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Divorcing Design from Money

[ 148 ] April 17, 2014 |

I love fashion, I love interior design. I gave up on fashion magazines years and years ago because I think women’s magazines are pretty awful for women. But beyond that, I think the world of fashion is too wedded to money. It’s too wedded to that cadre of socialites you see in the back of “Vogue.” Fashion–let’s face it–is made for people who can’t be rich or thin enough.  And it breaks my heart because I love beautiful clothes. Fashion designers are artists–I want to just enjoy their art…but, c’mon, I can’t afford their art. And, like interior design, the socialite and celebrity-infused culture of fashion feels very far-removed from my life.

I’ve yet to give up interior design magazines. However, I’ve given up on the articles attending the spreads. Fawning, vapid articles about uber-rich people who don’t seem to have anything resembling normal lives. I don’t want that. I just want to hear from the artist–why did you choose that couch? How do you make a tablescape? And, you know, there’s some of that, sure. But, again, even that can feel alienating for a middle class/upper middle class (I don’t know) layperson like me. I simply couldn’t afford to  make the design choices that you see in “House Beautiful” or “Elle Decor.”

So, where do you go from here if, like me, you enjoy great design but you don’t enjoy its attendant money-infused snootiness?

In America, even the air is racist

[ 6 ] April 17, 2014 |

It turns out that the quality of the air you breathe might be related to the color of your skin — even after adjusting for income.

Great job, air!

“There is No Southern Baptist Position on Abortion”

[ 112 ] April 17, 2014 |

So said a Southern Baptist Convention newspaper on January 31, 1973, soon after Roe v. Wade was decided.

Question: What is the Southern Baptist position on abortion?

Answer: There is no official Southern Baptist position on abortion, or any other such question. Among 12 million Southern Baptists, there are probably 12 million different opinions.

Question: Does the Supreme Court decision on abortion intrude on the religious life of the people?

Answer: No. Religious bodies and religious persons can continue to teach their own particular views to their constituents with all the vigor they desire. People whose conscience forbids abortion are not compelled by law to have abortions. They are free to practice their religion according to the tenets of their personal or corporate faith.

The reverse is also now true since the Supreme Court decision. Those whose conscience or religious convictions are not violated by abortion may not now be forbidden by a religious law to obtain an abortion it they so choose.

In short, if the state laws are now made to conform to the Supreme Court ruling, the decision to obtain an abortion or to bring pregnancy to full term can now be a matter of conscience and deliberate choice rather than one compelled by law.

Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.

It would take time for the Southern Baptist Convention to become a tool of the conservative movement. As Seth Dowland detailed in a 2009 article in Church History, it was not until the late 70s that evangelicals spoke out strongly against women’s rights, abortion, or gay rights. Carter won with significant evangelical support and even fervor in 1976. In 1980, he lost those voters. What happened? A core of conservatives connected with evangelicals over the decline of the family and helped people make connections between these core values we see as inherently evangelical today and other problems they felt in the 70s. Jerry Falwell himself made no statement at all about abortion until 1975. In fact, the Catholic response against the Roe decision made many anti-Catholic evangelicals see Catholic anger as a reason to support the decision. The journal Christianity Today strongly supported feminism in a 1974 editorial and most evangelicals openly supported the Equal Rights Amendment in its early years. The success of people arguing that both of these things were attacks on women and the family turned people fairly rapidly, it is true. The anti-gay campaign led by Anita Bryant was far more about fear mongering about its effect on children than any biblical basis that was only stressed later. But this earlier history can’t be erased, no matter how much evangelicals would like to try.

Dowland argues that was the threat of these three issues to the gendered order evangelicals held dear that turned them to political conservatism, but also suggests a top-down manipulation by Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly, Tim LaHaye, Anita Bryant, Francis Schaeffer, and a relatively few other major figures.

In other words, all of this is way more complicated than the pat media narratives suggest.

It’s a Carrier!

[ 56 ] April 16, 2014 |

I display some frustration:

As an educator, I can attest to some frustration in relating to students that the United States operates ten aircraft carriers, plus another nine ships that we would refer to as aircraft carriers if they served in any other navy.  And while I appreciate the desire of analysts to differently categorize the capabilities of Wasp and Nimitz-class carriers, I wish that people had a firmer grasp on the abject silliness of claiming that a 45,000 ton flat-decked aircraft-carrying warship is not, in fact, an aircraft carrier. Think of the children.

Documentaries

[ 195 ] April 16, 2014 |

What are the best documentaries of all time? Sight and Sound is about to release a poll around this issue. Richard Brody has his choices, of which I’ve seen 2: Night and Fog, which belongs, and The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, which is one of the most remarkable films I’ve ever seen although I’m not sure one of the best.

I don’t know that I’m quite qualified to answer this question. There are a lot of bloody documentaries out there and I’ve seen a lot of them, but then a lot of really important ones I haven’t seen. I think it’s more interesting perhaps to think about what makes a good documentary. Brody’s take:

What these selections have in common is the idea of history, the construction of history cinematically, and the manifest personal involvement of the filmmakers in that construction. The ultimate subject of all great documentaries is the presence of the filmmaker at the events on view or under consideration—and when, as in Wiseman’s work, the filmmaker is subtracted, it’s a conspicuous subtraction, as if by way of an onscreen equation. The implication of the past in the present, the ongoing effect of the past in the present, is another crucial documentary idea—the contextualization of reported events by means of visual archeology and intellectual analysis, the unfurling of the filmmakers’ own thought process by way of that analysis. That’s the source of these ten movies’ vital, dynamic, and ongoing inspirations for other filmmakers, as well as for these filmmakers’ own later works. The past in the present, the future in the present—the essence of the great documentary is in the cinematic conception of time, the disjunction between the real time of filming and the times that it implies. Rule of thumb: the greater and more wondrous that disproportion, the greater the film.

I’m not as smart as Brody, so I’ll be a bit less lyrical. I like documentaries that throw you off kilter. That certainly can consist of the interplay between past and present as Brody says, but it doesn’t have to be. What I dislike about documentaries–and what annoys me about how people talk about interesting documentaries–is the idea that the tell the truth. So often, when I watch something like Jennifer Baichwal’s Act of God, which is about people struck by lightning and closes with the experimental guitarist Fred Frith telling his story of his strike with a 5 minute guitar improvisation, the commenters are angry because they just wanted to know SOME FACTS ABOUT LIGHTNING!!!! There’s the strong sense that documentaries serve as either how-to manuals of understanding the world or as crusading films exposing evil. I’m more sympathetic to the latter, but most of them aren’t very good films. I don’t necessarily want to know more about a topic when I come out of a documentary. I want to have my way of thinking about the world transformed. And sometimes this happens. Here’s 11 I think very highly of as I’m sitting here. Not definitive, even for me.

Night and Fog (Resnais, 1955). Maybe the best documentary ever. Even among Holocaust films there’s a lot of competition there, but that’s a very powerful film.

Manufactured Landscapes (Baichwal, 2006). What is nature? Following the photographer Edward Burtynsky as he photographs Asian pollution, both artists involved challenge the viewer. It’s 2 stories, with Baichwal as important as Burtynsky. Wonderful for the intelligent Environmental Studies student interested in social justice. Plus anytime we can start a film with a 8 minute shot of row after row after row of Chinese factory workers doing the exact same thing, we are on the right path.

Grin Without a Cat (Marker, 1977). The best film about what the 60s represented and how they declined. No one played with the complexity of truth and memory more than Marker.

Louisiana Story (Flaherty, 1948). Probably my favorite of the older style of documentary that provides a lot of narration and a main character that may or may not have any real relation to how these people actually lived. But again, who cares about some arbitrary line of accuracy.

Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005). Speaking of the complexity of truth, I’ve had multiple people who did not know each other question whether Herzog was really telling anything resembling the truth here. Which is great. Timothy Treadwell is an anti-social weirdo with major problems. So is Werner Herzog. And it’s not like Herzog is even all that sympathetic. So there are two stories from two dislikable people going on at the same time. Entertaining and seriously makes the viewer question the relationship between people and the wild.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog, 2010). I usually try to limit films to one per director on these lists, but Herzog tells an incredibly compelling story about life and art 10,000 years ago. The past and present merge in this beautiful film. I was completely compelled from start to end.

Louie Bluie (Zwigoff, 1985). Documentaries about musicians are usually somewhat entertaining but don’t often get to the point of being really compelling. Louie Bluie is an exception, about a very cranky and hilarious old man and his amazing musical and visual art (including his “found art” (a term I hate) pornographic alphabet book.) Astounding.

The Times of Harvey Milk (Epstein, 1984). An exception to the political documentary problem of earnestness, as Epstein tells a story of movement just beginning to rise in American culture at a point where it is just beginning to go through its biggest crisis.

When the Levees Broke (Lee, 2006). Spike Lee’s finest film. Some complain that he gave credence to people who thought the government had blown up the levee to force black people to suffer the brunt of the disaster. Sure, that didn’t happen. However, it actually did happen in 1927. And given how horribly the government has treated African-Americans in New Orleans basically forever, those people had good reason to think that was possible. Again, documentaries aren’t about telling a single truth, whatever that even means in a case like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The Beaches of Agnes (Varda, 2008). The best autobiographical documentary I’ve seen. A great filmmaker making a film about a great filmmaker.

The Battle of San Pietro (Huston, 1945). Almost forgot about my favorite World War II film, where Huston spares the viewer nothing of the horrors of a minor battle in a necessary war. Made the military so uncomfortable that Mark Clark added an intro on the vital importance of this battle so the public wouldn’t get so upset by it.

