Girls Just Want To Have Fun — China “Red Princess” Edition

Posted October 2, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Oops

Tags: ,

I’ve not commented at all about Hong Kong and the umbrella protests because I don’t know enough to add anything to what much more informed people have saying.  As noted in Anne Laurie’s post this morning, old China hand Jim Fallows has been tracking the story closely, and has been writing himself and keeping tabs on other smart takes on the situation.  Here I’ll highlight from that list only the rather meta essay Henry Farrell put up at the Monkey Cage blog on the perils of explanatory journalism in cases, like this one, when the explaining journalist can fall afoul of his or her unknown unknowns:

Explainer journalism rests instead on the authority of the person doing the explaining.

The problem with this is twofold. First, the explainers are sometimes going to get things wrong. This is especially likely in international politics, where the explaining journalist is supposed to have expertise in far more countries and far more issues than any human being can possibly know much about. Second, the explainer is going to have difficulty in admittingthat he or she has gotten something wrong. If your authority and livelihood as a writer rests on your supposed ability to explain, you are not going to want to admit that you got things seriously wrong, even if you did.

Very useful correctives to keep on hand as we read just about any source on just about any kind of story.

So, my ignorance stipulated and reiterated, let me just add this to the mix.  If I’m CY Leung, the head of the Hong Kong government, facing an unprecedented level of protest and demands for more transparent, more democratic, and more open government, I probably really, really, don’t want to read a post on my 22 year old daughter’s Facebook page saying this:

The necklace on my profile pic is not a dog collar, silly!!!” she said. “This is actually a beautiful necklace bought at Lane Crawford (yes – funded by all you HK taxpayers!! So are all my beautiful shoes and dresses and clutches!! Thank you so much!!!!).

Collier,_Evert_-_Vanitas_Still-Life_-_1705

And I’m really, REALLY sure I would wish she hadn’t added this:

Actually maybe I shouldn’t say ‘all you’- since most of you here are probably unemployed hence all this time obsessed with bombarding me with messages.

In the context of stories like this one, this is just so much not what any senior official would want to see splashed across headlines around the world.  I have no idea how this moment of scandal (or simply gaucherie) will play into events on the streets of Hong Kong and in government offices there and in Beijing.  But damn…that’s some spectacular buffoonery from someone who I guess fits the definition of a red princess.

Image: Evert Collier, Vanitas Still Life 1705.

I Like To Think Of This As The Universe Expressing An Opinion About Today’s Incarnation Of The Party Of Lincoln

Posted October 2, 2014 by Tom
Categories: astronomy, geek humor, Snark

Tags:

I mean, this picture sure seems to make a cosmic viewpoint clear:

Keyhole_Nebula_-_Hubble_1999 crop

Ah well.  It’s back to work for your humble bloghost.

Image:  NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI) – Space Telescope Science Institute, Keyhole Nebula, crop of the feature known as “God’s Birdie,” 1999.

And I’ll Take Racist Media for $200, Alex

Posted October 1, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Evil, Journalism and its discontents, Massive Fail, MSM nonsense, words mattter

Tags: , ,

Alex:  What is the question that evokes the answer:  “A cartoon with a watermelon punchline referencing the President of the United States.”

We reply in chorus: “What was the racist garbage in the Boston Herald today?”

Again, this has been picked up in the comments, but it’s been making me crazy for a couple of reasons.  For the obvious one, I’m just going to outsource to Charles Pierce, who knows the Herald very well indeed:

 Let’s move along down my personal resume to The Boston Herald, where the current editors, whom I know well, today made me ashamed ever to have set foot in the place, let alone worked there for six years. They ran an editorial cartoon by someone named Jerry Holbert. In the cartoon…the White House intruder is in the bathtub while the president is brushing his teeth. The caption reads: “White House Invader Got Farther Than Originally Thought.” This is what the cartoonist, Holbert, has the intruder saying from the tub.

“Have you tried the new watermelon-flavored toothpaste?”

Pierce notes the hollow contempt for those of us disgusted by this in the non-apology that followed our outcry, the assertion that there’s not a racist bone in Holbert’s body, that he was just referencing his own kids toothpaste, and that, wait for it….

…we didn’t mean to offend anyone.  Take it away, Charles:

Of course, it was not meant to offend anyone. That was just a bonus. What it was meant to do was to appeal to the base prejudices of the elderly white suburban demographic to which the Herald has been pitching itself for three decades. It is racist hooey pitched to fans of racist hooey. Period. And, like so many other things, it is different with this president. It is different because there are no rules.

I got the remnants of my day job to get back to, so I’m just going to touch on the most clueless bit of attempted contrarian justification for this bit of garbage, this, coming from Jonathan Chait:

I don’t think the joke hinges upon black people liking watermelon. I think the joke is about the Secret Service’s security failures. Obama himself is not even the subject of the joke — his perspective is that of, or close to, the reader’s. The point of the joke is that White House security is so lax that a random person could wander into the president’s living quarters undetected and take a bath, and regard this as so casual he could chat about a commonplace topic as toothpaste.

Glad that’s clear.

Black people liking watermelon is certainly not the main comic premise of the cartoon

Well, that’s alright then, dear, isn’t it?

and was probably not intended as a secondary premise, either.

And you know this, how? Because you’ve peered deeply into Holbart’s eyes?  You’ve seen into his soul?  You know him to be a good man?

The cartoonist, Jerry Holbert, explained that he came up with watermelon because he was thinking of his kids’ Colgate watermelon-flavor toothpaste.

My kids. Yeah. That’s it!

Possibly he made a subconscious connection between a black president and watermelon.

Because, of course that’s what anyone would do when contemplating the first African American president.

But it seems very doubtful this was his intent.

“Seems?”

“Seems!”

“Seems…”

Two things:  1 — when an experienced reporter falls back on “seems” you know they got nuthin.  They’re telling you what the wish to be true, not what they know, or necessarily even think is likely.

and 2:  Chait should know better, but has tangled himself up around race before, so may not, but racism, like sexism, or anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry and dehumanization of the other, is not about what is in someone’s heart.  It’s not a question of essence, of identity, of who someone is.  It’s all about what one does and says.  Action in the world defines both the sin and the good deed.

In this world, as opposed into that swelling in Chait’s spotless mind’s eye, Holbert used one of the oldest caricturers with which slave-holders benefiting from stolen lives and labor sought to limn African Americans as simple, lazy and unoppressed by their oppression.  It’s an explicitly racist trope, and everyone who’s reached the age of reason (Holbert is my age to the year) knows it.

Turner Slave-ship

Holbert may be certain that he has not one prejudiced bone in his body, but what he or Chait thinks about intent or the “real” import of this cartoon is utterly irrelevant.

The cartoon speaks for itself, and its creator, and its defenders…to the shame I fear they will not feel.

J. M. W. Turner “Slave-ship”  1840

Not Even Trying To Hide It: Politico’s The President Must Die Edition

Posted October 1, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Evil, Journalism and its discontents, MSM nonsense, Republican knavery, Why Do They Hate America So?, words mattter

Tags: , ,

So, today we learn via  TPM* that a bottom feeder by the name of Ronald Kessler, writing at Politico, has nailed the real take-away from the Secret Service scandal:

Agents tell me it’s a miracle an assassination has not already occurred. Sadly, given Obama’s colossal lack of management judgment, that calamity may be the only catalyst that will reform the Secret Service. (h/t Commenter JPL at Balloon Juice)

Give him credit (sic).  With this, Kessler hits the daily double.  He blames President Obama for something no other — and for “other,” read, I’m afraid, white — President would be expected to do:  get involved in the day to day management of his protective detail.  And then Kessler adds that in imagining a fix for the problem, he regrets the necessity of the president’s death.

37.884

I’m gobsmacked. Completely.  On the one hand, there’s nothing new here.  It is just one more instance in the long-running guerrilla propaganda war to delegitimize and disempower a twice elected president.  Its impulse is profoundly anti-democratic, deeply committed to the control of government by any means available.  It’s part and parcel of the series of incidents large and small that run from heckling during a State of the Union (imagine the reaction if someone had done that to C+ Augustus!) to a claim that somehow this President mustn’t appoint anyone to be approved by the current sitting Senate.

And yet, this ain’t just the eternal return of the same.  You have here a writer openly near-predicting the murder of the first African American president; accusing him of the basic failures that make that murder likely, and consoling himself that after that murder, things may get better.  It’s as near to cheerleading an assassination as I can imagine, while steering just clear of an explicit call for that event.

In a civilized society, advertisers and readers would flee Politico as if it suffered from the combined effects of Ebola, the bubonic plague and rabies.  And they would spit on the sidewalk anytime Mr. Kessler dared show his face.  In this one…

*No link to Politico; no rewarding the sewage rakers.

Image: Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Death of Caesarbetw. 1859 and 1867.

Oh, By The Way (1): Leo Marx Was (Is) No Dummy

Posted September 29, 2014 by Tom
Categories: good books, What I'm Reading Now

Tags: ,

I just joined the public beta of the Ello, which seems to be a wannabe hipster alternative to Facebook.  Seeing as I never got Facebook, and despite my utter lack of hipster-tude (now and forever, amen), I thought I’d see if it made any sense to me.  It doesn’t, at least not yet, but I thought I’d try it out as a kind of public commonplace book.  So here goes: the first of what might be just one — or who knows how many — brief notes on things that I encounter on my way to doing (or avoiding) the work I ought to be accomplishing.

