Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘hypocrisy’ Category

This blog has been silent too long. I’ve had some health issues affecting my hands; maybe I’ll write about them eventually, but for now let’s just say I’ve recovered enough to tentatively revive this blog, though probably on a low scale.

It’s Caturday; and since the Kittywampus hiatus coincided with an issue that put the word “pussy” in the mouths of the journo-commentariat (they’re still trying to spit out the furballs), it seems only fitting for this blog to support those three brave Russian feminists who are now serving a jail term for questioning the rottenness of their state.

Sure, we’ve got our own rottenness here in the U.S., too. When was the last time the pundits or politicians spared a thought for Bradley Manning? Why do I find far more Canadian sources than U.S. ones on this week’s deportation of war resister Kimberly Rivera from Canada and her arrest at the Canadian border? How can the Obama Administration possibly justify its defense of the NDAA?

But see, it’s not a question of ignoring abuses of the rule of law at home while highlighting abuses abroad. We can deplore the state-sanctioned violence against Manning even as we condemn Russia’s sentencing of Pussy Riot for being loud and insulting in a cathedral (their real crime was criticizing the state).

At the New York Times, Vadim Nikitin wrote last month that Western supporters are simply jumping on a bandwagon, merely [u]sing dissidents to score political points against the Russian regime.” This is too facile. The Russian regime is profoundly anti-democratic. It deserves to have points scored against it. While I respect his point that using dissidents as pawns is a game that goes back to the good ole Cold War days – and thus ought to come under scrutiny – the fact is, Putin is gutting what remains of Russia’s fragile democracy.

Nikitin also joins a number of North American feminists in decrying some of Pussy Riot’s most overtly offensive stunts – in particular, those involving public sex. I will gladly concede that I do not see the political or artistic merit or utility of such stunts, while I definitely do see how they would just reinforce the objectification of women to most casual observes.

But none of these caveats present a roadblock to supporting Pussy Riot, and Nikitin insistence that they’re dealbreakers strikes me as disingenuous:

You can’t have the fun, pro-democracy, anti-Putin feminism without the incendiary anarchism, extreme sexual provocations, deliberate obscenity and hard-left politics. … Because what Pussy Riot wants is something that is equally terrifying, provocative and threatening to the established order in both Russia and the West (and has been from time immemorial): freedom from patriarchy, capitalism, religion, conventional morality, inequality and the entire corporate state system. We should only support these brave women if we, too, are brave enough to go all the way.

Actually, even though I’m not a hard-core anti-capitalist, the Pussy Riot program all sounds pretty good to me. But Nikitin creates a false dilemma. You most certainly can support Pussy Riot in their moment of persecution without agreeing with all of their stances or tactics. We do this all the time, as when we defend the right to freedom of expression for people whose speech we find abhorrent.

The three band members made eloquent closing statements at their trial, showing that they understood, deeply, that this wasn’t a case about punk music constituting blasphemy. The stakes were nothing less than authoritarianism, human rights, freedom of artistica and political expression, and the state manipulation of media. Pussy Riot knows this. We too should recognize it – and dwell upon the ways in which the U.S. government, too, is systematically eroding liberties and making martyrs of dissidents. The rule of law hangs in the balance, not just the freedom of three young women, and not just in Russia either.

And so, by the great power invested in my by this blog, I hereby declare today Anti-Authoritarian Caturday.

Authoritarian kitteh courtesy of Cheezburger.

Read Full Post »

Did you know that reading a book about vintage aircraft now falls under the umbrella of suspicious activity for airline passengers? Actually, it’s safe to say you can probably get away with it if you look like me: white, female, not visibly Muslim (my suspicious skirt notwithstanding).

If you’re male and black? Well, you can expect to be hauled off the airplane and interrogated.

Earlier this month, singer Vance Gilbert was waiting for take-off at Logan when he was asked by a United flight attendant to move his fanny pack from behind his ankles to the upper bin. He suggested shifting it in front of his feet, to keep his wallet at hand. She agreed.

No one is claiming that any conflict occurred. If you read the comments at the link, Lisa Simeone (frequent commenter on this blog) vouches for Gilbert’s character. So does Robyn Ochs, who I “know” through her work on sexuality. Both Lisa and Robyn have known Gilbert personally for years. They and others describe him as a calm, kind man who wouldn’t overreact. We are talking about a graying 50something guy who sports Hawaiian shirts who’s a doggie-dad to two standard poodles.

But moments later, evidently alarmed by the fact that Gilbert was perusing a book about airplanes – we’re talking cutting-edge machines made in Poland circa 1946! – flight personnel diverted the plane from the take-off queue and had a group of state police and TSA officers remove Gilbert from the plane. He was whisked back into a breezeway where he was questioned by police. Here’s how Gilbert describes it on his blog:

Policeman: “Did you have a problem with your bag earlier?”

Me: “No sir, not at all. The flight attendant wanted it secured elsewhere other than behind my feet, and I opted to put it under the seat in front of me. It’s my wallet, even though there’s only 30 bucks in it…And all that was done without belligerence, or words for that matter…it was all good.

A few beats…

Policeman: “Sir, were you looking at a book of airplanes?”

Me: “Yes sir I was. I am a musician for money, but for fun I study old aircraft and build models of them, and the book I was reading was of Polish Aircraft from 1946.”

Policeman: “Would you please go get that book so that i can see it?”

I go back onto the plane – all eyes are on me like I was a common criminal. Total humiliation part 2.

After a couple of minutes he says, “Why, this is all Snoopy Red Baron stuff…”

Me: “Yes sir, actually the triplane you see is Italian, from 1921 a little after World War 1…”

Policeman: “No problem here then, you can go on back on to the plane, sorry to inconvenience you…and have a nice flight”.

“Inconvenience” is hardly the word. The flight was delayed and Gilbert missed his connection. He was out money and time, as were numerous other passengers. But far worse, he was shamed in public. He was frightened. He was reminded that in all the blather about keeping “us” safe, “we” and “us” are always construed as white. (The title of this post isn’t original; it comes from Gilbert’s realization that he was singled out – racially profiled – for flying while black.)

And the persecution of “flying while black,” like “driving/walking/BREATHING while black,” is only intensifying in the post-9/11 era. This isn’t coincidental. It’s built right into our society, from the cult of “Homeland Security” to the concentration of MP-style police ops in non-white neighborhoods. In her book Dangerous Brown Men: Exploiting Sex, Violence and Feminism in the ‘War on the Terror’, Gargi Bhattacharyya details how the WOT isn’t just demonizing and victimizing brown men abroad. It’s also heightening and militarizing the oppression of brown and black men here in the United States.

Gilbert’s ugly experience is just one quotidian example of how the WOT is being brought home to men who aren’t protected by Whiteness. (Brown women are singled out, too, but mostly for the perceived infraction of “flying while Muslim”). It’s also a classic instance of covert racism; every white person involved can point to the manifestly DANGEROUS sketches of Snoopy’s dream plane. No racism here, no-sirree, moving right along …

Gilbert is fighting back. He has contacted the ACLU. United is making apologetic noises (though not yet issuing the abject apology Gilbert deserves). I think they might have messed with the wrong Snoopy/Red Baron aircraft geek, judging from his music:

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

A change is gonna come. A change has gotta come. The alternative is a racist dictatorship of the Tea Party-military complex.

On a wholly different plane (ahem), I think one good thing may have come out of Gilbert’s ordeal: wider awareness of his music. It was new to this humble blogger, anyway. So here’s one more … “Some Great Thing.”

(Clickety click if need be.)

Vance Gilbert, I hope you will get your measure of justice. I hope you can take your story to a national audience. Now, could you just add Athens, Ohio, to your tour schedule, pretty please? You truly are Some Great Thing.

(Hat tip to Lisa Simeone for alerting my to Gilbert’s ordeal, and kudos to her and his other friends for jumping to his defense.)

Read Full Post »

Just when you think Rick Santorum’s “Google problem” had set a new standard for disgust, Dan Savage proposes a new meme far ickier than the one he has propagated as a neo-definition of “santorum”: “The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.”

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

Because we really need a laugh after the “clusterfuck” (ballgame’s word) that was the debt-ceiling bloodless coup. And because I’d promised ballgame I’d lighten up.

My condolences if you happen to be named Rick. Or Ricky. Or Richard … Unless, of course, you’ve got your own “man-on-dog” issues.

Oh, and if you figure out the bleeped portions, please do share in comments! Filthy minds want to know.

Read Full Post »

Now we know why Anthony Weiner tweeted his wang: his inner ape/caveman made him do it.

Funny how when reporters are trolling for “expert” sources on sex, evolutionary psychologists seem to be their first stop. They could consult some of us gender studies types, but they don’t have us on speed-dial. Anyway, I wouldn’t be able to give them a pat explanation, because I think that masculine sexual entitlement isn’t the whole story. We all have an unruly id. Men aren’t the only folks playing at sex on the Internet. Every hetero man playing around in the vast cyber sex emporium is interacting with female partners (or at least, so he thinks). I do think it’s true that a congresswoman who’d sent naked coochie pix would be shamed even more ferociously than Weiner. For both genders, though, sex is messy – emotionally, physically, and now technologically. Sex is humiliating when it’s reduced to screen shots, and that goes for all genders. Maybe someone like Gail Dines could reduce the Weiner saga to a tale of female victimization, but I tend to think that she, too, would see more nuance and complexity. (Echidne, for one, delivers on the nuance beautifully. So does Lilith at Evil Slutopia.)

The ev psych crowd, by contrast, provides the sort of soundbites that practically write the article for you. Consider Jeana Bryner’s piece, “Sex, Lies, and Weiner,” at LiveScience:

“I don’t think that people really take into account an accurate sense of just how risky a text message or a little picture is,” said Daniel Kruger, evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan. “There are probably a hundred different things they’re doing in their day.” …

From an evolutionary perspective, men are here to sow their seeds, so a sexual transgression here and there would make sense. They desire more sexual partners, and even lower their standards when it comes to one-night stands, studies have shown.

“The ultimate currency here is reproductive success and if there’s an opportunity for sex that is a goal that is worthy of such a risk,” Kruger said. …

This evolutionary urge, combined with modern technology that lets a person send off a note or photo to anyone in the ether, takes such risk-taking to a new level.

(Read the complete article here; note that the ellipses are mine.)

Here’s the kicker, though. Weiner’s chances of “sowing his seed” through social media were precisely nil. He took his bouncing bulge into the shower, from whence his seed could at best fertilize a female rat. His chats with blackjack dealer about a junket to Las Vegas sound like empty flirting, not serious trip planning.

It’s a basic tenet of standard evolutionary psychology that men’s sexual behavior is oriented toward fertilizing as many women as possible. That’s of course not synonymous with reproductive success, anyway, given that human offspring are uniquely vulnerable for an extraordinarily long time, and so “paternal investment” – sticking around to help raise the baby – actually amplifies a man’s chance of having his spawn live until adulthood.

But even if we ignore the importance of paternal investment in offspring, there’s a bigger gap in the ev psych explanation of Weinergate. Mainstream practitioners of ev psych systematically avoid theorizing about pleasure. It’s all about “reproductive success.” And yet, the quest for pleasure is by far the more parsimonious explanation for Weiner’s actions. What’s more, it even explains his partners’ actions! Weiner and his partners were looking to get off. They wanted the thrill of being wanted. They enjoyed the thrill enough to risk (or repress) the potential for embarrassment, should they be caught out. Of course it’s true that Weiner, as a congressman, had more to lose, but the women have also been dragged through the mud in ways that were foreseeable. They, too, took a risk.**

But that interpretation evidently isn’t as, well, sexy, since it presumes that men and women don’t come from Mars and Venus. They come from Earth. And they like getting earthy together, even if only virtually. Men and women both willingly take risks for the sake of pleasure. That’s actually quite a stunning story in the hands of an imaginative reporter who’s not cowed by the new dogma of ev psych. (Calling Natalie Angier?)

**(With the possible exception of Meagan Broussard, who provided pictures to Breitbart, including the sole copy of the cock-shot that Breitbart swore he wouldn’t release until … well, until it was no longer a useful chip in his little game of blackmail. Broussard may well have had motives that I’d consider much baser than pleasure.)

Read Full Post »

It’s true I didn’t friend Anthony Wiener on Facebook, but I did follow him on Twitter. His voting record on feminist and LGBT issues is impeccable. That adolescent picture of him on Twitter? To die for! Weiner is funny and self-deprecating, in a profession where the ability to laugh at oneself is rare.

So I followed Weiner (even though I follow very few folks on Twitter). And one day, in the midst of congressional horse-trading (uterus-trading??) on Planned Parenthood, I boldly tweeted him this:

I didn’t call him my boyfriend, straight up. Just a simple declaration of love! Nor did I keep tweeting him. Nor did I look him up on Facebook (much less call him my boyfriend there). But I could have! Just look at the guys I’ve called my boyfriend on or off line. Jon Stewart. Stephen Colbert. Hugh Laurie. Our school’s superintendent (as documented for Internet-posterity on this here blog). And, in fact, Anthony Weiner joined this boy-harem of mine after the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Good thing the tomatoes on my Twitter icon only give a glimpse of my face. Had I displayed my true hottness, who knows? I might have become sext-partner seven.

When the scandal broke, I thought it was complete bunk. I mean, Breitbart! BREITBART!! The man is a sleazy, lying, slimewad on a stick. The most pernicious consequence of this scandal won’t be that we lose a strong progressive voice in Congress and cable TV (though that seems inevitable, and lamentable, in the short run). It’ll be the rise in Breitbart’s fortunes.

Breitbart has made a career thus far of slinging political spaghetti against the wall and hoping it will stick. Unfortunately, his spaghetti has not been made of good ole North Dakotan durum wheat. It consists entirely of fecal matter. With each lob of it, he has discredited himself further. Even the mainstream media was starting to see through his tricks, and that’s saying a lot.

Until now. Much like the National Enquirer, which booked a permanent gain in credibility when it busted John Edwards hiding an affair and a child, Breitbart just scored. From here on out, no matter what vile lie Breitbart propagates, the media won’t dismiss him as a liar and propagandist. Breitbart comes out of this a huge (and undeserving) winner.

As for Weiner, considering that his missteps were private and (as far as we know) legal, I’m glad he’s refusing to resign. Those conservatives lawmakers who call him “creepy” forget about their own David Vitter, still a senator after being busted with a DC prostitution ring, engaging in clearly illegal activity and allegedly donning a diaper to boot. They ignore the fact that sexuality is changing. For young people – as well as those immersed in the new social media – sexting is not a kink but merely a new way to express one’s sexual impulses.

I suspect that Weiner truly believed that his activity was really just “frivolous.” That somehow, because it took place in cyberspace, it wasn’t real. Fidelity to one’s marital partner is one of the few values on which most Americans agree, and yet many of us fail to live up to our ideal. People seem to reconcile lapses in one of two main ways: 1) “This isn’t real because it’s online/at a conference/with someone I could never love” – or 2) “Yes, this is wrong, but my life will be hollow without some pleasure to relieve the drudgery and self-abnegation of my daily life.” I’m guessing that Weiner falls into the first group. I also suspect that these two rationalizations are gendered, with men tilting toward #1 and women toward #2, with lots of exceptions, of course. (Readers, if you have other interpretations – or other theories about how people rationalize infidelity – I’d love to hear them.)

In the end, it’s up to Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, to decide what Weiner’s online dalliances mean. She’s the one person who has been seriously wronged here. She didn’t give him carte blanche to flirt with women online and send them pictures of Weiner’s weiner at full staff. While it’s true that some people have open relationships, that’s a moot point here (and Amanda Marcotte only creates a distraction by bringing it up). Weiner and Abedin obviously did pledge monogamy; otherwise, why the public apology to her? I applaud Abedin’s refusal to perform the aggrieved wife for the ravenous gossip machine, and I hope she’ll find future happiness, whether through a fresh start or through Weiner making amends.

But it’s silly to say that the public at large was victimized by Weiner’s conduct. I can’t get too worked up about Weiner lying to the media and the country about entirely private behavior. I can’t even care much about whether he sexted during “work hours” because congresscritters – like professors – are rarely truly off the clock. If the public is screwed, it’s due to the power of special interests and corporations in Washington, not Weiner’s private fantasies.

The other genuine victim here is the final recipient of Weiner’s sexy tweets, college student Gennette Cordova, who appears not to have invited any sort of sexual attention. She has my compassion, too. She didn’t ask for the media circus. If indeed Weiner sent her his famous crotch photo out of the blue, then it’s harassment and a demonstration of sexual entitlement that clashes with Weiner’s perfect congressional record on women’s issues.

To my mind, though, there’s reasonable doubt that Weiner really sent that photo to Cordova. As Joseph Cannon argues, the only way to make the scandal go away was to confess to the real dalliances. (Via here.) Having admitted those indiscretions, it would be difficult for Weiner to argue credibly that he hadn’t sent Cordova his underwear shot. Cannon has explained the evidence for a third party having uploaded the picture to Twitter. Moreover, Breitbart evidently has possession of a photo of a naked, erect Weiner, which means – as Cannon again notes – Breitbart can essentially blackmail Weiner. Cannon can’t (yet) prove his case, but I think it’s plausible.

In addition, sending a sexy photo without prior contact completely breaks the pattern. With his consensual partners, Weiner first made conversation and flirted. Only after establishing a flirtation did he proceed to send them pictures. The fact that those flirtations escalated quickly and even recklessly shows that Weiner had developed a comfort level with sexually-charged online relationships. As one of his partners, Megan Broussard, said, “This is something that’s regular, he’s done all the time, he’s comfortable.” But sending women photos without prior flirtation was not his regular modus operandi. Add to that the fact that a gaggle of conservatives were gunning for him on Twitter, and Weiner’s confession regarding Cordova looks ever more contrived.

Weiner’s other sext-buddies, including Broussard, appear to have been completely consensual. But the now-public evidence for this raises other troubling questions. His entire Facebook exchange with a Las Vegas woman, Lisa Weiss, has been reprinted at a gossipy site called Radar. How did these screen shots become public in the first place? Were they captured when Weiner’s account was hacked (as he claimed a few weeks ago)? Was Weiss coerced or paid or even blackmailed? How secure are everyone’s Facebook transactions?

The other question is why women have now “come forward” to describe details of their consensual relationships with Weiner. What induced them to do so? They will be subjected to slut-shaming in the media.Private details of their fantasy lives have been made public. Why is Broussard giving interviews to ABC news? Is it really, as she claims, to shield her toddler daughter? As a parent, I don’t buy it. At three, her daughter is too young to understand any of this, and she won’t be protected Broussard releasing oodles of photos and electronic messages – quite the opposite. So is Broussard just responding to our reality-TV culture and grabbing her 15 minutes of fame? Could she, too, have been a target of blackmail?

Above all, how did Breitbart get his paws on compromising private photos in the first place?

The end of the FB conversation between Weiner and Lisa Weiss indicates machinations to put these women under pressure. This section of their chat is not reproduced as screen shots at Radar, but is included at the very end of the pdf transcript:

So yeah, Weiner behaved stupidly. He committed a breach of private ethics. He hurt his wife. He left himself open to the machinations of his enemies. He was so reckless, even I could have become one of his Facebook girlfriends.

But behind the scandal is a problem of bigger proportions: right-wing propagandists who have already shown no compunction about lying and now prove willing to stoop to blackmail and coercion. Weiss writes: “someone contacted me about u …” Who is that someone? Breitbart? Drudge? One of the wingnut Twitter conspiracists who were out to destroy Weiner? (See also a similar article at the NYT if you want a “respectable” take on these Twitspiracists. They look no better there.)

This right-wing smear machine – and not Weiner’s dick pics – is what constitutes a real threat to democracy.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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. :-(

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

This week I’m reading Michelle Goldberg’s masterful The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World with one of my classes. In it, Goldberg traces the history of foreign aid for women’s health – especially reproductive health – from its Cold War, Rockefeller/Ford/Guttmacher beginnings to the present era.

In 2011, well into the second decade after the UN International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, you’d think we’d be well along the path blazed there: foregrounding women’s need for education and autonomy. Nuh-unh!! Instead, the proponents of women’s reproductive autonomy in developing nations and the Global South face constant friction and opposition from groups funded by the Radical Christian Right in the U.S. This trajectory toward radical rightwing interference is lucidly, chillingly described in Goldberg’s book. It’s as though women’s bodies became a proxy war for the tensions over reproductive rights and justice back here in the U.S.

And now, with the House of Representatives today voting to defund Title X funding, that proxy war has come home. For details, see excellent recaps by Lindsay Beyerstein and Jill Filipovic. The legislation wouldn’t affect abortions – except to inflate their numbers by making birth control less accessible to poor women and young women. No, the target here is broader. It’s a war against all women, but especially those who are poor.

When I was young and underinsured, I too turned to Planned Parenthood, and I’m forever grateful for their services. Some women are transiently poor, like I was. Many struggle with poverty throughout their childbearing years. All of us deserve affordable access to basic services like a Pap test.

I believe this even though – or especially because! – I had a few dodgy Pap test results in my early twenties. Those diagnoses of “cervical dysplasia” scared me. Cone biopsies were threatened. The cellular abnormalities resolved on their own, as HPV usually does. Had I progressed toward cervical cancer, Planned Parenthood might well have saved my life.

All women deserve preventive care, and that includes the prevention of pregnancy. This is sooo not rocket science.

Odds are good that the Senate won’t stand for the House’s crap. Still, I’m appalled that a majority in the House signed onto it. While some members may try to hide behind a figleaf of fiscal responsibility, that’s balderdash, as Amanda Marcotte argues:

Of course, rhetoric that attacks federal funding for contraception as a state-subsidy for promiscuity obscures the fact that continuing Title X is one of the more fiscally sound things the government can do: Research from the Guttmacher Institute demonstrates that every dollar spent on family planning saves the government four dollars down the road.

(Read her whole piece – it’s excellent.)

No, this is strictly culture war ammo, just as the Mexico City rule and all the other right-wing meddling into brown and black women’s bodies has to do with ideology and misogyny – not fiscal soundness.

This is merely the continuation of funding politics imposed on the “Third World” – now aimed at women that Chandra Mohanty once called the “Third World” in the United States. This is the redirection of contempt for brown and black women’s bodies to those women living within U.S. borders. Women like me – white, securely middle-class, employed, insured, and slouching toward the end of my reproductive years – will be just fine. It’s poor women of color who will suffer. College students who can’t tell their conservative parents that they’re on the pill. Appalachian women lacking any form of health insurance.

Senate? The ball’s in your court. Please show us that you consider women human beings whose health is as important as men’s – who should have a chance to participate fully in society – and who should not be written off if they lack racial or class privilege.

In the clip below, Michelle Goldberg suggests that the U.S. culture wars have affected women outside the U.S. more profoundly than women here at home. Up until now, she’s been right. As to the future? Well, that might just be up to the Senate.

Read Full Post »

Henceforth, Kittywampus is banning all dudely commenters. Exceptions will be made if you bathe regularly, did not serve in the Boer War, have never called me a twat, and have never insulted the patron cat of this blog, Grey Kitty. Oh, and if you’re that dude who created Hufu, you got banned months ago. (That asshole – one of the AutoAdmit crowed – broke all the above: he abused my dear departed cat, reviled me as “dozy bint,” and called me a cunt. Given his predilection for war zones, he no doubt regrets missing the Boer War and bathes infrequently. He was a gleeful racist too. He has not been missed.)

All joking aside, Twisty Faster really has banned male commenters from her blog, I Blame the Patriarchy. Unless they’re already trusted dudes; then they’re grandfathered in. Or unless they don’t actually identify themselves as dudes; then they can try to sneak in. Reaction in feminist blogdonia has been partly supportive (Jill at Feministe and figleaf) and partly scathing (Clarissa).

I get that Twisty has every right to restrict commenting as much as she’d like on her blog. She already does anyway. I don’t regularly read Twisty because even though her writing is often amusing, her actual ideas are usually predictable once you’ve read a couple dozen of her posts. Also, the comments tend to be an echo chamber. I am quickly bored by any discussion where the first commandment is to police oneself. But hey – her blog, her rules. And while I don’t want to stray into all the pros and cons of same-sex spaces, there are times when a rather homogenous group can make headway on shared issues, and when a same-sex grouping can be productive as a temporary, tactical measure (with the caveat that each person gets to identify his/her/hir sex and gender, rather than having it imposed by fiat).

But it’s not just Twisty who nurtures some hope of creating a safe space – on the Internet? First, that’s just incoherent, because, well, it’s the fucking Internet! This is like expecting privacy while standing in front of the White House, naked except for a feather boa. The Internet just doesn’t do “safe.” (Ask any parent who’s installed NannyNet.)

Best case, the blog owner corralls hateful comments out of the comments section. But believe me, the blog owner will see the bile, and comments will never be a safe space for her or him! Contrary to Sady Doyle’s view, anti-feminist vitriol is not a special treat reserved for the “popular” feminist blogs. We little blogs get it, too, and while it may be less copious, it’s still ugly. It’s enough to be blogging while feminist. Perhaps on a private blog, you could create some sense of safety. But even then, you’d be wise to keep in mind that “safety” is not synonymous with self-censorship.

A “safe space” has some kinship what I try to foster in the classroom (though there’s always a power differential, always the knowledge that students’ work will be graded, which limits how “safe” they can – or should – feel.) There, “safety” has to do with the basic regard for the humanity of the other discussants. You can embrace norms in a small, defined group that actually facilitate conversation because people feel relatively safe and free. This works better when people can look into each others’ eyes, not so well when the community is wholly virtual and can more easily ignore the humanity of their counterpart. It cracks and crashes as soon as a participant expresses a hateful -ism, uses PC-ness to shame rather than educate, or gossips cruelly about a personal revelation. In my experience, “safety” is relative, often fragile and transient, sometimes deceptive, and generally not dependent on group homogeneity.

Which raises a crucial question: safe for whom? The comments on Twisty’s original dude-banning post troll the waters of transphobia and transmisogyny; on the follow-up, where Twisty affirms that trans folk are welcome (at least until the revolution, after which they’ll fade away), the comments jump right into the deep end of the pool. I am not going to sully my own space with direct quotes, but here’s the gist: commenters compare transness to pedophilia, call “cisprivilege” BS, declare all trans people “nuts,” and deny trans people’s experience – all in the name of radical feminism. At one point Twisty tells people to cut it out, but then Delphyne shows up and the party really gets started, with slams at the third wave, funfems, and sex workers.

By the time the fun’s over, the thread looks like the verbal equivalent of a frat party the morning after, complete with broken bottles and barf in the corner. Commenter yttik sums it up succinctly:

I kid you not, some of the worst patriarchal crap always winds up on this blog, just dripping it’s woman hatred all over the place. This is how women apparently define other women. No wonder we’re screwed.

just a bunch of cum-guzzling pole dancers
nothing but walking uteri and tits
third wave moron bandwagon
fucking dumb
a bunch of old, white, rich, racist women
a fuckhole
a party to human rights violations
white ass (American) women
backstabbing dykes
profoundly stupid and ignorant
step over the cold dead bodies of fucking white ass women-born-women feminists

Yttik is quoting from the other comments; those weren’t terms she personally used, and significantly, some were phrases commenters used to characterize their rhetorical opponents (sometimes fairly, sometimes not). The bile came from all directions, not just the anti-trans faction. But notice a pattern? The shouting match moved from transmisogyny to plain old-fashioned misogyny without skipping a beat.

And it managed all that without a single unauthorized dude in the house!

Twisty does have an actual dude problem, but it’s of a different order than the crap I got from Mr. Hufu. (Which I’m sure she sees by the buckets in her comment moderation queue and deletes on sight.) Twisty attracts men who want to please her, and so they engage in this fascinating yet repellent dance of “I’m so enlightened that I must verbally self-flagellate before your royal Twistyness so that I can become even more enlightened.” At a minimum, they ape her writing mannerisms. They may self-identify as a Nigel – Twisty’s one-size-fits-all name for dudes – and they decry douchiness even as they smarmily demonstrate it. Oh, just go read her example. It really is pretty funny. These guys aren’t standard-issue anti-feminist trolls. They’re not concern trolls. They’re … well, Twisty trolls, her own troll species. They are mutants. And I could see why she’d show them the door.

