TBT: High-Tech Agrarianism

Lately I’ve been heavily focused on yard work, as my lawn and flower beds were resembling an abandoned lot more than a well-maintained lawn.  As such, I’ve had small-scale farming on the brain more lately, even though the only edibles I planted were one forlorn banana pepper plant and some oregano (although the celosia leaves are edible before the plants flower).

Naturally, my mind returned to this March 2020 essay, “High-Tech Agrarianism.”  It’s perhaps a testament to how much we have adjusted to The Age of The Virus that I did not go out and till my half-acre, instead letting it loose to its recent weedy state.

Reading over this essay, which I wrote in the week after South Carolina schools shut down, it’s interesting how much I’ve mellowed on The Virus.  I was skeptical of it beforehand, but when schools were shuttered for the last two months of the academic year, the sense that something big was wrong only grew.  The most remarkable aspect of The Virus is that, even with shutdowns, the economy kept going, and there’s not the same sense of depressing listlessness that reigned during the Great Recession.

Of course, the economic fallout may very well be delayed, and I’m in a much better position financially and professionally this time around than I was in 2009.  The government distributing $1200 checks and propping up businesses probably smoothed out the economic disruption a bit, too.

It’s also interesting that other than wearing masks and sanitizing ourselves and our things constantly, life seems to be marching on more normally.  The True Believers in The Virus scold large gatherings, but people want to be together.  We can limit crowds only so much—people are going to congregate.

The Age of The Virus aside, the idea of tilling suburban and small town acreage is a prudent, if difficult, job.  I still maintain it’s a better use of land than a lawn.  Instead of mowing and edging, put that effort towards watering, weeding, and fertilizing.  Crops look good—and taste good, too.

That last paragraph probably highlights my ignorance about agriculture—something I’m working on as I flirt more and more with the idea of converting my yard into arable square feet.  We’ll see where I am in another six months.

Here’s “High-Tech Agrarianism“:

The coronavirus situation—which I am convinced is both quite serious, but also inspiring some huge overreactions—has created a world that feels almost entirely different than it did even a few days ago.  This time last week, I was convinced that the whole thing was way overblown, and that life would largely continue apace, minus some school closures here and there.

By Friday evening I was growing more concerned, as everything began to get closed or cancelled.  I proctored the SAT Saturday morning and even went out of town that evening.  At that point, I thought the risk of my school closing was greater than it had been even two or three days before, but I still figured it was a relatively remote possibility.

Then Governor McMaster announced the closure of all South Carolina public schools (I teach at a private school, but we always follow gubernatorial closures)—and a bunch of other stuff shut down.  I picked up dinner at a Hardee’s in Florence, South Carolina Monday evening after a guitar lesson, and it was surreal—everything was gone from the front, and the cashier had to give me a lid and straw according to their new cleanliness guidelines.

(Let’s take a moment to thank all those service industry folks and long-distance truckers who are continuing to work and risking exposure; they are unsung heroes.  Also, spare a thought to people in those industries that are out-of-work at the moment.  They need our love and charity now more than ever.)

That’s all to say that, in a remarkably short period of time, the United States has undergone a major paradigm shift.  The world of Saturday, 14 March 2020 at 2 PM—when I emerged from the cocoon of extended time SAT testing—was a different than the world of Wednesday, 18 March 2020 at 9 PM (when I’m writing this very belated blog post).

One trend—that I think will be positive if it endures—is the implicit rejection of globalism.  People are suddenly awakening, dramatically, to the manifold downsides of open borders and excessive global economic integration.  Suddenly, localism is back in vogue.

One of my musician friends, a bit of a Sandersnista hippie-dippie type (but attractive enough to get away with it) has been posting Left-leaning memes consistently throughout this crisis.  But one meme caught my eye:

Grandma - Local Supply Chain

Here’s good ol’ Granny tending her garden.  The meme is right:  I know from family lore that my Mamaw and Papaw fed themselves, their children, and a lot of other folks in the mountains of southwestern Virginia during the Depression with chickens and crops they raised themselves.

That got me thinking:  could America see the return of widespread of homesteading, or some modern-day version of Jeffersonian agrarianism?

