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Category: General

Weekend Links

[ 123 ] August 29, 2015 |

I got bumped from a scheduled appearance on Australian Public Radio, but I will survive.  Some readin':

Hollywood Sequel Doctor

[ 125 ] August 29, 2015 |

Key & Peele is, like most sketch shows, hit and miss. This sketch, however, achieves brilliance. Or at least achieves making me laugh my ass off.

“Studios just bring me into oversee things when they ‘bout to drop a deuce.”

It’s called “Hollywood Sequel Doctor.” It’s about a flamboyant guy who crashes a meeting of “Gremlins 2″ writers. He’s Magic Jackson, the Hollywood Sequel Doctor and here’s here to make sequels more fun!!! If you don’t want to watch the sketch, here’s a quick synopsis:  The doc goes around the writers’ table, asking that each writer “create his own Gremlin.” The dumber the idea, the more thrilled with it he seems to be. The sketch is all Peele’s and he’s on fire through the whole thing. Some highlights from his jaunt ’round the table:

To the suggestion that the movie have a “brainy” Gremlin: “You talkin’ about a gremlin with glasses who could talk and sing ‘New York, New York’. That’s brilliant. It’s in the movie. Done.”

To the suggestion Hulk Hogan star: “You sir are a raging psychopath. Don’t let this town take that away from you.”

To the suggestion that the movie have an “electricity” Gremlin: “You just said noun and gremlin, like you playing Mad Libs. You just like a child. You have the brain of a child. You do not have a high IQ, but you haphazardly came up with a gremlin that’s just made out of bolts and is zig-zagging all over the room and is done completely in animation. You a crazy person, and your idea’s in the movie! Done. Next.”


Here’s the thing: the sketch ends with Key’s character saying “You know none of this stuff is actually going to be in the movie, right?” And then the words “All of these things were actually in the movie.” flashes on the screen. Never having seen Gremlins 2, I was like “NUH UH.” Then I wikipediaed it. Holy Magic Jackson. It just makes the sketch more delicious.

So, it’s an homage to crazy sequels. I know a lot of sequels are bad. But some sequels are as good as or even better than the movie that spawned them. Discuss.



Trigger warnings, 90’s edition

[ 34 ] August 29, 2015 |

There was a time when I opposed trigger warnings, because I worried they’d have a chilling effect. That was the mid-90’s, and the ‘trigger warnings’ in question were the FCC’s voluntary but widely adopted “TV Parental guidelines” that went into effect in 1997. I knew this system didn’t include any overt censorship, but I worried it might have a chilling effect on material that might be controversial–that viewers, advertisers, and networks might be worried about ratings, and the pressure on writers and directors to avoid the kind of content that might result in a TV-MA tag for the show. I think it’s safe to say, from the vantage point of 2015, that my concerns turned out to be overblown.

It would be a mistake, I think, to suggest that these guidelines played a major role in ushering the golden age of television they happened to coincide with; correlation is not causation and all. And the analogy is far from perfect; writers and producers were and are obviously self-censoring in a number of that syllabus creating professors are not (and vice versa). Viewers aren’t perfectly analogous to students, nor networks to administrators, etc etc.

But like many people who seem overly worried about trigger warnings on syllabi today, I thought I was capable of predicting how this would play out, based on what turned out to be an overly simplistic set of assumptions about the motivations and likely behavior of the various actors. I turned out to be clearly wrong, at least in part because I didn’t give some of the relevant actors enough credit. The rating system seemed to lead to less viewer freakouts, and less attention paid to them by advertisers and networks, and more potentially controversial and challenging material on the air. The prediction of a chilling effect from trigger warnings, similarly, requires taking a fairly dim view of maturity of students, and the professionalism of faculty. Perhaps that’s warranted, but based on the faculty and students I interact with, I’m not convinced that’s likely to be the case.

What sort of advance did Matt Millen get for his book “How to Build a Dominant NFL Franchise?”

[ 31 ] August 29, 2015 |



Wait, that’s not a real book. This, however, is a real op-ed, in which Team Cheney reveal the secrets to building an American foreign policy that both tastes great and is less filling:

No other nation, international body or “community of nations” can do what we do. It isn’t just our involvement in world events that has been essential for the triumph of freedom. It is our leadership. For the better part of a century, security and freedom for millions of people around the globe have depended on America’s military, economic, political and diplomatic might. For the most part, until the administration of Barack Obama, we delivered.

Can you guess what historical analogy leaps to mind when Dick and Liz Cheney consider the Iran deal?

