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Published: Sat, 23 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2017 21:33:34 -0400


Fall’s First Television Premieres May Make You Go ‘Meh’

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Young Sheldon. CBS. Monday, September 25, 8:30 p.m. Me, Myself, and I. CBS. Monday, September 25, 9:30 p.m. The Brave. NBC. Monday, September 25, 10 p.m. The Good Doctor. ABC. Monday, September 25, 10 p.m. The hell with Charles Dickens. The new fall television season is certainly not the best of times, nor is it the worst of times (mostly, anyway, though CBS' 9JKL certainly gives pause). It is, perhaps, the most mediocre of television times since The Sopranos and Sex and the City established cable TV as a programming force in which a Nielsen rating of 35 could not be reasonably mistaken for the average IQ of the viewing audience. Nineteen new series will debut on broadcast television between now and November 2. (Well, 18; The Orville, Fox's cartoon send-up of Star Trek, somehow slipped through security a couple of weeks ago, and if you're only learning this now, count yourself lucky.) And they are nothing if not diverse. There are American Special Forces troops in Syria (NBC's The Brave), American Special Forces troops in Liberia (CBS' Seal Team), and American Special Forces troops in America (The CW's Valor). There are remakes from the 1970s (CBS' S.W.A.T), remakes from the 1980s (The CW's Dynasty) and remakes from the 1990s (NBC's Will & Grace, less a remake than a desiccated zombie clawing its way back out of the grave, since it features the same cast). There are mutants battling a fascist military government (ABC's Marvel's Inhumans) and mutants battling a fascist civilian government (Fox's The Gifted). What there is not is a surefire breakout hit. (Though, to be honest, my track record on picking hits is almost as bad as that of actual network programmers. When I started writing about television in 2002, I never dreamed Survivor and The Bachelor would still be with us 15 years later, or I might have stopped right then and there.) Even DVR-worthy shows were spotted less frequently than virginal Kardashians. Wading through the pilots reminded me of the 2008 fall season that followed a five-month writers' strike that resulted in a lineup pockmarked with shows like Stylista, which made me want to eat the brains of pretty people, and the remake of Knight Rider, which made me feel like my own brain was being eaten. Why things went so badly this year, I can't tell. One argument that will doubtless be advanced is that so-called peak television—the glut of production triggered by digital services like Netflix and Hulu joining the business with broadcast and cable channels—has stretched the Hollywood talent pool too far. That doesn't make sense to me; the biggest bucks, generally speaking, are still in broadcast TV, which should ensure that it gets the top talent. Whatever the explanation, this is the couch-potato diversion we have chosen. All that's left to us is to clench our remotes tightly in our teeth as we ride boldly and well into the jaws of video banality. The fact that NBC's The Brave is just one of three new series about U.S. combat operations in the Islamic world is, unfortunately, probably less a marker of television's follow-the-leader mentality than a depressing reminder that we've been at war there for 16 years, through three presidencies, and seem no closer to the end of the chapter than we were at the beginning. Of course, that wouldn't be true if these TV troopers were unleashed over there. As movies like Hacksaw Ridge have grown more gruesomely honest about the quantity and quality of battlefield deaths during wartime, TV has gone the opposite direction. The Brave guys—err, persons; gender integration of combat units is a lot further along on television than it is in the Pentagon—are all but impervious to bullets and bombs. And because of all their high-tech toys that can look and listen though walls, in most armed encounters, they mostly have inflicted Custerian body counts before the enemy even knows they're there. Just as prospective jurors are now cautioned that real-life police forensics lag well behind those of the CSI supergeeks, we may soon have a reality-check officer installed at each m[...]

Feminist Porn Isn't Free

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 13:35:00 -0400

"Our goal was to undress Pinterest, not dress up Pornhub," the press kit for Bellesa, a Montreal-based web startup, proclaims with lofty feminist ambitions. A recent writeup on Bustle hails the (NSFW) site as "good both for women and for men who want something outside what our patriarchal, heteronormative society dictates they should like." Little of Bellesa's video content, however, distinguishes it from other porn sites; it's Pornhub in a Pinterest wrapper. Nothing wrong with that per se—in fact, a porn platform with serves up a variety of videos (not just the softcore, romantic stuff that's often assumed to appeal more to women) with a less aggressively masculine interface would probably do well. But for a site to live up to its idealistic, feminist branding, it needs to account for the labor and intellectual property of those producing the content—the performers, directors, and others who actually make the adult videos—whether that means making content distribution deals with independent sex workers or ethical-porn production companies; producing content in house; or working out some sort of profit-sharing platform for user-created content. Bellesa—Catalan for beauty—does none of these things. Canadian magazine The Link describes founder Michelle Schnaidman's role as curating or facilitating porn—"she makes it available for those who seek it." It solves what Bustle writer Joanna Weiss described as the "pesky paywall" problem by featuring porn clips cribbed from all around the web, without paying or promoting the people who made them. Bellesa also asks women to upload their own "erotic stories, sexy photos and GIFs, and feminist blog posts" for free, for the fun of it. Apparently all it takes to find feminist pornography is being willing to band together with other feminists and become unpaid porn stars, erotica writers, and digital content producers for the cause! Shnaidman assures women she created this porn clearinghouse for only the best and most feminist reasons. "We need to put an end to slut-shaming and to the antiquated idea that sex is something men do to women," she told Bustle. "Or something women do for men. Because it's not. Once society finally accepts the notion that women like sex (like, really like sex), we can begin shattering the stigma surrounding female sexuality—and of course porn." The Bellesa website decries the "male-dominated paradigms that have defined sex on the internet" so far, and porn that is "derogatory and exclusionary towards women." "The market for services meeting women's sexual needs is often neglected due to the myth that women are less sexual than men," explains Bustle. But on Bellesa, there will be "relatable" bodies, performers expressing "authentic" pleasure, and as many shots of nude men as women. Refinery29 even recommends women against signing up for a non "female-friendly" porn subscription service and instead find "free porn" on Bellessa. Both the women's media and Shnaidman here showcase problems (long) prevalent among mainstream feminists: a willingness to throw certain sorts of women under the bus when it's convenient; an apparent inability to consider how creating some preferable condition for some normative class of women will affect those not in this class; and a tendency to embrace personal liberation on the backs of more marginalized groups. Several adult-film producers have already asked Bellesa to take down their content. Hi, @BellesaCo you have content created by us and the lines we distribute on your site. Please remove it. Thanks. cc: @bustle @suzannahweiss — Wicked (@WickedPictures) September 21, 2017 Hi, @BellesaCo you call yourself "ethical" and stole my content & never credited me as the writer/director. cc: @bustle @suzannahweiss — Jacky St. James (@jackystjames) September 20, 2017 And sex workers on social media have been protesting the feminist-friendly narrative around the pirated-video platform. It's not free content. It's stolen content. You are no bett[...]

