Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Necessity of Money

It is easy to react with contempt and incredulity at the people of New Orleans who are not leaving the city in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav, especially after Katrina's destruction only three years prior. But that does not take into account something rather rudimentary, and that is money. Some of these people do not have the money to get out, to pay for shelter during their time away from their home, and to continue living on while they are without work. For some, the reality is that they are forced to stay. Michael Kennedy, a dishwasher, says:
Most people don't have cars to leave, don't have money for gas. Pay for a hotel that long? I mean, you have to do whatever you have to do, and I guess I'm gonna stay and work.
Jeremiah O'Farrell, another dishwasher:
If I left, I'll probably lose my job. I really don't have anywhere to go if I could leave.
Sidney Williams:
I wish I had the money to go... ....Lot of folks around here are gonna make do with what they have, and you won't hear a terrible amount of complaining. You can't just come in here and expect to hear people fussing about how they don't have nothing.
Mayor Ray Nagin warned "residents that staying would be 'one of the biggest mistakes of your life'", and "emphasized that the city will not offer emergency services to anyone who chooses to stay behind". But for too many, staying behind is not an independent choice, but a decision tempered by other factors. And even though the city is providing transportation for those who have no other way out to shelters in northern Louisiana, that does not protect the poorest (or just poor) from losing their source of income. It does not offer much in the way of actual shelter or assistance once the storm is over and they return (or not) to their old lives, with less than they had before and very possibly no way to pay for necessities like food and shelter.

It is easy to blame the poor, the immigrants frightened of deportation, the disabled, and the wary for their fate in this storm. But that isn't the whole story. It doesn't take into account that these are people existing on the precipice, and it doesn't take into account that people -regardless of race, gender, or income level- deserve to feel safe enough and secure enough in their position to take whatever assistance is available in preparation for the onslaught of the storm. But that isn't the reality these people who are staying in New Orleans live with. They aren't guaranteed anything after the storm dissipates and life returns to some semblance of normalcy. And that is a modern injustice and a tragedy.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tropic Thunder

So, I saw Tropic Thunder. I had wanted to ever since I saw the previews for it, even though I usually avoid Ben Stiller movies and movies of that ilk like the plague. But Tropic Thunder seemed to have something, something great. It isn't really the best movie in terms of philosophical musings. But it is incredibly funny. Robert Downey Jr. is amazing, simply awe-inspiring. Matthew McConaughey does his best acting to date in this film, as he generally gets to be a fairly decent guy who just reacts to the craziness around him. It seems to suit him well, though his Southern accent is still in full effect. Ben Stiller is also incredible, given that his overacting works well when he's acting, and his affable guy act works well when he's just wandering around aimlessly in the forest. Jay Baruchel was also a wonderful pick, which was a nice suprise since the only thing I've seen him up until this point was the horrible Knocked Up. The movie works because the actors are actually good, and are actually believable even as the action descends further and further into the fantastical. It is also very well written, and structured. The first actual scene we see of the movie-in-movie "Tropic Thunder" is reflected in the final scene of the real movie the audience watches. Everything, from the shots to the lines to the themes, are all there -only it is done well, if wackily.


Tropic Thunder got in some hot water before it was released because of the scene that utilized the "r" word -retard. I have to say, I think that scene is incredible. It is not only funny, but a scathing look at Hollywood and what they reward and what they cast out. Lazarus (Downey Jr.) rightly points out that Hollywood only accepts certain versions of the mentally disabled -versions of the disabled that are more sanitized and more acceptable. Lazarus' comments about how Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man and Tom Hanks' character in Forest Gump weren't uncomfortably mentally disabled for those of normal mental acuity is startlingly true. Not every person with disabilities is a Raymond or a Forest. And it creates a self-congratulatory environment, where Hollywood can pat themselves on the backs for being so progressive and daring by creating a certain type of character while still uncomfortably ignoring those who do not fit into the idiot savant paradigm. 

The film deals with the situation between the two characters incredibly well, partially because Stiller's Tugg Speedman isn't exactly the brightest crayon in the box anyway -and Lazarus is still remaining fully in his African American character even though he is the only one among the five actors to truly recognize that the events in which they find themselves are not an elaborate staging of guerilla filming but a real and dangerous situation. Tempered by those two facts, the use of the "r" word becomes less offensive than if it was just being kicked around. We're supposed to react to the use of the word, and the examples Lazarus brings up to support his point about going "full retard". We're supposed to recognize that this is an entirely inappropriate conversation that also happens to be about a rather demeaning set of standards Hollywood clings to -much like the idea that a pretty woman has to get "uglied up" in order to win an Oscar, like Charlize Theron in Monster.

The other thing the film mainly lampoons is method acting. Lazarus' refusal during the entire escapade to break character even though he is fully aware that the movie is no longer in production and that he and his fellow actors are stranded in the wilderness is funny and somewhat gratifying at the same time. At times, he seems to exist dually with the character he embodies, which is an acting feat Downey should be recognized for. Osiris and Lazarus both occupy the same space in several moments of the film, and it is an odd thing to watch even as it brings about some of the most gratifying moments -like Lazarus-Osiris critiquing how Speedman's acting has improved during a rather perilous search-and-rescue mission. Funnier still was him creating other characters, and drawing on his prior acting gigs -like knowing Mandarin from having spent a number of months working in a Chinese sweatshop in order to fully prepare for the role. And his final peeling away of characters toward the end of the film was both funny and cathartic. Osiris was a fun man to spend a film with, but Lazarus (and Downey's Australian accent) was also a wonderful character all on his own. And as a bonus, it also seemed to suggest what I have always felt; and that is that at a certain point, method acting is no longer acting but an actual issue, though my primary example is generally Daniel Day-Lewis.

And the movie works with Stiller's Speedman and Downey's Lazarus-Osiris due to the presence of two straight men -Alpo Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). Sandusky is the nobody, and no one can remember his name except Lazarus; and one seems to get the impression that Sandusky agrees to believe Lazarus is right about the whole faux-movie thing based on almost that alone. But he is also an understated necessary device. His is the character who manages to pull the troops together, who isn't so caught up in his stardom (because he doesn't have it yet) that he is worried about tarnishing it, or destroying it, or thinking about where his next high is going to come from. He is perhaps the smartest member of the quintet, and the sanest. Alpo Chino was also a necessary component, especially when he was commenting about how he makes a charitable donation of $2 million a year to his old neighborhood and how the only meaty African American role in the movie went to a white guy. And although it is only one line, it brings to the forefront the thoughts of movies that have been white-washed like 21. He is also a closet homosexual, with a crush on Lance Bass. And because we don't find that out until most of the way through the movie, he isn't some gay character -he is a character who happens to be gay, which makes all the difference. Jack Black also does a fairly decent job as a drug-addled comedian, but his job is to mostly be someone the other characters can react to rather than a full-fledged character himself. He has some odd periods of growth, but his detox takes much of the film to complete and that leaves him with very little time left to be actually conscious. Overall, Tropic Thunder was well worth the trip to the theater, and definitely one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long while.

Truly Bad Song Choices

Political parties are notorious for choosing absolutely abysmally in terms of songs to represent their campaigns. "Born in the U.S.A." (Reagan)? How about "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (McGovern)? "Fortunate Son" (Kerry)? "Crazy" (Perot)?! Sometimes the candidates should really look into what the song is saying in general, like in those cases above. And sometimes, the candidate should really look into what the musician's political affiliations are; Ronald Reagan using Bruce Springsteen falls into that. John McCain utilizing John Mellencamp's "Our Country" and his "Pink Houses" falls into that camp (though "Pink Houses" also falls under an incredibly bad choice as well, in terms of song content). George W. Bush using Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down" wasn't a wise move either.

But I kind of think this year's Democratic National Convention put those old song to shame in terms of absolute jaw-droppingly bad choices (well, maybe "Crazy" still holds that record...). Yes, Bill Clinton was introduced with his signature song. But then there was "Chain of Fools" playing at one point. "Chain of Fools", people! Is that the message Democrats want to be sending, that they -and those who vote for them- are a chain of fools? Because I would think that a savvy politician, and certainly a roomful of them, would recognize the badness in that statement. Democrats definitely shouldn't be telling that their constituents that they're just "a link in [their] chain".

The DNC also played "Pink Houses", which I was also kind of confused about. I understand that part of the Democratic push is how badly the economy is doing and how bad a job the current administration has done in terms of the ordinary Americans, but really now. This was a supremely bad choice, what with the lyrics:
"They told me, when I was younger
Boy, you're gonna be president
But just like everything else, those old crazy dreams
Just kinda came and went"
I'm going to put my foot down and say that this is not the message we should be sending out. We should not be saying, at a convention for the presidential nominee, that those crazy dreams of electing him are going to come and go. No, Democrats! Bad!

Michelle Obama getting "Isn't She Lovely" at the end of her speech wasn't really the best either. One, it is a song about an infant. Two, it refers to the she in the song title as "precious". And three, although her speech was about her husband and her job as a mother more than her own accomplishments (and was thus a good first lady speech), "Isn't She Lovely" kind of gives the impression that Michelle Obama -aside from the infant issue- is lovely in one specific way -and that is in appearance. She is very pretty, but she has more to bring to the table than just that. And apparently, though I missed it, the DNC also played XTC's "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead", which is "a song about a JFK-like pol who gets killed". And since the campaign has made a big deal about how much Barack Obama looks up to the Kennedys and how much like JFK he is as a politician who is able to enthuse the youth, that may have been the worst pick in the history of campaign song picks. Had I heard it, that would probably be my top pick. 

My favorite that I heard, though, was probably David Bowie's cover of The Beatles' "Across the Universe". Don't get me wrong. I love The Beatles. I love David Bowie. I love "Across the Universe", the original version, the version on "Let It Be... ...Naked", the one used in the musical "Across the Universe", and Bowie's version. But it is really not a great song to play, and here's why. One of the refrains is "nothing's gonna change my world". Since Obama's slogan is "Change We Can Believe In"... ...I think you know where I'm going with this. Word to the wise: if you campaign on change and the idea that your candidate can facilitate that change, don't pick a song that directly contradicts that message.

I'm looking forward to the RNC. I'm sure they'll have some fabulously horrendous song choices as well.

Friday, August 29, 2008

How Democrats Lose Elections

The Republicans have been on the ground here in Denver. They even threw parties for Clinton supporters. They did what Obama acolytes should have done.
This is from Gina at What About Our Daughters, and I think she's dead on. Some fun historical facts, via PBS' coverage of the DNC: in 1976, both parties (on a national scale) supported abortion rights; both parties supported passing the Equal Rights Amendment. And then, the Republicans lost. And they decided to do what Republicans have been doing best ever since; they decided to go out there, change their message, and woo voters who traditionally would not have voted for them (and also, fight dirty). They became more evangelically friendly, after years of the evangelical branch of Christianity staying out of elections. Now, those people are their voting block. What the Democrats do, what they have continually done, is expected voters to come to them. And that doesn't work. The historical lesson the Democrats should have taken from Al Gore's loss in 2000 wasn't that Ralph Nader cost Gore the election, but that Democrats have to work harder to earn their constituents' -and people who should be their constituents- votes. But they still don't. I'm now an Obama supporter. I'm firmly and keenly planted behind Obama. But my hackles are still being raised by editorials like Nora Ephron's. Why? Because Obama won. He won, and Hillary Clinton, although she has been maligned by the press even after she conceded, has done something different in giving Obama her pledge of support even before going to the DNC. Seriously, that is incredibly rare. What is even rarer is to have the defeated opponent offer up a speech like hers at the DNC -or a speech like Bill Clinton's for that matter. Ted Kennedy, Jerry Brown, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Jackson, all of these people did not endorse their party's candidate when they spoke at their national convention. Jerry Brown's speech was considered a win by the The Atlanta Journal Constitution because it did not contain a direct attack of Presidential nominee Bill Clinton. Hell, Jesse Jackson refused to release his delegates and threatened to put his name into nomination for vice-president. And you know what happened? 3/4 of the time, the candidate lost. Ford lost; Carter lost; Dukakis lost. But Ted Kennedy isn't reviled for it, and Ronald Reagan certainly wasn't reviled for it.

So, as I said before, I don't understand Clinton supporters who would vote for McCain. But it takes enormous hubris on the part of Obama's supporters to assume that they can strong-arm Clinton supporters into endorsing Barack Obama. Some of these people devoted years of their lives to getting Clinton elected. Others have felt like their hopes have been crushed; still others feel like this is one more example of an older woman being usurped by a younger man (and yes, that last one is a bit emotional; but it is a response, especially for women who know that the older they get, the more invisible and less valuable they become). It is easy to say, "my party, right or wrong", just like it is easy to say, "my country, right or wrong" -but as John Kerry said, "Absolutely my country right or wrong; when right, keep it right, and when wrong, make it right". Obama is an incredible candidate. He has not engaged in the politics of fear; but he also has a long way to go, and one of the things we have to accomplish is true party unity. What Obama supporters have to do -and should do, if they truly wish to see their candidate elected- is to stop attacking Clinton, and stop maligning and attacking Clinton supporters. There are certainly reasons for Obama supporters to dislike Clinton, but she is no longer part of the narrative. She is not the nominee. She is not the vice-presidential nominee. She is now part of the greater Obama narrative, and her job is to do her damnedest to get Obama elected. So let it be. Because the more the attacks grow, the more it seems like the Obama supporters -at least those on the interweb- are sore winners, are petty, and refuse to extend the hand of friendship to Clinton supporters. Who may very well refuse to accept it. But there has to be an offer made first.

John McCain is very crafty. He is also an incredible politician. He grabbed all of Barack Obama's post-convention air time, and he made a vice-presidential pick based at least partially on the fact that some Clinton supporters are angry, some Clinton supporters are feeling attacked, and some Clinton supporters -and women in general- are being overlooked under the assumption that they will come back to the pack because there is no where else for them to go. That kind of thinking hurts Democratic chances in national elections. That kind of thinking loses elections. Because women -and gays, and blacks, and environmentalists, and progressives- make up the Democratic base. But if these different groups are only being thrown a bone every so often while legislation is being pushed through that continually erodes their rights, the cold comfort of this party being the better of the major two may not be enough to get them to the polls come November. Cater to the base; always cater to the base first and foremost. And Obama supporters need to not assume that Clinton supporters -or independents, or Edwards supporters- are selfish, aren't considering the consequences of their non-vote for Obama, or are in some way defective. As Bill Clinton said, "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than the example of our power", and that same sentiment should reverberate among Obama supporters. Threats aren't going to work; but examples and thoughtful analysis and respectful discussion -along with the in roads Obama made last night by mentioning abortion rights and gay rights- may help turn the tide.

We've got two months to make to make the case for Obama. We've got two months to make those who feel invisible to this campaign feel like they are not only visible but an important consideration. We've got two months to prove that McCain doesn't care for women much, and that his VP isn't a victory for women on the national scale either -though it is definitely a step forward for there to be a woman on a presidential ticket of a mainstream national party; too bad it is mostly in an effort to get the disenfranchised Clinton voters. And too bad it took 24 years to get another woman on a ticket since the last one.

The New Set Up

So, I figured I'd better explain the new set up of the page. Well, for one, I've set up a handy poll to gage reader response to the new look. Please vote.

And two, I loved my old page. It kind of felt like it fit the name, Art at the Auction. But something changed, recently. The names of the blogs in the blog roll used to be bigger, and in a different color, than the most recent post highlighted underneath. I have those blogs up there first and foremost for my own convenience (I'm selfish like that), and the change to the format both irritated me and made my eyes hurt. And so I began poking around for a new page. This is the one I settled on, for a couple of reasons. One, it is stark, so it isn't like I'll grow attached to it if they ever fix my problem with the old layout or if I find a great new layout. 

Two, I like the stretch of the writing. The little column I used to have made me worry about how much I was writing, if people would even bother to read it. I've read articles that detail how large blocks of text and forcing the reader to scroll down the page limits on-line readership. Apparently the way to keep people is by not writing very much, adding bullet points, bolding some text, and adding some hyperlinks. But at that point it is less like writing and more like just impersonally throwing up facts on a blank wall and seeing what sticks. And that isn't really what writing is about. Maybe I'm a writing luddite, but I like books. I like articles that explore the writer's ideas -especially on blogs- and I like turns of phrases. I like authors more than subjects. I like subjects too; but one of the things I learned in college is that a great professor, someone who truly knows how to engage students and impart information, is much better to take than an interesting-sounding class. Sometimes the two overlap. Existentialism with one of my favorite professors was a home run. But sometimes the two don't, and taking Chekhov's Plays with a bad professor was so much less enjoyable than taking O'Neill and Williams with a good professor -even though I hate Tennessee Williams. So, I wanted a blog to both impart information and articles that I found interesting and also to give -sometimes righteously angrily, sometimes wittily, sometimes bemusedly, sometimes hopefully- my take on said information.

So, please, vote in the poll. And if you have some time on your hands and want to help (or just really hate the new layout), scout out new layouts for me that I may have missed because I was underwhelmed at the selection I beheld.

"Billy Idol Gets It..."

Growing up in my family means sometimes speaking in quotes more than independent and new formulations of words. For example, instead of saying, "You've done a bad parking job", my parents will say, "We can walk to the curb from here". If two children are fighting, the least stubborn child (or oldest child) will not be told that the other one is younger and so it would be good for her to triumph, but "Let the Wookie win". If we're lost or taking an alternate route, the line is, "It's over the ocean to Scranton, Pennsylvania?" (That movie is probably quoted than any other, what with ones like, "We missed it by a good foot and a half", and "I'm such a great driver it is incomprehensible that they took my license away".) If something seems impossible but got done, the quote most often said is, "Only Nixon could go to China". Quotes from movies and television shows pepper my language, sometimes to the detriment of others' understanding me. "Blah, Tralfaz, blah" is one of those phrases people look at me oddly for. But it has become ingrained behavior; so much so that when I read this article featuring Milo Ventimiglia, in which he said, "I mean, fuck, it's 2008. The fact that people are still worried about stuff like that baffles me", my first thought was, "See? Milo Ventimiglia gets it. I don't know why she doesn't!" Of course, I had to substitute Milo's name for Billy Idol's, but the gist of the quote is still the same (bonus points if you know where the quotes in this paragraph come from).

It continues to confound me, the idea that being gay or transgendered or bisexual or just different, is something the greater society still persecutes people for. It continues to astound me how far we still have yet to go. I've gone to Provincetown a few times in my life. It is a fun time, and I really enjoy it. I particularly like the gay man who runs the hat shop there, who said, "Oh, honey, it's a little late, don't you think?" when I told him I was buying a hat to shade myself from the sun while sporting a wicked burn. I love walking down the street and seeing, actually seeing, people of all walks of life being profoundly comfortable with who they are. Couples, feeding each other in restaurants, who couldn't do that in other places because they are both guys (or girls). And I love it there; the shops are great, the whale watch (where I got my infamous  sunburn) is great, and the whole vibe of the place is laid back and freer. I hate the idea that it is somehow magnanimous to proclaim that a person can be gay (I'm sure they're glad you grudgingly acquiesce to their existence), but that they shouldn't "be gay" in public. That it is somehow a horrible, scarring thing to see two people exchange nothing more than a peck on a city streets, or in movies, or in television. We're getting farther than we have been in the past. Homosexuals can now marry in Massachusetts and California, and I'm so glad that Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were able to wed before Del passed away earlier this week, after being together for 55 years and campaigning even longer for LGBT rights. I may think the ritual of marriage is antiquated and slightly ridiculous, but I want that ridiculous ceremony to be open to everyone who wishes to take part in it. And I can't believe that it isn't yet.

And I firmly believe the worst, most craven thing the Clinton administration did during their 8 years in office was to capitulate, however slightly, on the issue of gays in the military with that horrible "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Worse than Whitewater, and more prevalent than Monicagate (and how I loathe sticking "gate" onto any political crisis! It was called Watergate, people, because it happened at the Watergate hotel complex). The idea that gays could so hurt morale that it would endanger the United States troops is the argument once used for keeping the troops segregated. As we've seen, the integration of the troops didn't bring the military complex to its knees. So, Milo Ventimiglia gets it; we just have to wait until more people -especially in government- catch up.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Vagina Is The Key To My Empathy

I love books. I love movies. I watch television shows. And a lot of the books I read and the movies and television shows I watch have a dearth of female characters as the protagonist. Like, Pixar films. Pixar creates films again after again after again that are wondrous in their brilliance; they are well written; they are complex; they are subtle; and they make an emotional connection with the audience through characters like Mr. Incredible and Woody and Buzz and Speed and Alfredo and Flick and Mike and Sully and Remy. Don't get me wrong, Pixar has incredible female characters as well in Dory and Elastigirl and Violet and Jessie and Colette. But those characters are never the protagonists. And Pixar won't have a film with a female protagonist until 2011; and even then, the story will be a more traditional fairy tale instead of empathetic robots or anthropomorphic toys or loving fish or rat chefs. And throughout my life, the movies and books and television shows have generally had a lack of truly wonderful female leads. The books of my childhood were based almost primarily around male characters like Harold with his purple crayon, and Max and his journey to his island where the wild things were. And Lentil with his harmonica, and the Happy Lion and Francios the keeper's son. There were some girls mixed in. I had Frances.

On Sesame Street, I had Maria and Susan and the random kids who would play "One of These Things", even though a majority of the muppets were guys. But Reading Rainbow had LeVar Burton and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood had, well, Mr. Rogers -and Mr. McFeely. And he had King Friday, "lording over the lesser puppets". And later, I would watch M*A*S*H; and although it had Major Margaret Houlihan, nearly every other character was a man -even Klinger, though he pretended to be a woman. Later still, I watched Northern Exposure, which had Dr. Fleischman as the main character. And then Sports Night, which did a good job but still had men outnumbering women. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was really the first show I had ever seen where the amount of girl characters outnumbered the amount of boy characters, and in the first season, they were pretty evenly matched.

Moving out of the realm of fiction, we hit the "real" world. My bosses have been men. My politicians, both on the local and national level, have been made up of a majority of men. What does this mean? It means that this premise of "but you feel that way because you're a female and you can identify with Clinton" is true. I am a female, and I do identify with Senator Clinton. But it is also false. Because I don't identify with Clinton due to the fact that she is a woman and I am a woman. I know this because I identify with: Casey McCall. With Big Bird. With Mr. Rogers. With Barack Obama. With Hawkeye and BJ and Radar. With Huck Finn. With Lentil, and the Happy Lion. With Francios, the keeper's son. With Buffy, but also with Xander. With Frances, but also with Harold. With Woody and Marlin and Mike and Alfredo. With Batman. With Cyclops. With Harvey Dent. With Dana, but also with Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn. And when I don't identify with a man -like, say, John McCain or John Kerry- I can still muster up outrage at the treatment they have received. And I know this because I do not identify with every woman, not even every liberal woman, and not every feminist woman.

And I've come to the realization that maybe that is a special skill; maybe women, by being sidelined for so long in reality and in fiction, have been able to extend beyond their gender in terms of who they can identify with, who they can empathize with, and whose humanity they can recognize. Not all women, certainly. Ann Coulter missed the boat. But women in general versus men in general. It explains things like how girls can read books like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and enjoy them -but boys will scoff at the idea of reading Little Women. Boys scoff at Little Women and other fiction that focuses on females because, studies say, they find it "boring". But why do they find it boring? Why don't boys run the gamut of finding issues interesting like girls do? Why can girls read John Steinbeck and Hemingway and Mark Twain, and also read Louisa May Alcott, and Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen, but boys are only interested in reading "boy" material? I think it comes down to two things.

One, I think girls are forced, often and from a young age, to identify with the default gender in society -and that default gender is not female but male. Because of the fact that boys populate so much of fiction and so much of this real world -even now, 88 years after the 19th Amendment and 30+ years after the Woman's Lib Movement that fought for things like access to the job market and equal pay for equal work- girls have learned to adapt. Girls can find that they can identify with Huck and his raft down the river. We can identify with James Thurber and his crazy family life. I can identify with the men of The Corrections. I can look up to and admire and want to write like Thomas Jefferson. We can look at politicians and identify with them when they are men, because it hasn't been that long since there were legitimate women available to identify with -and even now, there aren't all that many on the national scale. We are 68th in the world for representation of women in our Congress. And yet, "women vote in higher numbers than men, and have done so in every election since 1964". And "women have voted at higher rates than men since 1980", with "56.2% of registered women voters" going to the polls in 2000 "compared to 53.1%" of registered men voters. That means that there are a hell of a lot of women voters who have voted, time and again, and have identified with, time and again, male politicians. Because we have to; because we are socialized to. Women are, to rip blatantly off Simone de Beauvoir, the second sex -the "other" in dichotomy to the default.

Men, however, are the default sex. They are the "norm" to women being the "other". They are the primary sex. "Boys and girls"; "men and women"; "guys". "Guy" is gender neutral, because it refers to what is implicitly thought of as the default sex. Try calling out "Hey, girls (or gals)" to a mixed group of men and women, and see what happens. My guess is, the men will either not react, or react poorly. Because men have so many figures to identify with who are of their gender, they don't have to instinctively gravitate toward members of the opposite sex. Because of that, they are less likely (or able) to find something that connects them to Jo from Little Women or Lizzy from Pride and Prejudice.

And secondly, girls are being, in greater numbers, told and taught that they can be anything. There are definite caveats, like you can do everything but you have to be attractive; and men get to decide what constitutes as being attractive, and that rubric is always changing. But girls are told that they can be astronauts or explorers or housewives, and they are no longer immediately derided as being a lesbian or "butch" or unfeminine. Boys, however, are called "sissy" if they show too much of an interest in anything feminine. They are called "fag" or teased for being "gay" for doing so much as expressing an interest in the color purple or pastels. And so, boys are still overwhelmingly told -by society, by their peers- that there are certain acceptable areas and interests boys can have, but they still cannot deviate from those aligned paths. Because girls and girl interests are still seen as being "less" than boys and boy interests. So it is perfectly understandable why girls would be interested in fire trucks and guns, but the same is not true for boys interested in dance and dolls. And so, boys haven't been conditioned to be interested in fiction that centers around girls, both because they don't have to adopt girl stories in order to satiate their own need for representation and because they are taught not to be.

And those two aspects seem to bleed over into other aspects of the world. Men harass women on the street in far greater numbers than women harass men. Some men have to be told "that is somebody's sister" in order to recognize why they shouldn't treat women like less than human. And so, some men hear "take out the garbage" and see Hillary Clinton as their first wife instead of recognizing her as a fully independent human being. And it allows men of all stripes to not react in as much revulsion when such sexist comments are made. So yes. I identify with Hillary Clinton. Yes, I am a woman. And if "but you can't feel that way because you're a male and you can't identify with Clinton" is true, then I pity those men. If being a man excludes someone from recognizing or being reviled by sexist acts, then I pity them. And if a majority of men cannot be stimulated and excited and moved by fiction involving mainly females or a female story, then I pity them as well. And I also think we have to try our damnedest to make sure they one day can.

DNC Speeches

Here are what I feel to be the most powerful speeches of the convention so far; Hillary Clinton has really improved as an orator:

Bill Clinton, whatever else he is, was, or could be, is someone who can deliver one hell of an incredible speech:

I watched John Kerry wondering where the hell this man was four years ago:

And Joe Biden:

I can't wait for Obama's speech tonight!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Were You In This Campaign Just For Me?"

Where PUMAs (Party Unity My Ass, for those not in the know) falter is the fact that they are summarily dismissing their chosen candidate's policies and goals and lifelong (presumed) voting record in order to feed their own narcissism and anger. I understand that anger. I understand feeling dismissed and undervalued. I understand wanting to punish those people who may have contributed to those feelings. What I don't understand is allowing those instincts to override one's own self-preservation, which is what Clinton Democrats who vote for McCain would be doing. I understand not voting for Barack Obama come November; I understand feeling underwhelmed by an electoral candidate (though not really feeling underwhelmed in regard to this one). I understand voting for a third party candidate if one was once a Hillary supporter who feels abandoned by Obama and his camp and who feels like they are being treated derisively because the prevailing powers that be believe there is no other place for women who care about issues like equal pay, women's rights, children's rights, ending the war in Iraq, and protecting Roe v. Wade to go. I pretty much think that the attitude right now toward women voters -that those who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries will come back to the pack without much (or any) wooing- is kind of demeaning, because it refuses to acknowledge that the Democratic Party needs those women voters just as much -if not more- than those women voters need the Democratic Party.

But a vote for McCain is one I absolutely cannot understand, and it is a vote that only furthers the idea of the woman scorned. Which, let's not go there again, okay? Let's not give more ammunition to political pundits, men, other women, and society at large to use against women. Let's not pretend that McCain is a viable choice for a woman who is concerned with the issues Hillary Clinton was concerned about. Let's not pretend that McCain will protect the pro-choice agenda. Let's not pretend that John McCain is good on gay rights. Let's not pretend that McCain's experience will really go far into creating new green collar jobs. Let's not pretend that McCain will do much for the middle class. Let's not pretend that John McCain is similar in many ways to Hillary Clinton other than in the pigment of their skin. John McCain won't be much of a help on health care. McCain won't be much of a help in weening our nation off of our love of fossil fuels. And McCain will absolutely not protect women's rights in our society, because his voting record shows that is not a priority. I like McCain. I'm sure he's a swell guy. But if PUMAs think that they aren't cutting off their nose to spite their face, then they are idiots.

And now, they would have to be publicly defying the candidate they swore their allegiance to. Which is infuriating as well. Hillary Clinton has thrown her support behind Barack Obama, and while her supporters don't have to fall in line, it would seem pretty disrespectful to cast their vote for a man Hillary Clinton herself deemed, "No way, no how". It is at the very precipice of being kind of insane. Clinton's speech last night should go a long way to convincing PUMAs and those who are yet to make up their minds to vote for Obama by placing the emphasis where the emphasis should be -on the issues. And if these voters will vote against Obama for a behavior he did not contribute to on top of having Hillary Clinton emphasis the need for a Democrat in the White House, then I don't know what could possibly convince them.

But I'm not really convinced that this is a really large contingency of Hillary Democrats. I'm sure there are some, but I honestly -perhaps naively- cannot believe that these women aren't going to come back to the fold in November and vote for Barack Obama or for a third party candidate. I'm not convinced that PUMA influence hasn't been exaggerated by the media. It is a good story, the "woman scorned" story. It has been a part of our history for a long, long time. Hera, in jealousy over Zeus' infidelity, drove his son Hercules into killing his children. That story comes from pretty far back, and deals with the totality of destruction potentially wrought by women. It sucks, but there it is. And if PUMAs really are there, really are intent on destroying Obama's campaign, then they are at the bottom of the pool of acceptable women. If a woman actually and honestly wants to vote for McCain due to political beliefs, I can't see what that same woman would have been doing voting for Hillary Clinton -ever. And so voting for McCain after Hillary becomes something else, a punishment that will reverberate back upon the voter and cast onto women throughout the next decade or so. Let's not do that, okay? If Obama isn't your guy and you voted for Hillary, go third party. The stakes are too high -for the nation, for the Democratic Party, for women in general- otherwise.

I Don't Support Female Leaders (Or, Why You Shouldn't Dismiss My Arguments Based On My Gender)

Well, I do (I should also mention that this is a follow up to yesterday's Bite Me So Hard For That, which in turn stemmed from Boston and Chicago Are Now States). But not all of them, and not all of the time. Which is why this question, "Did [Andrew Sullivan] offend your feminist sensibilities simply because he attacked a female leader?" galls me so. Which is why my friend's further comment, "Clearly identity politics is a big part of the reason why you like Clinton so much" kind of makes me want to tear my hair out. But I'll get to that point later. First up is this: there is a right way and a wrong way to criticize and critique and condemn human beings in general and politicians in particular. Let me get this out in the open right away: comparing a politician to a nagging wife is not the right way. Calling a politician a she-devil is also not the right way. Criticizing and commenting endlessly on a candidate's love of pantsuits, her hair, her make-up, what shirts create cleavage, and her skin all also fall under the "wrong way" of criticizing a political candidate.

You know what else falls under a bad way to criticize a candidate? When you call them out for something that other candidates have done, and do not call out those other candidates as well. Take, for instance, Andrew Sullivan. When he criticized Hillary Clinton for using the Senate as a stepping stone to the White House, he lost credibility with me as a Hillary Clinton critic because he -as far as I know- failed to make the same criticism of Barack Obama. I think in both cases it is a ridiculous criticism, but by making it about one candidate and not about another who has done the exact same thing (and with less time served), the critic shows an obvious bias. Same sort of deal when Sullivan calls Hillary Clinton's feminist credentials into question (and her political integrity) for utilizing her position as the wife of one of the most skilled politicians of our time in her bid for the presidential elections. For capitalizing on the fact that she -through no want of her own, mind you- shares the Clinton name. And a case can be made that political families are bad, especially in this society which is supposedly a meritocracy. But Andrew Sullivan -again, as far as I know- offers up no criticism of those other political families, the Kennedys, the Roosevelts, or even the Adamses, who trade on the family name and recognition for political prizes. And for the record, Andrew Sullivan is not the only person who irritates me when he does this; Keith Olbermann also committed a similar bias when he called out Hillary Clinton for going on Fox News and for not calling out Obama even though he had appeared on the channel 3 days before. That is not sound punditry, and in both Olbermann's and Sullivan's cases, it hurts their own credibility in their critique of Hillary Clinton -based not on sexism but just simply on an incredible bias.

