Category Archives: Politics

Ross Douthat: American conservatives need to be more reactionary

Ross Douthat, who like David Brooks somehow has a steady gig at the New York Times, has a variation on the theory liberals should be blamed for Trump: the real problem is that conservatives aren’t conservative enough (not a direct link). Academia and the intelligentsia are filled with radical, left-wing reactionaries (he references a study claiming discrimination against conservatives in social psychology and that academics in general are more left wing than in the last century); conservative intellectuals, by contrast are milquetoasts: “Our intelligentsia obviously does have a conservative wing, mostly clustered in think tanks rather than on campuses. But little of this conservatism really deserves the name reaction. What liberals attack as “reactionary” on the American right is usually just a nostalgia for the proudly modern United States of the Eisenhower or Reagan eras — the effective equivalent of liberal nostalgia for the golden age of labor unions. A truly reactionary vision has to reject more than just the Great Society or Roe v. Wade; it has to cut deeper, to the very roots of the modern liberal order.”

First off, I cry bullshit on “just a nostalgia.” When conservatives complain about how women shouldn’t have the vote, or still calling to ban gay marriage (as Ted Cruz has) or how Muslims aren’t entitled to religious freedom, or women shouldn’t have sex without consequences they’re not just waxing nostalgic for the days Americans lived in a white-dominated, straight-dominated, male-dominated, Protestant-dominated nation. They’re wanting us to go back there, and I don’t have the slightest doubt that if they could legally push us back that way, they’d do it.

Second, if getting rid of gays and longing for the days of shotgun weddings isn’t reactionary enough, just what is? Here Douthat flounders, possibly because he’s aware there’s no answer that makes him look good (I don’t doubt Douthat would favor a movement of theocratic reactionaries as he’s one himself but he doesn’t say that here) He admits that his definition of “reactionary” would include the Confederacy and fascism which are bad, but reactionaries are still important because they see past the optimism that clouds liberal and conservative thinking and recognize “the inevitable return of hierarchy, the ease of intellectual and aesthetic decline, the poverty of modern substitutes for family and patria and religion” and that even though they’re wrong, sometimes they’re right, so there you are! Oh, and authors with reactionary politics like Kipling (imperialist and anti-semite) still deserve study (I think Kipling’s an awesome writer myself but no, his politics are not worthy of resurrection).  The end result is like a Lovecraftian horror story—faced with a conclusion that would blast our sanity (or at least Douthat’s reputation as a serious thinker) he resorts to elliptical descriptions of the Crawling Chaos.

As a final point, it’s worth noting that most of the reactionary insights aren’t really such. In writing elsewhere, his concept of “the poverty of modern substitutes for family” includes gay marriage and more generally the sense that marriage and kids are optional rather than obligatory. Modern substitutes for religion include atheism and secularism. I don’t think any of these things are actually poor substitutes rather than good things (at least potentially) in their own right. “The inevitable return of hierarchy” is due to people who are at the top of the hierarchy pushing like hell to stay there, and to keep the rest of the people below them. And as for intellectual decline—okay, there he has a point. His own columns pretty much showcase it (for an example, watch Susan of Texas dissect Douthat’s follow-up column on reactionaries).


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David Brooks: Don’t blame Republicans, Americans are at fault (except, I imagine, himself)

It’s been a while since I’ve devoted a post to David Brooks, but I see he hasn’t improved. As witness a recent column arguing that the real problem with our dysfuncitonal government isn’t our leaders, it’s us and our damned individualism.

Sure, the next president could tell Congress that “We’ll disagree and wrangle, but we will not treat this as good-versus-evil blood sport.” and change the tone in Wshington, but what’s really important is “the social context politics is embedded in.” If society worked, Brooks says, we’d be members of many extended families — church, recreational groups, neighborhood watch, PTA, our employer’s company. “But starting just after World War II, America’s community/membership mind-set gave way to an individualistic/autonomy mind-set. The idea was that individuals should be liberated to live as they chose, so long as they didn’t interfere with the rights of others.” Which according to Brooks is a Bad Thing, so the obvious course is to “scale back the culture of autonomy that was appropriate for the 1960s but that has since gone too far …  If each of us fulfill all of our discrete individual desires, we end up with a society that is not what we want at all.”

Brooks in wrong in multiple ways. Most obviously, a miraculous reconciliation after the next election isn’t possible, and that’s primarily because of the Republicans. They’re the ones who said their primary goal after 2008 was to make Obama a one-term president; who are actively restricting the vote to reduce the Democratic turnout; and who insist that everything Obama does (and Bill Clinton before him) is totally utterly wrong. Heck, David Brooks once wrote a column (can’t find the link) that said Obama proposing things like Hurricane Sandy relief was a hardball divisive tactic because not all Republicans would agree: a true conciliator would only propose policies that get 100 percent Republican buy-in. I have never heard him express a similar suggestion about the Republicans (and here’s some more Brooks discussion of how Obama is divisive.).

I’m also struck by his reference to our employers as one of the families we should be embedded in. Yes, that would be nice; I’ve been good friends with lots of coworkers and some bosses. But in a world where employers outsource jobs to China because the shareholders want more money, how much community can develop? It’s not like corporate America hasn’t been telling us for years that we’ll get loyalty from employers as long as we’re useful to them, no longer. Of course, Brooks has listed employees switching jobs as a sign of moral decline, so he’d certainly like us to feel we’re family who should loyally support our bosses, even as they slit our throats.

The rest is mostly standard Brooks. The man hates individualism and loves the days past when America’s elite fit everyone into a box and demanded they stay there. Our duty as ordinary people is to shut up and do what our leaders tell us. People who defy the party elites and vote Trump are so very, very wrong.

It is true, as Brooks says, that we’re not as group-oriented as we used to be. As Robert Putnam says in the book Bowling Alone we don’t join as many clubs, groups, churches, lodges, etc. as we did a century ago. But Putnam doesn’t offer any nice pat explanation like “we’re too individualistic” — he specifically points that no matter how you breakdown the figures (age, gender, faith, Internet use) the decline is there. So unless Brooks has some actual facts to offer, I’m going to put him down as defining the problem to fit his pre-existing solution.

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Sexual Harassment at DC Comics

DC recently let go the long-time editor of its Vertigo line, which has seen a catastrophic sales slump. This brought back to the limelight an old issue with another editor, Eddie Berganza, who’s stayed at DC despite multiple sexual harassment allegations (not that there’s a connection between the two). Heidi McDonald says DC sources have confirmed the rumor that when Berganza was Superman editor, no women could work in the Superman office — and points out the unlikelihood of anyone tolerating a “no men in the office” rule. McDonald has also written more broadly about sexual harassment in comics, including stories about longtime DC editor Julius Schwartz (which is disappointing to me, as I love his comics work over the years, but I don’t doubt that it’s true).

There is nothing terribly surprising in this. Organizations in these cases have an ugly tendency to protect their own — and “their own” is invariably the person with authority or seniority, not the low-ranked employee. This is not particularly a comics thing: all organizations protect their own, from the Catholic Church to the military. But that’s no excuse.

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Filed under Comics, Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Trump-related links and then other political stuff

An article by David French on Trump serves multiple purposes. First it repeats the right-wing theme that Trump is a reaction against the evil of the left: men are frustrated because feminists are so mean to Real Men and seek to destroy them, therefore, they see Trump as their champion (much as he’s supposedly a champion against “political correctness”). And second, it allows him to dump on the evil feminists and their evil agenda:  “Masculinity, to the extent that it exists, is toxic and must be suppressed. Classically male virtues such as bravery, strength, loyalty, and an intellectual and physical sense of adventure must be de-gendered (after all, who’s to say that any given woman can’t share those traits?), while traditional male vices, including tendencies toward unjustified violence and superficial, obsessive sexuality, are to be regarded as essentially masculine.” And that this somehow drives them to be sexists and womanizers, so it’s all feminist’s fault men prey on women.

Suffice to say, no it isn’t (and I notice French doesn’t consider the way many men treat women as a justification for feminism). And French sounds like he doesn’t really think women can share in the cool traits such as bravery and loyalty—is he one of those conservatives who think heroism belongs to men alone?

•Astonishingly David French makes more sense than an article claiming that God is already striking down Trump’s enemies.

•Donald Trump thinks North Carolina’s HB2 law on which bathrooms transsexuals have to use is a step too far. Trump is, however, opposed to replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20.

•Once again, conservatives argue that criticizing the rich is like racial prejudice.

•A more interesting take on feminism is this writer’s experiences going from men’s rights activist to feminist.

•Consumerist speculates that as pot becomes legal and tobacco use continues dwindling, cigarette companies will move into pot sales.

•How to reduce IRS vulnerability to scammers and identity thieves.

•The Catholic Church is pushing Poland’s strict abortion laws to be even stricter (five years prison time for doctors, unless the fetus’s death was “unintentional.”). At the link, Echidne points out the Washington Post’s article assumes the Church pushing this policy isn’t an issue, just that it’s pushing the policy so publicly, rather than working behind the scenes.

•How the University of Maryland wound up claiming that chocolate milk is good for concussion.

•Samantha Field responds to that women-are-weak article I discussed this week by pointing out that the Bible (which the author cited as evidence) includes many kick-ass women.

•Uber reaches a settlement over whether drivers are independent contractors: they are, but Uber’s paying them $100 million anyway.

•In some cities, same-day Amazon delivery is available in more white zip codes than black ones. The article makes clear this is more a side effect of the way Amazon maps out its service areas, but that’s still no excuse.

•Travel agents accuse United, Delta and American Airlines of conspiring to keep fairs high.

•A group of snowboarders have claimed that being denied use of the ski slopes in U.S. Forest Service land is a violation of their rights. They lost the case.

•The Southern Baptist Convention has proposed a resolution on dealing with sexual predators in the church. At the link, a blogger argues it’s nowhere near adequate to fix the problem.

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Filed under economics, Politics

Dr. Strange, copyright and other writing issues (#SFWApro)

So a while back I ripped into a description of Dr. Strange as phony mysticism. I didn’t do more than touch upon the Asian stereotyping (white guy learns mystic arts by apprenticing under Asian guy in Tibet). Mighty God King takes a look at the stereotypes, the problems and how Marvel failed to avoid them (it’s still learning mysticism in the East, but under a white person).

I’ll add I’m not happy that the trailer refers to pre-initiation Strange as “a man who saves lives” rather than an arrogant jerk who saves lives if he’s paid lots of money. Because for me the redemption aspect is a huge part of what makes the stories compelling.

Now, copyright:

•Can conlangs (artificial languages like Klingon or Esperanto) be coyprighted? Paramount is currently fighting to assert a copyright to Klingon in response to a proposed indie Star Trek flick.

•A digital comic book explaning copyright.

•The Recording Industry Association of Industry says it can’t get a fair price for music played on YouTube because copyright law makes it too hard to take down infringing videos (so why bother to pay the fee if it’ll go up anyway?). Of course RIAA has a different idea of fair prices (in this case relating to bootleg recordings) than most people. And no, the money doesn’t flow to the musicians.

•Using geolocation isn’t a legal method for finding Internet pirate downloaders. Here are some horrible examples of how current mapping systems can make innocent people look like pirates or child-porn fans.

•Spotify has put up a pool of $21 million to settle suits over unpaid royalties.

•Consumerist argues that if schools teach kids about the dangers of violating copyright, they should teach fair use as well.

•Speaking of fair use, the Supreme Court has rejected an appeal in the Google Books scanning case. So the lower court ruling that scanning is fair use stands.

•Led Zeppelin has been sued for plagiarizing another songwriter. Paul Campos looks at the case and the legal rules.

Now, other things:

•If the red herring in your mystery is more interesting than the real explanation, you did it wrong.

•Jim Hines discusses trigger warnings and the idea they’re only for wimps.

•I bet you’ve been wondering about the legal requirements for importing kryptonite, haven’t you?

•Glenn Greenwald discusses the future of investigative journalism in the freelance Internet age.

•Sources for period-appropriate names for historical fiction.

•I’m not sure I entirely agree with this Chekhov’s gun-type argument that you should only include characters and scenes in your first act that pay off later. Sometimes I think there’s an advantage just to showing the normal life your protagonist starts with to dramatize the total change when she’s yanked into 1776 or Valhalla or wherever.

•If you’re doing a nonfiction piece and the client asks for more than you agreed to, what next? Some suggestions. Scope creep is definitely something to be wary of. I did a ghost-writing gig some years back for a very low rate and ran into this problem; eventually I just had to say no to added work.

•Alison McKenzie suggests how to revise mid-draft without doing it over and over and over.

•Advice on a good Goodreads author profile.

•Clean Reads defines its line of “wholesome reading” — as no erotica, no BDSM, no homosexual characters. (hat/tip Shannon A. Thompson)

•Scammers have found a way to make money of Kindle Unlimited by deliberately writing drivel.

Now an illustration, Powers again (all rights to current holder):


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Filed under copyright, Nonfiction, Writing

The Sanders Terror and other political links

Wall Street and the Big Banks are terribly, terribly upset that Bernie Sanders and his supporters are criticizing them! And want to regulate them! Don’t they realize lots of jobs come from those firms? And that the outrageous big bonuses are then spent on luxury products and rent, thereby helping the Little People?

There’s lots of good commentary at the link. I will add that no, stopping the big bonuses isn’t somehow lowering the money in circulation. Paying the bonuses doesn’t magically create money, it simply channels it to particular people. If the money wound up going to all their regular staff, say, it would still get spent, deposited or invested, so it’ll still benefit the overall economy. Oh, and if you look back about eight years, you’ll find much the same whining going on about how awesome and indispensable these people are and how deeply hurt they are that nobody validates their delusions of greatness. So like Erik Loomis at the link, I have little sympathy.

•The anti-abortion group pushing bury-the-fetus bills.

•A female chief in Malawi breaks up 850 child marriages.

•John Kasich on how to stop rape: keep women away from parties with alcohol.

•Uber has given the government trip data on more than 12 million users.

•More than 7,000 civilians have been tried in Egypt’s military courts.

•Ethiopia muffles independent journalism and human-rights reporting.

•When the government accesses our records in the cloud, Microsoft can’t notify us. It would like to change that. Apple wants to know why the government needs it to unlock the phone in a criminal case where the suspect has pled guilty. And here’s the basics on a federal bill requiring weak encryption. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the government to find out if any FISA court secret decisions have forced companies to decrypt phones.

White (male) terrorism in gaming.

•Well at least North Carolina‘s not uniquely bigoted.

•Watching Errol Morris’ documentary, The Fog of War, Northier Than Thou points out how interviewee Robert McNamara (a Defense Secretary who was bullish on Vietnam back in the 1960s) presents his decisions as something that somehow happened.

•Comcast is shocked and appalled that the FCC wants to restrict how Internet service providers such as Comcast use customer information.

•Prescription information isn’t private either.

•Just two pieces of data may be enough to identify you—even anonymous data.

•A look back at our ugly proxy war in El Salvador.

Right-wing violence on the rise.

•A man’s ex forges his signature on her loan extension, doesn’t make payments and he winds up on the hook and with a black mark on his credit. The man is suing TransUnion on the grounds it should have investigated his report the debt was fake.

•Slacktivist points out that black churches and churchgoers were right about slavery being a sin against God, but many Christians still prefer to take guidance from white evangelicals who were massively wrong.

•Bernie Sanders’ tax plan would eliminate many of the tax deductions he’s claimed on his return. As LGM says, that isn’t hypocrisy.

•The VA has shredded documents that could materially affect veterans’ benefit payments. At the link, the Inspector General says this isn’t a matter of deliberate fraud, but inefficiency and a confusing policy.

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Filed under economics, Politics

Undead sexist cliches: strong women are unbelievable women (#SFWApro)


(Art uncredited, all rights to current holder)

Sara C. Roethle discusses an article by one Nathan Albertson arguing that The Force Awakens‘ Rey is completely ridiculous and so are all other female fighters in fiction (Wonder Woman, Ripley, Black Widow, etc.) Albertson quotes the Bible saying things like “weak as women” which proves therefore women are weaker than men. And a woman just can’t beat up a man, anyway. And besides, women just shouldn’t do stuff like that (the same argument John C. Wright has made). It’s unfeminine, and denies the fundamental difference between the sexes: men are most manly when they protect the woman, woman is most feminine when she lets the man be the boss. And besides, doesn’t the fact movies keep making the men the real heroes and showing women worrying about having boyfriends and kids prove that even Hollywood knows what women are really like?

Roethle makes good points about the fact a trained woman can indeed take down a man, and that Rey is no more ridiculous in a fight than if Finn were doing the same things. I recommend reading her piece, but I’ll add a couple more points:

•Lots of women have been formidable fighters. Mary Read and Anne Bonney were pirates. Women cross-dressed as men to fight in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and countless European wars. Russian women worked as everything from snipers to fighter pilots (the “Night Witches”). The amazons of Dahomey (women selected as the king’s elite royal guard).

•The fact that movies keep writing in stereotypes such as Of Course All A Woman Wants Is A Boyfriend/Baby, does not prove that they’re true. This is an annoyingly common argument: the fact that many people are scared of black men proves blacks are dangerous; the fact that stereotypes are race specific (Jews are tight with money, Irish drink, French are great lovers) proves they’re true (otherwise why would they fasten on a particular race/nationality). No. And no. Believing in negative (or positive) stereotypes doesn’t prove they’re true.

•And while it’s a minor point, describing Ripley of the Alien films as “godmother of them all” is just wrong. Wonder Woman predated her. So did the Black Widow. And Jirel of Joiry, shown above.

For bonus sexism, here are some articles from the Federalist (not a direct link) explaining how patriarchy makes women happier than feminism because both women and men want the man in charge (which is why, according to the Federalist, women also like Fifty Shades of Grey). You know I think we’re long past the point where anti-feminists can pretend they’re “defending tradition” — women have had legal equality for more than 40 years, and second-wave feminism has been around just as long. Whatever Mollie Hemingway and the other writers at feminist want to drag us back to, it no longer counts as tradition any more than trial by combat or the divine right of kings.

•And since I’m in this vein, let’s remember David Goyer’s declaration that the super-strong She-Hulk is really a male fantasy, because (his theory) guys dream about being strong enough to bed her. Because obviously she wouldn’t just sleep with you because she likes you or you’re sexy, you have to be strong enough to take her down. This is another Undead Sexist Cliche about strong women, that the guy has to be stronger than she is to be worthy of her/interesting to her. Only Superman can date Wonder Woman. Red Sonja will only accept a man who can outfight her (Marvel’s version, Robert E. Howard’s was different). The idea has cropped up other places to. And yes, it is a kind of male fantasy (guy attains the unattainable woman by surpassing her). But She-Hulk’s never played by that rule, so Mr. Goyer, you’re full of it.

For more on this topic, check out a previous Undead Sexist Cliche post.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches, Writing