While bemoaning the recent decline of the French intellectual, Sudhir Hazareesingh observes that "One of the most characteristic inventions of modern French culture is the 'intellectual'." He also notes that Jean-Paul Sartre "took the role of the public intellectual to its highest prominence" and praises Sartre's "contrarian spirit" as being "central to the aura which surrounded modern French intellectuals:"

And even though he detested nationalism, Sartre unwittingly contributed to the French sense of greatness through his embodiment of cultural and intellectual eminence, and his effortless superiority. Indeed, Sartre was undoubtedly one of the most famous French figures of the 20th century, and his writings and polemics were ardently followed by cultural elites across the globe, from Buenos Aires to Beirut.

Today's Left Bank is but a pale shadow of this eminent past. Fashion outlets have replaced high theoretical endeavor in Saint-Germain-des-Près. In fact, with very rare exceptions, such as Thomas Piketty's book on capitalism, Paris has ceased to be a major center of innovation in the humanities and social sciences.

Why would this be so?

Arguably the most important reason for the French loss of intellectual dynamism is the growing sense that there has been a major retreat of French power on the global stage, both in its material, "hard" terms and in its cultural "soft" dimensions. In a world dominated politically by the United States, culturally by the dastardly 'Anglo-Saxons," and in Europe by the economic might of Germany, the French are struggling to reinvent themselves.

This tweet from Jeb! Bush is so stunningly obtuse that I struggle to formulate an articulate comment:


Dubya the Decider is literally standing on the graves of Americans who might not have died but for his astounding incompetence...and his dipshit brother has the gall to say "He kept us safe."

I thought Jeb was supposed to be the smart one.

Xenos comments that "what I can't tolerate is how, despite the horrific failure on 9/11, Bush 43, his seemingly equally idiotic brother, and their cretinous conservative comrades, consistently brag about how great the Republican Party is at protecting the country:"

In fact, bizarrely enough, terrorists successfully attacking us on a Republican president's watch somehow proves that terrorists wouldn't dare attack us on a Republican president's watch! It's absolutely maddening.

So far there hasn't been much of a backlash besides the usual lefty blogs and such. As far as I know, no major mainstream news outlet offered much criticism or grilled Jeb about it. In fact, as I was flipping through the channels the day after the debates, some program on CNN that doesn't have Anderson Cooper or Don Lemon as the host played that clip of Jeb, and commented on how the crowd seemed to like that answer and just moved on.

Once again, ladies and gentlemen. Your liberal media.

Demi Lovato dropped some not-so-veiled references to Sapphic leanings while discussing her hit song "Cool for the Summer" on Alan Carr's British talk show Chatty Man:

Alan: I put it to you Miss Lovato, that that song is about lesbianism.

Demi: What?

Alan: Lesbianism.

Demi: I'm not confirming and I'm definitely not denying. All of my songs are based off of personal experiences. I don't think there's anything wrong with experimentation at all.

Alan: No. The trouble is i experimented once and it stuck.

Demi: Hey, I didn't say that it didn't stick either. I didn't say that it didn't stick .

No one should be surprised given the lyrics (to say nothing of the video) for the song in question:

effective altruism

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The literalist in me wants to quibble with the name, but I appreciated Peter Singer's piece in Boston Review on what he calls the "exciting new movement" of effective altruism:

At universities from Oxford to Harvard and the University of Washington, from Bayreuth in Germany to Brisbane in Australia, effective altruism organizations are forming. Effective altruists are engaging in lively discussions on social media and websites, and their ideas are being examined in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and even the Wall Street Journal. Philosophy, and more specifically practical ethics, has played an important role in effective altruism's development, and effective altruism shows that philosophy is returning to its Socratic role of challenging our ideas about what it is to live an ethical life. In doing so, philosophy has demonstrated its ability to transform, sometimes quite dramatically, the lives of those who study it. Moreover, it is a transformation that, I believe, should be welcomed because it makes the world a better place.

"Effective altruism," he explains, "is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can:"

Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place.

"Effective altruists, he continues, "do things like the following:"

...living modestly and donating a large part of their income--often much more than the traditional tenth, or tithe--to the most effective charities; researching and discussing with others which charities are the most effective or drawing on research done by other independent evaluators; choosing a career in which they can earn most, not in order to be able to live affluently but so that they can do more good; talking to others, in person or online, about giving, so that the idea of effective altruism will spread; giving part of their body--blood, bone marrow, or even a kidney--to a stranger.

Singer's book The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically may be worth reading for further examination of this concept.

You're an idiot if you're a Republican in 2016, writes Hrafnkell Haraldsson. "Plainly put, [the GOP] base - and their candidate - are batsh*t crazy:"

They have not just one, but over a dozen candidates who think Americans are ready to throw immigrants to the sharks, by deporting them, by erecting a giant wall, or tracking them like FedEx packages. In fact, 65 percent of Americans favor doing something to make these people citizens.

We get Kim Davis, who, for not being allowed to act like a Nazi, says she is being treated like a Jew in Nazi Germany. Nor is hers the craziest utterance on the subject. If your jaw drops, it's okay. You can't make this stuff up.

Well, they've been making up a lot of things:

It isn't facts that inform their thinking. Facts don't enter into it. It is ideology, an ideology which tells them that anything of the political LEFT is not legitimate. Conversely, everything of the right, no matter how illogical, contradictory, or unsupported by facts, must be legitimate.

"Shakespeare could not have written a better tragedy than the one Republicans have created for themselves," he concludes.

Also tragic--although not in a literary sense--is mass ignorance of the radical origins of Labor Day. "Labor Day," writes TPM, "has become almost entirely divorced from its origins and associated instead with one last burst of summer fun before the fall and new school year commence in earnest." After mentioning the 1894 Pullman Strike and the Haymarket riots (May 1886), the piece notes that "the fears of international radicalism that followed, led to President Grover Cleveland's 1887 recognition of a September Labor Day celebration:"

As with every victory achieved by the labor movement (including eight-hour workdays, the weekend, health protections, child labor laws, and numerous other successes), Labor Day would not exist without the movement's more radical and activist elements and efforts. Remembering the holiday's origins can thus help us not only celebrate all that the labor movement has achieved, but also recognize the continued need for radical activism.

One suspects that this very history of accomplishment is the unacknowledged reason for the intense hatred from the crazies in the GOP base (led by ideologues such as Glenn Beck) for Progressives and others on the Left--although their stated reasons are an nonsensical as, well, pretty much everything else that they're so often ranting about.

Chris Hedges pegs militarism as the real enemy in America today, saying, "If you are not dedicated to the destruction of empire and the dismantling of American militarism, then you cannot count yourself as a member of the left:"

There will be no genuine democratic, social, economic or political reform until we destroy our permanent war machine.

Militarists and war profiteers are our greatest enemy.

"The U.S. military and its array of civilian contractors operate as enforcers and hired killers across the globe for corporations," he writes, as "global corporations to expand markets and plunder oil, minerals and other natural resources while keeping subjugated populations impoverished by corrupt and brutal puppet regimes. The masters of war are the scum of the earth." The cost of this is both blood and treasure:

Military expenditures bleed the federal budget--officially--of $598.49 billion a year, or 53.71 percent of all spending. This does not, however, include veterans' benefits at $65.32 billion a year or hidden costs in other budgets that see the military and the war profiteers take as much as $1.6 trillion a year out of the pockets of taxpayers.

Hedges fulminates against the "mythical narrative [that] appeals to our fantasies about ourselves:"

...that we are a virtuous people, that God has blessed us above others, that we have the highest form of civilization, that we have been anointed to police the world and make it safe, that we are the most powerful and righteous nation on earth, that we are always assured of victory, that we have a right to kill in the name of nationalist values--values determined by our naked self-interest and that we conveniently define as universal.

In a twist on the quote often mistakenly attributed to Sinclair Lewis, Hedges concludes:

Here lies the virus of fascism, wrapped in the American flag, held aloft by the Christian cross and buttressed by white supremacy. It is a potent and dangerous force within the body politic. And it is growing. The real enemy is within.

easing back in

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I'm getting a slow start in my return to blogging with this QOTD from The Baffler #28, part of my vacation reading this week:

Fox plays ISIS propaganda with the same intention that ISIS brings to its production: to make Americans feel frightened of and threatened by an organization that actually poses no threat to American freedom or security. Exaggerating the power and reach of ISIS is in the immediate best interests of both the savage terrorist organization and the cynical, right-wing media outlet. The fiction that ISIS--a band of fanatics currently engaged in protracted battles and occupations half a world away from the United States--poses an existential threat to the best-armed nation in the history of the world both burnishes the group's credentials with would-be jihadis and gives weight to Fox's critique of a Democratic president as soft on terror. (In an earlier era, with a Republican in the White House, Fox's on-air news personalities routinely blasted the Arab-language cable outlet Al Jazeera for playing Al Qaeda propaganda videos.)

(Alex Pareene, "Cable News Charnel")

American Prospect argues that there is no slippery slope from same-sex marriage to polygamy:

According to conservatives, those who want to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples cannot explain why it should stop there. At the Supreme Court's oral argument Justice Samuel Alito invoked not only polygamous marriage but also the caring relationship of a brother and sister who reside together. Assuming consent and mutual commitment, why not let them all wed?

Despite recognizing some supportive relationships for legal or medial circumstances, the piece notes:

Such relationships, however, are not marital. The spousal bond includes a sexual dimension that would be deeply destructive if introduced into other familial relations. The distinctive forms of love and care that characterize healthy family relations among parents and children depend on the exclusion of sexual relations.

I still haven't seen a good argument against recognizing poly marriages.

gun control

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Salon isn't making any friends at the NRA with this piece observing that "requiring people to apply for a permit before buying a handgun helped Connecticut quietly reduce its firearm-related homicide rate by 40 percent:"

Connecticut's "permit to purchase" law, in effect for two decades, requires residents to undergo background checks, complete a safety course and apply in-person for a permit before they can buy a handgun. The law applies to both private sellers and licensed gun dealers. [...]

The [Johns Hopkins] study found a 40 percent reduction in gun-related homicides. Bolstering what researchers say is the correlation between the permit law and the drop in gun homicides, there wasn't a similar drop in non-firearm homicides.

Many gun-control measures have broad public support: "72 percent of Americans and 59 percent of gun owners support laws requiring people to get licenses before they can buy a handgun." The study on the "Association Between Connecticut's Permit-to-Purchase Handgun Law and Homicides" concludes the following:

We estimated that the law was associated with a 40% reduction in Connecticut's firearm homicide rates during the first 10 years that the law was in place. By contrast, there was no evidence for a reduction in nonfirearm homicides.

FirstLook's take on future harm from identity theft identifies four-year-old Benjamin Nuss as "one of the nearly 80 million people whose social security number and personal information were compromised in this year's Anthem data breach:"

While it may seem trivial to think about the harm a preschooler will suffer from a data breach, the question is not what happens to him now, but what will happen years from now. Data theft poses an indefinite threat of future harm, as birthdate, full name and social security number remain a skeleton key of identity in many systems.

Benjamin's mother commented that, "With Benjamin, well, we're going to have to watch his information forever." As I've written previously, the financial industry has done a masterful job in passing the buck by turning fraud (the theft of their money) into "identity theft" and thereby making us clean up their messes.


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H/t to Slate's Will Oremus for linking to Bloomberg Businessweek's 38,000-word essay by writer/programmer Paul Ford on "What Is Code?" As Oremus notes, "His prose is a pleasure to read, and sharp little insights abound."

Read the piece on the Web, and you'll encounter even more goodies: clever interactive elements, embedded videos, a little Easter Egg at the end. (Just don't skim too lightly, or an annoying little animated character will harass you about it.) As a work of experimental journalism, it's a wonderful achievement.

With help from Codecademy or Khan Academy, coding could become nearly universal:

I am convinced that anyone who wants to better understand the nature of software should start by simply experiencing it firsthand. To program professionally is hard and requires a lot of experience, but to program recreationally is easy and requires none.

union yes!

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In explaining how unions increase wages, TNR observes that "non-unionized workers earn much less over their lifetimes:"

Teachers who do not belong to unions lose $475,000 of potential income over their careers; transportation workers, $687,000; construction workers, $1,082,000. Those in life, physical, and social sciences come out as the biggest losers, missing out on $1.5 million dollars.

In the words of the Century Foundation's paper "Virtual Labor Organizing" (PDF), "joining a labor union is one of the best financial decisions a worker can make to boost individual and family wealth:"

According to published reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median earnings for a two-income, nonunion family are $400 a week less than that of a union family. Over a lifetime, that adds up to more than a half million dollars in foregone wealth.

Additionally, "a 2007 study found that nearly 60 percent of workers would join a union if they could; yet, that same year, only 12 percent of workers were members of a union." To aid in organizing efforts, the paper recommends the use of "technology [that] would allow workers an easy and efficient means to communicate effectively and safely outside the view of the employer:"

Conducting an organizing campaign quickly and discreetly--until a majority of workers have signed authorization cards-- allows workers to have meaningful conversations about the workplace and the benefits of organizing, without employer threats or anti-union campaigns.

Employers want to maintain the existing power imbalance, and have a financial interest in keeping workers isolated and impoverished; we need thumbs on the scale to even things out.


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Time discusses the new Miley Cyrus project #InstaPride, "a collaboration between Cyrus and Instagram that launches June 15:"

In an effort to boost awareness and acceptance of people across the gender spectrum, Cyrus is using her platform to focus public attention on about a dozen subjects whose portraits will live on Instagram branded with the #InstaPride hashtag.[...]

"Anyone should be able to express how they feel, without question, and be able to live," Cyrus says. "And use the f--ing public restrooms."

AlterNet's Tim Wise points out in mimicry is not solidarity that, rather than acting as an ally, "she opted to simply become black, to speak for and as those others:"

Perhaps it was her way of obtaining the authenticity to which she felt entitled because of her sensibilities, and which she felt had been denied her by those whose approval she sought. [...]

She wasn't willing to pay her dues, to follow the lead of people of color. She didn't want to do the hard and messy work, struggling with other white people and challenging them, which is what SNCC told us white folks to do in 1967, and what Malcolm had already said shortly before his death. She wanted to be done with white people altogether, to immerse herself in blackness, yet, as a white person, she knew she could never do that fully. And so, instead, this.

"We need not pretend to the burdens of others in order to get busy making our whiteness, though still visible, no longer relevant to our place in the world;" he says. Would that she had realized that--or even heeded her parents' injunction to simply tell the truth:

"We taught our children, as we raised all 6 of them, 'Tell the truth. Always be honest.' So we weren't going to lie, we told the truth," Ruthanne said. "Rachel is our birth daughter." [...] The Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP was scheduled to meet with Rachel Dolezal on Monday, but that meeting has been postponed.

BuzzFeed talks to her adopted brother, who recounts her plea to him three years ago: "don't blow my cover."

"She just told me, 'Over here, I'm going to be considered black, and I have a black father. Don't blow my cover,'" Ezra Dolezal, 22, told BuzzFeed News in an interview.

Rachel also told him to tell people that he and her other adopted brother were her "blood brothers," he said.

His sister did not offer "any logical explanation" for why she was changing her identity, and Ezra never confronted her about it. But it was the next stage after growing apart from her parents, Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal, and leaving their home in Montana. [...] "She puts dark makeup on her face and says she black," he said. "It's basically blackface," he said.

Why did she do it?

Ezra believes the only reason his sister would change her identity was due to the racism she claimed to have encountered at Howard University, where she graduated with her master's degree in fine art in 2002.

Here's part of her statement of resignation from the NAACP:

I am delighted that so many organizations and individuals have supported and collaborated with the Spokane NAACP under my leadership to grow this branch into one of the healthiest in the nation in 5 short months. In the eye of this current storm, I can see that a separation of family and organizational outcomes is in the best interest of the NAACP.

It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice and the NAACP that I step aside from the Presidency and pass the baton to my Vice President, Naima Quarles-Burnley.[...]

Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me. It's about justice. This is not me quitting; this is a continuum. It's about moving the cause of human rights and the Black Liberation Movement along the continuum from Resistance to Chattel Slavery to Abolition to Defiance of Jim Crow to the building of Black Wall Street to the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement to the #‎BlackLivesMatter movement and into a future of self-determination and empowerment.

Smoking Gun tells the tale of how she h"once sued Howard University for denying her teaching posts and a scholarship because she was a white woman:"

According to a Court of Appeals opinion, Dolezal's lawsuit "claimed discrimination based on race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender." She alleged that Smith and other school officials improperly blocked her appointment to a teaching assistant post, rejected her application for a post-graduate instructorship, and denied her scholarship aid while she was a student.

The court opinion also noted that Dolezal claimed that the university's decision to remove some of her artworks from a February 2001 student exhibition was "motivated by a discriminatory purpose to favor African-American students over" her.

Curioser and curioser...

Scott Timberg pessimistically suggests that the US middle class will die with the Baby Boomers:

It's no secret that the American middle class has been on the ropes for a while now. The problem isn't just a crippling recession and an economic "recovery" that has mostly gone to the richest one percent, but the larger shifting of wealth from the middle to the very top that's taken place since the late '70s. [...]

It turns out that those concerned about a tattered middle class are right about most of it, but overlooking one thing: Boomers - or rather, a particular strain of Boomer and near-Boomer - are doing great. That is, if you were born in the '40s, you are going to be the last American generation to enjoy a robust safety net, and your gray years will be far more comfortable than those a decade older or younger.

We don't begrudge these people - our teachers and professors, our older friends, our parents and other relatives - comfort in their gray years.

"But you know what else the original Boomers brought us?" he snarks:

Despite their dabbling with progressivism and hippie utopianism, this group served as the shock troops for market-worshipping neoliberalism and the Reagan-Thatcher shift in the '70s and '80s. They gave us junk bonds and the privatization push and Gordon Gekko. Some of them went into the corporate world and started dismantling.

Let's hope they enjoy their retirements. But these gray Boomers and grayer Silents - not all of them, but enough to do substantial damage - put forces in motion that mean for the rest of us, the twilight years will be significantly less cozy.

In precarity rising, however, Aaron Benanav discusses socialists "insisting that there is nothing fundamentally new in the contemporary condition of the working class:"

If anything, they claim, we are returning to the sort of capitalism that prevailed during the laissez-faire era. Thus, in their view, the old strategies should apply more, not less. [...]

If it can be shown, on the contrary, that the conditions of the working class have radically changed, then we simply cannot re-apply the same inherited political strategies. Instead of justifying a return to old solutions, we will have to find new ones.

He notes that "job insecurity has always been a feature of working life in capitalist societies:"

The news media makes it seem as if new forms of insecurity are about to become the norm in the US, as if the majority of workers were about to end up employed at arm's length in the so-called sharing economy (driving cars for Uber or working as Taskrabbits). The fact is that ostensibly novel forms of precarity - such as working for temp agencies and sub-contracting firms or as dubiously "independent" contractors - affect, as yet, only a small minority of workers.

This so-called 'independence' should be read as "unpredictability," as it gradually leads to "the widespread collapse of workers' bargaining power:"

To what extent do conditions of work and struggle, today, actually mirror those of the Gilded Age? Then, as now, rates of unionization were low and limited to skilled workers. With notable exceptions like the IWW, unions generally ignored the semi-skilled and unskilled. Meanwhile, there was no safety net for workers thrown out of work.

Will history repeat itself, or merely rhyme?

In discussing how left-wing Democrats are finally winning against Wall Street, William Greider sees the trade-deal rebellion as "the start of something far bigger--the revival of the Democratic party as a born-again advocate for working people and economic justice:"

After 25 years of losing out to Wall Street and corporate interests, the party's faithful constituency base managed to take down their Democratic president and his sweetheart deal with the big money. The left-liberal policy groups and grassroots activists agitating for change stood their ground against the power elites and, for once, they triumphed. [...]

Disregard for the party faithful began with Bill Clinton back in 1992. Labor was edged aside. Wall Street replaced it as the senior managing partner of the Democratic coalition. Clinton ran on "Putting People First" but he governed according to the needs of big business and finance. His permissive policies on so-called "free trade" globalization were especially damaging to American workers and middle-class prosperity.

"On the Democratic left, the spirit of reform is resurgent," he says--is hope far behind?

Jeffrey Tayler declares that Scalia is unfit to serve on the Supreme Court:

Sufferers of faith-derangement syndrome (FDS) exhibit the following symptoms: unshakable belief in the veracity of manifest absurdities detailed in ancient texts regarding the origins of the cosmos and life on earth; a determination to disseminate said absurdities in educational institutions and via the media; a propensity to enjoin and even enforce (at times using violence) obedience to regulations stipulated in said ancient texts, regardless of their suitability for contemporary circumstances; the conviction that an invisible, omnipresent, omniscient authority (commonly referred to as "God") directs the course of human and natural events, is vulnerable to propitiation and blandishments, and monitors individual human behavior, including thought processes, with an especially prurient interest in sexual activity.

Secondary symptoms exhibited by sufferers of FDS comprise feelings of righteousness and sensations of displeasure, even outrage, when collocutors question, reject or refute the espousal of said absurdities. Tertiary symptoms, often present among individuals self-classifying as "evangelicals": Duggar-esque hairdos and Tammy Bakker-ian makeup, preternaturally sunny dispositions and pedophiliac tendencies, sartorial ineptitude and obesity.

One incident he examines happened last week during "a commencement speech at an all-girls Catholic High School in Bethesda, Maryland" where he made the declaration that 'Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so,'" seeming to support a literalist-friendly young-Earth cosmology:

Scalia rejects the fact of evolution - the foundation of modern biology - in favor of the opening chapter of a compendium of cockamamie fables concocted by obscure humans in a particularly dark age, evidence that his faculty of reason has suffered the debilitating impairment associated with acute FDS. He therefore cannot be relied upon to adjudicate without prejudice and should be removed from the bench henceforth.

An interview with Jennifer Senior yielded another incident:

He leaned toward her and whispered, surely with eyes ablaze, "I even believe in the Devil ... he's a real person. Hey, c'mon, that's standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that."

Tayler's assessment is brutal:

You had just committed an outrage against reason, voicing belief in Beelzebub, a comic-book bugaboo the pedophile pulpiteers of your creed have deployed to warp the minds of their credulous "flocks" for two millennia. You had just declared yourself a biblical literalist, and therefore an enemy of historical fact.


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In the rise of the ripped, British journalist Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore reminds us how "past generations [of] men were not expected to be extremely well-muscled:"

A slight stomach or skinny arms were okay. While many men played sports, few went to the gym merely to beef up. Today, however, shifting gender roles and the rise of social media - where everything is recorded and broadcast on smartphones - has led to increasing pressure on men, as well as on women, to look 'perfect'. [...]

Images of this hyper-sexualised, commodified male are everywhere, from Hollywood films to glossy magazines and billboard advertising. British journalist Mark Simpson calls them 'spornosexuals,' men who want to look like sportsmen or porn stars, chiselling their physiques through a cocktail of gym sessions, diets and drugs."

"This is a visual culture for men, by men," she writes, in an unspoken parallel to Cosmo's airbrushed and Photoshopped female figures for an audience of women. The parallel to anorexia is that "Use of anabolic steroids and aggressive fat-strippers can morph into muscle dysmorphia, a disorder in which putting on muscle mass becomes all-consuming:"

One study in the United States, published in the journal Depression and Anxiety in 2010, found that 50 per cent of sufferers surveyed had attempted suicide at least once.

Media outlets such as the Daily Mail and TMZ.com now hold men to the same impossible standards as women. Muscular bodies are praised, and the rich and famous mocked for their 'man boobs'. Celebrities are not the only targets.

"It's hardly surprising then that men's body dissatisfaction tripled from 1972 to 1997," she observes:

"While the Barbie doll's body has been getting thinner and thinner over the years, action figures such as GI Joe have been getting more muscular."

Raphaël Vinot discusses ethics in IT, beginning with the observation that "The network is in terrible shape:"

Stolen identities float around by millions. The private information on your phone and computer is all over the internet in thousands of badly insecure servers -- we call this the cloud. The Internet of Things and infrastructure are often accessible on the public network. Very few people care about fixing it. All that stuff is as boring as the state of the infrastructure in the USA: nobody wants to invest money in it.

Meanwhile, ho notes, "real security...continues to languish:"

All the data leaks and all the computers keep breaking. Instead of working on fixing the infrastructure (also known as the internet in general), our leaders increase the offensive capabilities, because we believe that the best defense is attack.

He issues two complementary calls to action: "Now is the time we in IT need to think about some kind of code of conduct," and "What we need now is to see IT security become a profession:"

Even if we love to think we are the only ones in such a situation, with a lot of very crucial knowledge on a very specific topic, we aren't. Lawyers, doctors, priests, and journalists, for example, have similar requirements. But as those activities are way older than ours, those professionals have had more time to think about this problem. They found solutions, not perfect, but livable for society. Those solutions are in the form of some kind of code of conduct. None of them are perfect but, at least they have ethical codes which can be referenced when everything goes bad.

He wonders whether IT needs its own Hippocratic Oath, which is an idea worth considering.

Bill Curry (White House counselor to President Clinton) opens this piece with Bono's observation about African politics that corruption was "the problem that kept all other problems from ever being solved:"

It was long hoped that the sale of Africa's vast trove of natural resources would generate the investment capital necessary to move its people out of poverty and into the modern age. Instead, the money is siphoned off by corrupt elites who blow it on lavish lifestyles, park it in Swiss banks or invest it in high-end Paris or London real estate. It's the world's most common form of treason and goes largely unpunished.

"We live amidst a global pandemic of corruption," he continues, but "America has not had a full-throated debate of political corruption since Watergate." This explains how Bernie Sanders could win:

Republicans are by nature better at ginning up anger, but lately it's as if they had the patent on it. Progressives were first to oppose the 2008 Wall Street bailout. The first protest was hosted by TrueMajority, a liberal advocacy group founded by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream fame. But by 2009 Obama owned the bailout and word went out that to attack it would only undercut him. Enter the Tea Party, amidst cries of "crony capitalism," to tap the rich vein of public anger. For the first time, economic populism was the property of conservatives. It was some gift.

Of course, Republicans don't really want to fix the government; they want to kill it. The only corruption they really oppose is when some business that gave to Obama gets a federal contract. But they do have a nose for the issue. And since the decline of the religious right they've been looking hard for other hornets' nests to poke.

"The only way to put ethics where it belongs, at the center of the political debate," Curry concludes, "is for progressives to mount a full-bore, grass-roots anti-corruption campaign." Sanders might just be the person to do it.

Salon discusses the end of civilization via the work of Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. His book Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society is due out in August, and consists of "a melange of recent writings, transcripts of speeches and short critical pieces published as long ago as the mid-1990s:"

Vargas Llosa lands several palpable hits, and who can deny that our culture -- from appalling reality TV shows to those ubiquitous "From Around the Web" links -- seems to be getting worse and worse? Of course we have the vague impression that people have always complained about their times, but that doesn't mean culture hasn't be rotting for ages. Maybe it's all been one long downward slide since time immemorial?

This sentiment has a name: declinism. And it has a history, a scholarly one that amounts to much more than the perennial grousing of adults about kids these days. The notion of studying how things go to hell is almost exactly as old as the modern practice of historiography, and begins (let's say) with Edward Gibbon's seminal masterpiece, "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

Salon goes on to mention the early twentieth-century's pessimistic perspective, as epitomized by Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. "If by 'culture,' we mean a shared method for deciding and appreciating humanity's best creations," the piece continues, "then Vargas Llosa may be right to declare its death:"

Unlike Vargas Llosa, I think the unstable combination of audience and artwork can spark transcendence in the unlikeliest places -- one man's trifling entertainment is another man's revelation. But if culture is something we can all believe in together, then, yup, that's gone.

This fracturing of culture into shards of audiences was prefigured in Spengler's era, as explained in Dada, capitalism, and rebellion:

With art now in the public eye for the colossal sums fetched at auctions, maybe it's time to recall the subversive force of Dada, for which the price is never right. [...] forget the quixotic dream of a renegade gunman duking it out with The Man against all odds. In the belly of the beast, the survivors are those who escape notice, or figure out how to make the notice they get leave them time to slip off into the dark unseen. Now that's something we can learn from the admen, the madmen, of Cabaret Voltaire.

Rachel Dolezal "sent a message to NAACP members saying she would address the situation at a Monday night meeting of the group:"

"As you probably know by now, there are questions and assumptions swirling in national and global news about my family, my race, my credibility, and the NAACP," Dolezal's message said. "I have discussed the situation, including personal matters, with the Executive Committee.

"I support their decision to wait until Monday to make a statement. The Executive team asked that I also release my response statement at the same time, which will be during the 7-9 p.m. monthly membership meeting." [...]

On Thursday, she avoided answering questions directly about her race and ethnicity in an interview with The Spokesman-Review newspaper. "That question is not as easy as it seems," she said. "There's a lot of complexities ... and I don't know that everyone would understand that."

Her truism that "We're all from the African continent," falls quite flat in this instance.

In speculating about Dolezal's psychology and invented persecution, Patrick Blanchfield asks, "Why would a person co-opt a position of marginalization and victimization in such a highly visible, risky, and outrageous way? What type of brokenness, misguidedness, illness, or malice inside a person would lead them them to do such a thing?"

Her case suggests more than just a deep-seated problem, something more than just a highly narcissistic form of histrionic personal disorder, or an unhealthy need for obsession and approval.

Dolezal gives us stories replete with images of grotesque violence: beatings and whippings. Like slavery. Like torture. These are highly choreographed, ritualized sadomasochistic scenes, and to psychotherapists, they're nothing new.

The key point is this:

Dolezal may get to wear her blackness like an outfit she can take on and off--even if she never actually does discard it, even if she truly does believe that she is black. But actual black Americans will never get that option.

David Wong wonders if we're being tricked into hating protesters, because "the "system" comes with a number of refined and subtle processes designed to make sure the complaints of the few get ignored by the many:"

#5. Wait For One Of Them To Break The Law, Then Talk Only About That

"reframe the issue not as oppressors vs. the oppressed but as citizens vs. criminals"

#4. Convince The Powerful Majority That They're The Oppressed Ones

#3. Focus On Their Most Frivolous Complaints (And Most Unlikable Members)

...you don't talk about global warming, you talk about Al Gore. You don't talk about systemic racism, you talk about Al Sharpton's unpaid taxes. Don't talk about income inequality, talk about how Occupy Wall Street kids all have iPhones.

#2. Pit Two Disadvantaged Groups Against One Another (And Insist That Only One Can "Win")

Do you see the trick? "We shouldn't do anything about your problem when these other people have it so much worse. Also, we're not going to do anything about their problems, either." The result: Nothing changes.

#1. Insist That Any Change Will Ruin The World

It's a pretty simple trick -- just ignore every possibility that involves simply improving the current system and imply that in order to reap its benefits we must accept every single aspect of the status quo, including the parts that grind people into hamburger. It won't matter that you can't actually spell out why improvements are impossible, since the fear centers of the brain are inherently irrational. "Gay marriage proponents secretly want to destroy all marriage? Sure, makes sense to me!"

These are all good tactics to be aware of, for the next time a demonstration begins gathering attention--before the media do their work.

Paul Krugman's look at seriously bad ideas is instructive:
One thing we've learned in the years since the financial crisis is that seriously bad ideas -- by which I mean bad ideas that appeal to the prejudices of Very Serious People -- have remarkable staying power. No matter how much contrary evidence comes in, no matter how often and how badly predictions based on those ideas are proved wrong, the bad ideas just keep coming back. And they retain the power to warp policy. [...] On Wednesday, George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer and the architect of the government's austerity policies, announced his intention to make these policies permanent.
Speaking of "bad ideas that appeal to the prejudices of Very Serious People," let's look at the way Fox's bad ideas inform Bill O'Reilly's attitude toward Bernie Sanders. O'Reilly's assertion that "Mr. Sanders is a socialist who does not believe in capitalism" is, not surprisingly, bullshit. The article notes that, in reality, "Sanders is not a socialist (which is not to say socialism is a bad idea):"
He is a "Democratic Socialist," who largely believes in the Nordic Model, the economic system found in Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, with high progressive taxation, and strong social welfare programs, like universal healthcare. Coincidentally, Scandinavians are consistently found to be the "world's happiest." Of course, O'Reilly and the rest of his Fox News ilk don't quite care about the difference between democratic socialism or Marxian socialism or a welfare state. His use of the word is not so much about social systems, but about what the word means to so many of his viewers -- much like the words fascism and communism were used during the twentieth century. The right wing seems to have two views of "socialism," one of them being extremely paranoid, and the other less paranoid. The paranoid view believes that socialism means Stalinesque totalitarianism, and the less-paranoid view pictures mass laziness and a nightmarish bureaucracy.
Also relevant to this discussion is the fact that "over the past forty years of neoliberal policies that O'Reilly advocates, inequality has skyrocketed:"
Today, the top 0.1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. It is not only wealth inequality, but income inequality. Since the eighties, most of the gains in income have gone to top one percent, while the rest have stagnated. O'Reilly may be able to ignore this, with his $24 million salary, but the people cannot and will not, no matter how much him and his friends shout socialism.

Slate's look at the science of sexual orientation mentions that "homosexuality has both a heritable and an environmental component:"

Family studies have shown that homosexual men have more older brothers than heterosexual men. Homosexual men are also more likely to have brothers that are also homosexual. Similarly, family studies show that lesbian women have more lesbian sisters than heterosexual women.

Studies on identical twins are important as identical twins inherit the same genes. This can shed light on a possible genetic cause. Studies on twins have established that homosexuality is more common in identical (monozygotic) twins than in non-identical (dizygotic) twins. This proves that homosexuality can be inherited.

However, the extent of the inheritance between twins was lower than expected. These findings contribute to the notion that although homosexuality can be inherited, this does not occur according to the rules of classical genetics. Rather, it occurs through another mechanism, known as epigenetics.

Hmmm...there's that word again.

Salon lauds the way in which Bernie Sanders trolls the GOP over the "family values" agenda:

...the democratic socialist introduced the Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act, legislation that would ensure 10 days of paid vacation annually for employees who have been with the same employer for at least a year. Other elements of Sanders' "family values agenda" include 12 weeks of paid parental leave and at least seven paid sick days a year.

"Sanders now defies those who constantly hector about 'family values' to make their case against paid leave policies geared toward promoting family stability," the piece continues. His statement is blunt:

When my Republican colleagues talk about "family values," what they usually mean is opposition to a woman's right to choose, opposition to contraception, opposition to gay rights. Let me today give a somewhat different perspective on family values - on real family values.

He mentions specific legislation (Senator Gillibrand's FAMILY Act and Senator Murray's Healthy Families Act) and points out that "the United States of America is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers some form of paid family leave, paid sick time or paid vacation time:"

In other words, when it comes to basic workplace protections and family benefits, workers in every other major industrialized country in the world get a better deal than workers in the United States. That is wrong. That is a travesty. And that has got to change. [...]

Last place is no place for America. It is time to join the rest of the industrialized world by showing the people of this country that we are not just a nation that talks about family values but that we are a nation that is prepared to live up to these ideals by making sure that workers in this country have access to paid family leave, paid sick time and paid vacations just like workers in every other wealthy country on earth.

For a perfectly-timed example of the Republicans' vacuous "family values" agenda, look no further than Denny Hastert's hypocrisy:

Just before his election as House speaker in 1999, Dennis Hastert spearheaded legislation to prevent use of the Internet to encourage sexual acts with children. As he often did, Hastert invoked his personal history "as a father and a person who has dealt with public schools for a long time" to urge passage.

"We must continue to be proactive warding off pedophiles and other creeps who want to take advantage of our children," Hastert said, according to an account of an Internet forum he held in his congressional district. [...] "This bill sends a strong message to the most heinous of criminals who prey upon our children -- you will be punished to the fullest extent of the law," Hastert said at the time.

While he pontificated about pedophiles, he was covering up his own past:

Hastert, 73, was arraigned Tuesday on charges that he arranged nearly $1 million bank withdrawals to avoid filing disclosure reports, then lied to the FBI about it. The money was allegedly part of a $3.5 million payment Hastert agreed to make to an unidentified former male student over what was reportedly past sexual misconduct.


Politicus USA also calls out the GOP for "calling themselves the party of family values while carrying out an ideological agenda that weakens and undermines the economic security of the nation's families:"

Republicans oppose any steps that would strengthen families. Studies have found that the more money a couple makes, the less likely they are to divorce. Economic stability increases family stability.

When a worker has to place economic survival ahead of their family, the family suffers. Republicans have gotten away with disguising their family killing policies as values for too long. Conservatives hijacked the term family values, but Bernie Sanders is taking it back.


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Nathaniel Downes suggests that a Jubilee might be a way to "resolve significant wrongs in this country all at once:"

The concept of a jubilee is an ancient one, with its origins in the ancient Egyptian festival of Heb Sed. The ancient Hebrew people held them every 50 years. Christians held Jubilees upon Papal decree. Many nations had kings issue them, as well.

Whatever the culture, the result was the same. All debts would be forgiven, all slaves given freedom, and all prisoners released. It was akin to a grand rebirth for these people, a chance for problems to be forgotten and everyone given a clean slate to start anew.

"Here is how it should work, for maximum impact," he writes:

Non-violent criminal offenders who stole under, let's say $1 million, would have their sentences commuted. This would release millions of people from prison, and with a pardon, their histories would be effectively wiped clean. All personal debts, from credit cards to payday loans to mortgages and even court judgements up to an arbitrary number, such as $1 million, would be wiped out. All credit records wiped clean, as if every person in America had declared bankruptcy. All criminal records save for the worst, wiped out. The worst offenders would remain where they belong, while average citizens would be relieved.

This solution would also directly undermine the forces at work to erode our democracy. Big money interests, from banks to lobbyists, rely upon keeping people indebted and in jail: short-term profits, even as it ensures long-term failure as the economy grinds to a halt. These money interests then turn that revenue into lobbying, paying for PACs which undermine our democracy. Eliminating these, wiping out those who would destroy our nation as a vampire does its victim, is the best long-term solution, even if it causes short-term hardship for the banking interests. But with their massive bailout a few years ago, it is time they paid back into the system.

His point that "So long as we maintain the baggage of a broken system when the system itself is replaced, we cannot move forward" is well taken, but perhaps fewer people would be in debt without wage theft--such as that recounted in this experience with "Icing, a costume-jewelry and accessory store:"

I closed Icing alone for the first time in May 2013. I had just been promoted from sales associate to full-time keyholder, and I was eager to prove I could handle the additional responsibility. Yet as I reviewed the lengthy checklist of closing tasks--vacuuming, Windexing mirrors, counting registers, completing paperwork--I knew there was no way I would finish in the 30 minutes allotted me.

"You were here till 10:30?" my stern, mid-30s manager asked me incredulously the following morning. Embarrassed, I assured her I would become more efficient with practice.

Yet try as I might, I could not get the store closed before 10, and my manager was unforgiving. Fearful my slowness might cost me my job--which had been tough to come by--I came up with a solution. At 9:30 p.m., far from finished, I would close the registers and clock out, saving myself another talking-to--and forfeiting pay for the rest of the night.

Forcing individuals to work off the clock is, of course, illegal, and against Icing's company policy. Yet given the strict limits many corporations place on payroll, it is not unusual for employees to forego pay so as to avoid upsetting management.

Multiply by a few million, and that's the story of American retail work.


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This WaPo piece discusses the news algorithms Facebook uses on its 1.44 billion users and cautions that:

... if you get your political news through Facebook, as more than 60 percent of millennials do, please browse with extreme caution: The site doesn't show you everything, and may subtly skew your point of view.

and worries about "a new survey by the Pew Center, released on Monday, [which] suggests there may be some new urgency here:"

Per that survey, a majority of American Internet users now get political news from Facebook -- and the 2016 elections, as we know, are in just over a year.

By now, it should be common knowledge that the News Feed does not show you every post your friends put on Facebook. Unfortunately, there's still a major misconception around how News Feed works: in a recent study from the University of Illinois, 62.5 percent of participants had no idea Facebook screened out any posts.

Facebook "tries to predict the posts you're most interested in [which] does tweak political news in three important, if modest, ways:"

1. The algorithm determines the order of the posts in your News Feed, and hard news stories that the algorithm relegates to the bottom are read far less frequently. 2. In the average conservative's news feed, the algorithm cuts out 5 percent of liberal-leaning articles. 3. In the average liberal's News Feed, that rate's a little higher: 8 percent of conservative-leaning articles got cut.

The worry that "As more of those people use Facebook for news, we risk "accelerating" polarization for a large slice of the U.S. population" is dismissed by CJR, which asks, who's afraid of a big bad algorithm?

News outlets have long been black boxes [and] readers have no clue about what goes into crafting the day's news. Thousands of decisions about what to cover, what not to cover, how long to stay on a story, how to dispense resources, and now, in a digital environment, what to put on the homepage or push out over social media, take place inside newsrooms that most people will never visit.

"Zuckerberg's approach sends chills down our spines when we think about an entire generation getting most of their news from Facebook," but it's not that simple, because "we need to separate what is new and different about an algorithm from the techno-dystopian hype:"

That means knowing a little more about the history of news and media effects, and a little more about algorithms. [...] Then we can begin to understand precisely how (and if) our news environment is really changing as much as we think it is.

NPR lauds the late free-jazz saxophonist Coleman for having "liberated jazz from conventional harmony, tonality, structure and expectation"

Coleman was an American icon and iconoclast -- a self-taught musician born poor and fatherless in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1930, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the Japanese Praemium Imperiale, two Guggenheims, a MacArthur, honorary doctorates and a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master honor.

I've been listening to his Golden Circle CDs while waiting for the NYT to update their obit, at which point I'll probably switch over to the 6-disc box set Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings--about which AllMusic wrote:

...this is, along with John Coltrane's Atlantic set and the Miles & Coltrane box, one of the most essential jazz CD purchases.

The Esquire interview with Ornette Coleman has some great aphoristic moments:

I wasn't so interested in being paid. I wanted to be heard. That's why I'm broke.

How can I turn emotion into knowledge? That's what I try to do with my horn.

I don't try to please when I play. I try to cure.

update (11:35am):
As "Doughnuts" plays, I see that the NYT has caught up:

His run of records for Atlantic near the beginning of his career -- especially "The Shape of Jazz to Come," "Change of the Century" and "This Is Our Music" -- pushed through skepticism, ridicule and condescension, as well as advocacy, to become recognized as some of the greatest records in jazz history. [...]

His music had such a force that even John Coltrane said, in 1961, that 12 minutes he had spent on stage with Coleman amounted to "the most intense moment of my life."

Among his many achievements are the following:

He was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master fellowship in 1984, and was made a MacArthur Foundation fellow in 1994; he had reached old-master status on the jazz-performance circuit... [...]

In 2007 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his album "Sound Grammar." That same year he was given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and performed at the rock-centered Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. [...] His performing schedule declined in his last five years; his final public performance was at Prospect Park in Brooklyn in June 2014, as part of a tribute to him organized by his son.

Fred Kaplan pegs Coleman as "the man who freed jazz" in this 2006 piece that said, "he's, above all, a musician of melody:"

Ornette's style of "freedom" lies not so much in what the musicians play as in their relationship to one another. Coleman made up his own odd word for his music: "harmolodic," roughly defined as music where harmony, motion (or rhythm), and melody play equal roles. No part is subordinate to the others. All the players feel free to improvise whenever they want.

Rolling Stone notes that:

A box set of the jazz legend's "Celebrate Ornette" tribute concert - including performances from Sonny Rollins, Patti Smith, Flea and Coleman himself - will be released this fall.

The Atlantic's David A. Graham calls Coleman "one of the genre's true polarizing geniuses:"

Jazz's version of the famous--or infamous--1913 Armory show that introduced Americans to modern art came on November 17, 1959, when Ornette Coleman began a run of shows at the Five Spot Cafe in New York.

It was an era when giants walked the jazz landscape. Charlie Parker had been dead for four years, but bebop, his brainchild, had propelled jazz to musical peaks, even as the genre's commercial appeal faded. Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, perhaps the greatest jazz record ever, had just been released. John Coltrane's Giant Steps was about to ship. Then Coleman, a short, eccentric alto saxophonist from Texas by way of Los Angeles, arrived with his band, playing something that sounded nothing like what was on the scene--but sounding quite a bit like a provocation.

Salon's Scott Timberg notes that Coleman "lived longer than almost any jazz great, and made important and challenging music for decades:"

The soft-spoken Coleman made music for half a century and released dozens of records. More than almost any musician in history, they're various enough that one listener will love an era and completely ignore or dislike another. Some of us who love Ornette are still puzzled by entire periods of his work.

The Guardian assesses Coleman as having "brought a new vocabulary to jazz, in the widest terms: melody, instrumentation and technique were all taken in new directions in his music." My Quote of the Day, despite the previous encomiums, is from guitarist Pat Metheny:

Even for the best musicians, playing with Coleman could be a challenge. In 1986, he guitarist Pat Metheny recounted the experience of playing alongside Coleman in full improvisatory flow: ""The challenge in this situation is that sometimes Ornette plays and stops, then I have to play. The other night in Washington, we did this tune called Broadway Blues, and he played the most perfect musical statement I've ever heard. I gave it my best, but I have no pretenses of improvising at that level."

professing fear

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Professors do live in fear, claims TNR's Noah Berlatsky, but not of their liberal students. [See here and here.] "The highest profile, most striking case of academic censorship on campuses in the last few years," notes Berlatsky, "doesn't fit into Schlosser's narrative at all:"

Steven Salaita had his offer of employment rescinded by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after he tweeted vehemently in opposition to Israeli violence against Palestinians. The impetus for the dismissal did not come from sensitive students, but from donors. It was top-down enforcement of a conservative party line, in other words, not a bottom-up enforcement of a liberal one.

"I spoke to a number of university and college teachers for this piece," continues Berlatsky, "and most said that they did not feel ideologically constrained in the classroom--neither from the left nor the right:"

When academics face pressure, though, it does not occur in some sort of funhouse world where all hierarchies are inverted, students are king, and white men cower. Rather, the pressures are broadly in line with those in other parts of the workforce. America's employees as a whole face increasing precarity and job insecurity. That's true of universities as well, where the growing reliance on adjuncts has resulted in a workforce more vulnerable to retaliation from administration. [...] Both on and off campus, the threat to labor comes from employers and lawmakers, and liberal opinions are as likely, or more likely, to get you in trouble as conservative ones.

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