Sleeping Giant: Explaining the New Working Class to Today's Professional Class

Submitted by Charlie on Tue 14 Jun 2016 - 13:43



"Look, a blue collar bar! Oh, Smithers, let's go slumming." - C.M. Burns

There is a revealing contradiction underlying Tamara Draut's new book, Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America. Right in the introduction, she starts describing an American working class that is less Archie Bunker than whatever Archie's female, minority equivalent would be if network TV ever made shows about such people. But her language makes it very clear that her audience is anything but working class:

No longer shuttered away in a factory, today's working class is interwoven into nearly every aspect of our lives. It's the black woman in a caretaker's smock wearing special comfort shoes and a name tag above her heart. It's the white man in a uniform (which he had to pay for) who punches in each day and restocks the shelves of your favorite big-box store. It's the Latina home health aide who cares for your mom, the janitor who empties your office wastebasket, the woman who rings up your groceries, and the crew who fix the bumpy freeway you take every day to work. Yet despite how interwoven this new working class is in our lives, we don't really know enough about it.[p1-2]

The "you" and "we" in the above plainly do not refer to that perfectly diverse cast of workers. And that's sort of the point. Working class people, defined largely but not entirely as those without a four-year college degree, aren't the target audience for lefty policy books. Bridging that gap is Draut's main task, and as the college educated daughter of a factory worker who grew up to do her labor at a liberal think tank, she has her feet in both the world of her subjects and the world of her audience.

Near the end, in one of the most moving passages of a book that has several of them, she recounts how America did right by her. Decent schools created real opportunities that she was in a position go for, and all of it was paid for by honest jobs that were available without expensive degrees or a network of chummy school ties. It's the American Dream in action: mom and dad work, and their child goes to school, saves up, and makes it with a white collar job in the big city. Their granddaughter, growing up in a house with two college educated parents, will have even better opportunities.

As Draut makes clear, however, it's a story that's getting rarer as the working class becomes ever more squeezed. She identifies a three headed monster of "economic neoliberalism", "entrenched corporate power", and "pervasive and stubborn racial, ethnic, and gender oppression", that has put the majority of working class Americans in an impossible bind.

Today's ordinary workers are repeatedly told both explicitly and implicitly that they must help themselves (neoliberalism), all while the traditional avenues of doing so through decent schools that lead to union jobs are being closed off (corporate power), and against a systemic tide of official and unofficial discrimination in the form of a racist criminal justice system, gendered work expectations (complete with lower pay), and all kinds of systemic political disenfranchisement.

Pay Disparities Among Working Class Men, Women, and Minorities

Draut's chart that I tried not to maul too badly whilst scanning. Yes, pay gaps are real and are basically theft.

Draut is both a keen policy analyst and an economical story teller, so Sleeping Giant is built around explanations of systemic problems that she then illustrates with the sometimes sad and always difficult working lives of modern America. There's Erika, a bank teller, who has to maintain her "professional" wardrobe at her own expense, is subject to arbitrary scheduling that makes her life chaotic and impossible to plan, and still has to meet sales quotas for new products:

For example, Erika must say each customer's name three times during each transaction, must always offer at least one product, and must be sure to invite the customer back. "It gets a little tricky and a little weird, especially when customers are in a hurry, to say all those things. 'Hey, Mr. Jones, okay, Mr. Jones, thank you, Mr. Jones,' and the customer is looking at you like 'Why do you keep saying my name?' Literally, customers are irritated and they want to go on their way and don't want to hear your speeches and sales pitches."[p33-34]

The bank, of course, doesn't care about its customers irritation or Erika's conversational dignity. They just want her to sell stuff, and they'll go so far as to send "secret shoppers" to make sure their tellers are reciting the script.

Then there's Nancy, who works at Walmart and has done everything she can to fight back against low wages, insane scheduling, and benefit cuts. She was selected to visit Walmart's annual corporate gathering (headline entertainment includes the likes of Tom Cruise and Hugh Jackman), where this happened:

As part of the show, Bill Simon, then CEO of Walmart, opened the floor up to associates to ask questions. When one associate received a condescending response to his complaint about how hot the stores were in the summer, it was the last straw for Nancy. She felt she had to get in the line to speak, but she was overcome by anxiety. She prayed for the Lord to give her a sign that she should speak up, which she got when Bill Simon pointed to her and said she'd get the last question. So she began talking about the changes in working conditions, focusing particularly on the new scheduling practices. As she spoke, the three thousand-plus associates began clapping in support, and when she finished, they gave her a standing ovation. Bill Simon was not too happy, quipping, "I guess we're having fun now" when Nancy finished speaking.[p67-68]

First of all, good on you, Nancy. Secondly, fuck you, Bill Simon. Finally, does anyone besides sociopathic executives, accountants, and MBAs really think these are healthy or sustainable ways to run a business?

Erika has to repeat her customer's names like a stalker because some putz - very far removed from the teller counter - wanted an increase of a quarter percent in revenues from auto-loans or something. Nancy can't make plans more than a week in advance because her hours can be changed on a whim by someone (or some algorithm) that has never had to work a dehumanizing "just in time" schedule. That Simon and his ilk find these complaints annoying rather than alarming tells you everything you need to know about what little regard they have for the people who actually do the work that pays for big Hollywood names to show up at yearly corporate victory parties.

And then there's Dion, who's getting screwed not only by his two (fast-food) employers, but by our great American system as well. Dion's daughter was born with a damaged heart, which surgery failed to fix. She died before turning three. Dion missed work for two years, racked up debt doing so (including medical bills for his daughter's ultimately failed care), and is now back working low wage, irregular shifts seven days a week to pay it all off.

I'm going to repeat that, because it is wrong on every level imaginable: this man works two jobs to service debt he incurred paying for doctors who failed to save his baby daughter. Reasonable (non-sociopathic, non-MBA) people might ask 1) why anyone should be able to incur debt caring for a sick kid?, 2) why quitting jobs is the only way a parent can spend time with such a child?, and 3) why anyone should have to work two damned jobs in the first place?

A big part of the answer, to which Draut dedicates an entire chapter, is that no one in a position of real authority cares in the least about working stiffs like Dion. Influential media organizations - peopled almost entirely by college grads - can barely see past their nameplates in D.C. or New York. Congress and its staff are overwhelmingly white, educated, and male. And housing and schools have become so segregated that the only interaction most middle and upper class people have with their (mostly browner) fellow citizens in the working class is to wonder why the bank teller keeps saying their name.

Draut is hopeful that her sleeping giant is awakening to its massive political power. And there are signs of optimism, most notably the continuing success of the Fight for $15 campaign that was a laughingstock just a few years ago but has today put uncountable billions of dollars into the pockets of workers. Being a policy analyst, she naturally has a set of bullet points that, if enacted, would indeed do wonders for everything from political participation to basic human health.

Decline in real wages for working class since 1980.

See all those negative numbers? They need to go up if we're going to have a nice country.

Whether those things are on tap in an election year when Walmart's CEO has the Democratic nominee on speed dial and the House is very likely to stay Republican no matter how many dumb tweets Donald Trump sends out is another matter. But Sleeping Giant isn't an election book, nor should it be. Decent wages at union jobs took decades to achieve, just as it took the Bill Simons of the world decades to undermine them. Her optimism isn't justified because victory is at hand, it's justified because a Democratic coalition that can press forward on multiple fronts at once without giving ground elsewhere - Draut's giant - is undeniably stirring.

Sleeping Giant is book that aims to wake it up a bit faster. It's for politically engaged people who aren't waiting tables or changing bed pans, but who might have the influence or media juice to help those who do. Read up, editors, reporters, and bloggers, it's your fight too.

Yes, The Nomination Was Rigged Against Bernie, But Not How Most People Think

Submitted by Charlie on Thu 09 Jun 2016 - 08:05

"That game was fixed! They were using a freaking ladder for God's sakes!" - Krusty the Klown

Whatever one thinks of the Associated Press's troll masterstroke of calling the nomination for Hillary Clinton the night before the final contests, it's been apparent for months that Clinton had staved off the insurgent challenge from Bernie Sanders. Strictly from a numbers point of view, the only time it looked like Sanders had a chance was after he massively outperformed his poll numbers in Michigan on March 8th. Had he repeated that feat a week later on March 15th, he had a shot. He couldn't and that was it.

Plenty of Sanders supporters cried foul both before and after that happened, and not without cause. The DNC was anything but majestically neutral, and since each state has its own homegrown arcana of a nominating process, there were always obscure rules and unfair quirks that could be shouted about on Twitter or on TV. (Hell, the Sanders and Clinton campaigns themselves were often baffled by some of this stuff.) But weird delegate allocation rules (in Iowa, Nevada, or anywhere else) didn't beat Sanders. 

Sanders went down because Clinton cleared the field, and she didn't do it with any election night shenanigans in 2016. She did it House of Cards style, spending 2012-2015 working Democratic Party backrooms to keep anyone even remotely threatening to her 2016 bid on the sideline. It's easy to forget now, but for all the talk of the "deep bench" on the Republican side last year (which got quickly exposed as a collection of grifters and empty suits), the Democrats actually did have a deep bench that could've pushed Clinton harder than Sanders did.

The governor list is thin these days, but Team Blue has an embarrassment of riches in the Senate. Ron Wyden, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tammy Baldwin (my personal favorite), and several others are excellent Presidential prospects on paper, and while a few of them garnered some press attention, none actually tossed in their hats.

Clinton's only competition from within her party was from one ex-senator and one ex-governor. That's astonishing and unprecedented. In a presidential election year with no incumbent (or even a VP incumbent), not a single sitting Democratic senator or governor sought the nomination. Nothing even remotely like it has happened since the nominating reforms of the 1960s-70s.

Instead of a thicket of candidates like 2008 or 2004, her only competition came from Sanders, who's even older than she is and wasn't a Democrat until last year. Preemptively clearing the field was her killing stroke, and she struck it before Bernie had so much as announced his campaign. The smoke filled room of yore has transformed into months of meetings in airy conference rooms, but the result is the same. Obscure and unrepresentative party officials and donors made the pick and presented her to their voters as a fait accompli.

There remained plenty of rank-and-file voters, both independents and Democrats, who didn't want Clinton, of course. Whether it's because of her Iraq vote, because she's a woman, or her coziness with the odious likes of Goldman Sachs, Henry Kissinger, and even Bush the Younger, there was no shortage of reasons to vote against her. She just made sure that the only alternative was old, white, and crotchety instead of young, black, and cool.

As with most things Sanders-Clinton, how you choose to perceive that is up to you. Was it a Machiavellian power grab that abrogated any real choice on the part of voters? Yes. Or was it a measure of how genuinely popular and respected Clinton is within the Democratic Party? Also yes. Either way, Bernie was doomed.

The questions the Democratic Party has to ask itself now are about whether or not it wants to keep its omnishambles of a nominating process more or less intact. Does it still want to privilege overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire? Does it still want to let each state come up with oddball rules that make the national party look foolish? Does it want to protect its prerogatives as a semi-private "party" when media technology makes previously obscure party machinery easily scrutinized by the masses?

These are not simple questions, and there are a lot of stakeholders who will want to pull one way or the other on them. But if the Democratic Party is going to rely on the votes and donations of the oft praised "coalition of the ascendent" for the next couple of decades, it might be a good idea to reform the system.

If they're going to allow a lone party stalwart to make herself the only option before ordinary people are allowed to cast even a single ballot, that's fine, but don't drag things out for five months doing it. And if they want to have a serious and fair contest that lets voters in more than just a handful of states have a meaningful say, that's probably better. But don't try to pretend that's what the current system does. Anyone claiming so looks silly.

Party nominating processes are not under any legal obligation to be small-d democratic, but in a time when it's becoming harder for a lot of Democratic constituencies to vote, further discouraging them from doing so by making the nomination a coronation is a plainly bad idea. The Blues aren't always going to have someone as buffoonish and incompetent as Donald Trump to run against.

Mark Zuckerberg (And His Attorneys) vs. The English Language

Submitted by Charlie on Sat 14 May 2016 - 12:58

"I know those words, but that sign makes no sense." - Lisa Simpson

The wonderful commentariat at Dead Homers seem to be the only people who find this Zuckerberg press release as funny as I do. And while it's always a bad idea to explain the joke, I cannot help but poke some more at this absurd piece of political, business, and journalistic theater. It's two groups of people I loathe - tech executives and Red media - braying at each other in public. It's irresistible snark-nip.

Zuckerber's Bullshit Press Release

In the light blue corner, we have the Standard Oil of the internet, a company that is currently attempting to bring cheap internet access to poor people, on the condition that everything they connect to goes through Facebook. That's a ballsy power grab all by itself, like having some foreigner buy the only road into your town and then set up toll booths and 24-hour-surveillance. But the kicker is that they tried to pass it off as a charitable effort. That is Burns level evil.

Burns & Smither Money Fight .gif

In the red corner, we have dipshit wingnut Senators and serially vile con artists like Breitbart's acolytes. These are the same people who strung up the Fairness Doctrine on the grounds that public property (the airwaves) should not be politically representative speech. Now they're saying that a private company operating over (mostly) private infrastructure must respect political balance? Dos heuvos grande, por fa vor.

Bumblebee Guy Getting Hit by Eggs

The only truly happy outcome here would be the two of them wiping each other out like matter and anti-matter on Star Trek or something. But since we won't get that, we'll have to content ourselves with the sight of them preening around for their respective audiences like a couple of abused game cocks.

Here's Zuckerberg's most recent strut:

"I want to share some thoughts on the discussion about Trending Topics."

Right off the bat this is freeze dried, valu brand bullshit. Literally no part of this sentence is true. The first fucking letter is a lie. Even if we assume that the right honorable Chairman and Chief Executive Officer drafted this thing himself, given the number of lawyers and marketing people who certainly reviewed it, "we" would be a lot more honest. And it doesn't get better from there:

"share some thoughts"

Passive, non-threatening language like this is how you talk to a spoiled eight-year-old. If it was an emoji, it would be a slight frown with its hands on its hips.

"on the discussion about Trending Topics."

This one's a twofer, with 1) "discussion" covering up for lunatic screaming on FOX News, AM radio, and wingnut sites and 2) "Trending Topics" being a nice piece of branding. Always mention the product in the first sentence. A more honest and adult version of that cantilevered word project would be something like this:

"A bunch of media outlets (most of whose businesses are undermined by our product every day) are having a hissy fit, and since a lot of our users are scared enough to believe them, my marketing and legal departments have recommended that I issue a statement."

I will grant that it's not as compact, but simple, honest language often isn't. After all, food shrinks when it gets freeze dried, why wouldn't bullshit?

There are sixteen more sentences in his cutesy pie little message, and each one is just as amusingly dishonest.

1. "Facebook stands for giving everyone a voice."

"Facebook" doesn't stand for a fucking thing. It is an advertising medium, a glorified billboard company. Zuckerberg has always seemed like a kool-aid drinker at heart, so it wouldn't surprise me if he actually believes his own bullshit, but "giving everyone a voice" is missing the asterisk that reads "as long as we can record everything you do and constantly interrupt your attention with ads we make billions on". 

2. "We believe the world is better when people from different backgrounds and with different ideas all have the power to share their thoughts and experiences."

It's "We" now, so slight improvement there, but "world is better"? Good rule of thumb: beware of anyone who thinks they're making the world a better place at a rate of $2.3 billion (2,300,000,000) last quarter. The perfectly generic reference to diversity is a nice dollop of mayo.

3. "That's what makes social media unique."

Holy shit, does he still want us to believe the myth of "social media" like it's 2005? Your "unique" new medium is dominated by the same advertisers who pay for everything on the old ones. Get over yourself. You're a billboard salesman. It's an honest trade, but it ain't special.

4. "We are one global community where anyone can share anything -- from a loving photo of a mother and her baby to intellectual analysis of political events."

Facebook is "one global community" the same way prison islands are communities. Everyone knows who the warden is, and him letting you see pictures of moms and kids doesn't make him benevolent. And note that patronizing tone again, "intellectual analysis of political events", big words for the likes of Drudge, Breitbart and company.

5. "To serve our diverse community, we are committed to building a platform for all ideas."

This is like hearing a dad in a park telling his kids that boys grow up to be doctors and lawyers while girls get to become mommies. He loves you both, though. Really, he does.

6. "Trending Topics is designed to surface the most newsworthy and popular conversations on Facebook."

Using "surface" like Trending Topics is some kind of monster shark is a nice touch, but "popular conversations on Facebook" is too rich. This man, plus his lawyers and PR people, are describing which private, commercial media reports they choose to link on their private, commercial medium. People mutter all kinds of inane crap to themselves when they pass billboards. Calling those isolated mumblings "popular conversations" is absurd.

7. "We have rigorous guidelines that do not permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or the suppression of political perspectives."

This is just poor word use. Guidelines, by definition, are not rigorous. If they were rigorous, they would be rules or, you know, laws. Anything that follows that whopper is a disgrace to the pixels it briefly occupies.

8. "This week, there was a report suggesting that Facebook contractors working on Trending Topics suppressed stories with conservative viewpoints."

Here you can feel the lawyer gaze, melting anything that resembles clear language. Independent articles from The Guardian and Gawker (Gizmodo, whatever) get minimized to a vague "report" without any specific refutation of the charges contained therein. If you don't say anything meaningful in public, you've conserved all your most plausible lies for court! The only concrete statement in the entire thing is to make it clear that outside "contractors" were responsible. This entire sentence is designed to keep as many future explanations open as possible. Also: always mention the product.

9. "We take this report very seriously and are conducting a full investigation to ensure our teams upheld the integrity of this product."

A "full investigation"? You have 12,000 employees, that's barely enough people for a small town. How much shady shit are you doing that anything needs a full investigation?

10. "We have found no evidence that this report is true."

Every time you think this thing has hit Peak Condescension, it soars to new heights. Literally the previous sentence said they are present tense "conducting" an investigation, but now they have past tense "found no evidence"? This is grade school English.

11. "If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it."

Triple whammy! "If we find" directly contradicts "We have found", and that's not even the worst part. "Take additional steps"? Additional to what? You already said you didn't do anything wrong and therefore haven't done anything about the nothing you didn't do, unless you have done something in which case something will be done. Everybody got that?

Spaceballes "Everybody Got That?" 

12. "In the coming weeks, I'll also be inviting leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum to talk with me about this and share their points of view."

Who wants a free trip to California so that Zuckerberg can pretend that he gives a shit what you think? This is like ringing the dinner bell for the wingnut welfare crowd.

13. "I want to have a direct conversation about what Facebook stands for and how we can be sure our platform stays as open as possible."

No you don't. The last thing on Earth Mark Zuckerberg wants to do is waste time pretending to listen to anyone from Breitbart or FOX News. For ordinary Facebook wingnuts, this is like hearing Mommy say that she and Daddy are going to talk things out and you don't need to worry your pretty little heads about it.

14. "The reason I care so much about this is that it gets to the core of everything Facebook is and everything I want it to be."

You "care so much"? You've promised to have a vague and undefined "investigation" of something you deny exists and then take a meeting or two with a couple of people you pick. If that's caring, how little effort must Zuckerberg put in for things he doesn't care about?

15. "Every tool we build is designed to give more people a voice and bring our global community together."

Having artfully promised to do nothing about something that's not a thing anyway, we're back to generic tech industry rah-rah: giving people voices, safely neutral "tools", and the oxymoronic promise to bring a "global community" together.

16. "For as long as I'm leading this company this will always be our mission."

Your mission is to make money. Laying some bullshit over that and calling it a "mission" is an insult to missions, though I do enjoy the raw assertion of personal power: "I'm leading this company". Rawr, tiger.

Troy McClure Sexy Growl Face

Peaky Blinders: The Most Deadwood Show On TV

Submitted by Charlie on Thu 28 Apr 2016 - 14:42
Peaky Blinders Title Card

"In life, you have to do a lot of things you don't fuckin' want to do. Many times, that's what the fuck life is: one vile fucking task after another. But don't get aggravated. Then the enemy has you by the short hair." - Al Swearengen

The tubes are overflowing with paeans to the "golden age" of television, and you can hardly open a browser tab these days without someone telling you about some new "best" or "great" show you just have to start watching. Though I will attempt to avoid most of that genre's hyperbolic declarations, I will confess up front that this is another entry. So if your DVR is full and your Netflix list runneth over, feel free to stop reading right now.

If, on the other hand, you might be interested in another best great show, let me tell you about Peaky Blinders

It's a BBC show (Netflix licenses it here in the States) about a small time family gang in Birmingham, England right after World War I. Their somewhat odd name comes from the fact that their trademark is slashing people with razor blades they've sewn into their caps ("peaky" for the caps, "blinders" for the blades). And in its bleak outlook and nearly lyrical portrayal of a hardscrabble time, the only recent American program to which it really compares is HBO's unjustly cancelled masterpiece, Deadwood.

Please understand that I do not invoke Deadwood lightly. If you have not seen it, you may not understand this, but Deadwood has a borderline fanatical following, in large part because there has never been any other show quite like it. It was a foul mouthed, literary historical drama that was ridiculously well written and often laugh out loud funny. It had everything from David Hume to fart jokes, and the acting was top to bottom superb. 

Peaky Blinders starts giving off a distinctly Deadwood vibe right in its first scene as we see Chinese immigrants in a tizzy over something the white folks are doing. Then a man rides in on a horse. Instead of South Dakota, 1870s, it's Birmingham, four decades later in 1919. This is the highest of high brow entertainment minus any fun killing stuffiness (just like Deadwood).

I wanna bet on that horse!

Also like Deadwood, it is gorgeous.

There is one (sort of) drawback to Peaky Blinders, one with which Deadwood fans are familiar: you actually have to watch it. The show is dense as hell, and if you're not paying attention you will quickly get lost. The scripts are brimming with rich dialects that positively sing once you know how to listen to them, but that also take some time to truly understand. This is not a program you can turn on in the background while you're doing something else or watch out of the corner of your eye while you browse Twitter.

The upshot of that demand on your attention is that Peaky Blinders does not waste your time. It packs more story, more great lines, and more fantastic acting into its six episodes per season than most serial dramas do in a dozen or more. The backhanded compliment one often hears about Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, or just about any high quality (and wanna be high quality) drama is "slow burn". Peaky Blinders is a fast burn.

In the first fifteen minutes of the first episode, you the viewer get:

  • Fixed horse races
  • A possible looming mob war over said horse races
  • The Shelbys, a petty bookmaking gang
  • Their leader, recently returned from France Tommy (Cillian Murphy)
  • Their recently deposed wartime leader, Tommy's aunt Polly (Helen McCrory)
  • Communist agitation
  • post WWI PTSD
  • a theft of machine guns from the British government

Shortly after that we're introduced to Sam Neill as Inspector Campbell, a Northern Irish cop sent by Winston Churchill(!) to recover the guns. By the end of the premier, we've seen a brutal interrogation, an undercover agent infiltrate a gangland pub, secretive sex, a fake killing, and more. Tommy, Polly, Campbell, and all the other deeply imagined characters make moves and counter-moves with decisive speed such that Peaky Blinders advances its plot more in twenty minutes than most dramas do in two hours.

Lotta blood gets spilled on this show.

This is just episode one.

While other programs give you pay off eventually, Peaky Blinders is all payoff. Murders, weddings, betrayals, war flashbacks, endless scheming, every episode is wall-to-wall. Game of Thrones takes half a season to set up as much crazy fun shit as Peaky Blinders goes through in an average half an hour. But the story is so finely interwoven that nothing feels like fan service or pandering. When something happens, there's always a reason.

For example, in the third episode, Tommy's boys are arming up to go not rob a racetrack. (It makes sense in context. Everything is tightly tied to everything else.) On another show this might be your standard briefing scene, on Peaky Blinders there's a couple of blink-and-you'll-miss-them jokes and plot points. The former includes a very young boy having the vicious looking knife he's chosen for the fight taken away by one of the adults . . . in favor of a machete.

You call that a knife? *This* is a knife.

Heh. (Love the satisfied nod at the end.)

Quick hits like that abound and make actually watching it worthwhile and totally engrossing.

Since it's set in Birmingham in 1919, the cast is (understandably) almost exclusively "white" faces. But the Irish were on the brink of revolution at the time and the the Shelbys are part Gypsy (and routinely deal with their full Gypsy cousins), so you can't say it's racially dull. Quite the contrary, Peaky Blinders is keenly aware of the complex ethnic and class expectations that underlie the society it portrays. And that's before Tom Hardy shows up as an ultra-tough Jewish gangster in Season 2.

Similarly, while the cast is more male than female, things are just as nuanced and insightful on the gender side of things. In addition to Polly, there's Ada (Tommy's sister), and Grace, the above mentioned undercover agent. In episode two, after Ada's been knocked up by her Communist boyfriend (I told you this show moves fast), Polly, counseling an abortion, drops this devastatingly accurate gem:

"You know the words. You're a whore. Baby's a bastard. But there's no word for the man who doesn't come back."

Later there's a Gypsy matriarch, a posh society lady, and so, so many more.

I could go on and describe the ridiculously perfect soundtrack (it has its own Spotify channel), the fact that the opening credits are a new part of the story each week (like I said, it demands your attention at all times), the complex political intrigues ("This is England, not Belfast, bodies thrown in the rivers wash up in the papers here"), the beautiful way it's shot (see below), or a dozen other reasons that Peaky Blinders is worth your viewing time. But I've said enough.

Grit and grime are a wonderful offset.


If you loved Deadwood, try Peaky Blinders. If you've never seen Deadwood but you enjoy other serial dramas that people write thinkpieces about, try Peaky Blinders. (Then try Deadwood.) If you're just looking for a new show on Netflix, try Peaky Blinders.

It won't take long. If you're not hooked in the first half hour, it's probably not for you. Even if you are hooked, the first two seasons are only twelve total episodes, so it's never a slog. But get watching, because Season 3 starts in Britain on BBC Two a week from today (May 5th), and will be on Netflix not long after.

By order of the Peaky Blinders!

Reason Magazine From 1976 Is Hilarious

Submitted by Charlie on Wed 06 Apr 2016 - 14:16

"Flanders, do you still have that store?" - Homer Simpson
"For two more days. Then it becomes Libertarian Party headquarters. I hope they have better luck than I did." - Ned Flanders

Back in February of 1976, libertarian standard bearer Reason published an entire issue dedicated to denying the Holocaust. You can read all the embarrassing details in this Pando post from 2014, but in addition to the American nazis and Holocaust deniers, the magazine also has a treasure trove of libertarian goofiness, some of it kinda cute and much of it still alive today.

We begin with the obsession with gold and its Periodic neighbors silver and platinum, metals whose resistance to corrosion and ease of separation led people who lived in more ignorant times to value them highly as currency. Today, people who think we should go back on the gold standard (looking at you, Ted Cruz) are considered fringe lunatics, but that doesn't stop crooked outfits like Goldline from using sales pitches that look an awful lot like these ads from 1976:


250% profit in 63 days is awfully specific, but then again so is an inflation rate of 40% in 1977. (Actual inflation rate in 1977: 6.5%.)

This one is selling gold and silver:

Gold And Silver Sale

This ad basically is Goldline's scam: coins that sell for far more than the metal is worth. Also, check out the letter to the editor complaining about the overtly political nature of their review of a book about atheism. The flame wars have been going on for a very long time.

This next one is truly special:

These buffoons got evitcted by the military might of Tonga.

The "Republic of Minerva" was a bunch of loons squatting on a pile of sand in the middle of the Pacific for a few months in 1972 (they were expelled by the irresistible military might of Tonga). By the time this ad was printed, they'd been gone for four years, which means whoever was selling these was getting rid of inventory. Coins tend to lose value when the fake country they're based on collapses under the weight of its own foolishness.

But, hey, it's not all gold. Silver rises!:

Like the fire, Silver rises!

There's a wonderful amount of crazy packed onto this page even outside the silver ad. We've got a dictionary laughing at Christian missionaries getting eaten by cannibals plus teases for book reviews of Ludwig von Mises and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. (There's a combination you don't see everyday.) Oh, and Congress is heading towards fascism. (For context's sake, Congress at the time was the clean government obsessed Watergate Babies.)

There are also classified ads, which also peddle gold but keep up a good sideline in "hiding places":

Bury your gold!

I'll bet there's a lot of weird shit buried in and around Orange County.

Moving on, the personal ads are so earnest as to be painful:

Sexy Ayn Rand Fans

Even in L.A., Gay Objectivist dating in the 70s must've been a harsh, harsh world. I hope Jack did okay. Maybe Tracie Ray of Hollywood made his hair look fabulous. The saddest personal ad, however, is in the "Books" section:

Damned recent arguments proving God exists.

At thirty-six pages, it better be a thorough critique. The more "serious" book ads are even loonier:

And we use the term "book" loosely.

I can't wait to read a 464 page analysis of our position "vis a vis Soviet Russia". Of course, just a year earlier we made a deal with "Soviet Russia" to send them tons of grain since they couldn't feed themselves. However will we defeat them? As for "The Dispossessed Majority", I'll skip the defense of WASP culture and citations of "certain minorities that he considers unassimilable". It's 1976, we can presume he means black people, but what about the Jews?

It's wrong to make fun of someone for their name. I just couldn't help myself.

"If something goes wrong, blame the guy who can't speak English. Ah, Tibor, how many times have you saved my butt?" - Homer Simpson

This is from an ad warning about "Three-Digit Inlation By 1978":

Weimar time!

For only $32 dollars, Dr. Hans will send you a "tape set" about how to avoid inflation. I'll bet he mentions gold. Oh, and he's also selling "Attractive and convenient" tape cassette player-recorders for only $49.95, $44.95 if you order them with the tapes.

Dr. Hans isn't the only one selling solutions, however:

Spam spam spam spam spam spam spam spam spam, wonderful spam!

Anthropologists believe that early spam, while not as voluminous as the kind we have today, nevertheless annoyed people just as much.

In our more refined time, we all know that "the breeding of money from money" is in no way unnatural:

Oh, silly me, I must've just made up a word that doesn't exist.

Of course, thanks to Delaware and the Supreme Court, most usury laws have been completely neutered, anyway.

Finally, their review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:

Don't you want to watch the World Series?

It concludes:

"The film could have the beneficial effect of jolting public and legal opinion into recognition of the civil rights of patients in mental institutions. In addition, more thoughtful viewers will recognize the movie's mental ward as a microcosm of the relationship between the current government and those of us who are its unwilling inmates."

Only the "more thoughtful" individuals will realize that they are the true victims, not those people getting the electroshock and lobotomies.

So that's Reason from 1976. If you're so inclined, you can page through the whole thing on Scribd. The last 40 years haven't seen the world fall back on gold, nor have the libertarians ever gotten a moment in the electoral sun, but it's fun to see the same foolishness being peddled. After all, here's Goldline's homepage:

Buy gold, you fools!


The scams remain the same.


There Is No Millennials, Only Zuul

Submitted by Charlie on Sun 03 Apr 2016 - 10:55

"And that's whats wrong with Bart's generation. Now, as for your generation . . ." - Abe "Grampa" Simpson

The Baby Boom that followed the Great Depression and World War II was a genuinely unique demographic phenomenon. Not only was the country suddenly prosperous and peaceful (well, mostly) after sixteen years of depression and war, but a rapid expansion of public health measures cut the child mortality rate by roughly two-thirds from the 1930s-1950s. More people than ever were eager to have kids and more of those kids survived.

It famously ballooned the population, and created a "generation" that was unlike anything that came before it. But, I'm sorry to report to everyone who writes generational posts, columns, and articles, it was a one time event. Subsequently nicknamed generations, most famously "Generation X" and "the Millennials", are figments of imagination elevated to reality by columnists and pundits desperate for material.

Grade school arithmetic is all one needs to see this. The chart below plots both total births (the blue columns) against the actual birth rate (the yellow line).

Damned Boomers

Numbers taken from here, original data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

A few things become immediately apparent:

  1. The Baby Boom was gargantuan. If the birthrate in 1990 (16.7) had been the same as it was in 1960 (23.7), there'd have been an extra 1.8 million kids born in 1990 alone.
  2. The drop off from the Boom was precipitous. The delta in the birth rate from 1965-1970 was -5.3 per 1,000 people. That's more variation than has happened in the entire time since 1970 (-3.7 per 1,000 people).
  3. The birth rate settled into its current range in the mid-1970s (thanks, abortion & contraception!) and has only very gently fluctuated since.

In 1950, well before the wave reached its peak, there were 3.6 million births in the United States. In 1980, long after the wave had crashed, there were also 3.6 million births. The difference is that in 1950 there were only 150 million people in the country; in 1980 there were 225 million for the same number of births. In other words, proportional to the population at the time, the high school class of 1968 contained three (3) graduating seniors for every two (2) in the class of 1998. That's how big the Baby Boom was, it was like taking every high school class in America and making it bigger by 50% for a decade and a half.

Pew Research made the perfect .gif of this back in 2014:

Seriously, there were a TON of them.

Even the projections for the 2050s show the Boomers sticking well out over their kids.

It took the country until the year 1990 (4.18 million) to get back above the total of live births in 1964 (4.03 million). And that total quickly slipped back under 4 million for much of the 1990s. By contrast, the Boomers hit 4 million+ per year consecutively from 1954-1964 in a country that had a hundred million less people in it.


By contrast, tiny, statistically and socially insignificant blips account for all of "Generation X/Y", "Echo Boomers", "Millennials", and all the other shoddy nicknames about which so many words have been spilled. Here's Boomer uber-show 60 Minutes from 2004:

Born between 1982 and 1995, there are nearly 80 million of them, and they're already having a huge impact on entire segments of the economy. And as the population ages, they will be become the next dominant generation of Americans.

The birthrate in 1982 was 15.9/1,000. In 1995 is was 14.8/1,000. The average in that span was 15.7/1,000. There's a slight gentle up, then a slight gentle down, and drawing any kind of meaning from that is like seeing the Virgin Mary in a urinal cake. Sure, there are some lines there, but they don't necessarily mean anything.

1982-2004 is just a arbitrary range that happened to coincide with people who were 9-22 in 2004. But someone born in 1982 had a childhood that had a lot more in common (culturally speaking) with someone born in 1977 than with someone born in 1995, or even 1990. The set CBS and so many other outfits use to premise their arguments is devoid of any rationale other than speculation.

It's true that generational conflict makes for good copy. Adults have been praising and complaining about younger versions of themselves for about as long as the written word has existed, it's an evergreen topic: The Kids Today. They can be lazy or hardworking, innovative or surprisingly traditional, the future of liberalism or punk conservatives, it doesn't really matter what the exact idea is or what the equally shaky counter argument will inevitably be. It's all generalizations anyway.

The boring reality is that anyone born after about 1970 or so has a lot more in common with someone +-5 years of their age than they do with someone ten years or more away whose birth year happens to fit in such vague ranges as one sees in think pieces and trend articles. Here's the Paywalled Lady from just last year pushing the equally spurious "Generation Z":

Generational study being more art than science, there is considerable dispute about the definition of Generation Z. Demographers place its beginning anywhere from the early ’90s to the mid-2000s. Marketers and trend forecasters, however, who tend to slice generations into bite-size units, often characterize this group as a roughly 15-year bloc starting around 1996, making them 5 to 19 years old now. (By that definition, millennials were born between about 1980 and 1995, and are roughly 20 to 35 now.)

That article quotes some teenagers, a bunch of "innovation" consultants, and a couple of demographers who don't agree on anything. It is meaningless, a transparently shambolic framework whose only real purpose is to allow as many unsupported generalizations as possible. To give you an idea of just how vacuous this is, the Generation Z article on Wikipedia (yes, there is one) starts:

Generation Z (also iGen, Post-Millennials, Centennials, or Plurals)

That is bullshit stacked on bullshit. The Boom was real. Everything else is just marketing for ideas that can't withstand even the gentlest scrutiny.

Unless we end up in Children of Men, the simple fact is that there will always be 13-year-olds who speak incomprehensible slang and 18-year-olds who do childish shit in adult sized bodies.  There will always be 23-year-olds who are starting to find their footing and 28-year-olds who are finally becoming real adults.

Children of Men is a seriously underrated movie. It's fantastic from start to finish.

Baby Diego was a wanker.

The non-existence of other generational cohorts when compared to the Baby Boom does not, of course, excuse the extra large proportion of assholes that the Boomers seem to have nurtured and promoted among their own. Nor does it lessen the real ways that people are divided by age. But if you're reading an article that uses the word "millennial" with anything but derision, it's best to close the browser tab, ditto the less often sighted but still active "Generation X". And when bloviators eventually settle on a term for kids born this century (one of them has to generate the most pageviews, right?), ignore that too.

Boomer is a real word that means something. Every other generational nickname is horseshit.

Is This Thing On?

Submitted by Charlie on Sat 02 Apr 2016 - 07:37
Fry & Bender in the Internet

Well, thanks to the internet I'm now bored with sex. Is there a place on the web that panders to my lust for violence?” - Fry
“Is the Space Pope reptilian?” - Bender

This post is mostly a test to make sure that the website is working, but while I'm at it I might as well introduce things a little. This “web log” (if only there was a portmanteau of that) is where I plan to complain about stuff in pixelated words so that other people can read it on glowing rectangles. First posts are weird.