Oct 14, 2014
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Informed consent laws and the triumph of cynicism

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Most states have zero tolerance policies for underage drinking and driving.  Meaning, if a driver who is under 21 gets pulled over and is made to take a breathalyzer, any score above .000 results in an automatic DUI, replete with loss of license, a criminal record, a five-figure fine, and substance abuse counseling.

This is problematic.  Not because it’s bad to cut down on drinking and driving, but because it can—and does—result in teenagers getting convicted of a crime they did not commit.  Only unlike a regular wrongful conviction, these kids are having their lives ruined even though no one actually suspects them of having committed the crime for which they are being charged.  A kid who blows a .001 is objectively, mathematically sober.  No one would argue that he is drunk, or that is blood alcohol content is indicative of someone whose driving skills are impaired.  He didn’t even necessarily need to have a drink—breathalyzers can give mild false positives if a driver uses mouthwash, pops a Certs, or even sprays cologne directly onto his skin.

These laws make a mockery of the very notion of justice. They replace anything resembling a lofty or enlightened vision of society with raw, violent cynicism.  They are indicative of a society that has no problem willingly jailing people for crimes that they did not commit, of a world in which actually serious crimes have become so confused with their  placeholders that we can’t distinguish materiality from shadows—and instead of working to correct this problem, we embrace it, leverage ourselves against it and use it to punish others.

Yet these laws persist.  They persist because they give more leverage to police.  That’s it.  Not because they hypothetically make roads safer, not because they appease the MADD contingent, nor even because of any political expedience or lack of public outrage—they exist because they give power to police. 

Not every teenager who blows a .002 gets taken in, even under these “zero tolerance” policies.  Police have selective discretion.  Likewise, not every kid who reeks of booze is even made to step of the car and blow into the little box. Maybe the cop knows the kid’s dad, or he’s just in a good mood, or the kid seems nice and was only going 5 over.  Police are human, after all, even if they’re allowed to be unaccountably violent.  They evince preference as well as prejudice.

Oh, yeah—shit…  That prejudice part.  The black kid who blew a .001?  May the lord have mercy upon him, because Officer Friendly has been gifted yet another pretense to bust open his skull.  Brody, Sully, Jake, and Cody will continue to get a pass (those kids are fine young Americans, after all, with pronounced overbites and triangle jaw lines), but young Jorge here has got himself a date with ICE.

Which brings me to informed consent laws—California’s laughably unenforceable solution for solving campus sexual assault.  I hadn’t commented on these mainly because I felt others had said all that needed to be said. But then I read this post, from Freddie DeBoer, and it shocked me:

In this whole fracas, I have found that the supporters of the law that I respect the most are the ones who admit that the purpose of affirmative laws is not to broadly change conventional sexual behavior but simply to remove the presumption of innocence when it comes to sex crimes. Almost no one I talk to about this issue thinks that every couple will start asking for explicit permission at every stage of every sexual encounter, and indeed many, such as Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan, mock the notion that people who fail to follow the letter of the law will ever be prosecuted.

DeBoer’s analysis isn’t shocking.  It’s elementary, or at least I thought it was.  Because of course no one takes this shit seriously!  What’s shocking is that he’s the only one enunciating this point.  Seriously?  Does anybody take the law’s advocates at face value? 

It’s the same as the zero tolerance DUI laws, a shitty rejiggering of legal semantics that makes nearly everyone de facto guilty, which in turn heaps even more  leverage into the hands of law enforcement. If everyone’s guilty, then cops should have no problem arresting and beating and prosecuting whomever gets accused.  And decent people are cheering for this, because there’s no such thing as decency anymore.

Under these laws, nearly every single person you know has technically committed rape.  I am dead fucking serious.  If you have ever taken a sexual encounter to a next step without having first been given clear, verbal consent, you are legally a rapist.

Of course you’re not really a rapist.  You’re not morally rapist, at least.  Only legally.  And so long as you don’t become the subject of a criminal investigation, you’ll be fine.  But as soon as that happens*, you’re no longer fine, because legally you’re a rapist. Oops.

I mean, yeah, there’s still some wiggle room.  If you’re wealthy or in good community standing, or even white and male, you’ll still have to trigger the ire of a cop or prosecutor before you’re get in any trouble.  But if there’s anything about you that upon first glance signals rapist—from your skin color to your accent to the way you wear your baseball cap—then that’s it, man, you are capital-F Fucked.

This is what social justice boils down to in 2014—a bitter, cynical sideshow with various groups jockeying for control of the state’s most violent apparatuses.  In America, “agency” is not the byproduct of a state of existential respect or social protection.  Instead, it is being given occasional control over how and why black and brown people get jailed. Respect and social protection are reactionary, when in response to a grievance you are allowed to aim the most brutal and repressive functions of the state against those who have wronged you.  This is an horrendous and cynical understanding of justice, and it is going to cause much more pain than it cures.

 

*(I’m not going to clarify that of course I realize sexual assault is a problem and of course I think the criminal justice system needs to be reformed and that of course I know most rapes go unreported and under-investigated and intentionally false accusations are rare and yada yada yada.  I’m not going clarify these things not because I don’t believe them, but because I’m tired of having to gird myself against willful misreading.)

Oct 9, 2014
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The color of sperm

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A Caucasian lesbian couple got married.  Two days later, they found that one of them was pregnant. Nine months later, the baby was born. A few weeks later, they realized the baby was black.  They then sued the sperm bank.  The internet heard about the lawsuit, and the Righteous Outrage cycle began anew.

I don’t know how far this is going to go, what the outrage endgame is.  Have the mothers lost their jobs yet?  Are we petitioning to have the child taken away from them? If, or when, they get fired, will we do like we did with that lady who made the offensive twitter joke about getting AIDS in Africa, and make sure they both never again find gainful employment?  C-can we dig through their financial records, maybe, see if there’s any potential improprieties was can get them arrested for?  Hopefully. Only time will tell.

But, okay, these women’s lives will soon be ruined. That’s a big win for Team Social Justice.  And, even better, we all got to aim our outrage at a single pair of targets, further calcifying the myth that racism is a matter of individual choice and consciousness that has nothing to do with larger systems.  T-this case was so open and shut, we didn’t even need to start talking about the problems associated with the fertility industry!

Heh. About that.  I’d never put much thought into the fertilization industry before.  I’ve read a bit about it, enough to know it’s an expensive and emotionally draining process.  But this is the first time I ever really thought through the nitty gritty, the steps the process must entail.

At some point during the fertilization process , a request must be put in.  At some point, all couples receiving sperm or eggs have to check a box marked “Desired Race.”  Maybe it’s more delicately titled, but that’s a step in the process.  And I got no data on this, going entirely on a gut feeling here, but I’ll bet that, oh, 95% of applicants do not check the box marked “no preference,” if such a box is even provided.

Which box would you check?  Honestly?  I’d like to think I wouldn’t care, that I’d boldly check “NP” or “Other” or “Feelin’ Lucky.”  But, honestly, I’ve never been in that situation and I can’t say what I’d do. You can’t either, unless you’ve done it.  But at any rate, if you’re gonna be mad at the couple who are suing their sperm bank, you need to also be mad at literally every other parent who has let race influence their fertilization or adoption process.

Eh, who cares?  I’m not interested in stamping down your outrage.  That’s not my bag.  I am, however, fascinated by how this incident highlights some inconsistencies in liberal discourse.  Namely, we’re torn between two imperatives: on the one hand, we have to admit that race underlies and effects everything, that racism and sexism are as ambient as nitrogen.  But on the other hand, we also have to downplay the effect of race and gender on our own perceptions and interactions, pretending as if we are colorblind even as we admit to the impossibility of colorblindness. We recognize the imperative to admit to the existence and tangibility of race, but there is effectively no way of doing so without opening ourselves to charges of racism.

The lawsuit in question was equal parts logical and offensive-sounding.  The mothers say they love their baby, but allege that the child’s blackness makes it difficult, emotionally as well as financially, to raise her.  This makes sense.  It’s offensive, yes, but the couple did not create the conditions that made it offensive—they merely enunciated them.  Giving a black child similar opportunities to a white child requires a great deal of money and influence. That’s the sad reality of things, and you’d think the internet outrage machine would be cognizant of this. 

How has the mothers’ claim been rebutted?  Check it out:

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Oh, of course!  All the mothers have to do is move to a place where there’s no racism and then their problems will go away.  It’s so simple! Ju-just pardon me for a moment, I need to go swallow a handful of D Batteries…

Annnnnnnnnnd this is where we’re at.  This is what happens when we conceptually divorce social realities from social systems, when we attribute any and all badness to unconscious urges and personal choice.  We can’t even conceive that monstrousness might be built into systems, since we’re so busy piling thoughtless indignation upon those who trigger our outrage.

As usual, the guilty parties here aren’t the people who profit most directly from the systemic racism, nor even people who added in any substantial way to that racism.  Instead, we prefer to go after the people who describe the system, those who delineate the badness and put us all at risk for having to contemplate uncomfortable things. This isn’t analysis or commentary.  It’s not a means of “educating” people, or fixing broken systems.  It’s cheap and reactionary. And it’s all we got.

Oct 6, 2014
3 notes

Why libertarians control anti-police brutality discourse

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Mark Ames has a great piece up on Pando.  The gist of it is that, in spite of the anti-police militarization/brutality efforts of people like Radley Balko, libertarians cannot rightfully claim to be against the police state.  This is because libertarian policies are pro-poverty.  The end game of libertarianism is to create more poor people, and to worsen the state of those who are already impoverished. 

All laws are essentially arbitrary.  Even when enacted and enforced with absolute sincerity, out of a desire to preserve the greater good, laws still come down to reinforcing the status quo and girding the empowered against accountability.  Because of this, worsening the conditions that lead to disempowerment will necessarily increase police power and encourage further brutalization.  We can argue about all of this, but it’s what I believe, and I’ll bet Ames is of a fairly similar mindset. You might of a similar mindset, too.

