This isn’t for you

I use words like a shield, like a mask.

I’m a good writer, which is something that I only came to believe about myself in the last year or two. The funny thing about terrible narcissists is that our self-obsession is often balanced by a deep, abiding weakness, an Impostor Syndrome of epic proportions. (See: Trump, Donald.)

But I am a good writer, and that means I can use words to hide the truth from myself (or about myself) as easily as I can use them to enlighten. And I’m inclined to believe that, for me at least, the tendency to use words to obfuscate reality is strong, whereas my desire to use words to unburden myself of my own self-deception and feats of ego is weak. Basically, telling the truth is hard and painful, particularly if you’re a recreational drug-using dilettante part-time waiter masquerading as a Very Important Freelance Writer Person With Ideas Worth Paying For, like myself.

So more than anything else, this blog in its latest form will be a place where I attempt two seemingly-simple tasks (that I suspect will be quite difficult for an inveterate bullshitter like myself): To write every day, and to do so as honestly as possible. To be honest enough in my writing that I no longer rely upon false or unearned expertise, and that I continue to write about important and meaningful subjects I care about without the filter of some boring and facile notion of seriousness that forecloses entire areas of my real actual life that might damage my credibility (and, by extension, might damage my ability to get paid for my sloppily-reasoned political analysis). I love football, baseball, and basketball to an unhealthy degree! And marijuana! And obscure early-70s psychedelic funk from Peru and Brazil and the West Indies! (Seriously, go check out Lo Borges and Cymande just to start, and then get back to me.) And a bunch of other weird random shit too. So why do these subjects make it into my writing so rarely? And why do I think that by admitting the truth about myself, I’ll be disqualified from writing for publications with generous rates for freelancers? And perhaps more importantly, why do I care if it does?

This is a bit of a scary departure, and clearly torpedoes the lame-as-fuck “millennial writer” shtick I was trying to sell with this blog previously.

Oh well. My site, my rules.

Till next time,

Tim

Last Post (For Now)

In the years ahead, when historians and political scientists look back on this period in America, it’s likely that they’ll point to the past, and not the future, as the moment when our democracy was compromised. Maybe they’ll focus on the triumph of supply-side economics, or the corruption of elections by free-flowing cash. Maybe they’ll just look at the two hundred years that preceded WWII, and see the brief Postwar boom as a strange aberration, a weird anomaly nestled within decades upon decades of unchecked inequality and oppression. Regardless, the song will remain the same. American politics, they will likely note, were captured by the wealthy few in the late 20th century, our somewhat democratic system twisted into an oligarchy of advertisement, a rat maze of false choices and the cynical manufacture of consent.

Across the board, the preferences of the American people are not represented by the actions of their politicians. Elected officials — mayors, senators, congresspeople, presidents, even judges — rely on such an embarrassing amount of “donated” money to retain their power that only a liar or a fool could possibly believe there weren’t some kind of quid-pro-quo at work. And in the streets of America, where few vote and far fewer regard their elected representatives with anything beyond naked contempt, none of this is particularly controversial. Americans hate politicians, as well they should.

It seems strange, then — poetic, even — that the next election could plausibly involve two of the most nepotistic names in American politics, two candidates capable of fending off the well-deserved disgust of their activist bases with the amazing power of filthy, filthy cash. Somehow, we’ve come to inhabit an oligarchy that doesn’t even bother to mask its undemocratic nature in the pretension of false choice. It’s like a company that offers to sell you both “Coke” and “Pepsi,” only the labels are peeling off, and peeking out from underneath each is the promise of “Carmel-flavored Sugar Drink.”

Media types are loathe to acknowledge this. It’s probably a safe career decision, really, insofar as sober, “serious” outlets cannot possibly declare the Emperor as naked, even if they have photographic proof. (Just try to imagine the Times having the temerity today to sue for the release of the Pentagon Papers.)

Maybe this disillusionment is for the best. If ever there were a personage to teach left-liberals the limits of presidential politics, it’s Barack Hussein Obama. These days, it’s easy to forget the boundless optimism that surrounded the man in 2007. Since we’ve met President Obama, the Wall St. Gladhander, the Drone Striker, the Obsessively Secretive, it’s easy to forget the aspirations we hung around Candidate Obama’s neck. Surely, we thought, a constitutional scholar won’t continue Bush Jr’s executive overreach! Surely he won’t engage in unilateral foreign policy without Congress’s approval! Looking back, the naivety displayed by so many on the left (myself included) is painful to behold. Which is not to suggest that McCain or Romney would have been better in the White House — far from it. But the high hopes that Obama basked within — the mythology that he erected — stand as a monument to the great political letdown of a generation.

It didn’t take long for his betrayal to reveal itself, in a bailout package that was embarassingly generous to his Wall St. backers, the same people who’d caused our economy’s destruction — combined with hardly any assistance to the millions of subprime loanholders left holding the proverbial bag. Occupy Wall St cropped up soon thereafter, the last gasp of the energetic left-wing “Netroots” movement that formed with the advent of the internet and in the shadow of post-9/11 jingoism, only to reach its apogee with Obama’s landslide victory in ’08. Occupy was the energized left’s last gasp, a denouement of pointless pent-up anger, a proverbial fist punching a wall — only to bruise itself. Spent, exhausted, demoralized, and defeated, the left slunk away from Occupy and hasn’t come together competently or coherently in the years since.

I loathe wallowing in despair, and I believe sincerely that apathy is a tool of the powerful. (Who benefits from the status quo’s maintenance more than those already winning?) But our politics are so thoroughly broken, it’s hard to find the brighter side, to take solace in the victories rather than dwelling on the defeats. Because even the positive changes we’ve seen in recent years — for gay rights in America, for health care for the poor, for the small-bore changes to environmental policy that the Obama administration has enacted unilaterally — seem so insignificant compared to the larger battles we keep losing.

Consider the Affordable Care Act: millions of people who were previously uninsured now have health care. Perhaps more crucially, those who were previously barred from health care due to the onus of “pre-existing conditions” can now get the help they need. These are real people, who’s lives have appreciably improved, a fact that we cannot ignore or minimize. It’s truly great news! But the ACA is also a terrible piece of lawmaking, a giveaway to insurance companies and pharmaceutical giants of staggering, epic proportions. We should celebrate the stories of those whose lives have improved, but we should also accept that the ACA only deepens the status quo, protecting some of the very same cartels and lobbyist groups that have captured our system of government, and who work so tirelessly to make more substantive change impossible.

If this is the model of progressive reform going forward (a proposition that, given the incredible unpopularity of the law itself, may be more than a little optimistic), how can we hope to make real reforms to more pressing problems? How will we fix our campaign finance system, reduce income and wealth inequality, or decrease our glutenous carbon emissions in any meaningful way? And if we’re resigned to making the smallest of incremental changes at the cost of giving up the ghost, why even bother worrying about politics at all?

***

Soon after the financial collapse, MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan lost his shit on live TV. The clip quickly went viral:

And then he walked away from cable news & media entirely.

Ratigan was a wealthy, successful host of a network cable news show. He accomplished more, worked harder, and could influence the public perception in ways I can hardly imagine. And yet he walked away. Why?

“After 780 hours of political cable news, 6000 hours of live financial television, 45 cities, 2 national jobs tours, 277,963 signatures to amend The Constitution, 245 pages of book and a promotion tour for Greedy Bastards, I was exhausted,” he wrote on his personal blog soon after resigning from MSNBC.

“It was a three-tour Iraq combat Marine and his war-protestor wife who pointed me in a new direction.  They were guests on my show [the previous] June discussing how they were bootstrapping their way to operate a high-yield hydroponic organic farm that uses 90% less water and produces three times as much food. It was a business that promised to cure food deserts – areas where access to fresh and healthy food is limited – while having the potential to create jobs for thousands of combat veterans, each of whom was the beneficiary of $1 million in military training while on active duty.

“The couple even created a school where they trained other veterans to open their own farms or establish their own organic businesses in pursuit of a dream of creating thousands of American jobs and feeding millions of people.”

So Ratigan decided to pack it in. Just like that. As he explained to the Daily Beast’s Daniel Gross at the time, “I had all my hesitations about my own assets and my own life. I was just like, ‘Fuck it.’ Understanding what they had been through, all I had to do was move across the country.”

I’ve been thinking about those words from Dylan Ratigan in the two years since I first read that interview, and I haven’t been able to shake it. What an indictment of the press, of our whole system of news and infotainment.

***

Going forward, I’ll still be writing — what the hell else am I gonna do? — but not here. At least not for a while, not until I have a better understanding of how I can help make a difference in this supremely fucked up world… besides scribbling words on the internet.

Until then, thanks to all the contributors, readers, and commenters who’ve read this blog over the last few years. I’ll still be posting clips to my digital portfolio, tim-donovan.com if you want to keep up with my writing. And for news on the ongoing crisis among young Americans, I’d recommend /r/lostgeneration, a phenomenal subreddit that’s been an invaluable resource for me in finding stories about the struggles that young people today face.

Cheers,

Tim

#CareLikeCrazy: Rock the Vote’s surprisingly funny new ad campaign to get millennials to vote

I wanted to hate this.

Okay, I really, really wanted to hate this.

When I saw a PR pitch in my inbox from Rock the Vote, I got a little excited. I’ve been looking for something to pitch to Salon recently, and a tone-deaf, out-of-touch attempt by some corporate GOTV campaign to “engage” “millennials” seemed like an easy target to pillory.

And then I actually watched the videos, and my opinion changed.

“The truth is, you really don’t matter” is excellent satire for a commercial (and was basically this blog’s tagline for the first eight or nine months). While obviously a little chintzy and over the top, I found these videos to be surprisingly funny and effective. (Watch the rest at http://carelikecrazy.com/videos.html)

What’s so impressive about these videos is that they make me want to like Rock the Vote, despite the fact that there’s something inherently patronizing about any campaign like this — even if I absolutely agree with its goals and commend its efforts. Efforts to convince a particular demographic — be it religious, ethnic, generational or any other — to engage more with our politics should come from within that demographic whenever possible. (And on a smaller scale, many such movements among millennials do exist today, with the @DreamDefenders as a particularly visible example.) Still, I’m not sure it’s fair to criticize Rock the Vote for spending $250,000 on ads targeted at millennials in key swing states just because some more-authentic millennial grassroots group isn’t doing it, too.

In the press release I received, Rock the Vote’s president Ashley Spillane explains her organization’s motives with fairly boilerplate phrasing (“Our goal is to meet young people where they are and engage them on issues they care about.”). But I can’t help but agree with her when she exhorts, “If you care like crazy about the issues — turn out and vote for them on November 4th.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s stupid exaggerations, and the left’s love affair with “science”

Conservatives really hate Neil deGrasse Tyson, and The Federalist’s Sean Davis has finally given them some ammunition — beyond just deriding him as a “nerd,” a particularly lame insult. After all, thinking it’s bad to be a nerd only reinforces the notion that conservatives are living thirty years in the past. Nonetheless, Davis’s evidence is compelling, and along with basically everyone else who’s looked at his research — and observed Tyson’s near-total silence — I’m convinced that these “serial fabrications” were at least somewhat deliberate, even if I don’t share Davis’s breathless indignation.

What’s more troubling, however, are the subjects Tyson seems to choose for his exaggerations (or “lies” if you want to be a hardass about all this); politicians (presumably Republican), journalists (presumably conservative) and Presidents (Bush). That the exaggerations/lies were always inconsequential in detail and provided in speeches given to agreeable audiences in semi-informal settings is hardly important. I get the sense that Davis agrees, and is especially frustrated and unsurprised by the subject matter that Tyson chooses to exaggerate. And again, I’m inclined to agree with the National Review writer: it’s telling that the fabrications each seem to revolve around some liberal/Democratic canard (“George Bush sure is dumb, amirite?!”).

Conservatives have displayed a deep dislike for Tyson for years, and you can be sure that, at least on the right, these charges — even if rebutted — will follow Tyson for as long as he remains in the public eye. Meanwhile, I’m sure the dimmest minds on the left will reassure us all that conservatives hate Tyson because he disproves all the dumb things they believe about the world, showing indisputably that they’re WRONG and DUMB (*ahem*) and RACIST (*ahem*), and right-wingers are just jealous… or something. But none of this goes to explain the deep disdain Tyson has always engendered on the right.

At the Daily Beast, Tim Mak does a great job of attempting to explain it:

[W]hy do conservatives dislike Tyson so much to begin with?

The answers thus far have been unsatisfying. Amanda Marcotte, a Beast contributor, blamed the right’s “anti-intellectual paranoia” in a story for Alternet, while a piece in the L.A. Times blamed political ignorance. One progressive blog said racism was to blame.

Charles C.W. Cooke laid out the right-wing case against Tyson this year in the conservative movement’s flagship magazine, the National Review. It was a takedown of nerds—not of intelligence or wonkiness itself, but of the condescension of modern nerd-dom, and the bandwagon nerds who like Tyson not primarily because they like science, but because they like the intellectual superiority they think liking Tyson signifies.

Perhaps the philosophical difference between left and right on the nature of knowledge is key to understanding the disdain for Tyson.

“It is to me the kind of attention Sarah Palin and Ron Paul receives. Neil deGrasse Tyson attracts the same sort of attention—you just can’t criticize him.”

“Conservatives tend to take the view that you can’t plan too much for a society, you can’t know enough to make central planning worthwhile. That’s not a great concern on the left,” Cooke told the Beast. “The conflation of science and politics is a generally left-wing phenomenon, because the left thinks you can answer these questions and make plans from the center, which the right doesn’t.”

