Blog Ipsa Loquitur

By way of Jason Kottke, I enjoyed A Short Summary of the Contemporary Republican Party’s Strategy, where he quotes Noam Chomsky on the modern Republican Party coalition between the rich and the religious, white working class was built, decade by decade.

They have a primary constituency, a real constituency: extreme wealth and corporate power. That’s who they have to serve. That’s their constituency. You can’t get votes that way, so you have to do something else to get votes. What do you do to get votes? This was begun by Richard Nixon with the Southern strategy: try to pick up racists in the South. The mid-1970s, Paul Weyrich, one of the Republican strategists, hit on a brilliant idea. Northern Catholics voted Democratic, tended to vote Democratic, a lot of them working-class. The Republicans could pick up that vote by pretending – crucially, “pretending” – to be opposed to abortion. By the same pretense, they could pick up the evangelical vote. Those are big votes – evangelicals, northern Catholics. Notice the word “pretense.” It’s crucial. You go back to the 1960s, every leading Republican figure was strongly, what we call now, pro-choice. The Republican Party position was – that’s Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, all the leadership – their position was: Abortion is not the government’s business; it’s private business – government has nothing to say about it. They turned almost on a dime in order to try to pick up a voting base on what are called cultural issues.

Same with gun rights. Gun rights become a matter of holy writ because you can pick up part of the population that way. In fact, what they’ve done is put together a coalition of voters based on issues that are basically, you know, tolerable to the establishment, but they don’t like it. OK? And they’ve got to hold that, those two constituencies, together. The real constituency of wealth and corporate power, they’re taken care of by the actual legislation.

And then, as a bonus, Kottke tosses in Cory Doctorow’s translation of Chomsky:

Chomsky lays out the history of the GOP from Nixon’s Southern Strategy, when the party figured out that the way to large numbers of working people to vote for policies that made a tiny minority of rich people richer was to quietly support racism, which would fuse together a coalition of racists and the super-rich. By Reagan’s time, the coalition was beefed up with throngs of religious fanatics, brought in by adopting brutal anti-abortion policies. Then the GOP recruited paranoid musketfuckers by adopting doctrinal opposition to any form of gun control. Constituency by constituency, the GOP became a big tent for deranged, paranoid, bigoted and misogynist elements, all reliably showing up to vote for policies that would send billions into the pockets of a tiny rump of wealthy people who represented the party’s establishment.

Published on under I Got 99 Grand Old Problems

Last week, I watched the documentary Knock Down The House, about four women who ran for Congress in the 2018 election. If, like me, you went down a bit of a rabbit hole reading about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after watching, this Rolling Stone interview from February is a good read:

RS: You told Anderson Cooper you want people to underestimate you because that’s how you won your primary. When is it safe to let that go and unabashedly take charge?

AOC: People like to make these disparaging statements, like, “Oh, she’s good at Twitter. Is she gonna be an actual legislator?” I think it’s fine at the outset to be underestimated in that capacity. Where I do tell people to come correct is when they try to paint me as unintelligent, as unsubstantive. That’s when you see me fire back. When you call Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris “unlikable,” that’s an unsubstantial, unsubstantive, fluff, bullshit, misogynistic word to use. Unlikable? What is that? It’s not a policy critique. Paul Ryan was a con man for 10 years, and he was called a wunderkind for policies that were designed to just gut working families dry. But I’m the charlatan. So . . .

I appreciate when people can disagree over politics without resorting to dehumanizing one another. But I appreciate even more when we call bullshit artists for what they are. More folks on the left should join this chorus; Paul Krugman spent the better part of a decade screaming from the hilltops (read: his New York Times’s opinion column) that Ryan was a fraud.

Published on under sí she puede

Today, the Notre Dame cathedral caught fire. While more than one person on Twitter made the point that watching something beautiful burn while you look on helplessly was a pretty good metaphor for 2019, this report from Ryan Broderick of Buzzfeed News was extremely 2019:

Several news outlets quickly started livestreaming the fire on YouTube. However, underneath several of them was a small gray panel titled “September 11 attacks,” which contained a snippet from an Encyclopedia Britannica article about 9/11.

The feature is part of a larger rollout of tools and disclaimers to prevent users from consuming misinformation on the platform.

If a user clicked the gray box, they would be taken to the full article about the US terror attack.

BuzzFeed News found at least three livestreams of the Notre Dame fire from major news outlets with the 9/11 disclaimer. The disclaimer was then removed, one by one, after several minutes. But by then, Twitter users had taken notice.

Remember how YouTube finally decided it was going to do something about willfully misleading conspiracy theories on their site? And how YouTube’s countermeasures are literally just “linking to Wikipedia?” I don’t know why I assumed YouTube was going to hire people to do said linking, because of course they’re not. They’re trying to teach machines to recognize misleading videos and also simultaneously recognize the right Wikipedia page which viewers need to read to avoid becoming radicalized by YouTube’s endless feed of videos.

What a farce.

Published on under Just Hire Humans Already

At the end of this month, Marvel’s latest Avengers movie will be released. The cast is already being dispatched to various talk shows and press junkets to promote the movie, as if the largest film franchise in the world needs promotion. For Chris Evans, who plays Captain America in these movies, this promotional tour is a farewell of sorts, as his contract has expired. Perhaps as a result, there are more philosophical questions than I expected in this Hollywood Reporter interview with Chris Evans, including an extended (for a celebrity puff piece) bit about how much time Evans spends fighting with Nazis on Twitter. This paragraph is my favorite:

Evans has a platform and he’s using it. But like a lot of straight white men seeking to consciously and conscientiously navigate a tumultuous moment in the history of straight white male-dom, he’s learned that shutting up is important, too. At [actress Jenny] Slate’s urging, he read Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions, a collection of essays about the insidious side effects of patriarchy, and took away a great deal. “You have to understand that you don’t understand,” he says. It’s not the most action-heroish way to look at things — but that may be the secret of his appeal as a movie star.

There are a lot of reasons why Chris Evans was a great Steve Rogers. For one, they both have two first names. No less important is that—in a Cinematic Universe of sarcastic wise-cracking superheroes and villains—he managed to seem earnest and kind-hearted while basically wearing an American flag. There’s no better illustration of this than perhaps my favorite Captain America scene: in the first Captain America movie, before scrawny Steve Rogers gets the super solider serum. When Rogers is asked why he wants to join the army and fight in World War II, the question put to him is “Do you want to kill Nazis?” Rogers answers that he doesn’t want to kill anyone, he just doesn’t like bullies, no matter where they come from.

Now, look, I love comic books and comic book movies, and I recognize that they’re not meant to be works of high art or philosophy. That’s what we have museums and episodes of The Good Place for. I’m willing to overlook clunky dialog that falls flat sometimes to enjoy the holistic experience of something silly and fun for a couple hours.

But that corny line—he doesn’t like bullies—really lands with me. This is partly because he’s a good actor, and partly because I met Chris Evans once, before he was Captain America, and I don’t think he’s acting.

Story Time!

It’s 2010. I’m at the New York City Comic Convention, standing in line to play a game of Dungeons & Dragons on a life-size game board. Squares, not hexes, for those of you wondering. Each ‘session’ is two rounds long, and whoever kills the dragon in two turns gets some D&D swag. I’m next in line to play, so my attention is focused on the players currently in-game; I want to see what works for them and what doesn’t.

This is made difficult when a guy with a microphone walks up to me. He’s got a cameraman following him around, and he’s interviewing someone who’s supposed to be famous. They’re doing one of those “a celebrity goes to Comic Con and experiences normal people” things. The interviewer—a Cool Guy with a popped collar on his polo shirt—faces camera and starts his spiel with something like “I’m here with Chris Evans on the convention floor at Comic Con.” At this point, Marvel had cast Evans as Captain America, but he was still most famous for the Fantastic Four movies.

Sidebar: Before we go further, I should address the Cool Guy bit. I think we all learn in high school—and should do our best to immediately thereafter unlearn—that there exist certain social tribes or castes which are inherently at odds with one another. For purposes of this story, I mean the nerds and the cool kids. Once upon a time, in the distant history of 2010, I myself still subscribed to the idea that cool kids liked to bully nerds. The last few years, where the toxic masculinity behind Gamergate led more or less directly into a fascist white nationalist insurgency in our national politics, has taught me that the world has much more to be afraid of nerds than perhaps the other way around.

