Tag Archives: sexism

Boys read boys, NYT Editorial Board edition

string of author photos at NYT MidtermMadness blog

Good going, NYT — on their new “http://midtermmadness.blogs.nytimes.com/”, which offers an array of commentators, professors, and pundits to comment on the 2006 elections … they’ve given us six (6) men, all apparently white, and dare I guess their class backgrounds? Way to seek a diversity of opinion.

 
 
 
 
 
 

some notes

(1) Today’s NYT article on “tough questions” for gubernatorial candidates on abortion: all the gubernatorial candidates quoted are men. [NYT 6/5]

(2) Mercury Rising discusses what happened to Wen Ho Lee after the racist government debacle a few years back. [sideshow 6/4]

(3) I don’t believe I’ve plugged Ann Bartow’s “Fair Use and the Fairer Sex” article on the blog, although I’ve referred many people to it by now — It’s going to be a critical work in the developing scholarship on IP and critical theory. [info & link]

(4) I can’t make Octavia Butler’s memorial in NYC tonight (it was sold out and I’m in Boston anyway) but I snapped some pix from a Barnes & Noble memorial. Yes, it’s Barnes & Noble. I snapped them anyway because it was a lovely memorial. [x-posted w/ pix @ fsfblog 6/5]

(5) I’m setting up a listserv for folks in SF/fandom who are interested in IP issues particularly; and information more generally (telecomm, open distribution, libraries & information industries, media, censorship/First Amendment, etc.). The SF community has been, for years, an exemplar of the fact that consumers are creators are consumers, and that might explain why there’s less polarization among copyleft/copyright than in other genres/creative communities. Also, SF folks are particularly smart at realizing that rules and regulations are choices, and we can make different ones, and that technology can change everything. So I think that by pulling together SF/fandom to talk about IP/media we can have some interesting and hopefully really productive discussions.

I haven’t set up the list yet because I don’t have a snappy name for it — fandomIP? fanip? sfanip? sort of like turnip, isn’t it? pernip? parsnip? anyway – I’m taking suggestions for names, and offline emails if you’re interested in joining.

boys read boys, NYT edition

Yet another instance of boys-read-boys makes the news. This time, Dave Itzkoff’s new “It’s All Geek To Me” column in the NYT. My partner thought I’d be excited — and I was — to see science fiction getting a column in the NYT. Alas, though, it’s only a boy-reads-boys column.

The first column (March 5, “It’s All Geek to Me,” NYT) reviewed a boy and compared the prestige of science fiction boy writers to non-science fiction boy writers (lesser) and compared the reviewed boy to two other boys in one sentence. (“[I]t is entirely possible that Marusek never set out to be the John Updike of the Asimov set.”)

Boys Cited, 7:

  1. Walter Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
  2. Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man
  3. David Marusek, Counting Heads & “We Were Out of Our Minds With Joy”
  4. Khaled Hossein, The Kite Runner (self-described as “an epic tale of fathers and sons” — this actually looks potentially interesting even tho the father-son thing is incredibly overexposed)
  5. A Million Little Pieces (male literary fraud James Frey)
  6. Isaac Asimov
  7. John Updike

Women Cited, 1:

  • Oprah, I presume, although she doesn’t actually get mentioned by name: “Whether you read books because you have a genuine, lifelong passion for literature or because a feisty woman in Chicago tells you to …” (I’ve never quite understood why some people pooh-pooh Oprah’s book club. A, she promotes reading, so some people read who might otherwise not; B, she does some selection that folks might otherwise not have time to do. If you don’t like her selection of books, don’t read them. But from what I understand, the “book club” is a hell of a lot more informative & engaging to the audience than Jon Stewart’s or similar talk show promotional tour interviews with authors.)

not exactly tempted by faith or incomplete

Then-mere Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) wrote in “Introduction to Christianity”, his “best-regarded book”:

“Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a constant temptation, so for the unbeliever, faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world,” he wrote. “In short, there is no escape from the dilemma of being a man.”

Unless you’re a woman, I guess, which is maybe why I escaped the temptations of faith.

More recently, as now-exalted-and-infallible Pope Benedict, he wrote:

While the biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete.’

Fish without a bicycle, that’s me.

[nyt 1/29]

on not freaking out about bias in public interest tech/ip

NYPL hosted a panel a few weeks ago on the Google Print issue. I noticed that there were no women on the panel. This was shortly after I’d seen a flyer for a conference Yale was hosting on Search, which also had very very few numbers of female speakers or commentators. I’d been trying to craft a cogent & reasoned critique of sexism in the industry and practices that lead to gender disparate conference panels in a field where, if anything, a majority of leading scholars are women. In the meantime, Ann Bartow wrote on the matter, and I linked to her in lieu of posting separately, and then I got focused on other things.

But today (12/6), trying to wrap up a similarly long-hanging draft post about Google commentary, I came across a two-post discussion in comments on Larry Lessig’s blog entry about the NYPL debate. First, Ann Bartow briefly noted the absence of women on the NYPL panel:

With little effort I can think of 50 or more women who could have been part of this debate without diminishing the quality of the discourse in the least; in fact quite the contrary. The majority of librarians, and library patrons, in this country are female, as are the majority of book purchasers. Yet not a single woman gets a voice in this debate.

To which unfortunately “David” cluelessly responded:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but women read as men do, as far as I know. By this I mean that the process is structurally equivalent, they look at the page, decode the glyphs or higher-order primitives (such as words) and convert this information into symbolic representations of the writing. Same can be said for search. Is there some peculiarity in women’s reading that would make it imperative to have them represented? Do they do something differently that needs addressing by itself? Because if they do not, as I would hold, it is a disservice to claim they should be represented. Women are first and foremost people, and just as 53-year-olds need not be represented in a debate, because their is no functional difference that requires it, neither do, in most debates, women.

So, whether there are women in the debate or not is entirely irrelevant, and subtracts no legitimacy whatsoever. It could be argued that women could participate just as the men who did, and this is true. Maybe there was a bias against women in the choice of debaters. Whether that was the case or not, though, doesn’t make it imperative to purposefully choose women as debaters on this and most other topics.

David wanted to be corrected if he was wrong, so here goes. He got one thing right: “Maybe there was a bias against women in the choice of debaters.” But alas he completely obfuscated this point with his off-point and non-responsive paragraph about whether men and women have special ways of reading. Or perhaps he simply confused himself. So let me shed a little light:

Professor Bartow said nothing about men’s special ways of reading. She did not “claim” that women “should be represented” because of something they bring to the debate. Rather, she made one simple point: The panel was not gender-representative of any relevant population: IP/law experts, book people, librarians, etc., who are qualified to speak on Google Print issues.

She was concerned about special ways of selecting speakers. That’s a problem of sexism, not cognitive processing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but both men and women spell sexism S-E-X-I-S-M.

David’s response reflects a broader problem in responses to critical engagements with sexism, racism, and other biases, which is, when racism or sexism is called out, to engage in one or more knee-jerk denials: “There’s no sexism here!” or, classically, “I’m not racist!” or “I’m not sexist!” as if it were a personal insult. One can observe three kinds of major knee-jerk responses: One, to become so politically correct that one becomes a caricature of one’s own politics. Two, to deny the critiques, and censor the critics by calling them politically correct. Three, to do the crazy white panic (“I’m not a racist! You don’t think I’m racist, do you? But I’m so not racist!”), so beautifully dissected by Alas, a Blog.

Hey, I’m not immune from any of these responses. It’s pretty natural to do this kind of thing when you’re dealing with a conflict between how you think you ought to be, and how you are being perceived. But that makes these responses all the more important to understand.

And understanding these kinds of natural responses helps us understand what David did, and didn’t do, and could have done more helpfully instead, in his response to Ann Bartow’s simple pointing out of a gender disparity.

When a critic points out a possible problem, the ideal response would be for people to hear and evaluate the critic’s comments, and respond appropriately (and not disproportionately or personally; go back and read Alas, a blog again.)

The first step: Is the criticism accurate on the facts? In the case of the NYPL panel, manifestly, yes: the panel was disproportionately — all — male.

The second step: Is the criticism accurate in its analysis? Well, here is a problem, because Professor Bartow just pointed out the facts, leaving the analysis mostly to the reader. Not entirely; she did try to subtly deflect content-oriented rejoinders by pointing out that the inclusion of women could have been quality-neutral, and that tended to lead the reader to the analysis that this wasn’t a content issue. But for the most part, she made a neutral observation about gender representation and left the rest of the rather obvious analysis to the reader.

Apparently, though, any suggestion of sexism can trigger knee-jerk responses: “There’s no sexism here! No sexism! Gender is irrelevant to books! Linguistic processing of higher-order mammals blah blah blah!”

David failed to analyze Professor Bartow’s critique of implied sexism in a rational way. Instead he hand-waved and obscured the criticism with a non-response. (<annoyed Sarcasm> While missing the point entirely, he did manage to sound very brainy by couching his non-response in big words and impressive phrases like “structurally equivalent” or “higher-order primitives.” It reminds me of the literary debate between William Faulkner & Ernest Hemingway: Faulkner on Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” Hemingway on Faulkner: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” Lots of fancy words don’t necessarily mean you’re on point. </annoyed Sarcasm>)

Rather than analyzing Ann Bartow’s implied critique of sexism, David instead shifted the debate. He didn’t deny the observation, and he didn’t even really deny the implied critique — he actually admitted it: “Maybe there was a bias against women in the choice of debaters.” But the locus of his response is something completely different — the value of diversity — and he then steers away from the point of original observation even further by questioning whether women and men are cognitively different. Bajillions of gallons of ink are being spilled on that question, by the way, so it’s hardly an open-and-shut question, but the point is that David chose to deny & distract rather than to engage the question. And my sense, from watching oh-so-many stupid arguments about sexism & racism, is that David’s response thus falls into exactly the same category as so many other pointless responses to criticism these days. The pattern goes like this: A: “That’s racist!” B: <radiating outraged indignation !> “How dare you call me racist?”

So let me just state what I would have liked to have seen David or other commentators on the Lessig blog, or other readers of the Lessig blog do: Read Ann Bartow’s observation. Note to themselves, Huh. By golly, she’s right: there were no women on the NYPL panel, and there certainly could have been. That’s suggestive of sexism. When I do this kind of work I’m going to make sure that I don’t fall prey even to unconscious sexism or other bias. And I’m going to help other people avoid it too.

Don’t freak out. Don’t go all sarcastic or blah blah blah about the Western canon or higher order verbs or mammals or whatever weird issue you have. Everybody falls prey to internalized, subconscious sexism, racism, and other biases sometimes. Just try to be more self-aware about it and don’t freak out when someone calls your attention to it. It’s not an attack on you or on your livelihood or on western civilization. (Well, maybe western civilization ….) Unconscious bias is remedied, in part, by having your consciousness raised and beoming more aware of unconscious bias.

And I had a much longer response detailing why this kind of response is so silly, so irrational, so pointless, and so not helpful, but instead, I’m going to just point, once again, to my new favorite post of the year: How Not To Be Insane When Accused Of Racism (A Guide For White People) at Alas, a Blog.

Oh, and by the way. Thanks, Ann, for doing this work. It’s appreciated.

morning tea round-up

  • Yahoo!’s historically less-than-stellar track record of protecting user privacy is made much, much worse by this news: Yahoo! turned over a user’s identity information to the Chinese government, and now journalist Shi Tao has been sentenced to ten years for “e-mailing a government’s plan to restrict media coverage around the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre”. [SJ Merc 10/2 editorial; see also Xeni Jardin in the LAT 10/9; and Open Letter to Jerry Yang, Yahoo!, from Liu Xiaobo, 2005 Oct. 7. ] The Merc thinks it’s “hard to blame Yahoo!” for this but wants them to more aggressively lobby on behalf of human rights. Me, I don’t find it hard to “blame” Yahoo! for what they did. The individuals at Yahoo! who made the decision to hand over accurate information made a choice: company profits and business model over the freedom of a journalist. I guess they were just doing what they were told. [link from ping]

  • The Bush Admin. has never really had a sense of humor about parodies. The latest brouhaha is about The Onion’s use of the presidential seal. [cnn 10/26] White House spokesperson Trent Duffy:

    “When any official sign or seal is being used inappropriately the party is notified. … You cannot pick and choose where to enforce that rule. It’s important that the seal or any White House insignia not be used inappropriately.”

    The Onion editor-in-chief, Scott Dikkers:

    “I’ve been seeing the presidential seal used in comedy programs most of my life and to my knowledge none of them have been asked not to use it by the White House. … I would advise them to look for that other guy Osama … rather than comedians. I don’t think we pose much of a threat.”

  • George Takei - Live Queer and Prosper

    George Takei (“Mr.
    Sulu”) vamps it up.

    Mr. Sulu George Takei is gay! His new role in “Equus” apparently “inspire[d] him” to come out. I have to say, I am deeply gratified to finally have some queer representation on Star Trek. Although looking at this picture, it seems like the official coming out was, well, redundant. [Jason Schultz has a nice photo for Sulu fans, and SFGate 11/10 has a lot more details.]

    Between Mr. Sulu Takei and WNBA triple-MVP winner Sheryl Swoopes, National Coming Out Day came out a little late, but strong. [Women’s Hoops blog links to lots of Swoopes coverage.]

  • Research about five years ago showed that even as women athletes were setting records and breaking into new fields, sports photographers were increasingly minimizing and downplaying women’s athleticism. (Also at Women’s eNews. See also Womens Sports Foundation. That was in 2000, and a flurry of scholarship around that time evaluated that phenomena. A year or so later, the Smithsonian launched a traveling tour of sports photography of female athletes, Game Face (which I caught in DC at the time). Women’s ascendance in sports in the last five years has continued apace, and I wonder if there have been follow-up studies….

  • Chinese women bloggers are doing the sex blog thing. (This is at least the second or third such similar article on Asian women bloggers and sexuality that I’ve seen in the last year or so. News coverage about the Chinese government frowning or cracking down on this or that is fairly routine, I know. But I can’t help but wonder how much of the coverage is due to the starting! shocking! news that Asian women bloggers are blogging about sex, and how much of it is because white Western journalists are surprised to see such goings-on. Hey, I’m told that even in Boston, beans do it.)

  • Speaking of blogging, the NYT is trying to get “hip” to this newfangled “blogging” thing, and you can really see the results. In one article recently, the Times “jazzed up” their content with “hyperlinks”: the article included one link on the name of a state to NYT coverage about that state. And yesterday & today the coverage of the Scooter Libby resignation made me snigger with this bullet point: “Reactions: Bush. Cheney. Bloggers.” But I shouldn’t make fun, because the NYT also gave me a happy moment with its briefly-posted blurb for the Scooter Libby thing, which went something like this: “Scooter Libby indicted; steps down; Bush-Cheney no comment; Karl Rove not indicted.” The mere fact that Karl Rove’s non-indictment is news sends a warm glow all the way down to my toes, and I thank the NYT for that little moment of joy.

  • National science standards groups are registering their disapproval of Kansas’ new “science plus! religion” standards. Unfortunately, they’re using copyright to do so. [nyt 10/28]

  • The Washington Post trashes the E-Rate, the telecomm. tax-funded grant to schools & libraries for Internet access. [WPost 10/27]

vagina dentata: prior art?

South African inventor Sonette Ehlers has developed the “rapex”, a barbed female condom aimed at discouraging rapists. A coordinator for Rape Crisis cautions that the device could backfire, and rapists in penile pain might respond with increased violence.

Of course, Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash (1992) was all over this idea: his teenage protagonist wore a similar device cleverly named the ‘vagina dentata’. But rather than just putting a rapist in pain, the v.d. actually disarmed him, by injecting a super-fast-acting tranquilizer directly into his penis.

