Thursday, July 31, 2008

"In other news, the O'Bama campaign has snapped up Paul Volcker, and Robert Mugabe is still going to hell."

There is no limit to how high John Jack can count.

Speaking of intra-Yalien affairs, Rob, like Bluto, has alcohol-related advice for the undergraduates.

Fun with nuns

From Postmodern Heretics, which one kind soul sent me for my very merry un-birthday, a description of an interview Bill Moyers did with Sister Wendy:
. . . Moyers presses on, asking whether she was offended by "Piss Christ," a work which, he claims, "denigrates the central figure of your faith." Again, she begs to differ. While advancing her opinion that Serrano is "not a very gifted young man, but he's trying to do his best," Sister Wendy absolutely refuses to see "Piss Christ" as blasphemous. Instead she reads it as an admonitionary work that attempts to say "this is what we are doing to Christ."

. . . Finally, Moyers raises the question everyone is waiting for. How can it be, he asks, that Sister Wendy feels no shock at the Western canon's immersion in nudity, lust, violence, and passion? "It wouldn't ever have occured to me to be shocked," she replies. "I'm a Catholic."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children"

I'm preoccupied with longer pieces for today, so why don't you compensate for my blog neglect by picking up the latest Oxford American? To hook you, the first three paragraphs of "The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children":
In 1984, Shreveport was experiencing turbulent race relations, a woeful lack of economic growth, and a rash of flying teengers. The airborne bastards were the offspring of the Redbird--a handsome alien half-breed who had once made the cover of Life magazine for rescuing Chicago from The Stalinizer--a radioactive cosmonaut who could shoot lasers from his mouth.

Despite his success in Illinois, The Redbird didn't possess the necessary might to be a major-league superhero. In the world of superpowers, flight was pretty much table stakes. Who couldn't fly? Flying was just the delivery method, a mode of transportation for real super powers like invincibility, colossal strength, or energy blasts. You couldn't very well fly a super villain to death. Without invincibility and preternatural strength, how could you ever stop a nuclear missile? Sure, The Redbird, in those bright red tights, looked pretty up there doing loopy-loops in the sky, but other than marshalling Fourth of July parades, he really wasn't much use in America's fight against villainy. So The Redbird was relegated to the bush leagues. He was banished from Chicago and assigned to Shreveport.

Our town welcomed The Redbird with an unreserved embrace. Everyone loved the idea that we had our very own superhero to look after us. We didn't care if all he could do was fly. That was more than any of us could do. In fact, The Redbird united our city. We loved this alien half-breed with his magic red hair and his black mask, and this love we had for him overflowed from our hearts and spread to everyone in town. Redbird-mania transcended racial lines and mended our violent histories with one another. The Redbird allowed us to see the good in people--black, white, rich, or poor. Under The Redbird's watch, Shreveport entered a golden age.
For more sage thoughts on superheroes, check out David's comment on my Dark Knight review.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Tobacco: More powerful than capitalism?

Matt Yglesias thinks he has landed a blow against McCain over his newfound opposition to higher sin taxes on cigarettes:
. . . has McCain flip-flopped on any issues? Yes:
McCain now opposes sin taxes on cigarettes. He said he worries that Congress would put the additional money into a general revenue pool. "Does anyone here have confidence in Congress?" he asked the crowd. Moderator Paula Zahn was skeptical. Might McCain change his mind if researchers proved that raisng the tobacco tax would help lower smoking rates?

"It would have to be proved. I don 't think it's in the constitution of this Congress.” He hastened to add, “By the way, I’m not for anybody’s taxes.” He later implied that raising the cigarette tax would lead to more smoking as a way of explaining his decision not to support a Democratic attempt to use a tax hike to pay for more children’s health insurance.
So first McCain wants us to believe that he's so fanatically opposed to making public services more generous, that this is why he's opposed to raising cigarette taxes. Smoking is bad, says McCain, and it's important to promote public health by reducing its incidence. But it's even more important that we starve the government of funds for things like police and courts and infrastructure and health care and education and parks and the military than that we reduce the rate of smoking. Then, perhaps realizing that this is crazy, he turns around and asserts without evidence that higher cigarette taxes increase the rate of smoking.

Now all the evidence suggests that higher taxes lead to less smoking since, after all, what happens when the price of something goes up is that consumption goes down. But if this made-up fact were true, that would make McCain's position make sense, so why not just pretend it's true? After all, he's a straight-talker.
I would like nothing more than to count my blessings that Yglesias, a man of the Left, has called on the law of economic incentives like it was a verse of the Gospels, but in this particular case there's a good chance he's wrong. From NYT:

This graph doesn't show it, but the report from which the graph is pulled shows that the average rate of smoking in the nineties was only two points higher than it is now (26% to 24%), so things have been stalling for even longer than the graph suggests.

A final reason to back the Bush administration's opposition to further tobacco regulations (opposition which, in the case of expanding the FDA's jurisdiction, neither presidential candidate shares): it makes smokers cranky. We have the proof.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Is there already a Bloggers Anonymous? I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

Mona over at Art of the Possible thinks that Alcoholics Anonymous's "higher power" rhetoric makes it illegitimate for courts to require that alcoholics attend AA meetings:
If you or a loved one had a problem with: alcohol, narcotics, gambling, overeating, spending or any of the myriad frailties that afflict mankind, would you seek to resolve the problem by turning your/their will and lives over to the care of a toilet? Admit to a Styrofoam cup the exact nature of the person’s wrongs? Or be entirely ready to have a doorknob remove character defects? How about humbly beseeching said toilet/Styrofoam cup/doorknob to remove their shortcomings? Or admonishing a loved one that they need to seek through prayer and meditation to improve their conscious contact with a support group, praying only to the group for knowledge of the group’s will and the power to carry that out?

Think that all sounds far-fetched and self-evidently absurd? Well, the ubiquitous 12 Step model of “recovery” from various addictions — which is modeled on the original such, Alcoholics Anonymous — is predicated on this nonsense (all such programs will hereinafter be referred to collectively as “XA”) in order to lamely claim the program is not manifestly religious...

No reasonable reading of [the Twelve Steps] admonitions can be described as other than religious (and, indeed, they are the retooled tenets of an explicitly Christian, 20th century religious movement, to which both founders of AA belonged); yet XA members, probation officers, and corrections officials routinely insist that because the “Higher Power” of the Steps (HP) can even be, oh, say, a toilet, an atheist can “work the Steps.”
Entrusting one's life to a higher power can be a religious act, but mostly it's just a sensible one. Addicts understand better than anyone that the idea of a self-reliant will is a fiction. "Nobody needed booze before they started drinking," says an AOTP commenter. True enough, but a man can't separate out the part of himself that wants alcohol from the part that doesn't; you can't unbake a cake. Given that an addict, like anyone else, is a mixture of competing influences, some of which are natural and others of which used to be foreign but have since become as good as natural, trying to parse out the good from the bad in the hopes of finding a purer, stronger self could never work. Even absent theological reasons to give yourself up to God, relying on a higher power makes good atheistic sense.

I was reminded of Mona's old-by-blogospheric-standards post when I saw this forehead-slapper of a WaPo headline: 'Many recovering alcoholics depend on coffee, cigarettes.'

Themed blogwatch: Pop music and localism

Three men. Three links. Three arguments brought to bear on the idea that rock music should be tied more closely to place.

Nick throws out this Pitchfork interview with the co-foundeds of Sub Pop:
Coming out to Olympia and plugging into KAOS was a huge shift for me, because it gave me a certain focus-- independent American music-- and I started seeing music through a particular lens. At the time, other than a handful of music geeks, people didn't recognize the value of regionalism and independent music. What happened at KAOS gave me a conceptual foundation, the basic premise being that quirkier or more unique visions typically come out of smaller companies that are concerned more about art.

My interest in regionalism goes back earlier than that; as somebody who was hanging out in Chicago and seeing records come out of a city-- you know, the Dadaistics, Epicycle, there were records that were coming out that were being completely ignored. My sense was that every city had an active scene, but because of the lack of media in the U.S., these scenes couldn't really mature. Whereas over in England, the indie scene was really thriving, and that had everything to do with the fact that [they had] weekly music magazines coming out, and you had John Peel doing a nationally broadcast radio show. I just thought that if there was a John Peel-type show in America, where everyone in the U.S. got to hear the latest Epicycle single from Chicago, then the band could actually sell more than 200 45's.

I really obsessed over the fact that every city had its own vibe and talent but that wasn't getting any kind of exposure whatsoever. Certainly not from Rolling Stone, but also from publications like New York Rocker, who were pretty much obsessed with London and New York and were ignoring these secondary cities. When I moved to the Northwest, it was the same thing all over again. There were groups like the Blackouts from Seattle who were being completely ignored, and then from Portland you had Wipers, who to this day I think are one of the greatest rock bands in the history of American music, who were putting out their own records and being completely ignored because they were from Portland. They did not have access to media.
Meanwhile, Adrian cites La Blogothèque as evidence against the supposed cultural decline of Paris. I concur (a song called "Let's Dance to Joy Division" that features a guy playing the banjo; I was as surprised as you are).

Lastly, John points out this video of Tyler Cowen getting his inner rock snob on. Nobody ever said that having a local scene precludes all cross-pollination. (I should warn you that the video includes a Mongolian throat-singing version of "The Levee's Going to Break," and it will probably make you freak out.)

Welcome to outlaw country.

[TakiMag]: Why I don't believe in Harvey Dent.

Friday, July 25, 2008

If blogwatching is wrong, I don't want to be right.

A few quick hits:

1. REACTIONARIES AND FORMALISTS, TOGETHER AT LAST!: This column on the vinyl LP is worth reading all the way through, but you gotta let these two sentences into your life:
Maybe it’s because current methods of listening aren’t cutting it that I’ve started buying more vinyl. Not because it sounds better or evokes nostalgia, as any number of articles on the vinyl resurgence claim, but because listening to vinyl is a more structured and formal experience.

There are Facebook groups that summon from airless basement rooms the fans of squabbling heirs to the vacant throne of Byzantium, and dating services catering to the most peculiar tastes, and the tiniest coteries of dispossessed souls. For instance, orthodox Catholics. No, not the folks who happened to grow up Italian-American or Irish in the wake of Vatican II, and learned a little less about their Faith than most 19th century Haitians. I mean the much smaller subset of people who have blundered somehow onto the actual teachings of the Church—and even worse, come to believe them.

From a mass religion that exercised a sweaty grip on the minds of tens of millions, the American church in the past 40 years has become something very different: An exotic, almost esoteric sect of old believers, hidden inside the shell of a mainline Protestant denomination. Apart from the occasional Latin Mass full of elderly anti-Masonic activists, we typically sit through our dismal local services with teeth clenched and earlids shut, and spot each other (if at all) by secret handshakes and coded phrases. See that blonde over there, a friend might nudge you with his elbow. She took Communion on the tongue. I wonder if she’s single…
Via the Western Confucian.

3. John Darnielle takes Nachtmystium's frontman to task for saying, "I don't make music for other people":
To this I feel I must say: oh, really? Nonsense. If you are making music only for yourself, you don't release it. While it's true that an artist does not owe his fans the music they want, he does, in fact, owe them quite a great deal, and he lies if he says he isn't making music for them. Because it's the listeners to whom an artist owes the right to self-identify as an artist. They gave you that job. It is for them that you make music, not yourself; only artists of whom no-one has ever heard have any right to claim that they "don't make music for other people."

The rest of us must always be true to our visions, don't get me wrong. If we waste our inspiration trying to chase down past glories to satisfy people who don't think we should grow or change, we're traitors of the worst kind. But don't kid yourself. You do owe the audience something, and you do make music for them, and if you don't think of it that way, perhaps you should.
The nice thing about this post is that he's obviously not operating within the if-Nietzsche-was-so-smart-how-come-he's-dead school of Gotcha, but really trying to get this guy to rethink how he makes music. (Aside to Eve: The other person may feel bad about himself, but that doesn't mean my criticism--or shaming--is coming from a place of sadism. Even if I'm kinda glad he feels that way.)

4. Did you realize that "White Wedding" totally works as weird-old-America murder-ballad-y banjo music? Blessed are those who have not heard and yet have believed, but why wait?

5. Anonymous is back! Catch all the hot gender theoretical action in real-time, or just dive in yourself! Updated almost constantly, so be sure to keep checking back.

6. I do not know what is happening to my life. Not safe for work. Or home. Or anywhere, ever.

"Base slave, did I ask you that?"

An interesting take on Coriolanus from Eurozine (almost as interesting as Dara's "McCain of Corioles" and Nicki's wonderfully sprawling riff on Greek maxims from "You shall not sin against philosophy twice" to "When life gives you hemlock, make hemlockade"):
To Virgilia, her daughter-in-law, she is not only the most insufferable possible mother-in-law, but the most soul-sapping: she would rather see her son slain in battle, and shows derision toward any desire Virgilia might have to enjoy her husband's caresses in bed. Her thorough influence over Caius Marcius is both obvious and frequently noted by his countrymen. (If one wanted to view her in another and more favourable light, one could accurately say that she valued a nobly led life above all other considerations.)

Caius Marcius has no father to guide him, nor did he have a mother with any trace of tenderness in her heart. For Volumnia, only the cold calculus familial and Roman honour mattered, and her single-minded determination to instil these values into her son met with success. Caius Marcius grew to embody genuine Roman nobility in a pure, almost inhuman form, going even so far as to refuse his mother's request that he show his wounds and ask the favour of the public for a well-deserved seat on the Council.
This is only tangentially related to the article's main thesis, but it's worth pointing out that Volumnia's take on manly honor is necessarily an outsider's; that's why it's so cartoon-simple, uncompromising, and inhumane. Masculine attachment to honor culture can be quite flexible, but only for people who are enough at home in it to move around. There is a feminine form of civic honor, but, as a woman confronted with Coriolanus's education, Volumnia is necessarily reduced to explanation.

The take-away lesson here is aimed at anyone who finds femininity too one-dimensional and rigid to be worth their time or respect. I'm not surprised that men see it that way. They would. I suggest that women not take a spectator's word for its simplicity.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Get down off that pillar! I want to photograph your outfit.

The China Beat links to a street-fashion blog called Stylites in Beijing. I thought for a brief, shining moment that they were talking about this kind of stylite.

Return of the Son Daughter of Gender Theory

Martha weighs in on the comments thread that wouldn't die:
Just stumbled upon this - fascinating. If you don't mind, Helen, I'd like clarification on just a couple points.

1) Enforcing femininity. I think anonymous has a point here. If it is, as you say, ambiguous ("flexible canon of gender roles") and further divided between 'high' and 'low' class versions, who has the ability to say what's in and what's out? And if it is biological, isn't it less about conforming to societal expectations (decidedly unfeminine - Paris Hilton style) and more about being 'yourself' gender included?

2) Do you actually think a genderless society could come into existence (given discussion of biology, and tossing in historical insight)?

3) Why are femininity and feminism incompatible? For instance, you don't think learning, debating and living at Yale destroy your femininity - but you wouldn't be there if it weren't for first and second wave feminists.
To the first: sure, there's no Pope of femininity. There's no Pope of America, either, but we still think that "quintessentially American" and "profoundly un-American" are expressions that have some content. Definitions are flexible, but that doesn't imply that words mean whatever I want them to mean, or never mean anything at all. As for enforcement: come on. What do you think I recommend?*

I've taken a lot of fire for my vision of a genderless apocalypse, but I'm not ready to throw it overboard just yet. Here's a new spin on it: a world in which no one has to grow up (think the big babies in Wall-E) is a kind of genderless society. Gender roles are deeply bound up in what it means to become an adult: most rites of passage are gendered; we use expressions like "be a man" when we mean "grow up"; the most important sign of adulthood is becoming a parent, a deeply gendered development. Those who would infantilize us and those who would de-gender us are in alliance.

Another route by which we might arrive at genderlessness: it becomes socially unacceptable to do or say anything that reinforces gender "stereotypes." Misogyny becomes the new racism. If that becomes entrenched, biological differences won't matter; we'll simply deny them. They will probably bubble up in unexpected ways, the way that disincarnate suburbia yields Fight Club, but remember that everybody panned Fight Club when it came out as an ultra-violent, immoral fantasy.

As for the third point: the short answer is "Like hell." I have very little beef with the first-wavers, but remember that even before they came on the scene you still had the Bronte sisters, Queen Christina, Catherine of Siena, Hildegard von Bingen, Judith (as in "and the head of Holofernes"), Joan of Arc, and... and... and. Feminists have made advances from which I have benefited, and some which have brought me nothing but grief. More importantly, no matter how much we agree, they're still not on my team.

*It came up in conversation with this guy that no one enforced gender roles more strictly than gay men of a particular generation in New York City, and, as Camille Paglia has pointed out many times, no one throws shame around more liberally or to greater effect than a certain kind of gay man.

Oscar Wilde hits the Balkans

As a fuller picture emerged of his life as a fugitive, one person who was more shocked than most was the Belgrade writer Mirjana Djurdjevic, who found life imitating her fiction.

In her novel The First, Second and Third Man Djurdjevic put one of the most wanted men in the world into a Belgrade clinic where he worked as a psychiatrist.

"Of course I knew nothing about him. Putting him into a psychiatric office came as the result of my common sense," the novelist said on Serbian television. "I just tried to make an irony on the long-lasting hunt for Karadžić. It's often said that literature imitates reality, but now it came the other way round."

If there's a Constitution on the wall in the first act...

Something I mentioned in a previous post but never quite backed up: Americans don't really care about the letter of the law. Ta-Nehisi Coates pillories Larry Craig but gives John Edwards a pass because Craig was arrested on a misdemeanor? Visceral hostility towards the large Hispanic family camped out by your favorite fishing hole is motivated by the feeling that they broke the law getting here and not by the fact that they're brown? If you believe these things, you need to meet a friends of mine.

The rule of law doesn't matter when the field of battle is cultural. Some shameful things are not illegal; some illegal things are not shameful. But what happens when the line between political and cultural battles gets blurry? William Voegeli's piece in the summer Claremont Review of Books, "Civil Rights and the Conservative Movement," makes the point (read carefully for the surveillance comparison and for the last line):
Harsh as it is, this liberal accusation misses an important point: the hardest question the triumph of the civil rights movement raises about conservatism is not whether its stated purpose of restoring the founders' republic was a ruse designed to perpetuate racial inequality. Rather, it is to what extent that sincerely held belief was ever feasible and coherent. The troubling incongruity is not conservatives' initial tolerance of segregation for the sake of limited government, but the later, tacit admission that America did well to expand the purview of the federal government in order to end Jim Crow. Trent Lott had only to suggest lightly that relying on those means to secure that end was still regrettable to set off a stampede of conservatives to denounce him.

The problem is that conservatives' acquiescence, long after the fact, in using Big Government to abolish segregation is the kind of exception that devours the rule rather than proving it. This is so particularly because it is not the lone exception. To take one example, modern conservatives have been more disposed than liberals to say that the exigencies of the wars against Communism and Islamic terrorism require, in George Will's disapproving words, the "silent repeal" of the Constitution's assignment to Congress of important powers over whether to go to war and how to wage it.

By the same token, conservatives have long agreed with liberals that the imperative to maintain and expand prosperity requires a federal government equipped with all the powers it needs to accomplish that goal. This was the burden of an article Walter Lippmann wrote in 1935, "The Permanent New Deal." He deduced the permanency by arguing that the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations had spent the foregoing six years contending with the Depression in ways that were far more similar than different. The bitter arguments of the day, according to Lippmann, masked the fact that Hoover and FDR had much more in common with one another than either did with their immediate yet distant predecessor, Calvin Coolidge. The bipartisan embrace of federal intervention for the sake of prosperity, continuing by such means and until such time as prosperity is restored, meant that the Coolidgean idea that it was better to suffer macroeconomic dislocations than constitutional ones was a dead letter.

Conservatives spent the 20th century drawing lines in the sand, in other words, before stepping back to draw new lines after the old ones were disdainfully trespassed. It's the kind of thing that leads to credibility issues.
As long as we frame them as questions about legal lines in the sand, sacrificing states' rights to end Jim Crow isn't more defensible than abridging individual rights to catch terrorists. But that's not how they're framed. When the federal government's power over states is expanded, it makes me think I should be scared someday soon. When the federal government plays fast and loose with individual rights, it makes me scared right now. Individual rights are sexy; gubernatorial powers aren't.

They shouldn't have to be, but, given that they're not, conservatives who would protect them are left holding nothing but the letter of the law, which, as X pointed out, ain't much. Such are the dangers of fighting political battles with cultural weapons, and vice versa.

One solution would be to give the letter of the law a little of the old razzle-dazzle: "When the last law was down and the devil turned around on you, where would you hide, the laws all being flat? Tune in next week to find out!"

[Of all the defenses Buckley made of his civil rights position, this was certainly the funniest.]

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Our love is God, let's go get a Slushie.

Turns out I'm not the only one chomping at the bit for any excuse to talk about Heathers: the powers that be have jumped the gun on its anniversary to release a twentieth-but-if-you-actually-count-it-only-nineteenth anniversary DVD edition. It's two decades later and the romantic glorification of the American teenager ("Adolescent is the New Consumptive") no longer obtains, but Heathers still has a lot going for it, and not just two classic cigarette moments--when JD lights his off of Veronica's smoldering hand and, of course, the end.

One would expect a teenage pop-philosophizing psycho-killer to be a Nietzschean, right? But Christian Slater isn't. (The real Nietzscheans are the Heathers.) He's the proto-Joker, a force of pure chaos, except that he blows things up not because he's insane but because he knows chicks dig it. This is just a hunch right now, so feel free to back me up or shut me down, but one way to tell superficially nihilistic art (Heathers) from genuinely nihilistic art is whether it has any sense of eros. To put it another way: does the word "sterile" apply to the piece of art in question? If so, it is modern and you should run.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What does he care if the world's got troubles? What does he care if the land ain't free?

The intersection of music and localism is a horse I ride pretty frequently, so it's nice to see someone else do it from time to time. In this case, it's the boys from M for Musicology:
The most surprising of the lot for me is by David Z. Kushner, about debates and policies in the state of Florida during nearly a hundred years concerning what the official state song should be. (I figure that "Floridaness" is a kind of nationalism. Certainly Texanness is!) A song about this "bright sunkissed land"--so that's where the citrus-fruit brand name Sunkist comes from!--was knocked off its pedestal by the state legislators in 1913 in favor of Stephen Foster's song "Way Down upon the Swanee River (Old Folks at Home)," whose standard words declare that the protagonist is "still longing for the old plantation."

I'll let you read all the details, but, by the year 2007, plantation longings were coming to seem distasteful to many. The Florida state legislature ran a contest for a song to replace Foster's well-known song. A new song (which focuses on the beauty of the sawgrass and the sky) got voted in as state . . . anthem. Foster's "Swanee River" ended up keeping its some-pigs-are-more-equal-than-others status as official state song, and will continue to be sung at official state functions. Its words, though, have been revised to "still longing for my childhood's station." The latter phrase is apparently drawn from some version published long ago. I fear it may today suggest nostalgia for choo-choo trains.

The Florida debate is mostly about words, of course, though words fraught with major tensions deriving from America's history as a slave-holding nation.
Virginia had a similar problem in the nineties with "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," so Florida's attempts to whitewash its slaveholding past are nothing groundbreaking. I do think, though, that one of the best things about tying music to place is that it's a neutral way of admitting the past without endorsing it. If the two extremes--eliminating any mention of slavery on the one hand and flying the Confederate flag above courthouses on the other--seem like bad options, then we're left to stake out the middle ground of finding ways to cop to our inherited sins without celebrating them, which is to say making them inescapable. Hence "still longing for the old plantation"; state song or not, it's there. (This is where I would talk about the influence of spirituals on the blues if I knew anything about it.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

The authenticity-watchman state

I promised myself no more posting about gender until I finished my homework, but maybe just this one:
The idea of the ‘bad girl’ has long been linked to deviance, particularly criminal and ‘unacceptable’ sexual behaviour. Embedded in a diversity of discourses, popular culture, rules and systems that regulate people’s behaviour, the ‘bad girl’ plays counterpoint to the idealised ‘good girl’. Many archetypes have defined ‘appropriate’ gender roles, domains and behaviour for young women, centred on a feminine ideal. To avoid being labeled, girls have had to negotiate carefully the double binds governing their sexuality and behaviour over generations (Lees 1993). Early feminist scholarship identified such regulation as integral to women’s inequality in public and private worlds.
If you replace "bad girl" with "bad boy" and "feminine" with "masculine," you get an equally true and much more interesting paragraph. It's ain't easy winning all that bread, and Brando still gets the chicks!

The final paragraph, though, is where Dorothy Bottrell goes completely off the rails for reasons that have nothing to do with gender:
Yet many young women challenge and resist the ways they are represented in media and culture (although these books do not discuss this), and access to "can-do" success is clearly shaped by race and class inequities. Further, there are feminist standpoints that challenge neoliberal individualism. These standpoints emphasise that we need to understand how knowledge and power are related in systematic ways and that expertise and risk management can both mask and expose the particular groups targeted through institutional regulation. This does not, however, mean that we have to give up the emancipatory potential of individualist feminism. Harriet Bjerrum Nielsen (2004) argues that young women are developing a "relational individualism." Embracing individuality and agency can include both pursuing personal interests and social, cultural, and environmental projects that incorporate political and social justice orientations. Negotiating the tensions between desire for unique achievement and for elements of conformity, for autonomy and responsibility to others, may point to new ways of conceptualising the personal as political that better incorporate individuality and difference. The idea that individualism "may also become a shared identity, a sort of 'social skin' that protects and improves social integration" supports Maguire’s optimism about change and Chesney-Lind and Irwin’s call for shifting attention to the problems girls face.
Oh, dear. I thought the whole point of libertarians was that they were too busy living the good life to make everyone else's "social, cultural, and environmental projects" their business.

To reduce all human relationships to mutually beneficial contracts and then get really worked up about them seems like a recipe for disaster, or at least for really twisted understanding of, among other things, husband-wife and politician-citizen. If the fundamental principle of the new social justice is that individuality has to be protected, then we get a situation where no one is allowed to make too many demands (social, ethical, emotional) on anyone else for fear of diluting their authenticity. And she still wants strong social ties, too? I worry about how quickly this could devolve into "That which we are unwilling to do by means of social pressure we must therefore accomplish by means of the state."

See? This wasn't a post about gender after all.

You can't out-Left the Left

It's always news when someone talks sense about the higher education culture wars, but there are two especially noteworthy things about this post from Duke music professor Robert Zimmerman. (I would make a joke, but I bet he gets them all the time.)

The first is the phrase "academic declensionist narrative," referring to the portentous articles which I'm sure are being put out five-a-day by a machine somewhere. The second is this revealing caveat (emphasis mine):
Gustafson and Woessner show in practice how valuable conservative voices can be to a left-leaning university faculty. But what they bring to the table is more than a party affiliation. There’s a willingness to engage with and respect the other side, and a real commitment to honest, constructive debate. To some extent it probably comes down to personality, and I don’t want to suggest that the only good conservative academics are the ones who make nice. Looking at the opposite extreme, though, Glick’s article is neither constructive nor very honest. If that’s what conservatives have to offer–more right-wing noise trying to drown out the prevailing left-wing noise–it’s not much use as diversity (I should note that it’s not an issue Glick takes up).
Zimmerman points out that conservatives are quick on the trigger when it comes to pointing out left-wing bias in academia, and, insofar as this prevents them from being sympathetic readers of liberal one-liners, it prevents serious people from being sympathetic readers of them.

On the other hand, Zimmerman is clearly aware that a liberal who will only tolerate a domesticated conservative isn't much better than one who won't tolerate any. At Yale (among students rather than professors, I admit), my own conservatism was in constant danger of becoming a charming idiosyncrasy. Conservatives and their ideas are tolerated in intellectual conversation, but only after the conservative has proven himself to be one of the okay ones. I am not worried that right-wing academics will lose jobs over their politics, but I am concerned that conservative intellectuals will try to satisfy the liberal gatekeepers of respectability by developing a self-conscious tokenism. It wouldn't be the apocalypse that KC Johnson envisions, but it might be so bad as David Brooks times fifty. As much as I enjoy Brooks, I don't want him to set intellectual discourse's right bound.

I won't deny that there are plenty of hacks fighting the culture war, but the kind of bias that only accepts conservatives who "make nice" is difficult to nail down in any kind of helpfully embarrassing way, and so, while offhand comments and bad jokes certainly aren't official statements, they ought to be within bounds for someone trying to make a case against academy liberalism.

For more on self-conscious tokenism and "staying to the right of the Left," see Robert Stacy McCain's advice to Ross Douthat. If I had to choose sides in the un-flame war, it would be his. (As my grandfather always told me, "Stick with the ones who are too lazy to be evil.") Luckily, I see Andrew Sullivan for the provocateur he is, so I don't think I have to pick.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Quote of the week

This story reminds me of a party I went to back in my high school days. I was bored to tears, but embarrassed to leave early. “If only I were a solipsist,” I remember thinking, “I could just leave.” After thinking about that for a minute, I had a second thought: “I can still leave even if I’m not a solipsist.” So I left.
From Roderick T. Long.

"Our kitchen is narrow, like our views on gender."

The mind behind Books Do Furnish A Room has taken a sledgehammer to my gender theory and I am eager to refute him, but it's going to take a day or two. Until then, I can only offer him a tip of the hat as I link to the Sugarbutch Chronicles.

It may be surprising to hear an arch-conservative speak in praise of a "queer butch top" (then again, the two most influential people in the development of my own ideas on gender have been Eve and the girl who "treats her closet like a revolving door," so maybe not), but a great deal of what she says is friendly to my worldview. Consider her takedown of an article titled "Butch, femme, dyke - what kind of lesbian are you? Jeni Quirke explores the negativity surrounding lesbian stereotypes":
. . . So here she’s saying, when I define myself and call myself what I want to be called, when I reclaim the words for myself, it appears to be “very noble and bold,” but really it’s encouraging stereotypes. Who cares if it’s empowering to me in a development of my own gender identity, in putting myself in a historical and cultural context where I recognize the gendered struggles of my foremothers and forefathers and and forebabas and forepapis, really it’s just an invitation to oppress me. Not buying it.

. . . The only reason butch exists is so others - or "sometimes even ourselves," (implying, of course, how sad that is, that our internalized homophobia is so bad that we limit ourselves so awfully) - can categorize us? Goddammit, this is just so inaccurate. There is a long history of butch, femme, and genderqueer WARRIORS who are changing laws, making strives, marching in protests, fighting for rights, being visible, working hard, raising kids, making families, contributing to thriving communities, loving, living, and being ourselves.

And now, this perspective of the author of this article becomes even more transparent: the things she is saying here are flat-out gender-phobic. Probably out of ignorance, rather than intentionally malicious, but still. This author clearly cannot imagine that any femme, butch, or dyke would ever be authentically empowered by these labels (as opposed to falsely empowered through internalized homophobia) or claiming them out of some sort of intentional, conscious, educated, contextualized narrative of queer culture, life, identity, and empowerment.
She even uses my favorite metaphor for gender roles:
I’m working on the details of that argument, but - for now - it’s similar to how a poetic form can actually liberate a poem, or an idea, rather than limit the expression of it.
Unwind your heartstrings, trads:
Claiming a particular label or gender identity or expression also situates me within a particular history. There is a heritage of women who refused to be confined to femininity, many of them butches in the queer community. And I come from them. They are my heritage, I am part of that lineage, I want to claim and celebrate and align myself with what they did, because I am so [...] lucky to be sitting in a corporate office in midtown Manhattan, with my boycut #4 and my polo shirt, black boy slacks and loafers, Hanes briefs and a pocketwatch, wearing Old Spice and American Crew pomade, and my coworkers don’t care. I claim that heritage by claiming my identity to be butch. I stand on their shoulders. I am not alone here.
Leaving aside whether or not conservatives can get on board with the particular gender role she's talking about, most of what she says about butch-ness sounds like the way I think about femininity, particularly the stuff about standing in the company of warriors past.

Based on her story here, I think she might agree with me that, in order for a role like "butch" or a particular variation of "hetero woman" to be content-ful enough to liberate, it has to be specific and powerful enough to have the potential to oppress. (The poetry equivalent: In order for a poetic form to give enough structure to be liberating, it to be, y'know, hard to conform to.) We don't mitigate this potential for oppression by loosening up the role, which would put us on a fast track to a diluted and uninteresting canon of roles; we do it by making sure that there are plenty of options for people who don't fit the usual ones, and by making sure that people know it's okay to play with their roles (in other words, that they take them seriously, but not too seriously).

More from Sinclair: Chivalry is an important part of her butch identity; Why coming out as a butch was harder than coming out as queer. Be warned that the site as a whole is NSFW, although the posts I've linked to are fine.

How to have an intellectual street-fight in good faith

There's been a lot of discussion about good-faith arguments over here lately, most recently in an anonymous comment here suggesting that I can't complain about a lack of good-faith discussion between liberals and conservatives and defend a clerk who made up a fake law in order to shame a fifteen-year old buying a pregnancy test:
If you're going to endorse lying, Helen, how can you expect anyone to debate you in good faith? And if you're going to walk it back like you did the paternal love thing, well, that's just hyperbolic attention-seeking on your part, not good faith either. How are we all going to get along with different religions if with some respect for the law?
A fair criticism, but not one I agree with. So, to the end of clarification, a handy list of things that are completely in-bounds in constructive debate:

1. Talking faster than you think. If not, I'm screwed. Sometimes this means I say things I don't mean, but sometimes it means that momentum carries me someplace I hadn't intended to go that ends up being far more interesting.

2. Being intentionally provocative. There's something exciting and volatile about debate that's lost when neither side gets heated. Provocation for its own sake can be counterproductive, certainly, but a tame argument will almost certainly fail to be productive at all.

3. Making stuff up. Well, sometimes. And sometimes not. In intellectual argument, almost never. In a street-fight, a rap battle, a self-consciously half-satirical bull session, or a flirtation disguised as an argument, I'm mostly down with it. (I would certainly never lie to you, gentle readers.)

4. Pie-throwing. Obviously.

One thing that's always out-of-bounds is denying the other side's moral integrity, as Matt Yglesias, Kathy G., and Chris Hayes have all been doing recently. Fortunately, I don't have to shut them down; Will Wilkinson already has.

This one goes out to all you Sasanians out there


When recently the late Mr. Welles was asked the question "What is a star?" he replied without a tremor of hesitation, "A star is a woman." Pressed for further Delphic utterance, he added, "If there are now no stars, it is because there are now no women." I imagine that by this remark, he meant that in modern life there are no mysterious creatures who weep and yearn and carry on in a way that no mere man expects or wishes to understand. There are also no superior beings who either urge their mates on to greatness or bring them social, financial, and physical ruin. In other words, there are no more goddesses and no more vamps. QUENTIN CRISP, HOW TO GO TO THE MOVIES

Monday, July 14, 2008

I haven't been this offended since Torture Chic!

Philip Giraldi on the AmCon blog, quoted in full, emphasis mine:
My daughter had an unfortunate experience this weekend near Winchester in Virginia. She and a group of friends were tubing on the Shenandoah River. Nearby a large group of Hispanics were at a public park picnicking, apparently a regular event in that area. A boy and his father were wading in the river when suddenly the boy stepped into a hole and went down. His father went after him, but neither could swim and the struggling boy soon created problems for the father who himself went under. My daughter, her husband, and one of their friends jumped into the water and pulled out the boy and then began diving to locate the father. My daughter went on to the bank and called for the Hispanics, who were standing and watching, to help. No one responded or did anything. They would not even call 911 on their cell phones in spite of my daughter’s frantic requests that they should do so. My daughter’s husband and her friends continued to dive into the river, searching, until the emergency services arrived about twenty minutes later. The Hispanics had by then disappeared, except for the wife of the drowning victim and the boy whom my daughter’s friend had rescued. The man who drowned might have been saved if there had been a concerted effort to find him and bring him to the surface earlier, but that is only speculation. My daughter afterwards wondered whether the apathy by the onlookers might have been the result of their not knowing that the drowning victim was “one of them,” that it was okay to watch an Anglo drown.

One presumes that the Hispanics were illegal and didn’t want to get involved with the authorities, but it raises a question about having many residents of the US who live on the fringes and have no stake in anything except for their jobs and the money they make. I suppose Ted Kennedy (and John McCain) would say that society is to blame because we haven’t legalized all of the people who came here illegally, that legalization would make them just like the rest of us. Then they would have pitched in and helped save a drowning man. Or maybe not.
What is that ominous "Or maybe not" doing at the end there? Is he suggesting that Hispanic immigrants, liberated from fear of deportation or arrest, still wouldn't call an ambulance for a dying man? I suppose what I mean to ask is: Could Giraldi possibly mean anything else?

UPDATE: Solomon agrees.

A few quick hits

1. What is and isn't wrong with left-wing bias in academia.
Nick responds to my cavalcade of embarrassing quotes from liberal professors ("Unlike conservatives, we believe in working for the public good and social justice," etc.) by saying, "[M]y response is: go forth and do good research. If you can write something compelling and pathbreaking, you'll end up in an at least decent job."

That sounds very true, and I know that Nick is in a better position than I to evaluate whether conservatives get short shrift at universities. However, my problem with left-wing bias is not that it makes life difficult for academics on the right, but that it is morally indefensible. This kind of fierce animus towards a respectable minority is a form of bigotry regardless of how many conservative professors there are. The original article points out that, had a professor suggested that gays or blacks or whoever were underrepresented in academia because they reject the scientific method (!!!), there would have been righteous outcry. When a professor says so about conservatives, people may disagree but they don't raise eyebrows. That indicates a moral failure, and that's the heart of the offense, not underrepresentation.

2. Defending Jonah Goldberg and Dinesh D'Souza.
Adam Bellows' piece in World Affairs explains why a little sensationalism goes a long way, and in the right direction:
I had by now become a seasoned culture warrior, used to being attacked (in print and in person) for publishing quote-unquote “bad” books. That is what it meant to have skin in the game. Other editors were essentially aesthetes whose judgments rested on conventional moral opinion. I was a mad scientist, recklessly mixing unstable elements in a test tube to see what kind of explosion I could get.

That didn’t mean I operated without any standards at all in some kind of ethical gravity-free zone. My strategy was to publish a thoughtful and substantive book, titled and packaged in a way that pushed emotional buttons on both sides. That way you triggered the kneejerk response of the liberal media, unleashing a national firestorm; but when conservatives opened the book they found that it was in fact an intellectually serious effort.
3. Is a rise in food prices the best way to bring about Crunchy Con agricultural habits?
Well, it certainly is a way.

4. Gay man sues publishers over Bible verses.
In case you missed this.

5. The feminist commenter too busy to hate!
Have you ever wondered about my reasons for being so far to the right on gender issues? Check out the back-and-forth that's been going on in the comments section of yesterday's anti-feminism post. A worthy foe is Anonymous.

6. Yale Mafia update
TKB explains the motto of New Haven's own blogger flophouse.

Shame culture: "Yes, but will it work?"

Kate has some very sage thoughts [UPDATE: So does Dara] on my article in praise of shame culture:
Letting aside the obvious protests about the tyranny of the majority, this doesn’t involve the girl in question [a fifteen-year-old who was given a hard time by a convenience store clerk when she tried to buy a pregnancy test --H] making a change to her own moral philosophy, just going to enough lengths not to get caught. What the individual does in private doesn’t matter, unless the consequences of that action ever become public and identifiable. This is fine if you think the problem can be solved by the teenager using enough contraception to ensure she never has to face another check out clerk. That’s not what the clerk herself had in mind, however, given that she was keen to dictate her customer that “you shouldn’t be having sex at all”.

The social behaviour actually enforced by the clerk was: Buying pregnancy tests is shameful. Therefore, don’t buy pregnancy tests at all.

This, of course, is no help to anyone. Whatever your views on abortion, it’s clear that the earlier a pregnancy is discovered, the better.

We now live in a society where sex has been largely divorced from its visible consequences. So to use shame culture to stop someone having extramarital sex, you have to ensure that shame is inherent in the very moment of the sexual act.
I disagree. People have sex for all kinds of silly reasons, and people refuse sex for equally silly reasons. Not having the right lingerie on; having a test the next day; knowing that friends of yours work at the "free morning after pill" counter at the Women's Center, knowing that they could guess the guy on whose account you were there, and not wanting to be embarrassed in front of them. And these are just the ones I've heard about. I'm sure there are more, and that they are equally goofy.

We can debate the behavior of the clerk in question, but the fundamental question is: Should a fifteen-year-old's experience of buying a pregnancy test be unpleasant for her?

I can imagine someone saying, "No; that's mean!" Kate seems to be saying, "No; it won't work." I'm sympathetic to the worry that this will just force teen sex underground and therefore make it less safe and healthy, but I, for one, am not sold on the idea that, in order for shame culture to work, we "have to ensure that shame is inherent in the very moment of the sexual act." People deciding whether or not to hook up usually have an eye on future consequences (the question of whether your social stock will go up or down when the hook-up becomes public, for instance), and I would like the humiliation of buying a pregnancy test at fifteen to be one of the future consequences in view.

To the abortion concern I would cite Kevin James: "Simply make sure they understand that an abortion is the far greater shame."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Don Giovanni: Third-wave feminist?

Don Giovanni as a political figure: In 1787 the Don represented a triumphant sound of liberty. In the great closing chorus of act 1, in which a dance of deception is performed, the aria is "Viva la liberta!" which is in fact an exploitation of peasant innocence by a dissolute aristocrat.

How to write a letter to a Maoist director, if you must

To what do we owe this new flare-up of interest in Jean-Luc Godard? Surely the publication of Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard by the New Yorker's Richard Brody, and surely we should thank him for the opportunity to revisit the differences between leftist and not-leftist cinema.

My father kept (keeps?) a copy of the lyrics to "Can't Get Started" in the desk drawer of any office he works in; I keep a photocopy of Truffaut's 1973 letter to Godard that I made on the Yale library's cheap photocopier, even now that I've actually shelled out the Amazon money for his Correspondence: 1945-1983 and don't need the photocopy anymore. Here's a taste:
With every shot of [X] in Weekend, it was as though you were tipping a wink at your pals: this whore wants to make a film with me, take a good look at how I treat her: there are whores and there are poetic young women.

. . . The notion that all men are equal is theoretical with you, it isn't keeply felt, which is why you have never succeeded in loving anyone or in helping anyone, other than by shoving a few banknotes at them. Someone, maybe Cavanna, once wrote, "One should despise money, especially small change," and I've never forgotten how you used to get rid of centimes by slipping them down the backs of chairs in cafes.

. . . After all, those who called you a genius, no matter what you did, all belonged to that famous trendy Left that runs the gamut from Susan Sontag to Bertolucci via Richard Roud, Alain Jouffroy, Bourseiller, and Cournot, and even if you sought to appear impervious to flattery, because of them you began to ape the world's great men, de Gaulle, Malraux, Clouzot, Langlois, you fostered the myth, you accentuated that side of you that was mysterious, inaccessible and temperamental (as Scott would say), all for the slavish admiration of those around you. You need to play a role and the role needs to be a prestigious one; I've always had the impression that real militants are like cleaning women, doing a thankless, daily but necessary job. But you, you're the Ursula Andress of militancy, you make a brief appearance, just enough time for the cameras to flash, you make two or three duly startling remarks and then you disappear again, trailing clouds of self-serving mystery.
He ends the letter with a quote from Diary of a Country Priest: "If I had, like you, failed to keep the promises of my ordination, I would prefer it to have been for a woman's love rather than for what you call your intellectual development."

It's a very literate put-down, and Truffaut is very good at capturing the style of a benevolent man at the end of his rope, but the best thing about the letter is the way he brings a director's eye to Godard's behavior. "The Ursula Andress of militancy?" This must be the man who, in his days as a critic, could tell that Nicholas Ray hated doctors because in Bigger than Life he always blocked them in groups of three, framing them like thugs in a gangster movie.

It is interesting to consider Truffaut as a conservative, or at least as someone pushed in that direction by the soixante-huitard radicalism around him. Even as early as 1960 he was saying that Camus "resembles--with respect--American left-wingers a la Dassin, the type who discover at the age of thirty-five that everyone on this earth should have enough to eat."


. . . a word does not remain its speaker's possession; he to whom it is addressed, he who hears it, or acquires it by chance--they all get a share of it; the word's fate, while in their possession, is more fate-ful than what its original speaker experienced when first uttering it. . . New listeners always imply new demands; thus a teacher himself is changed by what he teaches his students; or, at least he must be prepared to have his words changed, if not himself. FRANZ ROSENZWEIG TO MARTIN BUBER, "THE BUILDERS: CONCERNING THE LAW"
The quote is actually about a book of lectures Buber had put out, but remember that Rosenzweig and Buber worked together on a translation of the Hebrew Bible into German.

The title "The Builders" comes from the Talmud, I think. The quote is, "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children! (Isaiah 54:13) Do not read 'banayikh,' thy children, but 'bonayikh,' thy builders."

Respect: The hottest girl-on-girl action of all

They tell you not to blog angry, so I left this NYT book review alone for a few hours, had lunch, went to the movies, drank some bourbon, had dinner, played a few records, and then came back to it. It was still awful:
Save the Males is one of two new books, each of them arresting, entertaining and serious in its own way, that inspect the battlefield of the sexes in America, and come to opposing conclusions about the nature of the conflict. The disparity would almost be funny if the outcome didn’t matter so much.
With apocalypse on the line, one would think Liesl Schillinger could keep herself from straw-manning her opponent:
While the author doesn’t let Hollywood and the intelligentsia off scot-free, the chief offenders in her mind are the people in push-up bras...liberated women.

As she sees it, an entire generation of men have lost their moral compass because women decided to flash skin instead of flashing behavioral cue cards that say: Respect. Protect. Marry. Provide.
I'm sure that Schillinger could have come up with a better way to put it than this, one that didn't reduce the fun of exploring, defining, and living up to femininity to "behavioral cue cards" designed only to keep men in line. She introduces Jessica Valenti as "a gutsy young third-wave feminist"; the first paragraph introduces Parker as a defender of Dan Quayle.

To match Schillinger eschaton for eschaton: disrespect for non-feminists is reaching epidemic proportions! I used to read Feministing for opposition prep purposes, but it seems that very little real argument appears on their site, a side-effect of not taking their opposition at all seriously. John McCain believes that mothers and fathers contribute different things to a child's upbringing, a position they reduce to "some serious antigay assholery." Kathleen Parker pointed out that women in combat zones face certain extra challenges because they're women (direct quotes here); Jessica Valenti responded, "And clearly, the best way to put us bitches back in our place is with a good raping, huh?" and accused Parker of believing that female soldiers who are raped deserve to be. I can't tell if they think that non-feminists are stupid, ill-intentioned, or suffering from false consciousness, but it's clear that, according to Feministing, non-feminist ideas aren't worth engaging, only mocking.

Valenti disagrees with Parker and that's fine, but to pretend that Parker's position doesn't even clear the bar of legitimacy is snide and disrespectful. If feminists can't acknowledge that it's possible for a smart and well-intentioned person to believe in traditional gender roles, it eliminates any possibility of any good-faith discussion between the two sides.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


[TakiMag]: I'm in your online magazine, posting about my obsessions.

Noah K.'s invisible hat tip is in the mail.

STEP ONE: Spit on hands. STEP TWO: Hoist black flag. STEP THREE: ...

KC Johnson's old article on left-wing bias in higher education is getting some replay in the wake of a scandal over the apparently misquoted statement of a Duke department head. (What he didn't say: “No. We don’t hire Republicans because they are stupid and we are not. Why should we knowingly hire stupid professors?” What he did say: "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill’s analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too.”)

Johnson has his own thoughts and they are worth reading, but here's a list of the quotes he pulls:
“Many conservatives,” the Pitt professors mused, “may deliberately choose not to seek employment at top-tier research universities because they object, on philosophical grounds, to one of the fundamental tenets undergirding such institutions: the scientific method.”

. . . As SUNY-Albany’s Ron McClamrock reasoned, “Lefties are overrepresented in academia because on average, we’re just f-ing smarter.”

. . . In a slightly different vein, UCLA professor John McCumber informed The New York Times that “a successful career in academia, after all, requires willingness to be critical of yourself and to learn from experience,” qualities “antithetical to Republicanism as it has recently come to be.”

. . . In another Times article, Berkeley professor George Lakoff asserted that Leftists predominate in the academy because, “unlike conservatives, they believe in working for the public good and social justice, as well as knowledge and art for their own sake."

. . . According to Montclair State’s Grover Furr, “colleges and universities do not need a single additional ‘conservative’ .... What they do need, and would much benefit from, is more Marxists, radicals, leftists — all terms conventionally applied to those who fight against exploitation, racism, sexism, and capitalism. We can never have too many of these, just as we can never have too few ‘conservatives.’”
Nice to have all of these collected in one place, especially after the NYT piece on the decline of leftism in the Ivory Tower. As Paul Gottfried puts it, "It may be the case that those of my generation who identify themselves as leftists have been more honest than the younger 'moderates' who are taking their place. The only likely difference between Goldrick-Rab and the person she is about to replace may be one of self-perception. Olneck never hid his leftist opinions. By contrast, Goldrick-Rab may assume that her left-liberal opinions are the only ones that decent people would hold."

It wasn't the German gin. It was the pack of Marlboros!

From the comments on a story about tobacco on film:
Has anyone ever left a movie theater saying, "Gee, there should have been more smoking in that?" Of course not.
Not so fast.

I think the anti-smoking people don't get that Hollywood could be a valuable ally. If they wanted to get people to quit, they could just put this picture of Bette Davis on every pack.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Preserving the old ways from being abused

Of all the Eve Tushnets known to me, Gnomic Eve is certainly a favorite. I know I'm outside the concensus on this one--"All life is a choice of genre? Woman, we have told you before what happens when you smoke the crack rock..."--but lay this one on your turntable:
Well, maybe yes and maybe no. There's certainly a lot of truth to it, but do gender roles make no sense without "Male and female created he them," or would people still need to know who to court?* Is admitting that a tradition (i.e. the Western Canon) is ultimately arbitrary the same as admitting that the only reason to prefer it is comfort? Take Shakespeare--he is unlike an addiction insofar as it makes me uncomfortable, right? Or does that only make it more like an addiction, in a "cigarettes are exquisite and leave one unsatisfied, what more could one want?" sort of way?

Of course, if what Eve has said winds up being true, all is not lost. After all, one should never trust a man with no addictions; you don't know what he's capable of, and neither does he. I've spent forty-five minutes trying four different metro stops before finding one with both coffee and cigarettes, and that first-cigarette-and-coffee was like someone turning a light on. It's helpful to learn how to want something that badly, just to know what you're working with.
* Quentin Crisp: "Male and female created he me!"

