“After Piketty”: compendium about wealth and income inequality mixes mathematics with challenges to personal morality

After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality”, edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum, for Harvard University Press, is a gigantic compendium of academic reaction to Thomas Piketty’s 2014 missive, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (“C21”).

The book comprises four sections (“Reception”, “Conceptions of Capital”, “Dimensions of Inequality”, and “The Political Economy of Capital and Capitalism”), splitting into twenty-one chapters, after which Piketty responds with a Chapter 22, “Toward a Reconciliation between Economics and the Social Sciences”.

You really need the physical hardcover to follow this book; it’s a bit overwhelming on Kindle.

The editors start with an Introduction where they summarize Piketty’s basic claims:  social democracy became more generous with the disadvantaged right after the Great Depression and WWII, but generally the trend is toward greater inequality as was the case in the “Gilded Age”. Underneath income inequality lies wealth inequality, which tends to drive divergence in incomes.

A Chapter One by Arthur Goldhammer, “The Piketty Phenomenon” notes that Piketty’s book sold unusually well to the general public for a non-fiction academic text. Maybe this would become a lesson for me on how to sell my own authored books!

The various chapters often refer to actuarial calculus (reproducing some mathematical derivations (even partial differential equations) and proofs) and refer to the basic inequality  “ r > g” (average return on capital exceeds growth rate).  At then Piketty himself refers specifically to David Gerwal’s chapters and the “two fundamental laws of captitalism”, regarding the derivation of capital share, and the way the capital / income ratio follows the savings rate over growth rate.

But it is the socially descriptive material, and the bearings of such on personal morality, that occasionally grab attention. Piketty, some authors say, has no explicit theory of human capital (or social capital the way Charles Murray would talk about it).  But generational wealth gives some kids advantages, including those who (like me) grow up childless.  The advantages include greater financial stability when young (less need to go into debt), and very likely parents who have helped train them in the abstract thinking that is necessary for personal success in modern civilization. The quality of public education associated with class and particularly race becomes relevant.

Capitalism, by definition, implies that wealth accumulates on its own beyond the actual work done by the asset owner, so it implies also using (or “exploiting”) the labor of others.  That implies also rent seeking, which tends to impose rules on workers who haven’t accumulated enough of their own capital to own their own lives. No wonder, various forms of socialism and communism developed (even ideas about the moral nature of some kind of “New Man”) evolved over decades in the past two centuries especially.  I can remember the angry rhetoric, especially from women, when spying on meetings of the “People’s Party of New Jersey” in the early 1970s., like “why do we have to have capitalism”, along with proposals to limit maximum income to $50000 a year (income equality by racing to the bottom).   Sometimes threats of expropriation by force would evolve, as with the Patty Hearst case (Jeffrey Toobin’s book, Nov. 9, 2016, ironically reviewed by me right after Trump’s election).  Left wing terror preceded and sometimes went along with radical Islamic terror.

The book does get into sensitive ideas like personal complacency, along the lines of the usual rationalization (short of a canard) that ego-related inequality is necessary for innovation, even if it can undermine sustainability and stability. Indeed, lifelong accumulated savings (and some of it inherited) allowed me to become an independent journalist without the need for my own writing to pay its own way, which others may see as destructive or unfair.  I consistently refused to become someone else’s huckster, even as I understand the pressure on many people to join up and recruit others to buy from them.

Likewise the authors take up the issue of voice. Wealthier people are able to influence politicians to meet their needs, whereas the less well-off are recruited into solidarity by others who do not respect their ability to think for themselves.  Even Donald Trump bragged to his base, “I am your voice.”  I resent the idea that anyone else claims to be my voice.

Editors: Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum
Title, Subtitle: After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-06745-0477-6  hardcover and Kindle
Publication: Cambdrige and London; Harvard University Press, Introduction and 21 chapters in 4 sections, with a Chapter 22 reply by Piketty
Link:  Publisher’s

(Posted: Saturday, October 28, 2017, at 6 PM EDT)

“Stronger”: the Boston Marathon aftermath from an author who lost both legs

Stronger”, directed by David Gordon Green and based on the autobiographical book by Jeff Bauman, with Bret Witter and Josh Haner, who lost both legs to a pressure cooker bomb placed by Tamerlan Tsarnaev (the first of two) at the Boston Marathon Bombings on Monday, April 15, 2013, is the fourth major film that I have seen on this terror attack.  Bauman was waiting for his girlfriend Erin Hurley to finish the face.  After a stormy and challenging relationship pictured in the film, but leading to a child, he would marry Erin and throw out the fist pitch for the Boston Red Sox season in 2014.  Bauman’s description of Tamerlan helped narrow down the suspect list and lead to his eventually being cornered three days later, when Tamerlan died in a shootout with police. The fact that the bomb was placed so close to Bauman raises disturbing questions as to whether he or some other nearby person could have attracted Tamerlan’s sights as an individual target in the crowd.  The film doesn’t show the physical carnage of the victims until a flashback near the very end.

I approached this film with a little personal moral trepidation, which I’ll come back to.  But I can recall similar comments by other moviegoers before “128 Hours” came out, about the hiker who had to amputate his own arm to free himself.

Bauman is played by the versatile and peripatetic Jake Gyllenhaal.  I have no idea how they managed to set up the scenes with the stumps for his thighs, and the eventual prosthetics.  (An apt comparison could come from the 1993 film “Boxing Helena”.) The film is shot in full anamorphic wide screen, when a standard aspect might have contributed to making the closeups even more brutal to watch (Hitchcock’s theory).   Gyllenhaal’s chest is shaved for scenes like the bathtub tantrums, but that might have happened from all the hospital gear.  Gyllenhaal is unusually willing to loan his body to special effects, as I have noted here before. Erin is played by Tatiana Maslaney.

