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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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Steve Montador, Memorable Minor Players, and the Concussion Crisis

[ 17 ] February 15, 2015 |

If you’re a sports fan, you almost certainly maintain affectionate memories not only for great players but for journeyman players who had memorable moments. When the Flames made an upset run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004, they lost a couple defensemen, and had to plug a couple of very raw young players into the lineup. One of them, Steve Montador, played a surprisingly strong game in the last NHL playoff game I saw live, when Calgary eliminated Detroit in overtime Game 6. (After maybe an hour of sleep, I flew back to Seattle at 7AM the next morning and delivered what I’m sure was a stirring lecture on the Mongolian judicial system that afternoon.) And then, in Game 1 of the conference finals against San Jose, Montador had a moment no fan of the team at that time will ever forget:

I remember it like it was yesterday: the brutal Sharks line change, the beautiful feed from Iginla, the minor-hockey beaver tail from Montador (which you can see Sutter and his assistants laughing about on the replay.) This wasn’t the beginning of a great career, but it was an admirable one all the same — an undrafted player who played almost 600 NHL games as was well-liked wherever he went.

Montador died today — he was only 35. He had severe problems with concussions at the end of his career, so it’s hard not to speculate, but at this time the cause is unknown. R.I.P.

I need to write a longer post about this, but John Branch’s Boy On Ice — about the premature death of Derek Boogaard, based on his superb NYT series – is very much worth reading for those interested in the concussion crisis in pro sports.

…good related interview with Darryl Sutter. More here.

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Yay, At Least Another Year of Gross Media Malpractice

[ 75 ] February 15, 2015 |

So if I can follow the guilt-by-association logic here, Stephen Hawking, Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker are pedophiles and therefore Hillary Clinton is unfit to be president. And then there’s the laziness: most of it just recycles the Todd Purdum article that was utter crap in 2008 and hasn’t become less so in the meantime.

Here’s the thing: Bill Clinton cannot be held responsible for the bad actions of people he’s flown on planes with. And while I know we all have to pretend that being a bad spouse must make you a bad public official although this is rather obviously false, I think people treating vague rumors about Bill Clinton’s sex life as being relevant should at least have to make an argument about how it disqualifies Hillary Clinton — who, as best as this blog can determine, is a different person — from office.

It’s going to be a long 1-9 years.

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The Paternalist Alphabet

[ 19 ] February 15, 2015 |

In the 1910s, as workers around the nation were organizing and striking with greater militancy, employers and the government finally began to pay attention to their plight. That certainly didn’t mean that employers would accept unions. But it did mean that employers began seeking ways to siphon off discontent before it led to worker activism. One of the biggest issues in many industries was health and safety. Working conditions were terrible throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By 1911, states began passing workers’ compensation laws that forced employers into a limited liability for the workers who were injured or killed on the job (health issues were still uncovered). Many employers supported these laws, not because they cared about workers dying on the job, but because after 1900 workers’ lawsuits against companies were increasingly successful and costly.

So many employers, especially in dangerous industries like mining and logging, began implementing company safety programs. These were usually limited, sought to blame workers for their own accidents, and kept control over their implementation firmly in the hands of corporate managers. But they were still better than what existed before. These programs were part of the broader phenomenon of company unions and corporate paternalism that arose in the wake of Ludlow, when John D. Rockefeller Jr. took unprecedented public criticism for the way his company had treated workers. These programs often had a cultural side to them. And thus I present you an alphabet of safety prepared for workers by the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) in 1915. I am taking this from Alan Derickson, Workers’ Health Workers’ Democracy: The Western Miners’ Struggle, 1891-1925

A is for accident which we try to avoid
B is for bandage which should be employed
C is for care and carelessness too
D is for damage which from the latter ensue
E is for eyes which goggles protect
F is for feet you must not neglect
G is for ginmill which we do abhor
H is for habit throw it out the door
I is for insurance which you do collect
J is for Jay who insurance does neglect
K is for kindness which cannot be bought
L is for laborer which ‘sistance is sought
M is for manager whose friendship you make
N is for noodle which you must not break
O is for optimist be glad your alive
P is for pension for which all do strive
Q is for quarrels which we do not like
R is for ringleader a good man to spike
S is for superintendent not a bad guy
T is for town to keep it spotless we try
U is for united which we all strive to be
V is for villain who will not agree
W is for willing this our men we do find
X is for xylophone played by some at night time
Y is for yap who always is late
Z is for zealous for this you get great

Subtle, I know. Between pushing blame for accidents on workers in (c), attacking alcohol in (g) and (h) and reminding workers and probably themselves that they were great guys in (m) and (s), this is quite the blunt instrument. Also, the writers of this couldn’t quite figure (x) out to where it could be even remotely relevant.

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The Left Front

[ 13 ] February 15, 2015 |

Last weekend I was in New York for the Jason Isbell show (which I did not think was all that good. As much as I like his songs, playing 8 straight quiet acoustic songs in a big theater does not make for a particularly great live experience. Although anytime I can hear “Codeine” live, I can’t complain too much). Anyway, the other thing I did while I was there was visit the excellent new exhibit at the Grey Art Gallery at NYU titled “The Left Front: Radical Art in the Red Decade, 1929-1940.” This exhibit, I think originally put together by a museum in Chicago, is an outstanding collection of American communist art from the Depression. I was struck by how much more interesting this art was when it was organically responding to conditions in the United States than the Popular Front of the late 30s when everyone had to work to support the Spanish fighting Franco. Probably my favorite piece was a painting of a couple of Stalinists throwing some serious shade at a follower of Jay Lovestone walking past them after Lovestone was expelled from the party. Really, we need more art detailing obscure left sectarian splits. You can view some of the works (alas not the Lovestoneite one) at the link above. If you are in New York or happen to be wandering through, it’s a worthy $3 to see the exhibit.

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And Don’t Kid Yourself, King and Lincoln Would Have Praised Shelby County

[ 50 ] February 15, 2015 |

From the party that brought you the Martin Luther King whose public career consisted of a one-sentence speech, I guess “Abraham Lincoln: Neoconfederate” isn’t that much of a stretch.

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“A Sammy Hagar lookalike pushes your face into a leather bag filled with oil…”

[ 20 ] February 15, 2015 |

Low-hanging fruit, I know, but well-turned.

[Target of parody.]

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Saturday Night Fun

[ 83 ] February 14, 2015 |

Nothing could be a better Valentine’s Day treat than reading John Nolte review Fifty Shades of Grey. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but you may not be surprised that he uses it to attack feminism.

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Heritage Not Hate, Brazilian Style

[ 10 ] February 14, 2015 |


As many of you know, the response of some Confederate planters to the defeat of their treasonous actions was to decamp with their slaves to Brazil and start over. Today, there are neo-Confederate celebrations in the Brazilian towns they started. When you combine Confederate nostalgia with Brazil’s myth of racial democracy and that nation’s continued problems with forced labor, things get weird.

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Maureen Dowd’s Greatest Misses, Part II

[ 121 ] February 14, 2015 |

The recent Maureen Dowd post caused numerous people to mention other salient examples from her immense body of terrible work.  A couple strands are worth particular emphasis.

First Pareene had an excellent roundup of her remarkable history of distorting quotes.  Really, more than one of these should be firable offense, even if the rest of her work actually had merit.  And they’re never innocent mistakes — the dishonesty is always in the direction of the narrative she’s pushing.  “Who among us doesn’t like NASCAR?” is the classic example.  Leaving aside the consistent journalistic malpractice, this should also remind us that the idea that she has some kind of shrewd insight into people’s character is risible.  Her narratives are always the stalest, shallowest spin that’s already been established by flacks of the public official’s opponents.  “Al Gore is a soulless, goody-goody liar.” “George W. Bush is an amiable dunce.”  “John Kerry is an effete snob.”  “John Edwards is a pretty boy with a fancy haircut and a big house.”  “Barack Obama is a cold wimp.”  (In fairness, I’ll grant that “Bill deBlasio’s wife doesn’t know her place” is pretty much her own, although not to her credit.)  There’s nothing in her columns that you wouldn’t “learn”  if you spent a few minutes watching “consultants” yell at each other on bad cable news shows.

