Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Legislating Maturity

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The Times did a piece about a state court that decreed that “gay” is no longer slanderous per se. I’d agree, to an extent, though I think the article got a bit confused as to the definition of “gay.”

Namely, I interpret the appellate court’s decision as based on the definition of “gay” as “homosexual.” It is no longer defamatory, in other words, to call somebody a homosexual, as being homosexual isn’t a bad thing and, arguably, enough of society realizes that now. Ginia Bellafante’s article on the Times conflated that use of the term with the definition that certain teenagers use, which she rightly describes as synonymous with “stupid.”

I’d expect, however, that teenagers aren’t in the habit of providing the fodder for slander nor are they suing anybody for it.

Why do I pay my subscription fees?

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The NYTimes wrote an entire article on Egypt’s legal crackdowns on nine American NGOs working in their country without actually mentioning what it is those American NGOs do. It uses phrasing like “the prosecution relies on laws left over from the authoritarian government of former President Hosni Mubarak” as a way of influencing opinion over the incident before actually explaining the incident.

So let me: Those NGOs, like the National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, and Freedom House, are proxies of American political interests and are attempting to influence Egyptian politics. One would think there’s a sovereignty issue there, considering that just about every nation has laws against foreign financing of campaigns. This is especially damning considering that the US government’s reaction to these trials has been to threaten cuts to development aid to Egypt, which will do little but draw criticism as it can hardly be interpreted as anything but strong-arm imperialism.

I’m reminded of how news reports where “X number of civilians, Y of which are American, were killed in Z warzone,” were propagated because they fed support for direct (military) intervention in those areas. The only problem was, hardly any of those civilians were travelers or tourists. Dollars to donuts, if you get a news story like that, the civilians in question were likely mercenaries or missionaries. I wouldn’t be so cynical, but I honestly expected that our foremost paper of record might actually have shed some light on this ongoing situation instead of whatever euphemistic hackjob that article was.


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Sarah Schulman is somewhat nonplussed by the willingness of the gay and lesbian community – having newly earned their civil rights – to allow themselves to be co-opted by conservatives as a hammer by which to beat Muslims. Indeed, Israel is trying to fight its PR war against Palestine by pointing out that they are more tolerant of gays (conflating this to mean that the injustices they regularly inflict on Palestinians is glossed over by showing how socially liberal Israelis are, because liberals don’t do such things, et cetera) and Germany and the Netherlands found new allies in their fight against Muslim immigrant communities.

I’ve seen something like this before.

Back where I used to work in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, the building (or as they call it now, the “campus,” ever since the large school was closed) houses four schools. All of these schools are divided by racial lines. Three of them are Black/Latino – in that there are literally no white students – and the last one is an “international” school with mostly Asian/Middle Eastern first- and second-generation students.

The Black kids didn’t like the Chinese kids. The Chinese kids didn’t like the Black kids. We couldn’t house them in the same place at the same time. Even during regular schedules, there were altercations on a daily basis where the Chinese kids (cutting classes by wandering through the Black schools) would treat the Black kids like potential criminals, and the Black kids (cutting classes by wandering through the International school) would taunt the Chinese kids with “ching chong” jokes. Punches got thrown.

So the teachers got together and decided they would have to give these students a primer on racism (and yes, the all white teaching staff did note the irony and the awkwardness of having to teach Black students about racism) but here’s where it got interesting: When asked in Social Studies class about the subject, it turns out that a lot of the Black students more or less defined racism as “bad things that happen to Black people.” As such, what they were doing to the Chinese students was categorically not racist because Black people, being victims, are perennially incapable of racism.

And the Chinese students? While they acknowledged the difficulties they faced with difficulty of language barriers and social exclusion, they were taught that Black people were untrustworthy, and that was the end of that argument.

So it came as no surprise to me that some gays didn’t mind being used to further ostracize immigrant communities in Europe or that, for that matter, some Jews didn’t see anything wrong with treating people like second-class citizens in Israel due to their ethnicity and faith. As it turns out, there are a fair number of people of any background that view prejudice only within the frame of their background, no matter how much lip service they give to the greater good of universal civil rights and social justice.

Abstraction – empathy – is a hard thing to teach.

Where Rich People Congregate

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David Sirota argues that cities – at least city politics – are experiencing a sea change in favor of corporatist policies, what with the inception of business-friendly leaders like Bloomberg and Emanuel, which calls into question their reputation as being liberal bastions.

Thing is, cities are not all one thing or another – that’s more indicative of company towns, or communities that are small enough to be more homogenous, demographically. New York has always held corporatist ties, despite being as radically liberal as it’s been known to be. All those massive towers and headquarters in Midtown didn’t just crop up in the last nine years. Chicago’s been home to just such a duality as well.

Cities have always been the citadels of capital and the bastions of anti-capitalism. Chicago is the city of rail barons and rail strikes. New York is the city that built the Chrysler building on 42nd street at the same time the American Communist party set up shop on 23rd Street; the city that simultaneously housed robber baron John Rockefeller and anti-trust legislator Teddy Roosevelt. New York donates the most money to both the Republican party and the Democratic party. It’s no surprise that local politics would reflect the battle between the moneyed and the masses – and sometimes the moneyed win.

