Jun 30, 2005

Legal Reasoning [LINK]

Following the Supreme Court's controversial decision in Kelo v. City of New London, New Hampshire developer Logan Darrow Clements filed an application to build a hotel on the present site of Justice David Souter's residence. A hotel, he reasoned, would generate more tax revenue for the town of Ware than a private residence.

"An ever more concentrated and profit-driven media" [LINK]

Promotional jacket text for the paperback edition of Gag Rule: On the Supression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy, published by Penguin Press. The book's author is Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine:

Dissent is Democracy. Democracy is in Trouble. Never before, Lewis Lapham argues, have voices of protest been so locked out of the mainstream conversation, so marginalized and muted by a government that recklessly disregards civil liberties, and by an ever more concentrated and profit-driven media in which the safe and the salable sweep all uncomfortable truths from view....

Dangerous solar proposals [LINK]

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is weighing several proposals to either subsidize or mandate solar panels on residences. All are deadly, since they would entail more people scaling their roofs to service the panels.

Prisoners to Design Jail [LINK]

In Great Britain, architect Will Alsop is spearheading a creative arts program to guide prisoners in designing a "creative prison" that would emphasize rehabilitation over punishment. In fact, no such prison will be built.

"Reinventing the Route to D.C. Diploma" [LINK]

A letter to the Washington Post identifies one more goal post that needs moving:

The District is taking a significant step in the right direction by offering the option of a fifth year of high school ["Reinventing the Route to D.C. Diploma," Metro, June 20].

We rarely notice if a student takes a year or two longer than usual to complete a graduate degree because of personal obligations. Also, it is now acceptable for students to take more than four years to complete college: According to a recent UCLA study, only 36 percent of students in college in the 1990s finished in four years, compared with 40 percent in the 1980s and 47 percent in the late 1960s.

The expectation that students will finish high school in four years, however, has remained, for no reason other than tradition. Many students, including recent immigrants who are learning English, can profit from more time, and many need more time because of work obligations. We need to facilitate schooling for those who lack the advantages and commend them for their perseverance.

Jun 28, 2005

One response to grade inflation [LINK]

From an article about Harvard University by Ross Douthat in The Atlantic. Douthat recounts the announcement professor Harvey Mansfield made recently regarding changes to his grading policy in his "History of Modern Political Philosophy" course:

As many of you know, I have often been, ah, outspoken concerning the upward creep of Harvard grades over the last few decades. Some say that this climb — in which were once Cs have become Bs, and those Bs are now fast becoming As — is a result of meritocracy, which has ensured that Harvard students are, ah, smarter than their forebears. This may be true, but I must tell you that I see little evidence of it.

Nevertheless, I have recently decided that hewing to the older standard is fruitless when no one else does, because all I success in doing is punishing students for taking classes with me. Therefore I have decided that this semester I will issue two grades to each of you. The first will be the grade that you actually deserve — a C for mediocre work, a B for good work, and an A for excellence. This one will be issued to you alone, for every paper and exam that you complete. The second grade, computed only at semester's end, will be your, ah, ironic grade — "ironic" in this case being a word used to mean lying — and it will be computed on a scale that takes as its mean the average Harvard grade, the B-plus. This higher grade will be sent to the registrar's office, and will appear on your transcript. It will be your public grade, you might say, and it will ensure, as I have said, that you will not be penalized for taking a class with me. And of course, only you will know whether you actually deserve it.

Ten Commandments, Two Rulings [LINK]

The Supreme Court issued diverging rulings on whether the Ten Commandments may be displayed on government property. Displays within two Kentucky courthouses were ruled impermissible because they appeared to be the result of religious intent. But an outdoor monument at the Texas State Capitol was deemed acceptable largely because it shared its space with 17 other secular sculptures, thus diluting its most toxic effects.

"Racial Disparities in Taxicab Tipping" [LINK]

Economists Ian Ayres, Fredrick E. Vars, and Nasser Zakariya published a paper concluding that African-American passengers tipped approximately one-half the amount of white passengers, and were 3.7 times more likely to leave no tip. Also, African-American cab drivers were tipped approximately one-third less than white cab drivers, a form of discrimination in which African-American passengers participate. They conclude that eliminating the practice of tipping (by including the cost in the fare) would decrease racial discrimination.

"Conservatives caught in contradiction" [LINK]

A letter to the Boston Globe:

AS ADVOCATES of free trade, conservatives are more than happy to displace the little guy from his job for the greater public good, but when it comes to displacing that same guy from his home on similar public benefit grounds, they contradict themselves.

Jeff Jacoby embodies this contradiction In ''Fleeing free trade" (op ed, Jan. 9, 2004), he criticized Democrats for backing away from free trade and its public benefits, yet in his column ''Eminent injustice in New London" (June 26), he expresses outrage about the recent Supreme Court decision on eminent domain that will force a group of New London residents to give up their homes to make way for waterfront development.

On the one hand, Jacoby supports economic policies that displace thousands of people from their jobs (and, in many cases, from their homes), yet he finds another economic policy that will displace seven property owners from their homes to be ''execrable." Mike Cristofaro, the homeowner portrayed in Jacoby's column, should understand that, if his job had been at stake as a consequence of free trade, Jacoby would have had no sympathy at all....

"Enforcing rhetoric of anality" [LINK]

From an essay by Lee Siegel on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who teaches queer theory at The City University of New York. Here is a passage from a notebook by Henry James, who around the turn of the century, aged 62, hopes to return home from California with plenty of material to write about:

My long dusty adventure over, I shall be able to [plunge] my hand, my arm, in, deep and far, and up to the shoulder — into the heavy bag of remembrance — of suggestion — of imagination — of art.
You can see where this is heading. Here's Sedgwick's interpretation:
[I]n James a greater self-knowledge and a greater acceptance and specificity of homosexual desire transform this half-conscious enforcing rhetoric of anality, numbness, and silence, into a much richer, pregnant address to James's male muse, an invocation to fisting-as-écriture.
(via National Review, 7/4/05)

Jun 27, 2005

"Seeing math all around us" [LINK]

The table of contents for a new textbook, Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers.

