Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Sweet Rebuttal

Adrienne wrote in with a woman's take on Sen. Obama's usage of the word 'sweetie' that runs counter to my argument. She writes:

Now, granted, I'll give him the "it's just a bad habit" excuse, but that means he needs to make an active effort to stop saying sweetie in the future.
Here's a simple rubric, from my perspective: "dear" or "sweetie" or anything similar is okay and innocuous when it comes from a) a relative; b) a good friend; c) a fabulous gay man; or d) a man over the age of 65.
Coming from any other man, especially in a formal or professional context, it is grating, condescending, and really quite obnoxious, even if he doesn't necessarily mean it that way. But the effect is to minimize what you're trying to say, because you're a woman.
I know this is one of those things that gets feminists branded as humorless, but fuck it all. This isn't like holding a door open, which is common courtesy. This is more akin to catcalling or something--being treated w/ disrespect because you're a woman.
I still think it was an innocent enough phrase, or alternatively, used specifically to appeal to Mid-Western white attitudes. A word like "sweetie" is certainly something that a lot of white men in middle America will identify with. Even so, Adrienne does have a point (damn her eyes) about it's usage in a professional sense.

Sweetie and the Silly Season

So Sen. Obama off-handedly calls a reporter "sweetie" when telling her to wait a moment to answer a question, which he ended up not answering at all. To add to that, the senator has called other women sweetie at times. Now it doesn't appear as if the reporter in question is all that terribly upset, but the rest of the media is kicking the story around for some reason.
Honestly, I don't know why this momentary event required Sen. Obama to issue an apology. On one level there is a degree of sexism you can read into the comment. But on an entirely other level is the everyday mannerisms of a mid-western man showing his respect and acknowledgment of the reporter's gender. Now I've been known to call some of my female friends "dear" on occasion, particularly when I'm trying to get a point across. It's one part use of ethos and one part being from Dallas that directs me to the word "dear" versus "sweetie" but the intention is the same.
I don't believe that the comment was intended as any form of slander or to demean the reporter. If Sen. Obama wishes to apologize for it then that is his business. And if the reporter has taken offense to the comment then I can understand that as well. I one time called a female friend "dear" and was sharply rebuked for it, but only because she didn't get what I meant by the term. That reaction is a sort of knee-jerk feminism. However, it isn't the same as calling a black man "boy" or black people "those people". Terms such as those still carry with them the derision and racism of the past. So, while the furor over the comment is partially reasonable from certain perspectives, I don't think Sen. Obama was being anything but polite.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On Why Spackerman Is Better Than You

Quote of the Day via Spencer Ackerman:
"This means I might never live out my dreams of hibernating with polar
bears before riding the Polar Bear King into battle"

On Design and Jewelry

Interstitial Arts charity jewelry auction - Cory Doctorow @ BoingBoing

I have to say that there is an undeniable coolness to the Interstitial Arts jewelry collection. Based around the idea of designing pieces influenced by the first 19 stories from the Interfiction Anthology these pieces are crafted by the authors themselves in an attempt to capture physically some essence of their written work. The collection is up for bid here.
It sounds like a wonderful idea and some of the pieces are well-made and tasteful. But from a design standpoint, some of this is crap. One of the biggest failures I see in so-called jewelry designers is a failure to appreciate how the materials work and what happens, after a piece has been worn for years, when something breaks. Repairing a wire-based piece such as the one shown here will probably never happen. It's all a matter of metallurgy and gemology. The stones used simply will not stand the heat needed to flow solder over broken sections of gold wire, if you could even get the sections of wire hot enough without melting them first. Yes, it is interesting and unique, but hardly a masterpiece.
Ultimately it is the work of professional writers but amatuer jewelers. I do believe in the need for such side projects for those who spend most of their lives trying to bang out on a keyboard some idea in their head. The constrast between intellectual works and material ones is striking, to say the least. Jewelry work has brought me a great deal of comfort when faced with a difficult intellectual project. The simple explanation is this: at the end of it, you have a physical piece in your hands that you know is finished. That satisfaction of completion is rarely found at the end of an intellectual work, whether a novel or a piece of non-fiction. You are always thinking of ways to improve on it and the best advice I was ever given was that you have to find a place to stop and say, "I'm done." That moment is gratifying but not in the same way as holding a finished product in your hands. So while I might deride the designs I do applaud these authors for trying something new and different in jewelry design.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fear of a Black President, Pt 249

He's a Different Color but We're the Same Kid, I'll Treat Him Like My Brother and He'll Treat Me Like His - Spencer Ackerman

Breaking from his normal foreign policy blogging Ackerman made a good decision in pointing to a John Judis article on racism in American politics. The conclusions of the Judis piece are not surprising--that latent racial bias still exists among many whites. What Judis is arguing here is that Sen. Obama must contend with such latent racism. Overtly racist attacks and ads will not work but dog-whistle types will among the working white middle class.
But Judis' argument reaches farther than the politics of the current election cycle. Relying on a good deal of research done in the past twenty years, Judis finds that a latent bias is prevalent among nearly every American. However, this bias is subtle and not easily drawn out. Where some might find this evidence of bias damning of the white middle class, I view it as a sign of progress since the Civil Rights era. It says, as Judis argues, that overt racism is not an acceptable social norm.
It also says that any remaining racism is so buried in the minds of people that when they do exhibit racist tendencies it is done so unconsciously. Being on a few generations past the Civil Rights era this is naturally expected. My generation, I believe, holds less latent racism than the last and the next generation, if the trend holds, should have even less unconscious racism than mine. What this points to is the potential for a time when even latent racism begins to disappear. The election of a black president will do a great deal of good in moving Americans away from this type of racism. It's not a cure-all, for certain, but it does prove that blacks can accomplish great things. Such a notion can embed itself in people's minds to the point that the latent racism is negated in many ways.


Patchwork kitchen floor made from Marmoleum ends - Cory Doctorow @ BoingBoing

Cory Doctorow writes this brief post on Vermont Eco Builder's effort to layout a kitchen floor made from Marmoleum salvaged from a landfill. The Vermont Eco Builder's blog has a lot more information and photos to go along with their build including the process they used to create the color scheme and layout they wanted. Marmoleum is apparently an eco-friendly flooring made from organic materials.
It's a great use of recycled materials while providing an aestheically pleasing look to a kitchen floor. What's more, it's wonderful that the company installing the floor offers up their technique for laying the floor, meaning others can create their own Marmoleum kitchen floor. As Doctorow says, the effect is striking in terms of color and look.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kindling a Revolution

The Future of Reading? - Ezra Klein
The Future of Reading - Ezra Klein @ Columbia Journalism Review

So Klein spends some time with Amazon's Kindle and has already decided that traditional books are not capable of handling the changes in content of the digital age. He does make some strong points: commentary and notations are far easier to engage in through digital books and a web connection. Time sensitive books such as those on political events could use instant update features to correct outdated material. And particularly controversial books would have a direct connection between the reader and the author. This is where the disruptive nature of the Internet injects itself in the real world.
Naturally, as a blogger, Klein is inclined to think of texts as reader-author relationships. Blogs have become some of the most read online texts in existence. And the mix of reader and author allows for debates to bring out new ideas and reworked blog posts. Klein argues that a similar debate can take place over political books such as Andrew Sullivan's The Conservative Soul. It's a strong argument and one I believe will prove true, to a point.
To offer a contrast, Klein takes a similar perspective with Max Boot's World War Z. The purpose behind the comparison is to illustrate where the Kindle fails as it distracts from the simplicity of reading for pleasure.
I do agree that a digital device won't replace those texts meant for pleasure. But I have to strongly disagree with Klein over the matter of non-fiction texts. What may hold true for contemporary political texts on contemporary political topics fails miserably when attempting anything of a lasting work. Example: Wittgenstein (yes, I'm using him again as an example) wrote two works of philosophy in his life time. His first, published in the early 20s was hailed as the founding text for logical positivism. Twenty years later Wittgenstein wrote another work on the philosophy of language completely at odd with his first.
I use Wittgenstein as an extreme example of how one's thinking can change, sometimes radically, over a period of time. A non-fiction work must have an endpoint. For academics, this is known as the point where you simply stop writing. You can use the texts available to you at the time but waiting for some new text to arrive that adds to your work is foolish and damaging to your career. At some point you have to end the research and the book as well. Moreover, the more time you study a subject the more your understanding increases. Some of the best work by philosophers and historians is done in the waning years of their life. A constant blog-like debate over a single text does little to actually improve the thinking of the academic. Nor does an academic have the time a blogger does to engage in such a debate, particularly since they have papers to grade, classes to prepare for and new topics to research.
Another point Klein misses is that research requires the quick movement from text to text as one is writing. A single device that contains all of the texts the academic uses is actually detrimental to the work. You need that ability to lay two or three books together at once to properly write an academic text.
So while Klein does have an argument when it comes to political texts and the potential digital devices have to improve the interaction with digital content, he misses the more important points of pleasure and academic reading. Yes, it requires the maintenance of a library of books but as Klein himself notes, paper texts have existed and adapted to new technologies many times before. The Kindle's potential is powerful, but that power is derived from its ability to deliver digital content or content that is improved by a close relation between the reader and the author. It's power does not, however, extend to novels and academic works for the very same reasons.