MY HERO!

Posted in Rants on April 14th, 2014 by Ed

One of the big problems with guns in the U.S. is the inability to come up with an accurate way to identify who shouldn't have them. It would be great if we could look at people and reliably conclude "Future school shooter" or "obviously gets shitty drunk on Pearl Beer and leaves loaded guns out in a house full of kids." Since this is impossible, we have to rely on proxy variables that our friends at the NRA are all too eager to remind us are imperfect. Plenty of people planning to commit crimes with guns have none of the red flags (felonies, psychiatric diagnoses) that our flimsy system of background checks is designed to catch.

My suggestion for reducing gun violence is to wait until concealed carry becomes legal in a given jurisdiction and then automatically reject the first 100-1000 applications. Because you know who society doesn't need running around armed? The guy who has been waiting his entire life to pack heat. He's so excited that he sprints down to the police station the first day concealed carry is allowed, not unlike a starry-eyed tween ecstatically racing to get One Direction tickets, to get his permit. The guy who simply cannot wait to be carrying a gun is precisely who we should be worried about.

Of course that is a half-kidding suggestion and no such system would be legal or workable. But there's a different group of people we really, really need to worry about being armed: people who want George Zimmerman's autograph. You know they're all gun owners. Most of them probably do concealed carry if they can qualify for the permit. They have guns and they're excited to have a chance to meet a guy who is famous because he shot a black teenager. Maybe shake his hand and congratulate him. Some of them brought their kids.

The folks over at Sociological Images, providers of the link, try to break down the psychology of someone who would actually put George Zimmerman on a pedestal (tl;dr – essentially a bad case of Just World Phenomenon in which everyone deserves whatever happens to them). It would be great, though, if we could take Zimmerman around the country and somehow mark the people who go out of their way to meet him, shake his hand, and ask for an autograph. Perhaps an invisible dye would do the trick, but I'm agnostic about the method. Assuming we can't pass any laws precluding them from owning guns, it would nonetheless be fascinating to see how much Ground-Standing and "self defense" shooting they end up involved with as a cohort.

It's not about what Zimmerman did – it's about the fantasy of one day doing the same. And that's terrifying.

LARGE LAWNS AND SMALL MINDS

Posted in Rants on April 13th, 2014 by Ed

Thomas Frank's latest is on the post-Great Recession resurgence of the McMansion. After falling briefly in 2009, the average square footage of new home construction in the U.S. has resumed its inexorable growth. It's a surprisingly bland offering from Frank, telling us little that we didn't already know. With no judgment – because god knows I've been there – it comes off as a piece one writes when unable to think of a topic on a deadline.

The main point is that new home construction is a kind of monument to American vacuousness, as our society place great value on living not only in large homes but in large homes of the dumbest and most ostentatious kind. One thing I think Frank misses, or misses a chance to emphasize, is that the Babbitt class has always valued size as a means of displaying wealth. This is not a new phenomenon. There are plenty of differences, though, between the Big Houses of yesterday and of today. The real issue is a little more subtle than his approach suggests.

I live in a home built in 1907. In fact the entire neighborhood consists of homes built between 1880 and 1910 (which, I believe, was the last time anything good happened to this city). To illustrate a few points, I wandered around with my camera for about a half hour on Sunday afternoon. Suffice it to say the homes here are not small. They border on giant. And these were homes occupied by bank managers, dentists, realtors…precisely the kind of new money middle class that flocks to McMansions today.

Single Home

It's not only big, it's adorned with a lot of the same gaudy ornamentation that characterizes today's suburban tract palaces. The nouveau riche of today appear to be startlingly similar to those of the turn of the 20th Century. That said, there are a number of respects in which I think Frank has a point that he didn't do enough to make.

1. Much of the difference can be seen in the quality of construction. The Middle Class Manses of 1900 were built like brick shithouses. That they are all still standing in cities all over the Midwest, despite having received minimal upkeep for decades or in some cases being outright abandoned for some time, is a testament to how they were constructed. The homes around here certainly look worse for wear, but they are structurally sound. McMansions, despite their enormous size and matching price tags, absolutely reek of cheapness. As Frank says, they are meant to be "flipped" in ten years. They are just enormous piles of pressed board, plain white paint, plain carpeting, and hollow doors set on flimsy Chinese hinges. With the possible exception of the de rigueur stone countertops in the kitchen, nothing in these homes is designed to last 30 years let alone 100. If you've been in one, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's hard to reconcile their high prices with the feeling that it's just a gigantic version of that duplex you rented for a year in college.

2. The old homes, despite being equally prone to show-off ornamentation, had an architectural style. It might not be one that many of us find pleasing or tasteful, but it was a style. McMansions, on the other hand, are stylistically illiterate collages of generations of tacky details: turrets, bay windows, cornices, gables, columns, dormers, chimneys, ornamental brickwork…you name it and the lowest bid contractor will slap it on the flimsy exterior. McMansions are the Michael Bay movies of architecture.

3. While the older homes were very large, they held larger families with more children. In the case of wealthier parts of society around 1900, there was domestic staff around the house as well. The size of the older homes had a functional purpose.

4. The older homes were vertically oriented and fit closely together. Here are a couple of (not great) pictures I snapped to try to illustrate the point. Note that all of the houses in both pictures are, by any definition, exceptionally large. Click to embiggen:


Row 1
Row 2

In the first picture in particular you can see that you can reach out a side window and high-five your neighbor in these houses. And here is where I think Frank really misses an important point. The McMansion is not merely stupid, big, and stupid-big, it is purposely designed to waste space. They're two stories to project size, but primarily horizontally oriented – in layman's terms, they sprawl idiotically in every direction. They sit on lots designed not only to set them back from the street but also to keep them a safe distance away from the neighbors. If they don't have moats it is only because zoning boards won't allow it.

5. Finally, the laughable sameness of today's megahomes represents a change. Turn-of-the-Century construction shows that buyers and developers at least bothered to hire a few different architects, build more than three floorplans per development, and paint the exteriors something other than white.

Anywhere in the declining Midwest you can get these old homes for a song. There are no longer enough well-to-do people here – actually, there just aren't enough people, full stop – to support the value of old homes in the city along with the new construction out in the suburbs. They're not always pretty on account of age and neglect, but they have what the cool kids call Charm. Charm is a way of saying that, unlike most of what is built today, every home does not look identical. They are made of actual building materials instead of compressed granite dust, plywood, and bricks you can crush with your hand. If the bankers' homes of 1900 were the expression of the stupidity of the era like McMansions are of today, then the inescapable conclusion is that American stupidity has gotten much more potent in the intervening decades.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Posted in Rants on April 7th, 2014 by Ed

Over time I've learned the futility of trying to interact with people in comment sections on the vast majority of websites. The odds of changing someone's opinion are so very low when the opinions they express are of the Thought Terminating Cliche variety or some subliterate expression of racism. Sometimes I wonder if the people commenting on news sites are even people as opposed to paid astroturfers or spamming software; it is only the doubt that a computer could be programmed to generate anything as stupid as the average Journal-Sentinel Online comment that convinces me of the human touch behind them.

(Seriously, the JSO has the worst comment sections I've ever seen. The three regions in Wisconsin are apparently Milwaukee, Madison, and 1950s Mississippi.)

There are only two comments I ever find myself tempted to make anymore. One is to point out during bitch sessions about lazy employees (usually Union Thugs) that the lard-assed white guys making these comments are most likely at work browsing the internet and posting inane comments on the company dime. The second is to ask people why they have not quit whatever job they have in order to become teachers. Because boy oh boy, to listen to right-wingers tell it, teaching is the sweetest, cushiest, most lucrative racket posing as a career ever devised by man. And part of me always wants to ask these people what keeps them from boarding this mighty gravy train. Summers off! Enormous salaries! Cadillac health care and retirement packages! No real work to do, just glorified babysitting! Ironclad Union Thug protection! Teaching is just a big pot of gold delivered in installments.

Since regional shortages of K-12 teachers are real and demonstrable, there are only two reasons that the average internet commenter / AM Radio Caller would not take advantage of such a sweet deal. One is that they are so professionally successful that even the gold plated deal given to teachers can't hold a candle to their wealth. Since these people are sitting around during business hours posting barely coherent comments on the internet, I will assume that this is not the case for most of them. The second is that they lack the intelligence or attention span required to get a Bachelor's Degree and a teaching certificate.

For a very small percentage of these blowhards there might be a third reason: in the back of their minds they realize exactly how miserable and thankless being a high school teacher is in 2014. They realize while making snide comments about "planning periods" and "summers off" that teaching K-12 is a life of ten-plus hour days, taking work home every night and weekend, surrogate parenting the dozens of students who have effectively no adult guardian, and opening up the newspaper to read about how teachers are Public Enemy #1 in post-Koch Brothers America. All that for a starting salary in most states just north of $30,000 and the incessant interference of every Teabagger and young Earth creationist who manages to talk the local car dealerships into buy him into the state legislature.

Sure, teaching is a blast. And it's super easy as long as you never have to make a lesson plan, grade a stack of 50 poorly executed assignments, listen to screaming parents, talk for six or seven hours per day to an audience that bores almost immediately, and quasi-parent the seven year old who's wearing shorts during a blizzard because his mom disappeared on a bender a couple days ago and he doesn't know where his clothes are. Do all of that without losing your temper, drinking at lunchtime, punching a student (or coworker, or parent), or forgetting that people in the capitol want to tie your salary to your students' grades.

When teaching at the college level feels difficult, my colleagues and I like to remind ourselves that, well, at least we don't teach high school. Our hats tip to the people who do and don't have the luxury of telling a student "You're an adult, I don't care if you do this or not" or seeking cover behind a law that prevents us from dealing with whiny parents. But perhaps I have it all wrong and the life of a middle- or high school teacher is all breaks, handing out worksheets, and sitting on the beach all summer eating bon-bons. I encourage more people who believe this is the case to sign up for the World's Easiest Job and try their hand at it.

NO LIMIT SOLDIERS

Posted in Rants on April 2nd, 2014 by Ed

To the surprise of many people who just emerged from an underground bunker and haven't read the news since 1960, the Supreme Court struck down on Wednesday limits on federal campaign contributions. In other words, it struck down a law that will affect primarily House races; 2012 showed that all bets are already off in the presidential race and this ruling is unlikely to make that situation any more ridiculous. "Slouching toward plutocracy"? You must have fallen asleep in the passenger seat, friend. We reached plutocracy four years ago.

The following is a sentiment I have used this forum to express previously but it bears repeating: there already exists no meaningful limit to the amount of money an interested party can pour into federal elections. There are no billionaire donors who were foiled in 2012, for example, by any existing laws. All of the money is already getting in, and in the special case of the presidential race it has reached the point of diminishing returns. There is only so much spending a campaign can do and the marginal benefit of running a commercial 8000 times in the Dayton media market instead of 7000 times is vanishingly small. In that spirit, the recent decision may be a useful reminder that the Supreme Court is firmly under right-wing control until someone does us the favor of dying. What it does not do is make a meaningful difference in the amount of money that will be spent in congressional races. They're already obscenely expensive and everyone who wants to pour in more money already has plenty of available options for doing so.

When it comes to campaign financing, the presidential and congressional races are a distraction from the real problem – money being poured into state and local races in which huge infusions of outside cash can and do alter outcomes. Throwing an additional million dollars into a Senate race is the equivalent of pissing into Lake Michigan. However, pouring $100,000 into ten state legislative or judicial elections – elections in which the amount of money spent is comparatively low – can be decisive. Increasing Hillary Clinton's war chest by 0.1% makes no difference; tripling the war chest of some yahoo Sunday School teacher from Bargle County running for the State House on an anti-Sharia plank does.

No right we have is completely without limits, and that includes the 1st Amendment under which campaign spending (as "political speech") falls. What this Court will consider an acceptable limit on this right appears to be so small and mysterious as to be inconsequential in practice or theory. Under these circumstances, the presidential and congressional campaign finance situation is beyond saving. Just forget about it. The amount of money being spent has doubled every four years for the last several decades and will continue to do so. The problem is that the money is starting to pour into low-attention races at an alarming rate. Worse yet, the Court's position hampers any state-level efforts to pass meaningful regulations.

This is bad and it is going to get worse.

A DAY IN THE LIFE

Posted in Rants on March 31st, 2014 by Ed

There is nothing so ridiculous as the stereotype of the College Professor held by individuals who have never been to college. As with most stereotypes it takes a tiny kernel of truth (Yes, we are, on balance, more liberal than conservative) and takes it to an extreme so ludicrous that only a true dolt would mistake it for reality. And there are no bigger dolts than the people who sit around typing up apocryphal yarns that become memes and chain emails that you will eventually be forwarded by your Aunt.

Gawker is drawing some attention to "Marine Todd", a mind-numbingly stupid fake anecdote that has been around since the dawn of the internet and probably earlier. In it, a Marine college student shows his libtard atheist ACLU member professor who's boss by knocking him unconscious in the middle of class. It's your classic impotent white redneck revenge fantasy, a condensed meme version of the entire Death Wish series. Don't Christians believe in not physically assaulting people? Never mind.

Because a substantial number of Americans are dumb enough (or motivated enough) to believe such nonsense, I feel compelled to tell you what the daily life of a college professor is actually like here in the ol' Ivory Tower. My experience may not be applicable to every professor or institution, but I hope it is informative nonetheless.

The average class begins with the singing of the Communist Internationale or, when I feel like punching things up a bit, "Solidarity Forever." On most days I'll start off with reminders of the usual stuff they've heard a million times – God is gay and evil and also does not exist. Then I force students to reveal their religious affiliations and dress them down for being stupid enough to believe in the opiate of the masses. Around this time I will start a fire with Bibles and nativity scenes and all of the girls will burn their bras; male students are paired off and forced to kiss. I give extra credit if they go farther but "Heavy Petting" is the minimum level of Gay for anyone who expects to pass the course. Which course? It doesn't matter, this is how they all go.

Next I do the armpit hair check on the female students to make sure that they are not secretly using razors on their body hair – the final exam is braiding armpit hair into several required patterns. Then we do some Man-Hating and study the blueprints of Ed Begley's solar car. The male students occupy themselves making dresses and then modeling the dresses for one another. If the weather's nice we'll go outside, sit in a circle on the Communal Tarp, and pray to Gaia for a few minutes to end the class on a positive note. If there's any time left we'll admire Andres Serrano's masterpiece Piss Christ and discuss reasons why taxpayer dollars should be funneled into the perverted or blasphemous arts.

In really large lecture-type classes I make some adjustments, of course, spending more time talking about the ACLU and looking at Mapplethorpe's work and a bit less time on cross-dressing. When we get far enough into the semester that the entire course has renounced God and religion, I force them all to convert to Islam. The whole course, though, is really designed to lead up to the final exam, which is to perform an abortion and a gay marriage simultaneously. There is also an essay component to explain why no one should be allowed to say "Merry Christmas."

All in all, being a college professor is nothing like most Americans think. It's a rather unexciting and repetitive process of making sure students reject Christianity and pledge their lives to secular humanism and Allah. I wouldn't describe it as an easy job, but it is highly rewarding to reach the end of a semester and see a classroom full of man-hating lesbian ACLU members where bright-eyed Patriots once sat.

That's when I know I've made a difference.

BARREL-SCRAPING

Posted in Rants on March 30th, 2014 by Ed

No matter how hard we try to change them, some things in life reek of inevitability. When you and your friends can't think of anything to do, you're going to end up sitting around getting drunk. When you can't decide what you want to eat, you're going to order the chicken. After auditioning everyone else on the planet, the Cowboys will go with Tony Romo again. And no matter how hard anyone tries, Jeb Bush is going to be the Republican nominee for president at some point. If not 2016, then 2020. If not 2020, then 2024. If he dies soon, then it will be one of his awful children. It's as if the nomination of Jeb Bush was foretold by a goddamn prophecy; absolutely nothing can be done to stop it.

Anointing a "Candidate of Inevitability" didn't work out terribly well in 2008 when we were all assured that the Democratic nomination was a mere formality on the path to coronating Hillary. Historically, though, Republican primaries tend to be much more predictable. Much as all the sound and fury in the world couldn't alter the inevitability of John McCain or Mitt Romney, the end of the brief love affair with Chris Christie has the GOP staring at a familiar set of options: they can nominate a total lunatic or they can go with an empty vessel, a rich, old white guy who sorta Looks President-ish and won't say anything completely insane into a microphone.

The push to "draft" Jeb is starting in earnest just as the gaggle of space-fillers shuffled off to Las Vegas to kiss Sheldon Adelson's ass in the hopes of being 2016's candidate who gets a blank check from the aging billionaire to stay in the race no matter how badly and often they lose. Perhaps the combined effect of seeing all of these losers in one place made the lightbulb go on for the seven-figure donors. Any hope that Christie will stop being a political liability was dashed by…Christie:

Invoking a 2012 trip he and his family took to Israel, Christie recalled in the speech: "I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day."

That's what a smart man says to curry favor with billionaire right-wing ultra-Zionists.

Whatever the reason, a handful of these people apparently have enough contact with reality to realize that there are no winning horses in this stable. And so the inevitable is on its way:

Many if not most of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s major donors are reaching out to Bush and his confidants with phone calls, e-mails and invitations to meet, according to interviews with 30 senior Republicans. One bundler estimated that the “vast majority” of Romney’s top 100 donors would back Bush in a competitive nomination fight.

Suddenly the only thing standing between America and eight years of Jeb Bush or, god forbid, Rand Paul is a 66 year old woman with health problems and almost equal numbers of people who like and despise her. There's no way this ends well.

BUSINESS IS BOOMING

Posted in Rants on March 27th, 2014 by Ed

Having grown up in (and returned to, like a bizarro-world Prodigal Son) the Midwest I am all too well acquainted with dying cities. All of the signs of torpor, the economic drain-circling, and the post-industrial malaise of the Daytons and Fort Waynes of the world are well known to me by this point. Or at least I thought I could spot them all; in the past year I've discovered a new Big Red Flag: boasts about the growing "health care sector" of the economy. It turns out that a booming health care sector is a way of saying "All the young people have left and someone has to care for our elderly, dying population."

Visit the website of any derelict Rust Belt city and search for references to the number of hospitals or the strength of the health care sector. It won't take long to find them. It turns out that along with local government and, of course, prisons, hospitals are one of the few things that remain open when everything else closes. They may not have jobs anymore, but someone still needs to lock 'em up and occasionally stitch 'em up. The hundreds of Fast Company-style articles in the business media over the past few years proclaiming nursing as THE NEXT BIG THING in the job market always puzzled me…is it really a sign of the strength of our economy when the best job (supposedly) is to take care of the rapidly increasing number of dying old people? There's reason to be alarmed when reading things like this:

Americans spent $2.6 trillion on health care in 2010 — ten times more than in 1980. That revenue boost has, in turn, driven job growth; the health care industry last year created more than 540,000 jobs in Michigan alone, making it the largest private employer in the state, according to the Detroit News. The trend holds true at the national level too, with the health care industry remaining one of the few reliant drivers of job growth in the aftermath of the financial crisis, according to The New York Times.

Hear that, Michigan? The auto industry may be gone but there's a good buck to be made sticking tubes and needles into the people too old, too poor, or both to flee the state. What is a quote like this other than an admission that our population is aging and, given our level of material wealth as a society, staggeringly unhealthy? We're number one! …in elderly diabetics.

No one seems to know what we'll do with all of these nurses and "home health care professionals" when the Elder Care Bubble bursts; thinking that far ahead has never been our strong suit. If the best thing that can be said about the economic condition of a city is that it has a lot of hospitals – you know, because a lot of its residents are on the verge of dying – then that city might not have a lot going for it. On the national level, if the best thing we can tell college students and adult job-seekers is that America is going gangbusters at generating sick people, we might want to step back for a moment and ask if that's the kind of growth industry that defines a strong economy.

BRAND DILUTION

Posted in Rants on March 23rd, 2014 by Ed

Back in the early Aughts higher education administrators dreamed of online degree programs as the cash cow of the future, the goose that would never stop laying golden eggs. Universities everywhere, from community colleges to the lowliest four-year institutions to Top 50 AAU schools, began setting up online "extension" programs. These were marketed aggressively to non-traditional college students – working adults who might have a Bachelor's or Master's standing between them and a promotion or pay raise. Of course online education has grown exponentially since then, largely targeting the same audience (Drive around any major city and count the billboards with some combination of the terms Nursing, MBA, and Online and you will get some sense of just how big the industry of selling degrees has become). For the most part, however, after some brief forays at the insistence of the more profit-driven members of their administrations, Good schools have withdrawn from the market.

The obvious problem is that the quality of a Good school is linked to its reputation and, to a lesser extent, its selectivity. Part of the value of a Michigan or a Yale degree is that not any asshole with a credit card and a GED can buy one. And while online education programs are cheap to run – in almost any instance the instructor is a grad student or unemployed PhD working as an adjunct and earning as little as $1000 on a per-course basis – they are also terrible and generally target a population that requires the best (not the cheapest and least effective) teaching to succeed. Adult learners, by the numbers, rarely finish degree programs that they begin online. Poor and lower-class students attracted to online programs by low prices are the least likely to be able to self-direct through college with next to no guidance or one-on-one instruction.

But the greatest sin from the perspective of elite universities is that online programs cheapen the brand. Fairly or unfairly, an online degree program reeks of Cheap. It screams "rinky-dink." And if your school has an online program that gives it something in common with the Billboard Schools hawking Executive MBAs in as Little as Nine Months, then it becomes harder to attract traditional students to the much more expensive Brick & Mortar experience. Part of convincing parents and students to cough up $200,000 for four years of undergrad is being able to sell an image, and online degrees do not fit that image. Top-ranked universities can't sell degrees online for the same reason that Mercedes-Benz doesn't sell a $10,000 compact hatchback with plastic hubcaps and 80s-style vinyl seats; it doesn't change the fact that the $150,000 Mercedes S-Class is an amazing vehicle, but it sure changes the way people look at the brand.

The key, then, for university administrators has been to find a way to sell a substandard product that is cheap to produce but doesn't degrade the image of the school by handing out suspect degrees. That, my child, is where "lifetime learning" programs come into play.

I'm willing to bet you've never heard of Osher Lifetime Learning Institute (OLLI), but it has programs at over 120 universities right now ranging from elite private schools like Northwestern to run-of-the-mill state schools. OLLI is a program that offers courses to the elderly and/or retired – their mission statement says anyone over 50, but in practice the program attracts people of traditional retirement age, i.e. 70 and over – but does not give grades, assignments, or degrees. The students complete no work and get no credit for the class. It is, from what I imagine to be the students' perspective, an interesting way to fill some time. From the schools' perspective, it's a way to get people to pay tuition without having to give them a grade, credit, or a degree in return. And it looks great to the marketing department because it's, you know, Community Engagement and Outreach or whatever.

While not every university has an OLLI-affiliated program, hundreds of other schools have similar programs operating under a different acronym. And this market will only continue to grow in the future as higher education demands more Revenue Streams without increasing costs or making it more difficult for the school to attract 18 year-olds to the tune of $25,000+ per year. Adult programs like OLLI are ideal because they are invisible, making no mark on the school's enrollment or graduation figures and often meeting on nights and weekends at off-campus locations. The traditional undergrads, in many cases, won't even know the programs exist.

There's nothing intellectually dishonest about the idea; the elderly students know up-front that they are not receiving anything but a set amount of class time in exchange for their money. And that is precisely why programs like this will spread like wildfire in the next decade. The school looks good and makes money. The alumni and traditional students are unaffected even in the abstract. The older people who enroll get to learn something or go on rants before an audience or simply be entertained. It takes the original aims of adding online degree programs – generating revenue far in excess of the overhead costs by targeting students that aren't likely to finish what they start – and does away with even the pretense of seeking or awarding a degree.

Now when you see what looks like an airport shuttle bus with a university name and logo painted on its sides parked in front of a retirement home you won't have to wonder.

MONOPOLY

Posted in Rants on March 16th, 2014 by Ed

The conservative's answer to any and all complaints about working conditions and compensation is as familiar as it is invariant: "If you don't like it, quit." This is the kind of response that shows us the capacity (and fondness) for deep thought among the members of the Party of Ideas, the keenness with which they recognize the complexity of an issue and structure a response accordingly. For those of us who recognize that, you know, people usually have a job because they need it, issues about compensation, working conditions, and the like are not quite so black and white.

The remark reflects the central tenet of the conservative faith: that markets are efficient. Certainly the need to attract the best workers will drive wages upward, whereas if the job requires no particular skills the market will drive wages lower. Rather than debate the kindergarten-level simplicity of that worldview, I have a better question: If one's choices are reduced to working at a given job or being unemployed, is the labor "market" a market at all?

In a market, labor could choose among opportunities just as businesses choose among the labor pool. In the glorious New Economy, we are a nation full of people who know goddamn well that if they lose their current job it may be a very long time before they see another one. "If you don't like it, quit" makes sense in some ways if we assume alternatives; the guy who doesn't like what Ford pays can go to work for Toyota. If we replace that alternative with "Sit at home and go broke" or "Work for minimum wage in the service industry and not be able to support yourself anyway" then quitting isn't really a means of letting the market mete out some economic justice. It's a way of saying that your only option is to commit financial suicide.

I think about this a lot, and I hear it a lot from my (non-random sample of) friends and acquaintances in careers ranging from writing to food service to skilled trades to White Collar. The job I have right now took me four years to get. During that time I supported myself with temp work that barely kept me out of legally-defined poverty. If my employer treated me like shit (note: they don't) what would my options be, really? The odds of getting another job offer are statistically zero, even for the most successful people in this profession. I could choose between being gainfully employed or…quitting, and being unemployed. Alternatively, I could return to the herd of adjuncts making $11,000 per year. I'm fortunate to have a good job, but I have to be frank (Hi! I'm Frank!)…it really doesn't feel like I have any freedom, and the Job Market doesn't feel like much of a market at all. It feels like a thousand people in the water scrambling for 50 spots on a lifeboat. If you make it on board, someone else controls your fate. If you don't like it, you can always jump back into the water and drown.

I've never been one for broad conspiracies about a They that secretly controls all of our lives. It certainly is a better time to be an Owner than a worker bee, though. With the long-term unemployed numbering in the millions, most of us who don't live on a cushion of trust funds and inherited wealth cling to any stable employment we can find – and we're continually reminded that we should feel thankful to have it. In an actual market, an employee could do something about being underpaid or overworked or mistreated or stuck with a low standard of living. I'm no economist, but if that option is unavailable to all but a small segment of the labor force (bonus points for the first person who uses the comment section to brag about how you're in such high demand that you're sick of being offered jobs!) then the concept of market efficiency isn't even relevant. If you have one job and it's the only job you can get, you could be in a true market and very bad at your job. That's what we're encouraged to think. But that changes if we reject the flawed premise that the "Labor Market" is anything close to what its name suggests.

EVERYTHING BUT AN ORGAN GRINDER

Posted in Rants on March 9th, 2014 by Ed

Every media outlet aimed at either an educated, NPR-type audience or irony-loving hipsters runs an annual "Gathering of the Juggalos" story at this point. Despite the fact that nearly everyone in America is familiar with the decade-plus old festival at this point, the blogs and freelancers and even the Old Media can't help themselves from writing "Will you look at this shit?" pieces about the human circus. Look, they're all fat white trash! They like terrible music! There's a thing called "The Drug Bridge"! There's "Little People" wrestling! It cracks me up as much as the next guy who enjoys feeling superior to a group of people of whom it is fish-in-barrel easy to make fun, but it feels pretty 2005 at this point. There's nothing left to say.

For their part, the Juggalos understand that they are being mocked. They have a tacit agreement with the media. The Juggalos behave Hilariously Trashy. The media, who came specifically to see such behavior, act appropriately outraged. Everyone goes home happy. It has become so formulaic that it is hardly worth writing about anymore.

This is the part where I compare The Gathering of the Juggalos to CPAC.

About ten years ago it was worth getting outraged about CPAC. About five years ago it was no longer worth taking seriously but it was still good as Theater of the Absurd. Today I have to say I'm just bored with it. The "coverage" that every left-leaning media outlet is obligated to provide is predictable and uninspired; worse yet, the attendees and speakers appear to be in on the joke now. It's getting to be uncomfortably tongue-in-cheek, the speakers spouting all the same nonsense but with an implied wink-and-nudge. Yes, every attendee at CPAC is nuts. Yes, the speakers are opportunistic parasites shamelessly taking wingnut welfare checks from the billionaire backers who are so divorced from reality that they take people like Michele Bachmann seriously. But even most of the people involved with CPAC realize it is a three-ring circus at this point, so the media coverage falls flat.

That is, unless you're Charles Pierce. You guys know how I feel about Charles Pierce (and I think he has visited us here a few times) and frankly I was disappointed to see that even he could not make the ritual mocking of CPAC interesting over the past few days. It turns out he was just saving it for the Closing Act, the Idiot Queen of Wasilla herself. This is…a thing you should read.

By now, and by god, it should have settled permanently in the consciousness of the nation what a huge and untoward gamble with the country John McCain and his campaign took in 2008 when they elevated Sarah Palin from her rightful place on the tundra to the political celebrity she currently enjoys. McCain should pay a heavy price for unleashing this ignorant, two-wheeled bilewagon on the country's politics. If you think she's a legitimate political leader, you're an idiot and a sucker and I feel sorry for you.

Yesterday she gave a wildly received speech to ring down the curtain at CPAC. The applause, as far as I know, may still be going on. It was as singularly embarrassing a public address as any allegedly sentient primate ever has delivered. It was a disgrace to politics, to rhetoric, to the English language, and to seventh-grade slam books everywhere.

This ambulatiory bag of rank resentment pulled out all the tricks. The cheap shots; "Aw, John, why the long face?" to the Secretary of State. The sneering, wheedling playground taunting — "You can't make a phone call without Michelle Obama knowing, 'This is the third time this week you dialed Pizza Hut Delivery'" — and a full panoply of funny voices that are the trademark of dipshit comics in every two-drink minimum club in America. We got "hope and channng-ey," and how "some members" of the GOP establishment are saying to us, "Hush, America. Go to sleep, little lambs." And, in what is being celebrated as the piece de resistance , she turned Green Eggs And Ham into an extended taunt.

"I do not like this spyin' man, I do not like ‘Oh, yes we can,' I do not like this kind of hope, and we won't take it nope, nope, nope." (Dr. Seuss, a noted progressive, was having dry heaves in the Void.)

If you laughed, you're an idiot and I feel sorry for you.

It gets better.

A friend bailed on the speech, making the very plausible case that Palin is simply another political celebrity freakshow, like Donald Trump. I can see the point there but, with Palin, and watching the hysterical reception her puerile screed received, there is something more serious going on. She is the living representation of the infantilization of American politics, a poisonous Grimm Sister telling toxic fairy tales to audiences drunk on fear, and hate and nonsense. She respects no standards but her own. She is in perpetual tantrum, railing against her betters, which is practically everyone, and volunteering for the job of avatar to the country's reckless vandal of a political Id. It was the address of a malignant child delivered to an audience of malignant children. If you applauded, you're an idiot and I feel sorry for you.

I need a cigarette.