While she’s at it, maybe she could usher out a few transphobic self-described “radical” feminists, too?

Read Full Post »

(Image from Flickr user Ali Graney, used under a Creative Commons license.)

Less than a month in office, Ohio’s new governor, John Kasich, has given us plenty of reason to doubt his integrity. He tried – and failed – to keep media away from his inauguration. That was a silly little thing, really, but it portends a new era of secrecy in governance. The legislature took a cue from Kasich and imposed onerous requirements on recording committee hearings. I expect that any day now, we’ll hear that Kasich is governing the state from a secure undisclosed location.

Then Kasich started driving his bus over state employees. He appointed a raft of (all-white) cronies to help him run the state and gave them pay raises. He fired attorneys who were life-long state employees, not political appointees, simply because they had voted Democratic. (No link on that one; I heard it from the niece of one of the purge’s victims.) At the same time, Kasich cut mailroom staffers’ salaries by 21%. Such is the new era of fiscal responsibility in Ohio.

Secrecy paired with cronyism and contempt for the little guy … where have we seen that combo before? Um, yeah … George W. Bush. Good times. Brownie, Brownie, where are ye when we need ye?

But what I’ve really come here to talk about today is The Stupid. The wonderful blog Plunderbund (which I gleefully plundered for the links above) has revealed that along with all his other sterling qualities, Kasich ain’t none too smart, neither. As Modernesquire reported, Kasich officially proclaimed Martin Luther King Day to be March 17.

(Image via Plunderbund – and no, it’s not photoshopped.)

I suppose we can toast racial equality with a glass of green beer? And route a St. Paddy’s Day parade from Selma to Montgomery? Yes, I realize some poor sodding staffer made the error. Kasich signed off on it. The buck stops … oh, right, the buck may never reach Kasich, because he’s gutted the state mailroom. Good planning, dude.

In another shining moment, Kasich advised Ohioans last week on how to weather the storm. The worst of the weather hit north of my house, but had I been less lucky, I would have been prepared, thanks to my governor’s memorable words:

So, if you need to go somewhere, to a neighbor or whatever, you’re going to need to prepare – extra blankets, some candles – I’m not a big fan of candles, but uh, make sure you can control them and blow them out.

(Plunderbund has it all. Oh, do they ever!)

I get that candles can be a safety hazard, especially if you trip over them as, er, ummmm, some governors fall over their words while trying to sound authoritative. But did I miss some super-secret lesson on blowing them out (maybe the boys got it while we girls got the Menstruation Talk)? Is there a special blowing technique? Does it help if you sing “Happy Birthday” first? And what if I want to blow out all but a couple of candles, so that I can have a couple of boyfriends?

Fortunately, Stephen Colbert picked up on Kasich’s turnip-esque intellect and pilloried it – and his racism, to boot:

(Click here if you don’t see the video in a blog reader.)

(Via Plunderbund, of course. Have I mentioned their awesomeness yet?)

Here’s hoping Colbert has bookmarked Plunderbund. For all the horror the Kasich Administration threatens to deliver, it also promises to be an endless seam of comedic gold. God knows we’re are going to need some laughs.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, the student newspaper on my campus, The Post, told an amazing story that reveals once again how upper-level administrators are shielded from the consequences of wrongdoing, while whistleblowers are punished. It’s an old story, but the details are freshly repellent with each retelling.

Howard Lipman was VP for University Advancement (aka fundraising) before he left earlier this school year, returning to his old employer, Florida International University. (This and subsequent facts come from the The Post’s account.) But evidently he thought one of the job’s perks was the chance to act abusively toward at least one of his subordinates, Molly Taylor-Elkins, who is now filing suit with the EEOC. The Post reports:

Molly Taylor-Elkins spent almost two years as Lipman’s executive assistant. She says she felt harassed and bullied by Lipman and that on multiple occasions he made inappropriate sexual comments to her and other female employees.

A university investigation conducted last year agreed Lipman created a hostile work environment but couldn’t find enough evidence to substantiate the sexual harassment claims.

The investigators didn’t find that Taylor-Elkins had fabricated the sexual harassment claims, only that there was not evidence of them being “pervasive” enough to rise to the standard of creating a hostile environment. The investigators determined that Lipman’s bullying behavior violated university policy on workplace violence. He is accused of shouting at employees and belittling them. The Post provides detail on an encounter after Lipman’s yelling reduced Taylor-Elkins to tears:

Elkins says Lipman approached her desk and said: “Some people make up by having sex and since we can’t do that let me buy you lunch.”

She says she denied the offer.

In his interview with the OIE investigator, Lipman acknowledged that he was frustrated after having worked an 18-hour day. He said he was disappointed Elkins defied his orders not to schedule or cancel meetings without his approval.

But Lipman insisted he never made the comment about make-up sex.

At FIU, Lipman makes more money than he’d earned here at OU. His old salary here was a measly $232,000. He was never suspended or put on leave while the investigation was underway. He never faced any substantive consequences before he left for FIU.

Taylor-Elkins was first put on administrative leave, but then moved onto sick leave, which – if I understand The Post’s article correctly – has been unpaid. This switch was made directly after Taylor-Elkins took her case to the EEOC last July.

Her son, who had been admitted to a grad program at OU, had his admission revoked after his mother filed her original, internal complaint. Taylor-Elkins has letters to substantiate this, according to The Post.

This is absolutely stunning. I have never heard of admission being revoked unless there were a proven charge of fraud or cheating in the application. You really have to wonder who brought pressure to bear on the faculty who’d admitted Taylor-Elkins’ son, and what form the pressure took. No faculty would be willing pawns in a game of revenge.

The whole thing stinks. I do not know if Lipman is guilty of everything as charged. I do not know him or any of the other principals in this personally; the chief investigator is an acquaintance, and I know enough about her that I would not impugn her integrity.

At the very least, Lipman was a first-class bully at a top-flight salary. He came in for a soft landing. Meanwhile, a vulnerable female employee who blew the whistle on his bad behavior has suffered. There aren’t many other employers in this town, apart from Wal-Mart and a couple of wonderful tech start-ups that mostly require tech skills.

I know rotten things like this happen all the time. It’s how Wall Street works. Our universities are supposed to stand for loftier ideals. Instead, they are aping the corporate structure, giving sweet deals and institutional protection to a small and not necessarily deserving elite, while janitors, secretaries, and adjunct faculty are losing their jobs. Blatant mistreatment like Taylor-Elkins alleges is just the whipped cream on top of this sundae of inequality.

(Actually, if we’re going to wander into food metaphors, “pigs at the trough” might be more fitting, but the next thing you know, we’ll be talking about making sausage, and I feel grody enough already after writing this post.)

Read Full Post »

And by “back in the day,” I mean in the rollicking ’80s, when some parents panicked at the prospect of women and men on the same hall.

My university is on the verge of establishing a gender-neutral housing option. This doesn’t mean that all students will be mixed willy-nilly, irrespective of gender. It just means that some students can opt into a dorm where any genders can share a room.

This is really good news, obviously, for people who aren’t gender conformists. Students who are trans or genderqueer will finally have options. Since there are only 50 beds available in the pilot program, and they’re mainly for upperclassmen, incoming students will have to file special requests. I hope this process will be simple, so that the youngest trans students won’t feel they have to fight for access.

I’m frankly surprised that my university is taking this leap. Compared to a more diverse urban campus, we don’t have many openly trans students. Many of our students have conservative parents. Our university administration is not known for taking risks. I applaud it for doing the right thing. I’m even more impressed by the students who raised the issue and got the policy changed.

One of my outstanding former students, who blogs at I Hamburger, punctures the myth that opposite-sex couples will leap at the chance to live together:

How many unmarried couples did I know who lived together off-campus (and we’re talking planned it as they were a couple, not lived together and became a couple)? Zero. That’s because in college, people usually want to live with their friends, not significant others.

(Read the whole post here.)

That sounds about right. Even back in those swinging ’80s, my college friends shied away from living with their romantic partners. It represented more commitment than most of us wanted.

I did briefly live with a boyfriend for one summer during college, but only under duress. Not that we didn’t like each other. Not that we minded sharing a bed. We just didn’t want to be locked into a commitment we weren’t ready for. The house manager of our student-run semi-co-op informed us that the only way he could satisfy other students’ wishes was to place the two of us into a shared room. It was just for the summer, and at the end of it we happily reverted to separate quarters.

The only lasting impact of that summer? I inherited his kitten, since his new quarters prohibited animals. (So did mine, but I had a much better chance at hiding her.) That kitten was Grey Kitten, patron cat of this blog.

I knew exactly one couple who shared a room in a conventional dorm (not a co-op). That was my freshman year, in a dorm full of pre-meds and teetotaling Asian Americans. Skeet and Tom had matching plaid bathrobes that they wore almost constantly. Yes, Skeet was a dude (as was Tom). It took me half the year to figure out they were more than mere roommates. Even in that conservative milieu, way back in 1981, no one gave a hoot.

I’m sure a few parents will gripe about my university’s new policy. Maybe they need to recall that 30 and 40 years ago, students were having sex just like students do today – no more, no less. The only thing that might have changed since then? Our acceptance of sexual diversity.

Read Full Post »

I haven’t blogged about Julian Assange and Wikileaks because I’ve been trying to understand before I judge. I’m still not willing to offer any final judgment on the rape allegations against Assange. That’s for a Swedish court of law to do, assuming that he’s extradited and the prosecution continues to press its case.

I feel confident about three things, though. If the Guardian’s article presents a good approximation of the facts, some sort of sexual assault occurred. (I’m well aware that Assange disputes his accusers’ accounts, and he deserves a chance to rebut them in court if formal charges are brought.) Secondly, anyone who dismisses the women’s accusations out of hand is out of line – and that goes doubly for feminists, who have every reason to know better. Lastly, even if the accusations never lead to a conviction, Assange is still an insufferable egotist who treats women like crap. That’s not a crime but it does raise questions about whether the left should continue to lionize him as a hero.

As I’ve already stated, I support what Wikileaks is trying to do. But as many other feminists have already argued, we can support its mission without preemptively assuming that Julian Assange is innocent of sexual assault. We don’t have to assume he’s guilty, either. We can instead support due process for Assange (including his right to bail) while also insisting that his accusers be treated respectfully, their allegations investigated, and their privacy protected. Or as Jill at Feministe said: “Seriously, we can chew gum and walk at the same time.” Seriously!

It’s still not clear what charges will be filed against Assange. Indeed, it’s still possible that Swedish prosecutors will decide the case is too difficult to win in court and decline to press charges. In that case, Assange just might be better off in Sweden than in Britain; should the U.S. cook up a brand-new crime and try to extradite Assange, I suspect Sweden would be less likely to cooperate than would Britain, with its “special relationship” to the U.S.

* * * * *

For the sake of conjecture, let us say that events transpired as described by the Guardian. Let us, for the sake of fairness, assume that the defendant is a fictional character we’ll call Albino Aussie. This lets us run a thought experiment without prejudging the actual real-world case. We will assume for this experiment that the women’s accounts are factual. In the real world, of course, the male protagonist disputes their statements, and we don’t have his side of the story. That would matter crucially in a court of law. The intent of my little thought experiment is more modest: to ask whether the alleged actions constitute sexual assault.

[The account of Miss A.] to police, which [Albino Aussie] disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.

According to the statement, Miss A then realised he was trying to have unprotected sex with her. She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs. The statement records Miss A describing how Assange then released her arms and agreed to use a condom, but she told the police that at some stage Assange had “done something” with the condom that resulted in it becoming ripped, and ejaculated without withdrawing.

(Source: The Guardian)

Ripping off clothing is standard fare in romance novels. It could be good fun in an established relationship where one partner knows for sure that their partner would like to be ravished in this way. But with no discussion about desires and predilections? Albino Aussie made some major assumptions. Once Miss A. started to put her clothes back on, he had a stop signal – a flashing red light – and he chose to ignore it. (Also, Albino Aussie was a complete asshole to wreck her necklace. Not a crime, but that would have been a deal-breaker for me.)

His attempt to keep her from grabbing a condom is not sexy by any standard. It’s coercive. By itself, it doesn’t constitute sexual assault, but it could be significant if it signaled his intent and he then did “something” deliberately to break the condom, as Miss A. alleges. Criminal intent (mens rea) is a key element in sexual assault law in the United States (except for statutory rape), and it would be surprising if it were irrelevant in Sweden.

Similarly, Albino Aussie ran roughshod over the insistence of the second complainant, Miss W., that he wear a condom:

Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. [Albino Aussie] had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.

Early the next morning, Miss W told police, she had gone to buy breakfast before getting back into bed and falling asleep beside Assange. She had awoken to find him having sex with her, she said, but when she asked whether he was wearing a condom he said no. “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV’ and he answered: ‘Of course not,’ ” but “she couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Note that Miss W. never consented to sex without a condom. In fact, she was adamant that she would refuse consent to unprotected penetrative sex. Nothing changed between the evening and the morning, except that Albino Aussie chose to ignore the critical conditions on which her consent was premised.

Whether any of Albino Aussie’s actions constitute “rape” will depend on the specifics of Swedish law. But there’s every reason to understand them as sexual assault of some form, even if they don’t rise to the standard of rape. He violated the conditions of consent that Miss W. had explicitly and repeatedly stated as a categorical prerequisite to sex. He initiated sex while she was sleeping and could not possibly say no. While the Guardian doesn’t specify the exact type of sex, it’s reasonable to assume PIV since she responded that he’d better not have HIV.

In the case of Miss A., Albino Aussie violated her conditions of consent by ejaculating inside her without protection. (If he was unaware that the condom broke – which is unlike if, as Miss A. claims, he ripped it himself – Swedish law might still allow prosecution on the basis of recklessness, though again I’m speculating since there’s precious little info on Swedish law.) He also ignored her clear signal to slow down and check in with her when she began to dress herself again in the midst of their encounter – an action that obviously signals NO.

To my mind, the clearest-cut example of sexual assault here is the allegation that he had sex with a sleeping woman. She could not possibly consent. What’s more, his decision to have unprotected sex clearly violated the terms of consent that she’d insisted on all night long. No way could he reasonably assume he was giving her something she wanted. (Jill at Feministe has a great analysis of the limits and nuances of consent; she wrote it before the Guardian piece appeared, but her basic points are still relevant. Plus, she’s a real lawyer … and I’m not even a fake one.)

Again, we don’t know what happened. But the substance of the allegations amounts to much more than “sex by surprise” (whatever that might be!). The allegations definitely fall on the spectrum of sexual assault. Everything else that allegedly happened – the fact that Miss A. let her guest continue to sleep in her apartment, partied with him, didn’t contact the police for days – is immaterial, if indeed events went down as she and Miss W. described them.

The allegations are not atypical for date rape cases. As a professor and as a feminist, I hear too many stories from students that echo elements of this case: the desire to normalize things the next morning, pressure to keep the social fabric intact by keeping accusations private, fear of character assassination if one does report, reluctance to label one’s experience as rape instead of – as Miss A. called it – “the worst sex ever.” (That last point is borne out by research done by Arnie Kahn, who found that many college-aged are reluctant to call nonconsensual sex “assault” if the perpetrator is a friend or lover. See Arnie S. Kahn, “What College Women Do and Do Not Experience as Rape,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 28 (2004), 9-15.)

* * * * *

Feminists who’ve worked with college students and rape survivors should be aware of all this. And yet … Naomi Wolf is not. Or more likely, she chooses to repress what she knows, because she so fiercely wants Assange to be able to continue his work with Wikileaks. Here’s Wolf (in the HuffPo):

I see that Julian Assange is accused of having consensual sex with two women, in one case using a condom that broke.

Um, no. Compare with the accusations above. In the second instance, the allegation is that the sex was not consensual, because Miss W. had not consented to barebacking, and she had no opportunity to say yes or no while she was sleeping.

More Wolf:

I understand, from the alleged victims’ complaints to the media, that Assange is also accused of texting and tweeting in the taxi on the way to one of the women’s apartments while on a date, and, disgustingly enough, ‘reading stories about himself online’ in the cab.

Um, no. Self-centered texting is not among the allegations. I’m no expert in Swedish law, but I don’t think they’ve outlawed egotism yet. Just file this nugget away for the last part of this post (on why Assange is a douche).

Wolf expanded on her flippant HuffPo piece in an interview with Amy Goodman, which also included Jaclyn Friedman. Wolf said one thing I agree with: We do need to expect women to behave as “moral adults.” Sure. We cannot expect men to simply intuit a woman’s every wish. But Wolf didn’t stop there:

If you read these allegations, he took off Miss A’s clothes too quickly for her comfort. She tried to tell him to slow down, but then, quote, “she allowed him to undress her.” This is what the report says. The second woman says she woke to find him having sex with her. When she asked whether he was wearing a condom, he said no. Quote, “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV.'” He answered, “Of course not.” Quote, “She couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

So, if you’re going to treat women as moral adults and if you’re going to take the issue of rape seriously, the person who’s engaging in what he thinks is consensual sex has to be told, “I don’t want this.” And again and again and again, these women did not say, “This is not consensual.” Assange was shocked when these were brought up as complaints, because he had no idea that this was not a consensual situation. Miss A kept Assange in her home for the next four days and threw a party for him.

Thing is, the women did say and signal: “I don’t want this.” At some point, both of them gave up on him getting the memo. But dang it, Assange – or “Albino Aussie,” if you will – had every opportunity to see the yellow and red cards the women were pulling. And instead of saying, “OK, being ravished is not your thing – so what would really turn you on?” he just keeps going on autopilot, ripping bodices until Miss A. gives up resistance. Instead of asking, “Should we do something else, since I only want to fuck bareback?” he waits until Miss W. is sleeping and slips it to her against her express wishes.

These women did act as moral adults. They delineated their boundaries. They tried to negotiate a satisfying, sexy experience for both partners. They said and signaled no to activities they found disturbing or unacceptable. According to their allegations, he drove a bulldozer over their moral agency.

How many times should a woman have to say no for it to count?

A final beef with Wolf: In the Democracy Now interview, she insinuates that only violent stranger rape is real rape:

In 23 years, I’ve never seen any man in any situation this ambiguous, involving this much consent, have any kind of legal process whatsoever. And all over the world, women who have been gang-raped, brutally raped, raped in alleyways, pimped, prostituted, trafficked, you know, their rapists go free.

Yeah, well, most rapists will never be convicted. But does the existence of violent stranger rape make date rape irrelevant, trivial, or harmless? Wolf and I are almost exactly the same age. It was our generation of college students that first started talking about date rape in the mid-1980s. Wolf knows that date rape is real rape. Just a few years ago Wolf accused Professor Harold Bloom groped her inner thigh back when she was an undergrad. That might not have been a case of sexual assault, but it was at least sexual harassment. No trafficking or gang-rape occurred, yet Wolf saw fit to publish the incident in New York Magazine. I’m not saying she was wrong to do so, only that she seems to have lost her compass since then. How else to explain her assertion that Assange and Miss W. were “making love”? (She said it in her Amy Goodman interview, at 5:27 – sorry, no transcript.)

It’s not just Wolf who’s twisting herself into pretzels to defend Assange. AnnaAnastasia at Shakesville directs us to Laurie Essig’s essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Titled “Assange, Morality, and Desire,” it’s remarkably devoid of morality. Instead, Essig – a a sociology professor at Middlebury – is channeling some combo of Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and Harlequin romances:

One can imagine the summer air in Stockholm, ripe with possibilities, seducing Mr. Assange into  thinking it was a good idea to hop into bed with his host, known as Ms. A in the court papers, and then hopping into the bed of one of his fans, Ms. W, just a few days later.

Essig doesn’t even try to make Assange into a moral actor. He’s giddy with optimism, opportunity, and the seductive air of Stockholm. Potential entrepreneurs, take note: there’s an untapped market for bottling Swedish air and selling it to frustrated men (the Seduction Community might buy in bulk). Poor Assange was defenseless; he was seduced, perhaps even entrapped, by Swedish women who, Essig suggests, subscribe to a moral code that is wholly foreign to an Australian man.

While Essig initially concedes that Assange is charged with”having sex without a condom (without full consent of the women),” she backpedals a moment later:

And while Sweden might consider having sex without a condom against the law, most countries do not.  Perhaps more confusing is the issue of consent. Although this young woman clearly found being taken while asleep upsetting, some women would be turned on by being the object of that much desire.

This is pure disingenuity. Essig has just noted that the problem is a lack of full consent, not laws against barebacking. She damn well knows better! What’s so “confusing” about consent here? Consent to one sex act doesn’t imply consent to another. Just as consent to vaginal sex doesn’t imply consent to anal sex, consent to safer sex doesn’t imply consent to condomless sex.

As for being “taken while asleep” – in a longer-term relationship, partners might let each other know they’d welcome sleep sex. To just presume it? When it’s your first time hooking up? When your only real communication revealed your incompatible expectations vis-a-vis condoms? That’s more than just stupid and presumptuous. That’s rape.

Then again, Essig seems to consider “date rape” to be something quite distinct from “rape.” Channeling Whoopie Goldberg, Essig digs herself in even deeper in a follow-up post:

Based on what we do know, I do not think Assange is guilty of rape.  I am not sure whether he is guilty of date rape, but if he is, then the date rape is incredibly murky since no one seems to have been drugged or beaten or even particularly coerced.

So if Miss W. had taken drugs before sleeping, then Essig might entertain the possibility of “date rape”? I can only imagine how she might respond when her students report having been raped. “No roofies? No worry! Just be more careful next time … and remember, some women get off on lack of consent.”

Essig wants us to understand that sex is messy and complicated. She strikes the pose of a sophisticated libertine, a connoisseur of heterosexual behavior. Essig teaches classes on heterosexuality – but in her essay, she offers up a vision of female heterosexuality that’s cartoonish, not complex:

According to press reports, Assange held one of the women down in a sexual manner.  Yes, and many women like that.  Assange started having sex while one woman was sleeping.  Yes, that too some women like.  Because people like all sorts of things—clothes being ripped off, dirty threats whispered in their ears, even somewhat violent sexual encounters.  Not everyone likes these things, but many, many people do.  Clearly someone in Assange’s past sexual encounters thought it was a turn on or at least didn’t think it was rape.  That’s why he was doing it.  Is that gross?  Sure.  Is all sex gross when you’re not the one doing it?  Pretty much.  Is it rape if the woman doesn’t wake up and say “Stop” and “No, I don’t want that”?

Many (most?) heterosexual women will cop to some un-PC desires. Fantasies about non-consent are quite common – among hetero men as well as women. But when we go beyond fantasy, the desire to submit and be ravished is virtually always predicated on consent. Partners can ethically incorporate violent activities, even “nonconsensual” scenes, into their sex lives – if they negotiate. If they agree on a safe word. If they consent in advance, with an option to bail if the scene goes wrong. Two people who disagree on whether a condom must be used are in a whole ‘nother universe than partners who communicate their edgier desires. Essig surely ought to know all this too.

After all, Essig teaches in Women’s and Gender Studies as well as sociology.

* * * * *

Even though I think the allegations are serious and credible, I’m still not committing myself to the “Assange must be guilty camp.” I do think that if the two women set out to smear him, they would have constructed a much smoother story. Someone setting a premeditated trap would have avoided the details that Essig and Wolf find damning, such as Miss A. continuing to host Assange in her home, or Miss. W. giving him a ride the next morning. They would have continued to say no throughout the encounters. They would have called the police immediately and filed sexual assault charges, instead of just demanding Assange take an STD test. In short, they would have sought to fit the ideal of how a sexual assault victim ought to act, rather than behaving in the way that actual survivors often act – confused, trying to not to make waves socially, and unsure what to call their experience.

Does that make Assange guilty? No. I would want to hear Assange’s side before drawing any conclusions.

What we do hear from and about Assange doesn’t exactly cover him in glory, though. He comes across as a user and a sponger. Given that he now draws an income from Wikileaks, why did he keep squatting in Miss A.’s  apartment even when she moved into a friend’s place to avoid him? Why did he apparently have Miss W. pay for his train tickets to and from her home? (He told her he had no cash and feared being tracked by his credit card – a thin excuse for a guy who was easily trackable via his public speaking schedule in Sweden.) How narcissistic do you have to be to immerse yourself in online stories about yourself even as you’re trying to get laid? Why did he order Miss W. to bring him orange juice (as Essig reports)? Couldn’t he pour his own damn juice?

And why didn’t he just get the STD tests? He claimed that Miss W.’s demand for testing was “blackmail,” but it’s a pretty reasonable request, given how open he was about his predilection for barebacking. If he’d agreed, the whole matter would probably never have come to the prosecutor’s attention.

The interview Assange granted the BBC last week hints at the answers to these questions. Here are a couple of especially prime slices:

Q: You do see yourself as a martyr here.

JA: Well, you know, in a very beneficial position, if you can be martyred without dying. And we’ve had a little bit of that over the past ten days. And if this case goes on, we will have more. …

Q: But you haven’t denied having sex with those women?

JA: No, I haven’t denied that.

Q: So you did have sex with those women?

JA: I have always tried in this case and in my other dealings to be a private person and to not speak about matters that are private.

Q: This is now public. So I’m asking you the question. Did you have sex with those women?

JA: It’s a matter of public record as far as the courts are concerned but I am not going to be exposing other people’s private lives or my own more than is absolutely necessary. That is not what a gentleman does, that why I have also never criticised these women. We don’t know precisely what pressures they have been under, exactly. There are powerful interests that have incentives to promote these smears. That doesn’t mean that they got in there in the very beginning and fabricated them. …

Q: The allegation against you, the very broad allegation that’s been made over and over again in the media over recent days is that you’re some sort of sexual predator who has sex with a large number of young women, ideally without a condom, and that you do it because you can, effectively, because in some cases they’re groupies or they’re enthralled to your fame or whatever it is. Are you a sexual predator?

JA: That’s ridiculous. Of course not.

Q: How many women have you slept with?

JA: That’s a private business. Not only does a gentleman not tell, not only does a gentleman like to talk about his private life, a gentleman certainly doesn’t count.

Q: Many, without being specific?

JA: I’ve never had a problem before with women. Women have been extremely helpful and generous.

Q: Not quite the question I asked you.

JA: No, women have been extremely helpful and generous and put up with me. But…

Q: Does put up with you mean having you in their beds?

JA: Of course on occasion, I mean I’m an adult man, but women have been generous to me over many years.

(Read the full BBC interview here. Ellipses are mine except for the one in Assange’s second-to-last statement.)

Of course, a gentleman wouldn’t argue when his partner insisted on a condom. That’s what a foolhardy narcissist does.

A gentleman might not keep count of his lovers, but then again, a gentleman would keep some mad money in his pocket, so as not to mooch train fares off his lovers. A gentleman gives as well as takes. Relying on women to be “generous”? That’s what a sponger does.

Also, a gentleman doesn’t relish martyrdom. That’s a role better suited for a someone with a messiah complex.

In a profile of Assange as a dark-hatted hacker, Bruce Sterling calls him a sociopath. I don’t see proof of that. But a wannabe martyr? A cheapskate mooch? A narcissist? An exploiter of groupies? A misogynist with no understanding of women? An antifeminist who says “Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism”? A jet-setting, globe-trotting, world-class douche? I think the evidence is in.

None of this makes Assange guilty of sexual assault. But it does indicate that Assange has some grave character issues. He’s too self-centered to earn my trust – too entitled and narcissistic. The Wikileaks organization would be better served with a leader driven more by public interest than by self-interest.

Read Full Post »

Before I dive into the thorny mess of the rape allegations against Juian Assange, I want to say this: For the record, I generally support what Wikileaks has done. Too many secrets corrode democracy. We now live in a national-security state that is also a surveillance-and-secrecy state – what Glenn Greenwald memorably describes as “the government’s one-way mirror.” Increasingly, the state gathers data on every aspect of our lives, to the point of intercepting and reading individuals’ emails without probable cause, while it demands absolute secrecy even for ludicrously quotidian operations. As Greenwald puts it:

One of the hallmarks of an authoritarian government is its fixation on hiding everything it does behind a wall of secrecy while simultaneously monitoring, invading and collecting files on everything its citizenry does.  Based on the Francis Bacon aphorism that “knowledge is power,” this is the extreme imbalance that renders the ruling class omnipotent and citizens powerless.

Wikileaks poses such a profound threat because it undermines the asymmetry of knowledge/power, allowing us citizens to glimpse the inner workings of our government. I get nervous about the sheer scope of revelations, because it’s hard to be confident that Wikileaks has redacted everything that could put individuals at risk. A few days ago, there were reports that an Algerian journalist could come to harm as a result of leaked material. That’s one person too many. If this becomes a pattern, then we’ll know that Wikileaks has succumbed to the same ends-justify-the-means logic that has corrupted the U.S. government, and I couldn’t support that. So far, though, I’m convinced that its aims are essentially good: to make it harder for governments to act conspiratorially, and thus to foster a more just society. I’m also glad that human rights organizations are leaning on Wikileaks to make sure they get their redactions right.

Beyond its lofty long-term goals, Wikileaks had shed light on specific abuses. Though that’s not the group’s leading goal, it’s still a terribly important corrective to the secrecy state. Greenwald gives us a rundown of their most important revelations this year.

Too many of the revelations are reminiscent of the Pentagon Papers. Not because they reveal “top secret” info; they don’t. The Pentagon Papers, by contrast, bore a “top secret” classification. Nor do the Wikileaks revelations present a neat, self-contained analysis and narrative, as the Pentagon Papers did. These leaks are so messy and sprawling, they’ll still be spawning news stories a year from now.

No, the link between the Wikileaked materials and the Pentagon Papers is much simpler. Both show that our government is lying to us. That’s our democratically elected government, folks. As in the 1960s, it’s lying to us in the midst of war. It’s lying about the war. This parallel is striking enough that Daniel Ellsberg (he who leaked the Pentagon Papers) sees it, too. Behold him on Colbert:

(If you can’t see the clip, go here – or just pop over to Kittywampus, which has more kittehs than your blog reader does.)

I don’t want my government to lie to me. Far many more lives have been lost through its lies than were lost on 9/11. Far more have been killed in the name of “freedom.” I worry more about the structures and policies that enable this killing than I do about “terrorists” or Australians hackers.

Also: Don’t you just love Daniel Ellsberg? I don’t have many heroes. I don’t much believe in heroes. He’s one of my few.

Read Full Post »

It’s possible that John Boehner cries easily for the reason I do: he’s easily touched and not so hot at self-control. But I’m not buying that. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in her excellent segment on Boehner’s waterworks, if the fate of America’s children reduces him to tears, he could actually take steps to improve their future!

Boehner’s not the first pol to cry easily and often in public; he’s just the most unexpected and the least discriminating when it comes to his triggers. Rachel traces the history of weeping politicians back to Edmund Muskie, whose alleged tears in New Hampshire allegedly derailed his 1972 Democratic primary. (Muskie’s damp cheeks – and the weird media reaction – are among my earliest political memories. He won that primary but lost the nomination.)

Rachel argues,

There’s nothing wrong with politicians showing emotion. There’s nothing wrong with politicians crying in public. It demonstrably does not hurt them with voters, but it shows us what they feel passionately about, and what’s wrong with that?

So true. And yet, while you can find military giants shedding tears in the ancient world, here in the U.S. we’ve liked our men tough and dry-eyed. For a political leader to cry publicly was pretty well verboten from the end of WWII until the closing years of the Cold War. The same probably holds true all the way back to George Washington and his unruffled wig, but this is a blog post, not a book. So let us think of our post-war presidents! Truman was gruff and bluff. Eisenhower never lost his military bearing. JFK drew much of his power from his aristocratic cool. (Did he ever once cry publicly over the loss of his infant son, Patrick?) LBJ couldn’t afford to look soft while playing hardball with Congress.

But then came Nixon. Tricky Dick did emotion, all right. He knew how to project self-pity all the way back in ’62, when, in his purported “last press conference,” he announced his withdrawal from politics, telling reporters, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” By the early 1970s, he projected anger and paranoia pretty well, too. Indeed, Muskie’s destruction can be laid at the feet of Nixon’s henchmen and their ratfucking.

Even when forced to resign in disgrace, Nixon controlled his grief – in public. His resignation speech was calm and even resolute. (You can listen to his speech here.) My ten-year-old self felt sorry for him as I watched it, and I distinctly recalled tearing up despite knowing he was a crook and needed to go. Disgrace and shame push my empathy buttons even when that shame is richly deserved. But Nixon held it together, even launching into a policy disquisition toward the end. The WaPo described Nixon’s public composure but also the gap between the private and public man:

Mr. Nixon’s brief speech was delivered in firm tones and he appeared to be complete control of his emotions. The absence of rancor contrasted sharply with the “farewell” he delivered in 1962 after being defeated for the governorship of California.

An hour before the speech, however, the President broke down during a meeting with old congressional friends and had to leave the room.

He had invited 20 senators and 26 representatives for a farewell meeting in the Cabinet room. Later, Sen. Barry M. Goldwater (R-Ariz.), one of those present, said Mr. Nixon said to them very much what he said in his speech.

“He just told us that the country couldn’t operate with a half-time President,” Goldwater reported. “Then he broke down and cried and he had to leave the room. Then the rest of us broke down and cried.”

(Carroll Kilpatrick, Washington Post, 9 August 1974)

Goldwater is yet another guy who’s hard to imagine weeping.

In the wake of Watergate, the whole country felt emotionally ravaged. We found respite in blandness: Gerald Ford’s good-natured bumbling and Jimmy Carter’s be-sweatered earnestness. But we did not find collective catharsis. That would wait until 1980.

The defining moment in presidential emoting came with the election of Ronald Reagan, who – though not much of a weeper – brought his entire actor’s armamentarium to the office. At the time, critics gleefully described Reagan as merely a “B-movie actor.” No matter. His acting skillz, modest as they were, earned him his “Great Communicator” moniker and enabled him to transform American politics in both substance and style. (Peggy Noonan had a hand in all this, of course, but her lines would have flopped, had Reagan been unable to fill them with warmth and passion.)

And yet, Reagan wasn’t much of a weeper. Serious presidential tears came into their own with the first Gulf War. International relations scholar Steve Niva views the end of the Cold War as a watershed in public political expressions  of hegemonic masculinity. Suddenly, General Colin Powell was weeping at his high school reunion. General Norman Schwarzkopf raved about his love for opera. In an America that had shed much of its Vietnam Syndrome through Rambo and Reagan, it became possible, Niva argues, for American masculinity to be both tough and tender. (See Steve Niva, “”Tough and Tender: New World Order Masculinity and the Gulf War,” in The “Man” Question in International Relations, ed. Marysia Zalewski and Jane Parpart (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998), 109–28.)

The floodwaters sprung all the dams in 1992, as Bill Clinton teared up at every tale of woe on the campaign trail. He wept his way through his presidency, and we’ve never been the same since.

Niva’s excellent article explains just part of this transition. Reagan laid the groundwork. The first Gulf War expiated the shame of Vietnam and allowed American men to claim their manliness again as long as it was cloaked in khaki. But the “tender” part of Niva’s equation requires further explanation. Men like Clinton were simply of a new generation. They had defied conventional masculinity by growing their hair long, questioning the corporate rat race, fantasizing of careers in rock and roll – or at least playing the tenor sax on the Arsenio Hall Show. They had tuned in, turned on, and dropped out – or at least, they “didn’t inhale.” Perhaps most significantly, many men of Clinton’s generation had married a new generation of women. Some were feminists. A larger number were too timid for “women’s lib” but still warm toward egalitarianism. Most of these women expected and honored male emotion, though still within constraints.

The Boomers and subsequent generations are thus willing to grant our male leaders some slack in expressing public emotions, as long as it’s for a serious cause. Rachel’s clip shows how both Bushes and Mitch McConnell – powerful Republicans all – cry in public without losing face.

But none of them are crying about TARP. And that brings us back to Boehner’s tears, which are quite extraordinary even for a tough-and-tender post-Cold War leader.

Go to about 8:30 in Rachel’s clip. You’ll see him beg tearfully for the big-bank failout bailout known as “TARP.” He has subsequently attacked those who voted for it, conveniently forgetting his own damp-eyed support.

Rachel nails him for hypocrisy:

As Americans we react to someone crying about children’s welfare because we think that it implies strength of his commitment to improve children’s welfare. It doesn’t always. When the new congress convenes and John Boehner is Speaker of the House, remember this: just because he’s crying about something doesn’t mean he’s going to fix that thing. Crying in public is neat. I’m all in favor. Crying in public, however, is not the same thing as fixing the thing that makes you cry.

(This and the previous transcript via Business Insider.)

I, too, think hypocrisy is the most likely explanation for the cavernous gap between Boehner’s tearful public pronouncements and his Grover-Norquistian actual policymaking.

But there’s an alternate explanation, and it’s a doozy. A few weeks back, Gregory House, M.D. (the TV doctor played by Hugh Laurie, my next-husband-in-spe) had a patient whose emotional expression was the exact opposite of what most people would feel. The “case” was medically incoherent, but it nudged the two brain cells in my head where I’d stored the concept of pseudobulbar affect. I’d read about this phenomenon – the expression of inappropriate emotions – when I was diagnosed with MS. (New readers: that diagnosis was later overturned, though it’s still my sword of Damocles.)

