Sticking it to the girls again

May 24, 2004 at 8:09 am | In yulelogStories | 16 Comments

A small detail — a very very small detail indeed — in one of Mike Golby’s recent entries nonetheless made me quite angry. The entry’s title, What Intrigues Me…, segues into a sentence that constitutes the entry together with interspersed illustrations: “What Intrigues Me… …is The Way the Bayonets… ….shown in this picture… …come to dominate… …the people… …and their ‘protectors’. I ask you. Who are we to assume that is we who face the bayonet?”

Nothing wrong with the question, or with the choice of imagery: Goya’s “One Can’t Look” first, followed by contemporary photographs of soldiers and civilians. This is the Goya, which I also referenced in an entry on May 12:

But why oh why does the sentence fragment “…shown in this picture…” link to Caravaggio’s late 16th century depiction of Judith Beheading Holofernes?

That’s the detail that set me off. Am I correct in sensing a comment on the culpability of women in the exercise of torture? My apologies if I’m mistaken, but in my naturally heightened alert of feminist consciousness, I detected a nasty Madonna-Whore dichotomy swipe of unresolved feelings toward the female sex in that particular pointer: coming at the viewer without the context of Caravaggio’s other works or of Caravaggio’s sexual orientation, I detect in this choice — again, my apologies if I’m wrong — more than a slight hint of male castration anxiety. But Judith was no “castrating bitch” (and in past emails I’ve vented privately against decontextualised uses of the Lorena Bobbit story). Judith was a heroine who endangered herself to save her people; she happened to use sexual wiles to lull an overly-confident Holofernes, but her action can in no way be compared to Lynndie England’s, for example.

And it is Lynndie we’re talking about, isn’t it?

It seems to me that what’s getting left out by the reference to Judith, an oblique out-of-context reference that strikes me as an off-the-cuff judgement of women on the basis of old stereotypes, is class analysis.

Caravaggio’s Judith is not exactly fearsome or irrational or castrating: she is an individual whose conflicted consciousness is written — or painted — on her face. Judith’s maid is resolutely ghastly, but Judith is extremely troubled, her face expressing pain and revulsion, exactly like David in this version of Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath:

In both subjects, we see a complex battle of scruple, duty, and destiny playing out in the characters’ faces. If, in the final analysis, David has more complexity than Judith, it’s probably due to Caravaggio’s own homosexual politics, too. In this version of David (Caravaggio painted at least 3), Caravaggio painted his own self-portrait as the head of Goliath, while one of Caravaggio’s typically beautiful and seductive Bacchus-type lads holds the head. This time, however, the boy, if heartbreakingly rueful, is armed and dangerous: Judith couldn’t compete with Bacchus-David for Caravaggio’s most in-depth devoted scrutiny precisely because she was a woman, not a boy.

But back to Lynndie.

What was that about class analysis?

If you want a fitting comparison in painting for Lynndie England, my suggestion is to look no further than Goya’s Maya, both the clothed and the nude versions. First, the Clothed Maja from about 1800:

And the Nude Maja, which Goya painted perhaps sometime later:

Why do I think Goya’s Majas have anything to do with Lynndie England or the other salt-of-the-earth “good old girls” caught with their hands dirty? It has nothing to do with any essential nature of women (I don’t subscribe to nonsense like that), nor with any dualistic notions of “good girls/ bad girls” (I reject dualisms as social constructions which humans “solve” in order to flatter themselves), but with how class position structures parameters within which you act, and with how genders and classes will be reified by pundits and imagerists (actually, I prefer to think that Goya, far from reifying “majaism,” was commenting on it in a very astute and critical way). Some enlightened people of Goya’s time wanted to enjoy “majaism” as consumable and fashionable folklore (they dressed up as majas and majos, which has some resonance with the way white middle class people consume hiphop fashion or trailer trash style) and they wanted to believe that with enlightenment, the Maja would benefit from the coming modern age’s reforms. Bzzzzt! Wrong, which is what drove Goya practically mad. Just as Lynndie proved to be a very ordinary nasty good ol’ girl whose deep, poor roots gave her no protection against sinking into barbarism, the majos turned out to be torturing brutes who gave as good as they got in the vicious bloodbath known as the Peninsular War. Judith? Forget it, she was of a completely different class acting for completely different reasons. Goya’s Maja, on the other hand, that is the illusion of natural (class) nobility laid bare.

Like ducks to water

May 23, 2004 at 10:01 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

A sharp remark on Frank Paynter’s blog entry Fear Itself by the inestimable k!. His comment talks about “The Silence,” and how it’s warping the obvious.

With a sad heart I would add that “if it looks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, if etc. etc…. it is a duck.” Bad behaviour doesn’t respect any boundaries, whether of gender, “race,” or religion.

PS: for those who don’t read German, the text that links to “duck” (above) defines the word Sippenhaft, which is based on Sippe, meaning clan or family, and Haft, meaning arrest or incarceration. Here’s a translation of the definition the site gives:

The punishing of a person (a relative, a spouse) for the criminal act of another “clan- or family member”; the practice was deployed in totalitarian systems of rulership, for example the Nazi period, as a means of terror against political opponents.

A key difference — and it is to be respected — is that today Sippenhaft isn’t used by overtly totalitarian systems of rulership; in fact, in the case of Israel, it’s instead used by a democracy. But whether it’s a democracy bulldozing your house down because your cousin Abdullah joined Hamas or whether it’s a totalitarian system, your house is still falling down around your ears just because your cousin might be a fool, and you are a victim of terror.

Ducks swim in all kinds of water, and respect only goes so far because at some point everyone scrapes rockbottom and respect has once again to be earned, too.

Why do I want to get into this argument at all, what with being an heir to German history and German bad behaviour and German inhumanity? Because I can’t believe what’s happening around me: I can’t believe that the spirit of totalitarianism and “1984” is alive and well and spreading out far and wide, and that it actually uses its crimes of the past to protect itself from criticism, and that somehow it’s not the crimes of the past which are taboo, but the invocation of the party name of those who perpetrated them. You’re not allowed to call anyone on “our” side a Nazi regardless of how loud the quacking gets. Well, do you still get my respect, are you still on my side, if what you’re doing is illegal and immoral?

Incidentally, that picture above, that’s Charlie Mingus who was from Watts in Los Angeles, and who knew a thing or two about living in a democracy that never acted democratically enough toward some of its citizens. He wrote a piece called “Free Cell Block F, ’tis Nazi USA.” Hyperbole? Not bloody likely. It’s systemic, and it quacks like a duck regardless of epoch or cloaking “system,” and it’s all of a piece with current events. There’s only so much looking away that any of us can get away with:

If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880’s and 1930’s, which show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. (From an article by Susan Sontag in the New York Times magazine.) [More….]

Public Eye Online

May 21, 2004 at 10:14 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Public Eye Online

Public Eye, an insider scoop newsletter focussed on British Columbia politics as played out in the (back)halls of power, till now only available in pdf format via email subscription, is now available online. If you’re in BC, whip your mouse to this link, Public Eye Online, and read about BC politics via leaked email memos, insider gossip, and cold clear policy analysis. And comment! Yes, it’s a blog. Say something back.

The driving, prying, writing force behind Public Eye is Sean Holman; see this about page for more information on Holman and his two colleagues, George Gibault and Andres Kahar.

Even if you don’t live in BC, the sometimes Orwellian machinations of government here might interest you for their uncanny resemblance to shapeshifting demons the world over. Look, for example, at this entry, Staffer works to make communications …er …clearer. It’s about a Children and Family Development Ministry directive to ban certain words from all official speech, including speech outside the Ministry. Can I just add that I really stumbled over that last bit: outside the Ministry? What kind of ban is this? No, they’re not banning 4-letter words, even though it’s the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The list includes service redesign, service transformation, core service, strategic shift, budget target, voluntary initiatives, budget reference group, framework and governance (as a stand alone word). Does it mean that Mrs. Minister will never be able to say to Mr./Ms. Lover, “Oh honey, can you do that strategic shift thing again?” Or does the ban not extend so far outside Ministry speech as to reach bedrooms? Do bureaucrats have an inflated sense of self and of their power?

Sean Holman asked the Ministry aide in question why these words are now banned.

The response: “To make sure our communication is something people can understand publicly. It’s that simple. Those words are not words regular people use in everyday life. So why put them in a press release? No one knows what we mean.”

Holman’s conclusion?

After all, British Columbians just don’t get it when the minister says she hasn’t met her budget targets.


Witch hunt update

May 20, 2004 at 6:31 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Witch hunt update

US authorities have finally released Brandon Mayfield, whom I blogged about here. Turns out the Spanish authorities were right all along and the print — a single, partial print — never matched Mayfield’s in the first place. Spain has made a more definitive match with an Algerian suspect. See this Seattle Times article.

Mayfield was obviously very stressed by the experience. He is quoted as saying, “I want to thank my friends and family for what I’ll call a harrowing ordeal,” which I suspect isn’t quite what he meant, but is an eloquent indication of the effects that witch hunts will have on an individual. Up is down, down is up, red is green, green is red, and so on and so forth. Why should anything make sense in that kind of world?

Somewhere in Gravity’s Rainbow — which I started to read, but didn’t finish — Pynchon writes, “Paranoia, paranoia, even Goya couldn’t draw ya.”

Talk about witch hunt.

Talk about witch hunts. Maybe it’ll help to dispel them.

In the movie Hopscotch, Ned Beatty, playing a sleazy CIA man named Myerson who is bedevilled by Walter Matthau’s character Miles Kendig, has to work cooperatively with the FBI, who seriously mess things up. Myerson slams his fists after announcing that he now knows what FBI stands for: fucking ball-busting imbeciles.

The CIA gets off very badly in this film, too, of course. Glenda Jackson’s character, Isobel von Sch

Time out

May 19, 2004 at 6:57 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

Excellent Enabler

In reference to a man we all know, he said,
“Marriage has been good for him.”

Advanced in age, the man now boasts a wife-mother-lover
Washing his delusions
With her deft fingers.

Rose-tinted, perfect for the time of day, she will absorb
And alter for him the impediments of reality,
Let the past fit into his vision’s tunnel.
Does he see her?

An unlikely survivor, continuing unscathed, protected by the rosy hand,
As willingly she receives the wounds, a pincushion
To his repetitive ministrations.

Lies there, thinks what’s needed, while he’s her visible disaster.
Marriage has been good for him.

Everything’s been bugging me lately — I don’t want to hear the news, I want to shoot talking heads with more than pop guns. Oddly enough, a poem of sorts sprang up from all that frustration, triggered by a phone conversation I had the other night. I used to do this a lot — not the character assassination inherent in this particular piece, but rather letting a poem (or something that’s dressed up as one) spill out. Maybe I’m inspired by the trend in Maria‘s and Elaine‘s blogs, maybe it’s just the thing to do right now. This alleged poem lets me say something compressed and real, part of my real world, something I understand. This in turn may or may not be something that has meaning beyond my world, although I would hope it does resonate in some way even with readers who have no idea who or what triggered my scribble. I don’t want to try to say something that’s an explication and somehow valid in some larger argument. I just want to say something that I recognised as true, all of a sudden, about someone, and that struck me as having applicability in other situations. In that sense, the off-hand remark my telephone caller made, “Marriage has been good for him,” opened into a bigger world that I liked better than all the stuff that was pulling at my attention otherwise. It seemed more real, which seems a weird thing to say about something so inconsequential.

Not very nice things

May 16, 2004 at 10:52 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Not very nice things

Don’t know whether I’ll ever get around to writing that “why Goya is really relevant” entry I’ve mentioned a couple of times already — I think it’s kind of redundant now, we are overtaken by current events with such breathtaking alacrity, who cares about history… For now, a pointer to an article I read today (via Wood’s Lot) which presents the best psycho-sexual analysis of Bush’s pious sadism I’ve seen so far: It’s by Susan Block, a rather entrepreneurial sex therapist, and it’s in the May 14 issue of Counterpunch: Bush’s POW Porn.

Am I being too harsh on Dubya in suggesting that these images stem from his personal sexual nature? Perhaps. But I don’t think so. Remember, this is the man who giggled and mocked Karla Faye Tucker, his fellow born-again Christian sentenced to die under his jurisdiction. “Please don’t kill me,” he mimicked in a high girlish voice, pursing his lips and squinting his eyes, seeming to savor the memory of how she’d begged for her life, and, as Governor of Texas, he’d killed her anyway. If we can understand how a U.S. presidential candidate can talk like that in an interview with Talk Magazine, perhaps we can understand why Lynndie and Chuck can grin like that in The Photos.

Remember, this is the American Executioner who, when he was governor of Texas, presided over a record-setting 152 lethal injections. Maybe not as barbaric as lynchings, but you can only push limits so far. This was the son who relished being his dad’s “hatchet man,” especially when he had the pleasure of axing someone suspected of disloyalty. This is the happy gunslinger that gave the CIA authority to assassinate those deemed a threat to U.S. interests, virtually suspending Executive Orders by Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan prohibiting such assassinations. This is the opportunistic autocrat who used the tragedy of 9-11 to relax the CIA and MI’s previous restrictions on using torture, and won’t even call the guys he’s picking up Prisoners of War. This is the definitive chickenhawk who let other men of his generation fight in Vietnam, then sent men and women of his daughters’ generation to invade Iraq. This is the back-slapping bully who celebrated the destruction of a country with a “Mission Accomplished” costume party.

Which brings me to another of Bush’s desperate pronouncements in the wake of the release of The Photos, accompanied by the damning Taguba Report. His ongoing efforts to impress upon the world that his POW Porn is somehow “not American.” So Lynndie and Chuck are Bulgarian?

“Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people,” Bush tried to spin like a dervish when The Photos were first unleashed. “That’s not the way we do things in America,” he said. Later he clarified on Al-Hurrah TV, “What took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know.”

Of course, it’s not the America Dubya knew. That’s because even though he did things that would have landed other guys in the can, Poppy’s friends bailed him out before he had to spend any real time in an American prison.

UnCurious George also seems to have never heard of Rodney King, beaten by LAPD on tape, or Abner Louima, sodomized with the business end of a toilet plunger during an NYPD interrogation. Since the Shrub is a proud non-reader, he wouldn’t know that according to U.S. corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates, the physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what’s in The Photos, takes place in American prisons every day. This is “the way” some people “do things” at many prisons in America, minus the cameras (so far). Bush should know, since he was governor of Texas, said to have some of the worst, most abusive prisons on Earth. But the only state he seems to govern with any skill is the state of Denial.

Military Intelligence, CIA, mercenaries working for CACI International, and maybe Wolfie and Rummy themselves seem to have directed torture like we see in the Abu Ghraib Photos. But the practices are, for the most part, an extension of the American prison system. Lane McCotter, a contractor who had resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled naked to a restraining chair for 16 hours, was chosen by the Bushies to rebuild Abu Ghraib and train the guards there.

One of the soldiers in The Photos (a segment producer for Bush’s POW Porn), Staff Sgt. Ivan (Chip) Frederick, had worked for six years as a guard for the Virginia Department of Corrections, and was described by his warden as “one of the best.” Scott Bobeck, a special agent in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, testified that Sgt. Frederick and Corporal Grainer “were put in charge because they were civilian prison guards and had knowledge of how things were supposed to be run.” That knowledge came from working in a U.S. prison system that now cages over two million Americans. [More…]

Tomorrow I hope I’ll have time to answer the comments left on some of the other entries, and maybe update the jumbled blogroll. Maria had a great comment on “The many forms of porn” (May 14) that talks about focussing the imagination as a way of resisting its colonisation by ideologues. Really good stuff, lots to think about. I’m thought-out tonight though. I need to recharge my batteries. Finish my yardwork by returning to the fierce embrace of the yews, and somehow simultaneously hit the desk to check math homework, attend to teaching tasks, and to all the other fun stuff that is paperwork. Funny, I keep thinking of a line in AbFab: Eddy telling her daughter Saffie that she doesn’t want more choices, she just wants nicer things.

I’ve got yew under my skin

May 14, 2004 at 11:33 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on I’ve got yew under my skin

