Saturday, May 08, 2010

Contrarianism And Coliform [Anthony McCarthy]

Last week Boston had a water emergency because a large supply pipe from the reservoir they usually draw from broke. So the city and many other communities were under an emergency order to boil any water before using it. Boston TV and radio, predicably, hyped the disaster and the sudden, panicked search for bottled water by people who, apparently, can’t even boil water. It would seem there are way, way too many of them these days. Perhaps that points to the need for all public school students to have at least that level of home economics instruction.

Boston also has Emily Rooney, the daughter of Andy Rooney, America’s favorite grouchy old man. Emily Rooney has local programs on both WGBH radio and television. Along with the profession of her father, she seems to have inherited the family contrarian act. I’ve thought for years that her eccentric idea of journalism, often replacing factual reportage with her hunches, opinions and predetermined altitudes were a pathetic excuse for news.

However, her declarations this week that the press should have been “skeptical” of the official announcement that the water should be boiled, her announcement that she’d drunk the water unboiled and it didn’t kill her, passes out of the occasionally annoying into the obviously irresponsible. On her media roundup, which I just got done listening to, she wondered why they couldn’t have immediately tested the water.

Perhaps someone at WGBH should recommend to one of their most visible “journalists” that she do something called “research” before she pooh-poohs the possibility that the people who run the water works might know more about their business than a shoot from the lip media contrarian.

Many of the tests which could tell if the water flowing through pipes that had been unused for decades was safe for consumption from the tap, take from 24 to 48 hours, more time than most people can do without water. Levels of bacteria and other pathogens that might leave her with an upset stomach can kill people with increased susceptibility. Perhaps she should look to find out how many infants die of diarrheal infections.

Notification of possible contamination in the water supply is mandated by law. Even if it wasn’t, it is, beyond any rational question, a responsible thing for local and state officials to do.

If she said that she’d called anyone who would actually know what the hell they were talking about before she advocated bravely stepping back to the 1880s on WGBH, one of the most trusted sources of news in New England, I missed it. It would be hard for me to imagine a city which would have a higher concentration of people who knew that than the Boston area, it would be hard for me to imagine a television station with more contacts with universities and colleges with relevant departments than WGBH. Though they clearly had their hands full with an accute emergency in Boston, she might have called just about any other municipal water works in the state to ask them.

Emily, people do, actually, die from drinking water which hasn’t been certified as safe for consumption. And they can’t know that until they know it. And they can’t do it to fit into the next news cycle. I’m sure if you had become sick from your determined and announced stubbornness to keep drinking the water straight from the tap, you’d have been singing the blues instead of crowing your contrarian hokum. Though I can also imagine you blaming the local or state governments or other officials on your next program just as easily.

Lies And Free Speech [Anthony McCarthy]

Reality is real, a wise Rabbi once said. That which really happens is what our lives are made of. What really happens is the source of whatever benefit we can get from life as well as the source of all harm.

It is the professed faith, at least, of most of us that the real is good, or at least unavoidable. And it is the real that has to be contended with in our actions and thoughts. What is asserted to be unreal is denigrated and the charge of believing in what is deemed to not be real constitutes one of the more serious contemporary sins among the relatively educated class of most western societies. At least that is the profession of faith which most of us would make if pressed. Which I won’t investigate further just now.

The esteem that the real is given is based in hard won experience about the consequences of wishful thinking unconditioned by consideration of the predictable results that flow from our actions. Often the lessons are unwelcome. But experience keeps a hard school as compared to desire, until the final exam results are in.

When bad results can’t be avoided, the least foolish thing to do is to forego that part of desire which leads to them. Oligarchies and other elite systems have rigged things, to insure that it’s others who pay the cost of actions and conditions not of their making. The history of non-democratic governments could be written in the measures which elites have taken to make other people pay for their privilege and the eventual collapse due to the accretions of those awful results.

Democracy is dependent on The People making decisions about governing society and making the laws with which a society regulates itself and its members. The quality of those laws, the quality of the results, inescapably depend on the extent to which those laws are in accord with reality. The farther they are from reality, the worse results can be expected. Experience seems to confirm this idea, the seductions of self-interest being very powerful, only hard experience consciously considered could overcome that motive to be deluded. I’ll also note that democracy is also dependent on equality before those laws. Very crudely put, laws that result in inequality will inevitably lead to a similar situation to the one described in the last paragraph.

We have an especially dramatic example of what happens when laws and actions are dangerously out of sync with what is real in the Gulf Oil disaster. A disaster which could destroy one of the most important eco-systems which life really and inescapably does depend on. Clearly the laws and regulations that allowed that well to be drilled were based on false information, much of it provided by people with degrees in science and engineering, some of whom certainly knew the possibility of something like this happening. It seems when large profits are in the mix, that these catastrophes repeatedly override experience, the lessons of past ones and the resultant destruction of the very basis of life. Yet those who repeatedly create them, are always able to profit from them. There is a reason for this situation.

My question, stemming from this past week’s discussion and the spectacle of the Gulf oil disaster, is there a right to lie?

I mean is there a real, and not just theoretical right to lie, which should be allowed to remain embedded in our laws and which has a real effect in real life. Most importantly, given the reality of how our country is ruled in 2010, what are the consequences of a legal system, a free press and a society which allows profitable and convenient lying to enjoy the functional status of a civil right*? Under the regime of free speech, free press, the champions of free speech apparently believe there is and the danger it imposes on all of us, isn't something they really care about.

Is there a right to knowingly lie in a way that can result in a catastrophe like the one we are all fixed on in the Gulf of Mexico**? Is there a right to lie in a way that will put liars in control of our government and regulatory agencies, and our courts? Don’t forget the courts, which, often don’t seem to feel it is their job to punish the most massively consequential lies, so long as those aren’t told in court, under oath or in a context that can be construed as the equivalent of a contract. And quite often, even when those are. It is exactly that part of the government which is supposed to consider what is real and what isn’t that has allowed the corporations and the congress and administrations to ignore reality as hard experience shows will obviously lead to disaster.


I’m sure that, as in the discussion of violent porn, this question will elicit an immediate response with the most extreme of hypothetical scenarios presented. It’s often the classic questions. What about lying to the Nazis about where the Jewish children are hidden? That kind of thing. And, of course, when those situations are real, they are all important. Of course, any moral person with a functioning brain would lie to the Nazis. But pretending that moral imperative to lie as an exculpatory factor in the official lies that gush like oil from the insanely drilled hole in the Gulf, is willfully and stunningly dishonest. The two situations are made definitively different by the illegitimacy of the Nazis’ genocide and their demented despotism. Naziism can, in no way, be equated with the aspirations and the goals of egalitarian democracy. To deny that difference is to lie, to assert those two situations are equivalent is a colossal lie. The imperative to lie is founded in the choices of Nazis. The requirement to tell the truth an essential prerequisite for democracy to be possible.

In my experience, the very people who would bring up this hypothetical in defense of lying are the same who will absolutely hold that any suppression of Nazi propaganda is a crime against civil liberties. Those European countries whose children were rounded up and murdered by the Nazis are often criticized for their outlawing of Naziism and Holocaust denial. This pseudo-ethical stand is an example of denying the hardest of reality in favor of the soft comfort of an abstract principle.

The history of that genocide is as real a fact as exists. It is as real as anything in science or mathematics. It is more real than anything asserted in the entire history of philosophy. It is a definitive justification for the suppression of Naziism. Denial of a that lesson, consisting of the murders of millions of innocent people, discredits those who refuse to learn it. There comes a time when you have to acknowledge a lesson like that delegitimizes an abstract principle that airily accepts the possibility of its repetition. You just do. Eventually people have to stop pretending that is a serious point of view held by credible people. And the same thing can be said for other genocides, the extermination of the population of Tasmania by the British, the genocides on every continent that continue to today. Genocide didn’t end. It is a constant danger around the world today.

The clear morality of lying to save innocent people doesn’t set aside the fatal effect of serious lying in a democratic society. In fact, one of the likely cumulative results of that kind of lie, is the supplanting of democracy with despotism, and despotisms always try to keep themselves in power by the kind of violence that comprises the extreme hypothetical of the “free speech” absolutist.


The only legitimate reason for a government to exist is for the protection of The People and the promotion of their common good and other such benefits. Foremost, that requires protection of the biosphere that all rights depend on. To do that, we have found, a democratic government is indispensable.

As an extension of our personal rights and the necessity of their protection, we also find it necessary to protect democratic government. Our laws have protections of our constitution built into them, laws that protect the government against attack. Even the Bill of Rights and the rest of the protections of individual liberties are held to allow anti-treason and similar laws. Clearly supporting the enemies of the United States is not expression that is without legal jeopardy for those who express it in an actionable manner, especially during times of war.

But there is a far greater danger to a democratic society than the ones we are all told to fear, one that is allowed the freest of free reign today, and no where more freely than those in the mass media and government who are deflecting attention with fear of terrorism, often based on nothing in reality.

Why should a democratic society allow lying about serious public issues? It shouldn’t. It certainly shouldn’t allow it in the mass media or by politicians or judges.

The lies that fill the airwaves used to be mostly heard during political campaigns but are now a perpetual feast of toxic garbage on the airwaves and, even more so, on cable and the internet. I think that today those lies are a far greater danger to democracy and the Constitution of the United States than any foreign or domestic enemy. As an example, it is estimated that 40,000 Americans die every year as a result of our for-profit insurance system which denies them timely care, in many cases, it denies them any care. The well financed lies of the insurance and associated industries have perpetuated a protection racket that kills far more Americans that have been killed by any foreign or domestic enemy of the government and our society. And that’s only those who die from our terrible health insurance system. Corporations kill many more of us than that.

Democracy that allows lying a free reign in its politics can't survive as a democracy. The evidence is that our system that is fueled on lies, freely told, freely broadcast, told by professional liars paid by the most filthy rich and larcenous crooks, is destroying our society and, indeed, the very basis of life. I don’t think there is any moral or political reason to allow that. Citing free speech in defense of liars isn’t just an irrational, one law fits all occasions, refusal to consult reality, it is dangerous to our democracy and our lives.

Using the language of rights and freedom to hand over our minds to lies is criminal insanity. Using the excuse that sifting the lies from the truth is hard and takes an effort is inexcusable. If it’s too hard to do that, then it’s too hard for us to make informed political decisions. It is to pretend that responsible voting and participation in democracy is impossible. It is to assert that democracy isn’t possible. There is no royal road in reality. If it’s even very very hard to do what is essential, that’s just too bad.


Indulging in a bit of non-reality, just call it an extreme hypothetical, imagine a society where no one told lies, where no corporation interested in maximizing profit over the welfare of The People or the environment could misrepresent the reality of their intentions and proposed activities? Imagine if they had to be honest about what really happens.

Imagine if they couldn’t hire scientists, engineers, lawyers, and other, assorted professions --- and in today’s reality, quite a sordid bunch they are — to lie to us and our government.

Would we The People let them drill where they couldn’t fix an oil well blow out before it caused the death of a major ecosystem? Would we allow them to ration health care on the basis of what is most profitable to them, including the deaths of tens of thousands every year?

And imagine if politicians and lawyers and judges didn’t lie. Let’s go wild and imagine if the broadcast and cabloid media couldn’t lie? Would there be any harm to our freedom, our liberties, our lives from this terrible regime of the truth? Would getting even half way there from the cesspool of lies we are in today hurt or enhance those benefits of democracy?

* Of course, there are other lies that are not permitted, some have been noted in the discussions last week and I won’t go over those again here. Libel and slander among them. A good part of the Clinton administration was a lesson in what happens when media corporations and pseudo-religious corporations are given a free reign in slandering and libeling elected officials. It was the Supreme Court, in decisions some foolishly hail as a great bulwark of free speech that led to that crippling of democracy.

** In another recent discussion there was something of a scandalized reaction when it was proposed that scientists, engineers and others who, from positions gained through their academic credentials, lied or irresponsibly and catastrophically misjudged the situation that led to the oil gusher into the gulf, should lose their credentials. Including revoking their degrees.

Universities are supposed to be institutions that place the highest value on truth in accord with reality. “Veritas,” the often ironic slogan is. “Lux et Veritas, ”... This is supposed to be especially true in academic departments in the sciences, engineering and schools of law.

What are we supposed to think of the universities which trained corporate scientists and engineers who bend their work product in ways that are no different from lying about what is real? What are we supposed to think about those who have also proven, in the most horrible way, that their professional judgement is criminally negligent at worst, disastrously incompetent at best? Should people who have done those kinds of things retain their credentials? Shouldn’t universities which produce these people take their measure of blame in that?

What is the real value of a university education if the people they tout in the alumnae propaganda are proven liars and incompetents? And that doesn’t even begin to ask about law school graduates. It also doesn’t go into the fact that the faculties of many of our most prestigious universities are well salted with corrupt corporate hacks, crooks and liars.

Eventually, reality being real, the corruption behind the ivy and ersatz parchment becomes undeniable. I think we are rapidly reaching the crisis stage when our universities are adjuncts of a corrupt corporate oligarchy. The signs of rot are undeniably visible now.

Note: This was the last of the posts I’d planned on writing on this topic for now. It became considerably longer in response to some of the points from the discussion which I though had to be considered. My thinking on this has changed considerably due to the spectacle of the dying democracy in the United States, the corporate oligarch that is replacing it and the willful acquiescence of what functions as our intelligentsia to the means which that is happening. The free speech industry, certainly in the vanguard of that acquiescence and even enablement.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Philosophy & vampires in the antipornfest (by Suzie)

I was a debater in high school, the kind who stayed up late gluing pieces of evidence on notecards to fill metal files, the kind who would say, “Tom said X. I have 12 responses.”

The comments on last weekend’s posts against pornography stirred the debater in me. But they also reminded me of what I didn’t like about debate: How arguing real-world problems became a game. What mattered was winning, not the actual issues. I'm not saying that the commenters are less sincere than I am, only that we can all fall into the desire to win, even when it becomes apparent that we aren't changing anyone's mind.

I got my master’s degree in women’s studies in 2001, but the first class I wanted to take was in philosophy, a graduate survey course in aesthetics. The chair of women’s studies was a philosopher whose courses were cross-listed. But the departments had such a different tone. In philosophy, the majority of the students and faculty were men who loved to debate, sometimes in an adversarial fashion. Many courses focused on male philosophers of the past. Women’s studies had more collegial discussions, focusing on recent feminist scholars. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Among others, feminist philosopher Alison Jaggar faults traditional ethics for letting women down in five related ways. First, it shows less concern for women's as opposed to men's issues and interests. Second, traditional ethics views as trivial the moral issues that arise in the so-called private world, the realm in which women do housework and take care of children, the infirm, and the elderly. Third, it implies that, in general, women are not as morally mature or deep as men. Fourth, traditional ethics overrates culturally masculine traits like “independence, autonomy, intellect, will, wariness, hierarchy, domination, culture, transcendence, product, asceticism, war, and death,” while it underrates culturally feminine traits like “interdependence, community, connection, sharing, emotion, body, trust, absence of hierarchy, nature, immanence, process, joy, peace, and life.” Fifth, and finally, it favors “male” ways of moral reasoning that emphasize rules, rights, universality, and impartiality over “female” ways of moral reasoning that emphasize relationships, responsibilities, particularity, and partiality (Jaggar, “Feminist Ethics,” 1992).
I’m more open to women, rather than men, who oppose restrictions on porn because the women are vulnerable to the same abuses I am. (We know that, just because someone is oppressed in one way, doesn’t mean that person will understand all oppressions.)

On another issue from the antipornfest, I want to defend “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” from the commenter who said: “Vampires are blatant rape metaphors.”

Vampires often have served as metaphors for desire, especially for the consequences of lust. Some are portrayed as rapists, some not. The popular video below pits Buffy against Edward, the star vampire from the “Twilight” series. Edward is not a rapist, although he follows a long tradition of “romantic” stalkers. You don’t need to know anything about the series to find this funny.

More implications for gay homophobe story (by Suzie)

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Ducklings have been waddling after several mother ducks in the pond/swamp behind my home. In this photo, the dark fluff balls are eating while Mom gives me the evil eye even though I took this from a bit of a distance. They are at the water's edge -- yes, the top of the photo is the pond. Various plant life grows in the shallow water or floats on top. A dusting of oak pollen remains.

Laura Love (by Suzie)

There need to be more videos of Laura Love online. No, I'm not talking about the porn star, who kept turning up when I searched YouTube. I was hoping to find a video of "Freak Flag" for last week's post, but am settling for her cover of "Come as You Are." The next video shows Catie Curtis with her, singing "Shenandoah." Then there's the yodeling. I'm glad I got to see her in concert. You need to hear her original songs.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Real Story Behind The Lawrence Taylor Story

Lawrence Taylor, an ex-football-player, is in the news today:

NFL hall of famer Lawrence Taylor has been arrested and charged with raping a 16-year-old girl brought to his upstate New York hotel room by a pimp, authorities said this afternoon.
The NFL hall of famer is being investigated for the alleged rape of a teen girl.

Taylor, 51, is charged with statutory rape and soliciting a minor prostitute, both of which he denies. The rape charge carries a 4-year maximum prison term and the prostitution charge could add an additional year.

That's the superficial story and it is not good. But the worse story is this:

The alleged victim, a 16-year-old runaway from the Bronx, N.Y., living as a prostitute, was allegedly brought to Taylor's room at the Holidome Hotel in Montebello, N.Y., by a man police identified as Rasheed Davis, 36, who has been charged with unlawful imprisonment, assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

The girl is believed to have sustained injuries to her face prior to sex with Taylor, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence told reporters.


Davis "struck the young girl with his fist, kicked her and brought her to the Holiday Inn against her will," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told the Associated Press.

The girl ran away when she was 15 years old and had been reported missing to NYPD in March. She recently turned 16, St. Lawrence said.

The three hundred dollars she earned went directly to Rasheed Davis.

To me that's the real story, one about a child out on the streets and what a violent pimp did to her. It's not even clear if she was a prostitute in the sense the term is used here, given that Davis used violence to force her to service Taylor.

Click on That!

The above picture is of football (soccer) players by Annie Leibowitz. The title of the web-story goes "The World Cup's Stars Wear Their Flags -- And Little Else -- for Annie Leibowitz," and the story has remained first or the second in the "most clicked" category for at least two days.

The five men in the picture are offered to us as sexual cupcakes, no? Should a feminist blogger put up this picture at all?

I recall a fervent debate on this here blog about whether men, too should be viewed as sexual objects since women are viewed that way all the time. Most comments argued against equal objectification as somehow an improvement over the current situation. The correct path was to decrease the objectification of women, not to increase the objectification of men.

At the time I pretty much agreed. Now I'm not so sure, for at least two reasons:

First, I see no reduction in the sexual presentation of the female body. Rather the reverse: The most recent portrayals are of women flung about like broken dolls, staring with unseeing eyes at their tormentor and enjoying every minute of it! Whatever resistance there is to such images appears pretty powerless.

Hence Plan B: Encourage equal objectification of the male body, not because that would somehow be a better situation but because that might be the only way the message of us "prudes" would get through: If it's sauce for the gander, it's sauce for the goose and the gander learns what it feels like to be sauce.

Second, I'm not at all convinced that women have no interest in visual depictions of the generic male body. That's what evo-psychos and people like that argue, and that's their explanation for why pornography is mostly a market for male consumers.

But consider the initial female reaction to the Beatles. The mass hysteria you probably have seen in news clips from the time seems to have very little to do with the music of the band and quite a lot to do with the physical bodies of the band members. Elvis (the pelvis) Presley was initially criticized for provoking sexual thoughts in girls and women.

If the society brings up girls in a way which discourages them from enjoying the visual images of male bodies (but indirectly encourages them to enjoy the visual images of female bodies) how can we tell that the current market in erotica is somehow totally driven by biological differences between the genders?

The short and sweet summary of these two points is that I'm willing to consider the sexual objectification of the male body for two reasons which initially look contradictory: Because perhaps only such objectification introduces that term into all vocabularies through that old teacher: experience, and because we might then get something less extreme for both sexes: fewer sado-masochistic portrayals of women and more vanilla-erotic portrayals of men.

What do you think?

Note also that the above picture wouldn't qualify even for "vanilla" pornography. It's the equivalent of the WW II female pin-ups (Bettty Grable, say).

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

WaPo Puts Its Left Shoe Forwards!

That's what I read. The Washington Post online is nothing but a sea of red Maoists, Leninists and Stalinists, because it has hired a few liberal bloggers.

If indeed the Post is showing us its left foot, that foot is wearing testosterone-smelling wingtips:

The Post's foray into the new media world received some unfavorable attention last weekend when its latest hire, Dave Weigel, who covers conservatives, referred to gay marriage foes as "bigots." But the resulting controversy brought into relief a larger shift: The Post now hosts three of the strongest liberal blogs on the Internet, and draws a disproportionate share of its traffic and buzz from them, a significant change for a traditional newspaper that has struggled to remake itself.

Besides Weigel, who came from the liberal Washington Independent, the Post also has Ezra Klein, hired last May from the American Prospect to bring his brand of deliberately wonky policy writing to its website; and Greg Sargent, who the paper said Tuesday will soon move to the Post itself after coming from TPM to run a political blog for the Post-owned website,

Not a single stiletto shod blogger anywhere in sight. The only reference to any writer without testicles in that story was Kathleen Parker, the Post's conservative and misogynist columnist.

Not sure what to make of all that. But then I forgot that girls don't blog so it's really hard to find any female bloggers.

The Passive Voice

Is something I use when I'm either very tired and must write long rather than short (paraphrased quote owed to someone like Mark Twain) or when I want to distance myself from the topic. Of course the passive is also used when it's the proper tense to use (heh).

But often the passive crops up as a disguise: "A woman was attacked" reads differently from "Someone attacked a woman." The difference is subtle (the former focuses on the woman, the latter on whoever attacked her) and may not matter, unless almost all crime reports are written that way. They often are.

Melissa points out a related phenomenon in her post about the recent murder of Yeardley Love:

"He then "shook Love, and her head repeatedly hit the wall," said an affidavit filed in the case."

...Because Huguely merely "shook Love," and "her head repeatedly hit the wall." It wasn't like he was shaking her specifically to knock her head into the wall! Geez! Her head hit the wall all on its own. I mean, maybe the police ought to be interviewing her head to see why it decided to hit the wall while Huguely was shaking her.

Tales From Moominvalley

I grew up on Tove Jansson's moomin books before the moomins were an industry. You may or may not have had the same experience, but few people realize that she didn't write just for children.

The book I recommend for everyone is her collection of short stories: Tales from Moominvalley. All of them are good and a few of them are excellent from a feminist point of view.

My favorite is "The Fillyjonk Who Believed In Disasters." It is a feminist story on one level, having to do with the duties that societies have traditionally assigned to women. On other levels it is a story of the way people are owned by the things they own, and even a story of the current oil disaster. Honest.

I also love "The Hemulen Who Loved Silence." For some odd reason I always see the Hemulens as Americans! And "The Invisible Child" is a very good story about abuse and what it does to people.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A Short Post On A Serious Topic

The topic is how to create proper incentives for taking into account the potential risks of any new endeavors, including drill-baby-drilling. Right now private firms do not tell us how they calculate the risks or how they allow for them, even though the negative consequences (such as oil leaking and leaking and leaking) do not stop where the imaginary limits of the firm are.

The BP scandal is an example of that. It is also an example of the biased incentives we give politicians. An elected representative of the people may get away not fixing a bad bridge, say, as long as she or he acts all decisive once it starts sinking. Even a fatal collapse doesn't have to mean the end of the politician's career. All you need to do is to act decisively AFTER the disaster has happened. You can even raise taxes then! You might even be taken for a good politician!

But a good politician would have had the bridge checked and repaired if needed BEFORE accidents could happen. As such work is mostly invisible and may mean higher taxes the next rival to the position will certainly use the tax-and-spend claims against someone who just did the job properly.

This is how the after-disaster stage goes in the drill-baby-drill case:

Schwarzenegger is only the latest politician to move away from offshore drilling in the aftermath of the BP disaster. Charlie Crist and even Marco Rubio have equivocated on their support in Florida. Bill Nelson, who supported the President's proposed expansion of drilling, now has introduced legislation to put a moratorium on it. Today on a conference call, Dick Durbin, a key ally of the President, said that offshore drilling would be "an issue reconsidered by many." He insisted that the best place to turn for our energy future is "our renewable resources."

Today's Picture

This is the cover of a 1930s magazine.

Today's Action Alert

Lilith magazine is holding an online auction. You can help an old and important feminist magazine by bidding often and high!

Monday, May 03, 2010

A Housekeeping Post

Even though I'm but a tiny blogger I get a lot of e-mail. So if you write to me put something into the heading which clearly shows that what you send is not spam or from a political candidate. And no, "a new day begins" is not a good example of a heading that I would read.

My apologies to anyone whose message has gotten lost recently.

