Sunday, November 02, 2014

Talks I've Been To Recently

I saw Melissa Harris-Perry give a talk at the Radcliffe Institute, Who's Choosin' Who? Race, Gender, and the New American Politics. This was one of the most entertaining talks I've been to. She spoke much more quickly and candidly than on her TV show with a lot of amusing asides. The main point was that in our government the winners don't take all, they take some, but lately it's been closer to all. Which is odd, because even as more minorities get elected they seem to have less and less influence. While there were nice graphs and things, it still seemed more about the asides. She doesn't seem to be a fan of Hilary (anyone who loses to a black guy named Hussein who just a year prior was a school board president, you've had your chance). She's less against Sarah Palin than I would have expected. Egalitarian incompetence should exist for women as it does for men, see John Edwards and Palin caused many woman GOP women to run in the next election. She also pointed out that Rick Perry and Justice Scalia favor repeal of 17th Amendment, allowing direct election of Senators.

I saw Art Spiegelman and Phillip Johnston's Wordless! at the ICA. Spiegelman spoke about and read from early wordless (often woodcut) comics while Johnston led a jazz sextet providing a soundtrack. I'd read some of the works in the collection, Graphic Witness. I enjoyed the presentation but I didn't learn all that much.

I saw Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick at the Harvard Kennedy School talk about how the Supreme Court Is Increasingly Wary of the Media and Internet (full audio at that link). Justice Stewart gave Bob Woodward a lot of insider information for his 1979 book The Brethren, that's not going to happen again. The court has no press arm and believes everything that anyone needs to know is in the opinions. It seems lost on them that the average person isn't going to read (or necessarily understand) an opinion that journalism could be a useful tool to them. Court reporters are allowed to bring into the court one piece of paper and one pen. No video of the arguments is taken. While audio of arguments is released, it's made available after 5pm on Friday, "when news goes to die". She said that for the Obamacare ruling a reporter had three options:

  • They could be in the chamber and see and hear the ruling, but were not allowed to take notes and couldn't leave early
  • They could be in an overflow room where they couldn't see but hear, take notes and leave (but not come back)
  • They could be in another room where they couldn't see or hear the ruling but could read the opinion.

The court doesn't get modern journalism. When asked about the difficulties of getting several rulings in one day and having to write about them, Justices say to write articles on different days. Journalists don't understand this, though I think I might be on the Justices side on this one. There's enough time to read the court summaries and write a quick article and they could write more detailed articles after having time to read the opinions. We wait for months between arguments and rulings, what's a few more days?.

I saw Jill Lepore explain How Wonder Woman Got into Harvard also at the Radcliffe Institute. I knew some of the history, that Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, who invented the lie detector (hence her magic lasso) and lived with his wife and girlfriend and there was a lot of bondage in the early comics. It turns out there was a lot more I didn't know. His wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, was as accomplished as he, at a time when that wasn't common. She had a law degree from BU and a masters in psychology from Radcliffe and was an editor for Encyclopædia Britannica. The girlfriend was his student Olive Byrne. He came home and told Elizabeth that Olive was moving in and if she objected he'd leave her, she said ok if Olive would raise the kids so she could have a career. Elizabeth and Olive continue to live together long after William's death. This arrangement damaged his academic career which had some questionable issues anyway. Olive's aunt was Margaret Sanger who was a famous birth control activist and founded organizations that became Planned Parenthood. Marston was surrounded by feminists and conceived Wonder Woman to teach kids that woman could be the equal (or better) of men. The bondage stuff was using the iconography of suffrage and feminist movements (editorial cartoons often had women breaking chains). Many of the plots were modeled on events from Marton's past. When he was at Harvard, women weren't allowed; some Wonder Woman stories had her breaking into colleges. A psychology professor of his didn't believe in educating women (even though he also taught at Radcliffe for the money) and was the model for the villain Dr. Psycho. It was a really interesting talk and I'm curious about her new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

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