The venerable police of my city are bracing for backlash

My hometown of Milwaukee has a bit of history of police violence, which I believe is pretty well known at this point. Less well known is a history of making professional athletes feel, let’s say unwelcome. With the story of Sterling Brown, who plays for the Bucks, these two aspects converge. Earlier this year Brown committed the heinous crime of parking across two disability parking spaces at Walgreens, followed by a confrontation with a cop which led to him being tased and arrested. Parking in a disability parking space is a dick move, but one I would say is somewhat mitigated by the fact that this occurred at 2am – I doubt the parking lot was very full. Nonetheless, I would hope most agree it’s not a tase-worthy offense.

[As an aside, Brown was released from custody at around 5am. Later that same day he played with a busted face and tallied 4 points and 9 board in a win. Pretty bad ass IMO. Also, the game featured this awesome Giannis dunk:

Let’s have a look at what Milwaukee Police union president Mike Crivello had to say shortly after the incident:

Special treatment for special people [regarding perceived mayoral interference].

You put your hands on and/or strike a police officer who is doing nothing more than what he is sworn to do, what he is paid to do, what all other citizens should want him to do, you need to go to jail and you need to at least have the charges referred to the district attorney’s office.

Hm. Sounds like he had some insider info. Or is a huge piece of shit. Or both! By this point in the saga it wasn’t known exactly what happened.

Bucks fandom was largely supportive of Brown. However, there were, of course, rats crawling out of the sewer spewing barely disguised racism. How dare Brown get uppity with the noble policeman whose only goal in life is to keep the city safe! I don’t think many were Bucks fans. For a little background, a lot of white people in Wisconsin hate the Bucks and the NBA in general, while at the same time lionize the more fundamental-driven [read: less black] college game. Many of these upstanding citizens seemed to heartily enjoy a black professional athlete of a league they don’t like being put in his place.

Up until yesterday, it was perplexing how tight-lipped everyone had been, from Brown, to the Bucks, to the authorities. After the hoopla within a few days of the event, next to nothing came out. It appeared that the story would get swept under the rug, with many theorizing that Brown was being an asshole while the cop overreacted. It appears this might not be the case:

Brown did not appear combative or threatening when officers questioned him about a parking violation in January, according to two sources who have watched the video. The sources asked that their names not be used because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about it.

[…]

“This could be bad,” said one source who watched the video. “The player doesn’t appear to be provocative at all.”

[…]

Police officials have been preparing community leaders for the release of the body-camera footage by showing it to selected local officials, including a closed session of a Common Council committee.

[…]

Assistant Police Chief Michael Brunson Sr. referred to the Brown video in a speech at a Milwaukee church Sunday during the city’s Ceasefire Sabbath.

“There’s going to be a video that’s going to come out soon, in the next couple of weeks, involving the department, and I’m going to honest with you, we’re going to need your support during the challenges,” he said, according to video posted on WITI-TV.

What the nature of the anticipated “backlash” will be, who knows? Will it only amount to mere backlash? Could it morph into unrest? Or perhaps a riot?

Earlier this month, cops beat the shit out of a kid at a mall in Wauwatosa (a lily white suburb that uncomfortably shares a border with the city proper (as distinct from adjacent lily white suburbs safely insulated from the terrors of the inner city)). The “backlash” thus far has merely been bad PR. Brown’s case will likely result in the same, but with the added annoyance (to the MPD) of national attention. But it will all eventually fade away, as all stories of this nature do.

One wonders if this would have received even local attention were it not for Brown’s cachet as a professional athlete. God only knows how many stories like this there are that don’t receive any publicity whatsoever. I’ve thought about this often over the years and it always makes me feel angry, sad and hopeless.

ETA: Right as I posted this I found out Brown is suing the MPD.

60 Gazans murdered, 2000+ injured

While scumbags celebrated the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, Gaza burned, with 60 dead, and 2200 injured. If there were any Israeli casualties, I haven’t seen the numbers – surely it is much, much less.

1234

Making this even more cruel and indefensible, the embassy opening was scheduled one day before Nakba Day, a “day of commemoration of the displacement that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.”

