In the controversy over Lesley Arfin’s pattern of racially-inflected remarks, a lot of folks have asked why Lena Dunham hasn’t spoken up or taken decisive action to remove Arfin from the writers room. To a certain extent, it may have been because there was nothing she could do: the first season was in the can, and until there was a second announced, there wasn’t a writers’ room to rejigger. But now that there is, it would be helpful if Dunham publicly explained why she hired Arfin in the first place, what Arfin contributed to the first season, whether Arfin will or won’t be back for the second season, and why she made that decision.
POLL: Muslims Don’t Like Al Qaeda | A new poll from the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows high unfavorable ratings for the terror group Al Qaeda among Muslims across six different countries. The poll led the Council on Foreign Relations’ James Lindsay to comment that one year after group leader Osama Bin Laden’s death, “he won’t be missed much in Muslim-majority countries.” According to the findings, support for Al Qaeda has declined by between 43 and 12 percent since 2003 in the seven countries surveyed. Here’s a chart from Pew:
(HT: Josh Shahryar)
Tennessee Abandons ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill | Tennessee lawmakers have decided to drop the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill, meaning that SB49 “will die with the adjournment of the 107th General Assembly.” Under the measure, elementary and middle school teachers would have been prohibited from discussing sexual activity that is not related to “natural human reproduction science.” The bill’s sponsor Rep. Joey Hensley (R) “said the officials of the Department of Education and the state Board of Education have pledged to send a letter to all Tennessee schools ‘telling them they cannot teach this subject in grades kindergarten through eight.’” “With that assurance and the opposition of some people who didn’t want to vote on it, I’ve decided simply not to bring it up,” said Hensley. A similar measure is still being considered in Missouri, however.
Last year, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre made the odd claim that President Obama intentionally avoided gun regulation during his entire first term as part of a “massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in our country.” While LaPierre’s claim that Obama is simply waiting for a second term so that he can “get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms’ freedom” is more than a little implausible, it’s also proved to be a bonanza for the gun industry. Thanks to gun owners who share LaPierre’s paranoia, gun manufacturers literally cannot produce guns fast enough to keep up with demand:
Royal Oak-based Target Sports normally sells about 10 guns a day, but that has increased to 30 a day this year, owner Ray Jihad said.
He’d be selling even more, if he could get them.
“I don’t have any Rugers. There are a few models we sell a lot of, but I can’t even get them,” he said. Southport, Conn.-based Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc., which makes rifles and handguns, has been so swamped with orders that it has stopped taking new requests until the end of May. . . .
Worries about stricter gun laws after the upcoming presidential election are the driving force behind the firearms sales surge, said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel at the nonprofit Newtown, Conn-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade association.
“There is significant concern among the consumers that in a second term by the administration they will pivot on the gun issue and pursue policies that will restrict their Second Amendment rights,” Keane said.
Of course, many of the gun companies that benefit from LaPierre driving up anti-Obama paranoia are also many of the biggest funders of the NRA and its lobbying arm.
io9 has a great interview with Brit Marling, the writer and star of low-budget sci-fi movie Sound of My Voice, which, as I told y’all on Friday, I liked very much. I wanted to pull out part of the interview where she talks about how frustrating it is to come up against the same obstacles and challenges for female characters—particularly the tendency to use sexual assault as a default major obstacle for a dramatic heroine:
When Zal and I write [the two wrote Sound of My Voice together] sometimes you find yourself in a passive position. And you have stop yourself: “I set out to write a story about a strong woman acting with agency. And now here I am having her be sexually assaulted by somebody so she can achieve something else.” You have to tell yourself to stop.
And you realize that so much of this stuff is the same narrative being recycled over and over again, because a lot of it is happening unconsciously. We consume, we watch, we take it in, we create, it’s this negative feedback cycle. When I see things like Bridesmaids I get really excited. That film was really subversive and widely consumed and entertaining, but also saying really interesting things on female friendships and weddings. It was making fun of it all, that was refreshing, I hope we see more of that…
As an actor, that’s why I started writing. I came out to LA and I would read these things, you are hard pressed to find a script where the girl is not sexually assaulted or raped or manipulated or a sex toy — an object of affection. It’s always about the way men are looking at her. And cinema, traditionally has been about how men are looking at women. I do think we’re breaking that up now with more female directors, I think we’re starting to see the female gaze.
I think this is right. I should say that I have no problem with works that deal with women getting raped that are explicitly about examining the consequences of sexism. One of the reasons that the arc of Sons of Anarchy where Gemma is raped is so powerful is that it’s about the way she and everyone else around her deal with their internalized sexism: the men who rape her think she is a weak spot for the motorcycle gang she’s affiliated with, Gemma thinks her husband will put her off because men need to “own their pussy,” and her husband seduces her back to disprove that assumption. Similarly, as I argue in this book chapter I have coming out about A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, I really believe a lot of that series is about tying together sexual assault and monstrosity.
But rape doesn’t only happen to women, and it’s not the only thing that happens to women. You can lose your job, your house, your car, your kid, your best friend, your business, your family, your faith, your following, your office. If men are reaching for the worst thing that can happen to women and choosing rape out of a deficit of imagination, then that’s having a character be sexually assaulted for shock value. If you want to tell a story that’s about the worst thing that happened to a specific woman character, you should be thinking very specifically about her and less about your and the audience’s default answer to a question.
Spain officially plunged into its second recession in three years Monday, just days after the United Kingdom suffered the same fate. The driver of economic slowdowns across the European continent is austerity, the rapid reduction in debt and deficits that fails to address joblessness and leads to economic contraction.
Though the U.S. is experiencing slow but steady economic growth, austere economic policies are jeopardizing the future of the American economy as well. Half of the nation’s recent college graduates are either jobless or underemployed, according to data from Drexel University and the Economic Policy Institute. Republicans seized on the report as proof of President Obama’s failure, but youth employment numbers will only get worse under the GOP’s policies of austerity. That’s because austere government policies hit young workers the hardest, according to a new report from the International Labour Organization, as CNBC reports:
Youth unemployment has been singled out for particular concern in developed economies which critics argue governments have been slow to deal with. [Author of the report Raymond] Torres said the effects of austerity were particularly skewed against youth.
“It’s impossible to see massive declines in youth unemployment unless the economy itself starts to recover, because the youth are disproportionately affected by the stagnation and the recession. There are good practices that show that those countries which combine youth study with work experience do better,” he said.
As Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman notes, Europe provides ample proof of austerity’s failures for young workers. In Ireland, nearly a third of young workers are unemployed. In Spain, the unemployment rate for workers under age 25 tops 50 percent. Across America, public sector budget cuts have hit younger workers hardest. The effects are damning — young workers who enter a depressed workforce spend the rest of their lives making up the lost wages, affecting economic growth for decades.
Conservatives in the United States and Europe have pursued deficit and debt reduction policies with reckless abandon since the end of the Great Recession under the assumption that they would spark investor confidence and inspire growth. The opposite has been true. Austerity is failing across Europe, particularly for the young workers economies will depend on in the future. And yet, Republicans continue to push the same policies right here at home.
Long thought to produce only one generation of tree-killing offspring annually, some populations of mountain pine beetles now produce two generations per year, dramatically increasing the potential for the bugs.
Because of the extra annual generation of beetles, there could be up to 60 times as many beetles attacking trees in any given year, their study found. And in response to warmer temperatures at high elevations, pine beetles also are better able to survive and attack trees that haven’t previously developed defenses.
That’s from the University of Colorado, Boulder news release for a new study in in The American Naturalist.
We’ve known that climate change favors invasive species, but the mountain pine beetle infestation is far worse than anyone had imagined even a decade ago. This this new study, “Mountain Pine Beetle Develops an Unprecedented Summer Generation in Response to Climate Warming,” spells out the grim facts:
The current MPB epidemic is the largest in history, extending from the Yukon Territory, Canada, to southern California and New Mexico…. To date, more than 13 million ha [hectares] of trees have been killed in British Columbia. The MPB-killed trees in British Columbia alone will release 990 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, an amount equal to five times the annual emissions from all forms of transportation in the country. Forests affected by bark beetles also have altered hydrology and biogeochemical cycles. Thus, extensive beetle kill is altering forest ecology and tipping conifer forests from regional carbon sinks to carbon sources, thereby creating positive feedback for climate-change factors.
For more on the amplifying feedback, see “Nature: Beetle tree kill releases more carbon than fires.”
It turns out that there has been an “exponential increase in the beetle population.” Why has infestation been nonlinear? The study’s abstract explains:
The mountain pine beetle (MPB; Dendroctonus ponderosae) is native to western North America, attacks most trees of the genus Pinus, and periodically erupts in epidemics. The current epidemic of the MPB is an order of magnitude larger than any previously recorded, reaching trees at higher elevation and latitude than ever before. Here we show that after 2 decades of air-temperature increases in the Colorado Front Range, the MPB flight season begins more than 1 month earlier than and is approximately twice as long as the historically reported season. We also report, for the first time, that the life cycle in some broods has increased from one to two generations per year. Because MPBs do not diapause and their development is controlled by temperature, they are responding to climate change through faster development. The expansion of the MPB into previously inhospitable environments, combined with the measured ability to increase reproductive output in such locations, indicates that the MPB is tracking climate change, exacerbating the current epidemic.
[Read about diapause here. I welcome a simpler explanation from any biologist reading this.]
For more background on the study, here is an extended excerpt from the news release:
In an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, former Central Intelligence Agency clandestine operations chief Jose Rodriguez defended his department’s use of torture methods when questioning terrorist suspects.
We made some al Qaeda terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days. But we did the right thing for the right reason. And the right reason was to protect the homeland and to protect American lives. So yes, I had no qualms. [...]
If there was going to be another attack against the U.S., we would have blood on our hands because we would not have been able to extract that information from [a terrorist suspect]. So we started to talk about an alternative set of interrogation procedures.
Watch a clip:
Rodriguez compared so-called stress positions — such as making detainees hold their hands above their heads — and sleep-deprivation to going to the gym and having jetlag, respectively. He cited the interrogations of alleged Al Qaeda terrorists Abu Zubaydeh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. “This program was about instilling a sense of hopelessness and despair on the terrorist, on the detainee, so that he would conclude on his own that he was better off cooperating with us,” he said.
But others — including military and law enforcement officials and politicians — have said that interrogations are most effective when interrogators stick to the script laid out on interrogations in the Army Field Manual, which is informed by decades of military experience. Anti-torture advocates note that the interrogation techniques employed during the Bush administration go against American values, endanger U.S. troops who might facing reciprocal treatment, and often lead to false information because subjects of harsh interrogations will say anything to get the sessions to end.
When confronted by CBS’s Leslie Stahl with the FBI’s contention that Abu Zubaydeh gave up his most useful information before harsh interrogations, Rodriguez said, “It’s not true.” Asked about a CIA inspector general’s report stating that the guidelines — or lack thereof — led to “unauthorized, improvised, inhumane and undocumented” techniques, Rodriguez said, “Well our own inspector general in many cases did very sloppy work. That report is flawed in many different ways.” Told by Stahl that she’d heard information gained from Abu Zubayded through waterboarding led the U.S. on wild goose chases, Rodriguez fired back, “Bullshit. He gave us a road map that allowed us to capture a bunch of Al Qaeda senior leaders.” Still-secret documentation of the claims makes sorting out the disputes difficult.
But former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan said in an interview with CNN that “the examples that they are mentioning as the successes of EITs absolutely were not produced by EITs.” He said the information gleaned from Abu Zubaydeh that pointed to Khalid Sheik Muhammad’s central role in the 9/11 attacks came before waterboarding on Abu Zubaydeh began.
When the debate over harsh interrogations reignited after Osama Bin Laden’s killing, numerous former interrogators, officials who oversaw interrogations, military officials, and national security experts stated that the techniques were not as effective as traditional interrogation techniques and, furthermore, hurt U.S. interests by putting a bad face forward.
Even sometime Bush administration ally Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wrote, “Ultimately, this is more than a utilitarian debate. This is a moral debate. It is about who we are.”
Every1Against1 Campaign: Separate Is Not Equal | Every1Against1, a new campaign to oppose North Carolina’s Amendment 1 connects the discriminatory measure — which would ban same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships in the state — to the nation’s history of racial segregation. “If Amendment One becomes law — in effect writing discrimination, prejudice and injustice into our state’s constitution — what’s next,” the group asks and offers these startling images:
Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) minced no words at a town hall over the weekend, telling constituents that the only reason President Obama was elected in 2008 was because “he’s our first African-American president.”
Speaking at a town hall in Wheeling, Illinois on Sunday, Walsh gave his view on how to win the upcoming presidential election before launching into his take on the previous one. The House Republican said the country only voted for Obama because “he was a historic figure… our first African-American president.” Walsh noted that other factors helped, including McCain’s age, but argued that Obama “never would have gotten there without his historic nature.”
WALSH: He was a historic figure. He’s our first African-American president. The country voted for him because of that. It made us feel good about [our]self. I’ve said it before, it helped that John McCain was about 142 years old. It helped that the economy was tanking. A lot of these things helped. But he never would have gotten there without his historic nature.
To say that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama benefited from latent prejudices is absurd.
Yet Walsh is using this view to undermine the president’s legitimacy and argue that he was elected not on his merits, but because of his race. Earlier in the town hall, Walsh criticized Obama for not being able to “understand this stuff” (speaking about government spending) because “he was an accidental president.”
Still, Walsh isn’t the only one to espouse this worldview. A recent survey found that “white Americans feel they are more discriminated against than blacks.”