Thursday, November 9, 2017

Michael Schur is a hypocrite

Television sitcom producer and former baseball blogger Michael Schur currently splits his time between working on The Good Place and Brooklyn 99, as well as criticizing every Republican politician in America on Twitter (@kentremendous).

I'll admit to being the biggest Fire Joe Morgan fan on the internet. The now-defunct site ran back in the mid-to-late 2000s and was an incisive and often hilarious look at sportswriting, with an emphasis on baseball. I am also a big fan of his TV works, most notably The Office and Parks and Recreation. Despite his genuinely grating persona on Twitter, I continue to follow him because I've read and watched his work for over a decade now.

Over the past year, Schur has become much more vocal about his disdain for the GOP. Frankly, I cannot blame him in the slightest. Donald Trump is ignorant filth who is below the office he holds both morally and intellectually. Democrats of all stripes have had an understandably difficult year. I'll give him a pass on Trump criticism.

Much of his criticism, however, is also aimed at GOP legislators like Paul Ryan or Ben Sasse. The general criticism is that they "don't do enough" to stop Trump. What he would like them to do is anyone's guess. Run into the nearest intersection holding up a cardboard sign reading "IMPEACH TRUMP"? Would he like them to, like, tweet more? Become Democrats and call for the repeal of the 2nd amendment? I'm not sure, but the gist of much of this criticism is that Trump is a cancer, and GOP leaders are enablers.

The New York Times report detailing comedian Louis C.K.'s history of predatory sexual behavior is the latest in a long line of scandals to come out of Hollywood. Combined with the Roy Moore allegations of child sexual abuse, there was plenty to discuss.

The juxtaposition of these two ugly stories created something of a hurricane for Schur, who did not hold back in his criticism of the GOP as an institution...


He had words for Paul Ryan specifically...


 He assumed the GOP would support Moore, incorrectly...



Which he admirably backtracked...



And he topped it off with a weirdly bigoted comment about people in the South...

So with this in context, I was curious to see how he would respond when the Louis C.K. news dropped a short time later. C.K. had a recurring role on Parks and Rec back when Schur was showrunner.
I would qualify this as a disappointment. Schur, partisan crusader for all that is good and right, admits to enabling the career of a man he knew to be a sexual predator. Actions speak louder than tweets, and when he had the opportunity to shun a man accused of the kind of filth Schur rails against so often, he cowered. C.K. was at the height of his popularity when he guest-starred on Parks and Rec in 2009 and then again in 2012. C.K. was a big name and he helped lift the show's profile in its second season. Schur admits to being aware of C.K.'s past transgressions, but he was too afraid to ostracize the high-profile C.K., or (more likely) simply didn't care because C.K. was a big name and he'd help with the show's ratings.

Much has been written about the hypocrisy of Hollywood as an institution in light of the Weinstein revelations. If you follow any notable comedic writers on Twitter, it becomes obvious that every writers' room in LA contains more sexual predators or enablers than it does people who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. You don't need to look any further than Weinstein's own statement from the day the accusations were made public, in which he took swipes at Trump and the NRA. When the entertainment industry is made to look in the mirror, the strategy has always been to deflect that gaze to the political right as quickly as possible. Schur's two-tweet response amid the dozens of tweets about Moore illustrate this phenomenon.

Perhaps Schur's feckless words made after allegations were made public are a far more flagrant transgression than any boilerplate response Paul Ryan gives to whatever nonsense Donald Trump said.

The best thing for a powerful man like Schur to do in this situation is not to spend time on Twitter, lobbing criticism at a political party in a state in which he does not reside. The best thing for him to do is to change the very sick culture that he is very much a part of. That means doing the right thing even when it might hurt your pocketbook, or your show's ratings. It means doing the right thing before the social media mob aims its focus at you. Schur admits to having the opportunity to do the right thing regarding C.K., and he failed, and he should not get a pass.

The way forward for Hollywood is not for men like Schur to "be better". It's for them to leave. Schur is a pious coward, a hypocrite, and an enabler. If the commanding heights of culture are to change, willful ignorance cannot be accepted from men in Schur's position. If he really wants to make a positive change, perhaps he should start in his own backyard. At the very least, he should get off his high horse.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Bill Nye Has Had Enough Of Your 'Extra Kids'

The Internet is rightly mocking the complete disaster that is the Rachel Bloom "My Sex Junk" video that was part of the new Netflix series, "Bill Nye Saves the World." As bad as that is (it is BAD), there was another portion of the series that was even worse.