Setting the geopolitical ramifications of the embassy move aside, what kind of person, when considering the vast power disparity between the state of Israel and those forced to live in what amounts to a literal open-air prison, would side with the gaolers?

How can anyone feel that, were they in Palestinian shoes, that they wouldn’t be seething with rage at the power structures that dominate and kill them with impunity? And, no less, a power structure that is composed of people that fucking hate them. I wonder if they celebrated as they did in 2014:

“Die! Die! Bye!” laughing teenage girls shout at the celebration in Tel Aviv. “Bye, Palestine!”

“Fucking Arabs! Fuck Muhammad!” a young man yells.

“Gaza is a graveyard! Gaza is a graveyard! Ole, ole, ole, ole,” the crowd in Tel Aviv sings as it dances in jubilation. “There is no school tomorrow! There are no children left in Gaza!”

For context, this is what was the cause for such jubilation:

Palestinian militias, armed with little more than light weapons, had just faced Israeli tanks, artillery, fighter jets, infantry units and missiles in a 51-day Israeli assault that left 2,314 Palestinians dead and 17,125 injured. Some 500,000 Palestinians were displaced and about 100,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.

[…]

Terrified Palestinian families huddled inside their homes as Israel dropped more than 100 one-ton bombs and fired thousands of high-explosive artillery shells into Shuja’iyya. Those who tried to escape in the face of the advancing Israelis often were gunned down with their hands in the air, and the bodies were left to rot in the scorching heat for days.”

I hope I’d have the courage to stand against tanks, bombs and armored soldiers with nothing but a rock in my hand and a t-shirt wrapped around my face. But maybe I’d work within the system, repeatedly smashing my head against a metaphorical wall that shows no signs of breaking. Or maybe, with or without hope, I’d do nothing and just try to get by. I don’t know.

But I do know that I would hate my oppressors with every ounce of my being. There would be no hope for reconciliation, except in a fantasy-world where they would beg for my forgiveness. In the real world, of course, the Israeli state wants nothing more than docile obedience. Ideally, this would be without any form of meaningful resistance. Resistance is tolerable more or less – surely Israel knows that without changing strategies the status quo will continue. But better for the subjugated to live with their tails between their legs in fear of overwhelming, state-sanctioned violence, though it doesn’t appear that this will occur anytime soon.

This shit’s been going on for far longer than I’ve been paying attention. And I, living a relatively comfortable life get fatigued with what amounts to being a spectator. That’s pretty fucking selfish, but I don’t know how else to process so much human misery for which I have no means of lessening.

 

A palate cleanser for that terrible NYT piece about the “Intellectual Dark Web”

A recent episode of Revolutionary Left Radio (which I’ve previously fawned over) takes a deep dive into the commonalities and differences between three of the Status Quo Warrior’s described in the NYT: Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and Steven Pinker (whom only makes a brief appearance in the article).

To me, it’s refreshing to listen to them being discussed in this format, because they all cater to different types of reactionary audiences coagulating around the center of the political spectrum that is ever shifting to the right: Peterson for the sad and lost, Harris for the arrogant, and Pinker for the starry-eyed optimist.

But! Know that by listening to Rev Left’s critiques you are contributing to the tragic misunderstanding and ultimate silencing of these precious, delicate snowflakes. If you don’t mind having that on your conscience, perhaps give it a listen.

Oh hey, Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) released a new video!

I tend to dislike adding my voice to the deafening chorus of those critically acclaiming or universally reviling something, but Childish Gambino’s new video is fucking incredible. If the song is any indication, it’s plausible the forthcoming album might actually top the phenomenal “Awaken, My Love!”.

It’s hard to put into words how I feel about the actual video, which I think is kind of the point. The content is so multifaceted and open to interpretation that I’m thinking the authorial intent was pure provocation – I mean, he mows down a church choir in a hail of bullets. Here’s a couple thinkpieces

The season finale of Atlanta, the best show on TV, in on Thursday

This summer, he’ll appear as young Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and is virtually assured to outshine his pitifully forgettable co-star playing the titular Solo.

He’s come a long way from mediocre at best rap and kinda shitty stand-up. As many have noted, I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like what he’s doing.

Violence against indigenous peoples at home and abroad

Violence against indigenous peoples at home and abroad

I was recently thinking about the deaths of Colten Boushie and Jason Pero, both of whom were murdered by scared white men. The fear of their indigenous victims, of course, was enough to justify a hung jury in the former, and no charges in the latter. I was wondering how many people knew about it, and if it was receiving what I felt was sufficient media coverage. I think the answer is probably no.

Who can say what alchemy is involved in the viral nature of some events but not others? For example, a cop shot an unarmed black man lying on his back in a northside suburb of Milwaukee. Against all odds, charges were filed against the officer. However, the case resulted in a hung jury a few weeks back, and prosecutors have decided not to retry the case. A Google News search yields results that are almost all local. For whatever reasons, it didn’t filter out into the national consciousness.

Jason Pero, a 14-year-old member of the Bad River Band in northern Wisconsin was murdered after he called 911 to report a male walking around with a knife matching his own description. The cop – Brock Mrdjenovich –  takes up the story from here saying that Pero refused commands to drop the knife. Pero supposedly lunged from 10 feet away and Mrdjenovich, fearing for his own life, was forced to take the entirety of the legal process into his own hands as judge, jury and executioner.

Mrdjenovich reported that Pero said between bullets that he wanted to die, and Mrdjenovich was quick to oblige, despite also having a taser and pepper spray at his disposal. There were no witnesses or video to contradict Mrdjenovich’s account. St. Croix County prosecutors declined to file charges. Since he was determined to have done nothing wrong, Mrdjenovich remains employed, though the police district is  “dedicated to rebuilding and restoring trust and a working relationship with the community at all levels through continued community policing, officer education and training, and proactive involvement with all citizens of Ashland County.”

I actually kind of believe Mrdjenovich’s statement about Pero’s final words – with no one to contradict him, it would be far better for his defense strategy to claim that Pero was screaming he was going to kill him rather than himself. Then again, one would think Pero’s admission would get him to stop firing. A trial likely wouldn’t have yielded a conviction, but neglecting to bring the case to a jury trial is absurd – a man with a gun shot a boy with a knife from 10 feet away.

This is similar to another story, one I hadn’t heard of before writing this, regarding another apparent “suicide-by-cop” scenario:

Back in July 2015, Denver police shot and killed Paul Castaway [a Lakota man] who they said was charging at them with a knife. However, other eyewitness accounts and a surveillance video showed he was holding the knife to his own neck, and the 911 call his mother made said he was mentally ill and drunk. Castaway was only a danger to himself, but the police thought shooting him in the chest was the quicker solution instead of helping him.

Charges weren’t filed. Pero also showed signs of distress and mental illness. There were cuts on his arms and he had fentanyl in his system at the time of his death. The common thread of possible mental illness in the two stories highlight another area that the police are ill-equipped to deal with, especially with regards to Native communities (and, sorry, here’s another horrible story from my hometown that was recently brought to light). That mental issues may arise from institutionalized racism (both similar and different to that experienced by African Americans) is tangential to the larger issues of how the State and their shock troops interact with Native Americans, who are

killed by police at disproportionately high rates. […] [A]ccording to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans were killed by police at a rate of 0.21 per 100,000 from 1999 to 2014, and African-Americans (who outnumber Native Americans roughly 10 to 1) were killed at a rate of 0.25 per 100,000.2

Even so, police killings of Native Americans are probably undercounted, said D. Brian Burghart, a journalist who runs the Fatal Encounters database, one of several independent projects aimed at producing a more complete tally of the number of Americans killed by police each year. Killings by police, as a whole, are undercounted by the CDC and other federal agencies. For instance, in 2014, the CDC logged 515 such deaths, while Fatal Encounters found more than 1,300.

And when police kill Native Americans, even the more accurate independent databases often miss or miscategorize those deaths, said Burghart and Samuel Sinyangwe, co-founder of the Mapping Police Violence database.

It’s a nesting doll of incomplete data that leaves Native Americans as both one of the groups most likely to be killed by police and the group most likely to have its deaths at the hands of police go unrecorded.

For Jason Pero, outside of a few articles, notably in CNN, Huffington Post, and the New York Daily News, the story didn’t receive what I would consider to be widespread coverage. There also didn’t appear to be many follow-ups regarding developments subsequent to the time he was murdered. And so, while it merited a blip on the radar, it was soon buried under the constant churn.

Colton Boushie, on the other hand, had significantly more coverage and was seen as just the latest indignity inflicted on the indigenous natives of Canada. Though it hasn’t really seemed to enter into the general consciousness of their neighbors to the south. Or perhaps it has and I’m wrong.

This time, the murderer was not an agent of the State, making him unable to benefit from having the full heft of its weight behind him. But, as a white man, he was more than able to benefit from combining his whiteness with fear. That, as we’ve seen so often, is a deadly combination, both in terms of justification of deadly force and for crushing the chances that victims and their family have for receiving any modicum of justice.

Boushie, a resident of the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation of Saskatchewan, was murdered by Gerald Stanley, on whose property the incident occurred. Though it was alleged that Boushie and his friends were attempting to break into cars in the area, they were never charged. Which is pretty odd. It was a case that focused far more on Boushie and his friends than Stanley, the only person that day who murdered someone. As Darcy Lindberg writes in The Conversation,

It is clear that Colten Boushie, despite breaking no law, was never provided the presumption of innocence before guilt that Gerald Stanley was given in his trial. The mix of being a stranger on someone else’s property, intoxicated and Indigenous were lethal to Colten’s life, and most likely fatal to justice afterwards.

While many are decrying that Colten’s indigeneity had nothing to do with his death, such a view dangerously ignores the century plus of evidence planted in the imagination of the prairie settler, one materially aided by law. Once planted, it has created a dangerous license that continues to have devastating effects on Indigenous peoples.

It’s pretty fucking enraging that so many are quick to assume that bigotry played no role. Also enraging is that the mere possibility of biased indigenous jurors was able to be weaponized by the defense – any juror who even looked indigenous was removed. Further, the chosen jurors weren’t screened for racial bias and were not instructed by the judge to disregard any prejudice they may have had (not that it would have mattered most likely). It just goes to show how malleable and adaptable white privilege can be.

Obviously there’s much more to the case than what I’ve written, but I just want to highlight the following, from the same link in the previous paragraph. Part of the defense hinged on Stanley claiming

his finger was not on the trigger when his gun went off as it was facing Boushie’s head (that is, he claimed it to be an accident and not an intentional act) and that he reasonably believed the gun was empty (i.e. no negligence).

In support of his testimony, Stanley relied on a phenomenon known as “hang fire” – a delay between the pulling of the trigger and the gun firing. In this case, there was a significant delay between when Stanley said he last pulled the trigger as part of a series of warning shots and when the gun fired the fatal shot. That period of time included him taking out the magazine, getting to the car, reaching in to move a metal object and then across the steering wheel to turn off the ignition.

If that sounds like highly improbable bullshit, that’s because it is:

Both the Crown and defence experts testified that the gun was functioning properly, not prone to misfires and that hang fires are exceptionally rare. According to the Crown expert, any delay is usually less than half a second.

Instead, the defence relied on two lay witnesses who testified about their experience with similar delays with different guns. One of them, who approached the defence to offer his story during the trial, testified about his experience 40 years ago while gopher hunting. Despite serious questions surrounding the admissibility of this evidence, the Crown did not object.

Jesus. Fucking. Christ. A fucking gopher hunter with a 40-year-old anecdote. I guess the jury of Stanley’s peers saw a fellow peer in this mysterious gopher hunter, who magnanimously came to the defense with his exculpatory bombshell.

Racial violence against unarmed or mentally ill, both perpetrated by the State and by individuals, can easily be justified by five simple words: “I was scared for my life.” For the indigenous of North America, these present-day manifestations of racial violence are seamlessly incorporated into centuries of bigotry, in conscious and subconscious form.  In its subconscious form, it is so old, so reified into the relationships with the State, that it probably doesn’t even feel like bigotry to the actual humans who perpetuate it. Can it even be called hate, at this point? To those whom are continuing the historical legacies of settler colonialism, it probably just feels like how things are. How easy it would be, such people think, were the indigenous to just act White. Although, the word they would actually use is Normal, and would likely fail to admit that White and Normal are virtually synonymous in their worldview.

***

Pero and Boushie belong to a class of people that are seldom visible to the general populace, except as “inspirations” for mascots, casino owners, or merely living relics of a bygone era. They can also, at times, emerge as a cause célèbre amongst #resistance-types, but such instances are always ephemeral – remember Standing Rock? And would it surprise you to learn that there are continuing battles between the fossil fuel industry and the indigenous? I can confidently say that that isn’t widely known. It’s not like I’m that much better – I know vaguely about a few, but it takes several Google searches to give me a better picture.

Appalling treatment of indigenous peoples by the nation states they happen to exist within isn’t relegated to North America. To name but a few, there are the reindeer herding Sami of northern Scandinavia; Sama-Bajau sea nomads of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines; Iraqi Marsh Arabs; and the Andamanese and Sentinelese  inhabitants of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Such peoples have long resisted integration into the surrounding vampiric socio-economic infrastructures that lust after unmitigated access to their land, resources, and labor. The ramifications have been and will continue to be catastrophic. At least as long as those infrastructures exist.

Perhaps most galling is the bewilderment displayed by those who are unable to comprehend why anyone wouldn’t want to shed their cultural identifies in order to fully assimilate into the dominant paradigms that have oppressed, displaced and killed them with relative impunity for generations. But then again, they probably haven’t read any Steven Pinker. Thus, they sadly don’t truly know the error of their ways – beckoning on the horizon is the shining city on the hill that is global capitalism nestled within the cocoon of meritocratic nation-states. Their humble entrance into its bottommost rungs – not as Others, but finally as true Citizens – will show them the self-evident superiority of what they’ve long feared. Truly the sky will be the limit with discipline, hard work and a can-do attitude.

All kidding aside, their continued resistance is really fucking admirable – in a just world, such resistance wouldn’t be necessary. At the very least, when they are killed, their killers should have to face actual consequences. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Goddamnit Morrissey

I had a difficult time coming up with a name for my blog. I’m not very creative, so I picked a song by an artist I adored – Morrissey. And Morrissey is, well, problematic. I’m not going to rehash all of the questionable opinions he’s vomited out over the years. The idea for this post actually came from the last time he said something terrible but, like dozens of other posts I’ve began and left idle, I never finished it. For that instance, he had some thoughts on Kevin Spacey and #metoo:

Morrissey says that the whole thing has become “a play,” and that the definition of sexual harassment has become so broad that “every person on this planet is guilty.” Specifically, he says that the allegations against Kevin Spacey are “ridiculous,” saying that if he was 26 and alone in a bedroom with a 14-year-old boy, then the boys should’ve known what was going to happen. “When you are in somebody’s bedroom,” he says, “you have to be aware of where that can lead to.” Because of that, he thinks Spacey has been “unnecessarily attacked.”

https://www.thepoke.co.uk/2017/05/26/there-are-some-bad-people-on-the-right/

This was on the heels of his new garbage album. Coupled with his last garbage album, he hasn’t made good music in almost a decade. Yet he still sells out everywhere he plays and has an extremely devoted fanbase. This gives him a modicum of mainstream relevancy so, unfortunately, microphones keep being shoved in his face. Behold the most recent example:

“As far as racism goes, the modern loony left seem to forget that Hitler was leftwing,” he says now. “When someone calls you racist, what they are saying is: hmm, you actually have a point, and I don’t know how to answer it, so perhaps if I distract you by calling you a bigot we’ll both forget how enlightened your comment was.”

Yes, people tend to forget that Hitler was leftwing – I mean, c’mon people, Socialism is in the freaking name of his ideology! Also, when I call someone a racist, deep down I think that they’re right. Moreover, it masks the fact that I have no way of responding to the airtight logic so masterfully deployed by those I unjustifiably call bigots. Fuck.

Anyways, my blog name is bad. Fortunately for me, most people probably don’t even know it refers to a Morrissey song. I suppose I could change it, but the only thing I came up with is “Godless Soy Boy.” A Google search for it in quotes yields no hits, but it’s not a great name. Then again, I also don’t think it’s terrible. I’ll likely never decide one way or the other, and eventually stop thinking about it. And so the I Have Forgiven Jesus #brand will live on.

