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I want to start this out explaining who I am. I am cisgender, white, male, and queer (mostly in the “gay” area of the queer space, but I do not like that identity). I represent a pretty privileged position in society, which does of course color my viewpoint on anything I say.

Elaine Stritch died today. This hurt me at my core: she represents the epitome of a particular kind of woman I have always held as a role model: brassy, bawdy, outspoken, talented, and fabulous. In her time she might have even been called “ballsy”. When I was a little closeted gay kid in the 90′s who had to keep silent for fear of getting beaten up, I sought comfort in women like her, especially the female leads of rock groups like Garbage, Veruca Salt, and Hole. For me, these women who subverted society’s expectations of them were role models for me. They were loud, abrasive, and in-your-face. After I left high school and started becoming more confident in my identity, I felt a similar affinity for drag queens: transgressive and loud, these gender illusionists gave me life. Knowing that it was possible to say “fuck you!” to society and still come out okay on the other side… that was powerful stuff.

Realizing that women like Elaine are one of the reasons why I am so outspoken today got me thinking about cultural appropriation. Well, that’s not quite accurate. What got me thinking about it was this article a few days ago by a black woman telling white gay men to stop pretending they’re black women, and then this monumentally idiotic response from a white gay man telling black women to get over themselves and let gay white men do what they will, lest gay white men run home crying because they got their feelings hurt. (In case you can’t tell, I think the latter argument is so monumentally stupid that I didn’t even link to the original article, but to a rebuttal of it.)

But really, even *that* isn’t what got me thinking about cultural appropriation. What planted that seed firmly in my head was a conversation I had with my friend Ashton nearly a month ago, when she asked me what I thought about Iggy Azalea. I honestly wasn’t certain; I had heard just enough to know I wasn’t interested, but I hadn’t really paid attention. Ashton proceeded to play me a little bit of “Fancy“, and I admitted that it was catchy as hell. Ashton said “yeah, but I really have a problem that she’s white.” And all of a sudden, I did too. I mean, it just sounded wrong – a white girl from rural Australia sounding like she had lived her entire life in College Park… it seemed wrong. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it beyond a simple “cultural appropriation is bad, mmmkay?”

But today, reflecting on the conversation going on surrounding what is and isn’t okay to appropriate and who’s allowed to do what, and reflecting on the things I have appropriated from my female/trans/POC friends, it hit me.

It’s not the simple act of appropriation that makes this stuff offensive. It’s the fact that it’s fake as fuck.

Iggy Azalea is putting on a character. She doesn’t write her own shit, she doesn’t come up with her own beats, and that voice she raps with was taught to her by her producers. If she had been a white girl growing up in College Park within that culture, and that were natural to her, I guarantee nobody would be hating on her the way they do. But as it is, she’s basically doing a blackface routine, making music that resembles music made by black people. And she’s gotten really successful doing so, which has the added effect of crowding out legitimate black talent. (Oh, and then there was that time she dissed Eve in the most tone-deaf way possible, and basically she just needs to go away.)

Mister Whitey McICanPretendToBeBlackIfIWantTo is in the same boat here. He’s playacting. Rather than taking inspiration from the struggles of oppressed people and using it to find his own voice, he simply imitates someone else’s voice, and poorly at that. And I feel that ultimately, that’s what makes it so offensive. When Vampire Weekend first came on to the indie scene back in the mid 00′s, they faced some criticism for appropriating West African rhythms into their music. However, they were upfront about where it came from, and ultimately the music they created was clearly not an imitation of African music – nobody would ever think a song like “Oxford Comma” came from anything other than a bunch of rich white kids, for example. They are inspired by someone else and used that inspiration to find their own voice. More troubling might be Major Lazer, who are also highly original, but appropriate in ways that seem more like imitation. (Plus there’s this downright racist and misogynistic and hella problematic bullshit that nevertheless has a beat that won’t leave your brain for days.)

The bottom line to me is this: expose yourself to other cultures. If another culture does something you like, learn more about it. Know what it’s all about. If it’s relevant to your experience, pay respect to it and maybe even use it yourself. But if you just like it and you feel like you want to imitate it even though it has nothing to do with you, don’t be surprised when you get accused of cultural appropriation. The truth hurts. Deal with it.

Fifty years ago today, Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War On Poverty in his State of The Union address.

It’s a war that we will never win, of course: there will always be those people who slip through the cracks of society for any number of reasons, whether through personal fault, societal oppression, or happenstance.

But it would be ludicrous to say that because we can’t eradicate it entirely, we shouldn’t try. Poverty is a horrible thing. It’s endemic to our society. It’s often invisible – how many of you, honestly, spend any amount of time in neighborhoods where every other house is boarded up, falling apart, condemned, or some combination of the above?

In the decade following LBJ’s declaration, the percentage of people in poverty fell from over 1/4 of the American population to less than 1/8. And it has been on the uptick ever since.

Our standard of living has improved since then. It is true that many people who live in poverty have color televisions and cars (that old canard that Republicans love to trot out). But these people are also often not food-secure, and they use their cars to get to jobs that don’t quite make ends meet. Color televisions are cheap these days. Food is not. And it is the height of intellectual dishonesty to claim that our standard of living is higher across the board when more people live in poverty now than did during the recession of the 1970s. Sure it’s true on paper. It’s most assuredly not true in the eyes of the elderly woman who gets her one meal a day from a charity and eats that meal in front of the color television she bought 20 years ago.

The War On Poverty can never be won. Not ever. But we can win battle after battle after battle in an effort to make life just a little bit better for our fellow humans.

Trigger Warning/Author’s note: this post contains a discussion of rape and underage sexual activity. It is also a very personal post.

The subject of rape has been in the news again recently, specifically in regard to Serena Williams’s recent remarks about the Steubenville victim.

Of course, any time the subject of rape appears in the news, there is invariably a chorus of people talking about how victim X shouldn’t have been doing such and such, and if the wanton trollop had just covered up her tits and not drunk to abandon, she wouldn’t have been raped.

Every time I see someone saying this, I counter with the standard litany that we can’t blame the victim, that it’s the rapist’s fault and theirs alone, that women already know they need to be safe and they don’t need to be informed of it again by someone who wasn’t there.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of repeating myself over and over only to be told that it’s okay to say the victim’s behavior was incorrect even if it’s ultimately the rapist’s fault. Rape is not about some woman wearing something too revealing and getting some guy so aroused that he just can’t help himself. Rape is about power. If you have been raped, you know this. If you haven’t been raped, you only know this if you’ve listened to people who have been.

I’m going to tell you a story. I was eight years old. It was a typical school day. There was a break between classes and I stopped in the bathroom to relieve myself. I finished, and as I was turning around, an older boy entered the room. I didn’t know him; I think he was in sixth grade. I just know he was a lot bigger than me. He grabbed me, and I thought I was in for another round of bullying. But this was different. He pushed me into a stall. He came in with me and shut the stall door behind him. He was blocking it with his body.

He told me to kneel. I still had no idea what was going on, but I had started to cry by this point. And then he pulled it out. I looked up at him and he said “suck it.”

“What?”

“Put it in your mouth.”

And I did. I don’t remember the next few moments at all. I do remember him eventually pulling out and laughing at me. “If you tell anyone, I will kick your ass.” Then I remember him hauling ass from the bathroom as he finished zipping himself back up.

It was my first sexual experience of any kind. I was lucky that my father had already explained what my sex organs were, and I wasn’t ashamed of them. I still felt shamed by the assault I had just faced, however. It wasn’t because I had put another boy’s cock in my mouth, either. I actually didn’t mind that part, and maybe part of me even liked that part. But I was ashamed because had been degraded and abused. My dignity had been completely taken away from me in that moment. I didn’t really know the words for what happened, but I knew how it made me feel. I got up off my knees, still crying, wiped my face, washed my hands, and left the bathroom to go on to class.

I really have no idea what made him do it. I never will. But having experienced it, I understand one thing. Rape is not about sex. It is not about arousal. It is not about being horny. It is about dominance and power. Any sexual component of the rape is entirely separated from the shame and humiliation that results. By extension, any arousal that leads a rapist to initiate a rape is entirely separated from the rapist’s desire to control and dominate the victim. And someone who rapes is not doing so because the victim was too enticing. They do it because they can, and they know they can, and something in them makes them think it’s okay, and society validates that feeling that it’s okay by pretending the victim’s behavior was somehow the cause.

I was raped in an elementary school bathroom because I happened to be in the presence of a predator. The girl in Steubenville was raped because she happened to be in the presence of multiple predators. Maybe if she hadn’t gone to that party, she wouldn’t have been raped. By that logic, maybe if I’d held it in until I got home that day, I wouldn’t have been raped.

Don’t talk to me about rape unless you’ve been raped. If you haven’t gone through it, I guarantee I know more about it than you do.

I have a tendency to destroy the things that I create. I estimate that I have destroyed approximately 99% of everything I’ve ever created that wasn’t research or school-related, whether it’s creative writing or music. In an effort to end that cycle of destruction, I’ve decided to do the exact opposite. I’m working on a short story that I think is pretty good, and I am publishing the first draft of it here. This is really scary for me. I think it’s absolutely atrocious and that I will be laughed at, despite the fact that I do actually have confidence in the things that I do.

So anyway, here is a link to the first draft of the first thing I’ve written in years that is not destined for the circular file:

Face To Face – V1

Comments are welcome.

Niall Ferguson is an asshole. There, I said it. He’s a tenured professor at Harvard (of history, not economics, not that that prevents him from opening his stupid gawp about economics) and clearly worthy of respect, and I’m calling him an asshole.

I’m doing so because he deserves it. He’s said plenty of stupid things in the past, but his recent remarks about Keynes were not just stupid and uninformed (as he himself has pointed out), but also rather bigoted.

Speaking at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, Calif., in front of a group of more than 500 financial advisors and investors, Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes’ famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead. Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of “poetry” rather than procreated. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive.

That’s not the part that’s upsetting to me, though, because Niall Ferguson is an asshole, and most of us already knew that. The upsetting part is how few people are even mentioning what a bigoted statement Mr. Ferguson made, and instead treating it as if it were a serious intellectual argument. People all over the world of economics, even when saying Mr. Ferguson was wrong, don’t seem to realize (or care) how incredibly offensive his remarks truly were.

I am a gay man. I am childfree. I am polyamorous. My legacy is mostly going to be my ideas, and any savings I manage to accumulate over my lifetime will not pass to the children I don’t have, but rather to various nonprofit foundations or schools or the like when I die.

Does this make me incapable of thinking about the long run? Of course not. Does this mean that I am predisposed to think only of the here and now? No. Does my relatively hedonistic lifestyle mean that I’m a carefree libertine, living only for today without a thought for tomorrow, incapable of designing policies for the long run? Not in the slightest.

And that’s because I’m a fucking economist. I’m an economist who thinks about the short run, the long run, and everything between. I’m a member of the Long Now Foundation who thinks that space exploration is a great idea for the future of mankind, despite its lack of direct benefit to humans right now. One of the fields I plan to specialize in is economic development, and you really can’t get much more long-run than that. It doesn’t matter that I’m white, overweight, gay, atheist, polyamorous, or, yes, even childfree.

So we can talk about how sodomy and usury were seen as sinful because of Aristotle, or about how Keynes’s quote was taken out of context, or about how maybe Mr. Ferguson wasn’t entirely wrong (and seriously? Fuck that guy). But the point everyone is missing here is that Mr. Ferguson has impugned the abilities of every bright, motivated gay kid who might want to go into economics. And this is not the first time someone has made this argument, and nobody seems to be stepping up and saying “that argument is bullshit - being gay doesn’t make someone a totally shortsighted hedonist, and saying so is offensive“.

That failure to call him out is going to discourage entry of gay students into the field. It’s going to keep economics a club mostly for straight white males, and as a result the field will rot and die as it loses relevance to anyone else. How’s that for considering long-run outcomes?

So allow me to say it. What Mr. Ferguson said is offensive, it is bigoted, and it needs to be seen for what it is. It is like saying that women can’t make good short-run models because all they know how to do is cook and clean and care for children, or saying that black people can’t make good financial economists because they aren’t as good at saving as white people. It is that offensive and devoid of merit. Excusing it or analyzing it or trying to extract a kernel of truth from it does nothing but minimize what truly is a bigoted statement.

Mr. Ferguson has apologized. Here’s my favorite part:

If I really were a “gay-basher”, as some headline writers so crassly suggested, why would I have asked Andrew Sullivan, of all people, to be the godfather of one of my sons, or to give one of the readings at my wedding?

Wow, Mr. Ferguson. Some of my best friends are black, too. Fuck. You.

fuckyou