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Archive for September, 2011

I didn’t think they really would kill Troy Davis. Surely, the worldwide campaign to spare his life would impress someone in Georgia. Surely, the Supreme Court would stop the process, once they’d delayed it. Surely, the work of the Innocence Project had raised enough awareness of the presence of innocent people on Death Row.

When I heard that they’d murdered him, after all, at 11:08 p.m. on Tuesday, I wept. I’m sure some of you readers did too. It is not true, as one of Davis’s nephews told Amy Goodman, that “we are all Troy Davis.” People like Goodman and me – white people blessed with education and elevated above poverty – are almost certain never to land on Death Row. Nor do I want to appropriate the grief of the people who knew Davis and loved him. And yet, tears of grief and rage seemed the only possible response to a rotten, festering system that committed homicide against a man whose only crime appears to have been being black in the wrong place on the wrong night.

All that is to say that I have no desire to over-intellectualize the murder of Davis. At the same time, I’ve been re-reading parts of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish for a class I’m teaching. The first section of the book, aptly titled “Torture,” describes in excruciating detail pre-modern ways of punishing criminals. A man is drawn and quartered. Foucault forces us to look. Then he spends the rest of the book analyzing how the king’s power to maim bodies and take life has been supplanted in the modern era by the bureaucratic state’s ability to micro-regulate us through surveillance and, ultimately, self-surveillance, shaping docile bodies. We are disciplined, and we discipline ourselves. We are subjected to normalization, and we learn to conform to the norms. Modern techniques of power are all the more effective because they are subtle – and they are no longer confined to prohibiting behaviors. Where power had been merely repressive, it now has the ability to elicit behaviors, attitudes, identities, and reality itself:

We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. (189)

Foucault is surely right about the productive and proliferative aspects of modern power. But doesn’t he present a false dichotomy here? While European countries have abandoned capital punishment, the techniques of power in the United States remain deeply invested in repression. Of course, all of the productive aspects of power are in full swing here, too – often commingled with more repressive techniques, as in TSA routines that elicit docility. At the same time, torture is undergoing a renaissance. The spirit of Abu Ghraib courses through our polity.

As Troy Davis waited for nearly four hours while the Supreme Court took one last glance at his case, he was strapped to a gurney with the lethal needle already in his arm. That’s a form of torture that would have pleased the most bloodthirsty pre-modern tyrant. It would have warmed the heart of a postbellum Southern lynch mob. Without being naive about the more subtle forms of modern power, isn’t it time we renounced state-sponsored murder?

A dark flag bearing the words, "A man was lynched yesterday."

(Posted by a bunch of my Facebook friends, attributed to Randall Horton)

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Emily Yoffe at State puts her finger on precisely why I can’t believe that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent of sexual assault. It seems DSK has given an interview to French TV, trying to exonerate himself but providing no real answers:

Although we only have translated summaries of the interview, Strauss-Kahn acknowledges there was a sexual encounter between the two but says no force was involved and he didn’t offer her money.  … If there was no force, and no money, are we to believe it was his continental charm that caused Diallo to get on her knees and relieve a stranger?

(See the rest of Yoffe’s analysis here; also at Slate, William Saletan offers a tandem, equally skeptical analysis.)

Exactement! This was the weakest point in the prosecutors’ motion to dismiss the case – how to explain the sex if no compulsion was involved?

In that motion, the prosecutors note that the complainant, Nafissatou Diallo, lied repeatedly, thus shredding her credibility (and, I agree, almost certainly alienating every potential jury in the world). But the evidence in the case went beyond he-said/she-said. While injury evidence was inconclusive, DNA analysis indisputably shows that DSK deposited his semen in the complainant’s mouth – a point that DSK does not dispute.

And so we have to ask, what narrative could possibly explain this most unlikely mixing of fluids? What sort of unpaid, consensual encounter could take place in the span of 20 minutes or less, from first meeting to au revoir?

Here’s how the prosecutors laid out the timeline in their motion to dismiss:

The relatively brief nature of the encounter between the defendant and the complainant initially suggested that the sexual act was not likely consensual. Specifically, key card records from the hotel indicated that the complainant first entered Suite 2806 at 12:06 p·.m., and telephone records later showed that the defendant had placed a call to his daughter at 12:13 p.m. Accordingly, it appeared that whatever had occurred between the complainant and the defendant was over in approximately seven to nine minutes. But in light of the complainant’s failure to offer an accurate and consistent narrative of the immediate aftermath of the encounter, it is impossible to determine the length of the encounter itself. That the defendant placed a brief phone call at 12:13 p.m. is not dispositive of when the encounter took place, how long it lasted, or where the complainant was from 12:06 to 12:26. Any inferences that could conceivably be drawn from the timeline of the encounter are necessarily weakened by the inability to solidify the timeline itself. (pp. 23-4)

But the prosecution hasn’t actually shown that the timeline is shaky. Not at all! DSK checked out at 12:28 p.m. (p. 6). The longest time span during which he and Diallo could have occupied the same space is 20 minutes. The prosecution has established this very ably indeed. Questions about what Diallo did after 12:26 – and inconsistencies in her testimony about her immediate reaction – don’t change the fact that the sexual encounter must have occurred in 20 minutes or less. (There is some question about the accuracy of the hotel’s clock and the key-card records, but the two-minute discrepancy described in footnote 25 would suggest an even shorter timeframe.)

Given that we’re taking about a 20-minute encounter, here is what we must believe to hold DSK innocent: We must imagine that a conspiracy set Diallo on DSK to entrap him and ruin his career. Or we must believe that Diallo was a prostitute – a possibility that both she and DSK have denied. Or we must presume that Diallo initiated the encounter in an attempt to sue DSK and get rich. All three of these theories are far-fetched on the face of it. And if you think any one of them aren’t totally bird-brained – well, consider that DSK was practically heading out the door. A few minutes later, and Diallo and DSK would have never crossed paths. That’s a piss-poor way to plan a conspiracy or entrapment.

Or, of course, we may choose to believe that DSK’s charm and charisma alone will bring any woman quite literally to her knees, with no desire for reciprocity. This charm. This charisma.

(Source: The Guardian)

Okay, that’s not quite fair. There are more flattering photos of DSK. But he’s no beauty. He’s a jowly man on the cusp of old age. I’m much closer to him in age than Diallo is, and yet I can’t imagine even eating potato chips with him in bed, fully clothed.

I don’t think any belief about what happened in Suite 2806 can be held “beyond reasonable doubt,” and in any event, the case will never come before a jury. But since DSK is appealing to the jury of public opinion, it’s fair to ask: Which is more plausible? Were two strangers overwhelmed by by lust? Or did a rich and famous man opportunistically assume that room service included gratification of his every whim?

(As an aside: the motion to dismiss notes that four other stains in the hallway – not the bedroom! – were found to contain semen from men other than DSK. And here I thought bedbugs were the only reason to avoid New York hotels. I know the Sofitel caters to the privileged, but can’t they at least avoid splattering the wallpaper?)

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About three weeks ago, I informed the Sungold universe via Facebook that I was in love. No, not that I was in a relationship. Not that I’d gotten divorced. (Indeed, my dear mate and I were enjoying a local high point.)

It was, um, far more complicated. I was smitten with a kitten. And my husband is allergic. Like, asthmatic allergic, which is cruel, since he loves him some kittehs.

On August 11, a thin orange cat with stunning mackerel markings walked up to me as I was pulling scuzzy weeks from my driveway. He said, plaintively, “Meow?” as cats tend to do. Of course I answered in kind.

Within moments my kids informed me that this little guy could be Little Lion, a much-loved cat their friends had lost earlier in the summer. I held on to Orange Kitty until Little Lion’s family confirmed that we hadn’t found him. We then checked to make sure OK wasn’t an escapee from our friends across the street, who at one point had had two orange/ginger cats. No luck.

That night, Orange Kitty drifted off to sleep in the comfort of our porch furniture, seemingly secure in the knowledge that these silly humans who’d fussed over him all evening and provided stinky fishy cat food would carry on their tuna-scented gravy train in the morning.

But (cue Dragnet music or Darth Vader’s theme): The Ditch Witch arrived sometime between 7 and 8 the next morn. Despite the absurd, even cutesy name, this digger is the H-bomb of the construction world. It commenced to tunnel under roads and sidewalks, preparing the way for 21st century gas delivery. (My town is the poster child for the urgency of infrastructure repair.)

By the time I checked on Orange Kitty, he had vanished, like any intelligent kitteh would. And he stayed vanished for a full four weeeks.

This very last Thursday night, I spotted him in our backyard at 6:20 p.m., evidently hot on the trail of a mouse. He broke off his hunt to issue his trademark pathetic meow and allow us a whisker rub. I was elated. He greeted me! He came trotting up to me! He begged to get in the back door! But my kids were about to be late to music lessons, so I couldn’t dally. By the time I sped back home, the only orange was a streak in the sunset.

But hey, at least we knew he was alive.

Yesterday, Friday, he appeared in once again in the early evening. I was sitting on my front porch – just in case – as I’d done faithfully all those weeks before.And yet he took me by surprise. (Which is actually not surprising, in light of the dozens of porch-hours logged in vain hopes of finding him.) He came meowing up to the porch, instantly seizing my attention.

We were ready this time. We wined and dined him like the prodigal kitten. (And no, we didn’t overfeed him – he’s very thin and we want the food to stay inside him – plus the wine was for me. Obviously.) He again fell asleep on our porch furniture after a few longing glances toward the living room.

Today, I went onto the porch around noon to call him. No kitteh. I slipped back into the house and commenced a samba-esque rendition of “Just the Way You Are.” I got to a rest … and heard “meow! meow!” in the key of G#. A Billy Joel fan?

We’ve spent the rest of the day with this charming pumpkin. I bought him toys and food and worm pills. Two of the three were a grand hit. I figure I’ll need to take him to the vet this week, which will take care of the de-worming. I’m fully aware the vet visit could bring heartbreak. (I notice Orange Kitty is breathing too fast, though his gums look pink to this rusty observer, and he doesn’t seem to be sneezing or coughing, nor is he evidently in pain. He eats well and likes to play.)

We need to ascertain, too, that no one has lost him. Surely, he was once loved and fed with kindness; otherwise he’d be skittish and feral instead of sweetly social.

But my heart can’t help but leap – nay, pounce! – at the hope that we might have ourselves a part-time kitty, one who could live outdoors due to my sweetie’s allergies, yet enjoy lots of mutual love. And feeding, which would be a whole lot less mutual unless he starts sharing his mice (ugh). (Ideally, I think cats belong indoors, but when the alternative is life as a stray, an outdoor gig might be a decent compromise.)

Whatever happens, I take the appearance of Orange Kitty as blessing in my life. A mitzvah. An arc of grace (at least until he falls off the porch furniture; it seems I still attract rather clumsy cats).

Oh, and my statement that we might just have us a part-time cat? Scratch it. We all know who “owns” whom – on whatever temrs he chooses.

Night-night, sweet Orange Kitty. May you please favor us with your presence tomorrow, the next day, and all the days thereafter.

And it not: Well, the cat came back. Not once, but thrice. Reason for hope, even if – as one of my friends has suggested – OK is just one of those “nonmonogamous” kittehs.

(Click here if you can’t see Laurie Berkner singing “The Cat Came Back.” Yes, she’s a “kids’ singer,” but not only – not in the least.)

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My Republican senator, Rob Portman, is soliciting public input for the congressional supercommittee in charge of cutting the federal budget and (mostly likely) ripping our economy to shreds in the process. Channeling Don Quixote, I wrote him to say what I’d do if Empress Sungold were put in charge. It’s more wonky  - and more earnest – than is typical for Kittywampus. If you get through it without snoozing, I’m interested in what you would do as a member of the supercommittee. (If you’re an Ohio resident, you can give Senator Portman a piece of your mind, too.)

Here’s Empress Sungold’s plan (edited to add a few links):

In a word: Jobs. Reviving our economy and stimulating employment has to come before austerity.

Our economy is still stagnating. Unemployment remains very high, both in Ohio and nationally. It would be a dire mistake to introduce spending cuts right now. In the short run, we need revenue increases. Please listen to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates when they say that the very rich must pony up; they’re right! There is no excuse for tax breaks for corporate jets when Medicaid and school funding are being cut.

In addition to closing loopholes and raising taxes on those who make at least a half-million per year, we need targeted stimulus. There’s much still to be done for our conventional infrastracture (just check out the potholes here in Athens sometime). We also need a massive forward-looking investment in non-conventional infrastructure, including renewable energy. We already have great solar and wind companies right here in Ohio, but the sector needs to be vastly scaled up, with your S. 1000 being a good start, but only a start. We need investments in our schools. We need to fully fund Medicaid, Head Start, and women’s health services such as Planned Parenthood, because an emerging generation of sickly and ignorant Americans will not be able to build a strong country – and because short-term cuts too often lead to greater expenses in the long run, when diseases are diagnosed and treated only at a later stage. These are just a few of the areas where investing in our country through a second stimulus program will both address structural weaknesses in our economy and society, and put people back to work.

We need to bring unemployment down not only because it’s right and humane, but also because our economy requires a kick-start. As Henry Ford knew way back in the early 1900s, workers are also consumers who will drive demand. Without a rise in consumer demand our economy is doomed to years more of stagnation.

To address the crisis that brought down our economy in the first place and prevent a reprise of it, we need more stringent controls on Wall Street. Unbelievably, the big firms are more deeply invested in derivatives now than they were in 2008! At the same time, we need relief for homeowners facing foreclosure, helping them refinance their mortgages and possibly also write off part of the mortgage in cases where they’re underwater. This, too, would enable consumers to spend, helping stimulate a recovery, while also reducing the burden of toxic securities on the banks.

Plans should be made to control the deficit over the long-term, with deficit reduction taking a backseat to recharging our economy. An aggressive short-term policy of austerity would kill any chance at recovery; this is basic macroeconomics.

Deficit reduction must be done through a combination of revenue increases and selective cuts. Revenue should come primarily through raising taxes on the rich (as described above) and through the increased tax receipts that will come with people being back to work. The current payroll tax cuts should be maintained past January for their stimulatory effect; once the economy is growing again, the regular rates should be reinstated, and the ceiling above which income is exempt from FICA should be raised, perhaps to $150,000.

The main area where we can cut without harming our citizens is military spending. No country in the world spends anywhere near what we do on “defense,” which has become a code word for empire. We need to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to scrutinize which military expenditures really help keep us safe within our borders, and which ones predominantly allow us to project our power.

Thanks for listening to my ideas, Senator Portman! I wish you luck with your difficult task.

 

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If you read feminist blogs, you’ve surely already seen this gem of a T-shirt, which JC Penney was hawking until they (sensibly) withdrew it in response to public protest and apologized for its sexist nitwittery:

Available in sizes for girls in roughly grades 1 through 8, the T-shirt sports the pseudo-sassy phrase, “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.”

Feminist bloggers have rightly slammed the shirt for its obvious sexism. Recalling the notorious “math is hard” Barbie, feMOMhist snarks:

What person would want to encourage a little girl to think that beauty and intellect are mutually exclusive?  Clearly no one who has met moi!

The shirt is a disaster aesthetically, politically, and intellectually. It’s part of a larger phenomenon of T-shirts with attitude, mostly marketed to boys; this particular specimen adds sexism to the mix for a little extra charm. It reinforces the idea that girls and women have to trade sex, sexiness, and prettiness for security and success, an idea that you’d think would be moribund by now but just refuses to die: see Laurie Penny’s hilarious takedown of a new book by LSE researcher Catherine Harkin, who makes exactly that argument.

At Feministe, Caperton questions how “every employee who touched it between wholesaler and Web site” could have thought the shirt innocuous. I’d add that the design team, too, brings to mind the fine fellows from “Dumb and Dumber.”

But there’s one point that I haven’t seen other commentators skewer, and that’s the idea that a girl’s brother ought to be swayed by her prettiness. Am I the only one creeped out by this? Why should a brother be inspired to do his sister’s homework just because of how she looks? I mean, this shirt is encouraging boys to look at their sisters in a way that verges on incestuous. Ewwwww.

It goes to show that in a world where sexuality is seen basically as transactional, even young sisters and brothers are pushed into that paradigm. While actual brother-sister incest is (obviously) a real thing, it’s relatively rare, compared to adult-on-child incest. In most families, brothers and sisters are either indifferent to each other’s looks or insult them. I imagine this T-shirt slogan refers to brothers because most girls in the target age group don’t have boyfriends yet. Its dumb-and-dumber designers probably didn’t think through its incestuous implications. That doesn’t make it any less twisted. Ewwww, again.

 

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