Finding the beauty (sort of?) in a relentless torrent of campaign pamphlets
Day after day they come to my house. By mail. By hand. Borne along with an urgent smile by canvassers who stalk the neighborhood looking for opportunities like me. Stuffed into the handle of my door. Blown around by the wind when I walk the dog. With an eye toward this piece, toward perhaps making some meaning of the insanity of it all, I started keeping them only about a month ago, after I had already received (and promptly tossed out) at least 200 more. They will continue to come, I know, until early November, until the eve of the coming election, when the people who send them will finally realize that it's just too late.
As the resident of a swing state, evidently in or near a swing district, I live today in a pamphlet world. Every politician seeking my vote this election cycle seems to have decided that the best way to reach me -- and to reach me -- is to send me colorful, high-gloss, thick-stock political pamphlets pitching me on this or that. What the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling has done for the television and radio industries -- think those television campaign commercials are free? -- these pamphlets surely have done for the printing industry. I don't remember ever receiving as many mailed election pitches as I have this year.
One day, all of the pamphlets I have, and all of the ones I will collect between now and November 6, will either be recycled or will help me start wood fires in my fireplace on the days when I can. Some of this garbage may make a difference in the races on which it touches. Some, no doubt, were as wasted on me, and on the related campaign, as all the other junk mail that comes. In the meantime, since I have them here, I thought I would go back through them to give you a sense of the language of the race, far away from the glare of the debates or the cheers of the crowd.
Political operatives are spending millions upon millions of dollars this cycle -- more than ever before, I reckon -- to get their message into my home, figuratively and literally. And what those messages say tells us an awful lot about the awful nature of politics in America in 2012. On balance, I would say I've received many more mailings from Republicans and conservative operatives than I have from Democrats and liberal operatives. Sometimes, it's impossible to tell, so couched in dog whistles and focus-group-speak is the language of the pamphlets. Here is just some of the poetry of the campaign, taken directly from the text of the mailings:
Straight from the horse's mouth.
The road to prosperity is not paved in debt.
The truth washes it off easily.
In scary situations, trust someone who knows what they're doing.
They're not on your side.
If Penn State happened in your elementary school, would you want to know?
Who betrayed our children's safety for a campaign donation?
Which [state] politician thinks money grows on trees?
She paid into Medicare and Social Security all her life. But [politician] wants to leave her out in the cold. Who's tired of politics as usual?
[Politician] knows that good jobs don't grow on government trees.
[Politician] is a weaselly politician. He raised our taxes but dodged paying his own.
[Politician] is fed up with politicians ignoring our community.
[Politician] didn't raise her taxes. But she is happy to raise yours.
[Politician] creates jobs on Main Street, not Wall Street.
More runaway spending. Higher taxes. More jobs lost.
And to bring better jobs to [state], we need [politician].
We need to focus on getting people back to work. We're better together.
Where in the world did all our jobs go?
New industries demand new jobs.
[Politician] is just plain selfish.
[Politician] was caught red handed dodging his fair share of taxes.
[Politician] supports real education reform.
[Politician] would allow big insurance companies to deny women access to life saving preventative care like mammograms. [Politician] has the experience and values we need.
Unemployment worse. Taxes worse. Income worse. Mortgage worse.
Working to build a better [state].
Standing up for our small businesses
She would like to be working. But there are no jobs.
Working toward common sense solutions. Working for you.
[Politician] wants to cut taxes for millionaires like himself but raise taxes on the rest of us.
[Politician] knows that what children learn today determines their bright futures.
[Politician] wants to give politicians unlimited spending power.
[Politician] will follow his party bosses, even if it means raising taxes for middle class families. [Politician] is still treating us like his own ATM!
New presidents often err by either trying to impose their will on Congress or being too hands-off. Trump is on course to commit both errors on his top two legislative priorities.
Mucking up an interaction with Congress is a rite of passage for every new president—usually on health care, and especially for those with limited experience in Washington.
The twin pitfalls for a new president are the same ones the great Tommy Lasorda described in his approach to baseball: “I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.” A president can try to push his vision aggressively on Congress, risking backlash from members—let’s call that the Bill Clinton approach. Alternatively, he can try to hang back and let Congress act, risking the chance that without presidential leadership, members will come up with something he doesn’t like, or even worse that they can’t pass. We’ll call that the Barack Obama approach.
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.
In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. He was, it turns out, extremely prescient.
Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, an empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky costumes, and attempting, in general, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”
Cases of brain-infecting amoebae underscore the importance of purifying water before you pour it into your sinuses.
Allergy season is upon us once more, and for many allergy sufferers, that means it’s time to pull two crucial items to the front of the medicine cabinet: 24-hour non-drowsy loratadine, and a neti pot—a teapot-like device used to flush the nasal passages with saline in order to clear allergens and soothe sinus pressure. (It can be seen in action in this very popular gif.) The constant mockery of my loved ones doesn’t prevent me from using a neti pot to ease my congestion. It’s too effective to give up for the sake of pride. But I have also used my neti pot with considerable apprehension since 2011.
That year, a 20-year-old man from Louisiana died of encephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba commonly found in lakes and rivers in the American South—but which rarely causes infection. More unusual still was the fact that the young man hadn’t had been swimming in freshwater lakes or rivers anytime recently. Then, a few months later, a 51-year-old Louisiana woman also died of encephalitis—primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) to be exact, which is the condition caused when Naegleria fowleri infects the brain. Shortly before she passed away, her doctor learned that while she hadn’t had been swimming in freshwater either, she had recently used a neti pot. Researchers later learned that the other victim had also used a neti pot, and subsequent testing found Naegleria fowleri in both patients’ brain tissue as well as the tap water in their homes. Using a neti pot had allowed the amoeba to reach their brains.
It's okay for parents to nurture, protect, and encourage their children, especially when they're very young.
I still remember the first time someone spoke to me about grit. It wasn’t when I lost my dad and saw my mother fall apart.
It wasn’t when my mother died, and I felt like I was falling apart.
It wasn’t when people who I believed would invest in my business didn’t. It wasn’t when the great recession hit our advertisers and my business had to stop publishing a magazine.
It was when I was thinking of pulling my 3-year-old out of a preschool in which she clearly wasn’t thriving. She was anxious, frozen, a shadow of the child she used to be before she started there.
But it was a co-op preschool, meaning I couldn’t just turn around and leave. When you sign up to join a co-op, you also sign up to work various jobs around the school and to commit to being an active part of a larger community. In other words, I had to talk to the other parents at the co-op about my decision. One of them cautioned me: "What about grit?" she said. For a minute, I was taken aback. Was she talking about me or my 3-year-old?
For better or for worse, all roads to avoid global calamity run through Beijing.
President Donald Trump is right: North Korea’s nuclear program is on a dangerous trajectory. But there is no quick fix. Nor is there an imminent threat, and it does not help to create the impression that there is one. A show of force, if carefully calibrated, can be helpful. But rhetorical excess, personal provocations directed at North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, and stunts like calling the Senate to a White House briefing don’t help.
Moreover, for all the bellicose posturing from Washington and Pyongyang, the most likely outcome of this latest flare-up of tensions around North Korea is more stalemate, as the Kim regime continues work on its nuclear-weapons program—unless the Trump administration considers some new, non-military, approaches.
Recent border battles have once again redrawn the lines of the metro area.
On the Saturday before Election Day last November, Jason Lary, a former insurance executive, crouched on a rough patch of grass at the center of a busy intersection 20 miles outside of Atlanta in DeKalb County. Lary was holding a hammer, and he tapped carefully on the thin wire base of a campaign sign. “My hand is like Fred Flintstone’s right now because I banged my hand in the night,” he said, noting his latest sign-related injury. This hazard, though, was worthwhile: “If you don’t start [the sign] with your hand, it will bend. It takes longer—guys are 10 times faster than I am. But my sign’s still gonna be up.”
This was a non-trivial advantage for Lary, who for the past month had begun most mornings with a kind of ground-game whack-a-mole. He would put up signs under the cover of night, only to have his opponents dislodge them by hand or, when that failed, run over them with their cars. Nevertheless, Lary was feeling good. “My opposition? Worn down,” he told me. “They don’t even have any more signs. And I kept a stash, knowing this time was coming. This is not my first picnic with nonsense.”
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
On Wednesday, the administration launched a new office to “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens.” Some rang in with reports of UFOs.
The term “alien” is used in legal contexts to denote those present in the United States who aren’t citizens. But some callers are using a new hotline launched on Wednesday for victims of crimes committed by aliens to report that they’ve been victimized by extraterrestrials.
On Wednesday, the Trump administration launched the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office. The office, which was originally announced in a January executive order on immigration, intends to “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique—and too often ignored,” said DHS Secretary John Kelly in announcing the office. “They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place—because the people who victimized them often times should not have been in the county in the first place.”
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.