When experts are not experts

“The key dividing line in the U.S.,” writes John Feffer of the polarization that has bedeviled the Obama presidency, that lies behind the ‘Brexit’ vote, and that now portends a possible Donald Trump presidency, “had little to do with Republican vs. Democrat, rich vs. poor, or liberal vs. conservative.”[1] The “rich vs. poor” part of that is an audacious claim. It excludes folks who, as Bill Black is careful to point out, do not merely “feel” “left behind” but are “in fact being left in the dust by the financial elites,”[2] and who, as Tracy Thompson describes them, “have been banished to life far away and out of sight” in what she describes as a “weirdly depopulated landscape.”[3] That they might not be counted among the poor is wholly contradicted by the remainder of Feffer’s article.[4]

Thompson goes on to explain that “the small-town and rural residents cheerfully extolled by Sarah Palin as the people who ‘grow our food and run our factories’ are either unemployed, working in a service industry, or making hundred-mile daily commutes to work.”[5] Similarly, Barbara Ehrenbach describes people who work abusive jobs and live in motels or in their cars because they can never get together enough money for an apartment.[6] These people are certainly not rich or middle class. They may be working class but we need to be clear about Feffer’s distinction without a difference: People in such circumstances are poor, even destitute.

Whatever one makes of that distinction, the “consequential divide between cosmopolitans who view the future with hope and those who have been left behind and have seen their economic situations and ways of life deteriorate”[7] has suddenly gotten some attention in the wake of the ‘Brexit’ vote in the United Kingdom to detach the country, which might not be so united for very long,[8] from the European Union.[9]

Those who voted for Brexit and those who might vote for Trump are often thought to lack education[10] but to a limited degree, I identify with these folks, certainly more than I do the so-called “cosmopolitans.” Despite my education, I am squarely among those who “have seen their economic situations and ways of life deteriorate.”[11] I in fact returned to school in 2003 precisely because 1) I saw that I was no longer able to support myself, 2) student loans would help to make ends meet, 3) I hoped that education would help me to be more employable, and 4) I figured that further education would at least not make me less employable. It hasn’t worked out; in the fifteen years since the dot-com crash, I have finished a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, and a Ph.D., accumulated over $300,000 in student loan debt, and still utterly failed to find gainful employment.

On the one hand, higher education should not be reduced to “job training.”[12] On the other hand, there ought to be something I can do to help myself, my rage at my condition is formidable, and I wound up just barely coming down on the side of Brexit largely because I hate the neoliberals I blame for my condition a bit more than I do authoritarian populist xenophobes.[13] The Brexit outcome shows I am not alone.[14] But even so, I continue to hear from people who suppose I ought to have endorsed the view of so-called “experts” who uniformly opposed Brexit.[15] George Monbiot captures this irony:

It’s not as if the system that’s now crashing around us was functioning. The vote could be seen as a self-inflicted wound, or it could be seen as the eruption of an internal wound, inflicted over many years by an economic oligarchy on the poor and the forgotten. The bogus theories on which our politics and economics are founded were going to collide with reality one day; the only questions were how and when.[16]

In contrast to nearly every other segment of the global population, economic globalization has harmed the “global upper middle class.” Branko Milanovic, World Bank, 2012, reproduced by Bloomberg, June 27, 2016, fair use.

Fig. 1. In contrast to nearly every other segment of the global population, economic globalization has harmed the “global upper middle class.” Branko Milanovic, World Bank, 2012, reproduced by Bloomberg, June 27, 2016, fair use.

If these “experts” are indeed so “expert,” why can Monbiot correctly label their theories “bogus?”[17] Why is it only now that they are noticing that “the [erstwhile] middle classes in developed nations failed to see this rising tide [of economic globalization] lift their boats” even though an “elephant chart” documenting the condition (figure 1) has been available since 2012,[18] and social scientists have been writing about widening social inequality for decades?

Indeed, the performance of economic and political experts in recent years has hardly been inspiring. Most missed signs that the global financial system was headed for a crash in 2008. Weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq. Even the rise of Trump and the potential for Brexit were ignored by most political cognoscenti for far too long.[19]

In fact, if there is one oddity since the financial crisis that began in 2007, it is that economists continue to be taken seriously and their prescriptions continue to be adhered to despite 1) ethical lapses; 2) their frequently expressed preference for shoddy work, ideology, and “theories” that simply have not proved themselves out in reality; and 3) even their own self-criticism. Some of this lies in an undue faith in forecasts. Some of it is that economists’ utterings have suited political and financial elite preferences, especially toward eviscerating the social safety net.[20] Some of it resembles a desperation for control in the face of the sometimes overwhelmingly uncontrollable. And I think some of it stems from a need for advice even when all sources for that advice have been discredited.

But some of it reaches deeper into our culture and a preference for allegedly “objective” and “reliable” data that in the name of reducing fallibility, reduces human experience to the superficial and devalues it[21] while also effectively privileging the powerful[22] and implicitly devaluing the ordinary experience of colonized (broadly meaning nearly everyone who is not part of a financial, political, religious, or military elite[23]) people. This not only enables “expert” hubris but deprives even a vast majority of people of a voice when their experience does not conform to elite expectations. Which means that the Brexit outcome should be a lot less surprising than it was.

Epistemological criticism is just that. It fails to offer a solution. Most human scientists would argue not merely for qualitative but a wider variety of methodologies to re-empower disempowered voices. Judging from a change in tone I see between the third[24] and fourth editions of The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research, [25] I believe this argument is being lost, not on the merits but rather under the prevalence of neoliberal ideology, and that not only in academia[26] but in society as a whole, we are moving in the opposite direction. That’s a problem that will lead to a lot more suffering than we’ve seen already.

  1. [1] John Feffer, “The Most Important Election of Your Life (Is Not This Year),” TomDispatch, June 26, 2016, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176157/tomgram%3A_john_feffer%2C_donald_trump_and_america_b/
  2. [2] Bill Black, “The Terrible Cost to Democrats and Our Nation of Ignoring Tom Frank’s Warnings,” Naked Capitalism, June 30, 2016, http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/06/bill-black-the-terrible-cost-to-democrats-and-our-nation-of-ignoring-tom-franks-warnings.html
  3. [3] Tracy Thompson, The New Mind of the South (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013), p. 144
  4. [4] John Feffer, “The Most Important Election of Your Life (Is Not This Year),” TomDispatch, June 26, 2016, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176157/tomgram%3A_john_feffer%2C_donald_trump_and_america_b/
  5. [5] Tracy Thompson, The New Mind of the South (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013), p. 150.
  6. [6] Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (New York: Owl, 2001).
  7. [7] Kathleen R. McNamara, “Brexit’s False Democracy: What the Vote Really Revealed,” Foreign Affairs, June 28, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-kingdom/2016-06-28/brexits-false-democracy
  8. [8] Rebecca Byrne, “London Must Take Back Control, Says Mayor,” Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2016, https://city.wsj.com/stories/365398c1-87d7-4c91-8421-829cb78ac161.redirect; Henry Farrell, “The Irish Question: The Consequences of Brexit,” Foreign Affairs, June 28, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ireland/2016-06-28/irish-question; Simone McCarthy, “Morning after Brexit, Scotland and N. Ireland reconsider ties to Britain,” Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 2016, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2016/0624/Morning-after-Brexit-Scotland-and-N.-Ireland-reconsider-ties-to-Britain; Jamie McGeever, “JP Morgan says Scottish independence, new currency now its ‘base case,'” Reuters, June 29, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-scotland-jpmorgan-idUSKCN0ZF15Z; Bethan McKernan, “Here’s what Sadiq Khan has to say about London independence,” Independent, June 28, 2016, http://indy100.independent.co.uk/article/heres-what-sadiq-khan-has-to-say-about-london-independence–Wyx3gxVn1BZ
  9. [9] Timothy B. Lee, “Brexit: Britain just voted to leave the EU,” Vox, June 24, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/6/24/12012930/brexit-britain-votes-leave
  10. [10] Henry Farrell, “The Irish Question: The Consequences of Brexit,” Foreign Affairs, June 28, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ireland/2016-06-28/irish-question; John Feffer, “The Most Important Election of Your Life (Is Not This Year),” TomDispatch, June 26, 2016, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176157/tomgram%3A_john_feffer%2C_donald_trump_and_america_b/; Kathleen R. McNamara, “Brexit’s False Democracy: What the Vote Really Revealed,” Foreign Affairs, June 28, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-kingdom/2016-06-28/brexits-false-democracy; Jim Tankersley, “Britain just killed globalization as we know it,” Washington Post, June 25, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/06/25/great-britain-just-killed-globalization-as-we-know-it/; Luke Kawa, “Get Ready to See This Globalization ‘Elephant Chart’ Over and Over Again,” Bloomberg, June 27, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-27/get-ready-to-see-this-globalization-elephant-chart-over-and-over-again;
  11. [11] Kathleen R. McNamara, “Brexit’s False Democracy: What the Vote Really Revealed,” Foreign Affairs, June 28, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-kingdom/2016-06-28/brexits-false-democracy
  12. [12] Scott Carlson, “A Symposium Cautions Against Conflating Education With Job Training,” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 18, 2015, http://chronicle.com/article/A-Symposium-Cautions-Against/233209/; Aviva Chomsky, “The Battle for the Soul of American Higher Education: Student Protest, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the Rise of the Corporate University,” TomDispatch, May 22, 2016, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176143/tomgram%3A_aviva_chomsky%2C_will_the_millennial_movement_rebuild_the_ivory_tower_or_be_crushed_by_it/; Michael W. Clune, “Degrees of Ignorance,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 6, 2015, http://chronicle.com/article/The-Gutting-of-Gen-Ed/234453; Paul Jay, “How Not to Defend the Liberal Arts,” Inside Higher Ed, October 27, 2014, https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/10/27/essay-state-liberal-arts; Eric Johnson, “Business Can Pay to Train Its Own Work Force,” Chronicle of Higher Education, June 22, 2016, http://chronicle.com/article/Business-Can-Pay-to-Train-Its/231015/
  13. [13] David Benfell, “The ‘Brexit’ vote may signify the end of the illusion of ‘progress,’” Not Housebroken, June 26, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=9023
  14. [14] Luke Kawa, “Get Ready to See This Globalization ‘Elephant Chart’ Over and Over Again,” Bloomberg, June 27, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-27/get-ready-to-see-this-globalization-elephant-chart-over-and-over-again; Kathleen R. McNamara, “Brexit’s False Democracy: What the Vote Really Revealed,” Foreign Affairs, June 28, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-kingdom/2016-06-28/brexits-false-democracy; Jim Tankersley, “Britain just killed globalization as we know it,” Washington Post, June 25, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/06/25/great-britain-just-killed-globalization-as-we-know-it/
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  16. [16] George Monbiot, “Roots in the Rubble,” June 29, 2016, http://www.monbiot.com/2016/06/29/roots-in-the-rubble/
  17. [17] George Monbiot, “Roots in the Rubble,” June 29, 2016, http://www.monbiot.com/2016/06/29/roots-in-the-rubble/
  18. [18] Luke Kawa, “Get Ready to See This Globalization ‘Elephant Chart’ Over and Over Again,” Bloomberg, June 27, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-27/get-ready-to-see-this-globalization-elephant-chart-over-and-over-again
  19. [19] Griff Witte, “9 out of 10 experts agree: Britain doesn’t trust the experts on Brexit,” Washington Post, June 21, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/9-out-of-10-experts-agree-britain-doesnt-trust-the-experts-on-brexit/2016/06/21/2ccc134a-34a6-11e6-ab9d-1da2b0f24f93_story.html
  20. [20] Hites Ahir and Prakash Loungani, “‘There will be growth in the spring’: How well do economists predict turning points?” Vox, April 14, 2014, http://www.voxeu.org/article/predicting-economic-turning-points; Richard Alford, “Why Economists Have No Shame – Undue Confidence, False Precision, Risk and Monetary Policy,” Naked Capitalism, July 19, 2012, http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/07/richard-alford-why-economists-have-no-shame-undue-confidence-false-precision-risk-and-monetary-policy.html; Robert Atkinson and Michael Lind, “Econ 101 is killing America,” Salon, July 8, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/07/08/how_%e2%80%9cecon_101%e2%80%9d_is_killing_america/; Dean Baker, “Discredited Harvard Austerity-Pushers Reinhart and Rogoff Keep Lying to Protect Themselves,” Alternet, April 26, 2013, http://www.alternet.org/economy/discredited-harvard-austerity-pushers-reinhart-and-rogoff-keep-lying-protect-themselves; Bruce Bartlett, “Keynes and Keynesianism,” New York Times, May 14, 2013, http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/keynes-and-keynesianism/; Ha-Joon Chang and Jonathan Aldred, “After the crash, we need a revolution in the way we teach economics,” Guardian, May 10, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/may/11/after-crash-need-revolution-in-economics-teaching-chang-aldred; Jefferson Cowie, “Why Are Economists So Small-Minded?” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 7, 2016, http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Are-Economists-So/235159; Barry Eichengreen, “Economists, Remove Your Blinders,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 12, 2015, http://chronicle.com/article/Economists-Remove-Your/151057/; Eugenio Facci, “EU austerity hawks shrug off criticism of flawed academic paper,” Christian Science Monitor, May 17, 2013, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2013/0517/EU-austerity-hawks-shrug-off-criticism-of-flawed-academic-paper; Ross Gittins, “Economists facing flak over ethics,” Sydney Morning Herald, June 23, 2014, http://www.smh.com.au/business/economists-facing-flak-over-ethics-20140622-3am9r.html; Alan Greenspan, “Why I Didn’t See The Financial Crisis Coming,” Foreign Policy, November, 2013, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/140161/alan-greenspan/never-saw-it-coming; David Kocieniewski, “Academics Who Defend Wall St. Reap Reward,” New York Times, December 27, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/28/business/academics-who-defend-wall-st-reap-reward.html; Mike Konczal, “Reinhart/Rogoff-gate isn’t the first time austerians have used bad data,” Washington Post, April 20, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/20/reinhartrogoff-gate-isnt-the-first-time-austerians-have-used-bad-data/; Paul Krugman, “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?” New York Times, September 2, 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/magazine/06Economic-t.html; Paul Krugman, “When Economics Gets Political,” January 3, 2012, http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/5864:when-economics-gets-political; Paul Krugman, “The Austerity Debacle,” New York Times, January 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/30/opinion/krugman-the-austerity-debacle.html; Paul Krugman, “Economics in the Crisis,” New York Times, March 5, 2012, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/05/economics-in-the-crisis; Paul Krugman, “Earth to Ben Bernanke,” New York Times, April 24, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/magazine/chairman-bernanke-should-listen-to-professor-bernanke.html; Paul Krugman, “Economics, Good and Bad,” New York Times, June 26, 2012, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/26/economics-good-and-bad/; Paul Krugman, “Triumph of the Wrong?” New York Times, October 11, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/opinion/krugman-triumph-of-the-wrong.html; Paul Krugman, “When Prophecy Fails,” New York Times, December 23, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/24/opinion/krugman-when-prophecy-fails.html; Paul Krugman, “Dwindling Deficit Disorder,” New York Times, March 10, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/11/opinion/krugman-dwindling-deficit-disorder.html; Paul Krugman, “The Excel Depression,” New York Times, April 18, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/opinion/krugman-the-excel-depression.html; Paul Krugman, “Academic Non-Obscurity,” New York Times, April 25, 2013, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/academic-non-obscurity/; Paul Krugman, “The 1 Percent’s Solution,” New York Times, April 25, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/26/opinion/krugman-the-one-percents-solution.html; Paul Krugman, “How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled,” review of The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire, by Neil Irwin, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, by Mark Blyth, and The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America, by David A. Stockman, New York Review of Books, June 6, 2013, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/jun/06/how-case-austerity-has-crumbled/; Robert Kuttner, “Austerity never works: Deficit hawks are amoral — and wrong,” Salon, May 5, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/05/austerity_never_works_deficit_hawks_are_amoral_and_wrong/; Matthew O’Brien, “A Full Fact-Check of Niall Ferguson’s Very Bad Argument Against Obama,” Atlantic, August 20, 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/08/a-full-fact-check-of-niall-fergusons-very-bad-argument-against-obama/261306/; Lynn Stuart Parramore, “Meet the 28-year-old Student Who Exposed Two Harvard Professors Whose Shoddy Research Drove Global Austerity,” Alternet, April 18, 2013, http://www.alternet.org/economy/meet-28-year-old-student-who-exposed-two-harvard-professors-whose-shoddy-research-drove; John Quiggin, “Austerity Has Been Tested, and It Failed,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/Austerity-Has-Been-Tested-and/139255/; Dani Rodrik, “Free-Trade Blinders,” Project Syndicate, March 9, 2012,  http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/free-trade-blinders; John Paul Rollert, “Greed Is Good: A 300-Year History of a Dangerous Idea,” Atlantic, April 7, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/04/greed-is-good-a-300-year-history-of-a-dangerous-idea/360265/; Paul Romer, “My Paper ‘Mathiness in the Theory of Economic Growth’,” May 15, 2015, http://paulromer.net/mathiness/; Howard Schneider, “An amazing mea culpa from the IMF’s chief economist on austerity,” Washington Post, January 3, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/03/an-amazing-mea-culpa-from-the-imfs-chief-economist-on-austerity/; Andreas Whittam Smith, “The age of austerity is over. Why? It doesn’t work,” Independent, April 25, 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-age-of-austerity-is-over-why-it-doesnt-work-8586201.html; Noah Smith, “Most of What You Learned in Econ 101 Is Wrong,” Bloomberg, November 24, 2015, http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-11-24/most-of-what-you-learned-in-econ-101-is-wrong; Cass R. Sunstein, “Why Free Markets Make Fools of Us,” review of Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, by George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, New York Review of Books, October 22, 2015, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/oct/22/why-free-markets-make-fools-us/; Mark Thoma, “Crude Sachsism,” Economist’s View, March 10, 2013, http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2013/03/crude-sachsism.html; Mark Thoma, “Restoring the Public’s Trust in Economists,” Fiscal Times, May 19, 2015, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2015/05/19/Restoring-Public-s-Trust-Economists; Mark Thoma, “Are Economists Driven by Ideology or Evidence?” Fiscal Times, November 3, 2015, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2015/11/03/Are-Economists-Driven-Ideology-or-Evidence; Mark Thoma, “Why the Public Has Stopped Paying Attention to Economists,” Fiscal Times, June 28, 2016, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2016/06/28/Why-Public-Has-Stopped-Paying-Attention-Economists
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The ‘Brexit’ vote may signify the end of the illusion of ‘progress’

At some point, actually on May 30th, I’d seen enough of the arguments in the campaign leading up to the United Kingdom referendum on remaining in or leaving the European Union, often labeled “Brexit,” to conclude that this was largely a race between neoliberals against authoritarian populists and paleoconservatives. Which is to say, it’s not the sort of race I like to take sides in.[1] I am radical, not conservative, these are conservative arguments, and as I wrote at the time, Continue reading The ‘Brexit’ vote may signify the end of the illusion of ‘progress’

  1. [1] David Benfell, “How can David Cameron possibly hope to win on ‘Brexit’ when his government is on the precipice?” Daily Bullshit, May 30, 2016, https://parts-unknown.org/reading/2016/05/30/how-can-david-cameron-possibly-hope-to-win-on-brexit-when-his-government-is-on-the-precipice-daily-bullshit-may-30-2016/

My friends are harmful for my health

In the fifteen years since I was last gainfully employed and through two alleged economic recoveries that have transpired since that time, it has been an ongoing source of pain to me that not one person I know has connected me with employment. In that time, I have completed a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, and a Ph.D. It is not like I have nothing to offer.

But to many of my friends, as to the world in general, it is as if I have no value. In my self-introduction page, I write,

Imagine being sealed in a concrete tomb, buried a mile underground. No matter how loudly you scream, no matter how hard you pound your fists on the walls, no one will hear you. This is what my job search often feels like.

But in fact it’s worse. Because some people do hear me. They have a fantasy that something will surely come through for me. They have been saying this, in one form or another, since I lost my last real job in the dot-com crash in 2001. It never happens, but they just carry on with their lives, as year, after year, after year passes.

It is my problem after all, not theirs. But it is a problem I am incapable of solving on my own.

I go on to detail my efforts to find work. But for all that, in all that time, I have had a grand total of three interviews for employment that even remotely reflects my value. I am twisting on the vine here, unable to go anywhere or do anything, because I have so little money. One would think that friends wouldn’t allow friends to suffer so. Continue reading My friends are harmful for my health

Killing is our business

Correction, June 13, 2016, 08:22: There is apparently some uncertainty surrounding the precise toll in the Orlando attack. I originally drew a death toll of 51 from the Wall Street Journal headline; the story has since been quietly modified to reflect a toll of 49.[1] This post has been modified accordingly.

Update, June 13, 2016: 09:06: A CNN story clarifies that a previously reported death toll of 50 “had included the gunman.”[2]


Reacting to yet another mass shooting, this time at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which the dominant narrative has labeled “[t]he deadliest shooting attack in U.S. history,”[3] Lauren Chief Elk posted on Twitter,

Continue reading Killing is our business

  1. [1] Valerie Bauerlein, Cameron McWhirter, and Scott Calvert, “Terror Shooting at Gay Nightclub in Orlando Leaves at Least 49 Dead, 53 Wounded,” Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/orlando-nightclub-hit-by-shooting-causing-multiple-injuries-1465720691
  2. [2] Ashley Fantz, Faith Karimi, Eliott C. McLaughlin, and Tim Hume, “Orlando shooting: All but one victim identified, officials say,” CNN, June 13, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/13/us/orlando-nightclub-shooting/index.html
  3. [3] Valerie Bauerlein, Cameron McWhirter, and Scott Calvert, “Terror Shooting at Gay Nightclub in Orlando Leaves 51 Dead, 53 Wounded,” Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/orlando-nightclub-hit-by-shooting-causing-multiple-injuries-1465720691
  4. [4] Lauren Chief Elk, [microblog post], Twitter, June 12, 2016,

The two-party system crashes and burns

Update, June 8, 2016, 00:24: This post has been updated to reflect Hillary Clinton’s apparent victory in California.[1]

Update, June 8, 2016, 13:27: This post has been updated with more information on Clinton’s now-confirmed victory in California.


So I popped into Facebook after putting out a 3rd edition of yesterday’s (June 6, 2016) Daily Bullshit and quickly found three memes that seem to capture a mood (figures 1, 2, and 3):

Fig. 1. Meme found on Facebook, June 6, 2016, fair use.

Fig. 2. Meme found on Facebook, June 6, 2016, fair use.

Fig. 3. Meme found on Facebook, June 6, 2016, fair use.

Continue reading The two-party system crashes and burns

  1. [1] Alex Roarty, “Sanders’ State Not So Golden,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, June 8, 2016, http://www.rollcall.com/sanders-state-not-golden/

Appropriated identities

I was having coffee with a woman yesterday when the topic of what we might call appropriated identities came up. This is an issue I’ve struggled with in the past, particularly with regard to the cases of Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal.[1] I hadn’t expected to talk about this and, in fact, it was pretty far from my mind when it came up, but after citing experiences where whites venture into American Indian communities and try to adopt an Indian identity, she mentioned the cases of Jenner and Dolezal. Continue reading Appropriated identities