[Yahoo! News 9/1 via slate 9/12]

update 15 minutes later: Wikipedia rocks; there’s simply no other way to say it. See the entry on anti-rape female condom.

Juarez: missing-non-white-women meme, at work?

This article is the first time I have seen NYT coverage of the missing women in the maquiladoras towns along the border — a rash of killings and disappearances that has affected literally hundreds of women, many of whom worked in US-owned factories.

Searching the NYT archives since 1996 (“missing women maquiladoras”, “missing women Juarez”) I found a couple of others; one from Dec. 2002; one from Aug. 2002 focusing on a filmmaker doing a documentary about the issue; and one from Aug. 2003; another from Oct. 2004. I won’t do the word count; it’s embarrassing, since many of these articles appear in the short-shrift foreign desk section. But by comparison a search for “Natalee Holloway”, missing in Mexico, turned up 17 articles since June. With this relative level of media coverage, I’m certainly glad to see this year’s story about the Juarez disappearances actually make the front webpage of the NYT. [Well, for a couple of hours it did, anyway, as one of three articles in the NATIONAL subsection.] Maybe the missing-non-white-women meme is starting to spread? Or maybe there’s some natural spillover effect from the missing-white-women coverage? every twenty articles about a missing white woman the NYT can run one about a non-white-woman human interest story?

Amnesty International, in 2003, noted that the disappearances and murders involved at least 700 women in 10 years.

According to official figures 70 women remain missing in Ciudad Juárez, and more recently in the city of Chihuahua. Information from other sources puts this figure at 400 women missing since 1993. Their families fear the worst, given the alarming number of missing women who have subsequently been found murdered days, or even years, later.

Amnesty International’s investigation found that in the last ten years approximately 370 women have been murdered, of which at least 137 were sexually assaulted prior to their death. A further 75 bodies have still not been identified — it is thought some may be those of women who have been reported missing but grossly inadequate forensic investigations have made this impossible to confirm.

Many of the women were abducted, held captive for several days and subjected to humiliation, torture and the most horrific sexual violence before dying, most as a result of asphyxiation caused by strangulation or from being beaten. Their bodies have then been found hidden among rubble or abandoned in desert areas near the city.

An unknown number of other women, not included in these numbers, have escaped their captors.

Taking the top figure of 400 missing women, but subtracting the 75 unidentified bodies from the missing women to arrive at a conservative (non-official) estimate, you find that one woman has gone missing every 5.25 days. Juarez, for comparison, is 1.2 million people — that’s pretty comparable to San Diego, and just a little bit smaller than Philly. Imagine a rash of disappearances: one every five to six days. Friday, another woman missing; Thursday, another woman missing; Monday, another woman missing; Saturday, another woman missing … tick, tick, tick, another woman, and another woman, and another woman … Every couple of weeks they turn up a body. They identify most but not all of the bodies. Now imagine this goes on for twelve years.

I’ve been following this story off and on for five or six years. It’s impossible to maintain a proportionate sense of horror with so many individual lives. I decided to focus on women who share my name. Over the years, five women named Laura have been murdered or have disappeared.

  • Laura Ana Inere (b. approximately 1968; 27 years old when murdered; body found Dec. 1995). She was shot to death. Her body was found on Christmas day, 1995, in the municipal cemetery. Because a firearm was involved, investigators suspect police involvement in Laura Inere’s murder.
  • Laura Georgina Vargas (b. approximately 1961; 40 years old when murdered; body found Jan. 3, 2001)
  • Laura Alondra Márquez (b. approximately 1985; 16 years old when murdered; body found May 1, 2001)
  • Laura Berenice Ramos Monárrez. Laura was a high school student when she disappeared in Sept. 2001. Her body was found Nov. 6-7, 2001. Two Juárez bus drivers confessed to Laura’s murder, and the murder of ten other women, but claimed they were tortured to elicit a confession. El Diario, 11/12-21/2001, also reports that the victims’ families are unconvinced about the confessions, and they and human rights groups cite irregularities in police investigation techniques.
  • Laura Lourdes Cordero García. No information other than her name on lists of disappeared and murdered women.

More info about the murders and disappearances in Juàrez and nearby Chihuahua communities:

  • Women of Juarez. (English) The site includes a list of some of the victims’ names, or occasionally a cursory description of remains found, painstakingly gathered by Esther Chavez Cano from news sources through 2002.
  • Mujeres de Juarez (Español) The list of names includes 286 women reported missing from 1993 through 2004.
  • Amnesty Int’l’s page on Juarez’ missing women. (English) Amnesty wants people to contact their own Congressional representatives to urge them to cosponsor a US Congressional Resolution offered by Representative Hilda Solis and Senator Jeff Bingaman on the murders.
  • Safe Juarez takes donations. (English) They began by providing self-defense training & establishing safehouses for women. They are now doing family interventions. While I have no knowledge of this group other than what’s on their website, a couple of quick google searches looking for criticism of them didn’t turn up anything negative in the first many pages.
  • AcciOn (Español) Another list of women’s names.
  • crimelibrary.com. (English) Listing of media coverage (notably, most from nearby Texas towns)
  • Mother Jones, To Work and Die in Juarez (2002) (English)
  • El Paso Times, Death Stalks the border, 2002. (English)
  • Gender[f] offers an online memorial rollcall of 400 missing women’s names. (English)

related posts: missing non-white women meme

missing-non-white-women meme

this post on the buggydoo blog (“one good thing”) does two important things: (1) it makes a sensible comment on the snarky ‘media coverage of missing white women’ blog-o-phenomena, and (2) it draws attention to a missing woman, Latoyia Figueroa, who has not gotten as much media attention, clearly on account of race.

I am uncomfortable with the bloggers who have been sneering about “missing white women” lately, mostly because it doesn’t have the effect I think they’re going for. It’s very trendy with liberal bloggers to make comments like “Oh, ho hum, look at the media go crazy over another missing white woman.” or “CNN isn’t covering the war in Iraq because, hold the presses, there’s another missing white woman!” I understand the intent behind this is to point out the racism behind the manufactured press hysteria, but what actually happens is this: black, asian, and hispanic women still get ignored, and white women are held in contempt and blamed for media coverage over which they have no control. That’s it.

For more info on Latoyia Figueroa (and positive responses to lack of attention to missing non-white-women), see black feminism and the one good thing post.

related posts: Juárez: missing non-white women meme, at work?

artistic innovation & racism

The NYT ran two articles today on copies of art, both listed on the front page in the respective sections: One listed in the “arts” section and titled “Imitations That Transcend Flattery” by Roberta Smith, and the other breathlessly titled Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art! by Keith Bradsher, and listed in the business section. [By 245 this afternoon when I got back to this draft, I noted that the front page title of “Original Chinese Copies” had been changed, and “Imitations That Transcend” had been taken off the front page; both are listed in the arts page and “Original Chinese Copies” is still in the business section.]

I’m sure this is an NYT editorial accident, left hand, right hand, lack of knowledge, etc., but reading the two articles together gave me a queasy feeling, like when you’re watching a movie and suddenly realize you need 3D glasses. The color information is shifted just slightly, creating two different accounts of the world. Once I put on my special 3D Glasses of Power*, everything righted itself: in fact, I got a whole different picture, and a lot of new information poppped out.

OK, the metaphor can’t go on forever. For one thing, these are not exactly the same two articles. The two articles are on different issues and consequently take different tones: “Original Chinese Copies!” is a standard business section article about the cheap oil painting (aka ‘mass art’ or ‘hotel art’) industry: China has gotten into the industry & the American industry is (or may be) suffering from the competition. “Imitations That Transcend”, on the other hand, is a standard artist/exhibition article: it focuses on one artist, Richard Pettibone, who does “appropriation art”, and discusses him and his current show, which consists of miniatures of famous paintings.

But perspectives are indeed shifted across these two articles, and noticing that, you notice a few other things. First, obviously, race: “Original Chinese Copies!” feeds into a racist stereotype of Asian people that was much in evidence during the 70s & 80s, when many US newspapers ran stories about the Japan-US trade deficit and Japanese businesspeople (well, let’s be honest: businessmen) buying up American landmarks, property, etc. At the same time there was a lot of fairly blatant racism in US media, e.g., pundits talking about how the Japanese imitated US innovations but didn’t come up with their own ideas. The idea was that the Japanese are just so good & efficient at copying that they beat ‘us’, despite our brilliance, and as a result of our good nature & the post-WW2 reconstruction. I’m sure the racism in that media coverage has been analyzed half to death elsewhere. And I don’t want to have to point it out, but the same themes popped up in this article: the Chinese are doing mass production, they’re very good at copying, etc. And they’re a threat: “China is creating a fast-growing army of trained artists”. (An army of artists. … Hmm. Sounds pretty good, to me, and probably a hell of a lot cheaper, not to mention safer, than an army of, err, armed soldiers.)

Questions of originality, authenticity, quality, the definition and value of art, aesthetics, ethnically identifiable schools of art, etc., are elided through smirky punctuation with an unpleasant racial undertone: The author politely refrains from discussing the ‘quality’ of the Chinese copies, while making his opinion known through the scare quotes around ‘quality’. This is a perfect entree to a point about one person’s art being another person’s garbage liner, and might have been useful in an article about mass art oil paintings. Instead the ‘quality’ line gets dropped into a section to further contrast between Chinese art (industrial-style, copied) and American art (original). No mention here of the ‘quality’ of the American hotel-art industry’s output. And check out the headline: Someone, the author or the editor, entitled the article “Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art!”. ‘Real’? ‘Western Art’? Where to begin. I don’t mind a business article not getting into the fine points of what makes art Art, but don’t furtively raise the issues in a racist context through the use of snide punctuation.

And then there’s the discussion of copyright, which plays into a new wine, old bottles theme in the business press: “Oh these Asian countries are so bad! They don’t respect our copyrights!”

Exporters of Chinese paintings say that even though the paintings often imitate well-known works of art, the copies are inherently different because they are handmade, and so do not violate copyrights.

Robert Panzer, the executive director of the Visual Artists and Galleries Association, a trade group based in New York, disagreed. He said that the vast majority of paintings produced before the 20th century were in the public domain and could be freely copied and sold. But it is not legal to sell a painting that appears to a reasonable person like a copy of a more recent, copyrighted work, he said.

