Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Shipping Out To The Front

This is it, friends. I'm off to the front lines of the culture war, to that modern-day Passchendaele we trenchmyn call New York City. Wish me well, pray I don't burst into flames or, slightly more likely, get taken into custody at Immigration for carrying subversive literature.

I shall resume transmission hopefully within a few days. In solidarity, darlings.

'Their Youth', Their Problem

Further to the British government's tireless quest to saddle someone-anyone else with responsibility for youth crime. Scotland Yard is calling on Asian (Amerifriends: this is the brit usage of 'Asian', blanket denoting what we would, slightly less handily, refer to as Indians, Pakistanis, et al. I.e., Asian subcontinent) businesses to step up and hire young Asian offenders, or as the Guardian coyly describes them, 'vulnerable youngsters from their own communities,' in an effort to keep them on the straight and narrow.

The embedded racism of this move is pretty fucking staggering. Here's the reasoning: 'Police say that although many Asian families in Britain encourage their children to work hard and be successful, and there are more than 300 millionaires of south Asian origin in the UK, some young Asians hit a glass ceiling at work, or find it difficult to get a job at all.' So naturally, rather than try to tackle these unacceptable societal conditions victimizing young Asians, the obvious move is to hit up all those hardworking, successful millionaires of south Asian origin to tidy them out of the way into a parallel ghetto economy.

And I mean, jesus. Would they for one minute get away with spouting that kind of utterly essentialist shite about, oh, say Jews?

The plan is to 'identify vulnerable youngsters through youth offending teams' (which latter concept, btw, sounds awfully intriguing--evokes gangs of middle-aged householders detaining local teens to diss their hairstyles and fashion sense) and then give their names to Asian companies who will be 'asked' to hire them. The Met also reportedly plans to 'approach international firms with offices in the City, where there are few Asian employees at any level.' No mention of intent to approach the other (i.e., domestic) 90% of London firms about their hiring policy.

The unvarnished imputation of blame in this policy is made clear by one Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, who declares in ghastly High Tom style that 'We want to help them to fight crime, and to divert their youth away from crime.' Their youth? Whose youth exactly were you, friend?

That's not even the worst of it, though. Check out this charming bit of law-enforcement tourism:
Detective Chief Inspector Michael O'Keefe, who heads Operation Quadrant, recently visited India to see how businesses operate there:
"In India there is an idea of corporate social responsibility.
"But it's more than that. It's a legal requirement of businesses to put something back into the community.
"We want to persuade Asian businesses over here that this is something positive they can do."

The idea of singling out Asian businesses for responsibility, and exclusively pressuring them to hire high-risk employees, is based on a grotesquely defined and ultraselectively applied notion of ethnic community responsibility. Of course these kids should be hired, and helped in every possible way to integrate into the community, the community we all belong to. They are our youth. Attempts like this to shunt blame and responsibility to a single ethnic group should be resisted with rage and vigor for the naked racism they are.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Hoodie

An amazing amount of magical thinking goes unchallenged in our public life. The fuzziest possible notions of causality and correlation are not only accepted as valid observational modes, but welcomed as sound basis for policy-making. Faced with an intransigent social problem, invariably one which the most cursory material analysis reveals as an obvious product of the usual toxic goulash of social and class inequalities and failures, the official explanation equally invariably finds a Thing, often literally a concrete object, on which to blame the problem. This is not coincidence.

The Great Hoodie Debacle is of course the current locus classicus of the phenomenon I am pleased to call Societal Reverse Objectification Transference, or Societal ROT, but several others have whizzed by recently and are worthy of notice for the agenda they illuminate.

On Friday, the British Medical Journal ran an editorial in which three emergency medicine docs called for the banning of long, pointed 'dagger-style' kitchen knives as a crime-reduction measure. It appears that '[v]iolent crime in the United Kingdom is increasing; figures from London show a 17.9% increase from 2003 to 2004, and one easily accessible weapon used in many incidents is the kitchen knife.' The authors go to some pains, complete with potted history, to refute the culinary utility of the traditional long pointy knife, and conclude that a knife of less than 5cm length would suffice for kitchen needs.

Parenthetically let me add that they, and whatever chef they chivvied into seemingly admitting this, are smoking deep of the crack. I've been cooking for fifteen years with many different knives, and do trust me, a 5-cm (i.e., paring) knife is a faithful and necessary tool, but it is by no stretch of the tortured imagination an all-purpose one. I would fight viciously for, and indeed with, my 10" cook's knife. But this is beside the point.

The point, of course, is that the existence of an object does not by itself engender the desire to use that object for ill. Given the impulse to domestic violence, a means will be found whether or not a cook's knife is in the block. This is not to say that there are no differences between means, and that a single stab from a long pointed knife might not have a higher fatality risk than a single hammer-blow to the head, or a sustained kicking in the gut. It may very well. But these are relative minutiae, and what's much worse, they actively obscure the greater harm being done by this kind of argument. The key is embedded in the docs' own formulation, though they try to twist it around: 'Many assaults are impulsive, often triggered by alcohol or misuse of other drugs, and the long pointed kitchen knife is an easily available potentially lethal weapon particularly in the domestic setting.'

Well, sure, we can scamper around trying to identify and rid the domestic setting of every 'easily available potentially lethal weapon'. Or we can hark back to the great stinking elephant in the room of that sentence: 'triggered by alcohol or misuse of other drugs'. Ah. Now wouldn't it be another thing entirely if we actually tried to address the causes of violence, rather than the completely contingent, completely interchangeable means by which it is expressed?

But that would require allowing a kind of analysis that is not merely foreign but actively anathema to the purveyors of social policy. At all costs, direct attention away from the bedrock social iniquities that give rise to crime, and that are not just difficult and resistant to change but are in fact endemic to the established structure of society in which the elite (including, as it happens, many doctors) are heavily invested. Find the proximate 'cause', invest it with totemic powers, and then drive it out of the village and over the cliff. The villagers will scream for its blood and will, most of them, be satisfied that with its banishment Something Has Been Done about the problem.

Because let's face it, the villagers think this way too. Magical thinking makes for effective propaganda only because an awful lot of people have an atavistic silt of attenuated superstition in the bottom of their mental stream, and it can be stirred up.

Schools in Lewisham, south London, and St Albans have recently banned camera phones on the grounds that they promoted bullying in the form of 'happy slapping'. Can it possibly be that all these administrators and parents believe, explicitly and concretely, that before gaining the technology to conveniently video it, schoolchildren lacked the impulse to randomly terrorize and beat on others? Put that way, I'm sure they would deny it to a person. But the magnetism of spurious object-causality is too strong for their overstressed logical faculties to withstand. They perceive (correctly) a terrible problem: outbreaks of violence, which are accompanied by camera phones. The solution: ban the accompanying camera phones (or the kitchen knives), and the outbreaks of violence will surely stop. Correlation is mistaken for causation, a classic logical error they train out of you in Statistics 101.

It may seem like by pointing this out I'm just having a go at the unrigorous thinking of the general public, but it's not that (or not just that). It's the way that weakness is exploited as a diversion, a continual 'Look over there!' to draw focus away from the genuine--and, if you look, not terribly difficult to spot--root causes of all these problems people are legitimately upset about.

As long as we keep thinking that knives cause stabbings, camera phones bullying and teen pregnancies dead-end lives, we'll keep trusting the people who have the authority to ban those things, and we'll keep paying no attention to the man behind the curtain who's busily projecting those big, lurid images designed to frighten us literally out of our wits.


