Thursday, July 29, 2010


I know this guy (we'll call him M) who's always seemed like a fairly OK guy. He's easy to talk to and has a habit of reading books that are interesting to me, and vice versa. I see him around town or campus occasionally, and we always stop and chat. So the other day I ran into him with a couple other mutual acquaintances, and we had this little conversation that eventually somehow turned to the whole Male Studies debacle. The other two just sort of rolled their eyes at the arguments made by Male Studies advocates but then had little else to say. But M wouldn't let the topic drop, and proceeded to mansplain to us how the current "climate" in academia serves to "disenfranchise" men. For real, you guys. He even referenced Christina Hoff Sommers, repeat winner of the Little Miss Colluder award. (OK, there is technically no such award, but there should be.)

Little Miss Colluder

So, anyway... My first reaction was "Disenfranchised? Are you kidding? Look who's disproportionately getting tenure. Look who occupies all the top administrative positions on most campuses. Disenfranchised? Seriously?" This response was met with some decisive but uncomfortable agreement from the other two participants in the discussion, but seemed unpersuasive to M. But since none of us seemed to be in a mood to argue, we wrapped up the conversation and headed our own separate ways. It was kind of depressing to walk away realizing that my seemingly well-informed and progressive friend was actually a bit of a douche.

Mister Not-Even-Close
But it also got me thinking about this alleged dynamic in education that favors girls and women. And I thought perhaps my initial response, although totally accurate and germane, didn't quite address the whole story. I mean, it's undoubtedly true that people who are already in academia experience this gender divide that clearly privileges men. And it's also true that male graduates are somewhat privileged when they first enter the job market; experiencing a certain amount of (probably unconscious) preferential treatment in the interviewing/hiring process and often starting out with higher entry-level salaries. But it's also true that this measuring of economic outcomes is not the only measure of whether or not academia serves men and women equally.

You've probably heard men's rights activists yammer on about how primary school is tailored for girls, who naturally sit quietly and passively all day long, are inherently cooperative and good listeners and not at all boisterous or curious or creative, like all boys inherently are. And since institutional schooling rewards passive learning and good rule-following, girls will automatically do better, right? Except, of course, that these tendencies have more to do with gendered socialization than with biological tendencies. And there's often a rather large disconnect between how well a student does in school and how well they do in the job market.

But more importantly, this just speaks to a problem with school in general. For children of all genders. We say we want our educational system to foster creativity and innovation and intellectual vigor and independence and curiosity in the adults these kids will become. And then we do everything we can to make them into "good listeners," which is code for passive rule-following sheep. And that's pretty much the opposite of the curious, creative, intellectually adventurous ideal that gets so much lip-service.

Don't get me wrong - I think good listening skills are essential in numerous ways. Constructive dialogue cannot occur without good listening. But when educators and parents talk about good listening, they almost always mean "you, the child, should shut up and listen to me, and then should unquestioningly do whatever it is I told you to do." And this is pretty much the opposite of the kind of listening skills involved in the open, respectful, reciprocal communication that we hope our kids will be capable of as adults. In other words, if teachers and parents don't listen to kids, then why the fuck would we expect kids to listen to us? And the sad reality is, adults often don't listen to kids, because we're so often preoccupied with the plethora of tasks (educational, social, household, etc) that need to be accomplished on a daily basis, or because we don't see them as humans that merit the respect involved in looking someone in the eye and listening to what they're saying.

But what does this have to do with gender? Obviously allowing for curiosity and creativity and physical interactivity and critical thinking in schools benefits both boys and girls. And to the extent that we forbid these things, academia disenfranchises students. But not just the boys. So maybe it's this problem with our school system that M and the rest of the school-is-bad-for-boys party are trying to articulate, but somehow it's going wrong and becoming a gender thing. If schools are set up to cater to the characteristics that girls are socialized to have, then that's a problem with both the gendered socialization and the educational model. But the results are still the same. Whether or not the boys struggle more than the girls at any educational level, men still come out ahead of women economically and politically. So saying that academia disenfranchises men not only seems willfully ignorant of the economic and political realities; it's also an incredibly douchey attempt to defend one's own privilege.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Video of the Day

I swear I'm gonna post something real here. Someday. In the meantime, enjoy the video. If you're like me and now live in a part of the country where there's no TJs, this video will make you sad, nostalgic, and hungry, all at the same time.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Religious art is so...

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What's in your...crisper??

In response to this post over at Fed Up With Lunch ...

Lettuce, half a bell pepper, half a carton of sliced mushrooms, a cucumber, raspberries, cherries, green onions, and half a watermelon. On the shelf above: strawberries, fresh homemade salsa, and Swiss chard from my garden.

And why is it so much fun to peek into other people's fridge's? I think "what's in your ... pantry?" should be next. In my experience having a strategically stocked pantry is the secret to good cooking and not giving up and going out all the time or eating lots of processed crap.

things that are awesome

We have two yardsale gnomes in our little piece of the community garden. They started out as ironic gestures, but have morphed into characters we take Very Seriously. This is Gunther, who watches over the strawberries, what's left of the spinach, and the sunflowers.

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The moral of the story

By now you may have seen the news that, once the full video of Shirley Sherrod's speech was released, it became clear that what she was saying was actually the exact opposite of what Fox News and other conservative outlets were claiming she was saying. OMG, that's shocking, right? Except it really isn't. Remember the ACORN videos, and how they showed ACORN employees saying and doing things that they actually weren't saying and doing at all ever? Of course, those videos were artfully edited by conservative groups as well.

