THE GOLDEN AGE OF GRIFT

A few weeks ago a Florida K-12 teacher was fired for refusing to call a transgender student by that student's preferred name. While certainly a high school needs to have some basic limits on the idea that students can be called – No, the teacher is not going to call you "Fuck Machine" or a racial slur – this teacher's decision is otherwise perplexing. At least on the surface.

As a teacher, literally nothing could be less important than what the students prefer to be called. Steve. Mary. Cipher. Iron Man. Ming the Merciless. Question Q. Mysterio. My Little Pony. Like, there is no conceivable reality in which what a student asks me to call them (whether it is a proper name or some infantile nickname) matters. We just work together. I am paid to do a job, and that makes some things about the students my problem – whether they do the assigned work, behaviors they may engage in during our brief time together in class that violate school policy, assigning them a grade, and that's pretty much it.

Their personal lives? Irrelevant, unless I have reason to think they're being abused, harming themselves, or in danger. The matter of what they want other people to call them, as long as it's not "Lil Dago" or some shit, is so far beyond being worth my time and effort to care about at all, it can't be expressed properly within the limits of English. Frankly I consider it a win if I learn everyone's name (in college, we don't see them but an hour or so per week).

In that light, the Florida teacher's choice of hills to die on makes little sense. But look at it another way and we can see that he is simply behaving rationally in response to current incentives. He figures the meager salary of a teacher pales in comparison to what he can make emulating other right-wing self-made martyrs. The book deal! The spots on Tucker Carlson! The GoFundMe! Hell, he can probably get his teacher salary covered overnight with the right publicity. Get Jordan Peterson to retweet that link and he'll wake up rich.

A more obvious example is that Kent State girl who posed with an AR-15 in her graduation picture. I refuse to link her or use her name. She is engaging in Twitter attention-seeking behavior so over the top, shameless, and obvious that an Officer Darren Wilson sex tape can't be far off if she doesn't get a book deal soon. You have a person who fundamentally is not interesting at all but as a woman under 50 is savvy enough to realize that the bar on the right is so very low that she still could make a very lucrative career out of it. Tomi Lahren Tryouts, live on Twitter.

I don't begrudge anyone earning a living, but it's pretty pathetic to see people openly resume-building to get in on what is nothing but an enormous grift. Take some idiotic "moral" stand and you too can cash in Kim Davis style. Kick some gays out of your failing diner and wake up rich. Regurgitate talking points a child can see through and end up with one of the easiest jobs on Earth. Beats the hell out of teaching or looking for a job with a BA from Kent State.

TONY, PART ONE: THE GOOD

I'm not much for reacting to Celebrity Deaths; they don't make me feel any differently than hearing about the death of anyone I don't know personally. But for reasons I'll elaborate more fully tomorrow, the Anthony Bourdain news got to me a little bit.

One aspect of watching people react to it was actually a positive, I think. This random observation summed up the way I see changes in how people talk about Celebrities:

When I first posted a comment on Facebook about how much I like Bourdain's non-fiction writing, a single comment (since redacted by its author) leaped in to do the tired "HAVE YOU READ KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, IT'S THE BIBLE OF MISOGYNY WHY DO YOU LIKE A MISOGYNIST." Predictably, it was a dude. All of the comments from women were about how much they liked Anthony Bourdain.

It is inarguable that Kitchen Confidential, written 20 years ago, has some cringe-worthy passages in it. In fact, as I pointed out in response, Bourdain has written a number of things reflecting on how he feels looking back at his own writing from that time and seeing how "dated" some of the comments and some of the situations he describes feel. He has been, I think, pretty reflective about his own attitudes. And frankly, anyone who looks at something describing what they thought and felt 20 years earlier and doesn't feel like they've outgrown some or most of it as a person is…a person who is not progressing emotionally or intellectually through adulthood.

The point is, the incessant Dragging and "OMG EVERYONE IS PROBLEMATIC" thing that started a few years ago really feels like it's running its course. I honestly think your average intelligent person is getting a bit sick of it. The point is not "Misogyny is no big deal and everyone should give everyone a free pass." The point is, it adds literally nothing to the conversation to say something like this. Not one person who likes Anthony Bourdain is unaware of some of the things he said and wrote. It's just possible – and here's the part that is starting to dawn on more of us – that it isn't absolutely imperative to define every single person by the worst thing we can find evidence of them saying. Maybe rather than barging into conversations to Out Woke everyone with your dazzling insight about something that is already universally known, consider that people who like and respect a particular person's work are adults who understand that person's shortcomings and failings.

It's a matter of degrees, of course. If Bourdain had done something truly horrific in life (and maybe he did, for all we know) then it's fair to temper how we look at his work. But honest to god, and you can Drag me to high heaven for feeling this way if you prefer, with all the good work he did and as many people as he helped in life I legitimately do not give a fuck that he said "two fat chicks" on an episode of his TV show. I don't. I really do not care at all. The idea that we have to stop liking everything a person did if any evidence of anything Problematic they ever said or did can be unearthed (which, of course, it always can be) is exhausting and counterproductive and it feels like many people who care deeply about the world and people in it are getting a little sick of it.

There were glimmers of this in the recent past when Philip Roth died. Apparently Philip Roth was kind of a prick. Fair enough. But do you really think, for example, that if a person read a Roth novel at a particular time in their life at which that work had a powerful impact on them that he or she is going to retroactively stop feeling that way if you barge into enough conversations like some college sophomore six weeks into his first sociology class shouting "You mean Philip Roth THE MISOGYNIST"?

Shitty people do great things sometimes. And people who create things have a real impact on the lives of people who read, watch, listen to, and see those things. That doesn't have to go away just because someone has a valid criticism of that person. Granted, it's impossible to enjoy anything Woody Allen makes or made anymore, but Woody Allen has done that to himself by being a truly heinous person. He, or someone like Bill Cosby, are a different matter than "Anthony Bourdain used to laugh his ass off while people in his kitchen made crude sex jokes" or, to cite another recent YOU CAN'T LIKE THIS BECAUSE PROBLEMATIC fit, Donald Glover said "fag" on Twitter once five years ago. Yeah OK thanks for the info, I'm still going to think "This is America" is great if that's acceptable to the court.

The point is, it feels like we're working through the nuance, as the post I screencapped here says. Maybe we can save the Dragging for legitimately horrible people and spare it for people who said things they might, in hindsight, have wished they had not said. It's dawning on us that literally any person can be made Problematic and bad, including you, if we insist on defining them by whatever the absolute worst interpretation of the worst thing they said or did is. And we don't have to do that. We don't have to destroy everything and everyone. It is OK, even, if we just fucking enjoy some things and like some people.

And finally, it's OK to recognize that shouting "OMG THE THING YOU LIKE IS BAD, THE PERSON YOU LIKE SAID A BAD THING ONCE SO YOU ARE BAD FOR LIKING THE BAD MAN" does not make you useful or more enlightened or more Woke than everyone else. It just kind of makes you a prick, and a person who isn't growing out of a worldview that is appealing to most of us at 20 but decreasingly thereafter. Everybody fucking knows Thomas Jefferson owned slaves; what are you adding to any conversation that involves him in any way by shouting that at people who are already perfectly well aware of it?

SNIPPETS

Are you enjoying Mass for Shut-ins? I hope you are. I'm adding "Minicasts" to the menu – little segments that aren't enough to make a whole episode out of, but interesting enough to pass 3 to 7 minutes of your time pleasurably. No production (music, intro, etc). Just a quick hit of the stuff you like.

They won't be on a regular schedule; they'll happen when the need and opportunity arise. If the full podcast episodes are too long for your liking, give these a shot. The first minicast is on the scary tones of the Emergency Broadcast System. Subscribe and you'll never miss one.

ROPE TRICK

I am in Salt Lake City, UT with thousands of other high school and college faculty grading AP US Government and Politics exams. For the unfamiliar, high school students who pass AP exams are generally (but not always) given college credit for the introductory level course in that field. So, the curriculum is very similar to what one teaches in Political Science 101 – American Government at the college level.

I've graded over 1000 responses, personally, to the same question about checks and balances. That's not a spoiler; the exam was taken a month ago and besides, how does any American Govt class at any level not prepare the students to answer a basic question about checks and balances, separation of powers, and so on. Since all I am doing, 8-9 hours per day, is reading responses to this single question, it has me thinking of how I like to cover this in the classroom.

Take maybe 30 feet of rope to class. Solicit three volunteers to sit or stand in a triangle and connect to one another by looping the rope around their waist (or through 2-3 belt loops) and then to the next person. Ask them to stand apart so that the rope has no slack.

Very quickly they realize that any single person moving is impossible. Perhaps they can stretch it a little bit, but only a little – provided the other two pull back.

Then try the same thing except have the volunteers form a triangle simply by holding on to the rope with one hand. Now when one person tries to move, he or she actually has a decent amount of leeway to move even if the other two remain stationary. Arms are long and they move in nearly any direction. But still, there is a limit. One person can walk away from the other two for a few steps, but then the rope runs out.

Eventually we return to the belt/waist example, where it was harder for any one person to walk away. And I ask, what is the only way the Executive Branch can get from this classroom to the classroom across the hall while tied to Mr. Legislature and Ms. Judiciary like this?

Since this isn't rocket science, someone chimes in pretty quickly with the only non-smartass answer: Executive Branch can move wherever he wants if the other two branches are willing to come with him. Alternatively, the cooperation of one other branch could make, say, Executive and Legislature strong enough to drag Judiciary where she doesn't want to go.

As long as two branches are trying to hold their ground, no matter what manner is used to tie the three together the range of possible motion will be limited. The area to which they are confined, and to which they drift back no matter how hard an individual tries to run away, is the Constitution. The rope is checks and balances. The point, then, is that checks and balances preserve the system defined by the Constitution only inasmuch as all three branches (or two of three) are unwilling to consent to walking away to a different classroom altogether.

The nation began with the rope-around-waist version because the people who came up with this conceived of political competition as among the branches of government ("Congress rules!" vs "Booo, President #1!"). Then political parties changed the way political actors identify from the institution to the coalition. So each branch has had a lot of room to walk around – the rope-in-hand version. We may be about to see the transition to the last example.

NULLITY

David J. Roth – and note there are important differences between him and David Lee Roth – is probably the best writer out of the current crop when it comes to putting into words the kind of person Donald Trump is, and consequently many of his supporters are as well. It goes beyond being stupid, or selfish, or right-wing, or any other one-word descriptor.

Some people first became aware of his political writing with a Dec. 2017 Baffler piece in which he declared Trump "President of Blank Sucking Nullity" – a must read – and foreshadowed his latest viral hit on Deadspin, "The NFL is too dumb to realize that Donald Trump is never going to stop with this shit."

Trump loves that stupid "snake" parable, but it's fun to watch people realize that it's pretty accurate as long as you're smart enough to recognize that Trump is the snake.

Sorry for farming out. Real post coming soon.

PARTY FOR ONE

When I was five, I wanted to have my 6th birthday party at Shakey's (bonus points if you're Midwestern 70s/80s enough to be down with Shakey's). The neighbor kids refused to come because they were staunch Pizza Hut partisans. I detested Pizza Hut, demonstrating what a perceptive child of impeccable taste I was. So I pouted, sat in my room alone with my MASK and GI Joe action figures, and had a birthday party for myself instead.

You may have heard that on Tuesday afternoon, having been stiffed by the Philadelphia Eagles, our president is doing the same, promising to convene military bands to play the National Anthem for…for him, I guess. The amount of weird autocrat-military imagery the nation is willing to tolerate from a white conservative continues to be tested.

Drew Magary has an excellent write up on how Trump's constant, meaningless grandstanding on the National Anthem, the flag, and other jingoist touchstones makes perfect sense in the context of an entire life and career built on constant, meaningless grandstanding.

DEAL-MAKING ARTS

It doesn't happen often, but Twitter delivers some pretty useful insights on occasion. Though I remain unconditionally opposed to the ridiculous "threading" format – seriously, just get a blog already – this string of posts by Matthew Chapman offers a useful way of conceptualizing Trump's worldview in terms of negotiating.

Briefly, he is a con man. Like many con men, he presumes that everyone else is also a con man. This is how many Wall Street and real estate types morally justify their behavior – I am doing nothing wrong by ripping you off, since the entire economy is everybody trying to rip everybody else off.

Since everyone is trying to rip everyone off, a deal in which the other party is enthusiastic is de facto evidence that you have been ripped off. Nothing can be mutually beneficial, even though making mutually beneficial transactions is like, the Page 1 definition in every textbook ever written about a market economy or even a barter system. Nope. The other party being pleased with the arrangement means you got fucked, period.

Therefore every "deal" the United States has ever made with another country is bad, because if the United States was not getting fucked then the other country would not have wanted to make the deal.

God only knows what really goes on in that desiccated brain of his, but this is one potential explanation that lends a bit of coherence to his insistence on pulling the United States out of NATO, out of the Iran deal, out of treaties, out of free trade agreements, out of everything. Either the other country is clearly getting fucked, or we are. No other outcome can exist.

SORRY, KIDS

For the next six days I will be shackled to hundreds of other college faculty and high school AP teachers in a conference center in Salt Lake City to grade the many thousands of Advanced Placement exams taken by high school students over the previous academic year. If your kid (or you, on the off chance anyone high school aged reads this) doesn't get the score he or she was expecting, it may be my fault.

That's not strictly true, since grading is done according to a very demanding rubric to ensure consistency. So it is technically not my fault; I am only following orders.

Though it is not a 24-hour per day endeavor, I do have a large amount of my time in the upcoming week spoken for. If updates are less regular than usual, I apologize.

Be sure to catch up on episodes of Mass for Shut-ins if you need a fix. The past two episodes (004 and 005) in particular are very good, I think, as I'm starting to figure out the production end of things as well as tailoring the content to the format.

NPF: BRAIN CRAMPS

JR Smith has become this generation's Chris "I Thought We Had Timeouts Left" Webber. That has to be up there with the worst athletic-related brain cramps of all time (up there with "JUST RUN THE GODDAMN BALL, SEATTLE!" in the Super Bowl a few years ago).

The best ones that come to mind in politics are Rick Perry forgetting the names of the Cabinet departments he proposed to eliminate or, more recently, Gary Johnson's "What's Aleppo" moment.

What are some great examples of people just…going mentally blank when everyone's watching? No Trump stuff please. We know that "mentally blank" describes him permanently.