Part One: Viewing Math Broadly

  • Teaching Math Across the Curriculum, by Bob Peterson
  • Teaching Suggestions: "Disparities in Wealth" Cartoon
  • Activity Box: No-TV Week Math
  • Driving While Black or Brown: A Math Project About Racial Profiling
  • Reading the World with Math, by Marilyn Frankenstein
  • Teaching Suggestions: "The War in Iraq" Boondocks Cartoon
  • Activity Box: Using Math to Take a Critical Look at How the Unemployment Rate Is Determined
  • The War in Iraq: How Much Does It Cost?
  • Race, Retrenchment, and the Reform of School Mathematics, by William F. Tate
  • Environmental Hazards: Is Environmental Racism Real?
  • Historical, Cultural, and Social Implications of Mathematics, by S.E. Anderson

    Part Two: Infusing Social Justice into Math Classes

  • Home Buying While Brown or Black, by Eric Gutstein
  • Teaching Suggestions: Corporate Control of U.S. Media Line Graph
  • Teaching Suggestions: "And How Do You Spend Your Wages?" Cartoon
  • Sweatshop Accounting, by Larry Steele
  • Activity Box: How Do You Live on 31 Cents an Hour?
  • Teaching Suggestions: The Global Capitalist Economy Cartoon
  • Globalization, Labor, and the Environment: A Linear Programming Unit
  • Poverty and World Wealth: Recognizing Inequality
  • Unequal Distribution of U.S. Wealth: Recognizing Inequality, Part Two
  • Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood, by Luis Ortiz-Franco
  • Activity Box: The Hidden Grain in Meat
  • Understanding Large Numbers, by Bob Peterson
  • Activity Box: How Many Sears Towers Tall Is $135 Billion?
  • "With Math, It's Like You Have More Defense," by Erin E. Turner and Beatriz T. Font Strawhun
  • Designing a Wheelchair Ramp: Putting the Pythagorean Theorem to Use
  • Radical Equations: A Review of the Book by Bob Moses and Charles E. Cobb Jr., by David Levine
  • The Geometry of Inequality, by Andrew Brantlinger
  • South Central Los Angeles: Ratios and Density in Urban Areas
  • Integrals and Equity, by Megan Staples
  • HIV/AIDS Status: Using Statistics to Understand Ratios
  • Teaching Suggestions: HIV Status Bus Stop Photo
  • Justice for Janitors: Rich Lessons in the Power of Math
  • Math, Maps, and Misrepresentation, by Eric Gutstein
  • Teaching Suggestions: Map of Territory That Mexico Lost to the United States
  • Real-World Projects: Seeing Math All Around Us
  • Teaching Suggestions: "Do You Support Invading Iraq?" Cartoon
  • Deconstructing Barbie: Math and Popular Culture
  • Multicultural Math, by Claudia Zaslavsky
  • Tracking PA Announcements: Collecting Data in the Classroom

    Part Three: Infusing Social Justice Math into Other Curricular Areas

  • Ten Chairs of Inequality, by Polly Kellogg
  • Fast Foods, Junk Foods, and Advertising: Analyzing the Barrage of Advertising Aimed at Children
  • Write the Truth: Presidents and Slaves, by Bob Peterson
  • Teaching Suggestions: "Eight Companies Earn More" One-Dollar Bill Graphic
  • Libraries, Books, and Bias: Using Math to Raise Issues of Representation
  • The Mathematics of Lotteries: Going Beyond Probability
  • The Transnational Capital Auction, by Bill Bigelow
  • Sweatshop Math: Taking a Closer Look at Where Kids' "Stuff" Comes From
  • Teaching Suggestions: "Work Faster!" Cartoon

    Part Four: Resources for Rethinking Mathematics

  • Websites, Math Curriculum and Pedagogy, Books with Theoretical/Academic Perspectives, Curriculum Guides/Resources, Children's Books, Sources for Maps, and More
  • The Rethinking Schools website also features such titles as Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World; Rethinking Columbus; The Real Ebonics Debate; Classroom Crusades: Responding to the Religious Right's Agenda for Public Schools; and Failing Our Kids: Why the Testing Craze Won't Fix Our Schools.

    "I feel that you are stupid" [LINK]

    Lauren Collins in a "Talk of the Town" item for The New Yorker, concerning the "Don’t Laugh at Me" (DLAM) program championed by folk singer Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) as a means to decrease school bullying and ridicule:

    Next up was “The Big Betrayal Conflict Script,” a skit about two friends, Terry and Sasha, who get into a fight at a basketball game. The exercise emphasized using “I messages,” as opposed to those that begin with “you” and, therefore, can put their targets on the defensive. (DLAM also recommends having students simulate the sound of a rainstorm and discuss a story called “The Maligned Wolf.”)

    “Just make sure they’re sticking to the formula,” Hurdle-Price advised. “I often get students who say, ‘I feel that you are stupid.’”

    Stop Improving Yourself! [LINK]

    Karen Olson, editor of The Utne Reader, describing the contents of the May/June 2005 Issue. While it's always worth considering the price of progress, rapid change often dredges up such recurring fallacies:

    In assembling our cover section, we began with a simple question: Where is the pursuit of perfection leading us? From plastic surgery and steroids to mood-altering drugs, human beings are already armed with a hi-tech arsenal for self-improvement. New tools in the form of robotics and genetic engineering are said to be on the way. We've always been skilled at using the technologies of war to end lives. Now science — which has made great strides over the past century in helping us stay healthier — may soon allow us to extend our lives beyond their natural limits.

    But what, exactly, are we doing? Will changing the boundaries of our physical existence help us to live more richly, or does it have the potential to destroy us? Over one billion people on this planet do not have access to clean and safe drinking water. Millions more need treatment for diseases like malaria and HIV. How can we justify investing our resources and imaginations in robots, computer chip implants, and designer babies?

    "Unfortunate, blind, and brain-dead" [LINK]

    From "The return of '1984,'" a column by H.D.S. Greenway in the Boston Globe that ostensibly deals with the Iraq war:

    There is something profoundly Orwellian, too, about the administration's attempts to impose thought control on public broadcasting. The sometimes secret machinations to place impositions on editorial freedom, the efforts to see which people interviewed by Bill Moyers might be considered anti-Bush or anti-Defense Department or insufficiently conservative, were just the kind of efforts to squash intellectual opposition to state power that Orwell wrote about....

    The drum beat by some conservatives to bring down an independent judiciary is another case in point. We learned from the case of unfortunate, blind, and brain-dead [sic] Terri Schiavo that it isn't activist judges who are the enemy. It is judges who are not active in the correct causes.

    It is the intended persecution of Michael Schiavo, who defended his wife's right to die, however, that has for me the most sinister echoes of Orwell. Florida Governor Jeb Bush, according to news reports, will have the case reopened after 15 years to investigate how long it took Schiavo to dial 911. Thus will Michael Schiavo feel the displeasure of the state for challenging the conservative orthodoxy.

    "Marginalizing and minimizing the significance of these people's lives" [LINK]

    From a letter to the Boston Globe concerning gay-themed curricula in local secondary schools:

    Regarding the debate about discussing gay and lesbian relationships in public school classrooms, John Fountain (letter, June 24) wants to see himself as an open, accepting person. He says ''gay-oriented folks have a right to tolerance, full acceptance, and respect from the other 96 percent of the population." However, he falls short of his own words when he goes on to talk about a ''slippery slope" and urges teachers ''not to endorse or promote the ''just as good' perspective."

    To clarify, there is no reliable estimate of the number of gay and lesbian Americans. The 4 percent figure is often cited, but it is limited; it is based mainly on a handful of polls/surveys taken around a few government elections, or upon Kinsey's work on human sexuality in the late 1940s. The US Census began tracking same-sex partners only in 2000, and does not include data on the number of single gay and lesbian Americans.

    A more statistically sound estimate would be the US Census finding that same-sex unmarried partners were represented in 99.3 percent of all counties in the United States. Hence, marginalizing and minimizing the significance of these people's lives is anything but tolerant, accepting, and respectful.

    Perhaps the Census does have a "more statistically sound estimate" identifying unmarried same-sex partners in 99.3 percent of all U.S. counties. Still, that statistic doesn't tell us anything different. There could easily be a 4 percent rate of homosexuality that manifests itself everywhere to some degree. The only difference between the two statistics is that 99 percent sounds more impressive.

    One Can Blame Michael Moore [LINK]

    One Can Blame Michael Moore for many things: for lying in the service of partisan ends, for ignoring facts that contradict his radical political views, for failing to adhere to a coherent rhetorical stance, for "creative" editing and quoting interviewees out of context, for inserting himself into his subject matter, for being a total pain in the ass to work with, for being cruel to subordinates, and even for his purposefully unkempt public appearance. To this we may add that he may be responsible for a decline in the reputation of the documentary form, and for the rise of the counter-documentary.

    Moore has spawned at least one imitator, Morgan Spurlock, whose Supersize Me received a 2004 Academy Award nomination for best documentary. The film chronicles a 30-day period in which Spurlock eats nothing but McDonald's food, including super-sized portions whenever available, for an average daily intake of over 5,000 calories. Not surprisingly, he gained 25 pounds, his cholesterol shot up 65 points, and he reported feeling sluggish and depressed. What should be surprising is that he blames McDonald's for these ill effects, asking where "personal responsibility ends and corporate responsibility begins."

    "Personal responsibility for your own life never ends," answers filmmaker Soso Whaley. Partly annoyed by Supersize Me's award nomination and partly to lose some weight, Whaley sought to disprove Spurlock's thesis. She also ate only at McDonald's for a whole month, but she lost 10 pounds and said she felt great. No, she didn't confine herself to salads, but rather sensibly limited her overall calorie intake (an average of 1800 daily) while engaging in moderate exercise. Extending her diet to 60 days, she lost a total of 18 pounds and 40 cholesterol points.

    Now Whaley has her own documentary out documenting her diet. It's called Mickey D's and Me, whose title is a conscious play on the title of Michael Moore's breakthrough film, Roger and Me. Her film's provisional title, Downsize Me, was also a pun on the title of one of Moore's books. (A similar counter-documentary is in the works criticizing Michael Moore, following in the wake of various books and websites.)

    It's safe to bet that these revisionist efforts will not be as successful. For one, they are reactive, following in the wake of the object of their criticism. To most, the subject matter will seem all talked out. Their audience, too, is limited to those who recognize they have a conscious bone to pick, namely those who are already convinced. They will also be seen as tainted; Whaley is an adjunct fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that often defends commercial interests — not that there's anything wrong with that! And while counter-documentaries represent a vibrant level of discourse, it is at the expense of the infallible reputation documentaries once enjoyed, however undeservedly.

    For his part, Spurlock has moved onto other matters. The new six-part "reality" show he produced for the F/X cable network is called 30 Days, which depicts various people doing some unusual activity for that period of time. One episode depicts Spurlock's childhood friend David Stacy spending his days "living as a Muslim" in the Detroit area. The outcome of this exercise, apparently determined in advance, is that Stacy will wind up sensing widespread prejudice and injustice directed against Muslim-Americans.

    NOTE, 7/13: Regarding the McDonald's angle, if you eat all your meals for a month at any restaurant and you're bound to gain weight, much less if you order gratuitous portions. Also, those who do want to eat out but also watch their calories could do a lot worse than McDonald's, which provides detailed nutritional information for each item on its menu.

    Jun 26, 2005

    Innocence Relegated to Indian Reservations [LINK]

    Writing in Commentary, the anthropologist Roger Sandall describes the perverse situation of Brazil's Cinta Larga Indians. Under Brazilian law, they are not considered full citizens, but enjoy the sort of protections typically offered to minors. Many believe they live on top of a huge diamond deposit, yet they are not allowed to mine their own land. Outsiders seeking to mine the land require numerous permits that entail literally endless bureaucratic delays. So instead the Indians cut private deals with the outsiders, which inevitably go sour and lead to violence. Last year, 29 miners were slaughtered by the Indians, who because of their protected status will almost certainly not be prosecuted.

    "The basketballs deteriorate" [LINK]

    From an ARTnews article detailing the career of Jeff Koons:

    “Equilibrium,” his groundbreaking 1985 show at International with Monument, included basketballs floating in aquariums, lifesaving devices cast in bronze, and reproductions of Nike advertisements featuring black basketball stars. The basketball tanks, in editions of two, originally sold for $3,000, and the lifeboats, in an edition of three plus one artist’s proof, sold for $8,000, but those prices doubled within a matter of months. In recent years a lifeboat and an aqualung have sold for about $2 million each at auction. Less in demand are the basketball tanks, whose top price at auction is $244,500, because, sources say, they are difficult to maintain and the balls deteriorate.

    Bewitched in Salem [LINK]

    The town of Salem, Massachusetts, site of the hysterical 1692 Salem Witch Trials in which 23 innocent people were killed, erected a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery, star of the television show "Bewitched."

    Salem has long viewed its terrible heritage as an opportunity for commercial exploitation, as a stroll around its tourist-drenched downtown area makes obvious. In recent years Salem has also become an unlikely congregating point for actual witches, who view the 1692 trials as a form of persecution against their own kind.

    Towards Compulsory Health Insurance [LINK]

    Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney unveiled a proposal to penalize those who lack health insurance.

    Sin Relegated to Indian Reservations [LINK]

    Lawrence Downes, writing in the New York Times, describes response to a bill that would outlaw fois gras:

    Michael Ginor, an owner of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, says he feels an anti-foie-gras mood building and is willing to be put out of business in New York if he can land on his feet somewhere else. The Bonacic bill, unlike others lurking in the legislative wings, does not take effect until 2016, giving Mr. Ginor ample time to make other plans - moving to Canada, maybe, or an Indian reservation - without worrying about losing his market dominance or facing prosecution for cruelty.

    Animal welfare advocates have thus found themselves opposing a foie-gras ban, which in this case they say cynically gives a duck torturer a decade of indulgence.

    In such rhetorical battles, it's always fun to shift ground to considerations of racial politics. Think of how much less powerful the following conclusion would have been had it concerned itself with garden-variety trailer trash:
    In Sullivan County — which could use all the economic activity it can get, beyond the force-feeding of dollar bills into video slots at Monticello Raceway — Hudson Valley Foie Gras gives a living to 175 people, mostly Latino immigrants. Many of them live in trailers on the grounds and worship in a tiny chapel of crepe-paper streamers and candles in a corner of a warehouse. Those who calculate the cruelty of foie gras would do well to include them in the equation as well.

    Jun 25, 2005

    Group Urges Trans-Fat Ban [LINK]

    Echoing the conclusions of a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the New York Times is urging the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of partially hydrogenated oil and other "trans-fat" substances.

    Jun 24, 2005

    "Suing Sodium" [LINK]

    The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration, seeking reclassification of table salt as a regulated "food additive."

    Lightbulb-Changing Feminists [LINK]

    From an article by Ayelet Waldman in Salon. Ms. Waldman wonders whether she's a sufficiently committed feminist if she expects men to be more handy around the house. Note the first paragraph, in which one unfortunate man (R.I.P.) is summarily objectified:

    My husband's cousin Matthew died two years ago. He was commuting to work on his bicycle when he was hit by a car speeding through a turn. A few weeks ago his wife Stacia told me that one of the many things she missed about him was having a man in the house to fix a dripping faucet, put together an Ikea cabinet, change the batteries in the smoke detector. Matthew was killed the day before trash pickup, and that night the cans did not go out. The next week, as Stacia hauled out the heavy bins brimming with the detritus of a week's shiva — paper plates, plastic cups, uncountable wads of damp tissue — she realized that she was alone.
    How stupid can this woman be, to not be able to assemble an Ikea cabinet? The instructions are heavily pictoral and typically do not rely on written language.

    Diversity in Variety [LINK]

    A letter by Mark Taylor to Variety:

    While I respect all of the men and women on your recent panel on gay issues, I am underwhelmed by the lack of diversity they represent — racial diversity. Being openly gay and lesbian in this industry is not the sole provenance of white men and women. In the face of such a divisive political climate it is incredibly important to bring as many representatives of gay and lesbian experience to the table.

    Sexuality and the influence it has on perspective is as diverse as the population, gay and straight. To make little or no attempt to include Asian, black and Latino perspectives is, at best, as offensive and short-sighted as the mainstream media excluding fully realized gay characters from its programming.

    At worst, it speaks to a complete disregard for anything that Asian, black and Latino members of the population have to offer.

    I hope you will be more considerate in any future gay and lesbian reporting.

    "Little English language skills" [LINK]

    From a letter by Maralyn Soifer to the Los Angeles Times:

    I was "highly qualified" 12 years ago when I worked for Curtis, and I have become even more qualified in past years, having recently received my second master's degree; however, my students do poorly on standardized tests. They come to school with empty stomachs, untreated illness, poor dental care and with little English language skills. Most have never been to a museum or an art gallery, except on school field trips, and they own few books or newspapers. These are not issues that private school teachers usually encounter.

    I have often said that if LAUSD wanted to raise test scores in the inner city, all it had to do was switch populations with a high achieving school...

    To be fair, the editor is to blame.

    "Not to desecrate but to expand" [LINK]

    A letter from John Fleck to the Los Angeles Times:

    Christopher Cole misses the mark in his article, "Religion and Art in the Toilet" (Opinion, June 19) by not discussing context and artistic intent in his attempt to expose left-wing hypocrisy toward art funding and military torture. I'm the performance artist whose piece, "Blessed Are All the Little Fishes," he cites as having "an 'altar' toilet with a picture of Jesus on its lid."

    This is where Cole (and the pundits who denounced my work) took a moment out of context and twisted my "artistic intent," which was not to desecrate but to expand our views of how religion and personal experience coexist on a cultural and existential tangent. Whereas I doubt the U.S. soldiers allegedly splashing the Koran with urine at Guantanamo Bay did so with any artistic intent, and unlike a theater, the prisoners, forcibly and possibly illegally detained, had no choice in staying or leaving.

    "Myanmar to release first ghost movie in 30 years" [LINK]

    The government of Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma) has consented after 30 years to the release of a film that includes ghosts as a theme. Ghost movies were banned in the late 1960's by the socialist government of the time because they foster superstition.

    FEMA Denies MA Red Tide Disaster Aid [LINK]

    After large sheets of algae (called "red tide") came down the New England coast, infecting local shellfish beds, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts filed a claim for relief with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA denied the request.

    Jun 23, 2005

    Aloha! [LINK]

    Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduced a bill that would reclassify native Hawaiians as a Native American "tribe," creating a racially separate government under the federal Indian law system, suspending their protection under American constitutional law.

    Spray-on Mud [LINK]

    In Britain, you can now buy a kind of spray-on mud that you splatter onto your 4x4 or other large vehicle to make it look like it's been driven off-road.

    Enthusiasm for muddy 4x4's has even spawned a fetish website called muddy4x4.com, which features pictures of vehicles partially submerged in mud.

    Hufu [LINK]

    There's a new product on the market called "Hufu," which is "tofu textured and flavored to resemble human flesh."

    "N.C. counties say PETA euthanizes animals" [LINK]

    Animal shelters from two counties in North Carolina severed relationships with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals after it was discovered most of the animals the group took with the stated intention of finding permanent homes were instead euthanized. This came to light after two PETA members were caught dumping dead animals in a local shopping center's garbage containers. PETA's website later trumpeted its efforts to "solve the animal overpopulation in North Carolina."

    In the past, PETA was found to have euthanized animals it had ostensibly rescued from a research facility, because they lacked the resources to keep them. This, despite a hefty $20 million budget.

    'Normal' No Longer a Majority, Study Finds [LINK]

    In a $20 million series of studies, psychiatric epidemiologists from the Harvard Medical School have concluded that about 55 percent of Americans suffer from mental illness in their lifetime.

    "My faith in the United States seemed to fall with them" [LINK]

    ...with my keys, that is. Here's Fatina Abdrabboh (not pictured at right), a student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, in a New York Times op-ed concerning the stares she often gets when wearing a Muslim headscarf (hajib) around campus, including the gym where she works out:

    Every television in the gym highlighted some aspect of America's conflict with the Muslim world: the war in Iraq, allegations that American soldiers had desecrated the Koran, prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay, President Bush urging support of the Patriot Act. The stares just intensified my alienation as an Arab Muslim in what is supposed to be my country. I was not sure if the blood rushing to my head was caused by the elliptical trainer or by the news coverage.

    Frustrated and angry, I moved to another part of the gym. I got on a treadmill and started running as hard as I could. As sweat dripped down my face, I reached for my towel, accidentally dropping my keys in the process. It was a small thing, I know, but as they slid down the rolling belt and fell to the carpet, my faith in the United States seemed to fall with them. I did not care to pick them up. I wanted to keep running.

    Suddenly a man, out of breath, but still smiling and friendly, tapped me on my shoulder and said, "Ma'am, here are your keys." It was Al Gore, former vice president of the United States. Mr. Gore had gotten off his machine behind me, picked up my keys, handed them to me and then resumed his workout.

    It was nothing more than a kind gesture, but at that moment Mr. Gore's act represented all that I yearned for — acceptance and acknowledgment.

    To which she adds: "Mr. Gore's act reminded me that rather than running away on my treadmill, I needed to keep my feet on the soil in this country." Nice construction, that.

    Jun 22, 2005

    Sequoia Trumps Jefferson in Berkeley [LINK]

    An effort has been underway in Berkeley, California, to change the name of Jefferson Elementary School because it was named after Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves. (Nothing else about him is important.) But the proposed new name — Sequoia Elementary — came under criticism because under Chief Sequoia's "rather barbaric" leadership in the early 19th century, the Cherokee nation also owned more than 1,500 black slaves. Defenders of the new name said it would not honor Native Americans, but rather the sequoia tree.

    (via OpinionJournal)

    "No more urban farming in Zimbabwe" [LINK]

    President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has already destroyed his country's agricultural base in an effort to seize farms from white owners and give them to his cronies. This has led to economic ruin, starvation, and plummeting life expectancy rates. Now Mugabe has outlawed "urban agriculture" — city-dwellers' practice of growing their own food on small plots of land, which officials say causes "land degradation." Under a 2000 land reform effort, the urban poor are obliged to produce food on plots of land outside the cities.

    "FBI describes top domestic terror threats" [LINK]

    John Lewis, FBI deputy assistant director in charge of counterterrorism, announced at a Philadelphia biotechnology conference that environmental and animal-rights extremists were the FBI’s top domestic terrorism issue. By "domestic," he presumably means "from domestic sources." But as dangerous and burdensome as their arsons and bombings are, there's still little reason to believe environmental and animal-rights zealots are going to crash hijacked airplanes into skyscrapers.

    Geldof's Predicament [LINK]

    It's useful to step back a moment and consider Bob Geldof's situation. Frontman for a lesser rock band that resulted in a handful of hits, he transformed his career into one devoted to helping the world's poor. The "Live Aid" charity concert he organized 20 years ago, with proceeds directed towards alleviating starvation in Africa, made the entertainment industry seem at least temporarily less narcissistic. The "Live 8" concerts he is now organizing is a bid to reproduce that success.

    There is some debate about whether, even if such charity makes it to its intended recipients, it does much good. (The corresponding effort to relieve backwards nations of the debt they have incurred is particularly dubious.) But relief was never really the primary goal of these concerts; the intention was always to raise awareness. Either of these represents high virtue, at least superficially, and yet his efforts are being criticized.

    Too many white bands, not enough African bands. Too much salt, could use some more pepper. Even if we did add Baaba Maal to a roster that already included Youssou N'Dour, one could then complain that there are too many Senegalese bands, and not enough Congolese ones. Too many acts from the Wolof tribe, and not enough Pulaars. At least those concerns can be rectified to an extent. But the one criticism that can't really be addressed with anything other than PR blather is the contention that launching such an effort entails depicting Africa as a place that needs help. How do you get around that one?

    People often misuse the word tragic these days to mean simply unfortunate. After a missing boy scout is discovered alive in the woods, the sheriff says that "if it would have got much colder, this could have been a tragedy." No, what you mean is the kid would have died. Tragedy is more interesting than that. It's what happens when a heroic man of virtue, like Geldof, unwittingly gets himself into an awful, inescapable situation, typically through some fatal character flaw of his. For the audience, the high point always comes when the hero realizes how exquisitely he has managed to screw himself, like Oedipus when he discovered the woman he was sleeping with was his mother. Without commenting on Geldof's character, it's still true that contemplating his current predicament, and watching this whole dance of virtue and grievance unfold, makes you want to gouge your eyes out.

    UPDATE: The criticism continues, as reported in The New York Times. Some see Geldof's effort as haphazard, and say it may do more harm than good by shifting attention away from African leaders and onto the good intentions of Western celebrities.

    The "Nuclear Option" That Won't Go Away [LINK]

    A Google search for "nuclear option" ~filibuster now yields 2,630 hits — down from 5,310 a month ago. Disregard for a moment whether or not you favor this proposal to ban filibusters for judicial nominees, and disregard its function as a thoughtless trope. Instead, consider the phrase's artlessness. A relatively minor procedural change in a legislative body is compared with... using nuclear weapons? If that's the case, engaging in filibuster has a bit of a "nuclear" aspect to it as well, since it implies a last-ditch effort to obstruct a measure after conventional methods have failed to persuade.

    Automotive/Marine Convergence [LINK]

    Shortages are endemic in Cuba, as they tend to be in communist economies. Imagine living in a place where not only food and gasoline are rationed, but soap and underwear as well. There are even periodic shortages of mangoes, despite a lush growing climate that would seemingly render their production impervious to the American embargo.

    The journalist Andres Oppenheimer once related how he kept getting breakfast delivered to his hotel room without any silverware, forcing him for days on end to improvise ways to spread jam on his toast. He finally cornered the bellhop, who admitted the silverware was locked away to prevent theft, and the guy who had the key couldn't get to work that day due to intermittent bus service. One restaurant had to chain the silverware to the table, but wear from constant use would shorten the chains, so patrons would have to eat with their heads hovering a couple of inches above their plates.

    Now comes word that some inventive Cubans have become adept at retrofitting taxi cabs to make them seaworthy. So it has finally come to this. Now there is a shortage of rafts.

    Cognitive Dissonance [LINK]

    There's a priceless photograph in a recent (5/30) issue of Time magazine, one that is unfortunately absent fom the online edition. It's a picture of two young Muslim students at the Raza Academy in Bombay, both part of an angry protest in the wake of Newsweek's "flawed" report that U.S. troops flushed a Koran down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay.

    They are standing right next to each other, seemingly aware of each other's presence, and both holding signs that both use the exact same brush-style lettering, obviously produced by the same process. The sign on the right reads:

    The one on the left reads:
    Obviously, these two statements flow from mutually exclusive assumptions.

    "Anti-poverty wristbands produced in sweatshops" [LINK]

    It should be clear that the phrase "cheap virtue" was never intended to be taken literally.

    Thinking Through All The Angles [LINK]

    Clearly, this Globe correspondent has done so:

    We are asked by the administration to believe that this was a simple accident. According to the Pentagon, one of the guards stepped away from his post at Guantanamo, went outside, and urinated near an air vent. We are told that the wind blew his urine through the vent and onto the holy book. Is this really the manner in which our troops are supposed to relieve themselves? Are the facilities at Gitmo so lacking that they have no ready access to a men's room?

    Don't air vents tend to have duct works with curves, elbows, filters, reinforcements, etc. to keep prisoners from using them as a potential means of escape? If they do, just what gale force wind would be required to propel the guard's urine through, around, and over such obstacles? And if there was a gale force wind, why would a guard go outside in such weather to urinate?

    Mau-Mauing Leads to Flak-Catching [LINK]

    From a letter to the Boston Globe by Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International:

    I am disapponted that The Boston Globe has joined those who have chosen to misread my reference to Guantanamo as the ''gulag of our times" (''Gulag or not," editorial, June 7). I have never suggested that the two are mirror equivalents. My point is that they are both symbols of human rights abuse in their respective eras. For the Bush administration to claim anything more than that is simply to divert attention from the real issues of abuse and ill-treatment of prisoners in US custody.
    Even if we are to take her claims of "misreading" at face value, the problem is that there is, unfortunately, still no shortage of actual gulags across the world to serve as the "gulag of our times." These are places where people are incarcerated for their political or religious beliefs, and where slave labor conditions still result in many deaths by starvation and exhaustion. The symbol that's being employed thus does not apply to our era, but also to our location, our happy circumstance, and our manifest ignorance.

    An earlier letter by a man named Zeke Phillips actually defends the use of false analogy in one paragraph, then disputes the analogy is even false — never a good way to win a debate. Zeke then says we should "put aside this debate about semantics," a silly "debate" he himself puts forth. The whole point of the provocative "gulag" statement was to get publicity. Job well done!

    "Some of our problems are self-inflicted, but..." [LINK]

    From an article by Patrick Moore in the Village Voice that concerns an epidemic of crystal methamphetamine use among gays:

    Some of our problems are self-inflicted but others are a direct result of America oppressing, demonizing, and isolating gay people. The very serious effects of oppression on gay people have been long apparent — those of us living on the West Coast know that crystal meth has been steadily killing gay men for years. Historically, gay people have had significantly higher addiction rates than those found in the straight world. In short, too many of us have been torching our lives for decades now with coke, Special K, GHB, poppers, and even good old alcohol. But the real story is not told in the media, because that would require straight people to take responsibility for the harm they have caused us.
    UPDATE: In case that link seems tenuous, here to spell it out for you is Michael Specter, author of an article on crystal meth in The New Yorker. According to Specter, "over the past several years, nearly every indicator of risky sexual activity has risen in the gay community," a trend that can be traced to widespread use of crystal meth and casual Internet hook-ups. The following is from an accompanying on-line interview conducted by Daniel Cappello:
    DANIEL CAPPELLO: You report on some people who point to other problems that may be contributing to the rise of H.I.V. among gays, such as sustained anti-gay attitudes in the country, and feelings of guilt among H.I.V.-negative gays who have to “closet” their negative status. Are these contributing to the problem?

    MICHAEL SPECTER: Absolutely. One of the clear problems with crystal is that people take it to feel better. And gay people in this country have had a horrible time of it lately. The Bush Administration is openly anti-gay, and in November millions of Americans voted to deny gay men and lesbians the right to live legally as married couples. There is no way that can’t contribute to a sense of despair.

    "Sadness beyond imagination" [LINK]

    From explanatory text accompanying the exhibit "mother's 2000-2005 — traces of the future" by the artist Miyako Ishiuchi, one of the participants in the Vienna Biennale:

    These photographs, including "portraits" of chemises and girdles, seem to embody the will of the person who wore them. There are also images of several partially-used tubes of lipstick in different colors, a comb with hair still stuck in it, false teeth and wigs, and close-ups of plants and skin. Ishiuchi carefully selected a variety of "things" left by her mother as a way of quietly observing their relationship, which she reports as discordant, and contemplating a "sadness beyond imagination."

    Jun 21, 2005

    "The Bush Dam Breaks" [LINK]

    Matthew Rothschild, editor of the Progressive, pens an inspirational prose poem that calls out for a bullhorn:

    The Bush dam is beginning to crumble.

    The dam that defied opposition to the Iraq War.

    The dam that kept Republicans from coming to their senses on Social Security.

    The dam that held back critics of the USA Patriot Act.

    It's no longer holding.

    Bush's popularity is in the low forties, and may get to the freezing point soon.

    And so his ability to keep getting away with "disassembling," as he would put it, is being washed away.

    46 percent of Americans want U.S. troops to leave Iraq now.

    Even Republicans are signing on to bills demanding a timeline for withdrawal.

    Bush's puerile fantasy of destroying Social Security is all but shattered.

    And he just lost a big one on the Patriot Act.

    Rothschild's points could easily have been made in a conventional essay, so why didn't he? It's because the real content of the piece has nothing to do with Social Security or Bush's poll numbers on Iraq, but rather in one's response to incantation.

    "The Sad Saga of Gary Webb" [LINK]

    Indeed, there's a very sad piece in the American Journalism Review devoted to former San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, whose 1996 "Dark Alliance" series alleging CIA collusion in the American drug trade to support the Nicaraguan Contras turned out to be, as the euphemism goes, "flawed." After Webb resigned from his job in the wake of the subsequent retraction, his career went into a downward spiral that, coupled with a history of depression, finally resulted in his suicide last December. Susan Paterno argues that Webb was a rather stubborn, arrogant, "to-the-barricades" type of guy, which made him a perfect scapegoat for negligent editors who failed to reign in his wilder conclusions:

    In the final analysis, "Dark Alliance" was a series in search of competent editing; the remarkable lack of editorial oversight produced what became one of the most notorious sagas in American journalism. Much of what Webb wrote was accurate: The drug traffickers he profiled were sending money to help the CIA-backed contras in the war in Nicaragua. But his editors allowed him to push the story's thesis far beyond what the facts could support, suggesting drug-dealing contras caused America's crack epidemic with the CIA's knowledge. The story included no CIA response; Webb said his editors never asked for one. Though Webb compiled an impressive circumstantial case, the editors failed to hold the story to what he could substantiate, letting him make leaps in reasoning that would earn failing marks in freshman logic.
    Leaving out the issue of the story's flaws, and even Webb's personality flaws, what strikes me is the sense of how badly he wanted the story to be true, and the intoxicating effect of the subsequent notoriety. Every reporter dreams of the big Pulitzer-prize-winning exposé, and to a large extent this is how the dream plays out:
    Webb basked in the adulation and embraced his newfound power. He called editors and producers [of other publications] "chickenshit" for ignoring "Dark Alliance" and suggested in an online discussion, "Now we know what CIA stands for — Crack in America," the L.A. Times quoted Webb as saying. He felt emboldened. "It was remarkable to think journalism could have this kind of effect on people," he said, "that people were out marching in the streets because of something you'd written."

    At the same time came "the temptations," says friend Greg Wolf. "A movie and book deal, 'The Tonight Show,' all of a sudden he's got literary groupies." ...

    "Michael Jackson's Hidden Accuser: Racism" [LINK]

    Mark Anthony Neal, Duke University professor of African and African American Studies, offers commentary in the Los Angeles Times prior to Michael Jackson's acquittal:

    There is, of course, little tolerance for child molestation regardless of the race of the offender. Race, though, complicates such offenses when they occur across the color line, particularly given the history of black masculinity in American society — a history rife with outright fear and frenzy about black male sexuality. ...

    Jackson clearly understood that part of his global appeal lay in his ability to mute the stereotypes associated with black male sexuality throughout American history. Michael Jackson was Peter Pan in the eyes of white America. This image of the asexual black male is possibly the reason why some parents were willing to let Jackson spend time with their children; he was the antithesis of the black male brute that lies submerged in the subconsciousness of white America.

    Indeed, throughout much of his career, Jackson was an exemplar of the "good black" — those such as Colin Powell, Michael Jordan and Condoleezza Rice who are set apart from "regular" black folk. This is not to say that Jackson was in denial about his "blackness." The kinds of violence that he has enacted upon his face — the nose jobs and the apparent skin treatments — suggest that not only was he aware that he was black, but that he probably possessed a hatred of his once racially specific physical features.

    (via Arts & Letters Daily)

    "masculine American whiteness in various states of crisis" [LINK]

    A May 11 call for papers from Robert Bennett, English professor at Montana State University, reproduced in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

    For the 2005 Western Literature Association Conference in Los Angeles, we plan to organize a panel on the film icon, Brad Pitt. Why Brad Pitt? As one of this generation's most popular actors, Pitt has explored many of the cultural tensions of our emerging postmodern era. Depicting masculine American whiteness in various states of crisis, his characters generally enact complex postmodern agencies; they are never wholly coherent, they are often self-destructive, and they generally rely on a certain amount of play — between stability and instability, between life and death, between autonomy and alter-dependency, between control and abandon. Simultaneously reifying and challenging hegemonic codes of race, class, gender, and regional or national identity, his characters explore the complex and changing postmodern cultural landscape. Tracing his performances through a variety of films and theoretical texts we hope to explain Brad Pitt's multidimensional postmodernity by exploring: 1) the cultural logic of his performances, showing how they dramatize postmodern cultural tensions, and 2) the kind of cultural or political work that his performances accomplish, or the difference that they make and the impact that they have on the audiences who watch them. ...
    (via Arts & Letters Daily)

    Jun 20, 2005

    "An undue eagerness to change the subject" [LINK]

    Joan Didion wrote a rather thoughtful, if unoriginal piece in the New York Review of Books on some of the controversies surrounding the Terry Schiavo case that led it to become so heavily politicized. Strange wonder, then, that the promotional excerpt the NYR decided to run represented easily the most politically loaded paragraph of the article:

    Many ordinarily obscured emotions surfaced during the weeks just before and after Theresa Schiavo's feeding tube was removed. I recall talking one night at dinner to a psychiatric social worker who said that six of her clients were speaking of little else. Among those who did not necessarily see the situation as one that required discussion with a professional therapist, the most common reaction seemed to be what they described as "disgust." Many people expressed "disgust" with the "carnival." They expressed "disgust" with the "sideshow," the "media circus," the calculated inflammation of anti-abortion sentiment outside the hospice. They expressed "disgust" with the nation's elected officials, the "self-righteous hypocrites" who were seen as showing an undue eagerness to change the subject, to turn away from those foreign or domestic adventures that could seem doubtful to even the most committed supporters.... It was perfectly clear that the elected officials in question were in fact trying to reap political benefit. On the other hand there was no novelty in this. Given the ample opportunities for disgust that the same elected officials had offered the country on a range of other issues, this expressed distress with what was essentially a civil rights intervention seemed unusual, excessive, even displaced.
    That Republicans benefit from the anti-abortion sentiment resulting from the Schiavo case is arguable (by some accounts they actually took a public-opinion beating), but at best it's a specious cui bono argument that is without substance. Likewise the proposition that the Schiavo controversy offered a distraction from more important issues is itself a distraction. After all, any issue you don't want to confront is a distraction from your own pet cause. And does Didion — certainly one of our most skilled writers — really mean to imply that people who seemed the most concerned with Schiavo are those who are under a psychiatrist's care?

    "Most said grace before eating, though they did it silently and discreetly, with a quick bow of the head." [LINK]

    From an interesting but rather maddening article by Hanna Rosin in the "fact" section of the New Yorker. The article concerns Patrick Henry College near Washington D.C., which draws heavily on conservative Christian homeschooled children and seems devoted to sending its graduates to influential jobs in the highest reaches of the government:

    In conservative circles, however, homeschoolers are considered something of an elite, rough around the edges but pure — in their focus, capacity for work, and ideological clarity — a view that helps explain why the Republican establishment has placed its support behind Patrick Henry, and why so many conservative politicians are hiring its graduates.
    Boy, they sure sound like a bunch of Maoists, don't they? But nowhere do you get a sense of how many homeschoolers in this country are motivated by religious conservatism. For example, to what extent are the members of the National Black Home Educators Resource Association are motivated by religion, as opposed to lousy schools that disproportionately affect blacks? Is that the reason for the absence of blacks on campus, or the fact that the place has no soul whatsoever? We don't know. Nor do we get much idea how the academics at this place really rate, or how many graduates do indeed go on to infiltrate the government compared to, say, GWU grads. They are a very strange people, and very different from us. See? They even speak to the spirits:
    The fact that [one student] was homeschooled and keeps a running conversation with Jesus in his head does not seem to him a barrier [to run for political office]. "It's pretty normal," he said.
    These are the spooky stories liberals tell each other when huddled together inside campground tents with flashlights turned up under their faces.

    "Our culture's fetish with thinness" [LINK]

    From a "Talk of the Town" item by Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker. This concerns Leonard Nimoy, who after a long, successful, and pointy-eared acting career now likes to photograph fat women:

    The photographs are intended to be a commentary upon the wider culture’s fetish with thinness, Nimoy explained; he had a sister-in-law who was obese and died young.
    Just how does his sister-in-law's death relate to our culture's "fetish with thinness"? Did she somehow die in some medically misguided effort to lose weight? Seems like a "fetish with thinness" may well have saved her life.

    On the other hand, here's his negative assessment of the TV show Fat Actress, which stars Kirstie Alley, his former co-star in the first Star Trek movie. You don't have to see this show to be repelled by the very idea of it. Says Nimoy:

    She trumpets the fact that she is a fat actress and shows herself very glamorously posed and so on; but then the first thing you see is her crying and wailing and pounding on the floor and swearing, while guzzling food and talking about losing weight. The message that she is sending is, on the on hand, I am fat and it’s O.K., and, on the other hand, it is just terrible. The taste is awful, awful, awful; and so is the level of humor, if you can call it that.

    "Those who have struggled with or adapted to the postmodern challenge" [LINK]

    Promotional text describing Deconstructing Sport History: A Postmodern Analysis, a volume edited by Murray G. Phillips, part of SUNY Press's "Sport, Culture, and Social Relations" concentration:

    This groundbreaking collection challenges the accepted principles and practices of sport history and encourages sport historians to be more adventurous in their representations of the sporting past in the present. Encompassing a wide range of critical approaches, leading international sport historians reflect on theory, practice, and the future of sport history. They survey the field of sport history since its inception, examine the principles that have governed the production of knowledge in sport history, and address the central concerns raised by the postmodern challenge to history. Sharing a common desire to critique contemporary practices in sport history, the contributors raise the level of critical analysis of the production of historical knowledge, provide examples of approaches by those who have struggled with or adapted to the postmodern challenge, and open up new avenues for future sport historians to follow.

    “The editor highlights some of the important limitations of sport history as it is currently practiced and argues that postmodern theory could be incorporated more effectively into our field’s methodology. The book assembles contributions from respected and talented scholars who employ a variety of approaches to illustrate the potential contributions of postmodern theory to sport history.”
    — Eric Reed, Western Kentucky University

    And the following regards another volume edited by Pirkko Markula, Feminist Sport Studies: Sharing Experiences of Joy and Pain:
    This book highlights the development of feminist sport studies through personal narratives of prominent feminist sport researchers from North America, Europe, and New Zealand. With expertise in sport history, literature, psychology, and sociology, contributors offer reflections that cross disciplinary boundaries and provide a concise and current summary of this broad field. In relaying their personal research experiences, contributors intertwine their professional and personal selves in stories that highlight the struggles of sport feminists, struggles that shaped the self and constructed feminist knowledge of sport. They tell about the academic context for feminist research in sport studies, the feelings and experiences of being women researchers in a male-dominated field, and internal doubts and disappointments after vilification of their work. The narrative style makes this book accessible to a wide variety of audiences and a suitable reference and/or text for sport science history and research methods courses.

    “This book records the struggles and successes of a group of academics who have had a profound influence; it is important that these stories are told.”
    — Sheila Scraton, coeditor of Gender and Sport: A Reader

    Pardon the extended quotations, but it's always remarkable how long authors can go dancing along the very periphery of meaning.

    "Visions of a world free of incarceration" [LINK]

    Promotional text for The New Abolitionists: (Neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings, edited by Joy James and published by the SUNY Press:

    "If you think modern slavery in the United States is a thing of the past, then The New Abolitionists ought to be mandatory reading. Joy James has done an incredible service by bringing together key writings by prison intellectuals over the past half century. The pieces she selected are not just descriptive but prescriptive: the book is chock full of manifestoes, strategies, political analyses, and visions of a world free of incarceration. Like the slave narratives of 150 years ago, these writings demand action.”
    — Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

    This collection of essays and interviews provides a frank look at the nature and purposes of prisons in the United States from the perspective of the prisoners. Written by Native American, African American, Latino, Asian, and European American prisoners, the book examines captivity and democracy, the racial “other,” gender and violence, and the stigma of a suspect humanity. Contributors include those incarcerated for social and political acts, such as conscientious objection, antiwar activism, black liberation, and gang activities. Among those interviewed are Philip Berrigan, Marilyn Buck, Angela Y. Davis, George Jackson, and Laura Whitehorn.

    “The book offers us a theoretical analysis of the word ‘abolition’ in a much wider frame than prisons themselves. Both James’s introduction and the words of the prison intellectuals tell us that they are not so much concerned only with the dismantling of the incarceration factories, but that they also see these holding pens as nodal points in the state of disenfranchisement that is the modern world.”
    — Vijay Prashad, author of The Karma of Brown Folk

    Nice, by the way, the wholly unnecessary use of parentheses in coining the word (Neo)Slave, as if one needs to highlight its controversy. Would it be too strong to suggest that this volume trivializes slavery?

    "Then the room changes into a skeletal cyborg, at the center of which is a geometric android vagina." [LINK]

    Much ink has been spilled on how contemporary art has descended into the mundane territory in which artists must consider the shock value of their work, but that's a rather narrow point. What has actually been destroyed is the sense that works of visual art can stand alone, and do not require explanatory text. Indeed, there was often the sense that such words even detract from the experience of pure visual contemplation. But the space that such art once inhabited has now been emptied, and must be filled with... something.

    Certainly by the time of Malevich's extremely reductionist abstraction early in the 20th century, art began to require a text. You just couldn't make any sense of his work without reading his pretentious manifesto; suprematism is what he happened to call those funky geometric shapes of his that are pictured here. The work of art would no longer inspire words, so words had to somehow inspire our attitude towards the art. And that's the job of the fawning art critic.

    So it's with these thoughts we now regard Jerry Saltz in the Village Voice. Of course, columnists always want to start off with a punchy first paragraph that draws in the reader, but the following seems to go way beyond that:

    Sarah Sze is a creator and destroyer of worlds, an explorer of fantastical hyper-space, a mapper of interstices, a maker of mutating topographies, and a supreme anal-retentive warrior princess of multiplicity.
    What would happen if you plugged a large corpus of art criticism into Amazon's routine that identifies statistically improbable phrases. Along with the excerpt that forms the title to this post, which do you think ranks the least probable?
    • asymmetrical parallelogram of multicolored cables
    • otherworldly origami-ikebana garden
    • hallucination of lilliputian proportions
    • extraterrestrial intrauterine nursery
    • interweaving fungus of threads

    "We must wake up and do something about this." [LINK]

    From a letter to the Boston Globe, remarkable for its extremely simple sentence structure — admittedly a lot like a George Bush speech:

    In Boston we are all busy people. We may forget that there is a world outside. Many people don't realize that we are in great danger. The way we live must change. We're polluting at an unprecedented rate. The Earth's equilibrium has been completely thrown off course because we are living in a completely unsustainable fashion.
    ...and so on, with little cohering point. To be fair, English may well not be the first language for the author, the improbably named Brett Nagafuchi. Still, after the first five bricks to the head, doesn't that last compound sentence seem comparatively refreshing? We know the Globe's editors are obliged to offer a fair representation of the views they receive in their mailbox every day, but are they also obliged to present all writing styles?

    Jun 19, 2005

    Who says leftists have no sense of humor? [LINK]

    In an interview with the Boston Globe, here's how Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation, responds to a question about its current circulation:

    Our joke for years has been if it's bad for the country it's good for The Nation, and when people ask how we're doing now I say better than ever, because the country is in a lot of trouble. Since the start of Bush's presidency we've almost doubled our circulation.
    He can even bring down the house at the Harvard Business School, where he took some classes some years ago to help him run the magazine:
    It was an educational experience for me but not a formative one. I learned the way smart businesspeople think and hope that I raised a lot of questions about the assumptions on which the case study method proceeded. The first day in class the professor listed the pros and cons of a particular business on the blackboard. Under cons he wrote ''Union." And I said, ''Just a minute, there is a literature that says unions increase productivity." I got a lot of derisive laughter.

    LetMeSpellItOutForYou [LINK]

    LetMeSpellItOutForYou continues roughly where The Flummery Digest left off. I edited the Digest from 1992 to 2003, (long before the advent of what we now call "blogs" and a bit before the web) to counter increasingly berserk strains of the left/liberalism I grew up consuming. I ceased publication mostly out of boredom. While I was always impressed by the chaotic variety of enthusiasms on display in contemporary leftism, by 2003 it had narrowed to the shrillest, most unreasoning opposition to President Bush, which I found depressingly repetitive. I expect LetMeSpellItOutForYou will retain the Digest's terse format where practical, but in an effort to be more "blog"-like will also feature items with a more relaxed tone, while concentrating on the same set of concerns.