So what have we learned here? That Fox and it's ilk are dishonest? Um, we already knew that. What should we learn? This: If a radical conservative news group releases a video containing "damning evidence" of anybody doing anything, you should ask for the full video before reaching any conclusions. I mean, wtf is it with these Obama administration bigwigs that just swallow every doctored video the conservahacks spew out? Whatever happened to critical thinking and reserving judgment until you have all the evidence? Because besides making themselves look evil, the conservahacks are making you guys look like gullible, impulsive idiots.

And whatever happened to asking your employee for her side of the story and giving her a chance to defend herself before demanding her resignation? Jesus H Christ.

How they roll

"In the fall of 1999, the drug giant SmithKline Beecham secretly began a study to find out if its diabetes medicine, Avandia, was safer for the heart than a competing pill, Actos, made by Takeda ... instead of publishing the results, the company spent the next 11 years trying to cover them up..."


"A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee Tuesday recommended that the agency withdraw its marketing approval of the blockbuster cancer drug Avastin for treating breast cancer, concluding that new trials showed no apparent benefit from the drug. ... The new studies presented to the panel failed to confirm those initial findings. The progression-free survival improved by as little as a month and, again, overall survival did not improve. In fact, because of complications from the drug, survival was actually slightly less for some women. ... In a statement released Tuesday, the drug's manufacturer, Roche subsidiary Genentech, said it stood by the data it presented to the FDA and that it believed Avastin 'should continue to be an option for patients with this incurable disease.' "

Get that? So the drug not only fails to significantly improve your chances of survival, but it also has side effects that can hasten your death, and make life miserable with symptoms like high blood pressure and fatigue. But the company still thinks patients should be taking it. Why? Because there is only one relevant motivating factor here: profit. Patients be damned, we want to keep raking in our billions on this drug.

But beyond this feature of the pharmaceutical industrial complex is another disturbing trend. If you look at the way committee members vote in both the case of Avandia and Avastin, you'll see that nobody has clean hands here. In the case of Avandia, the claim has been made that committee members who voted against the continued use of the drug had economic interests in pharmaceutical companies with competing drugs, while those who voted for it held SmithKline stock. So nobody appeared to be voting on actual results in actual people's bodies and futures and lives. No, on both sides it was all about the money.

So to answer a few questions I've received by email, that's why I call it the pharmaceutical industrial complex. When economic interests are the driving force behind a system that ostensibly exists to benefit people but instead ends up harming them for the benefit of those who stand to profit from that system, you have an industrial complex that has a momentum of its own and that will run you and your loved ones over without batting an eye or losing a night's sleep. Because what are a few heart attacks and early deaths compared to billions of dollars?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Miscellanea

Remember that one time I ranted about how separating abortion services from all other medical services further stigmatizes abortion and the women who need abortions, and makes abortion clinics a highly visible target for hateful anti-abortion protesters? Well, I didn't either until I read this article in NYT Magazine about a growing effort to bring abortion services back into a mainstream medical context. According to this article:
The bold idea at the heart of this effort is to integrate abortion so that it’s a seamless part of health care for women — embraced rather than shunned.
So it turns out that my irritated rant was actually a bold idea - that we should provide services for all aspects of women's reproductive care in the same place with the same healthcare professionals as if it were all just the exact same kind of thing. Because it is.

Other items in the "good news" category include the fact that illegal rain forest logging has been significantly reduced thanks to the efforts of local governments, activists, NGOs, and entities in the private sector. And by "significant" we mean 50-75% which is really...significant. So yay for actually seeing change in the world as a result of a lot of hard work and consciousness-raising! I cut my 16 y/o activist teeth in the Rainforest Action Network, so I'll always have a soft spot for the cause.

In the "stupid shit the Vatican did this week" category we have the papal pronouncement that ordaining women is the moral equivalent to molesting children and then lying about it. Tim Padgett has some interesting thoughts on this development from an insider perspective:
When any institution is as convinced of its own moral infallibility as the Catholic Church is, it tends to lash out at criticism — especially charges as serious as the priestly rape of children — with Dostoevskian paranoia. And the church then fortifies its less popular stances, like an all-male priesthood or the condemnation of gays, becoming even more uncompromising. Most Catholics, according to polls in the U.S. and abroad, support women's ordination; but the Church peevishly views that trend as an insidious sub-agenda of its sexual abuse accusers. Hence last week's astonishing aside from Rome that both female priests and pedophilia are graviora delicta, or grave crimes.
Read more here: The Vatican and Women: Casting the First Stone.

And finally, I've been thinking a lot about the way we construct the experience of addiction, as well as the often-contradictory narratives that surround addiction, in our culture. So this article: Does Teen Drug Rehab Cure Addiction or Create It? is both timely and will likely spur a more in-depth post on some of my recent thoughts about our cultural scripts concerning addiction. Of course, in the case of teen rehab programs you often have the further complicating issues of the way we do prison and juvenile detention in our culture, which is a clusterfuck all its own. So that puts teen rehab programs at an interesting crossroads of strange and often counterproductive cultural narratives and practices, now doesn't it?

Friday, July 16, 2010

What women can expect

"There's more to life than a Volvo. There's what you can expect: being kissed, desired, loved, missed. Then there's everything you can't expect. But being ready for it, that's why you drive one....blah, blah, blah..."

Apparently we're still supposed to be passively waiting around for someone to kiss, desire, love, and miss us. But in the meantime we should buy a Volvo. Just in case we ever need to outrun some werewolves on a scenic mountain highway in the pristine wilderness of Oregon. Or is it the men who are supposed to buy the Volvos so that they can rescue the objects of their kissing, desiring, loving, and missing in case of a scenic werewolf encounter? I mean, if women can't even have an active role in a bunch of angsty kissing, desiring, loving, and missing, how on earth could they ever muster the agency to buy a fucking car already?

Webcomics of the day

I don't understand your complaint.  There totally is a straight pride march. That same day too. On all the other streets.

