Tag Archives: media

The New York Times (again)

June 14:


June 18:


The New York Times

Rising amid the international grief is the aching and obvious question of why. But the short life of Mr. Mateen, who was 29, provides no easy road map to motivation.

He had shown occasional flashes of interest in radical Islam, enough to be investigated twice by the F.B.I. in recent years for possible extremist ties.



Ça ira, ça ira, ça ira

Stop the presses! Josh Barro (NYC; B.A., psychology, Harvard) has an opinion.

Josh Barro (son of Robert Barro, Ph.D., economics, Harvard) has some more opinions.

Josh Barro gets paid to put his opinions in print. Jay Yarow (NYC; M.A., journalism, NYU) likes Josh Barro’s opinions.

So does Matty Glesias (DC; B.A., philosophy, Harvard).

Josh, Jay, and Matty, of course, are some of the most ‘privileged’ people in America. They’re very highly educated, you see. Josh has a little piece of paper that says “Harvard” on it, and that little piece of paper assures him that he will never be cast out among the poors, the middle Americans, the 2 Broke Girls viewers. But, you see, he earned it, by being the son of a Harvard man. A legacy. An aristocrat.

Have you ever met a minor aristocrat?

A minor aristocrat, that is, not someone like Donald Trump. Donald Trump is not a minor aristocrat. Donald Trump has serious money, and his father had serious money before him. No one with that much money needs to be insecure—and Donald Trump is not. His aesthetic is kitschy. His hair is kitschy. And he owns Mar-a-Lago, which was built by the richest woman in the United States. Donald Trump is an aristocrat—he’s good at making people forget it, but he is an aristocrat—but he’s secure in his position.

Josh Barro, on the other hand, is a snot-nosed kid who went to Harvard. What does he have? A piece of paper and a journalism gig. Is Josh Barro, who couldn’t tell Montana from Mongolia, a particularly talented journalist? Could he, in a double-blind test, outcompete the poors, the yokels, the disgusting average people of gross, inferior white America? If Josh Barro were hit by a truck, his bizarrely large ears and bilious guts splattered into a million giblets across the pavement of his coastal gated community, his blood separated from his veins and dripped into the sewers to ever so slightly increase the concentration of cocaine in the local water supply, would anyone care? No. Josh Barro, the minor aristocrat, is replaceable. He is privileged, but he is still insecure.

If you ever meet a minor aristocrat, insecurity will be the most obvious thing about him. It’s stamped on their round, Charlie Brown-like skulls in bright flashing letters. But they have their excuses. The minor aristocrat doesn’t shop at Walmart—not because it’s ‘low-class’; he opposes their labor practices, so he buys from Amazon instead. The minor aristocrat despises the white working class—not because he knows he might someday lose his privilege; he knows their hate is holding America back, so he says they’re all inferior, maybe even subhuman. The minor aristocrat invents an ever-expanding set of shibboleths and calls anyone who doesn’t master them Satanic (sorry, “fascist”)—not because he wants to distinguish himself from the yokels, but because justice demands it. And his shibboleths are bundled up as progressivism, socialism, Marxism, whatever sort of egalitarianism, and taught in private schools and prestigious colleges, so that only the privileged can learn them. As for Donald Trump—he’s not secure; he’s just a prole. The minor aristocrats are on top of the world.

If you ever meet a minor aristocrat, get him drunk, or at least angry. Wait for him to start fantasizing about rounding up the Republicans and slaughtering them, burning down the South with everyone in it, herding Christians into gas chambers. I’ve met my share of that lot, and they usually do. Sometimes they don’t bother trying to hide it. Brian Leiter, a disgraced law professor who once tried to insult me by calling me a “DMCA violator”, has repeatedly compared conservatives to the Taliban, labeled them “brain-dead”“disgusting”, and “bits of slime”, and calledtwice!—for their mass imprisonment. And then there’s Josh Barro. This isn’t your garden-variety performative internet bile; I’ve heard some minor aristocrats take even worse lines in real life. The worst ones are the most assured and the least secure—the second-generation Harvard graduates so sure that they’re part of the ‘elite’ and the first-generation Brahmin converts from flyover states, who fantasize about things like—and I am not making this up—holding banjo burnings to ‘protest racism’ or refusing to eat fried chicken because it’s associated with the South, and what would The Left think?

