All-you-can-stomach NPR: eliding the difference between education and too damn much time in school

This item on All Things Considered rubbed me the wrong way, although I couldn’t really put a finger on it at first. I do not enjoy being left in a state of sputtering, inchoate disgust by overschooled, undereducated clownjobs on the radio, however, so I started unpacking the big ball of stupid by contemplating the financial advisor NPR dragged up for this bit of listener programming. The advisor’s name is, of all things, Paivi Spoon. Spoon has a noticeable Melania Trump’s grandmother thing going on, an oddity in a FIRE-infested country with so many financial advisors who speak neutral American English without bizarre tics of intonation that subtly transcend accent. These tics actually transcend accent in most cases, but Americans are too stupefied by highbrow-sounding European accents to notice.

Why, then, was this precious, frankly a bit creepy lady “invited” to “sit down with” these new parents, themselves none too fluent in English but in a non-abnormal Latin American way, about financial planning for their child’s future and their own? As Americans, we’ve been read this story before, and it’s a dirty one. In 2012, I came across a column in a local weekly rag in Santa Cruz by an English expatriate living in Bonny Doon or Ben Lomond or some shit, in which this scolding Englishwoman instructed Americans on the proper forms of address for the US President and First Lady, the Queen, and so forth. I recall her byline mentioning that she offered some sort of etiquette lessons for unwashed American children, the sort of finishing lessons (don’t they finish beef cattle, too?) that wealthy parents in Texas inflict upon their daughters in the hope that they’ll use the family oil money to sexually buy out the grant and title of some landed but cash-strapped twit in the mother country. I say that it’s better for one’s daughter to become a whore in the DFW metroplex than to marry some financially witless Eurotrash sugar baby so that he can keep living in his parents’ house forever, since there’s a difference between crazy and craven. My white trash stepcousin in the Adirondacks was long out of the house by the time he started porking his landlady in lieu of rent, because in some cultures young people are encouraged to grow up. The problem isn’t prostitution; it’s being a fucking twit. To be fair, there have to be some seriously crazy hookers around Dallas, but for that matter, there are some seriously crazy petroleum geologists, too, and when they’ve dumped their last dollar down a wildcat hole, they’re one or two orders of magnitude ahead of any working girl who just ran out of crank money.

This stick-in-the-ass English lady in Santa Cruz, though. She was all about proper forms of address to one’s social betters, not, say, civil ways to greet the peaceable homeless as equals and fellow citizens should the need arise. I once met a borderline-homeless fellow in Rancho Cordova (my next-door neighbor at the Crossland, as I discovered to my own concern) who addressed me as “sir,” “boss,” “man,” and “dog” within the space of five minutes, the first minute of the five having been devoted to a barely-averted fistfight with a man he said had sold meth to his kid sister. As they say, I live by the light rail station in Rancho, but I consider it a sign of good breeding to generally address total strangers as “sir” or “ma’am,” you know, just because I try not to be a Raiders fan. This Brenda Jorett-grade scold from across the pond, however, wanted to make sure that we used proper etiquette with the rich and famous, because otherwise they’d be offended, and their feelings on their estates are worth more than ours are at our light rail stations. We had a fucking revolution in this country to rid our polity of these pests, we watered the tree of liberty with patriot blood from Lexington to Yorktown, and now we have Downton Abbey reruns on our equivalent of the BBC. What was any of it good for? Mr. Starr?

Give me “Mr. President” or give me death? “Bugger off back to Highclere Castle, you miserable cunt” is more like it. What, you have a problem with my using that Anglo-Saxonism? Bitch I prefaced it with a Greco-Latinism. English is a language of syncretic majesty. Who’s the uneducated one now? Seriously, why does CBP even admit these people? Why the hell do we have a visa application process if they’re able to get green cards? Barack Obama is our servant, not vice versa. He is a public servant, and we are the public. In point of fact, current forms of address for the head of government in the UK, the same country that gave us this bitch who moved to the Santa Cruz hills to scold the rest of us about manners, include “That’s rubbish, Tony, and you know it” and (I infer with some confidence) “Top of the morning to you, you jolly old pigfucker.”

The former, in fact, is verbatim what an infuriated constituent told Tony Blair at a public meeting when he was trying to defend British involvement in the ongoing bloodbath in Iraq. Benedict Arnold has a bad reputation in this country, post Saratoga and all that, but even he seemed to have a higher sense of principle about him than a desire to perform an entire career of public service on George III’s syphilitic Prussian wiener. Occasionally a nation finds itself with a recklessly self-dealing official in its intelligence or security services, someone like Robert Phillip “hey, watch me fuck my wife on CCTV before I go to the Opus Dei meeting” Hanssen, but that’s usually just one shithead selling out for however long it takes him to get caught. It isn’t an entire society being brainwashed into treating its public servants like gods. They don’t get to profane their offices and still be treated like something sacred. They shouldn’t, in any event, but then again, we watch an awful lot of Downton Abbey, and not an awful lot of Yes, Minister or Mercy Street. That shit is far too rawdog for a childish people like ourselves. No, not just the Civil War minus Ken Burns and the spoken-word fiddle tracks; we’re talking about the holders of some of the highest offices in all of Britain being called fools by their inferiors just because they keep doing things that are foolish. Why would anyone seek public office under conditions like these? A republic, madam, if you can keep it? The ones we told to take that shit back to Whitehall are under the dominion of a family of scolds, freaks, strange birds, and degenerates who personally own all the swans in the land, and yet Parliament abides. What the fuck is wrong with us?

Not content to let PBS scold us with stick-in-the-ass Eurotrash wankers rented from the BBC, NPR scolds us, and Mexico, with this Eurotrash financial advisor. This is because we’ve been conditioned, and successfully so, to conflate European accents with authority. Who the fuck is Piers Morgan? What in hell has that useless bastard ever had to say that was worth broadcasting internationally from a US television studio? Paivi Spoon wants these helots, Yamy and Anthony, to consume less of their money and save more of it for Precious Snowflake. No shit, but must we really hear it from some tendentious, stuffy old lady with a barely penetrable European accent? How many hundreds of thousands of equally credentialed Americans could have told us exactly the same thing, but without the veil of poor spoken English? My accent in Russian is probably less embarrassingly foreign than that, and I’ve hardly practiced it in several years. Should I go on Russian state radio to scold some new parents about how they oughtn’t eat out so often? You consume food, it’s gone. If I went to Moscow and mentioned this to some random couple on the street, they’d probably be like, shit, you flew to Russia to tell us that? Of course, NPR must have selected these new parents for their Latin deference to their Eurotrash betters. It’s a professional operation, after all.

Unfortunately, this piece wasn’t just daft. It was also pernicious, and most likely corrupt. Quoth Andrea Seabrook:

The trick is dialing down the consumption and turning up the investments. One thing that’s always an investment, says Paivi, is education for the child and the parents.

Then, from Spoon:

Anthony, Yamy, don’t forget yourselves….Quite often, different professional certifications are just as beneficial to you and your future earnings potential as is a college degree. So don’t just look at the children and their future. If you’re not well-off, they won’t be.

I would not want a stuffed-up freak like Paivi Spoon addressing me in such a condescending tone. I certainly wouldn’t let a group radio interview with someone of her demeanor stand without publicly calling her out for being a condescending, tendentious dipshit and making as ass out of me. But let’s also think about how pernicious this advice is. Education is “always an investment?” Like hell it is. Millions of Americans have been financially ruined by investments in education that have not panned out. Even the vocational training that Spoon specifies as lucrative alternatives are no panacea; plenty of people have been ruined by student debt incurred at trade schools, usually for-profit, which fraudulently exaggerated the earnings and job placement rates of their graduates. I’m not the only disaffected, embittered graduate of an oversold educational program in this country.

Let’s be clear about another thing, too: what Spoon and Seabrook mean here is not actually education, but credentialing. NPR may be too enstupidated to tell the difference, but there is one. Do I sound like I want to be surrounded by a society of pig-ignorant, more-commonsensical-than-thou, anti-intellectual shitheads, or by people who cherish learning and thought in their own lives and respect these virtues in others? Do I sound like I want to live around a bunch of fucking morons? One of the things I find most disgusting about my alma mater is that it has turned so many of its students and alumni into functionally uneducated twatwaffles in furtherance of fundraising goals. I did not go to school to make such an ass of myself or to cultivate the company of people who are so intellectually narcotized, even narrowly in the matter of how Dickinson College totally needs our money and has every prerogative to treat us like findom subs until we cough it up. Narrow ignorance, superstition, and corruption focused on one’s alma mater inevitably call into question one’s broader intellectual vigor and honesty on matters pertaining to everything else. It’s like discovering that someone who seems sensible enough in most regards is running interference on behalf of the Church of Scientology, or that Ben Carson construes the Pyramids of Giza as biblical grain silos and the US prison system as a university of homosexuality. These are holy-shit moments. These are windows into pervasive intellectual dysfunction. I’m not out of my mind to be worried, or to complain about those involved being obnoxious cult bagmen.

What I can’t quite tell about NPR is whether this reverence for credentialing ad infinitum is a function of top-down public corruption, perhaps dictated by sponsors or their ad men, or an emergent phenomenon resulting from the congealing of a uniformly overcredentialed but frankly uneducated and thoughtless reporting pool in a self-replicating organization that selects for twits who consider “safety school” an appropriate entry in their own lexicon. It could be either. It could be both. As Devin Yamanaka likes to say, “Hey there, Ed. What’s going on?”

There’s a neat little Freudian slip in the transcript of this story, a sort of buried lede, having to do with the new parents whom NPR claims to be so eager to guide towards financial security and upward mobility for their daughter. It pops up from time to time, including this bit of bathos at the end. Take a look at the last four paragraphs of the transcript, especially the last three:

SEABROOK: Budgeting, investing, studying – it’s a lot for new parents to tackle. But there’s help at npr.org/moneyandlife, like college savings plans versus Roth IRAs and more. And figuring all this out is worth it, Paivi says – not just because it’ll give Yamy and Anthony control over their money. It’ll also let them focus on what’s important – the new baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY COOING)

RIVAS: (Speaking Spanish).

SEABROOK: For NPR News, I’m Andrea Seabrook.

Oh. “Speaking Spanish.”A language, much like the cooing of a newborn. This must mean that the gardener has arrived.

Against NPR news, this is Murica Derp.

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