AN OPEN LETTER TO BLACK MEN

Posted in Rants on November 25th, 2014 by Ed

Dear America's 22,000,000 black males,

I wasn't good at playing make-believe as a child and I'm no better at it as an adult. The best course of action is to call things as they are and not how we might like them to be. The reality, as we stand here looking back at another dead unarmed black male who posed enough of a threat to merit a lethal response, is that if the George Zimmermans and Darren Wilsons of the world are justified in doing what they did then our legal system has decided as a whole that being a black male is probable cause. You are legally a threat by virtue of the fact that you are a black male. Nothing you do or wear or say matters. The probable cause is that you exist; you are black and male and anyone who shoots you only needs to point out those two facts because it is universally recognized that black males are threatening.

The legal system and law enforcement are structured in a way that allows me, a white male, to justify doing violence to you up to and including taking your life simply by claiming that I felt threatened by you. In fact, my legal footing is stronger if I do take your life since that eliminates the potential of a conflicting version of events being presented in court (not that there is likely to be a trial, nor that your version of events would be considered credible). The logic, such as it is, is tautological; I felt threatened because you are a black male, because black males are threatening. Every one is a mugging, shooting, sexual assault, or burglary waiting to happen. I don't need to justify it because everyone (within the white power structure, of course) knows that that's just How You People Are.

My right to respond to feeling threatened in whatever manner I choose is worth more in the eyes of the law than black men's lives. If you and I have some sort of altercation, I can wait until it's over and you are 100-some feet away and then shoot you. I can shoot you even if you are running away because you are still a threat because you are always a threat. You are never not a threat when in public. Your best course of action might be to stay at home and indoors, although that will protect you only from vigilantes. Law enforcement is another story.

If anyone interprets my tone here as endorsing this reality, that is not the case. There is no point in kidding ourselves as a society, though: when a grand jury decides that a police officer shooting an unarmed teen isn't even worth discussing, that's a special kind of brazen. With Rodney King at least we went through the charade of a trial before declaring the cops Not Guilty. Now apparently law enforcement doesn't even feel compelled to do that much. It wouldn't have been hard to go through the motions and have an all-white jury return a resounding Not Guilty. Hell, it's pretty much standard operating procedure in these situations. But they did not decide that Darren Wilson is not guilty – they decided that whether or not he is guilty isn't even worth discussing.

In closing, as a Leader in the White Community it is of course my responsibility to apologize for my fellow white people. Please don't read any comment sections for the next week or two.

Sincerely,
Ed
White Person, 1978-present

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AN OPEN LETTER TO AMERICAN AIRLINES

Posted in Rants on June 23rd, 2014 by Ed

Dear American “Airlines,”

So that you may not duck this formal complaint with the cheap excuse that it is profane and uncivil I will endeavor to keep my swearing to a minimum. I suspect, however, that I will be as successful as your airline is at getting flights off the ground on time. What say we forgive one another in advance for coming up short?

Simply put, American Airlines, you are a very bad airline. The following tale of woe is true in every detail, as I am certain that other customers who have been bent over and cornholed by your sad excuse for a going transportation concern will be able to attest. Through repeated mergers and acquisitions you have managed the incredible feat of becoming the world’s largest airline while retaining all of the charm, efficiency, and customer service of the third largest taxi company in Lagos. Future generations will look back on this accomplishment with awe and wonder.

On Thursday, June 19 my flight out of Peoria, IL (where hopes and dreams go to die) was canceled for “weather.” I was helpfully rebooked on a flight Friday, June 20. As this cut into an already brief vacation to Mexico, the ticket agent was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to fly out of Bloomington, IL, located 45 minutes away, on the same day. Thus I drove at breakneck speed to Bloomington to make the outbound flight. Figuring that a canceled outbound flight would be lonely if not paired with a canceled return flight, I arrived at O’Hare to find my 9:05 flight to Peoria on Monday, June 23 was also canceled. For “weather.” Suspiciously, the 9:05 flight was canceled before 7 PM yet a separate flight to nearby Bloomington on which your agents refused to book me took off (after sundry delays) at 9:15. If the 9:05 flight could not fly through the “weather”, I can only assume that the 9:15 flight was torn asunder with the loss of all on board since PIA and BMI are merely 30 miles apart.

Realizing that a gaggle of upset customers was waiting at the gate to be accommodated, the AA gate agent helpfully walked away. Like, she just left. This employee – let's call her Eva Braun, to choose a random name – did not return for a full hour, time that I strongly suspect* she used to fortify herself with prescription cough syrup and Jeppson’s Malort.** Upon her return I waited a considerable amount of time to advance in this line at a pace best described as that of a pre-holiday queue outside the last open butcher shop in Riga, Latvia prior to the fall of Communism. When my turn came, Eva informed me that she was “busy” and I should, I quote directly, “go find someone else to help (me).” As a different flight was preparing to depart from this gate, my issue was “not (her) problem.”

American Airlines, I could get better customer service from the Kansas City Mafia. That’s not even one of the good ones.

After trying several people in AA uniforms standing behind desks at AA gates, I finally found a young lady who was able to reschedule me for a flight on Tuesday, June 24. As this strands me overnight in Chicago, I asked which hotel I would be boarded in for the evening. She informed me that I could get a “discounted rate” at area hotels but that I would bear the cost of the room. Confused, I asked slowly if I heard correctly – my hearing has been a bit out of whack since I stood too close to a loudspeaker at a Motorhead show in 1996. She replied, with no small amount of embarrassment, that since the cancellation was due to “weather” and thus "beyond the control of the airline," I would not be compensated with a hotel. Or even a lousy meal voucher. Given that AA cannot seem to control its own scheduled flights it comes as no surprise that the company has not yet mastered control of the weather.

At this point I would like to reiterate that you, American Airlines, are a very shitty airline and I wonder if perhaps you would not be better suited in another line of business. I’d have had better luck getting home by slathering my naked, hirsute body with expired Soviet postage stamps and taking a running dive into a Post Office.

Here I lie on the linoleum of O’Hare Terminal 3, pondering how a company that only does one thing could be so terrible at the thing. In the future it is my fervent hope that AA is purchased by a company that is competent at what it does – say, the makers of Jimmy Dean’s breakfast meat cylinders – and this will instill some managerial and organizational competence in your alleged airline. Their product may be a horror unequaled in the Western world, but at least they don’t fuck up the one thing they do. And I am fairly confident that Jimmy Dean’s would not make me sleep on an airport floor or make me buy my own shitty airport dinner.

In closing, American Airlines is a ball-gargling clusterfuck of an airline. How your one-lung shitshow manages to limp from quarter to quarter in solvency is a mystery. I lie here certain that your long term plan to fly the idea of customer service into the ground at high speed has been foretold by prophecy and cannot be stopped.

You are worse than Delta. How is that even possible. Don't worry though, they plan to one-up you by instituting a new policy under which one passenger on each flight is chosen at random and shot.

In spite,
Ed

*Libelous, likely untrue
**Look it up

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AN OPEN LETTER TO CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS

Posted in Rants on January 15th, 2014 by Ed

Dear Charter Communications,

For the past 18 months since our breakup you have been insisting that I owe you about $180. You've had four different collection agencies contact me about it, although they're not trying very hard (With a balance this paltry it's barely worth it for them to mail me a bill.) I'm confused, CC. I'm confused because at this point I can't figure out what is the worst: your customer service, your prices, or the actual internet services you provide. I regret being unable to choose one definitively, but it is not easy to choose among superlatives.

Charter, let me summarize your position on this matter.

When I moved to Illinois from Georgia I cancelled the internet services that you provided. See, when one moves out of a house or apartment it is traditional to cancel the utilities. About three months later I discovered that you continued to bill me monthly after my service was cancelled. Boy, that kind of mistake must be embarrassing! But no matter. Things happen and I was certain it could be resolved easily. I got in touch with one of your call center commandos and was informed that the billing continued monthly because – get this, Charter Communications! – I asked for my service to be terminated but I did not also state that I wanted to stop being billed for it. In other words, you apparently believed that I wanted to keep paying for your service after I ceased to receive it.

Charter, I've been to two county fairs. I've seen Carrot Top live. I've watched Bio-Dome with Pauly Shore in its entirety. I sat through a macroeconomics class taught by someone who idolized Murray Rothbard. What I'm saying, Charter, is that I've heard and seen some pretty goddamn stupid things in my day. Somehow you've managed to top it all.

Charter Communications, I think I'm starting to see why you declared bankruptcy in 2009. It is not a mystery why PC World ranked Charter 14th of 14 major internet providers. It's not hard to understand why you have a 1.5 average from 83 reviews on Yelp. Now, Yelp is not the first place to go for info about tech and communications. Yelp is mostly about restaurants. So here are some of the few restaurants I could find on Yelp with a rating lower than 1.5. For context. There's Regal Cafe Pizzeria in Boston (1.0). Colony Cafe in Miami Beach (1.0, noted for "fraudulent business practices" and charging $27 for a Bacardi Rum and Coke). Melrose LaBrea Animal Hospital in Los Angeles (OK it's not a restaurant, but apparently they charge several thousand dollars and then murder your pet so it seems similar to Charter). Clarke's on Belmont in Chicago (2.1 rating, but patrons run the risk of being attacked by a transvestite wielding a shovel). Pizza Napoli in Washington DC (1.5 stars, "Pro: Biggest piece of pizza I've ever had. Con: It was terrible pizza."). "Sushi Kingz" in LA – that's how they spell it! – which needs ten reviews from sockpuppets/the owner to get a 2.0 rating.