The old bottles for this new w(h)ine? Still the same old racism-tinged stories from the 70s & 80s: Asian countries are bad! bad! and they’re hurting our business interests. What’s so sad about this particular whine is that it’s just sort of tossed in the mix to further taint the Chinese mass-art industry with Badness; the copyright material is almost completely gratuitous to the article. Nowhere in the article, for instance, does it describe any instances of a Western painting, still under copyright, that was actually duplicated. Nor are the copyright concerns ever discussed in the context of the US mass-art industry: if the US mass-art industry used to be such hot shit, then how did they deal with copyright issues attaching to not-very-original hotel art? China might like to know! But no — the copyright issue isn’t seriously discussed; it’s just tossed in, perhaps by order of editor, to lengthen a too-short piece.

So when writing a business story about mass art, why not just throw in some gratuitous discussion of the Bad Bad Chinese Communist Copiers? Everyone else does. Coverage of international copyright markets and issues is subtly infused with a significant racial dynamic. It’s not like I came up with this half-baked idea on my own — I came up with it after years of reading the same stories over and over and over again. Eventually, after reading yet one more article about how a developing nation is thumbing its nose at US copyright imperialism (ahem), I cottoned to the fact that I had read a lot more articles about Asian copyright infringement than any other kind.

I bet anyone else following these issues in the US has too. Consider how often we hear about the thriving Asian & South/Central American markets for illegally copied works (usually videos and recorded music). Those brown people sure are bad, disrespecting our copyrights and hurting our native copyright industries! Contrast the badness of people of color with the similarly thriving market in Russia & Poland, nations peopled with people of pallor. The only significant media coverage these markets got in recent memory was when the entertainment industry decided to drop its prices in Russia to compete with the ‘black’ market. ** Or what about Norway? It just doesn’t get any whiter than Norway, which not only has ‘black’ markets in copyrighted goods, but whose court system declared that Jon Lech Johansen, teen auteur of DeCSS, was A-okay. Finland is a veritable outlaw nation! Surely the press ‘tars’ the Finnish with the brush of piracy? Not.

The MPAA, god bless its tiny little nonracist copyright maximalist heart, wants to target all ‘pirate’ nations, including “Brazil, Malaysia, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, and Thailand.” (2003/Feb/16) The MPAA was particularly concerned with Russia and South Africa. But a LexisNexis Academic search for “(copyright w/5 (piracy or pirate)) AND (china or asia or korea)” in the business & finance section of the news returned 831 hits; whereas the same search, replacing the countries with (russia or soviet or poland or finland or norway) produced 66 articles; adding in africa (russia or soviet or poland or finland or norway or africa) doubled the results to bring us to 130. (4 of the first 25 articles of this set headline only Asian countries!) Alas, I couldn’t really do a full-Asian search, which would have also included India, Pakistan, etc.; the Academic LexisNexis subscription I am using rejected search sets with over a thousand results. Media coverage of international copyright infringement and international markets in copyright infringed works seems to focus disproportionately on Asian nations.

It’s a convenient story for the American business press, after all. The Asian copyright violation story fits the larger narrative of an Asian threat to US industries, and simultaneously reinforces the image of unoriginal but but frighteningly efficient Asian copyists.

… So, okay, another bad article in a series of largely bad business articles about the entertainment industry and copyright infringement over the years. But the NYT ran this particular bad article simultaneously with another article, profiling an artist who truly is outright copying art, and not just public domain or arguably barely original works, but works that are famous, recognizable, and still under copyright restrictions. (Okay, possibly still barely original.)

From the copyright critical perspective, “Imitations That Transcend” was certainly better than “Original Chinese Copies”. “Imitations That Transcend” profiled Richard Pettibone, an artist who is grappling with questions of originality and the definition of art. By contrast, “Original Chinese Copies” alludes to copyright infringement as a means of villification of a competitive industry.

Of course, “Imitations That Transcend” is not without its problems. It mentions numerous male artists but neglects to mention virtually any female artists. Not surprising, perhaps: as the Guerilla Girls have long documented, even in the 21st century sexism flourishes within the art world. And as so much of the NYT’s writing, article describes the artistic ambitions of the art without actually engaging the ambition or analyzing them. I found that particularly ironic in an Arts article about an artist who deconstructs Art.

But it was the juxtaposition of “Imitations That Transcend” with “Original Chinese Copies” that really caught my eye, as a real-time demonstration of everything that was wrong with these articles, and, for that matter, a real-time demonstration also of Richard Pettibone’s alleged concerns with the definition of art and ideas, too. It’s too perfect. In the Arts section, we get a self-important article describing Real Art, but completely neglecting to actually connect the issues within the Art to any real world concerns or indeed any actual engagement with the issues the subject Artist purports to raise. And in the Business section, we get cheap villification of people of color (mere copiests in an ‘army’ warring against Fine American Art and artists’ colonies), softened by some gentle condescension of the Chinese artists’ individual human ambitions. Top it all off by the polite use of punctuation to allude to commentary without actually giving any: the ‘quality’ of the art is scare quoted, in lieu of actual discussion. And the ultimate irony, ‘Real Western Art!’ is given pride of place in the headline.

Hey, who needs artists to create irony, when you have the NYT editors.


* 3D Glasses of Power! Get them today! Feminism! Antiracism! Copyright Criticism! Knowledge is power, and with the 3D Glasses of Power!, you will have all the knowledge you can handle!

** Arrggh! [Tearing my hair out in frustration.] ‘Black’ market, indeed.

annoying me today

So far today I am thrice annoyed:

  • Multiple Double Standards: NY Sex Offenders Get Viagra [5/23] Jesus. Get over Viagra already. What is with the guys running the guvmint? “According to [NY State Comptroller Alan] Hevesi, the problem is an unintended consequence of a 1998 directive from federal officials telling states that Medicaid prescription programs must include Viagra.” Who are these mysterious unnamed federal officials? Could they be … men? And how did they feel about birth control? Last time I looked, the federal government & states like Missouri were trying to make it harder more difficult for women to get family planning, including birth control.

    Look, I support prisoners’ rights, and adequate medical care is a right. The problem isn’t prisoners, who will get tossed to the curb by any politician trying to prove they’re tough on crime. The problem is with the double standard that treats Viagra, a recreational drug designed for men, differently (and better) than sex toys or birth control, both of which most directly benefit women.

    Ought I also point out the role of Big Pharma, which still holds viable patents on Viagra & similar drugs, but which has generic competition for many birth control formulas?

    And finally, as long as we’re on the topc of “recreational drugs”, compare: “Since it was approved by the FDA in 1998, about 16 million men have tried Viagra, according to Pfizer.” (1) and “Over 83 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once.” (2) … And health risks: 60-120 deaths directly related to ingestion of Viagra (3, 4) vs. 0 deaths directly related to ingestion of marijuana (5).

  • The Filibuster Compromise. Salon.com’s Tim Grieve says, patronizingly, that “if we’re confused” about who won, we should look to the wingnuts frothing over the compromise to assure ourselves that the Democrats won. Well, whoop-de-fucking-doo. The Democrats did indeed win exactly what they wanted to win: preservation of the judicial filibuster. How did they win this brave victory of exactly what polls show that most Americans want? By giving up whatever principles they claimed to have had that inspired the filibusters to begin with. This leaves us exactly nowhere, except with 3 more life appointments on the bench, and a new set of “but he said” whines for the next round.

  • Double Standards, Again: In Montgomery, a Catholic HS Girl who’s pregnant was refused permission to walk with her graduating class [St. Jude Educational Institute Class of 2005], although the boy who made her pregnant was allowed to participate. She walked on her own, anyway, but her mother and aunt were then “escorted out of the church by police”. The Red Hot Chili Peppers said it best: Catholic School Girls Rule. As for the school’s actions, it’s a Roman Catholic HS, a private entity, so I sort of don’t care, but then again, I sort of do, because the double standard pisses me off.

    Now, I have it on good authority that the school system in Montgomery sucks, so I understand what might drive parents to take their children out of the public system and pay to send them to a Catholic HS. A little reminder about just why there are so many private “religious” schools in Alabama: Desegregation and racism. Once public schools were forced to integrate, many racist white folk took their children out of public schools and into a horde of new private “religious” schools. With so many white folks sending their kids to private schools, funding for public schools has never gone anywhere — Alabama continues to use its sales tax to fund its public schools, leaving that poor benighted state with one of the highest sales taxes in the nation. (School funding is shared between state & city/counties, so local governments have incentive to keep sales taxes high — in Huntsville, AL, for instance, the sales tax is up to 10%, and no exceptions for food, you uppity poor people!) Even with a ridiculously high sales tax, the school system is still really crappy & under-funded (6, 7). So you can understand parents being willing to send their children to be indoctrinated in private schools, especially Catholic schools which were usually set up independently of desegregation. So I’m sorry for the family which did the best they could for their daughter, who was then treated like shit by the backwards-ass Catholic school.

    Oh, Alabama, I mock you but you make me sad.

name changes & blog comment-discussion threads

A couple of blogs [Matthew Yglesias, Volokh Conspiracy 1 and 2] have been running long comment-thread arguments about US women changing their names on marriage. Most comments fall into one of a few categories:

  1. Rationalizing / defensive about the decision w/in their marriage for the woman to change her last name to the man’s: “It wasn’t a big deal for her to change her name … She liked his name better … She didn’t really care about her name ” [Seen mostly on Volokh 1 and Yglesias]

    Wow. That so many literate folk could completely ignore the effect of socialization and sexist traditions is rather astonishing, but there you have it, the same old lines: “I got breast enlargements because they make me happier.” Almost none of these people up-front said, “It’s a silly and sexist tradition but I think there’s an independent value in following traditions anyway,” “I did it without much examination because it seemed like the thing to do, and you’re right, that was a result of sexist social pressure (but I don’t care / I regret it),” or any other response that would have indicated consciousness of themselves as individuals within a larger social framework. No, these were all free individuals, no social pressures here, move it along. Can there be individual situations and individual reasons for going with the convention? Sure, of course. But for so many people to claim the convention had nothing to do with their decision, and yet their decisions all followed the convention, is classic lack of political self-awareness.

  2. Rationalizing and silly. “We did it for the children; think of the children!” (Variants: Well, we couldn’t hyphenate; what would happen when our children wanted to marry some other hyphenated children?)[Seen mostly on Volokh 1]

    Think of the children? What? Numerous people asserted that children were better off if their parents had the same name as each other; or if the children had the same name as the parents. Where is this coming from? I’ll tell you: This kind of statement is just the most obvious recitation of a belief described as a reason. Not once did anyone even pretend to cite to some sociological data showing, I don’t know, family unity, family happiness, divorce rates, child identification with parents, or any other piece of admittedly subjective and silly data to support these arguments.

