Monday, March 12, 2012 5:41 PM
It’s out of vogue for girlfriends and wives to complain about their significant others’ porn use, and a bride who asks her groom to forgo bachelor party strippers is universally seen as insecure and controlling—or at the very least an unrealistic simpleton. Only someone hopelessly outdated and provincial would turn away from Dan Savage’s advice to accept that it’s normal and healthy for people to want a variety of visual stimulus in their sexual repertoire. And yet, there are a few of us throwbacks who believe looking at pornography and paying for sex work are detrimental to relationships. Who ask our partner not just to limit strip club outings or keep porn use under discreet cover but to abstain from them altogether.
See, I’m already sounding like I wear my hair in a 1950s housewife updo and agree to nothing but once-a-month lights-out missionary position. Which is why it was gratifying to read in Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity (Oct-Dec 2011) that research doesn’t exactly hold with the sophisticate theory that porn is wholly harmless to relationships:
Men’s pornography viewing has been shown to be associated with unhealthy, less stable relationships.... For example, viewing pornography has been associated with (a) a decrease in relational sexual intimacy; (b) an increase in egocentric sexual practices aimed at personal pleasure and with little regard to the pleasure of the engaging partner.... Furthermore, men who frequently view pornography express a greater dissatisfaction with their partner’s physical appearance, sexual performance, and sexual curiosity.
I realize that most modern feminists wouldn’t touch an anti-porn stance with a 10-foot stripper pole. Which makes it even more valuable to put this research out there and see if it jives with anyone’s personal experience. Has a porn habit made your boyfriend less capable of attending to “the pleasure of the engaging partner”—i.e., you and your orgasm and your overall sexual experience? Has it made one-on-one real-life sex with a real-life partner less rewarding for both involved?
Some men “prefer smut to real sex because while they’re viewing porn, they’re in control,” explain therapists Barry McCarthy and Michele Weiner-Davis in Psychology Today. No one else’s feelings or desires need to be taken into consideration during solo sessions. As McCarthy says, “Couple sex is much more complicated.”
In this era of the sexy feminist, where the liberated suburban mom takes pole dancing lessons, balking at pornography and sex work will certainly come across as prudish. But what I’m hearing is that the more porn a man consumes, the less he and his partner will enjoy their real-life sex. And who wants that? The good news for couples, Psychology Today reports, is that “even a conflict over pornography, handled constructively, can improve a relationship.” Which makes for a happy ending—for all.
Sources: Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention (article not available online), Psychology Today
Image by quinn.anya, licensed under Creative Commons.
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.
Friday, February 17, 2012 1:51 PM
While no parent wants a petulant, argumentative teenager, cultivating a skill set for feisty debate in secondary school may be the most effective way to ensure a reasoned adulthood.
Columbia University’s Deanna Kuhn, a psychology professor whose work in cognitive science and education was recently profiled by Miller-McCune, worries argument “based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence” is dying out—yet, in our ever more complex world, is ever more crucial. How, she set out to uncover, could we foster a generation of rational, well-informed citizens to meet the challenges of tomorrow?
Though a geeky staple of secondary education, debate club was not the solution Kuhn investigated. Instead, she went meta. As in, metaphysical.
Kuhn’s subjects were mostly black and Latino students from a public middle school in Harlem, and all 48 were enrolled in a twice-weekly philosophy course for three years. Alongside the class’s curriculum, they researched and debated on controversial issues like animal rights and black market organ sales. “They often debated in pairs,” explains Burns, “not face to face, but online, in a sort of Socratic inquiry via Google Chat.”
Like all new material, the students didn’t initially “get” how to argue with nuance. Their topical stances, according to the article, lacked complexity. Many showed no interest in feedback from their instructors. But, “[b]y the end of year two,” the magazine reports, “they had developed a thirst for evidence.” The young philosophers competed in a year-end showdown structured more like a debate club match, where half-cocked arguments and one-sided perspectives didn’t fly.
For a control group, Kuhn tracked 23 other students who learned philosophy like classic scribes: with their noses in books and pens scribbling essays. At the end of the third year of instruction, both groups took a written exam on yet another unfamiliar topic—a type of assessment for which the traditionally educated kids should be more prepared. But the results were surprising: “[N]early 80 percent of the students in the experimental group were writing essays that identified and weighed opposing views in an argument,” reports Miller-McCune. “Less than 30 percent of the students in the comparison group were doing so.”
In a media landscape hijacked by cable news personalities, internet trolls, and radio blowhards and an education system hijacked by standardized testing companies, these statistics are more than reassuring. They’re—dare I say it—enlightening.
Image by Jon Collier, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, February 16, 2012 3:34 PM
This article originally appeared on Care2.
When most of us think of helicopter parents, or helicopter parenting in general, our thoughts are relegated to overeager, but undeniably loving and caring, parents trying to “curate” a playdate, or intervening in an awkward social interaction between their child and a fellow grade school-aged child. Helicopter parenting, for those of us not hip to this colloquialism, is an informal brand of parenting where a parent exhibits a profound level of control over their child’s life and attempts to sweep all obstacles out of the paths of their children. The assumption is that that after some time, and some humbling gaffs on the part of the parent, these parents learn to ease up and relinquish control a bit, thus paving the road for their children to find their own way through life, make their own mistakes, and fight their own battles. For most parents, this is true, but some parents of the helicopter variety are persistent up to and past college age.
A recent episode of the sketch comedy show Portlandia takes a playful stab at lampooning helicopter parents and showing how successive generations of these overreaching parents can support, as well as stifle, their children. See below (after you suffer through the 10 second ad):
Laughs aside, this issue is not all that exaggerated. According to a recent NPR report, this brand of helicopter parenting often sticks well beyond college age as more helicopter parents are showing up in the workplace, sometimes even phoning human resources managers to advocate on their child’s behalf. Margaret Fiester of the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM, says when it comes to parents acting as lobbyists, she’s heard it all — from parents calling to negotiate better salaries or vacation time for their kids to complaining when their child isn’t hired. “Surely you’ve overlooked these wonderful qualities that my child has,” Fiester says parents often tell her. These sorts of interventions by the parent can obviously backfire and put the employer on the defensive, not to mention reflect poorly on the decision-making of the child/possible employee. Think what you may about helicopter parenting, this has become an issue for many companies and corporations looking to hire right out of college. They have had to adapt and, in some cases, make gestures toward the parent like sending parents the same recruitment packages it sends their children, or initiating a “Take Your Parent to Work” day.
While every parent is convinced their child is “special” is it their distinct responsibility to inform the world, or does that responsibility and advocacy rest in the lap of that child? Should the helicopter land and allow for some self-expression and showmanship originating from the child, or in this case young adult?
Image by Jose Kevo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, February 09, 2012 10:39 AM
This post originally appeared on Care2.com.
According to a new study on dehydration and mood, the optimist may view her glass as half full because she drank that water already. While mild dehydration didn’t appear to affect cognitive function in the young women who participated in the study, it did dampen their moods and caused them to perceive tasks as much harder than when well-hydrated.
For the study, which appears in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, researchers induced mild dehydration among 25 subjects and measured their performance on tests of memory, concentration, and mood. When dehydrated, the women were more negative, had trouble concentrating and were “more fatigued, and this was true during mild exercise and when sitting at a computer,” explained University of Connecticut professor and lead researcher Lawrence E. Armstrong, PhD in a WebMD story.
Dr. Robert Glatter of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City told WebMD that the study should serve as a reminder to stay hydrated. “Just a small change in state of hydration was enough to affect mood, ability to concentrate, and lead to development of headaches,” he said. Dr. Glatter recommends consuming moderate quantities of water, both during and after exercise.
It turns out that, as actress Jennifer Aniston famously warned last year, not drinking enough water can make you “cranky.” While Jen’s right that regularly filling your water glass could improve your mood, if you want to be really smart, you’ll get that water from the tap.
Image by Harald Groven, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, February 02, 2012 5:21 PM
In light of the divisive decision by the Susan G. Komen foundation to defund breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, a new Tumblr has been established called Planned Parenthood Saved My Life. The stories have been pouring in and, wow, are they worth the read.
Some people might see Planned Parenthood as nothing more than a politically charged abortion clinic, but in truth it’s the sole reliable health care resource for women who don’t have insurance. Regardless of your ability to pay, the clinic doles out—without judgment or moralizing—any legal health service necessary, from paps to abortions to cancer screenings, often at no cost. Taking away nearly $1 million in Komen funding will take away the ability of many impoverished women to have their breast cancer detected at all. Hopefully no one thinks life-saving screenings should only be available to women of means or of a certain political stripe, but rather to every woman.
The personal stories on the Tumblr feed reveal an astonishing range of services and the profound lifelong effects of receiving safe, speedy, and nonjudgmental care. Planned Parenthood gave one woman a rush wellness exam so she could donate her kidney to her father, when her regular doctor didn’t have the time to squeeze her in. Her father is alive today. Many, many other women tell stories of free care and much-needed sex education provided quickly in times of dire need—experiences that turned their lives around.
Don’t miss Leena Luther’s story of how Planned Parenthood found her breast cancer. She was between jobs and without health insurance when she discovered a lump in her breast. She tried to get it checked out, “But without insurance it was hard. Specialists all needed referrals. Primary care physicians all needed insurance. I got one nibble of someone who would see me—in a few months for $400. Screw that.” Finally she turned to our nation’s leading sexual and reproductive health care provider and advocate, Planned Parenthood:
Not only could they take me right away, the could offer me free care. They had a grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure that would pay for any breast exams, ultrasounds, and biopsies, if they proved necessary.
Unfortunately, they did prove necessary. I was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive breast cancer. Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood worked together and saved my life.
Follow @DnlMag on Twitter.
Source: Planned Parenthood Saved My Life
Images by sunsets_for_you and cambodia4kidsorg, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, January 30, 2012 10:38 AM
“How are you feeling, emotionally? Any long periods of sadness or worry?” In between ultrasounds and heartbeats and blood pressure readings, my obstetrician asks about my mental health during every prenatal visit. She also brings up the possibility of postpartum depression once this kid is born in a few months, reminding me that many women experience it at some level and how important it is to seek help if persistent feelings of anxiety, sadness, or detachment last longer than a couple of weeks.
It’s reassuring to know my doctor is alert to this overwhelming condition that has affected so many of my friends and acquaintances, from milder cases to a severe case of wanting to die and having intrusive thoughts of hurting the baby. Between 9 and 16 percent of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I’m confident that if I experience PPD in any form, I’ll have a sympathetic professional ear and immediate medical treatment available to me as a new mother.
But Radish Magazine points out that postpartum depression in dads (p. 29) is just as common as in moms—and the same culture that has learned to open up about the condition in women isn’t quite as prepared for it in men.
A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association finds that “14 percent of men suffer depression either during their partner’s pregnancy or during the first year after the birth of their child.” Says study author James Paulson:
There is a stigma surrounding depression, especially in men. If you look at the Internet forums where people are talking about this study, you’ll read so many people saying that these guys just have to man up or that the men suffering from this are just sad that they’re no longer the center of attention.
In my circles, we do tend to cluck sympathetically when hearing of a new mom struggling through dark thoughts in the months after her little bambino is born, while simultaneously coming down on a new dad who feels anxious or sad during the same time period. Paulson’s study is a great reminder that the partner is experiencing just as profound of a life change as the mother. It's important for men suffering from depression to overcome the stigma and seek help, just as women are counseled to do. “Having a child changes a person’s life in dramatic way,” writes Radish. “This can be overwhelming to even the most stable of new fathers.”
Follow @DnlMag on Twitter.
Image by marko boni, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 03, 2012 2:07 PM
Chances are you know someone sweating under serious financial debt. It might even be you. I’m fresh out of college and have student loans looming over my shoulder.
The hardest part of getting out of debt, in my opinion, is keeping everything straight and organized. Lenders send about ten letters a week, often with confusing or conflicting information. Due dates get pushed back to pay the electric bill. Online resources are separated by account, and it’s hard to synthesize it all. And finally, there are a legion of private companies that want to “help” you with refinancing and consultation services. Well, good riddance to all that, I say!
ReadyForZero, a new online resource recently profiled by Fast Company, tries to make paying down debts less baffling through data synthesis, minimal visual design, video game theory, and psychological mind hacking.
Here’s how it all comes together. When you sign up for the free website, you plug in account information for your credit cards, bank accounts, student loans, mortgages, etc. (Presumably, the company will find some way to monetize the data it uses, but it claims your information will never be sold. Also, the site seems to have Department of Defense level security.) ReadyForZero knows that the Internet is addicted to infographics; thus, the site uses illustrative graphs and visualizations to clearly display your financial information. You can then use slider bars to calculate different repayment schemes and how it will affect your income, savings, and interest. Playing off of popular web-based games like Farmville, ReadyForZero sets benchmarks and goals to beat (also sort of like badges on Foursquare), turning debt repayment into essentially a really responsible video game. Finally, the company is trying out little tricks to help you manage your spending habits. For example, they provide stickers to place over your magnetic strip and credit card number that remind you of what you’re buying—and of the lingering debt you’re trying to eradicate.
This is probably not the right tool for everyone. But for those that like to visualize the problem without all the cluttering details and who aren’t worried about the company’s access to your financial information, it could make a life-changing difference. I’m signing up when I get home tonight.
Source: Fast Company
Image by Vectorportal, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 30, 2011 10:38 AM
Urban bicycling is generally becoming more popular in American cities, but there are a few smaller trends that complicate the larger narrative. A new infographic designed by Bike League for the website Visual.ly breaks down the demographics of bicycle use across the country—and there are a few surprises. (Click through for large version.)
I was most surprised to see that overall only about a quarter of commuting cyclists are women. The gender imbalance comes closer to evening out in bigger, “biking cities,” such as Portland, Oregon, and Utne Reader hometown Minneapolis. (Represent!) I can only speculate on the causes of the imbalance—that’s the thing with infographics: The related research is boiled down to make the data more interesting. It may have something to do with bike-related infrastructure spending; I’m drawing on a few stereotypes here, but I imagine that men would be more likely to tough out unsafe, bike-unfriendly road conditions than women.
According to the infographic, it’s unclear whether bicycle infrastructure spending encouraged more people to pedal in to work. As shown on the total bicycle commuters graph (bottom, second from left), ridership peaked in 2008, which followed, according to the spending graph (bottom, second from right), only a slight increase in pedestrian infrastructure enhancement. Unfortunately the former graph doesn’t extend past 2009, a year that coincided with more than a billion dollars of pedestrian infrastructure spending. If cities are to continue to invest in bike paths, local governments will likely demand data showing an increase in ridership.
(Thanks, Atlantic Cities.)
Image by Bike League.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 4:35 PM
Standardized tests are an oft-vilified, cancerous outgrowth on the sickly flesh of 2001’s No Child Left Behind education reform legislation. By shifting the focus of secondary education to preparing students for high-stakes exams, students are incentivized to memorize factoids, formulae, and figures, rather than how to think creatively, form a rational opinion (or sentence), or continue learning outside of a school environment. It as if the Department of Education took on the pedagogic philosophy of Mr. Gradgrind—a boarding school teacher in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times—who is an unwavering advocate of “truth” and empiricism. “Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts,” Gradgrind pontificates in Hard Times’ opening chapter, “Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”
Don’t get me wrong, getting the facts right is important . . . and you’d better hope your teachers sow the Facts in our current system, or you won’t place very well or SAT or ACT exam. Good luck getting into college without a passing score.
And, for that matter, good luck taking a standardized exam that isn’t bankrolled, lobbied-for, manufactured, delivered, and scored by Pearson Education, an international textbook manufacturer with chokehold on American public schools. “To capitalize on this new world order,” we reported in our Jan-Feb 2012 issue, “testing companies are hiring high-powered lobbyists to influence the government’s educational agenda.” Let me spell this out very clearly: The privatization that these lobbyists are pushing changes the institutional goal of public education from knowledge, equality, or progress to money.
Also, had you heard that standardized tests don’t work very well in the first place?
Even if the interests of standardized testing are entrenched, a few good ideas might help chip away at their rote, zombifying intellectual oppression. For the sake of black humor, here are a few of those ideas bouncing around—presented in the form of a multiple-choice question:
What is an effective way to circumvent the standardized testing teaching paradigm?
Judge students’ aptitude with portfolios instead of test scores – Liz Dwyer, the education editor of Good, proposes a technique that some of the country’s best educators use to judge their students’ progress: an end-of-term portfolio. “[I]s there a misalignment,” Dwyer asks, “between the work they can actually do and what the test questions ask?” Narrowing down a quarter or semester’s worth of academic inquiry into one’s best work, Dwyer argues, will “showcase the pieces they believe reflect the depth and breadth of their capacity” and “is more empowering for students than a single number.” Portfolios are an apt assessment for a modern education, she concludes, because they display “creativity, critical thinking, and project-based learning . . . something no test score can quite do.”
Foster a “test-optional” university culture – One controversial idea, put forth most extensively by Martha Allman in Joseph A. Soares in SAT Wars, encourages universities to conduct more one-on-one interviews and try to eliminate admissions based on test scores (an inherently discriminatory method, according to the book’s authors). As noted in a review of the book for The Chronicle of Higher Education, no matter the benefits, switching from the status quo comes with its share of growing pains. “We could not have anticipated the dramatic increase in workload,” Allman is quoted as writing, “the labor-intensiveness of the process, the challenge of attempting to interview the entire applicant pool, the technical challenges of written online interview options, nor the volume of comment from our constituencies.”
Subvert the traditional university system entirely – “Almost nine out of ten American high school seniors say they want to go to college,” writes Anya Kamentz, the author of DIY U featured in our Sept-Oct 2011 issue, who also notes that “UNESCO concluded that there’s no foreseeable way that enough traditional universities could be physically built in the next two decades to match the demand.” Kamentz puts forth a number of solutions that largely side-step the current system, including open-source coursework, game-based educational software, and hyper-accelerated programs. In other words, breaking down the classroom walls. And if there are no walls, standardized tests can’t keep us hostage.
A combination of a, b, and c.
None of the above.
What’s the answer? Hopefully we won’t need to ask Pearson Education.
Sources: The Chronicle of Higher Education, Good
, licensed under
Thursday, December 01, 2011 12:10 PM
Michael Harris’s beautiful personal essay “Life after Death,” published in The Walrus (Sept 2011), crystallizes the history of HIV through the lens of one who has grown up with the virus as an ever-present force:
I’m the same age as the epidemic. By my first birthday, eight young gay guys in New York had developed purple tumours on their skin, which turned out to be a rare cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma. Those boys had AIDS, though there wasn’t a name for it yet.
That year, 1981, an unknowable number of men slept (shamefully or shamelessly) with each other and unwittingly consigned themselves to early deaths…. That year, my future best friends and I, seemingly far removed from AIDS and from each other, learned to crawl in the undestroyed homes of our parents.
Harris moves deftly through the years and the changing stories of HIV: the shift from death sentence to chronic condition as treatments improved; the modern-day shock he experienced when he realized “that people still suffered, even died, from this virus”; and how fiercely young gay men have tried to put the plague of AIDS behind them. These shifting realities are captured when Harris comes out to his mother at the age of 20:
She mostly said the right things. But when I came home later that day, she was slumped on the stairs beside a forgotten load of laundry. “I just worry,” she kept saying. “I worry for your health.” We both knew what she was talking about.
While she was wise to worry, I thought she was terribly misinformed. The year was 2000, infection rates had been dropping steadily. I expected a vaccine to be discovered any day. But infections mysteriously began to rise after that; they have never again been as low as they were the year I came out. And I’m still waiting on that vaccine.
The right thing to do when confronted with a crying mother is to hold her, reassure her. Instead, I was furious. “You’re stuck in the 1980s,” I told her. “It’s actually really offensive.” I was determined to create something new with my life, something unfettered by the ugly, death-fuelled narrative that seemed to consume gay culture. I wanted an ordinary life with an ordinary man and an ordinary golden retriever. And my mother’s worry precluded all that, consigning me to a dated pessimism that I hoped to outrun.
Visit The Walrus to read the rest of Harris’s insightful essay. And learn more about the facts and stats of AIDS and how you can get involved on World AIDS Day.
Source: The Walrus
Image by Trygve.u, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 25, 2011 3:30 PM
Yet nothing can to nothing fall,
Nor any place be empty quite;
Therefore I think my breast hath all
Those pieces still, though they be not unite;
And now, as broken glasses show
A hundred lesser faces, so
My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,
But after one such love, can love no more.
—John Donne, “The Broken Heart”
We’ve all got one in our past: an unbelievably handsome man or jaw-droppingly sexy woman that we’d have given an arm and a leg to date. That is, until a crucial detail comes out. Perhaps it’s a superficial judgment: She’s annoying when she brushes her teeth, he’s not polite to strangers. Or it could be more substantial: He’s an atheist and you’re not, she’s a compulsive liar. In modern parlance, ladies and gentlemen, these off-putting traits are called “dealbreakers.”
For the past few months, Good has been publishing an ingenious series of essays called “Dealbreakers” in which writers talk about all of the reasons—petty, prudish, or quaint—that ushered in the demise of an otherwise healthy relationship. Some are funny, some are sad. Often they’re both in the way that breakups can retrospectively be. I enjoy the wide variety of complaints that people have of their prospective mates—from “He’s Got an Asian Fetish” to “She Was Too Freaky” to “I Couldn’t Handle Her Food Issues” to “He’s in Love With Jesus.” Mostly, though, I love the humanity that shines through the prose.
Image by David Armano, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 18, 2011 5:15 PM
Perhaps you’ve heard about the goofy white underwear that Mormons conceal beneath their black slacks, white button-ups, and bike helmets? Or that they believe there was an ancient war fought between Israel and a ragtag alliance of Indians on the prairies and foothills of pre-modern America. Did you know that Mormons, upon death or apocalypse, inherit a planet of their own to populate with the children of fruitful polygamy? Had you heard that the leader of the Church of Scientology determines its leadership by competitive games of musical chairs set to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”? Did you know it was founded by a tax-dodging science fiction author? Seriously, have you seen that Tom Cruise video?
Half-truths, gaffes, and oddities—such as those listed above—are like butter for the mainstream media and Internet culture’s bread, and they’ve spread it on thick, creamy, and caloric in their coverage of America’s newest major religions, Mormonism and Scientology. Trey Stone and Matt Parker, the impish creators of television crass-fest South Park, recently wrote an eye-poking Broadway musical called The Book of Mormon to critical acclaim sold-out seats. Hacktivist group Anonymous has waged an ongoing picket-a-thon of Scientology facilities across the country, armed with Guy Fawkes masks and clever placards. But for all of the perceived kooky antics of Mormonism and Scientology, they are both worthy of serious, detached academic study and rigorous scrutiny.
Much ink has been spilled about Mormons of late for their growing influence in politics and foreign affairs. Of their two most recognizable public figures, one, Glenn Beck, for years harangued from the prime-time throne of the biggest cable network in the country, and the other, Mitt Romney, pontificates from the campaign trail bully pulpit. “[F]or all the attention now lavished on how Mormonism fits in with the American experience,” writes Chris Lehman for Harper’s, “remarkably little is known about a key feature of Mormon belief: the organization of economic life.” Through an exhaustive essay (sorry, subscribers only) covering how wealth figures into Mormon theology and politics, Lehman makes one thing exceedingly clear: The-Little-Church-from-Utah-that-Could is an important subject on which economics and business management professors should fix an unblinking eye.
Just look at the figures. Mormons are the fastest growing and richest religious group in the world—and their resources are being pooled more and more potently, such as the $14 million fundraised to ban gay in California in 2008. Although that figure alone is worthy of deep, deep investigation, there’s more. Allow me to quote from Lehman at length:
The church has its own welfare system, which distributes its own line of food and consumer products under the proprietary Deseret brand. It also holds extensive corporate investments, which are not fully disclosed—but in a 2007 study called Mormon America, Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling fix the church’s total assets at somewhere between $25 billion and $30 billion. (For the sake of comparison, the Ostlings note that a similarly sized U.S. denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, possesses $152 million in stock holdings, mainly to secure its employees’ pension plans.) The Mormon church owns a $16-billion insurance company, at least $6 billion in stocks, and a $172-million chain of radio stations, as well as more than 150 farms and ranches, which easily places the church among the largest landowners in the nation. (Emphasis mine.)
Heck, with the amount of influence the Mormon Church carries, I’m starting to wonder if maybe I’m a Mormon already and just haven’t yet been notified.
Tight-lipped and loaded with celebrity converts, the Church of Scientology also occupies a unique place in American culture. The ideas of founder L. Ron Hubbard “contain fascinating religious content that demands serious study,” argues Seth Perry in Chronicle Review in a review of two new books about the institution’s history, public perception, and what can be gathered about its theology.
Perry admits that Scientology can be a slippery subject. “The unearthing of the church’s complicated, often ugly history is an essential part of the study of Scientology,” he writes, “but it does not need to be the sum total of that study.” Its members are at once cultish and beatific, both mystical and matter-of-fact. Perry recounts one pilloried anecdote that embodies many of those elements:
For much of his career, Hubbard gave orders through what he called his Messengers—mostly adolescent girls who were required not only to convey his words verbatim, but to imitate his voice while doing so.
Of the two books Perry reviews—Inside Scientology: The story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman and The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion by Hugh B. Urban—he concludes that the two scholars “have brought the study of Scientology to a crucial, long-delayed point” and will enable academia to “encompass the variety of ways in which individual Scientologists have lived their faith both within that institution and outside of it.”
Lehman and Perry’s stances are refreshingly curious for the current discourse around these two uniquely American religions.
Sources: Harper’s, Chronicle Review
Images: A still from The Book of Mormon Broadway production and the cover of Dianetics.
Friday, November 18, 2011 11:39 AM
“Here’s looking at you, kid,” Rick says gently to Ilsa at the end of Casablanca. It’s one of the most tender, heartbreaking, and quoted lines from the classic film—and according to Den of Geek, “legend has it that this is something Bogart used to say to Bergman as he taught her to play poker in between takes on set. It was never in the original script at all.”
Same goes for De Niro’s famous line in Taxi Driver: “You talkin’ to me?” Ad-libbed, and brilliantly so.
Breaking script is the first thought that came to mind for writer and clinical hypnotist Kristine Madera on her 40th birthday. She woke up ready to end the polite, rigid, dull, scripted conversations that fill out most of our days. She called her new mindset a birthquake, an seismic shaking up of the social contract as a gift to herself:
Once you pay attention to the social scripts, they become so obvious that you wonder how you participated without yawning or bursting out laughing. The most common one, which most people have toyed around with, is the ubiquitous, “How are you?”
It’s such a script that it’s actually a joke, and yet—it still flusters people to answer anything but a version of “fine,” “doing good,” or “okay.” Declaring yourself to be fabulous, or verbally vomiting your aches and pains all over the questioner, throws the whole dance into disarray.
This disarray is what invigorated Madera, broke up the monotony of daily life, and silenced telemarketers, who weren’t quite sure how to respond to her query of “What did you have for breakfast?” Just as ad-libbed lines in movies can become the most powerful and memorable, an improvised life script has the potential to heighten the beauty and passion of social interaction. But beware, writes Madera: “It’s easy, once you break a good one, to get that giddy feeling, and start to take script-breaking to an extreme, which can cause you to lose friends and annoy people in an extravagant way.” So once you harness this power, use it for good, not evil. Here’s looking at you and your renewed life script.
Source: Den of Geek, WNC Woman
Image by D’Arcy Norman, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 1:59 PM
In some parts of the country you run into more ex-Catholics than stoplights. Heck, my family is a Black Friday parking lot of disgruntled former Catholics. Chalk the theological exodus up to the Church’s delayed, dismissive handling of the sex-abuse scandal or de-traditionalizing of American life. But the Catholic Church has one big scriptural challenge to filling the rank and file: the problem of evil. The hot glow of fire and the sulphur stink of brimstone. Or, more specifically, Hell.
For much of Christianity’s history, fear of hell has loomed large over the faithful. Tired of the constant threat of damnation, however, in the past 50-some years the Catholic Church has moved toward a more positive, salvation-based stance. The trend has spurred U.S. Catholic magazine to wonder, “Has hell actually, finally frozen over?”
“Over the last half-century,” writes J. Peter Nixon, “hell has moved from being a fixture of the Catholic landscape to something that exists far over the horizon.” Nixon cites polling stats from Pew Center on Religion and Public Life: “60 percent of Catholics believe in hell. While comparable to mainline Protestants (56 percent), that’s far below the 82 percent recorded by evangelical Protestant churches.”
Even though hell doesn’t seem to trouble the layperson like it used to, religious scholars, writers, and clergy continue to question its theological place. Evangelical pastor Rob Bell, in his book Love Wins, pinged the problem of evil in contemporary spiritual discourse, wondering, if we have a just and all-loving God, “Will all people be saved or will God not get what God wants? Does this magnificent, mighty, marvelous God fail in the end?” Father Robert Barron of Word on Fire Ministries says we can’t forget about hell completely, that, Nixon summarizes, “Catholic teaching affirms hell’s existence, but doesn’t tell us if anyone has ever been sent there.” Is there any reason, though, why it might be advantageous for hell to exist?
Nixon lays out a number of reasons why hell may be a crucial component of Christianity. Are contemporary Christians too optimistic about their own salvation? Do they live in a state of what German Protestant Dietrich Bonhoffer would call “cheap grace”? As Peter Steinfels, co-director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, explained to U.S. Catholic, “[Hell] did communicate a depth to life. Life was to be lived for high stakes.” That sentiment, I’d argue, is something folks of all faiths can agree on.
Then again, maybe not. One final anecdote from Nixon:
A priest as well as a theologian, Randy Sachs has few regrets about the church’s change in tone. “In the confessional I’ve heard people talk about their understanding of God in ways that would turn your hair white. Some of our baggage is definitely worth losing.”
Source: U.S. Catholic
Image by matthewvenn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, November 14, 2011 1:35 PM
The little basement room where our cubicles were crammed smelled like dust and coffee. I occupied the farthest cube against the back wall, through which a snippet of window and weak sunlight and outdoor vines peeked. Here I answered student emails and graded compositions and wrote stories. It was a big football university, although I wasn’t there to tailgate but rather to study creative writing in the graduate program and meanwhile earn my way teaching English to undergrads. Some of these undergrads inevitably turned out to be student athletes: softball players, track runners, and of course football players. I was initially leery of them. At a Division I school like Penn State, these are high-profile students with a lot riding on their performance on the field, from scholarships to championships. Or, boiled down, money and prestige.
Here in this little grad student dungeon I fielded an email from a frantic student named Matt Sandusky. He was signed up for my class but had stopped showing up many weeks earlier. He never got around to dropping the course, and then the drop deadline passed—which meant he automatically earned a failing grade. His email asked something to the effect of If I start coming now, is there any way I can get a passing grade? I’m on the football team, and my dad is a coach, and I just can’t fail or I won’t be able to play.
No, I told him firmly, you’ve missed far too much class time to recoup. I’m sorry but you’ve already failed the course.
After the exchange, I talked to the department dean, just in case I got wrapped up in some pushy football player privilege drama. He’s a coach’s son, I said anxiously. No, she assured me, this school has zero tolerance for that; I guarantee you there will be no pressure from the coaching staff.
And there never was. Matt Sandusky accepted my decision, he was sidelined for the season, and I never heard a word from the coaches. I was impressed.
That was fall of 1999, my first semester, and it established the tone for the rest of my three years at University Park. The student athletes turned out to be a wonderfully disciplined lot. They showed up on the first day of class with a list in-hand of each class they would be missing due to games or travel, and explained that they would turn in any homework assignments ahead of time and also take any missed tests ahead of time. They were uniformly polite and deferential; they made use of the tutoring center of their own accord; and they were model students, across the board.
Everyone knew it was head coach Joe Paterno’s rule that made the student athletes so disciplined. His message was clear: Playing college sports is a privilege. Academics always come first. No special license would be accorded to athletes—no extra time for tests or homework, no excuses for missed work, no pressure on instructors from coaching staff to let things slip, no cover-ups for bad behavior in or out of the classroom like at so many other universities. No mass plagiarism scandals, no tolerance of domestic violence. JoePa famously only allowed numbers on jerseys, no names, to discourage egoism. It was a wonderful contrast to what I had braced myself for.
During my high school and early college days, I’m ashamed to say, I had a holier-than-thou attitude toward student athletes. Who cares about something as insignificant and pointless as game play when there are the elevated arenas of academics and fine arts? But the passion of the student athletes at Penn State chipped away at my smugness, and I came to wholly admire them. They were good at it, they loved it, and they worked hard to make it happen. They were cool people with direction and dreams.
In my three years at Penn State, I never attended a football game and avoided the blue-and-white chaos of downtown on game day, but I got swept up in the legend of JoePa. I never became a rabid fan, but I was won over by JoePa and what he stood for. He was untouchable.
Until now. The grand jury report detailing the child sex abuse crimes committed in the campus football locker room by Matt’s father, coach Jerry Sandusky, makes my blood run cold: Graduate assistant Mike McQueary “saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.” McQueary reported this crime directly to Joe Paterno, who in turn reported it to his supervisor. But the speed with which an eyewitness report of child rape got watered down to a message of “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature” is chilling. And it was Paterno who did the watering down.
From Paterno, the message spread up the line to athletic director Tim Curley (who testified that the behavior was reported to him as “horsing around”), senior vice president Gary Schultz, and president Graham Spanier. Not one went to the police. These are men of power and supposed great integrity, men who shaped the ethos of a town and its university. These are not disempowered people—like the boys who were sodomized—who don’t know where to turn. Nearly a decade later, Curley and Schultz have now been indicted for perjury and failure to report child abuse, and Paterno and Spanier have been fired, as is their due.
The issue here is not just that the crimes were committed. Jerry Sandusky is clearly a mentally diseased sexual predator who lost his moral compass many years ago; may his maker forgive him, even if the rest of us cannot. The issue here is also that the crimes were repeatedly and inexplicably covered up and allowed to continue by people who knew better, who had an intact and well-promoted moral center. Over and over, these victims were failed by people who knew the difference between right and wrong, who had the ability to make a difference.
The Patriot-News article that ran the story of the grand jury investigation back in March
describes years of child abuse by Jerry Sandusky, many reported incidents that went nowhere, and multiple missed opportunities to end the abuse:
Another boy, now an adult in the armed forces, was named as a witness in the 1998 Penn State police report and has been contacted by state police, his wife confirmed.
When reached by phone, his mother said she took her son to Penn State police for questioning in 1998 but didn’t listen to the interview. She said she never asked her son what happened.
In a way, child sex abuse is literally an unspeakable crime. Perhaps that explains why so many adults failed to come forward, failed to protect the children involved. They didn’t want to believe, they couldn’t confront the horror. It must be a misunderstanding, they think, or a one-time instance of something that got out of hand and misinterpreted. But the distress that an adult feels upon learning of child abuse is so little compared to the confusion and terror and shame experienced by the victim.
In the November 4 Patriot-News story that caught national media attention, my wayward student’s name comes up:
Among those who testified was the mother of Sandusky’s youngest adopted son, a boy he met through The Second Mile, took in as a foster child and later legally adopted as an adult.
Matt Sandusky’s mother, Debra Long, told The Patriot-News that she had raised concerns about the behavior of her son and Sandusky once her son went to live with the Sandusky family in 1995.
“We tried to stop it back then,” Long said. “We were dragging it to the court system all the time and we couldn’t prevent it. It upsets me, because these kids didn’t need to go through this.”
The message that needs to come out of this tragedy is that when a victim of child abuse speaks, listen. When the crime of child abuse is reported, act on it. When whispers of child abuse are spread, follow them to their source. Never be in the position, like Paterno in his retirement announcement, to say, “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
The impressive ethic I witnessed at Penn State—no special license for bad behavior, no excuses, no cover-ups—somehow applied only to the students and entirely escaped the coaching staff. And although it was Paterno who spread the message, it was the students who displayed the heart and the hard work to make it come to life. Even though university officials fell below the ethic they established, I am going to hold on to the lesson I learned in my dusty basement cubicle. Any young person who can figure out what they’re good at and go after it deserves my wholehearted respect. The passionate glint in the eyes of the student athletes, the talent they found in themselves and cultivated, fell right in line with those who earned accolades for their work in the humanities, sciences, and arts. Plenty of the players I knew were scholarship students for whom their athletic skill, combined with diligent study, was their only ticket to the kind of education Penn State could provide. Mom and Dad couldn’t write a check. They were bright and hardworking and incredibly focused.
Despite the ugly student riots that further tarnished the Penn State image, I know this mindset doesn’t represent the entire student body. In fact, I sense that it will be the students and alumni who search the hardest for a positive outcome from the terrible serial child abuse that was allowed to be committed on their home ground, and it’s with a grateful heart that I watch a grassroots effort take hold to raise $557,000—a dollar for every Penn State alumni—to help victims of child abuse through the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. As of today, they’ve raised $344,152. (In the time it took me to post this article, another $8,000 was raised.) Knowing the student body at Penn State and their sense of community and purpose, I believe they will transcend their financial goal and, even more importantly, make the ugly reality of child abuse a topic of open discussion and establish a clear response system—and restore the ethic I admired during my time in Happy Valley.
—Danielle (Ibister) Magnuson, ’02
Source: The Patriot-News, The Penn Stater, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
Image by acaben, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 10, 2011 11:05 AM
How long does it take to change how the world thinks about human history? French priest Father Patrick Desbois has been trying to broaden our collective understanding of the Holocaust for the past eight years—and despite diligent work, constant advocacy, and a spiritual impetus, the light at the end of the tunnel remains dim.
Recently profiled in Jewish lifestyle and culture magazine Moment, Desbois contends that people generally simplify the Holocaust as “trains taking people to death camps.” He gives a number of reasons why, including the iron-fisted Soviet control of Eastern Europe, complicit actions of non-Jewish Europeans, and that Western Jews were more likely survive and tell their story. Although a brutal element of the Nazi war effort in Central and Western Europe, ghettos and gas chambers weren’t nearly as common on the Eastern front. In the bread basket of Europe, guns were the executioner’s weapon of choice, and “the rule became one Jew, one bullet.”
Much of Desbois’ work in the past decade has been to find the sites of mass graves—no easy task. Traveling across the Ukranian and Polish countryside, he and a team of researchers have found and interviewed nearly 2,000 witnesses of Nazi atrocity. Many describe how, fearing for their own skin, non-Jews helped exterminate large numbers of their countrymen. Some participated in the Berlin-ordered “Sonderaktion 1005,” a tactic to destroy evidence of the mass shootings in case Western nations heard of the genocide. Some would “exhume and burn the bodies buried in mass graves,” others would help pile up corpses to conserve space. (33,771 people, for example, were killed during one massacre at the Babi Yar ravine near Kiev.) Desbois’ investigation is also running against the clock—the clock of decay. Many of the executed (the ones that weren’t exhumed) have been buried for more than 60 years.
In addition to correcting history and ensuring victims are properly buried, Father Desbois sees broader implications in his work. “I have the conviction that we cannot build a modern Europe, and perhaps a modern world,” he told Moment, “above thousands of mass graves of Jews, who have been killed like animals, buried like animals. We cannot build democracies above mass graves. Otherwise, what can we say to Rwanda, to Darfur, Cambodia? What can we say to other countries if we don’t bury the victims?”
I’ve glossed over or completely left out many fascinating facets of Desbois’ life and work—including his family’s history with the Holocaust and his run-ins with Holocaust deniers. All in all, an excellent profile of an individual wearing out the soles his shoes for social and historical justice.
, licensed under
Monday, November 07, 2011 10:58 AM
Ask any college student and they’ll tell you that course textbooks are a racket. But pose the same question to a middle- or high-school student and they’ll shrug with an air of hormonally augmented indifference. High schoolers don’t typically need to purchase their textooks, but borrow them from the school library or individual department. Just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as a free textbook. The school district picks up the tab instead.
The high school textbook industry is controlled by a few very powerful publishers that sell one-size-fits-all books at a premium price to schools. Some basic texts can cost as much as $65 a piece, even when bought in high volume. A school in Blaine, Minn., for example, budgeted $200,000 for a new set of math books that would need to serve the department for 10 years. Why spend that much money when the teachers can write the textbooks themselves?
That was the bright idea of math teacher Michael Engelhaupt of Blaine High School, who led a team that wrote, organized, produced, and distributed a new textbook for the Anoka-Hennepin school district. Overall, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Engelhaupt and his colleagues saved the district $175,000. You do the math.
Not only did Blaine’s math teachers save a lot of money, they ultimately made a textbook better-suited to their students. For one, students can access the textbook online (both at home and in the classroom), rent it from the school library, or buy a physical copy for $5. Many mass-produced textbooks cater to students in Texas or California, where the market is bigger and the testing standards are different. Depending on the state, many textbooks have entire chapters that go unused in the classroom. Thus, Engelhaupt and company custom tailored the textbooks to the district and state curricula
“The district spent about $10,000 paying Engelhaupt and the other teachers to develop the material,” according to the Star-Tribune, “which he said was about their regular hourly rate. Another $5,000 went toward making the material accessible to students without Internet connections either at home or in the classroom with hard copies and DVD versions.” What’s even more exciting for the math teachers that put in the legwork is that their department will have extra money to put to other uses. Again, the Star-Tribune: “The Anoka-Hennepin teachers also persuaded the district to spend the savings on the math department. The details haven’t been worked out, but it could include more classroom computers and more teacher training.”
This is exactly the type of idea the country needs to consider as it engages in a larger, deeper conversation about education reform.
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Image by blair_25, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 04, 2011 11:05 AM
In the latest issue of
Utne Reader (Nov-Dec 2011) Mattilda Bernstein reviews Michael Bronski’s A Queer History of the United States. Here, Bronski offers some insights into the book and his reasons for writing it. Special to Utne Reader.
A decade ago, when I first began teaching lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies at Dartmouth College, I was invited to a fraternity house to moderate a group discussion entitled “Don’t Yell Fag from the Porch.” The frat was renown for its rowdiness and, indeed, someone had recently yelled “faggot” at a student passing by. Undoubtedly not for the first time. After being publically challenged on this behavior, they decided to host a public forum on homophobia in the Greek system. The discussion went well and became an annual event. “Faggot” was yelled with less frequency and, in a few years, the fraternity even had a few “out” gay members. But that evening, and over the years, what bothered me was that the entire discussion was predicated on the idea that Dartmouth College, and its fraternities, was essentially a straight place that had to be open to “gay people.” But that makes no sense. We all know that life – and history – is far more complex and complicated than that. Or do we?
All too often most of us think in terms of simple dichotomies – including gay and straight; but who might answer to the call of “fag” when its history has been shown to be more than a simple either/or question? Here are a few lines from a letter Daniel Webster, a Dartmouth alumnus and hero to the College wrote in 1804 at the age of 22 to the 23-year-old James Harvey Bingham, his intimate from their college days: “I don’t see how I can live any longer without having a friend near me, I mean a male friend. Yes, James, I must come; we will yoke together again; your little bed is just wide enough.” Was Daniel Webster gay? Did he love James? Did they have a sexual relationship? If so, what did this mean for his two marriages later in life? Is this queer history?
The last ten years of teaching LGBT studies has been a continual process for me of trying to figure out what is LGBT history. How do we understand it? How do we use it to think about the past? How do we use it to think about the present, and the future? I certainly would have liked to quote Webster’s words while moderating “Don’t Yell Fag from the Porch.” What would the students have thought about Webster’s obsessive desire to lie in bed with his friend James once again and hold him fast to his body? Or, what if I had told them that poet Richard Hovey, who wrote the school’s Alma Mater, was also a lover of men, and although married and an ardent feminist, socialized in gay male circles in America and Europe. (Oscar Wilde once famously hit on him at a party.) Would it have been another reason for their not shouting “faggot” as frequently? Would this have “queered” Dartmouth for them? One of the reasons my book is titled A Queer History of the United States is that it is attempting to “queer” how we think about American history.
The questions of the book are much larger. Over the past forty years there has been a great deal of incredible scholarship on LGBT history and I have drawn extensively upon, rethought, and synthesized it in the book. What follows is a long meditation not only on LGBT history but, because it is inseparable, on all of American history. After two years of thinking and writing, I want to start by suggesting that there are two crucial concepts to consider when thinking about LGBT history in the United States.
The first is that the contributions of people who we may now identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are integral and central to how we conceptualize our national history. Without the work of social activists, thinkers, writers, and artists such as We’Wha, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Martha “Calamity” Jane Cannary, Edith Gurrier, Countee Cullen, Ethel Waters, Bayard Rustin, Roy Cohn, Robert Mapplethorp, Cherrie Moraga, and Lily Tomlin, we would not have the country that we have today. Women and men who experienced and expressed sexual desires for their own sex and those who did not conform to conventional gender expectations have always been present, both in the everyday and the imaginative life of our country. They have profoundly helped shape it, and it is inconceivable, and ahistorical, to conceptualize our traditions and history without them.
The second key, and slightly counterintuitive, concept is that LGBT history does not exist. By singling out LGBT people and their lives – what some people now call LGBT history – we are depriving them of their centrality in the broader sweep and breadth of American history. The impulse to focus on lives that have been shunned, marginalized, censored, ignored, and hidden in the past, and in previous histories of the United States, has been revolutionary in the growth of a vibrant LGBT community. It is part of a larger social and political movement of Native American, African American, Latino/a, and other marginalized identities and cultures to reclaim and celebrate our “lost” histories. But it is equally important to understand that this is a transitional moment in history that has only emerged in the past forty years precisely because they were so deeply dismissed.
If LGBT history resides in the queer space of being both enormously vital while simultaneously not even existing, can we even write and speak about it? How do we explicate and uncover the past so that it brings new understandings to both popular culture and scholarly pursuits alike? How will it resonate with our understanding of our own contemporary and historic lives?
We have been taught, in our nation’s fairly unimaginative educational system, that history is a stable linear narrative with a fixed set of facts—names, dates, political actions, political ideas, laws passed and repealed. In The Dialectic of Sex, a groundbreaking book of radical feminist theory, Shulamith Firestone writes that this conventional way of understanding the historical process as a series of snapshots—here is the American Revolution, here is the Declaration of Independence, here is the Emancipation Proclamation—is both limiting and ultimately unhelpful. History, she states (drawing loosely on Marxist theory) is “the world as process, a natural flux of action and reaction, of opposites yet inseparable and interpenetrating.... history is a movie rather then a snapshot.” (Firestone, p2-3)
Much of the popular LGBT history that has been published in our newspapers and magazines and blogs falls into the category that Firestone criticizes. It is essentially a list of famous lesbian or gay people and events used to justify contemporary understandings—here is Oscar Wilde, here are the Stonewall Riots, here are queer couples being married in Boston. This family album approach is appealing as it provides a sense of identity and history, but it is ultimately misleading. In past decades women’s and gender studies scholars called this method of analysis “add one woman and stir.” The “important” women were added to the mix to create a gender balance, but there were no new layers of complexity, or nuance, as to what these women’s lives, thoughts, desires, and actions might actually mean for a shared historical past.
More serious writing on LGBT history has avoided this approach. Historians such as Jonathan Ned Katz, Lillian Faderman, Allan Berube, George Chauncey, and Esther Newton among so many others have written how LGBT history complicates and enriches the American imagination and the national story we already know. I have drawn extensively upon these writers, and many other sources, to present a daringly complex vision of the past, one that forces a fundamental rethinking of what we thought we knew, but one that also makes us rethink the present, and even the future. Its broad use of facts, historic personalities, and events is an invitation to join in a larger intellectual project of reinterpretation. As Firestone argues, history is a movie – not a Hollywood film with a traditional narrative, but rather an experimental film that presents a reality that only makes sense when we appreciate its intrinsic narrative complexity. History is an ongoing process through which we understand and define ourselves and our lives.
Image by Shockingly Tasty, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011 4:27 PM
The bible business has come a long way since printing presses and door-to-door salesmen. Rather than being schlepped or sermonized, now scripture spreads on sacred streams of digital data. The advent of tablets, smartphones, and all manner of mobile computing is changing holy literature even more deeply than televangelism. Religious writing is literally at the fingertips of more people than ever before.
“Apps of the Bible are now more frequently downloaded than Angry Birds,” reports The Book Bench’s Macy Halford, “and the sacred texts of other religions aren’t far behind: there’s an iQuran, iTorah, and a digital Book of Mormon.” The diversity and popularity of scriptural and religious apps is positively astounding. In addition the basic scriptures, there are apps that allow you to compare different scriptural translations in forty-five languages; devotional apps; multimedia texts that add layers of video, recitation, explication, criticism, and commentary on top of the original verse; fun and educational scripture-based video games; and individual house of worship-centered apps that connect members of the same flock.
As you might imagine, this trend is causing some religious leaders to shout “hallelujah!” and others to rend their garments. In her article, Halford talks with experts from the monotheistic religions who express their hopes and concerns for a constantly wired congregation. Some are excited for the utilitarian aspects of many apps, such as Islamic ones that remind the faithful of prayer times or use the mobile device’s GPS to point the right direction toward Mecca. Other leaders caution that in some ways a house of holy is like a move theater: Apps and e-scriptures distract everyone around from the big show. What’s worse, some consider the digital texts an affront to the original scripture’s authority.
To that point, it’s worth considering Leslie Leyland Fields’ ruminations in Christianity Today. “We may forget at times the lineage of these words,” she writes, “but our eagerness to put the Scriptures onto scrolls first, and onto electronic screens much later, is more than a love of invention and gadgetry, I believe. It’s a timeless need for life-giving truths.”
Sources: Christianity Today, The Book Bench
Friday, October 28, 2011 11:30 AM
Somewhere along the way most of us have encountered a prediction by Nostradamus, and a person claiming that a sentence or two proves the man could tell the future. Most recently the events of September 11, 2001, have rekindled speculation that Nostradamus “saw” the attacks coming. A Google search turns up this quatrain as “proof” of the matter:
In the City of God there will be a great thunder,
Two brothers torn apart by Chaos,
while the fortress endures, the great leader will succumb,
The third big war will begin when the big city is burning
But, that’s exactly what Colin Dickey, writing in Lapham’s Quarterly, warns against if you really want to understand the man behind the prophecies. “Before you even begin, forget the Internet,” writes Dickey. “A Google search of his name would leave you mired in hordes of conspiracy theorists, New Age peddlers, devotees who give him the cloying nickname ‘Nosty’ and credulously recycle the same badly translated lines and outright inventions that people have always cited as ‘proof’ of his foresight.” As Dickey examines some of these translations, their absurdity becomes obvious.
So, who was this man whose “name is almost a byword for cataclysm, trotted out over the centuries in the wake of major disasters as evidence that long ago someone had figured out they had been foreordained”? The answer is a fascinating story, much more so than hackneyed translations of the man’s writing. After years of fighting the plague as a pharmacist and doctor—and losing his first wife and two children—Nostradamus turned to writing almanacs, “switching his focus from the plague to Europe’s other source of constant anxiety and speculation: the weather.” This is where he made a name for himself, which allowed him later to publish TheProphecies. But, according to Dickey, his frontline reporting about the plague is his best writing. Still, it’s the “apocalyptic tone” of The Prophecies that has kept his name current all these centuries later. “[A]fter years of futile struggling against the plague,” Dickey writes, “he seemed to have decided that it was far easier to narrate the apocalypse than try to fight it.”
So the man we remember today came to be—his mythical standing, that is—through a sort of exhaustion set upon him by “a disaster [the plague] so total that human civilization seemed to collapse utterly.” Dickey’s profile shows a real human behind the name, while also digging into why we, all these years later, try and make sense of “the garbled and the fragmented” to look for “lucid meaning beneath.” In doing so, the essay shows us as much about ourselves as it does about Nostradamus.
Source: Lapham’s Quarterly
Image in public domain.
Thursday, October 27, 2011 1:36 PM
New York fashion photographer David Jay is seeking to update the face of breast cancer awareness from frothy pink to strikingly honest pictures of the women scarred by mastectomy surgery. His message: “Breast cancer is not a pink ribbon.”
The Daily Muse intern Erin Greenawald had a chance to interview Jay and ask him how cancer survivors and patients have benefitted from his photography. Jay’s response reflects both the devastation of disease and the power of art:
I get emails from women of all ages, all over the world, who have breast cancer. They frequently say things like, “I haven’t felt like a woman since my surgery,” “I haven’t gotten undressed in front of my husband yet,” “I don’t let my children see me naked,” but that seeing these images has changed their perception of who they are—changed their life. They see the women in the images and think, “Well, if you look beautiful after this, then perhaps I am still beautiful, too.”
The SCAR Project images are brutal and stunning and beautiful. And they present a truer glimpse, as Greenawald says, of “the physical pain, the emotional agony” of cancer and as well as “the beauty, grace, and triumph of the woman who is enduring it.” It’s a glimpse of reality.
Source: The Daily Muse
Images by David Jay, courtesy of David Jay Photography.
Thursday, September 29, 2011 4:15 PM
Tracy Mayor’s essay on current attitudes toward single moms in Brain, Child starts out with a barrage of misconceptions, falsehoods, double standards, and generalizations:
They’re slutty…They’re on welfare…They should work for a living, and, simultaneously, they should stay at home with their kids…They should have worked harder to keep their marriage together…Their kids are troubled, or troublemakers.
Reporting on a Pew Research Center survey from earlier this year where a majority of respondents ranked “single mothers” as bad for society, Mayor chastises the mainstream media for their oversimplified coverage of the topic—headlines such as “Single Mothers 'Bad For Society', Pew Research Center's Latest Poll Finds” (Huffington Post)—and points out the question’s ambiguity, which could lead to different answers depending on how a respondent read it.
The survey asked—quite ambiguously—what respondents thought about “more single women having children without a male partner to help raise them.”
Did the Pew Research Center intend the word “having” to mean “I have children and am currently their sole caretaker, regardless of whether I was partnered in the past”? Or did the center mean “having” in the sense of birthing—meaning women who, through intent or accident, were solo parents from the outset?
Through interviews with single mothers in different situations and a quick history of society’s negative view of single motherhood, Mayor attempts to answer an important question. Given that more and more women, for varying reasons, find themselves raising children alone,
Do seven out of ten of us disapprove of our own sisters, friends, and neighbors, our own selves? Or is there something more subtle going on? There is an almost infinite variety in the ways that women become and conduct themselves as single mothers, but when people are filling out surveys, do they revert to some kind of worst-case view of single moms?
Source: Brain, Child
Image by josette, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, September 26, 2011 4:48 PM
“If you bike to work, you’ve probably got pretty nice thighs,” imagines The Atlantic Cities’ Nate Berg. “Your lungs, though, may not be in such great shape.”
Berg is referring to the results of a small-scale study released over the weekend that suggest urban cyclists are at increased risk from air pollution, specifically the black carbon present in automobile emissions. As Environmental News Network warns, “A wide range of health effects are associated with black carbon and include heart attacks and reduced lung function because it lines and constricts the airways.” As usual, just when you thought you had a healthy thing going, the medical research community has to go and suck the air out of it.
summarizes the testing process:
Researchers collected sputum samples from five adults who regularly cycled to work in London and five pedestrians, and analyzed the amount of black carbon found in their airway macrophages. According to a press release, all participants in the study were non-smoking healthy urban commuters aged between 18 and 40 yrs, and the probability that this difference occurred by chance is less than 1 in 100.
So why does it matter? Regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, and one study has found that biking on a more consistent basis can extend your life 3-14 months. It’d be unfortunate if those 14 months were offset by the latent effects of air pollution, or, if without that daily dose of smog, regular cycling could extend one’s life 6-28 months.
Don’t count on amped up regulation, even in the most progressive, bike-friendly cities. (Just think of the heyday that libertarians would have . . .) For now the best advice may be: If you can’t beat the smog, ride around it. “Our data strongly suggest that personal exposure to black carbon should be considered when planning cycling routes,” says study researcher and dedicated cyclist Dr. Chinedu Nwokoro (as quoted in the study’s press release). When commuting, try to take off-street bike paths and low-traffic routes where available—which isn’t a bad idea anyway.
Sources: Environmental News Network, The Atlantic Cities, The Gothamist
Image by m.eckelberg, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 23, 2011 3:03 PM
“Barbie was hushed contraband—I didn’t say much about it, but she wasn’t welcome in the house,” writes Betsy Ball in WNC Woman. “She had been a topic of serious discussion within the circle of my women friends who also had daughters.” So it goes within many households containing mindful parents and a little girl. Barbie is the ultimate no-no doll, the epitome of the unattainably small-waisted, big-breasted, blonde ideal that is presumably so damaging to little girls’ self-image as they’re moving her from room to room in their Barbie 3-story Dream Townhouse or shooting her down basement stairs in her pink Barbie Corvette. Barbie angst—along with Bratz angst and Monster High angst—elicits well-meaning conversations among likeminded adults about how those dolls will be quietly disappearing if they find their way into the child’s hands from enemy sources.
When her 5-year-old daughter inevitably received a Barbie gift from a relative, Ball wondered, “Should I confiscate The Doll with a discussion on Loving Our Bodies? Pretend that the Malibu gal got mauled by the dog?” In the end, though, Ball magnanimously let Barbie stick around and reminded herself that her own body image will have a far greater effect on her daughter than a doll’s figure:
I tried to remember how many times my daughter had wandered into my room while I was getting dressed, and I started harping on about my jelly thighs or hips the size of Texas. How many times had she heard me complain about the size of my tummy?... To think that a girl’s self-image is going to get twisted by a doll is ridiculous.
It’s true, Barbie is a silently happy doll who never complains about her weight (except for one little slip-up from Slumber Party Barbie in the 1960s), whereas a mom’s fat fits and constant diet talk can lead to the same in her daughter. Dolls and stuffed animals are pretend, and children know it. Moms, sisters, and friends, however, are real-life—and children know that, too. “I’m thinking that I’ll have to look past my own baggage regarding the iconic doll’s ludicrous, lifelong-body-issue-neuroses-inducing physical proportions and let my daughter explore her innocent desire to play with one,” concludes Jenn McKee, another mom wrestling with her daughter’s first request for a Barbie, on her An Adequate Mom Blog: “Mommy’s the one bringing all this paranoia to the situation.”
Sources: WNC Woman, Jenn McKee’s An Adequate Mom Blog
Images by tienvijftien, bugeaters, and Max-B,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011 2:08 PM
This article originally appeared on EcoSalon.
This year, to mark International Peace Day on September 21st, an innovative project will be distributing 10,000 pairs of crutches in a single day from various locations across the West African country. The event is being called Operation Rise.
Founder Lisa Schultz, who runs an online creative community called TheWhole9.com, was so moved by photos of Sierra Leone’s amputee soccer team she founded The Peace Project, which started as an international art competition about peace. When Lisa arrived in Sierra Leone to create “The Peace Wall,” she noticed many people in need of crutches.
“I was heartbroken to see so many men, women and children that were either crawling around on the ground or almost unable to move because they didn’t have crutches or because what they were using was so makeshift or broken down,” Schultz says.
She decided that something should be done and Operation Rise was born.
“I realized the incredible energetic shift and social and psychological impact getting 10,000 people on their feet on one day would have on the morale of the country. And I knew that to engage people worldwide in caring about a problem caused by a war that ended 10 years ago, we had to do something big that would engage their imagination,” Schultz adds.
She and her team went on to raise roughly $250,000 for Operation Rise from crowd funding, fundraising events, private donors, corporate donors and family foundations.
Sierra Leone’s civil war ended a decade ago and since then the country has been fairly peaceful. It remains, however, very near the bottom of the United Nations’ human development index. Providing decent, accessible and affordable healthcare is one of many challenges for the government. Reliable statistics are difficult to come by, but there are many thousands of people in Sierra Leone crippled by either war wounds or polio.
After meeting the country’s director of UNICEF on a plane, Schultz realized she needed further help from the organization to clear crutches and other mobility aids through customs and Sierra Leone’s Community Association for Psychosocial Services, a group that works with victims of the civil war.
“I know that being able to take care of oneself and one’s family is the first step to sustainable peace and that personal mobility is the first step in that,” she says.
To ensure the project is sustainable Lisa is putting in place repair facilities throughout Sierra Leone to provide a low cost way to manufacture crutch tips prolonging the lives of the crutches and the freedom and accessibility they provide for their owners.
Images: Lisa Schultz images by Stephen D. Lawrence, amputee soccer images by Pep Bonet/NOOR
Friday, September 16, 2011 3:28 PM
When V-Day founder Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues came to town, I was teaching my first college course and had every intention of announcing the groundbreaking activist play to my class, just as I had with poet Amiri Baraka’s upcoming reading and the new art exhibit at the campus museum. But once I stood in front of my students, I couldn’t bring myself to say the word vagina. I couldn’t even write it on the chalkboard. I choked.
That was 12 years ago, and I was 23—the same age at which my grandfather had begun teaching college half a century earlier. His trick to looking older: “I grew a moustache.” Not having that capability, I resigned myself to looking and feeling young. Apparently too young to say shocking words in front of a classroom full of 18-year-olds. When I eventually saw Ensler’s play, it brilliantly dramatized the inability of our culture—and me—to say vagina, and all the whacky euphemisms we use instead, from hoo-ha to punani to (my personal favorite) coochie snorcher.
Naturally, I was able to announce the next performance of The Vagina Monologues to my class.
And today, we can talk about vaginas anywhere, writes Jezebel: “Marketers have taken a cue from Eve Ensler—that was fifteen years ago, by the way—and decided that they can shout ‘vagina’ all they want.” Still, the internet world was set aflutter after presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has “very dangerous consequences” such as causing mental retardation, prompting novelist Ayelet Waldman (of controversial “I love my husband more than my children” fame) to tweet the dangerous consequences of not being vaccinated for HPV—namely that it caused her cancerous cervical lesions. (A bioethicist has since offered $10,000 to the charity of Bachmann’s choice if she can offer up medical record proof of her retardation claim, reports Slate.) It’s easy to turn Bachmann’s eternally nutty gaffes and misinformation into a joke, but as Feministe says: “[S]ometimes [HPV] causes cancer. And that’s no joke. And putting a real face on an incredibly common, sometimes cancer-causing disease is important.”
Our culture has long been comfortable talking openly about men’s genitalia. From Senator Bob Dole’s memorable Viagra commercial to every semi-crude dad on every family sitcom, personal penis references are old hat. Thanks, Ms. Ensler, for opening the door to important public conversations about the vagina.
Source: Jezebel, Slate, Feministe
Image by M. Johannson,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011 12:33 PM
In these times of severe income disparity and worker insecurity, where those at the top of the richest companies keep making more and more, while every other employee knows that there are people queued up outside ready to take their jobs, it’s nice to hear about companies that look askance on such work environments. With The Sky Factory, a company started by artist and entrepreneur Bill Witherspoon that creates virtual skylights and windows of peaceful settings using backlit images, Witherspoon wanted to create a work environment that might be as beautiful as art, according to a story in Inc. To begin, Witherspoon disregarded notions of hierarchy. Each worker is on the same level—all are owners, none are employees. “In shaping The Sky Factory,” Witherspoon says,
I started with the assumption that people are naturally curious and creative. I wanted to craft an environment in which they would act like entrepreneurs, not like robots. My first decision was to give people the opportunity to purchase discounted ownership, and 100 percent of employees have participated. The responsibility for revenue and profit belongs to everyone.
From there, Witherspoon came up with five guiding principles that allow everyone who works at The Sky Factory to take part in all decisions, work together on everything, and share the rewards. My favorite principle is “Give everyone equal footing: Where there is no authority, there is no fear, and people rise to what is required of them.”
What is your work environment like? Does it resemble the environment at The Sky Factory? Or is it closer to the conditions of the average American job laid out earlier this year in Mother Jones, where we learned that “Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans”? Let us know.
Source: Inc., DailyGood
Image of custom Luminous SkyCeiling at Sutter Imaging Center from The Sky Factory website.
Friday, September 02, 2011 12:11 PM
On September 11, 1973 a coup against the government of Chilean President Salvador Allende began with planes bombing the presidential palace in Santiago. Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean-American writer, was in that city on that fateful Tuesday. “By the end of the day,” Dorfman writes, “Allende was dead and the land where we had sought a peaceful revolution had been turned into a slaughterhouse.”
Twenty-eight years later, on another Tuesday, September 11, another city Dorfman had called home was “attacked from on high.”
In a moving essay at The Nation Dorfman explores the reaction of the countries affected by these two tragic events. Ultimately Chile’s nonviolent response—which echoed “unawares another September 11, back in 1906 in Johannesburg, when Mohandas Gandhi persuaded several thousand of his fellow Indians in the Empire Theatre to vow nonviolent resistance to an unjust and discriminatory pre-apartheid ordinance”—is the response Dorfman praises. As for the response of Dorfman’s other home country, he writes, “If 9/11 can be understood as a test, it seems to me, alas, that the United States failed it.”
UPDATED 9/8/11: Watch Ariel Dorfman discuss his essay on Democracy Now!
Source: The Nation, Democracy Now!
Image by Patricio Mecklenburg, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 11:50 AM
“Don’t take too many pictures,” my father advised before my first trip to Europe, encouraging me to get out from behind the camera and engage with what was in front of it. The truth is, I had a ten-mile list of things to see and pictures to take on the three-week five-country trip that would exhaust my savings and me—Paris: Eiffel Tower; London: Tower Bridge; Venice: St. Mark’s. Check, check, check.
This kind of breakneck travel is an unfortunate trend, says BootsnAll, a site that bills itself as the one-stop indie travel guide. “So much of modern culture pushes us at a frenetic pace,” they write, and continue:
Americans seem to be the worst of the bunch, with 30% of people not taking their allotted vacation time and 37% not taking more than a week a year. For the rest, a sad 33%, we tend to vacation the same way we live: at warp speed with emphasis on performance and “box checking.” Hence, the proliferation of tours that cram three countries and five cities into two weeks and keep travelers moving on an itinerary that feels like anything but vacation. Sure, they get home with a lot of nice pictures, but have they accumulated much else in terms of experience, depth or personal growth?
BootsnAll—and a blooming slow travel movement—reminds us that traveling is not a contest and gives us several points to consider when embarking on mindful travel: Be present. Realize that true understanding takes time. And go deep instead of wide—rather than filling your vacation with three different cities, pick one and get to know the people and culture as well as the sites, whether they’re a country away or two towns over.
Several years after my first jam-packed venture overseas, I went back to Venice with my partner. It was a misty November and the floating city was mostly devoid of tourists, with tides that flooded the streets until 11 in the morning. We stayed in bed late, frequented the same osteria until the owners knew us, and sunk into the magic of the place.
One night, on a late walk, we stumbled upon a soup supper outside a church and were invited to join in. Chords from a guitar drifted across the cobblestone streets, and an old woman hiked her skirt above her ankles to dance an impromptu solo. While we clapped along with the small crowd, all of us huddling closer to beat the chill, the man tending the pot of soup motioned me over to refill my bowl. That simple, unexpected night remains one of my favorite travel memories. And a picture wouldn’t do it justice.
Image by Frank Kovalchek, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 05, 2011 4:28 PM
As more of our lives appear online, it’s only natural that our deaths will soon unfold there, too. Utne Reader wrote about the online afterlife in the March-April issue, and in “Digital Death” Chris Faraone covers the topic for the Colorado Springs Independent. “I don’t care about my body,” he writes. “It’s my virtual soul that I wish to preserve.”
As Faraone notes, the so-called digital death industry is booming with tribute sites, data banks, will-writing pages, and more. In case he should depart the analog world unexpectedly, Faraone decides get his online personal affairs in order with the help of Entrustet, a digital estate planning site whose tagline is: “Decide how you’ll be remembered. Pass on the keys to your digital legacy.” Faraone writes:
The first thing [they advised] me to do is “cloud count,” or take an inventory of every site and service I belong to. Aside from the basics—Twitter, YouTube, Gmail, Tumblr, Facebook, and an interminable MySpace—there are several other accounts that I want closed, or at least maintained, after I pass. There’s the eBay profile that I use to sell old comics for beer money, and the Adult Friend Finder account from my truly degenerate days. I also have a few WordPress blogs, SpringPad for my field notes, and online Bank of America access. After I die, my relatives can contact these companies directly, and follow procedures to get into my accounts.
Most appealing to me is the service If I Die, which allows you to write notes that will be delivered only if you kick the bucket. The website suggests several different kinds of messages:
A letter to a friend - to say something personal.
Simple instructions - whether or not to read your journal, what to do with your cat, where your documents are kept.
Passwords - how to log into your computer, how to access your address book.
An informal will - so your next of kin knows what to do with your stuff.
Sending heartfelt messages to grieving friends and family members after you’re gone—what a sublimely staggering concept. Then again, why wait? Compose your letters on If I Die, but deliver them while you’re still of this world and share the love. I always meant to tell Dr. Wilk what an impactful professor he was and Galactic Pizza how much joy they’ve brought to my life. . . .
Source: Colorado Springs Independent
Image by theaucitron, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 03, 2011 5:52 PM
My female colleagues have dealt with wacky spaces in the quest to pump breast milk at work: a conference room with a trick doorknob under which they jammed a chair, just in case; a senior staffer’s private office; a unisex shower stall that tended, by nature, to be very wet; and, strangest of all, a party room complete with foosball table that had displaced players milling outside asking, “Why is this door closed? Who’s in there? We want to foos.” The new mothers have good-naturedly endured the bizarre spaces, I was telling a friend. Her response: “That’s good that they’re pumping. If they didn’t, they would be selfish, bad mothers.” My friend spoke earnestly, confident that feeding formula genuinely compromises a baby’s well-being.
Whoa. Back up. With postpartum depression affecting many mothers, especially those who struggle with breastfeeding, uncritical devotion to nursing can do more harm than good. And the science isn’t there to back it up, argues women’s studies assistant professor Joan Wolf. While a wealth of research suggests a correlation between breastfeeding and better health, Wolf says “much of that research is flawed,” reports the University of Chicago Magazine. Her stance has earned her heated criticism, but Wolf has also received support “from lactation consultants and advocates who believe that the national conversation about breast-feeding has become ‘completely irrational.’”
Author of Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood, Wolf found that more controlled studies show breast milk and formula run nearly neck-and-neck when it comes to benefits. Nursing is an excellent option, but so is formula—just like green tea is considered marginally healthier than black tea, but in the end both are superfoods rich in nutrients and antioxidants. Yet the high rhetoric of breastfeeding advocacy vilifies what is already an emotional decision for many mothers:
[N]ot all women are able to nurse, whether it’s because the baby doesn’t latch, it’s painful for the mother, she doesn’t have time, or she simply doesn’t like it. In those cases, says Wolf, the pro-breast-feeding studies, without appropriate scientific evidence, make the mother feel inadequate.
Wolf makes a simple yet radical claim: It’s time to end the glorification of breast milk and the shaming of mothers who choose formula. For many women, nursing works; for many others, it doesn’t. But accusations of selfishness and bad mothering won’t contribute to anyone’s good health.
University of Chicago Magazine
Image by nerissa’s ring,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 1:48 PM
“Of all the epochs, events, and ideas we could study, war seems to grab a disproportionately large chunk of time in many classrooms around the country,” writes The Smart Set’s Dwight Simon, who’s also an eighth-grade history teacher at Epiphany School in Boston. “If violence truly is the spirituality of our society, then, I fear that we as teachers and students of history have become its theologians.”
Over the past few years of teaching, Simon noticed an unsettling trend, one that may belie a still-developing generation of war apologists-to-be. “[M]ore voices in my classroom are willing to speak up for war’s noble purpose,” Simon observes,
its grand narrative, all-too-comfortably calculating away six- and seven-figure body counts, factoring away numerous tales of suffering, and rearranging variables to conclude that the end justifies the means, the sum is somehow greater than the piles of bodies and body parts. Out of violence comes redemption.
Not comfortable with his students’ one-sided approach to history, Simon tried to rearrange his curriculum and more explicitly teach the moral complexities of war.
The handout I eventually distributed—a proud achievement, I thought—included a quick-fire compendium of devastating statistics and provocative reflections from soldiers, the enslaved, and observers of all kinds, alongside several grim photographs of Civil War battlefield dead. At the end, I asked students to reflect: “Was the war worth it?”
And after being subjected to a wholly different lesson plan, what did Simon’s students think of the Civil War? A resounding “the war was worth it.”
Altogether though, Simon isn’t too upset that his students came to the same judgment via a different path:
Had I hoped they would answer in the opposite? Perhaps, but I had really just hoped for some existential angst, a bit of tossing and turning or lost sleep. I hoped only that we might pause for a moment, overcome by the complexity of it all. In some sense, though, I was proud of the sophistication my students offered in response. Several students reasoned that the death, suffering, and torment of enslaved peoples across the centuries in America far outweighed any statistics that could be produced by just four years of war between North and South. It was, they seemed to argue, a small price to pay for the abolition of such a wicked institution.
Source: The Smart Set
Image by David Masters, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011 12:39 PM
How should a civil society manage its juvenile delinquents, those that “grew up on the streets and have only known a life of crime, slums, and jail”? Imprisonment and other costly government-funded programs are the most commonly used options. But Shimon Shocken, an IT professor from Ra’anana, Israel, sees a different path to delinquent recovery—a dusty, rocky, uphill trail best traversed on the saddle of a mountain bike.
DavidBoernerprofiled Shocken’s program, which pulls 10 youths out of their detention facility every week to participate in some physically demanding mountain biking, Israel’s new national pastime. Widespread Israeli interest in mountain biking helped Shocken raise the initial capital for the program, according to Boerner, as well as the $15,000-per-year operating costs. Most of the donations come from family foundations, individuals, and private businesses. The generous support is almost counterintuitive.
“One might think juvenile delinquents like these should be punished, rather than allowed to go on [a] mountain bike ride each Tuesday,” writes Boerner. But Shocken contends that his program has a much lower-than-average rate of recidivism than other programs for juvenile delinquents. As Shocken told Dirtrag:
In the last four years 50 kids have gone through the program and been released. Only five of them went back to jail, which is extremely good. Normally, 50 percent will end up back in jail within a year.
Source: Dirt Rag (print only)
Image by Teosaurio, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 10:14 AM
Happiness. Well being. Living fully. The good life. If you’re an Utne reader you might call it mindful living. But what does it all really mean? And how do we find it?
The summer issue of ARCADE tries to tackle those questions from a design perspective. Guest editor Ray Gastil introduces a section called “The Good Life Reconsidered” with a short essay pondering what role design can and will play on the road to a sustainable future and a good life. “Design is a way of thinking,” Gastil writes, “and it has an extraordinarily powerful ability to shape the way we live, and in particular, the way we choose to live.”
Sustainability advocates know that they have to present a future that is desired and chosen, not mandated and enforced. If we are open to it, design can harness the power of aspiration and choice, leading to diverse new ways of thinking, whether from the corporate suite or down the street. We can design a smart, green life, but it needs to have rewards.
Following that introduction we get opinions on the matter from a range of voices, like a reminder from Jessica Geenen, program manager for the Energy Efficient Communities program at Puget Sound Energy, that the “word ‘community’ comes from the Latin roots cum, meaning ‘with,’ and munus, meaning ‘responsibility.’”
There’s also a call for “biophilic neighborhoods” from Tim Beatley, a professor of sustainable communities:
I would like to propose…that we significantly update the neighborhood concept to better take into account our growing appreciation for the value and need to reconnect with nature and natural systems, building on the insights of “biophilia,” a concept popularized by E. O. Wilson. In Biophila, Wilson defines the term as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms,” something essential for healthy, happy, productive humans and an essential quality of urban life.” Nature, we increasingly understand, is not something optional, but absolutely essential to modern daily life, and not something to be relegated to the occasional visit to some mostly remote place we think of as “nature”—something “over there.”
Those and many more take on the issue of how where and how we live can lead to “the good life,” whatever that may be. What’s your definition of that tricky phrase? And how does your neighborhood, community, and work life lead you toward achieving that definition?
Image by blhphotography, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 08, 2011 2:06 PM
According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26 percent of Americans live with some type of mental illness. (Read Utne’s coverage of America’s mental health crisis here.) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—or more commonly the DSM—dictates how the entire body of medical professionals diagnose mental illnesses. Thus, changes to the manual affect the lives of thousands of people. The fifth version of the DSM is due out in 2013, and the expected changes to the psychological definition of grief, reports Scientific American, are evoking intense controversy.
Specifically, the DSM-V would change our understanding of grief in two important ways. First, the manual introduces a new diagnosis dubbed “complicated grief disorder,” which entails “powerful pining for the deceased, great difficulty moving on, a sense that life is meaningless, and bitterness or anger about the loss” past six months after the death. More controversially, the new version of the DSM will allow depression therapy as early as the first few weeks after experiencing a loss. (Currently, doctors and psychologists must wait until two months have passed since the death.)
Eventually we all suffer crippling grief; it’s a universal facet of the human condition. Then most of us overcome that grief. The proposed changes to the DSM-V make it easier for typical grief to be conflated with depression or diagnosed as abnormal.
Critics of the DSM change worry that grief will be overdiagnosed and exploited by pharmaceutical companies. “There will be vitriolic debates when the public fully appreciates the fact that the DSM is pathologizing the death of a loved one within two weeks,” grief researcher Holly G. Prigerson told Scientific American. On the other hand, professionals like Kenneth S. Kendler of the DSM-V Mood Disorder Work Group, who claim that “on the basis of scientific evidence, [mourners are] just like anybody else with depression,” argue withholding depression treatment is professionally unfair.
The article concludes: “In many ways, parsing the differences between normal grief, complicated grief and depression reflects the fundamental dilemma of psychiatry: Mental disorders are diagnosed using subjective criteria and are usually an extension of a normal state.” Those probably aren’t very reassuring words to someone on the precipice of despair.
Source: Scientific American
Image by e3000, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 01, 2011 3:59 PM
When the Toronto Star (May 21, 2011) reported that a Canadian couple is keeping their baby’s gender private in the name of freedom and choice, the story went viral. People around the world read about four-month-old Storm Witterick, whose gender is unknown even to the baby’s grandparents. Only the midwives who birthed Storm are in the know, along with one family friend and brothers Jazz and Kio.
At first blush, it seems pretty wacky. Crazy. Attention-seeking. Progressive beyond the point of rationale. Potentially damaging to baby Storm. Who wants to be the kid whose nutty parents turned a simple fact—I’m female or I’m male—into a media-fueled social experiment?
Amid the cacophony of criticism aimed at Storm’s parents, Columbia professor Patricia J. Williams shares her thoughtful response in The Nation (June 20, 2011). Williams reminds us about the powerful gender stereotypes assigned to boys and girls—specifically, her own two-year-old son and his nursery school pal Jessie, who both loved to help out by carrying their playmates’ lunches to the fridge every morning. Their teacher unconsciously divided their identical behavior along gender lines: “Your son is such a sturdy little security guard! And Jessie, she’s our mini-hostess with the mostest!”
Boys are strong and protective; girls are sweet and nurturing. That’s the gender profile, anyway. Boys get camouflage pjs and puppy dogs, girls pink tutus and kitty-cats. With a gender-neutral household an unattainable dream for many parents, Storm’s parents came up with a creative way to circumvent it all.
The media outlash compelled Storm’s mother, Kathy Witterick, self-described as “shy and idealistic,” to respond in a heartfelt open letter in the Ottawa Citizen (May 28, 2011). It’s a hugely likeable letter. She writes about their five-year-old son Jazz, whose clothing choices—including pink dresses and long braids—don’t fit the world’s notion of boy’s clothes. Keeping Storm genderless was born out of a simple discussion of the impending onslaught of pink or blue clothing.
In her letter, Kathy doesn’t seem wacky. Or crazy. Certainly not attention-seeking. More progressive than the average mom, but with reasonable limits. Baby Storm will certainly grow up differently than other kids, but that’s not by definition a damaging thing. In fact, in some ways, Kathy seems downright brilliant:
The strong, lighting-fast, vitriolic response was a shock.... [T]o protect our children from the media frenzy that we did not anticipate, we have declined over 100 requests for interviews from all over the world, including offers to fly to New York all expenses paid and to appear on almost every American morning show. We have learning to do, parks to visit and butterflies to care for.
(free registration required), Ottawa Citizen
Image by sarahemcc,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011 11:09 AM
CAUTION: If you prefer not to read graphic descriptions of rape, you may not want to continue reading this piece.
Correspondent Mac McClelland offers no such precaution to her readers in the opening sentences of her article in Good (June 27, 2011):
It was my research editor who told me it was completely nuts to willingly get fucked at gunpoint. That’s what she called me when I told her the story. We were drunk and in a karaoke bar, so at the time I came up with only a wounded face and a whiny, “I’m not completely nuuuuts!”
It’s an interesting approach on McClelland’s part, shocking the reader with an immediate brutal image, a literary rape of sorts, and at the same time subverting the violence with a flippantly chick-lit-esque tone.
Author of the 2010 book For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question: A Story from Burma’s Never-Ending War, McClelland oscillates between the two poles—brutality and cheekiness—throughout the rest of her article. The subject is by no means frivolous. She’s writing about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in journalists, specifically her own. “As a journalist who covers human rights,” she writes, “I spend a lot of time absorbing other people’s trauma.”
After bearing witness to the paroxysmal breakdown of a Haitian rape victim named Sybille, McClelland experiences months of uncontrollable crying and what she calls “rapemares.” Any sexual thought led to violent thought: “I could not process the thought of sex without violence. And it was easier to picture violence I controlled than the abominable nonconsensual things that had happened to Sybille.” Thus the willingness to have sex at gunpoint.
I support every woman’s right to choose what’s right for herself, sexually. If McClelland wants to experience violent sex in the name of self-therapy, that’s her prerogative. Although I don’t buy it, and that’s my prerogative. If I were her friend, I probably would have tried to talk her out of it.
The piece has earned McClelland immediate praise. And perhaps, for her, it did help her overcome her trauma. She doesn’t claim that her article is a handbook to overcoming PTSD. Nor is it a handbook to role play sex (in which case she would surely mention the use of a safeword, for the love of god). McClelland is simply sharing one experience of PTSD, making one more woman’s voice known, and that contains value.
I don’t support the self-indulgent way she writes about it, however. McClelland seems to enjoy unseating her reader too much. As just one example, she did not have sex at gunpoint. She did willingly get pinned down and punched in the face during sex by a trusted ex who “loved and respected” her and with whom she’d “done this sort of thing before.” Which means McClelland opens the essay with an unearned image. Then, after raising some truly compelling issues about the horrors endured and absorbed by journalists, she concludes her piece with a description of the pinning and the punching. The detailed scene of her “willing rape” feels like a gratuitous conclusion to a real issue. By the time I was done reading, I felt brutalized and assaulted. Which may be a clever literary trope, but, hey, I’m not the one looking to feel raped.
Image by newbeatphoto,
licensed under Creative Commons.
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