Political Animals

Friday, June 14, 2019

Senator Marsha Blackburn Murders Police Officer

Posted By on Fri, Jun 14, 2019 at 1:37 PM


Marsha, Marsha, Marsha...
  • Marsha, Marsha, Marsha...

In an act of cold-blooded not giving a shit, Senator Marsha Blackburn created a fictional Memphis police officer then murdered him in a press release. She was responding to a tragic, true-life event that climaxed with the death of an African-American male following a confrontation with U.S. Marshals.

"My prayers are with the family of the fallen officer," Blackburn wrote, expressing her shared grief with the imaginary wife and children of a true fake hero.

“We can’t let the fact that Blackburn’s police officer is a complete fabrication and probably a fantasy expression of her thinly veiled racism obscure the fact that she also killed the man,” says the University of Midtown’s frequently cited Crypto-criminologist Roger Datt.
While some observers have suggested that Senator Blackburn is an evil genius posing as a simpleton, Datt thinks this description misses the point. “What she is is a murderer,” he says. “Sure, she retracted her original statements. But what good did that do? The bad information was already circulating, and a fictional officer was already dead.”

The article is a parody, but this press release is real AF.
  • The article is a parody, but this press release is real AF.

Popular political commentator Helmut Mann offered an opinion as to why Blackburn would create a fictional police officer only to murder him. Mann, known for his cheeky, Nazi-light views, and for being a snappy dresser, says there's only one thing we can know for sure.

“This is most definitely not rooted in deeply held white supremacist values,” Mann says, offended by the very idea. “Nor is it a lazy, but effective projection of racist cliches designed to stimulate a political base or gin up unrest, and the need for strong authoritarian action. To even suggest something like that should be punishable by disembraining.”

Memphis activist Bing Hampton has organized a memorial for the dead officer who was never alive in the first place. “It’s bad enough that this event resulted in the actual death of a civilian of color,” Hampton says. “But the senseless death of an innocent, imaginary, probably white police officer is just too much to bear.”

“Blackburn is a true freedom fighter who’s struggling to ensure that everybody, including hostile foreign governments have a say in our public elections,” Mann asserts. “If she killed an imaginary police officer, you can bet your last ruble he probably deserved killing.”
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Yes, this article is a parody. We've said so twice already!

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Choosing Choice: The Great School Voucher Deception

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2019 at 1:25 PM

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Except for conversations about a woman's right to control her physical destiny, "choice" is a popular word among Conservative politicians and policy makers. For the businessman, it's a near synonym for freedom, and something Rhetoric professors might call a "god word," with high propagandistic value. "Choice," is the banner word on The Beacon Center of Tennessee's page advocating for Educational Savings Accounts, like Governor Bill Lee's re-branded and Tennessee House of Representatives-approved school voucher program. In a similar vein, fear of losing the ability to "choose healthcare providers" is key to most narratives opposing anything approaching universal healthcare coverage, just as it was when the same Beacon Center took credit for defeating medicaid expansion in Tennessee.

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"While stopping the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare was a necessary first step, it is still our responsibility as Tennesseans to find affordable healthcare solutions for our most vulnerable neighbors," Beacon CEO Justin Owen told media. Instead of Medicaid access, Beacon supported  "right-to-try" legislation, allowing terminally ill patients access to choose certain unapproved FDA treatments. A Trump-backed Federal "right to try" bill was signed into law in 2018. As noted in The Atlantic, the catchy name and promise of personal autonomy disguised a decreased ability for people who aren't medical experts to determine if treatments were effective or safe. 

If you don't know The Beacon Center of Tennessee, previously called The Tennessee Center for Policy Research, they self-describe as "an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research and educational institute." They're the group that "exposed" former Vice President Al Gore's energy use as part of an effort to counter "climate change alarmism." They're also affiliated with a right-wing cut-and-paste legislation web called the State Policy Network. It's one of those places where movements to preserve and expand "choice" by way of free market insurance and publicly subsidized private schools are born. Tennessee's decision not to expand medicaid didn't make anybody more free, it put families at risk. Around 71,000 children were left without coverage. Now that Tennessee has moved a step closer toward embracing Education Savings Accounts (aka vouchers), another "choice"-forward initiative from the sewer of America's policy factories, it's important to understand how the word is paradoxical and may not always mean what it seems to mean.

Fred Hirsch, a former professor of International Studies at the University of Warwick, wrote about the limits of choice. In his book The Social Limits of Growth, he showed how choice can't be made available to everyone, no matter how clever we get with technology. This is particularly true in regard to superlatives; the best doctor, for example, or the best teachers. This sounds elitist at first, but means and privilege only mitigate the effects of scarcity, they can't erase the fact of it. Hirsch calls these troublesome things "positional goods," and Barry Schwartz, the  Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, expanded on the concept in The Paradox of Choice: How the Culture of Abundance Robs us of Satisfaction.

"We might all agree that everyone would be better off if there were less positional competition," Hirsch wrote, swimming against conventional wisdom that competition is good in every case. "It's stressful, it's wasteful, and it distorts people's lives."

"Parents wanting only the best for their child encourage her to study hard so she can get into a good college. But everyone is doing that. So the parents push harder. But so does everybody else. So they send their child to after-school enrichment programs and educational summer camps. And so does everyone else. So now they borrow money to switch to private school. Again others follow."

Sometimes the supply of positional goods just runs out — There are only so many spots in the best teacher's classroom. Value also decreases as the result of overcrowding. Schwartz illustrates his point with a metaphor made for sports fans:

"It's like being in a crowded football stadium, watching the crucial play. A spectator several rows in front stands up to get a better view and a chain reaction follows. Soon everyone is standing just to be able to see as well as before. Everyone is on their feet rather than sitting, but no one's position has improved."
 Those not standing, by reason of choice or inability, might as well be somewhere else, Schwartz concludes. They aren't in the game.

Whatever you choose to call them, voucher systems aren't a new idea. The University of Chicago's Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman wrote about the role of government in education in 1955, and choice advocates have been inspired by his arguments ever since. He determined that government should fund schooling. It should not run schools. Friedman advocated vouchers as a means of increasing freedom through choice in the marketplace.

Educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch related this history in her data-laden 2010 mea culpa, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. While working on national education policy for President George H. W. Bush, Ravitch had gotten caught up in choice mania, but came to regret it. Advocates of voucher systems and charter schools, "were certain choice would produce higher achievement," and "reduce the rising tide of mediocrity," she wrote. The collected data told a conflicting story. After reviewing the 20-year history of a voucher program in Milwaukee, Ravitch determined "there was no evidence of dramatic improvement for the neediest students or the public schools they left behind." As with the football stadium metaphor, everybody moved, but nobody's position really improved.

"Business leaders like the idea of turning the schools into a marketplace where the consumer is king," Ravitch wrote, taking on presumptions that choice and competition are necessarily a public good. "But the problem with the marketplace is that it dissolves communities and replaces them with consumers. Going to school is not the same as going shopping. Parents should not be burdened with locating a suitable school for their child. They should be able to take their child to the neighborhood public school as a matter of course and expect that it has well-educated teachers and a sound educational program."

Schwartz concludes that the scramble for positional goods creates what's commonly called "the rat race." That's expressed here as "the burden of locating suitable schools" in a sea of "buyer beware." That parents cannot "take their child to the neighborhood public school as a matter of course and expect that it has well-educated teachers and a sound educational program" isn't a failure of teachers or public school systems or the communities where public schools are located. It's an enduring expression of political and economic will backed by an unwarranted faith in market-based solutions.

"When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable," Schwartz wrote in The Paradox of Choice.
"As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point choice no longer liberates, but debilitates." 
That's the problem with punishing and stigmatizing needy schools and pumping public education money into private markets. Or, as Ravitch put it, "With so much money aligned against the neighborhood public school and against education as a profession, public education itself is placed at risk."

That absolutely seems to be the goal. 

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Friday, February 1, 2019

MAGA Bro Pens Love Letter to MAGA CAP: Dammit Gannett

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2019 at 9:14 AM

"Nonpartisan" and "fair and balanced" journalism sound like great ideas. But they probably aren't what you think they are. They've been made to sound like best practices for ethical news gathering. But historically these ideas are artifacts of technology and capitalism.

I bring this stuff up because getting beyond all the usual ideological mess and straight bullshit like this tone-deaf nonsense from The Tennessean, is crucial to understanding why "writer and social media personality" Ryan Moore's weird love letter to his Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat appeared in Gannett newspapers including The Commercial Appeal.

A screen shot/excerpt from The Commercial Appeal.
  • A screen shot/excerpt from The Commercial Appeal.

America's partisan-funded press came skidding to a halt in the last quarter of the 19th century when new, high-speed printing made it possible for newspapers with enough up-front investment capital to distribute their products farther than ever before. Lots of attention is paid to the idea that "a biased news medium is bad for a self-governing people." But the thing is, at scale, it was also bad for business. Politically neutral papers could reach bigger markets becoming valuable to local interests and emerging national brands wanting less partisan places to advertise.  Economic realities forged the new journalistic ideals regarding what makes appropriate news content, not idealistic struggles for better information and freer reporting. And they still do.

A similar technological disruption bent the modern media mythos away from big-market "objectivity" toward a more useful narrative for an exploded economy: "fair and balanced." This works in a crowded field because you can't know the truth until you've heard every [hardline ideological] side, right?  When cable news blew up and America went from having only three major news networks to having so many choices you could no longer get by without a remote control, the basic idea of what constitutes respectable market shares reduced considerably. Niche marketing and partisan reporting made sense again. This is where Fox News comes from and with it the logical fallacy that all tits require right-wing tats. 

So what does any of this have to do with Gannett's MAGA-Man-crush?

Like I've said before, markets determine content and Tennessee remains a solid red patch on the political map. Gannett's earnings are in the shitter and its products, deformed as they are by a loss of local autonomy and investment, waste like plague victims. So much reporting and media opinion following the infamous MAGA-Teen's 15-minutes in the barrel, cast MAGA caps in a bad light, and judging by the color of those electoral maps I've linked above, that's the favored headgear of many if not most Tennesseans. In other words, the news smacked lots of Gannett's subscribers and potential subscribers right across the brim. 

Market served. "Tat" accomplished.

Moore's editorial is mostly familiar rhetoric about folks needing to be respectful of other folks and judging people by the content of their character, not the color of their stupid, racist hats. I could do a whole post on irony and the character of Moore's content, but that's not my purpose.

This stuff's candy — bulked up by outrage-shares and sweetened with hate-clicks. click to tweet
If serving readers/viewers/listeners is important it's probably not a good idea for news-oriented media to be in the business of promoting standard, white-male victimization narratives. If media serves a public good it's also probably a bad idea to participate in softening symbols that, regardless of what secret, special things they may mean to social media personalities, are also, inarguably, touchstones for white supremacists.

But c'mon! From a commercial POV this stuff's candy — bulked up by outrage-shares and sweetened with hate-clicks. Win-win for everybody! Unless the consumer was looking for information instead of a daily rise, in which case, not so much there.

Nevertheless, the story went big opening Moore's complaint up to a wider dialogue.

Top comment, Newsweek
  • Top comment, Newsweek

I'll conclude my rant by answering some rage-posts I've seen in my social media feed from folks justifiably wondering why MAGA-bro Moore is fronting all over their social media feeds. The real question is, why are you sharing it? And are you ready for more?

It's just business; thanks for yours.   

 

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Friday, November 2, 2018

No Next Day Election Results For Gannett Newspapers

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2018 at 10:54 AM

If there was ever a news item worthy of the "Dammit Gannett" tab, it's this. Via The Nashville Scene:
"Editors at the [Gannett] chain’s papers around the country were informed two weeks ago that deadlines for the print edition could not be extended in order to cover elections. As a result, Wednesday’s editions of The Tennessean, Commercial Appeal and Knoxville News-Sentinel will not have final results for some of the most closely contested statewide races in years."
JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks

“We do not believe print is a vehicle for breaking news," Tennessean vice president   and editor Michael Anastasi was quoted as saying.

Anastasi's not wrong, of course. Broadcast and online media do have advantages when it comes to live and breaking news. How that absolves daily print editions from obligations to print subscribers and expectations of  mere currency remains a mystery.

Folks who pay for paper say it with me now: Dammit!

UPDATE: NiemanLab weighs in:

"Conceptually, the push to separate print — “not a vehicle for breaking news,” that Gannett memo notes — from digital makes a certain sense, of course. And not adding any extra pages of newsprint for election results does save money. (“As you plan for print, please remember that we have tight controls on newsprint costs,” says the memo. “Any pages added need to be ‘made up’ by the end of the year preferably in November.”)

At the same time, it is those incredibly loyal print readers — the ones who have stood by newspaper companies through cut after cut in staff and in the product — who will now see that loyalty tested, again. Gannett, like a number of other newspaper companies, has more than a third of its print subscribers ages 70 or above in many markets. Most read in print; digital is a second and lesser option. (E-edition readers, who essentially get the print paper in digital form, will also be impacted by this decision.) Those subscribers, at Gannett and elsewhere, have seen their subscription rates hiked again and again, raised to the very limits of econometric modeling."
Ken Doctor's column notes that, in an effort to push more readers online Gannett is dropping its paywalls for 48 hours, enabling anyone with internet access to read Gannett's election coverage. It's a good read that takes a hard look at recent economic and subscriber history.

"What those numbers tell us is that that road to a mostly/fully digital future gets narrower month by month. Digital subscriptions — which sell at much lower prices than print ones, though with lower marginal costs — are gaining ground much too slowly. Given the combination of higher prices, a lesser product, and even increasingly erratic home delivery, print subscribers may provide less of a lifeline to the digital future than Gannett and other publishers now assume in their whiteboard calculations."
Read it all here.

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Great Works of Literature as Written by the Shelby Co. Election Commission

With Help from The Memphis City Council

Posted By on Fri, Oct 19, 2018 at 12:22 PM

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Emboldened by national attention resulting from the careful and creative wording of current ballot amendments, the Shelby County Election Commission has committed considerable time and evident talent to improving the greatest works of world literature. While Fly on the Wall has yet to see a completed text, 5 first line samples were leaked this morning, revealing the epic scope of the Commission's City Council-aided writing project.

via GIPHY

Moby- Dick
Herman Melville with the Shelby Co. Election Commission

“Shall Ishmael serve as a common spoken or chirographic signifier not expressly for greeting, but sometimes for gaining the narrator’s attention?”

via GIPHY

Gravity's Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon with the Shelby Co. Election Commission

“Shall the sky elect to not to retain its natural silence, in favor of free expression, horizon to horizon?”

via GIPHY

Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury with the Shelby Co. Election Commission

“Shall the combustibility of literature, as it stands with all officers and offices engaging in the combustion procedure, be any reason to limit terms of pleasure?”

via GIPHY

A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens with the Shelby Co. Election Commission

“Shall we claim, of the times between 1770 and 1794, that each individual year, and the age collectively, was both better and worse than any other age pursuant to its wisdom, foolishness, belief, incredulity, lightness, darkness, hope, despair, and to the various seasons to which these qualities may be poetically associated?

via GIPHY

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
Hunter S. Thompson with the Shelby Co. Election Commission

“Shall we agree that when the drugs took hold, all persons who had selected drugs, were in San Bernardino, east of Apple Valley but west of Needles and not so far north as to constitute the municipal boundaries of the city of Barstow?”
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Yes, this is a parody. Didn't you see the orange tab at the top of the page?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Men at War

Old Friends Won't Let Women Bring Them Down

Posted By on Wed, Oct 3, 2018 at 11:31 AM

Armstrong & Cox - G.O. OGLEIMAGE
  • G.O. Ogleimage
  • Armstrong & Cox
Gunner Armstrong shakes his head, and digs into his backpack to retrieve a freshly purchased bottle of pepper spray. “I don’t know how effective this stuff is,” he mumbles, pulling on his reading glasses and skimming the directions. “I had a friend in college who would get a couple of beers in him and squirt it in his mouth like it was breath freshener.”

