Awesome stuff from Angela Nagle:
As well as lacking a familiar sense of humour or frame of cultural reference, Femen have no sense of political correctness. In the West we are so steeped in this cultural trope that to be politically incorrect usually involves some knowing subversion. But Femen’s actions are too earnest to be a knowing subversion of anything. Their insensitivity to other religious groups and nationalities has left guilt-ridden liberal and left-wing feminists in the West aghast. Once, for example, they protested outside a mosque in Paris and burned a Salafist flag while wearing joke-shop beards and sporting the words “Topless Jihad” across their naked chests.
(...) Unsurprisingly though, Femen’s embrace of conventional beauty standards and of a look that would read to the Western eye as trashy, have not impressed everyone and they have been slated for an image that seems white, heterosexual, thin and conventionally beautiful.
(...)the suffering of Ukrainian women and the oppressive environment Femen emerged from is of no concern to the Americanised cultural politics of their detractors, who understand all political, social and economic issues only in terms of “white” on the one hand and “people of colour” on the other, masking, in apparently radical language, an utter ignorance of the world. Their apparent cultural relativism is highly selective: it will extend its understanding to some of the most brutal forms of misogyny in the world today, but will not extend it to Ukraine.
From Ayaan Hirsi Ali :
I am often told that the average Muslim wholeheartedly rejects the use of violence and terror, does not share the radicals' belief that a degenerate and corrupt Western culture needs to be replaced with an Islamic one, and abhors the denigration of women's most basic rights. Well, it is time for those peace-loving Muslims to do more, much more, to resist those in their midst who engage in this type of proselytizing before they proceed to the phase of holy war.
It is also time for Western liberals to wake up. If they choose to regard Boko Haram as an aberration, they do so at their peril. The kidnapping of these schoolgirls is not an isolated tragedy; their fate reflects a new wave of jihadism that extends far beyond Nigeria and poses a mortal threat to the rights of women and girls. If my pointing this out offends some people more than the odious acts of Boko Haram, then so be it.
I find Ali's predictability scary for it shows that she has stopped growing and thinking. Oh well, she is adapting very well to the American Western modern contemporary intellectual terrain.
Great stuff from Mary Beard:
Apologies are always difficult. There's always a fine path between the Scylla and Charybdis of saying too little and saying too much (do we really need to know...?. Then there's the question of whether you seem sincere or just mouthing it. There's hundreds of times we've heard people say "I am very sorry if I upset you over this" (carefully not, "I am very sorry to have done this"): good enough or not?
In a way, too much scrutiny of the words is perhaps beside the point. Apologies are rituals, they are a very simple case of "doing things with words". The only thing that actually counts is the audible expression of "I'm sorry" (like "I do" at a wedding). Or are we expecting people to SHOW contrition? And how do we recognise it, in any case. Some people can seem dead truculent and controlled but actually be eaten up inside -- and vice versa.(...)
I particularly dislike the governmental kind which fulsomely apologise for some dreadful wrong of the past (like slavery or our treatment of the Maori -- or, in the case of the Pope, the death of Galileo). It's not that those things are not terrible wrongs, but a government apology seems too easy a way out. It has all the appearance of a "that's OK then" line being drawn under the issue, and a pretty low cost one too. (Rather like "First Capital Connect apologises for the late running of this train and any inconvenience caused".)
I agree with Jessa Crispin on this:
If you read enough about materialism, you start to wonder if you accidentally picked up an intelligent design book. The language is weirdly similar: we are all machines, we have no free will. It's just that in materialism, there is a scientific explanation for why this is so, rather than a religious one.
The materialist worldview has been pushed forward by the so-called "New Atheists" (somehow so much worse than the old ones!) like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. (Dawkins himself has for some reason decided to push a racist, sexist agenda as well, as if deciding the best way to defeat the biggest dicks of Christianity is to become the biggest dick of Science.)
From Tom Ricks:
I am no longer going soft on Greenwald and Putin [He meant to write Snowden I think, but what do I know!]. In fact, rather the opposite, I am beginning to believe the worst about them. If they acting on moral beliefs, now would be the time for both of them to speak out against Putin. It could have a great impact, I think.
Oh my gawd, I'm sure that nobody saw that coming!
Democracy came about, in part, because the rising middle classes and industrial working classes demanded political recognition for their increased economic power. But if economic power has gone back to the rich, we may be sliding back into plutocracy, where government is controlled by the rich (...)
American hypocrisy has not become more problematic because other governments are sincerely outraged by Washington’s behavior (although some foreign officials are genuinely shocked and unhappy). Rather, the real trouble is that the hypocrisies of the United States and those of other countries no longer reinforce each other. (...) countries that used to prefer to turn a blind eye to objectionable American behavior can now no longer ignore it. (...)
American hypocrisy has long remained unchallenged and deeply intertwined with U.S. foreign policy. (...) One result is a good deal of inconsistency in the ways that U.S. officials have responded to the Manning and Snowden scandals, seeming to vacillate between denying that the leaks pose a major problem and harshly overreacting against those who have exposed the emperor’s nudity. Sooner or later, however, if the United States wants to remain able to convince others through the force of its legitimacy rather than just through threats or bribery, Washington must acknowledge the past importance of hypocrisy as well as its new limits.
Yes ! :
My heritage includes Woody Allen films, but it also, sadly, includes rape culture. And though I hope Allen’s comedic legacy will be part of my kids’ lives, I badly want them to live in a world where abuse victims are supported by society and their abusers no longer protected.
To end rape culture, we must vigorously question our own allegiance to powerful, talented men at the exclusion of the people they allegedly hurt. We self-styled cultural sophisticates may be ace at sifting the artist out from the creation. But that’s not enough. If we aren’t going to be hypocrites, we have to hush the din of applause to let victims’ voices through.
I agree strongly with this from Brendan O'Neill:
One of the most striking developments of recent years has been the movement of conspiratorial thinking into the centre of political life and public debate. For decades, conspiracy theories about global affairs and domestic politics being controlled by largely hidden, unnamed actors with a malevolent agenda tended to flourish only on the fringes of society, especially among far-right groups. But today, it is commonplace to hear very mainstream thinkers and activists talk about the ‘cabals’ and ‘cults’ that allegedly control economic life and dictate the global agenda. As a result of a broader crisis of politics, of a long drawn-out evacuation of meaning and oftentimes purpose from the political sphere, political and economic developments can seem arbitrary and unhinged to many – and they respond by devoting their energies to obsessively hunting down the dark, dastardly thing which, they assume, must be puppeteering these confusing developments from behind the scenes.
The big questions of feminism used to be about tangible, practical things: should women have the right to vote, to the contraceptive pill, to equal pay? Now, the ‘big’ questions are introspective, c questions mired simply in identity politics, and based on small, perceived instances of sexist abuse.
The EU is now now in the curious position of trying to save lives by barring non-Europeans not only from the rights it cloaks in universal values yet confines to residents only, but also from the 1951 Refugee Convention, which has no local delimitation and qualifies the sovereign control of borders in minor but crucial ways that favour asylum seekers.
I almost agree wholeheartedly with Patrick Cockburn on this:
The four wars fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria over the past 12 years have all involved overt or covert foreign intervention in deeply divided countries. In each case the involvement of the West exacerbated existing differences and pushed hostile parties towards civil war. In each country, all or part of the opposition have been hard-core jihadi fighters. Whatever the real issues at stake, the interventions have been presented as primarily humanitarian, in support of popular forces against dictators and police states. Despite apparent military successes, in none of these cases have the local opposition and their backers succeeded in consolidating power and establishing stable states.
From Slavoj Žižek:
The art of politics lies in making particular demands which, while thoroughly realistic, strike at the core of hegemonic ideology and imply much more radical change. Such demands, while feasible and legitimate, are de facto impossible. Obama’s proposal for universal healthcare was such a case, which is why reactions to it were so violent.
(...) Only a politics that fully takes into account the complexity of overdetermination deserves to be called a strategy. When we join a specific struggle, the key question is: how will our engagement in it or disengagement from it affect other struggles? The general rule is that when a revolt against an oppressive half-democratic regime begins, as with the Middle East in 2011, it is easy to mobilise large crowds with slogans – for democracy, against corruption etc. But we are soon faced with more difficult choices. When the revolt succeeds in its initial goal, we come to realise that what is really bothering us (our lack of freedom, our humiliation, corruption, poor prospects) persists in a new guise, so that we are forced to recognise that there was a flaw in the goal itself. This may mean coming to see that democracy can itself be a form of un-freedom, or that we must demand more than merely political democracy: social and economic life must be democratised too. In short, what we first took as a failure fully to apply a noble principle (democratic freedom) is in fact a failure inherent in the principle itself. This realisation – that failure may be inherent in the principle we’re fighting for – is a big step in a political education.
(...) In a more directly political sense, the US has consistently pursued a strategy of damage control in its foreign policy by re-channelling popular uprisings into acceptable parliamentary-capitalist forms: in South Africa after apartheid, in the Philippines after the fall of Marcos, in Indonesia after Suharto etc. This is where politics proper begins: the question is how to push further once the first, exciting wave of change is over, how to take the next step without succumbing to the ‘totalitarian’ temptation, how to move beyond Mandela without becoming Mugabe.
It's sad to say (ok not really) but Žižek is becoming what he has always despised the most: a less fashionable version of Bernard-Henri Lévy.
Sugary excerpt of the week so far from Zoe Holman:
Discussing the traditional role of corporeality in protest, Judith Butler recently noted that: “if there is a body in the public sphere, it is masculine, free to create, but not itself created... When male citizens enter into the public square to debate questions of justice, revenge, war, and emancipation, they take the illuminated public square for granted as the architecturally bounded theatre of their speech.” By contrast, the female body has customarily been associated with the sexual, the childish, the labouring and the pre-political. This being the case, Butler argues for the need to interrogate and challenge the division of gendered bodies into “one that appears publicly to speak and act, and another, feminine, foreign and mute, that is generally relegated to the private and pre-political sphere.” (...)