The Obama nuclear agreement with Iran is tragically reminiscent of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Munich agreement in 1938. Each was negotiated from a position of weakness by a leader willing to concede nearly everything to appease an ideological dictator. Hitler got Czechoslovakia. The mullahs in Tehran get billions of dollars and a pathway to a nuclear arsenal. Munich led to World War II. The Obama agreement will lead to a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East and, more than likely, the first use of a nuclear weapon since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I knew you could.

Trigger Warnings Do Not Suppress Speech

[ 212 ] August 29, 2015 |


Speaking of trigger warnings, a commenter on the previous thread makes what I think is a common mistake:

4. The fear (slippery-slope or not) is that trigger warnings will lead to suggestions from admin about possibly removing certain works or materials from the syllabus.

There remains an obvious problem: there’s no logical connection between trigger warnings and censorship. Trigger warnings are only relevant to material that’s being presented. (How would you put a trigger warning on material that’s been suppressed?) Conflating trigger warnings with censorship is another example of the game played by the anti-p.c. crowd, in which critical speech is mysteriously transformed into speech suppression.

In addition, this is also an excellent illustration of why the slippery slope in generally a logical fallacy. On the one hand, there’s nothing inherent in trigger warnings that leads to material being suppressed. Conversely, if the administration wants to dictate to faculty what material is being taught in class, they don’t need trigger warnings to do so. (Indeed, assessment is a much more powerful lever to do so.) Undue interference by the administration into academic affairs is bad because it’s bad; trigger warnings per se are neither here nor there.

I also strongly recommend Angus Johnston’s recent thoughts on the subject. Here he responds to deBoer’s “What are we supposed to do with students who frivolously claim to have suffered trauma?” question:

My syllabus trigger warning doesn’t provide students who invoke it with any special privileges, so this isn’t really an issue for me — and as I said above, my text has been pretty widely adopted, so it’s not an issue for those professors either.

Speaking more generally, there are three paths a professor can take when asked for an accommodation from a student — offer the same accommodation to everyone, require that the requesting student provide proof of need, or apply their own judgment. I can see any of those approaches working in a trigger warning context.

Preciesely. The potential for cheating and abuse is ubiquitous whether one uses trigger warnings or not. My syllabus contains the university’s disability policy, which allows students to ask for special accommodations. Almost every semester, I have students who get extra time to write exams and write them in a separate room. Almost every semester, a student will ask for an assignment extension or a makeup exam date, and when the reason can’t be easily documented I have to assess their credibility and decide how to respond. If you’re a college teacher dealing with this kind of thing is, you know, your job. Again, I don’t see what particular problem trigger warnings are supposed to be creating here.

Tall Tales from Texas

[ 19 ] August 29, 2015 |

For some reason–perhaps laziness or force of habit, or engagingly alarmist (‘new records for traffic misery!’) press releases, media outlets across the country dutifully report as fact the whatever new congestion ‘study’ the Texas A&M Transportation Institute releases. The problems are significant: their approach uses bizarre assumptions, questionable data, and despite being produced under the aegis of an institute at a major research university has never been subjected to peer review.

David Alpert:

The report, from Texas A&M University, looks at only one factor: how fast traffic moves. Consider two hypothetical cities. In Denseopolis, people live within 2 miles of work on average, but the roads are fairly clogged and drivers can only go about 20 miles per hour. However, it only takes an average of 6 minutes to get to work, which isn’t bad.

On the other hand, in Sprawlville, people live about 30 miles from work on average, but there are lots and lots of fast-moving freeways, so people can drive 60 mph. That means it takes 30 minutes to get to work.

Which city has worse roads? By TTI’s methods, it’s Denseopolis. But it’s the people of Sprawlville who spend more time commuting, and thus have less time to be with their families and for recreation.

Joe Cortwright: 

The authors continue to report data for 1982 through 2007, even though TTI’s model for those years doesn’t actually measure congestion: it simply assumes that increased vehicle volumes automatically produce slower speeds, which is not necessarily accurate. The report’s data from 2007 and earlier isn’t comparable the data that comes afterwards, and can’t legitimately be used to make claims about whether traffic is better or worse than in earlier periods.

The presumption of the methodology is that our goal–to avoid “waste”–is to have sufficient road space available that the most popular times to travel see no delay whatsoever during peak times. That sounds nice, as long as we temporarily forget that land and money are scarce resources.* What makes the best (and most congested) cities attractive to access is that a)there’s lots of economic opportunity and activity there, and b) they are interesting and attractive places to visit. Ginormous 12 lane highways and acres of parking competes with those values; it’s a boring, ugly land use that generates little revenue. Walkability and human-scale density and cars travelling 60 MPH don’t go together.

