PREPPING FOR ANOTHER AUDITION
...so, as usual, no post. I'll be back tomorrow, though. Wish me luck!
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
NO, YOU HAVE THE BURDEN OF PROOF.
Sexism Fatigue: When Seth MacFarlane Is a Complete Ass and You Don’t Even Notice
I am tired of being called a shrieking harridan for pointing out inequalities so tangible and blatant that they are regularly codified into law. I am tired of being told to provide documentation of inequality in the comments sections of a website where a staff of smart women documents inequality as fast as our fingers can move. Like, you might as well write me a note on a banana peel demanding that I prove to you that bananas exist. I am tired of being asked to "cite sources" proving that sexism is real (that RAPE is real, even!), because there is no way to concisely cite decades and decades of rigorous academia. Allow me to point at the fucking library. We can't cite "everything," and our challengers know that. It's an insulting diversionary tactic, it's an attempt to drag us all backwards, and fuck it. Do your own research like the rest of the grown-ups.
My old friend Stefanie sent me the link to this after reading and commenting on my post from yesterday, which I recycled for facebook. Here's how I responded:
Sexism in the United States is so embedded, so ongoing and long-standing, and so extraordinarily well documented, that the burden of proof in any arguments about it automatically falls on the people who dismiss our sexist state of affairs. She's absolutely right. Arguing about the existence of sexism at all is a total chump's game. It's like arguing about global warming or evolution or the shape of the Earth. I have problems getting this across even to enlightened liberal (male) friends of mine, and I've already got lots of facts in my head ready to counter the old BS.'Nuff said.
The bottom line is that it is impossible to "win" an argument with a person who has his head so far up his butt that he doesn't know that he lost the argument before it started.
My current strategy for this situation is to listen to what the other side is saying, looking for irrationalities and weaknesses in hopes of exposing it all as the absurdity it is. Frontal assaults don't work with this mind set. They're being driven by something deep within the subconscious, I think, and it's almost impossible to get them to listen to reason. That, and to speak as authoritatively and aggressively about sexism as I possibly can: sexism is a fact of American life, and we're drowning in it; YOU have to prove ME wrong because this is self-evident.
Of course, I have no idea if that strategy will ever bear any fruit. But I do know that simply telling people that sexism is alive and well in the twenty first century doesn't seem to be changing any minds. In the end, what it's going to take is for men to stand in women's shoes for a while, to see what that kind of humiliation and oppression is about first hand. I got lucky, myself, in that I ended up dating a young feminist when I was a sophomore in college who called me out on my sexist humor. I had gay guys in the theater department at Texas hitting on me from time to time, and I had the realization that my discomfort with the situation was probably akin to what women feel all the time. I participated in film class discussions with feminist women who, in the end, had the best points, and I didn't like losing the argument. But I can't expect most American men to be as lucky as I was.
And, you know, there are lots of women who don't seem to understand what's going on, too. Sexism may very well continue to exist long after we've passed away.
Posted by Ron at 1:03 AM
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars’ Hostile, Ugly, Sexist Night
From the New Yorker courtesy of a facebook friend:
Watching the Oscars last night meant sitting through a series of crudely sexist antics led by a scrubby, self-satisfied Seth MacFarlane. That would be tedious enough. But the evening’s misogyny involved a specific hostility to women in the workplace, which raises broader questions than whether the Academy can possibly get Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to host next year. It was unattractive and sour, and started with a number called “We Saw Your Boobs.”
“We Saw Your Boobs” was as a song-and-dance routine in which MacFarlane and some grinning guys named actresses in the audience and the movies in which their breasts were visible. That’s about it. What made it worse was that most of the movies mentioned, if not all (“Gia”), were pretty great—“Silkwood,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Monster’s Ball,” “Monster,” “The Accused,” “Iris”—and not exactly teen-exploitation pictures.