This is your peer group, Charter. You are the Sushi Kingz of ISPs. In fact, given your business practices I'm starting to wonder if Charter owns and manages the Colony Cafe. Here's what we're going to do. You bill me for whatever amount you feel is appropriate for services not rendered. I will send you an invoice in the same amount representing my hourly rate for putting up with your bullshit (call it "consulting" or something). We will be even-Steven.

In closing, Charter Communications, you are terrible at everything and I want all of the bad things in life to happen to you and only you. I want Jelly Belly to take your favorite flavor off the market. I want your favorite shirt to be irreparably stained. I want you to sit next to the crying baby on every flight. I want your spouses to leave you for prison pen pals with life sentences. I want your children to go to the most expensive university they can find and major in Folklore. I want you to be preoccupied at the urinal and not even notice that you're urinating on your pant leg. I want you to get to the front of the TSA line before you realize you left your wallet at home. Most of all, Charter, I want you to plant a big sloppy kiss right on my ass.

Piss off,
Ed

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AN OPEN LETTER FROM THE BOOMERS TO THEIR CHILDREN: PART II

Posted in Rants on August 10th, 2011 by Ed

(Newer readers may need to brush up on one of my favorite posts from back in the day, one that produced a wide range of responses)

Dear people between the ages of 20 and 40,

I hear things aren't going so well for you these days. The last time we talked – remember, when you asked if you could borrow $250 to get the alternator on your 1996 Nissan Pulsar fixed? – it was already clear that you are going through a rough patch. It looks like that "patch" might last for a long time, something like ten years. Five if we're lucky. Look, I know that some of this is our fault. Maybe a lot of it. That's why I gave you the $250 for your car, and why I keep offering to take you on vacation with me and Dad, and paid for you to get those two teeth fixed by Dr. Morimoto when you were in town over Christmas. I know it embarrasses you when I do things like that. Maybe "humiliates" is a better word. But here's the thing: we love you, and we know that you'd be financially independent now if the opportunities were available. They aren't, and it's sad to see. OK, maybe we have a little case of the guilts too.

All of that said, there are a few things we want to say. We're not trying to start a fight. Honest. Just hear your folks out for a minute or two.

Yes, we took advantage of a number of things that aren't available to you anymore. Strong economic growth. High wages. Taken-for-granted health benefits. Cheap higher education with cheap student loans (which in turn were almost wiped out by inflation over time). Pensions. Paid vacations. Cheap housing with subsidized mortgages. You get the point. We get the point too – we had it, you don't, and you're somewhat envious. That makes sense. Here's the thing, though: it wasn't all sunshine and roses. There were trade-offs.

Maybe it's something that happened in the schools or maybe it's TV or maybe it's my fault, but at some point your generation got the impression that work is supposed to be fun and rewarding. It isn't. It's just fucking work, if I may. You're jealous of the level of job security and benefits we had coming out of high school or college in the 60s, right? Your Uncle Joe retired at 60 with a nice pension. Do you know how he got it? He stood at a kick press for 8 hours per day, every day, for 40 years. Honey, if you had that job your head would explode from boredom and lack of stimulation in about a week. We'd never hear the end of how you feel unfulfilled and you'd probably quit to go "find yourself" or something before the pension vested.

Your Dad has one of those civil servant jobs that are disappearing these days. Twenty years at the Clerk's office and another 20 behind a desk at Streets and Sanitation. How long would you be happy if you switched places with him? My point, kids, is not that you're bad people or that you have no work ethic. My point is that we weren't just handed good money and a pension. In most cases we had to spend the great majority of our lives doing incredibly mundane, repetitive, mindless, soul-crushing crap to get it. We did it because that's where the money was. You know that silly show about the Office that you're always watching on Netflix? Picture yourself as Stanley or one of the old people who sells paper over the phone. Imagine yourself on a phone all day, every day asking people to buy paper. For years. Decades. Those jobs don't exist anymore. If they did, would you and your two Anthropology degrees do them?

Right now you'll say "Yes, I'd do any job" because you don't have one. That's understandable. I don't think you mean it, though. Maybe you should work on saying it until you believe it. I can imagine how annoying it is to be lectured on hard times by people who didn't have to live through a lot of them, at least in the economic sense. Think of it this way, though: we're right there with you for the most part. Yes, we're doing better now because we've been working for longer and we managed to get on the boat before it started sinking. But now? Now we spend most days trying not to get fired for being over 50, and most nights wondering how we're going to work until we're 70 or whenever the hell people are allowed to retire. You know those pension plans don't really guarantee anything, right? Ask my sister Nancy who worked for the airlines.

