Thursday, December 27, 2007

Three things I like Thursday

My jaw has been hurting lately, bringing the first stanza of this poem to mind:

But now that I am used to pain,
Its knuckles in my mouth the same
Today as yesterday, the cause
As clear-obscure as who's to blame,

A fascination with the flaws
Sets in - the plundered heart, the pause
Between those earnest, oversold
Liberties that took like laws.

What should have been I never told,
Afraid of outbursts, you withhold.
Why are desires something to share?
I'm shivering though it isn't cold.

Beneath your window, I stand and stare.
The planets turn. The trees are bare.
I'll toss a pebble at the pane,
But softly, knowing you are not there.
- J.D. McClatchy, Pibroch


I also really like this song and the stories on this website.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Part 1

Spoiler alert: If you are still waiting to see 1962's Manchurian Candidate, this might not be the post for you.

I'm about 1/4th of the way through Naomi Klein's new book "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" (thanks, Lauren, for the xmas gift!). Klein explores the links between disasters (whether state-created or natural) that befall a country and the privitization of public institution (twin shocks, to borrow her language). In the first chapter, Klein describes how the CIA came to use Ewan Cameron's psychological research in the 1950s. She writes of a meeting between different intelligent agencies and academic in 1951.

Klein writes,
"The subject of the meeting was growing concern in the Western intelligence community that the Communists has somehow discovered how to 'brainwash' prisoners of war. The evidence was the fact that American GIs taken captive in Korea were going before cameras, seemingly willingly, and denouncing capitalism and imperialism. According to the declassified minutes from the Ritz meeting, those in attendance...were convinced that Western powers urgently needed to discover how the Communists were extracting these remarkable confessions. With that in mind, the first step was to conduct 'a clinical study of actual cases' to see how brainwashing might work. The stated goal of this research was not for Western powers to start using mind control on prisoners, it was to prepare Western soldiers for whatever coercive techniques they might encounter if they were taken hostage."


Last night, I finished watching the original Manchurian Candidate, made in 1962. It's central plot point rests on the fear that Klein describes in the above passage, that the Communists were capable of brainwashing prisoners of war, and then takes it a step further. In the movie the captured platoon doesn't go on television and denounce Western imperialism, but rather, a member of the platoon (Laurence Harvey playing Raymond Shaw) is a sleeper agent, activated as an assassin each time someone suggests to him that he play some solitaire and he sees a queen of diamond.

There are few clues in the movie about how this is accomplished, the main one being that they were brainwashed at a fictional place called the Pavlovian Institute, which suggests that the creators of Manchurian Candidate envisioned brainwashing as being related to behaviorist techniques. Behaviorism involves offering reinforcement to reward or punish specific behavior. As Klein describes the research of Cameron (in 1957 the CIA gave him his first grant), his goal was not to erase specific behaviors, but rather to erase the person entirely and begin again with a blank slate. To achieve this goal, he used new inventions to give extremely intense shock therapy sessions, sensory deprivation, and extended sleep. Cameron was conducting this research on his patients, who were left much much worse off after being in his care.

Klein is very clear in pointing out that the experiments Cameron engaged in with CIA funding "are consistently described as 'mind control' and 'brainwashing.' The word 'torture' is almost never used."

This semantics game is meant to remind the reader of today, our own on-going semantics game with "enemy combatant" and "enhanced interrogation techniques" and the discussion that seems to have centered itself around the practice of waterboarding. The Manchurian Candidate represents the (not outdated) idea that torture/brainwashing might be used to make a person an effective tool for the interrogators. In the Manchurian Candidate, they created an assassin, today, it's claimed we are trying to create "sources of information." Klein's narrative and Cameron's research state, however, that we are not trying to create a tool, but rather obliterate a person. Rather than the person, it is his/her absolute obliteration that is the tool, the weapon, and the objective is terror.

For more information from a unique perspective about waterboarding please check out this post.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I think I may have to divorce the internet. I'm not sure what that's going to mean for my blog though. I'd like to keep writing here and reading other blogs, but I have to say, everyday I encounter things that really upset me on the internet. And I don't mean upset me in the sense that there are tons of depressing news items out there that convey information about an increasingly stressful and depressing world. I mean upset me like, I cannot believe you, my beloved blog, would say such a thing! (Which maybe just means I'm overly sensitive.)

I wanted to leave a comment about this at Jezebel today (I need to stop reading Jezebel if only because I think I've written three out of the last four posts about stuff I've encountered there), but I can't because I have this new policy that it's stupid to leave comments that criticize people for offending your personal sensibilities. It's like coming into someone's house and saying you don't like the wallpaper.

But you know me, silence isn't an option either.

Anyway, long preamble for this: Today Jezebel is following up on the news coverage that has recently gone on about facebook groups dedicated to women posting pictures of themselves drunk. A lot of blogs have written about this and mentioned how it's just a bunch of pearl clutching about how THOSE GIRLS SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES, sometimes wrapped in the extremely thin (see-through) gauze of concern about binge drinking. Jezebel has written about this website in the past and invited readers to send in pics of drunk guys from facebook. It posted some of those today.

About two years ago, a friend of mine from high school got really drunk at a party. At some point in the night, his friends discovered him lying down outside at the foot of some stairs. Thinking he was passed out, they brought him inside and put him on the floor to sleep it off. Reportedly, his friends heard him snoring during the night. He had hit his head falling down and sometime during the night, he died.

That's why this picture really upset me.

I know that over at Jezebel their intention is to point out to the media that gee, it's not just girls who are getting drunk, taking pictures of themselves, and putting it up on the internet. And yeah, ok, it is kind of hilarious to have a friend smear whipped cream all over their faces while their passed out drunk and your tickling them with a feather (or whatever. I'm not that fond of writing "balls" on people's heads; it's played out).

Funny pictures on the internet (and those HOLY SHIT OUR DAUGHTERS GONE WILD new stories) aside, it's just hard for me to look at these pictures and not think, "But what if he really is dead?"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Not just a few bad apples

Warning: This post is potentially triggering as it deals with rape.


Via Jezebel: Yesterday ABC posted a news story about a woman named Jamie Leigh Jones. While she was in Iraq working for either Halliburton or its then-subsidiary KBR (the new story isn't clear) Jones alleges was gang-raped by her coworkers. She is suing Halliburton and in her lawsuit she alleges that after being given medical treatment by army doctors who performed a rape kit, she was held under guard in a Halliburton storage container with a bed in it and told that if she left she would lose her job both in Iraq and back in the United States. The rape kit, which contained evidence that she had been both vaginally and anally raped, has disappeared.

After reading about this case, I remembered reading about women who, while serving in the army in Iraq, have been raped or sexually harassed. A quick google search lead me to SuzanneSwift.org, a site that publicizes the story of two women on its home page, Suzanne Swift and LaVena Johnson. The LaVena Johnson story has its own website here. I urge you to read the stories of both women. In particular check out this link from suzanneswift.org: What can I do if I'm being sexually mistreated in the military?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Do what I say, not what I do

If you listened to the Bryant Park Project on NPR yesterday (or looked at any major news source I suspect) then you've probably heard about the U.S. intelligence report that concluded that Iran stopped pursuing creating nuclear weapons in 2003. This morning, however, the BPP (and the NY Times) delivered the (rather predictable) news that Bush says that his tough policy towards Iran is justified because Iran has pursued nuclear weapons in the past and will do so in the future if the chance arises.

I don't know if the new U.S. intelligence report is correct. I don't know if Iran intends to get nukes in the future (although, honestly, I suspect that they might). What I do know is that Bush scolding Iran for attempting to create nuclear weapons is the U.S. talking out of both sides of his/her mouth.

November's issue of Scientific American poses the question "Do We Need New Nukes?" as the cover story. In the article, the author, David Biello, explores the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense's (DOD) proposal to replace "the W76, which makes up a third of the available warheads" (and according to Biello we have "a stockpile of roughly 10,000 nuclear weapons"). Apparently, W76s have a 30 year life span which is about to expire. The bulk of the article is about explaining and critiquing point by point, DOE and the DOD's argument both for the particular design they'd like to use to replace the W76s (a design filed under the moniker the Reliable Replacement Warhead [RRW]) and for the replacement project in general.

Near the end of the article Biello discusses what I think is the main argument against replacing these outdated warheads. Biello quotes Sidney Drell from the Standford Linear Accelerator Center as saying
If the United States, the strongest nation in the world, concludes that it cannot protect its vital interests without relying on new nuclear weapons for new military missions, it would be a clear signal to other nations that nuclear weapons are valuable, if not necessary, for their security purposes, too.


Or in other words the United States could restart (continue?) the nuclear arms race by pursuing the RRW program.

I'm with Henry Kissinger on this one, who, along with George Shultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn have issued a statement saying, "We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal."

We are sending mixed messages to Iran. While we are demanding (through Condoleezza Rice in the above linked NY Times article) that “Iran...stop enrichment and reprocessing activities," we are simultaneously sending them the message (through actions such as proposing the RRW program) that maintaining a fully function nuclear warhead supply should be the top priority of world powers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Onslaught

This week over at Jezebel Dodai wrote a post about Nigella Lawson, author of "How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking." She a celebrity chef in Britain and apparently people have been saying that she's getting fat. Lawson takes her critics to task, saying that it's gotten to the point where beauty is almost entirely equated with thinness.

Also on the topic of the media's love affair with calling people fat, Zuzu at Feministe writes about Jennifer Love Hewitt's recent response to people saying she has a fat butt. Hewitt writes that she's not concerned for herself, but rather all the women out there who are struggling with body issues.

I was really interested to see the number of comments over at Jezebel that basically said, "but she's not fat!" re: Lawson. Hewitt's post contains this as well. She says "size two is not fat." Both the comments at Jezebel and this comment from Hewitt point out a legitimate problem in our society. Women in general, but celebrity women in particular, are held up to ridiculous and unrealistic standards.

On the other hand, I think these comments conceal something that further adds to our collective psychosis over body image. Here's what I want to ask: What if Lawson and Hewitt were fat?

It's important that we point out that calling either Lawson or Hewitt fat is ridiculous. But it may be more important to for us to say that being fat does not make someone ugly, lazy, or valueless.

Hewitt is right, this fat-policing of celebrities stuff isn't really about communicating directly with the celebrities. What it's really about is making it damn clear to everyone what are acceptable body types and what are not.

Our ideals for our celebrities are like a cracked mirror that tells us all about our own insecurities and desires. The mirror tells us that we cannot let ourselves get old without intervention (but that if we have plastic surgery, it's taboo to go out until it's fully healed), it tells us that cellulite "ruins" our legs, it tells us to be hairless, white, and sexually available, but not slutty.

It's not enough for us to protest, "but I don't have those flaws" when we fail to live up to the image. That doesn't break the mirror; it just passes it on to someone else.

PS: I really liked Lawson's late husband's book.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Tomorrow, December 1, 2007, is World AIDS Day. If you go here, you can listen to Thembi, a South African woman who is living with AIDS.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Apathy Mask

I recently finished reading "A People's History of U.S.," a book I've mentioned again and again here. As I neared the end of the book (and moved closer to present day) author Howard Zinn argues that the government has become disconnected from the people.

Zinn writes
After the disastrous war in Vietnam came the scandals of Watergate. There was deepening economic insecurity for much of the population, along with environmental deterioration, and a growing culture of violence and family disarray. Clearly, such fundamental problems could not be solved without bold changes in the social and economic structure. But no major party candidates proposed such changes. The "American political tradition" held fast.
In recognition of this, perhaps only vaguely conscious of this, voters stayed away from the polls in large numbers, or voted without enthusiasm. More and more they declared, if only by nonparticipation, their alienation from the political system.


Passages like this really stuck with me. My brother turned 18 a few years after Kurt Cobain killed himself. Interviewers were asking Cobain constantly if "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was about teenage apathy because the story of the time was that my brother's generation, the one right before mine, was apathetic. They didn't vote because they didn't care or so said the media.

That story continues today. Sean Combs "Vote or Die" Campaign seems based on the idea that if teenagers and people in their twenties just really understood how incredibly important it is to vote, if they were just whipped into a frenzy, they would be voting.

But perhaps apathy masks something deeper and more frightening, despair.

Again, Zinn writes, "In a two party system, if both parties ignore public opinion, there is no place voters can turn."

The apathy story is a good one for the government and the media because it turns nonparticipation into individual moral failing (laziness, being uneducated, selfishness). The "despair" story is a much more difficult one because it requires us to admit the system is failing the people rather blame people for failing to participate in it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I know where I won't be shopping

In this week's issue of the Hook, the weekly newspaper ran a column called Holiday howlers, which consisted of interviews with local shop owners about their stories of last minute holiday shoppers. Cynthia Schroeder of Spring Street's interview particularly caught my eye. The author of the article, Claiborn Thompson, writes,
In her second year running the women's clothing shop Spring Street, owner Cynthia Schroeder found the holiday season to be especially hectic. But things turned from hectic to strange when a man came into the store-- located at that time in Meadowbrook Shopping Center-- apparently looking for a gift for his wife or girlfriend. But no. Schroeder says he wanted to try the clothes on... himself! Realizing she had no rules against it, she allowed him to take his pick.

Then, while he was busily trying on clothes, a lady out in the parking lot backed into Schroeder's car and tried to drive away.

"Since then," she says, "we've decided that men should not try on women's clothes-- during store hours or otherwise!"

I don't even get how this was a story. Let's break it down: A man wanted to try on women's clothing. The store owner let him. An unrelated woman then backed into the store owner's car. Since then the store owner has decided men should not cross-dress.

All I have to say is, WTF?

This past Tuesday (November 20th, 2007) was Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day "set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice." The website for the day defines transgender as "a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant" individual.

It's depressing that the Hook ran this story the same week as the Transgender Day of Remembrance. If this woman wants to exclude a group of people from her private business, fine, but it's ridiculous for the Hook to publish this as a humorous story that condones her bigotry.

The Hook dehumanizes cross-dressers and other transgender individuals with this story by making them a punch line in a joke and celebrating their exclusion from a business. It is exactly this kind of attitude that protects members of our society who commit violent acts against transgender people merely because they do not conform to our notions of what it means to be a man or a woman.

Shame on The Hook.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Questions

What do you think the removal of body hair is about? If both men and women naturally grow body hair, does it make sense that our culture breeds people of both genders to find body hair to be disgusting? Does it spring from U.S. history which looked down upon and oppressed people with darker hair, from Eastern Europeans to African Americans? (In other words, is it because it makes people look "ethnic"?) Is it a matter of personal preference? (Something that I think is difficult to argue since distaste for body hair in American culture is nearly universal. Maybe you do genuinely "prefer" to be hairless or sexually "prefer" others to be hairless. How convenient though that your preference is supported and pushed by traditional beauty standards.) Is it an attempt to further an artificial distinction between men and women? Is it about creating a market for hair removal products? Is it about making people focus on individual flaws and in doing so, taking their eyes off the big picture? Is it punishment, self-flagellation? Just what, exactly, as a culture, are we willingly doing to ourselves?

(Post stems from this discussion)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Insert slogan here

Yesterday NPR's Morning Edition began with this segment about a poll that had been conducted regarding perceptions of the black community in the United States. The article expands on a lot of information in the poll, but the radio segment focuses on the conclusion that the poll draws that black people in America no longer see themselves "as one race." Steve Inskeep (the host) and Juan Williams clarify that in the poll "not seeing themselves as one race" is akin to seeing themselves as not having the same economics or same values, rather than not having the same skin color.

It was really strange for me to hear this on NPR. Is it really news that all black people are not the same in their values and economics? The article does a better job of framing the poll, saying that television and popular culture portrays black people as having only one set of values, but black people do not see themselves this way. I was really upset, however, when Inskeep asked (something like) "So do middle and upper class blacks seem to get closer to whites in their values?"

Just as black people are not a homogeneous group of people, white people are also divided in their values and along class lines. Inskeep's question implies that all whites are middle and upper-class, which erases a large portion of white people in America who are poor.

According to the article,
72 percent of whites, 54 percent of blacks, and 60 percent of Hispanics agree that in the last 10 years, "values held by black people and the values held by white people (have) become more similar."


