Tina K. Russell

January 11, 2011

Dangerous rhetoric

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 6:28 pm

Washington (CNN) – Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pennsylvania, said he will introduce legislation making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official.

Brady’s decision to offer the legislation comes less than 24 hours after a gunman attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, in a shooting that claimed the lives of a federal judge, and a nine year-old girl, among others.

via Shooting prompts legislation to protect lawmakers, officials – CNN Political Ticker – CNN.com Blogs.

I think there are two problems with this:

  1. It sounds overly broad, of course. I’m sure there are plenty of innocuous, over-the-top Onion articles or Daily Show sketches that could be interpreted to encourage violence so as long as you don’t address their substance.
  2. Language explicitly inciting political violence is only part of the problem anyway. A larger problem is that when you say, as many radical opponents of Obama have taken any opportunity to tell us, that Barack Obama is a terrorist megalomaniac with a plan to subvert American democracy under his iron-fisted rule, you’re essentially saying the right idea is to kill him. If you compare him to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc., you’re comparing him to people for whom being assassinated early might have saved millions of lives. If people believe your inflated rhetoric and take it to its logical conclusion—kill Barack Obama and anyone allied with him—you cannot back away and say “oh, I didn’t mean that, I never said that.”

To be clear, such extreme language should also be protected, because it is sometimes true. But, you must take responsibility when people believe you and then do what only seems rational based upon it.  If you truly don’t want to see violence against Obama and his allies, you shouldn’t compare Obama to Hitler.

November 29, 2009

Our presumed obsessions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:49 pm

To the Editor:

The discovery of water on the Moon is indeed one of the greatest discoveries in human history. The possibilities for expansion of our heretofore single home base have just multiplied to a greater extent than when early hominids first jumped down from their tree perches and began a terrestrial expansion.

It is indeed shocking, but not at all surprising, that outside the scientific community this discovery has next to no interest to most people. The average American is apparently more interested in what foolish thing Sarah Palin will say or do next.

Americans no longer want to be informed; they just want to be entertained. The promise of the 1950s and early ’60s has now ended in the reality that most Americans are not “smarter than a fifth grader” and don’t really know, or care, about things of cosmic importance. I fear for our future.

Michael Davis

Madison, Wis., Nov. 20, 2009

via Letters – Water on the Moon, Reality on Earth – NYTimes.com.

While I have a lot of sympathy for this person’s argument, I think there’s a bit of a straw man—or a straw population—in it. It’s annoying that TV shows focused more on Sarah Palin than on a discovery that changes our perception of the universe forever, but I also know that TV shows often rush to judgment on what Americans care about and then attempt to dictate their assumptions to us. So, I wouldn’t assume right away that TV shows focusing on Palin means we “don’t care” about spaceflight; maybe we’d watch more science news if networks were willing to take the risk of treating their audiences like adults.

I spent eight months wondering who the hell Jon and Kate were and why I should give a damn. I suspect I’m not alone.

See also: Majority Of Americans Out Of Touch With Mainstream

October 3, 2009

The President’s safety

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:33 pm

Thomas Friedman: “I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination… Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly.”

via A Dangerous Environment — Political Wire.

My concern about the guy with the assault rifle at the Presidential rally has always been this: Though we’ve all feared for Barack Obama’s safety, given raw memories of the assassinations of the sixties and his immense symbolic power, I’ve always taken comfort in that no President today would ever ride, say, uncovered in a parade going past an abandoned book depository. I’ve always thought that, with advances in Secret Service practice and Presidential custom, Obama is not in the kind of danger that JFK (or RFK or MLK for that matter, or Lincoln) was.

All that changes when members of Congress defend Americans’ “right” to bring loaded assault weapons to Presidential town halls, when the Secret Service is brought under the wing of the dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security and is subsequently cut back, and mainstream voices shout louder and louder that Obama is hijacking the country for filling his electoral mandate.

Mock the President, ridicule the President, do whatever you need to do; it’s an American tradition and a cornerstone of democracy. But we, as Americans, all have a right not to have to fear for his life. The JFK’s assassination was traumatic for the country, and no one, on any side of the current debates, wants it repeated. Most of the reason I’m so bothered by the political climate, and its both implicit and explicit threats of violence, is that I do not want to worry about whether or not the President is safe.

September 14, 2009

You First. No, You First.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:28 am

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, the custodian of its two holy mosques, the world’s energy superpower and the de facto leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds — that is why our recognition is greatly prized by Israel. However, for all those same reasons, the kingdom holds itself to higher standards of justice and law. It must therefore refuse to engage Israel until it ends its illegal occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights as well as Shabaa Farms in Lebanon. For Saudis to take steps toward diplomatic normalization before this land is returned to its rightful owners would undermine international law and turn a blind eye to immorality.

via Op-Ed Contributor – Land First, Then Peace – NYTimes.com.

This is a very strange argument when Israel’s excuse for holding up the peace process is that they’re saving diplomatic negotiation as a sort of reward for good behavior, even when their citizens are dying in rocket attacks. Israel and the United States will not engage with Hamas until they renounce violence and recognize Israel, while Hamas is only willing to give Israel a grudging acceptance, and then only if they return the Occupied Territories. If Saudi Arabia joins in this game, it will ensure a kind of reverse Mexican standoff that will ensure nothing gets done, and that Israelis and Palestinians will keep dying in endless conflict merely for dreaming of a homeland of their own.

August 31, 2009

American nihilism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:44 pm

David Brooks:

We in this country have a distinct sort of society. We Americans work longer hours than any other people on earth. We switch jobs much more frequently than Western Europeans or the Japanese. We have high marriage rates and high divorce rates. We move more, volunteer more and murder each other more.

Out of this dynamic but sometimes merciless culture, a distinct style of American capitalism has emerged. The American economy is flexible and productive. America’s G.D.P. per capita is nearly 50 percent higher than France’s. But the American system is also unforgiving. It produces its share of insecurity and misery.

This culture, this spirit, this system is not perfect, but it is our own. American voters welcome politicians who propose reforms that smooth the rough edges of the system. They do not welcome politicians and proposals that seek to contradict it. They do not welcome proposals that centralize power and substantially reduce individual choice. They resist proposals that put security above mobility and individual responsibility.

via Op-Ed Columnist – The Great Gradualist – NYTimes.com.

Unfortunately, this is the essence of America, and what I want people to know when they stereotype us. We’re not lazy; we work too hard. We put too much stock in numbers, be they GDP, net worth, or our personal account balances as measures of our self-worth. We’re a nation hopped up on epinephrine, jumping from place to place, never enough time for our friends and our families. In fact, we idealize the person who never has enough time to relax, the jet-setter, the fast-track executive, the determined career woman. We never stop to think about what would actually make us happy; by that time, we’re retired, and firmly in the grip of old age. (We’re also in nursing homes by then, because we don’t have a concept of extended families.)

I find Brooks right and wrong in a lot of ways. He’s right in that he’s nailed down our problems, but he seems to idealize them. He speaks of our GDP per capita being higher than France as though GDP was ever meant to be a measure of well-being, or that GDP per capita, as an average measure, can ever be used to make generalizations about individuals (it can’t). We’re obsessed with these lifetime numbers, these scores, believing them to assess, somehow, how well we’ve done in life. It’s not only untrue, it’s dangerous.

Where Brooks is wrong is in assuming that Americans, by and large, are happy with this. I think most of us would be willing to let the government share some of our many burdens, so as long as they don’t start telling us what to do. I think the growth of the New Age movement, disgusting as I find it, shows a willingness to find meaning and wholeness beyond our boardrooms and bank accounts (though I don’t think squeezing an hour of yoga into all our other commitments really counts as enlightenment). I really do love America’s rambunctious, somewhat obnoxious culture; otherwise, I might not still be here. We just never seem to reflect on what we do well, our brilliant engineers and high-yield cultural exports, what we do poorly, such as our crumbling infrastructure or the miserable public educations we give our children, or what we need most, such as a sense of meaning independent of GDP or performance bonuses.

I love America, but we’re fundamentally broken, and instead of celebrating it we ought to get around to fixing it.

July 10, 2009

Forgiveness

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:19 am

Letters – How Should We Remember Robert McNamara? – NYTimes.com
To the Editor:

What is one to make of this man’s life? It was, certainly, classically tragic: the war with which he will forever be linked was caused not by inadequate skills or lack of diligence, but by his failure to question that which his boundless intelligence and diligence caused him to believe.

Like the classic Greek tragic heroes, he came to understand his folly and yet was unable to change it. He died apparently haunted by his error.

It is impossible not to feel empathy for this man. But when one thinks of the tens of thousands of young men and women who died young as a result of the Vietnam War, it is impossible to forgive him.

Frederick T. Davis
Paris, July 7, 2009

“Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending things aren’t as they really are. Forgiveness is the recognition that a ghastliness has happened. And forgiveness doesn’t mean trying to paper over the cracks, which is what people do when they say, ‘Let bygones be bygones.’ Because they will not. They have an incredible capacity for always returning to haunt you. Forgiveness means that the wronged and the culprits of those wrongs acknowledge that something happened. And there is necessarily a measure of confrontation. People sometimes think that you shouldn’t be abrasive. But sometimes you have to be to make someone acknowledge that they have done something wrong. Then once the culprit says, ‘I am sorry,’ the wronged person is under obligation, certainly if he or she is a Christian, to forgive. And forgiving means actually giving the opportunity of a new beginning.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

June 22, 2009

Teens just can’t win

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:46 pm

Editorial – Teenagers and Pregnancy – NYTimes.com
Between 1991 and 2003, increased contraceptive use among sexually active teenagers played an important role in driving down teenage pregnancy rates. Since then, according to a new report from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, contraceptive use by teens has declined while their sexual activity has remained unchanged. This is a worrisome shift — and it has bearing on the coming budget battle in Congress.

The report’s authors, Dr. John Santelli, Mark Orr, Laura Lindberg and Daniela Diaz, said they found a decrease of about 10 percent in contraception use that is consistent with recent gains in the teenage birth rate.

They suggest, not unreasonably, a link between the shift in use of contraception and one of former President George W. Bush’s great social-policy follies: highly restrictive abstinence-only sex education programs that deny young people information about sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptives and pregnancy. To the extent these programs even mention condoms, typically it is to disparage their effectiveness.

As a kid, I was always frustrated by how we never seemed to get credit for anything. You never heard it on TV, but teen pregnancy, crime, drug use, etc. had all been going down for decades. That didn’t stop overcaffeinated talking heads from shouting about the explosion of teenage sex and violence spreading across the United States (and possibly to YOUR CHILDREN OMG).

Of course, these prophecies have a way of fulfilling themselves. In response to the made-up explosion in teen misbehavior, we instituted the misguided policy of abstinence-only education, which has led to this prophecy made manifest. Now that teen pregnancy rates are actually rising—like, in the real world, where you and I live—we can expect to hear abstinence-only advocates convinced that this vindicates their policy, because these statistics must mean abstinence-only education is more important than ever. Meanwhile, whatever our nation’s teenagers are doing, they can never catch a break.

Remember! Nothing holds back the onset of puberty like arrogant, senseless, and hypocritical moralizing.

May 20, 2009

Screw You, GQ

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:35 am

AND HE SHALL BE JUDGED: GQ Features on men.style.com

Bloody hell.

So, GQ magazine (yes, that GQ) decides to go all highbrow and run a thrilling exposé on Donald Rumsfeld being an even bigger jerk—and even more incompetent—than we ever knew, which, given what he knew before, is really saying something. I saw the coverage on The Rachel Maddow Show, and it did look very interesting. And, guess what.

You might be aware that I have ADD. You might not be aware that I, uh, swing both ways. Perhaps I shouldn’t call myself out on that, here; I imagine that any straight woman can appreciate a beautiful woman, just as any straight man can and won’t admit to appreciating a beautiful man. But, yes, Tina Russell is bisexual, though this does not need to come up often in my blog topics.

And so, the sadistic fools at GQ decided to design their brilliant exposé to be the sort of thing that would interest and anger me; a veritable Tina trap, geared to be the most painful to my personal psyche. Here we go:

The text is tiny. I mean, really tiny. You can make it bigger, of course, but that’s beside the point.

The article is on ten pages. I loathe multi-page articles; you might notice that I link to the full-page versions of articles whenever I can. Reaching the end of each page, each click, each wait, each load, is a new opportunity to forget whatever it was I was doing, or, more accurately, to lose the wonderful sense of being lost in my reading. These page breaks are heinous crimes against those with ADD.

And, just to rub salt in the wound, there isn’t even much on each page; I guess they wanted it to be “more like reading the magazine,” that is, if the magazine required you to point at a small link, wait ten seconds, and watch your field of vision redraw itself each time you wanted to turn the page. (Though, this is GQ. If I were reading the magazine, I’d probably have to flip through pages of cologne ads, quizzes, and bulleted lists of things “she” won’t tell you she loves in bed, because you’re too shallow to ask her and you’ve decided that buying this magazine is an appropriate substitute for communication in your relationship. Moving on…)

Each page has a promo for GQ in the upper-right corner. Specifically, it’s the GQ cover with Jennifer Aniston naked.

How in the Lord’s name am I supposed to read an article that’s a) on ten, separate, short pages, b) in bizarre, tiny text, and c) when Jennifer Aniston is naked in the upper-right corner?! They want to be reading about Donald Rumsfeld this way? Are they nuts?

And this is an important piece! This is a vital journalistic service! In fact, this may be the first vital journalistic service to be completely undone by a nude Jennifer Aniston. And to that I say, shame!

(I should mention that, as a transsexual woman who likes other women—it actually seems to be rather common, as gender identity and sexual orientation are seperate phenomena, and transsexuals have the privilege of seeing under the table of gender and perceiving what a charade it all is anyway—naked Jennifer Aniston does two things to me. One, she is beautiful, so I drool. Two, she is out there, with the body I would want, using the body I would want, using it to make people happy. I imagine this feeling of conflict is common to all women who have a thing for our fairer sex, however… when you’re transsexual, it’s the source of the deepest sort of existential angst, the kind that keeps you awake at night and can break your spirit at its core. I might talk about it sometime… if I feel like it.)

I suppose GQ wants to be more like Vanity Fair these days: ten percent fairly good journalism, and ninety percent utter vanity. Well, good luck. Perhaps, not long from now, people will say they read GQ just for the brilliant exposés. And, of course, they won’t, they can’t, because they’re too distracted by the exposure.

May 19, 2009

The fantasy approach to gun violence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:02 am

Fight Drug Cartels, Not Guns, McCain Says – NYTimes.com
The drug war in Mexico should not be used as an excuse to try to restrict American gun rights, Senator John McCain told thousands of people who gathered here for the National Rifle Association’s annual convention.

Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, said that the United States needed to do more to crack down on gun smuggling into Mexico, but that such assistance in Mexico’s war against drug cartels did not require restrictions on the gun rights of law-abiding Americans.

“It should be noted that any effort to restrict gun ownership in the U.S. will not stop Mexican cartels from acquiring guns and ammunition from other countries,” Mr. McCain said on Friday. He added that cartels were already getting grenades and other weapons from other countries.

I really hate this argument for two reasons.

  1. Okay, perhaps other countries aren’t doing their part. But, are we doing ours? (And, will we have any right to criticize them if we do not?)
  2. Can anyone say with a straight face that Mexican drug cartels won’t be hurt—massively—by taking away their biggest supply of automatic weapons, which currently flows freely across the border? Doesn’t it make sense to force them to go to smaller, more remote, and less developed locales to fetch their AK-47s? (And if our massive pipeline of guns to Mexican thugs is somehow immaterial in the grand scheme of things, why have their arsenals become more sophisticated since the lapse of the assault weapons ban?)

To think that we can help solve the Mexican cartel crisis by considering only the smuggling of guns (good luck with that border), and not the buying and selling, is pure fantasy. Mexican cops and civilians are dying while we dither.

April 28, 2009

Gavin Newsom and the hedgehog vote

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:32 pm

When I heard that San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom was running for governor of California, I was very happy. You see, when the Walk of Game exhibit at the Sony Metreon in San Francisco opened in 2005, with Sonic The Hedgehog among its first inductees, Mayor Newsom spent some time hobnobbing with videogame heroes. (Presumably, he was courting the gamer demographic, which we could call “the question-mark bloc.”) Here is the defining picture of that event, and what I always think of when I hear the name “Gavin Newsom”:

newsom_and_sonic

That’s right. Mayor Newsom has his arm around a celebrating Sonic The Hedgehog. You have no idea how happy this photo made me: a politician, one with influence, is angling to be seen living it up with my favorite blue hero. (No doubt Fox News must have thought this made California look weak in the face of videogame threats.)

What amused me the most is to imagine a publicist fretting away at Newsom’s office that morning, pacing frantically and telling Newsom, “you know what you need? We need you to be seen putting your arm around… a blue hedgehog!” (You know, because you have to court the blue hedgehog demographic. You need to show that you care about animal and spectral diversity.) The truth is that it felt like he was doing it for me, for gamers everywhere, telling us that he gets the importance of videogames and modern technology, gets why I would like such a silly and idealistic hero. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, but he made me happy that day.

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