Appeals Court Sides with UVA Fraternity Brothers, Against Rolling Stone in 'Jackie' Rape Dispute

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 15:06:00 -0400

Two former members of the University of Virginia's Phi Kappa Psi fraternity have a strong enough defamation argument against Rolling Stone that the case should proceed to trial, an appeals court ruled Tuesday. The decision is a major blow to Rolling Stone's publisher, Jann Wenner—who put the magazine up for sale earlier this week—and to Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the disgraced author of a now thoroughly debunked RS article about a gang rape on UVA's campus. Wenner and Erdely probably thought their legal ordeal was over: RS has already paid out millions of dollars to former UVA dean Nicole Eramo for badly misrepresenting her, and also to Phi Psi for staging the fraternity as the scene of a crime that never happened. But three Phi Psi brothers—George Elias, Ross Fowler, and Stephen Hadford—also filed suit as individuals, arguing that the story specifically and individually defamed them. This suit was dismissed by a New York district court more than a year ago. That dismissal was unsound, according to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In her decision to revive the case, Judge Katherine Forrest argued that the lower court had incorrectly ruled out defamation as a plausible verdict with respect to two of the three brothers, Elias and Fowler. You will recall from Reason's exhaustive coverage of the story that a former UVA student, "Jackie," told Erdely that she was lured to an upstairs bedroom at the Phi Psi fraternity by her date, "Drew," a lifeguard and member of Phi Psi. At least nine frat brothers then allegedly beat and raped her, apparently as part of some frat initiation. This claim became the central element of Erdely's story on sexual assault; it collapsed when scrutinized by other journalists—myself among them—after Jackie's numerous lies came to light. No one disputes that Jackie's story was inaccurate—RS eventually retracted—and that no such assault took place at Phi Psi. The question is whether Erdeley and her editors screwed up so colossally that the magazine can actually be held liable for defamation. And now, for a third time, a court has said, yes. The story did not specifically name Elias, Fowler, or Hadford, so at first blush it might seem like their lawsuit is legally unmerited. Under New York law, a person can only be found responsible for defamation if their false statements were "of and concerning" the defendants. But the court of appeals thinks Elias and Fowler, at least, could plausibly meet that test, because "it is not necessary the world should understand the libel; it is sufficient if those who know the plaintiff can make out that she is the person meant," according to earlier decisions in 1980 and 1966. Elias and Fowler contend that they were presumed to be involved in the crime by people who knew them personally, since key details relating to them appeared to match Jackie's descriptions. Elias lived in one of the only rooms on the second floor that would have been capable of holding 10 people. Fowler was, like "Drew," a swimmer and a senior member of Phi Psi responsible for initiating new members. The court of appeals is also letting their "small group defamation" claim proceed. "Taking the allegations in the Article together, a reader could plausibly conclude that many or all fraternity members participated in alleged gang rape as an initiation ritual and all members knowingly turned a blind eye to the brutal crimes," write the judges. This does not mean that the brothers are guaranteed to win at trial. Their case is in some ways weaker than both the suits filed by Eramo and Phi Psi itself, since the article called out both Eramo and Phi Psi by name. "We are disappointed with the Second Circuit's ruling today, but are confident that this case has no merit," said a spokesperson for RS in a statement. But there's no question whether the violent actions attributed to the fraternity brothers were invented, there's no question whether they suffered reputational harm because of this, and there's no question whether Rolling Stone shou[...]

The Vietnam War Punctures Any Remaining Myths About the Conflict

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 11:00:00 -0400

The Vietnam War. PBS. Sunday, September 17, 8 p.m. Lt. Everett Alvarez was shot down near Ha Long Bay in North Vietnam in August 1964, flying a bombing raid in retaliation for an encounter between U.S. destroyers and North Vietnamese gunboats so confusing that it may not even have occurred. Alvarez, only the second American pilot shot down over North Vietnam, was quickly taken to military interrogators. They, confusingly, began asking questions in Vietnamese; Alvarez, a third-generation American, confoundingly answered in Spanish. ("Don't ask me why," he shrugs. "It seemed like a good idea at the time.") But when the interrogation switched to English, it was no less bewildering. Alvarez refused to disclose anything but his name, rank and serial number, adding to his captors that he was not required to say anything more under the protections of the Geneva Convention. "What does the Geneva Convention have to do with this?" the North Vietnamese replied. "Our countries have not declared war on one another." Alvarez gaped. "You know what?" he thought to himself. "They're right." That anecdote, related by Alvarez, illustrates the best part of Ken Burns' massive 10-part, 18-hour documentary The Vietnam War, which starts airing on PBS Sunday: Firsthand accounts of how the men and women on the ground negotiated their way through a cockeyed, contradictory war that made little sense to either side. In their account of a conflict that nearly tore America in two and continues to reverberate through politics and foreign policies around the world to this very day, there are a lot of things Burns and his co-producer/director Lynn Novick do very well: They trace the war back to its origins, long before the first American soldier set foot in Indochina. They introduce multiple Vietnamese points of view. They deconstruct political flim-flammery in both countries and place it in—mostly—a coherent chronology. They resist many of the easy myths about the war that the Baby Boomer chattering classes have established as God's received truth. But for all the documentary's merits, it does its best work in ferreting out the bite-size experiences of the grunts, not just the ones in uniform but the CIA officers, junior diplomats, peasant farmer and family members back home—the people didn't make policy but were whipsawed by it. Their stories are poignant, confusing, heartbreaking, maddening, blackly funny, or cryptic, often all at once. Sometimes they even seem like extensions of popular fiction. Which came first: a Marine's stark memory of a march in which an old Vietnamese man, certain Charles de Gaulle's army had returned to rid him of Viet Cong harassment, emerged from a hut to shout, "Vive la France"? Or the French planter haunting the jungle near the Cambodian border in Apocalypse Now like a vengeful ghost, warning Martin Sheen that the Americans are fighting for ''the biggest nothing in history"? The old man lost in time is not the only character in The Vietnam War who might have stepped out of Apocalypse Now. With disarming candor, one former American officer recounts blundering into an ambush that killed several of his men and left the rest of them pinned down. He murmured a plea to God: If you need any more guys from my platoon, take me, don't take any more of my men. "As soon as I said it, I freaked myself out," the officer remembers. "I said, 'Holy shit, can I take that prayer back?' " There is archival footage of senior South Vietnamese officers sitting on stage behind Robert McNamara, the whiz-kid American defense secretary, as he shouts in Vietnamese, several times, a popular Saigon slogan of the day, "Vietnam, a thousand years!" Except McNamara is speaking in the wrong intonations and saying, "The little duckie wants to lie down!" Another South Vietnamese officer, without rancor, orders his American advisor not to stand next to him on battlefields because the man's 6-foot-plus frame is a magnet for snipers' bullets. Villagers invited to a military c[...]

The Vietnam War Is the Key to Understanding Today's America: Q&A with Filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 14:05:00 -0400

The Vietnam War led to more than 1.3 million deaths and it's one of the most divisive, painful, and poorly understood episodes in American history. Documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have spent the past decade making a film that aims to exhume the war's buried history. Their 10-part series, which premieres on PBS next week, is a comprehensive look at the secrecy, disinformation, and spin surrounding Vietnam, and its lasting impact on two nations. The 18-hour film combines never-before-seen historical footage, with testimonies from nearly 80 witnesses, including soldiers on both sides of the conflict, leaders of the protest movement, and civilians from North and South Vietnam. A two-time Academy Award winner, Burns is among the most celebrated documentary filmmakers of our time, best-known for the 1990 PBS miniseries The Civil War, which drew a television viewership of 40 million. He and Novick are longtime collaborators, and in 2011 she co-directed and produced with Prohibition with Burns. In 2011, Reason's Nick Gillespie interviewed Burns that film and the role of public television in underwriting his work. With the release of The Vietnam War, Gillespie sat down with Burns and Novick to talk about the decade-long process of making their new film, and why understanding what happened in Vietnam is essential to interpreting American life today. Produced by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg, Austin Bragg, Mark McDaniel, and Krainin. This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: This is an exhaustive comprehensive look at America's involvement in the Vietnam War, which you note began in secrecy and ended in failure. What prompted the project for you and why should we be talking about Vietnam now? Ken Burns: I think it's time to talk about it. It's some repressed memory for many of us and deliberately avoided subject for perhaps the rest of us. Lynn and I were finishing a film on the second world war called simply 'The War' and before it was done in 2006, we already knew intuitively that we would have to jump into Vietnam. We think it's the most important event in American history in the second half of the 20th century. If we want to know a little bit about the political divisions and the lack of civil discourse that beset us and bedevil us today, we think that a lot of the seeds of that were planted in Vietnam. If you could unpack, literally unpack the fraudulence of the conventional wisdom and repack it benefiting from the testimony of people who lived through it and the recent scholarship that's taken place, and also to triangulate with the South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese perspectives which are almost always left behind, that you have an opportunity to perhaps understand it better and maybe pull out some of these fuel rods of discourse and sort of get back to what we often do very well. Gillespie: Early on, and I think it's in the first episode, I can't remember if it's one of the commenters or the narration but- Burns: Our narration would never do that. We want to be strictly neutral, it is a talking head. Gillespie: Okay, so somebody likens the experience of Vietnam to living with an alcoholic father. How does that speak to this idea of a repressed memory or a ghost that's hovering everywhere but can never be fully acknowledged? Lynn Novick: When you're talking about a family living with an alcoholic, there's a lot of shame and not knowing what to say and just avoiding it and pretending it's not happening. I think those are very common to just work that metaphor that he uses, Karl Malantis, who's a marine. That was his personal experience of coming home and finding that no one talked about the war and you just shut that door and just move on, and if you really try to unpack that like Ken and I have done, I think it's an enormous trauma for our country that we just have never actually been able to talk about because it is so painful. We were curious t[...]

