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Archive for October, 2008

So here at Kittywampus, we seem to have a semiannual tradition of the sewer backing up and flooding the basement. Today’s episode was very very minor compared to the inaugural flood of last November, Die grosse Scheisse, or its sequel in May. (In fact, it was small enough that I’m not sure we’ve satisfied the gods of bad sewer karma.)

Which brings me – logically enough – back to politics. Y’all know that I want Tina Fey to run for president. Here’s as good a reason as any: Anyone who take transform shit into laughter just might be able to stop the perpetual sewage backups in our economy and foreign policy. And wouldn’t Will Ferrell make a marvelous VP? Watch and see (if you haven’t already):

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Oooh. Maybe I slept through politics from the start of the Reagan era?

I’m trying to catch up on my much-neglected TV watching, and in the midst of House, this ad appeared. Its jaw-dropping line: “Congressional liberals fought for risky subprime loans. Congressional liberals fought against more regulation.”

Um, yeah. You know those liberals: They’re un-American because they hate big government!

Up is down; socialism is capitalism; misogyny is feminism. Oh – and Orwellian is the new Straight Talk Express.

(Now I’m going to finish watching House, where at least the lies all get exposed by the end of the episode.)

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Statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in Berlin, Germany, photographed by Flickr user Pete Johnston, used under a Creative Commons license.

Am I wrong, or is this “socialist” canard the Repubs are throwing at Obama a brand new tactic from the Rovian playbook? I don’t remember Kerry or Gore or Dukakis being red-baited like this. And all because Obama wants to “spread the wealth around.” The horror!

Anyone else notice that the “socialist” accusations have escalated just as the wealth is being spread around very generously indeed? Spread upward, that is?

Economist Dean Baker explains at TPMCafe how this works:

The public has a real interest in keeping the banking system functioning. It has zero interest in subsidized the pay checks of wealthy bank executives or enriching the bank’s shareholders, which Secretary Paulson is now doing.

There is no question about what is going on here. The public is providing massive subsidies to the country’s major banks. The terms of the bailout were far more generous than what the banks could get from the private market. As a result, banks that might not have survived otherwise, or at least would have been forced to make serious cutbacks, can now keep operating as they had been.

This means that their high level executives will continue to draw salaries in the millions or tens of millions of dollars. It also means that the shareholders will continue to receive dividends.

This was not inevitable. Paulson could have imposed serious pay caps on executive compensation. In Germany, the banks that are getting government money can’t pay their executives more than 500,000 euros, about $680,000. The United Kingdom also limited executive compensation as part of its bailout.

(Read the rest here.)

Huh. I’m confused. If socialism with a Republican face means feathering the banker’s nests, and if our European friends are refusing to spread the wealth to the bank execs, does that make them not socialists? But how can that be? Haven’t we been taught that the French, especially, are socialists by definition?

Who wants to bet that by November 4, we’ll hear the rumor that Obama is a French socialist?

(Apologies to Alexander Dubcek for warping his slogan unforgivably.)

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Counter-Osmosis

I haven’t had much to say the past couple of days because I’m struggling to dig out from under mountains of grading. Student essays, midterms, quizzes … more than one person has told me I should just throw them up in the air and see which ones land on either side of an arbitrary line. My chemist friend asks if I can’t boil feminist theory down to a Scantron exam: just fill in the bubbles with a number two pencil and watch as sexism melts into air. My mom, the former English teacher, tells me to stop assigning essays. My back, which has slipped out of place again, says I should give everyone an F – except when I’m adequately medicated, in which case everyone deserves an A.

Since I’ve mostly been vastly undermedicated (maybe I learned my lesson last summer?), I’ve been slowly, doggedly slogging through the work, ignoring my worse angels. (Or, um, demons.)

I wish that I could miraculously reverse my own learning process and spew my comments effortlessly onto my students’ work in a process of counter-osmosis.

Oh, wait. Grey Kitty was the master of that in her day. Most people called it … hairballs.

From I Can Has Cheezburger?

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Books: Name the Anti-Aphrodisiacs

Oh oh. Picking up on a post on Pandagon on the worst books to read while having sex, figleaf is turning this into a meme. Books? Sex? How could I resist? (Excuse me while I fan myself.)

Note: The question is “what are the worst books to read during sex?” If you decide to pick up on this meme, you are not allowed to say “why would anyone in their right mind read during sex?” Auguste at Pandagon already put the kibosh on that. So no cheating!

Now, figleaf put Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes on his no-fly list, and while I wouldn’t personally recommend Hegel – he makes your blood drain into your brain and then freeze, never to flow southward again – I can vouch for the eroticism of reading German out loud in bed. I know that goes against the grain of every stereotype about erotic languages, but hey, my Italian stops at “una camera con doccia.” (Which, come to think of it, could also lead to rather nice things.) There’s something intimate and vulnerable about reading to your partner in their language, especially/even if you’re not terribly adept at it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend halting the proceedings to do this, I’m just saying it can be a surprisingly good warm-up. High-quality German chick lit works rather well, believe it or not. (Oh, why do I have the feeling no one is going to believe me?!? And if you do, that you’re going to think I’m much kinkier than you ever suspected?)

German history, on the other hand, is right out. I’ve had a copy of my doctoral advisor’s book, Absolute Destruction, next to my nightstand for awhile. It’s a very smart history of Germany militarism during its Imperial period. If you get off on that, you’ve got a paraphilia way beyond the bounds of what I personally would consider healthy.

Ditto for Ian McEwan’s The Innocent, a spy story set in Cold War Berlin which culminates in scenes of such horror and gore that no other author could have kept me on board. I won’t detail them here, because you might not want the spoilers. Except: Shortly before things come apart (all too literally), there’s a scene where the clueless young British title character is doggedly losing his innocence with his German girlfriend. He goes down on her with such concentration and wonder that – even though I only read it silently to myself – it, um, led shortly thereafter to certain non-fictional inspirations. ‘Nuff said.

More surprisingly, Sungold the Lust Kitten was totally disappointed in Jane Smiley’s Ten Days in the Hills. It was billed this exhilaratingly transgressive erotic romp. I love Smiley, but darn it, this book was chock-a-block with chatter about Hollywood. Every once in a while there would be a sex scene featuring the word “cunt.” I guess was the transgressive part. (Ooooh! Naughty words!) But the temperature just never rose above tepid for me, even though I was shamelessly looking for the steamy bits.

And apropos Hollywood: Just about anything I read for work is a guaranteed lust-killer, but the last thing I read tonight for tomorrow’s class on psychoanalytis feminisms was Laura Mulvey’s classic essay in feminist film theory, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” In discussing the phallocentric structures of classic Hollywood films, Mulvey writes:

It is said that analzying pleasure, or beauty, destroys it. That is the intention of this article.

Granted, this article is no doubt (as Amy Poehler said in her alter ego as Hillary Clinton) a “boner shrinker.” (And not because it’s a feminist manifesto, but because it assumes you understand Lacan, which – god help me – I don’t.)

But. I’m not so sure Mulvey’s entirely right about pleasure and analysis. Sure, there’s a point of no return beyond which analysis is disruptive – and frankly and wondrously impossible. But as a form of flirtation? There’s a level between analysis and appreciation where describing a partner’s charms … and how I might want to enjoy them … can be all about pleasure.

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The Big Chill

We’re due for our first hard frost tonight. Maybe my mini-ecosystem will be spared; sometimes it seems to be blessed by a merciful god, graced with warm soils and mild air pockets. Other times – not so much. So this afternoon, in the blinding October sunlight, I went out to the garden and gathered in everything tender.

Yes, that’s an eggplant, barely larger than my cherry tomatoes. I’ve always had horrible luck growing eggplant. I keep trying, anyway, just for the idea of it. I suspect that reveals something about my character that really ought to stay hidden. It’s not unlike the dog who’s sure he’ll get the better of the skunk, this time.

The butternut squash are also miniatures, and not by design. They’re the sole survivors of marauding squash bugs and vine borers and spotted cucumber beetles. (The last of these have moved on to our roses, the little bastards.)

I actually love the first weeks of fall more than just about any other season. I love the advent of a new school year, the sense of possibility and beginning again. (Maybe that’s why I’ve never really been out of school since I was five?) I love the turning leaves and the sharp edge to the morning air.

But now the season is about to twist on its axis, making the decline of Eden evident and inevitable. This is the bookend to the golds of spring, the fulfillment of the Robert Frost poem I quoted here last spring while the daffodils held sway:

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

In the morning, I’ll tally up my losses. Tonight, I’ve still got this, the summer’s final bounty.

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Not Just an Evergreen Problem

The Carnival against Sexual Violence 57 is up at abyss2hope. My post on the deployment of rape myths in the Marc Dann sexual harassment scandal was included – thanks to whoever picked it up!

Among the interesting posts in the carnival was a report on a student who was allegedly raped at The Evergreen State College. The incident occurred on a Saturday night; she didn’t get a medical exam until the following Tuesday. Her reason for waiting? The student health center was closed over the weekend.

At Change Happens: The SAFER Blog, Ashley comments:

So this school A) had no one available to help this woman when evidence collection was most imperative and B) once contacted, allowed her to wait even longer to obtain the proper care and have evidence collected. Further, by pushing her visit to the emergency room back yet another day, they may have made it impossible for her to take emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. At the very least, they’ve made it less likely that EC will work.This is just one of the many reasons that every college should have crisis counselors and sexual assault nurse examiners on call and ready to handle cases like this 24/7. As this case shows, students are often reluctant to call local agencies, and will tend to turn to familiar, college-based programs, especially in a time of crisis.

Now, it’s unusual for student health centers to be open from 9 to 5 on the weekend. My undergrad alma mater is open on both weekend days, but they have a massive endowment. My graduate institution offers some Saturday hours; the university where I currently teach is open for a few hours on Sunday afternoons.

Obviously, restrictive weekend hours are unhelpful – not least, because assaults usually aren’t conveniently scheduled during normal business hours. But even if an assault occurred at high noon on a weekday, student health centers don’t typically deal with the first-line response at all. My university would refer the victim directly to the emergency room of our local hospital, where a SANE nurse (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) would perform the necessary exams, treat any injuries, and offer emergency contraception. This procedure is the same, 24/7: the student health center would never be involved, only the ER.

In other words, Evergreen’s approach seems to be pretty typical. Like many other colleges, too, Evergreen has an office charged with preventing sexual assault, which also offers services to survivors. Its web page provides a link to a community sexual violence prevention agency with a 24-hour hotline. This goes one step further than my university, whose website gives 24-hour phone numbers only for the hospital and the police department.

Universities can and should support programs to prevent assault and help survivors cope. But I don’t think we can expect student health centers to carry the burden of 24/7 services. Realistically, a university will not pay for its own on-call nurse. This will become even less likely as already tight budgets shrink during the harsh economic times ahead. Even our local hospital has only three SANE nurses serving a five-county area.

What colleges can and must do, however, is make sure that every student knows the importance of getting an exam and EC within the first hours after an assault, that they have easy access to the relevant emergency numbers, and that RAs and other student affairs staff know how to direct victims to help. This is a matter of education. It should be a core aspect of any university’s sexual assault prevention program.

Universities can also partner with community agencies. Stanford, for instance, maintains an on-campus office for the YWCA Sexual Assault Center, located in its student health center. It’s associated with the off-campus YWCA Rape Crisis Center of Silicon Valley and offers a 24-hour hotline. Without knowing all the details of how that partnership works – and most crucially, who pays for what – I think this might be a promising model to pursue. It allows communities and colleges to pool resources, which ought to create mutually beneficial synergies, and it gives students a bridge from their familiar environment to resources beyond the university.

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