Friday, May 26, 2017

Does Not Nature Itself Teach You That a Woman Should Not Shave Her Pits?

This item appeared in my newsfeed this morning because my Diversity-Manager friend commented on it.  (Names, except mine, are obscured to protect the guilty.)  In a way, his ex cathedra pronouncement was predictable, and of course I myself agree that women shouldn't be required to shave their body hair, any more than they should be required to wear the hijab or cover their heads when they meet a supreme religious leader.

What messed with my mind was DMF's simplistic appeal to Natural-Law doctrine, which I don't think he'd invoke in most contexts, and certainly not with regard to transgender issues.  (He may well not have realized he was doing so: he's not the most careful thinker.)  Quite apart from the fact this doctrine is a mainstay of antifeminist, antigay and antitrans bigots -- though the Born-Gay argument also relies on it -- it can't be applied consistently to human beings.  Nor does anyone do so: I alluded to the apostle Paul's decree that "nature" teaches that women shouldn't cut their hair but men should do so.  The passage is a marvel of incoherence, which is what one usually finds when people invoke Nature for any reason, for any cause (via).  (It's fascinating to me that some arbitrary religious requirements inspire contempt, while others inspire awe, with no criteria for the difference that I can discern.)

People shouldn't be required to modify their bodies in certain ways, but cutting or shaving hair, trimming nails, covering or uncovering themselves, painting or otherwise adorning themselves, are so ubiquitous in human cultures that such practices can reasonably called "natural," though no particular modification should be mandatory.  And anyone who denounces one given modification almost certainly will favor another.  Which practices (if any) should be forbidden can only be decided by deliberation and judgment, not by appeals to Nature or any other fixed rule. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

But Some of My Best Friends Are Cock Holsters!

Just as I was about to let Stephen Colbert's unfortunate "joke" about Trump and Putin sink slowly into the past, various people kept kicking it back to the front of my consciousness.  So, for example, Roy Edroso dismissed US Representative Jason Chaffetz last week as "a little bitch who remained lashed to his great white Hillary whale long after everyone else abandoned ship because pretending to be a tough guy is all he knows how to do."  Edroso got his metaphors a bit mixed up there, but these are troubled times and we've got to do something.  Then, yesterday, Edroso mocked country singer Toby Keith, who performed for an all-male audience in Saudi Arabia during Trump's visit there:
I like to imagine Keith getting a call: "Hey Tobe! It's me, Faisal. How'd you like to pick up a quarter mil easy money? All you have to is change some lyrics -- you know, 'Pellegrino for My Horses, Mango Nectar for My Men.'" Or maybe it's not that kind of relationship, and Keith came wrapped in a rug?
The link goes to a clip from the 1963 Hollywood blockbuster Cleopatra, in which Elizabeth Taylor has herself delivered to Rex Harrison wrapped in a rug, thereby signaling her sexual availability or something.  So Edroso wants us to think of Keith as Faisal's little bitch.

Then this morning liberal tweeter Yes You're Racist invited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to "eat my entire ass."  YYR is a better person than I am; being rimmed by McConnell would just make me feel dirty.  (Or as the lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel had a character say in one of her early strips, "I thought sodomy meant having sex with a Republican.")

These examples, which of course could be multiplied, are useful partly because they disprove the straight-liberal-guy protestation that calling somebody a faggot is not a reference to gay sexual practices, that they are totally cool with gays boning gays, they totally support gay marriage, they just don't like "Servants of power.  You know - faggots."  But as Colbert and Edroso and YYR show, they equate being a servant of power with being penetrated sexually, which they regard with visceral repulsion.  So how do they think of the women in their lives?  I probably shouldn't ask.

Another reason I almost didn't write about all this was that Brandon U. Sutton wrote an excellent piece about the controversy at Progressive Army.  Sutton said most of what I'd intended to say.  For example:
First, and while this may seem churlish, what Colbert said was not even particularly clever or funny. Arguably, it was barely even a joke, since jokes have a certain structure from which they derive some of their humor. Colbert saying that the only thing Donald Trump’s mouth is good for is as a “cock holster” was just an insult that people found funny.
"Funny" is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but I think he's right.  "Cock holster" is the kind of epithet sixth-grade boys consider hilarious: not because they have any personal experience of fellatio from either end, but because they're extremely anxious about bodies.  Which reminded me of a couple of sketches from Colbert's show during last year's campaign, in which a young boy played Trump's "nickname strategist."  It appears that Colbert took the boy on as one of his writers.

That many conservatives objected to Colbert's insult was unsurprising -- not because it was "homophobic," which they would normally consider a good thing, but because it targeted someone on their side.  If, during the 2008-2016 period, some comic had called Barack Obama a cock holster for Benjamin Netanyahu, would liberal Democrats have considered it just a joke?  For that matter, I recall Colbert himself adopting a stance of unironic submission to then-President Obama, who ordered him to get a military buzz cut to show his solidarity with Our Troops in Iraq. "Servant of power" would have been a perfect characterization for Colbert in those days, and depending on whom he's bending the knee to, it still is.

I don't want Colbert fired.  I just want to name what he's doing.  His liberal defenders have had to resort to right-wing insults against his critics, such as "virtue signalling."  But virtue-signalling is Colbert's stock in trade.  One Colbertista on Twitter responded to me in those terms: "Thanks for another example of our virtue signaling culture where everyone is perpetually offended."  To which I replied, "I'm not 'offended' by his homophobic insults; I'm a faggot, they just roll off. They just undercut his signalled virtue."

But there's another thought: one reason we're not supposed to say such naughty things is that they'll drive gay kids to suicide.  So why does Colbert get a pass on it?  Because he's on Our Side, one of the Good Guys, and anyway, liberals are happy to use homophobic / misogynist rhetoric against their enemies.  (Don't imagine that kids wouldn't hear about what Colbert said, even if it weren't freely available the next day on YouTube.  That's another right-wing fantasy, that children will know nothing of homosexuality if we can just keep Teh Gay out of the media.)  I'm not seriously worried about Colbert affecting youth-suicide rates, of course: I'm just savoring the smell of hypocrisy in the morning.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Milestone

The first post of this blog went online ten years ago today.  Just saying.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

These Snowflakes Don't Melt!

There was a TV tuned to CNN while I was standing in line at Subway yesterday, and I noticed that Van Jones was on.  I see that Jones is now a CNN commentator, the role he was born to play, which means that somewhere along the line this "grassroots insider," who was briefly a "White House insider" and became a grassroots outsider again, is now a corporate insider.  Only in America!

Thanks to closed-captioning I could follow what Jones was saying.  HuffPost provides a partial transcript:
“When he ran he was this tough guy,” Jones said Thursday night on “Anderson Cooper 360.” “This guy who’s going to get things done, this great negotiator.”

He continued:

“He was Trumpzilla. He was going to make Washington bow down. He was going to drain the swamp. Now he’s President Snowflake. Everything he says, ‘Oh, they’re mean to me, and they don’t like me, and I just don’t understand it and it’s not fair.’”

Jones said that kind of talk might appeal to Trump’s base, but to everyone else, “he looks increasingly bizarre.”

“It turns out you don’t have Trumpzilla,” he concluded. “You’ve got President Snowflake."
Jones is still cute, and still dumb.  I doubt that he remembers his own snowflake moments of a few years back (via):
What you saw going on was a right wing in sheer panic mode. They threw out the rule book. And you had provocateurs like Glenn Beck, Breitbart, Andrew Breitbart, now the late, stepping forward and basically taking a relatively advanced information system and firing into it lies, smears, viruses, for which we had no antibodies. So they bug-zapped me. They bug-zapped ACORN, and knock out the entire Democratic Party "get out the vote" operation with one video. They go after Shirley Sherrod. And for several months, the body politic does not know how to react to this virus. Finally, with Shirley Sherrod, a line gets drawn, and people begin to realize, "Wait a minute, it turns out you can have people on national television saying crazy stuff like that and getting away with it." And eventually, with the advertising boycott, he gets pushed off the air. But there was a moment when the White House itself was rocked back on its heels, because we had an information system that was very advanced, but a wisdom system that had not yet caught up to what tricksters like Beck and Breitbart could do. And so, that’s the moment that we were in.
As I remarked at the time, the Obama administration's failure to anticipate and recognize right-wing hostility (which began as soon as Obama became a national figure, long before he became President) was a crucial failure of competence: they just didn't understand it and it wasn't fair. What Jones calls "panic mode" was also typical of right-wing media during the Clinton administration and earlier; but this sort of convenient tactical amnesia is common in mainstream political discourse: whatever happened to civility?  Of course that kind of talk appealed to Obama's base, so he didn't have to indulge in it himself very much; his devotees took this line and ran with it.  Since Obama threw Jones and Shirley Sherrod to the sharks, the Democrats have largely decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and moved into full-blown panic mode themselves.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Well Done, Thou Good and Faithful Servant!

An excellent article on XPOTUS Barack Obama's legacy.
You can usually judge a person pretty well by their friends, and nobody who voluntarily spends his free time with Bono should be trusted.
Sorry, I couldn't resist quoting that; the Devil made me do it.  Ahem:
The most important aspect of the story is not that Obama accepted Cantor Fitzgerald’s offer, but that the offer was made in the first place. Indeed, it’s hard to escape the impression that certain powerful interests are now rewarding the former president with a gracious thanks for a job well done. Rather than asking whether Obama should have turned down the gig, we can ask: if his administration had taken aggressive legal and regulatory action against Wall Street firms following the financial crisis, would they be clamouring for him to speak and offering lucrative compensation mere weeks after his leaving office? It’s hard to think they would, and if a Democratic president has done their job properly, nobody on Wall Street should want to pay them a red cent in retirement. Obama’s decision to take Cantor Fitzgerald’s cash isn’t, therefore, some pivotal moment in which he betrayed his principles in the pursuit of lucre. It’s simply additional confirmation he has never posed a serious challenge to Wall Street’s outsized economic power.
Of course it's too early to pronounce on the legacy of the new POTROK, Moon Jae-In, but his beginning has been promising.
It has only been five days since the presidential election, but the government has already agreed to convert irregular workers at Incheon International Airport to regular status before the end of the year, lifted the ban on sing-alongs of “March for the Beloved” (a song associated with the Gwangju Democratization Movement), recognized the short-term teachers who died on the Sewol Ferry as having lost their lives in the line of duty, and temporarily shut down aging coal plants to deal with fine particle dust air pollution. These are some of President Moon Jae-in’s swift actions. President Moon is attracting attention by carrying out the promises he made during the campaign one after another, making personal visits and starting with the promises that only require an executive order or the revision to an enforcement order.
Once it was clear he'd won the election, Moon made an appearance in Gwanghamun, the site of the candlelight vigils in Seoul, showing solidarity with the popular movement that agitated for the removal of former president Park Geun-Hye from office. (He'd participated in the vigils almost every week for months, in fact.)  No wonder there's so much concern about Moon in American elite media. And of course it's important not to exaggerate his liberalism. (You want cynicism? That article is cynical.) I remember all too well the dashed hopes among my Korean friends over Roh (or Noh) Mu-hyun, also a former human rights lawyer who became president of South Korea.  (Moon worked in Roh's election campaign.  It's a small country.)  The extraordinarily corrupt Park Geun-hye was an easy act to follow; Moon is going to have to do more than coast on not being Park.  But hey, he has a hot bodyguard; that should keep criticism at bay for a while.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

An Example to Us All; or, Just Say No

I don't know about you, but I don't need this kind of negativity in my life.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sometimes I Feel Like This

This isn't the clip I originally included in this post, but that one seems to be gone, and this one illustrates the same principle.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Blood and Pleasure

Glenn Greenwald and a few other malcontents have been poking at the outrage expressed in respectable circles over President Trump's alleged "affection for totalitarian leaders [which] has grown beyond Russia’s president to include strongmen around the globe."

Very entertainingly, the Washington Post article by Philip Rucker I just linked has been altered, adding the words in bold type to make it somewhat less obviously absurd: "Every American president since at least the 1970s has used his office at least occasionally to champion human rights and democratic values around the world."  As Greenwald says, it's still not true.

But then, these claims shouldn't be taken literally.  Nor should most mainstream political discourse.  They are declarations of faith, pledges of allegiance.  In the anthropologist F. G. Bailey's terminology, they are examples of the moral mind at work.  By paying tribute to America's high ideals and practice, one establishes one's bona fides and qualification to participate in serious commentary.

Even non-mainstream commentators feel the need to say such things.  I've often referred to the late Molly Ivins's lament from 2007:
What happened to the nation that never tortured? The nation that wasn't supposed to start wars of choice? The nation that respected human rights and life? A nation that from the beginning was against tyranny? Where have we gone? How did we let these people take us there? How did we let them fool us?
Ivins certainly knew better than this.  (Which probably can't be said for Phillip Rucker.)  I daresay she'd have turned her considerable powers of mockery on any Republican who'd said such things.  But before you can oppose a war, or criticize your President's fondness for dictators, you have to wave the flag.  So too Katha Pollitt felt compelled to assure her readers that she's "never been one to blame the United States for every bad thing that happens in the Third World" before criticizing US policy in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.  (This ploy never deflects the criticism from jingoes, of course.)

Glenn Greenwald himself has come a long way, since he wrote in 2008:
Yes, I'm well aware that the U.S, like all countries, was deeply imperfect prior to 9/11, and that many of the systematic excesses of the Bush era have their genesis prior to 2001. The difference (a critical one) is that what had been acts of lawbreaking and violations of our national values have become the norm -- consistent with, rather than violative of, our express values and policies.
And this was in a fine post detailing and condemning Bush-era crimes.  At that time Greenwald still was a bit nervous about going too far out on the political spectrum; he's become much more comfortable since then, following facts and principles where they lead even if it infurates self-styled moderates.  He's posted a good article today on US support of dictators since World War II, though the policy is older than that.

Something else should be remembered, though: mainstream commentators, including (or especially) liberal ones, have always seen human rights as a bargaining chip to be used with "authoritarian" regimes rather than something desirable in themselves.  As Stephen Walt put it early in the Obama administration, "No U.S. President--not even Jimmy Carter--was ever willing to spend a lot of blood or treasure solely to advance human rights, and Obama isn't going to be the first."  This was quoted with approval (via) by Eyal Press, a writer at The Nation.  Notice the bit about "blood and treasure," a virtual Homeric epithet that tends to turn up when someone wants to pretend that doggone it, the US has just been too idealistic about defending human rights at home and abroad, and we can't afford to do it anymore.  Expending blood (of dusky foreigners) and treasure in the service of suppressing human rights, however, is just fine.