The cleverer liberals among you are undoubtedly now going 'Aha! But that way lies Opposition to Gun Control!' Yeah, tell me about it. And you know what? Like so very many things the dominant ideology gives us readymade positions on, that issue is less cut-n-dried than I used to think. There's serious complexity there, and I'm convinced enough by the logic I've outlined above that I no longer think I can rigorously hold a blanket position on this one.

I confess there are all kinds of visceral factors tugging me to make an exception for gun control, not least the fact that I viscerally oppose NRA types getting anything at all they want, from assault rifles to blowjobs. But in the real world, gun control is not only monumentally ineffectual, it's also a great big stomping exemplar of the diversionary tactics I discuss above, and as such should be unmasked and deactivated. We all know who gun control is really aimed at, and it's not generally NRA types. Equally, if you're going to consistently support gun control, then you also have to, for example, condemn the Black Panther Party's insistence on their right to bear arms against the armed forces oppressing them, and I'm damned if I'll commit that wrong for the sake of holding a consistent position.

And yet, small children accidentally blowing each other's heads off? To be avoided where possible. It's awfully tricky. I reserve judgment, as well as the right to rule case-by-case.]

Some Good Old Ways In

from the PR Practitioners' Circle of Hell, there is a little, little room all privately reserved and waiting just for White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

In response to Amnesty International's 2005 Human Rights Report, the foreword to which called Guantanamo Bay 'the gulag of our times', and whose allegations he dismissed as 'ridiculous and unsupported by the facts', McClellan hawked up the following bolus of corrosively po-faced, spectacularly shameless mendacity:
We hold people accountable when there's abuse. We take steps to prevent it from happening again. And we do so in a very public way for the world to see that we lead by example and that we do have values that we hold very dearly and believe in.

How, please god someone tell me how does such a man get up and look in the mirror of a morning without spontaneously disintegrating into a heap of self-abominating schmutz?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Off On A Bender

I'll be away from the old bloggy grindstone for a few days. I'm off to Bath for a last dirty weekend's hurrah before my much-lamented (by me, that is, you all couldn't give a toss) return to the Land of the Coleworm. Further posting possible after the weekend, then another unavoidable but hopefully brief hiatus while they beam me down.

Do try to console yourselves during my absence with visits to fine establishments like Lenin's Tomb, Dead Men Left, Progressive Gold and Fact-esque. It will fly by.

MoveOn, Step Off

I got an email yesterday from one of the innumerable chummy apparatchiks at MoveOn.org, under the epically misleading title 'The power grab has failed!' A quick reccy revealed that this referred to Monday night's Senate deal to ward off the 'nuclear option', which MoveOn had the titanium cojones to refer to as 'a real victory'. As opposed, of course, to the flesh-meltingly humiliating, craven capitulation it actually was.

Vocabulary quails before the task of expressing how much I hate MoveOn. There simply aren't the words. I remember vividly the early days, in the wake of 9/11, when it gained prominence with the wholly admirable and genuinely progressive goal of aggregating grassroots pressure to stop the US bombing the living shit out of Afghanistan. It was a good thing then, and I was proud to be a member. The velocity with which it has since turned into a Democratic Party vacuum-cleaner-cum-cheerleading-squad is positively whiplash-generating. MoveOn exists to siphon genuinely progressive energy and outrage (not to mention cash) out of the population and channel it safely, harmlessly into the sump of the DNC. MoveOn is the shepherd that nudges all the outlying lefty sheep back into the Democratic fold with ringing exhortations to action and progress and fighting the good fight.

MoveOn is despicable, because it embodies the despicable compromise politics with which the American liberal so-called left has been selling out its base for decades. All down the line, they swallow the opposition's agenda whole and define their efforts with reference to it. With much of their grassroots cred based on their anti-war stance, in January 2003 they were still lobbying with Win Without War to 'let the inspections work'. A year later they'd thrown their full weight behind John Kerry, a candidate who not only voted for the war but unapologetically supported it throughout his campaign. Their voter fund raised over $10 million to develop ads supporting the Democratic presidential campaign. While constantly beating the drum about grassroots action and the power of ordinary individuals to effect change, their real function has consistently been to corral left-liberal opinion and money behind whatever was the Democratic convenience-position du jour. They could not be more disingenuous and manipulative of the 'ordinary people' they purport to champion.

This so-called 'deal' is a perfect case in point. Let's be very clear about this: what the Democrats 'achieved' in making this deal was, in exchange for unequivocally surrendering on the nominations they were fighting against in the first place, the right to retain the filibuster as long as they agree not to use it. We're not so dim as to be taken in by the fluff about 'extraordinary circumstances,' are we?

Look at MoveOn's characterization of the deal: 'With 7 Republicans pledging to oppose Frist's scheme as long as the Democrats stick to the standard for filibusters they've used all along — only using them in extraordinary circumstances — the "nuclear option" is dead unless Republicans break their word. And if that happens we will be in a much stronger position to stop them.' The standard they've used all along? Would that be the same standard that compelled them to threaten to filibuster these very same nominations they've now bellied up to? Curious, and in fact logically untenable. Either they haven't been employing the 'extraordinary circumstances' standard all along, or they've decided to abandon it now. Was the Owen nomination an 'extraordinary circumstance' for the past four years they've been loudly fighting it, but now suddenly rendered ordinary and unfilibusterworthy? Or is it just not quite extraordinary enough to be worth sacrificing the, let us be clear, empty abstract notion of the right to filibuster?

They have surrendered every last claim to power. The nuclear option's been defeated 'unless the Republicans break their word'? Mm, yeah, that's security. They'd never do that. But fear not, because 'if that happens we will be in a much stronger position to stop them.' Uh, how exactly? With a mighty Senatorial chorus of 'Hey, no backsies'? Disgraceful. Shameful. Craven.

And the worst part is how they try to coopt us into buying the rightwing agenda along with them. Not content with selling out themselves, they desperately need us to sell out along with them. MoveOn's email quotes 'powerful far-right leader James Dobson' saying 'This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats', and goes on to add, oh so wry, 'For once, we agree with Mr. Dobson.'

Yes you do, and that's exactly the problem. Dobson knows, and in your hearts you know, that this deal was no such thing. The fact that you're cynically trying to sell your constituency that arrant load of transparent bullshit is the clearest possible evidence of your utter bankruptcy and unworthiness to call yourselves representatives of progressive Americans. MoveOn, I abominate you and cast you into outer darkness. Will the real American left please stand up?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

If I Tell You Now I Feel Your Pain, Will You Forbear Telling Me About It?

I don't think I'm particularly hardhearted. On the contrary, really, I'd venture I'm a bit of a softie, always good for a cryable-on shoulder and so forth. And after all, I'm studying to be a doctor; surely that has to confer some measure of bona fides as regards my compassion and regard for the suffering of my fellow person.

But I just cannot be doing with the constant onslaught of 'news' stories about random people's personal medical tragedies. No newspaper's puff section or weekly magazine is complete without at least one iteration of 'How I Beat Testicular Cancer', 'The Husband and Daughter I Lost to Leukemia', plus of course the rigidly obligatory Brave Woman Bravely Braving Breast Cancer. Now, I don't mean to suggest for a minute that these people haven't suffered terrible pain and don't deserve sympathy. They have, they do, and indeed they have my sympathy in amply flowing volume. What they don't have is my interest.

These tales, invariably replete with drooly details of treatment porn and gnashings of teeth over medical bureaucracy/incompetence/callousness, are pretty much without exception dull, sentimental, moany, pseudo-courageous whinges whose purpose I genuinely can't fathom beyond therapeutic catharsis for the writer. For my money, and believe me, I of all people am all about the med-porn, they are boring as ass. Why should I find a random stranger's health tribulations compelling when I can barely keep awake thinking about my own, or those of my loved ones? Stories of health problems are inherently tedious and solipsistic; this is why it's primarily old people who buttonhole you with them in real life. They feel, not without some justification, that they've survived long enough to win entitlement to bore the bejesus out of their younger, less decrepit interlocutors.

