Blogorrhea! PLUS FREE bonus movie review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The Palace contingent is currently spending some time at the palace of a good friend in Florida, frequenting our favorite restaurant, watching movies, and generally chilling the fuck out after a brutally hectic and exhausting holiday season — hell, year.  I am hoping to have some time to post more extensively, but in the meantime, today I will be profoundly lazy and link you to some interesting stuff I’ve been reading.

  • Vote Obama – if you want a centrist Republican for US president.  Glenn Greenwald has an Op-Ed up at The Guardian regarding the problems Republican presidential candidates face running against Obama on his record, which is that of a conservative.  It is quite the conundrum they are facing, though I find it impossible to muster any sympathy for them.  Glenn’s piece is worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a quip:

In sum, how do you demonise Obama as a terrorist-loving secret Muslim intent on empowering US enemies when he has adopted, and in some cases extended, what was rightwing orthodoxy for the last decade? The core problem for GOP challengers is that they cannot be respectable Republicans because, as [Paul] Krugman pointed out, Obama has that position occupied.  They are forced to move so far to the right that they render themselves inherently absurd.

  • In a related piece at Salon, Greenwald discusses Obama’s ever-escalating drone assassination program (“at the time of Obama’s inauguration, the U.S. used drone attacks in only one country (Pakistan); under Obama, these attacks have occurred in at least six Muslim countries“).  He focuses on the bipartisan consensus and media complicity that enables Americans to remain unconscionably ignorant of the innocent civilian corpses and anti-American sentiment piling up in the Muslim world at the hands of the U.S. government.  The drone program and the secrecy surrounding it is incontrovertible proof of just how far to the right Barack Obama really is with respect to foreign policy and civil liberties.
  • Dump DOMA.  Via an email missive this morning, we learned that People for the American Way is gathering signatures for an online petition to end the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act:

The Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Representative Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY) companion bill has bipartisan support in the House.

Even as more states move to expand marriage equality to same-sex couples, these couples are still prevented from enjoying many of the most basic benefits of marriage because the federal government won’t recognize their unions as legal.

Polls confirm that Americans want same-sex couples and their families to enjoy the same rights as everyone. The momentum is ours and we know what we have to do with it: we must make Congress Dump DOMA, once and for all.

Please sign PFAW’s petition if you are so inclined.  (See this post, particularly UPDATE II, for a good look at why this matters.)

  • CIA’s watchdog: No problem with NYPD partnership.  In a stunning turn of events, the CIA’s own inspector general has investigated the CIA’s building of a domestic spying program in conjunction with the NYPD, and determined that — are you sitting down?  — there was absolutely no wrongdoing on the part of the CIA! 

The agency’s inspector general concluded that no laws were broken and there was “no evidence that any part of the agency’s support to the NYPD constituted ‘domestic spying’,” CIA spokesman Preston Golson said.

The inspector general decided to do a preliminary investigation after a series of stories by The Associated Press revealed how after the 9/11 attacks the CIA helped the NYPD build domestic intelligence programs that were used to spy on Muslims. A CIA officer also directed intelligence collection and reviewed reports, according to former NYPD officials involved.

The revelations troubled some members of Congress and even prompted the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to remark that it did not look good for the CIA to be involved in any city police department. Thirty-four lawmakers have asked for the Justice Department to investigate but so far that request has gone nowhere.

Why on Earth should Obama’s Justice Department investigate?  The CIA has already determined that it did nothing wrong.  There is nothing to see here, people:  please move along.

  • The Taliban is alive and well — in Israel:

The latest battleground in Israel’s struggle over religious extremism covers little more than a square mile of this Jewish city situated between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and it has the unexpected public face of a blond, bespectacled second-grade girl.

She is Naama Margolese, 8, the daughter of American immigrants who are observant modern Orthodox Jews. An Israeli weekend television program told the story of how Naama had become terrified of walking to her elementary school here after ultra-Orthodox men spit on her, insulted her and called her a prostitute because her modest dress did not adhere exactly to their more rigorous dress code.

Amid the laudable protests in opposition to this bullshit, police attempting to calm the tensions and press attempting to cover the story have been subjected to some of those vaunted Judeo-Christian values I’ve heard so much about:

Ultra-Orthodox men and boys from the most stringent sects have hurled rocks and eggs at the police and journalists, shouting “Nazis” at the security forces and assailing female reporters with epithets like “shikse,” a derogatory Yiddish term for a non-Jewish woman or girl, and “whore.”

The battle has broadened and grown increasingly visible in recent weeks and months. Orthodox male soldiers walked out of a ceremony where female soldiers were singing, adhering to what they consider to be a religious prohibition against hearing a woman’s voice; women have been challenging the seating arrangements on strictly “kosher” buses serving ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and some inter-city routes, where female passengers are expected to sit at the back.

Jeezus fucking Rosa Parks Christ.

Religious extremism is hardly new to Israel, but the [ultra-Orthodox] Sicarii and their bullying ilk push with a bold vigor that has yet to be fully explained. Certainly, Israel’s coalition politics have allowed the ultra-Orthodox parties to wield disproportionate power beyond the roughly 10 percent of the population they currently represent.

In a similar vein the extremist right in the U.S. wields disproportionate political power relative to their actual numbers: they have infested state houses across the nation as well as the U.S. House of Representatives, and successfully pushed the s0-called “center” of U.S. politics so far to the right that they can no longer extract their heads from their own asses, even temporarily.  These people think Obama — that’s Barack Obama — is a Socialist, fer chrissakes.

The ultra-Orthodox community’s rapidly increasing numbers — thanks to extraordinarily high birthrates — may also have emboldened the hard core, as may have their insular neighborhoods.  And their leadership appears to lack moderating brakes.

There are two points I want to make about this.  First, I’ve had arguments with conservatives who defend our Afghanistan occupation by attempting to appeal to my feminism humanity.  It generally takes the form of “OMFG, Iris!  The Taliban’s treatment of women!  Sharia law!”  The actual argument they are really making is that Muslim fundamentalists are uniquely, inherently BAD PEOPLE, and therefore the United States government has a right — nay, a responsibility! — to bomb and occupy their country and install a corrupt puppet government.  I know for a fact that this is their underlying argument, because they have made it explicitly in other contexts.  I find it rather odd, though, that I never hear a peep out of them on the human rights abuses of Israeli Jews, to say nothing of the deranged kooks trying to turn the U.S. into a Christian theocracy.  That’s presumably because no matter how evil their actions, how hideous their ideology, or how perfectly open they are about their horrifying un-American intentions, Israeli Jews and American Christians simply cannot be BAD PEOPLE, by definition.  This view is as logically fallacious as it is demonstrably false.  As I’ve said before:

Theologically speaking, when it comes to their views of women there is no difference — none — between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Exactly how misogynist Abrahamic theology plays out in different cultures and subcultures varies, across the globe and across the centuries.  But this much is indisputable:  the more religious a society and its institutions, the more repressive and reprehensible its treatment of half the human race.  The Christian Right is no exception, which is reason number 7,384,496 why it should alarm every sane U.S. citizen that they wield such outsize political power relative to their numbers.

Second, “extraordinarily high birthrates” does not capture the whole picture here, nor is the phenomenon mysterious.  It is plainly obvious that if a Judeo-Christian-Islamic-whateverflavorofpatriarchy culture views its women as a second-class sub-species and denies them (among other things) autonomous control of their own reproduction, then the birth rate will indeed soar.  It will be just as “extraordinarily high” as it was in the West before feminism gained some ground and reliable, accessible birth control became available.  My grandmother, for example, was one of eleven children born in the early decades of the last century, an occurrence far from uncommon in American cities at the time.  What was uncommon then was the low infant mortality rates Westernized nations generally enjoy today:  several of my grandmother’s siblings died in infancy; another died in war, young and unmarried.  What we are seeing among the Israeli ultra-Orthodox today is the ancient and ignorant theology that divinely decrees that women are breeding sows taking root in a country with modern, high-quality, government-funded universal health care, and thus low infant (and maternal) mortality.  The resulting population increase is anything but mysterious.

I’ve been pondering for some time the connection between this view of women and the prevalence of war.  (Although I am unaware of it, I would hardly be surprised if others have connected the same dots.)  Wars throughout human history have many complex causes of course, and as the saying goes, their histories are written by the victors.  Still, here are two facts that, if nothing else, suggest the idea may be worth investigating further:

(1) The Old Testament, on which all three Abrahamic faiths ultimately rest, is chock-full of genocide, wanton slaughter, grotesque violence, murders of vast numbers of innocent people including children, the enslavement of captured populations, and too many other horrors to mention — and all of it is explicitly god-commanded and god-sanctioned (that is, when it is not being performed by the petty, odious, bloodthirsty Sky Daddy himself).

(2) For much of recorded human history, one determinative factor in the outcome of violent clashes between groups is population.  Obviously there are many other factors (in particular technology) that have a tremendous influence on such outcomes.  But in the Middle East circa 1,000 BCE, if an army comprises ten thousand well-armed soldiers and your “enemy” comprises a city of 2,000 people, mostly civilians, the outcome of that battle is not exactly a matter of blind luck.  I would go so far as to presume this is why so many of the most oft-recounted historical battles are ones where the prevailing party was far outnumbered: they are so exceedingly rare.  In such cases other factors, such as creative tactics or technology, play an outsized part, enough to overcome the advantage inherent in sheer numbers.

What I am suggesting is that the cultural meme of “Woman as Breeding Sow” and the cultural meme of “Conquer, Pillage and Dominate at Will” are powerfully synergistic.  Consistently pregnant women yield the soldiers (and soldier-makers) of the future.  In addition, as a population expands local resources are inevitably stretched thin:  neighboring lands, crops and livestock (including women of course) start to look mighty tempting.  The cycle of war, i.e. escalating violence and retribution, is extraordinarily difficult to wind down once it has begun in earnest, leading to more and more bloodshed, and more women in bondage.

The inevitability of that tragic cycle is reason number 8,346,214 why Obama should knock it the fuck off with the oversight-free drone attacks in the Middle East.  It is counterproductive — unless one is so evil and depraved that more violence and war is the desired outcome.  In which case, holy fucking shit.

Finally, since you have been dragged along for thousands of words in what was honestly intended to be a short, lazy post full of nothing but a bunch of links, without further delay the Palace is pleased to bring to you its afore-promised bonus movie review, absolutely free of charge!

[TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL VIOLENCE.]

  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Confession:  I have not read the book (I rarely read fiction), but I did hear good things about it from people who read it, people who generally like the same kinds of smart thriller/action-adventure movies that I do. What initially intrigued me about the story when I first heard of it was that the titular character was an enigmatic, capable and brilliant young woman, one who was not just incidental to the story line.  I had seen a few different trailers for the film, and thought the movie looked badass.  (Also, Daniel Craig.  So, you know, there’s that.)And badass it certainly was.  The central story arc is a classic whodunnit, richly detailed and beautifully rendered.  The subject matter is disturbing in the same way that The Silence of the Lambs is disturbing, but Dragon Tattoo leaves much, much less to the imagination.  When I say that this film is extremely graphic with respect to sex, gore, and various combinations thereof, you may want to consider that this is not exactly your squeamish Aunt Nelly talking here, pooh-poohing the highly-edited, PG-rated Movie of the Week on The Family Channel.  While it would be fair to say I am not a big fan of torture porn, it isn’t just because of the relentless misogyny.  Nope.  It’s because I frequently find such films utterly unimaginative, painfully boring, and, well, stupid.  (I am in agreement with director George Romero, who said, “I don’t get the torture porn films […] they’re lacking metaphor.”)  On the other hand, I do like some Tarantino films, including Grindhouse: the over-the-top gore is hilarious in that Halloween haunted house way, and his female characters, although highly fetishized, are anything but traditionally submissive. 

    But this girl — the one with the dragon tattoo — goes way, WAY beyond any of this.  In an utterly fearless and mesmerizing performance, Rooney Mara transports us to some very dark places we would never, ever want to go.  There is no question that the film is exploitative, in that there are scenes that will surely thrill the torture, porn, and torture-porn aficionados among us.  I find it difficult to make the case that the film would have suffered in the slightest if some of the more graphic violence and sex were left to occur in the viewer’s imagination.  But the interesting takeaway for me was that the sexual brutality, the unconscionable degradation, even the gratuitous consensual sex and nudity, all of it rendered Mara’s character more powerful, more admirable, more fully human, not less so.  It really is quite a feat the filmmakers attempted here, and it would have been an epic disaster if they had not pulled it off successfully.

    But they pulled it off spectacularly, to the point that I am actually tempted to read the damn book.  And I will undoubtedly see the movie again.  It’s that good.  Plus, you know, Daniel Craig.

That’s all I’ve got for my loyal readers today.  Tomorrow’s agenda includes activities such as Meatball Dinner, and Big City Liberal Gets Schooled in the Joys and Wonders of the Second Amendment.  I will check in when I can.  In the meantime, don’t be good.  But please be well.

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