Disjointed Coughs Out Some Tired Dope Humor

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Disjointed. Available now on Netflix. Way back when, my college newspaper ran a review of a Cheech and Chong show under a headline that qualified as remarkably confessional for the time: "Dope Humor Has Its Limits." I don't know if we've got to make royalty payments to whatever youthful copy editor wrote that headline, but I can't think of a single other thing to say about Netflix's new sitcom Disjointed. Dopers so wrecked they can't talk. Dopers so wrecked they can't move. Dopers so wrecked they use the Heimlich maneuver to make each other exhale dope smoke rings. (Okay, that one's new, at least for the first five seconds.) Basically, there's not a gag in Disjointed that wouldn't have fit into—or worn itself out as quickly as—a Cheech and Chong sketch or an early 1970s give-me-another-brownie flick like The Groove Tube. But even back then, the driving force of cannabis comedy—hey, man, they're smoking weed right there on the screen, my parents would be so freaked—lasted about as long as the pizza you ordered to counter the munchies. These days, with reefer madness reduced to reefer eccentricity (one in five Americans lives in states where it's pretty easy to find a legal joint), the potency is even slighter. If Disjointed were actually dope, it would be growing-along-the-river skankweed. The wispy premise of Disjointed is that its dope-addled characters get wasted under the pretense of working in a Southern California medical-marijuana dispensary. Kathy Bates plays Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, the senescent hippie owner, who says she's preaching "the gospel of marijuana: the miraculous plant that has the power to heal the sick, calm the afflicted, and usher in a golden age of people of people not being such dicks all the time." Mostly, she's just oversampling her own product, with occasional timeouts to bicker with her son Travis (Aaron Moten, The Night Of), an MBA with more secular motives: "Petty soon, somebody is going to become the Walmart of cannabis. Why not us?" Then there are employees: Jenny (Elizabeth Ho, Melissa & Joey), who introduces herself in one of the clinic's Internet ads as "your tokin' Asian," whose tiger mom thinks she's a surgeon; Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer, Game Day), a refugee from a meth-blighted midwestern town who harbors secret doubts about the benignity of drugs; and Carter (Tone Bell, Truth Be Told), who has a secret of his own, one not usually associated with comedy. If the substance of Disjointed seems straight out of 1972, so does its structure. It's less a sitcom than a muddled series of stream-of-semi-consciousness sketches, punctuated by cut-ins of the clinic's commercials, kind of a stoner version of Laugh-In. Though for you 1980s connoisseurs, there's a running gag in which Jennie speaks Chinese to her mother—that's it, no jokes, no punch lines, just the sound of Chinese—to the uproarious delight of the canned laugh track that's been appended to the show. Not since John Hughes foreshadowed every appearance of a Chinese character named Long Duck Dong with the crashing sound of a gong in 1984's Sixteen Candles has a producer or director deemed Asian ethnicity so innately amusing. The producer in question is Chuck Lorre, the mastermind of The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and Two and a Half Men, whose association with Disjointed is as inexplicable as quantum physics after a bong full of Maui Wowie. "Back in the day, marijuana was a cause," says Ruth. "Now it's just a commodity." Marijuana humor, too.[...]

Sheriff Forced to Pay After Ordering Raid on Blogger Who Criticized Him

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 13:15:00 -0400

Has a bullying Louisiana sheriff learned his lesson about abusing power? The targets of an illegitimate and unconstitutional 2016 raid he ordered think he has. Yet Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has received no formal discipline for his conduct. Larpenter has reached a settlement in the civil suit filed against him by Jennifer and Wayne Anderson, whose home was raided by Larpenter's deputies in 2016 after Jennifer blogged critically about the sheriff. "I think the sheriff's finally learned that he can't bully people and violate people's constitutional rights," Wayne, a Houma police officer, told local station WWLTV. "In our case, he stepped on the wrong people's constitutional rights because we knew our rights. Hopefully, he thinks twice the next time he gets his feelings hurt." The trouble stems from Jennifer's pseudonymous blog, ExposeDAT, which billed itself as the area's "Underground Watchdog" and was critical of Terrebonne Parish leadership, including Larpenter. Among other things, the blog questioned the business relationship between Larpenter, Parish President Gordon Dove, and Tony Alford, an insurance agent and a commissioner on the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District Board. Alford filed a defamation complaint. Under Louisiana's defamation statute, the crime is defined as "the malicious publication or expression in any manner, to anyone other than the party defamed, of anything which tends to expose any person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to deprive him of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse; or to expose the memory of one deceased to hatred, contempt or ridicule; or to injure any person, corporation, or association of persons in his or their business or occupation." But the Louisiana Supreme Court has declared this statute unconstitutionally broad when applied to public figures—like Larpenter, Dove, or Alford. Nonetheless, after warrants issued to Facebook and AT&T linked ExposeDAT to the Anderson household, the sheriff obtained search warrants for the couple's home and computer and for the ExposeDAT Facebook account. Terrebonne Parish deputies raided their home, seizing two computers and five cellphones (including one computer and some phones that belonged to the Anderson children). State District Judge Randall Bethancourt, who issued the search warrants, told WWLTV he had no problem letting law-enforcement "take a look-see at these computers that might have defamatory statements on them." The Andersons quickly filed a suit in federal court, asking it to stop police from searching the family's computers and to declare the raid and seizure unconstitutional. This week, the Andersons settled with Larpenter out of court in an undisclosed agreement. Per the terms of the settlement, the Andersons can't say much about what went down. But in a statement, their attorney declared the agreement "a victory for citizens' right to be critical of their elected officials without fear of retribution" and said it's "reassuring to see that the Sheriff has decided to take responsibility for what he did to the Anderson's, and compensate them for the harm they suffered due to his actions." U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk officially dismissed the case on Thursday, but he said he retains the right to open it again if the settlement's terms aren't met in a reasonable time period. In an earlier ruling, Africk opined that "Jennifer Anderson's speech [on ExposeDAT] falls squarely within the four corners of the First Amendment." Larventer's actions, Africk wrote, send a message that "if you speak ill of the sheriff of your parish, then the sheriff will direct his law enforcement resources toward forcibly entering your home and taking your belongings under the guise of a criminal investigation." This "would certainly chill anyone...from engaging in similar constitutionally protected speech in the future." Meanwhile, Loui[...]

