Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 24th, 2017

Twitter Is a Cesspool, But It’s Our Cesspool

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Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

Poor Bret Stephens. He’s the latest punching bag for the left among New York Timescolumnists, and apparently he’s getting sick of it. “Twitter is about the naked, grunting brain,” he says. “It’s whatever pops out. And what pops out is altogether too revealing.” So he’s quitting Twitter.

There’s not much question that Twitter is a cesspool, but I think he’s making a mistake nonetheless. A lot of people blame social media for making our politics cruder, but that misses the reality. Our politics has always been this crude. We just didn’t know it. All Twitter has done is expose our collective id in a way that’s hard to brush off.

This is difficult to accept. Is this really what America is like in the privacy of our own thoughts? Yes it is. There’s no point in denying it. The question is, are we better off knowing it, or were we better off when we all pretended to be better people than this?

I’m not sure. There are surely advantages to norms of civility in public life. A Burkean conservative would probably say that those norms have been developed over a long time and we should respect the fact that we’ve historically found them useful. However, one thing Twitter (and Donald Trump) have demonstrated is that there are damn few Burkean conservatives in the United States. Conversely, a liberal would presumably believe that it’s important to know the raw truth. On the other hand, it’s liberals who are the biggest complainers about the rampant sexism, racism, xenophobia, and so forth that are so common on Twitter.

As for myself, I have an unusual attitude toward this stuff: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2017 at 6:36 pm

Fascism for liberals: “RoboCop” at 30 and the problem with prescience

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Very interesting column by John Semley in Salon:

We have become obsessed with prescience. Or rather, a kind of reverse-prescience that sees old books (from Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” to Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and Radiohead’s “OK Computer”) invested with a new vitality. These works, and their authors, are hailed for their farsightedness and acute judiciousness, for their ability to “speak to our troubled times.” But more often than not, it’s a case of too little, way too late.

Reading the Stalinist parable “Nineteen Eighty-Four” to make sense of Trumpism feels about as useful as scanning the instructions on a bottle of bear spray while your torso’s already half-digested by a savage Kodiak. Still, we laud the old works and the old masters for their seeming ability to forecast the present, even if they do so in hazy, generalizing terms. The esteemed quality of prescience thus reveals itself as conservative, keeping us fixed on the past, lost in our fantasies of foregone foresight. Damn, if only we could have seen it coming back then.

Few pop-cultural objects carry this burden of prescience like “RoboCop,” Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi satire/Detroit dystopia/Christian allegory, which turns 30 this summer. Set in a near-future Motor City beset by corporate greed, with slums being rebuilt as privatized skyscraper communities and public services seized by profiteering private contractors, much of “RoboCop’s” critical legacy hinges on its seemingly spooky ability to predict the future: from the militarization of American police forces, to the collapse (and rebirth) of Detroit, to the way in which politics has become increasingly beholden to private money.

Never mind that all these things were already happening when “RoboCop” was released theatrically at the ass-end of the Reagan administration. What matters is how the film is regarded as effectively anticipating what’s happening now. Problem is: claims of the film’s prescience aren’t just overstated. They’re fundamentally incorrect. And if we’re to believe — as many seem to — that “RoboCop’s” near future is meant to be our present, then we must reckon with one of its greatest oversights: its depiction of business-suited capitalists as crass, corporatist, unfeeling heels. What “RoboCop” got wrong was its depiction of the bad guys — of those greedy corporate profiteers looking to razz Detroit’s crumbling ghettos, quarterback private police militias and trap the hearts and minds of good, honest, working men inside hulking robotic exoskeletons.

***

On the commentary track bundled with Criterion’s now out-of-print 1998 home video release of “RoboCop,” producer Jon Davison summed up the movie’s message. He called it “fascism for liberals.” As Davison puts it: “The picture is extremely violent, but it has a nice, tongue-in-cheek, we’re-just-kiddin’ quality.” Indeed, “RoboCop,” like many of Dutch expat Paul Verhoeven’s other films (“The Fourth Man,” “Starship Troopers,” “Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls,” even the recent “Elle”) function through this sort of deeply embedded irony; this “we’re-just-kiddin’ quality.” The sex, the violence, the way they flirt with ideological reprehensibility — Verhoeven’s films are calibrated to invite reaction, even disgust. And yet that’s never the end in itself.

