a confused critique of Gawker

Over at the Columbia Journalism Review, the premier repository of old-guard journalistic “seriousness” and Ivy League pedantry, Sarah Grieco has a very odd critique of Gawker. I don’t find it odd just because I disagree with it; I find it odd because it defines bullying in a particular way, then immediately abandons that definition. Grieco defines bullying:

[Gawker] regularly takes down “weaker” competitors—the textbook definition of bullying. In the high school hallway that is the New York media scene, Gawker Media is the Biff Tannen-type, shoving whoever they want into a locker…. Gawker depicts its actions as an internet watchdog role, an upstart taking on the bigger guys.

The notion that bullying is a matter of the big picking on the small is fairly easy to grasp. I actually find it totally unworkable from the stance of adult conduct, which I’ll get to in a second, but OK — that’s a definition that I can at least understand. So what does Grieco go after Gawker for doing? Taking on media entities that are… larger than Gawker. She points out that Gawker pulls in 60 million uniques a month, which is indeed a large number. But she goes after them for taking on Buzzfeed, which gets more than twice as many! How is that a matter of the small picking on the big? Even more ludicrously, she attacks Gawker for criticizing the New York Times, literally the most powerful, influential entity in all of journalism. For good measure she adds Vice and Fox News, as if she hadn’t done enough to already undermine her own definition. Ms. Grieco: professional media companies, particularly of the size and influence of the ones you’re naming here, cannot be “bullied.” Roger Ailes is not some asthmatic on the playground. David Carr has a platform and power that rivals the reach and influence of many governments. It is ludicrous to defend these institutions using the logic of bullying. Benny Johnson is an adult, professional journalist. He committed a range of egregious journalistic breaches of ethics and his publication dragged its feet on punishing him. I don’t know where you got the impression that criticizing that is similar to stealing someone’s lunch money, but it’s a flatly broken, unworkable analogy, one that obscures more than it clarifies.

I can’t remember the last time I read something that failed so badly to apply its own, author-defined logic. (Boy, the work the scare quotes around “weaker” has to do!)

In case you think I’m just in the tank for Gawker, you can check my record– I have criticized the writers and the publications within Gawker Media many times. I have also praised them many times. That’s how publications work: they publish some good stuff and some bad stuff and some in-between stuff. What makes Grieco’s complaints so frustrating, in fact, is that what has marked Gawker’s evolution in the John Cook – Max Read era is that they have moved away from the pointless snark towards the less powerful which she’s critiquing. That was the point Carla Blumenkranz made in her n+1 piece about Gawker, and it was accurate then. But that was years ago. What has made Gawker Media a better, more useful set of properties is that it has gotten in the business of criticizing the powerful, particularly the powerful who are usually not attacked by the establishment media. Sam Biddle is the target of Grieco’s ire. While I have my complaints about some of Biddle’s work, the simple fact of the matter is that Valleywag performs an essential function: it goes after the Silicon Valley overlords that the establishment media simply refuses to criticize. For decades now, mainstream journalism has treated Silicon Valley like the noble, utopian princes of contemporary society. Somebody has to subject them to scrutiny, and clearly, that task hasn’t been performed by the Serious Journalisms types… you know, the kind who start out writing for the Columbia Journalism Review. Same thing with Deadspin: who, exactly, is the underdog, here? ESPN? The NFL? For real? ESPN’s power is so distorting, and so inherently threatening to anyone who wants to work in sports journalism, that the only way to cover them is through asymmetrical warfare. If that comes along with dick jokes and some failures to be appropriately skeptical of sources, I’ll take it. Lord knows that the New York Times and Fox News aren’t getting the job done.

That’s to say nothing of the fact that the people involved in GamerGate that Grieco defends are, in fact, not poor bullied kids. They are, overwhelmingly, employed, educated, privileged adult men, many of whom work for some of the most powerful and profitable industries in our economy. Their beloved sci fi and comic books and fantasy genres and media– those aren’t reviled and disrespected properties that people are ashamed to like. They’re economically dominant and critically lauded, and given the way the internet makes culture spread more broadly and intensely than ever before, are probably the most powerful force in the history of the arts. (No exaggeration.) And why are they attracting so much criticism? Is it because they’re weak and unpopular? No. They’re being criticized because they’re threatening women, because they’re revealing the personal information of people who disagree with them, because they’re making terrorist threats at venues that host their  targets, because they drive innocent people from their homes, because they refuse to disassociate from misogyny. That’s why. Grieco seems to imagine that the men behind Gamergate are skinny teens getting thrown into trashcans by the football players. In fact, they’re the dominant leaders of the new economy, who have vast computer skills and the wherewithal to use them against their critics, who have such economic power that they can make companies like Intel and Adobe tremble, whose whims dictate our entire pop culture industry, and who get just about everything that they want, all the time. That’s who needs defending?

I know that my regular readers are tired of hearing me say this. But the self-definition of this class of people as a beleaguered minority is not defensible. It cannot be justified through evidence. It flies in the face of reality. And the adoption by the overclass of the language and argumentative tactics used to defend actually-threatened minorities like people of color is disgusting and destructive. What’s more, the way in which the politicized term “bullying” is now deployed to shield people from criticism is simply incompatible with the critical work that is a necessary part of adult society. Subjecting us all to a juvenile standard of behavior thanks to a well-meaning but ineffective movement against petty individual cruelty does nothing for the actual victims of bullying and instead merely protects the powerful, like Shepherd Smith, like Benny Johnson, like the NFL, like Vice. 

The attitudes that Grieco demonstrates aren’t just confused and whiny. They’re toxic, because they’re indicative of everything wrong with old-guard media culture. Kill the Messenger, the Gary Webb biopic, is playing now. Webb’s career was destroyed not in spite of the fact that he produced some of the most essential journalism of the past two decades but because he did. He was punished because he did it for a small paper. He was punished because he didn’t defer to the CIA or the government. He didn’t follow “official procedure,” which means marinating in the self-seriousness of the journalist good ol’ boy network. And so even now, a decade after his death, he is subject to pathetic character assassination by someone like Jeff Leen, a symbol of old-school journalism standards if there ever was one. Those are the same standards that cause hatred of Glenn Greenwald, the same standards that lead Jeff Goldberg to defend the asinine campaign against Dave Weigel by suggesting that Weigel lacked “toilet training.” By calling attacks on the powerful and the comfortable bullying, Greico is locating herself squarely in that ugly tradition. I’ve never been one to celebrate the demise of the traditional media, as newspapers play an essential role that has not been replaced by new media. But these phony standards of comity that seem to only defend the powerful, they can’t die soon enough.

shining glass, brushed metal, and misery

You have likely already come across this remarkable piece of reporting by Adrian Chen, where he delves into the world of human social media workers who scrub Facebook and similar sites of offensive and illegal content, but if not you need to check it out. It’s essential that we recognize that our visions of a frictionless, technology-enabled future are, fundamentally, lies.

In my complaints about the popular portrayal of artificial intelligence, I have mentioned that people underestimate just how much human training goes into the Bayesian models that underlie a lot of the algorithmic internet — the recommendation services, the natural language processing, the predictive systems. The existence of thousands of Filipino workers laboring for awful wages to wash your Facebook feed is not quite the same thing, but it springs from the same dedication to sanitizing the future to better fit our Jetsons-inspired vision. As Chen writes, “Companies would prefer not to acknowledge the hands-on effort required to curate our social media experiences, Roberts says. ‘It goes to our misunderstandings about the Internet and our view of technology as being somehow magically not human’.” You would be amazed at the number of people I still hear say, “Amazon, it’s like magic. I just click a button and a few days later a package arrives.”