Ames’ article isn’t getting much traction out of hard-left circles, however. This is partially because Ames is a pretty big creep and has burned lots of bridges, but mostly because the people who have been most receptive to anti-police brutality discourse have no other place to go. Ames points out that libertarians are actually repressive, and he does so persuasively, but he doesn’t offer any alternate routes for expressing our outrage. If we get rid of the libertarian influence, there’s nothing left. 

Anti-police brutality discourse is controlled by self-identified libertarians because self-identified libertarians are the only people who take a stand against police violence. 

Conservatives love police violence, because police violence is aimed mostly against black and brown people and conservatives are racist.  Meanwhile, liberals approach police violence with the same sort of demur ambivalence with which they approach every other issue that’s in any way controversial: Ohh, gee, umm, boy.  I guess that police officer shouldn’t have shot that toddler, at least he shouldn’t have shot him so many times. One shot might have been enough, maybe? But, golly, that kid was holding a formula bottle that looked an awful lot like a gun, and, boy, those police sure got a rough job, so we can’t be too mad at the fella for makin’ a mistake.  

Once it becomes safe and popular to denounce police violence, liberals will do so summarily and viciously, pouncing on all instances of pro-police semantics and shunting them out of polite discourse (they’ll probably continue to ignore physical instances of police violence, but by gum they’ll make sure the words surrounding it will be verboten).  Until that day comes, though, they won’t be of any use whatsoever.

And that’s it.  That last paragraph, in a nutshell, is the entirety of mainstream American discourse surrounding police violence.  Upon watching that video where the BART agents shoots the handcuffed man in the back, the conservative squeals happily, the liberal does a whiny hiccup, and the libertarian says “this is wrong, this is horrible, and we need to change the system that allows this to happen.”

Trouble is, libertarian proposals for changing that system are centered around privatization, and they are therefore 7000% guaranteed to make things worse.  Good news is, the popularity of libertarian anti-police discourse proves that people are awakening to police brutality and want to hear about potential solutions.  In order to expand upon this discourse, however, leftists and liberals must stop pretending that ambivalence is virtuous, and must take a stand.

Here are some important steps we need to take:

1. Stop making excuses for bad police behavior

No more of this “they risk their lives to keep us safe” bullshit.  No more “hey, give the guy a break, his job is stressful.”  Statistically, policing isn’t even one of the ten most dangerous professions. I’m sure it’s stressful, yeah, but so is literally every other job.  Fast food workers are more stressed, disrespected, and even hated than cops.  Would you give a McDonalds’s employee every last benefit of the doubt if he did something violent?  What if some lady called him a dumb ugly moron and so he punched her?  Would that be okay? No?  Well what about truck drivers?  Truck drivers got a way, way more dangerous jobs than cops.  Does that mean they should be able to flout all traffic laws, even be allowed to run over the occasional pedestrian, or flatten school bus here and there?  No?  Well then these exceptions shouldn’t apply to police, either!

2. Stop celebrating police rhetorically

Seriously.  No more calling them the City’s Finest.  No more blind celebrations and memorial.  Treat them like human beings.  Hold them to the same standards you would other human beings.

That’s it.  I’m not kidding.  That’s all you need to do. 

Oct 4, 2014
26 notes

There is no such thing as a responsible gun owner

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American lore is full of imaginary folk icons: The Happy Yeoman, The Contented Slave, The Ethical Businessman, et cetera. These icons do not exist.  They are fake. They nonetheless serve a significant role in shaping our national identity, as they give our empowered classes an excuse to behave like shitty monsters.

The newest such icon does have some grounding in reality.  He is The Responsible Gun Owner, and he did actually kinda exist at one point.  He’s dead today, though, found himself replaced by a millions-strong army of fanaticists whose gross irresponsibility is considered the height of American freedom.

Personally, I have known three people who have been shot at while driving.  None of these people were criminals.  They weren’t in gangs or selling drugs or robbing banks.  Two of three weren’t even in high-crime areas.  They were just regular people, living regular lives, and then—with a literal boom—a so-called responsible gun owner almost killed them.

Story one: my sister and her friend were driving from Iowa to LA.  Somewhere in Nebraska, their front passenger window exploded.  They panicked and drove like hell to the nearest town.  The police laughed it off: stray bullet, no big deal, no need to investigate.

Story two is much worse.  A former colleague of mine, who happens to be one of the most bad-ass people I’ve ever met, was driving with her family from Iowa to New York state.  In rural Ohio, her front window exploded.  Her jaw also exploded.  With her husband and three kids in the car, watching their mom gush blood from her blasted face, she had to drive to a small hospital. 

Police agreed this was a tragedy, but they refused to investigate.  Just some hunters having some fun, most likely.  No harm meant. 

She recovered wonderfully (she’s a badass, like I said), but only after painful, expensive surgery and months of having her jaw wired shut.  She’s lucky she is a state employee and had decent health insurance.  Also lucky her job couldn’t fire her at-will.  If she had been a private sector employee, or lower-income, getting shot would have ruined her financially.

