Posted in Rants on August 24th, 2016 by Ed

There's an old joke among outdoors types, some variant of, "If you're lost in the woods alone, how do you get something to eat? Step one: Take out the food you brought with. Step two: Eat some of it." A hearty laugh is had by all, and valuable lessons about preparation are learnt. Good times.

Like most humans beings, I'm getting older. The older I get, the more I think about, well, not quite "retirement" but some way I can avoid working until the very last minute before I drop dead. My job's decent as far as jobs go, but let's face it. Nobody wants to see any more of the inside of an office than they have to. I have had a comfortable life but do not come from any sort of Wealth. That is to say, even though the members of my family are all doing alright individually, we're all dependent on a paycheck. Without that, there's nothing to fall back on (or, what there is to fall back on wouldn't last long). Professors aren't paid poorly, objectively, but even without a spouse and kids I struggle to save a meaningful amount of money. Sure, I save. But I can't save a really meaningful amount of money. Not a "How do I pay my bills if I'm out of work for a year" money.

So, lately I've thought a lot about making some investments in the future. I've done a good bit of research on buying rental properties, which would allow me to bring in some small but consistent additional income that would continue even if, god forbid, I couldn't work for an extended period of time. They say property's the best investment anyway, as long as we black out and forget a few years here and there. And the more research I do, the more it becomes apparent that there are a good number of ways (not guaranteed, of course) to make money in the world of real estate. In fact, any reasonably creative person can think of a number of ways potentially to make money.

The thing is, of course, that I can't afford to actually do any of them. It turns out that the easiest way to make money is to start with a lot of money and use it to make more. It wouldn't be difficult at all to collect rent checks on nice new apartment blocks in popular neighborhoods in Chicago. As long as, you know, I had a million dollars to start with to get the process moving.

When people say things like our current Republican presidential nominee say – Oh, I got started by borrowing a little money from my parents, just $9 million, no big deal – or people less toxic and spoiled than him say similar things on a smaller scale ("Oh, my parents 'helped me' with the down payment on this house") it underscores everything that gives the lie to the meritocracy we insist we live in. It's not impossible to get ahead without starting halfway there, but…let's put it this way: people who start closer to the finish line are represented disproportionately among those who reach it. It turns out that if you already have food with you, finding something to eat isn't much of a challenge.

Again, this isn't a Horatio Alger pulp story. I didn't grow up as a wretch in Victorian London. I afford housing and clothing and feeding myself much more easily than the majority of Americans, and I feel fortunate that this is the case. It's alarming, though, to think about our lives and how quickly everything would go to shit – even for most of us who are comfortable – were the paychecks to stop coming. It's frustrating to be able to conceive of ways to get oneself off the paycheck to paycheck treadmill but not be able to make any of them a reality. While there may be a great range of incomes and levels of comfort among "The 99%" (to abuse an already abused cliche) but at least we all have this one thing in common – come up with all the bright ideas you want, unless you're sitting on a winning Lotto ticket it isn't going to matter.


Posted in Rants on August 22nd, 2016 by Ed

If it's not too early in the morning for you to handle some rage-bait, check out this Gothamist article about (warning: low hanging fruit) a Brooklyn millennial buying an apartment. Make sure your reading area is clear of potential projectiles.

To summarize, if you don't feel like subjecting yourself to it, Kendall (a "design assistant") is paying $1800 for half the rent in a seedy East Village apartment she shares with a roommate. Certainly we can sympathize without sarcasm with anyone earning a normal or even below-average income trying to make the NYC rental market work. If splitting $3600 for a flophouse was the best I could do, I'd be upset too. But Kendall is quite resourceful, so she solves the problem by having her parents make a down payment on a $400,000 studio apartment for her. Why doesn't everyone in NYC think of that! It's so obvious.

But wait! Not all is well. Kendall soon discovers that even $400,000 won't buy her a studio in Williamsburg anymore (Again, this is legitimately horrible. How can any normal person living paycheck to paycheck live anywhere near a place with $400,000 studio apartments.) but she is, and I quote, "a person who can make a lot out of nothing." Nothing is $400,000. A lot of which is being given to her by someone else.