The 13th and final installment of the series was titled "Earth's People Problem", and with a name like that, you know we could be in for some ideas that border on eugenics.

The 26-minute episode starts off in fairly inoffensive fashion. Following an intro that demonstrates how human consumption is like sponges soaking up water, Nye explains how women who have access to educational and professional opportunities tend to have fewer children. This is true, and he illustrates his point by telling the story of his mother, who developed technology for the United States during World War II and went on to earn her master's degree and doctorate. Inspiring!

Nye says that when women are in power, they have fewer children, and more resources can be devoted to those children. "It's not rocket surgery. It's science!" he coyly explains. Sure, it's not science in the same way that a Punnet square is science, but there is certainly a correlation there and the overall goal of providing equal opportunity to women is noble enough. So let's just indulge him and call his observation "science." Close enough.

Noting that the population density is highest in India, Nye's correspondent Emily Calandrelli went off to India to deliver a report on population growth in the country. It is followed by a brief chat between Nye and Calandrelli which quickly devolves into a lecture on how America's maternity leave policy is an example of our patriarchal society or whatever. She says that women in India get sixteen weeks of paid maternity leave, a fact that is "unheard of in the United States." Nevermind that here in California (home to roughly 20% of Americans), we have sixteen weeks of guaranteed maternity leave as well. Also disregard the fact that the absence of a federal requirement for maternity leave does not mean maternity leave is nonexistent in the United States. Calandrelli is rolling, so let's leave her alone. Instructively, she approvingly lists China when she rattles off some of the countries that do have required paid maternity leave policies.

So then we get to the rancid meat and soggy potatoes of this whole spectacle: the panel segment. On the panel are: Dr. Rachel Snow, chief of Population Development at the United Nations Population Fund, Dr. Travis Rieder, ethicist at the Berman Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and finally Dr. Nerys Benfield, director of Family Planning Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Benfield is an abortionist, so you may know where we are headed here.

Nye starts off the panel by asking "what should we be doing?" Dr. Benfield immediately jumps in and says that as a physician, she feels access to healthcare and family planning is important. She avoids the A-word. Repeating the observation that women's education levels and fertility rates are inversely related, Benfield says that the reason is either women are having less sex (Nye, redblooded horndog that he is, howls "I hope that's not true!!!" with a quasi-sheepish grin), or that women are using contraception.

The panel notes the importance of contraceptive access. Then Snow jumps in and says "we need justice and we need education." What "justice" means in this context is anybody's guess. My personal guess is that she is referring to abortion. But, again, the panel dances around use of the word.

How do we create and export this justice, Nye asks. Snow responds with vague concepts like "excellent education systems" (you heard her, everyone! Make them excellent!), and "family planning" she says as she nods in the direction of the abortion doctor two seats to her left. Family planning, meaning abortion, a word that is again avoided.

The fight against climate change, Nye's most passionate cause, is brought up by Rieder, who notes that children in developed countries use 160x more resources than children in the developing world. This is where the wheels fall off. This is where the creepy totalitarianism of the environmental movement starts to show itself. Nye asks, bluntly, "should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?"

Extra kids. These damn people and their existence, am I right? Bill Nye (who, again, decided we all needed to see that abomination from Rachel Bloom) is wise enough to set limits on humanity. This whole concept and the ease with which he discusses it is so frightening and evil that I am genuinely appalled at Netflix's decision to air it.

Rieder says we should "at least consider" a form of punishment for people who have these Extra Kids (tm). Nye impatiently responds that "consider means do it."

Snow, to her credit, jumps in and takes issue with the idea that "we do anything to incentivize fewer children or more children." Benfield notes the history of compulsory sterilization in America, a practice that was in place as recently as the 1970s. The issue was not come at from a position of justice in the past, she adds. But this time will be different, I guess?

So, if you're scoring at home, that leaves China's maternity laws and their recently-ended one child policy as the key points from this half hour or science televangelism. As Calandrelli says, it's time for America to "catch up." With China.

Yeesh. There was another eight minutes left in the program that I couldn't watch even if I tried.

Extra kids.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

That Abortion Episode of Bojack Horseman

Finished season 3 of Bojack Horseman. A few thoughts on the abortion-themed sixth episode.
When Diane discovers she is pregnant at the end of the fifth episode of the season, she and her husband (a dog named Mr. Peanutbutter) are in a state of shock. The totality of impending parenthood is a trope often used to inject conflict in a TV series, but this was handled in a much different (though not necessarily better) fashion.
The episode, sadly, seemed really shallow for a show whose characters create gripping internal conflict out of thin air. 
Diane Nguyen, introduced to the series as Bojack's ghostwriter-cum-love-interest, is the secondary character in the show. The parallel story arcs of Bojack and Diane are well-drawn. 
Bojack's low-point, even after season 3, has to be his time in New Mexico in season 2. It was the height of his selfishness. He showed up unannounced to the home of an old friend named Charlotte, a doe (a deer, a female deer), then expected her to leave her husband for him. He gave no consideration to how anybody else would react to that. He didn't even care about Charlotte's feelings. She was just an object he attempted to use for emotional fulfillment, which is an incredibly unfair burden to place on another person. When that didn't happen, he corrupted her 17 year-old daughter. It was his worst moment in the series, and one that haunts him throughout S3.
Similarly, Diane's reason for getting an abortion was simply "I don't want kids." She doesn't particularly care about the other two people directly involved in the situation (Mr. Peanutbutter, and her unborn child). She shows no real interest in how her actions affect anybody else. Rather than consider other people, both born and unborn, she makes an instant decision to do what she feels will make her happy. But instead of exploring the potential damage of her actions, the episode wraps up neatly and without any conflict between any of the main characters.
Diane is a morose character. She is referred to as "Asian Daria" later in the season. She constantly looks for fulfillment through her work. Her career, where she wanted to "make a difference" in the first season, now finds her ghostwriting tweets for celebrities' Twitter accounts. Her childhood was traumatic and filled with neglect, which is chronicled in a first season episode that showcases her roots in Boston. Her family can best be described as "Massholes" (my favorite line may be when one of her brothers, wearing a Red Sox jersey, says to Bojack "you have stolen my heart like Dave Roberts stole second base!"). The fact that she is so averse to having a child is fertile ground for a fuller analysis of her character, from her background as a neglected girl in a family full of boys, to her current situation as a celebrity's wife with a dead-end career. It is a shame that they did not take it in that direction. By aborting a child, you can look at it as her denying herself an experience (motherhood) that might make her life worthwhile. Instead, she fears change and makes a decision to revert to her routine, where she is bored and depressed.
The writers could have opened up the point to analyze how Diane's abortion was an incredibly selfish act. She conceives a child with her loving husband, a man (well, dog) of means and stature. Then it could have been expanded to point out that the characters in this show are largely self-centered and miserable, and those two things go hand-in-hand.
They could have gone that direction, but they resolved the story without ever really exploring these topics. The story was wrapped up with a fairly neat "Diane has an abortion, ends up feeling okay about it. Also it's good for women to open up and talk about abortion." This is a show where characters have relatively minor life events that inspire introspection. But abortion was NBD?
The worst part of all is that this could have been done without taking a stance on abortion. It didn't have to take a side in the broader debate about fetal personhood. It just had to examine the conflict one character has with the issue. For a show that has been such a brilliantly deep character study, they whiffed. It wandered away from introspection and into advocacy.
Bojack Horseman has been more than willing to criticize the narcissistic, amoral, and venal nature of Hollywood. Here, though, it sadly glossed over a product of that narcissism without giving it the weight it deserves.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Donald Trump Makes the Donaldson Trade

Look, Josh Donaldson is a good guy. Great guy. Known him a long time, everyone who knows him - they say “this is a guy you wanna have around.” So about early November, eh, let’s make that late October. Late October 2014, guy from Toronto calls me up. GM in Toronto. Always had a lot of respect for him. Classy guy. Very classy. He calls up saying he wants Donaldson. I tell him no dice. You see, this is how the deal works. This is how you do deals. Some of these other guys, I tell them, “you don’t know how to do deals. I do.” So GM in Toronto and I, we chat a bit, he asks for Donaldson again, I say no.


Keep in mind, I made the Mark Mulder trade. I made the Dan Haren trade. I built the 2012 team. You know this, you all know this. And they know this too. I’M THE GUY WHO SIGNED BRANDON MOSS.


You know Brandon Moss. Here’s a guy, nobody wanted him, this guy. He’d been bouncing around the minor leagues, couldn’t find a job, I tell him “look, Brandon, I believe in you.” I offer him a contract. A MINOR LEAGUE CONTRACT. Nobody else offered him one. I’m the guy who did. Long story short, you know where this is going, long story short, Moss kills it. Kills it. Comes up to Oakland and never stops hitting. Beautiful hitting. Classy guy. Lotta homers. Pretty wife. A real winner. I like guys like that. Like having them around.


So, so a few weeks go by, and I’m in the backyard, I’m enjoying the offseason, I’m working on a few things. I’m always working on a few things. Gotta stay busy. Gotta keep busy. Keeping busy, it’s imperative. That’s what I always tell everyone. So I’m in the backyard and my wife calls me in. My wife, beautiful woman. She calls me in, so I go inside, she says my phone’s been ringing. It’s… it’s always ringing, she knows that, but she feels something this time. She’s so smart, my wife. So I check my voicemail, it’s the guy in Toronto again. Lotta respect for that guy. So I give him a call, give him a few names that I like. Thinking maybe we can work out a smaller deal. A little deal, always nice. Help him, help me, beautiful. I ask him what he wants and he tells me Donaldson.


Now, now, I like this guy. Respect his persistence. Persistence is key in any deal, you wanna get what you want. So look, I tell him, “who do you want to hold on to? Who’s your best guy?” He says he doesn’t wanna give up his best guys. I tell him I know he doesn’t wanna give up his best guys, but he’s asking me for MY best guys. You know I like Nolin. Sean Nolin. Good pitcher. He’s excellent. Really, really first class. He tells me he’ll give up Nolin.


Okay, I’m listening. Obviously, Nolin, he’ll slot into any rotation you got. This guy can really pitch. Beautiful off-speed stuff. But I think I can get more. I tell him I like Graveman. Graveman. Another great guy. Fantastic guy. Honestly, I’m telling you this, I’m still impressed that I was able to get two of these guys. Really fantastic guys. Graveman, here’s a guy who was in the big leagues last season. Guy starts out in the low minors, riding the busses, eating McDonalds on the road. Travels the country, guy’s seen a lot. In a few months, he’s in the big time. He’s pissing on ice. He’s staying in 5-star hotels on the road. 5-star joints. These major league ballplayers, these guys live. Luxurious. Graveman’s that kind of guy. It’s in him.


So I say Graveman and Nolin, we’re getting somewhere. I still love Donaldson, mind you, but we’re still just talking. Talking.


Another few weeks go by, one of my guys calls me up and says “Boss, you think we can get Barreto?” I love this guy. Always has great ideas. Always calls me "boss". One in a million. I call up the guy in Toronto. Ask about Franklin Barreto. Young guy, very talented. You can see it in him. You can see it- I can see it, I see things sometimes other people don’t see, I see he’s a winner. This kid, this kid is worth Donaldson. Believe me. Believe me. He’s excellent. I love him, this guy.


Guy in Toronto says yeah, yeah maybe. I say okay, so Nolin, Graveman, and Barreto. He says yeah, but I can hear it. I can hear it in his voice, he could go a little farther. I tell him I’ll call him back. That’s how you make deals. Keep ‘em wanting your attention.


Another, another week goes by, it’s Thanksgiving. I think to myself, I’m watching football with the family, but my mind’s always business. Love my kids. Beautiful kids. You’re gonna love them, when they get older. They’ve got great parents. Love them, my kids. So we’re all hanging out and watching football and I think “what if we get Brett Lawrie?” Wow. Wow. I’m impressed with my own idea, and that doesn’t happen very often. That’s when you know it’s special. So I don’t call the guy in Toronto on Thanksgiving. I don’t know if they celebrate Thanksgiving in Toronto, but I don’t want to scare the guy off. I can barely eat my turkey, I’m so excited about this deal. I call a few of my guys, I can call my guys on Thanksgiving, they love me. Their families love me. Plus, I’m their boss. What are they gonna do? They gotta talk to me. They love it. They love me.


So I talk to them about Brett Lawrie. Every one of them tells me it’s a great idea. Every single one. That’s when I knew it was happening. I could hardly sleep that night.


Wake up the next morning about 5 o’clock, which is much later than I usually get up, but it’s the day after Thanksgiving. I call Toronto and I say “add Lawrie and you’ve got a deal.” Guy pauses. He accepts. Wow. Nobody else… Nobody else does this deal except me. Spectacular. You guys are so lucky.

I don’t care what they say about it. It’s a great deal. They question me. They always question me. But look at this, you’re gonna love this deal. It’s a beautiful deal. You’re gonna love it. Luxurious. That’s what we’re gonna keep doing. Making beautiful deals. We’re gonna make Oakland great again.