A Nap, a Few Maps and a History Lesson

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Vintage

Compliments of a late night layover, my girlfriend and I were recently treated to a little lesson on the history of Anchorage. We were looking for a quiet place to grab a nap before an early morning flight back up to the ice-box when I noticed this series of posters on the history and geography of Anchorage.

These can be found on the second floor of the Ted Stevens International Airport, which seems to be an area reserved for office space. There really isn’t a lot of foot traffic along that area, which is part of why Moni and I were there to begin with. Anyway, I’m guessing the public doesn’t see these all that much. If they are published elsewhere, I’m not aware of it.

The logo on the lower-right hand corner suggests that these were prepared for the Anchorage Centennial in 2015. I don’t have anything in particular to add to these visuals. A lot of information has been crammed into each of the posters, but the context is pretty sparse. Still, it’s kind of an interesting glimpse into the city and its past. So, I’ll just leave these pics here.

You may click to embiggen, which is particularly helpful if you want to read them. I tried to at least ensure that the main text was legible here on the blog, but if you want to read some of the small text, you might try downloading it so you can magnify it.

Meow Says the Wolf

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I told Danielito, his name is ‘Bob’ for the balance of our visit. I was Daniel first.

I could easily wish the crowds away, but that would be foolish. They are a big part of the experience here at Meow Wolf. Mere moments after entering the fun house, our party is already separated into at least 3 separate groups. Moni is nearby, but I’m not sure where. Her sister and I are together. She is nervous and worried the place will be scary. I’m not entirely re-assuring. We catch a glimpse of her two kids. They rush on by as their mother tries to call them back.

It’s no use going after them. Did they go up into the tree house, or over to the musical mastodon? Perhaps into the fish-tank? We’ll find them eventually, but not by looking. No matter. One is old enough. The other has been here before. They will take care of each other. So, we let them have their fun.

I’m recovering from a bad flu, so I tire easily. Luckily, there are places to sit and watch the people. This is my second time at Meow Wolf, so I am happy to take my time; happier still to rest when I can. A woman walks by urging her child to stay nearby. A few minutes later she walks by again, alone.

“Baby, where are you?”

I get up to help her look for the child and instead find myself helping a couple women trying to connect a completely different child with his parents. They are on it; I’m just trying to see if I can help, but it’s difficult. You’re never more than one room away from getting completely lost in this place. Give yourself time and you’ll find your way back to the main entrance. But how to search more than one room without losing these two and their momentary ward?

A solution takes the form of a stumbling old man in mad scientist garb. I’ve seen him before. He gets lost in corners and regularly stands motionless for odd periods of time. Soon after meeting the women, our shambling scientist becomes a competent staff member with an intercom and a clear set of procedures. Unfortunately, the first step (getting the kid’s name and that of his parents) doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. The kid is just to disoriented to answer even these questions. Another child is creaming in my ear. It’s disconcerting, but this child is already in her own mother’s arms, so that’s probably a good sign. Still those are blood-curdling screams for such a little girl. What has her so scared?

“I don’t want to leave!”

Ah, …got it!

The girl keeps screaming that she doesn’t want to leave. She screams this as though her life depended on it. Nearby, the once-shambling scientist calls three names into his head set. He is well on his way to solving the problem.  I wander off to find something new. I’m told there have been some changes to a few rooms, and the people scrambling about me add a whole other layer of new things to see.

A young woman opens up a closet, then stands in awe as people behind wait for the moment to pass. Others charge into rooms and devour them. An elderly woman has trouble navigating a narrow staircase. The crowds wait patiently. There is plenty to see. Just about every where you look, there is something odd to see, something weird to wonder about. Kids open the drawers and study their contents. A middle aged man yanks out a drawer a little too far and spends the next few minutes putting its spilled contents back. Some tap on shiny mushrooms, hoping to know what sound they will make. You can play a piano, an odd piano, or even a lazer-lyre.

I found myself in the entrance to the place, a large area resembling a classic suburban home. It is two stories tall, filled with all the usual features of a middle-class home; a kitchen, a living room, a study, several bedrooms, a nice bathroom, and so on. There are also a few things you don’t find in most middle class homes. A few inter-dimensional portholes, lots of odd scenes. You can find the beginnings of a narrative here in this home. Notes and booklets scattered throughout the rooms allude to scientific experiments gone wrong, perhaps a bit of a cult gone wronger.

I sit here and watch the crowd. Within minutes a little girl asks if she can sit on my lap. She is adorable, but her mother isn’t having any of it. That’s understandable, of course, but I have to wonder. I’m no Santa Clause. Is there something about this place that softens my resting-bastard-face? The next little girl seems to want my attention to. Her parents shuffle the family by without any event.

Perhaps they just want to sit down?

I free up the chair.

Standing on a narrow bridge a woman turns towards me saying; “that’s just the weirdest thing I…” It’s at that point, she realizes I’m not the person she thought she was talking to. It’s understandable. At one point, I mistake a woman for a manikin. In my defense, she wasn’t moving. I find another mad scientist repairing a refrigerator door. That may seem an odd job for a scientist, but in his defense, not every fridge serves as a porthole into another dimension. The condiment rack on the door of this porthole is loose, and there is no telling what that could mean!

I bump into Moni and her family a couple times. All are happy. The kids are positively glowing.

Just like some of the exhibits.

Other things, you may hear in this place?

“This is the most ridiculous thing.”

“Don’t go in there!”

“Oh, oh, oh!”

“that’s how we came in”

“we came in through the fireplace?”

“How do you suppose that kid got stuck in the toilet?”

“What’s the big deal about this place? …Oh, I see.”

 

***

Meow Wolf is the brain-child of George R.R. Martin. Yes that George R.R. Martin! It’s an artist collective and a non-profit located on the south-side of Santa Fe, New Mexico. What they’ve created here could be described as a fun house, but that doesn’t even begin to do the place justice. Suffice to say that a lot of very creative people have invested a lot of brilliant thought into this project, and the results are spectacular. I reckon it can be a little stressful for the parents, but they will live through the experience, and so will their kids (who will no doubt keep the memories well into their own grey years). For the rest of us, I expect the key to this experience is opening ourselves to its disorienting qualities. You may think for a moment that you are beginning to figure something out, or that you know what’s around the corner to the left, but don’t be surprised if you are wrong. No matter! If you can make sense of this place, you are probably doing it wrong.

Thanks to Moni and her family who have contributed pics and suggestions. As usual, you may click to embiggen.

Alex Jones and the Weaponization of Christmas (An Irritation Meditation)

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Surfing the net can be a lot like turning over rocks in the countryside. Every now and then you find something underneath a rock (or a link) so disgusting you just can’t pull your eyes off it. Case in point? This little bit of filth from Info Wars.

To begin with, let me apologize for bringing this shitgasm into the lives of you, my readers. I am sorry.

Alex Jones and his bunch are a special kind of putrid, but sadly, they are a special kind of putrid with a lot more influence than they deserve. So, I reckon it’s worth keeping track of their antics.

…regretful though that task may be.

There is a lot of crap in this video, but what got my attention here is the opening pitch.

“The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated anyone hash-tagging ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Christmas Eve’, ‘Christmas’, or ‘Jesus’ a far right wing extremist.”

Sounds pretty shocking doesn’t it? What could possibly lead the folks at Info Wars to such an impluasible conclusion? As they go on to explain in the video, the Southern Poverty Law (SPLC) has been tracking these hashtags in their hate tracker. What is the hate tracker? Well let’s take that information directly from the SPLC.

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So, there it is. The hate tracker tracks trends in right wing activity on twitter. It is not a statement about the meaning of any of these terms, nor is it a theoretical account of the trends it identifies. It isn’t even the result of a conscious effort to call attention to specific terms, or the specific use of them in right wing circles. If a hashtag trends in the activities of right wing extremists, it will come up on the tracker.

Simply put, the hate tracker picked up a lot of Christmas tweetage among the right wingers. What that means is an entirely different question. One thing it doesn’t mean is that anyone who uses these terms is a right wing extremist. No, the SPLC was not saying that, and the hackwits at Info Wars know this.

Both the Info Wars video and the Breitbart article on this subject do present a (more or less) accurate account of this in the meat of their stories. The trick here is the mismatch between that substance and the labeling. The folks at Info Wars know very well how the hate tracker works, and they account for it, but then they draw a conclusion totally unsupported by the facts they themselves provide. They are hoping you won’t remember the details, but that you will remember the pitch line they used to start the story. They are hoping you will come away from this thinking that a prominent liberal source has tried to label all talk of Jesus and Christmas as right wing extremism. This is simply not true.

It’s a bit after the bell, but this video is one more shot in the fake war on Christmas. More to the point, it is part of an ongoing effort to weaponize Christmas, to recast the celebration of Christmas as an explicitly political act, a defiance of liberal politics. IN effect, it is an attempt to make the celebration of Christmas into a partisan gesture, one which will divide Americans still further, and pointlessly so.

It may well be that the hashtag trends noted by the SPLC are also part of that effort to weaponize Christmas. Certainly, there have been a lot of people using ‘Merry Christmas’ to say something more like ‘fuck you liberals’, and at least a few of them have been doing this on the net. I expect right wing extremists also wish people Merry Christmas for conventional reasons, like actually wanting them to have a merry Christmas, but I reckon at least a few of those hits the SPLC caught in their tracker were conscious efforts to carry on the war on the eve of Christmas itself. Either way, the Info Wars piece is a conscious effort to spin that narrative up a notch, to pretend that liberals have declared Christmas itself a hateful expression.

The problem is of course that they are lying.

The real question is why? Why tell this particular lie? What does it get the people at Info Wars? I get that the SPLC has its own set of biases, but no, they are NOT trying to crush Christianity. Neither are they trying to steal the Christmas presents out from under your tree. This conscious demonization of the SPLC simply isn’t about correcting bias it’s about enshrining it. It’s about making sure that people do not make careful distinctions between actual hate groups and mere conservatives, or for that matter ordinary Americans of any political stripe. Info Wars wants the public to think the SPLC cannot tell the difference ordinary well-wishing and a racist political agenda. The problem of course is that the SPLC can and does make such distinctions all the time. Alex Jones and his merry band of festering bloodfarts, on the other hand, would love to be thought of as conservative, even patriotic. They would love to have their own brand of lunacy pass for good old fashioned conservative politics, and they would love to have the right wing fanatics who make up their customer base thought of as ordinary people. If they can muddle the distinction themselves, then they can pass all manner of lunatic ideas under the banner of basic American values. That’s their pay-off.

There is always a pay-off for this kind of political charade. For Trump, the War on Christmas was just another effort to brand something (Christmas) to which he contributes absolutely nothing. For the likes of Bill O’Reilly, it was grist for a combative mill that helped keep his ratings high. For Info Wars and Breitbart, it’s the hope for legitimacy. It is an effort by those on the lunatic fringe to pass themselves off as legitimate, to pretend that the ideologically committed racists who regularly consume their products are just ordinary Americans who love Christmas. In effect, they are telling the public that the SPLC and liberals in general cannot tell the difference between a conservative and a deplorable. But we can.

Yes, there is a difference.

If You Threw California?

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I don’t like the shape of Illinois. I don’t know why, and I don’t mean anything against Illinoisians, but there is just something about the shape of that state that just seems wrong to me. Chicago lake is kinda cool, but that’s just the upper corner. Anyway, I don’t like the shape of Illinois. I just don’t.

I don’t dislike the shape of Illinois nearly as much as the shape of Wisconsin though. In fact, I feel kinda guilty about Wisconsin. Looking at that state makes me feel kind of like a bully. It’s strange, because I don’t think I’ve ever really been mean to Wisconsin. Still, I do feel I owe the state an apology. Something about the shape of it makes me feel that way. I don’t know why.

Texas? Now Texas has an interesting shape. You can find all sorts of stories in it’s shape. Those stories may feature men in cowboy hats, but I swear you can see them in the lines that define its perimeter. You can try and tell me I’m wrong, but pardner, you should probably smile when you do.

Nevada seems like one day it oughtta just slide right on through.

If you threw California just right, would it curve around and come back to you?

Alaska is a fist with the pinky extended. I live on the knuckle of the thumb.

I can’t help but think you could pick Virginia up and use it like a club or a baseball bat.

Both Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas, the whole lot of them need butter and syrup. A side of bacon would be nice, but at I don’t see it on the table.

Louisiana is a mug, but I only drink from it on Christmas.

Idaho has diminishing expectations. Either that, or it belongs on a lab beside a fat beaker and a consistently skinny test tube. It’s the odd one that you only use for certain special experiments (probably involving potatoes).

Colorado really ain’t all that hip, but if you lay the state out flat, parts of it do get high.

Utah has a nice place for your thumb and a good broad surface to mix all your pigments.

Washington and Oregon both look like airports to me.

West Virginia doesn’t look all that west to me. Not even close.

You could pick the whole country up by Florida, but if that’s what you’re going to do, I really think you should crook your pinky. Also, sip slowly. Don’t gulp.

Mississippi? Precisely!

I swear Oklahoma has been playing a prank on Texas forever. It’s not really that funny Oklahoma. Seriously, just give it a rest!

I’m pretty sure that Tennessee is a shard of flint. I think I read about it in a story about Thor and some Giant.

New Jersey is all over Pennsylvania. No means No, new Jersey. Not cool!

Massachusetts? No. MassachYOUsettes!

Maine is how that rain in Spain stays in the plain.

Connecticut the end off and that’s how the Island Rhode off.

I did not Michigan. I didn’t even Mish the first time!

New York is always bigger than I expect it to be. I try to remember that it’s bigger  than I think, but then I still end up realizing it’s bigger than that even.

I can never find Missouri on a map. Someone always has to show me.

Maryland doesn’t exist. It’s just a conspiracy.

You say Ohio; I say goodbyo.

Goodbyo!

***

(I realize this is an incomplete list, but others could probably riff ff the other states better than I can, and besides, this really isn’t the most serious of posts. Except for throwing California. I feel quite certain, it would come back. Yes, it would.)

White Privilege? Let Me Whitesplain it to Ya!

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If white privilege is a problem, then it stands to reason that I can only see that problem through the lens of white privilege, and if whitesplaining is a problem, then any account I might give of it carries a real danger of becoming yet another instance of whitesplaining. I don’t always handle these issues well. (Seriously, I think about some of my past comments and cringe.) It’s a tricky issue. Still, I don’t think it’s one I can avoid any more than the next guy or gal with a keyboard and a penchant for social commentary, and I will make one (possibly gratuitous) assumption here, which is that there must be some reasonable way for a guy like me to approach the subject. Whether or not I find that approach in this post?

Well, let’s see…

What has me thinking about this? Well I just happened upon a Youtube clip from another white guy who took it upon himself to present a reasonable approach to this issue. Suffice to say, that I don’t think he managed it, and again, I don’t know that I’ll do much better myself. Still, I think the problems with his approach make a nice springboard for tackling the issue.

…or at least for addressing some of the problems frequently arising when those of us on the pale end of the privilege spectrum try to address the issue.

The video in question was produced by Eric Post, a military veteran also famous for this response to a flag burning protest. He has other posts, but these two seem to particularly resonate with the sentiments of quite a few people. In both cases, Post adopts what seems to be a fairly reasonable response to a (probably left-wing) challenge to the social order. In both cases, Post seems to dismiss the challenge altogether. He prefers constructive engagement to insults and (thankfully) violence, but the impact of both these videos would seem to be a clear rejection of the concerns and problems in question. It’s tempting to see his approach as positive, given the man’s general tone, but I think the most important thing here is to pay attention to the story he is telling. In both cases, he generates a rather one-sided narrative, and in both cases the appearance of reasonability provides him with a moral high ground denied to those he claims to be responding to.

Anyway, here is the video:

 

The first thing I want address here is the way Post frames the problem, the context he generates within which to discuss the issue. We don’t encounter the case for white privilege here in any direct sense. What we get in the video is Post telling us a story about a black guy who said something to him about ‘white privilege’. What we learn of the black man’s thoughts on the subject is what Post chooses to tell us. So, his own white privilege here gets a solid boost from the privilege he acquires as the narrator of this story. But how reliable is Post as a narrator? For all we know, he made the whole thing up, though I think it more likely he is taking more subtle liberties with the story-line.

As Post would have it, this is the story of him setting a man straight on the issue before they hug it out and wind up with a hopeful ending. That’s the kind of ending I would expect from a Disney movie or a television sitcom. Most verbal confrontations don’t follow such a neat pattern. People interrupt each other. In the rush of rapidly phrased arguments, points don’t quite get made the way you would want to make them. The other guy scores a good point or three as well, and some really important stuff just gets dropped while tangents take people into all manner of foolish places. Moreover, there is always a genuine prospect that each side in an argument will just end up talking past the other without engaging them in any meaningful way. The prospect that Post really did just have a nice conversation with a guy who took all his points with grace, and without rejoinder, before agreeing with him in the end strikes me as about as likely as any other happily-ever-after ending in any other story. Suffice to say that he’s asking his viewers to take an awful lot on faith.

It’s a bit much to ask.

More to the point, consider the nature of the encounter. This began at least as a petty insult, followed by at least the beginnings of a pissing contest (Post does tell us he got in the guy’s face). So, right away, the case for the existence of white privilege gets off to poor footing in this video. It enters the story as petty insult, an expression of personal animosity cast at a complete stranger. In effect, the issue emerges here as a sort of game piece played in a petty conflict over personal status.

Social justice, this ain’t.

