Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Chronicle of Higher Education, English literature teacher on "Facing My Own Extinction"

I'm seeing more of these sorts of pieces in the last few years.  Liberal arts educators feel that there's a crisis in the very nature of their vocation.  It's hard to really argue that such a crisis exists.  Sometimes the writing is interesting.  I linked to something about academic precarity earlier and this is a more direct musing upon the eventual extinction of the English instructor in light of contemporary academic trends in the Anglo-American world.

By Nina Handler   December 07, 2017 
Charles Smithson, a character in John Fowles’s 1969 novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, is a wealthy, idle gentleman who faces the challenge of realizing that he, as a type, is becoming extinct. The novel is set in 1867, and Charles, a devotee of Darwin, considers the recently published On the Origin of Species to be his bible. His social class will cease to exist within a generation, and Charles has both the wisdom to see that he must adapt and the self-awareness to know that he is incapable of it. He is being swept away by evolutionary change but is helpless to change his fate.
I am a college English instructor. This is a bad time for my species — and a bad time for the study of English. In academe, we are witnessing an extinction of fields of study once thought essential. I teach at a private university that has just canceled majors in English, religious studies, philosophy, and music. The English major is becoming the useless gentleman, the Charles Smithson, of the modern university.
My institution is very small, and thus faculty members must be generalists. I teach freshman writing as well as survey courses on British literature and genre courses on fiction and children’s literature. I see my job as acquainting students with writers whom they have not yet encountered, giving them some tools to guide their reading and writing, and then getting out of the way as the texts work their magic. In those Brit-lit surveys, I teach relics of more than one bygone world.
In fact, I just finished teaching Tennyson’s "In Memoriam A.H.H.," a poem that tries to render meaning from grief. The poem moves beyond being a lament on the early death of an individual to grapple with existential issues of sorrow and doubt. One of the most memorable aspects of "In Memoriam" is its response to the "scientific erosion of divinity" aroused by notions of evolution in works such as Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844). Tennyson captures the fears of his time: The world is not the result of direct divine creation and intent, but is instead at the mercy of a frequently cruel, impersonal, and indifferent Nature.
In 1849, the questions raised by evolution can fairly be said to have freaked out millions of people. Within Tennyson’s poem, the speaker’s first insight is bleak enough: Nature doesn’t care about the individual, only the species. The author’s particular friend, whose loss he mourns so deeply, has no significance in the overall scheme of things
But then the speaker is confronted by a grimmer reality: Nature doesn’t care about anything. Whole species have come and gone from dominance to extinction. We are not special; someday humans, too, will become extinct. There is no divine intervention and nature is not a kindly mother. All of life is a struggle for existence in the harshest terms.
Even though an alert reader will have worked it all out by now, there's such a thing as giving a reader what they have come to expect is coming and so ...
In the academic struggle for existence, English has lost. This is not specific to my university; English has been weak for a while now. According to the Modern Language Association, in the late 1960s and early ’70s, English accounted for about 7.5 percent of all bachelor’s degrees granted in the United States. By 2004, the MLA reported, only 3.47 percent of college students earned bachelor’s degrees in English.
I was considering an English major in college decades ago but decided against it because there was no reason anyone with just some English degree would necessarily land a job outside the walls of an academy.  So I picked an even dumber degree, arguably, journalism.  I thought that I should at least try to learn how to write in a way that might get published somewhere and journalism seemed more explicitly dedicated to writing stuff that people would read than other kinds of degrees that were more officially English or officially writing.  Besides if all those axioms about what can't be taught were true there was no point in being an English major if I could read stuff on my own time.  But I had to minor in something with my journalism degree and I didn't minor in English.  The tens of thousands of words about musical form might give the rest away there.
So let's get back to some of the article.
 ...Times change, and institutions of higher education must change along with them. If no one wants to study a particular field, if it’s not filling a niche, it will die a natural death. This is evolution in action. I have no choice but to accept that the vast majority of students at my university don’t want to major in English. They don’t want what I have to offer. Instead, they want degrees in the health sciences.
Of course, my students and their worldviews don’t exist in a vacuum. They live in a culture that tells them in every way that STEM fields are where the money’s at and consequently are the only fields worth studying. They want to know — for the return on the gargantuan investment they and their families have made in a college education — that they will be able to get a well-paid job tied directly to their major.
Once education is viewed as a hoop to be jumped through to get somewhere else, people start assigning value to it in a way that privileges direct connections to prosperity and jobs they can easily see. With no sense that being an English major leads to any job but being an English teacher, students are "voting with their feet," as my provost said when she canceled the major. Social Darwinism speaks of "survival of the fittest," a victim-blaming phrase that has been distorted to justify socially constructed imbalances of wealth and power. If you can’t make it, it’s your own fault — or it’s just nature taking its bloody course.
The bloody course ... reminds me of something.
 I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Painting and Poetry Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.
More or less you see that painting and poetry and music and the finer arts are at the end of the line, not the beginning.  Between politics and war at one end and poetry, painting, music and porcelain is mathematics, philosophy,  geography and natural history.  How might we update and translate that battery of topics for our time?    STEM. What humanities specialists don't seem to notice in resenting or lamenting the fixation on STEM is that if we consider Adams envisioned arc of history, the pendulum swinging back from the fine arts into STEM is a swing that is also back to/through war.  Not that we haven't had a war machine going constantly but I'm riffing playfully here.  People into the fine arts tend to keep forgetting, as if by an insistent choice, the inextricable relationship the fine arts have with imperial contexts.  Anglo-American liberals and liberal arts advocates seem to want all the art but without, if possible, all that cultural imperialism being associated with actual bloodletting imperialism.  I'll admit to cynicism at this point, the shift back into STEM could just be a sign that empires crumble and their glory fades.  There's not necessarily anything wrong with loving great literature and music and all that. 
The United States has been called the leader of the free world while there was a Cold War going on.  Its just that now that the Cold War has been over a few decades wwe've had time to see that none of us were necessarily more free here than the people under Soviet rule were necessarily free over there, either.  This author can see, at least, that a lot of what's taught in an English literature program simply won't connect to those who have had to learn it.
As someone who knew I wanted to study literature since I was a child, and who viewed higher education as an all-around enriching experience, I’ve felt like a 19th-century relic for my entire adult life. Middle- and working-class people can’t afford to learn just for the inherent value of it.
Like Charles Smithson in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, I can see the future and know that I won’t exist in it. I don’t know if I am capable of survival in this new environment. Social Darwinists would say it’s adapt or die, but I don’t know how to adapt to a society that doesn’t want what I hold dear.
The adapters, too, face a predicament: You can adapt only so much before the changes are significant enough that the species itself dies out. The woolly mammoth and the mastodon look a lot like today’s elephants, but they are different things.
Well, one possibility that has been tried over the years and tends to get underemphasized in Anglo-American arts education is to remind people that a lot of these people had day jobs so boring arts teachers prefer not to tell you that the famous artists and writers and musicians had them.  American literary education and educational enterprise as a whole may not have appreciated the extent to which our Americanist literary culture has been subsidized and sustained by an American academic system.  It can be thought of as a hothouse growth. 
 ... And not to diminish courses in health sciences, marketing, or communications, but I sometimes think that the most important thinking students do happens in their English classes. I’ve seen light bulbs go off over their heads. I’ve seen the moment when their brains seem to short-circuit — when the possibilities of interpretation, or the interplay of complexities and their implications in a text, are overwhelming. Then they go away and think some more and give me papers full of insight and analysis. I’ve seen English majors born in those classes.
A majority of the most important thinking moments I've had that I can think of off the top of my head involved reading the Bible.  Significant moments also happened reading Conrad, Melville, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Didion, Austen and a whole bunch of other writers, too.  It's exciting when people share comprehension of something it is that you love but I haven't really had any such moments where someone looks at me with this glow in their eyes and then saying, "Why, yes.  Of course, you can totally take this fugue subject and create a stretto with it where the subject gets answered by its own retrograde!"  That has never happened to me once in my life and I suspect it never will. 
Had I gotten what I wanted it might have been me writing this piece I've been quoting from. 
What arts academics may want to wrestle with more directly is that if the pendulum is swinging back into STEM as war continues it may be a portent that when the pendulum finally gets back to war all of the arts will be shown to be the luxuries that Adams realized they were when he wrote in hope that one day his descendants would be able to pursue them, but not until after he'd made a study of war and politics. 

Scott Timberg laments the demise of the LA Weekly and blames the offspring of Ayn Rand.


SOUTHERN Californians have been bludgeoned with bad news lately, as a number of media outlets — LAist, BuzzFeed, Los Angeles magazine, the LA Times, and the OC Weekly — have either shut down or seen major layoffs. (In Orange County, editor Gustavo Arellano resigned after being asked to machine-gun his staff.)

