Monday, August 31, 2009

Why "Language Arts" Class Sucks

I can still remember the books I was assigned in ninth grade. We read Nectar in a Sieve, an incredibly depressing portrait of life as an Indian sharecropper; Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe's response to Heart of Darkness and other European representations of Africa; Kaffir Boy, Mark Matahbane's autobiography of apartheid in South Africa; and Siddartha, Herman Hesse's story of enlightenment through asceticism. I can't overstate how much all of the students hated these books. The kids who weren't "readers" hated them the way they hated all assigned reading, but the "smart" kids, the ones who read difficult books for pleasure, hated them too--these books are so fucking boring, who cares what life in India was like a hundred years ago, why are we reading so goddam much about Africa anyway?

It turned out we were reading about Africa because our parents' generation hadn't read anything about Africa, instead focusing on the "classics"--novels written by dead white men and occasionally dead white women who wrote under masculine pseudonyms. The Seattle Public Schools were committed to making our worldview less Eurocentric, so we were stuck reading books we had no chance of enjoying or understanding.

For instance, to understand what Achebe was attempting with Things Fall Apart, you had to have an understanding of colonialism and the traditional depiction of Africans in white fiction. It's not difficult to read at the level of language, but if you come into it without at least some experience with racist undertones in literature, it will be hard for you to give a shit--and by and large, my classmates and I didn't.

I read a lot on my own back then, and I still do. I love books and fiction in particular, but I got this way despite, not because of, my education. Language Arts classes--that's what they call "English" now, in deference to foreign authors who of course we read in English translation--seem designed to suck all the joy out of reading. Students are given books they have no reason to care about and asked to discuss characters and situations that have no relation to their own experiences. They read Dickens and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Of Mice and Men because someone, somewhere, has decided that these are the books that should be read. Students who have trouble grasping the language in these novels will be doubly confused, because they have to deal with unfamiliar words in addition to unfamiliar settings that aren't often explained--Dickens's London might as well be Mars to them.

If you come into high school believing that "literature" is something that doesn't have anything to do with your life, you'll usually come out believing the same thing. And that's too bad, because literature is far more interesting than high school reading lists make it out to be. There are plenty of books that can attract non-readers and act as a gateway drug: RIchard Price's novels with their depictions of working-class young men (although the girls would probably hate them); Dave Eggers's What is the What, which might interest some kids in current events in Africa (which my ninth-grade reading list never did); Home Land, by Sam Lipsyte, which would appeal to the freaks and outcasts and is way funnier than Catcher in the Rye. Kids who don't read can start reading if you bother to show them that books can be appealing in the same way that TV and movies--don't turn them off books forever by forcing Joyce and Faulkner down their throats. Unfortunately, shoving things down kid's throats is what public school curriculums are all about.

There's no reason at all to teach kids "canon" literature. Knowledge of "great" books will not help them the same way a knowledge of arithmetic will--but it might help them to know that books aren't boring, and maybe some of them will seek out the harder stuff on their own. But this would require teaching something different and purchasing new books, neither of which public schools can do.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: I had a friend who read maybe one book total in high school (he got decent grades in class thanks to Sparknotes), but one day he borrowed Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude and read all 400 pages in about 72 hours, because he was actually interested in the subject matter: friendships across racial lines, graffiti, drug use and drug dealing.

Plenty of kids at my high school would have liked that book for the same reasons, yet we slogged through Great Expectations just like every class before us since 1937. Well, a few bookish souls slogged through it. Everyone else just went on Sparknotes, bullshat a few half-hearted journal entries, and went back to getting high in the parking lot--learning that books are something you have to work around. And man, that sucks.

POSTSCRIPT: Some schools are (gasp!) changing the way they teach "Language Arts," mostly by allowing the students to pick which books they read. This gets the students reading more, and some of them are excited about it, but the downside is the kids mostly read books that don't challenge them or force them to think. They also can't discuss the books in class, because they're all reading different things. What if instead of just giving up and letting everyone re-read Captain Underpants, teachers just assigned better--non-boring--books? Isn't there some middle ground between hidebound dead-white-man literature and a classroom reading different James Patterson novels? Will we ever get this right? Why don't we just say fuck it and replace "Language Arts" with Sitcom Studies? Would anyone notice the difference?
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The Week of Back To School Sucks

Around the country, children and teenagers are headed back to everyone's favorite institutionalized learning prison, the public school. We at Everything Sucks are naturally aware that nearly all schoolchildren hate their situation, and we would like to tell them they aren't wrong. School sucks, and if you can graduate high school with even the slightest ability to think for yourself, you've won. The most you'll ever learn in school is how to navigate your way through large bureaucracies, and maybe how to write bullshit papers on books you haven't read. This week's three blog entries are dedicated to the poor huddled public schoolchildren everywhere.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Why The Penny Sucks

Most Conservatives claim that government is wasteful and inherently inefficient if not downright evil and while you can quibble with them on minor points--do Republican legislators seek to make it inefficient on purpose sometimes?--it's hard to argue with their main thesis.

If you want proof that the US Government couldn't find water if you threw it into an ocean, look no further than the penny, which might be the dumbest piece of currency in the world today.

Oh sure, the penny used to be useful. A hundred years ago you could get candy for a penny, or a piece of fruit, or probably a blowjob, if you looked hard enough. If you found a penny on the ground, you would definitely picks it up--especially if you wanted some candy or a blowjob.

Now? You'd leave that penny in the gutter. Not worth it, you'd say to yourself--and you'd be right. Too bad the US Treasury isn't as smart as you are.

See, it costs $134 million to make $80 million pennies. So the government is losing money every time they make a penny, yet they still make them. And it's not like we need pennies to make our economy run either--in fact, businesses don't like pennies either, since they lose money by paying their employees to count pennies and dig them out of the register. That's right, pennies are so worthless that they cost both businesses and the government money. They are so worthless I throw them on the ground rather than have them clutter up my pockets. The only pennies worth any money are the ones minted before 1982, which contain nearly two cents of copper, so you could potentially melt them down and sell the metal at a profit (or you could, if it wasn't illegal).

And we know that pennies are worse than worthless. We've known for years. William Safire wrote an op-ed against pennies four years ago, and Stephen Dubner of the book and blog Freakonomics has been an ardent penny-hater for years. Even the environmentalists have gotten in on the anti-penny act lately, and if tree-huggers are in agreement with William fucking Safire, you'd think we could all agree to put the penny out of its misery like Australia and . Right?

Ha ha! That would require politicians to take a stance on an issue. Even worse, they'd have to explain the issue to their constituents, who probably haven't heard much about the penny "debate." I use quotation marks because there is really nothing to debate here. The only arguments for the penny come from people who don't understand how rounding works, those who don't want to get rid of anything with Abraham Lincoln's face on it (he's still got the five-dollar bill guys, and he was probably gay anyway), and the zinc lobby.

The zinc lobby? Yes, since pennies are made of zinc, the zinc industry has an interest in continued penny production. The zinc lobby is apparently very powerful. That's not a joke, they control much more than we think. But even if we stopped making pennies, zinc would still be in demand thanks to China.

Anyway, America will probably keep making pennies until the Rapture comes and the only people "left behind" are rationalistic secularists who will legalize drugs, make public transportation more efficient, raise taxes on the wealthy and create universal health care before dying in a horrible worldwide firestorm. We're stuck with pennies because Americans hate and fear change of any kind even when it would almost unquestionably make their lives a little bit better, and no politician is going to stick his neck out when he doesn't have to. (Well, Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona has opposed the penny for years, but that's probably because Arizona has a lot of copper mines and the copper industry would benefit if the nickel became our smallest coin.)

And it really does suck that we're stuck with pennies. Because if we can't get behind such an obvious, non-partisan reform movement, how the fuck are we ever going to change our health care system?
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Things That Don't Suck: Sandwiches

Despite the title of this blog, we must admit that not everything sucks. Some things simply defy all attempts to criticize them, and we must reluctantly declare them not "good," exactly, but not completely terrible. Today's entry: the sandwich.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, I bet you ate a sandwich today. I know I did: turkey, lettuce and tomato on a roll. It was so good, I might go out and get another sandwich after I finish this post. That's not an unusual day for me either: I've eaten at least a sandwich a day since elementary school, when my mom was making them for me. Since then I've doubled in size, grew facial hair, graduated from high school and college, moved across the country, and discovered sex and recreational drug use. But sandwiches remain a constant presence in my life.

So yeah, I might be biased in this case. But look me in the eye and tell me that sandwiches are a bad idea.

Unless you're even more of a contrarian than I am, you probably aren't inclined to argue that point though. I have no data to back this up, but putting meat or vegetables between two pieces of bread (or wrapping it in a tortilla, or using pita bread--same difference) has to be the most popular idea in the world. Sandwiches are bigger than Jesus: there are only 2.1 billion Christians in the world, but at least that many sandwiches (again, no data) are eaten every day. You can eat them on trains or buses or while walking to work, you can make them in minutes, or buy them at any restaurant or deli. In some big cities, like New York, you have dozens of places per block where you can buy sandwiches--and you'll hardly ever be let down.

Sandwiches have been around for a long time, too. According to Wikipedia, Hillel the Elder, the ancient Jewish sage, was the first to figure it out, putting bitter herbs and lamb between two pieces of matzah, making him the direct ancestor of the modern Jewish deli. Thanks to cultural hegemony, however, we don't ask for pastrami hillels. The naming rights were stolen, like everything else, by the English--we call them after this guy, who didn't invent anything but ate a lot of hillels, like a 18th century Jared. I've always thought that the myth of "Lord Sandwich" was a little unfair, as it claims that the English came up with a culinary innovation that people around the world enjoyed.

But whatever their origins, sandwiches remain cheap, portable, relatively nutritious, and adaptable to any situation. The possibilities are endless--what can't you put between two pieces of bread? You can class things up with a filet mignon and portobella mushroom panini, or you can make peanut butter and jelly and spend seventeen cents. You can overload a reuben with corned beef and sauerkraut or put some hummus to a sundried tomato and roasted zucchini sandwich. The sandwich cuts across all class lines, sexual persuasions, religions, and nationalities. With the right kind of meat, even cannibals can enjoy a sandwich.

This doesn't mean that sandwiches don't suck individually. Some sandwiches are bland thanks to bland ingredients, you can get food poisoning from undercooked meat in sandwiches, the bread can be moldy, or a disgruntled Subway employee can spit swine-flu-infected spit into your sandwich. Or KFC can come out with a disgusting abomination that will kill anyone who eats it. But the idea of a sandwich is good. And I'm about to go eat another one.
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Golf Sucks

Some sports are beautiful to watch. The power and sheer aggression of a rugby scrum or a football running back pushing through a pile of 300-pound linemen; the graceful, mechanically flawless stride of a 100-yard sprinter; the telepathic connection between two basketball players on a perfectly executed alley-oop or three-on-two fast break; the beauty of a center fielder jumping as high as humanly possible to rob a bleacher-bound baseball of its destiny; the impossibility of a soccer forward firing a shot from the top of the box surrounded by defenders and somehow making the ball fly into the top corner of the net—if you see any of these things, it doesn't matter whether you're a sports fan or whether you understand the rules of the game, or even whether you speak the same language as the announcer. You'll get up from your seat and say some variation of “Oh my God!” or “Awwww, yeah!”

Watching golf, on the other hand, never makes anyone go “Awwww, yeah!” Here's what watching golf is like: a man approaches a little stick poking out of the ground, puts a ball on the stick, and stands over it holding a club. This standing can go on for several minutes. Finally, the man lifts the club back over his shoulder and swings it forward with a force that sends the ball flying into the distance. The audience cranes their necks—where did the ball go? No one is sure. Then the man walks off towards where the ball went, and another man walks up to the stick and does the same thing. If you are standing near the green instead of the tee, you'll see much the same process, except the men hit the ball much softer and you get to watch the ball go into the hole, which is after all the whole point of the sport.

If you watch golf on TV, the experience is much more exciting, because the TV producers show nothing but the exciting or important shots—long puts, well-hit approaches, holes-in-one that are as much luck as anything. It's a highlight reel, and a highlight reel of anything, even fishing, is fun to watch. If you're flipping through the channels and you don't have an emotional attachment to professional golf, you'll be just as likely to watch Iron Chef as the PGA Championship.

But hey, golf may suck to watch, but does it suck to play? Ask most golfers and unless they've had a good round recently, they'll say, “Golf is a terrible game.” It costs hundreds of dollars to buy the equipment, you have to pay the course if you want to play, and it's the type of game that seems designed to continuously frustrate you. And that's if you're one of the lucky people who has had the chance to play.

To say that golf has some racial baggage is an understatement. Some sports may have banned non-whites from competing for a long time, but the PGA was the only one that held out until 1961. Even now that blacks are allowed to play, Tiger Woods is the only African-American golfer on the tour. It's like that old joke about Jewish Professional Athletes being the shortest book in the world, only Black Professional Golfers is even shorter. (There is an African-American Golfer's Digest, but one wonders how much there is to digest there.)

But that's unfair to golf. It doesn't try to keep black people out, it just tries to keep poor people out. Until very recently, almost all golf courses were privately owned clubs that only extended membership to the wealthy and privileged. If you weren't in the upper circles of society—or at least upper-middle class—you would never get the chance to hold a putter. Thanks to the prohibitive cost of clubs and greens fees, that's still largely true. And country clubs, by and large, don't give a shit. As recently as 1990, a golf course declined to host a PGA Tour event rather than accept a non-white member.

Oh yeah, the most prominent golf course in America still doesn't want women around. So it's got that going for it, which is nice.

Finally there's the sheer amount of space golf takes up. Most sports, the ones that aren't designed specifically to keep the proletariat out, can be played on relatively small surfaces—one hundred yards across at most, say. Each hole in golf requires hundreds of yards of grass. Courses sprawl across acres, acres that the general public is kept out of. And you can only play golf in these spaces. It isn't a park where many sports can be played. You can't lounge around on the meticulously maintained grass and enjoy the view—in fact, you'll get yelled at if you try. Is golf really such a great game that it requires all this space, all this effort, all this money?

Sure, some people enjoy playing golf—I'm not judging them, nor would I judge people who enjoyed strangling cats. I think that most of these people (the golfers) don't actually enjoy knocking a little white ball around with sticks. What they like is getting out with their buddies and walking (or driving a cart) around what is basically a big park. They like drinking beer and eating good food in the clubhouse, getting away from their wives, maybe smoking some cigars—stuff that has nothing to do with golf, which is good, because golf sucks.
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Friday, August 21, 2009

Why Public Opinion Sucks

During public debates about complex issues like heath care, polls are inevitably commissioned to find out what the average person's opinion is. And inevitably, this polls show the same thing, over and over: whoever this "average person" is, he must be about as dumb as a box of one-pronged forks.

Such a poll was released by NBC on Tuesday. It shows that many Americans have "doubts" about Obama's proposed health care plan, and it also shows the reason why--many people don't know what Obama's health care plan consists of. 45 percent of those surveyed thought that health care reform would lead to government bureaucrats having life-or-death powers over the elderly. Even more people than that thought that illegal aliens would be insured under Obama's plan, and that the government would be taking over health care completely. All of these things are not true. But that doesn't stop people from having opinions about them.

In fact, when people taking this survey were read a description of Obama's plan, 17 percent of them went from disliking the plan to liking it. This probably means a lot of them had never heard it described before, yet they had an opinion on it. They didn't say, "I don't know what I think about Obama's plan, because I've never heard it described," which would make them uninformed. They said they didn't like the plan, because someone on talk radio or TV said something like that, although they can't remember what the guy said exactly, only it sounded good at the time--and that makes them stupid.

I don't like throwing the word "stupid" around lightly, but what else do you call someone who has opinions without knowing what the opinions are about? What do you call someone who's "opinions" are made up stories and repetitions of other people's lies? 24 percent of the country believes we're in violation of the Constitution right now, having elected a native-born Indonesian, or Filipino, or whatever, as our President. A portion of people in that poll "weren't sure" whether Obama is a Frenchman. 20 percent of the birthers were Democrats, which means, presumably but bizarrely, that they think Obama is President illegally but are fine with it. What the fuck else can you call them but "stupid?" How can you believe we're capable of discussing any complex issue as a country when a quarter of us thinks the American President is a foreigner? Is it any wonder that the "town hall" meetings/publicity events have turned into a bunch of fanatics and hired protestors screaming slogans at one another?

This is how I see the state of the health care debate: a set of roommates decide to buy a new fridge, because the current fridge no longer keeps anything cool, and also appears to be leaking a sort of viscous green liquid from the bottom. So after a few months of watching the fluid make a puddle on the floor they get together and try to figure out the best way to reform their fridge. One guy says, "Let's get this fridge I saw at the store. It seems okay." Then someone else says, "I don't know. Won't that guy Jerry just come in here and use our fridge?"

"What are you talking about?" comes the reply. "I didn't say anything about Jerry."

"Let's just get a bunch of ice and put it in the fridge," someone else says. "I don't think our fridge is that bad."

"We have to get a blue fridge!" another roommate yells abruptly.

"Guys, this 'fridge' business is sounding a lot like Hitler. Didn't he have a fridge?"

"Look, a new fridge is fine, but I don't want my girlfriend getting an abortion!" another guy says. "I won't allow it!"

Another roommate puts an automatic rifle on the table. "This gun is loaded, and no one is going to take it away from me!"

"We have to get a blue fridge!"

"You racist redneck!"

"You Nazi!

Are these roommates going to be happy with their new fridge?
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why Motion-Activated Paper Towel Dispenser Suck

I first saw the device on the left two years ago, when I was interning for a newspaper. I remember watching my boss wave his hand uselessly back and forth in front of it and cursing. "Goddam thing!" he said. "It never gives you enough paper. I'm trying to dry my hands. Cheadle, why won't it let me dry my hands? This is America, isn't it!"

"I don't know sir," I said, because that's the kind of thing you say when you're an intern. "Yes sir, this is America, last time I checked."

"If this is America, why the hell can't I get enough paper towel?"

Good question.

The way motion-activated paper towel dispensers work, for those of you who are lucky enough not to have encountered them, is you wave your hand in front of a red light and either a paper towel comes out or nothing happens at all. These machines have become increasingly popular, so presumably this system is considered more efficient than using "hand crank" towel dispensers, which practically guarantee that you get enough paper towel.

These machines wouldn't be so frustrating if they filled some need--if we were having trouble with our old-fashioned paper towel dispensers, if there was a public outcry against having to turn a crank after washing our hands. But there wasn't. There is no reason for this thing to exist. It costs money to replace the old machines, it costs money to make sure the dispenser has electricity, it costs money to repair them when they break (I assume they break more often than regular dispensers). This guy says they aren't even ergonomic.

So I scoured the internet, searching for a reason these things continued to squat uselessly on our shared bathroom walls. I found this. It says that with the hand crank model "forces the customer to touch the crank with wet or dirty hands." And we wouldn't want that. After all, paper towel dispenser hand cranks are notorious cesspools of germs. What could be more disgusting than a hand crank that has been touched by another human being that has just washed their hands? You might as well shoot yourself in the head before using a hand crank paper towel dispenser.

I strongly suspect that the above link is actually a plant by the motion-activated paper towel dispenser lobby, which is more powerful than we realize. Why? The last line: "When a customer waves a hand beneath the dispenser, it ejects the perfect sized paper towel" (italics mine) . No one who has used these contraptions would say such a thing. The paper towel is too small, unless you have a genetic abnormality that makes your hands unusually tiny, like this woman I saw on the subway one time. Tell my old boss that the paper towel is the "perfect size" and he'll wring your neck with hands are still wet from the bathroom.

But there's some good news I came across while combing the internet for this entry: you can buy your very own motion-activated paper towel dispenser! Yes, you can have the thrill of waving your hand under a red light without having to go to a public restroom! How much for the latest golden egg the magic goose of Modern Technology has laid? Why, only 250 dollars, or 300 if you want the infinitely more sleek stainless steel model.

This is America, all right.
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Why the Yankees Suck

Yesterday the New York Yankees baseball club were defeated by my hometown team, the Seattle Mariners, 10-3. I'd take more satisfaction out of this if the Yankees hadn't won 12 of their last 14 games, including a four-game sweep of the Red Sox that more or less wrapped up the division title. In the past few years, the Yankees' seasons are falling into a pattern: there are some early struggles partly due to injuries, the media questions the ability of whatever high-priced superstar George Steinbrenner signed in the offseason, the team languishes in second until after the All-Star break--then the Yanks realize there's a baseball season in progress and start ripping other teams apart, not just winning games but winning them by four or five runs apiece.

And all across the country, millions of baseball fans think the same thing: "The fucking Yankees! They're doing it again! Smug fucking bastards! I'd like to go over to Derek Jeter's penthouse, strap him into a chair and force him to drink a gallon of his piss-scented perfume!" At least, that's what I'm thinking. But why do the Yankees get so much hate? And do they deserve it?

I'll answer the second question first: yes, of course they deserve it. There's a reason every baseball movie ever made casts the Yankees as the villains (except Pride of the Yankees, which is a movie about a famous person getting sick). They're never the underdogs, they're always the favorites. They're the kids from the rich kids' camp who love to torment the ragtag band of misfits. They're Judge Smalls in Caddyshack, Apollo Creed in Rocky, the Empire in Star Wars.

The Yankees represent everything that's wrong with America--the smug self-satisfaction, the sense of entitlement, the assumption that everything can be bought, the corporatization of what should be an idle game. Yankee fans love to talk about "class," as in "That Jeter is one class act," but that's exactly what I hate about them--I don't want my baseball players to have "class." I don't want them to be polished and have carefully crafted personas they present to the fans. I want baseball players who are ugly, who are allowed to have beards and long hair and don't give a shit about "class," whatever the fuck that is. I like baseball players who aren't afraid to tell stories about crapping their pants in a casino.

Too bad for me, then. Because the Yankees' version of sports--self-serious, carefully crafted, and ultimately soulless--has spread not only around baseball but to other sports as well. Remember when Josh Howard got in trouble for talking, talking, about smoking weed? Or when Randy Moss was fined for pretending, pretending, to moon the crowd at Green Bay? And there was that time 17 Vikings players had an orgy on a boat, which was dealt with by the NFL as if they had burned down an orphanage when all they really did was have the best party of the year.

The Yankees can't be entirely blamed for the scardey-cat, pussy-whipped state of professional athletics in America, but they sure as hell don't help things. They've built extremely successful teams that always talk and do the "right" things, especially in front of the media, other teams have copied them, and somewhere along the way we forgot that sports are supposed to be fun. They're hitting balls with sticks, not curing Lou Gehrig's disease.

As a final demonstration on why the Yankees suck, here's a quote from Derek Jeter, who became the all-time hits leader among shortstops in last night's game:

"I just try to be consistent year in and year out, because if you're consistent, good things happen. Being consistent is something that gets overlooked at times, but every player strives to be consistent."

Too bad more players don't strive to sound like interesting human beings with a sense of humor. I guess not only are pinstripes slimming, they're dulling as well.
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why Comparing US Presidents to Hitler Sucks

What's wrong with these pictures? Besides the photoshopping jobs, I mean.

I can think of one problem, right off the top of my head: neither of the men depicted here are like Hitler. And by "not like Hitler" I mean "In no way like Adolf Hitler except for superficial similarities that can be attributed to all three being male members of the species Homo sapiens and also politicians (politicians not being a separate species, despite some evidence to the contrary)."

Hitler, for those of you who don't know, was this guy back in the first part of the last century who took control of Germany preaching a doctrine of open anti-semitism, totalitarianism and militant nationalism. Unlike most politicians, he made good on his campaign promises, systematically killing millions of Jews and other minorities and starting World War II (although you could probably make the case that given the state of Germany after the Treaty of Versailles and the rise of Fascism and Communism, war was inevitable even without Hitler).

Barack Obama and George W. Bush are not Fascists, don't advocate the murder of minorities, don't enjoy marching or moustaches--not like Hitler. This is not rocket science people. But here's a blog, from before the last election, explaining how Obama is like Hitler; here's another blog from a few years before that explaining how Bush is like Hitler.

These people are pretty much openly nuts (the liberal likens Bush's arrest for drunk driving to Hitler's arrest for attempting to overthrow the Bulgarian government, while the conservative says both Obama and Hitler were popular with young people), but they aren't isolated nuts. Plenty of liberals made sometimes-half-joking comments about Bush being a Fascist for imprisoning suspected terrrorists without trial and conservative protestors are holding up Nazi signs as a way of calling Obama a socialist or something. (The Nazis were Fascists, not socialists. Fascists and socialists fought a war in Spain in the 30s. They weren't friends.)

To be fair, anyone who makes a seriously compares any US politician to Hitler is way out on the fringe.* The truth is there aren't any elected officials who are even secretly Fascists--or Communists, for that matter. But the existence of these kinds of statements and the media attention they get points to an increasing hysteria in our national dialogue.

It's not enough to disagree with the politics of the President, you have to invoke the worst bogeyman in history. The Iraq war wasn't just a case of interventionalist foreign policy gone wrong thanks to incompetence, it was as bad as Vietnam. Arresting a few hundred suspected terrorists means we're going the way of 1984 . Gay marriage will destroy the family. Giving the government more control over health care is sure sign that the US is turning into Soviet Russia. Does anyone actually believe any of this?

The confusing, wildly inaccurate way pundits and bloggers are used to debating is not only stupid and self-defeating (no one is going to expand their view by listening to someone shouting), it obscures the points on which most Americans probably agree. For instance, in the health care war, everyone can agree on these three points:

1. If the government or large multinational corporations control health care, it will suck.
2. No matter what happens with this health care reform, the government or corporations will be in charge.
3. Health care is still going to suck, unless you happen to be rich.

So lets step back, okay? Making health care a little more socialist (it already is slightly socialist, with Medicare and Medicaid, which no one seems to mind) isn't the revolution. The Nazis and the Bolsheviks are not in power, it's the Democrats and Republicans, which is bad enough.

*BONUS: Why Rush Limbaugh Sucks (part 1 in a planned 437-par series): The Democrats apparently planted some protestors to make it seem like there were more Republicans calling Obama the next Hitler. Rush Limbaugh denounced the Democrats for this, which would be fine if he hadn't compared Obama to Hitler a few days earlier. If you bother to read the transcript in the first link, you'll find him comparing the Democrats to the Nazis at the same time he's accusing Democrats of making the Republicans look like wackos, which is a nice trick if you can pull it off. He also claims, bizarrely, that the Nazis were leftists. Keep it up Rush!
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Newspapers Suck

Believe it or not, I didn't always want to be the internet equivalent oAdd Videof a man on a street corner delivering a series of dissertations to a trash can. Back in high school, I dreamed of being a hard-nosed, hard-drinking, workaholic newspaper reporter. I would travel around the world with a sharp eye and the cynical heart of an idealist who has seen too much. My widely-read articles would not only reveal the truth about the world, they would wow the public and the critics alike with inventive prose not seen since the days of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, my idols. Like a lot of would-be journalists, I was inspired by the stories of the golden age of journalism, the 1970s--Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman breaking the Watergate story, the Village Voice and Rolling Stone in their heydays, “new” journalists like Wolfe and Thompson and Gay Talese reporting from the front lines of the counterculture, etc, etc, etc.

Well, it turns out that my high school self was about as dumb as a cardboard suitcase. Wanting to be a twenty-first century newspaperman is like wanting to be a twentieth-century farrier. No matter how passionate you are about shoeing horses, the fact remains that hardly any horses are going to require shoeing. And it's increasingly obvious that newspapers are going to become as useless as horseshoes in the near future. And you know what? Good riddance. Horses are smelly and shit all over the place, and newspapers are basically useless.

The one thing a publication—online or dead tree or billboard—needs is an audience, and for a long time newspapers had their audience by their collective balls. If you lived in Boston, you had to read the Globe or the Herald if you wanted news. If you lived in Seattle, it was the Times or the Post-Intelligencer, and so on. And “news” meant not only local news but also national and international news, arts and entertainment, sports, classified ads...the list goes on.

But today audiences aren't restricted by their geography. If I want international news and live in Boston, I can go to Reuters or the Associated Press, or I can just muck around on Google News. And if I want movie reviews I can pick and choose from a dozen different movie-buff sites or see a whole lot of reviews at once on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes.

And classified ads, which at one point made up a major part of newspaper revenues, are now practically the exclusive domain of sites like craigslist, which is killing newspapers. If I don't already have the habit of subscribing to and reading ink printed on dead trees, what possible reason would I have for starting right now?

So newspapers are outdated. But that doesn't mean they suck. No, newspapers suck is because other than local news, they all say exactly the same thing. Most national and international news articles are pulled from wire services—which can be read by anyone now, thanks to the internet—and even when they are written by a paper's own reporters, they're almost exactly alike (compare the first two paragraphs of the New York Time's and Washington Post's articles about the Federal Reserve).

Even worse are the opinion pages. Different papers have different columnists who presumably think differently about the issues of the day, but you wouldn't know it from the coverage of, for example, the recent brouhaha over racial profiling involving Harvard professor Henry Gates. Columnists around the country considered the many sides of this complex issue and informed everyone that there are many sides to this issue, and that it's complex.

Syndicated columnist Bill Maxwell said, “Perhaps the [Cambridge Police] department did act stupidly, but Gates and Obama also acted stupidly.” Fine and dandy—and fair and balanced. But also pretty much what The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne said: “Sgt. Crowley should not have arrested Gates, as the police implicitly acknowledged by dropping the charges. But Gates knows that this police officer with a good record is not the enemy. Let's end the score-settling right now.”

But I can't come down too hard on those guys, since each is only one man. It took two people working at the Dallas Morning News to come up with this nugget of wisdom: “Everyone shares some blame, from Gates to Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley to, sadly, President Obama.”

Apparently, everyone is a little to blame over this conflict between a black man and a white police officer. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ruth Ann Dailey expands on this point by saying not only is the police officer to blame, the black man is also to blame: “A rueful Mr. Obama hoped that this episode would become “a teachable moment.” It can, if everyone -- especially a professor -- is willing to learn.”

This would be acceptable back in the day when everyone only had access to their local columnist, but we're online now guys. Say what you will about blogs, but at least successful blogs know that you can't just repeat what everyone else is saying—if you do, people will read something else. If you want proof of this, look at the columns linked to above and check out's take on the incident, which is actually worth reading.

Newspapers probably won't die off completely any time soon—there are still farriers, after all, and papers can still be useful by reporting local news. But the days of the two-newspaper town are over (why do we need two equally redundant papers in a city again?), and big, clumsy papers like the The New York Times are going to fade away. So long, suckers. Maybe you can all print the same column about how sad it is the newspaper is dying on your way out.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Why (News) Blogs Suck

I'm not going to bother explaining why "personal blogs" suck. There are a great number of blogs out there that are simply not of interest to anyone. Unless you are famous or having sex with famous people, no one wants to hear about your life. The best thing one can say about "personal blogs" is that they provide a chance for people to vent about their lives while thinking of themselves as "writers." As hobbies go, personal blogging is more social than stamp collecting, less dangerous than rock climbing, and less expensive than golf--and occasionally these blogs get turned into movies. They may suck, but they're hardly worth mentioning.

The blogs I want to refer to are the "new media" blogs, the ones that people mean when they say, "Blogs are going to replace newspapers." Blogs may replace newspapers one day, and that's going to be a sad, sad day for news. Not because blogs are inaccurate or irresponsible, as some reporters and Sarah Palin claim--most of the larger blogs fact-check as rigorously as newspapers--but because of the mentality that comes with blogging.

Here's how the traditional, daily-newspaper news cycle works: something happens (for instance, a church burns to the ground) and the next day an article appears (sample headline: "Hot Cross Buns"). If there are further developments, like it turns out that the pastor started the fire, there will be some follow-up articles ("What Would Jesus Burn Down for the Insurance Money?"), and later on a desperate-for-ideas local columnist may weigh in on the topic ("Burning Down Churches Is a Bad Idea"). But there isn't any news unless the church burns down, i.e. unless something happens.

Blogs can't wait for something to happen. Most of the widely-read political news blogs (Huffington Post, Politico, Redstate, etc.) are updated several times a day. The blog news cycle, much like the 24-hour cable news cycle, needs to be constantly spinning. The problem is there aren't enough actual events for blogs to cover so they have to post entries that are the equivalent of Twinkies--all empty calories.

Let's look around the internet, shall we? Here's a post from last Friday on the popular left-leaning blog Wonkette that references another blog that got it's information from a Facebook note. I'm not saying that the uninformed ramblings of a former half-term governor with a fondness for run-on sentences isn't news--it is news, thanks to all the blog buzz around it--I'm just saying it shouldn't be.

Here are some more blog entries culled from different blogs with different political slants: this one accuses Democrats of "astroturfing" (meaning organizing protests that look like spontaneous grassroots demonstrations, but are actually put together by national, party-affiliated groups--I assume some people somewhere care about this distinction); this one accuses Republicans of doing the same thing. This entry is a picture of a sign. My favorite post is from Politico, a generally thoughtful, mostly-left-of-center blog: it analyzes the cable news coverage of the "birther" movement, an anti-Obama conspiracy theory that exists primarily on the internet.

The Politico article is well-written, doesn't wear its bias on its sleeve, includes unique quotes from experts, and has presumably been fact-checked; it has everything you would want from a publication, online or dead tree. But it suffers from the blogger mentality and the demands of the hyper-accelerated news cycle: it's an article about news coverage of an internet phenomenon based on a false rumor. Fifty years ago, even twenty years ago, no media outlet would publish anything like this, let alone put it on the front page, as Politico did. Hell, twenty years ago we couldn't conceive of this article. The story wouldn't even exist without the over-saturation of constant cable news and blogs.

And to top it off, this blog entry is a post complaining about an article about cable news coverage of an internet phenomenon based on a false rumor. It's turtles all the way down.
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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Why Everything Sucks: A Manifesto

The concept behind this blog is simple: we believe that nearly every idea that humans have come up with in the last six thousand years or so has been an awful, awful mistake.

If this sounds like an exaggeration, look around you: the air we breathe and the water we drink is full of poison; our food is unhealthy or unappetizing and often both at the same time; our cities are overcrowded and full of garbage; our rural areas are mind-blowingly boring and often impoverished; our television programs, books, movies and music are watered-down derivatives of older stories; most of those entertainments exist solely to sell us electric razors and snack foods anyway; our societies are run by dishonest, greedy con men; most of the people on the planet are poor and constantly threatened with starvation; even the rich are so unhappy they feel the need to pay therapists large amounts of money to listen to their problems; and to top it off, there's a good chance that in the next hundred years we will either blow ourselves up or perish in a deluge of natural disasters thanks to man-made global warming. The only thing humans as a whole seem to be good at is killing one another―we're very good at that―and making chips that taste vaguely like cheese despite not actually having cheese in them. If that isn't enough, it's likely that you have at least four or five objects within arm's reach that are giving you cancer right now.

What can you do about this? Probably nothing, although we'd advise you not to eat any more cheese-flavored chips. What can we here at Everything Sucks do about this? Absolutely nothing―we're a blog, and no blog has ever helped anyone, ever (see the forthcoming entry, “Why Blogs Suck”). Our aim is not to help people, but to merely spread awareness about how much everything sucks, and why. We will tackle the larger issues like religion and politics, smaller issues like pop culture and sports, and much smaller―some would say obscure―issues like snack foods and haircuts. Nothing is off limits.

If this sounds like a bitter and cynical undertaking, well, that's because it is. The chief blogger, Harry Cheadle, incurred massive student debts while earning a useless BFA in Creative Writing, and he feels entitled to a little bit of bitterness towards the world. But behind this bitterness lurks a real desire for reform and change―before you change the world, you must understand why the world must change. Or, as Thomas Edison once said, “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” Well, we are discontented as hell right now, and we hope you are too. At our most high-minded, this blog is like a bizarro Barack Obama, uniting and inspiring people with a message of despair rather than hope.

Do you feel like nothing you do matters? Do you walk around the streets muttering under your breath, cursing your existence? Have you stopped reading the newspaper because it only makes you angry and depressed? Do you sometimes feel like the world is out to get you? Here at Everything Sucks, we are right there with you, brother, and we'll take it a step further―the way you feel isn't your fault. In fact, feeling that the world is an awful place is the only logical way to feel, because the world is an awful place. Let's stop lying to ourselves, right now. This blog, at bottom, is dedicated to truth, and the truth sucks.

Everything Sucks is updated at least three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and there may be supplementary posts whenever we feel like it. Each entry will describe why one facet of modern life sucks, except for entries that describe something that doesn't suck. The latter kind of post will be much less common, for obvious reasons.
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