Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Friday, December 29, 2017

Distrust of College

Just a quick comment about diverging views on whether college is "worth it" or whatever. This is the kind of thing I have in mind:

I think it's important to bear in mind that there are at least two distinct things going on here. Yes, the right wing media uses college professors and activists as its go-to punching bags, and so there are probably right wing parents out there who think their kid would be better off not attending an elite school like Swarthmore or Columbia or whatever, and they're mostly wrong. Very few students who can get into those schools should go somewhere else or should skip college.

But I think "college" doesn't have a settled meaning when we have these discussions. For people with certain attributes (high grades, high test scores, money, well-educated or well-connected parents), "college" means precisely places like Swarthmore and Columbia, with their excellent teachers, vast academic resources, and generous financial aid. For other people, "college" might mean, at best, a flagship state university with mediocre academics, relatively little financial aid, and a cultural focus on athletics. And again, that may be the best case scenario. There are a lot of schools out there that do not teach very well and do not confer a degree that is worth very much.

I believe we would probably improve society much more by investing in colleges and universities at the "low end" than improving our already-excellent elite universities. There is a very real sense in which the system is "rigged," but it's not quite in the way that Republicans tend to mean. We lavish resources on students at elite schools and many of them graduate with minimal debt. (I don't really know the details, but I believe I have friends who paid next to nothing at the elite college we attended and graduated with, like, four-figure debt at worst.) Meanwhile students at public universities struggle to pay tuition, struggle to graduate, and are generally not on the same kind of career track when they do. This bifurcation is exactly the kind of thing that can make our society seem so unfair to anyone without the resources (financial, cultural, whatever) to get on the right track. (If nothing else, bear in mind that a substantial number of students at elite colleges are "legacy" admits who might not have been able to get in on their own merits. This is a baffling way to run a society.)

The irony here, as always with the GOP's modern "populist" bullshit, is that it is the GOP that wants to defund state universities. So the party of Social Security, Medicare, and well-funded public education gets labeled "elitist" because of its demographic makeup, while the party actually trying to immiserate the working class makes political hay out of the unfairness of our system.

But that shouldn't blind us to the realities of our post-secondary educational sector and the substantial unfairness it imposes.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Financialization Continues Apace

Just a quick observation while I work on a more substantive post. It's interesting the degree to which our language relies on financial metaphors. Someone who accepts a financial instrument at "face value" gives it the full value stated on its face. On the other hand, someone who has doubts about the instrument might discount it, i.e. buy it for less than 100 cents on the dollar.

And so when someone tells you something, you can take it at face value, or you can discount it.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Racist Ryanism

2016 came down to a math problem. Trump's rhetoric was, to a certain segment of the population, refreshingly free of conservative free-market nonsense. It was time to reorient policy to serve common people, not the moneyed interests so keen on paying speaking fees to Hillary Clinton. The economy had been very good for people like Trump, now it was time for prosperity to make its way down the rungs. Entitlements should be protected and expanded. Health insurance should be cheaper and everyone should be covered, conservative principles be damned. The opioid epidemic should be taken seriously. This resonated with white working-class people who might ordinarily vote Democratic or not vote at all.

On the other hand, Trump freely engaged in race-baiting and misogyny, and his policy proposals were generally devoid of content or actively stupid. I don't want to imply that this was some kind of novel thing for the Republican Party, but we hadn't seen a presidential candidate this crudely and openly bigoted in a long time. This tended to alienate certain affluent, well-educated people who would ordinarily vote Republican because of their desire for low taxes and, in some cases, their desire to slash spending on things like Social Security and Medicare. (I don't mean to imply that there aren't any affluent white people who thrill to the sound of racist demagoguery. But broadly speaking, the way to pick up affluent white votes is to sound like a generic tax-cutting Republican, not a welfare-expanding bigot.)

So which effect would dominate? Well, obviously Clinton won the popular vote, but in general affluent white people pulled the lever for Trump and so did poor white people. You might say there was an implicit social compact formed: The rich would look the other way while Trump attacked blacks, Hispanics, women, the disabled, Jews, and Muslims, in exchange for tax cuts. The poor would look away while Trump attacked social services for the poor, in exchange for attacks on blacks, Hispanics, women, the disabled, Jews, and Muslims. This bargain has been respected to a degree that is somewhat remarkable in American politics.

But of course that's a very jaundiced view of poor white voters. It seems likely that many of them thought Trump was a genuinely new kind of Republican, one whose obvious concern for the less-well-off would lead to sensible, worker-friendly public policy. Instead Trump has governed as a hard-right plutocrat, elevating the most extreme right-wing elements throughout government. To anyone who wasn't in on the bargain described above, Trump's decision to unleash full Paul Ryanism on the population must feel like a betrayal.

So 2018 and 2020 will be tests of whether Trump's 2016 coalition was a fluke that relied on misleading substantial numbers of non-bigoted white voters or a durable arrangement that will prove mutually satisfactory to his two bases. All indications are that "racist Ryanism" is not actually popular in the United States, so my bet is on the former. But there is one troubling aspect of all of this—it took a special kind of naivete, an almost culpable degree of gullibility, to think that Trump would govern in the way he promised. It is not easy to understand why anyone who turned a blind eye to Trump's manifest dishonesty then would wake up now. Even if the Republicans lose badly in 2018, this may simply be because they will rarely put an openly racist asshole like Trump on the ballot. The real test of racist Ryanism will be in 2020, when Trump will presumably enjoy the full-throated support of the far left that pushed him over the top in 2016. So unfortunately we won't be able to rest easy for quite some time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

How Should a Person FUCK My Life!

I'm not going to lie to you, it's a depressing time to be alive.

Another View of the CathedraFUCK MY LIFE

I anticipate that the Republicans will either not reauthorize CHIP at all, or will do so in a bill that rams something down Democrats' throats. For instance, a bill that simultaneously funds CHIP and requires all states to allow open carry of handguns everywhere (churches, schools, etc.). Then when Democrats vote against it, the Republicans will say, "Oh I guess you don't care about children after all."

The good news is that it currently appears that Republicans have made their party so toxic that the Democrats will take the House and/or the Senate, at which point a lot of this crap will get shut down. But of course there's no guarantee of that.

Monday, December 18, 2017


Sarang correctly notes that it's spelled "oi" not "oy." The former is an annoying Britishism, the latter is a non-annoying Yiddish word.

But it doesn't matter, because I've changed my mind. Brishisms are Good now.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Court Transcript

THE COURT:  What do you mean when you say your client said it in "the Chili's way"?

MR. STONE:  He wasn't saying it in a threatening or menacing -- he sang it, Your Honor. Like the Chili's jingle.

THE COURT:  The Chili's jingle?

MR. STONE:  Yes Your Honor. It was a sort of joking --

THE COURT:  I have no idea what you're talking about.

MR. STONE:  Well the ads are from a long time ago. I think it's just one of those catchy things --

MR. KOUVACS:  Your Honor if I may. [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back.

THE COURT:  Oh right yeah! [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back. I want my baby back baby back baby back. I didn't know that was Chili's.

MR. STONE:  It's an advertisement for baby-back ribs, Your Honor.

MR. KOUVACS:  [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back.

THE COURT:  I thought it was from that movie.

MR. KOUVACS:  [singing] Chili's baby-back ribs!  No, Your Honor, at least originally it was an ad campaign for Chili's.

MR. STONE:  It was in a movie, Your Honor.


MR. STONE:  Austin Powers.

THE COURT:  It was a sort of obese Scottish character.

MR. KOUVACS:  He's right, Your Honor, but I actually think it was in the second one.

THE COURT:  The second movie?

MR. KOUVACS:  Yeah. The Spy Who Shagged Me.

THE COURT:  [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back.

MR. KOUVACS:  The joke was that he was going to eat Mini-Me.

THE COURT:  Excuse me?

MR. KOUVACS:  The obese character was going to eat a baby, and so the jingle was sort of dark comedy. Not entirely un-menacing, Your Honor. I would argue --

THE COURT:  [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back.

MR. STONE:  It wasn't a baby --

THE COURT:  [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back.

MR. KOUVACS:  Well, wasn't Mini-Me a baby?


THE COURT:  Mini-Me is a clone. He's small, but not a baby.

MR. KOUVACS:  Get in my belly!

MR. STONE:  [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back. Anyway Your Honor --

THE COURT:  We can move on. It's just so catchy. [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back.

MR. KOUVACS:  [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back.

MR. STONE:  [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back.

THE COURT:  [singing] Chili's baby-back ribs!

MR. KOUVACS:  You do know the jingle, Your Honor!

THE COURT:  It's so --

MR. STONE:  [singing] I want my baby back baby back baby back.

THE COURT:  -- good.

MR. STONE:  Is anyone else hungry? Because I think we were going to recess at noon, and I know it's a little early --

MR. KOUVACS:  [singing] Chili's baby-back ribs!

THE COURT:  Let's recess until --

MR. STONE:  I can look it up on my Blackberry.

THE COURT:  -- 2:30.  Good, I'll -- good.

Thursday, December 14, 2017


If I had been in Ireland at the time of the formation of the Irish Free State, I think I would have been pro-Treaty.


One kind of interesting thing is that Churchill was constantly subtweeting the United States in his great wartime speeches. I've quoted his "finest hour" speech, which flatly says our fates are intertwined. Here is another:

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
There's plenty more but I think you get the idea. Again, his decision to use good American English and not to throw in a bunch of "oys" and "shites" greatly elevates the oratory.

To Be Sure

It's worth dwelling on why "bloodyminded" is good. It's good because it's expressive. It encapsulates a concept that would otherwise take several words to say. It's not just a misspelling of an American word or an inferior version being passed off as the genuine article. It's not annoying or stupid.

By the way, none of this is a knock on the talent of the British people for using the English language. Consider the following passage from one of Churchill's great speeches:

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."
This is great British rhetoric that is vastly more effective because it is written in American English. Imagine if Churchill had said:

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour." Oy!

More Thoughts

Also it's not cool how they, you know... how they use certain words that are really sexist and obscene. If you disagree with someone, call her "wrongheaded" or "misguided" or, sure, "bloodyminded." You don't have to resort to the worst sort of misogyny.

You all know what I'm talking about.

The Exception That Proves the Rule

"Bloodyminded" is okay. Is that a Britishism? It's okay. If it's a Britishism, it's the one good Britishism.

The Skittish Empire

It's very important that we not import Britishisms into our language. I've seen a lot of this crap lately and it has to stop.

This isn't about xenophobia. I've got no problem with phrases like "muy bueno." Mexico is our neighbor, and we've benefited greatly from cultural exchange. Moreover, its language is complementary to ours. It adds color. "¡Hijo de la gran puta!" is just better than its English equivalent. More evocative. Basically Mexico can be regarded as a friend and ally.

The British are different. When they tried to make us talk like them, in spite of our ardent wish for peace, we were forced to take up arms. British people don't have flashlights, they have torches. They don't have yards, they have gardens. Affluent British families send their children to "public school," which means private school. Their cars have boots. Sorry, their motorcars. Filled with petrol. They stand for election. We run.

Who was the most annoying kid at college? It was the guy who said "shite" instead of "shit," right? Don't bother trying to deny it. (This brings up an important point, which is that Britishisms are vastly more annoying when used as affectations, which they always are.)

But affectation or no, British English is devoid of merit. Can you imagine taking yourself seriously as a "civilisation" while shouting "oy"? Jesus. That alone would prevent me from raising my children there. Picture it—your kid comes home from school and says, "Oy! Aren't there any biscuits left?" She means cookies. And no, there aren't any fucking cookies left, not for disappointing witless little shits who say "oy" when they mean, like, Sopranos-style "eyyyyyy." Which, again, the Italians are all right. The British are not.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Harassment and a Kind of Blindness

Here is a reasonably good piece about the gray area between workplace harassment and acceptable flirtation. For now I will simply observe that for me, it is virtually impossible to detect certain social cues. I would compare it to a kind of blindness, the lack of some essential sense organ that could help me navigate this terrain. Of course this can be debilitating in all kinds of situations, but it makes workplace relationships especially difficult.

So in other words, I think these discussions should probably take account of the different ways that people will experience whatever social expectations are decided on. That's why this line from the piece is so important:

It feels great to be chased when you are attracted to the person doing the chasing. Otherwise, the chaser might be seen as a predator.
This is a dynamic that might be a trivial concern for some men, but it makes dating prohibitively risky for others. (I would add that "predator" would apply to "chasing" in the workplace, while "creep" would generally be the term for "chasing" in ordinary social life.)

Not trying to troll here, obviously women's experiences shouldn't be held hostage to socially awkward men. On some level if you can't recognize the boundaries then you shouldn't play the game. Just pointing out that people are going to have widely divergent experiences with whatever system we end up with.

[updated to clean up word choice and formatting]