We know this is harder for you than for us – we're getting disillusioned and shafted at the tail end of our working lives while your working lives aren't even getting started. By the time the economy recovers in a decade or whatever you're going to be so old that…well, never mind. Let's not even talk about it.

Love,
The Boomers

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AN OPEN LETTER FROM THE BOOMERS TO THEIR CHILDREN

Posted in Rants on April 6th, 2010 by Ed

Dear people between the ages of 25 and 40,

As we near retirement, Mom and I wanted to write you kids to share a few thoughts about the lives we've lived and the world we've left behind for you. We feel this is necessary because at first glance it might seem like we are a generation of narcissistic, spoiled assholes who freeloaded off of the magnificent world our parents built for us and then cashed out before handing it over to you. This is an unfair characterization. It disregards the fact that we earned the right to do those things. We earned them by being awesome. Haven't you seen the films of us marching around protesting The Man in the sixties? Or the Woodstock footage that documents the way we changed the world with drugs, bad music, and indiscriminate fucking? We didn't cash out. We merely took what was due.

We grew up in a much different world (hence our endless lectures about the way things were in the fifties and sixties) that you kids wouldn't recognize. Ridiculously cheap energy – at least until 1973 – and the fact that WWII left the rest of the industrialized world in ruins allowed us to grow up with unprecedented prosperity. Even though our parents were minimally educated, blue collar work still paid back then. Of course, none of this is anything that we did. Our parents fought the war and did the hard work. But it sure did give us one hell of a sense of entitlement!

By the time we got to college we were convinced that the world revolved around us – and we were right! This was back when education was still affordable and the degrees actually made it more likely that one would find a job. The costs didn't matter much, though, since Mom and Dad footed the bill thanks to that nice, stable employment they enjoyed. When we graduated and started to overtake the rest of the workforce with our sheer numbers we were shocked to learn how many opportunities to enrich themselves our parents' generation was leaving on the table. Let me tell you, we weren't about to make that same mistake!

We really appreciated the blue collar work that made our lives possible, but how could we ignore how inefficient it is to pay Americans to do work that can be done in Indonesia? The genius of outsourcing was self-evident. Still is. Brilliant, isn't it? We've been at it for decades and I still can't see the downside. Some people complained, but the important thing is that WE got our bonuses and our stock prices went up. Our stock and other investments are really superfluous, though, since we're all going to retire on lavish pension plans, not to mention Social Security. More on those in a minute, son.

The structural changes we made to the economy, changes that were solely to our benefit and essentially told future generations to eat a dick, are nothing compared to the political changes we've made. This is the generation that gave American Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, and Newt Gingrich. Two words: you're welcome.

We realized like no other generation that the purpose of politics is to line our own pockets. Yes, most of that has been at your expense, kids. Sorry about that. Here's some token financial assistance with your college education. That should set things right.

Inflation may have made our mortgages incredibly cheap and essentially wiped out whatever student loans we had, but once we took over the political process you'd better believe we pursued the hell out of anti-inflationary monetary policies. Sorry about that! We needed the low interest rates for our vacation home mortgages and our 17 credit cards. We have taken advantage of dozens of New Deal era social programs, but boy are they pricey! So we did the logical thing and kept the benefits for ourselves and piled the costs onto you. Then we voted for people who would ensure that your generation would never enjoy the same horrible, inefficient Big Government. Sure, we waited until we got to the top of the income pyramid before demanding round after round of tax cuts with fanatical zeal. But I don't see how that makes us bad people. You enjoy low taxes too on whatever it is you earn when you're working.

Are you ready for the best part? We're all retiring on those fat-ass pensions I mentioned a few moments ago – and now we're dismantling pension plans too. Not for us, of course. For you. Here's how it works. We retire with full salary and zero uncertainty; then we lecture you about how expensive and inefficient pensions are compared to "building your own retirement" in the stock market. Hell, we even tried to replace Social Security with the Nasdaq Roulette wheel. No, WE would still have Social Security. You, not so much. Think of it like the way we enjoyed cradle-to-grave employer provided health coverage and then nearly died shitting ourselves opposing health care reform. Doesn't your boss give you insurance? Oh, come on. They must. You are probably reading the forms wrong. Let me take a look at them next time you visit.

In closing, kids, our entire adult lives have been guided by a simple philosophy: we got ours, so fuck you. It's hard to watch you struggle while we live off of all of the things we took away from you in the name of "fiscal responsibility." Some people might call that greed, but we are the greatest, most special generation of people who ever lived. I think we earned it. Maybe rather that whining and blogging and drinking Pabst you should earn some of these things too. I mean, you have a Master's Degree and you're working as a temp! With that kind of lack of ambition, how do you expect to accomplish as much as we have?

Love,
Everyone born between 1945 and 1960

PS: Sorry about those budget deficits. We don't really have much to say in defense of those except that Communism was really, really scary, especially in the 1980s when the USSR was on its last legs. How were we supposed to pay for all that stuff the country needed? Taxes? Come on. That sounds like something our parents would have said, what with their lack of vision and foresight.

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AN OPEN LETTER TO TIM PAWLENTY

Posted in Rants on February 2nd, 2010 by Ed

Dear Governor – and future President! – Pawlenty,

Your Monday op-ed on Politico.com ("Ponzi Scheme on the Potomac") was an intellectual, political, and personal revelation for me. I am a changed man. You offer a rare combination of political acumen, wordsmithery, and an almost preternatural understanding of economics. Washington needs you. We need you. More importantly, we need the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) you've proposed here. Most Republicans harp on "cutting spending" without offering specific proposals for doing so. But you have a very specific proposal – pass a balanced budget amendment. Visionary!

I have just a few questions. Forgive me the pedantic exercise of numbering them.

1. Have you ever looked at the process of proposing, passing, and ratifying an Amendment? After getting a two-thirds vote in both Jesus H. Tap Dancing Christ houses of Congress – and what could be hard about getting 67 Senators to agree to give up the right to fund pet projects in their states? – it must then be ratified by 38 state legislatures. We can assume they will be only too happy to give up the billions in grants they receive from Congress annually.

2. The GOP, home of Tim Pawlenty and fiscal conservatism, resoundingly rejected "PAYGO" (Balanced Budget Act of 1997) in 2002 when they controlled Congress. It got in the way of the Medicare expansion they were using to buy elderly votes. Maybe the problem is that it wasn't appealing as mere legislation. It will be much more popular as an amendment, right?

3. The only way (more on that in a second) to balance the budget under the current circumstances will be a series of draconian tax increases. Yet your proposal clearly states "the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent and tax burdens on individuals and businesses should be further reduced." Please explain this potential discrepancy. More accurately, please clarify what I am no doubt inaccurately perceiving as a discrepancy.

4. Under a BBA, the elimination of all discretionary and military spending from the current budget would leave us $300 billion in the hole. From where would you cut this additional $300 billion – after having eliminated all discretionary spending and the entire military budget – Social Security or Medicare? Alternatively we could save a quarter-trillion by defaulting on our debt, but that would still leave us a little short. And when "the tax burdens on individuals and businesses (are) further reduced", from where will these additional billions be cut?

4a. Which will be easiest to cut: Social Security, Medicare, or the entire fucking military budget? I can't see any problems, but a liberal naysayer might try to slow the process down.

5. When the BBA is passed with stadium-sized loopholes for "wars, natural disasters, and other emergencies":

  • a. Will the terribly well-defined War on Terror, the end of which is in clear sight, be sufficient to justify exceptions?
  • b. Are we to assume that "emergencies" refers to the well-defined, commonly accepted definition of emergencies?
  • 6. Like all intelligent people, you and I realize that when spending increases and deficits grow, the only way to trim the deficit is to reduce spending. I recently doubled my calorie intake and gained a lot of weight. Should I assume that cutting my calorie intake is the only way I can lose weight?

    Any guidance you can offer – aside, of course, from the Jedi-like guidance you have already provided – will be greatly appreciated. Please help me help you to help me further.



    With kind regards,
    Ed

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    AN OPEN LETTER TO TOM COBURN

    Posted in Rants on October 9th, 2009 by Ed

    Sen. Coburn,

    We non-Senators can only imagine what it is like to live in the shadow of the senior Senator from your state, Jim Inhofe, given that he is widely recognized as the biggest idiot in the Senate. Surely your mind works overtime concocting ways to steal some attention from that intellectual black hole clad in a cheap suit, and thus I am not surprised that you thought it would be a good idea to be "that guy" – the guy who tries to curry favor with rubes who wallow in their own stupidity by taking a political whack at National Science Foundation funding every couple of years. "Haw haw!", they will exclaim as they slap their obese, diabetic hands together with enough force to dislodge a few pieces of Cheeto from the sticky morass surrounding their gaping maws, "You tell 'um, Tommy!"

    Obviously I have a direct interest in your Senate amendment cutting political science funding from the NSF (or as you cheekily call it, political "science" – were you up all night thinking of that one or did you get to bed around 4, 4:30?) but were I not your reasoning would still be alarming in its creativity. Please note that none of the usual positive connotations of "creativity" apply here. Your logic is creative in the same sense as the Oklahoma City courthouse bombing.

    Let me draw your attention – which I'm sure has wandered in the preceding 45 seconds, waylaid by polysyllabic words – to a specific component of your "argument" before I attempt a retort:

    The largest award over the last 10 years under the political science program has been $5.4 million for the University of Michigan for the “American National Election Studies” grant. The grant is to “inform explanations of election outcomes.” The University of Michigan may have some interesting theories about recent elections, but Americans who have an interest in electoral politics can turn to CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, the print media, and a seemingly endless number of political commentators on the internet who pour over this data and provide a myriad of viewpoints to answer the same questions.

    Senator, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of political science. But the category of "things Tom Coburn fundamentally misunderstands" is about as exclusive as the admissions criteria to Oklahoma State. The idea that we and the talking heads on television are interchangeable or do the same thing speaks not to the uselessness of political science but to your lack of intellectual curiosity and willingness to accept the vein-bulging ranting of Glenn Beck as explanatory of political phenomena. Finding answers means finding evidence, not shouting a handful of competing "theories" into a camera and letting Americans pick the one they think sounds best.

    I have no interest in trying to explain to you what political scientists do and why it is valuable other than to summarize it with a single, brief example. What we do, Senator, is try to provide answers supported by empirical evidence – re-read those last two words, because they are the important part – for the millions of your fellow citizens who look at you and wonder, "How in the hell does a dipshit like this get elected to the Senate?" And the kind of taxpaying citizens who want an answer to that question are the same ones who aren't willing to accept the illiterate rantings of talk radio hosts as an explanation. They want an answer based on research, data, and tests of falsifiable hypotheses. That's where we come in. That's why we use the staggering sum of $91 million over ten years (That must be, what, half the Federal budget? Three-quarters?) to do work you are not only unwilling but, let's be frank, unable to understand.

    I applaud your courage, as it is not easy to be William Jennings Bryan in a modern Scopes Trial. It takes real courage to expose yourself to this level of humiliation in furtherance of your heartfelt commitment to fiscal prudence. Most of all, it takes wisdom; wisdom to listen to the suggestion of whichever 23 year-old staffer, still smarting over the F he received on his Legislative Politics research paper for writing a half-assed pastiche of opinion and sub-Hannity rhetoric, proposed this gambit. Recognizing genius is a form of genius itself, Senator.

    Regards,
    Ed __________
    Department of Political Science
    University of (far better than any school in Oklahoma)

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    A LETTER TO THE DEAN OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN LAW SCHOOL

    Posted in Rants on August 17th, 2009 by Ed

    August 17, 2009

    Kenneth Davis, J.D.
    Dean, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Law
    975 Bascom Mall
    Madison, WI 53706

    Dean Davis,

    As an academic with a rather active and classroom-inappropriate website, I want to preface my remarks by stating emphatically that I support the right of faculty to express themselves outside of the confines of their professional lives. The UW-Madison Law School should be commended for its willingness to support Bascom Professor of Law Ann Althouse as she maintains an active presence on the internet as a political commentator. From the tone of this introductory statement you are no doubt expecting that this is where one would begin the complaint; on this count I will be utterly predictable.

    Prof. Althouse's ideology and opinions are not the subject of my complaint as the University and the School are no doubt comfortable with her right to say what she pleases, although the costs to the Law School's professional reputation when she makes statements such as "but I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my assertion that, coming from Bill Clinton, the "O" of an onion ring is a vagina symbol. Hillary says no to that, driving the symbolism home" (6/19/07) as the ex-President attempts to eat an appetizer cannot be measured. I must wonder, however, what effect Prof. Althouse's disregard for or ignorance of the basics of formal logic and argumentation have on her ability to effectively teach attorneys-in-training.

    In her promotion of the broadly discredited conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in a foreign country, Prof. Althouse recently said the following: "If Obama can't convincingly prove he's not a Muslim/not born in Kenya, it only means the rumors might be true." (8/14/09) I urge you to overlook the politically controversial and factually dubious basis of her statement and consider the fact that this is an exceptionally basic logical fallacy, the argument from ignorance. The individuals who teach formal logic classes to freshmen on your campus – and I was one of them a decade ago – cover such elementary forms of illogic in the first few weeks of class. I am not unused to encountering fallacious arguments from students, media commentators, political figures, and strangers. Seeing a professor at a highly-ranked law school routinely embarrass herself with her inability to construct arguments that are logically consistent is less common.

    Academics-turned-bloggers (or in my case, vice-versa) must live with the effects of their private lives on the perceptions of their colleagues and students. I regularly risk students concluding, "My professor is an offensive asshole, and he swears too much." What I do not risk, but Prof. Althouse does, is having students conclude, "My professor is an intellectual lightweight who couldn't pass a freshman logic course and can't construct a basic argument." I won't suggest that my bewilderment at her poor rhetorical skills means that she cannot teach well (i.e., argument from incredulity) but her consistent inability to adhere to the basic rules of logical argument of which I have cited but one recent example raises the question.

    Whether the issue is Prof. Althouse's promotion of far-right conspiracy theories or Kevin Barrett's public involvement in the 9/11 "Truth Movement," UW-Madison has proven that it can provide an outstanding education despite the unconventional personal beliefs of its faculty members. I question whether the same can be said of daily public displays by a faculty member of a very basic inability to perform the most fundamental intellectual task of an academic.

    Regards,

    (name and affiliation redacted, but included in the hard copy I sent)

    PS: Note in advance the inadequacy of Prof. Althouse's predictable and clever (in her opinion) response that she merely said the theories "might be" true, which represents a legalistic attempt to cover her backside but is every bit the logical fallacy that a solid assertion would be.

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    McCAIN ADDRESSES THE NATION

    Posted in Election 2008 on July 16th, 2008 by Ed

    My fellow Americans,

    Now that I'm making up a little ground in the polls I think we should talk about what I am doing. Frankly you all are starting to worry me a bit. Some of you are seriously considering voting for me. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that is?

    Listen. This entire campaign is just an elaborate piece of performance art. An experiment, if you will. We are seriously just fucking around with you – seeing how blatantly we can give you the finger without losing your support. I had Phil Gramm (remember when he ran for President and finished behind Lamar Alexander?!?!) go on TV and call you a bunch of whiners for complaining about the economy. Read that again – my multimillionaire surrogate mocked your economic difficulties! I also promised to stay in Iraq (you know, that war you fucking hate!) for 100 years while all but guaranteeing a new war in Iran. It's like Marcel Duchamp crawled from the grave and ran for President.

    I'm publicly dropping hints that Mitt Romney will be my running mate. Mitt Fucking Romney!!! I mean, come on. I can barely even talk about it with a straight face, and you retards just keep applauding! Next I'll roast a live panda over a bonfire while my campaign staff steal medicine from pediatric cancer patients. And my supporters will send more checks! Ha ha!

    Even when I act senile – trying to provoke a reaction like "Oh my God, this demented fossil can't possibly have his finger on the button" – you're unfazed! I just gave a goddamn speech about Czechoslovakia (and did it again after I got called on it!) That hasn't been a country for, what, 20 years? Your response: crown me a foreign policy "expert!" You gotta be shitting me.

    It's no secret that my party has been trying to tank this one from the outset. We all know what's coming, and we're perfectly happy to blame Great Depression II on the liberals. No fracking way do I want to be the older, dumber Herbert Hoover for a new century. But at some point I started having fun with this, seeing how far I can go. I am standing before the camera with both middle fingers shoved in your face screaming "Hey! Suck my dick, losers! Sometimes I buy gas just to set it on fire!" And then you promise to vote for me. I give up. So here's my platform for the rest of the race:

  • 1. I'm sending Former Majority Whip Dick Armey to your mother's house to bone her in the ass. Not metaphorically. With his wang.
  • 2. I'm going to start referring to Asia as "the Orient" and southeast Asia in particular as "Indo-China." Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda will be "Tojo."
  • 3. New tax breaks for single people who drive SUVs.
  • 4. Unrestricted immigration for gay Mexican welfare recipients.

    You people are amazing. Remember when the Supersonics played nothing but scrubs for a couple of months in 2006, hoping that they would lose enough games to draft Greg Oden? The damn scrubs tried too hard, won too many games, and the plan failed. That's what you're doing right now. Come on! I'm not trying to win; the point is to let my team reap the benefits of losing.

    Bite my ass,

    John McCain

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    AN OPEN LETTER TO LAW SCHOOL APPLICANTS

    Posted in Rants on July 2nd, 2008 by Ed

    Dear Undergraduate Considering Law School,

    You have already read innumerable things about law school – from U.S. News and World Report's rankings of the top law schools to Kaplan LSAT prep books to mind-numbing tracts on how to write that Perfect Cover Letter – and you don't need one more thing to read. But think of it this way: before you spend three years and $100,000+ on the ol' JD, you can spare five additional minutes to read this.

    I am not an "expert" on law school. What I have is personal experience and ongoing experience teaching and advising droves of undergraduates who march toward it (and through my classes) each semester. My intent is not to dissuade you, but merely to be honest with you (and get you to be honest with yourself) because I have found the overwhelming majority of undergrads to look at law school with expectations that range from Delusional to merely Unrealistic, Confused to merely Ambivalent.

    Why do you want to go to law school? Your answer to this question falls into three general categories:

    1. You have a deep and substantive interest in the law; being a lawyer is your dream career. You picture yourself in a courtroom, defending the downtrodden. You see yourself getting a nice, "ethical" job (helping people and whatnot), disregarding the fact that such jobs are about 0.01% of the profession and you will most likely end up doing bankruptcies or criminal defense of defendants who, unlike those in the movies, are guilty as fuck.

    2. You want to make a metric crapload of money, and being a lawyer seems like the easiest way to do it without having to use math. Many people (parents and older relatives in particular) have told you repeatedly that you'd "be good at it." Since lawyering kinda sorta doesn't seem too bad, you figure "What the hell. Why not."

    3. You have a useless BA (political science, history, etc) and, as you look beyond graduation to the vast, uncertain future offered by a post-industrial economy, you can't think of anything else to do. Your options are to go to law school, do Americorps for $5,000 per year, or return to Seymour, Indiana and work in the H.R. department at the screen door factory.

    All three of these are valid reasons for going to law school. Unfortunately, that does not mean they are all good. First, we need to critically evaluate the myth that law school is a great way to ensure a high-paying career for life (i.e., #2). Let's look at what it will cost you and what you'll get back from it.

    1. Law school is expensive. If you go to a "top tier" school you can count on borrowing a cool $125,000 to pay for it. Lower-tier (and often public) schools may run you a more pedestrian $60,000+ over a three-year period. At the current Federal Student Loan interest rate (6.62%) borrowing $125,000 would leave you with a $1,427 monthly payment. For ten years. Going for the cheapie school ($60,000) would put you on the hook for a mere $685 per month. For ten years. So making a big salary isn't just desirable; you're going to be pretty fucked if you don't.

    2. About one in ten law school graduates (that's actual graduates, not applicants or enrollees) will make a starting salary in six figures. In 2006, for example, the ABA reported that 42,676 law degrees were awarded. Do you think that there are 43,000 plum job openings every year, waiting to absorb another throng of 26 year-olds who are balls deep in debt? Only about 4,800 of those new JDs made over $125,000. The people who make that much go to the Top 15 schools – Stanford, Harvard, Yale, etc – and finish in the top of their classes. So on the one hand, this can be encouraging. Nearly 5,000 law school grads each year can end up in high-paying jobs. Can you realistically expect to be one of those 5,000? Are you going to go to a top program and/or finish at the top of your class?

    Another portion of the 43,000 grads got decent-paying jobs ($50-75,000) at small or medium firms or working for the government. That's not bad, although the loan payments will be crippling on a $50k salary (and many public defenders / prosecutors can start as low as $30,000). But here's the important part: nearly half of the 43,000 JDs reported in 2006 found no work in the legal profession at all. Only about 22,000 of the degrees had reported starting salaries. As for the remaining 20,000?

    Given the bias in the way these statistics are accumulated (schools try very hard to account for every graduate with a high paying job in order to brag about their placement records), I suspect that close to 0 out of the missing 19,989 law school graduates had high salaried legal jobs, and the majority of them have no legal employment at all.

    As many as half of the new JDs in 2006 were unable to find work in the legal profession at any price. They are on the job market, overqualified for wherever they end up.

    I have personally known dozens of people who have entered law school. Most quit. Some finished. Exactly none of them – bright, dedicated people one and all – are making huge money or working for big firms. Should my anecdotal evidence be given much weight? No, but it explains my motivations. I'm trying to get you to confront the disconnect between what you think is going to happen when you go to law school (starting in a big firm at $150,000) and what is likely to happen. Sure, you could land a plum job. But that is the exception, not the rule.

    The the legal field is like the rest of our economy: the top five percent are doing exponentially better every year. Salaries at "the top" are skyrocketing. The most common reaction to this fact is "Wow, I'm gonna get in on that!" Statistically, no. No you won't. The top students at the top schools will, and the rest of your cohort will get the scraps.

    And the punchline: if you do defy the odds and get one of the rare $125,000+ starting gigs, you'll be working 80 (billable) hours per week for the next ten or fifteen years. Fun? Fun!

    So that's it. If you are going to law school because you want to help innocent people, make a ton of cash, or because you can't think of anything better to do, I sincerely hope you will pause and put more thought into your motives and expectations before you start incurring mountains of debt. My intent here is not to insult, discourage, or deter you. I have simply heard too many undergraduates speak of law school as a combination Lost City of Gold, career utopia, and get-rich-quick scheme. It is not. It's difficult, expensive, and with the exception of the elite, not as rewarding as you think.

    Regards,
    Ed

    (PS: h/t Mike, who also helpfully recommends this graph of the gloriously bimodal distribution in starting salaries)

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