Hey, it's my four-month anniversary since leaving my job!
The smallest things become hugely important when you're not working full-time. I'm reminded of this every time I visit my retired parents and hear about such great adventures as "Depositing a Check at the Bank," "Calling Someone at City Hall to Complain About a Cracked Sidewalk," and "Getting a Free Bag of Potatoes for Spending More Than $50 at the Super Stop & Shop" -- all in one week!
Tonight, the big debate was over the proper place to store a small stepladder. My mother wanted to fold it up and tuck it out of sight, under a daybed on the sun porch. My scandalized father insisted "It's not going there!" The stepladder was part of the home-repair constellation of objects, so it had to go in the cellar, even if that meant dragging it up the stairs anytime it was needed. I expect this argument to last for months.
But I'm starting to understand their mindset. Today I had to mail a check and buy stamps, and the four-block walk, which happened to be during a torrential rainstorm, felt like an expedition through the Amazonian rainforest. Mailing that letter was like building the opera house in Fitzcarraldo, and it's a crime that there's no 3D version of my trip.
Last night I saw Waiting for "Superman," the documentary about education reform that officially opens in Boston this Friday. Unlike most American films, it's not a chore to sit through and it's full of memorable images. A few impressions:
--Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim uses frequent close-ups of the colored balls in a lottery machine, and it's not just a metaphor. Most major school districts in the US have a handful of innovative schools that offer escape from the "dropout factories" that predominate in urban areas. They go by different names (charters, magnets, KIPP schools, and even boarding schools), but they all have many times more applicants than desks, so kids are usually selected at public lottery drawings. In Superman, we witness a few cheers and a lot of shell-shocked faces at these events. It's like watching the steerage passengers on the Titanic draw straws to see who gets one seat on a lifeboat. But I suppose this ritual is a good thing for state governments: It sends the message that the best way for families in poor families to turn their lives around is through sheer luck. So keep buying those scratch tickets!
--The film has a great animated sequence on the annual "Dance of the Lemons" in one urban school districts. This refers to the end of the school year, when principals try to transfer their bad teachers to other schools -- the risk, of course, being that their replacements will be even worse, since they were the lemons that other principals were trying to get rid of. This is an argument against the practice of tenure, under which it's practically impossible to fire teachers in public schools who have logged a minimal amount of time on the job. Guggenheim does not show a lot of sympathy for teachers' unions, but people who don't have the benefit of tenure -- that is, practically anyone who's not an educator, a Supreme Court justice, or an occupant of rent-controlled housing -- are likely to share his prejudice.
On the Big Think, Marina Adshade gives some economic advice to aspiring rentboys. Don't hide behind your dick:
Male sex workers signal that they are not misrepresenting themselves by
including face pictures in online advertisements. The premium paid to a
worker with a face picture compared to one with no face pictures, and
perhaps only nude body shots, is 20%. At an average price of $200 per
customer, this premium is approximate $40, so that a worker with face
pictures who sees an average of 20 clients a month will earn $10,000
more per year than one without face pictures. ...
How do face pictures solve the adverse selection problem? When a client
first meets a sex worker who has posted face pictures he can immediately
tell if the worker has accurately represented himself. [If not,] this gives the
client the opportunity to reduce his losses since it would be obvious
that worker is not honest.
Duly noted! As for you clients out there, remember the words of Ronald Reagan: Trust, but verify.
I don't know how it happened (no social life?), but I ended up sampling a lot of shows during the first week of the 2010-11 TV season. Here are some thoughts on each, along with the probability of me watching further:
The Big Bang Theory (CBS). I'm glad Jim Parsons (Sheldon) won an Emmy, and he was fantastic as usual in the season premiere, but we also got the off-screen screams of Howard's mother. The show is a huge hit, so it's pointless to hope that the writers will finally get rid of the more gimmicky running gags that bring everything to a halt. My plan is to DVR the show and only watch the episodes where it becomes clear in the first five minutes that Parsons will have something worthwhile to do. On the second-tier DVR list.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO). The next Sopranos? Last week's series premiere was pretty impressive, and it got a big audience by HBO standards, so it's already been renewed for a second season. It's likely to be the most-talked-about show of the season in NPR Nation, if not Tea Party America. Steve Buscemi (in photo) is unsurprisingly fascinating as a political boss in Atlantic City at the start of Prohibition, and the Martin Scorcese-directed pilot was visually sumptuous, if a bit rushed for TV. Hey guys, you've got at least two years to tell your story! On the DVR list.
Community (NBC). Yes, the frequent meta-jokes (along the lines of "It's like we're on a sitcom") aren't to everyone's taste. What's impressive is that such a wink-heavy show has such strong characters. If I had to imagine a perfect scene on Community, it would include every single one of the cast, something I can't say about any other show. (Maybe Modern Family, but it might be a little too easy to think of what each person would say.) There aren't any Kenneth the Pages or Howard Walowitzes in this college study group. And the season premiere even used Betty White for more than horny-old-lady gags! On the DVR list.
Cougar Town(ABC). Jennifer Aniston was on the season premiere playing a kooky therapist, and that was pretty much what you'd expect. The show isn't bad, but it's pretty aimless and tries to hard to be whimsical. It's a more grown-up Scrubs, which I couldn't get into either. Out of rotation.
Others have noticed that the booklet announcing the Republican Party's "Pledge to America" has plenty of photos (53 of them), and almost everyone in them is white. It would be hard to prove that this was premeditated, but it's certainly no accident. This is the kind of mistake that any minimally competent PR or communications professional would notice and bring to the attention of a client. And it would be considered a mistake by just about any client you can think of -- a college, a car company, a clothing-store chain, a hospital, a retirement village (if for no other reason than fear of being sued for housing discrimination), and on and on. The Republican Party has to be one of the very few entities that would answer affirmatively to the question, "Um, are you sure you want to do this?"
But James Joyner notices something just as interesting: Boy, are the people in this pamphlet old. I agree. I haven't seen so many backs of bald heads since I visited the slot machine room at Mohegan Sun (whose typical patrons do not look like this). And I would add that the photo selection gives the impression of a mostly rural country. There are shots of the Statue of Liberty (with no New York City skyline) and some close-ups of the Capitol, but no busy sidewalks or buildings more than four stories tall. Instead, there are shots of elderly farmers and cowboys on horses.
None of this is really surprising. Minorities and big-city dwellers (including white big-city dwellers) are overwhelmingly Democratic, so there's no percentage for the Republicans in getting them out to vote this year. But this rather stubborn imagery -- in the face of the fact that the electorate gets less white and more urban with every election -- does raise the question of what the GOP plans to do in 2012, when there will be a higher turnout because of the presidential race and thus a less friendly atmosphere for Republicans.
"Come again!" one of the five polling-place volunteers said to me (the only voter in the place) after I pushed my ballot into tabulating machine. Maybe I'll wait for my five o'clock shadow to kick in and go back in a few hours. I could probably pick any other man's name from my apartment building's directory; the chance that he'd show up after I'd stolen his vote is about nil.
Today was primary day in Massachusetts, and for the first time in about 60 years, my parents didn't go to vote. They switched to absentee ballots this year, not wanting to count on a ride to the polls in case the weather was bad or they just didn't feel up to walking five blocks. They used to walk just around the corner and across the street to vote, but the elementary school there was converted to condos. And the crosswalks were painted over so that people got the message that it was a civic-engagement-free zone.
My mom and dad have voted in almost every municipal, state, and federal election, both primary and general, since 1952. (My mother thinks they might have skipped the odd municipal election where there were no contested races on the ballot, which happens fairly regularly now.) They were blue-collar Democrats who voted for Adlai Stevenson, and they've voted Democratic in every presidential election since. Their last car had an Obama sticker, which my sister and I kind of forced on them (they generally didn't advertise their political views unless a friend was running for city council or something), and my mother reports that it got some disapproving looks from some of their contemporaries. But you don't need me to tell your that loyalty to the Democratic Party isn't what it used to be among working-class Catholics.
"If Boehner was smart," said Gingrich, "and he is smart, he'd challenge Obama to a debate."
Is Boehner dumb enough to think that Gingrich is being smart here? The Republicans are already ahead. Why jeopardize things with a debate that would help frame the midterms as a choice between the Democrats and the GOP, as opposed to a referendum on the Obama administration?
If pressed, Boehner could say that the Republicans won't even elect its House leader until after the election (technically true, though Boehner is not expected to have a challenge). He could also say that his equivalent is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not Obama. That suggestion would prompt a fierce debate among Democrats as to Pelosi's prime-time suitability, and the whole thing would die.
What's interesting is that Gingrich wants a debate. If there was ever a chance to enshrine midterm debates as a tradition, it would have been in 1994. President Bill Clinton and then-GOP House leader Gingrich, both lovers of their own voices, might have agreed to debate no matter what. That fall, the Republican takeover of the House was far from certain, so Gingrich might have thought his party needed the extra push from a debate. This time, the Republicans are so confident of a takeover -- mostly because they see this year as a replay of 1994 -- that I doubt Boehner is looking for something to boost enthusiasm among his party's voters.
BTW, the only real precedent for such a debate is Al Gore vs. Ross Perot in 1993, over the NAFTA trade agreement. Does anyone want to see Joe Biden (vice president) debate John McCain (losing presidential candidate) this fall?
See the argument for parliamentary-style debates here.
Today's topic of possible outrage is a Rolling Stone photo of Glee star Chris Colfer being eyed by a gaggle of leather daddies. Click here for the full image, and click here for a somewhat overwrought objection. (I think it's an objection.)
I find the photo pretty hilarious, which is preventing me from giving a lot of thought to the question "Is it good for the gays?" Specifically, the photo strikes me as a witty updating of the kind of "uh-oh, what have I got myself into?" silent-film shots that once featured Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and, most appropriate to Colfer, the baby-faced Harry Langdon. It's not very likely to happen on the musical Glee, but I'd love to see Colfer in a silent slapstick sequence, with or without a leather motif.
The Phoenix's David Bernstein has a perceptive piece on the rise of Worcester as "a political epicenter of the state." (But why "a" rather than "the"? Can there be more than one epicenter of anything?)
My favorite sentence comes near the end of the article:
not wanting to publicly seem to be criticizing Boston's mayor, these
insiders suggest that Boston's political apparatus has been devoted
exclusively to enhancing the influence of Tom Menino — and preventing
the emergence of other, potentially threatening, power holders.
That first clause seems to prove the rest of the sentence. That, and the recent going-away party for Sam Yoon.