Archive for May 25th, 2007

What Niewert Says

As always, Orcinus is frustrating but excellent (Niewert himself is not frustrating, it’s the mix of cluelessness and malevolence that he reports on):

It is only when speech is specifically criminal — that is, when it urges people to commit a specific criminal act that is then committed by those addressed — that any hate-crimes bill could come into play. There is no provision in the House’s hate-crimes bill that would penalize anyone for voicing ordinary, non-criminal, constitutionally protected speech, which Rep. Cohen’s speech clearly would constitute. Indeed, even most outright hate speech is protected speech and would not come into play under this law. The last clause of the bill specifically states:

Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.


What Gohmert and his fellow conservatives want the public to think, of course, is that the hate-crimes bill in fact would criminalize speech — specifically, the right of pastors and devout religionists to spout off about homosexuality.

This is, in fact, a bald falsehood, one that should be publicly countered and repudiated. As it is, it has now been entered into the congressional record and will doubtlessly be trotted out later as evidence of hypocrisy on the part of supporters of the hate-crimes legislation, which is currently en route to approval by the Senate after its long-overdue passage in the House.

The chief goal of the opponents of the bill — chiefly the denizens of the religious right, who have enjoyed considerable success blocking passage of any federal bias-crime law for the past decade, particularly during congressional rule by Republicans — lies in selling the idea that laws against hate crimes create “thought crimes.” It’s all part of a larger project of muddying the waters so that the public is confused about what actually is at stake with these laws.

(…)

Unfortunately, the basic falsity of the “hate crimes=thought crimes” meme has not prevented its broad success. You can hear it being offered as justification for opposing bias-crime laws by sources ranging from such religious-right entities as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family (not to mention the predictable opposition raised by various white supremacists) to such civil libertarians as Andrew Sullivan.

(…)

Steven [D at Booman Tribune] goes on to enumerate the various sound reasons for passing bias-crimes laws, including the point that, finally, they are a way for society to make clear its condemnation of such acts, recognizing them as more heinous than simple crimes because they cause greater harm. Indeed, pretending as opponents do that a cross burned on the lawn is the same as being egged and toilet-papered, or that a gay-bashing rampage by young thugs is the same thing as a bar fight, simply tries to pretend away the truly hateful and terroristic element of the former of these, as though it doesn’t exist. But it does exist, and its effects poison our society and make a joke out of our self-belief in ourselves as an “equal opportunity” society.

This, in the end, is the single clearest reason why progressives should avidly support a federal hate-crimes law: These are crimes whose primary purpose is to disenfranchise, to expel, to deny the most basic rights of association and opportunity to millions of Americans of all stripes. Civil libertarians need to come to grips with the fact that these crimes are real, their effects are real, and they represent, in the words of Yale sociologist Donald Green, a real “massive dead-weight loss of freedom” for those millions of Americans.

(…)

Yet progressives haven’t yet figured out that framing hate-crime laws as a defense of people’s civil liberties is precisely the argument that will instantly deflate the long-running “thought crime” argument. In all the debate over the legislation, I haven’t seen the point raised once.

Nor, for that matter, do they seem to have grasped that Bush’s looming veto of the legislation — which still awaits Senate passage — provides an ample strategic opportunity. One of the principal causes of the public’s fatigue with the conservative movement (beyond, of course, the Iraq debacle) is that it is being increasingly turned off by the right’s rhetorical viciousness and seeming celebration of eliminationist violence.

Bush’s veto of a bill intended to reduce violence against minorities should be seen as a prime example of this underlying ugliness — as should some of the demonizing and factually false attacks on the laws themselves.

But ultimately, the chief reason for progressives to embrace and encourage a federal bias-crimes statute is a morally and ethically simple one: It’s the right thing to do, not just for minority Americans but for all of us. That should be really be reason enough.

All I would add to this is that if progressives pursue the civil liberties angle, they might want to tie in voter suppression efforts as another example of the Republicans’ conscious desire to keep minorities in their place.

May 25th, 2007 at 10:10pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Politics,Racism,Republicans,Teh Gay

LInguistics

Newsday has an entertaining piece about the origins and subdivisions of the Long Island (“Lawn Guyland”) accent:

The odd thing about Long Islandese is that it doesn’t actually exist – not as an entity distinct from old-time New York City speech. Dialect recapitulates history, and the sounds of the city’s eastward suburbs – those twanging nasals, the diphthong drawl in “man,” the A’s of “call,” “talk” and “mall” larded with W’s – chronicle the great postwar migration eastward from Flatbush, Bushwick and Williamsburg.

“If you really want to hear a ripe Brooklyn accent, you go to Long Island,” says Amy Stoller, a Manhattan-based dialect coach. Listen to a group of Massapequa teenagers, who wouldn’t even know from Ebbets Field, and you can hear the echo of their stickball-playing grandparents. If those kids sound nothing like a clique from the next town over, it probably has less to do with geography than with ethnicity.

There are at least four different strands of New York-area accents, broadly defined by tribe: Italian, Jewish, Irish and Hispanic (the latecomer to this dialectal stew). Blacks have adopted features of all these strains, but the strongest form of dialect, formally known as African-American Vernacular English, sounds much the same in New York as it does in Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles.

…But these idiosyncrasies are difficult to itemize. A few ethnically identifiable sounds stand out.

In the Hispanic version, for example, Stoller detects a “tendency to turn vowels that are followed by nasal consonants [N, M and NG] into nasalized vowels, so ‘man’ comes out sounding almost like it ends with a French N. They never get around to putting their tongue into the bump behind their teeth, but instead divert the air through their nose.”

(…)

In the 1600s, colonists from southern England sowed their phonemes in three principal areas along the East Coast: New England, New York and the South. To this day, in all three zones, R’s at the end of words are pronounced as vowels, just as they are in England.

So New York R-dropping is not an English vowel that has been bent by iron-eared immigrants, but a sound that predates the harder R that became widespread after later mass migrations from Scotland and Ireland.

The oldest form of the Long Island accent was spoken by the Bonackers, the East End residents of Accabonac Harbor, whose R-less word endings had more of a New England ring.

It wasn’t just aristocrats who bequeathed their linguistic peculiarities on the colonies. New York speech, like that of Cockney London, makes plentiful use of the glottal stop, which turns a T into a silent gulp, transforming “little” into “li’l” and “Milton” into “Mil’n.” Cockneys also pronounce TH as F (“I fought I ‘eard a clap o’ funder”), a quirk that migrated to slave Colonial populations and remains common in African-American Vernacular.

Some speech patterns become stigmatized and others privileged, which leads to the formation of new patterns. Take the famously local pronunciation “Lawn Guyland”: Chwat explains that the percussive G linking the words “Long” and “Island” comes from an attempt to sound more refined.

Standard English has no separate G sound at the end of “long” or “thing.” NG is merely a written approximation of a nasal consonant whose separate existence we don’t recognize. It’s produced by pressing the back of the tongue against the back of the palate – a completely different part of the mouth from the locations where N and G reside.

People who want to avoid declasse pronunciations such as “goin'” make an incorrect effort to sound correct by tacking on a hard G, rather than using the stealth consonant NG. Thus, the question, “Are we walking, driving or taking a bus?” pops with plosives.

A similar overcompensation applies to R. Upwardly mobile people, vaguely aware of their tendency to consider R an honorary vowel when it comes at the end of a word, will stick a hard R where it doesn’t belong at all, so that “law” becomes “lawr” and an “idea” is “idear.”

(…)

But who can remember everything? Long Islanders who drive to “Warshington” still do so in a “cawh.” Even the thickest accents are full of such inconsistencies, and incompletely trained actors tend to apply any rule too broadly. They forget that the New York diphthong – a single vowel distended into two – applies only to an A that precedes an M or an N. So while on Long Island, the phrase “Sam can’t dance” gets three drawled, nasal A’s, an actor might use the same three honks in “Patty’s happy she’s back,” even though no genuine Long Islander would. (And for mysterious reasons, Long Islanders use the diphthong A in “can” and “cancer,” but not in “Canada.”)

Fun stuff. Oddly enough, despite living primarily with my very Brooklyn-y mother (she sounds like Penny Marshall), I appear to have no identifiable accent whatsoever, other than Generic Mid-Atlantic/Northeast-But-Not-New-England. I guess because I grew up in Manhattan, which isn’t really known for having a distinctive accent, and I don’t recall many of my schoolmates or teachers having one.

2 comments May 25th, 2007 at 09:33pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness

George Steinbrenner, Humanitarian

I’m actually not kidding:

Steinbrenner said that he was deeply moved by the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech, prompting the owner to make a $1 million contribution to the school’s “Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund” to assist the families of victims. The Yankees wore caps with the school’s ‘VT’ logo for Wednesday’s game against the Red Sox, with the logos also adorning both baselines at Yankee Stadium.

“I feel very strongly about the young people,” Steinbrenner said. “I feel so strongly about the teachers and the school, all the people affected by this. We wanted to help in the healing process.”

I know he’s ludicrously rich, but $1 million is one of the biggest celebrity donations I’ve ever seen this side of Bill Gates.

May 25th, 2007 at 07:33pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Sports

Iraqulation

William Arkin notices an interesting tidbit, but draws an inexplicable conclusion from it:

Yesterday was the true beginning of the end of the war in Iraq, with the administration signaling its readiness to begin withdrawal of U.S. forces and to adopt the recommendations of the once-rejected Iraq Study Group.

President Bush, speaking at a White House news conference, spoke bluntly of a “bloody” August as Iraqi insurgents seek to influence the American political debate. The president’s prediction was not just a warning to the American people; it was also a statement that the administration is actually considering the very timetable that it has so vociferously argued against.

The hope — the hope — is that the surge will have stabilized the country by fall and that the Iraqi government will have reached a political settlement to end sectarian fighting. But the signals yesterday were also unmistakable: If momentum doesn’t shift, the administration is prepared to abandon the war.

The president said that August could be “a tough month, because, you see, what they’re going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here at home…. It could be a bloody, it could be a very difficult August.”

(…)

For the first time the president said that once the “surge” had improved security in the Iraqi capital, he intended to adopt the recommendations of the 2006 Iraq Study Group and begin the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from the country. The first step, he said, would be to shift U.S. troops from a combat to supporting and training role.

“I would like to see us in a different configuration at some point in time in Iraq,” he said, saying that U.S. Special Forces would “chase down” Al Qaeda, but that Iraqi military and police forces would take on the other security tasks.

I understand where Arkin is coming from, but I think he’s connecting the wrong dots. Bush is not trying to pave the way for ISG-style semi-withdrawal, he’s pre-emptively defending the “surge.” Indeed, if you follow the link to the press conference, you will see that Bush’s comments about a bloody August are actually in response to a reporter’s question about whether Iraqi insurgents will try to ensure that Petraeus’s All-Important September Progress Report on the surge is as negative as possible.

Yes, one could draw the logical conclusion that if we can write off the violence as just more “death throes,” then we can make the case that the White House can say “Mission Accomplished – no really, we mean it this time!” and start withdrawing troops… But Dubya does not deal in logical conclusions – he deals in ass-covering and never admitting mistakes, and that’s all this is about. So that come September when Iraq looks even chaotic and dangerous than it does now, he can say that it just proves the terrorists’ desperation, and we need to stay the course for just one more Friedman Unit to finish mopping them up.

Plan B is not to make sure that Plan A works; Plan B is to keep repeating that Plan A is working, and hope that the American people believe it. That Plan B will work about as well as Plan A.

1 comment May 25th, 2007 at 11:56am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Iraq,Media,Politics,War

Where’s The Asian Guy?

News flash: Asian-American guys don’t get great roles on TV or in movies. Film at 10:30.

As an Asian American man — Filipino, to be exact — there’s a game I like to play called WTAG: Where’s the Asian guy?

The number of Asian American men on MTV, Bravo, CBS, et al.? Not many, though there’s Daniel Dae Kim, co-star of ABC’s “Lost.” Never mind that he speaks only Korean on the show. The number of Asian American guys in recent films? Think. Hard. And no, Jackie Chan and what’s-his-face — the name is Chow Yun-Fat (no, it’s not a Hunan dish) — don’t count. They’re from Hong Kong.

This relative invisibility — and the stereotypical characters that Asian American men often portray in films and television — is the subject of “The Slanted Screen,” a sometimes meandering but highly researched and essential documentary, the Asian American counterpart to the gay-themed “Celluloid Closet.” It airs on PBS tonight, the last show of the Friday prime-time lineup, near the end of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Ouch.

Narrated by Kim, the one-hour doc uses film and TV clips, in addition to insightful, emotional interviews with old and young actors, to trace the history of Asian American men on the big and small screens….

(…)

[W]ith the history come ugly, overlooked truths. Mako recalls a studio executive’s reaction when asked about featuring a non-Asian in the lead of “Kung Fu,” the classic 1970s TV show: “I remember one of the vice presidents — in charge of production, I suppose — who said, ‘If we put a yellow man up on the tube, the audience will turn the switch off in less than five minutes.’ ” James Shigeta, the star of “Flower Drum Song,” remembers a movie musical producer telling him, “If you were white, you’d be a hell of a big star.”

…The original ending [of “Romeo Must Die”] had Aaliyah kissing [Jet] Li, a scenario that didn’t test well with an “urban audience.” So the studio changed it. The new ending had Aaliyah giving Li a tight hug. Says [Filipino-American director Gene] Cajayon, “Mainstream America, for the most part, gets uncomfortable with seeing an Asian man portrayed in a sexual light.”

(…)

Stereotypes abound in [the] documentary: The Asian man as kung fu master. Think Bruce Lee in the classic film “Enter the Dragon” and the TV show “The Green Hornet.” The Asian man played by a non-Asian, among them Mickey Rooney as the bucktoothed Japanese neighbor in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The Asian man as supergeek. No amount of soap can wash off the stench of the Long Duk Dong character in the 1984 cult classic “Sixteen Candles.” The Asian man as the mysterious enemy, or the stiff-faced store owner, or the barely English-speaking waiter . . . you get the point.

(…)

In the past few years, a new generation of actors and directors, in ways more liberated, more in control, than their predecessors, are making some headway. The 2002 film “Better Luck Tomorrow,” a critical darling, was co-written and directed by Justin Lin, who tells the story of Asian American overachievers in a wealthy Orange Countywealthy Orange County, Calif., suburb who, beside being straight-A students and athletes, have thriving sidelines selling cheat sheets and drugs. Yes, they’re good students, as Asians are believed to be. But they have complicated lives like others, too. Comedian Bobby Lee, on the regular cast of the Fox show “Mad TV,” took his own life experiences and created a regular sketch called “Average Asian.” A jingle at the beginning of one sketch goes: “He’s an Average Asian / Eastern medicine is not his occupation / Can’t fix your back if it goes wrong / . . . He’s an Average Asian.”

“I wanted to confront the stereotype,” Lee says. “I didn’t want to be the stereotype.”

In the WTAG game, that’s a victory in itself.

Check your PBS listings for tonight for an exact airtime (might be 10:30).

I’ll be curious to see just what it covers. Does it really limit itself to Asian-American men, or Asians in general? Why only men? Does “Asian” include Indian or Pakistani? Does it cover, say, The Karate Kid (martial arts master!) or The Last Samurai (more martial arts!) or Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (one mostly nerd stereotype, one the exact opposite), or even The Simpsons (Apu, the fecund Hindu convenience store owner).

I will also be interested in how the documentary explains the scarcity of Asian characters as compared to black or (I think) latino and gay characters. Apparently it’s more acceptable for scriptwriters and directors to ignore or stereotype Asians than other minorities, but why? I can think of a few possible reasons, but I’m not really comfortable with any of them – they’re either half-baked or just plain icky. The latter are probably closest to the truth, unfortunately…

UPDATE: D’oh! It’s already come and gone on my local affiliate. Rats.

7 comments May 25th, 2007 at 11:43am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Movies,Racism,TV

Friday Quote & Hedgehog Blogging

This week’s quote is from Woody Allen’s sort-of-film-noir-parody, Play It Again, Sam:

I’m turning into an aspirin junkie – next thing you know, I’ll be boiling the cotton at the top of the bottle to get the extra.

And, of course, there’ll be other people’s hedgehogs…


Spiky!

May 25th, 2007 at 07:22am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Friday Quote & Cat Blogging


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