When most people think of the future, I think they’re imagining something like Dubai or Abu Dhabi, impossible cities of impossible heights and impossible affluence. (A friend of mine who worked in Abu Dhabi doing IT for awhile told me that it was like living in Sim City, played by your dad, with the unlimited money cheat on.) And I think they’re right: I think the future is Dubai, the future is Abu Dhabi. It’s the mountain of groaning humanity, sweating and poisoned, laboring for pennies, building monuments of gorgeous crystalline perfection, which some Stanford grad in a hoodie takes pains to hide backstage, relying on our collective desire to never look behind the curtain.

maybe you should pet that cat more often

Eagle-eyed reader Devon G. emailed me last night to tell me that Alex Dunn of UCSB’s Philosophy department was again throwing a Twitter fit about the fact that I exist. Devon remembered Dunn from his previous little spasm of getting mad that not literally everyone is a part of his weirdo Twitter koffee klatsch. I had actually forgotten until Devon reminded me; I just don’t have the brain space to let Alex Dunn and his hair run around in there. But when Devon told me, I checked it out, and indeed there he was, like literally making little frowny face emojis anytime someone mentioned my name. And a sensible chuckle was had by all.

People who act like this really do not understand the nature of narcissism. Honey! There’s no such thing as bad publicity!

The thing you have to understand is that I’ve been attracting this sort of attention since the very beginning of my writing online 6 years ago. I have never not had people developing these weird negative fixations. It’s something of a constant. And they all think they’re the one who really showed me. It seems like everyone I’ve ever gotten into a fight with sits around and cries a single tear about it, saying “I sure showed that jerk!” and feeling like they just lost an elementary school soccer game and didn’t get orange slices. Who wants to live that way? I’ve lost plenty of arguments online. It happens. You throw rocks at street  signs for awhile and you move on. Fixating in this way is so strange, to me. And I couldn’t do it just for sheer volume. If I was still getting upset about every fight I had, I wouldn’t have the energy to breathe. Being a grownup means that you don’t like some people and they don’t like you, and to be honest I kind of got a head start on that. I’ve been a love it or hate it phenomenon my whole life, and that suits me. I’m sorry, Alex: this is not Mrs. Soanes’s 8th grade math class and I don’t pass notes anymore. I don’t have time to develop “enemies” online and if I did, you wouldn’t even make JV. Consider a hobby.

On the real, you guys: I get that for many of you, life on Twitter has become more important than life out here in the big grimy. And on a certain level, I get it. But sometimes you’ve really gotta close that laptop, do you feel me? It’s a big brilliant world out here, and Twitter is really small in many ways. The thing about Twitter is that you get to turn it off and go outside. And once you do you can go around and look at all the messy humans out there and say to yourself “look at that guy! He doesn’t know I exist!” and “that lady has no idea what #gamergate is” and “that person couldn’t pick Suey Park out of a lineup.” Then you can go to a bar or make a friend or eat Funyuns or do any number of things that are more intense and interesting than everything that has ever happened in the history of the internet combined. And that’s a good feel.

This dude is gonna read this post (because all of them are, inevitably, my closest, most passionate readers) and then he’s just going to seethe and seethe. Every time he sees my name on Twitter, he’ll get mad. Whereas I will click “close tab” and he will cease to exist. Which approach do you want to take yourself?

the video game media is garbage and #gamergate is hot garbage

I’m friends with a guy from my Chicago days who believes strongly in the need to reform alimony and child custody laws. He married and had a child with a woman who would later suffer a relapse into alcoholism and drug abuse. He went through a ton of difficult times, sticking with her through repeated legal troubles and betrayals of trust, and eventually felt compelled to divorce her. Given her continuing personal struggles, and the fact that she had placed their daughter in danger several times, along with the fact that she had repeatedly sold his stuff on Craigslist and attacked him physically, he pressed for sole custody of the daughter, with visitation rights for the mother conditional on her ability to avoid legal trouble. He thought, given her repeated arrests and demonstrable drug and alcohol addiction, that this process would be straightforward. What he’s found instead is that it’s been a terribly emotionally draining and expensive process. The family courts, as he’s discovered the hard way, are in many parts of the country still strongly inclined to award custody to mothers over fathers, even in cases of criminal convictions, drug addiction, even abuse. (Dig around, and you’ll see.) So he’s been fighting forever and it’s tough. He wants to be part of a political movement to change these conditions. Because it’s not just an injustice against men, it’s an injustice against the children who would be better served with their fathers.

(Incidentally, the presumption that children are always best with their mothers is itself based on sexist reasoning, seeing women as babymakers, and from what I’ve read a lot of this tendency comes from conservative family court judges.)

Now, here’s the hard part. The father’s rights movement (for lack of a better term) is forever getting lumped in with, and associated with, the men’s rights movement. This is a problem because men’s rights activists are as a class a pack of sexists who lament the decline of male privilege and work in defense of the patriarchy. So precisely the kind of people who need to get motivated to prompt reform — politically active, educated, progressive people — are likely to be turned off by their perception of who advocates for said reform. My friend has told me that he has searched out people online who feel the same way he does, and has frequently been discouraged by how often this effort gets wrapped up in an anti-feminist narrative, or how often people discuss bizarre revenge fantasies, etc. It’s a real problem, particularly given how tribal our politics are. I know from personal experience that many progressive people simply stop listening when terms like “father’s rights” are discussed. The associations are too grim. There’s nothing else for people like him to do, unfortunately, but to build a new movement and work strenuously to avoid those associations.

I thought of this while reading this set of reader emails over at the Dish. These emailers felt that the Dish’s previous coverage was unfair in its presumption that #gamergate is about misogyny and threats against women. They argue that there is legitimate criticism of the video game media within #gamergate. And they aren’t wrong! The video game media, generally speaking, is garbage. The problem is that #gamergate is nastier, smellier garbage, and principled people who want reform in video game media should start a new movement and reject #gamergate.

Because lord knows, there’s a lot to criticize in the video game media. Look, these kind of generalizations are inherently unfair, and there’s lots of great individual writers and pieces out there. There’s lots of good work being done. But it exists in a broader media where the bar is just impossibly low. In general, video game journalism primarily seems to involve producing hype for an $11 billion-dollar industry, churning out story after story about how cool an upcoming release is and then, on the very small chance that said release ends up with a poor review, never mentioning it again after that poor review. (Seriously: what percentage of Kotaku reviews, to pick one site, are negative? Seriously, dig around and see how many “No” reviews you come up with.) Near-corruption is a confirmed part of the business, with Youtube personalities trading early copies of games for positive coverage. And I suspect that there is even more explicit corruption going on all over the place in the industry. There are so many absurdly positive reviews, or just mainstream, established websites providing impossibly copious coverage of coming releases, that I am convinced that developers are handing direct cash payments to people who positively cover their releases. Though the stakes are much lower, there’s little different about this practice than a politician paying a reporter for positive coverage.

Even aside from actual corruption, the whole industry suffers from a rampant case of boosterism. Still obsessed with their self-conception as a denigrated minority (despite video game revenues dwarfing those of the movie industry, to pick one example), many of the ardent gamers in the video game media seem intent on acting more like cheerleaders for the industry than as skeptical journalists or critical reviewers. Aside from the fact that this allies the video game media with powerful, moneyed corporations rather than with consumers, it’s terribly self-defeating. The way that you get an art form taken seriously is not be giving it a free pass but by subjecting it to real critical review. Yes, the movie industry produces a lot of trash. But it also produces acts of real genius, and I believe that the active, meaningful criticism of film reviewers contributes to this state of affairs. You know a serious movie that is given any kind of wide release or festival run is going to receive a set of tough reviews that take seriously the film’s artistic vision and execution. Video games? I have no similar faith at all. Just gesturing in the direction of meaning or profundity, or even just saying the right things in the press tour, often brings about a rapturous reception from the video game media writ large.

40, 45 years into the age of the commercially released motion picture, we got Citizen Kane. 40, 45 years into the age of the commercially released video game, I personally feel that we’ve seen no video game of remotely similar artistic invention, daring, and quality. And that’s a shame, because video games are an artform of incredible potential, capable of being hilarious, exciting, frightening, beautiful, and genuinely moving.