Leiter recently quoted the postmodernist professor Richard Rorty’s 1997 prediction that the “old industrialized democracies” would have a new Weimar period:

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. …

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …

All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

“Badly educated” is an interesting phrase, especially in this context: it contrasts with “college graduates”. To Rorty, these are the two opposing sides of a binary. The “badly educated”, i.e. the bad, are people who aren’t college graduates. Graduating from college is a spiritual transformation: the student is born again in the Spirit of Education, and transformed into a graduate—who is increasingly the only sort of person deemed worthy of even a job. And “education” is something one is socialized into: the student’s spiritual transformation is brought about by spending four years in a separate environment controlled by the Highly Enlightened, the most Spiritually Transformed of them all; and going to lots of lectures (sermons) and studying lots of books—especially the favored canon (holy texts, although the word “canon” itself originally meant “Church law”)—often while sleep-deprived (suggestible), and often getting drunk (becoming more suggestible) or using drugs (becoming more suggestible) in the off-hours; and, in exchange for access to these separate environments controlled by the Highly Enlightened, giving them lots and lots of money.

If we apply the usual tools of materialist analysis, we find that, since the Highly Enlightened exert influence over their students, and since the students pay the Highly Enlightened lots and lots of money to attend their cult compounds universities, the Highly Enlightened have a strong incentive to justify their position ideologically (by, for example, setting up a binary opposition between the virtuous “college graduates” and the unvirtuous “badly educated”) and materially (by turning their certificates of Spiritual Transformation into certificates of ideological ability to hold a job), and that this incentive is shared by the elite, who have the money and the connections to get themselves and their children into the most Spiritually Transforming cult compounds universities of all, and especially by the bankers, who provide loans (which are undischargeable and which minors can legally sign for) to seekers of Spiritual Transformation.

Strangely, this point seems to go unmade in academia. Even Freddie deBoer thinks ‘free’ college is a reasonable economic-leftist position. Presumably, one is to question everything except the institutions telling you to question everything…

But we could always question the idea that an education is something you get by sitting in a room in college, that a degree is a mark of Spiritual Transformation that ought to be required of everyone who wants a job, and that minor aristocrats like Josh and Jay and Matty are #important #thinkfluencers, not nervous snot-nosed manchildren pushing the interests of their class as hard as they can in the desperate hope that they can hold onto their position.

Twitter artificially manipulates trends

No one should be surprised by this. No one should be surprised that Facebook does it either. But here’s proof.

Edit: In the 20 minutes between when I tweeted about this and when I published this post, they filed the numbers off one of their injected trends.


#RepealHB2 refers to the North Carolina ‘bathroom bill’. Twitter (almost certainly) artificially injected a hashtag trying to influence North Carolina into the trends of the Washington, DC area, which, needless to say, doesn’t include any part of North Carolina. Details, details.


Oddly, they didn’t make it trend in Charlotte.


Everybody was on the same page

This was a revisionist interpretation of art history, and it had two prongs. The first was the suggestion of actual collusion between MOMA and the C.I.A. The evidence for this has always been largely circumstantial. The man who directed cultural activities at the C.I.A. in the early years of the Cold War, Thomas Braden, had previously been the executive secretary of MOMA. According to Saunders, a number of MOMA trustees were also on the board of the Farfield Foundation, a C.I.A. front. The president of the museum in the nineteen-forties and fifties was Nelson Rockefeller, whose family had supported MOMAfrom the beginning, and who had close ties to the intelligence community and an unabashed commitment to the patriotic uses of art. (It was Nelson who had demanded the removal of Diego Rivera’s murals from the walls of Rockefeller Center, because they depicted Lenin.) During the war, Rockefeller had been the Roosevelt Administration’s coördinator of inter-American affairs; the head of the art section in that office, René d’Harnoncourt, joined MOMA in 1944 and became its director.

What this suggests, though, is simply that the leaders of MOMA, like the leaders of most mainstream institutions in the United States after the war, were anti-Communists. As Saunders acknowledges, there were no explicit arrangements between the government and the museum, and the reason was that there didn’t need to be. Everybody was on the same page. Rockefeller and Alfred Barr, the founding director of MOMA, who, after the war, served as chairman of the painting and sculpture collections, did not have to be encouraged to use American art to promote the nation’s image abroad. They never pretended that they were up to anything else. Barr was a lover of European modernism, but he was on a mission to persuade Americans that theirs was a modern culture—a mission that he pursued by mounting exhibitions on modern architecture and design, and starting the museum’s department of film, headed by the formidable Iris Barry and dedicated to the proposition that Hollywood movies were part of the modern movement in the arts.


