Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The great American fallout: how small towns came to resent cities

From The Guardian UK:  https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jun/19/americas-great-fallout-rural-areas-resent-cities-republican-democrat

It’s no secret Donald Trump benefited from rural voters. But Democrat or Republican, they usually tell Katherine Cramer – who has spent a decade visiting residents of small-town Wisconsin – the same thing: it’s the cities that get all the breaks, and then have the gall to look down on them, too

Katherine J Cramer Monday 19 June 2017

Joe’s voice takes on a mocking tone.

“You gotta quit driving!” he says. “Don’t drive as much.” He rolls his eyes and looks around at his pals, a handful of them perched on moulded plastic lawn chairs in a tiny town in central Wisconsin. He’s talking about the way city people look down on rural folks like himself. In his normal voice he adds: “You gotta drive 20 miles to work? You can’t cut that in half.”

Joe gathers with his friends every morning over coffee to solve the problems of the world. With a wink, they call themselves the Downtown Athletic Club (the closest downtown is 30 miles away) and are a mix of independent contractors in construction trades, an independently employed auto mechanic, and several retired public school teachers. They have a mix of political leanings among them, but most of them openly support Donald Trump.

You might not always guess it. After the cost of healthcare and gas, the most frequent topic of conversation is economic inequality – which many of the group blame on corporate CEOs. “The other big issue I think for our whole nation is the discrepancy [between workers and bosses],” says one of the retired teachers, Gary. “The top of the corporations are taking off profits greater than ever before in history. And that’s really driving a bigger separation between the richest in America, and the common belief is that we’re losing the middle class.”

Does he share this belief? “Well the business element is: the town is dying,” he says, as if it were both so obvious and so familiar to him that it was barely worth comment. “All the small towns in the area are having a hard time keeping grocery stores, and gas stations, and everything.”

Look at the old service station here, with its pumps no longer in operation because they no longer made money, and you can see what he means. The boarded-up buildings along the street say the same thing. So too do the worries in the group about the local schools disappearing through school consolidation.

I have been visiting coffee klatches and residents’ groups throughout the state of Wisconsin since 2007. I seek them out, in various types of places, to understand how they are making sense of politics. From the very beginning, the conversations in small communities like this one surprised me. I have heard time and time again about the struggle to make ends meet, and the lack of response from anyone with the power to make life better. I have heard men like Joe say those idiots who tell us to drive less have no clue what our lives are like.

These groups have a class analysis of what is going on in their country; and what’s going on is essentially about where things are going: to the cities.

The members of the Downtown Athletic Club don’t want to live in a downtown, but they do know that society as a whole confers respect to such places. There is a sense in conversations that people in rural America are not getting their fair share of attention, resources, and respect. They think they deserve more, and that cities and the people within them are getting more than they deserve. They mainly blame racial and ethnic minorities, but also white urban elites.

Continue reading at:  https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jun/19/americas-great-fallout-rural-areas-resent-cities-republican-democrat

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Naomi Klein Is Sick of Benevolent Billionaires

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/magazine/naomi-klein-is-sick-of-benevolent-billionaires.html?_r=1

By Ana Marie Cox June 14, 2017

Your book “No Is Not Enough” frames Donald Trump’s impunity as a type of branding. How does that help explain him? He’s a culmination of many dangerous trends in the culture, especially the triumph of the idea that a successful corporation is first and foremost selling an idea of itself and a sense of belonging and identity to its customers. In the late ’80s, you saw brands start to sell the idea, the sense of belonging, first. That primacy of the brand does a lot to explain Trump, and how he has developed this intimate relationship with his base, why they expect so little of him and why he gets away with what he gets away with, because the rules of branding are really simple: Be true to your brand. The problem with Donald Trump is that he went and designed a brand that is entirely amoral.

Is he actually true to his brand? His brand is wealth and power, which is why he’s driven so mad by things like “President Bannon” and people disputing his wealth. Because if that’s the case — if he’s not as rich and powerful as he claims he is — that really does damage his brand. It is a tremendous weakness of Trump’s that he believes his own P.R. And it’s a central part of his brand that he is the guy who gets the deal, and it has been ever since his real first brand extension, “The Art of the Deal” — a book not written by him.

One criticism I had of your dissection of his brand was that you talk about him as if he’s a triumph of capitalism, even though he’s not — he inherited his wealth. I would argue that that’s the kind of capitalism we have now. I think there has always been a huge gap between what theories of capitalism say it is and how capitalism operates out in the world.

You argue that Democrats have to share the blame for Trump’s rise, partially in promoting the idea that the solution to vast inequality is to have nicer rich people, or philanthro-capitalism. Well, Trump’s pitch to voters was: “I’m rich. Sure, I have absolutely no experience in government, but the fact of my wealth is all the evidence you need that you can trust me to fix everything.” It’s an absurd pitch, but I don’t know how far away it is from why Americans have trusted Bill Gates to remake the American school system or Africa’s agriculture system. I don’t think there could’ve been a pitch as crass as Trump’s “I can fix America because I’m rich” without that groundwork laid by Davos and the Clinton Global Initiative.

There’s a quote in your book that the Trump phenomenon is an uncouth, vulgar echo of the dangerous idea that billionaires can solve our problems. I wonder if, also in Trump, we see a more uncouth and vulgar echo of another idea that the Democrats brought us: benevolent nepotism. Look at the structure of the Gates Foundation and this idea that, rather than trying to solve these huge global problems through institutions with some kind of democracy and transparency baked into them, we’re just going to outsource it to benevolent billionaires. Look at how the Gates Foundation allocates its money, and how it’s structured: it’s Bill Gates, his father and his wife and Warren Buffett — that has been interrogated a whole lot less than this current outsourcing of the world to Jared and Ivanka.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

When the Nazis Come Marching In

What a lot of folks on the Left don't get is that the Second Amendment gives them the right to keep and bear arm precisely to prevent the take over of our nation by totalitarian forces be they Nazi or Communist.  The First Amendment guards the rights of all people to speak their minds.  It does not guarantee them any particular platform but prevents the denying of any platform to anyone no matter how hateful others might find their speech.

I am more afraid of those well meaning people who attack both the First and Second Amendments to our Constitution than I am of the Nazis.

From Slate:  https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2017/06/fear-of-the-first-amendment-in-time-of-violent-protests.html

I never feared the First Amendment until white supremacists came to my hometown

By Dahlia Lithwick Jun 07, 2017
As a resident of Charlottesville, Virginia, I have been forced of late to spend too much time thinking about Nazis. In mid-May, a handful of white supremacists, Holocaust deniers, xenophobes, and recreational racists—among them Richard Spencer—marched through one of our parks with flaming torches in support of a Robert E. Lee statue that has been slated to be sold by the City Council. The demonstration grabbed headlines worldwide, the statue’s removal has been placed on a six-month hold by a judge, and the Ku Klux Klan is now seeking permission to march here in July. A few weeks after the first march, a Facebook post from a local black farmer went viral due to its suggestion that the arrival of the white supremacists was more a culmination than an inciting incident, and that the fight over the Lee monument was empty symbolism that distracted from a meaningful discussion about the systemic racism that already exists here. The post included the claim that “it isn’t Richard Spencer calling the cops on me for farming while Black. It’s nervous White women in yoga pants with ‘I’m with Her’ and ‘Coexist’ stickers on their German SUVs.” White women in yoga pants were upset. Alt-right websites rejoiced.

My little city in central Virginia has become the stuff of reality TV. The local police, who didn’t see the Lee Park thing coming, are dialed up to 11. And with threats, incitement, and actual assaults perpetrated both by alt-right sympathizers and the protesters who oppose them, their job is no longer to stand back but to surge in almost as soon as the shouting begins. Now, when we come to meet in our town square, we are uncertain of whether we are suiting up for events that fete the Constitution or violent altercations for which we should park with an eye to high-speed retreats. Lee Park itself, where my babies learned to walk, has become ground zero for people expecting the worst.

This is how I felt as I headed to a local counter-protest the morning of May 31: afraid for the first time in my 16-year residence in a town I love. I was afraid that the cycle of arrests and assaults that have followed the Richard Spencer march would lead to more arrests and assaults, afraid about where we parked the car because white supremacists in this town have followed protesters home from rallies, afraid for the first time in the small town where my kids walk everywhere alone. For the first time in a lifetime of journalism, I was also afraid to wear my press credentials because today, in this town, they might invite punching.

Last week, I had come to a place where I was thinking—if not saying aloud—that maybe it was time for me and the First Amendment to see other people. It’s not me, to be sure, it’s the First Amendment—or at least what’s become of it. I am weary of hate speech, wary of threats, and tired of the choice between punching back and acquiescing. I am sick to death of Nazis. And yet they had arrived, basically on my doorstep.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

In Defense of Cultural Appropriation

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/opinion/in-defense-of-cultural-appropriation.html

June 14, 2017

LONDON — It is just as well that I’m a writer, not an editor. Were I editing a newspaper or magazine, I might soon be out of a job. For this is an essay in defense of cultural appropriation.
In Canada last month, three editors lost their jobs after making such a defense.

The controversy began when Hal Niedzviecki, editor of Write, the magazine of the Canadian Writers’ Union, penned an editorial defending the right of white authors to create characters from minority or indigenous backgrounds. Within days, a social media backlash forced him to resign. The Writers’ Union issued an apology for an article that its Equity Task Force claimed “re-entrenches the deeply racist assumptions” held about art.

Another editor, Jonathan Kay, of The Walrus magazine, was also compelled to step down after tweeting his support for Mr. Niedzviecki. Meanwhile, the broadcaster CBC moved Steve Ladurantaye, managing editor of its flagship news program The National, to a different post, similarly for an “unacceptable tweet” about the controversy.

It’s not just editors who have to tread carefully. Last year, the novelist Lionel Shriver generated a worldwide storm after defending cultural appropriation in an address to the Brisbane Writers Festival. Earlier this year, controversy erupted when New York’s Whitney Museum picked for its Biennial Exhibition Dana Schutz’s painting of the mutilated corpse of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955. Many objected to a white painter like Ms. Schutz depicting such a traumatic moment in black history. The British artist Hannah Black organized a petition to have the work destroyed.

Other works of art have been destroyed. The sculptor Sam Durant’s piece “Scaffold,” honoring 38 Native Americans executed in 1862 in Minneapolis, was recently being assembled in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. But after protests from indigenous activists that Mr. Durant was appropriating their history, the artist dismantled his own work, and made its wood available to be burned in a Dakota Sioux ceremony.

What is cultural appropriation, and why is it so controversial? Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University, defines it as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” This can include the “unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

Appropriation suggests theft, and a process analogous to the seizure of land or artifacts. In the case of culture, however, what is called appropriation is not theft but messy interaction. Writers and artists necessarily engage with the experiences of others. Nobody owns a culture, but everyone inhabits one, and in inhabiting a culture, one finds the tools for reaching out to other cultures.

Critics of cultural appropriation insist that they are opposed not to cultural engagement, but to racism. They want to protect marginalized cultures and ensure that such cultures speak for themselves, not simply be seen through the eyes of more privileged groups.

Certainly, cultural engagement does not take place on a level playing field. Racism and inequality shape the ways in which people imagine others. Yet it is difficult to see how creating gated cultures helps promote social justice.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Why Wonder Woman is a masterpiece of subversive feminism

From The Guardian UK:  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jun/05/why-wonder-woman-is-a-masterpiece-of-subversive-feminism

Yes, the new movie sees its titular heroine sort of naked a lot of the time. But the film-makers have still worked to turn sexist Hollywood conventions on their head

Monday 5 June 2017

The chances are you will read a feminist takedown of Wonder Woman before you see the film. And you’ll probably agree with it. Wonder Woman is a half-god, half-mortal super-creature; she is without peer even in superhero leagues. And yet, when she arrives in London to put a stop to the war to end all wars, she instinctively obeys a handsome meathead who has no skills apart from moderate decisiveness and pretty eyes. This is a patriarchal figment. Then, naturally, you begin to wonder why does she have to fight in knickers that look like a fancy letterbox made of leather? Does her appearance and its effect on the men around her really have to play such a big part in all her fight scenes? Even my son lodged a feminist critique: if she were half god, he said, she would have recognised the god Ares immediately – unless he were a better god than her (being a male god).

I agree with all of that, but I still loved it. I didn’t love it as a guilty pleasure. I loved it with my whole heart. Wonder Woman, or Diana Prince, as her civilian associates would know her, first appeared as a character in DC Comics in 1941, her creator supposedly inspired by the feminism of the time, and specifically the contraception pioneer Margaret Sanger. Being able to stop people getting pregnant would be a cool superpower, but, in fact, her skills were: bullet-pinging with bracelets; lassoing; basic psychology; great strength and athleticism; and being half-god (the result of unholy congress between Zeus and Hyppolyta). The 1970s TV version lost a lot of the poetry of that, and was just all-American cheesecake. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman made her cinematic debut last year in Batman v Superman, and this first live-action incarnation makes good on the character’s original premise, the classical-warrior element amped up and textured. Her might makes sense.

Yes, she is sort of naked a lot of the time, but this isn’t objectification so much as a cultural reset: having thighs, actual thighs you can kick things with, not thighs that look like arms, is a feminist act. The whole Diana myth, women safeguarding the world from male violence not with nurture but with better violence, is a feminist act. Casting Robin Wright as Wonder Woman’s aunt, re-imagining the battle-axe as a battler, with an axe, is a feminist act. A female German chemist trying to destroy humans (in the shape of Dr Poison, a proto-Mengele before Nazism existed) might be the most feminist act of all.

Women are repeatedly erased from the history of classical music, art and medicine. It takes a radical mind to pick up that being erased from the history of evil is not great either. Wonder Woman’s casual rebuttal of a sexual advance, her dress-up montage (“it’s itchy”, “I can’t fight in this”, “it’s choking me”) are also feminist acts. Wonder Woman is a bit like a BuzzFeed list: 23 Stupid Sexist Tropes in Cinema and How to Rectify Them. I mean that as a compliment.

Continue reading at:  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jun/05/why-wonder-woman-is-a-masterpiece-of-subversive-feminism

Why the Middle East’s Christians Are Under Attack

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/opinion/why-the-middle-easts-christians-are-under-attack.html

Friday Night Fun and Culture: Rhiannon Giddens