    I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt when I say that they can’t really think that children are better off objectively, because after all many of them seemed aware that there are numerous different naming traditions in different cultures and times. So they must just think that children are better off because other children in this culture have that experience. The same reasoning of course explains why some folks continue to have unnecessary genital surgery on male infants and why people used to stay locked together in unhappy marriages: “Little Johnny will be so unhappy if he’s the only one with divorced parents / uncircumsed penis / different name than his parent!” It’s a reason, but I have trouble respecting it.

    (As for hyphenating: What a silly argument. It almost pains me to have to point out that (1) Your patrilineally single-named children may marry some hyphenated-name child and have to deal with the issue anyway, and (2) Let them figure it out when they grow up. If they have a hyphenated name, they have more names & syllables to play with as they devise their own family name and figure out how to name their children.)

  3. Dismissive: “Does this matter any more? … Feminism has moved on … Name changes are irrelevant …” (plus sarcastic variants of this) [Seen on both Volokh blog entries and Yglesias]

    These people are socio-politically naive. Are non-legally-mandatory name changes for adult women on marriage the biggest issue that human rights people ought to be dealing with? No, it ranks well below female genital mutilation, reproductive rights, equal employment rights, etc. But the existence of a gender-based tradition that came from, co-exists with, and supports sexism is different from a hypothetical gender-based tradition that has nothing to do with sexism.

  4. Here’s our great compromise: She uses both our names! (mostly on Yglesias)

    I’m not sure whether the “She kept her name as her middle name” and “She kept her name as her first last name, i.e., Paula Jones Smith” fall into category 1 or 2. In the modern US-Anglo tradition, without hyphenation, only “Smith” is treated as the family name / surname. So this is some sort of compromise which tries to fit into both traditions. B for effort, I guess. Was she the only one or did he do it too? Do they really use both names? Might be interesting to know how that works out for people.

  5. Self-congratulatory: “She kept her name … We’re a great liberal couple.” (mostly on Yglesias)

    Right. And yet so many of these people, both in these blog comments and among folks I know, give their children the man’s last name. Apparently without much consideration.

    IMO, an adult woman choosing to take her adult male spouse’s last name in accordance with an admittedly sexist tradition is, you know, whatever. I wouldn’t do it, and I don’t like the outcome on a society-wide basis when some large percentage of women do it — but whatever. They’re grown women, with their own names, and they can change them if they want to.

    Frankly, I get much more annoyed by the continued patrilineal naming of children.

What didn’t I see? Nobody, not one person on any of the comment trails (when I saw them, although admittedly I scanned quickly because it was just such an annoying set of threads), brought up same-sex couples. Very few people brought up blended families. And non-marital families were brought up only, so far as I could see, in the context of sarcastic “Well why don’t you get rid of all the traditions and just not get married, Mr. Modern Feminist” type comments. And non-Anglo/US naming traditions were brought up only to demonstrate the point that other cultures have different naming traditions. Only one comment seemed to notice that there are non-Anglo naming traditions present here in the US today! All of these are groups of people dealing with the name issue and what it means to other folks right here in the US, and how to deal with a dominant naming tradition.

So little light, and not even much interesting heat. This just confirms my suspicion that blog comments are really not interesting ways to have a discussion. There’s no threading; there’s no individual responses to individual comments. Blog comments do seem interesting when someone adds information. Volokh’s original post was a query, and many of the responses came was answers; the whole entry + responses therefore acted as an informal survey, which was interesting use of comments. But the discussion value was poor, poor, poor. Yglesias’ blog discussion was no better. Pfah. Maybe it will improve as the technology improves.

hear, hear

siva calls out the folks who keep on talking to men in the public interest tech community & ignoring the women who’ve laid the groundwork: SIVACRACY.NET: Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Weblog: Y (Chromosome) the Same Old Faces? [thanks to copyfight]

and an nyu student demonstrates to j. antonin scalia understand that the private sex practices of consenting adults ought to be, well, private. (at a Q&A at nyu, the student asked j. scalia about his position regarding Lawrence, and dissatisfied with his response, followed up with the question: “Do you sodomize your wife?”) [page 6 in the nypost and Eric Berndt, the student questioner, explaining why he did it] [thanks to copyfight AGAIN] i wonder if j. scalia got the point? or did he merely console & distract himself by feeling outraged that someone would be so rude & inappropriate? ‘you can disagree with someone’s politics, but that doesn’t give them the right to verbally assault you in public!’ does he think it would be more appropriate & less embarrassing if asked by a prosecutor or judge in a courtroom with the coercive threat of prison and/or punitive fines and/or registration on ‘sex offender’ databases behind the question? [rewritten 5/5]

5/5: oh yeah. and did i mention how curious i found the blog commentary on this incident? on so-called liberal / progressive blogs, commentary seemed largely critical. ‘He did our cause a great disservice; how dare he be so rude & uppity’ with only a small minority defending the kid. [See, e.g., daily kos 4/12] And on the right-wing blogs I read that day I saw more commentary & debate between people who thought it was rude & people who got the point about individual rights & privacy! [I will try to remember which blogs those were – maybe volokh conspiracy.]