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.
It was all a hoax, a fraud, a cynical and none too well concocted publicity stunt to bolster the Heene family's reality TV cachet. But there was something beautiful about the lie too, for like all lies the balloon boy story provided us with a release from reality, an escape. I don't mean to make light of viewers' fears that six-year-old Falcon Heene's life was in danger as his UFO-shaped vessel floated into the sky. But who can deny the element of wonder and envy evoked by that spectacle?
It seemed a myth from the beginning: the innocent child, guilty only of being too curious, transcending earth to join the heavens. He was too pure, too good for this world. Literature is full of such ascendant figures: Remedios the Beauty from Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude who is too lovely for this world and so one day levitates away while folding laundry; Pascal, the French boy from The Red Balloon (1956), whose devotion to protecting his new friend from a gang of balloon-popping bullies is rewarded when all the balloons in Paris take him for a magical ride; and Jesus who, after his persecution and resurrection, ascends into heaven in front of his eleven disciples to sit at the right hand of God. Then there is the wife of Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, who wrote a book about how her soul took a ride "on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus." According to Miyuki Hatoyama, "It was a very beautiful place, and it was really green."
Frankly, from where I'm standing, Venus sounds like a great place now. Here on Earth, it is increasingly looking like world leaders are going to blow the Copenhagen summit, a moment that Gordon Brown has called the last chance to save our planetary home. In the territorial United States, unemployment is at 10 percent, and while Wall Street makes record bonuses off taxpayer-funded bailouts, jobs are nowhere in sight. Obama may have won a Nobel Peace Prize in part for his talk on eliminating nuclear weapons, but the US Senate hasn't even approved the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. Ninety-nine red balloons go by. Afghanistan and Iraq--every day brings news of the horrors of occupation, and the only choices the US can make are hard ones.
I woke up, read the New York Times website and thought I had come to the Onion instead. I hit refresh. Still there: "Obama Wins Nobel for Diplomacy." Maybe this is one of my weird work-related dreams, I thought. Maybe I am still drunk from last night's party. Better close my eyes and wake up again in the real world. Five minutes later...and still no dice.
Yes, Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. My first reaction is that this is going to be a test of how much crazier Orly Taitz and the Republican Anti-Christers can get. Not only does this prove that Obama is a socialist svengali--because he got the Norwegians to vote for him, probably as part of some UN-takeover of America--it also proves that Obama is piggy. Anti-Christs are so like that; they want everything right now (and losing the 2016 Olympics was just a red herring).
But back in reality, I'm still a little bewildered. It's as if the Nobel Committee gave Obama the award for behaving like a normal American president, instead of like a clueless corrupt cowboy.
Eyal's post juxtaposes the irrational views an alarming number of Republicans have about Barack Obama (a Kenyan-Muslim-Socialist-Hitler!) with the conspiracy theory--apparently held by 25 percent of Democrats--that Bush let 9/11 happen to justify a march to war. Fair enough, but I'm not sure you need to graze that far afield to find a left-right correspondence.
The first time I encountered a fantastic, fact-proof theory about Obama was during primary season. It was at a debate-watching party where an acquaintance of mine, an Obama-volunteer, hissed at Hillary Clinton's response to a question about same-sex marriage. "She's such a homophobe!" the woman exclaimed. I felt the need to correct the record.
"She's not really any more anti-gay or pro-gay than Obama. Neither of them back gay marriage, for example," I pointed out.
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."