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I’ve been posting up a storm about why the new TSA body scanners are unethical and arguably illegal (and I’m not done yet). If you agree that the TSA has violated a line that should not be crossed in a democratic country that ostensibly values human rights, here are a few things you can do.

Right now, you can complain (politely) to the chair of the Senate transportation committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (WV), at 202-224-6472. The committee is holding an oversight meeting on the TSA tomorrow morning (Wed., Nov. 17) at 10 a.m. I just called and they were very nice to me, even though I’m not a West Virginia constituent. You can also go to the National Opt-Out Day website and see if your state has a senator on the committee. The site provides contact info for all committee members. I’ll probably call at least a couple of the senators from the states where I’ve got a personal history (North Dakota and California).

I just mentioned National Opt-Out Day in passing. This is a concerted effort to get passengers who are outraged about the TSA’s procedures to opt out on November 24. I don’t know the fellow behind National Opt-Out Day, Brian Sodegren, but he appears to be just one guy, not an organization, which makes me tend to think he’s just a fed-up citizen and not a minion of the Freepers, for instance. His website doesn’t sound any obvious right-wing dog-whistles, and a quick Google search doesn’t flag Sodegren as any flavor of extremist. Even if he were a Freeper, though, I’d be happy to make common cause on this issue, because civil liberties don’t belong to any particular political constituency. I’m staying home for Thanksgiving, but if I were traveling, I’d definitely join in. I hope the protest will call attention to TSA abuses and wake up some Americans who up until now simply trusted that everything the TSA does should make us safer.

Some people are choosing to boycott flying until the new policies are rescinded. I can’t do that because I need to visit family on the other side of the country, but if you want to join them – or even if you just want to follow breaking news on these issues – check out their Facebook page, We Won’t Fly. I agree with commenter Mark (who brought the page to my attention) that we need to act on a number of fronts. The intent of this tactic is to put pressure on the airlines and other branches of the travel industry, which will then put pressure on the government.

When I fly on December 2, I plan to opt out. I’ll politely but firmly state that I do not consent to having my breasts or genitals touched, I’m merely not resisting. I’ll also decline my “right” to be hand-screened in a private space, which only removes accountability. We have the right to a witness in private screening, but I’m flying alone, and I don’t consider a second TSA screener an impartial witness. Let the world see what the TSA is doing! The violation is in the invasive touching, not in the view that onlookers will get. If I’m subjected to invasive screening, I will document it. I’ll ask to lodge a complaint with the TSA. I’ll register it with the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s incident reports. (EPIC is suing to have the scanners removed from service). I’ll also report it to the ACLU. I’ll call my senator, Sherrod Brown. And of course I’ll blog about it!

I also thought about wearing only a swimsuit under my coat the next time I fly. This would underscore the ludicrousness of patting someone down when every curve and bump is visible. But overt protest actions only make sense if you can get them filmed, and I’m unfortunately traveling solo. (Also, I really do need to get to California, so getting kicked off the flight is not an option.) It turns out that one of Germany’s fringe political parties, the Pirates, beat me to the idea.

If you’ve got more ideas, leave them in comments, and I’ll do a follow-up post.

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

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Addressing a proposal in Australia to make baby formula a prescription-only product, Spilt Milk strikes the perfect balance between breastfeeding advocacy and respect for women’s individual situations, experiences, and autonomy.

As a lactivist I obviously have a problem with the marketing of infant formula and any implication that it is as good as, or better than, breast milk. But as a human being I also know that people are hurt, seriously hurt, when they feel judged and shamed and when they are exhaustedly holding a hungry, crying, baby at 2:30 am and it feels like no one can help them.

Removing systemic barriers to breastfeeding certainly may require improved measures to reduce the popularity of formula – popularity which can be attributed to decades of marketing not only to the public but to health professionals. A big part of that marketing is about convenience: huge displays in chemist shops and regular sales at the supermarket of products in familiar-looking tins add to the impression of ease of use and the normalisation of artificial feeding. But whether we like it or not, formula and its ready availability is important to many families. Removing that now feels like a stick where a carrot should be.

Give parents the tools to make sound decisions that benefit them and their babies. Give parents not only choices, but supported, realistic choices. Don’t tell a woman who has to go out of the home to work, or who has other children to look after and little support, that the choice to dedicate perhaps days to increasing her milk supply through frequent feeding and skin-skin contact to avoid supplementing with formula is an easy one: it clearly is not. Education and information are hugely important but they are only part of the picture when practical barriers still so often interfere with breastfeeding relationships.

Adding practical barriers to formula use, as I think this proposal would, isn’t a particularly kind way to help parents. Being caught between a rock and a hard place doesn’t make the rock seem any easier to budge: it just makes it hurt more to be stuck there.

(There’s lots more where this came from.)

I want to zero in on the problem of shaming. It’s illuminating to shift the focus away from infants and toward the choices that we adults make about our own bodies.

For instance: I had a super healthy dinner tonight: baked tofu, locally-grown Carola potatoes, locally-grown watermelon, and sliced golden tomatoes that I grew from seed. (I had been trying to grow these ‘maters, Aunt Gertie’s Gold, since I read rave reviews about them on Garden Web, but managed to kill them on the first attempt by mixing in too much organic fertilizer when I planted them out. Another year, they failed to germinate. This year – success!) I added a dab of butter to the potatoes and marinated the tofu in teriyaki sauce. I was in late-summer heaven.

But last night? Late after the kids were in bed? I ate a strawberry Pop-Tart. And damn, was that good too.

What if someone had decided to shame me about that Pop-Tart? Would that have caused me to ascertain that those potatoes were also organically grown, instead of just sustainably? Might I have foregone the butter? (Admittedly, if I’d been feeling well instead of ushering out a nasty GI infection, that pat of butter would have blossomed.)

Hell No!

I would have had a Pop-Tart for dessert.

Now, luckily people have not often shamed me for my Pop-Tart weakness. We don’t eat them regularly. My kids love them precisely because a Pop-Tart is a pink unicorn in their world, and a yummy one, at that. Most crucially, though: I am NOT FAT. And therefore I can only shamed along the “bad mommy” axis for keeping Pop-Tarts in stock; I’m pretty impervious to fat-shaming. (Fat-shaming would surely be worth a whole ‘nother post, and this post would be a whole lot different if not for my thin privilege.)

Of course, “bad mommy” shaming is the main tactic used against women who don’t conform to the loftiest ideals of breastfeeding practice. They’re told in no uncertain terms that their child’s survival depends on what they feed him or her. And they’d better feed mother’s milk, but then the true shaming begins. The new mother is eating all wrong! At least, this must be true, or the baby would settle better, sleep longer, give up his eight-hour crying jags. And so they’d better watch out for garlic! Peanuts! Soy! Cow’s milk! Eggs! That dejected bottle of prune juice, purchased solely in the hope of warding off postpartum constipation? Might as well dump it, dear; no one else in your family will go near it.

Through all this, the mother is trying to suss out her child’s new and changing needs. If she’s poor and/or not white, the “well-meant” advice may well come wrapped in a thick wrapping of paternalism. How’s she supposed to develop her sense of mastery and competency in this hullaboo of “Yer doin’ it rong!”

Really, what new mothers need is respect for the fact that they still are humans, and that their body remains their own. The baby has a moral claim on breastmilk, sure; the mother has a moral claim on being an autonomous person. In most cases, she also is willing to make very significant sacrifices for her baby – her sleep, bodily fluids, her illusion of invulnerability,  the very minerals from her bones. Shame her, though, and you’ve shortcircuited her chance to figure out what combination of sacrifices (because there will be sacrifices) could help her child thrive without eviscerating her as a woman – as a person.

And darn it – sometimes every mother needs a Pop-Tart. Mine was strawberry. Toasted. And I haven’t breastfed since spring 2003, so how much more do new mothers need a Tart? I don’t believe food should have to be earned through moral machinations, but I do tend to think that I’ve got a lifetime entitlement to Pop-Tarts. I’m certain that there’s still one box of brown sugar/cinnamon in the basement. I will eat it with utter lack of shame. Next morning, with nothing but a Tart headache, I will help my kids get their reasonably healthy breakfasts and lunches. They are growing. I’m pretty sure we’re doing something right. Quite possibly something that deserves a Pop-Tart and champagne celebration.

I’d be interested in your metaphorical Pop-Tarts – and that goes for non-parents, too. What small self-indulgences keep you afloat? How do you gird yourself against scolds?

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I’ve officially finished with the academic year – finally, finally, in mid-June. I’m hoping to get back to more regular blogging now that teaching the history of Nazi Germany isn’t dogging me nearly every waking moment (and a few nighttime ones, as well).

Kittehs do not appreciate being dogged.

Or then again, I might just spend the next few weeks genuflecting before the World Cup and blogging about which players and coaches float my boat. (Uruguay!!!!)

At any rate, this is how I feel tonight:

It’s just the mirror image of how I felt as a student … and how my students no doubt felt a few days ago.

Grading isn’t my favorite part of the job. You see wild guesses that are so far off that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The Berlin Airlift was a British bombing campaign against Germany? It was an attempt to convey German and Polish Jews to safety?

But then there are essays that impress me with their maturity and insight. There are also moments of pure charm. My favorite this quarter came from a dedicated student who just drew a blank on an ID question. Since he was stuck, he went for style points:

It’s a pretty convincing Kitler, but it’s the name Strüdel – complete and replete with the umlaut! – that was my undoing.

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Traditionally, German soccer teams have purportedly embodied “German virtues” (die deutsche Tugenden): a tough work ethic, discipline, organization. They’ve been made to sound much like a Mercedez-Benz. At their best, their performance indeed resembled German engineering. Otherwise? As Swiss National Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld recently described the German virtues: “Not necessarily play well, but win anyway.” If you’ve never lived in Germany as an expat (or as a German!) there’s no way to convey what a basic article of faith the German virtues have been. There’s gravity. There’s the fear of draughts. And then there are the German football virtues. All these are fixed elements of the German universe.

In that spirit, the old-time German stars tended to take themselves pretty seriously. The legendary Franz Beckenbauer, for instance, is one of those guys who makes you worry his whole face might crack and shatter if he smiled too warmly. His skin looks that much like brittle leather (perhaps it’s an antique ball, circa 1927?). Luckily, Beckenbauer doesn’t crack a smile often. Sure, it’s a stereotype – the humorless German – and even some of Beckenbauer’s contemporaries, the stars of the 1970s and 1980s, broke the stereotype on occasion. Still, they didn’t break the edifice of “German virtues.” Why, they helped build it higher, brick by brick.

Monty Python had their own take on this, with their Philosophers’ World Cup:

(via Cookie Jill at skippy the bush kangaroo; go here if you can’t see the clip.)

So maybe Marx wasn’t the most promising footballer. (Note Beckenbauer, however, in the lineup of philosophers. They’re not quite shittin’ you.)

And yet, the revolution did come, ushered in by none other than my alltime favorite soccer star, Jürgen Klinsmann. My Klinsi** coached a young, inexperienced team to third place in 2006. The German football-nation danced in the streets. Everyone in Berlin forgot how to be humorless (possible exception: those yippy little dogs that poop everywhere). Upon Klinsi’s departure, he handed the baton to Jogi Löw, who’d provided the tactical brains of the operation.

And today, the revolution in the “German virtues” burst onto the world stage. The boys (and they’re mostly still boys, many too young to drink legally in the U.S.) didn’t just win 4:0 against Australia. They didn’t just pass the ball like magicians, with the grace and style of Otto the Goalie Kitteh. Above all, they looked like they were having a blast!

ABC has snagged my Klinsi as a commentator. His verdict? “They’re having fun with the ball.”

Sounds like a real improvement on the old virtues to me! And oh, were those young, pass-happy Germans ever fun to watch! “Fun” is a virtue I can gladly get behind.

I lived in Berlin for just shy of a decade. I stepped in a lot of the aforementioned yippy-dog-doo. I figure I’ve earned the right to prognosticate. Sungold’s magic 8-ball sez: Germany might just make it to the finals! And if they do, it’ll be with virtuoso command of their passing game and a huge dollop of fun! Oh, and I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of Klinsi now and again – always my idea of fun fun fun.

** I say “my Klinsi” because back in 1996, I appointed myself president of the American women’s Klinsi fan club. Since no one has stepped up to depose me, I hereby appoint myself president-for-life.

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This post doesn’t get a trigger warning, exactly – just a sticker for minor TMI and, well, a bit of ickiness.

Yesterday Hitler went into his bunker one more time. By the time my lecture ended at 2 p.m., he had died again – and not a moment too soon. While we’ve still got another week of classes, I must say it’s a mighty relief to know that Hitler is now charred beyond recognition. For all the satisfactions I’ve found in teaching this course, it has been emotionally and intellectually arduous. (And of course, my own struggles are a trifle, compared with those who were actually, historically victimized by the Third Reich.)

