Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Horrible Truth 21 Years After Exxon Valdez [Anthony McCarthy]

The law is an ass. It is an ass by intention. It is the fool of the wealthy and powerful. Its status as an ass is protected by the courts. We and the environment we depend on are not.

I don't know how any reasoning person can have any respect for the law or judges even up to the olympian Supremes when some dopey young graffiti artist can get jail time for painting on an easily cleaned wall and none of the highly paid executives, lawyers, scientists, engineers, lobbyists, etc. responsible for the Gulf oil gusher will ever see the inside of a prison, not for a time proportional to the offense.

If this isn’t changed, they are going to kill us all. And that isn’t hyperbole.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Torture, part 2 (by Suzie)

A letter-writer for Amnesty International, I loved “Closet Land,” a 1991 movie about an author of children’s books and her interrogator. Amnesty International was involved, and the movie appears to link the abuse of women by men with the abuse of citizens by the state. (I understand that the author has disavowed Amnesty.) People remain silent at their own peril.

At a party at my home, a man noted that I had the video and said, with a knowing smirk, that he liked it, too. He meant he got off on BDSM. Some fellow BDSM supporters might argue that a movie depicting torture isn’t the same thing; others might say that it is because the audience knows that the torture isn’t real, and that the actors were acting. Other people don't bother with these arguments. They just think the actors are hot. Read the comments on this YouTube video. Someone even put clips of the torture to a Kelly Clarkson song. This quote from Jodie Foster applies:
There will be unsophisticated people who see a sophisticated movie. Just like there were in The Accused. And thank God I only went to one screening of that movie with an audience. … They cheered the rape. It was awful. And that wasn't an isolated event. It happened all over the country. But I don't think you can legislate your audience. If you're going to make a movie that explores dramatic violence, do you change it because you're worried that people aren't going to take it properly?
I'd change it. I’m with producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who had to defend their decision not to show the rape and murder of a teenager in the movie version of “The Lovely Bones.”

This week, a friend said she couldn't watch “Closet Land.” Although much of the torture is off-screen, and as much as I love Alan Rickman, I’d edit the hell out of the movie to make it watchable for women who would get out of it what I did. Ditto for “Dogville,” whose ending I loved, for the most part, although I despise Lars von Trier. There is a limit to my compassion and understanding.

In 2006, David Edelstein wrote about the rise of torture in art and mainstream movies. (“Torture porn” can refer to torture in movies not meant to be pornographic as well as porn that portrays torture for sexual titillation.) Edelstein’s article would be better if he had mentioned gender. I know some women like horror movies, but young men are the prime audience. It reinforces their masculinity to watch without screaming or running out of the theater or putting their hands over their eyes – like a girl, ewww.

I reject torture because it’s both inhumane and ineffective. I do not want to see anyone tortured, whether male or female. Nevertheless, I took great pleasure from the turned tables in “Hard Candy” and “Freeway.” If you can't watch them, however, I won’t fault your ability to remain detached - a quality respected by the film critic criticized in Echidne's post below. After all, what would the world be like if people couldn't remain detached from torture so that they could see the bigger picture or the more important issues?


This post is likely to cause nausea, inability to sleep and later nightmares. Readers are advised to take proper precautions. I would not recommend reading to anyone who has been sexually attacked in the past or who fears such attacks.

Perhaps I exaggerate? But it's much better to be safe. Res ipsa sent me a link to the article I'm going to discuss here. We exchanged several e-mails on the advisability of writing about it at all. I'm still not certain what the correct thing to do is. On the one hand, I don't want to hurt my readers and I don't want to give horrible stuff more exposure. On the other hand, I certainly don't want horrible stuff to slip into mainstream conversation without anyone pointing out how horrible it is.

There is still time to stop reading this post!

How very dramatic! And all because of a movie review! But what a movie and what a review:

Long before any civilians had actually seen it, Michael Winterbottom's film "The Killer Inside Me" -- adapted from Jim Thompson's legendary 1952 crime novel -- became a blogosphere target as a purported example of Hollywood's pornographic glorification of violence against women. After the movie's Sundance premiere in January, a female audience member assailed Winterbottom and the festival during the post-screening Q&A: "I don't understand how Sundance could book this movie. How dare you? How dare Sundance?"

