Richard Kim is the executive editor of The Nation. He is co-editor, with Betsy Reed, of the New York Times bestselling anthology Going Rouge: Sarah Palin, An American Nightmare. Kim has appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, Up with Chris Hayes/Steve Kornacki, Melissa Harris-Perry, CNN, NPR, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now! and other media outlets. He has taught at New York University and Skidmore College.
Have you ever been at a polite dinner party and heard, in an exquisitely timed moment of silence, a loud, rasping fart erupt from one of the guests? The ensuing moment is ripe--with feeling. Oh my god, did everyone just hear that? How embarrassing!--for the offender, certainly, and, weirdly, for everyone else as well. Faces flush, molting through a welter of expressions: shock, disgust, feigned ignorance, a suppressed smirk. Finally, hopefully, someone breaks the discomfort with a cackle, and the anxiety is swept away with a hearty shared laugh.
Watching Brüno, the British comic Sacha Baron Cohen's latest mockumentary, is a lot like experiencing that après-fart moment, except it lasts for an excruciating ninety minutes in which the viewer is kept constantly teetering between incredulity, mortification and laughter. It is unpleasant, almost physically painful to watch and also, at times, irresistibly funny. Brüno is a gas!
It is also a whole lot of ass, nipple and cock, especially cocks, which in Brüno come in a variety of forms: flesh and prosthetic, soft and hard, mechanical and human. That's because Brüno is, among other things, Cohen's send-up of gay male culture. Like his other alter-egos, Ali G and Borat, Brüno is an exaggeration of an already exaggerated stereotype, in this case, of a gay Austrian fame whore who, having lost his job as a fashion correspondent for the TV program "Funkyzeit," embarks on an odyssey to become "the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler."
Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is dead of a heart attack at the age of 50. Without his extravagant eccentricities and ambiguous, obsessive relationships to race, gender, mortality and childhood (and children)—indeed without the conspicuously tenuous link he had to the category of the human itself—Michael Jackson would have been a B-list has-been.
As expected the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 by a vote of 6-1. It also ruled that the 18,000 same-sex couples who got married last year are still married. It's a long and technical decision (about 180 pages) with two concurring opinions and a concurring and dissenting opinion--so I haven't fully digested it. But two things to note:
First, under California law, there is no material difference between marriage and domestic partnership. Not one of those 18,000 married couples got any new rights or benefits that California's DP did not already provide; they only acquired the term marriage itself. Of course, as a state, California cannot grant any of the federally provided rights and benefits of marriage, but as a matter of state law, the two categories are substantively equal. Indeed, in part, that's why the court held that Prop 8 was an amendment to the CA constitution, and not a broader, more fundamental revision, which would have required more than just an up or down popular vote. As the majority opinion argues:
Instead the measure carves out a narrow and limited exception to these constitutional rights, reserving the official designation of the term "marriage" for the union of opposite-sex couples...but leaving undisturbed all the other extremely significant substantive aspects of a same-sex couple's state constitutional right to establish an officially recognized and protected family relationship...
This dispatch just in from Gabriel Gil Arana, a current Nation intern:
In March, the New School let go of 12 part-time/adjunct faculty at Parsons' fine arts department. Today, over a hundred members of the school's adjunct union and their supporters protested the firings in front of the school's main administration building on 12th Street, accusing administrators of union busting and flouting the protections offered to part-time faculty in their contract.
The protest is the most recent spat in an extended history of tensions between the New School administration and its faculty and students. On two separate occasions in April and December, students occupied buildings to call for the resignation of New School president Bob Kerrey, who received a vote of "no confidence" from an overwhelming majority of the faculty in December.
Even as President Obama acted in the name of transparency and accountabilty in releasing the Bush administration's OLC's torture memos, he made assurances that the CIA agents who used the "enhanced interrogation techniques" meticulously detailed within would not be subject to criminal prosecution. Glenn Greenwald at Salon, Jeremy Scahill on his blog, David Bromwich at Huffington Post and Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic all have good takes on why Obama's decision is wrong. I concur. However politically expedient, Obama's nearly carte blanche absolution of torture was morally wrong, and his justification of it, from a professor of constitutional law, is intellectually dishonest.
Obama's rationalizations were artfully made to the point of being obfuscatory, but they can be boiled down to three points:
1) The strategic issue of national security. "The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world...We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs."
I have only ever worn out one book. The first copy--which I still keep as an artifact of my 20s--became a palimpsest of sorts, its text underlined in four different colors of pencil, emblazoned with streaks of yellow and green neon highlighter. Little enigmatic notes crawl up and down the margins of dog-eared pages, and decomposing Post-it notes jut out untidily from the edges; the spine has long since given way. At a certain point, picking up this particular copy became too overwhelming an encounter with my old selves, and so I bought a fresh one, which I tried in vain to keep clean. That book is Epistemology of the Closet, and its author is the brilliant, inimitable, explosive intellectual Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who died last night from breast cancer at the age of 58.
It is difficult to calculate the impact of Sedgwick's scholarship, in part because its legacy is still in the making, but also because she worked at a skew to so many fields of inquiry. Feminism, queer theory, psychoanalysis and literary, legal and disability studies--Sedgwick complicated and upended them all, sometimes in ways that infuriated more anodyne scholars, but always in ways that pushed established parameters.
In one of her more audacious insights, Sedgwick proposed two ways of understanding homosexuality: a "minoritizing view" in which there is "a distinct population of persons who 'really are' gay," and a "universalizing view" in which sexual desire is unpredictable and fluid, in which "apparently heterosexual persons...are strongly marked by same-sex influences." Think of it, in shorthand, as the difference between Ellen Degeneres' "Yep, I'm gay!" and Gore Vidal's "There is no such thing as a homosexual or heterosexual person; there are only homo- or heterosexual acts."
So said one of the signs at the student occupation of the New School's building at 65 Fifth Avenue, which was met with a phalanx of NYC cops, pepper spray and mass arrests at the request of New School prez Bob Kerrey's administration. On the surface, the students seem a scruffy, wild-eyed lot--tats and unruly beards, raised fists and bold slogans. It's easy for the press to dismiss them as merely "angry" and impetuous. Indeed, comments on the NYT city blog positively seethe with contempt.
"These immature adults are nothing more than terrorists..I would Taser them," writes one poster. "I hope the New School will treat these self-absorbed brats the same way NYU did...paying tuition does NOT mean you get a voice in how the university is run," says another. "A protest that appears to lack direction and realistic demands," quibbles a third.
The harshest of these comments come from the right, but there's an echo of such animosity from the world-weary left as well--a tendency to roll eyes and scoff at the students' naivete. Earlier this year, when NYU students occupied the student center, some left-leaning faculty privately complained that they couldn't totally support the students because of their naive strategy and incoherent, sprawling demands. (One of the students' demands, for example, was to set aside a number of scholarships for students from the Occupied Territories.) Many faculty eventually signed a letter protesting the NYU administration's treatment of the demonstrators, but few prominent figures or outside movements came to the student's defense, and the whole incident fizzled in public consciousness as just another rash, incidental campus uprising.
So now that the Iowa Supreme Court has essentially legalized gay marriage, what's next? Some right-wingers (like Iowa Congressman Steve King and William Duncan of the Marriage Law Foundation) are already promising to put a defense of marriage amendment in front of Iowa voters. But they have a long road ahead of them. Iowa law says that a constitutional ammendment must pass TWO consecutive sessions of the state legislature before it appears on a ballot. So the earliest one could see a DOMA on the ballot is 2011, but with Democrats in control of both houses and with both the House speaker and the Senate majority leader on record supporting the decision--there's virtually no chance that such an amendment would even come up for a vote this session.
That leaves the right-wing with a daunting task: defeat enough Democrats to take control of both houses (Dems currently enjoy a 56-44 and 32-18 advantage), replace them with Christian right Republicans who are willing to champion a marriage amendement and peel off enough remaining Democrats (to offset any moderate GOP defectors) to squeeze through four rounds of yes votes. Only then will they even have the chance to put the issue in front of voters--sometime in 2013 or 2014 if all the stars align. Then, they still have to win that campaign in a political climate in which increasing numbers of voters support gay rights. Oh yeah, and the vote will take place after Iowans have witnessed 5-6 years of ho-hum same-sex nuptials of which the most radical, earth-shaking element is that one of the grooms is a 50-year old church organist named Otter Dreaming (one of the named appellees in the Iowa decision). As Ari Berman points out, Iowa isn't exactly the hotbed of culture war antagonism--despite being square one for GOP presidential wrangling--so my strong hunch is that Mr. Dreaming's marriage will endure at least any legal and political challenges.
So with the Prop 8 route effectively closed to them, what will Iowa's right wing do? They might try to mount a campaign to recall the "activist judges" that voted for same-sex marriage (one tactic recently suggested by Christian right activists in California). Except here they run into political and formal roadblocks. First, the decision was unanimous--signed by all seven justices on the court, including two appointed by a Republican governor (Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justice Mark Cady). It will be difficult for the right to smear any one of them in particular. Second, the justices are appointed by the governor, now Democrat Chet Culver, who isn't exactly a fan of gay marriage, but the idea that he'd refuse to reappoint any of these justices is laughable. Third, the Iowa right could try to impeach the justices as payback, but impeachment in Iowa requires a majority of the House and then conviction by 2/3 of the Senate. If the right has the votes to do that, they'd go after a DOMA in the first place.
The growing populist rage (see Eyal's post) at exorbitant corporate bonuses, especially at the $165 million AIG gave mostly to execs in its financial products division, made me think of Imelda Marcos' shoes and the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines. For long years, the Filipino people had endured the brutal dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who in addition to ordering martial law and broad scale political repression, had plundered the country's wealth, including taking a cut of $28 billion in IMF loans. By the late 70s, in a country where 80 percent of the population subsisted on less than $2 a day, the Marcos family had accumulated over $35 billion in assets.
Tales of their profligacy were well known: the $5 million shopping trips to Rome and Copenhagen, the acquisition of vast patches of Manhattan real estate, the art collection that included works by Botticelli and Michelangelo. Imelda once reportedly dispatched a plane to Australia to pick up tons of white sand to adorn a private beach resort. But nothing quite prepared the Filipino people for what they would discover when, after a heady but peaceful four-day revolution, they stormed Malacanang Palace and sacked Imelda's closet--65 parasols, 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 888 handbags, 71 pairs of sunglasses and, most legendarily, 1,060 pairs of shoes.
What was so potent about those shoes? What did they symbolize? Gross inequality, corruption, the staggeringly brazen looting of public resources--for sure (all qualities also evident in the AIG bailout). But something else too was represented by that collection of ruby slippers, a kind of insane magic by which Imelda transformed herself into something more than human. She could never wear all those shoes. They were beyond utility or even fashion. They existed only to represent the idea of excess itself, like The Simpson's Montgomery Burns' wardrobe made from the pelts of endangered species. As Time's Lance Morrow wrote at the time: