August 2015 Archives

Corey Robin looks at trigger warnings and the academy, noting that "No one knows the power of literature better than the censor:"

That's why he burns books: to fight fire with fire, to stop them from setting the world aflame. Or becomes an editor: Stalin, we now know, excised words from texts with about as much energy and attention as he excised men and women from the world. As Bertolt Brecht archly noted of the East German regime's efforts to control what he wrote: "Where else in the world can you find a government that shows such interest and pays such attention to artists?"

Those who criticize today's students, Robin writes, "think they're privileged and precious:"

Yet how different is their account of what a book might do to them from the view of this privileged, coddled and precious twenty-something from a century ago?
Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn't shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we'd be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, at a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.

The difference, of course, is that Kafka didn't hide from such books; he sought them out.

Robin identifies "a greater threat to reading and readers, to education itself, than trigger warnings or students objecting to a text:"

And that is the downsizing administrator, the economizing politician, who refuses to believe there's any value in reading a difficult text at all.

"In this age of the neoliberal university," Robin concludes, aggrieved students "may be our best allies, for they seem to be among the few who understand that what we do matters:"

The administrator and the politician, the trustee and the pundit, think that we professors are worse than subversive; we're useless. These students, by contrast, think we're dangerous. Rather than dismissing them, maybe we should say: Thank you, we thought no one was listening, we thought no one cared. And then turn around and figure out how to use this as, ahem, a teachable moment -- about the radioactivity of books and the fact that radiation has its uses.

Spencer Ackerman reports that a West Point professor believes that the military should target its critics:

An assistant professor in the law department of the US Military Academy at West Point has argued that legal scholars critical of the war on terrorism represent a "treasonous" fifth column that should be attacked as enemy combatants.

In a lengthy academic paper, the professor, William C Bradford, proposes to threaten "Islamic holy sites" as part of a war against undifferentiated Islamic radicalism. That war ought to be prosecuted vigorously, he wrote, "even if it means great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage".

Other "lawful targets" for the US military in its war on terrorism, Bradford argues, include "law school facilities, scholars' home offices and media outlets where they give interviews" - all civilian areas, but places where a "causal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incited" exist.

"Shocking and extreme as this option might seem, [dissenting] scholars, and the law schools that employ them, are - at least in theory - targetable so long as attacks are proportional, distinguish noncombatants from combatants, employ nonprohibited weapons, and contribute to the defeat of Islamism," Bradford wrote.

Ackerman explains that Bradford's article, "Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column", was published in the student-run National Security Law Journal of the George Mason School of Law. Rick Myers, the Journal's editor-in-chief now calls the publication of Bradford's piece a "mistake" and an "egregious breach of professional decorum." As Myers wrote:

"We cannot 'unpublish' it, of course, but we can and do acknowledge that the article was not presentable for publication when we published it, and that we therefore repudiate it with sincere apologies to our readers."


update (8/31 @ 20:19):
Above the Law's Joe Patrice summarizes the situation thusly:

Professor William C. Bradford, a professor who was -- until about half an hour ago -- working at the United States Military Academy at West Point, penned a 180-page gem of a manifesto entitled Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column in the National Security Law Journal. How bats**t crazy was this article? The National Security Law Journal has apologized for ever publishing it!
This past spring the Journal made a mistake in publishing a highly controversial article, Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column, 3 Nat'l Sec. L.J. 278 (2015), by William C. Bradford, who is currently an assistant professor at the United States Military Academy. As the incoming Editorial Board, we want to address concerns regarding Mr. Bradford's contention that some scholars in legal academia could be considered as constituting a fifth column in the war against terror; his interpretation is that those scholars could be targeted as unlawful combatants. The substance of Mr. Bradford's article cannot fairly be considered apart from the egregious breach of professional decorum that it exhibits.

Bradford's central thesis would make General Buck Turgidson blush -- advocating total war upon Islamic holy sites "even if it means great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage" before turning his ire upon what he sees as the roadblock to the glorious transformation of the Middle East into vitrified glass: lily-livered law professors.

"Bradford may have resigned," Patrice points out, "but the more troubling question is how did the Law Department at West Point bring Professor Bradford on board in the first place?"

Not only is this "scholarship" an embarrassment for an otherwise well-regarded university, but Bradford's academic career is pock-marked with red flags.

estate taxes

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Eric Zuesse discusses the prospect of taxing large estates:

Here's a good example to show this: U.S. National Public Radio's (NPR's) reporter Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, headlined on August 25th, "For Brazil's 1 Percenters, The Land Stays In The Family Forever," and she reported that, in that country, the aristocracy own half of the land, and that whenever a building on their land is sold, 2.5% of the sale price must go to the land's owner, the heir-aristocrat, in a perpetual tithing-system to the hereditary Portuguese aristocracy (including the Roman Catholic Church), who have descended from the Portuguese colonizers to whom Portugal's king had granted the land 515 years ago, in payment for their having conquered the native Indians and stolen their land for the king.

Zuesse cites David Stannard's "magisterial" book American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, which "reconstructs some of this disgusting history, throughout the Western Hemisphere:"

The basic principle of feudalism is hereditary rights and obligations. Aristocrats, unless they are first-generation, have inherited rights from their parents, and serfs and slaves have inherited obligations to aristocrats. That's what feudalism is. Adolf Hitler passionately supported the principle of hereditary rights and obligations, to such an extent that he even believed every descendent from Jews has inherited an obligation to be exterminated by "Aryans," "God's people." He also believed that Russians and other Slavs have an obligation to relinquish their land to Aryans, and to become Aryans' slaves. Fascism is to the industrial age what feudalism was to the agricultural age, and Hitler was a fascist -- a neo-feudalist.

"In most countries that are trying to get beyond feudalism/fascism," Zuesse continues, "estate taxes are imposed upon large estates in order to prevent this sort of thing -- feudalism/fascism:"

However, 18 billionaire families in the United States financed a decades-long propaganda campaign to end all estate taxes, and as a result, estate taxes are the only form of taxes that virtually all segments of the U.S. population want to eliminate entirely.

The U.S. situation is instructive: In April 2006, Public Citizen, Congress Watch, and United for a Fair Economy, placed onto the web a new, massive and scorching study, exposing who was conning America into abolishing the estate tax, and how they were doing it: "Spending Millions to Save Billions: The Campaign of the Super Wealthy to Kill the Estate Tax." This study documented that just 18 billionaire families were the initiators and the main financial backers behind the decades-long propaganda campaign to eliminate the estate tax.

"How, then, can we end feudalism, end fascism?" he asks. "Here is my general proposal:"

All unearned income must be taxed at the very highest percentage; all earned income must be taxed at a lower percentage than any unearned income. However, this must be integrated into an income-taxation system that has progressive taxation-rates, especially because the higher one's income is, the easier it becomes for that person to add any specified additional amount to the wealth he already owns -- money begets money. That's not equality of opportunity; it's the exact opposite. [...]

This is not at all about increasing the amount of taxes; it's about who pays what proportion of the costs to provide the services that the government provides. Many of the government services that provide the legal system and the roads and infrastructure that enable and increase the wealth of the wealthy are paid by the public. Replacing feudalism/fascism by democracy will reduce the public's taxes, because the wealthy will be paying the share that they always ought to have been paying but did not. To the general public, this will be a tax-reduction.

The study cited by Zuesse, "Spending Millions to Save Billions: The Campaign of the Super Wealthy to Kill the Estate Tax" (PDF), reminds us that the estate tax is a wealth-transfer tax, not a death tax--because it's only "levied when wealth is transferred at death:"

Only households with multiple millions or billions in net worth pay an estate tax. In 2006, individuals receive a $2 million exemption from the estate tax and couples receive a $4 million exemption. As a result, it is estimated that less than one-third of one percent (0.27 percent) of all estates will pay the federal estate tax in 2006, about one out of every 370 estates. Based on census projections for 2006, 2.3 million people will die in 2006 and only about 6,300 will have taxable estates.

In other words, 99.7 percent of all people who die in the U.S. this year will be able to pass on 100 percent of their assets free of any estate tax.

"Members of a handful of super-wealthy families," the study observes, "have quietly helped finance and coordinate a massive campaign to repeal the estate tax:"

These families - the members of which own the first and third largest privately held companies in the United States and hold about a 40 percent share in the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart - stand to save a whopping $71.6 billion if their bid succeeds.

They have relied on their fortunes, the resources of their companies and their business connections to marshal a massive anti-estate tax juggernaut that has reported nearly a half-billion dollars in lobbying expenditures ($490.3 million) since 1998.

Despite the family-farm horror stories we've all heard:

...the American Farm Bureau, a member of the anti-estate tax coalition, was unable in 2001 to cite a single example of a family being forced to sell its farm because of estate tax liability - and that was back when the exemption level was only a fraction of what it is today.

"Another ready talking point," the study continues, "has been the argument that the levy represents a double tax:"

This one is particularly ironic in the case of the wealthy families because most of their assets have yet to be taxed a first time, let alone a second. A study commissioned by the pro-repeal AFBI assumed that 70 percent of wealthy families' assets were in the form of untaxed, unrealized capital gains. For many families, the AFBI's researchers said, the figure was as high as 90 percent.

A final argument against the estate tax - castigated as the "death tax" by its critics - is that it represents an unjust levy against hard work and thrift. But most of the members of the super-wealthy families profiled in this report are unqualified to make such claims themselves. In only a handful of the families profiled in this report is the individual who actually earned the fortune still alive. Thus, most of the members of these families can attribute their wealth to inheritance, not to their own hard work.

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Kirby, Jack and Stan Lee, et al. Maximum Fantastic Four (New York: Marvel Comics, 2011)

When the Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four #1 hit newsstands on 8 August 1961 (there were no comic-book shops then), no one could have predicted how the FF would become the foundation of the Marvel Universe which is now a media and merchandising powerhouse in bookstores, toy stores, movie theatres, and television studios.
The Fantastic Four was my entrée into comics fandom (see my review of Marvel Knights: FF, Vol. 1), an enthusiasm that has waxed and waned since my childhood infatuation with "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" kicked it off--albeit some years after FF #1.

This 8" x 12" coffee-table reprint of that seminal first issue is an unusual look at the FF's origins, blowing up the panels to full pages (including multi-page spreads and several foldouts). Besides the FF #1 story, this volume also includes essays by Walter Mosley (pp. 75-83) and Mark Evanier (pp. 170-182), an afterword by Mosley (pp. 231-234), and two pages of contributor biographies.

The coloring of this volume follows the original schema, though the effect on glossy paper is a bit garish and harsh. My main complaint, though, is with the page layouts--and the fault for his apparently lies with designer Paul Sahre. I was initially perturbed by choices such as breaking panels across the gutter (pp. 34-35), but far worse were the numerous times that he cropped Kirby's panels by bleeding them off the page (pp. 36-37), thereby losing Stan Lee's dialogue in the process. Some of these spreads (such as pp. 92-93, pp. 132-133, and the page 138 foldout) may be dramatically presented, but at too high a cost--losing the book's subject amid the spectacle. Kudos are due, however for the design of the book's cover: a 25" x 36" folded poster, with the FF #1 cover on one side and all of the interior pages on the other. My only problem with it might be the difficulty in finding a frame large enough to hang it on my wall.

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Marc at With Great Power writes that "Maximum Fantastic Four is a truly amazing presentation of the series' first issue, one that fully lives up to its name:"

In the end, Maximum Fantastic Four is truly an affirmation of the genius of two creators at an artistic peak, one of the many peaks that each would experience throughout his long career in comics. And even more importantly, it's an affirmation of why we read comics - of that sense of exhilaration and wonder that draws us back again and again to the medium we love.

PW writes that, "Beautiful and contemplative, this book will be indispensable to fans of the modern superhero comic book." MadInkBeard praises the book's pacing by observing that "You can't flip through this book. You can't scan a page for the storyline and move on. You have to sit with it and look:"

If we take the time to really see the panels, the images, and the words and the way they interact, we can see new facets of a work, reinvigorating an old favorite or deepening our enjoyment of a new work. Comics are a time-consuming media to create; let's spend a little more time with them.

And Then I Read is more critical, pointing out the book's definition of exegesis ("Critical explanation or analysis, especially of a text") and calling BS:

I guess you could call it an analysis of the history, to put a stretch on it. But the essay, reminiscence and text of the comic took all of 30 minutes out of my life, and I'd really like to have them back.

This one only gets 3 stars. If you just want the original comic book, and can't afford a collector's price, you can find it reproduced in Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four Vol. 1.


links:

As a side note, Kirby would have been 98 years old today; please consider donating to Kirby4Heroes in his honor. There is a large show of Kirby's art entitled "Comic Book Apocalypse" at California State University Northridge through 10 October, and an interview with curator Charles (Hand of Fire) Hatfield at Comics Reporter.

One decision, made very early, was to delimit the show to late Kirby, starting around 1965 (a great time for Kirby at Marvel, and coincidentally my birth year). That would give us a chunk of Kirby's career that was well represented among collectors -- there's a lot of existing art -- plus familiar to me and to many fans, and tied to Hand of Fire. And that's something we could just about represent in our 3000 square-foot gallery. We knew we could not do justice to the whole half-century-plus span of Jack's career in one show; we had to define it more strictly.

In the end we did include some Kirby originals from the '40s and '50s, and a number of published comics from those days, so as to give everyone an overview of Kirby's career -- because it was important to me that newcomers understand what a comic book legend Jack was. Even if he had never touched a board again after 1960, he'd be one of the legendary comic book pioneers, and I wanted to get that across.

Here's the exhibition's promo image, which uses Kirby's art from the last page of Silver Surfer #18 (1970):

20150828-comicbookapocalypse.jpg

You can see this image (King-size, sans text) in photos of the exhibition on Charles Hatfield's website here:

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Andrew Flowers stresses the importance of social skills in today's job market:

To land a lucrative job today, hard skills in math and engineering, for instance, may not be enough. As technology allows us to automate more technical jobs, new research shows that people skills -- communicating clearly, being a team player -- matter more than ever. And women appear to be the ones capitalizing on this shift in the workplace.

Flowers cites David Deming's working paper "The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market," which shows that "the labor market increasingly rewards social skills:"

Since 1980, jobs with high social skill requirements have experienced greater relative growth throughout the wage distribution. Moreover, employment and wage growth has been strongest in jobs that require high levels of both cognitive skill and social skill.

"It's not that hard skills are suddenly less desirable," however, as Flowers points out:

Training in mathematics, computer science and other STEM fields (what Deming would count as "high cognitive skills") is still a great investment; that "plugging away at a spreadsheet" is still valuable. "High-cognitive-skills workers still earn more," Deming said, "but social skills increasingly are a complement to cognitive skills." He argues that having strong cognitive skills is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a high-paying job. [...]

Deming's paper goes on to say that women have ridden this wave of change in the workplace better than men, supporting the argument presented in books such as Hanna Rosin's "The End of Men," which documents how women have excelled in work and school and are primed to overtake men by many measures. [...]

Although cognitive skills don't vary by gender, Deming cites research from psychology showing that women consistently score higher on tests of emotional intelligence and social perceptiveness. The link between women's documented advantage in social skills and their increasing presence in social-skill-intensive jobs might explain the narrowing of the gender gap in employment and earnings, he says. But he doesn't know how much influence it might have, exactly. "I deliberately chose not to" estimate this effect, he said. "I didn't want to give the illusion of certainty."

"Privatizations are increasingly fashionable, such as in Greece, Ukraine, the U.S., and UK," writes Eric Zuesse, who notes privatization is at the core of fascism:

The core of fascism is the idea that there is some elite, whether 'Aryan' or 'chosen by God,' or otherwise, who should run things, and that everyone else exists in order to serve that elite. Inevitably, this official elite consists of the people whom the powers-that-be assign as constituting the owners of almost everything that's valuable. Increasingly, things become those people's private possession -- even what was formerly a public asset becomes now private. Beaches become private. Schools become private. Natural resources become private. It's not just the art that was stolen by the Nazis and privatized to them and/or shown at museums that they control, which becomes private; it's whatever the elite want to have, and to control: it's all now private. That's the fascist ideal. [...]

Privatization thus replaces public, government-owned, assets, by privately owned assets, and so it transfers control from publicly elected (government) leaders (who are answerable to everyone at ballot-boxes), to private ones -- to private stockholders who decide how those assets will be used -- regardless of whether the asset happens to be schools, or hospitals, or land, or natural resources, or roads, or whatever. Anything can be privatized. Anything can be run by an elite, by an 'owner.' Fascism tries to maximize that: private ownership of what was formerly public property.

Zuesse provides the historical context, and brings us up to the current day:

Privatizations, after starting in fascisms during the pre-WWII years, resumed again in the 1970s under the fascist Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet; and in the 1980s under the fascist British leader Margaret Thatcher (a passionate supporter of apartheid in South Africa) and also under the smiling fascist American leader Ronald Reagan (who followed the prior success of Richard Nixon's «Southern Strategy» of White domination in the by-then resurgent-conservative U.S., and might even be said to have been America's first fully fascist President); and in the 1990s under several fascist (formerly communist) leaders throughout the former Soviet Union, under the guidance of Harvard University's fascist economics department, which transferred control from the former nomenklatura, to the new (Western-dependent) «oligarchs».

And, privatizations are now all the rage throughout the world, such as in today's fascist United States, and today's fascist United Kingdom.

Mussolini was the man-of-the-future, but -- after Franklin Delano Roosevelt died, and finally Thatcher and Reagan and other 'free-marketeers' came into office -- Mussolini's «future» has increasingly become our own «now»: the Axis Powers' ideology has actually been winning in the post-WW-II world. Only, this time, it's called instead by such names as «libertarianism» or «neo-liberalism», no longer «fascism», so that only the true-believing fascists, the aristocrats, will even know that it's actually fascism. It's their Big Con. It's their Big Lie. Just renaming fascism as «libertarianism» or «neo-liberalism», has fooled the masses to think that it's pro-democratic. «Capitalism» has thus come to be re-defined to refer to only the aristocratically controlled form of capitalism: fascism.

In contrast, Zuesse notes that "Socialism is the democratic form of capitalism:"

It's the form of capitalism that serves the public, instead of the aristocracy, at any point where the two have conflicting interests. It subordinates the aristocracy to the public. Fascism instead subordinates the public to the aristocracy, which is the natural tendency (because the «World's Richest 0.7% Own 13.67 Times as Much as World's Poorest 68.7%», and the «World's Richest 80 People Own Same Amount as World's Bottom 50%»).

Then he offers this tidbit:

Mussolini, incidentally, did not create fascism; he learnt it from his personal teacher, Vilfredo Pareto, who was one of the founders of the microeconomic theory that exists to this day and that is intrinsic to all cost/benefit analyses in capitalist economics. (It's actually fascist economics, neither socialist nor communist economics.

"Pareto," he continues, "was even rightly called 'the Karl Marx of fascism' [by RV Worthington, but I haven't yet located the source]. Zuesse then brings us back to American history:

America's President Abraham Lincoln was one of the first people to advocate coherently for socialism. Whereas, to Pareto, property came first; to Lincoln, persons came first. To Pareto, property-rights were supreme. To Lincoln, human rights came first.

The quote runs like this, from his 1861 Annual Message to Congress:

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

Lincoln had made similar pronouncements before [see for example this 1859 address], but the sentiment will seem incongruous to many. Zuesse notes the distance by which we've fallen in the time since:

America did not become fascist until recent decades. At the end of an analysis of polling-data in 2012, I had concluded: «The danger of outright fascism coming soon in Washington is real - the culmination of Reagan's rightward thrust. It's shown not just in the polling data, but in each day's news, especially when viewed in the light of history. Everyone should be made aware of it.» But now I would say: We are already there.

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")

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