From the monthly archives:

September 2013

The crisis of 2011, in 2013

by John Q on September 30, 2013

Since a shutdown of the US government now appears inevitable, I thought I would look back at a post from 2010, in which I predicted such an outcome, expecting it to come in 2010. As it turned out that was premature, but much of the analysis still stands up pretty well, notably including the final sentence

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Yes, for the Millionth Time: You Can Be Fired for This

by Corey Robin on September 30, 2013

My Little Pony

My daughter loves My Little Pony. So does this guy. And that, apparently, is a problem. Grown men are not supposed to like the same things as young girls.

The guy—though Gawker has done a story on him, he remains anonymous—is a dad in his late 30s. He calls himself “a fairly big fan.” He made the picture of one of the show’s characters the background image on his desktop. He talked to the boss’s 9-year-old daughter about the show. His co-workers, and the boss, got freaked out. According to the guy, the boss told him that “it’s weird and it makes people uncomfortable that I have a ‘tv show for little girls as a background.'”

Now he’s been fired. [click to continue…]

De Correspondent

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 30, 2013

Today I finished grading more than 250.000 words of MA-theses (that’s what you get when students who don’t graduate by September need to pay fees for an additional year). It feels wonderful, to have an evening in which I can bring the kids to bed without stressing about all that still needs to be done, to make a cup of tea, sit down, and ask myself: ‘So, what shall I do tonight?’.

So lucky me, since today is also the day that De Correspondent got launched, a new completely on-line advertisement-free ‘newspaper’ (not really, no). 100% funded by crowdsourcing – by people who want journalists who serve the readers rather than the stockholders, who don’t want sensation on their frontpage, nor censorship of and selfcensorship by the journalists.

You have to be ‘a member’ to be able to read all the pieces, and it’s all in Dutch. I read a few pieces – on income and wealth inequality in the Netherlands, on the increasing numbers of walls on Earth that separate countries or areas, and a column by Arnon Grunberg — and my first thoughts were: this looks really good. The lay-out is great, it’s user-friendly. I like it. Yet content-wise, it’s much more like our place here then like a newspaper. But with much more power: they have money (more than 20.000 ‘members’ who donated money), and with those monies they could hire journalists – I mean, ‘correspondents’. Some of these correspondents will be writing full-time for De Correspondent, but some will hold other positions, like Ewald Engelen, who holds a chair in financial geography at the University of Amsterdam.

Since the platform is online-only, since pieces will be released at several moments during the day, and since readers can leave comments, I would think that the correspondent is a blog, really – though very likely and hopefully a high-powered blog. It’s interesting that they don’t present themselves as such. Why that would be – I have no idea. In the meantime I’m really glad they are there, proud to be a supporter of this adventure (oops, I should say ‘member’), and looking forward to watching their impact on the quality of the public debate.

Moonstruck, a Better Film

by Corey Robin on September 29, 2013

I know that headline will set the menfolk off. Maybe the womenfolk, too. No matter. I just wanted to get your attention. For an entirely different purpose (though it really is a terrific film, with some lovely shots of Carroll Gardens.)

Wanting to bring together some recent CT threads on gender, sexism, and film, I thought this scene—which Michael Pollak reminded me of—does a brilliant job of capturing how and why academic men of a certain generation would have been so freaked out by the rules and laws of sexual harassment.

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The scene is between an older male professor—wonderfully played by John Mahoney, who also played that creepy dad in Say Anything, the father of the girl John Cusack was in love with—and Olympia Dukakis. She asks him why he likes to sleep with his female students. He tells her, and even though it’s 1987, i.e., a bit before the debate about faculty sexual harassment would really hit American campuses, he gives a visceral, concrete sense of what a male prerogative it was, to be able to fuck your students at will. And by implication why so many male faculty would freak out when they were told they couldn’t do it anymore.

Laws against sexual harassment really spelled the end of their world, the end of the old regime, the death of a whole way of life. A way of life that they thought was concomitant with education itself.

That’s how privilege works, as I’ve argued. The privileged imagine it to be an intrinsic part of the enterprise they’re engaged in, so that when the privilege goes, the enterprise goes with it too. And so the privileged freak: not just for themselves, but for all of humanity.


Raiders of the Lost Ark, a Pretty Good Film

by John Holbo on September 28, 2013

So I’m doing this thing where I rewatch 80’s Hollywood blockbusters, for science. John Hughes. Disappointing. Ghostbusters holds up. But that’s Bill Murray. (You know, I was watching Ted Cruz’ speech – well, bits of it. And I thought to myself: why am I even able to watch this for a second? I think the answer is: he looks a little like Bill Murray. The eyebrows.) Beverly Hills Cop. Unwatchable. Die Hard. Damn good, after all these years. And on and on, for the sake of science. Finally I got to Raiders of the Lost Ark. On Blu-Ray. I was so looking forward to this one. Haven’t watched it in 20 years. I was sure it was going to be, just as I remembered it, a perfect gem. A love letter to the pulps. The Platonic Form of summer blockbuster fun. It knows what it wants to be, and it is that thing, and that’s fine. And just enough comedy to go with the action. A perfect role for Harrison Ford. Spielberg is a great director. And – it turns out to be … just good. Not great. Dammit. I didn’t love it anymore! Where has my love gone! [click to continue…]

A new report  from the British think-tank Demos (for the group of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament) on the quality of democracy in European countries makes some interesting claims. It states that Hungary and Greece are ‘the most significant democratic backsliders, with Hungary in the bottom quartile for all measures of democracy’.

But while democratic values may be at risk in both countries, it seems to me that this is happening in different ways. In particular, the way government control is exercised in the presence of parties of the far right is quite different. In Hungary, the government has consolidated political control by moving further toward the positions adopted by the far right. In Greece, the state faces a crisis of authority that is worsened by the activities of the far right.

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There Are Men Eating Menstrual Pads

by Belle Waring on September 26, 2013

Oh, Belle. Belle, Belle, Belle. First, you told us some authors were such a bunch of sexist dillweeds that you didn’t really like their novels all that much. In a throwaway sentence! A sentence that made it clear that you in fact didn’t read such books at all, but merely checked the covers for sexist content and then threw the books away in the trash. In. The. Trash. And then John said you could read fast. Biased much LOL! Yeah, well, so fast that you stopped reading books completely after you reached a sexist sentence! Because that’s manifestly what ‘reading fast’ means. Yes, and then you had an actual man testify again on your behalf that you finished books even if you didn’t super-love them. Like–probably the only chick in the world, seriously! How was any of us to know that “reads books fast” means “reads books”? What is this, some kind of crazy advanced logic class, or a blog?

So then you explained at length, that you were only talking about this one group of male authors who wrote more or less from the ’50s on, and that you didn’t like their novels because you thought they weren’t good novels. When since is that a reason not to like a novel, I would like to know, Missy? Any anyway, Belle, your problem is that you’re reading the wrong thing. Nobody cares about these books anymore! Or, as a commenter suggested: “No. It seems your definition of ‘important’ is skewing your choice of reading, so not surprising that your results are skewed. I’d suggest that you drop everything else for a while until you’ve finished reading all of Pratchett and Banks.” [Here I must note that for whatever odd reason this rubbed me the wrong way. I have already read all of Pratchett and Banks (except maybe one Tiffany Aching one?). The knowledge that there will be no new Iain M. Banks novels dismays me. He’s one of my all-time favorite writers full-stop. WHY AFTER 500 COMMENTS WOULD SOMEONE NOT ASK IF I HAD READ THEM ALL FIRST BECAUSE YOU KNOW, I VERY WELL MIGHT HAVE? Unnamed commenter: I don’t hate on you; it was almost bad luck that you…naw, you still shouldn’t have been so patronizing. But, like, talk to me, dude, what were you thinking?]

Well, dear readers, someone does care about these authors. Someone cares very, very much, and that man is University of Toronto Professor David Gilmour. In a recent interview with Random House Canada’s Emily Keeler, he explained his teaching philosophy:

I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth….
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Van Jones Does Gershom Scholem One Better

by Corey Robin on September 25, 2013

Van Jones to Cornel West:

Do you think that you’ve shown enough love toward President Obama?…Where is the love for this president?…You’ve got the first black president, and where is the love? I understand the critique, but where is the love?”

It’s like what Gershom Scholem wrote to Hannah Arendt in response to Eichmann in Jerusalem:

There is something in the Jewish language that is completely indefinable, yet fully concrete — what the Jews call ahavath Israel, or love for the Jewish people.  With you, my dear Hannah, as with so many intellectuals coming from the German left, there is no trace of it.

Only classier.

This Is The New Most Racist Field Trip of All Time

by Belle Waring on September 24, 2013

So, somewhere, someone proposed this idea, and other people said, “yes, that sounds like an excellent and educational idea.” Children from the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (which seems to be a magnet school in a majority minority public school district, but I’m not 100% sure) went for a 3 day field trip last year to a place called “Nature’s Classroom” in Charlton, MA. The students were notified about an “optional” Underground Railroad Skit 30 minutes before it occurred, on the last night. There, according to testimony from a father filing suit on behalf of his 12-year-old daughter under the Civil Rights act (along with some more ordinary “damages” suits against the school board), this happened (her re-telling, via the father):

Before we went into the dark room, we were lined up outside and asked to imagine running with our families in Africa. The slave master finds us and beats, stabs, and kills my father in front of me. I went into a dark room where I had to sit on my bottom with my knees touching; my legs fell asleep and were hurting….the instructor told us,”we don’t need any sick slaves; if you get sick we will throw you overboard.” I was told that sharks were following us and could smell our blood.

So far so good, right? But here’s where a teachable moment–turned into a terrible catastrophe. No, jk obviously, this is the most insane horrible thing I’ve ever heard of! But it does get worse.
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Is it really the case that pretty much all the Important Male Novelists of the mid to late 20th-century are such sexist dillweeds that it is actually impossible to enjoy the books, for many intelligent people? That would be a bummer, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Best suggestion for contemporary author of well-rounded female characters, from Tom: Kim Stanley Robinson. I LOL’ed. Shall we consider together?

John Updike, Norman Mailer: self-explanatory. If I get pushback on this I just…I don’t know. All right, The Naked and The Dead is an OK novel but after he turned into the Baron Harkonnen of Important Male Authors his literary credits were retroactively revoked. I read that novel about Egypt twice, don’t y’all make me go there! (Why? Because it was there. No, really. It was at my house. It’s why I’ve read The Tommyknockers twice also. It was at my house and then it was at a backpacker place in Melaka I stayed in when I had wicked jet lag for a day.) Philip Roth: sorry dudes, it just be’s like that sometimes. Saul Bellow: I am not qualified to say! Readers, please advise. Gaddis: aw, aw…goddamn. Did you–couldn’t you just have left out–? There has never been a book I enjoyed so much, that I threw against the wall so hard and hated so utterly as JR. It was devastatingly clear in the first hundred or so pages how unhappy I would be. And yet so skilfully gulled! Don DeLillo: Here quite a decent case can be made that he just hates everyone. And yet–yet–he hates some people more equally than others. Just set him side by side with J.G. Ballard, who truly hates everyone, and you will see what I mean.

Jonathan Franzen: he’s by no means the worst of the lot! He’s just young enough to know better. Some objected below that none of his characters are real, but rather all represent ideas in the fashion of… Look, I yield to no man in my love of Mann. I am a woman who, when packing to go to the beach in Thailand, decided to re-read Buddenbrooks. I know my Mynheeren Peeperkorn, Mr. Franzen, and you have not written a Mynheer Peeperkorn. Also, it is precisely Franzen’s desire to be an Important Male Novelist of the 20th Century that is so grating; he is a squirrel in the “random reward” group of a Skinner-box experiment that investigates how frequently the squirrel will press the lever that dispenses cocaine. D.F. Wallace: a good writer who is not such a sexist dillweed that it prevents one from enjoying his work, and is nonetheless an officially canonized Important Novelist. How satisfactory! He also needed an editor, though. Does no one have an editor? Do they rely on the firm rock of the horrible-looking PC OS to keep them real?
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by Eszter Hargittai on September 22, 2013

This is rather depressing. More info here. And seriously, we really need more conversation and action – whatever that may be – to counter the level of anti-Sikh and anti-Muslim hate going around. (I guess perhaps it is not yet confirmed in this case that it was a hate crime, but it certainly sounds like it.) Know of any organizations with helpful initiatives in this domain? Please share.

Voldemort Comes to CUNY

by Corey Robin on September 22, 2013

Monday, September 9, was David Petraeus’s first class at CUNY. As he left Macaulay Honors College, where he’s teaching, he was hounded by protesters. It wasn’t pretty; the protesters were angry and they didn’t hold back.

The protesters’ actions attracted national and international media attention—and condemnation. Not just from the usual suspects at Fox but from voices at CUNY as well. [click to continue…]

The global party of stupid

by John Q on September 21, 2013

Australia’s new conservative ministry has just been sworn in, and while it includes Ministers for Border Protection (that is, stopping refugees) and Sport, and even a minister for the centenary of the Anzac landings on Gallipoli in 1915, there are no longer ministers for science or higher education[^1].

This is part of a fairly consistent pattern. The US Republican Party recently vetoed the creation of an unpaid position of National Science Laureate. In Canada, the Harper government eliminated the position of National Science Advisor, among many other anti-science moves. All of this reflects the fact that scientific research on topics like climate change and evolution regularly reaches conclusions that conflict with the policy preferences or religious beliefs of rightwingers.
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Drink The Haterade

by Belle Waring on September 21, 2013

I don’t want to step on my husband’s post, so I am merely supplementing it, because I think there is something that deserves enough excerpts to warrant a post rather than a comment. To wit, this article from The Toast, “You Wouldn’t Like Jonathan Franzen When He’s Angry.” I am turning off comments to this post so we can talk in the thread below.

Jonathan Franzen is the angriest novelist in the world. He is the novelist who is so angry he cannot move. He cannot eat. He cannot sleep. He can just barely growl. Bound so tightly with tension and anger, he approaches the state of rigor mortis.

He is angry because Salman Rushdie uses Twitter, and nowadays people can buy books on the Internet, and the Home Depot, and he had to go to Germany one time, and also some women exist who have not had sex with him….

Think of all the women who have never slept with Jonathan Franzen. His anger must grow by the day. Soon it will envelop the world, and we will be forced to bow down in chains before it, and create ziggurats out of human corpses as terrible tribute. Some of these women who Failed To F#ck Jonathan Franzen might now be on Twitter, which is wrong because of a German essayist who is now dead.

To quote one of the most internetty minds of our generation, “heh, indeed.” Now I will speak my part, and then fall silent, except for the part about where we get into a huge argument in comments because I think pretty much all the Important Male Novelists of the mid to late 20th-century are such sexist dillweeds that it is actually impossible to enjoy the books. For me. Except William S. Burroughs, and that is because he does not want to sex chicks up. Not even a little bit. He wants us to be able to make clones, and then just go live on another planet with only men and boys and million-year-old crab creatures made of radioactive cadmium and then have gay sex there. It is astringently refreshing to have a novelist not care about having sex with you at all. It’s the best! Goodbye, poorly drawn female characters who exist as trophies for when the protagonists level up after a boss battle with Freudian analysis!

Now, dudes, part of shared bank accounts and having children and shit like that is that you can coordinate on stuff and divide responsibilities sensibly. Am I going to sit down and read about the Fourfold Root? No, I will ask my husband, “hey peaches, what’s this with the Schopenhauer here, am I giving a f*@k or what?” Then he can answer on account of having written a dissertation about it. And he arranges for everyone to go to the dentist, and parent-teacher conferences, and guy stuff like that which I as a mother, am not really into. Similarly, as John is a busy person who doesn’t have time to read novels which are both extremely long and quite bad, I can read them on our joint behalf. No, I can also read long good books on our behalf, so I can tell John crucial stuff about Proust like when the last volume opens and it seems as if all the characters have come in fancy dress but then… I read very quickly, stupidly quickly, a skill I primarily use to read the equivalent of a 500 page paperback, but made of internet bullshit, every day (I’ve checked). The Corrections, Jesus. It didn’t even have to be bad! There were many aspects of it that were very well observed and memorable. It needed an editor. It needed a nano-particle of self-awareness that was doing something other than comparing the distance of Franzen’s masturbatory ejecta to that of Philip Roth. Something that might, eventually, if nurtured in a caring bosom, maybe some kind of DH Lawrence glorying sheaf of wheat in the firelight thing, become humility. Just for like a second! It needed negative 4089 C of sexism to return to conditions amenable to reading rather than being the heart of a the giant blue-white star which is poised, even now, to go supernova in the center of the swirling storm of Eta Carinae. Let us never speak of Jonathan Franzen again.

Here Comes Everybody – And She’s Karl Kraus!

by John Holbo on September 21, 2013

We are bookish intellectuals here! Why then should we lack for a thread in which people can complain about Jonathan Franzen’s essay? I can sort of sympathize with Franzen’s evident desire to hit a trollier-than-thou Krausian high note. Suddenly Here Comes Everybody – and they all want be just as individual and superior as I do, the bastards.

In his defense, Franzen does seem to be aware that he looks like Calvin, complaining about the results of using the Duplicator Machine.

When Coase died I thought about penning, in his honor, a prolegomenon to a possible sequel to his Theory of the Firm. I would propose a theory of the Fall of the Book, organized around an account of precipitously falling transaction costs, sentence by sentence. Why is it ever better for an individual sentence to incorporate with hundreds or thousands of others? Why isn’t all intellectual life transacted on Twitter? (I’m busy today, so maybe you could write this theory, piecemeal, in comments, so I don’t have to.)

What happens to writing when every sentence can be – hence is under peer pressure to be – its own marketing department?

I do get why Franzen feels that he, as the serious author of big, serious books, is heroically trying to hold the line. (Full disclosure: I have never read The Corrections. I don’t have the time.) But the irony is that his Guardian essay isn’t complaining about anything for which there aren’t already perfectly good, complaining memes on Know Your Meme. Still, as Kraus remarks. “Many share my views with me. But I don’t share them with them.”