Monday, June 30, 2008

Lyrad's Occasional Image

Poster for the great 1927 film The Unknown starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford (in her first major role) and directed by the always lurid Tod Browning.


Last week, I reviewed the 1957 James Cagney vehicle, Man of a Thousand Faces, with Jane Greer and Dorothy Malone for DVDVerdict. A biography of the great Lon Chaney, one of my all-time favorite actors, apparently Cagney jumped at the chance to portray one of his screen idols in this Hollywood lovefest. The movie isn’t very good; Cagney never was a very good actor, but the review has become the least popular I’ve done since I bitched about Peter O’Toole’s crappy acting in the Jehovah-awful miniseries Masada. Maybe it wasn’t my best work. It’s totally possible, though I’ve written worse for better movies and received plenty of positive feedback. Instead, I think that it was my main reason for disliking the film that caused the negative reaction. It isn’t like I’ve received a bunch of hate mail and death threats, but I’ve had a few people questioning my intelligence and capability to write a review. They could be completely right but if so, I’m still writing them so I’m okay with it.

In a way, my argument against Man of a Thousand Faces isn’t exactly fair to the film. Basically, the film is a series of re-enactments of famous scenes from Chaney’s films (the standing scene in The Miracle Man, the unmasking in Phantom of the Opera, etc.) combined with a typically whitewashed hackneyed story about Chaney trying to get his son Creighton (who would become Lon, Jr.) to love his father. It’s ridiculously boring and full of histrionics and the only reason anybody could enjoy the film is to see Cagney act like Chaney. In 1957, most fans of Chaney from the silent days hadn’t seen his films in some thirty years and I’m sure it was a treat to see those old movies replayed from a vaguely behind-the-scenes angle. That’s great for 1957, and I’m happy that those people got to see that, but this is 2008 and the home video market is open enough that I have seen nearly all of the films represented in the biopic. My question remains: if I can watch the original performances any time I like, why would I watch second-rate approximations accompanied by a badly done biographical story that has little to no basis in reality?

The larger point, and the one that caused the negative reactions, is that I hate biographical films about people whose lives, or at least the parts we care about, have been thoroughly documented. I don’t have such a problem with biopics about older historical figures. The Shakespearean-style histories of old kings are roles up for interpretation based on available sources, the stories in which are often spurious. This is acting. What is done in Man of a Thousand Faces and, more importantly, modern award-winning biopics of people like Ray Charles, Muhammad Ali, Johnny Cash, Andy Kauffman, etc is little more than imitation. The actors study all the available footage and mimic what they see as best they can. If this is so great, why doesn’t Rich Little have a closet full of Oscars? It seems pointless to have a film like Ali when I can see all the boxer's major fights, along with interviews and commentary, every week on ESPN Classics. His story has been told a million times through his own words and others. More in depth studies like the fantastic documentary When We Were Kings make the feature film that much more irrelevant in the case of Ali.

Apparently, readers didn’t appreciate me dumping on their favorite biopics, but I can’t understand the point. Can anyone fill me in on what’s so great about these films?

Travel, Environment, and Class

While I certainly recognize the need to provide readers with alternatives to their gas guzzling and environmentally wasteful ways, sometimes the writers at the Times yesterday need a serious muzzle to mask their amazing ignorance of class and common sense.

To be fair, many of the pieces were good. Robert Reich rightfully discusses how high fuel prices are basically a regressive tax on the poor while Nicole Belson Goluboff discusses the future of telecommuting.

But Michael Paterniti's piece was atrocious. His solution to saving fuel: do what he did--give up that road trip you planned to Spain and go across the bay to a coastal island in Maine.

Wow--that's really helpful. He must be speaking to a solid 1% of Americans with that advice. What if you live in Texas or Kansas or Wyoming or Alabama? How do you travel from there without burning too many fossil fuels? Sorry, we don't have beautiful coastal islands 15 minutes away. And even if we did, 95% of us would be too poor to afford their $200 a night hotels.

I don't want to make a big deal out of one short column. But Paterniti again demonstrates how out of touch the Times can be with many Americans. Like the style and travel sections, these "solutions" speak only to the rich. All too often, the paper sees the rest of America as this curious thing to occasionally be reported on, but rarely to be seriously engaged.

Always Bring Your Camera

I should have learned the lesson that you should always have a camera on you when I was in a Mexico City subway station and ran across an exhibit on how to artifically inseminate cows. But of course I didn't. Thus, I have no pictures from when my traveling partner and I, along with a couple of guys training to be priests, ran across a gay pride parade in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Now, I don't know anything about the acceptance of gays in Bolivia, but I assumed it not to be very welcoming. Perhaps I was wrong because it was a pretty big parade with a lot of people out to watch.

Interestingly, this was the first gay pride parade I have ever seen. I certainly didn't expect that to be in Bolivia. And sadly, I have no pictures.

In other news, I recommend not throwing yourself into eating at the markets with quite the vigor I did, as the last two days have been a touch unpleasant.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Questions about those first 18 months...

From conservative blogger Rick Moran's recent post:

The math is frightening. With 28 seats up for grabs in 2008 on top of the 18 seat majority currently held by Democrats, there is a very good chance that Democrats, for all practical purposes, could win enough seats this year that the GOP would be a minority party for the next decade — and perhaps beyond. When 98% of incumbents in the House are victorious and redistricting looms in 2012, the chances of Republicans overcoming a 40 or 50-seat Democratic majority in the next couple of election cycles are slim.

Before I raise my glass of champagne (thus completing the stereotypical elite liberal image), I must say that I really like Rick Moran's writing. He is a thoughtful conservative, and though I ardently disagree with him on, well, most everything, I respect his reason. I don't necessarily agree with the above passage; I have significant fears about the impatience of the electorate come the midterm elections in 2010 (assuming Obama wins the election, which he should handily). Those first 18 months are so important to a sustainable Democratic majority.
Not only does the far-reaching, long term agenda have to be set in motion, but several immediate and palpable changes (the kind that people see and feel in their lives and pocketbooks) have to came to the fore immediately. Unfortunately, we Americans aren't a patient lot, and the Democrats would be wise to remember that.

My question is, then, this-- what kind of action can the Obama Administration take that will have the most immediate effect for people? Problems like Iraq, energy policy, healthcare, etc., will likely take a few years to deal with properly (in the case of energy/environment, that is an even longer term commitment). And the economy? How can he immediately help poor and working class people in the first 18 months? This is so important to the Democrats, both in the Congress and the White House. The left seems to be gaining ground on social issues and the environment, but without some kind of change in the economy, I worry. Any ideas?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Farming the Oklahoma Panhandle?

Sometimes I wonder if the 1862 Homestead Act is one of the most unforutnate pieces of legislation the U.S. has passed. Primarily, this is because it gave incentive for people to farm land that should never have been farmed. One of those areas is the Oklahoma panhandle. The center of the Dust Bowl, the area has been losing population for almost 100 years, yet still retains many large farms. The area was devastated by another drought in the 1950s. Today, it is seeing perhaps its worst drought on record. The area has had 0.5 inches of rain in the last year. Nothing for all intents and purposes.

Yet the government continues to play a neutral or even negative role in people living and working in this area. It is for areas like this that the Buffalo Commons could come into play. This idea was developed over the last 20 years by Frank and Deborah Popper and suggests that we should depopulate the western plains and allow bison and other animals to roam there again as they did 150 years ago. While it is sad to see these places die, their demise is slow and agonizing and it would be a good idea perhaps for the federal government to engage in a mercy killing. It would be a big investment but it would also return this land to a more ecologically sustainable regime that could handle these kinds of droughts and would also give the remaining residents a big economic boom because of the tourist dollars that would result. It is a complicated idea but one that could be worked out with an intelligent and flexible American government. For instance, one could still put wind farms out there, supplying more of the country with sustainable energy while also allowing bison, pronghorn, and prairie dogs to grow in numbers.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Completely Asinine Reason to Like Obama

I talked about John McCain's MySpace page a few weeks ago, and today I happened upon Barack Obama's Facebook page. I came across something that makes me like the guy even more. Under his favorite music, he lists Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, and Bach (the cello suites).

I know, I know-- these are safe choices that reflect the incredibly canonical nature of jazz, rock, and classical music. But cut me some slack- after almost eight years of a president who would pronounce Johann Sebastian's last name the same as a certain Steelers back-up quarterback, this makes my universe a slightly happier place.

Can you imagine Coltrane on McCain's Victrola?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Instant: It's Not Just for Oatmeal (it's for runoff voting too!)

