Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Empty Trend Story

The trend story is a particularly noxious form of journalism, making broad claims about society while eschewing anything resembling data collection beyond the anecdotal. Every now and then, you find one so egregiously bad, it exerts a strange sort of fascination — as this New York Times thumbsucker from Anemolla Hartocollis, "On Campus, Trump Fans Say They Need ‘Safe Spaces’". This graf:
Conservative students who voted for Mr. Trump say that even though their candidate won, their views are not respected. Some are adopting the language of the left, saying they need a “safe space” to express their opinions — a twist resented by left-leaning protesters.
Okay, so we're going to get an example of this soon, right? Well, not so much, and in fact nowhere in this piece is a single conservative person or group interviewed claiming they need such a thing. The closest it comes to that destination is this passage:
Ibtihal Makki, a self-confident senior in a pink hijab who is studying biopsychology and neuroscience and is chairwoman of a student government diversity committee, objected to conservatives on campus saying they needed safe spaces to express their views.

“To turn around and say that they need safe spaces after their candidate won I think is ironic and hypocritical,” Ms. Makki said.
Could we maybe actually quote those people making those demands? Or is this a whole-cloth fabrication of Ms. Makki's? Were the demands made ironically (i.e. is she omitting crucial context)? We certainly wouldn't know from the article. Speaking of fake news...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Magic Words: "Tone Policing" And "Gaslighting"

In the interests of clarity, a brief discourse on the subject of two words I see frequently in various conversations around the Internet: "tone policing" and "gaslighting". Both could have legitimate uses, but as typically employed, they reflect poorly on the user. Despite claims to the opposite, they are in fact efforts to silence discussion.

Tone Policing

For "tone policing", I head to the always useful Everyday Feminism, which provides an example from Robot Hugs.



That's all nice, but it also fails a critical test: if you want to persuade people of your position, you need to take their interests and viewpoints in mind. That is, to object "tone policing" is the sound of the speaker failing to tailor the message to the audience — and demanding that audience listen and agree anyway. You want to call people names, yell at the top of your lungs, have a tantrum in public? Fine, but don't expect anyone to pay attention to your position, let alone adopt it. Is your purpose to persuade, or vent?

That is, ultimately, they must answer the question, do I want to be a jerk in order to make a point? For a longer-form meditation on tone policing that involves Arthur Chu, the now-ancient hashtag #StopClymer, and whales not getting cancer, Scott Alexander's "Living By The Sword" has some interesting (if perhaps overlong) examples. He wraps up thusly:
... [I]f you elevate jerkishness into a principle, if you try to undermine the rules that keep niceness, community, and civilization going, the defenses against social cancer – then your movement will fracture, it will be hugely embarrassing, the atmosphere will become toxic, unpopular people will be thrown to the mob, everyone but the thickest-skinned will bow out, the people you need to convince will view you with a mixture of terror and loathing, and you’ll spend so much time dealing with internal conflicts that you’ll never get enough blood supply to grow large enough to kill a whale.
The whale-killing remark stems from an observation that whales don't apparently get cancer; one possible explanation for this is that cancers are not all that good at cooperation, and so "whales survive because they are so big that their cancers get cancer and die." (He mentions in the text that this is possibly not the case, but ad argumentum it serves his purpose for social structures as well.) That is, non-cooperative actors in a society, if they get to be numerous enough, start succumbing to their intrinsic fractiousness and selfishness. It looks something like this, on-screen:


Gaslighting

Derived from the 1944 feature Gas Light; Wikipedia expands: "The plot concerns a husband who attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment, and subsequently insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out these changes." That is, the husband tries to make his wife think she misremembers factual events.

Used thus, "gaslighting" is a valuable (if infrequently applicable) term. Yet all too frequently, we see "gaslighting" used as a sword to dispatch others' interpretations of events, as though the speaker's version were the only one possible. Kris Nelson's definition at Everyday Feminism is instructive (formatting is original):
In short, gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse “in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.”

Essentially, gaslighting is a tactic used to destabilize your understanding of reality, making you constantly doubt your own experiences.
 It gets better:
Furthermore, gaslighting is commonly used to discredit the lived experiences of mentally ill and neurodivergent folks, which is both abusive and ableist.
Several points here:
  1. It is incumbent on the speaker to convince others of their interpretations of events.
  2. Disagreements on those interpretations are not "abusive".
  3. Maybe you are just plain crazy, which is why others doubt you.
 The first definition of gaslighting (about factual events) is useful; the second (about interpretations) is manipulative.

Magic Words

Both of these terms are forms of something Freddie deBoer called "magic words", which supports a style of argumentation he calls "We Are Already Decided" (emboldening mine):
This is the form of argument, and of comedy, that takes as its presumption that all good and decent people are already agreed on the issue in question. In fact, We Are All Already Decided presumes that the offense is not just in thinking the wrong thing you think but in not realizing that We Are All Already Decided that the thing you think is deeply ridiculous. And the embedded argument, such as it is, is not on the merits of whatever issue people are disagreeing about, but on the assumed social costs of being wrong about an issue on which We Are All Already Decided. Which is great, provided everybody you need to convince cares about being part of your little koffee klatsch. If not, well….

All of this, frankly, is politically ruinous. I meet and interact with a lot of young lefties who are just stunning rhetorically weak; they feel all of their politics very intensely but can’t articulate them to anyone who doesn’t share the same vocabulary, the same set of cultural and social signifiers that are used to demonstrate you’re one of the “right sort of people.” These kids are often great, they’re smart and passionate, I agree with them on most things, but they have no ability at all to express themselves to those who are not already in their tribe. They say terms like “privilege” or “mansplain” or “tone policing” and expect the conversation to somehow just stop, that if you say the magic words, you have won that round and the world is supposed to roll over to what you want.
 The problem, then, is that such calls do not address an opposition audience so much as they signal virtue. They talk past those who need convincing. They ignore actual facts and counterargument. And they are irreparably smug.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Virtue Signaling Is Not Persuasion

I'm not terribly surprised that this needs to be said, but it apparently bears repeating:

Virtue signaling is not the same thing as persuasion.

I've seen this at least twice since the election, and one time I already mentioned: California Senate President pro tempore Kevin de Léon's joint letter with the state Assembly, a thing of unbearable smugness.
By a margin in the millions, Californians overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny.
Hey, Trump voters, d'ja hear that? Yer all bigots! I suppose we probably shouldn't talk about Hillary's late conversion to the gay marriage thingy, calling young black men "superpredators" in a 1996 speech defending the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, her continued support of the War On Drugs in which "total numbers of state and federal inmates grew more rapidly under Bill Clinton than under any other president, including the notorious Republican drug warriors Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush." Since the vast majority of those incarcerated are black and Hispanic (in no small part because of sentencing disparities), concluding a vote for Hillary is without shame but one for Trump is racist or sexist or bigoted in some other way is based entirely on branding, rather recent conversions, and in some cases, willful blindness. At best, Clinton triangulated her positions as they became popular, not out of anything resembling principle. Yes, this is politics, but it also gives those wishing to wear their morality on their sleeve some rather shaky ground to stand on.
The largest state of the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy has shown it has its surest conscience as well.
"Largest" by population, sure, but "surest conscience"? Well, see above.
California has long set an example for other states to follow. And California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, scientific advancement, economic output, and sense of global responsibility.
And we will make sure you know how exemplary we are because we'll remind you of our moral rectitude at every opportunity.  Sense a pattern here?
California was not a part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the keeper of its future.
Bah, the provinces. This is why I very much doubt the coastal elites that run the Democratic Party will have learned anything from losing four consecutive Congressional elections, and now a presidential election as well. Given that Republicans now control both houses of Congress, 31 governorships, and 66 of 99 state legislatures (Nebraska's is unicameral),  this kind of preening represents a remarkable obliviousness. Sure, you can keep at it in your safe seats in mostly-coastal redoubts, but elsewhere it appears to be suicidal — as is a chronic incuriosity about the electorate handing out those defeats. By writing off key states in the upper midwest against Bill Clinton's advice, Team Hillary handed the election to Trump.

It's hard not to wonder whether this reflects a sense of contempt for "flyover country" derived from the base. A personal example of this showed up in the form of Patrick Thornton's essay in Roll Call, "I'm A Coastal Elite From The Midwest: The Real Bubble Is Rural America". His point that rural communities can be insular is well-taken, but then he takes a leap beyond it:
To pin this election on the coastal elite is a cop-out. It’s intellectually dishonest, and it’s beneath us.

We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.
Funny, last I heard, all of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin are still in the Union, all their residents are US citizens eligible to vote in the election — and it was the coastal supergenius Robby Mook who decided those states weren't important to pursue. It is not "deifying" those people to say you need to pay attention to them; in a democratic republic, it is the very essence of winning elections. The electorate's flaws does not relieve a candidate of the need to hear them out. This would seem to be a Civics 101 principle, but it eludes Thornton entirely — as it does HuffPo contributor Jennifer Sullivan, who pays lip service to "paint[ing Trump voters] with that broad a brush" but then proceeds to imagine the reasons why such voters might have polled as they did:
At the end of the day, I cannot and will not be friends with people who think that we should be directing resources toward conversion therapy, for people “suffering” from homosexuality (like Pence). I will not be friends with people who think that it is okay to subject black people to practices that were deemed unconstitutional, because they deprived them of the very civil liberties our Constitution was intended to protect (like Trump). I will not be friends with people who think that those who subscribe to Islam are any less deserving of love, respect, or refuge than their Christian counterparts. I will not be friends with people who think that it is morally sound to indiscriminately murder the children of terrorists. Nor will I be friends with people who speak ill of immigrants, when without immigrants, none of us would even be here.
 Again, the author has concluded — without any supporting evidence — all Trump voters are bigots. I understand this from a certain perspective — there's plenty of evidence that Trump is a bigot himself — but his extreme negative ratings in poll after poll do not point to people suddenly converting to the cause of white nationalism. For even anecdotal evidence on such people's motives, the WaPo recently published a series of "why I voted for Trump" missives that is worth reading. Example:

Kirsten Johnson

31 years old • Minneapolis
I was literally undecided until I went into the voting booth. I was a strong advocate for Gary Johnson for most of the race, but I changed my mind after I saw him at a lackluster rally in town. Then Trump came through, and the energy and passion was astounding. He overflowed an airport hangar with 24 hours notice on a Sunday during a Vikings home game. Holy crap. So, in the end, I voted for the economy, against Obamacare and against a corrupt government, just as I was planning to for Johnson. But I also voted for the people, because Trump was the clear choice of the silent majority I eventually became a part of.
N.b., I do not endorse any of this, or Trump; as Freddie deBoer recently observed, "acknowledging the causes of terrorism is different from justifying terrorism". So Trump. The great task of convincing such people otherwise remains unfinished, and if the above examples are any indication, will not be set upon any time soon with the gravity it deserves.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Shocking, Totally Gross Victory Of Donald Trump

  • Donald Trump won the 2016 election 306-232, which leads to a Nate Silver postmortem on why the polling data turned out to be so wrong in predicting a Hillary Clinton win. The only interior states Clinton won were Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Clinton's home state of Illinois, Minnesota, and Vermont. All the others went to Trump. She won the coastal states, but no states of the old Confederacy save Virginia.
  • The Los Angeles Times/USC outlier polls turned out to be right, and most of the others wrong, predicting a surge of support for Trump. Polling is increasingly difficult for a number of reasons, so it's no surprise a lot of the pollsters clanked. (And see also.)
  • Given the vile nature of Trump's very public remarks ("grab them by the pussy" particularly), it seems reasonable to assert this was less a victory for Trump than a categorical rejection of Clinton; despite those incredible remarks, she couldn't win over white women without a college degree. It appears that Obama's coalition was never the Democrats' categorically; Clinton lost a sizeable number of black, Hispanic, and female voters, which should not have been surprising, considering Obama's historic status for blacks especially (source).



    Especially surprising: the uptick in Hispanic female voters. Clinton lost a lot of white Obama voters, too.
  • My Own Two Cents: Hillary was a terrible candidate, and her flaws were the flaws of an inexperienced campaigner. She is the worst public speaker of any major party candidate of my lifetime not named Donald Trump, with the demeanor of a third grade teacher talking down to her class. Her "basket of deplorables" remarks, idiotic and inflaming (which Hillary-supporting site Slate still excuses as a nothingburger in context, even after the election), amount to public virtue signaling and spleen-venting. That is to say, it's the kind of tyro mistake one expects of a candidate for a school board seat, not President. Her contempt for everyone who disagreed with her, and disagreed with the left more broadly, risked a ferocious backlash, as suggested by Robby Soave in Reason:
    I have warned that political correctness actually is a problem on college campuses, where the far-left has gained institutional power and used it to punish people for saying or thinking the wrong thing. And ever since Donald Trump became a serious threat to win the GOP presidential primaries, I have warned that a lot of people, both on campus and off it, were furious about political-correctness-run-amok—so furious that they would give power to any man who stood in opposition to it.
    Clinton had none of her husband's political acumen, had no real history of stumping for office amid a possibly skeptical electorate, and historically negative ratings. Only running against Trump would she even begin to make sense. And even then she couldn't pull it off, despite getting a thin majority of the popular vote.
  • Maybe Salon will want to rethink shaming blue-collar Americans for even thinking about voting for Trump?
  • Making Arkansas Proud (Not): Lest anyone think I am stumping for Trump: Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is pushing to eliminate proscriptions on waterboarding, and might end up with a cabinet seat.
  • The problem for those thinking Trump will attack political correctness is that he conflates it with politeness, and could easily inflame it by presenting such a large and polarizing target.
    When a man who behaves this way is held up as a fighter against political correctness, it lends credence to the leftist fallacy that the alternative to PC is unabashed bigotry and male chauvinist pig-erry.
  • Don't look to coastal elites to figure out what they did wrong anytime soon:
    By a margin in the millions, Californians overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny.
  • Amanda Marcotte Is Still A Horrible Person:
    No one should be surprised that it was men, especially white men, who handed Trump this election. It’s been exhaustively established that the majority of white men in this country are consumed with resentment at being expected to treat women and racial minorities as equals, though of course some liberal journalists — usually white men themselves — kept valiantly trying to claim that it was “economic insecurity” that somehow drove the most prosperous group of Americans to kick angrily at those who objectively make less money and have less status than they do.
    Wow, you mean telling people they're horrible just because of an accident of birth and then expecting them to vote for your candidate doesn't produce the desired result? Imagine. 
Update 11/11:
  •  An interesting postmortem from Annie Karni at Politico (as always, emboldening mine):
    And some began pointing fingers at the young campaign manager, Robby Mook, who spearheaded a strategy supported by the senior campaign team that included only limited outreach to those voters — a theory of the case that Bill Clinton had railed against for months, wondering aloud at meetings why the campaign was not making more of an attempt to even ask that population for its votes. It’s not that there was none: Clinton’s post-convention bus tour took her through Youngstown, Ohio, as well as Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, where she tried to eat into Trump’s margins with his base. In Scranton and Harrisburg, the campaign aired a commercial that featured a David Letterman clip of Trump admitting to outsourcing manufacturing of the products and clothes that bore his logo. And at campaign stops in Ohio, Clinton talked about Trump’s reliance on Chinese steel.

    But in general, Bill Clinton’s viewpoint of fighting for the working class white voters was often dismissed with a hand wave by senior members of the team as a personal vendetta to win back the voters who elected him, from a talented but aging politician who simply refused to accept the new Democratic map. At a meeting ahead of the convention at which aides presented to both Clintons the “Stronger Together” framework for the general election, senior strategist Joel Benenson told the former president bluntly that the voters from West Virginia were never coming back to his party.
  • I Know, Let's Be Even More Polarizing:
    “The Democratic establishment had their chance with this election,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “It’s time for new leadership of the Democratic Party — younger, more diverse and more ideological — that is hungry to do things differently, like leading a movement instead of dragging people to the polls.” 

  • File Under, Things That Haven't Aged Well: Hey, you guys, Ezra Klein in Vox thinks Hillary is an extraordinarily talented politician
  • ... And, Things That Have: Ross Douthat in the NYT, September 21:
    On late-night television, it was once understood that David Letterman was beloved by coastal liberals and Jay Leno more of a Middle American taste. But neither man was prone to delivering hectoring monologues in the style of the “Daily Show” alums who now dominate late night. Fallon’s apolitical shtick increasingly makes him an outlier among his peers, many of whom are less comics than propagandists — liberal “explanatory journalists” with laugh lines.

    Some of them have better lines than others, and some joke more or hector less. But to flip from Stephen Colbert’s winsome liberalism to Seth Meyers’s class-clown liberalism to Bee’s bluestocking feminism to John Oliver’s and Trevor Noah’s lectures on American benightedness is to enter an echo chamber from which the imagination struggles to escape.
  • A nice apologia from Frank Bruni:
    Donald Trump’s victory and some of the, yes, deplorable chants that accompanied it do not mean that a majority of Americans are irredeemable bigots (though too many indeed are). Plenty of Trump voters chose him, reluctantly, to be an agent of disruption, which they craved keenly enough to overlook the rest of him.

    Democrats need to understand that, and they need to move past a complacency for which the Clintons bear considerable blame.

    It’s hard to overestimate the couple’s stranglehold on the party — its think tanks, its operatives, its donors — for the last two decades. Most top Democrats had vested interests in the Clintons, and energy that went into supporting and defending them didn’t go into fresh ideas and fresh faces, who were shut out as the party cleared the decks anew for Hillary in 2016.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Rolling Stone Loses The Nicole Eramo Defamation Lawsuit

Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Rolling Stone, and its publisher are all liable for defamation, which is not surprising because
Rolling Stone edited out information favorable to Eramo. The dean had tried to get Jackie to go to the police, but the final draft of the story made it seem as if Eramo was no more in favor of that then, say, an informal resolution.
It takes a certain amount of navel-gazing power to say this:
When Wenner testified, he said he wished the magazine hadn't issued a full retraction to the article, apologized to Eramo, but said that he had "suffered as much as" she had.
Molly Hemingway in The Federalist:
Erdely smeared someone and failed to do obvious due diligence with her sources. At every step of the fact-checking process, the magazine failed. The publication didn’t just fail to do its job, its staff didn’t seem to want to, putting a blockbuster story over basic journalism practices.

One key factor in the verdict, according to the jury, was the magazine’s delayed retraction and its decision to keep the article online with an editor’s note.

Further, this was not some one-off mistake but part of a pattern of the politically driven narrative journalism genre the magazine has paid Erdely and countless other reporters to do for decades.
I remain skeptical that anyone there has learned anything.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Annie Wilkes Model Of Culture

I had read in various corners about Tim Burton's supposed racist comments in the context of his new film, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, contained in an interview in The Bustle, as to why his movies are so, so white:
“Nowadays, people are talking about it more […]things either call for things, or they don’t. I remember back when I was a child watching The Brady Bunch and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black — I used to get more offended by that than just — I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.”
This, of course, met with howls of protest from people for whom "diversity" is really code for "must make movies in exactly the way I want them made" — as for instance this:
To add insult to injury, you claim that “things” (movies and other shows?) either call for “things” (diversity), or they don’t. Ok, whatever, I’ll bite. If that’s so, then why did the role of a villain call for a black man? It sends kind of a questionable message. This is the first time you’ve had a person of color in a major role in any of your movies, and according to you, things either call for diversity or they don’t, so you felt the role of a particularly awful villain (we’ve both read the book, I’m sure. That guy is just the fucking worst.) called for a black actor. The only time your films have called for any significant diversity so far has been when you needed someone to be the worst kind of evil? That’s not a good look, buddy. It leaves a horrible taste in my mouth about you that watching “Sweeney Todd” and “Edward Scissorhands” on loop just won’t wash out.
So in other words, it's not enough to cast a black man in his films — no, blacks must be cast in the roles the author wants, have the qualities the author wants, etc. For his part, Samuel L. Jackson appeared to think the whole thing was a nothingburger:
With”Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” Samuel L. Jackson will be the first black actor to play a leading role in a Burton movie, according to Bustle.  “I don’t think it’s any fault of his or his method of storytelling, it’s just how it’s played out,” Jackson told Bustle. “Tim’s a really great guy.”
This represents yet another instance of the narcissistic view that creators must make stories for fans in exactly the way the fans want them, and with exactly the right political overtones. As Joss Whedon found out, even tiny diversions from orthodoxy are met with shrieking. We see the echoes of this with the Sad Puppies Hugo slate and the Ghostbusters reboot lynch mob: both involve orchestrated attempts by loud minorities to manipulate public opinion by shaming, and both face titanic uphill battles. The more vicious of these recall Annie Wilkes from Misery: they plan on bludgeoning creators until they get it right, for some value of "right".

Monday, September 26, 2016

California Solons Outlaw Actresses' "Last Fuckable Day"

Or at least, that's what it looks like from here, as Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill forbidding online database websites to publish dates of birth upon the request of the actor.
“Age discrimination is a major problem in our industry, and it must be addressed,” she said in a Sept. 16 post. “SAG-AFTRA has been working hard for years to stop the career damage caused by the publication of performers’ dates of birth on online subscription websites used for casting like IMDb. We are now in the final stages of securing the enactment of a California law that would help combat age discrimination by giving performers the right to request the removal of their date of birth when it’s included on online subscription sites.”
This, of course, is aimed directly at Santa Monica-based IMDb Pro, and the "problem" it seeks to address is the reality that actresses cease to be as much in demand in their 40's as they are in their 20's:
Notably, age is not a problem for men, and beneficial up to a limit. This trend actually reflects male sexual preferences, which always skew to young women; the California law is thus an effort to police male desire. This will prove impossible, as men amount to slightly more than half the moviegoing audience, per MPAA statistics from 2014 (the most recent year available, see p. 14 of the PDF):


Tina Fey and Amy Schumer made this obviously true point (over and over and over) in their famous "Last Fuckable Day" sketch from "Inside Amy Schumer":

 Hollywood is a hard place to make a living for anyone. Susan Sarandon or Michelle Pfeiffer won't be ingenues again because casting agents don't know their birthdays. California bashing the First Amendment by way of third parties doesn't make it right.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Beatles Lyrics Translated Back To English

Why did the Beatles have a squeaky-clean reputation in the 60's, while bands like The Who and The Rolling Stones were supposed to be bad influences? Forthwith, some long-overdue renderings of Beatles song lyrics back into unambiguous English.

Beatles SongLyric(s)English Translation
No ReplyIf I were you
I'd realize that I love you
More than any other guy
She's just not that into me.
I'll Follow The SunOne day, you'll look to see I've gone
But tomorrow may rain so, I'll follow the sun
Ugh, groupies.
I Saw Her Standing ThereShe wouldn't dance with anotherThis is a threat.
ChainsMy baby's got me locked up in chains
And they're not the kind that you can see
...
Can't run around, 'cause I'm not free
I regret that I'm in a committed relationship now that I found another, more attractive woman.
Ask Me WhyNow you're mine, my happiness still makes me cry
And in time, you'll understand the reason why
If I cry, it's not because I'm sad
But you're the only love that I've ever had
I can't believe it's happened to me
I can't conceive of any more misery
See above.
Please Please MeLast night I said these words to my girl
I know you never even try, girl
Come on, come on, come on, come on
Please, please me, woah yeah, like I please you
I want more sex. Now.
A Hard Day's NightYou know I work all day to get you money to buy you things
And it's worth it just to hear you say you're going to give me everything
Love is a transaction.
If I FellIf I give my heart to you
I must be sure
From the very start
That you would love me more than her
I want to cheat on my girlfriend, but I am a coward. How often do you enjoy sex?

John Lennon's history of abusive relationships is well documented, and part of the reason I look a bit askance at these things.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Self-Limiting Disease

Another in an occasional series of mothers haranguing their teenage or even prepubescent sons on the horrors of supposed rape culture — except the boys aren't going for it.
“Oh boy,” my son said, rolling his eyes. “Not rape culture again.”

We were sitting around the dinner table talking about the news. As soon as I mentioned the Stanford sexual assault case, my sons looked at each other. They knew what was coming. They’ve been listening to me talk about consent, misogyny and rape culture since they were tweens. They listened to me then, but they are 16 and 18 now and they roll their eyes and argue when I talk to them about sexism and misogyny.

“There’s no such thing as rape culture,” my other son said. “You say everything is about rape culture or sexism.”
As Scott Aaronson so ably observed, we here deal with religious tenets, and there is no dissuading the pious on such matters. So when your child fails to take your catechism to heart — when, in fact, it is obviously, palpably false and wholly irrelevant to their lives — the obvious next step is to shame them in the pages of a large-circulation newspaper. As usual, the author hauls out the feminist warhorses, blaming their disinterest in her gabble on "toxic masculinity", and proselytizing for "enthusiastic consent" (which third parties after the fact have no hope of determining). Her sons, apparently imbued with working critical thinking skills despite their mother's best efforts, remain unmoved.

It is not a little interesting that the author makes no effort to understand the world through her sons' eyes; empathy for the male position in all this simply doesn't matter. A marriage is one long negotiation, not a harangue, and it is no surprise that Jody Allard never mentions a husband in this exposition. If self-described feminists are now in decline in the general population, one can only imagine it is scenes like this one repeated over and over driving it. Feminism as currently practiced is a self-limiting disease, to the extent it requires male assent and cooperation.

Update 2016-09-18: Allard's backlog is a deeply disturbing array of self-indulgence; her excusing her own lousy credit because of her inability to remain unpregnant would be funnier if the life she created wasn't trying to self-terminate. (The former link also confirms my suspicion that she has left behind a trail of failed marriages and poor decision making with contraceptives.)  And while of course the question of nature or nurture here is an open one, constantly hectoring your young sons about how their sex is behind every horrible thing in the world might not have a beneficial effect.

Update 2016-09-19: Seven kids.

Friday, September 9, 2016

With The iPhone 7, Apple Turns On Its Customers

Somewhere, Apple fanboys (and -girls) defend the recently announced iPhone 7's lack of a 3.5mm audio jack; so far, I'm not seeing it. It's part of a long line of decisions eliminating older technology in favor of something better and newer, e.g. ditching floppy disks ahead of the rest of the industry, or less successfully, the transition from the 30-pin iPhone/iPod connector to the proprietary, reversible, and faster Lightning cable. But that cable transition has not gone nearly as smoothly as Apple would have hoped. Why is it that Apple's Lightning cables suck so badly? Apple used to sell excellent 30-pin cables, but their Lightning cables fray at the strain relief, and die young compared to quality third party cables. This is a big part of the reason people rail against the jackless 7:
It's all too easy to mock Apple's overgrown sense of entitlement here; the replacement for the free headphones that used to ship with prior iPhones is, um, a little spendier:
As ever, emboldening below is all mine:
Geoffrey Stormzand, who spent three years managing the in-office technology for none other than Steve Jobs in Cupertino, admits that he scolds his wife over how many cords she goes through. But he also concedes it shouldn’t be so challenging for normal people using the devices in normal ways to keep them working.

“I wonder if the reason Apple doesn’t see the problems with the cables is because they treat them with the respect they deserve and don’t consider the cables to something they need to test,” says Stormzand, now an Apple technology consultant in Las Vegas. “There’s a number of things you look at and say, ‘Steve would’ve raised hell about this.’ This might be one.
And, one gets the sense that the wins for the all-digital iPhone 7 are not nearly going to be as positive as Apple might like, but customer blowback could be significant. Company flacks already dismiss the obvious direction this points Apple toward as so much "conspiracy theory". The advantages come down to
  • One less ingress point for water, so easier to waterproof
  • Less space occupied by external connectors, so more internal real estate for battery and camera
"It’s debatable whether they are good enough arguments," Patel writes, "but there is no denying that Apple has its reasons." Other reasons, of course, are not hard to find, and they look a lot like they think their customers have turned into milk cows:
... Let’s leave aside the many arguments that simply asking consumers to deal with additional dongles and potentially buy new accessories because Apple wanted to make the phone smaller is fairly aggressive behavior. Let’s just focus on that DRM conspiracy instead.
  1. Apple already runs a DRM-encumbered music service. It is called, you know, Apple Music. The step from streaming DRM music to authenticated devices to only allowing those devices to output that music to approved audio peripherals is vanishingly small, and the sort of insane demand that record labels are organizationally designed to make. Apple may not want to DRM audio devices, but the record labels might certainly demand it, especially now that they can. Record labels love to exert control just because they can!
  2. Apple already runs the Made For iPhone program, which charges accessory makers a fee for the use of the Lightning connector, a connector which contains — surprise! — an authentication chip. It’s not particularly sophisticated, but it’s there, and that means anyone who wants to make Lightning audio devices for the new iPhone will have to have those devices approved and pay Apple at least some money per unit.
  3. If an accessory maker wants to make a contraband Lightning device, Apple might figure out how to disable that device in a future software update, which the company did with some unauthorized cables in iOS 7.
  4. When we plugged the Apple Lightning-to-headphone-jack adapter into an iPhone 6S at the Apple Event, it popped up a warning saying the device was unsupported and didn’t work, because the phone wasn’t running iOS 10 yet. It is not simply a passive adapter; it requires software support.
  5. The thing about any digital signal chain controlled by software is that it can be controlled by software, and that means all of the problems inherent to software are present. That means small things like bugs and incompatibilities, but it also means big things like the richest corporation in the world having the power to decide which devices its software can talk to.
  6. Apple’s vision of the future is wireless audio, and the current foundation of that vision is Bluetooth, which means any Bluetooth device can theoretically get audio out of an iPhone. That’s great — but the best wireless audio experience available in the Apple ecosystem come from either Apple’s AirPods or its new Beats headphones, which use Apple’s proprietary W1 chip atop the Bluetooth protocol. The step from "buy Apple W1 products because they’re easier to use with an iPhone" to "the iPhone only supports officially approved W1 products because that’s all anyone really buys" is, again, vanishingly small.
  7. Very few people will realistically switch to an Android device simply because of the headphone jack, so the amount of competitive power in the market that might meaningfully check Apple’s behavior is very low.

That is to say, Apple appears poised to follow Sony in making the kind of epic, DRM-fueled mistakes that put their content business ahead of their hardware, to the detriment of both. I hate to say it, but this may be the first iPhone I take a pass on.

Update 2016-09-10: This is hilarious:
Update 2016-09-10: Apple has a very sound financial interest in removing the jack: it owns the largest Bluetooth headphone company in the world, Beats.
...[T]he lack of a headphone jack on the iPhone — and increasingly, on Android phones as well — will lead to an uptick in sales of Bluetooth headphones. And it just so happens that Apple owns the number one Bluetooth headphone company, Beats.

Beats brings in more revenue from Bluetooth headphones than LG, Bose, or Jaybird, according to NPD figures released in July. In terms of unit sales, it controls over a quarter of the Bluetooth headphone market.

Bluetooth headphones are also disproportionately profitable among headphones. NPD has them accounting for 54 percent of all dollars spent in the market, despite representing only 17 percent of units sold in the US. These headphones sell at high prices with high margins, and Apple’s company is making the best of it so far.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Protestant Reformation Of Dogs Is Missing Its Martin Luther

Jemima Harrison, whose Pedigree Dogs Exposed blog through some oversight was missing from my sidebar, has a new post up today regarding the death of her friend Gina Spadafori's Flat Coated Retriever Faith (Faybee) at the absurdly young age of seven. For anyone not keeping up, FCRs have an impossibly large genetic predisposition to cancer (50% of all such dogs will succumb); it was thus a huge gamble when Ms. Spadafori purchased bred Faith, even despite her considerable due diligence on the parents' health. [Thanks for the correction in the comments, Jemima.]

What I found utterly puzzling about Ms. Harrison's post is that it fails to link to a 2013 entry on that same blog mentioning Ms. Spadafori's admirable Mackenzie Project, an attempt to outcross FCRs with other breeds in an effort to reduce the incidence of cancer. But looking for that website today will yield you nothing; the only trace of it is that post at Jemima's blog now.

I will not here speculate on the reasons Ms. Spadafori removed that from circulation, having not asked her. But what I will say is that it is painfully obvious that dog culture generally needs to change. The ribbon society members who can write this wretched treacle eliding their dogs' short, painful lives as having "chosen well" have surrendered any claim to "improving" their breed whatsoever.  Kennel blindness even among those who ought to be knowledgeable enough to understand the danger of genetic bottlenecks is so rampant that even Niels C. Pedersen at UC Davis recently appears to have pussyfooted around the real hazards facing FCRs in a report on that breed's genetic diversity: "... the Flat-Coated Retriever is increasingly recognized for its comparatively good health...." Compared to what, exactly? Pedersen's report comes off sounding like the gag, "But other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?": so much whistling past the graveyard.

Patrick Burns sounds the right note: "So how do you avoid cancer in a Flat-coated Retriever?  You stop buying Flat-coated Retrievers. It's just that simple." The reason for this is obvious: dog culture is itself debased by people who lack even a rudimentary knowledge of population genetics, and in fact are hostile to this knowledge. If the AKC vaguely resembles a "Stalinist Switzerland", the broad public is having none of that (less and less, in fact). We desperately need new, sound ideas about dogs and how to breed them, based on demonstrated genetic principles. Dogdom is ripe for a sort of Protestant Reformation; all that is missing is its Martin Luther.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Self-Parodist Attacks U. Chicago "Safe Spaces" Letter, Pratfalls

Vox has a new essay by Kevin Gannon about that mean old letter from the University of Chicago from Dean of Students Jay Ellison rejecting outright "safe spaces" and other shibboleths adopted elsewhere in the country by other universities. "Safe spaces" and no-platforming being the opposite of free inquiry and free speech, they comprise a prima facie antithesis of what the university stands for. Gannon comes to tell us they are all wrong. This is really a power trip, you see:
I’ve been teaching on the college level for 18 years, and I also direct my university’s Teaching and Learning Center, so I’ve been following the debate over "trigger warnings," "safe spaces," and the purported scourge of "political correctness" for quite a while. Despite the apocalyptic tone that often accompanies screeds against supposedly coddled students and their trigger-free safe spaces, the issues involved strike me as far more complicated than the overheated rhetoric suggests.

As with any conversation about teaching and learning, context and nuance matter greatly — but they’re not present in most of the critics’ attempted takedowns of trigger warnings (better called "content advisories," in my estimation) or safe spaces.
"Nuance", of course, has nothing to do with shouting down or outright censoring dissenting views, thanks to Title IX rules engineered to suppress anything that stresses students. The man pays lip service to academic freedom (emboldening mine)...
Academic freedom is the sine qua non of higher education. Students ought to be challenged, even made uncomfortable, in order to learn in deep and meaningful ways. And, of course, collegiate education is where students must encounter perspectives different from their own. No one who genuinely believes in higher education is going to dispute any of that. And that’s what this dean and the anti-trigger-warnings, no-safe-spaces crowd are counting on — that the surface veneer of reasonableness in these admonitions to the class of 2020 will obscure the rotten pedagogy and logical fallacies that infest this entire screed.
... but then proceeds to show he lacks even the slightest grasp of what logical fallacies might actually look like — because his essay is shot through with them. Indeed, it's a stew of politically-minded cant, name-calling in service of academic intellectual rigor mortis. Stealing from Facebook friend Pat Kambhampati, a few particulars, with additional editing and annotations of my own:

  1. Question the messenger instead of the message.
    Even the timing of this missive raises questions. Why go full blast against this purported scourge of wimpy, touchy-feely educational malpractice right up front? Is there a safe-spaces petition percolating in the ranks of the first-years? Are the dean and the university worried that people will lose respect for the almighty maroon if they didn’t stake out the tough-guy intellectual turf from the beginning? Did they sit around and ask themselves what Milton Friedman would have done?
  2. Dismiss the arguments because the other person lacks the correct Lived Experience.
    The greatest threat to genuine academic freedom comes from within. Coddled students who are used to getting trophies for everything don’t want to engage with stuff they don’t like, so they wrap themselves in entitlement and demand trigger warnings to protect their feelz. Or they want safe spaces to hide from the big, bad world. Or they want the university to cancel a lecture because the speaker is from the wrong demographic. And if universities don’t make a stand against this foolishness, Western Civilization itself will collapse.

    That’s a comforting narrative to the academic elite who feel like they’re faced with an existential crisis. Rather than seeing themselves as clinging to the last vestiges of the 1950s, they get to paint themselves as staunch advocates of all that is good and worthy. And there’s an audience for this fiction — people still read Allan Bloom. But as critiques of inequality have shown time and again, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.
    What this really amounts to is a total failure to address the arguments raised by the U. Chicago letter. Gannon here claims that so long as you're the right aggrieved group, it's perfectly acceptable to demand protection from foreign or even hostile ideas. Is the point of the university to teach critical thinking skills, or orthodoxy? Gannon knows which side he falls on.
  3. Claim empathy for one group of people. Then any attacks are attacks upon a special group of people.
    If I’m teaching historical material that describes war crimes like mass rape, shouldn’t I disclose to my students what awaits them in these texts? If I have a student suffering from trauma due to a prior sexual assault, isn’t a timely caution the empathetic and humane thing for me to do?
    Sure, if the point is to infantilize them.
  4. Donald Trump is the reason we can't have nice things:
    Sure, Charles Murray has a right to his views. But is it okay for us to use student fees paid in part by African-American students to bring him to campus, fête him, and give him a rostrum to tell those students they’re doomed by genetics to be inferior to whites? Well, he makes a strong argument and isn’t bound by conventional "niceties." Yes, that’s true. But that’s also the reason people claim to like Donald Trump, and I don’t see universities lining up to bring him in as a guest lecturer.
  5. Because, virtue signaling:
    As a faculty member, I would be enormously dismayed if my dean sent this letter to my incoming students. Because now they’ll come into my class already having received a clear message about what my institution seems to value — and it isn’t them.

    The Chicago letter reeks of arrogance, of a sense of entitlement, of an exclusionary mindset — in other words, the very things it seeks to inveigh against. It’s not about academic freedom; it’s about power. Know your place, and acknowledge ours, it tells the students. We’ll be the judge of what you need to know and how you need to know it. And professors and students are thus handcuffed to a high-stakes ideological creed. Do it this way, in the name of all that is holy and true in the academy. There is no room here for empathy, for student agency, or for faculty discretion.
    Yes, the "entitlement" is, demanding faculty and students have or develop some grownup resilience instead of acting like spoiled children. What Gannon risibly mocks as "Do it this way" means, be willing to consider and even adopt new ideas, or even those you may find repulsive for whatever reason.
  6. You misspelled "enraged":
    Ableism, misogyny, racism, elitism, and intellectual sloppiness deserve to be called out. That’s not a threat, that’s our students doing what they’re supposed to as engaged citizens of an academic community.
    Again, so long as you're one of the right complainers, censorship and ideological blinders are just dandy.
Summarizing, it strikes me likely that someone like Gannon hasn't gone through the full Laura Kipnis treatment, which is why he's so strident. He appears to me to be pretty young; give it time.

The Horseshoe Effect: Ghostbusters 2016 Vs. The 2016 Hugo Awards

For comparison:

Aspect2016 GhostbustersSad/Rabid Puppies 2016 Hugo Awards Nominees
Potential AudienceGeneral moviegoing publicHugo voters (any member of the World Science Fiction Convention)
Actual AudienceSJWs, bitter feminist divisionOld-school science fiction (circa 1930) nostalgiacs, brownshirts
Ham-Handed Entryist(s)Paul FeigVox Day (Theodore Beale), et al.
Genius Bit Of Marketing To The SubgroupPlaying Jezebel, Slate, etc. like a drumcrickets
Why This BackfiredDon't lecture your audience.The same
More on the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Plumbing The Mind Of Obamacare's True Believer

I had the occasion to read two Sarah Kliff pieces on Vox in as many days, and while I can't recommend them for overall content, I do read them as a certain "tell" as to how Obamacare true believers are processing the late news that Aetna will be exiting most exchanges, representing eleven states, as well as Humana paring back its participation from 15 to 11 states. This was no surprise given Aetna warned the Department of Justice that blocking its proposed merger with Humana would result in it exiting Obamacare exchanges.

Kliff is not entirely delusional, as these grafs attest:
The marketplaces' failures to attract a robust group of health plans to many areas suggests that Obamacare’s insurance expansion is on the path to looking like other safety net programs we know, offering limited services to a predominantly low-income population.

"The exchange population — 85 percent of which qualifies for financial assistance — looks a lot like the Medicaid population," says Michael Adelberg, who previously served as the administration’s acting director of the exchange policy. "And with it, we’re seeing the start of the ‘Medicaid-ization’ of exchange plans: narrow networks with no frills."
Which is largely to say, the Medicaid expansion has been a "success", to the extent it has signed new people eligible under the new guidelines. However,
All available evidence suggests that the law is helping these people gain access to medical services that were previously out of reach — and there isn’t much reason to think this will change. Even when there are large premium spikes, more than 80 percent of marketplace enrollees have subsidies that ensure their monthly fees remain affordable.
So, recapping,
  1. Subsidies pasting over skyrocketing premiums are Jim dandy, i.e. if someone else pays the freight, the problem of absurd costs no longer exists, Q.E.D.
  2. This is true no matter how many insurers exist in these markets. 
The second point is the more important one, because if the number of providers goes to zero, the subsidy will not matter. This elemental fact is apparently lost on her. Kliff is likewise completely baffled by the bureaucratic monster she otherwise endorses (emboldening mine, as usual):
It is the considerable burden our fragmented system puts on patients to coordinate their own care.

I'm not talking about the work of managing one's health, the work that diabetics do to monitor their blood sugar or the healthy eating choices a doctor might recommend for an overweight patient. This can be a significant burden in its own right.

What I didn't understand was the burden patients face in managing the health care system: a massive web of doctors, insurers, pharmacies, and other siloed actors that seem intent on not talking with one another. That unenviable task gets left to the patient, the secret glue that holds the system together.
Kliff naively believes that a cobbled-together system of shreds and patches and bureaucratic fumbling will do otherwise, especially when the payer is some combination of state and private entities. In that case, the most important person in this equation is always the payer, with the beneficiary coming in second, -ish. "Glue" is what we do to unfortunate race horses.

Update: Comes this Vox podcast starting Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and Sarah Kliff in which they gabble on about how Obamacare isn't failing somehow (h/t Catherine Siena). The chirpy, twee tone about collapsing numbers of providers (and, what they don't mention, rising costs) reminds me of teenagers who broke a window without getting caught. No remorse, no apologies, no regrets; their earnest intentions, apparently, are enough.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Wrong Jailers

Last Thursday, the Department of Justice announced it would cease using private prisons, an advance for those of us who think private incentives to imprison people have no place in a free society. Of course, this doesn't end them everywhere; the ACLU has a petition to terminate private prisons for captured illegal immigrants, a contract let by the Department of Homeland Security. And then of course there are the various states using them (the ACLU cites Texas and Louisiana as two that do), though such prisoners are a minority of the overall population.

But private prisons are by no means the only entities pushing to imprison people, as this 2015 Reason essay makes clear. In a review of a Washington Post story reporting that private prison companies CCA and GEO "have funneled more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts", Ed Krayewski writes "there's a far larger lobbies [sic] invested in large prison populations—corrections officers and their associated unions":
The California prison guards union, for example, poured millions of dollars to influence policy in California alone—it spent $22 million on campaign donations since 1989, more than CCA and GEO have combined, and continues to push for prison expansions. The National Fraternal Order of Police, meanwhile, spent $5 million on lobbying efforts since 1989, more than GEO did. That's not to mention the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which includes a "Corrections Union" and lobbies on behalf of all kinds of policies that seek to turn citizens into revenue sources for public employees. They've spent $187 million on campaign donations since 1989, making a far stronger case to be labeled the biggest lobby nobody's talking about than private prisons.
The AFSCME corrections union represents Federal prison guards, and a quick visit to their page makes clear their opposition to private prisons.  If, per the AFSCME, private prisoners represent 22,600 individuals, 12% of the overall population, we can assert a similar sized increase in the ranks of unionized jailers. Which is to say, the union itself has an interest in keeping people imprisoned, and has spent large sums doing so. The jobs it represents involve keeping people in cages, yet we hear nothing from the ACLU about ending public employee unions and their pernicious effects. Just as police unions remain the most strident foe of policing reform, prison guard unions make an awkward bedfellow when ending the War On Drugs is on the table. The modern left cannot see past its historical romanticizing of unions, and so this will not happen.

But let us return to the recent DOJ announcement. All those prisoners will be transferred to Federal jails, with union jailers. If convicts are serving time in whole or in part because of unnecessarily harsh laws and practices advocated by CCA et al. lobbying efforts, in what world is it just that the AFSCME should benefit from that? Isn't that so much tainted fruit? This vital question remains unexplored by the ACLU, who appear mainly concerned the Feds not employ the wrong jailers.

Update: A prescient blog post from Mimesis Law about the ACLU:
How different things are now, when the ACLU is at the head of the movement to restrict our rights. When a public university expels college students for saying something racist, the ACLU applauds. And when the federal government proposes a law to criminalize revenge porn, it’s down to party.

According to the civil rights advocates of today, one little tweak – a mens rea component – is all that’s needed to make the law constitutionally kosher. Never mind that revenge porn is speech. Never mind that it doesn’t fall into a category of exempt speech and is therefore constitutionally protected. Revenge porn is bad, and the ACLU opposes bad things, especially trendy bad things that intersect with feminism.
A lot more there, but the ACLU's complicity with rights suppression is of a piece with their increasingly liberal — not in the older sense — political outlook. I stopped giving to them years ago for this very reason.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Witch Caster Semenya Must Be Burned

Malcolm Gladwell and Nicholas Thompson have another discussion piece at The New Yorker covering track and field events at the 2016 Summer Olympics. A hot topic this year is the woman Caster Semenya:
N.T.: ... [L]et’s move to the athletes, and one of the most important to watch: Caster Semenya, the South African middle-distance star, who has what are called “intersex conditions.” She has always identified as a woman, but she has many of the physiological features of a man, including internal testes and an exceptionally high testosterone level. Do you think she should be allowed to compete as a woman?

M.G.: Of course not! And why do I say of course not? Because not a single track-and-field fan that I’m aware of disagrees with me. I cannot tell you how many arguments I’ve gotten into over the past two weeks about this, and I’ve been astonished at how many people fail to appreciate the athletic significance of this. Remember, this is a competitive issue, not a human-rights issue. No one is saying that Semenya isn’t a woman, a human being, and an individual deserving of our full respect.
Gladwell justifies banning Semenya because her body produces too much testosterone:
David Epstein wrote a characteristically brilliant piece for Scientific American last week in which he quoted the philosopher Bernard Suits, who once described sports as “the voluntary acceptance of unnecessary obstacles.” And that’s what’s at issue here. Semenya is equipped with an extraordinary and anomalous genetic advantage. The previous policy of international track was that she could compete as a woman if she took medication to lower her testosterone to “normal” levels. That restriction has now been lifted. And so we have a situation where one woman, born with the biological equivalent of a turbocharger, is now being allowed to “compete” against the ninety-nine per cent of women who have no such advantage.
 Imagine walking this idea back to other sports. Basketball, particularly, would change dramatically: the 99th percentile of the general population is somewhere between 6'2" and 6'3" (PDF), yet the average center from the 2015 draft is 6'11". Football weeds out an astonishing 300 out of a potential one million or so high school candidates; what are we to say to those who didn't make it? Change the rules so big men can't play? And horse racing: Secretariat's twenty-two pound heart, nearly three times that of an average horse, fueled his astonishing runs, such as the 1973 Belmont Stakes:


Should we thus take ultrasounds of every race horse to determine heart size, and disqualify outliers? Sports generally are a game of populations, with competition excluding the unfit. That is, they celebrate genetic freaks. "The voluntary acceptance of unnecessary obstacles" does not and should never include the gifts of birth. In that, Semenya mounts a direct attack on liberal sexual blank slatism that confuses absence with prejudice, all the while tickling the nerve centers of the right energizing anti-doping frenzies. It's a wonder she wasn't burned at the stake.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Ghostbusters' Lesson: Don't Insult Your Potential Audience

The first industry piece labeling the Ghostbusters reboot a failure comes from The Hollywood Reporter, noting the film's $70M loss, and rescinding an earlier commitment to a sequel (emboldening mine):
As of Aug. 7, Ghostbusters had earned just under $180 million at the global box office, including $117 million domestic. The film still hasn't opened in a few markets, including France, Japan and Mexico, but box-office experts say it will have trouble getting to $225 million despite a hefty net production budget of $144 million plus a big marketing spend. The studio has said break-even would be $300 million.

Sony hardly is alone in suffering from audience rejection of sequels this summer. But film chief Tom Rothman and his team, along with partner Village Roadshow, had high hopes for launching a live-action Ghostbusters "universe." Now they are preparing for steep losses (think $70 million-plus) and an uncertain future for the franchise.

Sony won't comment on whether it has banished a sequel to the netherworld, but perhaps tellingly, a rep says the studio actively is pursuing an animated Ghostbusters feature that could hit theaters in 2019 and an animated TV series, Ghostbusters: Ecto Force, which is eyeing an early 2018 bow. Both are being guided by Reitman, who firmly is back in charge of the Ghostbusters empire via Ghost Corps., a subsidiary with a mandate to expand the brand across platforms. (It was former Sony film chief Amy Pascal who first embraced Feig's vision for the live-action reboot, not Reitman or Rothman.)
Given the early marketing heavily rested on highly politicized narrowcasting, is anyone surprised by this? It's significant that, in recovering its losses, Sony now expects other, ancillary markets (foreign box office and licensing) to take up the slack, and moreover, has handed the franchise reins back to original creator Ivan Reitman. The lesson here seems to be, take your licks and shut up if you drop a turd on screen. Given Reitman's track record, we can pretty safely assert he won't act on Reporter writer Caryn James' analysis that Ghostbusters wasn't feminist enough, i.e. alienating and loud.

