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May 2007

Persepolis, Animated

Persepolis_7I first encountered Marjane Satrapi’s comic book memoir, Persepolis, back in 2003. The book recounts the author’s childhood in and beyond revolutionary Iran, with Satrapi’s faux-naïf illustration luring the reader into unexpectedly adult territory. Through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl we see the collective hysteria of Islamic fundamentalism and its intimate, coercive evils, contrasted with smaller, more personal, acts of rebellion. As when a pair of black market Nikes, an ABBA recording or an inch of visible hair become gestures of truly hazardous proportions. Some four years later, Persepolis has been remade as an animated film, directed by Satrapi with Vincent Paronnaud. A recent screening at Cannes, where Persepolis shared the Jury Prize, upset the Iranian authorities, prompting the obligatory accusations of “Western bias” and claims that the film is “an anti-cultural act” and “an unreal picture of the outcomes and achievements of the Islamic revolution.” Audiences will be able to decide for themselves when the film is released later this year. Though not in Iran, methinks.

More at Satrapi's blog.

Vagina Warriors Avert Their Eyes

I thought I’d highlight a piece from Friday’s ephemera by Christina Hoff Sommers, on what she calls the “fecklessness of American feminism.” Sommers notes the silence of so many “vagina warriors” on matters of gender oppression in Islamic societies

“If you go to the websites of major women's groups… or to women's centres at our major colleges and universities, you'll find them caught up with entirely other issues, seldom mentioning women in Islam. During the 1980s, there were massive demonstrations on American campuses against racial apartheid in South Africa. There is no remotely comparable movement on today's campuses against the gender apartheid prevalent in large parts of the world…

Many feminists are tied up in knots by multiculturalism and find it very hard to pass judgment on non-Western cultures. They are far more comfortable finding fault with American society for minor inequities (the exclusion of women from the Augusta National Golf Club, the ‘under-representation’ of women on faculties of engineering) than criticizing heinous practices beyond our shores. The occasional feminist scholar who takes the women's movement to task for neglecting the plight of foreigners is ignored or ruled out of order.”

As, for instance, when the “post-colonial theorist” Gayatri Spivak denounced Martha Nussbaum’s critique of postmodern feminism and her reference to Islamic misogyny as mere “flag waving” and advancing some (no doubt wicked and rightwing) “civilizing mission.” Sommers also casts an eye over the intellectual contortions of those who equate cosmetic surgery and a tolerance of pornography with acts of jihadist terrorism - an equation that renders those who mouth it trivial, pretentious and morally absurd.

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Friday Ephemera

Dr Robert Albert Moog. Synthesisers, sex changes, radical fashions. “People were freaking out.” (H/T, 1+1=3) // Cinematic drugfest. Tokin’, gulpin’, sniffin’, shovellin’. (H/T, Metrolander) // Fun with vibrating cornstarch. Wait for the tendrils. // Time-lapse film of Sunspot 875. Plasma “granules” the size of continents. Watch that hydrogen seethe. // Researchers eye bacteria for long-term data storage. (H/T, Protein Wisdom) // The USB Mini Fridge. // Multi-Tool! It’s 8 screwdrivers in one. And Multi-Hammer too. // Thought-reading machine. (1919) “For the office of the future.” // Robot plays air hockey. // Japanese manhole covers. Firemen, fruit, anime. // Basic reasoning test deemed “discriminatory” and “racist” by US Department of Justice. // Christopher Hitchens on a transformed London. “The roots of violence are in the preaching of it, and the sanctification of it.” // Diana West on Pew’s “encouraging” survey. “Just one in four. Isn't that something to be upbeat about?” // Iranian modesty police in action. Shrouded zealots accost and berate women. “Your hair is showing. Come with us.” Struggles ensue, blood flows. But remember, “all cultures are equal.” Sure they are. // Christina Hoff Sommers on the silence of Western feminists. // An imposing chandelier. // 50 things to love about superhero comics. // The best and worst airports to sleep in. Mosquitoes, shootings, uncomfortable chairs. (H/T, Coudal.) // Scary Mary. (H/T, Ace) // Hush now, children. It’s Henry Hall

The Resilience of Ideas

In a piece titled The Tyranny of Moderation, Oliver Kamm offers a sturdy and unforgiving defence of free speech, while taking a swipe at the evasion, dishonesty and spinelessness that increasingly surrounds the issue. Kamm points out that free speech is not, and cannot be, a matter of “balance”, “sensitivity” or fatuous moral equivalence, and that the open testing of ideas is not, as some suggest, an “ethnocentric imposition.”

“It is inevitable that those who find their deepest convictions mocked will be offended, and it is possible (though not mandatory, and is incidentally not felt by me) to extend sympathy and compassion to them. But they are not entitled to protection, still less restitution, in the public sphere, even for crass and gross sentiments. A free society does not legislate in the realm of beliefs; by extension, it must not concern itself either with the state of its citizens’ sensibilities. If it did, there would in principle be no limit to the powers of the state, even into the private realm of thought and feeling.

The debate has not been aided – it has indeed been severely clouded – by an imprecise use of the term ‘respect’. If this is merely a metaphor for the free exercise of religious and political liberty, then it is an unexceptionable principle, but also an unclear and redundant usage. Respect for ideas and those who hold them is a different matter altogether. Ideas have no claim on our respect; they earn respect to the extent that they are able to withstand criticism… It is not, in fact, a fine sentiment to require respect. Respect is not an entitlement. It is, at most, a quality that is earned by the intellectual resilience of one’s ideas in the public square… 

If those with deeply held convictions find they receive compensation for injured feelings, then mental hurt is what they will seek out. As one group succeeds, then others will perceive the incentive to fashion comparable demands… Respecting the beliefs and feelings of others is a lethal affectation in public policy. It is easy to depict freedom of speech as liable to cause hurt, precisely because it is true. The policy that follows from that is counterintuitive but essential: do nothing. The defence of a free society involves not taking a stand on its output, but insisting on the integrity of its procedures.”

Amen, brother. Related: this, this, this and this.

News from the Shires

Over at Shire Network News, the very fine Tom Paine interviews Evan Coyne Maloney, maker of the film on campus censorship and coercion, Indoctrinate U. The examples of political bias and intimidation, often at tax-payers’ expense, are eye-opening to say the least and touch on issues raised here. Other topics discussed include John Bolton’s brush with BBC “impartiality”, the oafish Michael Moore, the insane Jerry Falwell, jihadist television and the “mental torture” of unscented soap. Download the SNN podcast here.

The Thrill of Carpeting

Readers with a profound sense of kitsch and an eye for underfoot furnishing should pay a visit to David G Schwartz’s Gallery of Casino Carpets. Nine photographic galleries record the flair, ingenuity and staggeringly bad taste to be found at one’s feet in casinos from Vegas to the riverboats of St Louis.

Casino_barona_3 Casino_plaza Casino_moh11 Casino_fw5

It seems to me that Indian casinos have some of the most eye-catching floor coverings. But while they’re certainly worth stopping to admire, they’re perhaps a little too... high gear for the floors at Thompson Towers.

David G Schwartz is the author of Roll the Bones, the History of Gambling. (H/T, Coudal Partners.)

Prejudice Revisited, Again

Further to recent posts on PC bigotry and the redefinition of racism, La Shawn Barber has highlighted another example of students being steered towards approved kinds of prejudice.

Seattle high school students have at public expense been sent to the annual White Privilege Conference, the stated aim of which is to provide “a yearly opportunity to examine and explore difficult issues related to white privilege, white supremacy and oppression.” Topics headlined for ‘exploration’ include “white man’s pornography”, “multiple systems of oppression” and “transforming whiteness in the classroom.” Given such tendentious subject matter, readers may be forgiven for questioning the extent to which realistic discussion will actually be encouraged, or indeed permitted, and for questioning whether the White Privilege Conference does in fact provide “a challenging, empowering and educational experience.”

Peggy_mcintoshVisitors are, however, assured that the WPC is “not about beating up on white folks,” but is instead about “working to dismantle systems of power, prejudice, privilege and oppression.” Whether those two statements prove compatible in practice is, alas, not entirely clear. Dr Peggy McIntosh, a “highly sought-after speaker” on multicultural teaching methods, describes white privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets… like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” If that explanation isn’t sufficiently clear or convincing, Dr McIntosh also provides a White Privilege Checklist, which defines white privilege as the ability to “be in the company of people of my race most of the time” and to “avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.” The ability to go shopping without being followed or harassed is, Dr McIntosh asserts, another indicator of heinous racial advantage, as is the ability to find publishers for articles on the “invisible, weightless” phenomenon upon which she happens to opine.

La Shawn Barber notes that racially-fixated ideology isn’t exactly unknown in Seattle’s educational system. Dr Caprice Hollins, the Director of Equity, Race & Learning Support for Seattle’s public schools, has previously criticised individualism, long-term planning (or “future time orientation”) and the speaking of grammatical English as “white values.” The expectation among teachers that all students should be responsible individuals and meet certain linguistic and organisational standards is, according to Dr Hollins, a form of “cultural racism.”

Behold your tax dollars at work, shaping young minds for a brighter tomorrow.

More here and here.

Friday Ephemera

Via 1+1=3, How Mouse Clicks and Cursors Work. // An ambitious summer project: How to Destroy the Earth. // Live power line maintenance. Guy hangs from helicopter in Faraday suit, climbs along live cables. // Diving tigers. (H/T, Ace.) // The Man Amplifier. // The Bionic Woman. // Look lovelier down there. // Via 1+1=3, Maps of the Cold War: “Europe from Moscow”  and “Asia from Irkutsk.” (1952) // Jen Stark’s paper sculptures and animations. // “100 Girls and 100 Octopuses.” Art, not tentacle porn. Painting assembled from 98 smaller paintings. Click to disassemble or enlarge the whole thing. // When the Milky Way collides with Andromeda. Fate of Sun “uncertain.” Simulation here. // Christopher Hitchens says goodbye to Jerry Falwell. More here. // Iran’s crackdown on “slack dressing” continues. Fifty “badly-veiled” women stopped by Iranian airport police. 17,000 women warned to “respect Islamic dress codes.” // Four Iranian students criticise “modesty” crackdown, question infallibility of Muhammad. Jail sentence beckons. (H/T, B&W.) // The Entity. Someone call Mr Garrison. // When hippies attack. Crowd of eco-hippies block road, intimidate elderly couple in van. Bikes get crushed, tears ensue, victimhood is claimed. Protestors’ version of events quite bizarre. // A narrow escape. (Scroll down after reading.) // Something French, methinks. Boum.

Socialist Assumptions

Norman Geras highlights Professor Zygmunt Bauman’s definition of the basis of a leftist worldview:

“The first assumption is that it is the duty of the community to insure its individual members against individual misfortune. And the second is that, just as the carrying capacity of a bridge is measured by the strength of its weakest support, so the quality of a society should be measured by the quality of life of its weakest members. These two constant and non-negotiable assumptions set the left on a perpetual collision course with the realities of the human condition under the rule of capitalism; they necessarily lead to charges against the capitalist order, with its twin sins of wastefulness and immorality, manifested in social injustice.”

Praying_for_socialismHowever “constant and non-negotiable” Bauman’s assumptions are, they remain wide open to question, not least because his comparison of society with a bridge is so obviously flawed. The components of a bridge do not, I’m assured, have volition. Bricks, cables and metal beams do not make choices that determine their strength. Human beings do make choices that in large part determine their quality of life, however one chooses to measure it.

I doubt anyone here disapproves of social safety nets of some kind, or resents help being offered to people in distress and positions of severe misfortune. The question is how much help is to be offered and on what basis. But given the role of individual judgment in how a person’s life plays out, questions necessarily follow. Lots of questions. Why is a society to be measured by how the least able fare, irrespective of why that inability, or dysfunction, arises and persists? How, one wonders, does a community “insure” its individual members against all manner of “misfortune”? How are people to be insulated from, and compensated for, what are often consequences of their own choices and priorities? How much control is to be exerted and how many freedoms curtailed - including the freedoms of those suffering misfortune? What, exactly, are the intimate practicalities of this vision?

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