June 23, 2015

Sometimes David Brooks is wrong in a very personal way, as in, Oh that poor David Brooks, trapped in some alternate universe of beigeness in which he can only long to wear a novelty T-shirt. And other times, David Brooks is wrong in a way that (accidentally, I presume) is illustrative of some greater flaw in our culture. Usually, when David Brooks inadvertently aligns with the Zeitgeist, it concerns a specifically David Brooks-ian topic, like punctuality, or hygiene.

But this week, in a column characteristically bizzaro, he accidentally strings two sentences together that are a big part of why we're doomed:

Within marriage, lust can lead to childbearing. Within a regulated market, greed can lead to entrepreneurship and economic innovation.

Now, the premise of the column is that the Pope is just too dour in his recent encyclical, which basically indicts technology and free market capitalism, which is why a whole lot of people who wear a suit and tie while they write their think-pieces are bent out of shape.

But those thoughts, intended to show (I guess?) that all of that nasty sin that the Pope is all down on can actually have positive effects, instead show that David Brooks, and those that think like/agree with David Brooks, have some really really twisted ideas about virtue and vice. The target here is greed, as the Pope is talking about the free market economy, and, well, we're grownups here, but duh. But David Brooks still has his VCR so he can rewatch "Wall Street" once a year, and is not about to take lightly anyone clamping down on greed, even if it is God's single representative on earth. Surely there must be some equivalency, David Brooks thought, that I can employ rhetorically. But David Brooks needs another sin, one to compare greed to! But it's gotta be a good one, a sin that ranks right up there with greed! Oh, David Brooks has got it!

Lust.

Of course we all agree that lust is one of the Seven Deadlies, and sure there's a doctrinal prohibition of carnal concupiscence in the Catholic Church, but, really? As far as walking around the world, trying to deal with people as the planet actually burns, lust is maybe about the last bad thing that I or anyone I know am worried about. But you and I and everyone we know are not David Brooks.

And then there is the good thing that is the unintended consequence of lust: childbearing. Some of us might call that a consequence of biology, but okay. But as bonkers as it is that David Brooks would say out loud that childbearing makes lust A-OK, it's even nuttier because in this rush to develop a moral argument that greed is good, it is revealed that David Brooks does not know what lust is. Biblically, lust is not, "Hey there, lawfully married wife, let's go smooch some and see if we accidentally procreate." Lust is not just the desire to get busy. Nope. As far as the Church is concerned, lust is interchangeable with covet. So basically when David Brooks brings up the miracle of conception, he is inadvertently implying the miracle of conception but with another man's wife. Which may be the opposite of the good thing that David Brooks was trying to invoke.

But the whole point of the exercise for David Brooks is not to reveal that he's got some pretty complicated feelings about getting busy and making babies, but rather to defend this free market economy that he loves so much, and so the unintentionally good byproduct of greed? That would be entrepreneurship and innovation. But here's the thing, and this is the thing that burns my grits not just about David Brooks but also the other free marketeers and very very specifically the technocapitalists of the alleys and valleys Silicon who think that "There's an app for that!" is somehow going to lift billions out of poverty. First of all, entrepreneurship and innovation are not actual tangible things. They are concepts, each a pretty little word signifying ineffable conceits. And if you break them down into actual descriptive English, it is a whole lot less impressive: "starting businesses" and "changing business practices."

And yet, and this would be the second of all, the words entrepreneurship and innovation are bandied about as intrinsically good and virtuous values almost as much as efficiency is, and it is markedly not the case. There are many many ways to measure and economy or an economic venture — gross profit, net profits, market capitalization, mean employee wage, median employee wage — take your pick, be you a University of Chicago Neoliberal or a pinko commie like me. But as you think to yourself, you will note that of all of the concrete and even whimsical metrics by which to measure a business, it is impossible to do so by "starting of new business" or "changing of business practice". Well, not impossible to do so, but ludicrous and silly to do so. But the pointlessness of the context of entrepreneurship and innovation has not stopped the fetishization of entrepreneurship and innovation in the least.

It's another case where deliberately opaque jargon becomes commonly accepted as axiomatic virtues because a bunch of privileged yo-yos with similar educations and backgrounds agreed that it would be so. And it is so, to the point that these terms are no longer used exclusively in incubators and the start-up conferences of the world, but to us rubes, as proof. Even as proof that the Pope is mean.

Of course we're used to David Brooks being solipsistic and sometimes obtuse and always living in some utopian Otherworld in which the wisdom of David Brooks (confusion about smooching notwithstanding) is accepted and admired, but it is not every day is which David Brooks is wrong is such a revelatory manner.

Posted at 10:35 AM

June 9, 2015

A month or so ago I was sputtering with rage because the Corinthian family of for-profit colleges are naked scams that bilks the Feds out of billions in guaranteed loans and then runs the business into the ground like a fucking Jart. Oddly enough, there appears to be a bit of good news concerning this, at least with regard to the students who got suckered into attending one of the Corinthian Colleges:
In a move against what he called "the ethics of payday lending" in higher education, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Monday that the Education Department would forgive the federal loans of tens of thousands of students who attended Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit college company that closed and filed for bankruptcy last month, amid widespread charges of fraud.

Mr. Duncan also said the department planned to develop a process to allow any student -- whether from Corinthian or elsewhere -- to be forgiven their loans if they had been defrauded by their colleges.

That's a good one, "the ethics of payday lending" — credit where credit is due.

So good for the students who were bilked and that will be repaid. But here's some questions: So sure, the great Corinthian experiment of for-profit education fell on its face. But before it did, exactly how much money did the owners, CEOs, management etc. make? And considering that it's a couple billion dollars of public money that's going to remedy this, shouldn't maybe the public try to get some of the money back from the criminals behind this fraud in the first place?

And second, it's great that the students who were enrolled at the time of Corinthian's failure are being bailed out from their student loans. But what about all the other students, the one who graduated with a useless degree, the ones who never finished but still have tens of thousands of dollars in loans, before Corinthian failed? What about them? Shouldn't they be bailed out too?

Posted at 11:33 AM

June 2, 2015

One of my explanations for the Slow Degradation of All Things is this theory that I think of as Institutional Incompetence. Basically, in any career or trade or activity, it is written in stone that some percentage of the practitioners will suck at it. And I'm not positing some set percentage across the board. For example, I'm guessing for the position of Walmart floor staff, it may well be pretty high. And for brain surgeon, we of course pray that the percentage is very very low, but be assured that there are at least a handful of them that are just not very good at brain surgery. Institutional Incompetence! Or, human beings have the tendency to fail themselves.

This story, in which Homeland Security conducts an audit of how good the TSA actually is at screening airplane passengers, is what brings the issue to mind. I mean:

According to officials briefed on the results of a recent Homeland Security Inspector General's report, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints.

That obviously would be a very high degree of institutional incompetence. Takeawy: either the TSA auditors are really good at sneaking weapons, or no terrorist has actually tried to do so in the past 14 years. But why is the TSA so crappy at their jobs? Is a general lack of motivation? Is it indolence? Is sneaking stuff onto planes just so easy to do that the TSA inspections are just window dressing to make the public think that the government is doing all it can?

Or is it that if you give the average person the chance to fail, they will? Moreover, and this is where my interest lies, although I have absolutely no answer, is this institutional incompetence becoming more and more endemic as time progresses? As in, if there were such a thing as a TSA back in 1960, would they have been better at there jobs than they are now in 1960? And for that matter: do you maybe remember a time when Walmart, back when it was Wal-mart, as icky as it was, actually hummed with efficiency and a weirdly happy staff? As compared to today, when walking into a Walmart is like a peek into what happened between Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road.

And the other way to phrase this is: are people getting awfuller or am I just know realizing that people are actually awful?

Thinking out loud! As usual.

Posted at 10:07 AM

May 28, 2015

If you are not local to NYC this story might not be known to you. Thirty-five years or so ago, a little boy, Etan Patz, disappeared from Lower Manhattan, never to be heard from again. There have been a number of suspects over the years, but recently a man from New Jersey was charged and tried. No physical evidence existed. The prosecution argued purely on the strength of the suspect's confession. The trial ended in a hung jury, as one juror remained convinced that the state did not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Now I have no idea if the suspect did it or did not do it. I have a lot of hard time giving confessions a lot of evidential weight, first of all because they are factually meaningless. I can confess to killing JFK and it certainly does not mean that I did. And on top of that, I do have a hard time trusting cops when it comes to confessions. All of these are facets of human nature that are uncomfortable but true. But at the same time after three decades it is likely that there is no physical evidence at all, and someone surely did something terrible to Etan Patz, so it would be a good thing if someone was ever convicted.

Where I'm going with this is that Tuesday morning, I noticed a news item on the first page of the local section, with the headline Etan Patz Jurors, on Anniversary, Meet at Scene of Boy's Disappearance. Apparently some portion of the hung jury have taken the case on as a cause. And yes, there are some hard feelings towards the hold-out juror:

Many of the seven jurors and one alternate juror who gathered on Monday said that they were bitter about [holdout juror] Mr. Sirois's stand, which he has defended as a principled position based on what he saw as a lack of evidence.

"He had an agenda," Alia Dahhan, Juror No. 1, said. "He used this as an excuse to become famous."

Okay, so, this Juror No. 1, accusing someone of shirking their duties as a juror in order to seek fame, is doing this at some sort of organized photo opportunity that the news media somehow knew about, and her words are being spoken to somehow holding a microphone, while someone else is taking her picture.

I'm just saying that it turned my stomach a little bit, not just the hypocrisy, but the idea of the spurned members of a hung jury taking their case to the people in the most public way possible.  This is not the way juries are supposed to work, and the judgment being shown by these runaway jurors makes me seriously doubt their ability to come to a fair verdict.

It's all just so now, isn't it.

Posted at 10:30 AM

May 19, 2015

Okay, I know that it's a function of time, but things are changing.

Like, the really crushing one is my sister's dog passing away. The dog had a good long life (18 years!), and actually survived jumping off my friend's Brooklyn roof in 1999 (1999!), but as usually happens my sis sorely loved that dog, and eighteen years is such a long time that it really feels emblematic and not just an isolated experience.

As does the slow farewell that David Letterman is throwing. This is an actual big one for me as I starting watching that show when he first started on NBC. I was in junior high, and I'd stay up until 1:30a every night to watch and then haul my ashes to school six hours later. I haven't consistently watched for the entire run, but I stole my sense of humor from him, I guess I got used to him as almost a parental backdrop. It was reassuring to know that Dave was in the world (and I'm sure people a generation ahead of me felt the same way about Carson), and the fact that it's over — well, things are changing.

But worst of all: the news, my God the news. I've never not been a consumer of current events, but there is some shit happening these days that WE DO NOT BLINK AT that decades ago would have been International Crises. Say, ISIS taking the time to destroy antiquities in between beheading hostages? Say, counties sending out navies to push back starving boat people (in both the Mediterranean and the Andaman Sea)? Aww, I know, this kind of shit happens all the time?

But I picked up this morning's paper, and there on the front page on the right hand upper corner, right under the weather, was the story of what basically amounts to Boko Haram running rape camps in Nigeria. And this kind of knocked the wind out of me, because we live in a world where such a horror story, literally unimaginable, can sit next to less horrifying stories about biker brawls and currency-fixing as if it's just another day on the front page of the New York Times.

I dunno. It feels like a shift of some sort, a shift that will be more indelible in the rear view mirror.

And it also occurs to me that this could be a small case of me mistaking something happening to/with me for something happening in the world.

Posted at 11:07 AM

May 12, 2015

Well now that Uber is rumored to be valuated at $50 billion, this is as good a time as any to share this, my favorite bit of reporting on Uber. Oh, and for the record, the market cap of McDonalds is a little over $90 billion, so yes you live in a world in which a taxi pimp is worth more than half of largest fast food chain on the planet.

Back to the story. Part of the gospel preached by Uber and its disruptionist acolytes is that Uber is an awesome place to work and its drivers have all sort of flexibility and make ninety large per year! So Emily Guendelsberger of Philadelphia CityPaper decided to put it to the test and got a job as an Uber driver/independent contractor.

It is deeply researched and well-reported and I can't recommend it highly enough.

But I already said that I didn't like the idea of using other people's data -- all that was secondary to my own. And after 100 rides, I felt like I had enough to work with. Over that duration, during which I maintained a 4.83 adjusted rating, high enough to qualify me for Uber's VIP program, Uber would say I "earned" $17 an hour in gross fares. But subtract the 28 percent that went to Uber and the 19 percent that went to expenses, and I actually made $9.34 an hour (plus a grand total of $16 in tips, $10 of which were for meeting up with a guy who left his Porsche keys in my backseat).

But the point is not just that Uber is stretching the truth when citing how much its drivers are earning — this is just one more facet of the strange dissociative disorder that is the Disruption Industry, the need to believe the utopian crap that should be limited to the press release. Uber is nothing but a taxi pimp. They have no responsibility as an employee, they have no responsibility for the vehicles (though they do lean on drivers to invest in new vehicles for better customer service) and they have limited insurance coverage (all of which Guendelsberger goes into). They make third parties take the risk and Uber gets paid either way. Which is fine, hey, late capitalism, go for it. But Uber has to insist that this is not plain old money-grubbing but rather some sort of force for social good, not just for the customer but also for the "employees" without whom Uber has no johns.

This is to say, what is so galling is not just they are abrogating livery regulations and employment laws (both of which are there for a reason), and not just because they are nakedly exploiting a naive workforce, which workforce will be thrown to the curb once driverless cars are widespread, but mostly because they insist that they, and the rest of the disruption industry, be venerated as enablers of social good. Which is hooey.

But back to the piece: it is a piece of journalism, so there's nothing rant-y about it. It is really worth your fifteen minutes

Posted at 11:46 AM

May 7, 2015

There's a little story in the National section earlier this week that I think buries the lede a little bit.  The actual news contained therein is that the Department of Education forced Corinthian Colleges, a sketchy-but-formerly-enormous operator of for-profit colleges out of business, and the students want forgiveness on their student loans, considering that, even before Corinthian went belly-up it was basically fleecing the student body:
"The rep I talked to told me how great it would be, how they'd help me find a job when I graduated, and how their grads were highly sought after," [Corinthian alum Brittany Prock] said.

But when she graduated in 2010, Ms. Prock said, the only career help she got was a listing of jobs from sites like Craigslist -- and one call about a job with a janitorial service. Now 36, she o wes $83,542 in federal and private debt, and is no closer to a criminal justice job.

And this is not a bit of lefty bellyaching about how the free market is a big mean old bully — for the last decade Corinthian has been dancing with not just Education but also state regulators and a passel of Attorneys General.  Corinthian was a bad actor.

And the article does dip its toe into why the Education Department is in a bit of a sticky wicket, considering that it's gonna be on the hook for a lot of student loans issued under fraudulent conditions (by the Department) that it now has to either collect or forgive, but it does not go far enough in explaining exactly why Corinthian was such a bad actor.

Sure Corinthian engaged in dishonest practices, promising job placement that would never come, inflating graduation figure and its own stature as an institution of higher learning, and targeting the type of student least likely to ever be able to pay back the loans.  But, the article does not get to the motive for all this foolishness.  Corinthian is not just looking to trick students into enrolling for the sake of bragging rights.  Schools like Corinthian want students, especially poor students, because of the the federal student aid that is underwritten by the Education Department.

Basically, they dangle a bootstrap story of life improvement, help filling out FAFSA forms (and by help I mean falsify), then provide a bare-bones education and a piss poor job placement program because the grift has taken place — they've taken twenty or thirty thousand of Education's money and left they student holding the bag.

It's not just galling.  It's fraudulent.  And articles like this shouldn't have the tone of, Private Industry Under Scrutiny.  They should be more like, Private Industry Revealed To Be Criminal Enterprise.

(And credit as usual to Maria Bustillos for lighting the fire under my ass on this with this great Awl piece from a few years ago.)

Posted at 2:17 PM

Happy election day United Kingdom!  And instead of me bloviating on the impact and likely outcomes, I'm going to turn it over to my friend Kevan, who lives in London and is very astute on these sorts of things (as well as military history and British comedy and punk rock).  Kev:

**

Remember that Scottish referendum, the one where the loyalists only just lost?

Well, it just hasn't gone away and the loyalists are back, using the National Election to further the cause.

Basically, until five years ago, the British electorate preferred to vote for one of two parties, Tory or Labour. Before Labour emerged as a force in the 1920s it was Tory v. Liberal, but always a two-party system.

Then, after 13 years of Labour rule, tainted by entering a war on George Bush's behalf, the public wanted out, but still didn't trust the Tories, and so the 2010 election brought a stalemate. Although the Tories had won the most seats, they had not won enough for a majority government, and so they unexpectedly did a deal with the Liberal Democrats to form a majority coalition, which survived the length of the parliament.

Five years on, and the public is still undecided and we face another coalition, and the prospect that this may become the norm.

Why? Probably from the growing apathy with the professional class, and the disintegration of the old political tribes.

Regardless, the nation faces an election where no-one dares call the result, as, even though there is consensus that it's almost certainly going to be a "hung parliament", it's impossible to tell what form of coalition will emerge from the vote.

The focus of this scenario has been Labour's inability to make up ground and the stark reality that they face the potential decimation in Scotland where the Scottish National Party (SNP) could actually take every seat from the Labour Party. (Note: the Tories have as much chance of winning a seat in Scotland as (add punch-line here).

This is serious shit because: a) Labour rely on those Scottish seats to maintain their core vote, without which, Labour could never achieve a majority at Westminster, and b) an SNP landslide north of the border would be the launch of a return of the referendum, and the Nationalists push to have a second, rapidly held, attempt at breaking with rule from Westminster.

Once the SNP ascendancy over Labour was recognised, the pundits commentated how Labour would need to form a coalition with the SNP in order to form a parliament. This seemingly pragmatic approach to keeping the Tories out became vehemently dismissed by the Labour leadership, as they were unwilling to encourage the Scots to abandon Labour as their default representatives, as conceding defeat north of the border would not only presage the break up of the union, but would signal the end of any future Labour majority at Westminster.

For the Tories, their vote is being diminished by the far less credible, but potentially damaging in marginal constituencies, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) home to the bigoted unhinged that believe that they are entitled to say anything they wish about the poor and foreigners. The Tories therefore equally need to ally with someone, other than UKIP, yet, aside from the Liberals, none of the minority parties can make up the numbers to create a majority government and keep a Labour coalition out.

As for the Liberals? Siding with the Tories in the previous coalition damaged the brand gravely, and even the Liberals know that they'll lose a shit-load of seats. In fact, their plight is marked by the Liberals optimism that they'll defy the polls and win around 30 seats, despite having previously won 57 seats in the 2010 campaign. Without those 57 seats, the Liberals lose a lot of clout with the others as an attractive coalition partner.

So what are the predictions?

i) whichever of the two large parties that lucks out with the highest number of seats will declare themselves in a minority government and take their chances by wheeling and dealing with other parties, and dissent members of the opposition to get their policies through.

ii) either of them form a coalition with the ragbag of outsider parties, which, majority or not, is the most attractive to Parliament. That is, the line-up least likely to implode in the eyes of the House of Commons. This could be one party with lower votes than their rival, outmanoeuvring the larger by better use of the parliamentary apparatus.

Does anyone know what will happen? No.

Will British politics change as a result? Very probably. This may well be the unfolding of 21st century politics in the UK.

**

Hey that sounds dire!  Thanks, Kevan!

Posted at 11:27 AM

April 30, 2015

Maybe this is a new thing for me, but nowadays when we find ourselves in the middle of yet another city torn apart because of bad/dumb policing, I get struck mute.  (And I have a very peculiar affection for the city of Baltimore.  Not that I have nothing to say, and not even that it seems that enough people are saying enough things that I would just be repeating myself, I just, well, I guess the way to put it is, can't even.  It makes me queasy.  The L.A. riots were, what, twenty-three years ago?  And even still there are white people who think that a black "thug" severed his own spinal cord while in police custody.  It pains me to see how far we have not come.  An empty stadium baseball game?  We are abhorrent and ridiculous.

But one small bright spot in this week of me assiduously not-writing: this piece on Baltimore by Colette Shade.  Shade was covering the Maryland Hunt Cup last Saturday, which just so happened to be the day that the city started to ignite.  And it is a fabulous piece: she keeps herself well out of the narrative and lets the subjects tell the story.   I almost hate to pullquote and spoil it, but, holy shit:

"So you came to Hunt Cup to ask a bunch of lily-white people about what's going on?" the man in the sweatshirt said.

"Well, yeah," I said.

"Here's a quote," he said. "The police in this country are doing their job. What would it be like if we said let's let all the cops have vacation for a week?"

I wrote that down and thanked him for his time.

That little bit of elegance is the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with non-fiction and journalism in the first place.

I mean, it's not exactly uplifting or anything, but I still a bright shiny thing to get you through this week.

Posted at 11:13 AM

April 22, 2015

There is some good news/bad news on the continuing reluctance to recognize that fracking as it is implemented today causes earthquakes.  The good news: it's all a little less reluctant!
Abandoning years of official skepticism, Oklahoma's government on Tuesday embraced a scientific consensus that earthquakes rocking the state are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells.

And believe it or not, that very red state did a lot more than embrace a consensus — they started website!  And before you unleash the dogs of snark on that one, it's actually a pretty useful website, developed by the Office of the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment.  Even the URL is scary: earthquakes.ok.gov.  I mean, what Oklahoma is actually doing is a little less than robust (quickly, alert the bureaucracy!) but it's the next step following flat out denying that all those earthquakes that started right around the same time that the fracking started could NOT possibly be related.

And the bad news!  Well, it's bad news for the energy industry, actually.  Because an energy industry-friendly admitting the fracking/earthquake link means that flacks have to think up new things to say other than, "No one has shown a link yet.

"There may be a link between earthquakes and disposal wells," the [Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association]'s president, Chad Warmington, said in the statement, "but we -- industry, regulators, researchers, lawmakers or state residents -- still don't know enough about how wastewater injection impacts Oklahoma's underground faults."

Nor is there any evidence that halting wastewater injection would slow or stop the earthquakes, he said.

No, now the tapdance is a) we may know a little bit about fracking and earthquakes, but we don't know everything, so HEY LOOK a bright shiny thing on the ground; and b) one thing we definitely don't know is if stopping fracking is going to stop the earthquakes that are already going to happen because of fracking.

It's all dubious doubletalk crap, is what it is, but the bottom line is that the energy industry does not think that this question is one that should be taken seriously: How many earthquakes is too many earthquakes?

Posted at 10:50 AM

April 16, 2015

This may just be my fervent belief in the slow degradation of all things talking, but at this point I find it not inconceivable that all of our elections, from the school board to the President of These United States, are not just a little less scrupulous but just plain rigged from the get-go.   That's a very hard thing for an American to grasp onto, as the exceptionalism that has been drilled into us by our otherwise excellent public education has a component of truthfulness and honesty (fair play , dare I say) that makes wholesale corruption seem untenable, a fiction of movies and television, and one that is always punished in the end.  But take what you know of human nature, what you know of this system of oligarchs and the subsistence earners who work so hard to line the oligarchs' pockets, of institutional cruelty and discrimination and all those other devils that pop up now and again and make us gasp and cover our mouths, take that knowledge and ask yourself: why would fixing elections be so implausible?

These cheery thoughts are brought to mind because, in Virginia, a certain brand of electronic voting machines (AVS WinVote) were pulled from service by the Commonwealth.  Why?  Because they were comically insecure.

As one of my colleagues taught me, BLUF - Bottom Line Up Front. If an election was held using the AVS WinVote, and it wasn't hacked, it was only because no one tried. The vulnerabilities were so severe, and so trivial to exploit, that anyone with even a modicum of training could have succeeded. They didn't need to be in the polling place - within a few hundred feet (e.g., in the parking lot) is easy, and within a half mile with a rudimentary antenna built using a Pringles can. Further, there are no logs or other records that would indicate if such a thing ever happened, so if an election was hacked any time in the past, we will never know.

Time was, fixing an election was hard work — ask the ghost of Joe Kennedy how much it cost to buy West Virginia.  But since we've moved past those clunky, beautiful voting machines (which are impossible to tamper with without physical access) in favor of computers, computers with zero transparency, computers lobbied for by companies connected with politicians, you can fix an election with a few minutes of the tappity-tappity that hackers do in movies.

Motive?  Who can say?  I say of course.  But opportunity?   Opportunity has become a lot more opportune.

Posted at 10:34 AM

April 14, 2015

So David Brooks, who will soon be promoting a new book of his, the latest collection of David Brooks fan fiction entitled "Why Can't More People Be Like David Brooks?" continues to file his column for the NYT, which is as easy as thinking out loud?

This morning, David Brooks concedes that maybe body cams for cops is a good idea.  And yet... something about the whole thing just makes David Brooks a tad uncomfortable:

When a police officer is wearing a camera, the contact between an officer and a civilian is less likely to be like intimate friendship and more likely to be oppositional and transactional. Putting a camera on an officer means she is less likely to cut you some slack, less likely to not write that ticket, or to bend the regulations a little as a sign of mutual care.

Putting a camera on the police officer means that authority resides less in the wisdom and integrity of the officer and more in the videotape.

When making fun of David Brooks I usually try to be polite, after all, we are just gentlemen disagreeing over something, but the fucking guy has literally never fucking left his house since he was watching fucking Andy Griffith as a kid.  For fuck's sake.

Posted at 11:09 AM

April 12, 2015

You are perhaps familiar with my support of public school teachers everywhere.   I and all my genius friends are the product of public education, and some of my teachers affected me so much I am still friends with them, cough cough years later.

You are also aware of the war on the same public school teachers, conducted by people like my governor, Andrew Cuomo, who somehow think that Our Failing Schools are the fault of the teachers and not, oh, a thankless and underfunded system.  The Guv is a big fan of charter schools, which is an odd coincidence, because charter-school lovin' hedge fund executives poured money into the the Cuomo campaign.

But as Cuomo has failed in replacing the public school system with a privatized system that would enrich his donors, Cuomo has had to settle on making life as difficult as possible for teachers — taking away their tenure, for one, and evaluating them based on test scores of their students.  And I think that is ridiculous, but I find it difficult to explain why in words.

But a public school teacher friend of mine pointed out this op-ed from another teacher on evaluations, and it explains perfectly why evaluating public school teachers is such a stupid idea.  And I try to avoid pullquoting such a large portion of someone's piece, but this is so good and apt and vital that I'm just gonna slap it in there.

It's a disgrace that members of the Assembly and Senate, who have no idea who my kids are or what they need, are charged with not only telling me what to teach, but also judging me on factors having nothing to do with whether or not I'm doing my job well.

I will not let a test tied to untested Common Core standards determine the future of my students. I will continue to teach them what they need. I will continue to do everything I deem necessary to make them share my love of the English language.

If Cuomo wants to fire me for that, he can go ahead. There are plenty of people who need to learn English rather than test-prep, and if teachers like me can't help the city's public schoolchildren, we'll help someone else. But when that happens, who will help city kids learn what they really need?

As my teacher friend, who pointed this out to me and who, like every other teacher I know, cares more about the kids more than I'll ever care about my job, says, "What are you gonna do, fire me?  Who else would want this job?"

Posted at 11:51 AM

April 7, 2015

I've been trying to keep an eye open for the next iteration of Foodie culture.  I mean, whether you're planting the flag with David Chang's Momofuko or at some other random point (I'd go a little before, but I'm n not sure what the inciting event is), whatever the collective term is for all the gastrohipsters grinding their own flour all over the country, the movement is fifteen years old, at the very least, and what starts as a cult soon becomes a fad and then pop culture subsumes it.  So I'm just wondering if there's going to be a moment when Foodie culture becomes incontravertibly genericized.  For example, the fact that Bushwick's crown jewel Roberta's has a line of supermarket pizzas, that could be one, or the fact that one of the seedier looking Chinese take-out joints is now making "Thai-style" chicken wings, which derive from the must-have wings at Andy Ricker's Pok Pok (which in turn derive from Thailand).  Those are close, but not there yet.

This little listicle, however, entitled Eight of the Most Ridiculous Foods To Eat On Baseball's Opening Day, might be the point of no return.  Fact: baseball food, while full of nostalgic appeal, has never been good.  Whether the dirty water dogs of long ago or the sad simulacrum of comfort food (nachos! pizza!) invariably cooked into beigeness by Aramark, the ball park is not where Lucky Peach is dispatching a reporter.  Fact: there may be no culture more American and main stream than ball park culture.  Ball park culture still likes Seven Mary Three; ball park culture thinks someday of growing his hair long.

And the eight ridiculous foods?  They are indeed ridiculous, and would be entirely at home on the menu of a little hotspot in Charleston, SC or the East Village.  They include such timeless favorites as Chicken-Fried Corn on the Cob (what it sounds like) and Pulled Pork Parfait (pulled pork and mashed potatoes duded up in a parfait glass).  None of them tout the sourcing of the components, and all of them are just the same mass-produced ick as hots and burgers, but from an alternate reality.  We are at Peak Foodie: all of the whimsy and (self-serious) care of the past fifteen years, ripped from any ethical context and reimagined as pot-free stoner calorie bombs, something that would fit right in with the bobble-heads on the desk of Mike & Mike (In The Morning).

Having said all that, Nachos On a Stick is something I could tuck into right about now.

Posted at 3:13 PM

April 3, 2015

Speaking of Tom Cotton, even though we've been laboring with the Iran nuclear talks in the background for some months now, I don't think I ever consciously thought that an actual, viable agreement would result.  And I know, there's still some hammering to be done, but the outline of the deal reached yesterday is pretty specific and ambitious, long-ranging and with actual teeth.  And now that I think of it, it has been so long since a major international situation was resolved with diplomacy rather than boots and bullets, I'm really unaccustomed to the feeling.  Was the last time something like this happened the Dayton Accords?  But, fuck yeah, diplomacy!

And of course on the flip side, there is that weird unified front of the GOP (who will oppose anything Obama achieves reflexively) and the Netanyahu administration (whose political future is staked on belligerence towards Iran), who will not rest until they have somehow scotched this deal.  I understand the motivations even though I am dismissive of them.  Here's what I don't get: the alternative to a diplomatic solution is war.  Sanctions (in my limited recollection) have never caused a nation-state to capitulate, and to think they will is conceited and xenophobic.  Would the GOP/Netanyahu ever just give up because of crippling economic sanctions?   Then why would they expect anyone else to?

This somehow got lost in history, but after 9-11, the rhetoric from Iran had ratcheted down, the government was moderate, and they were making overtures to the U.S.  Then came the Axis of Evil bullshit, which sent everything back to the default antipathy.

I have a hard time that anyone could be openly wishing for war, and further destabilization of an already destabilized region, for whatever reason.  So this is fantastic news, and I am sick to think that anyone would try to kill this nascent agreement in the crib.

Posted at 10:24 AM