I think that this perception is wrong, not because there are not shared values between people of different races, but because, like Inskeep's question, this perception rests on that there is such a thing as "white people values" (or "black people values").

Many historians have written about the Jim Crow laws in the south as not only a reflection of racist attitudes of the time, but an attempt to maintain and fuel racist attitudes particularly in poor white people. These historians argue that poor white people and emancipated slaves had much in common, namely the conditions of poverty, and that people in power were afraid of unity between the two groups erupting into a class war.

It's a good step to recognize that there are class divisions within the African American community (as obvious as I think this is, I'm still glad it's being said). An even better step would be to recognize that those same class divides exist throughout the country, regardless of race.

*
In more local news from yesterday, first-year Alex Cortes had a piece in the UVA newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, in support of shouting "not gay" during The Good Old Song at football games. For those of you who aren't from Charlottesville, when UVA scores a touchdown, the fans sing The Good Old Song in celebration. There is a verse about everything being bright and gay at Virginia, after which some people (fewer and fewer, I hear) shout "not gay."

My sister Caitlin sent me Cortes' opinion piece this morning explaining how hilarious and sad it was all at once, and it really has to be read to be believed.

Anyway, here is my little response (which I may or may not send to him; you can vote! But I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter because he seems the type to google his name on a regular basis [see last paragraph of his article]).

Dear Alex,
You want to shout "Not Gay" at football games during the good old song? Fine, whatever, I don't really care. But you're going to have to accept that in shouting "not gay" you are aligning yourself with idiots and assholes. And do you want to know the reason that is the case? Because as much as you might want it to be, shouting a catch phrase is not an intellectual argument. I don't care if "not gay" is supposed to stand for "I am against the homosexual "lifestyle" for religious reason and I also am against sex between a man and woman before marriage." This is akin to saying that screaming "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you" to your parents at the age of 14 is an intellectual argument that is meant to convey "The differences between our ages makes it almost impossible for us to relate to one another. I am becoming an adult and I need more space and freedom."

However, I whole-heartedly invite you flesh out your "not gay" chant. At the next football game, try hysterically shrieking, "I am not gay because it says it's wrong in the bible and I also believe that men and women should only use the act of intercourse for procreation" if that is what you are really trying to say. I am sure all those people who have been staring at you and saying negative things at past football games will be completely won over by this "intellectual" argument.

Lifestylely yours,
Rachel

Monday, November 12, 2007

Love has to take us unawares
for none of us would pay love's price if we knew it.
For who will pay to be destroyed?
The destruction is so certain,
so evident.

Much harder to chart,
less evident,
is love's second life,
a tern's egg,
revealed and hidden in a nest of stones
on a stony shore.

What seems a stone
is no stone.
This vulnerable pulse
which could be held in the palm of a hand
may survive
to voyage the world's warm and frozen oceans,
its tapered wings,
the beat of its small heart,
a span between arctic poles.

- Moya Cannon, Arctic Tern (From: The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women's Poetry 1967-2000)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Green, my ass

First of all, Columbus Day, redux.

Secondly, a confession: I do not like "reality" TV (that is not the confession part---and yes, I really am going to use scare quotes around reality), but sometimes I watch "The Biggest Loser." This week I caught part of the "Green Week" episode. The challenge this week was that the contestants had to race up ramps to recycle several tons of soda cans. The team that recycled the most cans in weight won a 2008 Ford Escape hybrid SUV. A hybrid SUV.

Now if you'll please check out the second graphic with this article, the one that lists the Revised EPA Miles Per Gallon Estimates for several different types of vehicles. According to the graphic, 7 different kinds of cars get better gas mileage than the 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid SUV. In fact, the 2007 Toyota Prius gets 16 more mile/gallon city and highway combined than the 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid.

I think this is an excellent example of how the "green"/"environmental friendly" sticker is being slapped onto products and companies right now as just another marketing tool. Why did NBC pick the Ford Escape Hybrid (the less environmentally friendly car) over the Prius as a prize during their all-good-for-the-environment episode of the Biggest Loser? My guess is that Ford offered more money (that other "green") for the product placement of its cars.

So thanks, NBC, I guess this means two more (hybrid) SUVs out there on the road.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Can't stop, won't stop

Yesterday the House passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). (Bad news for the New York Post maybe.) I am very happy that we are one step closer to protection LGB people from discrimination in the workplace, but you'll notice the T is absent Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered acronym. Some Democrats decided that ditching protection against workplace discrimination for transgendered people was the best way the ensure the bills passage. Understandably some people feel betrayed and pissed. And some people are arguing that transgendered people and their allies just need to be patient and their time will come.

I do believe that eventually transgendered people will be protected from workplace discrimination and I'm willing to hear the counsel "be patient," but not if being patient is supposed to mean, "shut up, sit still, and wait."

As Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail,

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."


We cannot stop agitating for the things we believe in. If you want to do some agitating in letter-writing form, here's how to find your US House Rep and Senator.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Radical Act

Warning: If you do not want to read about body issues, please skip this post.

Through dooce, I came across this blog post by Mihow where she describes the way that her weight has fluctuated through-out her life using the real numbers (read: her weight in pounds and her height in feet and inches). Many of her commenters (and dooce) commend her for being brave enough to put her real numbers out there and setting a goal for herself.

I do think it's brave to publicly admit to how much you weigh. It's sad that in our society this is a brave act, but there is so much baggage accompanying the numbers on the scale. So I don't want to sound like I'm coming down on Mihow here. However, when I read her post, it just made me feel bad.

You see, I am two inches shorter than Mihow and weigh about the same amount. And so the comparison game begins. She considers herself overweight, should I? Do other people? Reading Mihow's numbers added fuel to the fire of voice in my head that tells me because of what I weigh I am a failure and others see me as a failure (or, if you want, that I am unloveable and others see me as unloveable). (Let me take a moment here to say that I don't want comments that say that I am not a failure and I am loveable; although I appreciate the sentiment, I feel that that is equivalent to saying "Don't feel the way you feel.")

Recently, I reread my diaries from middle school hoping to find something I could use "Mortified-style" for my friend's variety show. I didn't really find anything funny in there. What I did find though was hundreds of entries that contained the phrase, "I failed today. I ate between meals." I remember wishing that I was thinner in middle school, but I had forgotten how it made me feel like I was a failure because I wasn't thinner.

I don't know why I was so surprised though, because those feelings are still around.

I need to lose some weight for health reasons (because a laminated paper chart taped to a doctors wall was consulted and ordain it). So take the amount of weight I'd like to lose for health reasons. Triple it. That is how much I actually want to lose.

This little math exercise is significant for me because I do believe that weight loss has a healthy, positive place in my life. If I were treating my body as I should be, exercising and eating correctly, the by-product of that would be weight loss (I am told). However (and here's what my little math equation is meant to demonstrate), the kind of weight loss I am really interested in, in my heart of hearts, is divorced from treating my body like I love it. It is deeply linked to hating my body and hating myself for failing to have the kind of body that I think I might love.

Since the end goal is the same, a leaner and therefore healthier body, perhaps it doesn't matter if my motivation is to be healthy or to look "good," but I think it does. Every time I exercise (or chose to stay on the couch) and every time I deny myself food I want (or go ahead and eat it), there's part of me that's doing it out of self-love and there is part of me that is doing it out of self-hatred. And I have a feeling that if I listen to the self-hatred enough, it's not really going to matter if I wildly exceed my expectations in regards to weight loss.

I am coming to terms with the idea that this self-hatred/self-love dichotomy is not like two paths in the woods, where I just have to get off the self-hatred one and step onto the self-love one. I am always going to struggle with feelings of inadequacy in regards to my appearance/weight (as are so many other women and increasingly men). But you know how when you see someone bullying someone else on the street, there's this moment where you have to decide whether or not your going to intervene and stand-up for the person being bullied? I like to believe I'm the kind of person who would intervene for a stranger and now I want to be the kind of person who will consistently intervene for herself.

During college (this is the wrap up, I swear), in one of my Feminist literature classes, we watched Margaret Cho's stand-up at the end of the year. Some of the things she said always stuck with me. She talked about how she use to take time out of her day to look at herself as she passed buildings with glass windows to think "I am fat," and how she could spend her time so much more productively. And she also said this (watch it please, it's good).

She says it so much better than I can.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Two things I like Tuesday

Out in this desert we are testing bombs,

that's why we came here.

Sometimes I feel an underground river
forcing it's way between deformed cliffs
an acute angle of understanding
moving itself like a locus of the sun
into this condemned scenery.

What we've had to give up to get here---
whole LP collections, films we starred in
playing in the neighborhoods, bakery windows
full of dry, chocolate-filled Jewish cookies,
the language of love-letters, of suicide notes,
afternoons on the riverbank
pretending to be children

Coming out to this desert
we meant to change the face of
driving among dull green succulents
walking at noon in the ghost town
surrounded by a silence

that sounds like the silence of the place
except that it came with us
and is familiar
and everything we were saying until now
was an effort to blot it out---
coming out here we are up against it

Out here I feel more helpless
with you than without you
You mention the danger
and list the equipment
we talk of people caring for each other
in emergencies---laceration, thirst---
but you look at me like an emergency

Your dry heat feels like power
your eyes are stars of a different magnitude
they reflect lights that spell out: EXIT
when you get up and pace the floor

talking of the danger
as if it were not ourselves
as if we were testing anything else.

- Adrienne Rich, Trying to Talk with a Man

And this song, by Loudon Wainwright.

Monday, November 5, 2007

But what does it all MEAN?

After reading this post on Finally a Feminist 101 Blog, about the relationship between lesbianism and feminism, I began to think about a certain scenario that I have seen/experienced.

Picture this: Guy approaches girl (or group of girls) in a social setting. Guy makes his move. Girl or (group of girls) rejects guy. Guy says, "What are you, a (bunch of) lesbian(s)?!"

Having been on the receiving end of this insult (which is how I'm going to refer to it, since that is what the speaker intends, even though I don't feel that being identified as lesbian is insulting), I've done a little bit of thinking about what the speaker intends to convey. I've come up with a few different things.

(1) It is a warning. It says, either find me attractive or risk being categorizes as sexual unavailable/attractive (which is how the speaker sees lesbians). This would only an be effective threat in a setting/society that values women based on their sexual availability/attractiveness to men. It's also a little strange considering that the guy has already let on that he finds the woman/women he is hitting on to be desirable.

(2) In the same vein, it is some sort of bizarre reverse psychology. The guy is hoping that upon hearing the above threat, the girl will go out of her way to prove that she is straight, namely, by responding positively to his come ons.

(3) It is the only explanation that the guy can grasp for why he would be rejected. As in, if you reject me, then you must be rejecting all of men everywhere...and if this is the case, man, how fragile can an ego be?

(4) It is a very strange rejection in return (kind of like number 1). The equivalent of a kid's "fine, I don't like you either." (Although this could also be achieved through any kind of name calling so I don't think it really explains why the guy chooses "lesbian".)

(5) The guy decides that if he can't actually have the woman/women he has hit on, he is going to appropriate her through the common male fantasy of girl on girl action (this one works better when it's a group of girls rejecting the guy).

What do you think it is? Why do you think "lesbian" or "dyke" are still used as insults? Do you think it's different when they are used in a sexualized context?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Banana Bread and Easy Egg Florentine



I make darn good Banana Bread.


And here's how I do it:

(Recipe from Jeannine Meyers and posted on allrecipes.com)

1 1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C butter softened
3 Bananas mashed (ed: I like to use bananas that are so brown/black they are almost fermenting)
2 eggs
2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 C sour milk (ed: I just use regular milk)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). (ed: If your oven has a setting where both the top and bottom coils can be turned on, set it to this.) Lightly grease a loaf pan.
Combine all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl; beat well. Pour into greased loaf pan.
Bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (ed: I bake with the top and bottom coil turned on for the first 30 min and then just the bottom coil turned on for the last 30 minutes, to make sure the bread does not over-bake on the top.).


For dinner last night I made "Easy Eggs Florentine" from The Everything College Cookbook. As the name suggests, they are extremely easy to make. It's also a filling and tasty meal.

2 C fresh-packed spinach leaves
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil
2 slices crusty rye bread (ed: I just use whole wheat or whole grain bread)
2 TBS ricotta cheese
1/4 tsp (or to taste) cayenne pepper

Toast two pieces of bread and spread the ricotta cheese on them.
Break each egg into a separate bowl. Bowl about 3 in of water in a medium sauce pan, turn down to a simmer. Slid one egg into the simmering water and cook for 3 to 5 min. (ed: I do the full 5 min to get a "firmer" egg.) Remove from the water with a slotted spoon to drain off excess water. Repeat with the second egg.
When the egg has about 2 minutes to go, heat oil in a frying pan and then toss the spinach leaves on (ed: I use a lot of spinach leaves, probably more than the 2 C; I just eye-ball it). The spinach leaves take about a minute to cook.
Add the spinach on top of the bread with the ricotta cheese. Add the egg on top of that. Sprinkle cayenne pepper on top.
This recipe takes about 5 to 10 minutes.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

mindfulness

I have been feeling wishy-washy about my relationship to technology and that all came to a head tonight when I broke my cell phone by dropping it by accident.

The thing is, I've broken three cell phone in the past and each time I've been really upset at the thought of losing my cell phone, but besides feeling momentarily inconvenienced, I wasn't upset this time. Partly it's because circumstances are different now; I have a landline and I can get a pay-as-you-go cell phone for emergencies. Partly it's because I just don't want a cell phone anymore, for the same reason I've been having trouble with the internet lately.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with cell phones or the internet. In fact I think the internet in particular has brought a lot of amazing things into my life and does a lot of good. Lately, however, I've been really frustrated with aspects of the internet or maybe just how I use it.

I think I may use this kind of technology to spend less time alone with myself and my thoughts. When I am always reading about other people's opinions, I never really have time to form my own. It's the same with the cell phone. Instead of walking by myself and thinking or waiting and thinking, I can just call some one up and chat. There are good aspects to both of these things, of course, I stay informed (or get misinformed) with the internet and I reach out to my friends with my phone. But it seems like (and I don't think I'm alone in this) I am unable to use the internet or my cell phone in moderation or for the "right" reasons.

Besides stunting my ability to form my own opinion, I think the internet has had other negative effects on me. When I read blog comments or visit youtube and look at the comments, I inevitably end up angry or depressed. Some days, being on the internet can be like watching the failure of communication over and over again. I do not understand why strangers feel compelled to try to convince one another that the other person is wrong. I do not understand why I feel compelled to do this. I would not feel compelled to do this if someone on the bus started telling me about their conservative view points, so why do I feel the need to shove my viewpoint down someone else's throat on the internet?

I am not very good at wrapping things up, so I thought I would just end with a thought from Radiant Mind: Essential Buddhist Teachings and Texts. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes,
Where to start? Why not with your own mind? After all, it is the instrument through which all our thoughts and feelings, impulses and perceptions are translated into actions in teh world. When you stop outward activity for some time and practice being still, right there, in that moment, with that decision to sit, you are already breaking the flow of old karma and creating an entirely new and healthier karma. Herein lies the root of change, the turning point of a life lived.
I've been worried recently that we are about to declare war with Iran. Everyone tells me that it won't happen because politicians recognize that it would be political suicide and that the army is stretched thin as it is. If we went to Iran, maybe we would have to re-institute the draft. I'm afraid of that too, but I've also been told that that isn't really a possibility because of the notion of "political suicide." Maybe I am totally paranoid and just plan freaking out about current events, but the argument that the draft will not reappear in our life time because politicians don't have enough traction to get it passed the inevitably outraged population has made me wonder about the country's feelings about the draft in the past.

Howard Zinn writes,

On August 1, 1917, the New York herald reported that in New York City ninety of the first hundred draftees claimed exemption. In Minnesota, headlines in the Minneapolis Journal of August 6 and 7 read: "DRAFT OPPOSITION FAST SPREADING IN STATE" and "CONSCRIPTS GIVE FALSE ADDRESSES."...Senator Thomas Hardwick of Georgia said "there was undoubtedly general and widespread opposition on the part of many thousands...to the enactment of the draft law. Numerous and largely attended mass meetings held in every part of the State proptested against it..." Ultimately, over 330,000 men were classified as draft evaders."



According to this website, the US had a population of 106,021,537 in 1920. This website tells me that there were about 24 million draft cards on record, about 23% of the population in 1918. So let's say about 25% of the population was eligible for the draft in 1920. That would mean about 37,170,738 men could have been drafted. So, around 80% of the population that could be drafted were classified as draft evaders during WWI.

Today, the US population is around 303,256,320 people. Since only men have to register for the draft (and pretending still there's a fifty-fifty split), that means about 151,628,160 people are able to be drafted currently (ignoring age restrictions as I did above). So if the draft were put in place and the US classified the same percentage (6.23%) of the population as draft evaders as it did during WWI, that means that 9,446,434.4 men would be classified as draft evaders. Or, to put it differently, the entire population of New York City (men and women) and then some would be classified as draft evaders.

So imagine a scenario in regards to draft evasion happening today like it did during WWI. War is declared, the draft is invoked, there are enough draft evaders to equal (and go over) the population of New York City. Yet we still go to war.

As for the Vietnam War, Zinn writes,

By mid-1965, 380 prosecutions were begun against men refusing to be inducted; by mid-1968 that figure was up to 3,305. At the end of 1969, there were 33,960 delinquents nationwide.

Zinn goes onto write that anti-war feelings continued to grow in the nation, which eventually (along with other factors) led to US withdraw of troops. But not before the draft was used and not before so many people were killed.

My point is, throughout history there has been resistance to the draft. Politicians know that it is going to be unpopular. But that has not stopped them from using the draft in the past and I think we are being naive if we think that negative public opinion will stop them from using the draft today.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reproductive Justice

Over at The Curvature, Cara is discussing the different possibilities for "re-branding" within the pro-choice movement in order to encompass the ideas of reproductive justice.

It reminded me of Loretta Ross, the National Coordinator of SisterSong, who I saw speak in Charlottesville last year during the Festival of the Book. SisterSong is a women of color reproductive justice organization. Here's how they described themselves:

The SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective is a network of local, regional and nation grassroots agencies representing five primary ethnic populations/indigenous nations in the United States:
  • African American
  • Arab American/Middle Eastern
  • Asian/Pacific Islander
  • Latina
  • Native American/Indigenous


When Ross came to speak in Charlottesville last year one of the topic she touched on was SisterSong's involvement in the 2004 March for Women's Lives. Until they had become involved the march was called "March for Choice," but one of the conditions of SisterSong's involvement, Ross explained, was the name change. I remember feeling disappointed when I heard about the name change, because I thought it was about diluting what was to me, the primary issue, abortion rights.

My feelings at that time epitomize why the name change was necessary. To me, and to many Americans, pro-choice had become synonymous with being pro-choice about abortion (focusing on the right to choose to have or not to have an abortion). By changing the name to "March for Women's Lives" and by using the phrase "reproductive justice" SisterSong hopes to reconnect and recognize the links between abortion rights to other social justice issues and to other reproductive issues.

Reproductive Justice, as defined by Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (an original founding member oranization of SisterSong) is the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives.


In their extremely interesting Funders Briefing Report from 2005 (seriously, read it; it's not that long and it's great), SisterSong explains that the Reproductive Justice framework "spells out affirmative obligations that the government has to ensure the necessary social support for our decisions." (p. 2)

SisterSong writes,

From the perspective of SisterSong, one of the key problems we collectively face is the isolation of abortion from other social justice issues that concern all communities. Abortion isolated from other social justice/human rights issues neglects issues of economic justice, the environment, criminal justice, immigrants’ rights, militarism, discrimination based on race and sexual orientation, and a host of other concerns directly affecting an individual woman’s decision making process. Moreover, support for abortion rights is even frequently isolated from other reproductive health issues. We believe that the ability of any woman to determine her own reproductive destiny is directly linked to the conditions in her community and these conditions are not just a matter of individual choice and access. (pg. 3)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Slander, Libel, Oh My!

Today Gawker did a piece on a blogger who has create her blog in order to publicize the picture of the man she believes gave her herpes. On her blog she also documents that she flyered the neighborhood they live in with a picture of him that says, "I have herpes" across it.

I'm not going to link to the blog for two reasons. First (which will be the substance of this post), I don't want to participate in spreading a rumor and secondly, I'm pretty sure she's mostly doing this because she's blinded by anger and wants attention. (Note to everyone out there [including me], nothing lastingly good ever comes from actions motivated by feelings of anger or wanting revenge.)

Please check out the American Social Health website for information about herpes. The blogger found information that theusual incubation period is about 2 to 20 days, which is how she calculated who (she claims) knowingly infected her. Here are two things that cast doubt on her claim that come from the same website linked above: (1) Although the first reaction usually appears within 2 to 12 days, the symptoms can be so mild that the carrier does not realize that they have herpes until a subsequent outbreak, which can be years later as herpes remains in your system for life. Based on what she's posted on her blog, she cannot be sure that this is her first outbreak and she may have actually contracted herpes years ago. (2) It's estimated that 90% of people who have herpes don't know that they have it. It's likely, therefore, that this guy was not aware that he had herpes.

From a legal standpoint, setting up a blog like this is a ridiculously stupid thing to do. As Gregory A. Abbott, Esq. explains

Defamation consists of the following:
(1) a defamatory statement;
(2) published to third parties; and
(3) which the speaker or publisher knew or should have known was false.


In order for a statement to be defamatory the plaintiff must prove that the statement is damaging to his reputation, but accusing someone of having an STD is defamation per se, meaning the plaintiff is not required to proved damages.

The blogger in this case is not left without legal recourse, however. People have successfully sued others for knowingly transmitting an STD (though it is rare).


I also wonder what is really being criticized in this blogger's posts; the failure to disclose STD status or just having an STD at all. The former is certainly reprehensible. But I often find that just hearing that someone has an STD is enough to get people and their criticisms going. And if you're a sexually active adult, how hypocritical is that? First, chances are high that you have an STD and just don't know. Secondly, if you don't have an STD and you are sexual active, that is a combination of practicing safe sex and luck, but luck
is a factor.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Good Earth and the Happy Body (and the Pleased Checkbook)

So I'm a day late with this, but I just heard about it this morning on The Bryant Park Project. Yesterday was Blog Action Day, during which bloggers were meant to discuss the environment.

In my favorite posts bloggers wrote about their tips on how to reduce one's impact on the environment, so I thought I would add one of my own, one for the ladies (sorry, fellas).

Instead of using tampons or sanitary napkins (which has got to be the most awful generic name for a product ever), try the Keeper.

The Keeper is designed to catch your menstrual flow rather than absorb it. Its bell shape allows ...[it]...to fit snuggly and comfortably up against your vaginal walls, below but not touching your cervix.


The Keeper is much better for the environment then pads or tampons, which come in cardboard boxes and plastic wraps and are thrown out after use. Besides the positive environmental effects, using the Keeper is cheaper than restocking on pads and tampons each time you have your period. (It cost about $35. Pads and tampons costs about $4, right now, so if you use a pack a month for 30 years you will have spent $1,440 on menstruation products. Even if your using half a pack a month, it's still a lot cheaper to buy a Keeper.) Finally, I like the Keeper because I know what's coming in contact with my body. When I use a pad or a tampon, I'm not sure what chemicals have been used to bleach the product white or to make it super-absorbant.

If I've sold you on it, you might be wondering how it works. First, here is what it looks like:


When I begin my period, I wash the Keeper off with soap and hot water and then I boil it for ten minutes (I've read that three minutes in boiling water is safe, but I like to be careful).

To insert it, I fold it in half once and then again (see below).

Then I get into the same position I would to insert a tampon (if seeing a diagram of a vagina is NSFW don't click on that link) and slide it with my thumb and index finger guiding it in. When I remove my fingers, the Keeper pops open and into place.

I have to empty the Keeper twice in a 24-hour-period, which I generally do in the morning and before I go to bed, dumping the contents into the toilet or down the drain while I shower. I wash the Keeper thoroughly before re-inserting. Sometimes I use a pad at night with the Keeper just in case.

The Keeper has a little knob on the end that sticks out of your vagina while it's in (some people cut off this knob). You can grip this knob while you remove the Keeper. To remove it, I simply insert my finger into my vagina and squeeze the Keeper, breaking it's seal, which allows me to pull it out (it's painless).

When my period is over I wash it and boil it again. I store it in a small cloth bag (which by the way, I wash with the laundry the week I have my period).

Here are some things to consider before buying a Keeper:

If you do not like to put your fingers in your vagina or are worried about getting a tiny (and it really is tiny, I've never spilled it or anything) amount of blood on your fingers, this probably isn't for you.

It is larger than a tampon, so it might be uncomfortable to use if you haven't had vaginal sexual intercourse yet. (Although I do have to say, that I do not feel it at all when I have the Keeper in and I am able to feel tampons.)

If you have to change the Keeper more frequently because your flow is heavier, you should be prepared to change it in a public restroom setting just in case. This might mean bringing some extra water and a little bottle of soap with you, so you can rinse and wash the Keeper in your stall.

I have read that Keepers might increase the chance of getting a UTI, but if you are prone to UTIs you can prevent this by just being extra careful (drinking lots of water, practicing good hygiene, drinking unsweetened cranberry juice, urinating after sexual contact, and never holding your urine in for a long period of time).

I really love my Keeper and I'm happy to answer any questions anyone has about it to the best of my ability.

Edit: If you don't want to try to use the Keeper consider making your own pads. All you need is an old t-shirt, pillowcase, or sheets and a couple safety pins. You can cut them to be any length you want and fold them over to make them any thickness you want. Just rinse them out, wash, and reuse! Even if you just do this at night you'll be cutting back on the amount of trash produced by traditional menstrual products.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Just scan and bag, please!

Awhile ago I had to buy a pregnancy test from CVS. When I got to the counter and paid the clerk somberly told me that he hoped it turned out whatever way I wanted it to. I know that the guy meant well, but I can't help but wonder if he says the same thing to some guy purchasing cream for his penis. (Not that they sell "cream for penis" at CVS. Do they? I have no idea. But you know what I'm saying anyway.)

I cannot even begin to tell you how intensely invasive the clerk's well-intentioned remark felt to me. Suddenly there was this new individual who had actively alerted me to his knowledge of and his opinion of what was, to me, a deeply private act (after it involved my urine and my hormone levels; I was going to take the test in a bathroom with the door shut, not at a party or in the street). I didn't want his well-wishes; I want him to keep the silent compact between clerk and customer, that the customer's purchases are her private business.

I don't think it's any shocker for me to say that when it comes to reproduction women's private space is being slowly eroded and has been for awhile. In some states pharmacists whose are personally against Emergency Contraceptives (EC) are legally permitted to turn away women seeking the drug. In these cases, the state is saying to the woman, "here is another non-medical and not personally related to you opinion that trumps your decisions regarding your body, contraceptives, and reproduction." The ethics policy of the American Pharmacists Association requires pharmacists who will not provide women with EC to direct them to a pharmacist or pharmacy that will, but EC must be taken within 72 hours to be effective, so time is of the essence. Also, many woman cannot take time off work to drive all across town to different pharmacies that provide EC. In addition, it must be incredibly demoralizing and humiliating to have to face the pharmacist's implicit disapproval.

Maybe that's at least in part what this law is about. Let's call a spade a spade; this law is not about respecting a pharmacist's opinion; it's about preventing women from effectively using EC. If I think I might need EC, but know that I might have to be humiliated in a store (potentially in front of other customers) and then forced to drive across town to another store to get it (where I might be humiliating again...what's to prevent a pharmacist from "mistakenly" sending a woman to another store that "doesn't stock" EC) all within my ever shrinking lunch hour, maybe I will just give up, bury my head in the sand, and "hope for the best."

For an easier way to get EC, please check out Planned Parenthood here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Well worth the read

I don't have much to say today.

Please check out Russell Shorto's amazing May, 2006 piece in the New York Times, "Contra-Contraceptives." It's long, but that's because it's packed with really interesting information, so I suggest you read the whole thing. Shorto examines anti-choice groups' stance on contraceptives and makes the case that they are really struggling to make all sex marital and for procreation purposes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

National Coming Out Day

I didn't get around to posting on Monday, Columbus Day, and I have something I'd like to post about that, but before I do there's something going on tomorrow that I'd like to alert people about.

Tomorrow (Oct 11, 2007) is National Coming Out Day and the twenty year anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, accompanied by the AIDs Quilt's first display. The AIDs Quilt is a giant memorial to individuals who have AIDs/HIV or have died from it. In addition to being a memorial, the Quilt is also used to raise money for AIDs service organizations.

This year for National Coming Out Day, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is inviting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) people to make videos about coming out and straight people to make videos about being inspired by others coming out. You can check out their website to watch their introductory video and to get information about how to make a video. Also, please check out their Getting Involved/Take Action tab for some information about the HRC's current advocacy campaigns.

***
On to (or back to) Columbus Day:

Howard Zinn tell us that when Columbus landed in the Bahamas, he was
met by the Arawark Indians, who swam out to greet them. The Arawark lived in village communes, had developed agriculture of corn, yams, cassava. They could spin and weave, but they had no horses or work animals. They had no iron, but they wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears.
This was to have enormous consequence: it led to Columbus to take some of them aboard ship as prisoners because he insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold."

These were just the first of Columbus' prisoners. According to Zinn, when Columbus realized that there was not as much gold in America as he had originally presumed and that he would have to send some merchandise back home he and his men
went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spanairds and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route."

Zinn goes on to say
My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress...that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth."


For some interesting history about the Monacan tribe of Native Americans, who Thomas Jefferson once saw passing through Monticello to visit a burial ground of their ancestors, please check this out.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Buddhist in loooooooooooove

Today I listened to the 1998 Valentine's Day episode from This American Life. The shows overall theme was about marriages and relationships after that first bloom has fallen. The third act featured poet Donald Hall who read poems from his book "Without" about the death of his wife from leukemia. Listening to his poems and his descriptions of his wife, I ended up tearing up in my office.

His poetry, and the entire episode really, has made me think about the nature of love. I know that the romantic love we think of today is a product of time and place; rising hand and hand with our (relatively) new notions of individualism. At the same time, we still clearly care about what society has to say about love; gay-marriage activists want society to recognize and sanctify their love and homophobes (sorry, I feel strongly about this) want society to deem homosexual love as unacceptable.

In college, I had this amazing revelation after I broke up with my high school boyfriend. Everything I thought I knew about love was wrong. The catalyst for this revelation was my Intro to Buddhism class where we read a Thich Nhat Hahn essay (page 85) that delved into his ideas on love-sickness. According to Thich Nhat Hahn, love-sickness is a kind of love that is all consuming; we are obsessed with the object of our affection to the point where we can no longer function normally. Love is like a drug and we long to possess our lover. (See also, Proust, Remembrance of Things Past.) I recognized this kind of love. I think it is the same kind of love that is idealized and celebrated by romantic comedies, love songs, and almost every show on television.

It took a long time for me to discard this model of love. I felt like I had thrown away the most wonderful thing in my life and I wanted to get it back. But it wasn't the guy; it was just the feeling. I wanted to feel that way again (minus the devastation that followed when it ended) and it didn't matter with who. The worst part was once I had this feeling again the only thing I was concerned about was keeping it which manifested itself in obsession over the idea that the person I was with was going to leave me. I spent so much time with that kind of obsession that I didn't spend anytime getting to know the actual people I supposedly loved.

[You can put this next paragraph in big "In My Opinion" brackets]

Today I have different ideas about love. When I am in love with someone I try to recognize that I have all the responsibilities to them that I do to a friend and also, that they have those same responsibilities towards me; respect, compassion, and interest in who they are. Love, to me, also means a commitment to set aside certain sexual play or expression for one person (whether that be monogamy, which is what I practice, or specific sex acts). This wouldn't be a commitment or a sacrifice if it didn't feel at times like I didn't want to do it. [Edit: For me, it should resemble a "joyful sacrifice." As I said it is hard at times, but it would be equally empty of meaning if this was something I did completely unwillingly.] Finally, love means to me allowing the person to be at their worst (while still expecting them to be kind when they can) and knowing that I can be at my worst with them (while still always trying to be kind when I can). In short love is basically showing up everyday and trying to be my best because I want to make the other person happy, but knowing it's ok if I can't be my best that day (and vice versus). Everything else is just icing on the sweet sweet (but PDA is still not ok--kidding! or am I?) cake.

And now I'm hungry.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Memphis, TN

There are two albums that my Dad introduced me to in my childhood that I still listen to today, Billy Joel's An Innocent Man and Paul Simon's Graceland. I really got a kick out of sliding around on the kitchen floor in my socks and belting out "I aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmmmm an innocent man" when I was a kid.

Although I still love Innocent Man (I just listened to it this morning), it's Graceland I identify more and more with as an adult. As a kid, I loved the "silly" song "You can call me Al," for what I saw as it's elements of pretend ("I can call you Betty and Betty, when you call me you can call me Al"), it's upbeat tempo, and it's confusing, but engaging imagery ("Mister Beer-belly [beer-belly] /Get these mutts away from me/I don't find this stuff amusing anymore). Now, as an adult, I hear that song as being about identity crisis. I like that I can still enjoy all the elements of Graceland that I did as a child and as an adult (with a larger vocabulary) I can find meaning in Simon's songs. (You can listen to You Can Call me Al here.)

What I also didn't know as a child, is that Graceland was caught up in some controversy involving UN resolutions against South African apartheid. It seems that at the time the album was made there was a cultural boycott of South Africa going on. Simon used South African artists on Graceland, but as none of the money from the album went to support the apartheid government and the album featured the work of black South Africans, Simon was cleared of any wrong-doing.

For some interesting reading on the history of apartheid please check this out. (This article is specifically about how computer technology was used during apartheid, but this page gives a brief general history of South African apartheid.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Fit to print

I am having one of those days where I am feeling a little helpless. I have a lot of compassion and energy, but I don't really know what to do with it all the time. I do several of the obvious things to help out (donate, volunteer, try to spread the word), but there are some days when I just feel like a hamster on the wheel.

There are several issues going on right now that I have been following. I don't write about some things because I do not feel qualified (yet) to speak about them, but here are some of the things I have been reading about lately:

1. On Feministe, Jill reminds us that the genocide in Dafur is still happening.
2. At Bitch, Ph.D., the doctor fills us in on the protest in Burma.
3. At Majikthise, Lindsey highlights the disturbing report recently released about Blackwater's activities in Iraq.
4. NPR continues its coverage of people in poverty in Iraq.

On a lighter note, I want to post about a couple of comments I have received, because I know not everyone clicks on the comments to see what people have said. Sean Tubbs commented on my post "Moo" to let me know about the Charlottesville Podcasting Network and one of their pieces on local food. I've really been enjoying their "Voice of Poverty" podcasts.

Also John let me know that Better than Television is alive and well in Charlottesville. They are bringing us Head-Roc War Machine this Friday at the Bridge as part of the Columbus Day Symposium.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Built for Gender-Neutral Play doesn't have the same ring

I was pedaling along on my exercise bike tonight, watching TV when a commercial came on for Tonka Toy Truck. Has anyone else seen this commercial? The one with the motto "Built for Boyhood"?

The commercial begins with what has got to be the earliest example of well-intentioned-man-is-clueless-about-the-house style of advertising, when a toddler tracks dirt all over the floor in order to bring his mom flowers that he's pulled up from the roots.* The commercial then informs us that boys are "just different" and that's why they need the Tonka Toy Truck, which allows boys to do things that are natural to them like selecting shapes...and walking...I suppose the part that the toy makers consider truly gendered (let's hope they don't consider picking out the square to be a naturally male talent), is the last function of the toy, that a toddler can ride around on it and it's shaped like a truck. Didn't you know? Girls only like to ride around on ponies. The commercial then ends with the cheery (yet ominous to me) note, "Let's face it, boys are just different" (so stop trying to efface harmful gender roles and stereotypes, you dirty feminist bitches?).

I guess what really gets to me about this commercial is the last line, the just face it one, and the motto, Built for Boyhood. Both suggest that there are rock solid rules and behaviors to being a boy (and implicitly to being a girl). I feel like the motto has it spot on, but not in the way that the manufactures want. Yes, this is how we build boyhood (or girlhood for that matter), by giving children repeated messages about what is and isn't appropriate for them based on their gender.

I'm not saying that there aren't girls out there who just like to ride ponies or that there aren't boys out there who just really love trucks. Hell, the majority of boys and girls might fit into these stereotypes. I just think that it's much more complicated than that. For example, when I was a kid I loved playing house, but I also loved pretending to be an explorer in Anartica. One year, I desperately wanted to go as a ballerina for Halloween, but then when the actual night was too cold for my costume, my mom made me go as Zorro...and guess what, I loved being Zorro way more than I liked being a ballerina. I had a plastic kitchen, but I also had a creek that I loved to muck around in with my brother. And I know I'm not the only one out there whose childhood cannot be neatly categorized. If it can't be categorized so neatly, then maybe Tonka should "just face it," people are born male and female (and sometimes intersexed), but they are made into little boys and girls.

The moment that you accept that at least some aspects of gender are socialized, the next question becomes, but why do we socialize gender this way? What purpose does it serve? Whom does it benefit? I think there are many different answers to these question and which answers that we chose to see might be as personal and complex as childhood play.


*For other examples of these kinds of commercials please see any commercial where "Dad" does laundry, dishes, or any kind of childcare. I just love how we are still asking if a woman is capable of being president while at the same time we portray men as not being capable of doing a load of whites. Here's an idea, maybe commercial men can't do housework because that helps reinforce the stereotype that woman are naturally better at it. And maybe real life men want that stereotype reinforced because doing housework is a boring thankless job and as long they are considered bumbling fools within the household they can have plenty of time to do all the things that are "natural" to men, like holding political office, making laws, and deciding who gets what money.)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

For all you Lovers out there

Today I went to the Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival. While there I stopped by the Food Not Bombs' table and picked up some of their materials and signed up to be called to help out. The Charlottesville Food Not Bombs' group serves vegetarian/vegan meals to people in need of food at Tonlser Park at 1pm on Sundays. I have wanted to get involved with Food Not Bombs (this one will take you to their home page) for awhile. (I remember trying to during the summertimes in Pittsburgh to find a Pittsburgh chapter, but I must not have tried very hard [or they must have recently got things up and running] because a quick search took me to this page.) Anyway, check out the Food Not Bombs links above; the group has had some interesting history.

(Thinking about Food Not Bombs today lead me to search for mention of "Better than Television," in Charlottesville. I don't think they exist anymore. Does anyone know? Anyway, that lead me to Slingshot "a quarterly, independent, radical, newspaper published in the East Bay since 1988 by the Slingshot Collective." [And I take issue with the first person's statement that cervical cancer is easily cured if detected early--what about people who do not have access to annual cervical exams?])

Finally, on two totally unrelated notes, I am in the midst of a cold and had my first nose bleed ever today and I'm reading "Remembrance of Things Past" and thought I would share this passage,

At this time of life one has already been wounded more than once by the darts of love; it no longer evolves by itself, obeying its own incomprehensible and fatal laws, before our passive and astonished hearts. We come to its aid, we falsify it by memory and by suggestion. Recognizing one of its symptoms, we remember and recreate the rest. Since we know its song, which is engraved on our hearts in its entirety, there is no need for a woman to repeat the opening strains---filled with the admiration which beauty inspires---for us to remember what follows.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I can't think, the TV is on

Lately I've been feeling way too wired into television and the internet. For me, it's akin to feeling full or even like a glutton after a huge (unhealthy) meal. I have several websites that I check multiple times a day throughout the day everyday. And now, with the fall television season starting up again, I've been spending a lot of time letting my eyes glaze over as I practically slump over on the couch in front of the t.v. I am one of those people who cannot watch tv and carrying on a conversation at the same time; I get completely engrossed in whatever is on. I guess it's all those bright and shiny colors flying by me at a fast rate.

I watched Heroes last season and I'm going to continue to watch it again.

Spoiler alert **if you haven't watched the first season of Heroes and want to stop reading now, even though I'm only going to talk about it in a general way**

Last season focused good battling the evil of "progress at any cost." The Company was willing to sacrifice the lives of most of the people in New York City in order to unite the country under Nathan, ushering in a new era of progress and prosperity. Because the cost of the Company's idea of progress was millions (thousands?) of deaths through a nuclear explosion (in New York City), I initially thought that the show was trying to say something about terrorism. But I think that there is something else there, namely I think the Company represented the ideas of Social Darwinism*, (the concept that the rule "survival of the fittest" applies in economic and social situations).

On an individual level it's easy to see that, Social Darwinism is ridiculous; it requires us to consider a man who had the happy accident to be born into a wealthy family morally superior or more deserving of his wealth than a man who was born into poverty (it also requires us to think that the man born into poverty deserves to be poor). But I think that Social Darwinism lives on in some of our business practices. More and more companies are turning to global outsourcing as a means of cutting expenses. It is cheaper to make products in foreign countries that have less strict (or no) environmental or labor regulations. Those cheap costs of production are then (somewhat) reflected in lower costs to the United States consumer.

How can it be fair to pay someone with the same skill sets as an American worker less money just because they are born in a foreign country? I know there are complicated reasons why less money is seen as acceptable in these cases, but is one of those reasons based on a Social Darwinian idea? That those who work hard enough, no matter where they start, can and will achieve wealth and therefore, people who are poor are poor because they did not work hard enough (and do not deserve equal treatment)?

If progress in this case is cheaper goods for American consumers then the cost might be companies must engage in unethical business practices. Are we asking ourselves if progress is worth the cost? I know they are in academia, but is this question being asked by business leaders? Is it being asked by consumers? How can consumers even ask if progress is worth the cost if they don't even know what the ethical costs are? Is it the consumers job to stay informed about global business practices of the companies they use? Or is it the government's job to prevent unethical global business practices to begin with?

I honestly do not know if global outsourcing has a net positive or negative effect on foreign countries. I have heard arguments from Americans on both sides. I would like to hear from the foreign workers as well, because I don't want to be Whitey McPriviledged spouting my opinion about what's best for other countries. I do think, however, there are clearly some costs to global outsourcing.

I'm leaving this entry the scattered mess it is. I don't really know enough about this stuff to be writing about it, and clearly I have more questions then answer. If anyone has any good books/links in regards to globalization that they'd like to share, please do.




*A note about Social Darwinism: the theory of evolution defines success by a species ability to adapt to a given situation; the ability to adapt is measured first by the number of offspring a species successfully raises to reproduce and secondly, the number of new species that spring from the original species. Social Darwinism, on the other hand, measures success in terms of wealth acquired and the idea of "progress and civilization." One of the reasons that Darwin's theory of evolution was so threatening at the time he wrote his books is because there is no "progress" in Darwin's evolution; there is no end goal, there is only randomness. In college I took a class called Origins of Contemporary Thought where Allan Megill argued that this was Darwin's real challenge to religion; a world that works without an end goal, without progressing, implies that there is no God.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Moo

Yesterday morning I heard this segment on NPR's Morning Edition about the rising cost of dairy products. As the segment explains, although milk is generally a local product, the price of skim-milk powder, which is used in many products, has risen. Dairy producers may focus on making skim-milk powder, increasing the shortage in milk production (which is already increasing for many reasons as the NPR segment explains). As supplies go down, prices go up.

After hearing this piece, I realized I had no idea where Harris Teeter, one of the local grocery stores, gets its milk. A quick google search didn't get me any closer to finding out, but I did run into Majesty Farm's Cow and Goat Share Program. As the link explains, the cow and goat share program allows people to buy "stock" in a goat or cow; the price of the stock includes the farm boarding and feeding your animal, regular vet visits, daily milking, and 1 gallon of milk a week per "cow share" or 3 quarts for a "goat share." The program allows people to get around laws prohibiting buying and selling raw milk (it's not illegal to own/drink milk from animal you own). It's too expensive for me, but I thought it was an interesting idea worth sharing.

Also, if you're like me, you may have run out of This American Life episodes to listen to. If so, I highly recommend Radio Lab.

Monday, September 24, 2007

On their backs

I worked nine hours today, which is about average for me. For some reason today felt particularly long, but then, while I was waiting for the trolley this evening I was reading "A People's History of the United States" and I came across this,

1835, twenty mills went on strike to reduce the workday from thirteen and a half hours to eleven hours, to get cash wages instead of company scrip, and to end fines for lateness. Fifteen hundred children and parents went out on strike, and it lasted six weeks. Strikebreakers were brought in, and some workers went back to work, but the strikers did win a twelve-hour day and nine hours on Saturday.


And then later,

A three-month strike of 100,00 workers in New York won the eight-hour day, and at a victory celebration in June 1872, 150,000 workers paraded through the city.


So that nine-hour day that wore me down today? That was bought on the backs of strikers, who sometimes gave their lives when militia were brought in to break up strikes in the 1870s. All of the things I enjoy in my working life; a lunch break, a paycheck instead of coupons at the company store, health insurance, workman's comp should I be injured on the job, sanitary and physically comfortable working conditions, were fought for at the ballet box and on the streets.

Zinn also writes,

...[After the Civil War] political elites of North and South would take hold of the country and organize the greatest march of economic growth in human history. They would do it with the aid of, and at the expensive of, black labor, white labor, Chinese labor, European immigrant labor, female labor, rewarding them differently by race, sex, national origin, and social class, in such a way as to create separate levels of oppression


I think much the same is going on today, a wealthy few is exploiting many, with separate levels of oppression being used "to stabilize the pyramid of wealth," but I also think it's important to recognize the backs we are standing on, as we continue to push against the classist, racist, sexist, and xenophobic forces that are expressed in our country's working life.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The more you know

Via Feministe, I came across this alarming (to me at least) report about a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program to collect and keep record of the personal items people are carrying with them when they travel. The article says that the DHS is "retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials."

Lauren at Feministe already covered how I feel about this (that the government is become more and more creepily intrusive), so I won't go into that. The article did make me wonder about how the civil liberties advocates got their information. They must have used the Freedom of Information Act (that link is the actual text, please see here where the Department of Justice [DOJ] breaks down how to actually use the act).

The DOJ says,

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which can be found in Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, was enacted in 1966 and generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information. All agencies of the Executive Branch of the United States Government are required to disclose records upon receiving a written request for them, except for those records (or portions of them) that are protected from disclosure by the nine exemptions and three exclusions of the FOIA. This right of access is enforceable in court, and it is supported at the administrative agency level by the "citizen-centered and results-oriented approach" of a presidential executive order (see below).


The FOIA does not, however, provide access to records held by Congress or the federal courts, by state or local government agencies, or by private businesses or individuals. All states have their own statutes governing public access to state and local government records; state agencies should be consulted for further information about them.



Here are the nine exemptions referred to above. (I wonder how much case law there is around these exemptions, because they seem like they could be invoked pretty broadly by the government and completely take the teeth out of the FOIA).

It seems pretty straight forward; requests must be in writing, you should try to send it to the correct component (and make sure what you're looking for isn't already public record), and it might cost you up to $25 (for copying). The FOIA doesn't require the government to interpret data or create new reports to answer your question.

The most interesting part to me was that you can request information about yourself or about someone else (provided they give their permission or you can prove that they are dead). It looks like that's how the civil liberties groups got their information about the extensiveness of the DHS record collecting in this case, by requesting the records on specific travelers. Maybe it had to be done that way to get around one of the exemptions, namely, exception number 7 (see link to the exemptions above).

Now that I know how it works, I really want to take advantage of this act. But I have no idea what records I would like to be released. What would you ask about?

See here for more info about how to use the FOIA.

UPDATE: See this article (via Majikthise) about a federal agent using DHS records to cyber-stalk his ex-girlfriend for just one reason I don't want the government to be collecting detailed records about me.