Like many manly men today, Armstrong lives in abject terror. “You never can be too careful with women being what they are,” he says, expressing an increasingly common, and deeply masculine sentiment. At least twice a week Armstrong says he finds himself walking a block or more past his house, keys clenched firmly in his fist like claws, because he’s convinced a woman is following him home, possibly to accuse him of harassment. “At some point I’ll find a nice bright street light and stop there to pretend like I'm taking a phone call or something. I'll just let them walk on past, you know?” Armstrong says. “It’s probably all in my imagination. But like dad always said: better safe than hungover and accused of some bullshit you totally don’t remember doing.”
Personal security coach Archer Cox doesn’t think Armstrong’s taking the threat seriously enough. “If you’re not wearing a body cam and packing a taser, you’re not prepared for this fight,” he says. “Look, Gunner’s my bud and I used to be just like him. I took some self defense classes. Got my yellow belt. Got to where I’d take alternative routes home from the bar to avoid running into any of those lady joggers who were always making comments about how I shouldn’t be looking them. Saying things to me. Hurtful things. But none of those things I did to protect myself stopped this one woman from calling me a ‘peeper’ on Facebook, all because I was awesome and surprised her at her window one morning with a egg and sausage plate from down at the Touch & Go.”

Armstrong has a theory. “I’ve heard this is all a kind of revenge because they don’t make as much money as we do. And if things keep going this way I don’t think they ever will,” he says, opening the front door of MacBoobies, a Scottish-themed watering hole in Midtown where Armstrong is having drinks with Cox, and some other friends from work. “It’s gotten to where just having a penis paints a target on your back, it’s practically against the law,” he says, visibly agitated and determined to get hammered.

After several rounds of beer the men settle into playing a drinking game called Devil’s Triangle. “It’s kinda like quarters,” Cox explains. “Only if you cuss at any time you have to call your mother on speaker phone and apologize for being a naughty boy with a dirty, dirty mouth.” A waitress named Tina, who’s been cut from her shift politely intervenes and attempts to close out the table’s check.

“Did you want to put the tip on your card?” she asks.

“Oh, don’t worry sweetie, I’ve got a tip for you right here,” Cox quips, causing everybody at the table to laugh except for Tina, who rolls her eyes and walks away sans gratuity.

“Gonna stumble home now,” Armstrong says, pulling out his pepper spray, and screwing up his courage.

“I’ll walk with you,” Cox answers, holding onto Armstrong’s shoulder to keep from falling down. “I don’t want to be alone right now.”

If there is a war in America's streets, these two old friends are determined to face the worst of it together. "I've got you," Armstrong says.

"And I've got you, babe," Cox answers. "I've got you."

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*Yes, there is a parody tab at the top of the column.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Body Double: Trump's Other Memphis Connection

Posted By on Wed, Jul 11, 2018 at 5:11 PM

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Of course, we all remember the time Donald Trump cost 2,500 Memphians their jobs. Don't we? You know, that time when the POTUS of today totally went after Holiday Inn like it was NATO? No? Well, it happened, and here's a link. That inglorious moment isn't Trump's only Memphis connection either. It's certainly not the weirdest. That distinction may belong to this little gem right here. It's not new information, but it's new to us and exactly the kind of thing we here at Fly on the Wall like to pass along.

There's no giving this devil his due here. The Donald in Chief says "fake news," when he means, "news I don't like." But way out there on the fringes of this textbook B.S. there is — as there always is with presidents and other public figures — plenty of grotesque caricature, propaganda, and general misrepresentation; all magnified in a politically polarized, social media environment.The modern myth-busters at Snopes.com have compiled a list of photo-manipulations that have been widely shared on the W.W. web. Some of them impossibly flattering, some not so flattering. In the latter category, among the most recognizable is an image that's been used to make the golf and fast food-loving POTUS appear even more bloated and slovenly than he is in real life. Turns out, in this instance, Trump's nearly crimson face has been pasted onto the body of Memphis' infamous bad-boy pro golfer, John Daly. And yeah, in the original Big John's teeing off while puffing on a cigarette. Like you do. If you're John Fucking Daly.
John Fucking Daly
  • John Fucking Daly
This isn't the first time internet artists have recognized Daly's viral potential. It all began when somebody unearthed this photo, which is basically a Renaissance painting.
ddas6yixoaaousf.jpg

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Forcing Cards — How to Identify Divisive Internet Propaganda Before Sharing

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2018 at 3:58 PM

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We’ve all seen magicians manipulate cards in ways that make them appear to have astonishing gifts and the power to know things no ordinary mortal could possibly know. But all they really know is how to force a card — to present you with a choice that's no real choice at all, all the while letting you believe you’re the clever little monkey queering the illusionist's game via the exertion of  free will. Our sense of self-determination is what gives the trick its tension and makes it fun. But there's also usually cautionary lesson or two embedded in the trickster's marvels.

Good propaganda is like a card trick. It appeals to the vanities of self-awareness and control. Good propaganda campaigns are like a Vegas act, replete with sexy assistants, ordinary misdirection, and lots of good old fashioned bait and switch. Great campaigns play all sides to the user’s advantage.

Internet memes create a spectacular opportunity for card forcing, and for injecting divisive, peer-to-peer-spreading viruses into our daily political dialogues. These memes won't look like propaganda, what would be the point? The worst will look like every right-thinking person’s heart’s desire or some piece of apparently unassailable conventional wisdom. It will also be framed in a way that ensures a healthy mix of reflexive consensus and bitter rejection. I noticed an elegant and completely insidious meme making its way around Facebook this week and thought it would make a great study example. I thought I'd share it with the aim of developing better conversations, and maybe a good set of questions for determining whether or not the content we’re sharing online will have a positive or negative impact.

Here's the meme:

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While making a number of valid-seeming points, the ultimate message here is one of uncritical surrender to... well... whatever. There's also a healthy serving of Trumpian, “Get over it,” tacked on at the end. But to what or whom exactly are we all supposed to be surrendering and submitting? What kinds of imperfections are we supposed to start getting over in advance of discovery? Who’s going to have to wait (again!) for a place at the table? Which children will we open our hearts to and which ones will our drones open up on? Does the former hinge on a corrupt bargain requiring the latter? The decisions we make at the polls aren’t light ones. They should never be myopic, reactionary, or strictly self-serving. And whether you’re a Hill shill or a Bernie bro, finger-wagging at voters charged with the confusing task of group self-determination is always a poor community-building strategy.

I’m sure a lot of Trump-fatigued people can’t see a thing wrong with this meme — That’s what makes it genius. Whether it was developed by a Russian troll farm, or by a DNC troll farm doing the Russian troll farms' work for them, or by some doof on the internet doing work the DNC might otherwise do for the Russians, whoever created this black and white text-only marvel deserves all the rubles. With almost zero actual content, it has the magical ability to start fights and make people who agree about current POTUS being a nightmare, yell mean things at one another before they even have a candidate to back. That’s a tell if I’ve ever seen one.

Here’s a list of questions that might help us  separate constructive content from memes that make ol' Vlad Putin dance the merengue. I'm not a propaganda expert, so I know this is not a perfect list. Corrections, suggestions, and contributions are all welcome. My objective here isn't to be right — I'm not invested in that at all. Instead of competing for that distinction, how about we start some critical thinking about critical thinking, and how the content we share actually functions on the internet versus how we feel about it? 

1. Can any part of the meme’s overall content be reasonably interpreted, “fall in line or else”?

If so — and that’s completely evident in our sample — chances are good that the message you are about to share is divisive propaganda using fear and longstanding grudges to motivate. It’s the kind of meme that results in people who need to be in active negotiation with one another typing, “PIGFUCKER,” in all caps at 2 a.m. instead.
Of course, there’s truth at the core of this message: When people don’t unite they tend to lose. That attractive and real fact is like a wad of top shelf peanut butter in the mousetrap of political discourse.

2. Is the message specific or vague? Also, is it active or reactive?

So you’re thinking about sharing a message you agree with. But is it addressing actual candidates, policy proposals, and goals, or is it making vague but nevertheless scary boogie-men? As we move closer to the midterm elections and to 2020, propaganda will personalize and get more specific, honing in on a handful of broad hot-button issues designed to provoke emotional and tribal response rather than critical analysis. But the most corrosive messages are sometimes the ones that keep us agitated, prevent old fissures from healing, and keep us squabbling over the past instead of plotting a course for the future. Our sample meme is exactly that kind of meme. When I shared it on Facebook with a cautionary message, people were arguing Bernie versus Hillary in a matter of seconds while trying to defend against my one and only point that this is purely divisive rhetoric with no tangible social value. Ralph Nader’s name made an appearance within the first hour, along with a few of the the usual odes to compromise and pragmatism that might also be reasonably translated, “Give up.” Absent any real objectives that might be debated or fine tuned, or named candidates with records and platforms to be parsed, vague memes create a perfect black mirror and purely reactionary environment. The latter of which is essential to herding.

3. Does the meme appeal to emotion or intellect?

We’ve all been exposed to some emotionally charged imagery lately. Mass shootings, children being separated from their families — it’s served up daily alongside a sampler platter of daily outrages. Emotional appeals aren’t intrinsically bad, but when a stated aim is to subvert rather than answer or engage critical analysis, chances are you might want to step back and take a second look.

4. Inclusive or alienating?

If your awesome meme’s goal is to recruit voters who must stand together to defeat a monstrously evil candidate that a good third of the country will enthusiastically support based entirely on racism and pissing off liberals, you probably want to build a big, strong coalition that includes a lot of the folks who didn’t, and still probably wouldn’t, vote for [insert your favorite 2016 here], regardless of your feelings for said candidate, their feelings about Trump, or any number of grievances regarding dirty politics, rigged systems, Russian trolls, or any other extenuating circumstance. Re-fighting this long lost campaign or even thinking about recreating it actually or by proxy in 2020, is insane by definition.

Our sample meme truthfully addresses the fact that no candidate will be perfect or pure, which is an obvious statement but with no evident value — like the attractive verities Shakespeare wrote about when he noted that, “Oftentimes, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence.”

It’s been said that folks who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it, and it sounds really good. But maybe that old axiom's not complete. Folks who don’t let go of history get stuck fighting the same battles with the same eventual results. But the topsy-turvy looking glass result of 2016 presidential election is drifting further into the past and and there are real opportunities to learn from past mistakes and not fall for the same tricks. When you're up against homogeneity, the most inclusive messaging is always going to be the most desirable. If the message demands unity but offers no unifying principle beyond "or else," beware.

That's all I've got. Now it's your turn. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Quest for Grocery Store Porn — Testing Diane Black's Theories About School Shootings

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2018 at 4:05 PM

Bottom right. Easy access at Walgreens.
  • Bottom right. Easy access at Walgreens.
Diane Black, a U.S. Representative from Tennessee, has been getting a lot of media attention for her belief that grocery store porn is a "big part" of the "root cause" of why school shootings happen.

Or something like that. 

"It’s available on the shelf when you walk in the grocery store." she said. "Yeah, you have to reach up to get it, but there’s pornography there.

"All of this is available without parental guidance," the 67-year-old Republican candidate for governor added. 
Puzzle porn at Kroger.
  • Puzzle porn at Kroger.

I decided to see if there was anything to Black's claim. Saucy glossies are still in demand, if greatly diminished in number since the Internet made just about anything you can imagine in this arena free and available on our phones. But can you really get it in every grocery store easily and without adult supervision?

Not at my Kroger (Pop/Cleve 4-evvs). Unless you're talking about Cosmo.
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And whatever you think about the Cosmo is Porn campaign, we're pretty sure any smutty advice they may or may not have printed about "polishing your partner's assault rifle" was pure metaphor.

Newsweek had a really super-naked picture.
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There were Sudoku puzzles, sports rags, teen-crush mags, Little Golden Books and a Wonder Woman coloring book on the bottom shelf. I asked an employee where all the porn magazines were. She looked at me suspiciously (cant say that I blame her) and said these were the only magazines she knew about.

This one caught my eye though. 
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What kind of gun is that dude pig hunting with? It makes me feel all funny down there, if you know what I mean.
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So maybe Black misspoke. Maybe she meant corner stores or pharmacies. Some of them sell groceries too. So I went to the Walgreen's across the street.

You know, I do remember a time when porn seemed to be everywhere. I remember being eight or nine years old and looking at the dirty magazines on the bottom rack of a musty general store in Malakoff, Texas. I was a chubby kid and shirtless, wearing a big black cowboy hat with a big red and black feather band. It was the ’70s, man — even youngsters like me were letting it all hang out.
US Rep. Diane Black R-Tennessee
  • US Rep. Diane Black R-Tennessee
The pinch-faced prude behind the counter didn't tell me to put down the porn or say "This ain't a lending library," or anything like that. "Developing young ladies should cover themselves," is all she said to me. So, yeah, I was introduced to porn, and body/gender issues on the same sunny afternoon in Texas.

Porn magazines started losing "readers" in the ’80s — when video became cheap to manufacture.

At some point, magazine porn did get wrapped and placed on top shelves. And then it seemed to disappear from a lot of places where it used to be ubiquitous. I couldn't even find porn at convenience stores where you can buy homeopathic sex pills and bongs.

"Try Walgreen's at Poplar and Cleveland," one convenience store employee suggested. Clearly I live in a porn desert.

Walgreens was also a bust, with content similar to what I'd seen at Kroger. Stuff on the top shelf included news magazine special editions and Popular Science. A few titles did catch my eye though down on the bottom shelf, in more or less the same part of the magazine rack where 8-year-old me first encountered porn way back in the disco era.

Check out Sniper. So. Hot.
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And this Guns & Ammo AR-15 "pistol edition" with an assault pistol the cover. Or, whatever.
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Precision Rifle Shooter has yet another sexy rifle on the cover.
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And then there's all the 2018 Handgun Buyer's Guides right where little hands can reach them, free from parental guidance.
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Long story short: Black's weird claim just doesn't seem to be true. Can we please get back to the time-honored business of blaming society's ills on comic books, Atari, and satanic messages hidden on Black Oak Arkansas cassette tapes?


UPDATE: Similar porn deserts identified in Nashville.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wikipedia edit trolls the Tennessee House of Representatives

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 2:40 PM

Klandy Holt
  • Klandy Holt
It's not hard to troll ol' Klandy Holt and a Tennessee legislature that can't quite bring itself to denounce white supremacy, but can always rise to the occasion of punishing a majority African-American city for removing the public statue of a slave trader, Grand Wizard, and Confederate general. How can it be so richly satisfying?

