Thursday, January 31, 2008

Asking for it...

She was drunk; he was tagging. She was raped; he was murdered. The rapist was a league player; the murderer was a businessman. The league player was found not guilty; the murderer should 'get away with it'.

It's a common feminist rhetorical device 'in no other crime is the victim's behaviour considered relevant.'

Except sometimes it is.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Speaking Ill of the Dead

I think 'imperialist lapdog' would be the nicest thing that I could say about Suharto, the former Indonesian Prime Minister who died recently. His government secured resources for capitalists, by systemic brutality of the people who lived there. Timor Leste has fought and won independence (of a sort), but West Papua and Acheh are still fighting for their freedom, having withstood decades of attack from the state.

Those who remain silent about his actions at the time of his death are making it explicit that they prioritise West Papua's Copper and gold over its people.

I will say this at least the American Ambassdor is honest:

Cameron Hume, the US ambassador in Jakarta, said Suharto was a close ally who led his country through a period of "remarkable" development.


John Minto refused South Africa's highest honour:

When we protested and marched into police batons and barbed wire here in the struggle against apartheid, we were not fighting for a small black elite to become millionaires,
I don't always agree with John Minto, but I think he deserves credit for taking this opportunity to draw attention to what the ANC has become.

Of course I would have liked it if he added on: "Plus Jacob Zuma, the new leader of the ANC, is a rapist."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Prisoner Objects

On Monday, The Dominion Post had an article about delays in court hearings. Here's the heading:

With the time from arrest to sentence[*] frequently stretching beyond two years, frustrated police say delays mean offenders disappear, witnesses' memories fade, and victims lose faith in the system.
There's something rather important missing from that list: the defendants.

Defendants are the people most likely to be effected by delays in court hearings. Some defendants lose their freedom entirely, as they're kept in jail from arrest to trial. But bail conditions can also severely restrict people's life. If you have to report to the police station several times a week, then that seriously limits what else you can do with your life (as well as making it hard to keep a job). Three of my friends aren't allowed to communicate with each other. If that doesn't seem like a big deal to you, then pick someone you love and imagine not being able to say a word to them for over a year (or write letters, or e-mails, or be in the same place).

It should be astonishing that those most likely to be effected are egregiously left out of a story like this (and the effect of delays on defendants isn't mentioned anywhere in teh article). But it's not, because the Dominion's Post crime stories are written from a certain angle, for a certain purpose.

I've always hated the Dominion Post's prison stories. They do an article every year where they check that people in prison aren't being given too nice a time on Christmas, and it's always awful.

But it wasn't until I knew people in prison, and these articles upset me, rather than just pissed me off, that I realised why the articles are so bad. Prisoners are objects, in the Dominion Post; they do not exist as people.

The prison system becomes a system for processing prisoner objects, and the experience of the prisoner object is irrelevant. So food in prison at Christmas is discussed from a nutritional point of view, rather than the point of view of someone actually eating the food. The fact that normally scheduled visits won't happen on Christmas day, because it's a public holiday, isn't mentioned at all.

The reason they do it, is because once you imagine people inside, rather than prisoner objects, the hell that is losing your freedom becomes real.

* In the world of the Dominion Post no-one is ever found not guilty, except Clint Rickards.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Nothing I could say about Palestinians forcing open the Gaza-Eygypt border at Rafah could possibly measure up to that action's power.

Egypt is already trying to close the border. Maybe by the time I wake up tomorrow this relief will be shut off again, but maybe the Egyptian government will find it hard to shut people back in. It's the world's biggest prison break and should remind everyone of the possibility and power of resistance.

For more Raising Yosuf, brownfemipower has a great collection of links, and Al Jazeera is always good.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Review: Tale of the Slayers

To conclude my three day Joss-a-thon I'm going to review Tales of the Slayers. This is a collection of short comics about the lives of 8 slayers in different points in history. Although my reviews are usually spoiler-ific this review will be much more spoiler free. The very shortness of the stories means they rely on their plot twists, so while I do talk about the set up, I'm not going to tell the endings.

What stands out from me, particularly compared to season 8, is how interesting the art is. Very different styles of art are used for different stories, and they reflect often reflect the times the stories are set in. This is particularly effective with the story set in 1930s Germany.

The quality of the stories is extremely mixed. Two of Joss's story's are brilliant. The first is very short, and is about the first slayer. It is just one moment in her life, and sets up the rest of the stories.

Joss's second story, set in the middle ages, is written in verse (which I bet made Joss very happy). It is a simple story, told from the point of view of the Watcher, but is very effective

Jane Espenson's Regency era slayer is beautifully done. The author's voice is deliberately modelled on Jane Austen, and works perfectly. Jane and Joss were the only authors who used the literary forms of the time they were writing about, and it makes their stories much stronger. I think they also both understood the limits of the space, and had the right sized story for a very few pages. Really the authors only had time to set up two characters, and one plot turn, and Jane and Joss both do this very well.

The other stories, set in Revolutionary France, America at the time of colonisation, Nazi Germany and 1970s New York, are less successful. The most dire is Sonnenblume, set in Nazi era Germany. It's slightly less subtle than being hit over the head with a mallet (which is a real shame, because, like I said, the art is very good). I found the Revolutionary France story similarly trite, possibly because it was trying to deal with something very big in a very small space (or possibly just because Amber Benson doesn't have very interesting ideas about revolutionary France). The story set in America at the time of colonisation, works for the first few pages, but relies on simplistic statements as a substitute for character development, and in the end appears to be making an argument for assimilation. Nikki's story is OK, but not particularly interesting.

The comic ends with another Joss story, this one about Fray. By itself this short piece isn't even a story (and I was disappointed, because after several stories of in period or practical clothing, Fray is wearing a very short, loose, cut off top, which you absolutely wouldn't be able to fight in. I guess I should be glad no-one found a place in the story to have a bath). But it ends with Fray finding, and reading the Watchers diaries of previous slayers.

In the end despite the mixed quality of the stories, I would definitely recommend this to any Buffy fan. Because what it does do so nicely is expand on the idea, implicit in the Buffyverse, that struggle has a history and each generation in that struggle is connected to those that have gone before it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Review: Anywhere But Here

The latest Buffy comic has a backstory. Last year Darkhorse ran a competition inviting 100 word essays on 'How Buffy Changed My Life' - Joss would chose the winner who would then appear in one of the comics. The winner was Jarrod's essay, he wrote about his wife's schizophrenia, and how they'd watched Buffy as she was getting sicker and sicker. Robin appears in this story, she is a minder who has to guard unstable reality fields (or possibly demons). It's well done, and the more I thought about it the more sense it made. Although I don't know that much about schizophrenia, so I don't know how well the storyline reflects reality.

Overall I liked this comic, although I remain unsure about the genre. I'm going to like any comic which has Buffy and Willow talk about their relationship. Of course, the bitter part in me, that does believe in showing not telling, would have rather that they'd had Buffy and Willow have a relationship in season 6 an 7, than explain to us with small words what's going on.

I loved the little details of this story, the ever developing 'Anywhere but Here' was really fun (and a nice little bit of continuity). I loved that we found out where the money was coming from, because it really annoys me when fiction ignores economics. I love even more that Buffy is stealing from Swiss banks, not being particularly fond of banks and all.

I wasn't so happy about the Dawn revelation, if this is the final twist (and it may not be) it does bear a striking resemblance to her being punished for having sex. I love giant dawn; I love her giant suitcase of clothes. I don't love punishing female characters for having sex.

The comic ends with Buffy and Willow walking off separately. It's clear that this season is going to be about stripping Buffy of her allies. I can't help but feel that we've seen that before and, like I said in my last review, these plotlines would be anchored better if we had more idea what normal was for the relationships between these characters.

On the art front, this is the first story arc in a Buffy comic which hasn't involved a female character taking a bath. It was almost comical how hard the artists appeared to work to draw Robin so that she didn't look like a comic book girl.

Electoral Politics Friday 11 January

It's going to be a long year in electoral politics. There's an election in NZ, an election in the US, possibly even an election in Britain. Unless I somehow limit myself I could spend every day making fun of the awful things New Zealand politicians say (Judith Collins and Sue Kedgley I'm looking at you) or pointing out how far right the US Democratic candidates are (none of them would be the most left wing person in the National party caucus). That's not what I think matters in politics, I think what matters in politics is resistance.

I'll still criticise government actions every day of the week. But the shit that comes out of politicians mouths while campaigning, and the promises they make - that's not that important. This is particularly true in America where elections have reached their baroque period - very intricate affairs that don't reference anything outside of themselves. It makes them oddly fascinating, which is why I will be following it, but not a place where progressives, let alone radicals, can expect to get change.

So to kick off my new tradition I will say Shut Up Gloria Steinem.

I'd also like to recommend a fantastic talk by Gary Younge Katrina to Obama: Black Leadership in the Post Civil Rights Era. Gary Younge is black and lived and started writing in Britain, but now he lives in America and is the Guardian correspondent. Any of his stuff is well worth checking out (he wrote a wonderful book about travelling in the path of the Freedom Riders). This talk looks at some of the issues discussed in this thread and Grace Boggs post. I should warn peoplethat the questions are of the sort that will have you reaching for your taser,* but Gary Younge answers them brilliantly.

* Remember that much publicised film of someone being tasered at a John Kerry rally? My friend Larry argued that if tasers do exist there are much worse uses for them than stopping people who ask ridiculously long, annoying, self-important questions at public meetings. I was initially shocked by his callousness, but have since through a few public meetings and became almost convinced.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Review: No Future For You SPOILERS

So I've got behind on my Buffy comic reviews, so I'm going to review the last three episodes of the Faith arc together. As expected Faith becomes close with the evil slayer who is a member of the English aristocracy (mostly by fighting the gargoyle), and then (again not suprisingly) Gigi is trying to kill Buffy.

It was well done, Faith was well captured, and Gigi worked as a character. Gigi's Warlock friend seemed very much a cardboard cut-out, but that's all he needed to be I guess.

And in the end the story wasn't about Gigi at all, but Faith, Giles & Buffy's relationship. But there were serious problems in the execution. This plot-line lost a lot of its power because we had no idea of what Buffy and Giles or Buffy and Faith's relationship had been like since Sunnydale hit into a hole, so it wasn't anchored to anything.

I think maybe it's a problem with the genre, because there seems to be a lot of 'telling' rather than showing going on. Characters explain exactly what their motivations are, whether it's Twilight or Faith. The ratio of fight scenes to conversations is so much higher than it was in the TV, so there doesn't seem to as much space for character, which I miss. I do enjoy the comics, and like the ideas, and where the characters are, but I'm just not convinced by the way it's told.

Talking of problem with comic books. The baths! Never in the history of literature have female characters been so disproportionately cleaner than their male counterparts. Why do Faith and Gigi make plans in the bath?

No, I know the answer, it just pisses me off.

Tomorrow I'll review the 'Anywhere But Here' and then maybe I'll review Tales of the Slayers (which I got ages ago). I've been remiss in the Joss content for a few months.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

You can only say 'Yes' if you can say 'No'

There's been a brilliant discussion about Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti's Call for Submissions for 'Yes means Yes'.Firefly, BlackAmazon, Sylvia, Tekanji, Chris Clarke, Sudy, Magniloquence, and Theriomorph are just some of the people who have written about the original Call for Submissions (and when the discussion became about the criticisms of the proposals there were more fantastic posts Sly Civilian, brownfemipower and Ilyka Damen for a start). The discussions has been far-ranging and it's well worth tracking through the links, following the trackbacks and reading the comment threads.

So it seems a little ridiculous for me to be responding to a revised call for submissions for Yes means Yes. The debate has well and truly gone beyond that, and some women of colour have, rightly, cried enough. But I stopped blogging in a timely manner a few months back, and I have a tangent I want to dart off in. A tangent much informed by the posts above.

There's a new sentence in there that's response to criticisms like Firefly's:

The use of sexualised violence to dominate and control people isn’t addressed by consent-based activism, and often there’s no legal protection against this kind of assault because it occurs in government institutions or is otherwise mandated by the state. For instance, women in Australian prisons are subjected to daily strip searches and cavity searches, where no hygiene is observed. Evidence shows that these women exhibit similar symptoms to rape survivors. Sisters Inside, a women’s prison advocacy group, have a research paper about it here.
The new Call for Submissions lists a potential topic for the anthology as:
Beyond consent: state-sanctioned and institutional rape that even the healthiest sexual culture won't stop
The most obvious problem with this statement, that I might charitably call a wording problem, is that implies that you could have a healthy sexual culture and still have state-sanctioned and institutional rape. I don't believe that's true, and I hope that Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti don't either. But I think this wording problem reveals a problem with analysis. Institutional and state sanctioned rape are part of our sexual culture. Some stories:

A thirteen year old girl in a logging town walked past a police station. She knew the police officer, he worked on search and rescue with her parents. He called her inside. He raped her.

A woman went to the police to make a report about being sexually abused by a relative. The male police officer interviewed her alone in his car, he put his hand on her knee. Then, years later, he rang her up at 1am, told her he's coming over and demanded sex. He forced her to perform oral sex and left.

Or, we'll move to another time and place. A woman grew up in a revolutionary movement in exile. She was raped when she was 13 by the men involved in those movement all friends of the family. She grew up the movement won, or sold out, and one of those revolutionary friends of the family became vice-president. She was at his house and he raped her.

Brad Shipton, Jacob Zuma and the Murapara police officer who still has name suppression all wielded institutional power granted by the state and they were also all acquaintances of the women, or girl, that they raped.

Police officers, politicians, employers, border guards, soldiers, priests, and prison guards* have huge power over so many women's lives. They can demand sex in a way that makes it clear that the answer must be 'yes'; they can all ignore 'no'. They can do this to women they know and to strangers. The more power a rapist has over a woman the easier it will be for him to rape her, the more entitled he will feel to her body.

These are not a side category of rape - our understanding of rape must include an understanding of power. I think that means that rape is, by definition, beyond consent. If a man has the power to force a woman to have sex with him, and is prepared to use that power if she does not give consent, then that limits her ability to say 'yes' as well as 'no'.

I might put things in a different order than they did in the call for submissions. I would also say that until we build a society that doesn't give men the power to rape, female sexual pleasure is always going to be constrained by the fact that our 'yes' may be irrelevant.

There's a Möbius strip involved, obviously, and I do believe that one of the things that give men the power to rape is the belief that women's sexual pleasure is irrelevant. But it's not the only place men get power from, and, most importantly, there are intersections between the different sorts of power men have - they can't be understood in isolation.

* not intended to be an exhaustive list

Monday, January 07, 2008

A dangerous distraction

I wrote this post more for Alas than here. One advantage of the last 9 years, is that it's hard to maintain illusions you might have about the potential of a Labour government. But we're going to hear a lot of rhetoric about the importance of keeping Labour in power over the next year. Those who haven't had their friends kidnapped at gunpoint and declared guilty by the Prime Minister might even believe it.

This piece by Grace Boggs linked, widely, by bloggers I respect. I agree very much that viewing Obama's candidacy in the context of the movements that made it possible is vital, and will show Obama lacking. Although I disagree with some of Grace Boggs interpretation of that struggle.* But the paragraph of her argument that was mostly widely quoted, is the one I disagree with most strongly. Maybe I've interpreted her in a way diffently from what she intended:

But neither Obama’s ethnicity or Hillary’s gender is enough to earn my support. Neither is calling on the American people to confront our materialism and militarism or challenging and proposing alternatives to corporate globalization. At this critical period in human history that is what we should be requiring of ourselves and of any presidential candidate, whatever their race, gender or religion.
The American people are not a problem that could be solved by a president calling them to be more virtuous. Yes we must organise to fight and resist capitalism and imperialism, but the President is the enemy in that fight, not the standard bearer.

Capitalism and militarism are systems that are the job of the American president to maintain. Holding American presidential candidates up to ideals they would never meet is far better than pretending, or believing, than a multi-millionaire lawyer is an ally of the working class. But if you create an image of the ideal American Presidential candidate then you are propagating the idea that the right American president could make things better. We make our own history, it is not made for us by our leaders. Democratic party candidates for president are not our leaders in building another world.

Whether or not we win the writers strike, how strong the movement for housing in New Orleans becomes; whether the protests over what happened in Jena were a one off or a springboard; whether the strikes in Buenos Aries continue to grow; how so many other protests, strikes, and movements develop over the coming year. Those questions are critical to how far we get towards liberation over the next four years, which Democrat and Republican candidate wins the nomination for president is not.

Vote, don't vote; support don't support; endorse, don't endorse. But don't limit the world you dream about by the crumbs promised by Clinton, Obama, or Edwards, and don't expect anyone better to come along. The work we need to do isn't done anywhere near the voting booth.

* In particular, the characterisation of the sit-ins as 'small groups' - the freedom movement was a mass movement in cities and towns across the south, and it wasn't small in the North either

There's aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite

I would have expected to have written more about the writers' strike, because it involves two of my favourite things: industrial action and Joss Whedon. The Writers Guild of America have been on strike for over two months now, and there's lots of information out there and good blogs by striking writers. There are also several websites set up by fans who support writers. There was a Mutant Enemy Picket day, where Joss and the writers and actors from Firefly, Buffy & Angel all picketed together. Some fans came from as far as England and Australia to join the picket.*

The writing for the Golden Globes and the Oscars is usually done by WGA members. THe Guild has announced that it will refused waivers to allow these ceremonies to be written by Guild writers, and will picket the ceremonies if they go ahead without the writers.** Now actors, the sort of Actors who get nominated for Golden Globes and Oscars, have unanimously announced that they will not cross a picket line if the ceremonies are picketed. The first thing Katherine Heigl (to choose one random example, because I have an inexplicable fondness for her) said when she was nominated for a Golden Globe, was that she wouldn't cross a picket line. Without stars there isn't much appeal to an award ceremony. What I thought was particularly awesome, was that the actors apparently took this decision themselves:

SAG decided not to pressure its A-List actors about attending or not attending the WGA-struck Golden Globes on NBC. So I'm told the decision not to cross picket lines came from the thesps themselves. In fact, SAG leadership took a meeting with all of Hollywood's publicists (with a similar collection in NYC via video conference) who told the union that the clients they represent will not cross the WGA picket line for the Golden Globes without exception.
Actors support has gone beyond not getting dressed in pretty gowns and telling their publicists to talk to their union, Actors have picketed, they've used their media pull, they've appeared in a video campaign.

The reason actors are doing this isn't just because Hollywood is full of liberals (or radicals in a few cases). Even Patricia Heaton who thanked the troops when she won an Emmy in 2001 supports the writers. The reason the actors, who are all union members, do this is because it's in their own best interests. The main issue that writers are striking over - payment for work broadcast over the internet is one that is as important for the actors as it is for the writers. If the writers lose then there's no way the actors would get their residuals. The actors solidarity obviously make the writers stronger (the absense of the nominees for best screenplay wouldn't torpedo an award ceremony.

In this case, the urgency of that solidarity is really clear. The contracts expire within months of each other and the issues are identical. But the principle of solidarity works the same way whether the workers are half a world away (solidarity of German dockworkers helped win the recent wharfie strike in Napier) or a completely different industry (wharfies helped win the Progressive lockout last year).

The concept of solidarity isn't hard (it'd be unkind to suggest that if it was people who send their publicists to talk to their union probably wouldn't be able to grasp it so I won't), but often it can seem abstract. Which is why such a show of solidarity, even over an event as ridiculous as the Golden Globes, is pretty damn powerful.

On a less solid note, I'm was sad to see that The Daily Show and The Colbert report will be returning tomorrow without their striking writers. I understand that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are under contractual obligations; I understand that they have been very supportive of the strike, I understand that there are lots of other people employed by these show, but crossing a picket line is crossing a picket line.

I do want to say something about editors, grips, craft services, and all the other workers who are involved in making a television show. Those who worked on a television series that has stopped production because of the strike aren't working and aren't being paid.

The situation of those workers, while difficult, is not a stick to beat the striking writers with. It's an obligation of solidarity. When the writers win they, and the actors, need to stand solid with the editors, grips and craft services. Those workers need to know that their picket lines will be honoured, that the actors and writers will stand on the picket line with them. Writers and Actors need to do that because solidarity is a mutal obligation, but also beause it's in their own best interest. Unless solidarity extends across the industry the gains that are won with this strike will just temporary.

* I'm more than a little jealous that, odds are, the only people who could afford a twelve hour flight to support a picket line with Joss, probably aren't as into the picket line as much as they're into the Joss.

** It's a little more complicated than that, it's always a little bit more complicated than that, but that's enough to get the point.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The US election for beginners

You may not care that much about the US election. You may think that the Republican candidates all blend together like a blendy thing. I present you with Cogitamus - who has related the Republican candidates to something you know - Buffy villains.

The best bit is where Mitt Romney gets torn apart from his balls up with a scythe.