After finding several in her price range, another tragedy befalls her: they're not in Cool neighborhoods! They're so far away from her friends, she might as well be living on the Azores! But fear not. As the author puts it, the Government is here to save her from this series of tragedies. Taking advantage of a housing assistance program called the NYC Housing Development Fund, Kendall receives tax subsidies and price breaks that allow her to find a place in Williamsburg for $400,000. Mind you, it's a sixth-floor unit (which, I kid you not, she actually bitches about in the original article) but

She concludes, "It's great to own. It feels kind of adultish and comforting and stabilizing." I bet it does, Kendall. I bet it does. Despite being gainfully employed with an advanced degree, I will never, ever be able to afford to buy a home unless it's a trailer unit in Pigsknuckle County, Indiana, so I'll have to take your word for it. You really have to marvel at the lack of self-awareness that allows someone to agree to have such an incredibly unflattering portrait of her printed in a major newspaper. Rich girl gets parents to buy her a home, pisses and moans that she can't find one she wants, abuses government program intended to provide assistance to low-income people who can't afford anything, and then gets (sort of) what she wants but not really because she still has to point out the things wrong with it.

That this is presented originally in the NY Times as some kind of light-hearted tale rather than a sickening indictment of everything that is wrong with the positively criminal real estate market in New York City almost defies belief. Change the tone and the headline and this is a muckraking piece worth of Lincoln Steffens. Instead, we just gloss over the fact that everyone in the city essentially admits that home ownership without inherited wealth (and not a small amount of it) is all but impossible, with prices that put even one-room studios well beyond the reach of anyone earning less than a quarter of a million dollars.

Welcome to day one of this week's theme: Your life will suck if you're not born into money, and there's nothing you can do about it.


Posted in Rants on August 15th, 2016 by Ed

It's hard to find a subject that the modal American – poorly informed about most things and not terribly interested in becoming less poorly informed – does not think is useless. Math? Who needs it! A calculator can do anything I need to know! Literature? Oh my god who cares about Dickens, it isn't 1860 and I don't live in England. History? What does it matter what happened in 1700, I just want to get to work on time lol! But of all subjects you won't find one Americans are worse at than geography. Don't get me wrong, we're bad at the other ones too. But Americans don't even understand much about the geography of their own country let alone the rest of the world. And while not everything in the world can be tied to the current election cycle and Donald Trump, fundamental ignorance of American population geography underlies the inability of a lot of people to understand what is about to happen in November.

Not everyone likes trivia as much as I do, but give this a shot. And feel free to ask your friends and coworkers to give it a shot, too. As of 2015, what are the 10 most populous cities in the United States? How about the 10 biggest metro areas (which would include the adjacent suburbs of major cities)? What percentage of the U.S. population lives in the two biggest states?

Take a minute.

Everyone can spit out the three biggest cities in order: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. After that things get dicey for most people. They throw out the most recognizable cities: Boston, Washington, Miami, San Francisco. Maybe cities well known and presumed "major" because they have professional sports: Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and so on. In reality, the top five is rounded out by Philadelphia and Houston. But numbers six through ten would probably shock your friends: Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose. Oh, and #11? Austin. Austin, Texas. How many people do you think realize that San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the US? That San Jose and San Diego are bigger than Boston, Miami, Washington, and so on? That Austin frickin' Texas is knocking on the door of the 10th largest city in the country?

Looking at Metro areas, do your friends believe that places like Kansas City, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans are not even in the top twenty?

And now, the fact I resort to most often when I want to tell people something they'll refuse to believe. The two largest states, California and Texas, now hold 20.75% of the US population. One out of every five people in this country lives in those two states. In those states, the population overwhelmingly lives in megacities like the SF Bay Area, San Diego, Los Angeles, the DFW "Metroplex", Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston, and so on. If we round out the top five states (adding NY, FL, and distant fifth place Illinois) 37.5% of the entire population lives in those five states. And of course those states have heavily urbanized populations as well.

So. Who cares, right?

Very few Americans who are neither demographers or real estate investors understand the staggering rate of growth in America's urban populations in the past twenty years. Some of today's fastest-growing cities – Austin, Denver, Portland, Phoenix, Las Vegas, anyplace in Florida, etc. – are adding something on the order of 100 new residents every day for years on end. As is the case in most developed countries around the world, America is becoming a country of very, very big cities surrounded by vast expanses of empty countryside with little to recommend it as a place to live. Small cities and towns have been emptying out steadily since the 1980s, when agriculture and manufacturing began to decline in earnest as components of the nation's economy. The Youngstown, Ohios and Muncie, Indianas across the country no longer had a compelling way to attract people. Everyone who could leave did so. What remains – and if you're a Midwesterner like me you already know this story by heart – are the people who are too old, too poor, or too foolish to get out.

So when you visit areas where Donald Trump is popular – pick any postindustrial war zone across Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, or the upper Midwest – you find a population of shockingly limited worldview who can say with perfect sincerity that they don't know anyone who's voting for Hillary Clinton. The people of Altoona, PA naturally believe that only election rigging could produce a Trump defeat because locally his popularity is off the charts and, crucially, they have no concept of how tiny and unrepresentative of the population of their state and the country a place like Altoona is in 2016. To live in such a place is to fail to understand that very little of America, population-wise, looks like that anymore.

Living in Peoria for three years I often had to endure conversations with locals (many of whom, believe it or not, had never been farther than an hour or two away in any direction) who complained as all "downstate" Illinoisans do of the dominance of Chicagoland in state politics. And I would have to point out that there are 13 million people in Illinois. About 150,000 of them live in Peoria. The Chicago metro area has 9.8 million. Three quarters, conservatively, of the state lives in Cook or the collar counties. Of course it dominates state politics. Of course "downstate" is pushed aside in most decisions. Nobody lives there. And people who live outside of the major urban centers that increasingly dominate our landscape simply do not understand the math of modern population geography. They think that because most of the country looks rural or small-urban in terms of area, that makes them a political majority. But in reality we are a nation of vast, effectively empty spaces around megacities which dominate representative institutions with sheer numbers.

This is a mistake even – or especially – journalists make. The myth of "real America", small town America, or whatever they choose to call it overlooks the reality that when people who live in such places complain that they are ignored or marginalized it is usually because they are ignored and marginalized. And there is cold, hard math that explains why. The more we lead people to believe that rural America is Real America, the more we feed the insistence that the majority of us are living in small towns or rural cities under 100,000 people. We're not. We're at a point at which almost all of us live in a major city or its immediate suburbs, and that percentage grows every day. Ignorance of the world outside their immediate surroundings makes it natural that your average old white Trump supporter in Rustville believes that he or she is part of a Silent Majority that simply isn't.


Posted in Rants on August 11th, 2016 by Ed

These are halcyon days for conspiracy theorists. It's possible that with the help of the internet such theories will propagate exponentially forever and we'll look back on 2016 as a more innocent time, but I don't relish the opportunity to live in a world where a wider range of conspiracy theories are more gleefully embraced than they are today.

Conspiracy theories are appealing for two reasons: they make the world seem more interesting and exciting than it really is ("Hillary stole the nomination" is a much better hook than "It was unlikely that a 74 year old Vermont socialist who isn't a member of the Democratic Party was looking at an uphill battle to win the Democratic nomination, and honestly if there was a conspiracy against him he wouldn't have come nearly as close to winning as he did") and they allow people to shift responsibility. We didn't lose, we were cheated. I'm not a failure, the (Jews, Unions, Liberals, feminists, immigrants) stole what I deserve. Both of these things make conspiracy theories inherently appealing, and for valid reasons. Nobody likes being bored or having to blame themselves for the things they aren't happy about.

Not all conspiracy theories enjoy equal acceptance, though, and the most plausible ones – the ones that seem like they have enough circumstantial evidence to make them true-ish – have the upper hand. You don't hear anyone but the most fringe unstable types talking about chemtrails, but large numbers of people believe, for example, that global warming or the price of gasoline are the products of conspiracies. Identifying a group of people who could benefit (Scientists! Environmentalists! Liberals!) a theory seems more plausible, and identifying individuals or groups who seem to have control over a fluctuating commodity (OPEC! Obama! The Saudis! The Jews, because it's always Jews!) allows people who don't care to bother with the details below the surface to take comfort in having found the answer.

