Saturday Links

Ayo, readers. Here are some weekend texts to keep you cozy during each November day’s 26 hours of darkness. (Or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, to give you something to read on your phone so you don’t have to interact with other people.)

  • From The Economist, a brief piece on America’s repulsive penchant for mandatory minimums and life-without-parole for nonviolent offenders. Being TE, the bosom publication of neoliberal trans-Atlantic “moderates,” they have to screw it up by pasting “none too bright” onto “typically poor” when describing inmate demographics, and by pivoting (in fewer than ten words) from acknowledging that the best available estimates indicate that two-thirds of nonviolent lifers are black (ninety-one percent in Louisiana!) to assuring readers that “the problem with the system is not racial bias; applying such draconian, hope-crushing sentences to non-violent offenders of any race is cruel and pointless.” This is like saying that the problem with Stalin wasn’t so much that he butchered and enslaved millions of Soviet subjects, but that killing/enslaving anyone is evil. The fact that the second part is true doesn’t somehow invalidate the first, dear editors of major publication.
  • The branch of the UAW that represents UC graduate students recently released a report titled “Towards Mediocrity: Administrative Mismanagement and the Decline of UC Education.” Read ‘er here. It points out plenty of things this blog has underscored in its own little way: that holding impersonal classes in decaying buildings is bad for the UC; that not investing in teachers and researchers (especially younger ones) is bad for the UC; that going whole-hog for privatized online classes which are demonstrably expensive and shitty is bad for the UC; that reducing the amount of intellectual and material support for low-income students is bad for the UC (and the US); that well-compensated administrators, like UC Irvine’s chief medical officer, do not need quiet little (massive) bonuses, like said CMO’s $73,000 moving-expenses stipend. (Was dude moving to Argentina?) No doubt this report will do nothing to change the situation that inspired it. But hey, the President gave a speech.
  • Labor conditions got you down? Lucky for us, many episodes of The Muppet Show (1976-1981) are on YouTube. Here is the episode where Johnny Cash was the guest. Fair warning, though, if you don’t have a sense of humor or grasp of irony: At one point JC performs with a Confederate flag in the background while Gonzo rides a bronco in the fore.
  • This early half-gem of David Foster Wallace’s is being sold at Urban Outfitters now. Seems like an odd marketing move, considering that among the 200 or so undergraduates whom I have forced to read essays of his, precisely threeas a DFW fanboy I remember the numberhad even heard of the man, let alone read anything he wrote. I am actually hoping that UO knows their target demo and is onto something wonderful. Like, maybe copies of Infinite Jest will be piled next to deep-Vs and cheap boat shoes. Could happen.
  • Now in the Grantland stable, Wesley Morris is my favorite film critic. Like DFW, Morris wields a sophisticated, erudite critical vocabulary when talking about American culture, including some of its trashier prongs, without being self-conscious about the performance. Read some stuff here (at his first home, the Boston Globe), here, or here. A sample sentence, from a review of Spring Breakers: “What [director Harmony] Korine does with the beer-soaked skin, face-devouring makeouts, and piles and piles of barely dressed people is intensify the college-party atmosphere in a way that feels simultaneously orgasmic and repulsive.” He hyphenated the phrasal adjectives! Even though I’m straight, I’m swooning.
  • I live in California, and these short days will only shorten for the next few months. Winter’s coming. So here is Karl Shapiro’s “California Winter,” a wonderful elongated lyric. Don’t worry if you don’t live in California, unless you believe that only English people should read Dickens.
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Insurance-Ad News: Halloween Edition

Advertisements for a cut-rate auto-insurance company, The General, have been floating around California television (especially sports programming) for at least a half-decade. The similarity between their name/web address combo and our name/web address combo is problematic, given that by all appearances The General is a scam run by a Malaysian crime syndicate with contacts in the shitty-animation world, or perhaps a time capsule from the 1990s, or a student film shot on a repurposed porn set. What it actually seems to be, going by their website, is a regional insurance company that only has offices in Louisiana despite being chartered in Nashville, and which for some reason puts their creepy, cheap commercials on South Coast television.

Why the penguin? Why does he serve the little brother of George Patton and Yosemite Sam with such purpose? He’s almost as bad as this guy.

Full Disclosure About Our “About” Page

Since a footnote doesn’t look sexy on the actual “About The General Reader” page, here is a footnote on where the phrase “self-facilitating media node” comes from: the promising, bleak, unfortunately short-lived BBC show Nathan Barley (February 2005-March 2005), which was created by Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris, whose pedigrees as satirists will be evident if you do some Googling. I should have explicitly posted on this sooner, because it is dumb and lazy to assume that just because nobody reads your blog, and just because the allusion is meant as a homage, you needn’t cite your sources. Consider this my apology, framed as a plug.

Nathan Barley is well worth a test-view on your part, and you can watch some of it on YouTube. “Self-facilitating media node” is how the astonishingly, (sort of) endearingly fuck-witted main character describes his website, trashbat.co.ck, which is, yes, registered in the Cook Islands. Cock Islands. No, no, Cook. At times the episodes falter, which is understandable given that the show only had six episodes to work things out, but the comic high points remain vicious. Nathan’s invented slang is especially good, or, as he’d say, “well weapon.” (Hoot your trap off, mate.) When you watch, keep in mind that this was made in 2004-2005, and be suitably unnerved by its anticipation of Vine, “selfies,” the Vice empire, web shows, iPhone commercials, Reddit, and a wealth of other slick brain damage.

2014 UPDATE: Our “About” page doesn’t use this language anymore. Go watch Black Mirror.

Koko the Clown drops “St. James Infirmary Blues”

Labor facts: For Thomas Jefferson, a republic could thrive only with a landed middle class; but for mature capitalism, there was no way or need to secure that fantasy for most; and so for some American artists, that meant streaming fever dreams of failure, loss, and nomadic anger. As Leslie Fiedler points out, we have a native genius when it comes to horror. Exhibit A: Eighty years ago, the Betty Boop softcore empire made a good mini-doc (featuring the voice of Cab Calloway) about working conditions that persist today. Sure, the cartoon might just be about heartbreak, but I enjoy going out on interpretive limbs. I’ve got this all theorized and worked out, trust me. Long live the precariat! Happy Thursday, y’all.

Today in Foil Shrines and Monkeyshines

Call me John Ruskin, but when it comes to home decoration, whether aesthetic or functional, it’s hard to beat the work of an obsessive craftsman. Sometimes having a limited set of tools makes for human creations that are even more astonishing. Just look at this! (h/t Dan Pecchenino, co-editor of TGR, and to Slate.com’s The Vault, where you should click some links) The fact that it was made for Henry Ford has kept me chuckling for the past 36 hours.

It reminds me of James Hampton’s The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly. Googling this miracle will make you proud to be human and American. Plus it’s the title of a good (well, often) poetry collection by a fantastic American novelist. A win-win for you.