Henry Miller on Cops

I forgot what a great writer this guy was.

This isn’t the place to complain about the punctilio of prison regimes. I know that they have to take every precaution. All I wish to convey is the effect which this individual had upon me. Months have passed since the incident and yet I can’t forget his face, his manner, his whole being. He’s a man, and I say it calmly and soberly, whom I could kill in cold blood. I could shoot him down in the dark and go quietly about my business, as if I had just brushed a mosquito off my arm.

He was a killer, a man who hunts down human prey — and accepts money for it. He was unclean, unfit to associate with human kind, even with those misfits behind the bars. As long as I live I shall never forget that cruel, ash-gray face, those cold, beady man-hunter’s eyes. I hate him and all that he stands for. I hate him with an undying hatred. I would a thousand times rather be the most incorrigible convict than this hireling of those who are trying to maintain law and order. Law and order! Finally, when you see it staring at you through the barrel of a rifle, you know what it means. A bas puissance, justice, histoire! If society has to be protected by these inhuman monsters then to hell with society!

https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.187236/2015.187236.The-Air-Conditioned-Nightmare_djvu.txt

Building the Perfect AV Set-Up On a Tight Budget Part 1: Audio

Here on WWM, we watch a lot of movies and I at least listen to tons of different kinds of audio recordings and play different types of old software looking for insight into the recent past and how we ended up here.

When you spend that much time with media, a good playback set-up is crucial and can make for a huge quality-of-life increase if you’re like me and studying outdated media is pretty much your life. Thankfully, the massive overproduction and cycling out of consumer goods that has occurred in the last 50 years has left a lot of ways to get around paying enormous sums of money to get extremely high quality AV playback.

Since I’ve moved to a city where enormous quantities of used electronics are regularly remaindered and dropped off at thrift shops, I’ve embarked on a quest to set up my absolute perfect AV set-up for as little money as possible. Extremely cheap prices/people leaving stuff on the street has allowed me to finish it.

While I’m by no means suggesting everyone or really most people should own this much media equipment, I at least hope some of the tips and suggestions here are helpful. I’ve divided the article into separate sections for each piece of equipment that made the cut and why it made the cut/tips for hunting down your own in the wild/how I acquired each piece/any hardware or software mods I recommend.

Since its a big list, I’m breaking it into two articles, one for audio playback and one for video playback.

So lets get to it!

AUDIO

AMPLIFIER/RECEIVER: Yamaha VX-463

I bought this Yamaha receiver for $20 with a remote at a thrift store. While hardly the flashiest component I own, it gets the job done, can put out true 5.1 discrete audio (extremely useful for DVDs), decode Dolby Pro Logic II surround (which is 100x better than Pro Logic I) and I can turn off the internal Digital->Analog Converter chip. The only downside (if you can call it that) is the lack of a built-in phono preamp. However, this opens a lot of options for other phono pre-amps which frequently sound better.  It takes HDMI, RCA, optical and coax, so I’m pretty happy. If you see one of these models from around this period, grab it. You can get them even cheaper if you only need one that can do stereo (and unless you plan on investing in a 5.1 set-up of speakers that’s all you’ll ever need.) I’ve never had a problem with a Yamaha receiver, but most receivers made by a large manufacturer with quality checks will probably work fine, especially if you only need stereo.

MAIN STEREO SPEAKER PAIR: Ohm Model E Pair

I found these unused in the box they came in from when whoever bought them and proceeded to never use them. They were free on the street on trash day. They were manufactured in 1978. They’re essentially knock-offs of the famous Henry Kloss AR-2 speaker design, and sound almost as good as a fully refurbished pair of AR-2s, which leads me to my next buying tip: Many fairly excellent knock offs of the all-time great vintage speakers have been made and can be had for far far less money than the originals. While your chances of also finding unused 1978 bookshelf speakers on the street is low, you can still pick up great speakers resembling the AR-2 through 4 models for very cheap at flea markets. Look for the Ohm brand or the Optimus brand (which is the branding Radioshack used to sell speakers for a long time.) Either of these will be fairly cheap and sound excellent. If you’re willing to hunt around a bit, you should be able to get pairs for the $10-40 range. Obviously if you see original AR or KLH speakers in that price range, they’re 100% worth grabbing too.

CD PLAYERS:

Playstation SPCH-1001 (modded)
Oppo 970HD
Pioneer LD-909

CDs are great and definitely the cheapest form, for now anyway, to get verifiable legit physical copies of albums. If you’re anything like me and/or lived through the 80s or 90s, you probably have dozens laying around. Many come with bonus tracks and other nifty things. You can make perfect 1:1 copies. People have been quick to discount the CD as a format, but I still use it every day. If you want the quickest path to an impressive audiophile set-up that incorporates physical media while spending the least money possible, CD is the way to go.

Since CD players also tend to be incorporated in other common electronics, I’ve only included the three devices I actually play back CDs on in this entry. While many other devices I own can technically read CDs and/or SACDs (PS2, PS3, Dreamcast, Sony BDP-390 Blu-Ray), I pretty much never use them for playing music, since it puts unnecessary strain on the lasers and they don’t sound nearly as good as the three I chose. In an interesting coincidence, sound quality vs. ability to play anything whether its scratched or not had an inverse correlation. I’m going to go over them now in terms of sound quality from best to worst.

PS1-SCPH-1001 (modded)

The first release version of the original Sony Playstation has, by luck, chance or covert design, one of the best DAC chips ever made. A DAC (Digital-to-Analog-Converter) is one of the more expensive chips on the motherboard of a CD player and is the final step of processing between the 1s and 0s on the CD and the actual sound you hear from your speakers.

Think of a recording as a loaf of bread. A digital recording is that loaf cut into a bunch of very tiny slices, but for whatever reason your speakers can only eat full uncut loaves of bread. In an analog recording (like vinyl or cassette) the bread is unsliced but can get kinda moldy/nasty if it’s left out in a way digital doesn’t. However, with digital you still have the issue  of reconstituting the bread. A better DAC reconstitutes the bread/audio more smoothly and evenly without a bunch of stitching and whatnot present. In my experience the quality of a DAC doesn’t tend to directly correlate with price range, and sometimes cheaper more common components will sound better than fancier or pricier ones. Which brings us to the Sony Playstation SPCH-1001, which can be gotten easily for less than $10 (mine was $8) but has one of the best sounding DACs ever made.

And it can play Metal Gear Solid!

But to get the best sound out of it, you need to take apart the Playstation and do some very simple modifications first. I have done all the ones in this guide, but I have done and can heartily recommend removing the capacitors and muting chips near the DAC and replacing them with jumper wires. The improvement in sound quality is immediately apparent-its the most even and balanced sound I’ve ever gotten from a CD player. It’s nuts. You can also add wireless remote functionality for $5-10. In terms of bang for your buck you can’t really beat it. However, be prepared to replace the laser assembly at some point (very easy to do and parts are on Ebay for $10-15.)

OPPO 970HD

This is technically a DVD player but it also is an exceptionally nice CD player and it has the added value of playing pretty much every weird proprietary audio format you can throw at it (SACD, HDCD, DVD-A.) If you enter the code 90210 in the maintenance screen it will play all region DVDs too. The laser is strong and does a pretty good job reading scratched discs. I got mine for $10, but I put that in the “damn I got lucky” category more than the “I expect you can walk out the door and find one for that.” Generally these run $100-120 used. I’d say its worth it if you like collecting foreign language DVDs or run across one for cheap.

PIONEER DVL-909

The 2nd to last model laserdisc player ever sold in the US (the last was the nearly identical DVL-919). This also plays DVDs. The CD playback sounds exceptional if not quite as good as the PS1 or Oppo. It has the added benefit of having maybe the most sturdy optical drive I’ve ever encountered. You can throw pretty much any scratched CD at this and it will play through fine.

I got mine for $25 but used these aren’t usually that affordable, sticking in the $350-400 range. They’re also enormous. I have a collection of laserdiscs, so it’s worth it for me, but I wouldn’t broadly recommend this as a casual solution to…anything really.

TURNTABLE: Technics SL-3200

Mid-range used Technics direct drive turntables are excellent and built like tanks. And you never need to replace belts. And the sound is awesome. I inherited mine, but they can be had generally for $100-120, cheaper if you look around since they’re fairly common. Anything Technics that says direct drive on it will be worth your time.

CASSETTE DECK: Nakamichi BX-300

The most renowned tapedeck of all time is the Nakamichi Dragon. Used, these go for $1000-1200. However, the BX-300 has all the same features as the more famous deck except for some azimuth adjustments, and can be gotten for a fraction of that price. It also is direct drive, so no belt replacement. I got mine for $10 and then spent $50 to have it repaired, but you can get a serviced used one on ebay for $200-300. Are there far cheaper tapedecks? Yes. Do you really need a tapedeck in 2019? Eh…probably not. But if you want one, this is the one to get. The sound is excellent, the playback speed is digitally controlled and basically perfect, and you get three heads instead of the usual two.

 

CONCLUSION:

So far, we’ve covered options for speakers and playing back CDs, vinyl, cassettes, SACD, HDCD, and pretty much anything that’s not a reel-to-reel or 8 track, at very high quality. I’ve spent a total of $123, not counting wires or my Playstation controller.

Can I beat that on video portion? Tune in then to find out!

Do you have any audio finds you’d recommend? Leave em in the comments!

Artificial Scarcity in American Higher Education

One of the formative experiences as an undergraduate at Rutgers University back in the late 1980s was traveling to El Salvador with a CISPES delegation during the tale end of the civil war.  We toured two universities, the public University of El Salvador (which the army had shot up over the previous decade and which suffered from periodic closures) and the sedate, Jesuit University of Central America, where a US trained death squad would invade the next year and massacre 6 faculty members. When I got back to New Brunswick, New Jersey I realized just how easy it was to get a higher education in United States was, how much “privilege” I had. Dumbass white kids in New Jersey spent four years partying and getting laid before going onto law school or medical school and into the upper middle class. Much smarter and more politically aware kids in Palestine or San Salvador were dodging Israeli and Salvadoran army death squads just to get to their history exams. People in the global south were willing to die to get an education. People in the United States took it for granted.

Higher education is much more expensive now than it was when I was an 18 year old, but make no mistake, the United States has a vast, well-developed university infrastructure and  tens of thousands of qualified faculty members. You can get a good education at any one of the top 100 “national universities” on the US News and World Report list.  So why in the world would so many wealthy, privileged Americans need to cheat? If their kids want to study physics or history, there’s some place in the United States where they can find someone to teach them. Indeed, there are even fancy private colleges like Sweet Briar in Virginia or Drew University in New Jersey in danger of closing down for a lack of students. The American university system has more spots than it can fill.

The problem is that most Americans, and not only rich Americans, aren’t interested in education. They are interested in a place in the American elite, at the top of the American  class system. So while you can get as good an education at Ohio State or Rutgers or the University of California at San Diego, all perfectly accessible for the typical middle-class American with an IQ over 100, it’s not good enough. Your kids need to go to Harvard or Yale or Stanford. They need to make the right social connections. They need access to the children of the 1% (the better to kiss their asses). Above all, upper middle class Americans want bragging rights, something to rub in the faces of their friends at Trader Joes or on the sidelines of their kids’ soccer matches.

The American upper-middle-class are true believers in the American meritocracy. Their kids suffer. All over the country there are innocent upper-middle-class American teenagers spending time they should be using to form a band or get laid or sit under the bleachers smoking pot suffering in SAT boot camps or meeting with “life coaches” trying to teach them how to ace their interview at Bowdoin or Columbia. It’s all such a waste of time and youthful energy. But it does guarantee that the capitalist hierarchy will continue to reproduce itself. If you give up your own youth cramming for your SATs in high school, you want to make sure that when you finally make it into the elite that what you scarified so hard for remains artificially scarce. Felicity Huffman’s big mistake was to expose the scam for what it was, to cheat the upper-middle-class out of a place at an elite private university so her own kid could have time to take it easy and enjoy life as a rich kid.