Now, I have no doubt there are people who would do that, people for whom ‘white privilege’ is little more than an insult to be thrown at random white people, or at least those of us who get in their way. Whether or not Post’s account of the man’s behavior is accurate is one thing, but I think I’ve met a few people like that myself. The thing is that I’ve also met folks for whom this issue is NOT about humiliating anybody, and for whom this issue is an important obstacle to social justice.

… or as I like to call it, justice.

The notion of ‘white privilege’ connects to a broad range of other controversial topics associated with social justice, inequality, and all manner of things deep and divisive. I probably won’t be solving any of them in this blog post, and wouldn’t expect Post to solve them in his short video, but perhaps, that’s the problem. Post does solve these issues, or at least he pretends to solve them insofar as he explains them away and replaces the whole issue with a quick motivational lesson shaped for the benefit of black people and liberals everywhere. This would be an impressive accomplishment, but it isn’t, because the problems he pretend to solve never amount to much more than a dirty story about an asshole he met on the street. If this isn’t a straw man, it’s certainly a whipping boy. Just an easy set up easily smacked down, and narrative easily applied to all those complex issues Post hasn’t really addressed at all.

The problem here isn’t entirely contained in the video. If folks would treat this as a random encounter with a random jerk whose particular flavor of jerkitude just happened to be racial politics, then perhaps we could file the whole thing under guilty pleasures of little or no consequence. But that isn’t happening. No, this is one of many videos out there which  circulate around the net under the guise of substantive commentary about the notion of white privilege. A white guy whitesplains away the whole issue through a dirty story about an asshole he met on the street and a good chunk of the internet says ‘huzzah’!

This isn’t solution. It’s avoidance.

So, how does Post dispense with the issue? He begins by telling us he has had some problems of his own in life, and yes, these do seem like serious problems. He goes on to lecture the man from his story on the need to be realistic about his job prospects and to educate himself properly for the kind of job he hopes to do. In effect, Post is saying that white privilege is a myth, and that the difference between a successful person and an unsuccessful one is a function of the effort they put into life.

As an answer to the problem of white privilege, this seems to be equal parts straw man and false dichotomy. Simply put, success isn’t either race or effort. It’s a function of both (and a lot of other things).  If the black man in Post’s story is wrong, then so is Post, bearing in mind, of course that this whole thing is Post’s story. In effect, it is a story about the choice between two different kinds of mistake, and that is all that Post seems capable of understanding about the matter.

This brings us back to the concept of ‘white privilege’ itself. What does the phrase mean? I’ve heard people use it in at least three different ways. Some clearly use the phrase to suggest that white people are categorically better off than others, that we all have a better shot at success (through no credit of our own) simply by being white. This approach would seem to dismiss the significance of any mere white-people-problems and sweep any advantages enjoyed by any particular non-whites under the rug. If mileage may vary, this way of talking about white privilege doesn’t acknowledge any variance outside the boundaries of a clear case that some people (white ones) have it better than all the others. I don’t think this way of talking about the issue stands up to scrutiny all that well, but it’s a sense of the phrase that is well suited to insult contests and generally morbid reflections about personal status, hence it’s appearance in Post’s story, and hence the ease with which he dispatches it.

A second approach would be to suggest that white people enjoy an advantage on account of being white. How this particular privilege stacks up against the other advantages and disadvantages that individuals experience in life is another question altogether. One needn’t deny that white people have our own problems or that some individual minorities may have some clear benefits in their own personal lives. Hell, we don’t even need to deny that there may be contexts in which being a member of a minority could actually be an advantage. It is enough to say that being white can help out in some ways. This approach seems more reasonable, but it achieves the reasonability at the expense of weakening the proposition quite a bit. It’s particularly attractive to white liberals such as myself, who may want to acknowledge privilege while minimizing its importance in our lives. “…yeah, I caught a break by being white, but let me tell you about this other personal hardship, and look at you, you got all this.”

…which is why most who talk about white privilege would step the whole thing up a notch and insist that in the grand scheme of things whiteness weighs rather heavily against those other factors. It still may be that particular white people have real problems and particular non-white people may have real privileges of their own, but in the grand scheme of things race is more likely than not to play a significant role in determining one’s status in life. In other words, whiteness may be one of many variables, but it is often the decisive variable in getting a job, getting a house, talking to a police officer, or any number of things that affect peoples wealth and well-being (not to mention their lives). This third approach is, I think the more serious of the three. It isn’t really all that different from the second approach, except insofar as it insists on the relative importance of whiteness in relation to other variables.

Suffice to say that Post’s argument wouldn’t touch either of the last two approaches to the subject of ‘white privilege’. Whether real or imagined, his adversary in the story isn’t up to the task of clarifying the issue, or if the real person did do that, suffice to say that it didn’t make it into Post’s own version of the story. It couldn’t, because Post’s story was always a story about a pissing contest, about a conflict over personal dignity. The antagonist in Post’s story was never going to accomplish anything more than gain a smug sense of satisfaction out of his insult, and so nothing rides on the ‘white privilege’ message but personal vindictiveness. Post is the only one with a dignified goal in the story, and that is true regardless of the (de-)merits of anyone’s thoughts about white privilege.

The reasonability with which Post approaches the issue is illusory; it’s simply a function of the story-line. Notice how he takes it upon himself to lecture the other man about the nature of taxes. Because of course the man he is talking to wouldn’t understand that his government check is paid for by private citizens. This is a common theme among ‘conservatives’ and radical right wingers these days. They like to imagine liberals and minorities in the form of the unemployed demanding government aid. The prospect that a gainfully employed person might advocate the social safety net is a possibility increasingly escaping their own narratives about government and economics. This story facilitates that trend by telling us about an individual who literally occupies that very place in life, and of course it compounds that narrative by enabling Post to explain the nature of taxes to the man as though he’d never thought about it himself. Post is reasonable in the story, because that’s how he tells the story, but in effect it is a story about a black man who doesn’t understand his own situation at all. The cherry on top of this condescending pie is the fact that it’s a white guy explaining it all; in effect whitesplaining white privilege to the clueless minority who hasn’t the faintest idea how to take care of himself.

Of course it is possible that the whole encounter is real and that Post’s account of it is essentially accurate, but once again we have to consider the larger presentation. What makes this video powerful is precisely the way it fits in with the larger narratives of right politics in America. Post winds up the theme by telling the man (or telling us that he told the man) to stop lying to himself. In telling the narrated man to stop lying to himself about his own welfare, Post is effectively telling anyone who supports aid to the poor and/or concerns about social justice to stop lying to ourselves. In effect, this is but another story about lazy minorities who blame others for their own lack of effort along with the foolishness of anyone who would humor them. Reasonable tone aside, Post is pushing an explicitly racist message here.

Which brings me to another point, a larger one about the nature of privilege. One of the reasons the notion of  ‘white privilege’ is so threatening to so many is because it undermines the meaning of success in a meritocracy. It runs contrary to the norms about success and failure in both mainstream liberalism and conservatism Whatever any of us has in America, we typically want to believe we have earned it. That goes without saying. It’s what the money in our bank accounts a little more meaningful than they would be for practical reasons. It’s what makes the houses we live in personal statements and the televisions we watch measures of personal merit. We have these things because we earned them.

But what if we haven’t?

What if our success (in whatever way we define it) is due in part to some break we didn’t earn? That’s a damning prospect. It stings a little, even for hose not so very adverse to messages about social justice. But for the true believers in their own success, for the fundamentalists of the free market this is outright heresy. We cannot admit of anything like white privilege or any number of social factors that might play a significant role in determining our lot in life. For the true believers amongst us, that way lies madness! Hence, the initial problem of this story!

…not the insult.

…the car.

Post begins this story, sitting (as many of his posts do) in a car, telling us about his favorite car. Presumably, he is proud of his seat in this car. Presumably, he feels he has earned that seat. I don’t think that’s an accident. Whatever the significance of white privilege for African-Americans or any other minority, in this story, it is the threat to the moral significance of a nice car that is really at stake.

This is the real threat to acknowledging white privilege. for Post. It could mean, he hasn’t really earned that car, or perhaps anything else in life.The issue isn’t whether or not white privilege can explain any measure of social inequality, it is whether or not it leaves intact the moral value of consumer products.

So, it’s rather fitting that Post takes time to provide the man in his story with a kind of motivational lesson. According to Post, the central lie that both he and the man in his story were told (by whom he doesn’t say) is the notion that one must work to achieve happiness. The truth, he says is just the reverse. In this respect, he isn’t all that far from the Puritans of old, worrying about the apparent elect (also a class defined in part by worldly possessions in elation to some imagined moral characteristic). Post is just one among many to suggest that wealth is somehow a function of character.

The problem of course is that it’s not that simple. Personal resilience can explain a lot, but it doesn’t explain everything. Time and again, studies have shown that minorities and women (among other groups) face real obstacles to success in the work place, the housing market, and any number of contexts affecting their economic well-being. Some flourish anyway, and that’s a damned good things. But it’s an insidious logic that turns this into an argument to be used against those that don’t. It’s all well and good to tell people they should do whatever it takes to overcome those obstacles in their personal lives (although doing so often assumes an air of unearned authority on the topic), but I can’t help feeling that one of the many things people ought to do toward overcoming those obstacles is address them on a larger scale. This doesn’t mean spitting insults at white people who drive nice cars, but it does mean challenging white privilege as it plays out in various contexts of modern life.

And no, that doesn’t mean anybody should be ashamed of any privilege they may enjoy in life. It does mean we ought to be careful how we use it. If Post, for example, really does help an unemployed black man get ahead in life, I’d say that’s a damned good use of his own position. Putting out a video demeaning to the status of minorities for the benefit of right-wing consumers isn’t. I’m not suggesting that those of us born into any kind of privilege ought to spend every moment of every waking day trying to figure out how to make it right for others, but we ought to be open at least to the prospect that there are real problems with the way identity shapes the prospects for success in life. Perhaps, we ought also to look for ways to change that.

It isn’t the universe, as Post suggests, whose justice is at stake; it is the communities in which we live. The universe may not owe anyone, but for those of us living in societies committed at least to equality in rights (if not wealth), I reckon we do owe others an even chance at earning a living.

Far from denying the importance of hard work and honest sweat; the point is to ensure that such things really do matter.

For everyone.

The Dumbitude is in the Details

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It’s always fascinating to see the slippage commonly coming between a story and its headline, and again between a headline and a social media message about it. The hackwits at Fox News are always happy to provide examples of this sort of thing. Last week I couldn’t help but gripe about their misrepresentation of a major story on twitter. Today, the angle isn’t all that clear, but sloppy slippage is a habit that seems to serve them well.

What got my attention a few minutes ago was this tweet:

FoxbonnieClyde

So, I see this and I am thinking; Really? I always thought Bonnie and Clyde were in their car when they were shot. Or was that just the movie? No, I’m pretty sure they were in their car. So, when was this? Just before they got in? How long before… No, this says the pic was taken was right before they were shot. But…

…and thus I clicked the link (which is admittedly to say that I fricking fell for this click-bait bullshit. Still kicking myself over that.)

So, anyway, and at the expense of providing a link to a common source of right wing propaganda, here is the story.

The opening passages of this story are fascinating in much the same sense that grading a freshman essay is often fascinating. By ‘fascinating’ I of course mean saddening. It’s not just the brief, blurby, writing style that jumps out at me. (Seriously, this is clearly written for people with the attention span of not-even-gerbils.) What really irks with a vengeance here is the complete inability to stick to a consistent account of the story.

Check it out!

BonClydestory

Mini-paragraph 2 says the photo was taken ‘days before’ Bonnie and Clyde were shot down. Mini paragraph 3 says ‘shortly before’. I guess ‘days before’ could count as ‘shortly before’, at least if you aren’t paying attention enough to wonder why they are re-framing the time-scale in the very next sentence. Most sensible people would think that was at least a little odd. And most sensible people would think that change of wording does shift the meaning, at least a little bit. Either way, it would certainly be a stretch to say that ‘days before’ counts as ‘right before’ or ‘moments before’, as indicated on the Fox News twitter account.

So why do this? It really doesn’t seem like deliberate spin. It seems more like a short attention span. Perhaps, it’s the habit of a mind accustomed to spinning an inch into a mile every chance it gets. These micro-shifts in meaning can be damned useful if you are spinning a story with a purpose. A mountain is easily reduced to a molehill with a little crafty word choice. The folks at Fox News are well accomplished at this technique. Still, it’s a little odd to see this much slippage crowded into such a small and simple account. The only clear pay-off in this particular instance is the added dramatic value of the click-bait, but even that doesn’t explain the shear quantity of equivocation in the Fox account. The story itself uses two different time-frames, and that shift isn’t explained by the desire to generate click-bait. Neither does the use of two different time-frames on the twitter account. A subtle shift is one thing, but these guys are all over the place. I find myself wondering if these folks can stick to a simple account even when they don’t have an axe to grind on the story.

Seriously, I can’t figure out how this will help to advance the war on the poor. Neither will it enable the Manchurian Man-Child to gin up a war to help keep all our minds off the Mueller investigation. I can’t even tell how this proves Hillary killed Han Solo in the living room with a candle stick. It’s not all that agenda driven. It’s just drivel-driven. it’s also a hell of a way to hack up a simple story.

…idiots!

 

 

Arts District, Los Angeles

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20046668_10213715189019056_3737017398696896189_nLong before Moni and I took to the road to spend this last July in New Mexico, I spent a couple months with her and her family down in San Dimas, California.

I’m usually a little lost in big cities. Vegas would be an exception, because it was once home, but usually cities make me a little uncomfortable. You see more people in 5 minutes down there in L.A. than you will up here in months on the North Slope (and that’s just on a quick trip to Target). I find it all just a little bit disconcerting.

Still, the big cities do have their strong points…

Oh yes, they do!

(click to embiggen!)

Credible Story Not Required

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If you have been following the news, you’ve probably heard that fake journalist James O’Keefe and his organization, Project Veritas, have been out spreading the stupid again. Apparently, they approached the Washington Post with a fake story about Roy Moore molesting yet another underage girl. The goal here was clearly to poison the well for all those women who have already come foreword (and perhaps any who might be thinking about it) by showing just how easy it is to get fake accusations into the media. One clearly fake accusation would, so they clearly hoped, go a long way to dilute the impact of any standing accusations from credible sources.

Only the Washington Post was wise to the con and busted them good.

So, you might wonder, how the right wing propagandists might deal with this set-back? How would they handle the apparently loss of this narrative?

Fox and Moore

Apparently the folks handling the Twitter account at Fox News deal with it by telling the same story anyway.

(Too bad the guy posting the story and the one posting the blurb in the video aren’t on the same page. Still, the disconnect between the actual story and the tweet is pretty damned telling.)

The Murals of Española

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22426453_10214539482825886_622094195494757406_oRegular readers may have noticed already, but when I (and now Moni too) experience a bout of southiness, we frequently do this somewhere in the southwest. Santa Fe is a common destination. We mostly travel through nearby Española on our way up to Taos, Pueblo, but this last summer, we also traveled through on our way up to Ghost Ranch, and that meant going though more of the town. The murals were very cool!

Moni gets mad at me when she sees these, because she doesn’t remember many of them. I think she was on the phone while I ran loose with a camera.

So, brought to you with just a trade of schadenfreude, the murals of Española!

(Click to embiggen)

 

 

You Otter See the Whales in Sitka

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23154906_10214694818949192_3124333924529284067_oSo, I flew out from Barrow a couple weeks back to spend a few days at a conference (Whalefest) in Sitka. I don’t get to spend much time in southwest Alaska. When I fly out, I generally go through Anchorage and then down to the lower 48. I can visit the villages of the Northslope about as often as I care to, and I can often spend extra time in Fairbanks or Anchorage, but a chance to veer off into the southeast is a rare treat.

To say that Sitka is beautiful is putting it more than a little mildly. It really is gorgeous. In the end I found myself plotting various schemes to stay longer, or to come back. Moni couldn’t be talked into spending Thanksgiving down that way, something sensible about money and inconvenient flight times, but I’d still give up a turkey for a few free days in this town, preferably while the humpback whales are still in town.

Which reminds me, whalefest did (oddly enough) include a chance to go on a whale-watching cruise. Grumbly me, wasn’t all that eager to get on a whale-watching boat. I get seasick easily and the last time I did that with my family in Hawaii, we barely saw a tail come up out of the water. This time was different, though, remarkably different!

So, yeah, that was cool!

DSC04103My accommodations were at the old Sheldon Jackson College. The campus itself was beautiful. I wandered into the Sheldon Jackson Museum a couple times and found myself spending way more time in there than I originally planned. I also got to the totem park (otherwise known as the Sitka National Historic Park. I definitely needed more time in both those spots.

 

The conference itself was a fascinating mix of presentations on a diverse range of subjects. Oh yes, whales were the dominant theme, but speakers also addressed issues such as climate change, biology of other sea mammals, and sundry things-oceanic. The keynote speaker, Jacquelyn Gill, gave a wonderful talk on climate change and extinction, or rather persistence.

At some point I took a longish walk and found myself watching a sea otter playing in the harbor. It’s an oddly calming thing, just snapping amateurish pictures of an otter, waiting for him to do something interesting, like bring up another shellfish.

…just like the last one.

Damned cute, these little buggers!

It hasn’t escaped me that this is the Alaska that most people think of when I tell them I live in this state. They imagine trees and mountains, and moose, and bears, and all-manner of different forms of wildlife. My own experience of the state is very different, but that’s to be expected. Alaska is a whole buncha cool states.

Ah well, I really must get back to Sitka some time.

And to Whalefest!

Anyway, click to embiggen!