Bauman starts out the film as a working class “prole” working for Cosco. The company is later shown as fully behind supporting his health insurance needs and keeping his job, Wikipedia lists Bauman now as an “author” as if there will be more books.  The early scenes show some stereotyped working class bar banter (including some mention of gay people and lesbianism).

The film also shows Bauman’s road to recovery as difficult and sometimes ugly.  The film, admirably, avoids overplaying the idea of Bauman as a national hero to be pimped as a symbol of national resilience, the Red Sox notwithstanding. There is a scene near the end in a miniature Fenway Park, before the final home opener climax for “Boston Strong” with the Green Monster covered with an American flag.  I guess it was removed for the actual game.  I’ll add that I’ve had one serious injury my own life, an acetabular hip fracture from a convenience store fall in Minneapolis in 1998.  I was back to work in three weeks. But I had a week in rehab, and I saw a man with a leg prosthesis (the loss was to bone cancer, I think) take his first steps on parallel bars in the gym rehab room, literally overlooking the Mississippi River.

Now I come to the more personal part.  I’ve never seen victimhood as particularly honorable, and recovery from a violent or perpetrated by another, perhaps a politically motivated enemy (terrorist), starts with the “victim”.  But the film stays with that viewpoint.  I’ve been particularly sensitive sometimes about being expected to sell the idea of disability as somehow pretty.  I have internally resisted the idea of continuing an intimate relationship with someone who become disfigured by a violent incident or illness – yet I know intellectually that family resilience depends on this openness (in the film, Erin is indeed open to sex and pregnancy, and Jeff’s attitude is transformed by prospective fatherhood).  I can remember back in graduate school, before facing my own conscription, saying myself and hearing other students say they would not come back from a war maimed and disfigured, as if thet had a real choice.  (The 2008 film “Fighting for Life” about war injuries from Iraq gets into this.) Right now, at age 74, it seems as thought that sort of event is pretty unlikely. I thought about the EKG I had a few days ago in a doctor’s office, when he put the pad on my leg, bald with age to the extent that wearing shorts seems indecent.  Body shame has always been potentially important to me. But shame-retention can become a very personal target for terrorists.

I suppose this kind of film will come out of the Pulse attack in Orlando.  And I could imagine working on making it.   Would I ever do something like a special Olympics?  I’ve never wanted to make something like that my own cause.

But there are many examples of people making athletic accomplishments after amputation, such as Andrew Montgomery in Las Vegas as in this CNN story.  Another example is Oscar Pistorius in South Africa, an accomplished runner but convicted In a tragic shooting.

Wiki of area of first bombing.

Wiki of Jeff Bauman and Jake Gyllenhaal (with gams).

Name:  “Stronger”
Director, writer:  David Gordon Green, Jeff Bauman
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/9/23, small audience
Length:  118
Rating:  R
Companies:  Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, Bold, Mandeville
Link:  official 

(Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2017, at 10 PM EDT)

Hillary Rodham Clinton tells “What Happened”

I can remember when reading the little stories in “Fun with Dick and Jane” in grade school, we waited to read “What Happened”.  So I chuckled just a little that Hillary Clinton named her autobiographical analysis of the 2016 election that.

The book does pay heed to women in politics, but the elements of the 2016 election leading to her defeat do lead themselves to functional decomposition, the way a systems analyst would see things. These components include Trump’s own behavior during the campaign and debates (including the second debate where she wanted to yell “You creep”), Russian hacking and disinformation with fake news, and most of all “those damn emails” leading to the notorious Oct. 28 Comey Letter, as well as the painful Election Night with the slow motion acceptance of electoral college defeat.

Clinton’s perceptions should indeed alarm us.  The idea of blatant racism and “whitelash” played a much bigger role in the behavior of the electorate than many of us could have expected (although Michael Moore had been warning about it). Clinton often mentions the “zero sum game” thinking of the alt right, where the economic losses of less educated working class heterosexual whites are seen as the result of gains by “others” (blacks, gays, and especially immigrants).

Russian meddling, leading to the fake news manipulation of social media (and the ultimate “Comet Pinc Pong” incident) shows a serious social problem among the nation’s professional “elite” class (including black and gay professionals).  I saw relatively little of the “fake news” in my own social media feeds because my online behavior normally connects me with people in a more intellectual mainstream.  I have contact with Hollywood, with the book world, academics, and with some pundits on both right and left, and including some doomsday preppers (normally on the right).  So I see some material at the margins (Breitbart on the right, and Truthout on the Left), I see very little material that is patently outrageous.  But it seems like a lot of people did.  It is rather scary that Putin saw the insularity of America’s privileged intellectual class and realized that a campaign of disinformation leveraging resentment and fear could really work.

I’m a bit perturbed to see her name Sinclair Broadcasting in Baltimore as one of the participants in his whole mess (p. 361).  Sinclair owns WJLA7 in Washington, and tried to bring to light the threats to the power grid in some reports in the summer of 2016 that got suppressed.

Clinton talks about Putin’s macho values (I think its ironic that he likes to bare a completely hairless chest when riding horseback) and the way they put individuals in their “rightful” place in a system where fascism is returning to replace communism.

The Russian hacking also connected to various schemes to make it harder for certain minorities to vote.  Black and Latino turnout in key states was considerably less than had been expected.

On the email scandal, Clinton pleads that she did not starting using computers at work herself until the middle 2000’s, and that she started in a world where it was still normal to use one’s own personal computers and servers even for sensitive work.

Indeed, in the 1990s in the mainframe computer world in which I worked, it was normal and acceptable to use personal laptops in fixing production problems, which could lead to exposure of consumer PII, but at the time (pre Y2K and just as the Internet was heating up) it was seen as much less of a risk than it would be now.  It was also acceptable to take listings home that had production consumer data printed.