Boobs can be fun. Boobs can be frivolous, primal or sexy. For this reason, they are compelling. In the right context, they might prove powerful. But they are also distracting. And for those women wishing to enter the theatre of political speech to debate questions of justice, emancipation, war, or indeed the sales tax on tampons, to achieve something more than lechery and to be taken seriously, they may prove a diversion.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Jennifer Vanasco:
Why do we in the media try to make some women standard bearers for all women? (...) A man who writes an inspiring business book meant to help people get ahead at work doesn’t have his wrist slapped because he’s promoting himself as well — of course he is! And a man who tries to change a failing corporate culture is more likely to be lauded as courageous than accused as cowardly, as [Marissa] Mayer was. (...) Not everything every woman does is a social statement. And it shouldn’t have to be.
En quelle année sommes-nous ?
Perhaps my problem with it has more to do with no longer finding feminism to be a useful filter through which to look at the world. The Fourth Wave of feminism (apparently it is a thing, yes) looks exactly like the Third Wave of feminism, and endlessly recapping Girls doesn't seem to be making the world a safer place for women. The two "feminist" works I liked the most recently actually didn't have that much to do with outright feminism: Depression by Ann Cvetkovich and Why Love Hurts by Eva Illouz. (Also: Monoculture by FS Michaels.) They were more about, how do we live within this structure -- or outside this structure -- that was built by the patriarchy without losing our minds. This is the way things are set up, by capitalism and by that whole white male thing, and let's write about what that does to a person. Not just women, which is an important part of it. It has nothing to do with the rejection of feminism, and Brazilian waxes never come up for debate at all! It's about feminism just being one weapon in your arsenal. Your mighty, mighty arsenal.
From Elissa Strauss:
According to Gawker, [Michael] Bloomberg once told a female colleague to “kill it” when she announced her pregnancy, only after teasing her about being too ugly to be engaged. Another Bloomberg employee complained of the institutional harassment at Bloomberg LP in the late 1990s, and believed that the misogynistic workplace culture was linked to her being raped by her superior in a hotel room. Also, “in 2007 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Bloomberg LP on behalf of 78 women who claimed that Bloomberg — who at that point was not involved in the day-to-day company operations, despite being a majority shareholder — and Bloomberg LP ‘fostered, condoned and perpetuated’ a hostile work environment for female employees.”
This is pretty bad, right? Nevertheless, nobody seemed to really care when they elected him to mayor the first, second or third time. And nobody seems to really care now either.
Imagine if there was a similar history of his saying or condoning disparaging remarks against blacks or Jews. Our inboxes and Facebook feeds would be filled with celebrity-endorsed pleas to sign online petitions pressuring him to resign from office. He would feel obligated to at least mutter some public apology, even if it clearly wasn’t heartfelt. But talk down to women like this, and the outrage is barely existent. (Think I am over exaggerating? Remember what happened with serial misogynist Charlie Sheen? The actor’s career was derailed by a single anti-semitic comment, after years of reports of domestic abuse and porn addiction.)
Sure, sexism can be more difficult to define than racism or anti-semitism (because humans + sex drives = messy), but when there is a pattern of misogynistic behavior like Bloomberg’s, albeit alleged, I wonder why we are so darn tolerant.
Well, the answer to that question explains in part why Obama is president.
From Glenn Greenwald:
The very same western countries that snuggle up to and prop up the planet's worst dictators are the same ones who strut around depicting themselves as crusaders for democracy and freedom, all while smearing anyone who objects to their conduct as lovers of tyranny.
Well,we are all westerners now so...!
Friedman clearly needs a sabbatical from the rigors of column-writing to get his head back in the game. In the interest of raising our country's foreign policy discourse, I beg you to put him on leave.
It is just sad to see someone stop growing and decaying
I agree strongly with Corey Robin on this:
Only a country steeped in myths of innocence would find the most conventional and boring kind of realism about politics to be the trumpet blast of Truth, Brave Truth.
We see these quicksilver shifts, from innocence to cynicism or realism, in the culture all the time, especially its more elite sectors—though sometimes they go in the reverse direction. Think of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, how the wise-cracking cynic Jean Arthur becomes a true believer. Or Dave, where the Sigourney Weaver character makes the same pilgrimage. (Interestingly, in both cases it’s a woman who loses her cynicism and discovers her innocence via falling in love with a man.)
But whether it’s the cynic discovering or recovering her innocence, or the innocent losing his innocence, the story of politics among cultural and political elites in this country is always the same, toggling back and forth between two positions that are little more than the competing wisdom of juveniles.
Oh America, I have news for you even innocence can be sinful dirty complicated. As a matter of fact, in America, innocence is a way to fight the terrifying realization that purity in the modern world is impossible.
All this reminds me of the awfully good movie Agnes of God with Jane Fonda in which a young and yes innocent nun gets pregnant and there is throughout the strong suggestion that she had sex with God, which makes it more than ok, not an exploitation, not a perverted act or a worse not one of a sexual discovery and empowerment but a religiously wonderful occurrence for the Mother Superior (Anne Bancroft ) declares solemnly and fanatically in the end of the movie that to be innocent is to be god's victim.
From Walter Russell Mead:
We are simultaneously the most licentious and sexually open society since Nero was fiddling around in Rome, and the most uptight and rigid country this side of Saudi Arabia. Our social judgements and tolerance about sexual behavior swing back and forth between the views of the Marquis de Sade and those of Cotton Mather depending on complex and ever changing calculations.
As far as I can make out, the authorities American society listens to most on the subject of sex are Hugh Hefner and Gloria Steinem. We combine, somehow, a pleasure seeking hook up culture with a feminist puritanism that takes us back to the 19th century bluestockings, and the line between the libertine and the bluestocking in our culture is constantly shifting and highly politicized.
My take on the subject is that America has no problem with sex as long as it remains a form of entertainment, which doesn't shake the foundations of its society.
Sex in America can't be about solely pleasure and amorality. That's why Americans have less of a problem with Porn stars whom it believes just work the money than it does with cheating/sexually adventurous politicians whom it believes are just bad people.
Interesting assertion from Frank Furedi:
It is important to realise that much of the conventional wisdom on the impact of abusive behaviour is driven by moral revulsion rather than by disinterested research. Of course, it is entirely legitimate morally to condemn behaviour that society deems evil. But moral condemnation should not be confused with a medical diagnosis. Nor is it an alternative to seeking and gaining clarity on the matter at hand. We do no favours to those who have suffered at the hands of adult predators if we treat them as the casualties of a moral drama.
The problem with modern societies is that they not only like victims, they love the idea of perpetual victimhood and enduring 'sin' because it makes it easier to sacralize and indeed objectify victims instead of empathizing truly with them to allow them to remain people tout simplement.
I agree with Walter Meade on this:
But there is a larger failure in Libya. Just as George W. Bush couldn’t dodge responsibility for the decision to go to war in Iraq on the basis of nukes that never showed up, President Obama owns the Libya mess in which the attack in Bengazi was just an incident—as Abu Ghraib was an incident in Bush’s war. Libya, thankfully, is nowhere near as big of a mess as Iraq, but even as President Obama mulls the possibility of retaliatory strikes, it’s not clear that we won’t get sucked further in. And if anything, this president should have learned from Bush’s experience in Iraq: overthrowing governments in the Middle East when you don’t know what comes next is a dangerous hobby.
Clinton can’t deflect final responsibility for that decision from President Obama, and she can’t cover over the mess that has the United States now puzzling over how to fight Al Qaeda and its allies in Mali as well as in Libya — or how to respond to the increase in terrorist strength in Niger and Nigeria to boot. This is a real mess and a serious one, and it flows from a set of poor decisions that the President and no other person made.
Why do I have the feeling that this is the beginning of something awful precisely because American foreign policy is just manufactured badly?
Theodore Dalrymple 'eulogyzes' Eric Hobsbawm:
A writer of my acquaintance once turned down an invitation to dinner with Hobsbawm (who rarely refused any honor or privilege that the unjust capitalist state could offer him) on the grounds that if Hobsbawm’s political wishes had come to fruition, he would have had his proposed guest shot in short order. A man who could think until late in his life, as Hobsbawn did, that the murder of 20 million people would be justified if it brought about a socialist utopia, would hardly balk at the death of a single bourgeois guest.
I feel dirty...I guess 'stalinism' is the true original sin, the one you can never expiate.
A dumb, inaffective and dangerous suggestion from SA Hoseini:
It’s high time a law was passed around the world prohibiting any kind of defamation or insult to religion — otherwise we are going to witness a repeat of this kind of grim news — again and again and again.
Sugary excerpt from Pankaj Mishra's review of Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie's memoir:
Rushdie's neat oppositions between the secular and the religious, the light and the dark, and rational literary elites and irrational masses do not clarify the great disorder of the contemporary world. They belong to an intellectually simpler time, when non-western societies, politically insignificant and little-known, could be judged solely by their success or failure in following the great example of the secular-humanist west; and writing literary fiction could seem enough to make one feel, as Tim Parks wrote in a review of Rushdie's novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, "engaged on the right side of some global moral and political battle".
Indeed, such complacencies of imperial intellectual cultures were what Rushdie had bravely attacked in his brilliant early phase. "Works of art, even works of entertainment," he had pointed out in 1984, "do not come into being in a social and political vacuum; and … the way they operate in a society cannot be separated from politics, from history. For every text, a context." No text in our time has had contexts more various and illuminating than The Satanic Verses, or mixed politics and literature more inextricably, and with deeper consequences for so many. In Joseph Anton, however, Rushdie continues to reveal an unwillingness or inability to grasp them, or to abandon the conceit, useful in fiction but misleading outside it, that the personal is the geopolitical.
I am left wondering how much the personal even when it is geopolitical should matter in literature even when it is not fiction. Another way to phrase my discomfort would be to wonder how much who Rushdie is or isn't should affect not only how he is read, the value of his writings.
In short, I am butting heads with Mishra because although I am conceding to him that the personal is the geopolitical, I question the essential nature and even the meaning of that assertion...
Quotes of the day, the first from A. Barton Hinkle:
The trouble with protecting feelings is that advocates of free expression have them, too: Many of them are genuinely pained by the prospect of government silencing people by threat of force. Flag-burners and bigots also have feelings – rather strong ones, judging by their willingness to suffer the hostility of their fellow citizens. Likewise, gays and lesbians have feelings that are hurt when religious conservatives call them sinful, and religious conservatives have feelings that are hurt when gay-rights activists call them haters. If we go around silencing any speech that might hurt someone’s tender ego, then before you know it nobody will be able to say much of anything. Defending free speech requires defending it when the speech makes you mad, not just the other guy. That’s a lesson that seems to need repeating – over and over.