Pretty recent set of films, but then we are living in the golden age of documentaries.

The Ludlow Centenary

[ 14 ] April 16, 2014 |

ludlow-camp-attacked

Next week will mark the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre. While it seems like a long time ago, in the New Gilded Age, it remains disturbingly relevant because the conditions that created such horrors in 1914 are returning to the United States of 2014. The historian Thai Jones gives an overview of the event and closes with this:

Observing from the vantage point of a half-century later, Howard Zinn saw two ways of understanding Ludlow. “If it is read narrowly, as an incident in the history of the trade union movement and the coal industry,” he wrote, “then it is an angry splotch in the past, fading rapidly amidst new events.” A second, more expansive view, he believed, revealed the true significance of the events of 1914: “If it is read as a commentary on a larger question—the relationship of government to corporate power and of both to movements of social protest—then we are dealing with the present.”

The export of manufacturing jobs abroad has produced an undoing of memory. Today, the nation is divided by the kind of severe income disparities last seen during the Gilded Age, and yet the traditions of labor militancy and resistance to corporate ferocity that flowered in the era of heavy industry have been largely forgotten by both workers and employers. But Ludlow is the terminus of capitalism’s regressive path. If our future is shaped by the further degradation of labor rights, there can only be more massacres and new monuments.

Indeed.

“…there was virtually no investigation at all.”

[ 197 ] April 16, 2014 |

The Amy Schumer sketch I linked to earlier today is, alas, applicable to a much wider array of institutions:

As she gave her account to the police, several bruises began to appear, indicating recent trauma. Tests would later find semen on her underwear.

For nearly a year, the events of that evening remained a well-kept secret until the woman’s allegations burst into the open, roiling the university and threatening a prized asset: Jameis Winston, one of the marquee names of college football.

Three weeks after Mr. Winston was publicly identified as the suspect, the storm had passed. The local prosecutor announced that he lacked the evidence to charge Mr. Winston with rape. The quarterback would go on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead Florida State to the national championship.

In his announcement, the prosecutor, William N. Meggs, acknowledged a number of shortcomings in the police investigation. In fact, an examination by The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.

Definitely do read the whole depressing thing.

Congress, as some of you remember, attempted to create a civil remedy in cases where state authorities were negligent in sexual assault cases, but this was deemed inconsistent with the Republican war on federal civil rights enforcement via whatever doctrine can be invented or exhumed from the Taney Court. (U.S. v. Morrision, as it happens, also involved a case where a state university put the health of the football team above the security of the person of women on campus, reason the umpteenth for not putting states’ “rights” ahead of actual human rights.) Until conservatives on the Supreme Court rule the Civil Rights Act unconstitutional, however, the way Florida State handled the case is almost certainly illegal, and I hope the Department of Justice is investigating assiduously.

Climate Change and Today’s Weather

[ 37 ] April 16, 2014 |

The evidence connecting climate change to specific weather events continues to grow, as this NASA run-down of research on the California drought demonstrates (PDF).

Ask Steven Attewell anything!

[ 34 ] April 16, 2014 |

He’s got an AMA over there on that reddit thing, and you’re more than welcome to join in the festivities.

It’s not like he’s announced his intentions in public, repeatedly

[ 250 ] April 16, 2014 |

An Oklahoma school district just approved a four-year elective called the “Museum of the Bible Curriculum.” It was created by the noted educational theorist — Hobby Lobby President Steve Green — who hopes that learning about the Bible in an “objective” fashion in a “secular program of education” will be mandatory in Oklahoma sometime in the very near future.

“I told you that if I couldn’t bring it in the front door, I was going to sneak it through the back,” Green might as well have said.

Go, Joe

[ 32 ] April 16, 2014 |

Evidently, Biden’s big mouth isn’t always a blessing, but on same-sex marriage it did indeed compel Obama to postmaturely do the right thing, and good for him.

Donald Rumsfeld frightened and confused by US tax code

[ 280 ] April 16, 2014 |

I have sent in our federal income tax and our gift tax returns for 2013,” Rumsfeld wrote. “As in prior years, it is important for you to know that I have absolutely no idea whether our tax returns and our tax payments are accurate.”
cloud

In his letter, Rumsfeld attributed his ignorance of whether he paid his taxes properly to the complexity of the tax code.

“The tax code is so complex and the forms are so complicated, that I know I cannot have any confidence that I know what is being requested and therefore I cannot and do not know, and I suspect a great many Americans cannot know, whether or not their tax returns are accurate,” Rumsfeld wrote.

Rumsfeld noted that he was confused about his taxes even though he “spent more money than I wanted to spend to hire an accounting firm.”

“I do not know whether or not my tax returns are accurate, which is a sad commentary on governance in our nation’s capital,” Rumsfeld wrote.

Speaking of complicated tasks, it’s too bad Turbotax doesn’t offer Nation Building software.

(h/t taxprof)

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