I do not for a moment endorse the conspiracy theory that Trump is tanking this election on purpose to ensure that his supposed close buddy Hillary Clinton wins – Look, they stood next to each other in a picture in 1994, what more evidence to you need? What other explanation could there be for the First Lady and a famous rich person to have been in the same room together? – but the past three weeks have made it perfectly clear why so many people have latched onto it. I don't believe it, because there is no evidence to support it. But Trump has melted down so completely and seems to be going so far out of his way to think of what he can say that will finally get his acolytes to stop cheering for him that it's only logical for people who are cynical and pay limited attention to politics to seize upon this as an explanation for his otherwise inexplicable behavior. Trying to make sense out of nonsense is normal.

The truth, as usual, is more mundane: the man has a personality disorder, and an attention-craving narcissist who relies on shock value has to continually up the ante in order to keep achieving the same effect (think Howard Stern, Marilyn Manson, etc.) And once you've attacked a dead US Army soldier's parents and asked Russian agents to steal classified information to help your campaign, I guess the only way to increase the shock value from there is to make "jokes" about your supporters killing Hillary Clinton. That's why it seems like this is playing out to a script, like each week brings a calculated increase in the extent to which Trump seemingly goes out of his way to get people not to vote for him.

I don't believe Trump cares about anyone but Trump, or that he is trying to help Clinton win. I do understand how people could look at this shitshow and come to that conclusion, though. The popularity of that theory is the best testament to just how bad he and his campaign are. We're witnessing something historic here. Think of how badly a team would have to lose the Super Bowl, for example, before it would enter your mind (and seem plausible) that they were losing on purpose to help their friends on the other sideline.


Posted in Rants on August 8th, 2016 by Ed

Of all the places a person could look for happiness and fulfillment, I can't think of one more likely to produce constant disappointment than the American electoral process.

Studying elections for a living has taken most of the shine off of them for me. As a kid they seemed like the most important thing in the world, and the process of voting was an almost mystical expression of rights inextricable from lofty concepts like freedom and justice. Maybe political science has reduced the moving parts involved to numbers, formal models, and abstract data points, but over time I've developed an outlook toward voting that is no different than paying the electric bill. It's a thing we do for practical reasons. You don't have to pour your heart and soul into it. It's not a goddamn spiritual quest; it's an election.

This presidential election appears to be bringing out the worst in the electorate in so many ways. One is the habit we have as Americans of thinking that our feelings are important in a process that is a practical and means-to-end oriented. My view is that the primary process is the time for big ideas, for hopes and dreams and attempting to steer the ship, so to speak. Once the primary process is over, voting becomes no different than picking a cable company. You pick the one that gives you the most of what you want at the lowest cost. And, like with cable and internet service, you usually have a very narrow range of choices. And you usually don't like any of them.

Now that I think about it, picking a cable and internet provider is more like American presidential elections than anyone realizes.

I didn't vote for Hillary Clinton in the primaries, where she was my second preference in a field of two. Now that process is over, and I have two choices. There are about four things about Hillary Clinton that I like and the rest crap. Trump is not merely 100% crap, he is the actual diametric opposite of everything I like. So, being a rational person who understands how elections work and that the rules of our process virtually ensure that only one of the major party candidates can win, I pick the one who gives me more of what I like. I could punish myself by writing in someone who isn't going to win (to extend the analogy, that would be choosing HughesNet satellite internet, which, for the record, is the most expensive and ludicrously bad internet service since the obsolescence of the 26k modem) but what would that accomplish. In the din of 100 million-plus people voting this year, the "message" of staying home or throwing away a vote on a joke candidate isn't going to be heard.

