Saturday, March 10, 2018

some links for the weekend

Over at The Stranger, a defense of jazz fusion and specifically of Herbie Hancock and Billy Cobham

Over at The Baffler there's a semi-long piece about how "the powerful learned to launder their reputations using focus groups"

Well, by now conservatives have had nearly a century to figure out that what the Frankfurt School did was employ aesopic language (i.e. dog whistles) to translate their Marxist inspirations into less arrest warrantable terminology.  If those on the left are upset that the right figured out that they can do the think tank as front organization for ideological warfare it might not be a bad idea to remember that anybody can play this game, after all, once humans decide the game has to be played.

Without a Cold war or more explicitly McCarthyite context within which it would seem unseemly to so blatantly mimic leftist methods, the money is available to set up think tanks that can be used to promote ideals.  It shouldn't seem too outrageous to people on the left that people on the right, whatever the right is these days, have opted to do the same thing.

That said, the level of pervasive data mining happening these days is super creepy.  What makes it creepy is the extent to which people voluntarily embrace the mediums through which the data mining is possible.  In that sense the paradox of leftists embracing Twitter and other social media is that they are embracing the more potent modes of data mining and marketing tools available for putatively left ends.  As Fredrik deBoer sort of put it a year or so ago in the wake of the Trump election, why would anyone on the left think that a regime that has satellites that can read the slogans on your T-shirts from outer space would be worried about what leftists on Twitter do calling for some kind of antifa anything?

Remember back when the Trump victory was announced? There were some jibes to the effect that people in cities should not be at the mercy of subliterate farmers.  Democracy isn't necessarily what our system really is, if anyone were still attentive to the nature of the electoral system and how votes can be pledged and cast (which, clearly, some are); nor in our era where some consider our election to have been tampered with is now the time to forget the frequency with which the United States has tampered with elections and regimes.  While red and blue partisans have been adamant in saying that the results of the electoral process are illegitimate if the wrong team won there's less worry that the outcome of an election in some other region may have been messed with.  To put it in the most deliberately cynical terms possible, the red and blue partisans are fighting over who can wrest the most control over an imperial hyperstate that can tell the rest of the world what to do by dint of a nuclear arsenal and having invented the internet as we know it.  It's only a tyrannical police state if the wrong team wins and never about a question as tow hether or not debating the merits of the kind of police state the red and blue partisans want might be that of a police state.  Pardon the pessimism there ...

But ... the jibes against those who did vote for Trump being subliterate hicks invites a tag into the following:
.... Rural students live in places where it once was possible to make a decent living from farming, mining and timber-harvesting, said Charles Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute at the University of Iowa. None of those required college educations. Then manufacturing began to leave, agriculture became increasingly automated, and mines closed. While cities were generally able to economically diversify after the decline of industries such as auto manufacturing, rural areas haven't.
"You could go to ag[ricultural] school, but you didn't have to," said Fluharty, who was raised on a farm in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio that has been in his family for five generations. "You could get those jobs, so why should you go to college?"
A resulting sense of hopelessness in places where jobs became sparse, Fluharty says, meant that rural students lost interest in their high schools' field trips to technical colleges or public universities, or in those visits from recruiters.
The same malaise apparently affects their parents. A third of rural whites, and 40 percent of rural white men, are resigned to believing that their children will grow up with a lower standard of living than they did, a survey by the Pew Research Center found. That's a higher proportion than people who live in cities (23 percent) or suburbs (28 percent).
This disaffection has been widely cited as a reason anti-establishment candidate Donald Trump won 62 percent of the rural vote in the 2016 presidential election, compared with Hillary Clinton's 34 percent — a much wider margin than in suburbs. In cities, Trump lost to Clinton by a wide margin.

Resignation to the belief that your children will grow up with a lower standard of living than you might be the most realistic and healthy perspective an American can possibly have at this moment in the world.  So what if your child's standard of living devolves back to what it was to be an American living in the United States in 1975?  How bad would that be, really?  Terrible for those with congenital health problems, obviously, but for the majority?  Probably not that bad.  For that matter if the American standard of living devolved back to 1915 how bad would that be compared to the entire planet?  Bad, I suppose, because polio was not contained and the Spanish influenza epidemic happened.  Still, compared to the oft damned Dark Ages, even having the standard of living of 1915 would be pretty good.  For all those who think that are turn to the Dark Ages would be terrible it was a step up for peasants compared to what was often on offer in the Roman period. 

There have been those worried that #metoo is the basis for a witchhunt.  If it is a witch hunt and I'm not sure it is, then it's a scouring of the entertainment industries that reveals that some of the places where sexual harassment is common turn out to be places like public radio.

Of all the realms of media that have been shaken by the #MeToo movement, perhaps the most surprising has been public radio, the home of virtuous journalism and thoughtful, warm-voiced commentary.
Like Fox News, Vice Media and NBC News, the tweedy world of public broadcasting — a complex ecosystem of local stations and national syndicators, with NPR at the center — has seen some of its most popular figures fall in recent months, including Garrison Keillor, Leonard Lopate, Jonathan Schwartz and John Hockenberry.
The reckoning is not over. On Wednesday, WBUR in Boston said it had fired Tom Ashbrook, the host of “On Point,” a call-in show heard on 290 stations, after an investigation found that he had “created an abusive work environment.”


In some cases, the behavior they are accused of has been recounted in detail, though rarely by the management of the institutions they worked for. Jon McTaggart, the president of Minnesota Public Radio, disclosed some details of its review of Mr. Keillor’s case at the same time that journalists there published their report.
In a statement to The Times last month, Mr. Keillor referred to a 12-page complaint about him as “a highly selective and imaginative piece of work,” and said he hadn’t been interviewed during an investigation.
“If I am guilty of harassment,” Mr. Keillor said, “then every employee who stole a pencil is guilty of embezzlement.”
New York Public Radio, which owns WNYC, has said little about Mr. Lopate and Mr. Schwartz — both decades-long fixtures of New York radio — other than that they were accused of “inappropriate” behavior and remarks. But reporters at WNYC recounted accusations, based on interviews with identified and unidentified women at the station, of bullying and “sexually suggestive” comments by both men, with one woman saying Mr. Lopate had sexually harassed her.
Laura R. Walker, the chief executive of New York Public Radio, has said the station is committed to changing its culture, but a recent piece by New York magazine portrayed the staff as skeptical and disillusioned.
Most of the accusations of harassment and improper behavior have been made against men in their 60s and 70s. That perhaps exacerbates an already present generational divide in public radio, where a younger generation of practitioners is being increasingly drawn to the freedom offered by other audio formats like podcasting.
“The public radio environment is bursting at the seams with younger media makers who have embraced formats like podcasting as their primary means of expression,” said Matthew Lasar, the author of “Radio 2.0: Uploading the First Broadcast Medium.” “A new public radio world is emerging, and, intentionally or not, these difficult and painful changes feel like part of that transition.”
The lack of specificity of the charges against Mr. Lopate, 77, and Mr. Schwartz, 79, has added fuel to a small movement in their support. A Facebook group and an online petition have called for Mr. Lopate’s reinstatement; Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, signed the petition and called Mr. Lopate’s dismissal “the radio equivalent of demolishing Penn Station back in the early 1960s.”
In an email, Mr. Lopate declined to comment on the specifics of his situation, but said: “I will say that in my case I still haven’t been given a cause for dismissal and my alleged misdeeds are so negligible, I suspect the station saw the #MeToo environment as a convenient time to make a programming decision.”


The paradox of public radio being one of the domains in which sexual harassment persisted has been a topic for discussion is that it could be construed as one of the less patriarchal power cultures. 

While many people I spoke with say public media’s harassment problem isn’t worse than other segments of media, it’s clear that the systems in place to cope with issues of sexual harassment have been woefully inadequate. Julie Drizin, the executive director of Current, a nonprofit publication focused on public media, says that the lack of robust human-resources departments that would include training and specific reporting mechanisms in instances of harassment may be a part of the problem, at least at some stations. “A lot of corporations invest a lot more in HR. I think that’s one of the things that separates public media from other kinds of media,” she says.
Still, even with its well-known deficiencies, public media doesn’t quite fit the stereotypes of a male-dominated, hostile work environment. Vivian Schiller, the former CEO of National Public Radio, told me that public broadcasting, particularly NPR, has long been considered a space where women can thrive. “When I was there, most of the leadership was women,” Schiller said. In fact, four women, Cokie Roberts, Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer, and Susan Stamberg, are often referred to as the “founding mothers” of NPR. And the organization’s most recent data on newsroom makeup shows that more than half of newsroom employees are women. The fact that a culture of harassment and bullying were allowed to fester for years, all while women sat in positions of power and control, makes the issue all the more confusing. But if you consider the discord on other issues, such as between public media’s stated commitment to diversity and its predominantly white audiences and newsrooms, it’s clear that the overarching vision of public broadcasting often doesn’t manifest in real and critical ways. [emphasis added]

But this seems too glib a statement to make in 2018.  The idea that the tension may be between public media's commitment to diversity and its predominantly white audiences and newsrooms could invite a glib conflation of white male patriarchal bad behavior and sexual harassment. 

After all, the last few weeks' headlines about Sherman Alexie should disabuse us of the notion that there's anything white about guys trying to leverage celebrity, even local or subcultural celebrity, to approaching women about sexual relationships. But first let's revisit some stuff Sherman Alexie said last year in an interview with NPR. The thread's staying consistent here, harassment in public radio, a public media outlet having an interview with a famous Native American writer who, in turn, becomes the focus of allegations of sexual misconduct.

When you grow up in a warrior culture, an extremely masculine culture, tears can be seen as a sign of weakness. ... Any surrender, any conceding of anything can also be seen as a sign of weakness. I've always been a rather androgynous, emotional person, so my emotional state, my androgyny — I was more androgynous as a youth than now — but I think all of that combined to make me a target.
It wasn't just the influence of tribal cultures, it was the assimilation into fundamentalist Christianity, which is even more warrior culture, even more honor culture, and even more suspicious of difference. So I was getting bombarded not only by the more fundamentalist aspects of my tribe, but the more fundamentalist aspects of our assimilation into Christianity. So that was going on all around us, and, in fact, in second grade we had this ex-nun teacher who put us into stress positions as torture.
On learning that his mother was conceived by rape
She told me that in my teen years as I was going to school off the reservation, as I was preparing for a life off the reservation, as I was preparing to become this person I am now. Looking back, I think it was my mother's highly dysfunctional way to tell me, to warn me, about what a man can be ... hoping that I would become a good man, a man who treated women with respect. A man who honored women and their power, and a man who would not become a criminal. I think it was her highly dysfunctional version of the sex talk.

At this point it would seem clear Alexie can't pin any blame on his fundamentalist upbringing or on his "warrior culture" experience among his Native American tribe for what he was only able to do as a literary celebrity.
Sara Marie Ortiz is a member of the Acoma Pueblo tribe, and a longtime friend of Alexie’s. She says she’s never seen Alexie harass anybody, but she knows and trusts all three of the women in the NPR story
“It's not hard to reconcile for me in the sense that so much of what goes on in our Native arts and writers’ world is very complicated, and there is a lot of contradiction.”

Ortiz says the allegations against Alexie are “immensely complicated” in the Native community, partly because Alexie is one of the few well-known Native writers.

“We have risen him to this star status because we needed him to be a star in so many contexts, and that's problematic.”

Ortiz says that creates a conflict between wanting to elevate the voices of women who say Alexie has harmed them, and wanting to protect one of the few Native artists with national attention.

She says there are other divides, too.

“It feels like there's kind of a civil war of sorts within the Native arts, and literary, and education community where some people want to see it cause a battle of sorts, instead of being more reflective and reasoned about it.”
Writing as a former Mars Hill member I very easily get how people can raise someone to a level of celebrity in the belief that what that person had to say was worth supporting.  The symbolic importance of a Sherman Alexie was why those who could have spoken up about how he treated women didn't because it's not like Native Americans have a dominant voice in American culture.  For that matter it's not as though there's even a univocal American Indian voice.  American Indians don't have a pan-skin-colorist conception of tribal identity most of the time, if ever, really.  There's never likely to be a Black Panther level cultural event for American Indians.  I've joked here at the blog that there's never going to be a Spokane Indian Renaissance comparable to the Harlem Renaissance because Sherman Alexie is one writer and one writer does not even a potential renaissance make.  Now it seems fairly certain such a won't-be renaissance really won't be if what has been alleged about Alexie turns out to have merit. 
But then in Terry Teachout's biography about Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, Duke turned out to be a formidable womanizer, though his sexual behaviors were not why Strayhorn nicknamed him "Monster".  Ellington fans have been unhappy with Teachout's biography at several levels but reading how a BMI embargo spurred Ellington's great 1940-1942 period when he decided to hand the reins over to his son and to Billy Strayhorn in arranging to work around the ASCAP membership of his being a problem was fascinating.  You don't hear in the mythologies of jazz legend that a jazz pioneer came up with some of his best work by trying to find a work around for a market embargo between two PROs! 
and music is not a universal language, though you knew that. :)

Between the public radio battle and the Native American literary scene battle there are people pointing out that we may have some kind of generational battle in which a cultural regime change is going on.  The men who were the stars within the systems that were held up as champions of good liberal values are under fire for how they have treated women, but in a setting like public radio some of the reigning figures are women.  Demographic scapegoating is no doubt tempting but that these kinds of things are cropping up across the whole spectrum should be a warning that ideological purity doesn't preclude "our" team from these things.  But belief that being on the right team precludes that team having exploiters seems to be what people most want to believe in the rarified if cruel realm of the internet. 

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