When a heavy artillery “urban pacification” tank shoots up a boardroom meeting early in “RoboCop,” in one of the film’s most legendarily over-the-top sequences, the joke isn’t the display of gore itself, but rather the reaction. When the scowling CEO of Omni Consumer Products (referred to with mock-affection as “The Old Man,” and played by Dan O’Herlihy) witnesses the wanton display of machine-on-man violence and mutters to sniveling underling Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), “I’m very disappointed in you,” that’s the joke — a critique of the corporate world’s utter disdain for human life, packaged in a parody of Reagan-era paternalist condescension. This, presumably, is what Davison is talking about. “RoboCop” offers visions of violence, of top-down, totalitarian corporate control, and the crumbling of the American Dream itself that proves fundamentally comforting in its cheekiness and ironic distance. Yes, the world it depicts is bad. But we know it’s bad. And that’s good.

Yet this idea — fascism for liberals — runs even deeper into the movie’s DNA. What its capitalist parody doesn’t anticipate is the current entanglements of corporatism and politics. While the ascent of celebrity capitalist Donald Trump may play like something out of a direct-to-video “RoboCop” sequel, the film fails to address the more pressing threat of smiling, do-gooder philanthrocapitalists: guys like Michael Bloomberg or Mark Zuckerberg who increasingly set the agendas of American (and global) politics, while retaining the image of selfless saviors. These are the people who, increasingly, represent the corporatization of everyday life, albeit in a way that “RoboCop”-style corporate villainy can’t account for.

When Donald Trump announced that America would be backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement, ex-NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to pick up the tab with his private money. Likewise, before Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced he was buying the Whole Foods supermarket chain last week — a move that boosted Bezos’s stock while sapping that of competitors like Wal-Mart and Target — he canvassed Twitter for ideas on charities to which he could donate money. This is the face of modern consumerist capitalism: lead with a benign-seeming charitable gesture, follow through with a massive, bottom line-boosting buyout.

The fundamental weakness of ’’80s-era, “RoboCop”-ian businessman bad guys is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2017 at 4:17 pm

The problem with living in an information bubble: On Fox News, the first rule of the Senate health care bill is not to talk about it

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You can see the reason that Trump supporters are fed a constant stream of instructions—to avoid mainstream media, don’t read mainstream media, mainstream media lies, you can’t trust what you read in mainstream media, you can only trust Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Alex Jones, Fox News, your eyes are growing heavy, and you feel sleepy, ….

So with the GOP Senate healthcare bills that cuts Medicaid, which exists to help the poor with their medical expenses, a cut made purely so that the very wealthy can have even more money, the people most affected are kept in the dark, locked in the basement by the instructions never to look at or trust any other source of information.

It’s amazingly blatant, and it works, and it’s changing the country—for the worse, IMO.

Jeff Guo writes at Vox:

How do you defend an effort like the Senate’s new health care bill, which neither repeals nor replaces Obamacare, but merely loots it to deliver tax breaks to the rich? By the president’s own standards, the bill fails to deliver: There would be higher, not lower premiums, and cuts to Medicaid. Instead of “insurance for everybody” there would be insurance for millions of fewer Americans — many of them the same people who elected the president.

So how do you spin a bill that seems un-spinnable? The answer, if you’re Fox News, is that you don’t. You deflect, you distract, and if necessary, you bend the truth. Above all, you hope that people care more about the politics than the policy.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Trump voters named Fox News as their primary source of information about current events. But if you were watching Fox News last night, you wouldn’t have learned much at all about an impending piece of legislation that could upend your life. You wouldn’t understand anything about it expect that liberals hate it and the president sees it as a victory.

Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity could scarcely find time to discuss this major piece of legislation in between segments on Nancy Pelosi, Chinese dog meat, and “leftist rage.” When they did get around to talking about health care, they spent more time reviewing their complaints about Obamacare than discussing the new bill.

Hannity chatted briefly with Health Secretary Tom Price, who described the bill as offering “greater choices” for patients before pivoting to the demerits of Obamacare — a visibly more comfortable subject. Carlson did not discuss the bill at all. Instead he played a 90-second clipof Trump describing Obamacare as “virtually out of business.”

On The Five, a roundtable talk show, the pundits did devote a substantial amount of time — 10 minutes — to what they described as the “SENATE HEALTH CARE SHOWDOWN.” But the framing was entirely political. Instead of talking about what the bill would do, they talked about the bill’s chances of making it through Congress.

“Democrats won’t even come to the table,” said Jesse Watters.

Greg Gutfeld complained about the group of disabled protesters who were arrested outside Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s office yesterday. “They’re staging these die-ins” he exclaimed. “Because ‘Republicans kill people’ — that’s what we do. Isn’t that the inflammatory language we were talking about,” he said, referencing the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise last Thursday. (Nobody remembered that the GOP used the specter of “death panels” to rally resistance to Obamacare.)

The crew then began to fantasize about what it would mean for the president if this bill were to pass.

“Health care passes, tax reform gets teed up, the economy starts jamming again,” Watters mused. “This could be a turning point.”

“Yes, in theory, you could actually get there” said Dana Perino, a former press secretary for President George W. Bush. “But the next two weeks, they are not going to be smooth.”

Juan Williams, the token liberal, was the only person who brought up substantive details about the new Republican bill. “This is going to drive the premiums and costs for working people who come to the hospital,” he said. “What about the elderly, Jesse? The people we all have sympathy for?”

“They are all going to die, according to the liberals,” Gutfeld mocked.

“You forgot the children dying of cancer,” deadpanned Kimberly Guilfoyle, who was at one point rumored to be a possible replacement for Sean Spicer as the president’s press secretary.

A simple way to distinguish the press from public relations is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2017 at 2:32 pm

Manufactured illiteracy and miseducation: A long process of decline led to President Donald Trump

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In Salon:

Henry A. Giroux is University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy at McMaster University. His books include “America at War With Itself” and “Dangerous Thinking.”

He writes:

Donald Trump’s ascendancy in American politics has made visible a plague of deep-seated civic illiteracy, a corrupt political system and a contempt for reason that has been decades in the making. It also points to the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life and the erosion of any sense of shared citizenship. As Trump has galvanized his base of true believers in post-election demonstrations, the world is witnessing how a politics of bigotry and hate is transformed into a spectacle of demonization, division and disinformation. Under President Trump, the scourge of mid-20th century authoritarianism has returned not only in the menacing plague of populist rallies, fear-mongering, threats and humiliation, but also in an emboldened culture of war, militarization and violence that looms over society like a rising storm.

The reality of Trump’s election may be the most momentous development of the age because of its enormity and the shock it has produced. The whole world is watching, pondering how such a dreadful event could have happened. How have we arrived here? What forces have allowed education, if not reason itself, to be undermined as crucial public and political resources, capable of producing the formative culture and critical citizens that could have prevented such a catastrophe from happening in an alleged democracy? We get a glimpse of this failure of education, public values and civic literacy in the willingness and success of the Trump administration to empty language of any meaning, a practice that constitutes a flight from historical memory, ethics, justice and social responsibility.

Under such circumstances and with too little opposition, the Trump administration has taken on the workings of a dis-imagination machine, characterized by an utter disregard for the truth and often accompanied by the president’s tweet-storm of “primitive schoolyard taunts and threats.” In this instance, George Orwell’s famous maxim from “Nineteen Eighty-four,” “Ignorance is Strength,” materializes in the administration’s weaponized attempt not only to rewrite history but also to obliterate it. What we are witnessing is not simply a political project but also a reworking of the very meaning of education as both a crucial institution and a democratizing and empowering cultural force.

Truth is now viewed as a liability and ignorance a virtue. Under the reign of this normalized architecture of alleged common sense, literacy is regarded with disdain, words are reduced to data and science is confused with pseudo-science. All traces of critical thought appear only at the margins of the culture as ignorance becomes the primary organizing principle of American society. For instance, two-thirds of the American public believe that creationism should be taught in schools and a majority of Republicans in Congress do not believe that climate change is caused by human activity, making the U.S. the laughing stock of the world. Politicians endlessly lie, knowing that the public can be easily seduced by exhortations, emotional outbursts and sensationalism, all of which mimic the fatuous spectacle of celebrity culture and reality TV. Image-selling now entails lying on principle, making it easier for politics to dissolve into entertainment, pathology and a unique brand of criminality.

The corruption of both the truth and politics is abetted by the fact that much of the American public has become habituated to overstimulation and lives in an ever-accelerating overflow of information and images. Experience no longer has the time to crystallize into mature and informed thought. Opinion now trumps reason and evidence-based arguments. News has become entertainment and echoes reality rather than interrogating it. Popular culture revels in the spectacles of shock and violence. Defunded and corporatized, many institutions of public and higher education have been all too willing to make the culture of business the business of education, and this transformation has corrupted their mission.

As a result, many colleges and universities have been McDonald-ized as knowledge is increasingly viewed as a commodity, resulting in curricula that resemble a fast-food menu. In addition, faculty are subjected increasingly to a Walmart model of labor relations designed “to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility. Students are relegated to the status of customers and clients.

In addition, public education is under siege to an almost unprecedented degree. Both political parties have implemented reforms that “teach for the test,” weaken unions, deskill teachers, and wage a frontal assault on the imagination of students through disciplinary measures that amount to pedagogies of repression. Moreover, students marginalized by class and color find themselves in schools increasingly modeled after prisons. As more and more security guards and police personnel occupy schools, a wider range of student behaviors are criminalized, and students increasingly find themselves on a conveyor belt that has appropriately been described as the school-to-prison pipeline.

On a policy level, the Trump administration has turned its back on schools as public goods. How else to explain the president’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education? DeVos, who has spent most of her career attempting to privatize public schools while acting as a champion for charter schools. It gets worse: As a religious Christian extremist, DeVos not only supports religious indoctrination in public schools but has gone so far as to argue that the purpose of public education is “to help advance God’s Kingdom.” Not exactly a policy that supports critical thinking, dialogue or analytical reasoning, or that understands schooling as a public good. DeVos is Trump’s gift to the billionaires, evangelicals, hedge fund managers and bankers, who view schools strictly as training and containment centers — and as sources of profit.

On a larger scale, the educational force of the wider culture has been transformed into a spectacle for violence and trivialized entertainment, and a tool for legitimating ignorance. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2017 at 1:30 pm

Odd times bring odd problems: How ‘Gay’ Should a Gay Bar Be?

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And I’m not denigrating the problem in the least. It is a problem, and the evolution of social memes in the new directions still lacks a clear winner. Jim Farber reports in the NY Times:

The website for the Abbey touts its role as a two-time winner of Logo’s “Best Gay Bar in the World” award. But how gay is it? Some of the regulars believe the increasing number of straight people who go there has diluted its reason for being.

“My older gay clientele were saying, ‘Gosh, there are so many straight people in here,’” said David Cooley, the bar’s owner. “My argument was, we’ve been fighting for equality for all these years. We can’t reverse-discriminate and say: ‘You’re straight. You can’t come in here.’”

The Abbey, in West Hollywood, Calif., is not alone among gay bars in facing an identity crisis. In this time of increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, gay establishments across the country are grappling with an influx of new visitors.

The newly diverse crowd at these formerly exclusive environments has set off a debate within the community about the meaning and purpose of such bars today. Something that seems to come up a lot in the discussion are the groups of straight women who consider gay bars as the perfect setting for bachelorette parties.

“They use the space to become ‘wild girls,’” said Chris McKenzie, a 35-year-old computer programmer in West Hollywood. “It’s not at all in concert with what the gay men are there for.”

Continue reading the main story

Some men feel the women stereotype them. “They think of us as ‘fun’ and ‘free,’” said Vin Testa, a 27-year-old educator in Washington, D.C. “It seems like they’re coming in to find their next accessory, like a new handbag.”

Straight men enter these environs less frequently, it seems. Those who do come, regular patrons of gay bars said, tend not to draw much attention to themselves.

The debate over the evolution in the clientele touches on not only the role and history of gay bars, but also on the struggle to weigh the concerns of inclusivity with the need to retain L.G.B.T. spaces. It even begs existential questions: What does it mean to be a gay bar in the age of sexual fluidity? With the mainstreaming of L.G.B.T. people, and the wider variety of people identifying with “queer” issues, who rightfully owns a space once simply called “gay”? . . .

Continue reading.

Any bar would struggle if it suddenly acquired a large clientele of people who were not in tune with the bar’s character but do enjoy each other’s company. What if jazz fans suddenly became a large proportion of the clientele at a country & western bar? What happens when a large number of bicyclists becoming patrons of a sports bar that mostly has a football crowd? Cops becoming patrons at a biker bar?

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2017 at 11:44 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Memes

“Why I resigned from the Foreign Service after 27 years”

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David Rank served in the U.S. Foreign Service from 1990 to 2017. He writes in the Washington Post:

This month, I resigned from the State Department’s Foreign Service, stepping down as the senior U.S. diplomat in China and ending a 27-year career. I served five presidents — three Republicans and two Democrats — and, like my colleagues throughout the Foreign Service, took pride in the tradition of loyal, nonpartisan service. I also took seriously my oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and the obligations that came with representing the American people.

When the administration decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change, however, I concluded that, as a parent, patriot and Christian, I could not in good conscience be involved in any way, no matter how small, with the implementation of that decision.

Over my career, I had close calls with bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, but also knew colleagues who were less fortunate. I watched from my window as a crowd surrounding our embassy howled for vengeance after an accidental U.S. airstrike. My father died while I was in Taiwan, my mother while I was in Afghanistan. I missed the birth of my first child and my only son’s senior year in high school.

After all of that, some people have asked if I am upset or angry about how my career came to an end. But the primary emotion I feel in leaving is gratitude. Gratitude to the colleagues who served with me and who went through similar experiences. Gratitude that I was able to leave the profession I loved on my own terms. Gratitude to partners from around the world who have worked with the United States for so many years to advance our common goals. And primarily, gratitude to the people of the United States, who gave me the honor to serve them and the country I love for so many years.

But, also, I worry.

I worry about the impact my departure will have on colleagues who remain. Many of these colleagues, some with decades of contributions ahead of them, share my dismay not just at the decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement but also at the unraveling of 70 years of bipartisan foreign policy that has made the world and the United States safer and more prosperous. Rather than encourage them to follow my example, I hope my departure will send a message on their behalf so that they can continue to work within the system to make things a little bit better, a little bit at a time. That work will always be honorable work and, I suspect, will be more important than ever in the coming years.

I worry about the frequently politically motivated portrayal of those who work for the American people as members of some mythical elite, separate and suspicious. Such false characterizations drive talented Americans away from public service or discourage them from entering it in the first place. My experience has been that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2017 at 11:27 am

Putin’s playbook for discrediting America and destabilizing the West

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Democrats are being warned to stop talking about Russia: voters are not interested and seem perfectly willing to allow Russia to have its way with the US. Depressing.

Jason Kottke posts:

Last week, journalist Jules Suzdaltsev wrote:

Just wanna make sure you all know there is a Russian handbook from 1997 on “taking over the world” and Putin is literally crossing shit off.

The book in question is The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia by neo-fascist political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, whose nickname is “Putin’s Brain”. The book has been influential within Russian military & foreign policy circles and it appears to be the playbook for recent Russian foreign policy. In the absence of an English language translation, some relevant snippets from the book’s Wikipedia page:

The book declares that “the battle for the world rule of [ethnic] Russians” has not ended and Russia remains “the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution.” The Eurasian Empire will be constructed “on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us.”

The United Kingdom should be cut off from Europe.

Ukraine should be annexed by Russia because “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness, its certain territorial ambitions represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia and, without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics”.

The book stresses the “continental Russian-Islamic alliance” which lies “at the foundation of anti-Atlanticist strategy”. The alliance is based on the “traditional character of Russian and Islamic civilization”.

Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke “Afro-American racists”. Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements — extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”

Ukraine, Brexit, Syria, Trump, promotion of fascist candidates in European elections (Le Pen in France), support for fascism in the US…it’s all right there in the book. And they’ve done it all while barely firing a shot.

It helps Russia that the president and most GOP members in Congress are protective of Russia and its influence on our elections.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2017 at 9:01 am

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