Cooke, himself an atheist, said that Tyson had also come to represent among the right the “annoying” Bill Maher-style atheists who frequent Internet posting hubs like Reddit.

“I’m just irritated by that movement,” Cooke said. “It’s divisive. There’s a tendency among the Reddit atheists of the world to consider everyone who isn’t of their particular political or religious views … as being somehow dumb.”

Daniel Greenfield, who wrote a critical piece on Tyson in Frontpage Mag, said he didn’t so much dislike the scientist as much as what he has come to represent.

“People on the right have the sense that there’s something cultish about [Tyson], that his popularity is based on the image of being seen to like him,” said Greenfield. “It’s supposed to be about the ideas, when you have this kind of hero worship, people are refusing to discuss the merits of [The Federalist’s report]. It becomes unreasoning, which is the opposite of science.” [Emphasis mine.]

I think this is a crucial explication of one of the biggest philosophical divides among Americans today: liberals increasingly value an ideology that extols science (or “science”), while conservatives find the orthodoxy of modern liberalism — the reverence toward science included — to be pretentious, self-righteous, hypocritical, and disingenuous. Personally, I strongly disagree with the right’s assumptions about many of those with whom I share my political philosophy, but that’s not really important here.

At the end o f the day, when esteemed public intellectuals like Neil deGrasse Tyson go around making up small stories to make obvious points, they really don’t do the liberal project any favors.

Partisans are in agreement about global warming — and that’s terrible news for the climate

The notion that man-made climate change is warming our planet — with potentially devastating consequences — has been affirmed by 97% of relevant scientists — so why do so many conservatives deny its existence? And why do those conservatives who do accept its reality still dispute the solutions that liberals suggest?

This is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot these past few days, as the “People’s Climate March” and “#FloodWallStreet” overtook the New York City streets over the weekend. Why were these protests so ideologically left-wing? Shouldn’t staving off climate disaster be a universal issue — or at least include some conservatives who accept the premise that the planet is warming at a dangerous pace?

Unfortunately, those conservatives humble enough to seriously consider the overwhelming evidence of climate change’s existence and its near-apocalyptic potential are often indistinguishable in their policy preferences from their climate-denying brethren. While the former acknowledges the risks inherent in climate change, those from both groups criticize the left’s suggested solutions, offended by what they often perceive as the the left’s attempt to co-opt the climate crisis to advance their goal of dismantling or diminishing “global capitalism.”

Crazily enough, conservative ¨climate acknowledgers¨ are actually fairly correct in their assessment: It really is all about capitalism — what that word means, how liberals and conservatives perceive it, and what kind of world we all want to live in. According to a recent article by Shikha Dalmia for The Week, conservatives are opposed to climate change for the very same reasons that liberals are so eager to address it:

Why do Republicans so stubbornly resist the climate change story? It’s not like when a tornado touches down, it spares them, targeting only Democrats. Conversely, why are liberals so eager to buy the climate apocalypse? It’s not like they can insulate themselves from rising energy prices or job losses that a drastic energy diet would produce.

The answer is that each side is driven by concerns over whether this issue advances or impedes its broader normative commitments, not narrow self-interest.

The right’s chief commitment (which I share) is to free enterprise, property rights, and limited government that it sees as core to human progress. So when the market or other activities of individuals harm third parties or the environment, they look for solutions in these principles.

If overgrazing threatens a pasture, to use a classic example, the right’s answer is not top-down government diktats to ban or ration use. Rather, it is to divvy up the pasture, giving ownership to farmers—or privatizing the commons. The idea is that what individuals own, they protect; what they don’t, they abuse.

But there is no pure free market or property rights solution to global warming. There is no practical way to privatize the Earth’s atmosphere or divvy up pollution rights among the world’s seven billion inhabitants in 193 countries. This creates a planet-sized opening for the expansion of the regulatory state. Hence, right-wingers have an inherent need to resist the gloomy global warming narrative.

This is a massive conservative blind spot. But it is, in many ways, matched by liberals’ tunnel vision.

It is no secret that liberal commitment is less to promoting individual liberty and more to curbing capitalistic greed, which the left views as the great enemy of social justice and equality. At first blush, environmentalism and egalitarianism appear in conflict given that the environment is something of a luxury good that rich folks generally care about more than the poor.

Indeed, this conflict is why the 1960s New Left, driven primarily by humanistic concerns such as eradicating poverty and eliminating racism, shunned the emerging environmental movement for over a decade, according to University of Wisconsin’s Keith M. Woodhouse. Many in the New Left condemned the first Earth Day in 1970 as “the white liberal’s cop out” and believed that a preoccupation with overpopulation, for example, was “racist hysteria.”

Lefties and enviros merged into the modern-day progressive movement only when the New Left was persuaded that environmental degradation and social injustice were manifestations of the same greed-ridden system. Global warming, in a sense, combines this twin critique of capitalism on the grandest possible scale, indicting the rich West for bringing the world close to catastrophe by hogging a disproportionate amount of the global commons, leaving less for the developing world.

This is why, despite the demonstrated impossibility of imposing a global emission-control regime after the failure of the Kyoto treaty, liberals continue to demand that the West unilaterally cut emissions, even though this will arguably make little difference to global temperatures. It is a matter of cosmic justice, as far as they are concerned. [Emphasis mine.]

While Dalmia paints this forecast with an ominous brush, scaring us with a “planet-sized opening for the expansion of the regulatory state,” leftist hero Naomi Klein sees similar trends — and much more encouraging potential results. Her newest book (which, unfortunately I haven’t yet read) is titled, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,” and, according to reviews, focuses on a few key ideas first articulated in a 2011 piece she wrote for the Nation, similarly-titled, “Capitalism vs. the Climate.” It’s a provocative, excellent read, and it deals directly with many of the issues that worry Dalmia so much:

The deniers did not decide that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy by uncovering some covert socialist plot. They arrived at this analysis by taking a hard look at what it would take to lower global emissions as drastically and as rapidly as climate science demands. They have concluded that this can be done only by radically reordering our economic and political systems in ways antithetical to their “free market” belief system. As British blogger and Heartland regular James Delingpole has pointed out, “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, regulation.” Heartland’s Bast puts it even more bluntly: For the left, “Climate change is the perfect thing…. It’s the reason why we should do everything [the left] wanted to do anyway.”

Here’s my inconvenient truth: they aren’t wrong. Before I go any further, let me be absolutely clear: as 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists attest, the Heartlanders are completely wrong about the science. The heat-trapping gases released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels are already causing temperatures to increase. If we are not on a radically different energy path by the end of this decade, we are in for a world of pain.

But when it comes to the real-world consequences of those scientific findings, specifically the kind of deep changes required not just to our energy consumption but to the underlying logic of our economic system, the crowd gathered at the Marriott Hotel may be in considerably less denial than a lot of professional environmentalists, the ones who paint a picture of global warming Armageddon, then assure us that we can avert catastrophe by buying “green” products and creating clever markets in pollution.

The fact that the earth’s atmosphere cannot safely absorb the amount of carbon we are pumping into it is a symptom of a much larger crisis, one born of the central fiction on which our economic model is based: that nature is limitless, that we will always be able to find more of what we need, and that if something runs out it can be seamlessly replaced by another resource that we can endlessly extract. But it is not just the atmosphere that we have exploited beyond its capacity to recover—we are doing the same to the oceans, to freshwater, to topsoil and to biodiversity. The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence. [Emphasis mine.]

That both the far-left and far-right are in lock-step regarding the symptoms and palliatives facing our planet — with one side expressing optimism and the other expressing terror and rage — is hardly encouraging if we hope to form alliances and make progress. And yet, the third camp of climate realists, liberal centrists trying to bridge the gap, promise solutions just as unlikely. These Ray Kurzweil-loving, futurist technoutopians expect that the Elon Musks of the world will rescue us all with solar power and electric cars.

Unfortunately, as I wrote last year for Salon, the scope of the problem that climate change presents, combined with the amount of technoutopian argle-bargle we’ve already baked into our conservative/mainstream projections, means that these technologies are unlikely to make an appreciable difference before it’s already too late, and our actions have set off ¨positive feedback loops” that no amount of emissions draw-downs can prevent. Yet for these tech-loving centrists, represented by think tanks like the Breakthrough Institute, any outcome that overthrows the status quo — be it abandoning capitalism or living out our days on life rafts — is utterly unthinkable, and so it must be summarily ignored.

It’s a fairly understandable response, coming as it does from middle-class Americans who’ve enjoyed the fruits of our climate’s destruction. Of course, for those billions of people outside the developing world who haven’t enjoyed the fruit but must now face the thistle, it’s monstrous. But when have the centrist moderate petite bourgeious of the U.S. ever really cared for the fates of the world’s most desperate? (And honestly, as someone raised in middle-class America “enjoying the fruits of our climate’s destruction,” I can relate to these blind optimists. After all, it’s not like I’ve given up eating meat — a simple, straightforward, revenue-neutral adaptation I could make to my life to help decrease our carbon emissions. I’ll admit to finding the technoutopian dream terribly seductive; its just not very realistic.)

The retreat to wishful thinking — ignoring the brutal reality that, through our inaction, ambivalence, and willful ignorance we have set ourselves on a course with no good options, stuck between a kind of Sophie’s Choice. Either we abandon every recognizable, convenient, or even necessary aspect of our modern lives, or we help bring about the destruction of our environment.

Which path will we take? Which path should we take? The answer is less simple than anyone wants to admit.

Is this job at HuffPost the worst gig in media?

I should not be writing this post. After all, last week I sent the Huffington Post a job application; this is not the best way to curry their favor. That being said, fuck that shit, amirite?

As a freelancer who lacks self-discipline but thrives under deadlines, I’ve recently been looking — with increasing urgency — for a job in media that is either directly or indirectly related to what I want to do — write about politics regularly. So I spend a lot of time on MediaBistro, the industry standard for connecting employers and applicants for basically all jobs in media. The site is essential if you’re looking for work in this field, and it recently led to an interview for an incredible position (that, unfortunately, I didn’t get). So I spend a lot of time on MediaBistro, and I see a lot of jobs for which I might be qualified but I don’t want because either the pay’s abysmal or the work is so asinine it will never help me get something better (or both). Yet none have annoyed me as much as this:

(Screenshot, MediaBistro)
(Screenshot, MediaBistro)

Why is this a fellowship? Does HuffPost think that some people grow up dreaming of writing “branded content”? That’s why they took on fifty grand in student loans to go to Columbia instead of East Tennessee University, right? To reach their dream — writing thinly-veiled ads dressed up as news for Nike or ExxonMobil or Acme Death Ray, Inc.?

I’m probably being a little unfair to HuffPost, here. There are a lot of these jobs out there right now, and they’re being offered by both the best and the worst media outlets. (And for the most part, HuffPost is much closer to the former than the latter.) It was the Atlantic, after all, that got in hot water after running a pro-Church of Scientology advertorial and brought this trend into the public consciousness. Just a cursory glance at the work that’s out there right now seems to suggest that this trend is only going to get much worse in the near future.

And that’s largely why I find this so annoying.

If the business of media is moving in a direction where we need a lot more “branded content producers,” so be it. Fine. Such is the nature of the business. But do we need to package them as fellowships? Must we act like this is anything but settling, a sad compromise, a person’s tragic trade of their Desire to Change the World for more immediate need such as food, shelter and paying the bills? Can’t we just call it what it is — a steady job?

And please, if anyone from Huffington Post reads this, don’t think I don’t still want that Deputy Editor, Politics job–

…I still think I’d make a strong candidate.

Climate change: Where “good news” is shorthand for “doing anything at all”

There is no single issue in the world today more pressing and less hopeful than man-made climate change. Evidence from hundreds of thousands of years of paleoclimate data clearly shows a direct relation between atmospheric carbon and rising temperatures. We’re uncertain about the timeframe — whether temperatures will rise significantly in the coming decades (most likely), centuries (less likely), or years (least likely).  But we know there is a clear connection, we know we’re right up against the desirable limit, and we know that our public policy is basically ignoring this issue entirely due to breathtaking arrogance and shortsightedness. So addressing climate change is important.

Jobs are important, too. Many of the fundamental issues that hold back our economy are either a byproduct of our jobs shortage or have been exacerbated by it. Consider the student loan debt crisis, which has enjoyed so much attention on this blog. If everyone had well-paying  jobs, the explosive growth of student loan debt would still be scandalous and harmful to the economy, but it would hardly be the crisis that it’s become in an environment where the growth of crummy, part-time gigs is vastly outpacing new job growth. (In June, we added just under 300,000 total jobs. Only problem? In that same month, we added one million part-time gigs. Framed another way, last June, around 600,000 full-time jobs were downgraded to part-time gigs, while every new job added was also part-time.)

So let’s take a moment and applaud the Obama administration’s announcement that they’ll be training 50,000 people (“including veterans”) to install new solar arrays being introduced around the country as the price of solar voltaics continues to drop precipitously.

It’s important to note that while initiatives intended to spur sustainable energy production through subsidies and stimulus are an improvement over the status quo, climate change legislation is better served supply-side; to wit, implementing a slowly growing carbon tax that pays into a sovereign wealth fund (i.e. universal basic income) that enriches all American citizens, as argued by Charlos Komanoff from the Climate Tax Center in a recent piece for Salon:

The motivating logic for a carbon tax is as elegant as it is powerful: Making emitters pay for their carbon pollution is the only way to bring the climate damage caused by burning coal, oil and natural gas within the arc of the decision-making that determines how much of those fuels society uses. Without a tax on carbon emissions, alternatives won’t dislodge fossil fuels from their central position in world energy supply — or at least not fast enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control.

It’s still an open question whether a carbon tax — or really any “market-based” solution — is capable of appreciably transforming the intrinsic tension between the voracious, all-consuming appetite of late-stage capitalism and the fundamental reality of a planet with finite resources. But compared with doing nothing, it’s hard for me to argue too vehemently against it. It would be, I’d like to think, an important and potentially transformative first step.

In a political climate where little substantive change is possible, training 50,000 people with new skills that will help move us away from carbon emissions deserves our unqualified applause. Unfortunately, we still have a long, long way to go before real optimism is justified.

A century of secessions?

Yesterday, the people of Scotland voted against seceding from Great Britain, a decision that has certainly calmed the nervous hearts of Brits the world over. In the run-up to the vote, after polls had shown a likely toss-up, commentators dissected the vote from every angle: economic, historical, philosophical, and geopolitical. A “Yes” vote would have surely led to a whole new round of articles. Instead, we have a return to normalcy, to borrow a phrase, as the media narrative moves on to something more shiny and new. But questions remain as to what influence this vote will have on similar movements elsewhere. Quebecois are pushing for secession, following Scotland’s lead; Spain’s Catalans are similarly inspired. As David Calloway notes for USA Today, “concern about how Spain’s Catalan and Italy’s Veneto regions will react to a ‘Yes’ vote has already manifested itself in the bond markets of those countries, with yields rising.”

And it doesn’t stop there. As Quinn Norton writes,

Flanders is eying [sic] independence from Belgium, or a union with The Netherlands. Corsica has had a movement to break from France since the 1960s, which has been growing more active.

At the American Conservative, Patrick Buchanan takes this recent history of secessionist fever even farther:

Europe’s secessionists have waxed ever stronger since the last decade of the 20th century when the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia splintered into 22 nations and Czechoslovakia broke in two. Abkhazians and Ossetians then broke from Georgia as Transnistria fought free of Moldova. Chechnya went to war twice to escape from Russia. Secessionists now battle Russia in Ingushetsia and Dagestan.

The decomposition of the nations of Old Europe is the triumph of tribalism over transnationalism.

Will the 21st Century become the century of secession? Only time will tell. People are seeking independence for a number of dissimilar reasons, and like all things political, they range from the moderate and restrained to the partisan and extreme. I’m not certain that this new trend is really “the triumph of tribalism over transnationalism,” as Buchanan suggests. I’m sympathetic to the desire to prevent faceless bureaucrats in far-off lands from controlling the conditions that dictate one’s life, even if the sentiment is oftentimes misguided. (See: the failed push to make California into six states.)

Technology is only facilitating this transition, heightening the level of ideology in our personal relationships while simultaneously diminishing the importance of one’s physical location or place. Of course, there are dangers hidden along this path: smaller governments are far less capable of negotiating well with large and powerful multinational corporations (for instance, it’s easier for the United States to force a company like GM to behave than it is for a single state with a small GDP like Oklahoma or Mississippi).

Yet paradoxically, this is perhaps the most compelling reason to support (eventual) Scottish independence: despite the “No” vote, it’s quite likely that even if Scotland had seceded, the new country would have clamored to join the EU and NATO, shedding the yolk of “British rule” but acceding to the necessity of a broader European union.

Let the people govern themselves as locally as they please, so long as we maintain powerful federalized institutions capable of protecting smaller self-governed nations from broader military threats, and facilitating trade and commerce.

Vocativ tries to figure out why nobody’s paying for textbooks anymore

The hard-charging reporters at Vocativ are asking the tough questions. On Wednesday, they released some “Deep Web Reporting” answering this long-pondered puzzle: why do students continue to let themselves to get gouged by greedy textbook publishers, when free (albeit illegal) pdf versions are just a few clicks away?

Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly how Vocativ framed the story. Instead, they wanted to know how all these youngsters were finding their textbooks online for free. The piece is centered around a widely-shared Tumblr post highlighting a few useful sites for finding pirated textbooks, clearly meant for the college students who have yet to figure out how to work The Google.

As Vocativ attempts to explain,

Prior to the Tumblr post from last September, it’s hard to find an actual conversation on Twitter, Facebook or the anonymous social app Whisper about illicitly downloading college textbooks. The post now has over 750,000 “interactions”—likes, comments and reblogs—and the list of sites the blogger circulated is still bouncing around Twitter. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of tweets about textbook pdfs was in the hundreds each year. Starting in late 2013, that amount spiked to thousands a month.

This is an investigation that no one needs. (And if you don’t believe me, feel free to Google the name of any book you can think of, followed by the letters “pdf” and see for yourself just how easy it is to find pirated books.)

Physical books, like physical music, movies, newspapers, and pornography, are a medium that has been rendered redundant with the onset of our vastly powerful information technologies. A book’s value was once greater than the words contained therein; it was also the binding, the printing, the production, the shipping, the storing, and the selling. Just the logistical challenges involved in getting the words within someone’s head into the hands of a student in rural Tennessee created a wide-ranging economic infrastructure that isn’t really needed when we can download the pdf of a 400-page textbook in a matter of seconds anywhere in the world, and immediately upload it onto our Kindles or iPads or whatever. And yet, despite no longer being able to justify their expense, textbook publishers have used their cartel-like powers in an attempt to keep costs exorbitantly high. This is not a new story, and these are not new points — this ground is well-trod.

The central point here is that textbooks — more than almost any other of the now-outdated technologies I mentioned above — have been ripping off their customers for decades. When I was a freshman in college, all the way back in 2002, I knew pre-meds forced to frantically work all summer long just to save enough money to pay the thousands of dollars that each semester’s textbooks cost. And these were students at state schools, not some tony private university.

Coupled with the fast-rising cost of college and a moribund economy that’s pinching workers of all ages (including new college students’ parents), it’s hardly surprising that many students resort to whatever means exists at their disposal to save money. That Vocativ has identified a surge in web queries about pirating textbooks soon after this Tumblr blog went viral only speaks to how enormously these textbook publishers are screwing up. People who need an article to teach them how to find websites that will direct them to illegally copied pdfs aren’t natural piraters or thieves. If they could get digital versions of these books at a reasonable price, I have no doubt that they’d opt to go that route. But left with no reasonable options beyond theft — either their own theft of the publisher’s product, or the publisher’s theft of their limited cash — they opt to take the book for free.

Good for them.

 

EXCLUSIVE: JP MorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon’s cancer returns*

After a long battle with lung cancer first reported last July, things were looking better for JP MorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon. Multiple reports — from his company, his doctors and even the man himself — suggested that, after eight weeks of chemo therapy, his treatment course had finished and Mr. Dimon was feeling “fine.” Doctors planned to monitor his progress in the coming months to ensure that he was truly cancer free. But now his daughter, Laura Dimon, a reporter for the New York Daily News, claims that he’s back undergoing chemotherapy, an unfortunate turn of events and totally not just a craven attempt at winning some trivial Twitter fight:

Okay, so maybe Jamie Dimon doesn’t actually have cancer again. Maybe his daughter was just using his recent bout with the illness to score sympathy points and make me look like the jerk I surely am. Admittedly, cancer fucking sucks. Ad hominem attacks on one’s parents, regardless of whether or not those parents happen to be cartoonishly evil, also suck. But no one should play the “cancer card” lightly or duplicitously. Whenever these tactics are used to try to win arguments, they’re ugly and meant to shut down debate or shame one’s critics. But when journalists employ these tactics, it becomes something worse.

As the Society for Professional Journalists’ ethical guidelines clearly state, “Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information.” They also caution to, “Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.” Maybe it’s unfair to apply these standards to Twitter. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, or being too hard on Laura Dimon because of my opinions on her father, and the requisite privilege that his stature provides to her. (I’m getting up tomorrow morning at 4:15 AM to drive a 15-foot taco truck into Manhattan, one of the part-time jobs I juggle while freelancing, so class-conscious bitterness comes easily to me of late.)

But it’s equally important that those who’ve studied at Columbia’s Graduate School for Journalism at least attempt to follow the precepts of the field to which they’ve committed their lives. That means not lying about small bullshit to win arguments. It means not misrepresenting facts, or ignoring one’s responsibility to be honest in public settings — even casual ones.

I don’t know Laura Dimon. I’ve read her writing and I’ve yet to be impressed; it has a well-polished yet vapid feel to it, like a trick performed by an exceptionally well-trained seal. But perhaps she’s an honestly good person who’s earned everything she’s achieved in life and doesn’t deserve my scorn or ire. Then again, maybe she isn’t. Maybe instead, she’s an empty-headed product of the narcissistic inbreeding that has captured our elite class, and subsequently rots at the core of our politics, our business class, our entrepreneurs and, yes, our journalists. And if that’s the case, Laura Dimon deserves all this criticism — and more.

Laura Dimon lied about her father’s condition on a public platform to score cheap points. As a person, that’s deplorable.

As a journalist? It’s inexcusable.

 

*Okay, not really.