Jezebel Is All Over That Amazon Porn Crackdown Story From Two Years Ago

Hey, Jezebel! Awesome you could join us! Welcome to 2013, when Amazon went through a series of convulsions over the content in its erotica section, including a short period of blocking or banning “monster erotica” titles like that great American classic, Taken by the T-Rex.

What Amazon is or isn’t banning on any given day changes with the direction of the wind, the fall of the knucklebones, and the direction that Jeff Bezos’s tea swirls in that morning, so the monster erotica crackdown was only a major issue for authors for a week or two, after which it mostly went back to business as usual. Go to Amazon.com, type in “monster erotica,” and sort by publishing date, and you’ll find a couple dozen hits from this week alone, with literally thousands published in the year-plus since Business Insider mentioned the crackdown in a December 21, 2013 article that Jezebel linked to this morning (March 24, 2015, for those keeping score at home).

But far be it from intrepid Jezebel writer Karyn Polewaczyk to let the facts get in the way of a good story — she was all over that old, dried-out shit, reporting in the cheery present tense today that “Amazon Doesn’t Like Bigfoot Porn as Much as You Do.”

jezebel-monster-erotica-story-from-2013

Absolutely the best part of her behind-the-times reportage? This darling little witticism: “Because morals matter, more than the idea of giving Bigfoot a blow jae (that’s “blow job,” but in a cool, French-ish way, kind of like when you say ‘Target’ but pronounce it ‘Tar-gay” to make 2003 seem relevant).”

Yes. Those tragic people, so behind the times and so desperately trying to seem relevant. Maybe make sure your linked sources aren’t two years old before you get on that high horse, Ms. Polewaczyk.

None of this is to say that Amazon doesn’t periodically block or ban titles for being the wrong sort of erotica, of course. Every month or two there’s some new keyword that erotica authors have to avoid, which leads to a shifting morass of euphemistic keywords where “taboo” means “incest” and everyone knows it — at least until someone who missed the memo reads something naughty and gets upset, at which point “taboo” will be out and it will become “intimate relations” or something like that.

It’s a pain in the ass (and not the fun kind) for both consumers and authors. But monster erotica hasn’t been on the chopping block for a couple years now, and that, kids, is why you don’t get your news from f*&%ing Gawker Media properties. Seriously, who does a story about a particular product being removed from Amazon, and doesn’t even go to the site and search for that specific product?

Welcome to the New Media, I guess.

Arabic-Language Pledge Super-Seriously Offends Relatives of Veterans Killed In Pashto- and Dari-Speaking Afghanistan

pledge-of-allegiance-Bellamy-saluteWell, America, this is where we’re at in 2015: we are literally offended by the existence and use of languages that aren’t English.

Or at least, that’s the takeaway from a charming little story in upstate New York, where the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic (during and part of “Foreign Languages Week,” mind you) upset people so much that Pine Bush High School issued an apology “to any students, staff or community members who found this activity disrespectful.”

In a nice Orwellian touch, they further promised that, from here on out, “the Pledge of Allegiance will only be recited in English as recommended by the Commissioner of Education” (not actually a requirement of New York’s Education Department, but good try at buck-passing), and told the senior class president who okayed the Arabic-language recitation that his services would no longer be needed during the daily announcements.

So yeah. There are apparently people in this country who consider it disrespectful to use Arabic. Like, at all. Neither New York nor America, as the BBC so dryly pointed out in their coverage, have an official language, nor has Congress ever suggested that the Pledge of Allegiance be exclusively English-language (materials translating it into major world languages are in fact available from multiple government agencies), but far be it from the good citizens of Pine Bush, NY, to let those inconveniences stay their ire. Enough residents to alarm the local school board hate Arabic so much that they would rather not hear it at all than hear it used to recite America’s Pledge of Allegiance, is the unavoidable conclusion of this story, and that is what I believe academics refer to as “straight up fucked.”

(To add stupid-icing to this national-embarrassment-cake, apparently some of these delicate souls were “district residents who had lost family members in Afghanistan.” The major Afghan languages, for those keeping score at home in Pine Bush, NY, are Pashto and Dari; Arabic is more commonly spoken in America than it is in Afghanistan.)

But let’s not get worked up over trivial details like what languages they speak in other countries. Let’s remember the fundamental issue here, which is that we have communities in America that are so fucked-up xenophobic their school board has to apologize if students read the Pledge of Allegiance in a foreign language. And we accept these as normal communities! Like, most of us driving through Pine Bush, NY, would not be rolling our windows up and locking our doors and saying “oh, fuck, I hope my car does not break down in the middle of this primitive fucking wasteland, where using the wrong language, even to perform one of the most ostentatiously patriotic rituals this country has, can incite hatred and fury.”

We would be like “oh, hey, that’s a town.” And that shit is, as previously mentioned, straight up fucked.

Not Treason, Probably Illegal, and Definitely Dangerous: Everything You Need to Know About the GOP’s Iran Letter

daily-news-traitors-coverWhen almost half the Senate signs a letter addressed to the government of a foreign nation, it raises some eyebrows.

When that letter suggests that the President of the United States lacks the authority to conduct the negotiations he is currently conducting with said nation, it raises more than eyebrows, and for good reason — it’s an unprecedented outreach in our nation’s diplomatic history.

Still, that’s no excuse for hyperbole. As enjoyable as it is to see Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, and Rand Paul splashed across the front page of the Daily News above the word “TRAITORS,” we’re looking at neither treason nor rebellion, nor any other attack on America or its government perpetrated by sitting senators.

A technical violation of the law and a dangerous, potentially disastrous diplomatic misstep, now, that’s another matter…

Background: Wait, What Letter?

Let’s start with the facts of the case for anyone who’s been living under a rock this past week or so: 47 sitting United States Senators, all of them Republicans, signed their names to a document dated March 9, 2015 and addressed “An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The letter characterized any international agreement not approved by Congress as “a mere executive agreement,” and suggested in reference to “any agreement regarding your [Iran’s] nuclear-weapons program” that “the next president could revoke such an agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” The full text of the letter is reproduced below:

“An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution-the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices-which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote. A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.

Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics. For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then-perhaps decades.

What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time. We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.”

The signatures follow. The entire Republican caucus in the current US Senate signed the open letter to Iran, with the exceptions of:

  • Senator Lamar Alexander, R-TN
  • Senator Susan Collins, R-ME
  • Senator Bob Corker, R-TN
  • Senator Dan Coats, R-IN
  • Senator Thad Cochran, R-MS
  • Senator Jeff Flake, R-AZ
  • Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-AK

So what the heck was this? Mostly, this was an attempt to scuttle the current nuclear development negotiations between Iran and the “P5+1″ group of nations (Germany, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States). By suggesting that the Obama administration cannot sign a binding agreement without Congress, the Senators are effectively implying that the administration has no authority to negotiate at all. The letter comes right out and suggests that any agreement Iran reaches in the current negotiations could be “revoke[d]…with the stroke of a pen.”

The goal, fairly transparently, is to discourage any concrete agreement resulting from the current negotiations. Motivations for individual Senators in signing may vary, but it’s reasonably safe to assume that most of the signatories A) favor a war with Iran, which keeps the defense dollars flowing to their home states and their campaign coffers, as well as offering a chest-thumping talking point for elections, and B) would like to deny President Obama any achievement on any front, including international diplomacy, regardless of whether his achievements might benefit anyone or whether his failures might hurt anyone.

We’re Not at War, Iran Is Not an Enemy, and Writing a Letter Isn’t Treason

It’s unprecedented for a group of sitting Senators to formally address the leaders of another nation and suggest that the President of the United States can’t be negotiated with in good faith. But it is definitely not, despite many people’s irresponsible suggestions, treason.

Treason is a very specific crime. The Constitution lays it out:

“Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason…”

Writing a letter is certainly not, in and of itself, a levy of war. Nor are we at war with Iran, meaning they are not, by any legal definition, our “enemies.” Even if we were, it would be hard to prove that the letter represents any kind of “aid and comfort” to Iran.

So if you’ve been placing your faith in the front page of The New York Daily News (and please tell me you haven’t been), it’s time for a reality check: none of the Senatorial signatories to the “Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” have committed anything resembling treason.

On the Other Hand, Writing That Particular Letter Probably Was Illegal

Just because something isn’t treason, of course, doesn’t mean it can’t be a lesser crime.

An obscure-until-this-week law from 1799 called the Logan Act mandates fines and imprisonment for any United States citizen

“…who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States…”

The letter signed by the 47 Republican Senators almost certainly violates the Logan Act. That said, the act has almost never been used — the last indictment under the Logan Act was in 1803, and no one has ever been successfully prosecuted under it.

Practically speaking, it’s very hard to prosecute someone under a little-used law. Judges tend to be sympathetic toward the concept of “desuetude,” which argues that a law left unused for sufficiently long lapses its authority. (If you haven’t heard of the concept before, that’s because it doesn’t come up often — by its very nature, it’s only cited as a defense against very obscure laws, like the Logan Act.)

So if you’re hoping to see Tom Cotton and his fellow signatories hauled off for “not more than three years,” per the Logan Act, you probably don’t want to hold your breath. It’s not going to happen, and the Obama administration as a whole is canny enough not to risk loss of face by bringing a case they stand a good chance of losing against sitting Senators — although they’re probably thrilled to see other people floating the suggestion.

But Yeah, 47 Republican Senators Did Try Really Hard to Weaken America’s Influence Overseas

All that said and done, we’re not likely to see a whole lot of legal fallout for the open letter to Iran.

What we are going to see is political fallout, both at home and abroad.

Make no mistake: the Iranian side of the nuclear talks was thrilled to see this letter. It gave them an opportunity to portray the United States as an unreliable, untrustworthy partner — and to demand bigger concessions for even deigning to sit down with such transparently bad-faith negotiators. That’s fairly standard patter between any rival nations, of course, but it can rarely be made with a document from your rival’s legislative branch stating, right there under the official letterhead, that the rival government is, in fact, an unreliable negotiating partner.

Iranian officials have not been shy about beating up the United States and its negotiating position with the letter. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif (who holds two master’s degrees and a doctorate in international relations, and who may not have cared for the condescending tone of the Senatorial letter), acidly reminded the letter’s authors that “The conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by U.S. domestic law,” continuing,

“The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.”

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, added in a similar vein,

“All countries, according to the international norms, remain faithful to their commitments even after their governments change, but the American senators are officially announcing that at the end of the term of their current government, their commitments will be considered null and void.”

He cast the entire episode as evidence of America’s decadent and declining culture — again, pretty standard patter for Iranian officials, but rarely supported by actual evidence of a crumbling governmental structure. (Not that we don’t have plenty of that at home; it’s just not often directly relevant to Iran’s interests.)

European critics have been more muted, but it’s important to remember that these are multilateral negotiations, with Russia, China, France, Germany, and the UK at the table as well as Iran and the United States. If the deal falls through, leaving Iran with no agreement in place to curtail its nuclear activities, our negotiating partners will be eager to blame anyone but themselves. Right now, the United States, as the only country involved whose government openly suggested that the negotiations couldn’t be trusted, is making a pretty tasty fall guy.

That’s embarrassing, but for those who consider curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions an important goal, it’s also tactically relevant: the United States alone doesn’t really have the economic muscle to cripple Iran with sanctions, and relies on a fairly unified international front to make sanctions a really effective deterrent. If European and Asian nations see an excuse to openly bail on international sanctions, blaming the United States rather than Iran for rising tensions, it takes that tool off the table entirely.

We probably won’t ever see any of these Senators locked up for what they did — and electoral politics in the United States being what they are these days, we probably won’t even see many of them booted out of office. Given the real-world consequences of their action, that’s a shame.

Can’t Stop Writing

Last week I thought I was done posting things on this particular website. (Not on the web in general. Someone will probably always be paying me to post something on the web, somewhere, and let that be a lesson to you on putting faith in anything you read online.)

This week I realized I wasn’t done after all. (Again, lessons re: faith, reading things online, etc.)

I guess I’ve gotten used to having a platform for thoughts that are too long to tweet (all of them) or too nuanced for Facebook (same). And say what you like about personal, unpaid blogs, if I write four or five paragraphs here, people are more likely to read them than they would be if I posted the same four or five paragraphs in a Facebook status update.

It’s not so much that an independent webpage adds authority to opinions as it is that social media subtracts.

But more importantly than all that, I realized I still had the habit. I’ve gotten used to having a reason to put some thoughts into words, enough that having the thoughts without the words was uncomfortable.

It’s been a long time since this was even nominally a blog about writing, either the practice itself or specific techniques, because once you’ve written about writing for a few months you realize that it’s pretentious and you either stop or get a master’s degree. But I think we can all take a lesson from how hard the habit is proving to shake if we want one, can’t we?

I think we can. Stay tuned.

When Has Hollywood Sex Ever Looked Good or Healthy?

fifty-shades-of-grey-coverWith all the fuss about the “50 Shades of Grey” movie coming out this Valentine’s Day weekend, now seems like a good time to pause, take a deep breath, and remember that basically no sexual relationships, as portrayed on the big screen by Hollywood studios, resemble anything like a healthy real-life dynamic. (For that matter, most of the off-screen relationships in Tinseltown aren’t so great, either.)

So, sure. The movie, and the book before it, portray a hero who is by any sane definition abusive, and a troubled heroine who could really use some supportive friends (and better lovers) telling her to get the hell out.

But the same is probably true of your favorite rom-com. (Every year, the thing that sets my teeth most on edge during the holiday season is the number of otherwise intelligent friends who seem to like, without irony, the creepfest that is “Love Actually.”) Most Hollywood males, in romantic plots, are manipulators at the very least; most women somewhere between victims and “dating down” taken to its most extreme imbalance.

Nor is the sex itself, as portrayed on screen, anything to celebrate as an instruction in satisfying lovemaking. The clothes-tearing, blanket-mussing frenzy of dude-on-top, penis-in-vagina sex that somehow manages to never flash a breast here or a ballsack there isn’t much of a primer for how a couple of human beings can get one another off — although the 30-60ish seconds of screentime, followed by a fade to black or a cut, might not be the worst estimate of the average Hollywood-trained male’s endurance.

Which is fine. Movies are entertainment, not how-to guides, and the same is true of “50 Shades.” As the ever-so-talented Erika Moen said in her comic-review over at Oh Joy Sex Toy,

“I’m just not into policing what people are allowed to find arousing in their fantasy porn…I have faith in people to understand [sic] that the fictional book they are reading is just a trashy two-dimensional fantasy to get their juices flowing and not the blueprints by which to construct their actual relationships. But that’s just me.”

There are arguments to be made about how popular culture shapes social expectations (and vice versa), but those arguments are weakest when they lean on a single “bad example” document or text as a stand-in for all of culture. “50 Shades” is not going to start a sudden and heretofore nonexistent rash of bad relationships disguised as kink play. Those relationships were already out there. “50 Shades” is, if anything, a tolerable example of many extant dynamics in the proudly kinky and 50-Shades-hating community, although the men involved usually have less money and more facial hair.

Insofar as there are people who read “50 Shades” as their very first introduction to BDSM and run out looking for a guy to spank them even when they scream “no” — and those people do exist, to be sure — the solution is not less trashy porn. The solution is a better level of sexual literacy in our culture. People should have better options for learning about BDSM (and sex in general) that are as ubiquitous and easy to acquire as “50 Shades.”

So don’t boycott the movie or the book, any more than you were already planning to skip on a non-principled, literary-quality stance. (And in particular stay away from the “$50 Not 50 Shades” campaign, which is run by anti-porn, anti-sex worker activists — no friends to kink or healthy sexuality themselves.)

Instead, go out and buy something from your friendly neighborhood sex store. Have some sex that doesn’t look like any Hollywood movie at all, if you’ve got a partner or partners to do that with. Talk about sex with your friends. Be part of a culture that celebrates education and variety of expression, rather than clamping down reflexively on anything that’s not the “right way” to have sex.

“50 Shades” is a bad book that has been made into a (presumably) bad movie. But it’s not a societal problem — or rather, it’s one small part of a societal problem that, let’s face it, most people were less vocally upset about when it came dressed in artfully rumpled bedsheets rather than leather and chain.

Right-Wing Theft of Left-Leaning Music Teaches Us a Lot

Another day, another Republican politician caught using a popular rock anthem without the artist’s permission and to that artist’s great displeasure: Wisconsin governor Scott Walker entered this weekend’s Iowa Freedom Summit to the strains of The Dropkick Murphys’ Shipping up to Boston, prompting the Murphys to gently remind Walker that “we literally hate you.”

dropkick-murphys-scott-walker-tweet

This is not the first time a Republican candidate has been chastised for using a musician’s work without permission; it is not even the first time a Wisconsin Republican has been chastised for using The Dropkick Murphys’ Shipping up to Boston without permission. Way back in 2012, Republican Assemblyman Jeff Fitzgerald (a close Walker ally) used it for his walk-on at the Wisconsin Republican Convention, which the Murphys described as “like a white supremacist coming out to gangsta rap.”

It happens all the time, all over America, with responses in varying degrees of legal severity from the artists: Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen have fired off cease-and-desists, Survivor sued Newt Gingrich for his use of Eye of the Tiger; Jackson Browne took John McCain to court for using Running on Empty in an attack ad (the McCain campaign eventually settled).

Beyond the surface-level absurdity of anti-labor politicians using explicitly pro-labor music in their campaigns — which is, don’t get me wrong, entertaining, and makes for a good two-second clickbait — there’s actually a lot we can unpack from this frequent and ongoing phenomenon.

The first take-away is, obviously, that any bullshit coming out of the mouths of these assholes about private property, hard earned money, and free enterprise is so much smoke up your ass. Most of us knew that already, but for the few that didn’t, yeah: these are not people who are interested in paying a fair price for the labor of others. Left-leaning politicians who are already openly skeptical about intellectual property rights might be able to spin stealing a song as a gesture of principle; the capitalist blowhards of the right, never. They’re just hypocrites. Hopefully you already knew that.

But hey, while we’re talking capitalism, let’s look at the other big takeaway here, which is an issue of supply and demand. Why is it that it’s always Republicans ripping off music from aggressively pro-labor artists?

It’s because there aren’t any popular, inspiring anthems written from a right-wing perspective.

Sure, there’s openly jingoist shit like God Bless the USA, and that works fine for whipping up the base into a frenzy of red-meat-chumming landsharks, but it doesn’t exactly speak to the human condition. Music or lyrics that really get deep down into people’s souls require a certain degree of empathy to produce, and people with significant levels of empathy don’t, as a general rule, vote Republican.

We can argue about whether the popular works by Springsteen, Survivor, the Murphys, etc. are any good, musically, but no one can deny that they have a powerful and broad-based appeal. It’s hard to find someone in a crowd that can’t get something out of those songs.

People who are just in it for themselves — who think everyone should start life with a handgun and a kick in the ass and be told to go out there and get theirs, and fuck anyone who gets in the way, which is pretty much the Republican party platform these days — can’t write those songs. You have to think about the lives of other human beings to touch the lives of other human beings.

We’re never going to see the great Republican Bruce Springsteen because a Republican can’t write Bruce Springsteen’s songs. The closest thing the dedicated right wing has is Ted Nugent, and that’s probably enough said for all of us.

GOP on Immigration Reform: “No” in English-Language Broadcasts; “Si” in Spanish

The State of the Union address and the minority party’s response(s) are the apex of made-for-TV politics, and that’s not a compliment.

I avoid them most years, but the replies have been getting increasingly hilarious as the Republican party devolves further and further into leaderless anarchy. Witness this year’s five “response to the State of the Union address” speeches: an official Republican Party address by freshman Senator Joni Ernst, a Spanish-language address ostensibly following the same outline as Ernst’s (more on that in a moment) by freshman Representative Carlos Curbelo, a “Tea Party response” by Representative Curt Clawson, and personal, unsponsored reply speeches by Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

One could safely expect the non-party-sponsored speeches to be off-message, and to greater or lesser degrees they were, but in theory Ernst and Curbelo were giving the same official GOP response (which tells you a bit about how pre-scripted these things are, and how little flexibility they have to respond to what actually comes out of the President’s mouth).

Only trouble is, they didn’t give quite the same speech.

On most of the particulars, the message was the same, with the same not-particularly-relevant talking points delivered in the same order. But on immigration reform, Ernst’s English-language speech was silent — she never used the word “immigration” at all — while Curbelo’s Spanish-language speech called for Congress to

“…work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system, to secure our borders, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy.”

Not exactly radical stuff, but the discrepancy is telling. Two GOP freshmen deliver ostensibly the same message in two different languages; in the Spanish-language version the GOP is suddenly the party of “permanent solutions for our immigration system,” while in the English-language version it doesn’t come up at all.

immigration_reform_rally

Pandering to different constituencies with contradictory messages and hoping no one notices is nothing new in politics — but it’s usually at least done with different speeches, rather than with differing translations of the same, party-approved message.

 

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