Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Good for Google

From the Google blog:
As an Internet company, Google is an active participant in policy debates surrounding information access, technology and energy. Because our company has a great diversity of people and opinions -- Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, all religions and no religion, straight and gay -- we do not generally take a position on issues outside of our field, especially not social issues. So when Proposition 8 appeared on the California ballot, it was an unlikely question for Google to take an official company position on.

However, while there are many objections to this proposition -- further government encroachment on personal lives, ambiguously written text -- it is the chilling and discriminatory effect of the proposition on many of our employees that brings Google to publicly oppose Proposition 8. While we respect the strongly-held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality. We hope that California voters will vote no on Proposition 8 -- we should not eliminate anyone's fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love.
I think the title of the post sums up how I feel about this. I like how the tone of the piece is measured, and also how it explains why at this juncture Google is getting into the act of speaking out about social issues.

I also like this video on the matter:

It is an incredible well done piece.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quizzes and Videos

First things first: I took a "blind" test from ABC News that I found via A Slant Truth that takes one of John McCain's statements on a specific issue and one of Barack Obama's statements that same issue without labeling them, and you pick which one you agree with most. Some of the questions are really a competition in the lesser of two evils, like on gay marriage:
"I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. But I also agree with most Americans ... that decisions about marriage should be left to the states as they always have been."
"I do not believe gay marriage should be legal ... but I do believe that people ought to be able to enter into contracts, exchange powers of attorney, other ways that people [who] have relationships can enter into."

Since I believe firmly that gays have every right to marry, what do I go with in that case? Do I go with the first one because it leaves open the option some states will give homosexuals marital rights? Do I eschew that one because it leaves open the option some states will deny homosexuals any rights? Do I go with the second one because at least that gives homosexuals some rights no matter what state they occupy? Also, immigration questions I had a hard time with, like:
"The program ... will ensure that all undocumented aliens either leave or follow the path to legal residence. America cannot permit a permanent category of individuals that do not have recognized status - a permanent second class." 
"We should require them to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for citizenship behind those who have come here legally. But we cannot -and should not- deport 12 million people."

Should I accept that those who are often denied even minimum wage should pay a fine just because they chose to take what is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty at face value? Do I think that they should be forced to learn English, when societies within the United States have developed where no English is necessary (like Chinatown in New York City) and when the US has no official language in order to facilitate the idea that we are a society open to all? Should I take it on faith that a great majority of those in quote #1 will not be deported, and the author is at least on board with the idea that a systemic creation of a second class of people living in America should not be tolerated?

Apparently, I agree with Obama 12 out of 13 times. I'll leave those of you who choose to take the quiz guessing on where he and I diverge. I do wish the quiz had taken a different approach than just straight quotes though. Maybe a serious of True or False questions about specific areas of policy. I know how I feel about immigration and gay rights and the Iraq War and universal healthcare, but I would like a blind test to sort of make me honestly reevaluate where I stand on the issues due to their specific requirements and pros and cons. That would be more helpful, I think, than a series of quotes that are about as unspecific as one could be in two or so sentences.

On a completely different note, I found this video via Feministing. Offensive, or thought provoking?

I'm on the fence with this one. I laughed, but then I felt kind of bad about it.

Don't You Know Childcare Is Women's Work?

This is what appeared in my Sunday paper, and I have to say I'm more than slightly appalled. It isn't that I look to For Better Or For Worse for my feminist thought of the day, but I would be all the more pleased to not see this kind of "joke" anywhere ever again. Elly is a stay at home mom. So why can't John spend a good portion of the evening with the children? Why is he (and the other fathers/spouses) equated to a babysitter by the waitress? Why are John and the other fathers depicted as less likely to actively parent and more likely to view parenting as some chore designated to these ladies? Why is the demeaning of fatherly importance considered humorous?

The sad thing is, I have read a lot about the feminist movement devaluing fathers and husbands; but I disagree. This devalues fathers, this idea that mothers are and should always be the primary caregivers. The idea that women should cut their fun time short because otherwise they will have to "pay big time" for having left their children in the care of their spouse is much more insidious and not feminist in the least. It reinforces those gender roles of women being the caregiver and the primary parent and men being the breadwinner and the head of the household. And these are the gender roles and the divisions of labor that affect how women and men see the world and their places in it and also effect rulings in child custody battles. If the overriding idea of the land is that the woman is automatically the parent and the man has to be paid or bribed or have his time with his children forced upon him, then judges will rule accordingly.

Crankosaur recently wrote a post discussing men's doofishness around the house, and why it is not, as some would claim, an example of feminism run amuck but an example of the traditional societal norms rearing their ugly heads, saying:
The purpose of the Stupid Husband is not to put men down, but rather to put women down, to insult them, to reinforce a gendered division of labor.
It is also something Sarah Haskins lampoons in her most recent Target: Women, saying in response to the commercials "Everyone you live with is an idiot!" Which is pretty much the lesson commercials want us to take from them. Men, children, and teenagers can't clean up after themselves, which is why we women have to clean up after everyone without recognition and not fume over that whole "unequal gender divide in housework" statistics because men (and children... and teenagers) just can't help it. They are apparently genetically predisposed to doing stupid things like leaving the lid off of the blender and betting on how many paper towels it is going to take to clean up one of their spills. The feminist movement helped women gain access to and respect in areas in the public domain, but in too many cases it has not had the effect of legitimizing men's work inside the domestic sphere. And television, commercials, and comic strips help reinforce the notion that there are still areas that are almost solely women's work. That just by being one half of a reason someone is alive is no reason to actively and equally parent them, that making a mess does not mean having to clean it up, and that food preparation is a gendered art - unless, of course, they are chefs, in which case they will predominately be male.

That sort of reinforcement rankles. I would give anything to have more television shows and movies portray the man either cooking or cleaning or hanging out with his kids independent of his wife or girlfriend making him. I don't know how to make what is still considered a woman's domain, and thus beneath most male involvement, into something men will voluntarily do, will expect to be responsible for. I suspect it has to do with figuring out how to make women and men actually equal. From where I stand, one of the reasons the gender divide is still so great in terms of housework duty is because society devalues areas in which women have traditionally had greater influence. To call a man a woman is still a grave insult because to be a woman is undesirable; thus, to do chores traditionally designated to women is also undesirable. Commercials and television shows and comic strips like the one above only continue to make that assertion; we need to work harder at making the opposite one.

In Defense Of Banks

(Note: This post deals mostly with the mortgage lending industry. I know much, much less about the investment banking industry, and so will touch on it much more gingerly.)

I'm going to have to do something I never wanted to do: defend the banking system in America. My defense? Banks aren't stupid. They aren't. Look, I know that is hard to believe, what with the current banking crisis and all, and yes they are a little bit stupid and a lot myopic and short-sighted and all that jazz. But they aren't completely idiotic. Which is what we'd almost have to believe if we are going to place a majority of the blame (or even a good deal of the blame) on the people who took out the mortgages instead of on the banking institutions themselves. I know what you're thinking. Why should I pay attention to the crazy rantings of a literature major who never took a finance class in her life? I'll tell you why. It is because a big part of why I'm jobless right now is that I worked in the mortgage industry. Also, my mother works in the mortgage industry. All of her friends work in the mortgage industry. And I've gotten to hear a lot about banking and the rules and regulations and such both growing up and while I spent my summers working there along with working there after college. Plus, I got passed around from department to department, so I have a pretty good idea of how the mortgage industry works. I also kind of feel like Marisa Tomei with rattling all of that off, but I think it is important to note that I actually do know a bit about what I'm talking about.

First things first: the idea that some of this mortgage crisis was brought about by people lying on their applications is untrue. The main problem with this idea is that even if mass amounts of people were lying on their mortgage applications and getting mortgages anyway, the bank would still be at fault. The reason is simple; if one person manipulates the system, the system is not necessarily compromised and that person is responsible. If a large amount of people are able to manipulate the system, to the point where the system breaks, then there has been a systemic failure. Those people who screwed the system are still responsible, but the system is also to blame because it failed to work properly. I would contend that the system would be more to blame, because it disregarded the holes in the system and allowed itself to be compromised. It would mean that a majority of people working on that side of the bank, in departments like closing, post closing, and quality control, were complete idiots - along with the people who designed the mortgage approval process as well. It would mean that not one person in the whole system recognized that a great number of people were lying. It would mean that Quality Control should get a new name. It would mean that Post Closing failed in all of its duties. It would mean that Closing was approving files without even a cursory glance. Banks do not get all of their mortgage information from the customer. Banks also get access to credit reports and look at pay stubs and generally do a pretty thorough job. There are always going to be a few people who manage to beat the system, but for the most part the system runs fairly smoothly in this regard.

Second up in the blame game in many conversations are the people who bought houses they could not afford. This is ignoring a couple of salient points. There are very few people who could not, in that moment, afford to buy a house that got a mortgage anyway. Those people are out there; but if nothing else, the banking industry generally does catch these applicants and denies them. If a person (or couple) absolutely could not afford the mortgage or the home upon walking into a banking institution, they generally did not get the loan. Banks do not approve loans they know will fail. If too many of those loans were getting through, again, it is a situation where the blame is inequitably divided. The customer is to blame in part for applying for a loan s/he knew s/he could not afford. But the bank is more to blame because they are the institution with the stamp. The applicant's job is to apply for the loan. The banking institution's job is to verify whether or not this applicant could afford the loan, or if they were going to default. It would be like someone under 21 attempting to get served at a bar. The greater fault lies with the bartender who serves the underage patron than with the patron.

But the most important thing to recognize is that both of those scenarios make up a limited portion of the mortgage industry. The majority of the mortgage industry is not nearly as black and white. It deals with risk. If Will Smith were to walk into a bank and wish to take out a mortgage on a cozy little two bedroom cottage, the bank is in a relatively low risk situation. If I walked into a bank and wished to take out a mortgage on a cozy little two bedroom cottage, the risk attached to such a loan would be significantly higher. The act the banking industry attempted (and failed) to perform was by approving more and more high risk loans. These loans generated a good deal of income while the economy was good, allowing those banks to venture further beyond the border of the safe risk amount. It was a gamble that just kept paying off, and in many instances it was a gamble the industry as a whole encouraged banks to make. During the period of economic expansion, banks faced considerable risk of a take over by another financial institution. Bigger, more successful, banks were buying out smaller banks and banks that had less of a profit margin. Investors, stock holders, and CEOs of these mortgage institutions wanted to see significant growth each quarter in an industry that almost demands a longer view. Most loans are written to be paid off in 15 years or 30 years; the stress to grow exponentially when one's product requires longevity increases risky practices. In an eat or be eaten world, banks were more apt to make what seemed to be good short term decisions; the only problem with that is that those decisions were bad for the long term.

Those decisions were bad long term ones for a variety of reasons, but I think it is important to note that every mortgage lending institution I know of has a Construction Department. The Construction Department is in charge of, obviously, construction loans - loans that pay for the building of new structures. And those structures, during the housing boom, were valued for more than their worth much like many houses were. There came a point in the industry where the supply of these constructed houses far exceeded the demand, and that partially explains the collapse. It also clearly demonstrates a version of tulip bulb mania in which at one point in time houses were worth a certain amount because there were more people clamoring to own (and capable of owning) homes than there were homes (McMansions, mostly) they desired, but over the years the market had been flooded with those homes and thus devalued themselves while still attempting to sell at the same price when those homes were in a competitive market. The system corrected itself by devaluing homes (creating a buyer's market, if anyone had money with which to buy), which in turn made those high risk loans all the more risky. An additional problem is the fact that Lines of Credit are tied directly to the value of a homeowner's abode, so a person could have had $300,000 available on his LOC one day and $120,000 on that same LOC the next (those numbers are, of course, entirely hypothetical).

Due to the nature of the loan game, in which many take adjustable mortgages in the idea that in a couple of years the mortgager can refinance at a lower adjustable rate if the market is fair, the downswing was a disaster for the high risk loans that were so profitable merely a year earlier. In this way, the market kind of screwed itself, because it depended upon banks to be able to perform like other institutions and create consistent and large profit margins. Thus, my own personal "Biggest Blame" for this whole mess is not the mortgage lenders or the customers themselves but a financial system that demands short term success at the expense of long term success. In order for banks to maintain their independence, they engaged in risky business practices. As long as the economy was good, Wall Street rewarded those risky business practices. Once the economy shifted, those risky practices were not nearly as profitable, and now the mortgage industry is in a fairly stupendously bad free fall. Obviously, there are many different solutions that need to be put in place over the next months and years, and there is the necessity of a bail out. But one thing we need to take heed of is what happens when short term profits come at the expense of long term stability, especially in an industry that supplies long term products. We need to come up with a different way of analyzing their success and failure on the global markets; we need to recognize that we should not expect large profit margins each quarter due to the nature of the product itself. If we hadn't focused so much on short term profit, then banks would not have had to engage so many high risk mortgages to ensure their survival from financial quarter to financial quarter when the market was good. And if banks had been more picky and less "eat or be eaten", then less of them would be in financial straits now.

Two Types of Zombie Feminism

Little more than two weeks ago, Rebecca Traister wrote an article about zombie feminism. Five days ago, Annalee Newitz also wrote an article about zombie feminism, though hers was literally about women who were zombies. The difference between the two articles using the same terminology is interesting, precisely because I agree with both articles. What Traister does in her article is take the traditional idea of what a zombie is and demonstrates how Palin and those in the media who label her "feminist" misappropriate the word. Zombie Feminism is faux-feminism, just like zombies are mindless, reanimated flesh. Palin is a zombie feminist because what she represents "is a form of feminine power that is utterly digestible to those who have no intellectual or political use for actual women. It's like some dystopian future... feminism without any feminists". Zombie feminism neither talks the talk nor walks the walk of real feminism, Traister asserts, because zombie feminism wraps itself safely in the cocoon of traditional femininity and adding a nice bow of claimed feminism. Traister continues:
The pro-woman rhetoric surrounding Sarah Palin's nomination is a grotesque bastardization of everything feminism has stood for, and in my mind, more than any of the intergenerational pro- or anti-Hillary crap that people wrung their hands over during the primaries, Palin's candidacy and the faux-feminism in which it has been wrapped are the first development I fear will actually imperil feminism. Because if adopted as a narrative by this nation and its women, it could not only subvert but erase the meaning of what real progress for women means, what real gender bias consists of, what real discrimination looks like.
Traister's zombie feminism is something to be feared, an intellectual bastardization and death of the real movement. It is an academic application of the theory to a worthwhile (at least according to Traister and myself) and necessary movement and the perversion that may one day cripple it.

Newitz' zombie feminism is something else entirely. Examining zombie movies, especially ones that utilize women as the primary zombie of the piece, Newitz examines how zombie feminism removes the passivity from female victims of crime. Comparing the new zombie film Deadgirl to Twin Peaks, Newitz points out,
The message of Twin Peaks, at least in terms of its dead girl protagonist, is that men won't get away with rape - but they'll be brought to justice by other men, not the women they've victimized.
What is interesting about Newitz's interpretation is that it feeds into a long line of zombie films (and horror films in general) that sought to examine present and damaging social conditions. According to Robin Wood (the film critic, not the son of a vampire slayer), the mother and father's
destruction at the hands of their zombie daughter represents [Night of the Living Dead]'s judgement on them and the norm they embody.
Zombies in those films were both the thing to be feared and a representation of the Other, which supports Newitz's own theory of zombie feminism: the evolution of the girl zombie is a way of releasing catharsis. Newitz states, Watching that pretty, dead face, you want her to get up and scream: You want her to bite that raping bastard's scalp off and drool his brains all over the place. But that brings up the inevitable question for Newitz. Does this form of feminism suggest that women can only win if they allow themselves to become the monsters? Newitz's other concern is whether or not men must die and become zombies themselves if women are ever to be free; it is an interesting concept. I find it to be strangely mirrored in The Yellow Wallpaper, in which the protagonist begins to crawl over her husband at the end after he has fainted in the face of the overwhelming evidence that his wife has descended into madness. He is out for the count, and she is (if we are to read some good in the ending) starting to make some progress. She has been released by the boundaries dictated by society of the actions of a proper lady, and she has been released from her own husband's judgement due to his incapacity. Newitz makes mention of an odd zombie film called Fido, in which a housewife falls in love with the zombie servant her husband has brought home. Why? According to Newitz, it is because as
[a]n object himself, he's able to see the humanity in a woman who is treated like an object by all the living men in her life.
For Newitz, zombie feminism is a subgenre that allows women to explore aspects of themselves society has denied them. It is that contrast between the two articles, the bastardization of a movement and the exploration of the same movement, that makes the two -worthwhile separately- work so well together. That something so bad in one respect can be so worthy of our attention in another.

Dennis Kucinich Isn't Happy

I actually agree with a great majority of his complaints. It isn't that I don't see the need for a massive bailout. I do. It isn't that I don't see the need for a bailout to be delivered quickly and effectively. I do. At the same time, though, I am unsure about pumping any money into a broken financial system without making an effort to fix that system in tandem. There is something strangely unsettling by throwing money at a problem and then talking about regulations as an aftereffect of the nightmare. I want my regulations and my accountability to be a major part of the bill now. Because accountability is important, deeply important. We hold homeowners accountable when they default on loans. We hold customers of banks accountable when they overdraw their accounts. But we do not seem to be making the same effort to hold the members of these financial institutions accountable to the same degree; and that does lend to the idea that we are a nation who does "accelerate the wealth of America upwards".

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Katie, I'd Like To Use One Of My Lifelines"

I may have to start watching Saturday Night Live.

I love both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler here. Tina Fey was spot on; I love her explanation of how Alaskans keep an eye out for Russians. I nearly died when she talked about how, "in an effort to bone up on foreign policy, I went to the Times Square area to see a film called 'The Bush Doctrine'. It was not about politics."

As much as I agree with Tina Fey that I don't want her to be playing this woman after November 4, this political season (and Tina Fey's impression) seems to have given SNL more bite and more genuinely funny moments than they've had in years.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

Paul Newman, resident of Westport Connecticut for more years than I've been alive and star of such films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Cool Hand Luke, died yesterday after a battle with lung cancer at age 83.

Paul Newman was an actor my mother adored, not only because of his looks and talent but also because of his philanthropical ways. We bought Newman's Own products in part because they were delicious and in part because the proceeds -after taxes- went to charities. We bought his daughter's off-shoot of Newman's Own because it was organic. She bought Shameless Exploitation: In Pursuit of the Common Good, a well written, funny, moving, and sad book about Newman and his charities and how he and AE Hotchner came up with the idea for the first product -the salad dressing. And it talks about the development of his Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, a summer camp for seriously ill children. It is hard for me to greatly admire actors as people rather than just admiring their craft in many circumstances. But I admired Paul Newman as a person; I admired his dedication to his charities, and I admired the way he developed those charities and worked at those charities instead of just signing over a good deal of money to one already founded. I think it speaks to what he was passionate about, and what force of good he thought he could be on the world. And his charities and products will continue to live on, which is the best outcome Paul Newman or anyone else could ever hope for.

In honor of Paul Newman, I may break out some of his movies; The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, maybe even Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And I'll wish he and Robert Redford had made one more movie together. And maybe, once I'm financially solvent, I'll write a good sized check to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Join the Evil League of Evil

Joss and company are finally ready to accept video submissions to the Evil League of Evil! If you have any talent at all, I would recommend going to the website, looking at the requirements (3 minutes in length, no swearing, being an all original work) and applying.

So get out there, make the best video you can, and remember that the finalists' videos will be featured on the DVD! Oh joy! Oh, rapture!

Henchmen need not apply.

Chris Hayes Is Flabbergasted

Here's some Chris Hayes for your Friday afternoon:

The Power Of A Good Moose Joke

A good friend of mine has expressed displeasure with the constant barrage of moose jokes Sarah Palin is subject to, saying:
I still think moose jokes are a waste of time. Is any swing voter going to think less of her because she knows how to deal with an animal that (while exotic in the continental USA) is native to her home state?
I tend to think that the key to a good moose joke (or caribou joke) isn't to make swing voters think less of her due to her animal-killing ways. It is to emphasize the ridiculousness of the narrative the McCain campaign has built for Sarah Palin. It was the McCain campaign and Sarah Palin that injected her moose-hunting and dressing ways into the national scene, just like it was Sarah Palin and the McCain campaign who first said she had foreign policy experience because of Russia's close proximity with Alaska. In the same way Al Gore's candidacy lost steam and credibility in the wake of the "Al Gore invented the internet" meme, McCain's campaign can suffer from comments they made and narratives they actually set (because if nothing else, Al Gore never said he invented the internet).

The reason the moose joke is made isn't because the Left hates hunters or those who enjoy the outdoors; it is repeated and reused and recycled because Sarah Palin's ability to field dress a moose has nothing to do with her executive readiness, her policy positions, or her overall ability to lead. It just means that she can field dress a moose. And jokes about the disconnect between the two are an implicit indictment of the overarching idea that we have to personally want to hang out with a candidate in order to vote for them. It is illuminating the dark places of a campaign that has very little pull with voters on the actual issues of the day. The moose jokes can also be used to highlight the discrepancies between how the campaign frames Sarah Palin and how they treat her. Jon Stewart's recent comment about how she can pull out a moose's heart and eat it in front of the moose highlights the disconnect of the McCain campaign treating Palin like a "delicate flower". If she is such a force to be reckoned with, and that is what the moose-killing, no-blinking narrative suggests, then it makes no sense to continue to shield her from the press.

But more than that, I think what the jokes ridicule is this constant idea present in American society that those who live on the frontier are somehow greater Americans, more authentic and pure Americans, than those of us who live elsewhere. There is the constant and overwhelming theme that "small town America" is more real than the "big city". Sarah Palin is obviously someone we can trust. She's rustic; she was the mayor of a small town. She kills things. She is God-fearing, and she spends so much of her time telling us how great her family is. That is the narrative offered up by the McCain camp, and it is a false one. The moose jokes illustrate that; they point out that killing something doesn't make a person any more equipped to deal with the problems of the day. That skills and experience in one area doesn't necessarily translate to skills and experience in another area. It mocks the idea that Sarah Palin is any more of a "real" American than Barack Obama, or any of us who merely pick up our meat at the supermarket -or don't eat meat at all. But mostly, the moose jokes are a way of exposing a faulty and trite narrative, a narrative swing voters should not be swayed by even if they admire her pluck and skill in the wild. It asks us in the general public to question why Sarah Palin's skills in that area are important enough to even be mentioned; we don't hear about Barack Obama's extracurricular hobbies, nor John McCain's. But we hear about Palin's, which indicates that there is little else of substance there to discuss. And by consistently lambasting the narrative the McCain campaign has set forth, comics and comic wannabes force that fact. And I think the best of the jokes are not meant to demean moose hunting in particular or hunting in general, but to delve into the consciousness of American society and make us wonder why hunting is short hand for "really, really capable".

Thursday, September 25, 2008

(Fictional) Feminist Icon: Matilda

Matilda Wormwood is a feminist icon; she may not have been written with that in mind, but Matilda herself and the book in general is full of what I would deem feminist thought. First and foremost is the fact that Matilda is not a girl who misses much. She is intelligent, poised, and fully in control. She doesn't care about dolls or keeping house. She is uninterested in watching television or learning from her mother how to catch and keep a man. She is interested in reading; she is shown proactively seeking out the library and books she can become engrossed in. She is shown to be almost better at math than she is at reading. She is a mathematical genius. And she is someone who is analytical and who can devise strategies for dealing with imbecilic parents and violent headmistresses. When her book gets torn up by her enraged father, she doesn't cry; she simply figures out a way to get even, and doesn't get caught. She is the very height of precocious child, but what is almost more important is that she isn't alone.

I have heard some criticism about movies like Juno being that only the title character is a fully formed, intelligent girl. Juno is an anomaly in her world because she is smart and sassy and in control. Other movies or shows or books have a smart woman character who very rarely interacts with other women characters. Harry Potter generally falls into this plight in regard to Hermione Granger. No matter how great a character Hermione is, she is the only fully formed girl the books offer. We often hear about how great Ginny is, but the fact is the character has very little agency throughout the book series. We are told she is brilliant and to love her, but she never becomes fully formed. These sort of token women aren't really a step forward for women in fiction; they generally seem to be there because it is un-PC to have a movie or television show without a woman on it anymore. But Matilda is different. Roald Dahl created a world where we are introduced to more fully formed women than men. Mr. Wormwood is really the only man we meet who is of any note in the novel, with Bruce Bogtrotter and Nigel playing lesser roles for male representation. We have Matilda, obviously. But also Matilda's best friend Lavender, who is described as being "gutsy and adventurous"; Lavender and Matilda are the two girls in their age group given the most focus in the novel, and both girls admire in the other a keen sense of action; Lavender decides to play a prank on the Trunchbull in order to be a heroine like Hortensia and Matilda. These aren't girls for whom being the heroine of the tale is to wait to be rescued or for a man to take care of the monster but who expect to do it themselves and without reservation. The same thing can be noted for the character of Hortensia, who at the age of ten is still more interested in regaling newcomers with her tales of epic battle than she is in fashion or boys or expecting Bruce to be the one to come up with the really great pranks.

And the book goes beyond just putting forth good role models for girls into skewering anti-intellectualism. When Mrs. Wormwood tells Miss Honey, "You chose books. I chose looks" and proclaims that she is the one who finished better off, we are meant to recognize the ridiculousness in that statement. When Mr. Wormwood dismisses going to a university as a worthwhile goal, Miss Honey gets the last word when she retorts, "If you had a heart attack this minute and had to call a doctor, that doctor would be a university graduate. If you got sued for selling someone a rotten second-hand car, you'd have to get a lawyer and he'd be a university graduate, too. Do not despise clever people, Mr. Wormwood".

What the book succeeds in doing is presenting different forms of women. Women aren't universally praised; Mrs. Wormwood and the Trunchbull are examples of how women can be just as small-minded and evil as men. But the Trunchbull especially is placed alongside other women, and she is defeated by a girl as well. The book manages to be about girl power without minimizing that effect by repackaging it in a Spice Girls "We still care about looks and make-up" way. It is a book about an extraordinary little girl who encounters other noteworthy women. It is a book that manages to make a girl who is immersed in learning both approachable and successful, both happy and well-adjusted. It is a book about a girl who is proud of how intelligent she is and who isn't afraid to demonstrate that intellect, who has never absorbed the lessons set forth by society that intelligence is bad and is doubly bad to have if one is a woman. Because that message is the triumphant one in the book, because Matilda is so smart and active and in control and Dahl presents it as a good thing, Matilda succeeds in being a feminist tale, and a brilliant one at that.

Special thanks to my best friend, whose copy of Matilda I stole more than a few years ago...

Wanda Sykes Is Awesome

There have been some comedians, like Margaret Cho, who haven't seemed to get a hang of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to say about a woman who is running for vice-president. Tina Fey got it; and Wanda Sykes gets it. Sykes was funny and cutting and entirely correct in her assessment of Sarah Palin. And she did it without one sexist remark, without one remark about Palin's looks, and made it about what is really important and what we can lambast Palin for and still be within the boundaries of good political humor.

I love the whole part about the Republican National Convention being like a Dr. Evil meeting as well.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Don't You Know What STAT Means?"

"I don't know what STAT means." -Jay Smooth makes my day just a little bit brighter.

Seriously, watch this. I defy you not to laugh, especially when he goes all ER.

Bill Clinton On The Daily Show

Love him or hate him, Bill Clinton is definitely charismatic and intelligent. I especially like it when he's loose enough to poke fun at himself.

Sexism and the McCain Campaign

I have a new crush-worthy individual, and that is Campbell Brown. I enjoyed her dressing down of Tucker Bounds (and why is it that the name "Tucker" is a conservative name?) after Sarah Palin was picked as the vice-presidential nominee:

and I fully enjoy her newest rant about the sexism McCain's campaign is demonstrating in not allowing Sarah Palin any access to the press:

I love her exhorting the McCain campaign to "end this chauvinistic treatment of her now. Allow her to show her stuff. Allow her to face down those pesky reporters, just like Barack Obama did today, just like John McCain did today, just like Joe Biden has done on numerous occasions"  (though a friend of mine will note that Biden is especially prone to inserting his foot fully in his mouth on many of those occasions).

That same friend brought up an interesting rationalization for the change in format for the vice-presidential debates, namely that "the reason they've agreed to all of this is because they're afraid Palin will play the gender card and insist that Biden was 'bullying' her throughout the debate". He further pointed out that this kind of gender card was used and used effectively by Hillary Clinton in 2000 against Rick Lazio when her supporters felt that Lazio was "pushy and disrespectful during the debate in Buffalo - bullying her in a way he would not have bullied a male opponent". I fully believe that was the Democratic reasoning behind the debate format change, but I think the fear of the "gender card" is misplaced in this instance. The Republican campaign has already done most of the work for the Democrats by inferring that Sarah Palin is so delicate and inexperienced and fragile that she cannot face reporters until they show her the proper deference. It has gotten to the point where Fox News is irate with the Republicans' handling of the Sarah Palin situation in the media, and that is what I would term the turning point of the whole mess. It may not last until November; but if the McCain campaign does not exhibit confidence in their vice-presidential nominee, it becomes all the more difficult for them to mount a truly moving defense of Palin if Biden does come off as stronger and more capable -or even belittling (something I myself am somewhat nervous about). And not that MSNBC or The Countdown are impartial sources of information, but I think this, along with Campbell Brown's assessment, is right:

And then there is the fact that the Republicans have become the lead in the story "The Campaign Who Cried Sexism". They have invoked sexism in attempts to delegitimize the strangest things, like the SNL sketch featuring Tina Fey. At some point, and I think that point has come, the cry of sexism will lose its power for the Republicans; which is great for the Obama campaign and not so great for the rest of us who fight for sexism and its pervasiveness to be recognized in the mainstream. The McCain camp had some goodwill left over from the days when McCain was a true maverick who was the press's darling because he would answer questions other candidates wouldn't and was surprisingly candid. But I think they have used up most - if not all - of those fond memories in this current campaign cycle. Finally, the press seems to have been awoken from their usual stupor; and if the press begins to start charging that the McCain camp's efforts to shield Palin from the rigors of the election campaign is insulting to voters in general and women voters specifically, any other charges the McCain campaign makes about Obama's campaign being sexist may be met with jeers and incredulity unless Biden commits a serious infraction.

The PETA People Are At It Again!

I've come around to the conclusion that the advertising director for PETA is some sort of fetishist, and uses the promotional messages PETA sends out on a regular basis in order to facilitate his (or her) own ha-has. Very little else explains the incredible degradation of human beings (and, in many of those cases, specifically women) in an attempt to bring some attention to the cause of Animal Rights. After all, these are the people who bring us a strip tease quiz game,who use a beheading in the news in order to make a point about animal deaths, who equate the horrors of the Holocaust with animal cruelty (that is the one that gets my personal Gold Medal for absolutely horrific advertising), and who consistently place women in "shocking" positions like the animals PETA cares so much about:
And this one:
And my personal favorite out of this particular ad campaign:
The last photo especially is something I would expect to see on a show like Bones or any one of the numerous CSIs. It seems clear that there is some serious antipathy for women going down here; not that PETA doesn't use men in their ads. See?
But Rahul Khanna there is fully clothed, unlike, say, her:
And when they do have nude male models, like Dennis Rodman:
those men still tend to look more in control and more assertive than the women:
who are, like in the photo above and the one with Charlotte Ross, in passive poses meant to emphasize their femininity; which is, unfortunately, traditionally directly related to a woman's vulnerability. I could write (and there have been, by others) whole pieces about PETA's photo ad campaigns in relation to a continued and pervasive sexist and racist attitude that floods their thinking; and how PETA seemingly continues to value animals over their women models. Instead, though, I would like to direct some attention to PETA's newest 'ingenious' campaign, and that would be a letter to Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream: 
Dear Mr. Cohen and Mr. Greenfield,
On behalf of PETA and our more than 2 million members and supporters, I'd like to bring your attention to an innovative new idea from Switzerland that would bring a unique twist to Ben and Jerry's.
Storchen restaurant is set to unveil a menu that includes soups, stews, and sauces made with at least 75 percent breast milk procured from human donors who are paid in exchange for their milk. If Ben and Jerry's replaced the cow's milk in its ice cream with breast milk, your customers-and cows-would reap the benefits.
Using cow's milk for your ice cream is a hazard to your customer's health. Dairy products have been linked to juvenile diabetes, allergies, constipation, obesity, and prostate and ovarian cancer. The late Dr. Benjamin Spock, America's leading authority on child care, spoke out against feeding cow's milk to children, saying it may play a role in anemia, allergies, and juvenile diabetes and in the long term, will set kids up for obesity and heart disease-America's number one cause of death.
Animals will also benefit from the switch to breast milk. Like all mammals, cows only produce milk during and after pregnancy, so to be able to constantly milk them, cows are forcefully impregnated every nine months. After several years of living in filthy conditions and being forced to produce 10 times more milk than they would naturally, their exhausted bodies are turned into hamburgers or ground up for soup.
And of course, the veal industry could not survive without the dairy industry. Because male calves can't produce milk, dairy farmers take them from their mothers immediately after birth and sell them to veal farms, where they endure 14 to17 weeks of torment chained inside a crate so small that they can't even turn around.
The breast is best! Won't you give cows and their babies a break and our health a boost by switching from cow's milk to breast milk in Ben and Jerry's ice cream? Thank you for your consideration.
Tracy Reiman
Executive Vice President
I tend to think that a commentator by the name of kristin over at Feminocracy is partially correct when she says, "With this stunt, they want to make people see the parallel between human and cows [sic] milk. In today's society people think human breast milk is disgusting and unfit for an adult to consume, they want people to have the same reaction to cows [sic] milk." At the same time, PETA invokes the image of a Swiss restaurant that actually has begun to use human breast milk in their recipes; the restaurant is part of an exclusive resort, so this isn't just happening in some strange underbelly of the restaurant business. This is an actual event, so the point kristin makes about the consumption of human breast milk is slightly nullified, or at the very least altered, by the very practice PETA is referring to in a positive manner.

Which leads me back to my first point about PETA and fetishism. It seems to me that there is a strange amount of fetishism present in many of PETA's ads, from chaining women (and some men) up, to putting them in cages, to recreating a bloody death scene, to describing a beheading and invoking the specter of a human who was recently beheaded, and now this recent "Let's drink human breast milk" light bulb moment. There may be something to be said about this kind of fetish, but since it simulates sadism and since it requires the degradation of human beings to fulfill it, I am not on board - especially in an ad campaign meant to further a cause against cruelty and exploitation, even if for them that reprieve should only be granted to animals. Because what PETA's ads do is force us to focus on the sadistic positions they have often placed women in; I suppose the logical leap for them is that this is just as bad as what is happening to the animals. But for those of us who place human beings and their suffering and their death on another plane, that connection does not come quite so quickly if it comes at all. For those of us who value women and their autonomy, the ads do very little other than to cause us to react in revulsion.

I have no doubt that the overall aim of PETA is a good one; that doesn't mean that I am going to stop eating meat or eating my ice cream, because I won't. But there is a balance to be struck between ensuring animals are treated well for the span of their life - however long that may be - and the opposite end of factory farming and keeping baby calves in stalls barely large enough to hold them in order to ensure their supple flesh stays that way. I am against factory farming. I am morally opposed to veal, and I boycott its consumption when I can. And part of that comes from thoughtful discussion at home and thought provoking and inventive messages, like the "Meatrix" campaign:

What PETA does is hold up a fun house mirror to us and tells us to see ourselves in it, even though we have been distorted and are no longer recognizable. That doesn't help their cause, it doesn't help the animals who are suffering, and it instead perpetuates other issues many of those who could - in better circumstances - have been PETA's allies are fighting so hard against. And that breeds resentment and places the attention where the attention is not due: on the ad campaign's construction rather than the message held therein. And that is the opposite of good for the animals.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Penny's Getting A Make-Over

The Treasury Department is rolling out a new vision of the backside of the penny (four, actually) to coincide with the centennial of the penny's existence and the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.

I don't like 'em.

Geeks Versus Nerds

About a hundred years ago (well, more like a month), I started writing a series about 'girlie' math and then responding to one of my friend's thoughts on the matter. This piece is sort of an off-shoot of the last entry I wrote about nerds, though not the final entry on the matter (I still have one percolating). One of the questions that constantly comes up is what differentiates a geek from a nerd; there are a lot of ways in which geeks and nerds are similar, and generally there is a lot of crossover between the two groups. In a Venn Diagram, the middle section of the circles overlapping would take up much of the other two circles. And although nerds and geeks are becoming more socially acceptable, there is still a social stigma attached to being one. As one of my friends writes (again, quoting without asking! But at this point, it should be expected):
Granted, people like to say "I'm such a geek/nerd/etc, tee hee!" when admitting they do something other than think about cars and sports (or clothes and makeup), but the genuine geek/nerd/dork is still a social outcast.
First, I love the "tee hee" thrown in there, because it is true. Secondly, I agree with the sentiment. I find Willow Rosenberg's remarks about knowledge gathering to be fairly on the mark:
It's just in high school, knowledge was pretty much frowned upon. You really had to work to learn anything.
 And yet, I myself think of nerds as being slightly higher on the social food chain than geeks. Why? Well, because the key difference between a nerd and a geek, for me, is their center of knowledge. Nerds are ones who are history buffs; who write code for computer programs, who make the AV system in the high school better. They are the ones who generally get all of their homework done, and while they're at it correct the school books or the handouts the teacher distributed. Nerds use their intellect in areas that may be scoffed at in high school but may one day be a venue for accumulating money, or getting the job, or becoming a premiere scholar of some kind. Geeks, however, are more... ...extracurricular in their knowledge base. Geeks can turn their passion into some form of capitalist success, but more often than not they are the ones spending their hard earned money on tee shirts and memorabilia; they are the ones, out of the two groups, to have dialogue from long forgotten and never incredibly popular television shows rattling around in their heads. These are the people who would write to JRR Tolkien to inform him that, if what Tolkien wrote was the true topography of Middle Earth, then the accompanying maps were wrong. These are people who immerse themselves in worlds of science fiction and fantasy, who learn Klingon and who know the history behind every race in Star Trek and every battle in Star Wars.

The truth is, the only thing that really separates nerds from geeks in life is the amount of respectability each can receive. Both generally exhibit the same type of obsessiveness and fanaticism; the same passion that accounts for needing to learn every facet of Shay's Rebellion is present in the need to learn the hierarchies present in the United Federation of Planets. That shared type explains the amount of overlap the two groups tend to sustain. We just happen to (eventually) praise and respect the man who can build the personal computer or deliver the iPod in a way we do not praise and respect the man who has created a multitude of complex fictional universes. Some geeks get praise; Joss Whedon is a critical darling. But most often, geeks are the ones who are depicted and seen as living within a fantasy realm because they cannot (or will not) connect to life in this realm. And that comes down to the amount of money they can make versus the amount of money society can make off of them.

"It's Pretty Maddening To Watch This Game Get Played Over And Over"

Some Chris Hayes for your Tuesday.

How Democrats Lose Elections (Pt 2)

For once, I agree with Andrew Sullivan entirely. I don't know what the Democrats are playing at, but I want to know where all the nefarious Democrats went -you know, the ones that used to rig elections and would fight dirty. Where did those people go?! I want them back, and I want them back right now. I want someone to stand up and say exactly what Sullivan said:
We are now rigging the debate formats to compensate for a know-nothing, mendacious Manchurian candidate drilled in meaningly talking points? And the Obama team agreed to this?
He gets extra points for the alliteration. Because this (via the New York Times):
McCain advisers said they had been concerned that a loose format could leave Ms. Palin, a relatively inexperienced debater, at a disadvantage and largely on the defensive
could only be a good thing for Democrats! Maybe I'm doing it wrong; but when I fight, I tend to want my opponent to be on the defensive as much as humanly possible. I don't want to go to any length to compensate for my opponent's weaknesses! If Palin is that inexperienced of a debater that she needed the format changed, then there is no way she should be on the national ticket. It is that simple. And by capitulating and creating a format that may work better for her, the Dems have completely ignored the fact that this is where they could have hit Republicans so that it hurt.

Unless they know something that I don't; like some crazy winning strategy that makes it so even if Palin wins in these specially crafted debates, she loses. But given the state of the Democratic party since friggin' Carter, and given the state of the American public and how many of them will probably recognize a change in format (or if they are aware, how many will know it was for Palin's benefit), I'm going to say that may backfire. Horribly.

Once again, an election is the Democrats' to lose. Go get 'em, boys.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The End of Conservative Policy (Economic Edition)

I need someone to explain to me what is good about the conservative economic plan; I've never been a fan of conservative theories in general, but their economic policies have always struck me as particularly obtuse. I could never imagine something like the trickle down theory of economics working, merely because my grasp of human nature is such that I think once we have something we covet -money, clothing, whatever- we are not, as a group, likely to willingly give it up even for the good of the populace. We will hold onto what we covet unless there are laws or regulations dictating that we do otherwise. Perhaps I am wrong about the inherent selfishness present in human nature; but I think the current economic crisis belies that idea. The money that was supposed to make it down to the middle and lower classes via tax cuts for the most wealthy and tax incentives for the corporations never did show up; at least, not in my household and probably not in many others. I'm not entirely sure how it was going to trickle down anyway; perhaps someone who knows the intricate details of Reaganomics could do more to inform me if it was supposed to influence merely the prices of items on the market or if it was supposed to be in the form of raises. I was always caught up in the fact that it didn't work in the 1980s and it did not work this time around either. My outbursts on the matter were so annoying that a teacher of mine in high school 'recommended' that I not take Econ with her, and that I should probably take Law and Society instead; I took that advice, partially for her sake and partially for my own, but that means I know less about economic matters than any self-respecting political junkie should.

What I do know is that what annoyed me about Reagonomics in high school and prior to high school continues to bother me to this day; I also profoundly agree with Rachel Maddow when she said (paraphrased from tonight's show) that those who despise government and do not believe it is the answer to a nation's woes should probably not be elected to actually run the government. I also dislike the deregulation of industries. As I see it, regulation is a must; an addendum to my previous rule of thumb regarding human behavior is this: morals generally are not voluntarily applied to corporations or those who wish to make money, and that most of those wishing to make money will do so by any means necessary, even if it means ignoring what would be common sense for long-term growth. One only needs to read The Jungle to understand why regulation is important. Barring that, one only has to look at Wall Street and our nation's financial 'strength' circa October 29, 1929 through 1939. And that only took our involvement in a world war to bounce back from. Regulatory practices seem like a good idea, mostly because the conservative idea about a free market being self-correcting is in actuality true. The problem with that self-correcting function being that much of the country cannot truly handle such fluctuations like a market correction. It is my belief, and perhaps the wrong one, that it is better to stymie potential and gratuitous windfalls if doing so also allows for a certain amount of control when the market heads in the opposite direction. It means less exhilarating growth, but it also means less abysmal lows as well. As someone who has never been much of a risk taker in any medium, that sounds like a fair balance to me.

Considering that even conservatives are working fiercely against the natural correction of the market, I am calling into question whether or not belief in the conservative philosophy -at least, the economic fork of that philosophy- is coming to an end. I can only hope that some of it does die, and with a whimper instead of a bang. But then, I'm more of a pump-primer, Keynesian economic policy girl myself. If anyone could tell me why I am wrong in aligning myself with that philosophy, I'd be much obliged.

"If It Keeps Our Government From Socializing Healthcare, I'm All For It"

Jon Stewart is the love of my life.

The only thing that makes me more upset than the fact that the Republicans will still claim to be the party of small government are the letters flooding my local newspaper calling upon people to vote against Obama because he will make the United States a socialist nation. Yeah, because that is so different than what's happening now. I have to say, I hate people sometimes.

The Importance Of Cookies

One of the perpetual issues in feminism (and actually progressivism) is how to make what was formerly "women's work" more equitable in terms of gender and in terms of the distinction and emphasizes the significance and value of that work. We fight consistently for women to make distinct choices, to allow women to enter the workforce and various kinds of workforces or to stay at home and raise their children and take care of the house. We fight for gender equality, and we celebrate the in-roads we make in terms of women succeeding in fields previously dominated by men and we celebrate women challenging stereotypes and the gender binary. At the same time, we don't seem to do quite as much for the men who challenge their own privilege and lend their voices and actions toward working for gender equality by making alternative life choices. For men who stay at home with their children, and help with the dishes, and cook dinner, and do the laundry, the response more often than not is, "What, do you want a cookie or something?"

I'm as guilty of this as the next person. Some of my most hated ads are the Klondike ads that pronounce "So-and-so listened to his wife! Get that man a Klondike bar!" or "So-and-so put his dish away! Get that man a Klondike bar!" No! Men should not be 'rewarded' for doing things we should expect them to do anyway. And we should not have media that reinforces the idea that men who do things like listen to their wives or clean up after themselves are extraordinary and worthy of special treatment in some way. But at the same time, I do believe that we should get more in the habit of positively reinforcing the challenges some of these men present to the gender binary.

Human beings are social creatures. And generally, we want some sort of recognition for our actions, especially positive recognition. And that is where the importance of the cookie comes in. We should be praising men who make an effort to check their privilege. We should be holding these men up as role models for other men; yes, men have been, as gender, more likely to get more than their fair share of cookies throughout time. Yes, even today, men will get more cookies than women. But that makes it almost more important. We need to make doing the right thing seem appealing. We need to socialize men -just as we need to socialize women- to expand upon what is expected from them. We need to get to the place in which a father being an equal caregiver for his child is not extraordinary, where a husband is just as likely to wash the clothing or clean the house as his wife. But first, we need to reward the men who do make that leap. Yes, they should be doing so anyway. But they are consistently inundated with images and media that says otherwise; and they get praise and suffer nothing if they are lackadaisical about taking up the mantel of implementing change. They will forever get unearned cookies for maintaining, however passively, the status quo. Why not give them a few cookies for actually proactively working to undermine those gender assumptions? Why not offer some words of encouragement to the father who does stay home with his children, for the husband who does the majority of the cooking, for the man who protests commercials that make him and his children out to be slovenly fools? Why not hold these men up as examples -not examples of someone doing something extraordinary, but someone doing something that is right? Why not make doing what is right appealing?

We do this for women. Women were ridiculed for wanting preposterous things like the right to vote or hold a job, or even play a sport. We found women to highlight and to make an example of what women could accomplish. We offered praise to women who fought against discrimination, who tried (and sometimes failed) to break the multiple glass ceilings women have faced over the years. Men may be the privileged gender, but they face their own "glass floors". Men are expected to adhere to gender norms, perhaps stricter gender norms these days than even women are held to. After all, women can almost do it all - we just have to be pretty and feminine. We will still encounter opposition, but wanting to play with the boys or being interested in sports or liking more masculine colors are not scorn-worthy offenses anymore (liking math may still be). But men are either heralded as the Best of their Gender if they know how to cook and like to clean or will take the baby for a day, or derided for being the stay-at-home dad and looked at oddly for wanting to see the next romantic comedy. We need to change that; and one of the ways to do that would be to emphasize what these men are doing right and how we should expect no less. It both gives these men the recognition most humans crave, and also reinforces the notion that this behavior should be the norm anyway.

Gloria Jacobs and Courtney Martin on Palin's "Feminism"

This is a really interesting video (which could have potentially been made more interesting had those feminists who see Sarah Palin as one of them came on as well to actually debate the thing) about feminism, Sarah Palin, and Republicans' discovering sexism:

The Feminist Press' Gloria Jacobs and Feministing.com's Courtney Martin Discuss Sarah Palin from Brian Lehrer Live on Vimeo.
Aside from Courtney's overuse of the word "wild" (something I completely understand, as I'm someone who gets hung up on certain phrases and words as well), I think both Gloria and Courtney properly frame the issue, especially the point about how part of feminists' problem with Sarah Palin (and definitely part of my problem with her) and how she chooses to present herself is how she distances herself from her own ambition. It may make her more palatable to the American public, but it does play straight into the old gender paradigm about women and men; and that is a rather negative aspect of Palin's ascent.

An Amalgam of Articles

A friend of mine has a brilliant post up about sex and sexuality in teenage media. I also love the title, that being "Be Sexy. Just Don't Have Sex. But Don't Wait Too Long, Or Then You're Weird", partially because it brought up the specter interviews Amy Sherman-Palladino gave after Rory Gilmore lost her virginity at 19; namely that she (Rory) had to lose it sooner rather than later. Which seemed like an odd concept, that there was a timeframe within which one had to be devirginized -at least on television- and that Rory was rapidly reaching that mark by the end of her teenage years and not having sex after that point would make her a freak of nature.

I also like her point about sexualizing teenage stars through their admission of virginity and willingness to sport chastity rings.

Then there's this article about what Katy Perry's horrible song "I Kissed A Girl" has in common with Sarah Palin; and that is that they are both part of a trend of faux-feminism not meant to make feminism (or lesbianism) more acceptable to greater society but to instead take feminism and pervert it, gut out anything of value in it and then use it to shore up heteronormative behaviors and sexual interests.

I read an interesting article about teenage parents (tying in with my friend's post above), but this one highlights how successful teenage parents usually have a greater support system, and 'unsuccessful' teenage parents are ones who are generally of a lower socio-economic class and who were labelled failures even before they started -those teenage parents who would fall into Bill O'Reilly's "something wrong with it" camp given that at some point, society may have to step in and be a pseudo-replacement support system in lieu of the one they originally lacked. This 'successful' former teenage mom lists the things teen parents need in order to make succeeding easier.

And then there's the slightly less than reassuring news from FOX that they are standing behind Joss Whedon and his new show Dollhouse. Which I'm throwing in there because at the moment, I can't wait for January and its premiere, while simultaneously hiding under the covers because I can't shake the feeling it will be cancelled within the first two seconds of airtime.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Recipes I Like: Roasted Ratatouille

I've begun to cook; not very often, but sometimes. Generally, I'll do it a lot for a couple of weeks and then not at all for a couple of months. And generally, it is a winter/fall/early spring phenomenon that I kind of abandon once summer rolls around. That could be in part explained by my fear of the grill and of grilling in general. Anyway, in the interest of giving credit where it is due, I found a recipe for roasted ratatouille at Shakesville. But due to the nature of my family and the amount of us and the fact that I'm not a fan of 1 inch cubes of food items, I modified the recipe a bit; so, original recipe at the above link, and my own version down below, which feeds about 5 (and remember, left overs are a good thing!):

2 small to medium eggplants
2 small zucchini
4-5 small potatoes
1 red or green pepper
1 onion
4 plum tomatoes
3-4 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
dried oregano
dried basil
garlic powder
olive oil
parmesan cheese
balsamic vinegar (optional)

1. Coat the bottom of a large baking pan (or two) with olive oil.

2. Cut eggplant, zucchini, pepper, onion, potatoes, and tomatoes into edible-sized bites.

3. Roughly chop the garlic.

4. Put vegetables in a big bowl (or two) and coat with olive oil; use your hands to spread the olive oil evenly.

5. Place mixed vegetables in baking pan. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried basil, dried oregano, and dried thyme to taste. Put a smidgen of rosemary on as well. Coat liberally with parmesan cheese.

6. Bake everything for 45 minutes or ยบ350. Turn every 15 minutes.

7. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar (optional).

8. Serve.

Delicious, vegetarian, and easy. Also, kind of fun. Serve with a French baguette.

The HHS And You!

I don't like writing about things I don't know an awful lot about. It makes me nervous, and it also makes it harder for me to build up the type of righteous and argumentative authority I generally like to have if someone disagrees with me on the subject at hand. Without that, I may have to *gasp* admit that I'm either wrong, or that I don't know what I'm talking about. Both of those scenarios would be unnecessary blows to my (large amount of) self-esteem, and so I generally stick to topics I know a fair deal about - or can at least bluff about knowing a fair deal about.

That isn't a position I'm writing from right now, but I'm discussing this particular issue because I think it is important. Hillary Clinton (Senator from New York) and Cecile Richards (president of Planned Parenthood) joined forces to write an editorial in the New York Times about a new proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that would "require that any health care entity that receives federal financing - whether it's a physician in private practice, a hospital or a state government - certify in writing that none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable".

On the surface, this seems like a fairly benign rule. But as Senator Clinton and Ms. Richards expanded upon the ramifications about the rule, it became more and more apparent that we as Americans should speak out against it. The rule would allow physicians to deny patients contraception; it could be used to deny women patients information about their options or even denied care - and denied a referral to a doctor who wouldn't find the medical services asked for objectionable. Since the rule is also nebulous and unspecific about what, indeed, the employees could deny upon deciding the request was in some way objectionable, Clinton and Richards ask:
Could physicians object to helping patients whose sexual orientation they find objectionable? Could a receptionist refuse to book an appointment for an H.I.V. test? What about an emergency room doctor who wishes to deny emergency contraception to a rape victim? Or a pharmacist who prefers to not refill a birth control prescription?
These questions resonate with me, and I would hope they resonate with many others. Yes, those who give medical care should have some protections in place; but those protections should not infringe upon patients' rights. Patient rights only begin where those who have been entrusted with giving them sound medical advice's rights end. And for my own sake, I want a doctor who is compelled - not just by morality, but by the law itself - to give me all of the information, or direct me to someone who will. Because of that, I went to the ACLU's page about the matter and filled out the required fields to send a letter to the HHS. And why I'm going to be calling 1-877-696-6775 on Monday to personally voice my displeasure with this measure. And I hope others will too. We have until September 25. Sorry for the short notice. I'm a bit of a procrastinator...

For more information, I'd suggest reading this blog post, this handy-dandy explainer by the ACLU, and/or the actual draft regulations, linked at the bottom of the handy-dandy explainer.

"I Won't Lie To You, Being Fictional Was A Big Advantage"

BARTLET Well, it seems to me your problem is a lot like the problem I had twice.

OBAMA Which was?

BARTLET A huge number of Americans thought I thought I was superior to them.



OBAMA I mean, how did you overcome that?

BARTLET I won’t lie to you, being fictional was a big advantage.
Maureen Dowd's column latest column in the Times was written by Sorkin -or someone extremely proficient in Sorkinese. Check it out. It has all of Sorkin's greatest attributes, and some of his weakest flaws as well; it gets an A+ for rhetoric, for pacing, and for being a delightful read. Sorkin's dialogue is fantastic; but his soliloquies that make my head sing. In the world of writing, Sorkin is a classical composer and it shows. Words build on words; thoughts hinge on what came before, and though it may begin with one "instrument", by the end there is a full orchestra.

I wish I could quote my favorite lines from the Dowd column. In truth, though, that would end up being the whole thing. But a few ones that got my blood pumping would be:
"As a Democrat I was surprised to learn that I don't like small towns, God, people with jobs or America."
"I've been a little out of touch but is there a mandate that the vice president be skilled at field dressing a moose... ...and selling Air Force Two on eBay?"
"Because the idea of American exceptionalism doesn't extend to Americans being exceptional."
"The people who want English to be the official language of the United States are uncomfortable with their leaders being fluent in it."
And the creme de la creme:
"Call them liars, because that's what they are. Sarah Palin didn't say 'thanks but no thanks' to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said 'Thanks'. You were raised by a single mother on food stamps - where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annopolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I'd ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you're at it, I want the word 'patriot' back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn't know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can't do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie - the truth isn't their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they've earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It's not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman, and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology, and common sense too? It's not bad enough she's forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It's not enough that a woman shouldn't have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist's baby too? I don't know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she's got the qualifications of one. And you're worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!"
There are weaknesses; I don't know if Sarah Palin has forced her daughter into a loveless marriage and neither do Aaron Sorkin or Bill Maher, even though that doesn't stop them from repeating the line. Sorkin has a troubled and complex history with women characters, and some of that comes out in how he chooses to frame Palin in the piece, though the actual language he uses in its context creates the overall effectiveness. But overall, I want Sorkin to write political speeches - I don't care for whom. I want politicians, on both sides, to be forced to watch Sorkin's politicians and especially their speeches. I want to hear about how "the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless". I want a president to stand up and challenge the idea that the ACLU is unAmerican in some way. I want a president (or presidential nominee) to be Andrew Shepherd and say:
"America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land is the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the 'land of the free'."
So go; read the Maureen Dowd piece. And then rent The American President; watch some episodes of The West Wing or Sports Night (both have those moments of greatness of writing). And embrace Sorkinese. It makes the world a slightly better place; and it envisions a world in which people are truly, desperately, achingly passionate about their work and their place in the world; where every day they strive, in small ways and big ways, to do the right thing and to be the best they can be. And that, along with the way Sorkin chooses to tell it, is music to my ears. So one more quote from Sorkin, about the qualities of music and writing:
"Words, when spoken out loud for the sake of performance, are music. They have rhythm, and pitch, and timbre, and volume. These are the properties of music, and music has the ability to find us and move us, and lift us up in ways that literal meanings can't."