Sunday, December 19, 2010

How naive is radical feminism?

For a variety of reasons -- ranging from how sons are encouraged to study chemistry whereas daughters are discouraged from pursuing mathematics (although biology may be acceptable), to the fact that many girls appear more inclined towards the sociological than the technical -- men are the overwhelming majority in the sciences. Not every male scientist is anti-feminist and not every heterosexual female scientist is forced to represent her gender in a pair of pants. Yet, it may be fair to say that the institution of science has over the centuries withdrawn from society and transformed into a bastion of nerdy masculinity where a woman's presence is treated with even more disdain than a jock's, as if her entry were not earned on equal merit.
In the humanities where women outnumber men comfortably, they have carte blanche to treat disciplines such as gender studies as a pulpit from which to rant against the patriarchy. Men in these programs are indoctrinated to be sensitive to their privilege but for all practical purposes they have been emasculated. It's no coincidence that the humanities contain too many effete, straight metrosexuals. These folks believe that their compassion for oppressed femininity makes them superior to most men whereas in reality it makes them -- among other things -- less attractive to women, especially straight radical feminists, who are without exception subconsciously drawn towards alpha-types who do not supplicate in exchange for sex.
You can trust social evolution to weed the pussies out. The academic Steven Yates, who is careful to differentiate between "liberal" and "gender" feminism, offers this take:

"...I took a look at so-called “feminist scholarship.” What I found jolted me. One radical feminist called Newton’s and Bacon’s ideas about scientific method a “rape manual” (they spoke of “penetrating” nature’s secrets—get it?). Another compared a romantic candlelight dinner to prostitution. These are just two examples, and not even the weirdest (don’t ask!). Around this time it surfaced that a “feminist legal theorist, ” Catharine A. MacKinnon, had compared voluntary sexual intercourse to rape. That oversimplifies somewhat; what she says is that in “male-dominated, patriarchical, heterosexist society” the line between voluntary consent and coercion is blurred, so that in sexual relations between men and women a fine distinction between “voluntary” intercourse and rape can’t be drawn. Yup: under the insidious patriarchy, men as a collective are potential rapists; women are helpless victims.
It seemed like a sick joke to me. Men dominating women? Where? At the time I couldn’t even get a date, much less find someone to dominate. Approach an academic woman? I’d have to have been out of my mind!...
... In a recent interview with The New American (June 12, 2006), Aaron Russo, currently of America: Freedom to Fascism fame, reports how he once defended his sympathy with the women’s movement and with equal opportunity to an unnamed member of the Rockefeller clan. Russo describes the chilling response: “He looked at me and said, ‘You know, you’re such an idiot in some ways. We … created the women’s movement, and we promote it. And it’s not about equal opportunity. It’s designed to get both parents out of the home and into the workforce, where they will pay taxes. And then we can decide how the children will be raised and educated.’”"

Read more here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Orwell matters

George Orwell can never go out of style because he's timeless like a faded photograph. His views remain some fifty years ahead of the status quo, relevant to every heretic in this age of apocalypse.
That said, I've always found Orwell's fiction a bit dull if reliably flush with ideas. I much prefer his non-fiction. His essays and travel writing are full of brilliant moments. Take for instance this passage from Politics and the English Language:

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.

Read more here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


From New York:

We do know what hipster means—or at least we should. The term has always possessed adequately lucid definitions; they just happen to be multiple. If we refuse to enunciate them, it may be because everyone affiliated with the term has a stake in keeping it murky. Hipster accusation has been, for a decade, the outflanking maneuver par excellence for competitors within a common field of cool. “Two Hipsters Angrily Call Each Other ‘Hipster,’ ” a headline in The Onion put it most succinctly.

Read more here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is Nadal better than Federer?

From my piece in Open magazine:

We invest respect in geniuses of the past out of a sense of nostalgia. Such nods to tradition are also an acknowledgement that present greats stand upon the shoulders of giants. In cricket, Sachin Tendulkar has made more runs against a wider range of teams stocked with better bowlers and fielders than the ones Don Bradman encountered; it is nevertheless considered bad form to speak of them in the same breath. The reluctance to displace Bradman from the top of the hierarchy of cricket greats has much to do with our subconscious inclination to equate 100 with perfection, the mystical value of his batting average of 99.94—so far ahead of the nearest competition—and the fact that it has stood the assault of time. But it also has to do with indulging romanticism.

When you compare Federer and Nadal at their peak (which is all that matters), to me it appears Nadal’s bloody-mindedness ultimately settles the issue. Nadal has always been more threatening in Wimbledon finals against Federer than Federer ever was in French Open finals against Nadal. He has overcome everything from banged-up knees to his parents’ divorce. This is a man who sticks to a singular purpose. If indeed Federer were the greatest, how is it that he is only second-best at the art of mental disintegration in his own era?

Read more here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cleopatra's life lessons for American Presidents

A hilarious piece in The New York Times outlining the lessons to be learned from Cleopatra's managerial style:

If you’re going to seduce someone, set your sights high. Cleopatra fell in with the most celebrated military commanders of her day, sequentially allying herself and producing children with her white knights, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. As she demonstrated, the idea is to kiss your way up the ladder. Along the same lines, there was an ancient world equivalent of the hire-an-assistant-of-whom-your-spouse-can’t-be-jealous wisdom. Cleopatra surrounded herself with eunuchs. They got into less trouble than did other aides, or at least different kinds of trouble.

Read more here.

The Divine Comedy

From Prospect Magazine, a classic piece that argues Western civilization has overvalued tragedy since the Middle Ages:

The resistance of the monotheisms to comedy has another, more subtle, cause. The comic point of view—the gods’-eye view—is much more uncomfortable for a believer in one all-powerful God than it was for the polytheistic Greeks. To have the gods laughing at us through our fictions is acceptable if the gods are multiple, and flawed like us, laughing in recognition and sympathy: if they are Greek gods. But to have the single omnipotent, omniscient God who made us laughing at us is a very different thing: sadistic, and almost unbearable. We do not wish to hear the sound of one God laughing. The western comic novel has often had a harsh, judgemental edge. Swift has a hint of Yahweh about him. But the recent death of God has freed a lot of space for the comic novel.

Read more here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A national conceit

Of all the conceits perpetrated by this country's media, the term 'the American people' infuriates me the most.

I am not certain if Barack Obama contrived to use it when he visited India a few weeks ago. I do know however that the phrase slips by most people I know, both here in the United States and back home. It does not bother them at all. The phrase is after all in common circulation, employed by affiliates of every political persuasion. At the end of the recent election cycle, combatants as always made nice and humbly accepted that the American people had spoken, and that their verdict would be respected. The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg criticized the selective usage of the phrase to depict the will of what he branded, "in practical terms, the slice of the scaled-down midterm electorate that went one way in 2008 and the other in 2010".

I am more struck by the remarkable arrogance in the implied assertion that "the American people" are worthy of a collective title -- a cynical ideology that, by promising the mythical prize of inclusion, ingeniously transcends racial and socio-economic divides. My outsider status within this country no doubt impacts my response, seeing that I am constantly made aware of my visa status. At the same time I am not alone in my otherness within this historically troubled society. Minority groups constantly negotiate their position relative to each other and to whites in what is arguably the most powerful nation in history.

Any casual student of the rise and fall of empires would estimate that the mean period of complete domination once used to be around a few hundred years. Given the extent of its cross-cultural influence, it is difficult to predict how long America might continue to remain a serious force.

England is the other recent colonial power that persists in glorifying its nationhood, except newspapers like The Sun are usually given to moaning about the good old days. As a future political giant India has shoved the propaganda of patriotism down its citizens' throats with a remarkable degree of efficiency, given the disparate conditions of language and religion. God knows, the mainstream Hindi film industry makes enough 'wholesome' movies. Yet, next to the United States, countries like India and Brazil seem emasculated. Much has been made of the economic rise of these two countries but at the risk of oversimplifying, for all practical purposes China is the new windmill that cannot be conquered whereas India is merely Sancho Panza to America's Don Quixote. New Delhi Television's 'We The People' seems comically inadequate when you compare it to the perpetual construction of American greatness.

Smooth transfers of power serve as a reminder of the moral superiority of civilized discourse, and as an opportunity to convince skeptical American voters of the noble intentions behind drilling democratic values into strategically crucial regions. Regrettably, in the twisted conception of contemporary conservatism true patriots support unpopular wars; the Left prolongs those wars for fear of being labeled elitist pussies. It would be naive to make an issue out of the hypocrisy of America's lack of interest in politically irrelevant regions like Burma or Sri Lanka. Nevertheless there is injustice, even irony, in the circumstance of a nation that routinely subjects racially-charged slurs to self-censorship, yet is inclined to wield a phrase that is equally inappropriate like a gleeful phallus.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Quality TV in the digital age

From my Op-Ed piece in The Times of India:

...There is something pretentious about using the word 'cinema' to signify sophistication: i immediately picture Peter Bogdanovich in a cravat. The notion that you could argue for the preeminence of one visual medium over the other is absurd. The sense of elitism is misplaced - a bit like arguing geometry is somehow more elegant than algebra - and probably has its roots in film scholarship's struggle for legitimacy: many researchers are displeased to find a much younger medium like television riding on cinema's coat-tails.

Read more here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The last lingua franca?

From a book review published in The New Republic:

...Google Translate, Babel Fish, and Microsoft’s Bing Translator all offer instant, automatic translation across a range of languages, and are constantly expanding their services. The results are often riddled with mistakes, sometimes amusingly. But Ostler believes that improvements in the technology will eventually “remove the requirement for a human intermediary to interpret or translate.” Printed texts and recorded speeches will be accessible to anyone with the right software as “virtual media.”
Read more here.