We discussed this at the time, but the other classic example was when Sandy Hook showed that there’s a first time for everything: in this case, Maureen Dowd caring about a public policy issue.   The first why she could have proceeded is to do some homework, try to find it if any feasible policy changes could have…hahahaha, OK, let’s be a little more realistic.  The political questions surrounding the issue — why couldn’t even the most popular gun control measure pass? — are still interesting, albeit not terribly complicated for anyone who paid some measure of attention to how Congress operates prior to 2013.  Her response, alas, was to wonder why the political team that got comprehensive health care reform passed where Truman and Clinton failed and LBJ didn’t. even. try. didn’t keep track of which Senate votes were needed.  I swear.  And this “analysis” is not just implicitly based on Aaron Sorkin scripts; it’s openly and explicitly based on Aaron Sorkin scripts, which indeed seem to be Dowd’s sole basis for political “knowledge.”

The fact that Dowd has been given large amounts of money to ostensibly write about politics by the nation’s best newspaper for more than two decades says a lot, and none of it is good.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that she’s also the Judy Miller of love.  The ultra-ultra hard sell the NYT gave to Are Men Necessary? was sort of their equivalent to Mouthpiece Theater.

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Class Warfare

[ 62 ] February 14, 2015 |

Watching how Republican presidential possibilities have been talking in the last couple of weeks, it’s pretty clear that they are going to focus on income inequality, but define income inequality as a problem that exists because the rich pay too much in taxes and the poor don’t pay enough. I know this sounds like a terrible strategy for the Republicans, and maybe it is, but I do believe in their ability to obfuscate an issue and twist meanings that the message of income inequality I hope the Democrats run on in 2016 will have a lot of difficulty motivating the public. In any case, reinventing the reasons for income inequality to fit Republican preferences to concentrate resources among the 1 percent is just another front in that party’s class warfare it has declared on working and middle class Americans. Krugman expands on how Republican governance is an exercise in fleecing the poor:

So, can anyone show me an example of a prominent Republican politician proposing anything that would reduce after-tax-and-transfer inequality? Bank shots don’t count — saying that slashing food stamps will help the poor by making them less dependent, or that cutting capital gains taxes will bring the confidence fairy to everyone’s door, don’t qualify. On the other hand, I’m not demanding that every part of a politician’s program reduce the Gini coefficient, or even that the overall program have that effect. I just want to see one significant piece that goes in that direction.

Maybe there’s something out there, but if so, I haven’t heard about it. Even when there’s something that sounds like it might be in that direction — say, Paul Ryan proposing that the EITC be extended to childless workers — there’s no talk of an increase in funding, so it’s coming at the expense of current recipients.

As I see it, this is the acid test — not because redistribution is always the most important thing, but because it’s how you see whether reformicons (no, spell check, I do *not* mean “reform icons”) are willing to do anything beyond putting the same old pro-plutocratic policies in new bottles. Show me the downward-flowing money!

Of course there’s isn’t any downward-floating money. Nor will there be any. And the same will be the case if a Republican wins in 2016, despite their attempt to co-opt the issue of income inequality.

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A Comrade’s Valentine’s Day

[ 26 ] February 14, 2015 |

Are you a Maoist who celebrates Valentine’s Day? Then Freedom Road has some slogans for your day:

Unite world-wide under the magnificent blood-red banner of revolutionary sex/love unfurled by Comrade Valentine!

Uphold in word and practice the Comrade Valentine’s Day slogan spontaneously raised by the broad proletarian masses in North America: Dare to Snuggle, Dare to Sin!!

Rely on Comrade Valentine’s vanguard line of Revolutionary Romanticism to challenge and defeat all reactionary and theocratic assaults against women and LGBTQ folk!!!

Usefully translated into Croatian and Swedish as well. Why those languages? Who knows.

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