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Sanders and Trump Would be a Media Elite Dream of a Reasonable Man on a Horse Saving Us Come True

[ 163 ] January 27, 2016 |


Scott is probably right in dismissing Michael Bloomberg’s daily narcissism as nothing more than attempting to scare the left into voting for Hillary Clinton. At the same time, if the candidates are indeed Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, there’s a good chance the weirdest presidential election in American history would get even whackier. As Robert Kuttner writes, there really is a good chance of a third party centrist run in this election. Now, I think he’s largely wrong about how these scenarios work out. I am skeptical of a third-party Republican run if Trump wins and runs against Hillary. And I am skeptical of a third-party Democratic run if Sanders wins and runs against Rubio or whoever isn’t Trump or Cruz. There’s enough space there for disgruntled voters to live with the oppositional candidate. And I’m skeptical of some four-way campaign if it Sanders and Trump. Not gonna happen.

But I do absolutely think a 3rd party centrist media darling candidacy may well happen if it is Sanders vs. Trump. Such a person, Bloomberg or otherwise, would have no chance of winning of course or even of winning any states. But that person might well win enough votes to throw a state one way or another. My personal fear is that if a Bloomberg-type ran, he (of course) would maybe receive 10% of the vote, tops. But there would be money behind it and a lot of media coverage. Yet there’s certainly no groundswell of Republican voter outrage that the party will nominate Trump. Republican elites may dominate Meet the Press appearances and New York Times articles, but they sure don’t dominate the poll numbers. And while there’s probably wouldn’t be a big demand among Democrats for a 3rd party candidate either if Sanders won, I do worry that there’s enough Hillary-lovers out there to vote for a moderate Wall Street candidate. The only way any of this matters though is through the states. If we assume, as I do, that were such a candidate to appear they probably would draw more from Democratic voters than Republicans, then it becomes more deadly for Democrats because there are so many states Democrats win by 1-5 points and other than maybe North Carolina, zero states that Republicans win by such a narrow margin. It really wouldn’t take much to bump Ohio or Florida or Virginia to Trump in this scenario.

I may well be just writing scared here. But it’s something I worry about.

And to be clear, I in no way mean this to be a reason not to vote for Sanders. Were he the nominee, my animus would go toward those voting for this theoretical centrist candidate.


London Recruits

[ 19 ] January 27, 2016 |

London Recruits HoC 11.7.12

This is a really fascinating story of the global struggle against apartheid, with British activists sneaking into South Africa to spread anti-apartheid propaganda and able to do so because the South African government simply assumed that all whites supported white supremacy so why would anyone do this?

Ronald “Ronnie” Kasrils was a white man born in Johannesburg, South Africa, the grandson of Jewish immigrants, who became a leader in the anti-apartheid struggle. In the early 1960s he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation in the isiZulu language), an offshoot of the African National Congress (ANC), and soon became the MK Commander in Natal province. By 1964, the movement inside the country had been crushed; to escape, Kasrils went into exile.

In 1965, Oliver Tambo, the President of the ANC who was then based in Zambia, had just begun to build a global solidarity movement. Their aim was to pressure the white minority government in South Africa to abandon apartheid. Their only recourse: take the struggle outside of South Africa to overthrow apartheid inside of it.

Tambo dispatched Kasrils to London, a city with long and deep connections to South Africa due to centuries of imperialism and migration. Along with a few other exiles, Kasril’s task was to recruit white men and women to join the movement. He found some at the left-leaning London School of Economics, but most came from the Young Communist League, which agreed to select suitable members (mostly workers) to pass on to him.

After modest training, from 1967 through 1971, teams of two flew to South Africa with fake-bottomed suitcases containing anti-apartheid propaganda and explosives. Tambo was correct that foreign whites easily could travel to South Africa: white South Africans presumed all Europeans supported white supremacy.

Posing as tourists, honeymooners or businessmen, they exploded leaflet bombs, unfurled anti-apartheid banners and promoted the struggle in other clever ways. They simultaneously coordinated their actions in important South African cities. One such leaflet declared: “The ANC says to Vorster [South Africa’s prime minister at the time] and his gang: Your days are coming to an end” and “We will take back our country!”

No one ever was hurt during these actions, though two were captured in 1972 and spent most of the 1970s in brutal South African prisons. By the early-mid 1970s, the movement inside South Africa had revived as the exile movement grew in numbers and strength.

So many interesting complexities in the history of the global anti-colonial struggle.

What is Cultural Appropriation?

[ 330 ] January 27, 2016 |


I found the comments to yesterday’s post on cultural appropriation bizarre. That’s because many commenters do not seem to have a functional definition of cultural appropriation. There were multiple versions of comments like, “I eat Mexican food so are you accusing me of culturally appropriating Mexican food?” Um, no.

This all reminded of the housing and schooling posts where I state that moving to the suburbs for the schools is a racist act in that people took this as a direct attack upon their own privilege. With the housing posts, that is an intentional provocation on my part. This sort of thing was by no means intended in yesterday’s post. But white liberals can be very, very defensive about their own privilege because they see themselves as trying to do the right thing.

So what actually is cultural appropriation, at least when it comes to food. Thanks to UncleEbenzeer for tracking this down and placing it in the thread.

Only a dominant culture can “appropriate” another culture, and only a systematically oppressed culture can “be appropriated.” Because what’s bad about it only stems from that specific power relationship. You can’t understand cultural appropriation without understanding the role that power dynamic plays in producing the effects that people are finding problematic. You also, of course, can’t understand cultural appropriation if you don’t actually listen to what people are saying is problematic about it.

Kuo linked to an authority at Hipster Appropriations on the cultural appropriation of foods, which I can tell Coyne did not read (white man can’t be bothered, his ignorant rage too important for research). Yet it lays it all out very clearly:

So let’s begin with what I don’t think constitutes cultural appropriation of food, to get some of the angsty stuff out of the way. I don’t believe it is cultural appropriation to:

eat food from another culture
to learn how to cook food from another culture
to modify recipes from another culture for your own enjoyment
to eat at restaurants, authentic or otherwise, that serve food from another culture
to enjoy learning about another culture thru the traditional and/or modern foods of that culture

Instead, cultural appropriation does any or all of these things (at a minimum):

Despoliation (intentional or not)
Fetishization (stereotyping, othering, etc.)
Theft (claiming a thing as your own, erasing the inventors)

Despoliation can be direct, as in actually entering a country and walking off with its statues and historical heritage. Or it can be indirect. For example, due to the enormous wealth differential created by the power imbalance between a dominant and a dominated culture, a component of a culture can start to become inaccessible even to its originators. As the Hipster Appropriations article says, cultural appropriation includes “making it difficult for those of the culture from which it stems to gain access to” a part of their own culture. Quinoa, for example. Which I already dealt with above. But they illustrate what this would be like by reversing the POV and having the same thing happen to apples in America. Incidentally, reversing POV like that (what I have called “forced perspective” reasoning) is a crucial skill for critical thinking, essential to understanding all discourse about social justice whatever (I discussed this before in the context of feminism). Coyne, Dawkins, Boghossian: They really need to learn this skill. Badly. (Although I think Boghossian might be a lost cause.)

Fetishization can manifest in all manner of unempathetic or historically ignorant insensitivity. Kuo’s points provide many examples. In recent news is the practice of white folk dressing up like Native Americans or wearing blackface, both of which are extremely insensitive, displaying an ignorance of the horrific history these practices mock, an ignorance that is itself a manifestation of white privilege: Native Americans and African Americans don’t have the privilege of forgetting the genocidal brutalization we subjected their ancestors to, and the long history of racism embodied in such mimicry of what “they” “look” like. This does not mean we can’t ever dress as historical persons in those groups. It simply must be done sensitively and seriously, and not ignorantly or frivolously. To understand the distinctions and why it matters, see my comment analyzing the difference between appropriating a culture, and honoring a culture by representing one of its heroes to the public.

Theft means in the intellectual property sense, not in the physical object sense. Cultural appropriation as stealing means borrowing some idea from an oppressed culture, and then pretending or thinking the dominant culture created it, or simply erasing the role of the originators. In other words, not giving credit where credit is due. Stealing the credit. Or simply eliminating the credit. The history of Rock & Roll, for example, famously exhibits components of this. I’m sorry white people, but Elvis was not really the King. Racism resulted in white people being credited with inventing everything, and the black artists who actually did, gradually came to be sidelined and eventually forgotten. That’s sad. And we should not be proud of it. Nor should we want to repeat the behavior.

