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Class Warriors Who Do Not Want to be Criticized

[ 86 ] February 17, 2015 |

The background:

Ten years ago, fresh off his loss to Bush/Cheney as John Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards returned home to open a center on poverty at the University of North Carolina School of Law, his alma mater.

Today, that move looks downright prescient: Ranked better than average in poverty in 2005, North Carolina has since experienced the greatest increase in concentrated poverty in the country. Charlotte has the worst upward mobility of America’s 50 biggest cities. In the east, hundreds of black agricultural towns are neglected and abandoned, and in the west, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia are suffering from a meth and prescription drug epidemic.

The new bosses:

Then Republicans swept the 2010 midterm and won the governorship in 2012, giving the GOP control of Raleigh for the first time since the Reconstruction. Despite the state’s fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, legislators cut unemployment benefits, refused to expand Medicaid, slashed taxes on the rich and raised them on the poor. North Carolina fell to eleventh worst in poverty.

The inevitable:

On three occasions in 2013, UNC Law Dean Jack Boger called Nichol into his office to relay threats from the legislature. If Nichol didn’t stop writing articles, they’d close the Poverty Center, move it to UNC-Pembroke, or he’d be fired. Nichol kept writing the articles.

[…]

Six of the seven working group members are Republicans—including Steven Long, who previously sat on the board at Civitas—and the other one is unaffiliated. Targeted centers include the Juvenile Justice Institute, Carolina Women’s Center, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and the Sonja Haynes Center for Black Culture and History. In December, representatives of the 34 centers spoke at a hearing. “I don’t deny we engage in advocacy and that we have an agenda,” Nichol said at the hearing. “We think people at the bottom aren’t getting a fair shake.”

The working group will make recommendations about cuts and closing to a full BOG vote at their February 27 meeting. If the Poverty Center survives, according to Holmes, we should expect a policy requiring center directors to receive training on what they can and can’t say.

I’m very confident that the same conservatives who argued that students who thought it was a bad idea to give Condi Rice a six-figure paycheck to spout platitudes before a captive audience was the death of free speech in America will be equally outraged by this…

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Yglesias Ranks the Presidents

[ 295 ] February 16, 2015 |

Too busy with book revisions and class prep and hating snow to do any President’s Day posts of my own, but I thought Yglesias’ ranking of presidents was not bad. Ranking Washington 1st is fully defensible, even if I’d go with Lincoln. Establishing the precedent of peaceful transfer of power was vital (and is much to John Adams’ credit as well). TR is about right at #11; the idea of the man as a great president and great man is really falling for the self-promotional material TR himself played a central role in creating. Among other things, for as meh as Taft might have been, so much of Taft’s bad reputation today comes from TR’s self-serving biography written after their split. LBJ seems about right, as does Jefferson.

Really just two major objections and then some minor ones. I know that among the progressive blogosphere, Grant’s reputation has skyrocketed in recent years but the idea that he was the 4th best president is not something I can buy. I agree that much of the criticism of Grant over the years was Dunning School inspired and I realize that there wasn’t that much he could really do in the face of widespread corruption washing over the entire Republican Party and the creeping return of white supremacy, but he wasn’t a particularly effective president. I’d also rank John Tyler much lower. The man named John C. Calhoun Secretary of State and committed the nation to an aggressive pro-slavery policy to carve out a place for a hopeful election victory in 1844. It didn’t work but it did go very far to making sectional tensions the dominant feature of American politics. I’d rank him below Fillmore, if not Pierce and Buchanan.

I don’t think I can agree about George H.W. Bush as #8, but I’d at least be willing to hear the argument. I’d rank Cleveland lower too, but we are really getting into nit-picking mode at this point

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If You Hate My Art and Say So, You’re Not Censoring Me

[ 62 ] February 16, 2015 |

This post has two aims: to tell show you a couple of my latest pieces and to let you know that I’m not a hypocrite–I stand by what I say, even when doing so makes me uncomfortable.

