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The Unravelling of America

As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country.

Activist Anthropologist and Public Ruminator Wade Davis discusses the decline of the American Empire. But his former colleague at UBC Deanna Kreisel counters with her own attempted take-down of smug Canadian exceptionalism.
posted by Rumple (15 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

The Problem with the New American Exceptionalism, from all the way back in the ancient mists of 2012:

The will not to believe is the shifting sand beneath the unstable entire architecture of American Exceptionalism. Because our attachment to the idea is theological, and not empirical, we can neither look at our history nor our politics honestly. Eventually, the lies pile up, one atop the other, and you get a Willard Romney, who runs an entire campaign based on self-refutation and deceit. Eventually, the elections become electronic Kabuki. Our elections must be honest, not because we make them so, but simply because they are ours. It will all work out right in the end because this is America, fk yeah, the shining city on a hill. Faith eventually undermines reality. We start believing in spirits and incantations. And then we fall, hard.

posted by Rhaomi at 12:22 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]

Deanna Kreisel’s rebuttal rings true: Davis’s “We all shop at Safeway” is so West Van privilege it hurts.

Never trust a country that can’t even decide on a standard for screwdrivers.
posted by scruss at 12:31 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]

Eventually, the elections become electronic Kabuki.

creating the executive baka- roo.
posted by clavdivs at 12:45 PM on August 10

Tell Deanna never to visit San Francisco! Oh I forgot she moved to the egalitarian stronghold of Mississippi.
posted by Max Power at 12:46 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]
Deanna Kreisel’s rebuttal rings true: Davis’s “We all shop at Safeway” is so West Van privilege it hurts.

QFT!

Never trust a country that can’t even decide on a standard for screwdrivers.

You’d have to pry my colour-coded Robertson screwdrivers from my cold, dead hands.
posted by bcd at 12:49 PM on August 10

I’m Canadian, and I sometimes wonder what would have happened had the pandemic occurred while Stephen Harper was prime minister. Would he have kept the border with the U.S. open? He spent ten years ignoring climate change, preferring to grow Alberta’s economy; he might have ignored the pandemic as well.

I can’t help but think that one reason why Canada has dealt with the pandemic relatively well (besides good old luck) is that the Conservative party is currently changing leaders, so they have been silent throughout. They’ll have a new leader at the end of this month, and he’ll start spewing the usual nonsense that Conservative leaders spew. And since much of the Canadian press is pro-Conservative, the party will have a platform. (I freely admit to a bias here.)

Also: Canada’s case count is likely to go up when we open the schools up in September. Most provinces don’t have a particularly well thought out plan for this. I’m pretty much planning on returning to a Phase 1 lifestyle in the fall.

I feel terrible for the majority of Americans that didn’t vote for Trump and are busy doing the same sort of sensible things that most Canadians are doing (wearing a mask, avoiding crowded indoor spaces, and practicing physical distancing). It must be like being in some sort of horrible hostage situation. I have family and friends in the U.S., and I fear for them. Stay safe, everyone.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 12:54 PM on August 10 [5 favorites]

The paragraphs about Canada felt out of place in this piece.
posted by shenkerism at 12:55 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]
I wonder whom he blames for the election of Doug Ford — a buffoon’s buffoon in the true Trumpian mold — to the premiership of Ontario in 2018?

Heh. Fair point. As an Ontario resident, I blame Ontarians.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:00 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]

Canada is probably not a perfect state, but then who is?

American Exceptionalism, on the other hand, has become a disease, rather than the aspiration and dream it once was.

One of the things Trump was right about during his 2015 campaign, in a wrong way, is that the US in many ways resembles a “third world” country more than the leader of the world. I remember taking a wrong turn in Houston and arriving in something much more like the favelas of Brazil than even the poorest areas in Paris. This was during the 90’s, when Clinton was president. Trump blames the poor for their poverty (or more likely, for their skin color), but that doesn’t take away the fact that parts of the US suffer from squalor one normally wouldn’t expect in a wealthy country.

One of my friends was infected by the corona virus, and has quite severe late effects. She is a school teacher, and her employer has accepted that she will be on half time indefinitely. To compensate for the rest of the time she will have sick benefits. Her treatment is free, obviously. Since she is a low-income worker, her taxes are low, we tax the rich to provide for the poor.
We also have decent roads in every corner of our country, and great hospitals that are sought out by billionaires from less fortunate places.
Still, some people are very rich in this country and have huge estates and private planes.

Right now, we have a Social Democratic government and I can be as smug as ever. But if our former corrupt government had been in charge, we’d probably been like the UK. Still better than the US, but not at all safe.
posted by mumimor at 1:03 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]

I’ll give Kreisel this: it’s not easy to find someone who hates living in Vancouver, and less easy yet to find someone happier living in Mississippi. To be fair, she had to escape all that Canadian gun violence, crime, prejudice and poverty.
posted by Italian Radio at 1:04 PM on August 10
I wonder whom he blames for the election of Doug Ford — a buffoon’s buffoon in the true Trumpian mold — to the premiership of Ontario in 2018?

I certainly blame Ontarians, but Ford was unexpectedly lucky – he became leader of the Progressive Conservatives (under questionable circumstances) just before the election.

For better or worse, the voters of Ontario were fed up with the Liberals, who had been in power for eons. The situation was so dire for them that virtually anybody could have won the election as leader of the PC party.

Ford was an unknown quantity in most of Ontario, and many parts of the province tend to vote PC reflexively by default. We in Toronto tried our best to jump up and down, yell and scream, and warn everybody as loudly as we could, but to no avail.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 1:06 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]

Kriesel’s takedown is pretty thorough and cogent, Max, and deserves better than to be simply brushed off based on the author’s residence: the sadism of modern capitalism has me stuck in fucking Texas, which I would rate slightly below Cocytus in terms of places I want to live (even moreso, now). For reasons of family or employer (clearly the latter in Kriesel’s case, and my own) we don’t all get to pick where we live, and based on her expressed political views if she left Vancouver for Mississippi then it probably wasn’t because she considered it an upgrade either in real terms or her political proximity to the median voter.

Italian Radio: she’s pretty clear that she loves Vancouver but thinks it’s overpriced and not statistically better than most major US metros, and she provides a lot of solid documentation to that effect. The claim that she prefers Mississippi is wholly your invention, not something borne out anywhere in the text.

I get it: we all hate what America has become, or what we have become aware of it always having been, but Davis’ piece was both intellectually lazy and shockingly disingenuous, and piling on someone for rightly calling it out as such and providing copious statistics to prove her point doesn’t demonstrate our virtue, it demonstrates our own intellectual sloth. We can do better than this.
posted by Ryvar at 1:19 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]

This is a very white vs. white conversation, but I’ll scooch my Latino ass in here for this: the only issue I’d take with Kreisel’s rebuttal is the underlying implication that anti-Americanism is misplaced and mistaken, rather than richly earned by the USA itself.

My parents fled two different Latin American countries that were perennially experiencing CIA/School of the Americas-style “regime change” and US-supported dictatorships. They fled to Canada, while other branches of the family fled to the US, and some stayed behind. All of us suffered and struggled and survived in different but comparable ways.

From our not-fully-post-colonial perspective, it is entirely possible that both of these statements are true:
a) Canadian smugness is The Literal Worst
b) ‘anti-Americanism’ deserves as much sympathy as ‘reverse racism’
posted by LMGM at 1:19 PM on August 10

I kinda nodded along when the original article came out, but I’m going to give this one to Kreisel.

There are salient differences between the US and Canada and Davis does a poor job of surfacing them and drawing causality with current issues.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 1:19 PM on August 10

c) …and both built their empires on stolen land.
posted by LMGM at 1:23 PM on August 10

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Miracle at the Vistula

100 years ago this week, the Battle of Warsaw raged. Two years after the War to End All Wars, the just-established Soviet Union was invading Poland, hoping to stir revolution in central Europe. Polish forces were falling back and defeat looked likely, until a surprise attack yielded a stunning victory. posted by doctornemo (0 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

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Surprising nuggets from r/classicalmusic

Realistic render of Frédéric Chopin by Hadi Karimi. (Also, Chopin’s cartooning on his manuscript) “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of my violin.” Shostakovich Posing with a cat and a kitten. Also, a pig. Shostakovich working on Symphony 8 Saint-Saens in his amazing pajamas. Early 1900s Colorized Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. Also, Listz 4 months before he died. Extra, My great great Grandfather chilling with Rachmaninoff Alfred Schnittke’s gravestone. (And Stockhausen’s) posted by growabrain (0 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

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Sweatpants Forever

Even before the pandemic, the whole US fashion industry had started to unravel. What happens now that no one has a reason to dress up? (NYT).

Some choice quotes:

If in the last decade you’ve gone looking for a simple cashmere sweater and instead encountered ones with zippers, giant animal faces, glitter shoulders or “distressed” anything — that’s novelty. If you found yourself annoyed, you were not alone. “That was so we could sell to Saks, Neiman, Barneys, Nordstrom, Colette, and everybody could have their own special thing,” Sternberg recalled. “I was basically making stuff I didn’t like because I thought a buyer wanted it, not even the customer.”

and

So detrimental was the cycle of overproduction and discounting to luxury goods that in 2018, Burberry, the British label, revealed that it had been burning — not metaphorically but literally: burning — $37 million of worth of merchandise per year to maintain “brand value.”

and

fashion might go the way of other industries, like film, in which there are the blockbusters and the tiny indies and nothing in between. “Band didn’t need to be a $100 million brand,” Sternberg said. “But is there a place for a $30 million brand that can self-sustain and be around year after year? Certainly not with big backers, because that’s not interesting to them. Wholesale used to be able to support that, but it also ultimately killed it.”

If you’ve used up your NYT reads this month, here is a link to the unlocked article.

posted by adrianhon (0 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

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The idea that queer people are not only allowed to live but thrive

With Steven Universe and She-Ra both having ended this year, PAPER invited showrunners Rebecca Sugar [non-binary, she/her/they/them] and Noelle Stevenson [non-binary, any pronouns] to sit down with one another and reflect on the legacies of their respective series, getting their start in comics, the state of representation in the animated field and where things go from here.

(No pullquotes because I would just end up pullquoting the entire article.)

posted by one for the books (2 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

I began to think about what a difference it would make to have an LGBTQIA role model on the other side of the table — having a conversation about what it takes to have self-respect in a world that wants to kill you. What a difference it would make to grow up knowing that someone out there wants to talk about that, is experiencing that in the way that you’re experiencing that in real time, the way we experienced that when we were kids. That would have a huge impact.

I came out in 1990 in a decently-large city with zero gay bars, an entirely underground (and hard to find) gay underground, and only really insulting media depictions of gay men as effeminate swishes who were comic relief and all hair dressers and whatever blah blah blah. Today’s kids (and even adults, really) are going to have it so much easier, and I’m so very happy for that.

This article is a really great read. I haven’t watched either of these shows, but I’ve been hearing about them for years, and this conversation between the two showrunners is really nicely thought-through and insightful. Thank you!
posted by hippybear at 12:37 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]

I’ve said for a while that Steven Universe’s statre is going to grow over time, it’s not only groundbreaking in important ways relating to gender expression, but is also a great show. To see Cartoon Network telling Rebecca Sugar that they couldn’t have same sex characters in a relationship, while earlier this year trumpeting those same relationships in promotional materials, I guess it really the Age of Hypocrisy.

Also now how, by telling Sugar she couldn’t have gay or non-binary relationships in her show because it might get it pulled in other countries, Cartoon Network has essentially imported those countries’ backward morals into the US, allowing them to dictate the stories that can be told in the US. It might not fly there, so we can’t say it here!
posted by JHarris at 12:52 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

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Every Pokemon is interesting and worth talking about

Here’s Another Pokemon is a weekend column on Kotaku by Zack Zwiezen which explores interesting, unusual, and startling Pokedex entries (with a fair amount of assistance from Bulbapedia). Each entry discusses a different Pokemon at length, with random facts, personal observations, and highlighted fan art and comments.

Some examples:

Xatu Can See The Future And Is Scared Of It – One entry simply stats “This odd Pokémon can see both the past and the future.” I would not use the word “odd” to describe a mythical creature who can actually see through time. I would also probably end the sentence with something like “Dear God, we must never anger this being.”

Bewear Will Crush You To Death With Its Hugs – Bears in real life are dangerous and can easily kill you. It seems in the Pokemon world this is true too. But unlike our bears, which will just bite and eat you, Bewear will actually hug you so hard you might die.

Spoink Will Die If It Ever Stops Bouncing – Life is hard for Spoink. So many things they can’t do. Though I think they could get a hug. Catch them in the air, hug for a moment and then slam them back down.

Whimsicott Will Sneak Into Your Home And Move Your Furniture – It will also leave behind cotton balls sometimes, which doesn’t seem like a great prank. I feel like I have cotton balls in my home, but I don’t remember buying them. They just exist. So maybe Whimsicott has already pranked me?

Stantler Pulls Santa’s Sleigh And Has Magical Antlers That Warp Reality – Imagine going out to hunt Pokemon and having to deal with deer that can create magical illusions, bears that will hug you to death and toads that will stab and poison you with deadly fingers. Hunting probably isn’t a popular hobby in the Pokemon universe.

It’s also worth reading the comments of these posts, particularly those of Pokemon superfan MegaBlastoise, who typically adds additional factoids and commentary.

posted by May Kasahara (3 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I really like the one for Spiritomb, Spiritomb Is Just 108 Angry Ghosts Trapped In A Rock. I agree that it’s very un-Pokemon-like–it’s like the artist started to do a Joker Pokemon (Jokermon?) and about halfway through just decided to Bill Sienkiewicz it. I disagree about people not wanting to catch it; it’s freaky-fun in its semi-abstractness.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:59 AM on August 9
I really like the one for Spiritomb, Spiritomb Is Just 108 Angry Ghosts Trapped In A Rock. I agree that it’s very un-Pokemon-like–it’s like the artist started to do a Joker Pokemon (Jokermon?) and about halfway through just decided to Bill Sienkiewicz it.

This one, like a lot of the other Pokemon that seem inexplicable to Western audiences, is actually rooted in Eastern literature and folklore:

To be precise, Spiritomb is made up of 108 spirits, a number with several relevant meanings. Water Margin, one of China’s most treasured pieces of classic literature, begins when an army marshal accidentally unleashes 108 malevolent spirits from a stone monument. Centuries later, 108 outlaws – presumably reincarnated from the spirits – become heroic defenders of China against invaders. Meanwhile, in Japan, Buddhism recognizes a set of 108 temptations a soul must overcome to find Nirvana, and a bell is traditionally rung 108 times on New Year’s Eve to drive them away.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:20 AM on August 9

These seem to start in February of last year: https://kotaku.com/croagunk-will-stab-you-with-his-poison-fingers-1832826089. I am sad that there doesn’t seem to be a link that lets you read all of these in a blog-like format.
posted by 3j0hn at 11:21 AM on August 9

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The Therapy Equivalent of Uber

Several serious ethical crises emerging at online therapy companies like Talkspace and BetterHelp are gaining mainstream attention. Consumer beware: there are credible allegations of fake reviews on a grand scale (NYT), a CEO who openly advocates data mining of “confidential” (and undeletable) therapy transcripts (NYT), blatant HIPAA violations such as openly revealing patient emails (Forbes), and much more.

At Talkspace, Start-Up Culture Collides With Mental Health Concerns (NYT): The therapy-by-text company made burner phones available for fake reviews and doesn’t adequately respect client privacy, former employees say.

“We need data. All of our data. Mine and yours.” (NYT): Talkspace CEO pens op-ed supporting mining data from patients’ undeletable therapy transcripts.

Talkspace Reveals Clients’ Email, Violating Clinical Confidentiality (Forbes): “Talkspace explicitly defines itself as a “Platform.” It is a business with customers and not a healthcare provider with clients or patients. And it is as a business they promise both anonymity and confidentiality. They use the language of a clinical relationship. But that is not what Talkspace is. When Talkspace promises confidentiality it is done with all the limitations in trust inherent in any company’s marketplace promises. Talkspace defines itself and is only accountable as a business, not as a healthcare provider.”

BREAKDOWN: Inside the messy world of anonymous therapy app Talkspace (Verge): This lengthy expose discusses how mental health counselors are exploited via low pay, unpredictable pay, unmanageable hours, and being forced to violate professional ethics in service of business concerns. It also details patient rights violations: everything from leaky privacy, professionally irresponsible anonymity, predatory/bogus charges, patient abandonment, and overall failure to provide medical care while misleading patients.

YouTube’s BetterHelp mental health controversy, explained (Polygon): Not only do many YouTube’s celebrity creators have lucrative sponsorship deals with BetterHelp, YouTube itself has ties with BetterHelp and often displays ads for BetterHelp under the videos of any creator discussing mental health. Backing away from the sponsorship does mean a loss of impressive affiliate money for creators; that’s part of the issue. Most of the videos that have BetterHelp sponsorships revolve around a creator discussing their own issues. While these are valid, viewers have complained that it feels like profiteering off mental illness at best, and causing serious harm to mentally ill people at worst. (BetterHelp’s terms of service state that the company can’t guarantee a qualified professional. “We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you.”)

Therapy app Talkspace accused of ethically questionable practices (MobiHealthNews): “The notion that the company can read the chats – and isn’t entirely clear about the circumstances in which it does – raises concerns about privacy and confidentiality and may have spurred the August HIPAA complaint by a therapist on the platform. It also threatens to undermine the trust relationship between patients and therapists. So does the notion that a therapist might be required to insert a script into a therapy session, promoting or advertising additional Talkspace services – a practice The Verge says Talkspace has engaged in.”

posted by MiraK (4 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

As a therapist this is terrifying. As a patient this is even more terrifying. In sum, terrifying.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:51 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]
This, in particular, blows my mind: “Users can’t delete their [therapy] transcripts, for example, because they are considered medical records.” I remember when I was in therapy, the psychologist who treated me put an enormous effort into writing up a medical record for me that divulged the bare minimum, in the vaguest terms possible, in order to protect my privacy, precisely because he was required by law to keep it on file for many years and possibly reveal it to courts if required to by a judge. So my record was full of session notes that read like: “Patient reports anxiety over a recent concerning event. We discussed relational and personal aspects of the event and connected it to childhood events. Psychodynamic and cognitive interventions were used.” And that’s it.

The idea that Talkspace stores THE ENTIRE TRANSCRIPT of every therapy session AS THE MEDICAL RECORD is … yeah, terrifying.
posted by MiraK at 9:55 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]

Sweet Jesus Fuck.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:19 AM on August 9
The best way to protect data is to not collect it at all, and every tech system in wide use is designed to store every piece of data that passes into the system.

The prospect of texting therapy gave me the willies the first time I saw ads for it, and for similar non-therapy chatbots: who knows where that data is going?

I shouldn’t feel smug for being vindicated in every way, but I absolutely do. This sort of data collection and mining was what these sorts of chat systems were designed to do, using it for therapy is very nearly as bad an idea as electronic voting.

This isn’t to excuse anything that Talkspace has done. There’s ways to keep this sort of thing secure. But you have to actually want to. The default is to just collect everything.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:23 AM on August 9

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“Tenderness … shows the world as being alive, living, interconnected”

Olga Tokarczuk has written first-person stories, coincidentally with mild SF/F themes, e.g. “All Saints’ Mountain” and “Borderland.” There’s also Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead (excerpt), “a suspenseful murder mystery and a powerful and profound meditation on human existence” (review). But her Nobel Prize lecture contemplates the potential “tenderness” of stories told in wide perspective, e.g. in her novel Flights (excerpt 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) and perhaps stories like “Dress Rehearsal,” “The Knight,” “An Evening with the Author,” and “Preserves for Life.” In “On the Highs and Lows of Translating Olga Tokarczuk,” Jennifer Croft comments on how Tokarczuk’s upcoming The Books of Jacob relates to that project. See also Croft’s “When an Author You Translate Gets Death Threats” and recent status update.
posted by Wobbuffet (0 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

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