Thursday, July 10, 2008


All the cool kids, they write for Doublethink:
What is perhaps strangest of all, though, is Taibbi’s understanding of the role that the mass media have played in the rise of this (exaggerated, as we have seen) cultural chaos. He writes of the unwillingness of newscasters and pundits to call out even the worst idiocies of Congress and the Bush Administration for what they were:
The message of all this was that Americans were now supposed to make their own sense of the world. There was no dependable authority left to turn to, no life raft in the increasingly perilous informational sea. This coincided with an age when Americans now needed to understand more of the world than ever before. … Now broke, or under severe financial pressure, with no community leaders, no community, no news he can trust, Joe American has to turn on the Internet and tell himself a story that makes sense to him.

What story is he going to tell?
The difficulty here is that, as Taibbi quite willingly admits in other contexts, there was an official story being fed to the American people and passed on without much scrutiny by the media: al-Qaeda attacked America because “they hate our freedoms;” the United States had to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein posed a real threat to us and our allies; and we needed to trust the government, cede our civil liberties, and send our siblings and children off to faraway lands to fight a “war on terror” in a “post-9/11 world.” With very few exceptions, these stories were the official ones, and they were respectfully quoted and parroted and passed along even by the (in many respects genuinely) “liberal” media as America prepared for, then engaged - and quickly found itself mired - in a misbegotten war. The real problem, then, is not that there was too little “authority” from the media elites, but that there was too too much of it, and that authority quickly transformed into codescension. It is for this reason that those who wished to break away from the official narrative quickly found themselves prowling dark corners of the internet for information on structural engineering and the Project for the New American Century.
I'd be curious to hear what kind of media (partisan? tabloid? objective but more critical?) might have averted this epidemic of credulity. My romanticized picture of scrappy journalism sounds impractical on the national scale, even to my ears.


Ta-Nehisi Coates:
I think Barack gets leeway to speak the way he does about race because, to put it bluntly, he knows what he's talking about. I mean this in a very specific personal way. For instance, you can talk about Lil Wayne, when you have Jay-Z on your Ipod, when Nas has a song about you, and you can pull the "dirt of your shoulder" move. You can talk about black kids not obsessing over basketball, when you yourself had to balance basketball with school, and you still play. You can talk about black fathers laying down on the job, when your father laid down on the job, while your father-in-law clearly did not. You can critique black communities up one side and down the other, when you've spent a good part of your adult life organizing and working in those same communities, and when you're married to a black woman.
Okay so far, right? But then he hits a sour note:
My point, though, is that, Obama has a sort of credibility that, say, a guy who really had spent no time around black people (and didn't seem particularly interested in being around black people) just doesn't have. Furthermore, Obama isn't saying personal responsibility and no policy. He's talking both.
I've been enjoying a back-and-forth with Noah on whether or not bright and ethical conservatives owe it to themselves to Sister Souljah the whole damn conservative movement on the grounds that it has engaged in years of unethical campaign strategies, in particular ones that prey on white lower-class fears. I shot back at one point by saying that Democratic direct mail campaigns foment elite contempt just as unethically as right-wing ones target lower- and middle-class fears, and Ta-Nehisi's post is a classic example of one of the Left's worst lines: if you're not in favor of government interference, you are indifferent to human suffering. If Ta-Nehisi believes that the problems he's talking about demand a government program, that's fine. I have a problem with the idea that agreeing with him on that point is a prerequisite for credibility.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What color is your journalism?

"Oh, I know all about reporters. A lot of daffy buttinskis running around without a nickel in their pockets, and for what? So a million hired girls and motormen's wives'll know what's going on?"
Objective journalism has been under attack on both sides of the pond this week, by The New Statesman and no lesser light than David Brooks. Ross Douthat, two-handed as always, weighs in:
The better or worse is too complicated to untangle in a blog post, but here's an obvious way to look at it: the old working-class journalism probably produced better writing-there were fewer pesky fact-checkers hanging over the shoulders of the great New Yorker writers of the 1940s, say, who were often half-reporters and half-fabulists-but the new elite journalism probably produces better, well, journalism. Reporters today are usually more accurate and conscientious than they used to be (depending on what you think of the Times's recent national security reportage) and there's a greater sense of journalism as a calling, and of the need to inform the public as well as titillate them.
While it is certainly true that good writing is a higher priority for me than good journalism, I don't think that's why I would prefer to see a rebirth of the partisan press. For one thing, the job of a journalist isn't simply to inform the public; it's to inform the public in order that they can then be responsible and effective citizens of our democracy. If a reporter gives you facts without making you care, he has failed to fulfill his ultimate goal of enriching civic discourse, and the best way to make someone care is to tell a good story.

People have asked me if Fox News is the kind of partisan reporting I'm looking for; the embarrassing answer is essentially yes, with a couple of caveats, the first being that Fox News in a vacuum of like-minded competitors does more harm than good. Most news outlets are so caught up in the idea that respectability means objectivity that they treat a partisan outlet like Fox as a sideshow. This is a problem insofar as it means they don't really put their shoulders into attacking Fox's credibility (when they, for instance, make factual errors), since few of them can imagine that Fox had any credibility to begin with.

If, on the other hand, conservative and liberal news outlets engaged in frequent attempts to humiliate the opposition, that might be the kind of honest trash I could get on board with. Whether or not it's your kind of trash is a matter of taste, but we should all be able to agree that, as long as there are people who take Fox's journalists seriously, there should be liberal and conservative reporters who take seriously the task of calling them out. Thinking of Fox as a sideshow only allows their factually dishonest reporting (which even for a partisan press is not okay) to go on unchecked.

All of that being said, if partisan journalists were less like Fox News and more like His Girl Friday, that would be best of all. The real reason tabloid reporters are better than White House Press Corps types: better scrappy than slick. They believe in "a greater sense of journalism as a calling"; how else do you explain their penny salaries?

Competing narratives of the conservative movement's succes.

I'm over at the Flaming Libs blog defending the conservative movement against the accusation that, if conservatives hadn't engaged in things like race-baiting, they'd have about as much political muscle as Trotskyism does.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled...

. . . was convincing the world he was a Southerner. Ryan Avent should remember that there are advantages to having people assume you're an idiot.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"I don't care if you burn."

Via ELT, Japanese tobacco etiquette, ranging from the surreal... the equally surreal.

This is my favorite:

Gotta catch 'em all.

Yanqui stay home!

Somewhere in Helen & [REDACTED]'s whirlwind tour of the DC blogosphere's best liquor cabinets (I'd like to thank all our sponsors), I managed to slip off to yesterday's Grand New Party publicity event at AEI.* I walked away with several questions, the most pressing of which revolves around immigration, more specifically whether there's a way for the GOP to capture the Latino vote without adopting some kind of pre-cadidacy-McCain amnesty plan.

For Reihan as for many conservatives, the heart of the crisis is not that the current wave of immigrants are a foreign influence that threatens American culture but that they do so with disregard for the law. More importantly, he was careful to make clear that this isn't just his take on immigration as a question of political philosophy, but as a question of electoral politics. He believes that the Right's message-makers are in a position to decide whether they are going to defeat comprehensive immigration reform by frightening white people or by appealing to the rule of law.

That the latter line will make a better and more lasting conservative coalition than the former (the difference between making the twenty-first century Republican Party a working-class right instead of a nationalist one) sounds basically true, but I'm not as sure as Reihan is that, having made opposition to immigration a big issue, we will be in a position to choose between the two. Any given legislator's opposition to immigration reform may be perfectly well-reasoned, but when he gets votes by trumpeting his opposition, it's because voters are apprehensive about a rapidly growing Latino population. To use an analogy, opposition to racial quotas is not necessarily motivated by white resentment (mine's not, for instance), but the emotional response that makes an ad like White Hands effective necessarily is.

Reihan brought up an analogy of his own: welfare reformers in the nineties, who were accused of taking advantage of white contempt for urban blacks. I agree with his claim that welfare reformers did manage to control their message such that welfare reform was about sound economics, the moral importance of getting a job, and avoiding a European-style dole class, and not about the laziness imputed to African-Americans by white prejudice. On the other hand, when a strategist tells me he can get voters worked up about the moral value of work I believe him, but if he tells me he can get them worked up about the fact that the rule of law is being violated I don't. This is not to say that racism played no role in making welfare reform politically popular, nor that racism is the only thing at play in opposition to illegal immigration, but simply to say that the importance of hard work is an emotionally powerful middle-class value in a way that attachment to the letter of the law has never been. (I suspect that the proof here lies in the fact that middle-class conservatives get exercised about many different permutations of "no such thing as a free lunch," whereas they would pitch a fit if anyone cracked down on pot smokers, underage drinkers, and bicyclists who don't wear their helmets.)

Reihan thinks that the Republicans can avoid alienating Latinos by making their opposition to amnesty a matter of The Law rather than fear of change; I think that popular support for anti-amnesty candidates will center on the fact that Latino immigrants are uncomfortably foreign no matter what talking points the party platform uses. The question "What's a principled opponent of illegal immigration to do?" is a tough one, and it's certainly unfair that other people's prejudices get to determine what I can and can't make a campaign issue. The answer, as far as I can tell, is to oppose comprehensive immigration reform but refrain from making political hay out of it (analogous to "Racial quotas are bad, but White Hands is also bad, so I will stay quiet"). That, or bite the bullet and throw your lot in with xenophobes (both subtle and not-so), acknowledging that to do so will necessarily (and justifiably) alienate many on the amnesty side who are offended that you are taking advantage of one of America's immoral prejudices.

Before the F.L.'s cry foul: what about the Civil Rights Act and Barry Goldwater's non-racist opposition to sections thereof? Should he have sat down and let LBJ run roughshod over federalism simply because racists agreed with him? My take on states' rights is complicated, but for now let it suffice to say that there were ways for non-racist advocates of states' rights to compensate for their unfortunate bedfellows by condemning--loudly--people like Ross Barnett (which is not to say that Goldwater always did...), whereas there are very few ways for politicians to come down hard on middle-class fear of a brown planet. It's a national politician's place to offer leadership to state-level politicians, especially those in his own coalition; it isn't a politician's place to be anyone's therapist. As fine a line as it was for Goldwater to walk, the line Reihan wants to find is even narrower.

*David Frum was moderating; I thought about slapping him up one side of his face and down the other (one slap for each time he stood up the Yale Political Union during my years there), but my momma taught me better.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Výborně, Švejk!

Nicola on undergraduates in right-wing drag:
There are two ways to wear a bow-tie or a tweed jacket: as if it is the most natural thing in the world, or as a deliberate and self-conscious bit of drag. The problem is that there are very few people today for whom bow-ties and tweed jackets do come naturally. For everyone else, it’s drag—it has to be drag—and drag isn’t serious.
Drag isn't serious? Color me skeptical. Švejk is hilarious, but would it be fair to call him unserious? Sometimes fun is fun, but real work is being done when I begin to think David Bowie in almost-drag is genuinely hot, or a well-dressed campus right-winger is genuinely aristocratic-looking.

I'd also be curious to hear Nicola name a style of dress that she doesn't consider a costume. Does anyone's clothing really feel like "the most natural thing in the world?" Isn't all dress to some degree self-conscious?

Lastly, I'll see Nicola's Chesterton ("Satan sank by gravity") and raise her one from Bartlett's: "Sydney Smith never attained the eminence in the church that might have been expected. Comparing his own career with that of his brother, Robert Percy, Sydney Smith observed, 'He rose by gravity, I sank by levity.'"

Who would make a better sheriff: Joan Crawford, George Bush, or Aaron Sorkin?

If making a genre film means hewing to stylistic and thematic conventions, then the western is the genre man's genre. Its conventions are more restrictive than those of, say, noir, which means that riffing on them is harder and therefore more likely to be awesome, in a low Sturgeon number* kind of way. On top of super-robust constraints (which alone would suffice), they're one of America's strongest aesthetic advantages over Europe: our "strong man" archetype is libertarian, not fascist.

Low Sturgeon number aside, the films in the recently published list of the top 100 westerns are pretty disappointing. Pace Robert Stacy McCain, Grace Kelly is what's wrong with High Noon, which has no business in the top ten, much less in the number two spot. Howard Hawks has my back:
I saw High Noon at about the same time I saw another western picture, and we were talking about western pictures and they asked me if I liked it, and I said, "Not particularly." I didn't think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head cut off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him. That isn't my idea of a good western sheriff. I said that a good sheriff would turn around and say, "How good are you? Are you good enough to take the best man they've got?" The fellow would probably say no, and he'd say, "Well, then I'll just have to take care of you."
It's the sheriff's responsibility to protect his townspeople because they shouldn't have to protect themselves. He can get resourceful about using the womenfolk (i.e. Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo), but High Noon goes further. Saying "Gary Cooper spent ninety minutes scrambling to find back-up when Grace Kelly was his best bet all along!" makes no acknowledgment of the fact that from the moment Grace Kelly picks up a gun you've already lost half the battle. It isn't the sheriff's job to make sure the innocents survive; they need to survive with their innocence intact. (To shift genres to the courtroom drama, the key line in A Few Good Men isn't "You need me on that wall" but "We were supposed to fight for Willie.")

If limits on how he provides protection are implicit in the sheriff ideal, then so are limits on the people for whom he provides it, which is why the cowboy metaphor for Bush's foreign policy is a disservice to cowboys everywhere.

My own top five Westerns: Cat Ballou, My Darling Clementine (for Victor Mature), High Plains Drifter, Rio Bravo, and that crypto-homosexual ironic vortex of camp Johnny Guitar, which proves that, while femininity can be a helpful shorthand for the inviolable innocence that the sheriff is meant to protect, there's room in this world for Joan Crawford, too.
*The term "Sturgeon number" via Eve: "Theodore Sturgeon famously said something along the lines of, 'Ninety percent of everything is crap,' and this blogger pointed out that while every idea can be done well, some ideas have a higher Sturgeon Number than others--a higher potential to be crap. Snakes on a Plane, to take the obvious example, has an exceptionally low Sturgeon Number. It could be two hours of Samuel Jackson just yelling, 'I want these m---f--- snakes off this m----f---- plane!!!' and it would still be awesome."

For an example of a low Sturgeon number western see Terror of Tiny Town, the Wikipedia page for which includes the phrase "and Travis Lucas with his crazy backwards feet."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

You take the high road and I'll take the low road

I neglected to link to my Takimag piece on local solutions to illegal immigration. The bottom line of it is, if we take it as a given that a national solution to immigration is at least a few years off, we have four options: let sanctuary cities extend certain privileges of local citizenship to illegal immigrants, let places like Arizona and Prince William County harass illegal immigrants into leaving, allow both, or allow neither. I say allow both, although I wouldn't want to mistake the resulting patchwork for a permanent fix.

High Fidelity meme: Three "top fives"

Noah has tagged everybody with the High Fidelity meme, but I know better than to try and pick my top five rock songs of all time. In the spirit of Rob Gordon, let's narrow it down.

1.) "Invitation to Cry," the Magicians.
"I can just see myself falling to pieces when you say 'I do,'/Here comes the bride and my pride is in pieces,/Wish it were me walking with you." Available on the Nuggets boxset.

2.) "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)," Dave Edmunds.
My father maintains the superiority of the Nick Lowe version "not because it's actually better but because it's the Platonic form of a really good bar band having a great night."

3.) "The Hideaway," the Young Generation.
"She'll walk down the aisle now where I should be and have your love for all time/But no matter what memories you give to her the hideaway will still be mine." Not to be confused with the Olivia Tremor Control song of the same name. Available on the One Kiss Can Lead to Another girl groups box set.

4.) "Designs on You," the Old 97's.
"You can go ahead and get married and this'll be our secret thing,/I won't tell a soul except the people in the nightclub where I sing,/I don't mean to get you all worked up, except secretly I do,/I'd be lying if I said I didn't have designs on you." Youtube.

5.) "Accidentally On Purpose," George Jones.

1.) "Your Mother's Eyes," Porter Wagoner.
"Children bear with me, promise daddy you'll try,/Since I'm not the only man in your mother's eyes."

2.) "Good Year for the Roses," George Jones.

3.) "Not in Front of the Kids," Mel Tillis.
"Say I'm mean, say I'm cruel, say you hate the day we wed,/But please, not in front of the kids."

4.) "Wave a White Flag," Elvis Costello.
"When I hit the bottle there's no telling what I'll do,/Something deep inside me wants to turn you black and blue,/I can't resist you, I can't wait/To twist your loving arms till you capitulate."

5.) "When the Tingle Becomes a Chill," Loretta Lynn.
With the exception of the Elvis, all of these are country songs; draw your own conclusions.

1.) "Jesus was a Crossmaker," Judee Sill.
The guy's a bandit and a heartbreaker, but, hey, even Jesus was a crossmaker.

2.) "God May Forgive You (But I Won't)," Rosie Flores.
"Yes, Jesus loves you, but I don't."

3.) "She Left Me for Jesus," Hayes Carll.
"She says I should find Him and I'll know peace at last,/But if I ever find Jesus, I'm kicking his ass." Youtube.

4.) "Forgiveness," the Lonesome Sisters.
"Explain it all to Him and maybe He will take you in,/And you can tell him about the sorry cheatin' fool that you've been./If you want a love that divine you need the heavenly kind,/You want forgiveness, tell it to Jesus, that's His job, not mine." (Available here.)

5.) "Personal Jesus," Depeche Mode.