Looks Like America? Fixing the Broken Primary System

Let me introduce this post by stating one strongly held belief, loud and clear: I think Iowa’s “First in Nation” caucus is very bad for our country, and the state’s stranglehold on this position of political power should be ended, soon.

I’ve lived for at least a year in eleven different states, and I worked full-time for two years in a twelfth. I’ve traveled extensively through another twenty-some states, so I have a good sense of “what America looks like” at a fairly granular level. After four years of living in Iowa, I can tell you that this is not that. In fact, in many important ways, Iowa feels far more different and unusual than any other state where I’ve spent a lot of time: it’s whiter, it’s older, it’s less military, it’s less tolerant, it’s more paternalistic, it’s more agricultural, and its culture is quirky, to say the least.

kingBut Iowa doesn’t seem to know this. After decades of having local, national and international media outlets spinning the narrative that Iowans are somehow better qualified than other states’ citizens to vet Presidential candidates, and more responsible than their peers at taking this important civic duty to heart, the natives have actually come to believe this, and there’s a layer of smug superiority at play over which other states should take umbrage.

The state’s latent conservatism hurts the GOP more than it hurts the Democratic party, because it forces Republicans to spout hard right ideology to win over the locals, while liberals are required to shift their positions rightward toward the center. Viable moderate Republicans are quashed or smeared early on as a result, and the things they say to the Iowans generally come back to haunt them later on, if they survive past the first caucus. Democrats who play moderate in Iowa are then accused of flip-flopping when they return to leftward form after escaping the cornfields. It’s a bad first wicket, either way.

And here’s the bottom line: the ability to serve as Commander in Chief of a global super-power has absolutely nothing to do with the ability to make small talk while eating a pork tenderloin sandwich in a rural Iowa diner. And that’s the quaint cornerstone of the Iowa caucus experience, along with pledged devotion to the “Full Grassley” tour of all 99 counties. (I’ve done that tour myself; it’s time consuming and over-rated). There’s also the huge economic boom that the caucuses deliver to Iowa, which makes local politicians shrill in their defense of these politically quaint and culturally out-dated electoral notions. They’ll do whatever it takes to keep it here, whether its good for America or not.

While I don’t have the personal experience in New Hampshire that I have in Iowa, I would suspect that the same narrative holds true: locals think they’re somehow better than the rest of the country at eye-balling political candidates, though their tests and rituals are no more effective than those that any other state would deploy under similar circumstances.monsanto

So what would I do about it? If I were Emperor of the American States, I’d mandate a nation-wide primary day, where all fifty states and the District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Marianas, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands would cast primary ballots at the same time, thereby drastically shortening the obscenely long process our political parties undertake to select their nominees. This would also dramatically undercut the power of money in the process, which can only be viewed as a good thing.

If I were only Majordomo of the American States, without full imperial powers to command all to do my bidding, then my second choice would be to have the parties go to a rotating process, where a different 10 states — selected to represent ~20% of the electoral college each cycle, ideally with some regional variety — would get “First in Nation” privileges each cycle, so everyone would get a shot every fifth election. It’s not ideal, obviously, but at least it would break the unfair and unhealthy Iowa and New Hampshire stranglehold.

If I were just a humble party chairman, I’d go with a lesser approach of allowing a small number of states, maybe still only two to four, to maintain a position of primacy — but I’d try to figure out which states would actually make sense if the goal was to produce a state primary outcome that might in some way more realistically and rationally reflect the national will. Unlike, say, Iowa Republicans voting for Rick Santorum four years ago. But only after miscounting the vote, and initially reporting that they’d voted for Mitt Romney. Yeesh.

eyesI don’t have the power or authority to do that — but with 30 years in the public sector and two political science/public policy degrees, I do have the ability to try the answer the core question in a quantitative fashion: if one state was to receive a permanent (or at least long term) appointment as “First in Nation” in the Presidential election process, which state should it be?

