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Archive for August, 2012

Smoking Cows

[ 7 ] August 28, 2012 |

Sadly, I don’t have any more historical films of boxing cats to show you. But General Motors’s bizarre animal newsreel series from the mid 1930s was more than just boxing cats. It was also smoking cows!


The Crowd

[ 21 ] August 28, 2012 |

One of the generally agreed upon things in the modern, 21st century wealthy nation world (or at least the politically progressive part of that world anyway) is the democracy of the crowd. We love the crowd, whether real or virtual, love being a part of it, participating in it with our technology and sometimes our feet and our voices. We look to our partners in the crowd for good restaurant recs on Yelp, find out what’s happening out in the world on Twitter, feel solidarity from it in Occupy protests. But this is not your old-school crowd of nameless, faceless people called out for rallies by the union president. In the new crowd, we all have equal voices, with our individual rights and feelings protected and even prioritized. We feel empowered to destroy a business’ reputation on our beloved Yelp if they didn’t note a food ingredient we didn’t like in a salad we ordered. Each and every one of us (or at least a few of us in combination) can grind an Occupy meeting to a halt if we loudly register our anger at this or that position, or just because we aren’t comfortable with the process.

We love this tension between the crowd and the individual, the empowering solidarity, even if we wouldn’t necessarily call it that with most of our online interactions. But is the individual just as manipulated by the crowd of other individuals as by a corporation or political party or any other institution? In our empowered individualism within a huge community of equally empowered individuals, are we any more savvy? Are we participating in a democratic process through an Occupy protest or is the bogged-down consensus process that Occupy so values an open opportunity for stools from the police to sabotage the movement’s ability to do anything (I’m not saying this actually happened, but given the history of police infiltration in American social movements, it seems quite plausible. Plus the answer to the above question is likely both)? Is an anarchist who is showing influence within a movement and convinces some other people to break windows without larger approval from the entire movement a committed thinker or an agent provocateur?

For that matter, is there any reason to believe any kind of customer review online? This Times piece on professional “reviewers” being paid by self-published authors to give positive reviews, a process that seems to lead to increased sales for many, suggests to me that we, even the most supposedly savvy of us, are as manipulated now as ever. The crowd and the empowered individual does not protect us in any way, in fact, it may make us more vulnerable as our confidence lets our guard down.

On Twitter, Matt Zeitlin (@MattZeitlin) said about the Times article, “Possible future scenario: online customer reviews are ruined, publishers become more authoritative.” I thought that was interesting. Does the fact that anyone can say anything mean that all statements become equally worthless without some kind of expertise to back it up? For that matter, could we see a future where, as a broader society, we see the pendulum swing back toward expertise and institutionalized leadership in books, politics, or all the other ways in which we distrust expertise today?

And while it may seem that comparing political movements and profiteering manipulation on websites are apples and oranges, in my mind they are part of the same phenomenon.

Obviously I could be wrong about all of this, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about in my spare moments for the last few days.

“Obesity” and “homosexuality”

[ 171 ] August 28, 2012 |

I have a piece in Salon about how the concepts of “homosexuality” and “obesity” are examples of how deviance from social ideals gets medicalized, and how recognizing this requires recognizing that definitions of health and disease often have an unavoidably political component.

Update :Responding to a couple of comments:

(1) LP2 suggests that food is to the relapsing “obese” person who cannot maintain enough weight loss to become and remain non-obese as cocaine is to the relapsing drug addict. This seems to me a problematic analogy for a number of reasons. Most people who have used cocaine do not become drug addicts, and most people who eat, including most fat people, don’t become food addicts (some fat people, of course, engage in addictive behavior toward food, but so do some non-fat people). Furthermore while the person who does become addicted to cocaine can stop using cocaine, the person who has an addictive relationship to food can’t stop eating. Beyond this, saying that someone who has a BMI of 30+ is “sick” in the same way that a drug addict (as opposed to a drug user) is sick seems to me clearly wrong. So the food to fat people = drugs to drug addicts analogy doesn’t really work very well.

(2) Bijan asks if I consider anorexia a disease. Anorexia is a disease, but the problem with identifying anorexia with a particular body state, so as to make the analogy between anorexia and obesity a close one, is that defining anorexia as a certain level of thinness is both over and under-inclusive. Unfortunately the clinical definition of anorexia uses an absurdly low criterion (you have to be significantly below a BMI of 18.5, which is already in the second percentile of BMI for the population), which means that many people who have every diagnostic criteria for anorexia except for extremely low body weight aren’t clinically considered anorexic. In addition there are some very thin people who aren’t eating disordered — they’re just very thin. Again, the point is that a body state in and of itself shouldn’t be considered diseased, except in truly extreme situations.

Add Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore (and his scrotums) to list of people who don’t know what words mean.

[ 68 ] August 28, 2012 |

Must I post this video yet again? It appears I must:

“There were no workers that were forced to attend the event,” [Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob] Moore said. “We had managers that communicated to our work force that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend the event. We had a pre-registration list. And employees were asked to put their names on a pre-registration list because they could not get into the event unless they were pre-registered and had a name tag to enter the premises.”

But I thought “WOW! HUNDREDS OF COAL MINERS STAND IN LINE FOR MITT ROMNEY!“? Do you mean to tell me that these coal miners were paid to not be “forced” to attend this “mandatory” event?

“Our management people wanted to attend the event and we could not have people underground during Romney’s visit,” Moore insisted.

“But why not still pay then their wage for that day?” [WWVA radio host David] Blomquist pressed.

“By federal election law, we could not pay people to attend the event,” Moore replied. “And we did not want anyone to come back and see where anyone had been paid for that day.”

“I’m not saying pay then to attend the event, I’m saying, ‘Hey look, we have to close down the mine, if you want to attend this event, that’s fine, but you’re still going to get a day’s pay for the work that you would have done,’” Blomquist pointed out. “Why not do that?”

“As a private employer, it was our decision and we made the decision not to pay the people,” the Murray chief financial officer said.

So they were not paid to not be “forced” to attend this “mandatory” event? Management just shut down the mines and didn’t “force” all the workers to attend this “mandatory” Romney photo-op. Why was this “mandatory” event that management didn’t “force” the miners to attend without pay so important anyway?

“We’re talking about an event that was in the best interest of anyone that’s related to the coal industry,” Moore added. “I do not believe that missing an eight-hour day, when you put it into perspective, when you think about how critical—critical this next election is, and how critical it is that we get someone in this office that supports coal—to give up eight hours for a career, I just don’t believe that there is anything negative about that.”

That makes sense: I can see why management wouldn’t think that there’s “anything negative” about forcing people working near or below the poverty line to “give up eight hours” of paid wages to attend a Mitt Romney rally. I’m sure Romney himself fully supported management’s decision, both in this particular case and all others. Because what matters more? Food on the table or a photo-op?

UPDATE: In the comments, kerry notes that this is par for the conservative course: “It’s kind of like their view of rape–if you weren’t physically dragged there and restrained, it wasn’t ‘forced’.”

Which makes Batman the liberal fascist of what now?

[ 21 ] August 28, 2012 |

For a split-second, I liked Grant Morrison a little, then I realized he’d made me jealous of Jonah Goldberg, and hated him all the more:

This exchange occuers in the third issue of Batman Incorporated, which unfortunately doesn’t end the “Is Batman a conservative?” debate by having the Batman repeatedly punch this Goldberg-proxy in the face. That said, Bulldog may not actually be a Goldberg-proxy, since we all know he’s a “monster-man,” not a “man-monster.”

ACTUALLY: Given that that’s Bruce Wayne in disguise in the green there and he’s chosen his own rogue’s gallery, I suppose it’s safe to say the Batman is, at the very least, implicitly punching the Goldberg-proxy in the face repeatedly. Damn it, now I’m tempted to like Morrison again.

So About that NOLA APSA LGM Event…

[ 2 ] August 28, 2012 |

Turns out there was, like, weather or something, and none of us will be in town on Thursday.  Wind and water permitting, LGM highly recommends that all NOLA readers and visitors pursue their own personal paths to intoxication.

The Management

Today in the “Liberals are the real x” Gambit

[ 102 ] August 28, 2012 |

Ross Douthat tries out the routine so beloved by conservative bloggers the world over:

The biggest difficulty [with the Judith Jarvis Thomson argument you might remember from high school forensics], though, is that most women considering an abortion were not kidnapped and impregnated against their will. They freely chose the act that brought the fetus into being, and analogizing their situation to a kidnap victim implies a peculiar, almost infantilizing attitude toward female moral agency.

How precious! Alas, the “people who believe that women should be coerced by teh state to carry their pregnancy to term are the real proponents of gender quality” fails. First of all, the example only implies an “infantilizing attitude toward female moral agency” if you accept anti-choice premises and/or are Julian Assange’s defense attorneys. To the rest of us, it is quite obvious that consenting to sexual relations does not necessarily entail consenting to carrying a pregnancy to term, and there’s nothing “infantilizing” about this view. (Douthat may want to consider that women, as free moral agents, may even realize that a safe medical procedure to terminate pregnancies exist!) And the second problem is that few pro-choicers would justify equal access to safe abortions using Thomson’s argument, because Thomson’s argument* starts from the underlying premise that a fetus is equivalent to a legal person. I reject this premise, as do most pro-choicers, which makes sense since most “pro-lifers” also don’t accept this premise (or at least are not willing to support policies that are even minimally consistent with such a view.)

So there’s nothing about the pro-choice position that denies the agency of women. The Republican platform, conversely, is soaking in the denial of women as rational moral agents. The recent non-gaffes of Republican politicians just underline this fact. While Douthat would like to pretend otherwise, the fact that support for criminalizing abortion in practice almost always comes bundled in with ugly and reactionary assumptions about gender and sexuality isn’t a coincidence.

*As commenters note, I should say “the Thomson argument Douthat cites”; Thomson does not accept the personhood of the fetus but points out that even if one accepts it it’s difficult to justify bans on abortion.

On Lee…

[ 97 ] August 28, 2012 |

The tangle between Robert E. Lee imagery, Confederacy worship, white supremacy, and human rights is far too complex to take on in anything shorter than a three volume set (although here’s a screed I penned in my frivolous youth) but it’s worth noting that the United States Navy at one point saw fit to name a nuclear ballistic missile submarine after the treasonous General. As to Grover’s last question:

One other thing about Lee. Even aside from the terrible cause for which he was fighting, it is arguable that the US military shouldn’t even celebrate Lee as a great American general. Fortunately for the North, Lee didn’t remember George Washington’s more judicious generalship against a superior force or realize the simple lessons of insurgency later popularized by people like Lawrence of Arabia and Mao.

There’s obviously a ton of material on this, and I claim no special expertise on the subject. Some general thoughts:

  • For the reasons I made clear here, insurgency wasn’t an option for the Confederacy. Davis and Lee appreciated (whatever there beliefs about the robustness of slavery in its 1860 configuration) that allowing Union armies unfettered access to the interior South would destroy the social system they were fighting to save. The Civil War was about declaring independence in order to preserve this system; only in the last few months, when the destruction of the system was already at hand, was it possible to envision alternative military strategies.
  • I don’t regard the invasions of the North (in either 1862 or 1863) as strategic errors. Rather, I think of them as Lee’s effort to resolve the other problem mentioned in the above link, which is that the Union occupied vast swaths of the South and was unlikely to give those territories up even if it conceded defeat in the Potomac theater. By raiding into the North in strength, and perhaps even threatening Washington, Lee could credibly offer a chip for regaining some lost Confederate territories. I don’t think that this was a strategy that was particularly likely to work (capturing Washington was probably beyond the capacity of the Army of Northern Virginia, as was destroying the Army of the Potomac), but Lee had to do something about the fact that the Confederacy was crumbling while the status quo endured in Virginia. Of course, an alternative would have been to use interior lines to attempt to either recapture territory in the West or prevent its loss in the first place. I don’t know why Lee preferred invasion; it may have something to do with tensions inside the Confederate Army, the Confederate government, or with Lee’s belief in his own abilities and that of his Army.
  • At the tactical and operational levels, I think that Lee was an outstanding commander. He repeatedly fought larger, better equipped Union formations, often on unfriendly ground, and did very well. He certainly made key mistakes, but this is inevitable in a campaign as long and large as the US Civil War. Lee had advantages that many commanders don’t; he knew many of his opponents personally, and could gauge their proclivities and likely behaviors.  But then his opponents also knew him, in many cases better than he knew them.  Causing and capitalizing on mistakes is part of the job, and Lee by and large did this very well.
  • A positive evaluation of Lee’s military skills makes the problem of his moral monstrosity even more acute; there’s a good argument to be made that through his decision to join the rebellion he substantially extended the Civil War. But then as others have noted, for the abolition of slavery to become a Northern priority the war probably had to last beyond a few months in any case.,

When to Boycott Scab Labor and When Not to Boycott Scab Labor

[ 87 ] August 28, 2012 |

As some of you probably know, the NFL has refused to sign a new contract with the referees union and has pulled together crews of scab referee labor. They are terrible. The players are outraged, even in meaningless preseason games. The referees are incompetent amateurs way above their heads. It’s a joke, one that I think the NFL can only pull during the preseason. The calls have been so egregiously terrible that no one can take them seriously.

In the various labor communities in which I play a small role, there’s been talk that everyone should refuse to watch the NFL so that we don’t support scab labor.

While one can argue this might be a good tactic in other scenarios, I disagree here.*

The best way to get the refs a new contract is for the sporting world to watch and savage the incompetence. More so than any other professional sport, the real power behind the NFL is the fans. That’s especially true when it comes to issues like this–where fans can see the effect on their team’s chances to make the playoffs. The second a terrible call goes against a team and that call costs a team the game, you are going to have millions of people collectively infuriated with the NFL, putting enormous pressure on the league to give the referees a fair contract and bring sanity back to the league.

I think everyone knows this. The referees know they hold a lot of cards here (the fact that most of them are wealthy from other sources also helps). The NFL knows this too. Roger Goodell can give lip service to the scabs all he wants to, but he knows the consequences to him personally if the NFL becomes a laughing stock.

In fact, I find it highly unlikely that the replacement referees call even 1 regular season game. The first game this season is on Wednesday, September 5. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that an agreement is hashed out on the 3rd or 4th.

And if it isn’t, then the strategy is obvious–chronicle every bad call the refs make. The players and coaches will be screaming about it, the fan base will be screaming about it, and it will be THE STORY of the NFL in the early part of the season. That’s something the league can’t handle.

*In fact, I feel the boycott of scab labor is often a reflex used without a lot of analysis. Does it work? What is the best way to handle these issues? I don’t think these are questions even smart labor think about enough. That probably includes me. It probably is a good method frequently. But is it always?


[ 21 ] August 28, 2012 |

Republicans are for it. But their version means that people who aren’t affluent just won’t be able to get health care, so it’s rationing by merit!

Obama’s the only President who’s ever bowed, except for all the others.

[ 113 ] August 27, 2012 |

A Republican PAC full of former Navy Seals, Special Operations for America, will be releasing an ad entitled “Bow to Nobody” at the RNC:

Ryan Zinke, the former Navy SEAL who started the super PAC, spoke exclusively with Breitbart News today. “The ad itself accurately portrays where this President is,” said Zinke. “It accurately portrays his core belief that America should not lead. This president is shaping America to be one of the followers, to relinquish our role as a world leader. I didn’t fight 23 years as a Navy SEAL to watch America bow to anybody.”

He continued, “It’s not just the king of Saudi Arabia. My friends from WWII that fought in the Pacific theater—when they see the president bow to the emperor of Japan, I’ve seen veterans cry[.]”

When asked whether it was inappropriate for former SEALs to speak out, as some on the left have alleged, Zinke answered, “If the veterans can’t speak out, who can? I think it’s a duty of every veteran and every citizen to be actively involved in our political process, especially when the president sets out to negotiate away our rights under the Constitution. There have been other veterans—TR, Eisenhower, JFK—they’ve been active in speaking out and shaping the policy and politics of our country[.]”

For reasons that will become abundantly clear, that emphasis is mine. Zinke’s logic is that he shouldn’t fight to protect American freedom if the President is going to go bowing around the world willy-nilly. Moreover, he feels entitled to take this stand because other former military men, including the man who was once the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, remained “active in speaking out and shaping the policy of our country[.]” Implicit in Zinke’s claim is that someone like President Eisenhower would never diminish the office of the Presidency by bowing to foreign leaders. One problem: conservatives already floated this notion that the President never ever bows so I already know a little something about President Eisenhower: the man could not stop bowing. Hi there, Pope John XXIII!

Howdy to you, wife of Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Gronchi!

Hello again, Archbishop Iakovos of New York, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America!

Long time no see, Charles De Gaulle!

By Zinke’s logic, I believe that last bow means we have all been French since 2 September 1959. Eisenhower clearly demonstrated by that bow that the American President is a subordinate of the French, which means that for the past 50 years America has been a French territory with pretensions of sovereignty. Mon Dieu!

(Most of this post was originally published here on 15 November 2009. It seems stupid didn’t evolve much in the last three years.)

The Downfall of Higher Education

[ 90 ] August 27, 2012 |

Bruce Bawer, an old white male and writer of anti-Islamic screeds, seems to think that the downfall of higher education is in the “studies.” You know, black studies, women’s studies, gender studies, etc. Classes dedicated to non-white males, which Bawer believes constitutes the opposite of a proper education. Oh poor old “liberal” white males. Things were so much better in the 60s, when white men sat in college classrooms reading sensible white males like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Anyway, Andrew Delbanco is having none of it
, writing a devastating review of Bawer’s new book. Delbanco recognizes the real problems in higher education:

This deliberately intemperate book is a useful reminder that liberal education always faces threats from one kind of intolerance or another. It is ultimately a footnote to Allan Bloom’s 1987 best seller, “The Closing of the American Mind,” to which Bawer pays homage in his subtitle. He’s right to lament the continued decline of the kind of education that Bloom defined as helping “students to pose the question . . . ‘What is man?’ in relation to his highest aspirations” by guiding them to and through “the alternative answers” to be found in great works of art and thought. But in updating that argument, Bawer overlooks the greatest threat to today’s universities. Today, corporate-minded university presidents spout platitudes about “outcome metric” and “game-changing” technologies, while faculty members struggle to piece together a living with multiple part-time jobs, and students search for marketable skills that, they hope, will help them pay off their education debt.

In his foreword to Bloom’s book, Saul Bellow described his friend and University of Chicago colleague as “a front-line fighter in the mental wars of our times.” Taking up arms on behalf of Bloom’s cause 25 years later, Bruce Bawer is fighting a rear-guard action against an enemy who has largely ceded the field to a new philistine army that has no interest in the culture wars. The humanities and “soft” social science departments that Bawer mocks are sinking into insignificance — partly, to be sure, because they have purveyed the kind of buffoonery he decries. Meanwhile, a more formidable enemy has arrived in the form of resolute utilitarians who discourage students from seeking what Bawer wants for them: the chance, through arduous reading and reflection under the guidance of dedicated teachers, to discover themselves.

I will only disagree to the extent that I don’t think there’s a lot of “buffoonery” in the studies departments. Sometimes some of those courses could be more rigorous, but then you could say that about any traditional major in the liberal arts.

Of course, another huge problem is the gigantic con being played against our college students, wherein capitalists and their purchased politician friends push them into online degrees that employers don’t value and do them very little good.

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