Saturday, August 18, 2018

links for the weekend on art galleries protested, museums as emblems of imperialism, churches with bad and very bad men in the news,

art galleries are moving out of Boyle Heights.  This has been an intermittently burbling news story over the last few years as anti-gentrification groups have targeted art galleries and art collectives in their campaign against what they regard as a harmful influx of real estate development and gentrification in a neighborhood.

If you've followed this story over the last few years one of the subplots, so to speak, is that art galleries and artist groups that have had LGBTQ interests have tried to set up venues but the anti-gentrification side is, for want of a better way to put this, not buying it.  Gentrification that wraps itself in the rainbow banner is still gentrification. 

Not everyone is convinced the museum paradigm itself is viable or fair these days.

'I.e. nothing expresses the colonialist mentality of the Western powers like a museum in which the artifacts of the empires they plundered and conquered get shipped to a place where they can be severed from their social or cultic contexts and regarded as, whether visitors realize it or not, trophies of imperial success. 

But then I'm reminded of something the Native American author Sherman Alexie once wrote and said about Native American as distinct from American Indian, that the term reflected a kind of self-pitying self-exonerating white guilt that makes little difference to Indians.  If you can identify them by tribe, do so, and if not, call them Indians but "Native American" seems more about whites feeling better about themselves in the now than about being of much help to actual American Indians.

Of course Sherman Alexie's future as a publicly recognized writer is a bit in flux this year.  Men who have positioned themselves as better than the men they were around sometimes turn out to be worse than self-advertised to be.  That ... might as well be a transition into the news about Willow Creek.

A whole lot of people at Willow Creek Church stepped down/are stepping down.

in other church related stuff, formerly Catholic-now-Orthodox Rod Dreher has been blogging a lot about the graft and deception and abuse that he has said spurred him to abandon Catholicism.

he links to a 1,356 page grand jury which ... you may or may not wish to read. 

Being a Protestant I admit to not having an immediate stake in how things play out but it does trouble me that a bureaucracy looks to have dedicated itself to its own preservation over against the welfare of people used and abused from within the powers available in the bureaucracy. 

Now it's not that any team, religious or secular, Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox, liberal or conservative necessarily has any advantage merely by dint of ideological stance but that's not really what the take-away seems to be.  The take-away is that the machinery becomes self-perpetuating and to get all Fritz Lang's Metropolis about it, Molech's gears consume humans and it just keeps going and people keep the machine going.

As the Russiagate story continues there's occasionally an author who asks point blank if today's Russiagate might correspond to the dawn-of-the-century WMD search.

What I find disconcerting about the Russiagate situation is that assuming a collusion or a hack can be established and all the dots can be connected what, exactly, is the United States supposed to do?  We're not technically in a declared war with Russia so it's hard to see how "treason" fits.  That leaders are in the pocket of corporate international and multinational interests doesn't even seem controversial if you just write the sentence out without attaching personal names.  It may be troubling that we could turn out to have a POTUS whose receipts of purchase could turn out to be more publicly established than usual but I guess I've gotten middle-aged enough to have a jaded and grim sense that power seems to be bought and if the scandal is that we actually find out a few names of who bought who  the scandal might just be that it became a matter for record. 
The question that nags me is whether there's anyone who "isn't" bought off in such a way.  
The likelihood of impeachment seems remote.  It's not that it's impossible.  I can imagine it, it's that if the worry is that Russia has jeapordized the integrity of the electoral system then regarding Trump as a traitor or a bought-off president doesn't seem all that new.  I've had conservative relatives and friends claim something like the idea of a president bought off by foreign interests about Obama.  It's not that the charge isn't serious, it's that it's so readily made for partisan reasons it's a bit hard to feel ike this isn't a replay of what Republicans did with Clinton twenty years ago, in the sense of the political theater of it.   
But let's say it all gets proven.  What is the US supposed to do?  We're not at war with Russia but are people pursuing the case that Russia colluded with Trump against the Clinton campaign think that we should be?  To use the word "treason" in the way people have used it about Trump is "just" similar enough to the way Republican and conservative pundits brandished the word against anyone who was not on board with the War on Terror or Gulf War 2 that it seems ... like a bad idea. 

As Friedersdorf put it recently, the media gatekeepers that made Trump a star may have regrets about him now but they were the ones who gave him the celebrity he was able to wield to get elected:

Starting in 2004, the NBC television network and the producer Mark Burnett worked to make Trump a primetime reality-TV star, casting him as an accomplished real-estate mogul making decisions behind a boardroom table, using all the artifice of their industry to make him look good. The image they cultivated for Trump on that show was arguably the most powerful factor in shaping the perceptions of his supporters. 
As early as President Obama’s first term, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News was boosting the racist conspiracy theory that Obama was a foreign-born usurper—and the notion that Trump, the nation’s leading Birther, was a credible candidate for president. “During one of Trump's frequent appearances on Fox & Friends, the network started teasing the idea of Trump in the Oval Office,” Media Matters noted. “While asking him for his opinions on Libya policy, on-screen text asked, ‘What Would President Trump Do?’”...
Gatekeepers created President Trump. It is not clear whether he would’ve won the presidency or not in a marketplace of ideas less heavily influenced by the choices of elites at NBC, CNN, and Fox News, not to mention Breitbart and political talk-radio hosts who abuse gatekeeping on their shows to keep their audiences in information bubbles.

While there may be meat to Russiagate the turnabout aspect of regarding Trump himself as beholden to foreign usurpers may seem a bit too ... consistent with a pattern I've felt like I've been seeing over the last twenty-five years--the government isn't legitimate unless the elected president was wanted in the job by the people who are saying "not my president", whether blue or red.  Native Americans have discovered that it doesn't matter how much you say "not my president" or "not my Congress" or "not my Supreme Court", they have the power to decide a bunch of things that you can petition or appeal but that may not change for, oh, roughly a century.  The American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004 comes to mind ... .  Not that people shouldn't complain when they feel it's necessary.  I have never bought the idea that if you didn't vote you don't have the right to complain.  Your right to complain about the political process doesn't come from whether or not you have the franchise already and also make use of it..  Your right to complain has something to do with the First Amendment. 

Friedersdorf larger point is that the gatekeepers failed.  As quoted above gatekeepers in media decided (or, if we insist on a passive formation, allowed) someone like Trump to become a celebrity promulgating tendentious claims about a few things.

The consistently thought-provoking Damon Linker posits in his latest column that Western culture’s dominant view of technology rests on a lie: “the notion that the world would be a better place without gatekeepers.” 

Conventional wisdom holds that “if only the most powerful information-dissemination technologies ever devised were left open to all—unregulated, uncontrolled, ungoverned by authorities who make decisions about what's acceptable and what isn't—the world would be a much more free and thriving place, the thinking goes,” he writes. “But for this to be true, human beings (individually but perhaps especially collectively) would need to be far more capable of exercising wise judgment.”

In fact, he argues, we need gatekeepers: 

That can be difficult for individualistic, egalitarian citizens of liberal democracies to accept. We have long been taught to revere the marketplace of ideas. Let a million ideas bloom, and through competition with each other, the best will thrive and spread while the worst die out under scrutiny. But this is not what happens in our shared digital lives.

In terms of theories of the press this is the libertarian theory of the press writ large. Even before I'd read anything by Daniel Kahneman on cognitive biases I was skeptical about the libertarian theory of the press in practice, back twenty odd years ago before the internet became what it has become.  The probability of McCarthy-style Red Scares has probably increased astronomically rather than declined.  We're grappling with what seem to be the capacity of media to catalyze paranoia across the spectrum but what we don't seem able to come to terms with is how this can look within any given realm of the spectrum.  The right can have its conspiracy theorists and progressives can be concerned about the Family or the Kochs.  There may be something to those worries even if those fears may be in some way out of proportion to the world itself.

Trump wouldn't be the first president who's thought of as the lap dog for foreign usurpers.  That was said plentifully about Obama.

I have written in the past about how Trump seems to embody the vices of the Hollywood that let him become a star.  It's not that I like Trump at all, it's that it has seemed as though when Hollywood has lamented that a TV fixture has become president that the figure was a Trump and not a Jon Stewart or a Trevor Noah or maybe a Rachel Maddow.

In order for someone's star on the Hollywood walk of fame to get defaced it has to be there to begin with.  Since you have to pay 40k to get the star you want there ...

It can seem as though with the post-Weinstein reports of how Hollywood has worked in the last thirty years (or always) the trouble with the outrage expressed about Trump isn't that he has said and done bad things, it's that he was not the kind of celebrity who was "supposed" to win high office. 

That we're facing a renascent multi-polar world in geopolitical power seems like a necessary and obvious realization to make.  The United States "may" have faced a threat in the form of Russian hacking attempts but given the way fundraising and "dark money" have worked in purely intra-national politics (if that's even possible now) how sure are we that the Russia in the Russiagate is necessarily the biggest or final concern? 

Even if we're rid of Trump we're not getting a Clinton presidency now or in the future.  The tunnel vision I sense from those that just want us to be rid of Trump is that we may not be thinking through the implications of proving a case that Russia hacked a United States election.  The very idea of why they might want to do so from a perspective other than a ... well ... Russiaphobic one doesn't seem to be on the table.  I thought that when the Berlin Wall came down decades ago we could finally live lives in which it was taken for granted the Cold War was actually over.  The Russiagate headlines and opinions make it seem as though that thought was either optimistic or that perhaps there is a sense in which the Russian story is the WMD of our time, a story that is firmly believed the evidence for which doesn't seem to be quite as conclusive as people who are not already bought in might find entirely convincing.  I remember Powell's about face on the probability of WMDs years ago and while I'm not sure all of the present stuff means we'll end up in a war with Russia it's hard to think of what else people can expect Congress to do if the collusion stuff were to be proven to have occurred. 

Which I guess is my way of saying that the people who want Russiagate to blow the id off of Trump's presidency don't come off as though they're thinking about this in the wake of us/U.S. not finding a ton of WMDs, in the wake of the War on Terror, in the wake of all sorts of things that have seemed like bad policy moves. 

It makes sense that people would regard it as terrible if someone at Trump's level suggests that Chinese students could be or probably are spies.

It's not that higher education couldn't be a ripe recruiting ground for spies within the U.S. just from an intra-national standpoint, it would make sense that other nations would have an interest in students as spies.  But it feels strange that worrying about Russians can coexist with a sense of outrage that Chinese people could be regarded as national security threats.  It's personally unnerving since I've had friends of Chinese and eastern European lineage for decades and I wouldn't stop to think any of them are spies.  But the Russian hacking headlines can sometimes leave me with a feeling that it's "okay" for some people to dread Russia or joke that we should start learning Russian on the one hand, while lamenting Trump's tweets and speech about people of color.  Is there just some special handbook of what types of paranoia are legitimate and what kinds aren't?

The idea that the United States could actually do well in a full on conventional war seems ... dubious.  We've had an all volunteer force for so long and relied so heavily on sheer technological advantages that people could ignore that that kind of hubris was part of how things went badly in Vietnam.  To give just a for instance, some absurdly optimistic engineers and forecasters got this idea that missiles would render guns an obsolete technology and so why bother installing guns on fighters?  Then in actual combat it transpired that missiles are long range assets and short range liabilities, as in the short range where an enemy plane can open fire on your plane and you've got nothing comparable to return fire. 

How sure are we as a nation we haven't reached a comparable moment of folly in terms of technology?  Just because we've spent the last few decades doing point to point incursions doesn't mean we're prepared for an actual traditional war kind of war. 

Nor should we operate under the assumption that Republicans are the only hawks.  If we look at the last century the Democrats have a remarkable track record of executives getting us into the hottest possible shooting wars or escalating our military interventions abroad for more or less ideological reasons.  Surely people remember that Christopher Hitchens, was it, loathed JFK as a hawk?  One of my siblings joked that Republicans are the ones who take up not-declaration-of-war military adventures but that if you want a real bona fide declared war Democrats are the winners every time in the last century.

In perhaps the same way that Republicans pretend to be about small government the Democrats pretend they are the peaceable party. 

Theoretically nobody wants a hot war, not when nuclear weapons are still in play, not when biological weapons are still an option.  But there's only so many things you can say before a face-losing gambit has to be taken up or face is lost.  We may well have already lost enough face with Trump being in the executive branch that there's no turning back the clock on that issue. 

Turning back to the academy (not that one) I'm remembering a friend who shared that she was looking into grad school in music and visited NYU.  She rejected that program for a few reasons, if memory serves, but the most memorable one was that she heard some of the faculty say what she regarded as inexcusably racist remarks about Asian and Asian American musicians.  Now this was a friend I made at Mars Hill, so it might be pertinent to mention that in light of the way people tend to think of Mars Hill as having been chiefly a white church as though that also meant white nationalist.  There were not a ton of people of color there but the PNW is pretty white and has a lot of white supremacism in its legacy regardless of the ostensibly blue electorate.  The older I get the more I find it exasperating that white progressives and conservatives keep trying to scapegoat each other for a shared legacy of racism but I'll get back to the NYU point, the friend wasn't exactly a liberal sort but she regarded the offhand comments she heard from people at NYU as inexcusably racist.  I forgot about those concerns but it seems NYU got in the news within the education scene.

So, on the matter of NYU.

Whether it's Hollywood or higher education it's possible to maybe grade them on a curve compared to what the Catholic Church has hidden but it's seeming like the institutions are smelling really bad across the board, like there's some kind of rot everywhere but it only stinks to those who lean over to smell what seems stinkier in someone else's backyard.  Not that we have to grade on a curve, exactly.

It would be hard to ignore altogether how the university systems we have in the West are indebted institutionally and intellectually to ... medieval Catholicism.  It might be tough for academics in the West to regard themselves as part of an alternative to whatever they regard as abusive in Catholic hierarchical governance if a comparable root and branch issue in connection to power can exist within a liberal arts college. 

Having not so long ago read a piece by Lisa Ruddick about what she regarded as a troubling tendency within academia to lionize or celebrate modes of sexuality that stick to capitalism even though they could be construed as impersonal and exploitive ...
To elaborate, our profession often speaks affirmatively of sex when it either “shatters” a person or violates social norms.[6] Any one lover could presumably be traded for another, so long as the requisite effects occurred. What is discounted is the idea of valuing a lover for the one being he or she is, with the inner richness and consistency that could make for an “integral” relationship. And while I have focused on the academic devaluation of love, I could as easily have considered the ways in which current criticism discourages readers from experiencing poems as integral objects, the ways in which it occludes the author’s mind as a potential integral object, and the ways in which it discounts the invaluable human capacity to experience life itself as an integral object.[7]

The greedy institution has a stake, altogether, in impoverishing its members’ object worlds. It promotes a hollowness, which can then be compensated with the satisfactions of status and affiliation within the group. Perhaps this is a tendency of all professional life. But when, as has happened in English, the soul-sapping quality of professional collectives finds an alibi in the anti-individualist ideology of left postmodernism, we have the conditions for quite a bit of mystification and malaise.
Finally, a small subset of work in ELH glamorizes cruelty in the name of radical politics, though this motif abates after 2006, perhaps because of a change in editorial leadership. The piece I find most troubling is an article on a short story by Henry James. This article proposes that if one faces a choice between having sex with children and protecting them, “perhaps one should let oneself desire the child, and—relinquishing the gratifications of protection—let the child die.” Sexually precocious children should “perhaps” be allowed a death of “innocence” that will supplant the pleasures of childhood with “other pleasures” delivered by adult lovers. James’s short story supposedly conveys this moral. But the lesson is said to apply in real life as well, wherever adults might be tempted to issue “calls for the protection of children.” The story is said to reveal “the dire results of protecting children from desire”—anywhere. For today’s anti-pedophile perpetrates the “potential violence” of “speaking on [children’s] behalf.”

There is a place in academe for scholarship that responsibly weighs the benefits and costs to children of sex with adults. But the present piece offers no empirical findings. Instead, it manipulates postmodern commonplaces to argue that people who try to shield children from “the depredations of influence and seduction” are imputing to children boundaries that they do not have. Children cannot be “corrupted” sexually because no child has a core of selfhood that has not already been thoroughly penetrated or “influenced” by society and language. We are asked to acknowledge “selves’ constitutive corruption.” For the mere phenomenon of influence is apparently so destabilizing that it “throws into question the attribution—particularly to oneself—of substantive depths, of ‘inner’ selves or meaning behind appearances.” A haze of familiar antihumanist abstractions thus eases in the practical conclusion as to the pointlessness of trying to protect children’s “‘inner’ selves” from violation.

At least some academics have expressed worry that there's a subset of academia that celebrates sexuality that can be construed as anti-capitalist that ordinary people on the street might regard as exploitive and evil.  It doesn't seem out of place to remember someone once wrote "there is none that is righteous, not even one."  But that force of that observation isn't in what's said in the quote, it's the observation that nobody seems to even want to become better.  The prophetic condemnation wasn't some "nobody's perfect" bromide but a condemnation of the listlessness and self-satisfaction of exploitive and decadent people who were assured that, well, why would disaster befall them? 

John Halle had a bit of blogging commentary on something to keep in mind, now would not be the time for people in the liberal arts to imagine that sexual harassment is less common in the liberal arts than it is in STEM.  There's at least some studies that indicate that in spite of a liberal arts wing that believes the hard sciences are the domain of patriarchal harassment, it's the liberal arts and humanities where there seems to be the most reported sexual harassment and misconduct.

the liberal arts may have inherited a kind of unexamined clericalism it can't recognize in itself even though it could easily recognize the same vice in a more formally and traditionally clerical culture.

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