Do you write? Are you looking for a free ride? Do you like Amtrak, or can you at least avoid disparaging it? If so, it wants to hear from you:
Amtrak is excited to announce the official launch of the #AmtrakResidency program.
#AmtrakResidency was designed to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel and writing to work on their craft in an inspiring environment. Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.
Amtrak is one of those worst of both worlds public/private hybrids. Instead of using the power of privatization to improve services previously offered by government (what happens in successful public private partnerships), Amtrak is a “for-profit” corporation that doesn’t actually turn a profit because it gets annual funding from the federal government and various state governments who have stepped in any time the feds have tried to trim funding.
March 10, 2014
To the barricades, comrades! We must save the artists from the pitiless destruction of the inevitable UKIP government repression:
A vision of life under The Ukip’s steel-capped Hush Puppies
How will the artist fare when The Ukip take over? The messages from HQ are far from clear
The inevitable victory of the Scottish independence campaign and the subsequent collapse of the Labour vote in the sorry remnants of the UK will see the next election won by a coalition of The Ukip and The Conservative party. Then the Bullingdon boys’ lack of appeal to the common man will eventually leave the country entirely crushed by The Ukip’s steel-capped Hush Puppy, as a pipe and cardigan version of The Golden Dawn gradually reshapes society in its own image, smothering dissent under an enormous tartan travel rug of hate.
But whether one is a supporter of The Ukip’s position on immigration or not, at least it is easy to grasp. The Ukip dislikes immigration even more than it loves smoking in pubs. But I was born here so I’m all right. What concerns me, as a professional creative, is the apparent incoherence of the anti-immigration party’s arts policy, as this will have a direct effect on my own quality of life, financial future and access to touring theatre productions should I chose to leave London and live in a region.
H/T to Perry de Havilland for the link.
March 9, 2014
A couple of days back, I linked to a Salon article where an Arab woman was expressing her anguish and hurt that non-Arabs were appropriating belly dancing and how this was something she just couldn’t stand to see. Eugene Volokh responds in the Washington Post, asking “What would Salon think of an article called, ‘Why I can’t stand Asian musicians who play Beethoven’?”:
Appropriation — the horror! People treating artistic genres as if they were great ideas that are part of the common stock of humanity, available for all humanity to use, rather than the exclusive property of some particular race or ethnic group. What atrocity will the culturally insensitive appropriators think of next? East Asian cellists? Swedish chess players? The Japanese putting on Shakespeare? Jews playing Christians’ Christian music, such as Mozart’s masses? Arriviste Jewish physicists using work done for centuries by Christians? Russian Jews writing about Anglo-American law? Indians writing computer programs, using languages and concepts pioneered by Americans and Europeans? Japanese companies selling the most delicious custard cream puffs? Shame, shame, shame.
But, wait: Maybe — and I know this is a radical thought — artists, whether high or low, should be able to work in whatever artistic fields they want to work in. Maybe they should even be able to work in those fields regardless of their skin color or the place from which their ancestors came.
Maybe telling people that they can’t work in some field because they have the wrong color or ancestry would be … rats, I don’t know what to call it. If only there were an adjective that could be used to mean “telling people that they mustn’t do something, because of their race or ethnic origin.”
The saddest thing that I have ever heard in the concert hall is Herbert K. Hadley’s overture, “In Bohemia.” The title is a magnificent piece of profound, if unconscious irony. One looks, at least, for a leg flung in the air, a girl kissed, a cork popped, a flash of drawer-ruffles. What one encounters is a meeting of the Lake Mohonk Conference. Such prosy correctness and hollowness, in music, is almost inconceivable. It is as if the most voluptuous of the arts were suddenly converted into an abstract and austere science, like comparative grammar or astro-physics. Who’s Who in America says that Hadley was born in Somerville, Mass., and “studied violin and other branches in Vienna.” A prodigy thus unfolds itself: here is a man who lived in Vienna, and yet never heard a Strauss waltz! This, indeed, is an even greater feat than being born an artist in Somerville.
H.L. Mencken, “The Allied Arts: The Puritan as Artist”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.
March 7, 2014
That vast invisible knapsack of white privilege is even deeper and more capacious than we thought: Randa Jarrar writes that the sight of white belly dancers is something she cannot stand:
Google the term “belly dance” and the first images the search engine offers are of white women in flowing, diaphanous skirts, playing at brownness. How did this become acceptable?
The term “belly dance” itself is a Western one. In Arabic, this kind of dance is called Raqs Sharqi, or Eastern dance. Belly dance, as it is known and practiced in the West, has its roots in, and a long history of, white appropriation of Eastern dance. As early as the 1890s in the U.S., white “side-show sheikhs” managed dance troupes of white women, who performed belly dance at world’s fairs (fun trivia: Mark Twain made a short film of a belly dancer at the 1893 fair). Many white women who presently practice belly dance are continuing this century-old tradition of appropriation, whether they are willing to view their practice this way or not.
“It’s Arab face,” my friend Nadine once said, pointing at an invitation from a white acquaintance of hers. The invitation was printed on card stock and featured the woman and a dozen of her white friends dressed in Orientalist garb with eye makeup caked on for full kohl effect and glittery accessories. We wanted to call these women up and say, “How is this OK? Would you wear a dashiki and rock waspafarian dreads and take up African dance publicly? Wait,” we’d probably say, “don’t answer that.”
The most disturbing thing is when these women take up Arabic performance names — Suzy McCue becomes Samirah Layali. This name and others like it make no sense in Arabic. This, in my estimation, completes the brownface Orientalist façade. A name. A crowning. A final consecration of all the wrongs that lead up to the naming.
Women I have confronted about this have said, “But I have been dancing for 15 years! This is something I have built a huge community on.” These women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.
H/T to Steve Muhlberger, who wondered “what kind of purity test will would-be dancers have to pass?”
After an embarrassing leak, Prime Minister Erdogan has threatened to ban the services that carried the leaked voice recordings:
Turkey’s prime minister has threatened drastic steps to censor the Internet, including shutting down Facebook and YouTube, where audio recordings of his alleged conversations suggesting corruption have been leaked in the past weeks, dealing him a major blow ahead of this month’s local elections.
In a late-night interview Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan told ATV station that his government is determined to stem the leaks he insists are being instigated by followers of an influential U.S.-based Muslim cleric. He has accused supporters of Fethullah Gulen of infiltrating police and the judiciary and of engaging in “espionage,” saying that the group even listened in on his encrypted telephone lines. The Gulen movement denies involvement.
“We are determined on the issue, regardless of what the world may say,” Erdogan said. “We won’t allow the people to be devoured by YouTube, Facebook or others. Whatever steps need to be taken we will take them without wavering.”
Self-described Bitcoin detractor Colby Cosh explains how “Newsweek” got conned by “Satoshi Nakamoto” (yes, both sets of scare quotes are ‘splained):
Newsweek’s Satoshi is a 64-year-old Japanese-American living in Temple City, California. “Satoshi Nakamoto” is the name on his birth certificate, although he goes by Dorian. Mr. Nakamoto has a physics degree and has done computer engineering for a number of military-industrial firms, as well as one online stock-price provider. Much of his work history is shrouded in official secrecy, or perhaps just the habitual truculence of defence-tech professionals. He is known to have a libertarian streak, has had some run-ins with the financial system, and is thought by friends and relatives to capable of cooking up something like Bitcoin.
But it is now looking as though he had the square root of bugger-all to do with it. Newsweek concluded its investigation of Dorian S. Nakamoto with a police-supervised doorstep interview in which the gentleman is supposed to have said “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it. It’s been turned over to other people.” Dorian has now told the Associated Press that when he said “no longer,” two words on which Newsweek hung an entire feature, he was referring to the engineering profession generally. He denied being involved in any way with what he repeatedly called “Bitcom,” explained the work he had briefly done for a financial-information company, and read the Newsweek piece to himself, displaying increasing confusion and annoyance as he did so.
I have to say, having read New Newsweek’s article, that it does appear to rest on a fairly slender foundation. Aside from that “no longer,” the evidence that Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto equals “Satoshi Nakamoto” amounts to the obvious coincidence of names and a bunch of quotes from the man’s semi-estranged family. Unfortunately, neither “Satoshi” nor “Nakamoto” are uncommon names for individuals of Japanese ancestry; the article acknowledges that there are several more just in the United States. The Bitcoin-inventing “Satoshi” clearly does not much want to be found; the name is obviously a pseudonym, has always been taken to be one until now, and was probably chosen precisely for its red-herring flavour.
Okay, so Satoshi Nakamoto is probably not “Satoshi Nakamoto”, but why is Newsweek actually “Newsweek” in scare quotes?
A lot of people are asking how something like this could happen to Newsweek, not realizing that the Newsweek nameplate has basically been asset-stripped and repurposed in order that the remaining credibility and familiarity might be squeezed out of it. (This will happen to Maclean’s someday — two years from now, or 200. I’m hoping it’s 200.) No one expected this cred-squeezing process to happen quite so quickly and powerfully, but IBT Media, buyer of Newsweek, seems to have blundered into a singular piece of ill luck: the wrong reporter matched at the wrong time with the wrong story, one in which an informed intuition about any number of subjects might have saved the day.
March 6, 2014
March 4, 2014
In the New York Post, Kyle Smith discusses the comedians of the 1970s and their modern day successors:
As Chevy Chase might have put it on Saturday Night Live, Harold Ramis is still dead. And with him has gone the finest era of comedy: The ’70s kind.
Ramis was as close to the king of comedy as it gets, as a writer, director and occasional sidekick for Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Back to School, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Groundhog Day.
Taking off with the movie M*A*S*H in 1970 — a huge hit that grossed $450 million in today’s dollars — and its spinoff sitcom, ’70s comedy ruled from an anti-throne of contempt for authority in all shapes. College deans, student body presidents, Army sergeants and officers, country-club swells, snooty professors and the EPA: Anyone who made it his life’s work to lord it over others got taken down with wit.
When the smoke bombs cleared and the anarchy died, comedy turned inward and became domesticated. It also became smaller.
The Cosby Show and Jerry Seinfeld didn’t seek to ridicule those in power. Instead they gave us comfy couch comedy — riffs on family and etiquette and people’s odd little habits.
Now, in the Judd Apatow era, comedy is increasingly marked by two worrying trends: One is a knee-jerk belief, held even by many of the most brilliant comedy writers, that coming up with the biggest, most outlandish gross-out gags is their highest calling.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
February 27, 2014
In The Atlantic, Claire Dederer writes about the problems women have in writing about sex. Remember the old saw about men not understanding women? (Hint: they don’t.) Dederer admits that women also don’t understand women, at least when it comes to sex.
By now, of course, it’s difficult to think of female desire as in any way hidden. The cultural speculum has been firmly inserted for a good look around. Women have long since learned all about how our tucked-away stuff works, with pioneers of second-wave feminism as our guides: Our Bodies, Ourselves was practically standard-issue along with the dorm-room furniture when I arrived at my very liberal college in 1985. Meanwhile, female lust has been thoroughly documented (or at any rate, endlessly and theatrically depicted) by the adult-film industry. How would porn get along without horny females? Science, too, has lately been busy substantiating the existence of girl lust. In his recent tour of burgeoning research into female desire, What Do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner reports a current verdict: women are at least as libidinous as men.
There it is. We can finally all agree that women want to have sex. Variously portrayed in the past as tamers of men and tenders of children, we’re now deemed well endowed with horniness. But does that mean we experience desire in the same way that men do? My lust tells me we don’t. Mine, I confess, isn’t blind or monumental or animal. It comes with an endless internal monologue — or maybe dialogue, or maybe babel. My desire is always guessing, often second-guessing. Female lust is a powerful force, but it surges in the form of an interrogation, rather than a statement. Not I want this but Do I want this? What exactly do I want? How about now? And now?
At least that’s how it’s always been for me, and I experienced a sense of relief and recognition while reading a recent crop of memoirs whose authors go to great lengths to get at this double- and triple-think thrumming in female desire — only to discover, as I have, just how hard the quest is.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
February 26, 2014
The legal recognition [in passports and other legal documents] of intersex people and others who cannot properly be said to be either male or female is probably a good idea, but this should not impact upon the vast majority of people who have no problem living in a binary-gendered world or using binary-gendered language.
History is replete with failed attempts to re-invent or modify language, from Esperanto to the feminist PC language of the Eighties. But this campaign to institute a third sex in language and law may well prove to be the most unstable project yet. The ever-changing and ever-expanding taxonomy of words and identities aimed at respecting difference among transsexuals, always seems to cause undue offence among transsexuals themselves. To use the word transsexual, for instance, as a noun (rather than as an adjective) is said, by some, to diminish a person’s identity down to a single trait. The very term transsexual has been replaced, first by transgendered (to assert that fact that it is about gender not sexuality) and now by Trans*. The capital ‘T’ is obligatory and the asterisk is meant to represent inclusivity. Apparently, to simply call someone ‘Trans’ implicitly denigrates the experiences of cross-dressers and gender-queer folk who are not intent upon making a full transition from one gender to the other.
Amid all the offence being taken over these linguistic acrobatics, the one thing trans campaigners, and now Facebook, fail to realise is that language does not respond well to being artificially manipulated. As Wittgenstein once remarked, language is like a toolbox, you use the best tool available for the job in hand. With general use, over time, words and their meanings change to reflect changing forms of social consciousness. It is not the other way around. Any attempt to force language to respond to the presumed delicate sensitivities of marginal groups not only underlines and reifies these presumed vulnerabilities, it also undermines the responsiveness of language to real experience.
As a youngster, Robert Tracinski was a huge fan of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos TV series. It was a formative experience for him, yet he found that Sagan’s concerns about global warming were not convincing … because those warnings were actually antithetical to his larger message:
It might seem strange to say it, but I am a global warming skeptic because of Carl Sagan.
This might seem strange because Sagan was an early promoter of the theory that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide are going to fry the globe. But it’s not so strange when you consider the larger message that made Sagan famous.
As with many people my age, Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos, which aired on public television when I was eleven years old, was my introduction to science, and it changed my life. Cosmos shared the latest developments in the sciences of evolution, astronomy, and astrophysics, but its real heart was Sagan’s overview of the history of science and the distinctive ethos behind the scientific method. Sagan returned again and again to one central theme: that the first rule of science is to follow the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of one’s wishes or preconceptions. He spoke eloquently about the Ancient Greek Pythagoreans and their attempt to suppress the facts about “irrational numbers” that didn’t fit their theory. And he spoke admiringly about the 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler, who started out pursuing a theory in which the planets move in circular orbits reflecting the ratios of the perfect Pythagorean solids — and ended up being driven by the evidence to reject this theory and discover completely new laws of planetary motion.
I didn’t end up becoming a scientist, but I absorbed Sagan’s basic lesson and have tried my best to adhere to it in my own field: follow the evidence wherever it leads.
But this can be a difficult rule to follow. It is easy to spot the unexamined assumptions of others, but harder to root out your own prejudices. A few years ago, while watching Cosmos again for the first time in 25 years, I was reminded that Sagan did not always practice what he preached, and his error sheds light on the global warming theory’s original sin against science. It is a sin that has only gotten worse and which explains the scandalous state of today’s debate over global warming.
This is a bit of a cultural time capsule, preserving the precise moment at which scientific alarmists were switching from warning about a new ice age, in the 1970s, to warning about runaway warming.
February 25, 2014
Brendan O’Neill isn’t comfortable with the widespread media descriptions of Ukraine’s change of government and calls it regime change instead:
Even in this era of rampant political spin and platitudes, where George Orwell’s claim that political language is used and abused to ‘make lies sound truthful and murder respectable’ has never been truer, the commentary on Ukraine stands out for its dishonesty. Western observers tell us there has been a revolution in that benighted nation. They claim revolutionaries have overthrown a dictator. They say the people of Ukraine have risen up and deposed their despot, and are now ‘experiencing the intense emotions expressed so eloquently by Thomas Paine in 1776 [in his writings on the American War of Independence]’. It is hard to remember the last time political language was so thoroughly used to obfuscate reality, to impose inappropriate historical narratives on to a messy modern-day event. For what we have in Ukraine is not revolution, but regime change, set in motion far more by the machinations of Western politicians than by the stone-throwing of Ukrainians.
Orwell was right – too much political writing is less about clarifying real-world events than it is a collection of pre-existing phrases ‘tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse’. So it has been in relation to Ukraine, where the words selected by Western observers tell us more about them and their prejudices than they do about events in Kiev. So the word ‘meddling’ is used to describe Vladimir Putin’s interventions in Ukraine, but never to describe Angela Merkel’s or John Kerry’s cultivation of the oppositional forces – that is ‘mediation’. Ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich is now widely referred to as a ‘dictator’, confirming how exhausted and meaningless that word has become through overuse: unlike serious dictators like Gaddafi or Assad, Yanukovich won a free and fair election, in March 2010. As for the word ‘revolution’ – that has been knackered by misuse for decades, but its deployment in Ukraine takes its bastardisation to a new low: there has of course been no replacement of one social order by another in Ukraine, or even the instalment of a people’s government; instead various long-established parties in parliament, some of which are deeply unpopular among certain constituencies in Ukraine, are forming an interim government. Revolutionary? Hardly.
The Western debate and coverage of Ukraine has cast a massive political fog over events there. It may not have quite made ‘murder seem respectable’, but it has certainly made externally generated regime change seem revolutionary, and the Western-assisted anti-democratic removal of an elected leader seem like an act of people’s democracy. It has exposed a severe dearth of independent critical thinking among the Western commentariat. Even those on the right who are normally passionately anti-EU are now lining up like lemmings behind Brussels’ dishonest moral narrative about being a mere observer to a glorious revolution in the East. And even those on the left who condemned regime change in Iraq or Libya are buying the idea that Ukraine has undergone a revolution of Paineite proportions, with the Observer giddily declaring that Ukraine is currently experiencing ‘an intoxicating sense of liberation from an old guard’. Across the political spectrum, narratives about Ukraine that don’t add up, and which are being promoted by people normally seen as untrustworthy, are being accepted as good coin – among both a right excited by the prospect of a return of the neat Cold War-era divide between good West and bad East, and a left so desperate for evidence of revolutionary behaviour in the twenty-first century that it will lap up even staid, grey, distinctly unrevolutionary Brussels’ claims about a revolution being afoot in Ukraine.
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