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Archive for July, 2012

Lonely Are The Brave

[ 3 ] July 28, 2012 |

SEK can talk about current films that make billions of dollars all he wants to; readers of LGM know that the movies that really matter are the ones I like. And thus allow me to recommend Alex Cox’s essay on the superb Lonely Are The Brave.


The Dark Knight Rises is not a conservative film.

[ 58 ] July 28, 2012 |

At least not in the way that conservatives think it is. Christian Toto contends that “everyone not blinded by liberal ideology” can see that The Dark Knight Rises is critical of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and that the film is therefore “downright conserative.” There are two significant problems with his claim: logically, it is not necessarily true that any cultural artifact that’s critical of the Occupy movement is conservative; and visually, the optics of Bane and his followers don’t correspond to those of the Occupy movement. The logical problem is easy enough to dismiss: I can criticize the rhetoric and tactics of the Occupy movement without being instantly transformed into a conservative. The visual problem isn’t that much more complicated, because this is what Bane and his followers look like:

I would like to ask Toto and John Nolte and every other conservative whose claim that the object of the film’s critique is the Occupy movement is predicated on obviousness whether the heavily armed fatigue-garbed lot pictured above look more like this:

Occupy wall street
Or this:

I would like to ask them to examine these images closely and count the number of raised weapons in the first and compare that to the number being raised in the second and the third. Then they can tally up the number of bandoliers and re-purposed fatigues and wrapped heads there are in each of these images and compare those too. If they possess a shred of intellectual honesty they’ll have no choice but concede that Bane and his cohorts more closely resemble Afghan mujahideen from the 1980s than Occupy protestors from last year. Toto claims that only those “blinded” by ideology could fail to recognize the similarity between the people in the first and second images. But it seems to me that only someone who is actually blind could be convinced that there’s a greater correspondence between the first and second than the first and third.

There’s a solid reason that Bane and company more closely resemble the mujahideen than the Occupy protestors: they’re from the same part of the world. Batman Begins opens with Bruce Wayne being recruited in a Bhutanese prison and then scaling the Himalayas to train with the League of Shadows. The prison pit in The Dark Knight Rises is located near the northern Indian border with Pakistan, and the majority of those imprisoned in it aren’t chiroptophobic American billionaires. That Fu Manchu mustache sported by Ra’s al Ghul belongs to a tradition of racist caricature of people who come from China and Japan and India. The geographic and narrative cues align with the visual to demand that the League of Shadows be seen as an old school Oriental menace whose politics amount to whatever-frightens-white-people.

Only in this last sense can the projection of conservative politics onto The Dark Knight Rises be understood:the only thing the League of Shadows shares with the Occupy movement is an ideological commitment to frightening white people. That both are successful says nothing about the film, but speaks volumes about the conservatives watching it, who have invested so heavily in their illegible projection that they makes claims like:

Gotham City is thriving as the third film in the trilogy opens. Harvey Dent’s legal legacy is so profound there’s no longer a need for Batman. He’s retired, bum knees and all, while crime continues to decline. So clearly the city’s punitive system isn’t corrupt, and we certainly don’t see mass economic woes.

Toto is wrong on all counts. Far from “thriving,” Gotham is a city in which orphans have taken to living in the sewers to survive. Dent’s legal legacy may be “profound,” but it’s also founded a lie and maintained by mass incarceration. Crime “continues to decline,” but the prisons overflow with criminals whose prosecutions were legitimate, because “the city’s punitive system isn’t corrupt,” so all those prisoners must have committed the crimes of which they’re accused. Finally, Toto fails to “see mass economic woes,” even though, to return to where this chain of inept summation began, ophans have taken to living in the sewers to survive.

In this case, the competing political interpretations of The Dark Knight Rises are not the result of the multivalenced nature of all aesthetic objects so much as simple incompetence from one of competitors. There are sophisticated arguments that the film’s politics don’t square with contemporary liberal or leftist thought—see Aaron Bady or Henry Farrell or Jeff Spross and Zack Beauchamp—but it’s no coincidence that those analyses are eminating from the left. Conservatives aren’t accustomed to considering cultural artifacts with the seriousness they merit, and so on the rare occasion they want to claim ideological kinship with one, they have no idea how.

The “Bataan Clown March”

[ 133 ] July 28, 2012 |

This sums up Romneyshambles pretty well, I think:

Even if you feel neutrally about Romney, it’s impossible to escape the sensation that he believes Basic Competence murdered his family and that he must have his revenge against it. Things are so bad that any second now Matt Drudge might run a link claiming that Romney’s VP pick will actually be a fully Weekend at Bernies‘d Ronald Reagan.

Bolsheviks Rising

[ 16 ] July 28, 2012 |

It was obvious to anyone who cared to investigate  that the main obstacle to a Queen City Bolsheviks division title this year was base-clogging-clubhouse-cancer Joey Votto.  With Votto safely in the gulag for the next couple of weeks, the Reds have ample time to open up some distance between themselves and the Rome of the West Princes of Catholicism.

And frankly, I’ll start taking the Pirates seriously just as soon as they start taking me seriously.

Take my wife—please.

[ 115 ] July 27, 2012 |

The party of family values seems to having problems valuing the family sport:

It’s a big, exciting experience for my wife. I have to tell you, this is Ann’s sport. I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it, I will not be watching the event. I hope her horse does well.

Of all the many problems with this statement, the least of them is Romney’s use of a definitive article before the word “sport.” Not that suggesting you say things like “Darling, I’ll be out performing the sport this morning” doesn’t make you sound like a caricature of a half-blind aristocrat using a mallet at crutch as he bumbles toward some wickets, mind you. Because that’s a problem. But the real problem is that it demonstrates that Romney’s willing to disavow anyone who might impede his candidacy. That he’s not sure “which day the sport goes on” isn’t an indictment of him as a candidate—it’s an indictment of him as a husband. Admittedly, I only have one wife, so I’m sure if I had—what I mean is that as someone who also only has one wife, I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d be blasé about her representing America in the Olympics, especially when I was campaigning to become the President of America.

I can only assume he’s courting the calloused husband vote here, because I can’t think of who else he’d be trying to impress with this brilliant bit of campaign rhetoric.  (Which assumes this statement is intentional, being that this is part of his charm offensive and all—but of course it isn’t. This is just garden-variety faux-machismo that Romney’s using to pander to conservatives who’d never heard the word “dressage” before but immediately associated it with vaginas.)

0 for 32

[ 18 ] July 27, 2012 |

That is not the Seattle Mariners record for the month of July (bless the continued existence of the Kansas City Royals) but the win/loss record for same sex marriage in the league of direct democracy.

This streak might change in November.  Washington’s Referendum 74 will either uphold (a yes vote) the same sex marriage law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Gregoire this past February, or Prop 8 it (a no vote).  According to the NYT today, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos have pledged $2.5 million to the Washington United for Marriage campaign in support of basic civil rights.  Added to previous donations, WUM now has over $5 million raised for the pro Referendum 74 campaign.  The opposition hope to raise $4 million, but according to the wiki page on Ref 74 have fallen somewhat short of this goal (if $132,000 can be considered somewhat short of $4M).

Polling is likewise in favor of Ref 74.  In addition to the three listed on the wiki page (+1%, +21%, +9%), Elway released a poll a few days ago that reports a 10 point lead, but as often occurs with these, there might be some confusion at the margins regarding the meaning of a yes or no vote.

Very, very good news on balance.

UPDATE 1: As commenter John reminds us, there are also ballot propositions in Maryland, Minnesota, and Maine.

UPDATE 2: if you would like to match the Bezos family donation, you can do so here.

In Fairness, Central Kentucky Does Have a Certain French Flavor

[ 44 ] July 27, 2012 |

Peter Berger, via Andrew Gelman:

[New York mayor Michael Bloomberg] resides in his private apartment on the Upper East Side. His co-resident is a woman to whom he is not married—something that he would probably not get away with as mayor in many other American cities. In an international perspective, however, he is in good company—both the current presidents of France and Germany live with similarly non-matrimonial partners. I cannot say whether Bloomberg’s quasi-European lifestyle has anything to do with his idea of New York City as a quasi-European welfare state.

Let me begin by introducing Dr. Berger to Jim Gray, Mayor of Lexington, Kentucky. Let me conclude by asking Dr. Berger to try to wrap his mind around the Honorable Mark Mallory, Mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio.

But then people often mistake central Kentucky and southern Ohio for “quasi-European welfare states.”

The Post-Accountability Era

[ 82 ] July 27, 2012 |

I’m pretty dubious about David Post’s argument that the NCAA levied against Penn State is unfair to Pennsylvania taxpayers, for the reasons I discussed earlier in the week: it proves to much. Presumably, this would also apply to a civil suit — when state institutions make actionable mistakes, the taxpayers for better of worse should be on the hook. (Of course, Post may well believe in the monarchical doctrines regrettably revived by the Rehnquist Court holding that states should in fact be immune from liability when they violate the rights of their citizens. These doctrines are, however, deeply wrong, as well as not actually being in the Constitution.)

Anyway, that’s the least of it. From there, we move on to the worst “Leave Joe Paterno Alloooonnnne!” argument ever. In addition to avoiding the implications of the fact that Curley, Schultz and Spanier reversed a decision to properly report Sandusky after speaking with Paterno, there’s this:

It’s worth thinking about. Would we really want Paterno to have anything to do with the investigations? He should’ve called the DA? “This is Joe Paterno – I’d like an update on the Sandusky investigation”?

I’m sure that Paterno had many motives for sticking his hands in his ears on this one – some of them being dis-honorable. Sandusky’s a pal – I don’t want hear this horrible stuff about him. It’s just horsing around, I’m sure – just like the priests. Etc.

But what was going on in Paterno’s mind is unknowable – the question is: what did he do, or not do, and was that decision morally defensible or not. I’m not so sure he didn’t do (not do) just want he should have (not) done. There were two investigations (conducted by people who should have uncovered Sandusky’s crimes, but didn’t) – one of which (2002) Paterno himself initiated by contacting University officials. It is not unreasonable or morally indefensible to say: the football coach’s role, at that point, is over. Perhaps he even did the right thing.

First of all, after McQueary’s eyewitness account, what investigation? Of course, it should have been the state, not Paterno, who conducted the investigation into Sandusky. It would be bad for Paterno to interfere with an ongoing state investigation. But there was no state investigation, because the allegations were covered up, at a minimum with Paterno’s assent and much more likely based on his active intervention. Paterno’s responsibility was to ensure that an appropriate investigation took place. It didn’t happen, he knew it wasn’t happening, and he did nothing about it. What his precise motives for this failure are are completely irrelevant.

And second, Paterno can’t be held accountable for his disastrous inaction because…he was too powerful? Are you shitting me? I know this increasingly represents what the rule of law now means de facto in this nation of ours, but one rarely hears it defended this explicitly. At least Bill James’s argument that Paterno was a weak, isolated figure is (while empirically wrong) internally consistent. This is just self-refuting.

The Chick-Fil-A Problem

[ 64 ] July 27, 2012 |

I explain why denying them a permit based solely on the political beliefs of their president is wrong at much greater length. In particular, the argument advanced by some commenters that the actions of Chicago’s government are acceptable because Cathy’s beliefs cause real harm run into the obvious problem that pretty much every single case of suppressing speech is based on an argument that the speech is harmful.

One comment I didn’t get a chance to respond to is Jacob Levy’s point that the permit process is so arbitrary that in an ordinary case it would be virtually impossible to prove discrimination. I think this is right; had this just been done quietly with no public statement of motives, there would be no viable way to challenge the process. To me, the takeaway is that this is yet another reason not to fetishize state and local government….

How Corporations Intimidate Workers

[ 22 ] July 26, 2012 |

The definition of bravery is a worker who organizes a union or speaks out about bad conditions in the workplace. That’s because companies come down like a ton of bricks on these workers.

See for instance Elvia Bahena, a housekeeper who works for a company Hyatt Hotels uses to subcontract its cleaners. She testified in front of the Indianapolis City Council on the working conditions she and her other housekeepers face. And now she’s been fired.

Or take Wal-Mart, which is punishing workers who took their story to the company’s shareholder meeting. According to Josh Eidelson (America’s best labor journalist in my opinion), Wal-Mart has fired one worker involved in the action and has issued a “third-level warning” to another, meaning they are ready to fire him the next time he drops a bag of diapers or something.

Violating the First Amendment in Defense of Gay and Lesbian Rights is no Virtue

[ 187 ] July 26, 2012 |

I think Glenn is completely right about this.  If a business is unwilling to comply with local and state civil rights laws, that’s a different matter.  Boycotts of Chick-Fil-A are perfectly defensible, and indeed if you must have fast-food chicken I would urge you to go to Popeye’s for both political and taste reasons.  But for a government office to deny a business who would ordinarily by eligible for one a permit based solely on the political views of an executive is wrong and illiberal, full stop.    If Chick-Fila-A are compliant with the standards that would be applied to other business, they should be permitted to operate in Chicago and Boston, and citizens in these cites should vote with their dollars if they don’t approve of the bigoted views of the company’s chief executive.

…Much more here.

Mitt Romney, Diplomat

[ 116 ] July 26, 2012 |

Most of us have seen this, but I still find it fantastic that Romney wasn’t adequately prepared for his trip to London.  Let’s see, travel to London on the literal eve of the 2012 Olympic games hosted by the same, and make some disparaging remarks about a Great Britain’s ability to organise said games.  It really adds to the impact that the UK already has a healthy chip on its shoulder about the United States.  Pure comedy gold.

I disagree with The Guardian‘s headline that “Mitt Romney’s Olympics blunder stuns No 10 and hands gift to Obama”. Stunned 10 Downing Street, sure. Make any difference in November?  Hardly.

I never thought I’d offer accolades to either, but the best line of this non issue issue either goes to David Cameron:

We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.

Or The Telegraph:

Mitt Romney is perhaps the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive.

When the Olympics gaffe is placed along side this post over at TDS (headline below) we have the makings of a real winner here.

The invasion of Iraq overthrew Iran’s most lethal enemy and replaced it with a regime that is now Iran’s closest and most reliable ally. Depressingly, Mitt Romney has chosen the architects of this massive strategic fiasco as his principal advisors.

It’s a good thing for Romney that foreign policy doesn’t really matter much.

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