It’s not a new thing, per se. It’s exactly how things have always been!

Keynes works, damnit

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How is this so hard to figure out?

If both sides of the aisle agree that businesses only hire when demand outstrips their ability to supply, then clearly somebody’s going to have to give a big handout to people so they can buy shit – Keynesian economics 101. Giving money to businesses – directly through bailouts or indirectly through tax breaks – doesn’t work. And why would it? If they’re making money, they have no reason to change their current methods.

It should also be fairly obvious that the demand that the people you handed all that money to will generate is directly related to just how much money you give them: They can only buy what they have money to buy. This is why the federal stimulus, being timely but anemic, had correspondingly anemic results. But, of course, there’s a political wall against large stimulus plans, because rich people don’t subscribe to Keynes. After all, corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy are how we pay for federal stimuli.

In fact, this point is so fundamental that just about everything else will fall in place. Adam Davidson on the New York Times argues:

We don’t need to become a nation of app designers. An economic downturn is a great time to learn things — carpentry, say, or aerospace engineering — that others will eventually pay for: high-school dropouts should get their degrees and a year of specialized training; high-school grads who can’t afford a four-year school should get a community-college degree. Life will be tougher for liberal-arts majors if they don’t get training in how to apply a humanities education.

To that I have two points:

  1. Carpentry is shrinking. Studying carpentry right now is one of the worst choices one can make. Why? Because carpenters mostly work in home-building, and nobody’s building homes. There’s no demand. Demand comes first.
  2. Who’s going to pay for all this education? A lot of those people downtown are bemoaning their situation specifically because they’re buried in college debt and the economy that they thought they predicted well completely fell out from under them.

It’s funny that Davidson would use the term “eventually.” When you choose a college program – and I’ve always been taught all my life that college was not a trade school but something more fundamental to the functioning of a democracy and a civil society – you hope that there are corresponding jobs at the end of the two to four (or more) years it takes to get it. When that turns out not to be the case, should we double-down? How much debt should we shoulder?

Either way, a big fat direct federal stimulus would solve both problems quickly. After all, job training costs money, education cost money, and houses and consumer goods cost money. People can’t spend with money they don’t have, so start paying out!

Occupy Whatever looks mighty white-bread

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so says the NYTimes. And I can only respond, “well, duuuuhhh


Now, again, I’m still not saying that the reason for their being there isn’t worthy of consideration, and indeed I do agree that our economic model at the moment seems blatantly constructed to, well, fuck us. That it really is college and fresh-from-college kids from middle-class backgrounds angry that they’re not given the piece of the pie they were promised isn’t in itself a bad thing. Reformations and revolutions tend to happen when the middle class views and aligns itself with the poor rather than the rich.

That said, there’s a social divide present and they have done very little to bridge it, and in that division speaks to the assumptions of those downtown that in some manner detracts poorer (and more diverse) constituencies. This must be addressed if this movement is to do more than evoke horrible and horrifying parallels to the Tea Party movement, tho I hesitate to even compare the two, or worse, evoke ridiculous I-live-in-a-bubble campus quad vibes like the Occupy Museums schtick.

Nevertheless, tangentially-related, being in a bubble myself in the form of living in Manhattan, I only come across such monolithic demographics in gamer cultures. Of course, being able to play computer games and afford them the time to get involved in the culture is itself a middle class conceit, but you look online and it’s predominantly white, young, and male, leading straight to the well-known racial epithet-laden cesspool that we know of as Xbox Live.

I was recently reminded of such by an event at Blizzard Entertainment’s convention, where they had commissioned a band that went up and peppered their speech and music with the sorts of casually homophobic language you simply can’t say in mixed company. Not that they played in front of mixed company, if you know what I mean. The backlash was surprisingly muted online, where many stepped up to defend their bigotry by declaring ‘free speech’ and arguing that despite using the terms “gay” and “fag” pejoratively, they were not directing their ire towards homosexuals per se, and therefore were not homophobic.

That such an argument could even fly speaks to the sorts of circles these people hang out in.  Indeed, having played Blizzard’s World of Warcraft for over four years, nothing of what these guys said sounded out of the ordinary to me, because the general decorum on trade or barrens chat is that of a suburban middle school lunchroom. Needless to say, these particular idiots “may not” have been explicitly directing their language towards homosexuals, but their language cannot be construed as anything but offensive to homosexuals, if for no other reason than that nobody is innocent to the connotations of those words and nobody says those words in regular speech except within the monolithic demographic enclaves of suburban American teenagers.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but such communities have never been known for being particularly friendly towards homosexuals or, for that matter, any other form of otherness. Hell, the whole It Gets Better project is directed towards homosexual teens in closed, suburban enclaves because they could not escape the intolerance and homophobia until their majority and independence.

Now, that’s a far cry from the guys downtown, but I honestly believe that there is some similar conceit in their thinking and methodology that has precluded this from really representing New York instead of piles of bussed-in hipsters.

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