There were reports at the time that co-star Jessica Alba, who plays a prostitute who is literally beaten to a pulp by Casey Affleck's deputy-sheriff protagonist, had walked out of that Sundance screening in disgust. Alba later denied this, and on Tuesday night at the film's New York premiere in the Tribeca Film Festival, she and other cast members (including Kate Hudson, whose character suffers a similar fate) mounted an articulate defense of Winterbottom and his movie.

This is a snuff movie. A movie in which women get killed in various ways and not just because the protagonist is a crazed killer: The women want it, too:

Within the first few minutes of the film, Lou responds to being slapped and slugged by Joyce Lakeland (Alba), a hooker he's running out of town, by pulling down her panties and whipping her bare ass with his belt. Is this safe and sane, consensual S/M play? Absolutely not. Is it what they both want? Absolutely yes. The sequence is both erotic and violent, profoundly troubling and potentially arousing, designed to provoke a whiplash of emotional, psychological and libidinal responses. It sets the table for what follows: an exploration of the boundary between Eros and Thanatos, love and annihilation, that's at least as dark as anything found in the collected works of the Marquis de Sade and Georges Bataille.

If you use big words like Thanatos and refer to old-time sadomasochistic porn you can discuss a snuff movie as art, something to do with the desire for sex and the desire for death. Except that it's only women who get beaten to pulp, not men.

Believe it or not, none of the above is the reason why I still have trouble with nausea when I have to re-read the original review. The reason can be seen in the following quotes:

Lou himself does not understand why he does the vicious and bloody things he does (Affleck narrates some portions of the film in bursts of Thompsonian prose), and perhaps the best way to understand "The Killer Inside Me" is as a savage Biblical parable that might be about America, might be about masculinity and might be about human nature.


But make no mistake, this is an extremely tough film to watch, and it's meant to be. Some viewers will surely react with the visceral disgust that woman expressed at Sundance, and that's every bit as legitimate as a more detached and analytical response.


In the worst of several gruesome scenes in "The Killer Inside Me," Lou pulls on a pair of gloves and methodically sets about beating Joyce to death with his fists. (Spoiler police: This doesn't count, I promise.) This scene is shocking in its graphic and bloody depiction of violence, and perhaps more shocking in what it suggests: Joyce's eagerness for unbridled rough sex has opened the door to something much worse, and has even, in some sense, invited a brutal self-destruction that corresponds to her own self-hatred.


This scene raises many unmanageable and explosive questions, and it definitely does not present a politically palatable version of male-on-female brutality in an era when we have been trained to believe that sex is not violence and violence is not sex. Thompson's view (and Winterbottom's) is more fatalistic (and perhaps also more romantic) than that. I would even argue that the book and movie's portrait of Lou Ford pre-echoes some second-wave feminist ideas about men, women and rape: Male-female sexual relations, even in their normal guise, contain hints of violence, and it doesn't take much to tip them into apocalyptic darkness.

We have now moved from snuff movies as a form of erudite (European aristocratic) art to snuff movies as reflecting reality. This is different from the debates Anthony McCarthy's earlier posts on the topic of pornography created. The step taken here is huge.

The writer of the review tries to legitimize snuff movies as art which tells us deeper truths about men, women and sex: Women want to be killed, men want to kill and most normal sex is just one short step from finding yourself either beaten to a pulp or a murderer.

This is what caused my nausea: The writer of this review is out there somewhere.

Friday bird blogging (by Suzie)

Julie Savell-McCandless captured this woodpecker eating seeds on her deck.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is Your Local Hospital a Catholic One?

Have you ever thought of Catholic hospitals and women's health care? Lindsey writes about a case which should make you do so:

A nun in Phoenix, Arizona was excommunicated for approving a lifesaving abortion. Sister Margaret McBride's career in the Catholic church came to an abrupt end after she approved an therapeutic abortion at St. Joseph's Hospital Medical Center, Robin Marty of RH Reality Check reports.

The woman was 11 weeks' pregnant when she developed a life threatening case of pulmonary hypertension according to Ms. Magazine. Sr. McBride approved the procedure after consulting with the patient, her family, and the hospital's ethics committee, but the local bishop excommunicated her anyway.

Sr. McBride's excommunication is the latest salvo in a national battle over access to reproductive health care in Catholic hospitals. Between a fifth and a third of all hospital beds in the United States are administered by the Catholic Church. Catholic hospitals provide health care services to the community at large and often receive public funding—but they are not required to offer treatments that conflict with their religious teachings.

And those teachings seem to make it impossible to save a woman if her fetus cannot also be saved. Better that both die, I guess. That is -- as Lindsay points out -- the only way this makes sense:

Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix wrote in a statement, ""If a Catholic formally cooperates in the procurement of an abortion, they are automatically excommunicated by that action." Note that the Catholic Church doesn't automatically excommunicate priests who sexually abuse children.

"We always must remember that when a difficult medical situation involves a pregnant woman, there are two patients in need of treatment and care; not merely one. The unborn child's life is just as sacred as the mother's life, and neither life can be preferred over the other," the bishop wrote.

Feminist Duds

Do they exist? I know the stereotypes about wearing overalls and Birkenstocks and unshaved armpits. But are there real-world feminist clothes?

I came across these two t-shirts, and that made me think about what statements one can make with clothes.

Some of those are more subtle than t-shirt messages. Passive messages, if you wish, whereas the t-shirts shout louder.

You've Been Aynrandized

The talk of the day is about Rand Paul's views on individual property rights and how those feed back into his views about civil rights:

In an interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, Mr. Paul appeared uncertain about whether he would have supported forcing private businesses to desegregate in the 1960s, suggesting that might run afoul of his libertarian philosophy. His views emerged as Ms. Maddow asked Mr. Paul if he thought a private business had the right to refuse service to a patron who was black.

(Mr. Paul's campaign issued a statement late Thursday morning following the Maddow interview, in which he said he supported the Civil Rights Act. It appears below.)

"I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form," he said. " I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race."

But things got murky from there in the interview: "Well, what it gets into is, is that then if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant, even though the owner of the restaurant says, well, no, we don't want to have guns in here? The bar says we don't want to have guns in here, because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each other. Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant?"

That's the proper libertarian view, by the way. That Paul chose to express it in the context of race is where he put his wingtip in his mouth.

But the libertarians do regard the property rights of individuals as more important than such things as civil rights: An owner of a firm (say, IBM) should be free to decide who is going to work in that firm, even if that owner's choices are sexist, racist, anti-semitic, homophobic and so on. Any problems this causes can be solved through private boycotts or private negotiations (in the libertarian paradise without government-provided street lights). This ignores the vast power differences between the IBM and your average job-seeker.

And that is one big problem with libertarianism: It assigns many more automatic rights to those with more property. It also tends to ignore the webs of complicated causes-and-effects which real societies have and the way those webs shake and shiver when two libertarians make some private transaction which is not supposed to affect anyone else at all. Whenever I try to imagine what the world would look like if it was run by libertarians I start with the Wild West myths. Then I remember that they were myths and that the U.S. government had a lot to do with the "winning of the west" by building railways and by awarding land. A more realistic picture of such a world would most likely be a banana republic with a few gated communities and lots of misery and lack of sanitation elsewhere.

It's not that the libertarians don't have some good points. They do. Even the wingnuts have a few good points! I'm a tolerant goddess willing to extend my fangs in all directions. But I always get scared when I read about the dreams of fanatics.
Paul's mistake was to remind us that he is one.

