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Personal finance lessons for the new gilded age

[ 77 ] March 11, 2017 |

Struggling with crushing educational debt? You’re not alone. Fortunately, the crack journalism team at Business Insider has published an article profiling one Ebony Horton, who paid off her $220K student loan balance in three years. Lots of helpful tips here! Some highlights:

She had toyed with the idea of moving back in with her parents to save on rent, and when her father had a stroke in 2013, she knew it was time to make the transition.

Back home in Joliet, Illinois, Horton took a job as an operations manager at the nonprofit her mother runs.

Horton’s mother gave the couple a condo that she had purchased at an auction for $13,000 as a wedding gift. It became crucial in wiping away the hefty student-loan tab.

Horton and her husband lived in the condo for three months, but then they decided to move in with her grandparents down the street and started renting out the condo to bring in extra income.

When Horton’s grandparents moved south, she returned to her parents’ house, refusing to live in one of her rental properties because they were bringing in extra income.

And now for the coup de grace, the cherry on top that makes this column so of the moment:

To anyone who feels overwhelmed by the prospect of taking on student loans — or paying back any debt they’ve incurred — Horton has a simple message: “I just want them to feel empowered that they can pay if off. If I can do it, anybody can.


States, populations, and legibility

[ 34 ] March 1, 2017 |

The absurd reactions to “Trump performs banal Presidential ritual” all my colleagues here have commented on has reminded me that I meant to link to Jason Kuznicki’s smart article last week, riffing on Scott’s Seeing Like a State, authoritarianism and legibility:

In his landmark book Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott described states as being better able to see some parts of the societies they governed, and less able to see other parts. Thus states can control some things more easily than others.

This unevenness of vision is a problem, as states came to realize. Soon they began taking steps to make the people and places they governed easier to survey – and thus to control. States’ efforts to measure us have produced many familiar parts of the modern world. Scott writes:

The permanent patronym, which most Westerners have come to take for granted, is in fact a comparatively new phenomenon. The invention of permanent inherited patronyms was, along with the standardization of weights and measures, uniform legal codes, and the cadastral land tenure survey, a vital technique in modern statecraft. It was, in nearly every case, a state project designed to allow officials to identify unambiguously the majority of its citizens. The armature of the modern state: tithe and tax rolls, property rolls, conscription lists, censuses, deeds, birth, marriage and death certificates recognized in law were inconceivable without some means of fixing an individual’s identity and linking him or her to a kin group. The permanent patronym was, in effect, the now long superseded precursor to modern photo-ID cards, passports, fingerprints, personal identification numbers, fingerprints, iris scans, and, finally DNA typing.

My suggestion here is to flip Scott’s script: Populations also judge states by metrics that are legible—to populations. Populations can see some things better than others, and they judge states according to their own uneven vision. This remains true, and may even become more true, in the ages of mass and social media.

It should be no surprise that states have begun to respond. They have begun to hide the things that matter, and to make more legible the things that are popularly associated with democracy, but that do not matter very much.

The media, of course, is a, if not the, crucial mechanism by which some aspects of the state become legible. I’d say from the inauguration through last night, media coverage of the Trump administration has probably exceeded my low expectations. (Some of this is perhaps an artifact of the jarring effect of administration’s belligerent and abusive treatment of journalists, and of course all these juicy leaks falling in their lap probably helps too.) The current moment is a reminder of how fleeting that could be.

Intentional walks and game length

[ 111 ] February 23, 2017 |

I’m not the kind of baseball fan who can plausibly call himself a “traditionalist” or “purist.” I’m a fan of the DH and booth review. I adhere to no just-so story about some sort of “golden age” that just happens to correspond to my childhood when the game was better in some unspecified way than it is today. While I share many of Erik’s concerns about the possibility that the coming round of automation will have some ugly social and economic consequences, I would eagerly and enthusiastically welcome the automation of calling balls and strikes. So I don’t seem like the kind of person who would seem to care much about the elimination of the throw four balls wide requirement for an intentional walk, and in fairness I don’t care *much*, but I find myself mildly annoyed by it. My initial efforts to make sense of my annoyance pointed to those moments when things go wrong, which can be highly entertaining. It seems cruel to say, but I really do find pitcher control meltdowns bad enough to lead to a WP on an IBB highly entertaining. But this can’t really annoy me too much, since we’re talking about a once a season kind of event.

I think the source of my annoyance is well captured by Anders Jorstad, whose sentiments I largely endorse:

While many may have issue with this rule as a fundamental aspect of the game — such as arguing that throwing those four balls are important — my argument is much simpler: stop trying to shorten the game.

Rob Manfred seems to be under the impression that people don’t like baseball because the game is too long. He’s partially right about the game being long, as a recent study estimated that an average game lasts just under three hours and contains only 18 minutes worth of “action.”

However, football — the “true American pastime” — is actually 10 minutes longer on average and contains half as much “action.”

The truth is this: people who don’t like baseball just don’t like it. Many might say the game is too long or boring. But small changes like a pitch clock or an automated intentional walk aren’t going to move the needle for anyone who already dislikes the sport.

The only way to dramatically shorten the game of baseball would be to fundamentally change the way the sport is played. The game will always be nine innings, will always include six outs per inning, and will always have a sizable amount of time between pitches. The game will never be fast. If it becomes fast, it will have become something that isn’t baseball.

So perhaps what Manfred really needs to do is to stop trying to pitch the game to non-baseball fans. He’s not pleasing anyone by making these changes. Stop trying to turn the game something it isn’t and instead focus on making the game better for those who already care deeply about the sport.

I say “largely” endorse because there are some measures to shorten games I would wholeheartedly embrace. From a purely fan-experience perspective, shortening breaks between innings would be fantastic! But of course I understand the need for revenue. More plausibly, cracking down on granting batters ‘time’ would be most welcome. And steps to speed up booth review. But I wouldn’t endorse these steps because they shorten the game, exactly, but because they’d improve the rhythm and pacing. Manfred’s criminally stupid “runner on second in extra innings” rule suggests that he’s under the impression that the problem is the raw length of games. But that’s absurd. What’s annoying is a ordinary 9 inning game with ~15 hits and ~5-8 runs that drags on for four hours because the rhythm is unnecessarily slow. A 4 hour 12 inning game is not a problem. Many exciting things in baseball extend the length of the game. If you don’t enjoy a 10+ pitch battle between a power pitcher and a power hitter, I don’t know what to tell you. Of course baseball seems boring if you don’t like baseball, but a) so what? and b) that’s not going to change is you somehow manage to shave 8 minutes off the average game.

Enough with “the deep state”

[ 126 ] February 20, 2017 |

I’ve been mildly confused and dismayed by the speed with which dark musings about “the deep state” have found their way into mainstream political conversation. I’ve been relieved of the need to write something about this by this excellent column by Rafael Khachaturian at Jacobin, which I heartily endorse. A few choice cuts, but read the whole thing, etc:

The deep state concept is harmful in two key ways.

First, invoking the deep state implies a misleading view of the state as a monolithic, unitary actor. While the deep state is usually said to be a network of individuals and agencies, it is assumed that these component parts are held together by a common will or mission (in this case, something like defending the “national interest” against Trumpism). This leads to a reification of the state as an autonomous and internally coherent force.

Yet modern capitalist states are more fragmented than they appear. First, they are composed of class fractions and coalitions that have frequently clashing interests and are motivated by short-term considerations. Often, these internal differences arise from the pressure exerted by various economic interests (such as the competition between the financial, manufacturing, and small business sectors).

In addition, these class forces are intersected by other factors, including the different social bases of support behind the major political parties (including voter cleavages based on urban versus rural interests, racial and gender attitudes, and “populist” appeal), the mass media’s role in shaping certain ideological narratives, and competing visions of foreign policy and geopolitical strategy.


The state–civil society binary is one of the fundamental bases of liberal political theory. But this distinction is largely a byproduct of the way that political power has represented itself, rather than a social fact.

Where the state ends and civil society begins has always been permeable and contested — in other words, subject to politics and political struggle. The state is not an entity standing over and above society, but instead one premised upon the social forces that bring it into being.

Loose talk of the “deep state” misses this crucial point, advancing instead a facile vision of institutionalized power that constitutes its own foundation, and is therefore opaque, mysterious, and beyond the reach of citizens.

