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Category: General

Art Catch-Up

[ 28 ] April 11, 2015 |

A couple of things:

  1. I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much lately; more importantly I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write posts of more substance. Life is getting in the way–mostly in unpleasant ways. (No worries, we’re talking small dramas here. I’m just really really really burned out.) I’m looking forward to doing some more substantive posts when I can catch my breath.
  2. In the meantime, I wanted to share some art with you.

One of your own recently got one of my prints framed…and it looks fabulous. Ya know, it’s weird, I’ve seen my art in frames lots, but seeing my art all “done up” never fails to thrill me.

Read more…

“I’ve Illustrated That Lots Of Wingnuts Will Seize On Even the Most Pathetically Weak Evidence to Attack Affirmative Action”

[ 59 ] April 11, 2015 |

Say this for him, Mindy Kaling’s brother has provided an excellent example of 1)how not to do even simple social science, and 2)how to run rubes.

The End of the Humanities Seminar

[ 89 ] April 11, 2015 |


Above: A dying form of higher education

Caught a bit about the new president at Victoria University at the University of Toronto (although I’m not sure quite what this means. Do Canadian universities have college presidents within the larger university?):

As universities grapple with budget cuts, small seminars are needed more than ever, he said.

“What we can do at Vic is to … emphasize the way discussion about ethics and other matters takes place more potently in a face-to-face environment.”

I mean, that’s nice and all, but at least in the U.S., the small humanities seminar is disappearing fast. There are a few basic reasons for this. First, as corporations demand that universities serve as training grounds for them and as politicians defund higher education and as administrators see themselves as CEOs who need to push students into those corporate fields, students are fleeing the humanities majors. English, history, and philosophy are dying as majors. This means that there is less demand for those small seminars, even if many students actually would like to take them. Second, as administrations decide to run themselves like corporations, the focus has become all on numbers at the university. What is your average class enrollment as a department? That’s the key question. Sometimes it’s the only question.

So a department like history is severely hurt by offering a seminar with 10 students. And it might be rewarded by offering an upper division Holocaust or Vietnam War course with an enrollment of 125 students. What are those rewards? The ability to hire new faculty. At my school at least, departments don’t have “lines” anymore. If 5 people in my department retired or left this year, the provost might well theoretically replace 0 of them. Instead, all the money would go into Pharmacy or Supply Chain Management. So the only way to prove worth is to have lots of students in your classes.

That means the incentive is to make a major easier and to offer courses that appeal to large numbers of students. Never mind that a humanities education requires a lot of writing and course discussion. These things are impossible in a course of 125 students. Doesn’t matter anymore. It actually hurts you to do those things. Sometimes corporations say they want the skills students acquire in a liberal arts education. But I don’t think that’s true at all. They want to shift corporate training onto the universities to save themselves money. Their power over legislatures and representation on Boards of Trustees means they can do so. And thus we have the decline of the humanities and the skills small seminars teach.

The Public Lands

[ 31 ] April 11, 2015 |


It’s worth remembering that central to the Republican agenda is selling off every acre of public land possible (which is everything outside of national parks, national monuments, national preserves, and wilderness areas*) to the highest bidder, which are almost inevitably timber and mining companies, and sometimes grazing interests or perhaps the 1% who want to create baronial estates. A budgetary amendment to move this idea forward, although it really doesn’t have meaningful legal standing, just passed the Senate by a 51-49 vote. A massive firesale of public lands is entirely possible the next time Republicans control the presidency and both houses on Congress. But you know, vote 3rd party in 2016 because drones.

*The linked article says wilderness areas can be sold, but I am pretty sure this is not true given that federally designated wilderness areas have more restrictions on usage than national parks.

Why Did It Take So Long For Darren Sharper To Be Stopped?

[ 13 ] April 11, 2015 |

This is a depressing story:

But taken as a whole, the Sharper case underscores American law enforcement’s trouble with solving rape cases: Investigations are often cursory, sometimes incompetent, frequently done in ignorance of the suspect’s past sex assault history.

Sharper’s victims suffered the failures most. With Sharper, they encountered a man practiced in defense and deception. With police and prosecutors, they found deference toward the accused, and what often felt like disbelief concerning their claims.

ProPublica and The New Orleans Advocate contacted five of Sharper’s alleged victims. Except for brief interviews with two women, none wanted to discuss the allegations. And none wanted their names used.

“It’s pretty black and white,” one woman said about the police. “They didn’t do their job.”

Middle class

[ 180 ] April 10, 2015 |

h armstrong roberts

The Times has an interesting series on the changing nature of middle class identity in the US, in an age of increasingly precarious economic status, and a widening gap between the very rich and everybody else. One of the themes of the series is that even very well off people in America generally identify as “middle class,” in part because there’s always somebody much richer nearby to compare themselves with. That point makes this statistical error at the end of the latest installment of the series especially unfortunate:

The feeling of comparative deprivation and the ultrarich separating themselves from the rest of society helps explain why only 1 percent of Americans accept the rich or upper-income label. Even most people earning over $250,000 — the top 5 percent of wage earners — identify as middle class. There’s always someone wealthier around.

