It’s Saturday night – have some funnies and good reads from my corner of the internet.
Things I’ve Read:
1. “Abraham Lincoln and the Birth of Stand Your Ground,” by Adam Gopnik [The New Yorker]
This violence-encouraging doctrine has persisted, and so, too, has the reasoning of the judicial decisions that established it. There is no invocation of natural law; the argument isn’t that all men have an inherent right to kill when threatened. The appeal is, rather, to a kind of implicit cultural law: it is not in the American character to retreat. Beneath the surface of the liberal state and the legal rules designed to limit violence and to grant a monopoly on its use to a freely elected government, there is a national character that has to be protected—or, perhaps, invented. Appealing to that shadow nation impels the romance of violence in American life, and gives it practical and legal sanction as well. The legal liberal America is treated as a flimsy effigy, without the spirit to do the things that true Americans do—above all, act out violently with guns. And that identity is regarded as more worthy of protection than their citizenship.
2. “The Eye of Sauron Is the Modern Surveillance State,” by David Rosen + Aaron Santesso [Slate]
What can literary fiction teach us about recent revelations that the National Security Agency has aggressively been gathering massive amounts of data on American citizens? The novel one usually turns to, of course, is George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, with its terrifying vision of the Thought Police. Even President Obama, in response to questions about the NSA, has been forced to deny that the government has engaged in “Big Brother” tactics. Orwell’s book, however, isn’t the most compelling or accurate literary prediction of modern surveillance. That award goes to a less obvious title: J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
3. “Gambling with Gun Violence,” by Daniel Engber [Slate]
Looked at side by side, Alexander’s case and Zimmerman’s reveal more than racial bias in the courtroom—though surely that exists. They expose a tragic weirdness in Florida’s approach to gun violence. The swamp of gun laws in the state makes it extra-hard to find a person guilty in a shooting, since there are such broad provisions for self-defense. But when a shooter is convicted, the same set of rules ensures he’s really up a creek. “Use a gun and your [sic] done,” the government says. That makes a trial for these sorts of crimes like playing the lottery: It’s a bet with low odds but high stakes.
4. “Zimmerman verdict leaves key question unanswered” by Leonard Pitts [Miami Herald]
A few years ago, What Would You Do?, an ABC-TV hidden-camera show, set up a situation where two actors posed as bike thieves in a public park, using bolt cutters and hack saws to cut a bike chain. The results were instructive. Over the course of an hour, a hundred people passed the white “thief” by with barely a glance. The black one had hardly gotten to work before a crowd of whites gathered around him, interrogating him, lecturing him, calling 911, even shooting cell phone video.
Did race explain the disparity? “Not at all,” a white man who had harassed the black actor assured the cameras. “He could’ve been any color, it wouldn’t have mattered to me.” He doubtless believed what he said. For some of us, though, it has a tired, heard-before quality.
Things I’ve Said:
he problem is, so many people today engage the world as “issues” (homosexuality is wrong) and this gets translated into a criticism of specific individuals – but coming from a faceless person, a stranger they cannot interact with, in a very public and critical way. Often it’s not the preachers and the heads of Christian charities who tell the individual they’re so sinful they’re beyond hope – but they set the stage in a way that gives meanspirited people (or just teens being teens and bullying each other) permission to go that extra step in viciousness.
As an aside, I had some really nice comments on this post over at LiveJournal. Check them out.
I think what made Mr. McLaren’s and Mr. Wallis’s pieces resonate so much with me is this: they get the act that it’s not just racial profiling that drove this tragedy (though that’s part of it), it was the fact that Mr. Zimmerman was armed and lived in a state whose laws gave him a fair bit of cover to use his gun. This isn’t so much about gun control for me, so much as a culture that encourages people who carry guns to turn into vigilantes. I highly suspect that if Mr. Zimmerman hadn’t had a gun, then Trayvon wouldn’t be dead right now. Trayvon wasn’t perfect, and he may had had some degree of culpability in how the fight rolled out. He may have been a bit stupid, a bit brash – I mean, he was seventeen. That’s an age when you’re supposed to be able to be stupid. But would he be dead if not for Zimmerman’s gun? Of course not. I highly suspect, based on what I’ve heard of the various 9/11 tapes and what I’ve seen of the physical evidence, that if he didn’t have a gun Zimmerman wouldn’t have approached Martin on his own at all.
I find myself wondering whether there’s not an… I don’t know, almost an emotional analog to ADHD-style hyperactivity. We bloggers and political activists and the like, we move from one emotional high to another, we are overwhelmed by it, but then a few weeks (if that long) we will be swept away by the newest tragedy.
Which, yes, may be an exhausting way to live – but isn’t it our choice if we want to do that? That’s what I always thought. The problem is, it tends up hyperinflating everything. When everything is an outrage, you seem to even them out. At the very least, you get a boy-who-cried-wolf thing going on, where because you have been upset over, or wordless in the face of, so many past events, no one believes you when you say this latest situation is worth paying attention to. Speaking for myself, I’ve experienced an internal version of that, too.
But what stories like these drive home for me is that race is complicated, and that what counts as white shifts over time. In fact, I think that the defining characteristic of “white” isn’t so much bloodline or skin tone as it is the fundamental assumption that you are like those in power. In a sense, the Cosbys are probably whiter than George Zimmerman, or me for that matter. Nikki Haley might give them a run for their money, though.
… and at FB …
I am entirely amused by how… fangirly my Pinterest page is. I mean, here on FB I am comparatively serious and adult. I talk about politics and philosophy (and yes, sometimes kids whirling around shouting out Doctor Who phrases). But seeing all the excitement and responses to the new CF trailer is making me feel so young and silly. In a good way, of course.
Somewhere along the way I acquired the habit of coming up with stupid nicknames for the Comedy Central faux news team. J-Stew and Colbeef. Only now I guess I need one more, for John Oliver.
The most natural one I can think of? Joli. And let’s be fair, Oliver *is* the cute one. I’m just not sure a Briton would appreciate being pressed into a French monicker like that.
It’s odd how you can listen to the same song dozens of times and only after years finally hear what’s actually being sung. So in case anyone else is in the same boat, when the father sings “The Life I Lead” in Mary Poppins and says “I treat my subjects – servants, children, life – with a firm but gentle hand,” the next line isn’t “no discipline.” It’s noblesse oblige.
How did I miss that? It makes so much more sense now…
As I was coming in from errands, a five-year-old neighbor asked me which Disney princess I’d be if I could. My answer: Merida, the archer from Brave. She looked a little confused – it hadn’t occurred to her that she could be the protagonist rather than the rescue-ee, I guess. But I stand by that choice because Pixar totally counts. We had a nice talk about stories where girls were princesses, and about Katniss and Hermione and Eowyn and Lucy (she is my neighbor, it’s a given she knows the basic gists of these stories), and how you can be a princess without having to be a damsel in distress.
Really, though, I only said Merida because she stipulated princesses. You guys all know that I’m *totally* Boo, right?
This is a very interesting article, well worth the read. As my friend Mitch points out, public opinion supports a right to abortion in early pregnancy but not in late – no great surprise on that point, really, but it’s nice to see most Americans are a little less extremely divided than the folks running the show in Washington and the state houses.
A system along those lines seems reasonable to me – but only if we stop passing questionable regulations like the recent TX bill requiring abortion clinics to have admitting privileges within a certain number of miles, even when there wasn’t actually a hospital within that radius. Those kinds of restrictions really goad me, because they assume that later abortions are especially bad, but in practice they make it harder for people to access abortions earlier on.
If we could remove those kinds of obstacles, I think I’d be fine with applying heavy restrictions later on – say, with an exception for mother’s health or serious birth defects which are usually only discovered after the twenty-week month. Perhaps not 100% OK (I do still have ideological problems with restricting a woman’s bodily autonomy for any length of time), but I would definitely be more comfortable in such a system than I am with the current one. Interesting how well that lines up with American popular opinion, and the systems run by many European countries. Apparently I’m not nearly as much of an oddball as I thought.
6. In response to the Unvirtuous Abby’s post:
The lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A child was going out one evening to buy some Skittles.”
This is one of the most difficulty things about my religion, as I understand it: not only is the child going out one evening to buy some Skittles… But so is the man who sees what he assumes to be a prowler and ends up shooting to death.
This isn’t intended to whitewash what Zimmerman did or for that matter what Martin did. I’ve made my thoughts on this trial pretty clear. But as a Christian I have to love them both, own them both as kin, and ultimately reconcile myself to both of them. One is dead; the other has made himself a killer. And while I won’t flatten out this event to say both were equally responsible, I can still recognize that connection. Mercy without justice seems lifeless, like skin and muscles without a skeleton to hang it on; but after a court case like this one, in some ways it seems the only thing left. That, and the need to do so much better for all the next times coming down the pike.
Things I Laughed At:
Fannish Funnies (board)
11. (Text clearer at Pinterest.)
12. Pretty much.
14. How Sherlock survived the fall. Spoilers, but you can watch it at Pinterest.
15. The new Catching Fire trailer is, in a word, awesome. In a second word, splendiferous. In a phrase: just take my money now. But it’s also spoiler-rich, so you can see it at The Hob.
Miscellaneous Funnies (board)
1. Said in my best Hermione voice: Boys…
2. Fantasticer, though…
Academic + Teacherly Humor (board)
Political Humor (board)
Somebody’s Million-Dollar Idea (board)
Deep Thoughts (board)