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Archive for the ‘dystopia’ Category

This blog has been silent too long. I’ve had some health issues affecting my hands; maybe I’ll write about them eventually, but for now let’s just say I’ve recovered enough to tentatively revive this blog, though probably on a low scale.

It’s Caturday; and since the Kittywampus hiatus coincided with an issue that put the word “pussy” in the mouths of the journo-commentariat (they’re still trying to spit out the furballs), it seems only fitting for this blog to support those three brave Russian feminists who are now serving a jail term for questioning the rottenness of their state.

Sure, we’ve got our own rottenness here in the U.S., too. When was the last time the pundits or politicians spared a thought for Bradley Manning? Why do I find far more Canadian sources than U.S. ones on this week’s deportation of war resister Kimberly Rivera from Canada and her arrest at the Canadian border? How can the Obama Administration possibly justify its defense of the NDAA?

But see, it’s not a question of ignoring abuses of the rule of law at home while highlighting abuses abroad. We can deplore the state-sanctioned violence against Manning even as we condemn Russia’s sentencing of Pussy Riot for being loud and insulting in a cathedral (their real crime was criticizing the state).

At the New York Times, Vadim Nikitin wrote last month that Western supporters are simply jumping on a bandwagon, merely [u]sing dissidents to score political points against the Russian regime.” This is too facile. The Russian regime is profoundly anti-democratic. It deserves to have points scored against it. While I respect his point that using dissidents as pawns is a game that goes back to the good ole Cold War days – and thus ought to come under scrutiny – the fact is, Putin is gutting what remains of Russia’s fragile democracy.

Nikitin also joins a number of North American feminists in decrying some of Pussy Riot’s most overtly offensive stunts – in particular, those involving public sex. I will gladly concede that I do not see the political or artistic merit or utility of such stunts, while I definitely do see how they would just reinforce the objectification of women to most casual observes.

But none of these caveats present a roadblock to supporting Pussy Riot, and Nikitin insistence that they’re dealbreakers strikes me as disingenuous:

You can’t have the fun, pro-democracy, anti-Putin feminism without the incendiary anarchism, extreme sexual provocations, deliberate obscenity and hard-left politics. … Because what Pussy Riot wants is something that is equally terrifying, provocative and threatening to the established order in both Russia and the West (and has been from time immemorial): freedom from patriarchy, capitalism, religion, conventional morality, inequality and the entire corporate state system. We should only support these brave women if we, too, are brave enough to go all the way.

Actually, even though I’m not a hard-core anti-capitalist, the Pussy Riot program all sounds pretty good to me. But Nikitin creates a false dilemma. You most certainly can support Pussy Riot in their moment of persecution without agreeing with all of their stances or tactics. We do this all the time, as when we defend the right to freedom of expression for people whose speech we find abhorrent.

The three band members made eloquent closing statements at their trial, showing that they understood, deeply, that this wasn’t a case about punk music constituting blasphemy. The stakes were nothing less than authoritarianism, human rights, freedom of artistica and political expression, and the state manipulation of media. Pussy Riot knows this. We too should recognize it – and dwell upon the ways in which the U.S. government, too, is systematically eroding liberties and making martyrs of dissidents. The rule of law hangs in the balance, not just the freedom of three young women, and not just in Russia either.

And so, by the great power invested in my by this blog, I hereby declare today Anti-Authoritarian Caturday.

Authoritarian kitteh courtesy of Cheezburger.

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For the first time since our congresscritters launched their attack on Planned Parenthood last winter, I have the feeling that public outrage has risen to a boiling point. The attacks continue, of course, but their extreme brazenness is finally provoking a robust counter-reaction. Maybe I’m just spending too much time on Facebook (and certainly my Facebook friends are far from a representative sample), but the Komen Foundation’s de-funding of Planned Parenthood – and subsequent backpedaling – seems to signal a change in the people’s tolerance of the war on women’s bodily autonomy. At the very least, it showed that millions of pissed-off women could use social media to defend health services for the most vulnerable among us.

Then Obama actually stood up to the bishops and told the insurance companies to cover contraception, period. As Katha Pollitt noted, he finally noticed that American women are more numerous than the bishops. Darrell Issa’s farcical all-boyz hearing on religious freedom contraceptive coverage earned a backlash as furious as the Komen decision’s. As usual, Jon Stewart perfectly skewered the hypocrisy:

Now, after a couple of days of public shaming by silent protestors at the state capitol, Virginia’s governor has been forced to “reconsider” supporting a bill that mandates transvaginal ultrasounds prior to abortion – and (in breaking news) its sponsor says she’ll kill the bill altogether! She claims an attack of conscience. (Yes, a woman sponsored this rapey bill. No, she didn’t have any ethical pangs until it became a national disgrace.) As Jon Stewart put it, the poor governor evidently didn’t realize the procedure is “like a TSA patdown for your vagina.”

Hey, we’d better not give the TSA any new ideas.

I’m also tickled pink at state legislators’ over-the-top proposals to regulate men’s bodies, for a change. Virginia Senator Janet Howell countered the transvaginal-ultrasound madness with a bill that would’ve required rectal exams before a man could be prescribed an ED drug. In Oklahoma, Senator Constance Johnson proposed (then withdrew) an amendment stating “any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.”

Now, Georgia Representative Yasmin Neal has put forward a bill to sharply restrict vasectomies: “It is patently unfair that men avoid the rewards of unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly. … It is the purpose of the General Assembly to assert an invasive state interest in the reproductive habits of men in this state and substitute the will of the government over the will of adult men.”

It’s high time someone stood up for spermato-Americans!

Of course, no one’s seriously out to punish men. These legislators just put anti-choice laws through the Regender translator, instantly exposing their absurdity and cruelty. It’s telling that these mock proposals hold the power to shock, while anti-choice legislation remains business as usual. Georgia, for instance, is weighing one-to-ten-year jail terms for abortion after 20 weeks – which last I heard was still constitutionally protected under Roe v. Wade.

I’m hopeful, though, that these extremist proposals are galvanizing a majority that will force extremist legislators to back down. But not just yet. Let them keep horrifying every voter who’s ever used contraception. Maybe we can throw out all the Tea Partiers and Blue Dogs, come November.

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SOPA Is Dead. Long Live SOPA!

I’m as happy as anyone that SOPA and PIPA seem to have crawled back into the Hollywood hidey-hole from whence they came. They threatened the free exchange of ideas on the Internet as we know it.

But make no mistake: The withdrawal of these nasty bills has very little to do with grassroots protest. Kittywampus went black for the day. My Facebook friends – including the handful of Republicans – vocally opposed SOPA/PIPA, except for a few who didn’t know what the fuss was about. All of this ballyhoo made absolutely no difference. As Jody points out in her incisive post, the contest was only ever between new tech money (such as Google) and old media. Yes, Wikipedia’s blackout made an impact, too, even as a not-for-profit entity. But the real players here were the new tech giants, able to represent themselves as the engine of American capitalist innovation. This was not a triumph of citizen activism.

What’s more, the U.S. government already has the tools it needs to punish pirates. In fact, it already blissfully disregards due process. Initial reporting on the shutdown of Megaupload – a site with sketchy leadership that appears to have openly tolerated blatant copyright violation – gave me the impression that the government had proven its case. Not so! As Glenn Greenwald notes, all it’s got at this point is allegations, not a guilty verdict:

[I]t nonetheless sends a very clear message when citizens celebrate a rare victory in denying the Government a power it seeks — the power to shut down websites without a trial — only for the Government to turn around the very next day and shut down one of the world’s largest and best-known sites. Whether intended or not, the message is unmistakable: Congratulations, citizens, on your cute little “democracy” victory in denying us the power to shut down websites without a trial: we’re now going to shut down one of your most popular websites without a trial.

Yup. With the triumph of the “unitary executive” under Bush and its consolidation and elaboration under Obama, there’s no need to wait for legislation. The rule of law is so twentieth-century!

In case you, too, were wondering why SOPA/PIPA were so evil, here’s a great explainer:

And if you need a good laugh about it, Jon Stewart comes through:

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My Christmas Note to Our Pres

Last week I got a holiday card from President Obama and family. I also keep hearing about how Michelle wants to invite me to dinner – or at least, I’ve got a chance of winning a seat at the table.

Since I’m still Facebook friends with Barack, I took the liberty of answering when he asked on FB what I’d like to talk about over a presidential meal:

WTF rule of law. WTF signing the new detention bill and not vetoing as announced. WTF civil liberties! WTF executing American citizens summarily, without trial, and forcing Bradley Manning to spend long hours naked. WTF habeus corpus and posse comitatus. And not least for us gals, WTF Plan B?!

I promise these topics will flow with pizzazz and charm over fine cuisine and the right wine.

That’s my little holiday rant, verbatim, sent directly to our Commander-in-Chief. Ah, the wonders of social networking!

What are the odds this’ll land me on a watch list of some sort?

(From I Can Has Cheezburger?)

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I’m coming out of dormancy to sound an alarm at the behest of Daisy Deadhead and ballgame. These two friends of mine have sniped at each other at times but agree 100% on this: The Internet as we know and love it is in serious danger.

Congress is considering an atrocious act, PROTECT IP (S. 968)/SOPA (HR. 3261), that would enable censorship of any website that provides copyrighted material. Those sites could be summarily shut down at a judge’s order; they could only be restored through litigation, which is bloody expensive. Not only the big guys like Google, Facebook, and YouTube would be affected. Itty bitty startups could be stifled, and even humble catty blogs such as mine could be shuttered.

I once celebrated the end of a basement flood by playing “Bridge over Troubled Water” on my piano and posting it to Kittywampus 1.0 (the old Blogger version). Perhaps fortunately, the link to that stellar performance is dead (has Box.net stopped serving bloggers?). Were it still live, I’d be committing a copyright violation – not that I imagine Simon and Garfunkel give a rip. Every mommy blogger who posts her child singing Lady Gaga could be shut down. And what of all the copyrighted content that we routinely embed, from SNL to Jon Stewart?

Here’s the bottom line (from the video below):

The ugly details, including potential five-year jail sentences:

What to do? Spread the word through your blog, Facebook, or Twitter account. Bay at the moon. And contact your congresscritter. They’ve not gotten much pushback, so they need to hear from worried citizens. I just called all three of mine.

I hope to get back to more regular blogging once I get my workload under control. Let’s not allow the Internet to be broken in the meantime!

Update 11/16/11, 2:45 p.m.: Daisy has lots more detail on SOPA/PROTECT IP.

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Almost daily, I get email from friend-of-the-blog Lisa Simeone on novel ways that the national security state is eroding our liberties. But today, Lisa herself was the poster girl for the corrosion of liberty – and I read about it first on Alternet, then at War Is a Crime, not in one of Lisa’s emails. It’s typically, really, that Lisa is all about the principles while setting aside her private worries. Now, though, they’ve become a national cause celebre.

Lisa has been fired from her job as the host of the documentary program Soundprint, which is carried by NPR affliates. The reason? Her involvement in the October 2011 movement, a peaceful protest against militarism and corporate greed, which has joined forces with Occupy DC. Lisa was targeted by The Daily Caller, which accused her of conflict of ethics and possible ethics violations, suggesting she was bound by the NPR ethics code. But first, Lisa was only a freelancer, not an employee, and was evidently never warned that she could lose her job due to political activity. Moreover, Soundprint’s statement seems to have a pretty tenuous relation to reality:

Soundprint is a journalistic program and Lisa’s leadership role as a member of the steering committee and a spokesperson for the October 2011 protest activities, associated with the Occupy DC movement, conflicts with her role as the host of a documentary series. Soundprint adheres to the highest standards of journalism which include maintaining appropriate distance from marches, demonstrations and other political activity. These are standards held by many other journalism organizations, including National Public Radio.

Fine, but look at Soundprint’s current program: the tale of a deaf septuagenarian who wants to learn to fly, and a tribute to Sir Edmund Hilary. It’s obvious that Lisa couldn’t be objective about Hilary! Never mind that he died three years ago; were he still with us, he’d definitely be in the 1%! Lisa introduces the story, and I’m listening really hard for her left-wing invective. Listening … oooh, straining a bit … Wait! She just called him a “humanitarian”! Surely that has a political subtext?

Lisa’s other radio job, hosting the nationally-syndicated World of Opera program, is hanging in the balance as well, though so far it looks like its sponsoring station is resisting pressure from NPR.

Lisa points out in her interview with War Is a Crime that NPR is applying a wildly inconsistent standard, allowing some of their regular employees who actually report on current events to pontificate on Fox:

“I find it puzzling that NPR objects to my exercising my rights as an American citizen — the right to free speech, the right to peaceable assembly — on my own time in my own life.  I’m not an NPR employee.  I’m a freelancer.  NPR doesn’t pay me.  I’m also not a news reporter.  I don’t cover politics.  I’ve never brought a whiff of my political activities into the work I’ve done for NPR World of Opera.  What is NPR afraid I’ll do — insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of Madame Butterfly?

“This sudden concern with my political activities is also surprising in light of the fact that Mara Liaason reports on politics for NPR yet appears as a commentator on FoxTV, Scott Simon hosts an NPR news show yet writes political op-eds for national newspapers, Cokie Roberts reports on politics for NPR yet accepts large speaking fees from businesses.  Does NPR also send out ‘Communications Alerts’ about their activities?”

Yep, knowing Lisa, I think Madame Butterfly is about to be Occupied. (But there likely won’t be any tents involved. Like me, Lisa enjoys, needs, appreciates, and once again NEEDS a decent bed at night. I sometimes think a good mattress is one of the top three secret clues to vitality in one’s 40s and beyond.)

But seriously: It remains a mystery how Soundprint arrived at the conclusion that Lisa’s activism collided with the NPR ethics code. NPR denies having even contacted Soundprint. And vice versa. How to explain? Might I smell a whiff of Breitbart and his ilk? The earliest smear job I found on Lisa s a piece by Neda Samnani at Roll Call, dramatically dated “October 18, midnight,” insinuating that of course Lisa committed an ethical breach, because if she’s on radio, then she must be, well, a reporter.

Horseshit.

Ethics codes have a place in journalism, but Lisa was not exactly committing journalism. Lisa was doing cultural programming. Nor are ethics codes the be-all and end-all of media ethics. If they’re relevant to Lisa’s current work, they must equally apply to Ira Glass and Garrison Keillor at Lake Woebegone. The last time we heard about Keillor’s religious prejudices, there were consequences! ripple effects! an article in Salon … and not a blip in his contract.

So much still is shrouded in obfuscation. I am hoping Lisa will find time to fire off one of her emails, just like she does whenever she sees someone else’s rights being abrogated. I’m sure she’s pretty overwhelmed. There could also be a lawsuit brewing.

Given that we may need to wait on the facts, it’s half-past midnight (see, we can do her detractors one better – nay, 30 minutes better!). It time to rally to her cause. I just wrote the following to NPR:

I know Lisa. She’s whip-smart and highly principled. Her work is consistently thoughtful, fair, professional, and easy on the ears. I was thus dismayed to hear that Soundprint fired her for her engagement in October 2011.  Despite her history of activism, she hasn’t let her personal politics bleed into her professional work.

I’m so pleased that WDAV has not yet bowed to pressure to fire Lisa, who has done nothing wrong. Please support WDAV in their loyalty to Lisa. And while you’re at it, might you ask Soundprint to reconsider their hasty decision to fire her? There’s a difference between a reporter who covers hard news and a radio host of cultural programming. Lisa’s work falls in the latter category. I respect the reasons why NPR has an ethics code (even though I also know that real media ethics are more complex than a mere set of rules). However, as a freelancer who didn’t report on hard news, Lisa should not be muzzled in her private life as a citizen in the name of “objectivity.” Doing so just makes her former employer/client appear petty and, frankly, scared of right-wing bloggers and pundits.

Bring back Lisa Simeone! [Okay, I admit to trying to play the diplomat. “Horseshit” tends not to fly as an actual argument, except from my dissertation advisor who made it work beautifully.]

You can contact NPR here. To their credit, WDAV seems to get it (way more than NPR does!), as you can read here. Thankfully, comments are running overwhelmingly in favor of Lisa. But don’t hesitate to add yours, too, if you’ve appreciated her comments here or her work elsewhere.

And also: Hugs to you, Lisa. Count me among your friends and fans who love you and will stand with you – chin up and boobs out, as a friend of mine loves to say. Brava, for your passion, commitment, principles, and love of liberty. This panic from our overlords? I read it as a sign that we’ve got them rattled.

I hope you’ll weigh in once the worst of the madness subsides. Until then, sending hugs and virtual chocolate while posting madly on Facebook about this travesty.

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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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