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A tale of two classes

[ 211 ] April 4, 2013 |


The old, white math professor who teaches in the classroom before me did not release his students at 10:50, as he is supposed to. He did not release them at 11:00, when my class starts. At 11:05, I entered my classroom to find a room full of students, fast asleep, and the old, white math professor silently working on a problem on the whiteboard. When I informed him that I needed the room, his students stirred and made for the door, but he pointed at me and said, “I need to finish this problem.”

His students left.

He went back to work.

The old, white math professor continued to work at the far end of my classroom until 11:30, at which point he took out a notebook and copied what he’d written on the whiteboard. At 11:40 he noisily collected his books and markers and strode out of the room without a word.

This is because the old, white math professor is an asshole.


The old, white math professor again refused to leave the room at 10:50, so today I the dashing young lecturer walked up to the podium and began to prepare for his class. He asked the old, white math professor if he was almost finished, but received no response.

At 11:00 a.m., the old, white math professor picked up an eraser to correct some minor mistake on the whiteboard, at which point the dashing young lecturer smiled broadly, politely asked the old, white math professor if he needed help and, without waiting for a reply, promptly began erasing the entire whiteboard.

The old, white math professor stared in horror at the dashing young lecturer — who hopes he didn’t erase the cure for cancer, but is otherwise extremely pleased with himself.

Hey world? SEK here.

[ 48 ] April 3, 2013 |

Please stop giving good people cancer. This is getting ridiculous.

“It is, truly, probably, the end days for the Gzilt civilization.”

[ 36 ] April 3, 2013 |

There are moments when all you can do is yell at your monitor. This is one of them.

LG&M Podcast: SEK and Steven Attewell on “Valar Dohaeris,” the Season Premiere of Game of Thrones

[ 50 ] April 2, 2013 |

In this podcast, Steven Attewell, author of the indispensable Race for the Iron Throne blog and general internet celebrity, joins Yours Truly for a rousing discussing of “Valar Dohaeris” that was in no way ruined by me posting everything I had to say about the episode three hours earlier. Because it turns out that, in the presence of experts, the smartest people are the best listeners. All spoilers are prefaced by a damned fool loudly declaiming against them and I’m responsible for 99 percent of the salty language, for which I apologize in advance but will not be endeavoring to amend. Enjoy!

Download Kaufman and Attewell discussing “Valar Dohaeris” here.

LG&M Podcast: Ari Kelman & Erik Loomis on A Misplaced Massacre

[ 4 ] April 2, 2013 |

[ERIK SAYS] This podcast discusses Ari Kelman’s new book, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. It explores how different groups contest the historical meanings of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. We then go on to talk about the contested memory of Howard Zinn and the contentiousness within discussions of his famous A People’s History of the United States.

[SEK SAYS] There is an outtake at 1:12:00 and that is all.

Download Erik and Ari’s this podcast here.

….EL–The Zinn stuff starts at about 45 minutes if anyone is interested.

Game of Thrones: “Valar Dohaeris,” indeed. But who? Where? To what end?

[ 49 ] April 1, 2013 |

(It goes without saying that this is one those visual rhetoric posts.)

The title of the third season premier of Game of Thrones comes from the traditional Braavosi exchange: one meets the chipper greeting, “Valar Morghulis [all men must die]” with the equally cheery response, “Valar Dohaeris [all men must serve].” Given that the last episode of the second season was named “Valar Morghulis” and the first episode of the third season is “Valar Dohaeris,” it seems sensible to consider these two episodes together because they are, if only ritually, conversing with each other. What are they saying? “Valar Morghulis” would be saying “I may not be a liar, but I’m not telling the whole truth,” because the episode’s final shots demonstrate that all men must die except for the ones that don’t stay dead:


Combine that with the man who was Jaqen H’ghar becoming another man after advising Arya and it becomes clear that the certitude of the Braavosi greeting is a comforting ruse. All men must not be anything—not absolutely—if they can also be both one thing and another. What can change its face isn’t a man and what can’t stay dead can’t be trusted. Meaning I’m not sure how much I want to invest in “Valar Morghulis” as a title tied to its theme; in “Valar Dohaeris,” however, the theme that “all men must serve” manifests repeatedly, beginning with the opening sequence. This sequence ties the two episodes together almost comically, as the change in scale from the first two close-ups (from “Valar Morghulis”) to the extreme long-shot (from “Valar Dohaeris”) resembles the kind of fear-realizing and mad-scrambling often found in cartoons:


Sam Tarly’s service is twofold here: first, his general service as a man of the Night’s Watch; second, his particular service as a member of a scouting party, which was to tend to and dispatch distress-ravens. That he failed to do so during his epic flight from the White Walker only indicates that he failed to meet the terms of his service, not that he escaped the responsibility of serving altogether. The episode’s director, Daniel Minahan, could have foregrounded the humiliation written on Sam’s face when his Lord Commander upbraids him by using a close-up, which would’ve captured every mortified muscle trying not to twitch with shame; instead, Minahan decided to shoot Sam in a medium close-up with his Lord Commander in an off-center two-shot that suggests both the bonds these two share and the precariousness of their situation:

Read more…

Blog it like it’s 2006!

[ 51 ] April 1, 2013 |

Adam Kotsko writes like ain’t nobody’s in a business:

Yet it occurs to me: is anything inherently a business? We normally think of a bakery as a business, for example, but isn’t it actually a place where people bake things? One can imagine a bakery operating under many different economic systems. The examples multiply. A clothing retailer is a place where people come to get their clothes. A convenience store exists to provide people with easy access to frequently used items. A car factory exists to make cars. Even a bank exists primarily to intermediate between people’s different financial priorities (e.g., saving vs. spending), rather than to make money as such. All of those things are typically “run like a business” in Western countries, but that doesn’t mean that they directly “are” businesses.

Only one type of pursuit is inherently a business: hedge funds. Hedge funds avowedly exist for no other purpose than to turn money into more money. They are indifferent to the means by which that is accomplished — they will buy and sell anything, from an oil drum to a government bond to a complex bet to pay out if a certain asset reaches a certain price. For all the advanced math and physics deployed, the basic logic is simple. Buy low, sell high — minimize your costs while maximizing your revenue. That’s what it means to run something “like a business.”

John Holbo appreciates the overkill:

Defenders of ‘traditional marriage’ insist 1) that their position is, well … traditional; wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the history of Western Civilization, etc. etc.; 2) they are not bigots. They are tolerant of homosexuality, and the rights of homosexuals, etc. etc. Maybe they watch the occasional episode of “Will and Grace”, in syndication (even if they didn’t watch it back when it started.) They are careful to distance themselves from those Westboro Baptist Church lunatics, for example.

It’s gotten to the point where one of the main, mainstream arguments against same-sex marriage is that legalizing it would amount to implying that those opposing it are bigots. Since they are not just bigots (see above), anything that would make them seem like bigots must be wrong. Ergo, approving same-sex marriage would be a mistake. Certainly striking down opposition to it as ‘lacking a rational basis’ would be a gross moral insult to non-bigoted opponents of same-same marriage.

This ‘anything that implies we are bigots must be wrong’ argument has problems. But that’s old news. Here’s the new argument. Grant, for argument’s sake, that contemporary arguments against same-sex marriage have been scrubbed free of bigotry. Doesn’t it follow that these arguments must not be traditional but, somehow, quite new?

Some days I’m reminded of why I started blogging by the very people who encouraged me to do so. This is one of those days.

I couldn’t understand conservative outrage over Google’s “Cesar Chavez” logo

[ 71 ] March 31, 2013 |

Until I thought about what it looks like in their heads:

I’d be upset too if I expected something Christian like Easter eggs and saw that instead.

UPDATE: Turns out my sarcasm was prescient. Team Malkin for the win! Winners abound!

UPDATE II: And of course, [a] Glenn Reynolds [clone posting at Glenn Reynolds’ site] can’t help but add: “ notes that ‘Google’s Easter insult sparks Twitter backlash, mockery,’ as well it should.” It’s almost as if he doesn’t know that the entire point of is to manufacture and amplify “grassroots” “Twitter backlash.” (Or like it’s in his best interest to pretend not to be a party to the scam.)

UPDATE III: When I added the words “Glenn Reynolds” to this post, Typepad’s “Related Posts” recommendations changed to:

Related posts

I’m not saying nothing about anything. I’m just saying.

Because people on the Interwebs demand “MOAR CATS”

[ 62 ] March 29, 2013 |

SEK sits down to eat dinner in the living room. His cellphone rings, and because his wife is spending the night in the desert, he runs to his office to answer it. He returns to find CAT on the makeshift table.

CAT: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

SEK: What?

CAT: This isn’t Kraft dinner on my face.

SEK: What isn’t Kraft dinner on your face?

CAT: Your Kraft dinner. It’s all in your bowl.

SEK: So how did it get on your face?

CAT: It didn’t. (CAT licks Kraft dinner off his lips) See?

SEK: And since when have you been Canadian?

CAT: Je ne comprends pas. Au revoir!

The Fourth Ever LGM Podcast, in which Farley and SEK discuss Game of Thrones

[ 74 ] March 28, 2013 |

… and other things in a manner that will no doubt land them in much trouble. We really should be better than this. But whatever. Enjoy!

Download The Fourth Ever LGM Podcast

Representations of rape in comic books

[ 52 ] March 27, 2013 |

[I’m re-posting this because I received an email about my earlier post inquiring as to whether “cartoons” are capable of tackling difficult social issues responsibly. I think this old post demonstrates how something as ostensibly slight as a “cartoon” can have a profound impact on a person’s moral development.]

The year was 1988. I was a recent transplant to Louisiana and a tad on the introverted side. (What with being deaf and all.) So I spent endless hours reading comic books. I may have “like ‘em liked” some girls at this point, but can find no evidence of it in my fourth grade yearbook. Not only did I know nothing about girls, I distinctly remember not even knowing what this “rape” thing I heard about on the news was. But I mowed my lawn every day—my father having decided to instill the value of hard work by allowing me to earn $4 whenever I wanted by re-mowing what my new work ethic transformed into a hilariously mangy lawn—and so I had plenty of money to blow on X-books. Meaning I spent most afternoons blissfully unaware of anything that didn’t involve the X-Men or X-Factor or The New Mutants or, if I was desperate enough, Alpha Flight.

One late October afternoon, I purchase a copy of X-Men #236. On the cover Wolverine and Rogue are hung by their feet from a scaffold, flanked on both sides by grinning fools in military garb. (This image disturbs me more now than it did then.) What had happened? The X-Men had sacrificed themselves to save the world, only in the end they were granted a reprieve: they would be dead to the world but would live undetected and undetectable in the Australian outback. They were invisible to all forms of electronic recording devices. They were able to move throughout the world invisible to all by the naked eye. Or so they thought until a fascist state called “Genosha” declared war on them. To make a long story short: shit hit fans. Wolverine and Rogue were captured.

For those unfamiliar with the comics or the films, Rogue has the power to absorb the memories and/or mutant powers of whomever she touches. So, naturally, she doesn’t touch anyone for fear of knocking them unconscious and draining them of their “life energy.” Her entire life Rogue has wanted nothing more than to touch someone without hurting them. To be loved. But she’d come to accept the fact that this would never happen. This self-sacrifice moved my fourth-grade mind. I sympathized with her despite having no clue as to what she sacrificed or why. I only knew that it pained her and, being the good sympathetic identifier that I was, I felt her pain by proxy. So without really knowing why, I wanted Rogue to be able to touch people.

And after she’s captured by the Genoshans, she’s stripped of her mutant powers. Now she can touch people without having to worry about killing them. For a moment, I’m happy for her. If only she can get out of this jam she’ll be able to touch someone! That’s all she ever wanted! Then I hit this panel:

And I was confused. That’s Rogue huddled there in the corner. She’s traumatized. Over the next few issues she’ll disappear. Another personality—and I mean that literally—will emerge. Rogue will be so hurt by whatever “liberties [were] taken when she was being processed” that she’ll cede control of her psyche to Carol Danvers. (Read the link. It’s too complicated to explain briefly.) Needless to say, despite not knowing quite what those “liberties” were, countless data points began to constellate for me. I saw “touching” and “forced” and “fascism” and “liberties” circle the pained figure in the panel above and I was confused. Angry. Upset. I didn’t know why, but I knew that I was. My sympathies had identified with something they couldn’t comprehend.

When I was hit by that car and pain plus medication turned my mind to cottage cheese, the most “intellectual” material I could stomach were comics. Re-reading this one, I stumbled into a realization: my feminist sympathies were first marshaled while reading a comic back in the Autumn of ’88. The medium is far from perfect, but it’s not wholly without value.  I’m not defending myself here so much as describing a stage in my development. So please don’t read this and think “Scott think spandex is progressive?” I don’t. Only once upon a time, it inadvertently was.

It’s as if millions of debate coaches suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced

[ 172 ] March 26, 2013 |

I’m just a teacher of argument, not a lawyer, so I’m only going to address the merits of these arguments on their merits, not their legal standing. To begin:

JUSTICE KAGAN: Mr. Cooper, could I just understand your argument. In reading the briefs, it seems as though your principal argument is that same-sex and opposite—opposite-sex couples are not similarly situated because opposite-sex couples can procreate, same-sex couples cannot, and the State’s principal interest in marriage is in regulating procreation. Is that basically correct?

MR. COOPER: I—Your Honor, that’s the essential thrust of our—our position, yes.

JUSTICE KAGAN: Is—is there—so you have sort of a reason for not including same-sex couples. Is there any reason that you have for excluding them? In other words, you’re saying, well, if we allow same-sex couples to marry, it doesn’t serve the State’s interest. But do you go further and say that it harms any State interest?

MR. COOPER: Your Honor, we—we go further in—in the sense that it is reasonable to be very concerned that redefining marriage to—as a genderless institution could well lead over time to harms to that institution and to the interests that society has always—has—has always used that institution to address. But, Your Honor, I—

JUSTICE KAGAN: Well, could you explain that a little bit to me, just because I did not pick this up in your briefs. What harm you see happening and when and how and—what—what harm to the institution of marriage or to opposite-sex couples, how does this cause and effect work?

MR. COOPER: Once again, I—I would reiterate that we don’t believe that’s the correct legal question before the Court, and that the correct question is whether or not redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would advance the interests of marriage as a—

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, then are—are you conceding the point that there is no harm or denigration to traditional opposite-sex marriage couples? So you’re conceding that.

MR. COOPER: No, Your Honor, no. I’m not conceding that.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, but, then it—then it seems to me that you should have to address Justice Kagan’s question.

MR. COOPER: Thank you, Justice Kennedy. I have two points to make on them. The first one is this: The Plaintiffs’ expert acknowledged that redefining marriage will have real-world consequences, and that it is impossible for anyone to foresee the future accurately enough to know exactly what those real-world consequences would be. And among those real-world consequences, Your Honor, we would suggest are adverse consequences.

Cooper argues, not in essence, but is actually forwarding the argument that redefining marriage will have real-world consequences that are impossible for anyone to predict, but which include the adverse ones he knows will happen. Cooper fails freshmen composition. But what are his real concerns?

MR. COOPER: Yes, Your Honor. The concern is that redefining marriage as a genderless institution will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes, and it will refocus, refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples.

People might seek to meet the “emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples”? Why would the gays want the emotional needs and desires of all adult couples to be met? What did they ever do to them? Who really matters here anyway?

JUSTICE KAGAN: Well, suppose a State said, Mr. Cooper, suppose a State said that, Because we think that the focus of marriage really should be on procreation, we are not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55. Would that be constitutional?

MR. COOPER: No, Your Honor, it would not be constitutional.

JUSTICE KAGAN: Because that’s the same State interest, I would think, you know. If you are over the age of 55, you don’t help us serve the Government’s interest in regulating procreation through marriage. So why is that different?

MR. COOPER: Your Honor, even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couples—both parties to the couple are infertile, and the traditional—


The men. Of course. The men matter here, because they’re the ones who can continue to be fertile in perpetuity. So the emotional needs and desires of couples are less important to Cooper than the government’s commitment to protect the inalienable rights of viable sperm. But I’m sure there’s no precedent about marriage and its effect on children that might be relevant here.

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, they might try to make a different record about the effects on children. But there isn’t a record to that effect here. And the fourth point I would make, and I do think this is significant, is that the principal argument in 1967 with respect to Loving and that the commonwealth of Virginia advanced was: Well, the social science is still uncertain about how biracial children will fare in this world, and so you ought to apply rational basis scrutiny and wait. And I think the Court recognized that there is a cost to waiting and that that has got to be part of the equal protection calculus. And so—so I do think that’s quite fundamental.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Can I ask you a problem about—it seems to me that your position that you are supporting is somewhat internally inconsistent. We see the argument made that there is no problem with extending marriage to same-sex couples because children raised by same-sex couples are doing just fine and there is no evidence that they are being harmed. And the other argument is Proposition 8 harms children by not allowing same-sex couples to marriage. Which is it?

I wonder why Roberts didn’t want to address the argument that biracial children can fare well in the world? I can’t think of any reason why he’d want to avoid that issue. I’m sure he didn’t change the subject to avoid talking about the fact that the sitting President might be relevant to the argument?

I don’t read a lot of Supreme Court transcripts, but I do teach argument and did do forensics in high school, so I know both what the former entails and what the latter occasionally requires, i.e. having to take the AFF or NEG of a case based on a draw instead of a deeply held belief. You have to argue the case you have to argue, I get that, but honestly? Cooper couldn’t have made a more unsympathetic case about an issue which, though it will be decided on other grounds, needed an argument based on something more sophisticated than bigotry in order to acquire more popular support. It’s not just a freshmen composition course he failed today.

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