Thursday, March 26, 2009

The metaphors we use

I have been trying not to use 'mad' as a metaphor in my writing, but some posts are harder than others. I found it really challenging to write a post about holocaust deniers without saying "these people are batshit crazy". Over at Alas there's been some discussion of this and Donaquixote articulated the reasons for avoiding madness as a metaphor very well:

I also get the insane = disconnected from reality definition you were going with. But there’s a huge difference between an illness that disconnects you from reality as a result of neurochemical processes and the condition of being willfully disconnected from reality because you don’t want to have your opinions challenged. One is an illness, the other is a character flaw, and the two ought never be confused. The problem is a lot of our terminology quite purposefully does confuse the two.
Many of the derogatory metaphors that come most easily to us are about comparing something we don't like with the powerless.

Metaphoric language is powerful - even as cliched metaphoric language as 'batshit crazy'. I don't think we should give up metaphors, I think we should be creative, more precise and more true in the metaphors we do use.

I thought a way of doing that would be to open a thread for discussion so people could post their metaphors, and other derogatory language, that don't pathologise powerlessness.

I'm not suggesting we start calling everyone we dislike a futures trader, but I think there are lots of smart articulate people who comment on blogs I write on. We can do better than the derogatory terms we do now.

I'm posting this on Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty, Alas and The Hand Mirror, for maximum discussion.

Please don't post in this thread unless you're actually interested in developing new metaphors. If you're doubtful about the usefulness of new metaphors then go talk about that somewhere else.

Doll house Episode Six: Man on the Street - it deserves a mammoth review

Wow. Wow. Wow.

If you haven’t watched “Man on the Street”, the sixth episode of the Dollhouse, don’t read another word. This episode is available on Hulu and itunes for those in the US (and through less legal means for those outside), go watch it and then come back. You really don’t want to be spoiled.

Where was I? Oh yeah – Wow.

I’m sure I’ve talked before about the strength of serial storytelling – of the depth that can be explored by developing characters over time. Man on the Street had all the elements of great TV. It had zippy plot twists,* people we care about, and something to say, and all three elements fitted together organically and didn’t feel forced. If the sixth episode of Dollhouse is this powerful, I can only imagine how strong the show will be in its second season (please let there be a second season. I really love this show).

In an episode this densely layered, I’m not going to try and talk about everything. I just want to look at three of the key ideas this episodes, the nature of the dolls, rape and love.

There’s only one reason someone would volunteer to be a slave is that they is one already

Like many other people, I was worried about how the actives would play as characters, if they’re just blank states then why would you care about them? I had no idea how quickly and how deeply I’d come to care about the actives. When Ballard called the actives “zombies” in his conversation with Joel Myner, I got mad at him for being so very wrong. Whatever Sierra, Echo, Victor (and now November) are, they’re not Zombies. Ballard has the same idea about actives as Boyd did in the flashbacks of The Target. After only six episodes I find any character who denies the humanity of the actives instantly less likeable.

There are people who have asked who you’re supposed to root for in this show, and I don’t really understand the question. You root for the actives. Each episode makes it clearer that the mindwipes don’t take away their humanity, and whatever is taken away from them their capacity for friendship and love is still beautiful.

While my empathy and support for actives in their inert state only increased this week, what really changed was my attitude towards the imprints. Although I’ve enjoyed some of the imprints, and sad when we weren’t going to see Lubov any more, I’ve never really thought about how I thought about them. They would be there and then they’d be gone, and they were not why I was watching the show.

But with Mellie as a doll I think about the imprints differently. I don’t know how Joss Whedon and Miracle Laure did it, but she’s like Willow on steroids, in terms of being the character that every female viewer (and I’m sure a few male ones) identify with instantly.**

Even knowing that she’s an active I’m still on her side, and I still care for her. For example, I’m worried because the catalyst for Paul kissing Mellie was clearly his conversation with Joel Myner.*** Because he was trying to prove that he wasn’t obsessed with Caroline, he was on one level thinking of her while kissing Mellie. I’m sure this is going to end up making her sad, and I don’t want her to be sad, even though she is on some levels not real. I think this show is so much deeper and more interesting when we care for the imprints as well as the actives. And I’m still untangling the many ways I do think Mellie is real.

There's a difference between being attracted to someone and hurting them

I was going to say that this was the most honest portrayal of rape that I've ever seen on television, but decided that would be damning with faint praise. This episode portrayed sexual abuse in a way that was powerful, unflinching and real.

I had been anxious, ever since I saw the preview,that they were going to show Victor raping Sierra. It would have been a deal-breaker for me, I think, if Dollhouse portrayed rape as something inherent in a man. I was very glad when I was sure they weren’t telling that story.

Instead the story they did tell was about institutional rape. It wasn’t just Claire Saunders perspective, the show made it clear that rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power.**** Institutional rape isn’t discussed nearly as much as it should, and I really appreciated the stark, unequivocal stand the show took. And while the situation in the dollhouse is different from institutional rape as it exists, nothing about the writing, directing or acting, ***** was trying to make that distinction. Instead I felt they were emphasising the similarities between this and what actually exists. The scene between Sierra and the Handler, reminded me of passages from Louise Nicholas’s autobiography.

The conversation between DeWitt and the handler was as powerful as it was disturbing. The handler’s answer to Dewitt’s “Did it make it better that she didn’t struggle?” made the audience sit with the reality of abuse. And by having the Handler place blame on the institution they left space for the view that abuse is impossible to eliminate in situations with these power imbalances (which is my view). The Handler wasn’t portrayed as an inscrutable monster, but a person, with a point of view, who had done monstrous things. That conversation depicted both the horror, and the normality of sexual abuse.

The attack on Mellie is terribly painful to watch, even when you know the outcome. But it wasn’t eroticised, and it wasn’t glamorised, even though she’s only wearing a shirt.

There were a lot of subtler notes in the show that I really valued. The only reason Sierra’s rape was acknowledged was because she has friends. Because Victor noticed that she was behaving differently, and Echo remembered her cries. The scene where Topher and Claire were interrogating Victor drew an explicit connection between Topher’s objectification of women and his indifference towards rape.

This episode hit so many feminist ideas about rape, without seeming didactic. I think it’s hard to tell a story about rape without being feminist. The problem is that most of the time rape is portrayed on television they’re not telling stories about rape, they’re using rape to tell some other sort of story.****** One of the most exciting things about the concept of the dollhouse is it’s ability to look at such realities head on. I’m really glad they’re taking that challenge seriously.

"How does Sierra make you feel?"


I would argue that, despite how much this episode had to say about rape, it was actually about love. The strength of love stood out in this episode even more as it was contrasted with the degradation of abuse. Victor was brilliant in every scene. But the ending with him and Sierra was beautiful. And, as I’ve said, like Adelle I value Mellie’s love for Paul Ballard, programmed or not.

The interviews were clearly all supposed to be true on some level. But the one I had the hardest time with was the young woman who thought maybe it would be OK. I thought she was just being a hippy; I didn't think I could sympathise with a client. But in the end, I think maybe I got there. In the end Echo's desire for things to be finished was beautiful.

* Since I’m not going to talk about it in my main review, I want to say that I don’t think there’s an insider in the dollhouse. I think the parameter that was supposed to be an insider, was in fact the dollhouse giving Paul Ballard what he needs – their speciality.

One of the thing I’m undecided on is Mellie’s whole “I know I’m not the gold standard in LA”, which is clearly a reference to the fact that she’s larger than tiny. On the one hand (unfortunately) it’s realistic. Women say and think all sorts of derogatory things about their bodies, and I’ve heard people just as close as Mellie to society’s vision of ideal say just as fucked up things. But it bothers me in a number of ways. First, by making Mellie’s body the only one which is discussed critically that reinforces the idea that the other female active’s bodies are normal and hers is ‘other’. Second, I found the scene reinforcing a kind of faux-body-diversity – “Don’t hate yourself it’s OK to be a size 12 (or 8 in the US)”. And third (and I mean this as no insult to Miracle Laurie who is doing an amazing job) it reminds me that the casting call asked for someone ‘heavy’, and I wonder if those who produced and cast dollhouse really think Mellie is heavy. But I get why that line is in there, and what it’s doing for Paul and Mellie’s relationship – and it does the job.

*** I thought this scene was very well done (despite the cliche of the insightful one off character). I particularly like that they covered the messed up nature of Paul Ballard's quest for Echo. I hope they don't lose that note later in the season (not least because it would make Mellie sad).

On that note, I’m wondering about the scene at the beginning between Paul and the bad FBI Agent/Badger/lawyer dude president (depending on which show you’re watching). First time I watched it I didn’t like it at all: “I am a manly man, who will prove his man-ness by beating up other men who insult the woman I love.” But the more I think about it, the more I think that it was underscoring the points that Joel Myner’s was making about the ridiculousness of Ballard’s position.

**** Not to go on a huge tangent, but I want to acknowledge while that idea is an important feminist concept, I don’t think it’s the only truth there is. Rape is sometimes about sex, both for perpetrators and survivors, and I think it’s important not ignore that reality. In particular to say “rape is entirely different from sex” ignores the way that many of the ways that we’re socialised to think about sex involve pressure and non-consent. None of this takes away from the importance of making it clear that rape is about power. But once we’ve got that idea across I think it’d be useful to talk about the way rape is about sex (or sex can be about rape).

*****The scene where Sierra is walking along the corridor is so powerful. If I was going to rave about the acting I would be here all day, but Dichen Lachman (Sierra), Miracle Laurie (Mellie), Enver Gjokaj (Victor) and Olivia Wililams (DeWitt) all excelled in this episode. I am also more and more convinced with Eliza Dushku’s many personalities. I felt like Rebecca was unlike anything I’d seen before.

****** See I was being really restrained and didn’t even mention Spike.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Political Anti-Semitism in New Zealand

I had vaguely heard of Uncensored; I knew they were not my sort of people. But I didn't realise just how much not my people until Scott Hamilton wrote about them. Here's his summary:

The January-March issue of Uncensored offers examples of the magazine's anti-semitism. The cover of the issue shows Barack Obama with a star of David on his sleeve, suggesting he is a tool of Jews. An article inside called 'The Unspeakable Truth of 9/11' insists that the Israeli spy agency Mossad orchestrated the attacks on the World Trade Centre, and another article called 'The Real Agenda behind the Monetary Crisis' calls the world's media 'Jewish-occupied' and claims that Jews control the American Federal Reserve. Yet another article claims that Monica Lewinsky was a Mossad agent, and calls her 'President Clinton's chunky Jewish girlfriend'. The new, April-June issue of Uncensored takes the anti-semitic theme even further - it includes an article alleging that the diary of famous Holocaust victim Anne Frank was a hoax.
I had no idea people like this existed in New Zealand. I knew there were neo-nazis, and I knew there were conspiracy theoriests. But I thought conspiracy theorists were just stupid, not holocaust-denying-evil.

Uncensored have booked the Mt Albert War Memorial Hall for a conference at the end of April, and Scott Hamilton wrote a letter to Cathy Casey (a left-wing Auckland city councillor) asking her to stop Uncensored from using the hall.*

Scott Hamilton also posted this on indymedia (can anyone guess where this is going? I actually advise against following that link). The comment thread on indymedia is full of holocaust denial, and even more horrific forms of anti-semitism. I'm not quoting any of it, it's too disgusting. There are a few people attempting to stand against the waves of awfulness. But they're outnumbered (and once you're arguing 'yes the holocaust actually happened' you're already disrespecting the dead and the survivors).

It blows my mind that there are people who think and write such vile, hateful, nonsense, but the internet has a lot of everything, so it's no surprise that includes vile hateful nonsense. That's not the point of this post.

The point of this post, is that each of those comments are still on indymedia. This is the indymedia mission statement:
The Independent Media centre is a grassroots organization committed to using media production and distribution as a tool for promoting social and economic justice. It is our goal to further the self-determination of people under-represented in media production and content, and to illuminate and analyze local and global issues that impact ecosystems, communities and individuals. We seek to generate alternatives to the biases inherent in the corporate media controlled by profit, and to identify and create positive models for a sustainable and equitable society
. I don't think providing space for a discussion about whether or not the holocaust happened is creating a positive model for a sustainable and equitable society. Many of the statements on that thread are direct impediments to social and economic justice. One of the moderators of indymedia has posted on that thread, and nothing has been hidden, despite two requests to do so.

The problems with indymedia as an open space is something I've written about before. Open spaces replicate all the power imbalances that already exist in society (and also allow space for some that have been festering for some time). I shouldn't even have to write this, but what happened to Jewish people under the Nazis is not some abstract point of academic argument, it's an open wound that causes actual people, actual pain. To fail to hide this stuff is to have a huge sign saying "Jews not welcome". Indymedia is part of the problem, unless it understands that there are many ideas that are directly in opposition to anyone's liberation, and to host them is to be part of that opposition.

* What I originally wanted to write about, which is now relegated to a footnote, is my feeling that the way Scott Hamilton wrote about World War 2 in the post is problematic:
The hall is a public asset that is supposed to commemorate the loss of New Zealand life in war, and to serve the needs of the community around it. I don't believe that our community needs Jew-baiting and Maori-bashing. I think it is particularly inappropriate that Uncensored plans to use the hall on an Anzac weekend, when New Zealanders will be remembering the thousands of their countrymen and women who died opposing the same Nazi ideology that so many of the contributors to Uncensored promote.

I don't know if Scott Hamilton actually believes that or if he's being disingenuous. From what I know of his politics I suspect the latter. I can see why it's very tempting in circumstances such as these, to play on the popular image of world war two as a great war against fascism, and 'our brave boys'. However, for anyone with a serious criticism of imperialism it's important that we acknowledge that that while there may have been many soldiers who saw their participation in the war as part of the fight against fascism in defence of liberty, that's not what was being prioritised by those who were commanding the armies. I don't think it's acceptable to play dumb about these issues, even for a good cause.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Workers of the World Untie

Redundancies are one of the hardest things for unions to deal with. Workers have very little power, and short of taking over the factory and running it some or all of the workers are going to get screwed over.

But that is all the more reason why it's vital that workers stick together, and focus on who is making people redundant (the boss) and not each other.

I say this because over the last few days union leaders have been in the news dividing workers. The M&C union (Which is on the left of the union movement, so it's particularly disappointing):

Manufacturing and Construction Workers Union general secretary Graeme Clarke said the union had been in contact with the Government about companies continuing to employ migrant workers.

Any businesses that had imported workers through the skills-shortage list should have to "re-prove" they could not fill the positions with Kiwi workers, he said.

"Our answer has always been `yes, you can import people', but now we want it proved again that the shortage still exists."

Christchurch branch secretary Phil Yarrall said the union complained to the Labour Department about jet boat manufacturer CWF Hamilton's decision to make 28 Kiwi workers redundant while retaining 24 migrant workers on temporary contracts.

"They got the permit because there was a labour shortage. Now there's no shortage," he said.
Andrew Little from the EPMU (which isn't on the left of the union movement or a surprise):
Migrant workers had helped New Zealand through years of major skills shortages, but there were now questions over what to do when Kiwi workers were losing jobs. "Kiwi workers are obviously capable of making a long-term commitment to the business, but those on work visas are limited to a couple of years," he said.
Helen Kelly, President of the Council of Trade Unions, appeared on the Panel on National Radio yesterday (it's in the first half available here for a week or so), with a bob each way. She tries to take a stand against racism towards migrant workers, which is severely hampered by her support of racism towards migrant workers.

So to go back to unions 101, as soon as the bosses divide workers they've won. Union leaders may not have any good solutions to redundancies, but turning on migrant workers is not a substitute for a good solution. If, for example, the workers at the Hamilton company think redundancy should be based on a last on first off basis, then they should fight for that rather than targetting workers who remain on the basis of their country of origin (and if those workers aren't in the union then the responsibility for that probably lies with the union).

These are hard times for workers, hard times for unions. But that's no reason to abandon the basic tenant that underlines unions very existence.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dollhouse Episode 5

Congratulations Dollhouse writers, you very almost got through an entire episode without any sexual violence. Unfortunately, this episode fails because you couldn't think of any way to make the cult leader a 'Very Bad Man'. Please, please, please, either write an episode completely free of sexual violence, or an episode where you take that sexual violence seriously, and say something about it, rather than use it as a minor plot-point.

So if internet rumour is right then the next episode of Dollhouse Changes Everything. So I thought I'd review this week's episode by talking about the characters and where they were at.

Echo: I'm glad things are changing up next week, because every episode since the pilot has ended with her carrying on a realisation from her engagement and it's getting a bit formulaic. I'm all for Echo killing Laurence Dominic, believe me, but (and feel free to call me a hippy for this) I much prefer it when her realisations are about art or relationships, than about violence. I worry about the sort of person she's going to end up being.

Sierra: I love the character and the actress. I hope we'll see her on her own engagement before the end of the season. I was sad we got to see so little of her, and none of her and Echo.

Victor: I've no idea where his sexual attraction to Sierra is going, but I'm interested. I'm missing his role as Paul Ballard's CI though.

Adele De Witt: We're beginning to see the many layers beneath the ice (or something I may be mixing metaphors). I think Olivia Williams is very good at showing us that there is more going on, without letting us know what that is. Her wardrobe is getting more ridiculous though.

Laurence Dominic: Evil, evil, evil, evil. It's quite fun.

Boyd: Really needs some layers.

Topher: Man reaction? His discomfort around penises is hilarious, and nicely done.

People have compared Topher to Wash and Xander, and I think this comparision is one of the reasons I enjoy the character so much. I think the connection goes beyond the smart-ass wise-cracking-ness. The way Xander and Wash treated women made me uncomfortable, there was possession and objectification, but we were still supposed to think they were loveable. I feel like Topher is making that point for me, we're not supposed to love him - we're supposed to find his comments about women sleeping together for his enjoyment repellent. It's very refreshing.

Dr Saunders: Amy Acker rocked the scenes with Topher this week - perfect comic timing without showing us she was doing it. I wish Claire was doing more than just sparing with Topher though. I feel like her character's relationships are under-developed, or yet to be revealed.

Paul Ballard: I'm finding him less boring, but I'm still not convinced. His plot lines are paint by numbers (I get the point they were doing with the end scene with the ATF guy, but we've really seen this before). Tahmoh Penikett is bringing very little to the role.

Mellie: At this stage I'm really hoping she's an active, because I'm finding her painful to watch. If she isn't an active one of her friends should sit her down and play her The Saturday Boy.

Overall this wasn't one of my favourite epsiodes - I wasn't interested in the bits of the Cult story they chose to tell. I think I could have been interested in the story if they'd actually explored the cult in any depth. As it was I felt the focus was all over the place. The actual plot and change happened with Boyd and the ATF guy, while Echo was in the cult and we had little more idea about the people around her at the end of than at the beginning.

But I'm looking forward to next week.

PS - I've read some interesting discussion about the way blind people are portrayed in popular culture, but don't know much about it. I can definately imagine that there's a saint/crazy evil dichotomy going on. I'd be interested to see what people have to say about how that played out in this episode.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Five letters about Dollhouse Episode 4

Dear Joss and the other writers and producers of Dollhouse

This show has too much sexual violence. All four episodes so far have contained a threat of sexual violence on some level. If you want to talk about sexual violence, talk about sexual violence. Repeatedly using sexual violence as a minor plot-point is not okay.

In this episode you used sexual violence as a bait and switch for the audience. For a few minutes we were supposed to believe that the Greek guy had given Echo to his nephew as a present so that the nephew could rape her. That is unbelievably disturbing. It is also entirely plausible. We live in a rape culture; many men say that they'd rape a woman if they'd get away with it. One of the things the Dollhouse could give clients is an opportunity to rape a woman and get away with it. If you want to tell a story about that then do so, and I'll judge it on its merits. But don't toy with that scenario - please understand that sexual violence is serious and disturbing and treat it as such.


PS The trust on this is low as you are some of the same people who brought us "Spike has a soul now"

Dear Dichen Lachman (who plays Sierra)

Please continue being awesome.


Dear Liz Craft and Sarah Fain (writers of this episode)

First go read my first letter twice. Look I appreciate that your depiction of a woman lying about rape was much more critical of the person she was lying to than it was of her. But I think you should have probably thought a little bit harder about the implications of telling a story which incidentally included a woman lying about being raped.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed this episode. Thanks for including so much Echo, I like her much more than any of her engagements.

I thought the resonance of art was well done. From Echo's reaction to the Picasso picture to Adelle's comment about Michaeangelo's views about Marble, you let the metaphor relate to the characters without hitting us over the head with it. I found the ending of this episode almost as optimistic as the ending of episode two: "that meaning and humanity comes from our interest in representing ourselves."

The episode hit some really nice small notes. The accomplice-who-wasn't-shot was all smooth charm and trying to pick her up when things were going well, but was the one to blame her wipe on "Hysterical Woman Syndrome" - a nice display of the links between the way women are objectified. I liked that the connection that Echo built with the guy who got shopped saved them both, even though he thought she was a talking computer (nice dialogue throughout by the way).

I'm looking forward to more episodes from you.


PS Really do read that first letter

Dear Dollhouse wardrobe

Did you not read the script or do you think Stiletto heels are comfy shoes?


Dear Fox

You've got lots and lots of money. How about you use some of it to make a second season of Dollhouse.


Workers' Bodies

Today the Standard had a guest post on ACC:

The investment losses have been a big part of it but there is also a rising accident rate stemming from our ageing population and climbing obesity rates, which has been foreseen by medical experts for some time. We cannot do much about an aging population really, but obesity is wholly avoidable with smart policy that has some guts behind it.

Why should we focus on obesity? Obese workers have a higher accident rate, take longer to recover, cost more treat and are out of work for a longer period of time. A 2007 Duke University study found that “obese workers filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims, had seven times higher medical costs from those claims and lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than did nonobese workers”.
Although they don't provide a link I'm going to assume the guest poster is quoting from the press release about the study. Here's a link to the study itself for people who speak science article.

The numbers quoted are absolute numbers, they're not controlled for anything. In particular, they're not controlled for occupation.* I'm sorry to insult my readership by pointing this out, but the correlation between class and body size is pretty well established, as is the correlation between class and work-place accident rates.

Surprise! When the authors control for occupation (although not income, and managers appear to be treated as the same occupation as workers) the numbers look rather different. These numbers are expressed in risk ratios, whereby a control group is set at 1, and 2 means something is twice as likely when all the variables that are mentioned have been controlled for (full disclaimer, I could be lying, I don't understand statistics that well). The risk ratios for number of claims for people who have a BMI of over 25 range from 1.09 to 1.45. To understand how insignificant a risk ratio of that size is here are some of the risk ratios for occupational groups:
Laundry Staff: 7.35
Housekeeper: 6.44
Laboratory Animal Technician: 17.36
Inpatient Nurse: 4.01

The guest posts asks 'why is ACC costing so much?' And answers 'workers' bodies'. Even though its evidence is a study that demonstrates that the nature of work plays a far bigger role in the numberof workplace accidents than the nature of workers.

I'm a 'which side are you on' kind of a girl, and this post makes it very clear which side it's on. It blames workers and their bodies for workplace accidents. It chooses policing workers bodies, over fighting for workers bodies.

* I don't actually like debunking scientific research about fat, it seems to me to be conceding too much. Even if everything they said about the dangers of fat were true it wouldn't change my political analysis of fat at all.

** There are two other problems with those numbers. First that when it says 'obese' and 'non-obese' it appears to be comparing people with a BMI of between 18.5-24.9 and a BMI of 40+. In the article obese is defined as a BMI of 30+, so the terms used in the press release are not the same as those in the article, or the common medical use of those terms. I'm not going to dwell on that because I have less than no time for the BMI in the first place.

The other problem is that all the numbers apart from the numbers of claims made appear to be based on guesses at what the numbers might be rather than actual numbers:
Lost workday rates (days per 100 FTEs) were calculated by multiplying these stratum-specific claims rates by their corresponding mean number of lost workdays per claim. Similarly, multiplying the claims rate by the stratum-specific mean costs (including the amount already paid and the amount reserved) allowed calculation of cost rates (dollars per 100 FTEs) separately for medical and indemnity claims costs. Confidence intervals were calculated assuming that the number of events followed a Poisson distribution.
I'm not going to comment any more than that, because I don't speak science article, but will concentrate on the 'claims made' figure when explaining why this research doesn't prove what the standard thinks it proves.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reasonable opinions

Act's law and order spokesperson on double bunking in prisons:

"Who cares if inmates don't want to be 'cooped up' together for long periods of time? These criminals have lost the right to have their comforts considered," Mr Garrett said. [...]

The fact is: if you don't want to be assaulted - or worse - by a cellmate, avoid prison by not committing a crime,"
My view - that prison should be abolished - is incomprehensible. If any MP expressed that view it would be news for weeks, but none of them would, because no one would.

David Garret's view is acceptable enough that it is just quoted in a news story on double bunking, not the subject of a news story.

I keep writing things, and deleting them; they don't capture the gutteral scream of despair that I'm trying to convey. I find analysing public discourse on prisons so upsetting that I do it in very small doses.

So I will move to a slightly different angle. References, jokes, and evil press releases about prison rape, are not quarantined from the way we understand rape. They are part of that understanding, and reinforce it. I'm sure you could write a lot about that; I'm sure people have. All I want to say is that any expression that anyone, anywhere, ever, deserves to be raped reinforces the idea that some people are rapeable.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Don't Corrupt NZ Aid

You may have heard of the plans to merge NZAid with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It may have sounded like 'Blah-blah-blah-new-governments-restructuring-to-prove-they-exist-blah-blah-blah'. But I think it is much more important than that.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's job is to advance New Zealand foreign policy agenda. That means acting as a colonial watch-dog (and enforcer) in the Pacific and negotiate on behalf of New Zealand capitalists everywhere. This is not a plan I'm particularly fond of (ah MFAT you may move from office block to office block but still I protest outside you).

Part of the suggested change is to focus less on the elimination of poverty and more on economic development. For those who missed "The ridiculousness of trickle down theory" that means focusing aid less on poor people and more on rich people.

I think a radical analysis of NZAid as it is currently constituted would probably find much to criticise. I don't know enough about NZAid to know for sure. But it doesn't take a particularly radical analysis of MFAT to think that giving it more power to act out it's policy agenda is not good for children and other living things.

For a more mainstream analysis you can check out Don't Corrupt Aid. I think this issue is worth talking about, for those who oppose New Zealand's imperialist role in the Pacific, it's important to understand that this would involve increasing the capacity to act in this role.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Dollhouse episode 3: Stage Fright

Spoiler warnings apply. If anyone is caught up with America on BSG I had a few thoughts about the latest episodes here

If anyone ever asks me when I started loving Dollhouse, I'll tell them "When Eliza Dushku hit a singer with a chair and said "Friends help each other"

I don't feel like Dollhouse is great TV yet, but I do think it'll get there, and this episode showed me that the writers are interested in some of the things I'm interested in.

I really appreciated the scene between Dr Saunders and Boyd - the trust that is building between the workers of the dollhouse mirrors that building among the dolls. I'm glad they're taking the position of the workers seriously, as deeply compromised as it is. I'm also glad they're building worker solidarity against management, because there's no such thing as too much of that on TV.*

The FBI plotline was marginally less boring this week - mostly because of the reveal that Victor is an active, and because the Victor character is amusing. I'm not enjoying the patheticness of Mellie. I feel the same way about her and Paul as I did about Kaylee and Simon: "I get that you want this guy, but I can't get behind it because he's not into you and not into you is not fun" (although clearly I cared a lot more about Kaylee than I do about Mellie).

While I really enjoyed the scene where Rayna and Echo talked about being grown in a lab, I do think it demonstrates what may be a permanent weakness with the show. The subjects of the Episode of the Week plotline are likely to continue to be obscenely rich people. I think it's very difficult for plotlines where obscenely rich people and brainwashed people explore their similarities to also talk to those of us who are neither brainwashed or obscenely rich. I think we could have identified with Rayna, and I still think we could identify with the dolls. But I think it's hard to find the common ground with either of them when their similarities with each other

Thinking about it, this problem was exacerbated, and the episode was weakened, because Rayna's problems were told us by Rayna, rather than shown. I think if we'd just seen snippets of the consequences for her of not toeing the line - of not being just rebellious enough - then the episode might have soared.

But the heart of this episode was obviously none of this, but the relationship between Sierra and Echo, and I don't really have anything to say about that except I that it made me very, very happy. I'm OK with the dolls coming to conciousness being messy, complicated and dangerous, and for violence to be a part of it, but I want building relationships to be part of it too.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Maurissa Tanchareon (of "there are no Asians in the movie") co-wrote this episode and two of the main characters in this episode were non-white women.** Although it's problematic that Eliza Dushku ends up rescuing them both. The casting description for Sierra worried me: I was afraid she was going to be Orientalised, but clearly she hasn't so far. The potential of the concept of actives to play with and against and through stereotypes is an awesome one (and I do wish they'd actually cast a heavy active). Maybe if the show continues they'll take more advantage of that with the actives they cast.

I read somewhere (and I really can't remember where or I'd link) that Sierra is the Women of Colour best friend cliche. An idea which makes me think of Wonderfalls and Gilmore Girls and shows like that (Felicity? I'm trying to remember any of the other characters. I think the role and the relationship, and presumably how much they'll come to both need the relationship, mean that it doesn't map perfectly. But I can see where the parallels are, particularly as Echo is both the centre and the more aware character. I think Sierra will be much more likely to fall into this stereotype if they continue to only show her on engagements where Echo is the primary. Even if a show is centred around one person it's possible to demonstrate that the characters aren't centred around that one person. What do other people think?

Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, the writers of this episode, co-wrote Dr Horrible's sing-a-long-blog and also Commentary! The Musical. So it isn't surprising how well the songs worked, but it was very satisfying, particularly at the end.

The end was even better than the middle. The tabula rasa makes the smallest movement more powerful, a change of direction and a head shake.

* I briefly started watching Grey's anatomy because George refused to cross a picket line, and thereby wasted hours of my life

** I think the only other time you will find two non-white women talking together in the Whedon-verse is somewhere in Season 7 of Buffy. That's operating under the assumption that Rona and Kennedy spoke to each other (or Chao-Ahn) at one point. I don't like Season 7 enough to know, or check. But it's pretty appalling anyway

Monday, March 02, 2009

Who was missing from the jobs summit?

There has been a heap of discussion both in blogs and newspapers about who was missing from the job summit. There were just about 200 people there and only 30 of them were women, 2 were people with pacific island heritage, and only one person was Asian (and Asia is a big continent).

But I think that way of looking at the summit misses the point. The jobs summit was full of people who had cut jobs over the last 12 months, and empty of people who had lost them. The reason it was short of women, Pacific Islanders and Asians, is because it was short of workers, and 14 union leaders are not a substitute for that. The number of Maori at the jobs summit was about representative, but the Maori who attended were not.

The discussion about whether there were enough women there distracts from the main question, which is whose interests are being served here?

I found it grotesque that a bunch of people whose average income would have been considerable over $100,000 thought that cutting people who earn considerably less than that wages by a tenth was an acceptable option (the government has already ruled out making up that extra day's pay).

The proposals are about making life better for businesses. Which when it comes down to it was the entire point of this summit: trying to maintain the fiction that the interests of workers and the interests of businesses are one and the same thing.

PS (just because it's been bugging me): A cycle/walk way the length of the country may provide 4,000 temporary jobs (and more on the nature of those jobs in another post). But geographically many of the jobs created are going to be a long way from the jobs that were lost. I wonder if that's a design feature of the plan, rather than a flaw. I'd be surprised if the idea of punishing the job-less has entirely disappeared, and this plan could end up resembling the work camp (and one of the other suggestions from the job summit was to up the intra-national market for labour)