Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Edjimacation


No one seems to know for sure why Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is said to be considering a run for President, didn't finish college. He got almost all the way through his senior year and then just pootered out. I'm guessing some people are better than others at knowing when they're full up with education. Pour in any more, and you risk a spill.

Most presidential candidates do have college degrees, and many of them seem to be in economics, which is a particularly interesting line of study, in that it prepares you to have strong opinions about things that are the exact opposite of the opinions of others in your very same field, and do this all day long, and nobody ever has to prove a dang thing. And if they get involved in politics, why, they can even be in a position to test out some of their hypotheses--say, they can move a whole bunch of people's money over here, and funnel it to a tiny cohort of other people, and see what happens. And when what they think will happen doesn't happen, they don't have to question any of their beliefs. They just try them again louder. It's a ton easier than climate science that way.

Which is easy enough. Economics major James Inhofe, 80 years old [die now] and still rosy with rectitude, demonstrated all you need to know about it by throwing a snowball in Senate chambers and grinning like he'd personally worked out the Periodic Table.

I can't blame him. I too am often moved to go into the Senate chambers and throw things, except instead of mocking climate scientists with a snowball, I would be mocking idiots with a smooth, sharp stone, at close range. At any rate, unlike in D.C., we can't spare a snowball here. Generally right about now we're watching our local volcanoes fill up with snow, some of which they'll still be wearing when the next winter boots up. But today you could drop a yardstick into the stuff at high elevation and still see the end of the stick. They say we're losing our glaciers here fast but it's looking to me like they mean this year. There are ways of explaining this, but some people with an economics degree are liable to start with the market value of what we're pulling out of the ground as a starting point and force all their conclusions to dangle from that.

I so desperately want a Congress full of people who are smarter than I am. I'm plenty smart, and fairly well educated, but I have a porous memory, and there are hundreds of millions of citizens in this country, so it should be plenty doable. We have, as conservative columnist Rich Lowry laments, a surfeit of Harvard and Yale graduates among what he refers to as our congressional "elites," as though the best of the best would be a bad thing. I do accept that many of these graduates are smart and educated, and others have trickled out of these institutions on a well-worn channel carved by their fore-sperms. But I'm not prepared to say a real high-end education is worthless.

So much, I don't know what to do. I watch the pure horror that is religion run amok and am helpless to guess what our course should be. I suspect, based on history, that knee-jerk violent reaction will not get us where we need to be, and that those who believe so are animated partly by their own base desires, but I don't know. I want other people in charge and I don't want them to be idiots. We've tried that.

Rich Lowry thinks it's silly to fret about the level of education of our politicians, and he has a point. One of his points is that two-thirds of the population also doesn't have an advanced degree. And, as W. famously pointed out, mediocre students need representation too. But I find it kind of depressing that we elect so many people without what I'd consider a basic education. And that so many voters think smart, educated people are a personal affront to them.

We're not far from a campaign in which one candidate bleats about his working-class high school equivalency degree and the next brags about never having cracked a book. And a third thumps his chest because he knocked up a girl in eleventh grade and made most of his child support payments without government assistance, and they all get trounced by the guy who admits he still eats his boogers.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dispatch From A Blue State: The Essential Guide To Portland


The Office of Civic Suggestions is pleased to offer the following guide to Portland, Oregon:

Welcome to Portland.

The Office of Civic Suggestions is dedicated to creating a Young-Creatives-Positive environment for the Young Creatives that are assumed to be our largest up-and-coming demographic, so that they will feel comfortable doing whatever it is they do, which is expected to become clearer over time. The city strives to foster the attitude that nothing is required of anybody, and that no one really has to do anything if they don't feel like it. As an example, it is not compulsory to be in a band, as long as you can hear a band from inside your house.

Whereas every homeowner is encouraged to build either a Poetry Post or a chicken house, it is not mandatory. A mini-library may be substituted. The Office of Civic Suggestions is pleased to report that, citywide, we achieve nearly 100% compliance in this endeavor, due to our collective will. This uniformity of purpose is a point of pride in an otherwise diverse population, wherein people between barista jobs rub elbows with people looking for graphic design work.

Conformity will not be monitored, but you really should have a dog, and your dog really should have an outfit, spangly antlers (in season), or, at minimum, a bandana. Also, he or she should go to day care. A spot under a sidewalk cafe table may be substituted as long as it puts the canine citizen in a position to net a belly-rub from a complete stranger. It is felt that dog ownership knits society together in important ways, but those unwilling to contribute should feel free to go out in the back yard and bark just for the hell of it, and if seen unaccompanied at a dog park, should signal their good intentions by accessorizing with a poop bag.

Visitors are advised that it is possible to pass as native by going to the symphony with one pant-leg rolled up on the gear side. There is no citizenship test to take, per se, but newcomers, if they would like to be comfortable, should familiarize themselves with the bitterness scale of beer and be able to use "bioswale" in a sentence. Political involvement is encouraged at every level. Remember to begin your letter to the editor with "so, let me get this straight."

It is not true that it is against the law to situate a Walmart in Portland. Walmart is merely subject to the same zoning regulations as any other commercial entity, including the requirements that all new development be anchored by an independent book store, provide adequate skateboard lockers, and not be a Walmart.

Yes, those are real ferns growing all the way up the trees. Yes, the solar panels are supposed to go on the side of the roof without the moss on  it. Yes, we have a state fungus. No, there is no place to buy an umbrella.

The City of Portland is proud of its support for the arts, and encourages visits to our many galleries, street fairs, and the traveling tagged-railcar exhibit. In addition, all of our children have been subjected to thick praise since infancy, and their scribblings and beadwork are available most weekends at a sidewalk blanket near you, next to a dog. No money need be exchanged, but you are expected to pause thoughtfully and smile. A pocketful of kibble should see you through several blocks.

Finally, the idea that you can create art by merely "putting a bird on it" is a gross oversimplification. It should really be a crow.

Thank you. Please share this flyer with at least five people before placing it, ink-side-down, over a noxious weed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dispatch From A Blue State


Thank you for your interest in Portland, Oregon. Due to the increase in inquiries generated by the documentary series "Portlandia," which has introduced our quirks and foibles to the world at large, we regret that our response time has lengthened. Those of you requiring immediate attention should direct your questions to any of the citizens who have rolled to a stop in the middle of the street to wave you across.

Visitors are gently reminded that stereotypes lack nuance, and the careful observer of the native population will note that we are each adorable in slightly different ways. As an official at the Quirks and Foibles Registry puts it: "Portlanders believe strongly that our identical shared values represent a triumph of
consensus over compulsion. There is no requirement that we all think alike. A progressive mindset, however desirable, has in no way been codified into law."

That said, it is true that the local tax structure is not based on the standard three-legged stool that includes sales taxes, but rather a barstool design centered on a pillar of property taxes stout enough to send non-civic-minded people screaming over
the northern border. As a consequence, the population consists almost entirely of Democrats with a high earnestness quotient, and the tiny remainder is cowed and sullen. This does not mean there are no wealthy Portlanders, but it does make them harder to distinguish when outside their normal range. In general, the well-heeled are more likely to hand out cookies from a local artisanal bakery at the Occupy camps rather than bake them at home, and less likely to do a twirly dance for no reason in the middle of the street. But exceptions abound.

In order to clear up any misunderstandings, the Office of Civic Suggestions will be holding an informational rally at the waterfront Saturday. A performance by the city pep squad "The Fighting Mildew" will be featured, followed by tastings of bacon-donut beer. An informative guide to the city will be unveiled at that time.

To be continued.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Don't Try This At Home

Two weeks ago Dave brought home a cough, not that we needed one. It was pretty annoying. To him, probably, too. Mine came in a few days later and before long we sounded like the TB ward. Nothing dry about the cough, either. It was long and juicy, chest-deep, and tailed off like cans rattling behind the Trans-Am at your cousin's wedding.

That was entertaining for a few days and then we peeled off into specialties. I got head congestion resembling concrete for a day or two and then it subsided into something blowable. So that was an improvement. I developed an odd, rippling, lackadaisical, old-lady flatulence that (since I was eating nothing) I put down to my gut bacteria working over the gallons of phlegm I was swallowing. And then, a week in, and rather abruptly, and after noticing that I was on the floor for some reason, I realized I needed to get into a more comfortable position from which I was unlikely to fall further. I threw kibble at the cat without even making her roll over for it and got into bed.

I don't know what my temperature was. The next morning, which arrived against all odds, I felt pretty decent and took my temperature, and it was above 101. So I'm pegging the previous night at 109. I got up a few times in the night and ricocheted all the way to the bathroom on spherical feet. I had it together just enough to assemble a wastebasket in front of the toilet but I couldn't work out the essential problem: if I was going to throw up and I was going to faint, didn't it matter which order I did those in? I was pretty sure it mattered.

Somehow I got back to bed using a path that would be represented in The Family Circus by hyphens, and continued enjoying my fever. I  was engaged in the endless arrangement and re-arrangement of blocks of type from the Gutenberg era, and the lighting wasn't good. Chinkity chinkity chunk. Chinkity chinkity chinkity chunk. Periodically red lights would appear. They would invariably turn out to be eyeshine from the left eyeball of someone quite recognizable. Rasputin. Katie Couric.

The upside of the delirium was I didn't have to hear Dave cough. Since he had never worked up much in the way of a fever--a brief flirtation with 99--he had decided to double down on the coughing. Now he spent every night and much of the day working out phlegm, chunks of lung tissue, vermin, items of furniture, and the like, culminating in a little sob. He'd pared his sleeping time down to nothing. I was sleeping twenty hours a day. Whereas before we had been able to take turns doing each other the occasional small favor--a plate of sliced apples here, a poached egg there, a refill on the vaporizer--now we peered at each other with quelling hostility lest the other deign to ask for something.

My coughing could not compete with Dave's in degree of difficulty or style points, but it was still plenty persistent. By the third day of my 102+ fevers, I began to feel my ribs snap, one by one. One of them poked all the way through the skin, but it was in the back so it didn't show. A friend came by, flang rescue groceries onto the porch, and peeled away from the curb with a honk.

I'm pretty sure Googling the symptoms of Ebola is one of the symptoms of Ebola.

That night I abandoned the type rearrangement project and instead examined busy little white strands of DNA, masses of them, motoring away on the world's ceiling six inches above my head like processionary caterpillars. Later I couldn't remember if I was making boulders or little haystacks, so made little progress. I woke up with my face sealed shut. My eyes were breaded and I spent the morning chiseling away at a new cement installation around my nostrils.

And I discovered that the entire inside of my face now tasted and smelled like nothing I had ever encountered before. But it wasn't anything you'd associate with a person who's still alive. I went to our doctor. She confirmed I had the flu.

"I don't get the flu," I explained patiently. "I've never gotten the flu."

Did you get the flu shot?

"I did get the flu shot."

Oh, that's right. This year's flu shot didn't target this year's flu.

But I had a deal. The deal was, I get strep throat and everyone else gets the flu. I'm the strep queen. I might have had it thirty times. You feel like shit for two days, you go to the doctor, you get a bunch of pills, you start to feel better. I was happy to take the strep throat burden off my fellow citizens. Proud, even. But this--this is bullshit. This is the stupidest idea ever. There is no point to it.

I'm home now enjoying my recovery, with a few new features. My ears finally got off the train and said they'd check back with me in a few stations. Every time I lie down I hear doughboys marching endlessly in the snow in the trenches where they used to be. I feel like shit. But now it's shit I can see over. A few days from now, I hope, I'll be able to cremate the bed linens and start anew.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Contains Green Flecks

Tests have shown that store-brand supplements from four major retailers contained none of the herbs that the label indicated. In what some say may be a crushing blow to the herbal supplement industry, nobody noticed. Other research indicates that public concern remains low. In one study, bottle of gingko biloba, a memory enhancer, that were listed as containing no wheat, were found to contain powdered radish and wheat, but no gingko biloba. A significant portion of consumers interviewed could only report that they were pretty sure they'd taken them, but maybe it was the day before.

Other herbal supplements were found to contain only fillers like rice and houseplants. This circumstance had been predicted for years by people who had ever been forced to share an apartment with a roommate's philodendron.

There is, in fact, no requirement to test herbal supplements with the same rigor as the FDA tests pharmaceuticals, and labeling requirements are lax as well. The only mandatory regulation is that the brand name reference either Nature or Mother in some way; but by the time that is added along with a picture of a green leaf, there's no room left on the label for an ingredient list such as "contains marketing, misinformation, rice, and the rubber plant from the factory lobby."

Claims made for these products tend to be delicately worded. One pill is said to "support heart health," and representatives of the industry insist that the product does indeed provide tiny college funds for the corpuscles, and it is not their fault if the majority of supported cells opt for the trades instead.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah is a steadfast champion of the herbal supplement industry and has been the chief proponent of exempting it from the FDA's strict approval process. He is widely considered an expert in the field due to the vast amount of information he has been given in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, and he assured the public that the supplement industry could be trusted to pinky-swear they were on the up and up.

The trouble persists in other areas as well. A frizz-reducing hair product that is advertised to contain no formaldehyde has been found to contain formaldehyde, although corporate counsel points out that the portions that do not contain formaldehyde do not contain formaldehyde.

Observers of the market do not believe these discoveries will provoke much of a backlash among consumers. They cite the reaction last year to the news that the urine of Clydesdales suspected of steroid abuse was found to have the sameDNA profile as Bud Lite. Predictions that Bud Lite consumers would abandon their favorite product in droves proved to be unfounded, when in fact they shrugged it off and,  if anything, exhibited a little more majesty in their gaits.

Likewise Walmart, one of the four companies found to have ginseng-free ginseng tablets on their shelves, expects to weather the current storm. After all, they point out, sales of home furnishings have not been affected by the discovery that underperforming Asian child workers have been used as upholstery stuffing. And they continue to refute the rumor that shredded, dehydrated Walmart greeters  have turned up in the store granola bar.

"It is efficiency innovation like the upholstery stuffing that keeps our prices low," a Walmart spokesman insisted. "And as for the herbal supplements, ours have been demonstrated to be no more nor less effective than the industry standard."

For their part, representatives of the herbal supplement industry stoutly vouch for the efficacy of any pills with little green flecks in them.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Look At The Articles On That One


You've heard about the Sun tabloid kerfuffle. The Sun is one of those British newspapers with giant print and giant celebrity heads on the cover page and maybe a giant headline involving one of the celebrity heads and a hamster. It's popular. For over forty years now it has also featured a girl on Page Three with no top on. A woman girl--not a girl girl.

I don't know if the Page Three girls get paid or are just in it for the exposure. I'd be sorry if they don't get paid even a little, because that would make them no better than writers and musicians, who can't give their stuff away fast enough these days. But, in either case, there seems to be no shortage of willing Page Three girls, and roughly twice that many titties. It's been a working franchise.

Lots of people have been upset about Page Three over the years, because it objectifies women. So when The Sun suddenly up and stuffed a Page Three girl into a bikini recently, it was a huge deal. Feminists declared a victory of sorts. I'm not especially persuaded, myself. If a bikini is that much of an improvement, it's kind of saying that it's all about the nipple. As though nothing would restore a woman's dignity more expeditiously than a nice set of pasties. At any rate, a few days later the bluff was over and the topless Page Three girl was back, winking. It was all a big tease.

Americans are weirdly prudish about sexual displays. We like to keep all that business under the counter where there's no chance anyone will become inured to it. When I started out as a letter carrier, Playboy magazine and its competitors came in a plain brown wrapper so as not to unduly arouse the subscriber's children, or mailman. The plain brown wrapper was open on either end, and proved to be one bit of technology that was easily overcome, even by employees of the Postal Service. At some point I guess enough subscribers complained about their magazines being delivered with the best pages stuck together that they switched over to a sealed black plastic wrap.

America's Finest
This was a sad day in post offices across America. All that the American mailman had left to look forward to was the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and its coincidental one-day bump in overtime statistics.

As a ploy to sell a guaranteed number of newspapers, though, it's hard to beat the Page Three girl. Our own local newspaper could profit from the idea. They couldn't have any toplessness--this is America, after all--but surely they could rig something up with strategically placed graphics and sidebars. They already have plenty of graphics and sidebars to spare; they use them to keep the news tidbits from bumping into each other and inadvertently forming an in-depth article.

At any rate, although I am surely a feminist, I tend to regard this squabble over the nudity as something of an antique concern. We were pretty upset about the objectification of women in the '70s, particularly in advertising, but things have improved a lot since then. (Now we objectify everybody.) I get more worked up about conditions for women in Africa and the Middle East and stuff like that. Maybe The Sun can come up with a fresh ploy. Mix it up. Maybe on alternate days, page three can feature pictures of moist layer cake. Maybe they can carefully hide two verifiable items in their regular reportage and challenge alert readers to Find The Facts. Or maybe just keep the titties on page three and the dicks on the masthead.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Retro Look


Everybody loves the retro look, so it's no surprise that people are giving measles a try again. I had the original version, of course. At least once. Seems like there was a variety-pak of measles. We had regular measles and red measles and German measles and brown measles and speckled measles and anadromous measles, which kept coming back again. Or possibly they didn't come back again, but they left enough of an impression that we remembered them over and over, or adopted our classmates' episodes as our own. I do recall one bout clearly. I was in fourth grade and I missed Valentine's Day. I remember Dr. Martin coming by with his black bag and telling mom, whom he always called Mother, that I would probably be fine but she  had to be careful I didn't come down with Scarlet Fever. That made an impression. Some colors are scarier than others. Scarlet Fever sounded really bad, so much worse than the Pink Pox or the Ecru Flu.

I didn't come down with any color anything, but I did have a very high fever. It gave me this awful nightmare. It had something to do with things being really really little right next to really really big things, and one of the things was the typewritten lower-case "e," which was for some reason terrifying. And then I went whooshing off in the dark really far and really fast, like from Virginia to India in two seconds, and that was terrifying too. Either that, or I got shot down in a military helicopter in Iraq; I get mixed up.

Years later I read about that dark tunnel you're supposed to go through when you're dying and realized that was another way of describing my fever dream. So I think I was pretty sick. I kept having that nightmare periodically for years even when I wasn't sick. One night I finally recognized it and thought to myself "shit. This again? Here to India again in two seconds in the dark?  I don't even want to GO to India." And I never had the dream again.

When I got all better someone dropped off a big bag of Valentines from my class.  Some of them were made out of pink and red construction paper and white paper doilies, and others were little cards separated at the perforations. You can drop five bucks on a single card these days, but we'd get whole sheets of them for pennies and pull them apart and carefully decide whose desk should get BEE MINE and whose should get O U KID. What I don't remember is if this business was an ordeal for the unpopular kids, because I was just about the most popular kid in class, and remained so until I changed schools the next year, after which I was feeding off the bottom of the social swamp until well into high school.

So I think today's kids are really going to enjoy the measles, what with all the Valentines, and being able to stay in bed and listen to the little melamine radio, and the probably not dying and all. If you don't get it, just hang in there. It's tremendous contagious. Evidently a single measle can remain suspended in a doctor's office for hours floating on a miasma of old People Magazine fumes. Then it waits for an unvaccinated child to come in and jumps on it, making a little hee-yah sound. The vaccine for it also protects against mumps and rubella. I'm told I got the mumps when I was very new, but inasmuch as (like all infants) I looked like Winston Churchill at the time, I don't know how they could tell.

Vaccines are a remarkable medical success story. My goodness, we got rid of smallpox altogether, and almost got rid of polio. You just about have to have a drug problem or a car accident to check out early these days. That's why people are sort of casual about joining the vaccinated herd. We'll probably have to drop a few cattle to get people back on board.