MASS FOR SHUT-INS EPISODE 011

The special post-election episode of Mass for Shut-ins is now available. Question Cathy and I devote the whole 'cast to mailbag questions about the midterms. Topics we cover include the national popular vote, ranked-choice voting, Beto-mania, the Democratic disadvantage for taking back the Senate, and the best ways to get involved and do something other than feel angry.

Minicast soon to follow! Also working hard at the moment on a Deadspin piece (NHL expansion to Seattle), a Baffler piece, and my first-ever non-academic article in real print – like, on paper! – for an upcoming Baffler. More posts here as soon as possible.

DRAW THE LINE

I've written many times over the years about the problems with The Intern Economy. Unpaid internships, which are especially rampant in fields like journalism and politics, are a class barrier that limits participation in a profession to young people who have external financial support. It doesn't say that explicitly, but we know exactly who can afford to live in very expensive cities (DC, Washington, London, LA, etc) for a year or two without getting paid.

As a general (but not absolute) rule, I don't write letters of recommendation for unpaid internships. More than a few people have criticized me for that over the years. Before I go on, let me point out that in the worst case for the student I simply get the department chair or another senior faculty member to write a letter. So it's not like the students are being turned out into the cold streets to die of exposure on my account.

I know it's an irritating stand to take. But think about it this way.

Suppose a student came asking for a recommendation for the Jordan Peterson Men's Rights and Eugenics Fellowship for Pale Young Virgin Boys. Or the Sons of the Confederacy Definitely Not Just for White People Scholarship. Or the Bob Jones University Gay Bashing and Fly Fishing Camp. What are my ethical obligation in that case?

Aside from the fact that nothing in any faculty contract obligates a faculty member to write a recommendation letter for any student, I'd venture that instead of being criticized for declining to write it I'd be subject to some form of public dragging if I did sign off on these examples. If any opportunity requiring a faculty recommendation was implicitly limited to only men, only white people, etc or was for an explicitly immoral purpose, no one would seriously question my refusal to provide a letter with the exception of aggrieved right wingers (Charlie Kirk would be en route to campus in a heartbeat, Ben Shapiro in tow).

It has never been clear to me why in terms of discrimination, diversity, and representation so many academics can see clearly things like race, gender, or sexual orientation while class apparently just isn't a thing. If a particular opportunity for professional entry / advancement is open only to people who cross a parental income threshold, it's not open to everyone. I won't call it "discriminatory" because throwing words like that around too often cheapens them, but it's certainly not something that gives every interested student a legitimate chance to get it.

We covered some of this same ground in last week's Lena Dunham post, and those points hold here. Unpaid internships are how you get entire professions lacking any meaningful diversity, drawn from the same elevated socioeconomic bubble, and full of assumptions that fail to hold for anyone who doesn't get a big external boost at crucial times in their lives.

I understand that a one-man crusade does nothing to solve the problem and ultimately, as an academic advisor, students get whatever they need to pursue whatever opportunity they want. If I don't want to write a letter I explain why and get them a better letter from senior faculty (nobody cares about the recommendation of a no-name assistant professor anyway). It's my way of trying to draw attention to how utterly unequal this system is in ways that would be readily apparent throughout my profession if, instead of class and wealth, we were talking about gender or race.

TO THE RAMPARTS!

Based on a gross mischaracterization of statements he made in support of a single-state solution for Israel and Palestine, knives are coming out for Temple professor Marc Lamont Hill. After being fired from CNN, Hill seemed willing to accept responsibility for his role in the reaction; like most of us most of the time, in hindsight there are always better ways we can express ourselves. At the same time, Haaretz notes that Hill is being subsumed by the reality that in the U.S. there seem to be distinct rules for discussing Israel-Palestine that vary considerably from how any other international conflict is handled.

Now Temple is trying to fire him, with the chair of the university's board taking the highly unusual (and inappropriate) step of leading a kind of public charge against Hill.

My question is not how best to litigate whether his comments were Right or Wrong, Offensive or Not Offensive. Rather, where are all the valiant defenders of Campus Free Speech? Invite some hack like Charles Murray to campus to hawks rebranded eugenics – or some pandering shithead with no academic credentials like Ben Shapiro or Milo to yell inflammatory shock-jock nonsense in front of an audience – and we end up subjected to a week full of nothing but Hot Takes about campus liberal snowflakes. Bari Weiss and Jordan Peterson and Charlie Kirk are suddenly on every talk show bemoaning the "crisis" of free speech on campus.

Isn't this, like, an actual example of a free speech issue on campus? If what these people really care about is the core concept of free expression itself, in a content-neutral way, then they should all be foaming at the mouth to speak up in defense of Marc Lamont Hill. As they frame it in defense of others, he should get to say whatever he wants and he shouldn't be sanctioned just because he said something controversial.

Far from defending his previously very important Free Speech rights, right-wing mega-hacks like Seth Mandel are busy engaged in grossly misleading characterizations of what was said and falling back on a very old, extremely tired "You criticized Israel so you hate Jews" fallacy to inflame sentiment against Hill. Which is pretty weird given that as recently as a week ago all of the writers and media figures in that circle were entering their second year of whining about voices being silenced (overlooking the irony of delivering that message in highly visible media outlets and on shows that continually invite them on to share their views).

It's almost too easy to point out the hypocrisy among the "zomg free speech on campus" grifters. We know they don't actually give a shit about Free Speech; they simply want their own worldview given legitimacy that it does not deserve on its merits. They say "Campuses should consider all ideas" but they mean "Invite more right wing hacks to campus so it will seem like they have legitimate ideas worth discussing." It's plenty obvious. Regardless, it's still shocking to see them show their proverbial asses so blatantly with Hill. You'd think that people with even a shred of integrity could offer a feeble "I disagree but defend his right to say it" defense. The next one of these truth warriors to speak up will be the first.

RINSE, REPEAT

The cycle of Trump-related allegation and disclosure is so predictable as to be tedious at this point.

Start by loudly (and unconvincingly, of course) arguing for an extended period of time that you absolutely did not do what you've been accused of doing. After a few weeks, soften it up by suggesting that maybe someone else might have done it – certainly not you though – and if that was the case you had no idea, none at all, that it was being done by someone else.

What? Irrefutable evidence? OK well yeah it turns out I did it, I knew all along. In fact the whole idea was mine and it was directed personally from minute one.

But it's not even illegal! I did it because why wouldn't I do it? Everyone does it. It's not illegal at all to do it. Just because there are laws against something doesn't make it illegal if it's a thing everybody does all the time.

Fucking tiresome.

THE LENA DUNHAM PROBLEM

I don't care about Lena Dunham. I certainly was not in the intended audience for her most popular show, "Girls", and her political opinions are as valuable to me as any other celebrity's. I do think, however, that the phenomenon of Lena Dunham says a lot about the fundamental problems with media in the 21st Century.

Dunking on Dunham is too easy at this point, which is why Allison Davis's new profile of Dunham is palatable reading. She makes an effort to avoid taking the easy route and just bashing the hell out of an easy target, yet she does not avoid giving criticism (listing in excruciating long-form detail all the "whoopsies" the famously clueless and tone-deaf Dunham has had to apologize for) where due. The short version of the piece: Lena Dunham's life seems incredibly sad and it's not entirely clear why anyone, even a New York Social Scene oriented publication, is still talking to or about her.

What is so interesting to me is that Dunham's rise via "Girls" was largely due to the similarity between her and many of the journalists who adored her show when it came out. As products of the same Prep-and-Boarding school East Coast elite club, it was a happy coincidence that the kind of bourgeois, privileged navel-gazing that "Girls" engaged in was highly relatable to the kind of people who were Culture Journalists in the aughts. As journalism stopped paying (except in "exposure") it became a hobby career for the financially independent twenty-somethings, fresh out of Columbia or Smith, who fancied themselves tastemakers.

Because more than enough rich young adults with trust funds were eager to write for Vogue and Rolling Stone and the like, culture journalism led the way in transitioning from professional, paid journalists to a mob of interns and $100-per freelance contributors. Why pay someone when hundreds of 22-26 year olds with good writing skills, fresh out of college, will do it just for the bragging rights?

And so the small, non-diverse, insular group of people that wrote about things like hip new HBO series became the exact demographic that "Girls" would really speak to. It was a show for people, largely but not exclusively women, who could really identify with characters whose biggest problem in life was not liking any of the people they dated. Yes, the show covered issues deeper than that but it is hard to ignore the extent to which it was written by, aimed at, and depicted very privileged twentysomethings with no financial concerns.

And who could appreciate such a show except people who came from the same world, the people who live horrendously expensive lifestyles in Brooklyn and the lower East Side despite having no discernible source of income? It was the perfect overlap. Dunham probably never intended to do so, but she created the perfect show for people like herself…just as those people were becoming the dominant and sometimes only voices in journalism about the media and entertainment.

That, to me, is vastly more interesting to talk about than the endless string of Own Goals and foot-shootings that seem to be Dunham's entire career these days. Nobody associates her name with any specific piece of work anymore; she has become simply a punchline for a certain kind of clueless ex-Prep School trust fund white girl. In Davis's piece, she describes herself as exactly that. I take it as a positive that whereas those qualities were seen as assets a decade ago, today the mass audience looks at it more critically and less favorably.

O, BLACKEST FRIDAY

Today only – get yourself or the ones you love the greatest gift of all: the fancy new Gin and Tacos t-shirt at many percents off.

$20 for all sizes and styles (plus shipping, US only). These were pricey to make so this won't last long. Full details on sizing and other specs can be found here.

Remember you get one of these for free ("free") by becoming a $25 supporter via Patreon, which many of you have very kindly used to offer both moral and financial support to keep all this great ("great") content coming.


Sizes and Options




SENSE AND CENSUS-BILITY

I have a new thing at The Nation about the need for the new Democratic House to do whatever they can to fix the 2020 Census. Trump and his Commerce Department appointees have done what they can to manipulate it, and the consequences of a botched Census will last well beyond a Trump presidency.

No idea whether this is even on the radar of anyone in the leadership, but it should be.

I KNOW WHY YOU'RE SAD.

On paper, Tuesday was a good day for Democrats. They took the House for the first time in eight years. Several important Governorships (in advance of post-Census 2020 redistricting battles) were won. Notably vile Republicans like Kris Kobach, Scott Walker, and Dana Rohrabacher lost. The high-visibility Senate races Democrats lost (Missouri, Tennessee) were pipe dreams anyway. You already knew that Florida sucks, hard. So you're not sad because "The Democrats did badly."

You're also not sad because Beto lost, or Andrew Gillum lost, or any other single candidate who got people excited this year fell short. They're gonna be fine. They will be back. You haven't seen the last of any of them. Winning a Senate race in Texas was never more than a long shot. Gillum had a realistic chance, but once again: It's Florida.

No, you're sad for the same reason you were so sad Wednesday morning after the 2016 Election. You're sad because the results confirm that half of the electorate – a group that includes family, neighbors, friends, random fellow citizens – looked at the last two years and declared this is pretty much what they want. You're sad because any Republican getting more than 1 vote in this election, let alone a majority of votes, forces us to recognize that a lot of this country is A-OK with undisguised white supremacy. You're sad because once again you have been slapped across the face with the reality that a lot of Americans are, at their core, a lost cause. Willfully ignorant. Unpersuadable. Terrible people. Assholes, even.

You were hoping that the whole country would somehow restore your faith in humanity and basic common decency by making a bold statement, trashing Republicans everywhere and across the board. You wanted some indication that if you campaigned hard enough, rednecks and white collar bloodless types alike could be made to see the light that perhaps the levers of power are not best entrusted to the absolute worst people that can be dredged up from Internet comment sections running on platforms of xenophobia, nihilism, and racism. In short, you wanted to see some evidence that corruption, venality, bigotry, and proud ignorance are deal-breakers for the vast majority of Americans.

And now you're sad because it's obvious that they aren't. Even where horrible Republicans like Walker or Kobach lost, they didn't lose by much.

So I get it. It's depressing. There's no amount of positives that can take away the nagging feeling that lots and lots of people in this country are just…garbage. They're garbage human beings just like the president they adore. These people are not one conversation, one fact-check, and one charismatic young Democratic candidate away from seeing the light. They're reactionary, mean, ignorant, uninteresting in becoming less ignorant, and vindictive. They hate you and they will vote for monsters to prove it.

Remember this feeling. Remember it every time someone tells you that the key to moving forward is to reach across the aisle, show the fine art of decorum in practice, and chat with right-wingers to find out what makes them tick. Remember the nagging sadness you feel looking at these almost entirely positive results; it will be your reminder that the only way to beat this thing is to outwork, outfight, and out-organize these people. They are not going to be won over and they will continue to prove that to you every chance they get.

GO TIME

One thing that has changed since Trump is that I'm a lot more vocal about criticizing the Democratic Party. I think this country is well and properly screwed in the long term if, as a two-party system, the options available to voters are Middling and Neo-Fascist. There needs to be a left, and a real left, one that doesn't try to impress right-wing suburbanites by embracing means testing and trying to combat a movement based entirely on negative emotions with technocracy.

Along the way a lot of people whose ability to think about politics reduces to "Blue Good, Trump Bad" have shouted at me before eventually going away, which has been a huge, surprising net positive. I like doing this again in a way that, by the end of the 2016 election, I really was not feeling anymore. It's fun again and while that's not important to anyone else, it's quite important to me.

Rather than rehash complaints and criticisms you've probably heard plenty of times here and elsewhere, let's say you're well aware of the shortcomings of the current crop of Democratic leaders at the national level. You get it. I get it. And we both also get the "But vote for them anyway" arguments that have dominated the past year.

This kind of last-minute rallying call is less relevant than ever given how popular early and mail-in voting have become, but here goes anyway: You have to show up and do this now. Just because I'm not standing on the side of the road screaming VOTE BLUE NO MATTER WHO! to guilt people into voting for Joe Manchin or some other turd does not mean that you should not, in fact, vote for Joe Manchin. Objective 1 is to get as many Republicans out as humanly possible in a system they have rigged, and are actively rigging, to their benefit. We just have to start somewhere.

I said over a year ago, and maintain, that your local races are more important than the higher-profile congressional and gubernatorial races. There is no Liberal Jesus who will fix this problem from the top down. In the 1980s the GOP enacted a brutally effective strategy of organizing to win elections in which hardly anyone votes – and that dominance of low visibility, local political institutions eventually formed a foundation they used to build a nationally successful movement. The Democrats are probably going to take the House, and between their timid leadership and neurotic obsession with performative bipartisanship (What Americans really want to see is that we can reach out to and work with this…white nationalist kleptocrat) the odds that they'll actually do anything to meaningfully restrain Trump beyond simply existing are very small.

What is more likely to produce noticeable improvement is a change in one or more of your relevant local governments. You really need to be focusing on Politics at a level more refined then "Trump sucks and if we get the House that will fix things." I guess if that's what it takes to motivate an individual to vote it's a net positive, but that type of thinking really misses the point. We have to do more. That's the point. It starts with voting, and I have confidence that if you're reading this you've already gotten at least that far. But voting is just the start. We have to Do politics beyond posting a bunch of stuff on Facebook. We have to show up. We have to do the work. We can't sit back and say "Well that takes care of that!" once some institutions are again safely in the hands of bland moderates. That's a welcome step in the right direction, but it's not the end. Because none of these people are going to do anything that will actually make your life better unless you keep them scared shitless indefinitely.

That's what the GOP has done for decades. It's a long game. Do your part now, but remember that voting is the easiest part. For now, anyway.

TWILIGHT OF THE RACIST UNCLES

I've had a few pieces run in other outlets and end up traveling well. Most writing, here or anywhere else, tends to float around for a minute, gather the standard amount of traffic, and then disappear. There's just an ocean of Content out there and none of it has much staying power.

This piece for The Baffler is the first one that, like, really traveled well. It's disappointing in the sense that I often try to write serious stuff with useful history or social science in it and it goes fair to middling, and then I write a long, mean screed about something that's shitty and everyone loves it. It's a perverse system of rewards.

So do go ahead and check that rant out, but for balance check out something where I tried to make a more important point like this thing in The Nation from back when Roseanne's show was canceled.