Sunday, December 29, 2002

It takes guts to defend pornography publicly. And because of that, the anti-porn activists have an advantage -- many who disagree with them are scared to admit it, fearing that people who dislike porn will stereotype those who like it and look down on them or even treat them badly. However, the Internet has made it both easier to find porn without embarassment and easier to defend porn -- I don't know if I'd be able to say that I like porn in front of, say, members of my family, but I can easily say it on this weblog.

Nadine Strossen's Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights took more guts to put out -- this woman is staking her professional reputation on defending porn. But she does it so well! Her main point is that anti-porn "feminist" crusaders such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon are really harming the feminist cause by asserting that women need to be protected by law from anything that might possibly be interpreted as sexual (since the "MacDworkinite" position is that anything depicting women's bodies must be objectifying them, anything about sex must be men viewing women as sex objects -- even gay male porn where there aren't any women involved, even lesbian women making porn for a lesbian audence -- and essentially that women are in the position of small children who are unable to give consent to, well, anything sex-related). Strossen shows what has happened when laws based on this position have been passed, both in the past when the assumption of women's "ladylike" natures was used to keep them from an expectation of enjoying sex, and in the present when Canada's laws based on Dworkin and MacKinnon's work, have been used to ban Dworkin's work from importation into that country. (Not surprising to me, since MacKinnon's Only Words was substantially more violent and disturbing when I tried to read it (I couldn't finish) than anything I have ever encountered in porn.)

Laura Kipnis' Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America takes a very different tack to defend porn (and in fact, I think, unjustly denigrates Strossen's book and her method). Kipnis talks about the (largely male) audiences for niche porn and the kind of people they are -- generally not the dangerous creeps that popular stereotype envisions. The most eye-opening section is that on the gay man who was entrapped by government agents into a supposed conspiracy to kidnap, rape, and murder a child, and is serving a prison sentence, though his only crimes are listening to the child-molesting "plans" of agents claiming to be hardened criminals and not risking his safety by refusing them to their faces. Kipnis' exploration of this and other attempts to manufacture crimes where none exist show that most anti-porn activists are merely working to outlaw things they aren't comfortable with, but she views some of these as class differences rather than female/male conflict, an eye-opening approach and refreshing to those who say that the feminist movement has ignored the experience of different socio-economic classes.

Both books make valuable, if very different, points that should not be overlooked when the issue of pornography is being discussed. It's a shame that the anti-porn activists who most need to hear these arguments would probably never pick up either book, but the pro-free-expression who do read these valuable works can at least build up their store of support for their side for future debate with the anti-porn side.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

I agreed to dogsit for my mom's Australian Shepherds before she found out that the female was going to have puppies. Of course, it would be an even bigger problem to board a nursing mother and about seven puppies at a kennel, so I didn't back out of the deal. I just started doing research. The stacks of books on caring for puppies are taller than I am, but I found that almost all of them assume that you are bringing home an eight-week-old, long since weaned, puppy from a breeder; very few actually dealt with the care of younger dogs.

Joseph Hartnagle's Australian Shepherds was the only breed-specific book I found that didn't assume you were buying a puppy from a professional breeder. I had better luck with general puppy books -- there was information on puppies starting from birth in Liz Palika's KISS Guide To Raising A Puppy; Gwen Bailey's The Perfect Puppy : How to Raise a Well-Behaved Dog; John Ross and Barbara McKinney's Puppy Preschool: Raising Your Puppy Right--Right from the Start!; Brigitte Bulard-Cordeau's Puppies; the Monks of New Skete's The Art of Raising A Puppy; and Daniel and Jill Pinkwater's Superpuppy: How to Choose, Raise, and Train the Best Possible Dog for You (which I was on the lookout for anyway, as a longtime fan of both writers' fiction for kids and Daniel's commentaries and essays, including those in the dog-oriented Uncle Boris In The Yukon). And looking at things from the mother's point of view, there was also a lot of useful information in The Book of the Bitch: A Complete Guide to Understanding and Caring for Bitches by J. M. Evans and Kay White. (I bet it wouldn't have come out with that title if it had been published in the U.S. rather than the U.K.!)

Reading all of those different sources showed me where the authors all agreed (and their minor differences) on what to do for the new pups, so now I feel fairly comfortable that I can take care of them for almost two weeks at a very important time in their lives (weaning will probably start while I'm with them, and early socialization can influence their reactions to people and objects in their later lives) without making any huge mistakes.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Dilbert used to be funny. Back in its early days when it was about an engineer and his dog, and was rarely set in the workplace. I still have a few of the early books, such as the 1993 Dogbert's Clues For The Clueless, with the cynical Dogbert providing etiquette advice. But, as author Scott Adams said in a 1995 Washington Post interview, "I never had any integrity. This was always meant to be a business. My background is in business school, so I can't imagine not commercializing something." So when people started to identify the office-themed strips with their own lives, Adams took the strip in that direction until the portions I found the most amusing are all but gone. And frankly, if I did work for a large company, I'd rather not think about the subject in my off time.)

So Norman Solomon's 1997 The Trouble with Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets The Last Laugh caught my eye. Solomon spends most of his time explaining how large corporations seized on the strip to provide a bit of an escape valve for their workers and a "we understand" image for themselves by using Dilbert in their employee handbooks and ethics guidelines; the book argues that the strip really lowers employees' expectations for their workplace, and increases the tendency to blame individual people's stupidity rather than the highest overall policymakers for the things that go wrong or are exploitative in large business corporations. "Dilbert may be anti-boss. But so is Blondie," Solomon points out. I don't know if I feel as strongly as he does about the strip, but there are some very good points about how middle-class and middle-management-oriented the strip is, while ignoring other types of work and workplaces.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

21 Dog Years: Doing Time @, by Mike Daisey, is one of those books I end up reading large chunks of aloud to Jon or whoever else is around to hear. It is incredibly funny -- not the sort of bland, generic "business humor" that Dilbert often degenerates into, but a wicked and pointed story of life at a particular company with its (many) particular foibles -- as well as the weirdos who worked for it, perhaps because they couldn't get a job anywhere else. Including, of course, the author.

But despite the fact that it takes place at a particular company, the story is funny because Amazon is only an extreme example of what most technology businesses, and all jobs that require dealing with customers, are like. I used to work at a telecommunications company that was trying to branch off into internet hosting; I've been a clerk at a university bookstore and a fabric store; I taught university computer courses; and I now work taking people's hand-scribbled faxes and turning them into neatly laid-out newsletters -- I recognize so much about Mike's life at Amazon from ALL my jobs. He had the courage to get out of the job, to write about life as a wage slave, and the talent to make it worth reading -- that's just a dream for most people in jobs equivalent to the one he's writing about.