Who are these shadowy Millenials?

A marketing-focused post on LinkedIn says that “Whole Foods has made headlines this week for its announcement to introduce a new chain of stores to attract the mysterious millennial generation.”


The article itself points out that this shadowy group is the single largest living age cohort in America. But do you truly know who they are? Has anyone over the age of 35 penetrated their mysteries?

Do we Old People even know what Millenials look like? Are they secretly reptilian aliens? How could we possibly tell? Would you know if you’d even met one of these mysterious figures?

Enter Class Prejudice

The lengthy and depressing article from the NYT about how college degrees are now required for menial jobs includes this perfect closing quotation: “You know, if we had someone here with just a G.E.D. or something, I can see how they might feel slighted by the social atmosphere here… There really is something sort of cohesive or binding about the fact that all of us went to college.”

That’s some expensive camaraderie, and a sense of cohesion that eliminates whole classes of good people with valuable skills.

Sure, we have a classless society. In that people have no damn class.

Now you see the violence inherent in the system

Showing up four or five days a week at the dog park at the same time, you get to know the other regulars. There were four or five of us that gossiped all the time: Samantha and Allie, a couple in their 20s with a toy poodle mix that never missed a beat playing with dogs ten times its size. Cris, a dreadlocked white lady in her mid-40s with grown children and two shy husky-mix dogs. Bish, the 50ish bearded carpenter who rolled his own cigarettes and wouldn’t hesitate to get down and alpha-roll any dog that got snarly with another. His blue-nose pit Isha was the sweetest thing you’d ever meet, but of course it was a pit, so everyone assumed the worst about her, and about him.

And there was Jay, who couldn’t have been over 12 – he wasn’t yet a teenager, anyway. Just a boy. Most of the people who came to the park were white adults bringing their dogs, and here was this black kid with a BMX bike and no dog. Where were his parents? We didn’t ask. We assumed, if we thought about it at all, that he lived nearby, probably in the public housing towers around the way. But riding a bike around in a park and playing with dogs is a pretty wholesome activity, and if his folks didn’t mind, it wasn’t our business. “Shit,” Allie would say, “My mother was always on me to go outside and play at that age.” Besides, he matched the energy of the dogs, and we were glad to have someone to keep them active and tire them out.

It never occurred to us to ask why he didn’t ever bring his own dog, or why he didn’t seem to have any friends his own age. We assumed he didn’t have a dog, and was lonely, probably didn’t fit in at school. Kids that age can be so cruel, you know. We assumed a lot of things.

He claimed to have two dogs at home, but never brought them, and their descriptions changed from one telling to the next. We didn’t challenge him on those kinds of transparent lies, because he was sweet-natured and enthusiastic and we could tell – this at least we weren’t assuming, this we were observing – that he just wanted to insinuate himself into the group. Everyone wants to feel a sense of community, but at that age, the need for belonging is irresistibly keen. At his age kids will do almost anything to be a part of something bigger. Making up stories about dogs is nothing.
Besides, he was nice with the dogs. He showed empathy for them. If he’d teased or poked or provoked them, we’d have worried. But he was a sweet kid with a big smile. He tried not to swear around us and we tried not to swear around him. He had empathy for the animals and for the other people.

Sometimes a white lady we didn’t know would show up and scold him, and he’d run off. She never talked to us. He claimed that he had no idea who she was or why she was following him. We figured she was his mother, adoptive or otherwise, and that he was just in a weirdly dysfunctional family. He said she wasn’t his mother, and Cris told him “well, if she’s not your mom, she shouldn’t be treating you that way.” Because why, after all, would an unrelated woman come out and scold a lone child for unspecified misbehavior?

Then one day she drove up to the park took his bicycle and put it in the back of her Jeep. Cris and Allie went over to ask her what the hell was going on, and she said she was his social worker. By then we weren’t sure who to believe: Was this stalking and bike theft, or a disobedient child? The social worker didn’t seem very sympathetic, and we didn’t see that the kid had done anything wrong. And he did claim she was just a strange lady following him around.

Jay, it seems, had been running away from a foster home, repeatedly. To us, it didn’t look like running away: It looked like unsupervised play. But the lady was his social worker, and when three police cars and an ambulance showed up, they were able to confirm her story.

Jay began to cry, buried his face in Cris’s stomach, told her he didn’t want to go. She and a couple of the other park regulars calmed him down, and eventually he agreed to get into the ambulance. The social worker said he’d be “Section-twelved.” We had to look that up after they left: It means sent for psychiatric evaluation in a locked facility for up to 72 hours.

Obviously, I have no idea what the rest of the situation is. Maybe he’d been setting fires before heading out to the park and playing nicely with the dogs. Maybe he’d been skipping school. But from my perspective, it looked like the sort of thing that just comes down to race and class. A white middle-class boy in his situation, as far as I can tell, would be brought home, told to do his homework, and kept from watching TV for a week. Grounded, maybe.

Well, now Jay has learned some important life lessons: Never trust a social worker. Never trust a cop. Never trust an EMT. Never trust a nice white lady. Always be ready to run.

And all the white middle-aged people at the dog park learned something we should have known already: That our society regards an unsupervised black child as a threat to public safety. We’ve seen once again how race, class, and the apparatus of government grind the humanity out of humans.
I hope we see Jay again. And I hope he’s still got that wide-open smile. I don’t know how much longer he’ll have it.

What’s The Matter With the Republican Field?

The Economist investigates. Key conclusion:

Republicans’ disenchantment with their current presidential candidates is not an incidental characteristic of this crop of candidates. It’s a structural feature of a contemporary Republican Party whose pieces don’t hang together. Pro-Iraq-war neoconservative Republicans cannot actually live with Ron Paul Republicans. Wall Street-hating anti-bail-out Republicans cannot actually live with Wall Street-working bail-out-receiving Republicans. Evangelical-conservative Republicans cannot actually live with libertarian, socially liberal Republicans. Deficit-slashing Republicans cannot live with tax-slashing Republicans. Medicare-cutting Republicans cannot live with Medicare-defending Republicans. These factions have been glued together over the past three years by the intensity of their partisan hatred for Barack Obama, and all of the underlying resentments that antipathy masks.

For “all of the underlying resentments” read “racism.”

Oh Nelly

It’s common for dog-owners to note that they know other people’s dogs, but don’t remember the people themselves, just as parents often find themselves known as “Benjamin’s parents” rather than as … was it Melanie? It starts with an M, I think. With that cute low-maintenance bobbed haircut. And her husband, the one with the hat. Benjamin’s parents. You know.

Anyway, no, I don’t know the names of the people who walk the white-haired fluffball named Ziggy that I see almost every morning. He’s got a soul patch and a scally cap, and she’s got blonde curls, and they’re in their 40s. Ziggy’s about a year old, and a great dog, and the people are nice too. They recognize me with or without Lucy, but I doubt they remember my name. I don’t remember theirs. It’s nice to see them anyway. The same with Lottie, the French bulldog that stays within five feet of her owner, on-leash or not. I have no idea what her name is, although I’ve been introduced often enough that it would be embarrassing to ask again.

My favorite dog, though, the one that sticks with me, is Nelly. She’s 15 years old, and you can tell that she used to be mostly brown but is now mostly grey. I couldn’t tell you her breed, but she’s a little smaller than a Labrador, with oversized feet that look transplanted from a mastiff. With her is a guy I think of as Dave, who told me once that he still sometimes thinks she’ll grow into those feet. He looks like he could be anywhere from 50 to 70. He walks slowly, because Nelly walks slowly. She’s quite literally on her last legs: When she stops walking, they start to buckle and she sags toward the ground. If she sits, the man who might be named Dave has to lift her back up to her feet before they can turn around and walk back home. I’m always glad to see the two of them.

Greg Mankiw: STFU & GTFO

A few days ago, former Buch economic advisor Greg Mankiw wrote an editorial arguing that if tax rates returned to their 1990s-era levels, he’d work far less, perhaps writing fewer disingenuous editorials.

If only.

A Taxing Manner and Marginal Revolution and Brad DeLong have all debunked him on the facts, but that doesn’t really address how offensive his lies are.

Like Mankiw, I have several sources of income: I’ve got my day job, and I do some freelance editing, and I do some events work on evenings and weekends at my wife’s book store. Yesterday I worked the Boston Book Festival. Eight hours on my feet with a smile on my face and a twinge in my back lifting books and running a register. For that I earned $80 pre-tax, most of which I spent buying a round of drinks afterwards.

I’m not in it for the money, in other words. I do it because I enjoy it and because I believe in the book store and in sales. And because this weekend I got to meet Dennis Lehane, Chip Kidd, and Kristin Hersh.

Mankiw gets paid good money to advance a theories he doesn’t even believe. If he were serious about what he’s saying, he’d shut the fuck up and get the fuck out, and we’d all be better off.

I am an overweight American

I am 5’8″ tall and weigh 165 pounds, which puts my BMI at 25. Healthy normal BMI for men is supposed to be under 25, so my doctor tells me I need to lose weight. Or gain half an inch in height. Either way, really.

I reminded him that the body mass index is only a rough estimate of body composition, subject to a number of limitations and shortcomings, and that the estimate of body composition it provides is itself only a rough estimate of health. I told him I can run five miles at a stretch and that I lift weights regularly. He told me I probably ate too many fatty snacks.

Obviously I went to the gym and asked the fitness expert to measure my body-fat percentage. Her machine told me that it’s 18%. She told me 18% is fine. She also said I should fire my doctor because he doesn’t know the difference between BMI and body composition.

I don’t doubt that obesity is a serious problem. And I’m sure I could be in better shape – my body fat percentage was lower a few years ago, when I was in my 20s and single and exercising every day for an hour or more. But a blind adherence to inaccurate numbers is not going to help things.