Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Laura Kipnis and the Feminist Mainstream

Hanna Rosin interviewing Laura Kipnis for Slate. Well said, Laura:

Do you think there’s a different direction feminism should be taking?

I tend to feel pretty distant from what people call feminism at the moment. It’s often about the moral high grounding of men, and that often means taking fairly conservative positions and not going for the radical politics. The most radical thing anyone could do now in terms of feminism is insisting on child care as a social entitlement. But instead we hear a lot about how men shouldn’t be allowed to use the word “boobs” in public.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

If You Ask Me

If you ask me, he looked a little bit shady. If you ask me, he’s getting balder. If you ask me, he knows they are not serious. If you ask me, he’s angling for some major gig in Hillary’s future administration. If you ask me, he is scared of your reaction when he tells you that he loves you or probably at least likes you. If you ask me, he’s a nasty sadistic git. If you ask me, he says he’s a tree surgeon but I don’t like the sound of it. If you ask me, he’s playing for something much grander. If you ask me, he’s been nothing but trouble since he got here. If you ask me, he’s simply reaching for a convoluted excuse to skirt the law. If you ask me, he’s not what you might call an expert on love. If you ask me, he’s ready to destroy pussy. If you ask me, it’s like that ad they have on TV. If you ask me, he was too protective of Theresa. If you ask me, he aha te mea. If you ask me, he’d be doing this team a favor. If you ask me, he has an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. If you ask me, he was drunk. If you ask me, he’s one step away from pushing a baby carriage filled with tin cans down the street. If you ask me, he has a rather extraordinary eye for visually embodying key aspects of projects just like yours. If you ask me, he went above and beyond his duties. If you ask me, he doesn’t sound any too pleased. If you ask me, he’s hardly better than a common criminal. If you ask me, he was right. Hakunamagata says so. If you ask me, he was the one who was nervous, not you. If you ask me, he’s just one example of the deep problems with that book, and indeed with Reynolds’s writing generally.

Cf.also Things She Took.

Friday, November 7, 2014

November 7th for Chrissakes

The Starbucks where I go between classes has put up the plastic trees and started in with the rinky dink Christmas music. So looks like I’ll have to go somewhere else to study for the next eight weeks. In the meadow we can build a snowman, etc. I’ve had enough of these dumb tunes for one lifetime.

Praise the Lord; shoot Santa on sight. My thoughts for the holiday season.

The Democrats Deserved to Lose

The Democrats deserved to lose. I’m sad they did, but the reason people vote Democrat to begin with is because it’s the party that stands tough for average working people, fights big corporate money and protects our education system and other public services from right-wing attack.

But this week not enough such voters turned up and the Democrats lost big time. And why didn’t they turn up? I believe it’s because many millions of them no longer see the Democrats as real Democrats. What they see instead is “Republican Lite”.

The president himself is more to blame than anyone for this loss. He was elected to re-regulate Wall Street, to hold the crooks in high banking accountable, and to reverse the erosion of civil liberties that had occurred under Bush, Jr. He was elected to stand up for the shrinking middle class and others even worse off who were being systematically deprived of their voice in government. But the president did none of these things. His health care reform, while significant, was not enough to disguise the fact that in nearly every other area of policy he was what? Republican Lite.

Soon after taking office, in the midst of the financial meltdown, Obama was reported to have said to the big boys on Wall Street: “I’m all that stands between you and the pitchforks.” At that time we Democrats believed this was a statement of fact, a threat leveled for strategic reasons, that it meant that the big banks would have to allow for the serious reforms Obama was soon going to force on them.

Nothing doing. Now we see what his statement really meant: “Rest assured. I’m going to keep any hint of pitchfork from getting anywhere near you.”

The American people is smart enough to see that this president has basically allowed the same system to keep running as nearly destroyed us under his predecessor. The 1% have done even better during his tenure than under Bush, Jr. Meanwhile the rest, the middle class, remain with no voice in government.

The momentum was behind our president, the opportunity was given him to act against such obvious corruption--and what did we get? A compromiser always trying to make some grand bargain with a Republican Party that couldn’t get his race out of their heads. It is all too ridiculous.

Millions upon millions of Democratic voters didn’t in fact go out and vote in this midterm. Rather, seeing they had no party that fought for things they believed in, they just stayed home. And that is why the Republicans took the Senate.

Eric Mader

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Zellweger's Disease: Shock and Queasiness are the Natural Reactions

So you've gotten some rest, you say?

All of us are possessed of physical vanity to one degree or another. We’re pleased to think we look good, and bothered if we don’t look as good as we’d like. Such vanity is part of us as social beings: it is not something we could ever eradicate.

Nonetheless vanity is a vice. Follow it where it leads you, and at some point a certain line is crossed, and your desire for beauty, or your conviction that you are beautiful, will bring about its opposite. Something deformed or monstrous will be the result.

This line that is crossed is very hard to define, to be sure. Different people sense it in different places. But wherever one places it, I think it’s clear that in America crossing this particular line has become an everyday occurrence. A vague and queasy feeling of monstrosity pervades the public space.

I don’t usually write about these kinds of things, but the recent discussion of Renee Zellweger’s “new look”, raising up hordes of people criticizing her and others defending her, has given me the perfect opportunity. Because the issue of cosmetic surgery, what used to be called plastic surgery, has bothered me for years. I wouldn’t consider it a major issue, no, but it’s a bothersome one, regularly disgusting me anew with the late capitalist culture around me.

Frankly I’m flat out against cosmetic surgery. I think its prevalence is a cultural illness. And it’s getting worse. If I had the power, I would ban cosmetic surgery except in certain cases (reconstructive surgery, for instance). And I will insist on the following: The world would be a more beautiful place if cosmetic surgeons were put out of business.

Renee Zellweger

Regarding that line I mention, the one that shouldn’t be crossed, I might clarify that I personally find nothing wrong with makeup or coloring ones hair, and nothing wrong with staying firm and fit as opposed to slack and fat. Makeup is best in moderation of course, and I’d prefer if you didn’t color your hair, but if you really must, I still respect you. Yes, some people are too obsessed with maintaining their killer bodies, but still--if you must, I’ll hold myself to snide remarks or a few jabs, which will bounce right off you, fit as you are, whereas your comebacks will likely stick in me, overweight as I am.

So makeup or hair coloration or workouts are not really likely to drag one across the line, or at least not too far.

But cosmetic surgery is something else entirely. It almost always crosses the line. I confess that when I’m talking to someone whose face has obviously had procedures (and yes, it’s pretty obvious when such procedures have been done) I lose a good couple dozen points of respect for the person talking to me. Sorry, that’s just me; and sure, maybe you don’t care to talk to me anyway, but I thought you should know.

Cosmetic surgery almost never makes a person look better--it nearly always makes one look to some degree plastic or strained or, sorry to say it, somehow post-human. So as I’m talking to you across the table or watching you on the screen I can’t help repeatedly thinking: What a dope. Why did he/she do it?

These remarks go for both men and women, by the way, but the sad fact is--women are the main consumers of these deformative procedures. And more and more women, in all the world’s wealthier nations, are making themselves borderline monstrous. And spending big bucks to do so.

It really is sad.

Doubtless my deep feeling of distaste when confronted with all these new plastic faces everywhere comes from my sense of what a face is to begin with. Is my sense of the meaning of the human face maybe somehow eccentric? Judge for yourself.

The way I see it, you do not own your face as something you can change as if it were a sofa or a pair of drapes. Rather, your face is constitutive of who you are as a human being vis-a-vis others. Change your face, and you’ve inevitably undone part of your character.

What’s more, when people can see you’ve changed it, and they can, a little voice inside them will whisper: She’s turning away from her self. She’s trying to efface herself and become a different face.

And the gut feeling that accompanies these whispers? It is a queasy feeling of nature offended: a vague feeling, as I’ve said, of monstrosity.

And what is this “different face” that you suddenly show up wearing? It is no one really. It is not a face that has experienced time, that has lived through the years with loved ones and rivals and joys and pain. Rather it is no one--a kind of new artifact appearing out of nowhere.

I never was one for watching American TV, but in recent years I can hardly stand it--all the plastic pseudo-faces blabbering at each other, all the people turning away from the self and toward some kind of shiny and conformist non-self.

And this is what Renee Zellweger has obviously done. She had a face with character, she acted edgy roles and gave the impression of a woman with a strong sense of self. She didn’t seem like the type to give up on her real self just because of wrinkles or a bit of sagging of the cheeks. But that’s just what she did.

If you hadn’t told me it was her, I wouldn’t recognize the woman in the recent photos as the actress whose moves I’d seen. What’s more, though the woman in the recent photos is (somewhat) beautiful, she has the strained and fake look of nearly everyone who gets such procedures. I do not at all feel like I’d be attracted to talk with this woman.

And no, I don’t think the fact of her making her career in Hollywood, or the pressures of being a major actress, should temper me in my criticism. If anything, her choice to deface herself is worse because as a celebrity she knows she’s a role model for millions who very likely possess even less self-confidence.

Of course some writers who consider themselves feminists have come out with raised daggers against the many others who were shocked and a bit dismayed by Zellweger’s “new look”. I’m sorry, but I don’t think there’s anything feminist in defending a woman who’s undergone such radical cosmetic surgery. If Zellweger wants to be respected as a woman who is more than her mere appearance (her appearance as a commodity, given her career) she shouldn’t have gone and tried to upgrade that appearance, to undo its slight changes over time. Further, the shock of most of Zellweger’s critics can be attributed, I believe, not to any tendency to commodify women, but rather to that deep sense of the meaning of face that I try to get at above. Someone who changes his/her face to that degree, whoever they are, has somehow broken with themselves and rejected their continuity as a person in the community. And most everyone, whether or not they can articulate the fact, senses this deep down. Thus the dismay at what Ms. Zellweger has done.

I suggest a new practice for those bloggers and others who agree with me here. When an actor or singer (or even a person in one’s social circle) changes their face like Zellweger has done, why not acknowledge the new person by giving them a new name? Because in a disturbing way, as a familiar face in society, that person is starting over from scratch. So I will refer to this new woman as Remaske Zellweger.

In these remarks I’ve left out the other valid question of the privilege, as in spare cash, of those who can afford to deface themselves in this way through cosmetic surgery. But this question of the wealth necessary for such changes can of course only further underline the degree to which vanity, unchecked, quickly becomes tied up with vice.

I repeat: Cosmetic surgery should be banned, and if it can’t be banned, it should be taxed to the hilt--and in any case, for those who value what is real and true in this world, cosmetic surgery should be shunned. And since the question may arise: Would I include Botox, or whatever other virus they’re injecting these days, in the ban? By all means. Stiff and rubbery, botoxed faces are clearly a part of this new monstrosity.

The actress Renee Zellweger has defaced herself, and that’s that. Please don’t follow her lead.

[Further reading: Of the handful of pieces I’ve read, Vis Groskop and Mary Elizabeth Williams get it right I think; Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy is just using the incident to blow her rinky-dink feminish horn.]

Eric Mader

Monday, September 15, 2014

What is the Afterlife?

Saturday students: Frances, Shawn, Anthony, Yoyo.

My small Saturday class has impressed me again. I talked with them a bit about different cultures’ ideas of the afterlife--I mentioned Christian and Muslim ideas, Buddhist ideas, including reincarnation, and different ancient pagan ideas--then wrote their assignment on the board:
Do you believe you have a soul that will continue after death, or do you think you only have a physical body? Many people in the world, following different religions, believe there is some kind of afterlife; others believe that when we die we cease to exist. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, for this assignment I want you to imagine that you have died and discovered that in fact there is an afterlife.

It is now three hours after your death. What has been your experience during these three hours? Where are you now? Are you alone? Do you know anything about where you will be in the future?

You have twenty minutes to write.

These are the four versions of the afterlife they gave me.


Detail from Anthony's afterlife.

The Afterlife

I’ve been dead for three hours, my soul left my body and now I’m trying to figure out what to do next.

The last three hours might be the most painful time of my life. I didn’t want to stay beside my body and watch people crying for my death, so I decided to leave the hospital and take a last tour of the city.

Being bodiless is kind of convenient. I didn’t have to walk at all, I don’t have to pay attention to traffic lights, and I could get everywhere I wanted to go by only thinking about it.

I went to places where I had created lots of beautiful memories with friends and family. I thought about things I’d done in my life: what I did right and what I did wrong.

Later I was sitting in a park and an angel appeared. He said I would only have 24 hours to stay in the world, and also I could get into the dreams of people who still wanted to see me again. I could talk to them again and say goodbye for the last time. And then I will be in the heaven, living an afterlife.

So now I’m thinking, with 21 hours left, what is the thing that I should do? (And god damn it, why the hell did the angel only show up 3 hours after my death? He should show up immediately!)

by Shawn (莊崴翔)

The Afterlife

It is now three hours after my death. I can’t see anything that isn’t in darkness. I don’t know where I am. I think I am floating in the sky, higher and higher.

Abruptly, I feel a strong light. I am on the ground. I don’t know where it is. Then I see a house, not so far, so I go into it. When I walk in, I see many pictures of animals and insects, and there are some points under them. A man is using a computer near me.

“Where are we?” I say.

“Here you can choose what you want to be in your next life, but not everything. You did many good things in your life, so you have 1000 points, but you can’t choose the animals which are more than 1000 points like pandas.”

I chose human and thought: “I have to do more good things this time and I can be an animal which is better in my next life.”

by Yoyo (王佑淳)

The Afterlife

It is now three hours after my death. My soul is getting away from my body, and I can see that there’s a long tunnel leading toward me, with a shining light. I can’t see the end of the tunnel, and there’s no reason why I’m going straight down.

After a while, I take a train with no color, keep going in the tunnel. The train has many windows, but they seem like DVD players, playing my life, telling all the good or bad things to me. My tears keep bubbling up.

After my life has finished playing, the tunnel has ended too. I can’t control my body, and I can’t move, it feels like a large hand pressing me tightly onto the seat.

Suddenly a “god” appears in front of me. He speaks with a deep, deep voice, and shoots me with his dark, cold eyes, but I don’t have any fear. He tells me that because of my behavior during life I deserve to go to heaven, and he raises up his hands, just like magic, makes a big wave and leads me to heaven. I’m not happy, also not sad. I have no feelings now.

When I get to heaven, a lot of people who have died are welcoming me with their hands. Maybe this is my new home now. We can’t speak to each other, can’t smile, but our feelings strangely go right to each other. We enjoy the sunlight every day, and enjoy our afterlife.

by Frances (蔡詠淇)

The Afterlife

Now I’m in the “empty space”. There is nothing about “afterlife” exactly. After we die, we will come to the empty space and pass through it. Once we pass through, we appear in the “Eyeth”. Also, we forget everything from the “Earth”.

The Eyeth is a planet just like the Earth. People on both planets think there is a universe, but actually there isn’t. Nothing is outside the planets. The Eyeth is a world of magic as the Earth is a world of science. Every other thing is the same on both planets. However, depending on whether the planet is based on magic or science, some things will be opposite. For instance, novels and movies on both planets will be people’s imagination of the other planet.

Every time we come to the Eyeth or the Earth, we will be the same person as last time we came, but the environment will change. Sometimes it will be better, sometimes not. Maybe next time when I go to the Earth, the world will be at 2000 B.C. or 5000 A.D. Nobody knows.

While in the “empty spaces”, we see nothing, just emptiness, there is no other world to describe it. Getting through the empty space, you’ll remember something about yourself on the next world. After that, you’ll be on that planet.

Nobody, wrong, no soul knows why this is happening. Maybe some other more powerful race is controlling it, but no soul can understand.

by Anthony (黃聖翔)

Unfortunately, the very talented smart-ass Ryan (蔡睿敏) was absent this time, which was really too bad, because he often writes fascinating things. Next time, Ryan!

Ryan--getting ready to say something smart-assed.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ISIS' British Faithful


Listen to this London Muslim preacher. I think ISIS is on the verge of overplaying its hand.

And he's got it all wrong ideologically. The battle is not between those who believe in God and those who believe in man, but rather between those who believe their own narrow idea of God should control everyone (the jihadists) and those who believe a society is best when it allows different religions and different secular visions the freedom to co-exist (as long as they don’t harm each other).

Against the jihadists and fundamentalists, we need to stand with pluralism. And we may be having to stand tougher pretty soon. If these folks really want to attack the West directly, I think they will find the West capable of fighting back.

Although I'm usually critical of US bombing campaigns (and was critical of the Iraq war to begin with, which only managed to destabilize Iraq) I'm fully behind any military action of ours that may weaken ISIS. I suspect we're going to be dealing with the loyalists of this new "caliphate" for some time.

And how is London managing to deal with these people? I really do strongly suspect that if ISIS starts launching anything like sustained attacks in Europe, it's going to end badly for the millions of moderate European Muslims caught in the middle.