Idina Menzel & Lea Michele (by Suzie)

I'm no Gleek, but I caught Tuesday's episode because it was directed by Joss Whedon, my beloved. In the duet above, a glee club member is singing along to her mother's voice on a cassette. In addition to their voices, I love the looks of Menzel and Michele. I needed more members of the tribe on TV when I was a kid. I'm not surprised that some people don't find these women attractive; I was teased in school for my looks. Michele says:
I love me and my body and my Jewish nose. If that is inspiring and can give young girls a sense of confidence, that's great.
People also debate whether she's a diva, one of those insults, like "bitch," that apply only to women, unless they are being used to question a man's manhood. For example, check out Andrea Grimes's take down of the Snickers commercial in which guys turn into real divas, including Aretha Franklin and Liza Minnelli, when they don't get their chocolate fix.
Sorry, Snickers. If I had a choice between going on a road trip with these bickering dudes or going on a road trip with Liza and Aretha, I'm taking the diva road trip.
I'm posting this today, instead of my usual Friday, in case the video is taken off YouTube.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Don’t Draw Mohammed It’s Not Worth The Risk [Anthony McCarthy]

Dan Savage and I agree on some things, we don’t agree on others. Everybody Draw Mohammed Day is one of those we don’t agree on. While I would be against the government suppressing sacrilegious expression, such as the intentionally offensive and, we now know, deadly, Danish cartoon images mocking Mohammed, I’ve got no problem with Comedy Central choosing not to broadcast South Park when it contains similar content. Savage’s and other’s contention that their doing what media owners and producers and editors do, making decisions that reject content, is an abridgment of The First Amendment, is just simply and stunningly wrong.

The First Amendment doesn’t ban media from suppressing itself or those with which it contracts to produce its content, it applies ONLY TO SUPPRESSION OF SPEECH BY THE GOVERNMENT. If Comedy Central doesn’t have a contractual relationship with the makers of South Park that allows them to assert editorial control, they’ve got some pretty stupid lawyers. And any relief that the, uh, creators would have would be on the basis of contracts, not the constitution.

NB: I’ll, with great effort, resist the temptation to veer into necessity of the Fairness Doctrine at this point.

As I’ve said here before, though, I’m less interested in the protection of cartoons or the identity of religious entities than I am in the lives of living people. And what applies to religious issues applies to sacred assertions of secular ethics. That’s my bottom line. I don’t want anyone, Moslems or Danes or even clueless American graphic artists, killed over a stupid assertion of abstract, secular or sacred ethics. In the end, if they don’t serve to preserve life, they’re not ethical.

I’m not happy with the reactions in a number of Islamic societies to satirical images of Mohammed. I’m not happy that they have no sense of separation of church and state. Beyond question, I’m entirely unhappy with the position of women and gay people in those societies, issues which get insufficient attention from our iconoclasts. But I don’t have any more control over the behavior of the people who reacted badly to the offense than I do with the intended offensiveness of EDMD. I don’t live there and the people who do aren’t about to care what I say about it anymore than Dan Savage probably will. The elevation of the reaction to the reaction over the possible lives lost, is to compound the depravity. To elevate the issue of the stupid and ignorant satire, by “artists” - of second rank ability and next to no knowledge from what I saw* - above the lives that were lost in the reaction is far more morally depraved than the stupid cartoons were.

The people who claim to be doing this for the First Amendment are, clearly, quite ignorant of what the First Amendment actually says. So that isn’t really at issue. They also are not going to convince the people who react badly to what they’re doing by doing it more. I’ll grant that none of the ones I’ve read have been silly enough to make the claim that’s what they intended**. So they are doing it for some other reason. Stupid, irreverent iconoclasm of a kind that gets a lot of fleeting attention, perhaps. But putting that above the possibility of generating more riots that get more people killed is certainly a more important consideration than their tedious transgression. Other than that, it’s jr. high level taunting from the relative safety of locations removed from the likelihood of resultant violence.

While a written, intentionally inoffensive, critique of the immorality of putting the sacrosanct identity of a even an esteemed man, long since dead, over the lives of living human beings would have been little noticed, it would have had a chance to make a point about the issue. I doubt it would have caused the outraged and very likely violent reactions that the original cartoons and their republication did. If that idea turned out to be wrong, it would have to be reconsidered, if for no higher reason, than internal contradiction. Consider the issue of internal contradictions, because this issue is full of them.

It was, clearly, the images that were the problem to begin with. Graven images are particularly offensive to many Moslems. I doubt the Danish cartoonists had much of an idea of the reaction their drawings would produce. If I’m wrong and they did it with foreknowledge, they were stunningly irresponsible. By drawing more images, by risking further violence, by dishonestly using the First Amendment as an excuse, the pop iconoclasts are doing exactly the thing they’re pretending to criticize, they’re putting their preferences and alleged principles in a position over actual, real, lives. And they don’t have the excuse of ignorance of the likely consequences. Very possibly they’re knowingly risking the lives of people entirely uninvolved with the cartoons or the over-reaction to them. If they didn’t think of that before, well, now they can’t claim it hasn’t been brought up as a possibility.

So, I’ve just given you my First Amendment protected take on Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. I’m sure I’ve transgressed many an idol of leftish and libertarian culture in the process, though I hope I haven’t sparked a riot. Let me know if I have and I’ll reconsider.
* How entirely stupid does a piece of pop-culture have to get before people will just admit the person who produces it is an idiot with no talent? “Transgression” of this kind, continually relied on to produce the buzz it fleetingly gets, turns out to be a sign that they have no talent in large quantities.

** What they intend with a full knowledge of the recent violence that has resulted in deaths.

Looking around the web, the promotion of this seems to be quite short on thinking it through. As is the reaction to it. The always ironically named “Reason” magazine blog was particularly lacking in reasoned consideration. And the comments were the opposite of a celebration of reason and a display of juvenile venting. You’d think that “Reason” would at least try to grow up. You can look it up, I choose to not give links to any of them.

An Apocalypse In A Teacup

Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, tells us that this is what's happening in the Gulf. A very very modest blip. There's lots of ocean and not as much oil.

I guess you can get your shrimp in a ready-made salad dressing, too. The turtles? Do they vote? Do they consume oil products? Well, what's the fuss?

OK. I have no idea how big an apocalypse we are going to have but if you happen to live inside that teacup it's big enough, and what has taken place should teach us something about outsourcing and corporate regulation and the wisdom (or not) of letting the markets do whatever they happen to wish to. It should also teach every single adult about the concept of externalities, because those might very well kill us all one day.

Is it just my impression or has the British Petroleum managed to control the news fairly well? Are we already in that world of Sheri Tepper's science fiction where whole planets are owned by separate corporations and everyone on them works for one?

And if you watch the video of Hayward at the link, do take note of how he is dressed. I bet he's not dressed like that when there's no apocalypse.

Not Today, Dear. I Have A Headache.

I had a migraine, in fact, and that's the reason you have been waiting and waiting and waiting... For a post! Well, in my dreams.

But then I wanted to use that title for this explanatory post which is not needed. And that right away made my inner questioner point out that I always write about the lint in the flea's belly button when there are Important Matters to cover and why do I do that? Am I so intent on self-destruction? (It's a dramatic gal, that questioner.)

So you get my answer to the questioner. Which is first some rudeness telling her to do an impossible sexual act. Then I tell her that the headline of this post matters greatly because a) women must have an excuse for not wanting sex and it must be something like already existing pain, and b) I don't think that alibi can be used by men. So it goes directly into the heart of our gender roles. Before I walk out of that inner brain room (slamming the door, natch), I also tell her that what I find interesting IS the lint in the flea's belly button.

Just think about it: There must be billions of fleas with billions of belly buttons and they are all full of lint. So these are weighty matters. That fleas don't have belly buttons is neither here nor there. It's the values that matter, the inner knowledge that I was put down on this earth by a divine power who wants me to write about the lint.

And yes, this is an after-effect of a migraine with me. I feel drunk.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How One Becomes An Expert On Gender

One writes pot boilers! Something about men being from Mars, women from Venus and the writer from Uranus.

I was reading about a recent study on depression and new dads when I came across this:

It's quite shocking," says neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco and author of The Male Brain, who wasn't involved in the new study. "What doctors need to be alerted to is that they're treating a family unit."

Louann Brizendine's first book was about the female brain. You should read a few critiques of it, especially the ones I recommend here and here, before you find yourself impressed by that title "neuropsychiatrist."

My Boring Life And Mark Souder

Mark Souder is resigning because he had a mistress. From his resignation letter:


Do you think he knows that this counts as shouting? But resignations probably should be shouted out to the unfeeling universe and the uncaring gods.




