sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

February 4, 2016

Everyday Feminism

Filed under: feminism, immigration, jihad, politics — Tags: , , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:36 am

One August in the mid-80’s my mom took me and my sister to Yalta.  We usually vacationed elsewhere because this Crimean city, although unquestionably beautiful, was horribly overcrowded.  That year my sister was busy with university entrance exams all summer, so, after she passed, my mother decided to do something extravagant for her in the one week remaining before the beginning of the school year, and took us to Yalta.

Jurmala

No, this is not Yalta, this is Jurmala, a Latvian town on Baltic sea circa 1970.  The semi-naked human mass above is comparable to that of any other Soviet vacation paradise.  It’s hard to believe, but a jam-packed beach is somewhat of an object of Soviet nostalgia today.  Russia staged these types of human ant farm pictures in Yalta last summer by closing some of the beaches and crowding others

We rented out a half a room (well, a Soviet vacation) from a lady who lived five minutes away from the beach.  The lady that lived in the other half and was very talkative.  No problem, we thought, we are not planning on spending time in that room anyway.  We put on our swim suits and shorts and headed out.

Two blocks away from the beach we were approached by a young cop.

“Hello! Where are you from?” He asked politely.

We were taken aback.  This is not how Soviet authority figures typically approach citizens.  “Kharkov,” Replied my mother.

“So do you dress like that in Kharkov too?” He pointed to mine and my sister’s shorts. “This is way too short!” He all of a sudden became a Soviet authority figure, berating us for something that’s not any of his business in a first place.  He scolded us for a few minutes after which he said good buy and moved on to the next group of female vacationers.  A few months later we saw him on national TV admonishing some ingénues.

My mother was upset: No, we don’t wear this clothes in Kharkov, but Kharkov is not a resort town.  And here, two more blocks and we’ll be in our bikinis!

On a positive side, he didn’t throw acid on us, as our Iranian buddies would had done.  That young cop was pretty comical actually.  All his efforts didn’t make a dent in the beach-goers state of undress. But by then the Soviet Union was falling apart and 70 years of pent-up sartorial frustration was exploding in bright colors and mini skirts.  And designer labels on girls whose families, presumably, couldn’t afford any new clothes at all.

I don’t take my ability to dress the way I want for granted.  That’s why I view some of recent arrivals in my town with unease.  There’s a lot of heads carves and two women have only eyes open to the elements.  Their men dress more or less like normal Western men, but women and even elementary school girls are clearly marked as tribal-religious property.

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A classic: an Iranian woman before the revolution

The new arrivals’ dress code doesn’t simply signal their status; it has implications for me and my daughter.  As the European New Year’s Eve rape rampage confirmed, in the eyes of quite a few Muslim men Western women are one step above prostitutes.

I think it’s very important to show that we are not about to change our ways just because Muslim families settled in the nearby Section 8 (or whatever it’s called now) housing complex.  For instance, I always try to make eye contact with Muslim men and smile.  I wear skinny jeans and skirts that bare my knees.  If I’m ever in a situation where I can shake hands with a Muslim man, I’ll initiate it.

The other day I was walking towards the Target entrance when two women in head scarves and a male relative of theirs approached the entrance from the other side.  I made sure to get in 5 steps in front of them and, for myself, for my daughter and for every woman in Tehran, brushed my hand through my hair.

I don’t think I will personally ward off jihad, but on the other hand American women not as easy of a target as European women.  A 17-year-old Danish girl who fought of an assailant with pepper spray was recently told that she will be charged because pepper spray is illegal in Denmark.  This cannot possibly happen in the US, and the men entering the country must know it.

We can look at Israel as a model for assimilation.  The Jewish state has a pretty good record (well, all things considered) bringing their Muslims into the 21st century, and it’s known for beautiful modern women and Uzis.  I’d rather be Israel than Denmark.

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Another classic: A beach in Israel

January 28, 2016

An Account of Auschwitz Liberation

Filed under: politics — edge of the sandbox @ 9:25 am

Please read my post about Anatoly Shapiro, a Jewish Major in Red Army, who lead his men to storm the concentration camp and was the first to enter the premises of the camp.

January 26, 2016

No Really

Filed under: politics, Russia — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:58 am

Vladimir Putin invites Jews back to Russia:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called on European Jews who are facing anti-Semitism to move to Russia.

In a meeting with members of the European Jewish Congress, held in the Kremlin, Putin heard from congress president Dr. Moshe Kantor about the rise in anti-Semitism in Western Europe.

“They can come here,” Putin said to Kantor. “During the Soviet era Jews would leave, but now they can come back.”

Giggling ensured.  According to the 2014 ADL survey, 30% of the residents of Russian Federation are hardcore anti-Semites.  The number, while way above the regional low of just 13% for Czech Republic, is, on the other hand, way below the regional high of 45% of Poland and slightly below the regional average.  I’m not sure what the 30% figure tells us about the attitudes of ethnic Russians because the country has a relatively high percentage of ethnic minorities and those may have different opinions on this subject.  Both Ukraine and Belarus, on the other hand, are 38% anti-Semitic, so if I had to guess, the “titular nation” of the Russian Federation, as they like to call themselves, are probably similarly predisposed.

I first heard about Putin’s invitation on twitter where it was posted by a Kremlin journalist.  Although he was trying to sell it as a positive development, the reactions among his countrymen were far less than enthusiastic:

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“Russia is not Israel!!!” -Opined the individual whose handle name reads Antifascist. “Let them go to their motherland”.

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“Let them go to their shitty  israel” another user echoed this sentiment.  “That’s their promised land”.

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Everything according to Torah and Talmud! Divide and rule. “One Slav kill another, but we will live well.”

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“Patriot Wolf” who describes himself as “patriot… not putinoid” explained that “anti-Semitism is a normal reaction of non-Jews to actions of Yid-Hebews”

To be sure some expressed different sentiments: “Good tactical move! Amnesty of capitals, return of Jews – will bring their capitals! Throughly stubborn and hardworking nation!”  In Russia, just like in other European countries, Jews are considered a separate nation.  Still, I’ll take the compliment.

For all of his complains about “color revolutions”, Putin is a master of getting into domestic politics of EU nations and exploiting ethnic tensions.  Here he aims to score a point with Jews at the expense of the West.

The overwhelming majority of Jews left Russia in the 1990’s.  The intermarriage rate among the remaining 150,000 (albeit the number depends on how one defines a Jew) is about 80%.  Many of the remaining Jews think of themselves as Russians first.  Others, having background in humanities — writers, journalists, etc., have calculated that they will be unable to find jobs abroad.  For about 20 years, Jewish immigration subsided, then picking up again around the time of the failed protest movement of 2011.

Most Russian Jews are secular and (small l) liberal.  They held on to the dream of transforming Russia into a normal Western country.  About four-five years ago they, along with much of the Russian intelligentsia, saw the writing on the wall and started packing.  I’m not sure it has anything to do with anti-Semitism which over the last decades remained a sad constant in Russian life.

And by the way, I thought about putting “normal Western country” in the paragraph above in quotation marks, but out of cultural sensitivity to the Russian intelligentsia, did not.

A minority of Russian Jews are religious.  They see Putin in more traditional terms, as a protector, and write opuses like this one citing the strongman’s personal biographic connections to Jews.  Some credit the autocrat with protecting them from pogroms, but if we take Ukraine and Belarus as a control group, we see that these two eastern Slavic nations didn’t stage large-scale pogroms either.  So maybe the pogroms weren’t going to happen this time around, in part because it’s hard to have a good one with so few Yids left.

On the other hand, the Kremlin did rule out Jews as scapegoats in 2013, when homosexuals took the place traditionally reserved for us.  The current favorite target, however, are the liberals, and by liberals many “patriotically”-oriented Russians understand Jews.  There is a kind of one-drop rule for that: if a liberal in question can be shown to have a Jewish ancestor, or if he’s married to a Jew, he will be deemed a Yid.  And sure enough, many in Russia’s capital where, in the Soviet days, Jews were the largest minority group after Ukrainians, have a Jewish granny.  That they are baptized Russian Orthodox may not matter so long as they believe in free speech or free markets.

A few days ago Chechen warlord turned Moscow’s figurehead Ramzan Kadyrov fumed in best Stalinist traditions:

After calling Vladimir Putin’s foes “enemies of the people,” and after the speaker of his rubber-stamp legislature called liberal media outlets like Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd TV “traitors” and a “fifth column,” Kadyrov upped the ante with an article in the pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia calling Russia’s opposition “jackals” and suggesting they be placed in a psychiatric hospital in Chechnya.

“I promise not to skimp on the injections,” Kadyrov wrote. “In cases where one injection is prescribed, we will double the dosage.”

So, even if Putin, credit where credit is due, has a working relationship with Israel and is reasonably committed to protecting his Jews, I’d worry about the autocrat who will come after him.

That the normal Western countries Russian liberals yearn for might not exist much longer is another matter.

And here I want to introduce the story of my cousin.  She was born and raised in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.  After the breakdown of the Soviet Union the city was getting a bit creepy: my cousin was telling me that in certain neighborhoods women in pants would get rocks thrown at them.  My relatives decided to leave, settling in Boston, MA, of all places.  Twenty five years later Muslim refugees from the Russian Federation blew up an international sporting event there while the utterly corrupt Uzbekistan is considered a model moderate Islamic nation.

The Russian dissident news network TVRain recently reported about the outstanding job the former Soviet “republic” of Tajikistan is doing in curtailing Islamic radicalism. There, cops shave men’s beards, women have their hijabs forcefully removed, private mosques are banned, and functioning mosques have to have their sermons approved by a religious affairs committee.

Meantime the Leader of the Free Worlds imports hundreds of thousands of poorly vetted migrants from majority anti-Semitic countries and signs one executive order after another.  It is hard not to worry about the future of freedom and the future of world Jewry.

January 22, 2016

Bad Boyars of Benghazi

Filed under: film, politics — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:31 am

I can’t call myself an aficionado of action flicks, so I’m not sure where where 13 Hours falls within that genre.  I did find the movie intense, the lead parts were masterfully played and it offered plenty of food for thought.

It might be red meat for the conservative base, but in terms of pure propaganda value, in terms of effect on those who don’t study politics closely, 13 Hours falls short.

The movie follows six veterans, now contractors, providing security for the CIA outpost in war-torn, terrorist-infested Libyan town of Benghazi.  On one hand we have bravery, comradery and leadership of men like Jack Silva and Tyrone Woods, played by John Krasinski and James Badge Dale respectively, and on the other –stupidity and indifference bordering on betrayal everywhere they turn.  The American team was abandoned by the key local allies, denied adequate resources by its own country and when they needed rescue, help was too slow to come — you know the story.

JamesBadgeDale

The blame for the death of four Americans in the hands of the terrorists is never explicitly put on the the highest echelons of government.  Apart from the single sentence “The POTUS is briefed” superimposed over the picture of the White House, nothing assigns the responsibility for the death of four Americans to the president.  Something tells me if it was a Bush White House, the filmmakers would find a way to make it abundantly clear where the buck stops.

Although Ms. Rodham’s name is never uttered, the oil industry lobbyist Sona Jilliani (Alexia Barlier) initially established herself as a Hillary archetype.  The character is a blue-eyed, Harvard-educated resident of the CIA compound, always on the verge of striking some sort of a deal and always berating the men who risk their lives to protect hers.  But Jillani redeems herself towards the end and, in any event, the Hillary connection, if intended, is in no way obvious to a mainstream viewer.  Because 13 Hours steers clear of partisan politics, it is a better, much less heavy-handed film than it would otherwise had been.

