The ISIS Dildo Flag That Rocked the World

ISIS Dildo FlagI wish I were exaggerating here even a little but I am not. CNN dedicated an entire six and a half minutes to covering, in a tenor of total seriousness and extreme gravity, what they said was an ISIS flag being waved at a gay pride parade, when in fact it was readily and painfully obvious that the “ISIS flag” was in fact a joke flag covered with images of dildos and butt plugs.

“An unnerving sight today at a London gay pride celebration: an ISIS flag among a sea of rainbow colors,” CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux announced. The word “unnerving” made several other appearances in the very long segment about a flag of dildos and butt plugs.

The segment went on to analyze the photo of the flag in great depth, zooming in especially on the man waving it. A London-based CNN reporter who called in — yes, there were multiple reporters on this, no one covers breaking news like CNN — pointed out with concern, “This man, quite distinctive from the rest of the crowd, he was dressed in black and white.”

—Max Fisher
CNN’s Most Embarrassing Flub Ever?

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“What Will the Gays Want Next?!”

Gay BabiesHere in the Bay Area, there are certain people — almost entirely men — who have a really bad attitude this entire Pride weekend each year. They are of the “why do they have to flaunt it” types. On the plus side, things really are better. Twenty years ago, two men holding hands would have been considered “flaunting it.” Today, I’m not sure what makes the cut — but it is a higher standard. It’s still sad that LGBT couples doing in public what octogenarian heterosexual couples do is still considered something that must be stopped. But I am glad to say that progress does continue to be made. And it continues to be made because the LGBT community has the bravery to “flaunt it.”

After the legalization of same sex marriage this last week, one response I’ve heard it, “I wonder what they’ll ask for next?” Because it’s always something, am I right?! It’s funny how asking for equality is framed by opponents as something special that is being asked for — as though same sex marriage is equivalent to asking to not have to pay taxes. But I try to avoid getting into arguments of these types. The people who say things like this are not open to rational debate. Their complaints are based on the most primal of fear and hatred.

But there is an obvious response: there is no “next.” The LGBT community is asking for equitable and humane treatment. Same sex marriage was just a small part of that. It wasn’t even the end of institutional homophobia. As of late last year, you could still be fired for being LGBT in 29 states! I’m proud to say that in the three states I’ve called home (and still feel at home in) — California, Oregon, and Washington — you cannot be fired for being LGBT. You can still be fired in “liberal” New York for being transgender. So I guess that “those gays” won’t be satisfied until they have equal rights to work in Texas; what moochers!

There is, of course, the issue of getting beaten, raped, and murdered because you happen to be LGBT. And I like to think that most of the people in the Bay Area who bristle over San Francisco Pride do not think that this kind of thing is okay. But what these people who don’t want homosexuality “flaunted” need to understand is that all of these issues are related. Same sex marriage is about equality, but it is also about making homosexuality no big deal. When sexuality and gender identity become just another of the endless idiosyncrasies of humanity, it will stop bothering people.

Above all, what boggles my mind is that people don’t see that the problem is reversed. The problem isn’t with the LGBT community, but with those who are offended by it. It has never moved an argument forward for me, but I have asked many people, “Why do you care?” In the past, I have heard responses about pseudo-scientific reasons such are scarring children. People are less and less likely to use these excuses. Now they usually respond, “I don’t. It’s just…” It’s just what? They aren’t too clear on that, but I know what they want to say, “It’s just that they creep me out.” Or: “It’s just that I don’t like it.” And all that means is that it is all about the anti-LGBT people. It’s just that they don’t understand that.

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Unjustified Inequality and Racism

Tyler CowenIf you ask Tyler Cowen, Scandinavians just have the right stuff! He approvingly quoted a new Nima Sanandaji book where he claims that the Scandinavian countries don’t have more equitable societies because of their redistributive systems but rather because Scandinavians are just better. And we know this because, “Median incomes of Scandinavian descendants are 20 per cent higher than average US incomes.” This isn’t about race but rather “cultural norms.” This is almost too delicious. I should not be allowed such cake to masticate!