Pretty much any time you decide to X at the most popular time to X, you pay for your timing in some way, whether in money, time, or flexibility. For whatever reason, we’ve elected to have a system where commuting by car at peak costs time instead of money. This choice has some cross-ideological appeal; on the anti-tax right the alternative is treated as tax increase; on the left it offends a kind of egalitarian ethos about access to a public good. I see the force of the latter position, but think it’s ultimately mistaken; transforming the cost of peak congestion from a time penalty to a financial one contributes to a number of progressive goals (environmental, of course, but public transit, as buses get stuck in congestion too). But either way, the notion that we should expect this activity to come at any price at all is both unrealistic and entirely undefended.

*The atmosphere’s capacity to store carbon emissions is a scarce resource too, of course, but the underlying logic here would still be deeply flawed even if global climate change turned out to be nothing more than a figment of Al Gore’s fevered imagination.


On “Political Correctness”

[ 117 ] August 29, 2015 |

What Kilgore said:

Is that the source of all this hysteria? Conservative media accounts of random college speech code incidents and the occasional dumb move by a school principal? Something that affects maybe a tenth of one percent of the population? That has conservatives backing a deliberately offensive celebrity like Trump and a conspiracy theorist like Carson?

I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. The Trump supporters and proto-Trump supporters I know are upset by things like having to listen to Spanish-language messages on customer service lines, not being able to call women “chicks” without someone frowning at them, and having to stop telling racist jokes at work. That’s what “political correctness” is code for: having to worry about the sensitivities of people who were invisible or submissive not that very long ago.

If Cupp is right and I’m not, then let’s all cooperate in convincing Republican politicians and conservative pundits to stop using the term “political correctness” and come right and and tell us what the beef is about. Is it really “trigger warning” requirements at scattered liberal arts colleges? Or is it this whole new world we’re in where people have to question old habits? When Ben Carson calls inhibitions about torturing terrorism suspects “political correctness,” it’s pretty clear he’s yet another apostle for the Church of the Day Before Yesterday, when America was never wrong and dissenters kept their mouths shut.

Sentinels of Silence

[ 15 ] August 28, 2015 |

Why can’t Orson Welles be brought back from the dead to narrate documentaries?

Had to link instead of embed because of the film’s privacy settings, but it’s a cool documentary of sorts on indigenous Mexican ruins.

Workplace Violence

[ 47 ] August 28, 2015 |

The horrible killing of the Virginia TV crew has once again shown that a) gun violence is inherently political, b) that the National Rifle Association is a front organization for murderers, and c) that we need gun control, which of course won’t happen. But it’s also a reminder of how common violence at the workplace. Errol Lewis:

A more fruitful discussion worth having is about the scourge of workplace violence, which the killings of Parker and Ward certainly was. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency, while workplace violence has dropped in recent years, it is still startlingly frequent. Nearly a decade ago, according to the agency, 20 workers were murdered every week. A more recent report shows the tide of violence declining, but as of 2009, 521 people were killed on the job and 572,000 non-fatal violent crimes took place, including rape, robbery and assault.

That averages out to more than 10 lives lost every week. Many of the tales are grisly: As CNN pointed out last fall, a fired UPS employee in Alabama shot two former colleagues to death before killing himself; a laid-off worker in Oklahoma went to his old plant and beheaded the first person he saw; and a traffic controller in Illinois set fire to his workplace and slit his throat.

And all those happened in a single week.

But there’s more because a sadly not surprising amount of this workplace violence is directed at women, as was the case this week. Dan Keating:

Many people work at dangerous heights, or with deadly chemicals or crushing equipment. But, as the gruesome killing of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward reminded us Wednesday, murder happens surprisingly often on the job. Out of nearly 4,600 workplace deaths in 2013, 9 percent were caused by homicides, according to the census of workplace deaths by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s a pattern that disproportionately affects women. After car accidents, homicide is the most likely way for women to die at work, representing 21 percent of workplace deaths. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to die many other ways. Murders represent 8 percent of workplace deaths for men, preceded by car accidents, falls and contact with objects and equipment.

The murder threat for women is different. Both sexes die most often at the hands of robbers, and both also murdered at about the same rate by co-workers. But more than a third of women murdered at work are killed by boyfriends, spouses, exes or other relatives. For men, that category of killer is almost zero.

“When women are at work, their exes always know where to find them, don’t they?” said security expert Chris E. McGoey in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The 2015 AFL-CIO Death on the Job Report has more about these issues as well:


Workplace violence is another way that the national epidemic of gun violence affects all of us and it gives organized labor an entry into pushing for rational gun policies. I don’t doubt of course that advocating for gun control would irritate a good number of union members for which gun identification is more meaningful than class identification, but cutting back on the opportunities for gun violence is the right thing for working Americans.