"But I don't like either candidate" is the background refrain of this entire election, and my reaction (at least internally) is always the same: Who cares? How often in life are you really making choices among great options? The mechanical process of choosing who will represent us in the various elected positions of power in the United States is important, but it's hardly a place to look for fulfillment and self-expression. You don't have to go down into the Fuhrerbunker because you don't like either the Americans or the Russians. You pick one to surrender to (probably the one that isn't going to shoot you on sight or ship you off to the Gulag) and go from there. In the end, too many people are simply too invested in a process that is not designed – not in the slightest – to fluff your self esteem and sense of self worth. If you can't make a choice in a practical decision-making process without invoking your integrity, pride, and self esteem, that says more about you than it does about the process.


Posted in Rants on August 1st, 2016 by Ed

Rarely am I ever interested in following internet pissing contests – especially when they revolve around identity politics and pop culture phenomena that will be forgotten almost immediately – so I paid very little attention when the brief hysteria erupted in 2014/2015 about remaking Ghostbusters with a female cast. It seemed plausible from afar (having seen the trailers and read no more than a few articles about it) that the strong backlash against the movie might have been explained by the fact that it looked like garbage, a cynical cash grab even among the dozens of other nostalgia mining projects of recent years. Maybe the outrage among people who care about such things wasn't a result of the decision to go with a female cast.

Then I thought about all of the other cynical, shitty remakes, reboots, and soulless franchise products that have been churned out over the years without any similar reactions. If these fans / critics really were upset because the movie looked like it would suck, then the reaction to Ghostbusters 2016 would not have stood out as exceptional. So, it seems impossible that a demographic of teenage boys and adult losers that line up gladly to pay to see the 25th reboot of Spider-man or some other obviously idiotic comic book-turned-movie could really be so upset about the perceived poor quality of Ghostbusters. It's pretty obvious they were just really pissed off that they made the characters women.

The movie did well at the box office despite the negative pre-release publicity, so here we go: "Replace male character with female" is going to be the next gimmick, starting with (yet another) remake. The mediocre 1991 live-action Disney film The Rocketeer is getting remade – in itself a good sign of how the bottom of the barrel is being scraped for source material – with a female lead. As if that makes the concept of making the same movie a second time somehow fresh or interesting.

I had no intention of seeing Ghostbusters not because the cast was female, but because almost nothing in the landfill of sequels, comic / video game adaptations, reboots, remakes, and other recycled ideas interests me. If I have a hankering to see Ghostbusters I'm sure I could find a way to watch the real one. Ditto The Rocketeer. Ditto every other idea currently in the process of being turned upside down and shaken until no more money will fall out. I find changing characters from male to female irritating not because I don't want to see women playing the roles, but because I don't want to see anyone playing the same goddamn roles over and over again. And replacing the (describe original character) with (some kind of person not identical to the original) is the kind of cheap, lazy thinking ("Wow, a female Rocketeer? What a twist! When can you start?") that passes for creativity these days. It's the kind of thing dumb people think is clever. You could remake Patton with RuPaul in the title role and you're still remaking Patton. Only so much can be done to cover the stale odor of making a movie that has already been made.


Posted in Rants on July 27th, 2016 by Ed

Wednesday morning we all got a glimpse of why I've been predicting that Trump will hang himself given enough time and rope. He delivered a lot sooner than expected. I assumed it would happen during the debates. It's OK – it'll probably happen then too. It's going to keep happening until this is over.

There have been dozens of "Well certainly he must be finished now, right?" moments throughout the campaign. Nothing, now that he has won the nomination, is going to "end" his campaign. But the unhinged, half-assed comments inviting Russia to commit espionage to help him dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton are – unlike the other unhinged, half-assed comments so far – are not going to go away. They've undermined one of the only effective plays he had against Clinton.

Personally I couldn't care less about the "emails" pseudo-scandal, but there's no question there was a legitimate (if overblown) point to be made. To people who think that's a big deal, she didn't have much of a valid response to criticisms about what has been deleted, where it was stored, etc. Again, I find this all ridiculous, but to someone suddenly deeply concerned about emails sent years ago then I guess it's an issue one could press.

