Monday, May 4, 2015

Video of the Day: Jonathan Haidt on Left and Right Science Denial

Pretty interesting video that dispels the myths of which party has a monopoly on science denial.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Actually, Charlie Hebdo is the perfect recipient of a freedom of expression award

You can agree with this, and still find its contents repugnant. I don't understand why this seems to be a hard concept to grasp.

Katha Pollitt wrote a great piece for the Nation the other day, defending PEN's decision to grant a  freedom of expression award to slain cartoonists, Charlie Hebdo, after several prominent writers protested:
I don’t agree that Charlie is racist, and not just because Muslims are not a race. Charlie is against all forms of authoritarian religion (Le Monde analyzed ten years of Charlie’s cover stories and found far more attacks on Christianity than on Islam.) Indeed, it is blasphemous. Is that not an honorable left-wing thing to be? It used to be so, before we became so hopelessly confused about Islam: half the time we’re reminding each other that violent fundamentalists like the ones who committed the Charlie Hebdo murders are a tiny fraction of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, who are ordinary, nonviolent people of good will, and the other half of the time we talk as if the murderers are out to redress real wrongs—and understandably so, even if the target is poorly chosen. Which is it? I’m not sure that latter view serves Muslims well—it’s a bit like saying people who assassinate abortion providers represent Christians, and West Bank settlers represent Jews.
As a counterpoint, her colleague Jon Wiener says that Charlie Hebdo is indeed racist, and while we should defend their right to publish, they shouldn't be given an award:
I’ve been a huge fan of Katha Pollitt for decades. In defending the PEN award in The Nation, it’s clear that she understands the distinction here. But a lot of others don’t. For example, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, said “It was right to defend Salman Rushdie when he was under attack and it is right to defend those under attack now.” But we all agree that Charlie Hebdo should be defended. The question is whether their cartoons should be celebrated. The writer Kurt Andersen declared that “this is one of those incidents that makes a clear line, and you’re on either one side or the other.” He means that if you’re against the award, you’re for the murderers. Actually I’m not, and neither is Joyce Carol Oates or Rachel Kushner or Peter Carey or Francine Prose, former president of PEN, all signers of the protest letter.
Whether or not Charlie Hebdo is deserving of an award based on the content of their work, I don't think, is the argument we should be having.  As for being given a "freedom of expression" award, they're an ideal recipient because it forces that exact conversation.

Like most people, I've seen the cartoons online. I read French at a 101 level, and know less of French culture. I don't think they're funny or even interesting; a lot of them are vulgar and downright cringe worthy, From my understanding as an American and a fan of boundary-pushing satire, their closest ├ętasunien cousin is Mad Magazine mixed with The Onion and drawn by R.Crumb. (With more than a hint of South Park.) A lot of people probably remember the 2008 New Yorker cover that portrayed then-candidate Obama in Muslim garb and Michelle as a black power radical. (It was discussed in the Nick Cohen piece I linked a few days ago.) Most readers of the New Yorker understood it as satire about racism, given that a not-small faction of USians believed those things about the Obamas, but it still made people uncomfortable. (And the people who believe that the Obamas are radicals aren't reading the New Yorker, I guarantee you.) That's what satire does. As with the Obama cover, whether Charlie Hebdo is punching up, punching down, or punching sideways is an important discussion to have but ultimately not the issue here and not PEN's intention.  They produced art that some found disgusting, repugnant, and even racist, and they were willing to die for it. If that's not standing up for the ideals behind freedom of expression, I don't know what is.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Links & Bits: 5/1/15

More than over a hundred writers sign a letter protesting PEN's freedom of expression award for Charlie Hebdo, and Nick Cohen's spectacular take-down.

Adam Gopnik provides a nice counter-balance to the boycotters, too.

The Advocate lists 22 queer one-hit wonders from yesteryear.

Is there going to be a season three of The Comeback?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Writers withdraw from Pen gala over Charlie Hebdo controversy

From he New York Times:
The decision by PEN American Center to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has prompted six writers to withdraw as literary hosts at the group’s annual gala on May 5, adding a new twist to the continuing debate over the publication’s status as a martyr for free speech.

The novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala, at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdo’s editor in chief, and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a Charlie Hebdo staff member who arrived late for work on Jan. 7 and missed the attack by Islamic extremists that killed 12 people, are scheduled to accept the award.
Salman Rusdie, who knows a thing or two about being targeted for his art, says this:
“If PEN as a free-speech organisation can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organisation is not worth the name,” Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”
This is truly disappointing. Writers in particular need to stand up for free speech, even the speech they find repugnant. Maybe especially so.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Video of the Day: Jello Biafra, Tipper Gore, and the censorship debate of 1986

Anyone who grew up in the 80s will probably remember this surreal episode of Oprah with The Dead Kennedy's Jello Biafra and pre-second lady Tipper Gore. If not, you probably remember the debate around "satanic" rock music that caused contributed to teenage suicide. As a historical document, it's easy to laugh at, because no one really thinks Dee Snider or whomever was coming for our children, but just the other day I read a story about a woman who complained to Trader Joe's about their  misogynist background music as if it were her right to not be offended by the Rolling Stones while she shopped for Kale chips. No, it's not censorship in the legal sense, but there is an authoritarian sense of entitlement behind these things, and while the PMRC seems ludicrous now, it's interesting to see the parallels between that and what's happening now with offense overkill.

Parts 2, 3, and 4

Monday, April 27, 2015

Camp NaNo: Week Four

My word count goal was only 20,000, which I completed a few days ago. I actually got quite a bit accomplished, but still have a lot of work ahead to make this a "workable" (or readable) draft. One character's trajectory changed completely, but I like it much better, and another a little more fleshed out. My biggest issue is what to do with a particular female character. I don't write women well. To be honest, I don't like writing women because I feel as though I should be deferring to some kind of feminist ideal, or, at least, it's too easy to pick away at all the problematic parts, which actually make characters interesting.