Flight Papers

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Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Truth in social networking.

Monday, December 1st, 2008

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Posted in humor, culture | 1 Comment »

Maybe we’ll stop silencing them next year.

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

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I wanted to honor Aisha and all the wives of Muhammad by giving voice to them, remarkable women whose crucial roles in the shaping of Islam have so often been ignored — silenced — by historians. I guess maybe someone will give them a voice next year or something. — Sherry Jones, You Still Can’t Write About Muhammad

This quote may not be entirely accurate.

Asra Q. Nomani has an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal talking about Random House’s decision not to release The Jewel of Medina, Jones’ novel about Aisha, the youngest wife of Muhammad.

Their reasoning?

[Random House deputy publisher Thomas Perry] said that after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received “from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.” … After consulting security experts and Islam scholars, Mr. Perry said the company decided “to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel.”

So that’s… interesting. Random House has taken to avoiding the publication of books because brown people—sorry, a small, radical segment of brown people—might do something dangerous if they’re provoked. And, of course, the thing that’s meant to be doing the provoking is a fictionalized (perhaps highly fictionalized) account of a woman’s life.

For some reason, I wanted to write: “I’m torn,” but actually, I’m not torn, I’m with Asra. This is stupid, and it’s sad, and it’s more-than-slightly racist. It’s stupid on multiple levels, in fact. It’s stupid that writing about the women of early Islam as if they were actual people provokes such a chillingly negative response. It’s stupid that a western publisher reacts to fear of violence from vague, scary Muslims (who assuredly are just waiting for this book to come out as an excuse to blow up, I dunno, Los Angeles). And it’s an icy blend of stupid and colonialist that the author, the professor who took issue with the book, and—I’ll hazard—everyone handling this case at Random House is white, and not Muslim.

And that last point is why I felt maybe a bit ambivalent about this particular instance of corporate insanity. Unlike Nomani, I haven’t read the book. I don’t know if it’s shite or if it’s ridiculously offensive, and in any case I’m not particularly well-positioned to determine the latter. I do absolutely believe that misogyny—some of it particular to Islam, some of it not—is driving some of the outrage against the text and the publisher’s fear of promoting it. At the same time, this is one work of historical fiction by one white author, highlighted against a background of millions of living Muslim women—artists who are alive right now and whose voices are not silent but rather conspicuously muffled. I want Jones’ work to be published, I do, but I think there’s danger in letting it define the discourse, or become the extent of the Islamic feminist canon.

We love you so much. That’s why we’re stabbing you repeatedly in the face.

Friday, May 16th, 2008

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Renegade Evolution (who is brill) has a rather lovely takedown of a particular poster’s, um, “arguments” against supporting sex workers. Not the porn industry, not porn itself, but sex workers.

Think on that for a second.

Now, look, I don’t want to become all “no true Scotsman”-ey. I know that there are problems with an industry that men construct to serve male pleasure. I know that there are feminist issues with working in such an industry. I know that an enormous amount of porn is explicitly degrading to women, and in fact, if someone says, “porn is degrading to women,” I am not inclined to disagree.

But when someone says, “You don’t support sex workers,” and your response is, “Well, we also don’t support drug dealers, bank robbery, embezzlement, arson, murder and a host of other things even tho women do them. Oh! How rude of feminists not to support all the choices of women!” then you Do. Not. Get. It.

You are not a true feminist, and I am revoking your card, and it was Andrea Dworkin who died and put me in charge.

You can critique the sex industry. You can critique sex work. I will even allow that you can critique the decision to go into sex work, but I would not do it, because you do not know all of the everything it is to be her, and unless you are willing to wrest agency out of her hands, I would suggest you not imply that she is acting the role of a puppet, rather than a person.

The thing you absolutely cannot, cannot do is say that sex workers are not women who deserve fair pay, worker’s compensation, and all the other rights afforded to people doing what is, in fact, relatively taxing, dangerous work. You especially cannot do this by making an appeal to the bloody criminal justice system, which is not precisely a floating orb of social justice, vacuum-insulated from the patriarchy that birthed it.

I don’t want national borders to exist, but that doesn’t mean I ought to say, “Immigrant women? Fuck ‘em. They broke the law, don’tcha know?”. I don’t want race to exist, but that doesn’t mean I get a free pass to ignore the particular issues faced by women who are not of mine. I don’t want capitalism to exist, but that doesn’t make the gendered effects of poverty somehow not a feminist issue.

You don’t want the for-men-controlled-by-men sex industry to exist but that does not give you the ability to, as a “feminist,” shit on women doing sex work. It does not give you the ability to erase their agency. It does not give you the ability to erase their rights. It does not give you the ability to erase them.



Funny you should say that.

Monday, May 12th, 2008

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I’ve been working on some pieces about the American criminal justice system, and I came across this:

“A person who has chosen to commit armed robbery, rape or kidnapping has chosen to do something with a strong possibility of causing the death of an innocent person,” Mr. Scheidegger said. “That choice makes it morally justified to convict the person of murder when that possibility happens.”Serving Life for Providing Car to Killers, Adam Liptak

The article is part of an interesting series in the NYT, American Exception, which deals with the often pathological ways American criminal justice differs from criminal justice systems in the rest of the world.

(A particularly jarring example: the rest of the world has abandoned life sentences without parole for juveniles. When the United Nations adopted a resolution calling for the abolution of the practice, the U.S. was the only dissenting nation.)

But let’s go back to the quote. Kent Scheidegger is a victims’ rights advocate. Perhaps I should rephrase—he’s an advocate for somehow helping the people designated as victims by the criminal justice system by throwing people behind bars, or in the chair. More people, in fact, than we currently are.

Here’s what he wrote in his 2006 testimony before the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Comission:

The primary question before this commission and the Legislature and people of New Jersey is whether you are going to value the lives of the innocent above the lives of the guilty and do what it takes to actually have an effective death penalty in this state. Several measures suggest themselves.

First, get rid of proportionality review. It is not constitutionally required,4 and it is not needed as a practical matter.…

Second, enact some strong limits on collateral review. Every capital defendant should be entitled to a direct appeal and one post-conviction proceeding, and there should be no further reviews of any issue that does not raise a substantial doubt of the identity of the perpetrator.…Statement of Kent Scheidegger, page 2

And just because sometimes the point needs to be hit with a two-by-four, here’s part of the judge Arthur Cooperman’s statement on the Sean Bell case:

Also, carelessness and incompetence are not standards to be applied here, unless the conduct rises to the level of criminal acts, as defined by the law relating to each count charged.

In short: we can hold individuals responsible for their actions. We can also hold individuals responsible for the forseeable consequences of their actions. In fact, we can hold individuals responsible for potential consequences that we think they should have forseen but didn’t.

However, when you’re talking about state actors, please, be reasonable! You can’t expect police officers not to shoot someone fifty times when they feel a bit uneasy about the situation—you just have to trust that they knew what they were doing. And please, don’t lecture us about the dangerous environment set up by targeted policing programmes, nor about the strong likelihood that such programs will lead to someone, say, getting shot. See, when individual actions lead to people getting shot, it’s a chrime. When states or corporations enact policies that are not simply likely to lead to innocent deaths, but in fact practically guaranteed to do so, then it is a regrettable consequence of a necessary moral calculus.

Why Dicebox makes me happy

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

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Because I can look at the characters say, “wow. my body actually kinda looks like that.” (this link contains nekkid.)

That page blew my mind, actually.

Obviously, I was aware that comic art is… not exactly realistic. Not for men, but especially-omg-holycrap not for women. But you kinda get used to it. It knew that the art was depicting this skewed fantasy, but the full implications of that didn’t really hit me in a visceral way until I felt how mind-blowingly refreshing it was to see women’s bodies depicted in all their squishy glory. That’s when I really fully internalized what I, we, practically a whole medium is still missing out on.

(There are, of course, lots of other beautiful reasons to love Dicebox. If you don’t know what yours are, you should really get on that.)

Bring on the hordes.

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

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(Crossposted on Punk Ass Blog. I wish I could unify comments sections. Ah, well. Wordpress 2.6 or something.)

Yesterday’s Talk of the Nation had Roger Mudd and Bob Schaffer, both former reporters at the CBS news bureau, reminiscing about their days working at that company. The discussion turned pretty quickly to how the the world is changing, how television newscasts are aimed more and more transparently at entertainment over information, and how Americans are more concerned with American Idol than with Real Issues.

And this matters, right? I’m about to dismiss it pretty completely, but let’s just appreciate for a moment that the corporate monoculture sold by the big networks, studios, and labels is still massively influential as to what and how people in the west think. Simon Cowell can say a sentence—basically any sentence—and more Americans will immediately believe him than know who Hosni Mubarak is. That’s relevant. And more subtly, too: Randall Munroe focused on top-20 Hollywood movies in his recent look at the portrayal of women heroes (summary: whowhat kind of heroes now? how silly), and his reason for doing so was that in a very real way, these images are our culture. There are many reasons to critique it, and many, many critiques to be had.

But still, when Bob Schaffer gets up on Talk of the Nation and says, “Thirty years ago, the combined audience of the three network newscasts was fifty-two million. Today, it is twenty-seven million. Today, American Idol has an audience of twenty-seven million,” truly, I struggle to care.


But please, protect us from the terrorists.

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

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Fifty-five people died today, trying to immigrate from war-torn Myanmar into Thailand. Any reasonable person would consider anyone trying to get out of Myanmar a refugee, at this point, but that was, I suspect, hardly a relevant consideration for them. They wanted out, and taking what they felt was the best course of action led to them suffocating to death in a supply container.

Fifty-five people*. Think about that.

And just for a second, try to forget the politics of us and them. Try to forget the narrative that says they knew they were taking their lives into their own hands; try to forget the world in which they are criminals. They were doing what they thought was best for them and their families. They were trying to survive.

And then, of course, remember that they were evil people. I mean, they were breaking the law! They knew such immigration was illegal, but they did it anyway. Not out of necessity, surely, nor out of a sense that this was the best thing for them to do. We have to keep out the brown-skins, you understand. They are different from us in a categorical way. In their shoes, would not have made such a silly mistake; in their place, we would still be alive, because we are clearly much smarter than they were.

At work, we’re putting together a big map of all the installations of our exhibit. The director wants a big world map to convey an “international feel,” though the vast majority of the installations are in the U.S. He wants a global map, a political map, with big, thick borders between all the countries.

Because that, obviously, conveys a feeling of “internationalness.”

And I suppose it does. The issue, of course, is the big honking national in “international.” The issue is that when we’re clinically talking about “border control” and “immigration control,” and even “outsourcing” and various kinds of protectionism, we are fundamentally denying that the people over there are not so different from the people in here, and no less deserving of our compassion, whatever we may’ve been led to believe.

“The people said they tried to bang on the walls of the container to tell the driver they were dying, but he told them to shut up as police would hear them when they crossed through checkpoints inside Thailand,” he said.

The 46 people who survived the ordeal without injury have been arrested[.]

* — The SMH article I’m linking says fifty-four; I just heard on the BBC fifty-five. The BBC’s article isn’t up on the web just yet.

Well, that was immensely-surprising in a not particularly surprising way.

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

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In other news, the Daily Mail is reporting that Gok Wan, host of the UK’s “How to Look Good Naked,” seems to not actually like women.

Let me just take a moment to be not-shocked that the host of How to Look Good (according to patriarchal society) Naked (so as to arouse your male, heterosexual partner) isn’t the strongest ally in the universe.

(And yes, I know there are positive aspects of the show, it’s not all one-sided, it does seem to make a lot of the contestants feel and thus be more confident, and I know that we can’t separate out our desire for ourselves from society’s desires for us, entirely.)


Monday, March 31st, 2008

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Damn the Facebook app list is depressing.

A few bumper sticker / button / anarchy patch programs, which are kindof meh, but at least cute. A whooole bunch of games where the whole point is to bite / claw / jab / zombify / whatever as many of your friends as possible, so they can get to play the game, too! Which involves… biting, clawing, jabbing, or zombifying as many of their friends as possible. Which has no effect other than to make the userbase grow to omg and make the “developers” a whole bunch of ad money.

Also, there are ten billion quizzes. With a similar parasitic, advertising-driven model.

It’s to Facebook’s credit that they’ve managed to keep this explosion of stupid crap from making browsing Facebook a completely intolerable experience. But seriously. Scrabulous and Chess and, obviously, my favorite Meaningless Black Square, are amongst the best apps on there. And they’re just straight-up ports of tabletop games.

It’s not exactly I expect some great revelation from Facebook apps. I expect that many of them will be things that you could do outside of Facebook, but it’s a bit easier to do on Facebook. Scrabble and other long turn-based games are one nice example; forums would be another. It’s nice to have these apps all in one space, where they’re easy to share with your friends without all the hassle of getting a new account somewhere. They aren’t mindblowing, but they’re still pretty cool.

That being said, having easy access to a relatively complete social graph is fairly novel, and I think there’s quite a bit of unexplored space there. I think the most promising developments are more creative and community oriented. Facebook’s groups are a start, but we may want more or less formalized versions, with more or fewer modes of expression available. I know there are probably some apps exploring this, but they’re so fundamentally buried that it’s depressing. I don’t know if there’s actually any there there, and I don’t know exactly where this line of development leads, but I think it’s at least interesting.

More interesting, at any rate, than finding out which Harry Potter slash pairing ARE YOU?!.


The new fireside.

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

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In fact, while conventional wisdom says that users would love to watch downloaded video content on the television set, Macrovision found that only 10 percent of those surveyed said that they have any desire to do so.’ —ars

Funny story.

A couple of days ago, some friends and I were lying in bed talking about Obama’s speech on race relations, and it came up that only one of us had actually seen it. So, seeing as we had two laptops in the bed with us, we opened up YouTube and watched it.

Now, YouTube isn’t particularly good for this. For one thing, its design is pretty distracting, and it doesn’t have a “hit the lights” button. For another, videos are cut to ten minutes, so the speech was broken into four parts. And it doesn’t have a playlist feature, so we couldn’t just queue them all up.

None of this mattered.

Silently clicking through the clips felt like this lovely confluence of then and yet-to-come. We were lying under blankets, gathered around a glowing laptop listening to a fireside chat on YouTube.

The tenor of the speech built the mood, but the way we obtained, watched, and interacted with it was much more established than that. This is how we channel surf; this is how we interact with media. When we’re watching music videos (say) we’ll be passing the keyboard or laptop around, pulling up different artists and concerts or whatever. The social protocol for this sort of thing is well-established: we are all watching, and we are all in control, and there is zero room for a TV set in that equation.

Point of interest: there were two laptops within three feet of us that night. There are no TVs in her house.

And sure, sometimes we’ll download movies or shows that we plan on watching, turn the lights down, and project them on the wall. But those instances are much rarer, and the setup time required means that there isn’t any significant issue with just plugging a laptop or computer into the TV and futzing with it for a few minutes. And as often as not, we’ll just turn a convenient monitor around, or bring a laptop onto the bed, and watch stuff that way.