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« December 17, 2006 - December 23, 2006 |
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December 29, 2006
At the Guardian's blog, Julie Bindel, a founding member of the feminist law reform campaign Justice for Women, writes an Op-Ed style post arguing against the legalization of prostitution, an issue she believes has been revived in the wake of England's recent murders in and around Ipswich, in the county of Suffolk.
Bindel writes, "Tolerance zones in the Netherlands, hailed as a great success, are closing down one by one, because they have proved a disaster, with criminality and abuse still prevalent." She thinks regulation hasn't made for safer conditions and has increased demand. Fair enough if that's accurate, but Bindel glides by some possible objections to her argument. She says:
Moves to unionise and regularise women in prostitution - to ensure "workers' rights" - are ludicrous, considering the following: most women do not want to be registered as "sex workers" as this can further stigmatise them by creating a permanent record of their prostitution; and what pimp would feel happy about paying taxes?
Catchy last clause, but I'm not sure she's right about the first point. Perhaps women would rather not be on record as hookers, but I would think that enough union-style protections such as wage guarantees and other rights would tip the balance. Their principal concerns, I would guess, are safety and protection from financial and other forms of abuse. If the law could offer those, the incentive would be powerful.
Whether union prostitutes would then be undercut by illegal competition is another matter, and it's difficult to speculate. But men might be drawn to sex workers who are tested for disease monthly, as pro-legalizers advocate.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 04:23 PM
December 29, 2006
Evan, in your last post you left out the juiciest bit of that New Republic item! Richard Stern, the emeritus professor of literature at Chicago, writes that Epstein, "as Myron J. Epstein, was a mediocre student of mine more than four decades ago."
After bashing Epstein's trite article (although he says he likes much of Epstein's other work), Stern says his "records show" that he gave Epstein a B-minus in the course. No specifics, but Stern implies the young man's work lacked even "a tithe of excitement."
"I suspect I would grade most of his recent work much higher," he concludes, "but this piece on belief isn't even worth a C."
I guess there's no reason why it should be surprising, or funny, that Epstein, who is so self-consciously tweedy and literary -- when I read him, I always feel I should be sitting in a leather chair in a mahogany-lined room at a men's club, chuckling in a self-satisfied way -- should have a B-minus in an English course lurking in his background. (Not to mention a professor who feels strongly enough to out him as mediocre a half-century after the fact.) Still, it is .
I suspect Stern knows that this is precisely the kind of comment that would bug Epstein.
What's next? Anne Fadiman's freshman comp professor steps forward to say he thought her work was too precious, and he failed her?
Posted by Christopher Shea at 04:19 PM
December 29, 2006
At The New Republic's Open University blog, Richard Stern, a professor emeritus in English Languages and Literature at the University of Chicago and a fiction writer, links to and discusses "an exceptionally shallow and foolish piece" (unusual move) by Joseph Epstein in The Weekly Standard, for whom Epstein is a contributing editor. The Weekly Standard piece says President George W. Bush is likely to essentially "stay the course" in Iraq because he is "a believer" -- by which Epstein means both a man who got religion when he turned 40 and a man who got political religion on Sep. 11, 2001.
Interesting point, and hard to argue with. So far so good, I'd say, despite Stern's judgment. But then we get the statement that Bill Clinton fell into the camp of US presidents who were not believers but "something else -- managers, politicians, operators, men who just wanted the job. While in office, Bill Clinton ... seems to have had as little true belief as any politician in recent decades." Leaving political bias aside, that's highly debatable. Many Republicans would agree that Clinton was driven by the convictions he grew up with, and they were pretty consistent, if often centrist. (He was also driven by a libido that was both consistent and consistently costly.) And anyone who saw the interviews and pained pictures of Clinton when he signed the bill that "ended welfare as we know it" would posit that he was racked by uncertainty but also acting boldly, not following polls.
Epstein's article proceeds to rather boringly catalog the recent presidents who were believers and unbelievers, concluding with the statement that all great presidents were believers -- which is almost a tautology given the broad way he's defined the category.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 02:13 PM
December 29, 2006
Marginal Revolution is a wide-ranging blog written by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, who are both affiliated with George Mason University's James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy -- though the blog strays from politics and econ, as a recent post suggests. Cowen brings to our attention Ron Rosenbaum's most recent book, "The Shakespeare Wars," and cites the author's contention that there's more great Shakespeare available on DVD, tape, or film than could be seen by a viewer in years and years of theater-going.
He cites the following list of most worthy purchases:
1. Orson Welles, Chimes at Midnight [TC: also Welles's best movie]
2. Peter Brook, King Lear
3. Richard III, with Laurence Olivier
4. Hamlet, with Richard Burton
Cowen adds his view that "Chimes at Midnight" is also Welles's best film (really?), and wants to add Welles's Othello, and (gasp) Baz Luhrmann's "William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet," a gangland weirdly dystopic number starring our dear Leo DiCaprio.
This is a fun game. I wouldn't pretend to a comprehensive viewpoint here -- the list is too long -- but I remember great affection for Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" and "Much Ado About Nothing" and enormous distaste for the 1995 "Othello" that starred Branagh, Laurence Fishburne, and, alas, one of my all-time favorites, Irene Jacob.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 12:54 PM
December 28, 2006
Another decidedly cool twist on the James Brown obit parade: At Dial "M" for Musicology, a pretty awesome dissection of the music of James Brown, with special consideration for "why JB's music is so goddam funky" -- a project suggested by Scott McLemee at Crooked Timber, who does his own amateur deconstruction. But here's Phil Ford from Dial "M":
Right now I'm thinking about the opening vamp of "Hot Pants," with its octave-jump bassline and its up-tilted three-note** guitar riff against a chicken-scratch rhythm guitar and a tambourine doing steady eighth-notes. (All led off by JB shouting ONE TWO ONE TWO THREE UHHNN.)
Some funky ingredients here, but what really funks me up is the way each part has its own decided placement in relationship to the beat.
Yes, there's more, including a thought on the Heisenbergian nature of hip.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 07:18 PM
December 28, 2006
The new London Review of Books includes a review by the left-wing writer Tariq Ali of Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's new memoir, "In the Line of Fire." This is the book, I would add, whose attendant contract was cited by Musharraf during a press conference following a recent state visit with Bush as the reason he couldn't go any further into details of his past conversations with members of the Bush Administration. Musharraf stated at the time that Richard Armitage had threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the Stone Age" if Musharraf didn't comply with the US's antiterrorism plans for the region. It seems that that turns out to be, naturally, the juiciest bit he offers, though there does seem to be some more score-settling in the book, most of it internal to Pakistan.
Ali's review is most valuable as a compact primer on the last few decades of political history in Pakistan -- a rambunctious period marked by an unsteady mix of civilian and military leadership. This mix led, for instance, to Musharraf's assuming power aboard an airplane intentionally kept airborne despite fuel concerns while another leader in line for the presidency, then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was arrested.
Ali slips in a mention of the fact that he was in college in Lahore with senior General Ali Kuli Khan, who was considered for high office, and he writes with a corresponding personal authority on the region. According to him, "'In the Line of Fire' gives the official version of what has been happening in Pakistan over the last six years and is intended largely for Western eyes. Where Altaf Gauhar injected nonsense of every sort into Ayub’s memoirs, his son Humayun Gauhar, who edited this book, has avoided the more obvious pitfalls." Nevertheless, Ali notes a fact I didn't know -- that the book has been created by widespread and vocal dissent in the media, which Musharraf admirably tolerates. Crucial clues to his fate, this worthy review suggests, probably can be found in the autobiography.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 05:00 PM
December 28, 2006
Foreign Policy notes 10 developments that didn't get enough attention in 2006.
The eye-catching ones include No. 9: "What's Worse than Bird Flu? The Cure." The dreaded bird flu mostly failed to materialize in 2006 (no humans died from it), but Tamiflu, the medicine used (sometimes prophylactically) to counter the disease, killed 10 Canadians and, during a 10-month period, injured 100 Americans -- or caused them to hallucinate, frightening them badly.
And No. 4: "Russia Fuels Latin American Arms Race." Off the radar screen of most American observers was the $300 million purchase of Russian arms by Brazil and the $1 billion purchase of jets and helicopters by Venezuela. Good thing we have such a superb relationship with Venezuela; otherwise there might be cause for concern.
Posted by Christopher Shea at 04:45 PM
December 28, 2006
Yesterday brought the news that a civil suit brought by a former IRS attorney and current law professor at University of Arkansas-Little Rock against Jessica Cutler, the writer behind the sex-on-the-Hill blog Washingtonienne, is headed to trial. Robert Steinbuch is suing Cutler for $20 million for chronicling in great detail the sexual relationship between them when she was a young D.C. staffer for Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio. (After the hugely popular Washington gossip blog Wonkette linked to Washingtonienne, the story went national and Cutler was fired from her job ... but got a book deal.)
At The Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh points out the unusual nature of the case: it is "a 'civil action for invasion of privacy for public revelation of private facts,' not a defamation claim." Volokh adds, "Nothing in this lawsuit will 'restore [Steinbuch's] good name,'" which I would call beyond dispute, adding that the extra publicity won't help at all in that department. It will be interesting to see, too, if Steinbuch's argument, which seems to butt up against the First Amendment, can gain any traction. A victory of any kind for him would be a serious threat to prurient, revelatory bloggers everywhere, not that we need more of them.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 11:34 AM
December 27, 2006
At the Economist blog Free Exchange, a post picks up on a short piece by Mark Kleiman on the blog The Reality-Based Community about the pricing of hard drugs. Kleiman disputes what he feels is the alarmist tone of an LA Times article about price drops in heroin but is stunned (as I was) by the raw facts:
[G]rams of highly pure Afghan heroin are now trading at $90 in LA. That's about a dime per pure milligram, compared with $2.50 a pure milligram in New York during the "French Connection" days. For a naive user, 5mg of heroin is a hefty dose, so your first heroin experience is now available for less than the price of a candy bar.
Ain't competition grand?
However, Kleiman also points out the more encouraging fact that heroin is often "price insensitive": "The good news is that the collapse from $2.50 to 50 cents seems to have had only a fairly modest impact on the number of new heroin users; that, like the price collapse itself, is not what I would have predicted based on simple microeconomics."
In a footnote, Kleiman advances his most interesting thesis: "Heroin, even more than cocaine, illustrates the near-futility of trying to use drug law enforcement to control drug abuse once a drug has found a mass market," to which Kleiman adds the supporting fact that increased convictions have had little effect on abuse. The Economist blogger, picking up a similar theme, suggests that "America could legalise drugs and reap the benefits of lower imprisonment and less drug-associated crime, without seeing much of an increase in drug use." An old saw of the legalization movement, but perhaps new facts make it due for a revival.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 03:48 PM
December 27, 2006
A nice twist on the usual boilerplate of obituaries this week: as a way of remembering R&B/funk/rock/soul legend James Brown, prominent Ghanaian journalist Cameron Duodu, at the Guardian's Comment Is Free, writes a reminder of Brown's effect on Ghanaian politics in the crucial post-independence decade. After a formative experience of discrimination at a Howard Johnson's in the US in 1957, one of Ghana's foremost politicians of the past, Komla Gbedemah, alerted the press, and was soon invited to the White House by Dwight Eisenhower. It was a step in his rise to power in his own country.
When he created his own political party called the National Alliance of Liberals, he alluded to James Brown to craft its slogan: "Say it loud! I'm black and I'm proud!" It was a reference to Brown's song "Sat It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)." And it was enormously successful. Duodu says that Ghanaians of a certain age still remember the call-and-response slogan from '60s rallies, even though Gbedemah didn't end up winning a national election.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 12:24 PM
December 27, 2006
After yesterday's encouragement to donate to memorialize the victims in Darfur, I wanted to highlight a piece of good news from the deeply embattled and poor region of Sudan. Yesterday Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, at long last accepted a UN plan to increase the presence of international peacekeepers in Darfur. He also said he was "ready to discuss" a cease-fire.
Bashir had rejected a plan for a 20,000-man UN force in August, and the plan he's accepted is greatly scaled down from that one, although the final numbers have been left vague so far. It begins with UN support staff joining the currently stationed (and outgunned) African Union troops, then provides for a UN military presence and the use of UN military "assets." If Bashir doesn't retreat from this pledge, as he has before, this is good news for the weak and victimized of Darfur, who have been waiting for help for too long.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 12:02 PM
December 26, 2006
At Crooked Timber, where academic concerns nicely ripple out into society, John Quiggin, a social democrat from Down Under, takes up the matter of whether what Matt Yglesias calls the Green Lantern theory of geopolitics -- the idea that wars are won by willpower -- is in fact true, from a historical perspective. Quiggin points out that any war can be made to fit into this model, because "whenever a nation loses a war, it can be argued that, with more willpower it would have prevailed" (unless the nation was destroyed or otherwise irreparably damaged).
Quiggin also argues that in the Iraq war, the Administration continues to act as if it believes in the Green Lantern, hoping to avoid the example of Vietnam, in which, according to one school of thought, the US's loss of will as a population spelled the end. He says that whether there is enough will or not, the conflict in Iraq has proven that the US is unquestionably the great military power, even an unbeatable power, but that its ability to handle insurgencies and to secure a lasting peace or some other amorphous goal has been thrown into deep question:
So, the US has a unique capacity to enforce the global law that makes wars of aggression a crime against humanity. In the context of civil conflicts like those in Bosnia and Kosovo, US intervention can nullify the advantage possessed by the side that has a conventional army at its disposal. But this military power is useful only if there exists a widely-accepted political solution waiting to be implemented.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 04:26 PM
December 26, 2006
As you make plans to make those last-minute, tax-deductible donations to charities and other non-profits, don't forget to consider Darfur, which remains an immense tragedy, and remains indeed a growing and increasingly complex catastrophe. The situation in Sudan (of which Darfur constitutes a section) has been unstable for years -- decades, by some measure. And its conflicts often spill over into neighboring countries, e.g. Chad, Central African Republic, and Zaire. That's happening now, as the refugee crisis escalates in Chad and the warring janjaweed cross the border illegally to make raids on helpless rural nomads, for little to no profit.
One organization, the Darfur Wall, is honoring the victims of the killing and unrest there, who now number approximately 400,000, roughly half the victim count in Rwanda in 1994. Donations of a dollar or more (no excuses there) light up a number on the virtual wall, in honor of that victim. Click here to explore and donate.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 12:37 PM
December 26, 2006
For the bibliophiles among us, the (London) Times Literary Supplement updates one page on their site daily-- and, from what I can tell, only one page. The TLS Table provides a list, divided into broad categories like "History" and "Politics," of some of the book that have arrived that day that the offices of the TLS. No annotation, no publication information, no synopsis -- just a list of some books. Nevertheless, the Table can be a fun cross-section of what's cooking in publishing, at least in the UK.
I ought to have maintained a similar page when I worked at the New York Review of Books, but the flow was almost too heavy to reach your hand in -- sometimes over a hundred books in a day. It was my job (among other roles) to sort through these titles and separate the wheat from the chaff. While doing so, though, it was interesting to get a wide-gauge look at what people are interested in. A little like those pages that tell you what words people are entering into search engines right now.
Posted by Evan Hughes at 11:52 AM