The second from Gleen Greenwald:
My real question for those who insist that advocacy of violence should be suppressed is this: do you apply this view consistently? Do you want those who advocated the attack on Iraq - i.e., who advocated violence - to be arrested? How about those who cheer for the war in Afghanistan, or drone attacks on Pakistanis and Yemenis? The next time someone in the US or UK stands up and advocates a new war - say, attacking Iran - should they be arrested on the ground that they are advocating violence?
Or is it the case, as it certainly appears, that when people say that "advocating violence" should be suppressed, what they really mean is: it should be prohibited for those people over there to advocate violence against my society, but my society is of course free to advocate violence against them?
I disagree strongly with Peter Spiro on this:
(...) the Benghazi protests were prompted by this film depicting the prophet Mohammed in not very flattering terms. The equation from the protesters at the US consulate in Benghazi: this film was produced by an American; we will hold America responsible for it.
The result: national foreign relations are seriously compromised by the irresponsible act of an individual. For structural and functional reasons, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. (....) our European friends would argue that democracy is better served by banning such material. Either way, our exceptionalism on this score doesn’t serve us very well.
There are two main reasons for my disagreement. The first has to with the definition of hate speech and who/what decides what it is. The second is that I believe that the 'European model' isn't democratic at all, but paternalistic (mainly because of recent history) for at its core is the presumption that a society can never be mature enough to handle filth and thus the state must intervene to avoid that the kids do harm to each other.
More puzzling puzzling words (I swear I don't go looking for them they are just everywhere and find their way to me)on rape from Luke Samuel:
(...) the drive to expand society’s understanding of rape was dependent on a legalistic understanding of what constituted rape. It required women to view themselves as victims of rape in virtue of the fact that they had experienced penetration by a penis without consenting, and nothing more. This was, in part, an understandable reaction against the prejudices about rape complainants. But as women were encouraged more and more to measure their sexual encounters against the legal definition of rape, the space for judgement and common sense began to diminish. If women who had been penetrated without consent refused to acknowledge themselves as rape victims they were ‘in denial’. If men questioned whether every instance of non-consensual penetration was rape, they became rape ‘apologists’. Consequently, the drive to bring rape into popular consciousness had a significant side effect: it encouraged us to define our sexual encounters strictly in reference to the law rather than our own judgement.
In fact, this legalistic approach to what constitutes rape has significantly negative effects for our discussion of what ‘rape’ means. Perhaps, most obviously, it encourages the idea that rape is a simple crime, one which is wholly divorceable from any human context. In the language of many rape-awareness campaigners, ‘rape is rape’.
My point here isn't that Samuel is wrong and a moron, but simply that there is something unsettling about the way he says what he says that comes pretty close from being an apology not so much of rape, but of dismissive inculture by using the pretext that it is common sense and natural. Complexity and contextual factors are always essential and asserting that they are not when it is the norm in a legal setting to put them at the center of every mater is troubling.
Samuel is choosing to ignore the fact that in almost every rape case the "accuser" has a hell of time to get and to keep the status of victim precisely because rape is not rape.
I agree with Julian Ku on this, however I reserve the right to change my mind after reading what Glenn Greenwald had to say about the whole Assange show:
Assange is acting like a paranoid lunatic and it is astonishing to me that so many folks who should know better instinctively side with an accused rapist whose main argument is that the Swedish (Swedish!) justice system is being controlled by the CIA and US government. (...)n the end, (...) Ecuador will quickly tire of Assange after a few months and kick him out, especially after the global media start forgetting about him.
For a long time, Western histories simply suppressed non-western perspectives — nobody cared what the ‘native’ thought. But even today, the benignly universalist West creates the standards of judgement, and the historian at the imperial metropole of course writes the truly objective and coolly rational history. And the non-westerner challenging it with other perspectives is prone to be described — and discredited — as no more than a polemicist (The word is usual preceded by a damning adjective like ‘left-wing’ and ‘angry’). (...) By loudly invoking religion and culture and race, these Western pundits want to prevent us from examining the material basis of global inequality in all matters, intellectual as well as economic — the long history behind the fact that some countries are rich, many others permanently poor; why some forms of large-scale violence, such as neo-imperialism, enjoy moral sanction and respectability, and those opposed to them prone to be dismissed as left-wing crackpots and losers. I think the neo-imperialists and their sympathisers are best seen as a symptom of Anglo-America’s bizarre political culture of the previous two decades — a culture in which politicians supported by an unquestioning corporate media wage genocidal wars while feeding lies to their electorates, crooked bankers give themselves huge salaries and bonuses, and intellectuals — well, many of them turn to justifying and vindicating this shameful state of affairs and are given bully pulpits for this purpose at mainstream institutions like Harvard and the BBC.
Sentences du jour from Brendan O'Neill:
The guilty verdict against feminist punk band Pussy Riot doesn't only point to a powerfully censorious streak in modern Russia – it also highlights the dangers inherent in Westerners' transformation of cases like this into international cause célèbres. (...)Pussy Riot have not only been screwed over by their enemies but also, ironically and sadly, by some of their so-called friends.
