Saturday, January 19, 2008

Levinas, Bak, and Interpretation

I'm currently co-guest-editing an issue of Modern Fiction Studies. The topic is Levinas and Narrative, and we have finally chosen an image for the cover of the issue (above). It's a piece called "Interpretation" (2003) by Samuel Bak, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. Isn't it lovely?

You can see more of Bak's work here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

This is Feminism?

According to an article over at the Forward, Ms Magazine has
refused to run the above advertisement, which features images of Israel’s top female political leaders, and the American Jewish Congress is not too happy about this.

The ad was submitted by the American Jewish Congress to Ms. Magazine, and spotlighted photographs of Dorit Beinisch, president of Israel’s Supreme Court; Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, and Dalia Itzik, speaker of the Knesset, over the text, “This is Israel.”

According to the AJCongress, Ms. initially approved the ad but then reversed course, saying that the ad would “set off a firestorm.”

Says AJCongress President Richard Gordon: “Since there is nothing about the ad itself that is offensive, it is obviously the nationality of the women pictured that the management of Ms. fears their readership would find objectionable. For a publication that holds itself out to be in the forefront of the women’s movement, this is nothing short of disgusting and despicable.”

But according to Ms. Magazine’s executive editor, Kathy Spillar, it's not "the women’s nationality but their party affiliation that was the problem. Two of the featured officials, Itzik and Livni, are both members of the Kadima political party," and thus, Spillar said, "the ad would leave Ms. Magazine open to the charge of political favoritism."

The AJCongress created the ad to highlight the fact that women now occupy leading positions in Israel’s executive, legislative and political branches. In response, a Ms. representative said that “we would love to have an ad from you on women’s empowerment, or reproductive freedom, but not on this,” according to the AJCongress.

But, for me, this is the kicker:

“Not only could the ad be seen as favoring certain political parties within Israel over other parties, but also with its slogan, ‘This is Israel,’ the ad implied that women in Israel hold equal positions of power with men,” she said. “Israel, like every other country, has far to go to reach equality for women.”

Now, I don't think anyone is going to argue that the equality gap between men and women has completely closed in any nation. But it's hard to deny that there are some countries that have done a much better job of narrowing this gap than others. In particular, I can think of many countries in the same region as Israel (i.e. Saudi Arabia, where women can't even drive cars) that have done virtually nothing to rectify this situation. In my opinion, the position of women in Israel is one of the best in the world, and the fact that women can hold positions of political influence in Israel should be celebrated by a feminist magazine, especially when considered in contrast to other countries in the Middle and Near East.

I don't know that I agree with the political ideologies of all three of these Israeli women, but I do appreciate the fact that they have been given the opportunity, as women, to hold these positions of power, and I think that is something worth celebrating (or, at least, acknowledging). But the only thing worth acknowledging here is the ease with which Ms. Magazine is able to flaunt its own political and ideological biases at the expense of their own cause.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Who Knew the Nazis Were So Fashionable?

I just discovered this link over at It's a piece about five brands the Nazis gave us.

The list includes:

1. Volkswagen -- At this point, is there anyone who does not know that Volkswagens were little Nazi-mobiles designed by none other than Ferdinand Porsche?

Porsche's partner in masterminding the Beetle was also the mastermind of World War II: that crazy, affable buffoon Hitler. Hitler specifically wanted a cheap, sturdy vehicle everyone in Germany would be able to drive. Being the opportunistic businessman that he was, Porsche quickly whipped up the Volkswagen Beetle and lobbied heavily for the Fuhrer's approval. Soon, Porsche had his slave labor factories churning them out by the thousands, and eventually, flying out of dealerships.
2. IBM -- Yeah, I didn't know about this one, but it's kind of creepy.

According to a book a guy wrote about it, as soon as the Nazis invaded a country, they would overhaul the census system using IBM punch cards. Then they'd track down every Jew, Gypsy and any other non-Aryan until they were all rounded up onto cattle carts. And, next stop wasn't Space Mountain.
3. Bayer -- Once proud partial owner of the company that churned out Zyklon B, which means that Bayer was invested not only in getting rid of headaches and other physical ailments, but also in snuffing out Jewish vermin.

On one hand, the company that actually manufactured the gas was just partially owned by IG Farben, and Bayer was just one part of IG Farben. It's like the way we don't think of General Electric as a military contractor, because they make so many other things.

Bayer, though, has continued some of its old douchebaggery into the modern era. First off, Aspirin was invented by a Jewish man, Arthur Eichengrun, whose name Bayer still refuses to acknowledge. To this day, the "official" history of the company denies Eichengrun's involvement in the invention of aspirin, and states that an Aryan invented the drug, because as we all know, Aryans are better at everything.

One such Bayer-employed Aryan was a nice, thoughtful fellow by the name of Josef Mengele, who Bayer sponsored to seek out medical discoveries in the important field of torturing people to death.
4. Siemens -- Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten about this one. These guys think it's cool to trademark the name "Zyklon" for a range of home products. No, that's not offensive at all.

Though they weren't the only company at the time supplying the German war effort, they were certainly the most prolific. Siemens was in charge of Germany's rail infrastructure, communications, power generation ... the list goes on. If the Reichstag was the brain behind the war, Siemens was definitely the right hand that stroked Hitler to ecstatic glory.
5. HUGO BOSS -- Now, this came as a shocker. I had never heard this, but apparently SS soldiers and even Hitler Youth were stylin' in Hugo Boss uniforms. I just bought a Hugo Boss shirt for someone this past holiday season. It's nice to know that I spent $155 on Nazi wear.

Members of the Hitler Youth were also decked out in Boss wear, teaching children an early lesson in looking good whilst beating up minorities.