DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK

Posted in Quick Hits on April 6th, 2018 by Ed

I'm very excited about this piece for The Nation. It draws parallels between the contemporary rhetoric around "race and IQ" and other forms of scientific racism and the once wildly popular "racialist" movement in the US. It combined three popular ideas – eugenics, scientific racism, and immigration restriction – into a stew of white supremacist ideology that dominated both high- and low-brow circles from the end of the 19th to the mid-20th centuries.

The idea that scientific racism was repudiated after World War II is a myth that, if at all, only holds true among elites. Belief that there are scientific, genetic, or biological differences that prove the superiority of white Europeans has never gone away. People merely learned that it was not socially acceptable to say it out loud. Now it's becoming more acceptable and people are responding predictably.

NPF: WHAT A DAY

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 6th, 2018 by Ed

I'm confident enough in the appeal of this story about a sports happening that I declined to use the "Skip This If You Hate Sports" tag.

First, a very brief dip into National Hockey League rules. A team forfeits a game if it does not have two goaltenders in uniform. This is intended to ensure that if one is hurt, the game can continue because goalies are not exactly interchangeable parts. You can't simply grab another player and tell him to play in goal, if for no reason more complicated than the dozens of pieces of equipment worn by hockey goaltenders having a custom fit.

A handful of times per year a team will suit up what is known as an Emergency Goalie. This happens when one of the two real goalies suffers an injury and is ruled out at the last minute. Ordinarily a team would call up a goalie from its minor league team to replace him, but sometimes (for example, a sudden onset of the flu the day of the game) it isn't possible. So, an emergency goalie is anyone they can put a uniform on and stash at the end of the bench to fulfill the "two goalies" requirement.

Note that this person is not expected to play. He's simply a guy who can put on a goalie's kit, sit on the bench, and if absolutely unavoidably necessary, stand in the net without falling down. Common ways to get an Emergency Goalie include putting a uniform on the team's goaltending coach (usually a retired goalie of advanced age), calling the local rec league team and signing the goalie to a 24-hour contract, or using one of the team's "practice" goalies (for example, the team equipment manager will sometimes put on goalie gear just to give the players something to shoot at during practice).

On March 29, the Chicago Blackhawks found themselves with one injured goalie replaced by a minor-leaguer, Collin Delia, who was to back up the usual second-stringer. But then the backup injured himself during warm-ups, making Delia the starter and leaving the Blackhawks in need of a second body on very little notice.

Just an hour before the game the team reached out to a local Beer League goalie – I imagine a list of guys to call in an emergency is maintained – a 36 year old Certified Public Accountant and just-for-fun hockey player named Scott Foster. He was playing with the other middle-aged guys at a facility right down the street from the United Center. They told him that if he could hurry over, he could tell his bar friends that he got to wear a Blackhawks uniform for one night. He took a cab and they slapped an ill-fitting extra jersey on him.

Unusually in what has been a horrible season for Chicago, the team jumped out to a 6-2 lead with 14 minutes left in the game. Delia, who played fine up to that point, said he felt leg cramps. In a more important game the coach most likely would have left him in, but in a meaningless game with a big lead and just 14 minutes left, Emergency Goalie Scott Foster was put in the game. A real game. A guy who worked 10 hours behind a desk and then took some shots on the ice (probably with a couple beers in him) found himself playing goal behind guys like Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith.

And he did fine. Winnipeg (a favorite to win the championship this year) was coasting in a game they didn't need to win, readying themselves for the playoffs. So it's fair to say they weren't playing their asses off. But still, this guy took 7 shots from the best players in the world and stopped them all.

Not much has gone right for the 'Hawks this year, so they seemed to enjoy this even more than Foster did. He was named first star of the game for what will undoubtedly be the only 14 minutes he will ever play in the NHL.

Imagine being an amateur church choir singer and getting a call asking you to rush down to Broadway to appear in a show in an hour. That kind of plucked-from-ordinary-life storyline rarely happens outside of movies. It was fun to watch it happen, and something about the story was obviously compelling to all of us and our boring lives – every media outlet in the US, and a lot around the world in places where nobody cares about hockey, ran with it. Hell, Money magazine reported it.

