Yesterday, noted cineaste Rush Limbaugh offered some ex post facto commentary on the selection of 12 Years a Slave as Best Picture. “There’s no way that movie was not going to win!’’ said Limbaugh. “If it was the only thing that movie won, it was going to win Best Picture. There was no way — it didn’t matter if it’s good or bad; I haven’t seen it — it had the magic word in the title: Slave.”
For the record,here are just some of the movies for which the word slave worked no spell:
Slave (2003), Slave (2009), Slave (2012), I, A Slave, The Slave (1953), The Slave (1962), Slaves (1989), Slaves of New York, Slaves of the Realm, Slaves of Rome, Slaves of Crime, Slaves of Babylon, Slave of Desire, Slaves of the Saints, Slaves to the Underground, Slaves in Bondage, Slaves of Hollywood, Slave of Love, Aido: Slave of Love, Love Slaves of the Amazon;
White Slave, The White Slave, White Slaves, Slave Ship, White Slave Ship, White Slave Traffic, White Slaves of Chinatown, Three Dancing Slaves, Runaway Slave;
Boy Slaves, Slave Girl, Tarzan and the Slave Girl, The Pirate and the Slave Girl, The Warrior and the Slave Girl, Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl, Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity, Goliath and the Rebel Slave, Slave Hunter, Slave Warrior, Slave Piercing, Iron Slaves;
Slave Wife, Slave Queen, Samson and the Slave Queen, Slave Queen of Babylon, Theodora Slave Empress, Prince Among Slaves, Blood Slaves of the Vampire Wolf, Mistress Absolute and a Slave Called Lewis, and Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation.
Conor Friedersdorf makes some remarkably wrong-headed claims in a post on gay marriage in the Atlantic.
In America, there is plenty of homophobia, plenty of anti-gay bigotry, and plenty of people whose antagonism to gays and lesbians is rooted in hatred. Sometimes the language of religious liberty is used to justify behavior that is anything but Christ-like. But the Slate article is implicitly trafficking in its own sort of prejudice. The working assumption is that homophobia, anti-gay bigotry, and hatred are obviously what’s motivating anyone who declines to provide a service for a gay wedding. … . In [Christian] circles, there are plenty of ugly attitudes toward gays and lesbians, as well as lots of people who think gay and lesbian sex and marriage is sinful, but bear no ill will toward gays and lesbians themselves.
Friedersdorf has a limited point, to the extent that the Slate article that he’s criticizing suggests that refusal to provide services to gay marriages is rooted in personalized hatred. It’s entirely possible that the people in question justify their refusal on some version of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’ But Friedersdorf’s suggestion that this is not itself a kind of bigotry seems to me to be very obviously wrong.
Bigotry derived from religious principles is still bigotry. Whether the people who implemented Bob Jones University’s notorious ban on inter-racial dating considered themselves to be actively biased against black people, or simply enforcing what they understood to be Biblical rules against miscegenation is an interesting theoretical question. You can perhaps make a good argument that bigotry-rooted-in-direct-bias is more obnoxious than bigotry-rooted-in-adherence-to-perceived-religious-and-social-mandates. Maybe the people enforcing the rules sincerely believed that they loved black people. It’s perfectly possible that some of their best friends were black. But it seems pretty hard to make a good case that the latter form of discrimination is not a form of bigotry. And if Friedersdorf wants to defend his sincerely-religiously-against-gay-marriage people as not being bigots, he has to defend the sincerely-religiously-against-racial-miscegenation people too. They fit exactly into Friedersdorf’s proposed intellectual category.
This isn’t just abstract word games. Irish readers will likely be familiar with the controversy over the last few months over comments made on a talk show by Panti Bliss, an Irish drag performer about various opponents to gay marriage in Ireland, including columnist John Waters (perhaps best known as the straggly haired father of Sinead O’Connor’s love child), right wing commentator Breda O’Brien, and Catholic ‘research’ and ginger-group the Iona Institute. I don’t know the exact wording of those comments, since the media have declined to reprint them, likely on the advice of their learned friends, but they clearly involved some active suggestion that these individuals were homophobic. The individuals so described reacted with outrage, professing in at least one case their lack of bias against gay people, and claiming that the objection was to save the institution of marriage, and to protect the rights of children. They also won a substantial financial settlement against Ireland’s state broadcaster for airing these comments.
Panti Bliss’s immediate response in a after-performance oration at the Abbey Theater is below, has been viewed on YouTube half a million times, and is altogether awesome. It’s particularly well worth forwarding to any American-Irish relatives you might have intent on marching in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade, and unaware of how things are changing in the home country.
But his follow up radio interview is also well worth listening to, as a specific response to the question of what is, or is not homophobic. His argument (starting around 17:00 or so) can be summarized thus. Ireland; especially rural Catholic Ireland, is still drenched in cultural homophobia, so that ordinary people who individually like the gay people around them, are often homophobic, and oppose gay marriage for homophobic reasons. This doesn’t mean that those people aren’t very likely nice, pleasant people in a multitude of ways, who would happily sit down with their gay friends and neighbors. But they are homophobic, and when they act on their homophobia in the public space so as to try to limit the rights of gay people, it is perfectly fair game to call them out on it. Saying that someone is homophobic is not necessarily to imply that they individually hate and fear gay people. It is to imply that they are prejudiced (whether because of principle, culture, or active detestation) against gay people in ways that lead them passively or actively to oppose gay people participating fully, with full rights, in public and private life.
Even in contexts where expensive lawsuits are unlikely, such as the US, Friedersdorf’s claims have very problematic implications. As the hed paragraph of his post describes his argument, “Some opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in bigotry and some isn’t. Assuming otherwise is itself prejudice rooted in ignorance.” These may or may not be Friedersdorf’s own words, but they do accurately describe what Friedersdorf claims. And the implication is straightforward. If Friedersdorf is right, people should not disapprove of opponents to gay marriage whose opposition stems from sincere religious beliefs. They shouldn’t push back against these views as in any way socially illegitimate. Instead, they should push back against the themselves-prejudiced and bigoted people who claim that religious opposition to gay marriage is a kind of bigotry. This seems so wrong headed to me that I don’t even know where to start.
Mike Konczal is one of many smart people who has raised the worry that as The Great Recession disappears into the rear-view mirror, states will return to fiscal health and consequently lose interest in slashing prison budgets.
I don’t share Konczal’s anxiety, for two reasons. First, because the general pattern in U.S. history is for prison populations to grow rather than shrink during economic downturns, I am not convinced that The Great Recession was very important to the reversal of the 30+ year mass incarceration trend. Second, states like South Dakota whose public finances are already in rude health are nonetheless taking major steps to reduce incarceration.
A different case for pessimism, among some liberals at least, is that now that some prisons are privatized, the powerhouse lobbyists of that industry will prevent further de-incarceration. Some people on the political right are too reflexively fearful of government and too trusting of the private sector. Prison policy is a case where the opposite set of biases afflicts some analysts on the left. Over 90% of U.S. inmates are in public prisons. The political power of public sector unions on incarceration-related issues thus dwarfs that of the small private sector. If the private prison operators and public sector prison employees unions allied in the cause of preventing de-incarceration, it could be a significant political problem, but that’s not very likely because they hate each others’ guts.
Less crime leads to declining incarceration in two ways. First, and most obvious, there are fewer law-breakers to lock up. Second, safer streets reduce the public’s demand for tough “law and order” policies - like the stiff mandatory minimum sentences that helped drive the U.S. rate of incarceration up in the 80s and 90s.
Kevin Drum is even more upbeat based on his analysis of lead exposure research. He argues that the generation that grew up in the leaded gasoline era was uniquely violent. As they age out and are replaced by non-exposed generations, Kevin expects crime and incarceration rates to continue their fall.
You don’t have to accept the lead explanation to make an equally positive projection about the future. Prisoners tend to have long criminal histories that began when they were teenagers. As a result, the current size of the prison population reflects the crime rate of a decade or two ago better than it does that of the present moment. Ten years from now, the prison population will better reflect the low crime rate we have been enjoying in recent years, which translates into many fewer people serving hard time.
Nicholas Confessore had an interesting piece in the Sunday New York Times about the changing approaches of major Republican donors. As he writes, some of these donors are increasingly dissatisfied with just forking over money to party consultants and hoping for the best, as they haven’t generally gotten the best lately. More donors, it seems, are trying to follow a model pioneered by the Koch brothers, which involves coordinating their spending patterns in-house rather than trusting a formal party source to do it. This is very much consistent with the idea of donors as policy demanders — they want the candidates they back to do things once in office, and they’ll look for new ways to keep those candidates faithful if they think they’re being ignored.
But several sources — incorrectly, in my opinion — depict this shift as a sign of the dissolution of the Republican Party:
Parties have “lost the ability to control the process,” said Jim Nicholson, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, partly because of legislation that cut the flow of money to party committees. “The party can’t coordinate with these super PACs and neither can the campaigns, so there’s a lot more chaos and disequilibrium in the campaigns. And the party structure clearly has a diminished role because they don’t have the resources they used to have.”
Rob Stein, a founder of the Democracy Alliance, one of the largest clubs of donors on the left, agreed.
“The devolution of the two-party system has begun,” Mr. Stein said. “Money is leaving the parties and going to independent expenditure groups. These now are fracturing the ‘big tents’ of our old two-party system into independent, narrow and well-funded wings.”
What we’re seeing here as not the devolution of the two-party system. On the contrary, the two-party system is about as strong as it’s ever been. Any candidate who wants to have even a chance at achieving office has to pick one of the two major parties to run with, and any policy idea needs an affiliation with at least one major party in order to become a law.
What we are seeing, rather, is evidence of the network structure of modern American parties. As I mentioned previously, the structure is less hierarchical than it used to be, but it is no less strong or efficient. Those strongly party-aligned donors who are building their own campaign strategy capacities are part of the party, just as the chair of the RNC is. And if there are multiple “narrow and well-funded wings” operating within a party network, how is that any different than multiple factions operating within the “big tents” of yesteryear?
Yes, from the perspective of a former RNC chair, this trend probably looks like dissolution. But looked at more broadly, we’re just seeing parties shift their structure somewhat. There may be factions within the parties with their own agendas, but that has always been the case, and indeed today’s parties are probably a good deal less fractious than they were a few decades ago. If major GOP donors seem dissatisfied with the way things are, that probably has less to do with sharp ideological divisions within their party and more to do with the fact that they spent billions of dollars in the 2012 cycle and don’t have much to show for it.
Shatterproof is a new organization intending to do for substance abuse disorder what the American Heart Association does for cardio-vascular disease: combining collective self-help, research support, and policy advocacy. What excites me is that the policy advocacy will be relentlessly aimed at reducing the damage, rather than at fighting the culture war (from either side). They had me at “addiction to alcohol and other drugs.”
I don’t have a clue whether they can bring it off, but after several long conversations with Gary Mendell, the founder, I’m willing to give it a shot.
And that’s where your part comes in. As a fundraiser, Shatterproof is organizing a group of us to rappel from the Westin in Pasadena a week from Wednesday. If you’re one of the countless people who would love to see me break my neck, you now have a chance to contribute to the cause. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I will get to the bottom in one piece, but that’s just the risk you take.
Angela Hawken will also be doing the reverse Rope Trick. I tried to explain that it would work better if people could contribute to prevent Angela from courting disaster, but it’s hard to fight organiational Standard Operating Procedure, so just go ahead and support her effort.
Within hours of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, rumors spread that this magnificent actor had been taken from us by “killer heroin”. The threat of a batch of impurity-laced, unusually potent heroin is a staple of opioid overdose news coverage and popular debate. But it’s usually hype.
If there’s one thing we can quite clearly say about heroin deaths, it’s that impurities are rarely, if ever, found or are relevant to the death. Those that are found are typically innocuous substances, such as sucrose.
An online banking application in China has collected more than $66 billion from 81 million customers in less than nine months. The app, Yu’E Bao, which launched last June, gives customers a seven-day annualized return with a high yield of 6 percent, compared to the just 3 percent offered for a one-year deposit at state-controlled banks. With no minimum deposit or mandatory time frame, it also lets customers access their money simply by tapping their phones. It’s understandable then why Yu’E Bao has attracted more than 20 million users in the past 20 days. But with an increase this significant, Yu’E Bao is ruffling a few feathers in the traditional finance community.
The editor-in-chief of CCTV’s Stock and Information Channel, Wenxin Niu, said Yu’E Bao is a vampire sinking its teeth into Chinese banks’ veins. He also called it a parasite living in China’s finance system. Niu and others worry that Yu’E Bao will negatively affect liquidity in the money market and cause interest rates to spike, thus increasing both the cost of production and prices in the larger economy. Niu argues that Yu’E Bao should be regulated and, even better, banned. Are Yu’E Bao’s critics totally overreacting, or do they have a point?
The short answer is that it’s a little hard to tell right now. While Yu’E Bao is growing rapidly, its current share of the market is still infinitesimal. UBS, a Swiss financial service company, estimates that, because of Yu’E Bao’s disruption in the market, Chinese banks’ net interest margin may see a reduction of roughly 0.1 percent. If 10 percent of total bank deposits in China flow into online products like Yu’E Bao and others, UBS predicted that Chinese banks could lose some income from fees, but it’s unclear whether that would shake the big banks, according to a Chicago Tribune story.
Other Yu’E Bao critics worry that the app simply isn’t as safe or stable as state-backed banks. As an online-only service, Yu’E Bao customers’ money and financial information could be the target of attacks from hackers and data thieves.
But it’s important to remember that Yu’E Bao is neither a fly-by-night tech start-up nor unprecedented. The app is owned by a company called Alipay, which is itself an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the largest e-commerce company in China. Alibaba, in turn, operates two platforms online, T Mall and Taobao Mall, where customers pay via online banking services or Alipay (China’s PayPal). Cash drawn by Yu’E Bao goes into a money-market fund, Tian Hong Asset Management Co., in which Alibaba owns a majority stake. Customers can move around money between their online banking accounts, Alipay, and Yu’E Bao and spend their earned interests in T Mall and Taobao Mall via Yu’E Bao.
In 1999, Ebay Inc.’s PayPal offered customers a similar product, but the money-market fund behind the product closed in 2011 after interest rates fell under 0.05 percent due to the financial collapse. Back in the day, it also offered a five percent return.
The way that Yu’E Bao makes money is similar to how banks do: they collect cash from customers and invest the money into something else. The main difference is that Yu’E Bao has a higher yield, is very convenient to use, and offers customers flexibility in accessing and moving around their money. It also collects for the most part much smaller sums of money—deposits that many banks simply wouldn’t bother with. By picking up small deposits of cash here and there, Yu’E Bao has not only dramatically grown its customer base, it’s also lured customers from traditional banks.
While traditional banks and folks like CCTV commentator Niu may be squawking, apps like Yu’E Bao may be good news for many. Chinese President Xi Jinping has worked to advance a free-market agenda and is in favor of liberalizing interest rates. By forcing traditional banks to compete with online products, customers may get a better deal no matter where they invest.
C’est l’histoire d’un homme qui tombe d’un immeuble de cinquante étages. Le mec, au fur et à mesure de sa chute se répète sans cesse pour se rassurer : jusqu’ici tout va bien, jusqu’ici tout va bien, jusqu’ici tout va bien.
Mais l’important c’est pas la chute, c’est l’atterrissage.
This week’s film recommendation is often considered one of the finest that independent French cinema has to offer: Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine (1995). It’s the story of a man who falls fifty storeys down a high-rise. While falling, he reassures himself by repeating the same words: so far everything’s ok, so far everything’s ok, so far, everything’s ok. But the important thing isn’t the fall. It’s the landing.
The backdrop to the film is a riot that has thrown Paris into tumult, and a young man named Abdel into a coma from a violent altercation with the police. While we never meet Abdel, his story is told for us over the course of a single day by his three friends who live in the Parisian banlieues. Vinz is a Jew with an impetuous streak, played by a young pre-Hollywood Vincent Cassel; Saïd is an Arab with a flair for comedy, and is played by Saïd Taghmaoui, also before his own successful - albeit less illustrious - career kicked off; and Hub, played by Hubert Koundé, is a taciturn black former owner of a boxing gym that was burned down during the riots. During the confusion of the riots, Vinz has picked up a gun left by a policeman and resolves to use it to exact revenge on the cops in the event that Abdel dies.
The three characters drift listlessly through the Parisian landscape, searching for something to do. They have no jobs, no aspirations, and no social network beyond one another. Even the neighborhood they come from is a barren wasteland an hour away from downtown central Paris. They feel disconnected, and they don’t seem to care about it. Instead, they try desperately to eke out some excitement from their day, whether by finding a rooftop party worth attending, or by crashing an art gallery reception, or by embroiling themselves in conflict with either the local skinheads or the cops. But the film doesn’t so much glide from scene to scene as it scrapes your nerves back and forth across broken glass. While you know the characters are trying to achieve little more than ‘getting by’, you also know that l’important c’est pas la chute, c’est l’atterrissage.
The metaphor of the film, of the man falling fifty storeys, reappears frequently. It isn’t entirely clear until the ending - and even then, interpretations can still vary - whether the falling ‘man’ represents the three protagonists or French society. For my money, it represents Vinz, whose pride inexorably leads him into trouble, but watch the film and let me know your thoughts in the comments.
While the decision to use black and white was probably driven by budgetary constraints, Kassovitz does some great work with the camera, and the washed out colors in fact add to the effect of the prevailing sterility of the environment. The dialogue is outstanding, and even in translation La Haine captures the syncopation and lyricism of lower class urban French patois. The characters are all - even the cops - presented both sympathetically and unsympathetically, thanks to the superb acting on all fronts. A standout scene in particular is ‘The Grunwalski Monologue,’ about well, no one really knows what it’s about, but I’ve embedded it below in the hopes of getting you hooked.
Lindsay Holmes has penned a widely-circulated piece on what not to say to people with anxiety disorders. Many people respond to the chronically anxious with phrases like “Calm down”, “Why can’t you relax?” or “Just do it”. As she and I discussed, these well-intended responses often make people feel they have to fight to defend their anxiety to others, which makes their emotional state worse rather than better:
“Obviously if they could overcome this they would because it would be more pleasant,” Humphreys says. “No one chooses to have anxiety. Using [these phrases] makes them feel defensive and unsupported.”
In couple counselling sessions and in life more generally I have countless times listened to one person express a negative emotion and then another well-meaning person respond by tell them effectively that no, they don’t actually have (or should not have) the negative emotion they just revealed. I am sure I have done the same thing, and left suffering people feeling rejected as a result.
The humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers described a paradox of acceptance and psychological change that I often saw validated in my experience as mental health professional. Simply put, the moment people feel accepted in their misery is often the moment they begin to change. “Letting go” of anxiety, sadness, hurt, anger, grief and the like is not easy when someone tries to actively take it from us. Perverse as it sounds, we hang on to our dysphoria more rather than less when someone tries to argue us out of it. Yet when painful emotions are recognized and accepted, letting them go voluntarily suddenly seems possible.
If someone you love is suffering emotionally and you want it to stop, ordering them to change is likely only to generate mutual frustration. But being with them non-judgmentally in their suffering strangely enough can sometimes be the doorway to exiting it together.
There’s a lot to disagree with in Tyler Cowen’s latest post responding to Hans Noel’s piece about the nature of political science scholarship. Basically, Hans was objecting to Nicholas Kristof’s complaint that most political scientists would object to Bill Clinton being hired with a “tenured professorship” in their department. Hans said that of course Clinton should not be hired into such a position, since that’s a scholarly job, and Clinton, for all his intelligence and experience, does not produce scholarship. Cowen responds thusly:
I recently read Noel’s book on political polarization and enjoyed it, especially his discussion of how intellectual elites have led the process of polarization. Still, I would trade in having read that book for a five minute chat with Bill Clinton.
I assume others will weigh in on various aspects of Cowen’s post, but I wanted to particularly comment on the above quote with the somewhat unique perspective of one who’s known (sort of) both Clinton and Noel. (I used to work for Clinton (with many buffers in between us), and Hans and I have written papers together and are currently collaborating on a textbook.) Here goes:
You will learn far more about American politics from reading Hans Noel’s book, even a chapter from it, than you will from a five-minute chat with Bill Clinton.
Hans explores more than a century of political debates in the nation’s newspapers and magazines to discover how ideologies are forged and how they control parties and politicians for decades thereafter. He not only draws out the arc of American partisan development, but also gives us new insight into the nature of ideology, one of the most important but least well understood concepts in political science.
You will not get anything like that out of Clinton. He will tell you some great stories and will quite possibly offer an insight or two about American politics that you hadn’t considered. He’ll flatter you with attention and demonstrate how bright and charming he is. It will be a great five minutes. But the main thing that you’ll get out of the experience is a photo for your wall and a chance to tell your grandchildren that you had a five minute conversation with Bill Clinton. To think that you’ll get as much from that brief conversation as you will out of reading Hans’ book is to reveal that you care more about celebrity than knowledge.
I say this not to denigrate Clinton, who is really quite brilliant and I imagine would have made an outstanding scholar had he chosen that line of work. But he didn’t.
A frenzy of hospital mergers could leave the typical American family spending 50 percent of its income on health care within ten years—and blaming the Democrats. The solution requires banning price discrimination by monopolistic hospitals. By Phillip Longman and Paul S. Hewitt
The tumultuous decade that followed the Civil War failed to enshrine black voting and civil rights, and instead paved the way for more than a century of entrenched racial injustice. By Nicholas LemannJanuary/ February 2013
As president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe triumphed over a fierce narco-insurgency. Then the U.S. helped to export his strategy to Mexico and throughout Latin America. Here’s why it’s not working. By Elizabeth DickinsonJanuary/February 2012