Talkin’ at the Texaco

9 12 2012

Quick (and not-so) hits:

I keep a list of books to find in the empty back pages of a 2009 pocket planner. The books aren’t listed in any particular order: I see a reference to (or given, perhaps by dmf) a possibility, and I scrawl it down. Since I do so much poking around The Strand, I look them up, find out where they’re located (Med Hist, Hist Gen, Amer, Pol, etc), and pen that in, boxing the location in different colors, to make it easier to see.

The fiction, however, I keep on separate pages. I go back and forth on fiction: sometime scooping up bunches, other times neglecting these books entirely.

I’m not quite sure why, but in the last few days it became very important to me to track down and list fiction.

There was, in particular, one book I wanted. I must have written it down, hadn’t I? No. In my 2012 Moleskine pocket planner? I found a number of others (The Age of Miracles, Brookland, Zone One, Forever) scrawled opposite a week in October, but not the one tickling me behind my ear.

It came out this past year, I thought. A story in which Saudi Arabia is the superpower, the US a backwater, Osama sulking in the background—something like that. The Stranger had written about it in the Slog awhile ago and, I thought, in the past few weeks, so I went to their Books section and clicked back into their archives. December, November, October. . . nothing.

Dammit.

What was the author’s name? Salim Ahmed? Salem Ahmad? Something like that. A search on Amazon brings me a number of nonfiction books, nothing close. To the Strand’s site, thinking it might be listed. . . somewhere. Found one that seemed interesting (Alif the Unseen), but not the tickler. Barnes & Noble—nothing.

Fuckit.

Back to the Stranger, back to Books, and a scroll back and back and back through the archives. I thought it might have been reviewed January, February, so set myself in, Trickster in my lap, for a slog, clicking on squinched entries to see if the book hid there, moving on, moving back.

K. Silem Mohammed! Was that it? It’s not that far (is it?) from Salim Ahmad?

No, Mohammed is a poet, not a novelist.

Back, back. Fran Lebowitz; Jan Berenstein, “Really Good Books About Lesbians”; Reverend America; David Foster Wallace; Katherine Boo; and. . . page 9, February 9, “The Reverse Jihad”: the book review of Mark Ruff’s The Mirage.

Mark Ruff?! Mark, not Salim? Ruff, not Ahmed?

Damn.

But I got it.

~~~~~

While scrolling back, I found this entry by Paul Constant, dated August 3, 2012, in which he writes

I know a lot of authors who get outraged over the consumer’s belief that they can decide what they pay for the piece of art that the author spent months—probably years—creating. They call it entitlement. (It’s not like the work is completely unavailable; Pogue could have bought a paperback for less than he spent for a pirated copy.) Many consumers believe that they should be able to access the work in whatever format they choose, and they believe that when they buy the work, they should be able to do whatever they want with it. (They accuse author’s estates and publishers of being greedy and out-of-touch.) I know the law says that there’s a right and a wrong here, but I also believe the law is hopelessly outdated when it comes to issues like this. I honestly don’t know what side I’m on, here.

I tend toward sympathy toward the authors (duh), but Constant pretty well sums up my own ambivalence.

~~~~~

I must have the only cat in the world who is afraid of cat beds.

*Jasper*

~~~~~

I’ve bitched about Rod Dreher before, will bitch about him again, and am bitching about him today.

Long ago (and far away) I read First Things, Christianity Today, and National Review Online with some regularity, partly to keep my secular-leftist self honest, partly to keep tabs. I fell out with both FT and NRO as they became less and less thoughtful, although I do read CT at least weekly, and have since added Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrock at Marginal Revolution to my teeth-grinding reading.

Still, I felt the need to keep up with some kind of thoughtful social conservative, and since I’d been reading Dreher from back in his BeliefNet days, I re-upped with him once he returned to blogging, this time at The American Conservative.

Dreher is thoughtful about a third of the time, and mildly-to-quite interesting about another third; that final third, however, is enough to make me reconsider reading him.

He writes well about himself and his own struggles, his family, and what he’s drawn to, but when writing “from the outside” of a phenomenon, he’s terrible: small-minded, close-minded, and mean. When he’s called out on his cruelty his defensiveness rises into bile, or when corrected on a crucial point or reminded of a double-standard, he’ll either double-down or ignore the commenter. When all else fails, he’ll bring out the sneering “you’re-making-too-much-of-this/can’t-you-people-take-a-joke” response.

All are on display in this post, ‘Buckwild’ and Self-Exploitation. The post for the most part is fine, but when he gets to the end, he pulls a classic Dreher move:

Nevertheless, to what extent does the framing of films like this, and the informed consent of its participants, ameliorate one’s moral squeamishness? Jersey Shore was about the sexy trashiness of working-class Italian-Americans from New Jersey. Buckwild is about the sexy trashiness of working-class Scots-Irish Americans from Appalachia. How would you feel if the next installment were about the sexy trashiness of working-class African-Americans from the south side of Chicago, or the sexy trashiness of working-class Hispanic-Americans from El Paso?

That last question is in and of itself is worth asking, but it’s a problem coming from Dreher because he loses his mind when he talks about race.

I don’t think Dreher hates black or brown people, and I have no reason to believe that he would be anything other than gracious to any black or brown person introduced to him. In short, I wouldn’t call him a racist.

And yet. And yet he has a hard time seeing that black people are a plural, not a singular, and he cannot seem to extend any sort of sympathy to those who would argue that racism is still a problem in this country, especially not to those who write from their own experiences.

Unless, of course, you’d count Steve Sailer. Sigh.

Anyway, read the comments, especially his response to those who bring up The Dukes of Hazzard and their car, the stars-and-bars sportin’, Dixie-horn-blarin’, General Lee, and the, um, particular cultural politics of that show.

Dreher’s not having it, not one bit of it.

Now, as I was re-reading the entry and the comments while writing this, I thought, this is hardly the worst of what he’s written—see George Zimmerman’s Bloody Nose, for example, in which his last line is Remind me, why, exactly, is George Zimmerman on trial?—but perhaps this is one of those cases where the more I read Rod on race, the less credit I’m willing to give him.

He used to go on rampages about those horrid gay activists with some regularity, but now, for the most part, he manages to confine himself to saving religion from queer marriage. He’s terrible when it comes to liberal Catholics, especially liberal nuns, and is a damned bully when it comes to trans folk (one faithful trans reader, also from his BeliefNet days, finally had enough and bowed out).

I guess this is all so enraging precisely because he has shown himself to be capable of reflection and reconsideration of what matters to him; that he is is not when it comes to that which matters to others betrays a deliberate meanness.

Perhaps that’s too harsh, perhaps there are simply limits to his reflectiveness, limits which he himself cannot recognize.

Given that I almost certainly have those same limits, albeit in different places, perhaps I have a third reason for reading him that I can add to the two above: as a reminder of the existence of my own blind spots, and that I need to look for what I cannot see.

~~~~~

End of the semester—naught but grading ahead.

Blogging will be more erratic than usual.

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One day it’s fine, the next it’s black

5 03 2012

Buncha thoughts, none of which currently coheres into an argument or essay:

Why should I have to pay for a woman to fuck without consequences?

An attack on women’s sexuality—yeah, yeah, nothing new—but the logic behind this bares not just hostility to women claiming their full humanity, but to insurance itself.

Why pay for contraception is a question that could be asked of any medical intervention. Why pay for Viagra is the obvious follow-up, but the underlying sentiment is why should I pay anything else for anyone for any reason?

Actually, that’s not just an attack on insurance, but on politics itself.

~~~

When to stay and when to go?

This is an ongoing conflict between my civic republican and anarchist sides: When should one fight to stay within any particular system, and when should one say I’m out?

One part of me wants the full range of women’s health services wholly ensconced in medical education and practice, an integral part of the medical establishment, and another part of me says Enough! We’ll do it ourselves!

I’ve mentioned that when I was in high school I helped to start an independent newspaper. We wanted to be in charge of what was covered and what was said, and decided that the only way to assert that control was to strike out on our own.

Given our options, given our willingness and our ability to do the work, and given what we wanted to accomplish, it was the right choice.

I’m not so sure that peeling ourselves off of the medical establishment would be anywhere near as good an idea, not least because the conditions are, shall we say, rather different from starting a newspaper; more to the point, what would be the point of such disestablishment?

In other words, what’s the best way for us to take care of ourselves?

~~~

For all my anarchist sympathies, I am not an anarchist, and my sympathies do not run in all directions.

I am not a fan of homeschooling, for example, and have at times argued that, in principle, it should not be allowed. I have at times argued that, in principle, no private K-12 education should be allowed.

I have principled reasons for these arguments, but, honestly, there is a fair amount of unreasoned hostility to such endeavors.

This is a problem.

No, not the contradiction, but the lack of reflection. If I’m going to go against myself, I ought at least know why.

~~~

I might be done with Rod Dreher.

I’ve followed Dreher on and off for years, first at BeliefNet, then at RealClearReligion, and now at American Conservative. He’s a self-declared “crunchy conservative”, writing about a kind of conservation care, community, and his own understandings of Orthodox Christianity. He also wrote quite movingly of his beloved sister Ruthie’s ultimately fatal struggle with lung cancer.

As an unrepentant leftist I think it’s important for me to read unrepentant rightists: not to get riled, but to try to understand. And Dreher, because he has so often been thoughtful about so many aspects of his own conservatism, has been a mostly welcoming guide to a worldview not my own.

More and more often, however, that thoughtfulness about his own side is being drowned by a contempt for the other side. This is not unexpected—one remains on a side because one thinks that side is better—but Dreher has turned into just another predictable culture warrior, launching full-scale attacks on the motives of the other side while huffily turning aside any questions regarding his own motives.

Perhaps he thinks the best way to deal with the alleged loss of standards is to double them.

And that, more than any political difference, is what is driving me away: he no longer writes in good faith.





I have no opinion about that

4 09 2011

Riddle me this how do we decide how much info/understanding should we have about a topic before we feel justified in having an opinion that is more than a gut hunch? —dmf

I once introduced myself to colleague as someone who “has lunch and opinions”, so I can’t say that it ever occurred to me that I needed to justify the having of an opinion. As far back as I can remember, I have had opinions about something or another, from the superiority of homemade jello pops over store-bought popsicles to the belief that swimming was the summer activity, to the obviousness that racism was stupid and girls were equal to boys, and on and on about cars and music and food and friendship and clothes and alcohol and sex and money and liberty and justice for all.

No, for me, the corker was justifying not having an opinion.

I do, in fact, now qualify my opinions in ways I didn’t when younger, and I do justify not having opinions about a whole range of topics, based on 1) lack of information and 2) lack of interest. “Don’t know/don’t care” is a pretty damned effective gate to conversations which would otherwise drive me off a cliff.

Still, I don’t regret my previous opinion libertinism, and I don’t begrudge anyone else their expressive needs. I learned a lot in spouting off, both in how to put together an argument and in prompting others to take issue with me. I hate hate hate to be wrong, but I hate even more the persistence of error. I could—and can—also be sloppy in my pronunciamentos, so getting smacked (or wanting to avoid getting smacked) for spilling too many words has forced me to steady my tongue.

(There’s the additional question of credentialism and the desire not to want to make a fool of oneself in front of one’s colleagues which may lead to a crippling reticence, i.e., in not challenging a majority view for fear that the mere expression of a minority opinion marks one as untrustworthy—but that’s a separate issue.)

Given my own history, then, I’m more likely to indulge than shut down opinionists, especially if they’re willing to go back and forth on an issue. Shooting the shit can be an highly enjoyable way of passing the time.

What I do narrow my eyes at are those who state their opinions as fact and who substitute their subjective experiences for objective certainty. That you have a right to an opinion doesn’t mean you have the right to trump all other opinions. Oh, and shouting doesn’t make you right. (*Full disclosure: I have shouted. More than once.)

So anyone can have any opinion about anything. If, however, you want that opinion to have any weight with anyone else, you gotta do the work—the (self-)education, the reflection, the reasoning—to convince them. Mary Harris “Mother” Jones got it right when she admonished: Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflict.

Educate yourself. Quite so.





Lack Luster, Lack Luster how can I muster

7 12 2010

I am too much and not enough in my head.

Too much: I am pinned in my chair, un-able and un-willing to do what is minimally necessary to take care of my life, much less anything beyond that.

Too little: I have lost my concentration somewhere in a cascade of anxiety and passivity, un-able and un-willing to think myself past my self.

No, this isn’t a crisis—or if it is, it’s a low-grade one.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is to note that this is happening, and to write that I won’t be writing much about this. I have to get some things straight with myself, and straightening is, frankly, boring for anyone other than the person undergoing the untwisting.

I remember when I was in the depths/throes/clutches/appropriatelyalarmingsynonymhere of my depression—I wrote and wrote and wrote about it, and little else competed with it. Once I got past the worst of it, however—once I was no longer nailed to Hamlet’s post—I gradually lost interest in noting every last blip in my emotion.

I’m not criticizing my past self—such self-monitoring was, in its own way, necessary; nor do I consider the loss of interest lamentable, as I am no longer so oppressed by my moods. The point, really, is that a record of the grind really only matters while one is being ground: after that, well, it was enough to be able to walk away.

That I’m a little ground down now is worth noting, but every damned detail of what I do to haul myself out, not so much.

I like writing this blog, and will continue to do so, but that this has become a place where I sort some things out doesn’t mean this is the appropriate forum in which to sort everything out.

But once it’s sorted? Oh, hell, I’ll jabber away.





Don’t look back

31 10 2009

Getting rid of my t.v. has not much altered my viewing habits.

Hulu. And CSI on CBS. (I’m still watching CSI: NY, but that may end. They’re turning the damned show into a blue-tinted CSI: Miami. One Horatio Caine is already too many.)

I’ve watched some Buffy and Angel and (guilty pleasure) Stargate SG1, along with a few episodes of the 21st c version of Battlestar Galactica. I watched the opener of FlashForward, but none since. Oh, and Stargate Universe, which is grim and intriguing and just a little bit boring.

The Good Wife is supposed to be good, as are Glee and Community, but I don’t know that I want to get snagged into anything else. I got shit to do, and I’m already finding too many ways to avoid doing it as it is.

I was a regular viewer of CSI et. al. before I stopped watching t.v. over a year ago, so I don’t really feel like I’m making any new commitments; even the new SGU feels more like a mash-up of the old SG1 and BSG.

Only FlashForward was at all new, and I watched that because I’d heard good things about it and was intrigued by the premise. But while the kickoff was mildly interesting, a part of me was thinking Do I really want to let myself get sucked back in? I was relieved to read that later episodes sucked.

Of the shows I watch, only two are still on the air (SGU & CSI); Buffy is disappearing from Hulu and I’m almost done with SG1.

So, no truly new shows, and a few old ones of which I’ve pretty much had my (re)fill.

But what about those old old shows—you know, like Lou Grant? Didn’t I write a little mash post to Lou Grant a month or so ago?

Haven’t watched it since.

I noticed today that the classic version of Bionic Woman is on Hulu—it shouldn’t surprise you that I loved that show as a kid—as are other shows I watched in my parents’ house. One Day at a Time. Partridge Family. Charlie’s Angels. Picket Fences. Hill St. Blues. St. Elswhere. Hell, a bunch of shows from my childhood and adolescence are on Hulu; I could spend any number of weekends gettin’ my nostalgia on.

Except. Except I don’t really want to.

It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy the shows again—I have no idea if I would—but that I don’t want to go back. I went through that time once, watched those shows then.

Enough.

It might seem like I’m making too large a point about too small a matter—old t.v. shows—but I really don’t trust myself to look backward. It’s not about the time being good or bad; it’s about it being over.

Yes, I do look back, and am sometimes pulled back, but I always have to keep in mind that I live here, now. A little escapism is fine, as is a considered reflection on memory, but not too much, and preferably only if it helps me make sense of my life here, now.

I’m already sufficiently disoriented by my presence in the present. I don’t need to add to my distractions.