Fear of everything but God.

Alan grumbles over his newspaper from time to time, but seldom says, “This is really good,” so when he does, I pay attention.

He said this is really good. I agree. It’s about how evangelicals have sold their souls, ha ha, to a new kind of religion, which the author, Amy Sullivan, calls Fox Evangelicalism:

But if the conservative media has created a category of Fox evangelical converts, it has also influenced the way a whole generation of churchgoing evangelicals thinks about God and faith. On no issue is this clearer than guns.

In fall 2015, I visited Trinity Bible College, an Assemblies of God-affiliated school in North Dakota, to join the conservative evangelical students there for a screening of “The Armor of Light,” a documentary by the filmmaker Abigail Disney. The film followed the pastor and abortion opponent Rob Schenck on his quest to convince fellow evangelicals — the religious demographic most opposed to gun restrictions — that pro-life values are incompatible with an embrace of unrestricted gun access. I found Mr. Schenck compelling, and my editor had sent me to see if his target audience bought the arguments.

It did not.

As two dozen of us gathered for a post-screening discussion, I was both astonished and troubled, as a fellow evangelical, by the visceral sense of fear that gripped these young adults. As a child in the Baptist church, I had been taught to be vigilant about existential threats to my faith. But these students in a town with a population of some 1,200 saw the idea of a home invasion or an Islamic State attack that would require them to take a human life in order to save others as a certainty they would face, not a hypothetical.

These fears are far removed from the reality of life in North Dakota, a state that saw a total of 21 homicides in 2015. Of those deaths, seven were caused by firearms, and only three were committed by someone unknown to the victim. Yet the students around me agreed unreservedly with Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, who was seen in the film asserting that “in the world around us, there are terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, carjackers, knockout gamers, rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers.”

Imagine living in a state – not a city, a state – with 21 homicides in a year, only three of which were by an unknown assailant. I’m subscribed to a number of Facebook groups about various communities in the Grosse Pointes, and I’m amazed at how many people talk wildly about using guns to remedy petty-crime issues like theft from unlocked cars or package thefts from front porches, a common crime at this time of year. Imagine somehow catching a person trying to abscond with an Amazon box containing a Bluetooth speaker or pair of pants or whatever, and putting a bullet into their body.

Also imagine being the person who fans that fear, and uses it to gather power, or make money. I shudder to think.

But as the recent election in Alabama indicated, this particular segment of the electorate is willing to go very very far afield of their stated principles. From Politico, another rather alarming dispatch, about Jen Hatmaker (great name), an evangelical leader who went on the record as a never-Trumper and a supporter of same-sex marriage:

That’s when the full weight of conservative Christian outrage crashed down on Hatmaker. There were soon angry commenters and finger-wagging bloggers. She says people in her little town of Buda, Texas, just south of Austin, pulled her children aside and said terrible things about her and her husband. She was afraid to be in public, and she wasn’t sleeping or eating well. “The way people spoke about us, it was as if I had never loved Jesus a day in my life,” Hatmaker recently told an audience in Dallas. The gilded auditorium was quiet, its 2,300 seats filled to capacity with nearly all women. “And I was just an ally,” she said. “Think about how our gay brothers and sisters feel.”

Such a strange time to be alive.

It was a strange weekend, too, here in Detroit. A prominent journalist, Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press, Pulitzer winner, host of a daily public-radio show and with fingers in many other pies, became the latest man to fall to you-know-what. However, it was handled about as badly as these things can be handled, with the paper declining to release any details to their readers whatsoever. I’m not the only person who was shocked to hear this, and I have doubts as to the nature and seriousness of these unspecified incidents. This has led to a social-media frenzy, as you might imagine, with uninformed readers speculating as to the nature of these offenses, whatever they may be.

There’s a time when it’s best to shut up, and best to come clean. There are also times when you should talk to a lawyer. This was a big career to fall without a single justification being publicized.

Finally, I mentioned I’m back to work. I’m the new — and founding — director of communications for the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a policy-research nonprofit with roots dating back to the progressive era. It so happens I wrote the story for Bridge on the group’s 100th anniversary, in which its president emeritus described it as the best-kept secret in Michigan. My job, which is funded by a capacity-building grant, will be to raise their profile. I’m not doing any of the research, just helping them spread the word. It’s a new role for me, and a challenge – they’re scrupulously factual and nonpartisan in a time when that approach is both more necessary and less common than ever. Not much will change around here, but I feel like I could host an ask-me-anything about Medicaid expansion right now.

The homestretch to the holidays is on.

Posted at 5:21 pm in Current events, Housekeeping | 15 Comments

Snow day.

We had about eight inches of snow yesterday and overnight, which explains my scarceness around here. Nothing like having to push these packets out under a heavy snowpack to slow you down. Now that net neutrality’s been repealed, it’s only going to get harder, you know.

And, as usual, everything has been overtaken by events. But I want to bring some links to your attention:

This Washington Post piece on the very perplexing situation the White House staff find themselves in – dealing with a chief executive who doesn’t believe his own intelligence services, but does believe the president of Russia. It is, frankly, terrifying:

Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.

Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer — a veteran CIA analyst — adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.

“If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference — that takes the PDB off the rails,” said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official.

There’s also the old keep-talking-I’m-listening scene, when Trump walks into the adjacent bathroom and out of a conversation about Angela Merkel. Jim Rhodes, the former governor of Ohio, pulled that trick on the president of Kent State not long after the shootings there. Or so I was told once.

One of my old Fort Wayne colleagues is the lead byline on this piece on the popularity of the AR-15, on the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings. Haven’t read yet, but will.

Finally, I saw some people posting clips to a morning-show interview with Omarosa what’s-her-name, who was frogmarched out of the White House in the course of her firing, but of course denies it. I couldn’t watch more than 30 seconds, because my brain begins to boil at the thought of this profoundly unqualified individual being employed by the country I love for even one day, let alone nearly a year. There’s talk of a book coming down the road from her. I know the president ties up his private-sector employees with NDAs, but is that even possible once they’ve gone to the public payroll? I don’t think so, but I don’t know everything. Anyone?

Posted at 1:35 pm in Current events | 40 Comments

One woman and her big metal hat.

The polls have just closed in Alabama, but in my head, I’m repatriated to my ancestral home of England, at least for an hour here and there, as I find solace in a cold snap in bleak midwinter. How? By sucking up the second season of “The Crown” on Netflix.

The first season was very fine, but it was hard to separate how much I loved the story from how much I loved the details – the sets and the costumes and the big paste-jewel necklaces and tiaras and oh my, the coronation episode! In that way, it was “Downton Abbey” before it turned into a stupid crap soap opera. But season 2 is something else. Now that the characters have settled in, the richness of the big themes are emerging. Which is to say, how this institution of monarchy is simultaneously the best and worst sort of prison to be locked into, for all involved, how tradition murders freedom, how duty and autonomy wrestle one another for supremacy. And how this imperfect family manages to lead and follow a complicated country through the middle of the 20th century, when everything changed around it and yet, it endures. Through everything.

I’m a little overwhelmed, having just notched the sixth episode (of 10; I’m trying to make it last the week), which is all about Elizabeth’s uncle, the Duke of Windsor, the king who abdicated, and his ties to the Nazis in World War II. I’ve never understood the fascination with the Duke and his wife, Wallis Simpson, who were profoundly silly people, at least when they weren’t being downright evil, which is to say, consorting with Hitler and his pals. It was a marvelous episode, contrasting the Duke’s towering self-regard and self-pity with Elizabeth’s dogged sense of duty and simple Christian faith. (Billy Graham also shows up in this hour, of all people.) The big reveals, the depth of the duke’s wartime treachery, don’t come until the last quarter of the episode, and it all falls into place: Of course he schmoozed with the Nazis; they were going to return him to the throne after they won the war, with Queen Wallis at his side, at long last. He’d win his petty battle with his family, and all it would take was a few more months of his new friends bombing his own countrymen to prepare the soil. The final scenes show him playing bridge with Wallis and another couple, probably Trump relatives. And that was pretty much how his stupid life played out. Fitting.

(Princess Elizabeth did her own service during the war. She was a truck mechanic.)

Last season I marveled at how much drama a typical episode was able to drum up, when you considered what was at stake. In the coronation episode, the central conflict was over whether Elizabeth’s husband, then the Duke of Edinburgh, would kneel before her as part of the ceremony. (Spoiler alert: He did.) But isn’t that what our own lives are like on a day to day basis? Today’s episode: “Commute.” Logline: Nancy has to drive to the west side in snow squalls; will she be able to get there in 55 minutes or less? Tune in tonight! It turns out you can be a queen and still have to deal with a troublesome sister who is bound and determined to marry Mr. Wrong. You can wear a crown but have an irascible co-worker to handle. Yours likely isn’t Winston Churchill, but you get the point.

Oh, and Princess Margaret is killer this season. Gorgeous and tragic and doomed and very fond of strapless dresses.

The plan for this show is to cover Elizabeth’s entire monarchy, with each season covering roughly a decade. The actors will change after this year for an older cast. I can’t wait to see what they do with Margaret’s nervous-exhaustion phase. Every time she lights another cigarette – and she lights approximately 400 every episode she’s in – I want to tell her to think of her future wrinkles.

So enjoy it, if you haven’t checked it out already. Totally worth it.

I’m calling this race for Moore. Anyone else?

Posted at 8:56 pm in Television | 54 Comments

The litterbox is full.

Because life can’t be all despair over the country or the weather or one’s lack of preparedness for the upcoming holiday, I devoted a small bit of time today to absorbing Art in the form of a short story that evidently has half of men’s-rights Twitter running around with their hair on fire and their butts extremely hurt.

It’s called “Cat Person.” Go ahead and read it; it’s pretty good. Not to spoil, but it tells the story of a doomed kinda-relationship that’s mostly carried on via electronic devices. It doesn’t end well, and features an explicit – for the New Yorker – sex scene that should ring true to anyone who’s ever had bad sex, which I assume = pretty much everyone. It also touches on a number of ripped-from-the-headline themes. Which explains the butthurt.

The reaction to the story has its own Twitter account. Don’t look before you read the story. And if you read it, be sure to read the Q&A with the author, too.

Man, pop culture lighting up over a piece of fiction that isn’t “Gone Girl” or “50 Shades”? This is a banner day. And it’s only Monday.

And Mario Batali is the first sexual harasser of the week to go down in flames. I don’t watch cooking shows, but I know who he is – the ponytail guy who has a house in northern Michigan and hung a lot with Jim Harrison before he died. I am, how you say, not surprised. Isn’t this sort of the culture of commercial kitchens? An old boyfriend of mine used to be a server in a white-tablecloth place, and told stories that curled my hair, one involving a chef throwing knives across the kitchen at some waiter who’d displeased him. Sex shenanigans would seem to be an improvement.

And tomorrow (today if you read this Tuesday) is Roy Moore’s fate. That’ll be a fun one to bat around. Or maybe consider emigration/suicide over.

What am I talking about? He’s going to win.

It’s snowing where I am. May it cover all of our sins.

Posted at 8:58 pm in Current events, Media | 47 Comments

Right, wrong, other.

My mind is awhirl this morning, people. Awhirl. First I read Dahlia Lithwick’s entirely accurate piece in Slate, which carries the headline The Uneven Playing Field and should be subtitled, “the case for mud.” She points out what is obvious to anyone with two brain cells to rub together:

Is (Franken’s resignation) the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve.

This is the case many of you were making in comments yesterday. It’s the one I’ve made in the local debate at the University of Michigan, where Richard Spencer wants to speak sometime soon. He has retained a lawyer who is, like him, a white nationalist. The smart people around here are saying yes, let him speak, but the public discussion is all high-minded First Amendment chin-stroking. I have long been bothered by this, as it fails to consider that Spencer, Milo, et al are not coming to the Marketplace of Ideas (motto: “your credit is good here!”) in good faith. Rather, they’re seeking to stir up antifa and generate another few minutes of civil-unrest video they can peddle to Fox News, which will in turn use it to frighten your parents in their retirement communities.

To be sure, U-M appears to be on to them:

In response to a request from Cameron Padgett of Spencer’s National Policy Institute, UM offered the group four dates – Nov. 29, Nov. 30, Dec. 27 and Dec. 28 – “but none of them have been convenient for the event organizers,” Bristow said.

School was/is not in session on any of those dates, of course.

And then there’s David Brooks’ much-discussed column today, the cri de coeur of the not-insane, not-corrupt, nice Republican:

There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom. And apparently there is no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him. Trump may soon ask them to accept his firing of Robert Mueller, and yes, after some sighing, they will accept that, too.

That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.

Well, duh. But at the risk of setting off Coozledad again, this is the party its voters have chosen. And chosen, and chosen. A little hand-wringing by liberals’ favorite conservative isn’t going to change that. You may accuse me of paying too much attention to my former employer, but I was genuinely interested in how their staunch conservative editorial page was going to handle its 2016 presidential endorsement. The editor who ran it calls himself a libertarian, and always will. He’s also offended by populism in a way that only a autodidactic conservative can be. I figured they’d go for Gary Johnson, but no. The ensuing editorial was a masterpiece of nonsense and nose-holding, and began with a line probably no journalist has ever written before: “Thank God for Mike Pence.” The argument was that populist Trump will flame out early, and then we’ll get rock-solid conservative Pence, and All Will Be Well. It’s an argument that was stupid the day it was published, and even stupider today, when the flameout shows no sign of being nigh.

The hole we’re in keeps getting deeper, though. Funny how that happens.

Oh, well. Let’s pop to the bloggage:

I’ve said before that Amazon product customer reviews will be winning Mark Twain awards before I die, and I stand by that statement, in this case for the Make America Great Again hat Christmas ornament:

Not happy. We hung it on the tree, and within minutes it worked its way up the branches and assaulted the 14-year-old angel on the top.

An excellent Vice News video piece about the role tax foreclosure plays in Detroit. Sounds boring, isn’t.

Because I have to leave you with something uplifting, here’s this: We can’t take any more of 2017, so we’ve turned to the Hallmark Channel in desperation. Hilarious:

(T)he Hallmark Channel — and its sister channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries — has released, in 2017 alone:

“Thirty-three movies,” Vicary says.

Thirty-three movies.

They work on them year-round, each put together quickly, with a modest budget of a few million dollars, and then they debut a new one almost every night in December.

They are always Christmas-focused but tend to celebrate the season rather than Jesus Christ. They are often about a high-powered career woman who needs an invitation to slow down. She is played by someone from that show you used to watch circa 1992-1998. She will meet a moderately attractive man who looks like an Old Spice commercial. The plot might be reminiscent of a specific big-budget feature film, except smaller budget, and with Christmas.

Good weekend, all.

Posted at 11:09 am in Current events | 55 Comments

Fast news day.

What a day to be working all day in Lansing – John Conyers quits, and…well, it was big news here. This remarkable column from the alt-weekly should give you an idea what things had come to by the time he stepped down. Bonus: It includes the phrase “polishing his knob.” In the lead!

(I would have messed with that, had this been mine to edit. Did he call it polishing the knob, or is that the writer’s euphemism? Also, I just want a lot more detail about the quid pro quo.) And it seems knob-polishing is only part of what was wrong in that office by the time its leader threw in the towel. To be sure, congressional offices can be efficient no matter whose name is on the door, as long as the staff is competent. But there’s a line.

Then there was the Russia Olympic ban, which led me to this story, which led me to watch the film in question, “Icarus,” last night. Highly recommended if you have Netflix – it’s that rare documentary that is simultaneously funny, serious, eye candy and important. It’s about sports doping, but it’s fascinating to watch in light of what we now know about Russian election interference. These people do not play, and the fact our president admires Vladimir Putin will eventually go down as a shameful chapter in American history, assuming we survive it. So do so.

Back to our sexual-harassment theme, you may have already seen this NYT piece, their follow-up to the Weinstein story. It’s devastating, in that it details the webs of accomplices, both active and passive, who allowed him to get away with his activities for so many years. The part about the National Enquirer is particularly nauseating. You think you can’t lower your opinion of those guys any more, and then you have to. Because, as Josh Marshall tweeted today, in calling it a “deeply malevolent” force in American life, “beyond just publishing exposes it’s also a kind of protection racket and enforcer for some of the county’s worst people.” Amen, brother.

Got some work to do, so I’m-a do it. Happy hump day, all.

Posted at 11:17 am in Current events, Media | 72 Comments

Feeling less wondrous.

How was my weekend? Well, it started with deciding to stay in Friday night and rent a movie (“In Bruges”), because Alan had just finished a brutal week. I turned off the movie at 9:30 and went upstairs to read because he was snoring so loud I couldn’t hear the dialogue anymore.

Some weeks are just like that. Although the movie was good, even if I had to watch it in halves. We stayed awake for Saturday night’s choice, “Wonder Woman,” although it also filled me with despair because god, SUPERHERO MOVIES ARE SO BORING. They’re about 30 percent longer than the story needs to be, and all end with a huge battle that goes on and on and on, and has zero tension because you know who’s going to win, or, perhaps, lose in a sequel-y setup. I understand that people see these movies for the other stuff, in this case Gal Gadot in a metal bustier, but let me just say this: The smartest thing DC Comics ever came up with was Kryptonite, because otherwise, Superman is just another dude in tights who wins every fight. Wonder Woman can leap a quarter-mile, and that’s when she isn’t flying or jumping from great heights to land lightly on her feet, stopping a barrage of machine-gun fire with her shield, or random bullets with her wristbands, or squeezing the truth out of someone with her Golden Lariat of Justice, a handy lie detector she keeps tied to the utility-belt portion of her metal bustier.

I’d like to see Wonder Woman start throwing that thing around Washington D.C. these days. Now that would be a movie.

But these are quibbles, people. Quibbles! However, my weekend was about as low-key as could be, which was good, because we didn’t go to Noel Night in Midtown, where three people were shot, and we didn’t get up early to watch the implosion of the Silverdome, which was hilarious. To save you a click: The sequential charges all went off as planned, and then the stadium…failed to collapse. “Built too well,” the engineering firm concluded. Now, though, you have to figure it’s a real shitshow, however, because who’s going to want to go back in that thing after a series of explosions? Maybe a daisy-cutter would take care of it.

And with that, we turn to the weekend’s discouraging words:

You know what we need? Another dispatch from Trump country.

Today’s can-you-imagine-this-headline-three-years-ago story: Trump moves to block Romney from the Senate.

Finally, a note: J.C. and I are tinkering with the Amazon links — the Kickback Lounge shut down, as a few of you have noted — and will try to get a replacement in place eventually. It never amounted to much money, but it was a little, and I always appreciated those of you who used it. Let a worthy successor rise in its place. If any of you have experience with the Amazon Associates program, I’m all ears.

Posted at 9:43 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 72 Comments

New post, in which I give up.

I’m looking at the post-ette I started day before yesterday. It was about Garrison Keillor. Remember him? Seventy-two hours ago, maybe 48, he was in the news, which now seems like 25 years ago.

At some point in the last few hours, I gave up, and watched “Fifty Shades Darker.” It was on HBO. It’s the second movie in the Fifty Shades franchise, I believe. I’ve never seen the first one, and won’t see the third one, but God help me I watched the second one. And this is my manifesto:

The rule of threes is important in storytelling: Beginning, middle, end. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Couple meets and does sex stuff, couple breaks up and does more sex stuff, and whatever the third movie is about, I don’t care, because hoo-boy, this second movie. It’s hilarious.

It also follows the contemporary model of girl-centered soft-core porn movies, in that sex is only a fraction of the guy’s appeal. The rest is his money, which is ludicrously abundant. Christian Grey is under 30, has a billion dollars and a million exquisitely decorated houses. Lines like “I have a place there” and “I own that” and “I had it made at my shipyard in Seattle” are repeated so often it’s kind of a joke, and needless to say, all the work we see Mr. Grey doing consists of sitting at the end of a boardroom table, while people make notes on legal pads in leather covers. He also has a closet stocked with designer gowns for his girlfriend Anastasia Steele – these names, right? :::eyeroll::: – all of which fit her perfectly and the ones she wears? Someone manages to speak the name of the designer. (I see you, Monique Lhuillier, and I’m sorry the moment went by so fast I didn’t quite catch the proper pronunciation.) Oh, and a helicopter. I think a plane, too, but that was in the first movie. At one point they go to a party, and travel in a three-vehicle motorcade. Of Audis. Like the president.

They have lots of sex, needless to say, which is very well-lit and free of awkward moments like ow you’re on my hair or move your leg or so forth. And here you’re not going to find me getting on the S&M-is-abusive train, because you don’t even need to have taken Psych 101 to see the appeal, especially for women who are submissive. If your hands are tied to the headboard, no one is going to ask you to fold the laundry, or drive them to soccer practice or even touch someone else’s body parts. You just go OK, sure, happy not to make any decisions here. (I’ve always heard this is popular among CEOs, who are mostly submissives.) But this sex is pretty boring, anyway, although there is some tension in seeing how Dakota Johnson can manage to have so much of it without ever smearing or even touching up her vivid lipsticks.

At one point I noticed that both Marcia Gay Harden (who plays Mr. Grey’s mother) and Dakota Johnson were wearing the exact same shade of cranberry-colored lipstick. That’s how boring this movie is. Of course it ends with a marriage proposal, and then I noticed that Dakota Johnson’s character will be Anastasia Steele Grey. That’s sorta funny.

And of course I did all this because if I didn’t, I’d read another million Twitter threads of other sharp analyses of the day’s events, and honestly, I’d rather think about whether cranberry lipstick is right for me.

The rest of you have a good weekend, OK? And please don’t fight anymore.

Posted at 6:48 pm in Movies | 73 Comments

Lights, camera, Fellini.

So, the Washington Post/Project Veritas story. Of course you’re allowed the belly laughs you undoubtedly had, watching James O’Keefe’s moron underling try to “cancel” her interview with the Post reporter batting her around like a cat with a mouse. But once you’ve had them, consider what this is saying about our particular moment.

O’Keefe sent this woman on her mission, apparently in the belief that Washington Post reporters would say, in essence, “Tell me your story and I will immediately put it in the newspaper. Will it affect the election? Oh my, yes. Judge Roy Moore is finished, I tell you. Finished!”

And if they wouldn’t use those exact words, well, they can always fix it in post. (TV joke there.)

I guess what amazes me most about this caper is how…not just dumb, but ignorant it was. You don’t have to know much about how reporting is done to be flabbergasted that anyone thought this would work. Or, giving them credit for a few more IQ points, assume they knew it wouldn’t work, but they could get enough to piece together something their supporters would accept as Stickin’ it to the Man, and keep O’Keefe in $300,000 worth of high cotton for a little while longer.

I read somewhere that bloggers — bloggers! — at Breitbart are knocking down six figures a year. This gravy train has many cars; in Tomi Lahren’s, you can get you hair highlighted. But how long will the people who pay for the coal to keep it running down the track keep doing so?

The trouble is that many of these rich donors are out of touch with reality (if I had a billion dollars and nobody ever told me “no,” I would probably be out of touch, too). Rather than investing in the tedious and time-consuming work of incremental gain, they demand instant gratification. Rather than supporting young conservatives who have a steady working-class temperament, they fawn over eccentric young dreamers with delusions of grandeur.

Meanwhile, lots of deserving conservative causes and individuals wither on the vine.

What a world, when a whole, well-funded organization is built on telling lies to support a candidate alleged to have molested young teens. AMERICA.

I was going to write more on this, but again, my feeble efforts have been overtaken by events. Today? Matt Lauer, aka the Phantom Graduate of Ohio University. (Seriously. I graduated from the j-school there the same time he did, and I have zero memory of him. Assuming he may have been in a different sequence, like radio-TV, well, J.C. was a fixture in that department, and he doesn’t remember him either. None of our classmates, ditto. Weird.) More chainsaws can be heard in the forest, and more trees will be falling soon.

One of the women I swim with said today, while we were showering, that all of 2017 seems like a Fellini movie. Either that, or Kubrick:

What a natural-born model that lady is. So expressive.

Happy Wednesday. all.

Posted at 8:43 am in Current events, Media | 166 Comments

Piled higher and deeper.

I don’t know why I let these things bother me. There are so, so many things to be bothered by in the world, why choose today’s? Perhaps because higher education is the era the Nall/Derringer Co-Prosperity Sphere is in. Perhaps because my former employer did a lot of reporting around it, for very good reasons. And maybe because ignorant goobers get on my nerves, and it’s hard to find one more ignorant than this guy:

“Why does a kid go to a major university these days?” said Frank Antenori, 51, a former Green Beret who served in the Arizona state legislature. “A lot of Republicans would say they go there to get brainwashed and learn how to become activists and basically go out in the world and cause trouble.”

Antenori is part of an increasingly vocal campaign to transform higher education in America. Though U.S. universities are envied around the world, he and other conservatives want to reduce the flow of government cash to what they see as elitist, politically correct institutions that often fail to provide practical skills for the job market.

This is a long WashPost piece, part of their occasional series about the cultural divides in American life. Higher ed is emerging as one of them, and how’s that for depressing news? As the world’s economy moves into another era, as some form of post-secondary education becomes essential to gaining a foothold in the middle class, of course these folks start a war on it.

Or rather, not a war on all higher ed; note the sneer is directed at “a major university,” not, for instance, Grand Canyon University, a “for-profit Christian school in Phoenix” where Antenori earned an MBA. That’s the good kind of higher ed, whereas major universities exist only to teach nice American kids to hate their country and decide they’re really transgender and want to be called by a new set of pronouns.

Virtually every assertion about the value of a college education made by Antenori is false, but I think I know now what really needled me about this piece, and it’s that once again, the casual racism that is at the heart of American life is displayed but not called by its name:

Antenori views former president Barack Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer who taught at the University of Chicago Law School, as the embodiment of the liberal establishment. Antenori said liberal elites with fancy degrees who have been running Washington for so long have forgotten those who think differently.

“If you don’t do everything that their definition of society is, you’re somehow a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal cave man,” Antenori said.

Antenori was drawn to Trump, he said, because he was the “reverse of Obama,” an “anti-politically correct guy” whose attitude toward the status quo is “change it, fix it, get rid of it, crush it, slash it.”

Even though Trump boasts of his Ivy League degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Antenori said he “had a different air about him.” Unlike Obama, Trump has not emphasized the importance of Americans going to college.

Hmm, what else makes those men different? Also, note this:

Antenori said many young people would be better off attending more affordable two-year community colleges that teach useful skills and turn out firefighters, electricians and others. Obama promoted that same idea, launching new efforts to boost community college and workplace training. But Antenori said he believes Obama pushed young people too hard toward four-year degrees.

It’s the Johnstown story all over again: I like Trump because he doesn’t do X, like Obama did. But Obama didn’t do that, and Trump does, and here are the facts that prove it. Oh. Well, I still like Trump better, because Obama? Such a snob. And so the New York City libertine, raised in wealth and buoyed throughout his life by inherited wealth, is accepted as the self-made man, while the middle-class boy from the broken home, who struggled and rose on the merits of his intellect, taking on significant student loans along the way, is an elitist, because he speaks in complete sentences. But these people, they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies, right?

These things are facts and will remain facts: A college education, as expensive as it is, is still the e-ticket to prosperity for anyone who gets one. College isn’t, never was, and shouldn’t ever be a trade school. (Antenori believes state support of higher ed should be limited to “degrees, such as those in engineering, medicine or law, that lead directly to jobs,” because of course he does, and I guess he knows no out-of-work lawyers.) It’s a place where a person should learn to think, to analyze, to problem-solve and, in a best-case scenario, to expand their horizons. This may include meeting transgender people who want to be called ze or they, and then doing so. This is not a bad thing. It prepares you for life.

And now I’m done with that guy. Although I’ll say one more thing: The people who claim college students are goofing off with puffball classes on diversity and veganism and gender studies have no idea what they’re talking about. I generally leave Kate out of this blog, but I’ll use her as a case in point. She’s studying sound engineering, in a fine-arts sequence, and at an elite university, which should make her one of these softies that toughies like Antenori are sneering at. And she works harder in school than I or her father ever did. She takes math and science classes, computer coding, taught herself 3-D printing design and a million other things I doubt Frank Antenori, Grand Canyon University alum (Go Antelopes!), could do with one of his beloved guns pointed at his head. And yes, that includes jazz improv, but the hell with you, Frank, she earned her scholarship fair and square. Yes, she has a friend who claims non-binary gender status. Who cares? It’s a big school. There’s room for everyone.

And one more thing: I’ll believe they’re serious in this jihad when they start sending their kids to the many conservative higher-ed options out there. (Other than Antenori, that is, whose own sons are in the Army and “helping at home” on the family ranch.) Hillsdale is open for business, as is Brigham Young, Baylor and many more, but the Trump-level scions of that world are still enrolled at Dartmouth, Princeton, et al. But they’re not elitists, because they have a different air about them.

I see a few of you were discussing affordable housing in the previous thread. I’m reminded of a story I did for Bridge a while back — the link is dead, alas — about how Aspen and Jackson Hole solve their housing-affordability problem, a solution right out of the progressive playbook: They subsidize it. Heavily. More so in Aspen, but in both cities, if you want to live in town and aren’t a Silicon Valley zillionaire, you get subsidized housing. The funding mechanism is a tax on real-estate transactions, and when I talked to people there, they said it’s overwhelmingly popular, because without it, the town wouldn’t have a single teacher, bartender or even many doctors who didn’t have to live 40 miles away.

What else? Not much. Thanks for all the birthday greetings, which were very kind. We stayed in. Alan made spaghetti and meatballs. I got a nice cashmere sweater. And now I am 60. How the hell did that happen?

Posted at 1:59 pm in Current events | 85 Comments