But here’s the thing, you guys: if video game journalism is garbage, then #gamergate is garbage from an Egyptian restaurant that’s been baking in the sun in July in a heatwave on a New York corner, complete with extra dog poop and infested with cockroaches that have names like Misogyny and Threats Against Women. However well-intentioned some members of #gamergate may be, and however much I may agree with some criticisms of the video game media, the grimy sexism and hideous threats that have been made in the name of #gamergate renders the whole “movement” totally unpalatable to me. Yes, it is unfortunate to define any group by the actions of its worst members, and there are times in life, particularly when it comes to political struggles, that you have to hold your nose and align with people you can’t stand. But this isn’t one of those times, and too many people who complain about how #gamergate is discussed in the media refuse to be frank about how rife with ugliness the phenomenon is.

I mean, there’s even legitimate criticism of Anita Sarkeesian, such as her unpaid appropriation of other women’s artwork, which my friend Alex Layne of the brilliant site Not Your Mama’s Gamer discussed. That behavior bothers me. But in a world where Sarkeesian is subject to such insane, violent threats, my instinct is not to criticize her about intellectual property but build a bunker to defend her from attack. That’s the thing about surrounding your movement with threats and misogyny: people who might be inclined to listen to you feel compelled to reject you out of hand. Whether through refusal or inability, the principled people who consider themselves part of #gamergate have failed to eject the sexist, threatening core of the movement, and for someone like me, that makes it impossible to take the whole enterprise as anything but ugly.

But there’s no reason to despair: you can start your own movement. Start a new hashtag. Explain the criticisms of the video game media you embrace while rejecting the ugly, inexcusable elements of #gamergate. Make it clear that sexism and threats are not ever acceptable in your movement. But I really do think that you need to start something new. I don’t think #gamergate can be reformed. It sucks to have to invest that kind of effort to start something new, but that’s life. Time to get to business.

chipping away

In my first ever Bloggingheads appearance, I told Conor Friedersdorf that I felt the traditional notion of meritocracy — that your economic outcomes are largely or solely the product of your work ethic and your talent, whatever talent is — was becoming empirically indefensible.

Take a look at this chart from this worthwhile piece by Matt O’Brien.

Students who grow up poor and graduate from college, in other words, are somewhat more likely to end up in the top 20% of all earners than students who grow up rich and drop out of high school. But they are no less likely to end up in the bottom 20% of all earners. Clearly, there is a college premium in these numbers; rich high school dropouts end up in the bottom 40% of earners a full 51% of the time, poor college grads only 33% of the time. But the advantage is far lower than you would believe given our national narratives about hard work and education being the ticket to the good life. The point isn’t to doubt the value of sending poor students to college — in fact, research suggests that they get the most benefit from a college degree — but to get real about the size and power of received economic advantage.

Here’s a related chart, from John Marsh’s excellent 2011 book Class Dismissed.

As we can see, parental income is hugely determinative of child income. More children born to parents from the bottom 20% of earners will end up in that quintile than will end up in the top three quintiles combined. Whatever is going on here, it is not a society where your economic outcomes are largely under your own control, no matter what Peter Thiel thinks.

Nor are educational outcomes immune. GPA by parent’s income band:

Chart via the AACU.

Dropout rate by family income:


Chart via the NCES (PDF).

This is true even concerning tests that are designed to measure “pure” ability.

Chart via The Wall Street Journal.

I am not the kind of person who thinks that every question is an empirical question or that the only way to answer questions usefully or truthfully is through a graph or numbers. Quite the contrary: I deeply believe in the need for humanistic and philosophical claims to truth, along with the empirical quantitative types of knowing that I frequently engage in when researching. The question is, what kind of claims are being made, and what kinds of evidence are appropriate to address them? The question of how much control the average individual has over his or her own economic outcomes is not a theoretical or ideological question. What to do about the odds, that’s philosophical and political. But the power of chance and received advantage — those things can be measured, and have to be. And what we are finding, more and more, is that the outcomes of individuals are buffeted constantly by the forces of economic inequality. Education has been proffered as a tool to counteract these forces, but that claim, too, cannot withstand scrutiny. Redistributive efforts are required to address these differences in opportunity.

In the meantime, it falls on us to chip away, bit by bit, on the lie of American meritocracy.

police aggression will fall inevitably on the poor and the brown, pumpkin edition

If you’d like yet-more proof that elite, educated, white, bourgie “leftist” culture online has ceased to have any political convictions any more and has instead become a set of vapid social and cultural postures adopted to borrow the righteousness we associate with politics for social gain, look no further than the reaction to this pumpkin festival situation. This very Gawkery Gawker post about it pretty much encapsulates the Twitter-obsessed tryhard consensus which dominates our media: police going wild is hilarious when the target is “bros.” There were many of those white-critiques-of-whiteness-that-preemptively-exclude-the-white-person-making-the-critique tweets, as well as rampant unfunny Twitter jokes. (Note: all Twitter jokes are unfunny Twitter jokes.) If you actually care about social equality between races and economic classes, this is all very, very dumb.

First: police violence and aggression is wrong no matter who it targets. Crazy!

Second: police violence and aggression against people we assume have social capital is a signal that those who we know don’t have social capital will get it far worse. If these cops feel that they have this much license to go wild against that white, largely-affluent crew, what do you think they’ll do when they pull over some working class black guy in a run-down car? Treating this as a barrel of laughs throws away a profound opportunity to include these types of people in a very necessary social movement against police violence, which poor people of color desperately need. Instead of using these moments as an opportunity for political coalition building, affluent, educated white people on Twitter use it as an opportunity for levity — precisely because they don’t fear the police and so feel no pressing need to take advantage of that opportunity.

The recent yen for concern trolling due process and free speech rights among our ostensibly-liberal social climber class is destructive in large part because in the main, it will not be the white affluent types that are both their brethren and the subject of their derision that suffer in a world without these rights. It will instead be racial minorities and the poor. Degrading civil liberties for affluent white bros might feel like a blow against them, but the negative effects will fall on the people you claim to speak for, in a flagrantly unequal society.

Of course, the purpose of adopting a left-wing posture on elite Twitter is not actually to advance a left-wing cause, but is rather to draft political resistance and moral righteousness into the pointless post-collegiate social competition between the overeducated whites who run our media. In that regard… mission accomplished, guys!

Update: Of course I understand — of course, I understand — that this is precisely the sort of situation where, if it were black people acting this way, Fox News would be flipping out about “black culture,” which is an indefensible position. And I understand the need to point out that hypocrisy. I’m just saying: let’s keep our eyes on the prize, that’s all. Let’s be careful.

yes, carceral feminism is A Thing

Amber A’Lee Frost critiques this (excellent) Jacobin post by Victoria Law about carceral feminism:

Here are the interpretations of the term I am able to come up with.

a) There is a feminist movement for whom imprisonment is the primary political project or cornerstone policy. I know of no such feminist subculture, and I consider myself pretty well-versed on even the more marginal feminisms. Of course there are feminists who support or fail to criticize incarceration, but that is generally part and parcel to a larger neoliberal politic, making them… liberal feminists. 


b) that feminists have an overwhelming and powerful presence in incarceration policy. How strange, that we would have such a concentrated power in such a specific sphere. You’d think we’d have at least passed equal pay by now. I was sure even had bigger priorities than throwing people in jail.

So why is it that the Violence Against Women Act, a properly neoliberal piece of Clinton-era legislation, penned by meathead Joe Biden, is blamed on women? Well… why not? We blame them for everything else.

There’s a few problems here. First: feminists, and particularly feminist women, pushed very hard for the Violence Against Women Act. That’s just a historical fact, as Law points out. The point is not to blame those feminist women; there’s no value in doing that. The point is to demonstrate that the best intentions can result in ugly consequences. That’s an essential historical point and I wish Frost didn’t dismiss it.

More importantly, Frost is confusing a critique of a political tendency with a critique of a political philosophy. Carceral feminism is the tendency of self-identified feminists to become credulous to the emancipatory power of the violent apparatus of the state in their efforts to achieve feminist ends like reductions in violence against women. Of course nobody chooses the name “carceral feminist,” any more than people choose the name neoliberal. But in each case, the term aptly fits a destruction political and rhetorical practice. Mistaking a criticism of a tendency for a criticism of a philosophy is particularly damaging because almost nobody actually has a political philosophy. We instead have a collection of tendencies that we then knit together into something resembling a coherent philosophy out of self-protective and egotistical motives. What’s undeniable, in the present moment, is that many people who consider themselves leftists are betraying a breathtaking amount of trust in the police and prosecutors. They are doing so at precisely the same time that they are passionately animated against the police state in Ferguson, in New York City, and elsewhere. Many are capable of holding together these utterly incompatible positions because they don’t have a political philosophy, but rather a set of cultural and social customs that they confuse with a politics. The result is an incoherent denigration of the police state on one hand and the elevation of that same police state to the role of savior on the other.

Finally: I get that, to a lefty like Frost, “liberal feminist” is a critique that stings. But to the vast majority of feminists — exactly the people that need to be convinced that the police state is not their friend — “liberal feminist” is a badge of honor. You cannot use it to get them to examine the flat inconsistencies in their current political preferences. Saying that there is no such thing as a carceral feminist because there is already such a thing as a liberal feminist is like saying, in the mid-50s, that there is no such thing as a McCarthyist because there is already such a thing as a authoritarian. It’s abstracting away from a particular political crisis to a grand ideological point of almost no immediate political valence. Right now, some feminists are using the mantle of feminism to defend the processes and people that they correctly identify as the source of racism and misery in the black community. The term “carceral  feminism” is as good a term as any to provoke a conversation about that condition.

At the end of the most well-intentioned law in the history of laws, there’s a cop. That’s what we’re talking about here. The rest is window dressing.

sorry for being so cranky

So I want to say that I’m sorry for being such a crabby patty lately. I’m not reversing course on any opinions I’ve shared, but I have been shorter with people than I intend, and I apologize for that.

As far as excuses goes, I’m just busy and stressed. At the moment, I’m dissertating, on the job market, teaching a class, tutoring four hours a week, helping to run a massive assessment of our massive freshman composition program, taking a graduate seminar, editing a textbook, rating students for our oral English examination, doing research assistant work for a program in the Education department, working as Communications Editor for an online journal, representing my department in the graduate student senate, writing a piece for a magazine and a pitch for another magazine, reviewing three books, working on revisions for a journal article, and trying to keep the social fires burning. I’m not complaining. I love my life and I’ve made the choices to be in this position and I know there are some reading this who are far busier. I’m just trying to lay out why I’ve been a bit intemperate.

I’ll try to be better with that stuff in the near future. All of my writing is animated by emotion– I literally don’t know how to do it otherwise– but I can try and choose which emotions dictate how I work. So let’s get going.

reup: difficult reading can be reading for pleasure

Since Austin Kleon and his merry gang are up to their old tricks, defining what pleasure has to be for other people, I would like to reup this post I wrote about difficult reading, and why it can still have value even though absolutely everything in your culture, and every penny in capitalism’s coffers, tells you that the only art that should endure is that which constantly puts out its lips to be kissed.

Not every good thing in life is easy. Not everything that brings you immediate pleasure is good. There are other things to eat  besides candy. Sometimes your deepest pleasures will be those that you have work for the hardest. What you like is not what other people like. Your first instinct is not always right. Your definition of the right life is not right for everyone. What you want to do and what you should do are not always the same. The world does not exist to sate your appetites. You have to find the strength to live in a world where other people don’t make the same choices that you do. Not one word of your manifesto is truer or better than anyone else’s. You are not the only person in the world. You don’t get what you want in life. Grow up.

Update:  The most tiring thing in the world  for me is that we are all expected to live our lives so as not to offend other people’s insecurities, rather than having a social expectation that if your insecurity is illogical, it’s your job get over it.  No one is judging you.  What will it take to get people to accept that?