Haven’t been answering my comments or writing about some things I wanted to, mostly because I’m so busy working on off-line things. Among many other things, in the past two days I attacked a yew hedge renovation, and tonight I’m bleeding from the fingertips to the elbows for my efforts. Imagine a hedge that was planted in 1938 or ’39 to help screen from view a then newly constructed house, which was still quite bare looking, that sits on a corner lot along a storied Victoria avenue leading to Government House where King and Queen went to stay when they visited the Commonwealth in ’39. Then imagine that this hedge, already partially taken down and demolished in 2000 because, due to neglect, it had overgrown the sidewalk to the point where renovation seemed impossible, imagine that this hedge was neglected for decades. Cut off a few centimetres and you hit deadwood. All the green bits are sitting at the ends of long, attenuated twigs. Imagine, too, that this hedge is the only thing between a small side yard and the aforementioned touristy street filled in summer with tour buses, scooters, and clippety-clop horse-drawn carriages on their way to Craigdarroch Castle, and that replacing it with new hedge is prohibitive. Hence my tenderly draconian ministrations, with pruning saw, electric hedge trimmer, ladder, bypass pruners, tined rake (for beating out copious amounts of leaf litter). In a past life, I was a sculptor, you know, so I enjoy this sort of thing, except that I don’t usually let my enjoyments draw blood. I’ve cut back (and down) a significant amount, and today I really tackled the deadwood. I’ve covered about 20 metres so far, and have about as much to go (this is an estimate); the hedge is easily 1.5 metres wide (and over 2 metres tall), and the deadwood is viciously spiky and hard. Each bit has to be inspected by hand and evaluated, however, since sometimes it looks like deadwood, but still has fresh leaves at the tips, while other times it is completely deadwood. If it has leaves left, you have to evaluate whether it’s a keeper or not, since you also want to prune out lots of “good” stuff to help get air and light into the hedge. The trimming, on the other hand, just requires muscles and earplugs (which I don’t have, and consequently I have trouble remembering things right now: my ears are ringing). Balancing on my ladder, electric hedge trimmer held overhead, I imagined Monty Pythonesque spoofs on Sam Peckinpah movies, with the blood spurting out in slow motion…. As it happened, I kept my balance, but I have bruises on my lower shins from leaning too heavily into the top step when I was trying to increase my leverage and reach. My hands and arms are in agony right now: I can’t tell whether the welts are just bloody or whether there are tiny bits of twig lodged in each. And, yes, I know I should have worn gloves, but I was too into it to go get them. I also worried that if I had gloves on, I’d lunge too enthusiastically into the bracken and really shear my arms open. When I continue, I will wear gloves, however, and I’ll wear heavy long sleeves, too. In case you’re wondering: unlike cedar, yew hedges will grow back from the trunk outward. You have to cut out a good chunk of existing branch material, though, along with all the deadwood, because you want to force the plant to make leaves on the trunk, not at the tips of those otherwise leafless branches because, since the hedge is already oversized, you’ll be cutting all that back over time and new growth there is wasted growth. You’ll be left with a hedge with holes, but it will grow back, slowly. The holes and thinning will help speed growth since light and air can now reach the trunk. It’s also important to fertilise yew hedges. They don’t thrive on nothing, especially if there are large boulevard trees growing within 5 metres which are sucking all the nutrients out of the ground. We also finally got the building permit to fix the falling-down garage I mentioned in an earlier post. It’s costing way too much money, which is why I’m doing all this yard work myself. I’m told that since last year, the price of copper (for electrical wiring) has gone up 40%, the price of steel 45%, and wood trim is up 25%. Canada exports the copper and steel in raw form to China, and they sell it back to us. (Hewers of wood and carriers of water, that’s us.) Because the City requires a California drain on this rebuilt garage’s driveway, we called the plumber to camera the perimeter drain and clean it. Like the hedge, it had never been done, apparently. Ka-ching, ka-ching — single handedly keeping the BC economy humming…. Meanwhile, the City insisted that the existing foundation pad in the garage needed an engineer’s assessment, and his recommended fix was underpinning it at the four corners as well as using a perimeter beam for the roof trusses, which added another couple of thousand to the bill. And while I was in the basement looking for a longer extension cord for my hedge trimmer yesterday, I noticed that my furnace was leaking water. It’s original to the house (1938), and the boiler is cracked. The burner is new(er), but it’s all one piece these days, and the upshot is that we need a new furnace, too. Hey, at least it didn’t happen in the middle of winter… When it rains, it pours. I think it’s time I got a (part-time) job. Any ideas for what a homeschooling parent who is an overeducated ex-academic thoroughly unfitted for the world of traditional work can do? And don’t suggest yardwork…

The many forms of porn

May 14, 2004 at 10:40 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

I understand that the execution of Nick Berg is viewable on the internet. Why would anyone watch this? I don’t understand: why would you look? The Washington Post had an article about Berg that included a photograph of his father collapsing to the ground, a distraught relative at his side. An older man, skinny, all arms and legs, sunken in on himself, in utter grief over his son’s death. Seeing that was enough, I can imagine the rest. If anyone still needs to see the video after seeing Mr. Berg’s grief, well, you have no imagination. Narrow-minded ideologues of all stripes want to colonise your imagination, cripple it, fill it with junk or pornographic obscenity, make you incapable of using it, until all you can do is watch with cold, paralysed eyes, hands folded in your lap — or poised on your computer mouse. Surrealists, situationists, and strange artists have dreamed that the world would change if imagination came to power. Maybe they knew that there are differences between pictures and media, between the ways of conveying matters, and between dissemination to a tiny handful versus to a massed many. Goya didn’t have video, and if he had, he would have used it differently. Today, however, technology banishes the elitism of the 19th century artist’s craft, and any asshole with a video camera thinks he’s Goya. Who saw Goya’s etchings when he first made them? Who had access? Just a few, whereas now everyone’s potentially a captive audience for tv and video and the rest. Break out of jail, set your imagination free.

Elena Lappin’s ordeal at LA Airport: journalists, beware

May 12, 2004 at 10:47 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Elena Lappin’s ordeal at LA Airport: journalists, beware

Has anyone else read up on the story of Elena Lappin‘s ordeal in the US? I first read about it here a couple of days ago, but it doesn’t seem to have raised much of a stink within the States. Yikes, the USA is following the policy of Iran, Syria, Cuba, North Korea, and possibly Zimbabwe here. Great company, way to go, really.

Good thing bloggers aren’t journalists, eh?

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