Clinton does think that the Comey letter did provide Trump with his ninth inning rally, and maybe a couple of unearned runs, by baseball analogy.  Remember, the whole incident could not have happened if Anthony Weiner had not committed a sex offense, an observation that provides an ironic comparison to a bizarre incident that happened in 2005 when I was substitute teaching that I have discussed here before – apparently I had not seen the end of it, but I never thought this sort of thing could throw and election. Also ironic were Trump’s self-incriminating comments overheard on Access Hollywood.

On p. 465, the last chapter “Onward Together”, one of her supporters, a history teacher, offers some partisan moralizing.  “Privilege” alone makes that teacher’s students responsible for others.  It doesn’t wait for marriage and having babies.

Author: Hillary Clinton
Title, Subtitle: What Happened
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-7556-5
Publication: New York, Simon and Schuster, 18 chapters unnumbered. 494 pages, hardcover, e-book
Link: publisher

(Posted: Friday, September 15, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” (1960 Disney film)

I think I read a young person’s illustrated version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “boys’ life” Alan novel “Kidnapped” (written in first person) in tenth grade, in the spring of 1958, about the time certain other interests were developing in my mind.  I remember typing the book report at home.  A lot of other book reports with this teacher were “in class”, but this one I remember doing at home.  We had recently read George Eliot’s “Silas Marner” and been tested on it.  That’s what sophomore English was like: grammar and literature, in alternation.

Note the original long title of the book: “Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: How he was Kidnapped and Cast away; his Sufferings in a Desert Isle; his Journey in the Wild Highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious Highland Jacobites; with all that he Suffered at the hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so-called: Written by Himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson.”

The Walt Disney Technicolor 1960 film (“Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped”) is ironically directed by Robert Stevenson (no relation) and aired on Turner TCM on September 11.  The plot is a picaresque adventure, as was common for some English novels of the time(1886).  An appealing 16 year old boy David Balfour (James MacArthur) is beckoned to a gothic estate when his father dies, but quickly finds his uncle is conniving (there is a scene inspired by Vertigo).  He is then drawn to a ship voyage, where he is shanghaied (essentially kidnapped) into servitude, and threatened with slavery.  He soon meets up with a Jacobite, Alan Breck Stewart (Peter Finch) and go on a long adventure together, after both are falsely accused of murder. Alan is a Jacobite rebel in Scotland, as both escape the British redcoats about the time of the American French and Indian Wars (and the James Fenimore Cooper novels).  Eventually they get back to David’s uncle and David gets his inheritance with a trick and his friend’s witness.

I do recall that the enduring idea of the novel, especially in its later passages, is “friendship”.  Having read this book may have helped inspire my controversial first theme in English at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, which would help precipitate the ironic events that would later lead to my expulsion in November 1961 (as in my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book).

MacArthur (who was 23 when this film was shot) seems quite mature and handles himself so well, as in that fight with the Gaelic highlander and other foes.  He seems like a low-keyed predictor of the superhero movies to follow a half century later. How many role model teenage boys like this do you meet in a lifetime?  I can think of a few.

Jacobite painting wiki.

The broadcast also included the 1938 Mickey Mouse cartoon “Lonesome Ghosts”, with “personal animation”.

Name:  Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped”
Director, writer:  Robert Stevenson
Released:  1960
Format:  1.37:1 now 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  TCM 2017/9/11
Length:  97
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Pictures
Link:  TCM

(Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

“TRANS/gressive”, by Riki Wilchins: now, expectations of binary gender even in a partner seem not quite OK

We’ve gotten used to understanding that being gay is very different from being transgender.  In fact, in my own experience, I look for “upward affiliation”, I get interested in men who look more “masculine” in appearance, swagger and bearing than I did;  I want someone to “have it all”, as I explained in Chapter 2 of my “Do Ask Do Tell III” book.

So, I would be perfectly happy to vote for “Lady Valor”, Kristin Beck, for president.  She would be about as well qualified on both national security and social justice issues as any candidate imaginable.  She would be a friend, but not an intimate partner. But note the pronoun, “She” (like the 1965 Robert Day film about an “African Queen” who had the secret to immortality). I perceive Beck as a woman.  She could become the first female president, instead of Hillary Clinton.  I don’t know if I would feel the same way about Caitlin Jenner (who says she is a Republican), and I would have real doubts, of course, about Chelsea Manning.

Doing away with the idea of binary gender could be very threatening psychologically.  Today the latest rage is “gender fluidity”, where the person bends genders and varies on a continuous scale, like the alien angel Pie ‘O; Pah in Clive Barker’s 1991 novel “Imajica”.  Activists try to change English grammar, so that the pronoun “they” can be used in the singular for a gender fluid person.  This sounds a lot more radical than gay marriage.

When I was growing up, in the 50s and early 60s, women were to be noticed for their appearance but men were not. Except that, under the table they were. Though rarely mentioned openly, colleges had rite-of-passage hazing ceremonies for freshmen (not just fraternity rushes) called “tribunals” in which men experienced physical shame – having their legs shaved – and had to get over it.  This worked more easily in the days of racial segregation, traditional gender roles, and before competitive cycling and swimming were routinely followed by the media.  I mentioned this in Chapter 1 of my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book, especially with the goings on at William and Mary in 1961 and my later inpatient stay ar NIH in 1962.   In such an environment, it was easier to eroticize bipolar gender and build up a lot of fantasy around it.  That’s one reason why, over the decades, many men resisted the gradual changes in norms of gender and sexuality.

I saw all this to introduce the book “Trans/gressive: How Transgender Activists Took on Gay Rights, Feminism, the Media, and Congress, and Won!”, by Riki Wilchins (b. 1952). I picked the book up in person at the DC Center’s Outwrite book fair in early Augusst 2017.   Riki doesn’t actually tell us that she has had the surgery until late in the book, but it probably doesn’t matter, because her activism would have made the same sense were she “fluid” or binary trans male-to-female.

She starts her narrative in the 70s, and notes right off that trans people were viewed as ‘gendertrash” even as conventional gay men and lesbians slowly gained acceptability if they could “pass”.  The Camp Trans, of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, was a centralizing activity. Over the years she dealt with many cases of anti-trans violence, especially getting into the 1990s.  1996 would be a critical year where she would deal with getting people to organize politically and resist, and pressure the HTC (Human Rights Campaign) to migrate toward a position where it would include trans people in ENDA and other non-discrimination matters.  As we know, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” regarding gays in the military was officially repealed in 2011, but Donald Trump has resisted lifting the ban on trans recently (by Twitter).

Riki understands well the idea that society expected men to confirm to gender roles in order to fit in to the collective security of the group. On p. 139 she writes “When I was 10 and was taunted for throwing a ball ‘like a gril’ those schoolyard bullies didn’t suspect me of sleeping with men.  They based me for not being boy enough. That goes for almost all of us. Whether we face prejudice for being too butch or too femme …, or being perceived as gay or lesbian, we are all ultimately disliked for the same basic reason: transgressing our expected gender roles.” I’m used to thinking of this as the “sissy boy syndrome”.

Yet, I always saw dealing with this in terms of my own individual capacity, not in terms of being part of a distinct minority facing systematic oppression, which is more the experience of blacks, given the history of slavery and segregation (and the recent threats from “white nationalism”).  But the solutions in the book definitely demand solidarity and mass movement tactics.

At the end, she provides a detailed discussion of intersex, which means having biological features of both sexes, not the same thing as fluidity.  She also discusses gender dysphoria and a lot of the evolution of AMA non-positions.

The book has goads of black-and-white photos and activism posters.

Author: Riki Wilchins, photos by Mariette Patty Allen
Title, Subtitle: Trans/gressive: How Transgender Activists Took on Gay Rights, Feminism, the Media, and Congress, and Won!”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-1-62601-368-1
Publication: Riverdale Avenue Books, 2017, 209 pages, pager (and ebook), 8 chapters, Foreword, Afterword
Link: Blogger

(Posted: Wednesday, August 23, 2017. At 10”45 PM EDT)

Peter Temin’s “The Vanishing Middle Class”: heavy emphasis on political engineering by race

The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy”, by MIT Economics professor Peter Temin, is another recent controversial tome on inequality. But unlike “Dream Hoarders” (July 7), this book talks about inequality in terms of collective political forces involving class, money, and especially race, with little direct attention to how individuals should be expected to behave, which was the point of my own “DADT III” book in 2014.

The parts of the book (from the TOC) give a sense of its message:  (I) is “An American Dual Economy”; (ii) “Politics in a Dual Economy”; (III) “Government in a Dual Economy”; (IV) “Comparisons and Conclusions”.   The book is relatively brief; the core parts comprise 160 pages, along with 17 pages of roman-number introduction. (By the way, I think that introductions should always be numbered in the main sequence of the book and show in the page count.)

Temin starts out by showing how capitalism alone tends to generate self-reinforcing inequality.  He calls the upper crust of society the “FTE Sector” (finance, technology and electronics).  Low-wage people doing manual labor or service jobs (or selling on commissions, for example) tend to aspire to enter the FTE but face serious self-perpetuating barriers.  Richer people can save money and owe less, can give their own children more advantages, and are more likely to have kids with “better” genes (the inconvenient truth of “A Troublesome Inheritance”, June 24, going back to ideas like those of Charles Murray), as well (particularly) of more access to “social capital” – informal interdependence with extended family and friends (the “Lotsa Helping Hands” idea in churches).  The economic system has burdened low-income people with student debt (especially with the rise of for-profit universities), upsidedown housing (the 2008 subprime crisis) and medical bills (even with Obamacare – and the GOP is partly right about this in my estimation).  You need to be able to save money to get any traction and move up.  I’ve worked as a debt collector before.  I’ve heard plenty of stories of how this works.

Temin then moves into race – and I’ll add here that in his conclusions he calls for a “Second Reconstruction”.  I wondered if he has sat through “Gone with the Wind”.  He connects race and the history of slavery (versus other, white immigration from Europe) and later segregation to the evolution of American democracy, an unprecedented political innovation at the time of the American Revolution. He traces particularly efforts to suppress blacks from voting (as with the 1964 murders in Mississippi) but he might have paid more attention to recent gerrymandering.  He also discusses incarceration and “war on drugs” policies as racially motivated, as well as attempts to privatize schools and lack of sufficient attention to urban infrastructure (he mentions the politics of constructing a third tunnel under the Hudson to New York, as well as Washington DC’s problems with Metro, leading to reduced hours and the Safe Track surges.  He does talk about the inability of school systems to properly pay teachers, But he could talk about the challenge for teachers from more privileged backgrounds to communicate with students in disadvantaged homes – something I encountered big time as a substitute teacher in the mid 2000’s.  On race and police, he mentions Ferguson (Michael Brown – see “Whose Streets”, May 8) and Florida (Trayvon Martin) without objective attention to the deeper facts behind these particular cases.   In the government area, he makes an interesting comparison of democracy, autocracy, and oligarchy (and rails against the Koch empire, which libertarians usually like; he regards Dallas as a cultural sub-capital for US business). He goes links personal debt to national debt and gets into a discussion about Social Security, denying that it is an earned annuity and implying it could be taken way from rich retired people who are otherwise coasting in neutral, like in the next debt ceiling crisis (which will happen Sept. 29, 2017).  He does present social insurance as needing government and federal oversight, and seems to think that sometimes lenders need to be ready for debt forgiveness (after a discussion of bankruptcy).

On race, I think Temin does not pay enough heed to the fact that economic and social problems of Trump’s rural base (white non-college-educated) are really similar to those of inner city blacks;  opioid has a similar dynamic as crack cocaine, and low-wage and resentment of elitism is pretty much the same.  Furthermore there are plenty of blacks in rural Trump country with the same problems as inner-city blacks and rural whites,

Temin refers to philosopher John Rawls and the 1971 opus “A Theory of Justice”, with his theory of distributive justice.  But it seems to me that such a tome would drill down to a discussion of the moral obligations of every person who finds the self in a more privileged system than others.  It goes beyond the idea of “giving back” or “paying it forward” to the idea of accepting personal interdependence with people in other social classes – a kind of resilience necessary to deal with common external threats (like what we have now).  Unearned wealth, if not widely used, can eventually lead to ugly ends, including shame and expropriation.  Coercion and revolutions do happen.  This is even a little more than my old 2004 essay “Pay your bills, pay your dues”.

Author: Peter Temin
Title, Subtitle: The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy” The book cover hides the word “Middle” in black and that fooled me!
publication date 2017
ISBN 9780262036160
Publication: 2017, MIT Press, 234 pages with appendix and index, 4 parts, 14 chapters + Introduction
Link: official

(Posted: Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at 2:30 PM)

“Kill All Normies”: a meta-pamphlet about Milo’s world and even Pepe the Frog

Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right”, a booklet (120 pages) by Angela Nagle, seems to attribute the rise of nationalist populism as a kind of sum-effect of the chaos on the Internet in the past ten years or so.  As the author says in her last chapter title, it isn’t funny when the culture wars go offline.

I’m rather shocked at the meanness and bullying that happens on line, and the revenge and stalking;  Melania Trump has said she wants to do something about it, even if it helped her husband get elected. The behavior reflects a certain cynicism and even nihilism, that the “system” is leaving a lot of “us” out, so we might as well rebel against civilized living.

Nagle’s presentation is non-sequential and rather random, so it is hard to follow an argument.  But gradually she gets into the same territory covered by Milo Yiannopoulos in his book “Dangerous” (July 13).  She gradually develops a comparison to Milo’s style of conservatism, which I would call hyper-meritocracy (a preoccupation with other people’s virtue and its visual evidence, and a cult of personal competitiveness) but not libertarianism and definitely not alt-right or fascism, and the older Par Buchanan type of conservatism evident in the 1980s with the “Moral Majority” crowd.  She almost manages to make cis gay men as likely to prefer conservatism to the particularly constricting identity politics of the extreme Left.  The alt-right has its own identity politics, with a different crowd.  In the end, communism (or hyper socialism, Venezuelan style), fascism, and extreme nationalism (as Putin is verging on), and even theocracy (Islamo-fascism) all start to seem alike. They are all authoritarian, and easily morph out of excessive political concern over personal “right-sizing” and deservedness.

She manages to convey some interesting narratives, such as about the life of mass shooter Eliot Rodger and his manifesto “My Twisted World” (this 2014 Isla Vista case definitely made “manifesto” a bad word, but so did the luddite Unabomber Ted Kaczynski in the 1990s with his “Industrial Society and its Future” where he ranted about the imposition of socialization).  She also gives a perspective on the hit film “Fight Club” (1999, Fox, directed David Fincher, with Ed Norton and Brad Pitt).

She also conveys pretty well just how far some people go into group identity belonging, especially on the radical Left.  People have amputated their own limbs to “belong” to “people with disabilities”. She has the same horror at the staged anarchical violence at Milo’s events. She discusses “manosphere” as something sometimes disfigured by tattoos and wounds, something far removed from the cleaner fantasies of the 1960s when James Bond told us “what it means to be a man”, or when a perfected (except around red kryptonite) Clark Kent conveyed that on “Smallville” in the 00’s.  (Tom Welling has gone downhill since then, sad to say.)

In the end, it seems like “populists” dislike “elites” who watch and criticize but don’t step up and swing and take the risks of getting beaned.

Vox interview with author.

Salon discussion of the book.

Author: Angela Nagle
Title, Subtitle: “Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right
publication date: 2017
ISBN: 978-1-78535-543-1
Publication: Zero Books, 120 pages, paper (ebook), 7 chapters and conclusion
Link: publisher

(Posted: Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017 at 11:15 AM EDT)

Nathaniel Frank’s encyclopedia history of LGBT marriage equality

I’ve covered some of the argumentation about gay marriage in a review of a film about it here July 5.  But an encyclopedia-like book like Nathaniel Frank’s “Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America” (2017) can cover a lot more detail than a documentary film or video. Still, this particular issue seems to have both sides talking at or past one another, playing with the subtleties of language itself, like in “Paul’s” Youtube videos.

I have to admit  some distraction.  I had to finish reading the last chapter on Obergefell and then the philosophical Epilogue (Arnold Bax-like) just as the news exploded this morning with Donald Trump’s edict by twitter banning transgender troops from the military.  Different topic (I’ll come back to the military thing soon with another post) – and indeed a marriage with a transgender person can turn into a straight marriage but without the possibility of procreation, exactly like a heterosexual marriage when the woman is past menopause.  I guess that shows partly why tying marriage to procreation gets so problematic.

At the very beginning, Frank says that marriage law is important by indirection:  logically, those who are not married or do not have the benefits of marriage can be excluded from some of society’s benefits as a consequence of mere logic.  In fact, that generally describes how things were in my own life in a world that (until very recently) where being married usually meant having minor dependents that one had sired – but it didn’t always mean that.  And single people and same-sex couples have always had dependents.  But someone without dependents can find his life disrupted by the needs of others anyway – as I found out with my own eldercare situation. There is a “dynamic imbalance” in life (like in a chess position, say a Sicilian) between having fewer responsibilities and more disposable income, and at the same time being less welcome in some situations,

The debate over “gay marriage” has become sometimes interchangeable with “gay rights” or “equality”.  Or let’s say “the right to marry” is a tricky idea.  As a logical matter, anyone has the same “right” to marry a consenting adult member of the opposite gender (when gender is binary), but not the same capability to procreate or even enjoy penetrative heterosexual activity in a relationship.  Frank talks about discussions about marriage as early as 1963, and then about the Baker case in Minnesota in the early 1970s.  Frank also explains how marriage became a focus (among gay “activists”) as to whether gay people should assimilate (and share risks and responsibilities, including serving in  the military) or resist. Did liberation mean walling off the outside world and creating your own (like in the East Village and the Ninth Street Center, with its polarity theory, in the 1970s)?

Indeed, overseas, “gay marriage” as been illogically comingled with gay rights in general, as in Nigeria with its draconian law in 2013.

Frank indeed covers the history of gay rights in general, including Stonewall, Anita Bryant, the Moscone-Milk assassination in San Francisco in 1978, the Briggs Initiative in California that could have banned gay teachers (1978), the AIDS crisis and Reagan’s indifference, the sodomy law litigation (Hardwick v. Bowers in 1986 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003), and the history of “don’t ask don’t tell” in the military.  In the 1990s, particularly in Hawaii, debate on gay marriage for its own sake as a marker for personal equality in general, started to develop, even as cases like Romer v. Evans (Colorado Amendment 2) grew.  Then, of course, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, under political pressure.  Frank presents the 90s as more negative for gay people than it really was for me. Frank gives many side anecdotes that are important for other issues:  Dan Choi and don’t ask don’t tell as a valued Arabic translator needed for intelligence purposes; the fact that one of the important marriage cases involved a person who died of ALS;  the male couple in Florida who took care of foster kids with HIV.

Then , in the 2000s, the cascade of litigation started, with Massachusetts in 2004, leading eventually to Obergefell, with many steps along the way.  These included the idea that you could encourage the states to go their own way and experiment first, before solving it federally, although then you had the Full Faith and Credit issue (to be resolved in Obergefell).  Along the way came Gavin Newsome’s marriage day, and then the whole Proposition 8 saga in California.

Frank has a few juicy quotes that show how gay marriage became a cover for a bigger question about hyperindividualism and sexuality.  On p. 236 he refers to the risk that the “gradual transformation of marriage from a pro-child societal institution into a private relationship designed simply to provide adult couples with what plaintiffs say is personal fulfillment.  It was a sinister echo of the old canard that homosexuality was primarily about indulging individual selfishness, while somehow heterosexual pairing was about contributing to the greater good.”  When was this canard actually stated?  Is the greater good to be found in protective courtship and doting?  It strikes me that this is like a three-lane highway in Virginia (indeed, Marshall-Newman, 2006): it can be more challenging to raise adopted kids in a same-sex relationship that survives a few decades of aging than a conventionally heterosexual one with biological children.  If marriage is expanded to include relationships with no penetrative complementarity, will heterosexuals decide that it isn’t important to marry before having kids?  Indeed, the record so far is that gay marriage does not encourage heterosexual divorce or discourage heterosexual marriage.  (Baseball player Bryce Harper beamed his Mormon heterosexual wedding celebration on Superbowl Sunday on Facebook.)    Later, on p. 349 (in a chapter on Obergefel there appears, “While defenders of gay marriage bans in 2015 did all they could to avoid appearing anti-gay, the notion that letting gays marry would transform the institution from being ‘child-centric’ to ‘adult-centric’ fit squarely in the tradition of demonizing gay people as selfish and indulgent, and gay rights as the triumph of a narcissistic culture over a responsible and temperate one committed to the common good.”

In 2010, Nathaniel Frank had published “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America” through St. Martins, about nine months before Congress approved the gradual dismantling of “don’t ask don’t tell”, the certification of which was completed in September 2011.

Related post on my “Do Ask Do Tell Notes”.

Legacy movie reviews about Proposition 8:  “The Case Against 8” (2014); “8: The Mormon Proposition

Author: Nathaniel Frank
Title, Subtitle: Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-06774737228
Publication: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 441 pages, hardcover, 16 chapters, Epilogue
Link: Author

(Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)

Milo’s “Dangerous”

I had to read “Dangerous”, by provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos (aka Milo Hanrahan, aka Milo Andreas Wagner as a previous pen name) off my Kindle. The first print run (apparently 100,000(?) copies, self-published under the trademark “Dangerous Books”) sold out before Amazon could ship to me, so I forked out an additional $2.99 to get it now. I hope others will buy my “Do Ask, Do Tell” series on Kindle. In the meantime, I’ll just wait for my hardcover copy when it gets printed in a second run.

OK, I’m getting ahead of myself already. There is a lot of commonality between what Milo says and what I say in three books, even if the organization and expressive style is very different. But this is almost like a “Do Ask, Do Tell V” book (the first three are mine, and then a sketched out a IV online in 2016 here).

Remember, Simon and Schuster had cancelled trade publication of his book after the “scandal” Feb. 20 over supposed advocacy of “pedophilia.” In fact, the correct term is probably ephebophilia, or perhaps hebephilia. There is a curious parallel to an incident in my life regarding Google-finding materials on my own website when I was working as a substitute teacher in late 2005, which I’ve discussed on these blogs before. The new version of this book contains Milo’s explanation of this matter in the introduction. I am certainly convinced that Milo said or did nothing to suggest approval of illegal sexual activities with minors, although the age of consent varies among western countries and even among states in the U.S. (and in some states, like California, it is still as high as 18).

I didn’t find a table of contents on the Kindle, so it’s a little clumsy to verify, but there seem to be twelve chapters. The first ten are based on “Why (Identity Group n) Hates Me”. The last two are based on who does like his message (like GamerGate).

This may seem like a self-indulgent way of presenting one’s argument. I am reminded of how Gustav Mahler titled each of the last five movements if his massive Symphony #3 “What (X) Tells Me”. I’m also reminded of Pastor Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life” (2002), where the minister argues “It’s not about you.” But for Milo it is. But given the history of violent reactions of foreign-organized protestors at some of Milo’s events (his “Dangerous Faggot” tours), which he discusses toward the end of the book, it seems appropriate.

I’d like to note the comparison of they way Milo organizes his material to how I did I started the first DADT book with an autobiographical narrative, in time sequence filled with ironies, motivated by the debate on gays in the military and how it had intersected into my life. Then I switched over to topical discussion as my issues fanned out. The second book was a series of topical essays, focused mostly on two themes: a “Bill of Rights II” in the context of 9/11. Book 3 reiterated the autobiographical narrative and added some topical fiction pieces. But, yes, a lot of this was “about me”. But my scope was always expanding into more areas.

So, I’ve always been concerned with the central question, of how someone who is “different” aka “special” should behave in the face of collective social pressures (to conform to the norms of the peer group and to “carry one’s weight” or share of the common risk). That concern can be discerned from Milo’s material. My driving and organizing principle was “personal responsibility” but I had to constantly enlarge upon what that means. It involves a lot more than facing the direct consequences of one’s choices. Dealing with stuff that happens “to me” has to start with “me” (so, it matters if people “hate” me). But I realize this can become “dangerous” (Milo’s wordmark) if overdone, and invite political authoritarianism, which is exactly what is testing America and western Europe right now. So, in a broader sense, “the people” matters too. My father always used to say, “The majority has rights, too.”

The end result is that Milo’s book, if moderate in length, seems monumental. In reviewing his list of “enemies” (and, by the way, I was told in my college years that “you have a tendency to make enemies”) he covers a wide range of important incidents.

The list of people he encounters comes across like Chaucer characters (indeed “A Canterbury Tale” is one of my own favorite classic films). He covers Shaun King, the civil rights activist claiming to be “black”. He gives a reasonable defense of the police in Ferguson MO in considering Michael Brown’s behavior (“Why Black Lives Matter Hates Me”). He goes into some detail over how he got banned from Twitter (Breitbart account) over supposedly encouraging retribution against (the remade) “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones, where he says he was set up, (Indeed, “Why Twitter Hates Me”. He gives a curious defense of Martin Shkreli in the HIV drug fiasco (and Shkreli has since been prosecuted on other matters).

In explaining why mainstream gays hate him (he thinks, I’m not sure they do) he takes up the case of writer Chadwick Moore. He delves into the moral dualism of male homosexuality in a way that reminds me of George Gilder (“Men and Marriage”, 1986), considering it somehow unnatural as counter to procreation – yet, he says, gay men usually are thinner, smarter, richer and more successful than straight married men, partly because they (the straights) are weighted down with a family to support or wives to pamper and cook for them. He sees gay marriage as illogical – needing the idea of traditional marriage, with all its self-surrender (“the two become one flesh”, etc) in order to have something to stand apart from. I know the feeling and covered the same sentiments in my own books – equality cuts both ways, when you don’t have dependents.

Ironically, he worships himself and certain other gay men as shamans or perhaps angels. (If you could be immortal, you wouldn’t need to reproduce – there is a jellyfish that actually does this by going through regression, as in “The Curious Life of Benjamin Button”. Unfortunately, the teenage Clark Kent in “Smallville” is presented as straight (not sure what kind of kids he could rather). Psychologists call his style of relating to people personally as “upward affiliation”. That was an issue when I was a patient at NIH in the later part of 1962, where I was diagnosed as “schizoid”. I just didn’t get much of intimacy with others (anticipation of the “family bed”) unless the partner would be perfect enough. But I was seen as possibly indicative of a dangerous trend accompanying the newly nerdy science and bookishness of the Cold War era – a slipping back into a perception that a personal level some people would no longer matter if they didn’t stay perfect enough. What had we just fought World War II about two decades before? Body fascism?

But the early chapters do present a convincing read on why Milo feels so repelled by the authoritarianism of the far Left, and its trying to pimp victimhood and draw everyone into identity politics, demanding loyalty to political leadership to speak for them as marginalized minorities. Milo particularly explains the idea of “intersectionalism” or “intersectionality”, a concept that author Benita Roth took for granted in her book on ACT UP which I reviewed here June 14.

Indeed, the Left often wants to suppress clear and objective independent speech from its own constituent individuals, because the Left fears that brining up complete arguments just gives fuel to its enemies and rationalizes “oppression” against less competitive individuals. I share this concern myself (as I outlined particularly in Chapter 3 of my own DADT-3 book). In this regard, Milo minces no words in reaffirming “fat shaming”, that obesity is unhealthful as aesthetically ugly (or is beauty if the eyes of the beholder – like in that 1970 song “everything’s beautiful in its own way” – although the early Nixon-laden 1970s were also a time when machete jokes about beer bellies were socially acceptable sometimes). I’ll add that I had named Chapter 2 of my DADT-3 book “The Virtue of Maleness”, a notion many would find oppressive (like to “trannies” or “gender fluid” people). Milo almost comes to making my point, that in the past many people saw open male homosexuality as a distraction for other men from trying to father children at all – which is one reason why Russia passed its anti-gay propaganda law in 2013.

In developing the duality of his own attitude toward his own homosexuality, Milo mentions one of his favorite authors, books, and films: “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde.  I rather like the idea of seeing more in a fixed image of one of my own “idols”.  I read it myself in 12th Grade for a book report (as I also read H. G. Wells’s “Meanwhile” and Nevil Shute’s “In the Wet“).

One of the last chapters is why “Muslims Hate Me” and this chapter is the darkest one. He indeed sees all Islam as radical Islam, and sees Islam as by definition political and seeking to impose itself on non-Muslims. He gives particular attention to the assassination of the staff of Charlie Hebdo (in January 2015, ten months before the 11/13 Paris attacks) and views the Jyllens-Posten Cartoon Controversy the same way as free speech advocate Flemming Rose (“The Tyranny of Silence”), as dealing with a consciously and deliberately combative culture that sees enemies everywhere.  Milo points out that Charlie Hebdo  (don’t confuse with l’Hebdo, which has stopped) had been a relatively small publication, so radical Islam was willing to put it in the  limelight (“Je suis Charlie“) by attacking it, which sounds like an self-defeating irony to a western person.  Think about North Korea (“The Interview“) the same way.

Milo denies he is part of the “alt-right”, no less a leader of it, and denies any belief in racial superiority of any group. (He dates black men, he says.) He gets into the misuse of the “Pepe the Frog” meme.  He denies that he is a libertarian, but he seems like a “moralistic libertarian” to me, somewhat like Charles Murray (who has also been the target of attacks at speaking engagements). He considers “troll” a desirable label, and his advice to young men is to become hot. We’re seeing personal attitudes privately held in the gay male community for decades going public online, and suddenly perceived as hurtful.

I can certainly imagine this book as a documentary movie, although it might take a strident course like some of Steve Bannon’s Citizens United films.  By comparison, my own narrative seems even more personal and ironic, but indeed filled with instructive twists.  But I would be interested in working on a documentary about gay conservatives if someone wanted to film Milo’s book (and not yet do mine). There is a 2004 documentary “Gay Republicans” (legacy review).

Author: Milo Yiannopoulos
Title, Subtitle: Dangerous
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0692893449
Publication: self; 288 pages, endnotes, 12 chapters
Link: Milo’s site

(Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)

“Dream Hoarders” (Richard Reeves): what about equality of opportunity?

I used to rehearse the phrase “equality of opportunity” in my own mind when I was younger, because I thought providing that would provide a moral basis for looking at people through my own distant guise of meritocracy.

Richard Reeves, senior fellow in Economic Studies and co-director on the Center on Children and Families in the Brookings Institution, and himself a naturalized U.S.  citizen from England, takes on this aspect of inequality in his brief new book “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What We Can Do About It”.  That’s a mouthful of words for a book title.

One of Reeves’s key observations that it’s not just the top 1% who show their privilege, it’s more like the top 20%.  And it is true, kids of affluent parents tend to do better in life than kids of poor people. And it’s true that affluent parents are more often European or Asian and Christian or Jewish.  Poor parents are more often African or Latino or Native descent.

And affluent parents to dote on their kids. David Callahan had covered this problem in his 2004 book “The Cheating Culture”.

But Reeves goes particularly after policy patterns that give affluent parents to “hoard” opportunity fr their kids in what he sees as a zero-sum game of “positional play” (as in chess, you have a finite set of pieces and sometimes you make small sacrifices).

He does support individualism (as supported by meritocracy), for adults.  He thinks that grownups need to accept the idea of downward mobility to balance things out (I remember that period after my forced “retirement” at the end of 2001 and what the pimpy job interviews were like). But for kids, we need to keep them raised up.

He has a number of specific policy proposals.  These include backing down on exclusionary real estate zoning laws so that people of different incomes and their kids mix, and the end to legacy preferences in college admissions and internships.  He does take up the student loan problem to some extent, not going as far as Peter Thiel to call it a scam.  And he waffles on condemning unpaid internships (compare to Ross Perlin’s 2011 book “Intern Nation”). He thinks that Charles Murray (“Coming Apart”) and Robert Putnam (“Our Kids”) are too nice to rich people, for different reasons.  He does take a swipe at the lenient treatment of inherited wealth in our tax code.

Putnam thinks that much more needs to be done to help disadvantaged kids in person, but he seems to want big government behind it.  He wants teachers to pay their dues by working in poor neighborhoods, and he wants to see home visits.  He sees this sort of escalated interpersonal intervention into poor families as a job creator.

Reeves makes the point that legally married parents who wait until marriage to have kids raise better kids.  He takes a libertarian position on adult consensual sex as long as unplanned pregnancies don’t happen. (There’s a whole world of population demographics that he does not touch.) He supports planned parenthood programs and criticizes the GOP for its hypocritical moral squeamishness. He would not be too sympathetic to single moms because they usually result from carelessness.  He also notes that higher income and better educated people are more likely to marry and also more likely to avoid bad health habits (like cigarette smoking) and generally avoid obesity – and indeed higher income teens are much less likely to be obese and generally are better able to balance screen time and Internet use with real world physical activity and opportunity.  He does not consider same-sex marriage but probably the same observations would hold;  same-sex couples seem able to provide the same supervision for kids.   There’s one outlier he does not mention:  single gay men, who don’t fit the marriage profile.  But in upper classes single gay men often compete very well because they have more disposable income and haven’t had kids, ironically part of Milo’s (and my) “dangerous” argument.

Author: Richard V. Reeves
Title, Subtitle: “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What We Can Do About It”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0-8157-2912-9
Publication: Brookings, Washington DC; 196 pages, hardcover, endnnotes, indexed
Link: Author

(Posted: Friday, July 7, 2017 at 12 Noon EDT)