Saturday, September 25, 2010


In the first Dirty Harry movie, one suggestion for Harry's nickname is his hatred for minorities. Ironically, of course, Harry's partner in that film is hispanic, and in the sequel (Magnum Force), his partner is african american.

In the third film in the series, some attempt at emphasizing the essential decency of Harry's character (and its consistency with his hardline conservativism about law enforcement) is made by giving him a female partner. As might be expected, Harry at first spurns her, but gradually grows to accept and respect her. For her part, his partner proves her worth at police work, ultimately saving Harry's life.
Tyne Daly as Harry's partner shooting the bad guys in the climatic scene of The Enforcer.

The message is clearly that women can be just as badass and hard on crime as men and that sexism is not a necessary correlate of conservativism about law enforcement.

How ironic is it, then, that on a documentary about the politics of the Dirty Harry movies (on the Magnum Force DVD), when Tyne Daly is interviewed, she is referred to as "actor"?
I suppose this may be one of those cases where the PC thing to do is not immediately clear. Using "actor" for an actress seems to me to follow the pattern of using a male-marked word for all members of a group (e.g. "mankind" for men and women), so I would have thought it showed disrespect to use it.

Conversely, of course, the "-or" or "-er" marking strictly speaking just denotes agency. The seeming markedness of "actor" or "mister" comes from the existence of a corresponding "-ress" form. "-or" words like prosecutor or perpetrator which do not also seem non-marked.

According to wikipedia, using "actor" for actresses is considered by some the PC thing to do: "As actress is a specifically feminine word, some groups assert that the word is sexist. Gender-neutral usage of actor has re-emerged in modern English, especially when referring to male and female performers collectively, but actress remains the common term used in major acting awards given to female recipients and is common in general usage."

But if we buy this reasoning, should we also call women "mister"? Etymologically speaking, mister derives from Indo-European megh, or "great", via Latin magister ("teacher"), from which also "master". So, historically, the "-er" of mister is also an "-er" of agency, implying we can use it in a gender neutral fashion to refer to women respectfully as well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

cordoba initiative ii

Pat Condell on the proposed mosque at Ground zero again.
"People keep framing this as a religious freedom issue, but there's a difference between practicing your religion which everyone has the right to do and rubbing your religion in people's faces as a triumphalist religious statement, which is what's happening here. . . .

". . . [T]he mosque part of this building will occupy the top two floors, which means it will overlook the scene of conquest, which is why the site was chosen. When the governor of New York offered to help them find an alternative site, they wouldn't even discuss it. Moving it somewhere else would negate the very purpose of building it, which is to rub 9/11 in America's face. If they can't build it there, there's no point in building it anywhere else. . . .

". . . [T]he people behind it clearly don't have the intelligence or the good grace to withdraw the plans even though they know as well as everyone else that if the positions were reversed, and this level of calculated insult were being directed at Islam, there is no way on earth that this project would be allowed to proceed, constitution or no constitution."

Tru dat.

[For references, follow the link to the original video.]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9 / 11

. . . Islam had evolved a response to the challenge of a world populated with strangers, though one that has proved fragile under the stresses of more recent centuries. That fragility is not accidental, though. The fact that Islam rapidly acquired impressive military and political strength within a few years of its foundation meant that—unlike Christianity—it never needed to develop a philosophy of compromise with secular authorities and could indulge the ambition of a comprehensive regulation of social life. Its periods of tolerance were, therefore, the product of vast self-confidence and the absence of any real internal challenge rather than an ideology that had adapted to the permanent presence of strangers.

~ Paul Seabright (2010) The Company of Strangers