Confederate — the upcoming HBO series from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss that rewrites history to depict an America where the Confederate states successfully seceded — might actually end up being a good show. I don’t have much faith that it actually will be. This series is a re-imagining of America’s relationship with race, racism, slavery, class, and how each affects the micro, day-to-day minutiae of our existences, our national, cultural, and racial zeitgeists, and our existential understandings of what it means to be “White” and “Black” and “American.” These are canyonesque concepts for anyone to wrestle with — even those who’ve specifically devoted their social, political, professional, and academic lives to studying, examining, deconstructing, and making art about race. And there’s nothing in either Benioff’s or Weiss’s backgrounds or careers that suggests they’re equipped to do so. But, to (mis)quote Calvin Candie, a character from another big-budget re-imagining of slavery, they have my curiosity and my attention. And they might surprise me.
What hasn’t surprised me is that an idea this ambitious from two people who don’t seem to have any real experience with the nuanced and explosive subject matter is getting greenlighted. Because these two people are White men. And White men get their ambitious, insane, reckless, and inane ideas funded all of the fucking time. They get money for TV shows and movies no one will watch. Investments in start-ups no one asked for. Funding for apps no one will use. Loans for restaurants no one will eat at. Grants for condominium complexes no one will live in. Capital for websites no one will visit. Deals for books no one will read.
The fact that black women are educated and entrepreneurial yet so underfunded is a confluence of broadening thoughts of diversity, use of technology, and economic policy. The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 increased limits for tax write-offs for startups, such as the ability to deduct cell phone bills and depreciation, and health care costs. This was great news for black women, who tend to be younger when they found their companies, have more debt, and less access to capital. Black women have greater difficulty receiving funding from investors and creditors, and difficulty securing lending due to racial bias.
But tax write-offs don’t make up for the funding gap. When black women are funded, they get the short end of the stick, with the average raise round totaling just $36,000. Compare that figure to the composite of the average white male startup founder, who banks an average of $1.3 million in funding. The secondary problem with not receiving mainstream large VC funding? Scaling.
While the focus here is Black women in tech, this standard transcends fields. It exists in media and entertainment. In real estate and academia. In for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations. Forget about getting into the door. We — and “we” in this context is “anyone who isn’t a White male” — need to produce all types of evidence and receipts and successes in order to just get an email reply. While White men are allowed to fail. Repeatedly. And given more leeway to dream up new and random-ass shit because they know if they keep getting shots at the dartboard, they’ll eventually hit the target. Which results in a self-fulfilling circle jerk where White dudes get the money because investors trust them more than anyone else because White dudes’ successes are more spectacular because White dudes get more chances to be spectacular because White dudes get the money because investors trust them more than anyone else.
Still, maybe Confederate will surprise us. Who knows? But I do know that if it crashes and burns, Benioff and Weiss will get another chance. And another chance after that chance. And another chance after that chance. And another…
«What hasn’t surprised me is that an idea this ambitious from two people who don’t seem to have any real experience with the nuanced and explosive subject matter is getting greenlighted. Because these two people are White men. And White men get their ambitious, insane, reckless, and inane ideas funded all of the fucking time.»
It should be noted that the video below is a demonstration of results, is silent, and the official paper has not been made public yet:
Results video for the paper:
Fišer et al.: Example-Based Synthesis of Stylized Facial Animations, to
appear in ACM Transactions on Graphics 36(4):155, SIGGRAPH 2017.
[EDIT: 20 July 2017]
An official video (no audio) and project page has been made public on the project:
We introduce a novel approach to example-based stylization of portrait
videos that preserves both the subject’s identity and the visual richness of the
input style exemplar. Unlike the current state-of-the-art based on neural style
transfer [Selim et al. 2016], our method performs non-parametric texture
synthesis that retains more of the local textural details of the artistic exemplar
and does not suffer from image warping artifacts caused by aligning the
style exemplar with the target face. Our method allows the creation of videos
with less than full temporal coherence [Ruder et al. 2016]. By introducing
a controllable amount of temporal dynamics, it more closely approximates
the appearance of real hand-painted animation in which every frame was
created independently. We demonstrate the practical utility of the proposed
solution on a variety of style exemplars and target videos.
There was a moment, early in the House GOP’s secret health care deliberations, when they reportedly considered doing something fairly radical and—under different conditions—very good. In Republicans’ haste to repeal every tax in the Affordable Care Act, their budget lines were hemorrhaging revenue, leaving them torn between taking health care subsidies away from millions of poor and working class people or finding a new revenue stream to limit the insurance coverage loss their bill would cause.
For a few days at least, they considered resolving the dilemma in favor of the latter option. Republicans floated a proposal to cap the tax preference for employer-sponsored insurance, which is financed with pre-tax dollars. In isolation, a policy like this would raise many billions of dollars, which, if spent correctly, would help weaken the onerous link between employment and health insurance.
In the context of the odious bill Republicans were considering, and of Republican politics more broadly, the idea couldn’t withstand even brief scrutiny, and Republicans reverted to the original plan of cutting Medicaid and individual market subsidies by a trillion dollars to finance a huge tax cut for the rich.
After Trumpcare breathes what are hopefully its last gasps, and new health care flashpoints emerge, Democrats should consider the preferences Republicans revealed throughout this process and reformulate their own health care thinking and messaging. Before push could become shove, Republicans concluded that the right future for American health care is the same one that existed before the ACA became law—and they framed it in terms of freedom.
But Democrats, if they choose to, could co-opt Republicans’ rhetoric to make a much more convincing argument that liberal health care policy increased Americans’ personal liberty.
Democrats in Congress have been fairly effective opponents of Trumpcare, but thanks to President Donald Trump, they haven’t had a particularly difficult job. Trump held an unseemly Rose Garden celebration when the Republican House passed its health care bill, then turned around and told Senate Republicans that the House bill was “mean.” Democrats seized on that admission. They have glued the term “mean” to every subsequent iteration of Trumpcare, and it will surely loom large in their midterm election campaign.
And rightly so.
No matter how you look at it, the basic tradeoffs at the heart of Trumpcare are unforgivably cruel. But for the most part, Democrats are using “mean” as a stand in for only one of the two main value propositions at the heart of Republican health policy: that distributing resources from the rich and healthy to the poor and sick is wrong. They have essentially ignored the second value proposition: that freedom means the freedom to beg your boss for health care, or fend for yourself.
There’s real political power in the correct argument that conservatives are “mean” because they aren’t charitable enough. But there is also power in the complementary argument that Republicans have coopted the language of freedom to impose a form of indenture.
President Barack Obama made a version of this appeal in his second inaugural address, as an implicit rebuke to his vanquished rivals, who crusaded during the campaign against moochers on government assistance. “The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative,” he said. “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
This is especially true of the Affordable Care Act, which created an insurance system in parallel to the employer-sponsored system, so that working-age people who lose their jobs or leave their jobs don’t lose the entirety of their health insurance subsidy in the process. A more thoroughgoing national health care plan like Medicare-for-all, also known as single-payer, would sever the link between employment and insurance entirely and forever. But Obamacare weakened the phenomenon of “job lock” substantially.
Notwithstanding Obama’s second inaugural, the liberating aspects of universal health care have not been central to the Democrats’ value proposition, whether they’re fighting for expanding access to health care or fighting GOP efforts to limit it. The challenge for Democrats is to turn the GOP’s revealed commitment to maximal job lock into a liability.
By limiting the terrain of the health care fight to the moral dimension of fairness, Democrats were mostly unprepared to counter the disingenuous uproar that ensued on the right a few years ago when the Congressional Budget Office found the ACA lowered employment. Republicans brandished the report as evidence that Obamacare cost people their jobs, but the labor-market impact CBO detected was almost entirely a function of freeing people from jobs they would have already left but for the fact that they couldn’t go without health insurance.
“The reason that we don’t use the term lost jobs is there is a critical difference between people who would like to work and can’t find a job—or have a job that is lost for reasons beyond their control—and people who choose not to work,” then-CBO Director Doug Elmendorf told a House panel back in 2014. “If somebody comes up to you and says, ‘well, the boss said I’m being laid off because we don’t have enough business to pay me,’ that person feels bad about that, we sympathize with them for having lost their job. If someone comes to you and says I’ve decided to retire, or I’ve decided to stay home and spend more time with my family, or I’ve decided to spend more time doing my hobby—they don’t feel bad about it, they feel good about it. And we don’t sympathize, we say ‘congratulations.’”
It is a testament to the Democrats’ discomfort on this moral plane that it fell to the director of the non-partisan CBO to deliver the strongest rebuttal to GOP spin. The question is whether six months of Republican squabbles have widened Democratic horizons. The GOP has laid bare a vision in which the government uses the universal need for health care as a perpetual lever to extract people’s labor regardless of their circumstances. Can Democrats sell the country on the opposite idea, that this yoke makes everyone less free?
On the last day of fourth grade, when the final bell rang, we all came roaring out of the front door of the school as you do when you’re nine years old and it’s the last day of school. Out into the sunlight with that feel for freedom that you haven’t felt since your very first bill arrived in the mail. It was jubilant. We still had cupcakes on our breath from the nice teacher who brought them for the last day of school and, as we fanned out onto the front lawn of the building, we all stopped cold in our tracks and a silence swept through the crowd. We all stood staring with our mouths open at what towered before us. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen and I’ve never forgotten it.
In front of all the stark yellow busses meant to ferry us home, was standing a man. A big white man with a big white belly and a big white beard and behind him was a behemoth glinting in the sunlight. It was white and tan and brand new and it sucked up all the air around it. It was something my classmate called an RV. Big enough to fit all of Kool and the Gang. From the front to the back of it looked like a mile and this big, white man was standing in front of it with his arms folded proud as punch. He was the father of one of my classmates, and had come to take her directly from school into their summer vacation. We all stared at it and approached it carefully. She, his daughter, was already on the boast.
“We’re going to the Grand Canyon and then we’re going to Yellowstone and then we’re going to…”
I had stopped listening. The sheer grandeur of this vehicle had left me green with envy. My family didn’t have no Grand Canyon money and I really didn’t know that people outside of TV did this sort of thing. Her father was nice. He let some of us wander through it and my envy grew greater. There were beds! Friggin beds and a bathroom with a sink and toilet that worked and a little makeshift kitchen-like thing and room to walk around. I swore on that day that I would experience this RV life. I swore it to the portrait of white Jesus that hung in our church the very next Sunday. I would have an RV and I would travel the world in it by myself.
Since then, I have often dreamed of the Great American Road Trip. I’ve fantasized about the open road and leaving my cares behind while listening to John Denver. Just me and a dog named Too Short or Bushwick Bill. I still close my eyes and think about driving through America’s Heartland. But, as I’ve gotten older, there’s only one thing keeping me from my dream and that’s America’s Heartland.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was a guide for black people who wanted to travel the United States. It was published from 1936 to 1966 and it did just what it advertised. It guided black Americans as to what places we could stay, what roads not to take and what time black people had to officially be indoors in this great land of ours. And, even though the book went out of print in 1966, you can’t convince me with love nor money that we don’t still need it. I watch the news. I’ve seen what goes on in the Dust Bowl states and, what good is the open road if it’s not open to you? I do not want my trail to go missing somewhere in Adair County Oklahoma.
Some might say that I’m being histrionic. But, they always say that until something happens and then there’s the wave of “I can’t believe this happened in America!” shock until it all dies down and something else happens. I do not want to travel alone through Trumpland as a black man and that’s a shame because it adds to long list of things that black Americans are dissuaded from doing in the U.S.. Like laughing or walking the streets. I still fantasize about doing it, though. I still want to feel the wind whip through my afro while Bushwick Bill sticks his head out the back window and let his ears catch the same wind. But, I’m gonna have to gain weight first. Take a deep breath. Learn how to use GPS and how to keep my head up at all times. I’m still working on that.
One time, when I was a kid, my sister bet me that I couldn’t go on the Scary House ride at Geauga Lake all by myself. Because sisters are always wrong, I took her up on it and climbed into that little green car by myself. My friends were all watching and it was all tickertape and balloons and streamers and shouts of encouragement and I gave them all a big thumbs up before that little vehicle took off with me inside and then it got really real. This was back when funhouses were meant to cause you emotional trauma and I’m gonna tell you the damn truth. When the ghosts and goblins and witches started jumping out at me from the pitch blackness, I was a mess.
I shit myself a little bit that day and had to spend the rest of our time at the park tryna hide it. It was uncomfortable.
I swear on Black Jesus’ name that I will not be found in Adair County, Oklahoma dead with shitty drawls and a pile of drugs on me that I didn’t have when I got there. I won’t do it.
But one day I will. When the time is right. Bushwick Bill isn’t even born yet.
«Since then, I have often dreamed of the Great American Road Trip. I’ve fantasized about the open road and leaving my cares behind while listening to John Denver. Just me and a dog named Too Short or Bushwick Bill. I still close my eyes and think about driving through America’s Heartland. But, as I’ve gotten older, there’s only one thing keeping me from my dream and that’s America’s Heartland.»