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review 2017-04-02 02:39
Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 P... Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power - Noam Chomsky,Peter Hutchison,Kelly Nyks,Jared P. Scott
  Very timely. Very interesting. It's the companion book to the documentary by the same name. I liked that he went back 50 years to put what is happening today in our government and society in prospective and giving us the history of what has led up to today. He gives examples as well as excerpts of his source materials. This is written so it can be understood by everyone. I learned a lot. There is a lot to think about in these pages.
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review 2016-06-24 02:27
what happens when a group discusses a book about women? mansplaining!
Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women - Geraldine Brooks

I read this as part of a bookclub discussion. The book was selected by a lovely woman who fled Iran 24 years ago, and had lived through the revolution, war and economic sanctions against her country. She said she started reading it a year ago but it was just too emotional and so she thought with the support of the bookclub she could get through it. I was grateful for her choice as this was interesting, informative and a unique perspective on the topic. Instead of a classic 'book report' I have decided to share the bookclub discussion experience.


So, the group met yesterday evening, 9 women and 5 men. The group on the whole is well educated, well informed, well read and generally progressive. After everyone has takes a turn to give their impression of the book, open discussion follows. And guess what followed? MANSPLAINING! The book was about women in Islamic middle eastern cultures, told through very personal stories. Some were positive, but many very illustrative of how women are subjugated, abused and repressed. While political and economic policy are relevant to such a book, this wasn't a book about politics or policy. Nevertheless, a subset of the men in the room hijacked the discussion into that. When the woman from Iran (who lived through the revolution) explained that Iranian revolution in 1979 was not entirely rooted in the rise Islamic fundamentalism, she was corrected. When she described the economic disparity in Iran (no middle class) she was corrected. When I brought up my opinion that it's not the Islamic faith that leads to repression of women, but rather patriarchal cultural practices, I was corrected. The irony of the whole situation was not lost on me, nor was it lost on many of the other women in the room.

To be fair, these men aren't misogynists and they are probably sympathetic to feminist causes. But they have also been raised to be more assertive and are better skilled at inserting their opinions into the discussion. They may not consciously discount a woman' s opinion, but they probably are oblivious to their subconscious biases. Even in 'so called' enlightened western culture, in one of the most liberal cities in America, you can find micro aggressions against women in the context of a book discussion about the oppression of Islamic women. ¯_(ツ)_/¯


Now, turn a subconscious bias against women into one that is culturally sanctioned through religious interpretation and you have the plight of many many Islamic women in the Middle East. Even though this book is 20+ years old and not without flaws, it is informative a worth a read.

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text 2014-08-21 11:06
I'm not even halfway through yet so hopefully things get better?
Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media - Nick Davies

Flat Earth News is a really important book on a really important subject - how our news media is systematically undermined by the systems it employs and why that happens. It is also a deeply ironic book in that in critiquing journalism whilst using a journalistic register it falls into a number of traps that show the weaknesses that befall journalism even at its best. It is a book that you should definitely read if you read any form of journalism, and when it is on form it is incredibly powerful and illuminating, but it has to be read with the very set of skills with which it is trying to teach you to read.

The major problems are ones of judicious omission and accuracy. Davies decides, straight up, to ignore tabloid journalism as, he claims, no one believes it anyway. The problem here is that people do believe it, and in vast numbers, and even when they don't (a lot of Sun readers refer to it as a comic) it has a huge effect on how people perceive the world. Ignoring tabloid journalism is essentially a classist statement that says only the educated (middle class) constructed reality (and he talks a lot about concepts of constructed reality, even if he doesn't use that term, preferring to differentiate between a mass perception and an underlying reality) is of importance.

Except then he does talk about tabloids, because when you talk about the newspaper industry you cannot avoid talking about tabloids. The commercial structures Davies lambasts, Murdoch's and Maxwell's and so on, are all built around the tabloid business model. The history of the first decade of the 21st century newspaper industry is the death of the broadsheet as a physical object. Tabloids are unavoidable and Davies talks about them whenever he needs to, but just maintains that they aren't a part of the story when he doesn't want them to be. This is a journalistic tic.

Other journalistic tics surface in the very fabric of the writing; in the language used. Journalism as a mode, and in many ways when it is at its best, salts important information with enough flavour to make it easy to read. This flavour comes from the nice turns of phrase and the human interest and the mixing of nuggets of detail amongst the facts of the matter. This can be great; the feature article that introduces you to individuals before covering statistics both grounds and humanises the story. It can also be terrible; the Guardian style Guide has a joke about being so desperate for humanising synonyms that a write resorts to calling a carrot 'the popular orange vegetable.'

In Flat Earth news this surfaces as meaningless details that nevertheless distort the text: Charles Drudge of the Drudge Report is described as an ex Sales Clerk, which implies without being explicit a whole lot of assumptions about his suitability as a journalistic source. The fact is, he was making things up, but as he admits it was because journalists let him do it - not because of what he did before. Again, there is an implicit classism and a certain level of circling the wagon on Davies' part; he repeatedly claims that he will not let journalists off the hook, and yet also repeatedly finds ways of blaming people who aren't journalists for their mistakes. Earlier Davies describes a lone reporter as 'sitting alone in a darkened room' in a section about staff cuts. It's a very evocative, and easy to write, image but it is also patently untrue. He may have been sitting alone but why in a darkened room? How could Davies know? Are the evil owners even skimping on electricity bills now? This is over salting your prose, and it can be as much a mechanism of misinformation, although not as pernicious, as outright falsehood.

These may seem like small quibbles, but they extend, unfortunately, to the very core of Davies' thesis. Flat Earth News, in Davie's formulation, is news that spreads around the world because it seems right until it gets checked, and the problem is that the media is failing in its job of checking. He calls it this based on the idea that everyone thought the Earth was flat until someone checked. The big problem with this is that the belief that everyone thought the world was flat is itself Flat Earth News in Davies' formulation - it is an overstated belief that doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Meanwhile, the majority of Flat Earth stories Davies talks about  are not things that seemed correct but, as he himself attests, stories that were actively pushed into a media machine that was known to be faulty by people with agendas. The mechanism is the same, but the culpability is slightly different. Which is why the book is important even as it obfuscates some of it's own importance.

Flat Earth News tells a story of a noble journalism destroyed by 'grocers', a term repeatedly used, after an admittedly nicely written turn of phrase, as a more dramatic placeholder for capitalist economic theory. It doesn't help the divisiveness and implicit classism of the book that no grocer worth their salt would operate in the way that the newspaper owners have done, because grocers sell produce while newspaper owners have effectively stopped selling down (to consumers) but instead sell a content delivery system to advertisers. But, regardless, the argument Davies employs is that the capitalists, who it is important to note have done some incredibly destructive things to news and to journalism as a career option, are inherently worse in the way that they skew coverage than the old-style propagandist owners and that this is fundamentally because at least the propagandists cared about journalists. Even if part of that caring was telling them exactly what to write and when to write it.

Again, the points being made are important, valid and pertinent ones, but there is also an untold story. Alongside the history of closed newsrooms, sacked journalists and squeezed production lines is an untold, parallel version. This is a story of a union that failed its members, and of anti-union journalists who failed to see that they were no different the workers they were demonising when the eyes of industry turned upon them. It is a story of editors, journalists themselves, selling out as soon as they hit management positions and chucking those coming after them under the bus; or even worse, failing to stand up for good practise and capitulating to the demands of senior management even when they know that they are unworkable. It's these stories, along with the genuinely nasty, normative side of journalism - the side that wants there to be an underlying truth even when there isn't one or where exposing it would cause only pain, that is protected and I find it a shame. For every time Davies admits that journalism is not  blameless he then spends pages identifying why it isn't really journalists fault.

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text 2014-07-08 17:37
Orange is the New Foucault
Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates - Erving Goffman

Having read two of the four essays I'm beginning to get a glimpse into how and why some of the sociologists in my life view mental illness in the way that they do. Goffman is great on the social but not so much on the personal, and reading his essay on the career of the inmate it is easy to overvalue that which is done to an actor in comparison to what is done by or integral to them. 


Goffman's thesis is that mental patients are retroactively so defined, as in one's life story is fitted around the teleology of commitment in order to justify the position the patient finds themselves in. This is powerful and an important way of breaking the othering of those who are incarcerated but the text ignores, purposefully after an early disclaimer, the very real distress of many of those patients. 


The first essay, on the general nature of a total institution was a much less ambivalent read for me, and came nicely after reading Foucault's Discipline and Power to set me up for watching Orange is the New Black, which I started this week.

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photo 2014-06-18 22:19
The Language of Landscape - Anne Whiston Spirn
Academic burns
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