But, you know, it’s still a wacky conspiracy theory to say that everyone was on the same page.

The New York Times

A handful of liberal and socialist writers, led by philosophy professor Sydney Hook, saw their chance to steal a little of the publicity expected for the Waldorf peace conference [the ‘Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace’, a pro-Moscow event organized by a CPUSA front group]. A fierce ex-Communist himself, Hook was then teaching at New York University and editing a socialist magazine called The New Leader. Ten years earlier he and his mentor John Dewey had founded a controversial group called the Committee for Cultural Freedom, which attacked both Communism and Nazism. He now organized a similar committee to harass the peace conference in the Waldorf-Astoria.

Hook’s new group called itself the Americans for Intellectual Freedom. Its big names included critics Dwight MacDonald and Mary McCarthy, composer Nicolas Nabokov, and commentator Max Eastman. Arnold Beichman, a labor reporter friendly with anti-Communist union leaders, remembered the excitement of tweaking the Soviet delegates and their fellow conferees: “We didn’t have any staff, we didn’t have any salaries to pay anything. But inside of about one day the place was just busting with people volunteering.” One of Beichman’s union friends persuaded the sold-out Waldorf to base Hook and his group in a three-room suite (“I told them if you don’t get that suite we’ll close the hotel down,” he explained to Beichman), and another union contact installed 10 phone lines on a Sunday morning.

Hook and his friends stole the show. They asked embarrassing questions of the Soviet delegates at the conference’s panel discussions and staged an evening rally of their own at nearby Bryant Park. News stories on the peace conference reported the activities of the Americans for Intellectual Freedom in detail. “The only paper that was against us in this reporting was The New York Times,” recalled Beichman. “It turned out years later that [the Times reporter] was a member of the Party.”


NPR: Musical dysmorphic disorder

Men who play music may be engaging in practicing behavior to the point that it’s harming their emotional or physiological health, according to a recent study.

The preliminary study, presented Thursday at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention, recruited 195 men ages 18 to 65 who played music at least twice a week and regularly engaged in practicing behavior.

Participants answered questions about their practicing behavior use as well as their self-esteem, mental image, musical habits and gender roles.

“These men want to be conventionally talented, and it makes sense that [practicing behaviors] are what they’re using or abusing,” says Richard Achiro, lead author of the study and a registered psychological assistant at a private practice in Los Angeles.

Forty percent of participants, who were all men, increased their practicing use over time, while 22 percent were replacing regular activities with practicing behaviors. Eight percent of participants had signs of bodily stress due to practicing behavior, and 3 percent reported injuries caused directly by it.

Men who used practicing behaviors inappropriately also were more likely to have behaviors associated with mental disorders.

Achiro is no stranger to the culture of practicing behaviors. His interest was piqued when he noticed throughout college and graduate school how common it was for his male friends to go to practice rooms to use musical instruments.

“It became more and more ubiquitous,” Achiro says. “Guys around my age who I knew — I’d go to their apartment and see some kind of guitar.”

Not to mention that this has become a multibillion-dollar industry that’s grown exponentially in the recent decade or so, he adds. …

One big factor behind practicing behavior use is dissatisfaction, the study found. The men internalize a particular set of cultural standards of talent usually depicted by the media: “like Yngwie Malmsteen,” says Achiro. And they’re unhappy that they don’t meet that ideal.

But the study also found that the men using practicing were more likely to feel gender role conflict, which Achiro explained as underlying insecurity about one’s masculinity.

“This isn’t just about the music,” Achiro says, “What this is really about is what the music represents for these men. It seems that the findings in part [show] this is a way of compensating for their insecurity or low self-esteem.” …

“Someone with anorexia will feel they need to continue to get thinner and lose weight. With musicians, they act in the same kind of manner. They acknowledge that they’re skilled, but are obsessed with certain techniques that they find inadequate. This drive for talent preoccupies them. Practicing behaviors serve them the same way diet products serve someone with an eating disorder,” Cohn says.

