Smart people saying smart things

Smart people saying smart things May 21, 2013

David Rothkopf: “The Balance of Power”

The systematic, persistent acceptance of women’s second-class status is history’s greatest shame. And for all our self-congratulations about how far we have come, we live in a world where even in the most advanced countries, deep injustices against women remain. These injustices, of course, have other costs beyond the purely human ones. Nothing would help societies grow more than educating and empowering women economically. Democracy is a sham until the planet’s majority population actually achieves equitable representation in deliberative bodies and executive positions of government. And the absence of women in positions of power is also, of course, a guarantee that women’s interests will continue to be minimized, ignored, or repressed.

We’re talking about nothing less than an epoch-long war on a people here, an effort to hold back the economic — and social — progress of the majority of humanity.

Jill Filipovic: “The orphan crisis that wasn’t”

While some churches are doing great work to support comprehensive development practices, those who want to solve the orphan crisis must put the needs of children first by working with their communities, not simply removing those children.

It is not nearly as satisfying to deal with complex realities of colonialism, exploitative evangelism, poverty and misogyny as it is to talk about the plight of orphans, donate money for a friend to adopt or perhaps adopt a cute kid yourself. But while addressing the issues that create both orphans and unethical adoption practices takes work and the willingness to humble oneself, doing so is necessary and moral. And it saves children and families.

Charlie Pierce: “The Worst Quote of the Day”

If your “way of life” involves handing deadly weapons to five-year olds, your way of life is completely screwed up and you should change it immediately because it is stupid and wrong. (And, again, also, too: goddammit, “learning to use and respect a gun” means at least knowing that the fking thing is loaded when it’s sitting in the corner of the parlor like it’s a damn umbrella stand or something, and we should talk about that part, too.) It is not in any way “normal” to hand a kindergartner a firearm. If a mother from the inner-city of, say, Philadelphia did that, and the kid subsequently shot his sister to death, Fox News never would stop yelling about the crisis in African American communities and the Culture Of Death, and rap music, too. If your culture is telling you that children who have only recently emerged from toddlerhood should have their own guns, then your culture is deadly and dangerous and that should concern you, too. If your culture demands that, in the face of a general national outrage over the killing of other children, your politics work to loosen the gun laws you have, as they apparently did in Kentucky, then your culture is making your politics stupid and wrong and you should change them, too.

T.F. Charlton: “Why Jason Collins’ Faith Is Ignored … and Tebow’s Isn’t”

Tim Tebow is an example of how the public face of Christian athletes, like the public face of American Christianity in general, is overwhelmingly white — despite the fact that black Americans are the racial demographic most likely to identify as “very religious.” A recent Barna poll found that Tebow is by far the most well-known Christian professional athlete in the U.S. (with 83 percent awareness from the public), with retired white quarterback Kurt Warner a distant second at 59 percent. Robert Griffin III (RGIII), a black quarterback who’s had a far more successful season with the Redskins than Tebow’s had with the Jets, trailed at 34 percent.

RGIII, like Tebow, is a former college star (he won a Heisman Trophy at Baylor, a Baptist university) with a penchant for spontaneous expressions of faith after big plays. But neither he nor Colin Kaepernick, another vocally Christian quarterback who led the San Francisco 49ers to the 2013 Superbowl, have been embraced by white Christians the way Tebow, Warner, and other white athletes have. This is perhaps exemplified by a Christianity Today piece in which editor Mark Galli talks up Tebow’s “humble and morally upright” public persona while denigrating Kaepernick’s “pride” and dismissing his tattoos of Bible verses as “designed to inspire aggressive play.” Kaepernick, he insists, is not a role model (and he even goes so far as to lump him in with Ray Lewis, who’s played under the shadow of an indictment for murder since 2000), but Tebow is.

Ed Kilgore: “Let’s Get Prayer Out of the Churches and Back in the Schools and Public Meetings Where It Belongs!”

It’s unclear whether the National Day of Prayer is just a pallid revival of the watery Christianity of a bygone era, or, as [Sarah] Posner suspects, something a lot more menacing (I’m sure it’s the latter for many of its organizers, if not its participants). But let’s get one thing straight: this is not representative of the country generally, or of people of faith generally, or of Christians generally. It’s the project of a particular kind of Christian who for complicated and quite possibly sincere motives can’t seem to do without Constantine’s Sword. I pray they don’t succeed in their ambitions.


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  • Space Marine Becka

    Tangentially related to #1 I don’t know if people heard about coverflip (I hadn’t until today) but I found this response to it insightful

  • Do the people handing 5-year olds loaded guns think they’re Mandalorians or something? Here’s a tip: if you’re treating your children the same way Mandalorians or Jedi or Sith treat children, you’re living in a dream world. A rather sick one at that.

  • SisterCoyote

    If a mother from the inner-city of, say, Philadelphia did that, and the
    kid subsequently shot his sister to death, Fox News never would stop
    yelling about the crisis in African American communities and the Culture
    Of Death, and rap music, too.

    I have to disagree. There would be silence on Fox News, on CNN, on MSNBC, and in general, because the mainstream news media, left or right, does not care about the deaths of inner-city black children, and never has.

  • JustoneK

    that same old problem. start something new and people latch onto the superficial symbols without knowing that they mean something.

  • Carstonio

    The people who venerate Tebow and Warner are probably the same ones who insist that Christianity isn’t a religion. For them it isn’t – they’re really talking about an identity that’s ethnically exclusive as well as culturally and politically exclusive. The black church traditions reject not just media theatrics, as Charlton notes, but also the tribalism that white evangelicalism has become.

  • Yeah, sports culture in general and football’s especially tend to be more intensely Christian than the general US culture has ever been. Think of an NFL name and the odds are good that he’s a strong believer. Some are just more “clean-cut” and ‘All-American” looking than others is all.

  • hidden_urchin


    Seriously, though, I agree with the author’s point that not all cultural customs are worth keeping. I don’t actually think teaching kids to shoot is necessarily a problem. It is, however, a big problem if you expect a kid to understand the potential consequences of using firearms…because, you know, it’s a kid. Partially for this reason, I find it appalling that companies are designing real weapons for children that have the bright colors and patterns of toys while at the same time we’re discouraging toy makers from designing toy guns that look real.

    Of course, how can we expect kids to learn that guns are not toys when there are gun owners out there who like to refer to their firearms as their “toys?”


  • FearlessSon

    Also, Mandalorians expect their children to get limbs broken (or occasionally lost) during training, in order to make the lesson stick if they screw up.

    Until such time as we have reliable and inexpensive cybernetic prosthetics and bacta healing tanks, I think maybe we ought to hold off on such spartan youth training.

  • FearlessSon

    With the caveat that I have very little interest in sports, the only reason I know Tim Tebow is Christian is because he makes such an irritatingly big deal out of it. “Yes Mister Tebow, you have a faith that you find rewarding and are proud of. Good for you. We get the message, you do not need to keep repeating it.”

    As for any other football player, I do not know and for the most part do not care, nor do I feel like I should be made to care. Statistically, I am sure that plenty of them are Christian and happy with it. But no one seems to make such a big deal of it as Tebow. The only way he is special in this regard is the degree to which he thinks that makes him special.

  • Maybe not, but they sure as hell know how to work it to race-bait mainstream white viewers.

  • Lori

    I think it would depend on whether it happened on a slow news day or not. That is not snark, that’s my honest opinion.

    Obviously mainstream news organizations in general, and Fox News in particular, don’t give a crap about the deaths of inner-city AA children, but the kind of reporting Pierce is imagining doesn’t require anyone to care about the deaths of AA children. It simply requires the desire to demonize inner-city parents, and that the media has plenty of.

    If the imagined death happened when there was a lot of other things going on then no, it wouldn’t get much if any coverage. If it happened on a slow news day or during a momentary outrage drought or when some other interest could be helped by whipping up fear of inner-city residents then they’d be on it like white on rice.

  • Sports culture in general and football in particular also tends to harbor/spawn a lot more violence than general U.S. culture, particularly violence against women. Hmm.

  • Ugh. Tell me about it. Enjoi, a skateboarding company, recently put out a couple of t-shirts making light of domestic violence and rape.

    They don’t see what could possibly be the problem. Their response to the complaints can only be described as “blatant trolling with yet more misogyny on top.”

    Responding to the first ad (a crying woman with her arm in a cast and sling with the caption “He really does love skateboarding more than me”), their official response was “Dunno what the fuss is all about, she got injured shopping at the mall, not by her man.”

    I wish I could say I was paraphrasing. That’s verbatim.

  • Ah… and for bonus points, there’s now a counter protest up describing the opposition as “bored feminists looking for something to rail against.”

    Bored. As if we lacked for things to do. If effing only.

  • stardreamer42

    Actually, I found the coverflipped version of A Clockwork Orange to be artistically compelling. With just two changes, it would have worked at least as well as the original: (1) use a man’s face instead of a sexualized woman’s face, and (2) counterchange the title from orange to black as it crosses the section where the lips are orange.

  • stardreamer42

    Something I had not consciously noticed until a friend pointed it out to me: all those people adopting Chinese children get girls. You never see a Chinese BOY up for adoption. And if you think about it, you’ll know why.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I honestly thought that handing a child a gun was something that would get said child ripped from your home and placed with real, competent parents. I had no idea that this was yet another thing that people declare is their “right” to do.

    Then I remember that one dude from Texas, whose campaign slogan was “If babies had guns, there would be no abortion” or something close. There’s just no hope for some people.

  • Hexep

    In Chinese culture, the wife enters the husband’s family, not the other way around. So sons stay and contribute to the well-being of the family, taking care of their parents; daughters leave the family, go into someone else’s house, and start contributing to theirs.

  • flat

    well I learned something new

  • reynard61

    When Joseph Kony puts guns into the hands of five-year-olds, he’s “creating child-soldiers” and committing war crimes. When Crickett Arms puts guns into the hands of five-year-olds, it’s just good ol’ American Capitalism.

  • Fusina

    Unless the child has a serious medical condition. My Brother-in-law and his wife adopted a Chinese boy, but he had a cleft palate. Too bad for the Chinese, because he is an engaging and very smart kid, sweet and loving. Yeah, there have been multiple operations to fix his mouth, but it has been worth it.

  • Space Marine Becka

    That’s true but I thought the really insightful bit was:

    “Which leads me to the fact that, more often than not, the covers that I saw being arbitrarily assigned stereotyped imagery, and the covers that I most often saw being ridiculed as frivolous or slammed for being part of the problem, were the feminine interpretations of books actually written by men. Instead of a discussion of our gendered assumptions about books and readers, the conversation turned quickly into a vilification of all
    things that are considered feminine”

    and the stuff that followed it, especially:

    “The thing about living in a world in which one half of a false binary is valued over the other half is that the valued half becomes dominant, and its dominance makes it invisible. The dominant class or category is defined not based on its own characteristics, but based on its not being the other class. Most
    covers that were assigned to male authors were defined as being for men simply by virtue of their not being specifically for women. And, importantly, these were also the covers that were most often defined as good, universal, gender-neutral, and ideal for all readers.

    I feel that when we talk about wanting gender-neutral covers, we’re not talking about wanting covers that are equally devoid of masculine and feminine stereotypes, because we don’t have a strong grasp of what masculine stereotypes are. Instead, we’re talking about wanting covers with fewer things tagging them as feminine. We are accepting the dominant class as the default and arguing to have more of it, instead of questioning the dominant class and dismantling its universal hold on our psyches.”

    This is what we need to fix.

    edit: grr discus, let’s see if that fixes the formatting.

  • Space Marine Becka

    Grr discus…

  • arcseconds

    That’s an interesting response, but I don’t think it’s really a fair criticism of the coverflip thing.

    The better examples show it’s just as easy and justified by the text to give a book a ‘girl’ cover as it is to give it a ‘boy’ cover. I suppose you could say that buys into the notion of there being girl and boy covers, but surely it does this to show up the fact that it’s arbitrary!

    So, sure, it’s not a nuanced conversation, and people can miss the point. Just like any slogan or cartoon with a point.

  • Maniraptor

    I’m somehow extra insulted that they couldn’t even bother to come up with a callous, disgusting response that made some kind of sense.

  • Maniraptor

    If fetuses had guns it would be (even more) vital to allow women the option of terminating pregnancy. Unless they develop instinctual gun safety at the same time as the weaponry.

  • In fairness, I haven’t read the comments, nor have I read the response.

    There were certain male -> female covers that were absolutely brutal. Shutter Island is not a book about beaches. Lord of the Flies is not a book that is well-served by a cover that implies happiness and a tiny pig inside one’s hands. Carrie is not a book about a happy blonde woman smiling with the sun behind her. All of those examples are equally as bad as the people who think The Great Gatsby is a book about shirts.

    Some of these cover changes horribly miss the point of the book they’re supposed to be for.

    There’s a lot to say about gender roles in society and how certain parts of that society are invisible based on what we consider normative. Ham-fisted attempts at recovering books that the artists seem not to have read are wholly deserving of criticism, regardless of whether the point they make is valid.

    There were some well-done cover changes. A Clockwork Orange and On The Road were the two that I thought stood out.

  • I thought the coverflips made an interesting point. Gender essentialism is rife even in 2013, and as a part of that are in some cases rather socially rigid notions about what constitutes “books for girls” and “books for guys”.

    The LotF coverflip actually made that point very well. Anyone who didn’t know what LotF was about, but knew the author was William Golding, would probably expect the cover to reflect some kind of gritty tale.

    But switch it to Wanda Golding, and assume it to be a book aimed at girls, and the gender-essentialist assumptions that go into book covers would, at first, create the perception that the book might be more metaphorical or even light-hearted.

    (It is supremely ironic, actually, that Golding was, himself, brutally deconstructing the happy-clappy pip pip cheerio Coral Island.)

  • I’ll admit, that’s not a perspective that I’d considered. I wonder if simply changing the cover of a book can change the fundamental themes that a person draws from said book.

    Would be an incredibly interesting psychological study.

  • general_apathy

    That kind of reminds me of the whole Franzen/Picoult/Eugenides kerfuffle, re: the genre classification of authors based on gender. Eugenides was all “well, if women ever wrote anything artistic!” in response. Several reviewers and authors pointed out that the mass-market family dramas he writes… are basically chick lit. The difference is that, when it’s written by a man, it’s considered literary.

    (So basically, I’m enjoying the gender-flipped Marriage Plot cover.)

  • It makes sense when you know the manner in which it’s trolling. Brought into our level, the response is “you’re imagining whatever it is you think you’re seeing.”

    Because a beaten up woman lamenting the actions of her boyfriend always has a perfectly innocent explanation.

  • The_L1985

    “Some of these cover changes horribly miss the point of the book they’re supposed to be for.”

    Yes, but you see this quite a lot in actually-published book covers, too. There really is this assumption by cover designers that if a book is by a woman, it’s automatically less “edgy” or “in your face.” And quite frankly, if you’d never read Lord of the Flies, you wouldn’t think a pig had anything to do with the story based on just a summary. The pig isn’t a major plot element, but it does stand out. The examples you point out are just what publishers do–they try to make every story by a woman, no matter how bleak or gruesome, look “happy” on the cover. Because women like to be happy, right?

  • Also a salient point. A bit of drawing light to the problem by illustrating it in a useful way.

    Perhaps my points were already addressed in the responses to the slideshow on HuffPo. If so, thanks for walking through them with me. And if not, then hey, I’ve learned something today! :)

  • arcseconds

    Oh, I wanted to note the thing that really struck me about the covers.

    It’s very easy to change a non-girl cover to a girl cover.

    Simply put a picture of a girl on the front.

    Probably wearing a tank top and jeans. At any rate, bare arms seems important for some reason. Lipstick is also good.

    However, they should be rendered in a realistic style, not some arty high-contrast grainy picture.

    I think that points to a more fundamental problem than the trac-changes point about femininity.

    She’s undoubtedly right, and we do undervalue and dismiss femininity.

    But the problem here seems to indicate we undervalue and dismiss females, which seems a bit more fundamental, and probably easier to change.

    I mean, you can’t tell from a picture of a girl in a tank top whether she spends her days counting calories and writing in her diary and fretting about boys and collecting frilly knick-knacks, or has her chess-boxing title championship interrupted by a hostage situation involving a nuclear weapon.

    So presumably people are assuming that the story’s principally about a girl, and therefore must be uninteresting to anyone but girls.

    (possibly in part because of the sorts of stories we’re trained to associate with girls’ stories, and here the femininity point might get some purchase)

  • ohiolibrarian

    You forgot to include hearts … way too many hearts.

  • tatortotcassie

    Fred, let us know when the RTC fallout from this has touched down? I’m envisioning a whole lot of ugly and whole lot of stupid.

  • LoneWolf343

    Huh, wow. How ecumenical of the current Pope.

  • Popcorn?


  • Makabit

    The horrible consequence of the one-child laws was to further reduce the value of female children in a culture that already strongly, strongly favored sons.

    The country saying is that feeding a daughter is like feeding the neighbor’s pig–she belongs to someone else already.

  • Makabit

    This, ever so much. I grew up around guns, my dad taught me to shoot when I was in elementary school, and I am super unimpressed with the ‘it’s our culture, you wouldn’t understand’ routine.

    I am especially unimpressed when bad gun safety has led to a horrific tragedy, and people respond not with terrible grief and a resolve to create a safer environment, but by doubling down and acting as though this is totally normal.

    You don’t leave a fucking loaded gun lying against the wall in a house with children. I am so, so sorry it ended like this, rather than with a funny whoops story that taught everyone a lesson. You don’t leave a fucking loaded gun lying against the wall in a house with children. All the more so when that gun is designed to be used by a child, and the kid has been told it belongs to him.

    Our guns belonged to my father. I could not touch them unless he was there and expressly gave permission. The lesson was taught so well that I was in my twenties before I got to the point where I would touch the gun locker without asking. I was taught that you never ever point a gun at anything you don’t plan to shoot, whether you think the gun is loaded or not.

    That’s MY goddamn gun culture, so don’t start RealAmerisplain’ to me.

  • Jamoche

    Disqus ate my comment…

    There’s a NYTimes article about the Gatsby original and movie tie-in covers, with hardcore fans of the original condescending at people who’d buy the tie-in (“In Walmart, this is the book you’re going to see.”):

  • Hm. You know, as far as I know, Gatsby is the only book which has One True Canonical Cover. Am I wrong about that? A few years back, I went out and bought copies of a bunch of books I remembered from myyouth, and none of them had the same covers as I remembered.

  • Jamoche

    I saw an article with a Gatsby cover gallery when I went looking for the NYTimes article, but I suspect a major overlap between the One True Canonical Cover and Best American Novel Ever groups.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Isn’t China facing a terrible shortage of marriage-age women due to a combination of their One Child policy, abortion, and this traditional sexism? I seem to remember reading about that at some point.

  • Hexep

    You have read absolutely correct; this is definitely a real situation right now.