Update 2016-08-14: Brad Torgerson:
Wagging your finger at people is never, ever a winning marketing strategy. Wagging your finger at the crowds is liable to have the crowds showing you a collective finger of their own — and it ‘aint the index finger. Because people like what they like, and they don’t like what they don’t like. De gustibus. You want to freight your product with all kinds of social justice ornamentation? Fine. Just be aware of the fact that you’re putting a stone around that product’s neck. Don’t be shocked when it sinks to the bottom, never to rise. It’s not the audience’s fault. It’s your fault for thinking the audience wanted or needed you to shove your politics up their collective ass.
This, also, is the problem with a good number of religious films and other sorts of crank-ery.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Literacy, The Tool Of The Patriarchy

You can't make this stuff up:
Of all the sacred cows allowed to roam unimpeded in our culture, few are as revered as literacy. Its benefits have been so incontestable that in the five millennia since the advent of the written word numerous poets and writers have extolled its virtues. Few paused to consider its costs. . . . One pernicious effect of literacy has gone largely unnoticed: writing subliminally fosters a patriarchal outlook. Writing of any kind, but especially its alphabetic form, diminishes feminine values and with them, women’s power in the culture. […]
Reductress is funny because so much of this is predictable, but every now and then, something even more absurd escapes the cesspit, something that crosses under even the lowest bar you could think of. The field would appear ripe for a Trey Parker/Matt Stone musical on the subject. We are here in territory well beyond Poe's Law.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ghostbusters Box Office Declines, Yet Still Meets Expectations

So the latest Ghostbusters franchise is exceeding studio expectations in its third weekend, bagging $10M, declining to seventh place but not out of the top ten, for a cumulative box office of $106M; likewise, the early reports are that the toys are selling well (though whether that holds up after the cubicle dwellers all have theirs remains an open question). I still don't plan on seeing the thing unless it hits cable or something; Mollie Hemingway's question of whether Sony tanked the film's marketing intentionally, in my mind, remains both relevant and insightful.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Trump Surpasses Clinton In Post-Convention Bounce

Bearing in mind that this was as of Monday, Nate Silver shows Donald Trump barely edging Hillary Clinton based on his "now-cast" model, which takes into account various other factors besides polling data. Particularly, it shows Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida all going to Trump, which would be the first time such a thing has happened that I can recall.

My overall case against Trump winning (not the political case, mind you) is that
  1. There is no (significant) Democratic crossover Trump voter.
  2. No polls have shown him consistently tied with Clinton, let alone winning.
  3. His negatives are historically high, with 70% of Americans having a negative opinion of him.
#2, at least, appears shaky, but the Democratic National Convention has yet to wind down, and we shall see what the polling data looks like after that.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Race, The Democratic Bosphorus

California's Senate campaign, thanks to a crazy first-two-past-the-post primary system that has the effect of solidifying one-party rule in the state, is between two Democrats, state Attorney General Kamala Harris, and long-time Representative Loretta Sanchez. Sanchez, who is comparatively unknown in large parts of the state, polls well among Hispanics but no other group, and trails Harris by a margin of 3-to-1 in fundraising. Sanchez had some words to say about Barack Obama's endorsement of Harris:
Sanchez made the comment during a taped interview for public affairs show “Conexión” that aired Friday on Univision 19 in Sacramento. The remarks follow a blistering statement Sanchez issued after the endorsement earlier this week, accusing the president of being part of the nation’s “entrenched political establishment.”

In the interview, the congresswoman noted that Obama and Harris have been longtime friends, but said that race was also a factor in his endorsement:

“I think they have, what he said they have, is a friendship of many years. She is African American, as is he. They know each other through meetings,” Sanchez said in Spanish during the interview.
 Sanchez beat "B-1" Bob Dornan for the seat in 1996 when I lived in the district, marking the first significant inroad of the Democratic Party to what had been safe Republican territory for over a generation. While Sanchez's remarks here are comparatively tepid — she doesn't exactly claim race was an overriding factor — it's clear she thinks it is a factor. For all that Donald Trump rightly gets press for being divisive, the Democrats themselves have chosen a politics of divisiveness: division by race, by sex, by sexual preference. Yet we appear to enter an era when minority status may no longer provide political advantages; witness Asian-Americans successfully quashing renewed efforts to resume affirmative action in UC admissions two years ago. The politics of victimhood end with the realization that not everyone can be a victim.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Dickish Milo Yiannopoulos Finally Gets Kicked Off Twitter

So, Internet exploder extraordinaire Milo Yiannopoulos finally got kicked off Twitter permanently as a result of a squabble with Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. Despite the New York Times' claim that Yiannopoulos was "one of the most egregious and consistent offenders of its terms of service", the truth is that Twitter has yet to point to specific violations of those terms by the man known as @Nero. Unfortunately, the case against him is much more tangled than the Times story lets on, something Cathy Young details in a long Allthink piece.
There are two different questions here. One, does Milo deserve sympathy and support? And two, is Twitter's enforcement of anti-harassment rules politically biased, rife with favoritism, and generally inconsistent?
(The TL;DR answers are: not so much in this case, and yes.) Young observes that "his online conflicts tended to escalate into nasty personal attacks", viz. this one about former Breitbart colleague Ben Shapiro on the occasion of his son's birth:

Young continues:
 Milo is a very smart, talented, charismatic man. I still believe he was on the right side when he joined the fight against the crypto-totalitarian "social justice" cult. But I've always thought that, unfortunately, any backlash against "progressive" cultural politics was likely to be a magnet for actual racism, misogyny, and other bigotries. Today, Milo is actively boosting these malignant forces. As his "Daddy" Donald Trump would say: Sad!
Even though Twitter hasn't commented on the matter more extensively, it seems almost certain that the problem stemmed, in part, from faked tweets he posted, purported to be from Jones, which in turn "was both impersonation, a severe violation of Twitter rules, and a pretty clear move to pour more fuel on the fire."

If Yiannopoulos took up arms against political correctness, he didn't much care about the identity and behavior of his allies, something Brendan O'Neill recently wrote about (via Reason's Robby Soave):
These attacks on Ms Jones speak to something more than the raucousness of Twitter, which can often be a good thing, certainly to the extent that it allows unheard, eccentric and potty voices to be heard. It speaks, more importantly, to the derailment of the important task of challenging PC. Tragically, for those of us who want to prick PC from a genuinely liberal and pro-autonomy perspective, the anti-PC mantle has in recent months been co-opted by the new right, or the alt-right, as some call them. These lovers of Trump (they call him ‘daddy’) and conspiracy theorists about feminism (whose wicked influence they spy everywhere) have turned being anti-PC from a decent, progressive position into an infantile, pathological, Tourette’s-style desire to scream offensive words out loud, like the seven-year-old who’s just discovered the thrill that comes with saying ‘f**k’.
Yet simultaneously, as Freddy DeBoer points out, it's pretty obvious that Yiannopoulos got the boot at least in part because he's not in the club (emboldening mine):
When Emmet Rensin was suspended from Vox for following liberal logic on Trump to its obvious conclusions, it was trivially easy to find Vox employees who had said far worse things on Twitter, while Vox employees, with absolutely no consequences. The #WeAreTheLeft debacle was made extra funny/sad by the fact that so many of the signatories of that letter were objectively guilty of the kinds of behaviors the letter indicted. People who gleefully trashed Justine Sacco complain about pile-ons; people who say doxing is wrong get others fired from their real-life jobs. There are no principles; there’s only who you’re cool with and who you aren’t. I’ve been for saying this for years, 8 in fact, and the response has always been a kind of muttered shiftiness, a desire to change the subject. Because most people know I’m right. They always have. But for some reason, there’s this dedication to maintaining the pretense, this addiction to plausible deniability. Nobody really thinks this stuff is about principle, but to be a member in good standing, you have to go through the motions. That hasn’t changed.
Which is what makes this so frustrating, and why all defenses of free speech ultimately grow tiresome, because they tend to involve the defense of sometimes terrible behavior. As Ken White recently wrote at Popehat, "nobody needs free speech rights to protect admirable speech by people we like." Anita Sarkeesian, Yiannopoulos' longtime #Gamergate foe, appears to have finally won the game started when she landed on Twitter's "Trust & Safety" board. But let us assume that she and her like-minded cohorts indeed turn Twitter into a mammoth echo chamber, a place where orthodoxy and adorable cat pictures are the only permissible tweets. Where will she go to gin up the death threats so central to her shtick?