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Week Resadieu

Ludic Despair makes me want to watch the really bad police procedurals:

“Dragnet is a classic, waiting there for each subsequent generation to marvel at just how freaked out “the Man” was about the encroachment of various forms of social, cultural, and racial difference in the late 1960s.  Less known and certainly less appreciated is Webb’s spin-off series, Adam-12, which ran a rather surprising seven seasons on NBC between 1968 and 1975…While not quite so explicitly conservative in its politics, Adam-12 still has a whiff of the right-wing paranoia so beloved in Dragnet. Whereas the single-case structure of Dragnet allowed Webb to consider how horrifying some new subcultural threat was for 22 full minutes of sustained dismissal, Adam-12 had to be more succinct in its random encounters with symbolically dysfunctional citizens.  Still, few episodes went  by without Reed and Malloy busting some malcontent on the town square set at Universal studios–a reluctant demonstration of just how patient a democratic society must be with its various “underclasses” and “deviants.”“

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Gender and the surprise pregnancy: (via)

“Forty-three percent of young men responded that they would be “a little pleased” or “very pleased” by the news; only 20 percent of women answered the same. Men also proved more comfortable with an unplanned pregnancy at an earlier age: Thirty-four percent of men 18-19 said they would be pleased. By the time they reach age 20-24, 42 percent of men said they would be pleased. And over 50 percent of men aged 25-29 would be pleased by the news.”

(and in other shocking news, apparently women “find caring for their children less pleasurable than napping or jogging and only slightly more satisfying than doing the dishes.” I don’t understand; next, you’ll be saying that men enjoy other things besides sports, brews, and binge-drinking while watching sports on TV.)

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Respectfully yours, Clint Eastwood; 24 year old actor writes Billy Wilder about playing Charles Lindberg in 1954. Where to start with that.

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In asking “Should Everybody Write?” Dennis Baron doesn’t quite say that the problem with the internet is that it gives ideas to people who should be seen and not heard, but he certainly doesn’t dispel the notion:

“…some critics find the glut of internet prose obnoxious, scary, even dangerous. They see too many people, with too little talent, writing about too many things. Throughout the 5,000 year history of writing, the privilege of authorship was limited to the few: the best, the brightest, the luckiest, those with the right connections. But now, thanks to the computer and the internet, anyone can be a writer: all you need is a laptop, a Wi-Fi card, and a place to sit at Starbucks. The internet allows writers to bypass the usual quality-controls set by reviewers, editors and publishers. Today’s authors don’t even need a diploma from the Famous Writers School. And they don’t need to wait for motivation. Instead of staring helplessly at a blank piece of paper the way writers used to, all they need is a keyboard and right away, they’ve got something to say. You may not like all that writing, but somebody does. Because the other thing the internet gives writers is readers, whether it’s a nanoaudience of friends and family or a virally large set of FBFs, Tweeters, and subscribers to the blog feed. Apparently there are people online willing to read anything.”

Yawn. The five-thousand year history of writing, huh? The problem is that his entire thesis rests on the assumption — weirdly ventriloquized by “some critics” — that communicated speech can only exist if it meets a particular standard of quality. Whereas most of the words we write and speak in life are social in purpose; to draw a line between “writing” and “use of narrative” which the internet’s appearance of publication suddenly calls into question is to make yourself both uninteresting as a writer and, to be frank, not someone I particularly want to have a conversation with.

I posted the article on Google-buzz and had the following exchange with Wayne of Wayne and Wax:

Me — I actually shared this because I disagree with it and want to post about it, by the way; the idea that writing only deserves to exist if it’s good enough is not only bizarrely elitist, but misunderstands how and why people write. People write on the internet not to produce something “good” but to communicate, with real people that write back. Thus, the value of an interesting failure is different on the internet than in a world of expensive paper and printing times.
Wayne– not only does this overlook the communicative nature of a lot of Internet writing, it fails to understand, as clay shirky repeatedly points out, that we’re in a “publish, then filter” moment (as opposed to the reverse, aka the status quo being unsettled)
Me – It also helped me figure out what bugs me about so many academic (non)blogs: when academics try to simply do the same forms of writing that they would do for journals and stuff — only online! — they so often miss the point because it isn’t the same form of writing.

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Women get to write good books too:

At “the NBCC Awards — “the SAG Awards of the literary world,” as I heard them called, as opposed to the more glamorous (but somehow less meaningful?) National Book Awards, which I suppose in this comparison amounts to the Oscars) — women won in four of the six categories. And Eula Biss’s win in Criticism, for her book, “Notes from No Man’s Land,” was significant in that she was the only female nominee. (There was some talk that the voting and nominating this year was a response to that “all male” brouhaha at Publishers Weekly when they announced their “Best Of” list back in Nov. 2009.)”

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Re-watched Quantum of Solace — which I first blogged about here — and I was struck this time how interested it is in the death drive of luxury. Bond’s insistence that he can’t stay with the random English secret service agent in a crummy hostel — “I’d rather sleep in a morgue” — leads to them staying in a super high class hotel, sleeping together, and eventually her death; as M points out, “they” can’t resist his charm and inevitably die, and his attraction is the same “Bond-ness” that could never stay in a mere backpacker’s hotel. And so she has to sleep with him and die because of a genre convention, the same genre convention that always finds ways to put him in a tuxedo, a hyper-luxury hotel, and a doomed first Bond girl (before the real one). The fact that the movie is also, sort of, about global warming seems appropriate; it wants to pretend to be about water but they keep talking about oil and climate change in the weirdest ways: our drive for luxury condemns us to destroy ourselves. The final shoot out in a luxury hotel in the desert is sort of inescapably overdetermined in that sense, and we’ve even been primed by those weird walking-in-the-desert-in-evening-dress shots.

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A woman is a person except maybe when she has a person inside her:

“The manner in which the panel has cast the problem of obstetric ethics as a maternal-fetal conflict, as opposed to a woman-doctor conflict could lead one to the conclusion that a physician’s ethical obligation to “first do no harm” applies to fetuses, but not to women — an untenable position for a profession devoted to caring for women, and a dangerous position for public health.”

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Slacktivist always brings the smart:

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” the eighth commandment (in some numberings, ninth) reads. When I was growing up in Sunday school our teachers usually paraphrased the archaic King James Version English of that commandment as “don’t lie.” Teaching children not to lie is a good Sunday school lesson, but note that this isn’t actually what the commandment says. It’s much more specific, prohibiting a particular kind of lying — “false witness.” A better children’s paraphrase might be “don’t accuse anyone of something they didn’t do” or “don’t make up bad things about other people.”

The distinction and the specificity matters. I do not think it is difficult to envision, imagine or identify a context in which it is acceptable — justified, moral, right, wise, obligatory — to lie to evildoers. But it is far more difficult to construct or identify a situation in which it is acceptable to lie about evildoers. Lying about others — bearing false witness against them — is dangerously corrosive. It sets the liar on a downward path that leads not just to moral confusion, but to epistemological insanity. Bearing false witness will ultimately make you crazy. What may start out as a well-intentioned choice to “fight dirty” for a righteous cause gradually forces the bearers of false witness to behave as though their false testimony were true.

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Flagg Miller’s paper on Bin Laden’s tape collection is fascinating in all sorts of ways:

“In December of 2001, after Taliban forces fled from Qandahar, Afghanistan, under pressure from U.S.-led operational forces, Cable News Networks acquired the collection from Bin La¯din’s personal compound, where he had lived since 1997. Containing 1459 cassettes, the collection features recordings of over 200 leading Islamists from around the world, and includes many of the most influential militants at the time. Over the last several years, I have been archiving the contents of the collection, the vast majority (98%) of which is in Arabic, and features a wide variety of material including sermons, political speeches, lectures, informal conversations, poetry recitations, sung anthems, and creative radio dramas. My goals in this essay, then, reflect my efforts to explain how the collection is a site of tremendous polyvalence, dissonance, and debate, and not simply the monolithic ‘‘memory bank” of a single, unified organization.

“To date, my survey of the cassettes in Yale’s archive show no indication that the term al-qa¯cida was used before 2001 to denote a specific group or organization. As many have learned, the term means ‘‘the base” in Arabic; and yet, the qa¯ cida is a base for many forms of spatial, temporal, social, and ethical orientation. With regard to the cassette collection, I propose that we approach the qa¯cida as a pragmatic precept or rule whose application varies according to usage.”

Rape in a Relatively New Democracy

South Africa’s rape statistics are off the chart. Statistics in sub-Saharan Africa are almost always misleading and quite often outright fabrications, but when one in three women in Johannesburg report having been raped in the last year, well, that’s pretty fucked up no matter what the numbers are. Which is why it’s so interesting that the South African Equality Court declared the following words, by ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, to be criminal hate speech:

“When a woman didn’t enjoy it [sex], she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast, and ask for taxi money.”

Malema was arguing that the woman who accused Jacob Zuma of raping her must have enjoyed it (and therefore she wasn’t raped). The court disagreed, and he was ordered to write an apology and pay R50,000 (~$7,000) to “an organization serving survivors of gender based violence.” Feministing calls it a major victory against rape apologist hate speech.

Matt Yglesias, on the other hand, missed the point in a way that’s worth flagging:

“The “statement” that what Malema said is unacceptable is a good one, but the practical consequences of criminalizing political speech are very real and not likely to be beneficial in the long run. The boundaries of what kind of discourse about race and gender is or isn’t acceptable is being constantly contested in civil society and I think it’s naive to believe that the state is going to consistently police those boundaries in a consistently beneficial way. It’s very easy to imagine expansive powers to restrict speech being turned against marginal groups, radicals, or anyone who’s politically inconvenient. Especially in a relatively new democracy like South Africa it’s important to stick to liberal principles.”

A consistent liberal tick is to be much more threatened by the possible consequences of state actions than by state inactions, and Yglesias begs rather than argues this point. Of course there are going to be overreaches of such laws if they are put into place; of course abuses are possible. But when the current system is as broken as it is, maybe that risk is worth taking. Maybe it isn’t, too, but the thing is this: to argue in good faith, you have to actually compare the positives and negatives of a robust hate-speech legislation against the positives and negatives of a weak one. He hasn’t done that; he sees all the downsides of such action, but the downsides of inaction apparently escape his notice. Luckily, he’s not a South African woman.

Yglesias drops a lot of clunkers, but I read him because he says smart stuff too. But what’s particularly ironic about this is that Yglesias has been one of the most vocal bloggers pointing out this exact phenomenon when it comes to conservative anti-anti-racism, the fact that so many republican politicians are viscerally opposed to any kind of anti-racist action but don’t seem to notice the pernicious consequences of inaction. But it’s exactly the same thing: he doesn’t mind the idea of being against rape, but when people actually do something about it, we’re suddenly on a slippery slope to perdition. He’s happy to take credit for being against rape in principle. But when the time comes to actually do something, well, then you can count Matt Yglesias out.

I particularly winced when he got all scoldy and patronizing about South Africa and their “relatively new democracy.” Really? You’re going to take that arrogant tone to a country that peacefully and democratically dismantled Apar–fucking–theid? You’re going to pretend that a country that took real and substantive steps to establish and record the crimes committed by its own government has something to learn from us? In case you haven’t noticed, our relatively old democracy operates under the liberal principles that when we do it, it’s legal. When we have a truth and reconciliation committee, and when we consider subjecting ourselves to democratic oversight, then you can start to think about whether you’ve earned a quarter of that smugness. Until then, shut the fuck up about it, and let people who fought for their democracy make their own decisions about how to keep it.

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