Later On

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Archive for the ‘Memes’ Category

Propaganda rarely looks like this

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Caitlin Johnstone has an interesting column in Consortium News, in which the above video appears (along with another very interesting video). I think the video understates the role of good journalism —  for example, I have recently read of various legislation passed based on reporting in ProPublica and Judd Legum’s Popular Information. On the other hand, I certainly do not see much reporting on the basic flaws of capitalism — that decisions are made solely on how they affect profits, with clear examples of how that leads to danger to the public and the environment (by long trains, for example, or by not providing paid sick leave for food works — both of which have been reported but not the basic flaw in capitalism that led to those bad outcomes). Nor do journalists talk much about the damage from the ethos of “rugged individualism” and how we fare better with a cooperative community spirit — cf. barn-raising.

Nonetheless, the video is interesting — and this video has more on Chomsky’s ideas of manufacturing consent. When we talk about “manufactured consent,” that does not mean that everyone must conset — just enough people with enough power to determine the country’s direction. One might call it “manufactured effective consent,” with dissenters having no power to affect the decisions. For example, I did not consent to the US invasion of Iraq. In fact, I strongly opposed that invasion. But they did it anyway. James Fallows, who certainly has a greater voice than I, wrote a lengthy article in the Atlantic offer a strongly reasoned argument against the invasion.

But in the meantime, a coterie of newspapers, politicians, and influencers — including the NY Times, which was a big booster of the invasion — were beating the drums to go to war, and go to war we did, and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and also instituted systematic torture of suspects as US policy. No one has been held accountable for any of that.

Still, the overall thrust of Johstone’s column is worth your consideration. She writes:

People in the English-speaking world hear the word “propaganda” and might tend to think of something that’s done by the governments of foreign nations that are so totalitarian they won’t let people know what’s true or think for themselves.

Others might understand that propaganda is something that happens in their own nation, but think it only happens to other people in other political parties. If they think of themselves as left-leaning they see those to their right as propagandized by right wing media, and if they think of themselves as right-leaning they see those to their left as propagandized by left-wing media.

A few understand that propaganda is administered in their own nation by their own media, and understand that it’s administered across partisan lines, but they think of it in terms of really egregious examples such as weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or babies being taken from incubators in Kuwait.

In reality, all are inaccurate understandings of what propaganda is and how it works in Western society. Propaganda is administered in Western nations, by Western nations, across the political spectrum — and the really blatant and well-known examples of its existence make up only a small sliver of the propaganda in which our civilization is continuously marinating.

The most common articles of propaganda — and by far the most consequential — are not the glaring, memorable instances that live in infamy among the critically minded. They’re the mundane messages, distortions and lies-by-omission that people are fed day in and day out to normalize the status quo and lay the foundation for more propaganda to be administered in the future.

One of the forms this takes is the way the Western political/media class manipulates the Overton window of acceptable political opinion.

Have you ever noticed how when you look at any mainstream newspaper, broadcast or news website, you never see views from those who oppose the existence of the U.S.-centralized empire? Or those who want to close all foreign U.S. military bases? Or those who want to dismantle capitalism? Or those who want a thorough rollback of the creeping authoritarianism our civilization is being subjected to?

You might see some quibbling about different aspects of the empire, some debate over de-escalating against Russia in order to better escalate against China, but you won’t ever see anyone calling for the end of the empire and its abuses altogether.

That’s propaganda. It’s propaganda in multiple ways: it . . .

Continue reading.

One thing that would protect us against propaganda is to teach every citizen, starting at a young age, critical thinking skills. (Edward DeBono developed a good program that begins in first grade and goes through elementary school, and it has proven effective in many schools.) However, I don’t believe that will happen in the US. The US has no national curriculum and the many thousands of school districts have the power to decide many aspects of curriculum (even though states do try to impose some curricular standards. What kills the teaching of critical thinking skills to young children is that, when they learn those skills, they start to practice them, and many parents do not like that. The children begin to question things the parents do not want questioned, and often parental pressure will kill the program.

Written by Leisureguy

3 June 2023 at 6:35 pm

How Tokyo Became an Anti-Car Paradise

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Daniel Knowles writes in Heatmap:

For cities that want to reduce the number of cars, bike lanes are a good place to start. They are cheap, usually city-level authorities can introduce them, and they do not require you to raise taxes on people who own cars. What if you want to do something more radical though? What would a city that genuinely wanted to get the car out of its citizens’ lives in a much bigger way do? A city that wanted to make it possible for most people to live decent lives and be able to get around without needing a car, even without needing to get on a bicycle?

There is only one city on Earth I have ever visited that has truly managed this. But it happens to be the biggest city on the planet: Tokyo, the capital of Japan.

In popular imagination, at least in the West, Tokyo is both incredibly futuristic, and also rather foreign and confusing. Before I first visited, in 2017, I imagined it to be an incredibly hectic place, a noisy, bustling megacity. I was on holiday and trying to escape Nairobi, the rather sprawling, low-height, and green city I was living in at the time, and I picked Tokyo largely because I wanted to get as far away from Africa as I could. I needed a break from the traffic jams, the power cuts, the constant negotiation to achieve anything, and the heat. I was looking for an escape somewhere as different as I could think of, and I wanted to ride trains around and look at high-tech skyscrapers and not worry about getting splattered by mud walking in the street. I was expecting to feel bowled over by the height of the buildings, the sheer crush of people, and the noise.

Yet when I emerged from the train station in Shibuya, blinking jetlagged in the morning light after a night flight from Amsterdam, what actually caught me off guard was not the bustle but rather how quiet the city is. When you see cliched images of Tokyo, what invariably is shown are the enormous crowds of pedestrians crossing the roads, or Mount Fuji in the background of the futuristic skyline. I expected something like Los Angeles in Blade Runner, I suppose — futuristic and overwhelming. From photos, Tokyo can look almost unplanned, with neon signs everywhere and a huge variety of forms of architecture. You expect it to feel messy. What I experienced, however, was a city that felt almost like being in a futuristic village. It is utterly calm, in a way that is actually rather strange.

And it took me a little while to realize why. There is simply no traffic noise. No hooting, no engine noise, not even much of the noise of cars accelerating on tarmac. Because there are so few of them. Most of the time you can walk in the middle of the street, so rare is the traffic. There are not even cars parked at the side of the road. That is not true of all of Tokyo, of course. The expressways are often packed. Occasionally, I was told, particularly when it snows, or during holidays when large numbers of people try to drive out to the countryside, jams form that can trap drivers for whole days. But on most residential streets, traffic is almost nonexistent. Even the relatively few cars that you do see are invariably tiny, quiet vehicles.

Among rich cities, Tokyo has the lowest car use in the world. According to Deloitte, a management consultancy, just  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2023 at 11:49 am

The Betty Crocker story

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Full disclosure: Decades ago, I had a Betty Crocker cookbook, and as I recall, it was a reliable cookbook. I didn’t much think about Ms. Crocker’s reality, but perhaps I just assumed that she was a real person rather than a meme.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2023 at 7:36 am

Pamela Paul, Cancel Culture Grifters, and the Republic of Letters

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Pamela Paul wrote a column (no paywall) in the NY Times that is being strongly criticized by those who actually understand the issues. (Pamela Paul does not.) David Karpf explains:

I am so tired of this grift.

It’s 2023. States are banning books. In Florida, they are dismantling a reputable Liberal Arts College, denying tenure cases of professors who aren’t sufficiently aligned with Ron Desantis and Chris Rufo. State legislatures are entertaining bills to end the tenure system altogether so they can fire ideological opponents. There is an active assault under way against institutions of higher education. It is not coming from the left.

And yet, here we are once again. The same hustlers are pushing the same tired schtick, insisting that their “heterodox” ideas are being CENSORED by mean colleagues and loud undergrads who have raised questions about the status quo ante. And, naturally, the New York Times is ON IT!

The latest entry into this overstuffed binder of photocopied anecdotes comes from Pamela Paul. Her column this week, titled “A paper that says science should be impartial was rejected by major journals. You can’t make this up,” makes it abundantly clear that she has zero familiarity with scientific journals, the peer review process, or how academia works. It’s clear that Paul chose to devote her scarce column inches to this topic because it aligns with her general worldview that there exists a righteous, meritocratic status hierarchy, and that is terribly threatened by those who fail to appreciate the status quo ante. Pamela Paul is a citizen of the Republic of Letters; its borders must be zealously defended.

(I generally try not to bother with Pamela Paul. As I remarked on Twitter, I think the subtext of every Pamela Paul column is “I’m just trying to make my ex-husband Bret Stephens’s columns look alright by comparison.” The bland musings of one tut-tutting centrist are more than enough for me.)

Paul tells the story of an eclectic set of academics, united in their *grave concern* that the pursuit of objective knowledge is under assault. The academics, hailing from a wide assortment of disciplines, submitted a 26-page diatribe to PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), one of the most prestigious journals in academia. PNAS publishes 6-12 page empirical papers, not 26-page essays. PNAS sent it out for peer review anyway. The peer reviewers were unkind, noting several of the glaring faults in the essay. PNAS rejected the paper. They then sent “informal inquiries” to several other journal editors, who informed them it didn’t seem like a good fit. The paper was eventually published in the “Journal of Controversial Ideas” a new open-access journal on whose editorial board two of the authors sit.

I’ve read the article. It’s bad. But, more importantly, this sequence of events is not the least bit newsworthy! PNAS has a 14% acceptance rate. Honestly, I’m astonished and a little livid that the editors sent it out for peer review instead of desk-rejecting it.

(For those who have never participated in academic peer review, the closest analogy is jury duty. You get an email from an editor that says, effectively, “hey, we’re gonna need you to stop doing all the regular parts of your job for ~1 workday. Instead, can you please read this and write a detailed, anonymous critique? You will not be paid for this extra work, but it is your civic duty to perform this task.” …Now imagine getting called for jury duty 10-20 times per year.)

The thesis of the article, “In Defense of Merit” is that the foundations of science itself are under threat from “Critical Social Justice.” The authors paint an idealized picture of how the scientific process is supposed to work. They then assert that it basically works just like that. Then they claim it is all imperiled by, essentially, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs. They helpfully turned this strawman comparison into a chart (page 9 of the paper, figure 3), which I’ll include below: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2023 at 6:58 pm

How Finland managed to virtually end homelessness

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Linda McQuaig writes in Toronto Star:

Determined to pack more homeless people into Toronto’s overcrowded shelters, officials have come up with a solution: reduce the number of inches between beds.

There’s a certain logic to this and it may be the best we can do — given our refusal to consider solutions that would actually be innovative.

And so it is that here in Toronto we’re busy studying how to jam more beds into already-cramped shelters, while over in Finland — where innovation is more than just another word for privatization — they’ve managed to virtually end homelessness.

OK, so the Finns are more generous and just shell out a lot more to help the homeless, right? Actually not. The Finns are simply smarter.

Instead of abandoning the homeless, they housed them. And that led to an insight: people tend to function better when they’re not living on the street or under a bridge. Who would have guessed?

It turns out that, given a place to live, Finland’s homeless were better able to deal with addictions and other problems, not to mention handling job applications. So, more than a decade after the launch of the “Housing First” policy, 80 per cent of Finland’s homeless are doing well, still living in the housing they’d been provided with — but now paying the rent on their own.

This not only helps the homeless, it turns out to be cheaper.

In Canada [and the US – LG], however, we’re determined to stick to market-based solutions, no matter how badly they fail or how costly they are.

Indeed, homelessness is just the extreme end of Canada’s dysfunctional housing market, which we’ve left largely in the domain of the private marketplace, creating a huge divide between those who can afford to buy a house and those who can’t.

This has resulted in a large underclass of tenants — roughly one-third of Canadian households — many of whom are little more than a pay cheque away from eviction.

More government intervention required

The situation cries out for more government intervention.

In fact, the government does intervene in the housing market — most notably in ways that actually enhance the privileged position of homeowners by, for instance, sparing them tax on the capital gains they receive on the sale of their homes.

This largely hidden government intervention in the housing market not only amounts to an enormous subsidy for homeowners — costing the federal government almost $10 billion a year in lost revenue — it also further disadvantages tenants by driving up housing prices, putting a home farther out of reach.

Of course, the government also . . ..

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2023 at 1:46 pm

True Threats And American Cultural Gulfs

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Ken White writes at The Popehat Report on how one’s cultural background influences one’s perceptions, and how the law handles that.

It’s weird out there, man.

We don’t live in a single unified culture here in America. We live in big messy toybox full of disparate cultures with some monocultural ideas (McDonald’s, putting the shopping cart back, not yelling at puppies) poured over the top. This is mostly fine. Monocultures are stultifying and trend towards tyranny. Different cultures rubbing elbows is great. Have you tried Korean/Mexican fusion? Those kimbap burritos are life-altering.

But many of the common-law concepts on which our legal system is built presume a monoculture, and work imperfectly in a big messy mix of cultures. Take the reasonable person standard — or, more traditionally, the reasonable man. I feel pretty comfortable I can guess what a suburban college-educated professional white dude thinks is reasonable. Do I know what a grade-school educated woman who immigrated from El Salvador working the garlic fields in Gilroy thinks is reasonable? Doubtful. There’s a gulf between our experiences, and that gulf makes it hard to imagine a shared reasonable person relevant to everyone.

My Threat Is True

These socioeconomic, ethnic, gender, and cultural gulfs show up in First Amendment law. Take the “true threats” doctrine. That’s the doctrine that a threat is only outside the protection of the First Amendment if it is “true” — that is, if a reasonable person would take it as a sincere expression of intent to do harm to someone. In an atomized society, what the hell does that mean? Is the standard some hypothetical generic middle-American? Is it a reasonable person from the subculture of the speaker, or the hearer, or both?

This is not an idle question. Different communities can have radically different understandings of whether words are threatening. Take the case of Justin Carter, a Texas kid charged with making terrorist threats for shit-talking on a chat for the game League of Legends. League is a game that appeals to chronological and behavioral adolescents. Judging from my son playing it in his room back when he was in high school, it requires shouting “fuck” a whole lot. It’s notorious, among people who are familiar with gaming communities, for being absolutely flooded with extravagant trolls and performative misanthropes. During a dispute in a chat, someone called Justin Carter “crazy” and he typed back“I’m fucked in the head alright, I think I’ma SHOOT UP A KINDERGARTEN … AND WATCH THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT RAIN DOWN … AND EAT THE BEATING HEART OF ONE OF THEM.” Now, maybe it’s just because I’ve been part of internet culture for half my life, but that’s very self-evidently hyperbole and trash-talk to me. The forum, the cultural context, the conversational context, and the language all scream that it’s not serious. But a Canadian mother (sent by the gods of dramatic and convention) saw it and reported it to the police, who prosecuted Justin Carter for a serious felony for five years before dropping it to a misdemeanor.

The problem was that the cultural context of the Canadian mother and the Texas prosecutors and judge was radically different than the cultural context of a too-online teenager. They have no shared “reasonable person.” Thus the prosecutors and judge thought this was self-evidently a terrifying threat and everyone who has ever been online further than their email immediately thought it was just internet bullshit. How do you resolve, for First Amendment purposes, which culture the “reasonable person” is from when they decide whether that could be a true threat?

Tone Dougie Speaks The Subjective

One way you might be able to bridge this gulf is by adding a subjective component to the true threats test. That is, you could require that to be a true threat, a statement must not be just objectively threatening to a reasonable person, but also require that the speaker had some sort of wrongful subjective intent — an intent that it be taken as a threat, recklessness or indifference to how it would be taken, or so forth. Different jurisdictions apply different rules for the subjective component of the true threats test.

In 2015, the United States Supreme Court declined to decide that question. In Elonis v. United Statesthe court took up the case of Anthony Elonis, a would-be rapper who called himself “Tone Dougie” and wrote menacing posts about his ex-wife, his kids’ school, and the FBI agents who visited him at home. Mr. Elonis — who years later became absolutely irate at me on Twitter for blocking him (because he’s a disturbed freak and calls himself Tone Dougie) — was convicted under the the federal interstate threat statute. The Supreme Court had the opportunity to rule whether (1) the First Amendment requires a subjective component to any true threats case or (2) whether recklessness would satisfy that standard, but instead (3) punted and only decided that the federal threats statute requires some kind of subjective intent, don’t ask us what, maybe we’ll tell you next time. That’s why they pay them the big bucks. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, but a lower court found that the failure to instruct the jury on subjective intent was harmless, and Mr. Elonis remained convicted. He served his time, but was recently convicted again of an entire new set of threats and last month sentenced to 151 more months in federal prison. This is not a promising development for his future, but still leaves him more respectable than the average white self-styled rapper.

This month, the Supreme Court stepped back into the true threats question in a case called Counterman v. ColoradoCounterman, who is mentally ill, was convicted of stalking a Colorado artist through thousands of unwelcome text messages with disturbing content. His lawyers argue that he lacked subjective intent to threaten. Colorado argues that his messages were objectively threatening and that creating a subjective test means that crazy people can menace others all they like. Many academics and organizations have weighed in on both sides, arguing that the subjective standard allows disturbed people to stalk at will or that failure to use a subjective test allows the government to punish jokes and political speech. Some conservatives on the Court seemed to use the argument as an opportunity to score cultural points, scoffing that kids these days are too sensitive. Other justices pointed out that a reasonable woman would find thousands of unwanted texts objectively terrifying and that’s not over-sensitive, you utter turd. The Court seemed, based on oral argument tea leaves, poised to consider whether being reckless about how speech is interpreted could satisfy the true threats test. Watch for the decision by June. It may or may not cast light on what the true threats test requires.

But however the Supreme Court decides Counterman, it won’t resolve the legal/cultural dilemmas America faces. Anthony Elonis’ ex-wife, and the artist threatened by Counterman, were women. Woman often assess threats differently than men do, and might ask whether “reasonable person” still does mean “reasonable man.” Cops who investigate crimes, prosecutors who pursue them, judges who preside over the cases, and juries that resolve them may come from dramatically different cultures than either the utterer or target of alleged threats, making it difficult to understand the context. However the Supreme Court rules, we’ll still be left with internet-illiterate prosecutors who take trash talk as true, and cops who refuse to investigate threats because women can just “go offline for a while.” There can be both under-prosecution and over-prosecution. Under-prosecution of threats is bad because in modern America threats are often used to suppress and deter free speech, free assembly, and freedom of worship.

We Know How To Consider Context

How would you devise a true threats standard that both protected people from being truly threatened and gave wide “breathing room” to free speech? I think we could . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2023 at 5:26 pm

The Dao of Using Your Smartphone: How rituals can change our relationship with technology.

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I have written and/or linked to a few posts on how one can frame some actions, particularly repeated actions, as ritual — see:

The topic came to mind when I read an article in Hedgehog Review by Alan Levinovitz. The article begins:

Screentime limitsDinner table lockboxesMinimalist devices. There’s no shortage of creative fixes for our broken relationship to smartphones. Consumption is the enemy, restriction is the solution, and new habits are the promised result. The goal? A more productive life, free from useless scrolling and hollow social media.

Unfortunately, this approach has serious drawbacks. Like a traditional diet, it requires endless vigilance and it pathologizes the target of restriction. More importantly, the goal reinforces the same values that tether us to our phones in the first place: productivity and utility.

As a professor of classical Chinese thought who has struggled with my devices, I follow a different approach inspired by Confucianism and Daoism. Instead of better habits achieved through restriction, we can aim to harmonize with our phones through ritual. Doing so requires something scary: abandoning the goals that drive us to change in the first place. But these traditions promise that the result will be better than anything we could have imagined ourselves.

Taking inspiration from Confucius doesn’t mean copying his rituals, which were meant for a radically different time and place. It’s about embracing his belief that ritual is essential to a life well-lived. For him, ritual is not limited to typical religious contexts like marriages or funerals. Our interactions with family, food, and the everyday rhythms of reality demand what he called ritual propriety. Performed properly, ritual leads to an effortlessly harmonious relationship with everything—and yes, that includes smartphones.

Here’s the catch, though:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2023 at 1:13 pm

Sleeping beauties: the evolutionary innovations that wait millions of years to come good

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Andreas Wagner has in the Guardian an edited extract from his book Sleeping Beauties: the Mystery of Dormant Innovations in Nature and Culture:

What are the most successful organisms on the planet? Some people might think of apex predators like lions and great white sharks. For others, insects or bacteria might come to mind. But few would mention a family of plants that we see around us every day: grasses.

Grasses meet at least two criteria for spectacular success. The first is abundance. Grasses cover the North American prairies, the African savannahs and the Eurasian steppes, which span 5,000 miles from the Caucasus to the Pacific Ocean. A second criterion is the number and diversity of species. Since the time grasses originated, they have evolved into more than 10,000 species with an astonishing variety of forms, from centimetre-high tufts of hair grass adapted to the freezing cold of Antarctica to the towering grasses of northern India that can hide entire elephant herds, and to Asian bamboo forests, with “trees” that grow up to 30 metres tall.

But grasses weren’t always so spectacularly successful. For tens of millions of years – most of their evolutionary history in fact – grasses barely eked out a living. Their origin dates back to the age of dinosaurs, more than 65m years ago. But for many millions of years, the fossil record suggests, they were not abundant. In fact, it wasn’t until less than 25m years ago that they became the dominant species that we recognise today.

Why did grasses have to wait 40m years for their proverbial spot in the sun? This mystery deepens once you know that, early on, evolution endowed grasses with multiple survival-enhancing innovations. Among them are chemical defences like lignin and silicon dioxide that grind down the teeth of grazing animals. These features also protect grasses against drought, as do sophisticated metabolic innovations that help them conserve water.

With these and other innovations, you’d think that grasses would have quickly become dominant. But their delayed success holds a profound truth about new life forms. Success depends on much more than some intrinsic characteristic of a new life form, like an enhancement or a novel ability bestowed by an innovation. It depends on the world into which this life form is born.

Grasses are among myriad new life forms whose success – measured in abundance or diversity of species – was delayed for millions of years. The first ants appeared on the scene 140m years ago, but ants did not begin to branch into today’s 11,000 or more species until 40m years later. Mammals with various lifestyles – ground-dwelling, tree-climbing, flying or swimming – originated more than 100m years before they became successful 65m years ago. And one family of saltwater clams had to wait for an astonishing 350m years before it hit the big time, diversifying into 500 species.

These and many other new life forms remained dormant before succeeding explosively. They are the sleeping beauties of biological evolution. They cast doubt on many widely assumed beliefs about success and failure. And these doubts apply not just to the innovations of nature, but also to those of human culture.

For life to develop, it had to overcome challenges through innovation – such as how to extract energy from minerals, from organic molecules and from sunlight, or how to escape predators and stalk prey. Each of these kinds of challenges can be met in many ways, each emerging as a creative product of biological evolution, each embodied in a species with a unique lifestyle, millions of them and counting, as evolution marches on.

Innovation did not stop with biological evolution. Species with sophisticated nervous systems including chimpanzees, dolphins and crows have discovered simple technologies – tools they use to hunt or gather food. In the 12,000 years since the agricultural revolution, human culture has come up with revolutionary innovations such as mathematics and writing, as well as countless smaller ones, from the wheel to wallpaper. Countless sleeping beauties are among them. They include breakthrough technologies like radar, initially ignored, and scientific discoveries like the genetic laws of inheritance, which were neglected for decades.

Granted, nature and culture do not create in exactly the same way. The ink and paper of Newton’s Principia is a different substrate of creativity than the cells, tissues and organs in a blue whale. A writer’s grit in wrestling with the 15th draft of a chapter is a different motor of creation than random mutations of DNA. A patent’s commercial value is a different measure of success than how often the bacterium Escherichia coli divides every day.

But beyond these differences lie deep similarities. One of them is that a great number of innovations arrive before their time. Creative products without apparent merit, value or utility, but with the power to transform life given enough time, are everywhere in nature and culture. The sleeping beauties of nature can help us understand why creating may be easy, but creating successfully is beyond hard. It is outside the creator’s control.

he caterpillars of monarch butterflies are addicted to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2023 at 12:23 pm

Jay Rosen: The modern conservative movement gets its energy from “verification in reverse”

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It’s an interesting thought that Rosen sets out. Once he’s pointed it out, the Right’s ongoing “de-verification” becomes obvious, and you can readily spot many examples.

One method de-verifiers frequently use is “I’m just asking questions,” which the de-verifier chants as he works. He never actually asserts anything, but chips away and weakens established norms and cultural structures.

Preserving and building are difficult, but destruction is relatively easy.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2023 at 9:03 am

Gun Violence Is Worse in Red States. It’s Not Even Close.

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Colin Woodward has a fascinating and lengthy article in Politico with engrossing and illuminating interactive maps.

Colin Woodard is a POLITICO Magazine contributing writer and director of the Nationhood Lab at Salve Regina University’s Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy. He is the author of six books including American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.

I highly recommend reading the article. His focus in the article is on the larger regions, so he doesn’t even mention First Nation, which in this more detailed article he describes as:


First Nation is populated by native American groups that generally never gave up their land by treaty and have largely retained cultural practices and knowledge that allow them to survive in this hostile region on their own terms. The nation is now reclaiming its sovereignty, having won considerable autonomy in Alaska and Nunavut and a self-governing nation state in Greenland that stands on the threshold of full independence. Its territory is huge – far larger than the continental United States – but its population is less than 300,000, most of whom live in Canada.

I wish he had talked about First Nation because the number of gun deaths is extraordinarily high, but the number of homicides is very low: the deaths are suicides. (You can click on the maps in the Politico article to see what I mean.)

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2023 at 2:10 pm

Clan tartans for Asians in Scotland

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Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2023 at 10:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Memes

The Republican approach to destroying American democracy to establish an authoritarian regime

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Heather Cox Richardson offers a clear analysis of the intent and methods we see being used to destroy America. She writes:

Although no one has seen the charges, MAGA Republican lawmakers reacted to the decision of a grand jury of ordinary citizens to charge a former president by preemptively accusing Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg of abusing the power of the government against MAGA Republicans.

“[C]orrupt Socialist District Attorney Alvin Bragg [and] the radical Far Left” (New York representative Elise Stefanik) “irreparably damaged our country” (House speaker Kevin McCarthy) “for pure political gain” (Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin). It is “a direct assault on the tens of millions of Americans who support [Trump]” (Ohio senator J. D. Vance), and “[the House Republicans] will hold Alvin Bragg accountable” (Stefanik, again).

The lawmakers have reached their position after extensive coordination with Trump, with whom Stefanik, Jordan, and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speak regularly to keep him abreast of what they know about investigations and to plan policy. As Stephen Collinson pointed out on CNN, they are taking to a new level what they have been doing since Trump took office: weaponizing the government to put Trump back into power.

As the Manhattan grand jury’s investigation got close to a decision, McCarthy backed an investigation of the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Promptly, committee chairs Jim Jordan (R-OH, Judiciary), James Comer (R-KY, Oversight and Accountability), and Bryan Steil (R-WI, House Administration) demanded that Bragg turn over all documents and testimony related to the investigation and appear before them to answer questions. As the counsel for the district attorney’s office, Leslie B. Dubeck, pointed out in response, these demands are “an unprecedented and illegitimate incursion on New York’s sovereign interests” and amount to  “unlawful political interference.”

Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, told Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent: “This is an extreme move to use the resources of Congress to interfere with a criminal investigation at the state and local level and block an indictment.” It is, he said, “the kind of political culture you find in authoritarian dictatorships.”

At Axios today, Sophia Cai and Juliegrace Brufke ran the numbers of Trump backers in Congress. Thirty-seven Republicans have already endorsed him, and in the House, McCarthy has put them into key positions. Trump supporters make up more than a third of the Republicans members on the Committee on the Judiciary, which oversees the legal system, and the Committee on Oversight, which oversees government accountability. Nine of the 25 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee support him; 11 of the 26 Republicans on House Oversight do, too.

What is actually in the indictment remains unknown, but the language Republicans are using to attack it reveals that what it says doesn’t particularly matter. Their claim that “the Left” is “weaponizing government” against the right echoes “post-liberal” ideology. This worldview explains why the right wing continues to lose ground in society despite Republican victories at the polls. The problem is not that right-wing positions are unpopular, post-liberal thinkers insist, it’s that the “left” has captured the nation’s institutions.

They argue that the ideas that underpin democracy—equality before the law, separation of church and state, academic freedom, a market-driven economy, free speech—have undermined virtue. These values are “liberal” values because they are based on the idea of the importance of individual freedom from an oppressive government, and they are at the heart of American democracy.

But post-liberal thinkers say that liberalism’s defense of individual rights has destroyed the family, communities, and even the fundamental differences between men and women, throwing society into chaos. They propose to restore the values of traditional Christianity, which would, they believe, restore traditional family structures and supportive communities, and promote the virtue of self-sacrifice as people give up their individualism for their children (their worldview utterly rejects abortion).

The position of those embracing a post-liberal order is a far cry from the Reagan Republicans’ claim to want small government and free markets. The new ideologues want a strong government to enforce their religious values on American society, and they reject those of both parties who support democratic norms—for it is those very norms they see as destructive. They urge their leaders to “dare to rule.”

Those who call for a new post-liberal order want to “reconquer public institutions all over the United States,” as Christopher Rufo put it after Florida governor Ron DeSantis appointed him to the board of New College as part of a mission to turn the progressive school into a right-wing bastion. “If we can take this high-risk, high-reward gambit and turn it into a victory,” Rufo told Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times, “we’re going to see conservative state legislators starting to reconquer public institutions all over the United States.”

To spur that process, Republicans have turned to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 April 2023 at 3:59 am

Who hates inclusivity? The question answers itself.

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Dan Froomkin writes in Press Watch:

There is no rational, acceptable reason to run an opinion column, nine days after the  Supreme Court’s devastating repeal of reproductive rights, arguing that the “far left” is denying women their humanity as much as the “far right” – based on the fact that a handful of people are trying to use more inclusive language to acknowledge that trans men can get pregnant, too.

But that, of course, is exactly what the editors of the New York Times opinion section chose to do on Saturday, running a piece headlined “The Far Right and Far Left Agree on One Thing: Women Don’t Count,” by their newly-minted columnist Pamela Paul, the former Book Review editor who apparently was brought over to opinion primarily to troll the libs.

Both-sidesing would have been a step up for this column, which devoted only 52 words out of 1,300 to the right’s decades-long campaign to strip women of their rights. The rest was about how “the fringe left” is “jumping in with its own perhaps unintentionally but effectively misogynist agenda.”

The central thesis of Paul’s argument was an exaggerated summary of a scaremongering news article from last month by Michael Powell, one of the two star reporters the Times has assigned to the woke-panic/cancel-culture beat –the other being Anemona Hartocollis, who just a few days ago gave us this already infamous piece of soft-focus cancel porn.

Powell, Paul wrote, had concluded that “the word ‘women’ has become verboten.”

In reality, some groups, sometimes, use gender-neutral language because, as NARAL explained (in a tweet over a year ago) “it’s not just cis-gender women that can get pregnant and give birth… We’re being inclusive. It’s that simple.”

But nobody is eliminating the word woman. That is incontrovertibly bullshit.

So why write such a thing? Why publish it?

As it happens, I ask myself those questions a lot these days. Our most elite media outlets – the Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, among others – seem to be constantly running articles that cast wokeism and cancel culture as threats to society equal or greater than an extremist political party that is quickly and effectively eroding American human rights, free speech, and democracy.

Well, I’ve seen enough. I have answers.

What all these articles reflect is . . .

Continue reading.

More on Ms. Paul, who allegedly kept a list of authors whose books she would not allowed to be reviewed in the NY Times Book Review because she had caught those writers criticizing Bret Stephens, a person who deserves (and gets) much criticism.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2023 at 1:35 pm

Redpilled, QAnon, Anti-Vaccine: Conservative versions of ‘woke’

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Gil Duran and George Lakoff write at FrameLab:

In our previous post, “Time to Get Woke About Woke,” we analyzed the meaning of the term “woke” and how it has been co-opted by Republicans as a catch-all label for anything associated with liberal moral values. This post will delve into a more insidious tactic employed by Republicans, which involves denouncing perceived progressive radicalism while simultaneously promoting and glorifying their own version of radicalism.

While Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are busy decrying “woke” politics (and labeling all Democratic policies as woke), they are also busily embracing their own versions of woke. The Republican Party fully embraces radical politics — as long as those radical politics reflect its own moral beliefs.

Many Republican leaders have been fully engaged in the radical politics of election denial, vaccine denial and unprecedented efforts to strip away the rights and freedoms of women, people of color and LGBT people. While condemning “ideological conformity,” DeSantis has simultaneously made it easier to ban books, has limited the discussion of gender identity and sexuality in schools and has forbidden the teaching of an Advanced Placement course on African American studies.

Last year, DeSantis signed the Stop Woke Act, which “prohibits in-school discussions about racism, oppression, LBGTQ+ issues and economic inequity,” according to The Guardian. This is quite extreme. It’s also clearly an effort to enforce, rather than prevent, ideological conformity — specifically, ideological conformity to a strict conservative moral worldview.

Politicians like DeSantis accuse others of embracing radicalism while they openly embrace conservative radicalism. The Republican Party, after all, is the party responsible for the violent insurrection at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. This kind of radical politics is far more dangerous and destructive than any other force in the United States today. But Republicans, experts at distraction, prefer to focus the debate on issues like gender pronouns and drag shows.

Redpilled: Woke Republicans

There’s even a word that describes the Republican version of woke: Redpilled. The metaphor of redpilled comes from the movie The Matrix, where the character played by Keanu Reeves must choose between a red pill or a blue pill. The red pill will awaken him to the true nature of reality, in which nothing is as it seems. The blue pill will allow the character, Neo, to remain blissfully asleep and unaware. He takes the red pill.

Take the red pill” has become shorthand for the process of converting to a reactionary and conspiracy-tinged Republican view of the world. In 2020, Elon Musk, who has been going through a very public meltdown into reactionary politics, urged his Twitter followers to “take the red pill.” This earned a cringeworthy response from Ivanka Trump, who tweeted enthusiastically that she had already taken it. (This, in turn, earned a memorable response from Matrix co-creator Lilly Wachowski, a trans woman, who tweeted: “F— both of you.”)

The core of the Republican base celebrates and encourages conservative versions of wokeness/radicalism. The Fox channel and other extreme propaganda outlets churn out a constant stream of disreality to keep their audiences “awake” to a range of imaginary grievances and threats. Just look at the rise of QAnon, an outlandish and thoroughly debunked anti-government conspiracy theory believed by 25% of Republicans.

The Republican base has become an extreme radical movement, increasingly prone to violence and lacking in commitment to democracy. Republicans love radicalism — as long as it’s a version that serves their belief system.

Linguistic misdirection

It’s no accident that, at a time of rising Republican radicalism, Republicans are busy framing the Democratic Party as the true radical menace. Such misdirection serves an important strategic purpose.

First, it distracts from the true threat to democracy, which is the violent radicalism of the Republican Party.

Second, . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2023 at 3:00 pm

The disabled villain: why sensitivity reading can’t kill off this ugly trope

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Jan Grue writes in the Guardian:

Some years ago, I decided to read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. It may have been a fit of nostalgia for the Roger Moore films I grew up watching, or perhaps I was bored with writing short stories for a minuscule readership and wanted to know what mass-market success read like.

It was quite an experience – and one I found myself recalling recently, when I read that Fleming’s books were being revised, chiefly in order to remove some, though not all, of the casual racism. Also some of the misogyny, though likely not all of that either.

My first question, on reading the news, was what kind of reader exactly was the publisher, Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, envisioning. Presumably someone who would, were it not for the most explicit slurs, really enjoy the ethnic stereotypes. Or someone who would, were it not for the full-on rapes, really enjoy the pervasive sexism. (Come to think of it, there are probably quite a few of these readers.)

The other question that struck me was this: what on earth are they going to do about disability?

As a wheelchair user, I could not help noticing that the original Bond books had, shall we say, an interesting relationship to embodied differenceIt was a feature of Fleming’s writing that would be all but impossible to alter through the interventions of a sensitivity reader, hired by the publisher to make the books more palatable to contemporary readers. Fleming’s attitude to disability was encoded not only in words and phrases, but in characterisation and plot – that is, in the stories’ most fundamental qualities.

It is not a novel observation that Bond villains tend to be, to use a less sensitive register, disfigured and deformed. Dr No with his steel pincers instead of hands, Blofeld with his scars, Hugo Drax, the villain from Moonraker, with his facial disfigurement and his pathetic attempt to conceal it with a “bushy reddish beard” (reddish hair may itself count as a deformity in these stories). Were they not successfully self-employed, most of Bond’s enemies would likely qualify for disability benefits.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2023 at 4:43 pm

How big Christian nationalism has come courting in North Idaho

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Jack Jenkins reports at Religion News Service (with audio at the link):

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (RNS) — Earlier this month, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican, addressed the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, whose purview runs from this small resort city up along the Washington state border. Before she spoke, a local pastor and onetime Idaho state representative named Tim Remington, wearing an American flag-themed tie, revved up the crowd: “If we put God back in Idaho, then God will always protect Idaho.”

Greene’s remarks lasted nearly an hour, touching on a range of topics dear to her far-right fans: claims about the 2020 election being “stolen,” sympathy for those arrested for taking part in attacking the U.S. Capitol and her opposition to vaccine mandates.

She then insisted that Democrats in Washington have abandoned God and truth — specifically, the “sword” of biblical truth, which she said “will hurt you.”

The room of partisans applauded throughout, sometimes shouting “Amen!”

The event may be the closest thing yet to Greene’s vision for the GOP, which she has urged to become the “party of Christian nationalism.” The Idaho Panhandle’s especially fervent embrace of the ideology may explain why Greene, who has sold T-shirts reading “Proud Christian Nationalist,” traveled more than 2,300 miles to a county with fewer than 67,000 Republican voters to talk about biblical truth: Amid ongoing national debate over Christian nationalism, North Idaho offers a window at what actually trying to manifest a right-wing vision for a Christian America can look like — and the power it can wield in state politics.

North Idaho has long been known for its hyperlibertarians, apocalyptic “preppers” and white supremacist groups who have retreated to the region’s sweeping frozen lakes and wild forests to await the collapse of American society, when they’ll assert control over what remains.

But in recent years, the state’s existing separatists have been joined by conservatives fleeing bluer Western states, opportunistic faith leaders, real-estate developers and, most recently, those opposed to COVID-19 restrictions and vaccines. Though few arrived carrying Christian nationalist banners, many have quickly adopted aspects of the ideology to advance conservative causes and seek strength in unity.

The origin of North Idaho’s relationship with contemporary Christian nationalism can be traced to a 2011 blog post published by survivalist author James Wesley, Rawles (the comma is his addition). Titled “The American Redoubt — Move to the Mountain States,” Rawles’ 4,000-word treatise called on conservative followers to pursue “exit strategies” from liberal states and move to “safe havens” in the American Northwest — specifically Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and eastern sections of Oregon and Washington. He dubbed the imagined region the “American Redoubt” and listed Christianity as a foundational pillar of his society-to-be. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 February 2023 at 6:21 pm

In the US most young men are single. Most young women are not.

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Daniel de Visé has an interesting but ominous article in The Hill that strikes me as showing some serious cracks in the social infrastructure. He writes:

More than 60 percent of young men are single, nearly twice the rate of unattached young women, signaling a larger breakdown in the social, romantic and sexual life of the American male.

Men in their 20s are more likely than women in their 20s to be romantically uninvolved, sexually dormant, friendless and lonely. They stand at the vanguard of an epidemic of declining marriage, sexuality and relationships that afflicts all of young America.

“We’re in a crisis of connection,” said Niobe Way, a psychology professor and founder of the Project for the Advancement of Our Common Humanity at New York University. “Disconnection from ourselves and disconnection from each other. And it’s getting worse.”

In the worst-case scenario, the young American man’s social disconnect can have tragic consequences. Young men commit suicide at four times the rate of young women. Younger men are largely responsible for rising rates of mass shootings, a trend some researchers link to their growing social isolation.

Societal changes that began in the Eisenhower years have eroded the patriarchy that once ruled the American home, classroom, and workplace. Women now collect nearly 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees. Men still earn more, but among the youngest adults, the income gap has narrowed to $43 a week.

Scholars say the new era of gender parity has reshaped relationship dynamics, empowering young women and, in many cases, removing young men from the equation.

“Women don’t need to be in long-term relationships. They don’t need to be married. They’d rather go to brunch with friends than have a horrible date,” said Greg Matos, a couple and family psychologist in Los Angeles, who recently penned a viral article titled “What’s Behind the Rise of Lonely, Single Men.”

Recent years have seen a historic rise in . . .

Continue reading.

This trend might help explain the simmering anger evident in Right-wing men: they are losing the easy feeling of superiority that came with the XY chromosome.

Written by Leisureguy

22 February 2023 at 10:27 am

Last orders: how we fell out of love with alcohol

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Michael Segalov’s article in the Guardian from mid-January was of interest to me because I find that I have drifted away from drinking, with the exception of a glass of wine at holiday dinners with family. It was not so much intentional as a gradual loss of interest and a gradual and growing awareness of how it made me feel, both during and after, and the realization that I didn’t like the feeling.

Apparently, I am not alone. Segalov writes:

Cheers and mazel tov! We’ve made it halfway through January. Yes, our bodies endured a pounding through the festive frivolities, but through that excruciating cumulative hangover we somehow survived. Our recycling bins have been collected, those bottles of bubbly out of sight and mind. New-year-new-me resolutions can now be abandoned. Anyone fancy a pint?

Or this year, does another round feel less appealing? You’re far from alone if, in 2023, you’re considering calling time once and for all. Welcome to the era of the sober-curious; the apparently ever-growing movement of people exploring what life could look like alcohol-free. Among young Brits, the numbers look irrefutable: between 2002 and 2019, the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds in England who reported monthly drinking fell from 67% to 41%. And while the stats don’t show older adults putting down the plonk on a permanent basis, something is shifting. According to Dry January’s organisers, this year one in six UK adults who drink alcohol are attempting to participate. Alcohol-free beers were once a fringe choice; today they’re found nationwide on supermarket shelves. No longer do 0% orders come with a side of pregnancy questions or bemused stares.

Until recently, I’d assumed my millennial peers to be distinct from this new generation of abstainers – that this was firmly the preserve of Gen Z. But recently, I’ve noticed a change. Now there’s a steady stream of posts appearing on my social media feeds in which friends – in their late 20s or early 30s – announce that they are embarking on sobriety journeys of their own.

Often, these are people quitting not because of what might traditionally be perceived as a drinking problem. Most have simply decided they’re better off without. It’s even seeping into dating: according to the app Bumble, a third of its British users are now more likely to go on a dry date than they were pre-pandemic. And nearly two-thirds of us believe sober dating leads to more lasting connections.

I can’t claim to count myself among a generation of disinclined drinkers. Through my teenage years, booze was revered: the epitome of aspirational adulthood. My contemporaries weren’t particularly heavy drinkers in early adolescence, although that was a question of supply over demand. By 15, I was pinching a beer or two from the kitchen cupboard. Soon, my dad’s spirit bottles were slowly but surely watered down. The evening after my final GCSE, a group of us went camping. I downed an entire two-litre bottle of Strongbow while tents were being erected and immediately passed out for the night.

At university, drinking ramped up exponentially. We were better versed in the latest drinks deals than the contents of our courses: two-for-a-fiver bottles of “Italian white” the ideal start to any night, in or out. Now I’m approaching 30, my drinking has certainly been tempered. Tequila Tuesdays? RIP. But drinking is, without doubt, still a cornerstone of my social life, despite my 2017 Sober October attempt. Many of the most joyful experiences of my youth – and, honestly, adulthood – have revolved around getting moderately trashed. Turns out not everyone agrees.

While the phrase “sober-curiosity” gained popularity in 2018, this change in drinking habits can be traced further back. Dr Amy Pennay, a senior research fellow at La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy in Melbourne, monitors global alcohol consumption. “In rich countries we are certainly seeing a decline in young people drinking,” Pennay tells me. But this is not unique to the past few years.

Adolescent alcohol consumption has, since the turn of the millennium, been in decline.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 February 2023 at 10:06 am

America’s treatment of non-whites is a shameful record

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Heather Cox Richardson:

On February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky. Exactly 100 years later, journalists, reformers, and scholars meeting in New York City deliberately chose the anniversary of his birth as the starting point for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

They vowed “to promote equality of rights and eradicate caste or race prejudice among citizens of the United States; to advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for their children, employment according to their ability, and complete equality before the law.”

The spark for the organization of the NAACP was a race riot in Springfield, Illinois, on August 14 and 15, 1908. The violence broke out after the sheriff transferred two Black prisoners, one accused of murder and another of rape, to a different town out of concern for their safety.

Furious that they had been prevented from vengeance against the accused, a mob of white townspeople looted businesses and burned homes in Springfield’s Black neighborhood. They lynched two Black men and ran most of the Black population out of town. At least eight people died, more than 70 were injured, and at least $3 million of damage in today’s money was done before 3,700 state militia troops quelled the riot.

When he and his wife visited Springfield days later, journalist William English Walling found white citizens outraged that their Black neighbors had forgotten “their place.” Walling claimed he had heard a dozen times: “Why, [they] came to think they were as good as we are!”

“If these outrages had happened thirty years ago…, what would not have happened in the North?” wrote Walling. “Is there any doubt that the whole country would have been aflame?”

Walling warned that either the North must revive the spirit of Lincoln and the abolitionists and commit to “absolute political and social equality” or the white supremacist violence of the South would spread across the whole nation. “The day these methods become general in the North every hope of political democracy will be dead, other weaker races and classes will be persecuted in the North as in the South, public education will undergo an eclipse, and American civilization will await either a rapid degeneration or another profounder and more revolutionary civil war….”

He called for a “large and powerful body of citizens” to come to the aid of Black Americans.

Walling was the well-educated descendant of a wealthy enslaving family from Kentucky and had become deeply involved in social welfare causes at the turn of the century. His column on the Springfield riot prompted another well-educated social reformer, Mary White Ovington, to write and offer her support. Together with Walling’s friend Henry Moskowitz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania who was well connected in New York Democratic politics, Walling and Ovington met with a group of other reformers, Black and white, in the Wallings’ apartment in New York City in January 1909 to create a new civil rights organization.

In a public letter, the group noted that “If Mr. Lincoln could revisit this country in the flesh he would be disheartened and discouraged.” Black Americans had lost their right to vote and were segregated from white Americans in schools, railroad cars, and public gatherings. “Added to this, the spread of lawless attacks upon the negro, North, South and West—even in the Springfield made famous by Lincoln—often accompanied by revolting brutalities, sparing neither sex, nor age nor youth, could not but shock the author of the sentiment that ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.’”

The call continued, “Silence . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2023 at 4:50 pm

Is everything Multi-Level Marketing (MLM)?

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Anne Helen Petersen has an interesting article at Culture Study:

A few years ago, the New York Times published a sprawling investigation into the spread of CorePower Yoga. The piece detailed how CorePower’s business model is contingent upon enrolling thousands in expensive “teacher training” courses, even though there’s already a surfeit of teachers out there. The company makes money from the teacher training, and teachers’ own labor becomes devalued, as they’re encouraged to teach for less or teach for donations (appealing to yogic principles of service and selflessness as a means of excusing it).

The first time I was told I should do teacher training, it was 2010, and I’d been going to the same hot yoga (not Bikram) studio for two years. You’re not supposed to be competitive at yoga, and I wasn’t competitive with others so much as with myself. It became natural to go every day, to pull “doubles” (when you attend two classes in a row) on weekends. There’s a cultishness to yoga — a natural outgrowth, I think, of intense physical and spiritual experiences — and it’s fair to say that I was addicted. I didn’t know my teachers in any capacity other than the 90 minutes of interaction, but I felt strongly about them, venerated them, craved their approval.

So when one of them casually said I should think about teacher training, I bashfully shook my head and averred, but I was secretly thrilled. I knew it would never happen — I was bad at handstands! I was a grad student and absolutely did not have thousands of dollars!— but I’d turn the idea over in my mind every day, when I was feeling dissatisfied or aimless or insecure in the rest of my life. I could be a yoga teacher! I could spend my life in stretchy fabrics, with great arms, eating açai bowls and friending students on Facebook!

My studio wasn’t a CorePower studio, but it was clear even then that the teacher trainings — along with the retreats, located everywhere from the Texas Hill Country to Bali — were the real money makers for the teachers leading them. If I hadn’t been a grad student, already scraping to pay the monthly student rate, I would’ve been so susceptible to my own teachers’ appeals: to my ego, but also to my desire to cultivate a side hustle I was “passionate about.”

I know a lot of people go to teacher training knowing full well that it’s basically Advanced Placement (AP) Yoga, not a direct conduit to actually becoming a teacher. But certainly not all — and they’re the ones still struggling to pay off the cost of the training, taking whatever classes they can at the local 24 Fitness. (Not that there’s anything wrong with 24 Fitness — it’s just not what most yoga practitioners imagine when they imagine themselves teaching).

The yoga teacher recruitment model is strikingly similar to an MLM (Multi Level Marketing scheme; think Avon and Amway, but also think LuLaRoe and Herbalife and Lipsense and DoTerra, and absolutely read Meg Conley on what got left out of the LuLaRoe documentary). MLMs are called pyramid schemes because the person at the top — the very first recruiter — is the one who reaps the benefits of every other recruit. But I find the metaphor of the pyramid useful in terms of structure: the integrity of the whole is contingent upon the retainment of each individual part; at the same time, growth can only through continual expansion of the base.

When I tweeted about the CorePower piece, an academic responded:

“This sounds….familiar: ‘CorePower churns out thousands more “certified” teachers than the company offers to employ.’”

She was referring to what’s known as the “overproduction” of PhDs: too many people come to grad school with the intent of finding employment within academia, and far too few sustainable academic jobs there at the end. As anyone in any field understands, when there’s way more qualified applicants than jobs, the existing jobs can demand more of applicants (more qualifications, less money) while applicants lower their own expectations (for compensation, for benefits, for job security, for course load and service, for location).

So why don’t academic departments just decrease the number of PhD students they accept? Because those students have become an integral cog in the contemporary university. All the way back in 2000, the National Research Council’s report on “Addressing the Nation’s Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists” found that the number of new PhDs awarded every year “is well above that needed to keep pace with growth in the U.S. economy and to replace those leaving the workforce as a result of retirement and death.” The report suggested that there should be no increase in the number of PhDs, but does not call for a decrease: “to change suddenly the numbers of people could be very disruptive to the research that’s going on at the present time.”

Put differently, those PhD students are providing (bargain) labor in labs; to decrease the flow of incoming students would necessitate a dramatic rethinking of the funding/viability of various labs. The Humanities don’t have labs, but they do have massive numbers of undergraduate courses that need teaching. In English programs, it’s some version of “comp,” or composition; in foreign language programs, it’s intro language classes; in communications, it’s public speaking. Many of these courses are mandated “core” in some capacity, ensuring an unwavering stream of students, and an unwavering demand for graduate student labor to serve them. To decrease the number of graduate students, again, would be to decrease the supply of labor. To rectify the loss, you’d either have to hire adjuncts or more professors (both more expensive than graduate students, although in many cases adjuncts may cost less but are more “complicated”) or decrease the number of admitted students (a significant loss to the university). So the system remains.

Some schools start PhD programs — even though they know that their institution is not prestigious enough to place its graduates in “good” jobs, unless they are truly stellar — as a sort of labor generator: lure students with the promise of tuition remission, and you’ve got at least four years of their labor. Some MA programs also provide tuition remission in exchange for TA’ing; others are Master’s Traps with no opportunity to TA, just the opportunity for 10-40 students to pay full tuition, even if the chances of moving on to a PhD program (or full-time employment in their field) is small. (You can read the Culture Study series on Master’s Traps herehere, and here).

We talk a lot about how “for-profit” colleges (Cappella, Phoenix, dozens of others) exploit students’ internalized belief that the only way to pull themselves and their families up through the capitalist system is a degree — no matter if they have to take out massive amounts of debt to do it, no matter if they’re steered towards degree programs (massage therapy) in which there’s little chance to find employment that will even cover a student loan payment, let alone allow the student to pull themselves up the class ladder. (Of course, a degree can provide that route — but usually it can be obtained for much, much less at the local community college.) . . .

Continue reading. And do continue. The argument gets stronger and stronger.

Scams abound everywhere.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2023 at 4:38 pm

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