Giving that a try (again, and let me hammer this point, with no promises of consistency) here’s something. I’ve just started in on a book that’s been on the periphery of my “hot could you not have read this” list for a long time, Leo Marx’s classic, The Machine in the Garden. (Oxford University Press, 1964, 2000)

Turner,_J._M._W._-_The_Fighting_Téméraire_tugged_to_her_last_Berth_to_be_broken

Very early — first half dozen of pages or so in, he starts to draw the distinction between the mass-culture version of the pastoral ideal and the one expressed in foundational works of American literature.
Marx was writing (as he notes in an afterward) out of an biography that included a Harvard education in the last class to graduate before the US entry into World War II, and service in the US Navy that ended a few months after the bombs landed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Marx’s trajectory from ’37-’45 exactly matches that of my father, by the way; Marx and dad were friends, which is an odd the-world-is-much-smaller-than-it-appears grace note to all this.  There’s a story there, or actually more than one, that Marx told me the one time we’ve met.  Perhaps for another post..)

Ideas about the tricky relationship between the facts of the unbelievably rapid technological transformation of American life from independence, and the dream (fantasy?) or vision of life within unspoiled nature take on particular force in the wake of the bomb and the lived memory of industrialized war.  It’s no wonder, it seems to me, that Marx as a literary and cultural scholar would wish to “describe and evaluate the uses of the pastoral ideal in the interpretation of American experience.”

What did stop me in my tracks, though, as I read my way through his first chapter — “Sleepy Hollow, 1844″ — is the degree that his account of the cynical, for-popular-consumption use of the pastoral ideal maps directly onto our political landscape, right here and now, more than half a century after Marx published the book.  Just check out this passage:

“The first, or sentimental kind [of pastoralism] is difficult to define or even locate because it is an expression less of thought than of feeling.  It is widely diffused n our culture, insinuating itself into many kinds of behavior…An inchoate longing for a more “natural” environment enters into the contemptuous attitude that many Americans adopt toward urban life (with the result that we neglect our cities and desert them for the suburbs).  Wherever people turn away from the hard social and technological realities this obscure sentiment is likely to be at work. We see it in our politics, in the “localism” invoked to oppose an adequate national system of education, in the power of the farm bloc in Congress, in the special economic favor shown to “farming” through government subsidies, and in the state electoral systems that allow the rural population to retain a share of political power grossly out of proportion to its size….”  (p. 5)

There’s a hint of datedness to that passage.  But if Marx’s concern about the ’50s growth of the suburbs doesn’t quite track with the issues central to the urban-exurban divide today, still, look at how well he captures the basic shape of American politics today.  We’re  five weeks out from an election in a country that in many ways is utterly transformed since he wrote that passage.  And in just as many, we’re still stuck in the same damn cycle of stupid.  The point being, of course, that old power, like an old habit, hangs on with the grim viciousness of a nicotine jones.  Which, in our current predicament, is depressing as hell.

Image:  J. M. W. Turner, The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken1839.

Lysistrata Was A Documentary…

Posted September 25, 2014 by Tom
Categories: random humor

Tags: , ,

…Or so it could be, in John Scalzi’s retelling.  [h/t PZ Myers]

I want to drink in that bar.

Barking_Up_the_Wrong_Tree_by_Francis_William_Edmonds_-_BMA

All of which makes this a give Rush Limbaugh a feminazi sad kind of post.

Image: Francis William Edmonds Barking up the Wrong Treebetween 1850 and 1855.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Republican: Economic Stewardship edition

Posted September 9, 2014 by Tom
Categories: economics, Obama, Republican follies

Tags: , ,

From Forbes (sic!) this analysis of President Obama’s economic record as compared with Saint Ronaldus of Reagan:

Economically, President Obama’s administration has outperformed President Reagan’s in all commonly watched categories.

Preston_Dickinson_-_Factory_(c._1920)

Simultaneously the current administration has reduced the deficit, which skyrocketed under Reagan.  Additionally, Obama has reduced federal employment, which grew under Reagan (especially when including military personnel,) and truly delivered a “smaller government.”  Additionally, the current administration has kept inflation low, even during extreme international upheaval, failure of foreign economies (Greece) and a dramatic slowdown in the European economy.

That’s from Forbes contributor Adam Hartung, a business development and consultant kind of guy — i.e., no raging, card-carrying taker.  The whole piece is worth a look.

When you’ve lost Forbes…*

*which they haven’t, really — one drive by piece doth not an editorial campaign make.

Preston Dickinson, Factoryc. 1920


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