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"What to Read on Gender and Foreign Policy"

[ 0 ] January 20, 2010 |

Over the break, Foreign Affairs posted my picks on which gender literature the foreign policy community should take seriously. Here’s how the piece begins:

Feminists have long argued that it is wrong to ignore half the population when crafting policies meant to secure a stable world order. Now foreign policy experts are beginning to grasp a different point: a “gender perspective” is relevant not only to those concerned with making the world better for women, but also to anybody who cares about military effectiveness, alliance stability, democracy promotion, actionable intelligence, the stem of pandemic disease, or successful nation building. The following sources are essential reading for anyone interested in the connections between gender relations — norms and assumptions about men and women, masculinity and femininity — and the practice of foreign policy.

You can argue with how I framed it or which works I chose out of the volumes of good scholarship on gender and IR. But if you ask me, it’s fabulous that FA is starting to include gender issues among its must-reads – and, if the latest issue is any suggestion, mainstreaming them in its print edition. Go check it out and tell me what you think.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

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And In Other Bad News….

[ 0 ] January 20, 2010 |

Kate McGarrigle, 1946-2010. Definitely a great one.

LGM Corrections

[ 0 ] January 20, 2010 |

In retrospect, we’re rather glad that Colonel Mustard didn’t take us up on the offer to make it interesting.

UPDATE [By SL]: Hey, when you’re right 35% of the time…I’m sorry LGM readers were not properly informed.

Haiti, Take Two

[ 0 ] January 20, 2010 |

A 6.1 magnitude aftershock has hit Haiti.

Fat and Identity Politics

[ 0 ] January 20, 2010 |

I’m doing a talk on this topic at UCLA tomorrow. The price is right for any LA LGMers looking to stretch their entertainment dollar.

I’m staying at a guest house on campus tonight and there’s a photo of Lew Alcindor on the wall.

Health care reform is dead for another generation because a Senate candidate couldn’t remember who Curt Schilling pitched for

[ 0 ] January 20, 2010 |

I’m pretty sure that David Broder will conclude this means the system works.

UPDATE [BY SL]: I believe that Massachusetts swing voters have sent a clear message, and the message is, “we already have ours, so piss off!” At any rate, if Congressional Dems want to get clobbered in the 2010 midterms and accomplish absolutely nothing, they should take Evan Bayh’s advice very seriously.

Update #2 [PC] Also, Yglesias

The 10 Best Directors in Hollywood

[ 0 ] January 20, 2010 |

(This is a guest post by Ben Shapiro, the esteemed author of, among other things, “The Top 5 Conservative Characters on the First Episode of The Wire.”)

This is for all those people who read my list of the most overrated directors and demanded to know who my ten favorite directors were. Here they are:

8. David Zucker wrote and directed An American Carol, which made fun of Michael Moore.

7. The movie United 93, because the truth is that the story itself is conservative. Americans didn’t apologize for foreign entanglements or the American way of life on Flight 93—they just rolled. The movie is almost a documentary, so it might as well have directed itself.

6. Michael Bay is hated by snobs who hate fun, but The Island hated on stem cell research and that makes him a great director.

5. Ramón Menéndez, whose direction of Stand and Deliver proves the same thing the film does: not all Mexicans are worthless.

4. The guy who directed Taken, the film that proves that the French approach is never the correct approach because the French always suck.

3. Despite later directing a film about rap, which is crap, Curtis Hanson also directed L.A. Confidential, which teaches us not to worry about Miranda because the ends always justify the means.

2. George P. Cosmatos pretended to direct films like Tombstone and Rambo: First Blood Part II, both of which brilliantly depict morally unambiguous worlds in which the good guys always were white and the enemy is always appropriately caricatured.

1. John Milius, the genius behind Red Dawn, is a cinematic genius because his work appeals to my ideological preconceptions and is genius. Just look at that picture? How could he not be a genius?

Political Advice From Your Enemies

[ 0 ] January 19, 2010 |

Shorter Bobo: passing a health care bill that might only have been able to get a 59-41 supermajority in the Senate would be “political suicide.” Going into the midterms having failed to pass substantial legislation, on the other hand, would be political gold — just like 1994! Also, I was assigned Hobbes in college. No, the famous original cover has nothing to do with Obama, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

A Question

[ 0 ] January 19, 2010 |

If — and I’m pessimistically assuming when — Scott Brown wins tonight, how long will it take before a member of the Senate Democratic caucus announces his or her intention to reject “Plan A” (i.e., a quick wrap-up of negotiations and a full vote on final passage before Brown is seated) because it would presumably “flout the will” of Massachusetts voters?

Breitbart Self-Parody Watch

[ 0 ] January 19, 2010 |

As Sadly, No! and Mr. Bogg have already documented, Ben Shapiro’s latest entry at Andrew Breitbart’s Aesthetic Stalinism for Dummies is a classic. It actually starts out a little frighteningly by identifying two actually decdent candidates for such a list, but instantly removes any credibility from his Ridley Scott pick by IDing Gladiator as his best film. After that, though…wow. I particularly enjoyed:


3. Woody Allen. He’s pretentious and unbearable. His movies are like nails screeching on a chalkboard, only with less humor. He is as nerdy as Peter Orszag, but he acts out his fantasies and illuminates his insecurities in film and expects us all to watch.

Haha, Peter Orszag, nails on a chalkboard — I hope Woody calls up Shapiro for some advice on comic writing!


Raging Bull is gross. Mean Streets is gross and soporific. Taxi Driver is perhaps the most overrated film in Hollywood history — dreary, grungy, and subzero.

See, if Scorsese was a good director, his portrait of 70s Manhattan would have been clean enough to get one of those Film Advisory Board ribbons (indeed, their sense of what makes a good movie would seem to track Shapiro’s almost exactly.) And it would definitely be above zero!

Awful stuff. If Big Hollywood insists on staying in business, it should at least stick to the creatively insane, like Ben Stone’s thoughtful assessment of that well-known piece of Communist propaganda, Casablanca. Now that’s more like it! (via Edroso.)

Remember Those Guantanamo Suicides?

[ 0 ] January 19, 2010 |

Actually, maybe they weren’t. So says this advance expose by Scott Horton in Harper’s, based on interviews with four US servicemen who were previously told by their superior officers to keep quiet. Print issue will hit the stands next month.

Don Draper is, of course, never himself.

[ 0 ] January 19, 2010 |

Let me open with a quick clarification about the previous Mad Men post: as to the purview of self-fashioning, we all do it. In blog terms, you know me as this guy, i.e. the one who caught those students, made that other one extremely uncomfortable, is frequently victimized by the library, hid his cancer from his wife, etc. Those are the stories I tell about myself to explain myself to myself. To quote Gertrude Stein from Everybody’s Autobiography:

Identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself. That is really the trouble with an autobiography you do not of course really believe yourself why should you, you know so well so very well that it is not yourself, it could not be yourself because you cannot remember right and if you do remember right it does not sound right and of course it does not sound right because it is not right. You are of course never yourself.

The phrase “of course” captures the central irony of all self-fashioning: we know, of course, that we are more than the sum total of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and yet we only understand ourselves, and can only be understood by others, through those stories. In case you ever wanted to know why narrative diversity is important, there you have it: the more narrative modes available, the more possible understandings of themselves the people who encounter them can have.

This is self-fashioning at its most mundane, and in terms of Mad Men, this is why Peggy Olson becomes more modern: once she understands herself in terms of the upwardly mobile career-oriented woman, the audience understands her frustrations in terms of the conflict between that meritocratic fantasy and the realities of being a woman in a male-dominated working environment. She becomes more recognizably modern not because the world she inhabits does, but because the way she responds to that changing world elicits a chorus of “of courses.”

Neither she nor Peter Campbell become “more real” as the series progresses—fictional characters, being fictional, can only aspire to escape the fictions they inhabit—but as the stories they tell themselves about themselves in order to understand themselves come to resemble ours, they’ll seem more realistic because they’re telling themselves the same stories we tell ourselves and we, of course, live in the real world. What I meant when I wrote the following, then, is that Campbell is increasingly understanding himself in reference to the same narratives we do, whereas Don Draper is not:

Campbell is, in a sense, becoming us, and we revile his behavior to the extent that we recognize our sins in his actions. Draper, however, is becoming art, and as such we hold him as responsible for his actions as we would Emma Bovary. His self-fashioning was not merely based on literary precedent, it was an act of literature, if you will, and much of the appeal of the show is based on watching an inscrutable literary character interact with actual humans.

Draper’s self-fashioning is not remotely this mundane—it is radical. He envisions himself not in the way a person envisions his or her self, but in the way an author envisions a character, which is why Joseph Kugelmass refers to it as aesthetic self-fashioning. To a certain extent, this is how my blog functions, i.e. as a stylized version of the life I actually live and the person I actually am; but because there are stories central to my conception of myself that have not and will never make it on the blog, the person you associate with my name will always feel, to me, like a persona. If withholding certain core stories so alters the warp and woof of my persona that it aestheticizes my self-fashioning, you can imagine what would happen were I to start inventing those stories whole cloth à la Draper.

The only people who know him on the show are the dead actors in his increasingly frequent hallucinations, because only they have access to his entire allotment of self-narratives—and, of course, they only have that access because they are the stories he tells himself about himself. The audience is privy to some of them, but not the entire store, which is why Draper remains ever at a remove. To the extent that Mad Men belongs to Draper, it is a story about someone will never be able to integrate his stories with the ones he wants told about him even to himself. His hallucinations bully and hector him in order to remind him “that it does not sound right and of course it does not sound right because it is not right,” because the troubled antecedent of Stein’s “it” is even more troubling when the narratives that constitute identity are the convenient inventions of an unsettled soul.

If this conception of self-fashioning seems less modern than modernist, that would be my point: the manner in which Draper is integrating his competing narratives into a semi-coherent sense of self is entirely consonant with the modernist obsession with integrating competing narratives into semi-coherent sense of self. From the unstable “I” in Samuel Beckett’s trilogy to the endless renegotiation of familial roles in Joyce’s Ulysses, literary modernists sought to explode the tidy, reducible self that had been the hallmark of literary realism. Draper is, then, something of an exploded man sifting through bits of himself in search of the core to which all these bits once belonged. However, until he accomplishes this impossibility, his self-fashioning will still be far more aesthetic than that of the other characters on Mad Men, and as such, the show’s literate audience will still be drawn to him more than them.

I keep on meaning for these Mad Men posts to move beyond Draper so I can talk about Joan or visual rhetoric, but I can’t quit Draper quite yet.