Our earlier discussion about straight ticket voting got me to do some reading on Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). It is an interesting idea, and has been implemented in a number of places (including my one time home of Ann Arbor, Michigan). There is a more detailed explanation of IRV here, but in case you aren't familiar with it (like me, say, five hours ago), here it is:

For any given single winner election, each voter is presented with a ballot of all candidates. Voters are instructed to rank each candidate 1 - x. If no candidate gets a majority of votes (one of the best elements of the system is that fact that a majority, not a plurality, is required-- this would avoid things like Texas Governor Rick Perry's "victory" in 2006), there is an "instant run-off". The last place candidate is eliminated, and the votes are recounted. On the other hand, this clearly isn't the same kind of majority as in a regular election-- a winner could emerge from getting mostly 2nd and 3rd place votes. How much would this favor centrist candidates, I wonder (not that it still couldn't be an improvement)?

So here's how it works, more or less:

There are five people running for Grand Poobah of French Lick, Indiana. Larry Bird (R), Morris the Cat (D), Jenna Bush (G), My Neighbor Mrs. Siebert (L), and The Corpse of Barry Goldwater (I). Jane Q. Voter, a conservative activist, votes thusly:

1. Goldwater's Corpse, 2. My Neighbor Mrs. Siebert, 3. Larry Bird, 4. Morris the Cat, 5. Jenna Bush

This allows Jane to vote for the candidate whose views are closest to hers. Now, say poor Mrs. Siebert garners the fewest votes. She's out. Now Jane's ballot goes Goldwater-Bird-Morris-Bush. If in subsequent rounds Goldwater is eliminated, Jane's vote would be cast for Larry Bird. It's fairly obvious that the mainstream candidates would still be, well, mainstream, and usually win. But if enough, say, progressives started to vote for the more progressive candidate first, especially in those important but oft forgotten local and state elections, a real progressive could be elected, since the fear of "wasting" one's vote would be gone.

In IRV, the runoff happens, well, instantly. This saves money from actually having a separate runoff election, which is common at state and local levels of government.

I don't (take that apostrophe, Erik!) know how I feel about this, but thought it might be worth chewing over.

Obama Pandering

I am not even going to bother attacking Obamas statement that child rapists deserve the death penalty on the merits, because clearly there are not any. This is just pandering and it sucks. Please stop. Yes, you want to look tough on crime. OK. But adopting right-wing positions on the death penalty that fewer Americans support every year is exactly what the Democratic candidate should not be doing.


Bolivia totally rules. You all should be here. Plus it is about 30 degrees cooler than Texas. Nice. The only bad thing is that I can not figure out how to put in an apostrophe on the computer so I can not do contractions. It is driving me up the wall.

Reversing the Course

A few days ago, it came out that the U.S. is considering a kind of unofficial embassy in Iran-- something called a "diplomatic outpost". This would be similar to the diplomatic institution currently operating in Havana. Today, the White House has announced that some trade sanctions against North Korea are being lifted and will similarly be removed from the list of states that sponsor terrorism (not sure what it does for North Korea's membership in the Axis of Evil, though-- maybe put them in a second tier club, like the Coalition of Chicanery or something).

This could have some interesting ramifications for the Presidential race. McCain has been hitting Obama hard on Obama's "unconditional diplomacy" and willingness to sit down with the leaders of hostile nations for talks. Seeing the stubborn Bush Administration quietly reverse its hard line stance strongly suggests that more and more people are understanding the wisdom of negotiation, compromise, and avoiding international pissing matches. This should help disarm one of McCain's few perceived advantages-- the foreign policy / terrorism realm (which McCain, in a recent national poll, is still more "trusted").

Now McCain can say he disagrees with President Bush on something, finally. Too bad it's one where he's even more of a batshit hawk than the current crop of Neocons.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The American Dream That Should Die

Poor Denver exurban residents. How can they keep living 60 miles away from work in their homes with 6 car garages. Waaaaaa!!!!!

Seriously, one good thing about the rise in gas prices is the knife in the heart of a core part of the American Dream. Should people even be allowed to live this far from work when they don't have to? Should anyone in the entire world own a 6 car garage?

The potential down side is forcing poor people out of the cities and making them commute to work when they don't have the money. The entire nation could become like Santa Fe in this sense and the economic disparities are disturbing. But this is something that could be dealt with through decent planning and public investment in transportation. But I feel zero sympathy for these exurban people who hate cities and cherish their open space while destroying that space through their lifestyles, crushing habitat and sending wildlife to localized extinction. Such living is a huge burden on taxpayers and local services. These people live on the wildland edge and expect the same hospital, police, and most importantly fire services as any other resident. As they age, ambulances will routinely have 50 + mile drives to bring people to hospitals. They cry for the killing of mountain lions and bears when they eat poor Fluffy. Well, don't put your cat outside when you live in mountain lion habitat!

Seriously, people living like this needed to end yesterday.

Album of the Week: Drums of Death

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve been really happy watching the proliferation of electronics throughout popular music. It’s not that I’m happy with the sort of sound manipulation that could turn Jessica Simpson from shower-time howler to pop icon; this I could live without. What I do appreciate, though, are the producers and DJs who have used their art and skill to mastermind and coordinate albums in all genres of music. Samples, loops, and field recordings have influenced some of my favorite metal bands; most namely, Neurosis. I love this stuff but, just as much, I respect those who bring together artists of various genres to make brilliant, if often hard to classify, music together. Among my favorite albums like this include the Dan the Automator and Price Paul collaborations as Handsome Boy Modeling School and “General Patton vs. the X-Ecutioners” with Mike Patton and the legendary San Francisco DJ group. While the albums can be inconsistent, the variation in sound and texture can be incredible, bringing disparate sound together into seemingly limitless variation.

Currently, the album of this sort that I’ve been listening to frequently is 2005’s “Drums of Death,” a collaboration of experimental turntable artist and producer DJ Spooky and the brutally revolutionary former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo. Released on the Thirsty Ear label, this is not just a combination of break beats, samples, and thrash drumming. It pulls elements from hip-hop and metal no doubt, but there is as much Tony Williams in here than there is Slayer. Spooky produced the album with Meat Beat Manifesto’s Jack Dangers and, on various songs, incorporate the likes of guitarist Vernon Reid, composer and vocalist Meredith Monk, avant-garde rapper Dalek, and Public Enemy’s Chuck D. That’s one hell of a lineup and, while every song isn’t a home run and the style switching track to track seems sometime schizophrenic, they put together a really fantastic quilt of musical styles. From straight ahead ambient manipulation to instrumental hardcore metal to world percussion to jazz, the talents of Lombardo and Spooky are pretty fantastic. The backing drums are aggressively brutal and the production is impeccable, but the real highlights of “Drums of Death” are the appearances from Chuck D. Remixes of “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” and “Public Enemy No. 1” show that Chuck’s never lost his vocal talents, but the reworking of “B-Side Wins Again” is one of the most brilliant re-imaginings of a song that I’ve hear in some time. Replacing Flavor Flav with a vocorder, Chuck raps over Lombardo and Reid making good, old-fashioned metal while Spooky’s production and DJ work bounce all over the place. The song makes my hair stand up. When it’s done right, the rap and metal combination has come a long way since the “Judgment Night” soundtrack. The variations in style make it hard to recommend to fans of one particular style of music, but it’s still highly recommended.

Above is Lombardo at his clinic, playing a little polka, then playing a little Slayer. It's all the same anyway....

The 2008 Presidential Election Longshots: Chuck B, Public Piety

I thought it might be fun to look at the non-McBama candidates for this year's presidential race. As usual, there are quite a few third party candidates with varying degrees of ballot access.

First up: Meet Charles “Chuck” Baldwin, your 2008 nominee for the Constitution Party! He beat out perennial wingnut hang-on Alan Keyes in what was surely an exciting, action-packed convention in Kansas City in April.

The Constitution Party’s website claims to be the “largest third party based on voter registration” (though they fail to mention that in the 2004 Presidential election, the Constitution Party’s ticket garnered only 143,630 votes, which is significantly fewer than the 465,650 votes for Nader or the 397,265 received by the Libertarian party). The party has a lot of ideological sympathy for tenets of libertarian political philosophy, only infused with a kind of far-right social policy that libertarians often reject. Basically, it the takes the worst aspects of the libertarians (the asinine economic and tax systems) and marries them with theocratic notions of Christian supremacy.

A few fun items from the CP’s website:

Baldwin takes a cue from Ron Paul on issues like the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, and other kinds of federal oversteps of power. He is an ardent isolationist, it seems (even citing President Jefferson's handling of Barbary pirates as a good example of how to handle terrorists).

Baldwin opposes the estate tax. And the federal income tax. And value-added taxes (national sales taxes that are usually touted as alternatives to the federal income tax). And property taxes. Apparently, the only income the government will have will be from tariffs.

He proposes using the “bully pit” of the presidency to force an end to all abortion, even vowing the following if Congress will not cooperate with him:

“I will use the constitutional power of the Presidency to deny funds to protect abortion clinics. Either way, legalized abortion ends when I take office.”

A not-so-subtle "wink, wink" to would-be domestic terrorists that it would now be open
season on abortion clinics.

The word "globalist" appears not quite as frequently as the phrase “New World Order” on the site.

He would not only abolish the Department of Education, but the Food and Drug Administration as well. I'll be ready for a gin and Vioxx cocktail!

Here is my favorite part: The Constitution Party, the party with the word Constitution in its name, espouses the end of “birthright citizenship”. This is in direct opposition to the 14th
Amendment of the Constitution, which begins with the following:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction
thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

The granting of citizenship to those born on American soil has been upheld in numerous
Supreme Court decisions over the years. But apparently the Constitution doesn't really
matter to the eponymous political party. At least when it conflicts with an ardent desire to
punish people who are here "illegally".

Oh yeah, and he's a right wing radio talk show host who is pretty keen on Jesus.

Wingnutty goodness.

Historical Image of the Day

The Jewish settlement of Cotopaxi, Colorado, 1882.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin, RIP

I imagine that Lyrad will have more to say about this, but allow me to say that George Carlin dying really sucks.

Sorry I've Been Out

I've been traveling around New York since Tuesday without a reliable internet connection so I haven't been able to write. I'll be in New York City for the next 2 days before heading to Bolivia and I'll be checking the internet consistently while down there I hope. So I should be around more than I have been.

Obama and Ethanol

This story on Obama's ties to the ethanol industry didn't surprise me or exactly disturb me. But they are unfortunate. I don't expect Obama to be above modern politics. He's a fairly centrist Democratic senator who I think will move to the left once he becomes president. His heart is probably in the right place on trying to find alternatives to oil and the oil industry. But like anyone, he will be deeply influenced by lobbyists, often from industries I find questionable. And certainly ethanol is one of those industries. Although oil prices spiral ever higher and we are increasingly desperate for alternative sources of fuel, ethanol is not the answer. Not only is it bad for the environment, but it is incredibly inefficient and is driven by domestic politics, not smart energy policy. Moreover, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon recently suggested, using corn for fuel rather than food is basically immoral. Certainly I believe this. As food prices rise throughout the world, threatening the lives of millions, how can we continue to use corn for fuel rather than food? I have no doubt we will continue to do this because I think most Americans fundamentally don't care how their actions affect the rest of the world.

The most important thing in politics right now is making sure Obama is elected. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't be immune from criticism for his ties to bad industries. I've questioned Obama's environmental policy in the past and I continue to do so today.

Historical Image of the Day

Carnegie library. Kalispell, Montana

Sunday, June 22, 2008

It's sort of like looking for a lost penny in a silo full of pig shit

Picking up on the thread from previous posts (most recently here ), I’ve been grappling with some issues in the commodities markets lately. I am very happy to see that Obama has picked up on the problems with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). This comes on the heels of Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), who last week came out with some more information on his committee’s research (explicating the so-called “Enron” or “London” loophole). Briefly, the loophole exempts a small number of commodities from CFTC oversight if they are traded electronically on overseas exchanges. The most popular exchange is in London, as the U.K. has some of the world’s most lax regulation of commodities markets, and benefited the Enron corporation immensely (hence the double nickname).

Obama’s speech about the commodities market mostly centered on oil (you can read a full transcript here), since the loophole that was created in 2000 singled out oil and a few other “Excluded and Exempt Commodities”.

The legislation itself is virtually incomprehensible to the layperson. Let this be an indication of how unreadable the Act is in its natural state: I had to consult a peer-reviewed academic legal journal to understand what the fuck was going on. So, thanks to the Securities Regulations Law Journal, Vol 29, 2001 and author Dean Kloner, I think I have the general idea. This article obviates the fact that the regulatory exemptions for energy and metal were seemingly tacked on—this exemption language appears in a section marked “Additional provisions”. It is worth noting that the article was generally laudatory of the Act, though other legal scholars (including most recently the University of Maryland’s Michael Greenberger) regard it as flawed (even dangerous) legislation.

After Obama’s speech, the McCanaanites were quick to fire back that the Commodity Future Trading Act of 2000, from where the loophole hales, was signed by President Clinton. Well, yes, that is true. It is also true that Phil Gramm, John McCain’s economic advisor sponsored the bill and heard all of the testimony on the bill. Testimony that included a protest from from then-SEC Chairman Arthur Leavitt, stating that elements of the Act “potentially could result in fundamental and counterproductive deregulation of our securities markets. He also stated that “To me, the question posed by this bill is whether the benefits of the securities laws that investors have come to expect should continue to apply to these markets. Unequivocally, the Commission’s answer to that question is yes.”

Interesting to note that Wendy Gramm, one of the most bat shit Reagan deregulators (she served in the Office of Management and Budget in the 1980’s), was also the head of the CFTC from the late 80’s to 1992. She was instrumental in the energy derivatives deregulation, and then resigned from the CFTC and took a gig sitting on the board of Enron, which made a lot of money in energy derivatives in the 1990’s. After Phil left Congress, he sat on the board of UBS, the Swiss bank that owned the majority of Enron’s trading operations.

Jesus. There’s even more, but it’s not particularly interesting (reactionary Big Oil donors funding Wendy Gramm-led University research that is used to roll back EPA regulations, etc.), and it leaves one feeling, well, unclean. In any event, McCain’s econo-brain (Phil Gramm) has a lot more to do with the “Enron loophole” than Bill Clinton. The whole McCain-Gramm axis of poli-business incest smacks of being just the standard issue Washington-as-usual political story. Obama could score some big points here, though the story is so convoluted, it is hard to see how it could be used.

The thing I don’t understand is this: this kind of speculator-led price inflation seems as though the Fundamental Canon Law, the Unified Theory of Free Market Everything, the very Gospel According to Saint Reagan—the Law of Supply and Demand-- is being manipulated through the difference between physical demand and financial demand for any given commodity. Conservatives love the S&D law—so neat and tidy, black and white, amoral and just. Here, the law of supply and demand isn’t functioning properly, as the actual entities that consume the commodities at the large, wholesale level are competing against the financial demand.

Crazy idea of the week: I propose (somewhat facetiously, humor me) that we eliminate the financial demand by requiring that all futures contract holders take delivery on their commodities BEFORE they can resell their positions (come on, don’t you want to see ten thousand bushels of wheat delivered to a hedge fund manager’s Manhattan penthouse?). This would ensure that the market laws would function properly, as only the consumers of commodities would be involved in trading them. It would restore a lot of sanity to the commodities market. Granted, this will never happen—but I stick to my original argument that necessary commodities should not be subject to the kind of speculator-driven volatility we are seeing today. I am hoping Obama’s attention to these issues will spur Congress to action (and perhaps highlight the revolting insider bullshit in which the McCain campaign is inexorably mired).

The periodic "My Feminism" post.

(yes, I used the word 'periodic.' deal.)

The neverending discussions go on. I had drinks last night with a friend who wondered what feminism was doing for her, a black woman.

As it always upsets me to see people who are otherwise feminist turned away from feminism, I had to think about this yet again.

My feminism was there long before I used the term. I wrote zines, protested at frat parties and refused to give blowjobs to high school boyfriends just because they wanted them.

My feminism was always somewhat caught up with sexual behavior. Up until I was in college I never felt like I was denied anything because I was female. The smartest people in my classes were always girls. I never felt bad speaking up and telling guys they were wrong. But the double standard in sexual relationships pissed me off.

So even now, it may be a somewhat bourgeois thing to fixate on, but I think about feminism and sexuality a lot. It's a prime interest for me. I've never liked the rules of relationships, so I've always been trying to renegotiate them for myself.

My feminism wants equal rights, not special protections. I wrote an angry Op-Ed in college in response to a girl who wrote a column about being a "lady." I ain't no lady, I said, but that doesn't mean I don't deserve human respect. I believe of course that there are certain things that affect women more strongly than men--the threat of rape, even though men are definitely raped too (and don't get me started on the normalization of prison rape), is something that women live with, the aforementioned sexual double standards, pregnancy. But I am not your victim and I don't need to be protected.

