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February 2009
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March 2009

Ow, My Vanity

Ophelia Benson recently aired some thoughts on the sly redefinition of “defamation” – a term now being used by those whose vanity is such they presume to take umbrage at things that are unflattering but true. I’ve touched on this subject before and noted how the language of religious supremacism is routinely couched in the rhetoric of personal injury. As when the preposterous Islamophile Yvonne Ridley declared: “My faith is my nationality and when you attack it you are being racist.”

Yvonne_Ridley3Presumably, Ms Ridley would have us believe that it is simply wrong to dislike Islam, or any part thereof. There are, apparently, no good reasons for doing so. But this opportunist victimhood is hardly flattering or deserving of sympathy. The spread of pretentious grievance does harm to liberal culture. Those who can claim to belong to some Designated Victim Group can use political leverage to silence their critics by depicting them as oppressors who, in the interests of “fairness,” must be silenced by the state. As when the pious souls at Cambridge Mosque conjured “hate speech” and “incitement to religious and ethnic hatred” from an innocuous student cartoon, with the result that those responsible found themselves interrogated by Cambridgeshire police. But what is unfair – really unfair - is the demand for unearned deference and unilateral exemption from the testing of ideas. Those who regard hurt feelings, or claims thereof, as denoting virtue by default may see a weaker party facing unfair attack and rush to their defence. In practice, they may simply be excusing the party with the weaker argument. Political deference to such demands leads to dishonesty and unrealism on a sociological scale. In the interests of “fairness,” so conceived, judgment must be blunted. As I said in one of my very first posts,

Religious “freedom” is now presumed to entail sparing believers any hint that others do not share their beliefs, and indeed may find them ludicrous. There is, apparently, no corresponding obligation for believers to embrace ideas that are not clearly risible, monstrous or disgusting.

R Joseph Hoffmann adds some thoughts of his own and ponders the conceit that religion – and one in particular – now has “human rights” too.:

According to Pakistan’s ambassador, Zamir Akram, “Defamation of religions is the cause that leads to incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence toward their followers.” That is stuff and nonsense of course. It is like saying that impugning General Motors workmanship is the cause of a car wreck. If religions, by a stretch, are products of culture, then the fact that they are sometimes “defamed” (read: criticised) might just have something to do with quality control and less to do with the insidious intentions of their detractors. To resituate the causes of religious violence and hatred from its source to the “defamers” is a standard tactic redolent of the Victim’s Handbook available at your local Discourse and Broomsticks Bookstore.

Related: Jeff Goldstein ponders advice to mind one’s language in certain company.

President Erect

Via Stephen Hicks comes another staggering artistic triumph. In the cryptically titled Join or Die, San Francisco-based artist Justine Lai depicts herself getting busy with America’s deceased presidents. The results suggest a collision of 1970s porn magazines and painting by numbers. As the series of 18 x 24” canvases is being produced in chronological order, these necrophilic entanglements currently extend only to Ulysses S Grant and his hitherto unrecorded spanking fetish. Sadly, those of you aroused by the prospect of seeing, say, George W Bush getting it on with Ms Lai – with all the profundity that entails - may have to wait a while.

Lincolnbj President1 President2 USGrant   

There is, given the subject matter, the usual mouthing of bollocks:

I am interested in humanizing and demythologizing the Presidents by addressing their public legacies and private lives. The presidency itself is a seemingly immortal and impenetrable institution; by inserting myself in its timeline, I attempt to locate something intimate and mortal. I use this intimacy to subvert authority, but it demands that I make myself vulnerable along with the Presidents. A power lies in rendering these patriarchal figures the possible object of shame, ridicule and desire, but it is a power that is constantly negotiated... I approach the spectacle of sex and politics with a certain playfulness… One could also imagine a series preoccupied with wearing its “Fuck the Man” symbolism on its sleeve. But I wish to move beyond these things and make something playful and tender and maybe a little ambiguous, but exuberantly so. This, I feel, is the most humanizing act I can do.

Somehow, I remain unconvinced that painting long-dead American presidents doing the nasty with a young woman is “subverting authority” in any meaningful sense. Nor am I persuaded that Ms Lai has “moved beyond” the “Fuck the Man” symbolism that evidently preoccupies her. Though one might note her eagerness to “insert herself” into the project - which raises the question of whether Ms Lai’s ego has merely led her to seek out celebrity by bedding powerful men, albeit figuratively. Readers will no doubt decide for themselves whether Ms Lai’s handiwork is “playful,” “tender,” “exuberant” and “humanising.” Though in fairness she has set up any number of dubious quips about “vice presidents,” “sexual congress” and “secretaries of the interior.” 

See also: A Mighty Intervention.

Friday Ephemera

Egg zeppelin. // How to destroy a Creme Egg. // Putrefaction diet promotes “emotional wellbeing.” (h/t, Freeborn John) // Definition of dumbass. // Death by bacon. // Beer cans. // Rainbow roses. // Maureen and Noreene. // Why chillies are hot. // Spider-Man brings orange juice just in the nick of time. (h/t, Dr Westerhaus) // The perils of brain surgery. // Supermarkets of yore. (h/t, Coudal) // “Thought to have merit.” // Artists and capitalism. // I fear we missed International Talk Like William Shatner Day. // “The doula said my clitoris was pulsating.” // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Jeff Beal.


Via Critical Mass, here’s a short follow-up film on the indoctrination efforts of Delaware University’s ResLife programme - described by its proponents as a “treatment” - in which students were told, The term [racist] applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.” The film, embedded here in two parts, is aimed primarily at trustees and alumni, but it deserves wider attention.

Part 1: Wait for the marshmallow “oppression” story around 2:05.

Continue reading "Treatment " »

Mixtape (5)

Another batch of ditties from the ephemera archives.

BB Davis & the Red Orchidstra: Get Carter. (2007)

Elmer Bernstein & Jimmy Smith: The Carpetbaggers. (1964)

St Germain: Rose Rouge. (2000) 

Pal Joey: Party Time. (1991)

Edmundo Ros and his Rumba Band: The Coffee Song. (1947)

Valaida Snow: (You Bring Out) the Savage in Me. (1935)

Louis Prima: I Wan’na Be Like You. (1967)

John Barry: From Russia with Love. (1963)

Bernard Herrmann: The Day the Earth Stood Still. (1951)

John Williams: Luthor’s Luau. (1978)

Feel free to add your own. Previous mixtapes hereherehere and here.

Postmodernism Unpeeled

A discussion with Stephen Hicks.

“In politicized forms, then, postmodernists will behave like the stereotypical unscrupulous lawyer trying to win the case: truth and justice aren’t the point; instead using any rhetorical tool or trick that works is the point. Sometimes contradictory lines of argument work. Sometimes your audience’s desire to belong to the in-group can be played upon. Sometimes appearing absolutely authoritative works to camouflage a weak case. Sometimes condescension works.”

Stephen_HicksDr Stephen Hicks is Professor of Philosophy and Executive Director of the Centre for Ethics and Entrepreneurship at Rockford College, Illinois. He is co-editor with David Kelley of Readings for Logical Analysis (W. W. Norton, 1998), and has published in academic journals as well as The Wall Street Journal, The Baltimore Sun, and Reader's Digest. His book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault was published in 2004 by Scholargy Publishing and is now in its eighth printing. He is the author and narrator of a DVD documentary entitled Nietzsche and the Nazis, which was published in 2006 by Ockham’s Razor Publishing. 

DT: In an exchange with Ophelia Benson, I mentioned Explaining Postmodernism and suggested one of the book’s main themes is that postmodernism marks a crisis of faith and a retreat from reality among the academic left. Is that a fair, if crude, summary?

SH: It is striking that the major postmodernists - Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, Richard Rorty - are of the far left politically. And it is striking that all four are Philosophy Ph.D.s who reached deeply skeptical conclusions about our ability to come to know reality. So one of my four theses about postmodernism is that it develops from a double crisis - a crisis within philosophy about knowledge and a crisis within left politics about socialism.

Continue reading "Postmodernism Unpeeled" »

Friday Ephemera

Return of the Post-It notes. // Tactile illusions. // Magnetic cows. // The healing power of spider bites. // How South Park is made. // Battlefield lasers. // Radioactive scrap yard. (h/t, Mick) // Stockholm public library. (h/t, Growabrain) // The EU language police. // Evan Sayet generalises wildly, but he’s not without a point. // What are your political coordinates? (h/t, HP) // Victimology and pies. // Early medical paraphernalia. // “The finger is not permanently attached to his hand, so it can be easily left plugged into a computer.” (h/t, EQ-aliser) // The hammock you’ve always wanted. // Pizza vending machines. // The polygraph museum. (h/t, Things) // Browser ball. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Luthor’s Luau.

Political Muscle

For all its faults, the Guardian can be counted on to steer one’s mind to subjects whose political import had previously been overlooked. It’s difficult to forget Adharanand Finn mulling the politics of showering, or Cath Elliott’s timely ruminations on KitKat bars and peanut butter residue. Today, Tracy Quan ponders the socio-political significance of Michelle Obama’s upper arms, while posing that thorniest of questions: Are Biceps the New Breasts?

Like the J Crew outfits women are buying en masse, the first lady’s biceps are quickly becoming the next must have on our list. Women at every stage of life are finding ways to emulate Michelle, wanting to bond with her physically, whether through exercise or the display of flesh. I just can’t imagine feeling this way about Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton, can you? Neither seemed to be physically in love with herself the way Michelle is. No wonder her body lends itself so nicely to political myth.

Shamefully, I hadn’t hitherto considered Mrs Obama’s upper arms, or those of ladies generally, as the stuff of “political myth.” I shall, of course, try harder to register these things. I’ll also try to fathom the correct political response to Ms Quan’s belief that,

Those of us who regard our breasts as a private treat are always in need of alternative cleavage.

Amidst this celebration of the First Lady’s forelimbs, readers are warned,

We should avoid treating the female biceps as a visual trophy. Whether we oppose or welcome its display, it’s a mistake to get too fixated on a particular muscle.


Getting your arms to such an exalted place involves the use of many different muscles. Indeed, Michelle shouldn’t be known for “one body part” but rather for the way she uses her lats, traps, rhoms and delts – muscles in the back and shoulder – to get there… The bicep is a showy muscle, ripe for comic symbolism. Think of Popeye.

Actually, Popeye isn’t memorable for his biceps, which are rarely seen and are generally depicted as somewhat puny. Ms Quan is perhaps thinking of Popeye’s distinctive facial deformity, or more probably his forearms, the alarming proportions of which suggest a need for immediate medical attention.

I’d be more impressed if the symbol of our strength were the first lady’s less-talked-about triceps. This is the harder muscle to train, and a real challenge for most women. Also, the state of your triceps is what really determines whether you should go sleeveless in the first place. Michelle’s are unimpeachable.


Ms Quan has been hailed as “the only chick-lit writer to discuss indentured labour... and the proper purse in which to carry a dildo.”