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April 2008


Busy for much of today, but here are a few items of possible interest. Feel free to add your own.

Gail Heriot notes the fallout of affirmative action and enforced diversity

“It didn't seem to matter that… students admitted with lower academic credentials would end up incurring heavy debt but never graduate.”

Mark Steyn runs his tongue over Michelle Obama.

“Mrs Obama regards state-mandated compensation for previous racism as a new form of [burden] to bear. In an early indication of post-modern narcissism… she arrived as a black woman at Princeton and wrote her undergraduate thesis on the problems of being a black woman at Princeton… [She] embodies a peculiar mix of privilege and victimology.”

And Adam Platt encounters poison of a different kind.

“Tonight, I’ve been told, he’ll be serving that most prized portion of the fugu anatomy known as shira-ko, a.k.a. the engorged fugu sperm sac.”

Do try to keep the place tidy.   

Borrowed Shame

Via a reader, JuliaM, here’s a footnote to yesterday’s adventure with Amanda Marcotte and the Hysterical Sisterhood. Faced with the aforementioned disapproval, Ms Marcotte’s publishers, Seal Press, distinguish themselves with this:

We do not believe it is appropriate for a book about feminism, albeit a book of humor, to have any images or illustrations that are offensive to anyone… As an organisation, we need to look seriously at the effects of white privilege. We will be looking for anti-racist trainings [sic] offered here in the Bay Area.

Perhaps Shakti Butler and Peggy McIntosh will be willing to screw in the mental braces.

In the meantime, please know that all involved in the publishing of It’s a Jungle Out There, from editorial to production were not trying to send a message to anyone about our feelings regarding race. If taken seriously as a representation of our intentions, these images are also not very feminist. By putting the big blonde in the skimpy bathing suit with the big breasts, the tiny waist, and the weapon on our cover, we are also not asserting that she is any kind of standard that anyone should aspire to. This 1950s Marvel comic is not an accurate reflection of our beauty standards, our beliefs regarding one’s right to bear arms, nor our perspectives on race relations, foreign policy, or environmental policy.

Beauty standards, gun laws, race relations, foreign policy, the environment… Heavens. That covers everything, surely?



Please note that, upon reflection, we realise that the second to the last paragraph of this post doesn’t do a good job of conveying our intended meaning… We apologise that this paragraph undermines our apology. We acknowledge that the images are racist and not okay under any circumstances. We are wholeheartedly sincere in our apology, and the actions we’ve laid out above will be acted upon immediately.

As I mentioned in the comments yesterday, there’s a farcical through-the-looking-glass quality to outpourings of this kind. But it strikes me as more than just absurdity. It’s disabling too, and more than a little malign. One of the surest ways to erode a person’s probity is to make them repeat in public, among their peers, things that are unrealistic and absurd; things they know, or suspect, to be untrue. The more incoherent and ridiculous the claim - or apology - and the greater the mismatch with reality, the larger the effect. Bad medicine.

Tales of Woe

The mighty Cath Elliott, a Guardian regular whose devotion to identity politics and hand-wringing has previously entertained us, now turns her attention to matters of a more mundane kind, with a piece titled, How Do You Keep a Sock on a Dog? Sadly, this rambling and incongruous article about a pet’s plastic surgical collar offers precious little scope for Ms Elliott’s usual agonising, though, of course, the urge hasn’t entirely been frustrated.

I’m feeling guilty because it seems so cruel making him wear it.

Thankfully, others take their guilt very seriously indeed and reach almost operatic levels of indignation and remorse. Among them is Amanda Marcotte, whose Pandagon website provides a safe and hegemony-free environment in which devotees can rend their garments and gnaw at their own wrists. The latest drama, discovered via Protein Wisdom, concerns the inadvertently scandalous imagery chosen to illustrate Ms Marcotte’s new book, It’s a Jungle Out There: the Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. The illustrations in question, which parody 1950s comic books - themselves very often parodies - have injured feelings on a truly devastating scale:

I feel so nauseous and sleepless about this whole thing that I felt the need to weigh in as well.


In the history of this country, there has always been one broad and well-lit path for oppressed classes of people to “better themselves” — side with the oppressors against someone else. That is exactly what these images are depicting: women gaining power through helping men against savage, violent brown people.

There ensues a long and emotionally fraught debate about whether to withdraw the offending publication, or boycott it, or reprint the book denuded of its connotations of “white privilege”.

I’m not going to pretend any of this is easy. Of course it’s hard to figure out what to say when you are under attack, when you feel defensive, when you feel like throwing up your hands and saying “Fuck it.”

However, while much of the feminist blogosphere still trembles with shock and umbrage, the greatest expression of feeling is found at Ms Marcotte’s own site, where the suitably chastened host offers an apology.

I can understand why anyone would choose to boycott a book with these images, and I respect that choice. Hopefully, once they are removed, people will reconsider supporting the book if they like the content. I, for one, will be ripping the pages out of my copy but keeping them as a reminder to be alert.

Not to be outdone, hundreds of Pandagon readers begin a chorus of wailing and righteous theorising.

Like I said in the thread at Feministe, that’s not a kitschy and ironic use of racist imagery. If that were actually the point, the purpose of the images, OMG, that would NOT make it okay. The use of images of scary black native men to convey a sense of danger is a blatantly RACIST use of racist imagery, wherein the racist message is the point. Offensive. Very, very offensive.

It isn’t long before a phantom subtext is discovered, and combed over in great detail. 

Although one can still make the argument that using colonialism/expansionism as the underpinning for a metaphor to describe the ‘battles’ of feminism is inherently problematic. But racistly depicted indigenous peoples? This clearly crosses the line. It suggests that what feminists need to conquer is dark people.


I really, really didn’t see the racism ‘til it was pointed out to me. THEN I saw it, oh boy did I see it! And I was so ashamed of my blindness.

And, a personal favourite,

White privilege is deeply rooted. It takes concerted effort to sensitise oneself (if one is white, that is) to recognise it, both in oneself and in the world around one. Hell, my husband and son are Asian, and sometimes I forget they’re not white like me.

If you’ve a stomach for high drama and competitive pseudo-grief, the Pandagon comments may entertain as a kind of identity politics pantomime. There is, I think, something quite compelling about watching people elevate paranoid self-loathing to the level of both piety and art form. A more realistic, and quite funny, discussion can be found at Protein Wisdom.

Update: The sorrow escalates.

Ease your guilt with a donation.


The Thin Man directs us to this item at the Washington Policy Centre, on Earth Day predictions of yore.

Seattle – Another Earth Day is upon us. This is a good time to look back at predictions made on the original Earth Day about environmental disasters that were about to hit the planet. Most Earth Day predictions turned out to be stunningly wrong. In 1970, environmentalists said there would soon be a new ice age and massive deaths from air pollution. The New York Times foresaw the extinction of the human race. Widely-quoted biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted worldwide starvation by 1975. Documented examples are below.

“By 1985... air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the earth by one half.” Life magazine, January 1970

“Civilisation will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” Biologist George Wald, Harvard University, April 19, 1970.

Because of increased dust, cloud cover and water vapour “...the planet will cool, the water vapour will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.” Newsweek, January 26, 1970.

“By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...” Life magazine, January 1970.

Ehrlich also predicted that in 1973, 200,000 Americans would die from air pollution, and that by 1980 the life expectancy of Americans would be 42 years.

Our purpose on Earth Day 2008 is not simply to point out how often environmental activists have been wrong, but to learn from the mistakes made during past Earth Days. Learning from the past will give us a better understanding of our world and the threats that face it. By being sceptical about routine portents of doom, we can stay focused on the real threats that face our planet, and on the reasonable and achievable actions we as a society can take to meet them.

The Thin Man also points out a not entirely unrelated phenomenon, noted by, among others, Richard Tomkins of the Financial Times:

At the time Elvis Presley died in 1977, he had 150 impersonators in the US. Now, according to calculations I spotted in a Sunday newspaper colour supplement recently, there are 85,000. Intriguingly, that means one in every 3,400 Americans is an Elvis impersonator. More disturbingly, if Elvis impersonators continue multiplying at the same rate, they will account for a third of the world’s population by 2019.

Related. And. Also. Plus

A Little Unhinged

Further to Dr Abd al-Baset al-Sayyed’s call for the global adoption of “Mecca Time” - and the shocking discovery that “in Mecca there is no magnetic force” - here’s another nugget. In this clip from Saudi Arabia’s al-Majd TV, first broadcast in January 2005, Dr al-Sayyed shares the extraordinary news that people living in Mecca are “less affected by gravity.” No less remarkable is the claim that NASA discovered “short wave radiation” emanating from Mecca – a discovery hastily concealed from the world at large. However, Dr al-Sayyed is sure this sacred Mecca radiation is “infinite” and extends well past the planet Mars.

Related: The Earth is flat and larger than the Sun, which is also flat. It’s Qur’anic science


For some reason I’m reminded of this.

(h/t, The Thin Man.)

Friday Ephemera

Zombie Strippers. You heard me. // Robotic exoskeletons. // Can Gary Cooper save the town from androids? (h/t, AC1.) // The Jeep Waterfall. // The Slacker. A game-player’s throne. $3000. // The Esse sex chair. Machine washable cover. // More expensive version of same. Comes with Ultrasuede™. // A dictionary of Victorian London. From the perils of onanism to cycling capes and quackery. // A history of recording technology. (h/t, Coudal.) // Cheesy instruments. // China from the air. (h/t, Coudal.) // A slideshow from North Korea. Holidays in hell. // Adopt Mecca time. // Blasphemy and atrocity. // “We have to argue… and we can’t do that by threatening to take people to court, or by killing them.” // Heroin substitute a “human right”. // My Paper Mind. It’s done with layers. // Pedal powered apparatus. // Bugatti Veyron special edition. // Science Machine. // Rainbows. // The smell of space. (h/t, 1+1=3.) // Stuff being shot in slow motion. // Bionic vision. “The camera is very, very small, so it can go inside your eye.” // Mousetrap writ large. // When logos go awry. // And, via The Thin Man, It’s Sly and the Family Stone.

An Unlikely Headline

An obliging reader has steered my attention to this item from Reuters, titled Lynchings in Congo as Penis Theft Panic Hits Capital.

Police in Congo have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men’s penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft. Reports of so-called penis snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, where belief in traditional religions and witchcraft remains widespread, and where ritual killings to obtain blood or body parts still occur. Rumours of penis theft began circulating last week in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo’s sprawling capital of some 8 million inhabitants. They quickly dominated radio call-in shows, with listeners advised to beware of fellow passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings.


Some Kinshasa residents accuse a separatist sect from nearby Bas-Congo province of being behind the witchcraft in revenge for a recent government crackdown on its members.


Busy today, so here are a few short films lifted from the archives. Use them wisely.

Freefall. Joe Kittinger embraces rapid downwardsness.

Lovely Monsters. Flirting squid and other beasts of the sea.

Very Impaired. British troops test LSD, unwittingly, circa 1953.

Lefties. From big idea to burning wreckage.

Craters. Flagstaff, Arizona, gets a radical lunar makeover.

Feel free to browse the greatest hits and generally root and rummage. And making a donation will make you a better person.

What Art Isn’t

Over at Carnal Reason, Pwyll has some rules of art appreciation.

I developed my first rule of art while studying a purported work of art on display at the University of South Florida. The work consisted of a beat to hell La-Z-boy style recliner. It was cloth covered, or once was. The cloth was trashed, at least one spring was sticking out. The thing was probably ugly when new, and time had not been kind to it. It looked like it must smell bad. I examined it closely, searching for some sign of deliberate modification, a hint of an artist’s hand. I saw nothing not attributable to abuse, neglect, or decay.

I was with a young lady who asked me what I thought. I proposed a thought experiment. Imagine someone died and left you an old and neglected property. You find an object in the garage. The question is whether that object is a work of art. If your first impulse is to wonder whether the county land fill will accept the object, then with high probability that object is not art.

My second rule of art was born in an art gallery in NYC. On display was a brand new galvanised steel garbage can. In it was a cinder block. A rope was tied to the block, and to a hook in the wall, in such a way that the garbage can stayed tilted, but did not fall over. My second rule of art: anything I can reproduce in under fifteen minutes with materials available at a hardware store is not art.

I will not recount the disgusting details of the Aliza Shvarts episode at Yale. If you have not heard about it, you can get the details straight from the source. Ms Shvarts has inspired my latest rule of art: anything which appears to be hazardous medical waste, or the product of a sewage system malfunction, is not art.

The mention of sewage naturally brings to mind the towering works of Wim Delvoye and Michelle Hines, whose names may not be familiar to newcomers. Delvoye is perhaps best known for his x-rays of blowjobs and for creating Cloaca, a machine that generates artificial shit, and which the artist describes as “a highly pungent comment on the folly of human achievement.” Ms Hines is remembered, no doubt fondly, for her apparent hands-on production of a single, continuous turd measuring some 26 feet in length. Readers with a sturdy constitution can click here to see Ms Hines in action, as it were.

Never let it be said this site neglects the finer things.


In the comments, Georges offers the following:

There are two different qualities: impact and resonance. Impact is about grabbing the audience’s attention by any means necessary. Resonance is about leaving something lingering in their consciousness afterwards.

Exactly. There’s a difference between shock and awe. And between wonderment and tedious disgust. Righteous deconstruction and ludicrous parroted theory are poor substitutes for being captivated by beauty. Another guide to art appreciation might be to ask the question: Does this object make me wish I could make something beautiful? Or: Does the world of possibility feel bigger as a result, or has it actually shrunk?

Theory is cheap, in every sense, and easy to reproduce. Talent is not.