T-Rex: It's safe to eat chalk, right? Probably? / T-Rex: Probably it's safe to eat chalk? T-Rex: Let us totally assume that it's safe to eat chalk!! T-Rex: And seriously, if it's not safe to eat chalk then it's DEFINITELY safe to eat sawdust. And even if it's not, there's got to be things that'll pass through you ENTIRELY UNDIGESTED but that also won't cause any harm when you gobble them! / T-Rex: Guys! We should be making food out of these things! Utahraptor: Another weight-loss scheme? / T-Rex: Utahraptor, this one's perfect though! T-Rex: You'll be able to eat all you want and get that great 'I'm so full, you guys' feeling, but never gain any weight! / Utahraptor: Ah, yes, that coveted 'I'm so full of chalk and sawdust, you guys' feeling. / T-Rex: Don't knock it 'til you've tried it! Narrator: T-REX TRIES IT / T-Rex: bleh really should wait, though, because sex is something married people do.  Ohhhhh, like fighting in Perkins?

Gentlemen, our waters are in great danger. Perhaps we should follow the path of the Devonian sea creatures, and adapt to walk on land. [pause] Barry, shut the fuck up.  Seriously...

So how's your quiet desperation going?  Shhh.

You know what the problem with kids today is?  They're young and alive.  Indeed.  And they do things.  Not the exact same things I would do or the same way I'd do them.  They wear clothes that are fashionable by today's standards.  Clothes that would have looked strange in our day.  I can't say I'm fond of the fact that they've all mutated into giant slugs, either.

**Trigger Warning**

I wish my uncle were a vampire or a werewolf. Movie monsters are meant to do terrible things.  I wouldn't have worried that it was my own fault.

Sensationalism 101

In Helena Montana, a committee of school administrators, teachers, and parents have put together a comprehensive health education curriculum, including sex ed, based on local practices and national guidelines. The plan would gradually introduce students to concepts, starting in K-1 with basic vocabulary such as using the correct name for your body parts (no wee-wees and hoo-hahs) as well as the concept that you could love someone of the same or opposite gender, and moving on to eventually discussing such things as the social and political aspects of LGBT relationships once the kids are in high school. Sounds pretty reasonable, right?

But OMG this is soooo upsetting!!! To all the parents of Helena!!! The school district is proposing to teach comprehensive sex ed in Kindergarten, you guys!!! If you only read the headlines, that is. A Google news search:

Montana's school board battles morals in education
Proposed K-12 Sex Ed Program Shocking and Outraging Parents
Sex Ed in Kindergarten?
Montana School System Wants Sex Education for Kindergarten
Grade 1 Student to Learn about Gay Relationships in Montana Sex-Ed ...
Children Exposed to Montana Sex-Ed for Kindergartners Will 'Suffer in Countless Ways'
Proposed K-12 Sex Ed Program Shocking and Outraging Parents
Sex Education Debate Sparks Outrage
Helena, Mont., Mulls Kindergarten Sex Ed

What's the reality of the situation? A few parents are upset, because they object to any sex ed, or any sex ed that's not abstinence-only, or any mention of homosexuality, period. And this fringe group is to be expected. But that's OK because any parent can choose to opt their kid out of health education. But in fact, the majority of the parents in Helena are just fine with the proposed curriculum. And notice that the local paper has taken a calm tone and an even-handed approach to the topic. No shocking headlines, no inflammatory rhetoric. It's almost like they skipped the Shocking, Inaccurate, and Sensationalist Headline Writing 101 course back in Journalism school. How refreshing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Urban Farming and Nonmarketable Goods

I've been having this discussion concurrently with my cousin, who lives among the cornfields of Minnesota, and with a couple fellow gardeners at our local community garden. And here's what I'm thinking.

Proponents of sustainability, and improving the quality of life in urban environments, and improving the American diet, have supported urban farming for decades and decades. Carving out sustainable and productive spaces where we live and work seems like a no-brainer. But opponents of urban farming (and often organic farming, and the local food movement) say that urban farming will never be economically self-sustaining or produce enough food to meet the demand. And these claims are probably true, but are they relevant? And are they as decisive as they're taken to be by the people who utter them?

Most urban farm projects do require grants and foundational funds to keep them afloat. And since the space available is limited, the amount of food they can produce is also limited. These things are true. But this only tells half the story. These same people who bash organic and urban farms are big supporters of rural conventional farming. And rural conventional farms are not economically self-sustaining either. They get loads of money every year. Their money comes from the government rather than from private donations, but what of it? The point is, if capitalist standards are the only standards that apply, then no farming is worthwhile.

Obviously farming is necessary, since everyone, from the most ruthless capitalist to the most idealistic flower child, must eat. But if you step outside the capitalist values that dominate in our culture, there are all kinds of other reasons why urban farming is worthwhile. Urban farms reduce the oil used in transporting food to the city. They provide clean soil and open spaces that can serve as a respite from the stresses of life in the city. They provide educational opportunities and jobs for at-risk youth who have few options open to them. Meanwhile, government-sponsored conventional farms produce toxic runoff, deplete the soil, rely heavily on oil-based chemicals, and utilize an exploitive labor system. And they're still not profitable.

So it seems to me that the calculus that we use to determine which types of agricultural practices pay off are extremely skewed. Selectively choosing which costs and benefits to factor in is a great way to get the result you want out of any analysis, but all that's revealed are your personal biases and political/economic interests.

Beyond this issue, the kind of reasoning involved here assumes that one must adopt an all-or-nothing stance. For instance, some will argue that organic farming is a waste of time because you could never produce enough bushels per acre to feed the world with organic farming alone. First, this claim is extremely controversial and basically unsubstantiated, but second, this doesn't count as a reason not to support organic farming. A similar claim is that urban farming alone can't feed a city, and neither can the efforts of individual families in their own backyard gardens and chicken coops. So this is a reason not to support them?

Every bushel of produce that comes out of a sustainable urban space is one less bushel that needs to be produced with the toxic industrial methods that are so terrifically unsustainable. And every family that has increased access to clean and healthy foods is one less family that's likely to be caught in an unhealthy inter-generational cycle. And every productive urban space makes a small dent in our oil consumption, as well as in the accompanying air pollution and toxic runoff that oil consumption leads to. These are reasons enough to support urban farming, even within a capitalist value system that is incapable of recognizing the value of nonmarketable goods.

the Blue Wall

By now you've probably heard about Janice Wells, who was tased repeatedly after calling the police to report a prowler outside her home. And all the news coverage has been focusing on the fact that the two officers involved no longer work for that police dept, since one was fired and the other resigned. And that's good news, right? Yeahno. Actually, the officer who gleefully began tasing Wells while she was laying on the ground the second he arrived on the scene now works for the Chattahoochee County Sheriff’s Office, while the other will no doubt be employed with some fine local law enforcement agency soon. Cuz that's how it works, folks!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Privileged perspectives and the gorilla in the room

Here's something I've been workin on in the back of my head for some time. In philosophy there's a lot of talk about perception, and how it's theory-laden. What does that mean, exactly? Well... to simplify it almost too much, there are these competing views of perception that look like this.
  1. Perception is a largely passive thing in which the observer receives large amounts of raw data into her/his consciousness, and then channels them through various cognitive processes. In this view perception and cognition are distinct processes, where perception is passive and cognition is active.
  2. Perception is an extremely active process, and not truly separable from cognition. The mind is constantly organizing and filtering the perceptions according to preexisting categories and conceptions in real-time as they are experienced.
An extreme version of #2 claims that you cannot even observe something that your mind has no means of processing. If you don't already have some kind of basis by which to conceptualize a thing, you'll simply be incapable of perceiving it. For instance, there are a number of (seemingly unfounded) stories of natives being incapable of perceiving the large ships of European explorers in their first encounters with them, because they had never had any experience with such a large and complex object like the ships.

As is generally the case, neither of the extreme theories are very plausible, and the truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle. However, I think it's important not to underestimate the role that our understanding and expectations of the world play in the way we perceive things, so I would argue that a moderate version of the second view is the most accurate. In other words, perception is theory-laden.

Any number of studies have been done that demonstrate the somewhat counter-intuitive fact that there are all kinds of things going on around us that we just don't pick up on unless it's relevant to the projects we're engaged in. We really don't want to believe this, but there are whole swaths of things that we completely fail to observe because they either don't fit in with our conception of what's going on, or they would only serve to distract us from what we're doing.

And there's nothing to be upset or defensive about. No doubt this filtering and selective focusing of attention is useful in many many ways. After all, the world would be a terribly overstimulating place if you really took in every little thing in your environment and then had to process it. It's exhausting just to think about it.

But that means that there really is no completely neutral stance from which a human can observe the world. We are always everywhere making value judgments about what's important in our environment, what things mean, how they're relevant, etc. And this process of selective, and even normative, perception is inseparable from our deeper thoughts about what it all means. There's no clear line between perception and cognition.

So what does this mean? Lots of things. But when it comes to social justice and hierarchy and preexisting power structures, it means that the way we perceive the world will be profoundly influenced by our understanding of the world. And that understanding of the world will be profoundly influenced by the hierarchical structures in place.

This explains a lot. For instance, it explains why for so many years, male researchers were seemingly blind to whole swaths of female behavior in primates they were studying. After all, in the patriarchal worldview they had inherited from their culture, females were passive, and not agents in any real way. So when the females mated with males who were not only not the dominant male of the group, but often not even a part of their group, the human male researchers overlooked it altogether, and thus we have the myth of the dominant male primate who has sole access to all the females in "his" group. It also explains how so many notable actions of women and minorities in history simply never made it into the history books. To some extent this could be due to active, intentional censoring. But more likely it's simply due to the fact that we see what we expect to see (white males doing noble things while everyone else either sits around like a lump or engages in malevolent behavior, I guess), and so other really important and notable things escape us altogether. As my dad used to say, "I'll see it when I believe it."

So this makes me think sometimes that there's often less intentional hostility or callousness in the tendency for privileged people to be blind to the workings of privilege than we think. Sometimes when they say "I don't see it" it's really honestly because they don't see it. Perception is theory-laden, and in their view of the world everything's all sunshine and rainbows. This doesn't get them off the hook, of course. But it suggests that the way to deal with privilege-blindness is not to dismiss the person as hateful and willfully ignorant (not yet, anyway), but to point out the gorilla in the room. Gently point them in the right direction and alert them to the possibilities. Because once you see the gorilla in the room, you can't not see it anymore. Your worldview has changed, for better or for worse, and your perception of things will reflect this change.

Radical Leaders Prey on the Fearful and Naive

Today in OMG the Irony! and Read the Subtext, Folks! we have this:
The North Iowa Tea Party began displaying the billboard in downtown Mason City last week. The sign shows large photographs of Obama, Nazi leader Hitler and communist leader Lenin beneath the labels Democrat Socialism, National Socialism, and Marxist Socialism.  Beneath the photos is the phrase, Radical leaders prey on the fearful & naive. (AP Photo/Globe Gazette, Deb Nicklay)
Brought to you by the Tea Party. The thing is, they're right. Radical folks sometimes do prey on the fearful and naive. Take the Tea Party for example. They prey on the fearful and naive by telling them that healthcare reform will kill them, and that our president is just like Hitler and some Communist dude. Ya know, cause they're all socialists, HAHAHA.

