Sunday, January 31, 2016

How race reductionists minimize poverty

The point of Who Benefits From the Safety Net - The New York Times is in its opening paragraphs:
A new analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities underscores that the poor are no longer the primary beneficiaries of the government safety net. 
Terms like entitlements, government benefits and safety net often conjure images of tax dollars sliding from the hands of the wealthy into the pockets of the poor. But as we reported Sunday, that image is badly outdated. Benefits now flow primarily to the middle class.
Most of the rest of the short article shows how the benefits flow. But @SeanMcElwee tweeted,
Study: African-Americans make up 22% of the poor, but get only 14% of government benefits.
and included a pic with the article's last two paragraphs:
Another finding of the study is that the distribution of benefits no longer aligns with the demography of poverty. African-Americans, who make up 22 percent of the poor, receive 14 percent of government benefits, close to their 12 percent population share. 
White non-Hispanics, who make up 42 percent of the poor, receive 69 percent of government benefits – again, much closer to their 64 percent population share. 
I tweeted back:
You missed the lede: regardless of race, most of that money is going to the middle class. The racial distribution reflects it.
Which is to say, the black middle class is disproportionately benefitting just as much as the white middle class is. 
The article has nothing to suggest that poor whites are getting more than poor blacks or that middle-class whites are benefitting more than middle-class blacks. But to people who focus on race and ignore class, what's outrageous about poverty is its disproportionality rather than its existence.

Which gives me a fine excuse to share yet again the Martin Luther King quote everyone should know:
"In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike. ... I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective—the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income." —Martin Luther King

Friday, January 29, 2016

Defining "superhero" and why Fantomah isn't quite one

Pappy's Golden Age Comics Blogzine: Number 1847: “Crime doesn’t seem to pay.” reprints a Fantomah story. She's been called the first superheroine, and while she's among the characters I'd like to write someday, I don't count her as a superhero. She's like the Spectre, a supernatural being whose powers are so great that her stories tend to boil down to "Baddie does badness, then main character does weirdness to baddie." Until I started thinking about Fantomah, I thought a superhero must:
1. Originate in a visual literary medium, either a comic strip or comic book.
2. Seem to have abilities greater than the average human.
3. Use a pseudonym.
4. Have a distinctive appearance when using that pseudonym.
5. Be dedicated to making the world a better place.
By that definition, characters like Mandrake the Magician are superheroes: he's from newspapers, he uses hypnosis, he has a public persona, he wears his stage clothes when he goes into action, and he uses his abilities for good.

Fantomah falters on my third requirement. Though she was an Egyptian princess once (don't ask about the blondness), there's no sense that Fantomah is a second identity to her; it's effectively her only identity. Superheroes don't necessarily keep their off-duty identities secret, but they have lives beyond superheroing. Superman's real identity isn't Superman or Kal-El; he's Clark Kent, a kid who came to America as a baby and discovered his powers and unusual history, but those things don't change the fact that he's Clark, Jonathan and Martha's boy from Smallville. Bruce Wayne may wish he could be Batman most or all of the time, but he's still Bruce, the billionaire playboy who likes being a billionaire playboy. Wonder Woman is an ambassador to "man's world", but ambassadors aren't on duty all the time; she needs her ordinary life as Diana, a woman with friends and lovers.

Fantomah, as a jungle character, owes a little to The Phantom. You might argue that the Phantom has given up his ordinary life to be The Phantom, but The Phantom's stories emphasize his humanity: each generation of Phantoms grows up, marries, has kids, and raises those kids to be the best they can be. The Phantom is a strange combination of Tarzan and the Lone Ranger, and like them, he's isolated, but he has people around him who matter to them.

Thinking about this made me realize I have one more requirement for a superhero. A superhero must:
6. Try to live a normal human life while accepting the responsibility that comes with great power.
And that's where Fantomah and the Spectre fall short of being superheroes. They may be super and they may be heroes, but they show no interest in being human.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Adolph Reed Jr. recognizes Ta-Nehisi Coates as neoliberalism's newest Booker

Adolph Reed on the Folly of Reparations, Steffie Woolhandler on the Inadequacies of Obamacare is a short and very readable interview that's essentially an updating of his classic essay, "What Are the Drums Saying, Booker?: The Curious Role of the Black Public Intellectual" (pdf).

The important thing to remember about Booker T. Washington is he wasn't an Uncle Tom in the sense of being someone only white people liked. He was someone both the white and the black middle class liked because his cautious approach to justice validated their class privilege.

Related: Adolph Reed on bell hooks, Cornell West, and other public black intellectuals

Adolph Reed Jr. on race and social justice

Monday, January 18, 2016

Beulah McFee pages 31-33: the conclusion

If you want to read the complete story:
Part 1: The Ballad of Beulah McFee #1: "Me and Robert and the Devil" - the beginning 
Part 2: The Ballad of Beulah McFee #1: "Me and Robert and the Devil" - the end

If you haven't seen Searching for Sugar Man, this post has no spoilers for you

A friend recommended Searching for Sugar Man and said it was best if I knew nothing about it, so if you know nothing about it, don't click that link. Just know that it won an Academy Award for best documentary, a fact I had missed, so I was watching the first ten minutes or so wondering if this was a mockumentary, because I kept thinking I should know something about this if it was true.

Okay, that's kind of a spoiler, but I won't tell you more about the story than that.

Rotten Tomatoes gives it 94%. IMDB gives it 8.2. See it.

After you see it, read this. The title is a bit of a spoiler, so I'm not including it.

People in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Public Library has the DVD.

Today we remember America's greatest socialist, Martin Luther King

I love to quote this:

“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.” -Martin Luther King

Today I came across this, which is much more blunt:

“If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.” Speech at Bishop Charles Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ in support of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike

I have sometimes said things like "Hey Conservatives! Stop Trying to Appropriate Martin Luther King", but the complaint should be issued as "Hey Capitalists!" because in the 1950s, the Republicans were much better on civil rights than the Democrats, and today, support for King's final solution to poverty, Universal Basic Income, can be found across the political spectrum.



More: Martin Luther King quotes

11 Most Anti-Capitalist Quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On cartoon speed lines, cultural imperialism, and misreading Charlie Hebdo

Some of the people I admire most in the world think Charlie Hebdo is racist because they believe anyone can look at an image and know what it means. If you want commentary by people who know more about French culture than I do to explain why outsiders misread Charlie Hebdo, follow the links at For anyone who thinks Charlie Hebdo is a racist magazine.

Today I'd prefer to focus on the notion that cartooning is a universal language by looking at speed lines, aka motion lines. Wikipedia says Ernest Montaut created them at the turn of the 20th century to make his auto posters more dynamic.


Montaut uses speed lines the way I'd always seen them in the comics of my youth: the lines go behind an image to indicate the direction it's coming from.

In the '70s and '80s, Japanese comics began to show up in the US. They were exciting to American fans because they had different subjects than American comics and they used different techniques. But those techniques were initially hard for us to read. Case in point: they used speed lines differently, sometimes putting them in front and behind a character, sometimes putting them only in front of one.

Here's an example from Real, volume 2 by Takehiko Inoue:


A manga fan would have no trouble deciphering those panels: the runner is very fast. But to someone who only knew the American and European traditions, many possibilities occur: Is the runner being blown backwards by a powerful wind? Is he running slowly forward into the rain? Is he being murdered in a hail of bullets? I've read the occasional manga for decades now, but I read it as a second language of comics that I don't know as well as my first.

The next time you assume you know what a picture means, please check the context. Including the cultural context.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Three tragic and very American things about the police killing a 12-year-old girl during her family's eviction

Three thoughts after reading 12-year-old girl fatally shot during family’s eviction from Pennsylvania home:

1. The US has more than enough homes for everyone, yet people are still driven from their homes.

2. The police know dispossessed people will be desperate, yet they go into these situations ready to kill rather than negotiate.

3. To the people who prefer #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter, Ciara Meyer's life doesn't matter, even though white people represent two-thirds of America's poor and two-thirds of the people the police kill.

ETA: Regarding the last point, most black people, like most white people, think "all lives matter" reflects their belief: Black Lives Matter Or All Lives Matter? - Rasmussen Reports™

Monday, January 11, 2016

Beulah McFee page 29


A short rant about "if you're white, you're racist because you grew up in a racist society"

By this logic, human progress is impossible—we are all shaped by society and there are no rebels.

You cannot be an atheist if you grew up in a theistic society. Sorry, Voltaire and Mark Twain.

You cannot be a democrat if you grew up in a feudalist society. Sorry, Thomas Paine and Prince Kropotkin.

You cannot be a feminist if you grew up in a sexist society. Sorry, Charles Fourier.

You cannot be a socialist if you grew up in a capitalist society. Sorry, Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg.

You cannot oppose poverty if you grew up middle-class. Sorry, Martin Luther King.

You could not have been an abolitionist if you grew up in a slave-owning society. Sorry, Benjamin Franklin, William Wilberforce, and Frederick Douglass.

You could not have believed in sharing freely if you grew up in a plutocracy. Sorry, Zarathustra, Buddha, Ezekiel, Amos, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and every great prophet humanity has known.

Notes:

1. Science does not support the idea that all white people are racist. See  how racist am I? on Project Implicit and other tests for racism.

2. If a few of the choices in my rant seem odd to you:

Fourier gave feminism its name.

Franklin owned slaves when he was young, but ultimately became the president of an abolitionist society.

King's work against racism was usually done within the context of working against poverty—the Dream speech was given at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and when he was killed, he was working on the Poor People's Campaign.

Douglass never owned slaves, but before the Civil War, many middle-class black men and women did, and a few of the richest slaveowners were black. If you're curious about this, you could start with 5 of the Wealthiest Blacks Who Owned Slaves in America.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ross Wolfe defines identitarianism

Today I went looking for definitions of identitarianism. Though Walter Benn Michaels seems to have been the first to use it in its most modern sense, and he and Adolph Reed Jr. have both used it to make brilliant observations about capitalism in general and neoliberalism in particular, the best definition may be this:

Ross Wolfe in On the term “identitarian”:
Now we come to the critique of “identitarian” ideology specifically under neoliberal capitalism, picking up on Reed and Michaels’ intuition. “Identitarian” ideology here occurs wherever apparent heterogeneity masks underlying homogeneity. When individuals assert the uniqueness of their various identities, and recite all the various experiences and factors that make them different from the dominant narrative or “hegemonic order” of society, they neglect to consider the way that capital operates by making that which is seemingly incommensurable commensurable. Far from being inherently radical or occupying a marginalized vantage within society not fully captured by the logic of capital, these various identities are regarded by capital as so many niche markets through which groups or individuals can semi-consciously cultivate the illusion of being different than everybody else. This is not to say that racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on are not problems; they are. But they are bound together by a social dynamic that runs deeper than the facile notion of “intersectionality”: namely, the totality of capitalist social relations, in which these phenomena coexist and interrelate. These different “identities” do not provide a true basis for transcending capitalism, nor are they properly outside of capitalism; they are generated, layered, and recombined within the neoliberal configuration of capital.
ETA: "wherever apparent heterogeneity masks underlying homogeneity" ought to go into an essay I would like to write but probably never will, "The ideology of the black bourgeoisie".

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Beulah McFee page 26


The widening class gap in black violent crime

From The other side of Black Lives Matter | Brookings Institution:
Segregation by income amplifies segregation by race, leaving low-income blacks clustered in neighborhoods that feature disadvantages along several dimensions, including exposure to violent crime. As a result, the divide within the black community has widened sharply. In 1978, poor blacks aged twelve and over were only marginally more likely than affluent blacks to be violent crime victims—around  forty-five and thirty-eight per 1000 individuals respectively. However, by 2008, poor blacks were far more likely to be violent crime victims—about seventy-five per 1000—while affluent blacks were far less likely to be victims of violent crime—about twenty-three per 1000, according to Hochschild and Weaver:


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Recognizing bullshit online #1: Counterfactual Identity Swaps

I'm not saying "counterfactual identity swaps" are the first or greatest examples of bullshit; the number just means I suspect I'll add more items to the list.

Matt Breunig defines the Counterfactual Identity Swap:
The way the CIS works is you take an event in the news and you speculate on what the event would be like if the identity of the actors involved were different. Unsurprisingly, the CIS always proves that the take-maker is correct about whatever their point is. You can find CIS examples for almost any news event. Liberals and conservatives equally enjoy it.
What's lovely about the CIS is facts are entirely irrelevant. You merely have to say that something would be different if, say, left-handed philatelists were involved, and everyone who believes left-handed philatelists are treated differently will agree. I especially admire Counterfactual Identity Swaps as a sometime practitioner of alternative history—one of the things I've said that sometimes gets repeated is, "...there are no correct alternate histories; there are only plausible alternate histories."

The CIS thrives where ignorance is great so the bar for plausibility is low. The CIS is related to false equivalence, but it has one great advantage: with false equivalence, you have to offer an example that someone might dispute. The Counterfactual Identity Swap is ideologically perfect, requiring nothing more than bias to be believed.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Beulah McFee page 24


Is #BlackLivesMatter effective? The argument against.

The kindest thing to say about #BLM is they mean well, but they're having trouble communicating their message. The problem begins with their name and their insistence that saying "all lives matter" is racist—most Americans of all races think #AllLivesMatter is a better description of their views than #BlackLivesMatter . Today, I saw this quote by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trying to address the confusion about #BLM:


My experience in marching for causes began as a boy in the '60s marching to end segregation. Since then, I marched to protest war in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I marched for gay rights. I marched to oppose Arizona SB 1070, which racially profiled Hispanic Americans. I suspect I made other marches that I'm not remembering now—for most of my life, I've believed in putting my feet where my mouth was. While we individually were sometimes accused of being anti-police, no one described what we were doing as "anti-police marches."

But describing #BLM as "anti-police" is understandable, especially after their "Pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon" chant:



The general public simply doesn't know what #BLM intends: Is Equal Justice the Goal of Black Lives Matter? - Rasmussen Reports™ The full report is behind a paywall, but bits are quoted in an article that tries to spin #BLM's confused message in terms that its leaders believe: New Rasmussen Poll: Majority of People Say #BlackLivesMatter Movement Doesn't Matter, as White Denial Over Racism Continues:
The poll also found that 51 percent of Black voters say the Black Lives Matter movement supports reforms to ensure equal treatment under the law, and 30 percent say it doesn’t, with 19 percent unsure. On the other hand, 55 percent of white voters say the group does not support criminal justice reform, and 21 percent say it does, with 24 percent uncertain.
#BLM is unquestionably effective at two things. It's promoted itself very well, and it's made many people think that an issue which affects all Americans of all races, and especially poor Americans of all races, is only an issue for black folks.

Related: A handy list of white victims of police abuse, or Why #BlackLivesMatter should be #AllLivesMatter

Black leftist critics of antiracism and BlackLivesMatter

Three boys shot because of toy guns: Tamir Rice, Andy Lopez, Nicholas King - #DemilitarizeThePolice

Friday, January 1, 2016

We binge-watched Broadchurch season 2 — no spoilers

I gave the first season of Broadchurch 5 stars on Netflix, which in retrospect was a mistake, because I can't give the second season 6 stars, though I would.

Okay, Netflix doesn't let you rate seasons, which is a shame, because few shows are equally good from season to season. But in this case, it's perfectly legit to give both seasons one rating. Like a good novel, they're two halves of a whole.