Something like this could happen to you someday. Will it? Nah. But it sure is fun to see it happen to someone.

TIP OF NOSE

Posted in Rants on April 4th, 2018 by Ed

Listening to Trump talk about the southern border and Mexico makes it more apparent than any other issue (China and tariffs being a close second) how much the guy literally just says whatever he thinks of to get through the moment with zero forethought, ideology, or long term strategy.

If he's mad at Mexico and immigrants, Mexico has a weak border policy and Mexico sucks.

If he's mad at the American political system and immigrants, Mexico has a strong border policy and Congress won't equal it.

As was blatantly obvious before the election, there is no policy, no *anything* lending coherence to these outbursts. He says whatever will square with, at most, his previous four or five sentences, and then moves on. It's like writing non-canon fan fiction; as soon as that rant is over, it's like nothing that was said ever happened. It's self-contained and has no effect on anything before or after it.

On the plus side, some of the "Never Trump" right-wingers who voted for him anyway are probably starting to recognize how useless all their theories about how he would grow into the office were.

Oh, who are we kidding. They don't reflect on their decisions.

A PRINCIPLED WELCOME

Posted in Rants on April 2nd, 2018 by Ed

Americans seem all to grasp the plot of 1984 and other dystopian depictions of the omniscient surveillance state while, unsurprisingly, learning entirely the wrong lesson from them. That has contributed more than anything else to the modern dilemma of how to get the benefits of using the available technologies without surrendering our privacy to unregulated non-governmental entities.

A moron, or someone who knows what it is about but has never actually read it, uses 1984 to illustrate the point that we must be absolutely vigilant against any attempt by The Government to limit our precious freedoms. Yet these same people willingly, even eagerly, endorse the growth of an unregulated data scraping colossus dressed in the platitudes of the libertarian wet dream of a free market.

I have written many times that I don't express any outrage over things like Facebook, Google, our smartphones, etc collecting data about us because from the beginning I had no expectation that those entities would respect my privacy and information. Only a dolt would use Facebook without assuming that every single thing on the site is collected, sifted, and sold. That's how they're making money. I don't lie awake at night paranoid that my iPhone is spying on me, but I also expect that every task I perform with it is similarly creating bits of User Data somewhere. I don't enjoy or approve of it, but I recognize it as a tradeoff I am making. I reap the benefits of this technology and in return the companies behind it profit from using my habits to target ads at me or to sell to third-party marketers. Simply put, I'm not upset because I have always known it was happening.

The thing that people in general, and right-wingers in particular, have always misunderstood about the value of the sci-fi dystopia genre is that it was never going to be The Government here in real life. We'd never have a government forcing us to install listening devices in our house (as, famously, in the TVs in 1984). It was always going to be Big Business. And they were never going to force anything on us. They were going to make us want to do it, and to pay them for the privilege. So while Uncle Freedom and the middle aged patriots were putting on stupid tri-cornered hats and waving guns around to protest Big Government, the free market quietly began to do every single thing the evil government was purported to be planning.

Surveillance? No government could ever devise a system that tracks and monitors us as effectively as the one we've happily chosen for ourselves. Invasion of privacy? For the right price, every word you've ever typed in an email or anywhere on the internet has left a trace that can be unearthed. Control of the news? Look at what the President does with a simple, free Twitter account to lead the media around by the nose, or how state-sponsored propaganda networks like RT and Fox News have come to dominate the landscape.

Imagine the blood-curdling outrage that would result from the government forcing every news network to recite some kind of creed during every broadcast; yet when a company called Sinclair does it, well that's fine. Because it's not the government. And as long as it's not the government, the deluded logic goes, our Freedom really isn't at risk.

It is enough to make me skeptical that the right was ever really worried about Freedom and Privacy and Liberty at all, but merely the idea that the state or anyone else would engage in policies they didn't like. Because when the iron fist of 24 hour surveillance and propaganda comes from the libertarian or nationalist far right and free market – as it most certainly has – they don't seem to mind nearly as much. The First Lady suggests kids eat more vegetables and everybody loses their shit; one unaccountable corporation takes control of a huge share of local media in the U.S. and puts them on a propaganda script and those same vigilant patriots are either silent or downright enthusiastic.

If being oppressed by the state is so frightening, why is being oppressed by private enterprise no real cause for alarm among the fierce freedom advocates on the right? Maybe – just maybe – they're down with totalitarianism as long as there's no risk that it will express even a passing interest in advancing the public good. Perhaps the scariest part of 1984 in their reading was not the surveillance state but that the government fed everyone.

EPISODE 003 – MARKOV CHAINS

Posted in No Politics Friday on March 30th, 2018 by Ed

It has been a busy week for me. First, I have a thing up at The Baffler that looks at the last time we turned schools into fortresses because the political process was unwilling to question any of its fundamental assumptions (even if it meant embracing lunacy). Here's a real shocker – it includes tales from the Cold War!

Even more exciting, Episode 003 of Mass for Shut-ins is now available. Here are the episode notes. The audio is available via iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and other podcast providers (give it a moment to update if you're trying to find it Friday morning. It'll be there soon if not already). Podcasting is FUN AS HELL but also a lot of work. Each episode is an improvement on the one before! If you tried a previous episode and didn't like it, give this one ten minutes – I'm confident you're gonna dig it.

Story: DEATH BY UMBRELLA: The Georgi Markov story. A tale of intrigue and covert operations from the late Cold War that John Le Carre couldn't have scripted any better. 

Guest: Mike Konczal (@rortybomb), Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and contributor to Vox, The Nation, Dissent, and other fine publications. Mike and I discuss the art of punditry, appearing on TV without pants, the myth of a democratized economy, and stock buybacks. We also do Professor Brothers voices.

Performance by ANDREW BENTLEY. See below for information on Andrew's upcoming live performances in Chicago.

Topic: Why we're living in the Golden Age of Gerrymandering. Hint: It's not just because Republicans are assholes. But it's definitely partly because Republicans are assholes.

Cocktail of the Month: Lime Rickey (aka Gin Rickey, but we'll get into the complicated nomenclature soon enough)

Support Mass for Shut-ins via Patreon. Contact me via Facebook, Twitter (@gin_and_tacos), or the venerable website Gin and Tacos.

Thanks: Mike Konczal, the bands that contribute music (Waxeater, IfIHadAHiFi, The Sump Pumps, Oscar Bait), Zachary Sielaff, Question Cathy, and all Patreon supporters, subscribers, and listeners. Hear more of Andrew Bentley on 3/31 at the American Writer's Museum as part of International Tom Hanks Day, at Write Club Chicago on 4/17, and on 4/7 at C2E2 in a musical comedy on the Cards Against Humanity stage.

GET GET GET GET GET OVER IT

Posted in Rants on March 25th, 2018 by Ed

In Illinois, the primaries are over. Your state may still be in progress toward its nominations.

I cannot stress enough (and you'll get a dose of this in the upcoming Episode 003 of the podcast) that there is a time and place for everything in the electoral process. There is a time for fighting it out within the party, for all the Centrists screaming at the Bernie Bros and the Leftists telling the Liberals to go to hell. Then after the dust settles you're left with candidates that, for the most part, nobody is real excited about.

People make a big show of holding their breath and insisting that they'd rather stay home or vote for (opposite party candidate) or piss away their vote on some Green Party person who's going to consider getting 1% a major moral victory. This is a natural reaction to losing, because losing sucks and is frustrating. One of the virtues and millstones of adulthood, though, is being mature enough to get over it in a reasonable amount of time.

Do you think I'm excited about the prospect of voting for generic, soft-center billionaire JB Pritzker for Governor of Illinois? Of course not. He's like a sack of platitudes coated in the politics of opportunism. Am I going to vote for him? Of course. I'm not stupid.

