sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

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.

david-bowie-112_zpsbjeddjnt

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.

0534ef85efc86796d200128c3acbe60b_zpsuuq72ouz

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.

tumblr_lvzysxcnyo1qij7gp_zps2xv9c4xf

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.

What I Remember About Cologne

Filed under: Europe, immigration, politics — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 2:11 pm

The year was 1998, I think, and I was backpacking through Europe alone.  I took a train from Berlin and came out of the Cologne Hauptbanhof (a fun word, I love it).

I walked out of the train station and found myself in front of the majestic Gothic cathedral.  It’s generally considered the best in Germany, but by then I had seen so many Gothic churches that they were all becoming one giant pointy swirl.

cologne-640x480_zpsseucxzff

A sleek, modern train station across from the medieval cathedral on a clod, wet night is exactly how I remember the city.  The picture above accompanied several stories about the New Years Eve sexual assaults on indigenous women by migrants in Germany

I walked to my hostel which was just a block or two away.  I stayed there overnight and before going to bed spent some time smoking cigarettes and consuming modest amount of alcohol with the hostel’s German owner and some British guy who’d been staying there for a long time.  The German guy was nice enough, but the Brit was an annoying prick, not because of any kind of a male-female issue; he was simply a prick.

I had only two weeks of vacation left, and I was lonely and tired of Germany.  The following day I took a train to Belgium and from there a boat to the UK where I met up with a cousin.

My daughter will never have an experience like that.

December 15, 2015

Soviet Immigrants Coming to The US

Filed under: politics — edge of the sandbox @ 12:01 pm

Please read my guest post on Legal Insurrection.  It’s about my experience with immigration officials as a refugee and later an immigration paralegal.  Our stories were true but unverifiable.

November 12, 2015

Boycott Berkeley, Divest from Berkeley

Filed under: Bay Area politics, politics — Tags: , , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 8:55 pm

UPDATE: Many thanks to Professor Jacobson for linking.

The epicenter of racism in America today is not Howard, not Mizzou but Berkeley.  A KKK cell is believed to operate on high school campus of this Marxist-leaning East Bay Area town.  Consider this racist message that sent waves across the Berkeley High community:

The message […] was discovered on a library computer at about 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, school officials said. In addition to using a racial slur, it read: “KKK FOREVER PUBLIC LYNCHING DECEMBER 9th 2015.”

This was far from an isolated incident:

Last October, school officials discovered a noose hanging from a tree. And, in the spring, the school yearbook was altered to state that a group of minority students aspired to be the “trash collators of tomorrow,” forcing the school to distribute stickers to place over the altered text.

For all you skeptics out there, a male freshman already confessed to the crime, but only after a detailed forensic analysis yielded an indelible proof of his culpability.

In response to the lynching threat up to 2,000 out of 3,000 Berkeley High students walked out, the majority of them believed to have returned to campus after the protest.  Ironically, the students marched on to the Sproul Plaza of the UC Berkeley campus, the cite of the infamous Free Speech circle.  According to the campus lore, as individual standing inside the circle cannot be arrested by campus cops, thereby all sorts of n-words can be brazenly uttered inside of it.

Because the walkout was the only response to the horrific event, UCB’s The Daily Cal is right to warn that the Berkeley High kiddoes are left hanging:

In the wake of this act of terror, the students’ strength is braver and more necessary than ever. The fact that the walkout was a protest of not only the administration’s response but also the incident itself demonstrates students’ dedication to the fight against racism and injustice.

It is now on the administration to give its full support to the student body.

[…]

It also must remove from campus the student responsible for such an outrageous act. Someone who thinks it is acceptable to call for lynchings and pledge allegiance to the Ku Klux Klan has no place on a campus committed to equality.

By the looks of it, the sole grown up present at the march was the Berkeley High principal Sam Pasarow.  This is the shame of the East Bay Area.  Where is Code Pink in all this?  Where are Students for Justice in Palestine with their interracial solidarity?  If Berkeley adults don’t take racial strife seriously, kids might just get the idea that the incident was merely a pretext to playing hookie.  Who wants to raise a cynical generation?

Code Pink activist from the East Bay Area protests at the newly-minted Muslim heritage cite, the Kotel

Seriously Berkeley, there is quite obviously a terror cell operating within your borders, but you can’t do as much as to expel a 15-year-old? Going beyond that, local social justice groups need to put pressure on Berkeley Police to throughly investigate their community and remove the threat of racial violence once and for all.  Until Code Pink puts cis’ own house in order I will be boycotting Berkeley.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 632 other followers

%d bloggers like this: