There was the general squalor of the ghetto, which got aired out in early songs like Run-DMC’s first hit, “It’s Like That,” or “The Message” by Melle Mel. But over time, rappers started really going in on specific issues. Crooked cops were attacked by groups like NWA. Drug dealers were targeted by KRS-One. Drug addicts were mocked by Brand Nubian. Ice Cube called out Uncle Toms. Groups like Poor Righteous Teachers denounced shady churches with bootleg preachers. Queen Latifah was pushing back against misogyny. Salt ‘N’ Pepa were rallying around safe sex. Public Enemy recorded manifestos on their albums addressing a dozen different issues. You could name practically any problem in the hood and there’d be a rap song for you.

Jay-Z, Decoded (2010)

Peep the reference to Queen Latifah; the thing about Jay-Z and sexism is that it’s always kinda been like his relationship with regional music. You know, whatever Jay’s embrace of feminism (which is real but not real enough to preclude him from “pull ya skirt down" lyrics) it really feels like it’s equally the result of business acumen as it is conscience. Just like Jay did songs like "Big Pimpin’" and "Snoopy Track" because he genuinely liked UGK and Timbo, but also because he recognized there was a new market opening up. And yeah, this is how this sort of thing happens. The Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson because of money as well as cause it was the right thing to do.

Who was it that first noted that you can tell the precise moment at which Jay’s perspective on gender began changing? (I remember seeing this in a specific review/essay/whatever.) Skip to 1:38 in “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)”:

Yeah, save the narrative: you savin it for marriage;
Let’s keep it real ma, you savin it for karats.
You wanna see how far I’mma go,
How much I’mma spend, but you already know:
Zip, zero, stingy with dinero.
Might buy you Cris’, but that about it.
Might light your wrist, but that about it.
Fuck it, I might wife you and buy you nice whips.

Wow, Bill turned out kinda cool, Sam grew up huge, and Neil… is exactly the same.

Wow, Bill turned out kinda cool, Sam grew up huge, and Neil… is exactly the same.

[M]ost conservatives are not libertarians, even if they like to use libertarian rhetoric now and then.

Think about it: the modern Republican party may be the party of deregulation and low taxes, but it’s also the party of social illiberalism. Someone like Rick Santorum firmly believes that the government has no right to tell business owners what they can do in the workplace, but has every right to tell ordinary citizens what they can do in the bedroom. William Buckley’s God and Man at Yale was in large part a diatribe against the notion that colleges were teaching students about unemployment and how to fight it; but what Buckley wanted was, in effect, for those colleges to get back to their proper role, which was religious indoctrination. In its heyday National Review was a staunch supporter of free markets; but it was also a staunch supporter of Jim Crow — which wasn’t just about the right of white business owners to discriminate against blacks, it was about a system of laws designed to protect white privilege.

All of this makes no sense if you think of liberalism versus conservatism as a simple argument about the size and role of the state

Now, there are some real libertarians out there, particularly in the realm of economics bloggers, but they have no real power base. Even when politicians claim to be libertarian, there are telltale giveaways: the two R. Pauls, father and son, may be unusual in questioning the national security state, but they both have a remarkable tendency to cater to and/or employ white supremacists.

Paul Krugman, “Conservatives Are (Mostly) Not Libertarians,” The New York Times, August 17, 2013

This is really important in two ways. First, no, there are actually really very few libertarians in existence. They are entirely marginal to mainstream politics and very few people are interested in their ideas. The purest, most honest libertarians are fairly hostile to democracy, both because they recognize that democratic systems of governance are designed to act as a counterbalance to the power of the propertied (and therefore with the best opportunity to exploit property rights) and because the demos is actively hostile to their prescriptions, regardless of any conservative fantasies regarding “libertarian populism.” 

It’s no mistake that, of all the wacky ideological minorities out there — libertarians, communists, Five Percenters, LaRouchers — the only ones to get real play amongst the punditry are those who predominantly belong to the same social caste as political reporters: white, urbane, male, upper-middle class.

The other important point is that it’s easy to exaggerate the crossover between libertarianism and conservatism by pretending conservatism actually cares about the dorky philosophical arguments libertarians have regarding what freedom really means. It doesn’t. Our collective persuasion that it does is both a credit to conservative rhetoric and symptomatic of the way too many academics and political journalists think that just because they have libertarian friends, so does everyone else.

When we assume that boys won’t read books with girls on the cover, and then institutionalize that assumption by leaving the “girlie” books out of award nominations (as well as school wide reads, story times, etc.), we insult them. By suggesting that on the whole our boys have a limited capacity for empathy, an inability to imagine a world beyond their own most obvious understanding, and an unwillingness to stretch.

In the same stroke, we neglect our girls. Not because they can’t read “boy books” (they do and will). But because when they see those awards, they also learn something — to accept a world in which they are rarely the central players. They learn, at a formative age, that the “best” books are the ones about boys.

Laurel Snyder, “Boys Will Be Boys, and Girls Will Be Accomodating,” Medium, February 12, 2014

I don’t know a lot about what to do with children, which is one of the reasons I don’t have any, but I have been a boy who was keenly aware of the contours of gender, how fiercely regulated they can be, and how these lines don’t vanish at the bookshelf. That is, I don’t know how to make adult men believe they don’t lack the capacity for empathy, to understand and be interested in stories by and about people who don’t share their gender. How can I expect mere boys to do the same — boys who, unlike their adult counterparts — are not shaping the world so much as trying to understand it and sometimes, in a way I know well, trying to inure themselves from its binaries? 

The answer to that is, well, the plain answer is what Snyder says: essentially that adults shouldn’t be pushing children into conforming to geographies they are very cognizant of anyway, that maybe they can blur those boundaries. But the real answer is in the title of the piece: boys will be boys and girls will be accommodating. Which is true, and true in ways that extend far outside the library and far beyond childhood. “How can I expect mere boys…” I asked, and the proper response is we do so the same way we expect mere girls. And if I can’t expect children — boys or girls — to defeat the tyranny of gender normativity, we can at least suppose boys can be accommodating — in the way that girls and women are always called to be.

Bir Tawil or Bi’r Tawīl (Arabic: بير طويل‎ Bīr Ṭawīl or بئر طويل Bi’r Ṭawīl; meaning “tall water well”) is a 2,060 km2 (795 sq mi) area along the border between Egypt and Sudan, which is claimed by neither country, making it the only current terra nullius outside of Antarctica. When spoken of in association with the neighboring Hala’ib Triangle, it is sometimes referred to as the Bir Tawil Triangle, despite the area’s quadrilateral shape; the two “triangles” border at a quadripoint.

Its status as unclaimed territory results from a discrepancy between the straight political boundary between Egypt and Sudan established in 1899, and the irregular administrative boundary established in 1902. Egypt asserts the political boundary, and Sudan asserts the administrative boundary, with the result that the Hala’ib Triangle is claimed by both, and Bir Tawil by neither.

Bir Tawil,” Wikipedia

Anyone interested in starting a new country?

Mar 05

Mar 01

Yes with a but…

probably unanswerable question: does mandatory voting cause people who would be otherwise disinterested to engage with political issues?

Not altogether unanswerable, I don’t think; I’m aware, for instance, of a PhD candidate whose research suggests Australian swing voters (swing voters tending to be the least engaged with politics) know more about issues than one would expect. I do believe that mandatory voting does encourage a low level of political engagement from citizens who would usually have none. I think, though, that this is counterbalanced by a much lower rate of deep engagement in politics. By my read, Australia is more likely than many other polities to have citizens with a superficial knowledge of politics, but I think it also has a much smaller proportion of its population deeply engaged. This is a problem because deeply engaged people are the ones that actually exert power and come up with new ideas, and while it is a good thing for a political system to make it easier for the average citizen to be marginally involved, there are huge problems with one that discourages deeper engagement.

My argument is an institutional one, but I acknowledge that the causes are also cultural. I maintain that if Australia abandoned mandatory voting our turnout rates would not fall by that much because we’ve established voting as a cultural norm. Also, as I’ve written elsewhere, Australians strongly associate democracy with the act of periodically voting for representatives. I’m not saying we’re wrong about that, but it does mean we give short shrift to other important aspects of democracy, such as party membership or citizen engagement with policy formulation between elections. 

By contrast, Abbott is a classic example of hegemonic masculinity — he may not be the aspirational model that many men or even women aspire to, but most people recognise his version of masculinity as being the mode that is meant to be in charge. As a result, it’s hard to avoid the idea that the “adults” who were sweeping to power were in some way a gendered response to Gillard as well as Rudd. The presence of a mere one woman on the front bench only serves to reinforce this.

And all of this — because it’s the 21st century, and because tabloids are involved — is being filtered through the Bruckheimerisation of masculinity that has been underway for some time. Manliness is no longer necessarily stoic and stolid, it must also be virile and athletic, preferably with explosions.

Ed Butler, “Manly men v wimps: what’s behind the macho language in Australian politics,” The Guardian, February 27, 2014

This is an excellent article, and it’s a trend I’ve noticed. As Butler explains later, “A world where ‘man’ equals ‘good’ tends to imply that ‘woman’ is, well, not” and it’s strange to see how wholeheartedly the new government has embraced this worldview. Conservative Australia has developed a creepy fascination with hegemonic masculinity of late, and although conservatism and masculinity have always been related, this isn’t like it was even during the Howard years. What was once silent and simplistically patriarchal has become vocal and militant.

But there’s also the Madisonian version of this, which would stress that these majorities are almost always illusions. Returning to abortion: it’s true that pollsters can obtain answers from most people about the topic, but the truth is that many people (most people?) don’t actually care very much about abortion at all. That’s sometimes hard for those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about politics to understand, because we’re likely to care about plenty of issues as a function of caring about politics at all. But plenty of people only care about a handful of issues, or just one, or even none. They’ll vote (at least in most major elections), and pay some attention when elections get near, but they just aren’t engaged with “the issues” the way that those who really care about politics are. Among other things, that’s one of the reasons why changing polling questions in subtle ways can produce very different answers: Most respondents don’t have deep-seated opinions, and therefore will respond differently to slightly different versions of a question. You aren’t going to get a true pro-life or pro-choice believer to give the “wrong” answer by stacking a question, but you’ll get the people who don’t care much about the issue to flip, because for them there is no “right” answer that reveals what they “really” think. They don’t really think about it. (They might in the future if something happens to get them involved. That’s not their current position, however).

In this way of thinking about things, there’s really no “majority” on most issues. There are only pluralities (and multiple pluralities) of those who have real positions, and then lots of people who don’t care very much. As for Fiorina’s argument, the more attentive people are, the more likely they are to adhere to the party’s (relatively extreme) positions, which makes it even less likely that his “majority” of the middle is any more legitimate than the “majorities” created by either side.

Jonathan Bernstein, “In Politics, ‘Majority Is a Complicated Idea,” Bloomberg View, February 25, 2014

And here’s the problem with the quirk in the Australian electoral system that is mandatory voting: it puts decisive electoral questions in the hands of these voters who have few real opinions.

Add to that:

On the other hand, make it too easy for the parties to enact those constructed majorities and too many people and groups can no longer be “heard effectively.” Especially if the parties themselves aren’t sufficiently permeable. If those majorities were real, that wouldn’t be a problem, because as long as one of the parties faithfully represented that majority, then the parties would be doing their job. But since the majorities don’t precede the political system, it’s important that everyone have an opportunity to construct them. Even if, in the event, few do.

So not only do we ask people who have little interest to cast the deciding vote in choosing a government, we then create a government from parties that are composed exactly as Bernstein warns they should not be: impermeable, and acting upon policies a select group of insiders have decided represent majority opinion.


The notion of masculinity is funny, especially the notion between macho dudes that if you’re not all the way masculine, you’re all the way feminine. I’m beginning to realize the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in life thus far is nobody’s all the way anything.

yes. and also maybe how these are meant to be qualities that can’t exist in tandem: that more feminine must mean less masculine: that masculinity and femininity can’t interact without one eroding the other.

Feb 27

9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18