For people affected by musical dysmorphic disorders, this constant and compulsive behavior takes over their lives — they are constantly skill-checking and can be unhappy, dissatisfied, or have low self-esteem.

“Think about bands on the high school and college level. Lots of these guys are encouraged by teachers and trainers to take these behaviors,” says Cohn. “This isn’t thought of as a negative behavior but can have negative consequences.”

The silver lining, Achiro points out, is that 29 percent of study participants knew that they had a problem of overusing practicing. But they might not be aware of possible underlying psychological factors.

“Guys think using practicing behaviors is healthy, [they’re] convinced it’s good for them, [it’s] giving them all kinds of skill they wouldn’t be getting otherwise,” says Cohn. “[This is] ignorance about what proper skill is.”

It’s also not unusual for people diagnosed with musical dysmorphic disorder or its characteristics to also have a high incidence of depression, anxiety and alcoholism, Cohn adds.

Although the research is preliminary and has yet to be peer-reviewed, Achiro hopes his research puts the issue on the map and encourages researchers to replicate his work.

“This is just the very beginning. There’re still tons to look at,” he says.

You heard it here first, folks. Wanting to get better at something is a sign of disordered thinking, low self-esteem, and insecurity about masculinity. And if an angel ever gives you a choice between being Haydn and being an immortal oyster, pick the oyster.

The original article is here.

The web of dependency

Ran Prieur:

Review of a book about uncontacted tribes in the Amazon. The best part is about how a large complex society defeats primitive people, when it is no longer socially acceptable to conquer them with violence. Quoting two bits out of order:

Pacification was accomplished through the proffering of Western goods, including machetes, axes, metal pots, fishhooks, matches, mosquito netting, and clothing. The seductive appeal of such things was nearly irresistible, for each of these items can make a quantum improvement in a sylvan lifestyle. Acquisition of several or all of these goods is a transformative experience that makes contact essentially irreversible.

With the convenience of matches, one quickly loses the knack for starting a fire. Shotguns decisively outperform bows and arrows, but cartridges must be bought at a good price. Such newly acquired dependencies fundamentally altered the life of the Indians, who were compelled to work for wages instead of spending their days hunting, fishing, and tending their gardens.

This is the kind of thing Ivan Illich wrote about all the time, and it’s still happening today, to you. With the convenience of frozen dinners and restaurant meals, one quickly loses the knack for preparing food. iTunes decisively outperforms radio, but music files must be bought at a good price. To navigate sprawl you need a car, to pay expenses on a car you need a job, and so on. But at the same time, many of us understand this web of dependency and are fighting to get free of it.


Right now, almost all genetic modification is being done to make crops that are dependent on industrial agriculture with high energy inputs. The danger is that inevitable biotech catastrophes will serve as the excuse to give central control systems a strict monopoly over biotech, and they will use it to stamp out biodiversity and create life that is dependent on those control systems for its survival.


As long as genetic modification is being done primarily by big agribusiness, plants will be altered to make them more compatible with central control of the food supply.

I’m not sure if he’s right about genetic modification, but if he is, it’s another illustration of the same pattern: “In practice, technologies will be used by control systems to maintain their power and stability.” People subject themselves to the control system for some perceived (and perhaps even real) benefit, and then get bitten by the tradeoffs.

Another example: the replacement of folk culture (decentralized/distributed, varying and variable, illegible to bureaucracies, difficult to control) with mass culture (centralized, impossible to edit, bureaucratic, easy to control) — less effortful and allowing for much higher production values and potentially much more talent, but in practice, buying in tends to mean letting your enemies put thoughts into your head.

The first imagined solidarity

If the expansion of bureaucratic middle classes was a relatively even phenomenon, occurring at comparable rates in both advanced and backward states of Europe, the rise of commercial and industrial bourgeoisies was of course highly uneven — massive and rapid in some places, slow and stunted in others. But no matter where, this ‘rise’ has to be understood in its relationship to vernacular print-capitalism.

The pre-bourgeois ruling classes generated their cohesions in some sense outside language, or at least outside print-language. If the ruler of Siam took a Malay noblewoman as a concubine, or if the King of England married a Spanish princess — did they ever talk seriously together? Solidarities were the products of kinship, clientship, and personal loyalties. ‘French’ nobles could assist ‘English’ kings against ‘French’ monarchs, not on the basis of shared language or culture, but, Machiavellian calculations aside, of shared kinsmen and friendships. The relatively small size of traditional aristocracies, their fixed political bases, and the personalization of political relations implied by sexual intercourse and inheritance, meant that their cohesions as classes were as much concrete as imagined. An illiterate nobility could still act as a nobility. But the bourgeoisie? Here was a class which, figuratively speaking, came into being as a class only in so many replications. Factory-owner in Lille was connected to factory-owner in Lyon only by reverberation. They had no necessary reason to know of one another’s existence; they did not typically marry each other’s daughters or inherit each other’s property. But they did come to visualize in a general way the existence of thousands and thousands like themselves through print-language. For an illiterate bourgeoisie is scarcely imaginable. Thus in world-historical terms bourgeoisies were the first classes to achieve solidarities on an essentially imagined basis. But in a nineteenth-century Europe in which Latin had been defeated by vernacular print-capitalism for something like two centuries, these solidarities had an outermost stretch limited by vernacular legibilities. To put it another way, one can sleep with anyone, but one can only read some people’s words.

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities.

The beginnings of imagined communities

What were the characteristics of the first American newspapers, North or South? They began essentially as appendages of the market. Early gazettes contained — aside from news about the metropole — commercial news (when ships would arrive and  depart, what prices were current for what commodities in what ports), as well as colonial political appointments, marriages of the wealthy, and so forth. In other words, what brought together, on the same page, this marriage with that ship, this price with that bishop, was the very structure of the colonial administration and market-system itself. In this way, the newspaper of Caracas quite naturally, and even apolitically, created an imagined community among a specific assemblage of fellowreaders, to whom these ships, brides, bishops and prices belonged. In time, of course, it was only to be expected that political elements would enter in.

One fertile trait of such newspapers was always their provinciality. A colonial Creole might read a Madrid newspaper if he got the chance (but it would say nothing about his world), but many a peninsular official, living down the same street, would, if he could help it, not read the Caracas production. An asymmetry infinitely replicable in other colonial situations. Another such trait was plurality. The Spanish-American journals that developed towards the end of the eighteenth century were written in full awareness of provincials in worlds parallel to their own. The newspaper-readers of Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Bogota, even if they did not read each other’s newspapers, were nonetheless quite conscious of their existence. Hence a well-known doubleness in early Spanish-American nationalism, its alternating grand stretch and particularistic localism. The fact that early Mexican nationalists wrote of themselves as nosotros los Americanos and of their country as nuestra America, has been interpreted as revealing the vanity of the local Creoles who, because Mexico was far the most valuable of Spain’s American possessions, saw themselves as the centre of the New World. But, in fact, people all over Spanish America thought of themselves as ‘Americans,’ since this term denoted precisely the shared fatality of extra-Spanish birth.

At the same time, we have seen that the very conception of the newspaper implies the refraction of even ‘world events’ into a specific imagined world of vernacular readers; and also how  important to that imagined community is an idea of steady, solid simultaneity through time. Such a simultaneity the immense stretch of the Spanish American Empire, and the isolation of its component parts, made difficult to imagine. Mexican Creoles might learn months later of developments in Buenos Aires, but it would be through Mexican newspapers, not those of the Rio de la Plata; and the events would appear as ‘similar to’ rather than ‘part of’ events in Mexico.

In this sense, the ‘failure’ of the Spanish-American experience to generate a permanent Spanish-America-wide nationalism reflects both the general level of development of capitalism and technology in the late eighteenth century and the ‘local’ backwardness of Spanish capitalism and technology in relation to the administrative stretch of the empire. (The world-historical era in which each nationalism is born probably has a significant impact on its scope. Is Indian nationalism not inseparable from colonial administrative-market unification, after the Mutiny, by the most formidable and advanced of the imperial powers?)

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities.

Also, the thesis:

What I am proposing is that neither economic interest, Liberalism, nor Enlightenment could, or did, create in themselves the kind, or shape, of imagined community to be defended from these regimes’ depredations; to put it another way, none provided the framework of a new consciousness — the scarcely-seen
periphery of its vision – as opposed to centre-field objects of its admiration or disgust. In accomplishing this specific task, pilgrim Creole functionaries and provincial Creole printmen played the decisive historic role.