Nor do I believe that women are somehow better fundamentally than men, that putting women into the positions of power that are fucked to begin with is going to make them all better because those women are kinder and gentler.

My feminism is critical of power relations based on a linear hierarchy. (This translates into me feeling guilty being 'the boss' at work). Some of this comes from a general punk-rock tendency to say fuck authority, but it's since gotten much more theoretical. This means that while I am a (white) woman and therefore most sensitive to issues that affect me as a woman, I consider it my job to critique all power structures. This is because I am a feminist.

This means that racism, classism, ageism, homophobia (which seems the wrong word for what I mean in this case, which is the institutional second-class status of non-heterosexual people) are all things that it is my responsibility to notice, critique, and fight because I am a feminist.

What I did and do for a living is write about pop culture (and politics, but not nearly as much). Rock 'n' roll is important to me, films are important to me, comics are important to me. Literature and art, of course, but sometimes I like and write about things that are just plain fun and not contributing on some level to the Revolution. I like pretty things. My pleasures are important to me.

I don't feel the need to apologize for wearing heels, dresses, makeup, and shaving my legs. Part of my feminism includes revaluing things seen as feminine as well as trying to separate the gendered identity given to essentially non-gendered qualities (the age-old "he's got balls" comment? Yeah, got nothing to do with balls).

For instance, housework, nursing, teaching, anything nurturing, and compromise are all seen as feminine and therefore devalued. Listen to the critiques of Barack Obama as "feminine" and you know what I mean. These characteristics are obviously not gender-related (listen to Obama and Clinton's campaign rhetoric again). Obama's 'feminine' characteristics were some of the things that drew me to him, but for many people they are negatives. That's a feminist issue.

But the perception of pretty being incompatible with smart, the idea that sexual means stupid, the thought that wearing makeup means you haven't sufficiently examined, well, that's a feminist issue too.

I believe that as feminists we should realize that these gendered traits are in large part socialized or even consciously chosen, and that's not a bad thing. Being a feminist doesn't mean no gender performance, it just means recognizing that these things are optional and that they're not linked to any biological sex traits. Which is why I think that feminists who are transphobic just don't get it.

Pop Feminist says it well: "Where gender is a celebration of possibility."

I can't deal with every issue out there that I should write about. This is my space here to do what I want, and so sometimes I miss issues that might be important. Sometimes I'm writing about Madonna. But that sure as hell doesn't mean my feminism is somehow harmed by intersectionality. Or even by making choices that aren't necessarily the purest of the pure feminist choices. I bring a feminist lens to everything I look at, and that's the point, really.

(Cross-posted at Season of the Bitch with additional pictures.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I Assure You, the Crazy Happened After I Left

Although I claim Akron as the city I grew up in, I spent 7 fairly formative years of my youth in a tiny little town called Mt. Vernon, in central Ohio. We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere (Mt. Vernon was the largest town in the county, coming in at a whopping 15,000 people, and we had to drive an hour south to Columbus to do any decent shopping). Mt. Vernon is so small, it's one of those places that had to boast of who was famous from there in order to prove it's worth (and for what it's worth, the two claims to fame it had were doozies: birthplace of Dan Emmett, the author of Dixie, and birthplace of Paul Lynde). It's like hundreds of small towns in the U.S. - it stays out of the news for the most part.

However, Mt. Vernon is making its claim for national recognition, as John Freshwater, a science teacher at Mt. Vernon Middle School, is facing firing for burning a cross into a student's arm with "an electrostatic device." This isn't Freshwater's first brush with crazy, either, as he apparently "was also reprimanded several times for refusing to move his Bible from his classroom desk and teaching creationism alongside evolution, according to the 15-page independent report. The report also cites evidence that Mr. Freshwater told his students that "science is wrong because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin and so anyone who is gay chooses to be gay and is therefore a sinner."

But I speak from experience in saying that the crazy must have set in relatively recently, maybe in the last 10 years or so. Why would I think this? Well, I actually had John Freshwater as my science teacher 14 years ago. Given what he's done to his students and his stances, he absolutely should lose his job. Funny thing is, none of that happened when I had him as a teacher (in what must have been his 7th or 8th year of what are now 21 years of teaching "experience"). There was no creationism (a fact that might have been aided by the fact that, in 1994, we were still using science books from 1981). No Bible. No rantings on homosexuals. And certainly no branding of religious symbols. Yet here it is, 14 years later, and "Freshwater," as we called him, has clearly gone off the deep end, with national news picking it up.

Definitely a great day for Mt. Vernon, OH. And it definitely gives me one more reason I'm actually glad to claim Akron as the place I "grew up."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lyrad Finally Succumbs

I’ve spent a lot of time ranting about what, on the surface, appears to be innocuous things like, for example, Mark Teixeira, Miracle Whip, or These are things that make me mad and ranting about them brings me a little bit of joy. While I make no excuses for my hatred, people are often under the wrong impression that my venom is spit randomly. I do have good reason behind each thing but don’t feel the need to explain myself. Anybody subjected to these ravings knows that any attempt to explain my “stupidity” to me only makes it worse. Much of the time, these opinions become hard and fast principles, hatred to live by, if you will, and I’ve rarely been steered wrong by them.

Sometimes, however, much as I’m comfortable with my hatred, one has to pick his battles. Changes in circumstance and the evolution of my reasoning, very occasionally, will necessitate a revision of these principles. I know it has to happen but each time is like passing a kidney stone. Such was the case this week when I found myself ceding one of the main points: the dreaded cellular telephone. I know, it makes me sick as well just writing the words, but there it is. I’ve spent years making fun of people with these silly contraptions as the scream “Buy!” and “Sell!” into the ether in the middle of the dollar store. People pining for their phone that they left at the house, lamenting their un-connectivity, it is to laugh. Yet, here I am with the vibrating pocket. It’s been a couple of days, so the initial shock has worn off, but it still feels like something of a self-betrayal. People seem to like the things, so I suppose that feeling goes away and, plus, it was for a good cause. The majority of my luddite credibility now gone, however I’ve justified it for myself, I’ve come one step closer to falling in line. Next thing you know, I’m going to be signing the papers on an unsecured mortgage before heading to church to baptize my kids. God, what have I become?

Mission Accomplished

My parents and grandparents have been in town visiting this week from Indiana (which is why I haven't posted very much this week). We have talked a lot of politics, and I am happy to report that I think we are 4-for-4. My grandfather is the ultimate swing voter (Bush 41, Clinton both times, Bush the second [?] time, etc.) He said last night that he was most likely voting for Obama. My parents and grandmother (all three working class labor Clinton supporters) and finally in the Obama camp for November, too.

This ties in to the two most recent state polls I have seen-- the round of June 18th polls in Florida indicates Obama and McCain tied at 45% each. This is a HUGE turnaround for Obama, who at the time of the last round of polls was trailing by 10% or more. The other interesting one is Georgia, which is showing that Obama has cut McCain's once sizable lead to a single point. A June 12th poll has Obama up by two in Virginia and four in Ohio. Of course, polls are polls-- my point is only in showing that many traditional swing voters and former Clinton supporters seem to be getting behind Obama.

If you haven't checked it out already, the site does a nice job of tracking all of the state polls and updating daily the projected electoral college (as of today, 317 Obama and 194 McCain with 27 votes tied [Florida]). It is run by a computer science professor living abroad. I followed his site throughout the 2004 election, and now he has information on hot House races as well as all Senate races.

Polls are polls, and are to be taken with a grain of salt, but 317-194 is a great way to wake up in the morning.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Signing of the Season?

Let's see....Yankees sign (Sir) Sidney Ponson to a minor league deal with the hopes of bringing him up to Yankee Stadium. That's the (Sir) Sidney Ponson who is 32 and has a his history of on-field and off-field troubles (including 2 DUIs), weight problems, failed at being good enough for the Yanks in 2006, and whose presence was so terrible that, despite having a 3.88 ERA for the Texas Rangers, he still found himself kicked off the Texas Rangers for being a "distraction."

Yeah, I don't see how this could possibly fail.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rules, choices, and marriage equality.

Susie Bright has some lovely thoughts here on California's gay marriages. Bitch, Ph.D. and Feministe also weigh in, with pictures. And Jack at Feministe notes that even with marriage equality, certain things are shoved in the closet.

Me, I'm more excited about other people's marriages than my own, which at this point I certainly don't have plans for. I almost got married once upon a time, but it was because the person I loved wanted to, not because I did.

A friend asked me yesterday if I was even interested in the life-partner thing because I don't want kids. As if that really is the only reason to get married/be with someone long-term. As we should've all learned from the not-even-close-to-over fight for marriage equality, that is hardly the only reason.

In a comment at my blog, Dw3t-Hthr noted that:

My religion thinks that the appropriate form of marriage is to sort out the contract status (with a lawyer if necessary). Marriage is not intrinsically a religious thing; the fact that Christianity has hegemonial status means that there’s a cultural assumption that it’s religious, but … t’ain’t so.

What marriage is, intrinsically, is a social contract recognised by the community.

That’s why people are much happier to let same-sex couples have “civil unions” than marriage access — there’s no unspoken social contract that the community has to recognise a “civil union”.

Of course. And those legal rights have to do with much more than raising kids. I know plenty of people raising kids in all sorts of situations, some married, some not, and each of them has their own rules for how that works out.

That's why I was saddened to read Jack's post about the way "mainstream" lesbian and gay relationships are being encouraged in this latest round of weddings in California. Because while marriage equality has become the public face of the gay rights movement the way pro-choice activism is the public face of feminism for many, there's a whole world of issues out there that get ignored.

And do you truly have equal rights if you can't wear what you damn well want to your wedding?

I've been writing about personal thoughts, sex and sexuality at my blog for a little while. And I've felt guilty that I've let larger issues lapse a bit. But the truth is that when we fight for social justice we do fight for everyone's right not only to live but to live well and fully. And your living well and fully doesn't just include having legal rights to your partner's things and the ability to call them your spouse. It includes being able to celebrate your love however the hell you choose.

And Jack and Susie are right that quite often that doesn't come in easy to define packages. It doesn't always fit the rules of what 'marriage' equals. And opening up marriage to 'acceptably' queer folk doesn't help a lot of others.

As I mentioned before, my friend asked if I was interested in a life partner type thing because I don't want a traditional family. But I would love someone crazy enough to run off to strange places with me, to hide out from the world with when it all gets too much, to tell me I'm beautiful and read over what I'm writing, and who can leave me alone when I need being left alone. I don't know if I will ever find that, or if what I do find will fit my rules.

There are no rules when it comes to love and relationships. That's probably where my disillusionment with marriage comes from--I see people, including my ex, who think that if they can just follow these rules everything will be OK. Doesn't work out, of course. There will always be wrenches in your plans.

It's how I see people who react with horror to the idea of gay marriage, as well. They think that suddenly their rules are broken and they have to be aware of other possibilities out there for everyone. That the rules really don't mean anything at all.

So while we celebrate for those couples finally able to have the marriage they want after all these years, let's not forget the others whose desires aren't so mainstreamable.

I take love wherever I can find it, rules be damned.

McCain's Campaign Pledges to Brazil

It would seem that John McCain is looking south of the Rio Grande to drum up support.

In an interview with a Brazilian newspaper, McCain said that he would back Brazil’s entry onto the U.N. Security Council as well as an expanded G8. Aside from backing an increased international political and economic role for Brazil, McCain told the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper that he would halt subsidies for U.S. ethanol production. (A possible nod towards Brazil’s burgeoning biofuel industry).

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has yet to make a U.S. presidential endorsement though he did call a possible Barack Obama presidency “a huge step forward.”

On the latter paragraph, it doesn't take an idiot to guess who Lula, a center-left president who rose up from the metalworkers' union in SaoPaulo to become president, might end up supporting (if he does end up endorsing anybody, and he certainly doesn't have to. But if he does, I wouldn't place my bets on the Arizonan).

As for the former issues, I suspect these are minimal priorities. Certainly, McCain has very little to lose in supporting Brazil's entrance into the G8 and the U.N. Security Council. As for claiming he'll halting subsidies for U.S. oil production, that's rather silly and typical for a number of reasons. First, in spite of his announcement for new energy sources, McCain is quite simply not terribly serious about real energy reform; the fact that Bush openly supports a central component of McCain's energy plan speaks volumes. (And as a quick aside - please, George - throw your support behind everything McCain suggests! The Democratic party would thank you dearly.) So, despite his rhetoric on the need for alternate fuels, I just don't see him being nearly as involved with these kinds of questions as he will be with issues of "national security" and "spreading democracy."

As for cutting the subsidies, that is something that sounds really nice to Brazilian farmers and ethanol production, but McCain making this kind of promise means virtually nothing; Congress is usually the governmental branch that determines the existence of those kinds of subsidies. McCain can try to exclude them out of his budget all he wants, but earmarks and congressional set-asides will ultimately rule the day on that issue, so it's one of those "promises" that McCain can safely make, nobody will remember, and even if they do, he can point to Congress as the culprit, so he really has nothing to lose in making comments on ethanol subsidies to the Brazilian media in June.

Overall, things like this will be things his supporters can point to as a sign of "change," but they most likely signify virtually nothing, either because McCain simply isn't serious about energy reform or because Congress, and not the president, will ultimately decide on these issues. McCain's comments are simply the kinds of claims politicians (of all parties) can make on the campaign trail without ever really having to worry about those pledges coming back to haunt them.

...UPDATE: Boz:
With both candidates vying to be pro-Brazil, it's another clear sign that Lula has greatly improved Brazil's international standing over the course of his two terms.
That's exactly right. I've said repeatedly, while Lula has his detractors and is not perfect, the turnaround he's supervised in the Brazilian economy and Brazil's global standing is unprecedented in Brazilian presidential politics. The fact that Obama and McCain are giving Brazil so much more attention not just as an ally, but as an equal partner for the future (something the United States almost never does with Latin American countries), testifies to that fact.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

(Inaugural) Mets Blogging: Omar Minaya's a Jerk

For those who haven't been certain, I must be clear about one thing: I am a Clevleand Indians fan above all other teams and sports.

That said, when I moved to New York, it wasn't too hard to pick a team to support in the city, given that my hatred of the Yankees is as lifelong as my love of the Indians. As the "second team" of the city, cheering for the Mets over the Yankees is easy.

What's not so easy is hoping a team does well when it is so unprofessionally run. Willie Randolph's firing has been imminent for weeks; yet the way Minaya pulled it off was the worst way possible. Randolph's been ever graceful and professional as the Mets' manager, even dealing with the mounting pressure like a pro. For Minaya to have waited until the first game of an Interleague West-Coast trip, in which the Mets beat the AL-leading Angels, to let Randolph hold his usual post-game conference with the press, and to then fire Randolph at 3 AM EST at his hotel, is one of the more disgraceful and disrespectful acts a GM could do. I don't know much about Minaya as a person, but the timing of his act is just one of the most unprofessional ever. There was lots of talk that, by the end of yesterday, Randolph would be out. Why Minaya let Randolph travel, win, and hold his conference, and then fire him, is inexplicable and indefensible.

The only reason I ever had to like Minaya was because he traded (in what must be one of the more lopsided trades in recent history) Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips to the Indians for Bartolo Colon when he was with the Expos (and sure, Phillips decided only to play well when he was shipped to Cincinnati, but I'll still take Lee and Sizemore for Colon any day). The Mets have an old team that can't hit, lack pitching depth, have a shaky bullpen, and an outfield that changes flavors by the day, and they're getting that all for $140 million (highest in the NL) this year; something tells me that's not just Randolph's fault. If there's any justice in this world, Minaya will soon follow Willie, and be treated with the same "courtesy" he gave Randolph. Then maybe rooting for the Mets will be easier (getting a farm system of young players who can really play wouldn't hurt, either).

Brazil Beginning to Crack Down on Police Violence in the Favelas?

I recently wrote about the police in one of Rio's favelas torturing some undercover journalists, causing outrage throughout Brazil. As I mentioned, the fact that it happened against white-collar professionals, and not that it happened at all, was the real source of outrage; such atrocities are committed against the poor frequently. And I argued that, among other things, until the government ends the culture of police impunity and begins punishing those police who use torture in any capacity, things will not improve. Yesterday, the leader of the militia turned himself in after a two-day police hunt for him. Charges haven't been filed yet, and given how the trial system in Brazil works, he may not ever be punished, but the fact that the police and the state tracked him down to force him to face charges eventually is an important step, though very small.

However, this small step was tempered by more tragic news this weekend. In an even more brutal and unforgiveable act, this weekend the military police turned three favela residents over to a drug gang; the gang then executed these residents and dumped their bodies in the garbage dump. Rio has ignited with protests against the miliarty police (who are nothing like MPs in the U.S., but rather a part of the military in the same way the army or navy are), especially in the favelas (suffice to say, the streets of Ipanema and Copacabana are probably full of tacit and overt support for the police's actions). Fortunately, in perhaps another small-but-significant step, the government is not just sitting idly by this time, as the 11 soldiers involved have all been arrested. Sergio Cabral, Rio's governor, has come out against the men, categorizing their activities as "criminal," and Lula's defense Minister, Nelson Jobim, wants the 11 officers involved punished to the fullest in the courts in order to offer an example to other militia members. Even the Brazilian Lawyers' Association (OAB) has come out (though the OAB has been a vocal opponent of these tactics for a long time). Of course, the federal police themselves are (as usual) defending themselves. The headline at O Globo at this moment (10:41 Rio time) is "Military has no regrets on deaths of the youths in Providencia [the favela]", and the story there offers an uncritical (from both O Globo's and the military's perspective) defense of the actions of the soldiers involved. Still, the level of outrage, while superficially similar to the case of torture from a few weeks ago, is important, in that politicians are becoming genuinely outraged at the continued police brutality in the favelas. It's a long journey from discursive outrage to real changes in policy, but even the outrage wasn't always there, so simply having politicians speak out against these events is an important change.

Certainly, there is a long way to go still. It remains to be seen whether these police officers will be found guilty of their crimes (I'm still rather skeptical on this front, though I'm more than willing to be proven wrong), and as I alluded to in my earlier post, government responses to police impunity are only one small step in ending the violence against Brazil's poor. The government's response is unlikely to change the more deeply ingrained classist and racist attitudes of Brazil's media or the middle- and upper-classes, and no doubt, for the few politicians we hear speakign out about it, there are many more who probably agree with the police's actions. Still, it is really good to see the government taking any kind of action in cases like these, and it does mark an important step forward, even if it is a small step. I'm far from optimistic on this issue, but these two cases and the reactions of the government at the state and national level do offer a chance for what could (but also perhaps could not) become a major shift in policy towards police brutality and militia activity.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

Joe McCarthy

Why I Won't Miss Texas

One of the great advantages of my New York/Bolivia trip is getting out of the heat.

Georgetown, Texas, where I live, is currently on a 28 day streak of 90 degrees or hotter. Of course there is no relief in sight. It is supposed to be 100 the next 2 days. The coolest day in the next 10, according to the Weather Channel, 93.


I see little chance of this 90+ day streak ending before it reaches 100 days. Maybe some kind of tropical moisture will give a single day of relief. 100 days would put it sometime toward the end of August I guess. Which means that it could really be more like 125 days.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reading List for Bolivia Trip

On Tuesday, I am flying to New York for a week and then to Bolivia for 5 weeks. I have referenced it here before.

In the spirit of continuing the interesting literature conservations of late, I thought I'd post my choices for books to take. Note that it's a lot. I read really fast, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's good for work. In fact, it was in dealing with graduate school that I learned to read fast out of necessity. On the other hand, that means I have to take a lot of books when I travel, which is a pain when you are backpacking. Theoretically, I could find some English language bookstores or sometimes at hostels there are book exchanges. Even with this list, I may have to take advantage of these options. But I hope not.

Anyway, your opinions and suggestions for substitutions are most welcome.

1. The Classic Slave Narratives--This is the Signet version that you may have been assigned for a class at some point. I've read the Douglass but not the other three. Slave narratives are such compelling literature. Note that this will be the closest thing to work I am bringing.

2. Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
3. Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt
4. Tadeusz Konwicki, A Dreambook for Our Time
5. Abdelrahman Munif, Cities of Salt
6. Javier Marias, Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me
7 . Tomas Eloy Martinez, Santa Evita
8. Raymond Chandler, Stories and Early Novels. The Library of America edition. It includes The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, and The High Window, as well as some shorter pieces.

The goal for travel reading for me is that it be a lot of pages that doesn't take up a lot of room or weigh a lot. Thus the amount of "classic" lit I'm taking--the slave narratives, Chandler, Lewis. I am combining this with newer stuff that tends to be international. I've read some Marias before and recommend him pretty highly. I've never read Konwicki, Munif, or Martinez. Or shamefully, Lewis for that matter. Also, these are all books I've had on my shelf for years and have never read or haven't read in 10 years in the case of Morrison.

Historical Image of the Day

Slave women working in Georgia cotton field.

Friday, June 13, 2008

McCain Girls

Via Brian at Incertus (though I don't know if he would want credit for this) is another McCain Girls video!

Don't say I didn't warn you. Now, would someone please gouge out my eyes.

Potato Conference

Presented without comment. Mostly because I'm not sure what to say. If I did work on potatoes, I would surely apply.

Within the framework of the project to list culinary and gastronomic heritage with UNESCO's intangible heritage, CeHVi and IEHCA are organising a major international conference on the Potato in Tours in 2009, which also corresponds to France's hosting of the World Potato Congress.

A seemingly commonplace vegetable, in that it is so embedded into our customs, the potato is however a product whose appearance on the plate of Westerners is only relatively recent, in the 18th century, and is still unknown in whole regions of the globe.

This international conference is aiming to cover all of the themes that have anything to do with the potato and there are no limits, not only from a historical standpoint, but also from standpoints of an economic and geographical, artistic and sociologic, scientific and medical nature. It is not limited to the contemporary period, and it is not restricted to France; this conference wants to attempt to provide an overall view of the place held by the potato across civilisations. For this, communications materials could cover subjects as diverse as the technical aspects, whether concerning production or transformation, the economics of the sector, consumption, imaginary forms, and treatment of this tuber in the arts.

Texas Plates


I just put Texas plates on my car. Of course, my New Mexico plates expired at the end of May and I went and got the car registered. But I just put them on. It was in part because I didn't want fucking Texas plates on my car. Far more important factors though were my laziness, the fact that I hate doing anything remotely resembling manual labor, particularly in the heat; and that I was out of town for the last week.

Nonetheless, I am now an official Texas resident I guess. But I'm still holding on to my New Mexico phone number and driver's license for as long as possible.

Avoiding the AMT (and completely missing the point...)

"My sense of it is that the people who introduce these provisions know exactly who is going to benefit."

Thus spake Howard Gleckman, senior research editor for the Tax Policy Center, regarding an IRS report stating that 7,389 federal tax returns with over $200,000 in adjusted gross income paid no federal income tax in 2005. That amounts to a 75% increase over the previous year (these are the most recent data available from the IRS).

The reason seems to be some small, but nonetheless powerful, changes to the tax code in 2004 and 2005. One change was allowing people to eliminate up to 100% of the alternative minimum tax liability by receiving credits on taxes paid to foreign governments. Seemingly innocuous, right? After this change, the claims on foreign tax payment credits went from $16 million to $447 million in one year. In other words, legislators put a little loophole in the AMT that obviously had some benefit to some very wealthy people. Ah, the Bush Tax Cuts.

In any event, I agree with Howard.

Historical Image of the Day

Joe Larson, inventor of the polygraph machine, demonstrating it. 1930s.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

And Now, From the Art World....

When some thieves stole two paintings, including a Picasso, valuing millions of dollars, in December 2007, from Sao Paulo's Art Museum (MASP), it became patently clear that the museum desperately needed to beef up security. How they would pay for that - be it through donations, increased prices, government help, or whatever - didn't matter so much as the need to find some way to do it. Stilll, in spite of the fact that it only took the thieves 3 minutes and a car jack to pull off the heist, you couldn't help but feel that, while horrible, and while security was minimal, these things happen elsewhere, too.

But twice in 7 months? It's becoming patently clear that, if Sao Paulo, the richest state in Brazil, can't offer enough funds to help preserve their cultural repositories, something has to be done. I'm against closing museums of this type, but if you're going to be so susceptible to theft not once, but twice, in 7 months, well....I don't see many alternatives between either paying up for security or shutting at least part of your operations. The government's (especially the state government's) failure to aid here is as shameful as the idea that private collectors would pay people to steal public collections for their own private gains.

Primary Concerns (a bit on the nose, I know)

Now that the primaries are over and we have all had a chance to purge thoughts of superdelegates, caucuses, Michigan and Florida, etc. from our heads, I wanted to think about the Democratic primary system in general.

Does it strike anyone else as insane?

The idea of superdelegates is astoundingly undemocratic. The idea that the party would give a rat's ass if Michigan or Florida cut in front of The Anointed States strikes me as stupid as well. What, if anything, should be done about all of this?

I understand that the capital-P "Party" can do whatever it wants-- it is a private cabal and has no responsibilities toward the people. If everyone really hated the system that much, there would exist a viable option besides the Party. But there isn't. Do we not care? Or are we paralyzed with fear that challenging the slightly left of center party will result in the election of the far right party (a fear that is, I might add, a real one in wake of 2000)? I would rather see the Democratic Party change its primary system than have the left splintered, of course. But perhaps I am being too hasty-- is there value in the system at hand?

There are good arguments for having spaced out primaries-- with a national primary (think Super Duper Tuesday, where everyone votes on the same day), we would lose the season-long vetting process for the candidates. We would also lose the attention that many smaller states get from the candidates, as with a national primary most of the campaigning would be done in large population centers. We also can't underestimate the significance that now, after a 50 state primary, Obama has infrastructure on the ground in all 50 states-- Mr. Magoo does not. However, letting Iowa and New Hampshire go first every cycle doesn't work for me. If the DNC is going to have spaced out primaries, why not rotate? One year it's Iowa and New Hampshire first, then next time, they go last and maybe Missouri and Alabama go first. Spread the love, if you will.

And what of the superdelegates? Screw them, I say. Straight up popular vote, like a real democracy. The only thing superdelegates could do is muck it all up by overturning the will of the people. Again, I get that it's the Party's party and they can do what they want, but if they want to keep people like me in the fold long term, it would be wise to re-democratize the Democratic Party.

Things I Don't Get (IV): Personalizing the Primaries

Prior to Obama's victory, much was made of Obama-supporters' willingness to support Clinton vs. a major unwillingness of Clinton supporters to support Obama in the event of his victory. Although there's plenty of time for this to still cool off, thus far it's been pretty rancorous still. When watching Clinton's speech last Saturday (in which she unequivocally urged her supporters to support Obama), there were noticeable boos and thumbs-down signs given when she mentioned his name. People who would easily identify with a majority of Obama's positions if it were a generic "candidate-A or candidate-B" issue are vehemently against him because he beat their candidate, even diving to such amazingly stupid lows in reasoning as to claim that they want to do "what's best for America," and if that means voting for McCain (an aside: it doesn't mean that), then so be it. Really - the vitriol is so fierce among some Clinton supporters, they seem absolutely blinded in fits of pure selfishness that their candidate was not the victor, and so they're (at least right now) more willing to fuck the U.S. over for at least another 4 years by voting for McCain instead of supporting the candidate whose views are far more in line with their own.

I personally cannot ever remember (or even remember hearing from others about) a time when politics became so personalized. That's really what seems to be at hand here: that Clinton supporters have so closely tied their support for her to their own being that her loss is like a personal assault upon her supporters themselves, that the repudiation of Clinton has turned into a personal repudiation of her supporters as basic human beings. And to me, that's just crazy, and I can't figure out why (seemingly suddenly) a particular group of Democrats have so fiercely personalized the failure of their candidate. (And I know that there are millions of Clinton supporters out there who already are behind Obama, but they aren't the ones dominating the news now, nor the ones that could be a major concern for the Democrats down the road, nor the ones who are being so obnoxious and selfish).

I've been trying to figure this out lately, but with no success. I really don’t think it’s due to racism. Sure, some people, particularly in the Appalachians, openly said they wouldn’t and didn’t vote for Obama due to race, but I’m just not convinced A) that that group is really that large, and B) that, come a general election, sexism wouldn’t also be a factor in their vote. It may be the case that they would vote for Clinton over McCain but not Obama over McCain, but I’ve yet to see any compelling evidence or hear any strong argument as to why that would be the case.

Nor do I think it’s because of charisma; while Clinton was a fine candidate, she didn’t have the charisma of some leaders. She wasn’t awful (she seemed more compelling than Kerry did in 2004 by light years), but neither was she great. While I’m no expert, I’ve studied the role of charisma in popularity of leaders to some extent (mostly in Latin America), and Clinton really didn’t fit any general notions and theories on the role and definition of charisma that I’m familiar with. I understand that a lot of people were drawn to her for her presentation, but to a large extent, I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t her own personal charisma that drew supporters, but rather the symbol they personally perceived her to be.

I suppose it could be the cult of the Clintons, built up by the myth of Bill being the party's "savior" in the 90s when he became the only two-term democratic president in the last 40 years, a myth the Clinton machine and it's supporters have openly built up. But even there, I'm not so sure; if this primary campaign proved anything, it's that Bill was far from infallible even among some of his most strident supporters, as he was heavily criticized even from the rank-and-file for some of his comments during the campaign. What's more, now that it's over, many insiders are blaming Bill at least in part for Hillary's failure, so I'm not even sure the "Clinton mystique" is nearly that strong (or that it ever was).

In short, I just don't understand this. Can anybody ever remember any election, general or primary, presidential, state, local, congressional, etc., where voters took the loss of a candidate so personally? Why is this happening with Clinton's supporters? Will this last, and potentially ruin the 2008 election? It's just really, really weird to me (the only close comparison I can come up with is Nader in 2000, but even then, his supporters didn't take his loss personally as much as critiques that he cost the Democrats the election in 2000), and I'm not sure how we can explain this. Anybody else have any thoughts on this?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Slasher Flicks vs. Monster Movies

So I'm not a huge horror fan, particularly not a fan of what horror has become lately, these aggressively masculine torture flicks like Hostel. I don't mind blood and gore--I count Kill Bill among my favorites--but I do dislike the premise of and what feels like the message behind these movies. They're the missing-white-girl story on steroids, and forgive me for writing about movies I haven't seen, but the villains/killers/people with power are mostly white men.

I do like monster movies, though. Zombies, vampires, comic book supervillains, anything strange and uncanny.

Slasher flicks seem to me to be the reassertion of patriarchal-white-male power while monster movies are about the return of all things repressed by that power. Monsters disrupt the boundaries of the social order, while slashers reassert them--don't travel, don't have sex, don't you dare be a loudmouthed girl. Remember the Scream rules? The virgin survives, the sexy girl gets killed.

Zombies lately have been the most popular genre (though did anyone see Cloverfield?) and they inspire heated debate among zombie fans--Natalia has some good stuff here. There's the whole not-quite-zombies theme, too, like the infected from 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, who can be seen as the literal return of the repressed in humans: voracious appetites. And even when the monsters are defeated they return.

Zombies themselves are not human but not corpses. That's why they horrify. But if you squint you can see in them the people Western mainstream society has painted as subhuman. It's not our fear of invasion that they evoke, it's our fear that the other, the objectified, will not remain an object (a corpse) and will come back and fight for what they've lost.

Of course each movie needs to be analyzed separately, and I'm not gonna do it because then I'd have to sit through Hostel and Saw and all the rest of them. I'm just kind of thinking on the computer here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Album of the Week: Dry Branch Fire Squad "Hand Hewn"

Even though there have been a lot of good bluegrass artists around over the past few decades, the newgrass movement of the '70s and its continued influence has made it hard to determine what acts are worthwhile. The meandering jam bands with mandolins are the worst, but even the really traditional bluegrass groups are often frustrating to listen to on album when all they play are old Bill Monroe songs. Like another Wynton Marsalis album of Duke songs, why wouldn't I just listen to the real thing? Still, there's some great stuff out there and Dry Branch Fire Squad has been one of the best bands for both bluegrass and traditional music for thirty years. The lineup has changed slowly but steadily over the years, with founder and frontman Ron Thomason on mandolin being the one mainstay. Through all the changes and all the thirty years they've played, they've maintained the soul of traditional and bluegrass music while still managing, through song selection and harmonies, to stay fresh.

2001's Hand Hewn is the first Dry Branch album I heard and is still my favorite. The songs are all great, spanning Civil War ballads to religious songs to fantastical horse stories. But, what really sets this album apart from most is a devastating rendition of Hazel Dickens' own "Black Lung," sung a capella with Thomason and Dickens herself. The power of her voice is unparalleled, the words are bone chilling, and the song is absolutely amazing. There are a few songs with mixed gender harmonies, a great but relatively rare aspect, and they really set the album off, but "Black Lung" is truly one of the great tracks I've heard. Above is a version of the song by Thomason alone. It doesn't do justice to the power of the recording on Hand Hewn but it's still a great song.

Good books and other musings.

Hello dears.

I've been insanely busy lately being a comic book geek. I can't claim that it hasn't been lots of fun being that busy, but it has left me with little to say here.

That and being completely burned out on politics for the moment, as well.

The most interesting stuff floating through my bloggy brain lately has been all sex-related, including the declaration of Female Desire Week by several of my favorite feminist bloggers, so in a shameless self-promotion move, I'll note that there's plenty of stuff over at my blog about that, if you care to read it. You'll know more than you ever needed to in short order.

Anyway! We had the most fun over here a while back discussing literature, so I'm going to throw a few fun topics out there and see if we can get a discussion going.

I'm currently reading The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano. And it is excellent, brilliant, beautiful, and many many more good things that I don't have words for because I've been working in 97-degree heat without air conditioning all day.

