27 June 2013

Rent, profit, and wages

Dorian Taylor offers a nice overview of some very useful vocabulary so I will never again have to explain from scratch what I'm talking about when I allude to “rent-seeking behavior”.

  • A rent is a benefit you receive as an accident of your position.
  • Profit is the return you get for putting capital at risk.
  • Wages are what you earn in exchange for your labour.
Once these were modes of income for people, now they are better understood as components of commercial transactions.

IRS non-scandal

Salon has a little summary of how the IRS “scandal” is nonsense ginned up by the VRWC.

The IRS affair is now frozen in public opinion amber, with millions of Americans believing not just that the IRS unfairly targeted conservative groups, but also that the White House may have actually directed the targeting. That’s just how Issa would like it.

But it now sort of looks like the IRS was just doing its job.

Just keeping this handy here.

26 June 2013

Trash collection

A fascinating history of trash collection in New York City.

In its early days, the department [of sanitation] didn’t really function at all. There are some photographs taken for Harper’s Weekly, before and after photos of street corners in New York in 1893 and then in 1895. And the before pictures are pretty astonishing, people were literally shin-high or knee-high in this muck that was a combination of street gunk, horse urine and manure, dead animals, food waste, and furniture crap.

Put yourself back in the late 19th century and think about the material world that would have surrounded you in your home. When you threw something out, it wouldn’t go anywhere. It would be thrown in the street.

I'm sure that my libertarian friends would assure me that the free market would have dealt with this easily had not the government interfered, somehow.

Polyamory prophecy

I just made a prediction on Twitter. Azrielen asked

So how long now until polyamory is up for actual discussion? 100 years, you think? Will anyone give a shit in 100 years?

I think it will be a lot faster than that. I replied:

Poly TV drama characters in 5 years.
Sitcoms: 10.
Policy talk: 15.

The limits of 140 characters prevented me from adding:

Policy victories: 20

And in truth, I'm hedging. I think it will happen even faster.

25 June 2013

William F. Buckley

The left blogsophere is fond of quoting this editorial from the conservative National Review from 24 August 1957, written by William F. Buckley. (4:7, pp. 148-9)

The most important event of the past three weeks was the remarkable and unexpected vote by the Senate to guarantee to defendants in a criminal contempt action the privilege of a jury trial. That vote does not necessarily affirm a citizen's intrinsic rights: trial by jury in contempt actions, civil or criminal, is not an American birthright, and it cannot, therefore, be maintained that the Senate's vote upheld, pure and simple, the Common Law.

What the Senate did was to leave undisturbed the mechanism that spans the abstractions by which a society is guided and the actual, sublunary requirements of the individual community. In that sense, the vote was a conservative victory. For the effect of it is — and let us speak about it bluntly — to permit a jury to modify or waive the law in such circumstances as, in the judgment of the jury, require so grave an interposition between the law and its violator.

What kind of circumstances do we speak about? Again, let us speak frankly. The South does not want to deprive the Negro of a vote for the sake of depriving him of the vote. Political scientists assert that minorities do not vote as a unit. Women do not vote as a bloc, they contend; nor do Jews, or Catholics, or laborers, or nudists — nor do Negroes; nor will the enfranchised Negroes of the South.

If that is true, the South will not hinder the Negro from voting — why should it, if the Negro vote, like the women's, merely swells the volume, but does not affect the ratio, of the vote? In some parts of the South, the White community merely intends to prevail on any issue on which there is corporate disagreement between Negro and White. The White community will take whatever measures are necessary to make certain that it has its way.

What are the issues? Is school integration one? The NAACP and others insist that the Negroes as a unit want integrated schools. Others disagree, contending that most Negroes approve the social sepaation of the races. What if the NAACP is correct, and the matter comes to a vote in a community in which Negroes predominate? The Negroes would, according to democratic processes, win the election; but that is the kind of situation the White community will not permit. The White community will not count the marginal Negro vote. The man who didn't count it will be hauled up before a jury, he will plead not guilty, and the jury, upon deliberation, will find him not guilty. A federal judge, in a similar situation, might find the defendant guilty, a judgment which would affirm the law and conform with the relevant political abstractions, but whose consequences might be violent and anarchistic.

The central question that emerges — and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal — is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes — the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists. The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is byno means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes', and intends to assert its own.

National Review believes that the South's premises are correct. If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority. Sometimes it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way, and the society will regress; sometimes the numberical minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence.

The axiom on which many of the arguments supporting the original version of the Civil Rights bill were based was Universal Suffrage. Everyone in America is entitled to the vote, period. No right is prior to that, no obligation subordinate to it; from this premise all else proceeds.

That, of course, is demagogy. Twenty-year-olds do not generally have the vote, and it is not seriously argued that the difference between 20 and 21-year-olds is the difference between slavery and freedom. The residents of the District of Columbia do not vote: and the population of D.C. increases by geometric proportion. Millions who have the vote do not care to exercise it; millions who have it do not know how to exercise it and do not care to learn. The great majority of the Negroes of the South who do not vote do not care to vote, and would not know for what to vote if they could. Overwhelming numbers of White people in the South do not vote. Universal suffrage is not the beginning of wisdom or the beginning of freedom. Reasonable limitations upon the vote are not exclusively the recommendations of tyrants or oligarchists (was Jefferson either?). The problem in the South is not how to get the vote for the Negro, but how to equip the Negro — and a great many Whites — to cast an enlightened and responsible vote.

The South confronts one grave moral challenge. It must not exploit the fact of Negro backwardness to preserve the Negro as a servile class. It is tempting and convenient to block the progress of a minority whose services, as menials, are economically useful. Let the South never permit itself to do this. So long as it is merely asserting the right to impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to effect a genuine cultural equality between the races, and so long as it does so by humane and charitable means, the South is in step with civilization, as is the Congress that permits it to function.

Emphasis mine.

They are enemies of democracy. They rationalize their bigotry.

This is who American conservatives were. This is who American conservatives still are.

23 June 2013

The Reward

This nine-minute epic animated film about heroes on a grand adventure of swords, magic, and awesome is unforgettable — but a while ago I wanted to track it down a little while ago, I couldn't remember how to find it. So I'm putting it here.

The Reward from The Animation Workshop on Vimeo

21 June 2013

The human encounter with the gods

Morpheus Revenna's post Polytheism: The Light In The Window is pretty terrific, and not just because it quotes me. She talks about how we understand the relationship between our personal gnosis and the truth of the cosmos, and says that we need to keep a critical eye on what we experience ... but we also need to accept what we experience.

It is not necessary to question the reality of our sense experiences – we feel what we feel, we see what we see, and those experiences have primacy. But it’s important to practice discernment about how we shape those experiences into a story about the nature of the Gods. It is important to remember that what we have is always and only the nature of our own encounter, filtered through the membrane that separates the full reality of these powers from our embodied experience. It is in this way that we can be both rational and authentic in our relationship with the Gods.

18 June 2013


This post was inspired by a Facebook post of a Friend which said: “Gentrification: Ethnic cleansing, with a liberal twist!”

That's a little ripe. “Ethnic cleansing” is a euphemism for racist genocide. Gentrification is bad, but it just isn't in that weight class.

It rubbed me particularly wrong because that post was the latest word in an ongoing discussion I've been seeing about gentrification, which I've been following not just because it's a hot topic right now but because I'm soaking in it. I'm one of those liberal bourgeois Whites who has recently moved into a neighborhood largely populated with Blacks and other people of color.

There are good reasons why many people resent Gentrifiers like me. Yes, people like me are creating disruptions that can ultimately result in serious hardships for the less-prosperous residents of our neighborhoods. Yes, we are as a rule maddeningly naïve about the effects we are creating. Yes, this betrays the liberal political agenda we think we represent. Yes, bourgeois liberal Whites' smugness about our political and cultural liberalism is often annoying as hell. Yes, we have a deep responsibility to get more sophisticated about how national and local politics and governance create a context in which our migration into urban cores and other neighborhoods has destructive consequences. Yes, we need to not only become more sophisticated but also to become more active in changing those politics. Yes, we have generally failed to even make gestures in the direction of meeting those responsibilities.

But I don't believe that this migration of bourgeois Whites is simply destructive. If I did I wouldn't have participated in it.

So the Facebook post got under my skin because while I respect why people gripe about Those Gentrifiers Moving Into The Neighborhood, if we just stop the conversation there we will miss a necessary broader discussion. I want us to ask how gentrification is part of a greater process that raises the cost of housing, why the housing market is structured such that a migration of bourgeois Whites squeezes poorer people of color, what people moving into a neighborhood can do to support the community they have entered, and a hundred other questions about the political, economic, and material context which makes this migration of bourgeois Whites a problem. If we get stuck on cultural resentments we will lose that bigger conversation.

(A friend says that the big villain here isn't White people, it's capitalism. You may not want to join that chorus, but you should be thinking at that scale.)

It's frustrating and a little weird because the current wave of gentrification is driven partly by something which should be the opposite of a problem. Gentrifiers emerge from a generation of bourgeois Whites who just don't have the kind of bigotry which produced the white flight from the cities of their parents' and grandparents' time.

I don't want to imply that we Gentrifiers are devoid of bigotry, that racism is over, that there's no problem. The process of racist injustice is still working. There's still plenty of White bigotry backing it up. Part of that process of racist injustice is Gentrifiers naïve and disinterested in how the process works or in our complicity in it — supported by forces working to keep Whites naïve and disinterested.

But I cannot believe that we have to take bigotry's weakening grip on White people as something that just creates a problem. There has got to be an opportunity here. Every time I see the racially-mixed patrons of bars and restaurants in downtown Oakland I think “this looks like the America I was promised”. I say looks like because gentrified Oakland is not really the better America we want ... but the fact that it's starting to look like it should be a place from which we can start to build it for real.

Note: I've rewritten this post in response to a friend who rightly took me to task for the implications of the original version.

17 June 2013

Prestige economy

An incredible interview with Sarah Kendzior in which she lays out a critique of what she calls “the Prestige Economy”.

It's worth it to start with her series of tweets which inspired the interview.

Thomas Friedman writes on the internship scam. He benefits from the scam, so he doesn’t call it a scam.

Here is how the internship scam works. It’s not about a “skills” gap. It’s about a morality gap.
  1. Make higher education worthless by redefining “skill” as a specific corporate contribution. Tell young people they have no skills.
  2. With “skill” irrelevant, require experience. Make internship sole path to experience. Make internships unpaid, locking out all but rich.
  3. End on the job training for entry level jobs. Educated told skills are irrelevant. Uneducated told they have no way to obtain skills.
  4. As wealthy progress on professional career path, middle and lower class youth take service jobs to pay off massive educational debt.
  5. Make these part-time jobs not “count” on resume. Hire on prestige, not skill or education. Punish those who need to work to survive.
  6. Punish young people who never found any kind of work the hardest. Make them untouchables — unhireable.
  7. Tell wealthy people they are “privileged” to be working 40 hrs/week for free. Don’t tell them what kind of “privileged” it is.
  8. Make status quo commentary written by unpaid interns or people hiring unpaid interns. They will tell you it’s your fault.
  9. Young people, it is not your fault. Speak out. Fight back. Bankrupt the prestige economy.

In the interview, she further breaks down how it works.

In one generation, working for free for people who can pay you went from something laughable, to something wealthy people were doing in a few fields, to something everyone was recommended to do, to something almost everyone has to do. Entry-level jobs were replaced with unpaid internships. That same monopoly on opportunity reshaped lower-skill labor. Jobs that once offered on-site training now require college degrees. In response, universities ramp up tuition, knowing that students have little choice but to pay to compete. Instead of options, there is one path to professional success — one exorbitantly expensive path.

The values of the wealthy elite became the rules that everyone had to live by.

At the same time, the rising cost of living made it “normal” to pay a lot of money for basic things. Ordinary life has been redefined as a luxury good. Health care and home ownership are unaffordable for most young people. This makes them feel desperate, particularly when they begin adult life saddled with stratospheric debt. They feel they have no options but to play along, even if that means being party to their own exploitation.

What they have discovered is that even playing by the rules will destroy you in a prestige economy. Institutional affiliation is promoted as a way to advance professionally by building personal prestige, which is why people are paying to intern at prestigious companies or going into debt for prestigious schools. But these are hollow victories, designed to suck you dry and leave you even more desperate. Prestige decreed by institution means nothing when institutions are rotting.

This is the machinery of neo-feudalism. Read the whole thing.

15 June 2013


Marc “I am NOT the Beastmaster” Singer:

Darkseid is one of the great archetypal characters, and one of the last to arrive in comics. Most of them were created back in the thirties or forties; the next wave came with Marvel in the sixties; most of today's young turks are still middle-aged grouches from the seventies like Frank Castle or Wolverine. But just before the creativity ended Kirby gave us Darkseid, the stone-faced tyrant from outer space who inspired one highly successful copy (Jim Starlin's Thanos) and a less successful copy of a copy (Jim Starlin's Mongul, now routinely used as a punching bag to show how tough some johnny-come-lately is) as well as any number of more fleeting and forgettable imitators. The best of these characters aren't just antagonists in any particular plot, they are fascism personified, its means and desires incarnated in humanoid form. Thanos lays bare its psychosexual death drive, and brilliantly, but Darkseid is a more mature, more psychologically stable, and therefore far more threatening figure: imagine a Hitler who's both physically intimidating and not the slightest bit insane. Darkseid is what Hitler wanted to be, the visions he sold to himself in his sleep made real. A walking dream, or nightmare, of total control.

Chris Sims:

Just like the way that I'm often bored by stories where Superman just lifts up heavy stuff and punches out robots, stories where Darkseid is played as a big physical threat are usually completely uninteresting -- with the notable exception of the huge knock-down, drag-out fight in Walter Simonson's Orion #6. Instead, I'm fond of the stories where Darkseid manipulates the characters around him, preying on and exploiting their distrust for each other, their fear, their selfishness. He's not a guy who walks out of a Boom Tube, shouts his own name and starts punching people -- except when he is, which is terrible -- he's a guy who pushes people to embrace the dark side of their own personalities. For all of Kirby's craftsmanship, he never did have much time for subtlety.

That's why my favorite Darkseid stories are the ones where he shows up, sets something in motion and then leaves people to tear themselves apart, breeding the mistrust and isolation and hate that turn otherwise good people into willing servants of evil.

Also he will eat your cake.

11 June 2013


A Friend from Facebook made a memorable sharp-tongued comment about a certain strain of libertarians.

I think property-fetish libertarianism is a special case.

Look to it's antagonistic relationship with any kind of liberation movement: especially feminism. Hell — attacks on altruism. It feels like to me that it's built on “challenging assumptions”, on destruction, on dismantling, on correcting, and on the power of the solitary, glorious, self-generated Ubermensch to situate yourself above and beyond The Sheeple. Because the individual exists in a social vacuum of what's theirs and fuck all’a’yall. It wouldn't know intersectionality if it was going to return to the common mineral deposits of everyone else like we all will.

Also. Look to how it's actually practiced. Online, in pubs, whatever. Does it come across as supporting the individual, as inspiring action, as championing any concrete ethical behaviours of betterment or self-development? Does it really want to change anything? Not especially, as far as I've encountered. It seems more like a way of feeling ok about the problems of systemic-wide exploitation, violence and dehumanisation and/or justifying feeling superior to others who do have a problem with those things.

I think I see your initial point, and I would agree that every political ideology has reactive elements, but speaking from experience of listening and arguing with the spectrum of lefty/anarchist/individualist/hippy/etc friends I have, and chats with other people of varying degrees of political involvement and kinks, I really feel right-wing libertarianism has a special kind of empty reactionary contraryism to it. Or at least opens its arms wide to let in those kinds of folks that want to think like this.

Partly I think that comes from straight up smugness. It is the smuggest ideology I think I've ever encountered. It comes across to me as Reasons Why You Shouldn't Give a Shit, with a healthy side of You Are More Enlightened Than Everyone Else. If you don't want to give a shit, just don't give a shit. Don't concoct fabulous, fatuous, bloodyminded straw men about why you're better for not giving a shit.

Your mileage varies. I know. I hope you get more out of it than I perceive. All I'm saying is at the very least your movement has a lot of dickheads in it. Especially those that hate women and other minorities, manifesting as monumental chips on the shoulder about having to care about anyone else. I really worry there are some fundamental things about the philosophy that allow these to fester in it.

They are making you look like proper twats.

Saving for future reference.

10 June 2013

The Worst Argument In The World

Scott at Jackdaws Love My Big Sphynx of Quartz offers us what he calls The Worst Argument In The World.

I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: “If we can apply an emotionally charged word to something, we must judge it exactly the same as a typical instance of that emotionally charged word.”

Well, it sounds dumb when you put it like that. Who even does that, anyway?

I propose that an outright majority of the classic arguments in American politics, and no small number of arguments in religion, philosophy, et cetera, are in fact unmodified examples of the Worst Argument In The World.

I'm not sure whether it qualifies for its colorful title — it seems a pity to sacrifice the equally colorful name The If-By-Whiskey Fallacy — but Scott offers enough examples from political discourse that it may well qualify as The Most Common Bad Argument In The World, at least.

05 June 2013

Cis gender

Maeve at L'Esprit D'Escalier has the succinct critique of common objections to the word “cis” that I've been looking for, Intro to cis and why having to write this annoys me.

Louise Mensch said yesterday on twitter that ‘cis’ is “an offensive term that I don’t recognise”. This inspired the tag #ThingsMoreOffensiveThanCis which is about equal parts hilarious-things-that-aren’t-offensive and really poignant transphobia.

But, I accept that there are people who may not yet have heard the term ‘cis’ and may want an intro. The briefest definition I can give is: Do you know what ‘trans’ means? It’s the opposite of that.