Unfortunately, I suspect that O'Neill is right.
Sentences from Robert Wright to munch before the end of the weekend:
It's kind of amazing, when you think about it. You write a piece arguing that a given person shouldn't be allowed to write for respectable publications, and at no point do you make critical reference to anything this person has ever said or written!
C'est dur à dire mais …Lawrence Pintak is right to be disturbed by this :
On the morning Gaddafi was killed, an ebullient Wolf Blitzer told Sen. John McCain that he knew the senator was pleased on “this very special day.” The look on Blitzer’s face and the celebratory tone of his network left little doubt that he—or CNN—agreed.
As I said, “basic journalistic ethics” can be a slippery thing.
Interesting conversation as always between John McWhorter and Glenn Loury. I just have one question or rather two. What is American character? Does it exist?
I might be trying to suggest with these questions that there isn't such an American identity, that Americans are what they do and that America is an ideal, a noble idea that alas cannot remain good in itself because of Americans aren't always able to live up to it.
The conclusion of Christopher Hitchens's article on the upcoming anniversary of 9/11:
The battle against casuistry and bad faith has also been worth fighting. So have many other struggles to assert the obvious. Contrary to the peddlers of shallow anti-Western self-hatred, the Muslim world did not adopt Bin-Ladenism as its shield against reality. Very much to the contrary, there turned out to be many millions of Arabs who have heretically and robustly preferred life over death. In many societies, al-Qaida defeated itself as well as underwent defeat.
In these cases, then, the problems did turn out to be more complicated than any "simple" solution the theocratic fanatics could propose. But, and against the tendencies of euphemism and evasion, some stout simplicities deservedly remain. Among them: Holocaust denial is in fact a surreptitious form of Holocaust affirmation. The fatwa against Salman Rushdie was a direct and lethal challenge to free expression, not a clash between traditional faith and "free speech fundamentalism." The mass murder in Bosnia-Herzegovina was not the random product of "ancient hatreds" but a deliberate plan to erase the Muslim population. The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fully deserve to be called "evil." And, 10 years ago in Manhattan and Washington and Shanksville, Pa., there was a direct confrontation with the totalitarian idea, expressed in its most vicious and unvarnished form. Let this and other struggles temper and strengthen us for future battles where it will be necessary to repudiate the big lie.
Hitchens states the obvious (which may be virtuous, but more often than not unproductive when the goal is to refuse that even stout simplicities lead to uneasy complexities) in an ideological manner. He does it to avoid posing the tough questions, and be on his high horse when he refuses to acknowledge that in life, politics or in any aspect of life being on the right side, fighting 'evil' doesn't make things simpler, but more complicated because it means that there is a duty to act as if only the final result matters for the other side is evil.
Hitchens fails to understand the question is never in the characterization of evil as evil, but in the uncomfortable notion that stating it doesn't solve anything and does make things simple.
In short, 9/11 did make life, the world easier, it make it more complex because the 'evil' of the act was so obvious that reflexion and the morality of political acts mattered more tha ever before.
Question of the day taken from Peter Gill,'s article on Ethiopia and the politics of development assistance :
Is the rich world interested in helping Africa’s poor or in promoting government systems which resemble its own?
I have a problem with Bill Benzon's post on Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad at the Valve in which he compares them to Ike Turner and Sam Philips and finishes by suggesting that the solution is to get beyond the boundaries of language. Sugary excerpt:
The point of this exercise, no, this demonstration, is that language and its reasonings and arguments cannot, in principle, encompass everything. That life itself is greater than language goes without saying – or does it? What matters is how we conduct ourselves around and about, in the shadow of, language.
Because I believe as Eluard that les mots ne mentent pas, I have a problem with what Benzon is demonstrating. The attempt should never be to get beyond the boundaries of language, but to acknowledge them and to break them down.
I know I promise to stop bashing constantly Obama (I believe that I'm doing it rationally and analytically), but I believe that his 2008 campaign showed that Benzon is wrong and that America's problem with race isn't about its people not being able to get along, but rather about their need to believe that race is all encompassing and that it is about something grand, when it is about petty stuff and about that itch that Benzon seems to have to want Achebe and Conrad get along. It is far too obvious that Achebe didn't want to get along with Conrad, but needed to punch him in the gut to affirm his own existence and to define in his own terms what it meant or rather didn't mean to be 'african' (my contention is that it doesn't mean anything for Achebe has much more in common with Joseph Conrad than he does with Ferdinand Oyono).
In short, my point to Benzon, to America, and to Americans is get over it already! Race isn't about race and instead of obsessing about getting along or pretending that you want to or that you do get out your own way and stop being so self-involved!
This sugary excerpt from Gary Younge is infuriating because it shows that people who have grand theory about identity politics without acknowledging its frivolity are cons:
Thinking of identities as being part of a fixed hierarchy is a terrible mistake. Being gay and black doesn’t mean that person has it twice as bad as a straight white woman. That’s the kind of mess some white feminists got into with the 2008 presidential debates between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They suggested that somehow a black male candidate had it easy, and that it was much worse to be a white woman candidate, which is just crazy. Not that it was more difficult for Obama than her. It’s just that the terms of the discussion weren’t helpful to either of them.