Now, every single time someone says "emails" the Clinton campaign doesn't have to respond in detail about the minutiae of server space. They can say, over and over again, "I showed bad judgment? I compromised national security? You actively invited a foreign government leak classified material. Who's judgment is questionable here?" And believe me, they are going to run that into the f-ing ground. They are NEVER going to let up on him for this, because even if it's not the most shocking, inflammatory, or outrageous thing he's said it is beyond any doubt the one that shows the most glaring flaws in him. It's the kind of inappropriate that anyone who isn't a Trump die-hard will hear and say, this guy is out of his mind – unless you think the Russians are suddenly popular with middle America.

Nothing hurts Trump per se because his supporters are a cult and they don't care about facts. This doesn't hurt Trump either. But it hurts his ability to attack Clinton. Had he thought about this for more than ten seconds and if he had a modicum of self-control and an adult attention span, he certainly would not have turned his best weapon into a Bugs Bunny gun that shoots himself in the face every time he pulls the trigger. But that's just it: He will never stop himself. He can't stop himself. He can't censor. He can't hide what he is. He is an unserious, petulant child in a bloated adult body. And now every time he tries to attack Clinton and question her judgment, anyone paying attention will be reminded of all of those characteristics and reminded of how dangerous they are in an elected leader.

"His supporters won't care," you say. And you're right. But here's the thing: the core of Trump supporters isn't even as large as the Republican Party, because there are a not-insignificant number of Republicans who can't bring themselves to vote for this guy. They'll either skip the presidential race or waste a vote on Gary Johnson. The united "We must defeat Obama" GOP was not enough to get Romney anywhere close to victory. So how is a portion of the GOP – the Tea Party plus some – going to do it? It isn't. That's why I'm confident, even though Clinton would be toast against a stronger GOP candidate. This guy has zero appeal outside his already fanatical followers. He is running an American version of a far-right European party's campaign, and they get 10-15% support at best. The people who like that message really like it, but it's hard to expand beyond that core. There are no "casual" neo-Nazis. You're in or you're out.

Independent and undecided voters are always overstated during elections, but the few genuine ones that exist are likely to be swayed by just this sort of thing – nothing that requires detailed policy understanding and knowledge. Instead, something that immediately and undeniably shows him to be an dangerously unpredictable fool. Like McCain in 2008, the convention week will prove to be Trump's peak. It's all downhill from here. Remember, people reacted very positively to Sarah Palin for about a week. Then she had to talk, and we know how that turned out.


Posted in Rants on July 26th, 2016 by Ed

I'm getting to the point of personal overload on this election and hoped to take a little break for some different topics this week, but who am I kidding. So, quick roundup of Day 1 of the DNC.

This was well-scheduled. Give the first night to Sanders and Sanders supporters. He gave a terrific speech, as did Michelle Obama. Elizabeth Warren, meh. She had a zinger or two. But that address gave me a little more insight on what her potential limitations as a presidential candidate could be. She, like Barack Obama, has a Professor Mode. She's more of a lecturer than a "Let's go burn this motherfucker down" orator. She didn't do badly. It was just "meh."

Sanders insisting on a roll-call vote for the nomination is irrelevant. If that formality makes his supporters feel a little better, great. The outcome is the same whether the vote is counted or done by acclimation. Nothing gives any candidate the right to be elected by acclimation, so there's zero benefit to pushing for it.

And this is the part where I'm going to try very hard to be Good. To be Nice.

The more I listen to them, the more it's clear that the fundamental disconnect between Sanders supporters who will vote for Hillary and Sanders supporters who will not vote for Hillary is not an ideological one. It is a difference in worldview. And while not all of the "No Hillary" Sanders supporters are young, they seem to share in common a worldview that is often stereotypically ascribed to "millennials" (if that term even means anything anymore). There have been moments in my career dealing with college students in which I've been left speechless – you can appreciate how rarely I'm unable to fill the air around me with words – by their worldview. It's not a liberal-conservative thing, it is the apparent expectation that the world somehow has to make itself appealing to them. For example, I've had exasperating conversations with students who refuse to accept their only job offer because it either doesn't pay them what they have decided they're worth or it isn't "fun" enough for them. And I ask them sincerely, "So do you expect to just wait until the job market gives you what you'd like it to give you?" And you'll have to take my word on this: Some of them say yes. Some of them really do move back in with mom and dad and not work at all for years – years – waiting for something they think is worthy of them to come along. And of course it never does.

The "No Hillary" people they interviewed on MSNBC may have been cherry picked, but the ones that didn't sound dumb as a post expressed a large, visible amount of frustration with this process and with the fact that the choices available to them are unpleasant. People feel this kind of frustration all the time in all areas of their lives. The thing I just do not understand though – and here is the unbridgeable divide – is why they feel that if the choices don't please them, then they can refuse to make a choice until they get one they feel is worthy of them.

Nobody has to vote. The Sanders people are not in any way obligated to vote for Hillary Clinton or at all. Similarly, the students who don't like the jobs they're offered are free to refuse and wait for something else to come along. However, in both cases they seem destined to learn the hard way that refusing to do anything that you're not over-the-moon enthusiastic about doing is not an effective way of bringing better options to the table for the future. I just feel sorry for anyone whose approach to any part of life, including politics, is "I'm devastated if I don't get exactly what I want." God almighty, life must be one crushing disappointment after another to a person with that attitude. There are a handful of Hillary loyalists who really super-duper love Hillary Clinton, but they are a distinct minority. As with any other candidate, most people who plan to vote for her just like her better than the other options. Nobody promised us a rose garden. Sometimes you make a choice you don't love because you admit to yourself that the alternatives are worse. Is anyone reading this really excited about getting up and going to work tomorrow? I bet not. But you're going to do it – we're all going to do it – because it's the best choice we have at the moment.

To people whose worldview precludes that, politics, and I daresay a lot of other parts of life, is indeed bound to be extremely disappointing and frustrating.


Posted in Rants on July 25th, 2016 by Ed

I read a great deal of history, none of which fascinates me more than 19th Century European and American history. A rough period beginning with the Industrial Revolution and ending with World War saw the world change more than it did in any similar span of time before or since. People born in the West in 1800 were born into a world that was essentially Medieval in medicine, technology, communication, travel, diet, and social organization. If that person lived to 1900, they died in a world with prototypical versions of all the same technologies we have today. It's truly amazing.

One thing Victorians had in common with pre-20th Century Americans – you could argue that this still has not changed – was a preference for indescribably bland food. Brits and Americans really nailed the whole concept of food that doesn't taste like much; no other cultures anywhere on Earth can lay a finger on us in that arena. This was partly out of necessity, as the spicier and more flavorful foods tend not to be found in cold climates, but also from distinct cultural preference. Victorians believed like no other people ever have any foods even slightly more exciting than a boiled potato or piece of white bread with a little butter was bound to cause great harm to one's constitution. "Exciting" foods were thought to be harmful to the digestive system, inappropriately arousing to the imagination and loins, and an invitation to countless maladies for which medicine had no cure.

Yes, I have a point.

The logic behind that is dubious. I find really spicy food to be the best medicine for some things like sinus problems. But when you're weak or recovering from a bad bout of the flu, the standard Middle Class American remedy of weak tea or flat soda combined with saltine crackers or pretzels does in fact do the trick. Those are not things that you'd ever get passionate about eating, but if you've been hurling your stomach lining up for a weekend they make a lot of sense.

That brings us to Tim Kaine. A big slice of white bread with some room temperature tap water. It's tempting to say he's not the most exciting pick for a running mate, but he may in fact be the least exciting.

It makes perfect sense from two perspectives. One is that Hillary Clinton is a politician, period. She makes decisions strategically, not ideologically. Moreover, she is the most risk-averse politician in modern memory. "Safe" would be the best description of every choice she makes. To her, an ideal candidate is one who doesn't expose the campaign to criticism, not one who somehow boosts the campaign over the top. Obama did the same thing; he didn't need a VP to help him win, so he just picked whoever he wanted. That worked out alright. The second way Kaine makes sense is that he is boring. It's an asset to be seen as dull, competent, safe, and reliable when one's opponent is a red-faced bellowing lunatic. This fits perfectly with how I described Clinton's campaign strategy last week – the goal is to be Adults in the Room while the Trump campaign operates like a circus run by a lunatic. Is that going to make many Democrats and liberals excited? No. Is it likely to lead to victory? Yeah. It's a good strategy if one's goal is simply to win. And we all know that winning is what this is all about for a career politician like Clinton.

Face it: He may not be exciting, but Kaine checks the boxes like no other. He has age, experience (legislative and executive), and swing state cred. There was no other choice that anyone familiar with Hillary Clinton could find plausible. She and Warren can't stand each other. Julian Castro is 41 and has five years as a mayor on his resume, making him a major "Not ready" liability. Thomas Perez has never been elected to anything. Cory Booker was probably the runner-up, but his love of the spotlight probably hurt him. So the optimal strategy here was to play defense, to play it safe, to pick someone who would Not Hurt the campaign more than he would Help it. He might not be a very exciting or interesting choice, but strategically it makes perfect sense. No one is more cold, calculating, and cynical than a staff of campaign professionals, and Clinton's obviously concluded that Trump had done enough to chase away the black and Hispanic vote and no VP choice aimed at firming those bases up was necessary. Cynical? Certainly. Correct? Yeah, probably.

When your opponent is a human ulcer spewing bile and acid in every direction, Clinton is betting that tap water and saltines will look pretty appealing in contrast. It's not exciting. That's the point.


Posted in Rants on July 18th, 2016 by Ed

For more than three decades I've been at a loss to understand how people could have no interest in what's happening in the world around them. How can you not consume some form of news? Doesn't it drive you crazy to be unaware of what's going on? What if you miss something important? How can you tune out politics and elections so completely? Hell, by the time I was in kindergarten I felt weird if the paperboy was late and I didn't see the front of the Chicago Tribune before school.

Sunday I woke up, opened my laptop, and went to CNN. Screaming banner headlines about another attack on police officers resulting in at least three deaths. I blinked a half-dozen times to make sure the morning fog had cleared. I half-read the main story about it, then paused. I opened another tab for Cap Friendly. Ooh, the Stars just signed Jamie Benn to a huge extension. Wow. $76 million. Well, that's the going rate for a guy who finishes in the top five or ten in goals every year. Dallas is gonna be good, real good, if they can find some more help on D. Close all tabs. Close the computer. I left the house and didn't take my phone with me.

I can't claim to have fully informed myself on every news story of significance throughout my life, but that was the first time I can recall just…not being able to do it. With the unbroken string of horrible, crazy shit that has cast a pall over the world in the last few months, and without the events in Dallas, in St. Paul, and (the first) Baton Rouge being fully digested and comprehended, there was no part of me able to even take in another story along the same lines. Throw in the major European/Asian terrorist attack of the week and I didn't just ignore the news on Sunday. I actively avoided it. For one of the only times in my life, something important was happening and I had absolutely no desire to know anything about it. I still managed to feel guilty, but I can imagine that with enough practice that feeling would fade. Eventually.

It was only one day, one story, one experience. It helped me to understand, for example, why people retreat into Pokemon Go and Netflix binges and baseball season and reality TV and Tumblr and anything else you can do to take your mind off of the real world these days. Paying attention to what's happening around us arguably is more important right now than at any point in my lifetime, and that makes it feel all the more…heavy. Taxing. It feels like trying to conduct the activities of a normal life, and to interact with other human beings in a normal manner, while dragging around a sack of bricks. It makes perfect sense to want to put it down, even if only for a while.

What's going on here in the United States and around the world bothers me. I have to admit, it bothers me a lot. It's bothering me more than I realized. It hangs over me like a cloud. Sunday morning in Baton Rouge was my limit, apparently. I want to be engaged, but 2016 is making it difficult to remain engaged indefinitely. I am (we are?) used to terrible things happening intermittently. So we train ourselves to handle short sprints. This year is like a marathon; no breaks, just mile after mile of slogging. Obviously I don't have the stamina for it, especially knowing how many miles we still have to go.