Return of the links
I beefed up my RSS feeds to make up for going on Twitter hiatus, and luckily for me several of my subscriptions link me to interesting stuff.
The Awl has a terrific piece on time travel movies and books and how they are grounded in (mostly unacknowledged) white privilege:
Whether it’s Marty McFly in 1950s Hill Valley or Jake Epping in segregated Texas, the entire genre of American time-travel fantasy, with its chaos theory nerdery, butterfly-effect affectations, and desire to reshape the present, is irrevocably linked to the very real idea of white privilege. No narrative of time-travel makes this case more powerfully than Octavia Butler’s masterpiece “Kindred,” which both deconstructed and revolutionized the genre by using time travel to explore the experience of slavery and its lingering effects on the present.
Unlike Back to the Future and “11.22.63,” there is no clear mission to speak of in “Kindred,” at least not one that Dana, the black writer at the center of the novel, is aware of. The circumstances for her time travel are ambiguous and entropic and, for a while, aimless. No rabbit holes. No flux capacitors. The time travel just occurs, suddenly, to Dana, and soon, to her white husband. Butler’s point is not that we are better and more self-aware than the backwards people of the past, nor is it that the past only fills rooms with roaches and erases photographs of family members. Rather, it’s that the past can weigh on the present in devastating ways. “Kindred” reminds us that, for some protagonists, traveling back in time is the opposite of escapist fantasy. The past is alive, says “Kindred.” The past is us.
Next up, the wonderful, inimitable, invaluable Laurie Anderson in a wide-ranging interview at The Atlantic. She talks about politics, blockbuster Broadway musicals, and concerts for dogs (OMG she doesn’t love Hamilton! and is brilliant on Trump):
Graham: Do you think Trump could win?
Anderson: I didn’t think he could get past the first state! So, my opinion isn’t really worth that much. I’ve been wrong over and over. I do think he could, just on the basis that I didn’t think he could get anywhere and now he’s got a lot of traction.
Graham: You engage a lot with politics in your work.
Anderson: I do. It’s a tough thing talking to power. It’s very, very tricky without sounding very billboardy. You have to twine your opinion into the rhetoric. So, it’s really interesting challenge.
Graham: Do you think you’ve gotten better at doing that over time?
Anderson: I don’t know. It’s difficult. You want to be really clear who you’re talking to in something like that. So William Burroughs for example invented a very good way of using the word “you.” The word “you” meant you people in the audience, you Americans, you … He would speak to those people. And you would know who “you” was. Not many people are skilled at that. Don Trump is very skilled at that. That’s why he’s doing so well. He speaks right to those people. He’s not in the third-person kind of thing that Hillary, and Bernie too, are doing. They’re not going for the gut response. Don is.
More politics: The always excellent political scientist and poll expert, Charles Franklin, on how polls are not broken in 2016:
So if you see a poll that is 5 points or more away from the trend, it may well turn out to be an outlier. But variation within 3 points of the trend is pretty common. So when the trend is, say, +2 for a candidate, expect to see most polls fall between -1 and +5. The -1 isn’t an outlier and neither is the +5. Both are consistent with a +2 race. But a -4 or a +8 should arouse some doubt.
The thing about trends is they can change. What looks like an outlier today could be the first poll picking up a shift in support. But until it is joined by other polls, together moving the trend estimate, be skeptical. Telling an outlier from a harbinger is nearly impossible based on a single poll. Some patience is required while more data accumulate, certainly a challenge in a world of instant news and analysis. But when two, then three then four polls are all below the previous trend, the evidence becomes more convincing.
To be clear, there are real challenges facing the polling industry. But there has been more rhetoric than evidence for the thesis that “polling is broken.” So far, the national polls in 2016 look a great deal like those from the past four presidential elections.
This is going to be a very long summer, US politics-wise, so the more sensible analysis we can find and hang on to, the better.
Finally, you may have missed the news that the Tribune Publishing Co., owner of the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, and more, formally and with great fanfare renamed itself … wait for it … Tronc. They paid real money for someone to come up with this, too. Of course Twitter had a field day with it, but this more serious response hit home for me:
It’s not just that the name is stupid, though it is. It’s that giving the company a stupid, laughable name and putting out a press release at 4 p.m. on a Thursday, filling said press release with management seminar horseshit about leveraging the strategies of the content of the monetization of the whatever the hell says to everyone who works for that company: Your work means to us exactly this little.
People ruin their lives, reporting and writing and covering the news. They lose friends, they lose sleep, they lose nights and weekends and uninterrupted vacations and unblemished memories and sometimes they lose more than that.
People die, reporting the news. Because reporting the news is more important to them than their lives.
Those people deserve better than “tronc.” They deserve better than 20 years of corporate flailing at every online trend, from the paywall to the hyperlocal to the longform back to the paywall again. They deserve better than hearing, over and over and over, that what they are is not what they think they are but “content curators” and “monetization engines” and they deserve better than hearing that it’s nobody’s fault when they know whose fault it is.
Readers like me, who daily have to wade through the Buzzfeedification and Upworthlessness of the current fad of chasing every stupid social media story gone viral, need the reminder that there are reporters like her who care about reporting the real news, the stuff that affects us. May we find each other as often as possible.