Here’s the thing: of course it isn’t about race. It couldn’t be about race because race is a myth. But even among those who still believe in race, nothing can be about race because everyone (except for the proud bigots) knows that you just don’t talk about racial differences. So this is how people who want to make these kinds of anti-egalitarian, classist arguments talk about it. Sanandaji is Swedish, but it hardly matters. Paul Ryan is American and he talks about the “dependency culture.” But the meaning is the same. The point is that words become offensive because the the ideas that they represent. For example, we know that the “poll tax” was racist, so people don’t use the term today, even though they are using the same kinds of tactics today.

It’s clear enough today that phrases like “cultural norms” and “dependency culture” are racist. But it isn’t clear to most people. In 20 or 40 or 100 years, people will see it very clearly for what it is. And this isn’t to say that Cowen and Sanandaji think of themselves as racists. They may not even be — at least directly. They seem like men who are ideologues who want to push a particular economic system that just so happens to be good for them and their allies. But roughly the same can be said for a lot of 19th century slave owners: it wasn’t about racism; it was about profits.

Over time, I’m sure that science will show that all this business about “cultural norms” will be seen as working in exactly the opposite direction. Matt Bruenig thinks this, Institutions Matter Except When They Are Socialist. He noted that Scandinavia has a long tradition of egalitarianism. So those societies have set up economic and political systems that facilitate this. I assume he means to imply that the 20% advantage is just the result of the Scandinavian ancestors being lucky in the sense that they are white in a white-controlled racist society. I wish he had been explicit in that regard.

But the main thing is conservatives like Cowen have this neat trick. They start with a racist society — one that has done everything it can to keep down African Americans especially. Then they rush off and find people who came from countries that are heavily represented in the power elite. And then they conclude that the American economic system must just be treating everyone the way they ought to be treated: according to their “cultural norms.” Whether it is because of explicit racism or the desire to acquire as much money as they can, the result is the same: unjustified inequality.

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Morning Music: Everybody’s Talkin’

Everybody's Talkin'I’m very fond of the Fred Neil song “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which I know, of course, from the Harry Nilsson version. I like the music of it, but most of all, I like the refrain, “Skipping over the ocean like a stone.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a line that so perfectly sums up having a carefree attitude while heading into doom. I’ve felt that way many times in my life — except without the carefree part.

The song, of course, became a hit because it was used in the film Midnight Cowboy. That’s still quite a watchable film. “Everybody’s Talkin'” is used at the beginning of the film, because it sounds so carefree. I guess that the rock doesn’t know that it is doomed; certainly Joe Buck doesn’t. The song is not used at the heartbreakingly beautiful ending, because the stone is no longer skipping.

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Anniversary Post: Ray Harryhausen

[Editor’s Note: This is a rerun of last year’s Anniversary Post on Ray Harryhausen. I just can’t find anything I’m really interested in writing about. Also, I’m just not willing to put in the effort to learn about things like the first privateer battle of the American Revolutionary War. But since writing this article, I learned that Harryhausen spent the rest of his life complaining that Godzilla had ripped off The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Two things about that. First, maybe it was true and maybe it wasn’t; but get over it, man! Second, Godzilla was a better film. Still, I love Harryhausen!]

Ray HarryhausenOn this day in 1920, the great, great, great special effects artist Ray Harryhausen was born. He is best remembered for his films Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. His work holds up surprisingly well in this world of computer animation where literally anything can be done. Something to note about his films is that the look of them is not dictated by his special effects. That is a common complaint of mine about many more modern special effects.

Harryhausen was originally inspired by the work of Willis O’Brien on the movie King Kong. And he even managed to meet O’Brien when he was fairly young. After working at the bottom rungs of the film industry—notably under Frank Capra during World War II—he eventually worked as assistant animator under O’Brien for the film, Mighty Joe Young, where Harryhausen ended up doing most of the actual animation while O’Brien worked on the more fundamental technical problems. I suspect this was how things usually worked.

Within four years, Harryhausen got to be in charge of his own film, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms—basically a Godzilla film, although the connection goes the other way since Godzilla didn’t appear for another year, and the original screenplay title was “The Giant Monster from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” By 1958, Harryhausen brought the process to color films with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. He continued this on with other notable films like Jason and the Argonauts in 1963 through to his last film in 1981, Clash of the Titans. In 2010, Clash of the Titans was remade just to prove that more advanced technology doesn’t lead to better films.

Here is a short Turner Classic Movies tribute to Harryhausen:

Happy birthday Ray Harryhausen!

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The Death of Threaded Comments

Knight on Horseback - Don QuixoteCurrently, on Frankly Curious, comments are “threaded.” That means that people can respond to the article as a whole or they can respond to a specific comment. If they respond to a specific comment, then the new comment is positioned below, and indented from, what it is responding to. This has been a nice change from our previous blogging platform — Nucleus — where we were limited to comments that were “flat” — just one after another with no relationship to each other.

But recently, I wrote an article for my paying job about forum software and I was surprised to find that the most popular forum — phpBB — doesn’t even offer threading. That seemed odd to me. I would have thought that threading should at least be an option. But the truth is that it really has gone out of style. Even forums that have had it are getting rid of it. I remember when threaded news readers first showed up and they were cool:

  • Commenter1: This is a stupid article!
    • Commenter2: You just think that because you’re a doody-head!!
      • Commenter1: No, you’re the doody-head!!!
      • Commenter4: Don’t feed the doody-heads.
    • Commenter4: I agree. Because I am a doody-head.

It seems logical and works very well on forums were there isn’t a great deal of discussion. That’s why I’ve decided to keep it on Frankly Curious for the time being; there isn’t enough commenting for it to be a problem. When there is a lot of discussion, however, it can be very distracting and user-unfriendly. What’s more, commenters can use it to get their comments placed higher by “responding” to the first comment.

How Conversations Really Work

The biggest objection to threaded forums is not practical, however; it’s philosophical. Real conversations are not threaded. People talk one after the other. People may respond to something said long before, but it is in the context of everything that was said since. If two people want to talk about some sub-topic, they usually do it alone, while the main conversation continues on without them.

If I had Eschaton Blog, with hundreds of comments on every one word post, I might change over to a flat mode. But that will never happen here. So I think we are fine. Just the same, most long conversations tend to go on between just two people, so a flat model wouldn’t really change anything.

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Colfax Massacre

InjusticesThree days later, on March 28, 1873, white Democratic leaders began plotting to retake the courthouse by force. When word of these plans reached the Republicans, armed black men started mustering at the courthouse to defend it against the white aggressors.

Led by Christopher Columbus Nash, an ex-Confederate army lieutenant who was also the Democratic candidate for Grant Parish sheriff, Democratic forces marched on Colfax on April 13. Though the approximately 150 black men defending the courthouse slightly outnumbered Nash’s men, the Republican forces were massively outgunned. About half of Nash’s men were Confederate veterans, including four officers. Each of them was well armed, many of them with multiple guns, and they had even brought a small cannon to Colfax on a two-horse wagon.

Meanwhile, as many as half of the black men protecting the courthouse had no guns whatsoever, and those with guns had only enough powder and ammunition to allow each man to fire about two rounds. The closest thing the freedmen had to artillery were three makeshift guns rigged from old steam pipes. When they attempted to fire one of these would-be cannons, the entire gun exploded.

The result was a rout. White forces outflanked the freedmen, positioning their cannon behind the black army’s trench line. Not long after the cannon started spewing buckshot at the exposed men around the courthouse, black combatants began to flee — only to be hunted down and captured or killed by white men on horseback. Though dozens of freedmen continued to fight from within the courthouse, Nash ordered the courthouse to be set ablaze. When the black Republicans laid down their arms and fled the burning building, many of them waving white flags of surrender, Nash’s men opened fire.

Nor did the killing stop there. Nash eventually ordered his men to cease fire, and the remaining freedmen were taken prisoner. Two hours before midnight, however, Nash left the prisoners under the control of a group of men led by Bill Cruikshank, a white supremacist cotton planter. Not long thereafter, Cruikshank ordered the captured freedmen to march away from the courthouse under armed guard. The column did not get far before Cruikshank’s men drew their pistols and began executing their prisoners. A black man named Levi Nelson, who later served as a star witness against Cruikshank at his criminal trial, survived this death march only because Cruikshank tried to make sport out of murder by lining up Nelson and another man close enough together that they could both be shot with a single bullet, rather than spending two shots to ensure that both men would die.

—Ian Millhiser

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Republicans’ Shortsightedly Convenient Beliefs

Bobby JindalMartin Longman brought my attention to something interesting in a brief post yesterday, The 50’s Called: They Want Bobby Jindal Back. After last week’s three moderate (the Supreme Court doesn’t do “liberal”) decisions on housing, marriage, and Obamacare, Jindal was beside himself. He told The Advocate in Louisiana, “The Supreme Court is completely out of control, making laws on their own, and has become a public opinion poll instead of a judicial body. If we want to save some money lets just get rid of the Court.” Longman responded, “Over here on the left side of the aisle, we’ve been increasingly frustrated with the decision making of the Supreme Court, from Bush v Gore to the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, but you don’t see any of our governors or presidential candidates calling for the abolishment of the entire Court.”

But this is what has become to the conservative movement in this country. It really is best to see it like an authoritarian movement. There is no thought to consistency. Their ideology is one of results: how do we keep power so that we can continue to enrich ourselves. So it is nonsense to imagine that Bobby Jindal actually believes in anything coherent. Whatever furthers the cause of the conservative movement is good. This week, the Supreme Court was bad for the conservative movement so abolish it.

To some extent, you could say the same thing about ideological coherence about liberals. The big difference is that liberals are not shortsighted. They aren’t willing to destroy democracy in order to “save” it. But when listening to someone like Jindal, I’m reminded of how the Nazis used the democratic system until they had power and then abolished it. Is this what Jindal would do? It’s hard to say. We’ve already seen plenty of Republicans pushing for laws designed to make voting harder. And now they are going after “one person: one vote.” Regardless, the impulse is there.

This “destroy the Supreme Court” impulse isn’t the only one. There is also the “destroy the IRS” impulse. It’s curious. Destroying the IRS would be the same as destroying the government. It just sounds better. It’s kind of like the Walmart CEO saying, “Let’s stop charging people for stuff.” That decision has ramifications — namely, that Walmart would go out of business. But conservatives change what they want to destroy from day to day. For example, Jindal is afraid that the Supreme Court is getting too democratic — having “become a public opinion poll.” But conservatives make populist arguments all the time against Court decisions they don’t like. If they don’t like a Supreme Court decision, it is either that the Court is wrong because it is just following public opinion, or it is wrong because it is going against the will of the people. Reasonable people can’t have it both ways. But Republicans can!

A lot of people have talked about the Republicans being post-truth. It’s actually worse than that. They are post-meaning. And post-planning. If they took the Marshmallow Challenge, they wouldn’t even wait until the proctor was out of the room before eating it. They are the party of the haves who think it is due to their own greatness. As Ann Richards said about George HW Bush, “He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” So whatever offers the easiest way to their goals, they follow it. You know, it’s called our bad luck.


That last sentence was a reference to this song:

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Fed Continues Doing Bidding of Power Elite

Fed Has Missed Inflation Target 37 Straight Months

There is no better place in society to look to see how the power elite rig the economic system than the Federal Reserve. And the best example of this is the way that most people have been entirely brainwashed into self-oppressing regarding monetary policy. Ask anyone which they think is better: a strong dollar or a weak dollar? Unless they know economics, they will say a strong dollar. Yet it is a weak dollar that that is good for workers. It is a weak dollar that makes our exports competitive. The strong dollar is primarily a prize only to people who already have a lot of money — not for people who have to work each week to pay the bills.

So all the time, on CNBC and Fox Business, you will hear people worrying about inflation. Actually, you will hear that same thing pretty much everywhere else. We can’t have inflation! That would reduce the value of the dollar! That might encourage the business community to stop sitting on piles of money and invest instead! They might be forced to hire some unemployed Americans! We can’t have that, now, can we?! Of course, inflation and a strong dollar are not exactly the same thing, but they are related and they both affect how well workers do. And the two things that are constantly pushed — a strong dollar and low inflation — are bad for workers.

Given all this, I was intrigued to see a Ben Leubsdorf article at The Wall Street Journal, US Inflation Undershoots Fed’s 2% Target for 37th Consecutive Month. The Federal Reserve has decided that it should keep inflation right at 2%. So that ought to mean that sometimes it is above and sometimes it is below. But it’s now been over three years and the Fed has managed to keep it under that value without error. I can assure you this: if the Fed kept the inflation rate 0.5 percentage points above 2% for three years, you would see heads exploding on CNBC.

And even the 2% inflation target is a joke. Jeff Madrick in his book Seven Bad Ideas, explained that this target was pretty much made up out of whole cloth by Alan Greenspan. “Persuasive studies find that only annual rates of inflation into the double digits affect economic growth.” But we have the 2% inflation target — not because everyone thinks Greenspan is a genius — but because it is good for the power elite.

Do you know what the core inflation was during the 1980s? It was 4%. That was considered reasonable. But over time, the tax rates that are considered reasonable for the rich to pay go down and down. And the inflation rate that the rich are expected to face goes down and down. It’s a feedback. The more policy changes to enrich the power elite, the more money they have to buy further policy changes that will enrich them. We still commonly see conservative plans to cut the top marginal tax rate down to 25%. We don’t hear much about cutting the Fed’s inflation target down. But it isn’t really necessary, since the Fed seems afraid to ever get much above it, and has no problem coasting way below it. The power elite know the Fed does its bidding: 37 straight months!

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Morning Music: Chet Powers

Chet PowersI walked through the mall yesterday, and The Youngbloods were singing “Get Together” off their second album, The Youngbloods. The song was written by Chet Powers of Quicksilver Messenger Service. But even if you are a fan of that band, you’ve probably never heard his name. That’s because he bizarrely played in the band under the name Dino Valenti; and he wrote songs under the name Jesse Oris Farrow. Curious fellow.

To be honest, all my life I’ve loved the song — but despite the flower power performance, not because of it. Powers’ performance of the song is far superior. For one thing, he just has an incredible voice. But here is a performance from 1986 under the name Dino Valenti on what looks like a cable access show called, On Stage. It’s beautiful music, performed really close to edge. After two folk songs accompanying himself on the 12-string guitar, he brings out the band and does some rock-n-roll. There is a second part to the video, if you are interested.


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Anniversary Post: Stonewall Riots

Stonewall Inn - 1969I mentioned yesterday that it was interesting that the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage throughout the United States just the day before San Francisco Pride, which is always held at the end of June each year. I didn’t think to ask why that was. Well, I should have. According to Wikipedia, “The festival is traditionally held in the last full weekend in June. This commemorates the Stonewall riots.” On this day in 1968, the Stonewall riots started. It is generally taken as the beginning of the gay rights movement.

Even people of my age don’t generally know the horrible state of the institutional oppression of the LGBT community in the past. (Of course, it is as bad or worse in some places.) The most obvious example of this was the forced castration of Alan Turing. But the gay community in cities throughout the United States were subjected to constant police harassment. The Stonewall Inn was a very low-rent gay bar in Greenwich Village in the late 1960s. And so from time to time, the police would come by and arrest people because… Well, frankly, because the police have always been more interested in abusing marginalized members of the society than fighting real crime where they might get hurt.

Very early on 28 June 1968, four plain-clothes police officers raided the bar. But things did not go as planned. Part of it was certainly that resentment had been building up for years — decades — centuries. But the bigger issue was the police screwed up. They weren’t prepared. Things got delayed. And before long, a crowd of a hundred or more people gathered outside the bar. The mood was at first festive as the onlookers mocked the police, but there was also anger. Eventually, the police got into a scuffle with a lesbian who was complaining about her handcuffs being too tight. (Entirely typical — a common form of torture police officers use when they don’t like the person they are arresting.) After they beat her up, she yelled at the crowd, “Why don’t you guys do something?!” And it exploded. Wikipedia provides a good overview. Read it; it’s very exciting!

Anyway, the riot led to more riots and then to demonstrations and a much more active “gay liberation” movement. I don’t believe in violence. Just the same, the authorities will never do anything but abuse you unless you push back. The Mattachine Society was very important. But the Stonewall riots marked a turning point — something new and more radical was required. And Friday’s Supreme Court decision was one of the many good results of that. Of course people are still getting beaten up, raped, and murdered because of sexual orientation and gender identity. But it cannot be denied that things have greatly improved.

Happy anniversary Stonewall riots!

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The Same Sex Marriage Bigots Time Will Pass By

Wes AllenI’m very pleased that the Supreme Court narrowly found a Constitutional right to marry. But I’m also with Jonathan Chait in thinking, “The Supreme Court’s decision affirming marriage equality hastens what was already a fait accompli.” It is a great day, but the only thing that makes it notable is that the Supreme Court isn’t decades behind public opinion. What I do think is kind of stupendous is that the decision came today, the day before San Francisco Pride. What a great coincidence that is! But not all people are celebrating.

Yesterday evening, the Associated Press reported, Gay Couples Wed on Historic Day as Conservatives Resist. Apparently, when the decision came down, a lot of LGBT couples across the country rushed to courthouses to get married. It’s sweet really. As a typically straight guy who never had to think of marriage as anything special, it’s nice to see people running towards it even as I have run screaming from it twice. And in many cases, these eager LGBT couples were treated with the openness and joy that the occasion deserves. For example, the article mentioned one couple in Louisville, Kentucky who were greeted by the mayor with a bottle of champagne. We have a word for that here in the Bay Area: class.

But in Pike County, Alabama, Probate Judge Wes Allen has decided that he’s just not going to issue any marriage licenses at all. Think about the irony of this. For decades, conservatives have been telling us that if LGBT couples get the right to marry, it will destroy the institution of marriage. I never imagined that same sex marriage opponents meant that destruction would come in this form: that there would be no more opposite sex marriages because the opponents would stop allowing them out of pure spite.

There does seem to be something wrong with conservatives. They just can’t let things go. When it came to Jim Crow, it was going to destroy “white culture.” But it didn’t. And this is going to destroy “straight marriage” and “the family.” It’s all so ridiculous! But I do understand where it comes from. I remember when I was younger, I would get mad about something. And I was right about it — it was a righteous anger. And so I wanted to hang onto it. But it took so much energy! Eventually, I just learned to let things go. I also learned that often when I thought I was righteous, I actually wasn’t.

Look at Judge Pike above. That picture was taken a few years ago. He’s 39 years old right now: too young to be that bigoted and too old to act so childishly. I really don’t get it. Even if you feel that same sex marriage is wrong, don’t you have a duty to, you know, do your job? There are parts of every job that aren’t pleasant. The loophole that Pike has found is certainly not one that his God is going to approve of. So what is he really doing but putting off the day when he will have to go along, and in the mean time looking like a real jerk. And he’s not alone.

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