May 4, 2016

Oh the jokes, where have they gone?

I'm gonna miss these primaries, specifically for the Republican half. Never has there been a more sad-sack hopeless assemblage of deluded types who either thought that the electorate might accidentally nominate them and/or that Jesus called them on the Jesus-phone and said, "Hey run for president!" And this was a field day for people who like to make fun of people who deserve being made fun of. (I am a person that likes to make fun of people who deserve being made fun of.) An embarrassment of riches.

Like Bobby Jindal! My God, the man as governor drives his state of Louisiana into the toilet like he was bobbing for turds and then struts around like he's a common sense answer to a problem that doesn't exist. And the people of Wisconsin might have some very personal, union-busting reasons to hate the guts of the governor who got pranked by a caller pretending to be a Koch brother, but this lazy-eyed walking pile of off-the-rack has the presidential temerity to claim that his bald spot was caused by bumping his head on a cabinet door. Ben Carson, Lord bless him, either in real life or in a self commissioned velvet painting, managed to not make a lick of sense and look disinterested while doing so. And Mike Huckabee, whose principal accomplishment was to put the gruntled back into disgruntled. These were some vile individuals, politicians who believed that leadership required a dogmatic persecution of the poor, freeing the upper class of the responsibility of taxes and intolerance of anyone unwilling to thump a specific translation of the Bible, individuals who deserved scorn and calumny on the basis of their contributions to the species. Consequently, making fun of them was like tee-ball.

Even the moments of lucidity from some of the other candidates, like self-certified ophthalmologist Rand Paul and failed great white hope Jeb Bush, were brief and quickly forgotten as the next debate devolved into dick jokes and school-yard nicknames. And even that was funny! Neither Paul nor Bush is as intrinsically clowny as the eventual nominee, but as every devotee of American comedy knows, it ain't nothing without a straight man. Paul seethed at social media stunts like a man who lost a bet, and Bush was somehow humanized by his slow realization that he was the butt of a joke that he could never head off at the pass. Even the smug bullying of Chris Christie and the sweaty recitations of memorized sound bites by Marco Rubio were not despicable enough to prevent the pathos from overwhelming the Schadenfreude. If I fall down a flight of stairs, it's tragedy, and if you fall down a flight of stairs, it's comedy; when they fell down a flight of stairs it was like one of those episodes of Louie, funny and harrowing at the same time. And George Pataki, what's a George Pataki? The finest political moment of each of these failed candidates was the day they conceded, which for each seemed the most liberating day of their lives. Jesus sure did call them and tell them to run, because come to find out Jesus has a wicked sense of humor. This has been some next-level comedy, with the jokes not just writing themselves, but emailing themselves to you, with the hard words spelled out phonetically.

And now, as of the results of the Indiana primary, the jukebox got unplugged and the chairs are being put up on the tables. A "Day of Reckoning" some have called it, but we had it pretty good, dammit, and when will so many people deserve and receive being made fun of again?

***

Acknowledged: making fun of political figures is a dated sport, like Rollergames, or Pong. Vitriolic take-downs may date back to Swift and his predecessors, but to spend one's time acting the wag, dispensing scathing bon mots, is a decidedly Dad thing to do. And it's losing, if not has lost, that sweet sweet 19 to 34 demo who, while susceptible to moments of great political fervor so long as something is being occupied or a revolution is being started, don't so much care for the fun-making. Things change, is probably the best scientific explanation why. And at the same time, I, no member of the 19 to 34s, will click over to Daily Kos — which bloomed in that golden age when we all digitally pulled together to back John Kerry to spur him on to defeat and the bereftness that followed — I will click over and be totally embarrassed by the content and tenor thereof. "Sheeple, MSM, derp," are terms of art that did not so well survive the intervening years. It is a different time, and the fashions of the day are fixed points in time that only travel with them who lived it. Even Rachel Maddow, of whom I would speak no ill, can seem a relic of a different age if you squint in the right way.

Twelve years ago, the rise of the Internet commentariat and what we then called "weblogs" and other personalized digital publishing experiments, was the arrival of universal mass communication opportunity. If you could afford a computer and a dial-up ISP (or had a library card), you could write things down that you wanted other people to read for some reason and then get these words out with an ease then-unequaled. And the fact that communities sprang up — whether the first-wave bloggers that became the gatekeepers of the new media industries that arose or the dedicated members of e-groups like Kossacks [sic] and other grassroots collectives — meant that your words were actually being read to surprising extents. Granted, these were all echo boxes (and the intended paradigm of Web 2.0, imploring you to take the conversation to Kinja), and further granted that communities of like-minded had been happening IRL for millennia, but it was intoxicating shit, and intoxicating enough to convince the members that the tens or hundreds of like-minded in your little circle was in fact the entirety of the Western world, and, why, if you all agreed that John Kerry was going to win handily, then by God the polls that say otherwise are outmoded and don't understand the power of social media! (This argument is of course reiterated every half-generation or so.)

And the chosen tone of discourse at that time, during the go-go years of the latter Bush Administration, was sarcasm and irony. These digital citizens had grown up on SNL and been nursed through the 2000 election by that guy from Short Attention Span Theater and a fake TV president played by Martin Sheen. Someone even coined a word to describe the cynical sarcasm and irony applied to public figures and events: snarky. And on the internet the snark was applied liberally, as each little writer could imagine themselves the host of their own little television segment, or 21st Century hybrid of Hunter S. Thompson and Dorothy Fucking Parker, quipping like there was no tomorrow, leaving serious burns in their wake.

But now (following a torrid but memorable lost weekend with smarm), the Way We Talk Now is more straightforward (even though we still frame things with the Way We _____ Now). If the recent past was the age of engaged-but-distanced commentary, now is an age of advocacy, and the imperative voice. Here are five things you should know, and why you should know them! And don't forget the things you didn't know, which is especially alarming in the seventh example! This is largely marketing speak, of course, just so we know who to blame, but it comes from the same place as the intention behind political discourse in social media. It's aspirational instead of bleak, and it's pop instead of punk. It doesn't know; it feels like, which like knowing but it actually matters. And it definitely does not seamlessly mesh with any Swiftian desire to burn it all down, with words.

Could the telling difference be that fun-making is mean-spirited? Because it is mean. There's nothing polite or civil about making fun of people, about wanting the people being made fun of to know that they are being made fun of, to know that there is some aspect of their character that is worthy of derision, to know that (to paraphrase President Sheen or one of the other dudes on that show) good people hate them. Again, there is dissonance between making fun of public figures and joining with your hashtag squad to make a difference.

And if this aspirational element of current discourse is believing that change can be achieved in modern discourse, making fun ain't nothing about that. To make fun of, say, Carly Fiorina because she conflates her business experience with business success will never change a thing. The world will never, never unite to unanimously disapprove of Carly Fiorina or any other odious political figure. Even the fallen, the Richard Nixons and the Roy Cohns, are still revered by their faithful, and history book rehabilitation attempts pop up like brushfires. But, if one can make some fun, be mean, be hurtful, then that's at least something. The bad guys of the world may well never lose and keep all sorts of power over everyone else, but they can never take our spite from us. And if the tears of odious public figures is the best we can attain, then let's do, and if the particular character defects of these monsters can be made more clear to a casual observer, then more the better.

***

Oddly enough, in thinking about people whose character flaws beg to be made fun of, Donald Trump would have come up even if he were not running for president. He is a walking punchline prism: no matter which way you look at him — his history, his successes, his appetites, his appearance, his vanity, his appetites, etc. — there is a vacuum of redeeming qualities. Even his fingers are little and shifty-looking. And none of this stood in the way of his current success. All of the fun-making in the world did not save us.

In the past the primaries were less a barn-storming preview to the general than they were a considered (but raucous) appeal to the party faithful. A certain number of delegates had to be acquired through fifty states of arcane rules and regulations, as well as considering that no appeal to the faithful could be so doctrinaire as to be used against the candidate in the general. Primaries were not a blunt force exercise.

Then came the Obama campaign in 2008. He certainly was as shrewd at the math of a primary as any eventual nominee, but he also began to take on the sheen of a movement — large, energized crowds, sweeping social media campaigns, memes even! And the result was (regardless of the acrimony he has earned) a two term president. It changed the playing field in discrete ways, but it gave the illusion that in order to be president one mustn't be a solid, stolid candidate, competence incarnate, but instead be a rock star.

Donald J. Trump is that rock star. He was never other than a joke candidate, to those who thought they knew how to predict these things. But in a crowded field, Trump got his orange ass all sorts of free television, by saying controversial/racist/outrageous things that a certain portion of the base wanted to hear. Like a dog-whistle, but for people (i.e., a whistle). And his inability to describe what he would do as president other than be a really fantastic president matched perfectly an electorate's disinterest in hearing anything other than how fantastic a president would be. Reporters expanded their definition of reporting to include counting attendance at rallies and noting the Nielsen ratings of televised debates. Even the tandem of Ted Cruz and John Kasich, respectively the most frankly evil and the most amiable-at-any-casts candidates, could not kitchen sink their way in front of Trump. Voters were leery of Cruz, a man wearing a mask of human flesh made to look like his own face, and Kasich's mouth was always full. Trump may be an asshole, but was is the asshole that a slice of America has been waiting for. He may well be shrewd, but he bullied his way in, with his movement, convinced of some unspecified time that America wasn't great, or something.

A lesson learned is that in having a president like Barack Obama, a person who actually accomplished things, a person who was well aware of cynicism and political utility without ever succumbing to it, and a person who actually sparked a groundswell of support that led to a movement election, was purely an accident of history. There have been (and will be) people of similar character, and there have been (and will be) people of similar appeal, but the odds of someone being both at the same time are like the odds of Leicester City winning the Premiership — it happened and we saw it, but we are not counting on it next year.

***

But we have more election to go, and now that Donald J. Trump is the presumptive nominee (I still say that he's not the healthiest looking old white dude, but what do I know), we that make fun have a very unique problem.

It's like this. I have a little dog, a Boston terrier. She is awesome of course, but she is also ravenous. She has never been the type of dog for whom you could leave a bowl full of food out, all day long, that she could snack on when she felt peckish. No, the food in that bowl has a lease on life measured in seconds and not minutes. And I've always been curious: if I just opened a 20 pound bag of food and dumped it on the floor and then left the room, would she actually ever stop? Well, naturally she would stop, but would she stop at the point she could eat no more? Could she stop herself, for reasons of discomfort, or even of danger to her own health? Personally, I bet, returning to see how she did, there wouldn't be a whole lot of food left, and a dog that might need a trip to the vet.

It's still six months to the general election, and there's not much that Trump says or does or decides that is not worthy of mocking. We'll have to see if we can handle it better than my little dog.

Posted at 11:41 AM

April 22, 2016

So when we were in high school we had a surprise birthday war. A friend had engineered one wherein my mom encouraged me to drive the rest the way home from the store for the first time, and so I was already sweating it pretty hard when I walk in the house and it's a surprise party. I was surprised, plus also, it was on. So for the one friend who was the architect, a bunch of us (with pop and cake of course) snuck into his house at four thirty in the morning, and then hid in the basement while his dad went up to wake him, "Pipe's burst in the basement, Steve, come down and help me with it." So Steve was in his tighty whites and half-asleep when we happy-birthdayed the hell out of him.

This is all irrelevant (other than for nostalgia!) but for one moment: as we were laughing and getting giddy on Jolt Cola as the sun was rising that Saturday morning, we were also playing records, as one did at the time, and of course we put on "Purple Rain". It had been out for a year or two already, so we all had it pretty much memorized. And so in our perpetual teened-up state, it only seemed natural at the end of the title song for me and another guy to lock arms to form a bridge of sorts and another friend, Chris, to hang upside down by his knees from our arms and air guitar the solo at the end. And I still remember it clearly, decades later!

This is a very dumb and trivial thing with which to remember someone so indelible as Prince. He was a lot of things to a lot of people, easily the most ubiquitous genius of the modern era. Gender and race and art and politics and culture and keepin' on keepin'-on — Prince was about all of that, and there are naturally gonna be a couple million words written about him as the world tries to remember what the world was like with Prince in it. But Prince was also the soundtrack of my entire life, and of the lives of everyone I grew up with and I'm certain a whole lot more people than that. And while the entire universe is sad about this, and a lot of lessons are being learned about how to make it through this mortal coil in remembering how Prince did it, sometimes you have to give credit for becoming a fixed point in the history of culture. Only a handful of people in history get to do that. Prince did that. I think that's neat.

Posted at 2:30 PM

April 19, 2016

These are just a few things to get off my chest, as today is Primary Day in New York State, and the first one in my memory that could possibly have any effect on the nomination of a candidate I might vote for.

I've been trying to stay (in my heart) neutral, preparing myself to vote for the candidate that the nomination lays on my doorstep as long as they opposed the Republican ticket, purely on account of Justices John G. Roberts and Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and the circumstances of their selection and their future counterparts that I hope to see prevented from happening. But as Iowa caucused and all of the Tuesdays Supered, it started to get a little bit chippy out there. No need to catalogue the complaints; either you know them or you closed tab sentences ago and are happily annotating something. But the chip was unique, because as the primary approached here in NYS and ad dollars poured in, the chippiness in real life—on the sidewalk, over the "water cooler"—began to first rival and then lap the day-to-day anonymous hostility that has loomed over the internet since the first time anyone ever enabled comments. Lines drawn. Choices chosen. We began to envy Captain America and Iron Man for the civility and lack of vitriol of their little garden-club dust up (coming to theaters this May!).

And I realize that the past four months have been, and probably the few weeks will be, comprised entirely of every last person with a login and a password yammering on and on about how they're a College Student For Hillary or a Woman For Bernie, and I realize further that the aggregate effect of all this thinking out loud is solipsism as the most annoying anesthesia ever. This piece, too, is not much more than me talking about me and my ideas and how these ideas should be widely shared because they are my ideas. But now is the time for all good men lorem ipsum, etc. And even though I'm markedly disappointed with the pitchforks and torches, I was hoping these campaigns could remain a level or two above fan-fic, and I am mildly surprised that the madness of crowds is madder and crowdier than ever. It seems that, with this election, we do not get to approach the convention with anything like consensus, and no one is escaping this primary without a black eye or a bloody nose.

So then. Today I'll be voting for Hillary Clinton, because not only is she the most qualified candidate running (in any party) but also because, of the humans currently running, she is the human I would most like to see be president. But, in the spirit of the contest, I do not want to let this opportunity pass without saying that Bernie Sanders is a bad candidate who has gotten a pass because people are either scared of his fanbase of pissed-off but liberal disaffected types or are fans of garb indie bands using Bernie to move a few more units. But bad nonetheless.

***

Fortunately the inanity of endless repetition of the ways that Bernard "Bernie" Sanders is a candidate that I would urge you not to support even though he is an international celebrity who is a bro of the Pope no matter what the Pope says is a little less likely thanks to Robin Alperstein, who over the weekend published eleventy million words detailing, after legitimate amounts of research, the many ways that her disaffection with Bernie tends, and, as they say, I urge you to read it no matter who you had sign your commemorative tee! And please forgive if I refer back to it, as it is quite encyclopedic, plus also credit where credit is due.

First of all, duh go check the Alperstein with regards to Bernie being a man who didn't have a job until he was forty and since then has held safe seats in Congress from where he could distance himself from the Democratic Party and offer many platitudes but no actual legislation. Because that's the crux of my estimation of Bernie as a dude in his eighth decade who claims to have done a lot (marched with cough cough, stood behind people signing legislation, subscribed to zines!) but hasn't really done that much at all, other than writing checks that his ass can't cash. And this list of dubious accomplishments is reflected in what passes for Bernie's policy positions. It's a matter of record that when it comes to policy Bernie is very good at bellowing and not so good at saying what he would do. Not even exactly what he would do, but even broad outlines of suggested points of action. To point out this absence of detail is to be fair controversial with his supporters, but it is not a new criticism, and even after a notable crater of an interview with the New York Daily News in which Bernie seemed not only sparse on detail but uninterested in them, his answers to questions of policy have not sharpened.

It should be noted that the goals of these fuzzy policy positions, the sudden transformation of American society into a Northern European socialist paradigm, with universal healthcare and education and tighter finance controls, plausible or not, are admirable, and in such sense they're a bare-knuckle political choice. If you are to not support Bernie, you are open to being accused of opposing this agenda, which would make you pro-Wall Street, pro-inequality, etc. Not fair? It's an election, and that kind of fairness is irrelevant. And even if I were the type to yearn for some transformational figure who is going to turn DC upside down or chase the bums out or whatever, Bernie's delivery is utterly unconvincing, a stiff-elbowed bellow about HOW CAN I DO THIS? I'M GONNA TELL YOU HOW! I'M GONNA RAISE A TAX ON WALL STREET SPECULATION! That may be no more deliberately ignorant concerning what presidents are actually allowed to do than any other candidate, but that is so detail-free as to be insulting, the kind of stuff that magic wands look at and shrug, "Not me, man." It is as credible as the kid running for class president promising pizza in the cafeteria every Thursday and not just every Thursday like it is now. It's "Make America Great Again!" without the fatuousness.

And what is decidedly not fair is convincing a bunch of well- meaning people that the way you achieve these goals is by attending rallies and wearing buttons and being vocal on social media, and then later bemoaning the Establishment and the Mainstream Media and generally theorizing conspiracy. The energy is fantastic and the fervor is commendable but when the energized realize that it takes more than a (self-proclaimed) movement candidate and one vote to upend society, the energy and fervor is going to quickly become disengagement, which is what we've been living with for the past forty years. If Bernie were a more responsible candidate, he'd be stressing how change is hard work, and each successive step in pursuing this change will take a lot more than an intro by Danny DeVito and a mini-concert by TV on the Radio.

Bernie's stated mechanism to accomplish any or all of this is that his campaign will start a political revolution that will sweep the country, and then anything that Bernie/Vampire Weekend wants will be rallied into law. This I find not just naïve but also a bit ominous. Revolutions, as we know them, are rarely peaceful and even more rarely efficient and controllable. It may be that Bernie has been less than deft in choosing his metaphor, or it could be that it's exactly the metaphor he intends. And the ominous part is that, any person who claims out loud to want to lead a revolution is a person I inherently distrust, and any person that uses, "By leading a revolution!" as an answer to policy questions is not someone that should be the titular head of the United States. I'm not saying that there is no need for revolution, I'm saying that even though his motives are presumably pure and his legion of followers are largely my friends, if you imagined any other career politician calling for a revolution to be lead by said politician, your Spidey- sense would rightfully be tingling. And all of the fervor, both from the candidate and the candidate's supporters, in support of BELIEVING in something instead of actually EFFECTUATING something that makes me most leery of Bernie. My comity with such a movement ends where the purity test begins.

***

Respect is due, if not to Bernie (and definitely not to the brains of his operation, Jeff Weaver, whose Agent Orange strategy is mystifying and odious), but to the many people who've fallen in behind him, largely characterized as young although some of my affinity group in the Bernie camp do not qualify as such. Their motives are unimpeachable, and what they want is something we should all want. Yes, a certain fringe that cross-identifies with GamersGate and MRA and other such vicious nonsense have done Bernie no favors, nor has an unnatural antipathy for Bernie's opponent, but you can hardly blame anyone for buying what Bernie is selling.

But here is the truth of the matter: Bernie will not win. He is not mathematically eliminated, but barring the unknown (the asteroids, hurricanes, etc.), he cannot win an actual majority of delegates prior to the convention. And yes Jeff Weaver has made it clear that he wants to win on the floor of the convention, to convince delegates pledged to Clinton that they should switch. But this scenario has a similar problem to the problem that the GOP has in derailing Trump: the good will (and endorsements and support) that Clinton has garnered is legitimate, and moreover, supporters of Bernie have been railing at these Clinton delegates/superdelegates in ways that create no good will, and in fact only increase good will for Clinton. Just as the GOP can't ignore the millions of primary votes Trump has received, Bernie can't expect to win over a party that he has basically been running against all along. The scorched earth strategy could pan out if he could win outright; he can't.

In a recent commercial, the campaign insisted that it would pursue its goals of recreating a society with the inequality removed and not listen to the "the pundits and the naysayers," which implies that all that has stopped what I presume Sanders thinks of as the "Establishment" from previously achieving this utopia previously is that there were some pundits and some naysayers standing directly in the path, arms crossed, tsk-tsking. That is a crazy thing to think, and crazier to promulgate.

Distrust the Democratic Party all you want, but keep in mind the fact that we are essentially bicameral when it comes to our nation-wide political apparatus, and one of these nation- wide parties (not the Democrats) is winning in terrible ways, and the way they are winning is by taking bottom-to-top organization seriously. Being president is one thing, but control the Congress and load the Supreme Court and then the President is out-gunned. National rights movements are another one thing, but control the state houses and then you get endless waves of cynical legislation forbidding localities from forbidding discrimination of these rights. And STEM education is yet another one thing, but install an ideologue on the school board and you get curriculum that won't teach history. The Republican Party (and, more importantly, the shadow Republican Party of the Koch-level donor class) is winning those fights, to such an extent that in many ways they don't need the presidency. And (again, consult the Alperstein) Bernie's interest in down-ballot candidates is only recent, and only extended to not enough candidates to fill a bowling team. Bernie may be running on big ideas, but he's disregarding (to say the least) the apparatus that, even though conventional and establishment, has been working towards these goals for generations.

A goodly number of my friends who are Team Bernie have expressed displeasure with being starry-eyed optimists, duped into marching lockstep with an implausible candidate, and I empathize. But dancing around the definition of pragmatism is not the most convincing argument, and believing that sixty million people will share your enthusiasm because you've stumbled across the first purely moral campaign is a bit of a stretch even if you believe that a bare majority of Americans of voting age give a single shit about anyone below them on the totem pole (also: stretch). It's confirmation bias. No problem with anyone's personal choice or the degree of support granted, but to start to see politics as some sort of Holy War in which everyone gets to be the Salvaged Remnant so long as they accept the gospels of Bernie in their heart also sets off Spidey-sense in a way not so different than a safe-seat Senator piggy-backing a party he never supported to proclaim himself the head of a revolution. I hate to disagree, but in this case I do. I understand that there is a sense of purpose, and it is very compelling to believe that a couple of generations of disconnection and futility can be undone by giving twenty-seven bucks to a campaign for a bumper sticker and a Twitter meme, but is there some version of Occam's Razor that applies to unicorns? If not, there should be.

But for me, the biggest warning sign, the most glaring formerly-living canary in this particular coal mine, is the adopted hashtag of the campaign. #FeelTheBern is the dumbest hashtag I've ever seen, and I think that all hashtags are dumb. I can remember social media campaigns for candy bars that were more catchy and sophisticated that #FeelTheBern, and yet the screens of America are filled with actual grown-ups believing that slipping into someone's mentions with a #FeelTheBern is persuasive. When fervency prevents you from the self-awareness that your preferred hashtag is dumb, you need to question your fervency. It's fun to get solidly behind something, so solidly that everyone who does not also get behind it is committing a sin, but when we support insipidness, we all lose. #GoBernie! #Bernie16! Those both seem to convey the sentiment without coming off as conceived by someone with a passing interest in metaphor. But boy is that an insipid hashtag, and it feels very good to get it off my chest.

I sincerely hope that I'm overstating my worries and suspicions over Bernie's campaign and the nature of his support, as I am not wishing ill on anyone, and there's more work to do, for the rest of this election, and for all the elections after. And I understand that having one's candidate criticized, or one's advocacy questioned, is a dodgy venture that hurts feelings, which is nothing I enjoy doing. I do hope that I'm wrong, and am willing to admit it where I am. Except with regard to the hashtag, which does no one any good.

Posted at 10:47 AM

March 25, 2016

This is something I didn't realize until I read this piece: it's not that there are more universities, but rather that more institutions are calling themselves so:
...the practice of applying the term "university" to organizations that are not universities or only slightly resemble them has a long history. The University of Phoenix was originally the Institute for Professional Development. The for-profit DeVry Technical Institute, originally DeForest Training School, became DeVry University. The same conversion happened at Grand Canyon College, Strayer College and Kaplan College -- today, for-profit universities all.

Elevating colleges into universities is also widespread among traditional public and nonprofit institutions. In the 19th century, states created hundreds of "normal schools" to train women to become public schoolteachers. Most are still in business today, and still prepare most new teachers. But nearly all have followed the same path of naming inflation: from normal school to teachers college to college to university. If you see a public university with a compass point or city designation in its name -- Northern State University at Anytown -- there's a good chance it was once a normal school.

Some of the more heinous for-profit universities are cited in the above, but the jumping-off point of the piece is the recent notoriety of Trump University (which was forced by the NYS Attorney General's office to rename to the less-confusing Trump Entrepreneur Initiative), so it's important to make the distinction: For-profit universities are slimy and mostly make money by getting dupes to take out federally-guaranteed student loans (for which loans said dupes are on the hook for the rest of their natural lives—read Maria Bustillos for more on this), while (formerly) Trump University was a more straightforward con, kinda like selling some sort of nerve tonic that would make you big and strong and then browbeating you into singing praises before you realized that you were not big or strong. What they both have in common is that they rely on a bit of bait-and-switch when it comes to advertising the outcomes of an "education" as it relates to job prospects, good fortune, etc. And that they are slimy.

But a salient point, the thing that I hadn't noticed until it was right in front of my face, is that yes there are in fact more universities now than there were when I was university-aged, and the reason for it is that advantages were seen in the lack of regulations preventing institutions from overstating their practice by calling themselves a "university."

Shorter, the reason for it is that people are greedy and will dupe the gullible at every turn.

Posted at 10:13 AM

March 18, 2016

Recommendation: if you are looking for deft political reporting/writing that carries on the deft tradition of deft political reporting/writing, then you would enjoy reading the work of Jeb Lund in Rolling Stone.

Lund snagged the assignment of following the GOP candidates during this land-war-in-China presidential primary, which has offered him the opportunity to write the political obituaries of an all-star line-up of Republican hopefuls. The Jeb Bush one is very good, as is the one for Ben Carson , which nicely eulogizes Carson's Potemkin candidacy. But most pertinent to this last week is this fork stuck in the candidacy of Marco Rubio, which holds a special place in my heart, as Rubio was everything that the Party ever wanted in a candidate (and had wanted for a long time), and accordingly not only did he never caught on, he never ever caught on like never catching on was a point of pride.

Yes Rubio was maligned for being young and yes Rubio was maligned for being a lightweight (and for being small), but Lund captures exactly the extent to which this shallowness was a feature and not a bug. Rubio was almost vat-grown from the laboratories of the right-wing thinktank apparatus created by the billionaire donor class (popularly referred to as "the Kochs"), first by memorizing focus-tested dogmatic pablum, and second by being fed and watered by the safety-net of sinecure PAC administration and endowed university positions created by the same billionaire donor class. This is Lund discussing why Rubio could not spout the firebrand nativist rhetoric of Donald Trump:

Marco Rubio couldn't do that, because nobody at the American Enterprise Institute had written that script dozens of times in synonymous policy papers over several decades. Ironically, the one idea the prophet of a New American Century could neither understand nor express was one that sounded new to anyone under 40. The only lines he had left were ones everyone in the audience at home could already guess. He could scare the shit out of you about ISIS, or he could scare the shit out of you about the American Dream.

Rubio didn't just stand a chance against Trump; he didn't stand a chance. The billionaire donor class may give the impression that they are the function of popular will, but they don't care for the popular will any more than they care for wage protections of their employees. They just want the presidency; they don't want the vote that is required to install a president. And in the meantime they will employ every empty suit that will tow the line. Rubio was their man all along.

Sorry! Tangent. Read Jeb Lund, read all of him.

And of course you might not be in the market for deft political reporting/writing. Different strokes, different folks, etc. I empathize, as I sometimes feel the same way about the entire process, and the process coverage that passes as news, as Lund felt about Rubio's stirring-only-to-thinktanks farewell speech:

It was a valediction of bullshit, as inexorable and damned as the rising Florida tide.

In little over seven months, everything's gonna all be exorable again, just like it was before. Keep calm and follow your meme.

Posted at 1:46 PM

March 15, 2016

The appeal of non-fiction to me is that it is really hard. You think that relating actual events that actually happened is as easy as explaining how your vacation was around the water cooler, but it is not so. In any event there is a vast spectrum of elements — your who/what/where/when/why, basically — and choosing which of those to describe is an awful lot of rope with which to hang oneself. And God when you start talking about people, and the things the say and the motives that no one can ever ever know, in most cases not even the actor, and then you realize that every word you choose is its own little dastardly Observer Effect, it's all a but daunting. Which is also why I love reading it, because sometimes that choice of one word just crystallizes this big messy fistfull of things you know vaguely but can't express succinctly into a concise, coherent realization.

The example in question is in the context section of this story on Saturday's day of conferences at South By Southwest devoted to discussing harassment in the gaming community. Two paragraphs, to explain to the audience what this is all about:

Much of it has centered on the games industry and is associated with a grass-roots movement called "#GamerGate," a term used by a group of people who are fighting against what they say are unfair portrayals of video game enthusiasts as anti-feminists and misogynists.

But, paradoxically, people associated with the movement have systematically targeted and attacked women online, including women like Ms. Wu and Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist cultural critic who focuses often on video games and game culture.

GamerGate is a topic that I'd assume that most Media Twitter Users are at least passing familiar with, while the average NYT Business section reader is probably less so, hence the need for context. And we that are aware of GamerGate are also aware that they are a troublesome bunch, and could express so given two or three sentences, if lucky, or at least a paragraph describing the background, with the last sentence or two detailing the trolling, and the sham moral outrage pretended in the course thereof, etc. (This at least would be the case for me, evidently.)

But then, up there in the second paragraph, I stubbed my toe on the word paradoxically, and damn if that doesn't pretty much nail the central aspect of the objectionability of the men to comprise GamerGate, that their stated goals are in direct contradiction with their on-the-record actions. I know, it's silly to get all hepped up at one word, but when non-fiction works in those incremental ways it just makes me glad that I'm not Burgess Meredith in that episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Further: now that I think about it, explaining how your vacation was around the water cooler is not as easy as it seems, at least for some of us. Your vacation is comprised of what happened and funny incidents and hopefully an epiphany or two and sadly some stuck-in-traffic or yelling-at-the-kids and on top of that how it made you feel, which is a big messy stack of data to translate into three sentences, with maybe an anecdote pending favorable response. No, what is easy to yammer about over the water cooler is what you thought of "Hamilton" after you scored some tickets. Opinions are easy; facts are hard. See: most of the internet.

Posted at 8:29 AM

March 2, 2016

As long as we're fixating on Success Academy (and more on that below), this bit of reporting from Capital New York (which is really stellar when it comes to local coverage) contains probably the best sentence ever in the context of a story concerning the kind of rhetoric that Eva Moscowitz uses when talking about relations with the city (and presumably whenever she opens her mouth):
The facts are more complicated.

Ain't that always the case?

And in this specific instance, a squabble over the city's pre-K program and the participation of Success therein, the facts are way more complicated, and boringly so. The city was requiring all third parties pre-K providers to sign a certain arcane document in order to receive funding, Success was refusing on the grounds that it thinks that pushing de Blasio around is good for business, Success had a hard time convincing the press and a judge that the document, which all other providers signed, was so onerous, and they lost it in the courts. This should be one big nothingburger of a story, but Sucess being Success they went and launched a big "de Blasio's pre-K program is poopy" press release campaign presumably out of hurt feelings.

It should be, and is, a yawner, but it is yet another example of how Success Academy and its synechdoche Eva Moscowitz never ever pass up an opportunity to be be obstreperous and claim some sort of moral superiority in promoting its business. If they ever decided to stop acting like the villain of a series on CW then maybe they'd save some money on PR.

And further, just because Success is a vile, greedhead venture commodifying the education of our kids does not mean that every charter school out there is also vile/greedhead. Public education has long been deprioritized as a function of the municipality, and as a result there's an awful lot of schools in some communities that you wouldn't want to go to. And at the same time there are a lot of people trying to find a way to do better, and using the the charter school paradigm to do so.

Having said that, if a charter school is nothing but a thinly veiled bid to find a way to make big bucks off of education just like Adam Smith would have wanted, then that charter school is unworthy of respect. Success is one of those.

Posted at 10:56 AM

February 26, 2016

There's a follow-up story from the NYT detailing how Success Academy, prior to the release of a damning video showing a Success instructor basically emotionally abusing a student, pressured the student's mother to object to the release of the video. This is not a surprise, given the track record of Success Academy in NYC. Last year a Success school was discovered to have a purge list for students, confirming suspicions of critics that Success was boosting test scores by cherry-picking students. Sensitive to the criticisms, Success attracted notice by switching public relations firms, which is the kind of thing that is not an admission of guilt but certainly the act of a business that has the spare money to worry about public perception.

But back to the student (or as Success jargons them, "scholars," with par for the icky course) in question. When it became evident that the Times was going to run the story, successively more important Success executives urged the parent to not cooperate, which efforts were apparently scuttled when Moscowitz talked over the mother at a public meeting when she detailed her concerns. Here's the part that makes you take a small break from reading the story, in which to weep:

"She [the student] used to tell me: 'I'm never going to get it. I just don't know. I'm not as smart as the other kids,'" Ms. Miranda [the mother] said. "I would hear that from her, and I'd be like, 'Where are you getting this from?'"

When she saw the video, Ms. Miranda said, she understood her daughter's dejection.

It is also revealed that the student and her family were at the time living in a shelter, which, again, is not a smoking gun, but Occam's Razor isn't just a river in Egypt.

Success, and charter schools in general, have an image problem. For example, the fact that Success has long relied on the support of students and parents is a luxury not afforded public schools. Sure, teachers unions have had public demonstrations (and struck!) but have they ever given the student body the day off with the proviso that they be bused up to Albany to be a backdrop for an imperious Gov. Cuomo? No doubt many of these families earnestly support the cause of Success, but it is impossible to escape the impression that they are being compelled to do so. And that's the kind of tactic that the product of free-market think-tanks do without compunction — charter schools don't have the same ethical imperative that public education has. Public education is there to educate the public. Charter schools are there to divert the flow of money earmarked for public education and slice a big chunk off the top to give to Moscowitz and the hedge funds that are capitalizing these ventures. Doing something dodgy like using the kids for photo-ops is absolutely fine so long as it is advancing the cause.

Not only will the free market not solve everything, some things, like education, should not be a business, because business only care about results to the extent that it affects profit, and if profit can be achieved without results, it will be.

For the record, Moscowitz apologized, sorta kinda.

Posted at 11:46 AM

February 25, 2016

The sky is falling. Of course it is! Remember, we are strict adherents to the concept of the Slow Degradation of All Things, and you certainly don't even have to be a lifelong student of reality TV to realize that we might be losing the word "Slow" from that sooner rather than later. From the environment to NYC skyline to the primary season we are in the middle of, there is an awful lot of suck out there and not a lot to ameliorate. And the way that we would hear about this slide into idiocy and chaos, our news media, be they legacy or digital, are by no means immune to the same maelstrom of irrelevancy.

By way of reference check this essay by Chris Lehmann, chronicling the rancid soup that is the digital news venture in this day and age, and the bad habits they have innovated themselves into:

The polite euphemism for such rampant self-prostitution in our brave new digital media world is "sponsored content" -- i.e., writing that's made to look, feel and read like actual journalism while promoting a paid-for commercial agenda. It's true that traditional print publications also engage in their own version of this subterfuge, but it's very difficult to mistake a plainly marked special advertising supplement in your daily paper that is overstuffed with propaganda ginned up by the Chinese or Russian government for real news. Meanwhile, blandly corrupt listicles and feature pieces gleefully swamp actual journalistic offerings in all manner of online news portals, from Buzzfeed to The Atlantic.

I would be happy to report that if this "sponsored content" beast could be rounded up and put back in the corral then we might have half a fighting chance, but even outside the rarefied air of these highly-financed outfits, the ones that need tens of millions of bucks of revenue because some well-meaning doof capitalized them for an amount north of that, in the places where the motives are pure enough to think of a sponsored content as questionable (or at least no fun to read), it's not much better. In fact, it's getting downright dull, as more and more writers decide that what the news really needs is yet another autobiography or another rote exercise in contrarianism. And that's the interesting stuff! Elsewhere entire zip codes of the Internet are automated curation zones, gardens full of headlines in the form of a question looking for a couple hundred words of copy. Oh the inanity.

And the appropriate irony, noted by Lehmann, is that the publisher of this very vital bit of gimlet-eyed observation is Al Jazeera America, which was a little venture to bring a little more journalism onto our screens that failed miserably and quickly to boot. Just another victim. So: Lehmann's piece is good, but trapped in a metaphor of the circling of the drain by our news providers. (And also note that this certain provider decided to slam its own fingers in the door on the way out.)

Posted at 3:39 PM

February 18, 2016

East New York is not my neighborhood. I live a mile or two to the west of it. It's a pretty different place than the Brooklyn that somehow got famous — well away from the shores of the East River, underserved by MTA buses and pretty much not served at by the subways other than on the fringes, East New York is one of the remaining areas in the five boroughs that is uniformly on the losing end of income inequality. It's a working class neighborhood, predominantly African-American and Latino, and over half of the couple hundred thousand residents live below the poverty line. And the fact that it's a marginalized community, of course, makes it a choice target for development and ultimately gentrification.

Our mayor, Bill de Blasio, was elected promising to address affordable housing development, and East New York is one of the neighborhoods that he has IDed as a zone that could be a home for new affordable units. The plan (an intended rezoning of the area) is pretty far along, with a vote scheduled by the City Planning Commission for next week. Today, the environmental impact study detailing the possible effects and consequences of the rezoning was released to the public. It's some somewhat dry stuff (though probably not to residents), with insufficient public school seats and a paucity of public outdoor spaces mentioned. I hope it goes well for East New York, and I am not confident that I know what would constitute "well" in the context of East New York.

But the reason I bring this up is the following, which is the reasoning behind the wholesale rezonings:

It is the first of 15 neighborhoods the mayor hopes to rezone in a move to encourage more market-rate development that would help fund low- and middle-income housing. City Hall, realizing the challenge of attracting developers to the blighted East New York area, has promised to spend however much money it needs to ensure half the new homes are affordable to existing residents.

This makes perfect sense on the face of it — in order to effect the building of housing for middle and lower-than-middle income residents, bribe developers into making units that aren't as lucrative by creating brave new very-expensive development opportunities. Simple math.

But the question I have, and the question that I cannot answer, is how did we get to the point where this was the most common-sense way to address housing issues? Breaking this down into specific questions:

Why are there no private developers who are willing to build affordable units without incentives? Is this a question of pure greed, inasmuch as why would anyone build something for a modest profit when they could build for a much healthier profit? Are we to that point?

Is the government, whether city/state/federal, entirely out of the housing business? I know that NYSHA projects are horror shows, even before Sandy, with little political will to properly fund or administrate. But, if private developers are too greedy, is it time for a hopefully non-Robert Moses revitalization of NYCHA, which would have a nice little side-effect of giving a leg up to the 400,000 NYC residents already in NYCHA units?

And finally, is there a place for existing housing stock in these plans? Obviously, with converting or rehabilitating existing stock, it's not the same financial opportunity (for developers, hi!) than it is to rezone/raze/build from scratch, but there is an awful lot of existing units in this city, and many of them are quite lovely, whether the single-family homes or the four-story tenements or the pre-war giants with a 100 units or more. Is the endgame that all of these will go away and we'll all be living in glass boxes with some version of marble countertops?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, and the handful of people who are actual experts in housing issues pretty much only know how to ask the above questions better. But it would be a shame not to give this at least a half-thought before we turn every last neighborhood into what Williamsburg looks like now. (Which is icky.)

And maybe ask who profits.

Ultimately, it should be also noted that "market-rate" in this instance (and in this decade) is synonymous with "unaffordable". This says something pretty ugly about the market, which I'm pretty sure is a synechdoche for the Free Market, which, who exactly is it helping again?

Posted at 2:16 PM

February 17, 2016

A small business story that got lost in the heady weekend before the Westminster Dog Show. Or the Grammys? One of them. Anyway:
In a cavernous recycling facility crisscrossed with conveyor belts, enormous bales of crumpled plastic bottles are stacked one atop another, waiting to be sold to the highest bidder.

For Waste Management, the company that runs this operation, collecting, sorting and bundling recyclables was until recently a profitable endeavor. A year ago, Waste Management could have fetched $230 for each bale of thin translucent plastic.

But today, thanks to the glut of cheap oil flooding global markets, they are worth just $112 each.

I like where we are as a species. Obviously, we need to be trying harder to ameliorate if not save the planet, but we've come a long way. We've banned a bunch of substances that just weren't good for the biosphere, we try to act in harmony with nature (well, those of us who are not soulless punchlines to jokes too dumb to be told), and we really have embraced addressing the problem of what to do with our waste — how to separate it, and take the components that can be repurposed and repurpose them. We should give ourselves a pat on the back!

But we should also realize that these programs did not come around because of any collective virtue, but rather because rapacious companies like Waste Management found a way to make a buck off them. And since trash ain't nothing but a commodity by another name, now that commodities are dipping world-wide, so to is the need/desire to recycle.

Even when we do the right thing we do it for the wrong reason.

Posted at 11:04 AM

February 15, 2016

There are a couple of ways to read this NY Times story on the current status of start-ups with a robust home delivery component. The most obvious way is as it is written: there are a bunch of tech companies/apps/whatever they call themselves that involve bringing some product or service to the door of the user, and while these companies raised a bunch of money and received some enthusiasm from the app-using public, they ran into the wall of high driver turnover. That is to say, they hired (or suborned or "partnered with") a bunch of drivers and the drivers did not stick around. Why? The pay wasn't enough, for greener pastures, whatever — suffice it to say, there are retention issues.
The issue is just one headache now troubling delivery start-ups, which have been among the hottest sectors of start-up activity in recent years. Based on a belief that the companies would succeed once they grew to enormous scale, investors poured more than $730 million into delivery firms like DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates from early 2014 through the first half of 2015, up more than 1,100 percent from the same period a year and a half ago, according to data from CB Insights, a venture capital analytics firm.

But entrepreneurs and investors are beginning to find that the economics of making a delivery service work are far from easy.

Headaches!

The other way to read the story is to flip it upside down a bit. Tech bros, as ever eager to solve the existential problems of the wealthy kid suddenly living on one's own, turn their disrupting attention to delivering. "Hey, if we develop an app that connects people that need something delivered with people willing to deliver something, then we can skim money off the top AND we don't have to capitalize for boring shit like employment and insurance because we're just connecting deliverer/deliveree!" And then a different kind of tech bros, the kinds with giant stacks of cash, mindful of the rewards reaped from funding so-called unicorns, think it's a very good idea and everyone will get rich and here, have fifty million dollars!

But then, as the app bros set the base rate to pay the deliverers (which kind of they shouldn't do as not-employers but why do you hate progress so much?) ends up being not exactly the kind of rate that makes any sense for the deliverers to be paid, the deliverers are harder to find and even harder to convince to stay around against their better wishes. App bros sad! VC bros even sadder!

The short version of that is, if the key to your business plan is cheap exploited labor, and then the cheap exploited labor decides nuh-uh, that's not a bump in the road to Amazon-like ubiquity (and Amazon has a labor problem down the road, give it time), that's just a shitty business plan to begin with.

This has been another cautionary tale about the sharing economy and the ways that it will disrupt us into paradise.

Posted at 9:31 AM

February 11, 2016

So two years and change ago I had a bit of what insurers call a Life Change Event. It happens to the best of us. (And sometimes the worst.) It was hard to understand at the time, but the fact of this, that it happened to me, is utterly irrelevant to pretty nearly 100% of the 7.4 billion people on this planet. Coincidentally, I was called for jury duty immediately following this event, and ended up being a juror. An alternate juror, to be honest, but this was a criminal trial, a good old-fashioned rape/sexual assault trial in Kings County. It was the kind of case where the alternates were not released at the start of deliberations, so there was all this fascinating shit happening—with the trial, the culture of the courthouse, my fellow jurors, and not to mention that I was pretty fucking low for the entirety of it, thanks to the Life Change Event.

And I had a pretty good relationship with an editor of a website at the time, and partly on a whim and partly just to, talk about myself, I shot an email saying something like, "Hey, how many pitches a month do you get that are all like, I'm on jury duty and learning weird things about myself, etc.? Ha ha." And keep in mind that back then, the heady days of 2013, the "learning something about yourself" thing was not yet a punchline in online publishing. (Nor was, "Here's what happened next." We were innocent then, and young.) And I was expecting a response that was more or less, "Yeah, ha ha." Which it was.

In retrospect, the whim was that the editor would respond more along the lines of, "Well hey that sounds like an awesome thing and why aren't you typing instead of reading this?" I share with my generation a general pro-circumspection stance, but part of me did it so that I would have the excuse to talk about myself, so that I could say that it was not my idea, someone else's fault. I wanted to be that person who assumes that the person's personal troubles are somehow news, I wanted all the faves and the shares, and I certainly wanted a bunch of sympathy leavened with compliments. I wanted to confuse the reasons why one writes things for other people to read with how one feeds and waters a bunch of people to make them like you and want to be your friend.

Ultimately I'm lucky that the editor is smarter than I am, that they most likely saw right through me, patted me on my head and sent me on my way. I'm lucky because however tempting it is to be Mr Can't You See Me Suffer (long story, happy to tell it), it's just not a good look. And those who have gone before us and achieved moderate to better-than-moderate fame having done so have never been able to escape the gimmick. This one will always be I Slept Around A Lot and that one I Did A Lot Of Drugs, and there's I Learned How To Pick Up Girls over in the corner, with his grandfather I Learned How To Pick Up Girls Before You Were Born.

All of this is to say, gently, that the places that the essay as a form are going, and I don't want to name names or point fingers because it is the trend that I am uncomfortable with and not the writers themselves (in most part), is not a useful place. Fifteen years ago we were all wringing our hands of the concept of Living In Public, of whether we should embrace the sudden loss in privacy that technological advances brought with them, and seemingly this has somehow transmogrified into Let Me Tell You About Myself. Popular websites traffic in this, and some editors are now pumping writers for dark secrets to be shared to a reading audience imagined thirsty. Even the NY Times is pinning its hopes for the future on a subsection that writes news stories in the first person (when it's not trying to explain you to death). It's getting very cringeworthy out there.

And I should say that yes, Jaya Saxena did write about being an alternate juror a couple years ago and it's a fun and smart piece, the kind of piece that is supposed to be the exception and not the rule. It's a bit of observing the world around her and not inserting herself into the story. And in reading it we understand a bit more about that slice of the world Saxena was inhabiting, and not so more a bit more about Saxena.

Posted at 10:58 AM

January 28, 2016

So here's the thing about the Joker. (Nerd alert?) The Joker was easily the most indelible of the bad guys created by Bob Kane (or as some would say, Bill Finger) as punching bags for his late 30s character Batman. And he was creepy! Clowns are creepy. And sure he was homicidal, at least to start, because all the bad guys were homicidal, at least to start, at the time, but somehow the super-power of "looks like a clown, laughs a lot" caught in the minds of the kids, and stayed in the minds as the kids became not so much kids.

And by the 1980s, when the kids were creeping past their 30s and all of a sudden funny books had to have a little psychology to stay relevant, a bunch of very very smart creators found a fulcrum for the whole men-wearing-underwear-on-the-outside genre in the Joker, a blank clown-shaped canvas on which to project a pathology. So then, is he insane? Misspent youth? Brain-damage? Actually, no &emdash; he is some sort of ultra-sane person, a creation of the passage of time as evinced by the late 20th Century. Does the world make less and less sense? The Joker is what happens when you focus that senselessness, that disassociative, dislocating modern world, into a human morality structure you get the Joker.

That's just a rough sketch, and if that's interesting give a shout and I'll post a bibliography, but all I'm trying to say is that if you want a contemporaneous phenomenon, then take this current version of naked greed and cynicism and oily ickyness and you get Ted Cruz. Whomst I hate. And I'm ankles-deep in this last debate before Iowa and mildly cheered that he is being roundly ganged up on so I just wanted to say hi.

Posted at 9:02 PM

January 15, 2016

At the risk of repeating myself every four years, the GOP debate last night was a truly astonishing display of willful ignorance, cynical and naked divisiveness and a complete disregard for how government works. And either you watched it (or are reading about it this morning) and the litany of complaints is one shared by us and nothing new to you, or you've had a bellyful of this noxious pap and are swearing it off at least until the general. So let's let the professionals do the point-by-point rebuttals in the interest of economy.

But! Two things.

First of all, of course I'm predisposed to not be easily charmed by the men and women who have the necessary beliefs at their heart to run for president on the Republican ticket, but holy smokes is Ted Cruz one unlikable dude. That oily smugness permeates every thing he does and you can tell that in his head he is smirking at his own perceived brilliance, even though four out of five sentences out of his mouth are cynical gotchas that only work in Model U.N. (or college debate team, natch). That he can dog-whistle New York City while his (one would assume long-suffering) wife is a lifer at The Banks just shows you how dumb every person not Ted Cruz is, and his version of foreign policy is clearly the idea of a man who thinks that the best way to appeal to voters is to cosplay a Tom Clancy novel. And he looks like someone wearing a Ted Cruz mask.

Shorter version: Ted Cruz is a real piece of shit.

But more materially, and speaking of which, the more that time passes and the older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the more and more convinced I am that the primary issue affecting the Republican Party influence over Congress, and this nomination race we are withstanding currently, is stupidity. For all the talk of antipathy towards non-GOP voters, of apprehension of the new and of a righteous me-firstism that the Republican base exhibits, they really are just not that bright. And as a result they are so easily manipulated into all sorts of misdeeds, electoral and otherwise. The fact that any demographic cannot ID Donald Trump as a glaring Exhibit A in the DSM 5 for Narcissistic Personality Disorder after about three minutes does not speak well of the smartness of this demo, whether emotional intelligence or book-learnin'. Take also for example one of the more indelible themes from the most recent debate (one specifically hit, in characteristically not-answering-the-question fashion, by Cruz), the visuals of American sailors in Iranian custody. I'm sure it's an outrage and all, but, guys, the sailors — and this was known at the time of these sentiments — were nothing but freaking lost, and the Iranian military gave them food and cots and promptly returned them, and the vessels and the equipment. I mean, if you're the kind of sap that views the world through Axis of Evil lenses, then maybe there's some outrage here, but for fuck's sake, come on.

And I have seen progressive thinkers wringing hands that to call dumb voters dumb only angers them further, and that there are two sides and try listening to the other, etc. Well, I'm all for listening, except when the two sides are dumb and not dumb. In that case, listening is silly. And the more that you dance around the fact, you become no better than oily Ted Cruz, trying to figure out how best to get one over on the rubes.

Posted at 11:13 AM