Sunday, December 1, 2019

Review: The Two Popes

At the opening of The Two Popes, things are going badly for Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), so it comes as something of a surprise when Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) summons him to Rome. They are opposites, Bergoglio a reformer, Benedict a conservative, but what unites them is something we discover over the course of the first half of the movie: both wish to resign their posts, but only one can. Benedict, we learn, has run out of options, no longer able to hear God, and so he has invited his harshest critic to take over the Holy See from him. Bergoglio won't have it at first, and so much of the balance of the movie is about Benedict convincing the future Pope Francis to step in.

Another large part of it is finding Bergoglio's catastrophic failure to protect his priests in the aftermath of a 1976 military junta in Argentina. The euphemistically named "National Reorganization Process" murdered and tortured tens of thousands, rounding up anyone who might have even been near a Peronist or uttered a socialist thought. Joe Morgenstern's review in the Wall Street Journal notices that virtually all of the film (or its most important parts, anyway) are "mostly the luscious fruit of [screenwriter Anthony McCarten's] imagination", so it's not to be taken too literally. But it's a visual feast, and a fantastic character study by two actors at the top of their craft.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Is Feminism or Racism The More Profitable Grievance? Jezebel vs. The Root

I have been somewhat curious for a long while to determine which of the grievance studies disciplines are the more profitable in the private sector. While there's no good, simple way to determine this, it seemed likely that the commercial websites in this space might serve as a decent proxy for broader data. Particularly, it occurred to me after I wrote my analysis of TechCrunch's diversity problems that there might be other profitable avenues to explore among the grievance studies candidates in the private sector.

Sure enough, Jezebel and The Root have some interesting numbers once you dig down to the About pages. Particularly, among writers and editors listed as either active or emeritus (ignoring video editors, who won't get written bylines very often, and will serve to drag down the totals in both cases):
  • Jezebel: 31,178 bylines over 12 (now nearly 13) years, written by 21 individuals, with an average of 1,484 bylines per writer. The most prolific: Kelly Faircloth, writing since November 21, 2013, with 3,460 bylines.
  • The Root: 13,918 bylines over about 10 years, written by 14 writers, with an average of 994 bylines per writer. The most prolific: Stephen A. Crockett, Jr., with 2,020 bylines (the last in August, 2019).
So there you have it: Jezebel has 50% more writers (21% more if you remove emeritus staff), has been active two and a half years longer, and sports more than double the bylines. Presumably all of them are compensated, which strongly suggests that feminism wins hands down in the battle of the clicks. Supporting source material may be found here.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Review: Harriet

The hazards with Harriet are many, and start with the casting; Julia Roberts at one time was suggested as Tubman (rilly?). This having caused a stir and subsequently rejected, the film eventually got made on what passes for a shoestring budget in Hollywood these days ($17M), quickly earning that back and more (currently at $33M).

The more obvious hazard is that of any telling the story of any larger-than-life figure, and that is the temptations of hagiography. Tubman is in some ways a Joan of Arc figure in that she represented a woman embodying the virtue of action who also had a strong religious component to her motivations. Having grown up on a farm in slave-holding Maryland with the nickname Minty, she learns she is about to be sold further south, never to see her family again. With help from a preacher, her father, and an abolitionist, she eventually reaches safety in Philadelphia (though not before narrowly escaping her former master, and almost drowning along the way).

In Philadelphia, she sheds her given name of Araminta Ross, and takes her free name from which we know her today, Harriet Tubman. After a year, she goes back to fetch her husband (who refuses to follow her, having given her up for dead and remarried), and ultimately, 70 slaves, losing none along the way, as one of the most prolific conductors on the Underground Railroad in its history.

The scenes of slavery and its consequences are horrifying, the movie an unstinting witness to the terrors slaves lived under every day: the beatings, the family dismemberments, the hundred petty cruelties. Where it really falls down — and this seems a common theme among detractors — is that it is so afraid of doing anything wrong it doesn't ever take any big risks. (As Adam Graham in Detroit News wrote, "Harriet often feels in awe of its subject, like it's staring at her through museum glass.") The film slips too often into Joan of Arc mode, with Tubman drifting into religious delirium as a (confusing) way to advance the plot. She's not made out as a plaster saint, thank God, but neither is she fully formed in this telling. Still, I never once felt the urge to check my watch, and as history lessons go, this one's a keeper.

More Link Dumping

  • Annie Wilkes, Part 1: Ford vs. Ferrari: now the subject of one of those Annie Wilkes reviews. "Best left dead", sheesh.
  • The best thing The Federalist has published all year: "Climate Worship Is Nothing More Than Rebranded Paganism". Excerpt:
    The reality is, of course, completely different. Much less than destroying the planet, climate change isn’t even a settled science. Conservatives don’t disagree that climate is changing. That is a straw man. Conservatives, however, are opposed to hysteria, have skepticism about the rate of the climate change, and would like to see an actual cost-benefit analysis of the radical changes being demanded.

    More important than that, conservatives understand that climate change is cynically used by a certain section of people to justify their political goals of steering the West away from its way of life, a way they perceive to be evil and harmful, hetero-patriarchal, and capitalist. How? Appealing to the faith-based part of human brains, the need for subservience, and propping up children as human shields.
  • California de facto bans fracking by making all new wells subject to a "scientific" (read: captive of the greens) panel. 
  • Annie Wilkes, Part 2: Annie Blames The Audience:  No, really, Elizabeth Blanks has preemptively blamed men if her Charlie's Angels reboot fails.
    She stated, “Look, people have to buy tickets to this movie, too. This movie has to make money.” She added, “If this movie doesn’t make money it reinforces a stereotype in Hollywood that men don’t go see women do action movies.”
    This is an odd place to go given recent successes with Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and Mad Max: Fury Road. The 2000 reboot took in $125M at the domestic box office, so maybe it's just you, Liz?
  • Annie Wilkes, Part 3, Corncob Edition:
  • I am glad to see our courts beavering away at the important question of whether women can consent to a threesome. And to think, this poor man almost had his freedom snatched away from him.
  • Elizabeth Warren fires the opening shot in banning cars:
  • Sully gets it right again on the intersectional left's long-term political goals:
    Every now and again, it’s worth thinking about what the intersectional left’s ultimate endgame really is — and here it strikes me as both useful and fair to extrapolate from Kendi’s project. They seem not to genuinely believe in liberalism, liberal democracy, or persuasion. They have no clear foundational devotion to individual rights or freedom of speech. Rather, the ultimate aim seems to be running the entire country by fiat to purge it of racism (and every other intersectional “-ism” and “phobia”, while they’re at it). And they demand “disciplinary tools” by unelected bodies to enforce “a radical reorientation of our consciousness.” There is a word for this kind of politics and this kind of theory when it is fully and completely realized, and it is totalitarian.
    Also, homosexuals are now under attack by — wait for it — the woke left, for the crime of not hewing to the trans lobby's worldview:
    Of course, anyone can and should like whatever they like and do whatever they want to do. But if a gay man doesn’t want to have sex with someone who has a vagina and a lesbian doesn’t want to have sex with someone who has a dick, they are not being transphobic. They’re being — how shall I put this? — gay. When Rich suggests that “it’s not just possible but observable and prevalent to have ‘preferences’ that dog-whistle bigotry,” and he includes in the category of “preferences” not liking the other sex’s genitals, he’s casting a moral pall over gayness itself. Suddenly we’re not just being told homosexuality is “problematic” by the religious right, we’re being told it by the woke left.
  • I Am Shocked, Shocked That Mothers Want To Be With Their Children, but this apparently is huge news to the New York Times. A study of California, which in 2004 instituted mandatory paid maternity leave, found women worked fewer hours and earned less a decade later, results that are consistent with the results in Sweden, where the labor pool is the most sex-segregated in the OECD.

The Case of Mary Cain

Who is responsible for what Mary Cain became? I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around that. On the one hand, it's Nike's training program, or at least that of Alberto Salazar, that left her a physical wreck:
“An all-male Nike staff became convinced that in order for me to get better, I had to become thinner, and thinner, and thinner,” she explains in the video. Salazar gave her an “arbitrary number” for her to hit on the scale. She became fixated on her weight instead of her performance. Salazar’s mandates took an extreme toll on her body: She didn’t get her period for three years and, due to a lack of estrogen, broke five bones. “I was emotionally, and physically, abused,” she says in the video of her experience.
The beauty pageant aspects of this story are appalling, as if Nike and Salazar were interested in performance only as a secondary matter. But the fact that this appears to be a frequent occurrence throughout women's track suggests that it's not just Salazar who thinks this way:
Amenorrhea—the term for when your period goes away in the absence of pregnancy—is part of what led elite runner Tina Muir to quit the sport altogether in 2017. “There are SO MANY people out there who lose their cycles, yet no one talks about it,” she wrote in post on her website. She’d seen a slew of specialists, was healthy, and ate plenty. Failed by medical science and wanting to get pregnant, the only option she felt was left was to stop logging miles and allow her “body to come out of panic mode.” One estimate suggests that the majority of female runners might experience amenorrhea, which can affect not just fertility, as Christine Yu explains here in Outside, but can also damage cardiovascular health and bone strength. Bones break more easily when the body has been stressed like this, as Cain’s did. And yet still, losing your period can be “a badge of honor, a sign that you’re tough and working hard,” writes Yu. The mythology around amenorrhea enforces running as an act of control against the body.
Certainly, we should decry Salazar for his approach, but does Cain have some responsibility, too? Barry Bonds gets only opprobrium for his efforts; is the difference the fact that he was so dominant, that he won for so long? Or is it, because he is male (and yes, black), he is accorded full responsibility for his actions?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Scaffold For Prejudice

It has been a while since I encountered what is anymore becoming one of the most predictable genres at the intersection of feminism and motherhood (of necessity, a small intersection on the Venn diagram), i.e. that of “mothers raising the enemy”, i.e. third-wave feminists trying to reconcile their generalized and unfocused rage at males with the fact that they have created male life. The first such I found at the now-defunct K.M. O’Sullivan’s blog (link from the Internet Archive), but then there was Wendy Thurm’s baffling “Adequate Man” trash in Deadspin, and Jody Allard’s depressing Washington Post byline that makes me sympathetic to her son who attempted suicide.

This latest example by the extremely unfrolicsome Jan Frolic at Women of Influence provides a kernel of hope that not all such women are so blinkered, but only just a little. Frolic, you see, is not entirely insensible to the idea that collective guilt is a bad idea:
I was just recovering from a year-long depression over Trump becoming President when I found myself at my desk, being turned inside-out, watching Christine Blasey Ford testify in the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. I listened intently as she began to turn her life into a circus for the greater good of humanity. I was concentrating on her tortured face when my 16-year-old son approached me, holding out his phone with some image on the screen, and asked me point-blank: “Why is this me?”

I could feel it and see it in his eyes — a cross between sadness and hurt and anger. What he was showing me was Shannon Downey’s cross-stitched rendition of “boys will be boys,” with the final “boys” stricken out and replaced by “held accountable for their fucking actions.” This craft has gone viral twice, once with Trump and again with Kavanaugh.

I had no answer for my son. No good answer, at least. Part of me was cheering on the inside, but my heart also felt like it was stopping and I couldn’t breathe because I hurt so much. And I was scared.
Well, yes, especially given the vaporous nature of the charges hurled at Kavanaugh, which score ended with zero eyewitnesses to the purported assault and serious questions as to whether the party Christine Blasey Ford claimed to have been raped at even took place. That is to say, Frolic was predisposed to hate Kavanaugh on the grounds that he stood accused of a heinous crime, evidence be damned. So when she asks
How, as a society, have we created a narrative where boys are blamed for men like Kavanaugh and Trump?
it’s actually a complex question, but the answer lies right in Frolic’s mirror. The business of modern feminism isn’t really about understanding men, but about coming up with justifications for hating them — a framework, or scaffold, for prejudice. It’s about blaming men for everything that goes wrong in women’s lives while ignoring the many things men do to lift those burdens. Her boypro-ject (PDF) asks the questions (as though they were new!):
What does it mean to be male today? Who do I want to be when I grow up? Where do I look for role models when it feels like everyone and everything is in question?
Congratulations, Ms. Frolic, you have discovered a core problem confronting humanity everywhere: how to civilize young men. Normally, the strange creature known as a father grapples with this task, but Frolic, a lesbian, appears to have none to hand, and so goes badly armed into the coming battle. She twists in the iron maiden of her own making, caught between the love of her child, and dogmatic rage at men generally.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

More Magic Words: "OK Boomer" Hits The Social Justice Trifecta

TIL "OK Boomer" are the new Social Justice "magic words", having lately been used to shut up heckling in the New Zealand parliament. As usual, Urban Dictionary has a mess of similar definitions, but all of them, it seems, hit on three things generally critical to the Social Justice mindset:
  1. It purports to shut someone up, generally without engaging their arguments, whatever they may be.
  2. It allows the user to silence a person based on innate and immutable characteristics, i.e. their birthday.
  3. It grants the user a moral righteousness for themselves, and contempt for the other, based on the speaker's identity, i.e. how could you possibly know what it is like to be me because my life is so much harder than yours.
 This damned locution cannot die fast enough.