSELOR

Posted in Rants on February 9th, 2015 by Ed

In light of new research pointing out what we already knew but didn't want to admit – that colleges and universities in the US are wildly underreporting sexual assaults on campus for the sake of PR – I have a public service announcement. This fact shocks about half of the people I've shared it with over the years.

Lots of University Police are not police. It varies by campus but more often than not, even at some massive state schools, the university cops are not real cops. They lack full police powers and they are essentially the university's private security guards (although in most cases they can be called upon to do things like traffic control for the Real Cops). As employees of the university they have a vested interest in keeping the crime rate low.

One way to keep a lid on the crime rate is to prevent crimes from happening. Another is to actively discourage victims from reporting crimes to the Real Police. When a student interacts with the campus cops, she may be talking to someone who cannot file charges against anyone or, in extreme cases, arrest anyone. The "investigations" performed by these sorta-cops aren't actual police investigations. They're a university administrative procedure, in essence. They are an internal investigation to determine whether the case should be given over to the Real Police for a real investigation.

For some reason I always thought this was common knowledge. Lately I've learned that it isn't. This has a huge impact on victims of crimes on campus; sexual assault certainly isn't the only thing they try to keep a lid on. There is a strong incentive to understate the number of robberies, assaults, and instances of property damage on campus so that Mom & Dad will sleep well knowing that their snowflake is safe. At one previous institution, the student paper (of all things) revealed that an epidemic of students being taken by taxis to remote locations and robbed was being given the silent treatment by the university police, who on that campus are not sworn officers.

Whenever I read about one of the alarming number of high profile rape cases on campus these days, the first thing I do is google the police department of the school in question. A small amount of digging will reveal whether they are campus police or Police police. This piece of information goes a long way toward explaining whatever miscarriage of justice is at the heart of the story.

MAGIC BULLET

Posted in Rants on February 8th, 2015 by Ed

A tale from a relative-of-close-friend who teaches Special Education. For narrative simplicity let's call him Don.

In many high schools now, policies exist to push students on the path to college. Don's district requires every student during junior year to choose a few colleges (2 or 4 year) as target schools for continuing their education. Even though many of them may not want to attend college or would not be able to do well there, the students are universally put through this "college preparatory" routine. I suppose it makes parents and legislators feel better to think of every high school student being funneled toward higher education.

Don's students, in general, are severely impaired. Many cannot read. Most cannot do basic things like eat a meal or use the bathroom without substantial assistance. A reasonable goal for their education would be to acquire basic literacy and develop some skills that might enable them to live with some degree of independence. And every year, Don must usher all of these students through the charade of choosing a college and making post-secondary plans. The mantra of College For Everyone extends even to them. Everyone means everyone.

This is an extreme example but an instructive one. "Go to college" is so widely considered the answer for everyone and everything that it is even applied to students who literally have zero chance of doing it successfully.

One of my colleagues recently said something that summarized a lot of the frustrating things about teaching in a way I haven't been able to verbalize before: our biggest problem is not that the students are "entitled" or lacking skills (although either of those things may be true in some cases) but that they resent being there. It varies across institutions, I'm sure, but currently I deal with a student population that seems to have a great deal of resentment. They come from wealthier areas and some of the best high schools. They have basic academic skills. But they don't want to be here. They don't want to be in any college. College – you might want to sit down – might not be for them. They resent the fact that their parents essentially forced them to go. They resent having to put enough effort into courses that do not interest them in the slightest to get grades good enough to keep the ire of their parents at bay.

This puts a lot of things into proper perspective, at least for me. These are kids who have no idea why they're in college. They went because everyone at their high school was going to college and because Mom and Dad refuse to suffer the shame of having a child who did not go to college. There's no intellectual component to it – some of these kids are very smart, some are not. But they have in common a lack of desire to do what they're being asked to do.