Also send money.

Hugs and kisses,

Out Stealing Horses

This is the title of a novel by Per Petterson. It has been translated into English from Norwegian and I heard about it first on NPR.

Out Stealing Horses is excellent. I gobbled it up in a few short hours. Despite its slimness, the book has multiple layers as all good books have. I'm still seeing deeper connections in the story.

The blurb on the back of my copy of the book states:

Out Stealing Horses has been embraced across the world as a classic, a novel of universal relevance and power. Panoramic and gripping, it tells the story of Trond Sander, a sixty-seven-year-old man who has moved from the city to a remote, riverside cabin, only to have all the turbulence, grief and overwhelming beauty of his youth come back to him one night while he's out on a walk. From the moment Trond sees a strange figure coming out of the dark behind his home, the reader is immersed in a decades-deep story of searching and loss, and in the precise, irresistible prose of a newly crowned master of fiction.

Yes, it is that good. The New York Times book review amounts to a love letter to Petterson. A literary sun has risen! Long shine the son.

No, that is not a typo, that "son." I almost read the book as the male version of the three stages of life for women: maiden, mother and crone. It is almost an exploration of fathers and sons, men and violence and independence or isolation as a sign of masculinity. The "almost" is necessary. Very good books cannot be pigeon-holed that easily.

On another level the book is a long, silent howl of pain at all the ways fathers have failed their sons. On yet another level it is a book where women as human beings (as opposed to sexual beings or dreams) only appear fleetingly or send reminders of themselves from a great distance or death. The protagonist's father is an adored figure, an almost-god, even if he goes away when the protagonist is still a teenager and the only explanation is a letter which arrives to his wife, daughter and son:

It was a short letter. He thanked us for the time we had spent together, he looked back on it with happiness, but times were different now, and it could not be helped; he was not coming home anymore.
Best wishes. End. No special greeting for me. I don't know. I really thought I had earned one.

This does not stop the protagonist from adoring his absent father. Neither does staying and not leaving make him like his mother:

Oh, I did love my mother. I am not saying I didn't, but what future I could read in the face before me was not what I had imagined. Merely to look at that face for longer than three minutes made the world push at my shoulders from both sides. It made me short of breath, I could not sit still.


'Are you cold?' my mother said. 'There's a scarf in the bag you can have. It's not a lady's scarf or anything, so you needn't be ashamed.'

'No, I'm not cold,' I said, and heard an impatient and irritated edge in my voice. I have been criticized for that later in life, by women especially, and that is because it is women I have used it against. I admit it.

A moment later I pulled it out of the bag. It had belonged to my father, but I just put it round my neck and tied it under my chin and pushed the long ends flat down inside my jacket so they covered most of my chest. I felt immediately better...

Out Stealing Horses is a world of solitary men. Men who are self-sufficient, men who come and go, men who love and then desert, men who suffer, men who kill and men who put all this pain on their palms, then curl up the fist and squeeze until the pain has lanced itself deep inside the body, never to come out again. Because it is a very good book we can accept that one-sidedness without arguing that we should label it something different than literature. Possibly even great literature.

But would any of that change if we reversed the genders of the main characters in the book while keeping the writing as brilliant as it is? Let us see:

This is a story about a sixty-seven-year-old woman who has moved into the wilderness to begin the third act of her life. One night she meets a neighbor, another solitary old woman, and this meeting triggers a flood of memories from her teenage years, all centered on her mother, a difficult and brilliant woman whom she adored but who suddenly deserted the family. The book focuses on the mother-daughter relationship in the context of Norwegian history. The memories also cover her childhood friends: three girls who are sisters in a family where a dreadful tragegy happened.

Hmmm. I do not think that such a book would get the reception Out Stealing Horses has had. It would be seen as something women might find of interest.

Some Monday Reading

An interview about writing on one's own life and what it might mean. If you have read the interviewed authors you may have more to say on this in the comments.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette writes about her mother's abortion in the 1940s.

The third item is not reading but listening. Erica Young and Molly Young-Fast talk (on a superficial level) about the generational difference in attitudes towards the pill and the interviewer tries to make it quite clear that the pill is ovah!. It nevah helped women in the first place! And the way to evaluate it is against an imaginary perfect birth control method. Because the pill comes second in that comparison we might as well scrap it. Probably right after abortion is made illegal.

The fiftieth anniversary of the pill has made contrarianism extremely attractive. I see it all over the media.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Breaking news (by Suzie)

I need to interrupt this weekend’s discussion of porn with major financial news: The multibillion advertising industry has collapsed after researchers declared they could find no causal link between ads and human behavior.

Consider the beauty and fashion industry. If an ad showed a gorgeous, sexy, young, slim woman wearing a certain brand of clothing, it was assumed that some women might want to buy that brand. If the company offered wide-leg pants in chartreuse one year, and the next year, showed straight-leg, cropped pants in royal blue, and fashion articles declared that big, chartreuse pants were boring, but slim, blue pants were daring and feminine, it was assumed that women would want the thing that was new and exciting.

“Some women feel a strong urge to wear slim, blue pants,” one social scientist said. “Perhaps this reflects this year’s marketing, or maybe it simply reflects the desires of women. We cannot and should not make any assumptions.

“We have found no link between what people hear, see and read and how they think and behave. Advertising is a huge waste of money.”

Some say ads encourage consumerism, and that some people spend so much that they end up bankrupt or they can’t save for their retirement.

“Some people are criminals, and some people are spenders,” the researcher responded. “But you can’t put any blame on advertising. In fact, we have learned that countries with the most advertising have the lowest levels of consumption. Take, for example, the TV ads depicting a sports car speeding through dangerous curves. This thrills a lot of guys, but their fantasies are so satisfying that they have little need to do this in real life.”

At first, advertising executives dismissed these findings, but they gave up when the researcher assured them that all the good research supports him.

We Are At The Bottom Of The Slope Now, “Free Speech*” Helped Get Us There [Anthony McCarthy]

* As defined by the courts.

In the endless rocking of politics and society, the countless incidents and issues that demand our attention, we lose track of just what it’s all about. Free speech, to what end? Free expression, with what results? The corporate right of the free press, for what reason, to whose benefit?

In one of my early blog posts, about the commercial exploitation of children, I said that if free speech advocates couldn’t find a way to protect children while protecting Lady Chatterley’s Lover, then, as far as I’m concerned, the book goes. Some readers said I shouldn’t have expressed that idea, which is their right. Well, the free speech industry isn’t in the business of protecting children. By avocation, they are in the business of protecting words and images. Professionally, they are in the business of protecting objects and commercial property. Being a very bad sort, I have no hesitation or shame in saying I think children are more important than both. Which probably marks me as a girly-man, in the rough and tough world of the free speech advocates. Or is saying that going too far?

You see, down at the bedrock of my thinking about all of politics, science, religion, the arts, I place the highest value on the lives and good of living beings. People, certainly not excluded. Leaving aside the paramount issue of profit, for the time being, no abstract principle is an unalloyed good. All stated principles, all of them, are liable to be bent and applied in ways which are malignant, which harm the lives and the rights of living beings, usually for the benefit of other people. Usually for the benefit of people with more wealth and power*. History shows that even with the most lofty and sincere of intentions, even the best ideas can be twisted to horrible ends.

I think the results of the application of a principle that determines a principle being right or wrong. I don’t hold with a standard which ignores those results out of some demented principle that places the abstract principle over the facts of our lives.

Free speech, free press, free expression, are all ideas that share in the possibility of their defective application. And those bad uses of the lofty words will generally be by intention and design. The ability of people with malevolent intentions to twist ideals is almost never explicitly stated. Lying, hypocrisy and deception are unsurprising methods of doing that. The “Citizens” ruling of this year is a prime example of that. The majority that produced that ruling all had their excuses for moving to hand our elections to corporations, none of them honest. All of them in line with other rulings**.

The crush porn ruling shows another frequent accompaniment to the malignant application of lofty principles, the refusal to distinguish a malignant application from a beneficial one. This, as mentioned last week, is done through the bizarre spectacle of judges suddenly deeming themselves unfit to judge. This seems to be the judicial fashion in matters with the words “speech” and “expression” attached to them. Oddly, they don’t seem to have this problem in areas where enormous harm results from their rulings.

My training is in the arts, music. My inclination is towards contemporary classical music and jazz, much of which pushes boundaries well past where they have been, often in the area of sex, sometimes of violence. I’ve written pieces here in favor of works that would have been considered obscene by past standards. Kenneth Gaburo’s Maledetto contains a good number of dirty words and descriptions of sex, but it doesn’t advocate rape or maiming. If it did, if I suspected that someone would be motivated to harm other people by it, according with its content, I would have no choice but to choose the victims over the music. In the end, people are more important than art. I gave up buying and listening to much of the blues when I heard that violent death was the leading killer of young black men. The degradation of black women, is, if anything, worse. With some of the music and videos of recent years, the music industry seems to promote the killing and degradation of black people, their “product” in volume exceeding that of white supremacists. Which, given the horrible history of their oppression at the hands of others, is breathtakingly appalling.

As a gay man, I despise large parts of gay porn, as I’ve also written here, for its advocacy of self-hatred, torture, rape, degradation, domination, infection and a host of other depravities. If that kind of pornography disappeared, I don’t think a single person would suffer a harm that would make its reappearance desirable. I believe that gay men would find other ways to achieve arousal and orgasm that wouldn’t depend on the promotion of self-hatred and harm to other gay men if it wasn’t available. I suppose it wouldn’t be noticed that I’ve never called for suppressing anything except violent, degrading pornography and that any consensual act between fully consenting adults should be legal, even acts I think are disgusting.

That a standard which places the highest value on people and other living beings, over money or words or expression, seems alien and odd shows how really screwy our culture has become. It shows that a huge swath of liberals and the left have been conned into giving up our reason for our political ideology on behalf of some of our worst opponents.

Of course the lives of the three victims of James Perry (see below) are more important than every single copy of Hit Man and the publication business that sold the how-to. Their lives are more important than the expression of the pseudonymous author. If you don’t understand that, I’m not sorry to tell you, there’s something wrong with you. Anyone who deems the profits of the crush porn videos and the arousal of their degenerate clients by the torture and killing of small animals over the lives of the animals, is sick.

The slippery slope argument is nonsense, we were standing on a slippery slope all the time. We would still be with the most absolute free speech position being the supreme law of the world. With Buckley v. Valeo and the “Citizens” rulings, we’ve slipped down near the bottom of it, with the weight of “free speech” as cited by the far right and some deluded liberals on the court, providing momentum. We are in the odd and little discussed position where “free speech” is the slogan that the far right on the courts and in the government are using to enslave us to a corporate system that takes all of our rights. They have done it with the participation of the champions of “free speech” giving support to that hand over. That we’ll be allowed to talk dirty and watch crush porn as a concession doesn’t strike me as a good deal.

* Again, to avoid going over too far over a thousand words, I will leave out the all important issue of competing rights and how free speech can destroy those rights for some people.

** I’m sure someone will bring up Alito’s dissent in the crush porn ruling. I have no explanation for that. Maybe he kept a hamster as a pet when he was young. Maybe, it happens, he let a shred of humanity break loose from his myriad of malevolent rulings as a judge.

Now Two Questions For The Free Speech Absolutists [Anthony McCarthy]

In these discussions of proposals to suppress violent pornography, the rote assertions of the free speech industry are almost always recited. “No rights are lost through speech (from last week),” “There is no causal link between porography and violence,” etc.

My question is, can any book or video or anything which has been shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have motivated the violence it intended, be banned? Or am I right, your position is that no number of deaths or violent attacks is ever enough to allow banning?

How about the example I cited yesterday, “Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors", explicitly, a how-to book for committing murder? Which has, based on its price, become a collector's item. I'd imagine you can keep it next to your Jeffrey Dahmer memorabilia.

Some of you will remember that the book was used in the murders of Mildred Horn, her disabled son Trevor Horn and Janice Roberts Saunders, his night nurse who was murdered beside the bed of the 8-year-old boy in her car, all killed for his trust fund. The killer was hired by Mildred Horn’s ex- husband, Lawrence Horn who stood to inherit the trust fund. The hired killer was James Edward Perry.

Perry, who purchased a how-to manual titled "Hit Man" and followed it almost to the letter in Mildred Horn's Silver Spring home on the night of March 3, 1993, was sentenced to death three times by a Montgomery County jury in October.

.... The method and caliber were recommended in "Hit Man," whose publisher is being sued in U.S. District Court by members of Mildred Horn's family who claim the book aided the murders. A hearing in U.S. District Court on whether the First Amendment's free speech guarantee applies to the book is scheduled for July 22.

Looking around the internet, I haven’t found any sympathy for James Perry, sentenced to death (He died of natural causes in prison) or his employer, who was sentenced to three life terms. I have found considerable lamentation about the fate of the book and its publisher, whodestroyed all of its copies and settled a lawsuit out of court.

If you go wading through the “free speech” nonsense on this incident, notice how bizarre the arguments get. Some of the hair splitting denies that Perry used the how-to book of murder, which he bought and consulted, because he didn’t follow exactly it to the letter. Apparently the sloppiness of his “hit job” exculpates the book, its author and its publisher. Who knows, if he’d followed it to the letter, he and the man who hired the “independent contractor” might have gotten away with it entirely. Perhaps other more satisfied customers and their clients have gotten away with it. Which is the intention of the book.

Here we have it, a book, explicitly a how-to murder book, used in at least one case in court and the free speech industry doesn’t think that book has proven it deserves to die. Oh, and there are the tears shed by the free speech industry for Paladin Press, the publisher that sold the book that ultimately killed at least three people, we know of.

As we can see, for the stalwart free speech absolutist, the book has more rights than the victims of the crime, their families and loved ones. The publisher of the book are presented, by some of them, as martyrs of free speech and free press. Though I haven’t found mention of any of them being killed for it.

Note: Here is what the description of the book, I assume from the publisher, says about it:

Rex Feral kills for hire. Daring. Unafraid. Profrssional. Now he dares to tell his professional secrets.

Feral is a hit man. Some consider him a criminal. Others think him a hero. In truth, he is a letal weapon aimed at the enemy of the one who pays him. He is the last recourse in these times when laws are so twisted that justice goes unserved. He is a man who controls his destiny through his private code of ethics, who feels no twinge of guilt at doing his job. He is a professional killer.

Learn how a pro makes a living at this craft without landing behind bars. Find out how he gets hit assignments, creates a false working identity, makes a disposable silencer, leaves the scene without a trace of evidence, watches his mark unobserved, and more. An expert assassin and bodyguard, Feral reveals the details of how to get in, do the job, and get out - without getting caught. For informationl purposes only!

"For informational purposes only!" [wink, wink] Makes their innocuous intentions completely obvious, no?

Change a few words, it could describe the champions of the book.

I will add an update later today.

Go Read Jodi

Her post (from last week) makes several very important points having to do with the light-n-fluffy media sexism which is regarded as perfectly legit in this country. I can think of several other stories about women-gone-wild which use factoids, lazy myth-making and ruthless generalizations.