Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Intriguing intrigue*: stuff that caught my eye this week

1. Depression = genes + environment?

Why does adversity depress some people, while others soldier on cheerfully? We all have two 5-HTT genes: if both are "long" genes, you're likely to be emotionally resilient; if both are "short" you are more likely to be depressed by age 26.

Now, if only I knew why this English study used a sample population of 847 New Zealanders ...

2. Rebuilding Iraq's courts

How do you re-establish a court system with popular support in a country accustomed to law as a rubber-stamp for coerced confessions and torture? With some inspiring work by local lawyers and law students, and the assistance of US imported experts, it seems. Step one? Reinstating the relatively liberal pre-Saddam criminal law; however, there was a fair bit of heel-dragging over this reform:

"[There was a] long delay in replacing Saddam Hussein's laws with the comparatively progressive Iraqi Penal Code of 1969. Despite agreement among the coalition members in April that this was the best option, the change did not occur until last month. The delay, we were told, came because America's coalition allies wanted the death penalty provisions in the code suspended, while Washington was steadfast in its insistence, apparently, that what's good for Texas must be good for Iraq."

3. Manly manliness, the pulps of the 50s

It's no secret that the cover-art for this male medium was weirdly Freudian and often hyper-politicised (is that Fidel Castro with a rubber hose?):
"The moment most often captured on these magazine covers is one in which the menaced [male] subject has already slogged through a snake-infested swamp, been tortured in a Nazi prison camp, washed up on the shores of a cannibal island and now, in torn or shredded clothing, sopping wet or desiccated after crawling through a desert, faces decapitation, consumption by vicious marine life, amputation by hacksaw, attack by alligators, weasels, ferrets, Indian arrows or samurai cutlasses, sexual exhaustion by Nazi libertines, cigar torture at the hands of Fidel Castro and sometimes - not often - incineration by H-bomb."

In all seriousness, though, what does the lurid pulp fiction of the 50s suggest about male repression and anxiety in stiflingly conformist 50s America?

4. Michael Moore ... also a cheating, millionaire fat-cat?

He deconstructs other people's lies and fictions, so it's inevitable someone would look for omissions and misrepresentations in his work, however bad or slanted their prose:

"And there are the lies of exaggeration - details that after marinating in Moore's brain swell into squishy conspiracy tales, like one of those dried sponges that swell prodigiously in water."

"So how has an embittered, cynical man with a paranoid streak as wide as Montana and a dysfunctional relationship to the truth been able to present himself so successfully as a compassionate, salt-of-the-earth, truth-seeking hero?"

I have trouble taking seriously an article that's racked up 2000 words of invective before offering substantiating examples - though the claim the "free gun today with your new bank account" sequence in "Bowling for Columbine" was staged is disturbing (I've not checked this, but apparently there was a 6 week wait and character check on the issue of that gun).

Still, there's a genuine admiration her for Moore's sheer, improbable charisma - and vitriol is always fun.

Can Moore be criticised for being as simplistic as the monolithic Right he takes on? Of course he can. Polemicists aren't obliged to be even-handed. If they were, they'd be too dull to listen to.

5. No-email please, we're French.

Speaks for itself, really.

*With apologies to the "Mysterious Mysteries" of Invader Zim.

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