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Fri Jul 01, 2011 at 04:14 AM PDT

Sasha and Malia: Damsels Not in Distress

by jre

(Cross-posted from here):

President Obama managed to muse publicly about guarding the innocence of his preteen daughters twice in one week.  Politico reports that he stopped by Sister Act on Broadway to joke

that the “Sister Act” movie series helped him decide to which convent to send his daughters Sasha and Malia, who are “getting a little too old and a little too cute.”

That comes one week after he went on Good Morning America to discuss Malia turning 13 and said
I should also point out that I have men with guns that surround them, often. And a great incentive for running for reelection is that means they never get in a car with a boy who had a beer. And that's a pretty good thing.

Get it?  He never wants his girls to grow up, and he'll throw them in a convent or deploy the Secret Service to defend his daughters' youth and (I don't think the subtext is too hard to parse here) their chastity.  Obama used the same kind of humor at the last White House Correspondents' Dinner when he threatened to send predator drones to kill the Jonas Brothers (I don't imagine that played well with the families of civilians killed by very real drone strikes in the Middle East either).
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(Cross-posted from here):

The Netroots Nation conference has traditionally been an occasion for mainstream media types to take a whack at the unreasonableness of the left.  Michael Grunwald offered up, if not a classic, a fairly representative example of the genre on Swampland last week.  Take this paragraph designed to dispatch left criticisms of Barack Obama with patronizing parentheticals:

It’s true that President Obama is not as liberal as some Daily Kos bloggers would like him to be. (Although he has blogged at Daily Kos.)  He continued some of President Bush’s national security policies. (Although he did end the war in Iraq.) He ignored left-wing calls to nationalize troubled banks. (Which turned out to be the right call.) He’s pushed for middle-class tax cuts and public-employee wage freezes that his base dislikes, and he’s outsourced most of the Republican-bashing that his base craves. (Which may be why he’s way more popular than his party.)

Let's take the parenthetical potshots one at a time:

It's true that Obama has posted on Daily Kos - although the most prominent instance was when he took to Daily Kos to criticize progressives for being too hard on senators that backed John Roberts (more on that one here and here).

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(Cross-posted from here)

The Adjustment Bureau, which comes out on video this week, is about a man (Matt Damon) who discovers that a shadowy group of men is secretly making decisions large and small about his life, without his knowledge or consent.  Which makes it ironic that the same man spends the movie making choices about what's best for the woman (Emily Blunt) he's supposedly in love with. (Spoilers Ahead)

In the middle of the movie, Damon's faced with a choice between his and Blunt's career ambitions and their chance to be together.  Does Damon let Blunt in on the decision?  Nope.  Instead he ditches her in a hospital in a way that could be tragic if it was necessary or he was sympathetic, but instead is just frivolously obnoxious.  Then, when he sees that rather than waiting for him to reappear as a non-jerk, she's about to marry someone else, he changes his mind about what's best for her and chases her down to get her to call off the wedding.  Once he finds her, he deploys winning lines like "You cannot marry that man" and "You have to trust me" while doling out the smallest amount of information he thinks he can get away with.  Seems he picked up more than a hat from the Adjustment Bureau.

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These are the things that actually most surprised me at Monday's debate (already vented my sarcasm via Twitter):

5. Newt Gingrich's gleeful implication that Muslims should be treated the way suspected communists were.  It's not his first explicit appeal to religious bigotry, but honestly I was taken aback watching this one.

4. Seeing Mitt Romney pass up a softball question inviting him to say something nice about Sarah Palin.  Would seem like an opportunity he'd want to grab, given how much less likely she seems now either to run or to be a frontrunner if she does get in.  Why not pander to her admirers?  Didn't feel like it?  Looking ahead to the general election?

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There's a lot of silliness in this Politico piece reporting that Republicans (and one anonymous Democrat) would like Debbie Wasserman Schultz to be less strident in criticizing them.  It's worth noting that whereas Republican Chairman Michael Steele took hits in the media for criticizing Republicans, Democratic Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz is now taking hits for...criticizing Republicans.  But what's most pernicious in Molly Ball's article is its selective memory about Jim Crow:

The congresswoman’s latest blunder came Sunday, when she said on television that Republicans “want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally — and very transparently — block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates.”

The equating of state legislatures’ efforts to require voters to show identification with laws that required separate schools and water fountains raised hackles, particularly in racially sensitive Democratic circles, prompting a quasi-retraction from Wasserman Schultz.

This raises the perennial question: Is it better to be intentionally obtuse or unintentionally obtuse?

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Mon May 16, 2011 at 04:55 AM PDT

An Unpersuasive "Defense of Nasty Art"

by jre

A recent debate about how progressives should do cultural criticism led me to Ann Powers' "In Defense of Nasty Art".  I agree with Powers that Democrats, especially elected ones, are often equivocal or disappointing or incoherent when talking about art.  I agree with her that art that exposes tensions and ugliness is often more worthwhile than art that leaves you with a feeling of harmony.  But I don't find her "Defense of Nasty Art" persuasive at defending Nasty Art in general (or art in general for that matter) against moral criticism.  It's more compelling as a case for the moral value of some of the art others have deemed immoral.

Powers argues that it's good for art to give voice to the rage of marginalized people.  She argues that dark art is more honest than optimistic art.  She argues that liberals are wrong to prefer art depicting victims to art depicting (vengeful) violators come back to haunt the yuppies.  She argues that the art that most upsets our sensibilities often does so because it confronts us with urges we're ashamed of.  She argues that the experience of shock is part of a healthy mental diet.  You can agree with all of that (I mostly do) without embracing her (much-quoted, judging by Google) conclusion that

Not all art that claims to be transgressive is worth caring about. But you can't tell the bullshit from the real by setting moral standards. You have to set artistic ones.
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Earlier this month ex-Bush speechwriter Meghan Clyne took to the New York Post to pin Yale's sexual harassment problem on a counterintuitive culprit: campus feminists.  The feminists, apparently, have turned our alma mater into a "€œsexual cesspoolâ€" and "œdrenched students, faculty and administrators in images and vocabulary of graphic sexuality."

Reading Clyne’s piece would leave you with the sense that the main problem with sexual harassment is that it means people are talking about sex.  She suggests feminists are hypocrites for hosting events discussing drag and Dworkin and then complaining about rape threats.  "These are the shrinking violets," she writes, "€œshocked that a bunch of frat guys would gather around their front door crassly chanting about sex."  In other words, if you're not embarrassed about sex, you shouldn't be bothered by men threatening to force it on you.

Describing screams of “No Means Yes!” as “crassly chanting about sex” is like describing “Give me your wallet or I’ll shoot” as “rudely discussing money.”  Either Clyne is being willfully obtuse, or when she imagines walking out of the Yale Women’s Center into a throng of men chanting “No Means Yes!” she thinks “It’s disgusting to be this sexually explicit amongst college students,” not “It’s disgusting to tell people you would force them to have sex with you.”

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Sun Mar 27, 2011 at 06:01 PM PDT

Ban Halachah Law!

by jre

Last night I dreamed that Newt Gingrich was prepping a run for President by calling for a constitutional ban on halachah law.

Dream-Gingrich warned the American people that there are millions of Americans who adhere to halachah - and they've already infiltrated the halls of Congress, the Cabinet, and the US Supreme Court.  Some of these politicians have passed up political responsibilities because they were too busy with halachah obligations.  Another performed an elaborate ritual to make a US embassy halachah-compliant!

And what does this halachah code include?  Gingrich warned us not to be taken in by halachah apologists (halacha-pologists) who claim it's compatible with democracy.  Halachah is drawn from a text that commands the wholesale slaughter of entire non-believing civilizations.  Halachah bars followers from drinking wine that has been touched by anyone that doesn't adhere to halachah.  Halachah specifies that only some of its mandates can be superseded by secular law.  And halachah even includes "Noachide laws" regulating the behavior of non-Jews!  As a sign of the graveness of the threat, Gingrich warned that the US Congress had already passed a resolution recognizing these "Noachide laws" - emboldening halachah-adherents to impose their way of life on the rest of us.  And yet US judges appease halachists by arbitrating disputes under halachah law (more halach-apology!).  Gingrich pleaded with peace-loving Jews to renounce halachah and any of their co-religionists that adhere to it.

Then I woke up and discovered Gingrich and the modern American Right he represents don't want to ban halachah.  They just want to ban sharia.

(Cross-posted from here)

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Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 06:52 PM PDT

Why Are There No Bisexual Men on TV?

by jre

My friend Alyssa Rosenberg has teamed up with Lux Alptraum to start a new site, Pop Culture Pen Pals, and they've kicked it off with a great exchange on the impoverished portrayals (or lack thereof) of bisexual or sexually fluid characters on TV.  As Alyssa writes:

As long as studios are anxiously divining what audiences want, and audiences don’t know what they want from queer characters, no one’s going to pay attention to what realistic, deeply sketched queer characters themselves might actually want.

It's a thought-provoking - and agitating - discussion, and I agree with most of what they each have to say.  One dimension I'd be interested to hear them take on is gender.  TV characters that aren't exclusively hetero or homosexual are few and far between - but the ones that we do see tend to be women rather than men.  In GLAAD's survey of LGBT characters on Network TV, the LGBT male characters were all homosexual (14 to 0); the LGBT female characters were mostly bisexual (7 to 2).  The number's were more balanced on cable, but the pattern was the same.

Why is this?  

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In the wake of Walker’s Wednesday maneuver, National Review's Daniel Foster mourned the extent to which Americans still (or maybe more so now) recognize union rights as democratic rights, or as any kind of right at all:

To hear all the talk of the “rights” — even “civil rights”(!) — that have been stripped from public sector workers in this bill by the “far right wing” is to see Stockholm Syndrome on a massive scale...The fact is that no individual human being lost a single right in Wisconsin tonight.

The right that Scott Walker and company are desperate to deny is this: the right of a worker to sit across the table from her boss as an equal, with the security of solidarity and the leverage of collective action, and say “No.”
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Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 07:35 PM PST

Michael Eric Dyson's Tupac Book

by jre

ust finished Michael Eric Dyson's Tupac book Holler If You Hear Me.  As in his book on MLK, Dyson draws out radical intentions and implications of his subject's work, wrestles with the problematics of his life, and considers what the mythology that's developed since his death says about the culture around him.  The discussion of Tupac's relationship with his mother, Afeni Shakur, brings together several threads of the book: the contradictory meanings of black masculinity in Tupac's work and his thinking; the currents of rage, indictment, forgiveness, and affirmation in his music; the personal as political; the relationship between the '60s Black Panther generation and the next one.  If anything, the book suffers from Dyson's tendency to over-explain the significance of each sentence from Tupac.  Good read, and I learned a lot from it.

One passage of interest:

At least four notions are crucial to the conception of martyrdom: embodiment, identification, substitution, and elevation.  The martyr's death embodies, and in some cases anticipates, the death of those who follow.  It may be that his death signifies the manner in which his followers, adherents, or comrades could die.  The martyr is identified by and with the community that follows him.  He is identified as the leader of a group of believers or followers who identify with him as a member of their own tribe or community.  The martyr's death often substitutes for the death of his followers; he dies in their place, at least symbolically...Finally, the martyr is elevated to a high status, even as he elevates the condition of his followers through his death, drawing attention to their hidden or overlooked suffering.
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Was recently listening to the journalists on Slate's Political Gabfest pondering why union density is so much higher amongst public sector workers than the private sector.   None of them mentioned the most important difference: It's harder for a government to get away with running a terror campaign against the union.

There's more oversight and accountability to restrain public sector management from threatening workers for union activity, implying benefits to keeping out the union or danger with it, holding captive audience meetings against the union, or just firing union leaders.  Only some of these tactics are even illegal.  And bosses get away with those all the time.  (Check out this reportfrom Human Rights Watch, or this one from Prof. Kate Bronfenbrenner).  Consultants get very wealthy guiding companies on how to run fear campaigns against employees trying to organize.  It's a lot harder for the TSA to cut anti-union consultants a check than it is for Wal-Mart.

When it comes to organizing, the fundamental difference between public sector and private sector workers is that public sector workers have a better chance at organizing free from fear.  So lots and lots of public sector workers do.

Right-wingers' desire to crush workers' freedom to organize and bargain collectively, whether public sector or private, is old news.  But the zeal with which newly elected right-wing politicians are going after public employees is based in a sense of opportunity - one that comes not just from high unemployment or the media's deficit hysteria or GOP electoral gains but from the continuing decline in private sector union density.  Republicans are emboldened to go after public sector workers organizing rights because so few private sector workers are organized.

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