And this has nothing to do with identity politics and everything to do with fairly and objectively criticizing a politician and a human being. So let us get to the second part of this, the identity politics. Say, some conservative woman was running for president. Phyllis Schlafly, Condoleeza Rice, Ann Coulter, or Laura Bush. I would not, ever, vote for any of these women for even the school board. They run the gamut from people I respect but disagree profoundly with to women whose very spot in the public eye makes me fume. If analysis of Ann Coulter focused mainly on her hair style or criticisms of her outfits, I would be just as mad as when this happened to Hillary Clinton. If Condoleeza Rice was called a bitch by another candidate's supporter, only to have that candidate laugh it off and say, "Good question", I would be irate. If Laura Bush's economic policy was ignored so joke after joke after joke could be made about how she made men cross their legs and how men didn't like her because she reminded them of their shrill first wife, I would see red. If Phyllis Schlafly was called a she-Devil and had devil graphics pop up every time her name was mentioned, I would react in disbelief and disapproval. Why? Because even though I disagree with these women, even though I would probably feel as though the country would go to hell in a handbasket if they were elected, it is still demeaning, dehumanizing, sexist, and wrong. These comments are reserved for women. These remarks that limit women are meant to make sure women know their place in society, and that place sure as hell isn't the leader of the United States of America. Because that is the sort of treatment no human being should be subject to, let alone a candidate for higher office.

You want to criticize Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Condoleeza Rice, or any other woman in the national spotlight? Go right ahead. Do so with your grown up words, though, and not those crappy adolescent words like "bitch" or "whore". Do so by criticizing her actions, and refrain from criticizing actions she takes when other men have taken them without comment or reproach -or reproach and criticize men who take that path alongside your criticism of the woman. It isn't that difficult. It isn't that hard to treat women as equals, and not fall back into sexist, baseless, and ridiculous arguments. And this goes for all politicians and human beings; if Andrew Sullivan really dislikes Hillary Clinton for Hillary Clinton, it would do him some good to point out where her policies were flawed and by scraping the parts of his article that criticize Hillary Clinton for doing what countless politicians -including one running right now as the presumptive Democratic nominee- did without taking into account the hypocrisy of doing so. If you want to criticize Hillary Clinton's feminism, fine. But do so without pulling out Margaret Thatcher as your counterpoint of what a feminist rise to power looks like, because that does nothing to further the point that Hillary Clinton could have done it better. In fact, if you want to talk about what feminists should acknowledge or shouldn't acknowledge, maybe the first thing the writer should do is take a look at what feminists care about and not presume to know best who is or is not a feminist. If you want to make a case for how it is more feminist to rise to power without help than it is to enact feminist legislation or further a feminist agenda once in office, more power to you. But accept that feminists don't have to think that Clinton is a feminist dream soured, and that they may be just as right based on their own criteria as you feel you are based on your own. And let me make it absolutely clear that I do not -do NOT- think every criticism of Hillary Clinton is based in sexism or stems from sexism or connotes sexism. But some of it was, and some of it continues to be, and some of it will continue to be fostered upon women in the media in the same way with the same level of rebuke -which is to say very little. It affects Michelle Obama to this day, because we did not call it out when it happened to Hillary Clinton forcefully enough and strong enough and with important enough backers. If those people who made sexist remarks about Hillary Clinton -and now Michelle Obama- were given the Don Imus treatment, there would be much less overt and outright sexism in the news media. But that did not happen, and it should have. 

I wanted Hillary Clinton to win, first and foremost, because I think she would have made an excellent president. I wanted Hillary Clinton to win because I think she is one of the best and brightest our country has to offer. I wanted Hillary Clinton to win because I calmly and objectively looked over much of what I cared about in relation to Clinton, Obama, and McCain, and decided that Hillary Clinton was my candidate. That isn't identity politics. It isn't not identity politics, but it isn't that Hillary Clinton has ovaries and so she was the one I chose. And yes, over time, the baseless attacks strengthened my desire to reach the Oval Office. But that also wasn't entirely about identity politics. It was based partially on how she handled the constant attacks based on little more than just her gender. And it was based, once again, on the fact that dealing with that level of criticism day in and day out only made me more aware of how extraordinary she was as a human being -and as a woman. I identified with what was being done to her; I recognized it as abuse on the basest level. But I would have done that if any woman, conservative or liberal, had been placed in that same situation.

At the same time, I fail to see exactly what is wrong with some of identity politics. It makes sense to say, "This is a person who cares about what I care about" as long as that thought has voting records and a history to back it up. I'm not talking about the identity politics that led to George W. Bush getting elected because he was "ordinary folk" and couldn't deliver a speech, but real honest-to-God identity politics where the person in question is able to identify this candidate as being someone with a similar take on the issues and a similar outlook on how best to achieve their goals. That isn't about being a woman and connecting to a woman because year in and year out, women have had to play the identity politics game with no women in the field. Women are constantly being asked to identify with men politicians, with male characters, and with male stories. We constantly have to insert ourselves into the story when there are no females (or very few females) on the horizon . So to suggest that I -or countless other women- were drawn to Hillary Clinton through the identity politics of gender is to ignore how long and how many times women have had no woman on the scene -and we've done just fine countless times identifying with what we were given. And we'll do it again this year, and four years from now, and probably four years after that.

PBS Convention Coverage

I want to take some time out to say how much I've been enjoying PBS' coverage of the DNC. Unlike CBS and Katie Couric (whom I love), or MSNBC and Keith Obermann and Chris Matthews (and seriously, why are these two sitting outside? Was MSNBC too cheap to set up a real studio for them?), PBS' correspondents are calm, collected, and dissect the speeches given from a historical perspective -due to their team of historians- and a more modern perspective of what this means now. Because they are not a commercial news station, I get to see more of the actual speeches. I'm not missing anything due to the talking heads having to comment on it and quickly get back. There is a languid pace to PBS' coverage that seems both more stimulating and less excitable. They aren't screaming (though to be fair to Chris Matthews, that may be a wind factor), and they generally aren't making blanket statements either. They're just cool, in an extremely factual, moderately tempered, and kind of nerdy way.

There is one thing I wish hadn't been said though. After Hillary's speech, there was some discussion going down about its content; and the correspondents were pretty evenly split about if it was excellent or just good, and if it did enough for Obama or if she fell short. Both sides made great points, and I truly enjoyed the discussion (though I fell on the side of "She did great"). But then one of the historians said that she should have put something in there about "finding religion" as a way of dismissing her earlier criticisms of Obama's readiness to lead or to answer that 3 A.M. phone call.

No. Just no. Let's not, PBS and other organizations, play to the idea that Barack Obama is the messiah. I say this not because I don't like him. I love Obama, and that is why I am concerned. Barack Obama isn't the messiah. He is an incredibly intelligent, supremely talented, wonderful visionary who is also profoundly human. We can't lose sight of that. We cannot continually believe that Barack Obama is flawless, blameless, or without "original sin" of some kind. Because that will make it all the more difficult for him when he does screw up. And I'm not talking just about this election season. If we want Barack Obama to be as successful a president as possible, we need to acknowledge that the man cannot move mountains. We must understand that he will fail, that failure is a part of life and a part of politics. We have to accept that he will do his very best and hopefully achieve much of what he has set out to do; but due to the nature of the political system, his plans will not be enacted unchanged or unchallenged and at times he may have to acquiesce and compromise and give up on items in his agenda that both he and we his supporters wish he didn't have to.

I want Barack Obama to succeed. I want him to be the best president he can be, and I want the American public to recognize his profound accomplishments. But they won't be able to if they see him as being more than human. He may not be elected if he is seen as more than human, because as petty as it is people enjoy looking at someone roundly praised -and justly praised- and thinking, "He's not so great". We cannot allow this to happen. Hillary Clinton should not state she has found religion in Barack Obama. First, she should not because she already has a religion; as does Obama. And secondly, it only further highlights and extends this idea that Obama is worthy of being a figure of religious devoutness. He is not; even George Washington was not above being torn down and reminded of his humanity during his presidency. If Obama is to ascend to that highest level of American politics, we must wait to deify him until after his two terms are served. Otherwise, we run a far greater risk than if we allowed him to be fallible but still bound for greatness.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Apparently, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has affected church membership among women. More and more women are abstaining from church and showing interest in female-friendly religions. I'm a bit puzzled, but okay.

And can I just say how much I hate this new craze of describing a plural of money as "monies"? The plural of money is "money". Just like the plural of deer is "deer", and not "deeries"; and the plural of moose is "moose" and not "moosies". I'm sure there are some other words where the singular and plural are the same. Look, unless the person in question only has a penny in his or her pocket, they are going to have a plural amount of money. It is just the way it is. "Monies" doesn't make anything clearer. It doesn't make the amount of money more explicit or right misconceptions. It is just an unnecessary word, and the sooner we relegate it to that "not often used" section that makes up most of the Oxford English Dictionary, the better.

Bite Me So Hard For That

Oftentimes, people will tell me that their dislike of Hillary Clinton does not lay in her gender but the fact that she's Hillary-fucking-Clinton, like she is such a force as to be beyond gender itself. And maybe sometimes they are truthful. Maybe their antipathy stems from the fact that she's still married to a man derisively called "Slick Willy". That she's, according to a friend of mine, "managed to be ALMOST as phony and self-gratifying as her philandering asshole husband". But I think a lot of this animosity is at least partially about gender norms and how Hillary Clinton has subverted them; or at the very least, people's hatred of Hillary Clinton expresses itself in disparaging, misogynistic, and sexist ways and so becomes about gender norms -and how Hillary Clinton's gender is wielded against her, along with those who admire her. There is a reason there are now 109 recorded sexist remarks and products on Shakesville. You can disagree with the site and the commentary found on it (as I often do), but the list and the remarks and the items on it (like the ubiquitous Hillary nutcracker -"the most popular political product in history") speak for themselves.

Hillary Clinton is not what one would term traditionally "feminine". She's tough. She's at times uncompromising. And she has never been exceptionally good at playing the traditional wife and mother. She friggin' kept her name after marrying her husband as a way to symbolically remain an autonomous individual with her own strengths and interests and life. And she had to give that up because she was seen as being too uppity and too independent by Bill Clinton's constituents; he lost in part because his wife had the audacity to keep her fucking name. And that is reason #1 why I admire and love Hillary Clinton, both in the fact that she kept her name after marriage -and the reasons for doing so- and the fact that she was forced to conform for the good of her husband's career. I imagine that it must have killed her to do so; but she gave up a part of what she felt made up her identity because American society insisted upon it. Because her husband and herself could not have succeeded in the political sphere if she insisted upon being seen as an individual and not simply as an appendage. And that is reason #2 as to why I love Hillary Clinton. She has, over the years, refused to be Nancy Reagan. She refused to be defined as simply a wife and mother. She refused to be seen as anything less than she was. She didn't bake cookies and sit at home. She was out fighting for children's rights, and she wasn't going to apologize for it. Until her uppity ways once again hurt her husband's political career, and she had to come back to the pack and downplay her intelligence, her strength, and her individuality.

Truth is, there was a time when I was at most ambivalent-leaning-toward-like about Hillary Clinton. When Barack Obama gave the keynote address at the 2004 DNC, I was blown away. When he chose to run for president, I actually had a bit of a debate about who I would vote for. I chose Hillary Clinton. It wasn't that I didn't believe in Obama. I did and do. It wasn't that I thought he wouldn't make a good president. I did and do. It wasn't that Hillary Clinton was a woman, and that I absolutely had to have a woman president if given the opportunity. I've said it before and I'll say it again, "I didn't want to elect 'a' woman president. I wanted this specific woman to be president". I looked at her plans and Obama's plans and even McCain's plans -because if McCain had won the Republican primary in 2000, I may have voted for him in 2004- and I decided that as close as Obama's and Hillary's platforms were, I liked Hillary's better. And as the attacks on Hillary Clinton grew in fervor and in animosity, as I felt myself as someone who had ovaries as being subject by proxy to those same, baseless, sexist, useless attacks, I grew closer to Hillary Clinton's campaign. I wanted her to succeed in spite of the fact that the phrase "Take out the garbage" was said over and over and over again in response to her voice. I wanted her to succeed because of every frickin' critique of her hair, her clothing, her wrinkles, and every other insult that was hurled at her but was not hurled at a similarly qualified male candidate. I didn't start off liking Hillary Clinton because she was a woman, but after a while her being a woman and being subject to what was basically highly televised and publicized street harassment made me want her to win more. Because what was hurled at Hillary Clinton, the belittling she faced, is the belittlement women in general face. And anyone -man, woman, child- who doesn't accept that fact, who doesn't acknowledge that fact, is not acknowledging the reality of being a woman in America.

Which is why I am so astonished that a good friend of mine -the same one who felt that Hillary was a phony- would ever say, "Did [Andrew Sullivan] offend your feminist sensibilities simply because he attacked a female leader?" So, I still love you but in the words of Sports Night's Dana Whitaker, "You know what, bite me so hard for that". Andrew Sullivan offended my feminist sensibilities for many reasons. Reason #1: he said, "it became clear pretty soon that the Senate was indeed merely a stepping stone back to the White House". I'm not a disciple of Andrew Sullivan the way my friend is -my worship is already taken by Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, and Anna Quindlen- so maybe I'm wrong here but if Andrew Sullivan didn't have the exact same complaint about Barack Obama and his 2004 Senate election, then I cry foul. It may not be sexist, but it is certainly baseless. Reason #2 is that he invoked the specter of the tears of femininity in order to show how Hillary was a bad feminist; actually, the term he used was "anti-feminist". Which, "you know what, bite me so hard for that" Andrew Sullivan. But instead, I'll let Kristen Schaal do the honors of a rebuttal:

Plenty of politicians tear up. Plenty of elected -male- leaders get emotional. But no, when Hillary does it, it must be that she's a calculating, cold-hearted bitch who is setting feminism back a hundred years. I'll listen to Andrew Sullivan's criticism of Hillary Clinton's anti-feminist tendencies when he seriously looks at how he and many other media outlets play to anti-feminist themes. Until then, ciao, Andrew Sullivan; your feminist critiques have no teeth -especially when you seem to imply that Margaret Thatcher makes a better feminist icon than a woman who fights for things like women's rights, children's rights, comprehensive health care, and the environment (heretofore known as Reason #3). Which, last I checked, were all issues the feminist side of the spectrum were pretty down with.

There was an article questioning why women are still not running for office published a while ago; I pretty much think that the treatment Hillary Clinton endured answers that pretty soundly. I don't know of any single person who would voluntarily place himself or herself in a situation where political pundits, newspaper columnists, Maureen Dowd, and anonymous bloggers would do their worst to humiliate, dehumanize, and diminish the candidate. But that is what Hillary Clinton faced. Time and time again, that is what Hillary Clinton faced. And so, reason #? for why I admire and respect Hillary Clinton is that she was able -day after harrowing day- to step back onto the podium and make her historical run for president. That she didn't just crawl under the covers and never come out due to the jeering, the misogyny, and the idea that she should just be nagging her husband to take out the garbage.

You want more reasons? How about a neutral one? I don't hate her for staying with Bill Clinton. I don't even suspect she stayed with him for the political boost. I don't think she's anti-feminist for staying with a man who cheats. Maybe the Elizabeth Edwards situation will better Hillary's decision, but since people actually like Elizabeth Edwards and think of her as human -which I attribute partially to the fact that she is traditionally feminine- maybe not. I am not a part of her marriage to Bill Clinton. Because I'm not, I don't feel comfortable making judgements about it; but I've read about it. I've read their accounts of it, and I've read others' accounts of it, and what comes out time and time again is that these are two people who seem to genuinely care about one another and who enjoy each other's company, talents, and intellect. There is a story about how Bill Clinton's mother asked him why he was marrying Hillary, and he responded it was because he could talk to her. I think their marriage is a little odd; but I also believe that everyone's relationship is a little odd. I like Bill Clinton -I have a love affair with good oratory that knows no bounds, which is partially why I like Ted Kennedy and why I fell for Obama so quickly- and I certainly can understand why Hillary would be attracted to him, and how she is able to like or love him enough to stay with him regardless of his many personal faults.

Need some more? Every article I've ever read where she's been interviewed, she has been intelligent, moderate in emotion, and has addressed real issues stemming from her campaign. I have yet to read an interview where she railed against the press for what they did to her; and it would have been completely understandable if she had, if a little self-serving and naval-gazing. Need more? Read Courtney Martin's "Dear Hillary" letter. Need more? How about we discuss the cult of personality, and how men and women have to fit into their prescribed roles more often than not in order to succeed, and how men and women who go against the current are maligned, demonized, and made into the worst of the worst. And how we have to, as women, as progressives, as human beings, celebrate those few who don't allow the threat of being maligned, demonized, and made into the worst of the worst to affect how they act, how they dress, and what they see as being the most important aspect of their lives.

Hillary Clinton is one hell of a politician. And we can criticize how she got to where she is; we should critique political families and their influence in American culture. But we celebrated RFK and Edward Kennedy, and we wanted JFK Jr. to go into politics, and so criticisms of Hillary Clinton riding on her husband's coattails fall short of being purely altruistic in motive from where I'm standing (reason #? for why I didn't like that Andrew Sullivan piece). I firmly believed that Geraldine Ferraro's assessment of the Obama campaign was right, that Obama's meteoric rise is due in part to his race and his post-1960s racial construct in addition to his obvious intelligence and skill and talent. Just like John McCain's rise is attributed in part to his having been a POW and being seen as a maverick in addition to his 30 years in Washington DC as a successful politician. Just like Hillary Clinton's popularity is in part due to her gender and who she married in addition to her skill, intelligence, and talent. Geraldine Ferraro wasn't wrong; the American public -and I would assert any public- likes a good narrative. These three have good, inspiring narratives. But you can only get away with criticizing one of their narratives and have your job in the morning. Guess who's narrative that is?

"Till The 19th Amendment Struck Down That Restrictive Rule"

Section 1: The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2: Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Yes, the 19th Amendment was certified on this here very day. In honor of that (and just because I like it), here's School House Rock's take on it:

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Are Wal-Mart Ads Saying?

Watching the Olympics means I saw more commercial television than I normally do. And I've seen a lot of Wal-Mart ads. Like, a lot. And the ones about the girls seem to be based on warming the cockles of the heart -and about being an individual through buying power. Like this one:

I especially appreciated the line, "But I can give her what she needs to feel good about herself -without breaking my budget". Which is nice, if they were talking about self-confidence instead of a yellow tee shirt. It also astounds me exactly how quickly these girls are the bestest of friends. One lunch conversation involving an astute shopping choice is apparently enough to bond girls of a middle school age for life. What also struck me, beyond the whole "buying her confidence, buying power = friends" message of the commercial is how incredibly it contrasts with Wal-Mart ads featuring boys. In the ad below, the boy is proactively placing actual school supplies into his book bag. His back-to-school shopping includes things like glue and binders and probably paper. He is actually preparing to go to school. The girl above? Doesn't. All that is highlighted is her clothing, and nothing else.

It continues on through the college Wal-Mart ads. The ad below shows a college-age guy hooking up his stereo equipment. The contrasting ad featuring a girl (which I have been unable to track down) has the same "worried mom" voice over as the girl middle school commercial, and talks about how buying at Wal-Mart has helped her daughter express her individuality on a budget -seemingly not grasping the irony of having the girl's roommate owning all of the same stuff as the girl, down to the exact pattern on the bed spread, but in a different color.

What do these ads really say? Because I think they say something important. One question that comes up is where are the boys' respective parents? Do they not have the same worries and fears as the girls' mothers? Obviously not. The ads conform to the conventional wisdom of girls needing social interaction and depending upon familial bonds (think Bedtime for Frances) along with being passive, and of boys being independent and active (think Where The Wild Things Are). Boys are actively putting things in book bags and setting up electronics, whereas girls are passively wandering down the halls hoping that their tee shirts say "I'm cool enough to befriend" with their mothers doing the voice overs. And that is a problem for me, along with the idea that all you need in life to succeed is stuff you can buy -and stuff made in China and sold by a company that disregards workers' rights, tries to influence the political process, and that systematically forces Mom and Pop businesses to close, no less.

Boston and Chicago Are Now States

In all seriousness, I really do admire Hillary Clinton, and I think she would have made a wonderful president, that she would have made a great vice-president, and that she is a very good surrogate. I think she handles herself very well here, and with aplomb.

My only question is how does she hear the reporters' questions? I certainly can't. I don't know what she "never said", and I don't even know if she's answering the questions being asked of her!

Banking Blunders

As some of you know and some of you don't, my last job was in a bank. I worked on the mortgage-side of banking, doing things like quality control on recently approved loans and then later telling people that their check from their Line of Credit didn't go through because their signature didn't match the one on file -and then getting to tell some of those same people that their Line of Credit available was going to be decreasing because it was directly tied to the amount of equity available on their now rapidly depleting in value house. It was a fun job. And it explains why I'm not working now, as there is surprisingly little demand for someone whose main experience is in an industry experiencing a massive crisis and whose degree is in literature.

Because of this, I have an odd understanding of the mortgage market, and of the banking system. The first thing I know is that banks aren't evil. They weren't deliberately trying to screw over their customers. They weren't even really letting loans go through that they knew would never be repaid. What they were doing -and are still struggling to do- is succeeding in a system where success is based on growth, and large amounts of it. Banks consistently live with the fear that if they don't continually have their stocks rise, if they are not continually building up vast amounts of new business and opening new accounts and reaching out into new areas, that they will be taken over by a bank whose growth is rapid and who is doing all of those things. So, bigger banks take over smaller banks and more successful banks take over less successful banks. And we are taught -via capitalism- that this is a good and righteous process and that it will work out for the best. Except when it doesn't. And that is where we are right now. Banks are in a crisis because they were forced to play a game they are not built to sustain. They are in a crisis because their stockholders, their CEOs, and Wall Street value short term success over long term growth. Which is why banks need to be better regulated. Which is why we have to make it so that banks can't play that game. Which is why banks either need to recognize that for themselves across the board, or we need to recognize that for them.

About a month ago, a friend of mine wondered if the current housing and banking crisis was based on predatory lending or if it was more on the borrowers who were taking on more debt than they could afford and lying on their loan applications, and suspected that the answer was somewhere in the middle. My answer is that it is on neither. This crisis wasn't based at all on a malignant set of people trying desperately to screw the other set out of their hard-earned money. It wasn't about banks taking advantage of the disadvantaged, or about the disadvantaged lying in order to secure that loan. The banking process is infinitely more complicated than that. Banks, due to being a business, generally don't approve loans they know -or even suspect- will default or fail. Banks, due to being regulated, generally don't involve themselves in predatory practices. And the amount of people who lie on their applications and don't get caught doing so is negligible. If enough of them succeeded to bring down the banking industry, then the banks are really, really dumb and should overhaul their post closing departments, their quality control departments, and their closing departments -and there are enough banks that not every single bank could have this issue. Instead, the problem is one of short-sighted good faith. The bank assumed that the economy and housing market would continue its boon, even with all evidence to the contrary. The borrower assumed that his job would still be there, his house would still be worth X-amount, and that the economy would continue at a steady and good pace. For the borrower, many of them were not taking on too much debt at the time of the loan. It was only when the housing market bottomed out, when the economy slowly started to sink, that the loan that had been before possible now became impossible.

Banks are fairly well regulated now so that they cannot take advantage of their customers. The interest rates are federally regulated. The mortgage agreements are drawn up and every contingency -including how much it will cost to pay off the loan before the prescribed time and the amount the borrower incurs for a late payment- is clearly documented. There are very few actual surprises within the mortgage agreement itself. But what does need to be done is to reimagine the way we value banks' success. If we imagine success as being holding onto loans, not selling them to other banking institutions, not racing to open up as many loans as possible, and instead try to envision a company that will outperform over a longer period of time -decades, instead quarters- then we can help to revise and revive a flawed banking system. It isn't the only solution, nor an all-encompassing one. But I do think it will help.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sarah Haskins!!!

For the weekend!

Parenting, Experts, and Advice

Let me make it clear: I don't really believe in parenting books. In baby books. In DVDs, CDs, consultants, or coaches. Children are different creatures. I was different from my sisters, who are in turn -even though they are twins- incredibly different from each other. My parents give every new parent "the instructions", or Dr. Spock's baby book, but that is more in reference to the Cohen Bros' Raising Arizona than the belief that those instructions are sacrosanct. My problem with the baby expert culture is that it is one in which there are vastly conflicting data over things as simple as picking up a crying baby; and people who have no problem dismissing expert opinions on things like global warming place all of their faith in this set of instructions and are made to feel as if they've failed if the baby doesn't respond accordingly -or if they come across someone who scoffs at that advice.

Some advice is good: the newest studies about how to prevent SIDS by placing babies to sleep on their backs is definitely a necessary. The research that has come afterward about making sure your baby gets "tummy time" in order to build up neck and arm muscles that have been neglected due to Baby sleeping on his or her back are also a good. But it doesn't surprise me in the least that even by doing everything ostensibly "right", children don't always react in the ways we have been conditioned to believe they would. That there are "outlier" children who won't learn by falling down and failing. That the gentle touch that works so well with one child doesn't begin to influence the other.

What I find especially interesting is that in a culture that tends to frown on specialized knowledge bases, in a culture that tends to disregard expert advice as relating to their field as being just another opinion on par with everyone else's, we are so quick to hand over the keys to our most individual and personalized of arenas -childcare. "American parents are desperate for direction", and they are going to the experts in greater and greater numbers. Which is confusing to me. Obviously, there are going to be people who need more help than others, but parenting seems to be an amalgam of different factors -the child's personality, the beliefs and ideals of the parents, the surrounding influencers- than most other things, and that amalgam would almost have to dictate a more personalized attempt than just a cookie-cutter fix-it. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joyce Summers outs herself as being hopelessly over her head and out of touch when she first says, "I've read all about the dangers of overnurturing" and later comments, "The tapes all say I should get used to saying [no]". Willow's mother is held up for derision when she tells her daughter, "I have consulted with some of my colleagues, and they agree that this is a cry for disipline". At a certain point in time, parenting has to stem from what feels natural for the individual (or partners) and the child in question.

As strange as it seems, I think that the parenting book phenomenon is due in part to a passive parenting style. In a time when televisions are being used as babysitters and parents are reportedly more into being their child's friends than disciplinarians, it makes sense that parents would want to look to someone else to be the bad guy and to take some of the pressure off of developing an individualized style of parenting. "If it works for X-amount of parents, it should work for us", I suspect the thinking goes. And on the other side of the spectrum are people like Sheila Rosenberg -Willow's mom- in that they over think it. And that's alright. But I strongly believe that parenting shouldn't be something we look to in books but on our own decisions about what is important and what isn't.

My parents decided that it was important I not be dressed in pink or be given Barbie dolls on every holiday. They decided that it was more important to have a family dinner than a set time to eat. They decided to limit the amount of time I spent in front of the television and they decided what kind of television they would permit me to watch. And they were proactive in my life. We played together. They read to me. And they focused on what they could do to make me into the best person I could be. And they screwed me up too, as all parents do. Our parents screw up; they aren't perfect. And the sooner parents (and their kids) can accept that parents are people, that there is no such thing as the perfect parenting style, and that everyone's family is dysfunctional in some way or another, I think the sooner it will be that we can stop relying so heavily on parenting books as being the ultimate instructions on how to raise a happy, healthy,well-adjusted kid.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Favorite Reads

I'm planning on posting a "real" blog post about real issues today, never fear. But I often wonder about the blogs people link, why they like them, why they read them, and  -most importantly- why I should give them a chance. With that in mind, I'd like to explain some of the reads I've been adding with somewhat alarming frequency. I'll start at the top of my list:

Cake Wrecks: I found this site via Feministing, and it is laughs a plenty. After reading serious sites, I like taking some time to see some truly atrocious cakes -and I like reading the snark attached to them. From dead clowns to ill-advised content to spelling errors, I'm generally guaranteed a good time.

Chris Hayes: As the Washington editor of The Nation Magazine (something I also link to), Chris Hayes is an intellectual crush of mine. It just so happens that he is also snarky and not completely insane. Which is good when we're discussing people on the left because they can be just as crazy as those on the right.

Dissection and Introspection: I'm assuming most people who stop here know that this is one of two blogs by a good friend of mine. But in case you're one of the few who doesn't know me personally, you should still check out this blog because it offers an in-depth, well-written look at diverse but prevalent issues.

Echidne of the Snakes: Right now, I'm trying to muddle through the thorny issue of health care. EotS is offering 15 days of examining the health care system. Score! Actually, that was just a random perk. EotS covers a lot of topics that interest me, like feminism, and mixes in issues I am woefully undereducated about -like health care and economics.

Elyse Sewell: So, I watched the first season (or whatever they call it) of America's Next Top Model. Obviously, something is wrong with me. But through watching ANTM, I discovered a smart, sophisticated, sometime raunchy, cool atheist in Elyse. And then later, I discovered she had a livejournal relating anecdotes about being a smart, sophisticated, sometimes raunchy, cool atheist working as a model in places like China and Hong Kong. Definitely check it out if you're looking for some witty, self-deprecating, and funny commentary about the state of the world.

Enough: Maybe it is just that I'm currently unemployed, but I am deeply interested in the consumerist culture that permeates the landscape. I had been planning on writing a blog post about Wal-Mart commercials and how apparently all a girl needs in life is a cool shirt -but then they took down the necessary commercials from youtube. The bastards. Anyway, Enough is a cool website that really delves into what is financial security versus just plain greed, and all of the things it encompasses. Because as much as I love capitalism, sometimes enough is enough.

Feministing: Jessica Valenti (and others)'s site. I love Jessica Valenti. I love feminism. I like pop culture. And I like learning about a host of things that will both cause me to take heart about this crazy world we live in and also about the things that make me want to crawl under my covers to never emerge.

Ill Doctrine: A video-blog about hip-hop. I don't listen to hip-hop. Obviously, this is the blog for me! But seriously, Jay Smooth is incredible and smart and funny. He's someone I've just discovered, but now can't live without. Even when I don't really know anything about what he's talking about, he still makes my day.

Jane Espenson: A writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, and many others, she is sweet (or at least plays it really well), witty, and wonderful. And her blog is a combination of helping screenwriters get started/how she writes/what she has for lunch. If you've enjoyed an episode she's written, you'll probably like her blog. If you enjoy food, you may enjoy reading about what she eats. Sara M. was probably my first internet intellectual crush. I found her on Television Without Pity where she recaps House episodes (one of the worst things about the writer's strike was a serious dearth of recaps from her), and she makes my life better by writing about her crazy life. I love her Evil Roomie stories, her crazy deaf neighbor stories, and all of her posts labelled "I lose". She is someone who can take something mundane like dealing with shopping carts and make it a laugh riot, and I need that in my life.

Mighty Crankosaurus: A random feminist blog I found. Sometimes I disagree with Crankosaur, sometimes I agree, and sometimes I learn something new.

No Cookies For Me: One of my biggest peeves is the idea that a guy can't be a feminist. I understand some girl feminists think that guys can't be feminists, but I'm willing to say they're wrong. This site is one written by a guy who identifies as a feminist, and for that reason alone it is worth noting. But it is also really well-written. He tackles arguments against things like universal child-care, and does it calmly, logically, and well.

Notes on Popular Culture: From the same author as Dissection and Introspection, NoPC is her blog about... Well, I think the title's kind of self-explanatory. Well worth the read.

Racialicious: There are things I don't know a terrible amount about. I enjoy reading blogs that take the time to sort of unmuddy those waters a bit. This is one of those blogs. It deals with race, and racial construct, and racism, and anti-racism. And does so without me wanting to crawl into a whole for being born white or reacting like, "I'm not like that; I would never do that", which is always good when trying to learn about the issues.

See Emily Blog: Emily is someone I went to college with, is smart, and has a different take on a lot of issues than I do -like Hillary Clinton. She also highlights different issues that I wouldn't even think of until I travel to her little corner of the interweb, like her current post on Gardasil. Plus, she gives good book recs, which is always a good.

The Feminist Underground: I love this site. It is always informative, calm, and cool. It highlights different aspects of feminism that are of interest, like right now they are running a series of guest blog posts about feminist parenting. I find it to be a respite in the sometimes frightening and divisive world of on-line feminist thinking.

The Pixar Blog: I like Pixar. Here is a blog devoted to news about Pixar. It seemed like a good fit. Plus, sometimes you want something like this that is less intellectual and more fun.

The Thrift Store: Honestly, the first time I saw this blog, I read it because of the name. Another find from Feministing, the author writes about various things and introduces me to stuff like artists and books. I haven't read a lot of the back entries yet, but I do think it is worth the look.

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks: I kind of have a love affair with punctuation and snarky goodness. This blog combines both, by humorously examining exactly what these signs are trying to say with their quotation marks. Be sure to check out their "Other Snarks" section. I like Passive-Aggressive Notes myself.

Triangulations: I have smart friends who have different interests than me. This is yet another example of that. I love reading this blog because it is both well-written, and gives me an idea of what I know too little about. For instance, Taxing the Rich was confusing, because I know almost nothing about economic policy. I didn't know how little I knew. I'm now reading about economic policy in order to better understand it and this blog. He writes about other things too; politics is his passion -as it says in his little "about me" section.

What About Our Daughters: A site that examines different facets of life for African-American women and teenagers. Like Racialicious, I read this site because I think it is important to know and note the disparity between things like the amount of time given on network television to white children who go missing and the amount of time given to children of color who go missing. Informative, anger-inducing, and a great place overall.

What Claudia Wore: A blog about the Babysitter's Club member Claudia Kishi and her fashion sense -along with the fashions of the other members. The blog offers passages of the BSC books detailing the clothing and then alternatively mocks or salutes them.

Women and Hollywood: A blog that covers women in hollywood; how many of them there are, what levels of success they have, what issues they face, the percentage of women employed in the studios, the percentage of women who are studio heads, women writers, and movies about and for women. Very interesting stuff, especially since I keep thinking on Pixar and their lack of a strong, central female character as the protagonist in any of their movies.