LGBT youth and child welfare

I’ve written a bit about my work in child welfare. Part of my responsibilities in my prior job entailed coordinating placement for children needing out of home care. One of the really unfortunate things is that there are not a lot of options for placement of LGBT youth that are fully capable of accommodating their needs. While the needs they have are similar to cishet children, there are additional considerations. They are subject to the same types of neglect and abuse, but with the added layer of potential maltreatment due to gender expression and sexual orientation. Overall, they are over-represented in child welfare, meaning that

the percentage of youth in foster care who are LGBTQ-identified is larger than the percentage of LGBTQ youth in the general youth population. LGBTQ youth in foster care also face disparities – differences in experiences in care or treatment by the system.

Among the training and education they receive, caregivers are taught about the needs specific to providing care for LGBT youth. But, as is often the case in the field, it’s hard to say one way or the other how effective it is. With the innumerable challenges associated with working in child welfare, certain components of the whole may tend to be ignored.

For example, I was pretty stunned to learn that transgender youth are legally required to be placed in a facility that reflects their birth-assigned gender in the state of Wisconsin. So, for instance, a transgender female would not be able to go to a female group home (GH). If placement is unable to occur, for whatever reasons, in a mixed gender home, they would need to be placed in a male GH (assuming a lower level of care (i.e. foster home, or relative) is judged to be neither feasible nor desirable).

In my small way I was able to influence the process so that this largely did not occur, but it was patently obvious that the population was underserved, as well as potentially being placed in harm’s way. I should note, though, that I don’t recall any specific instances of maltreatment (which doesn’t mean, of course, that there haven’t been any), but I do know of cases in which it was obvious that needs weren’t being met. I don’t know how this differs state to state, but as of 2015, the issues facing trans youth in the child welfare system were considered widespread:

Transgender youth are often placed in housing situations where their gender identity and their gender expression are not respected. Consequently, they are at higher risk for physical, emotional, and sexual harassment, as well as bullying. For example, staff may force transgender youth to wear traditionally gender-conforming clothing and to use sex-segregated facilities (such as restrooms, living quarters, locker rooms, etc.) that do not match their gender identity. Additionally, staff may intentionally not use their transgender clients’ preferred pronouns and names. Transgender youth may also be denied medical care such as hormone therapy, prescribed by physicians and mental health professionals. Gender-affirming medical care may also be delayed, interrupted, or terminated for these youth. This creates an emotionally and physically unsafe space, which is harmful to their development.

What is described above would not rise to the legal definitions of child abuse or neglect in most states (and perhaps all of them). Allegations, to the extent that they are made, probably don’t trigger institutional responses. Research in this area is likely dependent on anecdotes, rather than documentary evidence. So, we have a ways to go in truly grasping and confronting these issues.

(One small anecdote: my colleagues were having trouble placing a transgender female and requested a specific GH that was heavily geared towards shaping upstanding Christian Men (it had the words “kings” and “priests” in the title). I was able, fortunately, to forbid this. It’s hard to tell what they would’ve done with the child, but I didn’t think it was worth finding out)

***

My hometown of Milwaukee is opening its first LGBT GH. I can’t tell if they will accept only children on CHIPS orders (which basically denotes children in the child welfare system), or children from the general population. The distinction is substantial for a number of reasons, but in general it is more difficult existing solely within the child welfare paradigm. There are many challenges faced by new GH’s. I’ve known of a handful that were either brand new, or new to the CHIPS population, and were not able to navigate the unique and ever-shifting suite of challenges. Subsequently they either scaled back operations or closed altogether.

Likely, this GH will fill up and admission will be hard to come by – Case Managers will know about this and surely advocate for placement for LGBT children on their caseload. A waiting list will be necessary, and the situation will be exacerbated further if non-CHIPS kids are admitted. Down the road, it’s possible the GH might determine that CHIPS kids aren’t worth the hassle.

But overall, this is a very positive development that I advocated for (surely this is why it happened) and I really hope it works out. Not only that, perhaps it may lead to a proliferation of similar beneficial programming. Though there are numerous challenges, it’s probably okay to have a tiny amount of hope that things are getting better in one small aspect of our dumpster fire of a world.

The allure of Steven Pinker

Think Again is a podcast that is occasionally interesting and one I listen to once in a while. Recently, however, Steven Pinker was on. The host considered himself a “progressophobe,” and Pinker was able to show him the error of his ways:

I admit it. I confess. I’ve got a touch of what my guest today calls “progressophobia”. Ever since Charles Dickens got hold of me back in middle school, and William Blake after that, I’ve been a little suspicious of the Great Onward March of science and technology.

[…]

But you know what? After devouring all 453 pages and 75 graphs of psychologist Steven Pinker’s new book Enlightenment Now, I admit defeat. The defeat of defeatism.

I didn’t listen because I don’t like listening to people I think are bad talk to sycophants that won’t challenge them.

But it made me want to write about the insidious nature of Pinker and what he does with the heft of supposedly empirical and objective evidence for how wonderful things are – and how it’s all thanks to the Enlightenment and their Enlightened descendants who are slowly but surely bestowing the gifts of freedom, trinkets and technology to the unwashed masses.

I think the desire to justify his privilege sits at the root of what he does (I can be a shitty psychologist too). No one is truly objective, least of all someone who is in the business of justifying the system that has granted him a good life. He probably thinks himself a very fine person – that he has been so justly rewarded by society with money, fame, and prestige only confirms this. From his vantage point, safely insulated from the rabble who only exist as numbers to him, human life has never been better – why are all these Postmodernist/Cultural Marxists complaining?

With his credentials, he is the perfect shoeshine boy for benevolent neoliberal capitalism. His is a clarion call for complacency as the world burns. He proclaims to the affluent, affluent-adjacent, and affluence-aspiring that things are actually pretty great. Moreover, they are not part of the problem – “Rest easy! Your good life is deserved!” Others may struggle, but it’s not too big a deal because science is inexorably leading humanity toward truth, justice and freedom. Those lives, saddled with impediments from the cradle, can easily be reduced to numbers and transformed into statistics that show, I suppose, that their sheer quantity continues to incrementally get smaller and smaller (and some get to have smartphones!). The well-to-do can respond to their plight with a sad nod, but also keep in mind that better times surely await.

At this point in the post I have to admit that I had an epiphany and now, like the host of Think Again, I too am convinced by Pinker’s rosy outlook. I reread the previous paragraphs and am embarrassed of my groundless pessimism. As a recent acolyte I’d like to do my part. So I’m going to create a Kickstarter to purchase copies of Enlightenment Now to distribute to, let’s call them troubled areas. These people need to know that, while they are crushed under the weight of systemic socioeconomic oppressions, their children’s children’s children MIGHT have the opportunity to have lives that MIGHT enable flourishing. I hope Pinker’s book gives them solace while their social betters live generally safe lives in nice neighborhoods; get access to good education and lucrative occupations; eat readily available nutritious and unprocessed food; travel the world; and congratulate themselves on their beneficence.

But that’s not all! I’ll dump a truckload of books into the Salish Sea for the resident Orcas. Orcas are really fucking smart and, I dunno, maybe it will help them understand that we are doing our best – uh, despite the messy fact that we are the primary cause of their impending extirpation in the Pacific Northwest (this is due to subjecting them to noise pollution, poison, and literal bombings, as well as destroying their primary food source (salmon) via insatiable fisheries and natal stream-bank logging). They will likely be just a few of the casualties lost in the service of providing 10 billion people a middle-class lifestyle by 2050. But no worries – orcas and all other impacted non-human animals, after all, only exist for commodification or human edification. Should their viability become completely untenable in the wild, we can just stick them in zoos/aquaria as a haunting reminder that may cause some of us to feel a twinge of regret. Or, and this is exciting, if they go extinct we can develop the technology to clone them back to life in the distant future, when perhaps their habitat isn’t a denuded wasteland.

I have to say, I feel pretty good about the future!

 

There have only been two openly gay male cast members in the 40+ year history of SNL

James Adomian is a great comedy person more people should know about. In a recent interview he discussed, among other things, the lack of LGBT representation on SNL:

Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that there hasn’t been an out gay male full-fledged cast member on SNL since Terry Sweeney became the first and only one more than 30 years ago [As noted at the end of the article, John Milhiser was the second, appearing in 2013-2014]. He only lasted one season, from 1985-1986, and has since been more or less lost to history. It was another 26 years before the show brought on its next out cast member, current star Kate McKinnon. In 2016, Chris Kelly became the first openly gay co-head writer (along with Sara Schneider) in SNL’s history, but they left to create a new show for Comedy Central the following year.

