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Boat Parents

On April 6th, Eric and Charlotte Kaufman packed their daughters Cora and Lyra aboard their 36 foot sailboat and left port in Mexico with the intention of sailing to New Zealand, the first leg of a round the world trip. Cora is 3, Lyra is 1.

900 miles off the coast, shit got real. Lyra became very ill. The boat malfunctioned; (no one seems quite sure how, though a few sites hilariously reported that it “broke down”) and the Coast Guard had to be called. Four rescue jumpers, one diverted missile frigate, and 663,000 dollars later, the family were deposited in San Diego, safe and sound but minus their boat, The Rebel Heart, which is currently rebelling at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

*Note: The killjoy military reported that this money was just going to be spent on training exercises that they could now skip, so technically it was going to get spent either way. However, since the internet does not read, the calls for this guy to be handed the rescue bill were quite vitriolic.

I’m sure you can imagine what ensued: widespread denouncement of their stupidity and irresponsibility, countered with acclamation for the amazing and unconventional upbringing they were trying to give to their children. Slate went the extra mile and found a blogger named Diane Selkirk, also a “Boat Parent”, that defended this practice I’d never heard of, in which children are raised on boats that their parents sail all over creation.

First of all, for the record, I have no opinion on whether or not it’s a good idea to put two kids below kindergarten age on a boat the size of a schoolbus and sail to fucking New Zealand. I’ve never been further than 2 miles from shore in anything that didn’t have wings, so for me to try and gauge how wise a maritime voyage like this was would just be speaking from my colon.

What was interesting to me wasn’t really the debate itself, but rather the terms of it. The Kauffman’s detractors lambasted the unsafe way in which they raised their children, and their defenders countered that the rewards were worth the risks.

Pardon me for asking: Do you imagine that a “normal” upbringing is safe for your children?

Why, exactly?

“This is the way everyone does it!”

Interesting. You know if I looked at a country raised in this way where one in ten people is on antidepressants, one in three is obese, and one in one is so oblivious that they watch the news to be informed, I’d probably think about sailing classes too, but I’m no parent.

As always, it is on purpose that the status quo is portrayed as “normal” and the Kaufman’s are not. The issue isn’t that society cares whether a few random people raise their children unconventionally, the issue is that anything that is not sit at a desk for twelve years and learn to repeat back what the teacher just said must always be considered unconventional, otherwise too many people might start doing it. (See also: homeschooling).

Allow me to propose an unconventional idea. Since it is a fact that the one lesson hammered home harder than any other in “traditional” education is acceptance of authority, and since it is a fact that most modern American authorities do not have the best interests of you and your children at heart, sending them somewhere they will be conditioned to acquiesce to whatever the powerful propose might be a little irresponsible. Maybe even kinda dangerous.

I realize, before the frothy lipped messages start, that there are good traditional schools, and good teachers that teach in those traditional schools. I know several, and I’d like to be able to keep speaking to them. But you will find few people more cynical about the overall modern system of education, particularly the way that it’s funded, than good teachers.

Also to clarify, I have no particular affinity for the conservative evangelicalism that tends to characterize the American homeschooling community, nor for the vaguely hippy “We Are The World” vibe that I got from Selkirk’s piece. My concerns are based purely on the reality that your children are being specifically trained to work without question to enrich people that send their kids to school at places like this. And they are doing so for the promise of a middle class lifestyle which is losing value every single year. That, and not whatever tool is currently inhabiting The White House in any given year is the reason that you feel like you are working harder than ever just to get by. Though I understand the conflict raised in you at the notion of teaching your children to question authority, I hope that the reality of your children’s future may be enough to motivate you to reason through the decisions you hand down to your children.    



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The Column

Okay so I read that column and had a couple points I really felt compelled to make - in not any particular order:

1. Mostly white dudes*
*For the record, I don’t know what Steven Seagal’s ethnicity is and don’t care enough to look it up. The women he fucks in his movies are almost exclusively white, meaning for the purposes of the average American cinemagoer, he is white. 
He hands Jackie Chan a kind of lifetime achievement award in 2007 (when Jackie was 53) for what had to be one of the shittiest movies Jackie made in his entire career. By his own admission he did this because it grossed a ton at the box office. Meanwhile, in the late 80’s and early 90’s when Jackie Chan was flinging himself off of fucking skyscrapers to sell tickets he hands the title to someone like Mel Gibson for Lethal Weapon 2, a movie that is half Mel trying to charm his way into the pants of the hot South African chick, and half him being sad/psychotically angry after they murder her,
Bruce Lee warranting two sentences in an “action movie championship” is unforgivable. Like Sandusky-level unforgivable. He hands Steve McQueen the belt in 1973 for a movie called “Papillon” which I’ve never heard of. For reference, in 1973 Bruce Lee released Game of Death and Enter the Fucking Dragon. 
No Sammo Hung, no Jet Li, one sentence for Tony Jaa. When is he changing his name to Grand Wizard Simmons?
2. Nicholas Cage?!?!?!?
I shit my pants when I read this. My pants are now full of shit. 
Simmons arbitrarily disqualifies the following people for lacking requisite ass-kicking believability:
Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, Keanu Reeves, Robert Redford, George Clooney, Will Smith, Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise a second time, as well as everyone who ever played James Bond,1Ethan Hunt, Jason Bourne, Iron Man, Batman 
 
Then proceeds to hand the title to a man who looks like he wouldn’t be the last person standing in a Battle Royale at an accounting convention. 
For Christ’s sake LOOK at the movies he comes up with to justify this decision. In Con Air Nicholas Cage is less scary than John Malkovich. In Face/Off for one he’s the bad guy, and secondly he faces the daunting action hero task of duking it out with Hollywood’s most famous closeted homosexual. I don’t remember much about Snake Eyes except that our badass action hero spends most of it in a leisure suit and there’s virtually no fighting. And 8mm ends with him barely escaping with his life when confronted by a middle aged, overweight, sexual deviant wearing a vision suppressing leather mask. 
Along the same lines but slightly more forgivable is Uma Thurman who Simmons crowns toughest action hero in the exact same time period that The Rock was believably kicking the asses of enough people to sell out the Rose Bowl in The Rundown and Walking Tall. It’s more forgivable because at least Uma Thurman could still beat up Nicholas Cage.
3. The Audience for This Column
The Neeson thing should make it obvious, but he gives it away with his gushing about Man on Fire. Man on Fire is not particularly better or worse than most of the other action shlock Washington has been in. It’s by far the most popular though for a simple reason - it features a noticeably overweight Washington, playing a past his prime character, avenging the “death” of a sweet innocent little girl who for nor story reason whatsoever lives in Mexico but is white. 
"Hello middle aged dads of America. Would you like a large popcorn with your escapist fantasy?"
This may be a personal thing, but I find Simmon’s increasing obsequiousness to his primary demo nauseating. I get that boring old people need stuff to read too - but was it really necessary to make me slog through a thousand words ranking action heroes between 1968 and 1980? It was three and a half decades ago! Who the fuck cares, Simmons!?
4. The Actual Idea
Like much of Simmon’s recent work, this is all the more frustrating due to the seed of a good idea which is contained in it. Notice that between 1982 and 1996 Stallone and Schwarzenegger more or less hand the crown back and forth. Also notice that those sections are the only ones which really refer to pure “action” movies in the way Simmon’s seems to define them. (i.e. dumb summer blockbusters featuring an intimidating guy mowing down legions usually campy bad guys). 
This actually counts as an interesting question. Why does the work of Schwarzenegger resonate in a way that the work of The Rock doesn’t? How can a barely passable actor have arguably the largest number of iconic roles for any one actor in history? And Stallone? Was his career helped or hurt by the “rivalry” with Arnold? Was it something about action movies in that fifteen year time frame in particular? Maybe the end of the Cold War and the Reagan era? Or was it something about those two men? The career of Arnold in particular has really no parallel (I defy you to name me a worse actor who has been more consistently successful) - how did all that happen?
Those questions would have been interesting, so of course Simmons ignores them completely. 
It’s almost lunch and I’ve been writing for too long so I’ll stop, but seriously… 
What the hell Simmons?!?!
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Fair and Balanced

Two teenage girls were arrested last week in Maryland for several serious crimes related to their habitual abuse of a 16 year old boy. The details are both disgusting and unimportant, and since I know that description will ensure that you stop after this sentence to open another tab and read them, I’ll just go ahead and move on… 

Back? Good. 

The reason this is in the news is obviously emotional shock factor from the fact that the boy was mentally disabled. Specifically, according to CNN, that he was autistic. 

A quick note on autism, and on mental disorders in general. If you have any intention of reaching the truth in any news story ever written involving mental disorders I strongly suggest you replace “autism” (or “alcoholism” or “schizophrenia”) in your mind with the word “tall”. That will help you calibrate mentally to the amount of relevant information you are actually being given. The reason for this is that for the purpose of comforting the general masses mental illness is always classified in very general terms, usually one word. This is also behind the insufferable post-game hand wringing after every school shooting or spectacular suicide begging those who suffer from mental illness to “get help.”

Bad news. It is entirely possible there is no help to be gotten. 

Simply put, modern science might - if you’re feeling generous - be described as slightly past the “four humors” stage of understanding when it comes to mental illness. We do not know what causes mental illness, and we have not the faintest idea how to cure it. There are treatment modalities, but they tend to focus overwhelmingly on symptoms and at any rate, virtually all of them represent not particularly educated guesswork. 

Don’t believe me? Do an experiment. Schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist. Tell them when you get there you’re currently suffering from… oh let’s say consistent fatigue, poor appetite, non-specific pain, and a general lack of interest in life. They will nod and write you a prescription for one of a couple drugs whose names you will recognize but on whose specific workings you will be a little hazy. That drug will be a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Or SSRI for not that short. 

The money shot in this little interaction is when you ask the doctor how long this drug will take to fix your problems. They will say something very much like this:

“Well hopefully you’ll start feeling better in a couple weeks. You should notice the full effects within a month or so.” 

“Hopefully? You mean it might not work?” 

“It’s hard to say what the exact effect will be. If you haven’t noticed a change in two months, you can come back in and we’ll try something else.”

Go ahead and take them if you’re feeling lucky. You might notice a distinct uptick in your mood. You also might get really depressed and kill yourself. Personally, I’d advise you to chuck that shit in the first trash can you see.* What you should have noticed from that interaction with the doctor is that it sounds disturbingly like he has absolutely no idea whether this will actually work. Congratulations, the crippling depression you’ve been malingering has not affected your bullshit detector. He indeed has no clue. And that by the way, is the case when dealing with mild chronic depression, a condition so common in America we might as well give it it’s own holiday. Roughly a century after we decided as a society that passing out drunk by 7:00 PM every day was a suboptimal way to go through life, the best treatment we have is to hang out with a bunch of other people that don’t drink and bond over how much more productive you all are now that your nightly facial cleansing routine doesn’t involve sticking your head in a toilet. 

The annoyance behind my flippancy is not directed at the mentally ill. It really, really, really sucks to try and get through life with a brain that is in some way or another malfunctioning, and people struggling with any kind of mental illness have my respect. My point is that for the same reason you are told the US could stop the invasion of Ukraine if it wanted to (when it couldn’t) you are also told that there is a way out from mental illness if you seek help (which there may not be). 

I refuse to be tritely reassuring because I have no respect for liars. Mental illness (like the U.S. losing the War on Terror, and with it, much of our ability to shape foreign events) is a problem that can be solved. The longer we deny that there is a problem, the slower and more eventually painful the solution will be. You’d think fucking psychiatrists, of all people, would know that.  

That wasn’t such a quick note, was it? Sorry. I’m honest, and also occasionally longwinded. 

So after the scenic route that we took to arrive at the point, what was the point again? The point is that while there is no clear understanding whatsoever of what autism even is, much less what causes it, one of the common indications seems to be related to a general struggle with context. Specifically, that autistic individuals tend to have a very different sense of what is important than the population at large which leads to often extreme social struggles. And bizarrely, in this way the average American news watcher desperately desires to be autistic.

“Dave. That made even less sense than usual.”

Stay with me. What is the first and most important thing you are looking for when you watch/read/listen to the news? My answer is hot anchors. Yours is objectivity. You want the facts, and just the facts. You imagine that the biggest problem in media is “bias” of some sort, and in your mind exists some hierarchy of FOX/CNN/MSNBC/HLN/OWN/JSC ranked on the likelihood that they will deliver you the straight story and that you, being the intelligent and discerning person that you are, will take that information and become a responsible and informed voter/citizen/cog in the system. 

But you are no good at sorting out facts from raw data. Most of you, for example, did not catch in the paragraph above that the Oprah Winfrey Network is not even nominally a news channel. Remember that the dangerous lie is not the lie which is obvious, but the lie that reinforces what you already want to believe. Slogans like “Fair and Balanced” or “The Most Trusted Name In News” are explicit lies, they are designed to be easy to see through. The important lie is not that your news organizations slant their coverage, it is the implicit reassurance they give you that you would be much better informed if they didn’t.

Look at it another way: Do you know what’s happening in the Ukrainian situation right now? 

“Well - Putin is an asshole, Crimea has a large ethnic Russian population, something about natural gas…?”

There is no context to it. You don’t understand it because there is no way you could hope to understand it. You lack context. I don’t have any idea what the hell is going on, and all I do with my voluminous spare time is read stuff on the internet. The genius of Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism was his attempt to lay bare everything he thought as nakedly as he possibly could. He gave you context. And most humans are reasonably good at evaluating things in context. I consider HST to be the most important journalist of the last fifty years, yet I disagree with far more of his political opinions than I agree with. Whether I agreed with him or not, I gained an understanding of him as a person from his writing, and thereby, a closer look at the truth when he described events as he saw them. 

Look at it yet a third way. If I fill ten columns in an Excel spreadsheet with twenty rows of random three digit numbers, there are probably not a dozen people on the planet who could sum all ten rows entirely in their head without a mistake. That is a simple math operation performed on raw, unbiased data, and you will get it wrong every time. But if your cousin shows up to the family reunion sporting a different hair color and style, wearing completely different clothes than when you saw them last, and the proud owner of four new visible piercings you will never get their identity wrong. It is damn near impossible to fool another human being about your identity for any length of time if they know you even remotely well. A thousand clues of context give it away; where you see them, who they’re with, word choices, movement patterns, body shape, bone structure. It’s tough to train computers to zero in on the right variables to identify a person. They tend to either grade too easily, and give many people your identity, or the parameters are too tight, and they don’t think you are you. But a seven year old recognizes faces almost inerrantly.    

Do you want the unfiltered truth? Or do you want the honest truth? Think carefully. Time is running out. 

*A serious note to anyone suffering from depression or other mental disorders. I wrote caustically above about an imagined interaction between a person faking depression and a psychiatrist. I did this to illustrate a larger point about my distaste for the way society chooses to view problems which is has not yet entirely figured out. This is in no way a condemnation of psychiatric medication in general, or a dismissal of its efficacy. Decades of clinical study have shown psychiatric drugs to be effective in treating many mood disorders some of the time. There is no reason to believe that you will not be “some of the time”. A properly monitored and adhered to regimen of psychiatric drugs is a vital part of the mental health regimen of many people and there is absolutely no more shame in taking them then there is in chemotherapy. Please, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES discontinue a psychiatric medication without consulting with your physician. To do so can be extremely dangerous. God speed.

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Pick Up Artist Interview

DM:  Hi, everyone, welcome to my new show, “Dave’s Court Mandated Psychotherapy Sessions”, where I interview people that exist only in my head. My guest this week is Intrigue, legendary pick-up artist. Mr. Intrigue, thank you for being here. Can I assume that designation to be some sort of nom de guerre? 

Intrigue: It’s my PUA name. It confuses women right from the start, makes them wonder and throws them off-balance. You want to move their mental weight line outside of their feet.

DM: Like jiu-jitsu. 

Intrigue: Exactly. 

DM: Okay. So tell my readers a little bit about yourself. Were you always good at picking up women?

Intrigue: No way man. I used to be a loser nice guy. Always opening the door for women, paid for their drinks, you name it. But all that effort and money, I got no sex, no blow jobs, barely a handy to show for my niceness. I was a virgin until I was 22. That’s when I started reading about pick-up artists and how the real secret to get in a girls pants is NOT to be nice. Women don’t want some pushover that’s gonna treat them well all the time. 

DM: I see. So you started studying these techniques in order to make yourself better with women? Not to put too fine a point on it, but to immediately get them into bed? 

Intrigue: That’s right. You have to have goals. Playing the game on their terms is for suckers. You need to go into that bar or club or whatever knowing you’re gonna get laid, and just decide which girl is gonna be lucky enough to be the one. 

DM: And these techniques have been successful for you? 

Intrigue: Absolutely. I get shot down all the time, but that’s not the point. Most nights I go out I go home with somebody, even if I have to work my way around for a bit, I’ll find her eventually. The key is to keep playing and not lose confidence. It’s a numbers game. 

DM: Like multi-level marketing. 

Intrigue: Exactly. 

DM: What would you say to people who describe techniques like “negging” as a deliberately manipulative psychological ploy of very questionable rectitude? Doesn’t it only work by playing off insecurities hammered into the female mind by society, and thus seek to exploit them in a possibly vulnerable area, purely for your own ends?

Intrigue: That’s just what losers say when they can’t get chicks. Does anyone feel sorry about all the drinks I bought only to still be the Governor of Dry-Penis Province at the end of every night? Women take advantage of men all the time, don’t feel bad when I play the game better than them.

DM: I think I understand. So could you tell me then, in just a couple words, what is the point of being a pick-up artist?

Intrigue: What are you, gay?

DM: That’s not a very enlightened comment, but no I’m not. I’m asking seriously what the point is of this?

Intrigue: To get pussy man. Lots and lots of pussy.

DM: So you want to be an individual sovereign nation state, with pussy as your foreign reserve currency. 

Intrigue: You’re kind of a weird dude, you know that?

DM: Sorry. Pardon me for asking, but what is the point of all this pussy exactly? I mean, why the obsession with getting so much?

Intrigue: Seriously, are you gay? It’s awesome!

DM: Well I certainly enjoy a rousing copulation session followed up by cuddling and or board games as much as the next man, but… I mean, do you have the internet? Do you suffer from crippling arthritis in your hands? You know Victoria’s Secret will actually send you their catalogues for free.

Intrigue: I’m not some kind of jack-off, dude. That’s who I USED to be. I pull trim now. 

DM: So the actual achievement of frequent orgasm isn’t the point? If you admit that there is no emotional connection that the “Pick Up” is based on, then what difference does it make whether it’s your hand or someone’s vagina?

Intrigue: Aren’t you listening? LOSERS jerk off. Winners go out and get laid. 

DM: So it’s fair to say that the primary reason one becomes a pick up artist is to create a certain perception of oneself in the minds of others?

Intrigue: Everyone knows I’m a player. Don’t hate. 

DM: Interesting. One last question. Do you like James Bond?

Intrigue: What?

DM: You know, James Bond. Movie super spy. Gets all kinds of pussy. You ever see those movies? You like them?

Intrigue: Uh… Sure, I guess. 

DM: Can you imagine James Bond reading a book about how to pick up women?

Intrigue: What are you talking about?

DM: I’m being serious. Imagine a scene in a Bond movie where James Bond is on a plane or in a hotel room with a book about how to pick up women. Would that be cool?

Intrigue: What’s your point?

DM: I submit to you, Mr. Intrigue, that it would not be cool. In fact, I would contend that would be the least cool thing that ever happened in a movie franchise where James Bond once got outfitted in full children’s birthday party clown makeup in order to evade the West German police. 

Intrigue: What does some stupid movie have to do with anything?

DM: Sadly, everything. You see the most depressing thing about the pick up artist community is not that it’s chauvinistic and seeks to degrade women, although it does. Nor is it that this “technique” is generally quite ineffective, although it is. The most depressing thing about pick up artists is that the entire reason men act like this is not to get women per se, but rather to be seen by others as the type of man who can get women. Having had reinforced for them throughout their lives that cool men can just pick up women, pick up artists seek to become cool by developing the skills that will enable them to do that. That coolness, not the sex itself, is what the PUA community is all about. The problem is that the whole reason it’s cool when movie heroes or pro athletes or rock gods get tons of women is that they don’t try very hard. You can’t imagine James Bond or Indiana Jones or Captain Kirk or any legendary fictional womanizer reading a how to get chicks book because the second you saw that they would instantly stop being cool and instead become pathetic and sad. We don’t admire James Bond because all the chicks he gets make him cool - we admire him because he is so cool that women simply flock to him with seemingly no effort on his part. His coolness precedes, as you would put it, the “pussy”. Unfortunately, no matter how many women you bed, you will never be the cool that you want to be, because you will still have bedded those women by being the kind of gigantic dork that spends all of his free time trying to plot how to manipulate women into sleeping with him. Being a pick up artist is to literally be destined for failure, because your method definitionally precludes your success. 

Intrigue: Bullshit, dude! My friends and I are all cool. 

DM: Of course you and your friends all think this way. Those are the friends you can get because normal men are embarrassed to be seen in your company. The desperation and insecurity might as well be tattooed on your forehead. 

Intrigue: Don’t tell me what’s cool, this is how you get chicks!

DM: Please listen. The most important thing for you to understand is that you are the EXACT same person as you were before you joined the pick up artist community and started getting laid. You still have the same thing to offer to women, which is nothing. Your problem is that you presented yourself as a potential sex partner with no sense of self, no particular ambition beyond a biological drive to get your dick wet, and a very well earned complete lack of self confidence, and when women, shockingly, by and large refused to open their legs for you, you blamed them. Why should they have been interested in you? Then one day someone told you that drunk women with low self esteem will occasionally confuse put-on bravado for self confidence, and you had sex a few times, so now when ladies ashamedly slink out of your apartment before you can wake up and they have to talk to you, you imagine that this is what it means to be a “player”.

Intrigue: Well if you know so much, you tell dudes how to get chicks. 

DM: There is no “how to get chicks”. The problem is you. In all things in life, it is a good practice to ask yourself in what way your problems are your own fault. Imagine James Bond was a real person. What differences exist between you and him besides getting women? He’s a secret agent, worldly, skilled in a wide variety of cool spy tricks, he resists torture when captured, he defies orders to do what he thinks is right, he refuses to surrender in the face of impossible odds. He is, in short, a person with an immensely strongly developed sense of self, an internal compass if you will. Now you may not happen to respect James Bond’s internal compass. Many people, including many women, wouldn’t. That’s why if he was real, just as many women would find him repulsive as would want to sleep with him. But he is who he is. It’s consistent regardless of circumstance. You may not be able to count on him to call the next day, but you can count on him to kill the ethnic stereotypes your evil terrorist boss sends to your hotel room to murder you after he discovers you’ve slept with James Bond, and that’s something anyway. Let me put it this way: You cannot “get” women until there is a real “you” for them to give themselves to. 

Intrigue: I’m not into all that emotional stuff man, I’m all about hump it and dump it. 

DM: Of course you are. You’ve heard every woman in the universe telling you until they’re blue in the face to just “be yourself”, but what you know that they don’t is that there is no yourself for you to be. Patrick Stewart is seventy three years old and bald, and he just got married to a traffic-stoppingly beautiful 35 year old jazz dancer. The reason so many woman would still tear the clothes off of a man old enough to be their grandfather is because Patrick Stewart has spent a half-century doing theater not because he thought it would get him chicks, but because he loved doing it. Sense of self. You don’t love anything in the entire world like that. 

Intrigue: (quietly) I’m so afraid… I’m just so lonely…

DM: I know. You are in fact, a great deal like the young ladies you succeed in picking up at bars. Society has bombarded you since childhood with the message that the surface appearance of success has the same value as the internal strength necessary to achieve it. So rather than face the possibility that you will try to change yourself into something more than you are and come up short, you obsess over discovering some trick that will enable you to project success out towards society even when that success is hollow and robbed completely of its meaning by the methods you used to obtain it. Much like the young woman who views being attractive to men as society’s marker of success and will shortcut herself to achieve it by sleeping with a douchebag like you. Chuck Palahniuk was wrong. It’s not the things we own that own us - our fear that we aren’t strong enough to be anything but the things we own is what owns us.

Intrigue: (crying) I hate you. You’re the worst interviewer ever.

DM: I’m sorry. If it makes you feel better a lot of people that aren’t pick up artists have the same problem. Go out and be yourself is the most terrifying advice you can give to a modern American. That impulse was purposely beaten out of us at a very young age by a system that prefers people who seek rewards without effort. People like that are easy to manipulate, you should know, it’s the basis for your whole lifestyle. But you are just as much a prisoner of it as your conquests. You will never be anything that you can be proud of until you start trying to find the things you really love. That process won’t be easy, it will entail failure. Not fake temporary failure like when a girl shuts down your moves in a club, but the real, heart-rending, painful failure of truly giving your all to something and coming up short. The pain of that is incredible. But every truly successful person in every field knows it, without exception. To borrow from William Goldman, not all lives are pain. But all real lives are pain. And not everyone wins in the end. The only consolation I can promise is the peace and quiet within your soul that comes from having fought as hard as you could, for as long as you could, as well as you knew how. Whether that’s enough to make it worth it for you to forego the quicker, easier pleasures society wants you to substitute only you can decide. 

Intrigue: (sniffling) Do you at least like my fuzzy top hat?

DM: (consolingly) Yes. There there. Your hat is very nice. 

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Gaising Arizona

(Editor’s Note: This post was started before Jan Brewer vetoed the law in question. Since the overarching theme was not really about the gay law itself, the editing team convened and chose to run the piece anyway.)

(Editor’s Note 2: Look, YOU try getting him to write faster. He is incredibly lazy. Seriously. It’s pathetic.)

(Editor’s Note 3: No, I don’t know what he does with all his time. But the number of figure skating videos Youtube is recommending for him is starting to creep me out.)

Arizona SB 1062 is a bill. It was recently passed by the Arizona state legislature and is now on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk to sign. The media is reporting breathlessly on it. 

You know what that means. 

Let’s begin, as the news never does, with the relevant facts. SB 1062 says nothing whatsoever about homosexuality. The law redefines a couple key clauses within section 41-1493 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, a section that deals specifically with freedom of religion. The money quotes are:

19 5. “Person” includes a religious assembly or institution ANY

 20 INDIVIDUAL, ASSOCIATION, PARTNERSHIP, CORPORATION, CHURCH, RELIGIOUS ASSEMBLY

 21 OR INSTITUTION, ESTATE, TRUST, FOUNDATION OR OTHER LEGAL ENTITY .

And: 

 10 C. Government STATE ACTION  may substantially burden a person’s

11 exercise of religion only if it THE OPPOSING PARTY  demonstrates that

12 application of the burden to the person PERSON’S EXERCISE OF RELIGION IN THIS

 13 PARTICULAR INSTANCE  is both:

14 1. In furtherance of a compelling governmental interest.

15 2. The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling

16 governmental interest.

You follow? Arizona has just passed a law stating that religious freedom no longer applies only to religious assemblies or institutions, but to any and all individuals and legal entities. Further, infringing on someones religious practice is now not just forbidden for the state, (unless it meets the two part criteria in the last two lines) but is forbidden for any person using the state as an intermediary (e.g. Through a lawsuit) 

That by itself should be enough to make us realize why this is all a colossal waste of everyone’s time. The Arizona state legislature has just made virtually every conceivable civil action into a religious freedom case. For obvious and generally positive reasons, religion has historically been granted special protections by the US court system. Saying that any individual or legal entity can seek that kind of protection under the law in any suit brought in state court is a nightmare almost too horrifying to contemplate. Even at present you will obviously get the occasional chuckledick who tries to use the “videotaping the high school girls fundraising car wash from my windowless van is part of my religion!” defense, but the nice part of having “assembly or institution” right there in the wording is that it makes it harder for people to claim they are the founder, leader, and sole practitioner of their very obscure religion. 

Incidentally, the Ninth Circuit hears appeals from the District of Arizona. I seriously doubt this nonsense would even make it all the way there, but if it does, you’ll be able to time their reversal with a stopwatch. And if USSC grants cert, which they probably won’t, they’ll uphold the reversal. Not so much because some members won’t be sympathetic to the law, but because not even Scalia and Thomas want to send the next decade hearing cases about how playing “Panama” at 130 decibels in a residential neighborhood at 3 in the morning was a free exercise of the religious practices of Bud Dettweiler, Founder and Chief Prophet of the Church of Van Halen, praise be the holy name of David Lee Roth.

I also find amusing the general fear-mongering about businesses refusing to serve gays. For how many businesses is that even an option? This whole issue (which we’ll get to) came up because of wedding photography. In all seriousness, outside of transactions that deal specifically with two people as a couple, how would you even enforce a “no-gays” policy in something like a retail environment? Gaydar? If I went to Bart’s Bible-Loving Booze Bistro and ordered an appletini would they through me out? 

Pop quiz Arizona shopkeepers, which of the following three men is gay?

 

You see my point. 

Notice the way that the media, like Bear Grylls in a desert, now drinks it’s own urine without the public even noticing. Did you wonder what exactly HAPPENED to cause this legislation to be passed? Were Arizona lawmakers getting flooded with angry phone calls from evangelical constituents about all the gays they were having to serve? Tweets? Were studies done? 

No. A story hit the press that a Colorado judge ruled against a bakery that had refused to cater for the wedding of a gay couple. This was a story originally created by the media that created another story for the media to feed on. 

Okay, so the media reports all the time on irrelevant trivialities. What difference does that make exactly?

Question: While you were watching the US hockey teams lose in the winter Olympics did you hear anything about the new Russian anti-gay law? Uh huh. And did you wonder what enabled such a repressive and backwards law to be passed in the first place? Maybe it’s the concentration of power in the hands of a few people in Russia, and the fact that said concentration means Putin does not have to care about the needs of his citizens?

Wrong. US income inequality is WORSE than Russia’s. Look it up. The law was passed to further stoke the flames of Russian nationalism that Putin has been feeding like Doc Brown trying to get the train to 88 mph in Back to the Future 3. That the United States has essentially become an oligarchy is a point I’ve made before, and because of it’s obviousness, won’t belabor again here. But are you aware that Russia’s geopolitical goal is very much to become a superpower again? Are you aware that they are basically within arm’s reach of that goal?

More pictures. (My extensive market research indicates people like pictures.)

That is the Sukhoi PAK FA T-50. It is every bit the technological equal of the F-22 Raptor. It’s currently operating on an evaluation basis with the Russian military. The first 60 combat jets are scheduled for delivery in 2016. Overall Russian military spending is up by a third since 2008. Last year the US paid the equivalent of 4.4 percent of our gross domestic product on military expenditures. So did the Russians. 

You don’t know this because the news is not here to keep you informed. Vladimir Putin has no particular loyalty to communist ideology, but he is very much intent on returning Russia to it’s former greatness, and quite a large number of Russian people would love to see him succeed. (His approval rating is currently just under 70%) 

Shit! Let’s declare war! 

Are you kidding? We’d lose. We don’t have the stomach to effectively pacify a country the size of California when we’re being fought by farmers making bombs with fertilizer and old cell phones. Our military technology and training is second to none, but our appetite for the real consequences of war is lacking, to say the least. I’m not saying that I support a war, or that I don’t, what I’m saying is that you believe we could stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine if we wanted, when we couldn’t. Apropos of nothing:

“He who knows when he can fight, and when he cannot, will be victorious.”

That’s Sun Tzu. The guy you keep meaning to get around to reading. 

This is not really about Russia, or the anti-gay bill in Arizona, or the media. It is about you. It is always about you. Do you feel comfortable? Stable? Strong? Do you imagine that the great struggles of your life will be against gays and atheists, or against Republicans and Bible bangers? Do you think your most important job as a parent will be teaching your kids not to emulate Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber? Because if you do then the true great struggles of your life have already beaten you. Rage as much as you like against the dying of the America that exists only in your head. Be comforted by the warm glow of television, beaming the visages of non-threateningly attractive news anchors who will tell you what you of course already know deep down inside - it is all THEIR fault. Someone, somewhere else. Not you. Never you. You are a fine, upstanding citizen with a clean criminal record that loves your family. If only the world was filled with people just like you, why then everything would be just perfect. 

We have no ambition to make the world better. No courage to stand against hardship. Our fights are on Twitter, against people like Ritchie Incognito and on the news, against terrorists in Afghanistan, because they are big old dumb meanies and more relevantly are very far away and cannot fight back. 

Let everything burn down, only let us be safe in our homes, with our children peacefully unaware of the carnage. Then everything will be fine. Then we will be safe. Yes. Safety. We will sacrifice our ambition, our passion, our pride and self respect, the judgement of history; anything, anything at all… Only let us be warm, with full bellies, and no worries. Only let us be SAFE.

Vladimir Putin does not care about safety. Tonight Ukrainian parents like you will pray that their children are not shot by the machine gun wielding Russian troops surrounding their homes. Tonight, Syrian parents will watch their children die in agony, their skinny limbs spasming uncontrollably until the sarin freezes their lungs and they suffocate. These people once just wanted to be safe. These people just want evil men like Putin and Al-Assad to leave them in peace. But they have no choice. And sooner or later, five years or fifty, neither will you.   

There is no weakness so weak as ignorance.

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Michael Jordan’s Greatest Accomplishment

“Good night, Dave”

We were standing next to her car, just a little closer together than you’d call “friendly.” She was smart and she laughed when she hassled me about something, and she was the kind of beautiful men used to knock each other off horses for. And now she was standing close to me, with a half-smile starting to form on her lips.

To this day I don’t know why I didn’t kiss her. I vaguely remember some feeling that it was too forward on a first date, which is such a mind-numbingly stupid thing to think that I’m positive it was the reason. Instead I leaned in and gave her the kind of chaste hug you use on the 95 year old lady at church with the uncomfortably low hanging breasts. Then I turned and walked away to my car, hoping there’d be a drive by shooting in the parking lot so I could be an innocent bystander.

Since literally every single person reading this has a higher emotional IQ than I do it will surprise none of you to learn that after that pathetic display things never really went anywhere with the object of my affection. 

I bring up that story not to allow you the pleasure of laughing at me - that’s just a fun side benefit - but to make a point about the way that I remember it. Specifically, that I remember everything about it. What she was wearing, where we were standing, what we’d eaten for dinner earlier. Now as will no doubt shock you to your very core, I’ve also attempted to kiss women and gotten Floyd Mayweather-esque head movement in response. And about those incidents I remember… nothing.

“So we have much less regret when we try and fail than when we just don’t try? Wow, what a brilliant fucking insight into the human condition, Dostoyevsky, someone get a Pulitzer jury on the phone.”

Just give me a second, I’m going somewhere with this.

The issue is that Americans love sayings like “You will miss 100% of the shots you never take”, but we only love them when they’re said by people like Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player who ever lived. This is the real reason that things like “everybody gets a trophy” youth sports leagues are so insidious, not because it’s teaching them it’s okay to be a loser, but because it’s teaching them they are actually still a winner.

Teaching kids that there is honor in failure as long as you fought as you hard as you possibly could would be a perfectly fine lesson to teach them, but parents don’t teach that to their children because they don’t believe it themselves. Our society has utterly bought into the idea that your success or failure is a perfectly good proxy for your worth as a person, which is why an odious old windbag like Donald Trump is not pelted with vegetables every time he shows his combover in public.

For as long as we’re able, we avoid any possibility of letting our kids really try something and completely fail. Good luck comforting a sobbing child with quaint notions like “dignity” and “character” when absolutely every single message we (and they) take in every single day from sports, Hollywood, politics, business, and the media is that any sin will be forgiven of a winner, and no amount of effort will redeem a loser.

Fortunately by adulthood they have completely internalized this message and are now ready to enter a world in which their self-worth is determined by something over which they have distinctly limited control.

“But your success  or failure are all in your hands! You just have to be willing to do what it takes!”

Christ, give it a rest Tony Robbins. No it’s not. The guy who finished last place in shot put at the Olympics knows a level of self discipline that is and always will be utterly alien to your McDonald’s eating ass. And he still got massacred. Or think of it like this, the night before the big presentation that will make or break your sales numbers for the year and probably your career, some meth addled two striker breaks into your house looking for prescription meds and shoots you in the groin.

Presentation: Cancelled. Account: Lost. You: Failure.

“But that’s a random event that has nothing to do with you - it’s not your fault!”

Exactly. But you still lost. We control what we put in - which makes a difference - but ultimately success or failure rests with a lot of things outside our control. Thus the existential dread that Americans face every day. The fear of trying something and being regarded as a loser despite your best effort because of things outside your control.  

Which brings us to Michael Jordan, and more importantly, to the way that he is viewed by society. You couldn’t choose any better a case study for American success worship than MJ. Pilloried for years at the start of his career for being selfish and aloof he changed absolutely nothing about himself besides his coach and teammates and became the most iconic athlete of all time by winning six championships. The point isn’t that he wasn’t great (he most definitely was) it was that he was great before they won, and the fact of his past greatness hasn’t changed since his retirement, yet only the actual winning of championships, something in many ways out of his control, made him immune from criticism. Because now he was a winner.

Listen, I’ve read virtually every word written about Michael Jordan in the last two decades and if one thing is beyond dispute about the guy it’s his legendary assholishness so if you have children I wouldn’t particularly advise you to hold him up to them as a role model. However since  they’re going to hear about him anyway, make a point of telling them about MJ’s actual greatest accomplishment… Baseball.

As always, it is no coincidence that this is widely regarded by society as being his greatest screw up when it should be the most admired action of the man’s life. Think for a second about Michael Jordan’s status in 1993. The world’s most famous athlete and top ten most famous person. Raking in nine figures a year. Universally beloved with years of his career in front of him. I said during Michael Jordan’s prime that he could run for President of the Unites States and win and I stand by that statement.

Imagine for a moment that you are the regarded universally as the best in the world to do what you do. The best salesperson, the best IT manager, the best stay at home, whatever. There are billboards around with your likeness. People write books about your mindset and methods. You are mobbed by people in the streets, crowds at every turn wanting, no, NEEDING, desperately to understand how you can possibly be as amazing as you are at what you do.

Now walk away.

Don’t explain. Just tell them your heart isn’t in it anymore. Then go do something you’re no good at. Show up every day in front of dozens of reporters and cameramen who are there to watch you fail and beam stories about your failure across the globe.

Keep showing up.

Read news stories about your fall from grace. Listen to talking heads speculate whether this insane career change could be stemming from your guilt about your father’s recent murder. Cash paychecks for less than a tenth of what you’ve ever made in your career.

Show up early to work.

Watch people you knew and worked with and respected in your old career make fun of your struggles in your new one. Be told by every expert that you are unlikely to ever be anything but below average to mediocre.

Stay late at work.

Keep failing and failing and failing and failing. Publicly and with the whole world watching. Know that everyone in the world thinks you are completely insane to have given up your old life for this. Do not stop.

In our society, “I’m looking forward to the challenge” ranks only behind “winning is the most important thing” in the category of lies that media-savvy dickhead athletes say to reporters for endorsement purposes. Go ahead and try to imagine Kobe Bryant or Sydney Crosby or Calvin Johnson taking up boxing and getting their asses kicked soundly multiple times in two years. MJ took on a challenge which he was virtually assured to fail, and fail spectacularly; but since he wanted to and didn’t care what anyone thought, he did it anyway. This willingness to humble himself while pursuing a pipe dream is now considered a kind of unsightly blemish on his career, the sort of thing polite people avoid mentioning. Meanwhile, MJ mercilessly berating and often physically assaulting basketball teammates who disappointed him are idolized by Americans who know that his barely concealed sociopathy was just an expression of his “burning desire to win.” It’s almost certainly never occurred to any of the middle managers who have Jordan posters up in their garage that the not giving a shit part of MJ that let him ignore every other human being on the planet’s mockery while he failed at baseball was far more important to his success than the not giving a shit part that let him treat his teammates like R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. Not only was it more important for his success, it also happened to be a more noble and dignified manifestation of that part of his personality.

What all this means is that one of the numerous reasons this country is headed down the shitter is our a priori acceptance that when you have failed at something that is bad and when you have succeeded at something, that is good. Not only is this morally lacking, but more pragmatically it makes real success nearly impossible, because no one succeeds without failure. And commercials like this don’t help - because like I said, it shows the consensus greatest player of all time talking about his failures at basketball; failures the rest of the universe could only dream of being successful enough to have. Believe me, children are not nearly as practiced as you are at ignoring the obvious, and will not miss the implications of this apparent mixed message.

Ever encourage your kids to do something you thought them virtually certain to fail at? Lemme guess:

“If they fail they’ll be devastated and angry!”

Why? That YOU feel that way when you fail has nothing to do with the reality of failure, it has to do with you buying into society’s message that having failed at something makes you a failure. Practicing failure is one of the healthiest things a kid can do.

Do you make a point of praising them based on their effort regardless of the outcome? How about talking about your admiration for people that “failed” but gave it everything they had?

I’m not saying to only ever put your child in no-win situations. I’m saying that considerations like “Is this worthwhile, or fun, or important”, need to be much higher in your mind than “Do I think they can do this?” (Which is good, since you suck at evaluating that anyway.)

Look failing hurts. I get that. I’m not in any way promising that exposing your kid to failing will not result in crying kids, and sad kids, and tantrum throwing kids, and all kinds of other bullshit that I plan to get a vasectomy to avoid dealing with. What I’m asking is that since we all pay lip service to the importance of being willing to fail, and since getting used to failure is the surest way to learn that failure is not the end of the world, can you put up with the discomfort of those moments in order to teach them something important about life?

Your parents mostly couldn’t, which is why this country is ⅔ owned by the Chinese. Hopefully you can do better.





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Lewd is the Warmest Color

If you’re not into indie films, you may not know that last Friday marked the release of NC-17 French lesbian coming of age film, “Blue is The Warmest Color” based on the graphic novel Blue Angel by Julie Maroh. The only connection the average American moviegoer will have to the movie is that one of the lesbians is portrayed by the hot blonde assassin chick from Mission Impossible 4.

I’ve not seen the film. It got on my radar thanks to the considerable buzz generated by a) a graphic lesbian sex scene that runs for nearly ten minutes and earned the film it’s adults only rating in the States, and b) it’s actresses spending the last two months doing interviews in which they basically accuse Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche of doing a five month Chuck Traynor impression that scarred both of them permanently. He didn’t really deny anything but responded by calling them spoiled brats and asking why they’re so willing to accept all the benefits of having worked on the film if they hated it so much. Meanwhile the actual lesbian author penned an open letter expressing her distaste with the way her material was adapted and saying that the movie’s sex felt “pornogrpahic.” It’s all extraordinarily French.

Why, you ask, am I discussing a French art film that neither you, dear reader, or I have seen or are very likely to? Because there’s a phenomena related to the buzz around this movie that I find interesting. Simply put, the following question occurs to me:

Why is everyone so scandalized by a ten minute simulated lesbian sex scene?

First off, despite the accusations of misogyny by the actresses against the director, they are very straightforward that the scenes are fake. Says actress Lea Seydoux:

"No, we had fake pussies that were molds of our real pussies. It was weird to have a fake mold of your pussy and then put it over your real one."

Got it. Thank you for clearing that up, Lea.

So we have two attractive young women faking lesbian sex  with each other on screen for ten minutes which sounds great and all, but why is it such a big deal when Americans are never more than a mouse click away from as much video as they could ever watch of two or more attractive young women having actual lesbian sex or sex with a man, or sex with women and men, or sex with various inanimate objects…?

“Well it’s a real film, not a porno.” Sure. But what exactly is the difference between a porno and a mainstream movie anyway?They’re both moving images accompanied by sound. They both tend to follow relatively straightforward narrative arcs. Sure the nature of the conflict can vary - in one the conflict is “How can I deal with the feelings that have arisen in me as part of a sexual awakening that is very different from those I see in other girls around me and what will my being different mean for my life?” In the other, the conflict is “Oh no, whatever can I do with this huge boner I seem to have?” Really though, these are mostly differences of degree, not kind, why is sex in a film like this such a big deal?

Easy. It’s the same reason that the actresses talking up their discomfort on set has only fanned the flames. It’s because things that are taboo are erotic, and the idea of a woman being uncomfortable or only questionably consenting is still a pretty strong taboo in modern America.

Why is “amateur” porn such a popular category? Why do chicks like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian publicly insist that their sex tapes were released against their will? Why did shit-tastic “Fifty Shades of Grey” sell roughly 3 billion copies despite reading like it was written by a not particularly talented tenth grader? Because the distinction between “porno” and “sex tape” lets us keep up the same mental distinction we keep between “porn star” and “amateur”. They both fuck on camera for money, but one of them is conflicted about it.

Or how about the recent tapes released by Teen Mom Farrah Abraham and Anthony Weiner paramour Sydney Leathers? Both professionally shot and filmed with well known “male talent” and yet Abraham denied hers was even made for public consumption, and Leathers claimed that she only decided to make hers after a previous video showing her awkwardly fondling herself for half an hour made the rounds on the internet as a “sex tape.”

“Well no one believes those obvious lies! We’re not idiots!”

Yes you are, because the only lie about those movies that actually mattered you definitely believed. That they were porn and were always intended to be porn is obvious to everyone, and you can congratulate yourself for seeing through that “deception.” But the real lie is that either of these women care about society’s opinion on whether they’ve done a porno or not. They don’t. But they want you to think that they do, because again, it establishes them as women with limits. That you know it’s a lie is irrelevant, what matters is that you believe that your opinion means something to them - because you know damn well Sasha Grey or Kayden Kross do not care what you think.

What difference does all this make? Well maybe none at all. But if it’s true that female sexual reluctance is still arousing for both men and women (50 Shades, remember) I can’t help but wonder how much progress we can really have made in reducing women’s inequality. If we’re not even sure we want them to really enjoy their orgasms without guilt, how much trust can we truly have in them…?








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Education

“You didn’t discuss the characters using the words we went over in class.”

That sentence grabbed my attention like a giant booger dangling from the nose of a dentist leaning over to work on a patient.… It almost defied me to look away.

I write a lot. I have the ambition to one day actually get paid for all this writing I do. I spend hours every day thinking about the craft of creating the most vivid imagery and compelling arguments with the written word, and how best to do that. Yet will all that effort, I could not sum up in ten hours one sentence that conveys the problem with America better than this probably exhausted English teacher managed to do in fifteen seconds while grading her forty eighth paper of the night in front of Downton Abbey and a half drunk mug of green tea. That she did it accidentally only slightly mitigates the pain.

For the completists out there, this paper was written about Wuthering Heights, by an eighteen year old, and I saw it because if you invite me to your home and then bore me with banal conversation I will probably wander around trying to find something that interests me more than your American Idol recaps. Like the English paper your kid left lying in the family room.

For the record, I did read the whole paper, and I’m not covering how the characters were discussed in the paragraph in question or it’s overall quality because that really isn’t the point. I want you to focus on a very important assumption which underlies the sentence I quoted (verbatim) above.

Seeing it? Let’s set it up this way:

1. “I have docked you points because you did not use the words we went over in class.”

2. “Had you used the words we went over in class I would not have docked you points.”

3. “The goal of this exercise was to get you to repeat what you had heard.”

As a reminder, this was written to an EIGHTEEN year old. Look, I could listen to arguments about the virtue of forcing young children to regurgitate rote information as a means of education, but can there be a person out there anywhere who thinks that eighteen years on this planet is insufficient time to try to learn how to communicate about something using your own words?? This is not about education. Period. This is about making the point to the student that the quality of your ideas matters far less than your ability to spout buzzwords and communicate in a gibberish language that everyone can understand because it doesn’t really MEAN anything at all.

“Dave you may be reading too much into a single comment made by a single teacher on a single English paper.”

Nice try, but I went to college. Tell me if this sounds familiar: “Papers must be minimum five pages, one and a half spaced, no more than one inch margins, minimum 6 citations.

Explain to me exactly how the number of citations corresponds to the quality of ideas contained in a paper… You know if I didn’t know better, I’d think that an entire generations of kids were being taught that brainless appeals to authority were the same thing as critical thinking just because counting the number of citations in a paper makes grading easier for the TA’s.

“But Dave, using the insights of academics and other respected voices in a given field is a good way to enhance student’s learning so that they don’t all have to reinvent the wheel.”

That’s true but irrelevant, because there is no learning that’s being enhanced at all. I’m not proposing we expect every student to be Ramanujan and re-discover modern mathematics from scratch; I’m saying that throwing concepts at students with the goal of getting them to regurgitate instead of reflect doesn’t teach them anything. It’s perfectly possible for a person to go through 16 years of schooling with an inch deep understanding of basic concepts that should be fundamental to everyone in a democracy, and STILL imagine that they are well educated because of their great skill in repeating in slightly different words all the things they have been told to think. In fact it’s not only possible, it’s called America.

There are a great many ideas which would help with this issue, but it isn’t worth discussing any of them here simply because none of them will work without a very different teaching paradigm than currently exists in the US. A teacher that is not in command of their subject matter will not be a good teacher, period. A teacher that does not get enjoyment from studying the subject matter will not stay in command of it for long, period. Most people with the curiosity and aptitude about a subject that leads to truly loving it will not want to spend their days frantically cramming bureaucrat approved test materials into their students brains in an effort to stave off funding cuts for one more semester. Game. Set. Match. The status quo wins again.  

Sorry if you were hoping to learn kids, but the good news is there’s a lot of TV made for people who think just like you. It’s called cable news.  









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Thomas Friedman - Generational Icon

Too much bumming me out lately. Media coverage of the Trayvon Martin verdict, Some popular guy from a show I don’t watch died of a drug overdose, Syria continues to burn to the ground, the Flyers are having another shitty offseason… Everything’s just a disaster everywhere you fucking look.


So for something more lighthearted, I’m writing a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time, my contribution to the gargantuan “Thomas Friedman is a stupid, illiterate, dumbass” oeuvre that exists across the internet.


In the spirit of fair play I did not go hunting for anything particularly dumb - these are my unfiltered thoughts about his most recent column:


“In every civil war there is a moment before all hell breaks loose when there is still a chance to prevent a total descent into the abyss. Egypt is at that moment.”


Oof. That’s how we’re gonna start this, huh? If a tenth grader turned that opening paragraph in to their English comp teacher they’d be summarily executed by the flagpole during lunch as a warning to the other students. I mean - EVERY civil war, Tom? However many civil wars throughout history have torn nations apart, however long or short, or bloodless or grotesque, that same oddly nondescript “moment” pops up in all of them? Also, does all hell often break loose at the same time you are descending totally into the abyss? Is he talking about being attacked by Cthulhu?


“The Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts this week, and it can’t come too soon.”


Nor can it come too late. It can in fact, only come when it is going to come, which as you helpfully mention, is next week.


“One can only hope that the traditional time for getting family and friends together will provide a moment for all the actors in Egypt to reflect on how badly they’ve behaved — all sides — and opt for the only sensible pathway forward: national reconciliation.”


On how badly they’ve behaved? Only the NYT talks about brutal sectarian violence like they just caught their new puppy peeing on the rug. “You go in the corner and think about what you did, Egypt!”


Also, the only sensible pathway forward is national reconciliation, or in other words the only sensible way forward is for everyone to put aside the religious and class based strife that’s been tearing the country apart for years if not decades and instead hold hands in peace and harmony while singing Kumbayah? Thanks a fucking million, Sun Tzu, why didn’t we think of that?


“I was a student at the American University in Cairo in the early 1970s and have been a regular visitor since. I’ve never witnessed the depth of hatred that has infected Egypt in recent months: Muslim Brotherhood activists throwing a young opponent off a roof; anti-Islamist activists on Twitter praising the Egyptian army for mercilessly gunning down supporters of the Brotherhood in prayer. In the wake of all this violent turmoil, it is no longer who rules Egypt that it is at stake. It is Egypt that is at stake. This is an existential crisis.”


Early 1970’s, ladies. Still plenty of vigor in this NYT op-ed writer. And if Thomas Friedman has done anything in Egypt in the last decade other than be chauffered between 4 star hotels, golf courses, universities, and black tie diplomatic events, I’ll eat my own jock strap.


He calls it an existential crisis. For Egypt. The country that measured the length it’s existence in millenia BEFORE the birth of Christ. Hey Tom, when you were at the American University in Cairo in the early 1970’s did you get a chance to get out and see this?


That was more than two thousand years old when Alexander the Great was born. It’s considered something of a monument to the lasting nature of Egyptian culture. Much the same way your incredible success is considered something of a monument to the last brain damaged days of American culture.


Note too that his examples of the unfathomable carnage are somebody getting thrown off a roof, and violence being praised by crazy people on Twitter. I’m not saying those aren’t bad things, but that seems less “existential crisis” violence and more “Rio after Brazil loses a soccer match” violence.


“Can Egypt hold together and move forward as a unified country or will it be torn asunder by its own people, like Syria? Nothing is more important in the Middle East today, because when the stability of modern Egypt is at stake — sitting as it does astride the Suez Canal, the linchpin of any Arab peace with Israel and knitting together North Africa, Africa and the Middle East — the stability of the whole region is at stake.”


I’ll say in passing that Syria is less being torn apart by its own people than it is being torn apart by it’s psychotic dictator who’s launching VX gas at orphanages.


Also, “sits astride the Suez Canal.” It’s as though the English language is a nubile young woman and Friedman is Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s a kind of grim detachment as he mutilates something that was once beautiful.  Incidentally, both the American and Chinese governments would gladly carpet bomb the entire country with nuclear weapons before they let some asshole Egyptian dictator restrict access to the Suez Canal.  


“I appreciate the anger of non-Islamist, secular and liberal Egyptians with President Mohamed Morsi. He never would have become president without their votes, but, once in office, instead of being inclusive, at every turn he grabbed for more power. With Egypt’s economy in a tailspin, I also appreciate the impatience of many Egyptians with Morsi’s rule. But in the Arab world’s long transition to democracy, something valuable was lost when the military ousted Morsi’s government and did not wait for the Egyptian people to do it in October’s parliamentary elections or the presidential elections three years down the road. It gives the Muslim Brothers a perfect excuse not to reflect on their mistakes and change, which is an essential ingredient for Egypt to build a stable political center.”


I have been trying for the last four hours to diagram that sentence in the middle beginning with “But”. Now somehow I can’t remember my middle name.


He writes this in an appeasing fashion, as though it’s going to be read by it’s subjects. Tom, people in Egypt have more fun things to do than read your column. Like watch their loved ones be brutally murdered.


“But Egypt’s non-Islamists, secular and liberal groups need to get their act together, too. The Egyptian opposition has been great at mobilizing protests but incapable of coalescing around a single leader’s agenda, while the Brotherhood has been great at winning elections but incapable of governing.”


If only some overpaid Ron Jeremy moustached hack was there to tell them what to do!


“So now there is only one way for Egypt to avoid the abyss:”

Yeeeaahhhh Boooiiiii!!! Three time Pulitzer Prize winning TRUTH comin at yo face!!!


“the military, the only authority in Egypt today, has to make clear that it ousted the Muslim Brotherhood for the purpose of a “reset,” not for the purposes of “revenge” — for the purpose of starting over and getting the transition to democracy right this time, not for the purpose of eliminating the Brotherhood from politics. (It is not clear that the “interim constitution” issued Tuesday by Egypt’s transitional government will give the Brotherhood a fair shot at contesting power. It bans parties based on religion, but that ban was in place under Hosni Mubarak, and the Brotherhood got around it by running as independents.) Egypt will not be stable if the Brotherhood is excluded.”

If you fell asleep during that paragraph it says “hold a press conference”. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that Thomas Friedman has eaten at more Michelin three star restaurants than you will ever even see in your life, and he did it all on the NYT’s dollar.


“Dalia Mogahed, the C.E.O. of Mogahed Consulting and a longtime pollster in the Middle East, remarked to me that the original 2011 revolution that overthrew Mubarak was mounted by “young people, leftists, liberals, Islamists, united for a better future. The division was between those revolutionaries and the status quo. The revolution wasn’t owned by the secularists or the liberals or the Islamists. That’s why it worked.” Democracy in Egypt “only has a chance when revolutionaries again see the status quo as their enemy, not each other.” “


Hey Thomas Friedman name dropped a foreign CEO! Everybody drink!


“She is right: Muslim Brothers can kill more secularists; the military can kill more Muslim Brothers; but another decade of the status quo in Egypt will kill them all. The country will be a human development disaster. With the absence of a true party of reform — that blends respect for religion with a strategy of modernization as the great 19th-century Egyptian reformers did — Egyptians today are being forced to choose not a better way, but between bad ideas.”


Kill them all, chuckledick? Are they issuing assault rifles to Egyptian grade schoolers now? Has the entire country become sterile? Does anyone but me think you write these columns on the crapper in between rounds of golf?


“The Brotherhood posits that “Islam is the answer.” The military favors a return to the deep state of old. But more religion alone is not the answer for Egypt today and while the military-dominated deep state may provide law and order and keep Islamists down, it can’t provide the kind of fresh thinking and educational, entrepreneurial, social and legal reforms needed to empower and unleash Egypt’s considerable human talent and brainpower. In truth, the 2002 U.N. Arab Human Development Report is the answer, which, by the way, was mostly written by Egyptian scholars. It called on Egyptians to focus on building a politics that can overcome their debilitating deficits of freedom, education and women’s empowerment. That is the pathway Egypt needs to pursue — not Mubarakism, Morsi-ism or military rule — and the job of Egypt’s friends now is not to cut off aid and censure, but to help it gradually but steadily find that moderate path.”


Posits. Somebody owns a thesaurus. Readers are invited to try and work out for themselves what the hell Tom means by a “deep” state. Also few things signal “fresh thinking” as effectively as a U.N. report written eleven years ago.


Well that was amusing. To me anyway. I have some theories about Friedman’s enduring popularity that I might share with you in a later post. Meantime, stay safe, and watch out for giant spiders.

 

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Maria Kang: Feminist

Editors Note:

(Insert your deity of choice here) willing, I am going to start updating this blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Hopefully this will have no effect on the mediocre quality I’ve managed to mostly maintain so far. If you’ve enjoyed any of these little ramblings, please just check back with me on those afternoons and I should have something new for you from here on out… 

Without further ado - onto today’s offensiveness. 

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That is California MILF and sit-up enthusiast Maria Kang doing what Type A personalities love to do more than anything in the world - passive-aggressively bragging about how much better and stronger willed she is than you. She posted this photo on her Facebook fan page and the internet, with the thoughtfulness and decorum for which it is so justly famous, lost it’s mind.

I’ve seen white sharks converge on a whale carcass with more restraint. A couple of points in no particular order:

1. This is 100% a culture/gender thing.

If an American man did this, it not only wouldn’t be controversial, it wouldn’t really even be interesting. How do I know? Because men do this all the time. Often with almost identical wording. Observe:

I suddenly want to buy Nikes.

That was iconic professional athlete and legendary peckerhead Michael Jordan explaining that if you would just stop making excuses, grow to six foot six inches tall, and spontaneously develop a fast twitch muscle fiber profile that exists in maybe five percent of the entire human race; then you too could make hundreds of millions of dollars, smoke cigars that cost as much as a Yamaha R6, have a hot Cuban second wife fifteen years younger than you, and hang out with former Presidents at golf tournaments while wearing hilariously ridiculous looking designer clothes.

It never occurred to any man to object to this ad.

2. Feminism is part of the problem.

21st century feminism, by which I mean the type that’s written at Jezebel and by Amanda Marcotte will jump right up this woman’s finely toned ass for having the temerity to flash her six pack around Facebook and the whole time the outrage is spewing it will never occur to them to ask exactly why it is such a big deal that we now know she has an innie belly button.

I imagine I’ll catch all the flak in the universe for saying this, but impotent outrage is about the only thing that this kind of feminism is any good at. This is by design. The notion of empowering women has been co-opted by society in a way that ensures it will never actually amount to the empowerment of women. As long as feminism means complaining ceaselessly in the media about anything that anyone ever does which has the potential to make some woman somewhere feel badly about herself then the glass ceiling will remain as firmly fixed in place as the Grand Canyon Skywalk.

Believe me - you are being lied to for a purpose. Notice the way that women who DO things are so often disqualified from being feminist role models for peripheral reasons related to some aspect of their appearance or personality. You didn’t like Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina because they were Republicans. You don’t like Marissa Meyer because she demurs on calling herself a feminist. You don’t even know who Phebe Novakovic is because she runs a weapons company and looks like Bruce Jenner.

Meanwhile, who is considered the unassailable, can-do-no-wrong feminist hero of this generation? Hillary fucking Clinton. A woman whose power and influence have come from: a) being married to someone who won the Presidency of the United States. b) being encouraged by men to run for a Senate seat using money fundraised with her husband’s political connections c) having her ass soundly handed to her in a race she was the favorite in before accepting that same man’s appointment to a consolation prize job.

“Hillary Clinton has accomplished a gazillion billion times more than you ever will, you hairy-backed, halitosis-having, misogynist asshole!”

Duh.

My point is that dozens of women outpace Hillary in terms of life accomplishment but are shunted aside by a feminist movement that values more highly Hilary’s most eerily consistent talent: her inerrant ability, even after decades in the public eye, to never say or appear to do anything, ever, that could offend a kind of baseline educated, female, vaguely liberal feministic sensibility. This emphasis on words and appearance over action is not an accident.

3. Oh shit! Race!

One of my favorite awesome things about post-racial America is that our racial hang-ups are way less awkward and uncomfortable now that we just pretend they don’t exist. If this photo had been of Stephanie Jones, an annoyingly thin mother of three from Orange County, or some equally well-known enclave of whiteness, you almost certainly would never even have seen the post, and the woman sure as hell wouldn’t have gotten an interview on Good Morning America. Half Chinese is a whole different ballgame though. She needs to be torn limb from limb (see also Amy Chua) Watch:

Later on, watch this whole special, it’s good.

4. Men are like this too.

So if you’re grinding your teeth at all my mansplaining allow me to freely concede that the allure of getting pissed off and making a lot of noise before doing nothing is not a gender specific thing, in fact, I already wrote about it here.

This writer sounds like a real prick

My point is that as far as I can tell this is the official strategic choice of numerous women who claim that the most important thing in their lives is being part of the battle to end gender inequality. It’s a bit like a Christian church that spends a year arguing about what color the new stalls should be for the bathroom remodel and then frustratedly blames the pervasive wickedness of society for their declining attendance. Once your movement or organization has lost sight of it’s primary reason for existence in favor of bickering over minutiae, you’re already worm food, you just haven’t realized it yet.