Friday, November 25, 2011

Video of the Day

In honor of the most wonderful time of the year.

As a service to the corporatocracy, I would like to remind you that your family won't know you love them unless you embark on a crazed, irrational buying frenzy this weekend which will cause your stress level to spike through the roof, drive your family deeper into debt, and cause serious longterm environmental degradation. Hopefully your crazed consumer frenzy started today. It really should have started yesterday, it turns out. And if you don't get on it this weekend, you're doomed. Cheers!

The lyrics:
All the garbage that you have thrown away
Is waiting somewhere a million miles away
Your condoms and your VCR
Your ziploc bags and father's car
Dark and silent it waits for you ahead

So much garbage will never ever decay
And all your garbage will outlive you one day
You should sign a fancy signature to your messy messy portraiture
Because dark and silent it waits for you ahead
Making so much garbage each and every day
We make this shit for you to throw away
In plastic rooms in factories for you to dispose of as you please
Because dark and silent it waits for you ahead

With stomachs full of oil and vinegar
Stomachs full of oil and vinegar
With stomachs full of oil and vinegar hey hey
With stomachs full of oil and vinegar
Stomachs full of oil and vinegar
With stomachs full of oil and vinegar hey hey

La la la la
La la la la la la la la
La la la la
La la la la la la la la
La la la la
La la la la la la la la

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Friday

In honor of the weekend, a drink recipe.

Dump a bunch of ice in a glass. Squeeze a whole lemon and dump it in.

Add 2 shots of whiskey. Not Jack Daniels. Some other decent whiskey.

Add a squirt of agave nectar and top it off with a splash of cold filtered water. Stir it all up.

Best whiskey sour ever.

Happy Friday

Video of the Day

The sponsors of American Idol are trying to forcibly remove this video from Youtube, so you should probably watch it and see what has them so freaked out:

via My Plastic-Free Life

Thursday, November 10, 2011

College football, the Catholic church, same difference

So, it's not really a secret that I like college football. I mean, I really like college football. And I feel conflicted about that.

On the one hand, there's my childhood experience of college football. When I was a kid, college football was a central part of the transition from summer to fall each year. Most Saturdays would find me in Husky Stadium with my dad and uncle and siblings and cousins (or getting up insanely early and driving to Eugene or Corvallis or Pullman for away games). We'd meet up late morning at my cousins' house, stuff our pockets with snacks, and head toward the stadium with the crowd of other fans heading down the Burke-Gilman trail. We would walk through the fall leaves or gray drizzle, carrying piles of umbrellas, ponchos, hats, mittens, and my dad's famous solution to the rain getting your jeans and shoes wet - a long roll of clear plastic to unroll over the whole row of laps, resulting in many admonitions from the adults to sit still already, you're knocking the plastic on the ground. Needless to say this made The Wave a little problematic. During away games that were too far to drive to, we collected at whichever house had the best football-watching tv at the time and watched the game there. Most Christmas vacations there was a bowl game to go to. We all knew the vocabulary, strategy, roster, conference politics, etc and could discuss them fluently. So yeah, a central part of my childhood that involved a lot of bonding and fond memories.

On the other hand, there's the culture of college football. And football in general. And club sports in general. Case in point: Penn State. First, you have a hierarchical structure where careers ride on wins and losses and revenue brought in. For a graduate assistant coach, being a whistle blower is a career-ending move. The very machinery that you are hitching your career wagon to will grind you up in a heartbeat if you buck the system and step outside the clear but implicit code of (mis)conduct. Then there's the reluctance of the administration to do a goddamn thing to prevent serious ethical breaches and abuses as long as the program is doing what the program is supposed to do - win games and make money. After all, involving the police and bringing charges against people is really bad PR. Better to sweep it all under the rug. What's the rape of a few 10 year-olds when $68 million a year is at stake? Collateral damage.

And so I distrust college football, because it's a patriarchal institution driven by a warped set of values, which isolates itself in order to maintain the fucked up culture that results from these values, and somehow manages to maintain its privileged status in spite of repeated instances of misconduct and abuse. And what does this all remind us of? The Catholic church, perhaps?

Right. You could take that sentence and replace "college football" with "the church" and it would perfectly capture the issue. Like this:
I distrust the church,* because it's a patriarchal institution driven by a warped set of values, which isolates itself in order to maintain the fucked up culture that results from these values, and somehow manages to maintain its privileged status in spite of repeated instances of misconduct and abuse.
Note that I say "the church" here instead of "the Catholic church" because I think the abuses rampant in the Catholic church are just the most widespread and visible abuses of their kind. You might remember that the church I grew up in, which was decidedly not Catholic, was a great environment for abuse as well. Obviously the values that drive the institution and allow for the abuses are different, but the same dynamic is at play.

So I think that isolating a couple of scapegoats at Penn State and publicly excoriating them is kind of a joke. Way too little; way too late. Until we take a step back and really examine the culture and practices of the institution, we can expect to see one instance of misconduct after another. Nothing will change. Patriarchal, hierarchical institutions will always choose to sacrifice individuals and engage in self-protective behavior to preserve their own culture and practices, and maintain their privileged status. That's the way it works. That’s what it means to be a patriarchal institution. What did we expect already?

*Of course it's true that not all churches fit this description, and in fact there are some churches that make an effort to prioritize the needs of individuals over that of the institution. But I still think this is the exception rather than the rule. Generally speaking, the institutional nature of a church results in a tendency to pursue practices that are protective of the institution first, even if this comes at a cost to individual members.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Three quickies and a Monday song

I've always thought it's unfortunate that the culture in which abstinence and purity rhetoric dominates is also one in which sexual dysfunction is covered up or accepted as a fact of life. Of course, this is the culture I grew up in, and I can tell you that talking honestly and openly about sex is strongly discouraged. Any indication of a lack of fulfillment from sex within marriage is viewed as a sign of selfishness, or an "impure heart." I've always thought this was a recipe for disaster. First you make sex taboo, and teach young people to avoid all sexual contact, sexual behavior, and even sexual thoughts (good luck with that) until marriage. Then miraculously these two people who are completely sexually inexperienced, and most likely have some huge psychological walls built up around the very concept of sex, are supposed to magically have awesome, mutually-fulfilling sex on their wedding night, and for the next 50 years. Right. I mean, not only is there the inexperience factor, but there's also all the rhetoric about impurity, where a woman (especially) who has had premarital sex is dirty and less valuable in some way. So if sex makes you dirty before you're married, and you spend 18 years associating sexual contact with pollution and degradation, how do you magically "flip the switch" overnight and go to thinking of it as a positive, fulfilling thing?

The prohibition on discussing sexual dissatisfaction within marriage is a such a central mechanism in the purity and abstinence machinery that it's encouraging to see advice columns like this: The Monotony of Monogamy: I married my first sexual partner, and now I’m itching to cheat, where the more likely trajectory is openly discussed. Not that it will change much, but there it is.


When my daughter got out of the bath the other night, she left these two sitting on the side of the tub. I've been wondering what they were talking about ever since.

In a recent Science article, The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling, much of the data that has been used to support single-sex schooling is debunked, and some of the truly significant problems surrounding segregated schooling are discussed. It's totally worth a read.

And finally, a Monday song.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Quick Hit

First....I am still alive, just very busy, as well as being emotionally and intellectually engaged elsewhere right now. As my 3 year-old would say "I can't tell you about that right now." Which really just means "I don't want to tell you about that right now."

Second, This is definitely worth checking out: Knocked Up and Knocked Down. If there's any doubt what impact the war on reproductive choice has, this oughtta lay it to rest. As predicted, the whittling away of affordable access to reproductive health services is resulting in a higher birth rate among poorer women, which feeds into a cycle where they become poorer, and thus less likely to have access to birth control or abortion services, and therefore at higher risk of unplanned pregnancies and birth, which makes them even poorer, etc.

On the other end of the spectrum, wealthier women are having fewer kids. Perhaps because our system makes it so very very difficult for women to parent and enjoy professional success at the same time. So it turns out a larger number of them are foregoing the whole mommy-track thing altogether. Which is a totally rational ( read here as "unfeminine") thing to do. Let the conservative handwringing commence.

And I have an adorable 3 year-old, a good movie, and a margarita waiting for me. Gotta go. See ya around.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Miscellanea

In a breathtaking display of the power of industry lobbying, Obama Administration Abandons Stricter Air-Quality Rules. Because what's a little (or a lot of) asthma in the general population compared to the money you can make when you're free to do...whatever?

In a downright shocking turn of events, the vast majority of welfare recipients who were forced to undergo mandatory drug testing in Florida (thanks Tea Party!) tested clean. Now the tax payers get to pay for a whole lotta drug tests. Now there's small government for ya: Not Druggies After All: 96 Percent of Florida Welfare Applicants Pass Tea Party Governor's Drug Test. The thing is, this wasn't about small government or anything like that. It was about sending a message to those on public assistance that we think they're inferior, lazy schmucks that need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps already. Or something. And from that perspective, this testing program was a marvelous success. Well done, Tea Party.

Slate has an interesting piece about a woman who's following all the Biblical commands concerning women to the letter: A Year of Biblical Womanhood. It turns out that Rachel Held Evans' project demonstrates some facts that your more conventional (by which we mean male, of course) evangelicals don't want you to know. The scriptures that churches choose to enforce (like all that stuff about women being submissive and remaining silent in church) are carefully selected by those who will benefit from maintaining the subordinate servant class. However, all the other stuff it says that doesn't exactly benefit the dominant group just kind of falls by the wayside and gets forgotten. If the scriptures were really being adhered to in a complete and unselective way, men wouldn't get to have sex with their wives during her period or for 9 days afterward. That's like half the month, every month. Who the heck wants to enforce that kind of scriptural command?

Mother Jones ran a piece about The Teen Suicide Epidemic in Michele Bachmann's District, which has pretty much been ignored in mainstream media outlets. I would be interested in hearing what Ms. Bachmann has to say on the topic, but I doubt I'll be hearing that anytime soon.

In the New York Times Amy Schalet has an interesting piece about The Sleepover Question in which she discusses parental attitudes toward their teenaged children's sexuality.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, CEO salaries have increased dramatically, while the taxes their corporations pay have shrunk continuously. Executive Excess 2011: The Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging lays out the trend, in which the pay gap between what CEOs and average U.S. workers bring home rose from a ratio of 263-to-1 in 2009 to 325-to-1 in 2010. At the same time, CEOs don't appear to be doing anything that actually benefits shareholders (and their employees are certainly not benefiting either). In fact, the only thing they actually do seem to be accomplishing is driving down corporate taxes. Ya know, so they can get a bigger piece of the pie while everyone else's piece either stays the same or decreases. Gotta love 'em.

In a totally not surprising turn of events, Scientists Discover That Antimicrobial Wipes and Soaps May Be Making You (and Society) Sick. Yep. I think we already knew that. At least us health-nut conspiracy theorist freaks. What took y'all so long to figure that one out?

And finally, I cannot tell you how much I love this post: The Busy Bee Garden Project. It just makes me happy. What can I say?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I reallyreallyreally am going to write something here soon. Really.

In the meantime there's this:

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Over the weekend I stopped into a local convenience store to purchase some obscenely expensive propane for the grill (long story) and had the pleasure of standing in line for several minutes studying a t-shirt with this charming graphic on it:

10. You can trade an old .44 for two new .22's. 9. You can have a handgun at home and another for the road. 8. If you admire a friend's handgun and tell him so, he will be impressed and let you try a few rounds with it. 7. Your primary handgun doesn't mind if you have a backup. 6. Your handgun will stay with you even if you are out of ammo. 5. A handgun doesn't take up a lot of closet space. 4. Handguns function normally every day of the month. 3. A handgun won't ask,

Needless to say it was a delightful experience, all the way around.

Later in the day, in an unrelated conversation with babydaddy, the topic of suicide rates came up. We were talking about how, in Wyoming, the wind whistles through the house in a spooky, haunting way sometimes no matter how tight your house is. And some people sort of half-jokingly attribute the very high suicide rate in Wyoming to the incessant wind.

But that got me thinking. The suicide rate in Wyoming is very high among white middle-aged males. Extremely high. And for most white middle-aged men in this state, gun ownership is extremely important. Central-to-their-identity important. And, as this t-shirt demonstrates, gun culture tends to coexist with some pretty sexist attitudes and behaviors.* Those sexist attitudes and behaviors are probably really not all that conducive to establishing and maintaining meaningful, fulfilling long-term relationships with women.** And being single is a risk factor for suicide. In fact, having a string of failed romantic relationships in your past is even more of a risk factor. So it seems like maybe having this worldview in which women are just a giant pain in the ass, and an object to be used and disposed of, and inherently flawed, unpredictable creatures, etc might just lead you to be a total failure with women, which might result in a depressing and lonely life. And since your gun is your best friend, why not let it help you out with this little problem you have?

Or maybe it's just a coincidence that gun culture tends to track with both sexism and high male suicide rates.

And maybe there are other causal factors involved here. For instance, it is generally true that middle-aged white and Native American males are the two demographics that are most likely to commit suicide, and we just have a lot of those here in Wyoming, so that's going to naturally push the suicide rate up a bit. Then there's the relatively high male-to-female ratio. That probably contributes to cultural attitudes about gender and relationships, and decreases the chances that a middle-aged man will be in a relationship, or that a woman will stay in a relationship that isn't fulfilling to her. Then there's the prevalence of oil and gas jobs, and ranch work, which tend to isolate married men from their families and keep single men away from places where women tend to be. Fewer interactions with women allow these overgeneralized, stereotypical, demeaning views of women to flourish, and make it less likely that a man will be able to successfully interact with women when he does come in contact with them. So I'd venture to say that there is a bit of a feedback loop going on here, complete with self-fulfilling prophecies and preexisting attitudes that doom relationships from the start and history repeating itself and a howling wind that makes you feel more isolated and lonely than you felt to begin with.

At any rate, it seems like it's probably a little more complicated than:
gun culture + sexist attitudes and behaviors = bitter and lonely single men = high suicide rate.

But it is an interesting correlation, isn't it?

*Isn't this why images of women like Palin hunting and posing with guns is such a spectacle in our culture? Like the image of a woman driving her own Harley, rather than being the bitch on the back. In subcultures that tend to be fairly sexist, or at least dismissive of women, those women who do integrate into the culture seem to be incongruous, and images of them are kind of jarring and fascinating to us.
**Leaving the plight of the "gay cowboy" out of the conversation completely for the time being. Obviously there's a whole range of other issues that come along with being gay in a heavily hetero-centric, male-centric culture, and no doubt those issues correlate with suicide rates as well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Miscellanea

Y'all know I tend to be a bit (by which I mean totally and completely) anti-plastics. And this week more reasons have emerged to avoid the stuff:
Large Human Study Links Phthalates, BPA and Thyroid Hormone Levels
A link between chemicals called phthalates and thyroid hormone levels was confirmed by the University of Michigan in the first large-scale and nationally representative study of phthalates and BPA in relation to thyroid function in humans.
The gist is that, in urine analysis of adult subjects, there's an inverse relationship between the levels of certain chemicals associated with plastics and thyroid levels. And since we already know that these chemicals mess with your endocrine system in other ways, this is hardly surprising, but worth paying attention to.

And speaking of hormones, a new ad campaign for milk claims to help men deal with PMS. Their wives' or girlfriends' PMS, apparently. Because all men are in heterosexual relationships with women, all of whom are fucking crazy because of all their scary lady hormones which (everyone knows) renders them entirely irrational, bitchy, and impossible to live with.

In spite of the super scary PMS thingy that hetero men have to constantly deal with, it's still far better to be straight. At least it is in the eyes of God and Michelle Bachmann's husband. To that end,his clinic will use federal funding to help you pray the gay away. At least, that's what this article in The Nation claims. Of course, Doctor Mister Bachmann denies this, and says they only use federal funding to help pray the gay away if the client specifically asks for that kind of "therapy." Which is way better. Or something.

Over here, Mica Zenko crunches the numbers and concludes that there is a striking gender imbalance in the land of think tanks and foreign policy and national security. What explains this imbalance and what can change it? Click over there and read it.

A new study investigates the Google effect - the way that we seem to remember differently than we did before the Google machines were so plentiful and easily accessible. It seems that we strategically remember - and forget - things based on how easily we can access them online. If some piece of info is easily accessible online, then we're less likely to remember it than if it's not.

Another study reveals that the chances that a person will cheat on their partner is not actually tied to gender, as conventional wisdom would have it. Instead of adhering to the gender divide, it follows the power divide. In other words, in a truly egalitarian society, women would cheat just as often as men. Just don't tell the evo psych community this.

And finally, we're reminded yet again that our justice system tends to incentivize overzealous and dishonest prosecution practices, at a huge human cost. And if recent rulings from the supreme court are any indication, that ain't about to change anytime soon.

Happy Friday everyone!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I'm sure a pink ribbon will help

So, the Race for the Cure is coming up. No fewer than three people have already asked me if I've signed up. Um, no. I haven't. Why not? Well, it's a long story. You can read all about it here.

And now, in related news, it turns out that federal research and regulation of chemicals that impact breast health is ... basically nonexistent: may come as a surprise that the federal agencies responsible for public health don't routinely take childhood exposures into account when testing whether commercial chemicals cause mammary tumors. In fact, in many lab-animal tests, they don't bother to look at the mammary gland at all. Breast cancer may be the No. 1 killer of middle-aged women in the United States, but as a new set of reports makes clear, the breast is a major blind spot in federal chemical-safety policy.
But it's not really that surprising, right? We allot billions and billions to research for pharmacological solutions to problems we ourselves are causing. In our model, we allow industry to fill our water and air with endocrine-disruptors and free radicals, and we relentlessly pursue agricultural policies that result in more toxic runoff and more hormones in our food, and then we invest big bucks in "curing" the resulting illnesses. Except that sometimes the cure doesn't work. Or the cure itself ends up killing you off. Or it "cures" you for awhile, and then you get some other heinous disease a few years down the road, that turns out to have been caused by the cocktail of drugs (and radiation) we pumped into you to "cure" you the first time. And this is somehow better than changing our practices to reduce the toxins in our environment to begin with? Really?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cartoon of the Day

Once more, with feeling: real foods are always better. Always.

This just in: Fat Substitutes Linked to Weight Gain

Are we surprised to learn that real, unaltered, actually-occurring-in-nature foods are better for you than frankenfoods? Of course not.

Will this change Big Food or the diet-industrial complex or the gov't regulatory agencies that produce our guidelines and recommendations even the teensiest lil bit? Hell no. Because switching to an evidence-based approach would be too ... anti-capitalist? Or reasonable. Or something.

See also:
Eat More
The "Obesity Epidemic"
We Need Policy Not Plates

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fun with Charts

Conservative blogger David Frum posted this graphic illustrating the rate at which workers' share of national income has steadily dropped:

Meanwhile, Felix Salmon posted this chart demonstrating the gains experienced by both finance institutions and domestic industries:

You might notice a huge asymmetry here. You might also notice that nobody seems to be willing or able to do anything about it. I can pretty much guarantee you that none of the candidates- from either end of the political spectrum - will address this issue in the upcoming election season. They'll talk about economic growth and job creation and housing, but they won't ask why it is that corporate earnings are up, yet American workers make less and less. Why is that?

Click here for more fun with charts.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Video of the Day

I love this song and wanted to post this video back in May, but decided that might be a bit insensitive. So now, just for fun, here it is:

The lyrics:
What if I'm wrong
And what if you're right?
And what if there is an intelligent design?
When the day comes and judgment begins
Will I be left behind?

But what if I'm right
And you're not correct
And there's no hellfire when we're dead?
Regretting all the boys you coulda kissed
All for nothing; it wasn't a sin

You were busy gettin' ready for the rapture
For the rapture
For the rapture
You were busy gettin' ready for the rapture, warning us all

What if I've been
A really nice gal
Followed the Golden Rule, but now
Because I don't believe in your best pal
You say I'll burn forever?

But let's say he's real
But not like you sell
He's more like the nice hippie in Godspell
Well, I'd think that he was swell
Would that bum you out?

You were busy gettin' ready for the rapture
For the rapture
For the rapture
You were busy gettin' ready for the rapture, warning us all

I'll give to you
There is a God
All-powerful, he sees it all
But do you think
That he's that small
To care about your candidate
Your football team or who you mate?
No, God is great

What if you're wrong
But then so am I?
And what really happens when we die?
And what if L. Ron Hubbard, he was right?
Well, that would bum me out

As you were busy gettin' ready for the rapture
For the rapture
For the rapture
You were busy gettin' ready for the rapture, warning us all

You were busy gettin' ready for the rapture
For the rapture
For the rapture
You were busy gettin' ready for the rapture, warning us all

You were busy gettin' ready for the rapture
For the rapture
For the rapture
You were busy gettin' ready for the rapture, warning us all

God is great

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gender Theory - it's not just theory

It seems to me that the debates between essentialist and constructionist theories of gender that so often play out in feminist spaces like this feel to most people like they're largely theoretical. Those of us who fall on the constructionist side argue that gender is largely a learned performance - there's a script and a system of positive and negative reinforcements, and clear penalties in place for those who fall outside the "norm." Meanwhile, gender essentialists claim that gender is innate, and any variation from the strict binary only occurs where there's some perversion or some negative force that's diverting the "normal" development of the individual away from his/her "natural" inclinations. But since there's no control group available - no child who grows up free of gendered socialization, and who isn't immersed in a gendered world from birth - all the debates and discussions feel pretty theoretical. It's simply impossible to test the theories in this case.

However, the recent news story about a man who underwent extensive "sissy-boy" "therapy" (more like a failed, abusive attempt at brainwashing) and went on to become a lonely, unfulfilled adult who committed suicide at the age of 38 serves as prime evidence that this shit is not just theoretical. "Therapy" programs and "retraining" camps and religious programs that try to pray the gay away often inflict real trauma on the individuals who suffer through them. Profound, lasting trauma that damages them for life.

Every time I'm confronted with this version of extremely conservative, no-holds-barred gender essentialism and sexuality policing I have the same questions, and there never seems to be a consistent way to answer them:
  • If gender identity and gender roles are innate, then why is there any need for the extensive socialization, and the corrective measures that are so often taken when an individual's development doesn't appear to be following an acceptable script? Why is there even a need for "therapy" programs like this if biology is destiny? Why the plethora of books telling you how to reprogram your child's gender expression and sexuality?
  • How can anyone believe that living a non-conforming life when it comes to gender performance could be worse than the trauma that's inflicted on children through these kinds of corrective programs? Would you honestly prefer to beat your child to the point of leaving welts on his body every day rather than watch him grow up to be gay or trans or genderqueer or whatever? Seriously?
  • Whose definition of "normal" is driving "therapy" programs like this? In the case of programs that are connected to churches and religious institutions it's clear, and at least there's no pretense that it's grounded in some kind of objective scientific framework. But in this particular case, you have an extremely socially conservative, religious individual who was using taxpayer dollars to run a "therapy" program designed to force children to conform to gender roles that came from his personal religious beliefs. Very, very problematic.
  • How is it that parents in these kinds of cases have such blind faith in the religious or therapeutic system involved that they willingly partake in the abuse of their children even when the signs of trauma are unavoidably clear right in front of their faces? And how do they overcome their protective instincts to the point where they can participate in the abuse of their child, regardless of what longterm results the program promises?
  • How many other people are there who went through this kind of coercive reprogramming and don't kill themselves, but live a life of quiet desperation and never manage to establish fulfilling relationships, or to really flourish in life? How many of them end up with serious addictions or troubling mental illnesses as a result of the abuse? For sure, we see the most extreme cases, but think of all the cases where the "therapy" is ostensibly successful but the individual is permanently traumatized.
I'm sure there are people who think there are reasonable answers to these questions, but to me the experiences of so many individuals like Kirk Murphy are irreconcilable with this conceptual framework. And even if there was a way to make the view coherent, when so much trauma results from a set of beliefs and practices, it seems like the only humane thing you can do is abandon the position and try to find new ground that allows people to thrive and find fulfillment. Even if the life they end up living doesn't look like the ideal you imagine. Because maybe the failure doesn't lie with them. Maybe you've experienced a failure of imagination. There should be some kind of therapy for that, shouldn't there?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Right choice, wrong reason

So there's this: Retailers move to greener, easier-to-open packaging:
[T]he maddening — and nearly impenetrable — plastic packaging known as clamshells could become a welcome casualty of the difficult economy. High oil prices have manufacturers and big retailers reconsidering the use of so much plastic, and some are aggressively looking for cheaper substitutes.
Which is good. What's depressing is their reason for it. It's not because plastic is unhealthy in multiple ways, and reallyreallyreally bad for the environment. It's not because that packaging was shitty and irritating to begin with. No, it's because of the cost.

Seems to me like this is reason enough:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Full of the awesome

So, it's finally gardening time again. Which makes me pretty damn happy. Until the first epic hail storm comes through and pounds my carefully nurtured seedlings to pulp. Then I'll be cursing the weather gods and guzzling tequila. But for now, YAY!

Y'all might remember Gunther, one of our garden gnomes. He's come out of storage hibernation for the season, and this has motivated me to get to work on these felted wool gnome hats I'm making for the girls.

And that made me realize that they need gnome beards to go with the hats, if they're going to be hangin' with Gunther and Linus (Gunther's stoic but loyal friend). So that prompted a search for beard templates, which led to this awesome set of images on flickr. It really doesn't get any better than this, does it?

For more gnome-related awesomeness, check it:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Just Say It

And while we're talking about religious narratives and female sexuality and virginity and the value of a female person, there's this:
A senior Egyptian general admits that "virginity checks" were performed on women arrested at a demonstration this spring, the first such admission after previous denials by military authorities.

The general said the virginity checks were done so that the women wouldn't later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities.

"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," the general said. "None of them were (virgins)."
Did you get that last bit? Mind-blowing isn't it?

Or maybe not.

Cuz really, how is this different from our cultural beliefs about rape, and who can be raped, and under what conditions? Why else do we spend so much time investigating the sexual habits of women who claim they were raped? I mean, if she would voluntarily sleep with Joe on Tuesday, then can we believe her claim that she didn't consent to sex with Bob on Wednesday? If she was seen dancing with or leaving the bar with a man on one occasion, then doesn't that mean she gave blanket consent to all men in all bars on all occasions for any sexual activity they might wish to engage in with her?

Of course, if asked these questions point-blank we'll claim that we don't believe that. But look around at the reporting on - and discussions that follow - rape cases, and you'll see that we pretty much do believe these things. So maybe our attitudes are a little less extreme than the ones being voiced by this Egyptian general, and for sure most people would never actually say out loud the things they think about women who "get themselves raped." But the attitudes are still there, and a person can't live within a culture without being aware of these unspoken beliefs.

Which is another factor in our fascination with/horror about the Elizabeth Smart story. I mean, there she was, modestly dressed, not drinking alcohol, not walking down a dark alley, being a virgin, in her parents' home. And she got raped. How could that happen? Don't you have to do something to entice men to rape you? It contradicts everything we "know" about rape.

In other, sort of related news...

If you read the rest of the article at CNN, you'll also find that the prison sentences most of these protesters had received have now been revoked, because some of the detainees had university degrees. Not because they had good reason to protest or they were just being used as an example or because maybe they really were guilty of some crime but now there's a lot of international pressure on Egypt to mind its human rights bidness. No. It's because they had university degrees so they should be given an extra chance.

In America we're not classist, so we would never admit that the justice system went easy on a defendant because s/he was educated or wealthy or had good connections. We'd never say it. Right out loud like that. That would be embarrassing. But again, what's the difference, really?

It's almost refreshing that this guy will say this stuff right out loud. It's honest in a way that we're not. And when you're willing or able to articulate your cultural beliefs and attitudes like that - you make this stuff explicit - then the mind has a chance to critically engage with it.

For instance, if I said to you "if you drink x brand of beer, then hot chicks will love you. They'll come out of fucking nowhere and rub their bodies all over you as soon as you crack that can/bottle open," you would find that laughable. Or if I said to you "women are the only ones who are competent enough to do housework, and anyway, cleaning the house makes them deliriously happy," no doubt you would argue with me.* And yet, you've had these messages communicated to you over and over and over again, and you've probably never really thought about it. But no doubt you've internalized it.

If you took an implicit association test, you'd be much faster at connecting female names (or pictures of women) with cleaning products than male names or pictures of men. You'd be much faster at connecting certain beer brands with adjectives that suggest sexual appeal than those brands that don't use the hot-girls-will-love-you advertising formula. No matter what you would explicitly say you believed about these things, somewhere in your head, these implicit beliefs have been safely planted and reinforced over and over and over again. The implicit association test tells us that, at some level, you got the message. You learned what the advertiser wanted you to learn. You absorbed the implicit belief without ever actually engaging intellectually with it.

So in a way, although the things this Egyptian dude will say right out loud are sort of shocking to me, I appreciate the fact that he'll say them. We can engage with a belief that's explicitly stated, and discuss what's right or wrong about it. But beliefs and attitudes that are implicitly held and communicated are much more insidious and hard to address. And that's why articulating the implicit beliefs behind media reporting and advertising and the discussions we have around issues like this is so damn important. Even if it makes you the stick in the mud or the oh-rape-jokes-are-funny-to-you? buzzkill or the uptight fat lesbian feminist in the room.

*In the latest estimates I've seen, the average American child will see over 600 images of women vacuuming before the age of 4, while they will see few or no images of men vacuuming. And although this wasn't included in the research, I'd bet a lot of those women were smiling, or at least acting content and happy.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Remember how there was pending legislation in 3 states that would make it illegal to take picture or videos of farms, or to post said pics and videos? Well, a bunch of people got upset about that, and some of them signed a petition and some of them spread the word on Facebook and other places, and at this point the bill has failed in Florida and looks to have a similar fate in Minnesota and Iowa. To celebrate, Slow Food USA put together a little slideshow of farm images sent in to them. You can watch it here. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Virginity and Religious Narratives and Elizabeth Smart

Trigger warning for sexual abuse.

Earlier this week I heard on NPR that the sentencing hearing for Brian David Mitchell, who abducted and sexually abused Elizabeth Smart, is happening this week. From what I've heard, Mitchell needs some serious mental health care, which he won't get. Instead he'll probably spend the rest of his life drifting through the prison system, with many other mentally ill folks who are dysfunctional - and therefore imprisoned - because of their illness and the lack of available care. And of course, because of this dynamic, prison is an even more dangerous and counterproductive place to be for most inmates. So this story disturbs me on that level, and in general I've avoided media coverage of it.

But a quote from this article pulled me up short, and I've been thinking about it pretty much non-stop since I read it. When recounting her experience with Mitchell, Smart says this
I felt that because of what he had done to me, I was marked, I wasn't the same. My personal value had dropped. I was nothing. Another person could never love me. I felt like I had a burden the size of a mountain to carry around with me the rest of my life.
To me, these words are so striking and so tragic because of the cultural and religious narrative they tap into. I don't doubt that part of what's going on here is based on the way Mitchell and his followers treated Smart. She described it as being treated "like an animal." Abusive personalities often use this kind of tactic to erode the self-esteem of their victim to ensure compliance. Clearly that has a profound impact, and probably factored into her feelings about her personal value.

At the same time, I think her response to the abuse is deeply connected to her worldview, and the role that virginity and sexual "purity" play in her religious context. When you grow up in a very conservative religious environment in which your parents try to prevent you from coming into contact with "secular" values, and when sexual purity is emphasized almost above all other values in that context (at least for girls), your sexual status cannot help but hold a central position in your self-conception. Your assessment of your self-worth will unavoidably be tightly connected to it.

This might be all sunshine and rainbows, if we lived in a world where you always have control over your own sexuality. But this view of female worth and sexual purity goes terribly wrong when you find yourself in a situation where somehow your sexual "purity" is forcibly "taken" from you (as if it's a thing you can possess). It doesn't matter that you had nothing to do with it. Even though you never made any choices that led to this ostensibly huge change in your sexual status - you never voluntarily took any action that led to this change - it is still a profound measure of your personal worth. Because the fact remains that the most valuable asset a woman in this context can have is her virginity. Losing it, regardless of how it happens, is an event that takes a woman or girl out of the realm of cleanliness and innocence and intactness, and transitions her into a state of being polluted and damaged. Less valuable. Less desirable. Blameworthy somehow, even though she was unable to control the events that took place.

This is significant for all of us, because conservative religious attitudes toward female sexuality have a considerable impact on our broader cultural views. Read through the abstinence-only sex ed curriculums that are federally funded and utilized in public schools to see how pervasive this is. Female sexual purity is highly valued, and the onus for abstinence falls largely on the girls. Girls who don't abstain until marriage are often portrayed as being dirty or damaged in some way - offering less to their future spouse than if they had abstained. So even if we're not functioning in the very narrow, conservative world that Elizabeth Smart lives in, we've all been exposed to (and to some extent internalized) these same attitudes.

I remember feeling both skeptical and resentful as a kid when discussions of "sexual purity" came up. Because of my abuse, I didn't feel like I fit into the category of "virgin" even at a really young age (9? 10?). Yet I also felt like that had nothing to do with me as a person. I was pretty contrary and constantly questioned what I heard at church, but I was still a very young person immersed in a world where apparently everyone else believed this stuff and didn't question it. This can leave you in a strange position where you have these conflicting thoughts and feelings that you're trying to sort out, but the fact that everyone around you seems to accept these sometimes harmful and frequently contradictory things as truth can make you feel like you're either defective or crazy. So, accepting that sexual purity was the most central element of female virtue (and what made a woman valuable) while also thinking of myself as a person who could be a good person, and who was valuable, presented a bit of a conflict for me.

On the one hand I didn't believe that I was responsible for my abuse in any way, but it was still this shameful thing that I had to hide (for the sake of others) and that fundamentally changed me as a person. Ironically, it also made me feel like I was immune to all the talk about sexual purity. If I wanted to sleep with my high school boyfriend, why shouldn't I? That ship had already sailed, so to speak.

In fact, I think I actually became sexually active at a younger age than I probably would have because it was almost a way of reclaiming my sexual identity. All my life my sexuality had been defined by the abuse, and my abusers. Embarking on my own sexual relationship was a way to stake out my autonomy and take control of my own life. So this compromise slowly emerged between this worldview that I had been so surrounded by and my own view that struggled to integrate it all and make sense of my own experiences.

In my early teens I concluded that being sexually active had nothing to do with personal virtue or worth. For one thing, I didn't believe I was personally worth less because of my "lack" of sexual "purity." Then there was the fact that the adult males in my world (two of them) who behaved in a sexually inappropriate way were still highly valued and held up as role models. So my initial response was to separate the two and dismiss all the hype about sexual purity, or at least conclude that it didn't apply to me.

Over the next few years, of course, I had to continue to refine that view to include the fact that you can inflict great harm on others sexually. First there was the obvious fact that one ought not to fuck around with one's defenseless 6 year-old niece or granddaughter that had to be accounted for. But this also included the degree of vulnerability and emotional connection that generally accompanies sexual intimacy in a reciprocal, consenting relationship, and the harm you can do to others because of it. Unfortunately, my earlier splintering of sexuality from morality allowed me to be less than careful with the feelings of my first few sexual partners, but these early experiences are part of what shaped my understanding of the moral responsibility that comes with sexual activity.

So...what if I had grown up in a world where, rather than placing this huge value on virginity and "purity," and tying these especially to female morality, there had been open and honest conversations about sexual intimacy and why it can be so dangerous and so rewarding, and how that gives it special moral weight that other social interactions don't share? Not because it has something to do with your personal worth or cleanliness or lovability. Not because your partner's body is your possession and any sexual contact they might have had with others is some kind of violation of your property rights. Simply because sexuality is often a locus of intense emotion and vulnerability (and sometimes very clouded judgment) that can result in a special kind of pain inflicted on others if one is not careful. For that matter, what if my abusers had grown up in a world like this? And what if Elizabeth Smart had grown up in a world like this?

I don't know much about her recovery process, but I would bet that it's involved a lot of unlearning things she had internalized about female sexuality and personal worth. Unless she has somehow been convinced that her case involves a special exemption from the rule, a part of her recovery will require an uncoupling of the ideal of the "sexually pure" female body from her conception of female virtue, or her sense of what a morally worthy person looks like. And I would bet that this is a pretty hard transition to make for somebody from her background.

So this is one reason I don't want my girls going to my parents' church or involved in any sex-ed program that emphasizes abstinence. Not because abstinence is bad, or because waiting until you've grown up a bit to engage in sexual relationships isn't a wise thing to do. Rather, it's because the ends don't justify the means. Planting irrational fears in young people's heads, and trying to manipulate them, and teaching them to value themselves in counterproductive ways cannot end well. It just can't. And beyond that, it's simply not true that a woman's value is connected to her sexual history. And the quicker we get rid of our religious and cultural obsession with virginity, the better.

Wednesday Miscellanea

The Supreme Court has ruled that California has to significantly reduce its prison population in order to prevent the routine violation of inmate rights due to the overcrowded conditions. Among other things, the prison system can't provide (and, let's be honest, doesn't give a flying fuck about providing) adequate medical care and secure living conditions while functioning with such high numbers of inmates in limited space. The ruling has led to much hand-wringing from social conservatives over the thought of all these violent thugs running the streets.

In reality, of course, mostly non-violent drug offenders will be released. Admittedly, these types are generally maladjusted and frequently lack a viable social network on the outside and the basic life skills needed to become a functioning and fulfilled member of society. In fact, they may have even picked up some violent and anti-social behaviors during their incarceration. But rather than addressing the issue of the personal and social impact of incarceration in our prison system, or the issues in these peoples lives that led to their incarceration to begin with, folks like Justice Scalia prefer to wallow in their fearful fantasies of all the "fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym" (the gym which ironically no longer contains any iron to be pumped, seeing as how it's packed to the gills with bunks). In Scalia's view, we as a society are better off disposing of this segment of the population by funneling them at an early age into a system that more or less guarantees their lifelong dysfunction and need for institutionalization. Cuz that's just worked so damn well, why would we change a system that's profoundly broken, classist, racist, etc that functions so well and meets all of our needs with such breathtaking efficiency? Why indeed?


In other news, the Environmental Working Group has released their 2011 guide to choosing a sunscreen that's both highly effective and nontoxic. If this year's guide is anything like last year's, I highly recommend it. It can be confusing and intimidating to sort through all the info available (and the corporate propaganda from cosmetic companies) about ingredients in skin care products and make a well-informed choice, and tools like this greatly simplify things. I also highly recommend the EWGs shopping guide for produce, which you can find here: The Dirty Dozen. Or if that's too analog for you, get the app. Whatevs.


Over at CNN, Dr Drew takes on the story of a family raising a gender-free child, pretends to explore the story in a neutral manner, and then goes on to defend our system of enforcing the sex and gender binary, and to freak out about the terrible social cost that this child will inevitably end up paying. His child psychologist guest concurs that the social cost to the child will most likely be unacceptable. Of course, neither Dr Drew nor his guest consider the social cost of the current system by which we socialize kids into gender roles, police their performance of gender, and box them into a neat binary system which turns out to be uncomfortable and restrictive for most, and downright catastrophic for some. No social cost there, of course. No, the real social cost is the bullying that this child will inevitably (rightfully?) receive from hir peers. Which is a serious issue, of course, but maybe the problem is not with this child or this family, but with a system that enables/encourages such bullying in the first place?

This story also left me wondering - why the child psychologist? From my understanding, psychologists do one thing - they focus on how well an individual functions in hir social context. By definition this precludes a questioning of that social context. Asking the bigger questions like "should we embrace/enforce our current gender system?" and "would we all benefit from a paradigm shift in this area?" don't really seem like the job of psychologists, so it seems like an odd choice to have a psychologist speak as the expert in a case like this. But more often than not, we do assume that psychologists are the experts and should have the final word in these situations. It reminds me of this one quote I've heard a few times: "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." Seems to me that a psychologist can tell you how to get along well in the society that you're born into, and that can be pretty damn helpful. But on a deeper level, what does that tell you about the society and it's practices? Nothing.


And finally, this week the New York Times has this interactive feature going that focuses on the experiences of young LGBT individuals. Seems pretty cool so far.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What women love

This morning the Yahoo news feed told me that women love make-up. Even worse, apparently there are lots of beauty trends that women love and men hate. So the idea is that women are running around spending thousands of dollars and wasting countless hours and damaging their skin and hair and exposing themselves to toxins in various beauty products in order to appeal to men, but most of what they're doing is actually aimed at appeasing or showing up other women, and the end result is actually less appealing from the standpoint of the all-important male gaze.

And none of this really adds up, which generally means that you need to back it up and take a look around for some other dynamic that is probably the real controlling mechanism.

But first, I'm kind of curious about this. Is it true that (some) women love make-up, or any of the other beauty regimes that are thought to be so central to the performance of femininity? If you're a woman reading this post, and you wear make-up, do you love it, or even like it? Do you identify with wearing make-up, or any of the other beauty rituals in a significant way? I guess I always thought that for women who wear make-up, it's just another one of those slightly unpleasant, time consuming things that you nevertheless feel obligated to do. Or that you've internalized the idea that you can't look good without.

At my stepdaughter's afterschool program a few months ago they had a spa day for the girls which involved styling their hair and applying some awfully adult looking make-up. She came home and showed me and said "don't I look beautiful?" It was like a trick question. I didn't want to say "yes," and reaffirm the idea she's already picked up on that what makes a woman's face beautiful is the stuff she puts on it. But I also didn't want to tell her she didn't look beautiful. Needless to say, a long conversation ensued.

So, if men aren't particularly turned on by a lot of our beauty conventions, and women don't love them for reasons that are entirely independent from the social dictate that women must cater to the male gaze, then what's driving these beauty trends? What's motivating them?

You can probably guess that my theory will have to do with the beauty-industrial-complex, and the need for constant market growth, which requires ever-evolving and increasing demands, which in turn requires a set of constantly-changing perceived needs on the part of the consumer. I have a vague sense of how this might work. It seems to me that the make-up ads out there are always telling you about how some cosmetic product solves some problem you have with your existing one, or does something your old brand doesn't do. Some lipsticks last longer, or make your lips shinier (if that's the current trend). Some mascaras don't clump as easily, or they make your lashes longer (seriously, now) or plumper or something. Foundations have a (get this) more "natural" look. Like they make you look like you're not wearing any make-up.* And then there's eye color, which is one of the things the panel of male experts consulted by Yahoo for this article complained about. It seems to me that the trendy eye colors have to change from year to year, or you'll be able to buy one color or set of colors and it will last you a really long time, so you won't be spending money on it. But if no make-up trend lasts for more than a few months, or maybe a year, and if your beauty "needs" are constantly evolving, then you'll constantly be buying new products.

And that's how an industrial-complex works, right? You have to constantly be manufacturing both the demand for your product and the product itself. It's a self-sustaining system. What gets left out of the system is 1) what women actually love like, or would like if they hadn't been taught to think of themselves as unattractive unless they participate in the various beauty rituals; and 2) what men actually find attractive. It's even more complicated than that, of course. What we find attractive is largely conditioned by our culture. Add to this the fact that neither group is monolithic, so talking about what all women like or what all men dislike is just kind of silly. I'm sure there are some men out there who think that dramatic eye makeup and two-tone lips are the hottest things around.** I suspect there are even some women who really do love makeup and those hairstyles that make the little bump on top of your head.

...anyway, the beauty-industrial-complex theory seems like a compelling explanation for this dynamic to me, but I'm sure it will have it's critics. So, what other competing explanations are there? How do we make sense of all the collective silliness?

*Incidentally, I have an idea about how you can make your face look like you're not wearing any make-up, and it even has the added benefit of allowing you to sleep in an extra half hour every morning, or however long it takes to apply make-up. Send me $50 and a self-addressed stamped envelope, and I'll share my idea with you. Your life will never be the same.

**Of course, none of this conversation will have anything to do with what lesbian and bi women find attractive in women, because hetero relationships are always centered in these kinds of discussions, so it's just plain silly that you would even notice the fact that in articles like this we always talk as if the whole world is heterosexual.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Disney porn-fairy

At the grocery store. Work that ass, Tinkerbell's little ethnic friend.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The story we need to hear

A few years ago I was at the bar with a group of friends, and another of the regulars at this particular bar came over to our table and told us a far-fetched, self-aggrandizing story. As he walked away afterward, there was much eye-rolling and irritated head-shaking, but I just shrugged and said "we all tell the stories we need to hear." And that stuck and became a much-quoted line we'd use after listening to the stories people tell at the bar.

I think this little statement has application beyond the self-aggrandizing anecdotes so common in situations like that one. I think in a broader sense, we all really do tell the story we need to hear, all the time. The problem is, we don't realize that we're not telling it with words. Sure, what we say is a part of it, but it's a very small part. What we do, how we respond to the actions of others, which events we take to be significant... all of these do much more to weave together the narrative of who we are than anything we might say. And when that broader narrative is in conflict with the story we're verbally telling about ourselves, there's a problem.

I mentioned in my last post that the fact that Americans are celebrating Osama bin Laden's death (and calling for the release of photos of his corpse) is problematic. It's problematic because of the story it tells about us - to ourselves and to the world. Since I posted that yesterday afternoon I've received a bunch of angry emails. In addition, the administration has announced that the photos will not be released, and I've gotten some preemptive (I assume) emails about that too. Instead of replying to the individual emails, which would be exhausting and time-consuming and probably unproductive, or just ignoring them, I've decided to reply to them here. So here we go:

aBob (and 2 others) says that "wussy liberal types" (like me, apparently) lack a basic understanding of what we're dealing with in al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. His claim is that "these types" don't understand anything except violence, and they would be the first to release gruesome photos of dead US soldiers or citizens given the chance.

I say that it's not about being wussy or liberal. Arguments that center around what kind of person bin Laden was are not going to get anywhere with me, because they miss the point. This is not about bin Laden; it's about us.

I think the story of Achilles and Hector illustrates this better than anything I can say. When I read through the Illiad in Greek a few years ago, it struck me how English translations just don't do justice to Hector. When you read the Illiad in Greek, you realize that Hector is the most compelling character in the book, while Achilles is basically a boorish, whiny, self-centered brat. And the scene where Achilles defeats Hector (only with a ton of help from the gods, not through his own personal prowess), and then drags his body around behind his chariot, is a perfect example of this. What does this scene tell us about Hector? Nothing. Hector was on the losing side by birth, and he paid for it with his life. Being physically mutilated after his death simply doesn't reflect on Hector at all. But it tells us a whole heck of a lot about Achilles.

In our case, celebrating bin Laden's death, and releasing photos of his body, are the equivalent of Achilles dragging Hector's body around. This is not about bin Laden or terrorism or 9/11. It's about who we are.

In another email, PJ says that I ought to apply my own argument about transparency and having nothing to hide to this situation. In a recent post I argued that laws prohibiting taking and distributing photos and video of farming practices are problematic in that it simply reveals that there is a heckuva lot wrong with the way we do agriculture in our country. So, rather than seeking to stop the flow of information, we should alter our practices so that we have nothing to hide. PJs claim is that not releasing the photos suggests either that we have something to hide and are in some way ashamed of our actions, or that it didn't really happen, and this is just a fictional event that the Obama administration is making up to boost it's numbers.

The thing is, there's a difference in what these photos say about us. Photos of abusive farming practices are an important tool in educating the public about the realities behind our agricultural system so that we can bring about real change. They're an example of a portion of our story that we need to be informed about, so that we can change it. Publishing photos of our enemies after we've killed them does nothing to bring about change, and only serves to demonstrate that we're barbarous and bloodthirsty people.

Incidentally, this response also applies to the claim that "wussy liberal types" didn't object to the Abu Ghraib photos but have a different standard regarding the bin Laden photos. Yes, there is a different standard - for good reason.

As to the conspiracy theory problem... posting an official legal copy of Obama's birth certificate has done nothing to curb the birther conspiracy theory. Among these types, photos of bin Laden would be dismissed as photoshop fakes before they even hit the press.

Finally, Mr. M claims that this is a great example of "feminine thinking." My objection to our celebrating bin Laden's death and publishing the photos is based in a "feminine" shrinking from violence and a wish to be in denial about the hard realities of "what the world is really like." He adds that I'm probably worried that my kids would see the photos, and I just want to shield them from this kind of thing. By doing so, I'm doing them a disservice, and producing another generation of people who can't face reality.

I most certainly agree with Mr. M that I don't want my kids to see these photos, or any others like them. In fact, I'll take it a step further and say that I don't want my kids to live in a world where these kinds of photos are publicized and gawked at and celebrated. But it's not because my lady-parts render me incapable of facing the hard realities of this violent world we live in. In fact, if "feminine" here means passive and dainty and weak, then I think Mr. M's line of reasoning is "feminine." You just resign yourself to living in a world where tragedies unfold and nobody tries to stop it, and instead escalates the violence through short-sighted, irrational knee-jerk reactions? And this is somehow bold and admirable and "masculine?" It seems brutish and unintelligent to me. But maybe that's just because my feeble lady-brain can't wrap itself around your mysterious logic.

There are good reasons why we no longer hold public executions or display the severed heads of executed criminals on spikes in the town square. It's all tied up with civilization and who we are and who we take ourselves to be and who we aspire to be. We're weaving a narrative here, and there's a particular version of that story we really need to hear. As they say, the whole world is watching.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Celebrating bin Laden's death

A flashy animated banner just asked me how I'm celebrating Osama bin Laden's death. Not if. Not whether I think it's something that ought to be celebrated. Just how.

Because somehow the things we view as worthy of celebrating have no reflection on who we are and what our values are, I guess. I know I've discussed this here before, but all this gets me thinking again about the complicated relationship between justice and civilization and how, when it comes right down to it, our actions tell the whole story about what kind of people we are. And you can argue until you're blue in the face about how we're a civilized nation, deeply invested in freedom and human rights and democracy, but this champagne-fueled dance on the grave of anyone - even a murderous, brutal man - tells me all I need to know about who we are. And it ain't pretty. A barbarous response to a tragic series of events, topped off with a heaping portion of bad faith. Somehow it's not quite the America of my dreams...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And this is relevant because...?

So, there's this:
The sponsors of California's same-sex marriage ban insist they are not trying to disqualify the federal judge who struck down Proposition 8 because he is gay.

Instead, they argue the judge's decade-long relationship with another man poses a potential conflict because they might want to get hitched themselves.
Interesting right? I mean, one of the reasons why we need to prevent same-sex marriage is that it's disruptive - gay people don't want the same things that normal people want, so letting them get married will totally destroy the institution of marriage. Ya know, cuz they don't do relationships the way we do. Oh, wait, except here's one of those gay people who seems to have a stable relationship with his partner. But somehow this doesn't serve as a counterexample that reveals a flaw in the argument. It just makes him unqualified to rule on the subject of marriage. Because maybe he wants to get married. And if he was a single gay man then he wouldn't be qualified either, because then we could infer that he doesn't want to get married, and therefore has no respect for the institution of marriage. And now that we think about it, no gay judge would be qualified to rule on this. But not because we're biased against them, of course.

I wonder, if he was a single hetero male, then would he be qualified to rule on this? Because then we could infer that maybe he was anti-marriage, right? Since we're just straight-up speculating about people personal lives and motives and desires and the impact of that on their legal competence, this seems like a valid line of reasoning. Or if he was happily married, that might disqualify him, because he might think that marriage is so awesome that everyone ought to be able to share in the bliss. And by this reasoning shouldn't a judge who's been married for years be barred from ruling on cases involving divorce law, since he might be unhappily married and pining for a divorce, or happily married and unable to imagine why anyone would ever even want a divorce? And then shouldn't single hetero judges be barred from ruling on cases involving divorce law too, since maybe the reason they're single is that they experienced an unhappy marriage and are now divorced, or that their divorce was the best/worst thing that ever happened to them? I mean, really, is anyone ever qualified to rule on something like this? If you follow this line of reasoning, it doesn't seem like it.

Except that if you're the socially conservative opponents of same-sex marriage, you really do think that there is one group of people who are qualified to rule in cases like this. Straight white males. Because they have the default, "objective" perspective. In contrast, anyone who isn't the straight white male norm is obviously ruled only by their personal experiences and countercultural agendas and could never simply look at the law and the relevant precedent and apply it to the current case. Because straight white males don't have situated identities, but Others do. Because straight white males operate on reason alone and aren't influenced by their life experiences, but Others lack the mental discipline and depth of character to keep these things separated.

Of course, if you're the socially conservative type, you think this way, but you know better than to say it out loud. You might not even be aware of the fact that you believe this. But you've learned to try to put a nicer face on it, and make it about his marital aspirations rather than about his flawed identity. You probably also think that nobody sees through it, to the insecurities and pettiness behind it. Good luck with that.