September 2016 Archives

"bullshit jobs"

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David Graeber explains why capitalism creates pointless jobs. Instead of using technology to increase our leisure time, he explains that it "has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more:"

In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Graeber is more than happy to pick up the slack:

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the "service" sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call "bullshit jobs."

It's as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working.

That's quite contrary to the efficient-market hypothesis, isn't it? Graeber continues by noting that "The answer clearly isn't economic: it's moral and political:"

The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the '60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

It's also clearly not an accidental situation, as he points out by writing that "If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it's hard to see how they could have done a better job:"

Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the - universally reviled - unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) - and particularly its financial avatars - but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

debatable

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I skipped the debate last night, but tried to make up for it by watching some clips and reading far too many post-mortems today. Moderator Lester Holt "walked a fine line," writes Sarah Jones, and "deserves major cred for his almost perfect performance as a debate moderator during the first presidential debate:"

Holt started off clearly nervous, the way someone who understands the daunting task in front of them should be. But then he took control of the debate in the broader sense of forcing the debate to do its actual job, that is to inform the people, and he never relented.

While Holt let Donald Trump interrupt Hillary Clinton 51 times last night, in doing so he also let the Republican nominee reveal his bullying nature to the nation.

Megan Garber writes that Holt "did a great job," and "succeeded at the most obvious task of the moderator: asking the right questions--the most urgent questions--in the right way:"

But Holt also succeeded at the more complicated challenge in debate moderation: knowing when, and indeed how, to stay silent. Holt's "disappearance" in the debate, such as it was, [...] had to do with his apparent recognition that silence--in debate moderation, as in everything else--carries its own kind of power.

Hillary's "series of snares" led Amanda Marcotte to liken the debate to the 1988 dark comedy "Heathers," writing that "Clinton did exactly what she needed to do during this first debate: She established herself as smart, calm and presidential, and then stood silently by while her opponent blew himself up:"

But it was clear that Clinton's main goal was goading Trump into revealing his true self, and proving conclusively that no amount of training or pleading from aides will turn Trump from the narcissistic hothead that he is into someone that can be trusted with the nuclear codes. The plan worked, and from Clinton's triumphant and eminently gif-able wiggle in the middle of the debate, it's clear that she knew it.

Marcotte also praised Holt, "who largely steered away from 'gotcha' questions that so many journalists mistake for hard questions, leaning more towards open-ended, policy-oriented questions:"

Conservatives will no doubt be furious, since answering such questions requires coherence and an ability to explain the details, two skills Trump hasn't mastered. But it's worth remembering this is a presidential race, not a kindergarten class. If Trump can't handle the basics of being a politician, the voters need to know that.

TruthDig assesses Trump's deportment as "very flustered:"

Trump was soon wiping the sweat from his lip, creasing his forehead, frowning, and trying to sound reasonable as he attacked Clinton with popular one-liners from his rallies--such as lambasting her support of previous trade deals and saying that she has no jobs plan. That's when the tables quickly turned. Yes I do, she tartly replied, read my book. That kind of response, which pushed Trump to fume and fulminate, underscored her ensuing dominance on temperament and substance.

This was one of my favorite exchanges:

When Trump tried to smear her with typical innuendo that she had been staying "at home" in recent days, suggesting that she was somehow weak, Clinton replied that she stayed home to prepare for the debate. "I did prepare and I am prepared to be president." It wasn't just one of the night's best lines, she looked presidential.

That sound you hear? It's a glass ceiling beginning to crack...

Politicus USA also mentioned Trump's 51 interruptions, noting that "he interrupted Clinton 25 times in the first 26 minutes of the debate:"

Yes, Donald Trump interrupts as often than he lies. No small feat.

TPM's list of the 5 biggest moments is also revealing:

But a few exchanges stand out as revealing the dynamics of the two candidates' debate performances. Here are the five big moments from the first presidential debate.

• Trump's Birtherism Squirming

• Clinton Speculates On What Trump's Hiding In His Unreleased Tax Returns

• Trump Sighs Loudly As Clinton As She Praises The African-American Community

• Clinton Baits Trump On His Father's Loan -- And Again And Again And Again
• "time and time again, Trump launched into defensive tirades, non-sequiturs and digressions rather than stay on topic and focused on Clinton."

• Trump Says He Has A 'Much Better Temperament' Than Clinton

Right Wing Watch lists "20 lies that Trump told during his first debate against Hillary Clinton," categorized into the following groups:

• Trump's Lies About His Own History
• Trump's Lies About the Economy and Finance
• Trump's Lies About National Security
• Trump's Lies About Crime

One could also categorize the debate as consisting of two approximately equal time periods: the times that Trump was lying, and the times he wasn't speaking. The Rude Pundit calls the fiasco a "brutal beatdown" and likens it to "autoerotic asphyxiation:"

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton did everything short of score an obvious knockout punch, which isn't possible against an opponent who seems so willfully oblivious to his own failings as a speaker, as a father, as a husband, as a business owner, as a human being. Indeed, one thing that came through clearly is that Clinton knows how to talk to children, and Republican nominee Donald Trump ran the gamut from toddler having a tantrum to teenager arguing why he should have the keys to the car when his breath smells like beer and weed. Every one of Clinton's looks was that of a parent or grandparent hearing the screaming kid, indulging him for a few minutes, and then demonstrating why she's the fuckin' grown-up, whether he realized it or not.

The debate, he continues, "was a fucking disaster for Republicans:"

Trump did it himself, with a huge assist by Clinton, who, for much of the evening, like moderator Lester Holt, just stepped aside and let Trump wrap the mic cord around his neck and jack off until he gasped his last breath. And he didn't even orgasm before he expired.

His summary is that "if you still believe he should be the leader of the country, you really are fucking deplorable."

terrified sheep

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Historian Alice Dreger tells us that without tenure, academics are becoming terrified sheep:

...having lived through the decline of tenure, I can see clearly that universities in which the majority of the faculty feel unsafe in terms of job security become places where no one feels safe to do anything that might risk upsetting someone.

And that's a recipe for generally useless research as well as impoverished teaching.

That sounds exactly like a recipe for conservatism:

When teachers get the message they can't push or challenge students, we end up with fellow citizens, neighbours, and co-workers who are inflexible, threatened by difference, and lacking in critical-thinking skills. Parents may think they want comfortable intellectual spaces for their dear college-age children, but if they really want their children to grow into strong, capable thinkers, they want professors who feel safe to host unsettling conversations, to provide unexpected lessons, and to go where students need, rather than want, to go in order to develop.

Bemoaning factors such as "the corporatisation of universities," Dreger asks, "why would university administrations want tenured faculty?"

A workforce without job security is obedient and cheaper. If tenure is to be saved in American universities, academics can't do it themselves. It will likely happen only if non-academics come to understand the tremendous cost to our society of turning our universities into places of fear, of turning their children's professors into a herd of terrified sheep.

preference for paper

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Maureen Mullarkey compares e-readers to "real" books, and has a clear preference for paper. "I love physical books," she writes, "the look, feel, smell, and weight of them:"

Improbable as it might sound to digital natives, information is a tool but love of reading is a way of life. And like any love, it has a physical dimension. There is more to it than simply ingesting print. Love of reading begins with pleasure in the look, feel, and weight of a book. Even the smell of books--seasoned ones--carries an enchantment. Redolent with memory, they do more than conjure the past for us. They bind us to it.

Part of the problem, she writes, is that "E-readers proffer their books alongside an option-rich stream of distractions:"

A swarm of accumulated variables--email, news, videos, infographics--are only a swipe away. Algorithm wizard Donald Knuth explained his decision to give up email back in 1990 by saying he wanted "not to be on top of things but to be at the bottom of things." At the bottom, away from wired stuffs, is silence and uninterrupted concentration. Interactivity, and the data burst that speeds along with it, tugs against the linear book's invitation to stay awhile and dwell in solitude.

murders rise

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538 looks at the rising murder rate last year, noting that "Murder rose across the U.S. last year at the fastest pace since 1990, according to data released by the FBI on Monday:"

But while Monday's report confirms the increase in murder, it doesn't support Trump's larger claim [that "Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration's rollback of criminal enforcement"]. The rate of other forms of crime, including violent crime, remained near the historic lows achieved in 2013. The overall violent crime rate -- which includes assault, robbery and rape in addition to murder -- rose 3 percent. The rate of nonviolent property crimes fell 3.4 percent. [...]

The increase comes on the heels of nearly two decades of continuous decline in the national murder rate; 2014's murder rate was the lowest recorded national murder rate since the FBI began keeping the statistic in 1960. Indeed, 2015's rate in the U.S. is roughly the same as it was in 2010 and less than half what it was when the murder rate peaked nationally in 1980. [emphasis added]

PM reports that "A vendor at the Bloomsburg Fair in Pennsylvania advertised his wares by displaying a large Nazi flag next to a Donald Trump banner, according to The Citizens' Voice, a local Pennsylvania paper:"

The flag was taken down Monday after it was initially spotted and a fairgoer posted a picture of it on social media Sunday night. [...] Additional Nazi flags were confiscated from the vendor [who was also selling "homophobic and sexist bumper stickers"] Monday morning, according to ABC affiliate WNEP.

20160926-nazitrump.jpg
(Facebook user Chloe Winters via WNEP)

Iceman goes clubbing

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I saw this Brian Andersen piece on why queer comic-book characters matter last week, but I didn't have time to dig into it. Anderson is right that Iceman's gay revelation is "an important moment," especially considering the media attention involved. "Iceman is a very well-known character in pop culture," he writes, and "His queerness is more impactful because it's hard to hate someone (even a fictional character) you've welcomed into your life for years:"

In case anyone was worried Iceman revealing his homosexuality was just a gimmick to sell comic books, this past week, in All-New X-Men issue 13, Iceman visits his first gay club. Two of his straight mutant friends actually drag him to the club in effort to help him meet another guy.

An entire issue spent on a gay character trying to meet, flirt with, and date another man in a major mainstream comic book? Progress never felt so wonderful.

This comic book is pretty special in just how nonspecial it actually is. It features just a regular, straightforward story. It wasn't touted as a "very special" issue. It wasn't polybagged to protect impressionable youth. It didn't have a parental warning label on it. Its cover was as typical as anything else on the comic book stands. We've come a long way since The Rawhide Kid, baby.

Bravo!

Trump's debate style

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Salon's list of Trump's incoherent greatest hits gives us a taste of what to expect during the debate tonight:

There were 12 debates and seven candidate forums during the Republican primaries. Trump participated in all but one of the debates and three of the forums, and he dominated all of them. After he was asked a tough question early on about the nuclear triad and looked like a deer in the headlights, he learned to take advantage of the time constraints by volleying insults and crude zingers to avoid answering difficult questions. He found that he could deflect and distract by being outrageous.

But the final debate between the last four standing, Trump, Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich, was different. It may be the template for what we're going to see tonight. Trump wasn't his usual garrulous self. He was "serious" in that debate, no name calling, no acting out. And he made absolutely no sense.

So does Hillary's list of Trump's typical lies, beginning with these "Trump's Seven Deadly Lies:"

  • 1. FALSE: Trump opposed the Iraq War.
  • 2. FALSE: Trump opposed intervention in Libya.
  • 3. FALSE: Clinton supports open borders.
  • 4. FALSE: Clinton wants to get rid of the Second Amendment.
  • 5. FALSE: President Obama and Clinton founded ISIS.
  • 6. FALSE: Clinton would allow 620,000 refugees into the U.S. with no vetting.
  • 7. FALSE: Trump will make Mexico pay for the wall.

There are also supplementary list of Trump's lies about domestic policy, foreign policy, Hillary Clinton, Obama, and even his lies about himself.

Trump's tale

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In examining the Right's cycle of hate, In These Times' Theo Anderson points out that "it wasn't just economic populism that allowed Trump to be the last candidate standing. He won because he told a story that conservatives never tire of hearing, and he told it better than anyone else:"

Since the late 1800s, the wolf at the door has taken many different forms: Jews, African Americans, Catholics, Communists, humanists, institutions of higher education, sexual minorities and immigrants. The prominence of any particular villain depends on the storyteller, and it varies over time. But the basic claims remain strikingly similar.

The threat that the villain supposedly poses can be a traditional military one--bombs and armies--or it can take ideological forms: dangerous ideas or cultural shifts. It can come from the outside or the inside. The story is most powerful when all of these lines are blurred, so that the threat has both military and ideological elements, and the battlefield is both inside and outside the nation. The Soviet Union of the Cold War era is a classic example.

That sounds like Chicken-Little Conservatism to me, where the sky is forever falling and there's a monster under every bed.

Milo Y's "puff piece"

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ThinkProgress issued a condemnation of Out's Milo Y puff piece, writing that "the profile negligently perpetuates harm against the LGBT community:"

Here is a white supremacist whose entire career has been built on the attention he can get for himself through provocation. His attacks against women, people of color, Muslims, transgender people, and basically anybody who doesn't like him are as malicious as they come, and he catalyzes his many "alt-right" followers to turn on any target he deems worthy of abuse. This puff piece -- complete with a cutesy clown photoshoot -- makes light of Yiannopoulos's trolling while simultaneously providing him a pedestal to further extend his brand of hatred. Indeed, he does so in the profile itself, openly slurring the transgender community, which Out published without any apparent concern.

The Advocate talked to Out magazine editor Aaron Hicklin:

"If LGBTQ media takes its responsibilities seriously we can't shy away from covering queer people who are at the center of this highly polarized election year," he wrote, "and we ask you to assess Milos Yiannopoulos, the focus of this profile, on his own words without mistaking them for ours."

Hicklin has taken to social media to insist that Out's profile is actually an example of the best of journalism.

Ritalin reform

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TNR discusses how ADHD was sold by reviewing Alan Schwarz's book ADHD Nation: Children, Doctors, Big Pharma, and the Making of an American Epidemic. This story of the origins of Ritalin begins with amphetamine addiction during World War II, and then its postwar spread into the civilian population. Currently, TNR writes that "The [stimulant] epidemic is twofold:"

First, there are adults or adolescents who become addicted to stimulants, whether they first acquire them in clinical or recreational settings. Second, there are the enormous number of children who--it seems difficult to dispute--are being overdiagnosed with ADHD. Diagnosis rates, as Schwarz describes, are skyrocketing: Whereas expert groups (i.e. the American Psychiatric Association) contend that ADHD is a mental illness affecting 5 per cent of children, numbers from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that today, some 15 per cent of children in the United States will ultimately be diagnosed with the disorder by the end of their childhood.

This caveat is of little comfort:

Yet none of this delegitimizes the diagnosis of ADHD and none of this precludes the fact that stimulants are useful for those with the illness. Indeed, the weight of the medical advance shows that stimulants do indeed reduce ADHD symptoms.

Thus, TNR asks, "where to from here?"

While Schwarz's book is an outstanding exposé, he has only seven pages on solutions, which feels tacked on to the end of the book. It contains a handful of milquetoast if not unreasonable solutions, for instance that physicians should seek out more ADHD-specific education. Yet there is a nary a word about perhaps the most important issue, namely, pharmaceutical reform. [...]

Finally, if there is one overarching lesson here, it is that we need a sweeping reform of the way drugs are developed, studied, marketed, priced, and sold. Big Pharma has deeply corrupted the mission--and the methods--of medical research.

coding is not fun

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Walter Vannini, a digital consultant and researcher, writes that coding is not fun:

Programming computers is a piece of cake. Or so the world's digital-skills gurus would have us believe. From the non-profit Code.org's promise that 'Anybody can learn!' to Apple chief executive Tim Cook's comment that writing code is 'fun and interactive', the art and science of making software is now as accessible as the alphabet.

"Unfortunately," he writes, "this rosy portrait bears no relation to reality:"

For starters, the profile of a programmer's mind is pretty uncommon. As well as being highly analytical and creative, software developers need almost superhuman focus to manage the complexity of their tasks. Manic attention to detail is a must; slovenliness is verboten. Attaining this level of concentration requires a state of mind called being 'in the flow', a quasi-symbiotic relationship between human and machine that improves performance and motivation.

Coding isn't the only job that demands intense focus. But you'd never hear someone say that brain surgery is 'fun', or that structural engineering is 'easy'. When it comes to programming, why do policymakers and technologists pretend otherwise?

Anyone can learn to type a "Hello, world!" program, but the artisans are few--and the artists far fewer. "Insisting on the glamour and fun of coding," he continues, "is the wrong way to acquaint kids with computer science:"

It insults their intelligence and plants the pernicious notion in their heads that you don't need discipline in order to progress. As anyone with even minimal exposure to making software knows, behind a minute of typing lies an hour of study.

It's better to admit that coding is complicated, technically and ethically [and] it's irresponsible to speak of coding as a lightweight activity. Software is not simply lines of code, nor is it blandly technical. In just a few years, understanding programming will be an indispensable part of active citizenship. The idea that coding offers an unproblematic path to social progress and personal enhancement works to the advantage of the growing techno-plutocracy that's insulating itself behind its own technology.

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