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How do conservatives spend slow news days?

[ 172 ] May 29, 2013 |

Manufacturing scandals. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why my Facebook feed brimmed over with hatred for Adam Levine this morning — I take that back. It’s entirely understandable why people might brim over with hate for Adam Levine if they happen to hear a Maroon 5 song. Perfectly reasonable to hate him for that. But that’s not why conservatives were upset. Seems that during NBC’s telecast of The Voice, Levine said “I hate this country” on a hot mic right before two of his final three contestants were eliminated. Given that Levine is a Jew who openly supported Obama, clearly he hates both this country and Israel. Goes without saying.

But he said it! On national television! Outrage!

Of course, for those of you who don’t know, The Voice is a singing competition in which coaches create teams of singers and watches as “America votes” them off one-by-one. He hates “this country” because two of the three people remaining on stage at that point were from his team. He’s clearly tense at the thought of losing two of his contestants. And America put him in this position.

(But only if by “America” you mean the millions of white people who keep voting for obnoxious female “country” “singers” who have that “country” “attitude.” Any non-ballad by a female “country” “artist” who’s six-feet-tall and blonde invariably involves “puttin’ on boots,” “tellin’ him off,” and “drivin’ my truck away.” It’s the most odious brand of popular female empowerment in circulation today.)

Point being: this is no more a scandal than any of the others “plaguing” the administration at the moment. But it’s an instructive non-scandal because it’s the perfect distillation of the contemporary conservative mindset. This “scandal” couldn’t be any less important. And yet look at this comment from the first link:

I used to be an Adam/Maroon 5 fan. Met all of them in person at a concert and thought he was a really nice guy. However, after this comment … I won’t be supporting their music. So not all of their fans hate this country. AMERICA!

Translation: “I loved his music and when I met him he was personable when he didn’t have to be, but now that I’m willfully misunderstanding something he said, AMERICA!” Welcome to the final years of the Obama administration. It’s going to be an annoying ride.

I still know that you’ve seen that I saw you: miscommunication in “Second Sons” (Game of Thrones)

[ 93 ] May 28, 2013 |

(This is obviously another one of my visual rhetoric posts. The rest can be found where they always are.)

To recap: this is a complement to the most recent podcast Steven Attewell and I produced, on “Second Sons,” in which we discussed, among many things, miscommunication at the wedding of Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister. I found my contribution to that part of the discussion lacking, so I decided to demonstrate what I meant about Tyrion coming to dominate a scene that possesses real potential for chaos. The first part can be found here and really needs to be read for the following to make sense.

When we left off, what had been a hostile but orderly wedding banquet teetered on the edge of something. Relations had been frosty but fine until Loras Tyrell reminded people how legs work and walked away from the table, which inspired Tyrion to do something with alcohol. His father, Tywin, noticed his clever son noticing Loras and, aware that Tyrion can become a giant fucking lion when the mood strikes, strode across the hall to talk to him. However, his grandson  (twice-over) had a terrible idea: Joffrey “Baratheon” decided to humiliate his former bride-to-be, Sansa, but caught Margaery Tyrell noticing his planning-face and decided she should be part of it too. All of this happened via glances passing between parties. We resume mere seconds after the last post ended, with Tyrion staring at Sansa’s ass:

This is only unusual not only because, in recent episodes, Tyrion’s been shot in a manner that makes his head appear level to those of the people he’s speaking to. From the camera’s perspective, when he spoke to his father, sister or nephew, he’d ceased being a little person. But earlier in this episode, his height — and its relation to his sexual abilities — had been made an issue when he met with Sansa:

Such is what’s required of him not to stare at her ass. The contrast between this shot before the wedding and the one of his father — that’s Twyin behind him in the first image — is part of both Michelle MacClaren, the director, and Tyrion’s respective plans. In order to make himself appear drunker than he actually is, Tyrion abandons the pretense of being the willful supplicant and lets his eyes rest at their natural level. That it happens to coincide with Sansa’s ass is a happy and convenient coincidence that fails to impress his father:

Read more…

I see that you’ve seen that I saw you: miscommunication in “Second Sons” (Game of Thrones)

[ 23 ] May 25, 2013 |

This is a complement to the most recent podcast Steven Attewell and I produced, on “Second Sons,” in which we discussed, among many things—some of them kitten-related—miscommunication and the wedding of Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister. I found my contribution to that part of the discussion lacking, so I decided to demonstrate what I meant about Tyrion coming to dominate a scene that possesses real potential for chaos. But first let me make two noncontroversial statements:

  1. Prior to acquiring language, mammals developed the ability to use their eyeballs to control others’ eyeballs simply by looking around an environment.
  2. Filmmakers have long taken advantage of our inability not to follow the eyeballs of characters as they glance around the screen.

So if you walk into a crowd and everyone’s looking up:

I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, you’re going to follow their eyes and look up too:

It’s just natural—even if you’re really not from around here. The same logic applies when you’re watching a film. If all the characters look at something, your eyes will follow theirs. It’s the quietest means a director has to move your eyeballs where he or she wants them. Noisier varieties include dramatic movement, the sudden appearance of a new object or character, a loud unexpected sound, etc. Clearly these attentive systems evolved hand-in-hand: the first person who notices the sudden appearance of a new object may make a dramatic movement, which catches the attention of everyone else and compels them to follow that first person’s glance.

For example, if four people are in dining room and one of them notices a giant fucking lion in the kitchen, that person’s likely to make a dramatic movement accompanied by a loud unexpected sound; everyone else will turn to that person and then follow their glance into the kitchen, at which point they’ll also notice a giant fucking lion and panic will happen. At this point in our social evolution, however, we don’t need dramatic movements and loud unexpected sounds to compel our eyes to follow others’ glances—we just do it.

When coupled with all the social strictures that regulate who can look at whom and in what way and when, the potential for a director to make an audience very uncomfortable should be obvious. They can make us look at things we shouldn’t be looking at, or at things we can be looking at but are doing so wrongly, or most powerfully, they can use the sympathy or enmity they’ve already established for particular characters to make us pity or praise them for the direction of their glances. The wedding of Sansa and Tyrion is a perfect example of exactly how this is done by someone quite talented at doing it, Michelle MacClaren, whose episode of Breaking Bad, “Gliding Over All,” was all about staring and following stares. (In fact that second link contains images strongly resembling those about to follow, except this time, for ease of reference I’ll keep everyone’s eyelines a consistent color: Joffrey’s yellow, Tyrion’s teal, etc.) So let’s start staring!

Read more…

Their interest in the Kaitlyn Hunt case is purely academic

[ 188 ] May 24, 2013 |

It’s just a coincidence that Robert Stacy McCain’s infatuated with what he’s calling “The Teenage Lesbian Trial of the Century.” There’s nothing prurient about his interest:

[A] sheriff’s department arrest affidavit in the case says the 14-year-old ran away and spent that night at Hunt’s house, where the two teens “put their fingers inside of each other’s vaginas, put their mouths on each other’s vaginas, and both of them used a vibrator on each other to insert it in each other’s vaginas” …  Will prosecutors include the vibrator as Exhibit A? If readers want to send me to Florida next month to cover The Teenage Lesbian Trial of the Century, this would be a good time to hit the tip jar.

Nothing prurient at all. But given the attention this case is attracting among ideologically unattractive bloggers, it’s worth noting a few relevant details. Foremost among them, according to the official affidavit, the parents of the 14-year-old conducted a “controlled phone call” with Kaitlyn Hunt, the accused:

The day after that inflammatory phone call, Hunt was arrested. I’m not saying that she shouldn’t have been—statutory rape laws exist for a reason and Hunt essentially confessed to the crime during that “controlled phone call.” But context always matters in cases like this, especially when state laws dictate that while an 18-year-old man can be arrested for having sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend, that same 18-year-old man could legally impregnate his 15-year-old wife. Prosecutions of this sort depend on ignoring the existence of conflicting statutes, and they can do so because the conflict involved privileges traditional marriage.