And, good god, can you imagine the psychological damage wrought by seeing your mother get the bottom of her face blown off?  You don’t need to be emotionally vulnerable for something like that to have severe, long-lasting effects. 

Story three: my friend was delivering pizzas for the Waterloo, Iowa Pizza Hut.  He was in a not-so-great neighborhood.  Dropped off a pizza, did not get tipped, got back in his car.  Heard a bang, then his rear and front windshields exploded almost simultaneously.  He floored it, ran through red lights, and when he got back to work he was shivering like a Chihuahua.

His boss came out and looked at his car.  The bullet had entered the van directly in line with his head.  It deflected off the roof and entered the front windshield inches from his cerebellum.  He was literally millimeters away from death.

Unlike my former colleague, my friend was not upper-middle income, and he could be fired at will.  So his boss at Pizza Hut made him finish his shift.  He was not allowed to go home after getting shot at, nor did he receive any apologies or redress.  And as for the cops?  Pfft.  They sure as shit did not investigate.

Now, I’m not blaming gun owners for being irresponsible—that’s the nature of their fetish.  Personally, I do tons of irresponsible stuff.  But when it comes to the bad stuff I do, like drinking too much, there are legal mechanisms in place that are meant to prevent me from allowing my irresponsibility to harm others, and I’d get in bad trouble if I ever did.  I cannot drive drunk.  If I ever drunkenly punched someone, or drove over a kid, or even caused too much of a ruckus at Wal-Mart, I would get arrested, go to jail, and most likely lose my job.

That’s fair.  That’s how it should be. But gun owners don’t have to worry about being held accountable for their harmful actions.  Hell, several states have laws specifically designed to shelter gun owners from accountability.  In others, police and prosecutors will refuse to take action, giving the gun owners every benefit of the doubt—hunters don’t meant to accidentally shoot cars, after all, so it’d be unfair to punish them.

In America in 2014, you can get arrested for leaving your kid in the car for 3 minutes while you run into Walgreen’s, but it’s perfectly legal to let your child fire an Uzi, or to leave assault weapons unattended around children.  Police will mace and sexually assault you if you say something that offends Citibank, but treat you with understanding and civility if you brandish M-16s at them while shouting about how Obama is a communist

This is fucked up.  And it’s happening because no one questions the myth of the Responsible Gun Owner.  We’re all led to believe that the majority gun owners are calm, responsible, sober patriots, and that the tragedies of gun violence, gun accidents, and mass shootings are caused by a few bad apples.  This is not true.  By its very nature, gun ownership is paranoid, reactionary, and dangerous.  It needs to be regulated the same as every other dangerous activity.   

Don’t believe me?  Pick up literally any issue of any gun magazine.  Peruse a gun forum or website.  Soak in their politics.  Count the number of white supremacy references, or read a couple articles about how Muslims are about to bring the end times upon us.  Go ahead, do it—it won’t take more then a few seconds.  

Or, hell, go to the liquor store during hunting season.  See that orange-colored, camo-printed Bush 30 pack?  Probably not too responsible to drink 30 Buschs while shooting, eh?  Can you imagine the uproar that would happen if Busch released a pack made especially for bus drivers or boat captains? 

But this isn’t just a political or cultural issue.  It’s an issue of basic, legal accountability.  Gun owners aren’t responsible—indeed, cannot be responsible—because there are no formal mechanisms of holding them responsible. 

I’m not saying we should ban guns.  Not at all.  But as far as we’ve gone in criminalizing potentially dangerous behaviors in every other realm of existence, we’ve gone the opposite direction in establishing decent safety regulations for firearms.  We live in a society where nearly everyone is treated like shit, where your boss can make you deliver pizzas minutes after getting shot at, where being a victim of some drunken asshole’s fetish can ruin you financially. Why don’t we try protecting the people who aren’t aggressive, who don’t fetishsize violence? How come we treat assholes with such reverence and everyone else with disdain and cruelty?  What is wrong with us?

Sep 25, 2014
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Spanking must defined and denounced

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How have we not come to a consensus on spanking?  Seriously, that’s not a rhetorical question.  I am honest-to-god amazed that in 2014—when so much work is put into turning semantics into moral absolutes, when homophobia and sexism have become grounds for righteous and immediate public shaming—how come no one has bothered to take a firm stance against ritualized violence committed against children?

Until this past week, I figured it was a matter of braindead tolerance.  Well-meaning people have told me, in all earnestness, that spanking is “a black thing” and/or “a southern thing,” and that—and I’m quoting a (white) published scholar here—my “white ass got no right to criticize spanking.”  

That’s a dumb argument, yes, but a powerful one.  Much of the American identity is tied to our ability to physically dominate our social and cultural subordinates.  We love hurting the right people.  Kids are the ultimate subordinate.  Parents are the ultimate master.  And so since we live in a world where people threaten to secede from the union because light bulbs are now slightly dimmer, I can only imagine the uproar that would happen if you told a bunch of South Carolinians they were no longer allowed to beat their kids.

This past week, however, has proven that assumption too simplistic.  Not the parts about loving violence (that’s beyond dispute), but the reasons why people like me are so silent about spanking.

Adrian Peterson’s kid did something bad—don’t know what, whatever NFL kids do to piss of their fathers—he didn’t have grit, maybe, or else he was refusing to act like a champion.  In response, Peterson had his kid cut a switch.  Peterson then took the switch from the kid, pulled the kid’s pants down, and “whooped” the kid so violently his backside looked like a still-frame from Roots. It was shitty and horrific, and it made national news.

The event was magnified for two reasons: first, Peterson is one of the NFL’s best players, so they can’t just cut him and claim he was a bad apple.  Second, the NFL has been dealing with a world of problems stemming from the fact it’s basically a collection of violent, impulsive men who are perpetually concussed and steroid-laden and have lived their whole lives outside all systems of accountability. America was completely tolerant of that until a few months ago, but lately we’ve been a little pissed off by it.

Feminists and other liberal sorts have mostly criticized Peterson. The Vikings were also somewhat aggressive in their treatment of Peterson, taking him off the roster for last Sunday’s game—which would not have happened had this incident occurred in 2012.  But Peterson’s actions are being condemned only in vague terms, with people linking the violence he committed against his child to that committed against domestic partners.  Others criticize him broadly, simply for being violent, without explaining exactly how his bad violence crossed the line.  The criticisms are inchoate.  Everyone seems unwilling to take a firm stand.

We do not have a rhetoric that condemns spanking. And that’s not because we all tolerate spanking as a foreign cultural phenomenon, nor because we all secretly approve of spanking.  Rather, it’s because we have no understanding of the nuance that can be inherent in violence, and we ritualistically refuse to admit that there exists a line between incidental violence and physical domination.  

Seriously—all rhetoric denouncing violence does so in firm, absolute terms that leave no room for context.  While it’s correct to say, definitively, that a man should never hit a woman except in extreme cases of self-defense, it’s murkier when it comes to exerting physical force upon a child.  Physical force should of course be avoided—it’s never ideal and almost always begets badness—but its use does not always signal bad parenting.

In some cases, such as when dealing with children with severe emotional disorders, the use of physical restraint is the safest and most humane way to quell violent outbursts.  And the use of small, incidental force—such as by slapping the hand of a child reaching toward a hot stove—can hardly be classified as abusive, even if it’s not ideal. 

 Spanking is a different beast.  Spanking is more than the mere use of force. Spanking is a primal, ritualistic display of dominance in which the spanking parent asserts his or her authority by forcing the child to submit to physical abuse.  Spanking has a run-up, a routine:  wait til your dad gets home, fetch my belt, pull down your pants, sit on my lap.  Give yourself over to me, your parent, so that I may make you feel pain.

That’s the kind of shit that really fucks kids up. 

This is why I’m troubled with the coverage of Peterson’s spanking, which has focused on the physical scars he left, as if the awfulness of spanking lies in the strength used to deliver the blows.   The physical act—hand or belt against butt cheek—is not what makes spanking so horrible.  Rather, similar to outright torture, the damage done by spanking comes from the total and absolute effacement of humanity it entails.  Such an effacement is bad enough when administered by a Syrian Jihadi or a Chicago cop.  But when done by a parent, it erodes a child’s understanding of his or her place in family and society.  The child is made to feel worthless, less than human, and it’s mommy or daddy who made them feel that way.  That’s fucked up.  That’s something we cannot tolerate.  

It’s the psychological damage that makes spanking intolerable, and that’s why all spanking, not just the egregious stuff that leaves physical scars, should be denounced in the harshest terms possible.  Don’t do it. Don’t’ let your friends and family do it. 

Aug 12, 2014
1 note

Beauty is sometimes real.

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Saturday, an overweight Armor All Spokesperson did some moonlighting by driving a winged car around a dirt pile.  He drove aggressively, like a true champion, and clipped into the winged car of a much younger driver.  Incensed, the younger man walked onto the track and tried to engage the older driver’s car in fisticuffs.  This ended poorly, because cars are heavy and they go real fast, and if a car hits you, you die.

If you pay attention to the sporting press, you’re going to hear a lot about this incident over the next several days.   Buzzkills of every stripe will try to intellectualize the fatal crash: they’ll speculate about the involvement of law enforcement, discuss the necessity of reverence in the wake of the death of a white athlete, and then pontificate shitfully about the very nature of competition and sport.  Please ignore all of these commentators.  They are filth.

As a culture, we cannot afford to lose sight of what happened:  a guy was so fucking masculine that he died trying to fight a racecar. 

 It was perhaps the funniest non-scripted thing I have ever seen, a Yosemite Sam bit come to life and played out with brutal, hilarious concision.  The rabbit had spun the young man’s gun barrel so that it pointed right in his own face.  The man saw it.  He—he knew what it would mean to pull the trigger.  But he was so correct, so self-certain, so much of a rootin’ tootin’ manly man that he just’a had to do something after being so ornery’d up!  And then, boom.  His face was black, the rabbit laughed, and the moment was preserved forever through the miracle of youtube.

You’re probably in a crappy mood right now.  It’s Tuesday, Robin Williams just died, and the whole world is going to shit.  I implore you, friend, to take a few minutes and enjoy yourself.  Open youtube, search for the fatal crash, and then put your feet up and enjoy the fact that even though things are mostly bad, sometimes the world gives you something wonderful to laugh at and enjoy. 

Jul 21, 2014
1 note

Dumb Data and Millennial Bashing

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Last week, a racist shitrag ran an article about how millennials are totally confused and stupid and don’t know how politics work.  They did a poll, and that poll showed inconsistencies in millennial opinions towards politics, taxes, and government.  This is newsworthy, apparently, because every other generation is just soooo goddamn consistent and informed, unlike those bratty millennials, who aren’t enlightened enough to believe in privatizing oxygen.  It’s also newsworthy because it’s deeply stupid and dishonest, and media loves horrible bullshit.

See, it’s not fair to extrapolate a person’s entire ideology based on poll data.  It’s especially unfair to use poll data a proof of someone’s ignorance.  Take me, for example.  I think the US spends way too much on the military.  We especially spend too much on the munitions industry, which actually hurts US security and could fairly be called the most wasteful thing in the history of mankind.  In spite of thinking that military funding should be cut overall, however, I think we treat our veterans shamefully and I would approve of greater funding for their healthcare and benefits.

So let’s say I was polled on this issue.  If asked “do you think military spending should be cut,” I would say “yes.”  If asked “do you think veterans deserve more benefits,” I would also say “yes.”  Such wild inconsistencies!  Why, I must be a real lamebrained jackelope, to think such incompatible thoughts!

Anyone who has ever been polled—or who has a passing understanding of what a poll is—should realize how narrow and misleading poll data can be.  If a similar poll had been taken of Gen Xers or Boomers, the exact same narrative of inconsistency could be spun.  But it wouldn’t be.  The Gen Xers would be accused of disaffection, and the Boomers’ responses would be chalked up to them just being so gall darn patriotic.  The reason this story took off, in spite of it being so fully and absolutely stupid, is because the media hates millennials.  Particularly the conservative-libertarian media, who realize that millennials are immune to their cruel, shitty ideology and can formulate no response but to laugh at them.

Kids today got shit figured out.  They know the game is rigged.  Egalitarianism is a lie, what benefits the super-rich doesn’t usually benefit everyone else, and the government functions mostly to subsidize billionaires while lighting muslims on fire and putting black people in jail.  Millennials distrust the government as a whole, but they approve of the parts of it that libertarians hate (like healthcare and schools).  Millennial disapproval is aimed towards the macro-level police state shit that most non-stoner libertarians secretly love.  There’s some drugwar and gay rights overlap, sure, but that’s about it.

The old Regan/Libertarian lies do not work on millenials.  Millennials see a government that is rigged and corrupt because of its relationship to the private sector, not one that will be fixed by granting more control to assholes.  Likewise, millennials are just less hateful than Gen Xers and Boomers—not only do they tolerate gays, but they also don’t evince the piggish glee that older generations feel whenever they cut off a cancer patients healthcare or step over a homeless veteran.  

Key to libertarianism is the demonization of empathy and the celebration of cruelty.  You got to be very comfortable in yourself and your social standing to buy into that kind of bullshit, so privileged and comfortable that you’ve never suffered even a second of self-awareness. Now that the edifice of American Invincibility has crumbled, the old conservative lines have lost their feasibility. 

Millennials have a clearer and less stupid understanding of how this country works.  They realize that shit is broken in a deep and fundamental level.  But instead of working to change society’s brokenness, older generations opt instead to scoff at those who point it out.  “Pfft,” we say.  “Those kids are dumb.  Not only are they not as scared as Muslims as they should be, but they don’t realize the how fun it is to deny healthcare to poor people!  And what’s this?  They want to spend more money on roads?  Don’t they know that government spending is always evil.  Pfft, these kids are so dumb.”

Fuck all of you. 

Jun 11, 2014
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On Sexist Hurricanes

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No one said hurricanes were sexist, obviously. But last week, in what can only be described as Peak Liberalism, the internet was convinced that sexism influences the way we react to hurricanes. When we hear that a storm has a man-name, we respect Him. He makes us run from our homes and cower meekly in shelters. But lady hurricanes? Please. Ain’t no one scared of ladies. Ladynames don’t evoke The Fear:

"The femininity of the name influences the degree to which people feel the storm is dangerous, and that affects how they respond to it," said Sharon Shavitt, a behavioral scientist at the university and a coauthor of the paper.
"We had a hunch that there would be some gender biases, but we were quite stunned by the degree of this effect." Their model suggests that simply changing the name of a powerful, hypothetical hurricane from “Charlie” to “Eloise” would cause the death toll to triple, the researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

My twitter and facebook feeds are like 90% liberal-progressive and include a bunch of academics, and at least 2 dozen people commented that, finally, we had “objective” proof of sexism’s existence. Only we don’t. We absolutely do not.

