Archive for August, 2010

It’s really cool to see a New York Times op-ed co-authored by Rebecca Traister and Anna Holmes. Women are still underrepresented on op-ed pages, and these two have the distinction of getting their start online (at Salon and Jezebel, respectively). Maybe this is the start of feminist bloggers storming the NYT?

Their piece – “A Palin of Our Own” – makes the incontrovertible point that progressives have done too little to celebrate high-flying female politicians. (Echidne lays out why Traister and Holmes are right about this.) They note that this has concrete policy implications that harm women, especially regarding abortion rights. If women weren’t considered marginal and disposable, Nancy Pelosi could have passed a health care bill that safeguarded access to abortion. So far, so good.

But do we lefties and feminists really want a Palin of our own?

It’s not the shooting-wolves-from-helicopters that puts me off. (Well, okay, that too.) Most of all, I’m disturbed by the idea that we should emulate Palin’s character and style. Palin’s distinguishing features are her willful ignorance, reckless disregard for truth, contempt for the reality-based world, and plain old playground-variety spite. Traister and Holmes write:

Imagine a Democrat willing to brag about breaking the glass ceiling at the explosive beginning, not the safe end, of her campaign. A liberal politician taking to Twitter to argue that big broods and a “culture of life” are completely compatible with reproductive freedom. A female candidate on the left who speaks as angrily and forcefully about her rivals’ shortcomings as Sarah Barracuda does about the Pelosis and Obamas of the world. A smart, unrelenting female, who, unlike Ms. Palin, wants to tear down, not reinforce, traditional ways of looking at women. But that will require a party that is eager to discover, groom, promote and then cheer on such a progressive Palin.

(Read the rest here.)

Anger has its place – you betcha! (Yes, I’m still pissed that I can’t employ Northdakotanisms any more without people thinking I’m aping Palin.) But unlike Palin, progressives aren’t trying to appeal to people’s basest nature. If we recruit and foster female politicians who speak “angrily and forcefully about [their] rivals’ shortcomings,” we’re just going to get into a mud wrestling match with Palin and her Mama Grizzlies. The end result? Everyone’s covered with mud.

I’m not convinced that Twitter offers much hope, either. Sure, lots of liberals and lefties use Twitter. Heck, I’m even on Twitter! The Ceiling Cat is on Twitter! The presence of all that goodness doesn’t change the bedrock fact that it’s easy to convey simplistic ideas in 140 characters. You need more space to develop an argument. And really: Would Palin’s tweets get so much media exposure if they weren’t so unrelentingly stupid?

That said, Palin has lobbed the F-word back into public discourse. Now it’s our job to catch it and reclaim it. “Feminism” has never been the property of any faction within it. As I argued back on September 4, 2008 – long before the feminist blogosphere ever discussed whether Palin deserves to be a feminist – she is a feminist, of a sort. The history of feminism includes activists who were also anti-abortion and anti-choice, as well as people who were deeply racist or homophobic. After all, the history of feminism is bound up with the history of the Western world, not a thing apart. There has always been a subset of feminists who reduced the movement to “equal opportunity to compete with men” and to hell with the collateral damage (poor women, lesbians, women of color, even mothers). Palin can definitely claim those feminists as her ancestors.

Palinofeminism is screamingly reductive. It’s all about claiming a woman’s right to compete in a man’s world – something liberal feminists have historically demanded – though in order to reap its benefits, you have to be, well, pretty much a clone of Palin. But the very narrowness of Palinofeminism offers an opportunity to redefine feminism, for those of us who are broader of mind and bigger of heart. Feminism can and must oppose poverty, racism, cissexism, homophobia ableism, ageism – the whole panoply of oppressions that make people less than they could be. Feminism needs to be about ending gender-based oppression, and yes, that includes practices and norms that harm men, too.

We need to seize the moment, now that Palin has dragged feminism back into public view, and put forth an inclusive, compassionate vision of a United States where everyone has equal access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

How we achieve that, I’m not quite sure. I’m just a marginal university instructor in Appalachia with a small (albeit smart and loyal) blog readership. But I suspect that publishing more feminist op-eds is a great place to start.

Read Full Post »

Catnip Caturday

If Reno the leopard is Cheech, then Zabu the tiger must be Chong. Both of them remind me of Grey Kitty’s frenzy whenever she’d get her paws on a bag of nip.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip – or just drop in at Kittywampus, where we’re longtime supporters of legal catnip for all.)

(Via Cogitamus.)

Happy Caturday, even if you are nip-free, whether by choice or by circumstance.

Read Full Post »

A whole bunch of feminist blogs commemorated the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment today – that’s 90 years of American women having the constitutional right to vote. Of course, Jim Crow laws kept a lot of black women from exercising that right, and well into my childhood it was common for wives to follow their husband’s lead in voting. Mad Men gets that right: Betty Draper’s response to the candidacy of JFK is that she doesn’t yet know how “we” (she and husband Don) are voting.

I suppose I could have done a nerdy post on the history of woman suffrage (though I couldn’t top Christine Stansell’s op-ed on it in the New York Times), or I could have posted on how women’s political participation has exploded just in my lifetime.

Instead I spent most of the day away from the computer – first at the eye doctor, then trying to refocus my dilated pupils, and finally volunteering for the re-election campaign of my state representative, Debbie Phillips, who also happens to be my friend and neighbor. I helped with collecting donations (and cleaning up after the event) at a dinner where Senator Sherrod Brown was the keynote speaker. He shook my hand afterward. How did Ohio ever deserve such a progressive senator?

My little stint as a volunteer turned out to be a pretty apt way to celebrate what Obama declared “Women’s Equality Day.” Debbie wouldn’t have been able to run for office 100 years ago. As she was speaking, I scanned the room and noticed that the attendees were at least half female. Ditto for her key aides. She’s a fabulous, smart, progressive candidate who’s done a great job as a freshman in the Statehouse.

All of this was unimaginable a century ago – except for a few visionaries who believed woman suffrage could be the first step towards true equal rights.

P.S. Not that we’re quite there yet! But slowly, incrementally, we’re moving along the long long path toward equality.

Read Full Post »

Americans who oppose “big government” usually oppose “handouts” to the poor. But here’s the thing: You may be comfortable. You may think you have all you need. And yet, if there’s poverty anywhere in your vicinity, you will not be immune to its pernicious effects.

This came home to me again – twice –  in the past week. My adopted hometown, Athens, Ohio, is a lovely, liberal little college town tucked into the Appalachian foothills. The town itself looks reasonably prosperous, but it’s encircled the remains of a region that mined its coal and then hit an economic dead end. Some of the folks with no money and no future live right outside the edge of town in abject poverty, as I saw while canvassing for Obama in 2008. Within the city limits, the tax base isn’t so flush, either, since the 20,000 students and the university are essentially parasites on the permanent residents (whom they vastly outnumber). Just over half of Athens residents live below the poverty line, and not all of them are students.

Today’s instance of poverty splash-over: BOIL ORDER! Thanks to our weak tax base, the town’s infrastructure is crumbling. The water system is decrepit. Boil orders are issued as routinely as parking tickets. If you Google “boil order,” your second hit will be “City of Athens Boil Order Instructions.” Only the University of Missouri Extension Service outranks us. Sure, Boston had a boil order affecting 2 million people this spring, but Athens beats Boston on the Google! Boston! And its two million (2,000,000!!!!) water customers! If Boston can’t touch us, our title as the reigning champions of boil orders is virtually untouchable. (Yes, I realize most of the world should be under a boil order. Only my First-World privilege leads me to believe my family and I have a right to safe water from the tap. I’m not quite sure that Athens is located entirely in the First World.)

Today’s boil order alert went out via email at 3:30. (Email notification is still a novel service, implemented by our new-ish progressive city leadership.) I last checked my email at 3:25 before I picked up the kids. So I didn’t see it until 8:30, by which time we’d all swilled a glass or two of water and I’d washed our dinner veggies in it. Usually, boil orders affects other neighborhoods. Today, of all days, it hit my own.

So far no one is ill, and I think we’ll probably be fine. I suspect that the boil order is due to a hydrant that I saw spewing water this noon. (Hence the “splash-over” metaphor.) The likelihood of serious contamination is low. Still, I’m irked that we have to deal with the hassle until tomorrow evening. I’m uneasy as we wait and wonder if we’ll all come down with Athensitis indigestion.

Second case in point: the impact of poverty on local schools. I’ve written repeatedly about how often our kids miss school because there’s no money to clear the hilly county roads. (The city is rich in comparison to the county.) Now we’re seeing a decline in the elementary schools, which is having a ripple effect throughout the district.

At our back-to-school potluck, I learned that our little neighborhood school (let’s call it “International Elementary”) has 50% more kindergartners than in the past few years. At the last minute, they had to hire another teacher and carve out another classroom (which involved displacing disabled services to the poorest of our district’s five elementaries). There simply weren’t any open classrooms. Baby boom, you say? Unh-uh. They were all intradistrict transfers, most of them fleeing the second poorest elementary, whose test scores recently tanked. (You can see the data yourself at Greatschools.org under the listings for the “Athens, OH” district – and you can check out your own area schools as well.) I don’t know why their scores tumbled, though I’m loathe to blame the teachers. Much more likely, poor kids are suffering from hunger, which is rampant in our region, and can’t learn. Or their families are unable to be supportive because they received a crappy education, themselves. I’m guessing it’s the more affluent parents who are moving their kids, while the poorest children are staying put.

So the poverty in the county isn’t just hurting the two most vulnerable schools. It’s now spilling over into our excellent little school. I completely sympathize with the parents who are moving their sprouts; even it I didn’t, NCLB apparently gives them the legal right to switch out of a faltering school. In their place, I’d be attracted by International’s strong test scores and relatively diverse student body – which drew us to this neighborhood.

International Elementary will be fine for this year. But what about next year, when we’ll presumably need another first-grade room, too, and the years thereafter? What if we’ll permanently have three classrooms per grade instead of just two? The school is already in cramped quarters. The counselor and psychologist (who rotate through the district) share space with a skeleton in a closet. (Literally.) And you can’t extend the existing building. There’s just no space. I suppose you could just get rid of the playground … but even then, who’s going to fund the construction? The alternative – classes of 30 or more children – would just gut International’s strength, small classes with great teachers.

My point here isn’t just about “me me me,” though it sure feels good to vent. The larger point is that poverty can’t be contained. It spreads like a contagion – like a “miasma,” as nineteenth-century doctors would have said – and it ultimately affects us all.

So never mind altruism. It’s in everyone’s self-interest to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society have enough.

Read Full Post »

By now, you may have heard that the source of the recent salmonella outbreak is a single egg baron in Iowa, Austin “Jack” DeCoster. What you might not have heard: He’s just as reckless with his human employees as with his hens.

At Grist, Tom Philpott reports that in 2002, five undocumented female migrant workers brought criminal charges alleging that they had been raped by supervisors while at work. In a subsequent EEOC lawsuit, DeCoster settled for $1.5 million dollars. He has also been fined for housing immigrant workers in deplorable rat-infested conditions , for having employees handle dead animals and manure with their bare hands, and for repeated water-safety violations (some stemming from his hog farms). Philpott concludes:

The outrage here is not that Wright County Eggs has released nearly half a billion tainted eggs into the market, exposing untold numbers of people to sickness. DeCoster’s record of abuse — of people and the environment — has taught anyone who’s paying attention to expect such things from his operations.

The outrage is that regulatory authorities at both the state and national levels have allowed him to continue hiring workers and producing food as violations piled up.

(Read the rest here.)

Yes. But the problem isn’t just Jack DeCoster, even if the current outbreak is traceable entirely to his operations. It also goes beyond our lax regulations and their even laxer enforcement. The issue goes to the core of how we eat: our dependence on large-scale farming.

As I noted when swine flu first emerged, factory farming is a public health threat on a number of levels, including the breeding of novel viruses and bacteria. In addition, such farms routinely use antibiotics to control the diseases that inevitably erupt when you concentrate thousands or hundreds of thousands (!!) of animals. This is creating a perfect chance for bacteria to mutate into drug-resistant forms. It’s undermining our ability to effectively treat human diseases. And while some industrial farming operations may treat their workers well, DeCoster is not alone in exploiting them.

The overall problem is that industrial agriculture is geared to making profits, first and foremost – and the quest for profit-maximization has eclipsed human values. This has happened in many industries, of course, but it can be deadly in agriculture because of its direct impact on our food supply and public health.

DeCoster exemplifies sheer callousness to the human and animal wreckage he and his ilk have fostered.

  • The hens crowded together, suffering from mutual aggression and sitting in their own feces.
  • Their chicks, sickened with salmonella, who brought the infection to another industrial egg operation.
  • The undocumented women whose bodily integrity was violated by supervisors who exploited a lawless atmosphere.
  • All the other workers living and working in filth.
  • And now the rest of us, who could be infected by a simple sunny-side up egg.

Thorough cooking kills salmonella, as Salon’s Francis Lam reminds us. From my own experience, I know that’s not quite enough. The cook who handled the raw eggs needs to wash her or his hands very thoroughly. The worst “tummy flu” I’ve had hit me after I’d boiled a bunch of eggs for dyeing at Easter and, distracted by a house full of company, hadn’t paid much heed to hand-washing. I was the only person who got sick, but I was down for a week, so immobilized that a girlfriend had to drop by to check on me and deliver ginger ale. I’m sure it was salmonella, caught from the shells. I can be glad I was young and healthy when it hit. And yes, those eggs came from factory farms (albeit in Germany, so they were subject to some regulation).

These days, I buy Kroger’s organic free-range eggs when I don’t have a local source. When my friends’ chickens are laying, I don’t have to buy eggs at all (and they just gave me three this evening – yippee!). There’s never a perfect guarantee of safe food, but our odds improve dramatically when we don’t rely on industrial mass production. And when we eat an egg from happy hens, we can be pretty confident that no humans have been treated cruelly, either.

Read Full Post »

And yes, you likely are promiscuous, even though you may not think of yourself that way. At least, that’s the implication of a quiz that appeared at Big Think this week. Now, you know I’ve got a soft spot for internet quizzes, but it usually runs toward Hello Quizzy (aka OK Cupid) and similar silliness. This quiz purports to be serious! scientific! and will tell you about your “sociosexuality.” Blogger Marina Adshade at Big Think found it incumbent upon her to translate “sociosexuality” as “promiscuity.”

Whatever you call it, I found the results shocking – and not because the quiz branded me a slut. I am shocked at the shoddy methodology that’s trying to pass as “science.”

Go take the quiz and tell us how you came out, ‘kay? I will wait below the LOLcat.

(Shocked, shocked kitteh from ICHC?)

I’ll come clean: I landed in Finland, which according to Adshade is the #1 mecca for the promiscuous. Funny thing, though. I answered that I’ve been with just one partner over the past year and expect to stay with him, and only him, for the next 30 years, should we be so blessed to both live that long. I ‘fessed up to the one-night stand, though that’s a real definitional tangle. Does oral sex count? What does it mean when your “casual” partner is never a rank stranger, but always a friend or someone in your larger social network? What about friends with benefits, where the benefits were infrequent and very much subsidiary to the friendship? What about one-night stands that morph into several nights? What about “casual” sex that leads into a years-long relationship? (All of these questions hint at my classic MO until I met my husband.)

I like to see how quizzes spit out different assessments, so I varied my responses some – keeping my truthful answers to the first two questions, and also holding fast to my tolerant (but not really celebratory) answers toward casual sex. I also copped to some fantasies but not to daily ones, and held that answer constant, too. But I played with the number of “one-night stands,” and see here: I stayed in Finland until I claimed (okay, lied) never to have had one. That moved me down just one rank – to New Zealand.

I suspect study-abroad applications will spike for Finland and New Zealand, if this “research” gets out to the general public.

But seriously: what a way to view promiscuity! I don’t like the term anyway, because it almost always leads to slut-shaming. I’d prefer to stick with “sociosexuality.” Whatever you think of the terminology, it seems silly to brand a fortysomething, married, monogamous gal with a handful of youthful adventures “promiscuous” just because she refuses to condemn the pursuit of pleasure, youthful or not. Or because she fesses up to fantasies – which I suspect is what drove my score sky-high. I’d love to know how Jimmy Carter (he who famously “lusted in his heart) would stack up.

I enjoy silly quizzes, but sometimes the line between science and internet meme is very thin indeed. Not to mention, there are also some very good reasons for people to engage in “casual” sex, as Monica Shore reminds us at Alternet (originally at Carnal Nation). Shore’s article is buttressed by a few preliminary stats from Heather Corinna’s much more scientific survey on “casual” versus “committed” sex. I’m eager to hear about Heather’s results once they’re made public, because I think she asked the right questions here and here.

See y’all in Finland? If not, where will I find you?

Read Full Post »

In my expert opinion, this is the best Simon’s Cat video yet. It’s the cattiest. Watch, and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no baseball bat, no shattering glass. Just classic cat behavior, exaggerated by a mere whisker. My kids forced me to watch it three times. We were still laughing on the third run.

There’s a moment (at 0:50) where SC does one of GK’s signature moves: after falling like a perfect dork, SC (or the ghost of GK?) takes a “spontaneous” bath to cover her embarrassment. Yes, cats can be embarrassed, and Grey Kitty (patron cat of this blog) would have spent a lot of time blushing, were she not so grey.

(If you can’t see it, go here. Or just click through to Kittywampus, where the catnip is always fresh and copious.)

Thanks to Intransigentia for getting the word out on this new clip. Yay, indeed!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 50 other followers

%d bloggers like this: