Monday, December 22, 2008

Common American Century

I've recently run across the name Henry Luce in two different books. In his introductory essay ("What, then, is the American?") to The Cambridge Companion to Modern American Culture, Christopher Bigsby** writes, "When...Henry Luce declared the reality of the American Century he was merely registering the logic that had placed power, and, it has to be said, responsibility in American hands; the Project for the New American Century, by contrast, was a conscious effort to ensure that Americans remained the dominant culture." Check out the Project for the New American Century's Statement of Principles.

In Susan Faludi's Stiffed, on the other hand, Faludi argues that Luce's labeling, more than being descriptive, was an effort to steer American culture (and masculinity) towards one ethos and away from another.
"Towards the end of the war, two visions of postwar America vied for attention on the national stage in a battle over the nation's future that has long since been forgotten. One contender was [Henry] Wallace's Common Man century; the other was Henry Luce's American Century...Luce, the founder and editor of Time and Life magazines, saw America as a masculine nation whose manifest destiny was to loom like a giant on the global stage. He proposed the average man acquire a grander sense of himself by association with a nation that would dominate the world through unapologetic force. If Wallace's manly ideal was about parental care and nurturance, Luce's was all about taking control---and, even more important, displaying it."

"Luce's 'cure'---'to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit'---would prove to be a postwar prescription for aggression."

Of Wallace's Common Man, Faludi write,
"Wallace imagined an army of ordinary workingmen who, if given a shot a decent educations, jobs, and housing, could be a force on 'the new frontier' for expanded production, well-being, and democracy not only in the nation but throughout the world...Wallace saw America as 'a boy of eighteen' who could no longer 'avoid becoming a man by wearing short pants' and who could mature into a 'grown-up United States' by stoically 'shouldering our responsibility,' by contributing to the needs of the world rather than simply aspiring to dominate it. America's mission, he said, only half jokingly, should be to ensure 'that everybody in the world has the privilege of drinking a quart of milk a day.' He was guided, as historian John Morton Blum has written, 'by his belief in the possibility of brotherhood and the inherent virtue of husbandmen.'"

Ultimately Stiffed is about how changes within larger structures in our country, namely, the government, corporations, and our economy, has affected American masculinity (ie, massive layoffs have done more damage to American masculinity than the feminist movement). Reading the introduction to Stiffed and in particular Faludi's discussion of Luce's and Wallace's competing views for America's future couched in the metaphor of the "ideal American man," I remembered Barrack Obama's Father's Day Speech this past summer. At the time, I remember some people felt that Obama was unfairly criticizing African American fathers, but reading it now, through the lens Faludi creates, I'm wondering if Obama's "ideal father" is really more of a Luce/Wallace metaphor.

Obama argues that the ideal father will pass on three qualities to his children: (1) the "ethic of excellence" ("achievement, self respect, and hard work"), (2) "the value of empathy" ("We need to show our kids that you’re not strong by putting other people down – you’re strong by lifting them up."), (3) "the spirit of hope" (the "spirit inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better is waiting for us if we’re willing to work for it and fight for it. If we are willing to believe.").

Obama makes an explicit connection between father's responsibility to their children and Washington's responsibility to parents. Obama says, "[I]t’s a responsibility that also extends to Washington. Because if fathers are doing their part; if they’re taking our responsibilities seriously to be there for their children, and set high expectations for them, and instill in them a sense of excellence and empathy, then our government should meet them halfway." He then goes on to list several examples of how Washington can help parents, including reforming child support laws, expanding pre- and postnatal care to pregnant women, protecting workers through protecting maternity and paternity leave.

I hear echos of the "Common Man." I wonder what an America of excellence, empathy, and hope would look like. I hope I get to see it.

(**Incidentally, just a few paragraphs earlier, Bigsby also mentions Rick Warren. "In 2002, 59 percent of Americans believed that the apocalyptic prophesies of the Book of Revelations would come true and 39 percent believed in the literal truth of the Bible. The end, it seemed, might be night, the moment when the chosen and the damned would be separated. Among the bestsellers of the new century were The Purpose Driven Lifestyle (total sales to date, 20 million), written by Rick Warren, head of one of America's five largest mega-churches and at the heart of a global religious network.")

Monday, December 8, 2008

NPR has started a series called "American Moxie: How we get by" about how Americans are coping with the recession. It seems like there's only been one segment so far, about a farmer who is selling his cattle because as fuel prices rise and cattle prices remain stagnant, he's losing money on them.

I think it will be an interesting series, but I have some concerns about the title. I think the American Dream has often been misinterpreted to mean "if you work hard enough, you can do/be anything." I think that is a nice, but empty idea in our current system. It takes more than "moxie" to get ahead in America; often it takes inherited wealth, in the form of money from your parents or even in the connections they have made. I think the idea that the average Joe can pull himself up out of poverty has often been used by rich and powerful people to absolve themselves of either directly helping people or putting in place a system in the playing field is leveled. To me, the phrase "all men are created equal" requires us to protect and help our fellow man so that they can have the same opportunities that the rest of us do. It does not mean that we should be left on our own, out in the cold, to duke it out for ourselves.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back to the Future: Backlash and Palin

I have been slowly working my way through Susan Faludi's book "Backlash" about the backlash against women's rights in the 1980s. Fauldi argues that during the 1980s (and during other eras of backlash against the women's rights movement) pop culture, the media, and politicians claimed that feminism had gone too far, that women's liberation was damaging to them, and that the solution was to roll back the clock and return to an era where women have less equality (sometimes classing this return to less equality as "real empowerment").

At the same time I'm reading this book, I've also been thinking a lot about the U.S. presidential race and the prominent role gender has taken. Many people have pointed out the absolute ridiculousness of assuming that people will automatically transfer their vote from Hillary Clinton to Sarah Palin. There has also been plenty of discussion about how sexist criticism of Palin is unaaceptable.

When I came across the passage in "Backlash" regarding the curious anomaly of the anti-feminist woman (ie, the woman who says women's place is in the home from her office in Washington) and the role she plays in politics in the 1980s, what Fauldi had to say spoke to me about Palin and how the Republican party is using "feminism" to advance an anti-feminist agenda,

The New Right women were, in some respects, the reverse image of their more progressive "yuppie" sisters who got trapped in the backlash eddies. While mainstream professional women were more likley to voice feminist principles while struggling internally with the self-doubts and recriminations that the backlash generated, the New Right women were voicing anti-feminist views---while internalizing the message of the women's movement and quiety incorporating its tenants of self-determination, equality and freedom of choice in their private behavior.
If the right-wing activists at Concerned Women for America seemed less anxiety ridden about the "price" of their own liberation than the average liberal career women, maybe that's because these New Right women were, ironically, facing less resistence in their world. As long as these women raised their voices only to parrot the Moral Majority line, as long as they divided up the chores so that they could have more time to fight equal rights legislation, the New Right male leaders (and their New Right husbands) were happy to applaud and encourage the women's mock "independence." The women always played by their men's rules, and for that they enjoyed their esteem and blessings of their subculture. On the other hand, working and single women in the mainstream, who were more authentically independent, had no such cheering squad to buoy their spirits; they were undermined daily by popular culture that parodied their lifestyle, heaped pity and ridicule on their choices, and berated their feminist "mistakes."
The activists of Concerned Women for America, like New Right women activists elsewhere, could report to their offices in their suits, issue press releases demainding that women return to the home, and never see a contradiction. By divorcing their personal liberation from their public stands on sexual politics, they could privately take advantage of feminism while pubicly depoloring its influence. They could indeed "have it all"---by working to prevent all other women from having that same opportunity.

To me, this passage succiently sums my problems with Sarah Palin wrapping herself in feminism's flag. She claims that she's putting another crack in the glass ceiling (see Ann's post at feministing linked above for my other problems with this line) while aligning herself with a candidate that is opposed to legislation that would ensure equal pay for equal work. She claims that Bristol's choice to keep her baby is a private matter while joining a ticket that believes the state's interest in a fetus trumps the individual women's right to make the same decision privately. (In other words, as long as the choice is the right choice and made by her daughter, it's private. If it's one Palin and McCain disagree with, it's a public matter.)

Palin has benefited from feminism's advances; that doesn't make her one.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This is water

Via Bitch PhD, I've heard that David Foster Wallace has died. I've never read Infinite Jest and haven't read very many of his essays. But about a year ago, throckmorton, linked to this amazing commencement speech Wallace gave and I've read it many times since.

Maybe will write more about this later.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hands off my ballot

Earlier this summer, Alternet reported that McCain would be scaling back voter suppression efforts that have been used in previous elections. Via Wonkette, I came across this piece in the Michigan Messenger.

The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.
This really pisses me off and I think it should piss you off as well.

Check this quote from The Right to Vote page on USInfo.State.Gov from the U.S. Department of State,

Without free and fair elections, there can be no democratic society, and without that constant accountability of government officials to the electorate, there can, in fact, be no assurance of any other rights. The right to vote, therefore, is not only an important individual liberty; it is also a foundation stone of free government.

Who shall have that right has been a persistent question in American history. A theme that runs throughout the American past is the gradual expansion of the franchise, from a ballot limited to white, male property-owners to a universal franchise for nearly everyone over the age of 18. A related theme is ensuring the full equivalency of each vote, insofar as that is possible within a federal system. But because Americans often take this right for granted, it has not always been exercised as fully as it should be. With nearly 200 million citizens eligible to vote, too many people think their individual ballot will not count. The closeness of the presidential election of 2000 has served as a reminder that every vote does count, however.

[emphasis mine]

News flash for the government: People don't think that their vote won't be counted because we have too many citizens and they've taken the right to vote for granted, they think their vote won't be counted because (1) the U.S. has a long history of limiting voting rights to classes that are already in power (white, landowning men, anyone?---read further on that Right to Vote page for more history), (2) because every year there seem to be more and more efforts to prevent people from voting successfully (please check out this page detailing some different state's requirements for voter ID laws and also the piece I previously wrote about Indiana's voter ID laws), (3) it is really difficult to trust electronic voting machines because of all the controversy around 'em, and (4) a significant portion of the population feel as though officials that they have elected ignore them once they get into office (ie, my vote might be literally counted, but does it count?).

Personally, I'm going to be stopping by my local Obama office this afternoon to ask them if they're providing literature to voters about their voting rights in Virginia. (FYI, according to The National Conference of State Legislatures [linked above, but please please check out this page], VA voters who do not have a VA voter registration card, social security card, VA driver's license, other ID issued by the VA/U.S. govt, or an employee ID card with photo, can still vote, they just have to sign a statement that says they are who they say they are. I don't want anyone telling a Virginian that they can't vote because they don't have ID.)

Supported by the GOP as necessary to protect against voter fraud, these laws have the effect of making it more difficult to vote. Under the Indiana law, for example, a voter without a photo ID either has to come back on Monday after the election with one or "execute an affidavit stating that the voter cannot obtain proof of identification, because the voter: (i) is indigent; or (ii) has a religious objection to being photographed." Even if a voter without a photo ID on November 4th is able to get one by November 10th or they fit the narrow exceptions, their vote will only be counted, if "the voter has not been challenged or required to vote a provisional ballot for any other reason."

From the Michigan Messenger piece, it's clear that the GOP is not going to stop at voter ID laws in its effort to restrict the right to vote of U.S. citizens in this year's presidential election. Imagine that you've lost your home this year. Imagine hearing that if you show up to vote, your vote might get challenged by the GOP based on the fact that you've lost your home (btw, as someone points out in the article, many people are still living in homes that have been foreclosed and therefore are still living where they registered and would be voting legally). I know what I would be thinking, "What if they challenge me publicly and tell everyone my home has been foreclosed on? That would be incredibly embarrassing [ED: I don't think there is anything shameful about not having the money to pay your mortgage, inflated or otherwise, but I can see feeling that way.]" That might prevent me from even trying to vote. And if I did go to vote, what happens to votes that get challenged? Do they only get counted if the district is really really close? (Does anyone know the answer to this?)

Possible Actions:

Ask John McCain to denounce this practice in Michigan.

Get in touch with Obama's Michigan campaign and make sure they know what's happening.

Help someone else in our state register to vote and fulfill our states voter ID requirements (and make sure local campaign offices are paying attention to voter ID requirements).

Keep writing in our own spaces about voter suppression tactics so people are aware of what's happening.

Fill out Progress Michigan's petition against this tactic.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Think of the nieces!

Last night I watched the 1971 movie "Get Carter," which Michael Cain playing the title role. It was a violent (though not visual disturbing because the special effects were so outdated; blood was very fake) movie with some extremely interesting moments. (As one reviewer on IMDB says, "as the film reaches its climax, the bodies begin to mount with alarming rapidity.") About two hours long, I found it to be a little long (the same reviewer describes it as a "slow-burner").

Check out the preview:

From here on out, this entire post is going to be one big spoiler and it is a movie that relies on suspense, so if you think you might see it; I'd just skip this post.


The plot is about Carter trying to uncover who murdered his brother. The movie includes several sexual detours; Carter has sex with ever women he has any dialogue with in the movie, excluding his niece/daughter and his dead brother's girlfriend (I'll get to that). He has sex with his boss's girlfriend (I'm counting phone sex as sex because it was a very erotic scene, and also, they've clearly had sex in the past), the woman who runs the bed and breakfast he's staying in, the girlfriend of at least two mob bosses in the movie. There are only two other women in the movie (that have any dialogue): Carter's niece (or possibly daughter, since it comes out in the movie that he's had an affair with her now deceased mother and that no one knew who fathered the baby. Even dead women have had sex with Carter.) and his brother's girlfriend.

The mystery of who killed the brother hinges on this porn movie that Carter discovers; it turns out that Carter's niece/daughter had been lured into the world of porn (Interesting thing about the porn: Carter is upset/disturbed when the porn begins; it's his niece and another woman, but the thing that puts him over the edge [he starts to cry and has to look away] is when a man enters the room and begins to have sex with the niece/daughter]). As for the brother's girlfriend, Margaret, Carter decides to set up the man who killed his brother, using Margaret. He kidnaps her, makes her strip down, and then injects something in her that kills her (you can see parts of this in the preview). He leaves her naked body on property of the man who killed his brother and then calls the police. Presumably everyone thinks she's the victim of a sexual assault.

At the end of the movie, Carter gets his, shot in the head by another professional killer. As a viewer, you want to see Carter successfully revenge his brother's death, but once he begins killing people (after he's seen the porn with his niece), he completely loses it and it becomes difficult to sympathize with him or to see him as anything other than a psychopath, who's revenge engulfs several, if not completely innocent, then close to innocent players, including two of the women.

What has supposedly driven Carter mad (and also got his brother murdered) was the niece's participation in this porn. When Carter is killing one of the men he screams at him, "How would you like it if that were your daughter?" Carter also watches, completely devoid of emotion, as one of the women (who he has locked in the trunk of his car after watching the porn [after they had sex]) who was in the porn with the niece, is drowned when the car is pushed into the ocean by people who have just tried to kill him. Carter himself murders Margaret, who's main crime it seems was not being that into Carter's brother and also "setting Carter up" (by calling the men who were chasing Carter). She may have also been in the porn, it was hard to tell.

In Carter's mind, and maybe in the world of the movie, there is one and only one innocent women, the niece/daughter. Carter never makes the connection, and the viewer isn't intended to either, in my opinion, that all of the women are potentially someone's daughter, sister, mother, wife, etc.

And maybe that's a good thing. To me, there's a fundamental problem with using a woman's relationship to others as grounds for treating women with respect (or at least with not murdering them callously). I mean, at no point in Get Carter did one character say to another "how would you feel if that were your son?!" while men were being thrown off buildings, shot, and knifed. There's something in that relationship-model that reeks of owner ship. (It was my niece, my daughter, my sister, my wife, my mother.) While using the "what if it were your daughter" line of reasoning may call upon someone's tender feelings for their relative, I think that at least in part it also relies on the indignity generated from imaging having one's possession damaged in some way.

I generally like movies where characters "do not learn their lesson" because I think those movies are much more true to life; usually situations are too complicated to take a simple lesson from them and often people cannot change who they are in that light-bulb moment, if ever. Carter never examined why he was so outraged when it was his niece who was used in a porn and why he could care a less (or feel violently angry towards) the other women who were used in the same porn. If the viewer examines why, I hope they don't walk away with the lesson "I wouldn't want to hurt a women, because all women belong to other people (ie are someone's mother, daughter, etc.)." That's a pretty sophomoric way of mastering gender equality.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Easing back into blogging

Reading List:


"The USA Foundation's motto was 'Promoting a free market of ideas on the nation's campuses,' and here we encounter yet another of the Washington right's signature lines. Like so many conservative ideas---anticommunism for example---it sounds fine at first. A 'free market of ideas' sounds like 'free inquiry' or a 'free exchange of ideas,' an environment in which hypotheses are tested and bad ones are wedded out while good ones go on to earn the respect of the community of scholars. But this is not what the phrase means at all. Markets do not determine the objective merit of things, only their price, which is to say, their merit in the eyes of large corporations and the very wealthy."

- Thomas Frank, The Wrecking Crew: How a gang of right-wing con men destroyed Washington and made a Killing, Harper's August 2008


Listen to:


Invisible Worlds


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Radio junky

Check out NPR's "Hearing Voices" podcast. Here's where you can listen to past episodes. At least a few episodes are hosted by Scott Carrier, one of my favorite contributors on This American Life.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

So many books about food

Something has been bothering me about Michael Pollen's book Omnivore's Dilemma. Pollen writes,
Before Fritz Haber's invention [of synthetic nitrogen] the sheer amount of life earth could support---the size of crops and therefore the number of human bodies---was limited by the amount of nitrogen that bacteria and lightening could fix. By 1900, European scientists recognized that unless a way was found to augment this naturally occurring nitrogen, the growth of the human population would soon grind to a very painful halt. This same recognition by Chinese scientists a few decades later is probably what compelled China's opening to the West: After Nixon's 1972 trip the first major order the Chinese government placed was for thirteen massive fertilizer factories. Without them, China would have probably starved.

I've just finished Sharman Apt Russel's amazing book "Hunger: An Unnatural History," which among other things, discusses the physiological aspects of fasting, the various ways fasting has been used throughout history, and the Western world's response to hunger epidemics.

Here is a bit of what Russel writes about China,

The biggest famine in recorded history also took place in the middle of the twentith century...When [Chairman Mao] wanted China to become a great producer of grain, he collectivized the peasant's farms and insisted on unscientific methods of growing crops that inadvertantly reduce production. Under intense pressure, peasants and officials competed to grow the most food. Harvests were reported at twice, three times, a hundred times their actual yield. Delighted with these inflated numbers, Mao and the party took a percentage of the grain to be stored near urban centers. Sometimes that percentage was the entire real harvest, leaving nothing for the people in the countryside. At the same time China cut its imports of food and doubled its exports. As people began to starve, Mao ignored them.
By the end of 1960, even cities suffered from a lack of food since few farmers had had the strength to plant new crops...Meanwhile, in many areas, the grain stored by the state was left to rot.
Outside China, no one guessed at the extent of the disaster until the mid-1980s when China released census date that researchers could match with other accounts. Thirty to forty million people had starved to death.

Pollen clearly critiques the industrial food complex in Omnivore's Dilemma. I believe that Pollen's position can be summed up succiently from this one paragraph from the first essay in Wendell Berry's book "Another Turn of the Crank." Berry writes,

If communities of farmers and consumers wish to promote a sustainable, safe, reasonably inexpensive supply of good food, then they must see that the best, the safest, and most dependable source of food for a city is not the global economy, with its extreme vulnerabilities and extravagant transportation costs, but its own surrounding countryside. It is, in every way, in the best interest of urban consumers to be surrounded by productive land...

Pollen and Berry make it seem like such a clear cut choice, eat local [reject global] and you will be choosing the more environmental sound, healthier, and more animal-friendly route. To Pollen, our movement away from all these benefits has at least some its origins in the development of fertilizer from synthetic nitrogen, which shifted us away from solar based farming and onto fossil fuel based farming. But the phrase I keep returning to in that passage I quoted above from Omnivore's Dilemma is "grind to a very painful halt." Pollen goes onto to say that one of Haber's biographers "estimates that two of every five humans on earth today would not be alive if not for Fritz Haber's invention." When you put that "painful halt" in the context of very real famines that have occurred, that are occurring, during our lifetimes, I feel less certain about what my food choice mean and if I can live with what they might mean.

Lettuce and strawberries from my local farmer's market.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

We're howling forever

Last week I stumbled across Amy Stein's Photography blog. I love her Domesticated series in particular this picture:
Maybe it's because I've been listening to TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me" quite a bit recently, but says so much to me about the collision of the natural world and the man made world (in other words, I've been feeling a lot like a wolf howling at a false moon lately).

Check out Stein's Women with Guns series as well.

Rachel Papo, a photographer on Stein's blogroll, has amazing pictures of women serving in the Israeli army.

She writes
Almost fifteen years after my mandatory military duty ended, I went back to several Israeli army bases, using the medium of photography as a vehicle to re-enter this world. Serial No. 3817131 represents my effort to come to terms with the experiences of being a soldier from the perspective of an adult. My service had been a period of utter loneliness, mixed with apathy and pensiveness, and at the time I was too young to understand it all. Through the camera’s lens, I tried to reconstruct facets of my military life, hopeful to reconcile matters that had been left unresolved.

Perhaps because they are placed right next to each other, two of Papo's images stood out to me. Here is the first and here is the second. The first, is almost a glamor shot; a starling beautiful woman, stretch out in a chair with a look of peace on her face. The second, in stark contrast, is an image of a women tightly balled up and perhaps crying or about to cry. Her photos are amazing, often depicting shots of female soliders looking directly and intensly into the camera. At first it is jarring seeing sometimes small women holding weapons as large as themselves, but for me the setting (the army, the guns) quickly fell into the background of her series.

As Papo writes

Each image embodies traces of things that I recognize, illuminating fragments of my history, striking emotional cords that resonate within me. In some way, each is a self-portrait, depicting a young woman caught in transient moments of introspection and uncertainty, trying to make sense of a challenging daily routine.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Polyface Farm (you'll have to read Omnivore's Dilemma to know)

I've gotten really into Michael Pollen this past year. Future Farm House directed me to one of his talks which can be found at the Philadelphia Free Library Podcast, I heard him a couple times on NPR, his books kept coming up in conversation with friends, and I also really enjoyed the essay he wrote for the New York Time's Sunday Magazine several weeks ago.

Not sure what took me so long with all this exposure to Pollen, but I finally picked up Omnivore's Dilemma. I'm about one-fourth of the way through and enjoying it a lot so far. I don't know exactly what I expected (I mostly heard him speak about his follow-up book, In Defense of Food), but I'm loving the way Pollen weaves in history and science throughout his narrative.

While I was riding home from work the other day on the trolley, I read one particular passage that plucked something inside of me:

One might think that people would stop eating and drinking gargantuan portions as soon as they felt full, but it turns out hunger doesn't work that way. Researchers have found that people (and animals) presented with larger portions will eat up to 30 percent more than they would otherwise. Human appetite, it turns out, is surprising elastic, which makes excellent evolutionary sense: It behooved our hunter-gather ancestors to feast whenever the opportunity presented itself, allowing them to build up reserves of fat against future famine.

And also

The power of food science lies in its ability to break food down into their nutrient parts and then reassemble them in specific ways that, in effect, push our evolutionary buttons, fooling the omnivore's inherited food selection system. Add fat or sugar to anything and it's going to taste better on the tongue of an animal that natural selection has wired to seek out energy-dense foods. Animal studies proves the point: Rats presented with solutions of pure sucrose or tubs of lard---goodies they seldom encounter in nature---will gorge themselves sick. Whatever nutritional wisdom the rats are born with breaks down when faced with sugars and fats in unnatural concentrations...Food systems can cheat by exaggerating their energy density, tricking a sensory apparatus that evolved to deal with markedly less dense whole foods.

The feeling that welled up inside of me as I read this two paragraphs was: relief. It was not my fault that I want to eat all the time and I want to pick junk food (or even just bread and cheese) over lettuce. It is in my genes; it is how I am engineered.

In thinking about the powerful sense of relief I felt upon reading that human beings are hardwired to seek out energy-dense food, I realized that that relief is carried upon the back of a much larger feeling inside of me, namely, shame. When I eat certain foods or certain portions, I feel like I'm doing something "bad" or "wrong." The relief I felt depends upon the idea of shifting blame off of my conscious self and onto my genetics.

This blame-game is so deep inside of in my thinking that sometimes I can mistake it for relief, gratitude, or even a sense of accomplishment. All of these emotions can mask ideas that I have about what I do and don't deserve, ideas about my value as a person.

As a middle class American, what I eat does say something about me as a person and my political choices (I think Pollen would agree). As conscious decisions, based on my true value system about who I want to be, these choices are distinct from the voice inside of me that tells me "bread, bad; lettuce, good." My true value system tells me to make my eating choices balancing my realistic desires with what's best for the environment and also best for the animals involved. Valuing thinness over fatness, that's not my value system; it's ingrained in me, as my reaction to this Pollen passage demonstrated, but it's not mine.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Our powers combined

I've stayed pretty quiet about the Democrat nominating process this year, both here and out "in real life." The general quiet was for several reasons; first, I knew that I would support whoever actually won the nomination in the end and I would have been happy with either Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton; and second, as a I wrote a couple of times, the tone of the conversation around the nominating process and the candidates disturbed and saddened me, and honestly, I was afraid to get involved. I was afraid I might write something and then see it twisted somewhere else, and much, much more shamefully, I was afraid of making a mistake or offending people.

[Sidenote: If I write something that offends you, in this or any other post, let me know. We may never see eye to eye, but I want to make an effort to hear where you are coming from.]

I probably would have overcome my fear if I thought I had something new to bring to the table, but there were tons of voices of reason out there, setting the record straight better than I ever could.

There is a whole other, and larger, reason though, that I haven't been being that loud about the primaries and probably will continue to stay relatively quiet during the general election. Here I am November, 2004:

Please note, if it wasn't obvious to you, the John Kerry button.

I've written and deleted the next paragraph a couple of times, because I'm not sure how to say what I want to say here.

I was so shocked and sadden when Kerry lost the 2004 general election (and Bush won the popular vote). I had been involved in Kerry's campaign as a very low-level volunteer in Pittsburgh and I have to admit, that though many people weren't moved or motivated by Kerry, I was. But it wasn't because "my" candidate had lost that I felt devastated that night; it was because of the story that came out of that election. For weeks after Kerry lost, the story that dominated the airwaves was that the people that had voted for Bush (or rather, against Kerry?) had been motivated by "family values." LGBT groups were told that they had cost the democrats the election because they had "pushed" the "gay-marriage issue." In addition to being code for homophobic, I felt (knew?) family values also stood for "pro-life," "believes strongly in enforcing gender differences," and "transphobic" among other things.

What the 2004 election brought home to me was that people hated me and hated people like me. This was a significantly different realization from knowing that people disagreed with the things I thought and the way that I saw the world. When I saw the presidential election as a war of ideas, as in we all get together and vote for the person with the best ideas, it was easy to keep myself out of the equation or at least keep some distance. Sometimes republicans would win, sometimes democrats would win; it was a serious game, but still a game. When, however, I came to see the presidential election as an opportunity for a public referendum on whether or not, I and the people I love, are truly equal in the eyes of their fellow citizens, whether or not we are hated, I realized that it was my body and my future that was at stake (along with the bodies and futures of people I care about), not (just?) my ideas. Not a game.

It's hard for me to write or talk casually about the election. Maybe because it is so personally important to me, I should be using that to write and talk forceful about it, but I am so scared of feeling the way I felt in November 2004 all over again, hated, rejected, and in some degree of danger, that it's difficult for me to allow myself to become emotionally invested again.

[Sidenote: I know it's a result of my privilege that my belief in the political system took it's first serious hit in this regard when I was in my 20s. There are plenty of people in our nation and others whose general population and government has always treated them like an enemy.]

We all have a lot at stake in this election (for example: I think the encroachment on our civil liberties is a pretty serious thing for all of us as well as many many other issues [Iraq war, anyone?]), and it would be a huge mistake for us to ignore the lesson of 2004. To me, the lesson of 2004 isn't to avoid putting issues on the national stage that will arouse people's anger and hatred, but rather, that we must acknowledge that emotions play an integral part in people's political decision-making process (and I would argue in all of their decisions). Harnessing people's deep feelings is not a bad thing because it clouds judgment (does it? I've been able to be angry/loving/sad and right at the same time before...) or just a smart campaign move, to acknowledge the emotional stake we all have in the political process is to acknowledge our humanity. I don't know what a purely rational being would look like, but I have a feeling it would be a lot less benevolent than Data.

When I think of Barrack Obama, I often think of what is arguably the best line from one of his speeches, "In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope." I think he has picked a pretty wonderful emotion to bring people out to the polls November 2009. Both because I have acknowledged that my emotions don't negate my ability to think rationally and because I believe that our emotional compasses can be used to guide us to the best in ourselves, I am not ashamed to say that I will be voting with my heart in November. (I just might not be blogging about it.)

Lauren (right) and Me, 2005
This post is the result of some discussions, I've had with my friend Lauren this past week and I've totally lifted some of her ideas. Thank you, Lauren.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Since I can't seem to write... are some other places you can go:

Please check out this NPR piece from The Bryant Park project where Rachel Martin interviews Ari Ne'eman, the president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. It's really interesting.

I've also been getting into The Trouble with Spikol, after reading a New York Times article featuring Spikol and seeing a link to her Youtube videos on Feministing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Daughter and Citizen

This morning, NPR's Morning Edition had a segment on the Ladies in White, a group of women in Cuba who have organized to protest their spouse's arrest.

I was surprise that the segment did not mention the Mothers of the Plazo de Mayo in Argentina. The Madres official website is in Spanish, but I did find a related (or possibly the same?) organization, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. There is also a documentary about the Madres (which, is btw, listed on the excellent site, Women Make Movies.)

In these cases, the women have organized themselves around their status as mothers, grandmothers, and wives. They make their demands based on the authority granted to them as mothers and wives, rather than relying on the authority granted to them as citizens. In each case, I suspect, this is based in part on the idea that their government, in arresting/disappearing their husbands and children, has demonstrated that it no longer respects citizenship, so an effective protest must be rooted in some other identity category. It's an interesting method, I think.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

They just keep coming back

Warning: This post contains links that are potentially triggering to victims of sexual violence.

Via Iraq Today, I came across this article, which reports that Iraqi women have reported been sexually harassed and assault by KBR employees.

An Iraqi woman, who worked as a cleaning lady, told British diplomats that the head of KBR had asked her to stay the night and promised to double her wage in return.

Her refusal resulted in a pay cut and she was later dismissed.

Two Iraqi cooks, who confirmed the woman's claims to Foreign Office staff, also lost their jobs shortly afterwards, the Times reported.

They had worked in the canteen and said that KBR managers groped Iraqi staff regularly and paid or rewarded them for sex.

And where have we heard of KBR before? Oh yes, that's right: Jamie Leigh Jones. As I wrote back in December, Jones was an employee of KBR stationed in Iraq who states she was raped by her coworkers and then held in a storage unit by KBR (who also misplaced her rape kit and told she could either staying in Iraq or lose her job).

After reading the article about the Iraqi women who are accusing KRB employees of sexual harassment, I googled "Jamie Leigh Jones" looking for an update and I found this youtube video of Jones testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.

In her testimony Jones states that the man who made her a drink the night she was raped told her "Don't worry; I save all my ruffies for Dubai." Jones says she took that to be a joke and felt safe with her coworkers thinking "they were all on the same team."

Now there is a whole lot tangled up in that "joke" and Jones apparent feelings of being part of a team. Over at Racialicious, Latoya Peterson looks closely at the term "oppression Olympics" and uses Andrea Smith's excellent essay Heteropatricharchy and The Three Pillars of White Supremacy to unpack the concept. In the essay Smith writes, that the Three Pillars of White Supremacy "framework does not assume that racism and white supremacy is enacted in a singular fashion; rather white supremacy is constituted by separate and distinct, but still interrelated, logics. Envision three pillars, one labeled Slavery/Capitalism, another Genocide/Capitalism, and the last one as Orientalism/War, as well as arrows connecting each of the pillars together. "

The whole essay (and Peterson's post as well as the comments) is definitely worth a close read. For the purpose of examining Jones' attacker's (or attacker's accomplice's?) joke, however, I am particularly interested in this point that Smith makes in the essay.

What keeps us trapped in our particular pillars of white supremacy is that we are seduced with the prospect of being able to participate in the other pillars. For example, all non-Native peoples are promised the ability to join in the colonial project of settling indigenous land. All non-Black peoples are promised if they comply, they will not be at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. And Black, Native, Latino, and Asian peoples are promised they will economically and politically advance if they join U.S. wars to spread "democracy."

Though this part of Smith's essay is focusing on examining the barriers to making strategic alliances between people of color and Jones is not a person of color, I don't think it's too much of a stretch here to use the above quote to examine why Jones felt "safe and part of a team" after her coworkers made a "joke" that implied that date rape drugs were being saved for Arabic women. In my opinion, the joke made Jones feel like "one of the guys." Before her rape, she is not an other, but part of team; she has "the prospect of being able to participate in the other pillars."

(Please note: I am in no way blaming Jones for being raped and then held hostage by KBR. I just wanted to examine a complicated aspect of her testimony. Being reassured by a racist joke does not equal deserves to be raped.)

Where else have I heard of KBR? Ah yes, The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. Klein, writing about the aftermath of Katrina, reports

Within weeks, the Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of government-run-by-contractors that had been pioneered in Iraq. The companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar Baghdad gang: Halliburton's KBR unit [Sidenote: KBR is not longer part of Halliburton] had $60 million dollar gig to reconstruct military bases along the coast.

Later Klein describes some of KBR's (or their subcontractor's) practices,

According to one study "a quarter of the workers rebuilding the city were immigrants lacking papers, almost all of them Hispanic, making far less money than legal workers." In Mississippi, a class-action lawsuit forced several companies to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to immigrant workers. Some were not paid at all. On one Halliburton/KBR job site, undocumented immigrant workers reported being waken in the middle of the night by their employer (a subcontractor), who allegedly told them that immigration agents were on their way. Most workers fled to avoid arrest; after all they could end up in one of the new immigration prisons that Halliburton/KBR had been contracted to build for the federal government.

Hello, Slavery/Capitalism from Smith's analysis.

Maybe KBR should change it's slogan: All Three Pillars of White Supremacy for the Price of One!

Alan Ball Definitely Read this Book

I'm reading Jessica Mitford's book The American Way of Death Revisited. I suspect I will have more to say about it after I've finished, but so far one passage has really stood out to me:

When, in the early eighties, the outbreak of AIDS became a matter of public anxiety, there was panic on the part of funeral directors and embalmers for their own safety. Most mortuaries refused to accept cases where it was believed that the deceased had been exposed to the HIV virus; those who did accept AIDS victims refused to wash, dress, or embalm the victim.
The New York State Funeral Directors Association (NYSFDA), on June 17, 1983, advised members to institute a moratorium on the embalming of AIDS victims. Reaction was quick.
Pete Slocum, a spokesman for the State Department of Health, said that funeral directors had previously been advised to handle the bodies of victims of AIDS as they handle victims of hepatitis B---that is, to wear latex gloves, a procedure that had already been prescribed to prevent spread of any contagious disease and required for health care workers under all circumstances when working with dead bodies. "We have not seen anything that suggests that there needs to be any precautions beyond that."

Threatened with a state bill that would force funeral directors to embalm AIDS victims or risk losing their license, the NYSFDA "lifted it's moratorium on embalming."

This, however, is by no means the ends of the story. It is now cash-in time. The mortuaries that did take AIDS cases began charging healthy "AIDS handling fees," usually $200 to $500. Others used subcontractors to do the embalming, covertly adding the cost by inflating the basic service fee. When the problem began to reach crisis proportions in New York City, the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), with the help of volunteers, surveyed the city's five-hundred-odd licensed funeral homes to identify their AIDS policies. With that information in hand, it put together a guide recommending only forty-two of the five hundred mortuaries to the thousands of friends and relatives of people with AIDS.

I was born in 1982 and I can remember the first time I became aware of the concept of "gayness" was as a young girl watching a television commercial for safe sex practices. (I didn't know what gay meant [I barely knew what sex meant] and I had to ask my mom for an explanation.) I grew up in an era where children were taught the ways that AIDS could and could not be transmitted. (I remember a particular presentation in high school where a women demonstrated how much of someone else's saliva one would have to drink to get AIDS by drinking 16 oz of water [which even accounting for messy teenage kissing was clearly way too much].)

It's passages like this that remind me how much previous generations had to endure and just how recent some of our progress is. I know that people with AIDS and HIV still face discrimination in both America and internationally. I know that gay men and women still face discrimination (in both America and internationally), but I think that if I fail to acknowledge the progress that has been made then I am failing to honor the people who came before me and fought for that progress.

My first thought upon reading this was, I really can't imagine much worse than losing a family member to a disease (a disease that marked them as a stigmatized person in life) and then being turned away from a funeral home. I suspect there's a lot that has happened (that is happening right at this moment) that I simply "cannot imagine." But I'm going to do my best to try to imagine it, to try to listen and learn; that really is the absolute least that one can do.

Edit: Weirdly enough, this week Dan Savage brought in some HIV-educators to answer someone's question about getting HIV from kissing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I hope we don't have to rip out the foundation

My friend Jake invited me to go to North Carolina today to campaign. I couldn't go because I couldn't take off work on such sort notice.

I also couldn't go because of everything Jay Smooth says here. This Ill Doctrine post, btw, is also a pretty good summation of why I don't really write about the democratic nomination process at the moment. Not gonna be more noise about this. (Don't take this as a criticism if you are writing about the nomination process. I love a lot of what I read; I just don't think I have anything new to bring to the table).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bic me

This entry (and 90% of my college papers) brought to you by Judith Butler's Gender Trouble and by Jennie Livingston's Paris is Burning. Many thanks to Professor Susan Fraiman for introducing me to both.

This morning I was in the UVA bookstore and the April 2008 Esquire cover caught my eye.

As my sister, Caitlin, says this cover "seems less about hair and more about gender-play...the sexy woman in a man's button up shirt." (Sidenote: What is up with that? Why is it so sexy in a heterosexual paradigm for women to dress up in men's clothes?)

Esquire explains on their website that they are recreating another iconic Esquire cover image, "actress Virna Lisi caught mid-shave on the cover in March 1965."

As a woman who produces enough hair on my face that I feel the need to pluck those little black hairs off of my chin and jawline daily (and use Nair once a week), I saw this cover and felt mocked. Although it might at first glance seem like Esquire is revealing that women do, in fact, grow body/facial hair and go to great lengths to remove it, I think Caitlin's assessment of the cover is accurate. This cover doesn't reveal that women grow facial hair; it obscures that fact. In an excellent summation of my point here, the photographer for this cover says, "There is nothing masculine about Jessica. Even with a beard she couldn't be masculine." This cover is about emphasizing how not masculine Simpson is and the trope for masculinity is being able to grow a beard.

In my opinion, successful drag (and I do mean drag, here; the playful act of performing another gender---not cross-dressing or being transgendered, which is something completely different), plays with the tensions created by a gender binary system. Drag calls attention to gender as a performance, a shell game. Drag says, walk like this, talk like this, wear this; that is the essence of gender. Drag takes, "I am male therefore I shave my face" and makes it "I shave my face therefore I am male [at this moment]."

As a piece of drag, this cover fails (for me). This image of Jessica Simpson does not expose the act of shaving one's face a performance piece that creates masculinity; it reinforces the idea that men alone actually shave their face (and women can only pretend to).

Check out this link to some of Trish Morrissey's work Women with Facial Hair for an example of complex images that I think successfully explode the relationship between facial hair and masculinity. The article accompanying the images is also definitely worth the read.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

- Drawing on the rubber matting of a playground in Pittsburgh
Your tongue lives in your mouth and your tongue is you. He sent his tongue everywhere to see what was doing beyond the metal arch bars and the elastic bands. Across the raw vaulted dome of the palate, down to the tender cavernous sockets of the missing teeth, and then the plunge below the gum line. That was where they'd opened him up and wired him together. For the tongue it was like the journey up the river in 'Heart of Darkness.' The mysterious stillness, the miles of silence, the tongue creeping conradianly on towards Kurtz. I am the Marlow of my mouth."

- Philip Roth, The Anatomy Lesson

I've been grinding my teeth again.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

You may notice that one of the links on my blogroll is dead. Please check out this piece on feministing for a little background on brownfemipower's departure from the blogosphere (I believe she recently changed her handle to la chola, but she is more widely known as brownfemipower).

Feministe lead me to her "finals words." In this piece she explicitly rejects the label "feminist" and explains why. BFP writes,
“Feminists,” on the other hand, are not movement building, they are actively destroying women and blaming those women for the destruction. They are saying the point of feminism is “equality with men” without even thinking to acknowledge that “equality with women” is just as admirable of a goal and maybe even possibly the first step to achieving the goal of equality with men. They are saying, Just do it, just do it, JUST FUCKING DO IT.

The third-wave feminist critique of the second-wave rest largely on the idea the second-wavers privileged the experience of white upper class women over the experiences of lesbian women, women of color, and poorer women. BFP's piece requires white third-wavers to examine their glass house (and it's painful to see what that glass reflects back).

Please check out what she has written.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Let me preface this by saying, I am in no way trying to talk about the experience of all women. Many women experience completely different and, some might argue, more hurtful/dangerous forms of street harassment then I do. Street harassment often involves a head-on collision of class, race, able-ness, gender expression, and sexual orientation, not only for the person being harassed, but also for the person harassing.

This morning as I was walking to work, some guy in a truck did a cat-call whistle. As I stood there waiting to cross the intersection, flicking the guy off while he turned the corner, I realized that to everyone in the cars all around me, who hadn't heard the whistle must think I was completely insane. And maybe some people who heard the whistle thought I was crazy too.

Street harassment really bothers me. I like to think the best of people, so I believe that the people (men?) who harass others (women?) on the street don't understand what they are doing.

When people harass me on the street, the first thing I feel is scared. I have no way of distinguishing between the random dude that is going to tell me I have nice legs and then walk away and the random dude who is going to tell me I have nice legs and then follow me for several blocks with follow-up comments (or the random dude who is going to tell me I have nice legs and then try to touch me).

The second thing I feel is angry. Being out in public should not be the equivalent of posting a picture of yourself on a hot or not website. Most times when I am out in public by myself, I am trying to get from point A to point B and it pisses me off that in between those points, people think I am inviting a referendum on my body, my clothes, my walk.

I hear many men say that they are just trying to compliment someone and how is someone supposed to know what's a compliment and what isn't. Here's the thing: if you're not in a situation where you can walk up to someone, introduce yourself, and then say whatever it is you want to say, then you're probably not about to deliver a compliment (and if you wouldn't say it if the person wasn't alone, you're also probably not about to deliver a compliment).

What is being deliver is a message of intimidation. Whenever someone shouts at me from a car or mutters something as I pass by, they are saying "get off the streets" to me. They are saying, "I am a person and you are something I like to look at." That attitude scares me and it makes it much more difficult for me to ride the trolley, take a walk, or really do anything by myself.

Oh and Guy, fuck you. You might enjoy looking at women, but it's articles like this that legitimize treating women like objects for men to enjoy rather than like real people. Via feministing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Obsession is for objects

“He suffers and he’s needy, and I relate to him personally,” Mr. Apatow said in a telephone interview. Particularly in dealing with the opposite sex, Mr. Apatow said, “we both have that same feeling that we’re obsessed with women and they don’t actually like us that much.”

This quote from the New York Time's article on Jason Segel, the writer-leading man of the new movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" has a lot packed into it. I really liked Knocked Up and was a big defender of it when many of the commenters on Feministing criticized it by agreeing with Katherine Heigls' remarks that it was sexist.

I defended Knocked Up by comparing it to "In Her Shoes" and "Just Like Heaven," movies that involved high-powered women finding the man of their dreams only after realizing that they need to give up their fast-paced, demanding jobs and take it easy. In Knocked Up, on the other hand, the male lead was the one who had to change "for love." More controversially (I guess) I also thought that Leslie Mann's character in Knocked Up was a sympathetic because, in the narrative of the movie, she is justifiably (I think) angry at her life. (Everyone else seemed to think she was meant to be a shrew.)

This quote makes me think I was wrong to defend it though. "Obsessed with women" is an attitude that sounds suspiciously similar to "thinks all women are the same." Or to put it another way, it doesn't matter if Apatow is shoving all women in the dirt or putting them all on a pedestal, either attitude treats women as something other than three-dimensional people with real flaws and actual character traits.

It got me thinking back to that Feministing discussion about Heigl's character in Knocked Up, specifically about how Heigl might have been the "together one," but she also never got to be funny and about the whole abortion thing and how glossed over it was. I still liked Knocked Up, but ya gotta admit that when a character decides to have a baby with a one night stand and you come away from that (non-)scene about that decision without knowing anything more about the character or her motivations, then that character really is little more than a plot device for someone else's journey.

Apatow did better than that with Freaks and Geeks and I'm pretty sure he can do better than that on the big screen too.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Here's looking at you

Last week I finished reading Courtney Martin's book "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body." Martin uses the dichotomy of the "perfect girl" (the perfectionist) and the "starving daughter" (our most basic human desires) to examine women's relationship to their body. (As she said at a talk at the University of VA last week, once you start talking about women and their bodies, you end up talking about everything.)

A lot of things in the book really stuck with me, but one thing in particular was a concept about attractiveness and desire that Martin articulates: being noticed versus being seen.

Martin writes,

We walk around wondering what we look like through most of adolescence and, with less urgency, for the rest of our lives. Our inability to really see ourselves imbues the judgment of strangers with tremendous and undue value...A man I have never met can instantly put a little swing in my step...a bar full of half-drunk strangers has the power to make me hang my head.

We are dependent on the kindness of strangers because of the onslaught of skinny-and-fit female or tall-and-toned male images that we suffer daily. We become unsure of our own sight so early on, convinced that the only accurate view of ourselves is outside of ourselves. We search for signs that we resemble the mold---an invite to homecoming from a football player, a wink in the elevator from a cute coworker, admission into an exclusive downtown club. We feel, in these brief, usually fruitless encounters, like we are being seen when really we are just being noticed. The difference is significant.

Being noticed is ordinary, fleeting, and impersonal. Being seen is extraordinary, lasting and intimate. Being notice is common and only skin-deep. Being seen is rare and profound. It is what happens when you stay up all night talking in a stranger's car because the conversation is so good you forgot to reach for the door handle...Being seen is when your boyfriend knows that the horseshoe scar on your knee was from when you fell in the gravel of the playground in fourth grade playing flag football, and he adores it Being seen is a hand on the small of your back as you walk through a doorway, a glass of water when you are coughing in the middle of the night, his making a parting reference to something you said so long ago you barely remember it. Being seen is when your girlfriend asks, 'Why do you seems sad?" before you have realized that you are, indeed sad. Being seen is rarely about physical beauty. Being seen is never about being buff or thin.
- pp 149-150

This passage really spoke to me because I realize that a lot of my anxiety over my body come from a place inside of me that is desperate to be noticed and terrified about what it says about me when I am not noticed. I have never been the kind of woman that gets noticed. In some contexts this is a total blessing. On the rare occasions when someone harasses me on the street, I feel horrible about it and I'm not sure being hit on in a bar would be much different. On the other hand, I am acutely and occasionally painfully aware of the attention some of my girlfriends get. I think I have been wondering all my life to some extent what is wrong with me---why don't I get noticed?

That's not the real question though and in fact, it's not a question it all; it's a gratitude. I am so thankful that I have been seen by friends, family, and some of my romantic partners and that I have seen people. I think I've always thought of my failure to be noticed as some kind of indication of my chances of being seen, but the truth is, I can put that fear to rest. The results are in: I have been seen and loved and I have seen and loved. No amount of noticing is going to change that.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It's not a paycheck from a fancy corporation. It's not a nice apartment, trendy clothes, a new car. It's not a nonprofit job that guarantees a spot in heaven. It's not even thinness.

None of these things make us feel perfect or even good enough. None of these things fills up the emptiness inside, the one that Anna Quindlen warned us about: "If you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be." When you turn twenty-five and you look up from the toilet bowl or the keyboard or the steering wheel and you realize that there is nothing where there should be at the center of your life, at the center of you body, at the center of your soul, what do you do? When you realize that the hunger you feel is for something much larger, much more substantial than a paycheck or a flat stomach or a cute boyfriend, where do you look for spiritual sustenance?

- Courtney E. Martin, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stay Classy, Bob

I just finished reading two articles in today's New York Times, Public Infidelity, Private Debate and I Agree, Dear, It Was Awful (which for some reason is not online).

In PIPD, the reporter examines women looking at the Elliot Spitzer scandal, feeling pity for Silda Wall Spitzer, considering what they would do in her situation, but never really believing their husbands could cheat. In IADIWA, the reporter says that men, on the other hand, focused more on why Spitzer got caught.

Reading these two articles, one is left with the distinct impression that men cheat and then women decide whether or not to forgive them.

Even before I read these two articles I was thinking way, way back to 1997 and how I remember that just before the Lewinsky scandal broke, Newsweek did a cover story on the rising levels of adultery and our changing attitudes towards. I couldn't find that particular story, but I did find "Those Cheatin' Hearts" from the 1997 (and about 6 months before Newsweek first wrote about Lewinsky). The reporter writes:

Public attitudes toward adultery are predictably ambivalent. According to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 78.5 percent of adults polled last year said extramarital sex was "always wrong"-up 10 percent from 1976. But tolerance for adulterers themselves has risen. A 1996 NORC study found that 22 percent of men and 15 percent of women admitted being unfaithful to their spouses at least once. Opposing adultery in principle is not the same as "believing the adulterer is a monster who ought to wear a red letter on his breast," says New York University sociologist Todd Gitlin. [emphasis mine]

Got that? In 1996, there was only a 7% difference between men and women who admitted to committing adultery. We are both a bunch of cheaters.

The rest of the stuff in that paragraph is pretty interesting too. It seems that hypocritical attitudes regarding sexually activity are not the sole domain of politicians using the very acts they rail against for their political capital...(Though, to be clear, I am not arguing against bringing this hypocrisy to light. I'm just saying let's not get too far up on the horse, because it's a long way down.)

And then there's the overlooked victim in this situation (from IADIWA):

Bob Beleson, 58, an independent beverage marketer who lives in Manhattan, said that the discussions he had with several buddies condemned the governor not for his sin, but for his excess. "These guys that pay $4,300 for a hooker are the same guys who pay $9 for an espresso," he said. "They're ruining it for everyone else."

Now, Bob, I realize that being in the beverage business, espresso are probably part of your whole thing, but comparing a human being/sex with that human being to a hot coffee drink, isn't that a bit much? Also, really? Really?! You are really going to complain in a nationally read newspaper that the thing about this whole Spitzer-thing is that it's really causing some price gouging in sex industry? I'm sorry "hookers" have been "ruined" for you. You must be devastated.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Matter of Perspective

Today's New York Times includes an article titled, "Senate Committee Seeks Audit of How Iraq is Spending it's Soaring Oil Windfall." Senators Carl Levin and John W. Warner, from the Armed Services Committee, have written a letter asking for an accounting of how Iraq is spending its oil money to further the reconstruction in Iraq. Apparently, the Iraqi government isn't spending much of it and are instead relying on U.S. money for reconstruction.

As upsetting as that is, I was thrown for a loop when I got to the last two paragraphs of the article.

"Finally, Senators Levin and Warner ask the question looming over the entire rebuilding effort: 'Why has the Iraqi government not spent more of its oil revenue on reconstruction, economic development and providing essential services for the Iraqi people?'
Also on Friday, Iraqi security forces discovered a mass grave containing the remains of about 100 people in Diyala Province, said Maj. Winfiel Danielson, a spokesman for the Mutlinational Forces-Iraq."

Ok, hold the phone. 100 dead people? Mass grave? At the end of an article about oil money? I guess the connection is that both of these things happened in Iraq, but isn't this a little bit like the New York Times ending its "the price of grain is really rising" (also in today's paper) with something like this, "Oh yeah, btw, mass grave found in Northern Indiana." Doesn't a mass grave warrant it's own teeny little column?

So I went to Iraq Today to check it out, which led me to a BBC article and a Washington Post article about the mass grave. The BBC article explains that the bodies have probably been there since pre-invasion and the Washington Post article says that hundreds of mass graves have been found since the March 2003 invasion.

The thing is though, scrolling down through the info on Iraq Today (and reading that Washington Post article), I can kind of see why the mass grave part got buried in the NY Times article. Mass graves and incredible amounts of violence (please note that all those links are from this past week and I got them from Iraq Today) are the norm in Iraq. That's not what the scoop is anymore. I'm glad that Levin and Warner want to get to the bottom of where that oil money is going in Iraq. But I'm sad that instead of our politicians demanding answers being the almost un-reportable norm, we are expected to be so blaze about the discovery of 100 (more) people dead in Iraq.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Science! It means whatever you want it to!

As my friend Lauren put it, there are grocery lists that are written better than this piece in the Washington Post.

There is so much I could say about this article (and much of it has already been said). I'd like though, to address (the author) Charlotte Allen's point about women drivers.

Depressing as it is, several of the supposed misogynist myths about female inferiority have been proven true. Women really are worse drivers than men, for example. A study published in 1998 by the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine and public health revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men's 5.1, even though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women. The only good news was that women tended to take fewer driving risks than men, so their crashes were only a third as likely to be fatal. Those statistics were reinforced by a study released by the University of London in January showing that women and gay men perform more poorly than heterosexual men at tasks involving navigation and spatial awareness, both crucial to good driving.

Run for your lives! It's a woman driving!

Let's re-write this paragraph shall we:

"Depressing as it is, several of the supposed myths about male inferiority have been proven true. Men really are worse drivers than women, for example. A study published in 1998 by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Public Health revealed that men were three times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash as women. Although women get in slightly more accidents then men (5.7 women car accidents/million miles to 5.1 men car accidents/million miles), men take many more stupid risks. [I'll get to the whole spatial/navigation thing]"

I haven't read the study. However, I don't think either of the above paragraphs accurately represent the study, mainly because they take the findings (as I understand them--that men's car accidents are more fatal and women get in more car accidents) and draw the conclusion that one sex is a better driver than the other sex, a conclusion that I don't really think is supported by the findings. I mean, take a look at this abstract of a study from Spain, which says that Spanish men are more likely to be in a car crash than Spanish women. (BTW, this study was published in May 2001, in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which is the same journal [I think] that published the Johns Hopkins' study that Allen references.) What does that mean for Allen's little theory? Being Spanish effects a man's ability to perform task involving navigation and spatial awareness?

The thing is, even though I haven't read the study, I'm pretty damn certain Allen hasn't either. After all, she says that she has no use for math ["I am perfectly willing to admit that I myself am a classic case of female mental deficiencies. I can't add 2 and 2 (well, I can, but then what?)"], so I'm sure she can't really bother with a silly little thing like fact checking.

I don't know why men are involved in more fatal crashes than women and I don't know why (American?) women are in more car crashes than men. But neither does Allen. Maybe she was going for a whole meta-"this article is so illogical that it proves women are stupid because I am a stupid women" thing. Whatever it is, the Washington Post never should have published it.