First—let me correct myself. The term in question wasn’t “fear,” as in “people fear male-named hurricanes more than female-named hurricanes.” The actual, assumed term is “respect.” As in, people don’t respect ladyname storms which is proof that they don’t respect ladynamed womyn. But, seriously, fear is probably a better term to use when we’re talking about people’s reactions to emergency situations. And like, I don’t want to sound stupid, but isn’t it a good thing that we aren’t afraid of female names? If data showed the exact opposite to be true, couldn’t that also have been taken as proof of sexism, since that would show that people react more fearfully to female storms which would demonstrate a latent hatred and loathing towards all things feminine?

When it comes to storms, respect and fear are pretty much the same thing. The only difference is that one term usually has a positive connotation and the other is generally negative. In this circumstance, both could be applied to the exact same data and used to make that data support whatever predetermined conclusions the authors wanted it to.

I’m gonna lay a harsh truth on you guys: it is impossible to quantifiably demonstrate ideology. Period. It cannot be done. Any attempt at trying to do so amounts to nothing more than an attempt to unjustly reify that ideology by making it appear like an objective reflection of reality, and literally every single time that’s happened the results have been horrible. Stop doing it. It’s shitty when scientific racists do it, and it’s shitty when feminists do it.


Within days, National Geographic wrote a great piece about how the original study’s data was badly flawed. Knowing how public discourse works, however, I’m sure we’ll be seeing the original study held up as “objective” proof of sexism for years to come, because assertions matter much more than retractions. And that’s sad for a few reasons:

First off, it’s dishonest.

Second, it demonstrates the ineffectiveness of contemporary liberal discourse, highlighting our drive to turn every single social issue into a matter of identity politics. Mainstream, internet-based feminism has divorced itself from class consciousness so forcefully that anyone who suggests that materialist factors be considered is accused of supporting rape. Everything is about rape culture.  That’s that.  No other explanations can ever suffice, even when those explanations are much more sane and obvious and immediate. 

More broadly, nearly all academic theorizing refuses to take materiality into account, unless that materiality is discussed so obliquely as to render all observations unusable. Describing social phenomena in terms of direct, cause-and-effect materiality is verboten. So we get shit like this, where phenomena can only be ascribed to subconscious, libidinal drives, while much more obvious and sensible reactions get thrown out the window.


Take a gander at the guys in the picture atop this essay. Tell me—honestly, I’m not kidding—what do you think would be a more productive reaction to this picture? Is the picture evidence of a society that treats its lower classes with unmasked disdain? Or is it proof that the men on that roof were secret sexists, that their subconsciouses hated women so, so much that they didn’t bother to evacuate once they heard a storm was named “Katrina?”


If you answered the latter, you have mental problems. You are fucking insane, if that’s where you mind goes.

May 29, 2014
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Remington to Release New Line of Rifles for Spree Killers

Remington to release new line of rifles for spree killers

The company’s new “Payback” line will feature high capacity magazines, ergonomic grips.

(NEW YORK—AP) Kentucky-based Remington Arms will soon release a new line of firearms marketed specifically to spree killers.

Set for release next week, the “Payback” series will include a six new rifles and handguns designed for easy concealment and rapid, indiscriminate firing. 

“This is a burgeoning market,” explained Remington spokesman Mark LePenn.  “We want to get in on the ground floor.”

While the company is excited to reach out to the new market, they bristle at the term “spree killer.”

"The proper term is ‘active shooter.’  And that’s exactly what our customers are: active people who are taking control of their lives, their relationships, and their workplaces."

“This is not about illegal ‘spree killing,’” LePenn explained. “Rather, this is about preventative defense and meeting the diverse needs of today’s hunters. Remington is simply reaching out to today’s Millennials, who prefer to hunt in urban, workplace, and schoolyard settings.” 

George Kollitides, CEO of Remington’s parent company, Freedom Group, showed sympathy for victims of last Sunday’s spree killing at the University of California Santa-Barbara, and also for the 27 people murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

Kollitides stressed, however, that such sympathy should not prevent his company from aiding Americans in celebrating their Second Amendment freedoms.

“Like all of Freedom Group’s brands, Remington is about freedom,” Kollitides explained. “Our company is dedicated to meeting the needs of today’s shooters, who have expressed frustration with low ammunition capacity, as well as with the inability to sneak rifles into secure areas, such as dormitories and children’s hospitals.”

While Remington spokespeople are excited about the new line of firearms, gun control advocates have expressed dismay.  Kate Miller, the founder of Mothers Who Dislike Guns, says the new line will lead to more spree killings.

“They’ve designed these so that spree killers can sneak them into public places and kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” Miller said.

Miller was also upset with Remington’s “Become Legendary” advertising campaign, which advises potential mass shooters about the fame they will achieve after their spree.

“I’ve seen the ads they have planned, and they mention how murder is the easiest way to get famous.  Remington should be ashamed.”

In spite of these concerns, LePenn is certain the new line will be successful.  He explains that the company is “reaching out to people who are underserved, people who take a more pro-active and preventative approach to self-defense, one that doesn’t wait for people to become threats before he takes action.”

“You never know when a crowded courthouse or schoolroom might become violent,” LePenn explained.  “And so you better take them out while you can.”

Remington’s “Payback” line will be available at all Gander Mountain locations.  They can also be purchased online, or anonymously at flea markets. 

 

Apr 8, 2014
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I fear machines.

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Last night I fell asleep completely sober.  It was horrible.  

Two things kept haunting me,  pushing me towards the Smirnoff jug—first, surveillance is going to be near-total within the next ten years. Already, every mediated thing you write, read, or say gets recorded and added to a pile of your data.  Every phone call you make, every website you visit, every hour you log playing Madden, every book you check out from the library or buy off Amazon, every purchase you make anywhere with your debit card, it’s all recorded.  

This type of perpetual surveillance is seeping into non-media technologies.  Data regarding our driving usage will soon be mandated by insurance companies, as will data regarding how often we exercise or how far we walk in a single day (such programs are already in effect, although they are voluntary for the time being—insurers will decrease your rate if you wear a pedometer or stick a montitoring device into your car).  And everybody’s talking about the ascension of “smart” appliances, including smart toilets and fridges and beds—basically, embedding a surveillance mechanism into everything we interact with. 

 The behaviors that can’t be directly recorded can be inferred through our media consumption habits. If you read a lot of beer blogs, it’s assumed you drink more than the average person. If you comment favorably on a CNN.com piece about pot legalization and then book a trip to Washington, it can be inferred that you’re going to partake in pot tourism.  This is only mildly troubling when advertisers use these assumptions to personalize the shit that pops up in your facebook feed.  What will happen when health insurers start using it as an excuse to raise your rates?  Or when the local PD gives it to a judge as reason why they want to raid your house to search for smuggled Seattle Special? 

This is especially troubling because of my secondary scary realization:  Law enforcement is becoming increasingly algorithmic.  Back in the day, I criticized NSA and DHS spying programs because they generated an unparsable amount of data.  It was too much to ever go through, which meant it was too much to be of any use in catching crooks or terrorists.  That was before Silicon Valley dedicated a decade to optimizing search procedures, though.  Law enforcement no longer relies on human beings to sift through data (or clues) and then piece salient points together into a narrative that explains who (probably) committed (or will commit) a crime.  Now, machines can do that automatically.  Just as no living human being has to know about how you’re planning a trip to Washington to smoke some legal cush, no human being needs to consciously piece together the information suggesting that I favor radical politics and therefore my presence at an Occupy Rally might pose a danger to the community.

It used to be, back when the narratives were pieced together by humans, the accused would be given their nominal day in court.  A judge would first have to make sure the case didn’t reek of bullshit, and then a jury of one’s peers would weigh the strength of the state’s narrative against the plausibility of your counter narrative and if they were completely certain of guilt you went to jail.  That system is dead.  Law and order is now a quota-based system in which the leverage lies entirely with the prosecution, the testimony of cops is considered gospel (even when contradicted by video evidence) (LINK), and acquittals are almost unheard of.  Less than 10% of felony cases even go to trial. 

What’s worse, though, is that overview-free, automated methods of dispensing justice are becoming more and more commonplace.   The thought is that new, algorithmic methods of determining your behavior are infallible, and since the leverage in criminal cases lies entirely with the empowered, that means law enforcement can use data that says anything to prove any point they want and you and I won’t be able to say shit about it.

Consider—and this might be a stretch—but consider the way that youtube recognizes copyright claims.  There’s obviously too many videos uploaded to youtube for humans to monitor (100 hours of video are added every minute, according to their site), and so they partnered with major copyright holding companies to develop an algorithm that scans the audio of all videos and matches it up to any copyrighted movies or songs. Of course it makes mistakes.  Sometimes audio is incorrectly identified.  More troublingly, sometimes the companies who developed the algorithm claimed to own copyright over a song that didn’t actually own.  A person whose video gets taken down has no redress—if your vid is said to have violated copyright, it’s down.  That’s it.  The claims made by BMG or the MPAA are absolute and uncontestable. 

What happens when the feds come up with algorithms that “objectively” determine one’s involvement in seditious activity?  Or when the local PD decide to make preventative arrests (which are now legal) based on their determination that your media consumption and eating behaviors match those of a potential terrorist? 

And the private sector is just as open to such abuse.  The same as your average citizen has zero leverage against an overzealous prosecutor or a violent cop, she has no leverage in her interaction with the companies that run our lives. If Blue Cross says we’re more at risk for an early coronary, we get charged more health insurance.  That’s it.  There’s no fighting back.  But what if Eli Lilly looks at our facebook feed, gaming habits, and sleep patterns and realizes that we might be inching towards depression or suicide?  Well, then the cost of Prozac all of a sudden goes up for us. 

It’s—everything is looking really fucking bleak, man.

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