So could Boehner have pseudobulbar affect? If so, there’s a short list of conditions that can cause it. Multiple sclerosis. Amyloid lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Stroke. Parkinson’s and Alzheimers’. Traumatic brain injury.

To put it bluntly: Pseudobulbar affect only occurs in a brain that has suffered considerable damage. If Boehner has any of the conditions I mentioned, he merits your sympathy and mine, no matter what his politics. But he also might not be capable of serving as the third in command. People can suffer from pseudobulbar affect without having impaired judgment. I’d want to be sure of that, however, and not just assume it.

I still lean toward hypocrisy and manipulative tactics as the most parsimonious explanation of Boehner’s tears. I just wouldn’t rule out brain damage.

Either way, I question his fitness for the office of Speaker of the House.

No word tonight on where Glenn Beck gets his waterworks. At least he’s not President – yet.

Read Full Post »

Those of you with any contact to academia have probably already seen this fascinating first-person exposé of professional plagiarism, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Ed Dante” (whose name is as genuine as “Sungold”) makes a little over $60K annually churning out faux dissertations, term papers, and plain old essays. His story is a fascinating portrait of a guy who makes about 50% more than I do (and my Ph.D. is real!) just by having no scruples.

I’m enough of a dilettante to understand the appeal of conducting research all over the map. I’ve translated texts ranging from marketing blather to the inner workings of a Porsche. I’ve taught a religion class (though my training is in German history and gender studies) and I wrote a dissertation that immersed me in old German medical journals without a lick of formal medical training. So I grok the fun of roaming among every discipline except for math and animal husbandry (Dante’s two no-goes). What I don’t get is how Dante sleeps at night. Then again, with all-nighters right in the job description, I guess the sleep of the just is bound to elude him anyway.

On top of his amorality, Dante tries to shift blame to professors, who he alleges are too checked-out to catch obvious cheaters. This is complete and utter bullcrap. Let’s peer more closely at Dante’s tripartite clientele: spoiled rich kids, unprepared ESL speakers, and native speakers whose education has abjectly failed them. The rich kids are usually capable of the work but too lazy and too moneyed to bother. Dante says that we profs ought to be busting the latter two groups, however, because the disparities between their formal written work and other verbal expression are so glaring.

In rare cases, professors are negligent. My own university had a celebrated plagiarism case a few years back where a certain engineering prof overlooked multiple cases of plagiarism in the theses he supervised. It was celebrated precisely because it was an anomaly – and because the rest of the faculty were furious! The vast majority of my colleagues are adept at spotting plagiarized work and willing to call our students out on it.

So why aren’t we busting Dante’s clients? The reason is not laziness or laxity. It’s the impossibility of proving our case. Students with poor writing skills can avail themselves of tutoring services – and indeed they should, because they can’t expect remedial instruction in their regular classes. But tutoring services muddy the waters. Even the most diligent teacher can’t prove that a student hired a ghostwriter rather than consulting a tutor.

When it comes to garden-variety cut-n-paste Internet-based cheating, though, making the case is a snap. It’s remarkably easy to spot the paper that’s cobbled together from various websites and a student’s own prose. I caught three students cheating this fall. It’s not a pleasure – in fact, I’m always quite upset when I discover plagiarism – but it’s also far from rocket science. You just need to google a suspicious phrase  that jars with the student’s own style, and the source usually pops right up. Sometimes you need to slice and dice the phrase a bit to compensate for slight paraphrasing by the plagiarist.

What does this mean for our students’ educational experience? At Big Think, Pareg and Ayesha Khanna suggest that the easy availability of scholarly and semi-scholarly material online may spell the death of academic integrity as we know it. They fear students will cobble bits of the Web into a serviceable or even honors-level paper.

I think not. Cut-n-paste plagiarizing is easily minimized through three main strategies. You start by including a clear policy on academic integrity in each syllabus, which lays out a definition of the delict and the range of penalties. You then create assignments that resist simple cutting and pasting. I no longer assign a novel in my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies, for instance, because SparkNotes sadly proved too tempting. The second third (ooops!) strategy is to read carefully for style. The paper plagiarized through Internet bricolage reads like the patchwork that it is. It veers from Wikipedia-style prose to ad-speak, then devolves into jibberish (that would be the hapless student’s original contribution), only to soar to the loftiest heights of poststructuralist theory. Oh, and if your U.S.-American student writes of “colour” or “kerbs,” your next stop better be the Google.

Of course, a few students will still be rich or desperate enough to resort to the Dantes of the world. Their number is declining, I suspect. Most students would rather spend disposable income on fun (often, drink). Most students are not organized enough to engage Dante’s service in a timely way. Instead, they seek refuge in Wikipedia at 3 a.m., not realizing that their profs can read Wikipedia, too. Much as I’d love to see students make use of actual books in the library, at least their over-dependence on Wikipedia is likely to hurt Dante’s business.

At the end of the day, I wonder why anyone bothers to copy from the Web. The results are typically incoherent. Sometimes they’re unintentionally hilarious. My recent favorite? Definitely the paper that tried to explain patriarchy and ancient Roman sexuality with stuff swiped from Conservapedia on pagans, a neo-Pagan site called Nova Roma, and interview material from Starhawk – all unattributed, of course. Hey, I’d love to see Starhawk hobnob with Conservapedia’s founder, Andy Schlafly (spawn of Phyllis!). Thanks to my unfortunate student, I got to experience the next closest thing.

(The title goes back to a post on plagiarism allegations against Barack Obama in 2008. I couldn’t resist recycling it.)

(From ICHC?)

Read Full Post »

A couple of weeks ago, while trying to understand why body scanners are ineffectual, I found this great clip. Trouble is, it’s in German. Now, I could fix this, because I’ve done a fair amount of professional translating, German to English. But more trouble ahead: We were heading into final exams, and I know how much time it would take to insert the subtitles, having done it once before. I figured I might tackle it after I finished grading, even though the main expert’s Bavarian accent is atrocious.

Now that my grades are in, I found the same clip via Clarissa’s Blog – this time with English subtitles. They contain more infelicities than if a pro had done the job, but the translation is perfectly serviceable. (When they say “plaster,” they mean “band-aid,” in American English.) I’m pretty confident the translation isn’t Clarissa’s, but we owe a debt of thanks to this person (I suspect a native German speaker) who took the time to do a conscientious job.

In any event, you will understand more than enough to be alarmed.

This, folks, is why we could double our national debt investing in these scanners and not be appreciably safer.

(Go here if you cannot see the clip.)

If any of my chemist readers is itching to pen a guest post on thermite, I will gladly publish it. (I know there’s at least one of you out there!)

The scanners are, of course, only part of the problem. Another loophole could allow a bad guy to sneak through 24 ounces of Evildoer’s Goo (thermite specifically? I dunno).  Jeff Goldberg recounts this three-way rendezvous between himself, security über-guru Bruce Schneier, and a TSO in Minnepoo:

We took our shoes off and placed our laptops in bins. Schneier took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled “saline solution.”

“It’s allowed,” he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don’t fall under the TSA’s three-ounce rule.

“What’s allowed?” I asked. “Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?”

“Bottles labeled saline solution. They won’t check what’s in it, trust me.”

They did not check. As we gathered our belongings, Schneier held up the bottle and said to the nearest security officer, “This is okay, right?” “Yep,” the officer said. “Just have to put it in the tray.”

“Maybe if you lit it on fire, he’d pay attention,” I said, risking arrest for making a joke at airport security. (Later, Schneier would carry two bottles labeled saline solution—24 ounces in total—through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. “Two eyes,” he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)

(Read the rest here; it’s hysterical, precious, and horrifying, all at once.)

See? If it says saline, it must be saline! And not thermite!

Wherever the new scanners are coming online, they actually intensify an existing threat: that of a bomb aimed at passengers being shepherded toward the security checkpoint. Even if only 20% of flyers are directed to the scanners, without any opt-outs or false alarms – well, that’s enough to slow the lines noticeably. In busy airports, the waiting times will balloon, as will the crowds, once the new scanners become more routinely used. They’re simply slower than the old magnetometer.

Schneier makes this point in the Goldberg piece just cited: we’re creating sitting ducks. In the Thanksgiving edition of the New York Times, Roger Cohen channels Osama bin Laden in a busy U.S. airport and observes:

bin Laden might also wonder at just how stupid it is to assemble huge crowds at the Transportation Security Administration’s airport checkpoints, as if hundreds of people on planes were the only hundreds of people who make plausible targets for terrorists.

Feeling safer yet?

So far Germany, at least, isn’t squandering its money on naked body scanners. But then, its watchdog media (ZDF is a publicly supported TV network) are actually doing their job right.

And really … if the intent of the grope-down was to save us from the underpants bomber, why weren’t “enhanced patdowns” implemented way back in early January 2010, when our memory of him (and our gullibility) had just hit another local maximum? After all, that’s when Chertoff traversed the airwaves to sing the praises of Rapiscan technology. “Enhanced patdowns” are a better bet than the scanner for actually catching the next underpants bombers (though I’m positive there won’t be a clone; next up will be the booty-bomb.)

Of course, I’m not defending the grope-downs. Not at all! I’m just pointing out that the timing of their introduction had nothing to do with “homeland security,” as it has been sold to us. It had everything to do with the first major rollout of the naked body scanners, however. They were a punitive means of guaranteeing compliance and organizational efficiency from the flying herds of American sheeple. Otherwise, we would have gotten the grope back in January, for sure.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 50 other followers

%d bloggers like this: