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

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

 

Guns

I’ve only fired a gun once or twice in my life. I don’t really know if that’s more or less than most. In my family, all of the males, and a few females learned to hunt at an early age. I’m hazy on the temporal details, but it must have been around middle school. At that time, my brother and similarly aged immediate cousins were formally introduced to hunting as a thing to do. I was the only one that was unable to comprehend why it would feel good to kill an animal. At that point, I had no ethical issues with it, or anything like that – I just didn’t want to kill anything. I’ve generally understood on an intellectual level, but I can’t fathom feeling it.

My grandpa, a hard man who looked down on soft city living of which I was accustomed to, took me and others to a shooting area. I was given the gun, and a few instructions. I have no idea if I shot anywhere near the target. All I remember is the gun smashing into my face, and the subsequent pain and embarrassment. I was told I needed to hold the gun tighter, something that should have been self-evident. I can’t remember if I took a second shot.

***

At my house, we have no weapons, unless you count a cracked wooden baseball bat that I’ve somewhat inexplicably kept through the years. Up until recently I counted it as a viable weapon. That is, until I took a swing and instantly realized that I would only get the one, which would almost certainly break it. There’s also the fact that I don’t think there’s enough open space that have enough room for a hard swing. So the vague plan is to use a fire extinguisher, which I think could double as a weapon in self-defense.

For myself and family, I’m not convinced that having a gun would actually increase my safety. This is grounded in a fear of weapons and distrust in my abilities to use them adequately when the time comes. It’s not just guns. I’m deeply uncomfortable with sharp objects and fire. I can be clumsy and am prone to dropping things. In the event that a weapon may be necessary, I have a hard time believing I could use it effectively.

However, there is a part of me that DOES want a gun. The alluring narrative of guns providing a sense of safety is apparently seared into my brain but is contrasted with my unease at having that kind of destructive power. Nonetheless, if I wanted to, I could very easily get a gun now and in the future – even in the event that gun laws are strengthened.

***

What we are doing (or not doing) is not making things better in terms of gun-related violence. There are two general, opposing sentiments voiced on either side of the divide in terms of increased regulations:

  1. If someone wants to commit violence with a gun, they will get one no matter what. People have a right to defend themselves and should be able to do so without, or with very little governmental restrictions.
  2. Increased restrictions will increase the difficulty in procuring guns. These difficulties will curb violence since it could lead to a “cooling off” period or altogether prevent those whom would enact violence from having guns in the first place.

These are inherently simplistic characterizations, and neither should be seen as completely true or completely false. If there are X amount of incidents of gun violence, it stands to reason that there are Y amount that may not have occurred due to the inability to procure weaponry. How large of a proportion that is is impossible to say. So it appears that certain regulations, such as policies preventing children from gaining access to guns and bans on assault rifles, might be warranted – after all, the status quo is not working.

But does it necessarily follow that any kind of change would be beneficial? We don’t really have enough data to say one way or the other. A new report by the RAND corporation summarizes the state of the research. Via NPR’s synopsis:

They found, for example, no clear evidence regarding the effects of any gun policies on hunting and recreational gun use, or on officer-involved shootings, or on mass shootings or on the defensive use of guns by civilians.

There were some categories with better data, however, Morral says. There is relatively strong evidence, for example, that policies meant to prevent children from getting access to firearms — such as laws that require guns to be stored unloaded, or in locked containers — reduce both suicide and unintentional injury and death.

Previous work has also found that places that require a permit (issued by law enforcement) for the purchase [of] a firearm do reduce violent crime.

There is also some evidence that prohibitions against purchase by people who have been diagnosed with mental illness reduce violent crime, and that “stand your ground” laws, which allow citizens who feel threatened in public to use lethal force without retreating first, lead to an increase in violent crime.

In general, however, good studies were few and far between, the RAND researchers say.

[…]

[T]hose surveyed varied widely in their predictions about how different policies would affect each outcome.

“Where they disagree is on which laws will achieve those those objectives. So this is a disagreement about facts,” says Morral. “And the facts are sparse.”

I understand the sentiment that change is needed, but this should give one pause before accepting as fact that increased legislation is the ultimate panacea.

***

Unexamined by RAND are the effects of gun policies on marginalized communities, whom are disproportionately more likely to experience violence and may wish to arm themselves for protection. How would stronger gun laws affect them? Alex Gourevitch, professor of political science at Brown University stresses that

[H]ow our society polices depends not on the laws themselves but on how the police – and prosecutors and courts – decide to enforce the law. Especially given how many guns there are in the U.S., gun law enforcement will be selective. That is to say, they will be unfairly enforced, only deepening the injustices daily committed against poor minorities in the name of law and order.”

This is further explicated by Natasha Lennerd at The Intercept, who bluntly (and rightly in my opinion) states that

there’s no reason to think new legislation and bolstered government profiling in the name of gun control would suddenly take aim at dangerous white supremacists, instead of continuing to criminalize people of color.

Given the history of policing in America, this should be intuitive. One only needs to consider law enforcement’s racist beginnings, and then compare the State’s treatment of the Black Panthers to Cliven Bundy’s gaggle of dipshits. Even today, the FBI is apparently more concerned with “Black Identity Extremists” than white nationalists, despite the glaringly obvious fact of which is responsible for higher body counts.

From what I can tell, the above isn’t much considered by those calling for more gun control. The totality of the carceral state has been and will continue to be a categorical failure that is unequipped and unable to address the underlying structural problems brought about by capitalism and institutionalized racism. That its traditional victims would likely be subject to even more adversarial involvement with the authorities  as a result of increased gun laws is worthy of intense scrutiny.

On the other hand, there are portions of the dominant class that are unable to leverage their privileges to achieve what they are led to believe they deserve, and scapegoats are needed. This can be due to personal failures, trauma, or, more likely, some mixture of both. Such damaged persons exist in an increasingly atomized, alienating and hyper-competitive social structure that can be a breeding ground for latent fury when desires – valid or invalid (such as access to women’s bodies, the denial of which can lead to violent responses) –  are thwarted. However, in contrast to this widespread atomization/alienation, the ubiquity of social media has made it much easier for the angry and violent to locate and feed off of each others’ heretofore impotent rage against society at large.

The problems that emerge from the foundational issues described above are as numerous as they are varied. We graft solutions onto them while neglecting the rot festering beneath the surface. But if those issues are unlikely to be meaningfully addressed, much less solved, in the foreseeable future, what can be done in the meantime? For solving the gun crisis, any kind of reform is likely to be akin to a band aid on a gaping wound.

(None of this should not be seen as a negation of the admirable Parkland students and the awesome things they’re doing. Likewise, none of this negates the utter contempt and scorn that should be directed at the NRA and their gun fetish cult at every opportunity.)

***

I don’t presume to know what state and federal governments should do with regards to guns. I’m not very knowledgeable in this area and I can’t say I’m too confident in anything I’ve written other than my anecdotes and quotations of those who know much more than I. I do think I should be able to get a gun if I want. I’m lucky enough that stricter laws would not exclude me, and I wouldn’t have to worry about increased scrutiny from the authorities.

One of the more interesting findings from RAND is on the banning of assault rifles and high capacity magazines: it’s inconclusive if it actually curbs mass shootings and violent crime. It’s hard to say, in light of the above hypotheses that increased regulations would disproportionately affect marginalized populations, if this would be beneficial – especially in light of the dearth of research that answers authoritatively in the affirmative. But I can’t help but think that would at least be worth a shot, as is restricting the access of children, for which there is some evidence for its efficacy. Both seem like common sense measures that should be adopted.

When they’re not busy securing money and power, and bickering along party lines, politicians throw shit against the wall to see what sticks. If/when they decide to throw more restrictive gun laws against the wall, who can say whether they will stick or not (stick being synonymous with “work” in this tortuous metaphor)? Maybe gun violence will decline, but if history is any indication it will fucking stink for many.

Or maybe we can just stay with the tried-and-true blueprint of the last decade or so: thoughts and prayers from the ignorant and spineless, and their subsequent, righteous flagellation by those whom are sick of insipid thoughts and prayers by duplicitous cowards.

Remembering Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael

It had been a long time since I thought about Daniel Quinn and his book Ishmael when I learned of his passing on February 17th.

Ishmael is an incredible, profound book that examines the mythological elements underpinning modern civilization. The narrative is framed as a conversation between a man and a telepathic gorilla. A central theme is the dichotomous separation of mankind into Takers and Leavers, and from there branches into different areas of philosophical inquiry. One can guess which group the majority of modern humans are categorized under.

It’s been well over a decade since I read it, and I decided to leaf through it. Looking at some of my past blogs, I can see the subtle influence it had on me, despite my rarely thinking of it. I consider it odd that Ishmael was the only thing I’ve read of Quinn’s. There must have been reasons why this is so, but whatever they were I don’t remember.

There are a few things I take issue with in Ishmael, one of them being the book’s conception of contemporary “Leaver” cultures as existing since time immemorial, which isn’t always the case – some of the extant “Leavers” are indeed descended from former agriculturalists. Also, there is a certain amount of romanticization of life without agriculture that I’m not sure is entirely warranted. I think this is a line of thinking that many of the authors in the broad milieu to which Quinn belonged are guilty of. Of course, I haven’t reread the entire book, so perhaps I’m off in my very short critique.

Here are some excerpts (“I” always refers to the narrator/human character and not Ishmael, the gorilla):

“Famine isn’t unique to humans. All species are subject to it everywhere in the world. When the population of any species outstrips its food resources, that population declines until it’s once again in balance with its resources. Mother Culture says that humans should be exempt from that process, so when she finds a population that has outstripped its resources, she rushes in food from the outside, thus making it a certainty that there will be even more of them to starve in the next generation. Because the population is never allowed to decline to the point at which it can be supported by its own resources, famine becomes a chronic feature of their lives.”

The people of your culture cling with fanatical tenacity to the specialness of man. They want desperately to perceive a vast gulf between man and the rest of creation. This mythology of human superiority justifies their doing whatever they please with the world, just the way Hitler’s mythology of Aryan superiority justified his doing whatever he pleased with Europe. But in the end this mythology is not deeply satisfying. The Takers are a profoundly lonely people. The world for them is enemy territory, and they live in it like an army of occupation, alienated and isolated by their extraordinary specialness.

The story the Leavers have been enacting here for the past three million years isn’t a story of conquest and rule. Enacting it doesn’t give them power. Enacting it gives them lives that are satisfying and meaningful to them. This is what you’ll find if you go among them. They’re not seething with discontent and rebellion, not incessantly wrangling over what should be allowed and what forbidden, not forever accusing each other of not living the right way, not living in terror of each other, not going crazy because their lives seem empty and pointless, not having to stupefy themselves with drugs to get through the days, not inventing a new religion every week to give them something to hold on to, not forever searching for something to do or something to believe in that will make their lives worth living. And — I repeat — this is not because they live close to nature or have no formal government or because they’re innately noble. This is simply because they’re enacting a story that works well for people — a story that worked well for three million years and that still works well where the Takers haven’t yet managed to stamp it out.

***

“Leaver peoples are always conscious of having a tradition that goes back to very ancient times. We have no such consciousness. For the most part, we’re a very ‘new’ people. Every generation is somehow new, more thoroughly cut off from the past than the one that came before.”

“What does Mother Culture have to say about this?”

“Ah,” I said, and closed my eyes. “Mother Culture says that this is as it should be. There’s nothing in the past for us. The past is dreck. The past is something to be put behind us, something to be escaped from.”

Ishmael nodded. “So you see: This is how you came to be cultural amnesiacs.”

“How do you mean?”

“Until Darwin and the paleontologists came along to tack three million years of human life onto your history, it was assumed in your culture that the birth of man and the birth of your culture were simultaneous events — were in fact the same event. What I mean is that the people of your culture thought that man was born one of you. It was assumed that farming is as instinctive to man as honey production is to bees.”

“Yes, that’s the way it seems.”

“When the people of your culture encountered the hunter-gatherers of Africa and America, it was thought that these were people who had degenerated from the natural, agricultural state, people who had lost the arts they’d been born with. The Takers had no idea that they were looking at what they themselves had been before they became agriculturalists. As far as the Takers knew, there was no ‘before.’ Creation had occurred just a few thousand years ago, and Man the Agriculturalist had immediately set about the task of building civilization.”

***

“The gods have played three dirty tricks on the Takers,” he began. “In the first place, they didn’t put the world where the Takers thought it belonged, in the center of the universe. They really hated hearing this, but they got used to it. Even if man’s home was stuck off in the boondocks, they could still believe he was the central figure in the drama of creation.

“The second of the gods’ tricks was worse. Since man was the climax of creation, the creature for whom all the rest was made, they should have had the decency to produce him in a manner suited to his dignity and importance — in a separate, special act of creation. Instead they arranged for him to evolve from the common slime, just like ticks and liver flukes. The Takers really hated hearing this, but they’re beginning to adjust to it. Even if man evolved from the common slime, it’s still his divinely appointed destiny to rule the world and perhaps even the universe itself.

“But the last of the gods’ tricks was the worst of all. [This final trick is the subject of the next several pages and, to me, isn’t very persuasive or interesting.]

***

“There is one significant difference between the inmates of your criminal prisons and the inmates of your cultural prison: The former understand that the distribution of wealth and power inside the prison has nothing to do with justice.”

I blinked at him for a while, then asked him to explain.

“In your cultural prison, which inmates wield the power?”

“Ah,” I said. “The male inmates. Especially the white male inmates.”

“Yes, that’s right. But you understand that these white male inmates are indeed inmates and not warders. For all their power and privilege — for all that they lord it over everyone else in the prison — not one of them has a key that will unlock the gate.” “Yes, that’s true. Donald Trump can do a lot of things I can’t, but he can no more get out of the prison than I can. But what does this have to do with justice?” [note that this was written 28 years ago]

“Justice demands that people other than white males have power in the prison.”

“Yes, I see. But what are you saying? That this isn’t true?”

“True? Of course it’s true that males — and, as you say, especially white males — have called the shots inside the prison for thousands of years, perhaps even from the beginning. Of course it’s true that this is unjust. And of course it’s true that power and wealth within the prison should be equitably redistributed. But it should be noted that what is crucial to your survival as a race is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison but rather the destruction of the prison itself.”

“Yes, I see that. But I’m not sure many other people would.”

“No?”

“No. Among the politically active, the redistribution of wealth and power is … I don’t know what to call it that would be strong enough. An idea whose time has come. The Holy Grail.”

“Nonetheless, breaking out of the Taker prison is a common cause to which all humanity can subscribe.”

I shook my head. “I’m afraid it’s a cause to which almost none of humanity will subscribe. White or colored, male or female, what the people of this culture want is to have as much wealth and power in the Taker prison as they can get. They don’t give a damn that it’s a prison and they don’t give a damn that it’s destroying the world.”

Ishmael shrugged. “As always, you’re a pessimist. Perhaps you’re right. I hope you’re wrong.”

“I hope so too, believe me.”

***

Ishmael frowned. “Of course it’s not enough. But if you begin anywhere else, there’s no hope at all. You can’t say, ‘We’re going to change the way people behave toward the world, but we’re not going to change the way they think about the world or the way they think about divine intentions in the world or the way they think about the destiny of man.’ As long as the people of your culture are convinced that the world belongs to them and that their divinely-appointed destiny is to conquer and rule it, then they are of course going to go on acting the way they’ve been acting for the past ten thousand years. They’re going to go on treating the world as if it were a piece of human property and they’re going to go on conquering it as if it were an adversary. You can’t change these things with laws. You must change people’s minds. And you can’t just root out a harmful complex of ideas and leave a void behind; you have to give people something that is as meaningful as what they’ve lost — something that makes better sense than the old horror of Man Supreme, wiping out everything on this planet that doesn’t serve his needs directly or indirectly.”

I shook my head. “What you’re saying is that someone has to stand up and become to the world of today what Saint Paul was to the Roman Empire.”

“Yes, basically. Is that so daunting?”

I laughed. “Daunting isn’t nearly strong enough. To call it daunting is like calling the Atlantic damp.”

“Is it really so impossible in an age when a stand-up comic on television reaches more people in ten minutes than Paul did in his entire lifetime?”

“I’m not a stand-up comic.”

[Leaving aside the fact that Paul was able to reach untold millions via the perpetuation of Christianity, I’m injecting a quick anecdote. The most recent episode of the podcast How Did This Get Made? discusses the movie Ladybugs. What they describe is a toxic brew of sexism, transphobia, racism, and terrible pedophilia-related jokes. The white male protagonist, Rodney Dangerfield, bumbles his way to success despite not showing any amount of aptitude that would lead one to believe it is in any way deserved. The sheer amount of awful cultural traits on display is staggering in what I vaguely recall from my childhood as a fairly innocuous movie. But it’s generally par for the course for entertainment in the late 80’s/early 90’s – I’m reminded of the unlearning that I think should be, but only sometimes is a hallmark of skeptical thinking as it pertains to what we have internalized from the entertainment/education of our formative years. Quinn certainly helped play a role in that process for me.

Anyways, many more people saw Ladybugs than have ever read Ishmael. Voices like Quinn’s are mere molecules in the avalanche of bullshit that is contemporary culture. I think that’s bad.]

“But you’re a writer, aren’t you?”

“Not that kind of writer.”

Ishmael shrugged. “Lucky you. You are absolved of any obligation. Self-absolved.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“What were you expecting to learn from me? An incantation? A magic word that would sweep all the nastiness away?”

“No.”

“Ultimately, it would seem you’re no different from those you profess to despise: You just wanted something for yourself. Something to make you feel better as you watch the end approach.”

“No, it isn’t that. You just don’t know me very well. It’s always this way with me — first I say, ‘No, no, it’s impossible, completely and utterly impossible,’ then I go ahead and do it.”

Ishmael humphed, barely mollified.

“One thing I know people will say to me is ‘Are you suggesting we go back to being hunter-gatherers?’ ”

“That of course is an inane idea,” Ishmael said. “The Leaver life-style isn’t about hunting and gathering, it’s about letting the rest of the community live — and agriculturalists can do that as well as hunter-gatherers.” He paused and shook his head. “What I’ve been at pains to give you is a new paradigm of human history. The Leaver life is not an antiquated thing that is ‘back there’ somewhere. Your task is not to reach back but to reach forward.”

“But to what? We can’t just walk away from our civilization the way the Hohokam did.”

“That’s certainly true. The Hohokam had another way of life waiting for them, but you must be inventive — if it’s worthwhile to you. If you care to survive.” He gave me a dull stare. “You’re an inventive people, aren’t you? You pride yourselves on that, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then invent.”

***

I think this is a fitting end to the post. RIP.