Objective #1 – and it's worth noting the enormous size of the gap between this and all other objectives in importance – is to get rid of these bastards. The ones in office with the R next to their names. We will have plenty of time to fight about which Democrats are the Good Ones and which ones are useless dead weight when we have the luxury of time. Right now, politics is a life and death matter for a lot of people in the United States. It's easy to treat politics like a debating society or an exercise in moralizing (in which nothing matters more than your conscience) when your relatives aren't the ones being deported and you're not the one getting gunned down because you reached for your phone.

Believe me, I get it. Many of these people are not what you want. But the first objective, the short term necessity, is to get the party that supports literal fascism out of power. Your feelings can wait. These are not normal times. There is a sense of urgency here.

Step One is "not Republicans." Everything else is a luxury that too many of the most vulnerable people in our society cannot afford at the moment. We have to put out the fire before it will be productive to spend time fighting about how to rebuild the building. Nobody wins by waiting until there is nothing left but ashes.

THE HEALTHY ECONOMY

Posted in Rants on March 19th, 2018 by Ed

What are the biggest companies in the US?

Ask a large enough sample of Americans that question in the past and I bet you'd be able to assemble a full list of the Top 25 or 50 in the Fortune 500 fairly easily. Try the same experiment now and I'm not entirely sure some of them would ever come up. And that's very strange.

What are the first ones that came to mind when you read the opening sentence? Apple? Amazon? Walmart? GM? ExxonMobil? UPS? AT&T? Perusing the Fortune 500 list is an interesting exercise in assumptions vs. reality. Some are a lot lower than you'd think because the list ranks by revenue, not profit or market cap. So McDonald's doesn't crack the top 100. Google ("Alphabet") is 27th. UPS is 48th. Microsoft is 28th. Citibank is 30th. Citibank!

So what IS up at the top? My guesses were: banks, oil companies, and mega-retailers (Amazon, Costco, Walmart, etc). I wasn't way off, but the Top 25 had a few that were very odd to me:

1 Walmart
2 Berkshire Hathaway
3 Apple
4 Exxon Mobil
5 McKesson
6 UnitedHealth Group
7 CVS Health
8 General Motors
9 AT&T
10 Ford Motor
11 AmerisourceBergen
12 Amazon.com
13 General Electric
14 Verizon Communications
15 Cardinal Health
16 Costco
17 Walgreens Boots Alliance
18 Kroger
19 Chevron
20 Fannie Mae
21 J.P. Morgan Chase
22 Express Scripts Holdings
23 Home Depot
24 Boeing
25 Wells Fargo

Guys, I might be projecting my own ignorance here so correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm convinced that we could poll Americans by the tens of thousands before anyone mentioned "Express Scripts Holdings" as one of the 25 biggest companies in America. Not far behind on the list of "Never heard of them" candidates (unless you work in the medical or insurance industries) would be AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson.

Express Scripts, for the record, fulfills prescriptions by mail for some big institutional clients like TriSource (the military's health plan) and Blue Cross.

Does anyone think it's a little weird that 1/3 of this list is companies delivering pills from manufacturers to customers? McKesson, Express Scripts, CVS, Walgreens, and AmerisourceBergen do nothing but. Walmart and Kroger both derive a large part of their revenue from pharmacy (see Target's recent alliance with CVS). Two more of the remaining companies (UnitedHealth and Cardinal Health) are big hospital-pharmacy conglomerates.

Compare that to the first Fortune 500 (in 1955) or even more recent examples from the late 20th Century. Now, I understand that the economy is bound to change, and should change, over time. Big steel companies from the 1955 list are no longer the economic titans they once were for reasons we all understand. The economy will change. But it's a little odd to see hard evidence that one of the things it has changed to is…mailing each other pills.

It's an additional layer of weirdness to think that all of the 1955 companies are, for lack of a more precise term, things people have heard of. Things people recognized as Big Business (the holding company Esmark, like Berkshire Hathaway today, being perhaps the exception). Perhaps people who work in the medical / pharma / insurance industry take this as a given, but it just does not strike me as common knowledge what a massive share of our economy is currently made up of companies that pass out prescription drugs.

The argument that America is over-prescribed is common, as is the recognition that medical care and drugs in particular are overpriced. There is compelling evidence to support all of that, and combined with an aging population and the availability of more drugs to treat more conditions than in the past we have created a kind of perfect storm of medical spending.

This is weird. As recently as 1990 or 2000 there were zero companies related to health care in the top 25. It shouldn't be a surprise that companies that barely existed 20 years ago might be economic giants today, but if forced to guess I'm assuming most people would identify internet giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the like as the likely candidates.

It would be remarkably interesting to see some survey research on this – comparing what Americans think makes up the largest shares of our economy versus reality. We recognize as a country that health care is expensive and a lot of money is spent on it, but insurers and drug companies like Pfizer, Merck, etc tend to bear the brunt of that criticism. I think many people would genuinely be surprised to see that the middle men are the biggest economic entities, often in the form of companies that exist largely in anonymity.

I don't know what, if anything, this means. I do wonder, though, about the long term prospects for an economy in which so much economic activity involves mailing and handing people – especially a very large generation of older people at the moment – pills. Express Scripts Holdings seems likely to go the route of Republic Steel in the long run.

FLINT TOWN: EMPATHY AND LACK THEREOF

Posted in Rants on March 15th, 2018 by Ed

This is the wrong moment, culturally, to try to sell a show about police.

Either you paint police in a negative light (or simply in a non-reverent light) and become a culture wars talking point or you fawn all over law enforcement and look like some kind of soft-focusing apologist. Either way, you kind of have to pick your side – and by extension, your audience.

The new Netflix series Flint Town does as good a job as any Rust Belt documentary – either on video or in the numerous anthropological pieces on places that are falling apart in the East Coast-centered media outlets – of making obvious that two truths can exist simultaneously without negating one another:

1. Being a cop in a place like Flint, MI is very close to the worst job on the planet
2. Holy shit are some of the white cops terrifyingly bad human beings and examples of exactly what people hate about police

I highly recommend giving this short series a watch for that very reason. What is happening in Flint is a worse version of something that's very familiar to Rust Belt residents; a story of decline, neglect, and poverty (personal and municipal) creating a toxic stew of mismanagement, crime, and the indefinable but palpable sense of a place going down the drain.

Flint is a city of 100,000 that has no more than nine – nine – police cars out on any given shift. This obviously makes the police feel vulnerable and overworked since violent crime is common in the city and they are on their own the vast majority of the time. From the citizens' viewpoint, this means the average response times for calls range from several hours to a couple days. When you can't get the police to show up for a few hours when you call in a shooting – not some minor "Teen boys fighting in the yard" thing, but people driving up and down the street shooting – it's difficult to imagine what sort of faith could remain in The System writ large.

Add in the very real fact that this same System actively ignored evidence that it was poisoning you to save some money on water and, well, is it hard to believe that Flint people are not exactly waving the American flag and beaming with pride? To a sentient person who thinks about things, their attitude comes off as perfectly understandable. Rational, even.

The African-American cops (at least those included in the series) are, to a person, empathetic. They talk about their jobs and about the city in a way that demonstrates a good grasp of the city's underlying problems. Most of the white cops are no different. But there are some troubling moments with the police as a whole in the series and, well, if you've seen it let's just say there are two cops in particular who don't come off looking very good by the end. It won't exactly surprise you when one of them starts telling the tale of the time he shot and killed an unarmed black guy.

The group scene that is most revealing involves the officer in charge showing the Philando Castile video to a large group of cops the day after it happened. Not surprisingly, every cop in the room immediately starts making excuses to justify it and explain why it was his own fault he got shot. Days later, the officers' reaction to watching the mass shooting in Dallas in which several cops died is dark and somber.

As a viewer it's hard not to feel like a basic problem is the inability of police to feel the kind of sympathy for citizens shot by cops that they feel for themselves as a group. Some guy gets choked to death in broad daylight by a cop? Too bad, he should have complied. But a cop getting shot…well, not a dry eye in the room for that idea.

Worse, the one Really Bad Cop talks repeatedly about how bad the public hysteria about police violence is for a cop's career. You know, one smartphone video of a cop beating up a black guy and just think of that poor cop – public shaming, denied promotions, maybe even getting fired (but probably not). And of course I'm watching this with my own biases about the use of force by police thinking, a cop just fucking killed a guy and you're wringing your hands at how it might keep him from getting a promotion.

And that crystallizes the problem pretty well. The problem is not Bad Apples, which are indeed found everywhere. The problem is the basket that keeps and protects the Bad Apples. You could walk away from the series with the optimists' view that, despite having a clearly horrible and thankless job, almost all of the cops come off as reasonable, balanced people. On the other hand, the cops who come off as narcissistic, bitter, and hostile, though few in number, seem to enjoy the empathy and protection of the rest. Everyone in that room was ready with a handful of excuses when they watched the Castile video, Good cop or Bad cop. Police excel at empathizing with their own kind. And even when as individuals they are capable of showing empathy for the people being Policed, that feeling appears to be superseded by the Blue Code when their group identity is under fire.

The most refreshing moment was a cop watching the Rodney King video and explaining why it was "bad police work." It marked maybe the first time in my life I've heard a cop admit that some other cops might be shitty at their job. At the same time, Bad Cop is full of explanations about the King video being "edited" so you "couldn't see the whole story," which is an excuse that was popular from the moment the incident drew national attention. It's too bad none of the police could watch a video that isn't 25 years old and come to a similar conclusion, like watching the Eric Garner video and concluding that using a WWE chokehold, which is against any written policy you're likely to find for a law enforcement agency, isn't a shining example of good police work.

Until the culture of law enforcement and the authoritarian personality types that are such wildly enthusiastic supporters of it in the public can admit that sometimes cops make mistakes or sometimes cops are bad at their jobs, then the Problem will never be solved. We know, and Flint Town demonstrates, that most cops are Good. The question, and the issue, is why the culture of their profession continues to protect the ones who are Bad.

SIX OF ONE

Posted in Rants on March 13th, 2018 by Ed

It’s like musical chairs in the White House, except this game has a thousand seats and maybe 25 people playing the game. Cue the clip of Bart in the Leg-Up Program in Cypress Creek.

Someone is fired or someone resigns, then he (or almost never, she) is replaced by somebody Trump knows well personally. By definition almost everybody meeting that description of being “trustworthy” in his understanding of the term already has an administration job. So. Deck chairs, Titanic, etc.

It’s easy to get riled up about the truly appalling human being recently appointed to head the CIA, but unusually I don’t think there’s anything for Senate Democrats to gain by opposing her nomination or Pompeo’s elevation to Secretary of State.
First, in practical terms it makes no difference what pile of garbage fills these positions, the policy will be the same. Which is to say there will be no policy, or policy will be whatever Our President decides it will be on a whim. I mean, what did having Tillerson in State accomplish? What did he even do? Wasn’t he just one of the dozens of people who was supposed to “control” the infant in the White House. He didn’t.

The Democratic leadership in the Senate has no spine for a filibuster on this or, apparently, anything else. Accordingly, it makes next to no difference whether individuals in the Democratic caucus vote for or against these nominees. As the party tends to do, the members will no doubt play 15th Level Chess trying to “strategize” the correct move here. Senators running for re-election in Republican-leaning states will no doubt conclude that it’s in their best interest to vote yes.

In principle it’s gross, and in practice it’s irrelevant. Who is this hypothetical voter out there who’s thinking, “Well I wasn’t sold on Claire McCaskill but eight months ago she voted to confirm Mike Pompeo…” It’s a delusion propagated by the Sunday talk show pundit class. Fortunately it doesn’t make any difference. Either you’re willing to coordinate an effort to block a nominee or you’re not. For the reasons outlined above this isn’t a hill worth dying on. It’s also not a “strategy” play that’s going to accomplish anything.

CUT AND PASTE AND CUT AND PASTE AND

Posted in Rants on March 10th, 2018 by Ed

Ben Mathis-Lilley has done a piece for Slate in which he undertakes an unpleasant task that, I would guess, many of us in the Writerly World have thought about but abandoned. In the fabulously titled, "Sweet Jesus, Will the NYT’s Conservatives Ever Write About Anything but the “Intolerant Left” Ever Again?" he actually goes over a year's worth of dreck from David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Bret Stephens, and the newest (and just over-the-top cartoonishly stupid) hire Bari Weiss to show every example of these highly paid writers churning out some slight variation of what is functionally the same piece. Lately it's not just a common trope – it's literally all they write about.

Of the four, Douthat is bravest about branching out into other subjects. Weiss is brand new, so perhaps it's fair to give her a larger sample size before concluding that this is all she will write (don't hold your breath, though, since this was her bread and butter before being hired). Brooks and Stephens, though, are making what I can only assume are substantial six-figure salaries to submit the same thing week after week. Is no one above them in the chain of command bothered by this? It isn't just lazy and intellectually dishonest (note: it is definitely both of those things), it's also spectacularly boring. I mean, absolutely goddamn tedious. Painful at this point. If you really did need to read this argument for the ten-thousandth time, you could get it in any college newspaper from any college Republican chapter vice-president.

That said, I'm about to stun myself and offer a weak…not defense, but understanding of why these columnists keep doing this.

High-end legacy media like the Times, the Atlantic, etc. are in a tough spot as far as hiring Conservative Voices. They *have to* have a couple conservatives on staff for reasons of balance and ideological fairness. For years, the culture of conservatism made it relatively easy to find the kind of conservative that would not be repellent to liberal readers – think Buckley, Safire, Irving Kristol, and that generation. Blue-blooded liberal readers may not have agreed with these guys often, but they were not offended by them because they had all the right – for lack of a better word – manners. They were Ivy Leaguers who could be counted on, in short, to represent the right's viewpoint without embarrassing the paper. They weren't some John Birch Society rustic rubes screaming about The Jews; they were Country Club conservatives and at the very least they could express ideas considered acceptable for cocktail parties and use big words to do it.

You could read it, in short, without wanting to vomit.

Today's right wing columnist is far more Westbrook Pegler than William Safire, more Father Coughlin than Irv Kristol. There simply aren't that many George Will types around who can do "From the Right" without absolutely embarrassing the paper or network. The people today who can do this – Steve Schmidt, Bruce Bartlett, SE Cupp, George Will, Bill Kristol, etc – are consequently in high demand. Not because they are brilliant, but because they have the requisite elite mannerisms to avoid repelling viewers like the Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, or Sean Hannity style braying jackasses do. So, in short, the NYT's options are pretty limited. They're not sampling from a very large pool of potential candidates.

Once these people are hired, what are they really going to write about during the Trump era? They're smart enough not to tie themselves to defending Trump, and in truth they probably find him hugely embarrassing anyway. George Will or Ross Douthat are not going to write for an audience of globe-trotting successful readers, "Yeah, fuck other shitty countries amirite!" They're forced to confine themselves to either focusing on policy that isn't really being debated at the moment – pretending Trump didn't happen, in other words – or tone policing.

Tone policing has tremendous appeal for a weekly columnist. It circumvents the need to learn about policy or be up-to-the-second on current events. Hell, you can write two or three of these "OMG campus liberals are mean" things and keep them in the hopper for months if necessary. Talk about evergreen. Maybe update a link or two and boom.

Right-wing columnists at places that expect their output to be Respectable – written well, not embarrassing, not baldly racist, etc. – are in a kind of holding pattern right now. The only way they can write columns about current events without having to tackle the difficult problem of the right's embrace of Trump is to create a straw man and tear it down over and over. Since newspaper readers skew much older, picking on The Kids These Days seems like as good a dice roll as any.

That said, please for the love of god stop writing this same goddamn column.