Category Archives: Politics

Thom Tillis is running scared. Good.

(I don’t normally post politics on Wednesday so if you were hoping for lighter fare, sorry! I wanted to vent).

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis is up for re-election this year and he’s worried — if not for himself, for the prospect of facing a Democratic majority. So he’s taken to Fox News to warn that a Democratic-controlled Senate might kill the filibuster.

Both the Senate and the House originally allowed unlimited debate on any topic (the House dropped this in the 19th century as it grew). The filibuster took advantage of this rule by having senators talk for hours, thereby preventing voting. In 1917, the Senate went so far as to allow cloture: if two-thirds of the members voted to end the filibuster (later cut to 3/5) then it ended. Southern Senators filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act for 60 days before cloture brought it to a vote. In the 21st century, long-winded speechifying isn’t necessary: in a virtual filibuster a senator simply threatens to use the tactic and, if the majority doesn’t have enough votes for cloture, they concede and drop the bill or negotiate concessions. That means the threshold to pass a bill is effectively 60 votes, giving the minority much greater power.

Tillis rants that without the filibuster, corrupt, racist Trump toadies — er, patriotic conservatives like himself — won’t be able to block the Democratic “extremist, far-left agenda.” which “would dictate the kind of house you live in, the kind of car you drive, the type of job you have, and the way you live your life” because they’re all Commie authoritarian types. By contrast “the filibuster forces the party in power to seek consensus and bipartisan compromise to turn legislation into law” and we need more consensus, right?

Tillis apparently foresees Dems taking enough Senate seats that they have a majority, which would make the filibuster an advantage for Republicans. Or maybe he’s just hoping people terrified of that socialist nightmare will vote for him. But as usual, he’s full of shit. In responses to my letters to his office (lately he hasn’t responded, a sign, I suspect, that he’s hunkering down) he used to cite the partisan vote on the Affordable Care Act — no Senate Republicans supported it — as proof it was a bad “partisan” bill. Tillis had no qualms about voting to put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, even though only one Democrat voted for the man. Where was Tillis’ concern for bipartisanship? Why not “seek consensus and bipartisan compromise” by pushing for a more acceptable judge — Gorsuch went through much more smoothly — instead of backing an alleged teenage rapist? Hell, why wasn’t he complaining when Moscow Mitch killed the filibuster for judicial appointments in 2017?

Simple. Bipartisanship and consensus don’t matter when Tillis wants something, like punishing local governments that don’t cooperate with ICE or big tax cuts that benefit people in his income brackets. It’s only when Democrats advocate for something decent that he suddenly discovers the need for a bipartisan approach. Which in practice means Republicans blocking everything Dems do as too extreme (in his Fox editorial Tillis is shocked and appalled that Democrats might actually do something about climate change).

I will be donating to Tillis’ opponent, in case you were wondering.

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Undead sexist cliche: feminists should do their own housework

So in a lengthy discussion elsewhere online, one commenter volunteered the opinion that “some white women might not be as keen on sharing that space with women of color, either (see the suffrage an earlier feminist movements), as their feminism and its gains must necessarily involve the subjugation of black and brown women. Can’t have the nanny/housekeeper/babysitter pools drying up. Can we?” I didn’t get a chance to respond before comments closed.

This is not the first time I’ve run into the argument that feminists build their careers on the backs of working-class/WOC who assume responsibility for cooking/cleaning/babycare and that this is bad. Caitlin Flanagan, for example, was complaining a couple of decades back that for career women, “Scrubbing the toilet bowl is a bit of nastiness that can be fobbed off on anyone poor and luckless enough to qualify for no better employment.” As Echidne points out, this is amazingly hypocritical from someone who by her own admission elsewhere employs a full domestic staff, never changes sheets and let her nanny attend to the kids’ diarrhea.

Flanagan also assumes that housework is by definition bad, an occupation only taken by the “poor and luckless” and therefore its inherently exploitative. Writer Sally Howard reaches a similar conclusion in an article from March: she tried paying her cleaning person well (said cleaner was very happy) but felt she was still demeaning her, implying by hiring her that she (Howard) was too good to clean the toilets herself.

I tend to see these arguments as a variation on older jokes about women who hire housekeepers even when they’re stay-at-home moms: what’s with that? As Echidne, again, says, they all hinge on the assumption that women should clean their own homes. And that finding someone else to do it “necessarily involves the subjugation of black and brown women” who are poor and desperate (one reason I’m not linking to the source is that not having had a chance to respond, I can’t be certain I’m interpreting the quote fairly). But as Howard points out, paying someone good money is an option, so finding domestic staff doesn’t require subjugation.

I admit it’s quite possible some of the cleaners wouldn’t take the jobs if they had an alternative: lots of people hate this kind of job. One of the reasons some immigrants gave for moving the American colonies that while life might be hard, it was better than going into domestic service. It’s quite possible the cleaners wouldn’t take the jobs if they had a better alternative but that’s true of many jobs such as farm work or customer service (not that all people hate customer service but I’ve known people who did feel working retail was beneath them). I’ve often wondered whether we’d see huge gaps in the economy if everyone was free to do jobs they wanted (and were qualified for) — though I’ve also heard people say they’re happy with a job that doesn’t demand anything beyond a few hours of grunt work a day. Though either way, we’re not likely to find out any time soon.

And as Echidne says (and Howard too) it’s not like this is some unique evil perpetrated by feminists alone. Men hire housekeepers. Businesses hire cleaning staff. If cleaning is inherently exploitative, then it’s a society wide issue and everyone has a vested interest in keeping the pool of help stocked. And of course, much of modern American capitalism is built around the assumption that men can work long hours because there’s a woman to take care of the cleaning, cooking and kids, only it’s the man’s wife and she’s doing it for nothing. Which is what Howard, Flanagan (quite hypocritically) and possibly the commenter seem to think is fair. The commenter doesn’t seem to see feminists getting their husband or kids to contribute is a solution; Flanagan flatly rules that out as unworkable.

I agree the system is imperfect. But arguing that feminists are hypocrites if they hire housekeepers is just a variation of the “you say you criticize capitalism but you buy things!” school of purity.

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Orphan works and other copyright links

Orphan works are potentially covered by copyright but with no obvious rights holder. As a result, even if you want to publish/show/play them, you’ve no way to request permission but doing so without permission risks copyright infringement. Back in 2005, Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain discussed the problems this creates for preserving films: thousands of yards of film are decaying but who’s going to spend money preserving something you have no right to show?

Over in the European Union, you can get past this by making a diligent search for the copyright holder. Unfortunately the law is unclear on when you’ve been diligent enough, and even meeting the minimum standard can be difficult.

All but the last 10 Sherlock Holmes stories are public domain. However the Doyle estate argues Netflix’s new Enola Holmes series about Holmes’ brilliant sister infringes on the final 10 by showing Holmes as a complex emotional human being instead of just a thinking machine.

Some companies have tried using trademark as a way to control material that’s now out of copyright. One Supreme Court decision from 2003 says that’s not going to fly.

Self-published authors and fanfic-turned-pro authors are increasingly using copyright law against their competition in dubious ways.

For an unrelated illustration, here’s TYG comparing the size of the onion we got last week to Trixie’s head.

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Political default settings

So right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro recently announced he was giving up sports because it’s getting too political with all those athletes taking the knee during the anthem. Which as LGM points out, ignores that playing the national anthem is political too. But Shapiro doesn’t notice (assuming he’s sincere, which I do not assume) because that kind of politics is a default setting, something taken for granted. It’s an unmarked category, something that’s treated as normal and unremarkable: “if you had asked a lawyer in 1960 to name three characteristics that every current Supreme Court justice shared, it’s very likely the lawyer would not have mentioned either race or gender. In other words, we notice characteristics we don’t expect to see much more than characteristics we assume will be present.”

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, for instance, said prior to the 2016 election that he didn’t want Clinton in office because America didn’t need two “demographically significant” presidents in a row. In his eyes, putting in a white man had no demographic significance; it was an unmarked category. Columnist Suzanne Fields once complained that the American Psychological Association had stopped  classifying homosexuality as a disease not for science because of modern cultural assumptions gay is okay (which she disagrees with). The possibility earlier generations assuming homosexuals were mentally ill was also a response to cultural assumptions did not occur to her, or if it did she kept silent about it.

Then we have the rants of various right-wing SF authors that they’re tired of political Social Justice Warrior novels where Earth conquering alien races is treated like a bad thing. The good old days when Earth empires were perfectly acceptable? No, that wasn’t political at all.

Part of what freaks out 21st century conservatives is that things that were unmarked back when I was born are now marked categories. Having a white male in the Oval Office isn’t just a fact of life, it’s a choice, just like a black or female president. While male characters still dominate action fiction and specfic, people are now conscious that writing about white men is just as much a choice (which some men think is the only right choice). And that raises the uncomfortable (for many people) possibility that even if they’ve worked hard for what they got, they still benefited from being white and male. Conservatives hate being called on it; more liberal people may not want to think they’ve benefited from the oppression of others (I certainly don’t). As a friend of mine said, it’s like learning your family fortune came from blood money.

Much easier to imagine the social hierarchy of the 1950s or the 1920s was a natural one: reserving the Ivy League for white men or favoring white men in jobs was meritocracy in action, not affirmative action for white people.

At least, that’s what some people tell themselves.

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Disrespect should not be a capital crime

So a meme I saw circulating on FB today blamed police violence on a lack of respect for police. If a cop stops you or gives you an order, treat them respectfully. Do whatever they say. Then you won’t have any problems.

The first problem with this argument is that it’s factually wrong. To give just one example, Dallas police officer Amber Guyger walked into Botham Jean’s apartment and shot him dead. Not because he’d done anything wrong, she simply assumed it was her apartment and murdered him as an intruder. Or consider the senior citizen the cops knocked to the ground recently; he wasn’t doing anything wrong but they slammed him down anyway. Were the police who slashed protester tires in Minneapolis reacting to the tires sassing them?

The second problem is that this fundamentally gets the police/public relationship wrong. We are not obligated to do whatever a cop tells us; their orders have no validity if they don’t have a legal basis. If a cop demands to search our house without a warrant, we’re under no obligation to let him in. If a cop stops are car and tells us to just stick around, we’re entitled to drive off if he doesn’t have valid grounds to hold us.

That’s not to say refusing is a smart move, particularly if “us” is black. Refusing a cop’s order could end up with us shot, possibly dead — but that’s part of the problem. Refusing a police officer’s order isn’t a capital offense. Neither is disrespecting a cop. They do not have the right to shoot or injure someone for being disrespectful. Or taser a ten-year-old for talking back. And people shouldn’t have to worry that this is a possibility. I’m not sure I’d have the nerve to refuse an order and I’m a white guy who’s never had a bad interaction with the cops.

This reminds me of an article I wrote for And some years back, now offline (they took a hard right turn a couple of years ago) about the whole “an armed society is a polite society” concept. The only way that works is if people are willing to shoot someone for rudeness or disrespect and that’s a horrible idea. Being insulted is not a justification for injuring or killing someone. I’m sure some people think of it in a kind of duel of honor, shootout at high noon way (“You insulted my wife! Now you will pay for your lies!”) but it’s just as likely to be shooting a man for texting during a movie. And when you throw race and gender into the mix, it becomes something much worse.

That’s without even getting into the question of what constitutes disrespect. I’m sure the cops slashing tires thought the very act of protesting their awesome police selves was disrespectful. A South Florida SWAT team just resigned after the police chief took the knee in solidarity with protesters. If you look back at the days when dueling was common, any gesture could be grounds for a duel because honor was fragile and without honor there was no respect.

And as countless black corpses show, being respectful and obedient won’t in fact save you.

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Conservatives handling setbacks with great rationality and composure

For example self-proclaimed Christian prophet Mark Taylor, who hand-waves away some recent lynchings: clearly a bunch of black men hung themselves, committing suicide to further the revolution!

If you think Trump sounds like an idiot, you’re wrong: “Every tweet, every misspelling, every typo, every strange capitalization—especially the capitalizations, says Dave—has meaning. ‘The truth is right there in what the media think are his mistakes. He doesn’t make mistakes.’ The message of the shirt to Dave is: Study the layers. ‘Trump is known as a five-dimension chess player.’ No, Trump couldn’t play chess in two dimensions, let alone five.

Wannabe-theocrat Sen. Josh Hawley thinks the reason for the recent Supreme Court vote on gay & trans rights is that Christians don’t speak up for their rights. That’s true, they’ve never said one word about oppressing gays and denying them equal rights in all the years … I’ll come in again. Meanwhile, right-wing pundits try to explain how this decision will have horrible consequences, just like gay marriage!

“Rich people are accustomed to having life organized to guarantee that they never suffer.” — Steve M. on why Trump and his fellow millionaires are so willing to open the economy.

As the BLM and other protests spread, right-winger become more belligerent. And more violent.

See Trump stand up to Chinese tyranny! And continue worrying about the threat of everyone voting.

Anti-Muslim bigot John Guandolo pretends that protests against the Minneapolis police can only lead to Islamic sharia policing!

A minister says that rather than talk about white privilege we should discuss the “white blessing” of slavery. At the link, Libby Ann discusses why that’s a bad thing, even if he’s sincere. More from her here.

Trump’s solution to his tanking poll numbers: whine about fake news and claim he’s clearly the front-runner.

Rep. Matt Gaetz claims that as Ron Perlman plays a white supremacist on TV, he’s clearly not woke! At the link, Perlman swats Gaetz down like a bug.

An Arizona legislator has a simple solution to police brutality: stop people recording it.

Perhaps it’s understandable. As Libby Anne says, this is the Bizarro version of the end times the religious right has expected: “White American Christians weren’t supposed to end up in charge; they were supposed to be persecuted. Chaos was not supposed to result from white evangelicals’ suppression of minority groups’ protests against police violence and strong-arm government tactics; absent a pre-tribulation rapture, chaos was supposed to erupt as white evangelicals found themselves herded into camps in the face of emerging new dictatorial and oppressive government regimes.”

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Assorted writing and media-related links

Even if Marvel wanted to stop cops wearing Punisher insignia, there’s not much they can do.

How a l0w-budget indie horror film became the hit of the summer.

Foz Meadows recounts some really unpleasant interactions with the Red Sofa literary agency.

Publishers filed suit to stop Internet Archive lending out unlimited copies of digital books. The Archive stopped, while spouting bullshit about how this is an attack on the very concept of library lending (nope. Libraries actually pay for digital books).

Vice calls out an author for arguing pirating creative works is cool. Don Henley, meanwhile, has asked Congress to do more to fight digital piracy.

Wonder where President Tiny-Brain got the idea that old man police knocked down in Baltimore was a false-flag operator? From One America Network, which makes Fox News look like Walter Cronkite.

When blogs became a thing, a lot of right-wingers prophesied the end of the “lamestream media.” They’re still prophesying it.

Spotify now rules the podcasting world.

John Scalzi signed a record-breaking multimillion-dollar publishing deal with Tor a few years back. Here he reviews the first five years.

If you need sound effects, the BBC has your back.

Scalzi, again, this time on creatives who aren’t talking about politics.

 

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The gathering storm

Some quick links on police, protests against police and police brutality.

The Asheville NC police chief is very, very sorry that cops destroyed a medic tent set up for protesters. And in Raleigh cops by complete coincidence arrested a man hours before he could file a lawsuit. And cops fired on a Raleigh gay bar for giving water bottles to protesters.

Jamelle Bouie says we need to accept that the police attacks on protesters mean the police are rioting.

De-escalating tensions without fighting can save lives on both sides — but police don’t want to.

Even for Trump, saying George Floyd is probably happy in heaven that the economy is so good is … batshit.

A multiracial family went camping in Washington [edited to correct location]. The locals thought they were antifa and attacked.

No-knock warrants are part of the problem.

Anti-semitic preacher Rick Wiles has been warning for years that liberals want to put conservatives in concentration camps. But he’s eager for Trump to do it to liberals.

The DOJ is pushing for the right to suspend habeas corpus so police can hold protesters indefinitely.

David McAfee fed the Louisville police for years, but they shot him anyway.

Tucker Carlson would very much prefer you not think about whether black lives matter. And shockingly, Fox News lies about peaceful protests.

A Columbus SWAT commander advocates meeting protesters with deadly force. In Minneapolis some cops slashed the tires on protesters’ cars. Never mind that violent responses make protests more violent.

A Florida police union tells cops who lose their jobs for brutality elsewhere to move to the Sunshine State to work.

When cops do speak up about racism and violence on the force, they’re shut down. Or punished.

Right-wing hack Ben Shapiro insists there’s no point to protests because there’s no systematic racism in America. He’s also whining that political protests at sports events invade his safe space, despite hating safe spaces when they’re for people who aren’t him (this post is relevant)

Colorado is introducing a bill to restrict police use of deadly force. William Barr is apparently uncomfortable enough about Trump’s church photo op he’s now denying authorizing attacks on the protesters. And the NFL has decided the winds of change are blowing against them. The Army is talking about replacing Confederate names on U.S. bases, though Trump says no (surprise!). New York repealed a law that kept police discipline and misconduct reports hidden.

Defunding police means having them do less, not simply de-existing them.

I’ll end with this look at past protests and where they differ from what’s happening now.

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Before Roe v. Wade and the limits of research

BEFORE ROE V. WADE: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling by Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel collects various speeches, articles, legislative statements and amicus curae briefs on the title topic. It’s a good addition to my reading for Undead Sexist Cliches but also shows there’s a point at which to stop researching.

The goal of the authors was to capture the period now 50 years gone when abortion was illegal in much of the country, activist groups helped arrange abortions (if you had the money, flying to Japan was one option) and reformers began to speak up. The debate over making moderate reforms was surprisingly different in the late 1960s, focusing on the right of doctors to give medical advice or the need to reduce population growth; it was only with feminism’s boom in the 1970s that the rights of women became the dominant issue.

On the right, nobody but Catholics focused on the life or rights of the fetus.For Phyllis Schlafly the issue was feminism: abortion was just part of the women’s libbers tricking women into giving up their god-given roles as mothers. Other conservatives saw abortion as a sign of society becoming more permissive about sex, which is why the Nixon campaign denounced McGovern (whose views on the topic weren’t very different) as the pro-permissive candidate of “amnesty, acid and abortion.” Nixon staffer Pat Buchanan (who would rant about feminism’s evils many times in his later career as a pundit) saw opposing abortion as a tactical move, a way to peel off Catholic working-class voters from the Democrats. It wasn’t until the end of the decade that “abortion is murder!” became the rallying cry of choice.

The authors conclude with an appendix in which they argue that contrary to some theories, the Supreme Court’s Roe decision did not spark a massive backlash against abortion rights which wouldn’t have happened if state legislatures had made the decision. At the start of the decade, several legislatures did liberalize their abortion laws, then the mostly Catholic opposition got organized and stopped further attempts. Unlike most pro-choicers, anti-abortion voters were single-issue focused, willing to vote against an otherwise favorable candidate on that basis alone.

This provided some useful context to my book’s chapter on anti-abortion cliches but not so much that I couldn’t have done without it. Which is my point about the limits of research: it’s not that I couldn’t learn more from other books, but I’m not going to learn so much that it’s worth the time to read them. I’m not sure it was worth the time for this one, though I did find it interesting (you can download it yourself for free, from a legit site, if you want). Seeking absolute knowledge is futile; at some point you’ve just got to jump in and start (and finish) writing. And with Undead Sexist Cliches, I think I’m there.

#SFWApro.

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Tom Cotton and the censorship thing

As I mentioned last Thursday, Sen. Tom Cotton got to pen a column in the New York Times calling for the government to send troops out to kill the liberals and the filthy mongrel hordes (okay that last bit was more my interpretation). Even a lot of the Times staff think the paper made a bad call publishing it — especially since they solicited the column rather than Cotton coming to them. Unsurprisingly, conservatives (including some on the NYT staff) have supported the paper; at LGM, Paul Campos dissects why their arguments don’t hold up. In this column, I add some of my own thoughts (which are not altered by opinion page chief James Bennett falling on his sword).

The concept of “censorship” includes both “the government prevented me publishing this” which is a First Amendment issue and “a private company won’t publish my book/put me on the air/let me speak at their events” which is not.

It’s true that the  latter may have the same effect as government censorship. In the pre-Amazon days, if only bookstore in town refused to order books it considers offensive (e.g. anti-Christian, pro-gay, too sexist, presents statutory rape as fun) there might be no easy way for most people to get them. If the local paper refuses to print columns on a particular viewpoint, that suppresses the discussion. But in both cases, the company’s within its rights to do so. That’s why people don’t go to Christian bookstore (unless they’re trolling) and demand they order The Satanic Bible. It’s why novelists don’t scream censorship because specfic publishers such as DAW books or Falstaff books isn’t interested in their mainstream non-specfic novel. It’s the company’s call.

That’s not to say the standards are good or that we have no right to criticize or push them to change. Eight years ago, a newspaper publisher refused to let his movie critic review Snow White and the Huntsman on the grounds any movie with a female hero is anti-male, a deliberate attempt to deny men a heroic role model. He’s within his rights to make that call, but it’s a stupid, sexist decision.

That said, the decision is often justified. I’m cool with bookstores not putting pro-pedophilia books on their shelves or newspapers running op-eds on why we need to kill all the Jews. A good editorial page should have better arguments than a Facebook political debate and curating and selecting is part of that. Plus there’s only so much space on the Times’ editorial page; someone has to decide what gets in and what gets out. And most people defending the Times would agree that’s appropriate; the NYT’s Bari Weiss talks a lot about free speech but only in the sense that equates criticism of conservatives with thought policing; she’s considerably less tolerant of anti-Israel views. It’s not that she doesn’t believe in red lines for what’s acceptable speech, it’s just that Cotton doesn’t trigger them.

And last but hardly least, we are not living in the pre-Amazon, pre-Internet days. We don’t need the NYT to give us Cotton’s views; he’s on Twitter. Antisemites, neoNazis and white supremacists can air their views on YouTube, publish books through Kindle or their websites and do podcasts. There are no gatekeepers the way there were 40 years ago.

Cotton getting to write for the NYT is a matter of prestige (and also getting professional editing). It automatically gives Cotton a standing that blogging on WordPress doesn’t, nor appearing in any of the countless right-wing publications. It’s the same logic by which conservatives forever whine that there aren’t any conservative movies, TV shows, etc.; the Christian conservative market is a booming business that offers them exactly that, but it’s not going to command the attention or critical interest that a mainstream Hollywood production does. Likewise, if Trump doesn’t like the way Twitter treats him he could jump to another platform. Conservatives have launched several unsuccessful social media but if Trump were on one, they’d undoubtedly do better. However it wouldn’t have the status of Twitter or the same audience of pundits and politicians.

If the NYT had not reached out to Cotton, it would not have hurt the senator’s free-speech rights in the least. Or the country’s.

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