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American Morons, or, An Open Thread on the Debate

[ 313 ] September 26, 2016 |

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Against my better judgment I am going to watch the damn debate. I will hate every second of it. Trump’s moronic supporters including American Genius Mike Ditka, most recently giving a very important hot take on Colin Kaepernick telling him to get out of the country. I made fun of this on Twitter and was thus sited by one of our nation’s finest journalists as a supporter of Mike Ditka. Christ. I recognize Twitter doesn’t recognize irony well, but really. In any case, here’s an open thread for whatever the hell is going to happen.

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Debate Pre-Thread

[ 290 ] September 26, 2016 |

I confess that I have great foreboding about the debate. I have a sinking feeling that Trump is going to lie and lie again, Hillary won’t effectively respond, the moderator won’t call him out (or will quickly cower under his bluster if he pushes back at all), and even more white people will see him as the embodiment of their resentments and fears.

This does not help me feel better.

Reading in Prison

[ 85 ] September 25, 2016 |

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Above: A man too dangerous for Texas prisoners

The U.S. prison system is primarily designed to lock up people of color, control their labor, and humiliate them. There is very little about justice in the criminal injustice system. Anything that potentially empowers prisoners is something to be eliminated. In Texas especially, that includes reading anything that might possibly inspire prisoners.

Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News, says Texas has 15,000 banned books but the list “is growing exponentially. Once a book goes on it never comes off.”

The Texas list is not just long but diverse. It includes former Senator Bob Dole’s World War II: An Illustrated History of Crisis and Courage; Jenna Bush’s Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope; Jon Stewart’s America; A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction; and 101 Best Family Card Games. Then there are books banned for what TDCJ calls “racial content,” such as The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the Texas football classic Friday Night Lights, Flannery O’Conner Everything That Rises Must Converge, and Lisa Belkin’s Show Me a Hero, which depicts the struggle to desegregate housing in Yonkers, New York in the face of institutional racism.

But don’t worry: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, David Duke’s Jewish Supremacism, and the Nazi Aryan Youth Primer are all kosher. (Clark would not directly respond regarding this issue.)

Teaching The Battle of Algiers

[ 61 ] September 25, 2016 |

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This is a really interesting essay about how the military establishment teaches The Battle of Algiers and how it usually draws poor lessons from it.

Since 2003, counterinsurgency training has become an important field of professional military education, with centers and programs springing up at institutions like the US Military academy at West Point, the National Defense University, and the Naval War College. A search of these institutions’ websites indicates that The Battle of Algiers is a fixture of these courses. At West Point, it’s shown regularly in the French and Arabic programs. A flier for an upcoming screening explained that the film is of interest because it uses “language in a political and military context” and because “the issues faced by the French in Algeria are many of the same issues currently faced by the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.” It’s also shown in courses offered at USMA’s Combating Terrorism Center. Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Price told me that he uses the film to illustrate methods such as sector-by-sector containment and the impact of decapitating a movement’s leadership, and as a case study of what works and what doesn’t.

All of the defense professionals whom I spoke with tied their interest in the film to their advocacy of counterinsurgency strategies that emphasize political solutions and reject tactics such as torture. David Ucko, an associate professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University, said that he encourages foreign security personnel who are engaged in combating terrorism to focus on establishing political legitimacy. In his eyes, the inescapable lesson of The Battle of Algiers is that if you act as the French did in Algeria, you’re going to lose.

Somewhat contrary to my expectations, these conversations didn’t leave me with the impression that military educators’ approach to teaching The Battle of Algiers is particularly doctrinaire. Price told me that he encourages students to interrogate the concept of terrorism and the definition of a terrorist. He also said that while most cadets identify with the French, some end up taking the side of the Algerian insurgents. Ucko similarly noted that the film helps his students to humanize the enemy.

But if the teaching of The Battle of Algiers in policy and military contexts isn’t closed-minded, it does raise some other questions. To hold that it’s better to win people over with values and ideas rather than by force is good in principle, but it assumes that there are social and political principles that could unite all parties. This seems highly questionable in a situation such as Iraq, where the objectives of the US presence have been far less straightforward than those of the French in Algeria, and where “insurgency” has become increasingly protean.

Another issue is the apparent lack of attention paid to the film as a film — to the questions of storytelling and cinematography that preoccupy cultural scholars. The film seems to be taught in military colleges as a mirror of history, while history is approached as a reservoir of examples from which lessons can be drawn. Ben Nickels, an associate professor at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, observed that this approach is somewhat symptomatic of the field of military history as a whole. Over the last 30 years, military history has all but vanished from the academic mainstream, flourishing only in professional military education, where it has been sheltered from historiographical practices that focus on primary documents as contingent representations.

That is fundamentally true about military history within the academy. As its’ become more isolated, it’s hardly surprising that it would fall further and further behind the rest of the field conceptually. Also, I taught Battle of Algiers in my summer film course a couple of years ago and one of the students, who was an ex-Marine who had gone to Lebanon just after the barracks were blown up, said they watched it back then to understand what was happening in the Middle East. I mean, I think there are things one can learn from films, but it worries me that the leading document to understand the contemporary Middle East within the military establishment is a fifty-year old film made by an Italian Marxist about a secular, nationalist revolutionary movement.

Shorter STEM Experts: Please Invest in the Humanities!

[ 149 ] September 25, 2016 |

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It sure would be nice if politicians and university administrations actually listened to people in the STEM fields and invested heavily in the humanities and social sciences. The editorial board of Scientific American makes this point powerfully.

Kentucky governor Matt Bevin wants students majoring in electrical engineering to receive state subsidies for their education but doesn’t want to support those who study subjects such as French literature. Bevin is not alone in trying to nudge higher education toward course work that promotes better future job prospects. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a former presidential candidate, put it bluntly last year by calling for more welders and fewer philosophers.

Promoting science and technology education to the exclusion of the humanities may seem like a good idea, but it is deeply misguided. Scientific American has always been an ardent supporter of teaching STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But studying the interaction of genes or engaging in a graduate-level project to develop software for self-driving cars should not edge out majoring in the classics or art history.

The need to teach both music theory and string theory is a necessity for the U.S. economy to continue as the preeminent leader in technological innovation. The unparalleled dynamism of Silicon Valley and Hollywood requires intimate ties that unite what scientist and novelist C. P. Snow called the “two cultures” of the arts and sciences.

Steve Jobs, who reigned for decades as a tech hero, was neither a coder nor a hardware engineer. He stood out among the tech elite because he brought an artistic sensibility to the redesign of clunky mobile phones and desktop computers. Jobs once declared: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

A seeming link between innovation and the liberal arts now intrigues countries where broad-based education is less prevalent. In most of the world, university curricula still emphasize learning skills oriented toward a specific profession or trade. The ebullience of the U.S. economy, which boasted in 2014 the highest percentage of high-tech outfits among all its public companies—has spurred countries such as Singapore to create schools fashioned after the U.S. liberal arts model.

But hey, bullying students to avoid majoring in theater or Spanish is fun! And really, what would the knowledge of a foreign language or the ability to write effectively add to a employer?

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 50

[ 9 ] September 25, 2016 |

This is the grave of William Paterson.

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William Paterson was born in Ireland in 1745. His family immigrated to the American colonies in 1747 and settled in New Jersey. He started at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) at the age of 14 and was admitted to the bar in 1768. He rose rapidly in New Jersey politics during the American Revolution and was one of the state’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. There, he pushed for a unicameral legislature, which helped lead to the compromise that created the United States’ bicameral system. He became a Federalist and was named to the Senate in 1789. He then became the first senator to resign from office in 1790 to become governor of New Jersey. In 1793, George Washington named Paterson to the Supreme Court where he served until his death in 1806. He died near Albany, New York while visiting his daughter, who had married into New York’s powerful Van Rensselaer family.

William Paterson is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York.

Music Notes

[ 34 ] September 24, 2016 |

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Here’s an interview with Laura Ballance, Superchunk bassist and CEO of Merge Records. Question for you. Is Merge the greatest label in rock history? I have to say that it is. In my view, it’s up with the greatest labels of all time like Atlantic and Motown. They’ve never put out a lot of albums and that’s because they make sure product is first rate. You can’t argue with the results.

Here’s a New York Review of Books essay on Miles Davis. I haven’t seen the Don Cheadle film, but the essay is pretty good, particularly as it focuses on his electric period. For me, that is far and away the greatest period of Miles’ career, a career that was unparalleled in American music history (outside of the 80s, which, well….). The period between In a Silent Way and his retirement is simply an incredible musical achievement, not only because it was great music but because with each album, he was moving music forward by leaps and bounds.

Bomba Estéreo’s new video has received a ton of buzz for its inclusive message and that’s awesome, but regardless, it’s worth noting what a great band this is.

Leonard Cohen turned 82 this week. To celebrate, he released the title track to his upcoming album. And yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

And now to the album reviews. Been lucky that most of the new albums I’ve listened to the last couple of weeks have been really good.

Andrew Norman and Boston Modern Orchestral Project, Play

This is an outstanding recording of a composer whose music hits you in the face. I’m not going to try and fool you all: although I enjoy orchestral music, I really suck at writing about it. So let me quote The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, from his own personal blog:

Will Robin has gone so far as to declare that Play “might be the best orchestral work that the 21st century has seen thus far” — an announcement that spurred a lively Twitter discussion of other candidates for that accolade, with emphasis on purely orchestral works more than half an hour long. I seconded Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s nomination of Adès’s Totentanz and Czernowin’s MAIM, but, having listened to Play at least a dozen times, I won’t dismiss Will’s suggestion out of hand.

A must purchase for me.

A

Dilly Dally, Sore

This is an excellent young rock band from Toronto with a vocalist named Katie Monks who has a great screamer voice. Will she be able to sing when she’s 40 with vocals like these? Don’t know. Doubt she cares. Good lyrics worth actually trying to understand are a bonus.

A-

Mount Moriah, Miracle Temple

My favorite album from this year so far is Mount Moriah’s How to Dance and I’m really excited to see them in November. It wasn’t on the first listen, but it’s become my go-to album recently, slightly over the Margo Price album. Heather McEntire just has an astounding voice. So I picked up Mount Moriah’s 2014 album Miracle Temple. This is a good album, but not as good as How to Dance because it lacks that one great song like “Baby Blue” or “Calavander.” What you have is a very solid set of tunes and great singing. And who is going to complain about that.

A-

James Vincent McMorrow, Post Tropical

At first I found this a little annoying. McMorrow sings not unlike quite a few indie singers these days with what feels to me like an affectation where prettiness is valued over expression, to the point where the voice almost disappears. He also sings in a very high falsetto that doesn’t quite work for me. But this 2014 release is more interesting than it first seems because despite this indie folk core, the album goes in places you don’t expect because he engages in his love of hip-hop and electronic music, both of which he integrates in unexpected ways in an album where he played every instrument. I don’t love this, but it is worth a listen.

B

Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood, and the Rajasthan Express, Junun

In the spring of 2015, the Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead, and the Rajasthan Express, a 15-member Indian band all hung out togehter in India and made music. Paul Thomas Anderson filmed it and released it as a documentary. I have not seen the film. But I can say that the soundtrack is outstanding. The Rajastahn Express is the real star here, dominating the proceedings with this really great somewhat droning music that comes out of the Qawwali tradition. I believe Tzur wrote the tracks. Greenwood doesn’t really do much that stands out, not that this matters. He’s just part of the band. This is just fine music.

A

As always, this is an open thread about music.

Buckwheat Zydeco, RIP

[ 19 ] September 24, 2016 |

Another great musician is gone.

Gross Hypocrisy, Also Not a Firing Offense

[ 92 ] September 23, 2016 |

Glenn Reynolds is a terrible human being. He was a terrible human being to me personally when he and Michelle Malkin led a right-wing hate campaign against me in 2012. Technically Reynolds didn’t call for my firing, but he came right up to the edge of that and many of his readers called for it–even though I hadn’t done anything even moderately offensive to anyone with a brain. Nonetheless, as Henry points out, he does not deserved to be fired, even for his utterly loathsome and far from subtle call for drivers to run down protestors in Charlotte. Like Henry, I’m not sure this is exactly an academic freedom matter as Reynolds wasn’t representing the University of Tennessee. But it doesn’t matter too much either way because of the latter half of the last sentence. Does he deserved to be canned from USA Today? That’s a totally different question from a private entity. But he should not be fired from the University of Tennessee.

Also, when I was doing some student organizing work at UT back in the late 90s and early 00s, I went into the law school at night and taped a flyer about a labor event I was involved in on Reynolds’ office door. Even better, said labor event brought Richard Trumka to campus. I hope Reynolds threw a clot when he saw that.

Friday Night Open Thread/Revolution

[ 127 ] September 23, 2016 |

Sounds pretty good to me!

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Old Lefties, Scared of the Kids, News at 11

[ 249 ] September 23, 2016 |

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Them damn kids, they don’t hold the same set of principles as we true leftists of the 60s!

Nope — not in the topsy-turvy universe of identity politics. The festival immediately disavowed the address, though the organizers had approved the thrust of the talk in advance. A “Right of Reply” session was hastily organized. When, days later, The Guardian ran the speech, social media went ballistic. Mainstream articles followed suit. I plan on printing out The New Republic’s “Lionel Shriver Shouldn’t Write About Minorities” and taping it above my desk as a chiding reminder.

Viewing the world and the self through the prism of advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the identity-politics movement — in which behavior like huffing out of speeches and stirring up online mobs is par for the course — is an assertion of generational power. Among millennials and those coming of age behind them, the race is on to see who can be more righteous and aggrieved — who can replace the boring old civil rights generation with a spikier brand.

When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, conservatives were the enforcers of conformity. It was the right that was suspicious, sniffing out Communists and scrutinizing public figures for signs of sedition.

Now the role of oppressor has passed to the left. In Australia, where I spoke, Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to do or say anything likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate,” providing alarming latitude in the restriction of free speech. It is Australia’s conservatives arguing for the amendment of this law.

As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts — by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship, and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy. There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy. The shrill tyranny of the left helps to push them toward Donald Trump.

If I knew how to embed emoji, it would all the eyeroll emoji.

I mean, sure, one might argue if the left survived the narcissism of the 60s generation that so many of that generation seem to forget when they whine about millennials, but asking those who said they hoped they die before they got old to now understand now that they are old that, like themselves back in the day when THE LEFT WAS THE LEFT UNLIKE TODAY WHAT WITH THE IDENTITY POLITICS AND THE HIPPITY HOP AND THE LIKE, young people might not think in the same way as those 40 years older than they is evidently impossible. Unlike the GOOD OLD DAYS WHEN WE DROPPED ACID AND PLOTTED TO BLOW UP BUILDINGS AND FETISHIZED INCREASINGLY RADICAL REVOLUTIONARY GROUPS WHILE SHOWING HIPSTER DISDAIN FOR SELLOUT LIBERALS, the kids these days just don’t understand free speech and a real debate, right?

What Do Trump Advisors Think About the Civil War?

[ 133 ] September 23, 2016 |

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OK, this is like shooting fish in a barrel. But still….

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is planning to the restrict the display of Confederate flags by “amend[ing] our policy to make clear that Confederate flags will not be displayed from any permanently fixed flagpole in a national cemetery at any time.”

As expressed in a letter written by Roger Walters, interim undersecretary for memorial affairs, “We are aware of the concerns of those who wish to see Confederate flags removed from public venues because they are perceived by many as a symbol of racial intolerance.”

Great! But this might not fit Trumpism:

But a recent vote indicated a majority of House Republicans oppose the VA’s attempt to restrict where and when the Stars and Bars can be displayed. So does Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner who was recently tapped to be Donald Trump’s national co-chairman of his agriculture advisory team.

In a Facebook post published Thursday, Miller suggests the Civil War was first and foremost about protecting free speech — not slavery. He also strikes a skeptical note about whether Confederates who fought against the United States behaved treasonously.

Responding to a Washington Post column supportive of the VA’s move, Miller writes that the piece “makes my blood boil” and says the Post isn’t “entitled to… attempt to read the minds of my long-dead Confederate ancestors and determine that their actions and motivations during that awful war were treasonous.”

He also denounces “politically correct bureaucrats” pushing for the Stars and Bars to be banned.

“With all that is going on around our world and the serious threats that exist to our country and our constitiional [sic] freedoms by those who carry black flags with Arabic writing upon them, I would think that those in our national government would simply leave alone the flags marking the burial grounds of our Confederate dead,” Miller writes. “Unfortunately, I fear that is just wishful thinking on my part and highlights why the outcome of the upcoming election is so very,very important.”

Boy, I wonder how we could determine the thoughts of those who committed treason to defend slavery?

A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

Truly, no one can read the minds of long-dead Confederates.

And hey, the Civil War was actually about free speech! That’s why conservatives should totally secede from the nation if those big government PC liberals dare to criticize them. After all, saying mean things when Sarah Palin or Donald Trump say something dumb is the ultimate restriction of free speech! And this is just outstanding.

In the lead up to the aforementioned House vote on Confederate flags, a staffer for Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) circulated an email making a case for preserving the Confederate flag that’s similar to Miller’s. The staffer, Pete Sanborn, wrote, “You know who else supports destroying history so that they can advance their own agenda? ISIL. Don’t be like ISIL. I urge you to vote NO.” He signed the email, “Yours in freedom from the PC police.”

Don’t be like ISIL, those liberals!

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