The main misogynistic awfulness was centered on the workplace. There might have been a slight dread that MacFarlane would make a waterboarding joke, but he didn’t—maybe he felt that Senator Richard Burr, of North Carolina, had taken care of that at the Brennan hearings. But since so much of MacFarlane’s humor was rote and derivative, it’s more likely that he just stopped at the idea that “Zero Dark Thirty” was about “every woman’s innate ability to never ever let anything go.” That’s what it means when a woman in the office believes in something, and presses for it? There was a joke, too, about Jennifer Aniston not admitting having worked as an “exotic dancer”—and at that point MacFarlane had already more or less called Meryl Streep one. It’s possible that the line about not caring that he couldn’t understand a word that Penelope Cruz or Salma Hayek said because they were good to look at was directed as much at Latinos as at women, since he also mentioned Javier Bardem—but that doesn’t make it any better. What are women in Hollywood for? To judge from a few other MacFarlane jokes, they’re for dating men in Hollywood, until the men decide that they’re too old.
Posted by Ron at 2:36 AM
Monday, February 25, 2013
The Dirty Secret of Downton Abbey
In the world of "Downton Abbey," the classical liberal is the hero. It is he who will save the arch-conservative from his excesses, and if said conservative can get with the program, from financial ruin. Cousin Matthew, the benevolent middle-class modernizer who arrives to inherit the ancient estate, is the hope of the future. Tom, the revolutionary chauffer, is absorbed into the aristocratic family fold where his radical speeches yield little more than a crisp: “Are you quite finished?” by the Dowager. Feminist advances consist of young ladies gaining permission to wear sassy dresses and engage in journalism while having their underwear ironed daily (cue Roiphe’s sigh). Being gay is anachronistically rendered a suitable topic for polite conversation, and all is right in BBC-PBS realm. As Matthew maps out his plans for the estate, you can almost hear the strains of Phil Ochs’ “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” in the background as noblesse oblige gives way to capitalist innovation that has rendered the current underclasses of both Britain and America little better off than their forebearers.
If we look closely, we can see, in the form of Matthew, that something is lurching toward us to be born. Some rough beast that eventually emerges to replace the pompous conservatism of the landed aristocrats with the chill robotic efficiency of the supply-side capitalist. Classical liberalism, which took its inspiration from Bentham and the Mills’ emphasis on utility as opposed to custom and later the belief in unrestrained self-interest, opposed the ancient privileges of the aristocracy. But it also tended toward the protection of the new privilege of the capitalist. Over several generations, it threw labor just enough bones to keep it from revolting, and then, when the threat of communism subsided, largely abandoned it. The Matthews, in just a few generations, produced the Thatchers, the Reagans, and the Romneys. That is the dirty secret at the heart of "Downton Abbey."
Okay, this is all true. Can't disagree with any of it. Downton Abbey, in the end, does not provide the kind of picture of the class struggle I'd like to see. But four episodes into the first season I think it's safe to say that it very definitely presents a picture, at least, of the class struggle. And for my money that puts the show light years ahead of anything else on television: acknowledging at all that social class exists, that it shapes our lives and opportunities, that it results in winners and losers, and making it a part of its continuing narrative, is something that you just don't see anywhere else.
Part of the reason why Downton Abbey can do this is because it airs on public television. TV in the United States, almost without exception, isn't much more than a sophisticated marketing device. That is, the whole point, usually, is to attract people to advertising with entertainment as bait. So you don't want the bait spoiling the overall purpose, which is why you rarely see images or encounter ideas that might make viewers question the whole capitalism thing. No, advertisers want people to buy stuff, and to aspire to buy even more stuff. Juxtaposing the haves against the have-nots, people who cannot possibly aspire to buy even more stuff, gets in the way. So, generally, we only see affluent people on television. Even the poor people are doing pretty well most of the time, when they're not just stage props. You NEVER see anybody questioning the system. But PBS, which is funded by viewer and corporate donations, is somewhat insulated from the pro-capitalist imperative of television. I mean, all the corporate donations PBS receives make the situation somewhat problematic, but there is definitely more freedom to rock the boat in this context.
But yeah, Downton doesn't do much more than rock the boat a bit. I mean, PBS is beholden, to an extent, to those corporate donors, so there's no way they're going to stick a stake into capitalism's heart live on television. PBS is also a professional organization, one relying overwhelmingly on white collar workers who see their fates tied with the same bourgeois white collar workers running the day to day operations of the corporations who fund the public television network. No surprise that white collar worker Matthew Crawley is an early good guy for the show; he's just like the people running PBS, just like their counterparts in the for-profit sector. Actually, there's an overall media bias toward this particular social class simply because this is the social class that operates the media, whether it's ESPN or NBC or NPR. So yeah, thus far in my viewing, there really does seem to be a rah-rah capitalism element deeply embedded in the show.
Really, the social class getting the short end of the stick is the old European aristocracy, which barely even exists anymore, and certainly has no defenders in the US, so it's pretty easy to take pot shots at them. But don't get me wrong; I have as little sympathy for old money as I do for our own 1%, the American business-fueled nouveau riche. It's just that it would be nice to see some pot shots taken at the capitalist class, as well, which was already in full swing totally exploiting and oppressing the working class by 1913, the year in which Downton's first season is set, instead of setting them up as implicit heroes. On the other hand, I think, given decades of anti-communist and anti-socialist hardcore propaganda and oppression, that's a bit too much to expect. That is, you've got to crawl before you can run.
The bottom line is that Downton Abbey, for me, goes a very long way, relative to the overall television landscape, toward exposing class relationships, which, in the US, ostensibly do not exist. America is supposed to be a "classless society," which is, of course, a very useful fiction for the capitalist class. So when we watch the show, and see it all laid out in front of us, and it feels familiar because, in spite of the "classless" lie, our lives aren't too terribly different from the lives lived by these characters, we have taken an enormous cognitive step forward in bringing reality to the surface. Socioeconomic class really does exist. Some people live in opulent splendor, while millions more live on the edge. This is not a flight of the imagination.
This is all a very good start, I think.
Posted by Ron at 2:46 AM
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Richard Wolff on Fighting for Economic Justice and Fair Wages
From Moyers and Company:
After the war, I think our history is the history of a destruction of the Communist and Socialist parties first and foremost, and of the labor movement shortly thereafter. So that we now have a crisis without the mechanism of pressure from below. And that may look to those on top as an advantage because they don't have that problem.
They don't have a C.I.O. They don't have Socialists and Communists, the way they do in Europe. But I think it's a Pyrrhic victory, because what you're teaching the mass of the American people is that politics, debate, and struggle, is a dead end. And if you think people are just going to sink into resignation, that's wishful thinking. They're going to find other ways to protest against the system like this, because the pressures are building in that direction. I think this is a capitalism that I would say has lost its sense of its social conditions, its social limits. It's killing the mass support without which it cannot survive.
So it is creating tensions and hostilities that will take left wing, right wing, a variety of forms. But it's producing its own undoing and doesn't imagine it because it focuses so much on making more money in a normal way of business that it somehow occludes from itself. It doesn't see the larger social conditions and what its behavior is doing to them.
Watch the entire interview here. Full transcript here.
Wolff, a Marxist professor of economics, is rapidly becoming one of my go-to guys, and this interview serves as a compelling explanation as to why. He has a massive alternative critique, rooted in Marx, but very much of the now, of our current economic woes, and talks with Moyers about it for some forty five minutes. His reasoning makes more sense than any other critique I've read, including Krugman's: after destroying all political resistance, the masters of capital have squeezed workers almost as much as they can be squeezed, so much so that it is actually having adverse effects on the entire economic system. But the people who run the system simply cannot understand what is happening, almost as though they are on automatic pilot, and continue to do their work as they always have, which is leading the entire nation toward ever greater unrest and instability. And that's a critique that pretty much matches the facts on the ground as I understand them.
Of course, it's much more complicated than that, which is why you should check out the interview. It's not only worth it, but it is also the only way to really get a handle on what's going on right now. The mainstream media is too much inside the bubble to give an accurate representation of our system in crisis. So go check it out. You won't be disappointed.
Posted by Ron at 3:17 AM
Friday, February 22, 2013
Are Republican Brains Different?
For Republicans, the region of the brain that was most active during risky behavior was the right amygdala. This region of the brain is primarily responsible for producing fear, although it can also create anticipation of reward. It’s the part of the brain that teenagers often rely on to make decisions, one of the reasons that teens are more impulsive and aggressive than adults. The larger role of the amygdala in teenage brains—a role that diminishes as people reach their mid-20s—is one of the justifications for laws that prohibit people from drinking alcohol and doing other things until their early to mid-20s. (Apparently the U.S. military still doesn’t care whether its soldiers have brains that are able to mitigate impulsivity and aggression.) This higher level of activity in the amygdala in Republican brains is something that scientists have observed before, although not directly in this risk environment.
So, what does this mean? Is this a blank check to write off Republicans’ decisions as rash and fear-inspired? Not exactly, although it does begin to give us some clues into the human behavior that could be behind some of this year’s most important political battles. If anything, it helps put into context the insane debt ceiling / fiscal cliff / sequestration cut controversy, which is pretty much screaming Amygdala, Amygdala!
Years ago, I heard about a US psychological study done in the 1950s aimed at figuring out why the Soviets vetoed so many US sponsored UN resolutions. It looked at Russian child development issues to glean some insight into why as adults they would be so inclined to say "nyet" all the time. Of course, it was a bunch of bullshit. The Soviets simply saw things differently. They had different concerns, a different understanding of how the world works, all of which was entirely reasonable from their perspective. Unwilling to try to walk a mile in their shoes, however, the US establishment was truly befuddled by Soviet obstinance, and did stupid shit like psychoanalyzing them instead of making good faith efforts to work things out with the understanding that different peoples have different priorities and concerns.
These articles I've been reading in the liberal blogosphere over the last few years about the conservative brain remind me of this Cold War folly. Now don't get me wrong. I do think this is interesting and potentially valuable research. But what the hell are we supposed to do with it in the political realm? Okay, maybe this kind of information can help us craft better and more persuasive arguments, which is what Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff seems to doing, but the overall sense I get from most of these pieces is more of a pseudo-scientific triumphalism: conservatives are wrong because their brains are inferior to ours! These articles never come right out and say it, but they almost always focus on how right-wing brains seem to deviate from the norm, with liberal brains implicitly offered as what's normal.
This is dangerous for multiple reasons, with increased political and cultural tribalism being but one of them. But what really frightens me is that, when you're able to dismiss your political opponents' views as being psychologically deviant, there's no reason to do the hard work of better understanding those views so as to convince the other side to adopt yours. That is, when political ideology can be branded as mental illness, there can be no democracy.
Over the many years that I've been a liberal, I have readily agreed that, as with conservatives, there are definitely totalitarian strains on the left. These liberal-psychology-is-better articles appear to be a manifestation of those strains. And I don't like it one bit.
Posted by Ron at 2:29 AM
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Why Obama Should be Impeached
If the Constitution is to have any relevance, and if America is to remain a free society, then there is really no alternative: there must be a bill of impeachment drawn up and submitted in the House, and there must at least be a hearing on that bill in the House Judiciary Committee.
The disclosure, by NBC, of a so-called “white paper” by the White House offering the legal justification for the executing of American citizens solely on the authority of the executive branch and the president exposes a White House so blatantly in violation of the Constitution that it simply demands such a hearing.
Reliance on the AUMF for presidential executions such as that of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son means that President Obama, like President Bush before him, is claiming that the whole world (including the US) is a battlefield, and that he therefore has the absolute authority as Commander in Chief, to kill anyone , anywhere in the world, that he deems to be an enemy or a threat. But such a concept is a complete violation of international law and sovereignty as defined by the UN Charter, a solemn treaty to which the US is a signatory, making it a fundamental part of US law.
There is no way around it. This president is a grave violator of the law and of the US Constitution. Like George W. Bush before him, it is incumbent upon the Congress to establish whether his transgressions rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
So the President has claimed the authority to summarily execute US citizens without due process, and now we know it for sure. If you don't understand why this is an unthinkable atrocity, then you're not much of an American. It doesn't matter if a citizen is accused of terrorism. It doesn't matter that the White House has declared the entire world to be a "battlefield." It doesn't matter if such action is deemed to be "effective," whatever that might mean. It certainly doesn't matter if you think the President is on your side.
The US government must not deprive a citizen of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. To abandon such a concept is to abandon who we are as a people. It is to destroy America.
If we have any respect for the Constitution, if we care at all about our identity as a nation, if we respect justice, if we love freedom, the House of Representatives must impeach President Obama and put him on trial in the Senate, right now, just as they should have done with Bush and Cheney for their numerous abuses of power. That we did not do so with the previous administration is a telling sign that we will very likely not do so with the current administration. The only possible conclusion to be made from this is that America has already been destroyed.
And it was a bipartisan action.
Posted by Ron at 1:18 AM
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Monday, February 18, 2013
Raise That Wage
Unfortunately, it won't happen. Not at all. The House is now dominated by Republican men, who are unswayed by facts and studies. No, they prefer their mythology, and reality be damned. And fuck the poor. And that makes me wonder if Obama is even serious about this. Seems to me that this is a nice bone he can throw to the left, but it's something that he'll never have to take any heat for because he knows its DOA. I guess we'll see if he actually makes a push for it. I'm betting that he doesn't, and it goes into the SOTU dustbin, with trips to Mars and whatnot.
But at least we're talking about it. That's something.
Posted by Ron at 12:54 AM
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Fiscal trouble ahead for most future retirees
From the Washington Post:
For the first time since the New Deal, a majority of Americans are headed toward a retirement in which they will be financially worse off than their parents, jeopardizing a long era of improved living standards for the nation’s elderly, according to a growing consensus of new research.
The Great Recession and the weak recovery darkened the retirement picture for significant numbers of Americans. And the full extent of the damage is only now being grasped by experts and policymakers.
There was already mounting concern for the long-term security of the country’s rapidly graying population. Then the downturn destroyed 40 percent of Americans’ personal wealth, while creating a long period of high unemployment and an environment in which savings accounts pay almost no interest. Although the surging stock market is approaching record highs, most of these gains are flowing to well-off Americans who already are in relatively good shape for retirement.
Liberal and conservative economists worry that the decline in retirement prospects marks a historic shift in a country that previously has fostered generations of improvement in the lives of the elderly. It is likely to have far-reaching implications, as an increasing number of retirees may be forced to double up with younger relatives or turn to social-service programs for support.
As economist Duncan Black, who, under the nom de plume "Atrios," writes my favorite blog Eschaton, has been observing a lot lately, the 401K experiment is now obviously a complete and total failure. And, in retrospect, that's absolutely no surprise: moving from guaranteed benefits to a market model requires a population of savvy investors, and obviously most people are not savvy investors. Indeed, we, as a society, don't even try to educate people about the boring and tedious information required to play the market successfully, nor do we portion out the wherewithal for individuals to undertake the second job that retirement planning essentially is. No, 401Ks, as an approach to retirement, was always a big scam, a way to get people to hand their money over to Wall Street. And, by that measure, it's been pretty successful. But as a way to provide for the elderly when they have reached retirement age, it's a disaster.
This will affect me, to be sure. I've got some money in an IRA at the moment, and, thank god, I haven't had to break into it to make ends meet. Yet. But it's not nearly enough. And my wages as a waiter aren't enough to really justify putting any more money into that account. I'll move onto a better work situation eventually, and will save like crazy, but it still won't be enough. And I'm better off than a lot of Americans.
There will be social unrest because of this. It's an issue that affects everyone, not just the elderly. And here the establishment sits contemplating cutting Social Security benefits. Wrong direction. What's totally fucked up is that a nation as wealthy as ours, with as many resources as we have, and with huge labor reserves, definitely has the ability to give everybody a comfortable retirement. But we don't. We let the rich get richer. We allow massive corporations to go without paying any income tax at all. We have an empire sized military, which benefits, in the end, only the wealthy and their investments abroad, but sucks the taxpayer dry.
Our national priorities, needless to say, are sick and twisted. Look for me to be manning the barricades in twenty years as a member of the New Gray Panthers. If I'm old and on the street, I'll have nothing to lose. So why not start some serious shit?
Posted by Ron at 3:05 AM
Friday, February 15, 2013
The Coming Evangelical Collapse
From the Christian Science Monitor courtesy of somebody on facebook:
Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.
The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.
The loss of their political clout may impel many Evangelicals to reconsider the wisdom of trying to create a "godly society." That doesn't mean they'll focus solely on saving souls, but the increasing concern will be how to keep secularism out of church, not stop it altogether. The integrity of the church as a countercultural movement with a message of "empire subversion" will increasingly replace a message of cultural and political entitlement.
As happy as it makes me to entertain the possibility that this cultural and intellectual blight on the face of America might soon evaporate into irrelevancy, I'll believe it when I see it.
Yes, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and charismatics have so theologically and strategically painted themselves into a corner that their continued success is, to some extent, surprising in this day and age. I mean, evolution is a fact, but this is the crowd that opposes it, so they're necessarily anti-science. Corporate capitalism has changed how we live our lives, so the traditional nuclear heterosexual family is simply not possible for millions, but the evangelicals don't seem to care about reality. Sexual imagery is part and parcel of consumerism, no turning back on that, but evangelicals seem to think that shaming Puritanical finger-wagging is somehow going to pull off the impossible and get us to all adopt a Victorian sexual standard. And on and on. Depending on how you slice it up, it really does appear that the deck is stacked against the fundamentalists and their ilk.
But I just can't get away from an observation Noam Chomsky has made on several occasions. The reason America is so off-the-scale for industrialized nations in terms of backward superstitious religious attitudes, he asserts, is that capitalism has effectively destroyed the civil society. That is, the capitalist notion that we are all on our own, that we are all to be fierce individuals, coupled with the takeover of ostensible democratic institutions by monied interests, has resulted in mass civic alienation: we Americans are sad, lonely, and have no sense of control over our lives. Fundamentalist, evangelical, and charismatic Christianity directly addresses this problem. I mean, it doesn't SOLVE the problem, but it addresses it.
In an aggressive evangelical fellowship, members can feel like they're part of something greater than themselves. They can exercise a small extent of personal influence over their religious body. They can surround themselves with like minded individuals who are all happy to be together. And they can all compare their lot in life positively with that of people who don't share their beliefs. It's all ultimately misdirected and destructive, of course, but given the state of the nation, it's surprising that more people don't embrace these Bronze Age attitudes. Americans are desperate; zealous fundamentalism offers a perverted hope.
And that's why I'm nowhere near announcing evangelicalism's death. Until America can get its shit together and offer its people a meaningful life, Protestant fundamentalism, and other literal-interpreters of the Bible, will continue to serve as institution of last resort. It really does play an important role. Opium of the people. Not going anywhere.
Posted by Ron at 2:36 AM
Thursday, February 14, 2013
FAT TUESDAY IN THE FRENCH QUARTER
Okay, this is the last of my Mardi Gras pic sets. More regular blogging tomorrow. Also, the fourth to the last picture is me, of course, in my Star Trek uniform, with my girlfriend Jennifer, who joined me for the festivities. Isn't she lovely?
Posted by Ron at 2:35 AM
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
In my mind, I will never be able to separate Mardi Gras from Easy Rider. It's like an entire city goes on a Catholic tinged cultural acid trip. My experience in New Orleans does nothing but reinforce this notion. (Just ignore the Spanish overdub; actually, it kind of makes it a little better and weirder.)
I will probably be taking tomorrow off. You know, recovering. Happy Mardi Gras!
Posted by Ron at 12:47 AM