Today's G2 features not one but two of these maunderings. The first concerns a couple who were 'devastated' to find he was infertile, and then, well, they found a sperm donor and had a baby and now they have a baby and they're all really happy, um, the end. As dramatic arcs go, not exactly steeply sloping. The second, admittedly much more generously larded with narrative tension, tells of a little boy who fell and badly injured his head, had lots of complications and some tangles with the NHS and BUPA, got the necessary operation after all, and ended up profoundly deaf, unhappy and with behavior problems.

Terribly sad for all concerned? Unquestionably. (Except perhaps the father, who sounds appalling: 'I always thought that to have an imperfect child would be really horrid. Now I'm really tolerant of it.' What a mensch.) But interesting? Honestly, not so much. Unless it's in some creepy semi-schadenfreudian way that I disapprove of.

So I was all excited today to see the op-ed headline 'Not another cancer story'. Aha, I thought, at last! A fellow skeptic in the unlikely person of Zoe Williams, using her bully pulpit wisely for once to call for a moratorium on soporific sagas of heroic struggles with hair loss and familial devastation.

Alas, I was hasty. Turns out Zoe's only het up about the excessive coverage of breast cancer, which she deems misogynist (which may very well be true, though in the scheme of misogynist things that demand immediate redress I kinda think it's fairly far down). She's using her bully pulpit, all right, and she's using it to 'suggest some kind of balance in the media'. Which is to say, less coverage of breast cancer and more coverage of, yes, other kinds of cancer. Sigh.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Done Been Spotted

Thanks to Meaders, here's my chance to be just like all the cool kids and do the Black Spot Mambo. Though I honestly can't imagine what possessed him to call me 'aggressive'. Sheesh.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
Here's where I have to confess that I never actually read F451, then feebly try to mitigate the shame by saying that it was only the lower-level English class that had to. Did that work?

Um, moving on. It's been helpfully explained to me that this question must refer to the dissidents in the book who vow allegiance to a single book and memorize it, as a kind of expression of their soul with added saving-civilization bonus. OK, so basically what's My Big Book of Me. Jesus I hate these questions. I was just this morning explaining to my (male, geek, ergo list-loving) lover that no, 'Buffy' is not my favorite TV drama franchise ever, but that's not because 'Babylon 5' is. It's because I can't do favorites; the thought of having to commit myself to just one anything makes me lightheaded with anxiety. One book to memorize and save from the flames because it's the expression of my individual identity? Fuck me.

OK look, let's just hedge it round with a thousand caveats, say this can't possibly be The One The Only Book of Me because naturally I'm far too complex and interesting to be so parsed, and call it Complications by Atul Gawande, which was an important influence in my decision to go back and become a doctor at my advanced age. Now will you people stop hounding me?

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Lordy yes. Untold. There was the wholly regrettable but sociologically inevitable teenaged passion for Lestat, the infinitely more regrettable twenty-something Mr. Darcy fancy (mitigated probably not at all by the fact of having been seduced by Colin Firth as same before reading the book), the not-suitable-for-prime-time fantasies about both Uther Doul and the Brucolac (yeah, simultaneously, call me a whore) in China Miéville's The Scar. I think I've shared just about enough on this one, don't you?

The last book you bought is:
Planetary Vol. 3: Leaving The 20th Century, by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday. I haven't finished it yet even though it's all of like 50 pages of comics, for fuck's sake, because it's been so long since I read Vols. 1 and 2 that I can't remember any of the plotlines. Mind like a steel colander, I've got.

The last book you read:
The Book of the Long Sun, by Gene Wolfe. In a just universe, Gene Wolfe would be taking baths in tubs filled with Nobel Prizes for Literature, whilst sipping fruity umbrella drinks brought to him on trays by a rag-loinclothed, thrice-daily-flogged John Updike on his knees. Damn, sharing too much again, huh?

Wolfe the man, sadly, is a terribly rightwing Catholic, which does occasionally show through in the politics of the work. But my good god the man can write. His prose is absolutely fucking luminous, his plots intricate, sprawling, subtle to the point of mockery. Man is an overlooked genius. Shame on literary fiction and its self-regarding pimps.

What are you currently reading?
The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx, by Alex Callinicos. Having finally come round to admitting I'm a socialist, now I have to do my homework and figure out if I'm in fact a full-on honest-to-god barricades-personning trot. But hey, am I daunted? Uh, yeah. A bit. There's anawful lot to read, and I don't know if you know this, but a fair old bit of it is economics. So I'm starting with the synthetic stuff and working my way back. Callinicos is wonderful, extremely lucid and engaging.
The Gun & the Olive Branch, by David Hirst.
Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, by Tanya Reinhart.
Planetary Vol. 3, vide supra.
And about 20 other books that I have bookmarks in but haven't picked up in the last, say, month. Bit of a focus problem.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
Eeh, here we are back with the picking and the lists. This is not in any particular order, now, so don't go thinking you've sussed out my actual favorite behind my back. The single-volume collected Bone, by Jeff Smith. No more lovely and comforting and thoroughly delightful comic ever. To stave off loneliness, see. Capital, on the premise that I'd certainly have the motivation to get through it, and as Meaders points it, you get some bang for your single-book buck. Jubilate Agno, by Christopher Smart; it's always a good time for inspired Christian-mystic nutter poetry, and nothing more derangedly stunning than the section on 'my Cat Jeoffry'. A collection of Gerard Manly Hopkins, for similar reasons. The Scar, by China Miéville.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Given how recently I started this whole blogging gambit, I don't doubt that everyone I read has long since done this dance and I just didn't catch it. So I'll just pass blithely and hope for the best. eRobin at Fact-esque, who I think I may have won over to my side, and who hates She Who Must Be Flayed almost as much as I do. Knotted Knickers, who's fucked off about lots of the same things I am. And, um, that's it. I'm not doing a third, and you can't make me.

While We're On The Subject of Murderous and Despotic

I'm informed only slightly belatedly that we also have a winner in the category of Credulity-Beggaring Gall By A Deposed Oppressor Minority. Seems entire hundreds of Afrikaners marched on the South African culture ministry Saturday to oppose the name change of the capital city from 'Pretoria' to 'Tshwane', which means 'we are all the same' and is the name of a pre-colonial local chief.

That would be the same Pretoria, let us recall, which was named after Andries Pretorius, the man whose legacy to humanity was no less than the invention of South African apartheid.

Protest placards featured the fascinatingly unself-aware diktat 'Pretoria stays Pretoria,' and were carried by campaigners who, possibly through an inbreeding-induced genetic defect in the receptors for massive shrieking irony, report feeling 'marginalized'.

The words 'cry', 'me', and 'river' spring inexorably to mind. Also the words 'if a bomb happened to fall on the murderous racist scum while they protested and killed them all it would on balance have to be considered not at all a bad' and 'thing'.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Welcome To That Special, Intimate Circle of Hell

reserved for practitioners of Public Relations. Today's inductee: international mega-PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which has signed, doubtless in blood, a £350,000 contract with the government of Uganda to bleach its reeking international reputation to a gleaming, human-rights-scented whiteness.

Here's James Barbour, Associate Director [Of Murderous Despot Laundering, one presumes] at H&K: 'What we are doing is encouraging dialogue between the Ugandan government and people like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, Oxfam. It's not about spinning a different version of the truth, its about making sure that the Ugandans are having the right conversations with the right people.'

Honestly, you have to feel for the murderous despotic regimes, with their pitiable lack of the right conversations. It's not that they're so bad, it's that nobody ever wants to hear their side.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Attack On The Clones II: Debate Wetter

Delightful to see that the breakthrough in human therapeutic cloning has made the debate over reproductive cloning precisely none at all more coherent.

While, pleasingly, a handful of reproductive scientists (including Robert Edwards, who pioneered IVF in the 70s, and James 'Double Helix' Watson) have now come out saying repro cloning should be considered an option for childless couples at the end of their assisted-reproductive-technologies (ART) tether, the opposing position comes out, comme toujours, only in the fuzziest and most indefensible terms.

'Ethical campaigners', it appears, 'worry that cloning could be hijacked to create multiple copies of a person.' Tell if I'm being dense, but what does this actually mean? It can't be a religiously-based argument; a Christian, who presumably believes that the embryo once created is immediately ensouled, can hardly expect that it would possess a copy of the genetic donor's soul. To a Christian, therefore, the clone would have to be a different person, not a copy of the donor. And surely better that an artificially-created embryo be allowed to live and grow up than killed, right? More life good, if you're 'pro-life' and all?

So I'm guessing it's a non-religious argument, presumably based on some kind of hazy theory of biologically-based identity. In which case it's a species of crude genetic determinism truly shocking in its abject lack of scientific rigor. I don't think even Richard Dawkins would tell you that the genetic complement of a human being constitutes that individual's identity tout court. The notion that, by creating an embryo using an existing person's DNA and then allowing that embryo to be born and raised in the world into an adult human, you would end up with an exact copy of the original person, is reminiscent only of the kind of tissue-thin SF plot hook that even Hollywood can't get away with anymore. 'The 6th Day', anyone?

I mean, if that argument held any water at all, shouldn't we be banning monozygotic twins? Where exactly do the ethics of this premise reside?

Even the pro-repro docs are regrettably waffly: 'The scientists agreed that cloning should be used only to assist in the reproductive process, rather than replacing it, and that copying a person would be wrong. "I don't see any purpose of cloning an individual," said Dr Verlinksy.'

Just me, or are 'wrong' and 'purposeless' two entirely different concepts? (Unless maybe you're John Stuart Mill, but I really don't think that's what we're getting at here.) And what even is this doc saying? He's pro the use of cloning to assist in the reproductive process, but he doesn't want to clone individuals? How would that work please? Does he want to cut up and hand-recombine chromosomes from both parents? I'm no reproductive biologist (yet), but as far as I know it's kind of definitional that a clone is made from the genetic material of a single individual. Otherwise you've got IVF, which is hardly controversial in the mainstream these days.

(Oh, and the idea that we need to specify that cloning shouldn't 'replace' the reproductive process? Uh-huh. I mean, why fuck when you can just hand over a cheek swab and call it a day?)

I find this failure of debate extremely frustrating. The most advanced reproductive scientists in the world feel constrained to give ground to some entirely unsubstantiated, gelatinous pressure of 'wrongness'. It's actually not at all dissimilar to the pro-choice movement's wrongheaded insistence on calling for abortion to be 'rare'--to call for a thing while simultaneously ceding that it's undesirable and should be minimized isn't exactly a prizewinning argumentative strategy. I do wish people would think a little bit more rigorously about ends and means in these debates.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

To The Victor Go The Tedious Questions About Wind Turbines

Braved Radically Exxxtreme Boredom to catch Galloway on 'Question Time'. His Gorgeousness showed up with bells on, and canary feathers all stuck in his mustache.

Every time the camera caught him he was sporting this huge dionysiac grin that shouted 'Hands up everyone who's just back from Washington kicking Senatorial bootay! Oh, just me then?'

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

More Youth Hatred From The Guardian

It is just barely within the realm of possibility that I'm losing my sense of humor, but I don't think so. I imagine Jess Cartner-Morley and the Guardian editors thought they were being clever, witty and irreverent when they brainstormed the nutty idea of asking three British fashion designers to propose designs for the controversially-mooted youth community service uniforms, and published them under the headline 'Chain gang chic'. Ehh, guess what? They weren't.

Meanwhile, just above that prize specimen of disrespectful, ugly-minded schadenfreude, an article extolling the Inferno-bound Charles Clarke's support for the uniforms plan.

According to Chris Fox, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the uniforms plan is desirable 'so that the public could see that community punishment orders benefited local neighbourhoods....What we want are a range of sentences that actually make sure that the public have trust and faith in the criminal justice system.'

In other words, youths convicted of minor crimes should be publicly branded and humiliated in the service of providing good PR for Law Enforcement. That's one hell of a canny rehabilitation strategy. Bravo and indeed encore, Mr. Clarke.

And A Double Side of Freedom Fries

Still afloat in a haze of Gallowegian euphoria, I've spent the morning watching the Joy of George dawn over the American blogosphere. I'm honestly a bit verklempt, reading all these people hollering their amazement and delight and vindication and respect that someone has dared to stand up to their forked-tongued leaders and speak badass truth with passion and supreme power. I believe we witnessed something historic yesterday, and I can only hope and pray it provides the critical impetus for American progressives at long, long last to demand something honest and substantive and real from their representatives. And if that should happen to involve the creation of a serious grassroots left-alternative party to challenge the unearned hegemony of the Democrats, well, then...

The explosive conjunction of Galloway with the Senate points up a phenomenon I've had in mind for a while, a quite significant cultural disconnect between American and British public discourse. I call it the Freedom Fries Effect.

Beyond the obvious explanations of arrogance and turret-minded isolationism, the big reason Norm Coleworm and his boys didn't see GG coming is that American political discourse just doesn't work that way. There is a bizarre, pervasive doubleness to the rhetoric of public life in the States, a sense that public discourse is at a significant remove from, and operates according to different rules than, the discourse of everyday life.

There's a reason the House of Representatives, as the nation stood tiptoed on the rim of the Iraq invasion, took the time to invent Freedom Fries. It's the same reason that, having drafted perhaps the single most oppressive, race-baiting, civil-liberties-abrogating piece of legislation in modern American history, they then set their legislative minds to crafting it a name that would acronym up to 'USA PATRIOT'. And that reason is not, though it can hardly but seem so from outside, that most American people actually think in these terms.

Certain frightening (but smaller than you might imagine) segments of the population aside, regular Americans don't in their daily lives actually talk or think in the crudely jingoistic, 50s-vintage formalistic politois affected by their legislators. And I would lay you good money that our legislators don't talk like that when they're in mufti (witness, most spectacularly, the Oval Office tapes of Richard Nixon, and it's no coincidence that those pottymouthed revelations contributed mightily to his fall from public grace). Certainly they none of them seem ever to live up to the commensurate behavioral standards enshrined in that discourse.

But somehow, when it comes to politics there's this powerful ambient expectation that life will be conducted in a rhetoric that appears, as far as I can tell, to be a preserved-in-amber relict of the McCarthy era. You could see it so clearly yesterday in the hearing: in his incongruous nasal New Yorky whine, Coleworm sounded like a high school kid reading out the Declaration of Independence as he recited the allegations. Levin carried it slightly more naturalistically, but the diction was just as stilted, fully in keeping with the whole fetishized-majesty-of-Congress thing they were clearly hoping to cow Galloway with.

Of course, they completely failed to reckon with the decided British lack of Freedom-philia. British political discourse is many things--rumbustious, fruity, contentious, just-this-side-of-libellous--but it is not pompously cod-patriotic. The vicious rough-and-tumble of Parliamentary debate is a revelation and a voyeur's delight to an American used to the droning faux-politesse of Congressional proceedings, what the Guardian today (in just one of its truly stupidly snarky pieces of GG coverage) point-missingly called its 'soporific gentility'.

American political life simply has no room for a major political candidate to be universally mocked as a vampire, and to my mind that's a damn shame. Now, I don't believe for a minute that most British politicians (especially not Mr. Howard) are in actual practice any less eville, hypocritical, fatally compromised and slippery than American politicians. The nature of politics under capitalism more or less requires that these are the kind of people who end up governing. But I do see a decided stylistic difference in how political life is conducted, and for my money there's a lot more cop in enduring it without the double layer of rhetorical cloaking.

Political doings don't go down easier with a spoonful of Freedom Frying Oil, and the rapturous reception of George Galloway shows I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Update: Dead Men Left provides a very good qualifier to this, to wit, there are also substantial differences of political content in what Americans heard from Galloway yesterday, and hopefully responded to.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Like A Cheerleader On Prom Night

Let the record show that today, two highly unusual, nay even unprecedented events take place in the wrinkly, jaded soul of BionOc:

1) I feel a desperate longing to be back in the United States, so that

2) I could be watching C-Span three hours from now. (For my non-Merkin friends, C-Span is a US cable channel that shows continuous Congressional proceedings, all day, every day. And our legislative proceedings are much, much less interesting than yours. Trust me.)

Why the sudden burst of nostalgia for the Land of the Born-Again Culture War? Because today, my friends, is the day Gorgeous George Galloway does a scots reel on the dumbstruck faces of Norm Coleman and his gang of mentally-deficient schoolyard bullies on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Oh, you know he's up for it. You know he's been practicing sonorous similes and withering salvoes all the way over the Atlantic. He's already told the journos to 'get a ringside seat'. The US Senate ain't never seen nothing like George Galloway in action. There gon' be blood and teeth on the Senate floor today!

Of particularly serendipitous delight is the timely release of another Senate report, this time finding that 'the US turned a blind eye to the former Iraq regime's $8bn trade in smuggled oil', a trade the scale of which, according to the suddenly-curiously-more-respectful Guardian, 'dwarfs those previously alleged by the Senate committee against UN staff and European politicians like the British MP, George Galloway'. (Guess who the Guardian reports as showing up yesterday in Washington for the hearings? No less than 'the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow'! How 'bout that?) This is an absolute early birthday prezzie for GG, and I for one am dying to watch him open it.

Oh how, oh how I wish I could be there to watch the glorious carnage in person. Sadly, I shall have to content myself with listening to the live audio stream (9:30 am EDT, 2:30 pm UK), thereby missing at least half the fun. I'm making popcorn anyway.

Update 1:30 pm: Socialist Worker has posted a fantastic exposé of the 'evidence' against Galloway, proving without turning a hair how shoddily and obviously forged it was. It's unbelievable how credulously the mainstream media, even over here, swallow this shite. Disgraceful.

Update 5:15 pm: Well, I've just spent 2-1/2 of the most boring hours of my life watching the committee and panel testimony in this hearing streamed live, followed by half an hour of wild-eyed glee as Galloway ran concentric rings around those Committee buffoons. Their evidence was ludicrous, as he easily demonstrated, with an impressive level of confidence (I just don't think he'd be that bolshy about the categorical denials if there were any doubt). They had nothing solid to hit him with, so they kept trying to hector him with various nebulous implications of guilt by association, and he just refused to let them dictate the agenda. He turned it at every juncture into a withering indictment of US policy and conduct. It was an amazing performance. It's tremendously inspiring to see a gifted orator like that in action; we have precious few such in public life. Hurrah for Gorgeous George!

Monday, May 16, 2005

This Just In! Hot Political Update!

Because the universe is chiefly concerned to amuse me by bringing my sundry obsessions into novel and unholy juxtaposition, it is with pleasure but scant surprise that I inform you that The Sarah Teather has been appointed to the Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet.

Her Podness has been named Shadow Secretary for Communities and Local Government, with a special portfolio for Gelfling Anti-Racism Outreach.

The Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet, I imagine, can be presumed to be distinctly less shadowy than the Conservative Shadow Cabinet, and might for clarity's sake be better designated the Penumbra Cabinet, or even the Slight Pall Cabinet.
The Sarah Teather, apparently at a Bar Mitzvah

The Shadow Cabinet Minister, ditto

I've Been Saying It For Years

Celebrities are toxic and should be quarantined at once. Do not touch, sniff or lick them.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Current Mood: None of Your Cocking Business

I hate LiveJournal. Not qua blogging platform; no need to blame the messenger. But I hate the use (many, not all) people make of it. I hate, really a lot, The Blog As Public-Access Diary.

It's just a category error. Definitionally, a diary (NB: I employ the American usage here; 'diary' as 'personal life record', not as 'appointment book') is a private chronicle of the thoughts, events and deeds that are of import to the chronicler but, with rare exceptions, to virtually no one else. If you are, say, Winston Churchill, history may in the fullness of time elect to take a broader interest in said chronicle. Presumption of that interest before the fact is both irritating and idiotic.

I am not, mind, suggesting that many, many bloggers out there don't have fascinating and worthwhile things to say. Manifestly they do. In general, though, I think you'll find that the preponderance of those things are about something, and that further, that something is not a) the progress of their manuscript; b) the antics of their lovable but exasperating significant other; or c) their fuckridden cat.

The details of your life are for sharing with friends. Your diary, pending notification of your Nobel Prize, is for sharing with no one. And I will defend to the death my right not to know a single goddamn thing about your cat.

Leave Vicky Pollard Alone Already

I'm kind of wigged by how viciously British grownup culture hates its youth. This hoodie business is only the latest and most visibly outrageous manifestation of a tendency that seems quite embedded in the public discourse. Youth are feared and loathed here much more, it seems to me, than in the States, where they're more generally looked on with relatively benign disdain as shiftless, shallow, consumerist, &c. The traditional 'kids today' take.

Here it feels more toxic than that. There's a hysterical, Crucible-esque edge to the magical thinking; do they think hoods provide some kind of malignant incubator for evil thoughts which would otherwise dissipate harmlessly into the atmosphere? It's quite frightening, and somehow self-fulfilling, the way people grab on to these contingent signifiers, fill them up with their own projections and resentments and then use them as truncheons.

Look at this Vicky Pollard thing. This week a 19-year-old girl was ASBO'd from her own home for terrorizing her neighborhood with loud, violent, strangely random--i.e., extreme but also recognizably teenaged--behavior. In all the coverage of the story, she's been repeatedly compared to Vicky Pollard, but on weirdly irrelevant grounds: 'She is like the girl from Little Britain - she always wears her hair in a top-knot with a scrunchy and she even talks a bit like her. We've had enough.'

I put it to you that the axis on which Vicky Pollard functions is almost purely aesthetic. She provides a focus for the visceral aesthetic distaste grownups always feel for youth, and amplifies it into acceptable parody. It's not that Vicky actually does anything so terrifying--mostly she just spouts shite in a ridiculous patois and is socially overbearing, obnoxious and irresponsible. But she isn't a figure who threatens violence. What she is, unforgivably, is obese and ugly and stupid, and that provides a ready metonymy for all the other things people want to think about youth.

A tiny incident from a few weeks back sticks in my mind. I was on a train to Kingston, and the seats all around us were occupied by a gaggle of little suburban goth girls. They spent the ride staring into their little compact mirrors, fixing their lipstick, rubbing on perfume samples from Glamour magazine and talking shite. Straight out of Central Casting, really. Near the end of the ride, one of them accidentally kicked my knee, not very hard. She apologized, and I smiled forgiveness. And she just lit up. Went from hangdog to happy little girl in an instant, and I thought, jesus, what kind of reaction do you normally get for bumping into someone and apologizing?

