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Weekeng Longread, Guest Post Edition

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.23.17

Mooseking writes: I recently read this article--or at least read the first half, given the accuracy of the "longreads" site title and thought you'd appreciate the article. It's dismaying, but seems perfect that this erasure became prominent around the silence breakers reverberations. This is How a Woman is Erased From Her Job.

A few choice bits:

Maybe it's just me, but somehow I think what Brigid Hughes had to do was harder. She dared to step in shoes that were a man's. What I see when I add this all up is more than negligence or a careless disregard. It's a total dismissal of the steady and focused hand she offered the Paris Review after Plimpton died unexpectedly and the staff and board mourned their longtime editor, an institutional and American icon.
...
It was a badly handled succession. On Brigid's watch, George, who was dead, still led the masthead as editor, while she was listed in second place as executive editor. I can't account for this untenable fiction. You'd have to ask the board what the deal was, or ask her. I wasn't there until after Brigid was fired, and there was a search, and I applied and was hired, to fill George's position as editor.

Heebie's take: I want to highlight this bit, but I also question my motives for doing so:

What else is there to say, but that I'm biased? I am a woman who has worked in an unpaid role for A Public Space on and off for the last decade, with the unflagging support and encouragement in my own professional endeavors from Hughes, even after she witnessed my failures. I've watched her never, ever seek any amount of limelight for herself, only for her authors. She deserved this acknowledgment for her own accomplishments a long time ago.

There's a conservative troll in my head who dismisses this article, scoffing "Maybe she just sucked?" This paragraph, tucked near the bottom, refutes that - she's a highly talented, hardworking person who does not play games or do the showy shmoozey thing to further her own career, and so the patriarchy insistently erodes her contributions.


 

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Fixer-uppers

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.22.17

Oh my god, I could look at these all day. 25 houses under 50K. Please, move into them and love them for me.


 

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Guest Post - Redeeming the Boomers

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.21.17

J. Roth writes: We've covered Boomer bashing in the past, but it seems worth discussing this Vox interview with Bruce Gibney, who's written a not-at-all inflammatory book called A Generation of Psychopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America apparently seeks to define the debate.

Color me unimpressed. I'm on the record as thinking that Boomer-bashing is essentially childish and content-free, but Gibney does nothing to change my mind. I don't want to get too deep into it in this post, but let's just go with the first two fact-checkable claims: that Boomers took us from a 35% debt-to-GDP ratio to a 103% one, and that Boomers gave us Reagan.

To get that apparent tripling of debt, he starts with the number when he was born in 1976. But as he stipulates earlier, Boomers became the majority of the electorate in the early '80s, and essentially took over government in January '95. And if you start from 1995, the debt ratio has gone up from only ~65%. That's some impressive tendentiousness.

Ah, but didn't that first chunk of rise happen under Reagan, who's the fault of the Boomers? Sorry, no. I'm not sure there's any evidence that the Boomers even voted for Reagan: this tally from Roper lumps the first 5 years of Boomers with the last 10 years of the Silent Generation, so we can't be sure, but it's absolutely the case that A. the 18-29 group that we know was 100% Boomer split their vote right down the middle, and B. the Boomer/Silent cohort voted almost identically to their elders. IOW, Boomers at most contributed 2 percentage points of Reagan's 10 point win, while every other cohort went for him strongly.

Does he have better arguments later? Not really: it's pretty much all ad hominem and ascribing everything that's happened since Carter solely to Boomers. The fact that pretty much everything he cites was set into motion before the Boomers were even electorally dominant, let alone in direct power, is completely unaddressed. Maybe there's more depth in the book, but if there is, he utterly fails to convey it.

As for the underlying question of whether it makes sense to blame Boomers? IMO it's kind of a stupid question, because a cohort of tens of millions of people, born across 19 years, isn't a coherent entity. More important, I don't see any real evidence that Boomer actions can be isolated from our fucked up country. They didn't create white supremacy or inequality or capitalism or even neoliberalism. I'm more comfortable with cultural critiques, because I think that cohorts can meaningfully shape their own cultural legacy, but color me extremely skeptical that supposed Boomer psychopathy meaningfully altered our nation's path.

Heebie's take: I'm certainly in the habit of blaming boomers. There's a clear cultural idea that young adults in the 80s were exuberant about wealth and materialism as pushback to the woozy 70s, grubby late-60s, and mod mid-60s. It's also the case that Reagan set us on a disastrous path of widening inequality, and didn't suffer much in the way of political repercussions.

One might paraphrase your complaint as: "They're drawing the line between the generations in the wrong spot if you want to assign blame."

So - laying aside J. Roths highly sensible last paragraph for the sake of punching dirty boomers - where would you draw the lines if you had to carve out the years delineating The Generation That Shat the Bed?


 

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Scorched Earth

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.20.17

Here, might as well have a thread about the massive theft that just became law. I don't know why anyone is wasting their breath debating Republican motives. They are just grabbing as much money as they can, right here and right now. Why do dogs lick their balls.


 

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Guest Post - Flying Saucers

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.20.17

Minivet asks: Is this something or nothing?

NYT, WaPo.

On one hand, this is about a program wherein a bunch of Pentagon money went secretly to a company run by a billionaire friend of Harry Reid who also happens to be a UFO enthusiast - someone who would still have necessary means and motive today to dress up a boondoggle for the media to pick up. Plus the other former government employee quoted in both articles is at an "academy" whose front page invites you to directly invest in a weird hodgepodge of projects. A lot of inherent fishiness.

On the other hand, there are the jet fighter videos and testimony from the pilot.

Possibly this is less inherently exciting to us because we've internalized that if UFOs were real there would be a ton of phone videos circulating regularly, as actually happened with other things?

Heebie's take: No effing way whatsoever. Sorry pilot! The only UFO possibility I'm open to is that bridge thing between two planets far, far away. This reeks of human gullibility and an "if horses had gods" kind of narrow-mindedness.

Three other thoughts:
- conspiracy theorists absolutely love to zoom in on images. The more pixelated, the more convincing. If you're not convinced, just zoom in further. They're homeopaths for pixels.
- I really enjoyed The Men Who Stare at Goats, although it's been over a decade since I read it.
- I remember reading a study at some point on the power of suggestion, and they wanted a group of participants who was more susceptible to suggestion than average, and so they put a call out for UFO witnesses. I was amused by the insult implicit in the solicitation.


 

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The Rape of Recy Taylor

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.19.17
"If you have a slave culture for hundreds of years, what happens when slavery ends?" McGuire said. "Does the culture change? That was part of my question doing this research, and the answer was of course it didn't. White men were raised to believe that they could do whatever they wanted to do to black women and there would be no punishment, and when they did whatever they wanted to do, there usually wasn't a punishment. These are lessons handed down from grandparents and fathers, uncles. They were encouraged to get a black woman for their first sex act so that they could practice ... in the '40s, they just picked them up on the side of the road just like Recy Taylor.
"It happened all the time."
If the violation of black women was so widespread that it contributed to one of the most monumental migration patterns in American history, why don't more people know about it? How did our understanding of black women and interracial rape begin with slavery and end largely with the conclusion of the Civil War?

I'm embarrassed to say that prior to reading this article, I didn't quite think about systematic rape post-Civil War directly as a category of oppression in the same way that I think of systematic rape of black women by white men during the time of slavery. It hadn't occurred to me that systematic rape occurred alongside a culture of lynchings as terrorism, although I would have said of course it happened opportunistically.

Now it seems glaringly obvious: all those accusations of black men wanting to rape white women were of course projection by white men. The murder of black men was of course parallel to the rape of black women. Of course it was all this terrorism and control and psychological jumble in the brains of white men.


 

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Guest Post: What's The Matter With Meritocracy

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.18.17

Nick S. writes: A variety of thoughts on a topic that I've been mulling over for a while (apologies in advance for the long post) -- prompted originally by two comments from CrookedTimber writers about Chris Hayes

First:

Hayes pins the blame on an unlikely suspect: meritocracy. We thought we would just simply pick out the best and raise them to the top, but once they got there they inevitably used their privilege to entrench themselves and their kids (inequality is, Hayes says, "autocatalytic"). Opening up the elite to more efficient competition didn't make things more fair, it just legitimated a more intense scramble.

Second:

Hayes acknowledges that meritocracy has advantages over the system of special privilege for white Protestants that it replaced. However, he says that it is unsustainable in the long run. Riffing on Michels's "iron law of oligarchy," which holds that all democratic institutions will end up being run by an internal elite, Hayes proposes what he calls the iron law of meritocracy. He argues that the equality of opportunity that meritocracy promises will inevitably be overwhelmed by inequality of outcome

Brought to mind more recently by a Peter Beinart essay highlighted by Brad DeLong which makes clear that the current discussion of widespread sexual harassment is, among other things, a challenge to the claims of meritocracy by some institutions:

I don't know know whether my experience is typical of men who are complicit in institutions that tolerate sexual harassment. What I do know is that the affirmative action I enjoyed, and the sexual harassment Sarah suffered, were connected. I was given extraordinary opportunity at TNR, in large measure, because talented women like Sarah Wildman were not. In this regard, I suspect, I have something in common with the supporters of Donald Trump. It's not pleasant to realize that the bygone age you romanticize--the age when America was still great--was great for you, or people like you, because others were denied a fair shot

Two things are immediately obvious: (1) contemporary society isn't close to being a true meritocracy and (2) the ideal of meritocracy has tremendous rhetorical power (and the claim that the goal of a meritocracy is inherently impossible packs much more of a rhetorical punch than merely claiming that we fall short).

So I've been trying to think about how we should best approach the idea of meritocracy. I can make the argument for a couple of different ideas, and don't have a simple conclusion so am interested in throwing it out for discussion.

I:Meritocracy as Ideal: There are lots of ideals that we celebrate as goals while knowing that they are unlikely to be perfectly realized ("free speech", "justice" or "democracy"). In that vein we can think that there's value in the idea that people should be rewarded based on what they've done rather than for fitting into the right group.

As I write that, however, I note that it isn't simple to define a standard for meritocracy. If you say, as I did, that it means rewarding people for what they accomplish, that may just mean setting up competitions which may be formally fair but not actually open. If the standard for success requires scoring well on the SATs that just feeds a test-prep industry which helps some people and not others.

So perhaps a weaker claim would be better

II:Meritocracy as Critique: Even without a precise definition of what constitutes merit or how to identify the single most deserving person, it's still possible to recognize lots of cases in which people are not awarded the recognition they deserve or unfairly blocked from opportunities that they would qualify for and could benefit from. Perhaps the idea of meritocracy is best used as a critique rather than a guiding vision.

But maybe that it is even too generous. There are arguments that the idea itself is flawed, and that it would be better if we stripped it of some of it's power and tried to emphasize other notions of fairness.

III:Meritocracy as Justification for Inequality: From the first link above, "[the alternative is] ameliorating power relationships altogether. Meritocracy says 'there must be one who rules, so let it be the best'; egalitarianism responds 'why must there?'" The suffix "-ocracy" implies that the word "meritocracy" is concerned with who has power and authority and maybe the question of, "what are the proper limits on power" is more important than "who are the best people to posses power."

IV:Meritocracy as Metaphor Run Amok: The word has a whiff of management-speak. It implies that merit is knowable and may lead people directly into the fallacy of, "What You See Is All There Is." I call it a metaphor because it implies a sort of scientism in thinking that rewards and power can be rationalized.

That's quite a range of possibilities and I can find myself defending any of them, which makes me feel like I'm missing something. What do other people have to say?

Heebie's take: First, I really like the turn of phrase that inequality is autocatalytic. That's really nice.

Second, meritocracy seems somehow inextricably linked to scarcity. If all jobs were decent-paying and not utterly dehumanizing, meritocracy would lose some of its intensity and bite. If people weren't utter jack-asses at every turn, things might have been different.


 

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Complex numbers & fractals

Posted by Ben
on 12.17.17

This is a neat post, with several visualizations, about the titular topics. (If you get complains about WebGL not being supported, try it in different browsers/on different computers; it's kind of a bust without it.)


 

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