DACA Immigrants Shouldn't Be Punished for Obama's Hubris

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 10:45:00 -0400

When President Barack Obama pushed through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, he was wrong to have made such a dramatic change to U.S. immigration policy via executive fiat in a fit of pique (though the legality of the move is a thing about which reasonable Reasoners disagree). At minimum, it was pretty clearly immoral for the Obama administration to collect the names of 800,000 people—to charge them $495 each every two years, even, for the privilege—in order to put their names on a list that every single person in the White House darn well knew might be used to round them up and deport them the next time a restrictionist came into power. And lo and behold, here we are with Donald Trump casually dangling the sword of Damocles over the heads of these definitionally law-abiding residents (you're not eligible for DACA if you have committed a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or even several minor misdemeanors). He's promised to give Congress time to act, but his administration has also sent mixed messages about what enforcement looks like for DACA recipients in the meantime and has already cleared the way to use the DACA list itself to go after illegal immigrants if there's no new legislation. But even though Obama's abuse of executive authority sucks and his willingness to imperil vulnerable immigrants in the long run for short term political gain is inexcusable, you've got admire the way he managed to gather together a cluster of humans who represent the least controversial group of immigrants you could possible imagine. Unless you are a full-scale hard-core restrictionist—that is to say, unless you think we should admit no new residents, citizens, or guest workers into the United States—you'd be awfully hard pressed to find a more politically palatable crowd the beneficiaries of DACA. Dragged here by their parents or guardians, DACA beneficiaries are free of the original sin of illegality (for surely we are not so Old Testament as to hold children culpable for their sins of their fathers?). Because they were raised and educated in the United States—the median DACA recipient came here when she was 6 years old and attended public schools—they are already assimilated and likely proficient if not fluent in English. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a high school degree or GED, or be currently enrolled in school. DACA folks have all of the hallmarks of second-generation immigrants or H1-B visa recipients, where the cost-benefit analysis gets crystal clear on their payoff for the U.S. socially, economically, and culturally. Unlike the DREAM Act, DACA contains no path to citizenship. Beneficiaries are not eligible for federal welfare or student aid payments, they can work but must have their permit renewed every two years. They cannot have been older than 16 when they entered the country (and no older than 31 in 2012) meaning that the DACA pool contains young workers with many years of tax-paying productivity ahead of them and is perfectly free of expensive sickly seniors. In fact, could there be a recent move afoot to object to the DACA crowd because they're too good? Yesterday Andrew Kaczynski flagged this odd little vignette in which Fox's Todd Starnes and Kris Kobach complain "we had two Texas high schools were the valedictorians were [sic] illegal aliens." This kind of zero-sum thinking is also applied to the jobs the DACA beneficiaries are doing (the typical current DACA kid is now 22 and works for about $18/hour.) To be clear, I think virtually any plan to expand the raw numbers of immigrants to the United States is good—I'll take chain migration, amnesties, quota increases, asylees, refugees, or any other way in. So I was an especially easy sell. But even congressmen far less enthusiastic than I about throwing open the golden door should be embracing DACA recipients. They are as[...]

Actors Guild Fights to Make Outing Entertainers' Ages a Crime

Wed, 06 Sep 2017 09:25:00 -0400

Can California ban people from publishing the ages of Hollywood stars? A federal court is currently considering whether the state can stop the practice without running afoul of the First Amendment. At issue is a 2016 law (Assembly Bill 1687) ostensibly designed "to ensure that information obtained on an Internet Web site regarding an individual's age will not be used in furtherance of employment or age discrimination." But rather than address age discrimination per se, the law simply bans certain types of websites from publishing accurate age information about certain classes of entertainment workers. As such, it "sets a dangerous and unconstitutional precendent," claim lawyers for the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), "and should be deeply troubling to all who care about free speech." The law's supporters singled out IMDb as a primary target. In addition to its massively popular free website, IMDB also offers a professional subscription service to actors, casting directors, makeup artists, and other entertainment professionals. The way the new law was written, random websites that publish the ages of entertainment professionals are still in the clear. But any "online entertainment employment service provider" that accepts payment for its services falls under the measure's purview. For such individuals or entities, paid-user requests to remove age information must be honored within five days or else the site risks civil and criminal penalties. These providers are also barred from sharing age info with or publishing it on other sites. "Rather than passing laws designed to address the root problem of age discrimination, the State of California has chosen to chill free speech and undermine public access to factual information," IMDb states in a suit challenging the constitutionality of the measure. "AB 1687 does not prohibit the discriminatory use of information, but instead forces the removal of factual information from the public domain." The state said in a recent motion that the law was simply a "contract based nondisclosure rule." But "while the law may encompass some information exchanged within the subscriber relationship, it sweeps much more broadly, preventing IMDb or third parties from posting age and date of birth information, regardless of its source," IMDb stated in an August 10 motion. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has already blocked California from enforcing the law while the case is ongoing. At best it would seem the law is unneccessary, at least in terms of getting IMDb to delist ages. In order to gain the right to request such a thing, someone would have to be a paid subscriber to IMDbPro. And paid IMDbPro subscribers can already have their ages removed from their profiles. Meanwhile, a non-subscriber who wants their age removed is (still) legally out of luck. Considering this—plus the fact that any non-subscription site can publish ages with impunity—and the idea that this new law will somehow hinder age-discrimination in the entertainment industry becomes laughable. Still, that's the story California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which has joined in the state's opposition to IMDb, are sticking with. Becerra argued to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that "if [the bill] is to be considered a speech regulation, it is a valid commercial speech regulation," because the legislature found "the problem of age discrimination in the entertainment industry to be real, adopted the provision to aid in solving that problem, and matched the restriction to the problem to be addressed." In its own motion, SAG-AFTRA complained that IMDB "contends it has an absolute First Amendment right to disseminate the ages of everyone in Hollywood, consequences be damned, and no matter[...]

Democrats Blame Trump for Disappearing Sexual-Assault Report...That Was Archived by Obama Administration

Tue, 05 Sep 2017 11:31:00 -0400

Last week an array of liberal-leaning media outlets reported that the Trump administration had axed an Obama-era report on campus sexual-assault. "The White House Deleted a Sexual Assault Report From Its Website," read the headline at Jezebel. "The White House has removed an important report on sexual violence from its website," said TechCrunch. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) even put out a statement condemning the move, which was portrayed as a covert action driven by Donald Trump's disdain for sexual-assault survivors. The report, "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action," was "a summary of really important and, in some cases, government-funded work that was done to understand the causes and effects of sexual and gender violence," Alexandra Brodsky, co-founder of the advocacy group KnowYourIX, told The Huffington Post, in a piece shared more than 100,000 times. "What does it mean that the Trump administration doesn't want the public to have that information?" she asked. ("No one knows for sure, but we can certainly speculate," added HuffPost Women Editor Alanna Vagianos, perfectly summing up the editorial ethos of #Resistance "reporters.") The DNC declared that "removing this report is the latest example of the Trump administration's efforts to systematically undermine critical policies that protect survivors and combat sexual violence." Like other too-perfect anti-Trump narratives, this one falls apart under scrutiny. It turns out the paper—part of Joe Biden's work with the White House Council on Women and Girls—was slated for removal from the White House website before Donald Trump even took office, as part of the government's normal archiving process between presidential administrations. The report can still be found on the archival Obama White House website. "At the conclusion of a Presidential Administration, web content from that Administration is archived by [the National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA] and typically made available on an archived website," the Trump White House said in a statement. "The policy, process, and extent of archiving of Obama Administration content was determined by the Obama Administration, in consultation with NARA and other stakeholders." In other words, the report's removal was totally standard operating procedure, approved by federal bureaucrats before Trump was in power. Vagianos still tries to assign some blame to Trump, noting that we don't know "exactly when the report was taken down" and it could have been "taken down during the administration turnover on Inauguration Day...or in the months since then." But even if it was removed from the White House website after Trump's inauguration, this is hardly Trump's fault, as his website people would have simply been following the digital archiving plan laid out by Obama's team. At least HuffPost has offered a correction, stating at the bottom of Vagianos' article that it "previously suggested that the removal of the report from the White House site was in some way unusual. As the White House notes, such removals are not uncommon in the routine transition between administrations." Most of the pieces summarizing HuffPost's inaccurate story have yet to be corrected.[...]

HBO, David Simon Chart the Rise of the Modern Sex Economy in The Deuce

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 15:00:00 -0400

The Deuce. HBO. Sunday, September 10, 9 p.m. In 1971, the theaters in the New York City 'burbs were showing a film called Summer of '42, a wartime coming-of-age story in which sex is wondrous, terrifying, and inextricably linked to romance. Meanwhile, down in the dank little grindhouse joints of the combat zone around Times Square, you could see Terror in Orgy Castle, The Runaway Virgin, (spoiler alert: ... Oh, hell, never mind) and countless little 8mm loops of burned-out hookers performing the filthiest acts of which the unwired 20th-century mind could conceive. In them, sex was tawdry, tired, and toneless. Yet all that was to be stood on its head; gauzy romance was about to take a back seat to commercial coitus that was glamorous, exciting and very, very profitable. HBO's The Deuce is the spellbinding story of how flesh became flash, how the sex trade went from back alleys to boardrooms. Created by veteran chronicler of urban grit David Simon and his teammate from The Wire and Treme, crime novelist George Pelecanos, The Deuce is named after the local slang for its setting, Manhattan's 42nd Street, the sordid Ground Zero of the forthcoming sexual eruption. It's a squalid, venal landscape of phone-booth sex and by-the-hour hotels, of weary workaday whores and their sweet-talking-until-they-aren't pimps. Bored cops routinely round the women up for what both sides recognize as a sort of kabuki tax collection without rancor or missionary zeal. The occasional attempt at redemptive outreach is met by women with sneering contempt. When a policeman suggests to one hooker that she go home and seek legal employment, her eyes widen in surprise. "Jeez," she exclaims in faux wonderment, "I completely forgot to get an education!" If spiritual salvation isn't possible, market potential is. Here and there along The Deuce, a handful of the sexual foot soldiers are starting to think like generals. Bar manager Vincent Martino (James Franco of 11.22.63, who also plays Vincent's hustling gambler twin brother Frankie), in a desperate attempt to save his floundering joint, dresses the waitresses in leotards, and is astonished at the tidal wave of customers who wash in. "There's a topless bar out by the airport," he notes to one of them, who replies that context is everything: "Those are whores. These are waitresses bringing me drinks. It's, I don't know, different." Then there's Maggie Gyllenhaal (an Oscar nominee for Crazy Heart) as the independent hooker Candy, one of the few around Times Square working without a pimp. ("Nobody makes money off my pussy but me.") Doing a quick porno gig as a favor to a friend, she wonders how hard it would be to come up with something more arousing than the idiotic Viking rape plot—and how much money there might be in in it. And Abby Parker (Margarita Levieva), an NYU English major who heads downtown to buy some speed for classmates cramming for an exam and winds up in Vincent's bar, is at first repelled. "You ever wonder what it's like for them to be objectified?" she demands, waving at the legion of leotard-clad waitresses, only to be brought up short by his snorted reply: "Objecto-who?" Watching the growing wads of cash the coquettish women extract from their male customers in tips, Abby starts rethinking which hand really holds the whip. Candy and Abby are not the only ones wondering whether the twin emerging 1970s cultural wave of feminism and raw sexuality may intersect. The world of The Deuce is strictly transactional, and not just in the obvious commercial relationships between the prostitutes and their customers. The hookers coo in their pimps' ears, but among themselves, chatter about the men's managerial merits like salesman rating prospects at a convention. ("Me, I need a pimp, or I tend to get lazy," admits one prostitute.)[...]