That's tough to deal with. We can deal with students who lack skills, because skills can be taught. We can deal with laziness, as motivation and desire can be improved upon. But I, we, have no remedy for students who are only in college because they were caught in a vortex of parental wealth, social pressure, and the belief that college is for absolutely everyone. It shouldn't be an insult to say "Hey maybe college isn't your thing." It doesn't mean "You are not smart enough for college." It means maybe you should do something else with your life that would be more to your liking and more productive for you. It's fine. Join the Navy. Learn how to fix something. Pseudo-apprentice at a small business with the goal of starting your own someday. Or just get a normal-ass job and live your life. It beats wasting five years and a ton of money trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

I couldn't put my finger on the nature of the general malaise here, and I think this is it. It's not anger or even boredom. It's the kind of resentment one senses in a roomful of people who have been forced to show up for jury duty. It's the predictable result of forcing teenagers – a demographic notable for its sulking skills – to do something they don't want to do. Nothing personal.

STRENUOUSLY SEEKING

Posted in Rants on February 3rd, 2015 by Ed

I'm pretty sure I can do this without running afoul of the law.

So, without getting into specifics, I'm involved in a hiring search at my university. It's in an academic field in which the job market is very, very bad. Bad even by the low standards of the academic job market in general. If there are five permanent (tenure-track) positions in this field available across the country in a year, it qualifies as a good year. And that small handful of jobs is fought over by an applicant pool of perhaps 300-500 people who either have no job or have a terrible one. That number comes from the number of applications that large universities get when they list an opening in the field.

We got about 100. Just over 100. If you toss out the handful of cranks and people in entirely different fields, it's more like 80.

This was far fewer than I was expecting, and it reminded me of a type of story I hear repeatedly in the media and from other academics. NPR, for example, runs a story approximately every six to eight weeks (given their target audience of urbane latte sipping liberals in Volvos) about the terrible state of the academic job market. Here's Joe. Joe has a PhD and hasn't been able to find a job for ____ years. He is waiting tables and hoping for a break. What a nice guy. Poor Joe.

Now, believe me when I say that of all people I sympathize with Joe and everyone else floundering in a very bad market. It took me four years to find a tenure-track job. It was absolutely goddamn brutal. I wouldn't wish it on an Ebola-infected pedophile who chews gum loudly. I wish everyone similarly situated could find a decent job and be reasonably happy. But if you read / listen to those stories closely, you'll notice something with forehead-smacking regularity: many of these people are imposing some pretty exclusive restrictions on their job search. It's all I can do to avoid laughing when I read these stories about academics who say "I can't find a job anywhere, and I've looked all over – Boston AND New York City!"

If you're going to limit your search to two places (that happen to be absolutely choked with jobless people with academic credentials) you're going to be unemployed forever, barring hit-by-lightning luck. If you're going to rule out 90% of the possible places that might be hiring out of hand, my level of sympathy for your admittedly difficult situation drops precipitously.

So when I see a position barely get 100 applications, I think about all these people I encounter at professional conferences and online who talk endlessly about how horrible the job market is. I'm forced to wonder, at the risk of my mortal soul and feeling like a dick, just how hard are you looking?

Look. I will be the first to admit that my current location is far, far, far away from ideal. It is not a desirable location. The job itself, though, is about as good as they come in this particular field. The teaching load is reasonable. Your colleagues will leave you alone and allow you to work. The pay is fine. And it bears repeating that it's one of no more than a half-dozen such jobs available right now. Despite all that, something like 50-80% of the jobless potential applicants decided that they were too good for it. Which is, you know, interesting. Because I came here despite the less than stellar location based on the wild theory that having a job is quite superior to not having a job or having some temp position that works you like a mule for peanuts and dumps you back on your ass after two semesters.