  1. [1] David Benfell, “Jenner, Dolezal, and the reality behind social constructions,” Not Housebroken, June 14, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=7716; David Benfell, “More on transgenderism and transracialism,” June 15, 2015, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2015/06/15/more-transgenderism-and-transracialism

‘Academic freedom’ now apparently includes threatening to beat the shit out of someone

When last I wrote about the case of Melissa Click, I supported the University of Missouri’s decision to fire her because “the principle of academic freedom does not cover misdemeanor assault.”[1] Click had “called for ‘muscle’ to remove a student journalist” who was taking photographs for ESPN as Concerned Student 1950 “protesters form[ed] a giant circle around the encampment, arms interlocked, chanting, at one point, ‘Ho ho, reporters have got to go.'” A video recording of the incident recorded an unidentified voice saying, “Back off our personal space,” despite the fact that the protest occurred on the university quad—a very public space.[2] Suffice it to say, I was not impressed.[3] Continue reading ‘Academic freedom’ now apparently includes threatening to beat the shit out of someone

  1. [1] David Benfell, “On the firing of Melissa Click,” Not Housebroken, February 25, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=8765
  2. [2] Josh Logue, “Journalists as the Enemy,” Inside Higher Ed, November 11, 2015, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/11/11/video-shows-mizzou-student-press-clash-protestors
  3. [3] David Benfell, “Squatting on the University of Missouri quad,” Not Housebroken, November 11, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=8296

Obamacare, the neoliberal consensus, and a kid fighting cancer

Let me just begin by admitting that my way into thinking about the topic of this post is, well, circuitous.

I was sitting down to email, as I do every day shortly after getting up. I’d made coffee but hadn’t taken my first sip.

And here was an email from GoFundMe, a crowd-funding site, featuring an apparently successful campaign on behalf of a kid fighting cancer.[1] Of course this is good news, but the first thought in my head was, why wasn’t Obamacare covering whatever is going on here? Continue reading Obamacare, the neoliberal consensus, and a kid fighting cancer

  1. [1] Ron Desautels, “Victory for Vinny,” GoFundMe, May 11, 2016, https://www.gofundme.com/vinnyd

In accommodating disabled passengers, Uber drivers may be next to pay

It’s an innocent and well-intended letter to the editor appearing in today’s (May 5, 2016) San Francisco Chronicle:

Uber should accommodate all riders

Regarding “Uber allows guide dogs to ride after suit by blind passengers” (May 2): Now that Uber has agreed to pick up blind passengers with guide dogs, my hope is that they will step up efforts to accommodate all passengers with disabilities. Uber’s headquarters is two blocks from the Arc San Francisco, a resource for over 700 clients with developmental disabilities, many of whom use power chairs and mobility supports to get to and from work, classes and home. From tech workers to seniors to young adults, the disability community wants equal access to ride-sharing services. In San Francisco, recent tests consistently show zero UberWAV cars available for riders with power wheelchairs. There are slightly more UberASSIST cars on the road to serve riders with walkers and folding wheelchairs, but wait times are too long. One in five Americans has a disability, with over $220 billion in discretionary spending power. San Francisco is ground zero for disability advocacy. I’d like to suggest that Uber planners meet with the disability community and hear firsthand how services can be improved. With our disability transit experience combined with Uber’s innovation, we can be the first city in the world to fully accommodate all riders with the push of a button.

Kristen Pedersen, San Francisco[1]

Continue reading In accommodating disabled passengers, Uber drivers may be next to pay

  1. [1] Kristen Pedersen, letter to the editor, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2016, http://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/letterstoeditor/article/Letters-to-the-Editor-May-5-7393915.php

Notes on the Czur scanner

A few months ago, an IndieGoGo campaign for some folks developing a new scanner designed for books came to my attention and I jumped on it. The perk was one of these scanners at what, if memory serves, would likely be half price.

It took longer than anticipated, but I just received this scanner. This is a very early release of everything, so it’s not surprising that there are some rough edges. I can see that, a couple iterations down the road, and especially if they get more help with their English translations, this could become a very cool product. Continue reading Notes on the Czur scanner