Should We Retire the Mystery Man?

We all, or all of us worth knowing on a question such as this one, know the Mystery Man, the pseudo-guy who looks like a reverse polarity keyhole, and who/which is the default avatar for wet-behind-the-ears WordPress sites – only rarely seen at this size: mystery-manProblems with the MM: First, it’s lazy to use it. Second, the figure is traditionally taken to be a “he”: Maybe it’s because he seems to be bald. Whatever the explanation, and despite WP’s decision to rename him the “Mystery Person,” relying on him or zir or it may still qualify as sexist. Third, he happens to be… white. default_avatarNow, if you don’t like WordPress’s other built-in alternatives, as shown above, adding the code for your own default avatar is a straightforward operation.1 One possibility, which you may have noticed already, would be “MOG,”” for “Mystery Ordinary Gentleperson”: Shehe’s an avatar of not-exactly-color, but not white – in my opinion also of no pertickler gender – before a drab off-yellow background of the sort you might see in some boring government office… mog_yellowAt a typical avatar size: mog_yellowI added herhis hat with OT in mind – based on a design suggestion from Ordinary Gentleperson James K – and I chose the background with the specific intention of keeping it less than very attractive, the theory being that we want users not to like wearing the default avatar too much, and instead want them to go to gravatar.com and get their own avatars – it’s not hard. Now, I’m not married to Mog. I happen to like himher for now because I have recently been arguing at my own blog with a confessed racist who also happens never to have bothered to get his own avatar. It tickles me a little to see him represented as a netizen of tone. Eventually, I will cease to find the idea amusing, and may choose some more serious way to represent avatar-slackers – or I might decide to go avatarless. Some sites will assign their own branding to avatar-less users. An alternative for Ordinary Times, for instance, might be based on this: favicon1A version of the above is currently in use as the site’s “favicon.” Another possibility, in view of the traditional affection at OT for bowler hats, as in or on Mog, might be just the hat: bowlerThe above is taken from a free graphic from Freepik, used previously. There’s also this hat on file: gravatarWhere it came from originally, I’m not sure. It happens to have been used already at OT, and still turns up in odd places. The explanation goes back to the original name of the site, “League of Ordinary Gentlemen,” as still evoked in remnant “retro” references and stylings, for instance in the site’s fonts and in the old-fashioned bicycle visible in the OT icon, and for that matter in the site URL at “ordinary-gentlemen.” I was informed by Ordinarius Burt Likko in that same discussion with James K that “ordinary” was a common name for those bikes. As for the claim (voiced previously by commenter Bert the Turtle) to the effect that a bowler hat says “man,” maybe that’s a problem, too – or maybe not!

Notes:

  1. Code and instructions are available at my site, where a version of this post has been cross-posted. []

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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