Back to our story: to prove that he is, in fact, at Comic Con Amongst The Nerds, the Cool Guy interviewer asks what I’m standing in line for. I’m a little concerned about how this conversation is going to go, but explain that I’m waiting to play Dungeons and Dragons. He replies back, “oh, cool. How do you play?” From the look on his face, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t think it’s cool and he doesn’t want to learn how to play. But I oblige, and explain that you fight monsters like dragons in settings like dungeons, and when you try to take an action, you determine your success or failure by rolling twenty-sided dice and adding some bonuses to the numbers that come up. It was perhaps not the best explanation of this game in the history of explanations.

At this point, Cool Guy gives me the “wow, that sounds super complicated. You probably have to be really smart to play, right?” I remember thinking to myself: how absurd that I played Dungeons and Dragons all throughout high school and was never once mocked for it, only to come to Comic Con of all places and find someone making fun of me. On camera, no less! I was at a loss for how to answer that second question.

And here’s where Chris Evans, silent until now, jumps in. He gently nudges Cool Guy and says “yeah, man, it takes a real genius to count to twenty!” Then Captain America flashes me a sheepish grin. Cool Guy turns to him, sighs, and they begin their interview with something banal like “what’s your favorite part of Comic Con so far?” So, uh, that’s how I met Chris Evans.

I freely admit this is about the gentlest, briefest encounter with bullying in recorded history. Some guy I don’t know and will never see again sarcastically remarking about the large number of rules for a game with a large number of rules didn’t cause me to lose any sleep. If it weren’t for the brush with celebrity, I’d have forgotten about it by the end of the day. But I think Chris Evans was a good Captain America in part because he’s the kind of guy who stood up for a nerdy guy one afternoon almost a decade ago. He pulled off “earnest and kind-hearted” in the Marvel movies because I think he is. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t like bullies.

Published on under A Day In The Life

Laura Hazard Owen in Nieman Journalism Lab, recounting the long, complicated, and extremely frustrating history of Medium

Less than a year after Medium abruptly canceled the membership programs of its remaining publishing partners, the company is coming back around like an ex promising you they’ve changed. “We are seeking partners to create new publications on Medium, which we will help fund and distribute,” it said in a blog post Tuesday.

It’s not the first time, of course. Medium is nearly seven years old. It’s raised $132 million in venture funding, and it is not profitable. It has undergone countless pivots. When I saw that new search for “partners” last week, I started trying to count how many — and then ended up documenting the history of Medium via articles and tweets and Ev Williams statements. Why do that? I don’t know. I guess I was trying to figure the company out in my own head.

This isn’t the first time I’ve linked to a critical analysis of Medium on Blog Ipsa, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. For all the fanfare, you do have to wonder what Medium’s plan is.

Published on under Largely Useless

Buzzfeed News’s Anne Helen Peterson on student loan forgiveness, the ostensibly positive topic that nonetheless fills me with more existential dread than anything apart from my own mortality:

The premise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by George W. Bush in 2007, is straightforward: Working in public service doesn’t pay a lot, and a lot of public service jobs — including teaching and social work — require advanced degrees, which in turn often necessitate hefty student loans. How do you encourage people to train for those jobs, jobs that are essential to society, even when it means taking on massive amounts of debt? You make “loan forgiveness” part of the package. (To be clear, these borrowers aren’t receiving a free education — they’re still paying. Indeed, in many forgiveness cases, what’s really getting “forgiven” after 10 years of repayment isn’t the original loan balance, but all the interest that’s accumulated on top of it.)

From the beginning, the PSLF program has presented itself as deceptively simple: Get on an income-based repayment plan, work in public service for 10 years while making monthly payments, and the remainder of your student debt will be eliminated. That was the promise, made on behalf of the federal government. Yet the program’s apparent simplicity (and the lack of guidelines on how to implement or monitor the program) has now led to the defrauding of tens of thousands of borrowers. That includes students like Jen, who, after years of believing she’d been enrolled in the PSLF program, was told she’d originally been given incorrect information, and her “10-year” clock would start in 2019, at zero.

The bulk of Peterson’s piece is reporting on the broader effects of crippling student loan burdens on an entire generation, but those paragraphs hit pretty close to home. For many of us with postgraduate degrees who work in public service, the monthly payments required by the PSLF program are less than the amount of interest that compounds on our principal each month. I’m nine years out of school, and the total amount owed on my student loans is nearly twice what I borrowed. If the PLSF only forgives interest, I’ll have spent ten years removing the interest that I racked up over ten years.

Read the rest at Buzzfeed News.

Published on under You're Never A Loan