Weirdgirl

In my last post I asked if any of you liked problematic art/entertainment. Most of you said “yes.” One poster even mentioned my art and said s/he (I don’t like to assume gender based on names) found it problematic. Do I find my art problematic? No, not particularly, but you know what? Thinking my art is problematic is PERFECTLY VALID. It is not insane. It is not silly. It is perfectly reasonable. You know what else is valid and reasonable? Finding my art banal or bad or ugly or weird or creepy. (I mean for my art to be weird and creepy, not so much banal and bad.) It is also perfectly reasonable to scream “I HATE BSPENCER’S ART!” and to not buy my art because you find it crappy or problematic. (If you hate my art, please don’t tell me to my face. It’ll hurt my feelings and I’m already filled with self-loathing, so you’ll just be beating a dead horse and everyone knows that’s Erik’s beat.)

ANYWAY, IN SUMMATION: I HAVE NOT BEEN CENSORED. Please, everyone…I’m begging you: learn what “censorship” means.

The Weight of Masks

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Prison Labor Clearing Boston Snow

[ 22 ] February 16, 2015 |

Even if you think that prisoners are better off doing work outside than being stuck in their cells, I hope we can all agree that prisoners being paid 20 cents an hour to shovel the mountains of snow that have walloped Boston is more than a little inappropriate.

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Leadership

[ 39 ] February 16, 2015 |

This Eve Fairbanks written New Republic profile of the Uruguayan president Jose Mujica’s failure from 10 days ago has had me thinking for the last week. Mujica is a true leftist hero who was a member of the guerrilla Tupamaros and spent time in prison during his nation’s dictatorship and has not made moves toward moderation as he aged and rose in the post-dictatorship political world (such as one can argue has happened to the Brazilian leaders of recent years). He is plainspoken and unpretentious. Despite being president, he lives in his same small house, tending his garden, as he has for years. He dresses about as well as I do, even to official events. In short, he lives the values that the modern left loves. He is an authentic figure.

Unfortunately, Mujica is terrible at politics and has achieved basically nothing because he doesn’t know how to play the political game. Some of the internal critique of Mujica is unfair–what can any one person do about rising crass consumerism? But there is great disappointment in Uruguay and around the world among those who follow Latin American left politics. The problem which Fairbanks identifies correctly I think is the desire for authenticity and heroic leadership that may just be central to a lot of people’s belief systems. Here in the U.S., millions of people saw Obama in 2008 as the head of a social movement (which he understandably did not discourage during his campaign) and then were disappointed when he turned out to be the left-centrist politician he always was (which is not to minimize his achievements). Now Elizabeth Warren has taken that role as the single person progressives look to as having the potential to solve the nation’s problems, thus the Draft Warren desires from many on the left. Now, neither Obama nor Warren are very accurate points of comparisons to Mujica. Obama is a politician in a way Mujica will never be while Warren is a policy wonk and professor and even if not a “professional politician” has a different way of coming at the world than the populist Uruguyan president. But in the end, more is probably going to get done by the deeply flawed and dislikable left-centrist or the wonkish charisma lacking career politician than the populist hero.

In other words, in referring to the leftist backlash against Bill DeBlasio, Fairbanks writes:

It’s a pattern: We keep creating saviors whom we expect to single- handedly restore lost values. Then we lash out at them when they inevitably fall short.

On one level, I don’t have much problem with this because even after we elect a left-leaning leader we need to push them from the left and criticize them from the left. We shouldn’t be a support team for President Obama or anyone else. We should try to drag him to our positions. But the problem is actually believing that Obama or Warren or DeBlasio will solve the problems by the force of their will and personality. Until that belief ends, we are likely to continue a cycle of putting a populist on a pedestal and then walking away when the politician has to act in the real world.

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Restaurant Labor App

[ 9 ] February 16, 2015 |

Are you interested in eating at restaurants that treat workers well? ROC-United, the restaurant workers’ labor organization with chapters in several cities, has created an app that not only includes the information they have about individual restaurants but also allows crowdsourced information. It’s a work in progress but this could a really useful tool in publicizing restaurants that treat workers either poorly or well and allow consumers to give their business to ethical businesses.

Here is the link to the app.

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Worst. Graph. Ever

[ 74 ] February 16, 2015 |

This is amazing:


The point is to try to indicate that Russian military spending has increased from baseline, while EU spending has decreased. The visual effect (and a graph, of course, is intended to display data in an effective, informative manner) is to indicate that Russia is spending much, much more than the Europeans. This is accomplished through the unconventional means of putting the number “70” much higher on the graph than the number “265,” which is made even more confusing by the fact that the Y axis (which is supposed to reflect % change) is right next to the absolute number labels…

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Well, that’s funny, because I happen to have Congressman Doggett right here, so….

[ 25 ] February 16, 2015 |

Earlier this month, I observed that ACA Troofers-in-Chief Adler and Cannon — with their Moops-invaded-Spain theory already imploding all around them — attempted to manufacture evidence that House Democrats thought that the federally-established state exchanges would not provide tax credits. Alas, the letter, written by Lloyd Doggett on behalf of the other Texas House Dems, did not say anything about the issue. As a tell, Adler and Cannon cited a news report about the letter by Julie Rovner — something they wouldn’t have bothered to do if the letter actually said what they claimed it did. But the Rovner story doesn’t back up their claim either, and Rovner confirmed to me that “there was never any discussion about only state exchanges offering subsidies that I was party to.”

I was curious if anyone had asked Doggett had been asked about Adler and Cannon trying to conscript him into the Moops Resistance Forces, and sure enough:

Via Joey Meyer and Brianne Gorod, who add:

All this comes as the Members of Congress most closely involved with the drafting and passage of the ACA are lining up to state on record that they always intended for the tax credits to be available nationwide. Their assertions have been echoed by high-level congressional aides, who have also gone on record explaining that nationwide availability was always the intention behind the law.

The idea that the text of ACA clearly and unambiguously said something, related to a mechanism central to its operation, that not a single legislator who voted for the law 5 years ago believes that it said and many have gone on the record to say that it didn’t say is exceptionally implausible. The idea that the legislators who wrote and voted for the ACA intentionally denied tax credits to the federally established exchanges is less plausible than the typical theory explaining how Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster.

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HATRED

[ 239 ] February 16, 2015 |

I wanted to elaborate on my earlier post because it’s a topic so ripe for discussion. See, I like lots of stuff that is problematic. Some of it is mildly problematic. Some of it is “Sin City.” But the bottom line is I can’t afford to–nor would I want to–run around with my hair on fire every time I see something I couldn’t find in my “Politically Correct Entertainment for Social Justice Warriors Handbook.”

So, apparently there’s this game called “Hatred” that was waiting to be greenlit. It was, thanks to the support of gobs of slobbering, neo-reactionary gator-gamers. Some people have described Hatred as a murder simulator. I’ve seen a snippet of the “game” and that appears to be a pretty accurate assessment. But here’s the twist ending you weren’t expecting: I think Hatred should be allowed to exist and I think gobs of slobbering gators should be allowed to support it just to be dickweasles and also because I am NOT THEIR MOM, DAMMIT. Hatred should exist. By the same token, I should be able to call it disgusting  and assume the people who play it are training for a murder spree. That’s how this whole “free to be you and me” thing works. You are allowed to have your gross entertainment–I am allowed to criticize your gross entertainment. Oh, and I’m also allowed to petition for better entertainment.

I could write  dozens of posts like this. I could talk about myriad examples of mildly and hugely problematic art that I enjoy. Because I want to put “paid” on the notion that people who critique art are out to censor and destroy controversial or trope-laden mediums–it’s an outright lie.

Out of curiosity, I was wondering if any of you enjoy problematic (on a large or small scale) entertainment. Let’s discuss!

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Today In Texas Justice

[ 26 ] February 16, 2015 |

As improbable as it might seem that Texas might be preparing to execute an innocent man, they very likely are:

Gannon’s reinvestigation of the Reed case will be shown in Monday night’s episode of Dead Again. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed about my reporting by A&E.) At the same time, Gannon’s conclusions, along with that of three of the country’s leading forensic pathologists who have studied the case, are at the heart of a new appeal on Reed’s behalf, filed on Thursday, February 12. The appeal argues that new scientific evidence proves conclusively that the state’s theory of the murder is “medically and scientifically impossible,” and that Reed is, in fact, innocent.

Specifically, Gannon and the forensic experts have concluded that the state’s timeline for Stites’ death is off by several hours. They contend that the decomposing of Stites’ body — observed in crime scene photos and video — prove that she was murdered at least four hours earlier than the state claims. Moreover, they conclude that she was likely killed somewhere far from where her body was found.

Surely, the state would not allow such an in…sorry, I can’t even finish typing that.

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Drone Power!

[ 2 ] February 15, 2015 |

I have some thoughts on teh dronez:

What countries have made the most of the drone age?  Some of the answers are unsurprising; nations with huge investment capacity and ongoing military conflicts have obvious advantages in the ability to develop drones, and to develop ways of using them for strategic purpose.  This article looks at the five nations that have most effectively taken advantage of the Golden Age of the Drone, with more of an emphasis on how these countries have managed innovation, organization, and deployment than on the characteristics of specific weapons.

 

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On Liking Problematic Entertainment

[ 105 ] February 15, 2015 |

I decided I have to talk about this because there’s been a weird convergence of events concerning problematic entertainment. Following #GamerGate, I’ve learned that people who want video games to be more inclusive and less sexist are–without fail–characterized as wanting to censor and irreparably harm the gaming industry.  Following the hubbub surrounding the release of “50 Shades” I’ve learned that women who like the book/film are admitting to a secret desire to be guided by the masterful hand of a strong yet loving asshole. I didn’t know assholes had hands, but in this crazy new video game-destroying, secret-subsmissive world, I suppose anything is possible.

These conversations are so dumb because they’re completely devoid of nuance. I don’t game, but I know that if I did I’d want to play games that aren’t heavy on hooker-killing. And, yeah, I’ll admit it: I’d probably want to play a character that doesn’t have gravity-defying grapefruits as breasts.  If you’re a normal person, you might read this and think “Fair enough. Maybe we need to tweak the way we think about video games and who’s playing them.” But if you’re a Gator, you pretended to read that as “I hate all video games and think that all problematic video games should be destroyed.” Yeah, no. I think that even problematic games should be allowed to exist. I just think there need to be choices out there for everyone who’s gaming; developers need to understand that it’s not just straight white dudes who game. To its credit, I think the industry is waking up to that fact…which is why #GamerGate is a thing.

“50 Shades” is something that should be in my wheelhouse. In fact, when blogs started covering the movie release, I was excited because I thought–for once–here’s a subject where I am–for all intents and purposes–the geek. I’m the person who knows romance novels. I’m the person who can talk with authority about this phenomenon. Well, no. I didn’t read the book. I tried to, but found it bad even by my admittedly lax standards. I found it corny and poorly-written. Then I read second-hand accounts of the story that described the hero as abusive. If the excerpts I’ve read are representative, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. And while I’m guessing that his abuse exists in a prettied up, “sexy”, gray (yes) space, I think folks who say the book is problematic are probably on to something.

HOWEVER, I don’t think that if a woman enjoys the book she is a stupid dumb secretly kinky submissive idiot who wants a man to tell her to her eat her broccoli, dammit, and like it. (Is there a sexy broccoli-eating in scene in the book? I don’t know–I can only hope.) I’m guessing that most of the women who could make it through the book either glossed over Grey’s jerky behavior, didn’t recognize it as occasionally awful, or did but simply enjoyed other elements of the story enough to excuse its icky bits.

Furthermore, it’s a STORY. It’s fiction. It’s about an impossibly handsome 27-year-old billionaire who takes a liking to this “hey, you could be this chick” chick for reasons that are beyond me. It’s ludicrous. It’s silly. I imagine for the women who liked the book, it’s transporting. When you’re reading, you’re transported to a world where impossibly handsome billionaires are obsessed with sexing you up and only your sweet loving will tame them. It’s flattering.

The bottom line is that we all like things that are problematic, because we have to. As things stand now, we just do. Things aren’t written/drawn/created/produced according the dictates of some politically correct manifesto. And as annoying as many of us social justice warriors are I’m not sure we’d even want them to be.

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