Our Classless Society

From the Other Side of the Tracks to the Tenure Track: Chatting with a Humanities Prof

My family has been the key reason I’ve always been able to push myself forward. They always tell me how proud they are of me, the way I stand up for myself, resist what people try to convince black girls they should believe about themselves

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Film Club Update/Decree: Snowpiercer, 7/24

As per the discussion from last week, it has been decided: we will discuss Snowpiercer, the post-apocalyptic sci fi / action / lighthearted summer entertainment about class warfarestarring Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and some really aggrieved axe murderers, on Thursday, July 24th. It’s playing in certain theaters but GOOD NEWS for the non-coastal elites: you can also enjoy it from the comfort of your couch. Here’s the full report from The Verge:

You can now watch acclaimed South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s slick, post-apocalyptic sci-fi film Snowpiercer right at home — just two weeks after it hit US theaters for the first time. That’s an extremely rare move for a film such as this, which has a sizable budget ($80 million), rave reviews (such as our own), and buzz at the theaters. …

However the experiment turns out, the good news is that releasing the film on Video On Demand, AmazoniTunes, and Google Play makes it a whole lot easier for you to see Snowpiercer. If you’d rather get the full experience, the film has expanded to 325 screens around the country, meaning you should be able to find it in most urban centers, too.

Seen it already and have thoughts about its Eat The Rich philosophy? Steeling yourself for the violence, metaphors, and violent metaphors? Get ready to turn the film inside out in the comments on 7/24!

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Label Whoring at Thrift Town

Just because I’m poor doesn’t mean I have to wear jeans from K-Mart. I love Kut from the Kloth jeans, which sell for $40 at Nordstrom Rack, but I recently found two pair in my size at Thrift Town, for $4.99 each. Thanks to label whoring, I can be the best-dressed person at the welfare office (and that is including the employees).

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Who Lives In All Those Fancy Condos? Human Props & Nobody

One of the fun things about living in New York City is peering into the faces of the people you pass and asking yourself, “Are you a millionaire? Are you, sir, with the mustache and tattoos and mustache tattoos? Are you, angry biking lady?” It’s sort of like the grown-up version of Are You My Mother? but whereas the little bird in that famous children’s book has only one mother, NYC overflows with rich people. They’re everywhere, hiding among us. They have to be. After all, who else could afford to buy those massive luxury condos growing up everywhere like weeds?

Well, turns out that the secret ingredient is salt foreign capital.

According to data compiled by the firm PropertyShark, since 2008, roughly 30 percent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments have been to purchasers who either listed an overseas address or bought through an entity like a limited-liability corporation, a tactic rarely employed by local homebuyers but favored by foreign investors. Similarly, the firm Corcoran Sunshine, which markets luxury buildings, estimates that 35 percent of its sales since 2013 have been to international buyers, half from Asia, with the remainder roughly evenly split among Latin America, Europe, and the rest of the world. “The global elite,” says developer Michael Stern, “is basically looking for a safe-deposit box.” … But much of the foreign money is coming in at lower price points, closer to the median for a Manhattan condo ($1.3 million and rising). In fact, if you’ve recently been outdone by an outrageous all-cash bid for an apartment, there’s a decent chance that, behind a generic corporate name, there’s a foreign buyer and an offshore bank account.

Don’t sweat it, normal Americans! We still have options. We can be HUMAN PROPS

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“Poverty is a circumstance, not a value judgment.”

Solidly middle-class, white collar, and college educated, Darlena Cunha never expected to need to rely on the social safety net. But when confronted by unexpected, high-needs twins, a laid-off husband, and the reality that the house she had just bought had already lost the entirety of its value (and yet still needed to be paid off), she found herself driving a Mercedes to pick up food stamps. Please tamp down your knee-jerk reaction to yell “Sell the Mercedes!” at the screen, at least until you read the article.

In just two months, we’d gone from making a combined $120,000 a year to making just $25,000 and leeching out funds to a mortgage we couldn’t afford. Our savings dwindled, then disappeared. So I did what I had to do. I signed up for Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Before she knows it, she becomes “you people,” someone trying to buy inessentials with food stamps and enduring the scorn of know-it-alls.

Once, a girl at the register actually stood up for me when an older mother of three saw the coupons and started chastising my purchase of root beer. They were “buy two, get one free” at a dollar a pop. “Surely, you don’t need those,” she said. “WIC pays for juice for you people.” The girl, who couldn’t have been more than 19, flashed her eyes up to my face and saw my grimace as I white-knuckled the counter in front of me, preparing my cold shoulder.

“Who are you, the soda police?” she asked loudly. “Anyone bother you about the pound of candy you’re buying?”

The woman huffed off to another register, and I’m sure she complained about that girl. I, meanwhile, thanked her profusely.

“I’ve got a son,” she said, softly. “I know what it’s like.”

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Would You Pay $375 for A Night at the Museum? ANY Museum?

Having refused to subject myself to Ben Stiller’s particularly noxious brand of simian energy, I know very little about Night at the Museum or its sequels. [Sidebar: actors we'd pay money to never see again in movies. Go!] From the trailers and the reviews though, heck even from the poster, I’ve gotten a pretty decent idea: it’s like Toy Story, only instead of toys coming to life, it’s dinosaurs, right? Less charm, more rampaging?

Ever since the movie drew more children’s attention to the American Museum of Natural History, the AMNH has been hosting family sleepovers; and now, for the first time, the museum is hosting one for adults. For $375 per person ($325 if you’re a member), you can get a once-in-a-lifetime taste of Nerd Nirvana.

  • The overnight adventure will begin with a champagne reception and music (courtesy of the 12th Night Jazz trio) in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall.
  • A three-course dinner will be served.
  • Explorers can roam through the nearly empty halls of the Museum (including the spiders). There will also be a flashlight tour.
  • Participants will be invited to attend a special presentation in The Power of Poison exhibition with Curator Mark Siddall.
  • There will be a midnight viewing of the Dark Universe Space Show, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
  • Participants will also be invited to “enjoy wild creatures up close during a live animal demonstration in the Kaufmann Theater”!
  • You will sleep in your sleeping bag… under the big blue (clean) whale! When you wake up there will be a breakfast snack.

I’m all for this, but personally, for $375, I’d like a bed. At least a cot, or an air mattress that slowly deflates over the course of the night. Flashlight tours are always tops, though. Like flashlight tours of old cemeteries? Worth every penny. Speaking of pennies, though, what is a “breakfast snack”? Is it more or less than an Egg McMuffin?

Do you think camping out near the Planetarium stars is worth $375? Or would you pay that amount cheerfully for a different institutional location: the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Confederate Museum?

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GOOD ENOUGH Homes & Destinations: What You Get for $125K

Though the rest of us patriotic, good-hearted Americans took off July 4th, the Gray Lady carried on. Personally I like to think of her as a society matron out of Edith Wharton: stately, imperious, immovable. Anyway, she presented us on Independence Day, in her weekly Great Homes & Destinations update, with “What You Get For $1.2 Million.” The round up included this Seattle mansion, of which she says, “The house has both a backyard and a private courtyard surrounded by lush landscaping. Large palm trees shading the courtyard were about six inches tall when planted by the house’s original owner.” Who was, no doubt, Thurston Howell III.

So then, as promised, here are my picks for the Billfold’s companion feature, GOOD ENOUGH Homes & Destinations: What You Can Get for $125,000.

A 2 BR, 2 BA condo in Las Vegas, NV, via Redfin. $112,450. 1000+ square feet, comes with ceiling fans, A/C, and access to the community pool because, duh, Vegas. Have you read The Goldfinch or We Are Called to Rise? You’ll spend 40% of the year up your chin in water in order to stay sane. 

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What’s the Most You’ve Ever Won/Lost Gambling?

The closest I’ll ever get to real gambling is reading the beginning of Daniel DerondaOther people in my family have an intrepid streak, though. For a while there my father was hooked on playing the stock market. Once, he told me, in quick succession, he made $50,000 and then lost 30K of it, so he went home and told my mom, “Hey, we made $20,000!” Another family member who shall remain nameless got hooked on internet poker back in the day and had to wean himself off in part by putting his salary in the care of someone else.

For some people, clearly, the excitement is worth the risk. This intense Vanity Fair [<- FIXED] piece about a cocktail waitress making bank by running a private poker party for the beautiful folks of Hollywood, Inside the Viper Room – an excerpt from the upcoming memoir of Molly Bloom (no relation) — captures some of the reasons why. It also contains some discomfiting details about Tobey Maguire, who brings his own vegan snack food to the game.

It was all incredibly surreal. I was standing in the corner of the Viper Room counting ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS IN CASH! I was in the company of movie stars, important directors, and powerful business tycoons. I felt like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. As the players filed out, they thanked me, some kissed my cheek, but they all pressed bills into my hand. I smiled warmly and thanked them in return, trying not to let my hands shake. When they were all gone, I sat down in a daze, and with trembling hands I counted $3,000.

Not a bad way to make $7,500 in a night.

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Wealthy People Agitated by Real Estate Trend

What interesting lessons about personal finance and the economy can we take away from the fact that web sites like AirBnB and VRBO are upending the market for $1,000-a-night rentals in the Hamptons? Probably none. But it is marvelous to know that there is a therapist in East Hampton willing to report with a straight face that “one of her patients’ top anxieties these days [is] the explosion of short-term rentals.”

The rich really are different than you and me, aren’t they?

 

Photo by the author.

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How Americans Think About Fairness and the Economy

There is massive new Pew Research Center poll (185 glorious pdf pages) that dissects the attitudes of Americans on all sorts of things. There is much to mull over, starting with the study’s division of the American populace into eight ideological groups: Solid Liberals (all left all the time; like me, more or less), Steadfast Conservatives (fiscally and socially conservative), Business Conservatives (corporatist, but not so down on gays and immigrants), Young Outsiders (socially liberal Republicans), Hard-Pressed Skeptics (left-leaning, working class, disillusioned), Next-Generation Liberals (like the Solid Liberals, but unconvinced of the need for social programs or anti-discrimination legislation), Faith and Family Left (like the Solid Liberals, but homophobic), and (boringly) Bystanders, who are what they sound like: disengaged and uninformed.

These groups break down mostly as you’d expect (although the right is more polarized than the left). The study is full of charts that show the spread of each group’s opinions across some typical left-right divide, and they all pretty much look like this one:

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The Burrower: Part I

The days that you begin to relax are the days when you get caught, but not in the way you had feared, because nobody has the imagination to assume you’re a squatter.

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“Vegan, Gluten-Free Chocolate Brownie: $4.50″

Forget you, Fresh Direct; peace out, Peapod. A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new competitor, Good Eggs, wants your money in exchange for delivering groceries to your door. The company seems built to appeal to Brooklyn, which is one of only four places it currently operates: there’s free delivery to the borough, for starters, and its mission “is to grow and sustain local food systems worldwide.” However commendable the goal, and even, it seems, the methods, there’s something unavoidably “Stuff White People Like” about the endeavor. The vegan, gluten-free chocolate brownie ($4.50!) is described this-a-way:

Super dense and intensely chocolately, you won’t miss the gluten in this brownie. Perfect with a cup of ice cold almond milk! Our sweets contain exclusively organic, nutrient-dense, virgin, and certified raw ingredients. We use low-temperature cooking methods to retain healthy enzymes and nutrients. No processed flours, sugars, gluten, animal or dairy products, or genetically modified additives go into any of our sweets.

So, uh, almost $5 for a brownie that has nothing in it but dark chocolate? A Hershey bar will run you a lot less than that.

Is a locavore-oriented and more ethical grocery delivery system the answer to your no-time-to-food-shop prayers? Or are you already satisfied with your CSA, FreshDirect habit, or other hacks to stock your pantry, like using Postmates or TaskRabbit to get someone to bring you the condiments you’re addicted to from Trader Joe’s?

Cartoon by Charrowan artist in Brooklyn.

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