Toward this end, I made a spreadsheet, as I so often do when confronted with otherwise unanswerable questions. Spreadsheets make everything better.

In the spreadsheet, I identified a set of metrics on a state by state basis, normalized them on a logarithmic scale, then scored states on their variance from national norms. For each metric, I used the most current, defensible data sets available; the oldest data deployed are from 2010, with most being more current. The closer a state falls to the national norm in each metric, the higher its awarded score is in that particular category. The further a state falls (high or low) from the national norm, the lower its score in that category.iowawine

If a single state was smack in the middle of each and every category, then that state could legitimately make a claim that it “looked like America.” I would then support that state’s right to the special role as Evaluator General for Presidential Elections, since its people were truly as representative of the nation as a whole as any state could be. Even if that State was Iowa.

I tried to use metrics that capture the way regular Americans think about themselves and their communities. What color are we? What language do we speak? How old are we? How educated? How rich? Where do we worship? Are we military? Are we healthy?

Here are the categories I evaluated for each of the 50 States and the District of Columbia. I did not include Guam, Northern Marianas, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands in my database, since they do hold primaries, but their citizens are not allowed to vote in the actual Presidential elections. (I’d change that, too, if I were Emperor of the American States, but that’s a different article).

  • Black Population Percentage
  • Hispanic Population Percentage
  • Median Age
  • College Degree Percentage
  • Percent Self-Declared Christians
  • Urban Population Percentage
  • Household Income
  • Jobless Rate
  • Life Expectancy
  • Per Capita Healthcare Spending
  • Per Capita Military Spending
  • Per Capita Federal Revenue
  • Correlation with Actual Presidential Results (1916-2012)

I loaded all of these data sets into the spreadsheet, set up the normalizing and summarizing formulas, and pushed the big calculator button. And got a result that feels right and good.

By my estimation, if one state in the nation should be given the right to represent all of us in a “First in Nation” primary, then that state should be Wisconsin. If we needed to have a pairing of the Iowa vs New Hampshire variety, then the two states most qualified to represent us all would be Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Here’s the entire list, from most to least qualified to serve as proxy for the nation as a whole. The scores are normalized to a 100 point scale, with the highest ranking state receiving 100 points, and the lowest ranking state (Maine) receiving 0 points, to allow all 51 states (and District) to be compared in relative terms.

LooksLikeAmericaThe four highlighted lines represent the four states that are currently accorded special privileges when it comes to early primaries. None of them deserve the right to represent us, if we want our bellwether to “Look Like America.”

So why do they continue to do so? Well, here’s a list I developed of reasons why Iowa might claim the right, and I’d love to hear from somebody who could develop a similar list for New Hampshire.

If those tongue-in-cheek reasons don’t resonate with you, then I guess we just have to sigh and say “Well, it’s always been that way” (even though it hasn’t) or “Well, nobody else could do any better” (even though they could) or “Because that’s where the money bags want it to be” (which is probably right).

But I don’t like any of those answers, and I long for change. So let’s give Wisconsin and Pennsylvania a crack in 2020 and see how they do, shall we?

Make it so, Number Two. The Emperor of the Americas has other spreadsheets to create.

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1. I am prone to feats of creative masochism, where I put myself into difficult physical situations just to see how well I respond to them, and then write about the results. Epic drives to nowhere, tedious creative projects followed by destruction of the results, extreme bike marathons, urban exploration, long-term public writing endeavors, cold turkey cessation of bad habits, you name it, I’ve probably tried it, and then written about it. One of my more intense physical feats was losing 30 pounds in about 30 days to mark my 30th birthday, through a really brutal gym regimen and Spartan diet. That was 20 years ago this month, and (since I’m warped) it begged this follow-on question for me: could I lose 50 pounds for my 50th birthday? It seemed to be an absurd premise at first, since even at my heaviest weight, I’ve never looked rotund, given my height and large frame. But I decided to give it a shot anyway, and this week I met the challenge: I weighed 231.7 pounds on February 1, 2014 — and I weighed 179.2 pounds on May 3, 2015. Total weight loss: 52.5 pounds, or 22.7% of my initial body weight. Note well, though, that I didn’t do this in a particularly masochistic fashion, since I took 15 months to shed the extra pounds, with doctor’s consultation, after my family’s proclivity for adult onset diabetes and cholesterol problems had manifested themselves during my 2014 physical. I feel good having hit the mark, and the results from the doctor’s office have been excellent, with both blood sugar and cholesterol returning to healthier ranges, and my body mass index being lower than it has been since high school. Of course, now that I am a lean, mean, masochistic, middle-aged fighting machine, the internet tells me that a squishier “Dad Bod” is officially more desirable in our ever-fickle culture. Can’t win for trying, I guess.

2. The “How Old” app has been dueling with “Dad Bod” reports recently for social media band-width, so I checked it out, figuring skinnier me would clearly look youthful to the Age-Calculating Helper Bots powering this engaging little online trifle. But I was wrong, and clearly not the member of my family who has been drinking from the Fountain of Youth for the past 25 years. Behold: Cradle Robber With No Dad Bod, and His Child Bride! (Click Marcia’s photo to visit her own blog, if you get tired of looking at and reading creepy old me):

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3. I don’t mind Tax Day on April 15, since it reminds me every year that I am a contributing investor in the social contracts that bind us together as a nation. We e-filed our Federal, New York and Iowa State returns this year, and our Federal payment and New York refund processed quickly. But after three weeks, we’d not seen our fairly sizable Iowa return deposited in our bank account, so I checked the State’s “Where’s My Refund” website, and was shocked to discover that our return was being held, because the City of Des Moines had informed the State of Iowa that we owed it money, which would be docked from our State income tax return if we did not settle with the City. We had no clue what this might be, and had never received word from the City of Des Moines that we were in arrears on anything. Until yesterday, that is, when I received a letter telling me that we owed $130 to the City for speeding citations recorded by robot speed traps somewhere in Central Iowa. I have no idea what car, what driver, when, where, or why these citations were issued, since I have never received notice, nor been charged in writing, nor had the chance to address and pay these violations on my own. Which I would have done, had I known about them, obviously. This strikes me as an egregious collusion between State and City governments, and also as a completely inappropriate use of the State’s powers to apply levies to refunds due to its citizens. I get it, maybe, for things like child support payments or long overdue property taxes, but for a Robo-Cop speeding ticket in a city where I rarely drive more than 40 mph while going about my business? Come on . . . that’s a Mickey Mouse shakedown tactic, and it’s wrong. Fortunately, we’re financially solvent enough to roll with having our four-figure return delayed for a month or more, but there must be lower income families who suffer as a result of such strong arm tactics when piddly infractions result in the forced retention of refunds, which might have been ear-marked for food, housing, or healthcare expenses. So shame on you, Iowa, and shame on you, Des Moines. I’ll accept and pay my speeding tickets like a man if I deserve them, thank you, but you have to tell me that I was actually speeding before I can do that, rather than skulking around in the shadows, zapping me with hidden radar, and sniffing at the money that I already pay you both for the privilege of working and living here. That’s just bad governance.

A Modest Proposal: Halve the Full Grassley

Iowa has an absurd number of counties for its size and population — and I say this as a person who has visited all 99 of them by car, completing what political candidates here know as a “Full Grassley”.

Iowa is the 26th largest State in the country by land area, and the 30th largest State in the country by population. Our 99 counties, however, rank us ninth in the United States in number of county and county equivalents — and we would actually be eighth if Virginia didn’t uniquely count its 38 independent cities as county-equivalent governmental entities.IowaCounty

Iowa also has fewer counties defined by natural boundaries (rivers, coastlines, mountain ranges, etc.) than any other State, giving us the greatest percentage of “box counties” — formed only by surveyors’ lines — in the Nation. And we don’t even follow our own law when it comes to tiny counties: the Iowa State Constitution says no county should be smaller than 432 square miles, but ten counties are below that threshold today.

The super-abundance of neat little map boxes puts Iowa in the Nation’s bottom 20% in both average county land area and average county population. This needless plethora of counties then feeds into the “Full Grassley” phenomena, where it is viewed as a brag-worthy achievement of note to visit all 99 Iowa counties in a single year or campaign, per our senior citizen senior Senator’s loudly-proclaimed proclivity.

But really now: is that how we want our elected officials (and our visiting Presidential candidates) spending their time and money? And do we really need to financially support 100 county seats (Lee County has two) with all of the attendant layers of bureaucracy and all of the physical infrastructure associated with our profligate love of mid-level governmental institutions?

I respectfully and emphatically vote “No!”

I would rather see our citizens supported by meaningful regional governance, rather than antiquated political structures. I also find it mildly insulting that a “check off the county box” approach passes as proof that our State’s residents are being equitably seen and heard.

So consolidation makes obvious sense, but how to go about reducing Iowa’s over-abundance of counties? With apologies to Mister Swift, I offer the following modest proposal.

First, it would not make sense to eradicate county administrations that are already effectively serving sizable population centers, since that would be needlessly reinventing the wheel and/or throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

As it turns out, when you rank Iowa counties by population, there is a significant natural gap between number 10 (Dallas County) and number 11 (Clinton County), with all of the top ten counties having over 60,000 citizens — a good functional benchmark for a State with about 3,000,000 people, based on national county averages. I would, therefore, keep the following ten counties intact, based on their current populations:

  1. Polk County
  2. Linn County
  3. Scott County
  4. Black Hawk County
  5. Johnson County
  6. Woodbury County
  7. Dubuque County
  8. Pottawattamie County
  9. Story County
  10. Dallas County

Next, there are also some existing counties that should remain intact because they are “double wides” (e.g. they break the usual grid pattern), because they have already done their part historically to eliminate county glut, or because they are uniquely formed by geography or culture. I would keep the following counties intact under these special provisions:

  1. Kossuth County (largest in State geographically today, and incorporated former Bancroft and Crocker Counties historically)
  2. Pottawattamie County (second largest in State geographically today, already preserved due to population)
  3. Plymouth County (third largest in State geographically today)
  4. Clayton County (fourth largest in State geographically today)
  5. Sioux County (fifth largest in State geographically today)
  6. Webster County (incorporated former Risley and Yell Counties historically)
  7. Muscatine County (incorporated Cook County historically, and geographically unique)
  8. Lee County (geographically and culturally unique former “Half Breed Tract”)

So there are 17 counties that would remain as they exist today under this model: ten for population plus eight for geography, with one (Pottawattamie) on both lists. Subtract those from the current 99 and that leaves 82 counties that should be consolidated, most sensibly by doubling up the “box counties” in grids across the State.

Mills County, meet your new partner: Fremont County. Montgomery County, say hello to Page County. Please decide which of your current county seats will represent you both, and develop a plan to eliminate overlaps in your respective administrations. And so on and so on, back and forth across the State.

Take these resulting 41 new “double wide” counties, add the 17 that remain from the current map, and you’ve got a manageable 58 Iowa Counties — very commensurate with Iowa’s standing as a middle of the pack State, size-wise and people-wise.

Senator Grassley would still have enough counties to visit to keep him out of trouble every year, and we could nearly halve county infrastructure and bureaucracy expenses. In a world of high speed road travel, cell phones, and the internet, it seems inconceivable that citizens would experience any loss of service, and municipal spaces formerly dedicated to housing county governments could be reallocated to meet real community needs: education, healthcare, libraries, whatever the region’s residents needed.

What do you think? I would love to see someone with better map skills than me take a crack at demonstrating how to best double up those 82 box counties, so if you think like I do, how about getting out your colored pencils and sharing what a new and improved Iowa County Map can and should look like in the 21st Century and beyond?

Why Iowa First?

As the Nation gears up for its globally-admired quadrennial Presidential election process, the spotlight has turned toward Iowa and its inordinately influential “first out of the gate” Presidential Caucus. Of course, haters gotta hate, so there’s plenty of pundits out there at the Crazy Town Press and Courier (or similar rags) who will deny Iowa’s God-given right to bestow its potent blessings upon the most worthy of the competing candidates. Just in case you find yourself locked in an elevator with an Iowaphobe who fails to see the glorious logic and sensibility of this system, I offer the following ten inarguable answers to the question: “Why Iowa First?”

  1. Because Iowa Looks Like America if you watch FOX News.
  2. Because the weather would just be too hot and sticky in Alabama that day.
  3. Because an “uncommitted” result in 1976 so presciently launched Jimmy Carter toward a spot on Mount Rushmore.
  4. It’s the best way to fast track President Joni Ernst’s election, an important Biblical precursor to the Rapture.
  5. Because Iowans are the only people in America willing to stand in line to listen to Rick Santorum.
  6. Because Iowans guard the nation’s Strategic Bacon Reserve from invasion by hostile foreign powers, and should be rewarded for vigilance.
  7. Because it’s important for the President to be able to put a face on all of the Federal subsidies that Iowa collects.
  8. Because Iowans have clearly demonstrated superior political acuity and discernment each of the six times that they have elected Terry Branstad to be their governor.
  9. Because America needs another Bush or Clinton presidency, and Iowans are pretty okay, sort of, at picking those.
  10. Because it would be hard and expensive to re-create another State-wide mass delusion of superior political intelligence like Iowa has.

Iowa Infrastructure Initiatives

Iowa’s legislators are back at work after a refreshing seven-month break from their elected duties, which most of them spent fundraising so they could get elected again in time for next year’s seven-month sabbatical.

One of the legislature’s most pressing annual duties is figuring out how to quickly distribute the tens of billions of dollars worth of Federal subsidies that will quietly flow into the State this year, as they did last year, and as they will next year.

A large portion will typically be doled out to farmers to grow certain crops, while another portion will be doled out to other farmers to not grow certain other crops.

But the best way to tie up the big bucks is to allocate them to massive infrastructure projects that stimulate the economy by generating jobs for campaign contributors, who then underwrite advertising in which our elected officials complain about Washington subsidies to fire up their voter bases.

It’s the Political Circle of Life, writ large. Hakuna Matata!

Here are eight Iowa infrastructure initiatives we can expect to see pulled from this year’s barrel of pork tenderloins:

quadcollider1. The Lamoni Skywalk: Will connect the Iowa Visitors Center at Exit 4 on I-35 to Maid Rite, Kum n’ Go, and the Super 8 Motel. Future appropriations will be earmarked for expansion to Quilt Country and Hardee’s.

2. Grease Trap Pipeline XL: A vast network of plumbing designed to capture all the grease from the State’s fried tenderloin industry and funnel it to Keokuk, where it will be loaded onto container ships, ferried to the Gulf of Mexico, and dumped at sea — thereby assuring that it cannot be recycled to undermine the State’s corn oil production quotas.

3. The Great Wall of Clive: A 10-foot high barricade will be erected around Clive City Limits to clearly identify — for the first time in State history — exactly where the city is located. Future appropriations will be earmarked to build a similar containment around Waukee.

4. The Cedar Rapids El: A raised roadway system that will ensure soy, hog and corn truckers have unimpeded access from Waterloo and points north to the Iowa 80 Truck Stop whenever Cedar Rapids is underwater.

5. The Burj Fort Dodge: A 635-foot office and residential tower in Webster County that will become Iowa’s tallest building. The Arabic name honors the strong cultural ties between Fort Dodge and Al-Shuwaib, its sister city in the United Arab Emirates. Future appropriations will be earmarked to house the Terry Brandstad Gubernatorial Library and Mausoleum in the tower. The Governor for Life will be embalmed after his passing and will lie in public display on the highest floor for 1,000 years.

6. Tinywood: A vast, Branson-style family entertainment complex designed to celebrate the life of Tiny Tim, who lived in Iowa for five years — making him a local son per the same statutes that allow John Wayne, Mamie Eisenhower, Johnny Carson, and countless others to be honored as Great Temporary Iowans.

7. Loess Hills Slope Easement: An important civil engineering project running from Sioux City to Council Bluffs that will bulldoze the steep, sandy hills on the State’s western border, thereby eliminating early inconveniences faced by RAGBRAI riders. Future appropriations will be earmarked for the Black Squirrel Golf and Recreation Complex, honoring the memory of the unique rodents that will unfortunately have to be exterminated as part of this project.

8. Quad Cities Super Collider: A massive proton smasher will be erected alongside I-80 and I-280 around the Quad Cities, taking advantage of gravitational pull exerted by the high speed traffic that already circles that route, never stopping within it.

Iowa Art Crisis 2: The Creative Rehabilitation Program

Continued from yesterday’s story: Central Iowa’s arts community continues to roil in the aftermath of the Bad Art Reviews Blog’s (ed. since shut down) violent disregard for the State’s Code of Niceness. In an effort to preemptively ward off an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder among the region’s creative caste, the newly-empowered Iowa Ministry of Artistic Compliance has established The Creative Rehabilitation Program to nurse wounded artists back to health. The program mirrors a “Big Brothers/Big Sisters” model, with struggling, disenfranchised artists receiving hands-on mentoring from wealthy arts patrons, all of them hand-selected by Governor Brandstad from among his wide circle of friendly GOP arts enthusiasts. Let’s drop in on a session as Cardinal Mutual Casualty Company’s Chief Operating Officer, Bode P. Chatsworth — a well-known collector of large metal objects and signed sports memorabilia — meets with two artists fished from the wreckage of their heretofore peaceful cultural pond:

whitemanartElliot Gruver, Graduate Student in the Arts: I don’t want to get too heavy on you, Mr. Chatsworth, but I’ve never been more confused in my life.

Bode P. Chatsworth, COO, Cardinal Mutual Casualty Company: What’s on your mind, kid? Go ahead and spill it. You know that we love to be entertained by others’ misery here. That’s what this whole “Big Rich Art Brothers” thing is all about, yes?

Elliot Gruver: Well, I guess you sort of put your finger right on the heart of my problem, Mr. Chatsworth. My issue is that I’m just a little put off by the whole notion of what makes for “good art.” It often seems that “good art” means exactly what you just said: comfortable people getting off on other people’s misery. That makes me think that in order to make “good art” for the people who have the time to appreciate and afford it, then I have to take a vow of misery and angst. But, you know, Mom and Dad are paying a pretty penny for me to be in a Master of Fine Arts program, and I really just don’t have much to be sad about. So is my art worthless? And do I need to find things to be unhappy about if I want it to have value?

Bode P. Chatsworth: Nonsense, kid! You’re just showing your youthful naiveté when you say things like that. Look, back before I became a successful insurance executive and collector of large metal objects and signed sports memorabilia, I was a wannabe artist too, and like you, I thought that my misery made for better art. But when I look at my stuff from back then, it’s generally not better or worse than anything else, it’s just more miserable. Misery doesn’t equal quality. It’s just that when people are miserable, perhaps they invest more value and import in their art than they do when they’re not. The art symbolizes their struggle, and maybe they fight harder for their art because of that. But that’s an issue of promotion, not of quality. And, frankly, sometimes the stuff people do that isn’t based on struggle can be far more profound and less obvious than the more angst-ridden stuff tends to be.

Elliot Gruver: But does angst-ridden art always have to be obvious? Can’t art be angst-ridden and subtle at the same time?

Bode P. Chatsworth: Well, what the hell would be the point of “angst-ridden and subtle”? Sure, you can be angst-ridden in your life, and subtle about it in your work, but who would be able to tell the difference? Would you have to code it into your titles: “Still Life with Fruit and Yarn (Composed While Suffering an Existential Crisis in a Sioux City Squat)” or “Sunrise Over Dubuque (Where Some Immigrant Somalian Babies Suffer from Worms)”? If you believe that suffering leads to angst, which then leads to “great art,” then you can’t make “great art” without such suffering, and you should just move out to a nice cardboard box now and have your folks send your tuition checks directly to me. But that’s a false model. You really don’t have to choose between art and happiness. Comfort level is not tied to how profound someone’s work can be.

Charlotte Mondamin, Working Artist: Oh, I can’t take it any more! Listen to you two go on about angst and art! What a pair of pretentious poseurs you are! And you’re missing the big picture completely. Listen: angst is an emotion that’s exclusive to the privileged class. When you are hungry, homeless, sick or poor, you don’t have time or energy to feel sorry for yourself because you don’t feel like the world understands or appreciates you. So buck up and quit wallowing. Go spend a night in a dumpster without a coat and see how bad your petty boo-hoos feel tomorrow.

Elliot Gruver: Don’t dismiss my feelings just because I’m a child of privilege! I didn’t choose to be born in comfort!

Bode P. Chatsworth: C’mon, Charlotte, you’re not really going to trot out that stale old canard, are you? I mean, sure, we should all be doing cartwheels because we’re not in a labor camp in North Korea waiting for a rat to jump out of the hole in the ground where we shit so we can kill it and eat it, even though we’ll be beaten by the guards for doing so. I’m convinced! Life is suddenly beautiful to me! Thanks for the wisdom!

Charlotte Mondamin: It is not a stale argument, you creep. Life’s what you make of it. If you’ve got a house, a family who loves you, and money for food, then you’re doing better than 90% of the human beings living in the world right now, including me. If you choose to be a spoiled crybaby because nobody understands your art, Elliot, then that’s your problem, not society’s, not your parents’, not anybody else’s. It’s just wrong to try to find things in life to be unhappy about just so that you can make “better” art that allows well-off boobs to feel even better about themselves because they embrace your false suffering. What do your type have to be unhappy about anyway?

Bode P. Chatsworth: Please, Charlotte. That’s just dumb. People with all of those things can be unhappy if their jobs are not fulfilling, their personal lives are in disarray, or their financial futures are uncertain. Having stuff doesn’t make you happy. If it did, celebrity gossip columns would be far more boring than they already are. Do you really think there’s some sort of happiness line, where if you make over a certain amount per year, you’re not allowed to be sad?

Charlotte Mondamin: Look, the more you make, the more you can do whatever you want with fewer and fewer consequences. I’d certainly rather be sad and rich than sad and poor, because sad and poor means that you also have the pressure of basic survival while being unhappy. So, yes, once you have your basic survival needs met, you really shouldn’t be whining about being sad. Your sadness becomes meaningless. You can buy something to make it better. Or you can use your ample spare time to make some art, in which you subtly embrace the fantasy angst that eats at your comfortable, benumbed brains.

Bode P. Chatsworth: Gah, you bore me! Enough! I don’t need all of this misdirected anger and needless confrontation from the likes of you! I’d much prefer to spend time with comfortable people in search of a little angst to fire their creative furnaces. C’mon, Elliot, let’s head over to the corporate canteen and see what they’ve got stashed away there behind the bar, crack a bottle of somethin’ somethin’, smoke a couple of cigars and figure out how best to balance your emotional and artistic aspirations. The keys to the Jaguar are on the end-table there. You can go warm it up for Old Uncle Chatsworth, since it’s a nippy night out tonight. And be careful not to step on any hobos. There’s a good kid. You got a future.

CONTINUES IN PART THREE