Game of Thrones Is a Show About the Exercise of Political Power

Mon, 28 Aug 2017 10:48:00 -0400

(Spoilers for the season finale of the seventh season of Game of Thrones below.) The seventh season of Game of Thrones, the season finale of which aired last night, has been alternately frustrating and thrilling: At just seven episodes long, rather than the usual 10, and with major plot developments coming at a far more rapid clip than ever before, the penultimate stretch of the show has been both too short and too fast. The show's early season were built on pacing so methodical as to border on agonizing; it gave you time to fully consider the characters and the peril they were in, and then frequently forced them to suffer the worst. Instead of a crawl, this season, in contrast, has been more of a sprint, frantically delivering twists and turns and epic action at which the early at seasons only hinted. It's grander and more cinematic, but less personal, and at times it feels like a subtly different show. But the through it all, the show has maintained a fascination with the exercise of political power, and the variety of ways that those who seek it attempt to assert legitimacy. The first half of last night's finale was concerned with a meeting between the warring rival power centers in Westeros: Cersei Lannister and her allies on one side, and Daenerys Targaryen and her allies and armed forces, which include a pair of dragons on the other. Both Cersei and Daenarys believe themselves to be the rightful rulers of the land, and over the course of the show, both have made it clear that they intend to destroy the other one in order to claim power over their domain. In the process, both women have built armies out of complex systems of alliances with other powers: Cersei, for example, has aligned with Euron Greyjoy, who controls a fleet of ships, as well as with the Iron Bank, which gives her access to credit that she can use to buy both troops and a measure of loyalty. Daenarys, on the other hand, has a pair of dragons, as well as the Unsullied army, and the horse-riding Dothraki. More recently, she has accepted a pledge of allegiance from Jon Snow, now the King of the North, and the region he controls. Each of these alliances provide military strength. But they also convey political legitimacy. They are designed give the impression of power that is not merely taken by brute force, but is somehow earned. You see this later in the show, too, when Daenarys and Jon Snow plot a march north. They decide to go together in order to be seen by the public as involved in a freely chosen power-sharing alliance. (It doesn't hurt that they are also in love; the show often provides reminders that the quest for power and politics does not always follow a logical path, but is subject to human whim, weakness, and desire.) Creating the appearance of legitimacy is not the same thing, of course, as actually earning it. Indeed, one of the questions the show frequently asks is whether that sort of power is ever truly supported by anything other than raw force. It is a show that is deeply skeptical of the idea that political power can be truly legitimate. It frequently seems to suggest that the systems by which power is exercised and passed on are inherently arbitrary and contingent. That idea is embedded in the scenes that take place at Winterfell too, between Sansa and Arya Stark, two sisters who finally enact revenge on Little Finger, the scheming operative who has been pulling their family apart and pitting power players against each other since the show began. Sansa has taken charge of Winterfell in part by virtue of her family history, but also because she appears to be a wise and effective ruler. Good management is hard to find, in any age, and some people will follow competent leaders simply by virtue of their ability to get things done. Power c[...]

New Whitney Houston Documentary Is Not Right, But It's OK

Fri, 25 Aug 2017 16:00:00 -0400

Can I Be Me. Showtime, Friday, August 25, 9 p.m. One of the very first lines in Can I Be Me tells you just about everything you need to know about this Whitney Houston documentary: "Whitney Houston actually died from a broken heart." There are many things to be learned from that sentence, and none of them has anything to do with either its literal significance (of which there is none; she drowned in a hotel bathtub after a drug overdose) or even its purported figurative significance. The crack in Houston's heart supposedly occurred when Houston was booed at the 1989 Soul Train awards because the audience didn't think her recordings sounded black enough. If that's so, she was a dead woman walking for the next 23 years. Yet she still managed to put 28 more singles on the Billboard charts (including "I Will Always Love You," 14 weeks at No. 1), make a movie (The Bodyguard) that grossed over $400 million and win 19 additional Grammys. Clearly cardiovascular metabolism is overrated. Then there's the source of that quote. It comes from Kevin Ammons, a former Houston bodyguard who wrote a splendidly salacious biography of the singer after leaving her employ. Among its highlights: The singer had brutal slapfights with her lesbian girlfriend, who had to be bribed with a Porsche to not act up at Houston's wedding to R&B singer Bobby Brown. Meanwhile, Houston's father-manager was soliciting a hitman to snuff the girlfriend. And on the other side of her bisexual romantic ledger, Houston arranged to have secret photos snapped of herself being diddled by NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham so she could leak them to the media and make her old boyfriend Eddie Murphy jealous. Not one of these things is repeated in Can I Be Me, which strongly suggests that co-directors Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney) and Rudi Dolezal don't consider Ammons a reliable source on actual events, just a useful guy for poetically grand declarations about the nature of Houston's life. And that is very much the core of Can I Be Me: a lot of absurdly sweeping statements from people who've seen way too many episodes of Behind the Music. One of them says the key to understanding Houston is that she was "from the street." Actually she grew up in middle-class New Jersey neighborhoods; her mother was a gospel singer, her father an entertainment executive, her half-brother an NBA player, and her cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick were pop stars. Another insists that Houston was a civil-rights casualty, that before her "we did not have Beyonces and African-American female artists who can be at the top of the pop charts. ... So she changed history for us, and she paid a price for it." That erases from musical history, among others, Diana Ross (five No. 1 hits on the Billboard pop charts), Aretha Franklin (13 records in the pop top 10) and even Houston's own cousin Dionne Warwick (10 in the top 10). And then there are the members of Houston's entourage who say her marriage to the philandering Brown drove her nuts but "she didn't want to go against God and get a divorce." That conveniently ignores the fact that for the first seven years she was married to Brown, Houston was still involved with her girlfriend. And though I'm no theologian, I'd guess that in the conservative Baptist ranks from which Houston came, gay sex would have been regarded as way higher on God's hitbound-for-Hell list than divorce. There's clearly an interesting story to be told about Houston, whose mezzo-soprano voice had the power of a pile-driver and the clarity of a bell and whose elegant beauty was gracing magazine covers as a model long before there were stories inside about her singing. She started out in the same gospel milieu as her mother, Cissy. But from the very beginni[...]

Why Are Media Outlets Giving Commentary Space to Wannabe Censors?

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 12:45:00 -0400

This week, The Washington Post joins several other large media outlets in giving commentary space to an academic who thinks the First Amendment maybe shouldn't protect so much free speech. I'll give Jennifer Delton—Skidmore College's "Douglas Family Chair in American culture, history, and literary and interdisciplinary studies"—this much: She's not disguising her calls for censorship of conservative opinion by claiming this will achieve some sort of racial enlightenment or equality. She openly describes this censorship as a tool for stopping the spread of political arguments she sees as dangerous. Her example is the purge of Communist Party members from unions, the civil service, and academia in the middle of the 20th century because they were a threat to the established liberal control of the Democratic Party. The argument was that these Communists did not actually believe in free speech (probably true) and were using it as a shield to protect them while they attempt to undermine democracy. She sees similar tactics in the alt-right, which Delton says is using speech as a weapon to attack liberal values and colleges: It is true that higher education has brought much of this on itself through the extreme policing of speech and tolerance of student protesters who shut down speakers with whom they disagree. But that doesn't diminish the extent to which the alt-right and conservatives are using "free speech" to attack and destroy colleges and universities, which have long promoted different variations of the internationalist, secular, cosmopolitan, multicultural liberalism that marks the thinking of educated elites of both parties. Hilariously, she ends her commentary by saying the process of depriving these bad people of their First Amendment freedoms should not be used to censor "liberal critics" of college or government behavior. Only wrong people should be censored! The title of this op-ed, by the way, is "When 'free speech' becomes a political weapon." Writers aren't typically responsible for their headlines, but her op-ed does describe speech as a weapon; the title reflects the piece accurately. So it's worth wondering whether Delton even grasps that she wants censorship to be a political weapon. She wants to use the government to shut down speech that undermines the institutions she and many others value. It's almost as though she understands the actual underpinnings of Supreme Court case that brought us the tiresome "fire in a crowded theater" trope—a case that revolved around the prosecution of anti-war protest—and still supports the ruling. It's also fascinating in that Delton doesn't seem to want to engage in the idea that academia could actually win a debate on these issues. There is no hint in her story there could be a debate in which the values she holds dear change minds and influence people. Her commentary opens with a stark—but completely false—choice for college presidents: Either they let conservatives speak and "risk violent counterprotests" or they censor speakers and "confirm" the speech crisis. She sees those as the only two options, as though it's simply not possible to stop violence at protests. Many of us outside the academic bubble keep reminding folks that if the government has the authority to decide what sort of speech gets censored, it won't be people like Delton calling the shots, and that in all likelihood, it will be the weakest and least influential of our citizens who will be punished. Now that so many of these commentaries have found homes at major media sites, it's also worth asking: What the bloody hell are these massive news outlets thinking when they run these? Certainly news outlets should run whatever commentaries they [...]

Kat Timpf on Being a Fox Libertarian, Enduring Rape Fantasies from Trump Supporters, and Getting Water-Bombed by Brooklyn Haters

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 09:57:00 -0400

Kat Timpf's pinned tweet, dating from Jan. 28, 2015, is: "When I die, instead of a eulogy, I want someone to read things Internet commenters have written about me bc they always have the right idea." On Aug. 15, 2017, Timpf's eulogy-to-be got a hell of a lot longer, after she reacted negatively on Fox News to President Donald Trump's widely panned press conference about Charlottesville. The resulting tsunami of spelling-challenged #MAGA outrage, inaccurate accusations of leftism, and gross rape/murder fantasies (a fraction of which I was exposed to) made headlines. To which, in signature fashion, the self-described libertarian and co-host of FNC's The Specialists wrote a piece for National Review (where she's a contributor), under the headline, "I'm the Target of Hatred, and I'll Still Defend It as Free Speech." The 28-year-old Timpf, who is also a regular on Fox's The Greg Gutfeld Show, joined me last Friday when I was guest-hosting Sirius XM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick. The following is an edited and shortened transcript of our discussion about the Charlottesville controversy, a recent incident in which she was ambushed by a water-hurling protester at a campaign event for Ben Kissel, and what it's like making libertarian arguments on Fox during the Trump presidency. Matt Welch: What the hell happened this week, Kat? Timpf: […] I've been really disheartened by the stupidity that's out there. I'd seen that it was out there, but I didn't know that it was this bad. Because of what I said, [now] I love Stalin, I'm an idiot. I've had actual Nazis come after me and talk about how my family should've been ethnically cleansed because we're Polish Catholic. But you know, of course Nazism isn't real! We're still looking for any of the "fine people" at this rally. We haven't seen any examples of the fine people that were supposedly at this literal Nazi rally. It's just really disgusting that the president said they're fine people, and these people actually just believe whatever he says. The billing was: featuring headliner Richard Spencer, and "end Jewish influence in America." This isn't up for debate whether this was a white supremacist rally or not. I think there are no good people at a white supremacist rally, and apparently that's just a real controversial take. […] MW: What does it feel like in the building? Because obviously other people on Fox—I'm not going to criticize them—but not every host in the Fox battleship necessarily has agreed with you there. Kat, for those who aren't familiar with her, self-identifies as a small-l libertarian. Is it all right to say that? Timpf: Yes. MW: I used to work in the building, too, and I identify myself similarly. It's always fun because one day you're advocating legalizing heroin and people think that you're a crazy person, which Kat literally has done on her program. Then the next day, liberals want to throw water in your face, which we'll talk about in a second, because you want to eliminate about seven or eight different federal government departments. So you're used to being a little bit of an odd duck in the building, but is there any way to characterize the overall feeling in what has just been a bizarre year for a lot of other reasons at Fox? […] Timpf: Right, it's to the point where if you even have the slightest issue with anything that Trump has said, you're going to get attacked really, really bad. My favorite tweets are the, "I used to like and then you said this," "I used to like you then you suggested that president Trump was not the savior of all of us." It's absolutely ridiculous. You can't have any opinion other than he is my savior and I bow down to him every day….I'v[...]