In fact someone earning $250,000 is at just about exactly the 99th percentile of wage earners, not the 95th, which is a pretty enormous difference, i.e., one in 100 Americans earns $250,000 per year or more, not one in 20. (To be in the 95th percentile you “only” need to earn about half that much). . . To be more precise, these are the percentiles of earnings among wage earners, not Americans, or even adult Americans. Nearly 40% of adult Americans earned no wages at all in 2013. So the statement “one in 100 Americans earns $250,000 per year” is a considerable overstatement, even if limited to adults.

Still, it’s a good series and well worth checking out.

Lee And Grant

[ 83 ] April 10, 2015 |

fifty_dollar_billAbove: certainly deserves his place on currency more than the guy who looks like Keith Richards on the $20

The story of how a great union general and a pro-civil rights president became a widely derided figure and a general who committed treason to protect slavery became a revered figure is indeed highly instructive.

I’ve mentioned this before, but in the first two Schlesinger presidential reputation surveys and the 1982 Chicago Tribune survey, Grant was ranked a worse president than Pierce, Buchanan and Andrew Johnson, and in the first two he was ranked well behind the unelected, vociferously anti-civil-rights president who was impeached and had 15 of his 21 non-pocket vetoes overriden. The influence of the Dunning School was appallingly persistent well into the 20th century.

Sad Puppy Links

[ 228 ] April 10, 2015 |


A group of people calling themselves–sans irony–The Sad Puppies has decided to stuff the Hugo Awards ballot boxes and get a bunch of John C. Wright and Theodore Beale-approved writers nominated.

Hey, you remember when I told y’all I was letting go of GamerGate? Well, here’s the thing: you can let go of GamerGate but there’s no guarantee it’ll let go of you. These same “the venn diagram is a single circle” a-holes are gonna keep rubbing their slimy right-wing, reactionary nastiness on everything.

Thanks to the folks who emailed and brought this to my attention.

Jonah Lehrer Is Not An Unfairly Treated Victim

[ 38 ] April 10, 2015 |

Apparently, Jon Ronson’s new book has a lengthy defense of Jonah Lehrer, equating him with Justine Sacco, the PR person who lost her job over a single apparently racist tweet that almost certainly wasn’t. As Daniel Engber explains in detail, this really isn’t going to fly. Engber finds more examples of Lehrer’s malpractice from the book prior to Imagine (which has also been withdrawn by the publisher):

Ronson makes a point of praising Lehrer’s other work. “Jonah wrote good things through his short career, essays untainted by transgression,” he says. But the Dylan quotes in Imagine were just the brightly colored fungus sprouting from a permeating rot. The Lehrer corpus is immense, and only a fraction of it has been looked at in detail—Charles Seife reviewed just 18 posts for Wired online, out of “several hundred”—yet even the most tentative surveys have dredged up misbehavior. Is it possible that Lehrer didn’t know what he was doing when he spruced up an anecdote from A. R. Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist in a piece for Nature, then blamed his editor for his own deception? Is it possible that he didn’t know what he was doing when he rewrote and reimagined details from Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails for Wired?

Those “mistakes” are already on the public record. It’s all too easy to unearth more. A few days ago I looked at the first chapter of How We Decide, which describes quarterback Tom Brady’s Super Bowl–winning drive against the St. Louis Rams in 2002. Lehrer’s account of those 81 seconds closely follows one from Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything, by Charles P. Pierce, which also tells that story in its first chapter. Lehrer cites the Pierce book for two specific quotes, but his game analysis and structure are more or less the same. Some sentences are copied word-for-word, like this one: “The coaches were confident that the young quarterback wouldn’t make a mistake.”

Lehrer’s version also has a multiplicity of errors and misstatements. He says, for example, that the Rams were favored by 14 points, “which made this the most lopsided Super Bowl ever played.” The game in question appears to be tied for the fourth-most lopsided in Super Bowl history. (The San Francisco 49ers were favored by 19 points in 1994.) That’s a minor point, to be sure, but it stands in for the bigger problem: Lehrer doesn’t just make “mistakes” about Bob Dylan; he makes “mistakes” about lots of things—and his “mistakes” tend to make his stories more exciting.

Right. In a sense, Lehrer’s actual plagiarism was an extreme manifestation of the laziness and sloppiness that was pervasive in Lehrer’s work. As Isaac Chotiner explained before it was known that Lehrer made up Dylan quotes, the story Lehrer told about Dylan as a centerpiece of Imagine — i.e. that “Like A Rolling Stone” represented a new form of songwriting — needed the invented quotes because it was utter crap. You don’t even need any particular expertise about the history of American popular song to know this — you would just need to be basically familiar with Dylan’s many influences or his work before Highway 61 Revisited. I have hard time seeing Lehrer as some kind of victim, particularly since he continues to get book contracts and lucrative speaking gigs despite his fabulism, plagiarism, and generally sloppy and under-informed work.

Anti-Sweatshop Activism

[ 2 ] April 10, 2015 |


The anti-sweatshop activism of the late 1990s and early 2000s has been on the upswing lately, partially in response to the outrages of the 1134 workers dying at the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013.

Just yesterday, I ran across stories of students at the University of North Carolina and Virginia Tech both hosting events with survivors of Rana Plaza. There is pressure against European corporations for their role as well. Given the corporate attempts to hide American consumers from the impact of producing the products they buy and the enormous worldwide political, social, economic, and ecological implications of that, exposing Americans to the survivors of these disasters is a great way to fight back. A necessary way in fact. The more students involved in pressuring corporations (or at least their universities) on ethical sourcing of clothing, the better workers’ lives will become.

America’s Progressive Alternative In 2016: A Civil Rights Hero!

[ 50 ] April 10, 2015 |

Nick Gillespie has a question of great seriousity:

Who’s Better on Race Than Rand Paul?

Seriously. And I include Hillary Clinton. And not just on one or two token positions. On racial injustice issues, Rand Paul brings it.

When Rand Paul announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, it didn’t take long for opponents across the ideological spectrum to attack him for being either Neville Chamberlain on estrogen (the neocon Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America), or trapped in an empty box along with nonexistent libertarians (Paul Krugman), or pre-emptively for figuring to be “the worst president on civil rights since the 1800s” (Think Progress).

That last charge is particularly curious, since of all real and imagined Republican and Democratic candidates for the White House, Rand Paul is the only one who seriously questioned just what the fuck was going on last summer in Ferguson, Missouri, when an unarmed black man was shot  and killed by a white policeman. “There is a systematic problem with today’s law enforcement,” wrote Paul in Time, on August 14. “Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.” It was only a long two weeks later that Hillary Clinton, then and now the presumptive Democratic candidate, got around to weighing in on the matter with platitudes such as “we are better than that.”

Who’s better on race than Rand Paul? Um, everyone who (unlike Paul) has actually always supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964. How about we start there? Then we could cite everyone who actually opposes vote suppression laws (as opposed to meaningless arguments that Republicans should support them more quietly.) And, for our advanced lesson, we can not that his proposals to massively slash federal spending for the poor would disproportionately and devastatingly affect people of color.

It’s nice that Paul has some good positions on criminal justice issues, but overall on racial issues he’s far worse than any mainstream Democrat.

Losing the Peace

[ 53 ] April 10, 2015 |


We enjoyed celebrating the 150th anniversary of crushing treason in defense of slavery. Time to start bemoaning the 150th anniversary of losing the peace.

As Reconstruction got underway, former Confederates again and again invoked their interpretation of the Appomattox terms, and particularly the “remain undisturbed” clause, as a shield against social change. Republican efforts to give freedpeople a measure of equality and opportunity and protection were met by white Southern protests that such a radical agenda was a betrayal of the Appomattox agreement — that the prospect of black citizenship, as one Virginia newspaper put it, “molests and disturbs us.”

None of Lee’s lieutenants did more to register such protests than John Brown Gordon, a leader of Georgia’s Ku Klux Klan and future senator and governor. In his 1871 congressional testimony, he gave a stalwart defense of his region against charges of brutality and lawlessness, repeatedly invoking the Appomattox terms. Back in April 1865, Gordon argued, Confederates had been gratified by the “deferential” treatment they received at the surrender. “We should not be disturbed, so long as we obeyed the laws”: this was the pledge, Gordon said, that Grant had made to the Confederates. Peace would have come swiftly and surely, Gordon continued, if Radicals had not betrayed the spirit of Appomattox by telling Confederates “your former slaves are better fitted to administer the laws than you are.”

Trafficking in the toxic myth that congressional Reconstruction was a time of white Southern prostration and vindictive “black rule,” Gordon claimed, “our people feel that the faith which was pledged to them has been violated.” Southerners were “disturbed” by the congressional program, “deprived of rights which we had inherited — which belonged to us as citizens of the country.” If they had known what indignities and disabilities awaited them, Gordon surmised, Confederates would not have surrendered on April 9, 1865.

Gordon’s message was clear: The only way to restore peace was to leave the white South alone to manage its own affairs.

I believe April 10, 1865 marks the day when the Civil War stopped being about slavery for the white South.

Also, thanks to Malaclypse for uncovering the above image, which is pretty much my favorite image in U.S. history.

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