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Fox News is trying its hand at comedy again…

[ 44 ] June 11, 2015 |

…and the results are predictably awful:

Wednesday’s “Fox & Friends” featured the show’s hosts having a conversation with Colin Quinn about Jerry Seinfeld’s recent complaint that political correctness has ruined comedy. Elisabeth Hasselbeck, in particular, didn’t seem to know what comedy even was, asking questions of the sort one would expect from an alien anthropologist who barely passed her required “Human Culture” courses. “Do you feel that you’re being more and more restricted in your art, your profession, and what you do, and your freedom?” she asked, as if she knew those words were related, but only theoretically.

That’s because for conservatives like her and her co-hosts, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, a “sense of humor” isn’t about what’s actually funny, but about what awful thoughts they possess that comedy would provide them the “freedom” to express aloud without facing public opprobrium…
I’m sure Jeff Goldstein — God rest his self-beknighted soul — thinks differently.

I’m not going to say that this is the best thing ever…

[ 35 ] June 11, 2015 |

…but this is the best thing ever:

Of course, I’m a confabulist who invents improbable happenings about himself in order to satisfy his insatiable hatted ego, etc. etc. etc.

Fast Food Nation

[ 156 ] June 10, 2015 |


I find it fascinating that as the lower end fast food chains find their sales slipping, a solution is to create the most ridiculous and/or disgusting food possible. Such is the new Pizza Hut hot dog pizza. I never thought I would object to mustard on anything, but I guess I am wrong.

I would like to point out that I am the founder of sabermetrics

[ 80 ] June 10, 2015 |

bill james

When I was in college in the 1980s, i.e., before anyone had even heard of the statistical analysis of baseball, Sports Illustrated printed a letter of mine in which I pointed out that the common belief that Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record because, unlike Willie Mays, he got a big boost from his home parks, wasn’t supported by the statistics. These showed that Aaron actually hit a lower percentage of his home runs at home than Mays did (Although Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta was a hitter’s park, Milwaukee, where Aaron played in his prime years, wasn’t).

Reason: Let’s talk about the state of contemporary feminism. You have been in a public life or in an intellectual life since the late 1960s, a proud feminist, often reviled by other feminists. . .

Camille Paglia: Feminism has gone through many phases. Obviously the woman’s suffrage movement of the 19th century fizzled after women gained the right to vote through the constitutional amendment in 1920. Then the movement revived in the 1960s through Betty Freidan co-founding [the National Organization for Women] in 1967. I preceded all that. I’m on record with a letter in Newsweek—I was in high school in 1963—where I called for equal rights for American women.

The whole interview is like that.

[SL]: While Paglia assuredly invented feminism, literary criticism, profiling public figures using quarter-assed pop psychology, contrarianism, and self-promotion, we must remember that she didn’t invent same-sex marriage. That was Michael Kinsley.


[ 64 ] June 10, 2015 |


Sadly, the New York Times Disunion series has come to an end. I was hoping it would continue into Reconstruction, as the union was not exactly reunited immediately when the war ended and in many ways Reconstruction is as important as the Civil War for understanding modern America.

Of course, the series was really at its peak in late 2010 and early 2011 as the paper chronicled the daily events of the union falling apart. Naturally enough, there weren’t enough stories and authors to really keep up at that pace for the next four years, but consistently solid articles continued to be published, many of which I have linked to here.

Roe in the Cross-hairs

[ 134 ] June 10, 2015 |


Yesterday, the Fifth Circuit upheld the Texas near-ban on abortion. So either Kennedy is going to have to agree to give Casey some actual content, or admit that Roe is effectively overruled:

In 1992, the supreme court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v Casey nominally upheld Roe v Wade, but it replaced Roe’s clear rules with a holding that abortion regulations, even in the first trimester of pregnancy, were unconstitutional only if they constituted an “undue burden”. As applied by federal courts, the Casey standard has been a disaster, allowing states to pass increasingly restrictive rules.

The three judges who wrote the fifth circuit opinion – all nominated, you’ll be shocked to discover, by George W Bush – make good use out of the extent to which the supreme court has undermined Roe in the name of saving it. The opinion is appalling if you care about the equality and autonomy of American women, but it’s not stupid. It’s written in a way designed to appeal to Anthony Kennedy, the only member of the Casey majority still on the court, and the swing vote in abortion cases.

Casey’s biggest sin was ruling that Pennsylvania’s 24-hour waiting period was constitutional. As the fifth circuit opinion observes, the Casey decision acknowledged that the regulation would be “particularly burdensome” for poor rural women and conceded that it would have “the effect of increasing the cost and risk of delay of abortions.” And yet, justices still found that it was not an undue burden. The road between this and So what if women in west Texas have to drive 150 miles to find an abortion clinic? is shorter than it should be.

This reasoning doesn’t guarantee a supreme court ruling in favor of HB2 – the Texas regulations are more restrictive in their cumulative impact than the waiting period and the other regulations upheld in Casey. But Casey put a loaded weapon in the hands of opponents of safe, legal abortions, and the fifth circuit has now pointed it squarely at the reproductive freedom of American women.

So the access many American women will have to safe abortions will now rest on the most conservative member of the Casey triad. What could possib-lie go wrong?

Pelosi and the TPP

[ 21 ] June 10, 2015 |

It’s becoming increasingly clear that fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership is going to pass and it’s going to include the Trade Adjustment Assistance as a sop to American workers. That Nancy Pelosi is working hard to round up Democratic votes in the House to support Obama’s agenda here provides more evidence for this outcome.


[ 41 ] June 10, 2015 |

I’m sure he’ll enjoy life on the wingnut welfare circuit.

The Historical Roots of McKinney

[ 79 ] June 9, 2015 |


A scene from the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, which started when whites stoned a young black man to death for swimming in white-only waters in Lake Michigan

Historian Victoria Wolcott:

“When pools have been opened on a nonsegregated basis,” noted one legal scholar in 1954, “either under legal compulsion or by voluntary action, disturbances have resulted more frequently than in any other instances of desegregation.” Whites threw nails at the bottom of pools, poured bleach on black bathers, or simply beat them up. In the late 1940s there were major swimming pool riots in St. Louis, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

And despite civil rights statutes in many states the law did not come to African Americans’ aid. In Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, the chairman of the Charlotte Park and Recreation Commission in 1960 admitted that “all people have a right under law to use all public facilitates including swimming pools.” But he went on to point out that “of all public facilities, swimming pools put the tolerance of the white people to the test.” His conclusion was predictable: “Public order is more important than rights of Negroes to use public facilities and any admission of Negroes must be within the bounds of the willingness of white people to observe order or the ability of police to enforce it.” In practice black swimmers were not admitted to pools if the managers felt “disorder will result.” Disorder and order defined accessibility, not the law.

Only after decades of persistent activism did these barriers begin to fall. But instead of whites and blacks swimming and playing together recreational facilities in American cities have been defunded and apartheid continues to mark the recreational landscape. By the 1970s the virulent racism so common earlier in the century had been replaced by a colorblind discourse suggesting that choices about where to live, work, and play were individual decisions separate from the legacy of racism. But there are moments when one hears the direct echo of those earlier struggles. In 2009, for example, the owner of a private swim club in Philadelphia excluded black children attending a Philadelphia day care center, saying they would change the “complexion” of the club. And now in a wealthy subdivision outside of Dallas police target black teenagers and some in the surrounding community make it clear they – the black children – are not welcome.

Pools have long been fraught with racial tension, as have other swimming sites such as lakes and rivers, which led to the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. Why access to water specifically creates such anxiety over race, I’m not really sure.

Prison Break

[ 106 ] June 9, 2015 |

Obviously, there’s nothing remotely funny about two murderers being at large, and I hope they are captured before anyone gets hurt. But this really is an incredible story.


