Friday, August 28, 2009

Continuing on from a snarky comment I a little bit regret leaving here:

Well HPV, there's a vaccine for, and men should be getting that, too.

Herpes... I mean, most of the world has herpes. It doesn't cause infertility, it doesn't cause cancer, it's annoying, but, you know, everyone has oral herpes anyway, and those countries with a high prevalence of genital herpes, like brazil, don't seem to have much of a problem with it. I don't *want* herpes, but if I got it, it wouldn't be a big deal. Talk to your partner about herpes before you have unprotected sex, but don't imagine it's a life-or-death conversation.

Syphilis, Gonnorhea, Chlamydia... curable, curable and curable.

Look, yes, this is a little bit sort of intended as flame, but there's a strong current of thought that *isn't* wrong that says that you can play the numbers on this stuff. In college (seven years ago) I went to campus health services to get a full blood workup because my girlfriend and I wanted to have the kind of sex where I can actually feel something and stand a chance of climaxing (you know, the sex without condoms) and they didn't bother to test me for AIDS even though I asked for it. The nurse practitioner said "you're obviously white. are you from outside the U.S.? are you gay? do you use intravenous needles? have you patronized a prostitute? no to all? okay, you don't have AIDS."

And that wasn't wrong. I mean, my very-good-feminist girlfriend was upset, but she was also a sciences major, so she couldn't argue with it, exactly, at the personal level. A lot of the reason for condom use by certain groups is to prevent collective risk, not individual risk... to keep the statistics where they are, people need to use condoms, but there isn't an immediate and individual reason for a U.S. heterosexual white couple, even one that isn't very well acquainted, that doesn't invite sex workers to bed and doesn't use IV drugs to worry about AIDS. At that point, your bullshit meter is better protection than any condom, because the likelihood of anything serious getting passed on is so low, your date is more likely to commit an act of sexual violence than to give you a disease.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More on the Left and Tribalism

Re-reading some old Feministe posts exemplifying what I'm talking about ( and or anything that Renee at Womanist Musings/Feministe writes about the Whiteness boogeyman) I haven't reconsidered my position exactly, but been reminded why it's so incredibly important to cure the left of this structuralist obsession that undermines the real ideological battles that are out there and worth fighting. In the first of these two links, the connection between a law-and-order edifice that both polices for rape and participates in immigrant deportations is a conflation of two different issues for the sake of "intersectionality" that is more condescending than any attempt by people of "privilege" (fuck it, I'm just going to start referring to limosine liberals) to help marginalized communities.

Immigrant deportation is 100% deifferent from policing for rape. Illegal immigrants have broken the law. It might be an unjust law (I don't think it is; nations have borders. That's how it works.) but the police are doing their job, and not terrorizing these people wantonly. The advantage of the law-and-order system is that it's pretty much predictable. There are structural problems, and there are individual racists, but the structural problems don't run as deep as the Left often accuses... the structural problems are principally a failure to do internal policing for individual racists. But trying to extend concern for all disadvantaged people to the point where you want to stop policing because the police might enforce unjust laws is tryign to take peoples' entire lives into your hands as you try to make the world a better place.

And maybe that's where part of this disjuncture is... I don't want to make peoples' lives better. I want to make the world a better place. I have enough respect for the disadvantaged people of the world (let's set aside people with invisible disabilities for a moment, it's a big, separate issue) to expect them to know the rough outlines of the system in which they operate, and maneuver accordingly. The solution is not to do excruciating twists to try and protect every individual; the solution is to create a predictable system and administer it fairly. Wanting to reduce police involvement in potential sex crimes because you're worried that they'll deport the neighbors is, you know, retarded. We don't want the entire country to be like the chassidim in boro park and rely on vigilante groups for protection. They have a name for that-- the mafia. The same groups that murder and extort in the course of getting illegal immigrants to the U.S. in the first place.

The Left and the New Tribalism

I used to really enjoy being on the left. I waved my 'no blood for oil' flag in college, talked about the imperative of a socialist state that acknowledges the tradeoff of a social safety net as the exchange for compliance by workers with the inequalities of industrial labor structures, I'm pro-choice, I've done ally training three times (what can I say, a lifetime as a heterosexual male saddles you with a lot of heterosexism), I work hard to identify those assumptions of mine that are built on having grown up privileged (no capital letter on that word-- it means having a little bit of extra cash on hand, not the nexus we're going to be jumping into here) versus value systems that transcend having money, or versus decisions that poor people aren't taught to make but that actually are prudent fiscal decisions regardless of income (like buying in bulk, which is worth it even if you have to ask your buddy to lend you a little extra cash and pay them back next week).

But as I drifted off point in that run-on sentence about my sensitivities, I was getting at the point, which is that I was a lefty/progressive/liberal because I understood that we're all coming from different places, and if people have a rational basis for what they do, you should respect it, but at the same time, demand that people endeavor to seek the best behaviors for themselves within the confines of their particular burdens. I took, and take, my peers to task strenuously for their unexamined advantage and disregard for the nuances of the differences between us, as a human race.

I grew up during the Clinton years, those halcyon days when white people with money and guilt could try to make the world a better place and sort of, maybe, succeed. And while there have always been grass roots organizers who inveighed against any nexus of money and power, it seemed like people were pretty impressed with Clinton's Third Way of using business as a lever for improving peoples' lives. It was pragmatic instead of aggressive.

Now, I read left-wing blogs, and particularly feminist blogs, and try to connect with people who I thought of as intellectual fellow-travelers, but I can't. And frankly, I can't because the discussion around left wing causes and ideologies has become focused on a kind of thought-patrolling purity that demands self-immolating guilt and suspension of psychological independence by white heterosexual males. The focus on transforming all liberal causes into facets of a single lens that paints the world as Privileged versus Disempowered misses the point of ideology. Ideology transcends demography. The new progressivism... it's non-ideological-- it's a kind of new tribalism, where you have to find a disadvantaged tribe to join or be left as the Jews of the left (i.e. the group everyone beats up on in uncontrollable rage whenever they can't deal with their own failures). You have to be gay, or a person of color, or abjectly poor AND disabled (either one alone doesn't count), or come from a former colony (and be descended from the indigenous people of that colony).

And this attitude surrenders so many of the values I used to prize. In conversation with friends, I always hit on this again and again, but the patriarchy of a major core of the Muslim world (i.e. the Arab league plus Iran and Indonesia) could, like, really benefit from some colonialism, because they're mostly massive racists who hate women. When did we give up on the importance of spreading values? And not values like "democracy", which isn't really a value so much as a method, but values like "human rights".

So the left abandoned ideology in favor of a semi-coherent vision of prioritizing the destruction of the privileged people at the top instead of acknowledging the advantages of the western society in which the left has its roots planted, and trying to tend its own garden while responding to the far, far worse situations abroad. And when people in the "privileged" tribe bring up any of these issues, they're shouted down as needing to check their privilege at the door, which basically amounts to an ad-hominem attack. It doesn't confront the issues.

So I was once a feminist. And I still believe what I believed back then, but I specifically don't want to be associated with a modern feminist movement that says that increased policing with a specific emphasis on patrolling to prevent gender-based violence is wrong because it fails to acknowledge the burden on communities of color that is caused by racial profiling and police brutality and high incarceration rates of black males. Who cares? We're trying to stop sexual assault within minority communities-- this isn't a 'to kill a mockingbird' situation where we're using rape laws as a cudgel to protect "our" white women from black men; sexual assault is real and law enforcement exists to prevent it. Is sexual assault less serious than racial profiling?

And that underscores the problem-- any attempt by people of "Privilege" to contribute to solving the problems of minority communities by doing more than throwing all their money in the air and sitting on a street corner offering to be beaten is somehow a reinforcement of existing power structures and therefore "wrong" to the modern left; no matter how you slice it, trying to help is treated as condescending if you're in the "privileged" tribe-- this is tribal warfare, not discourse or broad, whole-community improvement.

And there's a partial answer to what I'm saying, which is that "checking your privilege at the door" is about listening and understanding what minority communities feel is best for them. The problem with that is it encourages some mixture of tokenism, where you have to treat the people you talk to as somehow representing their whole community, and it also destroys your ability to be a discriminating, intelligent adult with a value system that is important to you and is equally valid with those value systems of underprivileged communities, if not more valid because it adheres, hopefully, to a set of progressive ideologies that are worth believing in and that are genuinely important.

I really loved being a progressive, but I'm not ready to stick nails through my hands and stop evaluating whether people are being responsible and complying with a set of imperative values that I genuinely believe in and want to fight for. It doesn't matter how colonized you were, how poor you are, or what kind of family you come from. Rape is never okay, and it's worth stopping, even if there's collateral damage. I'm not going to place myself in a tribe called "Privileged" and assume that my only place at the table where people are designing a better world is the seat for the guy who writes the checks and keeps his mouth shut except for when he's apologizing.

The Best Songs Ever Written, Volume 1

Let's keep it simple here:

1) I Think We're Alone Now - Tommy James and the Shondells
Let's introduce the mix, let the listener know that it's just them and the music. Give it a little punch to get the shoulders moving, but this isn't about dancing, and it isn't about a party-- this is about great music. Enjoy.

2) Follow you Down - The Gin Blossoms
Again, we're in this together. Let's not waste the punch from the last song, but let's not go too big too fast.

3) Don't Stop Believin' - Journey
Obvious, but still worth it. You knew it was coming, we're putting it in early, it carries the flow, and let's you sit back and think about the rest of the mix instead of just waiting to see if it's on there.

4) Total Eclipse of the Heart - Bonnie Tyler
So we're into the power ballads section of the mix, and this isn't the last Jim Steinman song that's going to find its way onto the list. But the slow start to the song gives you a breather, and the song's orchestrations turn on your brain so you're paying attention, now.

5) November Rain - Guns 'N Roses
They have songs that are more divergent (Welcome to the Jungle, say) but that don't have the technical execution on this song. Keeps your attention for longer than you'd expect Axl Rose to be able to pay attention to his own song.

6) All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You - Heart
Don't think about the content of this song too seriously. Or actually, go ahead and think the hell out of it, since it is totally fucking awesome that Ann Wilson can rip the hell out of this soul-achingly great song despite the fact that it's about how her husband was impotent so she got pregnant from an anonymous bum on the side of the road.

7) Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow - Carol King
We're getting a little weepy here, but better to get these songs out of the way all together, set an emotion, let it bloom, and move on. This song communicates a universal, simple emotion without being cheap. A democracy that respects its citizens intelligence. Where have we gone since the 70s?

8) I Would do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) - Meat Loaf
Yet another Jim Steinman pick, and it brings us back to big sound and some faster music, and some more positive, if complicated emotions. I prefer the long version-- 13 minutes is a lot to ask, but there's a lot packed in there to experience.

9) Basket Case - Greenday
Defined an era of music, created a new genre, and, separately, and more importantly, an awesome song. Even has little hooks to obsess over-- what's with the genders on the shrink and the whore?

10) Land of Confusion - Genesis
Oh look! Phil Collins wants to play political! How the hell did he accidentally stumble on an anthem that's all at once vague and mushy and effective? The marvel of this song is that it works as well as it does despite being some asshole's idea of trying to connect to the previous decade's ethic. Bonus points for not being afraid to put a little testosterone into their political action music. And, to their credit, they bring something that U.S. protest music never could bring, which is a deeper understanding of facism, since over in the U.K. they have *real* facists (for real, in the middle of WWII there were actual political figures who were Nazi sympathizers. Not stay-out-of-the-war types like we had here, but real, honest-to-god 'hey! will to power! woohoo!' types), while we just have the Republican Party and its malcontents.

11) Rockin' in the Free World - Neil Young
Oh, is this the real version of that last song? oh, my mistake.

12) Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
You might criticize this list for being single-heavy, but artists are mostly smart enough to put their best work out there for maximum review. Especially the most creative artists, whose work is frequently inaccessible on a massive scale; Springsteen's body of work is all over the place, but this song stirs the blood and, again, holds your attention way past when it should.

13) Take Me Home Tonight - Eddie Money
It's not that Eddie Money is so great or anything, but this song combines old and new in a totally natural way. Points for respecting history.

You may, at this point, notice that I hate the British.

14) Here Comes The Sun - George Harrison
Enough minor key, huh? Also, this is as close as I get to complimenting the Beatles, who I have not willingly listened to since I got bored with them at age 16. Not that I'm a Rolling Stones fan, either, because they don't really write songs, just noise, except for, I guess, "Angie."

15) (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher - Jackie Wilson
Holy Cow, is this the first black guy on this list? That's weird. Rock is really their music anyway.

16) My Girl - The Temptations
See? It's really theirs.

17) Isn't She Lovely - Stevie Wonder
Maybe I'm getting old and I've lived through too many weddings and baby births now, but I'm starting to get this. Not that I'm a dad or anything, but, you know, I've got so many freakin' long songs on here, and I had to put on something from Songs in the Key of Life, and As is like seven minutes long, so (insert additional lame excuses. it's a great song).

18) A Little Less Conversation - Elvis Presley
So sue me, I'm a member of that very brief slice of humanity that was in college at the adolescence of the internet, when there was a viral video of a remix of this song going around, and I think it's Elvis' best song.

19) Kodachrome - Paul Simon
I was wrestling with how to work some Bob Dylan in here, do some acknowledgment of 60s protest songs and how they reshaped America and the world, and I was thinking about his peers and contemporaries, but the fact is, Dylan's oeuvre is what's important, and not any one song, and none of the songs are all that great, just as songs. I think you had to be there. And much of the same goes for Simon & Garfunkel (although bridge over troubled water blah blah isn't there enough orchestral music on here?) but this solo song by Paul Simon is brilliant.

20) So Long Frank Lloyd Wright - Simon & Garfunkel
Okay, so I lied. This is also maybe the least melodic song on the list, but it's a great way to close. To be continued.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Welcome to Barry's Jukebox


I'm an erstwhile blogger, jumping in to try this thing again. I'm a New York lawyer and right-wing democrat with a specific interest in economics, feminism, and politics. I see capitalism as sitting at the nexus of all of these issues, by describing a libertarian system while surreptitiously changing the intrinsic values of such a system. This blog will examine the underlying assumptions of capitalism and their implications for issues like human rights, feminism, economics, colonialism, Zionism, religion, politics, and historiography.

Also, I really like a well-constructed playlist. And "observations on life," which nobody wants to read.

I think people who talk about capitalism, from the right or from the left, tend to be assholes... but that's because, at least in the U.S., they tend to be fundamentalists of one stripe or another. This blog will be proudly moderate, with few sacred cows, and hopefully irreverent.

I'll also maintain a liberal comments policy, but I have every intention of using every tool in the toolbox to track down and humiliate trolls. Also, while I'll probably do a post on Israel for all my future readers to exhaust their need to argue over the fundamental right of Israel to exist, all arguments over fundamental rights of Israel to exist in subsequent posts will be deleted, because we're just too old for that shit, yo. Same goes for idiotic statements about women belonging in the kitchen, all industrialists being faceless oppressors, and poor people being automatically right because they're disempowered.

It goes without saying that blatant racism will be shot down. If you can't be smart about it, you'll be excluded from the conversation. That said, I like heterogeneity, so please disagree, if you can do it coherently.