Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘media’ Category

Almost daily, I get email from friend-of-the-blog Lisa Simeone on novel ways that the national security state is eroding our liberties. But today, Lisa herself was the poster girl for the corrosion of liberty – and I read about it first on Alternet, then at War Is a Crime, not in one of Lisa’s emails. It’s typically, really, that Lisa is all about the principles while setting aside her private worries. Now, though, they’ve become a national cause celebre.

Lisa has been fired from her job as the host of the documentary program Soundprint, which is carried by NPR affliates. The reason? Her involvement in the October 2011 movement, a peaceful protest against militarism and corporate greed, which has joined forces with Occupy DC. Lisa was targeted by The Daily Caller, which accused her of conflict of ethics and possible ethics violations, suggesting she was bound by the NPR ethics code. But first, Lisa was only a freelancer, not an employee, and was evidently never warned that she could lose her job due to political activity. Moreover, Soundprint’s statement seems to have a pretty tenuous relation to reality:

Soundprint is a journalistic program and Lisa’s leadership role as a member of the steering committee and a spokesperson for the October 2011 protest activities, associated with the Occupy DC movement, conflicts with her role as the host of a documentary series. Soundprint adheres to the highest standards of journalism which include maintaining appropriate distance from marches, demonstrations and other political activity. These are standards held by many other journalism organizations, including National Public Radio.

Fine, but look at Soundprint’s current program: the tale of a deaf septuagenarian who wants to learn to fly, and a tribute to Sir Edmund Hilary. It’s obvious that Lisa couldn’t be objective about Hilary! Never mind that he died three years ago; were he still with us, he’d definitely be in the 1%! Lisa introduces the story, and I’m listening really hard for her left-wing invective. Listening … oooh, straining a bit … Wait! She just called him a “humanitarian”! Surely that has a political subtext?

Lisa’s other radio job, hosting the nationally-syndicated World of Opera program, is hanging in the balance as well, though so far it looks like its sponsoring station is resisting pressure from NPR.

Lisa points out in her interview with War Is a Crime that NPR is applying a wildly inconsistent standard, allowing some of their regular employees who actually report on current events to pontificate on Fox:

“I find it puzzling that NPR objects to my exercising my rights as an American citizen — the right to free speech, the right to peaceable assembly — on my own time in my own life.  I’m not an NPR employee.  I’m a freelancer.  NPR doesn’t pay me.  I’m also not a news reporter.  I don’t cover politics.  I’ve never brought a whiff of my political activities into the work I’ve done for NPR World of Opera.  What is NPR afraid I’ll do — insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of Madame Butterfly?

“This sudden concern with my political activities is also surprising in light of the fact that Mara Liaason reports on politics for NPR yet appears as a commentator on FoxTV, Scott Simon hosts an NPR news show yet writes political op-eds for national newspapers, Cokie Roberts reports on politics for NPR yet accepts large speaking fees from businesses.  Does NPR also send out ‘Communications Alerts’ about their activities?”

Yep, knowing Lisa, I think Madame Butterfly is about to be Occupied. (But there likely won’t be any tents involved. Like me, Lisa enjoys, needs, appreciates, and once again NEEDS a decent bed at night. I sometimes think a good mattress is one of the top three secret clues to vitality in one’s 40s and beyond.)

But seriously: It remains a mystery how Soundprint arrived at the conclusion that Lisa’s activism collided with the NPR ethics code. NPR denies having even contacted Soundprint. And vice versa. How to explain? Might I smell a whiff of Breitbart and his ilk? The earliest smear job I found on Lisa s a piece by Neda Samnani at Roll Call, dramatically dated “October 18, midnight,” insinuating that of course Lisa committed an ethical breach, because if she’s on radio, then she must be, well, a reporter.

Horseshit.

Ethics codes have a place in journalism, but Lisa was not exactly committing journalism. Lisa was doing cultural programming. Nor are ethics codes the be-all and end-all of media ethics. If they’re relevant to Lisa’s current work, they must equally apply to Ira Glass and Garrison Keillor at Lake Woebegone. The last time we heard about Keillor’s religious prejudices, there were consequences! ripple effects! an article in Salon … and not a blip in his contract.

So much still is shrouded in obfuscation. I am hoping Lisa will find time to fire off one of her emails, just like she does whenever she sees someone else’s rights being abrogated. I’m sure she’s pretty overwhelmed. There could also be a lawsuit brewing.

Given that we may need to wait on the facts, it’s half-past midnight (see, we can do her detractors one better – nay, 30 minutes better!). It time to rally to her cause. I just wrote the following to NPR:

I know Lisa. She’s whip-smart and highly principled. Her work is consistently thoughtful, fair, professional, and easy on the ears. I was thus dismayed to hear that Soundprint fired her for her engagement in October 2011.  Despite her history of activism, she hasn’t let her personal politics bleed into her professional work.

I’m so pleased that WDAV has not yet bowed to pressure to fire Lisa, who has done nothing wrong. Please support WDAV in their loyalty to Lisa. And while you’re at it, might you ask Soundprint to reconsider their hasty decision to fire her? There’s a difference between a reporter who covers hard news and a radio host of cultural programming. Lisa’s work falls in the latter category. I respect the reasons why NPR has an ethics code (even though I also know that real media ethics are more complex than a mere set of rules). However, as a freelancer who didn’t report on hard news, Lisa should not be muzzled in her private life as a citizen in the name of “objectivity.” Doing so just makes her former employer/client appear petty and, frankly, scared of right-wing bloggers and pundits.

Bring back Lisa Simeone! [Okay, I admit to trying to play the diplomat. "Horseshit" tends not to fly as an actual argument, except from my dissertation advisor who made it work beautifully.]

You can contact NPR here. To their credit, WDAV seems to get it (way more than NPR does!), as you can read here. Thankfully, comments are running overwhelmingly in favor of Lisa. But don’t hesitate to add yours, too, if you’ve appreciated her comments here or her work elsewhere.

And also: Hugs to you, Lisa. Count me among your friends and fans who love you and will stand with you – chin up and boobs out, as a friend of mine loves to say. Brava, for your passion, commitment, principles, and love of liberty. This panic from our overlords? I read it as a sign that we’ve got them rattled.

I hope you’ll weigh in once the worst of the madness subsides. Until then, sending hugs and virtual chocolate while posting madly on Facebook about this travesty.

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 »

Most of the students I teach, I never hear from after the final exam. The exceptions are almost always utter delights – the folks who sincerely took interest, who liked to learn, who were kind and thoughtful and real. Every once in a while one will re-emerge from the ghostly wisps of the past, reminding us that our work isn’t ephemeral, even if it usually feels that way.

Two former students resurfaced this weekend. One, whom I taught in 2007, wrote me for a reference – no, not a recommendation letter, but the title of an essay! A piece she’d remembered and wanted to reread! Turns out she’s well on her way to a Ph.D. in psychology. She tells me my class made a lasting difference in how she views the world. Judging from her request, she’s got an abiding interest in sexual assault. I hope she’ll be able to marry that with her psych skills. She says she’s developed an abiding “passion” for women’s issues. Words like “powerful” and “inspirational” were bandied about. Let’s just say I’m the one who felt most energized and inspired.

The other ex-student was more of a monster rising up from the deep. [Edit: That comes across as unduly harsh: The ideas she espouses are the monster, not the ex-student herself.] Technically I’d never taught her; I’d only read her column in the school paper, marveling at its wingnuttery. I also listened to the venting of colleagues who had the dubious pleasure of teaching her in WGS and journalism. There, she was intermittently hostile to her feminist teachers and consistently too cool for school. I always thought her ambition was to become the next Ann Coulter.

Surprise! She’s publishing cheek-by-jowl next to Coulter at Town Hall! (Via Renee at Womanist Musings who braved the ooze of the far right – a far more intrepid gal than I.). Now that our young alumna is halfway to her goal, it’s fair to name names: Meet Ashley Herzog, recent Ohio University grad, proud denizen of wingnuttia, author of Feminists against Women. Oh, and she’s also making those lists of “top conservative women who are HAWT!!” (to which we owe the following photo).

In her latest post at Town Hall, Herzog takes aim at my university’s new gender-neutral housing option:

The idea that college life is so tough for gay and transgendered students that they need separate housing is preposterous. Far from being uniquely oppressed, the LGBT contingent is often the most catered-to of any group on campus. Administrators go to great lengths to satisfy these students while simultaneously nurturing a victimhood complex.

(Read the rest if you think it could possibly get better. I promise it won’t.)

Hahahaha! You’d think gender-neutral digs would feature jacuzzis, wall art by Robert Mapplethorpe and Judy Chicago, and surroundsound cycling through Liberace and Elton John, Holly Near and Bikini Kill.

No. Dude. It’s just a dorm room. In fact, said rooms won’t have any extra features. It will merely lack one simple furnishing that used to come standard: a roommate harboring homophobia and transphobia.

As for a “victimhood complex,” Herzog’s been nurturing her own for at least half a decade, spurred on by silly instructors who insisted she work for a grade. By now, her wounded victimhood is festering quite nicely. I’m sure she’s finding that what failed in the classroom will stand her in good stead at Town Hall. Ann Coulter, prepare to move over.

Me? I reserve the right to snark at Herzog in the future when she deserves it. (And she will, she will.) In the long run, I’m far more interested in what becomes of my smart, altruistic former students who don’t see self-promotion as their best quality.

Update 1-27-11, 4:30 p.m.: I want to make it crystal clear that I will never, ever mock students for statements they make in class. That is a zone of privacy, a safe place for exploring ideas, even (or especially!) half-baked ones. I will occasionally blog about interesting things they teach me, but I won’t publish their names. If a student places themselves in the public sphere by publishing views that are reprehensible, criticism is fair play. I still wouldn’t call him or her out for anything that happened in class. By the same token, I’ll link to any student who publishes something interesting, and I’ll do so with great pleasure. All of this goes for former students as well as current ones.

Read Full Post »

It’s tempting to imagine that if we lefties and liberals ignored the likes of Ross Douthat and Will Saletan and Caitlan Flanigan, their influence would wither. Aren’t we the core audience for their publishers: the New York Times, Slate, the Atlantic? True, they provoke smart takedowns – I’m thinking of Jill Filipovic’s response to Saletan framing abortion as an abstract moral problem, or the way Amanda Marcotte decimated Douthat’s willingness to view women as mere incubators – but we end up making the same arguments again and again. It starts to feel like deja vu on Groundhog Day all over again.

How much more tempting to think we could wish Sarah Palin away! Via Skippy, we hear that Dana Milbank is calling on the rest of the media to break the Palin addiction. He’s pledging to not mention her for the entire month of February. (Ironically, Milbank is taking a cue from Douthat, of all people.) And the movement is spreading:

(via Leslie Savan at The Nation)

Skippy says he’s on board. Granted, I haven’t said much about Palin recently, but her name appears in 68 of my posts, which is about 7% of the total. Way back on September 7, 2008, I wrote a post called “Palin, the Object of Our Obsession.” Might I be due for Palin detox, myself? Besides, Skippy’s graphic is irresistible.

All bets are off, though, if Levi drops a bombshell or Todd runs off to Vegas with a showgirl dressed up as a sled dog.

Also, just for the record, even though I’ve got six more days before the pledge kicks in: I am positive Palin had no fucking clue about the origins of the phrase “blood libel.” She’s not bright or curious enough to even know what she doesn’t know. She thus wouldn’t have bothered to look it up. And once she knew (assuming she even knows, now!) she didn’t care.

Read Full Post »

When my little Bear was actually little, he loved the show “Bear in the Big Blue House.” Now my Tiger has discovered it, too. Yes, it’s aimed at preschoolers, but Muppets are ageless. Myself, I can’t stand the squeaky voice of Tutter the Mouse, but I’m utterly charmed by the big Bear and his little niece Ojo.

(Image borrowed from here.)

I’ve always loved the show’s music, too, even after logging thousands of miles with those tunes filling our car. The one that always struck a melancholy chord in me is “The Goodbye Song,” sung by the Big Bear in a duet with his lovely friend Luna the Moon at the end of each episode. Meant to help the child let go of the fantasy world and transition calmly back to reality with the promise of another day, it had an opposite effect of me, evoking fragility and impermanence and frank loss.

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

It’s partly the key change that would put me in a melancholy mood, but most of all it was Luna’s voice. Before googling the show yesterday to see if it’s still in reruns (apparently yes, but not where I live), I didn’t know that Luna was sung by Lynne Thigpen, an actress and singer whose career spanned the stage (Godspell), movies (Anger Management), and oversized Bear muppets.

Thigpen was struck down at age 54 when she suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in early 2003. When she died, the show died with her. Her Wikipedia page says that “the crew’s hearts just weren’t in it anymore.” I had wondered why the show disappeared so abruptly and blamed corporate greed at the Disney channel. Wish I’d been right.

I never knew Ms. Thigpen, but I love her voice, and I love her work. I wish I’d known her name years ago. Her voice lent company and comfort in those topsy turvy, sleep deprived, sometimes lonely days of early parenthood.

Bear: Hey, this was really fun

Luna: We hope you liked it too

Bear: Seems like we’ve just begun

Both: When suddenly we’re through

Bear: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye

Both: Cause now it’s time to go

Bear: But, hey, I say, well, that’s OK

Luna: Cause we’ll see you very soon, I know

Bear: Very soon, I know

Both: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye

Bear: And tomorrow, just like today

Luna: (Goodbye – today)

Both:
The moon, the bear and the Big Blue House
We’ll be waiting for you to come and play
To come and play, to come and play.

She died too soon. Tomorrow is not just like today. It’s not OK.

So to Lynne: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye. And to Luna: Thanks for the light.

(Photo of Lynne Thigpen from her tribute page at Muppet Central.)

Read Full Post »

It’s not the Tucson Tragedy, as MSNBC keeps terming it. This was a fucking assassination attempt. I’d hope our ostensibly liberal cable news station would call it what it is.

Anthony McCarthy (at Echidne’s place) criticized this trope as soon as it emerged. I’d add that a tragedy is an event that was inevitable because of someone’s personal flaws or their star-crossed destinies. (Think: Romeo and Juliet, not Lee Harvey Oswald.) This was not just a crime, as Anthony so rightly states. It was a political crime. It was an assassination attempt.

Yes, the alleged gunman seems to be deeply disturbed, but that in itself is an incomplete explanation. Why did he fixate on political figures? What fed his paranoia about the government?

In the town next to mine, there lives an intelligent young man who believes that the government (the CIA?) has implanted a chip in his brain and is attempting to control him. He’s been in and out of inpatient mental care. When he’s out, he occasionally emails all of his acquaintances about the government’s nefarious plots, and he regularly calls into a local talk radio show. (I know this because regular Kittywampus commenter Hydraargyrum listens occasionally to said show, and my husband is on the email distribution list.)

This man has never threatened anyone, as far as I know. I also fully recognize that the vast majority of mentally ill people will never pose a danger. My point, rather, is that disturbed people don’t live in a vacuum. They inhabit the same culture as the rest of us. They soak up the political atmosphere. When the climate is charged with hate, paranoia, racism, and kneejerk pro-gun rhetoric, that’s what they’re likely to imbibe. Living in Arizona, a state famous of late for its institutionalized hostility toward immigrants, Jared Loughner was liable to absorb all of these toxins.

When I heard about the assassination attempt late on Saturday, William Manchester’s description of Dallas in fall 1963 shimmered in my recollection. I’d read the passage in Vanity Fair a few weeks ago:

“In that third year of the Kennedy presidency,” Manchester wrote, “a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, ‘Impeach Earl Warren.’ Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas.…Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy’s name was booed in classrooms; corporate junior executives were required to attend radical seminars.” A retired major general ran the American flag upside down, deriding it as “the Democrat flag.” A wanted poster with J.F.K.’s face on it was circulated, announcing “this man is Wanted” for—among other things—“turning the sovereignty of the US over to the Communist controlled United Nations” and appointing “anti-Christians … aliens and known Communists” to federal offices. And a full-page advertisement had appeared the day of the assassination in The Dallas Morning News accusing Kennedy of making a secret deal with the Communist Party; when it was shown to the president, he was appalled. He turned to Jacqueline, who was visibly upset, and said, “Oh, you know, we’re heading into nut country today.”

Manchester discovered that in a wealthy Dallas suburb, when told that President Kennedy had been murdered in their city, the students in a fourth-grade class burst into applause. …

(The whole article, which appeared in October 2009, is worth a read, though off-topic for this post. Andrew Sullivan also posted a version of this passage on his blog.)

Like Lee Harvey Oswald, Jared Loughner can’t be easily pegged to a coherent political philosophy. Oswald had communist sympathies, but his attempt to defect foundered when he discovered he didn’t much enjoy the Soviet way of life. I’m not credulous enough to believe that the Warren Commission uncovered the whole truth, but it seems hard to dispute their conclusion that “His deep-rooted resentment of all authority which was expressed in a hostility toward every society in which he lived …” Similarly, Loughner’s YouTube rantings seem to revolve around anti-authority, anti-government sentiments, many of them obviously delusional. Loughner seems to be of no organized political party – but if you think the government is controlling our minds through grammar, Loughner is just your guy.

Obviously the Tea Party is not fixated on grammar. Nor is Glen Beck. Ditto, even more obviously, for Sarah Palin. (Hmm … The grammatical deficits or wingnuts: coincidence, or a defense against mind control?)

However, they and the other new American reactionaries (one can’t fairly call them conservatives) have plenty of nasty things to say about how government wants to control our lives.

American reactionaries also have broken new ground in bringing weapons to political rallies. When that taboo was broached in August 2009, I thought that violence was inevitable. Dave Neiwert, who has been sounding the alarm on eliminationist rhetoric for far longer, has reconstructed specific threats aimed at Gabrielle Giffords, including a gun found at one of her previous public appearances.

We’re in the midst of a cultural struggle for how to understand and frame this event. I’m still trying to shut up and listen, instead of blogging my every passing thought. (Hence I’m only getting to my “initial thoughts” two days later, which for a trained historian is actually light-speed.) I think all of us should refrain from snap judgments. I’m prepared to be persuaded by good arguments that Loughner had no political motives whatsoever.

If, however, the wingnut narrative – “He’s just a whackjob!” – prevails, hate speech will continue unabated. It will continue to shape the worldviews of disturbed individuals. And violence will again be inevitable.

My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones.

The least we owe them is to put an end to our climate of hate.

And while we’re at it, let’s finally adopt sane gun laws, starting with mandatory nationwide background checks and a ban on the ammo for guns like the one Loughner used.

(In case you haven’t seen this – not all of my students had – here is the graphic that Sarah Palin has now removed from her Facebook page. Note that one of the crosshairs targeted Gabby Giffords. Even if Loughner never saw it, this is still vile, eliminationist hate speech.)

Update, 1:20 a.m., 11 January 2011: Rachel Maddow just had a terrific discussion of the different types of assassins – including those with incoherent political motives – with my favorite senator, Sherrod Brown. Watch:

Update, 12:50 p.m., 12 January 2011: Eric Boehlert at Media Matters has an excellent piece on “the right’s rising tide of violent rhetoric.” Essential reading. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center offers a sober, balanced assessment of Loughner’s incoherent ideology that suggests Loughner’s most salient belief is a “‘smash the state’ attitude.”

Read Full Post »

Gratuitous flowers for a sex post: Cascading morning glories captured by me, Sungold, in October, back before the frost bit ‘em.

The Denver Post ran an article today asking why an arousal-booster for women called Zestra can’t find TV stations willing to run their ads, even as Viagra ads are literally driving in circles around us. Historiann took the article to task for its casual disavowal of feminism, and I’ve got nothin’ to add to her critique except a vigorous nod of approval. Figleaf chimed in to say that the stations’ ad policies spotlight the illegitimacy of autonomous female desire.

What most struck me about the article, though, was its conflation of libido and arousal, which is endemic in “science writing” that reports on “pink viagra.” Here’s how reporter Mary Winter framed it:

Now, you would not know it from the $300-million annual ad campaign for erection-enhancing ads for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, but women suffer more sexual dysfunction than men do — 43 percent to 31 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In other words, the potential market for flagging female libidos is huge. But here’s the irony: When the makers of Zestra went to 100 television networks and stations to buy ads, the vast majority refused them. The few stations that did take their money would run the ads only after midnight or during the daytime.

The stations “told us they were not comfortable airing the ads,” Zestra co-founder Mary Jaensch told “Nightline.” The double-standard here — men, you deserve sexual pleasure, and women, what’s wrong with you hussies? — is breathtaking.

So how about this ad: a Camaro, a woman, and a vibrating driver’s seat?

(This is just the end of the article; read the whole thing here. Winter is very sharp and witty on the Viagra ads!)

In a way, it’s unfair to pick on Winter, because most writing about female sexual dysfunction fails to draw basic distinctions between arousal, orgasm, desire, and libido. It also tends to ignore the reality of the physical pain some women experience (which K has explored eloquently at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction.) In practice, women can of course have issues with any or all of the above, and problems in one area can easily spill into another. A woman  suffering from vulvodynia, for instance, might be able to orgasm, but if sexual activity hurts, that’s likely to dampen her libido. Another woman might have a generally low libido (meaning she doesn’t crave sex very often) but develop desire responsively to her partner, at least in certain situations. There are probably as many variations as there are women.

Now, getting back to Zestra and the Denver Post: Winter’s article refers mainly to libido. She’s partly on the right track, insofar as that “42 percent” figure refers mainly to women who complain about low libido. (Some feminists have criticized that figure as too high, but let’s set that debate aside for today.) Winter does hint at the primary issue here – arousal – in that apparent throwaway line about a vibrating driver seat in the Camaro. Why yes, I think quite a few of us gals might enjoy such a ride! But if we got a good buzz per gallon, that wouldn’t mean our libido was revving – only that our engine was purring smoothly.

Libido is not the primary target for Zestra, though Zestra’s website refers to a whole host of potential benefits: stronger libido, greater satisfaction, more earth-shaking orgasms, and a more harmonious relationship with one’s partner. (That last point comes up only in testimonials; the overall tone of the website is “try this for yourself,” not “use this to please your long-suffering husband.”) It’s being marketed to women who suffer from sexual problems of any sort due to illness (including cancer), postpartum changes, menopause, antidepressants, stress, and even widowhood. But what does it really do?

Zestra’s primary mechanism, as far as I understand it, is to enhance arousal and response during sexual activity. As far as I can see without having tried it myself, it looks like it might increase engorgement and/or creaste prickling sensations in a nice way. In the best case, yummy sensations start a cascade of increasing desire during lovemaking. As a topical agent applied directly to one’s ladyparts, Zestra doesn’t act directly on libido, which is regulated by the brain and a complex dance of different hormones and neurotransmitters (including estrogen and testosterone, but also thyroid hormone, stress hormones, dopamine and lots of other nifty “messenger” chemicals). A topical gel won’t directly influence that chemical brew. It’s only logical, though, that if sex is more pleasurable, some women might want it more. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher has written about how hot sex with a new partner gives us a dopamine high akin to cocaine (quick summary of her ideas here). Maybe hot sex with in a newly reinvigorated relationship can give us the same buzz?

Also, the testing for Zestra relied on women who committed to have sex eight times in a month, so it’s unlikely many of them had a super low libido. (For more details on the testing, check out the clinical study.) These women were already open to regular sex. As a group they sound to me more like women who basically like sex but were frustrated by difficulty getting aroused. They don’t sound like the subset of women who’ve given up on sex – a group that constitutes about 15% of American marriages, by the way. (This according to Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times, where “sexless” was defined as no sex at all with one’s spouse during the previous six to twelve months.)

In other words, the mechanism behind Zestra appears to be entirely different than flibanserin, an orally-administered drug recently rejected by the FDA for ineffectiveness. Flibanserin was supposed to increase libido directly by changing one’s brain chemistry. It too was compared to Viagra, and quite wrongly so: Viagra targets a mans plumbing, so to speak. It produces an erection (though it almost always requires mental and/or physical stimulation to be effective). Flibanserin left physical arousal untouched while aiming to increase psychological arousal and desire.

Calling flib a “pink viagra” was just misleading. In the case of Zestra, the comparison appears more apples-to-apples, since both Viagra and Zestra appear to work by increasing engorgement.

I still think it’s too bad that flib flopped. Yes, the drug was intended to be a Big Pharma Bonanza. I don’t really give a shit. If it had really helped women live better, I’d be all for it. I trust women to make decisions about their bodies (though I also insist on our responsibility to understand our bodies. At any rate, flib failed to gain FDA approval because it didnt work.

As far as I know, there’s still nothing  on the market that specifically helps women who only desire sex once in a blue moon. For some women, hormone therapy (sometimes including testosterone as well as estrogen) delivers a libido boost. But hormones carry some risk. Women fear breast cancer if they take estrogen and they fear growing a beard and unibrow if they take T. But these are the choices, because there’s no drug that specifically targets libido.

Zestra interests me because it seems to be quite safe (worst side effect: transient burning sensations in some rather precious real estate). I’m skeptical to the extent that their studies are pretty small. Unavoidably, the very fact of running a study is an intervention in itself. This can have real effects on its findings. How many of the couples studied would have had sex at least eight times in a month? If most would’ve had less, that means Zestra wasn’t the only independent variable. Perhaps the twice-weekly commitment, combined with a new toy or just wall-to-wall pictures of George Clooney and Jon Hamm would fire their engines just as well. I’m pretty sure I’d be off and roaring on that program! (Where do I sign up?)

Seriously, I have been meaning to try Zestra just for the fun of it, since it sounds like its potential benefits might not be limited to people suffering from difficulty with arousal … and, y’know, anything for science! I’ve got a packet of it in a drawer but I’m not so sure what my lab partner would think.

As always, I’m very curious if any of you out there in bloglandia have given Zestra a whirl? And if so – are you willing to dish? Pretty please?

Read Full Post »

Betty Draper of “Mad Men,” played by January Jones. Photo from examiner.com (Columbus). I claim fair use.

Confession: I find lists of trendy baby names fascinating. If you share this mildly guilty pleasure (“guilty” because it’s so easy to snark and criticize), the list for 2010 is up at Babycenter.com. But what caught my eye this time around was the “Mad Men” trend that Babycenter spotted: “Betty” has emerged from almost total obscurity, landing at number 868.

Of course that’s still pretty obscure. Of course there’s nothing inherently bad about “Betty.” It’s a perfectly nice name. It’s even the name of an iconic second-wave feminist, Betty Friedan. But new parents are not finding inspiration in Betty Friedan; they’re evidently borrowing the name from Betty Draper. (Then again, Betty Friedan had issues of her own, failing to adequately recognize her class and racial privilege, and accusing lesbian feminists of constituting a “lavender menace” to the rest of the women’s movement.)

In case you’ve never watched Mad Men, the first thing you need to know is that you’re missing out on a real treat. I was a real latecomer, but once I started, I was practically hypnotized from the first episode onward. For you Mad Men virgins, I promise no major spoilers below! (But do get your hands on season one!)

The second thing you need to know is that the show brilliantly portrays the sexism of American society in the early 1960s. Betty Draper is the wife of a handsome but philandering ad executive, Don Draper. While there’s plenty of sexism to go around at Don’s agency, too, Betty exemplifies everything that was wrong with the upper-middle-class housewife role in the early 1960s.

At the outset of the series, Betty’s life revolves around keeping a perfect suburban home, drinking coffee and cocktails, and waiting for her husband to come home. She’s spoiled and childish, seemingly stunted by her beauty and social privilege. In her marriage to Don, she’s lonely and depressed. She’s not a very likable character; her demeanor is mostly cool and passive, though she does seem to feel passion for her husband. Although her life is organized around homemaking, she typically appears detached from her children. In one early episode, she scolds her daughter Sally for putting a big plastic dry-cleaner’s bag over her head. Betty’s not worried about Sally’s safety, she’s just angry that her dry-cleaned clothes might be soiled.

In short, Betty Draper evokes more pity than sympathy. She’s a dramatic embodiment of what Betty Friedan called “the problem that has no name” – the anomie, depression, and disorientation of highly educated, affluent suburban housewives of the early 1960s:

Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say “I feel empty somehow . . . incomplete.” Or she would say, “I feel as if I don’t exist.” Sometimes she blotted out the feeling with a tranquilizer. Sometimes she thought the problem was with her husband or her children, or that what she really needed was to redecorate her house, or move to a better neighborhood, or have an affair, or another baby. Sometimes, she went to a doctor with symptoms she could hardly describe: “A tired feeling. . . I get so angry with the children it scares me . . . I feel like crying without any reason.” (A Cleveland doctor called it “the housewife’s syndrome.”) A number of women told me about great bleeding blisters that break out on their hands and arms. “I call it the house wife’s blight” said a family doctor in Pennsylvania. “I see it so often lately in these young women with four, five and six children who bury themselves in their dishpans. But it isn’t caused by detergent and it isn’t cured by cortisone.”

Sometimes a woman would tell me that the feeling gets so strong she runs out of the house and walks through the streets. Or she stays inside her house and cries. Or her children tell her a joke, and she doesn’t laugh because she doesn’t hear it. I talked to women who had spent years on the analyst’s couch, working out their “adjustment to the feminine role,” their blocks to “fulfillment as a wife and mother.” But the desperate tone in these women’s voices, and the look in their eyes, was the same as the tone and the look of other women, who were sure they had no problem, even though they did have a strange feeling of desperation.

(You can read the whole first chapter of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique here.)

And new parents are saddling their infant girls with a name honoring this legacy? Sure, Betty has a chilly glamour reminiscent of Grace Kelly, but it’s swamped by all her negative baggage.

Babycenter suggests that we may be craving “a simpler, Betty Crockeresque way of life.” but that just doesn’t compute if you’ve watched Mad Men even once. Nothing is simple about the Drapers’ world, despite all their privilege. Kennedy is assassinated. Racial tensions simmer, and casual racism is as common and unremarkable as sexism. People betray their colleagues and their lovers. The show features some strong women, but all of them suffer real injuries from sexism. That’s not simplicity; it’s oppression. Funny how people tend to confuse the two.

(Then again, Babycenter reports a surge in Bristol, Willow, and Piper, too. As I said, it’s way too easy to criticize and snark.)

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 »

I’ve been so serious these past two weeks, it’s time to take a brief break to gloat. As my long-time readers know, neither of those modes is my usual. I’m not typically a single-minded terrier, and I try not to be too smug. But sometimes The Kitty just has to pounce on an injustice when it’s fresh and new and potentially reversible. The TSA debacle pushed all of my buttons: Possible harm to my kids? Check. Sexualized violence? Check. Creating novel forms of bodily experience? Ugh – check. Trampling the rule of law? Checkmate!

So let this be my “Moment of Smug,” to paraphrase Colbert. Over the past few days, my post debunking the right-wing meme of TSA favoritism toward Muslim women drew thousands of hits – with this result:

In case you can’t quite read the graphic – and even if you can (because hey, I’m gloating!) – my post, “Not Exempt,” is the first listed on Google after the breaking news links. The first. Number one. Nummer eins. Woo hoo!

Starting tomorrow, instead of all-TSA all-the-time, I’ll be going back to a broader mix of posts. But for a few sweet moments, I’m going to savor my ascendancy over Fox News. Yes, I realize my post floated to the top of Google mainly because 100,000 other posts all regurgitated the same right-wing distortion, while I offered a fresh view. In spite of this, I know many readers merely sought to confirm their wingnutty views. (From my comment spam folder: a commenter with the clever handle “fuck you” tells me to “get fucked.”)

Never mind the haters. I’m still tickled that my information rose above the scum of Islamophobic disinformation. I guess I assumed disinformation always wins because it never fights fair. Some of us feel an inconvenient obligation to the truth, which hobbles you in the fight. It’s lovely to see that sometimes the truth does rise to the top. I’m happier yet that my post might have planted a few seeds of awareness in the minds of people who were sincerely questioning.

Thanks to my readers – old and new – for hanging with me! I’m not dropping the TSA story. You can expect updates when I feel moved to provide them, but they’ll be jumbled in with my usual mishmash of sex, feminism, parenting, kittehs, and any stuff that catches my fancy or pisses me off. For those playing along at home, I’ve put together a list of my TSA posts to date:

Also, if you’re not reading Cogitamus, do pop over there. Lisa Simeone has been covering the abuses of the security state in depth for years. Her co-bloggers are excellent too – among them litbrit, who like me wants Sarah Palin to explain her “wild ride.”

It remains to be seen if the TSA will really be forced to revamp their policies. So far, they seem terrified of losing face. In the meantime, though:

(Smug kitteh from ICHC?)

Read Full Post »

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe during this explanation of the new TSA policies:

(Go here if you can’t see the clip.)

It perfectly sums up the Homeland Security response:

Q: So why do I have to go through all of this?

A: 9/11.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

(But hey, what’s with all the questions? Don’t you know loyal Americans just do as they’re told? Have we gone soft since the heyday of that great American, Joe McCarthy?)

This snippet from Colbert includes some of those moments when Colbert’s parody is uncomfortably close to actual bigotry, and you wonder if the audience is laughing with or at homophobia. Ditto for Colbert’s use of “hermaphrodite,” which is exactly the term his character would use, but – ugh.

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

Kudos to Colbert for raising a question that’s been bugging me too: What genius came up with the name “Rapiscan”?

Dave Barry complains in this NPR interview about finding out from the TSA that he’s got a dire physical condition: a blurred groin. Less jokingly, when host Melissa Block repeats the TSA line about the grope searches not being punishment for folks who opt out, Barry replies:

Well, I would say whoever wrote that it’s not punitive was not having his or her groin fondled at the time.

Jessi at The Sexademic has some satirical ideas on how to protest the searches.

Badtux the Snarky Penguin offers some darkly accurate new slogans for the TSA.

And finally, Daniel Solove at the legal blog Concurring Opinions shows us the fun to be had with a TSA Playmobile kit!

Sadly, the TSA Playmo set is no longer sold in stores, so you’ll just have to check out the rest of Solove’s wickedly wonderful post.

Read Full Post »

Who owns liberty? Republicans or Democrats? Tea Partiers or the ACLU?

Legislators in New Jersey this week came up with a novel response: All of the above. This video makes me want to stand up and cheer. Republicans and Democrats – and even an ACLU rep – all came together in opposing TSA abuses.

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

Privacy and liberty are basic American values. Nobody holds a monopoly on them. We all have a stake. We all have common ground here, irrespective of our other differences.

That’s why I’m dismayed when I see journalists, bloggers, and commenters pinning the TSA abuses on

You can see that the blaming is almost a Rorschach test for people’s pet fears and favorite enemies.

So far, I don’t see the left playing the blame game with quite such zeal as the right. This is partly because Bush is off whacking shrubs somewhere and is no longer a convenient target, while our guy is now in office. It’s also due to the left having been slow to discover this story, while the Ron Paul faction of the Republican Party has been all over it for weeks and months, to their credit. The left simply hasn’t made much of a snail trail yet.

Look, there’s oodles of blame to go around. In addition to this administration and the last, our congresscritters are not crowning themselves with glory. Unlike the legislators in New Jersey, they are mostly kowtowing to the new procedures. Despite Claire McGaskill’s incredibly tone-deaf characterization of the grope-search as “love pats,” craven capitulation to the security state is a bipartisan failing. And then there’s Joe Lieberman, who has earned himself a daily grope-search for eternity in whatever afterlife awaits him.

This is where the creeping path toward fascism must end. Let’s make common cause until the TSA buckles. While the TSA has caved to the pilots’ demands, we ordinary passengers are going to have to be a lot more persistent. (Unions do have their advantages, y’know!) We need to get along – right, left, and center – until this TSA debacle is history. Once this incursion on liberty has been beaten back, we can go back to our regularly scheduled spats.

Read Full Post »

I’m deeply troubled by some of the memes surfacing in the right-wing discussion of the TSA invasion of privacy. The worst is the claim that Muslim women are exempt. That simply is not true.

What is the truth? Well, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has issued some recommendations for Muslim women:

  • If you are selected for secondary screening after you go through the metal detector and it does not go off, and “sss” is not written on your boarding pass, ask the TSA officer if the reason you are being selected is because of your head scarf.
  • In this situation, you may be asked to submit to a pat-down or to go through a full body scanner. If you are selected for the scanner, you may ask to go through a pat-down instead.
  • Before you are patted down, you should remind the TSA officer that they are only supposed to pat down the area in question, in this scenario, your head and neck. They SHOULD NOT subject you to a full-body or partial-body pat-down.
  • You may ask to be taken to a private room for the pat-down procedure.
  • Instead of the pat-down, you can always request to pat down your own scarf, including head and neck area, and have the officers perform a chemical swipe of your hands.

Note that these are recommendations for how Muslim women should respond! I have copied them verbatim. They are not phrased as policy demands on the TSA, and CAIR is most assuredly not a major Beltway player. The recommendations focus solely on how individual women can respond, and they’re almost painfully polite: “you may ask” and “you can always request.” Even Miss Manners would be more assertive! (In fact, Miss Manners has a keen sense of social justice. She would surely note that “a private room” is actually a right that already exists under TSA rules.)

And yet, the headlines at right-wing sites announce “CAIR: TSA Can’t Pat Down Muslim Women” (that’s Fox News, not the extreme fringe).

How is the TSA actually responding? Here’s how Janet Napolitano answered when a reporter asked whether Muslim women would be exempt:

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

Napolitano’s key quote from the video:

Adjustments will be made where they need to be made. With respect to that particular issue [the sensitivities of Muslim women], I think there will be more to come.

That’s a far cry from announcing an exemption.

Meanwhile, during yesterday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearings, TSA chief John Pistole clearly stated that no one would be exempted from the new screening protocols on religious grounds.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R-NEVADA): Are you going to, you know, allow certain groups to be exempted from that because of, you know, religious beliefs?

PISTOLE: Senator, we try to be sensitive to each individual and in groups that have particular sensitivities as to whether it’s head-wear or certain garb or sensitivities about being viewed or touched and everything. So we try to be sensitive to those issues. At the same time, the bottom line is we have to ensure that each person getting on each flight has been properly screened. And so we have options such as, if somebody does not want to go through the advanced imaging technology, it is optional. They would just do the walk- through metal detector and then–and have a pat-down that would identify any possible items.

They can request private screenings. So if they don’t want to be screened in public, they can go to a private area, have a witness with them.

And so we try to address those concerns in every way possible, recognizing, again, in the final analysis, everybody on that flight wants to be assured with the highest level of confidence that everybody else on that flight has been properly screened, and including me and you and everybody.

ENSIGN: I realize this is a difficult question for you, but–so are you going to make no exceptions, then?

PISTOLE: Everybody…

[...]

ENSIGN: No, no, I–let me–maybe not (inaudible) my question. If somebody is–a random screening. I just got randomly screened at the airport. For whatever reason, my number seems to come up quite often.

But if that, you know, happens and either the imaging, OK, was one of the options or, you know, the pat down–let’s just say I don’t–I don’t want either of them because of religious–because of religious reasons. What happens to me?

PISTOLE: So while I respect and we respect that person’s beliefs, that person’s not going to get on an airplane.

ENSIGN: OK. And there will be no exceptions because of religion.

(I trimmed this for length; see the uncut transcript here.)

Despite the fact that Ensign has trouble spitting out the question, Pistole’s response is clear: Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, no one gets to opt out of both the strip-search scanner and the grope-down.

The right-wing outcry over Muslim women even asking for religious sensitivity is ironic, given the way Muslim women are treated when flying. Consider this incident, which happened to a native-born American citizen before the new protocol was implemented:

Nadia Hassan, 40, a suburban Washington, D.C., real estate agent, says she was traveling from Dulles International Airport to California on Jan. 5 when she was ordered to remove herhijab before going through a metal detector. She refused and a security officer conducted a full-body search in view of other passengers, even though she had not set off the metal detector. She says another officer told her she had to go through the added security because of her scarf.

“To target women in head scarves blindly, it’s ignorance,” she says.

(Source: USA Today)

Of course, the TSA denies it does this (see the article just linked). The TSA denies pretty much everything. (And did you know they’re just trying to keep up safe?)

The new policies spread the humiliation Hassan endured to all Muslim women. CAIR reports:

CAIR offices have already received complaints, particularly from female travelers who wear hijab, about being subjected to the new pat-down procedure. …

One traveler wearing hijab, a 56-year-old Muslim flying out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, told CAIR the TSA screener patted-down her entire upper body, including, head, neck, chest, and hips, with the backs of her hands. The Muslim woman said she had “no idea” how invasive the procedure would be and would otherwise have opted for a private room or demanded to know why she was selected for secondary screening.

[NOTE: The woman had been referred to secondary screening even though the metal detector did not go off, a phenomenon reported frequently to CAIR by female Muslim travelers.]

Bear in mind, that Islam calls all believers to modesty, men as well as women. Not all Muslim women choose to wear hijab as expression of modesty and piety. However, even those women with bare heads still regard modesty as a virtue. The new procedures trample on all Muslims’ religious sensibilities, along with their basic human right to privacy.

Update 11/18/10, 4:30 p.m.: This should already be clear from my comment policy in the sidebar, but any comments hating on Muslims, women, or anyone else will not be permitted. Let’s keep it civil. Also, comments that are grossly ignorant of Islam won’t be approved, either, because they amount to anti-Islamic propaganda even if that’s not the author’s intent.

Update 11/22/10, 9:50 p.m.: If you liked this post, you might want to check out my other commentary on TSA violations of basic rights to privacy, dignity, and bodily autonomy.

Read Full Post »

I can easily imagine the impulse to chronicle one’s sex life in a diary. I can’t imagine turning it over to one’s friends. That’s what Karen Owen, a recent Duke grad did, except she framed her sex list as a mock honor’s thesis and sent it as a Powerpoint to three of her friends. One of them wasn’t much of a friend and forwarded it to, well, the whole world.

It’s amazing to me how an otherwise apparently intelligent person can still think that anything in electronic form is likely to stay private. Even I, who came of age when Facebook wasn’t capitalized and was a literal book, know this. Of course, it wasn’t just Owen’s privacy that was violated. Half of the baseball and lacrosse team had their privacy violated, too, through no fault of their own. She was utterly reckless with their privacy.

You can read all about it at Broadsheet and Jezebel, if you want the salacious details. I’m more interested in what’s not being discussed. First and foremost, Owen writes of an encounter (“Subject 5″) in which she was completely blacked out. This is normally considered to be sexual assault. Under North Carolina law, it appears to be second-degree rape:

A person is guilty of rape in the second degree if the person engages in vaginal intercourse with another person … Who is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless, and the person performing the act knows or should reasonably know the other person is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless.

It’s odd that neither Broadsheet nor Jezebel is calling this rape. Broadsheet doesn’t even mention it. Jezebel breezes past it:

With one subject, the author blacked out and doesn’t remember having sex, but doesn’t seem troubled, by her own account.

Owen doesn’t have a duty to prosecute it. However, a feminist website surely ought to call it by its rightful name. A situation where one partner is blacked out isn’t some “gray” situation. It is not marginal or borderline. It is sexual assault, period. That doesn’t change just because Owen seems to boast that “I had somehow, in my black out state, still managed to crawl into bed with a Duke athlete.”

I’m also surprised (though I shouldn’t be) at how gender is affecting the way people interpret this incident. Imagine if the genders were reversed. There’d be more feminist outrage at how the “subjects” were exposed to shame, instead of Tracy Clark-Flory at Broadsheet saying the guys were “pantsed.” There’d be less unfeminist outrage – as expressed on the Today Show – that a girl did this. There’d be a lot more shaming of the “subjects,” who would also be at higher risk for desperate acts. We’ve all heard of young women and gays who’ve committed suicide after their sex lives were broadcast without their will; I haven’t yet heard of a heterosexual male doing the same. That still doesn’t make it okay to treat a guy’s privacy like a dirty tissue. Not even if he’s an alpha male!

To be clear, I don’t want anyone to be shamed. I don’t want anyone’s privacy to be violated. I’m just struck by the hypocrisy, and how it’s toxic to everyone involved.

Read Full Post »

I’m not a big fan of the whole “awareness ribbon” thing, but if I had a pink ribbon, I’d be dyeing it red – a deep crimson – to express how pissed-off I am at the increasing trivialization of breast cancer. “Awareness” substitutes for the fury that ought to drive the search for effective and innovative cures and prevention. (Ditto for other cancers, too, though none of them have reached quite such dizzying heights of awareness.)

Just what is breast cancer awareness, anyway? We hear about it every year, and most of us probably think, “Early detection. Better funding for research. Support for women who are fighting the disease.” A few of us might think: “Investigating environmental causes. Asking why the incidence of breast cancer is actually rising.”

Well, we’d all be wrong. Here’s how Evelyn Lauder describes it at HuffPo (and yes, I know only I am to blame for reading HuffPo):

In 1992, I co-created the Pink Ribbon with Alexandra Penney, then editor-in-chief of SELF magazine, and in turn started The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign. Today, the Pink Ribbon has become the ubiquitous symbol of breast health, and I’m thrilled to share that, to date, The Estée Lauder Companies has distributed more than 110 million Pink Ribbons worldwide. The 2010 Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign theme is: “Connect. Communicate. Conquer. Prevent Breast Cancer One Woman At A Time. The Pink Ribbon. Wear It. Share It.”

(More here.)

In other words: All you have to do is wear a pink ribbon! If we all just pinkified ourselves sufficiently, we’d wipe out breast cancer.

(To be fair, Estelle Lauder also donates some pretty big chunks of change to research, as is explained at the end of the HuffPo piece. But still.)

My second peeve with the Lauder campaign is that this year, they seem to be hopping on the save-the-boobies bandwagon. They’ve recruited several bloggers to pose nude, their arms shielding their nipples. All in the name of breast cancer awareness, of course. There’s a gesture at inclusiveness, with one man and one woman of color, as far as I can see, and one older woman in a three-generations shot. But that gesture is really just a slight nod. The rest of the women pictured are all conventionally sexy, white, and young enough to be winning the fight against gravity. (To be clear: I’m not dissing any of the bloggers involved, who likely went out of their comfort zone to promote a cause they care passionately about. I’m objecting to the overall impact of the campaign and the assumption that a sexy breast – and not the whole person – should become a focal point of activism.)

As I was viewing the site while sitting next to my husband on the couch, he glanced over and his eyes grew wide. “What are you looking at?” he wanted to know. To him, at least, these pictures didn’t convey any anti-cancer message.

I griped last year about the sexualization and ageism of the Save the Boobs video and the Blogger Boobie-Thon. But they were bit players compared to Estelle Lauder, which is one of the biggest forces in “think pink” marketing.

I’m no prude. I’m quite fond of boobs, myself (especially my own). But let’s be honest: Most of us who get breast cancer are no longer dewy and perky. The “passion” that the Estelle Lauder photo gallery was supposed to convey with a hand on the heart? That could be accomplished with clothes on, too. And then there’s the basic problem that it’s an outrage to make breast cancer – any cancer – sexy. Does anyone think that chemo patients feel sexier without their hair? That one’s libido won’t take a dive after a mastectomy or during the rigors of radiation and chemo? That anemia makes a gal or guy feel positively smoking hot?

People with cancer are usually still sexy to their lovers. But they often don’t feel that way themselves. No matter how good its intentions, a campaign that reduces their life-threatening disease to their lost “hotness” isn’t just sexist. It’s cruel. No amount of pink ribboning can paper over that.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been bowling. I didn’t really bowl. I just sort of dropped the ball.

I’ve played softball. Right field. I ran from those long pop flies. Ran away, just to be clear. If, by some odd twist of magnetism the ball landed in my glove anyway, I … just sort of dropped the ball.

But dropping a baby? Nope, I haven’t done that yet, though I birthed two of ‘em and hauled them from Germany to the U.S. and back, multiple times. The worse I ever did was to donk the two-year-old Bear’s head on the car as I tried to wrestle him into his carseat.

And so I find this just incomprehensible (via the Nation):

Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the father of SB 1070, has a new target in his cross hairs: “anchor babies,” the ugly epithet used to label children born of undocumented immigrants. The senator’s newest legislative provocation would allow Arizona “to refuse to accept or issue a birth certificate that recognizes citizenship to those born to illegal aliens, unless one parent is a citizen,” as he recently explained to his supporters. Crudely labeled “anchor baby bills” by the media, similar efforts are brewing in California, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Congress. On July 28, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham became the latest to join the assault on birthright citizenship, calling it a “mistake” and announcing that he may introduce a constitutional amendment to deny automatic citizenship to the children of immigrants who “come here to drop a child.”

(The rest is here.)

I am trying to picture where said immigrants are dropping a child. In the supermarket? In the middle of a busy intersection? In right field? Personally, I’d recommend that last option, as no one is likely to notice.

You know who’s really dropping the ball? Our media. Bless the Nation – but honestly who else is even reporting on this critically? And who (outside of a marginal cat-themed blogger) is criticizing this awful “dropping” metaphor?

It sounds like the Cabbage Patch Kids. We should be so lucky. No one’s talking about deporting a Cabbage Patch Baby.

Read Full Post »

Is it possible to be both a skeptic and a tin-foil-hatter? Because it seems I combine both in one handy package.

The day after Palin was nominated, I got wind of her wild airplane ride, and then drew my own conclusions that something was stinky – well before I even checked out the Daily Kos post that launched a thousand  conspiracies (and is now weirdly deleted!), and days before a friend pointed me toward Andrew Sullivan’s blog, the Daily Dish.

I’m just one Z-list (I prefer “boutique”) blogger, but I think it’s useful to recognize that instead of a bandwagon effect, various individuals independently began to ask apparently unanswerable questions about Palin’s pregnancy, which included more mysteries than the Virgin Mary’s. Now lit brit has added her voice to the skeptics, and she’s got a medium-sized bully pulpit at Cogitamus. Her first post and its followup sparked a rebuttal from Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon. (Much of the following is shamlessly borrowed from my comments there.)

First, why should we care? Well, if Palin lied about her final pregnancy, then she didn’t just hoodwink her immediate family. She took the whole country for a ride. I personally was not on the bus, but those who drank the Kool-Aid believe that Palin is the very embodiment of sacrificial motherhood – never mind that she seems quite content to delegate Trig’s care to others as much as possible. (Yes, I get the urge to delegate, and I’ve done it – most recently to Shaun the Sheep. I just don’t brag about my mothering practices as qualifying me for the presidency.)

I remaining mystified by Palin’s motives for faking a pregnancy. But whatever transpired back in winter 2008, she could puncture the rumors by releasing Trig’s birth certificate, as Obama has done with his own. This has been one of Andrew Sullivan’s core demands, and I agree with him. No, we voters cannot demand every last scrap of health information of our candidates. Convention, however, favors transparency when it comes to the wanna-be “leader of the free world.” Releasing Trig’s records wouldn’t just jibe with standard practice. It would also deflate me and everyone else who aren’t professional, full-time tin-foil-hatters. Most of us are highly educated, skeptical types. In fact, I came to this story precisely through my own skepticism. Give us some plausible evidence, and we’ll happily go back to writing schlock about Transformer Porn.

Before I proceed any further, one point of order: I think we should leave Bristol alone. It’s possible to juggle dates to create a scenario in which she bore two babies in quick succession. However, it fails the Occam’s Razor test. I can’t countenance picking on people who were minors at the time. Anyway, whenever we turn the camera toward Bristol, we’ve tilted it away from Palin herself. That’s not just ethically problematic, it’s also a tactical mistake.

Now, back to the evidence. Those pix from Sarah’s final weeks of pregnancy? There’s a reason why the women kicking up dust about this have primarily been mothers – me, various Alaskan bloggers, and now (on a bigger stage) litbrit. Of course not all women experience pregnancy the same. Of course a few barely show until the final week. Those “late show-ers” are almost invariably bringing their first pregnancy to term. They go on Oprah or they are expelled from their high schools. In any event, they’re not on baby number five. It’s not impossible, but it’s highly implausible to reach the seven-month mark without clearly looking pregnant. This is especially true for fit women. To hell with Palin’s ultra-fit abdominal muscles – if you’re slender, the bump is gonna show more dramatically. (BTW, I’d love to hear from other parents who can confirm or refute my observations.)

I come to this kerfuffle not just as a feminist and mother, but as a scholar with some relevant credentials. I wrote my dissertation on historical experiences of pregnancy, and though I’m not an M.D., I play one pretty well in the archives. I’m drawing on the absurd amount of time I’ve spent immersed medical journals (historical and present), plus my experiences as the mother of two sons. Sure, my experiences are not representative, nor are those of my friends and research “subjects.” However. I’ve collected enough experiences to know that Palin’s are just off the chart.

What most makes me wonder, more than anything, is Sarah’s wild ride. It smacks of gross negligence, which ought not to be a selling point with the pro-life crowd. It doesn’t even fit into her newish mama grizzly narrative. After all, the grizzly ought to protect her young, not eat ‘em … or endanger them by giving birth an hour outside of Anchorage, be it by car or plane.

I’m not gonna rehash my posts on Sarah’s wild ride here, but re-reading them, I’m struck at how it’s truly a tale of miracle and wonder. My old commentary starts here with Palin’s arrogance, moves on to my condemnation of  her cowboy judgment, and concludes with a look at the tension between Palin’s actions and reproductive rights. Go read those posts if you’d like to offer up your own comments, because I’m loathe to trot through quotes from them, and yet I think they perfectly illustrate Sarah Palin’s absence from the reality-based world.

Sarah’s wild ride is a narrative that fits pretty well with shooting wolfs from planes. When it comes to establishing love and concern for disabled kids? Hmmm, that doesn’t work quite so well.

Not saying I’ve got the answers. Only that the questions are compelling enough – once you direct the focus away from Bristol – that they’re not merely JAQing off (a charge Amanda repeatedly raised in her post and comments). Even Sully, bless his male-centric soul, sees that Palin is using her cred as sacrificial mother of a “special needs” infant as a basis for her campaign. I don’t think it’s illegitimate to draw on one’s experience as a parent (or other caretaker) in campaigning or governing. I do think it’s bogus to build a campaign on a legend of fearless maternity that is either pathological or a prima facie lie. That’s the point where Sarah Palin’s right to family privacy evaporates into the same ether as her thoughts about Kyrgyzstan. Notice that the argument over privacy does not depend on her anti-choice politics, though they add an especially rich irony. In the end, I have to concur with a female reader of Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

As a woman and a mother I am deeply offended by your reader’s suggestion that Sarah Palin ought to be given privacy about whether she really gave birth to Trig because “women lie about pregnancy/birth/parentage all the time.” Give me a frickin’ break. If a woman lies to her mate about whether she’s carrying his child, that’s between them. But if Sarah Palin lied about giving birth to Trig and then goes around talking about his birth in her book and in speeches, that’s a public matter.

“E]ven if you prove what is likely true – that she is lying – it is neither unique nor crazy.” Well, it may not be unique to fib about a pregnancy, but it is crazy to build an entire political identity on what even this reader thinks is almost certainly a lie.  If Palin can blatantly lie about something this big, and keep lying and embellishing the story, then how could we possibly trust her in public office? This is why it matters to voters.

I am sick and tired of this sexist bullshit. She’s a politician. She made it part of her identity.  It’s fair game.

Yep. Just imagine if McCain had turned out to fake his war injuries or imprisonment? If Kerry’s medals came from a gumball machine?

Dontcha think the mainstream media would pounce on either of those (fake) stories?

So why is motherhood sacred, even if it’s essentially the greatest credential a candidate boasts in seeking higher office?

Anyone else getting a brimstone whiff of sexism about now?

Read Full Post »

And I might have become one myself, had I not blown up some chemicals in a high school lab. (My best-friend-cum-lab-partner took that incident as a signal from teh Ceiling Cat to pursue a Ph. D. in microbiology, so go figger.) Throughout college, at least half my friends were in STEM fields, maybe because Stanford was so heavy on engineers. (Conspicuously few were premeds, though, as playing in the Band had a lethal impact on many folks’ GPA.)

I still really enjoy science – and scientists – and so even if there were no gender angle to it, I’d still get a kick out of this website, which features drawings of scientists done by seventh graders. Each has a before-and-after version, with the “after” drawn once the student had met up with a real, live specimen of a scientist at Fermilab.

The paired drawings handily expose all manner of stereotypes – and the students’ growth beyond them. Sometimes it’s terminal nerd-dom that gets swept away, as in these sketches by “Ashley“:

Not that nerdiness need be bad, mind you!  Disclaimer: I too cherish my inner nerd. Though I never really took to Heinlein, I still have a soft spot for the original Start Trek, and some days I like books a bit better than people. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone – that most humanities types harbor a little nerdy streak, though we try with varying success to cover it up. The most assertively hip and fashionable big academic shindig, the MLA conference, might be interpreted as a massive exorcism of the inner nerd. Surely there’s a paper in that: “The Return of the Repressed: Post-Freudian Perspectives on the Nerd Within.”

While Ashley’s drawing makes mention of women and men, some of the other girls actually shifted the gender of their “typical” scientist. A great example comes from Amy:

See, the scientist shifts from being obsessive and frankly unbalanced to … being hip circa 1972! A scientist may even be interested in racquetball! (And honey, I’m not snarking about the “even” – I had zero interest in the sport.)

And a scientist can be a gal. A fashionable gal, even, who’s friendly and open and has a sense of humor. A gal who likes to dance.

Now, go flip through the other drawings. They’re cute, they’re enlightening, and they show that Amy was not alone in her preconceptions, even if she did draw the awesomest green smoke.

So the next time someone starts spouting untested, Lawrence Sommer-esqeu theories about women being naturally less suited than men to STEM careers, we might recall Amy’s sketches. We might ask what happens when girls (and boys!) meet real-life scientiests. We might also ask how to make science careers more family friendly – but oy, that’s be a whole ‘nother post. We might wonder how we can offer encouragement to those girls who nearly blow out a ceiling tile in chem lab (ahem!).

In the meantime, I have a couple of scientist friends who I think would rock that turquoise blouse and matching oversized shades.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers

%d bloggers like this: