29 November 2010

Harold And Kumar Go Fuck Themselves.

On the list of "Most Ridiculous Things I've Ever Been Asked to Write", this takes the cake.  In management class, we watched an episode of "Undercover Boss" and had to write about the lessons White Castle can learn from their CEO's excursion.Words fail me.  But I still had to crank out 1300 of them.  This was the result.

Is This The Real Life?  Is This Just Fantasy?  Reality TV and Corporate Governance
    Ye gods.  The first two words of this paper took me five days to write.  Because I cannot for all of my best efforts glean just what is being asked of me here.  A reality TV show, sanitized and disinfected by Corporate America so that everything looks nice and pretty and on-message while demoralized workers get treatment that would make Mike Rowe on the Discovery Channel say “seriously?”  Might as well start with that.  Right.  On with it.

    The White Castle episode of Undercover Boss is exactly what you'd expect from studying people scratching out a living working a soul-destroying, unskilled, “remind me again why I never went to college?” job that pays next to nothing, provides so little of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs that I'd be shocked to discover that they're even moving past the first level of the pyramid (some, nay, most of those people pull down less money than I do from student grants and loans and I'm a poor college student!)  So at its very core, White Castle is paying less than a living wage to people working in conditions that would make the OSHA inspectors cringe.  The warning that the bagging machine operator offered to Dave about getting his arms (or hands, or whatever limbs, I know it was something) ripped off---well, Upton Sinclair's turning in his grave, isn't he?

    And let's discuss the appalling sanitation while we're at it.  People are touching buns after touching raw meat during the preparation process---it's a wonder White Castle hasn't encountered a Jack in the Box incident (the latter being responsible for the introduction of “E. coli” into the popular lexicon after the foodborne illness deaths of several children in Seattle in January of 1993) with their burgers.  Either that, or the ungodly amount of onions on a slider serve the same sanitation purpose that they did when onion juice was used as a disinfectant for battle wounds in World War One.

    But I digress again.  The biggest problem, as I see it, with White Castle's management is that their Fearless Leader Dave Rife actually thinks he's going to learn something meaningful by his little token “how the other half lives” PR stunt.  Instead of commissioning a blue-ribbon panel to investigate the problems with employee morale and the breakdown in the management chain, he thinks that by going on TV and thumping his chest about what a populist he is, he'll somehow...well, I watched the episode three times and couldn't make head or tail of just what he was out to accomplish.

    A more sinister explanation might just be that people really are that arrogant and that managers believe that management is somehow this process that can improve the workings of business.  I've spent three months having my stereotypes reinforced that pointy-haired Dilbert bosses aren't born; they're made.  Made in business schools by classes that try and instill in idealistic little whelps the idea that corporate management is anything other than a fine way to...OK, fine.  I might as well dress up like a peasant and say “come see the violence inherent in the system, help, help, I'm being repressed” if I'm going to take that angle.

    So what does White Castle do right?  Besides be a delightful fall guy for the old “working in fast food is a really crappy job” trope?  Well, they turn out a metric ton of burgers in a short period of time by making them tiny and cramming them onto a griddle whilst simultaneously hiring people who can hold more information in their head than I can hold in a notebook and paying them minimum wage for the privilege.  But that's a systematic advantage, not a triumph of anyone's management.  Unless you believe that the slavemasters on the ancient Roman galleys were great managers because they really motivated those slaves to pump the oars faster.

    I really don't know the question you want answered here (and I'm either flushing my grade down the loo or hanging a lampshade on the essential absurdity of the question being asked about White Castle---I've told myself “don't just Google the answer, answer the question with the materials provided and nothing more” and I'm holding myself to that.)  Does an advertiser-approved, corporate propaganda, “look at this CEO, he's so humble!” faux-reality show illustrate anything besides what CBS and the White Castle corporation want us to have illustrated?  Of course not!  This is America!  So what's left?  An exercise in contrast, a confused student, and a “six page maximum” (right.  Six pages.  Four thousand words.  Good luck with that.) paper about...what, exactly?

    But I've got this angle about what a waste of time this is, I've put over eight hundred words into it, why stop now?  I'm on a roll!  Kind of like a hamburger (ooh look, a pun!), but I'd rather you not serve me with so many flippin' onions.  Those things sting my eyes when you shove me face down into them.  My point is that there is absolutely nothing of value to be gleaned from all this any more than you could tell what the management is like in a sewer from watching Mike Rowe have a rat jump in his lap on Dirty Jobs.  Or, for that matter, how Jamie Hyneman runs M5 Industries if all you had to go on was an exploding cement truck and Tory Belleci falling off a bicycle on MythBusters.

    Like I said.  It took me five days (the entirety of Thanksgiving break, since I'm writing this at 8:20 in the morning on the day the paper's due) to come up with the first two words---ye gods.  Either I'm even dumber than I thought (and I tend to think I'm the dumbest student in the room) or I am indeed being asked to shovel the south end of a northbound bull to a degree that exceeds my suspension of disbelief.

    I did find one thing interesting about the whole Undercover Boss show---it would seem that mine is the majority viewpoint, at least on the Internet.  I searched on YouTube to find clips from the episode to refresh my memory (it's amazing how readily mindless prolefeed like “reality TV” slips through the cracks of my brain like the ephemeral, non-corporeal fluff that it is) and the comments were vitriolic at best.  There's a real CEO backlash in America.  CBS might want to take note.  They could get some real satisfaction out of something like “CEO Dunk Tank” with the tank filled with sulfuric acid, at least if the YouTube comments on these videos are anything to go by.  Maybe White Castle can learn something from that---people really seem to hate Dave Rife and think he's an egomaniac and a narcissist who has no business pretending he's so caring and wonderful for going and screwing up the works among the many poor, unfortunate souls who work for him.  At least it's funny when Mike Rowe does it because he's got a sense of humor about it and shows genuine respect for the “hard-working men and women who earn an honest living doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us.” (to steal a line from the Dirty Jobs intro.)

    But I've rambled on quite enough, haven't I?  The point of the matter here is that I could prattle on for another four pages.  I could talk until I'm blue in the face about the plight of the worker and the high-minded circus act that is CBS blatantly exploiting hard-working people for a big freak show for us all to watch (and buy the sponsor's products).  But I'm going to do something I wish American television executives would do more of.  I'm going to shut my damn fool mouth.  Because sometimes the very best form of management, and one Dave Rife would do well to heed, would be to go back to his expensive toys and trophy wife and padded executive chair and let his damn peasants do their jobs.  That's what White Castle needs---genuine humility, not the made-for-TV kind.

28 October 2010

Whom the gods would destroy, they first must make mad.

(I'm planning to work on some new material next month that I want to collect into a book of essays for submission to a publisher.  In order to keep my writing chops up, I decided to sit down for a bit and come up with some new material for the blog.  This was just a one-draft, unrevised piece; I don't expect anyone to take it too seriously.)

“Empiricism, Or: Why There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Soul”
© Dennis L. “Fox” Doucette
October 28, 2010

    Sometimes it's the little things that force a certain level of reflection on times gone by.  And what better time to reflect on the awesome power of women to simultaneously crush me and rouse me to feats of astounding levels of rage than my ex-wife's birthday?  Curse my great memory for dates and history.  Useful when writing about wars and keeping the timeline straight when writing down the silly old stories that impress people on message board forums.  Not so much when noticing the numbers in the bottom right corner of my computer screen leads my mind astray.
    But that's not what this is about.  Not directly, at least.  Only in the sense that my ex-wife belongs to a long and illustrious tradition of women eroding my naturally trusting nature and leading me into a position where I tend to assume the worst given any sort of situation.  I think I hold the record for highest percentage of lying, cheating, untrustworthy, confused, lost, or otherwise broken female souls per unit of relationship (and don't bother trying to quantify that one.)
    I've run into so many failures that the mere act of dating reminds me of Rita Mae Brown's dictum (often misattributed to Albert Einstein) that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”  To date (pardon the pun), I'd say I have been in various degrees of romantic involvement, from promising-but-never-got-anywhere to flings and one-night stands to full-on relationships to a failed marriage, with something on the order of three dozen women in the sixteen years since I first figured out as a high school junior how to ask a girl to go on a date and not be immediately laughed out of the room.  A bit over two a year, some long stretches with one girl, other times a full-fledged swinging bachelor going through women like raw materials through the Memory Factory cranked up to eleven.  And in that time I have found that either I'm meeting the wrong kinds of women, the good ones truly are taken, or there is something about me that inspires them to behave in a manner consistent with a misogynist's view of the universe.
    Take the girl I dated this summer (as three girls all look up like “huh?  You mean me?”)  Long-distance relationship through calls and text messages since we had the better part of the whole “from sea to shining sea” United States between us.  She was a delightful girl, affectionate, friendly, quick to let me know when she had a free moment...and all was well until she got drunk, slept with a complete stranger she met at a bar, and that was that.  At least she had the decency to confess what happened, not that she had a choice when I noticed she'd gotten distant on me.
    Then there was the five-night stand.  Fun fact, girls: Asking a guy to meet your family and making it a precondition to your continuing to date him when you've been together less than a week is a recipe for scaring him away.  Hell if I know what she was thinking on that one.
    And of course there was the complete lack of sense of honoring one's commitments that characterized my divorce.  I'm pretty sure that “'til death do us part” does not mean “until you have an existential crisis, go in a matter of a couple of weeks from affectionate and loving to 'I don't want this anymore', and leave.”  Hard to trust anyone after that one, especially since when I pressed the issue, she flat-out admitted to me that I'd done nothing wrong and been nothing but a dutiful, loving husband.  She just didn't want to be with me anymore.  The hell?
    I could go further.  The girl I'd been with three years who met a new guy and left me inside of a month when before she met the guy she'd been talking marriage.  The girl who literally went crazy right before my eyes, and I mean that in the DSM-IV diagnosable illness sense of the word crazy.  Watching her have an honest-to-gods psychotic episode remains the single most heart-wrenching thing I have ever personally witnessed because after that happened, the girl I'd fallen in love with and planned to spend the rest of my days with turned into...someone else...as sure as she'd been possessed.  For a brief moment I completely understood the rationale behind the old exorcisms and witch trials that accompanied such episodes before modern science got its head around the idea that such things were not caused by evil spirits.  Were I a superstitious citizen in a pre-modern society I'd have been sending for the priest myself.  The net result, however, was that she broke up with me.  Nursing her mind back to health was simply not an option presented to me, not that I'm convinced it would have been the same even in the best case.  A few months after the breakup, some of our old mutual friends informed me that “you were the only thing keeping her together, she went off the deep end after you left.”  I haven't seen her in twelve years, and all I could think of if I saw her again would be that I hope she turned out OK.
    Not that I'm completely beyond culpability in the state of my own failures.  I've met and been with girls who have left little doubt in my mind as to the state of their romantic loyalties, the sorts of girls about whom I can say unironically that they worshiped the ground I walked on.  Those would be the girls whose hearts I've broken.  All three would have married me and borne my children had I merely deigned to ask...and in one very notable case my decision, when faced with a choice, to take the other girl on offer was the single poorest decision I have ever made in love and romance.  Not that it matters; it's been seven years, it's not like that girl's sitting around waiting for me and even if she were she'd be out of her mind to trust me.
    Which in turn makes me wonder if it's less bad judgment and more me still needing to atone for some perceived sin by the goddess of love that makes me sit here, reflecting on a lost marriage on a notable historic date for same when I should be doing other work, and wondering if I'm ever going to come out the other side of all this with not just my sense of self intact but also with the one thing I've wanted that has always eluded me; a girl to call my own and grow old with.  It's not like I'm planning weddings on first dates, but it would be nice not to face failure after failure due more to choosing or attracting the wrong sort than to being anything less than a guy worth loving.
    There exists the dreadful possibility that I'm simply fated to be alone.  Such a fate is too awful to even consider.  There will be plenty of time for that sort of reflection when my mind is not thoroughly caught up in itself on other subjects as it stands.  But Goddess, if you're listening?  I'm not Job.  My heart and my faith are not playthings.  Thanks.

08 October 2010

Imagine all the people, living life without that Commie bastard.

I'm no longer in a position where I can write about history for an actual history class, but that doesn't mean I don't still have a lot to say on the topic.  I wrote this in response to my friend Rob from Philadelphia, who mentioned "Imagine" on Facebook and started an interesting chain of thoughts in my head.
1980: The Year Glory Stirred From Its Slumber
Dennis L. “Fox” Doucette
October 8, 2010

    Sometimes the mere mention of a year can stir in the mind a whole slew of thoughts about history.  1492. 1776. 1945.  I'm going to add 1980 to that list.  After Jimmy Carter spent the first three years of his presidency trying his level best to make America a global laughingstock, we got our first indications that even though Brezhnev had clearly won the latest round, we might have a chance in this whole Cold War thing.

    It started in February.  The Miracle on Ice was symbolic.  We had the Soviets on our home turf.  They got to see what capitalism could do, and what it could do besides touch off the greatest act of consumer-goods smuggling in history courtesy of blue jeans was inspire a scrappy bunch of college kids to punch way above their weight on a rink against the mighty Red Army team.  If indeed the first blow landed, a stunning jab to the face of the monster, the rest of the year would show the world that “you ain't seen nothin' yet.”

    Fast forward through the 1980 presidential election campaign.  Carter, whose reputation for diplomacy I've never been able to understand since it seemed to primarily consist of ineffectual whining about the Moscow Olympics and rolling over like a subservient puppy in the face of Islamist extremism in Iran, committed a comedy of errors that prompted Ronald Reagan, my childhood hero, to famously quip that “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job.  A depression is when you lose yours.  And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”  Landslide is hardly a strong enough word, and the second great blow against Communism in 1980 was struck.

    Since good things come in threes, 1980 wasn't done yet.  And here is where the most unsung blow against the Soviets was struck not in Moscow or in the global military arena but in an apartment complex in New York City.  The end result would deprive the Soviets of a critical part of Communism's propaganda power in the West and lead in some small way to something that nobody in 1980 could “Imagine”, namely the fall of the entire Soviet Evil Empire.  This was, of course, the murder of John Lennon and the ascent to heroism in the process of Mark David Chapman.

    Chapman's impact on history should not be underestimated.  A tireless advocate for Communist ideas in the United States, Lennon's anthem still to this day can be heard in the rooms of idealistic nitwits who sincerely believe that the kind of central planning that led to secret police and bread lines everywhere it was tried (not to mention three million dead Ukrainians and at least thirty million dead Chinese in the Holodomor famine and Great Leap Forward, respectively) will somehow bring about a warm and fuzzy utopia in America.

    Well, I say to hell with them.  Mark David Chapman was a hero.  He cut the head off the propaganda beast in the West, allowing the Reagan revolution and the American resurgence to continue full-bore.  America seems to have found its testicular fortitude on December 8.  The Eighties were a time of unprecedented economic activity, a boom that couldn't even be interrupted by a stock market meltdown, a boom that had the economic wherewithal to use to power of deficit spending to do to the Soviet military machine what John D. Rockefeller did to Pennsylvania's independent oil refining industry in the nineteenth century.  Indeed, had Reagan exhorted Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”, Lennon would have been at the forefront of those telling Ol' Stainhead to keep the thing up.

    There are indeed only two moments in the so-called American Century where our nation indeed stood as the world's undisputed champion.  The first was on August 6, 1945, when a bunch of Japanese discovered what happens when a bunch of atoms develop a split personality.  The second was on November 9, 1989, otherwise known as the most memorable day of my childhood, when even the kids who had no interest in current events spoke animatedly in seventh-grade social studies class.  Everything else was just a whole lot of cultural chest-thumping and a bit of fast food.

    Indeed, that latter moment, the fall of the Wall, was made possible by the events of 1980.  Liberalism was in disarray in the Eighties, much as it was disorganized and weak during the George W. Bush regime recently.  This has to at least in part fall on the shoulders of that accidental hero who fired the shot heard 'round the world on that cold December day in New York.  It's been thirty years, Mark David Chapman, and I say you're a hero.

29 September 2010

The Cycle of Life (MGT323 Paper)

This took me 38 minutes to write from start to finish.  Sometimes I even amaze myself. Chapter 4 of my textbook contained the background about Maslow and the Expectancy Theory.

Tour de Psychobabble Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Chapter 4
    For Lance Armstrong, his surviving testicular cancer and his motivation to win seven consecutive Tours de France can be explained either through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs or through the Expectancy Theory.  I will focus on the former scenario with Maslow, since cancer represents a far greater magic carpet ride up and down the pyramid, while in the latter scenario I will demonstrate that the theory applies very well to Lance Armstrong as well as to sports in particular.
    When Armstrong got cancer, his motives on the Maslow pyramid immediately shifted.  As a general matter, being given a 40% chance of survival (Armstrong 2000) will punt one squarely off of self-actualization, where Lance's cycling career previously had him, and directly back down to the Physiological Needs/Survival stage on Maslow's pyramid.  It has been said that “the dividing line between a live hero and a dead one is a sharp sword...you don't want to end up on the dead guy side of the line.” (UESP 2010), and for Lance the sharp sword was the medical skill of his cancer team.
    After the immediate concern of surviving cancer was out of the way, Lance, still an up-and-comer in the cycling world, had to find both his sense of security and belonging, first by assuring himself that he could still make a living in cycling and then by finding his personal satisfaction in the adulation and cooperation of his teammates.  In the interview we watched in class, Lance said that he felt awkward accepting an individual Athlete of the Year honor when he clearly knew it was his team that made that possible; this is Belonging writ large across the landscape even in a case where one would normally expect Esteem to be the prime motivating factor behind Lance's actions.  Lance got his esteem not from the adoring public but from his fellow cyclists.  Peer motivation clearly works far more effectively for Lance Armstrong.
    However, all in Maslow is not simply climbing pyramids like a tourist in the Mayan ruins of Belize.  Lance still had to ensure the security of his ride with the Postal Service team, and for that he may have resorted to more sinister means.  The Los Angeles Times reported in 2006 that Armstrong almost certainly engaged in blood doping during at least the 1999 Tour, and the French magazine L'Equipe has been pounding that particular drumbeat since Armstrong's win in that very race.  Floyd Landis, after being disqualified when he got caught using synthetic testosterone and stripped of his win in the 2006 Tour, implicated Lance Armstrong and said that he and Lance had used those drugs together when they were teammates during Lance's 1999-2005 Tour de France winning streak (Ford 2006).  Regardless of whether these accusations are ultimately true, their credibility speaks to a very strong motivating factor of security for Lance, in addition to an almost desperate need to keep winning at any cost because the capstone of Maslow's pyramid, self-actualization, demands continued attention...attention that Lance Armstrong would go to any length to achieve.
    As well, Lance clearly missed the adulation and even at a far more advanced age, Armstrong competed in the 2010 Tour, trying to recapture his lost glory.  Sadly, it brought to mind Willie Mays for the '73 Mets or Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform, a sad shell of a once-great man trying to recapture lost glories.  It should be interesting to watch Lance Armstrong try and move forward in his life as he has to redefine his expectations for esteem and self-actualization in light of the changing circumstances.  Lance turned 39 on September 18, 2010.  If indeed life begins at forty, he should be able to find satisfaction in raising his young son and, should he remain clear of any drug allegations being proven, he will have his reputation as an all-time great athlete (Jones 2008) to carry him through.
    The previous page was a psychological overview of a man's life, but the Expectancy theory of motivation works on a far more micro level.  It is all well and good to assert that Lance Armstrong met this or that emotional need, but what got him on that bike every day?  What convinced him that he could win seven consecutive Tours de France, with or without performance-enhancing drugs?  For that, a very simple pattern emerges.
    Lance Armstrong clearly has a very strong internal locus of control, and that is the unstated factor in determining one's expectations regarding one's own effort, performance, and result.  At the higher levels of probability, it is implicit that one have confidence in the results of those efforts.
    Lance Armstrong had a very high effort-to-performance expectancy; indeed, by 2005 it almost seemed like the public, not just Lance himself, had a 1.0 effort-to-performance expectancy for the Tour de France that year.  While it was probably not a perfect 100%, Lance clearly believed in himself and believed that getting on that bike and going full-out would lead to wearing the maillot jaune on the Champs-Elysees for the Epilogue stage.
    Meanwhile, the Performance-to-Outcome expectancy rests in large part on the shoulders of Lance's teammates.  Performance and ability are only two-thirds of the equation; Steve Carlton won 25 games for a 1972 Phillies team that went 57-105, but if his expectation was to win a World Series ring, his environment (playing on a gods-awful baseball team) ensured failure on that front.  Lance Armstrong suffered no such difficulty.  From 1999 to 2005 he was surrounded by the best supporting cast that money could buy and that supporting cast found its own motivation in being able to share the podium with their star when the Tour reached its conclusion.  The great illusion about cycling is that it is an individual sport; it is nothing of the kind.  Lance Armstrong's performance and ability could only carry him so far; it was the environment, made possible by his teammates, that turned a performance-to-outcome expectancy from the near-nil it would have been had Lance's situation been more like Steve Carlton's into the near-certainty with a rating close to 1.0 that gave Armstrong the confidence to say to himself, “get on the bike, ride like hell, and we will win this thing.”
    Seven consecutive victories certainly speak to the mathematical axiom that 1.0 times 1.0 equals 1.0.  There was no variance for seven years.  Lance Armstrong got on his bike, rode the length and breadth of the land of Vercingetorix and Napoleon, and in the process rode into sporting immortality.
    Though once again, the specter of steroids raises its ugly head.  If indeed Lance is telling the truth and confidence alone was enough to motivate him, then why the persistent collection of sources and cites saying otherwise?  Circumstance and hearsay are only good for so much, but not for nothing does the “List of doping allegations against Lance Armstrong” article on Wikipedia contain, as of this writing, forty-one total citations from at least two dozen unique sources.  Question the validity of Wikipedia all you like, but 41 citations?
    This suggests that Lance had a crisis of confidence.  This suggests that his expected probability of success in his own mind was far lower than the evidence indicates.  Perhaps he looked at the cycling landscape, saw the multitude of dirty athletes injecting gods-know-what into their veins, and next thing Lance knew his 1.0 became an 0.3 and had to be rectified by any means necessary.
    If Floyd Landis is to be believed, there was a pervasive culture of performance-enhancer use on that USPS cycling team.  Even if Lance was completely clean, would his 1.0 performance-to-outcome expectancy have been that high if his teammates had been truly clean?  Or would the perception of playing for the '72 Phillies have busted that down to an 0.4 and caused Lance to doubt himself on the racecourse?
    Far be it from me, a mere college student with 1500 words to fill and a penchant for diarrhea of the pen, to impugn a man's motives.  But the duck test applies.  If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's on steroids.  That would sure go a long way toward turning “0.4x0.3=0.12” into “1x1=1” for expectations and results on the valence level.  And it would sure serve to explain Lance Armstrong in an Occam's razor sort of way.
Abrahamson, Alan. “Allegations Trail Armstrong into Another Stage.” Los Angeles Times, July 9, 2006.
Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages, The. “Oblivion: Tun-Zeeus”. http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Oblivion:Tun-Zeeus.  Retrieved September 29, 2010.
Ford, Bonnie D. “Landis Admits Doping, Accuses Lance.” ESPN. http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/cycling/news/story?id=5203604. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
Armstrong, Lance and Jenkins, Sally. It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. New York; Putnam, 2000.
Jones, Chris. “The Things We Forget, Part 3: Lance Armstrong and David Tyree.” ESPN The Magazine. December 3, 2008.

22 September 2010

Social Misadventures V: Can't Fake the Funk.

There's a "networking event" on campus Friday evening.  It's mandatory for students taking Management 321 (Effective Business Writing) because someone got it in their heads that a writing course should come bundled with the college trying to do something about Nevada's 14.3% worst-in-the-nation unemployment besides tell everyone they're special.

This is all well and good except for one problem; I'm about as good at "networking" as Glenn Beck is at not being an asshole.  That is to say, drop me in a social situation with formal rules of procedure and I'm going to seize up like a car engine without any oil in it.  This is a recipe for me cowering in fear, trying my level best to suck it up and doing very poorly at it to the point where I've started having nightmares again, and having a lively internal debate over whether the penalty (loss of half a letter grade in a class in which I'm already doing very poorly, to the point where I may end up with a C or worse by the end of the semester) is worth it.

I haven't been this freaked out over anything in life in years.  I can't even figure out why exactly.  The whole thing's going to be facilitated by the Career Counseling department of the College of Business, nobody in attendance is going to expect me---despite my age, still a third-year college student and regarded as such---to be anything other than horribly green about this whole process, and while I've never worn a suit and tie to an event in my 33 years on this planet, it's not like I can't dress myself like a big boy (even if I look positively ridiculous in a suit and tie, at least in the cognitive dissonance, perception of myself sense) and act like a grownup for a few hours.

But I am FREAKED THE FUCK OUT by this entire thing.  I'm quiet.  Introverted.  Completely out of my depth when dealing with professionals because all I really want out of life is a computer, a basement office, and a stack of financial reports to compile and/or audit; I'm not a mover or a shaker and I'm often the only introverted student in the room in my business classes.

The chairman of the Accounting Department said at boot camp last month, "Business is not for introverts.  You're going to have to get out there and sell yourself if you want to succeed."  Which sounds like something a pimp would say to a whore, but ever since the chairman said that, I've felt an overwhelming sense that I don't belong, that I don't have a chance in hell of ever being successful, that all I will ever be is someone's pawn and that the world is closed off to me due to my failures socially and emotionally.

I probably should've majored in creative writing.  At least people like it when I do that.  There's a "career exploration" event and I'm pretty sure I'll be the only one there who's listed "creative writer" as his first choice of career.  I am still on the record as saying I would leave all of this highfalutin' business stuff behind tomorrow if someone offered me a decent writing job at a decent rate of pay sufficient to pay off my student loans without forcing me to eat cat food and ramen noodles for every meal.

But hey, at least my readers like me just the way I am.

14 September 2010

Memo to the Higher-Ups

(my Effective Business Writing professor makes us submit a hard copy of our first draft along with the finished assignment for no other reason than to penalize getting things right the first time.  This time I decided "fuck it, might as well make the first draft funny."  Enjoy.   Note that "Marty Chernov" was the fictitious person named in the assignment in the textbook.)

To:    Marty Chernov

From:    Fox Doucette

Date:    September 14, 2010

Subject: The Loan Ranger: Getting That $35,000 Funding

In advance of your meeting with John Garrison Boyd IV at Metropolitan Bank tomorrow, I have prepared this list of tips to ensure that your communication impresses the city-slickers and Mr. Drysdale wannabes at the bank so our salvage yard can secure the funding it needs to break more junk into smaller junk more efficiently.

Stand tall and give a firm handshake to Mr. Boyd when you meet him.  Your posture will project our company as a strong player in the salvage industry and show yourself as worthy of Mr. Boyd's trust.  Smile; the James Gammon impression you call a management style may work with the guys in the yard (especially at the company softball game; we love the Major League act) but it may not go so well in a professional setting.

Speak like you want to be heard.  Now is not the time to let your voice waver; speak as if the loan's acceptance is a matter of mere formality and if necessary, use that booming baritone of yours to good effect.

It probably goes without saying that you should show up on time, but since you haven't been in the office before 11:00 since Ronald Reagan was still President, I suppose anything is possible.  You don't need a management consultant; you need to dig your dead mother out of the ground and get the old shrew to teach you your manners afresh.

Might want to pop a Valium while you're at it; you twitch like a Tourette's sufferer on meth when you forget to take your medication and quite frankly the boys out in the yard are amazed you've never gone Redd Foxx on us and had a heart attack while moaning for that wife you sent to an early grave---long may Mrs. Chernov rest in peace, the poor dear.

Wear your best suit.  No, not that cheap suit you got at Don's Draperies for a buck fifty back in 1978.  I mean a real suit.  I'll send my girlfriend to bring you to Men's Wearhouse, but after she gets that job done you owe me about five cases of beer to get me through all the nights she'll make me sleep on the couch.

In closing, Marty, you may be a drunken lout with the business sense of a chimpanzee, but you're OUR damn dirty ape and we love you.  Now get out there and get us that loan.

08 September 2010

Pseudoscience! Bullshit! It must be MANAGEMENT!

This was written for Management 323 (Organizational Behavior) after we were instructed to take a Myers-Briggs-style personality assessment and get "one friend or family member and one business associate" to report on the findings.  You can guess how I felt about this.

Your Horoscope For Today: Personality Type Report

    P.T. Barnum once said “There's a sucker born every minute.”  I can think of no greater aphorism that applies to getting a room full of idealistic business majors to shell out $15 a head for a gigantic exercise in the Forer effect writ large across the landscape.  David Keirsey's exercise in pseudoscience has become a splendid means by which insecure people can delude themselves into believing they are special and engage in the peculiarly American tradition of dividing ourselves into categories when there is nobody around to do it for us.

    First, a discussion of the Forer effect.  You can read the original paper at http://www.scribd.com/doc/17378132/The-Fallacy-of-Personal-Validation-a-Classroom-Demonstration-of-Gullibility, but I will quote from Wikipedia purely to simplify: “The Forer effect (also called the Barnum Effect after P.T. Barnum's observation that "we've got something for everyone") is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.”  I thought of this instantly when reading the descriptions of the four personality types.

    But enough editorializing; we will come back to this later.  A job worth doing is a job worth pawning off on one's friends, so I asked Nora Sawyer, who has known me since we were five and in kindergarten together in 1982, and Marcella Caldwell-Gadson, an Indiana-based attorney whose professional relationship with me primarily consists of questioning my sanity at having decided to major in business; her stake in my life extends in large part to encouraging my creative writing so that she may act as my literary agent.  I asked them the questions in the assignment sheet.  I also put the question to my 157 followers on Facebook; their comments will be interspersed in the text as I go.

    My Keirsey temperament was the Crafter variant of the Artisan personality type.  Indeed, though I may appear gregarious and outgoing on the surface, I am anything but; my reserved, quiet style and complete distaste for human interaction beyond small groups and one-on-one relationships netted me a diagnosis of atypical autism from a psychologist when I was eighteen.  Nine points for introversion vs. extraversion surprised and slightly disappointed me; living in a trash can with a green Muppet (according to some of my ex-girlfriends) should have netted me a ten.  I am a get-down-to-business sort with a strong BS detector; I've no patience for feelings when there is thinking to be done and scored a 10 out of 10 on the Thinking side of the Thinking/Feeling spectrum.  I was surprised by the Sensing score; every Myers-Briggs-type assessment I have ever taken to this point has been “INTx” but the Keirsey sorter gave me eight points for S.  Judging/Perceiving was a 6:4 split and indeed has been the most variable type indicator in the history of these sorts of tests.

    Said Marcella: “I think you are probably reserved in situations where you do not know people or feel uncomfortable. Although you appear to be an extrovert most of the time, I think you are an introvert because you"...are more concerned with the inner world of the mind... You enjoy thinking, exploring your thoughts and feelings..." and that "... being around people drains...your energy.”  Nora, for her part, had similar commentary on my introversion, saying “Like me, you were one of those rare introverts who always dominated discussions in and out of class, and had trouble keeping ideas and opinions to yourself.”  I have no tolerance for what I perceive to be stupid, grossly inaccurate ideas, so of course I'm going to be a loudmouth in that academic discipline most greatly enamored with what I have publicly referred to as “rah-rah BS.”

    Said Nora on the subject of the Crafter type, “'Humorously insightful,' sure. 'Closet daredevil?' See years 1993 through current. I definitely would agree with the assessment that you 'may sometimes act without regard for procedures, directions, protocol, or even [your] own safety. I'd also agree that you 'enjoy self-sufficiency' and that you 'take pride in developing [your] own solutions to problems.'”  Marcella's comments, influenced as they have been by my literary efforts, said “I think that you feel that education is solely for achieving an economic safety net and that learning for the sake of learning is a waste of time which is sort of in conflict with your ability to speak and write extensively on a number of topics unrelated to accounting.”

    That conflict is one of the strongest conflicts at the core of my personality, and Marcella truly nailed it down.  I have said tongue-in-cheek that “if someone offered me a staff writer job at a decent pay rate tomorrow, I'd be out of here faster than you could say Jack Robinson.”  It is not so much that I purely believe education to be a means to an end, only that the harsh reality of student loans being unable to magically pay themselves off influences my behavior as a rational actor in the US economy.  My vocation will be accounting; my passion is creative writing.  If I could make the latter practical I would have no need of the former.

    But there's that word again; practical.  It is a word usually reserved for the “Rational” sorter type.  Meanwhile, two of my Facebook commenters said “The P should be a J”, which would place me in the Guardian type.  The only type I manage to completely avoid on all the judges' scorecards was the NF (Idealist) type which, while it draws me like a moth to a flame when I see it in others, has no correlation whatsoever to my personality except perhaps when I am working with my fellow writers and creative types who pull that sort of behavior out of me and insist that they like me better that way while also being exactly the sorts of people who would detest getting pigeonholed into neat little categories with more meaningless letter combinations than a list of boxing champions.

    With the test itself, even somebody who has known me for 28 years was unable to predict the result; before the interview, when I said I was taking a Myers-Briggs test, Nora said “I bet $5 it ends in TJ.  Maybe FJ.”  Even with her bet hedged she was still wrong (and I scored no points in the F dimension.)  Said my friend Phoebe, who has known me for about half a year, “INTJ is my guess.”  Two out of four.  Fifty percent.  F-minus-minus, thanks for playing, try again.

    Which brings me back to this being pseudoscience.  If indeed there were any validity to this sort of testing, you would think that someone who has known me longer than since last week would be able to successfully guess my personality type based on my behavior and history.  Yet this was not the case.  Indeed, my Facebook commenters were unanimous in their opinion that the test missed the mark at least in part.  This has dangerous, unfortunate implications further down the line as well.

    See, it is no longer acceptable for businesses to classify people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, or any of the other protected statuses under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Lacking this ability to discriminate against people the old-fashioned way, businesses have had to come up with new ways to pigeonhole people they don't like.  Personality tests, with the veneer of scientism (rather than science) behind them, make an ideal means of marginalizing certain elements of society to the point where they can be properly exploited.

    Show me a manager and I'll show you an idiot with too much power.  Show a manager an intelligent, insightful, creative, clever employee and, rather than see that employee as valuable, the manager will see him as a threat.  Especially if someone is introverted, this establishes a pattern in business.  Introverted is “the new black”, to steal and repurpose a popular term from fashion and give it a racial context.

    At Accounting 401 “boot camp” here at UNR last month, Dr. Richard Mason, chair of the Accounting department, said “accounting is not for introverts like you may be thinking; you will need strong networking skills to succeed.”  Similar sentiments are frequently echoed throughout the business department.  One person in four in America is introverted by nature; are we simply to sit back and forever discard our hopes and dreams because a bunch of damned extroverts run the world?  Are we little more than servants or playthings?  Or are we men and women with hopes, dreams, and rights and responsibilities of our own, dedicated, passionate, loving, caring, wonderful people in our own right?

    I don't know that the question can be resolved.  I do, however, know that nothing pleases an extrovert more than being told she is special, and nothing serves such a useful purpose to that end as these glorified horoscopes dressed up in science's clothes like a child putting on his father's business suit and pretending to be a grown-up.  The Forer effect is in full force here; indeed, P.T. Barnum would look at the setup the Keirsey Institute has going and think “now that's how you bring 'em in and soak 'em.”  Barnum himself would not have had the cheek to pull such an audacious stunt.

    What's more, Sir Francis Galton believed he was doing humanity a favor when he brought out the idea of eugenics as a means to get “desirable” people to mate and produce offspring.  People with undesirable traits were, in some jurisdictions, sterilized forcibly to prevent them passing on their “feeble” genes, and this was taken to its logical conclusion in the 1940s.  As the rich-poor divide grows and our society becomes more and more socially competitive and descends into economic infighting over increasingly scarce resources, who is to say that a permanent underclass will not be formed out of those who find social contact exhausting and unpleasant, especially with damn fool extroverts?  Indeed, I am filled with despair at my own career prospects because it is not in my nature to “play the game” and no matter how formidable my talents, those avenues will always be closed to me.

    In conclusion, I found this entire exercise strangely demeaning, dehumanizing, and irritating.  It truly filled me with anger and consternation at the nature of business and made me question the wisdom of my choice of major and likely future career while simultaneously thinking “now what?”  But the worst part?  It struck me as little more than the fortune teller's art of painting with a broad brush and letting the psyche of the reader filter out the inaccuracies.  I'll let Nora have the last word (which is more than I could say when we debated constantly in high school US History class): “But you, Mr. Doucette, are as much a cypher as you ever were. I don't think any one personality “type” could sum you up completely.”

30 August 2010

CPA By 40 Returns From Summer Hiatus!

First assignment for Management 321 (Effective Business Writing): Write a memo introducing myself, my goals, and my interests.  Of course, I wouldn't be sharing if I didn't think this was inherently interesting, but in the future somehow I doubt I'll be mining much in the way of entertainment value for you the reader out of a course that bastardizes the writing process and distills it into something so boring and banal that it's no wonder business folks end up high on cocaine.  Without further ado:

To:        My Management Professor

From:         Dennis L. “Fox” Doucette

Date:        August 31, 2010

Subject:    Who Is That Guy with the Stuffed Animal in the Corner?

You wanted to know about your students.  Under normal circumstances this is easy; simply go on at length about how much I love writing and media production and poof!  Instant impression made.

However, I suspect this is not quite so simple when living in this strange milieu we call the business department.  My goals here are purely utilitarian in nature.  I have no higher aspirations toward management or C-level executive positions; indeed, the very thought of such a sale of my soul chills me to the bone.

So why would I major in business?  Why not major in fine arts or journalism or underwater basket weaving?  The answer comes in a quote from Sir Laurence Olivier, explaining his role in the film Inchon:

“People ask me why I'm playing in this picture. The answer is simple: Money, dear boy. I'm like a vintage wine. You have to drink me quickly before I turn sour. I'm almost used up now and I can feel the end coming. That's why I'm taking money now. I've got nothing to leave my family but the money I can make from films. Nothing is beneath me if it pays well. I've earned the right to damn well grab whatever I can in the time I've got left.”

OK, so perhaps I am neither approaching the end of my life nor meritorious enough to claim that I have earned the right to do anything other than get in line and snag a paycheck like any other working stiff.  But the essence of the quote remains in its honesty; I am majoring in business to snag a few bucks out of the system so I can turn around and exercise the economic freedom to do what truly makes me happy in life.

I am a freelance creative writer first and foremost.  If financing that passion means taking a job in an accounting office and chasing the brass ring for a decade or two then so be it.  If I may be excused another reliance upon quotation, William F. Buckley summed up my thoughts far better than I could:

“Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.”

With that in mind, I have majored in business.  This has brought me into MGT321.  It behooves me as a student and as a proud, religiously pious man to attest to myself and to my gods that I gave the matter my best effort.  If all else fails, at least people can laugh at my failures and draw a sort of Andy Kauffman-esque schadenfreude from the entire enterprise.

01 July 2010

If Financiers Taught Second Grade

I often hear bandied about the "fact" that there are $600-700 trillion dollars in derivative contracts that are supposedly going to make the whole economy go boom and have us all selling pencils to each other for a nickel apiece like the stories my grandfather told me about the Great Depression (q.v. last month's history paper.)  What's interesting is how they arrive at this figure; whenever an asset is packaged into a derivative, it is booked at its full value each time it is divided.  One begins to see where this can be a problem.

Consider an asset worth $1 million (a mortgage on a San Francisco house, let's say.)  Now for a rather extreme example, we're going to chop it into a million pieces and package it into as many derivative contracts.  What's the book value of the asset in total?

If you guessed "$1 on each contract for a total of a million bucks", you're good at math and bad at investment banking.  The correct answer is $1 trillion.  The original million dollars times a million contracts into which it has been stuffed.  Now here's the fun part.  Do this enough times with enough assets and you quickly begin to see where $14 trillion (the US gross domestic product) or even better, $60 trillion (the GDP of the entire world) can be inflated into $700 trillion and used by journalists to scare the holy hell out of people.  You also begin to see where it is not possible to have real assets valued at $700 trillion to the point where they can somehow crash and require the world to boil stones for soup for half a century to get even.

This in turn provides an interesting thought experiment.  If in fact this is the "new math", then how do we teach our children to be prepared for careers in the seven-figure-salary world of finance?  We want them to be successful, right?  So here's how I propose we rewrite second-grade math textbooks to prepare American schoolchildren to be successful in the new global market.  I'll provide the first problem for our hypothetical seven-year-old's homework assignment.

"Johnny has six apples.  His teacher told him that he has to share them equally between all of his friends.  Kamryn, Kaylynn, DaMarcus, Madysyn, and Emyly all want an apple.  How many apples must Johnny give to each of his friends and still have a share for himself?"

Wrong answer: One apple.
Correct answer:  1,296 apples.  See, Johnny went to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and created six derivatives, each with an apple from his original stash.  The book value of the original asset on each derivative was six apples and there were six derivatives (6x6=36).  Then those derivatives were themselves packaged into equal-sized chunks in secondary-market derivatives trading in New York, and since Johnny was able to find 36 buyers less amount paid to lobbyists so the government would be snowed into thinking this was kosher, he got 36:1 leverage, which is still a safer deal than anything Lehman Brothers had on the market before September 15, 2008.  And since the five oddly-named children listed above can't possibly eat that many apples, there's no reason for Johnny to try and cash out those derivatives; after all, the apple market can't possibly go down, can it?

And this, friends, is why you should never, EVER trust a business major.  Myself included.

29 June 2010

On Motivation

I have a final exam in Math 176 (Applied Calculus) tomorrow morning.  Almost exactly eleven hours from now, in fact.  If I get at least an 84 on it, I go a perfect 15-for-15 in getting A's in my classes at TMCC---a perfect score to carry forward to Nevada-Reno this fall for the start of my junior year.  I've been thinking a lot about what's been motivating and driving me recently, and it's a dish best served cold.

See, when I decided to go back to college to start the steps needed to ultimately become a CPA by 40, I went in quite humble thinking that all I cared about was making a good show of it so that I could achieve a goal of being a wealthy-yet-balanced family man, wife and kids, whole nine yards like that.  Really, anything much higher than a B+ average would've been great (really; go back and read the entries from last June.)

But that's not good enough for me now.  For starters, even though I've got a new girlfriend I'm still not 100% sure on the whole family-man thing...I've been with her for all of a month so it's way too early to start making those sorts of plans.  Furthermore, I've discovered a dark side of my personality I thought had gone into a sort of permanent remission about six or seven years ago, the part of me that's like a cross between Colonel Kilgore and Ivan Drago.  It's my sociopathic, ultra-dominant, Complete Monster side...and it serves amazingly well at keeping me motivated.

When I went to the student loan workshop at TMCC in March of '09 to apply for financial aid, and when I decided to commit myself to what will likely be in total about $40,000 for college (not counting grad school/professional degree studies), my then-wife reacted with a combination of veiled contempt and open doubt.  "What happens when you're sitting on all that debt and can't get a job?" she asked.  Implicit in this was a certain "I don't believe in you...just try not to fuck up any more than you already have" mentality---and people wonder why I'm glad to be rid of her and think she did me a favor by asking for a divorce!

When I was growing up, I lost count of the number of "you've got the talent but not the ambition or drive" or worse, "you've got the talent but you're perfectly content to waste it" backhanded compliments I got from about fifth grade onward.  There was even an occasional "you're all talk and will never amount to anything" from the more cruel folks in high school and my first attempt at college.  Certainly no way to take a fresh-faced kid and make him think he's worth a damn.

I've filed all those criticisms away.  And since returning to college last May and putting up a perfect 4.0 GPA, every time I get a test or a paper back with an A on it, my biggest thought is "Fuck. You."  I want to destroy people.  I want to break them down and use my skill and talent and natural disregard for both social norms and authority to completely ruin their shit.  I've switched from a sole focus in accounting to a dual major in accounting and finance---taking a look at investment banking as a possible career, and I intend no more scruples in my application of myself to the task than the Goldman Sachs executives of the subprime bubble and "shitty deal" days brought to theirs.

I'm tired of being the good guy.  I suck at it.  I might be able to pull it off if I meet the right girl, have a few kids of my own, and turn into the "snake by day, sweetheart by night" kind of guy, but right now it's the furthest thing from my mind.  I just want to kick the shit out of people.  I think dominating them like an Abu Ghraib prison guard would be a fucking blast.  And fuck you to anyone who has a problem with that.  I'll stomp you too.

23 June 2010

What a difference a year makes.

So just for kicks I read my previous 93 scribblings calling themselves blog entries since May 27 of last year when I started this damn fool thing.  What jumps out at me is just how much of my evolution, from "devoted husband" to "lost soul in desperate need of validation" to my current status that doesn't fit neatly into quotation marks, comes through in every word.  What also jumps out at me is how far off I've drifted socially for want of a stabilizing influence in my life, and therein lies a quite unusual state of mind.

I find myself simultaneously delighted by my freedom and quite annoyed that I don't have nearly enough socialization in my life to keep that thin thread that connects me to the rest of the world from fraying.  The most dangerous thing I can possibly do is to withdraw into myself, yet here I am.  Slightly stir crazy, no small bit crazy of the regular kind, keeping the world at a distance.  The place is a mess for want of a woman's touch (my mother would take one look at this place and think I haven't changed a bit since I was sixteen.)  I've had maybe two other people in this apartment total since six months ago---indeed, today marks six months to the day since my ex-wife moved out.

And yet this is by design.  When I sat here last year considering the future direction of my life, I'd figured on following the wife to a city of her choosing where she could be happy, I could be employed, and we could set about raising that family we'd always talked about.  My goals were completely subverted to the idea of domestic happiness on someone else's terms...and to say that is way out of character for someone like me is to state the bleeding obvious.

These days I have a general rule of thumb; any commitment that requires me to be anywhere other than my hometown where I belong to celebrate my thirty-fifth birthday in two years is a commitment I refuse to make.  I'm short-timing it around here.  Got a long-distance relationship with a girl from back home, got almost half of my Facebook comprised of people who knew me when I was the awkward 16-year-old with the messy room that my mother would recognize today, and I'm counting down the days even as there are nearly seven hundred of them remaining between now and the realization of my goals.

Everybody knows that we grow and change as we get older.  But reading through a year's worth of posts, an average of one every four days (although heavens know that average has been pulled upward by my laziness as I've traded thoughtful, newspaper-column-length ruminations for snappy Facebook posts, which saddens me even as I continue to cultivate my audience there), and seeing just how much I really have changed?  I suppose the most amazing thing about all of the above is just how far past it I've been able to move.  I still feel an intense yearning for the stability, stress relief, and emotional validation that comes as the product dispensed in exchange for sacrificing one's freedom to the company of another.  But I'm no longer looking for it here, rather I'm preparing the ground and planting the seeds to find it at my pace, on my terms, and in a location of my choosing.

It may be a pretty lame excuse for a treasure hunt if you buried the treasure and know exactly where it is, but by the time I get back to it, it will have been ten years.  I think that's enough to maintain a modicum of optimism.  But for now?  Sleep, soccer, and mathematics.  I've got work to do to get where I want to be.

02 June 2010

Long-Forgotten Memories of Our Fallen Glory: America 1845-1989

Written for my Core Humanities class as the spring final.  Reading it over again, I love this irreverent writing format when I use it.  So enjoy.

Question 1: On the Mexican-American War and great Americans therein.
On April 25, 1846, the Mexican army slaughtered 70 innocent, defenseless Americans along the border. This wasn't over drugs or work visas like an attack of that nature would be in 2010. This was over Texas. Ten years previous Texas had earned its independence and in 1845 it got annexed by the United States. To Mexico this was a slap in the face.
President James K. Polk reacted to Mexicans on American soil about as nicely as Arizona governor Jan Brewer; he wanted them out. Unlike Brewer, however, Polk managed to convince Congress that a good ol' fashioned military throwdown was in order, so on May 11, the United States declared war on Mexico.
Thanks to generals like Zachary Taylor, who would succeed Polk as President when the latter decided not to run for re-election in 1848, and John C. Fremont, a frontiersman of the highest order who knew the terrain and his enemy like the back of his hand, what started as a war turned into us kicking the holy burritos out of the Mexicans. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, gave the United States all of present-day California, Nevada, Utah most of Arizona except for the Gadsden Purchase which is mostly significant for having a chunk of Interstate 8 running through it today, and parts of Colorado and New Mexico west of the Continental Divide.
So there's your three dates and three people, but what of the war itself? Said John O'Sullivan in the Democratic Review, “it must be our manifest destiny to overspread the continent alloted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” Indeed, popular incitement for the idea that quite possibly all of the New World, or at least that part of it that we could get our army onto, ought to be an American fiefdom animated popular support for the war.
Then again, there was another consequence of the war. In much the same way as the Spaniards spent 781 years from the Moorish invasion in 711 to the unification of Castile and Aragon in 1492 on a Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula from its Muslim invaders, the Mexicans have launched a bit of a Reconquista of their own in recent decades, swarming over the border, overrunning American settlements in the hitherto primarily white-occupied areas of the American Southwest, and trying to do for “possession is nine-tenths of the law” what Genghis Khan did for Russia.
Which brings me back to Arizona. In much the same way as 9/11 would bring up the issue of “is racial profiling acceptable when you are under attack?”, people in the Grand Canyon State struggle with that same question. It is perhaps only a matter of time before someone brings up the point that had the Moors engaged in conciliatory respect for civil rights rather than fighting off their Spanish would-be usurpers, Spain might have been reconquered in the eighth century rather than the fifteenth. Too bad nobody in the Tea Party can read.
Question 3: Why did the good guys win the American Civil War?
(oh come on, you knew something like that was coming. Moving on...)
The Germans have a saying about total war: “Der Krieg ernährt den Krieg”, which is a translation of Cato the Elder's Latin pronouncement that “Bellum se ipsum alet”, or “war feeds itself.” Such an attitude was on display in the American Civil War, when the industrial might of the North and a willingness to completely destroy the enemy's capacity to feed and clothe its troops and people and carry on the conduct of a war of attrition led to the North emerging victorious.
To understand why, one must consider Ricardo's Law of Comparative Advantage from economics. In short, a society benefits from specialization and free trade far more than it does from trying to produce everything itself, because industrial efficiency dictates that where labor, materiel, and expertise are concentrated where they can do the most local good, the greatest output can be achieved.
All of this is all well and good, but in America it led to a national attitude that the factories, craftsmen, and capitalists would inhabit the cities of the North while the raw materials were grown on plantations staffed by slave labor in the South. It was a good arrangement for a fair length of time, but eventually even the Northern states came to find themselves rich in the very resource that was most essential for the conduct of nineteenth-century warfare: Iron. Iron mines in what is today known as the Rust Belt ensured a steady supply of steel out of the city of Pittsburgh, augmented by the invention of the Bessemer process by Henry Bessemer in 1859. With pig iron and Pittsburgh steel and armaments manufactured throughout the loyal states, the North quite simply had more and better guns than the South.
This war of attrition was made possible as well by the fact that even though the South had, in theory, plenty of cotton to make clothing and bandages, they lacked the industrial capacity to turn that cotton into actual cloth. Meanwhile, by virtue of the Union navy being king of the sea, the North was able to import cotton and produce plenty of cloth of its own. Once again the concept of total war was on display; one cannot stress enough just how decisive that industrial might was to the conduct of the war.
As if that weren't enough, even superior military generalship wasn't enough for the South. Sure, they had Robert E. Lee and Joseph Johnston while President Lincoln had to content himself with trying to convince General George McClellan that perhaps a bit of actual fighting might be in order if indeed war is to be won. But on July 4, 1863, not only did Lee commit what may have been his greatest blunder by suicidally charging Pickett's battalion against a fortified Union position, but down in the Deep South, Ulysses S. Grant gave Johnny Reb fifty bucks' worth of hell in Vicksburg, effectively cutting the Confederacy in half at the Mississippi River and ensuring that the supply line between the western and eastern halves would never again be effective.
Meanwhile, one William Tecumseh Sherman stamped his name on the annals of history by doing to the Southern plantations what Romans did to Carthage after the Third Punic War. Union troops advanced in a swath like a Biblical plague of locusts, living off the land while there and burning it before departure to ensure that the men in gray would gain no value from that land for the remainder of the war. For his trouble, he got a tank named after him eighty years later and his name still strikes anger and vengeance into the heart of any good Southerner even today.
In short, the combination of industrial might, economic power, and one audacious and destructive fellow from Lancaster, Ohio combined to ensure that America would remain one nation, at least for the time being.
Question 7: On the World Wars and that damned industrial might thing again.
There is an exchange on an episode of The Simpsons (“Treehouse of Horror”, episode 18.04) in which the nature of the world wars is brought into perfect focus during a scene set in the Great Depression:
Abe Simpson: I didn't think it would come to this when I fought in the First World War.
Lenny: "First World War"? Why do you keep calling it that?
Abe: Oh, you'll see!
Indeed, it seems that humanity's capacity for destroying itself was on full display between 1914 and 1945. Unrestricted submarine warfare brought us into the First World War; Japanese bombers at Pearl Harbor brought us into the Second. And in each case the industrial might of the United States swung the balance in favor of the Allied side.
The First World War is a bit of a forgotten war. While the History Channel and video game developers fall all over themselves to re-create the Second World War and the Nazis make a convenient stand-in for “the bad guys” in fiction even today, the Great War was far too much of a meat grinder with too many moral gray areas to be of much use to a society dumbed down to the intellectual level of a comic book. Innovations in the Great War were primarily a matter of making more grunts die more gruesomely. Between the perfection of the machine gun, the first aerial warfare with the invention of the Lewis gun, chlorine and phosgene gas shells to ensure that a trench wasn't just dirty but poisonous, gas masks to ensure that the men stuck around in those trenches regardless, and finally a little honey of a tank called the Renault FT-17, there were plenty of inventions to go around.
Meanwhile, World War II had innovations of its own. Blitzkrieg tactics, M4A1 Sherman tanks, Zeroes, Messerschmitt BF-109s, air raids, practical flamethrowers, and a couple of big radioactive explosions headlined the roster of advances in the means of making men good and dead. Let us also consider the invention of the industrial-strength gas chamber by the Nazis...if only for a moment, and the subsequent invention of the Zionist tactic of using the Holocaust as a catchall for whining every time someone suggests that perhaps the actions of Israel are not quite kosher.
World War I was all about America protecting its merchant shipping. We hear the phrase “no blood for oil” used by protestors of modern wars in the Middle East. Had Wilson not maintained a virtual police state in 1917, one might have heard “no blood for capitalist fat cats”, since the bulk of the profits were going to that small upper class in the form of passenger fares and cargo fees, at least when the passengers and cargo didn't encounter German U-boats en route.
World War II, on the other hand, was all about “they attacked us, let's go kick their asses.” Strong isolationist sentiment prevented the Roosevelt administration from throwing in its lot with the Allies, but when Pearl Harbor got hit, that was enough to awaken the sleeping giant. We were mad as hell and ready to kick the sushi out of the Japanese. If a few Nazis got turned into sauerkraut along the way, more's the better. World War I was nebulous; World War II was personal.
On the other side of the coin, the Germans and Japanese would probably have been a bit less belligerent if not for the fact that one cannot conduct a modern industrial economy, much less a war, without oil, and there is no oil under either of those two countries. They had to go looking for it elsewhere, and as a general matter when someone else's army shows up in your country looking for your stuff, the logical response is to shoot every damned one of them. Indeed, the main strategic thrusts of the war in both theaters involved the question of who was going to control the vital supplies of oil at places like Baku, the Dutch East Indies, and north Africa. The mere fact that the good guys had the oil and the bad guys didn't is the single simplest explanation for how the war ultimately turned out. Well, that and the gigantic radioactive booms in Hiroshima and Nagasaki...
Question 8: On the Roaring Twenties, or “Screw the law, I need a drink!”
Short version to answer your questions: The Twenties ended when the Thirties began, FDR was a Commie, and Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Next question.
OK, OK, I've been trying that crap for two semesters and ten papers now and it hasn't worked yet. The Roaring Twenties, as the name implies, were a rollicking, devil-may-care economic boom the likes of which the world had never seen before. All those dead meatbags from World War One meant lots of unused manufacturing capacity, and lots of unused capacity tends to follow the rule of “nature abhors a vacuum”. Those who were left were press-ganged into service to the new consumer economy---at least the first-draft version of it.
Meanwhile, Prohibition was intended to ensure that nobody could go out and have themselves some Miller Time after work, but fat lot of good that did; speakeasies, organized crime, and the sort of source material for gangster films marked the cultural zeitgeist of the era. Women wore “flapper” skirts that were barely a step removed from them being naked from the waist down, morals were loose and the rule of law looser, and the whole time was glorious in a way that led people to think that the good times would go on forever.
Well, October 1929 happened. The stock market, drunk at the wheel from violating Prohibition, crashed. Unemployment shot up to 100%, children had to walk nine miles to school uphill both ways in the snow while selling pencils at a nickel apiece except nobody had a nickel because everyone was unemployed, parents beat their kids with belts every night and the kids liked it, and nobody was in color because color wasn't invented until it was a secret project during the war. I know all this because my grandfather told me so, repeatedly, when I was a kid in the 1980s. To mark this section of the paper down for factual inaccuracy is to risk the old dog, who is still alive at age 89, coming to your house, a fate that still scares the bajeezus out of me thirty years later!
Meanwhile in the White House, President Hoover decided that he was going to take a very historical inspiration from all of these events and do something worthy of the glories of Ancient Rome. That is to say, he fiddled while Rome burned. Unfortunately for the country, Hoover's Roman hero was Emperor Nero. This didn't go over well with the electorate, so in March of 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office and immediately set about Doing Something™ about the economy. If the private sector wasn't going to provide jobs, then by the gods, the government would do it for them.
“Communism!” came the cry from the wealthy. “Screw you, rich fat cats!” came the cry from a grateful public, no longer forced to boil their shoes for soup. The Works Progress Administration, Tennessee Valley Authority, Hoover Dam, and various other government programs that would today be called an “economic stimulus” and draw similar opposition from Republicans made sure that America got back to work...and built up our industrial might to a point where it was quite conveniently ready to kick some Nazi ass a decade later.
Meanwhile, those alphabet soup organizations couldn't employ everyone. There was still the elderly, the disabled, and those out of work through no fault of their own to consider. Enter Social Security and unemployment insurance, which to this day ensure that even a recession as nasty as the one the rest of the country just got out of (even if Nevada is still mired in it with no end in sight) will not lead to the sorts of things that will be nightmare fuel for our own grandchildren fifty years hence. Say what you will about interventionism, but the prospect of living in Hoover's America? I'll leave that to grandpa's memories.
Question 9: The Domino Effect, or “What does lousy pizza have to do with Communism anyway?”
In the aftermath of World War II, the formerly friendly US and USSR went from being allies to being mortal enemies. The Russians wanted to spread Communism around the world and rule from Moscow. The Americans wanted to sell consumer goods to everyone and their dog, and having everyone and their dog go Communist isn't very good for business. Our foreign policy was codified in the Truman Doctrine of “containment”; we would not engage in provocative wars of aggression to wipe out entrenched Commie positions but we would fight tooth and nail to prevent the problem from getting any bigger.
The first test of this particular belief came in Korea; never before has a stalemate been so decisive a victory. Merely by chasing the North Koreans back across the 39th parallel, the Truman Doctrine passed its first test. Unfortunately for us, victories would not come so easily in the coming years. “Never fight a land war in Asia” was about to be brutally proven.
The French, being the French, have a remarkable capacity for losing wars and getting the brie and Bordeaux kicked out of them. 1954 at Dien Bien Phu (gesundheit!) was another stellar example of this Gallic penchant for getting pounded like cheap veal. Having chased out the French, the Vietnamese immediately proceeded to start squabbling, bickering, and pitting Ngo Dinh Diem against Ho Chi Minh in a battle for which item off a Chinese restaurant menu would rule what had been French Indochina.
Trouble was, Ho was a Communist. America couldn't allow that, so we cooked up an “incident” in the Gulf of Tonkin, passed a resolution saying “and we shall fight a war that will make for really good war movies in fifteen or twenty years”, and went off to give the world some plot spoilers for Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. The Domino Effect was cited, which basically said that bastions of capitalism are like Christmas lights; if one goes out, they all go out. Never mind that we lost the war in Vietnam and I'm pretty sure the Soviet Union didn't end up ruling the world; I was around from 1977 onward and I think someone would've told me to stop playing baseball and eating apple pie with Mom and start reciting Communist Party propaganda slogans or something. So what Vietnam amounted to was basically a bunch of pointless death and carnage, a ready-made stab in the back myth for American right-wingers thanks to the hippie movement that's coming in handy during our latest military adventures, and the aforementioned war movies.
We also got a bunch of shell-shocked soldiers who seem to have been trained in the arts of guerrilla begging and asymmetrical chemical warfare with the way they smell. I don't think even the most ardent warmonger wants to turn their son into a fiftysomething post traumatic stress disorder sufferer holding up a cardboard sign near a Wal-Mart that says “homeless veteran please help”. So if we got anything positive from Vietnam, at least we got rid of the draft.
Meanwhile, the Cold War was not won by the Truman Doctrine and police action. It was won by an ice hockey team, blue jeans, and Ronald Reagan. At least I'm going to tell my own grandchildren that. If there is a bright side to old age, at least your childhood becomes de facto folk history. But Vietnam? A lot of pointless killing for no strategic gain leading to America falling in disgrace in war for the first time in its history. Yeah. Nice job breaking it, President Johnson.

29 May 2010

OK, I'm just going to think out loud and freely for a minute. You mind?

I can't even fucking believe myself anymore.  It's like my mind wants to fuck everything up just so I can feel more comfortable in the role of the underdog, and truly it makes me sick to my fucking stomach to even contemplate just how much I've become my own worst enemy.

And I know exactly why.  You've heard the bullshit about the kid whose mommy didn't love him enough and who didn't raise him right and who abused him and waaaaaaa shut the fuck up, kid, you don't know how good you've got it.

Well, fuck that.  Most guys can't say their mom trumped up a complete lie about "he threatened to kill me", sprung that shit on him when he wasn't prepared to respond right in a fucking psychiatrist's office, and COMMITTED HIM TO A FUCKING MENTAL INSTITUTION JUST TO GET RID OF HIM.  So yeah, I've got some fucking trust issues.  What's it to you?

I watched Good Will Hunting again earlier today.  Over the past 12 years I've lost count of the number of times I've been compared to the title character and the number of people who have made the comparison.  You'd think I could whip out my driver's license and it'd say Matt Fucking Damon right on the goddamn front of it.  Like I'm his fucking clone or something.  But you know what?  Might as well be the truth.  A brilliant mind constantly standing in its own way for fear of what might happen if its owner let it go and really achieve its best. I went almost a decade telling myself that I'd embrace a little mediocrity if it meant being around people who just accepted me.

Well, you know what?  That wasn't good enough in the movie and it sure as fuck ain't good enough in my life.  And every fucking day that I wake up in this apartment, in this city, in this place that's as far away from the life I could've had if I'd only had the fucking balls and if my fucking bitch mother hadn't abused the living shit out of me and insisted that every fucking thing was my fault...you know, go ahead and get Robin Williams in here.  I'll cry in his arms and we'll both win Oscars.  You'll love it.  Won't be able to put the fucking popcorn down for the entire scene.

See, my greatest gift is my greatest curse.  I suck at chess because chess is too linear.  It's not creative enough.  They say it's all about looking several moves ahead and that's bullshit.  It's picking one from column A and one from column B and matching together "strategies" named after Russian guys.  There ain't an ounce of strategy in it.  When you've got the kind of mind and the kind of intellect that can not only see the board several dozen moves ahead but can also produce a multi-layered plan of attack so multifaceted that you could get busted down to Plan Z and still be in total control with a multitude of backups and fallback plans, well, chess hardly fucking describes it.

And it's that gift that gets me in trouble.  Because nobody else fucking gets it.  I'm out on an island here.  No matter how much thought I put into it, I always know that any of my interactions with other people will result in me getting frustrated and shutting yet another someone out of my life, either actively or passively, because let's face it, it was my passive lack of acceptance of a good fuckin' thing that is pretty much at the root of every time I've gotten my heart broken.  And that's a lot of times.

Said Will, in one scene: "You know how fuckin' easy this is to me? This is a joke! And I'm sorry you can't do this. I really am. 'Cause if you could I wouldn't be forced to watch you fumble around and fuck it up."  Yeah.  Pretty much that.  And it intimidates people and makes them feel stupid and then here I am, too fucking good for them.  Except I'm not.  And I never will be.  Because they have something I will never have.  A sense of normalcy, a sense of belonging, a sense of belief in themselves that they're good enough to be loved and cared for and believed in by someone else.  I will never have that.  The fact that the very first female who was supposed to love me would rather dump my ass in a fucking psychiatric ward than just let me grow and develop as a person into the reasonably well-liked and well-respected person I've become outside of my immediate social life saw to that.

So excuse me if I occasionally veer between kindness and hatred, between being that sweet, clever, funny, lovable guy you all know and the monster I'm occasionally forced to become.  And excuse me if I'm not quite as family-oriented as most people.  And excuse me if I can't fucking deal with life sometimes.  I've been through a lot, you see.  And every once in a fucking while I have to take the spotlight off myself for a minute and say "you know what?  I'm crying on the inside, and maybe, just maybe, sometimes I want to cry on the outside without someone looking at me funny."

So yeah.  Carry on.  I'm sure I'll be fine tomorrow. And if I'm not?  I'm just a stupid kid who isn't allowed to have his own thoughts and feelings and beliefs about the world, remember?  My mommy told me so.  Fuck you, Mom.

13 May 2010

It came in live and loud.

Lessons learned in the past 16 weeks:

- I've accomplished more in the five months since my divorce than I did in five years of marriage.  I never realized just how toxic my ex-wife was because she kept me just satisfied enough not to aspire to anything better.  In the process I learned that I'm a little too easily subdued by a nice pair of tits for my own good.

- Finals week taught me that I should probably make an honest assessment of the very best I can do, add 40%, and consider that latter figure more realistic.  I busted my ass to turn a grade in IS201 from A-minus to an A.  I was like Dallas Braden out there---perfect with the A's.

- I've learned that the more I learn about accounting and finance, the clearer my career options become to me, but I have not yet begun to fight.

- I learned that Facebook is a powerful deterrent to writing quality material online, since rather than sit down and thoughtfully contemplate my message, I just dashed it off in 60-word chunks.

- I learned that I do better working 50 hours a week than 15.

- And finally, I've learned that my life is indeed right where I left it a decade ago, just waiting for me to come back to it and make it into something worthwhile again.  It's nice to believe in myself again.

27 April 2010

Let the Big Dog Eat.

Another college paper, this one for Core Humanities.  Stuff like this is apparently why that teacher thinks I'm in the wrong racket and should be writing for a living---of this one he said "Excellent, intelligent, and irreverent.  100%, A."  Enjoy!

Art/Technology/Great Inventions Paper: American Food Or: Getting Fat On Four Dollars a Day
    If one is to major in the humanities, one must be well prepared to say “do you want fries with that?” at his job after completing his education. However, have we ever stopped to think about just what a great invention the fast-food restaurant truly is? Or the ability of a single modern factory to put out more food in a day than pre-industrial societies put out in a year of trying to feed their own citizens? How about the fact that not only is fast food efficient but so varied that one could eat it every day for a year and never eat the same dish twice? Efficient, varied, industrious...only in America could this sort of technology be invented, and if one were to create a catchphrase for our national character, “the eagle wants a cheeseburger” seems good enough for me.
    Mind you, America is famous for this sort of grand-scale thinking. In the early 1800s DeWitt Clinton, governor of New York, took a look at the river system that runs from the St. Lawrence in Canada via the Great Lakes and the Mississippi to New Orleans and thought “nature? Pah. I say we cut a river of our own and siphon off the business to New York City”, thus setting into motion a distinctly New York attitude toward business last seen on the popular television show The Sopranos.
    When the time came to expand westward, it took all of about three shots, one by commerce, one by diplomacy, and one by shooting Mexicans (three solidly American pastimes even to this day) to get the Louisiana Purchase, the Oregon Territory, and the Southwest and go from sea to shining sea. One must go back to the Roman Empire, a sovereign nation that greatly influenced America, to find similar designs on territory, and even at its greatest extent the Roman territory would fit comfortably into America's borders.
    So what happens when a nation with a love of grandeur and a devil-may-care attitude toward consequence gets hungry? What happens when the exuberance of a victorious war meets a capitalist's desire to sell more food to more people in less time? Fast food and industrial processing happens, that's what. We are not a nation of arugula-munching latte-sipping pansies. We are cheeseburger-grilling, beer-swilling, and to understand that is to understand America.
    So where does one begin when describing an industrial enterprise in a humanities class? After all, this is a matter of aesthetics, not marketing. One can mention American art and think of a bunch of dull paintings hanging in museums and viewed by the arugula-munching Starbucks customers mentioned in the previous paragraph...and one can in the process completely miss the point. Art in America is pop art. It is Warhol's Campbell's Soup can, it is advertising for McDonald's and Burger King and the kind of stuff shoveled out by the very sorts of people who have taken our aesthetic sense and thought “screw high art, you can get a whole chicken cut up, fried, put into a paper bucket, and sold by a stylized version of the most recognizable icon ever to come out of Kentucky.”
    To see that sort of food production in action is to see a beautiful symphony take shape. It is choreographed by machine rather than man. It is impersonal and could probably run without a human soul in the building as Raymond Scott's “Powerhouse” played as background music like in the cartoons. The fill nozzles at Coca-Cola dispensing twenty ounces at a time of iconic refreshment, the automated cookers at the Frito-Lay factory, and the extruders at the Oscar Mayer meat company creating hot dogs all coming together to produce hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of meals for frat boys at 7-Eleven...I contend that it is an art worthy of Michael Flatley and friends doing the Riverdance and far less annoying to the ears.
    And the distribution, oh, the distribution! What good is a bunch of crates at a factory if there is no means to get them in the hands of the customer? There is an entire genre of country music (another uniquely American art form) devoted to just such a tribute to the supply chain. It takes ingenuity. It takes American ingenuity.
    But enough prattling on like an arthouse snob. My point is that what we take for granted every day in our supermarkets is distinctly American. This is the same country that provided the world with the cotton gin, the Erie Canal, the ironclad ship, the submarine, the light bulb, the assembly line, and every other innovation that is part and parcel of a history class in an American school. We are a nation of innovators, great thinkers, and people who aim to make life better in ways that are as practical as any culture in the world. We make stuff to make life easier and better and we then find ways to make sure everybody gets as big a piece as they can afford.
    Contrast with something like the Soviet Union's command economy. It has been estimated that 40% of the agricultural production of the Russians during the Cold War was lost to spoilage, inefficient means of processing, and just plain poor planning. You would never see that in America. McDonald's knows how many burgers it is going to sell. Pillsbury has ensured that grain spoilage is all but a total thing of the past by creating long-lasting durable flours that can be stored in silos for as long as anyone cares to, and companies like Kellogg's make those flours into tasty breakfast cereals that are topped by milk made possible by America's dairymen.
    When one stops to consider that 13,000 years of civilization went by before food security was achieved with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and it took all of maybe a century to go from food security to two thirds of us needing to lose a few pounds, by the gods, it makes one wonder “is this not the greatest achievement in the history of civilization?”
    It may seem absurd to write a paper on a great American invention and think fast food and processed food. But food is the first prerequisite for civilization. When those intrepid Sumerians decided that hunting and gathering was a bit too erratic for their tastes, when someone figured out that instead of eating the biggest wild seeds perhaps burying them in the ground for six whole months would create more food (and how must he have convinced his hungry fellow tribesmen of that little con?), thus did humanity make the advance that pulled us out of three million years of being glorified apes. When someone took that basic human need and applied Yankee ingenuity to it, that is the very essence of American capitalism, an invention distilled down to its greatest essence.
    To analyze the cultural context of food mechanization and put it in the milieu of the other inventions of this country is to understand that sometimes the greatest ideas are the ones we take for granted.
    But I would be remiss if I did not put my personal spin on this. As I write this, the trash can next to my desk holds testament to the inspiration for this paper. Three tacos, nachos, and a quart of Coca-Cola set me back $5.55 at Del Taco including Washoe County's onerous sales tax and fed me for the entire day. As a single guy living alone, working, and going to school full-time, I rely very heavily on those sorts of foods to sustain me (such as it is until I die of a massive heart attack from too much fast food.) When the subject of a great American invention came up as an assignment, the adage of “write what you know” drove my selection of subject.
    Take 300 million Americans, multiply that by the 2,400 calories consumed on average by every man, woman, and child in the country every single day, and consider that it would take over a pound of grain to equal 2,400 food calories. That's 400 million pounds of grain, not even considering just how much feed it takes to feed the animals that provide the food energy for America's much more meat-rich diet than any diet in the history of human agricultural settlement. And that's just one day's worth of consumption.
     Yet 2,400 calories worth of food can be easily procured for less than an hour's wage even at a lousy job. A pound and a half of spaghetti will do it at a cost of a buck fifty, less if you hit Costco and stock up. For love of Ceres, that's absolutely incredible! So efficient is America's food production that I can go to a trailer park in Sun Valley with a forklift, drag some 500-pound heifer of a woman away from her booze and soap operas, and point to her and say she is in poverty! Somewhere in the Third World there is a starving peasant who would kill to weigh 500 pounds and sit on her ass all day!
    You can have your Erie Canal. You can have your railroads, your Ford Model Ts, your incandescent light bulbs. I'm typing this in the dark. But by the gods, America didn't just solve a dilemma that plagued humanity for three thousand millennia. We beat that problem into a pulp and came out the other side with a whole different problem. America feeds the world and overfeeds itself. I think that's worth five pieces of paper, some ink, and a staple to spend 1,600 words describing.