Saturday, July 10, 2010

FYI, this will be my last post here

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Jon Stewart on "should Muslims be allowed to build their mosques in the neighborhoods of their choosing?"

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Sometimes Jon Stewart is just so on.

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turns out Gallagher has become an evil clown.

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The Seattle newspaper The Stranger is a free alternative newsweekly, so I suppose that explains the strident anti-conservative tone of a recent piece about the aging comic Gallagher.

The primary target of this piece is Gallagher himself; the author describes Gallagher as "a paranoid, delusional, right-wing religious maniac," then offers up some pretty convincing evidence:
Gallagher is upset about a lot of things. Young people with their sagging pants (in faintly coded racist terms, he explains that this is why the jails are overcrowded—because "their" baggy pants make it too hard for "them" to run from the cops). Tattoos: "That ink goes through to your soul—if you read your Bible, your body is a sacred temple, YOU DIPSHIT." People naming their girl-children Sam and Toni instead of acceptable names like Evelyn and Betty: "Just give her some little lesbian tendencies!" Guantánamo Bay: "We weren't even allowed to torture all the way. We had to half-torture—that's nothin' compared to what Saddam and his two sons OOFAY and GOOFAY did." Lesbians: "There's two types—the ugly ones and the pretty ones." (Um, like all people?) Obama again: "If Obama was really black, he'd act like a black guy and get a white wife." Michael Vick: "Poor Michael Vick." Women's lib: "These women told you they wanna be equal—they DON'T." Trans people: "People like Cher's daughter—figure that out. She wants a penis, but she has a big belly. If you can't see your dick, you don't get one." The Rice Krispies elves: "All three of those guys are gay. Look at 'em!" The Mexicans: "Look around—see any Mexicans? Nope. They'll be here later for the cleanup." The French: "They ruin our language with their faggy words.

Holy crap. With hate speech like that, Gallagher deserves as much disgusted critique as writer Lindy West can dish out. But she doesn't stop there; the audience, she explains, are "rabid, frothing conservative dickwads" who lap up Gallagher's racist, xenophobic rant. Okay, so the question becomes: Is West responding in kind? Is she unloading hate speech on the group she dislikes in a similar way to Gallagher's anti-gay, anti-liberal "act"?

First, I want to make clear that while all hate speech is abominable, hate speech that targets marginalized groups is more abominable than hate speech that targets dominant groups. Why? Because of power and inertia. Marginalized groups--the LGBTQ community, for example--in lots of ways exist at the mercy of dominant groups--in this case, the heteronormative community. "Should we give them the right to marry?" "Should we pass laws to protect them against anti-gay violence?" "Should we let them claim each other on their tax returns?" It's taken for granted that American society needs to decide what rights to "grant" gays. The alternative would be to assume that the LGBTQ community already has the same rights as everyone else, and laws that violate those rights need to be struck down.

Power. Inertia.

So calling a language "faggy," advocating "girly" names to avoid giving daughters "lesbian tendencies," finishing up an act by, as West describes it, smashing a plate of fruit cocktail and an Asian vegetable mix and announcing "This is the China people and queers!!!"--way more abominable than calling Gallagher's appreciative audience "rabid, frothing conservative dickwads." It's an audience, as Gallagher himself points out, filled with white people, and the risk of getting beaten, killed, or legislated against for being a conservative white person is fairly low relative to the risk that goes along with being gay, African American, Mexican, or any of the other ethnic and cultural minorities against whom Gallagher is stirring up the pot of hatred.

Which makes West's response understandable but still not quite okay. I say this as someone who absolutely adored this article, who is aghast that hate speech like this attracts any audience whatsoever, and who has the same impulse to rage against anyone who would even chuckle at Gallagher's diatribe (which, by the way, doesn't even seem particularly funny).

Anyway, you should read the whole article, which is fairly short and extremely well crafted, then let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

message to twitter community: be cool, you guys.

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I've noticed an increase in meanness and vituperation lately among the people I follow on twitter. I'm not completely sure why this is--certainly it's due in part to the steady increase in the number of people I follow, but I also suspect the tenor of twitter has changed as it has increased in general popularity and ease of use.

The behavior I'm talking about breaks down into two loose categories:

Personal attacks. Twitter is not a tool that affords deep, substantive conversation, but it turns out 140 characters is just about the perfect length for slinging fallacies back and forth. And people leverage this affordance to build up a catalog of fallacies that would have made your high school logic teacher proud:
  • ad hominems ("stop being such a dickhead, @twitteruser. anyone who paid attention past 3rd grade knows Glenn Beck is a p.o.s.")
  • poisoning the well ("where's the intelligent debate about affirmative action? God knows we can't ask the feminists to weigh in--all they do is bitch.")
  • spotlight fallacy ("gay people seem incapable of arguing for gay marriage without eventually getting hysterical & irrational.")
  • hasty generalizations ("law students are more ignorant about the law than any group I know." )
Bigotry. I don't know exactly why people feel comfortable making disgusting generalizations about entire groups of people on twitter. I just know it happens an awful lot. Most typically it appears to come from members of some dominant group complaining about ethnic, political, or cultural minorities (though I'm also willing to consider the possibility that I only think this is true because it pisses me off so much more than when it comes from someone who's part of a minority group).

I'm tired of it. I want twitter to be the space of coolness that it used to be for me. This is not, though certain lawyers may disagree, a desire for a "happysphere"; this is a desire to surround myself with the most civil discourse possible, in the highest possible number of communities I frequent.

Srsly: be cool, you guys. Try being exactly as nice on twitter as you would be in person. That way, when the twitter community makes decisions about which users to follow, they can decide what level of kindness or pettiness they're willing to put up with, on twitter just as in real life.

Being both a witness to and target of meanness and pettiness has made me reflect on my own behavior, too. I will grant that I have been known to vituperate, from time to time, on twitter and in other social networking spaces (primarily in the form of so-called "vaguebooking"). I'm sorry, and I'm going to try to do better, so that you can fill up your life with as much intelligent, civil discourse as you want to fill it with. I ask that you do the same for me.

Friday, July 2, 2010

the sleeping alone review of films: Surrogates (2009)

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summary: I liked it better when it was District 9; I, Robot; and the middle third of The Matrix. And I didn't really like District 9 or I, Robot all that much.

The 2009 film Surrogates wonders what might happen if we started letting technology do the living for us. It creates a world in which war is treated as a video game, physical characteristics are treated as malleable, and real-life human interaction is treated as an oddity.

Boy, that sure would be a terrifying existence, wouldn't it? I can't even imagine what it would be like to live in that world.


Surrogates stars Bruce Willis as The Good Cop Wracked With Guilt Over the Death of His Son. He mentions his son's death about 20 different times over the course of the movie, and also, judging by the surprised reaction of his partner at the first mention, has never once mentioned his son's death before the start of the film. It also turns out that the invention of surrogates (which are basically what you think they are, so I won't bother explaining) could have prevented his son's death, so you can think of him as a sort of monosyllabic Dr. McCoy.

There's a conspiracy. The surrogates aren't all they're cracked up to be. And not everyone who seems like a good guy ends up acting like a good guy.

Why, oh why, do we have to put up with only one really original action flick every year or two? I don't know if I'm just getting cranky in my old age, but it seems like forever since I've seen a mainstream action film that really blew me away. I did really enjoy Live Free or Die Hard (2007), also starring a rode-hard-and-put-away-wet Bruce Willis; I thought War of the Worlds (2005) was pretty neat, loaded as it was with the dynamic combo of killer special effects and an emotionally harrowing plot. But it's been a dry run since then. I haven't seen Iron Man 2 yet. Christopher Nolan's Inception, due out mid-July, looks pretty good. But if I had a dollar for every movie I waited for with joyous expectation, only to leave the theater feeling swindled, I'd be a rich, rich man.

Surrogates (2009) stars Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, and Boris Kodjoe, with appearances by James Cromwell and Ving Rhames. It's rated PG-13 and contains some violence, mild profanity, and a brand of when-I-was-your-age nostalgia that nobody under 13 should be forced to endure.

twinning injustice, one social structure at a time

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My sister, who just finished absolutely destroying her first year of law school, recently announced an interest in pursuing criminal prosecution. Once I overcame my instant misreading of her announcement (don't blame me; I'm not a morning person), I figured out pretty quickly that my twin sister and I are pursuing vocations that spring from the same moral impulse. To wit: I must serve and defend people who have suffered or will suffer at the hands of others.

It's just the name--prosecution--that throws us off, makes us think prosecutors are out to punish the bad guys. In certain respects, of course, that's exactly what prosecutors do--that's exactly the power we confer to them. But the public interest in punishing the bad guys is an outgrowth of a deeper public impulse: To maintain the social order, to protect our citizens from injustice and victimization, to fight for the good guys.

Protecting people from injustice and victimization. Fighting for the good guys. That's pretty much what I like to think I'm doing, too, by working in the service of working class kids and kids who are deeply undervalued and underserved by a system that is not designed to help them. I work in defense of those kids. And another way to frame that work is to say that I am a public prosecutor, building a case against a system that's criminally unjust, criminally cruel.

But here's where I think Laura and I part company: I believe we need to demolish the social order. I believe that the public education system is deeply, perhaps fatally, flawed, especially for poor kids and minorities, and I believe we need to work to tear it down. That's the wheel I'm throwing my shoulder against.

Though we haven't explicitly talked about this, I'm pretty sure my sister believes the criminal justice system is similarly deeply, deeply flawed (see here, here, here, and here)--but it seems to me that her stance is something like "this is the best system we have right now, the only system we have, so we need to use it to protect the innocents and the victims."

I'm all, fuck the Man and the horse he rode in on! And my sister's all, yyyeah that's nice but lookit all these victims who need protecting and defense right now. And I'm all, Yes! And let's muster up an army made up of those victims and march with them right to the gates of hell if that's what it takes! And my sister's all, um, okayyy but this woman was raped and that guy's son was murdered and this woman was stabbed by her partner and what if we put aside the anger and try to take care of the people who need us right now?

Details, details, right? Laura and I agree that the world is all effed up, and we agree that we are therefore bound to the work of un-effing up things. The rest is just planning.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

when the internet implants childhood memories

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Here's my beautiful niece Morgan playing in her grandma's backyard:

I spend an awful lot of time wondering what it's going to be like for Morgan, growing up surrounded by a digital footprint that already includes more photos and videos of her than her mother and aunts had of their entire childhood. They say that our brains aren't very good at knowing the difference between something that happened "in real life" and something that happened "in media." I have some childhood "memories" that I know were implanted through family stories; but knowing I don't actually remember these events doesn't make the memories any less vivid.

And those memories--'authentically' remembered or not--make up the fabric of my identity, so that it doesn't matter how the memories got there. I imagine the same will be true of Morgan, except to an exponentially greater extent, since huge chunks of her life will be indelibly imprinted on that greatest of collective memory tools, the internet.

Lord knows how differently she and other members of her generation will remember their childhood. For anyone over 30, the terrain of childhood feels fleeting, tough to pin down, and dependent on the memories of people who loved you and paid careful attention to what you were doing. For lots of people under 30, the memory of childhood will no longer be so intergenerationally woven. It will exist independent of family, friends, and collaborators in experience. It will even exist from a neutral, third-person perspective: the perspective of a detached observer (the camera) capturing a scene. When our memories feel like movies, when we feel like we're watching ourselves experience something instead of being inside of the experience ourselves, how does that change how we see ourselves within the world?

I'm not necessarily worried; I'm just wondering.

People tell me to stop wondering about these sorts of things. A lot of the people who tell me this are parents of young children, and this probably means that my biggest mistake is in bringing this issue up all the time to people who just want to post videos of their kids to YouTube. And I'll admit that I don't want my sister to stop capturing my niece's every milestone. Another phenomenon of the 21st century is increased mobility paired up with increasingly cheap and ubiquitous tools to keep in touch with the people whose lives have touched ours.


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