That last quoted paragraph is great stuff. It reminds us of the great chasm between ideas and actions in the right-wing world. You can advocate eternal abstinence for most everyone and yet not have it yourself. When you trip, the ideas remain good but you have to be tarred and feathered.

So much I could write about this resignation letter and its cause! How the conservative view of infidelity is like a distorted and speckled mirror of the average feminist view and yet completely its opposite! How it's not the act of infidelity that should be of interest for political critics but how the participants are treated, how disposable they become, whether their pain is properly considered and so on. And how astonishing it really is that a politician will resign over an infidelity but not over getting thousands of people unnecessarily killed, say.

But instead of all those wonderful topics I'm going to write about my boring life. I don't have extramarital lovers! I don't get my marching letters from a god. I'm truly boring and uninteresting.

Well, Echidne herself of course has several trophy husbands. She keeps them on the mantelpiece when it's not their turn (we believe in equal love among this polyandrous relationship) and each of them gets exactly the same amount of polishing and dusting. There is a waiting list, by the way, and you need to have all your vaccinations up-to-date.

But even she didn't get the order to write this blog from some higher-up god. She made it up herself and the snakes didn't mind as they mostly don't read much.

How does one compete with humans who believe themselves to be doing god's work?

Today's Literary Analysis

This is from a new book about Glenn Beck and focuses on his crying shtick. The piece is called "The Crying Conservative: How Glenn Beck Taught His Feminine Side To Turn Tricks."

So clever! A snippet:

Beck likes to say that his tears are biologically determined, that he's "90 percent 'chick' in that category." It's a revealing statement, not just for himself but for his more macho peers as well. With his constant crying and effeminate hand gestures, "Glenda" Beck apotheosizes the gender blending that has always been at the heart of right-wing talk radio.

"On talk radio in the 1980s and 1990s, " writes Susan Douglas, a media historian at the University of Michigan, "masculinity was constructed as a fusion of traditionally 'male' and 'female' traits. Boys were supposed to be boys, meaning white, heterosexual boys, but they were also gender poachers, recuperating masculinity at the end of the century by infusing it with the need to chat, the need to confess insecurities, the need to be hysterical and overwrought about politics, the need to make the personal political."

But when it comes to public crying as vaudeville, Beck owes less to universal womanhood than to a very specific brotherhood. He's not stereotypically premenstrual as much as classically Mormon. Like so much else that baffles people about Beck, his approach to public tears has been shaped in the crucible of his adopted faith. It was the lachrymose Latter-Day Saints who turned an amateur crybaby pro.

Now analyze that!

It's really quite clever. We all agree on women being hysterical and overwrought about politics, especially when premenstrual. But then you add "stereotypically" and "traditional roles" and suddenly it's no longer so clear that Beck is being dissed with comparisons to those lachrymose ladies or even feminists. One eats the cake and saves it, too, and nobody's feelings get hurt. Get me a tissue, sniff!

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Nice Story

You have most likely already heard about the sixteen-year-old Australian girl who sailed around the world. But the video is fun to watch.

American Exceptionalism And The Texas School Board

The Texas School Board used to have lots of influence on the contents of American school texts simply because of the size of the Texas market. Whatever Texas wanted Americans in general got.

I'm not sure if that is equally true today. Perhaps new technologies allow the tailoring for texts for different states? But if not, then we should be concerned about what is taking place in Texas:

Cynthia Dunbar does not have a high regard for her local schools. She has called them unconstitutional, tyrannical and tools of perversion. The conservative Texas lawyer has even likened sending children to her state's schools to "throwing them in to the enemy's flames". Her hostility runs so deep that she educated her own offspring at home and at private Christian establishments.

Now Dunbar is on the brink of fulfilling a promise to change all that, or at least point Texas schools toward salvation. She is one of a clutch of Christian evangelists and social conservatives who have grasped control of the state's education board. This week they are expected to force through a new curriculum that is likely to shift what millions of American schoolchildren far beyond Texas learn about their history.

The board is to vote on a sweeping purge of alleged liberal bias in Texas school textbooks in favour of what Dunbar says really matters: a belief in America as a nation chosen by God as a beacon to the world, and free enterprise as the cornerstone of liberty and democracy.

"We are fighting for our children's education and our nation's future," Dunbar said. "In Texas we have certain statutory obligations to promote patriotism and to promote the free enterprise system. There seems to have been a move away from a patriotic ideology. There seems to be a denial that this was a nation founded under God. We had to go back and make some corrections."

Those corrections have prompted a blizzard of accusations of rewriting history and indoctrinating children by promoting rightwing views on religion, economics and guns while diminishing the science of evolution, the civil rights movement and the horrors of slavery.

Several changes include sidelining Thomas Jefferson, who favoured separation of church and state, while introducing a new focus on the "significant contributions" of pro-slavery Confederate leaders during the civil war.

Fascinating stuff. A list of some proposed changes can be found here (pdf). The amendments also require that students learn

about "the unintended consequences" of affirmative action and Title IX, the landmark federal law that bans gender discrimination in education programs and activities.

And what might those "unintended" consequences be?

On The New Miss USA

Embroidery by me.

The Miss USA competition is a beauty pageant, should you not know. The pageant consists of women being judged on the basis of their faces and bodies (a swim suit round is included to check out any possible cellulite). The judges determine the most attractive one. She then gets crowned as the Miss USA and also receives various monetary awards and deals.

This year's winner is Rima Fakih, an Arab-American. That made for some odd blog commentary:

Neocon Daniel Pipes sees Muslim women winning beauty pageants and deduces an affirmative action bias -- presumably because no Muslim woman could outshine Judeo-Christian women on the same stage.

I have no idea what Ms. Fakih's religion is and it's not really relevant, because I'm writing of those guy reactions:

Daniel Pipes manages to mash together his support of the objectification of women (yes! sometimes I have to sound feminazi) with his hatred of affirmative action and his fear of the Muslims to get--what? The idea that the judges in those pageants let Muslim women win for political reasons or multiculturalist appeasement or something like that.

And the liberal guys pick up that ball and fly with it! Nooooh! Muslim women really are dishier and prettier than Christian women, and here are the examples!

If you don't believe me, check out this comments thread to a related post.

Note how it all became something about ethnicity or religion and how the gender angle was completely and totally lost? Yet I'm quite sure that this was not on purpose. Women's issues are simply not as visible or as important as all those other issues.

To get those a bit more visible, I'm attaching a picture of the semi-final round of this year's pageant.

Yes, swim suits are always worn with high-heeled shoes.

After reading through this post I decided to add this obligatory statement: I have nothing against beauty pageants! I want to have them for men, too, and they must get the same viewership figures, the same publicity and so on. The swim suit round will have oiled men in tiny G-strings, wearing skiing boots. We can then discuss which of them have silicone something-or-other. And which of them want to work for world peace or cure cancer.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

No Comment

[Anthony McCarthy]


I was working in the yard yesterday and took a small break from turning over a garden bed. The animals must have thought I had finally left their yard because suddenly a chipmunk stuck out its little head from under the porch. The expression in its face when it saw me was exactly the same as in this:

By the way, I used to think chipmunks had no tails because the ones I saw around the yard only had tiny stubby ones.

Should Kagan Come Out? [Anthony McCathy]

But what if she’s straight?

The passing of Lena Horne this week brought a reminder of how heroic she was in the face of racism and pettier forms of discrimination and how heroism is heroic because it comes with costs. One of the clips I heard was an interview she did with Ed Bradley in which he asked her if she’d ever been tempted to pass as white. Lena Horne, being synonymous with integrity and courage and class, said, of course not. And so, this week, we mourned the passing of much more than a fine singer and performer.

Every form of oppression has its peculiarities, the ability to blend in with the majority population being one that is available to some members of minorities and not others. Sometimes passing is difficult, women passing as men in the 19th century*, for example, and other times it’s not necessary to try. I’d guess that the largest part of gay men I’ve known passed in varying degrees. Many of us, lesbians and gay men, can pass as straight without any effort at all.

That ability of many of us to pass can have personal advantages. When we are passing, we aren’t subject to a large part of the discrimination that someone who can’t pass is subject to. It lessens the likelihood that we will be the victims of hate-violence and discrimination in those contexts. There are people who pass their entire lives, some going so far as to marry and carry on a pantomime of straight life, sometimes at a great cost to all of those involved.

The ability for large numbers of gay men to pass also carries a cost in the struggle for civil rights. Without the exigencies of inescapable discrimination the body of gay men don’t seem to support the groups and institutions fighting on our behalf as strongly as other groups do. Or, that’s the way it’s always seemed to me.

In the small towns I’ve lived in there is an odd, generally unspoken, half-out kind of gay life. It’s sort of like how it is with Lindsey Graham. Gay people have known Graham to be gay for a long, long part of his political career. But, since he never talks about it and he’s a tool of the Republican establishment, he’s allowed to pass as non-gay in the party of gay-bashing and in a state that is far from famously accepting of gay folk. There is a long, semi-secret history of gay men who have made careers in the most putridly bigoted parts of conservatism and conventional morality*. A history which is seldom mentioned out of their voluntary service to the powers that thrive on stoking hatred of lesbians and gay men. Why anyone would think that a lesbian or gay man who is working against civil rights and for our enemies in the political and judicial systems should be allowed to continue in their hypocrisy, for some cockamamy observations of their personal rights, is a complete logical and moral disconnect. No one forced them to pose as public servants. Hypocritical traitors like that forfeited their rights to our mutual protection and silence through their hypocrisy and betrayal.

The out lesbians and gay men in public life are all over the place in terms of their admirability. Some like David Dreier are total scum, some like Barney Frank are mostly positive. That any lesbian or gay man would see a tool of the Republican Party in 2010, as being one for us and, so, their holding office as positive, is both stupendously naive and pathetically desperate.

I don’t know if Elena Kagan is a lesbian, I’m far more interested in her views on corporate personhood than I am in claiming her career and nomination as a win for our side. If she upholds that most putrid legal doctrine, I wouldn’t want to be associated with her. If she helps to kill it before it kills us, then she will go down as a heroine of democracy and the rights of real people. Lesbian or straight. But that all remains to be seen.

The reason for the interest in her sexuality, other than idle curiosity, is clearly as a means of damaging her chances at confirmation by pandering to the large number of organized and violent anti-gay bigots in the United States. And if not to deprive her of the nomination, then as a means to rally the forces and funds of hate. The Republican Party is the home of those bigots, just as the Souther Democrats used to be the home of Jim Crow racists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. If Kagan came out, the fund-raises for Republicans and their allies in the organized hate industry would come out the next day. There are probably some ready for the printer, if not in the mail already. If not on that issue, then on her ethnic identity, though that isn’t as acceptable a form of overt hatred, for now, at least not outside of hate talk radio and FOX TV.

Of course, Kagan won’t be asked what her sexual inclinations are in the Senate Judiciary hearings. I’d imagine that any attempt to do that might be ruled out of order. I wonder what the effect of a nominee coming out, with dignity, in a confirmation hearing of this magnitude would be, though it would be a mighty big gamble to take. If there’s one thing that’s obvious about Kagan, it’s that she’s extremely cautious about showing her hand.

Should she be criticized for not standing up and paying the price that Lena Horne did? Well, for all we know she’d have to come clean as being straight. Her record of support for lesbian and gay rights is pretty solid, which is all that we have a right to know in her job interview. Would it be good if she did come out as a lesbian? Probably, though I’d hate for the first out lesbian justice to uphold corporate personhood even more than one in the closet. If she helps kill it, yes, I think a lesbian or gay man helping to do that would make me feel even better about it. But that’s just my personal take on it.

* See: “Writhing Bedfellows” in Antebellum South Carolina by Martin Bauml Duberman, an investigation of obviously homoerotic letters of James H. Hammond and Thomas J. Withers. It’s viewable through google books and is also in print in Hidden from History Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. The book also contains articles about cases of women passing as men and many other fascinating and relevant issues.