It’s the reason Bernie Sanders’s perfectly reasonable proposal of tuition free public higher education will never ever happen. We have the capacity to give every American the opportunity to get a college degree. But that’s not what we want. For most people in the United States, if everybody can get it, then it (whether it’s health care or a BA in English) isn’t worth having.

Yes, I Am Blaming Neoliberalism for the Florida School Shooting

The term “neoliberalism” has become super popular in the past couple of years, so I suppose a backlash against its heavy use was inevitable. Many months back, Jonathan Chait wrote a piece for NYMag bemoaning its prevalence as the left’s favorite insult. Then, of course, there was Cornel West “calling out” Ta-Nehisi Coates as “representing the neoliberal face of black activism,” which some found problematic and lead Vox (whom I, as a disclaimer, consider to be neoliberal shills) to repost Mike Konczal’s explanation for the term’s importance. Other defenders of the term had snarkier takes, and I would go ahead and include myself in this.

So I guess you can say it’s a term that I like and will continue to use as often as possible, even when 99% of the rest of my ingroup is looking in another direction. Case in point, the recent school shooting in Parkwood, Florida, or spree killings in general for that matter. It’s become an unspoken assumption that when people say we need to “do something” to stop these mass shootings, they mean that what we need to do is ban guns. A few people might chime in about mental health, but mostly it’s about guns, and while I’m all for a ban, the fact of the matter is that almost two dozen school children being massacred at Sandy Hook in 2012 did not move the needle an inch on this. In fact, as the shootings continue and the body count rises, one can even argue that we have regressed with the Republican surge into control of the Senate. That tells me that banning guns is not a useful tactic, at least for now.

So where exactly does that leave us? Like many, I feel pretty helpless when I hear about a horrific mass killing, and like many others I no longer consider that anything can be done to stop them. So when a fellow alumni from my therapeutic boarding high school posed the question on our Facebook group, I felt inspired to tackle the issue seriously. Here is what he wrote:

“I went to four different high schools and had many days when I was pissed off at a teacher or fellow student, but never thought that I was going to come in the next day and shoot everyone. I was in college when Columbine happened and thought this is so tragic, but despite how awful it was, it felt isolated. Are you aware how many school shootings happened in 2017 leading into 2018? Kids shouldn’t be afraid to go to school. Something needs to change.”

Though Columbine might have been a kind of landmark moment for schools specifically, spree killings have been going on for much longer. In the mid-’80s, workplace shootings became incredibly common, and remain so today. One of the most famous of these, the Edmond post office shooting of 1986, was the first of several USPS workplace massacres that inspired the infamous phrase “going postal.” The motives for many of these attacks were chalked up to poor working conditions as a result of then-President Reagan’s reforms to semi-privatize the government department. Since then the incidence of spree killings—at work, school or anywhere else—has risen exponentially. This points to a clear correlation with the rise of both major political parties adapting neoliberalism as their main economic philosophy.

To clarify the term—in case you didn’t read all of my links above, don’t feel like Googling, and pay zero attention to modern day political discourse (lucky you)—when I say “neoliberal,” I am referring to the dogmatic adherence to free markets as a means toward dealing with all of society’s problems. This would mean implementing ideas such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. As a more derogatory synonym, some like to use the term “late capitalism,” seeing that it mostly refers to a period—from the 1970s to the current day—that constitutes the hopeful final stage of our current economic structure. I say hopeful because the results of these policies are seen today in burgeoning economic inequality along with increasing cultural anxiety and hostility. It’s lead us to an environment where mass shootings are common and merely one of the many symptoms of this sick capitalist ideology.

Of course, neoliberalism has been in effect for a long time now (little known fact: it started with Jimmy Carter, not Reagan, who merely accelerated the practice as Republicans tend to do), so why the sudden increase in the number of shootings with high fatalities? It’s kind of cliché, but I would point to the election of Trump. Not that he specifically is the reason, rather, his popularity is a manifestation of cultural anxiety and economic inequality. People see somebody acting in what used to be considered inappropriate and anti-social manners and yet he holds the most distinguished position in the country and possibly the world. They view this as kind of a “permission slip,” perhaps subconsciously, to act out their own angry impulses in the worst possible ways.

What’s ironic about this is that Trump campaigned for president on a message of economic populism: reigning in big banks while pushing protectionism and working class jobs at home. His actual governing policies, though, have been neoliberal accelerationism on steroids. In her book “No Is Not Enough,” Naomi Klein wrote:

“The goal is all-out war on the public sphere and the public interest, whether in the form of anti-pollution regulations or programs for the hungry; substituted in their place will be unfettered power and freedom for corporations.

Trump’s base doesn’t seem to notice his economic oppression against them, but his divisive rhetoric has stuck. As material conditions get worse for the so called “working class,” more people are left with nothing to lose and thus we can probably expect more and more of these deadly shooting incidents, among other kinds of violence.

How does this relate to schools? Well, the cultural tyranny of the workplace has now trickled down to education. Those well-off enough can ship their kids to private/charter schools and avoid the worst of it, in the process bleeding much needed funds from everybody else. It’s classic privatization and deregulation, which leaves little room for a quality learning environment. You get bigger classes with more overworked teachers getting paid less. These negative working conditions adversely affect how teachers and administrators treat students, which in turn affects how students treat each other. Spoiler: nobody’s treating anybody any better. You wind up with a situation where somebody can make threats, be known to stockpile guns at home, and yet come into a school and kill 17 people because nobody had the time or energy to do something to try and stop it. Call it neoliberalism or late capitalism, what we are seeing here is a sick ideology at its terminal end state.

So, what’s the solution? Ban guns? Sure, though good luck fighting the NRA’s deep pockets and the Republicans who have harnessed the hate energy of single-issue voters to keep AR-15s in wide, readily-available circulation. It’s worth noting that the drive for people to keep themselves armed is a response to the cultural and economic unrest they feel. This keeps large portions of the population very active politically on defending the second amendment. On top of that, deregulation is a feature of neoliberalism rather than a bug. In this pro-business environment, the firearms industry by default has a significant head start on fighting any possible restriction on the availability of their product. All this is to say nothing of crypto-fascist psychopaths like Cody Wilson who wants to make sure any asshole who bought enough bitcoin early enough to cash out and get access to a 3D printer can instantly manufacture their own portable lightweight death machine.

So if we can’t ban guns, how about better mental health coverage? Great! Except the ACA barely suffices for a good number of our most desperate citizens. It doesn’t suffice at all if you fall in the wrong income bracket and/or live in a state with a GOP government that won’t accept the Medicaid expansion. Meanwhile, Trump’s administration is in the process of doing everything it can to sabotage what’s left of Obamacare and defund Medicare. These are systems that serve a limited portion of the population in oftentimes barely adequate ways, and now they are under attack. Yet even somebody who has a good private health plan through their employment doesn’t escape the anxiety of losing mental health care; after all, you can always be fired for any reason as most jobs are at-will in a neoliberal system.

On top of all of this is the stigma of mental health issues, which can prevent one from getting the help they need in the rare case it’s even available. This stigma of course being yet another poisonous symptom of the neoliberal cultural doctrine that demands perfectionism and hyper-competitiveness at all times. Someday, perhaps we will implement a policy of Medicare-for-All that includes comprehensive mental health coverage. People are working on this as we speak, and it’s an important step in addressing the ills that neoliberalism brings us, spree killings just being one. If we are ever truly going to put an end to these horrors, we will need a greater shift to the economic left, and by “greater,” I mean a hard 180 degree turn from what we’ve been doing for the past several decades. We need to cut our losses and admit that free markets are not the answer to filling the vast majority of our basic needs.

If we start by improving the material conditions of working people, we can then hope—pray even—that it bleeds down into the culture and makes us all less anxious, kinder, and more compassionate toward one another. We eschew hyper-competitiveness in favor of cooperation in our daily dealings with the social world. While these are all good ideas in theory and certainly should be pursued, we must realize the task before us is daunting and maybe even impossible. There are formidable obstacles in the path of any significant left wing economic reform, even beyond the deep-pocketed neoliberal establishment machine.

Cultural unrest has given rise to a fascistic and extreme far right in America—most recently having taken the name of the “alt-right”—which insidiously enough has begun to promote left wing economics as a carrot to their traditionalist cultural stick. Their core values of divisive racism, sexism and ethno-nationalism, however, are completely at odds with meaningful leftist economic reform. It should come as no surprise to anybody that as the news trickles out about the Parkland shooter, we discover he had trained with a white supremacist group while also expressing misogynist and antisemitic views. Such hateful ideas are incredibly common in the alt-right, which of course has lead to violence time and time again: Isla Vista, Charlottesville, the Portland MAX stabbings, etc. This “movement” needs to be fought and exterminated before they can grow large enough to worm their way far enough into the popular conscience to the point that they can have influence.

Of course, saying the alt-right is bad and should be fought is not exactly a controversial take, but each group with oppressive or divisive ideas adds up as an additional obstacle. As fringe extremists continue to fester in the culture, you also have the traditional hard right libertarians—the Tea Party, the Kochs, the Mercers, etc.—whose deep pockets ensure they will be a force to be reckoned with, no matter how unappealing their ideas are to the vast majority of American citizens.

Make no mistake: the hard right is a formidable opponent with many layers, against whom we are fighting a battle against each faction as part of a larger war. Not a physical war, of course, and thank god for that: we are outgunned badly and would be slaughtered by the military and/or militia. Rather, we are fighting a war against an idea, in this case, the idea that more free market neoliberalism is what’s best for us all as individuals. Reality doesn’t seem to be working out that way and each mass spree killing is a massive alarm going off, telling us not just that we need to ban guns, but also that we have to fight to dismantle American capitalism as it stands and put something that benefits the vast majority of our citizens’ interests in its place.

Gender and Abuse in Cinema: Lessons that Hollywood Should Learn From Malayalam Film Industry.

The Harvey Weinstein (and others) revelations are emotionally devastating but should not be understood from an ‘immediacy’ perspective. There exist structural inadequacies in Hollywood that are much more complex than the victim-offender perspective from which we are addressing the problem today. These inadequacies are not limited to incidents of sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advances.  The problem is all pervasive because it emanates from the gendered operation of this film making industry which is inherently discriminatory against women and people of different ethnicities.

With no intention to undermine the traumatic nature of the cases of sexual harassment that have come up, it should be made clear that it is just a small part of the larger problem. If we only focus our attention to cases of sexual harassment, and that too of specific actresses, we tend to ignore the core structural problem with Hollywood by addressing only a part of that structure. This has two significant drawbacks:

  1. It carries a potential of dividing the larger political stand of women within the industry into victims and non-victims. This division not only dissipates the political nature of the cause but also potentially put these two classes in a clash against each other. For example, the #SheKnew trend that was started against Meryl Streep.
  2. It might help in curbing the issue of sexual harassment in the shorter run by punishing the perpetrators such as Harvey but such issues, along with others, will crop up again in the longer run due to no change in the structure of how gender operates in Hollywood

The victimization of women in cinema is caused by the realities of deprivation, representation and categorization of the same both outside and inside the industry. Women are deprived of many lucrative opportunities in the different processes involved in filmmaking due to lack of representation at decision making positions. This lack of representation is founded upon the categorization of women in both acting and non-acting jobs in the film industry. Since these issues are structural, they require an adjustment at the structural level itself to enhance the mobility and accommodation of diversity in cinema.

One fact that supports the structural argument is that the problem currently faced by women in Hollywood is not limited to Hollywood itself. For the past many years, Malayalam film industry in India, one of the biggest and most lucrative in both the country and the world, has been criticized of its unfounded representation of women both on and off the screen. Due to continuous ignorance at the structural level, the problem of representation got worse resulting into a series of actresses complaining about sexual harassment. In order to address the issue of crimes against of women in cinema, a Collective was formed demanding structural and all-pervasive analysis of issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry.

The government of Kerala finally addressed the demands of the Collective and formed a Judicial Committee to look into the structural issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry. The committee highlighted lack of pay parity and inadequate representation as major reasons behind mistreatment of women in cinema. The Committee suggested various recommendations such as making equal pay obligatory, providing reservation to women in non-acting jobs in the state-owned film companies, fund for women who cannot work during their pregnancies, and many more. Most importantly, it recommended for setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee at the film set, which is interpreted to be nothing short of a ‘workplace’ for women in cinema.