Latin American literature is something that I haven't read much of, but I've really been trying lately, when I have the spare time for novels, to branch out of the usual suspects. So: who has suggestions for me? Give me the most beautiful, ecstatic, transcendent things you can think of that come from that part of the world. And if you've read what I'm reading, what did you think? Have you read anything else by Bolano?

Topic number two, in reference to my current geek-heaven state, is of course comics as literature.

I started reading comics with The Crow and The Sandman, back when I was a teenage goth girl. (If you're lucky someday I'll post pictures. Probably back at my blog, though) The Sandman is wonderful, and it led me into such gems as Transmetropolitan and Preacher, recommended to me by classmates when I was an undergrad.

Right now my favorites are DMZ, Fables, The Boys
and Doktor Sleepless, but I've got some catching up to do--the past semester wasn't terribly conducive to reading for pleasure, let alone getting to the comic shop to buy things. Now I work around the corner from an excellent shop, and people seem to like giving me free things. Anyone out there share my love for sequential art?

Tawk amongst yourselves.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Brazil's Middle Class Growing

According to this report, issued yesterday in O Globo, Brazil's middle class is on the rise. According to the study cited in the article Brazil's "Classe B" (Brazil census and data measurements divide socio-economic standards into five classes; "Classe B" is the second 20% of income levels in Brazil), which is marked by a monthly income of 3,040 reais/month (US$1900/month) has swollen to almost 20 million people, or roughly 11% of society; home ownership among this group has grown nearly 80% in the last 5 years. The study cites the growth of personal as well as national incomes in Brazil under Lula's administration as the main reason for this growth. If the report is accurate, there are some truly encouraging things to be drawn from this, including people improving their class status, and consumer goods becoming more available to the populace (something I saw myself while in Brazil).

I actually was planning on writing about this beforehand, but Randy's comments in this thread merit some remarks, too. While I don't fully disagree, I don't fully agree, either, for a number of reasons. First, I never saw Lula as being the savior that many intellectuals and people from the left felt he would be when he was first elected in 2002 (and to be clear, I'm not accusing anybody I know in the US of having been like this). Too many people in Brazil turned on Lula when he didn't immediately launch a major revolution that solved Brazil's poverty issues immediately, which I found not only totally unfair, but completely unrealistic. While I wouldn't go quite so far as to say that poverty in Brazil is "intractible" (I feel that A) poverty probably can never be fully eliminated anywhere, just due to simple human nature to create inequalities; and B) (and rather paradoxically) I feel "intractible" suggests the current conditions can never be overcome, and I'm not willing to say that, either), it certainly faces such severe obstacles within society, that no president, Lula or anybody more radical (or counter-radical) could ever solve the problem of poverty in Brazil so quickly. It's ok to hope for important changes, and to even expect them, from Lula or other leftist leaders, but to expect that the extreme poverty in Brazil and, more importantly, social stigmas against the poor among the middle- and upper-classes could be eliminated under one president, strikes me as impractical. This is why I found the leftists and intellectuals' disillusion with Lula so frustrating when I was in Brazil; while he was and is certainly not perfect, the demands they were placing on him were so unrealistic as to be unachievable by anybody short of Jesus Christ himself, and even then, he'd have his hands full.

Secondly, I think this poll points again to how much the standard of living for people has improved during Lula's administration. Yes, it's just data on the 2nd-highest 20% of incomes in Brazil. Still, the fact that Classe B has grown so dramatically, and that access to consumption based not just on home ownership but on household goods has also increased, is promising, and does point to how much has been done in Brazil. Since Lula became Brazil's first "leftist" president since 1964, Brazil has seen unprecedented growth.

That said, I don't fully disagree with Randy, either. The report doesn't mention anything about Brazil's poorest, both in urban and rural settings, but it doesn't have to. Those people are still mired in poverty in a country with one of the greatest levels of economic inequality in the world. There are still plenty of landless, and plenty in the favelas, and any gains they may have made in the past few years are minor in the face of their situations.

However, I'm not quite willing to lump this on Lula, either, and not out of any particular partisanship. As I've said before, the problem runs far deeper within the social fabric, where poverty is treated as a criminal activity, and the poor little help or sympathy from the middle classes. In this atmosphere, the police can and do act not just with impunity, but with the tacit (and sometimes explicit) approval of wealthier elements of society and the media, garnering outrage and protest only when they torture and repress members of the middle class. Simply put, there is neither tolerance for nor acceptance of the poor and economically marginalized in Brazil. The fact that so many people have tried (and succeeded) to improve their class status alone hints at the social stigmas tied to being part of the lower classes. Like I said, while I wouldn't go so far as to say "intractible," the poverty issue in Brazil is indeed grim.

But again, I think this is where it is important to separate presidential politics and power from broader political and sociological processes. As Brazilian intellectuals failed to recognize, Lula, working within a presidential parliamentary system where white-collar politicians and much of the middle class (including many of my in-laws) irrationally hates him for having simply been a metal-worker, could only get so much done. Poverty is undeniably severe in Brazil, and police treatment of the poor, urban or rural, is abominable and unforgiveable, yet illicitly and explicitly approved of in Brazil.

When the time comes to evaluate Lula's administration, I suspect (though I may be wrong) there will be many areas where he will be legitimately deemed as a disappointment, if not a failure, particularly on environmental issues. However, I think that, at the end of the day, his administration has been nothing short of a major success on economic matters. That the poor are treated so brutally is not so much a symptom of Lula's failures as a symptom of the severe classism and racism that still pervade much of Brazilian society, issues which any president will be hard-pressed to solve by himself.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Images from Brazil

Frequent Commenter Murderface tipped me off to this powerful image. 200 landless poor from Brazil's grassroots Landless Movement (MST) had apparently seized some private-but-unused land near the Amazonian city of Manaus, and the police were called in to kick the 200 or so people off of it, including this woman and her baby. And while it's a picture of police dealing with the rural poor in the Amazon, the only thing that really differentiates it from the use of force in the favelas is the fact that, in this image at least, the police aren't recklessly firing automatic rifles into crowds of civilians like they do in the favelas. Still, the fact that they are using such force, and will not only get away with it but probably be praised if the evictions are successful, just shows how severe and problematic the impunity for policemen are. For all the words I've conveyed on Brazilian police using unnecessary force, this image alone says as much, if not more.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A Post-Racial Society?

I am going to try to keep this short. I am blogging Hitchens-style, meaning that I am doing it from a brewery after a few drinks. I am no Hitchens (thank God) and this isn't necessarily my best.

With Obama's victory in the Democratic primary, there is much talk among pundits that the United States is a post-racial society. I don't think this is true in any way. But if there is any truth to it, it is only if you look at race completely separate from class. In 2008, a black man can win the presidential nomination in the Democratic Party. Enough whites are comfortable with this to make it happen. A large percentage of those whites are young. This is a great thing. This nation has come a long way in dealing with its original sin.

On the other hand, if you do take class into account, you see that the intersections of race and class are still extremely powerful in American society and that most whites, including those who are the biggest Obama supporters, don't want to deal with it. I am currently in Louisville, grading AP U.S. history exams. They have hired a support staff to help us out. They seem to be relatively competent, although they managed to lose my I-9 form which resulted in a very annoying and unnecessary threat to send me back to Texas. Of course, 80% of the graders, a group made up of college professors and high school teachers, are white. There are a random smattering of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians. I suppose there are probably a few Native Americans too though none that were obvious to me. And equally as obviously, 80% of the support staff are black, making low wages.

We simply cannot refer to a post-racial society so long as the majority of African-Americans are in low-wage jobs or are unemployed. So long as such demographics are seen when the educated and uneducated meet, we do not live in a society that does not include race as a central point of difference. Because the difference in intelligence in that room between the white historians and the black support workers is pretty damn small, if it exists at all. Yet for so many reasons related to historical and current inequality in American society, we whiteys are grading for good money and the African-Americans are helping for significantly less money.

Don't get me wrong--whites under the age of 40 are doing a lot of good concerning race in this country. More than any generation since the Civil War. In combination with the continued activism of African-Americans, as well as other minority groups. real progress has taken place. And this progress is best personified in the amazing success of Obama. But the same whites who are good on race just don't want to talk about class because it threatens their status as young professionals who have made a lot of money. This is a major problem. Young African-Americans still face disadvantages that whites don't, including in education, housing, police treatment, and job opportunities. I hope an Obama presidency will work to address these issues in ways no president has since Lyndon Johnson. But I also fear it will alienate some of his white followers.