Monday, July 29, 2013

Ta Nehisi Coates on Being Self Aware in Paris.

This is such a good essay that I don't really know how to start with it.  The French say "One must draw back to better jump" and TNC has drawn back, all the way to Paris, to better grasp what it is to be human, to take up the burden of being self aware in multiple dimensions, to be fundamentally shaped by a life as a black man in America, and also a citizen of the world, a man inhabiting and owning the entire history of human endeavour and consciousness because of his love for history and the written word.  He can't escape race and racism, because of course that is a constituent part of European life as well as our own. On the other hand lots of situations strike him as strange, lots of interactions are weird or make him feel conspicuous, are they because he is black? or because he is American? Because he said the wrong word entering a restaurant because he is not yet fluent in French? Or because his French accent marks him as American and not African? The entire essay is really worth reading.

Delegate Paul Robeson Speaking at the Communist-Inspired Paris Peace Congress Premium Photographic Print

Paul Robeson in Paris.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

One Weird Trick Will Restore Your White Majority

Its a truism on the left that the conservative online presence, heir to the conservative direct mail business, is nothing but a grifter's grift, a Nigerian scam run out of the whitest of white precincts somewhere in the bowels of neo-confederatscamstan.  And if the emergency emails I get from Bill Buckley's Whited Sepulchre, The National Review Online, are any indication this remains true.  Here, in its entirety, is the missive I just got from them:

Dear National Review Reader,
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Dear Reader,
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And the rumors around D.C. suggest certain politicians want to drastically decrease your payments, and soon!
So when we stumbled upon this weird trick that can add $1,000 to monthly Social Security checks, we knew we had to share it with you.
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Sunday, July 21, 2013

In re the Glamorization of Evil

Since I wrote this up over at First Draft I thought I'd throw my two cents in on my own blog:

There's been a lot of online discussion of the faux controversy about the Rolling Stone magazine cover of the Boston Bomber.  Athenae, over at First Draft, takes an interesting journalistic view of it which is that if it is unsettling, that's a good thing.  After all, journalists are here to show you the world as it is, even if that is discomfiting.  True enough--but is the photo discomfiting? If so, for whom? Under what circumstances?  I am doubtful that it is.   Here are my thoughts on the subject.

I have mixed feelings about the photo and the controversy. I think the controversy, like all right wing hissyfits, is absurd and ginned up. That being said I don't think the photo as displayed on the cover is at all an invitation to a discussion or "meant to make us feel uncomfortable" or consider anything--from terrorism to public high schools--in a new light. Its soporific and sexy, anodyne and unsurprising. A basically glamor magazine with the odd bit of reportage chose to put on the cover a sexy picture--like they always do--because sex sells and putting something ugly on the cover doesn't sell. They specifically avoided juxtaposing pictures of carnage with Tsarnaev because cluttered and visually ugly or complex pictures are not in their stylebook and might turn some readers away. To me its like putting a rape victim on the cover *only if she's beautiful.* That's not an invitation to "discuss" something that makes us uncomfortable. That is merely acceding to the US public's demand that everything be fed to us, *even or especially difficult political or social issues* in a sexy, easy to digest way. To me the photo and the text bracket the event in a completely uninteresting and unthoughtful way. Like putting a tray of marshmellows down in front of a children's "scary" ride to induce the children to climb on and knowing full well that the ride itself, though slightly uncomfortable, will return the children to the same place they started from.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Welp, Proust and Genji Just Weren't Doing It For Me

Socrates committed suicide rather than go into Exile from Athens, and although I don't take it that far I can't seem to quit politics, no matter how dark it always seems here in the land of the eternal neo-confederate revival we call the US.  But its possible to put it all into perspective, just like reading the life of Mary Stuart puts the various minor "constitutional crises" of Victoria's reign into perspective. When your heroine has had to ride for her life through a black Scottish night, surrounded by assassins you have to laugh a bit when Victoria's government almost falls because some lady-in-waiting got pregnant out of wedlock.

So I've put aside my Proust and my Genji for a while, and even my Writing with Scissors, Idols of Perversity, and Objects of Desire and I've returned to Ancient Rome. In other words I'm plowing my way through Colleen McCullough's brilliant, multi-volume, recreation of the period from Marius through to Caesar and Anthony. And it certainly puts the chaos and maneuvering of American factionalism into proper perspective.  Its true that she writes a kind of "great man" history--in fact the series is called "Masters of Rome." But her real forte is in describing the struggle between great men and their goals within a complicated system of voting, fighting, taxing, and conquering in which family money and honor is used to buy political power, and political power is used to buy family honor and money in turn.  Our size, our short history as a people, and our ideology militates against any such great man and great family style history of this country (setting aside a few jumped up "new men" like the Koch brothers and the other wealthy oligarchs who usually use others to do their political bidding).  But the basic divide she describes between populists and oligarchs, between the Romans of Rome and the foreign and subordinate Italians and potential new citizens is stunningly like arguments we are seeing between Republicans and Democrats about increasing the suffrage--whether by permitting the induction of the former slaves, of women, or of the undocumented Hispanic population.

