5 reasons why Hillary Clinton’s first New York ad missed the mark

AlterNetHillary Clinton has released her first New York ad in anticipation of the April 19 primary. The 30-second spot features a diverse array of people, presumably New Yorkers, as Clinton narrates:

New York. 20 million people strong. No, we don’t all look the same. We don’t all sound the same either. But when we pull together we do the biggest things in the world. So when some say we can solve America’s problems by building walls, banning people based on their religion and turning against each other, well, this is New York, and we know better.

While the ad is as stylish as a Benetton commercial, it is problematic for several reasons. 1. Bernie Sanders, her main competition, isn’t the focus. The ad hones in on Donald Trump’s bigotry and violent rallies. But New York is a closed primary state and hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate in a presidential election in over 30 years. 2. Trump had a small hand in the rebuilding of the Twin Towers. As a first-term senator, Clinton was instrumental in securing $21 billion in funding for the World Trade Center site’s redevelopment after 9/11. On the other hand, Donald Trump “became the most prominent backer of a plan to rebuild Manhattan’s World Trade Center,” reported Business Insider. Donald Trump’s initial plan, to rebuild the towers exactly the same but with stronger material, was largely nixed, with the exception of the 9/11 Memorial. Still, for an attack ad on Trump, a positive framing of any real estate ventures he was involved in is pretty counter-productive. 3. Clinton’s 9/11 experiences that could win voters are brushed over. As a first-term New York senator, Hillary Clinton investigated the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders who thanked her for the passage of the health care legislation during a 2004 ceremony. Instead of featuring footage of events like this, the only shot of Hillary in the ad shows her meeting bodega customers. 4. Clinton’s lauded New York endorsements don’t receive the slightest mention. Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who believes wholeheartedly that “Clinton, ‘an experienced progressive,’ would win in the election against Donald Trump.” 5. Clinton was New York’s first female senator. For a campaign that has largely revolved around a female presidency being a benchmark of equality, this detail should have been included in her first New York ad. Watch Hillary Clinton’s first New York ad: AlterNetHillary Clinton has released her first New York ad in anticipation of the April 19 primary. The 30-second spot features a diverse array of people, presumably New Yorkers, as Clinton narrates:

New York. 20 million people strong. No, we don’t all look the same. We don’t all sound the same either. But when we pull together we do the biggest things in the world. So when some say we can solve America’s problems by building walls, banning people based on their religion and turning against each other, well, this is New York, and we know better.

While the ad is as stylish as a Benetton commercial, it is problematic for several reasons. 1. Bernie Sanders, her main competition, isn’t the focus. The ad hones in on Donald Trump’s bigotry and violent rallies. But New York is a closed primary state and hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate in a presidential election in over 30 years. 2. Trump had a small hand in the rebuilding of the Twin Towers. As a first-term senator, Clinton was instrumental in securing $21 billion in funding for the World Trade Center site’s redevelopment after 9/11. On the other hand, Donald Trump “became the most prominent backer of a plan to rebuild Manhattan’s World Trade Center,” reported Business Insider. Donald Trump’s initial plan, to rebuild the towers exactly the same but with stronger material, was largely nixed, with the exception of the 9/11 Memorial. Still, for an attack ad on Trump, a positive framing of any real estate ventures he was involved in is pretty counter-productive. 3. Clinton’s 9/11 experiences that could win voters are brushed over. As a first-term New York senator, Hillary Clinton investigated the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders who thanked her for the passage of the health care legislation during a 2004 ceremony. Instead of featuring footage of events like this, the only shot of Hillary in the ad shows her meeting bodega customers. 4. Clinton’s lauded New York endorsements don’t receive the slightest mention. Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who believes wholeheartedly that “Clinton, ‘an experienced progressive,’ would win in the election against Donald Trump.” 5. Clinton was New York’s first female senator. For a campaign that has largely revolved around a female presidency being a benchmark of equality, this detail should have been included in her first New York ad. Watch Hillary Clinton’s first New York ad: AlterNetHillary Clinton has released her first New York ad in anticipation of the April 19 primary. The 30-second spot features a diverse array of people, presumably New Yorkers, as Clinton narrates:

New York. 20 million people strong. No, we don’t all look the same. We don’t all sound the same either. But when we pull together we do the biggest things in the world. So when some say we can solve America’s problems by building walls, banning people based on their religion and turning against each other, well, this is New York, and we know better.

While the ad is as stylish as a Benetton commercial, it is problematic for several reasons. 1. Bernie Sanders, her main competition, isn’t the focus. The ad hones in on Donald Trump’s bigotry and violent rallies. But New York is a closed primary state and hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate in a presidential election in over 30 years. 2. Trump had a small hand in the rebuilding of the Twin Towers. As a first-term senator, Clinton was instrumental in securing $21 billion in funding for the World Trade Center site’s redevelopment after 9/11. On the other hand, Donald Trump “became the most prominent backer of a plan to rebuild Manhattan’s World Trade Center,” reported Business Insider. Donald Trump’s initial plan, to rebuild the towers exactly the same but with stronger material, was largely nixed, with the exception of the 9/11 Memorial. Still, for an attack ad on Trump, a positive framing of any real estate ventures he was involved in is pretty counter-productive. 3. Clinton’s 9/11 experiences that could win voters are brushed over. As a first-term New York senator, Hillary Clinton investigated the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders who thanked her for the passage of the health care legislation during a 2004 ceremony. Instead of featuring footage of events like this, the only shot of Hillary in the ad shows her meeting bodega customers. 4. Clinton’s lauded New York endorsements don’t receive the slightest mention. Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who believes wholeheartedly that “Clinton, ‘an experienced progressive,’ would win in the election against Donald Trump.” 5. Clinton was New York’s first female senator. For a campaign that has largely revolved around a female presidency being a benchmark of equality, this detail should have been included in her first New York ad. Watch Hillary Clinton’s first New York ad:

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How baseball got so lame: The national pastime is so white and so dreary — and is still a money machine

I grew up as a fan of the San Francisco Giants, which meant something very different then than it does now. In the 21st century, the Giants are an enormously rich and successful franchise whose fancy waterfront stadium and affluent, tech-economy fan base serve as a perfect illustration of the way baseball has been transformed — not to say gentrified, a loaded term that fits all too perfectly in this context. To say it wasn’t always that way is an understatement. None of this took place in a vacuum, to be sure: San Francisco was a frayed and downtrodden city for much of the 1970s and ‘80s and its baseball team reflected that. The Giants were perennial also-rans who struggled to draw fans to the wind-blown desolation of Candlestick Park, a concrete monstrosity that the city fathers had perversely located on an isolated peninsula in the city’s southeastern corner. We were repeated told that the team would be sold and moved to some more hospitable city: Toronto or Tampa or Las Vegas or damn near anywhere else. Only the Giants’ road games were on TV (announced by the legendarily laconic Lon Simmons), and not too many of those. Seeing a game in person either involved navigating strangled traffic and tundra-like parking lots or a slow public-transit journey involving at least one transfer. I can remember going to a game against the Houston Astros with my friend Chris from down the street. We took a bus and then a train and then another bus. Whatever the tickets cost — the price that sticks in my head is $2.75 — I guess our allowances could handle it. We plotted the journey out with our parents, but we went on our own. (Maybe our dads understood what a dire experience it was likely to be.) We were 12 years old. Was baseball in better shape, as a business or an industry or an entertainment product, when Chris and I could go to a game without adult chaperones, without buying tickets from StubHub weeks ahead of time, and without much advance planning? Or when, a few years later, I literally snuck into a World Series game at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore? (You gave a local kid a few bucks, and he showed you the hole he had cut through the cyclone fence.) Clearly not, and when culture-vulture types like me come along to proclaim that baseball is dying, its boosters have all kinds of impressive numbers at their disposal. But baseball was in a vastly different cultural position in those years, one that is difficult or impossible to quantify. Chris and I and that kid with the wire-cutters in Baltimore came along toward the end of a long period in American history when baseball served as a kind of male-coded cultural glue (although it certainly entrapped some women and girls) that transcended race, religion, socioeconomic status and geography. We felt ourselves connected, with no sense of detachment and no quotation marks, to the mythic lore and overwrought symbolism of baseball. I probably knew, at that age, the anecdote recounted in the new baseball-boosting documentary “Fastball,” about how Walter Johnson, later a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Washington Senators, was discovered playing semi-pro ball in the Snake River Valley of rural Idaho. I doubt anyone plays semi-pro baseball in the Snake River Valley today (except on the Xbox), and if anyone does they definitely don’t include the next Walter Johnson. Were we kidding ourselves, at the time, about the enduring cultural power of baseball, which was visibly fading in places like the frigid, empty bleachers of Candlestick Park? Is my backward glance at that era now tinged or occluded by middle-aged masculine nostalgia? Yes and yes. But certain things are not illusory, starting with the fact that what happened to baseball has more to do with the social segmentation, niche marketing and cultural commodification that characterize 21st-century America than with baseball itself. Baseball has been reinvented, whether deliberately or accidentally, as an immensely successful niche sport whose audience is overwhelmingly white, suburban, affluent and middle-aged or older. It has pretty much become the Republican Party of professional sports. I mean that as a metaphor: In cities like Boston and San Francisco, baseball’s core demographic in the squaresville top tenth of the Caucasian population no doubt includes plenty of liberals (although I’m going to crawl out on a limb and say that they skew toward Clinton rather than Sanders). If this transformation doesn’t pose an economic and demographic problem at the moment, and apparently will not do so into the medium term, it’s hard to imagine that it’s sustainable indefinitely. No, baseball isn’t dying, as ardent defenders like Maury Brown of Forbes constantly remind us. Whatever happened to the sport formerly known as America’s national pastime, “death” does not describe it. Major League Baseball was a $9.5 billion business in 2015, and has experienced at least a dozen years of steady revenue growth, right through the big financial crash of 2008. Some baseball insiders predict that MLB’s revenues will soon surpass those of the concussion-plagued National Football League, long the Goliath of American spectator sports. (The NFL grossed about $12 billion last year.) Although baseball’s owners have made various attempts to contain player salaries over the years, with all that money flowing in they really haven’t needed to. At least 10 of the sport’s big-name stars will earn $25 million or more apiece in the 2016 season, which opens this weekend, led by Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw at $32 million. (Perhaps half the players on that list are being egregiously overpaid for past accomplishments, but that’s how it goes.) Even unsuccessful teams keep signing cable-TV deals involving remarkably large numbers. The Arizona Diamondbacks are feuding with local authorities over their decaying home stadium; they haven’t made the playoffs for five years and have played in the World Series only once, in 2001. Yet for reasons someone other than me will have to explain, Fox Sports Arizona just agreed to pay $1.5 billion to carry D-backs games for the next six years, replacing an old contract at one-sixth the price. But there are lies, damned lies and statistics, as Mark Twain famously observed (wrongly attributing the quote to Benjamin Disraeli), and baseball’s obsessive relationship to statistics is one aspect of its cultural problem. No, I’m not being an old-line fan complaining about the rise of “sabermetric” measurements of player value, such as “on-base plus slugging” (OPS) or “wins above replacement” (WAR). Or at least not exactly. Those newfangled stats have sometimes led baseball fans and general managers hilariously astray, as with the brief mania for “three true outcome” players, meaning hitters who strike out, walk or hit home runs, but rarely do anything else. But they emerged more or less organically from the nerdy, monastic nature of baseball fandom as it encountered the Information Age, and they successfully quantified some of the sport’s esoteric mysteries, including the fact that a .290 hitter is sometimes superior to a .310 hitter and that certain old-school stats, like runs batted in (RBIs) or a pitcher’s wins and losses, are almost meaningless. If the numbers tell us that baseball isn’t dead or dying, they cannot quite explain how and why it has so thoroughly driven away younger fans, working-class fans and nonwhite fans over the last three decades. Baseball is now largely a sport played by exurban white Americans and young men from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean nations, with a smattering of imported Asian players. African-American participation in baseball is at or near an all-time low, a change that is glaringly obvious to those of us who grew up when most of the game’s best hitters were black Americans, from Willie Mays to Willie Stargell to Reggie Jackson to the steroid-tainted home run king, Barry Bonds. The 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, who beat the Orioles in that World Series game where I snuck through the fence, featured eight black or Latino players among their starting nine. Some baseball purists do blame the influence of sabermetrics for baseball’s altered and diminished cultural status, or blame the various innovations designed to modernize the sport or broaden its appeal. I don’t much like interleague play or video replay myself, or even the designated hitter (introduced when I was a small child). But at worst those things are symptoms of a deeper and broader ailment, not causes. As I have suggested, the real meaning of the question “What happened to baseball?” is probably “What happened to America?” In an era of increasing political division and economic inequality, the naïve and sentimental democratic dream that baseball once appeared to represent has become unworkable and even embarrassing. If my friend Chris and I were 11 years old today, we might watch Giants games on our dads’ big-screen TVs once in a while. (Most likely while wearing our Stephen Curry or Lionel Messi replica jerseys.) But would we feel anything more than bafflement, impatience and contempt for the fatuous middle-aged notion that baseball somehow expressed the American soul — or that America had a soul?

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TV’s tokenism tension: “Rush Hour,” “Lopez” and the tricky balancing act of diversifying aging networks

It does not seem obvious that the 1998 film “Rush Hour” would be adapted into a 2016 television procedural on CBS. “Rush Hour,” the film, is a profane buddy comedy starring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan as an unlikely pair of law enforcers brought together by an abduction that crosses international lines. Tucker brought an element of Eddie Murphy’s “Beverly Hills Cop” to his performance as Carter, performing—perhaps over-performing—the role of a wisecracking, street-smart black man in Los Angeles. Chan, meanwhile, served up his usual action-hero charm as Lee, the Chinese agent flown in from the other side of the world—stumbling through his English in a way he would never stumble through a fight scene. In the original film, both characters are playing up their own ethnic identities to contrast them against the other, for whatever laughs they can muster; at times, this highlights the enormous bridge between the stereotypes for both races, and at times, it plays uncomfortably into the existing norms. To this easily amused viewer who is neither black nor Chinese, “Rush Hour” is a very funny, a surprisingly cosmopolitan buddy comedy about globalization (?!) filled with banter about, for no reason at all, Edwin Starr’s “War.” It stars two leads of color and a Latina sidekick, a bunch of its dialogue is Chinese, and the main bad guy is basically the embodiment of The Man—a tall white guy in a suit played with dry sincerity by the extremely overqualified Tom Wilkinson. For every instance that Carter calls Lee “Mr. Rice-A-Roni” or refers to his “sweet and sour chicken ass,” there’s also a strange moment of clarity. “This is the LAPD,” he says at one point. “We’re the most hated cops in all the free world. My own mama’s ashamed of me.” “Rush Hour” became a franchise that took the cops to Hong Kong, Paris, and Las Vegas; CBS’ “Rush Hour” aims to take its formula and convert it into a long-running comedy-procedural. The cast is different and the timeline has started over, meaning that it is, technically, a reboot, if we can go so far as to call the “Rush Hour” part of an extended cinematic universe. The bones of the show are identical to the film—the pilot, which aired last night, recreates some of the scenes of the film and even some of the fight scenes, including the semi-famous gun-stealing move that Lee teaches Carter. And TV show “Rush Hour” engages with the same politically charged subtext that the film engages head-on; more than being just about two very different people working the same case, the story showcases the kind of resentment, discrimination, and distrust that can foment between two different minority groups in America. This is a theme throughout black cinema, from Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” to the controversy over Chris Rock’s jokes at the Oscars; in the “Rush Hour” film, director Brett Ratner (who is not black, but has close ties to the black creative community) is toying with a cultural discourse that is both superficially slapstick and deeply rooted, and pivoting that towards black theatergoers who would then buoy the films to crossover success. Which is why what is really confusing about the “Rush Hour” update is not that it exists; it’s that it is on the oldest and whitest broadcast network in America. CBS, a network with a median age of 56.1, is desperately trying to make inroads into a younger audience, given that the primary advertising demographic in America spans the ages 18-49. And though this analysis from the Awl is two seasons old, it puts CBS’ recent attempts to diversify its lineup in context. “Rush Hour”’s Carter and Lee (Justin Hires and Jon Foo, in the reboot) are as of yesterday the only cast on CBS’ current lineup to be headed by leads of color; “Scorpion”’s mixed-race lead Elyes Gabel is playing a white man, and “Hawaii 5-0”’s relatively diverse cast is led by Scott Caan and Alex O’Loughlin playing Danno and Steve. So while “Rush Hour”’s premiere on CBS is an exciting one, it also raises some interesting questions. Is this a show designed to get (young) viewers of color to CBS, or is this a show designed to package (young) people of color to CBS? The answer, probably, is both. Watching the “Rush Hour” pilot is an exercise in watching the show walk the tightrope of trying to move in opposite directions simultaneously, and though that isn’t necessarily bad, it is not particularly funny, either. Stereotypes about Chinese people, delivered from a stereotypical black character, to an audience that is accustomed to seeing largely white characters (and is, in all likelihood, largely white themselves)? It walks a line between tokenism and representation, traversing a path that I have previously called the “just one guy” phenomenon. In this case—especially because the show is going through the motions of the film’s plot points—the pilot is hardly memorable at all, a pale facsimile of a thing that might have been funny, once. It is very early to guess what the rest of “Rush Hour” is going to be like, but as it proceeds, the show is right now a kind of test case for CBS. What exactly happens when you lob a show that combines stereotype with representation into a lineup that has not seen anything like it before? What, exactly, will viewers take away? These are questions that are relevant to another network: TV Land. The network best known for airing reruns of classic sitcoms like “The Andy Griffith Show” targets the 25-54 demographic, meaning that like CBS, it skews older. It’s much more racially diverse, though; the cable platform only started producing scripted programming in 2010, and introduced a black family with its “Hot In Cleveland” spinoff “The Soul Man,” led by Cedric The Entertainer, in 2012. Tonight, it’s premiering “Lopez,” the latest effort by Mexican-American comedian George Lopez, who has been at the helm of any number of shows bearing his name, all with a different attempt at landing mainstream humor. There was “George Lopez,” in 2002 on ABC, a middlebrow family sitcom that ran for six seasons; “Lopez Tonight,” a late-night talk show on TBS that ran from 2009-2011, and “Saint George,” a raunchier attempt at bro-comedy that aired for 10 episodes on FX in 2014. Lopez is a trenchant, funny stand-up comedian, but translating his humor to television—even to edgy cable television—proved a difficult task. “George Lopez” offered the appeal of a regular boring middle American sitcom, except with a Latino family; “Saint George” offered no appeal whatsoever. And interestingly, that’s a lot of what “Lopez” is about. The show is very much in the style of “Louie,” Louis C.K.’s single-cam dramedy that revolutionized prestige television comedy. (I read the replication as more homage than theft, but your mileage may vary.) In it, Lopez plays himself, a successful Latino comedian trying to figure out what comes next after divorcing his wife who gave him a kidney and recovering from the shame of passing out drunk on the floor of a casino in 2014. And because he’s playing himself, “Lopez” and Lopez discuss the industry with intriguing frankness, whether that is in the form of George’s irritating agents and social media experts or his run-ins with the Star Tours van making rounds past his house. I find “Lopez” the most enjoyable form of George Lopez, and partly that’s because it’s so seemingly authentic. The intimacy of single-cam draws out his whole self, not just a punch-line-delivering persona for the camera. Lopez is a self-denigrating, optimistic guy, one who is acutely aware of how the audience his success is based off of isn’t quite enough of a fanbase to pay the bills. In the show, he limps through the multiple spheres of the marginal performer turned success story—total nobody for some, revered celeb for others, mere dad to his daughter and upstart new money to his neighbors. His relationships with other Latinos are especially interesting; as I’ve written before, the demographic is the least well-represented on television, and in some ways, Lopez’s occasional neuroses are the result of knowing he’s one of the few guys like him who made it. It is true that George Lopez, both in “Lopez” and in real life, can barely get through five minutes without commenting on his own race or the general position of Latinos in society. But it’s also true that it’s hard to blame him. Older, wiser, and slightly more self-aware Lopez is dropping into a TV Land lineup that is transitioning from targeting Baby Boomers to targeting Gen-Xers, following the aging population. Niche and nimble little TV Land is a far cry from multi-faceted, multi-tiered CBS, and though their audiences might overlap, their programming doesn’t, really. But where “Rush Hour” is a test balloon, “Lopez” feels like a weary withdrawal from the attempt to reconcile the upsides of mass appeal with the frustrating downsides of apparently necessary tokenism. Which is to say, it was funny. Certainly funnier than “Rush Hour,” and generally an appealing little comedy, able to juggle things like identity and success and privilege and a general terror of aging with some nimble skill in a way that felt actually fresh. Mainstream appeal might be necessary to keep the bills paid, but it is the easiest way possible to kill a joke.

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Robbie Fulks on how not to be “a guy in his 50s singing about sex or good times or even the opposite, about married contentedness”

There was a time when Robbie Fulks came off as, well, brash. At the height of empty-hat country music in the ’90s, Fulks was writing subversive throwbacks to Buck Owens, like “She Took a Lot of Pills (And Died),” “God Isn’t Real” and “Fuck This Town,” his love letter to the Nashville country music establishment. A few years later, he was taking pleasure in publicly needling Ryan Adams, and a few years after that, he played against type with the 2010 release “Happy: Robbie Fulks Plays the Music of Michael Jackson,” which was, in fact, a genuine tribute to the pop star, who had died in 2009. More recently, Fulks has toned down his satiric streak and put the emphasis on his considerable musical chops. “When I was younger, I was more interested in slashing and burning and making an impression,” Fulks says. “I feel like now it’s more appropriate for me not to strive to make an impression and just be the thing that I am and people can look at it, or not look at it.” He pared back to mostly acoustic instruments and a pronounced bluegrass flavor on his stark 2013 album “Gone Away Backward,” culled from a 50-song collection he posted online in 2010. His new album “Upland Stories” follows a similar understated path with a dozen earthy new songs recorded with Steve Albini and featuring bassist Todd Phillips, violinists Jenny Scheinman and Shad Cobb, guitarist Robbie Gjersoe, drummer Alex Hall, multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz. Ever the contrarian, Fulks doesn’t attribute his new material to musical influences so much as literary inspirations. Along with James Agee and “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” his seminal Depression-era exploration of poverty in the South, Fulks cites the writers Flannery O’Conner, Anton Chekhov and the Spanish novelist Javier Marias. It often makes for a more somber sensibility, though Fulks’ wry sense of humor remains fully intact on “Aunt Peg’s New Old Man.” The Chicago singer talked with Salon about the challenges of distilling works of literature into song ideas, the growing social consciousness in his music and why, despite his libertarian leanings, he plans to cast a vote for the status quo in November. Writers like Chekhov and Javier Marias aren’t part of the standard alt-country canon. How did they work their way into your songs? I sort of hesitate to go too far with that in music, because I feel like avoiding being seen as pretentious: “Please don’t consider me a musician but a poet,” which I find disagreeable. But once I started doing it a little bit, and then doing it more, it seemed to make more sense. It’s kind of an unexplored area. It’s an area where it’s easy to fail, but if you can pull it off, then you’re really in a high place in the Empyrean, if you know what I mean. Paul Simon has done it well, and four other people, or whatever. So it’s a high goal to aim for. But for me, it also makes sense with my age, because when you’re 52 and you’ve done 10 or 12 records, then you’ve kind of exhausted the personal angles to some extent, and I don’t want to hear a guy in his 50s singing about sex or good times or even the opposite, about married contentedness. And all the subjects like that that are sort of natural to middle-aged guys are kind of conflict-free and so to me, it makes sense to go into this other area that I really love and that is a big part of my life and take ideas and characters and storylines and let myself be guided or inspired by that. Where there particular works that inspired you? I have a couple Chekhov favorites, but there’s one called “Peasants,” where a sick guy from Moscow goes to the country to return to his people and is entirely unsuccessful and eventually dies. The story has a depressing arc, but along the way it also takes a few surprising turns into describing the community, and into the religiosity of the community, and some ancillary characters pop up and then go away. It’s that story that comes to bear on my song “Never Come Home,” which is transplanted to Tennessee. And Javiar Marias I just came to in the last two years or whenever Edward St. Alban wrote about him in The New York Times. I thought I’d better look into that guy. Like one of my friends said of NRBQ when he saw them for the first time, he said, “I didn’t realize you were allowed to do that.” And I think for me, writing like that has the same effect, that you can willfully break established traditional connections, you can play with punctuation, with chapter breaks, you can make huge dramatic plot episodes take a sentence and long winding digressions inside somebody’s head take 20 pages. You can do anything, so to me, his style is liberating. How does that sort of thing translate into your music, where you’re working in a much more concise form? The implication of that question points to where efforts to infuse music with literature often go down. And quite frequently when I’m working on these things in the first or second draft, I can just see that it’s gotten too obscure, too long, too dense, too full of 75-cent words, and so often the editing takes that same direction of either throwing away or trying to make it something simpler than it’s straining to be, something that’s maybe striving less after significance. So I guess the answer is that it frequently fails. With “Alabama at Night” and “Never Come Home,” the scenarios are the inspiration, but as you say, you don’t have the room to elaborate. And some of the actual phrases from Agee were purloined for “Alabama at Night.” He used “scoured clay” and I lifted that, and I can’t remember off-hand which other phrases. There’s two or three phrases in there. So I feel free to do that. I don’t know why. I might get sued or something. I think Bob Dylan makes you feel free to do that, he seems to lift a lot. You say that a writer your age has generally exhausted personal angles, but there do seem to be autobiographical elements in these songs. That seems to me to be a biological, well, imperative is too strong a word, but I feel this increased interest and inner push toward remembering things from a long time ago. I came across this quotation from Arthur Schopenhauer, who said the first 40 years of your life are text, and the last 30 are commentary. So I definitely felt the little leap over that divide at some point over the past couple years, where the distant past started to become very interesting compared to anything that was presently developing. I think a lot of it is that things go away. When I visit the places where old things happened to me, where I was growing up, the land is there, but not as you remember it. And the people by and large aren’t there, or if they are, they look like they’re rotting away, and actual events may as well never have happened, because they exist only in this sort of mindscape, which is also biological and temporary, apparently. I guess the temporariness of it, and the evanescence of it, become kind of morbidly fascinating. How has the intersection of literature and songwriting changed the way you edit yourself? I’m not sure that I can remember how much I edited when I was 18 or 20. I would assume less. For me now, probably most – I don’t know, 50 or 60 percent of the editing – is just throwing away. So I’ll start a verse, get through a verse and chorus, it will seem kind of promising and then I’ll wail away at it for a week and find that it’s going nowhere and not interesting me anymore and pitch it. That’s more efficient than what I used to do. I tended to finish everything in the old days, and probably performed most of it at some point. So I just try to recognize earlier now when it’s going awry, or when it’s not achieving that magic, try to apply that high bar to it, and when it’s not producing sparks, just walk away from it, rather than try to refashion it. Given all the songs you used to finish, is there a huge backlog of tunes? Oh, sure, yeah. Really, it’s like 90 percent of what I write gets thrown away, and I don’t think that’s so unusual for writers. But I have noticed, looking back over the old records — I feel like I’m getting better at it, but I might not be, because the songs that still excite me to play now, there’s a couple from each record, and the trend line doesn’t go up as I get older. So I’m more conscious now when I do a record of really trying to look at it more skeptically and more severely so I don’t end up including a lot of stuff. Every time I make a record, I think, oh, these 12, these are the ones, and I’ve done as great a job as I can, and I’m proud of it. And then within five years, you look at it and say, ‘Oh, no, it was just those two that were really worthy,’ and that’s happened almost every record. It’s not a very inspiring procedure when you look at it from the long view. Does your opinion change about which two are the worthy ones? No, I just rediscover more that I don’t like. What accounts for the increasing social consciousness of your songs? A couple things over the last couple years have sort of provoked thought for me, and some of it’s been of the nature of people just saying random things that are memorable. One guy said in a bar, “Well, I went back to my hometown in Michigan, and how can these places go on if they don’t make anything? They used to make thing in my hometown, and now nobody knows how to make things anymore.” And I thought, well that’s a really good point. How do they? That immediately connected with what I see when I travel around, either playing in towns or just traveling through them, that they have service there for people passing through, and that’s where all the jobs seem to lie. And then they have closed factories. So I think that thread in modern politics, too, whether it’s Sanders or Trump or Pat Buchanan or whomever, that sort of economic patriotism in modern politics, I think that’s not exactly a will-o’-the-wisp or bogeyman kind of idea of less-educated people. I think that’s a reality in a lot of America, and I think the recession, at least as far as my observations traveling around, after 2008, it got worse. It seems like a natural subject for somebody writing anything right now in America to dwell on. And the connection with the Depression is a little bit provocative maybe, because things were so hard: horses dying in the streets, kids dying at age 4 and so on, the things that Agee witnessed. But that kind of thing is still happening, too. My sister-in-law works at a public school where she sees people who are too poor to have shoes on their feet in the wintertime, literally, which seems like a comic and antiquated form of poverty in America. I mean comic like I mean, so long ago that it doesn’t even seem plausible, that scenario, but that’s happening. It seems worth of comment, you know. To put it mildly. You were known for a libertarian streak in the past. How much has that changed over the years? That has changed. I still think that the libertarian philosophy is hopeful, and positive, and apart from practical politics, I think it’s a great philosophy, that the fewer controls on behavior the better, until the behavior impedes somebody else’s freedoms. But it gets harder to see how that can be positively turned into practical policy before addressing more important questions of do we go to war or do we not go to war, how do we set the top marginal tax rate or how do we reform the tax code or how do we help suffering people in our country or what do we do about the border. I’m not sure that the “let everybody do whatever they want” philosophy either has answers to those questions or might answer in the wrong direction. So I hate to say it, but currently I’m just not excited about any candidate. I really don’t like any of them. It’s a very strange year. How closely are you following it? Are you a political junkie? I thought I was, but then my oldest child really, really is informed as far as reading The New York Times and Real Clear Politics every day and watching “PBS Newshour” every night, so thanks to him, I stay more informed than I otherwise would be. Libertarianism seems like it requires more personal responsibility than most people are willing to take on. Yeah. It doesn’t require it, but it has a hopeful expectation of an educated, thoughtful population to some degree, or the society just devolves into reality-TV chaos. I feel I’m going to disappoint any of your readers who are interested in a musician’s thoughts on politics, unless you put me next to Drake or something. [Laughs] For not liking any of the candidates, do you think you’ll vote? I’ve voted Republican in the past, and I wanted to cast a vote against Trump in the primary, but on the other hand, my son was thinking of voting for him to hasten the destruction of the party. That’s an interesting strategic point of view, too. I anticipate voting for Hillary Clinton in November. I don’t mind voting for status quo, and she’s the status-quo candidate and the Democrats are now the center-right party. That doesn’t particularly bother me, except for the Wall Street connections. I’m pretty much convinced by what’s happened over the past 10 years that the Washington-Wall Street connection needs reform. The “Inside Job” documentary was very revealing. It doesn’t take all that much money to seduce some intellectually sophisticated people. That’s kind of disappointing. It is, but I guess it’s human nature. There’s probably a price at which I’d hang up the phone and start shilling for Trump. Maybe not $1 million, but $50 million. Yeah, don’t do it for cheap. Right. [Laughs]. Wow.There was a time when Robbie Fulks came off as, well, brash. At the height of empty-hat country music in the ’90s, Fulks was writing subversive throwbacks to Buck Owens, like “She Took a Lot of Pills (And Died),” “God Isn’t Real” and “Fuck This Town,” his love letter to the Nashville country music establishment. A few years later, he was taking pleasure in publicly needling Ryan Adams, and a few years after that, he played against type with the 2010 release “Happy: Robbie Fulks Plays the Music of Michael Jackson,” which was, in fact, a genuine tribute to the pop star, who had died in 2009. More recently, Fulks has toned down his satiric streak and put the emphasis on his considerable musical chops. “When I was younger, I was more interested in slashing and burning and making an impression,” Fulks says. “I feel like now it’s more appropriate for me not to strive to make an impression and just be the thing that I am and people can look at it, or not look at it.” He pared back to mostly acoustic instruments and a pronounced bluegrass flavor on his stark 2013 album “Gone Away Backward,” culled from a 50-song collection he posted online in 2010. His new album “Upland Stories” follows a similar understated path with a dozen earthy new songs recorded with Steve Albini and featuring bassist Todd Phillips, violinists Jenny Scheinman and Shad Cobb, guitarist Robbie Gjersoe, drummer Alex Hall, multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz. Ever the contrarian, Fulks doesn’t attribute his new material to musical influences so much as literary inspirations. Along with James Agee and “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” his seminal Depression-era exploration of poverty in the South, Fulks cites the writers Flannery O’Conner, Anton Chekhov and the Spanish novelist Javier Marias. It often makes for a more somber sensibility, though Fulks’ wry sense of humor remains fully intact on “Aunt Peg’s New Old Man.” The Chicago singer talked with Salon about the challenges of distilling works of literature into song ideas, the growing social consciousness in his music and why, despite his libertarian leanings, he plans to cast a vote for the status quo in November. Writers like Chekhov and Javier Marias aren’t part of the standard alt-country canon. How did they work their way into your songs? I sort of hesitate to go too far with that in music, because I feel like avoiding being seen as pretentious: “Please don’t consider me a musician but a poet,” which I find disagreeable. But once I started doing it a little bit, and then doing it more, it seemed to make more sense. It’s kind of an unexplored area. It’s an area where it’s easy to fail, but if you can pull it off, then you’re really in a high place in the Empyrean, if you know what I mean. Paul Simon has done it well, and four other people, or whatever. So it’s a high goal to aim for. But for me, it also makes sense with my age, because when you’re 52 and you’ve done 10 or 12 records, then you’ve kind of exhausted the personal angles to some extent, and I don’t want to hear a guy in his 50s singing about sex or good times or even the opposite, about married contentedness. And all the subjects like that that are sort of natural to middle-aged guys are kind of conflict-free and so to me, it makes sense to go into this other area that I really love and that is a big part of my life and take ideas and characters and storylines and let myself be guided or inspired by that. Where there particular works that inspired you? I have a couple Chekhov favorites, but there’s one called “Peasants,” where a sick guy from Moscow goes to the country to return to his people and is entirely unsuccessful and eventually dies. The story has a depressing arc, but along the way it also takes a few surprising turns into describing the community, and into the religiosity of the community, and some ancillary characters pop up and then go away. It’s that story that comes to bear on my song “Never Come Home,” which is transplanted to Tennessee. And Javiar Marias I just came to in the last two years or whenever Edward St. Alban wrote about him in The New York Times. I thought I’d better look into that guy. Like one of my friends said of NRBQ when he saw them for the first time, he said, “I didn’t realize you were allowed to do that.” And I think for me, writing like that has the same effect, that you can willfully break established traditional connections, you can play with punctuation, with chapter breaks, you can make huge dramatic plot episodes take a sentence and long winding digressions inside somebody’s head take 20 pages. You can do anything, so to me, his style is liberating. How does that sort of thing translate into your music, where you’re working in a much more concise form? The implication of that question points to where efforts to infuse music with literature often go down. And quite frequently when I’m working on these things in the first or second draft, I can just see that it’s gotten too obscure, too long, too dense, too full of 75-cent words, and so often the editing takes that same direction of either throwing away or trying to make it something simpler than it’s straining to be, something that’s maybe striving less after significance. So I guess the answer is that it frequently fails. With “Alabama at Night” and “Never Come Home,” the scenarios are the inspiration, but as you say, you don’t have the room to elaborate. And some of the actual phrases from Agee were purloined for “Alabama at Night.” He used “scoured clay” and I lifted that, and I can’t remember off-hand which other phrases. There’s two or three phrases in there. So I feel free to do that. I don’t know why. I might get sued or something. I think Bob Dylan makes you feel free to do that, he seems to lift a lot. You say that a writer your age has generally exhausted personal angles, but there do seem to be autobiographical elements in these songs. That seems to me to be a biological, well, imperative is too strong a word, but I feel this increased interest and inner push toward remembering things from a long time ago. I came across this quotation from Arthur Schopenhauer, who said the first 40 years of your life are text, and the last 30 are commentary. So I definitely felt the little leap over that divide at some point over the past couple years, where the distant past started to become very interesting compared to anything that was presently developing. I think a lot of it is that things go away. When I visit the places where old things happened to me, where I was growing up, the land is there, but not as you remember it. And the people by and large aren’t there, or if they are, they look like they’re rotting away, and actual events may as well never have happened, because they exist only in this sort of mindscape, which is also biological and temporary, apparently. I guess the temporariness of it, and the evanescence of it, become kind of morbidly fascinating. How has the intersection of literature and songwriting changed the way you edit yourself? I’m not sure that I can remember how much I edited when I was 18 or 20. I would assume less. For me now, probably most – I don’t know, 50 or 60 percent of the editing – is just throwing away. So I’ll start a verse, get through a verse and chorus, it will seem kind of promising and then I’ll wail away at it for a week and find that it’s going nowhere and not interesting me anymore and pitch it. That’s more efficient than what I used to do. I tended to finish everything in the old days, and probably performed most of it at some point. So I just try to recognize earlier now when it’s going awry, or when it’s not achieving that magic, try to apply that high bar to it, and when it’s not producing sparks, just walk away from it, rather than try to refashion it. Given all the songs you used to finish, is there a huge backlog of tunes? Oh, sure, yeah. Really, it’s like 90 percent of what I write gets thrown away, and I don’t think that’s so unusual for writers. But I have noticed, looking back over the old records — I feel like I’m getting better at it, but I might not be, because the songs that still excite me to play now, there’s a couple from each record, and the trend line doesn’t go up as I get older. So I’m more conscious now when I do a record of really trying to look at it more skeptically and more severely so I don’t end up including a lot of stuff. Every time I make a record, I think, oh, these 12, these are the ones, and I’ve done as great a job as I can, and I’m proud of it. And then within five years, you look at it and say, ‘Oh, no, it was just those two that were really worthy,’ and that’s happened almost every record. It’s not a very inspiring procedure when you look at it from the long view. Does your opinion change about which two are the worthy ones? No, I just rediscover more that I don’t like. What accounts for the increasing social consciousness of your songs? A couple things over the last couple years have sort of provoked thought for me, and some of it’s been of the nature of people just saying random things that are memorable. One guy said in a bar, “Well, I went back to my hometown in Michigan, and how can these places go on if they don’t make anything? They used to make thing in my hometown, and now nobody knows how to make things anymore.” And I thought, well that’s a really good point. How do they? That immediately connected with what I see when I travel around, either playing in towns or just traveling through them, that they have service there for people passing through, and that’s where all the jobs seem to lie. And then they have closed factories. So I think that thread in modern politics, too, whether it’s Sanders or Trump or Pat Buchanan or whomever, that sort of economic patriotism in modern politics, I think that’s not exactly a will-o’-the-wisp or bogeyman kind of idea of less-educated people. I think that’s a reality in a lot of America, and I think the recession, at least as far as my observations traveling around, after 2008, it got worse. It seems like a natural subject for somebody writing anything right now in America to dwell on. And the connection with the Depression is a little bit provocative maybe, because things were so hard: horses dying in the streets, kids dying at age 4 and so on, the things that Agee witnessed. But that kind of thing is still happening, too. My sister-in-law works at a public school where she sees people who are too poor to have shoes on their feet in the wintertime, literally, which seems like a comic and antiquated form of poverty in America. I mean comic like I mean, so long ago that it doesn’t even seem plausible, that scenario, but that’s happening. It seems worth of comment, you know. To put it mildly. You were known for a libertarian streak in the past. How much has that changed over the years? That has changed. I still think that the libertarian philosophy is hopeful, and positive, and apart from practical politics, I think it’s a great philosophy, that the fewer controls on behavior the better, until the behavior impedes somebody else’s freedoms. But it gets harder to see how that can be positively turned into practical policy before addressing more important questions of do we go to war or do we not go to war, how do we set the top marginal tax rate or how do we reform the tax code or how do we help suffering people in our country or what do we do about the border. I’m not sure that the “let everybody do whatever they want” philosophy either has answers to those questions or might answer in the wrong direction. So I hate to say it, but currently I’m just not excited about any candidate. I really don’t like any of them. It’s a very strange year. How closely are you following it? Are you a political junkie? I thought I was, but then my oldest child really, really is informed as far as reading The New York Times and Real Clear Politics every day and watching “PBS Newshour” every night, so thanks to him, I stay more informed than I otherwise would be. Libertarianism seems like it requires more personal responsibility than most people are willing to take on. Yeah. It doesn’t require it, but it has a hopeful expectation of an educated, thoughtful population to some degree, or the society just devolves into reality-TV chaos. I feel I’m going to disappoint any of your readers who are interested in a musician’s thoughts on politics, unless you put me next to Drake or something. [Laughs] For not liking any of the candidates, do you think you’ll vote? I’ve voted Republican in the past, and I wanted to cast a vote against Trump in the primary, but on the other hand, my son was thinking of voting for him to hasten the destruction of the party. That’s an interesting strategic point of view, too. I anticipate voting for Hillary Clinton in November. I don’t mind voting for status quo, and she’s the status-quo candidate and the Democrats are now the center-right party. That doesn’t particularly bother me, except for the Wall Street connections. I’m pretty much convinced by what’s happened over the past 10 years that the Washington-Wall Street connection needs reform. The “Inside Job” documentary was very revealing. It doesn’t take all that much money to seduce some intellectually sophisticated people. That’s kind of disappointing. It is, but I guess it’s human nature. There’s probably a price at which I’d hang up the phone and start shilling for Trump. Maybe not $1 million, but $50 million. Yeah, don’t do it for cheap. Right. [Laughs]. Wow.

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WATCH: Clinton goes off on Greenpeace activist: “I am so sick” of you bringing up my fossil fuel money

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton went off on an environmental activist on Thursday, after being asked about the large sums of fossil fuel-linked cash she has received. At a Clinton rally on the State University of New York at Purchase campus, Eva Resnick-Day, an activist with the environmental justice group Greenpeace, asked Clinton, “Will you act on your word to reject fossil fuel money in the future in your campaign?” Clinton quickly lost her patience. Her smile promptly morphed into a scowl and she yelled at the environmental activist, “I do not have — I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies.” “I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me,” Clinton shouted, pointing angrily at Resnick-Day. This incident comes mere days after a top official in the Clinton campaign insisted Hillary would not debate fellow presidential candidate Bernie Sanders unless he changes his “tone.” Environmental justice group Greenpeace uploaded video of Clinton’s irate response to its YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dC4Pvm6Oj4A Greenpeace has detailed Clinton’s many connections to the fossil fuel industry, arguing her campaign and the Super PAC supporting her have received more than $4.5 million from those who work in it. Although the activist from the environmental group asked if the former secretary of state will “reject fossil fuel money” overall, Clinton implied she has not received any, instead making a misleading distinction between the corporations themselves and individuals tied to them. It is true that Clinton’s campaign has not gotten money directly from fossil fuel corporations, or any other companies, as this would violate election law. Rather, many of the people raising money for Clinton’s campaign work for large oil and natural gas corporations. “Nearly all of the lobbyists bundling contributions for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign have at one time or another worked for the fossil fuel industry,” Mother Jones revealed in a July exposé. She has received enormous help, Mother Jones reported, from “Democratic Party lobbyists who have worked against regulations to curb climate change, advocated for offshore drilling, or sought government approval for natural gas exports.” Environmental news website Grist has also shown how Clinton rakes in money from fossil fuel interests. The outlet notes that her campaign does not receive money directly from fossil fuel companies; rather, she “is getting a lot of money from fossil fuel executives and lobbyists acting as bundlers (fundraisers who collect donations) who represent fossil fuel companies.” Among the prominent contributors to Clinton’s campaign are lobbyists for Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP America, America’s Natural Gas Alliance and more. Clinton’s campaign also has links to the Keystone XL pipeline, a project of the corporation TransCanada that has faced a series of delays since it was commissioned in 2010. Environmental scientists like former NASA official James Hansen have warned it would mean “game over for the climate,” and activists have protested it for years. In June 2015, Clinton’s campaign announced that it had hired a former major TransCanada lobbyist as a consultant.  As secretary of state, Clinton also pushed for the pipeline. In 2010, she said her department was “inclined” to sign off on the project. During her tenure as head of the State Department, Clinton also advocated strongly on behalf of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, or TPP, which environmental and labor groups warn would be disastrous for the climate and local economy. Although the deal is 6,000 pages long and addresses a variety of obscure issues, it does not mention the phrase “climate change” once. Despite openly supporting them for years, after pressure from the Sanders campaign, Clinton now claims she opposes both the Keystone XL pipeline and TPP. Clinton has also received millions of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street banks and corporations. In fact, in just 12 of such speeches, Clinton made approximately $3 million, more than most Americans will earn in their lifetimes. She has been asked numerous times to release transcripts of her paid speeches, but refuses to do so. An investigation by the Wall Street Journal furthermore revealed that Bill Clinton’s speaking fees grew rapidly when his wife served as secretary of state. Fellow presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has refused to take contributions from fossil fuel corporations. In July 2015, The Nation magazine created a pledge calling on presidential candidates to reject money from fossil fuel corporations. Clinton did not endorse it.

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America’s next sexual frontier: The “nipplegasm”

AlterNetThey can be flicked, kissed and sucked; pierced or painted. You keep them close, but often covered. Though their appearance may change, they almost always show up in the same place. They’re your nipples, and apparently, they want in on your orgasm. The nipple-assisted orgasm, or nipplegasm, refers to an orgasm delivered by nipple stimulation alone. Of course, not everyone has encountered that kind of pleasure. Sexologist Carol Queen suspects those who have are likely armed with two specific skills: the ability to get very aroused and the willingness to explore sex as a full body practice. Queen reminds us, “Not everybody relates to sex that way… People who have intercourse for a few minutes and then roll over and go to sleep are often going to miss out on this aspect of the sexual journey.” So no, not everyone is interested in the nipplegasm. But are we all outfitted with the same potential to dive into orgasm, nipple first? When Barry Komisaruk, a psychologist at Rutgers University, paid 11 women $100 each to sit in a brain-scanning machine and diddle themselves for science, he wasn’t surprised to see a correlative reaction taking place in thebrain. When the genitals are stimulated, an area known as the genital sensory cortex lights up. But he was surprised to see the spot responding to nipple stimulation as well. “This could be the basis for many women saying that nipple stimulation is erotogenic,” he told LiveScience. “It stimulates the same area as the genitals.” Komisaruk’s experiment isn’t the only instance we’ve seen nipples and orgasm collide. “One reason we know that nipple stimulation can lead to orgasm is that there are cases of women who’ve had the experience while breastfeeding,” says Queen. She adds, “It is a neurological reflex that some women seem prone to.” According to a study conducted by Herbert Otto, 29 percent of women report having experienced a “breast orgasm” at least once in their life. Otto goes so far to say the nipplegasm is the second most common form of orgasm among women. While we’re rolling with the science, it’s worth noting that a separate studypublished in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that in comparison to the other erogenous zones on a woman’s body, the nipples are among the most sensitive to pressure and vibration. Still, there seem to be plenty of women who don’t relate. According to Men’s Health, around 7 percent of women say that nipple stimulation actually decreases their arousal. “For some women, the nipple is about as arousing as the elbow. It just doesn’t do it for them,” says sex educator and author Carlyle Jansen. Though, perhaps that isn’t so surprising. Queen says, “Let’s remember that not all women like clitoral stimulation either.” When it comes to matters of sex, few adages seem more applicable than, different strokes for different folks. In a breast-obsessed culture, it can be hard to escape the eroticization of the nipple. Jansen says, “I think that a lot of our sexuality and what we find erotic is learned.” And when expectations are set and left unmet, problems can occur. “It can almost make women who don’t find that kind of stimulation pleasurable feel like something is wrong with them,” says Jansen. Of course, a nipple doesn’t have to have a breast behind it to crave some stimulation. In his study, Komisaruk noted that nipple stimulation causes the “genital brain regions” to light up in men as well. “Male sexuality is understood by most as so penis-focused that when men begin to have erectile issues, they often just give up on sex. That’s not a cultural scenario in which a fellow would discover great pleasure from his nipples,” says Queen. She says the exception is “in the BDSM world, where it is well-accepted that the whole body can be the source of erotic and exciting sensory experiences.” That bit might help explain the popularity of the nipple clamp (which, by the way, are now offered in vibrating form). Still, it’s not as if everyone is going to run with that information to the nearest sex shop. Those most likely to experience different forms of orgasm are those who have expressed in interest in experimentation. “I’d say that the more a person is engaged with sexual activity as an open-ended adventure in which to explore sensory possibilities, the easier it will be to become orgasmic via nipple and breast stimulation,” says Queen. “The first step may simply be knowing that it’s possible.”AlterNetThey can be flicked, kissed and sucked; pierced or painted. You keep them close, but often covered. Though their appearance may change, they almost always show up in the same place. They’re your nipples, and apparently, they want in on your orgasm. The nipple-assisted orgasm, or nipplegasm, refers to an orgasm delivered by nipple stimulation alone. Of course, not everyone has encountered that kind of pleasure. Sexologist Carol Queen suspects those who have are likely armed with two specific skills: the ability to get very aroused and the willingness to explore sex as a full body practice. Queen reminds us, “Not everybody relates to sex that way… People who have intercourse for a few minutes and then roll over and go to sleep are often going to miss out on this aspect of the sexual journey.” So no, not everyone is interested in the nipplegasm. But are we all outfitted with the same potential to dive into orgasm, nipple first? When Barry Komisaruk, a psychologist at Rutgers University, paid 11 women $100 each to sit in a brain-scanning machine and diddle themselves for science, he wasn’t surprised to see a correlative reaction taking place in thebrain. When the genitals are stimulated, an area known as the genital sensory cortex lights up. But he was surprised to see the spot responding to nipple stimulation as well. “This could be the basis for many women saying that nipple stimulation is erotogenic,” he told LiveScience. “It stimulates the same area as the genitals.” Komisaruk’s experiment isn’t the only instance we’ve seen nipples and orgasm collide. “One reason we know that nipple stimulation can lead to orgasm is that there are cases of women who’ve had the experience while breastfeeding,” says Queen. She adds, “It is a neurological reflex that some women seem prone to.” According to a study conducted by Herbert Otto, 29 percent of women report having experienced a “breast orgasm” at least once in their life. Otto goes so far to say the nipplegasm is the second most common form of orgasm among women. While we’re rolling with the science, it’s worth noting that a separate studypublished in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that in comparison to the other erogenous zones on a woman’s body, the nipples are among the most sensitive to pressure and vibration. Still, there seem to be plenty of women who don’t relate. According to Men’s Health, around 7 percent of women say that nipple stimulation actually decreases their arousal. “For some women, the nipple is about as arousing as the elbow. It just doesn’t do it for them,” says sex educator and author Carlyle Jansen. Though, perhaps that isn’t so surprising. Queen says, “Let’s remember that not all women like clitoral stimulation either.” When it comes to matters of sex, few adages seem more applicable than, different strokes for different folks. In a breast-obsessed culture, it can be hard to escape the eroticization of the nipple. Jansen says, “I think that a lot of our sexuality and what we find erotic is learned.” And when expectations are set and left unmet, problems can occur. “It can almost make women who don’t find that kind of stimulation pleasurable feel like something is wrong with them,” says Jansen. Of course, a nipple doesn’t have to have a breast behind it to crave some stimulation. In his study, Komisaruk noted that nipple stimulation causes the “genital brain regions” to light up in men as well. “Male sexuality is understood by most as so penis-focused that when men begin to have erectile issues, they often just give up on sex. That’s not a cultural scenario in which a fellow would discover great pleasure from his nipples,” says Queen. She says the exception is “in the BDSM world, where it is well-accepted that the whole body can be the source of erotic and exciting sensory experiences.” That bit might help explain the popularity of the nipple clamp (which, by the way, are now offered in vibrating form). Still, it’s not as if everyone is going to run with that information to the nearest sex shop. Those most likely to experience different forms of orgasm are those who have expressed in interest in experimentation. “I’d say that the more a person is engaged with sexual activity as an open-ended adventure in which to explore sensory possibilities, the easier it will be to become orgasmic via nipple and breast stimulation,” says Queen. “The first step may simply be knowing that it’s possible.”

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The dark side of “visibility”: How we slept on trans people becoming the new scapegoats of the right

I was happy to hear about the International Trans Day of Visibility two years ago. I agreed with the sentiment that the Transgender Day of Remembrance in November being the only trans holiday was morbid and depressing and that celebrating happy, healthy trans lives was a positive goal. I was happy to be one of many allies pushing awareness of March 31 as a “day of visibility” last year. Which is why I was surprised when one of my close friends, who is trans and who hadn’t heard of the holiday, responded with a scowl when I told her about it. “My goal isn’t visibility, my goal is survival,” she said. “The Jews were extremely visible in 1930s Europe, how much good did it do them?” Since then I’ve been thinking about the relative shallowness of “visibility” as a goal in and of itself, especially since the past two years have been one long performative celebration of trans visibility. Caitlyn Jenner became a magazine cover girl in the name of “visibility” and has continued to do highly visible things like entering a golf tournament, blogging about her love life, starring in a reality show and speaking out in defense of Ted Cruz. We’ve had a streaming show about trans issues win a Golden Globe, we’ve had a feature film about trans issues nominated for Oscars (winning one for Best Supporting Actress). Ever since Time ran its famous May 2014 cover of Laverne Cox with the optimistic title “The Transgender Tipping Point,” everything’s been looking up for trans people, right? Well, no. The progression from visibility to tolerance to acceptance within the LGBT coalition has infamously been uneven between the LGB side and the T side. If one were to try to make a parallel (an extremely imperfect one) with Time’s “Transgender Tipping Point” with Laverne Cox and an earlier moment in queer history, it’d probably be something like Ellen DeGeneres and her character both coming out on Ellen in 1997 (a moment pivotal enough that there’s a website named for it). Did the dramatic moment of a well known entertainer proudly coming out as gay on TV, with widespread support from the media and the industry, end the oppressive invisibility of gay people? Did it, as Dan Savage put it, get better? Sure, absolutely, in the long run. But then I tend to agree with Martin Luther King that given a long enough run, yes, things get better–but what happens while we’re waiting for that long run is a much more complicated story. Ellen coming out on TV came after a run of 1990s media garnering attention and box office dollars out of promoting “visibility” of the gay community to Middle America–whether it be dark, tragic takes on the AIDS crisis or cutesy introductions to the culture of drag and camp. There was a vanguard among the (still mostly straight) cultural elite convinced the “gay tipping point” was coming, after the bloody battles fought by ACT UP in the previous generation and at Stonewall in the generation before that. Sure, the immediate upshot of Ellen coming out on TV was that her show got canceled and she was exiled from TV for the next few years. But her show was immediately followed by Will and Grace, which made “gay issues” as “visible” on TV as “visible” could be. Surely things were on the road to getting better–liberal allies like me were sure of it, even though I was living in an evangelical Christian subculture where the fire-and-brimstone backlash against the “gay agenda” was getting hotter with every Sunday sermon. For me the culminating moment of that era was the 2004 presidential election, a political coming of age for my generational cohort. The most enduring image from that election was San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s dramatic gesture of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples that February “whether you like it or not.” Newsom was morally in the right–I and most of my liberal buddies certainly thought so at the time. Time has proven that Newsom was on the right side of history–the American public, today in 2016, overwhelmingly believes Newsom was in the right. But at the time, all anyone could talk about was the size and the speed of the backlash against Newsom, the wave of same-sex marriage bans that passed on the ballot afterwards, and the widespread fingerpointing on the Left saying the Right unifying around the goal of opposing same-sex marriage is what lost John Kerry the election. Yeah, the 2000s were a period of progress where things gradually got better for LGBT people, but they were also a time of backlash–where every visible step forward was met with sustained, concentrated and vicious opposition from the Right and mealy-mouthed second-guessing about moving too fast from the Left. I remember vividly how hard and how often LGBT activists were thrown under the bus by liberals after 2004, and can only imagine how frustrating it was to be in their shoes at that time. “Visibility,” in that context, did them no favors. Is the situation right now with trans people and “bathroom bills” comparable? Well, no, it’s actually a great deal worse. This year, the RNC specifically outlined turning trans people into a “wedge” issue as a central strategy for the 2016 election. In February, when people were focused on the South Carolina primary, the RNC quietly passed a resolution calling for support for “bathroom bills” refusing public accommodation for trans people and backing the absurdly onerous restriction that in order to be guaranteed the right to use a restroom you must have documentary evidence of your XX or XY chromosome status (read the resolution here). Now, the state of North Carolina has just passed a sweeping law preventing trans people from using the “wrong” restroom in all public spaces, with others following close on its heels. It used to be that we were debating the “sanctity of marriage” and talking about denying people visitation rights, inheritance benefits, tax benefits and so on. Now we’re talking about the “sanctity” of public toilets, and talking about denying people the right to pee in peace without being physically accosted. I’d call that an escalation. Trans people didn’t suddenly come into existence in 2016, of course, nor did transphobia in state legislatures. But the last couple years of trans “visibility” certainly paved the way for making trans people into a visible wedge. While the GOP tears itself apart over the Trump phenomenon, transphobia is something the Right can come together on. The awkward and unpleasant truth is that the gains made from “visibility” for visibility’s sake are fairly narrow and concentrated. As many trans activists have pointed out, the outburst of sympathy for Caitlyn Jenner has mostly been positive for Caitlyn Jenner, who, despite the many obstacles she’s had to overcome in her transition, still remains sheltered enough by her wealth and privilege that she’s oblivious to the war the Republican Party she’s still loyal to is waging on trans people overall. The plaudits given to “Transparent” and “The Danish Girl” are going to show-runners who are not trans writing stories for actors who, in the case of the stars, are not trans to portray–and often doing it in ways real trans people find harmful or insulting. Meanwhile, the backlash is far more evenly distributed. Jenner herself acknowledged that when her visibility provokes a transphobic backlash it’s not she herself who bears the brunt of it, it’s the much poorer, less influential trans women who have to live around it. Eddie Redmayne gets to take credit for “raising awareness” while the movie itself indulges liberally in tropes of trans women as hypersexual and their partners as victims that make people think the threat of predatory trans women in bathrooms might be justified. It’s always been dangerous for trans people to use the “wrong” bathroom–a situation fraught with the threat of violence that Caitlyn Jenner is unlikely to experience and that cis actors who get paid to pretend to be trans, like Eddie Redmayne and Jeffrey Tambor, will never experience. But it’s fair to say that right now, with attention focused on the issue due to bathroom bills, the threat level is elevated. In Kansas a law has been proposed to, essentially, force schools to pay a $2,500 bounty to students who discover people using the “wrong” bathrooms and turn them in. That’s the kind of escalation “visibility” brings you. I put “visibility” in quotes because, well, it’s really a combination of visibility and invisibility–the hostility and the backlash comes from the visibility of celebrated public figures in the media, from the Netflix series and Time magazine covers and Oscar-nominated films conservatives love to complain are being “shoved down their throats.” But the reason that visibility is pernicious is how quickly we liberal allies stop paying attention once the exciting feel-good moment is over. I love Laverne Cox’s character on “Orange is the New Black”–but I confess my interest in the show as a work of art hasn’t translated into my being aware of the real-life plight of incarcerated trans people as I should be. Caitlyn Jenner, as a wealthy celebrity trans woman, wrestles with her feelings being yelled at by trans activists on TV while the vast majority of trans people in this country who are not Olympic gold medalists or reality TV celebrities struggle to stay employed or, in some cases, to keep a roof over their heads. And just like the spectacle of liberal allies telling gay activists in the early 2000s they were asking for too much too fast, we have left-wing activist voices–gay-rights activist voices, even–speaking up about trans people taking up too much space in feminism and kicking around the idea of subjecting trans people to conversion therapy for their own good even while saying that the open harassment entailed by bathroom bills is, of course, going too far. This kind of visibility–trans people being seen as a target, a symbol, a topic of controversy, a good juicy “theme” to make a movie about, without any follow-through when it comes to real-life poiltical support? That’s the worst of both worlds. It’s starting a fight on someone’s behalf, then ducking away once the fight begins in earnest. I’m personally ashamed that I, like a lot of other people, lost track of the “secondary” issue of bathroom bills and public discrimination against trans citizens while arguing about other things this political season–all while the Republicans were busy making that “secondary” issue into a primary issue to energize their base. And I’m haunted by the possibility–something I hear from trans friends all the time as a complaint–that consuming works of art about trans characters and boosting trans celebrities and making trans issues “visible” on social media may, in the long run, bend the arc of history toward justice but in the short run is making trans people’s everyday lives harder. The one-sided kind of visibility we’ve had so far, the kind that enriches our culture and enriches producers’ coffers without really doing anything to engage the backlash it provokes? We’ve had more than enough of that in the past two years. It’s encouraging to hear that, now that the North Carolina law has hit the news, organizations are fighting back through lawsuits and boycotts. That’s the kind of visibility that we need. Not just asking trans people–or any category of marginalized people–to make themselves visible, and vulnerable, for our edification, but committing to be visible to back them up in return. This March 31st, that’s the kind of visibility we should celebrate.I was happy to hear about the International Trans Day of Visibility two years ago. I agreed with the sentiment that the Transgender Day of Remembrance in November being the only trans holiday was morbid and depressing and that celebrating happy, healthy trans lives was a positive goal. I was happy to be one of many allies pushing awareness of March 31 as a “day of visibility” last year. Which is why I was surprised when one of my close friends, who is trans and who hadn’t heard of the holiday, responded with a scowl when I told her about it. “My goal isn’t visibility, my goal is survival,” she said. “The Jews were extremely visible in 1930s Europe, how much good did it do them?” Since then I’ve been thinking about the relative shallowness of “visibility” as a goal in and of itself, especially since the past two years have been one long performative celebration of trans visibility. Caitlyn Jenner became a magazine cover girl in the name of “visibility” and has continued to do highly visible things like entering a golf tournament, blogging about her love life, starring in a reality show and speaking out in defense of Ted Cruz. We’ve had a streaming show about trans issues win a Golden Globe, we’ve had a feature film about trans issues nominated for Oscars (winning one for Best Supporting Actress). Ever since Time ran its famous May 2014 cover of Laverne Cox with the optimistic title “The Transgender Tipping Point,” everything’s been looking up for trans people, right? Well, no. The progression from visibility to tolerance to acceptance within the LGBT coalition has infamously been uneven between the LGB side and the T side. If one were to try to make a parallel (an extremely imperfect one) with Time’s “Transgender Tipping Point” with Laverne Cox and an earlier moment in queer history, it’d probably be something like Ellen DeGeneres and her character both coming out on Ellen in 1997 (a moment pivotal enough that there’s a website named for it). Did the dramatic moment of a well known entertainer proudly coming out as gay on TV, with widespread support from the media and the industry, end the oppressive invisibility of gay people? Did it, as Dan Savage put it, get better? Sure, absolutely, in the long run. But then I tend to agree with Martin Luther King that given a long enough run, yes, things get better–but what happens while we’re waiting for that long run is a much more complicated story. Ellen coming out on TV came after a run of 1990s media garnering attention and box office dollars out of promoting “visibility” of the gay community to Middle America–whether it be dark, tragic takes on the AIDS crisis or cutesy introductions to the culture of drag and camp. There was a vanguard among the (still mostly straight) cultural elite convinced the “gay tipping point” was coming, after the bloody battles fought by ACT UP in the previous generation and at Stonewall in the generation before that. Sure, the immediate upshot of Ellen coming out on TV was that her show got canceled and she was exiled from TV for the next few years. But her show was immediately followed by Will and Grace, which made “gay issues” as “visible” on TV as “visible” could be. Surely things were on the road to getting better–liberal allies like me were sure of it, even though I was living in an evangelical Christian subculture where the fire-and-brimstone backlash against the “gay agenda” was getting hotter with every Sunday sermon. For me the culminating moment of that era was the 2004 presidential election, a political coming of age for my generational cohort. The most enduring image from that election was San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s dramatic gesture of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples that February “whether you like it or not.” Newsom was morally in the right–I and most of my liberal buddies certainly thought so at the time. Time has proven that Newsom was on the right side of history–the American public, today in 2016, overwhelmingly believes Newsom was in the right. But at the time, all anyone could talk about was the size and the speed of the backlash against Newsom, the wave of same-sex marriage bans that passed on the ballot afterwards, and the widespread fingerpointing on the Left saying the Right unifying around the goal of opposing same-sex marriage is what lost John Kerry the election. Yeah, the 2000s were a period of progress where things gradually got better for LGBT people, but they were also a time of backlash–where every visible step forward was met with sustained, concentrated and vicious opposition from the Right and mealy-mouthed second-guessing about moving too fast from the Left. I remember vividly how hard and how often LGBT activists were thrown under the bus by liberals after 2004, and can only imagine how frustrating it was to be in their shoes at that time. “Visibility,” in that context, did them no favors. Is the situation right now with trans people and “bathroom bills” comparable? Well, no, it’s actually a great deal worse. This year, the RNC specifically outlined turning trans people into a “wedge” issue as a central strategy for the 2016 election. In February, when people were focused on the South Carolina primary, the RNC quietly passed a resolution calling for support for “bathroom bills” refusing public accommodation for trans people and backing the absurdly onerous restriction that in order to be guaranteed the right to use a restroom you must have documentary evidence of your XX or XY chromosome status (read the resolution here). Now, the state of North Carolina has just passed a sweeping law preventing trans people from using the “wrong” restroom in all public spaces, with others following close on its heels. It used to be that we were debating the “sanctity of marriage” and talking about denying people visitation rights, inheritance benefits, tax benefits and so on. Now we’re talking about the “sanctity” of public toilets, and talking about denying people the right to pee in peace without being physically accosted. I’d call that an escalation. Trans people didn’t suddenly come into existence in 2016, of course, nor did transphobia in state legislatures. But the last couple years of trans “visibility” certainly paved the way for making trans people into a visible wedge. While the GOP tears itself apart over the Trump phenomenon, transphobia is something the Right can come together on. The awkward and unpleasant truth is that the gains made from “visibility” for visibility’s sake are fairly narrow and concentrated. As many trans activists have pointed out, the outburst of sympathy for Caitlyn Jenner has mostly been positive for Caitlyn Jenner, who, despite the many obstacles she’s had to overcome in her transition, still remains sheltered enough by her wealth and privilege that she’s oblivious to the war the Republican Party she’s still loyal to is waging on trans people overall. The plaudits given to “Transparent” and “The Danish Girl” are going to show-runners who are not trans writing stories for actors who, in the case of the stars, are not trans to portray–and often doing it in ways real trans people find harmful or insulting. Meanwhile, the backlash is far more evenly distributed. Jenner herself acknowledged that when her visibility provokes a transphobic backlash it’s not she herself who bears the brunt of it, it’s the much poorer, less influential trans women who have to live around it. Eddie Redmayne gets to take credit for “raising awareness” while the movie itself indulges liberally in tropes of trans women as hypersexual and their partners as victims that make people think the threat of predatory trans women in bathrooms might be justified. It’s always been dangerous for trans people to use the “wrong” bathroom–a situation fraught with the threat of violence that Caitlyn Jenner is unlikely to experience and that cis actors who get paid to pretend to be trans, like Eddie Redmayne and Jeffrey Tambor, will never experience. But it’s fair to say that right now, with attention focused on the issue due to bathroom bills, the threat level is elevated. In Kansas a law has been proposed to, essentially, force schools to pay a $2,500 bounty to students who discover people using the “wrong” bathrooms and turn them in. That’s the kind of escalation “visibility” brings you. I put “visibility” in quotes because, well, it’s really a combination of visibility and invisibility–the hostility and the backlash comes from the visibility of celebrated public figures in the media, from the Netflix series and Time magazine covers and Oscar-nominated films conservatives love to complain are being “shoved down their throats.” But the reason that visibility is pernicious is how quickly we liberal allies stop paying attention once the exciting feel-good moment is over. I love Laverne Cox’s character on “Orange is the New Black”–but I confess my interest in the show as a work of art hasn’t translated into my being aware of the real-life plight of incarcerated trans people as I should be. Caitlyn Jenner, as a wealthy celebrity trans woman, wrestles with her feelings being yelled at by trans activists on TV while the vast majority of trans people in this country who are not Olympic gold medalists or reality TV celebrities struggle to stay employed or, in some cases, to keep a roof over their heads. And just like the spectacle of liberal allies telling gay activists in the early 2000s they were asking for too much too fast, we have left-wing activist voices–gay-rights activist voices, even–speaking up about trans people taking up too much space in feminism and kicking around the idea of subjecting trans people to conversion therapy for their own good even while saying that the open harassment entailed by bathroom bills is, of course, going too far. This kind of visibility–trans people being seen as a target, a symbol, a topic of controversy, a good juicy “theme” to make a movie about, without any follow-through when it comes to real-life poiltical support? That’s the worst of both worlds. It’s starting a fight on someone’s behalf, then ducking away once the fight begins in earnest. I’m personally ashamed that I, like a lot of other people, lost track of the “secondary” issue of bathroom bills and public discrimination against trans citizens while arguing about other things this political season–all while the Republicans were busy making that “secondary” issue into a primary issue to energize their base. And I’m haunted by the possibility–something I hear from trans friends all the time as a complaint–that consuming works of art about trans characters and boosting trans celebrities and making trans issues “visible” on social media may, in the long run, bend the arc of history toward justice but in the short run is making trans people’s everyday lives harder. The one-sided kind of visibility we’ve had so far, the kind that enriches our culture and enriches producers’ coffers without really doing anything to engage the backlash it provokes? We’ve had more than enough of that in the past two years. It’s encouraging to hear that, now that the North Carolina law has hit the news, organizations are fighting back through lawsuits and boycotts. That’s the kind of visibility that we need. Not just asking trans people–or any category of marginalized people–to make themselves visible, and vulnerable, for our edification, but committing to be visible to back them up in return. This March 31st, that’s the kind of visibility we should celebrate.I was happy to hear about the International Trans Day of Visibility two years ago. I agreed with the sentiment that the Transgender Day of Remembrance in November being the only trans holiday was morbid and depressing and that celebrating happy, healthy trans lives was a positive goal. I was happy to be one of many allies pushing awareness of March 31 as a “day of visibility” last year. Which is why I was surprised when one of my close friends, who is trans and who hadn’t heard of the holiday, responded with a scowl when I told her about it. “My goal isn’t visibility, my goal is survival,” she said. “The Jews were extremely visible in 1930s Europe, how much good did it do them?” Since then I’ve been thinking about the relative shallowness of “visibility” as a goal in and of itself, especially since the past two years have been one long performative celebration of trans visibility. Caitlyn Jenner became a magazine cover girl in the name of “visibility” and has continued to do highly visible things like entering a golf tournament, blogging about her love life, starring in a reality show and speaking out in defense of Ted Cruz. We’ve had a streaming show about trans issues win a Golden Globe, we’ve had a feature film about trans issues nominated for Oscars (winning one for Best Supporting Actress). Ever since Time ran its famous May 2014 cover of Laverne Cox with the optimistic title “The Transgender Tipping Point,” everything’s been looking up for trans people, right? Well, no. The progression from visibility to tolerance to acceptance within the LGBT coalition has infamously been uneven between the LGB side and the T side. If one were to try to make a parallel (an extremely imperfect one) with Time’s “Transgender Tipping Point” with Laverne Cox and an earlier moment in queer history, it’d probably be something like Ellen DeGeneres and her character both coming out on Ellen in 1997 (a moment pivotal enough that there’s a website named for it). Did the dramatic moment of a well known entertainer proudly coming out as gay on TV, with widespread support from the media and the industry, end the oppressive invisibility of gay people? Did it, as Dan Savage put it, get better? Sure, absolutely, in the long run. But then I tend to agree with Martin Luther King that given a long enough run, yes, things get better–but what happens while we’re waiting for that long run is a much more complicated story. Ellen coming out on TV came after a run of 1990s media garnering attention and box office dollars out of promoting “visibility” of the gay community to Middle America–whether it be dark, tragic takes on the AIDS crisis or cutesy introductions to the culture of drag and camp. There was a vanguard among the (still mostly straight) cultural elite convinced the “gay tipping point” was coming, after the bloody battles fought by ACT UP in the previous generation and at Stonewall in the generation before that. Sure, the immediate upshot of Ellen coming out on TV was that her show got canceled and she was exiled from TV for the next few years. But her show was immediately followed by Will and Grace, which made “gay issues” as “visible” on TV as “visible” could be. Surely things were on the road to getting better–liberal allies like me were sure of it, even though I was living in an evangelical Christian subculture where the fire-and-brimstone backlash against the “gay agenda” was getting hotter with every Sunday sermon. For me the culminating moment of that era was the 2004 presidential election, a political coming of age for my generational cohort. The most enduring image from that election was San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s dramatic gesture of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples that February “whether you like it or not.” Newsom was morally in the right–I and most of my liberal buddies certainly thought so at the time. Time has proven that Newsom was on the right side of history–the American public, today in 2016, overwhelmingly believes Newsom was in the right. But at the time, all anyone could talk about was the size and the speed of the backlash against Newsom, the wave of same-sex marriage bans that passed on the ballot afterwards, and the widespread fingerpointing on the Left saying the Right unifying around the goal of opposing same-sex marriage is what lost John Kerry the election. Yeah, the 2000s were a period of progress where things gradually got better for LGBT people, but they were also a time of backlash–where every visible step forward was met with sustained, concentrated and vicious opposition from the Right and mealy-mouthed second-guessing about moving too fast from the Left. I remember vividly how hard and how often LGBT activists were thrown under the bus by liberals after 2004, and can only imagine how frustrating it was to be in their shoes at that time. “Visibility,” in that context, did them no favors. Is the situation right now with trans people and “bathroom bills” comparable? Well, no, it’s actually a great deal worse. This year, the RNC specifically outlined turning trans people into a “wedge” issue as a central strategy for the 2016 election. In February, when people were focused on the South Carolina primary, the RNC quietly passed a resolution calling for support for “bathroom bills” refusing public accommodation for trans people and backing the absurdly onerous restriction that in order to be guaranteed the right to use a restroom you must have documentary evidence of your XX or XY chromosome status (read the resolution here). Now, the state of North Carolina has just passed a sweeping law preventing trans people from using the “wrong” restroom in all public spaces, with others following close on its heels. It used to be that we were debating the “sanctity of marriage” and talking about denying people visitation rights, inheritance benefits, tax benefits and so on. Now we’re talking about the “sanctity” of public toilets, and talking about denying people the right to pee in peace without being physically accosted. I’d call that an escalation. Trans people didn’t suddenly come into existence in 2016, of course, nor did transphobia in state legislatures. But the last couple years of trans “visibility” certainly paved the way for making trans people into a visible wedge. While the GOP tears itself apart over the Trump phenomenon, transphobia is something the Right can come together on. The awkward and unpleasant truth is that the gains made from “visibility” for visibility’s sake are fairly narrow and concentrated. As many trans activists have pointed out, the outburst of sympathy for Caitlyn Jenner has mostly been positive for Caitlyn Jenner, who, despite the many obstacles she’s had to overcome in her transition, still remains sheltered enough by her wealth and privilege that she’s oblivious to the war the Republican Party she’s still loyal to is waging on trans people overall. The plaudits given to “Transparent” and “The Danish Girl” are going to show-runners who are not trans writing stories for actors who, in the case of the stars, are not trans to portray–and often doing it in ways real trans people find harmful or insulting. Meanwhile, the backlash is far more evenly distributed. Jenner herself acknowledged that when her visibility provokes a transphobic backlash it’s not she herself who bears the brunt of it, it’s the much poorer, less influential trans women who have to live around it. Eddie Redmayne gets to take credit for “raising awareness” while the movie itself indulges liberally in tropes of trans women as hypersexual and their partners as victims that make people think the threat of predatory trans women in bathrooms might be justified. It’s always been dangerous for trans people to use the “wrong” bathroom–a situation fraught with the threat of violence that Caitlyn Jenner is unlikely to experience and that cis actors who get paid to pretend to be trans, like Eddie Redmayne and Jeffrey Tambor, will never experience. But it’s fair to say that right now, with attention focused on the issue due to bathroom bills, the threat level is elevated. In Kansas a law has been proposed to, essentially, force schools to pay a $2,500 bounty to students who discover people using the “wrong” bathrooms and turn them in. That’s the kind of escalation “visibility” brings you. I put “visibility” in quotes because, well, it’s really a combination of visibility and invisibility–the hostility and the backlash comes from the visibility of celebrated public figures in the media, from the Netflix series and Time magazine covers and Oscar-nominated films conservatives love to complain are being “shoved down their throats.” But the reason that visibility is pernicious is how quickly we liberal allies stop paying attention once the exciting feel-good moment is over. I love Laverne Cox’s character on “Orange is the New Black”–but I confess my interest in the show as a work of art hasn’t translated into my being aware of the real-life plight of incarcerated trans people as I should be. Caitlyn Jenner, as a wealthy celebrity trans woman, wrestles with her feelings being yelled at by trans activists on TV while the vast majority of trans people in this country who are not Olympic gold medalists or reality TV celebrities struggle to stay employed or, in some cases, to keep a roof over their heads. And just like the spectacle of liberal allies telling gay activists in the early 2000s they were asking for too much too fast, we have left-wing activist voices–gay-rights activist voices, even–speaking up about trans people taking up too much space in feminism and kicking around the idea of subjecting trans people to conversion therapy for their own good even while saying that the open harassment entailed by bathroom bills is, of course, going too far. This kind of visibility–trans people being seen as a target, a symbol, a topic of controversy, a good juicy “theme” to make a movie about, without any follow-through when it comes to real-life poiltical support? That’s the worst of both worlds. It’s starting a fight on someone’s behalf, then ducking away once the fight begins in earnest. I’m personally ashamed that I, like a lot of other people, lost track of the “secondary” issue of bathroom bills and public discrimination against trans citizens while arguing about other things this political season–all while the Republicans were busy making that “secondary” issue into a primary issue to energize their base. And I’m haunted by the possibility–something I hear from trans friends all the time as a complaint–that consuming works of art about trans characters and boosting trans celebrities and making trans issues “visible” on social media may, in the long run, bend the arc of history toward justice but in the short run is making trans people’s everyday lives harder. The one-sided kind of visibility we’ve had so far, the kind that enriches our culture and enriches producers’ coffers without really doing anything to engage the backlash it provokes? We’ve had more than enough of that in the past two years. It’s encouraging to hear that, now that the North Carolina law has hit the news, organizations are fighting back through lawsuits and boycotts. That’s the kind of visibility that we need. Not just asking trans people–or any category of marginalized people–to make themselves visible, and vulnerable, for our edification, but committing to be visible to back them up in return. This March 31st, that’s the kind of visibility we should celebrate.

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Source: New feed

Stop killing off TV’s lesbians: This depressing trope limits storytelling about queer women

Television might be getting more inclusive, but when it comes to lesbian and bisexual characters, the small screen remains a graveyard. In a recent report from Autostraddle, the queer-centric website ran the numbers over the past four decades and found that queer women were the most likely characters to die on TV: Since 1976, 11 percent of television shows have featured a lesbian or bisexual character, and of those programs, 65 percent have a deceased queer female character. Of lesbian characters no longer on television, 31 percent have bitten the dust. Just 11 percent have been allowed to have a happy ending that doesn’t in tragedy or death. The phenomenon is so storied that it even has a name: TV Tropes calls it “Dead Lesbian Syndrome.” This tendency is similar to what the website calls “Bury Your Gays,” in which LGBT characters are more likely to meet their maker than heterosexual cisgender (non-trans) ones. The trend began in earnest in the late 1970s and 80s on shows like “Cell Block H” and “Casualty.”  The Hollywood Reporter notes that “Executive Suite,” a short-lived CBS soap opera that ran from 1976-77, marked TV’s first lesbian casualty: “a lesbian character chases her love interest into the street only to be run over by a truck.” This pattern would be repeated ad nauseam throughout the years—of lesbian characters routinely punished for coming to terms with their sexuality or pursuing their desires. A famous example is Joss Whedon’ “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” In “Seeing Red,” Tara (Amber Benson) reconciles with Willow (Alyson Hannigan), her on-again-off-again girlfriend. Although intercourse between the two was largely implied, the episode marked the first time the couple—the only same-sex pairing on the show—were shown in bed together. (They mostly hug a lot.) Shortly after, Tara is shot by a stray bullet and dies. The trope of killing off lesbian or bisexual characters recently had its moment in the spotlight when the CW’s “The 100,” a show about post-apocalyptic warrior teens, killed off Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey), its most popular character. On the show, Lexa finally consummated her long-simmering romance with Clarke (Eliza Taylor)—a popular ‘ship among the show’s fanbase—only to end with Lexa being shot by, you guessed it, a stray bullet in the same scene. Around the same time, “The Walking Dead” offed Denise (Merritt Wever), who at least had the decency to be killed with a stray arrow—y’know, for variety’s sake. Debnam-Carey, who is a regular on AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead,” was always going to be a temporary presence on “The 100.” Scheduling conflicts likewise led to the recent demise of Rose (aka Sin Rostro) on “Jane the Virgin.” The actress who plays the scarlet-haired criminal mastermind, Bridget Regan, is also appearing on TNT’s “The Last Ship.” Those behind-the-scenes explanations and contract minutiae didn’t help quell fan outcry: Following the deaths of Lexa and Denise, the hashtag #LGBTFansDeserveBetter trended nationally on Twitter. Jason Rothenberg, the showrunner for “The 100,” was even obliged to apologize. It’s easy to see why fans were so upset. Shows have varied as “Northern Exposure,” “Private Practice,” “Skins,” “House of Cards,” “Jessica Jones,” “Scream Queens,” and “Pretty Little Liars,” have all offed their queer female characters in ways that feel both gratuitous and unnecessary. (“Boardwalk Empire” even did it twice—killing off both Angela and Louise.) In the case of “The Walking Dead,” what made Denise’s death particularly sting is that in the comics on which the show is based, the Grim Reaper came for someone else: Abraham (played by Michael Cudlitz) was the one killed by an arrow. This means “TWD” murdered a queer character in place of a straight one, a move unlikely to win favor among LGBT fans of the program. You might be saying to yourself: “Who cares? It’s just a TV show! People on ‘The Walking Dead’ die all the time. It is a show about zombies, after all.” That’s true, but shows where “Anyone Can Die” actually account for just a fraction the problem. Autostraddle did the math and tabulated that of the 68 shows with dead lesbians or bisexual women, only 35 (or just over half) viewed other characters as equally expendable. In fact, Autostraddle reports that around 40 percent of queer female characters appeared in less than a quarter of their show’s entire run—meaning they were killed off pretty quickly. On TV, queer women die so that everyone else can live. What message does this send to LGBT audiences? For many, it indicates that the stories of queer characters—and especially women—are disposable. “We comprise such a teeny-tiny fraction of characters on television to begin with that killing us off so haphazardly feels especially cruel,” Autostraddle’s Marie Lyn Bernard writes. This is especially true at a time when LGBT people are fighting for greater representation on television. The small screen has made enormous strides in the past decade—between inclusive shows like “Transparent,” “Faking It,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” and “The Fosters”—but there’s clearly a lot of work to be done. Otherwise, queer storylines wouldn’t keep hitting the cutting room floor. On a greater level, representation matters because many still yearn for greater opportunities to see their lives positively depicted in popular media. “LGBT viewers long to see their own happy endings reflected back to them,” the Hollywood Reporter writes. “Underrepresented groups—from people of color to people with disabilities to LGBT people—who are denied that kind of positive representation in our shared culture naturally have a harder time imagining it for their own lives. When death, sadness and despair are the predominant stories we’re told, particularly for younger viewers, it can seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The way to fix this problem is that shows simply need more imagination when it comes to LGBT representation. When it comes to characters like Lexa and Denise, what led to their demise was not homophobic malice. Writers’ rooms and producers often can’t imagine other storylines for queer people that don’t revolve around their sexualities, meaning that when they finally get what they want (i.e., love or sex), they’re no longer necessary. Television might be a dangerous place to be queer, but there’s nothing more deadly than a medium that still doesn’t know how to treat LGBT people with basic humanity.

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When is a band not itself anymore?: As bands age and line-ups shift, fans get to decide

On this year’s Grammy Awards, the surviving members of the Eagles joined up with Jackson Browne to perform “Take It Easy” in honor of Glenn Frey, who passed away in mid-January. In the aftermath of the tribute appearance, Eagles drummer/co-vocalist/co-founder Don Henley told BBC Radio 2 the performance was “very difficult and very emotional,” and added, “That was the final farewell. I don’t think you’ll see us performing again. I think that was probably it. I think it was an appropriate farewell.” That Frey’s death has apparently put the Eagles to rest is respectful to both fans and the group’s body of work. However, calling it a day is an increasingly rare gesture: Losing a key member is frequently not a deterrent to established bands moving forward and continuing their touring and recording schedules. The most notable recent example of this phenomenon is AC/DC, which postponed the remainder of a tour amidst frontman Brian Johnson’s hearing problems, and then pledged to finish out the dates with a new vocalist. (Rumored, weirdly enough, to be Axl Rose, whose own band, Guns ‘n’ Roses, is embarking on tour dates featuring original members Slash and Duff McKagan.) Heavy metal legends Black Sabbath, meanwhile, have embarked on their final tour without drummer Bill Ward, amid accusations (and subsequent denials) that he couldn’t handle the physical demands of the tour, while new Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Cheap Trick have toured with drummer Daxx Nielsen in place of Bun E. Carlos for years now. And then there’s the reactivated At The Drive-In, which just started a tour without co-founder/vocalist/guitarist Jim Ward, whose sudden and unexpected absence was announced on Facebook long after concerts had been announced. Of course, lineup changes aren’t necessarily fatal to bands or their creative output. R.E.M. kept going after Bill Berry left the group in 1997, while Alice In Chains eventually regrouped with vocalist William DuVall assuming the lead vocal spot in place of the late Layne Staley. Death Cab for Cutie has soldiered on without core member Chris Walla, whose instrumental and production contributions shaped the beloved indie-rock group’s sound, while Wilco leveraged early lineup turmoil for creative benefit. And it’s not just rock band dealing with lineup instability, either: R&B troupe Destiny’s Child weathered lineup changes back during its heyday, while En Vogue currently tours as a trio with two original members. Yet for loyal fans, any substitutions are often dealbreakers: A Dallas Observer piece on ATDI’s switch called the announcement “a big cheat to fans who looked forward to the return of all the main forces” and asked, “How is this any different from the projects that Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez have done together without [Ward], including De Facto, the Mars Volta, Antemasque and their solo records?” R.E.M. fans still argue about the band’s output pre- and post-Bill Berry. In Cheap Trick circles, meanwhile, there are purists who refuse to see the band without Carlos behind the kit, while even the mere possibility of Rose fronting AC/DC has angered countless fans (especially those with tickets to the postponed shows). The ire is understandable: New lineup configurations often do change a group’s chemistry, and an act is often greater than the sum of its parts: It isn’t just the music, but also who performs those songs, that makes a band a band. Yet the sheer number of classic and hard rock bands aging and potentially staring down retirement, as well as the ongoing popularity of reunions, has made upholding this black-and-white mindset more difficult. In fact, it’s made the concept of band identity akin to a series of philosophical questions: At what point does a group performing under a certain name not actually have enough core members to be allowed to use the moniker? Which band members are essential to a group’s success—and which can be replaced with no repercussions? Who gets to choose or define when a band performs under a particular name? When is it acceptable for bands to use their names, despite having mostly non-original (or recognizable) members? These questions are quickly becoming non-theoretical. Due to co-founder Mick Jones’ health problems, Foreigner has done some tour dates in recent years without him, meaning the group was performing with no original members. The current lead vocalists of hard rockers Quiet Riot and Warrant have done time in the groups Love/Hate and Lynch Mob (respectively), while Ratt and Survivor have gone the opposite route and now have significantly younger lead vocalists: The latter’s singer is 21-years old, while the former’s frontman said at a recent concert he was a year old in 1985, meaning he was born the year Ratt’s “Round & Round” was a hit. And Blackfoot‘s Rickey Medlocke and Revolting Cocks‘ Al Jourgensen sent their respective bands out without them in recent years, leveraging a new lineup and name recognition for notoriety. Swapping players in and out has certainly been a common practice in classic and hard rock circles for years: Journey has cycled through several lead singers since Steve Perry left the group in the ’80s, while Lynyrd Skynyrd regrouped in 1987, a decade after the devastating 1977 plane crash that killed frontman Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist/vocalist Steve Gaines. But more and more, the genre seems like it’s on a path where bands are becoming franchises—a name brand with interchangeable players rather than a specific, recognizable group of musicians. At the moment, Ratt counts only drummer Bobby Blotzer as a golden-era member—and while the band sounded strong and note-perfect at a recent live show, the overall experience felt like going to see a well-oiled tribute band rather than the real thing. The idea of an entertainment entity being a franchise has precedent, of course. In book publishing, the practice of having series authors cede to ghostwriters and multiple writers is a common one, as evidenced by Ann M. Martin (“The Baby-Sitter’s Club”) and Francine Pascal (“Sweet Valley High”), while Carolyn Keene (the “Nancy Drew” mysteries) was always a pseudonym. TV shows—and not just soap operas—also often have characters drop in and out. Yet it’s a discomfiting experience applying that same concept to a band: Loving someone’s music is a far more personal experience, as band popularity is often predicated on the personalities of the individual players. Loyalists aren’t (usually) idolizing an idealized, fictional character, but relating directly to the real person behind the stage persona. Assuming that fans will automatically warm to (or push aside) those sorts of personal connections because the music trumps all is somewhat insulting. Band names shouldn’t be in air quotes. Reunions are a slightly different animal because there are more factors contributing to lineup configurations. Still, it’s often good enough these days to have most of a group’s core/preferred lineup involved. Sometimes this is out of necessity: Dreampop group Lush has recruited Elastica drummer Justin Welch for their reunion, as original drummer Chris Acland committed suicide in 1996, while Slim Dunlap couldn’t take part in the Replacements’ reunion due to severe health problems. Of course, the latter group is no stranger to lineup shuffling—original guitarist Bob Stinson was out of the band in 1986—and Bob Mehr’s new biography, “Trouble Boys,” noted that Dunlap gave his blessing to the recent ‘Mats reunion, which featured original members Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson. That ‘Mats reunion tour didn’t feel incomplete or insincere, which underscores just how subjective band identities can be: One person’s sham is another person’s transcendent experience. And on one level, it’s hard to fault bands for wanting to push forward and perform beloved songs for eager fans, even if things aren’t the exact same way they used to be: There’s nothing like hearing a hit single or a moving song performed live, and the financial benefits of the concert industry are tough to turn down or push away. In the coming years and decades, it’s clear the very essence of music—and the boundaries delineating and defining bands—are poised for some potentially seismic shifts.

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Donald Trump says he wants to punish women who have abortions, making him just like every other “pro-life” politician

Donald Trump once again managed on Wednesday to send shockwaves through the media with his blunt, vicious mouth, this time admitting out loud that he wishes to “punish” women who get abortions. After asked by Chris Matthews about abortion during an MSNBC town hall set to air in full Wednesday night, Trump reiterated the bog-standard Republican opinion that he is “pro-life” and that he would like to return to an era when abortion was banned. But then the wheels fell off the whole thing when Matthews pushed Trump on what would happen to women who got illegal abortions under the proposed Trump abortion ban. After wiggling a little, Trump caved and answered, “There has to be some form of punishment.” “For the woman?” Matthews pushed. “Yeah,” Trump replied. Trump is clearly not conversant in the disingenuous posturing about abortion expected of all anti-choice politicians. If he was, he’d know the official stance that Republicans are supposed to take is that women are victims of abortion and therefore cannot be held responsible for it. Yes, it’s true that women pick up the phone, make the appointment, talk through their decisions with medical professionals, sign paperwork and then either take a pill or let the doctor perform an abortion, but none of this should be taken, in conservative eyes, as evidence that women are the people responsible for the abortion happening. Women are regarded by conservatives as fundamentally incapable of making grown-up decisions. If they choose abortion (and by implication, if they choose sex), it’s because they poor dears were misled. Yes, the same people that conservatives treat as literally too stupid to understand what making a medical decision entails are then expected to raise children. One doesn’t want to give Trump too much credit here for his mistake in talking about women like their brains function on a level past that of a 3-year-old. It’s not like he has some kind of respect for women’s intelligence. It’s just that he hasn’t been briefed, likely out of personal disinterest, on the fact that the right’s official stance is no longer that women are murderers. The newer, softer talking point is that women are idiots. But let’s be quite clear here that the “women are idiots” line that Trump failed to absorb is a millimeter-deep posture. While everyone is tearing their hair out about Trump saying he wants to punish women, Republican legislators nationwide are showing with their actions that punishing women for even thinking about abortion is what they want to do. The latest example is out of Utah, where the governor signed a law literally forcing women to ingest dangerous, debilitating, medically unnecessary drugs — drugs that can actually kill you — as punishment for their abortions after 20 weeks. The official claim is that he’s just so worried that the fetuses can feel pain that he just needs doctors to give women anesthesia in order to prevent that, but that claim is hard to buy, since the prevailing research shows that the earliest a fetus could possibly feel pain is around 29 to 30 weeks. But as punishment for an abortion, putting someone under works great. It’s expensive, requires a lengthier hospital visit, and makes the patient feel like she’s nursing a hangover after a 3-day bender. And that’s if everything goes well. After all, one reason doctors prefer not to use heavy anesthesia for procedures like abortion is it raises the risk of death substantially. And that’s just but one example. Really, the vast majority of abortion restrictions boil down to a desire to punish women. Mandatory ultrasounds add expense and time, and require enduring a lengthy vaginal probe. Closing down clinics with medically unnecessary regulations is about making women drive for hours and pony up money for hotel and childcare. Mandatory counseling is about shaming women and telling them lies about how they’ll die of breast cancer if they do this. Now Indiana is forcing women to pay for cremation or burial of embryos removed during abortion, a clear attempt to send the message that an embryo that is the size of a pencil eraser is a child that you killed. It’s all about punishment. It was always about punishment. If they can’t do it with jail time, they’ll just make the whole process as miserable as possible. Trump’s only mistake was saying the quiet part out loud. Update: Trump’s campaign has released a statement embracing the standard Republican talking points on this.

If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.

So instead of believing that women who get abortions are violent criminals, he has shifted to the apparently more acceptable belief that they are drooling idiots who cannot be trusted with something as simple as a medical decision regarding their own body. Why this is better continues to be a mystery.

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