Worth Reading

by zunguzungu

“A man is worked on by what he works on…He may carve out his circumstance, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.” –Frederick Douglass (via)

Carla Fran on working as a doula:

…what goes on in labor rooms is one of the most potent places for activism in this country…Until my work as a doula,  I assumed that sexism was actually a bit of a ghost.  I was fucking wrong.  Why does pregnancy matter? Every time I see a doctor talk down to a woman, to complain about his or her weekend schedule and insist on a Cesarean, to threaten a woman through fear to deliver quickly, to tell her that she has no idea about what she is talking about, to take her husband aside and tell him what will be easier, to disregard her history of abuse and aggressively examine her, to rant about missed phone calls and fussy patients next door while she is trying to focus and calm herself, to pull the trump card of a healthy baby as if that is something she didn’t want, to mention insurance during labor, to describe her genitals in a way that frightens her, to use fear as a trick of the trade, I understand that things are not okay, and that there is an immense amount of work to be done.

Mark Lance on just fucking sitting there:

In Fall 1977 I went to music school at OSU to study trumpet, and quickly met loads of out gay guys and equally quickly decided that this was not a moral issue. I did not, in that first semester, realize that my closest friend – a trombone player – was gay. (Brass culture, at the time, fancied itself more macho than other musical subcultures, and it was less easy to be out.) One day a bunch of brass players are sitting around telling homophobic jokes. I’m uncomfortable and don’t join in. Suddenly, my friend stands up, says “Don’t you assholes know I’m gay?” and storms out. Shortly, I go to find him and to offer sympathies about the other assholes. He is distant and cold. After a bit I finally get put off and say “What the hell? Why are you mad at me? I wasn’t joining in.” And he replied: “Next time, don’t just fucking sit there.”

Indeed. And that’s the overwhelming lesson of the WILTBAWIP blog, it seems to me. Academics are just fucking sitting there, blowing things off, not wanting to make a scene, valuing shallow collegiality over creating a safe and equitable environment for female students and colleagues.

Mike Barthel on narrativize pop stardom:

…the three most important pop stars right now – Kanye, Gaga, and Taylor (and man, who would’ve thought that four years ago?) – are building their major songs around these comments on aspects of their lives we already know about; they’re not telling us stories so much as “their side of the story.”  It’s the most explicit acknowledgment of the way pop music has ceased to be a realm of its own and has now been enveloped into the larger star system.  A musical release no longer represents the major event in a pop star’s career, but is just one moment in an ongoing narrative that can easily be eclipsed by a promotional event (like a video) or a public indiscretion.  This is, for better or for worse, a smart move in an era where pop music is dwindling.  Making your music a form of celebrity biography makes it self-sustaining.  As long as there is still interest in your life, there’s still a reason for another album, still a reason for another tour.

Johann Hari — who I really do like as a writer most of the time — on overpopulation:

The places where population is growing fastest – sub-Saharan Africa, rural China, and Bangladesh – have virtually no carbon emissions, and pitiful food consumption rates. The gap is so huge that to be responsible for as many gas emissions as one British person, a Cambodian woman would need to have 262 children. Can we really sit in our nice homes, with a fridge-full of food we will mostly chuck away and an SUV in the drive, and complain that she is the problem?

And yet, and yet…. why do my own arguments leave me echoing with doubt? A dark voice in my head says: you would accept that, to pluck an absurd number, 100 billion people would be too many. [And] if this is a problem, is there a solution that isn’t abhorrent?…

There is a far better way – and it is something we should be pursuing anyway. It is called feminism. Where women have control over their own bodies – through contraception, abortion and general independence – they choose not to be perpetually pregnant. The UN Fund For Population Activities has calculated that 350 million women in the poorest countries to have didn’t want their last child, but didn’t have the means to prevent it.

Pankaj Mishra at Outlook India:

…the main themes of the narrative—democratic India as ally, authoritarian China as rival—have been fixed, and have grown familiar to the Western readership. The reporter cannot depart too much from the script.

According to it, China, which has many internal problems but none of such severity as the Maoist uprising, remains the politically ‘unstable’ country while India seems to be cruising smoothly to its tryst with destiny. So while Han Chinese paramilitaries murdering or maiming scores of teenaged Uighur or Tibetan demonstrators would provoke days of thick black headlines, followed by an orgy of international condemnation, India’s brutality in Kashmir and the Northeast—arguably greater than China’s in Tibet and Xinjiang—generates hardly any consistent reporting, leave aside outraged editorials or statements of concern from international ‘statesmen’.

Millicent is tired of hearing “NO WOMEN WERE INVOLVED IN THE FOUNDING OF FACEBOOOK. GET OVER IT” and wants to find more interesting questions:

The next relevant question is, well, why the hell not? In one sense, that’s easy to answer: because they didn’t. Mark did the programming. Women didn’t. Q.E.D. But I’d suggest that the more interesting answer—in a moment when truth and storytelling perhaps converge—lies in that scene, when the women offer their help and are politely refused…Their offer of help contains as much innate “value” as Eduardo’s (they might even have rich parents too). Yet Eduardo is asked to be part of the company, and they are not. That the film’s propulsive engine obliterates the very possibility of their inclusion is, in a strange way, what I find most interesting about it. Once the creators decided to make a smart woman the catalyst for Facebook’s creation, there was no room for a Facebook creation-story, however counterfactual, that would have women as members.

I’m not actually proposing that The Social Network should have been an updated version of Woolf’s Shakespeare’s sister, complete with imaginary female cofounder. What I’m suggesting is that the movie could have resisted Photoshopping in Shakespeare’s crazy sexpots and Erica Albright (a.k.a. The Plot Device That Sparked A “Revolution”). Facebook’s history, if we can call it that with any seriousness, was substantially distorted so as to reflect a misogynist non-reality. That’s a peculiar intervention, and it deserves scrutiny.

A great many of us talk about education using Paulo Freire’sconcepts without knowing it.

On the time-waste of applying to stuff:

I estimate that each dissertation proposal that I submitted for fieldwork in Slovakia took me 50 to 150 hours. By the time I received an award, I had prepared 12 different proposals. I doubt my experience is unique. If, instead of applying for a grant, an applicant took a low-wage job typically available to graduate students, he or she might earn $10,000 in the same amount of time—not much less than the average level of most grants for fieldwork and writing a dissertation—without the hours of agony, the further anxiety of waiting, the likely dismay of rejection, and finally—if one is lucky enough to receive any explanation—the humiliation of reading anonymous panelists’ usually unfriendly “comments.”

The internet is not destroying your attention span!

I’m a bit fed up of articles in which journalists complain the internet is destroying their attention span. Many such pieces have appeared as reviews of the book The Shallows, which argues that spending hours online rewires your brain, bringing your most immediate and superficial thought processes to a fizzing, bubbling boiling point that eclipses the more meditative parts of your bonce.

…when it comes to we journalists quoting The Shallows, well … people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I have written for all kinds of publications and in all kinds of sections of newspapers; while I love journalism, there is no doubt that you often have to filter ideas through a grid imposed by editors according to their definitions of what readers want. I still have an editor on this blog, but I have more freedom, and can address readers directly – which also involves you replying, often directly. I am not really sure how that is less intellectual, more superficial and shallow, than, say, being asked – as an art critic – to interview a famous flower arranger for a colour supplement, which happened to me once at another newspaper.

When it comes to attention spans, to the giddying, exhausting misery that can come over you when you find you have spent three hours “researching” nothing in particular on Google … well, the answer there is probably: try not to spend three hours wasting time on Google. There is personal responsibility here, surely.

Gin and Tacos writes a job letter.