WaPo on ‘Dadly Virtues’
May 7th, 2015

Carlos Lozada has a very nice review of Dadly Virtues in the Washington Post. You can read it here.

Quick Amazon note: The Kindle version is up and running now, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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Police and Transgenderism
May 6th, 2015

Hoover’s Richard Epstein seems to be (less or more) with me on police reform. But that’s not what really caught my eye in his essay. It was this sentence:

No one knows the exact figure, but a decent estimate tells us that there are about 900,000 police officers in the United States.

The reason this jumped out at me is that in writing about the transgender debacle at Smith College I took a brief detour to look at the estimates activists give us for transgender numbers in the United States. The line they push is 0.3 percent of the population. That may seem small, but keep in mind that gay-rights activists spent a generation insisting that 10 percent of the population is gay, but the real number turns out to be 1.6 percent.

So in order for us to believe that 0.3 percent of America is transgender we’d have to believe that there’s one transgendered American for every five gay Americans. Or, to put it in another context, we’d have to believe that there are as many transgendered Americans as there are police officers.


‘The Dadly Virtues’ Is Here
May 6th, 2015

So the book has landed on Amazon well ahead of the official pub date. People are getting their copies in the mail today and if you didn’t pre-order, it’s shipping now.

So get thee to The Dadly Virtues. I guarantee the awesome.


On Baltimore
May 1st, 2015

I spent four years living in Charm City, but I don’t have any special insights on the current situation. (Though I did witness my own, private mom-decking-her-out-of-control-son incident, and it was awesome. I’ll tell that story some time.)

To my mind, the best thing I’ve read on Baltimore comes, unsurprisingly, from John McWhorter, who really is the intellectual that everyone pretends that other guy is. You should read the whole thing here.

I agree with McWhorter’s broad prescriptions about repairing the breach between inner-city residents (especially young black men) and the police. But I don’t know if I believe that relaxing the drug war would help.

Now, I think that, on balance, legalizing drugs is a bad idea for other reasons. But if you set them aside and just consider McWhorter’s point, I’m not sure it would help in the specific goal of normalizing relations between inner city police and residents. For one thing, even legalization of pot will come with some limits and an illegal economy will spring up around them, wherever they’re set.

McWhorter seems to focus on the societal side of reconciliation, but I suspect that there’s lots of low-hanging fruit on the government side. Meaning, that you could improve relations by reforming the police themselves. Start with breaking (or defenestrating) the police unions, which–intentionally or not–empower lots of mid-level corruption by thwarting punishment of the very worst corruption. Once cops know that they are real consequences for misbehavior, push technology (especially body cameras) to help establish a culture of accountability for both officers and citizens during interactions. It would be great if there was a way to empower prosecutors to aggressively pursue charges lodged against police, too (though that might be a pie in the sky).

Once you can reasonably promise citizens that while the police may not be perfect, they can no longer get away with the kind of criminal behavior which Connor Friedersdorf shows was more or less routine, then you can start actually trying to rebuild relations through community policing and other strategies. (If David Petraeus could use counterinsurgency to build good working relations with Iraqis living under occupation, then surely a smart and determined police chief could achieve something similar.)

Why start with the police? It would be nice if you change both ends of the continuum at the same time: Make the police more professional and change the culture which tells people that it’s okay to riot and loot. But there’s no institutional mechanism with which to engage the people. (Or rather, there is. But it’s called the public schools and in places like Baltimore they’re so broken that fixing them becomes the heaviest lift imaginable.) So you start with the cops, because there are a relatively small number of them, they exist within an institution which can be molded, and because they are heavily-motivated actors, since they’re the ones drawing a paycheck for their actions.


Finally: A Batman We Can Love
April 30th, 2015

Fantastic news coming from DC this morning: Bruce Wayne will no longer be Batman. Instead, series mastermind Scott Snyder explains that “The character we’re putting under the cowl never expected it, never saw it coming and never set out to be Batman.” Which makes perfect sense within the character of Green Lantern the Dark Knight.

This is great news, because as Chris Nolan’s ponderous, stultifying movies proved, there’s no way to tell interesting stories with the Bruce Wayne character anymore.

If the new Batman isn’t Muslim, trans, AND gender-queer, then it just means that the reactionary Republican bigots at DC aren’t interested in growing the audience for comic books.


Jonathan Chait Watch
April 28th, 2015

Jonathan Chait commits yet another microaggression. (Or is this macro?)


Scenes from the Culture War
April 28th, 2015

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought that what professional wrestling needs is a foundation of story-telling based on progressive identity politics. Fortunately, Bill Corgan is here to help:

Corgan, leader of the innovative rock group Smashing Pumpkins, has joined TNA Impact Wrestling as senior producer of creative and talent development . . . Rather than trotting out the same old “heels” and “babyfaces” — pro-wrestling argot for “bad guys” and good guys” — Corgan thinks fans are ready for new stories.

“There is a tremendous opportunity to go into really fresh, new directions,” Corgan explained in an interview. Having characters who explore race or transgender issues is certainly a possibility, he suggested. “There are ways to explore those themes in ways that are productive, create new stars and show that value-based ‘babyfaces,’ no matter what their background, no matter where they come from, can draw new audiences and inspire people in new ways.” . . .

Corgan believes his ideas will “ break new ground.” In 2015, he said, “Those social and cultural issues that are sort of a ‘don’t go there’ subject” will result in themes that will feel more meaningful to current audiences. “I think there’s an endless supply of things in our culture where people are dealing with race or with gender, etc., and you can get into these things in a way that is both revelatory and enlightening. Treated the right way, ultimately, the good guy wins. The right ideas win.”

That sounds about right. By the way, if you’re curious about what it looks like when the good guys win, this is a pretty standard-issue example:

Alice Eve is feeling the heat after claiming that Bruce Jenner is “playing at being a woman.” . . .

After receiving backlash on social media, the 33-year-old actress attempted to clarify her comments. . . .

Eve also thanked social media users for discussing the topic with and broadening her perspective.

“Maybe this needs a little thought. I felt confused and now I feel enlightened and like I know what education I need to move forward.”

Jonah Goldberg doesn’t get nearly enough credit for anticipating the terminus of modern liberalism. 


Inside the Actors’ Studio: ‘Airplane!’
April 28th, 2015

This AV Club oral history of Airplane! is great for a lot of reasons, but to my mind, the best part is the story behind the “I speak jive” bit. This might be the best gag in a movie full of fantastic gags, and it turns out that–like with a lot of wonderful things that look effortless–a bunch of work went into it.

So the ZAZ guys had an idea for the bit–two guys speak jive, and it gets interpreted by a woman who looks like she’s a ’60s sitcom mom–which is inspired. But it was the actors, Al White and Norman Gibbs, who honed the joke to make it immortal:

Al White (“Second Jive Dude”): I went in for my first audition, and then when I came in for the callback, that’s when I met Norman [Gibbs, a.k.a. “First Jive Dude”]. We basically met while we were waiting, and it was just a matter of both of us seeing what the other was doing and feeding off each other. He seemed to be doing all the talking, and I just started thinking, “You know, if we both try and talk at the same time, it’ll just get in the way of what should be accomplished with two people working together.” So I just pulled back and fed off of him and responded, and then I jumped in when I could. And I guess we blew ’em away, ’cause we got the part!

D. Zucker: When they did it for us in the reading, we cracked up. We just thought they were great. There was no question that we were going to cast them.

J. Zucker: In the original script, we just wrote, “Mo fo, shi’ man, wha’ fo’.” I mean, it was just nothing. And when Al and Norman came in, we apologized profusely and explained that that was the best that three Jewish guys from Milwaukee could do.

White: I looked at the script and couldn’t make hide nor hair of the actual verbiage. [Laughs.] But I got a sense of what they wanted. They wanted jive as a language, which it is not: It’s a word here and a phrase there, originated by the jazz musicians back in the 1920s. So we had to first understand what they wanted, and then Norman and I tried to work together on it, but we couldn’t seem to gel on what we each wanted to do, so I said, “Well, okay, you work on yours and I’ll work on mine.” So what I did was, I went and got a couple of books—one was on black English by J.L. Dillard, and another was on black language—and I just saw what they had in standard English and tried to come up with what I felt was jive. I tried to jive it down, if you know what I mean, using actual words and actual meaning. So what we ended up saying does mean something. It’s not a bunch of gibberish or whatever. It did actually mean something.

Just to give you an example, in one of the scenes I say, “Mack herself a pro, slick! That gray matter back, lotta performers down, not take TCB-in’, man!” So “Mack” was taken from one of these books—the black English book, I think—and means to “to speak.” “Mack herself a pro,” she said she was a pro, or professional. “Slick,” that was his name I gave him. “Gray matter back,” I needed a word to jive down the word “remember,” but I didn’t find it in either of the books, so I said, “Well, let me see: ‘gray matter,’ that’s the thinking part of the brain, and ‘back’ for remember back. “Gray matter back.” And from there I’m just saying that a lot of performers stayed down and weren’t taking care of business on the technical side… man! [Laughs.]

When we got to the set and sat down, I said, “Okay, what do you have?” And Norman went over exactly what he had, and I went over what I had, and then I said, “Oh, okay, well, when you get to that part where it says, ‘See a broad a booty yak ’em,’ I’ll come in with, ‘Lay ’ down and smack ’em, yak ’em!’” So we gelled it together right there, just before we shot. Jerry came over and said, “You guys ready?” or something to that effect, and we said, “Yeah!” So we shot it, and he came back and said, “Can you throw a ‘man’ in there or something?” We said, “Yeah, we’ll throw a ‘man’ in there.” [Laughs.] Jerry was the only one who spoke to us, because David and Jim were in the back, watching on the monitor. But after every take, Jerry would go back and confer with David and Jim, and then he’d come back and give us whatever notes all three of them had come up with. So a lot of work went into it, but if it came off like it was easy to come up with it, then we did our job!

There’s all sorts of lessons in there about writing, acting, and life.

(Another great part of the piece is that Peter Graves didn’t really want to do the movie. But once he committed, he committed–and the result is gold.)