[ 42 ] June 9, 2015 |

I’m not sure which story I enjoy more — the one about the man who requested a “summer break” from his federal conviction saying that other criminals downplay the severity of their crimes or the one about the evangelical preacher who left one bank because it was gay friendly only to deposit his father’s money in another that’s gay friendlier.

NYU and the art of the gouge

[ 113 ] June 9, 2015 |


I have a piece on a protest being launched by more than 400 NYU faculty members to the so-called Sexton Plan, aka John Sexton’s ongoing transformation of NYU into a kind of real estate hedge fund backed by federal educational loans:

Prostitution comes in many forms. Consider the story of a New York University student, who finds that her school — the most expensive in the country — has raised prices yet again, and that she needs $2,000 she doesn’t have to remain enrolled. She visits the financial aid office, where an administrator literally laughs in her face. “He couldn’t believe,” she says, “that anyone would have trouble raising such a small amount.”

Desperate, she turns to Seeking Arrangement, an Internet site where rich, often married, older men search for young women who are willing to “date” them in exchange for various gifts. The NYU student felt she had no choice in the matter: “It was either that, or drop out” she says. She soon discovers she’s not alone: “It was a hard choice; and I’m not the only one who had to make it. When I finally got the nerve to tell my roommates I’d been doing it, they told me they’d been doing it too.”

This cautionary tale from the new Gilded Age is just one of several similarly disturbing stories from “The Art of the Gouge,” a 14,000-word report published by a group of more than 400 NYU faculty members. They are fed up with seeing a distinguished research university transformed into a multi-billion dollar student loan-funded vehicle for real estate speculation — one used by top administrators to pay themselves seven-figure salaries, as well as other lavish perks.

The faculty’s protests are focused on the so-called Sexton Plan. NYU’s president John Sexton is pushing to expand the university’s already-extensive investments in Manhattan real estate by spending mind-boggling sums on yet more Greenwich Village projects, including $1 billion on a single new building.

Of course NYU is just somewhat ahead of the curve, as the MMB consultants would put it:

Now in a sense it’s unfair to single out NYU, since the school under Sexton has merely been engaging in a somewhat more extreme version of the incredibly expensive pursuit of ever-more revenue that has consumed so much of contemporary American higher education.

For example, Yale’s tax filings have just revealed that the school gave departing president Richard Levin an $8.5 million going-away present when he retired in 2013. The lump sum payment — given to an administrator who had been drawing a salary of more than $1 million per year — was defended on the basis of the claim that, comparatively speaking, Levin had been working for Yale practically for free: “He could have been in investment banking, he could have been in venture capital, he could have run a corporation,” claimed former Proctor & Gamble CEO and Disney chairman John Pepper, who was part of the managing board that approved the payment. “Obviously, if he’d gone into other fields, the compensation would be orders of magnitude greater.”

This is all part and parcel of the increasing corporatization of the American university: Just as in the case of grotesquely overcompensated CEOs, we must pay university administrators millions, because the logic of “the market” dictates that it’s necessary to do so to compete for supposedly scarce talent.

The consequences of all this for the American university are far-reaching:

The invidious effects of this money-mad system are legion. A relatively trivial one is reflected in Pepper’s rationalization for Levin’s compensation: because university presidents spend all day and half the night sucking up to billionaires, they feel poor when they get paid a lousy $1 million per year.

A far more serious problem is the unspoken, and even to some extent unconscious, incentives and distortions created by a system in which university budgets become increasingly dependent on the continuing generosity of the wealthiest Americans. Those incentives rarely come in the form of an explicit quid pro quo. But one doesn’t have to be a young woman in desperate financial straits to realize that rich old men generally expect to get something for their money.

In this regard, the contemporary university increasingly finds itself “seeking arrangements,” as it were, that inevitably lead it into various compromising political, ethical, and intellectual positions.

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