Monthly Archives: March 2011

On a related matter …

Sort of related to the previous post, Echidne discusses, how some people dismiss the abuse women deal with online—in this case in the context of girl online gamers—as no big deal. It’s guys being guys, trash talking their opponents. Which ignores that “You asshole, I think you got a small dick lol” is a different kettle of fish from a woman being told someone wants to cut her to bits and rape the pieces.
Similarly, Satoshi Kanazawa, whose writing I discussed here, asserted in another article that it’s ridiculous to make an issue of sexual harassment—guys talk trash to women just like they belittle and talk trash to men, so it’s really very non-sexist.
Apparently it did not occur to Kanazawa that men’s reaction to someone cussing them out and calling them names might not be the same as when a woman hears she’ll have to give a blowjob to get her performance raise (and since the latter guy may be dead serious, it’s not really the same thing at all).
Once again, it’s a failure to imagine how the world looks from a position other than the one you occupy.

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Different viewpoints

A couple of weeks back, I was browsing a blog post suffused with nostalgia for blacksploitation movies—which I admit to being quite fond of myself—and laughing at the idea some black groups had actually criticized the movies as not representing black life in America. Yeah, right—like Schwarzenegger and Stallone action films represent reality? But you don’t see white guys protesting, do you?
The problem with this, as I pointed out (but never went back to see how things went from there) is that us white guys don’t depend on Rambo or Terminator to capture us on screen. During the eighties (I’m picking that decade because that’s when the two stars seemed to embody action films) we also had Michael Douglas as a power broker in Wall Street, Tom Cruise as an angry Vietnam veteran (Born on the Fourth of July), Steve Martin as a lawyer possessed by Lily Tomlin (All of Me) and Jeff Bridges as a saintly ET (Starman).
Back in the seventies, the same range applied to white roles. Blacksploitation, on the other hand, was pretty much the whole ball of wax. Mean streets, crime, cops, PIs such as Shaft and freelancer troubleshooters such as Pam Grier in Coffy. No millionaires or upper-class types except in supporting roles (despite the fact there were black millionaires around well before I was born). Very few family dramas, with occasional exceptions such as Sounder (which was set in the 1930s, not the present). I’m not saying the films were bad (my DVD collection proves I like a lot of them), just that it’s kind of a limited range.
As the late comics writer Dwayne McDuffie said once, when you have only a couple of black or minority characters in any medium, it’s not possible to represent the full range; no one character (or character type) can capture the whole black (or Latino or female) experience. So it’s understandable the lack of more diverse roles bothered some people. The problem isn’t the films that were made, it’s the films that weren’t made.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be conscious that there’s nobody on screen who represents your people; I’ve never had that problem. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have no-one representing you at all, except in walk ons, or the endless black maids and manservants in thirties and forties films. But I’ve heard enough people talk of the experience (or the thrill of finding a doll that had their skin color) to know it matters.

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Let’s be clear about Obama’s birth certificate

He’s already produced it. The governor of Hawaii has endorsed it. There were even announcements in the local paper at the time. So either we’re dealing with a conspiracy of Illuminati-class subtlety or Obama’s an American-born president (hint: Do not pick choice number one).
I think the reason the birther myth has such tractcion is that for some Republicans, there is no such thing as a legitimate Democratic president. It’s not about race; as the Daily Howler points out, if there’d been any way to accuse Clinton of being born overseas, it would have been on the articles of impeachment. In their eyes, the idea there can be a legitimate president they didn’t vote for defies all logic and reason.
And for some of them, the certainty of birtherism does defy all logic and reason. Two of the main birther websites assert that even if Obama fetched his original 1960s birth certificate out of whatever state archive it’s kept in, they’d still have lots more questions before they’d accept him (birther Orly Taitz has acknowledged there’s no evidence that would convince her).
But as Bob Somersby at the Howler points out at the link, it’s also due to the fact that we have prominent people such as Donald Trump running around asserting Obama hasn’t proved his case, and the pundits and interviewers not pointing out that he has, and Trump is full of crap. If the myth keeps getting spouted and not refuted, no wonder people believe it.
It’s an excellent post, and I recommend you click on the link.

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Libya

Obviously any comment on the news in Libya would be out of date almost at once. Just today, for example, I see Qaddafi is claiming deposing him would be a win for al-Qaeda and the US is now considering arming the rebels rather than just providing air cover. So instead let’s talk about general principles and some of the arguments circulating on the topic of intervention.
•If you oppose intervention, you obviously don’t care about democracy in the Arab world or all the innocent people Qaddafi is butchering.
This one’s bullshit. By this logic, any time we don’t intervene in anything, it’s proof we don’t care. The people advocating for a Libyan intervene aren’t proposing protecting protesters in Yemen or overthrowing Saudi Arabia’s repressive theocracy; we’re not fighting to stop what may become genocide in the Ivory Coast, so presumably they’re as they accuse Libyan-intervention critics of being.
•We can’t intervene everywhere, so we have to go in where we can.
A more reasonable position, but flawed, because it doesn’t explain where the place we decide We Can is Libya. Why not the Ivory Coast or Yemen (Saudi Arabia, given the inflammatory aspects of us occupying the Mecca and Medina regions, would be a No We Can’t in most situations)? Or Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe has been oppressing his political enemies for years?
Looked at in that light, the argument this is a noble humanitarian endeavor is harder to sustain. Probable reasons include Libya’s oil and that Qaddafi has been on our shit list for years (in contrast to allies Yemen and Egypt, where it seems we’re letting things play out as they will), despite being officially rehabilitated a few years ago when he dropped his WMD program.
•The lack of a clear end game isn’t an issue: We had one in Iraq and look how that turned out. Improvising as we go along is better policy.
I’ve read variations of this argument in a couple of places, and I don’t think it holds up. Sure, things frequently don’t turn out the way we expect, but that’s all the more reason for saying thus far and no farther, to avoid getting sucked in further as we keep doing, over and over. Heck, since they rarely turn out better than we expect, it’s a good reason not to go in at all.
It’s worth keeping in mind that no matter how we do this, it’s not going to be a bloodless intervention, and some of that blood will be civilians, the people we’re supposedly protecting (as discussed on slacktivist). Some of it will be our own people. And at this point, we don’t know for sure that the rebels won’t turn out to be as big a problem as the Afghan mujahedeen became) or how our intervention may change things. As the blogger Hilzoy once put it, violence is not a short cut to your destination; it changes the place you end up. Ditto intervention.
Finally, while it’s easy to talk about “we go in when we can,” I honestly don’t think we can. I mean come on: We have local governments replacing asphalt roads with gravel and closing libraries; in Washington, they’re debating slashing Social Security, the EPA and Planned Parenthood (admittedly, these are more political agenda items than sound budgeting decisions). But pouring money into a new military venture which we certainly don’t have to fight—that’s a-OK?
The arguments for intervention do not, I think, hold up.

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The same under the skin?

When I performed in Merry Wives of Windsor a few years ago, one of my co-actors was completely stunned by how much the subplot — Anne Page’s desire to marry a man her parents didn’t approve of — seemed like something out of a modern play.
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s difficult to get into the ways people of the past are so different from us: Their fears, their faith, their bigotries and hates. At the same time, they also have a lot in common: The experiences of men in battle have been quite consistent throughout history, as detailed in Richard Holmes’ Act of War.
Trying to find the balance between the two can be difficult, even if you’re not striving for deep historical realism. In the first place, there’s the image you want to create: People in the past slouched, relaxed and used the slang of the day, but many films have portrayed ancient Romans/Greeks/Babylonians standing stiffly and declaiming rather than talking.
People in the past also have nasty attitudes: If you’re going to do a reasonably accurate job, they’re not going to share current perceptions. Hugh, the protagonist of I Think, Therefore I Die, which I’ll finish next month, loathes Catholics as oppressive agents (or dupes) of the tyrannical theocrat in the Vatican; that’s certainly a common English perception for the 17th century, but I felt quite uncomfortable with his vehemence at times. Even if you go back forty years, you can find decent, respectable good-guy types who think the color line should never be crossed or that women should totally stay in their home. The Aztec heroes of de Borchard’s Servant of the Underworld don’t bat an eye at human sacrifice.
I’m inclined to agree that in any time, human nature remains constant (and yes that is a very general observation): We want sex, we scrabble for status, we worry about feeding our children or hiding our secrets. The way it’s expressed, though, may be very different. The modern world may have many people as devout as the Christian stylites who spent months sitting on pillars to prove their faith, but devotion to God just doesn’t manifest that way any more. In the 19th century, an adult courting a 12 year old girl with her parents’ consent was respectable (you could get married at 14 in Victorian England); today it’s a symbol of either neurosis or pedophilia.
I’d like to end this with some kind of useful rule for figuring out How To Do It; as I write so many stories set in the past, I could use one. But I don’t have one, so I’ll just have to work it out as I go along.

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R.I.P. Diana Wynne Jones

Jones, one of my favorite authors, died of cancer last week.
If you read my Books I’ve Read posts, you know I’ve been working through her novels in order. It’s a shame the number will no longer grow.
I first stumbled across her work when Charmed Life, her seventh fantasy novel (her first was a satiric political story, Changeover) popped up in paperback in the U.S. (she’s English) in the early eighties. I loved it.
The story of how Cat and his sister Gwendolyn are taken from their quiet English village to study magic with the toplofty enchanter Chrestomanci is a treat. Chrestomanci himself is a great character, a mix of a British headmaster’s sternness with the Fourth Doctor’s unflappable confidence in the face of peril. The other characters, even the mean-spirited Gwen, are quite well, ordinary, but they fit with the magic perfectly.
That mix of magic and everydayness is Jones’ greatest strength; it’s what makes Archer’s Goon such a great read, for instance, or the magic-in-school story Witch Week. Or Sophie, who’s down-to-Earth personality helps anchor Howl’s Moving Castle amidst all the supernatural elements and the Wizard Howl’s fondness for playing drama queen (as DWJ herself once put it).
Her handling of family dynamics is also exceptional. A recurring story element is that your relative’s unpleasant or irrational behavior actually makes sense once you hear their side of it (the flip side of that is a relative such as Gwen or Aunt Maria who turns out to be far nastier than their kin realize).
One delightful side effect of Harry Potter’s phenomenal success is that the rising tide lifted DWJ’s boat too: Her work has become much more visible in the US since J.K. Rowling started, presumably because Potter fans were looking for something similar, or publisher suddenly realized “Hey, this sort of thing sells!” It made it easy to round out my collection (only her most recent and her one unpublished fantasy remain) and I imagine it didn’t hurt her bank account.
She’s brought me a lot of joy, and I’m looking forward to rereading everything else she’s written.

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Assorted links

If anyone tells you Obama is a socialist, Glenn Greenwald lays that nonsense to rest.
•A female British medic wins the Military Cross for bravery.
•Florida’s governor hates Obamacare, but he’s fine with his family company profiting off Medicare.
•A history of right-wing taxophobia.
•Why do we worry about other nations having WMDs? According to some members of our government, because it makes it impossible to attack them (I’d heard this argument before, but this blog post goes into damning detail).
•Remember how our government invoked the oppression of women under the Taliban as one reason for invading Afghanistan? Well, about that

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