Meaning that—besides his desire speak openly about fantasizing about the sex lives of teenage lesbians—McCain’s interested in this case because there’s no potential for conflicting statutes. The defense can’t claim that these two could’ve performed this act had they been married because gay marriage isn’t legal. This provides him and the other moral hypocrites linked above with an ostensibly unambiguous position: “This is a clear-cut case of illegal sexual activity because there exist no grounds under which it could be legal.” They have the moral high-ground!

They can claim that any liberal who compares this case to similar ones between consenting heterosexuals supports pedophilia, empowers sexual predators, etc. All those liberals are actually doing is demanding that the same standards be held to this case that apply in similar ones in which the specificity of the law creates situations that ideologues can abuse in bad faith. Will their next demand be that parents who take pictures of their infant children bathing be arrested? Of course not.

But why use that sort of common sense when you could attack liberals while drumming up interest in “The Teenage Lesbian Trial of the Century”?

“Second Sons”: an LG&M podcast on Game of Thrones with Steven Attewell and SEK

[ 42 ] May 23, 2013 |

We apologize for missing last week’s episode, but Google Plus had updated its “Hangouts” feature and we couldn’t find the new button. But it’s been found! Also, in this podcast we have a first: I’ve finally figured out how to incorporate images without making the resulting file too large for Youtube. So now if you’re watching the podcast, you’ll see the visuals we’re describing while we’re describing them. (At least mostly. I’m still experimenting with keeping the size down and the audio quality high. This is tougher than it looks.) In this episode we discuss making my students weep uncontrollably; the dynamics of the relationship between Tyrion and Sansa; the similarities between Dany and Walter White; the politics of Stannis Baratheon; and many other things beside. Enjoy!

Enjoy this fine podcast without the images I painstakingly inserted into it just for you.

Our very civilized discussion of the premiere (S03E01).

Fancy-talking about “Dark Wings, Dark Words” (S03E02).

Here we are blathering on about “Walk of Punishment” (S03E03).

Don’t watch — because you can’t — us discuss “And Now His Watch Has Ended” (S03E04).

The rudely interrupted first half of our discussion of “Kissed by Fire” (S03E05).

The second half of our discussion of religion in “Kissed by Fire” (S03E05).

In which we discuss “The Climb” sans spoilers (S03E06).

“The Climb” with spoilers (S03E06).

UPDATE: In case anyone’s curious as to the spontaneous fits of intemperate profanity.

Linguists of the Future take note

[ 51 ] May 21, 2013 |

This morning I heard a tornado compared to the physical equivalent of “the IRS-ghazi-gate.”

The Jew in me wants to insert a “ben” just to let people know that this shit has a father to blame.

My name is William Blake. Do you know my poetry? III

[ 94 ] May 19, 2013 |

Because it’s Sunday night and there are (and soon will be) so many new faces around here, I feel the need to remind y’all of who I am and why I “matter.” I welcome other authors to do the same. Point being, I’m an urban legend whose improbable tales just happen to be true. It all began one day back in March 2007, when I received email from a student I’d just failed, slightly redacted it, and posted it on the Internet:

My Teacher,

I appreciate you taking your inconvenience to instruct us but I really had some problems in your class and I would like to explain them to you now.  Every day I wanted to discuss with you about the way you grade my papers and the way you teach the class, but I could not because the things you say in class and your words disturb me so much I can not.  You make me completely uncomfortable with the little things you say in the class like how you talk about television or how you talk about when you are grading our papers and trying to be fair.  You do not seem to care about our grades only that they are up to your too high standards and I can not talk to you because you make me completely uncomfortable.  For example, you say you will talk to us about our grades but you really will not because of how uncomfortable you make me feel with your words and what you say.

I will plan to contest the grade you have given me in this class when I get it because I know it will be much higher with any other teacher.  I am a very religious man and you are not a bad person but you do not choose your words with enough care like a teacher should.  You try to be objective and the very attempt becomes your flaw because you try so hard to grade fairly and comment wisely that you become biased to your own ideas.  You criticize our writings because we are college students and young but do not realize that you offend most of us when you do this.  I am always offended when I go to your class and have been on many occasions but I never tell you of my offense because you make me completely uncomfortable so I never say a word.

