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In America, Wall Fucks You

Posted by Ogged
on 01.07.17

I was having a conversation with a co-worker who was also a kid immigrant, and he's been re-watching The Wire, and noted that on this run through, he finds he has no sympathy for the dock workers. "For 25 years we've been dying slow down there, SO DO SOMETHING ELSE." When I offered that people don't do that because it's scary to pull up stakes and do something new, he answered, "yeah, it's the cowards way."

I have a lot of sympathy for this line of argument. If you think it's hard to move your family from Belleville to Chicago, try it from Timisoara or Acajutla. Obviously, it's fine to petition your government to make your life easier, but there's an underlying sense of entitlement in those grievances, and it makes me wonder how much resentment of immigrants is resentment of brown people who don't even speak English doing what the stay-behind folks don't have the guts to do.


 

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Guest Post - Rentals

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.06.17

Lurid Keyaki writes: Do not rent your house to this man.

Heebie's take: Academics are often assholes. Non-academics are often assholes. This academic is a tremendous one, but in a way that is distinctly nontraditional for academics. It's weird to be so predatory in a world which is relatively small and based on reputation, but boy is this guy a nightmare.

Even before reading this, I always found it unappealing to think about renting out my home.


 

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Them Folks

Posted by Ogged
on 01.05.17

This made my day, insofar as Paul Ryan is a monster and the whitest man on earth. Not that I knew what the kid was doing, either. But you can see Ryan thinking, "Is this some kind of Nazi salute? Am I being pranked?" No. Yes. Aside from the undying joy of further immiserating the poor, being a politician must suck.


 

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Don'tdefendtheCIAdon'tdefendtheCIAdon'tdefendtheCIA

Posted by Ogged
on 01.05.17

So Trump (Bannon, right? Trump has no agenda) wants to be the sole source of truth for his supporters, and now that any inconvenient news is fake news, it's on to the intelligence agencies. I guess we're about to find out whether the old advice about not picking a fight with the CIA still obtains. Or, what good is a reputation for doing away with your enemies anyway?


 

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The Blank Page

Posted by Ogged
on 01.04.17

AcademicLurker writes, "why should the humanities get to dominate the 'grad school misery' genre?" Here it is from the perspective of a theoretical physicist. But maybe the answer is that theoretical physicists can chuck it all and go make a bundle on Wall Street.


 

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Just Desserts

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.03.17

Revenge is a dish best served cute.

I can't think of any time I've actually planned and executed a revenge. Besides living well, zing! But maybe 2017 should be the year we all plot to even the score.

Via Jammies


 

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"There is no such thing as western civilisation"

Posted by Ben
on 01.02.17

I liked this lecture by Kwame Anthony Appiah.

It ends with an invocation of the famous Terence line "homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", whose use here as a motto of cosmopolitanism is excellently apt; in the play (I merely remind those readers who may happen to have forgotten) it's a gossip's self-defense: to "why don't you mind your own business?", he replies that it's all his business. But if your line is that

the more cosmopolitan picture in which every element of culture, from philosophy or cuisine to the style of bodily movement, is separable in principle from all the others - you really can walk and talk like an African-American and think with Matthew Arnold and Immanuel Kant, as well as with Martin Luther King and Miles Davis. No Muslim essence stops the inhabitants of Dar al-Islam from taking up anything from western civilisation, including Christianity or democracy. No western essence is there to stop a New Yorker of any ancestry taking up Islam


Then taking up a bit of Terence and turning it to your own purpose fits just fine.

(Of course, Appiah is hardly the first person to give Terence's line that, or a similar (e.g. a for-whom-the-bell-tolls-ian) construction. Ahimsub, my favorite instance of a famous line being reinterpreted is "now is the winter of our discontent", in which the grammar of the original is altered, with the "is" being changed from an auxiliary into the main verb.)


 

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Guest Post - What do people expect from politicians

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.02.17

Nick S writes: I recently read this article, which terrified me because this sounded all to plausible:

Why Trump's Carrier stunt succeeded -- and what this tells us about politics
To understand why Trump's Carrier stunt succeeded, it's worth turning to a 1964 political science classic, Murray Edelman's The Symbolic Uses of Politics. The takeaway lesson is that in politics, clear symbolic actions are often more important than results (which are often ambiguous or unclear). As long as Trump defines his presidency through symbolic actions (like the Carrier deal), he could be very popular.
Edelman's foundational point is that most people don't pay close attention to the details of policy, and the news media does a poor job of covering the details (in large part because most people don't care about the details). As a result, Edelman writes, "Politics is for most of us a passing parade of abstract symbols." Knowing this, skillful presidents and other leaders can deceive mass publics through the careful use of symbols.

...

In particular, Edelman notes, many people are attracted to the idea of a leader taking charge, cutting through the chaos and confusion of the distant world of government and politics. Most people want a decisive, energetic force of action who appears to be on their side. They want somebody who can convey a supreme take-charge confidence.

But here's the kicker, and the insight that should ring alarm bells: It doesn't matter whether problems are actually being solved. Most people can't tell the difference, especially if the symbols tell them otherwise. It's the appearance of forceful problem solving that matters. Like many classic problems of monitoring, it is far easier to judge the appearance of effort than the relationship between efforts and results. Hence, Edelman writes, "The public official who dramatizes his competence is eagerly accepted on his own terms."

Which goes along with a passage that I just read in Sleeping Giant


For decades political scientists concluded that voters and nonvoters held the same views, in essence that low turnout among working class or voters of color was insignificant in terms of representation. But this research examined only candidate choice -- whether nonvoters would have voted for the Republican or Democrat. There are lots of practical reasons why working class and poor voters may not vote ... But what if they don't vote because they sense there isn't much difference between the two candidates positions? It turns out that, compared to high-income voters, low-income voters have a much harder time discerning meaningful differences between the two political parties.

In their book Who Votes Now?, Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler examine differences among lower-income and higher-income voters in rating each of the presidential candidates' ideology on a liberal-conservative spectrum and on the governments role in guaranteeing a job for everyone who needs one. What they found is that in both 2004 and 2008 elections, high-income voters perceived a much greater difference in the ideology of the two candidates, while low-income voters saw each candidate as less ideological and had a harder time perceiving his stance on the issue of government guarantee of jobs. ... Without a meaningful perception of a difference between the presidential candidates, many working-class voters make the rational decision not to case a ballot -- and our nation's policy priorities are skewed as a result.

That could be a hopeful result -- if it implies that there is political space for a more forcefully liberal politics. But, combined with the previous excerpt it seems much less encouraging. It implies that the Republicans made the correct choice in 2008-2016 (and in 1992-94) to attempt to stymie the president rather than putting forth a competing agenda. It's another description of how, in a muddled, dysfunctional system, poor people will be less likely to vote and symbolic politics will be more important.

On that topic, can anybody find the article from the NYRB (from either 2004 or 2008, I can't remember which), in which the journalist went to (I think) Wisconsin and talked to people and concluded that, from their perspective Health Care wasn't even a political question -- they just assumed that politics would have no baring and no effect on health care?

I feel like, taken together, that is clearly an argument against a purely technocratic approach to politics, and an argument for why visible effort may be better politically than invisible competence. But, for me at least, I have less confidence that a stronger ideological message will cut through the confusion. I suspect that the more likely outcome is just that politics is difficult, that campaigns have a limited ability to communicate anything, and that there is no substitute for having politics rooted in institutions of day-to-day life (church, workplace, etc . . .) in a way that provides a framework which reinforces the messages of the political parties. Unions used to do that, and I find myself troubled trying to imagine what would take that role.

Heebie's take: Now is the time for the billboard campaign: "Republicans did [X]. Now [Y] affects your life. Connect the dots." Microtargeted, relentless, overly simplistic. Federal, state, and local level. "Republicans cut funding to highways. Now the planned expansion of Route Local has been cancelled. Fatalities have increased for three straight years. Connect the dots."

In fact, you can create all sorts of bogus causations with this formulation, if you wanted to.


 

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ATM: Micromanage My Life

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.02.17

My new office is probably 8' wide and 16' long (if memory serves). The door and only window are opposite each other, on the 8' sides. The window is not centered - it touches the righthand corner. I think the door is on the left side, so the window and door are sort of diagonal.

IMG_7724.jpg


I can't figure out where to put my desk.
1. I want to have my computer screen hidden from people who stick their head in the door,
2. I want to be able to look out the window. I find it depressing that this office has so little light.
3. The building has these stupid wall extensions, so if I'm sitting in corner B, looking out the window, all I see is brick.
4. My current theory is that my neck pain comes from sitting with my body facing one direction and my head facing a different direction - ie, having two adjacent work spaces, and spending too long on one workspace (the computer) with my body oriented towards the other workspace (my grading or classroom prep). So I'm wary about putting my back against wall CD.

All I can think of is to have two separate work spaces: grading and classroom prep facing wall BC, and computer on a separate desk facing the door. But maybe there's a better solution!

(The more I think about it, the more I resent this office and our process for determining who got which office. I really hope this doesn't become a burr under my saddle.)


 

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Guest Post - George Michael Bluth

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.01.17

Nick S. writes: When I heard about his death, for me it felt like part of the background noise of awfulness of 2016, but I appreciated this article for giving me a much better sense of his place in the culture:

Back in the early 1980s, I was one of those annoying "alternative" British teens who, when pressed, would admit they quite liked "Wham Rap!," which extolled the freedoms of unemployment ("I'm a soul boy! - I'm a dole boy!"), and acknowledged he was "really talented," but essentially dismissed George Michael as "too commercial." Which in the inverted snobbery of the era essentially meant "uncool."
And also - you may find this rather difficult to believe - "too straight."
...

It even got me to watch several of his videos of which "Outside" is hilarious knowing the context:

Though of course there is another piquant irony to be had in the fact that this man whose career had originally been based on "masquerading" as a heterosexual was finally outed in a public restroom by a plainclothes Beverly Hills Police Department officer who (George claims) was masquerading as a gay man.
However, the way George handled that incident was so defiant and assured that he completely turned the tables on not just the Beverley Hills PD and the tabloid press, but also homophobia itself. He immediately told the world he was gay and refused to display any shame.
Instead, he released "Outside," a jaunty single extolling the pleasures of outdoor sex for everyone, regardless of sexuality - along with a video that featured cross and same sex couples getting it on in hidden away outdoor places, while being recorded by a police helicopter. George in gay cop gear disco dances in a public restroom where the glitter balls descend from the air vents and the urinals revolve. In many ways, this was the absolute zenith of pop music as propaganda for pleasure and against shame.

Heebie's take: Video for Outside. It's very disco, so I like it. It puts the jitterbug back in my heart.

(Also I'm fond of George Michael for being one of the very first artists that my ear plucked individually from the radio mash. Along with Soft Cell.)


 

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