“It would be nice if they put a gay man on camera on that show,” Adomian tells me over lattes in the lobby of his hotel in Austin. “I’ve been out of the closet the whole time since I auditioned 13 years ago. You would think that they would have tried to put someone else on that was a gay man. It’s about time.”

SNL declined to comment for this piece on the record. However, a source with knowledge of the situation says Adomian auditioned several times but the show decided his comedy wasn’t the right fit.

I believe SNL when they say he wouldn’t be a good fit. To me, SNL is where comedy goes to die (i.e. Amy Poehler, who was in Upright Citizens Brigade before SNL), while actual funny people exist in a state of arrested development until they leave (i.e. Will Forte and Bill Hader). But to each their own, of course.

I think a lot of people, myself included, have affinities for the cast of their formative years – for me the 90’s. Right around when Jimmy Fallon joined the show is when I stopped watching. Looking back, out of a sense of nostalgia, I can laugh at the likes of Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider but recognize it’s pretty bad (though some of the stuff from that era I think has stood the test of time). All of this is to say Adomian is too funny for SNL.

Despite being very well thought of in the comedy community and really fucking funny, he hasn’t been able to break through:

Adomian tells me that he has a lot of larger ideas for television and film, but he’s “not able to make them” because he’s never been given the opportunity. During his Bernie Sanders show last Friday night, he momentarily “broke the fourth wall” to reveal that he had recently pitched a show to Netflix, but was ultimately rejected because they are “only interested in doing deals with famous people.”

He tells me he’s had meetings with “every single network” that a comedy fan might be familiar with and they said no to his TV show ideas every time.

That he hasn’t been at least prominently featured on a show or gotten a Netflix special is bullshit. Despite having what I think is a solid roster (Another Period, Nathan For You, Broad City, Detroiters and Corporate), Comedy Central is apparently floundering and hasn’t had a sketch comedy since Key & Peele, something Adomian would excel at. Netflix is seemingly giving specials to everyone. Adomian thinks homophobia is one of the culprits:

“We are in a golden age of gay male comics, at live shows, around the country and at festivals like this. We are very well-presented at live shows and on the internet. Television? Not so much.” He jokes that gay men hosting TV shows is “almost illegal” in the U.S. (Andy Cohen notwithstanding).

Adomian chalks some of this up to “overt homophobia,” but says most of it is due to the “cowardice” of executives who will say, “I’m not homophobic, but I’m afraid that my audience is.”

Whereas the success of a film like Black Panther is making Hollywood reconsider its racist preconceptions about what audiences want to see, Adomian says it is “impossible to even imagine anything like Black Panther for gay people.”

The rest of this post will be a collection of his brilliance.

He’s a very frequent guest on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast and show, where he’s done a plethora of different characters:

  • Christopher Hitchens:

  • Slavoj Žižek:

  • Paul Giamatti

  • Gordon Ramsay

I believe he started doing Sebastian Gorka first on Chapo Trap House and has recently portrayed him on the Chris Gethard Show and Comedy Bang! Bang! (as a side note, he portrayed Elon Musk on the most recent Chapo episode, most of which was about Jordan Peterson)

Paul F Tompkins had a wonderful podcast with the premise of H.G. Wells having a working time machine which allowed him to interview dead authors. Adomian did two episodes, one as Nietzsche, the other as Walt Whitman

http://thedeadauthorspodcast.libsyn.com/chapter-28-walt-whitman-featuring-james-adomian

http://thedeadauthorspodcast.libsyn.com/appendix-b-friederich-nietzsche-and-h-p-lovecraft-featuring-james-adomian-and-paul-scheer

Some other impressions:

  • Marc Maron:

  • Jesse Ventura:

  • Chris Matthews:

Stand-up:

And, finally, here he is on Homophilia where he talks about his life:

Betty Boop, Meeting at the Counter and Looking for Role Models