Its just far enough away that I can admire, in turn, the strategies used by each of these far distant politicians and dictators without needing to grab the phone to, say, begin shouting at Harry Reid's office to get him to finally destroy the filibuster--which, indeed, the Democrats finally did.  If they'd read more Roman history they would have done so at the outset of the first Obama administration, and dared the Republicans to revolt.  Hell, if they'd read more Roman history they'd have crushed Mitch McConnell with roof tiles.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Adorable New Take On Welfare Queens

Utah State Senator wobbles between bitter accusations aimed at slacker parents, and incoherent calls for freedom and choice,  as he tries to find a compelling reason why Utah should no longer have compulsory, free, public education. (via TPM)

GOP Lawmaker In Utah Wants To End
Compulsory Education In The StateA Republican lawmaker in Utah outlined a proposal last week to abolish compulsory education in the state.
State Sen. Aaron Osmond (R) argued that certain "parents act as if the responsibility to educate, and even care for their child, is primarily the responsibility of the public school system."
"As a result, our teachers and schools have been forced to become surrogate parents, expected to do everything from behavioral counseling, to providing adequate nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and career readiness," he wrote in a post on the state senate's blog.
Osmond told the Deseret News that he wants the public to view education as an opportunity rather than a requirement.
"Let’s let them choose it, let’s not force them to do it," Osmond said. 

Which is it, Osmond? Are the parents unreliable and incompetent or are they the best judges of what is a good grounding in sex, behavior, nutrition, and education? It can't be both.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Like a Bad Penny: Mary Ann Glendon Returns

Who is Mary Ann Glendon?  Apparently the Vatican has appointed her to the committee to discover just how bad Vatican corruption is.  Wonder how she will do? At any rate--does this refresh your memory?

I am writing to take issue with today's op ed piece by Mary Ann Glendon and Mary Haynes (Putting Fertility First" NYT Wednesday, October 20th, 1999).  Although Glendon is identified as "a law professor at Harvard University" she is both more and less than that.  She is a well known anti-abortion advocate and has served the Catholic church as a "point woman" on this and related topics for many years.  Her handling of "facts" relating to women, fertility, birth control is, and always has been, entirely structured by her ideological presuppositions (viz. her book Abortion in Western Law)  In this case, she and her coauthor argue, in a round about way, that population control is so undesirable from the point of view of individual families that it can only be achieved through a massively coercive, top down, approach.  If you don't know who Glendon is, you might wonder where she is going with this argument, as the piece is written in a very detached and pseudo objective style.  If you do know who Glendon is it becomes clear that when she says that "purely voluntary programs will do little to reduce fertility" she is arguing that if you don't want to see some kind of fertility police forcing contraception on an unwilling world  there is nothing left but to follow the Catholic Church's teachings on this matter, ignore population as a problem, and stop promoting contraceptive use.  Of course, the data and the conclusions drawn from it  are wholly flawed.  For example, they present information on the number of people who "know where to obtain contraceptives" and assume that that matches the number of people who can obtain them (are not prevented by finances, family pressure, church pressure).  If people "know where to obtain contraceptives" but don't, they say, there is no point continuing to offer them since people must not want them.  In fact, they say darkly "helping parents achieve their desired family size would result in higher birth rates."
    There is so much that is wrong in this short piece that it is hard to know where to begin.  First, Glendon and Haynes move rapidly and vaguely among categories: sometimes the data they quote pertain to families, sometimes to individual women.  If we have learned anything by this time it is that the interests of men, women, and families are quite distinct.  For one thing, it is not necessary when speaking of contraception to speak solely of "the married couple" or "parents."  The "family" model that the article rests on, in which families are assumed to have a single, definable goal number of children, does not reflect the real world conditions under which contraceptive decisions are made.  The father of children in a polygynous society does not have the same interest in the number of offspring of any one marriage that any one of his individual wives has and quite possibly no interest at all in contraception.  That is not necessarily true of his wife, and it is almost certainly not true of his children.  Even if we speak only of families as units and of all people as "parents to be" it is only trivially true that, in some sense, "fertility levels in developing countries rest...on the number of children desired by parents."   The number of children parents desire at any one time is not a constant, and it does not need to remain high.  Years of research on places like Kerala have made it plain that educating women, providing off farm employment to them, and subsidizing education and health care for their children rapidly reduces fertility rates.  Contraception, under this model, is not the end but a means to an end: delayed fertility, spacing of births, better maternal and child health.  To say that "for better of worse, the status of women in many societies still rests on their success in childbearing" is a cop out of the worst kind: it is ahistorical, it is weak and it is incorrect.  The status of women in all societies rests on a wide variety of cultural practices, all of which are malleable.  If the Catholic church spent as much money on women's education as it spends seeding puff pieces like Glendon's we would see how quickly and voluntarily women themselves would be able to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies from which they currently suffer.

Sorry for the Summer Hiatus

Aaand...we're back.  I took a three week break but I'm back in fighting fettle and will be cross-posting at SteveM's site over the July 4th Weekend.  Look for me there--though Proust and Genji will remain firmly here.