While the government is still evaluating the recommendations, the very endeavour of coming up with such initiative should be appreciated. Women in film industries are also citizens of their respective countries and therefore no artificial discrimination should stop them from enjoying their rights which they are assured of in other industries or workplace. While some of the suggestions might seem too ambitious to be implemented in Hollywood considering most of the production companies are private in nature, the larger idea of state regulation of treatment of women in these companies and the consideration of these companies as a workplace are structural changes that cannot be ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Not to Talk About Title IX; Or, How To Not Talk About Title IX

This is a guest post by Mr. S. Klein.

 

Willful blindness has always presented a key opportunity to interrogate the world of power and the shape it’s taking at a given time in history. The tagline to a recent story on the New Yorker’s website provides just such an opportunity. Jeannie Suk Gersen, in an article about a speech by Betsy DeVos on Title IX and campus sexual violence, informs us in the tagline that: “If these statements were made by a different official in a different Administration, they would seem rational, uncontroversial, and even banal.” I admit it didn’t even occur to me as I started to read the article that this line was something other than the setup for what seems the obvious next sentence: but this is not a different Administration; it’s the Trump Administration. That next sentence never arrived.
The statements made by DeVos—the ones that, per Gersen, have generated an overreaction from the left—concerned the need for a system that balances respect for due process with the need to punish wrongdoing. Indeed this would be banal coming from the previous administration; that’s because officials in that administration’s Department of Education were not, for example, “noncommittal” when it came to “the basic educational rights of L.G.B.T.Q. students and students with disabilities,” like DeVos is. This is not the first time Gersen manages to acknowledge a fact that is fatal to her argument while treating it as marginal. We are asked to see that “what has been portrayed as a rollback of Title IX is really an embrace of a framework of compatibility.” But she also mentions that the new head of the sub-department that will actually implement DeVos’s new rules, Education’s Office of Civil Rights, told the New York Times that “90 percent” of campus accusations are over drunk or breakup sex. Gersen wants us to believe that this is the statement of someone merely seeking “fairness,” justice, and the rejection of “an either/or mentality—one in which the education system is either ‘for’ or ‘against’ victims of sexual violence.” (We are meant to take from this that Obama officials did not reject the either/or mentality, opting instead for bias or prejudice or some such; I suppose those officials’ statements about balancing due process and justice for victims were just lies, but Betsy DeVos is someone we can trust).

What allows a person to know all of this, and more, but to fail so utterly in knowing any of it at the same time? As a tenured professor of law at Harvard, Gersen has access to a vast array of tools for avoiding the terrible, irreducibly complex and uncertain task of legal decision making, tools that have been developed over the past several centuries. Since the 1970s, after the demise of the last theory of justice and society that garnered general elite consensus in law, it has become a venerable tradition among non-leftist legal scholars to partake of many or all of the various avoidance techniques throughout history, without feeling the need to justify them or otherwise adopt their implications—really the a la carte school of negating existential dread.

When Gersen asks us to hear only the literal import of DeVos’s words, one hears echoes of Justice Scalia’s favorite phrase: “When interpreting statutes, courts must give to words their ordinary, plain meaning” (that is, “no need to worry about judicial law-making here! These are just the facts, ma’am, and law-making is totally not a necessary implication of what we do”). When she writes that the “idea that an adjudicatory process should be fair to both sides is about as basic as any facet of American law,” we readers are intended to believe that broad conceptual principles like “fairness” can lead, almost deductively, to adjudicatory processes that are somehow beyond political and value judgments.

(At a certain point, I thought that perhaps Title IX was a new area for Gersen, particularly when she asserted, in a law review article entitled “The Sex Bureaucracy,” that bureaucratic regulation of sexual behavior was something new (it isn’t) and when she suggested that there was something exceptional about an agency providing guidance about how it interprets broad statutory language so that regulated entities are on notice as to what the agency will expect. However, in a letter to the Department of Education written by Gersen and three other Harvard law professors and styled a plea for “Fairness for All Students under Title IX,” she describes herself as someone who has “researched, taught, and written on Title IX, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and feminist legal reform.”)

Gersen ends her article on the DeVos speech by asserting that what “promises to emerge from the new rulemaking process—which will generate mountains of public input—is more, rather than less, regulation and enforcement of schools’ obligations to all parties under Title IX.” This may very well take the cake on astonishing lines from the article, and it embodies the last flight from responsibility that held a truly dominant position in American legal academe. Nothing about increased input should suggest to anybody that the Trump administration is listening and will incorporate it. Further, that public input will come from many different perspectives and embody many different, frequently incompatible visions of how we can be together. Very hard choices will have to be made, and suggesting that more input and the right process will make an inherently political set of choices into something neutral, “principled,” or apolitical—so much so that we should trust Betsy DeVos and her head of OCR to do a bang-up job—is as jaw-droppingly naïve today as it was when it dominated the legal academy in the 1950s.

Gersen did not rest, though; she wrote two articles for the New Yorker on this issue.

Gersen’s second article partakes of one of the two favored avoidance techniques among those in the center-left: the discourse of rights. She sets up herself and scholars like her as defenders of the accused’s first amendment rights, which are being dangerously curtailed by a bureaucracy run amok. The thrust of the article comes across in its title and tagline quite directly: “Laura Kipnis’s Endless Trial by Title IX: Students and educators now live in a world where expressing an opinion about sexual harassment can be sincerely perceived as sexual harassment.”