Perhaps the most disturbing of these is the fresh murder of the LA Weekly, which has weathered a number of abrupt shifts in the past but now seems to be truly dead. The entire genre of alternative weeklies has had a tough run since the Recession and digital revolution — I wrote about the death of the Boston Phoenix and struggles of the Village Voice here in 2013. The Weekly was run by the former New Times company of Arizona, who are hardly paragons of virtue. But this is a whole new level of hell.

In parallel with the way rich right-wing men like Robert Mercer, Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Bros have — often invisibly — distorted our national politics with huge contributions and bogus foundations, especially post-Citizens United — the Weekly’s new owners snuck up on us. This group created a new company, told a number of half-truths, then came in, busting a union and firing nearly the paper’s whole staff. This group of Libertarian jackals has also hinted that they will no longer pay writers for their “contributions.” The Don’t Work For Free movement has never seemed so relevant.

This Pacific Standard story is the fullest recounting I’ve seen so far. (KCRW Press Play’s interview with new boss Brian Calle, former editor of the OC Register’s famously Right-Libertarian editorial page, is also worth hearing if you have a strong stomach for evasion, duplicity, and intellectual shallowness.) The paper’s former film critic, April Wolfe, has been leading much of the opposition among former employees of the Weekly, a paper that got a big early boost in its coverage of underground rock music, gay culture, and LA’s air pollution

Deadlines, I’m afraid, keep me from saying more, but this saddens me and many others quite deeply. When I moved to town 20 years ago, the weekly was a feisty and intelligent paper, thick with adds, sometimes up around 200 pages, with the best food, film, and arts writing in the city. (I say this as someone who worked for the rival paper, whose owners later swallowed the Weekly.) I ended up marrying a longtime music contributor, and we still have many friends from several generations of the paper’s existence.

To see it crushed by smug, wealthy offspring of Ayn Rand (are there any other kind?) who want their writers to work for free is pretty close to stomach-turning.

Most of the fans I know of Ayn Rand aren't wealthy even if they are often smug.  Timberg's stint at Salon gave me some idea where he lands on a variety of topics and I've never been able to take Salon or AlterNet very seriously.  It's hard not to think of them as a kind of mutant blue-state Breitbart or The Blaze in a lot of ways. 

Yet, I suppose in a way the venting about Rand and her self-described disciples does raise a potentially interesting point that Timberg doesn't really make explicit, that all the self-styled John Galts who draw inspiration from Rand's ideas could be seen as a group that emphatically and explicitly sees itself as a nascent and legitimate aristocracy that should be able to guide the future of the society that is the United States.

The trouble is that for people on the left or, rather, the liberal side of things, the tendency to collapse libertarianism into conservatism into fascism has been a little too popular in Anglo-American journalism.  It's fairly easy for someone to get up in arms about the Koch brothers and their giving.



An author can dislike her subjects. However, the book would have been stronger had Ms Mayer expanded the scope of her scorn. She acknowledges in passing that Democratic donors, including two hedge-fund billionaires, George Soros and Tom Steyer, have funnelled money into their own political causes. But she never dissects whether the left has embraced the deceptive funding mechanisms that she so assiduously has traced for the right. The fact that she does not cast a critical eye across the whole system prevents “Dark Money” from being a comprehensive analysis of how America’s campaign finances are distorted. But it offers a valuable contribution to a subject that requires far greater scrutiny in this election year.

The last election cycle made it seem that the red and blue partisans within the machines themselves and the journalists who write about these things would like the system dismantled only to the extent that their ideological adversaries can stop benefiting from the systems in place. 

Timberg's own writing has come up for some criticism in the last few years, most notably a general observation that his lament over the loss of journalism jobs would be a bit more sympathetic if the general collapse of traditional journalism hadn't been a known if troubling trend for the last three decades.  And even if advocates of Randian ideals seem like right-wing fascists to blue state voters that doesn't necessarily make it so, even if I've found avowed fans of Ayn Rand to be some of the most annoying people I've ever had to be around in my life. 

But I'll grant a writer like Timberg a point that the John Galts really do seem to think they're some kind of aristocracy.  In American contexts what might make that so galling is we keep trying to tell ourselves that we either don't have a class system or that if we have one it shouldn't be so self-consciously going about identifying itself in confessional terms.  Americans with class are supposed to signal it by who they feel safe to look down on ... though with a measure like that the aristocracy of America would have to include more than just people like the Koch brothers.  It could even include people like Timberg, for instance.  Not everyone in an aristocratic class has to actually be gainfully employed, do they?

Hyperallergic riffs on how the manly and individualistic abstract expressionists were backed by the CIA and thus cogs in the capitalist machine (because there must be people who don't know this already)

BERLIN — Jackson Pollock — the art world’s Marlboro man, an icon of freedom in postwar America — may owe part of his legacy precisely to that image, and its potency for America’s Cold-War cultural battle. A new exhibition in Berlin’s House of World Cultures (HKW), Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War, looks at the little-known history of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an association of intellectuals and cultural producers that first met in West Berlin in 1950, and dispersed in 1967 when its funding ties to the CIA were exposed. The history of the CCF is no secret — you can read all about it on the CIA’s own website. But the HKW exhibition tells the parallel story of the CCF’s aesthetic of freedom, and contextualizes the lasting legacy of modernism within the geopolitical power struggles of the Cold War.
After World War II, the CIA’s strategy in Europe was to strengthen intellectual elites who supported socialist policies but not Communism, who they termed the non-communist left. Doing so without having those actions traced back to the US, however, was challenging. The CCF was one solution: its director Michael Josselson proposed that strengthening the non-communist left should be done through cultural organizations rather than straight-out political ones. The CCF would gather European influencers under the guise of promoting “cultural freedom” —and indeed most intellectuals and artists involved in the congress were not aware of its CIA bankrolling. The CCF was founded in Berlin and went on to assert influence over writers, artists, and intellectuals in Cold War frontiers throughout Africa, Asia, and West Asia. Its operations assumed that modernist expression in literature, art, and music forged a path for spreading capitalism, democracy, and liberalism in the American model.
Could anything communicate white, male freedom more than Pollock’s drip paintings? Or embody abstract thought more than Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings? Secret agents could never have invented better antidotes to Socialist Realism — all they had to do was push these all-American exports as hard as they could. One of the CCF’s activities was to organize traveling exhibitions of 20th century art from American collections (primarily MoMA’s) across Europe. These exhibitions posited Abstract Expressionism as a natural development, à la Alfred Barr, to the European, prewar avant-garde. They asserted both a new canon and a new brand of all-American imagery. The HKW doesn’t miss its chance to merrily topple male-modernist myths, and adds a new twist: these celebrated artists were cogs in the capitalist expansion, unbeknownst to them, frontmen for the CIA’s global mission to plant the aesthetics of freedom.
One of my reading projects this year is Hugh Wilford's The Mighty Wurlitzer, about how the CIA created front groups to promote American interests against Soviet propaganda by basically copying Soviet techniques and communist front group strategies.  I'm still early in the book but even before I started into this book I had heard about how the abstract expressionists had CIA backing. 
So it's all too easy to note the irony of someone like Pollock being backed by the CIA while embodying a manly stereotype, but a comparable irony can exist for artists with leftist sympathies who express them in the context of the United States educational apparatus, too.  I think we should try to be more nuanced than that in both directions.  Daniel may have worked for a pagan ruler but he did keep kosher, right?  Sometimes you don't really get a choice about whether or not you're ultimately working for a terrible leader or in a terrible line of work.  In fact I'd venture to say that that's going to be most of us regardless of which nation we live in. 
Could anything communicate white, male freedom more than Pollock's drip paintings?  I dunno, Marlon Brando, perhaps?  Steve McQueen?  People who write about the visual arts can seem to live in a bubble in which tens of thousands of more obvious examples of some masculinist trope can be thought of but, hey, if you're writing about the art scene then Pollock it is.

a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of parents, teachers & students at three schools against California state itself for literacy failure

California can seem like a very strange state.  Things can seem to happen there that seem unimaginable in other states.  That's not necessarily to say other states don't have strange things about them. Oregon has plenty of peculiarity in its history.  Portland probably still doesn't put any fluoride in its water supply; there's probably still that law on the books that says you can ask a doctor to help you commit suicide; and more notoriously, the Oregon Constitution explicitly denied citizenship, voting rights and the right to enter contracts on the part of blacks until that verbiage was struck down. 

Every state probably has something a bit unique in a bad way about it.

Something a lot of states do is find ways to make prisoners do work that would be more expensive to do if done by officially employed people.  California itself is apparently going to be the defendant in a recently filed suit alleging that it failed to provide three schools and its associated populace with the resources necessary to promote literacy. 


Parents and educators at struggling schools in California say students there are not reading well, and lawyers this week sued the state, arguing that it had failed to provide the children with the resources they needed to learn
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday on behalf of parents, teachers and students at three schools — La Salle Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles; Van Buren Elementary School in Stockton; and Children of Promise Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Inglewood.
It said California had failed to follow up on its own report by state literacy experts that found there was a “critical need” to address the skills and development of students, particularly those who are learning English, have disabilities, are economically disadvantaged, or are African-American or Hispanic.
The suit, announced in a statement, is the first in the United States to seek recognition of the constitutional right to literacy, the lawyers said. It alleges that the state failed to intervene when students achieved low proficiency rates in reading and fell behind at the three schools, which are among the lowest performing in the state.
“It has been five years since the state identified urgent literacy issues and their remedies, but it is yet to implement a plan to address these issues,” said Michael Jacobs, a partner at Morrison & Foerster, which filed the suit along with the nonprofit law firm Public Counsel.
“In the meantime, children in underserved districts fall further behind and lack even the most basic literacy skills,” he said. “It’s time for the state to be held accountable for the success of every student.”

The state of California, its Education Department and Board, and the superintendent of public instruction, Tom Torlakson, were named as defendants in the lawsuit.
A spokesman for the Education Department, Bill Ainsworth, had no comment on the lawsuit. But he said that California had one of the nation’s “most ambitious” programs to serve low-income students, and that it was investing more than $10 billion annually to help underserved students.
The state also collects data to help educators figure out where to target resources, he said, adding that 228 districts will receive additional support next year, including the three schools named in the suit.
My parents played a substantial role in my learning how to read, my mom specifically.  I got drilled on phonetics with flash cards and stuff like that.  My math scores were often terrible but my reading level was considered average or above average for my age in school.  And here I am this year slowly working my way through Adorno's Aesthetic Theory and even slower through Gadamer's Truth and Method and I might even find a way to connect both of these books to a piece I'm incubating about the Michael Bay Transformers franchise as an iteration of what in an earlier era would have been called the total work of art. 
I'm not meaning to suggest California may not have given some schools the resources staff and students and parents wanted to have has to be ignored as a concern, but I do wonder what the thinking is that hopes that California state itself, as a defendant, can be found guilty on the basis of a superior court beholden to what would sure seem like California as well as federal laws.  Not being a Californian I can't even start to guess, really, how this will play out. I grew up in Oregon and the consensus within Oregon was that Californians were crazy, especially the further south they were.  Northern Californians you could basically pretend were Oregonians who hadn't come up to the state. SoCal was some alternate cosmos run by Cthulu.
No offense meant to great people who live and work down in southern California, just describing what is probably still a pervasive Oregonian sentiment. But the closing thought for this bit-of-news post is that as I get older I think about how the one thing that seems most vital to education is the thing that, to the frustration of parents and teachers alike is not something that can be foreseen or controlled for, the inherent curiosity of the student.  You can have the best materials and programs that money can buy and that tradition can inculcate but if you're presenting them to someone who has no curiosity about the world or the human condition and who regards the entirety of educational experience as some stupid set of hoops to jump through before you can get to interesting stuff to do then, well, there's not a whole lot you can do for those people if they are incurious.  Of course the nature of the reported suit sounds like it alleges that even with a collective will the state of California didn't dole out enough resources for literacy to happen.  Guess we'll just have to see what comes of this.

new book argues the 2nd amendment was designed not so much to secure the creation of militia as to permit white citizens to bear arms to kill Native Americans



These early cases of gun violence belong to a history of settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing. As the writer and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz argues in her brilliant new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, America’s obsession with guns has roots in a long, bloody legacy of racist vigilantism, militarism, and white nationalism. This past, Dunbar-Ortiz persuasively argues, undergirds both the landscape of gun violence to this day and our partisan debates about guns. Her analysis, erudite and unrelenting, exposes blind spots not just among conservatives, but, crucially, among liberals as well.

These days, debates over the Second Amendment invariably turn on interpreting the connotation of “militia” in the stipulation that: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Liberals will often argue that gun ownership was always intended to be tethered to participation in institutions like the early Colonial Army or today’s National Guard. Conservatives tend to retort, in so many words, that “the people” were always meant to have guns as such, since an armed citizenry functions as a putative check on tyrannical government over-reach. When polled, a majority of Americans say they believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, regardless of participation in formal militias, whether “for hunting” or, as the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 District of Columbia vs. Heller, for lawful “self-defense.”

A distinguished scholar of Native American history, Dunbar-Ortiz dismisses these debates as a red herring. As she pointedly notes, at the time of the Second Amendment’s drafting, other lines elsewhere in America’s founding documents already provided for the existence of formal militias, and multiple early state constitutions had spelled out an individual right to bear arms besides. What the Second Amendment guarantees is instead something else: “the violent appropriation of Native land by white settlers … as an individual right.”

Our national mythology encourages Americans to see the Second Amendment as a result of the Revolutionary War—to think of it as a matter of arming Minutemen against Redcoats. But, Dunbar-Ortiz argues, it actually enshrines practices and priorities that long preceded that conflict. For centuries before 1776, the individual white settler was understood to have not just a right to bear arms, but a responsibility to do so—and not narrowly in the service of tightly regulated militias, but broadly, so as to participate in near-constant ad-hoc, self-organized violence against Native Americans. “Settler-militias and armed households were institutionalized for the destruction and control of Native peoples, communities, and nations,” Dunbar-Ortiz writes. “Extreme violence, particularly against unarmed families and communities, was an aspect inherent in European colonialism, always with genocidal possibilities, and often with genocidal results.”


Since there has been a persistent case made over the last ten years in the wake of school shootings and gun violence more generally to push for gun control in general and also question the legitimacy of the Second Amendment this is an interesting argument.  Most arguments against the Second Amendment tend to focus on its perceived irrelevancy to the present rather than arguing it was drafted with inherently racist motives in the past,, let alone with a proposal that it was designed with an agenda that would allow the liquidation of Native Americans.

But still ... if we have what Coates has called the first white president, if we have a police system in place that with disturbing routine kills citizens who are not even resisting but are merely perceived to be resisting, if wwe have a military industrial establishment as pervasive as we have ... if we have an administration that is regarded by people on the left and the liberal side of the American public as functionally already being fascist ... is now the best time to argue that the Second Amendment shouldn't exist because of a relatively new case that it was intended to enshrine anti-Native American murder?  Not that I can't be sympathetic with such a reading, actually, it's just that this might be one of those books that would have been better timed for a different kind of administration. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

dueling ideas at The Atlantic, the GOP war on the university vs a tenured academic who considers the prestige racket of contemporary American academia to be damaging and suggests vocational training is okay


the legislation would for the first time ever require universities to pay taxes on their endowment income. Universities have traditionally received tax exemptions on those assets in part because they are viewed as contributing to the public good. In addition, the House bill includes provisions to end graduate-student tax breaks, leading professors and graduate students at top universities to worry that studying for a Ph.D. will become unaffordable for all but the wealthy. (The Senate bill doesn’t include the latter provision; the two pieces of legislation head to conference committee shortly.) With tax analysts identifying corporations as the Republican plan’s biggest winners, a politics of factionalism seems implicit in the bill: Private corporations deserve even greater assets, while America’s universities merit higher levels of taxation.

Well, honestly, I'm not really seeing why I have to decide that universities are the good guys just because a journalist writing for The Atlantic implicitly assumes that private corporations are the bad guys.  They could all be bad, you know. 

There's also this, a piece asking point blank what contemporary college education is actually good for and whether or not we might be better off pouring more into stuff like vocational training from someone who has a tenured job.


Thanks to tenure, I have a dream job for life. Personally, I have no reason to lash out at our system of higher education. Yet a lifetime of experience, plus a quarter century of reading and reflection, has convinced me that it is a big waste of time and money. When politicians vow to send more Americans to college, I can’t help gasping, “Why? You want us to waste even more?”

How, you may ask, can anyone call higher education wasteful in an age when its financial payoff is greater than ever? The earnings premium for college graduates has rocketed to 73 percent—that is, those with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, 73 percent more than those who have only a high-school diploma, up from about 50 percent in the late 1970s. The key issue, however, isn’t whether college pays, but why. The simple, popular answer is that schools teach students useful job skills. But this dodges puzzling questions.

First and foremost: From kindergarten on, students spend thousands of hours studying subjects irrelevant to the modern labor market. Why do English classes focus on literature and poetry instead of business and technical writing? Why do advanced-math classes bother with proofs almost no student can follow? When will the typical student use history? Trigonometry? Art? Music? Physics? Latin? The class clown who snarks “What does this have to do with real life?” is onto something.
The disconnect between college curricula and the job market has a banal explanation: Educators teach what they know—and most have as little firsthand knowledge of the modern workplace as I do. Yet this merely complicates the puzzle. If schools aim to boost students’ future income by teaching job skills, why do they entrust students’ education to people so detached from the real world? Because, despite the chasm between what students learn and what workers do, academic success is a strong signal of worker productivity.
Suppose your law firm wants a summer associate. A law student with a doctorate in philosophy from Stanford applies. What do you infer? The applicant is probably brilliant, diligent, and willing to tolerate serious boredom. If you’re looking for that kind of worker—and what employer isn’t?—you’ll make an offer, knowing full well that nothing the philosopher learned at Stanford will be relevant to this job.
The labor market doesn’t pay you for the useless subjects you master; it pays you for the preexisting traits you signal by mastering them. This is not a fringe idea. Michael Spence, Kenneth Arrow, and Joseph Stiglitz—all Nobel laureates in economics—made seminal contributions to the theory of educational signaling. Every college student who does the least work required to get good grades silently endorses the theory. But signaling plays almost no role in public discourse or policy making. As a society, we continue to push ever larger numbers of students into ever higher levels of education. The main effect is not better jobs or greater skill levels, but a credentialist arms race.
Lest I be misinterpreted, I emphatically affirm that education confers some marketable skills, namely literacy and numeracy. Nonetheless, I believe that signaling accounts for at least half of college’s financial reward, and probably more.


The problem is not so much that education is bad in principle, it's that in practice higher education amounts to credential signaling more than genuine education.   This doesn't have to be reduced to a dismissal of the point by saying neoliberalism is obsessed with business applicability.  Think about it in class terms.  Why should someone take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a liberal arts degree that confers almost no benefit in terms of getting work within the liberal arts if someone's going to work at the local Starbucks or end up doing years of temp work doing clerical activities that could be done by someone with a high school education or even, frankly, a high school drop out?

I don't know that I'd say I'm particularly left about anything but even among associates and friends of mine who do lean left we sometimes have conversations about how the higher education system in the United States can seem like some kind of prestige racket. 

Which, in a way, is what Caplan tackles talking about the nature of college education as a credentialing process in which provable educational merit is not always so easily established.

Normal human beings make a solid point: We can and should investigate education’s broad social implications. When humanists consider my calculations of education’s returns, they assume I’m being a typical cynical economist, oblivious to the ideals so many educators hold dear. I am an economist and I am a cynic, but I’m not a typical cynical economist. I’m a cynical idealist. I embrace the ideal of transformative education. I believe wholeheartedly in the life of the mind. What I’m cynical about is people.
I’m cynical about students. The vast majority are philistines. I’m cynical about teachers. The vast majority are uninspiring. I’m cynical about “deciders”—the school officials who control what students study. The vast majority think they’ve done their job as long as students comply.
Those who search their memory will find noble exceptions to these sad rules. I have known plenty of eager students and passionate educators, and a few wise deciders. Still, my 40 years in the education industry leave no doubt that they are hopelessly outnumbered. Meritorious education survives but does not thrive.


What does this mean for the individual student? Would I advise an academically well-prepared 18-year-old to skip college because she won’t learn much of value? Absolutely not. Studying irrelevancies for the next four years will impress future employers and raise her income potential. If she tried to leap straight into her first white-collar job, insisting, “I have the right stuff to graduate, I just choose not to,” employers wouldn’t believe her. To unilaterally curtail your education is to relegate yourself to a lower-quality pool of workers. For the individual, college pays.

This does not mean, however, that higher education paves the way to general prosperity or social justice. When we look at countries around the world, a year of education appears to raise an individual’s income by 8 to 11 percent. By contrast, increasing education across a country’s population by an average of one year per person raises the national income by only 1 to 3 percent. In other words, education enriches individuals much more than it enriches nations.

How is this possible? Credential inflation: As the average level of education rises, you need more education to convince employers you’re worthy of any specific job. One research team found that from the early 1970s through the mid‑1990s, the average education level within 500 occupational categories rose by 1.2 years. But most of the jobs didn’t change much over that span—there’s no reason, except credential inflation, why people should have needed more education to do them in 1995 than in 1975. What’s more, all American workers’ education rose by 1.5 years in that same span—which is to say that a great majority of the extra education workers received was deployed not to get better jobs, but to get jobs that had recently been held by people with less education.

As credentials proliferate, so do failed efforts to acquire them. Students can and do pay tuition, kill a year, and flunk their finals. Any respectable verdict on the value of education must account for these academic bankruptcies. Failure rates are high, particularly for students with low high-school grades and test scores; all told, about 60 percent of full-time college students fail to finish in four years. Simply put, the push for broader college education has steered too many students who aren’t cut out for academic success onto the college track.

Those bankruptcies can often be more than just academic bankruptcies.  If you wash out of college or for whatever reason fail to graduate that expense is still on you or whoever agreed to pay for it.  Back when I was in college one of the pragmatic music professors told me that by then (the 1990s!) all an undergraduate degree proved beyond all doubt was that you could finish projects you committed to rather than opening doors for you in the job market. 

This polemic doesn't have to read as being anti-intellectual or anti life of the mind, but it could be read as an argument that there should be room for vocational training as an alternative to imploring everyone to get a college degree because if credential inflation continues as it has then the priesthood of all college-educated people will not be any more gainfully employed. 

The top one percent may well be hoarding all of the monopoly money, but this doesn't exempt the upper 20 percent.  No doubt there are those who disagree with where Richard Reeves lands, but I admit I find the polemic interesting--given the ways in which the top 20 percent can hold on to privilege in the form of access to higher education and economic advantages in sending their kids to schools, what is often popularly understood among some academics and fans of liberal arts educational programs could be construed less as anti-intellectualism and more as something that could be identified by a more blunt term, class resentment.



Trump’s success among middle-class whites might seem surprising, given his own wealth. But his supporters have no problem with the rich. In fact, they admire them.  His movement was about class, not money, and he exuded the blue-collar culture. For his supporters, the enemy is upper middle-class professionals: journalists, scholars, technocrats, managers, bureaucrats, the people with letters after their names. You and me.

And here is the difficult part. The popular obsession with the top 1 percent allows the upper middle class to convince ourselves we are in the same boat as the rest of America; but it is not true.  However messily it is expressed, much of the criticism of our class is true. We proclaim the “net” benefits of free trade, technological advances, and immigration, safe in the knowledge that we will be among the beneficiaries. Equipped with high levels of human capital, we can flourish in a global economy. The cities we live in are zoned to protect our wealth, but deter the unskilled from sharing in it. Professional licensing and an immigration policy tilted toward the low-skilled shield us from the intense market competition faced by those in nonprofessional occupations. We proclaim the benefits of free markets but are largely insulated from the risks they can pose. Small wonder other folks can get angry.

I am British by birth, but I have lived in the United States since 2012 and became a citizen in late 2016. There are lots of reasons I have made America my home, but one of them is the American ideal of opportunity. I always hated the walls created by social class distinctions in the United Kingdom. The American ideal of a classless society is, to me, a deeply attractive one. It has been disheartening to learn that the class structure of my new homeland is, if anything, more rigid than the one I left behind and especially so at the top.

Indeed, the American upper middle class is leaving everyone else in the dust. The top fifth of U.S. households saw a $4 trillion increase in pretax income in the years between 1979 and 2013.  The combined rise for the bottom 80 percent, by comparison, was just over $3 trillion. The gap between the bottom fifth and the middle fifth has not widened at all. In fact, there has been no increase in inequality below the eightieth percentile. All the inequality action is above that line.

 I've mentioned this here and there at the blog before but some of the lament about how artists will be hurt by tax code changes has me thinking that liberal arts advocates and those who have gained liberal arts higher education degrees may sincerely think that the moment is about anti-intellectualism, but class resentment at resource-hoarding might also be a plausible explanation.  If the pie is only so big and you have to choose between artists on the one hand and veterans or people of color on the other is it "bad" to decide the artists had their chance?  It's not about wanting to stick it to artists, I love the arts, but if the game is always as zero-sum as people keep reminding us that it is, favoring college-educated artists when people of color and veterans could get help might force some arts advocates to ask themselves if they are for minorities, after all, or if when push comes to shove they're for college graduates and aspiring artists.    Journalists, too, and academics, may want to have a moment of reckoning to find out whether what they support is really for the common good or if it redounds primarily to the benefit of Anglo-American liberal arts priestcraft. 

I'm not sure I'm on board with "representation" if the end game for "representation" is merely that more people of color and sexual orientations and identifications populate the ruling castes that are running things now, because all that would mean is that the venal plutocracy calling the shots has more "representation", that's just modifying the existing Western art religion with a patina of diversity.  But if there are opportunities for people of color and low-income families or disabled veterans to get more help from people who can help them I'm fine with that.  If liberal arts advocates get upset when subsidies may shift from artists to veterans or families then there's not much of a basis for lamenting injustice if, as we've been noting this weekend, some authors have pointed out that giving white artists tax breaks that are different in nature and kind from working-class people of color does seem a little racist. 

I don't think what we should want is a new wave of college educated artists.  We'd be better off cultivating regional folk art, so to speak.  I'm in favor of forms of arts education where you shouldn't have to go to college to learn about sonata forms and possibilities for amalgamating ragtime, blues, country and jazz into the art music traditions and vice versa.  I'm all for the idea that you can love Hank Williams Sr. and Haydn in fairly equal measures.  I'm interesting in an approach to the arts that consciously obliterates the kinds of class divides that institutional education in the arts since the 19th century seems to revel in clarifying and then calcifying.  So in that sense I guess I've always been a populist. 

I have my doubts the system is going to survive very effectively through the next two to four generations, and a lot of the battles going on now seem like battles to figure out how to carve up the pie without considering whether the pie itself is past its sell-by date.

Kriston Capps at City Lab on how the Republican effort to overhaul the tax system could strike a major blow against lofts and studios for low-income artists

Remember that piece from The Atlantic last year about how a decent chunk of affordable housing for artists could come across as basically just favoring low-income subsidized spaces for white college-educated artists?
Affordable housing sometimes has a bad reputation: The name often conjures crumbling public towers or far-away pre-fab units built by private developers.
But there’s another kind of affordable housing, built with tax credits and city loans, typified in a place like the A-Mill lofts. Set on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, the A-Mill lofts include a penthouse resident lounge, a fitness center, a yoga studio, free wi-fi, dishwashers, and studios for painting, pottery, dance, and music.
The A-Mill lofts sound like the type of opportunity that most poor families would dream of. But a new report suggests that the lofts are not accessible to most poor families. Though they were built with affordable-housing tax credits and city loans, they’re too expensive for most voucher holders to afford, the report finds. Instead, they go to mostly to white artists, who have incomes below the median for the area but above the average affordable-housing tenant.
This type of majority-white subsidized housing is not unique. According to the report, from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota, about 6 percent of housing built using low-income tax credits in Minneapolis and St. Paul is built for artists. And those buildings don’t look at all like traditional affordable units. The artist housing is 82.4 percent white, and the average income of tenants is $29,890. Only about 3.3 percent of tenants receive rental assistance. All other housing built with low-income-housing tax credits in those two cities, by contrast, is 19.8 percent white, with an average income of $17,140, and 67 percent of tenants receive rental assistance.
“There’s a dual system of subsidized housing in Minneapolis and perhaps other cities,” Myron Orfield, one of the study’s authors, told me. “There's the traditional form of subsidized housing, heavily concentrated in minority neighborhoods and heavily occupied by poor, non-white voucher holders. And then you have another system of affordable housing— artist housing in white neighborhoods that's predominantly occupied by non-poor, white artists.” [emphasis added]
Or another 2013 piece in The Atlantic about how artists that complain about gentrification tend to play a role in said gentrification?
Today, Vera Haller of The Wall Street Journal brought the nation's attention to the real victims of gentrification: college educated artists being priced out of the rough-and-tumble Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. Because, as we all know know, the problem with low income, predominantly minority neighborhoods being developed is that, as Haller puts it, "gentrification usually displaces the artists who breathe life into gritty neighborhoods."
Ever since the infamous blackout of 1977, Bushwick has been a largely destitute neighborhood, just waiting for weekend raves and multimedia exhibitions to bring it back to life. Now the raves and exhibits are there, and developers are coming to ruin everything hipsters hold dear, just as was the case in Williamsburg ten years ago.
Haller's piece profiles a group of artists trying to curb the tide of condominiums and rent hikes by pooling their resources and buying their own studio space. She writes:
There's nothing wrong with artists looking for cheap places to live. And in some ways, gentrification is good for a neighborhood. There are long-time residents who think it's great. As urbanist Benjamin Grant wrote in a piece for PBS, "Who wouldn't want to see reduced crime, new investment in buildings and infrastructure, and increased economic activity in their neighborhoods?"
Fair enough. The problem is, it is mostly the new arrivals, and people who bought into the community early, who reap the benefits of the change. Buying now is a smart move for artists looking for affordable studio space, but to act as if artists — specifically college-educated young adults  — are victims, instead of part of the problem, is dishonest and ignores the people truly harmed as Bushwick becomes ever more synonymous with cool. [emphasis added]
Well, there's still time to complain that proposed changes in tax code could make things tougher for artists on the housing front but cutting down who can benefit from federally subsidized low-income housing.
Lofts and studios for low-income artists may suffer a major blow if the Republican effort to overhaul the tax system is signed into law.
An amendment to the tax bill passed by the Senate would strike artists’ housing from the list of qualified groups who can benefit from federally subsidized low-income housing. If the provision makes its way into the tax bill that moves on to the White House, it would forbid developers from using housing credits to build affordable housing with a preference for artists.
Moreover, as written, the law would also render all existing artists’ housing developments built with housing credits retroactively ineligible for the benefit—creating a sudden tax liability for the investors who have used these credits for years. [emphasis added]
The change comes in the form of an amendment introduced by Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican senior senator from Kansas. His amendment, which passed with the Senate tax bill at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday, includes a simple line-for-line language swap. Where current law carves out a special exception for individuals “who are involved in artistic or literary activities,” the new bill would instead specify a benefit for those “who are veterans of the Armed Forces.” 
By eliminating the advantage for artists and giving it to veterans instead—without changing any other language—all artists’ housing developments built with tax credits could soon be on the wrong side of the law. 
Bankers and other investors, not artists, would pay the immediate price.
But if there's some legitimate concern that subsidized housing and studio space for artists ends up favoring white artists rather than families of color couldn't someone make some kind of case that subsidized housing and studio space for artists could be sufficiently racially discriminatory in practice as to raise legitimate doubts about the viability of the policy?  If the pie is only so large and we're running systemic deficits as it is then it might be a choice between artists and veterans. 
“There is a lot of concern out there in the housing credit community for all the existing artist housing that is potentially subject to tax credit recapture,” says Peter Lawrence, director of public policy and government relations for Novogradac and Company, a national certified public accounting and consulting firm. “I think, once tax policymakers are aware of those potential consequences, there will be pressure to try to address that.”
Lawrence adds, “We do have limited time, and there are lots of people trying to get fixes to various provisions in either the House or Senate tax bills. There is going to be a capacity problem, in that there’s only so much that tax staff can try to work on at any one time.”
The clock is ticking, as members of both houses of Congress race to pass the most sweeping tax bill in 30 years, and the first legislative victory of the Trump era, before breaking for the holidays.
Roberts’s amendment may number among the many provisions of the legislation whose unintended consequences are just coming to light. With this amendment, banks and other investors who purchased tax credits legally could see their investments in housing credits challenged, canceled, or even recouped by the Internal Revenue Service.
I don't know that I feel much urgency about this topic since I've never been in low income subsidized housing for artists.  The author highlights that the differences between veterans and artists are so great there's no certainty that simply changing the subsidies granted from artists to veterans would help the veterans.  Maybe not, but even if you think that Gulf War 2 and the War on Terror have ultimately been disastrous policy moves (which I don't just so happen to think) you can still believe that the subsidies for artists can end up being too much in favor of white college-educated artists to necessarily be a defensible policy approach.  The Atlantic coverage over the last three or four years on this subject has been interesting to read because if the pie is only so big and subsidies come down to artists or people of color why, exactly, do the artists get to have better deals?  Somebody might even suggest there's something potentially racist about it but that's more of a potentially Coatesian line of argument.  I'd lean more toward a proposal that if a single artist or a family of four is up for consideration more people could be helped by helping the family of four. 
It's weird reading a journalist say that bankers rather than artists would pay the immediate price as if we're supposed to feel bad for ... the bankers? 
Huh ... .

American musicians take note, rosewood restrictions, maybe don't haul around instruments with rosewood in them overseas (if you can afford to do that sort of thing)


New regulations on the international movement of rosewood have hit hard in parts of the music industry, which has long relied on rosewood as a "tonewood" used in many kinds of instruments, including guitars, cellos and clarinets.

The reason for the crackdown, and for Katz's anxiety? China. Specifically, Chinese consumers' growing demand for rosewood or "hongmu" furniture.

China imported nearly 2 million cubic meters of rosewood logs in 2014, worth at least $2.6 billion, according to the conservation group Forest Trends.

With an appetite that big, loggers, traffickers and politicians around the world have been cashing in, depleting rosewood stocks and fighting over the spoils of the timber rush.

Advocates say more than 150 people have been killed in Thailand gunfights over rosewood.

So late last year, members of a worldwide treaty called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) passed sweeping new international trade regulations.

There are a few quotes from people who consider the across-the-board restrictions on rosewood to be unfair and hard to enforce in a way that won't potentially cripple the music industry.  I'm half sympathetic, half indifferent.  After all, I've been writing against what I regard as the problems of Western liberal arts art religion this weekend.  I write this sort of thing as someone who's written twenty-four preludes and fugues for solo guitar and has sung the praises of Scott Joplin, Thelonious monk, Stevie Wonder, and Haydn much of this year.  But ... if we're living on as much borrowed time here in the West as some people think, there's only so much we can do. 

And if you're the kind of musician who simply can't or doesn't have the resources to travel abroad the restrictions on rosewood may take a while to affect you even indirectly.  In any case, for guitarists the question about whether restrictions across the board on rosewood can get any kind of reconsideration apparently has to wait until 2019.

So treasure the instruments you have right now, guitarist friends. 

Richard Florida at CityLab on America's leading art hub cities, New York has fallen and Los Angeles is on top

Richard Florida claims that in terms of sheer number of jobs the leader in arts jobs in the United States is Los Angeles, followed by San Francisco, followed by Portland/Vancouver in Oregon, THEN New York. 

If the metric were changed to self-employed artists the leader turns out to be Nashville.  Hardly a surprise there, but then I'm a musician so I'll admit to not being the least bit surprised to read that the highest level of self-employed artists would be in Nashville.

While New York galleries will be well represented at Art Basel Miami Beach, the metro is no longer the nation’s leading center for art and artists.

That honor goes to Los Angeles, which tops the list on our combined measure of employed and self-employed artists. Los Angeles not only has a larger concentration of artists than New York City based on its LQ, it has a larger number of absolute artists, even though New York City has a much larger general population. Indeed, it’s been shown that a significant number of artists are moving from the New York City to the Los Angeles metro.
A number of leading tech and knowledge hubs number among the top 10 as well. San Francisco is the second on the list, and Portland third, with New York trailing in fourth place. Bridgeport-Stamford is fifth and Seattle, Nashville, Austin, San Jose, and San Diego round out the top 10.

This seems like a newsflash because while there's a lot of interesting arts stuff in the Seattle area I've hardly had the budget to feel like I could afford to go to most of the events.  :(

In fact I've been wondering for years whether or not contemporary American arts talk hasn't been missing out on the possibility that arts scenes have an unwitting role in making life more expensive for non-artists, indirect though the effects often are.


Affordable housing sometimes has a bad reputation: The name often conjures crumbling public towers or far-away pre-fab units built by private developers.
But there’s another kind of affordable housing, built with tax credits and city loans, typified in a place like the A-Mill lofts. Set on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, the A-Mill lofts include a penthouse resident lounge, a fitness center, a yoga studio, free wi-fi, dishwashers, and studios for painting, pottery, dance, and music.
The A-Mill lofts sound like the type of opportunity that most poor families would dream of. But a new report suggests that the lofts are not accessible to most poor families. Though they were built with affordable-housing tax credits and city loans, they’re too expensive for most voucher holders to afford, the report finds. Instead, they go to mostly to white artists, who have incomes below the median for the area but above the average affordable-housing tenant.
This type of majority-white subsidized housing is not unique. According to the report, from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota, about 6 percent of housing built using low-income tax credits in Minneapolis and St. Paul is built for artists. And those buildings don’t look at all like traditional affordable units. The artist housing is 82.4 percent white, and the average income of tenants is $29,890. Only about 3.3 percent of tenants receive rental assistance. All other housing built with low-income-housing tax credits in those two cities, by contrast, is 19.8 percent white, with an average income of $17,140, and 67 percent of tenants receive rental assistance.
“There’s a dual system of subsidized housing in Minneapolis and perhaps other cities,” Myron Orfield, one of the study’s authors, told me. “There's the traditional form of subsidized housing, heavily concentrated in minority neighborhoods and heavily occupied by poor, non-white voucher holders. And then you have another system of affordable housing— artist housing in white neighborhoods that's predominantly occupied by non-poor, white artists.”
The bohemian artist who does the art thing isn't "just" a white Romantic era trope, since the rapper can certainly fit the mold of the Byronic artist poet seer hero, too.  But then there's tax loopholes and stuff. 

Earlier this year the debate about gentrification and arts and local community was a steady issue in connection to Boyle Heights.


To put it rather starkly, for working class sorts the worst thing that can happen to the neighborhood is a bunch of arty arts artist projects.  Twenty odd years ago when I was already sick of hearing grunge bands the grunge bands didn't break out on to the radio because Seattle was necessarily thought of as "the" arts mecca, or was it? 

Today, Vera Haller of The Wall Street Journal brought the nation's attention to the real victims of gentrification: college educated artists being priced out of the rough-and-tumble Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. Because, as we all know know, the problem with low income, predominantly minority neighborhoods being developed is that, as Haller puts it, "gentrification usually displaces the artists who breathe life into gritty neighborhoods."
Ever since the infamous blackout of 1977, Bushwick has been a largely destitute neighborhood, just waiting for weekend raves and multimedia exhibitions to bring it back to life. Now the raves and exhibits are there, and developers are coming to ruin everything hipsters hold dear, just as was the case in Williamsburg ten years ago.
Haller's piece profiles a group of artists trying to curb the tide of condominiums and rent hikes by pooling their resources and buying their own studio space. She writes:
There's nothing wrong with artists looking for cheap places to live. And in some ways, gentrification is good for a neighborhood. There are long-time residents who think it's great. As urbanist Benjamin Grant wrote in a piece for PBS, "Who wouldn't want to see reduced crime, new investment in buildings and infrastructure, and increased economic activity in their neighborhoods?"
Fair enough. The problem is, it is mostly the new arrivals, and people who bought into the community early, who reap the benefits of the change. Buying now is a smart move for artists looking for affordable studio space, but to act as if artists — specifically college-educated young adults  — are victims, instead of part of the problem, is dishonest and ignores the people truly harmed as Bushwick becomes ever more synonymous with cool. [emphasis added]
These art hub cities are not exactly cheap places to live and there is no real promise that if you move to one of these art hub cities you'll "make it".  Some of the musical associates I know have left the Seattle area to find musical life elsewhere or aren't doing so much in the arts scene lately.  That might be because as friends and associates got married and had kids they found it was less and less possible to keep active in the arts scene. 
I've written about this before but one of the things I wish had been more a part of my education in college was a discussion of what artists and musicians and writers actually did for a living.  Since I'm already ripping on Western art religion this weekend anyway, it would have helped to know that someone like Trollope was a postal worker who wrote on his off hours.  It would have been handy to know that Sor, the most significant guitarist composer in the history of the instrument, had military posts that had low-level paper work responsibilities because a royal patron let him have that job so he could compose.  Matiegka (who I'm sure you've never heard of unless your the kind of guitarist music fan who knows exactly who Matiegka is) worked as a clerk in a law office.  Haydn was, to try to describe his job in modern parlance, a master of ceremonies and music producer for an aristocratic dynasty.  These people all had day jobs and/or patrons.  Charles Ives was in insurance sales after dropping out of being a church musician.  The pattern here is that in the art religion of liberal arts education we don't really get told what these people did to buy food and stay in a house, we're told what they did that revolutionized art or literature or whatever the art is. 
What we got sold in liberal arts study is that we, too, can make a living doing this stuff.  Paul Hindemith singled that out as the biggest and most toxic delusion perpetuated by American liberal arts education, but worst of all in music. 
So the theme for this post is, yep, artists who complain about gentrification need to consider the ways in which their existence as economic agents plays a role in that process. 

John Halle blogs about challenging rape culture, looks back on how twenty years ago allegations of sexual misconduct were scoffed at and how the liberal trope of the "Bernie bro" was deployed by people who knew of Weinstein's conduct

This was a while back, in internet terms, but John Halle, who I've linked to in the past on music and his ideas about politics, has taken to blogging about the post-Weinstein moment. 


I am currently being challenged to demonstrate my opposition to “rape culture.”

The request is altogether reasonable and we should all accept it.

I will do so by relating the following.

Some years ago, a powerful and well-connected individual was accused of sexual assault by a woman possessing very limited resources.

The charges were sufficiently credible to require an out of court settlement for $850,000-a not inconsiderable sum two decades ago. But justice in this case was delayed for some years, only achieved after a pattern of behavior had been established by other women having made similar complaints.

Prior to that time, the woman’s accusations were widely ridiculed, most conspicuously by numerous political associates and friends of the accused. A remark from one high level official was typical: “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find,“ was his response to the situation.

It would be hard to imagine a more disgusting example of apologetics for sexual assault and rape culture.

That brings me to my response to the challenge above. Many of us can attest to having repeatedly attempted to demand accountability for his remark.

In particular, we vehemently opposed the candidate who retains close ties with the sexual assault apologist who would likely have been appointed to a key position in her administration.

Given that fact, to support her would have been, as should be apparent, an implicit endorsement of rape culture.

But at this point an irony surfaces. Many of those who are issuing the challenge to us now urged us then to do exactly that: to support the candidate in question, namely, Secretary Clinton who has, it should be noted, her own history of minimizing the importance of sexual assault.

Twenty years ago when Democrats struggled to take allegations of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton as possibly being more than just craven Republican politicking  there were some perspectives that had it that how Clinton behaved as a person should not have a bearing on how he handled executive office.  That's not exactly how those who voted for the other Clinton have greeted Trump's personal conduct. If we take the variety of allegations that have been made to be substantial (setting aside the virtually inevitable existence of those on either side of the red/blue divide who will deny the credibility of relevance of such allegations) last year's big decision was looking disconcertingly like a choice between a perpetrator of harassment or assault and an enabler.  The reason it's been hard to take blue state/liberal moral outrage at Trump very seriously is because it's hard to altogether forget twenty years ago when the defense of Bill Clinton was that he might not be the best guy but that his personal moral failings shouldn't be construed as impediments to his ability to handle public office. 

And in the post-Weinstein moment there's been some wrestling with how much who knew what about whom.  As more and more headlines come forth about how much who knew what or said they didn't know X though they knew Y ...


Hollywood seems the absolute last place on earth for anyone to be outraged at the sexual predation of a celebrity in the entertainment industry.   There have been so many cases that some of them can be pretty easily forgotten.  Anyone recall the voice actor who formerly voiced Elmo?  How about allegations of harassment and worse from the photographer Terry Richardson?  The Polanski case is still a part of the legacy of the American film scene.  What makes moral outrage on the part of people in the entertainment industry troubling is not that there are no people consistently against sexual harassment, rape and abuse because those people certainly exist, it's that, as John Halle has blogged a bit this year, some of the voices who were most set against Trump were willing to impugn Sanders supporters as misogynistic while knowing for a decade or more about the conduct of Harvey Weinstein. 

These days it seems as though the red and blue shades are too readily deployed by their respective partisans to hide the fact that vicious double standards exist within these two camps and that in the long run they seem to stand for the same bad stuff.  If "we" can blame "them" then we don't have to consider the sins that our team is culpable for, and at the centennial of the October Revolution it's all too easy for people who favor the United States or the Soviet Union on the basis of advocacy for capitalism or communism to just willfully forget that atrocities were standard in both types of cultural imperialism.  Aborting pregnancies by the millions may seem more acceptable than imprisoning millions or ordering hundreds of thousands to their deaths for political crimes but ... who says it's necessarily a case of one team actually being provably better in the end?  Societies can decide when and how they commodify human life and what limits they set on that commodification, but I'm not so sure these days that a society can decide, ultimately, to never commodify humans.  But that's another gloomy thought for another gloomy post.

There's another author who lately highlighted the trouble with what men and women in Hollywood have done and not done with respect to the treatment of men, women and children.

Jeffrey Fleishman
November 5, 2017, 2:00 AM
The curtain has been pulled back, and, oh, is it messy.
Hollywood has always reveled in scandal. The rumor. The whisper. The unfortunate photograph. The apology and return to grace. But the recent sex abuse stories have turned into a parade of tawdry violations and twisted passions, the stuff of movies acted out in real lives against the unglamorous air of disgrace, endless transgressions that even Ray Donovan, Showtime’s half-shaven mercurial fixer, couldn’t clean up with all his hush money and muscle.
The rape and sexual abuse allegations surrounding Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner, James Toback and others have shattered the awards-season aplomb in a town that imagines itself bold and freewheeling but prefers the tempered and scripted. The entertainment industry has slipped into a multi-polar catharsis of emboldened women, nervous men, threatening lawyers, broken deals, spoiled careers and the uncertainty that comes when cracks run like lightning through facades.
“I think the industry is forever changed,” said Marcel Pariseau, a publicist whose clients include Scarlett Johansson and Olivia Munn, one of six women who accused Ratner of sexual misconduct in The Times last week. “Every morning we wake up and we don’t know what’s going to be next. You’re almost afraid to get on your gadget to see what the new story is.
The fissures rattling through town “have been a long time coming,” said Jordana Oberman, an actress and producer. “The industry has been complicit in this type of behavior and chalked it up to Hollywood. A lot of us are hoping this is a defining moment, but only time will tell. My hope is that there’s a bigger examination of the complicity and that people won’t shut up anymore.”
The raised fist of Rose McGowan, who says she was raped by Weinstein, and worries of Woody Allen, who cautions against a “witch hunt,” are the opposite ends of this unsettling expanse. The scandals strike at the core of this town’s power — who has it, how they wield it — and follow years of complaints over racism and discrimination that culminated in the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and then, many believe, had a part in handing this year’s Best Picture Academy Award to “Moonlight,” a gay coming-of-age story by a black director and cast.
But the back-slapping lasted only months.This is, after all, Hollywood in the age of President Trump, a reality show host who crystallized the marriage of celebrity and politics, and a candidate who admitted to groping women only to land in the White House. The entertainment industry railed at Trump but the allegations against Weinstein, Ratner and others suggest a long pattern of abuse perpetrated by men who considered themselves artists and liberals.

The observation that Trump was a reality show host probably can't be overstated.  In the midst of observing what he said you could do if you're a celebrity it turned out that artists and liberals can be as terrible to men, women and children as not-artists and not-liberals.  The observation about what you could get away with when you're a celebrity is looking more and more emblematic and symptomatic of what the whole industry was up to. 

The likelihood that things will permanently change seems remote.  Short-term change may be possible and it would be wonderful if long-term change can happen.  But it's too easy to get this feeling that what is going to be preferred is to embrace some variation of "but we're not as bad as .... ______." and then you can insert the identifier of whomever and whichever real or imagined ideological adversary seems more naturally prone to the predations being reported.

To put things another way, the apostle Paul rebuked some proud Christians in Corinth with the following:

1 Corinthians 5: 6-12 NIV
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

The temptation some people are facing in a moment such as ours is to judge those outside without regard for judging those inside, because it's easier to thank God (or whomever or whatever principle people wish to thank) that "we" are not like "them". 

While people could say that Hollywood seems better about casting out sexually predatory men from its midst than American churches this notion is itself a sham.  Where is Roman Polanski these days?  For how many decades was Harvey Weinstein able to do what he was alleged to have done? 

As allegations have emerged in connection to Kevin Spacey his coming out as gay introduced something that rankled people. Dan Savage can declare all he likes that the gay community does not accept Spacey but at this point what would this be but nothing more than a no true Scotsman gambit? As other gay journalists have noted, what Spacey looked to be doing was invoking sexual minority status as some kind of shield.  There's not even really an irony at that point when someone invokes what is regarded in a community as a sacred status to cover up or respond to a public allegation of misconduct or plain old moral evil.  So in that sense entertainers invoking a sacred status based on minority status of some kind is not conceptually different from a priest of another sort invoking a divine privilege for having accusations against them not taken at face value right away.  Whether or not the allegations turn out to be substantiated remains to be seen.  Meanwhile, what's interesting is that within the gay journalism community there have been responses to Spacey's public statements indicating that it's not acceptable to invoke one's sexual identity as a gay man as a pre-emptive shield against public accusation.  If the priests shouldn't be able to get away with it then the movie stars and movie producers shouldn't be able to get away with it either.  Or at the very least that's the ideal.

But then there's the matter of how many decades it took for these accusations to become public.

It is admittedly cynical to wonder whether the failure of Hollywood and the mainstream press to lock down the Oval Office for Clinton may have had a part to play in people finally deciding that the abuses of individuals behind the scenes in the cultural leadership castes was o longer worth tolerating in the hope of cultural and political utility. 

What we can hope can happen is that people who are in some cultural team, whatever that team is, are able to share what has been done to them by people within their teams.  Now isn't really the time for the sort of partisanship that seeks to say "but X ... " because as more headlines emerge it would seem that predatory behavior is rampant and allegations have been circulating for a while.  Whether it's in fashion and associated photography; or in arts publishing; or in academic life  in Anglo-American contexts what's coming to light is not just in the strictly Hollywood scene.  Evangelicals hardly have a leg to stand on, either, let alone neo-Calvinist sorts, since last year Darrin Patrick got removed from his pastoral position in the wake of allegations of misconduct.  Other men in pastoral leadership role sended up out of leadership before shifting back into leadership again with perhaps a few words about "grace", and I'm not even attempting to factor in Todd Bentley type scenarios for this post.  As Halle noted in another of his posts, there are prestigious clubs normal people don't get to be part of that get judged and governed by an observably different set of rules.

The larger point Halle makes seems to be that in the mids tof recent allegations we need to be wary about a temptation to use moral outrage selectively; to be concerned that "their" celebrities need to be held to the fire while "my" celebrities need some variant of grace.  Halle was specific in highlighting that some of the journalists who were willing to paint the Bernie bros as having terrible attitudes about and toward women turned out to have known for years about the conduct of the Harvey Weinsteins within their own scene.  Those people didn't speak up about it, and while fear of reprisals and retaliation certainly count for something Halle's point remains, is it really all that fair to impute to a candidate's support base those sins that turn out to be the sins of your own champions? 

Perhaps the awkward reality here is that the mainstream red and blue partisans in entertainment and media have the same double standards but it's more fun and exciting to blame each other as the sole culprits for what is increasingly being revealed to e a shared set of behaviors.  It plays better to the mythologies of red state and blue state to say that "we" are better than them. 

We live in an era in which Louis C.K.'s film loses distribution and won't get a screening just a month or so before the latest Woody Allen film gets roasted by film critics.


“I Love You, Daddy” does all this without any complex or self-questioning artistry; with merely functional craft, it dispenses character traits, embodies messages, underlines every intention. Though two hours long and closed-ended, it is only a simulacrum of a movie. There is no ambiguity, no ambivalence, no second level of meaning, no irony, no glimmer of self-doubt—nothing but the channelling of a revolting sense of entitlement, of rights exercised without responsibilities. Louis C.K. has, and should have, the absolute right to make this movie and show it any way he can; but no responsible distributor should ever have decided to buy the rights to the movie from him (as The Orchard did, for five million dollars) or to promote it and release it. It’s good that the release of the movie has been cancelled—but it’s lamentable that it took the outing of Louis C.K.’s actual misconduct, rather than the movie’s own demerits, to get it off the calendar.

Why Brody was so indignant escapes me, because Woody Allen's latest film just got released. 
Where Brody's moral indignation seems baffling is in his insistence on the one hand that C.K. has and should have the right, to make the film he made but that no responsible distributor should have ever decided to buy the rights to the movie from him.  So the whole film-making process should be revered as sacred in spite of believing that the man who made the film should never have gotten a hearing at the distribution level?  Is this Brody's idea of principle?  Given what C.K. admitted to having done couldn't any number of people tell Brody that this half-measure of saying that guys like C.K. should be able to make their movies but that distributors shouldn't distribute them seems weirdly selective.  Because ...


It would make life easier if Woody Allen’s movies were as easy and as right to condemn as his behavior. But that’s not my experience of his movies, and this makes it difficult both to watch and to write about them. In 2014, Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter, published in the Times, detailing her claims that Allen sexually molested her, on multiple occasions, when she was a child. Allen has denied wrongdoing. We cannot say for sure what happened. I can say what I believe: I believe Dylan Farrow. With considered queasiness, I have continued to watch Allen’s films as they’re released, including his new one, “Wonder Wheel,” which opens this weekend. It is strange and unpleasant to admit that I have found many of them to be substantial experiences—and that much of their power is inseparable from the accusations that have been made against Allen. ...

It would seem, summarily, that as bad a person as Woody Allen no doubt is, Richard Brody finds the films substantial enough to keep reviewing them and writing about them.  Allen's films, to take up a theme I've been writing about this weekend already, are sufficiently robust as subjects for art religion and the meta art religion of film criticism to make it worthwhile for Richard Brody to keep writing about them regardless of what he believes regarding Woody Allen's personal conduct.  If auteur theory is substantial enough for a guy like Brody to decide to keep watching Allen films I'll admit I'm not sure I subscribe to auteur theory or genre theory or the sorts of things that people who go to film school discuss.  I might, but the point is I didn't go to film school. 

But, and this is the most striking thing about a Richard Brody sort of film critic, none of that consideration applies to someone like Louis C.K. who is possibly some sort of Woody Allen knock-off. 

Yet CK's film got dropped and Allen's film got distributed through Amazon studios because ... Allen contested the allegations made against him and CK admitted they were all true, possibly?  The post-Weinstein moment might theoretically be a moment when things come crashing down or it might be a moment in which we find out which power-brokers and icons in the entertainment industry are "too big to fail" and which ones aren't.  Does a film critic like Richard Brody step back and think about how the primary difference between an Allen and a CK might just be a matter of technique?  It seems less and less to be a matter of whether one rich white guy with a sense of entitlement is necessarily worse than the other, if anything what Allen has been alleged to have done comes off as worse than what CK has admitted to doing, while both men seem bad.

Pertinent to a recent musing on the nature of Western art religion, it would seem the only reason a Richard Brody can say that Woody Allen's films hold up is on the basis of a Western art religion.  Louis CK made a film that pays tribute to Allen but not well enough to merit inclusion in the art religion or the meta-art religion known as film criticism.  For whatever reasons, Woody Allen films have made it into the cinematic canon and are thus going to be discussed, while the Louis CK film had its distribution dropped and will likely only be known to film school students and a handful of film critics.  Brody, for his part, imputes a regret and anguish to Allen's film-making process I can't recall ever seeing in any Allen film ever.  It's easier to believe that Brody has a conflicted relationship to his own feeling of obligation to recognize Allen as a canonical film-maker despite finding the man objectionable at the level of personal conduct.  CK has not and never will reach the same level, so the review reflects a probably corresponding lack of ambivalence kicking the film and the man CK to the curb as a critic. 

When Brody concludes his piece about himself watching Woody Allen films he wrote:

... It’s worth observing and lamenting the litany of victims in Allen’s work—the Carolinas and the Nolas, the mistresses and the wives, the girls getting undue attention and the lost, troubled boys. It’s a distressing measure of Allen’s achievement that his films are a record of their experience, as well—another measure of the inseparability of the artist and the art. In the bleak realm of amoral horror and troubled conscience that Allen depicts, he isn’t just a virtual character or participant—he’s also an observer. He has been working in the movies for half a century, and in entertainment even longer. The world that he depicts in his films is one in which the powerful abuse their power to prey upon the vulnerable and, until now, have, for the most part, gotten away with it. It’s also a world that, because of the courageous testimony of women including, crucially, Dylan Farrow, is now coming to light and, perhaps, to change.

Why Allen's films do this but C.K.'s did not is not so much explained as asserted by tacit invocation, in what Brody did and did not write.  Allen's films have the luxury of already being more or less canonical in film critical terms.  To use the phrase Brody provided for himself, a Woody Allen film gives a Richard Brody an opportunity to write about himself watching Woody Allen films and the nature of cinema, whereas a Louis C.K. leaves a film critic like Richard Brody only an opportunity to write about what he saw and what he thinks about it, which ends up by some meta-critical alchemy to have been not as worthy an experience in the realm of the meta art religion of film criticism. 

In the post-Weinstein moment the disturbing thing about Hollywood and journalistic outrage at someone like Roy Moore isn't a matter of whether what Moore has allegedly done is terrible, it's that given the scope of what the entertainment industry overlooked and tacitly endorsed inside itself over the last twenty to maybe one hundred years, moral outrage on the part of entertainers toward a GOP candidate can come across as being made in egregiously bad faith.  It's like the pot calling the kettle black and insisting on making a film about the moment. 

What Halle has pointed out is that when it comes to sexual exploitation the generation that has rallied around Clinton, whether Bill or Hillary, are simply not and likely never to be in a position of having any serious moral authority to object to predation that gets reported.  The Hollywood that threw itself behind Clinton did so despite Bill Clinton's way with women, and men in Hollywood having their own way with women (and/or men and children depending on circumstances). 

To put this all another way, a film industry that gave us Spotlight hasn't made a Spotlight about itself yet (has it?) and probably never will.