One of the many reasons this is an obstacle is that identities aren’t fixed in place and time. Their meaning and relevance is always shifting. As much as anything, this book is an attack on essentialism, because one thing essentialists have always tried to do is suggest there is a fixed notion to who and what we are. Actually, we are many things to many people while also being one thing to ourselves. Whatever else is said about Hillary Clinton, no one questions her being born in America or claims she is a Muslim. They have certainly said other things – demeaned her on the basis of her relationship with her husband or etched out every laugh line, crease and wrinkle – but identity should not be a competition. And if it is made a competition, then everybody loses.
Hey Younge leave Hillary Clinton alone, isn't Black the new president ? So deal with it and explain to us one more time why the One had to be the One.
The lesson here seems clear: if you think you’ll get raped and want to bring a case about it to trial, try to live a blameless life.
Of course, the above sentence is troublesome, but it reflects a disturbing reality. I never believed that DSK would be convicted. What troubles me is that behind my certitude was solely the realization that it would have been extremely difficult for the accuser to be clean enough to convince a jury that a man whose 'status' and 'identity' give him the presumption of decency and thus makes it hard believe that he could just snap and rape.
The issue isn't about class (it is but not in the traditional sense) and race, but one of gender and to see it one needs only to imagine what would be happening if the roles were reversed. Let me say it more clearly and bluntly: DSK could afford to have a 'past,' a less than perfect sexual history, the accused could not afford to have any problematic past history and to do dumbt and dishonest things before and after the incident. I'm not talking here about DSK's guilt or innocence and that is what bugs me for it doesn't matter whether he did it or not for the central issue is and always was the ability of the accuser to be the perfect victim and the fact that she is far from perfect dooms the case.
I'm not implying that she is a victim of her past, but rather that who she is much more than what she did killed this case for there was always going to be something to make her not credible. That said, the District Attorney should let DSK go already especially if he doesn't believe his own witness.
Honestly, I have to say that I hope that she made the whole thing up, it would make what is happening less vile. I hope also that DSK is an innocent man; my problem is that I know that the accuser's lies don't make her necessarily an impostor (in the sense that she made the whole thing up), but that it doesn't matter. In spite of my own tribulations, I do not believe that anybody ought to have her/his life destroyed when there is reasonable doubt and there is undoubtedly more than reasonable doubts in this case. What bugs me is that those doubts have become reasonable because of the accuser/victim, but that's the way the American judicial system words and it has already shown its shortcomings.
Sentence of the day from Zoe Williams:
Prominent women do not necessarily pursue the rights of women generally, and it is almost worse when they pretend to (Lagarde said once: "I feel accountable to the community of women. And I don't want to fail because of them.") than when they don't (...)
You don't say! I have to admit that Williams puzzles me (she would bug me if her arguments were convincing) because she is stuck in the 1960s for she is still under the impression that women are a caste and that feminism is its only true religion.
I agree with Professor Bainbridge on this:
Supporting wars of choice where no vital national interests are at stake is not a very good litmus test of one's patriotism.
Even though I agree with Bainbridge, I wonder whether it is possible to be a dove even in cases of wars of necessity and to be a patriot. Does patriotism has anything or rather everything to do with wars or rather with supporting them? I have the feeling the answer is much more complicated that suggested above, but at least Professor Bainbridge begins to denounce the simplistic and vile notion that in wars, there are only two sides the patriotic and the unpatriotic ones.
Belle Waring just made my week summer by stating this about some men's belief (Anthony Klavan in this instance who doesn't have the culture to be sexist in an original and thought-provoking manner) that there is a such a thing a 'pussy vagina cartel' designed to control their access to sex:
Now, it’s very likely that I’ll be assassinated by a crack team of female ninjas before I can hit “post” (they are all hot 22-year old Japanese women who may also subject me to intensive questioning, should anyone in the Valley be at a loss for movie ideas.) But I am about to reveal a huge secret here: OPPEC. That is, Other People’s Pussy Economic Consortium. Note that the “People” who own the pussy in this case are the women themselves, contrary to traditional usage. But think about it: women, taken as a whole, have control of all the pussy in the world. That is some valuable assets right there. What could be more natural than the formation of a cartel?
So, yeah, we have bi-monthly secret meetings and stuff. Sometimes pussy output among married women has to be steeply ramped down to allow for appropriate levels of sluttiness among college students. (...)So, yeah, but at the end of the meetings some situations have to be handled, usually in large classes because it would take too long. Often something comes up like “53-year-old, divorced, former warbloggers who appear to have forgotten the existence of Iraq and now lurk on MRA forums and troll Pandagon” and all the ladies hit this one button in unison “BZZZZT,” and that’s it. No pussy is distributed to these guys at all.
As to why proven assholes continue to get showered with pussy, one must remember that the decisions are to an extent emergent from the mass of women, in a dictatorship of the proletariat kind of way.
Oh boy man jesus God gender is making sex uncool! Too many men people can't accept that just like French cuisine, it involves some know-how (yeah, there is some learning involved for there has to be more than bacon to a meal) and that nature isn't queen in those matters.
Gideon Rachman gets this right as he does more often than not:
It does look as if the Europeans, backed by the Americans, will manage to push Christine Lagarde into the job. But the groundswell of protest against the idea of a Western fix – and the accompanying commentary highlighting the shift in economic and political power from West to East and from North to South – will probably ensure that this will be the last time that a European appointment can simply be bulldozed through.
So President Obama is right when he insists “the time for leadership is now.” But Madame Lagarde might add – “Apres moi, le deluge.”
As a true non-believer in the division of the world between the West and the rest, I have to say that it would be more than a disappointment if the new head of the IMF came from Europe, it would be scandalous. Such an outcome would be indicated of the existence of more than a Western fix, but of a problematic bias within that organization that must be influencing its policies. Furthermore, I baffled by the fact that Christine Lagarde is a credible choice to be head of the IMF not because she isn't competent, but because she just isn't a good choice for so many reasons, the least important of which is that France isn't entitled to get a second chance at the position after it supported Strauss-Kahn knowing full of the risks that something could happen.
Interesting stuff from Chris Dillow:
We old lefties see politics as one activity among others. We see no connection between Marxist politics and Marx’s, ahem, colourful sex life. And I, for one, have combined leftist politics with jobs in the City and non-political journalism.
The newer left, though, is less compartmentalized - hence the slogan, “the personal is political” and the desire to politicize everyday life.
On this point, though, I’m conflicted. On the one hand, I’m tempted to defend my conception of politics on the grounds that it is more liberal: seeing everything as political is the road to fanaticism and totalitarianism.
I'm just confused about one thing, does being a Leftie is about politics or something else? Does it matter? I have to admit that I'm bothered with the idea that the personal is political because it makes politics sentimental. It reminds me of the 2008 Democratic primaries or even of George W. Bush in the 2000 election when in response to critical examinations of his record as Governor in Texas, he would talk about how hurt he was that people could question his heart. In short, the idea that 'good' people are good politicians bugs me and is moreover dangerous. That isn't to say that the personal doesn't matter or is irrelevant, but simply that more often than not, it is a part of a wider context and can be unessential, but titillating.
I almost agree completely with this:
Bin Laden’s killing is very likely justified under the laws (such as they are) of war. But, as best as I understand them, these laws are not intended to conduct towards justice; instead they are intended to conduct towards a minimization of those regrettable little side-effects (massacres of prisoners; the deaths of multitudes of civilians &c) that tend to go together with military disputes. It may also possibly be justified in purely pragmatic terms – very possibly, many more people would have died over the longer run had he been captured rather than killed. But it cannot be justified in terms of the procedural requirements of justice as practiced by democracies, which usually do require trials, evidence, judgments that can be appealed and so on.
Another proof from R.W. Johnson that faith in politics is about the bling and should remain in the private sphere:
The news that Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace were among the million people (including 22 ‘world leaders’) who thronged St Peter’s Square for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II lends a piquant note to what was already a gothic occasion. Their presence was not, in itself, surprising: Mugabe tends to remember he is a Catholic whenever it is convenient – as in the case of his marriage to Grace, celebrated in a Catholic high mass in Harare, although they had by then already had two children. More recently, however, the main point has been to evade the EU’s targeted sanctions and thus provide Grace (widely known as ‘Dis-Grace’) with opportunities for her extravagant shopping trips. The Mugabes were in Rome in 2005 for John Paul II’s funeral, and again in 2008 and 2009 for UN food conferences – they get a free pass from the Vatican and from the UN, of which Zimbabwe is still a member.
I agree with Glenn Greenwald on this:
One thing is for certain: right now, the Democratic Party is absolutely correct in its assessment that kicking its base is good politics. Why is that? Because they know that they have inculcated their base with sufficient levels of fear and hatred of the GOP, so that no matter how often the Party kicks its base, no matter how often Party leaders break their promises and betray their ostensible values, the base will loyally and dutifully support the Party and its leaders (at least in presidential elections; there is a good case that the Democrats got crushed in 2010 in large part because their base was so unenthusiastic).
In light of that fact, ask yourself this: if you were a Democratic Party official, wouldn't you also ignore -- and, when desirable, step on -- the people who you know will support you no matter what you do to them?
Well to paraphrase David Mamet, that is in part the reason I am no longer a brain-dead liberal and I have decided to be an independent. Politics should never be about loyalty or to be more accurate partisanship but about thought and action.
John Quiggin has a take on Greenwald's post that makes me wonder why politics has become about good and evil and about saying that the others are scarier and therefore should be kicked to the curve. More people should fight the talibanisation of American politics by refusing to make it about good and evil and solely about actions and no empty words such as hope and exceptionalism.
A good question from Gideon Rachman:
If the UN and western military forces are prepared to intervene so forcefully in Libya, why has the response to Ivory Coast been so relatively feeble?
The answer is an easy, but alarming one: Ivory Coast Côte d'Ivoire is Côte d'Ivoire and Libya is Libya. That statement of fact means simply that it is easier to deal with the dead of Côte d'Ivoire than with the ones of Libya because there is a widely accepted presumption that some parts of the African continent are at the heart of darkness, and thus too barbaric, and too 'out there' to be helped/saved. That explains why Congo (DRC) has never captured the world 's attention. In shot, it all comes that to that silly Obamanian world hope. It is easier to accept hopelessness in Côte d'Ivoire than in Libya.