May 31, 2007

What A Couple Of Toolboxes

You know, I love reading or listening to Bill O'Reilly. It's not because I agree with him, which occurance is a portend unto the end of days. It's because every time I read his stuff or hear him speak I get to imagine myself on his show giving the reasonable liberal resonse that is *never* offered a chance to be heard. So for that Bill, and for admitting you have as a primary goal maintaining the white, Christian, male power structure in the country, thank you. Also, John McCain, were you always this crazy or are you three spins into the crazy drain?

May 30, 2007

Got Me Thinking

So the H4H cover got me thinking again about Women In Refrigerators and how rape is sometimes used as a motivating factor for women to become heroes. That end, you should read this series on sexual assault in comics.

How Can There Be Any Question?

Another day, another wince inducing image that fanboys just don't get. Here's the cover for Heroes for Hire #13. What could possibly be wrong with that? Could it be that, despite a male arm in the background, we have a bunch of women bound, nearly bursting from their tops, and looking helpless as tentacles approach? Could it be that Black Cat, not so long ago retconned as a rape survivor, is shrinking in fear as not-semen drips on her breasts? Could it be the learing onlookers?

This cover is an obvious homage to the tentacle rape scenes found in manga and hentei. It takes a book that was supposed to be about strong women starting a business in kicking ass and makes them helpless victims. The worst part about it, as ever, is that most comic fans out there just don't see the problem. Like the Mary Jane statue, they just think it's a bit of sexy that has people overreacting. Or, as Gail Simone said about fanboys in response to this cover, "NO whining is too trivial if it's a character they like. But shoot spermsnot at the actual exposed cleavage of a favorite female character and it's, "Them silly dames is so hysterical!"" Actually, the thread that quote came from it far better than most on this topic, though if you don't have time to read over twenty pages of posts you can always just skim for Gail's bits of insight.

The award for the most absurd defense on this topic, however, goes out to those guys that think there's nothing wrong with the cover because the cover artist was *gasp* a woman! How could a woman ever act in a way that's offensive?!

Though certainly not the be all, end all of the argument, the simplest explaination of why this is offensive is: Would this cover *ever* be made with men substituted for the women, pose for pose, expression for expression? The answer is, of course, not in this man's comic's continuity.

May 29, 2007

Justice? Screw justice

I really fucking hate the Roberts Court:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it harder for many workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay, insisting in a 5-to-4 decision on a tight time frame to file such cases. The dissenters said the ruling ignored workplace realities.[...]

The court held on Tuesday that employees may not bring suit under the principal federal anti-discrimination law unless they have filed a formal complaint with a federal agency within 180 days after their pay was set. The timeline applies, according to the decision, even if the effects of the initial discriminatory act were not immediately apparent to the worker and even if they continue to the present day.

Six months?! I'm speechless.

Fortunately (if somewhat futilely) Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read part of her dissent aloud (itself an unmistakable sign of anger), and the tone of her opinion showed how bitterly she differed with the majority. She asserted that the effects of pay discrimination can be relatively small at first, then become far more serious as subsequent raises are based on the original low pay, and that instances of pay inequities ought to be treated differently from other acts of discrimination. For one thing, she said, pay discrimination is often not uncovered until long after the fact.

The majority’s holding, she said, “is totally at odds with the robust protection against workplace discrimination Congress intended Title VII to secure.” She said the majority “does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

“This is not the first time the Court has ordered a cramped interpretation of Title VII, incompatible with the statute’s broad remedial purpose,” she wrote.

May 27, 2007

Review of 28 weeks later

Spoilers ahead.

As I mentioned not too long ago, I love zombie films and 28 days later is one of the best in the genre. 28 weeks later does not live up to its predecessor.

As mentioned in that past, Weeks has almost nothing to do with Days beyond taking place in the same fictional universe. We have a completely different writing team, completely different cast, completely different crew. This film could therefore be a creative development of the themes of the original, or a pathetic attempt to use an excellent film to shill for a mindless piece of crap.

Unfortunately, we have the latter. Weeks is just under two hours long, and the Rage virus plague only returns after about an hour. You would think the first hour would have been spent on character development. And it is -- characters who become the first casualties of the newly-resurrected Rage virus. And once the zombies are back, and we're left with four main characters who are so underdeveloped they aspire to be two-dimensional -- two of them haven't even been given names -- the second half is devoted to the chaos, guns, and running in terror that is usually confined to the first and last fifteen minutes of a really good zombie film (with sporadic zombie interludes, of course, to break the film up into chapters).

It is my strong belief that zombie films are not about the actual zombies. The zombies are just there to force the protagonists into the claustrophobic, paranoid, stressful situation that drives the actual story. The real conflicts arise out of the tensions and disagreements within the group of survivors, not between the humans and the zombies. The tight conditions and constant danger the survivors face creates a miniature of our own society, and this is why zombie films are such a ready vehicle for social commentary.

The filmmakers responsible for Weeks seem to have forgotten this. The conditions portrayed in the first half are reminiscent of Day of the dead, and I thought I was going to see a film critiquing the modern military and public surveillance. Once the Rage virus starts to run rampant again, however, these themes are dropped in favour of jiggling the camera around while the survivors run in terror and/or are mauled. There's no lull in the action for the characters to really talk to each other, much less for conflicts and disagreements to develop. Everyone's just trying to survive, and that's literally all they're doing.

Quite frankly, the crappy remake of Dawn of the dead had more character development and plot than Weeks.

Still, there were some fairly creepy and entertaining scenes. The last substantive segment of the film has the survivors stumbling down into and through a pitch-black underground tunnel filled with corpses, with only the night scope of a rifle to see their way. The opening segment is also very well done. I'd recommend Weeks on DVD as part of a zombie film festival for that reason -- a sort of light course to cleanse the palette between Days and Land of the dead.

Review of Pirates of the Carribean at world's end

This is exactly the piece of crap you expected the original Pirates to be when you heard it was being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. It features far too many explosions, a convoluted plot whose boring and often pointless development takes up half of the nearly three-hour running time, and some of the most stupid and pointless uses of CGI I've ever seen. I recommend you not even waste your time watching it on DVD. I'm not even going to waste time ranting in detail about the stupid Calypso thing that drives a huge chunk of the plot before running into a dead-end, gets dropped, and is never picked up again.

On a more positive note, Naomie Harris is definitely an actor to keep an eye on.

May 23, 2007

Wherein We See That People Lack A Fundamental Understanding Of Sexism

So with Spiderman 3 being huge these last few weeks and Captain America's death not too long ago, plenty of attention has been brought to this little hobby of mine that isn't necessarily always this intense. While most people are plenty familiar with the nerdly love of toys representing their favorite characters, what's probably a bit less well known is the niche industry of sculpts/busts. While I often appreciate the craftmaship in these little sculptures of characters, I can't say I've ever really understood collecting them. Whatever, this sort of thing is out there, and while women may not always be portrayed in a flattering light in comics themselves, the sculpts are vastly worse. While a woman may be written well in a comic and merely portrayed in a sexist manner, scuplts usually go out of their way to reduce the woman to a sex object. Of course, the response is always that it's evoking "pinup" art of the 50s, that it's just fantasy anyway, that it fits the character's "personality", etc. BINGO! (explanation).

May 22, 2007

Review: Heroes, Volume 1

I care not for spoilerphobia, so be warned!

The first season of Heroes was exactly what I expected it would be. The show started nicely and went along rather well, if slightly slowly from the first episode through November sweeps. As I thought at the time, I'm still convinced they never really expected the show to succeed and only planned the story details that far. So yeah, the show wandered quite a bit in the middle of the season while they tried to figure out what the hell to do with most of the characters. Then the end of the season really picked up the pace, did some good work with some of the characters, and left us with a lot of interesting plots for Volume 2: Generations. The first season of Next Generation is pretty crappy, as is the first season of most new sci-fi shows, so I'm willing to write this season off as the building blocks of a potentially much more interesting series.

They thinned the characters a bit in the run up to the season finale and while I wish they had made a few different choices, I can understand why they didn't. The cast can really be divided into three camps; 1) the actors somewhat known, but not famous, before the show started, 2) the breakout actors/characters of the first season, 3) the fodder. The characters from the third category are less developed than the other categories, so those are the people you expect to die. Ted was pretty likable, but obviously merely a means to make Sylar and Peter threateningly dangerous. Then there's category 2, where you care about the characters enough for their potential deaths to mean something but their actors aren't famous enough to dramatically hurt the show if they are cut. I suppose I could have had a category for "children" but the same rules applies for children as cute animals, there's not going to be much intersting stuff done to the children and they almost certainly aren't in any real danger. If they were thinning the crowd I wouldn't have minded them killing Nikki/Jessica but she's solidly first category, and thus pretty safe. Parkman is in a grey area between categories, so it will be interesting to see if they bring him back for Volume 2. I hope if they do they give him some more intersting things to do than cock his head like a spaniel between whining.

All in all, I'm very pleased with the fact that Heroes proved a modern show about comic books could not only make it, but be a breakout hit. They've got a captive audience for Volume 2 and on the strengths of the last few episodes it looks to me like they have a much better idea where they're going with the story. There was a time a few months ago where my interest was waning, but I'm actively excited for seeing this show come back.

Oh, and for those who were debating time travel, etc. after the episode "Five Years Later", after reading a couple interviews with Tim Kring I'm 98% sure I have a theory that explains the way the universe functions in this regard. It's based on Quantum Leap Rules.

Review: Spiderman 3

I've been meaning to write up a Spiderman 3 review for a few days now. Now that I managed to get ahead on work, this is about as good a time as any. Here's the short review: I liked it. I didn't like it as much as the first two, but I liked it quite a bit. For more, including a total disregard of spoilerphobia, continue below...

For all my incredible nerdiness, I just don't understand nerds. Here we are in the greatest era of all time to be a nerd and the amount of bitching continues unabated. We've had an unprecedented amount of comic book movies come out in the last few years. Yeah, there have been a few bombs in there (I don't even need to write a Ghost Rider review. Just, please, don't see it), but by and large they've been better than mediocre. I guess I just don't understand the mentality that all movies have to really impress me or they're regarded as terrible. Most of the time I just want to be entertained, and Spiderman 3 did that quite well. Look, it's not like I don't accept that there were flaws. In fact, let's have a whole paragraph about the movie's mistakes.

1) There's too much plot. It's amazing the movie works as well as it does with all that's going on, but it would have been nice if Eddie Brock had been introduced near the beginning of Spidey 2 and begun hating him by the end of that film. Still, he's important to the plot because Harry needed to die and the Sandman couldn't kill him without becoming unsympathetic. 2) The goth-Parker scenes were a little much. Even here I feel like I'm nitpicking, but I guess I can see how people might not like Pete getting all emo as the suit takes hold of him. Again, you've got to move Spidey from "This new suit is awesome" to "I think it might be an evil symbiote trying to take me over" in about a half hour, and a easy trick to do that is give him an increasingly non-friendly look. I actually liked the Saturday Night Fever scene as I tend to imagine that a super suit giving him more power might make Pete Parker more confident and kind of a douche, but it can't make him unnerdy. 3) Uh, I hear the video game adaptation isn't very good? Seriously, I saw it last Thursday and while I have a great mind for remembering trivial details about movies, I can't think of anything else off the top of my head that was out and out bad.

I've read a number of people online complaining that they didn't do the Venom story right. Well, I'm not sure what they expect. Here's where the symbiote comes from. I don't just consider Secret Wars one of the all time worst events in comic history because it set the precedent for crossovers merely being excuses for a bunch of characters to punch each other. I consider it one of the worst events of all time because it's fucking clown shoes. And Eddie Brock hasn't been an intersting character either. I won't go into it because this is already turning into too much of a rant, but just read the Wikipedia entry. Topher Grace's "Peter Parker without ethics" is much more interesting than what most Venom stories do with Brock.

In the end I just can't imagine why someone who liked the first two movies wouldn't like this one. Overall I'd give it a B+ or maybe an A- if I'm feeling really generous; nobody should be ashamed of a B+, but it's probably not going on your resume either. I paid $8 to be entertained and I most surely was. Mission accomplished. Sam Raimey should land on an aircraft carrier.

P.S. Best Bruce Campbell cameo of the series!

May 19, 2007

SYP blogging III: MacIntyre against the pluralists

MacIntyre is a contextualist:

There is no standing ground, no place for enquiry, no way to engage in the practices of advancing, evaluating, accepting, and rejecting reasoned argument apart from that which is provided by some particular tradition or other. (WJ? 350)

All reasoning and rational argument must take place within a tradition, or in roughly equivalent jargon, from some particular socio-politically, historically, and theoretically constituted standpoint.

But he is also very much neither a relativist nor a perspectivist. More specifically, MacIntyre seems to be a monist, someone who rejects the idea that there must necessarily be a plurality of acceptable or true theories. At least with regard to ethics, MacIntyre believes in an end or completion of enquiry, at least as what Kant would call an ideal of reason. He writes,

To engage in intellectual enquiry is ... to understand the movement from thesis to thesis as a movement toward a kind of logos which will disclose how things are, not relative to some point of view, but as such .... So the terminus and telos of enquiring into what justice is has to be an account of justice as such, of the eidos of all partial and one-sided [ie, contextually-bound] exemplifications and one-sided elucidations. (78-9)

Each of his four criteria for a successful tradition articulate the way in which `a retrospective examination [of the tradition, from within the tradition] shows, not merely a movement without [sic] direction, but progress pointing toward a goal' (79). (Note, however, that `although one can definitely progress toward the final completion of rational enquiry, that completion lies at a point which cannot itself be attained' in a finite amount of time (81). This completion is strictly ideal. Hence MacIntyre's nitpicking rejection of Hegel (361).)

Chapter XIX of Whose justice? is MacIntyre's rejection of relativism and perspectivism. Perspectivism seems to be defined as a realist pluralism:

Instead of interpreting rival traditions as mutually exclusive and incompatible ways of understanding one and the same world, one and the same subject matter, let us understand them instead as providing very different, complementary perspectives for envisaging the realities about which they speak to us. (352)

Relativism, by contrast, is an anti-realist pluralism, whether of a full-blown `anything goes' variety (Ibid) or a more moderated pluralism (366). Since it would be fair to call me a perspectivist by this definition (along with Longino, Dewey, Quine, and many of my other philosophical heroes), I'm most interested in trying to understand MacIntyre's rejection of perspectivism.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the rejection in its entirety:

The perspectivist ... fails to recognize how integral the conception of truth is to tradition-constituted forms of enquiry. It is this which leads perspectivists to suppose that one could temporarily adopt the standpoint of a tradition and then exchange it for another, as one might wear first one costume and then another, or as one might act one part in one play and then a quite different part in a quite different play. But genuinely to adopt the standpoint of a tradition thereby commits one to its view of what is true and false and, in so committing one, prohibits one from adopting any rival standpoint. Hence the perspectivist could indeed pretend to assume the standpoint of some one particular tradition of enquiry; he or she could not in fact do so. The multiplicity of traditions does not afford a multiplicity of perspectives among which we can move, but a multiplicity of antagonistic commitments, between which only conflict, rational or nonrational, is possible. (367-8)

The idea seems to be that, because the perspectivist is locked into her particular tradition (A), she cannot comment on whether a different tradition (B) is viable according to its own standards (the standards internal to B). All she has available are her own standards and assumptions, which are internal to A, and according to which, MacIntyre seems to claim here, B must be rejected as unviable.

This just seems to be a variation on a theme often used against simplistic relativism. The relativist says `All truths are relative!'; the anti-relativist retorts that this itself is supposed to be an absolute truth, and hence is self-defeating. Note that MacIntyre must reject this scheme for his contextualism: There must be a tradition (indeed, the tradition inhabited by MacIntyre himself) within which we can survey a variety of traditions and thereby contruct a theory of traditions. Such a theory will be tradition-bound, but this is only a problem if we require our theories to be tradition-independent.

Now look at perspectivism again. It is a claim of a theory of traditions: according to the theory of traditions we have constructed from within our particular tradition, traditions work in thus and such ways, and among their workings is this fact of pluralism. MacIntyre's monism is a rejection, not of the possibility of constructing a theory of traditions within some particular tradition, but of some particular part of a rival theory of traditions (whether this rival has been constructed in his own or an alien tradition).

However, what MacIntyre seems to reject in his argument is not the particular claim of perspectivism, but the possibility of any theory of traditions whatsoever. `From within our particular tradition', he seems to argue, `we cannot examine how well another tradition does according to its own standards, only our own, because we cannot internalise their standards'. This is not just incidentally incompatible with MacIntyre's approach; it's specifically rejected earlier in the chapter, when MacIntyre is rejecting anything-goes relativism and defending the claim that there can be rational, progressive engagement between traditions:

the adherents of a tradition which is now in this state of fundamental and radical crisis may at this point encounter in a new way the claims of some particular rival tradition .... They now come or had already come to understand the beliefs and way of life of this other alien tradition, and to do so they have or have had to learn ... the language of the alien tradition as a new and second first language.

When they have understood the beliefs of the alien tradition, they may find themselves compelled to recognize that within this other tradition it is possible to construct from the concepts and theories peculiar to it what they were unable to provide from their own conceptual and theoretical resources .... (364)

MacIntyre's philosophical methodology requires the possibility of at least partly internalising the standards of a rival tradition in at least some circumstances.

Indeed, there is an easy inductive argument here for pluralism. Start with the recognition that `Every tradition ... confronts the possibility that at some future time it will fall into a state of epistemological crisis, recognizable as such by its own standards of rational justification' (Ibid). As a lemma, recognise that some elements which we take to be fundamental to our own tradition will inevitably lead us (or our descendents) into such a crisis. This crisis will be concluded in part by assimilating the resources of a rival tradition, as per the observation above. That is, by our own standards, our current tradition contains some falsities and our rivals contain some truths. Finally, generalise this theorem to all traditions, and we have a claim as close to perspectivism as I think makes no difference.

MacIntyre's attack on perspectivism is too coarse-grained. He cannot reject all theorising about traditions, because his own work is a theory of traditions; he must instead target the particular rival theory (or theories) of traditions which endorses perspectivism. And, at least in chapter XIX, he has failed to do this.

May 18, 2007

Transformers are Awesome

I learned of this through Penny-Arcade, and all who enjoy summer blockbusters, especially summer blockbusters featuring our favorite transformable robots, needs to follow this link.

Make sure you watch the exclusive trailer, and enjoy.

I'm sure Ben will thank me.

May 15, 2007

Webpage update

I've updated and slightly re-organised my webpage.

Jerry Falwell is dead

What do you say when an evil person dies? Neither mourning nor gloating seems appropriate.

Speaking Of Zombies

While Noumena may consider 28 Days Later the best zombie movie of the last several years, my heart belongs to Shawn of the Dead. How those guys were able to make a movie that spoofed zombie movies while being itself a really good zombie movie blows my feeble Yank mind. Well, they've done it again with Hot Fuzz. There's not a scene in the whole movie without at least a chuckle, and several that just start with a hearty laugh and don't stop. Is this Shakespeare? No, this is a buddy cop movie. It's got all the pieces including the schmaltzey, "Why I became a cop." scene, but it's brilliant. I'll watch anything these guys put out.

Heroes Expanded

Looks like they're planning on exanding the Heroes season by six episodes...kind of. After the season finale has aired NBC will begin showing a six episode series of standalone episodes focusing on the origins of six new characters. At the end the viewers will be able to vote and one of the six characters will join the cast proper. Interesting idea.

May 12, 2007


I love zombie films. Really, horror films in general, but there's a special place in my heart for the living dead. George Romero is a master of the horror film as cultural criticism, the utter antithesis of Wes Craven, and, while Craven is undoubtedly (and tragically) the standard for the genre today, films in the Romeroean tradition do get made every few years. Such is an occasion for celebration.

28 days later was one of the best of these celebration-worthy zombie films in the last, let's say, ten years, if not the best. So a sequel is not completely out of order, and would normally also be an occasion for celebration. Except that ***SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD, THOUGH IF YOU CARE ABOUT THE ZOMBIE GENRE AT ALL YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS SOMETIME IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS, AND IF YOU DON'T CARE GET WHY ARE YOU READING THIS POST*** the plague which caused the rise of the zombies is completely under control at the end of the film. No more zombies, a fortiori no sequels.

Hence, when I see ads for a logically impossible sequel, I immediately conclude that some douchebag at Fox is trying to turn artistic excellence into a shill for some overbudgeted and underdirected condescending piece of crap. Once again, artistic excellence is sacrificed to pleonexia, I pretend I'm an Aristotelean instead of a Kantian, and the world gets just that much more depressing. The lame-ass ripoff of a title certainly isn't any cause of optimism.

I therefore don't pay attention to the release dates, until I happen across Amanda's fine review of Days (which, incidentally, you should go read and comment upon after reading and commenting upon this post). Weeks comes out this weekend, and by virtue of having the attention span of a squirrel I wander over to IMDb to see which team of hacks have been brought on board to realise the philistine dreams of Rupert Murdoch's underlings.

It turns out the set of hacks significantly intersect the brilliant auteurs behind Intacto and a number of other highly-praised productions of la cinema espagnole (which, incidentally, I feel is to the current decade as la Nouvelle Vague was to the '60s).

So now I have to go see Weeks. Obnoxiously, I started reading the Pandagon post at 1:30, the exact moment at which the only matinee screening at my local megaplex commenced.

May 09, 2007

Five years in grad school now officially completed

I'm exhausted. And sick. So go read Glenn Greenwald's reminder that we still need to restore habeas corpus and let me sleep.

May 08, 2007

This is a big part of why I hate high heels

Link, via

I don't know the exact dates, but my grandmother spent at least several years working as a cocktail waitress when my mom was a little girl. She was required to wear heels, and, of course, spent pretty much her entire shift every night on her feet.

Within the past fifteen years, my grandmother has had something like seven foot surgeries and three knee surgeries to repair the damage done by those heels.

The article accompanying the illustration quotes a curator at a shoe museum calling heels ```one of the primary ways to express what [people] don't have to do,'' such as walk long distances and do strenuous work.' It's an entertaining thought -- high heels being just another bizarre way for the wealthy to display their wealth -- but belied by my grandmother and other women in the service industry in the '50s and '60s (and probably well before and well after). These women, as a symbol of their economic and social inferiority to the men who patronised their bars, restaurants, airplanes, and hotels, were required to walk long distances and do strenuous work in painful, harmful footwear.

High heels aren't conspicuous consumption or politically-neutral fashion. They're as abominable as foot-binding.

NHL Playoffs: Round 3

So I got 3 of 4 picks right. Really though, I didn't pick the Devils to win so much as really really wanted them to and gave a prescription for them to do so. They had to shut down the top Ottawa line. They didn't do that, so they lost.

So here we are, the Conference Finals! All the riff raff is playing golf and we're down to four solid teams.

Detroit v. Anaheim
Ottawa v. Buffalo

Honestly, anyone can win at this point. Anaheim's had a few more days of rest than Detroit, but Detroit may be the better team on paper. Anaheim's goalie situation was a little rocky in the second half of the season, but the Dominator's legs could fall off at any moment. While both teams have dynamite offenses, I think the edge has to go to Anaheim's All-Star defensive teams. Even past Neidermyer and Pronger they've got lots of tough guys that can move the puck well.

Ottawa has got to be considered the worst team still playing. They've got that wicked top line, but I still don't think they've got enough depth. Buffalo, on the other hand, has got to be considered the strongest team playing. I think they're the safe pick, but as with Jersey in the last round, they really can't let Ottawa's scorers get away from them. He's a great goalie, but Miller is no Brodeur and he won't win games at this level on his own.

May 07, 2007


Hey, I just noticed we've got our third anniversary coming up on the 10th. I really should try to think of something to do for that...

Call Me Anal Ishmael

So one of my biggest pet peeves online, aside from people using "alot", is what I see as the improper pluralization of nouns. For instance, "Microsoft are releasing information on the Xbox today." or "The Bush Administration are issuing a statement." While I'm not willing to accept it as definitive, this seems to support my gut instinct:

The names of companies and other organizations are usually regarded as singular,
regardless of their ending: "General Motors has announced its fall lineup of new
vehicles." Try to avoid the inconsistency that is almost inevitable when you
think of corporate entities as a group of individuals: "General Motors has
announced their fall lineup of new vehicles." But note that some inconsistency
is acceptable in all but the most formal writing: "Ford has announced its
breakup with Firestone Tires. Their cars will no longer use tires built by
Firestone." Some writers will use a plural verb when a plural construction such
as "Associates" is part of the company's title or when the title consists of a
series of names: "Upton, Vernon, and Gridley are moving to new law offices next
week" or "Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego & Associates have won all their cases
this year." Singular verbs and pronouns would be correct in those sentences,

While it does seem to depend to an extent on context, most of the time it seems to me most of the time companies should be singular nouns. So, anybody with a better source or who was a non-creative writing English major want to sort me out?

May 04, 2007

SYP blogging II: MacIntyre on conservatism

On (WJ? 54), MacIntyre is discussing the period of conceptual change in Athens during and after the Peloponnesian War. He writes the following:

Those who respond to periods of rapid and disruptive change by appealing for a retention of or a return to the ways of the past, to the customary, to the traditional, always have to reckon with the fact that in an established customary social order those who follow its ways do not have and do not need good reasons for so doing .... It is only later when these routines [of the normal day, month, and year] have more largely and more radically been disrupted that the question of whether it was not in fact better to follow the older ways unreflectively can be raised, and when the conservative offers his contemporaries good reasons for returning to an earlier relatively unreflective mode of social life, his very modes of advocacy provide evidence that what he recommends is no longer possible. So in Aristophanes' comedies the conservative figures portrayed are in part comic victims because forced into the very rhetorical modes which they abhor in order to argue against those modes.

This is a difficult yet intriguing passage. As a first pass, I think I can understand it by considering the arguments for `traditional family values' and against redistributive welfare, affirmative action programmes, and the progressive cultural transformations of the mid- and late-twentieth century more generally.

Note first that these conservatives generally do not argue that these programmes and transformations are bad because they harm members of privileged classes by taking away some of their privileges. For example, no opponents of affirmative action programmes argue that making it harder for wealthy white people to get into prestigious universities is, in and of itself, a bad thing. Similarly, no advocate of `traditional family values' argues that women need to be full-time homemakers so that men can enjoy less competition in the workplace.

Note second that the arguments we actually see are, instead, that these programmes and transformations harm members of the classes they are intended to help. Affirmative action is tantamount to grade inflation, and will just end promoting people beyond their real ability, being on welfare is demeaning, women who work outside the home are too busy to be good mothers, and so on.

In short, racists and sexists no longer feel they can appeal to racist and sexist principles to criticise anti-racist and anti-sexist policies, at least explicitly. Instead, they attempt to appropriate and turn anti-racist and anti-sexist principles. Affirmative action and welfare programmes are racist, it's sexist to encourage women to work outside the home, and so on. Just as MacIntyre says, the sexist and racist routines of sixty years ago have been largely replaced with more progressive routines, and even conservative opponents of our contemporary routines must argue their case in the conceptual framework of these same routines.

This does not entail that conservatives can never be successful, at least in the middle term. Anyone who is familiar with the history of the anti-feminist backlashes in the wake of the First and Second Waves will know just how successful conservatives can be. But even when conservatives are successful, their success is not a true return to the old routines. What conservatives can accomplish is a synthesis of the conservative thesis and progressive antithesis: a social order which rejects some, but not all, aspects of the progressive order as `excessive'.

Hulk Smash...Errr...Ignore Boring Woman!

So Liv Tyler is the new Betty Ross. Ed Norton aside, there's not a chance this sequel will be as good as the first.

SYP blogging I: Introduction

This summer, for my Ph.D programme, I'm required to write a `Second-year paper'. Roughly, this is a 8,000 word paper suitable for publication in a general-interest journal of academic philosophy. My paper will be a revision of one of my term papers from last Fall, on similarities between the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, preeminent Notre Dame ethicist, and Helen Longino, feminist philosopher of science currently at Stanford.

As part of this project, I'm reading what is arguably MacIntyre's magnum opus, Whose justice? Which rationality? (henceforth simply WJ?). This is an extremely dense book, and I'll be spending some time blogging interesting and difficult points here. Later in the summer, I hope to blog rereading the other three primary texts in the project: Longino's Science as social knowledge (SSK) and Fate of knowledge (FK), and MacIntyre's After virtue (AV). All four of these texts deserve the status of classics in their respective areas of philosophy.

May 03, 2007

Ginger sugar cookies

I made these for my logic class before their last exam. The students, unfortunately, didn't do so well, but the cookies were great. Also unfortunately, I didn't think to get a picture before they were all eaten. (The cookies, not the students.)

But come on, you know what sugar cookies look like.

Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen family cookbook
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
14 tbsp (1 3/4 sticks) vegan margarine, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp potato starch
about 1/4 cup water
1 tsp freshly-grated ginger root
2 tbsp diced candied or crystallised ginger

1. Process the granted ginger with 1/2 cup of the sugar in a food processor for about 10 seconds. Spread the ginger sugar in a shallow dish.
2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350*F. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
3. Using an electric mixer, cream the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar and margarine on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-6 minutes. Add the vanilla, starch, and diced ginger, and mix thoroughly, another minute or so. Scrape down the bowl and beaters as needed.
4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture in 3 batches, combining thoroughly before adding the next batch. Add the water as needed to keep the dough from drying out. The result should be sticky and slightly thin but not runny. Fold a few times with a spatula to make sure there are no pockets of flour remaining.
5. Using wet hands, form balls of dough 1 1/2-2 tbsp (I use a number 18 disher to get uniform cookies). Roll the balls in the ginger sugar to coat and arrange on parchment paper, about 12 to a sheet. Flatten each cookie and sprinkle with any remaining ginger sugar.
6. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 10-14 minutes, turning halfway through, until the edges are just starting to turn brown. Cool on a baking rack for about 10 minutes.

May 02, 2007

If Only Every Episode Had A Digital Clock On The Screen

So things don't look good for Studio 60. It *is* coming back to finish it's season, but that's not very surprising as the studio already paid for the final episodes of the season to be produced. It's also getting a really sweet time spot on Thursday nights when ER normally airs. What's that you say? NBC is cancelling/moving ER to make way for Studio 60? If only it were so. No, Studio 60 is going to get that time spot after spring sweeps are over, after ER has finished its season, and after NBC has already announced it's Fall lineup. That's pretty much that, folks. As much as I think a better timeslot would help the show, there's nothing good about this announcement. Hopefully the DVD set will have awesome special features.

Coronary bypasses are impermissible

1. They're totally gross. They poke a hole in your heart, which makes my stomach churn every time I think about it.

2. They lead to a lifestyle without responsibility: everyone knows heart attacks are divine punishment for eating lots of bacon. Without the threat of death, people will go around thinking they can eat whatever they want, in whatever quantities they want, and with whatever condiments they want! They might even use something as theistic as mayonnaise!

3. They're unnatural. The proper function of the heart is to pump blood until your aorta is clogged with cholesterol, and then cause the pressure to build until either your circulatory system ruptures or your heart fails, and you die. Coronary bypasses subvert the natural and proper function of the heart. They subvert the divine plan!

4. Coronary bypasses are extremely dangerous procedures. Obviously, if some people die from complications during a surgical procedure, that surgical procedure can never, ever save lives.

5. Okay, so maybe you're still pro-choice. Here's a compromise you should be willing to accept: Before giving consent, you'll be required to view a MRI of your cholesterol-filled aorta and listen to a graphic and sensationalised description of the procedure. Not because any of that is medically relevant to actually making informed consent; just so you really know how gross it is.

6. Another compromise you should make: even if we agree that someone who was force-fed buttered bacon like a foie gras goose should be entitled to a coronary bypass, you should grant that people who freely chose a high-cholesterol lifestyle should only be able to get a coronary bypass when it's medically necessary. That is, only if, if they don't get one right now, they will definitely have a fatal heart attack in the next 12 hours.

7. It's vitally important that this debate be carried out in the most abstract terms possible. We must completely and systematically ignore the unavailability of healthy food in poor communities, the lack of emphasis on preventive medicine, and the spiraling cost of health insurance.

8. Coronary bypass surgery stops a beating heart.

May 01, 2007

Defining radical feminism

I'd like to turn in a certain paper in about six hours. So, naturally, I'm spending my time thinking about something completely unrelated and writing long, meandering blog posts like this one.

In particular, I'm thinking about how to define and defending radical feminism. If by radical feminist one means `someone who thinks Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon got a lot of things right', then I'm probably a radical feminist. But that's not really a helpful definition to bandy about when using the term around the almost everyone who has never read either Dworkin or MacKinnon. (Or thinks that what they said can be accurately summed up as `all heterosexual sex is rape'.)

Here's my proposed definition:

Radical feminism is the thesis that our gender* categories, in themselves, constitute a fundamental system of injustice.

I like this, first of all, because it's fairly short, but makes a strong and controversial claim. Let's unpack it by contrasting it with alternative positions.

First, antifeminism. The antifeminist denies that there is any gender injustice in our society. This leads almost immediately to the MRA complication: Men's Rights Activists such as Warren Farrell say lots of antifeminist things, but still believe in gender-related injustice. However, I think their position is easily turned, ie, the solution to most of the problems they identify (unjust divorce and child custody laws, discriminatory selective service laws, &c) is more feminism, not less. The fact that it's called feminism doesn't mean it is indifferent to any oppression suffered by men. In any case, by contrast with both radical feminism and MRA positions, antifeminism believes that everything is just dandy with respect to gender.

Second, there isn't a good term for this position, so let's just call it supervenience feminism. Supervenience feminism agrees with radical feminism that there is gender injustice, but claims that this injustice supervenes on other kinds of injustice. Marx's analysis is the prime example I have in mind. Marx claims (somewhere; if anyone has the cite handy, please share in the comments) that gender injustice in a society is a good way to identify economic injustice: the worse off the proletariat (men) are, the worse the domestic violence and rape. We can expand this analysis into a stronger claim (which, just to be clear, I do not believe Marx made), viz, if we `just' solve this problem of economic injustice, then all the gender injustice will disappear, too. By contrast, radical feminism, with its claim that gender injustice is fundamental, rejects this analysis. Gender injustice does not supervene on any other system of injustice, though it can obviously interact with other systems.

Third and finally, what I will (somewhat inaccurately, but with good reason) call liberal feminism. Liberal feminism agrees with radical feminism that gender injustice is real and forms a system of injustice which cannot be reduced to, though intersects with, other systems. But liberal feminism does not agree that our gender categories are in themselves unjust. According to liberal feminism, our gender categories are more or less fine in themselves, but have been utilized in constructing a system of oppression.

Thus, consider high heels (a favourite point of controversy between liberal and radical feminists, though not as favourite as blowjobs). There is nothing wrong with high heels as a symbol of femininity, say the liberal feminists, at least not in themselves. The ridiculously high ones are ridiculous, of course, and no-one should go around wearing them all the damn time because they'll fuck up your feet, but there's nothing intrinsically wrong with wearing moderately high heels even regularly. The problem comes when high heels are regarded as compulsory (fancy dress occasions) and a justification for physically harming women (footbinding in feudal China, surgery to fit into pointed-toe shoes today). In these cases, a system of gender injustice has been grafted on to something which is intrinsically just fine.

The radical feminist disagrees. The radical feminist points out that high heels were specifically designed, and the fondness for them amongst women specifically instilled, for the ends of gender injustice, namely, the sexual objectification of women. High heels are a wholly original creation of patriarchy, not some innocent-in-itself appropriated by patriarchy some time after their original creation. And women don't freely choose from a Rawlsian Original Position to embrace high heels, only to discover once they are in society that they're used as tools of oppression. Women are taught from very early on that (a) they are primarily valuable as sex objects, and (b) one great way to increase their value as sex objects is to wear high heels. To borrow Marx's term, the radical feminist claims that a love of fashion in general is a form of false consciousness, not a justification for high heels in feminist utopia. (The problems defending a false consciousness claim may explain why there is so much debate over high heels and such: the radical feminist is unable to offer the liberal feminist a convincing argument on the latter's own terms.)

And now I'm really running late. Thoughts?

* There are two major complications here. First, sexism extends to both gender and sexual injustice -- the lack of research into female heart disease is a good an example of sexism which is sexual, not gender, injustice. Second, gender injustice has tight intersections with heteronormativity (especially), classism, racism, &c. So, properly, fighting gender injustice should be neither necessary nor sufficient for feminism. But I suspect this analysis is built on the mistaken idea that there is some kind of clear, precise, and accurate classification of systems of injustice and opposition to them. There simply is no fact of the matter about where feminism stops and queer activism starts. So, because, for any definition, some cases will be problematic, and because it's convenience and perspicacious, I'll just talk about gender injustice.