I don't actually think that all of these people believe we're in Hell

It started to become clear that ‘Hell’ acted as a proxy for cyclical, institutional problems in America

Probably gonna be a lot of shit in here today that pisses us off (this one is also long so you’ll need to open it in a browser) so let’s start out with something I find to be genuinely Nice. Set the irony and cynicism shields to zero.

Don’t care what you think about Dave Grohl or this song in particular (all time classic baby) if you can’t squeeze some water out of the old looking holes over this you might need to go directly to the eye and or brain doctor (out of network insurance bills $4,505.89 you owe $2,783.47).

A reminder that paid subscribers are not only the uniquely beloved children of god but you also get access to the Discontents collective Discord which is basically a nice non-Twitter place with zero dick heads to discuss the news of the day or what music you’re listening to at the moment or whatever. (If you’ve subscribed recently and want the link let me know).

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There are dedicated rooms for each of the Discontents newsletters.

We also just added Alex Pareene and Emily Atkin to the group so expect to hear from them soon.

Also please see Libby Watson’s recent piece on hospital pricing secrecy here.

Perhaps that’s why this process is extremely secretive, even now after the rules require disclosure. The Times noted that prices are posted across many web pages, in inscrutable formats, or are just incomplete or missing. Employers have basically no way of knowing what the prices for their employees will be when they pick plans to offer; neither the insurers nor the hospitals want anyone knowing what they’re paying or charging. This is not what happens in a healthy system where things are working well. This is what happens when everyone is scamming everyone else. Most hospitals have not complied yet with the regulations; the fine for non-compliance is just $109,500. But don’t worry: the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services says “a second warning letter” is coming soon.

Earlier this spring the USDA extended its ongoing National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option into the summer of 2022. The program was broadened during Covid to streamline the process of providing free meals more safely to all students not just those who would normally qualify for them.

“It’s critical that our efforts to reopen schools quickly and safely include programs that provide access to free, healthy meals for our most vulnerable students, particularly those whose communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said. “This program will ensure more students, regardless of their educational setting, can access free, healthy meals as more schools reopen their doors for in-person learning.”

All things considered it sounds pretty reasonable right? Not if you’re the school board of Waukesha, Wisconsin. Unlike basically every other district in the state the Waukesha board voted to stop utilizing the program this week the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“As we get back to whatever you want to believe normal means, we have decisions to make,” Joseph Como the president of the school board said in a meeting. “I would say this is part of normalization.”

Joseph, ¿como?

“Board member Karin Rajnicek said the free program made it easy for families to ‘become spoiled.’ Darren Clark, assistant superintendent for business services, said he feared there would be a ‘slow addiction’ to the service.

Love to become spoiled and slowly addicted to the feeling of not starving.

Under a program like this some of the traditional barriers to actually getting children fed — which is supposed to be the point not some character building bootstrap moralizing dog shit — were loosened. Children who might feel the stigma of being associated with a “free lunch” program no longer had to worry about that nor were children whose parents neglected to or couldn’t figure out how to fill out the means testing paperwork neglected. We can’t have that though. We can’t have children being taught that anything is free in this country because next thing you know we live in fuckin…Cuba.

You better hope your kid learns how to play drums for the Foo Fighters otherwise who gives a shit what happens to them.

Speaking of kids I don’t know why but this is so funny to me.

All this time I’ve been calling kids Little Man for free and they never did shit.

A 5-year-old from Virginia is one of the youngest people known to have hiked the Appalachian Trail. He completed the 2,100-mile journey with his parents in 209 days — earning the nickname “Boy.”

In other fuck them kids news parents in Knox County Tennessee have been forced to take it upon themselves to set up ad hoc Covid tracing procedures because the schools won’t tell them anything even when one of their children has contracted it.

One of Jody Hood’s children a third grader tested positive recently Knox News reported.

When her daughter first felt sick, Hood asked the school whether there had been a positive case in the class so she could gauge how concerned she should be. The school wouldn't tell her any information, even details that don't identify an individual.

Knox County Schools provides district-level case counts but not case counts at specific schools.

So Hood stood outside the school with a sign Wednesday that said, “My child has COVID. Would you like to know if your child was in class with mine on Monday?"

“I feel like people would want to know. I would want to know. I wanted to know, and I was denied that information,” Hood said.

That district had 601 cases last week (534 students and 67 staff) easily besting the previous record by 117%.

“Two weeks ago, the Board of Education voted against giving Superintendent Bob Thomas the power to require masks.”

Melissa Brooks-Greene another parent in the area whose family all got Covid last year is also unimpressed by the school district’s efforts.

“The fact that parents have had to create their own Facebook pages and Google Docs and whatever to contact trace is beyond imagination,” she said. 

Meanwhile in Bulloch County Georgia 900 students have tested positive in the first three weeks of school.

“For weeks, teachers and many parents had called for a mask mandate,” the Daily Beast writes. “But superintendent Charles Wilson refused to issue one. Instead, on Thursday night, he sent an email blast with the subject line ‘word of encouragement’ to all the teachers in the district. After thanking them ‘for all that you are doing for our students and for each other.’”

His email went on:

“I talked with principals today and we all agreed that, though it is a small gesture, you would enjoy the liberty of wearing jeans for the next month. So, by all means, please enjoy your jeans throughout the month of September (and the rest of August).”

No sir. Thank you.

I saw a tweet about the graph below the other day and as you can imagine it seemed very relevant to our purposes here.

I was curious about what went into the data there so I asked Casey Taylor a writer and pollster who works for CivicScience to tell me more.

“The poll in question is based on a regionally balanced sample of the US Gen Pop 13+, collected by age and gender proportions based on US Census numbers,” he told me. “It was originally deployed in 2016 shortly after the Trump election, and then again in 2017 after his inauguration. Since then, it's been deployed to about 3,000-5,000 each year, just as a pulse check type thing, given that it's my own personal pet project.”

To be clear the question mostly started as a joke “at the peak of mass hysteria,” when Trump came into office he said.

“Then the results came in and I saw that 1 in 3 people thought it was at least feasible that we lived in Hell,” so he started taking it more seriously.

“When I dove into the crosstabs, it started to become clear that ‘Hell’ acted as a proxy for cyclical, institutional problems in America. Women and people of color were more likely to believe it was possible. Lower classes and the unemployed. People with debt, or medical problems they can't solve.”

“To be frank just so nobody thinks me (or my company) are kooks, I don't actually think that all of these people believe we're in Hell. The allegory I used in the work I did on it that I keep coming back to in general in analysis of American culture and why everything feels so shitty is the Sisyphean version of Hell. Endless false progress. Always ending up back in the same dogshit spot no matter what you do. That’s Hell, and that’s what the poor experience in America every day. The research bears all that out. So now we're up 10 points. Can't be good!”

I’ll dig in more on the Supreme Court overturning the eviction moratorium soon but in the meantime everything in this recent Hell World by Mary Stathos about how cruelly we treat renters in this country bears repeating.

You also may remember this piece that I did a few months ago about what people thought about working from home and no longer having to commute. It was (weirdly?) one of the most popular Hell Worlds in a long time. People have very strong feelings about the subject!

That discussion has only intensified over the summer as it looked like we were going to be “getting back to normal” before the Delta variant punched everyone in the collective dick. No one has been writing as fiercely and angrily about how bosses and the corporate media who serve their interests have been pushing for “back to the office!!” as Ed Zitron in his very good newsletter Where’s Your Ed At. (Ed has also written for The Atlantic and Business Insider on remote work, and runs a PR agency.)

His latest on two recent pieces in the NYT — It’s ‘Back to That Isolation Bubble’ for Workers Pining for the Office” — and WSJ — Remote Work May Now Last for Two Years, Worrying Some Bosses — is characteristically scathing.

I cannot really understand why these articles exist, other than to speak to a very specific readership that wants their stupid ideas (everyone back to the office, because of culture!) supported in the world’s most respected news outlets. These articles are framed as thoughtful pieces that interrogate the status quo, but also seem to be very much set on promoting those in power and how they want things to be. These outlets seem steadfastly dedicated to investigating and routing out all of the problems of remote work, rarely discussing the millions of people that have been successfully working remotely before the pandemic and those who have continued to do so throughout.

If I had to guess, it’s either that these articles are written with the unsaid thought that remote work is here to stay, and thus we must tell the story of those who don’t like it, or that there is an editorial remit to “investigate remote work and those who are against it.” It’s the same genus that brought us several million “we talked to Trump voters,” except with an even flimsier premise and a dark and clear-set agenda from management - to frame remote work as temporary and inferior to the office.

What frustrates me is they always frame the runaway success of many remote work companies as edge-cases, and those who want to return to the office as “real” businesses. They talk at length to CEOs and VPs who graduated college before we had WiFi connections, continually promoting the idea that office culture exists in a positive sense and that we simply can’t keep offices closed indefinitely. Remote work is continually framed as yet to prove itself, despite having done so for over a year and being the reason that many companies didn’t simply shut down.

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Katherine Krueger was similarly red-assed about office culture and Facebook’s weird new virtual reality boardroom thing or whatever it is over at Discourse Blog.

Setting aside the dystopian implications, this is typical boss-level bullshit that gives up the game, as so many other bosses are doing as they try to hustle people back into their physical offices. After a year of all us privileged, creative class people doing our work at home and productivity not dropping one iota, they need to make a case about the intangibles we’re missing out on by not commuting in—and then home from—from The Office.

Anyone working for a big corporation has heard such arguments recently: that you just lose the spontaneity and collaborative atmosphere and je ne sais quoi if we’re all working at home, and also that having everyone report to an office is a central part of the company’s identity, what makes it special. The notion goes that you might stand up from your desk, go pitch an idea to your boss, talk about it at length, maybe pull in another staffer for their opinion, and walk away enlightened, with the idea better than ever. Or, more spurious yet, that in-person meetings are inherently more productive or create a better environment for people to share their ideas in front of their team. Neither of these things ever, ever happen. They are simply untrue!! They are fictions crafted by bosses, who know they have no leg to stand on in making these arguments, which their workers also know full well after a year of proving the counterargument.

Working in an office is about surveillance and control. It’s about the fear that your boss walks by and sees your screen the five minutes a day you appear to be on, say, Facebook. It’s about us all giving ourselves over to the notion that it’s a unifying good to spend an hour on the subway in the morning and the evening and get dressed up only to stare at the same screen we have at home. So forgive me if I don’t feel like what I’m missing out on is the ability to change my legless avatar’s shirt so it better fits my mood, or feel I’m being misunderstood in a meeting because you can’t see my cartoon hands gesticulating.

What we’re looking for—during the pandemic and now—is freedom from work. Better wages, more vacation, better hours, more protections—and most importantly, unions. Anything less than that is a pale imitation, and one that should absolutely not be trusted.

If you remember my Best songs of 2020 piece you know I was absolutely infatuated with Daughter the album (and song) by Lydia Loveless. Anyway she’s got new music out now and while “You’re Leaving Me” is the single I simply have to applaud her making what I am fairly sure is the first alt-country or whatever song with scathing post-hardcore background style vocals on “Let’s Make Out.” Certified Luke Shit.

In other new music news you’ve probably seen everyone losing their shit over the new Turnstile but if not be sure to check it out to either have your priors confirmed or so you can develop a take on why it’s bad, actually asap.

Ok that’s all for today thanks for reading :)

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