Monday, December 31, 2007

Review: Sweeney Todd and No Country for Old Men

Burton’s Sweeney Todd takes a darkly humorous play and paints it a whole new shade of black; Sondheim laid on the laughs rather thickly between the gothic horror of Sweeney’s executions by razor, but Burton’s sense of humor is dry as the rat-picked bones in Mrs. Lovett’s cellar. That’s not to say the movie isn’t funny—I found myself laughing out loud—but only that the movie is funny in a way that made me wonder just a little bit if I was a sociopath for thinking so. Depp, Bonham-Carter, and the rest occupy a nearly monochrome London punctuated by gushes of arterial blood and rare glimpses of blue sky. Sondheim’s play sets up two Londons—Anthony’s London of wide-eyed big-city optimism, and Todd’s London of dark memories and a corrupt humanity. Burton seems far more interested in the latter: even in their happiest moments, his characters seem only half-alive, with pallid skin and deep circles under their eyes.

Depp and Bonham-Carter play their characters very much like their characters’ hairdos. Depp’s Todd is pure black malevolence, with just a shock of searing white charisma to hold a tattered existence together. This absolutism makes Depp especially effective in scenes where Todd is jaded and vengeful—the “Epiphany” and “My Friends” are show stoppers—but detracts from the scenes where he must show some heart. He seems unable to wrench out the necessary tenderness for either his relationship with Mrs. Lovett or his mourning for Lucy. One of the best things Michael Cerveris and Patty LuPone brought to the 2005 revival of SWEENEY TODD was their intense chemistry; at its high points, Todd and Lovett’s relationship crackled with sexual energy. That energy made it all the more poignant when Todd rejected Lovett in Act II. To Depp’s Todd, Mrs. Lovett never seems more than a means to an end, and the movie loses some emotional ground as a result.

Bonham-Carter’s Lovett is as whispy and ethereal as her own flyaway locks. Her tinny mezzo-soprano stands in sharp contrast with both Angela Lansbury’s and Patty LuPone’s rich altos, but it carves out a fascinating niche for Lovett’s character. While Lansbury’s Lovett was bug-eyed madness, and LuPone’s was fishnet-wearing dominance, Bonham-Carter’s Mrs. Lovett is passive-aggressive and pouting. Rather than commanding her half of the screen, Bonham-Carter seems to slip between the cracks, as a physical as well as a moral presence. She seems genuinely concerned and occasionally horrified about the moral implications of her business, even as she shoves another leg into the meat grinder. She also creates deep attachments to both Tobias and Todd, rendering Bonham-Carter’s performance one of the best of the film.

Two other character decisions struck me as unique. Rickman plays a Judge Turpin who transcends the conventional creepy old man: Turpin seems to actually love Johanna, or think he loves her, enough that he is hurt when she rejects him and pitifully hopeful when he thinks he can win her back. Particularly with the missing “Mea Culpa” scene, Rickman’s decisions brought a much-needed roundness to the judge’s character. And finally, Ed Sanders—who gave what would have been an astonishing performance as Tobias if he had been 20, let alone 11—ends the film with an gut-wrenchingly rational execution. Burton left out the lines at the end of the play that paint Tobias as crazy, and instead directs Sanders to glare down at the mourning Depp for a long while before slitting Depp’s throat. The result redefines SWEENEY TODD from a morality play to a nihilistic cycle of death in which everyone, even the upright Anthony, is culpable. In her final conversation with Anthony, Johanna rebuffs his optimism with a line that appears only in the film. She says grimly, “The nightmares will never go away.” Burton seems to agree, and he draws together a nightmare so masterfully gripping that one almost hopes he’s right.

No Country for Old Men shares a penchant for bloody executions with Sweeney Todd, and shares Todd’s nihilistic take on violence. It is written with the kind of rigorously concise dialogue that not only makes every word count, but uses the space between words to heighten tension and speak volumes about character. No Country read to me as a critique of the kind of determinism that drives Sweeney Todd, Judge Turpin, and Anthony Hope: all three believe in some way that people get what they deserve, and that their actions are only part of some great cosmic justice. No Country for Old Men is the story of a West Texas welder, Llewelyn Moss, who finds $2 million dollars, a truckbed of Mexican heroin, and five dead bodies—the byproducts of a drug deal gone wrong—and makes off with the $2 million. He doesn’t get away, however, before catching the eye of Anton Chigurh, a psychopathic hitman who aims to recover the money. Tommy Lee Jones plays an aging sheriff, Ed Bell, who just wants to recover the money before anyone gets hurt, and Woody Harrelson plays a savvy hired gun, Carson Wells, out to stop Chigurh from killing more innocent civilians.

Chigurh is a psychopath, but he’s no random killer, and he doesn’t justify his violence with a Sweeney Todd-esque “everyone deserves death” worldview. Instead, he adheres to a deterministic view of life and death: to Chigurh, even the coin he flips to determine whether to kill a gas station clerk has traveled to that gas station for that purpose, and it is not Chigurh’s place to interfere with that purpose. Later in the film, as Carson Wells bargains for his life with Chigurh, Wells says “you don’t have to do this,” and Chigurh just doesn’t understand. He does have to kill Wells, because Wells has it coming. Carson Wells seems to understand, for both he and Llewelyn Moss have similarly deterministic worldviews. Harrelson’s Wells thinks himself invincible, and if this were a movie that followed the tropes of its genre, he would be. So would the protagonist Moss, who makes Chigurh his “special project.”

But the characters who are most sympathetic at the end of the movie are those who question determinism and insist on their agency, even as their lives spin out of their control. Llewelyn’s wife, played by Kelly MacDonald, faces a coin flip of her own and responds by refusing to choose heads or tails: she forces Chigurh to confront his own role in his killings. And Tommy Lee Jones’ softspoken Sheriff Bell just gets out when he realizes he has lost control. Instead of putting himself at the mercy of fate, Bell recognizes his own limits and takes responsibility for them. And by recognizing a rigged game and refusing to play, Bell finds a way out of the cycle of nightmares that make both Todd and No Country so horrifying.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sex, booze, and women as objects: update

Another kind of ridiculous beer ad: via Jezebel

Bad dude goes to prison

More on this after I finish the paper I'm writing right now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cocktail blogging: the daiquiri

I used to think of daiquiris as those slushy, insipid, banana-infused concoctions that are made from the cheap, artificial mixes you get for $2.99 and don't need to refrigerate. I thought of how my brain froze when I sipped at them, and how I could never tell whether it was the cheap alcohol or the sugar that made me feel vaguely sick.

It turns out, though, that the daiquiri I imagined is the bastard cousin of a simple, pure, and really excellent cocktail. The daiquiri is like the margarita in that it gets its sirupy reputation from its frozen relative, but that reputation is undeserved. It is like a martini in that once you have something that works this well, I don't know why you'd mess with it. Daiquiris are quite simple—only 3 ingredients—but I don't know that I want much more in a cocktail than the unadulterated limeness that only a daiquiri offers. (As I have mentioned before on this blog, I am a terrible lime whore). I tend to use simple sirup from raw sugar rather than refined white sugar; it compliments the rum better.

Here's my recipe:

1 lime
2 ponies light rum
1 pony simple sirup

Serve straight up in a cocktail glass. For those of you who were counting, that's about a 3:2:1 ratio on the ingredients, so if you're making a lot, use those proportions.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Just to be clear:

When I talked about good movements taking wrong steps, this was not what I was talking about.

via Feministe.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sex, Robots, and Booze.

Part 2. What is it with alcohol commercials and sexy robots these days? Svedka vodka, it turns out, has a highly interactive website that introduces you to their scantily-clad robotic spokeswoman (her friends call her svedka_grl, and she's "the future of adult entertainment," a phrase I can't imagine some marketing exec writing without a smirk). Let's get this out of the way, because I could complain about these specific ads forever: svedka_grl has almost literally no waist, perpetually perked breasts, wears lipstick (gives those cold metallic lips a nice purple pout), and is apparently unable to be in a position that doesn't simultaneously show off her die-cast ass and breasts while allowing her to bat her freakishly-eyelashed eyes. She also spouts inanities like "Svedka salutes L.A., home of the first drive-through plastic surgery window" and "I go both ways: straight up, or on the rocks."

Now, with that out of my system, let's talk a little bit about these sexbot spokespeople, because apart from their popularity among postpubescent pocket miners, they represent a really interesting trend in alcohol advertising. Let's look at the sex component. Sex has been used in advertisement since its inception in the 1920s (advertisement's, not sex's). It attracts attention and creates an association between some of the best feelings somebody can have and the product advertised.

The robot bit is about the allure of complete control. A robot is an automaton, a programmable object. Give it the right input and it will give you the desired output. We know the output: svedka_grl doesn't function outside sex. What, then, is the input? Well, vodka. And that's the crux of the svedka and heineken ads' danger: they imply not only that giving a woman alcohol makes her an object of ultimate sexual control, but that that's the purpose of their product.

Strange Bedfellows

The other day, in a class on Ethics in Public Policy, I found myself saying something that felt extremely strange coming out of my mouth. I said "I agree with the Bush Administration." I know, right? Those aren't words I'm used to saying. Before I get calls to turn in my pinko leftist card, let me specify that I wasn't agreeing with their entire policy stance on the issue at hand (Affirmative Action) but I thought aspects of their approach—considering socioeconomic background as a factor in equalizing admissions instead of race—were unusually thoughtful and made sense. So let's do a thought experiment. Let's assume affirmative action is really important to me. It's important to me like abortion, LGBT rights, or taxes are important to some voters—a make-or-break issue. Do I support Bush in the 2004 election? Since affirmative action isn't that important to me as a voter, it's not a dilemma I have to confront. I oppose Bush on so many more significant grounds that the off-chance that my thinking aligned with his on one is pretty irrelevant.

But for some people, this becomes an extremely relevant dilemma. They are forced to make political friends out of political enemies, enemies out of friends, and to sort out the mess that that can create practically. One of the best historical examples of this kind of behavior is the women's suffrage movement pandering to racists by excluding black women from marches and protests. These awkward little collisions of interest are fascinating to watch play out in contemporary politics. Here are some examples.

#1—Wisconsin is a stew of interests, what with hippie haven Madison and union refuge Milwaukee butting heads with rural-family-values everywhere else. Typically, it's the state that gave the nation both Bob LaFollette and Joe McCarthy. We are currently represented by one of the most progressive senators out there, Russ Feingold, but he's got an almost-perfect record in opposing gun control. It's along the "guns" line that a pretty absurd political hot button came up a few years ago. The DNR introduced introduced a bill in the state legislature that would make it legal to hunt cats. Yes, that means exactly what you think it means. If Mittens doesn't have a collar on, she's fair game (literally).

Now this little bill's strange bedfellows stemmed mostly from the fact that the environmental lobby was behind the bill. Feral cats killed off local birds, making them a nuisance for conservation efforts. The gun lobby was way behind it, because it meant they got to shoot stuff more often, and farmers were fans, because they considered feral cats a pest. That meant that the environmental lobby was against the animal rights fans. (As it worked out, legislators didn't want to go on the record as being pro-kitten-hunting, so the bill didn't pass.)

#2—Then there's this story. The upshot is that assholes want first amendment protection for their assholery, and the ACLU is helping them out. Now the ACLU tends to be pretty anti-homophobia, but they also like to protect your right, in certain circumstances to be an asshole. They're also big fans of second-amendment rights ("you mean I can have a gun, but I can't use it to shoot the queers?"). In any event, they're defending a church's right to picket military funerals—the church thinks deaths in Iraq are due to our tolerance of gays. So apparently you get to carry a sign at someone's funeral that says "thank God for dead soldiers." (But seriously, the left hates the troops).

So what are the implications of that kind of odd behavior? Well, an upside is that it makes people cross partisan boundaries and cooperate on issues that matter to them, and may create some kind of horse trading and compromise that is probably good for politics. People stop disagreeing with each other as a knee-jerk reaction and start actually considering their positions carefully. In theory, at least.

The downside is that it makes life awfully confusing for those of us who like to dedicate our time, money, or other resources to organizations that usually do really nice things, but don't want that money to go to protect, say, homophobic speech (I reluctantly think you can be a homophobic asshole whenever you want, but probably not at someone's funeral, and I'm certainly not going to give money to perpetuate it).

What about y'all? Have you encountered any interesting cases of strange bedfellows in your political life? How did you traverse that political space?

Friday, November 2, 2007

This is a good article

And good news. Crack users are getting less time in prison. That means there will be 3800 fewer prisoners in 15 years, which is a drop in the bucket of prison crowding, but a step in the right direction. Crack offenders will spend a little more than 8 years in prison, on average, rather than 10 years. Again, piecemeal reform, but a step in the right direction.

Update: bean has more. And a Yeats reference or two.

Friday, September 21, 2007

This almost made me cry.

Who knows. Maybe there's hope after all.

Via Unsprung

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Dealing with the limits of "sex-positive:" Part 1

I guess this week is "questioning essentially good social movements" week here at Circumscription. I want to look at the limits of (circumscribe? ha.) sex-positive thinking and living. It's a movement of which I'm a big fan, generally: I'm a pretty vanilla guy myself, but I think that pretty much anything adults can do consensually is fair game and their business. But there are situations in which sex-positive thinking becomes complicated. I'm gonna look at some of those locations in sexual activity. I'm not going to address pornography, because that's a very very tired topic. Some other time. (Also, Feministe just addressed porn. Ending the debate forever, of course.)

This is going to be a three-part series, from the fairly basic to the extremely problematic. Part one (the one you're reading!) is about competing sex drives. Part two is about cheating. Part three is about taboos: incest, bestiality, and necrophilia (all those things the fundies think will happen if queers get married).

One problem with sex-positive thinking is that not everyone likes sex the same amount. So here's the dilemma. Your committed partner wants sex tonight/this week/ever. You don't. Are you obligated to put out for your partner tonight/this week/ever? Because women have conventionally been put in the position of "owing" sex for a number of reasons, feminists tend to come down hard on the "no" side. But what if, in an attempt to look at this issue normatively rather than practically,* we pretend this is a perfectly egalitarian relationship that isn't inflected by gender expectations. What the heck, let's make our thought-experimental partners lesbians, if that helps. In any event, Dan Savage came down with a resounding "yes" in his column a few weeks ago. He's a proponent of a standard he calls GGG:
'Good, giving, and game' is what we should all strive to be for our sex partners, as in, 'good in bed,' 'giving equal time and equal pleasure,' and 'game for anything—within reason.'
And, he says, this means we have sexual obligations to our lovers:
I happen to believe that we owe our sex partners a few things. Good personal hygiene, for starters, followed by a sense of humor, a willingness to meet our lovers' needs, and cleanish sheets. Someone who's unwilling or incapable of meeting a partner's needs owes 'em permission to get those needs met elsewhere—safely and responsibly, within reason, and on a budget.
Dan's standard puts the power in the hands of the horny one. Which sounds like it means a lot of unhappy lovers who are asked to grit their teeth and suck, fuck, and eat it. Except when you consider that there's a built-in failsafe: an unhappy partner can always leave the relationship. And in the world we're imagining, one in which the burden of sex falls equally on both** shoulders, they'll leave, rather than grit their teeth. The world we're imagining isn't as distant as I've made it out to be, either. Really, if partners ask for what they want, and are honest with each other and themselves, everything works out. Or doesn't work out, but that's for the very valid reason of sexual incompatibility.

So far, we've assumed that each partner is willing to engage in sexual activity at all. In the event that one partner is not ready for sex, for emotional and/or religious reasons, then I think the power shifts back into that partner's hands—agreeing to go down on your partner even though you don't feel like it that night is a lot different from agreeing to go down on your partner even though you are on shaky ground emotionally. It's important to ensure that sex-positive thinking means "sex is a good thing, but it's a good thing that everyone has to come (ha) to when they're ready."

That was easyish. Tune in next time for when it gets harder.

*I think a normative approach here can serve as a model for the practical. After all, we have to assume that some folks can kick The Man out of their bedroom somehow.
**Yes, I'm being monoamory-centric here, for convenience. It all applies equally well to a polyamorous relationship.

This commercial is disgusting.

I don't know where to start. Let's start with "women as non-humans," an enormous problem in advertisement. They are literally objectified, like those creepy-as-hell dolls everyone was blogging about a little while back. And they dispense beer out of their unnaturally thin torsos. And they replicate, as if to prove their non-individuality. Take a look at the comment thread on YouTube if you feel like vomiting.

UPDATE: AAAAHHH!!! You can paste your face on their bodies. ew. ew. ew.

Can we take it too far?

I tend to agree almost uniformly with the opinions expressed in the feminist blogosphere (with the obvious exception of issues like porn where, even in the most homogeneous community, civil blood makes civil hands unclean). So I always end up a little surprised when I run across a post where I think the author is completely off the mark. They tend to be knee-jerk "blame patriarchy" posts, where I have to wonder if the chip we feminists inevitably carry on our shoulder hasn't gotten a bit too easy to knock off.

Here's a good example: Pandagon's post a couple weeks back on the pixar film, Ratatouille. I'll quote it in full, because it's short.
Ratatouille in brief: a male rodent makes a better French chef than the female human who’s been slaving away at the restaurant for years.
Huh? Let me get this straight. Any film that features a prodigious male character is sexist, just because there are hard-working women out there? Or is it only if it also features the struggles of a woman in a male-dominated profession? Feminist critics of Ratatouille who point out that, for example, all the rats in the film were male are on better ground. But the suggestion that every film about a male-dominated profession kowtows to patriarchy unless it has a female lead seems like holding the good hostage to the perfect, especially when the film in question goes out of its way to draw attention to gender inequalities. (The comments section of that post is a good read, especially if you're interested in the Ayn Rand connection to Brad Bird's movies).

The recent example of knee-jerk patriarchy blaming that I came across was one of bean's posts on LGM, about a new clothing line for women in labor. Weird? Sure. Oppressive? Bean thinks so:
The end result is to focus attention on women's appearances and to continue their sexualization....I mean, if a woman still has to worry about her appearance when pushing a bowling ball through her vagina, what hope is there for us to escape an appearance-focused sexualizing and objectifying society?
This line of thought is deeply troubling for me, because it assumes that women's clothing is inherently sexualizing and androcentric. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that was the argument made by rape apologists—"She was wearing attractive clothing, and there's only one thing that can mean." Now, I'm not an expert, being a man, but every straight woman I have ever heard from on the subject of clothes has told me that she dresses in attractive clothing for herself, not for men who might look at her.

We can't have it both ways. Either clothing inherently says something about sex (EDIT: and can only possibly say something about sex), in which case women who dress provocatively are responsible for harassment and men control yet another sphere of women's lives, or clothing is personal, in which case there's nothing wrong with someone wanting to look good (and consequently feel good) during what is otherwise a pretty stressful time. I'd much rather live in world two, and I think it checks out with the way most women see the way they dress.

What do we do about unreasonable patriarchy blaming? I'd certainly rather we blame patriarchy for too much than too little, and interrogating systems of power is never a bad thing. Except that I suspect that taking unreasonable stances alienates people from feminism, and feminism doesn't need any bad press that it deserves—it gets enough already that it don't deserve. We should be careful not to become wingnuts—even if something's really bad, it isn't responsible for all bad ever. And, as the folks at Pandagon did, we should remind each other to pick the right battles: there are plenty out there.

Monday, August 27, 2007

In other breaking news, women like pink.

Why doesn't anyone seem to think through their assumptions when doing research on gender differences? Proceedings of the Royal Society just did a study on women, men, and shopping. Like most studies that deal with gender, the science seems shoddy and the reporting (in this case, The Economist) is worse.

Here's the study:
[Yale Psychologist Joshua New] recruited 41 women and 45 men and led each of them individually on a merry dance around the chosen market. In the course of this peregrination, each participant visited six of the 90 food stalls in the market. At each of those stalls, participants were given a piece of food to eat. They were asked their preference for the taste of the food, how often they ate that food in normal life, how attractive they found the stall and how often they had made purchases from that stall in the past. After visiting all six stalls, they were taken to the centre of the market and asked to point toward those stalls, one at a time, using an arrow on a dial. In addition, they were asked to rate their own sense of direction.

And here's what they found:
On average, women were 9° more accurate than men at pointing to each stall—a significant deviation if you have to walk some distance to get to a place. This was not because those women had more experience of visiting the market than the men had. Nor did the women rate themselves as having a better sense of direction—indeed the men rated their own navigating skills more highly....Among both the British and the Chinese, women preferred reddish hues such as pink to greenish-blue ones. Among men it was the other way round.

Now, this is all very interesting, but then you get to the conclusions:
Dr New suggests that these results show women are better than men at the particular task of relocating sources of food. That contrasts with the idea that men are better at navigation in general. In other words, women's minds are specialised for their ancestral task of gathering the sort of food that cannot run away....Moreover, though anatomical sex is binary, mental “gender” is more pliable. To see how masculine or feminine the brains of their participants were, Dr Hurlbert and Dr Ling used what is known as the Bem Sex Role Inventory, which asks about personality traits more often associated with one sex than the other. This showed that the more feminine a brain was, regardless of the body it inhabited, the more it liked red and pink.
All this suggests a biological, rather than a cultural, explanation for colour preference. And Dr Hurlbert and Dr Ling have produced one. They suggest that their result may be connected with the fact that the colour of many fruits is at the red end of the spectrum. An evolved preference for red, pink and allied shades—particularly in contrast with green—could thus bring advantage to those who gather such things. And if they can also remember which tree (or stall) to go and visit next time, then so much the better.

Lets start with the test Hurlbert and Ling used. Their test points to which individuals identify more with culturally constructed gender traits, right? Because all their test associates gender with is certain common traits that appear in a given gender. Is it really a surprise, then, that they found that individuals who identify with female-associated traits, identify with a specific female-associated trait, pink? The Bem Sex Role Inventory is descriptive, not prescriptive. Here's wikipedia:
In 1971, [Dr. Bem] created the Bem Sex Role Inventory to measure how well you fit into your traditional gender role by characterizing your personality as masculine, feminine, androgynous, or undifferentiated. She believed that through gender-schematic processing, a person spontaneously sorts attributes and behaviors into masculine and feminine categories. Therefore, an individual processes information and regulate their behavior based on whatever definitions of femininity and masculinity their culture provides.
So it's not really surprising that a test designed to measure traditional gender roles produced traditionally-gendered results.

But that's not even the beginning of the problems with the "biological proof" conclusion. Let's also ignore for a second that the article makes the error of assuming that anatomical sex is binary. This experiment does nothing to control for the decades of social conditioning these women had to a) be good at shopping and b) like pink. Women (and, probably, "effeminate" men) simply have more practice at shopping than men (and, probably, "masculine" women) have. And they have been dressed in pink and red since birth, where little boys get blue and green. Why, then, is this all assumed to be based on a history of women gathering? My guess is that New et al went looking for a prehistoric answer and found one, but that doesn't make their control problems less grave (and having someone "rate themselves" as a control for their sense of direction is almost laughable).

Why do sloppy experiments with specious conclusions get press? Hearing about biological roots to our gender assumptions is interesting—it certainly caught my eye. Our daily lives are constantly inflected with gendered expectations, and it's hardly surprising we want to know those expectations' source. But it would be awfully nice to get that information from better hands.

This just in

They're dropping like flies. Madison's own Russ Feingold says it best: the next attorney general must have his foremost loyalty be "to the law, not the president." Wouldn't that be something new.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Two things that are not get-out-of-homophobia-free cards

There are two common ways in which homophobia gets masked, and both of them piss me the hell off. One of them has been in the news, because Mayor Jim Naugle of sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida has been under fire for proposing that Fort Lauderdale install porta-potties on its beaches to "deter homosexual activities." Now even a conservative FL retiree can tell that's a strawman, and that not too many fags are getting it on in the public toilets of Fort Lauderdale beaches (perhaps Naugle was thinking of his Tampa neighbor, State Rep. Bob Allen—who is now crying, "I'm not gay, I'm racist!"), but that isn't even the issue anymore. In face of criticism, the honorable mayor stuck to his guns and kept firing new rounds, saying that he didn't like to use the word "gay" because homosexuals are such unhappy people, and calling a GLBT section of the public library pornographic. And then—this is the best part—he made fourth graders everywhere proud by issuing a fake apology, saying essentially "I'm sorry you all are so stupid you can't see that this is a problem."

What is Mayor Naugle's defense against people who claim his behavior may indicate some homophobia? "I have longtime friends in the homosexual community." Now granted, they're clearly deeply unhappy friends whose collective presence in a public bathroom represents a threat to children everywhere, and whose taste in literature is utter smut, but the guy has friends who are gay!

Thing number one: having gay friends doesn't mean you aren't homophobic. Wagner loved Mendelssohn, a jew, but he was still f*ckin anti-semitic. That a few individuals have jumped your homophobia hurdle in order to get to your friendship finish line doesn't mean the hurdle isn't there, and doesn't make that hurdle the fault of the other queers who keep tripping over it. Having gay friends doesn't even guarantee you are only a little homophobic, and using it as an excuse might hurt. Most people, even most queers, are a little bit homophobic, but they are aware of it and try to work against it. Not so for those who write off their homophobia—they think there's nothing to work against.

A close friend of mine just came out as queer to his girlfriend, who freaked out. She's not a queer-hater, apparently, except when it comes down to the guy she's sleeping with, and then she can't stop thinking about how uncomfortable it makes her that he hooked up with another guy once.

Thing number two: A NIMBY homophobe is still a homophobe. Saying otherwise is like saying "oh, I'm fine with black people, except when they're around me. Then I get really freaked out." If that happens, you're racist. If you don't mind empowered women, as long as all the women around you act subserviant, you're sexist. Similarly, if you don't mind homosexuals, as long as you get to pretend they're all straight, you're homophobic. And if you let go of a boy who loves you right now, just because he f*cked someone else back then, you're just dumb.

PS—while we're on the topic of sexuality, the superlative Savage LoveCast included a call this week that proposed people use "scrotum" as a synonym for "weakling," rather than "pussy." It's a great idea: the reasoning is that while pussies aren't actually all that weak—they give birth, for god's sake—scrotums are pretty fragile, and don't take pain very readily. Plus, they're kind of gross. I wouldn't want to be called a scrotum. And, despite the chip on my shoulder about the way we construct masculinity, I think using "scrotum" to mean "weakling" actually does a lot to queer the way masculinity is understood. It's not likely that we'll be seeing the ideal man portrayed as weak in the near future; the same is not true for women. So get working and stop being such a huge scrotum! Or, alternately, stop scroting out!

Padilla Convicted

Jose Padilla, the terror suspect who was arrested in May 2002 amid cries from John Ashcroft that the government had foiled a dirty nuke attack in the works, was convicted on all charges in federal court yesterday. There's good news and bad news here. The good news is that this conviction makes it harder for the Bush administration to claim that terror suspects need an extra-constitutional process for trying and sentencing. The bad news...well...

Y'know the charges he was arrested on, the ones that John Ashcroft was so excited about? Those weren't mentioned at all in his federal trial, since for some silly reason federal courts don't like to use evidence that was gathered by rendering suspects outside the U.S. justice system. Instead, Padilla was prosecuted as part of an existing case against two other terror suspects, Adham Hassan and Kifah Jayyousi. The evidence? He met them at a mosque at one point, he talked with them on the phone during seven out of thousands of wiretapped calls, saying nothing of significance (the other phone calls, the ones with just Hassan and Jayyousi, had what prosecutors claimed was code), and his fingerprints were all over an Al Qaeda recruitment document that he could easily have handled while confined in military prison. The end result, though, was that the more persuasive evidence against Hassan and Jayyousi stuck to Padilla as well. Padilla might appeal.

But at least now everyone knows that the Bush administration doesn't need a special process to unjustly convict terror suspects--they can do that just as easily with federal courts. And maybe—just maybe—this will put pressure on the Bush administration to give terror suspects federal trials. That would be great, because then they'd have to stop getting evidence through extraordinary rendition and start getting it through better methods: y'know, the kind that don't involve getting other countries to torture individuals who haven't been accused of a crime. The end result would be more reliable intelligence, since the information gathered from torture is hideously unreliable.

A caveat: Padilla might be guilty. I certainly don't know. But the verdict he received seemed to rest more on his having the wrong friends than on any actual proof of terrorist activities.

UPDATE: The NYT agrees—Padilla was basically sentenced to life in prison for a thought crime.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Still slow on posting

But go check out this post from the Feministe archives. Astounding.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Oh my.

As of about a half hour ago: Karl Rove resigned.
He says he needs to spend more time with his family. (What a sweet guy!) Of course, he is one of what is becoming a lengthy string of Bush administration officials to suddenly need some heart to heart time with the spouse and kids. He chose to break the big news to Rupert Murdoch's new pet project, the WSJ. The big question, of course, will be why he actually resigned. Infighting? Had Bush become a lost cause? Was Rove more controversy than he was worth with a year and a half left to go in a lame-duck presidency? Is it to skirt the soon-to-be-breaking news about his and Dick Cheney's torrid affair? (I wish.) Is he working for a 2008 presidential campaign??

Updates to come when the news is a bit more detailed.

UPDATE: Lauren asks, will he be indicted?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

It's that time of term

So posts are slow for the time being. More tomorrow.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Then again, you could live in Japan

Apparently it's workplace gender discrimination week (read: slow news week) at the New York Times, because right on the heels of the much blogged-about report on gender pay (dis)parity in large cities, comes a report about Japan's glass ceiling. It turns out that only 10.1% of managerial jobs in Japan are held by women, who make up almost 50% of the workforce. The biggest culprit? The same thing that is making young, urban, American women lose their brief pay edge after age 25: motherhood. Being a working mother is even more difficult in Japan, because a fifteen-hour workday is relatively commonplace for those who are interested in getting ahead. No wonder Japan's birthrate has plummeted--it's difficult enough for a pregnant woman to work eight hours, let alone fifteen. The result is that Japanese women have literally to choose between a job and a family.

Now, that's not to downplay the role of outright discrimination. That exists, although it's been illegal since 1985. The piece of legislation doesn't actually provide a means for the government to punish companies who break it, other than putting them on a "naughty list" at the Department of Labor. Which the Department of Labor hasn't even done. The result is a situation like that of one women, described in the article:
Takako Ariishi, 36, experienced an extreme version of these roles when she grew up as the only child of the president of Daiya Seiki, a small manufacturer owned by her family that supplies gauges to Nissan.

At first, her disappointed father cut her hair like a boy’s and forbade her to play with dolls. When she had her first son 10 years ago, he fired her from the company and anointed the infant grandson as his successor.

Still, Ms. Ariishi took over as president three years ago after her father died. She says she is the only woman in a group of some 160 heads of Nissan suppliers. The first time she attended the group’s twice-annual meetings, she says she was asked to wait in a room with secretaries.

“I still have to prove all the time that a woman can be president,” says Ms. Ariishi, a trained engineer who wears a blue unisex factory worker’s uniform in her office.
Things are changing, the article notes, albeit very slowly. Apparently, Japanese society is realizing that a) it needs women to work and b) it needs women to have babies, so c) it should let a given woman do both of those in her lifetime. It's a pity that progress toward gender equality sometimes only happens when men realize it's their ass if it doesn't, but at least that progress is being made.

The most interesting bit of analysis in the whole piece was that, statistically, countries with better workplace participation have higher fertility rates. Women who have jobs and know they can keep them have babies earlier, because it's not a death sentence for their career. So having a baby is bad for your job, but having a job is good for having a baby. Got all that?

If you haven't had enough of workplace discrimination statistics yet, here's an excellent graph from the NYT that illustrates some of the U.S./Japan distinctions.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Just don't get married, have kids, or move to the suburbs.

Or, as an alternative, be a man.

Via Feministing and Lawyers, Guns and Money, the New York Times has a report on how young urban women are actually outpacing men in wage-earning. New York men make 85 cents on a woman's dollar, and Houston men make 83 cents. Then that women becomes a mother, and she falls behind men in earning again.

I don't think any of this is good news. First of all, fathers still make more money than anyone, single young women included. So apparently becoming a father increases your earning power, but becoming a mother torpedos it. Second, that women fall off drastically when they leave their twenties only confirms the existence of a "glass ceiling" that seems to keep women out of the upper echelons of job advancement. And finally, single young urban women are the only group that is ahead of men. Everywhere else, they seem to still be ten or twenty cents behind on the dollar.

And what is wrong with young urban men? The Supreme Court is certainly doing everything it can to help them out. And a couple hundreds of years of old-boy networking and being the traditional figure in every higher-paid job can't hurt. The article has a couple of answers. One is that women may start earlier, because they plan out time from their career to have a family. The other—and this statistic bothers me every time I hear it—is that young women just tend to be better educated nowadays.

Women are attending 4-year colleges at higher rates than men, which raises some interesting questions about masculinity, and especially about how male gender roles affect high-schoolers. Is it just because men are more likely to feel welcome in skilled blue-collar work, like construction work or electrical engineering? Or are men embracing a less bookish self-image because only queers like English class? Or maybe a little of both? Either way, it's just as unacceptable for men to be systemically discouraged from higher education—if indeed that's what is happening—as it was for women to be shut out. I'll rant about the masculine mystique some other time, but suffice it to say that I think we talk a lot more about femininity's problems than we do about masculinity's, and it might be necessary to try to fix both to fix either.

The NYT article ends frustratingly. What's the important kernel the Times leaves its reader with? What "sums it all up and blows it all wide open?" (Extra points if you know what musical that is). Well, apparently being richer than men their age is making it harder for women to get married. Figures.

UPDATE: Zuzu also posts on this topic.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Dartmouth Saturday—Sexual Assault

Saturday will be a Dartmouth-themed post.

The beginning of this summer saw a rash of sex crimes (two qualifies as a rash in Hanover, NH) at Dartmouth. And the weird thing is, they were both the kind of sex crime that everybody thinks about when they think "sex crime," i.e. the kind that rarely happens. The first was an assault on the green—that's the quad, for you non-Dartmouthers—at night. A college student groped a high school camper under her shirt and then ran away when she screamed. Then, a day later, an older man followed a walking female student in his car, masturbating while watching her.

There were two important responses. The first was that the sorority system on campus immediately spread the news about the assaults and started a "ride home" service of their own to supplement the (limited) one provided by Safety and Security. Good for them. The second response, however, was a bit more puzzling. The administration immediately posted long notices about the incidents on the doors of every dorm.

Good for them, too, but what the hell? Sexual assault occurs regularly on this and every college campus. Usually it is the kind of sexual assault that makes up 90% of assault cases: the kind where the victim knows the assailant. However, have one "creepy guy in the bushes" style assault, and now the administration sees fit to start warning students? That's not to decry the response that the administration made—it was appropriate—but it highlights the culture of secrecy and shame that surrounds campus sexual assault. Where is the notice every time a rape is reported to SAPA, the (excellent) Sexual Assault Peer Advising service on campus? Where is the notice every time a woman—or man—is taken advantage of after a night of drinking? Where is the notice every time someone gets unwantedly groped on the dance floor at a frat party? But one random dude gropes a random girl on the green, and now it's headline news in the campus paper and a priority for the administration. The end result? The all-too-ordinary, all-too-mundane type of rape, the kind that happens every day while we watch, gets normalized in contrast. Rape apology becomes easier, because the "ordinary" kinds of rape don't get the drama and coverage that the "guy in the bushes" kinds do.

I'll leave off with a quotation from the second victim, the one who was followed, in case anyone is still under the impression that sex crimes, even those as comparatively mild as getting followed by a creepy guy, don't do serious damage to their victims sense of security and personal integrity:
I’m not walking outside alone after dark. This past weekend my flatmates were both out of town, so I slept at a friend’s room Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. I felt pretty vulnerable on Thursday, and took the day off from work on Friday…I’ve also been looking at license plates like crazy.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Food Friday—Cooking Vegan

I am not a vegan. I am not even a vegetarian. A large part of that is selfish—I simply enjoy the possibilities meat, fish, dairy, and eggs give my cooking and eating. But I also think a focus on limiting factory farming and on buying local, small-organic food is an important first priority before we can understand where animals fit into human diets. It's kind of like the logic that gets applied to women in the workplace. Sure, a greater percentage of women may prefer to stay at home than men, but we won't know until they get equal access to the workplace. Similarly, it may be unsustainable and cruel to use animals for food, but it's hard to know until we arrive back at a system that isn't completely broken.

One of my best friends just turned vegan. He read a bunch of Peter Singer, and found himself agreeing with too much of it to ignore its implications. That gave me the opportunity, last time he came over for dinner, to cook an entirely vegan meal. And it's actually a fun constraint. I immediately established that I would take veganism on it's own terms, not try to make vegan "versions" of non-vegan food. I have had too many floppy, boring soyburgers and dry, floury baked goods to take that road. Instead, I looked for vegan dishes that existed in meat-eating traditions, and built everything else from the ground up, as if non-vegan food had never existed.

Chips and Guacamole were an easy decision to start. Readers who know me know that I am a huge lime whore. The avocado is a great vehicle for a tight balance of onions, lime, tomatillos, and chiles. Thinking back, I would have done well to throw some thin slices of jicama on the plate for dipping as well.

I'm proud of the next dish, a little amuse-bouche that went around before we sat down. I fried green plantains with plenty of garlic until they were crisp on the outside and oozing on the inside, then topped them with a raspberry-cayenne coulis. If I had known how easy coulis is to make, I would have made it before—you just toss fruit in a blender, transfer to a sauté pan, add sugar over heat, and then strain in a sieve. The cayenne was to-taste, to offset the sweetness of the raspberries.

Harire, a thick Moroccan soup with tomatoes and chickpeas, was the main plate of the night. Depending on the recipe, it can have pasta. We left it out, because of the veganism constraint and because it's really not necessary once you have chickpeas doing their starchy thing.

Dessert was "turtles" of pecans, dark chocolate, and caramel. I am terrified of sugar. Honest to god, terrified. It changes so quickly, and is so easy to ruin, that, short of a dark roux (that'll be another post), it has to be the most stressful thing I know to cook. But the caramel turned out alright, if a little hard (no milk). I should have oiled my waxed paper before laying down the caramel and pecans. Chocolate wants butter and caramel wants cream, but both work fine without.

I will continue to make Friday a food-themed entry. Other day-themed entries are coming. I considered giving each day a theme, but decided that would be cheesy beyond words. But I think the weekends may be themed, with weekdays left for news and other posts.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Let's start things off...

...with something nice and uncontroversial. I'm talking, of course, about abortion. Jill Filopovic of Feministe wrote a brilliant post the other day about abortion. She posed the question: if abortion is murder, how much time should the woman who has an abortion serve? The wingnutosphere didn't like this one bit, and focused a whole lot of energy on not answering the question. The useful thing about Jill's question is that it forces pro-lifers to assign legal value to a fetus's "life". And if a fetus's "life" is worth less, legally, than, say, a woman's bodily integrity (which has a fairly easy-to-determine legal value--just look at punishments for rape), then bingo, abortion should probably be legal. It also separates clearly the legal side of abortion from the ethical side. By dealing only with the legal value of a fetus, the "how much time" question delineates the importance of choice--that everyone doesn't want an abortion doesn't mean everyone shouldn't have legal access to one.

There are really only three answers to this question. All are deeply problematic:
1) No time. The justification is usually that women weren't punished pre-Roe, and therefore don't need to be punished now (that's the implication in JivinJ's post, linked above). The trouble here is that now you've just given the fetus an infinitely smaller legal value than any other life, and than any other crime against property, privacy, or bodily integrity. And it implies that abortion really isn't murder, and that the fetus really isn't as human as other humans. In fact, it creates a legal second-class category for fetuses, which is exactly what anti-choicers want to avoid.
2) Some time, but with a lot of lenience because you have to be crazy/emotional/hysterical to have an abortion. This answer is the worst of the three, because so many women are prepared to have abortions before they actually end up in a position where they have to. I did some hypothetical math on the comment thread:
let’s imagine that even as few as 20% of women will identify as prepared to consider an abortion if they were to have an unwanted pregnancy. That means that of the roughly 1,200,000 legal abortions in the U.S. every year, an extremely conservative figure of 240,000 were already prepared to have an abortion before they apparently came down with a fit of hysterics due to becoming pregnant. That’s 240,000 clear premeditated murders.

So number two basically equates to:
3) Ship 'em off to prison. This one is the most logically consistent, but not only is deeply alienating to all but the nuttiest of the wingnuts, but also is fairly socially unsustainable. Here's some more hypothetical math:
About 1.4% of murders currently result in the death penalty: that’s maybe 3,300 more executions every year. Not to mention the other 230,000 life prisoners we would need to incarcerate. So even if “you’d have to be crazy to have an abortion” were to fly 80% of the time (and I’m not even talking about what that argument would mean in terms of infantilizing women), that could still mean an incredible glut of incarcerations and executions. Even if we were to imagine that abortions were to drop to pre-Roe levels (around 580,000/year, according to the CDC), that’s a shitload of women getting thrown into prison and jabbed with a lethal injection.

I'm not going to go on about the prison crowding problems this country has, but suffice it to say, we couldn't imprison women who got abortions if we wanted to.

There were a few other interesting thought experiments that came up in commenting, and near the end of Jill's post. The first was Jill's:
There’s a fire in a fertility clinic. Inside the clinic there’s a three-year-old boy who you’ve never met and have absolutely no connection to. There are also 100 embryos in a box. You only have time to run into the clinic one time. You cannot carry the boy and the box at the same time. What do you do? Do you save 100, or do you save one?

The best anti-choice answer to this one was that life is infinitely valuable, and it's impossible to decide. I've heard this argument before, and it's equally uncompelling every time. A good way around it is to think about the state of the world in either situation. If we can save one person or three people, the world is two people better off if we do the latter. And this isn't a hypothetical problem. Medical triage makes these choices all the time, with regrettable but necessary results.

Someone, I forget who, posed this situation: a woman will die of cancer unless she gets chemotherapy. That chemotherapy will cause her pregnancy to spontaneously abort. She will live long enough without chemo to give birth to a healthy baby, but by that time it will be too late to save her. Should she have chemo? I'd add: what if the chemo has only a 50% success rate? 10%? At what percentage do we flip a coin? Because at that point, I think, we have the relative value of a healthy, wanted fetus to its mother.

Why are these questions important? They establish the relative values of social goods, and that's what lawmaking is all about. Do whatever you want with your personal ethics, but if you can't answer these questions, and well, I don't want you making my laws.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Is this thing on?

If this works, this will be the first post on my new blog. On the off-chance that you wander in, more will follow shortly, including a less generic page layout and some actual content.