I was pondering this question on my way to church tonight (yes, yes, social distancing, etc., but it’s a small church, and we had a very small turnout, so I’m sure it was fine to attend), driving through the fields on the outskirts of Lamar.  I began pondering the notion of a society with our level of information technology, but that saw most Americans farming or gardening for at least a small bit of their sustenance.

Such a system would be “high-tech agrarianism”—it would combine modern technology, especially information technology like the Internet, with millions of freehold agriculturalists.  Yes, we’d still have the huge mega-farms, we’d have people working in offices, etc.  But people would be making good use of their land, too, growing crops instead of grass.

Of course, I then began to ponder if such a society could have ever developed organically.  My instinct is no—it required the massive integration of local, regional, and national economies to raise production efficiency to the point that we can have widespread, niche-y specialization in tens of thousands of fields.  Greater efficiency fed into greater technological advancement, which in turn led to greater efficiency—and on and on and on, in a revving upward cycle.

But now we’re staring down this virus, which is leading governments all over the world to close stores, cancel events, lay off workers, turn away elderly patients, and on and on.  Those long, efficient supply chains are massively disrupted.  People are hoarding toilet paper and bread in the hopes of riding out likely (and, in some places, actual) quarantines.

I’m assuming life will return to normal… eventually.  But when?  So far, many of my assumptions about the pandemic have been incorrect (it turns out this time, the media wasn’t just crying wolf—well, not entirely, anyway; it still seems that some of this panicked response is driven by ridiculous media spin and speculation).  If we continue down this road of greater and greater decentralized isolation, people are either going to riot, or figure out how to provide for themselves.

In such a world, maybe high technology and small-scale farming could work keyboard-in-glove.  I’ve long advocated for some return to a simpler, more agrarian, more localized life.

Of course, I’m romanticizing America’s Jeffersonian past.  Farming is hard—and risky (of course, that hardness made our nation great).  I certainly don’t know anything about it—another truth to the meme above.  Also, if we’d continued as a mostly farming nation, we wouldn’t have the means to fight this virus, or to figure out how to fight it.

That said, converting your half-acre lawn into a garden full of corn, squash, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, beans, berry bushes, etc., seems like a far more productive use of your little plot of land, and one that could save your life and the lives of others in a pinch.  That seems sensible.

We could also do with some can-do gumption, like Granny had.

Home Depot is operating on shortened hours, but they’re remaining open.  Maybe now is the time to buy a roto-tiller.

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Lazy Sunday LXXXII: Rural America

After a week of incredibly hot weather here in South Carolina, Saturday brought a blessed drop in both the temperature and humidity—a foretaste of autumn.  My girlfriend and I spent Saturday weeding my disgracefully overgrown flower beds, which were mostly weeds strangling the life out of everything but the hardiest of perennials (and my robust banana trees).  We then did some new plantings (with a few more to put in, as well as some mulch).  The results were pretty good:

Lamar House - After Planting, 5 September 2020

It felt good to get our hands (and clothes, and faces) dirty, digging through the dirt and nurturing plant life.  My mother is an expert gardener, so I’ve picked up a few simple techniques from her; otherwise, we just bought flowers we liked and plopped ’em in with some in-ground bedding soil and a some water.  Fingers crossed that everything survives.

My mind has been on the soil lately, and our connection to it.  I have a fondness—perhaps a tad romantic—for country life.  With current trends in the cities—rising home prices, rising property taxes, and rising urban violence—country life seems like an attractive, even inevitable, alternative.

As such, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s Lazy Sunday to some pieces about rural America:

  • TBT: Rustics Have Opinions, Too” – This piece dates way back 2009, when the blog was in its first iteration on Blogger, and I was still enthralled with “Randian-libertarian economic” philosophy.  Such are the follies of youth.  However, I did notice even then the deep disdain of limousine liberals for the rest of us here in “flyover country,” a disdain that, at least in part, accounts for the TEA Party movement and the Trumpian revolt of 2016.
  • High-Tech Agrarianism” – When The Virus hit, people were in a tizzy about having enough toilet paper and food.  People gained a renewed interest in gardening as a source of sustenance, not just beauty.  In this post, I mused about a possible return to small-scale homesteading, coupled with our advanced information technology.  Essentially, I posited a world in which people still work, albeit increasingly from home and on more flexible hours, and can use their time to tend to small crops to supplement their diets.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: The Future is Rural” – One of two recent posts on the lure of rural America and small town life, I argue here that life in the country offers many attractive incentives for working families.  Not only are cities pushing people away with high prices and crime; the country is ready to take in telecommuters who earn good money but want a low cost of living in a safe, healthy environment.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: Small Town Natalism” – The second post in my Saturday series about small town and rural living, this post is a preliminary sketch of a policy proposal:  applying nationalistic, pro-birth natalist policies to the small town context.  Instead of wasting money on seldom-used public facilities, local governments could offer a stipend to married families with children to encourage increased birth rates.  That would grow towns organically and attract new residents, thereby broadening the tax bases in often distressed rural areas.

That’s it for this week.  The garden is calling to me.  Time to put down some mulch!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

TBT: Painting

This summer was the first in probably seven years that I took off from maintenance work at school.  However, last Friday I received a call from the head of our Buildings & Grounds Department, calling me out of semi-retirement for one final score:  painting classrooms.

It was nice to get back to painting, an activity I’ve always enjoyed.  It’s a bit tedious, but I appreciate the almost immediate gratification:  I can see my progress as I go.  And today’s paints often allow for finishing a job in one coat, maybe with some minor touch-ups.

I put in seventeen hours of painting in three days, and now I’m back to funcling for one more day, this time with my niece and nephews’ other uncle pitching in (a trip to Chuck E. Cheese is in the works) before teachers report back for the new academic year.

Well, back to the kiddos.  Here’s 24 April 2019’s “Painting“:

Tonight’s post is one of those self-indulgent entries that has little bearing on what’s happening in the world today, but it’s germane to why this post is so late to arrive.

I spent the day painting in my brother’s finished basement.  He and his wife have this great living area/playroom for their kids down there, but there was a great deal of trim work that needed painting, as well as baseboards.

I spend many of my summers working maintenance at school, which usually involves painting classrooms.  There’s something about slapping a fresh coat of paint on a room that makes it look like there have been major upgrades or improvements, when really you’ve just changed the color.

Of course, everyone loves that fresh paint smell, and new paint does look good.  A change in color can dramatically change the atmosphere of a room—it’s “feel,” if you will.

This post, however, is more about the process of painting.  While I am thankful I do not have to paint for a living, it is an activity that I enjoy on occasion, usually because I’m getting paid to do it (as was the case today—thanks, bro).  Beyond the financial benefits, the act of painting is akin to driving long distances on the Interstate:  it’s a bit tedious, but it clears the mind wonderfully.  I’ve done some of my deepest thinking done while painting walls.

There’s also a tangible pay-off to painting:  the finished product is very satisfying.  What’s more, the process itself is rewarding, as you watch your progress unfold in real time.  There is little in the way of “busy work” in painting a room.

So many jobs today, especially of the clerical sort, seem to be about spinning wheels in an attempt to appear productive.  I’m convinced that huge sectors of our economy consist of such paper-pushing.  Just look at the excessive credentialing that underpins so many fields, like education, without tangibly improving the quality of the professions.

In painting—as in my blue-collar trades—there is little room for such wheel-spinning.  The job either gets done, or it doesn’t.  Unreliable contractors baffle me for this reason (and they are common in the rural South, as I suspect demand drastically outstrips supply), although the problem there is usually getting the project started.

Regardless, the job must be done.  If it’s not done, it’s noticeable, especially when painting.  A missed spot on the wall is like starting at the pirates’ black spot in your hand.

Of course, painting takes its toll.  My entire body is sore from bending and stretching all day (I was switching between trim on the ceiling and baseboards on the floor, as well as some window trim and door frames).  Anecdotally, I’m told that many professional painters are drunks.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve heard it from enough different people that there must be some kernel of truth to it.  What’s the connection?  (Apparently, paint fumes, but that’s not a huge problem, I’ve found, with latex paint in well-ventilated areas.)

That said, I will sleep soundly tonight, and enjoy a sense of serene accomplishment.  Painting today was a wonderful way to refocus my mind and to help me calm down after a busy, extended Easter Weekend.

Happy Wednesday!

–TPP

Trump’s One-Two Punch

Trump won in 2016 running on a strong “America First” platform.  A major component of America First-ism is prioritizing the interests and the well-being of American citizens first—before the interests and well-being of foreign-born workers and immigrants, legal or otherwise.  The appeal and the concept aren’t difficult to understand:  a government should, chiefly, operate in the interest of its citizens before anyone else.  We can discuss the best immigration policies as a nation, but those policies should always place American citizens at the forefront.

It’s such a simple and pure political philosophy, it’s a wonder it comes under such fire.  But such is the world of globalists—who want cheap labor and sacrificial offerings to Efficiency—and progressives—who think anyone who is white and cares about having a job is a racist.  Take out the mercenaries (the former group) and the insane (the latter group) and you have reasonable people, those folks that might quibble around the edges of America First doctrine, but can’t disagree with its fundamental premises.

Trump has been better than most of his predecessors on immigration, though his waffling and equivocating—likely the product of Jared Kushner’s influence—have soured his some of his earliest supporters.  His turn on Jeff Sessions and the former Attorney General’s ultimate defeat in the Alabama Republican primary this summer seemed to many Trumpists to be a betrayal of immigration patriotism.  Sessions was, indeed, the leading voice in the United States government, pre-Trump, in denouncing open borders and unlimited immigration.  With Sessions leaving the national scene, immigration patriots and restrictionists have reason to worry.

That said, it bears remembering that Trump won the presidency campaigning on building a wall, prioritizing Americans over foreign workers, and keeping American industries at home.  No one in meaningful national politics (other than Jeff Sessions and Pat Buchanan) was beating that drum prior to Trump.  Trump tapped into a deep well of resentment over the Obama administration’s decade of putting middle-class Americans last, and several decades of neglect and open scorn from national politicians.

I also don’t expect Trump to reverse the postwar consensus overnight, or to get the whole loaf all at once.  I think Trump’s basic instincts are to put Americans first, while weighing the complexities of various interest groups and economic factors.

But Trump is at his best when he cuts the Gordian Knot and drives to the heart of the issues.  If Americans are losing jobs to foreign visa holders, well, make those visas less valuable.  He’s done that with an executive order barring H1B visa holders from working in federal government jobs, and barring the government from using contractors who use H1B visa holders.

Read More »

The Tuck for President

The 2020 election is looming, and while Trump is struggling at the moment, I am praying that he can pull out another victory and another four-year term.  The stakes are high:  a Trump victory, at minimum, allows us to forestall a progressive Armageddon for another four years; it also undermines both the Never Trumpers (who can no longer write off Trump’s 2016 victory as a “fluke”) and the ultra-progressives.  I don’t think the modern Democrat Party has much of a moderate wing left, but that small, dying minority might be able to convince the Party that going full-on progressive is a bad move.

A Trump defeat, however, would be catastrophic.  Z Man wrote Tuesday that a “Democratic sweep” would essentially mean the end of elections in America—at least, the end of meaningful national ones:

More important, there is no electoral option either. The Democrat party is actively cheering on this lunacy. Joe Biden is running an extortion campaign, where a vote for him means an end to the violence and Covid lock downs. How realistic is that when his party is cheering for the mayhem, promising to take it to a new level after they win the final election. It is not hyperbole to say that a Democrat sweep in November means the end of elections. What would be the point?

Trump’s defeat would also embolden the Jonah Goldberg/David French neocons of Conservatism, Inc., who are essentially abstract ideologues offering token resistance to the Left.  There’s a reason the joke “The Conservative Case for [Progressive Goal Here]” exists, because National Review tends to put up tortured, weak resistance to the progressive fad of the moment, before finally caving and accepting the latest lunacy as a “bedrock conservative principle.”  What conservative site goes around pitching “magic mushrooms” as conservative—and has done so repeatedly?  The conservative publication of record possesses the quality and depth of a college newspaper.

Regardless, Trump’s defeat would mean not just Biden’s marionette presidency, in which ultra-progressive handlers pull the strings; it would also mean a return to boring, ineffectual, tired, defeated neoconservatism.  National conservatism, social conservatism, traditionalism, populism—these movements and others, which have enjoyed a renewal since 2015, would wither on the vine—or see themselves pruned from “respectable” Beltway “conservatism.”  That would only hasten the victory of progressivism in the absence of any real opposition.

But there is hope.  2020 looms large, but 2024 is is not that far away.  On the Right, there is a good bit of speculation about who will fill Trump’s shoes.  VDare offers one compelling optionTucker Carlson.

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TBT: April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective

Last year marked the tenth anniversary of my unceremonious lay-off/non-renewal of my teaching contract.  It was the height of the Great Recession, and jobs were lean on the ground.  “Entry-level” positions called four a four-year degree and two-year’s (minimum) experience, yet holding an advanced degree was considered “overeducated” and could potentially disqualify an applicant for work.

It was the worst of all situations for a young man barely out of graduate school and just one year into his teaching career.  I was lucky, though, to have a good dad with a background in human resources and local government, who helped me find a decent job with the City of Sumter.  I was only out of work maybe three months, and had parents who were able and willing to support me during that period.

Even then, I was anxious to get out on my own again, not because I was chafing under my parents, but because I was keenly aware I was not being a man.  Instead of earning my own way in the world at twenty-four, I was living off the generosity of my parents.  That’s one of the myriad ways in which an economic downturn can take a spiritual toll on a young man.

Now it appears we’re on the precipice of another major economic catastrophe, this time thanks to the coronavirus and the stringent public health measures taken to slow its inexorable spread.  Things were really started to rev up again.  Even though the economic recovery began even as early as 2009, it didn’t feel like we were in a recovery until around 2017.  Trump’s election didn’t just buoy the stock market; it brought a sense of renewal, hope, and optimism to the United States.

Americans, especially younger Americans, don’t remember how bad the Great Recession was.  I feel for young college students who are just about to enter the workforce—I was there, too, not long ago.  I wish you could have enjoyed at least a few years of the good life.

On the plus side, we will get through this downturn, although I suspect it’s going to be far worse than the Great Recession.  We’ve never tried shutting off the entire economy before, then plugging it back in two weeks—or maybe a month, or three months—later.  Two weeks we may have seen things roaring back; maybe we will after a month.

But I can’t conceive of a rapid return to normality if it stretches much longer than that.  Small businesses are going to go under once they burn through their cash reserves.  The restaurant industry, along with the hundreds of thousands of waiters, cooks, busboys, hostesses, etc., it employs, is going to be changed for a long time.  That’s just one example among many.

I’m already feeling the effects on my private lesson business, which was booming before The Virus (although it was down a bit from its 2019 peak).  Right before The Virus hit, I had six consistent students at $30 per lesson, per week.  That’s not bad for supplemental income (at my peak, I had ten students, one for a $45 lesson, though I was only charging $25/lesson at that point).  Most of those cancellations are for the duration of The Virus, but once the plague has passed, the damaged economy will remain.  Some of those students will resume, but belt-tightening budgets are going to eliminate piano lessons fairly quickly, if I had to guess.

That said, I am blessed to have a steady job now, and will hopefully avoid any repeats of 1 April 2019.  The Great Recession left a mark on me, and it’s made me more prepared for this next downturn.

With that, here is 2019’s “April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective“:

Today is April 1, 2019, popularly known as April Fool’s Day.  It’s a day for good-natured pranking and mirthful fun, a bit like a poor man’s Halloween.

This April Fool’s Day holds a particular resonance for me, however.  It was ten years ago today that, in the midst of the Great Recession, I lost my job.

Technically, my teaching contract was not renewed.  I still had an obligation to finish out the year, which I did as best I could, but I would not be coming back.

I remember it vividly:  my school’s former headmaster told me he wanted to speak with me.  I went into his office, and he told me a few things:  the school was consolidating my classes into fewer sections; the school desperately needed money (the enrollment was around ninety-five kids, and things were so tight they needed the $28,000 going towards my salary); and the economy was not conducive to private school fundraising and tuition.

He told me that, as I’d studied history (he, too, was a history teacher), I knew how these kinds of economic downturns went.  I thought he was mentioning this as a bit of cold comfort, a sort of, “don’t worry, it won’t last long, a[nd] you’ll be okay.”  Instead, he continued, saying, “this thing could last an entire decade!”  Yikes!  Way to kick a man when he’s down.

I knew (or, at least, I hoped—the day isn’t over yet!) that I’d never have the opportunity, grim as it was, again, so I said, “Wait a minute—this isn’t just some elaborate April Fool’s joke, is it?”  He said, stone-faced, “I wish it were.”

So, there I was, facing imminent unemployment in the worst job market since the Great Depression, with only one year of teaching under my belt and a Master’s degree in United States Trivia.

We forget, living in the wonderful Trump economy, how hard it was back then.  Jobs were not to be found.  Remember going to gas stations, and people would start polishing your hubcaps against your will so they could sell you the cleaner?  That’s how bad it was—people were hawking hubcap polisher at rural gas stations to try to make ends meet.  “Entry level” jobs required two years of experience, at minimum, which no one fresh out of college plausibly had (unless they’d wisely done some kind of internship or work study).

Fortunately, with some help and coaching from my dad, I landed a job at the City of Sumter, after only three months of formal joblessness.  I was quite fortunate.  I managed the Sumter Opera House, where I learned to run live lights and sound.  I also met some interesting people, including the comedian Gallagher (that used to be an impressive anecdote, but now few people under thirty know who Gallagher is; it’s a shame).  He was an odd bird, which isn’t that surprising, given he made a career out of smashing fruits with a sledgehammer.

That job turned into a grind—remember, if you had a job, you had to do pretty much anything your employer demanded, lest you face termination—but I learned a great deal, and it landed me back at my old teaching gig, under a new headmaster, in 2011.

That experience—being jobless in the Great Recession—left an enduring mark on me.  My first year teaching, I definitely phoned it in.  I worked hard on lectures, of course, but beyond a little club for musicians, I didn’t do much extra.

My first year back in the classroom, in 2011, was completely different.  I was teaching World History, Government, Economics, History of American Popular Music (a course I created), and AP US History.  I had to do prep for all of them.

I was astonished how much American history I’d forgotten since high school and college (a pro-tip:  studying American history in graduate school is more about reading overly-detailed monographs about obscure bits of the story of America; when I took my exams to finish my Master’s, I essentially used information I learned in my eleventh-grade AP US History class).  I would spend hours on Sunday afternoons at the Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina writing up lesson plans.

Then, I became the de facto sound guy for school events after a talented tech kid graduated (I named an award after him, which I give to students who assist with our concerts and plays on the tech end).  It’s the ultimate in job security—no one else knows how to do it—but it’s also a major obligation—no one else knows how to do it.

Since then, I’ve grown a decent side hustle teaching private music lessons.  I also teach courses at a local technical college, mostly online, but some face-to-face.  In 2014, I taught Monday-Wednesday evenings, first from 6-7:15, then from 9-10:15 PM.  I’d come home, exhausted, and fall asleep in my recliner.  Thursdays felt like Saturdays because, even though I still had two days at the high school, it was the longest possible point before a grueling sixteen hour Monday rolled around.

I save constantly for retirement—I make the legal annual maximum contributions to my IRA, 403(b), and HSA—and spend very little money.  I still drive the same Dodge Caravan that I’ve had since 2006.  I will occasionally splurge and buy digital piano, but my saxophones are falling apart (literally—my pawn shop alto sax has a key falling off).  I occasionally worry that, on that glorious day when I do retire, I won’t know what to do with myself if I’m not working.

All that said, I have done everything possible to position myself against another recession, bad labor market, etc.  April 1, 2009, seems now like a distant memory, but it could all come back.  I’m reminded of The Simpsons episode where some repo men are repossessing property from a failed Dot Com start-up.  One of them says, “It’s a golden age for the repo business—one which will never end!” as he lights a cigar with a $100 bill.

It’s easy to fall into that mindset.  I’m optimistic for the future, but I’ll never take prosperity or security for granted again.  Constant hustling—booking new gigs, picking up more students, getting more classes, working maintenance on the weekends, leading summer camps, collecting songwriter and publishing royalties—is what it takes.

SubscribeStar Saturday: End-of-Decade Reflections; Age and Class

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

Today’s post is a bit of a counterpoint to yesterday’s Trumpian triumphalism—not a repudiation of my own points, but a mild qualifier.  Yesterday’s post discussed the hard numbers behind the Trump economy, and the enormous gains in the S&P 500.

I argued that, unlike the “sugar high” years of the Obama Fed—when stock prices soared, but wages remained low and unemployment high—the growth we’re currently enjoying more accurately reflects the reality on the ground.  Americans are benefiting in their 401(k)s and their IRAs, to be sure, but they’re also enjoying higher wages, and more of us are working than at any point in our history since 1969.

All of that is true, and good.  But as I wrote yesterday’s post, I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that something is still off.  There remains a real disconnect between the prosperity we see both in reality and on paper, and the sense that there is a lack of prosperity.

Since popular politics is a matter of emotions and feeling far more than it is about reasoned discourse, addressing that enduring sense of economic disparity and privation is critical.  My foolish but troubled generation, which came of age and fought for jobs during the Great Recession, perceives that gap profoundly—with potentially major consequences for the future of the United States and the West.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

Lazy Sunday XLI: Food

‘Tis the season for excessive consumption, dear readers.  For a blog with a synonym for “fat” in the title, I’ve yet to feature a Lazy Sunday about food.

Well, that’s about to change.  Here are four succulent pieces about food—and my favorite vice, gluttony:

  • #MAGAWeek2019: Fast Food” – One of the pieces from MAGAWeek 2019 (all exclusive to my SubscribeStar Page with a $1/month subscription), this little essay is an ode to the glories of fast food.  Fast food truly is a modern-day miracle, bringing together advancements in agriculture, food preparation, logistics, etc., into one gloriously low-priced, high-fat package.
  • The Future of Barbecue” – The inspiration for this post was a piece at the Abbeville Institute, which detailed the deleterious effect of “mass,” or mass-market, barbecue chains on mom and pop barbecue joints, as well as the tradition of community barbecue.  It’s one of the many interesting chapters in the negative consequences of unbridled economic growth and efficiency at the cost of tradition and community.
  • Shrinkflation” – Another SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive, this piece examines the shrinking size of beloved foodstuffs.  Did you know a two-liter Coke isn’t really two-liters anymore?  Ever noticed how Twinkies don’t seem as big as they used to appear?  Well, in an effort to cut cost (and, presumably, to bamboozle consumers), many food processors cut the sizes of their products in order to hide cost increases from customers.  I’ve had the gnawing feeling lately that the future we live in is far less amazing than it’s supposed to be; here’s another example of reality disappointing us yet again.
  • Bologna” – I was really stretching when I wrote this post (just this past Friday), but, well, I love bologna.  In our current age of hyper-politicization, even the sandwich meat we consume says something about socio-economic status and our outlook on life.  Bologna is the humble mystery meat of the workingman, and I cherish its delicious, cost-effective flavor.

That’s it!  I’m looking forward to stuffing my face with gleeful abandon over the next few days (you know, to celebrate the Birth of Jesus).  Then I’ve got to reverse course; my jeans are ever-snugger, and my double-chin has slowly made a comeback.  Yikes!

Happy Eating—and Merry Christmas!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Bologna

The long national nightmare is over.  No, not the impeachment farce; it’s the end of the semester!  Grades are in the books, work is done, and teachers and students are heading out for two weeks of glorious Christmas Break.

It’s been an eventful week.  As the House was fulminating about Trump’s alleged “crimes,” I was playing a gig with our community jazz band.  I play second alto sax with the group, but I asked to sing a song on this concert.

It’s long been a dream of mine to sing with a full jazz swing band behind me, and that dream came true Wednesday evening.  I sang Andy Williams’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and was a nervous wreck (if you’ve seen the lyrics to that tune, you’ll understand why—what a mouthful!).  But I got through it admirably enough, even with a low-grade sinus infection.

The gig was during the dinner hour at a large church in town.  The first alto player indicated how hungry he was, and wondered if he could get a plate.  I told him (unhelpfully) that I’d eaten a bologna sandwich in my car before coming in (which sounds like a joke and/or the most mundane, pathetic detail in the world, but it was true).  All the old guys in the band—it’s a swing band, so there are a lot of them—expressed their enthusiasm for bologna sandwiches, and asked how it was prepared:  did I use mustard?  “Nope, Duke’s mayonnaise, with cheese.”  Murmurs of approval followed.

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