Reconstruction and the National Park Service

[ 25 ] August 28, 2015 |


Ku Klux Klan member, Tennessee, 1868

This is a good piece summarizing the one area of U.S. history that the National Park Service has done a terrible job commemorating, which is, not surprisingly, Reconstruction. The NPS does a really commendable job of remembering the American past, especially given its increasingly limited resources spread out over increasing numbers of parks. But Reconstruction is a major gap. The first reason is obvious–that for so long the popular historical interpretation of the period was one most popularly told in Birth of a Nation. But this open white supremacy was always challenged by African-Americans and in recent decades the popular memory has shifted. Except among conservative white people, which still means memory of the period is extremely charged. The NPS is moving toward some new sites that would remember the brief, aborted attempt to create something like a racial democracy in the post-Civil War period. What has to happen now that did not happen in 2003 when the last time an effort to create a Reconstruction site took place is to not allow the Confederate heritage organizations to have a seat at the table. This is the equivalent of allowing Neo-Nazi organizations to have a role in deciding on official historical remembrance of the Holocaust.

I do believe we will see, at the very least, Obama simply name a Reconstruction-era National Monument before he leaves office. A congressional bill would be preferable because it would show that there is a broader understanding of what Reconstruction is really about but given the rise of radical white supremacist Republicanism in the last decade, this feels unlikely to me. Moreover, I am concerned that the NPS is still bringing representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans into meetings. Why? They should be excluded entirely. They are never going to agree and don’t have a legitimate viewpoint to begin with.

Firing bad cops

[ 31 ] August 28, 2015 |

Setting aside her pathetic racial resentment, what’s striking about SPD officer Cynthia Whitlatch’s account of her unjustified arrest of William Wingate is that even if we take her self-serving account entirely at face value, it paints a clear picture of an officer unfit for duty:

Murphy noted that Whitlatch admitted she “did not see Mr. Wingate swing his golf club at the police car and hit the stop sign; instead, she admits that she only saw movement out of the corner of her eye and heard a noise, leading her to assume he swung at her car and hit the stop sign… The Named Employee observed Mr. Wingate look at her with a furrowed brow and assumed that he was purposefully directing an ‘angry’ look at her.”

Whitlatch seemed fixated on Wingate’s alleged furrowed brow, which she said she could see through her rearview mirror as she drove away from Pike and 11th. She said she knew he was glaring at her because he was angry.

Her patrol car’s dashcam video shows that when Whitlatch confronts Wingate at an intersection one block away, Wingate appears to have no idea who she was or why she is asking him to drop his golf club, which he was using as a cane.


 So she hears a strange noise and comes is, in her mind, a perfectly logical and plausible explanation–an elderly black in her vicinity inexplicably attempted to strike a passing police car with his golf club/cane. Furthermore, his “furrowed brow” constituted sufficient supporting evidence for this hunch that it’s off to jail on a ‘contempt of cop’ charge for him. And this is her story; the best she can come up with to try to save her job. Happily, her ability to present an exonerating, self-serving account of the incident was hindered by her dashcam.
This is kind of a big deal in Seattle because, if her appeals aren’t successful, she’ll be one of the first police officers fired for excessive force or misconduct in a good long while. It’s easy to see why previous chiefs have not bothered–their firings can be overturned by a review board stacked 2-1 with current SPD officers. (This is in sharp contrast with the King County Sherrif’s department, where Chief John Urquhart, who is much less shy about moving aggressively to remove problem officers.)
As an aside, while the quality of The Stranger’s news section generally and political coverage in particular has declined noticably in recent years, their ongoing coverage of police misconduct (the now-departed Dominic Holden and Ansel Herz in particular) has been excellent, and is probably part of the reason the effort to remove such an obviously unfit officer as Whitlatch has made it this far.


Zduriencik fired

[ 42 ] August 28, 2015 |

Finally. It’s long overdue, of course, and absolutely necessary. As a Mariners fan, I suppose I should be feeling, if not joy, at least a sense of relief. Instead I mostly just feel anxious and concerned they’ll screw up the next, crucial step–will the organization’s reputation for meddling with G.M.’s decision-making make it difficult to attract strong candidates? Are the relevant decision-makers capable of identifying strong candidates in the first place? Given how Zduriencik was able to use someone much smarter than he to bluff his way into the job, I’m worried the answers may be “yes” and “no” respectively.

….The following sentence should fill all Mariners fans with despair:

Bob Nightengale reported that the team may have interest in White Sox president Kenny Williams, while Ken Rosenthal notes on Twitter that they’ve reached out to former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd.

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