You like to lead discussions and that is bad because it is the entire means by which we learn but we do not know what you want from us on our papers.   I have honestly no idea what I learned from you in this class because so much time was spent discussing the tiny details in the passages in the book and so if I learned anything it is how to read things in too much detail.  I could have read books in too much detail on my own but that is not what I came to college to do because I already know how to read and I would have told you this but you make me completely uncomfortable with your words so I never said a word.

By doing this you give us no guidance on our papers.  I thought it was lame that you decided to show a movie and a cop out because you chose not to give us any instruction.  I know that it was a movie based on the story in the play we read but it was not teaching to show it to us when you could have been teaching us to write what you wanted us to write on our papers instead.  The movie was completely racist and very offensive because it contained cultural stereotypes that are often used in disrespectful jokes about people who have their feelings hurt all the time.  I was offended by this racism and in the movie and had my feelings hurt by it.  If that was supposed to teach me something about the class I completely do not understand.

After this quarter I am hurt and tired and feel like talking to you now will do me no good.  I wanted to go to your office hours but I could not find the time or make myself because of your words.  I feel like my paper was written to the best of my ability in reference to your teaching skills in the discussions.  You grade my papers poorly but do not realize that you do so because they reflect your teaching skills.  Other people may have done well with your skills but I did not and would have talked to you but what you said about grading fairly made me uncomfortable.  I take my responsibilities as a man and I have never complained about my grades but this one I will because I did not need you to teach me how to read or to write.  I have made very high grades in all my other writing classes and even though I had many disputes with those instructors we always settled them to my happiness.  Now for the first time I can not talk to you to settle my grades because I am uncomfortable to talk or even write to you.  I should have stayed strong and like a man no matter how much your words and what you said offended me.  I do not blame you because when there is error there are two to blame, the perceiver and the target.  I do not know what this email does but I have to get my feelings off of my chest.  Thank you for reading this and I am sorry if what I feel has shown you disrespect but these are my feelings and I feel by your words you did not respect them.  I love everyone and believe you to possibly be a great person but with your words you have treated me completely unfairly.

I am a very religious man and I love every one but I will forward this letter to the head of your department so he can see that I am a serious student who does not deserve the grade you will give him because I write so very well.

First: I forgot to note that this turned into some lovely poetry.

Second: Other teacher/student interactions you might enjoy:

The same old story is still the same old story

[ 141 ] May 17, 2013 |

Annoyed at Obama’s ability to almost be able govern under great restraint, Republicans have decided to blame him for everything that happens under his watch. “Deranged” liberals blamed the Bush administration when prominent members of it achieved their long stated goals, but that’s different because conservatives agreed with those goals. You can’t blame Bush for what Cheney and Rumsfeld said they’d do in 1997 because that’s “deranged” thinking that they didn’t have anything to do with anyway. It just so happened to accord with their stated wishes.

But blaming Obama for what happened in an IRS office in Ohio? That’s just logical. Because Obama’s not Bush, he knows all and sees all, which is why we’re being treated to this:

Obama’ll do it! Don’t you doubt him! I’m not saying that Republicans are about to ignore everything that happened between 2000 and 2008 and be so cynical as to impeach a Democratic president for some piddly thing after allowing their guy to run roughshod over the Constitution for eight years … but they’ve done this before and they’re this desperate again. If the administration doesn’t get on the offensive Obama might find himself being impeached because his signature on something is unclear and so maybe it was forged by an underling who was ordered by Eric Holder to obey the will of Obama and saw the Eye Biden borrowed and knew he didn’t want to be its next victim.

Or something.

Because this week we entered into a Zone of Conspiracy the likes of which we haven’t seen since the last time Republicans felt this powerless. I’m not a gambling man, but if I were I’d bet that the next person to die a statistically probable death and have some relation to this administration will become FOX’s next cause célèbre. Because Obama knows all and sees all, especially including anything that can be used against him. So you better be good or …

An Army of Darryls

[ 83 ] May 13, 2013 |

As Jamelle points out, conservatives are doing everything in their power to create a climate in which impeachment proceedings seem inevitable. They’re not — nor should they be — but if they can create the appearance of a beleaguered and ultimately ineffectual administration, the case for the Republican candidate in 2016 will seem a stronger by comparison. So conservatives threw a Benghazi Day Party that resembled a poorly managed support group: the people who didn’t leave in tears were confused and nothing was decided, not even who’d bring the coffee next time.

Over the weekend, they decided it was time to throw another TEA Party. If you’ll recall, the “TEA” in TEA PARTY stands for “Taxed Enough Already,” and so it should come as no surprise that when groups whose founding principles involved paying as little as their fair share of the tax burden started applying for 501(c)(4) tax exempt status, some scrutiny might be in order. Were these TEA Party organizations “generally civic” and promoting “social welfare,” and anyway, why did they only apply for tax exempt status after January 21, 2010?

These organizations were only able to claim [a more expansive] tax exempt status after the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, which meant that in the following weeks the small IRS office in Cincinnati — a city but a single state removed Obama’s Illinois — that processed tax exempt status was inundated with thousands of applications from previously unheard of organizations. Because it was 2010 and the conservative grassroots machine was preparing for the 2012 elections, it stands to reason that many of these new organizations would have names that bespoke their constituents’ creativity: The Tea Party, The TEA Party, The T.E.A. Party, The Patriot Party, The American Patriot Party, The American Patriot Party of Arizona, The 912 Project, The 9-12 Project, The 9/12 Project, and my personal favorite, The Central Michigan 912 Patriot Tea Party.

Creating special categories to deal with identically conceived, similarly named applicants strikes me less like “using keywords to go after conservatives” and more like using keywords. Citizens United created a bureaucratic nightmare for the IRS because the majority of the people who sought to take advantage of it were like the kid who’d take cardboard, macaroni and glue during art class and make a box of macaroni out of it. When your creative team consists of people who stand before a great works of art and agree upon their re-sale value and you put them under pressure you shouldn’t be surprised when they all come up with slight variations of the same hackneyed concepts.

In other words: the IRS “singled out for additional reviews” groups with “tea” or “patriot” or “912″  in their corporate documents because you don’t have a damn thought in your head that someone else didn’t put there. Your creative failure isn’t the IRS’s fault.

“My name is William Blake. Do you know my poetry?” II

[ 17 ] May 12, 2013 |

Because it’s Sunday afternoon and there are (and soon will be) so many new faces around here, I feel the need to remind y’all of who I am and why I “matter.” I welcome other authors to do the same. Point being, I’m an urban legend whose improbable tale just happens to be true. It all began one day back in October 2009, as my daily commute hit the hour mark:

After the toll booth, a wall of fog appeared. Traffic crawled, then halted. I idled in the middle lane, flanked on the right by a semi-trailer. We breached the fog at about the same time, but the truck slipped a few car-lengths farther forward. On NPR someone said something about some pressing issue, but I couldn’t pay attention because in my rear-view mirror a luxury sedan was barreling into the fog-bank at a speed I can’t estimate but knew was inadvisable.

I made every effort to become visible despite the fog. I laid into the horn, turned on the hazards, and at the last moment, as I readied for impact, I was seen.

The sedan switched lanes, slammed into the semi, spun some and, irrevocably crushed, fell from the road.

I pulled over, jumped from the car, ran to help, as did someone else, maybe the driver of the semi, but someone from that direction. We reached the sedan at about the same time, him dialing 911, me pointing at the car, us running toward it together to help, but there was no one to help.

What was there, in the car, was beyond help.

I must’ve stumbled, or leaned forward, because the vomit was over my right arm, as if I’d braced myself beforehand. I took off my shirt, looked at the other man, who either puked first or reacted to mine, and we stared, not at each other so much, but still, we stared and I felt that he felt the act was mutual. Was a recognition.

I made my way to my car.

I drove to campus.

Bought a sweatshirt from the bookstore and ran into a friend on the way to class. His “How are you?” loosed a torrent of unprocessed words punctuated by profanity, words that made what happened mean, in the basest sense. I went to class, set the kids to writing, walked out of the class. Called the wife, who talked me into telling them what happened. I did. Said they could peer review what they’d written and I’d let them go.

Then I didn’t. Said instead that I would teach the class, that it was better than the meaningless pacing, the nothing I could do to erase what I’d seen, the nothing I could’ve done to have done something. I fell into the rhythm of the class, lectured more than I usually do, but forgot, for those minutes, what I’d seen, what I’d done but couldn’t do.

Now I’m in the library writing this. Writing helps. It’s the process. It’s what makes the words mean what they mean. I still have another hour and fifteen minutes until my next class, and now that I’ve written this, I’m not sure what to do. I think I might describe a circle around the campus, sate hunger with weary, because food is not a viable option at the moment.

OF COURSE THAT PROBABLY DIDN’T HAPPEN.

NOT LIKE I’D EVEN KNOW IF IT DID.

An LG&M podcast: Steven Attewell & A VERY SPECIAL GUEST discuss spoilers in Game of Thrones, “The Climb”

[ 18 ] May 12, 2013 |

As promised, here Steven discusses all those moments he bit his tongue on during the previous podcast with A VERY SPECIAL GUEST. You won’t want to miss this! Enjoy!

Because you know you’re spoiling for 31 minutes of white-hot speculation (.mp3).

Our very civilized discussion of the premiere (S03E01).

Fancy-talking about “Dark Wings, Dark Words” (S03E02).

Here we are blathering on about “Walk of Punishment” (S03E03).

Don’t watch — because you can’t — us discuss “And Now His Watch Has Ended” (S03E04).

The rudely interrupted first half of our discussion of “Kissed by Fire” (S03E05).

The second half of our discussion of religion in “Kissed by Fire” (S03E05).

In which we discuss “The Climb” sans spoilers (S03E06).

“My name is William Blake. Do you know my poetry?”

[ 59 ] May 11, 2013 |

Because it’s Saturday night and there are (and soon will be) so many new faces around here, I feel the need to remind y’all of who I am and why I “matter.” I welcome other authors to do the same. Point being, I’m an urban legend whose improbable tale just happens to be true. It all began one day back in November 2005, when I dropped by my office on the way to a literary journalism staff meeting:

ME: Do do do do WHOA!

HALF-NAKED COUPLE IN MY OFFICE: GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!

ME: What?

HALF-NAKED FEMALE: DON’T YOU KNOCK? (putting shirt back on)

ME: Before I come into my office?

HALF-NAKED MALE: GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE! (buttoning pants)

ME: (starting to enjoy this) I have a student coming in two minutes. Finish up.

HALF-NAKED, BLUE-BALLED MALE: GO ALREADY!

ME: (closes door, waits one minute, knocks) Are you decent?

HALF-NAKED MALE: GO THE FUCK AWAY! THIS IS PRIVATE! WE’RE BUSY!

ME: (holding the door half-open) I’m coming in.

HALF-NAKED MALE: STOP HARASSING US YOU PERVERT OR I’LL REPORT YOU!

ME: (still holding door) You’ll report me for your having sex in my office?

HALF-NAKED MALE: GO THE FUCK AWAY!

ME: (still holding door) That’s it. Put your clothes back on. You can’t have sex in my office.

HALF-NAKED MALE: DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE COME IN HERE!

MY STUDENT: (walking up) What’s going on?

ME: (still holding door) Some people are trying to have sex in my office.  I keep interrupting them.

MY STUDENT: Are they really having sex in there?

HALF-NAKED MALE: THIS IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT!

ME: (props open door with rubber stop) They’re trying.

This continues for a couple more minutes. He shouts profanity, she starts crying. Two minutes later the couple emerges and I receive nasty looks. Who am I to stop them from having sex in my office?

UPDATES CAN BE FOUND AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ORIGINAL POST.