Hats off to the author of this edit. Though Wikipedia has removed your fine work, let it always be remembered. 
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Friday, February 9, 2018

City Accidentally Erases Wrong Murals

Posted By on Fri, Feb 9, 2018 at 2:26 PM

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The big, gray, sorta-kinda controversial zombie painting by Dustin Spagnola still haunts Lamar Ave. but some really nice murals created by 15 other artists have been accidentally removed from S. Willett.  The Commercial Appeal's Ryan Poe reports:

In a statement Friday, Public Works Director Robert Knecht said there was a "miscommunication" that led to crews painting over too many murals.

"This was not intentional," Knecht said.

A recent Flyer cover story about Satanic panic on the City Council and the midtown mural project chronicled the history leading up to what Paint Memphis founder Karen Golightly describes as a violation of the city's written agreement with her organization.

If you want a comprehensive look at what the project was like before the repainting here's a slideshow. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Marsha Blackburn's Hair Identified as Brain-Eating Parasite

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 8:49 AM

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Astrobiologist Tom Ichbaum opened his Twitter account Monday afternoon and typed out a dire warning about U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and women who seem to wear their hair like U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn. According to Ichbaum the Tennessee legislator's trademark mane isn't a mane at all, it's a brain-eating alien parasite "that's dangerous and probably self-replicating."

"Look, I don't want people to get the wrong idea," Ichbaum explained. "This isn't some kind of blonde joke. I'm not the kind of person who'd ever make fun of how other people look or dress, especially not women. That's a terrible double standard in this country and I would never be part of perpetuating that. But holy shit, have you listened to some of the stuff Marsha's says?"

Although Ichbaum's worried about Blackburn for some time, it wasn't her behavior that ultimately led him to begin his strange inquiry.

"I started noticing all these other women with the exact same hair," he says. "At first I told myself, 'This isn't weird.' It's not an unusual look. I'm just being paranoid. There's no way that hairdo's really a brain-eating visitor from another planet. That's crazy. But then I started listening to what all these people were saying. And everything they said sounded like the kind of crazy stuff Marsha says. It's like they didn't have minds of their own and were just repeating the most insane things they've heard on American Family Radio."

To illustrate his point Ichbaum played a clip from a CNN segment about conservtive evangelical women who believe Donald Trump's affair with porn star Stormy Daniels was okay because "God ordained" the President.

"I don't think I can watch this again," Ichbaum said, averting his eyes. At that exact moment one CNN panelist with Marsha Blackburn's hair defended her President saying, "We all have gotten a Mulligan because of Christ Jesus, and so that's the bottom line."


"Who talks like that?" Ichbaum screamed into his laptop. "Jesus didn't play golf! Golf was invented in 15th-Century Scotland for Christ's sake! What the hell is wrong with you people?!?!?!"

According to Ichbaum there is only one scientific explanation for all this homogeneity: Alien parasites.

"Technically they're symbiotes," he says describing an exotic, otherworldly life form that bonds with human beings in order to survive on Earth. "On one hand they take over your brain and feast on your mental energies," Ichbaum explains. "On the other hand, you do look fabulous."

Ichbaum believes there's currently no good defense against this kind of invasion. "But if somebody you know or love just shows up one day looking like Marsha Blackburn stay alert and try not to get too close," he says. "Chances are very good this person is no longer your friend. It's possible they never were."

Monday, October 2, 2017

President Dedicates Karaoke Performance to Puerto Rico

Posted By on Mon, Oct 2, 2017 at 1:09 PM

"Huey Lewis & the News' early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically." — President Donald Trump, karaoke enthusiast.
  • "Huey Lewis & the News' early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically." — President Donald Trump, karaoke enthusiast.
Following a long weekend of golf and golf-related activities President Donald J. Trump decided to blow off a little steam at the Jersey City Karaoke Club where he made a somber dedication. “What is happening is horrible," he said, holding one index finger aloft as if to indicate this is where his story begins, not where it ends.  "But, in spite of all the things you may have heard, we've got this disaster thing under really great control and all the people who have really suffered over this last short period of time with the hurricanes, I want to just remember them.

"This one's for you Puerto Rico," President Trump said as the familiar opening to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" started to play.


"This is from the band's huge, chart-topping 1981 album, Escape," the President said over the piano intro. "And I think we all know what it's like wanting to escape sometimes, don't we? Am I right?"

Watching Trump from the audience Doreen Rustbelt swooned. "He's got such a wonderful voice," she said, legs turning to jello. As the junior-vice-president of the Make America Great Again Fan Club, Rustbelt had been invited to  to join Trump in singing the classic Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warnes duet "(Love Lift Us) Up Where We Belong," from the tremendous 1982 hit film An Officer and a Gentleman.  

"He's almost as good as the real Steve Perry and way better than that Filipino wannabe," Rustbelt said before joining Trump onstage for the big finale. "When he sings about South Detroit and  living in a lonely world, you can tell he really understands people. I'm just so happy to have shared this special moment with our President and the ungrateful disaster queens of Puerto Rico."

By all accounts Rustbelt's duet with Trump was his best performance since teaming with his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton for a cover of, "I Had the Time of My Life," from the 1987 box-office-smash, Dirty Dancing.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Remember When Memphis Comment Trolls Wanted to Remove Public Art?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 11:31 PM

This art will be the end of us!
  • This art will be the end of us!
The year was 2002 and five little words had some of Memphis' most prominent white Conservatives frothing at the mouth: "Workers of the World Unite."

From a cover story I wrote at the time:

In 1934, the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers adopted the principle that art should promote only a rigid slate of political and social ideals established by the state. This movement was dubbed Soviet realism.
In November 2001, Memphis City Councilman Brent Taylor, and Shelby County Commissioners Marilyn Loeffel and Tommy Hart, took umbrage at one of nine public artworks sponsored by the UrbanArt Commission (UAC) for the new $70 million Central Library. Their aim was to have an offensive quotation removed from a public walkway because it expressed a sentiment which they deemed to be out of step with wholesome American values.

The irony grows sweeter considering that the offending "Workers of the world, unite!" is excerpted from The Communist Manifesto, which sparked the revolution that eventually birthed the school of Soviet realism whose precepts were unknowingly co-opted by Taylor, Loeffel, and Hart.

A pious group of Memphians led by one William W. Wood of the hastily organized Shelby County Coalition to Save the Memphis Library began a biweekly vigil to pray over the wicked artwork. The same group sent out scorching mass e-mails comparing the presumably elusive UAC with Osama bin Laden and labeling the board and administration of the Memphis/Shelby County Library "a special branch of the CIA."

Toss in the eccentric patriot in a red, white, and blue suit who makes regular protest pilgrimages to the site and you have all the ingredients for an old-fashioned dog-and-pony show. Even The New York Times got in on the action, noting that "The cold war may be over, but Marx and Engels have nevertheless managed to create a small political furor in this old river city."

The backlash came as a complete shock to Brad and Diana Goldberg, the Dallas-based husband-and-wife team responsible for designing the artwork. They intended that their piece function as "a metaphoric record of important events and knowledge that have shaped Memphis, the Mississippi River Valley Region, and the rest of our world" since the beginning of recorded history.

It was less of a shock to local political columnists who practically stumbled over one another to spank Taylor, Loeffel, and Hart for striking such a provincial pose. Susan Adler Thorp aptly observed in The Commercial Appeal that "Tearing down the Iron Curtain and destroying communism were simple tasks compared to accommodating [their] need for political opportunism, and logic."

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE STORY.

Why mention this vintage kerfuffle? Because debate over the removal of Confederate monuments rages on in comment sections across the World Wide Web. It's nasty, getting nastier, and even the President of the Comment Section himself, Donald J. Trump, weighed in on the side of White Supremacy. I'm revisiting it because there was a time, not so very long ago, when white Conservative Christians — spearheaded by elected officials — thought it was wrong to memorialize the enemies of America.

Thing is, the library sculpture aimed to reflect world-changing ideas generally, and wasn't political in nature. It certainly wasn't ideologically aligned with Communism, and guess what? Memphis didn't transform into a hotbed of socialism. The hullabaloo blew over. People mostly forgot it was a big deal and the piece just kind of blended into the landscape, as it was intended to — like concrete and granite shrubbery nobody ever had to water.
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But let's not kid ourselves. It wasn't JUST the Communist history upsetting the easily upsettable. In a right-to-work environment, it was also the out of context message of worker unity, divorced as it was, of its Marxist origin. Nothing's more terrifying to the unreconstructed set like the idea of a united working and underclass or any unified threat to the hegemony.  This has always been true.

Public response to public art is directly and proportionally-related to public values and the degree to which those values are reflected in the work. That's why modernism in the public sphere met with so much backlash at the end of the last century. As one heartland critic noted in the 1970's: "I think people are tired of New York Arty-art. You can keep it in museums where it won't bother anybody." Coming full circle, abstract work becomes attractive in the public sphere again for the exact same reason — people can't ascribe values, making it harmless. We tend to divorce the Confederate memorials from similar conversations about public art. Probably because it clears the fog of war and makes the question of values (or negative values) so apparent.

 All art speaks to the future, and public art speaks with authority. That's why this battle has been so bitter. It's not about the past, it's for the future. As the City of Memphis, spurred on by united activists, creeps forward with plans to execute this long-overdue removal (a process gummed by Tennessee's regressive and cowardly state legislature) I thought it might be interesting to remember when all those people down in the comments today screeching, "history," and "heritage," were out in the street chanting (okay, praying) "tear it down!"

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Remember The Time Andy Holt Said Nathan Bedford Forrest Was a Civil Rights Leader?

Posted By on Sat, Aug 19, 2017 at 1:18 AM

Nathan Bedford Forrest.  Civil Rights Hero. According to Andy Holt.
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest. Civil Rights Hero. According to Andy Holt.

Hey kids, sometimes current events make old news relevant again. So let's all hop in the way-back machine and chart a course for July, 2015 when Tennessee Rep. Andy Holt declared an abiding love for Confederate General and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Holt encouraged people who really care about ending racial strife to get in touch with the gentle, loving Civil Rights leader he knows.
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Forrest made millions of dollars as a slave merchant before achieving the rank of General in a hostile army in open rebellion against the US government and fighting to preserve the institution of Southern slavery. But the Butcher of Fort Pillow did soften a bit near the end of his life and after white Southerners established political victory and supremacy the KKK he led was indeed disbanded. But Civil Rights Champion Nathan Bedford Forrest never needed anybody to speak for him. He knew exactly who he was and what he stood for.
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