The short version of Kipnis’s “Endless Trial” runs thus: (1) she published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in which she suggested a student’s Title IX complaint was absurd and that students are the ones with all the power and professors are all merely potential victims. (2) The article’s publication lead to a Title IX complaint against Kipnis for retaliation against the complainant, hostile environment, and a chilling effect on the willingness of future victims to file complaints. (3) Kipnis wrote another article in the Chronicle, entitled “My Title IX Inquisition,” arguing that misuse of Title IX allowed “intellectual disagreement to be redefined as retaliation.” The same day as the second article’s publication, Kipnis was cleared of all wrongdoing (per the university, viewpoint expression cannot be retaliation and a reasonable person would not suffer from a hostile environment after the first article).
(4) Kipnis wrote a whole book about it, called “Unwanted Advances,” in which she pored over the thousands of documents provided to her by the Northwestern professor whose Title IX case started this whole saga and in which she declares herself on the side of “grown-up feminism.” Her conclusion? Again, the girl made it up; she really wanted it, then regretted it. (Of course she makes the obligatory nod to the belief that real harassers should be fired). (5) The student sued Kipnis and HarperCollins for defamation and invasion of privacy. (6) A new Title IX complaint was filed based on “Unwanted Advances.” Once again, no findings of wrongdoing; Kipnis’s avowed hope that the book would cause a “shit storm” was not enough even to justify a minor sanction for violating the university’s policy of “civility and mutual respect.”

There’s far more here than can be succinctly unpacked, but a few parts stick out as they relate to Gersen’s apologetics. Gersen provides us with a helpful quotation from, once again, Betsy DeVos: individuals “have faced investigation and punishment simply for speaking their minds or teaching their classes.” “If Kipnis did engage in retaliation or violate confidentiality,” Gersen writes, “those infractions would be impossible to untangle from her book’s performance of her protest.” Too often rights discourse becomes another way of saying “But what about the powerful? Who will protect them?” How can we hold Kipnis accountable for a mere “performance”?

Kipnis wanted to say these things, and she didn’t want to consider the consequences to anyone else in saying them; now the Man wants to come down and tell her no? (Well, actually the Man came down to meekly ask and then make several findings of categorically no wrongdoing). It would be petty tyranny to tell her no in any manner; what about her rights? And what would happen to the sanctity of debate—the great marketplace of ideas—if we were to tell her not to retaliate? Gersen writes that “debate on these topics is crucial to the pursuit of sex equality” and that “it will be important to be more explicit about how [DeVos’s new Education Department] may better protect the core educational activity of a campus: the production of knowledge and the expression of ideas.”

But what does it mean to be a producer of knowledge and expresser of ideas when you are a woman and any fellow student could be one who likes “to get girls drunk and fuck the shit out of them,” in the words of the aggressor whose case is famous in legal circles for the proposition that rape is really a local matter, a species of “family law” unfit for federal court, as Chief Justice Rehnquist held? Is that rapist and are those federal courts the ones women should expect to reasonably and rationally debate? What good does the marketplace of ideas do you when you know that attempts to hold professors accountable will lead to Laura Kipnis profiting off your plight and calling you a fool (literally replaying the conservative reaction to the very first case seeking liability for workplace sexual harassment)? When your university won’t give Kipnis even a slap on the wrist for so deeply repudiating the idea of mutual respect?

All of this conjures David Graeber’s description of the very real force that underlies the concept of “structural violence”: “If, say, there are certain spaces women are excluded from for fear of physical or sexual assault, one cannot make a distinction between that fear, the assumptions that motivate men to carry out such assaults or police to feel the victim ‘had it coming,’ or the resultant feeling on the part of most women that these are not the kind of spaces women really ought to be in. Nor can one distinguish these factors, in turn, from the ‘economic’ consequences of women who cannot be hired for certain jobs as a result. All of this constitutes a single structure of violence.”

It’s clear that Gersen and the many members of the academy and of society who agree with her do not want a debate on this subject; they want a “debate,” one in which the role of structures of violence—even when the topic literally is violence against women—is abstracted, marginalized, and irrelevant. Graeber, discussing ideas from feminist writers like Catia Confortini, emphasizes the importance of keeping an eye always on the physical, real violence that makes structural violence what it is. The structure is a set of “material processes, in which violence, and the threat of violence, play a crucial, constitutive, role. In fact one could argue it’s this very tendency towards abstraction that makes it possible for everyone involved to imagine that the violence upholding the system is somehow not responsible for its violent effects.”

For Kipnis, taking what I’m saying into account will merely undermine the development of critical thinking and resilience, producing a “pacified, cowering citizenry.” As Gersen tells us, “Title IX is too often conscripted to serve purposes antithetical to the education of citizens in a democracy, in which disagreement, dissent, or disapproval should lead to argument, not to an infinite loop of institutional investigation.” Somehow, whenever conservatives and centrists discuss these sorts of issues, their proposed solutions are reasonable only if you assume there is no power imbalance to begin with; but rectifying the power imbalance is the whole damn point.

All of this cannot help but smack of the American propensity for overnight backlash: whether it’s black civil rights in 1968 or women in the tech workforce in Silicon Valley or men being held to account for sexual violence on campus—somehow the moment anything gets a little better, a mass chorus of the elite arrive to say “Well, this has really gone far enough, don’t you think? Surely this is plenty? You don’t want to be ungrateful for all the nice things we’re allowing you to have, do you?”

In the end, mainstream rights discourse has always been grounded in a classical liberal vision of largely autonomous, equal subjects; thus, something like the history of sexual violence that many see as an essential aspect of the experience of gender or race are cast as irrelevant. In law and policy, all must be assumed to be the same. Therefore, women who perceive any of Kipnis’s activities might very well be “sincerely perceiv[ing]” them “as sexual harassment,” but, to quote the Supreme Court, these women are as the “colored race” who experienced segregation as a badge of slavery simply because they “chose to put that construction upon” it. Gersen quotes DeVos with approval on the fact that sometimes men are the accusers and women the accused; from this she implies that fewer Title IX cases means everyone wins because everybody is presumed to be equally affected by due process or free speech rights.

Throughout the article, Gersen identifies entirely with the experience of Kipnis, going so far as to confess confusion as to why the student targeted by Kipnis’s book would object in her lawsuit to being portrayed as a “serial Title IX filer.” After all, hadn’t the girl filed multiple Title IX complaints? What further meaning could such a characterization take on? (Again one hears the desperate need to pretend that (1) words have an ordinary, plain meaning that can be discovered without controversy and (2) nothing in the judicial tendency to strip words of nuance should be considered as requiring justification or further discussion). Moreover, Gersen had just sentences before been willing to contextualize Kipnis’s unwillingness to answer questions from opposing lawyers as “following the standard advice of counsel.” So one group gets the benefit of some nuance and context from Gersen, and one doesn’t.
Two further professors get similarly sympathetic treatment in which Gersen invites us again and again to think that they crossed no lines at all and so to agree that the entire Title IX apparatus has gone haywire. One professor who admitted to being “openly contemptuous” of his colleagues was investigated under Title IX for “being aggressive, rude, or dismissive of female faculty members” and “making unwelcome/unwanted sexual jokes or comments.” It should surprise no one that there was no finding of wrongdoing. But Gersen notes darkly that lack of civility, under a general university policy, can be a fallback accusation, implying that this is a false or otherwise illegitimate attack in order to stifle faculty dissent. Indeed, this first professor was reprimanded and suspended for profanity, a constant stream of insults, and a general practice of berating and belittling his colleagues. Is there anything troubling about that? Every day, thousands of professors manage not to do these things. Whole droves of professors teach thousands of students constitutional law—covering almost every controversial issue there is—year after year, yet almost all somehow manage not to unleash strings of insults, demean entire groups of people, or lash out at people who pursue complaints for sexual harassment.
The only possibly probative case Gersen gives us involves a professor who criticized aspects of the financial condition of the school he taught at, leading to a Title IX investigation that had no complainant. If Gersen’s point in her articles had been that some schools use various processes to stifle teachers who are asking too many questions, I certainly wouldn’t object. But I don’t think Gersen would ever write such an article because it wouldn’t allow her to lament the erosion of the “core educational activity of a campus” under over-reaching Obama bureaucrats who just want to regulate us to death with a “Sex Bureaucracy.” She can see only the poor teachers who are “refraining from teaching and writing” on certain topics for fear of a liberal PC gestapo, their first amendment rights under siege, the students who are deprived of learning “resilience” and debate, and the accused who lack due process entirely.

Gersen’s utter unwillingness to engage with any of the hard questions at the heart of Title IX policy tells us everything we need to know about the persuasiveness of her work in this area. Here are just a handful of such questions: Does Gersen think that Kipnis did nothing wrong? Why? Does Gersen think that a “reasonable person” would not be deterred from filing a complaint against a Northwestern professor after Kipnis’s two articles and a book stemming from just one such incident? Is there something preferable about the old Title IX regime, in which, between 1998 and 2008, the Office of Civil Rights resolved only twenty-four investigations, with findings of violations in just five and zero instances of punishment even when investigators concluded that campus officials retaliated against students who reported assault? If all the legal scholars who think like this had to abandon the false image of a bureaucracy “intervening” to paternalistically protect the “weak” party and instead faced the fact that every decision (including not deciding) will affect the balance of power in a world where there is no natural distribution of power to be deduced or defended—if all of these scholars hadn’t been expensively trained in how not to think, what would they do and why?
Nothing about the terror of being forced to decide justifies a policy of leaning heavily in favor of the status quo power dynamic. Suggesting a policy of “non-intervention” (hint: every decision is an intervention) draws on the grandfather of all avoidance techniques, the act/omission fallacy, which the legal academy had managed mostly to jettison until about the time of the rise of the New Right. We need to move into what feminist legal scholar Frances Olsen calls “the risky territory of real concerns that are political rather than neutral or impartial.” If we want to get “beyond liberal-legalism, we should stop trying to fit our goals into abstract rights arguments and instead call for what we really want. The conditions that make ‘rights’ seem necessary must be changed, and these conditions cannot be changed as long as women are oppressed.”

Notes from a Millennial: In Defense of Decency

A state religion is nothing out of the ordinary in human history, and even if a nation does not have a state religion de jure, they will almost certainly have one in practice. This applies even to supposedly secular societies, even the society administered to by the “world’s first secular government.” In America, however, a different worship took root: in a land made secular in order to accommodate all the religious beliefs of its populace, many of them religious refugees, a unified religion came to be understood by Americans, one defined by indulgences specifically proscribed against by their “true” religions.

Note: This article refers to “millennials” repeatedly. While the name for any generation is always going to be broad terminology, there are many differing opinions on who exactly is a “millennial.” The following article presumes them to be Americans born between 1982 and 2004, as per the more common definition of “millennial,” but again, this terminology is loose and should not be considered definitive, even within the context of this article.

Second Note: I’m not going to even bother addressing the hypocrisy of many of the criticisms against millennials in this article. There are matters re: millennials that I desired to address, and I think the aforementioned hypocrisy is self-evident (and if it isn’t, give some consideration to the fragile emotional constitution of the Tyler Durden-idolizing man-children who first spread “snowflake” as an insult).

“Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God.”

 – Roger Williams (1603-83 C.E.), Founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (1636-776 C.E.)

A state religion is nothing out of the ordinary in human history, and even if a nation does not have a state religion de jure, they will almost certainly have one in practice. This applies even to supposedly secular societies, even the society administered to by the “world’s first secular government.” In America, however, a different worship took root: in a land made secular in order to accommodate all the religious beliefs of its populace, many of them religious pilgrims, a unified religion came to be understood by Americans, one defined by indulgences specifically proscribed against by their “true” faiths. Golden calves were erected; divinity was invoked to justify imperialist expansion into the western parts of Northern America; Americans worked on Sundays, seeking to satiate the capitalist god they held before their true gods; we coveted our neighbors’ goods. The ’80s came and the Reagan gang took power, and a predisposition in American culture toward crude materialism became a crass classism, and pretensions that the ideology that “anyone can make in America!” was meant to be uplifting were increasingly dropped in favor of a reading of social Darwinism into that same ideology, and beyond that, even mainstream apologism for eugenics.

For a country that prides itself on being so exhaustingly Christian, America’s culture is markedly shaped by a sternly resolute contempt for the poor. And so we face the timeless panic about The Kids These Days, who, to establishment culture’s dismay, are not ones to regularly associate themselves with organized religion, systemically racist institutions, or patriarchal politics, and who by overwhelming margins are rejecting capitalism and professing an admiration for anything ranging from a European-style mix of capitalism and socialism (more common) to full-blown communism (less common, though substantially more common than in prior generations). America watches in horror as the young turn to the writings of Karl Marx, even though America never even understood what Marxism is. The nation shields its eyes, shuddering to watch the carnage of a generation of Americans who believe god is dead or never existed, and simultaneously wagging a finger at them for wanting to help those who cannot help themselves, the central tenant of the belief system laid down by their own god; the very same whose rejection they bemoan. Millennials have rejected not just the mainstream religions from which the god-fearing populace picks and chooses their beliefs, they have, more problematically to the American establishment, also rejected the false gods of consumerism and the accompanying notion of “ethical consumption.”

There are regular articles which trot out polls detailing how millennials are incredibly socialist and really hate capitalism, but also millennials don’t understand what socialism is and also like aspects of capitalism. We get it, man. You want us to think millennials are dopey. They don’t even know what Betamax was; how ignorant! Except your polls don’t offer the option of a mixed system, and typically, when you look at the other generations polled, they know even less about what any of the political systems actually are. So the narrative is that millennials are vapid, ignorant, self-obsessed children in adult bodies, except apparently everybody else is even more vapid and ignorant. If millennials are self-obsessed, our adoption of the baffling insult “social justice warrior” as a golem for our political beliefs is, at the least, a strange way of expressing self-obsession. Millennial-bashers, blind to the juvenoia that they suffer like every generation before them, will look for the opening here and say that the millennial desire to support those who are disregarded is out of a selfish need for self-affirmation, the product of a culture where losers get trophies. Of course, it was these same critics giving those trophies who created that culture (if participation ribbons even had a significant impact on culture at all, which seems dubious), but this paradoxical critique of millennials’ competitiveness has already been hashed out millions if not billions of times on the internet, and at any rate, even if self-affirmation is the objective, if the means to that end are the establishment of a compassionate society, who even gives a fuck?

zizek would prefer not to
Pictured: Millennial expressing feelings on participation in capitalism.

The last of the so-called “millennials” will cast their first ballots in elections in 2022, and you older generations (and self-hating millennials; don’t worry, we won’t forget you when the guillotine blades are being waxed) are probably praying for a reprieve, but you’re not going to get it. Generation Z, our little brothers and sisters and our sons and daughters and nieces and nephews, are even further left, and they will cut you if you don’t respect which gendered pronouns someone wants to be referred to with. As someone who idled away many a teenage afternoon listening to the likes of George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Chris Rock, etc., I know I’m supposed be all bent out of shape about this for some reason or another, but none of those reasons really resonate with me. I get that people like to be edgy, but there’s two types of edge: the edge that makes you uneasy because the government might try to censor you, or corporations might try to use their leverage against you, and the edge that makes you uneasy because you know what’s being said is harmful to someone. One is punching up, one is punching down. When Lenny Bruce used racial slurs, he was demonstrating the ghastly language that could be used in the presence of police offers in attendance at his comedy shows, ostensibly to put a stop to “profane speech” that might come out of Bruce’s mouth. Bruce could say “nigger” and “kike” all he liked, but the second he used a Yiddish word for cock, the handcuffs came out and flexed the power of what truly was then a “nanny state.” That, state-enforced regulation of speech, is “political correctness run amok.” Society responding as it will to ignorance is not. Millennial culture’s greatest crime is desiring that those with their hands upon the levers of power be punched at as opposed to those crushed by the gears those levers operate. That doesn’t make it wrong to laugh at a joke that punches down; laughter is mainly involuntary, and can be triggered by surprise or the release of tension just as easily as by genuine humor. But is there impetus upon the speaker not to offend?

Jerry Seinfeld moaned that he won’t play colleges anymore because they’re too politically correct. Really? What jokes is Jerry Fucking Seinfeld doing that are going to cause him to be driven off of a college campus like a philistine, and if his act does actually reveal him to be a philistine, why should I object when a bunch of arts and humanities majors, whose money paid for the privilege of him speaking before them, tell him to shut the fuck up? In short, no, there is no impetus upon the speaker not to offend. But there’s also no impetus upon the audience to listen, or not to yell at him or not walk out, or even give him a platform to speak from in the future. Just as there’s no impetus for comedy club owners in multicultural population centers to book a comedian who screams racial slurs and death threats at black patrons. Free market, amirite motherfuckers?

big lebowski assholes
“Dude, ‘Chinaman’ is not the preferred nomenclature. ‘Asian-American,’ please.”

The final primary line of attack against the culture of millennials seems to be that their concerns are petty, and that while this makes them obnoxious, and possibly dangerously inert to the whims of society as a whole, their political capital is wasted on things like the aforementioned gendered pronouns, and they are essentially helpless to impart real change upon the world. This is a highly flawed reading of the situation. To my specific example, having society respect your desire to be referred to as a man or a woman specifically might not seem like a big deal, but if you were transgender, you would probably think that it’s a pretty big fucking deal. The fact that you perceive the group concerned as ancillary suggests that majority rule justifies bigotry against minorities, and forgets that all of the groups that you consider “ancillary” combine to form an incredibly large segment of society. Unconsciously, you reveal an “us or them” division in your social ethos that ultimately only distinguishes in a coherent way the difference between the majority and everyone else. As to the view of millennials being doomed to ineffectuality, the irony is that those holding this opinion are doomed to political and social obsolescence by it. No one can deny that American culture is undergoing an upheaval, and anyone who denies that the so-called “P. C. Culture” of the millennials is one of the two major adversaries is fooling themselves. None of this is to say that millennials are without opposition; there is, of course, the other side, the people who went to Trump rallies (but perhaps not the economically-disenfranchised who didn’t but voted for him). But the fact of the matter is, American culture is seeing a wholesale rejection of its ingrained norms, customs, and mythology, and the “social justice warriors” are one of the two main groups fighting that battle. To consider millennials ineffectual is laughably obtuse, and, perhaps worse, deliberately ignorant. If anything, millennials are the ones who should be cocky, as thirty years from now you will be dead, and they will hold most of the seats in Congress. Burying your head in the sand has never been considered a wise tactic, and certainly, to discount the scope of a major social force dooms those who do so to irrelevancy.

I couldn’t be any happier with that.