What's that about? Well, it's Boomers, innit. With their whole complicated, upfucked, unresolved youth thing. They teeter on a knife-edge between, on the one hand, desperately wanting to hang on to youth's license and privilege (especially now they've got the money to seriously indulge it), and on the other desperately needing to assert the authority of their grownupness, in which they never quite seem to wholeheartedly believe.

It's exactly no coincidence at all that Tony's framing this latest program of social totalitarianism in terms of 'respect'. It's always going to be about respect for them, because they don't sit in the grownup seat comfortably. They're just like that weak boss who constantly chews your ass out needlessly in an attempt to affirm her own standing. They are, in fact, David Brent, with all their Stones-listening, Woodstock-reminiscing, hair-loss-concealing bids for cool, in unstable coexistence with an ugly whiplash reflex to defend their political and cultural turf. It's their pathological fear of losing hegemony over the currency of hip youth culture that fuels their savage spite against its rightful owners.

The power-grownups of today are both jealous of and horribly threatened by youth, especially as their own children grow up and the youth becomes half a generation removed, thereby losing the brainstem claim that kept us Seventies babies from being eaten like hamsters. Youth who are not one's own children take on a hateful foreignness that is presumed to be their own fault, and to warrant a truly chilling response of alienation, fear and vilification.

It makes me sad, because I think there's a lot of truth in the notion that people live up to your expectations of them. If you're already damned and outcast as an evil hoodie-wearing yob, what's the percentage in not?

Besides, am I the only one who thinks happy-slapping can, given the proper victim, be kind of hilarious?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

I Watch CSI Because I've Had To Stop Sucking My Thumb

Time again for one of our periodic examinations of that uniquely hegemonic feature of television culture, the police procedural. It may surprise you to learn that it's only recently I've developed this unhealthy fixation on the polproc; for years I affected to scorn CSI and its brethren, for reasons now wholly obscured by time.

These days, aside from the fact that I just can't stop loving their outré gore-goggling, super-retro-deductifying antics, I'm also fascinated by their rapidly spreading dominion over the international airwaves. What does it say about us, our nervousness and deep, suckling yen for comfort, that we want to immerse ourselves in a steadily deepening soup of gruesome murders and the ciphers who solve them?

Well, just that really. As the world feels more threatening and incomprehensible by the day, we're like a kid in bed, compelled to look under it for the monster we're terrified is there, and dimly, badly wanting there to actually be a monster there, so Dad can turn on the light and destroy it. Polprocs, like detective stories from time immemorial, rationalize the irruptions of anarchic, antisocial terror that stalk the borders of our real lives. That's why the typically extreme nature of the crimes, the detailed gore and violence: we need to see Grissom & Co. parse, compute and reimpose order over events that are at least as horrific as anything we're likely to have come across in the news that day. Hence also the tiresome prevalence of the Ripped From The Headlines plotline: no more cathartic solace than seeing the 'real thing' subjected to the ministrations of a team we know we can rely on to get the whole untidy business sussed, trussed and 'fessed in forty minutes plus commercials. Beat that, NYPD.

It's no coincidence that, even in the higher-value brands like 'CSI: Kickin' It Old-School Style' and 'Law & Order: Anything But SVU', the characters are afforded only the barest lineaments of personality and history. We don't really want these to be people, except to the extent that it facilitates passably snappy dialogue and our ability to tell the team investigating Crime Subplot 1 from the team that shows up after the opening credits at the scene of Crime Subplot 2. We want them to be cool, impervious Figurers-Out, and we compulsively dare ourselves to look full on at the horrors we imagine they face unmoved. It's an inoculation of sorts. This is the entire purpose of CSI's trademark WoundCam: can you take it? Grissom can.

Perversely, the very gruesomeness and ubiquity of polprocs inspire in me a tender solicitousness towards our collective state of mind. Instead of being the straightforward catering to an ugly prurience and jaded jones for sensation that it might seem, I think it can be read in a much more nuanced way as the expression of a tremendous sense of threat and a longing for comfort, for order, comprehensibility and safety in a moment of history when our real leaders are failing spectacularly to provide us with anything like. Andy Sipowicz in '08?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Charles Clarke Will Roast In Hell

I can't find this on any of the news sites yet, but Channel 4 News has just run a report that the Home Office is refusing to sign an EU resolution to protect rescued victims of sexual and labor trafficking. The UK is apparently one of only two countries unwilling to sign the measure, which includes requirements to provide a 'reflection period' of 30 days (pretty fucking chintzy, you ask me) for victims to recover, figure out their next move and decide whether to help authorities prosecute, as well as a temporary but renewable residence permit.

The reason apparently given by the HO (who 'weren't available' to comment to Channel 4) for refusing to sign is concern that women (I paraphrase from the TV report) 'may falsify stories of sex trafficking as a way of seeking asylum', or that they 'may actually use sex trafficking as a method of gaining entry'. Those fucking, unspeakable, loathsome misogynists. I honestly have no words for the disgusting foulness of this calumny, this pile of heartless, hateful, victim-blaming, stinking shit.

Occasionally something happens, big or little, that just pulls you up sharp and brings you face to face with just how deep and vicious and embedded misogyny still is, how woven in the cloth of our cultures. This is one of those for me. I feel like being sick.

I'll update with links as I find them. For now all I've got is this year-old opinion from the EC's Experts Group on Trafficking in Human Beings, outlining recommended policy on the reflection period and residency permit.

I'm hoping the news coverage may shame the government into backing down and signing after all, but the mask has irrevocably slipped, and we've seen something monstrous. We cannot tolerate this.

Update May 13th, 9pm: Channel 4 has posted an abbreviated transcript of the story here. Annoyingly, they've cut the part about the Home Office's excuse for not signing. Grr.

Update May 14th, 8pm: Channel 4 have got a link up now on the article page linked above to watch the report (presumably uncut), but you have to be some sort of member to see it so I can't vouch.

Update May 16th, 10:30 am: Now Amnesty and three other charities are calling for the UK to sign, but so far the HO is holding its ground. The preposterous pretext? 'The convention contains measures which we believe may actively encourage people traffickers and may place more vulnerable victims at risk.' Yuh-huh.

Any Way You Cut It, I've Probably Tried Cutting It That Way Too

Look, let me preface all this by saying that I'm perfectly aware I have worryingly borderline obsessive-compulsive tendencies. So while you're free to offer diagnoses, just note that you won't be telling me anything I don't already know.

Here's what I have to say: the shape of food matters. I'm not talking about bygone days when my mom used to enliven my lunchbox on special occasions with American cheese slices cunningly cut into heart shapes and little jigsaw puzzles. Although mmmm, those were good times...

No, I speak here as an adult, one with enough time on her hands to have noted through empirical trial that the way you cut up your food makes a palpable difference to how much you enjoy eating it.

Take bananas: I defy anyone to gainsay that a banana tastes and feels much better when eaten sliced than bitten off from the whole. That smooth, clean-cut, sticky-slippery banana plane provides an infinitely more satisfying oral experience than the anarchy of a chunk gnashed off any old way, leaving uneven jawprints in the violated fruit.

(Sidebar: what exactly is that extraordinary banana-glue that holds together the slices once you've cut them? I can't help thinking its unique physical properties could have wide commercial application, say as an environmentally-friendly industrial lubricant for ball-bearings and the like.)

Similarly grapes. Lately I've taken to slicing big red grapes in half crosswise and hucking them in my morning fruit salad with strawberries and the aforelauded banana slices, plus the occasional black plum if I'm feeling splashy. The other day, faced with particularly large strawberries, I decided to experiment daringly and slice the grapes lengthwise. Disaster. Believe me or not as you will, the grapes tasted different. They tasted worse. Much worse. My fruit salad was in shambles, and I just couldn't face it. A whole quid's worth of English strawberries tossed in the bin, all because of a moment's mise-en-place madness.

I don't, however, want to give the impression that formal innovation in food morphology is inevitably to be regretted, or avoided. On the contrary, a revolutionary change in cutting strategy can revitalize a tired foodstuff beyond recognition. Several weeks ago I was making a salad, and, having lost faith in the nutritive value of lettuce alone, planning to add a carrot along with some bell pepper. As I peeled the carrot with my user-friendly Oxo Good Grips peeler, thick, integral ribbons of peel gliding off on all sides, blinding inspiration struck.

The carrot once peeled, reader, I kept peeling, until the carrot was whittled to a slender nubbin in my hand and a lacy pile of carrot flounces in the salad bowl. The effect was electrifying! Instead of sinking to the bottom of the bowl and lurking in little dense flavor-bombs as the more traditional carrot coins do, these ribbons wove themselves gracefully through the salad, subtly sweetening and solidifying each bite without overstating their presence.

I've been attempting to replicate the effect with bell pepper, but the peeler won't work reliably on such an awkwardly shaped surface. I need to sharpen my (utterly lifechangingly brilliant 6" Global vegetable) knife, and I feel confident that with rigorous application, someday I will achieve translucently thin slices of pepper to match my carrots.

I'm just saying.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

In Which My Verbal Klutziness Issues In A Happy Accident, For Once

I have just today, through precisely no merit or cleverness on my own part, accidentally invented a brand-new and, I humbly submit, tremendously useful word.

It is a word in Yinglish, the recently identified (yo, CM) but undeniably up-and-coming hybrid dialect located at the fecund crossroads of Yiddish (language of kvetching and fatalistic resignation) and English (language of empire and Freedom Fries).

Brought to you by my occasionally-and-in-this-case-felicitously-less-than-agile tongue. The bastard child of meshuga and mitigate. I am puffed toadlike with pride to present for the first time ever: 'mishigating circumstances'.

Which is to say, there will be certain things you can get away with, on the grounds that you're just kinda crazy like that.

Now go forth, do your worst, and plead mishigating circumstances, my children. Tell them I sent you.

Who Knows What Evil Lurks In The Heart of Parliament?

Of all the many bits of quirky Local Color available for the delectation of the Amerkin expat in London, perhaps the most intriguing and downright head-scratch-making is the structure of British government. To wit, yer Shadow Government.

You have a Shadow Government! Do you have any idea how this sounds to an outsider? Positively mephistophelean, that's how. To us it seems perfectly logical that the undead Michael Howard should inhabit the Shadow Cabinet; woe betide the one who opens it while he sleeps within. I'm given to understand you had a Shadow Government before The Nocturnal One arrived on the scene, though. Perhaps it was instituted during the Sith regime of, um, Long Ago?

Furthermore, and it may just be me, I fail completely to fathom what exactly the Shadow Government does. Do they all run around formulating spectral policies and passing laws that only apply when the sun shines? Are they granted control over the country on Opposite Day?

Does Alan Duncan, the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, sit in his tenebrous office and zoom Matchbox cars around on his desk, smashing them up with tiny Routemasters and cackling diabolically?

Does Liam Fox, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, skulk around Europe tailing foreign heads of state?

What are these people for? A pint to the first person (within pinting distance) who can give me a convincing explanation of the Shadow Government's purpose. 'Frightening small children into good behavior' will not be considered a suitable answer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Oh Sweet, Sweet Schadenfreude

You just never quite get inured to the hypocrichutzpah of the crusading right. You think you have them pegged for quite the eville repressive motherfuckers they are, and then smack! you're wapped upside the head with quite what stupid hypocritical eville repressive motherfuckers they are.

Today's poster child: Republican Mayor James West, of Spokane, Washington. 'West, a 54-year-old former state Senate leader and opponent of gay rights, has denied the molestation allegations ['that he abused two boys while he was a sheriff's deputy and Boy Scout leader in the late 1970s and early 1980s'] but acknowledged he visited a gay online chat room and had relations with adult men.'

Now, not content with using his office to persecute gays like himself (see as we maintain a judicious and unlitigatable silence on the Boy-Scout-molestation charge), West is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly offering government jobs in exchange for sex to men he met in gay chat rooms. Oh, and also 'improperly' using his office computer. Given his record, I can only imagine what that entails.

True to form, the Queens of Self-Loathing their royal selves, the Log Cabin Republicans, have turned on West and are calling for his resignation.

See how they gnash and snap, and tear out the viscera of their foolhardy fallen. Could anything warm the heart more?

Someone Else In Jerusalem

I’m an American Jew, born in New York in 1972. There are various repercussions of this fact; they needn’t concern us. There is, however, one consequence of my birth I do wish to take note of here: my Right of Return. Now let’s just pause a minute to reflect: by simple virtue of having been born a Jew, on Earth, from the secular loins of my nonobservant parents in a totally other country, I get to up and go live in Israel, with all the rights and privileges of a citizen, any time I want.

Kind of amazing, no? My particular brand of existence includes the price of admission to not one but two countries. Pretty sweet deal, especially given the bupkis I paid for it. Just one little problem: I don’t want it. At all.

Oy gevult, cries my grandmother from beyond the grave, what a shande to let such a deal go to waste! OK Bubbele, tell you what—here’s an idea. I want to transfer my Right of Return.

Yeah, I want to hand it off to someone else. Like a bus ticket. The State of Israel has promised that there’s room for me; my seat is saved, all I have to do is show up and sit. Now, I can say pretty much for dead certain I will never be getting on that bus. But since the seat is there, and since there are ‘nuff people who’d be more than happy to fill it, I’d like to pass on my ticket to one of them.

Or, even better, more than one. I’m up for haggling; how about a bulk deal? What if, say, I and nine like-minded Jewish friends banded together and gave up our ROR en bloc? Could we get an 11th Palestinian refugee in free? (Who’d you think we were talking about? Who else wants in to Israel and can’t—Norwegian Methodists?)

So how does this ROR deal work, anyway? Maybe my ticket is valued based on physical space. And if there’s room for strapping, well-nourished American me, surely two broken old folks from Gaza wouldn’t take up much more volume. Especially if the rest of their family had been conveniently eliminated—what about a Survivors’ Package Discount? How many
children killed by the IDF would qualify to send a couple home together on my ticket?

Or maybe it’s more concrete, figures-oriented. Based on something like, say, limb count? In that case, you could get in 4 amputees for the price of 3 whole! Given the average limb:body ratio in the Occupied Territories these days, there’d be
no shortage of eligible takers for that deal.

We could find all manner of creative ways of funding relocation costs. We could sell merchandise: ‘My Daughter Didn’t Go To Jerusalem And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!’ New charity appeals:
Adopt the Kindling That Was a Palestinian Olive Tree! Or real estate: we could sublet vacant cells in Israel’s Ansar III prison to the US Marines. Perfect for Abu Ghraib overflow!

However we work the details, somebody’s got to take this thing off my hands. See, despite all Israel’s efforts to entice me (from 1951’s ‘ingathering’ of Iraqi Jews by ‘
cruel Zionism,’ right up to Ariel Sharon’s siren song to French Jews last July), I’m finding myself strangely unenticed. Call me meshuggana—the allure of life in a militarized state clinging to a patch of desert surrounded by populations it’s spent the last 57 years hardening into inveterate enemies? Not so much. But never fear! As it happens, there is a group of people who do want very much to live there: the people who used to, 58 years ago.

When you think about it, the mass expulsion the Palestinians call al-Naqba,The Catastrophe (I know, so negative!), didn’t happen very long ago. Fifty-seven years—even a refugee in the Occupied Territories has reasonable odds of
living longer than that, barring the odd oops-a-daisy occupied-house-demolition. (What, they should schlep down out of the bulldozer every time to make sure no one’s home?) So despite the IDF’s impressive efforts at good territorial housekeeping—and damn but those guys are efficient cleansers (cleaners, whatever; you say potato)— there’s a decent chance the person who was kicked out of my spot is still with us. The individual who was farming my personal piece of the Promised Land in 1947 is very possibly alive, and far from well, and living in Jabaliya.

So while I appreciate this amazing offer of free admission based on the millennia-old and
archaeologically questionable testimony of a religion I don’t believe in, I just don’t think it’s for me. But damn—like it or not, I’m the lucky holder of a bona fide Golden Ticket. What to do?

My course is clear: I wish to hand over my hot ticket ‘home’ to the person it was boosted from. It’s not mine; someone else paid the fare. Now, if we can work the Off-Peak Repatriation 2-for-1 Special, we’ll really be getting somewhere. But if nothing else, let me at least stand up and give my seat to someone who deserves it. Next year, Someone Else in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Tiny Brilliant Fiction Fix

Lenin's just put me in a Kafka state of mind, thanks to a rather high-flown comparison of Our Dear Leader to Red Peter (a comparison in which, frankly, the latter is substantially the slandered party).

Poking around after Red Peter, I came across a short short story I'd never seen, called 'Jackals and Arabs', posted in translation by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College.

It's astonishing--creepy and strange and hilarious and melancholy and fantastic. Kafka all over. I militantly don't do spoilers, so I won't tell what it's about, beyond the eponymous jackals and Arabs. Go read it; it will take you 5 minutes. A snip to entice you:
'How can you bear it in this world, you noble heart and sweet entrails? Dirt is their white; dirt is their black; their beards are horrible; looking at the corner of their eyes makes one spit; and if they lift their arms, hell opens up in their arm pits.'

What better can you possibly have to do? Go.

New York Times Pulls A Hillary

Taking a leaf from the notebook of She Who Must Be Flayed, the Grey Lady has released an internal report concluding that its journalism is too liberal, and that it must mend its commie-pinko ways if it wants to maintain credibility with the American public.

Corrective measures, according to this Dispatch From The Land of Crack-Induced Psychotic Hallucinations, should include 'seek[ing] talented journalists who happen to have military experience, who know rural America first hand, who are at home in different faiths.'

This from the people who brought you Judith Miller's World Record For Administration Bullshit Credulously Swallowed And Regurgitated By A Single Newspaper, not to mention regular lashings of rabid Zionist Arab-baiting zeal that would make a settler blush. Too liberal my lefty ass.

Give A Monkey An Umbrella...

Bang bang!

Monday, May 09, 2005

When Stupidity Attacks

Consequent to certain recent postings about abortion, I've lately found myself entertaining the conversation of diehard pro-lifers in volumes I've not experienced in many years. This in turn, along with a news item kindly brought to my irate attention by Max, has reminded me of the one single characteristic of debate conducted by the anti-choice/anti-birth control/anti-sex-education/anti-STD-vaccine right that I loathe, disparage and fear more than any other: willful, pernicious, sanctimonious denial.

Let me illustrate. The offending news item concerns a vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, 'the STD thought to cause around 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.' It is insanely common, often symptomless, and not reliably quarantined by condoms. Now it appears two vaccines against HPV are nearing approval, and could be on the market as early as next year, a major watershed in the fight against rising STD infection rates.

Can you guess where this is going? You got it: pro-abstinence groups like the Family Research Council are coming out in protest, claiming that giving the vaccine to young women will cause them to 'see it as a license to engage in premarital sex'. This is exactly the same reasoning used by people who oppose distributing condoms in schools (or needle exchange programs, for that matter). The notion is that by offering protections against possible ill effects of a behavior like sex, you encourage people to engage in that behavior.

This wildly fallacious argument is based on the predicate, empirically disproven sixteen thousand ways to Sunday, that people will not have sex if they don't have these protections. Manifestly, were that the case, teen pregnancy and STD infection rates would not be at the crisis levels they have been for decades. The illogic is absolutely dizzying.

Similarly, a commenter recently tried to argue, based on a handful of cases of women having suffered botched legal abortions, that we who favor legal abortion 'support' the harming of women. Our position, she fallaciously posited, was "legal=safe".

This of course could not be more wrong, or more reductively stupid. Our positions are two: 1) "legal=safer", because 2) "illegal=unsafe". The notion that supporting legal abortion means supporting harm to women rests on the same assumption outlined above: if abortion is illegal, women will not have abortions. And of course history has volumes to say to that nonsensical assertion. If abortion is illegal, women will have hideously botched abortions in filthy backalley charnel houses, will mutilate themselves with coat hangers, will pour turpentine into their wombs and die screaming. What they will not do is stop trying to terminate their unwanted pregnancies, in whatever horrifically compromised ways they can find available.

This belief--this purblind, puritanical, utterly-fact-impervious shibboleth that it is better to allow people to be harmed and killed than to seem to 'encourage' them in behaviors you disapprove of--is proof enough, were further proof required, that these people, who call themselves 'pro-life', exhibit the most callous and vicious disregard for the life of actually-existing people, most especially women. They are only 'pro' the life of people who live according to their values: the unavoidable corollary of their position is that people who aren't given the 'encouragement' of protection, and who nonetheless engage in disapproved behaviors, must deserve to be stricken with illness, pregnancy and death. They are beyond reprehensible.

Feeling The Pinch of Theocracy?

Appalled at the repressive character of life in a reactionary, intolerant country whose political policies are in relentless thrall to its backward-looking religious leaders? Why, then leave America and move to Spain!

For the second time in as many weeks, Spain's socialist government has passed an astonishingly progressive measure. First it was gay marriage, and now it's amnesty granted to 700,000 illegal immigrant workers.

The newspaper El Pais called the amnesties (this is the sixth since 1990) 'justifiable because they are the only way to deal with situations that are humanely and socially unsustainable and which harm the economy.' Yes, well, quite. Labour, please take note.

Is it perfect? Of course not. The government has stated there will be no more amnesties, and it will be cracking down on black-market employers and any new immigrants who didn't manage to legalize their status under this one.

But is it a serious honking step in the right direction, directly opposed to the increasingly xenophobic complexion of the rest of Europe? Yuh huh. Maybe I should reconsider my return to the United States of Pat Robertson.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Fear Not, Mr. Prime Minister, Your Legacy Is Assured After All

It is well known among schoolchildren, and occasionally remarked upon by our less imaginative novelists, that matter is created in the immense fusion reactors that form the hearts of stars. Under conditions of unimaginably intense pressure and heat, two atoms of hydrogen are hurled together and fused to form a single molecule of helium.

Just such an event occurred Friday during Tony Blair's speech outside No. 10 Downing Street. In that blistering and volatile crucible of combined electoral humiliation and dogged triumphalism, conditions were ripe for the catastrophic collision of TB's ever-expanding messiano-presidential egotism and the show of suitably chastened humility required of a man whose mendacity had assured his government an unequivocal thrashing in the polls.

And collide they did, with no less spectacular issue than the birth of a brand-new, never-before-recorded personal pronoun. Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of grammatical science I am delighted to announce the discovery of The Tony Blair First Person Singulo-Plural Dissociative Third Party Pronoun: 'I-we-the-Government'.

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