Except nobody seems to have gotten that this was the point of the billboard. Because, of course, it never was the real point of the billboard. The real point is implied, through a visual tool meant to invoke a strong emotional reaction. In our shared conceptual framework, Hitler and whoever that guy with the Communist symbol is were above all else mass murderers. And OMG! they both used circular logos, and Obama does too! This alone is proof of their ideological similarities, right?!?
When you compare someone to Hitler, you're suggesting that s/he supports genocide. When you put a picture of Obama between two pictures of political leaders that represent tyranny and mass murder in our collective understanding of the world, you're suggesting that Obama is also a tyrannical mass murderer. It's as simple as that.

And ya know what? That's RADICAL. And it preys upon the fearful and naive.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lies we tell our kids, part V

So, ya know, there's drugs. And if you're a parent with a fairly liberal take on drug use, it occurs to you often while they're little that you're going to have to have those discussions with them at some point. And this is a complex, tricky issue on a number of levels:
  1. You know that the normal parenting lines ("all drugs are bad!") aren't going to work for you, not only because you don't wish to lie to your kids, as is the cultural norm, but also because you have a commitment to non-coercive communication and to letting your kids know that you take them seriously and respect their ability to understand things.
  2. On the other hand, you recognize that addictions can be very serious, and kids tend to have both poor judgment and an unrealistic view of their own understanding of the world and powers to successfully navigate tricky things like drug use and sexual relationships.
  3. Taking an extreme stance such as complete prohibition of drug use and/or sexual activity tends to give the prohibited activity a glamor and allure all it's own.
  4. On the other hand, too casual of a stance can lead a kid to not take it seriously enough, so it seems like there's a fairly narrow path to navigate in which you don't want to err in either direction.
  5. Complicating things further is the fact that, in our current anti-all-drugs-except-those-hocked-by-the-right-pharmaceutical-corporation cultural climate, being too casual with your kids about the fact that you have in the past and maybe still do smoke a little pot from time to time can lead to things like losing custody of your kids over a casual remark made at school by a kid who was taught not to freak the fuck out about each and every instance of drug use.
Yesterday there was an article in New York Times about how to answer your kids' questions about your drug use. For the most part, I thought the recommendations were good. The fact that we seem to be moving away from immediate hysterics and defensive lying whenever the topic of drug use is raised with kids is encouraging. And it's not as if kids don't pick up on that stuff. If you get really defensive and evasive and resort to reciting the same old tired PSA script every time your kid brings up a topic, they're going to know they're onto something. And it will make them both more intrigued by the topic and less likely to trust you where that topic is concerned. And in my mind, having my kids not trust me is a worst-case scenario.

But I wonder why the article assumes that you wouldn't be discussing this with your kid unless they asked you point-blank about your drug use? I assume they think a good parent would be discussing drug use in general with their kids, so why wouldn't you include your own experience in this discussion? I'm not sure how to discuss things like this without referencing my own experience. I'm also not sure why I would expect my kid to trust me if I was deliberately refusing to discuss my experience while expounding on the topic as if I was some kind of expert.

So I think about my own experience, and which factors influenced me the most. Of course, my parents took a hard-line abstinence approach all the way down the line: sex, drugs, alcohol, you name it. Just don't do it. And so they just seemed irrelevant to me when it came to these issues. What did influence me?

Well, first there's the fact that I'm lucky to have the opposite of an addictive personality. Also, I think I was always good about factoring in consequences and looking at the long-term, even as a teen. So I would try things, but in small quantities, and only in circumstances where I felt safe. I wouldn't get drunk off my ass at a frat party or do ecstasy at a rave where I didn't know most of the people and all my friends were already drunk or high. The possibilities were just too scary to me. This might have something to do with the fear of being in a bad situation - one that you can neither control nor escape from - that develops out of a childhood experience of sexual abuse. At least in my case. So my early abuse situation led me to be a fairly sensible teen. Go figure.

But also, I lived in Seattle, where high quality pot (BC bud, y'all) was cheap and plentiful, so things like meth just didn't seem that interesting to us. I clearly remember my chemistry teacher telling us one day that certain drugs (acid, ecstasy, meth) caused permanent structural and chemical changes in your brain the first time you tried them. Someone asked about pot. He hedged for a second, not wanting to look like he was encouraging us to use pot, no doubt, and then said that the research he had seen showed that pot doesn't cause these changes, but takes about 6 months to completely flush out of your system and for your brain functioning to return to normal if you've been using it regularly. I'm not sure how accurate this info is, since I'm sure lots of research has been done since. But if you look at how addicting meth is, for instance, compared to pot, it seems like there has to be some truth in this. And as a teen this really struck me, and profoundly influenced the way I approached drugs. Don't get me wrong - I would drink and smoke pot around my friends, and did it often. But there were certain drugs I just wasn't all that interested in because of this knowledge.

A few years ago I was teaching at the alternative school, and I would frequently get into discussions about this stuff with students. Most of the kids there come from broken homes and messed up situations that often involve addiction and abuse, and they seek out stable adults who will have frank discussions with them about these topics that are so relevant to their lives. I remember having a lunchtime discussion with a couple of the girls about why I couldn't understand why some of the girls wanted to get pregnant. In this discussion I ended up finally articulating what had motivated a lot of my behavior as a teen.

To me, the most valuable thing a teen/young adult has is options. Quite honestly, as a teen/very young adult it's highly unlikely that you really know yet what you want your life to look like. You may not have discovered all your talents and passions and shortcomings yet, so trying to force yourself into some niche at this point in time can be disastrous. And behaviors that lead to pregnancy and addiction curtail the choices available to you and send your life on a trajectory that you'll probably dislike and regret years from now. So the best thing you can do for yourself is leave your options open, and give yourself time to explore and discover who you are and what you want.