But this is not a post about Hitler. Indeed, now that Hitler is out of the picture – and just in time for the three-day weekend, too! – I finally feel free to take some time to sticky-tack my own life back together. For instance? Long-deferred trips to the doctor, including my first-ever visit to the dermatologist. If you’ve checked out my little Sungold pic, it’s obvious that surveillance for skin cancer ought to have started with me still in the womb. And indeed, the doc agreed that two of the spots I’d identified as potential trouble were precisely that. Out came the portable deep freeze, which spritzed all points of suspicion with liquid nitrogen. Those trouble spots now look far worse than ever, but I’ve been assured that any rogue cells have been killed dead, and that the dark-brown spots will eventually fade, rather than being the first step toward dressing as a Sexy Dalmatian next Halloween.

But then there was a third spot, not nearly so suspicious, but quite uncomfortable whenever I leaned back against a hard wooden chair. My doc said no problem, we can remove that mole, too. This trick, however, required a signed consent form, a shot of lidocaine, and a few stitches.

Afterward, I asked to see the “specimen,” now floating in a jar, which would be sent to pathology. It looked remarkably like a very pale pencil eraser. It look like a pencil eraser had mated with a fetal pig preserved in formaldehyde. Yes, I do see the biological implausibility of this. I’m going for the aesthetic point while realizing that this is – at best – the opposite of aesthetic.

I am not grossed out by things floating in glass jars. For that, I spent far too much time reading historical medical journals while working on my dissertation. I was just fascinated at how this plug of tissue, barely reddened and fringe-y where it had moments earlier nestled near my spine, had gone within seconds from being me to not-me.

All of which brought me back to a theme that has preoccupied me ever since, some weeks ago, I was looking through some college-era pictures. Those quarter-century old pictures were also, emphatically, me/not-me, though mostly on a symbolic level.

Nestled among the photos was an old braid of hair. My hair. It wasn’t a mere representation. This braid? It was physically me. I had grown it, brushed it, more or less tenderly cared for it. And then one day, soon after I met my someday-husband, I needed lightness, and so off went my locks. (This was before anyone was aware of Locks of Love. From today’s vantage point, I suspect my braid is too short to donate. Anyway, the vintage of my braid (1992!) hardly makes me a fab donor candidate.)

This braid is still tangible. You can pick it up and stroke it, marveling at how much softer my hair was in my youth, back when I rarely blowdried it and never colored it.

It is a piece of my youth, transported, whole and unfaded, into my increasingly middle-aged present.

Mostly, though, I almost feel as though this disembodied piece of me should be able to bear witness. It cannot, of course. But it should, dammit! Nothing else in my life has stayed inert since 1992. I’ve married, borne two children, moved from Germany back to the U.S., bought a house, finished a dissertation, embarked on a teaching career, seen my husband through two forms of cancer, and learned to like horseradish.

I think similar thoughts about my kids’ teeth as they lose them. I have no dignified way to keep them. They pile up in plastic ziplocs like tiny pawns for a game as yet to be determined. These little gamepieces are both of my children and yet wholly other. I do not know why I keep them. I couldn’t bear to thrown the in the trash. They’d require a solemn burial.

I guess there are two aspects of our permeable, detachable, deconstructable bodies that perturb me.

One is that these lost teeth remind me of aging, and I don’t just mean my own. As he approaches his seventh birthday, the Tiger now has only half of his top teeth. When his permanent teech ease into place, his little-boy grin will be gone forever. Actually, it already is. When that little boy is gone, he’s gone for good. He’s essentially dead, apart from those fragments of memory we carry with us. They are never enough.

The other thing? All these loose part – these spare parts – remind me that it’s not just the body that’s permeable. Our selves are permeable and unstable. Call me a postmodernist, but I think this is both true, and deeply unsettling.

Or maybe I’m just my mother’s daughter. For years after her gallbladder removal, she kept a vial of her stones in the medicine cabinet. I’m guessing they’re still there.

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A couple of days ago, Historiann linked to a hilarious quiz, “Dante’s Inferno Test.” It’s definitely a cut above the average Hello Quizzy offering, and I was tickled to see her seriously edumacated commentariat parsing the second circle of hell (for sins of the flesh) versus the third (gluttony!).

In light of yesterday’s post, I can’t even offer a prize for the best guess at where I landed. Y’all know, I’m sure:

The Dante’s Inferno Test has banished you to the Second Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repenting Believers) Very Low
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) Very High
Level 2 (Lustful) Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous) Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Very Low
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) Very High
Level 7 (Violent) Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) Low
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Low

Or in other words:

Huh. Sounds like a fun crew, down there in the second circle.

Maybe this is a neurosis left over from grad school, but I can never just take a quiz once. I always have to tinker with it to see how it works (and, um, also to manipulate my results – good thing I didn’t go into the social sciences). Turns out that flipping the answer on the one question that was hard to decide – “Would you sooner go without sex than go without good-tasting food?” – bumped me up into limbo along with the virtuous non-believers. It also ballooned my gluttony score from low to moderate, which sounds about right.

But I’m gonna stick with my original score. I figure if I’m in level two, I can occasionally pop upstairs for good conversation with the virtuous non-believers – and then slide down to visit the gluttons foodies on three, in hopes of creme caramel.

What about you, dear readers? Take the Dante’s Inferno Hell Test and let us know how you did in comments!

Also: The following picture might just knock me down to level six, the heretics. I’m betting it’ll be full of LOLcats and their human minions.

Helter Skelter kitteh from I Can Has Cheezburgers?

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Through my stress-reduction course (aka my stealth Buddhism course), I learned a little more about how our brains work. It’s not just that the left side is logical and the right hemisphere is creative. The left is sequential and the right is all about NOW.

Or, to steal a metaphor from Jill Bolte Taylor, the left hemisphere is like a serial processor, while the right is a parallel processor. (My shriveled little inner computer geek, who surely lives in the left brain, loved this idea.)

Taylor should know. She experienced this the hard way in 1996 when a stroke wreaked havoc on her left hemisphere. Her TED talk on the insights she gained has been around for a while, but it was new to me when I viewed it in my class. Watch it, and prepare to be moved. By the end, my eyes weren’t the only ones shining with tears.

(Click here if you can’t view Taylor’s talk.)

Two things just floored me, apart from Taylor’s story itself. She described her recovery as taking eight years. Yes, that sounds awfully daunting. I took it as a beacon of hope. My health troubles that began last winter affected my brain and nervous system. They changed my visual perception (which might be a thyroid issue) and clouded my cognition. I am feeling weird paresthesias in my legs and lips as I write this, a sort of buzzing, tingling sensation that is annoying and distracting though not painful.

If Taylor managed to keep seeing improvements for eight years – which is how I heard her story – then I’ve got another good seven years to go! I’ve regained most of my mental clarity, except for a pesky problem retrieving last names. I’ve learned that meditating can enhance my powers of concentration. It’s almost as if letting my right brain steer for awhile makes my left brain more supple and focused. I’m curious whether a serious schedule of meditation could even take my thinking beyond my pre-illness abilities. Logically (says my left brain), the ability to call equally on both hemispheres should make one a better writer, for instance.

The other insight that struck a chord with me was Taylor’s explanation of right-brained perception and experience. People living in the now-now-now aren’t going to be setting goals or ticking tasks off a mental checklist. My son the Tiger is pretty right-brain dominant, as far as I can observe. He’s not just left-handed. He learned to talk late, with otherwise “normal” development. He’s got a great ear from musical pitch – another right-brained trait. And he drives his parents batty when getting ready for school in the morning. Yes, I know most families are rushed in the morning. The Tiger has turned chaos into a high art form.

Tiger! You need to put on your shoes and jacket, and grab your lunchbox.

Oh, Tiger, your shoes, remember? And then the jacket?

Um, you’ll need both shoes, not just the right one.

Now your jacket. Yes, I did so mention your jacket. How many times do I have to say it?

Please get your backpack. Well, where did you last see it? No, I didn’t put it under the dining room table.

[The boys stumble out the door.] Hey, TIGER! Wait up! You forgot your lunchbox!

The same scene repeats every morning, varied mainly by how impatient his dad or I sound by the end. I have no illusions about winning some apocalyptic battle against impatience. That struggle is built into parenting. But just maybe, having caught a glimpse of the now-now-now brain, I will appreciate that our Tiger is living with one foot in what Taylor calls Lalaland, a place where sequential thinking is difficult and foreign. Just maybe, I can to learn to visit him there, as a tourist. Present-moment awareness, as my teacher kept reminding us, is a gift to be nurtured. Just maybe, I can find new reserves of patience, understanding that what can look like willful obstinacy is actually far more about him inhabiting the ever-expanding, ever-demanding present.

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