The Problem with Politics (These Days, and Maybe Always)

Politics is sport. Its spectators are like those of any other rough game. If they're at all interested in the contest, they choose a team and defend it to irrational and absurd lengths. You can no more convince a committed Democrat or Republican to call out illegal, immoral, or unethical behavior by someone on their team than you could persuade an Alabama fan to admit that Nick Saban seems like an asshole.

The traditional hope in our political system is found in those who are not committed spectators, but rather occasional participants who vote every two to four years. The efforts of machine politics are often geared toward suppressing or encouraging this participation, depending on whether the mood at the moment tends toward or against the team. Convincing more of the team's already fervent supporters to vote can work, too, but since that often requires a stance that will alienate the sporadic participants and increase their turnout, it's dangerous.

What galls me particul…

All the Day's Porn

In this, our American Season of Madness, I'm as taken as anyone, and probably more so, with the "news" from Washington. Every evening I watch one or more hours of opinionated shows featuring interviews and jabbering hosts rather than straight reporting. It's gotten so bad that I sometimes even record the shows so as to get through three or four of them much more quickly by fast forwarding through the commercials.

I make no secret of my disgust and immense sadness at the fall of our great country into a Trumpist kakistocracy. Even though I'd been predicting Trump's victory since May 2016, and still saw it that way a week before the election when almost everyone else was thinking Clinton would pull it out, I was not sufficiently prepared for this spiritual carnage. (full disclosure: I believed Trump would win both a popular and electoral college victory and was wrong, and I thought his popular vote margin would be comfortable).

Not that I could bring myself to v…

The Opposite of Stress

I should be feeling no different from any other summer over the past quarter century when I wasn't teaching a class. Not having to resume academic life on August 15 has nothing in theory to do with how I feel on June 26. But in reality, it does.

The steady drip of days gone by marking the inevitable end of freedom for nine months has disappeared. Unlike a child, for whom the passage of time is so slow because each day is such a large fraction of his or her life, a man in his fifties can never quite grasp where the day has gone when it's over. Before this summer, I ended each day with pangs of regret that the end was so suddenly one day closer, and the remaining days so few.

Since the beginning of my retirement coincided with the usual start of summer vacation, this new reality didn't hit me strongly, either in a positive or negative sense. I believed early on that the new state would only begin to sink in when I received my first pension check (scheduled for later this we…

Move Along

Close friends and colleagues will know that I retired from my history professor's livelihood as of June 1, 2017. Twenty-seven years after receiving my Ph.D., and twenty-six years after assuming my role at the University of South Alabama, I decided that it was best for me to move along.

It was no sudden decision. In my email and in my memory, I find the first serious consideration of retirement to have occurred in early 2015. It was a push-pull process. The "push" came from things about my life as a professor that I no longer either enjoyed or found easy to tolerate. I'll be kind and remain silent about these for now, although those close to me can write and I'll send more detail. The "pull" came from the idea that I might be free to construct my years as I saw fit without being bound by the rhythms of the academic calendar. Shoulder season travel to spots previously off limits except in high summer has become possible (hello, September and April).


My New Enemies

You tap into my personal data and then sell it to the highest bidder, and I'm going to consider you my enemy.

The United States Congress voted to allow this practice. Senators and representatives were bought off by campaign contributions from ISPs and wireless phone companies whose argument that they wanted to be treated fairly when compared to the great privacy thieves Google and Facebook was accepted and repeated.

In my case, this information will do them little good. I already use adblocking software anytime I can. I don't keep cookies that track my Internet usage any longer than the browser is open. I pay $100/year for a VPN, which I'm using as I type this and will continue to use except when it slows my service down too much.

For most people, the creepy ads are about to multiply. You'll wonder how your home computer knows to serve you an ad in the evening for a product whose ad you accidentally tapped on at lunch on your cell phone. And God help you if you invest…

The Case Against Restaurants

In the long history of civilization, the restaurant occupies but the tiniest sliver of time here at the most recent end. Nearly forever, all but the most fantastically wealthy have prepared their own food and cleaned up after themselves, at home. Those few who were away from home might find limited fare at an inn along the way. No one thought of hiring others to routinely shop, prepare, cook, and then wash the dishes.

Here in the United States, as the traditional notion of a family expanded to have both parents working, so too did the available restaurant options. The amount of time available to devote to preparing meals declined, as did the perceived energy which could be expended on food-related chores. A "meal" at a sandwich shop, pizza joint, hamburger emporium, or taco truck began to appear to be a good deal. Just as one example, when I moved to my small hometown in Alabama (population 10,000) in 1972, there were just a few locally owned dining options. By the time I le…

The Seven Habits of Highly Proficient Assholes

Be a bully and collect followers who admire bulliesNever apologize, especially when wrongHave no principles other than momentary self-aggrandizement (corollary: lie constantly, and lie about having lied)Obsess endlessly over superficial markers of popularity (corollary: react instantly and without prudence to any threats to popularity)Gain reinforcement and validation solely by surrounding yourself with material opulenceReward sycophancy in those closest to you and punish them for any setbacks, weaknesses, or signs of independenceNever concern yourself with collateral damage from any of the above Moral of the story: I don't have his money or office, but I'm wealthier because I have enough. And I know how long a damned necktie is meant to hang.