Sunday, April 30, 2006

What's the Opposite of Serendipity?

A city story:
Late Saturday afternoon, after cruising around the Brooklyn Botantical Gardens' glorious Cherry Blossoms Festival for a couple of hours, long enough to decide that three-inch heels really are Satan's tools and that I really should have insisted on my place rather than his the night before, I settled down with this week's Village Voice on a 2 train for a long ride from Brooklyn to way-uptown Manhattan.

Some distance for a freebie: I wanted to make the paper last as long as possible, so I hunkered down to read it carefully, only emerging to ask my 40ish, male neighbor whether the conductor's announcement had meant that the 2 was continuing express past 14th.

Since it was, I bent over to focus on this article by Kathryn Belgiorno about cyber-vigilantism. Belgiorno's hook was that story about, in which a woman used a camera-phone to take a picture of a man masturbating across from her on the subway. The man was later identified as prominent raw-foodist Dan Hoyt and has now pled guilty to a charge of public lewdness. Cyber-vigilantism makes me nervous, since I've seen almost appallingly effective blogswarms launched on what have seemed to me very trivial causes, so I was reading the article carefully for some insight.

That's when a slight movement caught my peripheral vision. I remember thinking, "Oh my God, wouldn't it be ironic if the guy next to me had his hand in his pants right now?" Sadly, no: he had his entire, semi-erect cock out of his pants to fondle.

Of course, I gathered up my bags and moved up the train instantly, and, when I looked back before the next stop (66th, IIRC), the man had likewise disappeared.

I mutter on in "Mutterings Continued."

I can't help thinking that the man had assumed I'd seen him before I had and that, somehow, I was into it; otherwise the risk of being seen by all the other passengers on the train should have dissuaded him. I think he had a jacket or something rumpled around his cock to obscure the view from others, although I couldn't swear to it. I'd been intently focussed on my paper, bent over slightly and looking down; perhaps he thought that most people's eyes would wander from a VV page. I think he had a fantasy going that involved both of us, but he was wrong. I blame Craigslist's Missed Connections board.

And I feel slightly silly for being bothered by it. One cherished, battle-hardened alter ego of myself would laugh it off: "Oh yeah, some asshole wanker pulled his pud at me on the subway this afternoon. Schmuck! As though I'd be interested!" That's obviously not an honest representation of how I feel about this weird little episode, though.

Dan Hoyt's much mocked comments about how some women are into being masturbated at in public might not be irrelevant here. The Craigslist "Missed Connections" board, when I read it with any frequency, had rather frequent posts that validated the Anais Nin fantasy of reciprocated desire between total strangers. Handjobs on a crowded subway: that sort of thing. When I was reading the MC board, I was emerging out of a very messy, long breakup, and simply imagining a sexual topography of New York did wonders for me. I liked to read that people were getting the hots for each other on trains I took, and, frankly, it helped get me out of the house during a rather agoraphobic period.

And yet, of course, on Saturday the sexual pleaure was not mutual, no matter what fantasies he might have entertained. In some ways, my having been oblivious to whatever he was doing gradually makes me feel obscurely guilty (mind you, I can feel guilty about anything). Urban self-defense for women requires awareness; the generalized "minding one's own business" that New Yorkers generally practice can only go so far. If indeed there had been an intermediate step between that X and taking his cock out to stroke it, could I have signalled my disapproval at X?

At the end of the day, I know that I didn't give him any positive signals. I was focussed on my paper, enough so not enough to notice his penis, so whatever signals he received would have been the absence of revulsion. I hope he's spending commensurate time wondering about this episode--but I doubt it.

And yeah, in that split second that I shifted focus from the VV article to my neighbor's penis, I thought about a camera. Unfortunately, my digital camera was at home, and had I had my camera, I would have had the choice of catching my five-millimeter-proximate neighbor either at the cock or at the face. I don't regret my instinctual decision of decamping post-haste.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

NYC Strikes

It's interesting that the NYC doorman and porter unions should be threatening to strike, but I'm even more fascinated that co-op buildings should be organizing themselves to man the doors in the event of a strike.

What, are the mongol hordes going to storm the doors as soon as the doormen walk off?

Realistically, the tenants want and expect their deliveries, which the doormen screen, enable, and hold for pickup where appropriate. Tenants would be wise to postpone deliveries, if possible, during the potential strike, because volunteers will probably screw it up.

In my own building, which has no doorman, not only has there been no strike-related updates for a month, most tenants have, like myself, decided that if the strike lasts for less then a week, none of us have to think about our garbage.

This really is a strike aimed at the more affluent. For the few couple of days, the co-op partners filling in will get their props. Old habits will re-establish themselves rather quickly, I'd wager.

[Update: strike averted!]


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Convenient News

I was probably never the target audience for stories about the one-legged, no! two-legged, one-eyed, no! two eyed! terrorist leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq called "father of Musab from Zarqwa." Still, it doesn't exactly make me happy to see that the Pentagon had a policy of talking up al-Zarqawi's role in the Iraqi insurgency.

It might not technically fall under the category of propagandizing the US public, despite the WaPo's citation of Pentagon documents that claim "the US home audience" as an explicit target. (Let me emphasize "might" and "technically.")

People who've been around blogs for awhile know very well that a story from overseas can reverberate dramatically within US media, and often in unforeseeable ways; many bloggers have assumed for years that the US was using overseas media to shape domestic debate. Well, now we have some proof.

It might be time to revisit our laws against propagandizing the US public. In the electronic age, there really isn't a clear-cut line between overseas and domestic audiences. Either the regulation against propaganda has become meaningless, or the military needs to rethink the value of disinformation.

Of course I lean towards the latter option. The credibility of the BBC and the pre-Bush VOA for desperate, disenfranchised people was premised on those agencies' ability and willingness to report on politically unflattering stories. If people behind the Iron Curtain could find inspiration in an independant American media, how on earth do policy-makers in Washington hope to reach the Islamic "pious middle"* by dismantling VOA in favor of Al-Hurra and fear-mongering?

* has defined and defended the idea of the "pious middle."
[Cross-posted here.]


Monday, April 10, 2006

Proactive Scapegoating?

The best comment yet on the Hersh article (linked below):
Sun-Tzu By: blackhedd
I don't have the exact quote from Sun-Tzu, but what I had in mind is that you won't have to fight if the other guy believes you are invincible, crazy, or both. Obviously Jefferson is right. But we have so mismanaged the expectations of others (thanks largely to the pacifist Left and the obstructionist Democrats and MSM) that we'll end up having to fight, and that is an unnecessary and disgraceful position to have let ourselves get into.

I guess it doesn't help to point out the pacifists are going to give us exactly what they claim they don't want. The irony will be lost on them, and they'll just say "I told you so." Too bad we don't hang traitors anymore.
This is a very exotic varietal of the stab-in-the-back, fifth-column argumentative genera! It needs its own classificatory name--since I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot more of it.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Tale Between Two Articles

Joseph Kraft in the New Yorker, Dec. 11, 1978. (link; h/t, Farber.)

Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, Apr. 17, 2006. (link)

[Mohammed al-Tehrani, this one's for you!]


No Longer So Sanguine As To Entertain Moral Arguments

It was horrifying to read this week's NYT magazine article on how El Salvador enforces its total proscription on abortion. Horrifying--and yet, not so shocking. The anti-abortion rhetoric in this country has, for the past few decades, been clanging on the barriers to power. They haven't had to articulate exactly what their vision of an abortion ban would look like; instead, they talk among themselves, often online, derivating absolutist policy lines on stem-call research, IVF, and emergency contraception. From the outside, they've consolidated an absolutist, unrealistic goal.

It seems as though mainstream journalists woke up about six months ago and realized that the anti-abortion movement was not only very serious but about to dismantle reproductive choice as we've known it. If I hadn't spent so much time online in the past few years, I might've been similarly blinded.

As long as the "pro-life" case was being made as an ethical plea, I was rather sympathetic to it, and particularly so when I was young, had rarely had sex, and had never known any poor or depressive people. But even after I'd come to understand the stakes better, what I saw as a minority moralist movement seemed an interesting factor for debate. Because I was convinced that the public health grounds for a permissive abortion policy could not seriously be debated.

Roe was already the precedent by the time I came into political consciousness. As the granddaughter of a nurse who had good reason to be vehemently pro-legalized-abortion, I'd never seriously considered the possibility that the moral ambiguities about potential life, arguments with which I had some sympathy, could be made into binding law.

The moral arguments are much more palatable in the moral sphere; they make for terrible law. The more I read and listen to anti-abortion writers, the less willing I have become to entertain their concerns.

"Principles won't do," wrote Conrad in A Heart of Darkness. Hilzoy in her recent post at ObWi has done an excellent job in countering their nebulous first principle of "life" with a more scientifically helpful ethos of "sentience," but in the political world, I'm beginning to get much more worried about consequences.

Every anti-abortion politician should be asked about El Salvador's policy. They should be asked whether they would support such measures, if not, how would they justify falling short of such. Federal-level candidates should be asked their opinions about the rights of tribally sovereign lands to host abortion clinics, about a nation-wide abortion ban.

It's time to bring the abortion debate out of the shadows. I am one-hundred-percent fine with exhortating women not to have abortions or to use contraception, as long as that exhortation doesn't interfere with sensible public education or amount to harrassment of private individuals. Everything else, the chipping away tactics, the criminalization of often-necessary medical procedures, churches' buying out private hospitals to eliminate abortions, oh it goes on--that is starting to make me very very worried. Paranoid, even.

So just what is it you want, ye who are against abortion? And what consequences of your doughty first principles are you willing to oversee?

The above rant was first ranted here.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

2,067 Miles of This?

Jackmormon at the Tijuana border in 1999.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

More Iran Rumors

Kevin Drum passes along a stark warning from skeptic Joseph Ciciniore [FP link: sub. req., easily bypassed with], that the internal logic of Washington decision-makers is moving inexorably towards a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

I'm starting to fear that there will be no public debate about our Iran policy until the diplomats have maneouvred us into a false either-or. And at that point, we'll probably be launching airstrikes and limited Special-Ops ground excursions: the kind of engagement Americans can support symbolically, ignore morally, and obfuscate economically.

Don't get me wrong: I think the consequences of an American airstrike on Iran would be disastrous on all of those scores. But the currently available Democratic positions seem to be
1. it's all a stupid electoral strategm, and I'm not listening, not listening, not listenign!!!1!
2. if we'd only not been lied into the Iraqi quagmire, we could've invaded Iran; we're subjunctively hard-core, biatch!
Both of these approaches are deeply unsatisfying to me. Can't we find ways to pressure Russia and China into meaningful sanctions threats? Is it hopelessly utopian to hope that a serious diplomatic push couldn't start a dialogue between high-level Israeli and Iranian officials?

I know I've kept promising a post on Pollack's The Persian Puzzle, but I'm finding it very difficult to summarize, since Pollack himself is so ambivalent. Some of his axioms, however, include:
--Iranian elites always overestimate their importance to American interests.
--The Iranian people assume that the US is meddling in their internal political affairs.
--The Revolutionary Islamic Republic has not been concerned with oil revenue and sees it as a strategic rather than a vital resource.
--Iran has sought to protect its revolutionary government by arming and supporting minority Shi'ite populations in Kurdish Iraq, Syria, and the new urban underclasses across the desertified Arab monarchies.
--After Khomeini's death, determining final authoritory in governmental affairs has become more difficult.
I'm afraid I have to recommend that everyone start reading up on Iran. Increasingly, I'm sensing that the Bush administration has learned the wrong lesson from the Iraq runup: they seem to think that the skepticism of the Iraq policy proves the public's unseriousness. I have always believed that if the policy were sound, most of the people would rally. So, the submerged Iran policy should worry us all.

[Cross-posted at HoCB.]


Monday, April 03, 2006

Lights Out, Lights On

It's been a rough couple of weeks for me, as I've finally realized that not only is the world not waiting for my dissertation, I'm not even really excited about it. And yet the bills keep coming. Some gnashing of teeth has been going on, some ridiculous fantasies of possible careers have been entertained, some hostility towards my dysfunctional department has been expressed, but I prefer to keep such matter ob scena. So, sorry for the light posting recently.

For now, I'll link to my postat HoCB about architectural ironies in the current French student riots (yeah, the franchise has clearly expanded), and to Matt Weiner's analysis of the odds for a Pascalian wager implicit in converting to LDS. I should have a lot more to say about the public debate on polygamy that the HBO show "Big Love" has unleashed: I'd really rather see a few episodes and think more carefully about why polygamy is coming up now, but but since people seem to keep asking me about this show, here are some general remarks.