When I imagine my kids as teens, I think about how I want them to explore the world and enjoy themselves, but also to take themselves seriously enough to leave their options open. I don't want them to be scared of sex and alcohol and drugs, but I do want them to be cautious and factor in the consequences of their actions. And I think this will be the motivating force behind my discussions of drug use (and sexual relationships) with them. I want them to feel relaxed about it and free to discuss the issues with me as they come up, and I'll use little opportunities along the way to bring up the issues in an age-appropriate manner. But I want to be the one they turn to for info and advice. And I want them to see the seriousness of the choices they make, but without being afraid of the world or of new experiences.

It's kind of a big task I've set for myself. Is it doable? I hope so.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday Miscellanea

Swiss won't extradite Polanski on child sex charge I don't really know what to say about that.

On the oil spill front, the Coast Guard is now helping BP in efforts to prevent the media from photographing oil-soaked birds and other marine animals. Photographers have been banned from accessing sites where oiled animals can be found by boat and plane.

There's nothing to see here folks, move along or we'll have to arrest you.

A recent study found that love is like an addiction, and the pain associated with a breakup is similar to withdrawal from a chemically addicting substance. Some of the brain regions that are active while you're pining for your ex turn out to be the same as when an addict is craving cocaine or tobacco. The good news is that understanding the mechanics of this was actually helpful to some of the study participants, and talking about your situation helps, and of course time will eventually cure you of this particular problem. Which we didn't really need a fancy brain scan to figure out, but it's interesting stuff.

Monsanto is generously sending more seed to Haiti. Which is actually quite tragic. You see, Monsanto's hybrid seeds require toxic chemicals to make them grow, and you can't use traditional farming methods like saving seed from your harvest to plant the following year. These kind of seeds have to be bought new every year, along with the chemicals that make them grow. So, ya know, it's like an addiction. And Monsanto is feeding their particular brand of heroin to the farmers of Haiti right now under the guise of charity. Some fucking charity you've got there. To make matters worse, these genetically modified varieties often cross-pollinate with and thus replace the local, non-hybridized strains that some farmers may still be trying to use, so farming in a more sustainable way will effectively become impossible. Instead of fostering strong local seed banks and helping family farmers to be productive and giving them the support they really need (as many local NGOs have called for), this is our solution. This is how Haiti's one shot at establishing food sovereignty died in the womb. We've witnessed it folks.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Have you noticed

...that pretty much all of the news stories out there right now on the Oscar Grant verdict focus on the rioting and looting?

I wonder
  • why there isn't more discussion about how we seem to always end up with all-white, or predominantly white juries in cases like this
  • why everyone seems to accept Mehserle's claim that he thought he had grabbed his taser rather than his gun (we're seriously supposed to accept that a big bad well-trained copman couldn't tell the difference between a pistol and a taser? for real?)
  • why nobody is asking what the fuck Mehserle was doing tasing a victim who was already restrained and lying quietly on the pavement to begin with
  • how this would have played out if Grant had been white and Mehserle had been black.
I think I can make a pretty good guess on all these questions. And it's pretty damn depressing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Robot Cupcakes!

It's robots. It's cupcakes. What could be better?

Monday Miscellanea, on Wednesday

Wanna know what conservatives think about unemployed people? The Rachel Maddow show featured a number of clips of conservative politicians talking about them. Some real winners:

Rep. Dan Heller (R-Nevada): "Is the government now creating hobos?"

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): "You know, we should not be giving cash to people who basically are just going to blow it on drugs."

The irony is that those conservatives who call for austerity measures are straight-up proposing that we lay off more people. And laying people off results in more unemployed people. Who are no doubt lazy slobs who are addicted to drugs and don't take care of their own children, which is how they got unemployed to begin with, right? If your head is spinning it's just because you've experienced a spectacular instance or circular reasoning.

Anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune has been given a two-year prison sentence, suspended for five years, by a Japanese court. In spite of such legal problems, activists successfully cut the whalers catch in half this year. Meanwhile, whale meat from the "research" continues to be sold and consumed in the US and Korea, among other nations.

The pope has made some revisions to church policy on the handling of sex-offender priests, extending the statute of limitations, among other things. For the most part the revisions seem to be a step forward. But Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests notes that "the average age of anyone who was abused as a child begins to deal with their abuse in a meaningful way is their mid-late 40s. Why do they need a statute of limitations on this crime at all?" Good question. Excellent question.

Lucy Kellaway has an interesting article in the Financial Times comparing the way people are responding to BP in the current disaster with the way people responded to disasters like Union Carbide and the Bhopal disaster. Kellaway thinks "hating companies and the people who lead them has become a new global pastime." Why has this happened? She cites four reasons:
  1. "the emotional hangover of the credit crunch"
  2. people are deeply angered by executive pay, especially in the face of executive incompetence and a sort of out of touch-ness
  3. "The third reason is more subtle, and stems from the great personification of business. In the past decade or so, companies have put a great deal of effort into creating an image for themselves supported by a whole load of values. The more successful they are in creating such a personality, the more there is to love – and hate."
  4. "the internet, with its power to turn personal emotion into a global epidemic overnight"
Finally, Kellaway links the following video, which is totally worth watching no matter what you think about BP and corporate behavior in general.

What did I miss?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Knowledge Systems and Coercion

This article: Anthropology and Birth Activism: What Do We Know? by Robbie Davis-Floyd was linked over at theUnnecesarean this morning, and it's gotten me thinking. It's a really great article, and short and very accessible, so you should go read it.

I particularly like the way Davis-Floyd deals with the issue of choice and coercion:
What is choice and privilege in one setting becomes an almost invisible coercion in another.
And this concern can apply equally to both the influence of the medical community on birthing moms and the influence of birth activists. It remains true, after all, that no matter how noble your cause is, using coercive methods to get people to do what you want them to do is profoundly problematic. Especially from a feminist perspective.

But what if you dig below the surface of the persuasive machinery both camps utilize and look at the underlying knowledge systems themselves? The assumption seems to be that knowledge systems are morally neutral and deserve equal amounts of respect within their cultural contexts. But I'm not convinced of this. It seems to me that a knowledge system will be coercive to the extent that the context it evolved in is informed by political and economic interests. And if the knowledge systems in question are inherently coercive, then even if the persuasive methodology is acceptable, you still have a problem.

Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. In the area of birth activism, the conflicting knowledge systems in play are generally the biomedical knowledge system versus what I'll call the "indigenous midwives" knowledge system. One area of conflict between the two is the practice of clamping and cutting the umbilical cord immediately, which is called for in the biomedical system, versus delaying clamping until the blood has finished pulsing through the cord. While I was pregnant I read that traditional midwifery (in my culture) calls for waiting to cut the cord until the blood had finished pulsing, which take 7-10 minutes. On a visit to relatives that same summer I mentioned this to my great-aunt (one of thirteen children born to my great-grandmother at home), and she told me that this was the practice of midwives in their community, as it was thought to produce "more robust" babies. I later read that research on this practice showed that babies who had received all the cord blood were far less likely to become anemic during their first six months. So the midwives were right about this, although they didn't understand the causal mechanism at play.

Based on this research I specified in my birth plan that I didn't want the umbilical cord clamped and cut right away. This invoked a lot of eye-rolling and dismissive tongue-clicking in the birthing room, and was ultimately disregarded under the guise of getting my daughter checked out immediately because she was born early, even though she was clearly breathing well and wasn't in distress in any way. During the discharge process I was asked by a nurse to rate my experience at the hospital. I cited this as one way in which they completely disregarded my birth plan. She said "honestly, we don't even know why this old wives tale is still around, or what waiting to clamp the cord is supposed to do." I referenced a couple of large studies at respectable research institutions concerning iron levels and cord clamping, and she looked at me with a totally blank look and said, "but formula has lots of iron in it, honey."

Clearly she had never heard of the studies, which isn't surprising given the fact that our medical practices are not evidence-based to begin with. Notice also that the default assumption is that all babies will be fed at least some formula, so even if medical professionals were aware of the iron issue, they would assume it was irrelevant. Further, notice the phrase "old wives tales" which is used to delegitimize and belittle any kind of knowledge outside of the medical industry. When I went back for my 6-week checkup, I asked the OB who wrote my birth control prescription about the cord-clamping issue, just out of curiosity, and she said they don't condone waiting for the cord blood because it doesn't provide any benefit. She also had never heard of the studies I cited, and acted skeptical even as she acknowledged that they had been done at conventionally-recognized institutions.

So here you have a case where the knowledge system most Americans are going to base their decisions on appears to contain some deliberate misinformation. The facts about cord blood and iron levels have been confirmed by their own research institutions, after all, and yet the standard of care still involves immediate clamping and cutting of the cord. And most medical professionals are going to look you in the eye and tell you that this is the best practice for you and your baby. And they'll probably sincerely believe it. It seems clear to me that this information has been intentionally withheld or modified because delaying cord cutting doesn't mesh well with institutional schedules. And the same applies to placing limitations on labor time lines. Allowing these things to progress at their own rate within a hospital environment is inefficient and no doubt frustrating from the administrative end. But basically that means that the knowledge system on which most Americans will base their birthing decisions has adapted itself to a value system in which scheduling and staffing take precedence over maximizing healthy outcomes. And the same can be said for the lack of accurate information given to expectant mothers when it comes to the use of epidurals, pitocin, fetal monitoring, episiotomies, c-sections, etc. In other words, you can utilize non-coercive methods of informing expectant mothers and laying out the choices available to them, but if your knowledge system itself has evolved in such a way that it suits your purposes and misleads them into "choosing" the option you prefer, then the process is still profoundly coercive.

Now obviously there's no such thing as a value-neutral knowledge system. Knowledge systems are the product of human activity, which is always and everywhere informed by political, economic, religious, personal, social, etc. interests. Nobody is agenda-free, right? But it seems to me that you can at least attempt to minimize the misinformation and potentially misleading, selectively chosen information built into your system. And it seems to me that a knowledge system like the biomedical birthing one is more likely to be coercive because it has a "top-down" kind of quality (as opposed to a more dynamic, grass-roots, indigenous one) and is so thoroughly infused with economic motives. This isn't to say that indigenous knowledge systems don't incorporate all kinds of agenda-driven information. But it seems less likely due to the input of multiple voices and the lack of explicit formalizing structures (like the ACOG or the AAP).

So I'm not sure we do have to give competing knowledge systems equal respect and deference. For one thing, they evolve rather differently, and incorporate information that is arrived upon through very different processes and motivations. Davis-Floyd says
As both an anthropologist and a birth activist, I am trained to honor and respect women’s choices and the knowledge systems on which they base those choices, but also to deeply question the cultural conditioning underlying all “choice.”
But how do you separate the knowledge system from that cultural conditioning in a culture like ours? We're socialized to respect doctors and believe what they say. We're taught that people who question the medical establishment are wacko conspiracy-theorist types. And most importantly, we're taught that the only important outcome of childbirth is a healthy baby (mom's experience be damned), and the only way to ensure a healthy baby is complete compliance with medical institutions. And so, once again I think this issue of "choice" is much more complex than we take it to be, and shouldn't be used as a conversation-stopping trump card the way it often is in feminist discussions.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Totally appropriate for 3 year old kids...

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Friday, July 2, 2010

What you don't know can't hurt you, part II

After Gulf swimmers report illness, questions about opening a beach

In which swimmers went back in the water after the oil slick disappeared. And then they all got sick. The idea is that the oil made them sick. And every major news story I've seen in which swimmers or laborers who came into contact with the water got sick has unquestioningly suggested that it's the oil in the water that's making people sick.

But what about the millions and millions of gallons of Corexit that have been dumped into the water as an oil dispersant? It's interesting that the mainstream media isn't suggesting that perhaps this chemical dispersant could have anything to do with the reported problems. After all, there have been no toxicity studies done on the current version of Corexit, but a previous one caused respiratory, liver, kidney, and nervous system damage to people who were exposed to it. Then there's the fact that the EPA told BP to stop using Corexit and choose a less toxic alternative instead, but they've refused. Perhaps because the EPA-approved alternatives weren't made by a company that's affiliated with BP like the maker of Corexit is? Who knows. What we do know is that the effects of the current incarnation of Corexit on humans aren't known. We also know that if you listen to the MSM, you'll think that anyone who does get sick after having contact with water from the Gulf is sick because of the oil in the water. So I say, by all means, stick your head in the sand. Just choose sand that's not contaminated by either oil or chemical dispersants.

What you don't know can't hurt you

Like that Fruit Roll-Ups and other fruit flavored snacks that are marketed to children as nutritious snacks are really actually quite bad for you. I know a lot of people are shocked by this, because advertising really is that effective. But let me tell you, it's not just General Mills (now being sued for it) that markets unhealthy fruit flavored snacks (containing hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup, among other things) to kids as a healthy treat. Just about every box of "fruit snacks" on the shelf has these ingredients. I know, cuz I've read the ingredients on them all. And I mean all of them. The Dora ones, the Scooby Doo ones, the Spongebob ones, the Shrek ones... With two hopeful little faces turned up at me waiting and hoping that this one won't have "the icky bad stuff" in it. But they all do.

So a part of me empathizes with angry parents who have been feeding their kids these "healthy" snacks all along, assuming that they really are healthy as advertised. Dishonest marketing amounts to coercive behavior in a culture in which we are inundated by advertising 24 hours a day. But another part of me is like "read the damn label before you feed it to your kids." Because if those ingredients are in there, it will say it right there on the label. And in a world full of crappy food and misleading advertising, reading food labels is just another part of parenting. I know, it sucks that we have to do this, and that the marketing industry is allowed to basically pit us against our children by making us constantly deny them the products they've been conditioned to desire. But that's what it means to be a parent in an advanced capitalist nation.

Welcome to the corporatocracy. Now read the label.

Hey Americans! Want to avoid outsourcing of dairy production?

Then start paying dairy farmers a fair price for their milk.

The Fourth of July Milk Dump
Dairy Farmers Urged to ‘Take Back Their Independence,’ Dump Milk
The Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2009

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I know I've posted elsewhere on this before, but I just saw this billboard again and I just cannot get over the fact that people think it's appropriate or acceptable.

Remember kids, rape is romantic, and it's funny, and it's especially funny when it happens in prison, and if you're in prison you deserve it anyway. So don't do meth, or this incredibly funny romantic thing will happen to you. And you'll deserve it.

Perplexing gender talk from my childhood

So, I'll admit up front that I spent a good chunk of my childhood reading books that were maybe a little old for me. I just read everything there was to be read, so once I had read all the kids books I started in on the non-kid books too. I mean, we went to the library at least once a week, but sometimes you just need to grab a book off the shelf and read it. And I grew up in Seattle where it rains a lot, so you read. And my dad was an English prof at the time, so we had lots and lots of books available, overflowing the shelves and stacked on the floor and in boxes around the house. So I was reading Austen and Hemingway and Dickens and Steinbeck and Hawthorne and the Brontes and Salinger by the age of 9 or 10. There was a lot of stuff in these books that I didn't get, but I understood enough of it to keep me interested, and my dad refused to restrict our reading, although my mom worried about it a bit. Although when I think about it now I realize that certain books (Lolita, for example) were never really in plain view until we got much older, so I suspect there was a little more filtering and censoring going on than met the eye. But I digress.

So I read all these "adult" authors and was exposed to all kinds of different cultural concepts as well as language that was foreign to me. And it was really really good for me I think. But I often came across phrases that puzzled me, and I carried them around in my head and intermittently puzzled on them whenever I was stuck doing something really boring, like sitting in church. And one of these phrases was "of the female persuasion" or "of the feminine persuasion."

First of all, I couldn't make much sense of characterizing gender as a persuasion - as if it were a mental frame of mind, or a chosen stance. Ironically, this makes much more sense to me now, and I think it's probably a great metaphor for the process of becoming one gender or the other. After all, one must be persuaded that one is a woman in order to properly internalize all the social constructions surrounding womaninity, right? Of course, I don't assume that this necessarily has anything to do with the origin of the phrase, particularly since people who would be likely to use the phrase undoubtedly had a much more essentialist view of gender than that.

But what was even more puzzling to me was the fact that you never hear the phrases "of the male persuasion" and "of the masculine persuasion." At this point in my life I would explain this as an indication that "person" implicitly means "male person," just as it means "cis person" and "straight person" and "white person." It's the old norming and othering phenomenon in which male is always the default sort of human while female is the other. But this norming/othering interpretation doesn't quite jive with the social construction view in which both genders are socially constructed and socialization is a process of properly ensconcing individuals into one or the other of the boxes. In other words, in the social construction view, both men and women have to be "persuaded" of their masculinity or femininity, while in the default/other view, men are just people and women are "of the feminine persuasion," in which case "persuasion" here has nothing to do with the process of being socialized into the proper gender. So maybe the phrase reflects both of these aspects of gender in our culture, or neither. I'm thinking we'd have to know the origin of the phrase to know, and I'd be interested to hear about it.