Whenever students, usually juniors or graduating seniors, talk about the post-graduation world I hammer home one point over and over and over: you must be flexible in this weak job market and economy. Be willing to apply for jobs in places you had not previously considered living. Be willing to apply for jobs that you had not previously considered doing. The surest way to be unemployed for a long, long time is to insist that there is one job you will accept and one location in which you will live. The odds of those stars aligning in your favor are low unless you happen to possess some astonishingly valuable skill that, frankly, most graduating students cannot claim to possess.

I'm not suggesting that my job-seeking colleagues should take anything placed before them, but we must all be realistic about how selective we can afford to be in a bad job market. If you can afford to sit around pouring coffee until that absolutely perfect job in Portland or Austin or wherever comes along, more power to you I guess. But there is a serious disconnect between the number of "My god, I just can't find a job anywhere!" conversations I have and the number of applications some of the open positions receive. The perfect is often the enemy of the good.

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DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS

Posted in Rants on January 26th, 2015 by Ed

As a teenager I was really into lifting weights for a while. Part of it was believing that exercise would be good for me physically and mentally, and of course part of it was the overwhelming insecurity that leads people to spend an inordinate amount of time in the gym. This was in the mid-to-late 90s before the Internet was as valuable of a resource as it is today, so to keep from getting bored with exercise I would get things out of fitness magazines. You know, the ones with the shiny, freakish musclemen on the covers. "Muscle and Fitness" and "Modern Douchebag" or whatever.

Believe it or not, those magazines had (no idea whether this changed in the last fifteen years) pretty useful instructions and workout plans in them. I learned a lot about how to eat healthy from those stupid magazines after a childhood of frozen dinners and typical Midwestern fat people food. The strange thing was that working out did improve my physical condition and hell, maybe it even made me feel a little better too. But no matter what I did, I didn't look like the people in the pictures that accompanied the articles. I followed the diets to the letter, threw weights around like a champion, and generally led a physically healthy lifestyle. But I still looked like a normal person, probably because I am one.

As I got a bit older (and the internet pulled back the curtain) I figured out that, yes, someone who looks like a bodybuilder does eat healthy and lift weights a lot. That's not why they look that way, though. That's the metric buttload of steroids they're all on. The magazines conveniently forget to note that. Kind of an important piece of information. Of course none of the "athletes" if they can be so labeled will admit that. When asked, their superhuman physical condition is a result of Hard Work and clean living. Eat your vegetables, kids!

In a rare example of perfect timing on the heels of Monday's post, Salon ran a piece about the dirty little secret of the publishing industry and journalism: a lot of people are only able to succeed at it because they have someone (living or dead) supporting them financially. And in all but the rarest cases, they absolutely refuse to admit it. They do that thing Americans excel at – attributing their failures to others but claiming full credit for their successes. I found this example useful:

Example two. A reading in a different city, featuring a 30-ish woman whose debut novel had just appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. I didn’t love the book (a coming-of-age story set among wealthy teenagers) but many people I respect thought it was great, so I defer. The author had herself attended one of the big, East Coast prep schools, while her parents were busy growing their careers on the New York literary scene. These were people — her parents — who traded Christmas cards with William Maxwell and had the Styrons over for dinner. She, the author, was their only beloved child.

After prep school, she’d earned two creative writing degrees (Iowa plus an Ivy). Her first book was being heralded by editors and reviewers all over the country, many of whom had watched her grow up. It was a phenomenon even before it hit bookshelves. She was an immediate star.

When (again) an audience member, clearly an undergrad, rose to ask this glamorous writer to what she attributed her success, the woman paused, then said that she had worked very, very hard and she’d had some good training, but she thought in looking back it was her decision never to have children that had allowed her to become a true artist. If you have kids, she explained to the group of desperate nubile writers, you have to choose between them and your writing. Keep it pure. Don’t let yourself be distracted by a baby’s cry.

I was dumbfounded. I wanted to leap to my feet and shout. “Hello? Alice Munro! Doris Lessing! Joan Didion!” Of course, there are thousands of other extraordinary writers who managed to produce art despite motherhood. But the essential point was that, the quality of her book notwithstanding, this author’s chief advantage had nothing to do with her reproductive decisions. It was about connections. Straight up. She’d had them since birth.

You wonder if the author actually believes that her success wasn't virtually handed to her or if she realizes it and simply thinks it would be gauche to admit it. Or maybe, as the writer of the Salon piece suggests, nobody wants to admit that because to do so would be to destroy the myth that published Authors are better than everyone else who writes. The difference between the award-winning author in this anecdote and some waitress trying to write a novel around the sixty hours she works every week to stay afloat might be talent. Or it might be the luxury of sitting around and devoting 8 hours per day to writing while someone else pays the rent. That might have something to do with it.

The reality is that writing – literary or as a journalist – pays so poorly these days and is so often expected to be done for "exposure" rather than money that only people who don't need a paycheck can afford (pun intended) to do it. The effect on the kind of books and news stories we see is obvious; call it Lena Dunham Syndrome, a self contained world of writing by trust fund kids for other trust fund kids. The number of "voices" to be heard in the literary world is limited by the fact that the voices that actually need to work for a living tend not to write nearly as many books.

VALEDICTION

Posted in Rants on January 26th, 2015 by Ed

I assume that most of the like, seven people who read this thing are similar to me demographically: plowing through their 30s or 40s in the wasteland of the economy we thought we would live in as children. On the very off chance that anyone who sees this is young enough that his or her course through life has not yet been cast in stone, here is the sum of what I've learned in life. I wish someone had told me this when I was a teenager. Maybe it will be useful to you.

As a young person – and by that I mean, when I was in high school and college – adults told me that if I tried really hard at the correct things I would be successful in life. Be smart, work hard, and don't succumb to the temptations of idleness and fun. Accordingly I never did anything fun. You are reading the word "never" and thinking it is an example of a writer using poetic license. But I am quite serious. I had no friends in college or high school. Never went to a party. Never got drunk. Never dated (not that it was an option). Never blew off a class. Never went out. I just studied and studied more and kicked the ass of every course or standardized test I came across. And all along I was assured that this would lead to great success eventually.

Here is the thing. None of that is true. I was lied to. And by the time I figured that out it was far too late. Let me tell you a secret about this country: it's not all that different than medieval England in terms of its social classes. Either you were born into money and your life will turn out fine no matter what you do or you were born without it and your life will pretty much be mediocre or shitty no matter how hard you fight it. Oh, you'll be comfortable. You'll make enough to live indoors and drive a functioning car. You'll just never be happy because you will be dependent on a paycheck and whatever you have to do in order to get it will probably be miserable. The only people who get to be happy are the ones who have enough money that they don't have to do things they know they will despise in order to get paid.

So as much as it irritates me to deal with students who refuse to put the slightest bit of effort into their educations, in reality they are all far smarter than I was. Either they are wealthy and no matter how badly they fuck up they will make five times what I ever will and will live great lives or they are plebeians who might as well get in all the fun they can in college before they begin their forty years of soul-crushing drudgery.

That's the great American myth: that working hard gets you anywhere. It doesn't. Working hard makes someone else a lot of money off of your effort. You just end up tired and frustrated. The kids you knew in college with the trust funds and the summer homes in Aspen run the world no matter how hard you work. They make money by exploiting you and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it because you don't have a giant pile of money that allows you to walk away from things you find repugnant.

People used to tell me I was smart. Since I didn't figure any of this out until I was in my 30s, I guess they were wrong. Don't make the same mistake. You'll end up waking up one morning to realize the depths of your personal and professional failures, and that it's too late to do anything about them. I promise you'll kick yourself for not having at least the memory of good times to remind you that even if everything is drudgery now, you had fun when the opportunities arose.

Out of the thousands of things I've learned, this is the only one that I think anyone else might benefit from hearing. Regrets are the worst things, and once your life is pretty much over they will pile up at a rate you can scarcely imagine when you are young and full of optimism.