This being Jacobin, the sociology of the state on offer here is a bit more singularly focused on class than I might have described it, but that doesn’t change the general picture here. Great piece, I wish I’d written it. More like this, please, Jacobin.

Today in Texas

[ 115 ] February 20, 2017 |

So two hunters (not just hunters but hunting guides) shoot at each other, lie about it and blame undocumented immigrants “ambushing” them.

The punchline:

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller cited the shooting as “proof” that the border wall proposed by President Donald Trump was needed.

When confronted about previous inaccurate Facebook messages, Miller said his social media posts shouldn’t be held to the same standard as those of a news organization ― but then cited a news organization in defense of himself.

“It’s like Fox News,” Miller told KUT radio. “I report and you decide if it’s true or not.”

#MIPL and the death of shame

[ 45 ] February 15, 2017 |

mercer island

For today’s story of the death of shame among the privileged, we need to start with some background:

The above is an image of Mercer Island. For those unfamiliar with the topography of the Puget Sound region: Seattle is a long, thin city; around 20 miles from its northern to southern border but about 3-6 miles East to West, bounded by water on either side: Puget Sound to the West, and Lake Washington (which extends slightly beyond Seattle both North and South) to the East. This lake sharply separates Seattle from its Eastern suburbs, which have for some time been the location of many (but not all) of the wealthier sections of the region, with the middle class and historically more downscale suburbs generally located to the North and South of the city. Lake Washington has but one island: Mercer. At approximately 13 square miles and a population of around 25,000, Mercer Island is the most populous island on a lake in the United States. Culturally and economically, Mercer Island belongs squarely on the Eastside, as it has become one of the wealthier towns of its size in the country, with an average household income well north of 130,000 and an average home value of 1.4 million. It enjoys excellent schools and parks, and is made up almost entirely of low-density single family homes.

Long ago, Mercer Island was primarily rural. One of the first major projects was a Gilded Age opulent resort, the Caulkins Hotel, for Seattle’s elite. In 1908, a “Japanese houseboy” (sic) in the employ of the Caulkins took offense at some unspecified act of verbal abuse from hotel management, and in retaliation stuffed a large number of oily rags in a chimney, causing the hotel to burn down. Left behind, however, was an extensive dock that spurred some development in the island’s Northwest corner, which eventually incorporated as “East Seattle.” The island remained accessible by private boat and by steamboats such as the Atlanta, which connected Mercer Island to Seattle well into the 1930’s. A bridge to Bellevue on the Eastside was completed in 1928, and, following pressure from prominent islanders, the construction of the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial bridge, named for WSDOT’s second director and journalist Edward Murrow’s older brother, in 1940, then the largest floating bridge in the world. (Today, it is second only to the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, a second Lake Washington crossing that doesn’t connect to Mercer Island, just a few miles to the North.) In 1976, the bridge became part of I-90. A much wider second bridge was added in 1989, dramatically increasing capacity. This was Followed almost immediately by the sinking of the original Murrow bridge in a storm over Thanksgiving weekend–a dramatic event I recall watching live on television as a teenager. The Murrow bridge was repaired/replaced, at great public expense, by 1993, giving I-90 its current capacity. The 1940 bridge was largely paid for by a bond paid off by tolls, which ended after about 10 years. The new bridges were not.

Presently, these bridges and the freeway segment they form give Mercer Island residents, on average, the shortest commute times of any city in the region, a particularly remarkable statistic for an island connected to the mainland via a high-traffic bridge, with virtually no residents who work on the island itself. How do they pull off this remarkable feat? Location is part of it; the island is very close to downtown Seattle to the West and Bellevue, the largest city and second-largest job center on the Eastside, to the East. While traffic on the bridge can be quite brutal during rush hour, Mercer Island residents have a unique arrangement that allows them to access the HOV lands Westbound to Seattle as SOVs. This arrangement, codified via a memorandum of understand during negotiations over the construction and future plans for I-90 in 1976, was always meant to be temporary: the center lanes of the new bridge, reversible for increasing peak direction capacity, were designed explicitly with eventual light rail in mind. (The temporary nature of the arrangement was, in particular, highlighted by the Federal Highway Administration, whose regulations don’t generally allow for this kind of arrangement). Several decades later, the time has come: construction is scheduled to begin on Eastlink, which will take these center lanes for rail from downtown Seattle various Eastside locations, with a stop on Mercer Island.

Construction of Eastlink necessitates taking the center lanes currently used for HOV, and last month WSDOT told the city formally that their SOV freeloading days are over: they will no longer have uniquely privileged access to HOV lanes, and will be forced to access the city the way the rest of plebes do: in normal, high volume SOV lanes. (Or by bus, but who are we kidding?) The Seattle Times reported on this back in December:

Mercer Island officials insist they’re not asking for special treatment, but for the transportation agencies to honor agreements that date to 1976. Direct access to the express lanes and thick sound walls and a massive lid were part of a mitigation package agreed to after Mercer Island sued over the planned expansion of I-90 from five to eight lanes more than two decades ago.

The negotiated settlement was meant to compensate the island for the noise, pollution and loss of prime real estate at the north edge of its downtown, said Bissonette. The access was also an acknowledgment that I-90 is Mercer Island’s only connection to the surrounding region.


But the FHWA in August said it wasn’t a party to any of those agreements. Daniel Mathis, the agency’s Washington division administrator, in a letter to the city, said that allowing solo Mercer Island drivers access to the new I-90 HOV lanes would violate federal law that generally restricts access to transit, carpools and motorcycles.

The feds noted that Mercer Island has 15 entrance and exit points to and from I-90 and will have the same number once the new HOV lanes are completed.

The good people of Mercer Island, it should be noted, voted for the ST2 package that authorized and funded Eastlink in 2008, and have been paying taxes for it since 2009. But a couple of years ago, their discontent was becoming apparent. Sound Transit, as a regional agency beholden to various local politicians, has a habit of bending over backwards for the municipalities it serves, even at the cost of sensible transit policy (ie, routing near a freeway, rather than where people actually live and work, so as to “minimize disruption from construction), but Mercer Island’s requests have been remarkable. From two years ago, they included:

Permanent SOV access to HOV lanes
Permanent exemption from I-90 tolling
Resident-only parking at the Link Station
Complete abandonment bus transfers on Mercer Island
Dedicated and guaranteed seats for Islanders on Metro and Sound Transit buses

As Shaner notes, each and every one one of these privileges would be entirely unique to Mercer Island: Sound Transit often has projects that disproportionately benefit residents of a particular community, but nothing in their mandate current configuration suggests they can or should restrict access based on the address of the user. The “bus transfer” issue is a particularly important one; for many Eastside bus routes headed for downtown, it will make more sense–providing shorter commute times for riders and saving service hours that can increase frequency or coverage–to terminate routes that used to go into downtown Seattle at an Eastlink station, and this has always been the plan. For a lot of Eastside routes, the easiest and fastest connection will be Mercer Island station. This, of course, would have auxilliary benefits for the Mercer Island transit user–their light rail station would also be a hub for one seat rides to a variety of Eastside destinations. (The Northlink line, under simultaneous construction, has a similar plan for buses coming from points North to Seattle; put the riders on the train at Lynnwood, and save them from being stuck in traffic on the bus. Mercer Island opposes this plan, however, because they don’t want to deal with the impact of bus transit. In contrast, Lynnwood openly embraces the good fortune of being a future transit hub, and has aggressively upzoned around the planned Lynnwood station, in hopes that the excellent transit access of there will create a node of dense walkability the sprawling suburb currently lacks. Mercer Island’s station will be located in their already-existing small downtown commercial area, and they’ve planned for light rail in a different way: downzoning their downtown area with a new two story limit on new construction, in order to protect their fair citizens from the horror of seeing any transit oriented development on their way to a comfortable, easy 10 minute commute into the center of Downtown Seattle.

Formal notification from WSDOT that, in compliance with FHA regulations, the special HOV access would end in June, when the center lanes are lost and HOV lanes are moved, came last month. On Monday night, Mercer Island’s city council voted unanimously to sue Sound Transit and WSDOT to stop Eastlink construction, a multi-billion dollar project in the works for nearly a decade that they themselves have voted for. There is no doubt this change will adversely effect traffic on the island and commute times for Islanders, but of course this simply means they’ll no longer get an exemption from living in a high-traffic, high-congestion city. No more special access for SOV polluters just for living in the richest city in the region.

The suit is pretty shameless, and is probably best understood as a stalling tactic and/or a shakedown to get more ST “impact” money toward a new ramp. Playing hardball, against the greater good, to fight for the interests of those you represent is politics. The staggering shamelessness comes from the actual citizens who showed up to the meeting. Erica C Barnett documented the atrocities via twitter, storified here.

A few of my favorites:

And now for the coup de grace. The award for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence in shamelessness goes to some unnamed Mercer Island resident whose comment Barnett correctly highlighted:

Hanging on to this award in the Trump era will not be easy, but this guy may just have a chance.


[ 213 ] February 8, 2017 |

I’m starting to see this on facebook, and I’m guessing it’s already happening here, so I’ll put this here rather than repeatedly in comments here and elsewhere:

I have a feeling we’re about to read a whole lot of “let’s devote resources to a primary challenge to Manchin in retaliation for the Sessions vote”, and much of the response to that will be “Manchin’s the best we can do in WV, so a primary just hands the seat over the Republicans” as a response. I’m sympathetic to both the demand and the response to it, but I think they both fail to think this through properly. If primary challenges from the left are a hammer, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all problems the Democratic party faces are nails. More specifically, a necessary-but-not-sufficient condition for “Primary!” to be the solution to the problem is an affirmative answer to the question “is the composition of the relevant Democratic primary electorate such that we might reasonably hope they’d prefer a standard Democrat to a Democrat who’ll throw his support behind white supremacy?” It seems relatively obvious to me the answer here is almost certainly “no”–WV has lots of conservative, white voters who are registered as, and in some sense still identify as Democrats, even as they’re increasingly unlikely to ever vote to send them to Washington, but would still be happy to turn out to help Good ol’ Joe defeat the race traitor before they abandon him for a Trumpist months later (as they surely would have done to Sanders, whom they helped win the primary, had he won the nomination). How much worse a hypothetical anti-Sessions Democrat’s chances would be in the general than Manchin’s, and is that a price we’re willing to pay, would be worth debating in a world where such a figure had a chance in hell of taking Manchin down. I’m not seeing it.:

….since many of the comments are unfolding in the fashion I predicted, let’s try this again:

The conversation everyone wants to have is “Should we stick a knife in Manchin’s gut, even if it might hurt us in the long run?” The relevant question is “Should we loudly announce our intention to stick a knife in his gut and let the chips fall where they will, then proceed to poke his belly with a plastic spork from the cafeteria?”

Immigration and public opinion: Trump’s mistake

[ 158 ] January 28, 2017 |

Today runs very close to March 19, 2003, as the most shameful day to be an American citizen of my lifetime. I’m immensely grateful to all the people at the airport and other protests around the country: to anyone reading involved: thank you.

Today is also a day to grateful for Trump’s inexperience and incompetence. Trump as done and will do many awful things, and a lot of them will be unpopular. Restricting refugee and Muslim immigration, though, was one of the things that could be moderately popular. However, by executing this plan in such a ham-fisted way, our attention has turned not to an abstract ban, but to its actual enforcement, and in particular to the handful of lawful residents caught in limbo at airports around the country.

Layout 1

Antje Ellermann‘s research on the politics of immigration, in particular her 2009 book States Against Migrants: Deportation in Germany and the United States, is useful in making clear what a tremendous strategic blunder this is. Ellermann’s innovation is to stop treating public opinion about immigration in general terms, and disagregating it. In both of her case studies (Germany an the US), the politics of immigration is far more punitive and pro-deportation when couched in general, broad, sweeping terms; typically, at the moment of legislation. That doesn’t translate to public opinion about implementation, particularly as it relates to specific cases, where public opinion turns far more favorable to the plight of would-be deportees. A reviewer summarizes her findings on this front:

Ellermann repeatedly notes that although public opinion often contributes to the demonization of immigration that legitimizes restrictive immigration legislation at the macro level, even otherwise staunchly anti-immigrant members of the public will seek to exempt “deserving” and “well-integrated” migrants from enforcement efforts.

Trump structured his effort in such a way as to turn the public eye to “deserving” and “well-integrated” migrants almost immediately. At least one of the people detained today (now released) was Hameed Khaled Darweesh, an Iraqi interpreter for the US Army. This is a great opportunity to turn the public against what might have been one of Trump’s most evil and least unpopular initiatives into a political disaster. So far, happily, it appears that opportunity may not been wasted.

The stupidity of the electoral college, part infinity

[ 206 ] December 20, 2016 |

After yesterday’s embarrassment, it’d be nice to think we can just accept the obvious and deep moral and political idiocy of the “Hamilton electors” movement, accept it for what is was (essentially, a strategy to avoid facing reality for a few more weeks) and move forward. As Mark Stern observed yesterday, it’s important to keep in mind that The Federalist Papers are at once a great work of political theory and an at times quite cynical exercise in political propaganda, and some essays are much more one than the other, and #68 obviously leans to the propaganda side. Hamilton is too smart to not be aware of the glaring, obvious flaw in the logic: We’re in the greatest danger of electing someone dangerously unfit during moments of hyperpartisanship, when one party is captured by the demagogue. Since the electors will be selected by virtue of their loyalty to that party, they’re hardly likely to be the kind of people capable or likely to recognize the demagogue as such, in an actionable way, either because they’re under the demagogue’s spell, or because they’ve convinced themselves the other side is always worse. During less partisan times, of course, the obviously dangerous and unfit demagogue capturing a party will more likely dealt with by ordinary means; the voters will simply vote for the other party.

But since this is 2016, the fallout could be far worse. The following chain of events seems at least plausible going forward:

1. Washington fines the faithless electors, in accordance with state law. (Satiacum, at least, is practically begging them to do it. The other three were at least pretending to engage in some sort of Machiavellian strategery; he’s been telling anyone who’ll listen that Clinton will never get his vote, even if it’s the 270th one, for months.)

2. This provides a test case for faithless elector laws, and they are ruled unconstitutional. (This would hardly be a stretch; it’s a perfectly plausible and perhaps the most straightforward way to read the relevant constitutional language.)

3. By taking away a disincentive, faithless electors become a greater threat going forward.

4. This threat is, in the present political climate, asymmetrical, because for whatever reason, party activists on the Democratic side are more prone to approach through the lens of intra-party disputes, and be driven into madness by contested primaries.

Jacob Levy on “identity politics” and Trump

[ 389 ] December 14, 2016 |

Jacob Levy’s blog post today is a must read. The first half takes to task the pundit’s fallacy of “too much identity politics cost Clinton the election” and the second half makes the case for the vital necessity of identity politics for any kind of liberal politics. This is “read the whole thing” territory, but let me just highlight a couple of bits:

There is something particularly absurd in the post-election morality plays that say “whites [or white Christians, or white Christian men] have now learned how to do identity politics and how to vote like an aggrieved ethnic group, because that’s what other groups have been doing all these years.” White identity politics is a constitutive fact of American politics, and if an election in which the Republican got the normal share of the white vote counts as white identity politics in action, well, that suggests a deep problem, but it doesn’t suggest a new problem.

White identity politics has moreover been a constitutive fact of the illiberal expansion of state power. The effect of some of the oldest instances of this are still with us, as is seen in the recent struggle over placing the Dakota Access Pipeline on lands that were reserved to the Sioux nation in an 1851 treaty that was subsequently violated but never voided. The effects of the decades-long white welfare state and the redistributive subsidizing of white wealth accumulation through housing policy are very much still with us in the wealth gap between whites and blacks, to say nothing of the enduring effects of racially discriminatory housing and urban policy on the shape of American cities. But the most currently politically salient effect of white identity politics as a source of state power is the combination of policing, imprisonment, crime policy, and drug policy.


The point generalizes. Until 2003, many states criminalized a variety of forms of sexual behavior between consenting adults. There were identity-neutral ways of describing the illiberal wrong of this. But the laws weren’t identity neutral in intent, and often weren’t even formally identity-neutral; they were criminal prohibitions on homosexual sexual activity that legitimized routine police harassment even when they weren’t enforced. The laws were unjust according to liberal principle, but would never have been repealed (in many states) and struck down (in the rest) without the identity-conscious political mobilization of gay and lesbian activism.

Identity politics at its best, in other words, isn’t just a matter of being on some group’s side. It’s about fighting for political justice by drawing on the commitment that arises out of targeted injustice, and about having the intellectual resources to let us diagnose that targeted injustice. It lets us spot the majority group’s identity politics rather than treating it as the normal background state of affairs, and to recognize the oppression and injustice that it generates.

Bold mine; this is the core insight. It’s often targeted injustice that helps to create, or intensifies and makes salient the very identities that provide the resources to fight against them. This essay has helped me think through and clarify in my own mind more precisely what I find so pernicious the anti-identity politics mode of left/liberal commentary, particularly in the politics of the nightmare political environment of the age of Trump. All such critiques acknowledge (usually very quickly, to get it out of the way) that of course identity politics has accomplished some very good and important things, the problem is just that it’s gone too far. This is unsurprising, as identity politics is a category so broad it ostensibly encompasses the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act, and that one time some college students overreacted to a perceived insult. But in turning them into one big thing, and turning that thing into (primarily) an object of derision and contempt, and the unwitting cause of our nightmarish new normal, is particularly dangerous because of the circumstances of our new normal, in which core civil rights accomplishments themselves might be under serious attack. The rhetorical project of categorizing all anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc into a concept most frequently associated with perceived alienating excesses could end up helping to minimize and de-legitimize opposition to the rollback of the racial progress of the civil rights era. As some research linked the other day by aturner339 shows, white people, including liberal white people, can be swung to racist positions relatively easily, as long as it’s not overtly explicit. It’s clear enough that a great deal of public opinion is top-down, and there’s really very little reason to doubt that Trump’s presidency is going to not just make America a more racist place, but will also make the American public more racist. It’s relatively obvious and straightforward how this is going to work with respect to his followers, but the post-election boomlet of anti-identity politics may be giving us some clues about how that process will unfold amongst those who ostensibly oppose him.

The Batman needs our help: update on SEK

[ 69 ] November 17, 2016 |

Our readers who follow SEK or LGM on facebook may already be aware of this, but for the rest of you: the vile monster we’ve come to know as “2016” has come for one of our own. For well over a decade now, a non-trivial portion of what makes the internet awesome has been Scott’s writing, here and at many, many other blogs, as well as The Raw Story and Salon, on matters political, philosophical and literary. He’s done battle with trolls the likes of which we may never see again, a larcenous, taunting University library, a Honda Civic, cancer, and then there’s this. (See also this.)

The monstrous, vile beast known as 2016 came for Scott with both barrels. What seemed at first an ordinary illness turned out to be a serious infection involving multiple organ failure, and landed him in the ICU in Houston well over a month ago. I was in Houston a few weeks ago and was able to pay him a visit. It was bad timing–because of a minor procedure he was coming out of sedation and less lucid and awake than usual, but I was able to convey some well-wishes and meet with some of his family and friends. The good: Houston is home to Scott’s parents, brother, and sister, he’s surrounded by the extraordinary medical resources of the Texas Medical Center (if you’ve never been, it’s quite literally the largest medical complex in the world; it’s like a small city of nothing but hospitals), and while there have been some setbacks, there has been progress in the right direction. And foster parents have been arranged for the Oldmen.

Another bad: He’s still very sick, and has a long way to go. Furthermore, it turns out a career of studying literary appropriations of evolutionary theory and visual rhetoric, teaching english composition, and writing about politics and culture on the internet does not leave one with the kind of obscene wealth that would be required to cover the medical bills associated with months in an ICU. In that spirit, Scott’s family and friends have set up a gofundme to help him cope with the expenses. If you can help Scott out, he (and we) would be most grateful. Please share this far and wide–I know Scott has many friends and admirers all over the internet, and the more of them we can reach the better.

Today in absurd false equivalence and normalization

[ 118 ] November 16, 2016 |

Newsweek, ladies and gentlemen.

This is going to continue to get worse before it gets better.

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