NPR Counteracts My Blood Pressure Meds

On NPR just now, I listened to a story about unemployment benefits coming to an end. This, naturally, concerned people who were on those benefits. As they pointed out, unemployment does not only help individuals. The benefits help a community. Money from these benefits goes to businesses, goes to mutual aid, to the baseline importance of making sure that people remain in homes and not thrown onto the street. When that funding is cut off, what little social safety net there is in this country falls out, leading to one more person with housing or food insecurity; if that person is lucky, they’ll have friends or family they can stay with and, thus, cling to society in one way or another. If they’re not lucky, then they’re on the street – a difficult situation to be in, not least because you lose access to an address, which means you lose access to banks, to utilities, to credit lines, etc. 

The right wing will, often, try and point out that this is why saving is important. Well, saving is a middle class and up dream. For people in the situation where they have to pay ½ – ⅔ of their income to rent, saving is a nice-to-have. Food, transport, healthcare – those are the immediate concerns. You can’t think about retirement if you’re too concerned about what’s directly in front of you – and if you can think about retirement, you can’t do anything about it. Because, again, you’re at risk of being tossed out of your house because now the Supreme Court has ruled that the eviction moratorium cannot be extended. 

Landlords everywhere lick their greasy, parasitic lips and see profit.

But all of that is not why I wanted to write this. No, what I heard after the unemployment benefits story is what triggered this: The broadcast pivoted from this to a chipper announcer saying: “Accidentally stepping on your dog is the worst! You’re not paying attention to where you walk and suddenly, you’re trodding on Fido!” The pivot was enough to almost give whiplash. In the words of a friend of mine: “Pleasant news to drink a latte to, while you’re in your BMW on the way to Whole Foods or the gym in the morning.”

It is, I think, a microcosm of why the United States will not last much longer – at least as we all grew up thinking about it. The US will likely continue, but its form will have changed so drastically, the security that we like to tout will, likely, be completely obliterated, and, frankly, we will be surpassed in happiness, wealth, and security by other, less self-destructive countries.

How in the hell did I get there, you may be wondering. Well, there is a very pronounced desire in this country – specifically by the Democrats – to do the absolute bare minimum and then pivot away, thinking that the job is done and things will take care of themselves. In our example above, NPR runs a solid piece about the problems that we’ll face as unemployment benefits end, as people lose their safety nets, and more and more wealth gets concentrated in the upper echelons of society, who already have all of the wealth.* And then, as if a producer realized that would unnerve their audience and, thus, potentially impact their donation flow, the tone shifts to twee, as if something clever just happened in a Wes Anderson movie.

This twee tone is, of course, something I cannot handle with NPR. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me may be a wonderful show if you’re upper middle-class and don’t read political theory, or think critically about the news, but the tone of the hosts – that light mocking, that “Gee, isn’t life just weird sometimes – reminds me of Portland’s Ted Wheeler, who wore a “Gentrification Is Weird” shirt on the campaign trail years ago, and somehow keeps getting elected. NPR lives and breathes on this stuff. I’ve lost count of the news pieces about, say, olive oil manufacturing or slice-of-life bullshit that appeals to people who have Strong Thoughts™ about IKEA or gardening, but can’t be asked to stop voting for people who back cops and landlords.


This whole thing, this problem, is what’s going to cause us more problems in America than all of the Mitch McConnells of the world. See, as long as the center and center-left approach the world like this, as long as, immediately after a huge media conglomerate runs  good piece about why benefits ending is a bad thing and then segues into a cute piece about dogs instead of, say, discussing the voting records of Congress reps on the matter, or talking about what can be done to mitigate the problem, then we’re fucked. People will continue thinking that things aren’t really that bad. They’ll continue thinking that tent cities can’t possibly pop up in their city, or that their school boards won’t be invaded by QAnon adherents. They’ll keep thinking that these are problems for Other People to consider. They’ll keep thinking that these problems are far away and, thus, they won’t need to pay attention to local elections, or that they can stand on the sidelines as literal fascists invade state capitols.

It is, in short, the problem in any liberal democracy. When people become very comfortable, they lose the perspective necessary to make them realize that their comfort is not permanent. They think that they’ll be fine if things fall apart. If they make enough, they might. But chances are, they won’t. They’ll have to contend with the fact that, soon enough, their city’s housing prices will skyrocket, because everyone’s in tech now. As their housing prices skyrocket, so too will groceries, or transportation. And as the prices of all of these rise – and as their wages stagnate, because unions and co-ops are for factory workers and the poors, don’t you know – their relative security will fall. And, soon enough, they’ll look at their budget and, even if they’re making over the median wage for their city, they’ll start to wonder just where the money’s going every year. And, once that happens, it will be that more of a shock when they have to think about what to do if they can’t afford a roof over their heads.

That, there, brings us to another problem. If you spend your time with mindbleach and not thinking about the systems we have in place – and I mean really thinking, critically, and considering that you yourself are part of the destruction inherent in what we like to call “late-stage capitalism” by not actively making things better – then you’ll be completely unprepared to deal with these problems when they come up. 

To be clear: I am not advocating that people become preppers. I am advocating that people take a hard look at American society, realize that it cannot continue like this, and start studying up on resiliency. I am advocating that people take pointers from Anarchist thinkers – the kinds that advocate for local-scale cooperatives and communities, not, like, fucking BreadTube or whatever. I am advocating that, while people do both of those things, they consider what they can do to mitigate the disaster we’re facing. That could be getting involved in your local Democrats organization and undertaking the Sisyphean task of wresting control of it from rich white people with nothing else to do, or it could be starting up neighborhood associations that do more than think about how to keep minorities out of your ZIP code. Whatever the role you take, it is important that you deeply, deeply consider the fact that America is well on a road to a dark future. 


After the last election, leftists on Twitter were looking at a bittersweet victory. No one wanted Trump to win a second term. Everyone was concerned that a Biden victory would effectively kill all the mainstream organizing momentum that had been gained in the latter two years of the Trump presidency. Now, looking around, it’s hard to think that hasn’t been the case. Vast swaths of the center and center-left have gone back to brunch. The people who marched hand in hand with anarchists and called for defunding or – in the case of those liberals who got it for even a moment – abolition of the prison-industrial complex are now looking at Portland and wondering why the cops aren’t doing anything about the homeless problem. 

Things will, likely, continue to deteriorate. America does not have the resiliency to protect its population from 21st century capitalism; we don’t have the infrastructure to protect ourselves from the imploding climate; we sure as hell don’t have the ethics or mental fortitude to protect ourselves from rampaging fascists. The only way we can get that resilience is to take steps on an individual level. We can read boring political philosophy (yes, even if it won’t make us money). We can build networks to help each other outside of the exchange of currency. Alongside all of this, those of us who have the energy can attempt to rescue the Democrats from their own inertia. 

It is, of course, important to have a dose of mindbleach on hand. If you were to spend all of your waking hours doing what I’ve been ranting about, you’d be a miserable person. We all need dog pictures. We all need that dose of feel-good-vibes. But please, for the love of God, join me in being very infuriated that NPR lacks the follow-through to have a slam-dunk win of following up a piece on unemployment benefits ending with a critique of the policies that led us there. 

Fuck, man, just anything other than “Accidentally stepping on your dog’s tail is the worst!” Jesus.

*I think of a comic in Tim Kreider’s The Pain, where the artist is asking for a loan from a bank. The banker replies with “Sorry, the money’s gone. There is no more money.”

The 2012 Christmas Letter

From: Aaron Simon
Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 4:00 PM
Subject: Christmas Letter 2012

Dear Coworkers,

It’s that time of the year. We look back upon the artificial construct known as the calendar and consider all that we have lost, accomplished, and put up with over the past year. You may be struck by this e-mail, as this is one of the few I have sent this year. There are many reasons for that, but chief among them was that the detestable Ted Hayward (hello, Ted), upon hiring a new IT guy, had that IT guy block Microsoft Word on my computer. Well, I bypassed the block – you prick – so now you’re all getting an e-mail.

I’ve read your Christmas letters. All of them. How you all have so much to write about, especially since “fluff” would be an overgenerous description of the contents of the missives, is beyond me. I have spoken to most of you over the course of this year, and I can safely say that there is nothing redeeming about 90% of you. Despite my best efforts, though, none of you have yet broken. This may be because of your antiquated faith, or some reserve of willpower that I did not think you possessed, but rest assured, in 2013, you will be reduced to a mindless husk.

But Christmas is not a time for threats, it is a time for joy! Sadly, I do not have much in the way of joy. Our agency is fraught with infighting and strife. And, though our Great Director has his own methods of salvaging the remnants of good cheer that may still be found in dark corners of utility closets, know that, were I in his position, it would go differently. Every time the lot of you complain about some miniscule thing, you would be moved from offices to cubicles. The windows would be shuttered, and the light of day would never again be seen in this building.

Over the past year, I have had much time to reflect upon my station in life. I am still alive and – despite my best efforts to the contrary – my liver still functions. I briefly considered krokodil as a method of making the days go by in a more interesting way, but decided that my aim with a needle was not precise enough to indulge. I would most likely miss a vein and wind up with half of my flesh disintegrated. And, while I have plenty of sick leave saved up, I am not certain it would be enough to allow everything to regrow.

But it is not all negative! I read one good novel. I would tell you what it is, but I sincerely doubt that you would bother to pick up even the audiobook. Very well. It was Camus. L’Etranger. It spoke to my soul. And no. While I have read more contemporary novels, not one of them was worth the paper on which they were printed. Acres of forest were destroyed for this garbage, hastening not only the demise of our culture, but our planet.

And, just last month, as I sat in our department meeting, looking up at the ceiling and wishing upon all that I once held dear that the roof of the building would collapse, I came to a rather freeing revelation: Nihilism, in all of its dead-end philosophy and soul-crushing miasmic power, is the only true ethos. Consider even the greatest of our scientists and thinkers. In three generations’ time, all of their hard work will be obsolete and their names will be erased from everything but their tombstones. So, then, why do we insist upon this repetitive life we call reality?

I realized, then, that there is no reason to do so. Thus, I pledged to break free from the chains of “optimism,” that con. Further, because I believe in all of you, I will do the same for you, whether or not you wish it to happen. The light you believe to be life shall be extinguished and you shall see that the dark oblivion of the future is the only Truth.

Merry Christmas,


P.S. I note that many of you are bringing in baked goods. As is custom, I shall bring in a jar of store-bought, cold, beet borscht.

Missed Call

From: Darlene-Lynn Brown

Sent: Monday, 13 February 2012 9:46 AM


Subject: Missed a phone call???!!(!)

Hi Guys,

I got a voice mail from a female asking me to return the telephone call to 573-1729. The only other thing I could understand on this message was “this is very important to me, have a blessed day.”  When I attempted to return the telephone call, I explained to her that she had left a message, but I couldn’t understand the rest of the voice mail and I was returning her telephone call. She told me that if I didn’t know who I was calling, I had the wrong number. The person I spoke with was clearly the same person that left the voice mail.   I have no recollection of anyone with this number and think I may have gotten the voicemail by mistake. Have any of you all attempted to make contact with someone at this number?  I sure don’t want her to fall through the cracks!

Darlene-Lynn Brown
Employed Vagabond


From: Aaron Simon

Sent: Monday, 13 February 2012 9:52 AM

To: Darlene-Lynn Brown

Subject: RE: Missed a phone call???!!(!)


I’m so, super psyched that you felt the need to tell us that you received a phone call. Here I was, wondering whether or not Darlene keeps her work phone hooked up throughout the day, and then, verily, the Lord blesses me with an answer in the form of a missed call. Truly, we live in Holy times.

Often, I receive odd calls. Sometimes, they are in Spanish, as it turns out that the previous owner of my cell phone number was an immigration lawyer. Now, the only foreign language I can speak is French, and—even then—I sound like a mentally deficient five year old. (Or, alternatively, you. I’m joking. Or am I?) So, naturally, being as compelled as I am to get in contact with these people, I will return their phone call, but only to shout, “JE NE PARLE PAS ESPAGNOL! JE NE PARLE PAS ESPAGNOL!” The people then start shouting in Spanish, and I have to continue shouting in French until either my throat starts bleeding or they hang up. Generally, after that, they don’t call again. May I suggest trying that?

I have a very important question for you, and I want you to devote all of your mental faculties to answering it: In your wall of text, you mention that a female called you. My question is this:

A female of what species?

Darlene, I know you are Southern, and thus believe science is some Satan-led plot to destroy Christianity, but you must realize that a female of any species other than homo sapiens using the telephone would be earth shattering. The way we view life would change monumentally and it would be you in the spot-light.

Maybe you could afford some language classes so you wouldn’t tack on an extra eight syllables to every word. You know. Food for thought.

Anyway, please let me know. Unlike you, I have many friends in the hard sciences would would be absolutely pumped to hear about this sort of stuff.


Aaron Simon

Enrollment Guy

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