This does not mean all accusations of cultural appropriation are equal, or even correct. Some I’m sure are silly or frivolous or even indefensible. But there being stupid claims of a thing does not mean there are not sound claims of that thing. As I’m constantly pointing out in my study of the historicity of Jesus: that all kinds of stupid, unsourced nonsense gets said about Mithras and Horus, does not mean there aren’t genuine predecessors of the dying-and-rising savior god mytheme that Jesus was modeled on (such as Osiris, Zalmoxis, Romulus, and Inanna). Learn how to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. But doing that requires understanding what we are talking about and why it is a problem.

Now, one can argue whether or not Whole Foods engages in cultural appropriation or not. I would argue that it frequently does and by “introducing” collard greens to its wealthy white clientele without some discussion of their history and place within American culture that it was doing so here, albeit it in a minor and relatively innocuous way. Others may disagree. But let’s at least come to this argument with a functional definition of cultural appropriation. The definition above suffices quite well.

And no, just because you are white and like Thai food does not mean you are appropriating culture.

The Executive Pay Cartel

[ 21 ] January 27, 2016 |


The company that took over Don Blankenship’s organized crime organization in West Virgnia ran it into bankruptcy in less than five years. For workers, this has not worked out well:

Since then, Alpha has laid off some 4,000 workers and filed for Chapter 11. Post-Massey, it operated well over 100 active mines; now it has closed all but 50.


Sure enough, Alpha is going after health and life insurance benefits it promised retired employees. Specifically, according to its court filing, it is trying to rescind “certain unvested, non-pension welfare benefits (e.g., hospital, medical, prescription, surgical and life insurance) currently offered to certain of [Alpha’s] non-union retirees.” Some 4,580 non-union miners and spouses would lose benefits under the filing.

Yanking health insurance from any retiree is bad enough, but these are people who spent their working lives in highly unsafe conditions; many now suffer from black lung and other coal-related ailments.

Hey, if people with black lung disease wanted medical care, they should have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and become 25-year-old Stanford-educated software developers! Their corporate betters can demonstrate how American meritocracy works:

Their usual pay is okay, I guess. The Casper Star Tribune reports:

Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield received $7.8 million in total compensation in 2014, financial filings show. Former President Paul Vining took home $4.5 million, the chief financial officer made $1.9 million and Executive Vice President Brian Sullivan earned $1.6 million.

But when you’ve bankrupted your company and now you have to immiserate old and sick people, you need more of a picker-upper — a little something extra.

So Alpha proposed to pay these executives bonuses that could in some cases more than double their salaries. Depending on the cost cutting achieved, the bonuses could reach up to $11.9 million.

Alpha argued that the money was necessary to provide incentives for executives to help the company restructure out of bankruptcy, incentives presumably not provided by their salaries or legal obligations.

(Alpha also gave executives substantial performance bonuses last year, even as they were piloting the company into bankruptcy. Not clear what those incentives were for.)

This is an extreme case, but it pretty much defines how the wealthy define incentives differently for themselves and for ordinary workers. For the latter, a middle-class salary will make them lazy and in any case is an unnecessary expense. For those at the top, a multi-million dollar salary isn’t enough incentive to do your job. Note, too, how contradictory ideas about responsibility seamlessly replace each other depending on what’s necessary to justify the looting of the workers and shareholders. When the company goes into bankruptcy less than a five years after you take it over, doesn’t that suggest that you’re massively incompetent and don’t even justify a six-figure salary, let alone a seven-figure one supplemented by performance bonuses(!)? Why no, because the market for coal collapsed, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, not our fault. But when it comes time to get de facto retention bonuses, these same people become absolutely indispensable supermen with irreplaceable skills. Obviously, Alpha’s executives can’t simultaneously by caretakers who preside over a company whose profits are determined almost entirely by factors beyond their control and people with unique skills the company absolutely cannot afford to lose and must be retained at any price, but whatever it takes. (Taibbi was particularly good on this point in the context of the AIG financial whiner.)

This line of thinking is hardly absent from my line of work. I guarantee that the guy proposing that faculty spots go to the lowest bidder wouldn’t apply that logic to the Board of Trustees, presidents, or provosts. The defense of less extreme versions of this dichotomy would be that the top-level administrators are simply irreplaceable and there is fierce competition for their services, which rarely holds up. Consider the new president of the University of Iowa. Not only did he have no credentials as a higher ed administrator, even his credentials as a business administrator were underwhelming. And yet, he will get $790 grand a year in salary and pension compensation alone. The idea that there was some kind of bidding war for the guy or that he had unique skills that had to be obtained at any price is absurd. Obscenely high salaries aren’t used to acquire extraordinary talent; they’re used to justify the salaries of the people doing the picking and to convince themselves that whoever they hire is really good. Nice racket if you can get into it.

New Weekly Feature: A People’s History of the Marvel Universe

[ 62 ] January 27, 2016 |


Hey folks, so I’ve been feeling the blogging bug recently, and while I’ve got some long form stuff in the works, I’m waiting for a few things to happen before some of those posts can go up, and they tend to take longer to write anyway. In the mean time, I’ve decided to do some shorter pieces that I can do on a regular basis. And since it’s me, they’re going to be about the intersection between politics and comic books.

In A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, I’ll be exploring how real-world politics (and weird bits of pop culture) was presented in some of my favorite bits of classic Marvel comics, starting with Claremont’s run on X-Men and Captain America from the Timely Comics through the 80s. And thanks to my friends Brett and Elana over at Graphic Policy, which covers comic books from a progressive viewpoint and which you should be reading regularly, I’ll be posting them both here and there.

Read more…

The Crimes Of the Anti-Planned Parenthood Mob

[ 27 ] January 27, 2016 |

Lithwick with more on the various legal problems of the Planned Parenthood troofers.

The Donald And Des Moines

[ 55 ] January 26, 2016 |


Trump would appear to be betting that Fox News needs him more than he needs then:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump abruptly announced here Tuesday that he would not participate in Thursday’s scheduled debate, escalating his off-and-on feud with the Fox News Channel and throwing the GOP campaign into turmoil.

Trump’s assertion, which his campaign manager insisted was irreversible, came less than one week before the kick-off Iowa caucuses, once again defying the conventional rules of politics and using his power and prominence to shape the campaign agenda and conversation.

Given that a primary objective of the first Fox News Debates seemed to be to undermine Trump on the one hand and to promote Rubio and Fiorina on the other, it’s hard to argue with him.

Meanwhile, Trump has racked up another overdetermined “celebrity” endorsement. The Veep search is over!

Why don’t we do it in the road?

[ 239 ] January 26, 2016 |

Looks like the display of angry white dudeitude in Oregon may be reaching an expected conclusion.

One person is dead and several others, including Oregon occupation leader Ammon Bundy, were detained following a confrontation with the FBI and state police Tuesday night.

It all began with a traffic stop while Bundy and some of his followers were en route to a community meeting in John Day, about 70 miles away.

Shots were fired after FBI agents, Oregon State troopers and other law enforcement agencies made the stop.

Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox and Ryan W. Payne were arrested during the stop. One person, who was the subject of a federal probable cause arrest died. It’s unclear who fired first.

Who said Han? That’s horrible.


Nerds, Please Meet Me in the Nerdery; We Need to Talk about Batfleck

[ 247 ] January 26, 2016 |

This is hardly an original opinion but I think casting can make or break a film. This means you should never, ever cast Keanu Reeves in a historical drama. It also means you should never ever cast Ben Affleck in the role of Batman. I’ve seen him utter one line in Batman vs. Superman and I’m already Rifftraxing him in my head. He is…a horrible choice to play Batman. I just…don’t even, as the kids don’t say anymore.

So here’s my question: If not Bale (the best Batman, obviously), who should play Batman? Ideas?

“Tom can you get me off the hook? For old time’s sake”

[ 50 ] January 26, 2016 |


Abe Vigoda, who was the subject of many false rumors regarding his death in the 1980s, has died.

Of the many great things in the original Godfather film, Vigoda’s performance as Tessio is one of the most memorable.

[SL] The Godfather Epic — the first two movies edited chronologically with outtakes included — is as it happens is now streaming on HBO, and if like me you have minimal concern with authenticity and Artristic Integritude and such it’s pretty awesome, even if you miss the unique texture of GFII. Tessio would have watched it, and Tessio was always smarter.

Out of Sight reading group – Chapters 1 & 2

[ 40 ] January 26, 2016 |

Today is the second Out of Sight virtual reading group. Today we’re focused on Chapter 1 – Standing up to Corporate Domination: A Brief History and Chapter 2 – Workplace Catastrophes.

Loomis is available to answer your questions so just toss them in the comments.

I have one for him (and everyone): If we take it as a given that corporations have always been at war with the worker, is it possible to achieve a form of capitalism that isn’t a constant battle between the .01% and its enablers and everyone else? And if so, how?

Food, Authenticity, Cultural Appropriation

[ 308 ] January 26, 2016 |


I know we need another discussion of the relationship between food and authenticity like we need another post about Hillary or Bernie, Which One Will Save America and Which One is Horrible? But I could not help being typically annoyed by Conor Friedersdorf’s post on collard greens and Twitter. Basically, Whole Foods tweeted out a recipe on collard greens that included cooking them in peanuts. A number of African-Americans called Whole Foods out on this, saying that the grocery store was cooking collards in an inauthnetic manner and was engaging in cultural appropriation. Friedersdorf found it necessary to devote an entire column to defending the corporation and tsk-tsking reporters for not doing research on this very important matter.

Pretty dumb all around. Yet perhaps worth a bit of commentary.

First, given that Whole Foods barely serves people of color at all and certainly avoids poor communities like the plague, the company deserves to take some shots. Usually, the only non-white people in Whole Foods is those happy looking Salvadoran coffee farmers in pictures hanging from the ceiling. This is a corporation dedicating to providing good food to rich people who can actually afford it, all while making sure employees don’t have a union. Whole Foods is happy to package traditional foods to white people (and often ripping them off for that food) without even mentioning where these food traditions come from. That is indeed cultural appropriation and given that whites have been appropriating black culture since slavery without giving credit, it’s hardly outrageous that some African-Americans would lob this accusation. It’s justified. If Whole Foods actually cared about serving communities of color, maybe it would have a defense. As is, the company sees the traditions of communities of color around the world as little more than a place to generate ideas that can be sold to rich whites.

That said, people can cook collard greens any dang way they want. While a well-brewed pot of collard greens is pretty fantastic (and allow to highly recommend the collards at Gladys Kitchen in Americus, Georgia, as well as the amazing fried chicken and desserts, where I ate last week), let’s face it, greens boiled to nothing is not usually the greatest way to prepare them. If they are good with peanuts, even if black people don’t eat them that way, I guess that’s OK.

As for shaming journalists and their research, I’d probably be more sympathetic to this if it wasn’t coming from someone with an ego the size of Friedersdorf. That a white male libertarian finds it necessary to defend a corporation hardly impressed me either. But really, a journalist who pretty much made his name on the internet complaining about internet journalism is eye-rolling.

In any case, traditional foods can always be changed and improved upon. There’s not a single “authentic” way to cook anything. There are better and worse ways to cook them. There are traditional ways that are not per se good or bad. This doesn’t mean we can’t reject and mock bad ideas, say, tomato ketchup or, god forbid, the tacos I saw but very much did not eat in a western Pennsylvania bar last week that consisted of ground beef, sauerkraut, and 1000 Island dressing. But obviously there’s nothing wrong with figuring out what would be really awesome in tacos that one would never see in Mexico (Korean tacos!). Or figuring out what would taste way better than canned mushrooms and canned olives on pizza.* It’s the same with cooking greens. However, it would also be nice if Whole Foods didn’t act like this beneficent wonderful corporation providing the secret to good food for people when African-Americans (and some whites of course!) in fact have known about these greens for hundreds of years. There’s plenty of reason for grousing all around. Probably not enough for an Atlantic column though. For a LGM post, well, it’s not like we have standards.

*I confess to deviating from the official LGM line that pineapple is a bad pizza topping. I like it.

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