AlexiaBarlier

There is, in Russian tradition, the “bad boyars/good tzar” belief system.  The boyars, or medieval nobility, are deemed responsible for everything that is wrong with people’s lives but the tzar, sitting at the top of the power pyramid, is absolved of guilt.  This explains most of everything about Russia including the current Stalin vogue.

This is different time, different country, but in 13 Hours, the Security Team, again and again, is shunned by, for the lack of a better term, the mid-level management.  A low information person will probably walk out of the movie placing most of the blame on the chain of command.

Much of the media debate centers on one particular “boyar”, the CIA agent who gave, the Security Team says, the stand down order to Tyrone Woods, the order he eventually disobeyed going ahead with the consulate rescue mission.  Now the CIA says no such order was issued –and the story made headlines on Drudge last weekend.  Personally, I believe the Security Team because a) character and b) otherwise the whole story makes little sense.

A more important story was new document came to light at about the same time; it points to the culpability of Barack Obama and the State Department.  Turns out, Benghazi rescue mission was interrupted because proper clearance was never obtained.

To be sure there is enough blame to go around.

Plenty of disillusionment too.  And it’s pretty clear that, in the motion picture at least, for Silva and Woods the disillusionment crept in long before the men got to Benghazi.  We have the finest men fighting for our country, and we don’t have their back.  Something to think about this November.

By All Means, Houghton Mifflin, Sell Me Some Textbooks!

Filed under: education, politics — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:30 am

The latest undercover revelation by Project Veritas concerns Common Core.  They talked to two women, one in publishing, a Houghton Mifflin employee, and another — a teacher.  The publisher laughs about hating kids and only being interested in money, and the teacher explains that Common Core mandates a change in curriculum which requires new textbooks producing a windfall profit to publishers:

In O’Keefe’s latest video, Dianne Barrow, the West Coast Accounts Manager for Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt was caught on camera saying, “You don’t think that the educational publishing companies are in it for education do you? No. They’re in it for the money. The fact that they have to align the educational standards is what they have to do to sell the books.”

In our elementary school word problems are now called “story problems”, a local charter school no longer uses the word “student” — their students are “learners”, you see.  So I know about aligning the educational standards.

My feelings about  Common Core are generally negative.  I don’t believe this country needs a uniform centralized educational program, especially if its content is questionable.  I recently wrote about Common Core math, and since then I talked to some local homeschoolers who advised buying Singapore math textbooks.  “Make sure it doesn’t say “Common Core compliant” on the cover,” I was told. “Because by the time the program went through the American educational bureaucracy, it’s garbage”.

My biggest problem with American education however, are lazy, incompetent teachers (not all of them of course) who neither understand the material they are supposed to explain to students nor willing to take time to figure out how to teach it.  Pretty much every successful child we know is partially homeschooled — and I live in a town known for good schools.

Having said that, Common Core left our teachers out in the dry.  Aside from math, our kids don’t have any textbooks, and math textbooks are used sparingly.  Teachers would very much like to have textbooks, but there aren’t any.

On top of that, our students don’t have planners or letter grades, they keep their schoolwork at their classroom desk and homework does not necessarily reflect schoolwork.  Because the PTA buys school supplies, I have little control over that too.  It’s as if the system is designed to decrease direct parental involvement in critical issues.  I have no clue what my child is being told in social studies, and (Common Core!) if I come to talk to the teacher, she will attempt to explain “multiple methods” (and will make a mistake in the process).  Teachers are big on trying to figure out Common Core math with parents.  Keeps our brains occupied, I suppose.

I am constantly playing catch up, trying to figure out what my children are studying and how to help them.  I want textbooks, notebooks that come home, planners and grades.  This is school?

I want a concrete set of assignments and expectations.  I understand why people homeschool, but I went to a traditional German-style institution and, I’d like to think, it worked out pretty well for me.  My schooling was filled with anxieties and propaganda; even now I have rather mixed feelings about it.  But it gave me a structure within which to become an independent thinker.

My kids, on the other hand, like their school very much.  They are upset when they have to miss a day.  They don’t feign illness.  But while my generation socialized, loosely supervised, in the afternoon, my kids go to school for social life, and I drill academics into their heads when they return.  Strange world.

January 15, 2016

David Bowie, Founding Father of Third Wave Feminism Dead at 69

Filed under: feminism, music, politics — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:27 am

Third wave, or sex-positive feminism, has two dads and one stepmom.  The stepmom is Camille Paglia, the writer who redefined feminism for the 1990’s.  Not ivory tower feminism, of course, and academics-establishment types will never give her the full credit.  Second wave feminism, as RS McCaine argued, albeit I can’t find the exact quote, was a reaction against the sexual revolution and the liberal men.  It made personal political and deemed all sex a rape. What was new about the third wave?  The idea that women derive power from sex and the aestheticism. Those ideas are Paglia’s.  It was Paglia who spoke to the masses, it was Paglia who made most sense.

Paglia was hugely influenced by David Bowie, something she talked about at length after his passing:

Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period in the early 1970s had a staggering influence on me. I had been writing about androgyny in literature and art in my term papers in college and grad school, so Bowie’s daring experiments seemed like the living embodiment of everything I had been thinking about. It’s hard to believe now, but when I submitted the prospectus for Sexual Personae in 1971, it was the only dissertation about sex in the entire Yale Graduate School. I completed it in 1974, while I was teaching at my first job at Bennington College in Vermont. One of the supreme moments of my life as a student of culture occurred in October 1973, as I was watching NBC’s “Midnight Special” in my apartment in Bennington. It was a taping from London of “The 1980 Floor Show,” Bowie’s last appearance as Ziggy Stardust—a program oddly never broadcast in the U.K. Bowie looked absolutely ravishing! A bold, knowing, charismatic creature neither male nor female wearing a bewitching costume straight out of the Surrealist art shows of the Parisian 1930s: a seductive black fish-net body suit with attached glittery plaster mannequin’s hands (with black nail polish) lewdly functioning as a brassiere. I instantly realized that Bowie had absorbed the gender games of Andy Warhol’s early short films, above all “Harlot,” with its glamorous, sultry drag queen (Mario Montez). Hence I viewed Bowie, who became one of the foundational creators of performance art, as having taken the next major step past Warhol in art history. I never dreamed that someday I would see that brilliant fish-net costume inches away in a display case at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, where I was lucky enough to catch the V&A’s Bowie costume show two years ago. It was a sacred epiphany, like seeing a splinter from the True Cross.

The two Bowie albums that had the biggest impact on me were Aladdin Sane (1973) and Young Americans (1975).   Bowie’s haunting, hypnotic “Lady Grinning Soul,” with its rippling, rhapsodic piano work by Mike Garson, is a masterpiece of art-rock. My own highly controversial view of women in the expanded version of Sexual Personae(published by Yale Press in 1990) can really be seen as an epic extrapolation of “Lady Grinning Soul.” That song reaffirmed everything I had intuited about mythological woman from all kinds of sources—from classic Hollywood movies to the masterpieces of the Louvre! Then there’s “Fascination” (on Young Americans), which Bowie co-wrote with Luther Vandross and recorded in Philadelphia. As I wrote in my essay for the V&A, this gospel/funk anthem is Bowie’s artistic manifesto, the closest we may ever come to a glimpse of his creative process, both passionate and agonized. Yes, passion—emotion! Because that is what separates the great Bowie from all those sterile postmodernist appropriators, with their tittering irony. Bowie drew titanic power from his deep wells of emotion. Plus as a mime artist, he was a dancer, grounded in the body. He never stupidly based gender in language alone—like all those nerdy post-structuralist nudniks who infest academe. Who the hell needed Foucault for gender studies when we already had a genius like Bowie?

Bowie loved Paglia back, naming Sexual Personae one of his favorite books of all time.

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One of the many faces: Bowie as a Sphinx

Bowie’s aesthetic sensibility resonated throughout feminist circles. He is probably the single greatest influence on post-Punk in all of its forms, including feminist riot grrrls.  Riot grrrl bands came in full force in the early 90’s; they married the standard-issue feminist message to a space oddity of female sexuality.  In their genre, the stage show is the most important part of musicianship, and their personaes have to be reaffirmed in every performance, Bowie-style, with a collage of glitter, striptease, lesbianism and profanity of the most hard core punk variety.  Their shtick is that on one hand they are reclaiming girliness, on the other — they are tough, so tough. Ironically their oh-so-empowering storm of the male-dominated music industry took place post-AIDS when the rock-n-roll scene was sufficiently tamed by the disease.

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The grrrl singer of Bikini Kill is of a conventionally good-looking variety.  Something she works *with*, not *against*

Beyond riot grrrls, when young women urge each other to grow arm pit hair and dust it with glitter, they are trying to think like Bowie.  When they parade down the streets of our cities in nothing but bras and panties, allegedly protesting unwanted attention, they are channeling Bowie in a fishnet bodysuit. If by no means conventionally good-looking Bowie fashioned himself into a sex symbol through sheer will, then they too are beautiful.  You might think SlutWalks are a dorkfest, but the gals think they are in an 80’s music video.

In literature (well, autobiography) and cinema there are the likes of Elizabeth Wutzel and Lena Dunham who are also working within this particular tradition that Bowie sired.  They are the foul-mouthed glitter girls ready to spread their legs for anyone sufficiently well-versed in inner workings of their subculture: Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!  And I bet they have this and a few other Bowie songs committed to heart.

It should be noted that grrrls’ own invention was to throw the images of strong and healthy pre-pubescent girls into the sexualized Bowiesque mix.  If Lena Dunham didn’t found it very easy to tell us how she molested her younger sister, it’s probably because she saw images of innocence juxtaposed against sexual deviancy all her life.  Not saying that grrrls approved of Dunham’s behavior.

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From a 90’s grrrl zine

This is all terribly ironic considering the circumstances of Bowie’s death, as noted by Brendan O’Neill:

[…]I want to pay tribute to another of Bowie’s feats, which strikes me as quite extraordinary: the fact that he kept his cancer private, or ‘secret’, as the press insists, for 18 months. This, more than anything, has blown me away today. In this era of too much information, when over-sharing is virtually mandatory, Bowie’s decision to suffer away from the limelight, among those closest to him, appears almost as a Herculean achievement.

As if beneath all his masks and extravagances the real David Bowie was a private person. To Bowie personal wasn’t political.  He lived his life as if it was a piece of art and kept away from politics.  As a person he remained an enigma.

The second father of third wave feminism was Bill Clinton whose affairs forced the most doctrinaire of feminists to concede that men and women have sexual appetites.  Otherwise mattress girls would have been running around college campuses twenty years ago.

So there it is: a dissident feminist, a closet heterosexual (as Bowie once referred to himself) and the most powerful man on Earth gave us the current reincarnation of women’s movement.  I leave you, my friends, with Suffragette City.  I have no idea what the song means, not sure Bowie himself knew, but it’s one of his best and it seems fitting for the occasion:

January 7, 2016

Dams or Trains?

Filed under: politics — edge of the sandbox @ 2:20 pm

Please read my post about a new generation of posters along I5 corridor in California over at Legal Insurrection.  Many thanks to Professor Jacobson for hosting it. Dams or trains pretty much sums up California, IMO.

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