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Archive for April, 2011

Did you know that this blog is a minion in the Koch brothers’ astroturfing? I was shocked to hear it, myself! According to Mark Ames and Yasha Levine at Alternet, all of us progressives who got outraged about the TSA naked bodyscanners and grope-downs were mere pawns in a right-wing game – dupes to an anti-union conspiracy.

Ames and Levine’s argument is basically as follows:

1) John “don’t touch my junk” Tyner was a phony who plotted his confrontation with TSA agents. They cite an apology he wrote on his blog for taking down a post in which he contemplated how he would react if subjected to an intrusive patdown – but they take it completely out of context.

What Tyner actually wrote:

To those of you who feel duped, I apologize. There is no reason to feel that way, though. I stand by my assertion that the encounter was not planned or staged.

Ames and Levine quote only the first line of this, making it sound as if Tyner admitted he’d staged the confrontation. This is especially nasty given that they’d already scurrilously attacked him last fall in The Nation as a plant of the Koch brothers, and Glenn Greenwald had debunked it as dishonest innuendo.

The Nation’s editors had to apologize for this smear. While Ames and Levine’s latest doesn’t go quite as far as the first, they’re still imputing guilt-by-association to Tyner. Alternet’s editors should never have published this unethical crap, and they too ought to apologize. Tyner has defended himself in a new post, and Alternet ought to link to it.

2) Republicans such as Dick Armey and Jim DeMint are virulently anti-union.

Yep, can’t deny that. But they have no sway over the TSA and didn’t have any demonstrable influence over the roll-out of the intrusive new searches. So, your point is …?

3) Charles Krauthammer and his ilk seized on the new TSA procedures and whipped the public up into a frenzy. This “hysteria” was manufactured so that the TSA leadership could squelch a union drive for TSA employees. Therefore we can conclude that all the progressives who objected to the virtual strip-searches and grope-downs were mere patsies, duped by the right.

This is horseshit. Most of us progressive bloggers and journalists were onto the new TSA tricks before Krauthammer and Glenn Beck started fulminateing. Yes, Krauthammer and his ilk seized upon our outrage to press a right-wing agenda. That doesn’t make our anger manufactured, nor does it make us dupes.

The “logic” behind this article is stunningly stupid. The authors act as though they’d never heard of the distinction between correlation and causation. Just because a lot of people who are normally political adversaries got mad about the same thing at the same time doesn’t mean we were manipulated by the righties. You know what explains the timing of it? Not the TSA unionization effort, but the fact that the TSA rolled out its scanners and new grope-down procedures last October. The right-wingers tried to use it opportunistically, but as Ames and Levine admit, they didn’t fully succeed in halting the TSA union drive. (Granted, the powers the union gained are pathetically paltry, but the Dems in charge of the agency share in the blame.) Oh, and nowhere in the article do the authors trace a direct link from the Koch brothers to the anti-TSA activism of last fall. (They claimed to have done this in their Nation article, but even there the evidence was sketchy.)

I don’t know what axe Ames and Levine have to grind, but they are such apologists for the TSA that you’ve got to wonder if they might be on its payroll. Recently, the TSA-critical We Won’t Fly blog busted one or more TSA agents engaged in sockpuppetry, trolling their comment section and slinging invective at the site’s owners. Ames and Levine’s ethics – as shown by their defamation of John Tyner – are no more impressive.

Ames and Levine scoff at the idea that there were real issues here – issues of privacy, bodily autonomy, and civil liberties in general. Instead, they reduce the outrage over TSA violations to con job that took “valid criticisms” and transformed them into “hysteria”:

The strategy: 1) concoct and magnify fake government oppression at the hands of the TSA;  2) Demonize and blame the crisis on your political target, TSA screeners, so that the public turns against them; 3) Push and PR the message, focusing on valid but largely trivial aspects of the problem; and 4) Now you can appear, not as cruel union-buster, but as a hero defending the public.

This is not “fake government oppression.” This is the real thing, targeting vulnerable people. And while our ire might be most easily roused by concerns about how children, sexual abuse survivors, and people with disabilities are harmed, even the distress of a young, middle-class white male like John Tyner counts.

And it continues. Just this week, a former Miss USA, Susie Castillo, posted her account of being groped on YouTube:

Within recent weeks, the mother of an eight-year-old boy complained about his treatment …

… as did the parents of a six-year-old girl.

So what hoax, exactly, are Ames and Levine pointing to when they ask in their article’s title, “Did You Fall for It?” There’s nothing faux about the abuse that these people describe. Where’s their empathy for the elderly and disabled who are singled out for intrusive searches? Where do Ames and Levine stand on the use of genital patdowns on preschoolers? Is that, too, trivial and “fake”?

That the Republicans foam at the mouth against unions isn’t news. Right-wing interference with unions predates Scotty Walker by decades. For the record, I support a strong union for the TSA, as I do for all workers. This isn’t just rhetoric; I was working on a union drive until Ohio’s SB 5 shut down the chance for university faculty to exercise the human right of collective bargaining. If the TSA enjoyed real collective bargaining rights, it might attract better-qualified applicants and become a more professional force. Perhaps it could even engage in real behind-the-scenes security work and intelligence gathering, rather than just security theater.

The problem here is not that progressive yelled too loudly about TSA abuses. It’s that we didn’t yell loudly enough. It’s that we were too few in number. If progressives – and moderates, too – had rallied against the loss of our civil liberties, our voices could have swamped those of the right wing. Shame on those progressives who silently watched our liberties erode. Ames and Levine have done them one worse, becoming active apologists for the dismantling of our privacy and basic human dignity.

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In my previous post, I promised I’d deal with feminist ethical objections to delving into the veracity of Palin’s claimed pregnancy with Trig. Is it illegitimate to ask questions about a candidate’s reproductive history? Are we invading Palin’s privacy, down to her very uterus?

The arguments for backing off from the tale of Palin, Trig, and her alleged Wild Ride fall into two main categories. (Let me know if you can think of others.)

1) Palin and especially her children deserve at least a modicum of privacy.

2) It’s always anti-feminist to second-guess women’s choices in childbearing and mothering.

On 1) privacy: As I mentioned in my last post, it’s standard operating procedure for presidential and veep candidates to disclose their medical records. While I would object strenuously to laws and policies that demanded the same of grocery clerks and accountants and locksmiths and (yes) college professors, the presidency isn’t just any job. There’s a reasonable case to be made for the citizenry knowing whether a candidate has a condition that might render her or him incapable of serving or exercising good judgment. We should have known, for instance, that Ronald Reagan was experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

We expect this disclosure of all candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency. Why should Palin get a pass? Why should her records remain private? Is it justifiable simply because she has a uterus? That would be sexist in its own twisted way, wouldn’t it – throwing us back to the days when ladyparts were still “unmentionables”?

Now it’s rather late to demand medical records be released, since Palin is no longer a candidate. But I think it’s still fair to say that Palin would have set the record straight on Trig’s birth, one way or another, had she only behaved like other candidates back in October 2008. Instead, she substituted secrecy for transparency (which didn’t surprise many Alaskans). She was nominated without any real vetting by McCain’s people, and they built an opaque wall between her and the press. She guarded her secrets while piling up lies. It’s not surprising that quite apart from Trig’s birth, the contents of her medical records would become subject to speculation.

Concern for the privacy of the Palins’ minor children (which included Bristol in 2008) is a legitimate and noble cause, one that I’ve consistently espoused. Let’s be clear: None of the brouhaha around Trig’s birth is actually about Trig. It’s about Sarah Palin.

The Palin children’s privacy has been breached, all right, but this has been almost entirely Sarah Palin’s own doing, apart from Bristol’s own self-promotion as a (*cough*) abstinence advocate. Who chose to use Trig as a political prop? Who decided to out Bristol’s pregnancy to the world instead of directly laying to rest the rumors about Trig’s birth? (Let us be clear: Bristol’s pregnancy in fall 2008 did not prove Sarah gave birth to Trig; it only made Bristol an unlikely mother to Trig unless he had actually been born earlier in the winter of 2008.) Who carried on a public feud with Levi Johnston’s family (which ultimately involved Palin’s grandson Tripp)? Who signed her family up for a reality TV show?

Mind you, I disapprove of the Gosselins and Duggars, too, for televising their children’s childhood. It’s just that none of them are running for president.

On point 2) – reproductive choice and trusting women – Melissa McEwan writes:

Birtherism, in which both conservatives and liberals are engaging, is a terrible and intrinsically misogynist game to play, entirely dependent on a belief that policing women’s bodies and reproduction is an acceptable recreation.

Actually, what’s going on here is not policing Sarah Palin’s body. What’s truly at stake is not what or who came out of her uterus. It’s what came out of her mouth. It’s her self-contradicting statements and outright lies.

McEwan tosses out a straw man when she says mockingly that the only acceptable evidence for “Trig birthers” would be video of Trig emerging from Palin’s vagina. Of course that’s silly. On the other hand, medical records showing that Palin truly was pregnant, underwent amnio, and gave birth when she claimed – well, that would be pretty darn conclusive. The unreasonable few would continue to hatch conspiracy theories. The rest of us – people like me and Litbrit – would say great; case closed; let’s carrying on dissecting why Palin, Bachmann, Trump, Santorum, and Co. are a danger to the United States. Andrew Sullivan would back off it too and devote himself more fully to his irrational quest for fiscal austerity. (Hmm, that’s one good argument for keeping the mystery of the Wild Ride alive.)

As I’ve written before, if Palin’s account of the wild ride is true, it displays epically poor judgment. By her own account, she board not one but two long flights after her water broke, without even stopping for a check-up before she left Dallas.

The party-line feminist response is: trust women. And I agree, we have to do that. Generally, women are trustworthy. That presumption underlies any pro-choice position on reproductive rights.

But what happens when a woman (or a man!) is reckless? What happens if a mother (or father!) makes egregious choices? Are we obligated to suspend judgment?

The consensus at both Shakesville and Feministe is that you turn in your official Feminist card as soon as you question the wisdom of anyone’s parenting or reproductive choices, no matter how irresponsible they may be.

Really?

To take a more extreme case, do I have to agree that it’s hunky-dory for a woman addicted to heroin and meth to have one baby after another, only to have them taken by Child Protective Services? As a matter of fact, I think it’s a pretty terrible situation. What makes me pro-choice is that I don’t want that hypothetical – but all-too-real – woman to be thrown into jail (as South Carolina has done, repeatedly, with pregnant women of color who are addicts). I don’t want her to be forced or coerced into Depo-Provera shots or Norplant. I do want the people who provide her prenatal and birth care (assuming she gets any) to compassionately counsel her about treatment programs. I want drug treatment programs to be abundant and free, so that no barriers prevent pregnant women from using them – unlike the many programs that have historically refused to admit expectant mothers! I want her caregivers to kindly and non-coercively explain her birth control options, including the potential benefits of long-term contraceptive methods (both the IUD and hormonal methods). I want her to have free access to birth control. If her children must be placed for adoption, open adoption should be the default unless there are very compelling grounds to separate the children from their birth mother.

That is a pro-choice position. I do see a need to exercise judgment. I do assert that childbearing while in the grips of an addition is a Bad Idea. Abandoning judgment, in such cases, would be abandoning responsibility. What makes this position pro-choice isn’t a refusal to judge; it’s rejecting punitive and coercive measures.

Now, Sarah Palin obviously is not comparable to a poor drug addict (unless you want to call power an addiction). Palin lives in a realm of privilege that insulates her kids, to some degree. CPS is not about to seize them even if she and Todd serve them Lucky Charms with crystal meth sprinkles for breakfast.

But the basic question still stands: Must feminists withhold judgment when a woman – or man! – makes reproductive or parenting decisions that are grossly unwise? Does it make us anti-choice to say that even though a woman has the legal right to implant eight embryos into her womb, it’s nonetheless an über-crappy decision? Does it make us anti-choice to say that medical evidence unequivocally shows that smoking is worse than crack for a developing fetus, and so every effort must be made to help expectant parents (not just mothers!) stop smoking?

And is it really anti-choice to say that Palin’s decision to fly home after her water broke not only potentially endangered her and Trig, but also exposed the whole plane to the risks of an emergency landing? I’m not saying “There oughtta be a law,” just that it was a piss-poor decision.

Again, this is not policing Palin’s uterus. This is questioning what went on in her brain. And if she runs again for POTUS, her brain is the organ that ought to concern us.

The good mother/bad mother dichotomy is still used as a cudgel. It’s one that feminists should always regard with deep suspicion.

But sometimes, bad mothering – and importantly, bad parenting – is egregious. When it occurs in politicians who position themselves as paragons of family values, it’s reasonable to ask about their general judgment and scrutinize them for hypocrisy. So while I regard it as out-of-bounds to criticize Todd and Sarah Palin for the fact that Bristol became pregnant, I do think it’s fair to criticize how they handled it in the national spotlight. When the Palins announced Bristol’s pregnancy instead of debunking the Trig rumors head-on, both parents threw their eldest daughter under the bus. (It was Sarah and her political who made that decision, but the First Dude was part of that inner circle and I’ll bet he could have vetoed it.) Similarly, it’s understandable that Sarah Palin would have kept her pregnancy quiet until late in the game. Most women who work for pay realize that they may be seen as less competent and committed once their pregnancy becomes public, and that goes doubly for female politician. What’s not reasonable is boarding a plane without any idea how imminent labor might be after leaking amniotic fluid.

If wanting politicians to exhibit sound judgment not just in public life but as private individuals – and yes, as parents – makes me an anti-feminist, so be it. Just let me know where I should turn in my F-card.

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Did Sarah Palin really give birth to Trig Paxson Van Palin – and should we care?

The case for Trig’s birth being a hoax has been revived in a scholarly paper penned by a Northern Kentucky University professor, Brad Scharlott. Luckily for him, Kentucky is very far from Alaska – and he’s tenured – so he’s unlikely to lose his job over this. If he were a trash collector or librarian in Wasilla, he’d surely be toast. But in my opinion, he’s also unlikely to find a journal willing to publish his article, even though his main scholarly point – that the mainstream media failed to even investigate the rumors about Trig’s parentage, shutting it down in a “spiral of silence” –  accurately describes the media response. If you write about rumor, you own work gets tinged with its stigma, especially if you make the case, as Scharlott does, that a rumor is probably true. In a series of interviews with journalist-novelist-blogger Laura Novak, Scharlott comes off as a credible, intelligent, non-flaky guy. In my estimation, he deserves to be taken seriously.

But still – does the story matter at this late date? The most prominent blogger demanding answers, Andrew Sullivan, has argued repeatedly it does because he sees Palin as a viable Republican candidate whose entire political persona is based upon lies. I agree that she’s a pathological liar. I fear she’s running in 2012.

I’m not sure how much the truth matters politically, though.

Let’s say some enterprising reporter were to uncover proof that Palin is not Trig’s mother. Would that really sway her hardcore political base? I suspect not. They’ve embraced her despite Troopergate and a passel of other ethics violations in Alaska. They tolerated her quitting in the midst of her gubernatorial term, whether to damp down ethics allegations or simply to make truckloads of money as a Fox commentator. They don’t seem to mind her millenarian Pentecostal beliefs that suggest she might not be opposed to Armageddon in our time. They tuned in to her reality show, for god’s sake! Given all they’ve swallowed, why should her loyalists mind if she’d fabricated her fifth pregnancy from whole cloth? (Or from fake bumps and scarves?) She has already shown her contempt for the reality-based community. Why would one more lie – however spectacular – affect Palin’s political future? (It might sway some independents, but we have to hope they’ll be repelled by her overall deceptiveness. If they aren’t, then we really are in deep shit.)

For those of us on the left, there’s little political gain in pursuing this story at this late date. If we do, we risk being lumped in with the Obama Birthers. Plenty of lefty bloggers are already doing just that: Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, Jill at Feministe, and Atrios, just for a sampling. (There are also specifically feminist objections to demanding the truth about Trig’s birth; my next post deals with them.) Through some bizarre political calculus, it seems that the right can only win when it promotes Birtherism (see: Trump, Donald), while we on the left are marginalized by our own kind as soon as we question the oddities surrounding Trig’s birth.

And yet, I want to know the truth, despite the lack of political upside. Blame it on déformation professionnelle from my training as a historian. Maybe I just read too many Nancy Drew books as a girl. But I want to know. And since Sarah Palin remains a powerful politician even out of office (!) it’s in the public interest to know whether she’s a pathological liar or just a reckless narcissist. If she did lie about Trig’s birth, it’s surely not the most important lie she has told (Sully has catalogued dozens in his series “The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin”), but it’s a pretty spectacular one.

The truth matters, especially when it concerns someone who was a candidate for high office – and may be again. It matters even if it’s not politically expedient to pursue it. In fact, if we’re not just political hacks and shills, the truth matters especially when it’s politically inconvenient.

Litbrit has made one of the best cases I’ve seen for Palin having faked the whole thing. She argues that it’s improbable Palin would have risked going into labor on one of those long flights from Texas back to Alaska. She exposes the hypocrisy and sexism of giving Palin a pass on a story that’s a key part of her political persona and appeal just as military heroism is for John McCain.

I’m on record as saying that the more likely scenario is that Palin exercised awesomely bad judgment in traveling in traveling from Dallas all the way to Wasilla after her water broke (by her own account). A recent article by investigative reporter Geoffrey Dunn concurs. (He’s got a forthcoming book titled all-t00-appropriately The Lies of Sarah Palin.) Palingates has a handy compendium of the facts (such as they can be known) about Palin’s Wild Ride. Politicalgates offers a set of questions that would help ferret out the truth, assuming that reporters dared to pose them and the principals answered truthfully (unlikely in Sarah Palin’s case). Early on, before we had other examples of Palin’s recklessness, the Wild Ride placed Palin’s acceptance of the VP nomination – for which she was utterly unprepared and unqualified – into a context. It suggested that delusions of grandeur and invulnerability might be hard-wired traits.

But even though I lean toward believing Palin is narcisstic and unbalanced enough to have risked delivery at 35,000 feet, I’m not at all persuaded by the debunkers that have sprung up like mushrooms in response to Scharlott’s paper. At Slate, Rachael Larimore suggests Occam’s Razor undermines any scenario except Palin being Trig’s birth mother. That argument would be more convincing if Palin’s life weren’t already chockfull of elaborate plots and ruses (see: Troopergate) and erratic behavior (her early resignation). Her life is literally a reality show. Why should we leap to the conclusion that the simplest explanation – while prima facie more likely – is thus bound to be true?

At Salon, Steve Kornacki argues that the Trig rumors are irrelevant because McCain didn’t choose Palin on account of her motherhood, he picked Palin because she was an exciting young female unknown, and thus Palin had no reason to fake a pregnancy. I don’t think anyone has ever seriously argued that Palin’s choice to mother a child with Down syndrome swayed McCain’s choice. It is, however, a potent part of her appeal to her base. Her decision to continue the pregnancy remains a pivotal story in the speeches she delivers to her fans. Whatever else Palin may be, she’s opportunistic. If you postulate that her pregnancy was faked, she might have had completely apolitical motivations, yet seized on the chance to make political hay out of “choosing life.” (One of Sullivan’s readers lays out a scenario where a faked pregnancy would have evolved as an improvised solution – I’m not endorsing this theory, but I do think it has a certain logic .) Kornacki’s argument is thus beside the point. He assumes that any plot by Palin would have relied on rational calculation. She’s politically savvy, but we have plenty of reason to believe she’s not rational.

But the main debunker – who claims to have definitively laid the rumors to rest – is Justin Elliot, also at Salon. Elliot cites numerous eyewitnesses who claim they saw Palin’s pregnancy up close. Among them is Wesley Loy, a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News who questioned Palin on the authenticity of her pregnancy in February 2008, two months before Trig was reportedly born. In response, Loy says (also at Salon), Palin lifted up her outer garment to display her belly bump. Of course, if Palin really was aping the fake-pregnancy plot line from Desperate Housewives (which she referred to in her interview with Loy), a fabric-covered bump proves nothing. (And no, I’m not suggesting Palin had an obligation to bare her belly, just that this is far from conclusive evidence, especially when said witnesses were men.)

If Loy was so convinced, why didn’t he say so at the time (as Gryphen asks at the Immoral Minority)? (Scharlott tried contacting Loy in the course of his research but received no reply.) Joe McInnis points out the oddity of both Loy and another Alaska reporter, Steve Quinn (also cited in Salon), coming forward with nearly identical accounts three years later. McInnis, who is also soon to publish a tell-all Palinography, positions himself as a “Trignostic.” Still, he’s not convinced – and he reminds us that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Gryphen further notes that Quinn may not be an impartial observer, as he was having an affair with a Palin staffer at the time.

Moreover, the eyewitness accounts cited in Salon do not stand alone. They’re contradicted – ta-dah! – by other eyewitnesses. Here’s what Geoffrey Dunn found:

One close friend of Palin’s–a widely respected woman who had given birth to several children as well and who had close contact with Palin in Juneau up until the time of Trig’s birth–told me that “Palin did not look like she was pregnant. Ever. Even when she had the bulging belly, I never felt that the rest of her body, her face especially, looked like she was pregnant.” When I asked her point-blank if she was certain the baby was Palin’s, she said, “No. I don’t know what to believe.”

The news of Palin’s pregnancy came as a complete surprise to Palin’s State Trooper security detail Gary Wheeler … Only two weeks earlier, in late February of 2008, Wheeler had accompanied Palin back to Washington, D.C. for a Republican Governors Association Conference … Wheeler remembers that Palin had changed into jeans upon her arrival in Washington, with no apparent revelation of pregnancy.

Wheeler also said that his wife, Corky, actually made fun of him when the news came out because he was supposed to be a “trained observer.” Wheeler simply shakes his head: “I had nary an idea she was packin’.”

As Wesley Loy of the Anchorage Daily News reported it at the time, Governor Palin “shocked and awed just about everybody around the Capitol” with her announcement.

This is at seven months.

Yup, that’s the same Wesley Loy who now says Palin showed him her clothed belly.

This issue could be laid to rest if Palin had disclosed her medical records while she was running for the vice presidency. This isn’t an extraordinary request. It’s simply what every other candidate has done in recent memory – including Obama, Biden, and McCain in 2008. Medical records would settle the case definitively. Palin claims she has provided a birth certificate, but that’s yet another lie. Instead, she merely released a letter from her family physician, Cathy Baldwin-Johnson (on election eve, no less). The letter was written mostly in passive voice, which is normal doctor-speak but allows for evasion and circumlocution. This letter included no documentary verification, and none has been provided to date.

In the absence of this data – which, again, is provided by EVERY other candidate for our highest office – rumors will continue to flourish. At Immoral Minority, a commenter from Wasilla states categorically that Palin announced getting a tubal ligation after the birth of Piper. If true, it would certainly explain why candidate Palin refused to release her medical records. If false, well, then why not release those records? Or do they conceal some other secret that could damage Palin’s pro-life cred?

We should ask: cui bono? As Laura Novak writes, “Forget follow the money. The question is:  who benefits from this controversy continuing?” Does Palin gain something by allowing the rumor mill to churn – notoriety, sympathy, or some other intangible? Or is she trying to hide a secret – perhaps one only tangentially related to Trig’s birth? We really don’t know.

However this plays out, it confirms that Palin is a reckless egomaniac, a liar, or – most likely of all – both. And while I disagree with Amanda Marcotte’s contention that the Trig rumors have been wholly debunked, I think she’s right to say they resonate with many of us because we already know that Palin is a “phony.”

Update, 4/26/11, 10:50 p.m.: As this high-school girl demonstrated, it’s not too difficult to fake a pregnancy over six months with the help of just a few confederates. (“A few” is probably key, because if large numbers are in on the secret, it’s bound to spill.) Of course, it’s probably easier to pull off a faux pregnancy if people are predisposed to believe it due to your ethnicity. :-(

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A Caturday Easter

I know Easter always falls on a Sunday, but it can still be a Caturday, too. Thanks to Tim (in comments to the previous post) for enlightening me!

(Click here if you can’t see the clip.)

I like the message of mercy.

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Dear Bear and Tiger,

The Bear baskets are on the left. The Tiger baskets are on the right. The presents not in baskets are to be shared.

If you fight over Hello Kitty I will only bring you vast amounts of bunny poop next Easter. Seriously.

Love,

Your Easter Bunny

This missive was left by the Rabbit, gracing (?) baskets full of sugar and plastic crap that will probably condemn my children to tooth decay and type-2 diabetes.

Kindly note the pastel colors. For all her turdly threats, this is a high-class rabbit who respects Easter traditions. (She also knows that the Tiger loves any poop reference. She further realizes she’lll regret this cheap poop joke a thousand-fold as the Tiger compares each and every chocolate egg to … well, ’nuff said.)

The aforementioned Hello Kitty product is a bubble-blowing set. The Bunny is weary; she has lost all photo-taking capability and merely wishes to sleep until the rain ends in southeast Ohio. (That might be late December, at the rate we’re going.) This blog will not feature a picture of said plastic-crap bubblicious Kitty. You will therefore have to use your florid imaginations. Suffice it to say that the HK product looks incredibly ineffective, as you would expect from a Kitty without a mouth. I mean, how else should she blow bubbles?

Perhaps we’d best not answer that question.

Instead, here is a thing of beauty from the Bunny’s garden. It was not toothsome. That is why we could capture it in a picture, which was taken a few days ago, before the Bunny and her handler committed to a good nights’ sleep. The rain clings to the blossoms. Its fragrance makes us believe in magical rabbits, unearthly and perfect. If only blogs offered scratch-and-sniff functionality!

Happy Easter – or belated spring solstice – or whatever blessed moment you choose to celebrate as the earth awakes from its too-long slumber.

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Just now, after I turned out the lights for my two sons, I said: “I love you guys more than the whole world.”

The Tiger, who’ll be eight in June, retorted: “But that doesn’t make sense, Mama. We wouldn’t be here without the world.”

Happy Erf Day, everyone! (And yes, you should absolutely follow that link to see the Tiger’s Erf Day history, going way back to kindy.)

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Swedish DIY Caturday

As usual, we at Kittywampus are happy to bring you yesterday’s warmed-over news, along with viral videos that have been around so long they’ve caused people to develop antibodies. Especially if cats are involved. This Ikea commercial has been around for a while, but I only saw it a few days ago, so here you go!

(If you can’t see the clip, click here.)

My first thought upon watching this was: If they released 100 cats in an Ikea store, how many did they lose? I mean, I’ve come close to losing a child or two at Ikea. It turns out they did lose at least one, though he was rescued unharmed. The backstory is fun viewing, too:

(Or click here.)

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I’ve got to disagree with Clarissa on this one: It’s not fair to equate pregnancy with a hangover (even if the nausea can be similarly overwhelming). Specifically, a student who misses class for pregnancy-related disability should not be treated the same as one who misses due to oversleeping or a hangover.

But let’s back up. Clarissa was responding to a post by The Feminist Breeder on prodromal labor, in which TFB also mentioned that she was feeling crappy enough in her 40th week of gestation that she just couldn’t hang with her college-degree program. Here’s the bit that set Clarissa off:

I have to keep going to class until I’m really in labor, and school is pretty far away.  My Tuesday class is a reasonable half hour away, but my Wednesday class is 90 minutes away in traffic.  If I started hard, active labor at school, I have no idea what I would do.  Also – get this – I left class early last Tuesday because I was so sick I couldn’t see straight, and my professor actually had the balls to dock me 20 out of 25 possible Participation points just because I had to leave.  Clearly she’ll be docking me ALL 25 Participation points for each class I miss while I’m doing a silly little thing like trying to have a baby, so I cannot take off a single extra day other than what is absolutely necessary.  (And yes, I am SOOO writing a letter about that.)

Now, I think jumping straight to a letter to college administrators, rather than trying so say, talk to her prof, is pouring gas on the flames. If a student has a beef – especially an adult student like TBF who’s got the cojones and verbal skills – she should first talk to the the instructor, preferably when she doesn’t feel on the verge of hurling. Personally, I would be much more receptive to a conversation than a formal complaint. Going slow offers a chance to preserve the student-teacher relationship as a collaborative one. Going directly to the administration strikes most teachers as an act of aggression (which is why I’ve never done that to my kids’ teachers, even when it might have been warranted). Often, too, the instructor will cool down and reassess a rash decision, opening the gate to a reasonable compromise. If not, there’s still time to write a scathing letter, though I suspect TBF, who could very well be in labor as I write this, felt the hourglass was empty (prodromal labor has a way of remininding one of the clock). And so I understand perfectly why she might skip negotiating and just lodge a formal complaint.

That said, I just can’t sign on to Clarissa’s reaction:

There is no doubt in my mind that her pregnancy is very special to this woman. It must also be very special to her relatives and friends. For strangers, however, of which her professor is one, it is neither more nor less special than another student’s hangover. Both the pregnancy and the hangover are the results of the choices these students made as adults. In my capacity as an educator, I don’t think it’s my place to judge whose choices are more legitimate and deserve of greater consideration. All I need to know is that the student wasn’t there and, as a result, didn’t manage to participate.

This is a false conception of “fairness.” As my friend Moonglow (who just happens to be the mother of a brand-new daughter, yippee!!!) told me today: “I never promise my kids that I’ll treat them all equally. But I do commit to treating them all fairly. That means knowing what each of them needs and when they need it.” (And if I misquoted you, my dear, please blame it on the delectable distraction of brie with fig jam.)

Much the same goes for my students. Last spring, a student of mine landed in the ER with appendicitis and only appeared two weeks later (full documentation in hand). I’ve had multiple students felled by mono, over the years. I’ve had students come to me with serious mental health issues (sometimes exacerbated by the portion of my syllabus dealing with sexual violence). I’ve had students totter to class on crutches due to slippery messes in the dorms. I’ve had students with arms in casts due to (ahem) barroom brawls.

I am not happy about the last category of problem – injuries that result from drunken stupidity – but I am grateful for those students’ frankness. And once a student acquires a disability, don’t I have an obligation – both human and feminist – to accommodate it? Would I not be a monster to mark down a student on participation just because his appendix tried to kill him? How could I live with myself if a student went into a spiral of depression, and I exacerbated it with rigid expectations of attending every single class meeting?

Last year, I had a graduate student announce to me that she was likely to give birth within the next couple of weeks. I was dumbfounded. I hadn’t even noticed she was pregnant, only that she’d put on a few pounds. (That alone should’ve given me pause, because I tend not to notice even major changes in people’s shapes. I’m obtuse that way.) The very next class meeting, she was absent, because she’d just come through labor. A week later, she showed up for class, her iPhone brimming with baby pictures. She worked very hard not to let her pregnancy interfere with her coursework, but I certainly could have found ways to accommodate her if she’d asked for more time off.

There’s an easy, pragmatic, fair solution to most of these situations. Exempt the student from work missed (as long as it’s not a major project) and weight the rest of their grade more heavily. This little trick works as well for a pregnant student as for anyone else struck by unexpected disability. The student does pay a small price, in that there’s more pressure on the rest of their work and less opportunity to dilute a crummy grade. But it’s a fair price that makes allowances for the fallibility and vulnerability of our flesh. However much a university might pretend that we’re all disembodied brains, in the end those brains still rely pretty heavily on their whole-body support systems.

I guess I’m a bit of a feminist-Marxist on these issues: from each according to hir ability, to each according to hir needs. That doesn’t mean abandoning all standards. It simply means realizing that life intervenes. Death intervenes. And all kinds of other shit – good, bad, and ugly – intervenes, too. Students are whole people, often needy people, coping with lives more complicated than we instructors often know. They cannot be reduced to their throbbing-in-a-petri-dish brains (or pickled-in-a-game-of-beer-pong brains, either).

This isn’t a matter of trusting my students. (Mostly they deserve my trust; sometimes they prove that they don’t.) It’s a matter of trusting my own judgment. I trust myself to distinguish between the student who couldn’t turn in her final paper on time due to strep and the one who added my class late, then fell asleep in the back row after a mere three minutes! Hey, at least he zonked out so fast I couldn’t take it personally; there was no time for me to bore him to sleep.

This is also an arena where I have to live true to my principles. Any feminist ought to be committed to disability rights. Heck, even Sarah Palin (a nightmare feminist, but a feminist nonetheless, in my book) at least pays lip service to disability rights. You cannot honor human rights without acknowledging that most of us, if we live long enough, will eventually live with a disability. You cannot work toward gender justice but then insist it’s only for those of completely able bodies and minds. What does that mean for me, practically speaking? If a student is struggling to achieve with a disability – of any sort, be it a physical, mental-health, or learning-style condition – it’s my job as an educator, feminist, and mensch to help them perform at their peak, on as level a playing field as I can cobble together.

But hey – isn’t pregnancy a natural, healthy condition? Well, for all the work that women’s health educators, natural childbirth advocates, and feminist historians have done to unseat the idea that pregnancy = disability, we do childbearing women an awful disservice if we insist that pregnancy never spawns disability. Most of us suffer at least debilitating fatigue. Most of us have stories about how we nearly ralphed at work. My students from fall 2002 and winter 2003 – when I was gestating the Tiger – can consider themselves lucky that I maintained a barf-free classroom. And I got off easy, compared to my friends who landed in the hospital, hitched to an IV, after weeks of incessant vomiting.

If you care about women, you must care about mothers, and thus you must be willing to honor pregnancy-related disability as real disability. And yes, pregnancy usually results from a planned, voluntary choice, these days, but not always; women still find themselves pregnant against their will, and they still sometimes decide to carry out a surprise pregnancy, even with the option to terminate. Anyway: Should I only make allowances for students’ injuries if they can prove that, say, the other guy started the fight, or the other driver broke the law? And do I really want to start interrogating a pregnant student about why she and her partner didn’t both get sterilized before they ever had sex (after all, every other contraceptive is fallible), or why she didn’t terminate the pregnanacy early on? That way lies fascism.

To be crystal clear – and fair! – Clarissa doesn’t advocate bare-bulb interrogations. She instead argues that one should never cut students slack when their free will contributed to their inability to participate; that a class missed due to a hangover is no different than one missed due to pregnancy symptoms, because in both cases, “choice” was involved. I trust Clarissa enough to believe her when she says she’s a good teacher – and actually, I trust that in a few more years, because she’s smart and tuned in to her students, she may very well trust herself to draw finer-grained judgments, which just might put the pregnant students in a different category from the hardcore imbibers.

But this other extreme – harshly penalizing pregnant women for making a “lifestyle choice” that most couples eventually make (but predominantly women  pay for) – sets feminism back a couple of generations. It tells women, “It’s fine if you want to compete with the men – as long as you’re just like the men!” Didn’t we leave that trap behind us in the ’80s, along with big hair, shoulder pads, and Tears for Fears?

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I’ve been seeing this frightening ad all over the intertubes the past few days.

Since it appeared around April Fools’ Day, I thought it might be a spoof.

But evidence to the contrary is mounting. Donald Trump is evidently taking the role of Birther CEO. Now, a new WSJ/NBC poll finds him tied with Mike Huckabee in second place with 17% each, lagging only front-runner Mitt Romney with 22%. He leads Newt Gingrich (11%), Sarah Palin (10%), and Rick “frothy mix” Santorum (3%) .

I loved the “clown car” metaphor for the 2008 Republican field. This time around, that car will be packed fuller than ever – with Trump playing the clown who terrifies small children.

Is this serious? Could Trump really be … a contender? And if he does – still against the odds – win the Republican nomination, won’t the electorate tell him: “You’re fired!”

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As of this writing, our so-called leaders are still engaged in budget brinksmanship. Alternet called it correctly: This is the Republicans applying shock doctrine. They are doing their damnedest to break democracy. They’re such patriots that they’re willing to delay paychecks reaching our already-underpaid rank-and-file troops.

The Tea Partiers, in particular, are willing to hold our government hostage to their unhinged plan to defund Planned Parenthood.

For the Tea Party, this seems to be a win-win. If they get to defund Planned Parenthood, they’ll have achieved an unimaginable victory in their war against women’s bodies, which otherwise the Senate would block. If they get to shut down the government, then it’s party time. Woo hoo! We’re gonna party like it’s 1995!

A lot can happen in 16 years of politics. Since Newt Gingrich threw his slimy wrench into the works, we’ve had presidential blowjobs, welfare reform, the rise (and now fall?) of the DOMA, hanging chads, Enron and Bernie Madoff, 9/11 and the security state, at least three U.S. wars (that we know of), torture and secret prisons, an economic meltdown, election of our first black president, the rise Mama Grizzlies, pistols at Tea Parties, the attempted assassination of a congresswoman, and gallons of Boehnerian tears. Oh, and a substantial portion of the present electorate was still in the Blues Clues or Britney Spears demographic in 1995, and they have no memory of Newt’s machinations.

Even Newt’s own memory seems to have blurred. In the late ’90s, the conventional wisdom held that the shutdown hurt the Republicans, making them look like the extremists they were (and are), and paving the way for Bill Clinton’s re-election. Back then, the Newtster concurred with with this view. By now, though, he’s hyping the shutdown threat as a positive, viable tactic for his comrades.

The Tea Partiers are practically drooling over the prospect of a shutdown. What more dramatic way to demonstrate their small-government cred to the voters back home? What better way for Rep. Mike Pence to show that women’s bodies are expendable that he really, really hates abortion? Sure, some of us will see it as childish and irresponsible to practice blackmail and hold women’s health hostage. We are the same people who already found the “me-first, me-second, and me-third” attitude of the Tea Party childish and irresponsible. (Not to mention cruel.) We are the same people who know that the Planned Parenthood funding in question cannot legally be used to subsidize abortions.

For Tea Party supporters, though, a shutdown is red meat.

As I write this, the talking heads on MSNBC are discussing whether John Boehner can deliver on a potential compromise deal that may have been hammered out behind closed doors this evening. My take on it: I don’t think he can. As right-wing as Boehner is himself, his Tea Party colleagues are neck deep in anti-government, anti-woman ideology. They see this as a matter of principle. They perceive, again, a win-win.

So I fully expect a shutdown. My hope is that the party will end as it did in 1995: with a lose-lose for the Republicans, who will look petty and extreme. (Which is, of course, exactly what they are.) In any event, the Democrats have already made such deep concessions that no one will be dancing. The compromise already reported includes the $33 billion in domestic spending cuts that Republicans have demanded.

What do y’all think? Will the shutdown happen tomorrow? Will it be deferred ’til later? Or will Captain Boehner deliver?

And is there any hope that Obama would veto a package that included the demolition of Planned Parenthood and/or the full $33 billion in cuts? Remember: The 1995/96 shutdowns only occurred after President Bill Clinton vetoed the heaping pile of a budget that the Republican Congress sent him. Obama frequently tries to frame himself as Reagan’s successor, but it’s Clinton who learned from Reagan not to negotiate with hostage-takers.

Update, 4/8/11, 12:15 p.m.: Maddow had a great segment on the potential shutdown tonight, arguing that unlike the mid-1990s, there’s no high-profile Republican to take the heat, as Newt did in 1995/96. I am now feeling like the game may be lose/lose, after all.

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Yesterday I heard through non-blogging channels that breast cancer has claimed the life of Plain(s) feminist. Those of you who followed her blog know that she wrote with wry wisdom and understated courage about her struggle with the disease – on what chemo feels like, the politics of breasts and wigs, and (my favorite of the series) how not to talk to someone with cancer. She wrote one of the best critiques I know of the extremes in the childfree movement. She offered a nuanced analysis of why all heterosexual intercourse is not rape. Her writing was sage, careful, passionate, and always, always compassionate. (Think it’s impossible to be both measured and politically engaged? Plain(s)feminist managed the trick!)

I met Plain(s)feminist just once, at the National Women’s Studies Association conference in 2004. We talked about the politics of motherhood, and we danced wildly at the Saturday night party. We talked about breastfeeding as experience and as a political act. She was smart, serious, and fun – someone I wished I could get to know better in a more relaxed setting. (When I later made the connection between her real-life identity and her blog, my first thought was: of course!) Her son was just a baby then, as was my second son, the Tiger. When she wrote about Bean on her blog, her deep love for him always shone through. He must be about 8 now.

Her family has requested privacy, and so I’ve said I won’t break her pseudonymity on this blog unless they express a wish (through her friend who is dealing with former students, colleagues, and the like) to publicize her identity. That makes it hard to talk about her academic accomplishments, which included excellent feminist analysis on motherhood. But without in any way denigrating those accomplishments – and recognizing that I mostly knew her through her words alone – I have a feeling she’ll be remembered above all for a life filled with love, compassion, and a commitment to justice.

One of her most touching posts dealt with grief and loss, five years after 9/11. Her words speak to us now:

There is no reason in tragedy. I don’t believe in a God who takes a mother away from a four-year-old child or who traps someone’s daughter/father/brother/lover in a burning building – and I wouldn’t *want* to believe in such a God, anyway. But I do believe that the kind of love that we sometimes show each other in the face of such tragedies is holy.

And that’s it. Five years later, this is what resonates with me – not why “they” hate “us,” or what it means to feel safe, or who is to blame, but that we have to comfort each other by sharing our suffering, by loving each other enough to feel each other’s pain.

That is where I see God in all of this. And while that’s not enough right now, it’s not a small thing.

May this god – the potential for love dwelling in all of us – bring comfort to the many people who will miss and mourn Plain(s)feminist, and especially to her husband and dear little boy. My heart goes out to them.

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It’s been one of those loud Saturday evenings in my neighborhood. All those wild professors, acting out! Actually, the students living near us have been pretty reasonable this year. It’s just that it’s the first Saturday of spring quarter, and even though spring weather is nowhere in sight, they need to party on principle. I could call the cops (in principle) ’cause they’re clearly violating the noise ordinance, but I’m not a big enough meanie.

It could be worse. We could be living with a cat whose purr routinely exceeds 70 decibels and has been variously compared to a lawnmower or a Boeing 737 about to land. This lovely kitteh, Smokey, was rescued from a shelter. Maybe she’s just so grateful to be alive that she can’t contain herself. Maybe her little walnut-brain is wired even more oddly than the average cat’s. In any event, she’s gorgeous.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip.)

Thanks to Lisa Simeone for being my Smokey detector.

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You wouldn’t think I’d be angry, would you, given that I’ve just been declared part of management? In less than three years, I’ve gone from a lowly adjunct teaching position to a “managerial” function. The real magic? I might have been a management employee all along! Next year: world domination!

This great gift comes via Ohio’s Senate Bill 5. As you’ve might have heard, S.B. 5 – which will drastically curtail collective bargaining rights for Ohio’s public employees – was signed into law by Governor John Kasich yesterday. S.B. 5 will outlaw strikes by public employees, upon penalty of fines and jail time. It severely curtails the collective bargaining rights of teachers, police, and firefighters. And with language that echoes the Supreme Court’s Yeshiva decision (1980), which smothered faculty unionization at private colleges, it prohibits collective bargaining entirely for the most faculty at public universities. Here’s how the Chronicle of Higher Education summarizes the ban:

The classification provision defines as “management-level employees” those faculty members who, individually or through faculty senates or similar organizations, engage in any of a long list of activities generally thought of as simply part of the jobs of tenured and tenure-track professors. Those activities include participating in institutional governance or personnel decisions, selecting or reviewing administrators, preparing budgets, determining how physical resources are used, and setting educational policies “related to admissions, curriculum, subject matter, and methods of instruction and research.”

As “managers,” faculty won’t be able to organize. And the bar is set very low indeed for faculty to be classified as managers; it’s not just department chairs or faculty senators who will be swept up in this. Virtually all tenure-eligible faculty sit on hiring committees, so the “Yeshiva language” would instantly bar them from collective bargaining. But those of us off the tenure track also have influence on curriculum and instructional methods. Even as an adjunct, I served (gladly) on a curriculum committee. Voilà! I’m a “manager.”

Now, the faculty on my campus aren’t unionized, though some of us have been involved in a sustained drive to organize under the auspices of the American Association of University Professors. I sunk a bunch of time into this drive during fall and winter, trying to rally volunteers and launching our local AAUP blog. I take S.B. 5 personally.

Organizing against the attack on unions in Ohio has been harder than in Wisconsin because our capital is not a stronghold of liberal and left-wing politics. If Madison can be likened to Berkeley, Columbus is more like … Sacramento, complete with the sprawling suburbs and strip malls. Still, faculty and students have been hauling up to Columbus to demonstrate, and we’ve had a few demos here in Athens, too. It’s hard to know where to go next – sink more of our scant resources into the union drive, hoping S.B. 5 will be overturned by referendum? Work on the referendum instead? Sit in a corner and whimper?

But now that I’m a manager, I guess I need to buck up and start demanding some of the perks of the job. Our university president has access to a private plane. Upper-level administrators have enjoyed free country club memberships. And then there’s our football coach, who earns more than any of the top administrative bananas. I’m willing to forgo the plane and country club once I start getting the six-figure salary that’s now my due.

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